THE DAEMON’S JOURNEY: Into the Desert

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 THE DAEMON’S JOURNEY: Into the Desert

(This part occurs prior to his very uncomfortable 3rd meeting with the Entity.)

   He emerged from the shadows of the dusty cavern and into the brilliant light of a sand-scoured, rocky wasteland.  Straightening and stretching his back he drank in the scorched landscape before him with senses beyond the mortal. Dressed in the white robes and a blue and grey striped cloak of the desert tribes and carrying a pilgrim’s staff and a wallet; head wrapped in the folds of a dark red turban  only  his slitted, yellow eyes were visible.  The hot wind was rising, filling the air with grit and sand, but beneath the scarf covering his face the Daemon laughed! 

    “Oh, the beautiful desolation!  The wonderful ruin and desolation of it!  How grand!” he declared exuberantly spreading his arms and taloned fingers wide, reaching toward the sky.

   The bright light and heat were exhilarating after traveling the shadowy, disorienting un-world of the Jai Roads (rhymes with “eye”).  Dangerous and unpleasant even to such as he the Roads were still the fastest way to travel from northern lands to these wastelands beyond the borders of the crowded, exotic city-states of the Jewel Coast. 

  But the lands beyond the green strip of the Coast and southwards are a vast expanse of arid and semi-arid desert bounded along its southern extremity by an escarpment scarred by innumerable boulder strewn rifts and canyons.  

   These canyons lead through the escarpment to the plateau above.  Both the desert and the escarpment are hot, sere, and devil haunted; a land of ripping thorns, poisonous cacti, venomous rock vipers and scorpions of all hues.  Yes, and flies, innumerable biting flies. The Daemon found it delightful.

   Though many goat tracks and dangerous, undependable paths climb the escarpment there is only one true road traversing it  It was constructed in ancient days by the conquering terroes of the Avandans as they sought to bring all the world under their sway.  From the indomitable fortress, city and port of Corosanth, straight as the spear-shaft of an Avandan terrosary it ran to the escarpment; and  by a clever system of terraces and switchbacks, over the top to the Four Cities region of the highlands and past to continue unbroken to the uncouth southlands and, for all the Daemon knew, to the ends of the world. 

   The canyons were also the domain of a host of monks, holy men, virtuous women, righteous hermits and worse.  Dwelling in tiny cells among the boulders and outcroppings or communally in cliff-temples, shrines, monasteries and nunneries carven into the sides of cliffs.  Any number of gods, demiurges, demons and saints had their representatives here. Singing, wailing, praying and sacrificing occurred endlessly, abundantly even, in accordance with one doctrine or another. 

   The Daemon remembered it well and smiled, even chuckling at whiles, at the memories of his time dwelling there long years ago.  For he had at one time posed as such a deity and had garnered a share of devotees to his cause. Amusing for a while, it had ended, of course, unpleasantly for all of his devout adherents.  The howling agonies of their suffering and deaths in his soul-furnace still evoked a pleasant glow in his thoughts.

   Ah well!  Perhaps he was nearing his dotage dwelling on such remembrances!  He sighed and shook himself to dissipate those memories and return his attention to his current endeavor.  Settling himself upon a convenient stone he considered the problem. Where was he exactly? It had been many decades since last he trod these scarred lands.  The Jai road he had taken was one he had not used before. What was the day? How long had he been travelling in the Unworld? In that shadowy place Time did not always adhere to worldly measures.  He may have even arrived here before he had left there! These things he needed to know. The portal from the Roads was an ancient one and the shadow-sprite who sold him directions to it was uncertain of the exact point of its egress.  He scanned the scorched, monotonous landscape but saw little to enlighten him.  

    “The problem with the desert,” he observed, “is that, as invigorating as it may be, it is still the desert!”

   Not far away he observed a small tribe of dust-devils jinking and whirling merrily across the desert floor.  Considering the dance of the frenzied devils for a moment he clapped his hands and laughing declared, “Perhaps the problem might yet be the solution!”

   Extending his senses he drew the little ones  toward where he sat. Curious, as such small demons always were, they came willingly and enveloped him in their dance.  Their dust swirled about him and they spoke to him.

    “Hail, O Damned One!  What would you of usss?” the small devils whirled and whispered about him. “We thirrssst!  Ssso dry it isss! We thirrrrsssst!”

   The Daemon smiled beneath his scarf knowing well the ancient ritual.  With one sharp talon he scored the palm of his right hand. His ruby blood welled from the wound as he raised his hand toward the gyrating devils.

