A total of five other men were at the very least interested in hearing more about what pursuing the journey entailed. They agreed to convene with Ali, Daniel, Sodom, Asfar, and Penal, who arranged to speak to a village elder named Nabii.

They said a decision to continue the journey was contingent upon what they learned after having a word with he who was supposed to be one of the most knowledgeable and reputable men of the tribe.

“So, who exactly is this Nyeusi?” Ali asked him.

“He is the dark one,” the village elder replied. “The leader of his tribe.”

“I see,” Ali said. “And, tell me, do you not feel the least bit angered when he feeds people to his cats?” Ali asked, shooting a glance in the direction of Daniel.

“I don’t know that angered is the correct word,” Nabii replied.

“Hm,” uttered Ali. “I’m not sure what you mean, but what he did yesterday, isn’t that something which makes you feel . . . Mm, I don’t know, like say perhaps you ought to have him pay for that uncommon act of cruelty and wickedness?”

Nabii laughed.

Two other elders, one of each was at his side, laughed as well.

“Did I say something funny?” Ali inquired.

“You strangers. The things you say. The things you do. Of what value is the tooth of an elephant other than to the elephant itself, or the bits of yellow-colored stones you aim to collect? As to the latter, you and Nyeusi are equally ridiculous in this regard.”

Ali’s eyes widened. “I’m curious about this Nyeusi.”

“There’s not much I can tell about him other than he’s from the underworld,” the elder replied. “One may be as enraged as could be, but the truth is there is none who can challenge him.”

“Underworld, you say?” Ali asked.

“Yes,” the elder replied.

“I see,” Ali said. “And, what exactly is this place, the underworld?” Ali asked.

“By underworld, I mean Nyeusi is from the other side.”

“Other side?” Ali said. “Of the village, you mean?”

The elder’s face grew stern.

“Other side of this world,” he replied.

Ali looked at Daniel.

“Ah,” he said. “Now, I get it.”

“Do you?” the elder asked. “What do you get?”

“Nabii,” Ali began. “I’m a very practical man. Some of us don’t believe in such things. You, however, are saying that there is such a place. Am I right to ask this?”

“What a question,” Nabii said.

“Is it?” Ali asked.

“It is,” the elder replied.

“And, I’m assuming you know its location?”

“You may wish to, but you may never see it. Not at this time.”

“At this time?” said Ali. “I’m curious. At what time might that be possible?”

“When you’ve departed this world, my friend,” Nabii replied.

Daniel looked at Ali.

“Oh yes, but Nyeusi was able to access here from his end?” Ali said.

“We’re not him,” Nabii replied. “We have no such power.”

“I see,” Ali replied. “Certain powers are involved, and I’m guessing that without that power, there’s no way to gain access to it from here?”

“There is,” the elder replied.

Daniel looked at Ali.

“I challenge you to find anyone here though, or from the villages beyond, who will dare take you there. And, why you would care to do such a thing is beyond my understanding. But then much of what you do is beyond my understanding,” Nabii remarked.

“Is this another reason why you and your people came here?”

“We are textile merchants and traders,” Ali replied. “Nothing more, nothing less, but your stories are intriguing.”

“These are not stories, my friend. Your accomplice here has already seen what you have not. How much more evidence do you need?”

Ali was slow to respond. “I just would like to know I could go about my business safely, without fear of being maimed or harmed in any way,” he said.

“Neither happened to you and perhaps you should count your blessings. Or, maybe it was not yet your time.”

“My time?”

“My friend, I know nothing about where you are from. What I have heard about your kind is you are said to have come here on a vessel. One you say is capable of traversing along the sea. Then, by the mercy, kindness, and docility of the peoples who live closer to the shore, you were allowed a passage inland.

“You used your vessel to avoid crossing the great dessert. A wise choice, but I assure you, whatever arts or craft or magic you possess will guarantee you no protection should you steer further into these lands.

“Your chances of surviving here is sevenfold that of venturing off into the wild. A hundredfold times that of venturing off toward the distant lands in search of the lair. You have already been warned that those who do not respect their boundaries will surely die.

