A Modest Proposal
Dazir - The Mage’s Abode
Linen sheets tickle fingertips. Beads of sweat rest precariously on a forehead. A dozen tendrils of candle smoke weave their way into a nose. Two sticks chatter and echo as they gently knock against each other. But above all...
A dryness of throat that would make desert sand seem moist.
Unbearable, unrelenting thirst.
Eidos' eyelids crack open, eyes failing to produce even a single tear of lubrication. From what the scattered light halos can tell her, she lies upon a bed, in a windowless room lit by the flickering of countless burning candles. Haze gives way to clarity as her eyes begin to focus. Rocking near her in a chair is an elderly woman, calmly and conscientiously knitting.
As Eidos stirs, the woman suddenly looks up with a startled expression. But her surprise-contorted features soon ease into a timeworn smile of unparalleled kindness, framed in the wrinkles wrought from decades of caring for others.
“Biracul be praised!” she quietly intones. “So, you're finally coming around… I feared we had lost you for good.”
Suddenly taking on a cautionary tone, she warns, “Now, don't try to move just yet! Your time in the Jenowin Plain has fevered your blood and robbed your brain of water!”
Eidos raises her head and attempts to speak, only managing to produce an indecipherable rasp. The woman quickly pours a cup of water from a clay decanter and hands it to her. Overwhelmed by the sudden memory of thirst, Eidos drinks deeply.
“Careful now child! Drink it slowly… You should listen to old Rada; she's brought back many folk that have been jinnstruck on the plain, after all!”
Finishing her water, Eidos gratefully replies, “Thank you for saving my life.” Why? I’d probably just come back to life anyway.
A great smile adds a few more folds to Rada’s weathered face. “I accept your thanks! But even as mere loremasters in the eyes of Biracul, what manner of people would Dazirans be if we didn't aid a sister in need?!” She thumbs her and gives Eidos a wink. “Tambul may be known for their courtesy, but they sure as Suyutis love goats don't have a monopoly on it!”
Eidos smiles, too. True, the old woman’s positivity is contagious. She’s, at the very least, the nicest person I’ve met so far. “Is there any way I can repay you?” Eidos finally asks.
“Heavens, child! There’s no need!” Rada chuckles. “In the words of Biracul, ‘Kindness begets kindness’!”
Suddenly, her smile fades, and sadness touches her eyes. “But our neighbors seem to have forgotten the words of the Shining One.” She hesitates, briefly averting her gaze. “You see, we Dazirans are in danger and do have need of assistance—something Khaa, no doubt, would like to discuss this with you.” She looks toward the door. “He’ll probably see my thoughts, but maybe I should go fetch him, just in case. You wait here, dear.”
Duty-bound, Rada works hard to vacate her seat. Each push closer toward standing causes her to teeter on the edge of collapse. Maybe I should help her… that’s if I can even stand up myself… Yet her ancient muscles somehow prevail over time and gravity’s cruel conspiracy, allowing her to finally gain an upright position. Looks like she doesn’t need me. Thus, Rada and her sturdy cane begin their three-legged trek to fetch Khaa.
Alone and uncertain, Eidos renews her inspection of the room. The meager candles cast deep shadows across walls of white plaster, but provide enough light to gain a cursory understanding of the chamber's layout. The bed upon which she rests is finely carved and stained to an ebony hue. The sheets and bedding are fresh, but the room, for all its finery, is bare bones and clearly meant for servants. Where am I? I was walking in the desert toward the Duskfang mountains and then…
The sound of footsteps interrupt here thoughts, as Rada returns, this time following another individual. A man dressed in fine, black silk and a feathered hat impatiently parades into the chamber. With his mouth so twisted by a perpetual scowl and his expression so full of self-importance it is a wonder he has room for eyes and a nose. Another jerk, surely.
“It's neither my wont nor my desire to chat with wandering vagrants,” his airy rant begins. “However, your jinnstruck ravings were of particular interest to me, and thus I commanded my subjects to save your life.” He pauses only long enough to glare at her, and then proceeds, “I am Khaa, mage and leader of the Biraculian township of Dazir. Who are you and how did you come to be here?”
