Monday, October 24, 2016

The City of Gold and Fire

The sandstorm blew like a devil for three days, and then on the third the winds died and the sun rose and Mansa emerged from the cave where he had taken shelter. The sky was a hard, cruel blue overhead, the horizon hazed with the last remnant of the storm, and all around him were drifts of sand and the bare rocks of this desolate place. He had the clothes he wore, a half skin of water, and his sword, and that was all.

Hungry and wiping grit from his eyes beneath his turban, he climbed out of the half-buried cave and waded through the sand until he could climb onto a spur of rock to try to see where he was. The storm had come on so suddenly, there had been no time for the caravan to find shelter. The men and horses and camels and the wagons all scattered, hunting for shelter, trying to stay together even as wind and blinding sand forced them apart.

He saw nothing. The ground here was rocky, pillars of it rising up into the clean sky, the stones cut by many ages of wind and sand into strange, suggestive shapes. There was no trail in the sand, and no sign of any other living thing. The many rocks made this like a labyrinth, and he could not see very far in any direction.

The sun told him which way was east, and so he would go that way. He took the time to unwind his turban, shake the sand from the cloth, and then rewind it about his head. He rubbed the small gold amulet he wore and muttered a prayer to the warrior goddess who guarded his people in times of danger, then turned his face to the sun and began to walk.

He passed among the rocks, walking in and out of shadows cast by the monolithic stones, and then he stopped when he saw what lay before him. Two of the pillars of rock, hewn over aeons by wind, had been also worked by a more mortal hand, and he saw in them the shapes of towering warriors, decked in scaled armor and great shields. They held swords close to their sides, and their faces, while blurred by time, were both fierce and grave. They stood many times higher than a man, and they had an aura of waiting.

Beyond them he saw a valley of red stone and piled sands, with nothing to give any sign of habitation. Yet the stone giants had an air of guard, as though they kept an eternal watch over this place. Mansa stared at them, wondering what civilization could have raised such things in the waste. So far as he knew there had never been any city or nation in this place.

He took a small swallow of water, and then he turned from due east and walked down into the valley between the statues. In this wilderness, to find such a thing was rare, and he might never find it again if he did not explore it now. To see the aspects of warriors, so soon after a prayer for guidance, was not a sign he was prepared to ignore.

Yet he was cautious. He drew his sword into his hand as he passed beneath the shadow of the guardians, and he drew comfort from the straight, heavy blade. It was a good sword, as a mercenary such as he must rely on. He walked through the pass watchful, and entered into the valley beyond.

At first there was only drifted sand, bare rock, and the barest scrub brush clinging to the dry hillsides. He kept his eye open for lizards or snakes he might catch and eat. He had to find food of some kind before long. He followed the curve of the valley, the upper reaches of the red cliffs glowing in the slanted sun, and then he saw the city.

It was a city. Towers and domes lay cracked and ruined but unmistakable in the hazy morning light. The ancient structures clung to the rock walls of the valley, ascending higher and higher, with streets between them littered with fallen stone and piled sand. Steps climbed up and up into the high reaches, and over all of it hung an air of darkness and antiquity, a sadness of lost ages. He had never seen anything like it before.

The architecture was intricate and strange, like no stonework he knew, and as he drew closer he saw the glint here and there of gold. His heart quickened, and he walked faster to draw near the ancient buildings. And then he saw that indeed the elaborate stone reliefs were set with accents of gold and the glimmer of precious stones. Much of it was worn away with the neglect of long ages, but still this was in truth a city of gold.

No legend, no tale told him of this place, and that gave him warning, for such a great place to be kept secret it must be terrible indeed, and so when he heard the scuffle of feet among the high rocks, he was prepared. A shadow passed over him, and he leaped aside and evaded the jagged spear that plunged down in the hands of the armored figure that hurtled towards him.