“Your choices are either risk being ravaged by beasts or slain by men.

“Pity the three who were foolish enough to have followed you. They are said to have sacrificed their lives over a pair of sandals and some of your linen.”

Daniel looked sternly at Ali.

“As to the lair, its entrance lies above a precipice of steep rock and stone. Only the very best and bravest dare try to breach it.

“Those who have tried, mind you, were never heard from again.”

The party was all ears.

“And, it is not because, during their ascent, they fell to their deaths,” Nabii continued. “It is because they dared venture beyond the entrance to the world from which no man hath ever returned.”

Most of the tales about the lair and it being a pathway to the land of no return came from the Shemanchi, a nomadic tribe who, during their never-ending sojourn, developed established pathways while following the migratory path of wild oxen. Following the path of the beasts took them exceedingly close to the mountainside. At about a quarter to a third of the height from its base was the lair.

The Shemanchi would often set up a temporary base near there and stay for a few days before continuing their journey. The more curious among them are the ones who dared climb the mountainside, entered the lair, and were never seen or heard from again. Those who went in hoping to find and rescue them suffered the same fate, and it was not long before tales of it being a place of no return began to spread far and wide.

Daniel looked at Ali.

“By way of comparison, the Shetani, who scale the very walls, can move in and out of there at will.”

“The Shetani? Again, I’d like to hear from you who they are, versus all of the stories I’ve been told about them,” Ali said.

“They are Nyeusi’s people, those who reside beyond the mountain. It is said that there are women there, sturdily built as the best of men, who cast their hair down the mountainside, and their men make use of this to climb down then back up to the liar’s entrance.”

“Madness,” Ali remarked.

“That is their means of clearing the precipice, what we call the wall,” Nabii added.

A moment of silence followed.

“These men,” Ali said, “those who were never heard from again, what makes you think they met their demise after having entered the lair? How do you know they did not find a passageway toward more lush and bountiful lands after having entered it? Lands that seduced them to the point of never caring to return here?”

The elder laughed.

“I suppose this could be,” he said, “but I doubt it.”

Ali was all ears.

“To reach these imagined places, you’d have to traverse the length of the inside of the mountain. No one, mind you, knows this way. What’s more, is our great seers say its entrance is said to vanish the minute you enter it.

“Do you imagine you’d be thinking about bountiful lands upon entering such a place?”

“I see what you’re trying to do,” Ali said, “but I am of firm resolve, and aside from that, what you say is not the first I’ve heard of these kinds of tales.”

“Tales, you call them?” Nabii asked.

“Yes. There are more than enough of them where I am from, of every conceivable variety. About gods and goddesses and the like, and an ever-growing audience with a fancy for them it seems,” Ali said.

“And, what would you make of your time here? Your life? Is that not a tale too?”

“It is,” Ali replied. “But it is real.”

“Real, you say? I must ask you what is real?” Nabii asked.

“Real is what is true, as opposed to the stuff of fantasy,” Ali replied.

“And, is your time here not also so near impossible that at one point you may have thought it perhaps a bit strange?”

“Perhaps,” Ali replied. “But one naturally accepts it for what it is or becomes used to it.”

“Truer words have never been spoken,” Nabii replied. He looked Ali squarely in the face.

“In time, you will become used to what I am telling you too. All men with a dark heart and mind will.”

“What do you mean?” Ali asked.

“It is impossible for any of us to have any recollection of how we arrived here. Is it not?”

“It is,” Ali replied.

“You, my friend, unknowingly spent near nine months in your mother’s womb in a suspended state of darkness, then one day you opened your eyes, and you were here.

“In time, as you say, you grew used to it, to your surroundings. You developed a heightened sense of awareness of this world that lies before you, one you had no knowledge of because you never were. A fantastic tale, is it not?”

“When put in that way in which you described it, yes, it is,” Ali replied.


About the author

Penn Fawn

Bio: Penn Fawn, a graphic arts production artist with a research and writing background is a New Yorker. He is the author of the dark fantasy duology, Necropolis, and the spin-off series, The Underworld. His novels are an amalgam of epic fantasy, dark fantasy, and horror.

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