“I came bearing a message from Mifas'cul.” The words leave her mouth before she knows what she is even saying. Mifas’cul? It has to be that creepy desert traveler…
At Eidos' words, Khaa's breath seems to cease. His eyes narrow before silently nodding for her to continue.
With her voice, but another's thoughts, she begins, “The path to the Wellspring will be revealed. Before you stands one that can make use of the Farcaster!” Khaa’s eyes widen in shock. “Heed these words and aid her. And remember Khaa, there can be no life without order.” Eidos slumps as the last word leaves her lips, inexplicably exhausted.
Khaa stares suspiciously at Eidos. Calculating. Evaluating. Machinating. It is some time before he speaks again. “I see… So you have been sent here because of your ability to make use of the Farcaster.” With a sneer, he turns his back to her and continues speaking, “I must say, I hadn't foreseen this stroke of good fortune, but your appearance explains much.”
Eidos interjects, “Who is Mifas'cul?” Yes! I wanna know that, too! Nice one, body.
He spins, his eyes full or sourness and rage—whether for the interruption or the question itself is uncertain. Though he quickly regains his composure and replies with feigned indifference, “Oh, he's an ally to the township of Dazir, a foreign mage with a mastery of Techne and knowledge of ancient lore.” A wretched smirk then tugs at the corner of his mouth. “He must have used his abilities to guide you to us in our time of need. For you see, we require your Farcasting Techne, foreigner.”
And as expected of a diplomat, Eidos makes the obvious inquiry Khaa is inviting, “What's wrong here?” Yeah, you must have lots of friends with your personality… what could possibly be wrong?
Suddenly, Khaa’s whole demeanor changes. From intolerable to affable, from arrogant to confident. He says, “You strike me as a person concerned with the well-being of others…” Taking a step closer and sitting down to face Eidos, he asks, “Do I misjudge you, or would you be interested in an undertaking that would preserve the lives of my people?”
Moved by the desire to help, she asks in return, “What is it that threatens this place and its people?” It’s probably something this idiot did that caused it all.
Seeing he has piqued her interest, Khaa leans in closer, “Let me tell you. You see, Dazir is menaced by the people of Tacriba, the township of barbarians located beyond the Crescent Canyon to the east.” That’s on the other side of that huge bridge… The mage stands and begins to slowly pace. “Since the time of Ark, the Tacribians have always made their way in the world with the violence of the Amethyst Jinn. Why, even as we speak, they’re preparing to march on our magnificent settlement!” Suddenly, he turns toward her, eyes filled with passion, and adds, “All that stands between them and us are two Vanquished gates. Mighty obstacles though they may be, I’d prefer a more... permanent solution.”
Seeking to withhold her final judgment until she has heard all the evidence, she asks, “For what reason would they do this?” Like I said, this jerk probably pissed them off.
A hint of panic races across his face as he explains, “Well, you understand, our ancient Wellspring is not merely a holy site! In fact, it serves as a reservoir, sustaining all the townships of this land.” He smiles nervously. “However, through no fault of our own, the Wellspring has become defiled…” He pauses, finally adding, “You see, deadly creatures now stalk its halls, water has ceased to flow to Tacriba, and the entrance has been sealed, leaving the Farcaster inside as the only point of access…” This guy’s hiding something.
He pauses briefly, gauging her reaction, before continuing, “Which is where you come in, foreigner. The Farcaster Glyph has been lost since the Punishing Wars devastated Kabu a thousand some aught years ago. No records of its use or even any mention of its existence remain, save the seals themselves…” A surprising sincerity soon enters his voice, “That makes you very special.”
Walking back to the bed where Eidos is resting, Khaa continues, “And now, a Farcaster user stands before me—a heaven-sent gift from Biracul for my righteousness, no doubt.”
“So they have no water?” Eidos asks before adding, “The Tacribians sound justified in their grievance.” That they do.