It was a man, or had the form of a man. He saw naked skin under black armor like the shell of a beetle, skin as dark as his own. The head was covered in a helm that was more like a skull, elongated and eyeless, and the thing screamed at him and showed sharp teeth in a black mouth. It ripped its spear from the ground and turned to attack again, but Mansa was no fool to be taken easily.

He met the thrust of the great spear with a stroke of his blade, knocking it downward, and then lunged in and impaled the apparition through its throat. The steel pierced cleanly, blood gushed forth upon the sands, and when he drew his sword back dark with gore his attacker fell back, clutching at the spurting wound.

Two more of the things leaped down from the rocks, hissing, wielding axe and sword that looked made of some jagged, dark metal. A net lashed the air and fell over him, hooks snagging on his clothes and his flesh, and he fell as he tried to spring backward.

An axe came for his head, and he raised his sword to parry, stopping it and shunting the blow aside close enough to gash his cheek. He reached with his free hand and drew his dagger from his side, struggled up, slashing wildly at the net that bound him, cutting the tough strands with desperate jerks that yanked the hooks harder into his skin. He slashed viciously at his enemies to keep them back while he tried to free himself, but the sword-wielder closed in heedless, snarling.

Mansa met his rush, their blades sparking as they ground against one another, and then he stepped in and bound the blades close. His left hand brought the dagger up, and he stabbed in under his opponent’s arm, above the rim of his armor, and ripped it free in a torrent of heart-blood.

He staggered back, keeping the dying thing between him and the last of his attackers. He cut furiously at the frayed net, but even as he freed himself the axeman shoved his collapsing ally aside and lunged, hacking down furiously from overhead. Mansa parried and his sword was dashed from his numbed hand. Before the axe could rise again he leaped in and caught the haft of the axe, and the two of them tangled and fell to the hot sands.

They rolled over and over, and Mansa struck again and again with his dagger, stabbing blindly. More than once the keen point skittered off hard armor, while other times he felt the curved blade sink into flesh. The thing let go of the axe haft and then its hands groped for his neck, seeking to choke out his life. He tried to squirm away, but the creature leaned close, mouth open with a black tongue dripping eagerly over black teeth eager to bite his throat. Desperate, he wrenched his dagger loose and then stabbed high, driving it into the neck until blood sprayed out and the thing crawled off him and lay gasping in the dust until it was still.

Mansa lay gasping for breath. He sat up and cursed as he jerked the last of the hooks from his skin, threw the tattered net away. He crawled for his sword and caught it up, sand clinging to the drying blood on the steel. With handfuls of dirt he quickly cleaned both blades and sheathed his dagger. He was marked with red blood, some of it his own. He stood and caught his breath.

With his sword he cut the leather strap of a blank helmet and then with his foot he levered the chitinous armor off the thing’s face, wanting to see if he fought man or monster. It was not easy to be sure. The face was human-like, but the flesh was grayish-black and sunken, the muscles and cords standing out. The teeth were long and blackened, sharp like knives. The nose was shriveled and flat, and the dark eyes were huge. It might once have been a man, but it was like no living man he had ever seen.

He looked up as cries and clattering rocks sounded above him on the cliffs, and he wondered how many of these things were about to descend on him. He looked back the way he had come, and then toward the ruins. Shadows moved in the rocks above him, and he snarled and ran ahead into the silent city.


It was cool in among the ruins. The great towers cast deep shadow over the narrow streets, and some manner of vine grew freely over all the ancient stonework. Mansa followed the vines, seeking water, and at last found a pool that seemed to well up from some underground source. He quickly tasted it, found it good, and then drank deeply and refilled his waterskin. Some dark berries grew on the vines as well, but he did not know if they were safe to eat.

He listened for pursuit, but no sounds haunted after him into the city, and he wondered if there was some greater danger that lurked here in the ruins. Here and there he saw the stone was scorched, as if by a fire or the strike of lightning, and that made him nervous.

The situation was not improved. He was caught in this unknown ruin, and he did not know how many half-human things were lurking beyond the boundaries, or when they might decide to come seeking his blood. He had to find food, and a way out of this place before dark.