    “Let the thirsty drink, little ones!  Let them have their fill!” He let the devils sip as they would.   Being almost nothing they took almost nothing and so he let them gorge themselves.  They whirled and danced about his blood-welling hand and soon the dusty cloud exhibited a carmine hue.   After a time, deeming the pact fulfilled he closed his hand. 

    “What would you, O puissant and most generous lord?  How may we repay you?”

    “I seek the Avandan Road.  Show me where the mortals walk and the caravans travel.  I go to the escarpment. I have business at the monastery of Nossos.”

    “Follow, lord, and we shall lead!  Fly! Fly! Fly! To the ssssunrise, my brotherrsss!”  The blood tinged wind swirled about him before moving off in a generally easterly direction with the Daemon swiftly following.

   On the third day of walking, in the shimmering distance the Daemon observed the dust raised by the passage of many feet.  A caravan? A war-host? A mob of scrofulous pilgrims? Impossible to say at this distance. He dismissed his tiny companions with a grateful word and a gesture; away they flittered and spun in their swirling dance.

   “Whoever they are they are travelling in the direction of the plateau and that is where I wish to go,” he mused, “ And so shall I go with them if they’ll have me. Or rather not me!”  Muttering an incantation, he passed his hand in a certain manner up and down his body twice. The result was a change in countenance to that of a common, benighted pilgrim. He started off across the desert at a brisk, striding pace singing a song to the Belasis, the Shepherd-god of the Kherdath, an ancient but harmless deity.  The Daemon had once met him: a shaggy, benighted pastoral deity smelling strongly of animal musk and with no discernible vocabulary.

 

   It was late in the evening when he caught up with the travellers.  It was a modest caravan and following behind hoping for some modicum of protection from the dangers of the desert marched two or three score of pilgrims bound for a variety of destinations on the scarp.  He reached them as they paused for the evening. A group of devotees of the serpent god Pith, so identified by each wearing a writhing viridescent serpent symbol tattooed across their brow offered him hospitality for the night and with him shared their meal.  He explained that he, himself, was a devotee of the shepherd-god Belasis. His mother had passed over and he made pilgrimage for the easing of her soul. 

   Pith!  What would they say if they knew, as did he, that Pith had perished several centuries ago in a dispute with Many Handed Desolodriath, god of scribes!  One of the serpent-marked women informed him that the group was journeying from Ilkarmand to make obeisance at one of Pith’s shrines on the scarp. She told him that they expected to reach the base of the plateau in less than a week according to those in the caravan who had made the trip previously.  Of the Monastery of Nossos she could offer nothing and referred him to the leader of their group. The date he also learned and after some tedious and uncomfortable (damn all humans and their execrable mathematics!) calculations comparing various calendars determined that it was now more than three months since  he had departed the wizard even though it seemed less than a week since he had left Seven Falls. Remarkable! Well worth enduring the will-sapping gloom of the un-world.  

   The Daemon, as others slept around him and needing no sleep himself, composed himself to meditate on the strategy he had formed for dealing with the Monk.  After a time he nodded to himself, believing his current scheme remained the most practicable of all he’d considered. Though if he had misjudged, the old monk could prove perversely intractable and other,  more gratifying (for the Daemon!) methods might have to be employed. He allowed himself a brief moment of shudderingly sweet speculation.  

   His supple mind then moved on to regard from many sides the possibly foolish endeavor which the mage had undertaken and in which he had so

willingly and unwisely pledged his aid.  Although in that, he was given no choice.  Above the world myriads of stars blazing overhead in the clear desert air seemed to mock their small lives.  He frowned, closing his eyes wishing not for the first time that he could form a clearer picture of the results of their  collaboration. He was certain that it would not be quite what they intended. No, it was not likely at all. Did Syrac entertain similar doubts?  The Daemon thought not; the sorcerer’s focus was narrow and, he thought, petty.

    “Little enough I know of the ways and meanings of the stars and their grinding, loathsome certainties,” he thought, “but I do know that they write an inexorable message for those who can read them.  Has the mage read them aright? Is his reasoning sound? And the plan? Will the Appearance occur? And if so who or what will appear?”

 

    “And what of the Other: the hidden Entity who set this in motion?”  He closed his eyes tightly as if he could shut out an unsavory memory.  The sharp claws of his clenched fists drew blood from his palms. “By my unshriven soul I call damnation upon every accursed star in the  heavens! O, Father of Perdition, may I not live to regret my part in these accursed conspiracies!”

 

© ImSJ 2019
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