Nervous at the prospect of losing her aid, Khaa quickly replies, “Well, yes, they are, perhaps… but…” Searching for the words to express his frustration he stutters until finally saying, “But their thirst for violent reprisal will doom us all!” With renewed zeal, he adds, “If they succeed in their assault, then none will remain with knowledge of how to maintain the Wellspring or its aqueducts. Without us, no Kaban will have water!” Confident he is argument, he proceeds, “Our destruction would seal the fate of all who dwell in Kabu, Dazirans and Tacribians alike!”
Eidos lowers her head and thinks for a moment, weighing the evidence, trying to tease out which side will provide the most benefit for the most people.
Before she can come to a conclusion, Khaa speaks, “Now, I implore you! Use your Farcasting ability to help me to save both ourselves and our enemies!”
Oh, please, who would buy that from this guy? We should go talk to the Tacribians first. Oh… dammit, we’re not going to, are we? Eidos looks up, determination carved into each feature of her face. She replies, “If I can, I'll help you avert this catastrophe.” Indeed.
His mouth oscillating between a frown and a smile, Khaa seems stuck between ecstasy and disbelief. But before long, he puts back on his mask of dignity and says, “That you seek to righteously preserve innocent lives speaks very highly of your character, Eidos! Now listen closely for here is what you must do.”
The mage clears his throat, and then begins counting off the steps on his fingers, “First, you will use the Farcaster to access the Wellspring, at the heart of which you'll find a gate that impedes the flow of water to the stronghold of the Tacribians.”A second finger springs up, “Then, you will open it, and when you do, you will have our eternal love and gratitude.” He hesitates, as though just having thought of something important and not wanting to admit he had forgotten, “…And of course, in order to manipulate the guardians within, as well as all other mechanisms, you'll likewise require this Sigil of Wulfias.”
Producing from his robe a Sigil, much like the one Eidos herself had received from Fenrir, he hands it to her. “Take great care as this is a priceless artifact! It has been passed down through the generations from mage to mage, and is utterly irreplaceable!”
Eidos hesitates. Wait, why don’t we just give him our Sigil and let him go take care of this? “If I can use your Sigil, couldn’t you just use mine?” She asks. Yes! This is how it should be body. Just do what I want and everyone is happy. See?
He spins to look at her, shock and greed sweeping across his face. But within the space of a thought, these are overwhelmed by a very different, unidentifiable emotion. “It is not possible, I’m afraid.” He turns away again. “Who would lead my people if the draug-witted Tacribians somehow actually made it to our gates?” His voice adopts a somber tone. “No, though it pains me to entrust such a task to stranger, it must be done. For the good of my people.”
The mage hastily begins to make his way to the door, adding, “Now, allow me to show you the way to our Farcaster, that you may then hurry to fulfill your oath.” Opening the door, he soon adds, “Biracul will reward your selfless actions, stranger.” He’d better reward me with an easy path to the goal.
Suddenly, the diplomat in her thinks it prudent to venture one request, “Khaa, I’d speak with your citizens, to learn more of the people I’ll be helping, and to learn what I can of what happened in the Wellspring.”
“My explanations are not enough?!” The bastard of indignation and anxiety cry out with the mage’s voice. “You’d waste more time and bring my people closer to death?!” He rushes back over to her. “Every breath we waste on these pointless details just stirs the chaos. The Tacribians won’t wait forever!”
Determined, she replies, “You ask too much. If I am to go, I want to be as prepared as possible. I need to know what to expect.”
Khaa jerks his head away. “The Artisans are on the middle tier. Speak with them and then leave.” He begins to walk toward the door. “Remember, you hold the lives of my people in your hands.” And with these words, he opens the door and storms out, leaving Eidos and Rada alone in the room.
With a sympathetic smile, Rada inclines her head toward the door and begins to hobble towards it. Eidos rises from the bed, soon catching up to the wizened matron and offering an arm for support. The spark of gratitude brightens her eyes. Reaching a hand to Eidos’ cheek, she softly caresses it. It seems so miraculous to Eidos that such calloused hands, survivors of decades of hard labor, can feel so soft.
Rada then loops her arm in Eidos’ and they make their way out of the abode and into a place most unexpected in the middle of a desert: an arboretum.