He climbed a long stair, curving around a wall etched with worn carvings impossible to decipher. The stone was dark and smooth, like nephrite, laced with veins of dark green. He passed hollow archways and empty doors, and he watched them closely, not certain if they opened on empty chambers or brimmed with an unseen ambush. He felt watched, here in this place, and he could not imagine by what.

Through a wide arch and then he emerged onto a plaza, the ground covered with centuries of dust and dried leaves, the walls overgrown by vines, and on the far side he faced a tall door carved from a red stone, threaded with white. It was so different from the other stone that it made him stop and look, breathing soft as though something might hear him.

He crept closer to it, holding his sword ready, and saw the carvings on the door were all of fire, and men consumed by it. Even beneath the patina of years he could see that much. Then he looked down and saw the curved scrape ground into the stone floor of the plaza, and he knew these doors had been opened recently, not in some long-ago age.

It was so quiet here, he backed away slowly, listening, straining for the smallest sound of a bird or insect, but there was nothing. It lay over the city like a shroud, making it truly a place of the dead. He slipped down a side street, winding between silent ruins, and then the silence was broken by a chorus of screams and shouts from beyond the city. He heard the voices and knew it was the inhuman things who haunted the valley. Perhaps they had found the corpses of their brethren. Now they would hunger for revenge.

He hurried down the narrow street, looking for a place to hide, and he passed a small door that was still sealed, the bronze portal long since turned green and the designs upon it worn away, so that only the gold accents still glittered. Mansa set his shoulder against it, grunted as he pushed, and then the seal cracked and a rush of stale air poured out. Encouraged, he pushed harder, forced the gap wide enough to slip through, and then he squeezed inside and forced the portal closed behind him, leaving him encased in darkness.


It was not darkness. He blinked, and then his eyes adjusted to the light and he saw the chamber was illuminated by shafts of light filtered down from whatever lay above. The room was long and low and heavy with shadow, filled with long, indistinct shapes. Hesitant, he moved among them until he drew near enough to the light to see what they were.

Here under the light was a sarcophagus, long and low, carved with deep, coiled reliefs and made of a black, gleaming stone. He brushed his hand over it, pushing aside the dust, seeing the arcane runes etched in the surface, words in a language now forgotten by man.

He moved among them, unnerved by the oppressive presence of the dead. The air was heavy and stale, smelling of ages and dust. Mansa slipped through this hidden necropolis, trying to move silently, unreasoningly fearful of waking what must not awaken. His hand sweated on the hilt of his sword, and he strained to hear some sound of his inhuman pursuers. All he wanted, in that moment, was a way to escape this terrible place. He feared that he never would see the outer world again.

There was a small cracking sound, loud as the stroke of lightning in this silent hall, and he froze in place, hands ready on his sword, listening, watching. All around him loomed the remnants of a dead civilization, unquiet and haunted. He waited, breathing shallow and quick.

Another crack, and he turned to face it, though in this dark hollow it was not easy to tell for certain. Poised and shivering on the edge of madness, he crept through the dark toward the sound. He would not flee, not in a place like this. Another sound, and he saw movement in the uncertain dark.

The top of a sarcophagus shifted, and he stared at it, his heart pounding fast as hoofbeats. The sarcophagus lid moved, and fell back, and then he heard the last sound he expected to hear in this place – the voice of a woman. He could not make out her words, but the sound was unmistakable. He thought of a thousand tales of desert devils and other night creatures that appeared as lovely women before they killed, but then he heard the voice again, and there was a plaintive, helpless sound to it, and he cursed.

He moved closer, the hairs on his arms standing up. He put his hands on the sarcophaus and felt the stone warm and almost alive. Before he could decide against it, he shoved the lid as hard as he could. It slid aside and crashed to the floor, and Mansa leaped back with his sword poised to strike.

The woman who rose from the crypt was so white she seemed to glow in the dimness. Her hair was a snow-colored cloud, like fine silk, and she wore a fortune in jewels and a thin silken shroud that crumbled away as she sat up. She gasped for breath, seeming not to see him at all, and then she climbed out of her tomb, the last of her garment falling away so she stood naked save for her bracelets and arm-rings and necklaces thick with rubies and gold.

She seemed to see him then, and she spoke to him. He shook his head, almost understanding her, and then he remembered the oldest tongue he had studied, the speech of the ancient land of Aru. It had been dead for a thousand years at least, but he knew some of it. “Who are you?” he ventured in that stilted tongue, and she blinked.

“I am Amarna,” she said. “Who are you? What are you doing in this place?”

“I am called Mansa,” he said. It did not seem the time to enumerate his dangerous and complicated life. “I was lost in a sandstorm and came to this ruined city. There are man-like creatures outside, and they are hunting me. I seek only to escape this place.” He took a small step closer to her, for she was good to look on, though she seemed not to notice her own nakedness.

“Ruined?” she said. “No, it has only been a little while. . .” She turned to the sarcophagus beside hers. “Oh, help me! Help me to open this one!” She pressed her hand to her head, seeming to become dizzy for a moment. Then she set her small white hands to the stone and shoved at it.

Mansa considered the wisdom of awakening another strange being, but then he joined her and helped open the crypt, wondering what he might find inside. The stone lid slid away and fell to the floor like the stroke of a hammer, and then he looked within and saw a corpse that indeed seemed like it had lain here for a thousand years. Amarna had a single glance at the sunken, desiccated shape within and she cringed away with a cry. She seemed to see the dark chamber for the first time.

“Ruined,” she whispered. “They said we would sleep until the rains returned. They said we would wake together.” She covered her mouth with her hands. “How long has it been?”

“I cannot say,” Mansa said. “You speak the tongue of Aru, which has been dust for at least a thousand years.” He stared at her, wondering if it could possibly be true – that here stood a woman who had slumbered for an aeon, and she lived again.

“Aru? I do not know this name. This city was called Shirar, and it was once the heart of a great empire that stretched for many weeks’ journey in every direction, from the river of Urua to the sea in the west.”

Mansa shook his head. “I do not know the name. . . wait, the land of Shiraz? I know that legend. A great city that vanished when the desert came. It was supposed to stand far away from here, in the southlands, beyond the mountains.”

“Perhaps some of our people fled that way. Many left when the rains did not come and the crops failed, and the desert began to creep up from the south, sand blown on the winds at night. The rivers dried, and the days grew so hot. The priests said we were cursed by the gods.” She covered her mouth again. “The guardian! Does it still walk?”

He felt a chill then. “Guardian?”

She crept closer to him, speaking in almost a whisper. “When the rains failed, the priests called on the gods, but the gods did not answer. So they called on older powers – terrible secrets kept from the days before men, when the world was a place of monsters. And they summoned a red thing from the deeps – a thing that burned men to ash and trod upon their blackened bones. Then they gave us the golden elixir so we would sleep, sleep and not age nor die until the world was green again, and the Guardian would keep us safe.” She looked over the chamber. “But we did die. All of us died, all save me.”

“You don’t know,” he said. “Some others may yet live.”

“I do, I do know. I was always gifted with dreams of prophecy - to see what was true – it was why I was among the chosen ones. I saw their death in my visions. I saw a city of death.” She covered her face for a moment, but when she lifted her head again, she seemed to have regained some strength. “Is it day or night?”

“Afternoon,” he said. “Can you get us out of the city?”

“If we move quickly,” she said. “We must not be within the city after night falls. The Guardian walks in the darkness, and he will destroy us.” She gave a last look at the dead body in the tomb, and he wondered who it had been – mother, lover, sister or friend.

“Come,” she said. “I know where we can equip ourselves better for the journey, if the chamber remains untouched.” She gave a last look around. “Come now.”


She led him through the unlighted chambers to a small door of uncorroded metal. There seemed no mechanism to open it, but she merely touched it and the portal slid back with a cascade of dust and a slight grating of the hidden machinery that moved it. Open, it revealed a dark staircase, and they descended in utter darkness. Mansa clutched his sword tightly, feeling menace around him as he traversed in a black tunnel deep beneath a dead city.

Then there was light, and they came out into another wide chamber, though the roof was far lower. A golden glow seemed to come from nowhere, and it reflected from the treasures heaped about the room. Mansa stared at the piled gold coins, the discarded armor and cups and arm-rings. Dust lay everywhere, but the glow of gold and precious stones shone through regardless.

“Here you will find armor, and a new sword if you desire one.” Amarna brushed at the dust. “It has been so long, much will have faded away.”

He wanted to say something to reassure her, but he could think of nothing – he could not even begin to imagine awakening to such a changed world. He dug in the piled treasure and found a fine golden breastplate, gilded with some shining metal that changed colors as the light touched it. He busied himself, strapping it in place, adding armored vambraces and spaulders. The design was ancient, but the metal was light and the fit was good enough. At last he added tassets and donned a graceful but well-made helm. He took the cloth of his turban and used it to make a bundle to carry fistfuls of jewels. He was too wise to burden himself with gold, though he might wish it.

“What manner of creatures hunt you above?” Amarna asked him. She had donned a shimmering silver shirt of scales and laced glittering sandals up her legs.

“I do not know,” he said. “They had the look of men, but not. They seemed debased and inhuman, and I do not know how many there are.” He wondered if he would have to fight his way clear of here. A long sword leaning in shadow caught his eye, and he lifted it. It was longer and heavier than his own, beautifully balanced and with a blade etched in arcane designs. He quickly slung it over his shoulder. It might do to have an extra blade.

“Some fell race that came to live near the city while we all slept,” she said, taking a long knife from the treasure. She threw a dark cloak over her shoulders. “They could not dwell in the city, because of the Guardian.”

“Let us be away then, before the sun goes down,” Mansa said. “I have no wish to meet this creature in the dark.”


Amarna led him up through passageways and silent rooms, and he saw so much he wished to examine. Chambers with carved stone furniture and reliefs and mosaics on the dusty walls, all of it seeming to tell the story of this place lost to time. A city buried in legend and the trackless desert.

At last they emerged into the open, into the narrow, winding streets of the city she called Shirar. He was alarmed to see how much of the day had passed. He listened for signs of his pursuers, but heard no sound. He gripped his sword ready in hand and motioned to her. “Let us go quickly.”

She nodded and led them deeper into the city, climbing higher along the twisting streets and the narrow stairways. Vines grew thicker here, and they had to cut their way. Mansa remained ready for a sudden attack, and so when it came, he was ready.

In a moment the dusky-skinned killers leaped down to fill the street to either side of them, and three of them lunged in for the kill. Mansa shouted and pulled Amarna back, pressed her into the doorway behind him where he could guard her, and he met the rush of the screaming enemy. They came at him in a flurry of blows, and he barely kept them back, striking furiously to keep their weapons from his flesh.

He parried a sword-stroke, ducked under the swing of an axe, and grunted as a spear-thrust glanced from his new breastplate. Close-pressed, he gripped his blade at the half-sword and stabbed at his enemies. He impaled one through the guts and then ripped the blade across as he drew back, spilling viscid entrails. Another stroke and he punched his blade through armor and bone, pulled it back red with blood.

They screamed and rushed on him again, and he hunkered down, letting his armor guard him while he reaped at them with his sword, cutting in low to carve their legs from under them. Two more went down in twisting agony, and he drove the rest back with great sweeps of his sword. The edges of their weapons were harder than steel, and they gouged the edge of his blade until it was toothed like a saw.

The moment he had room, he grabbed Amarna by the arm and dragged her after him, breaking away from the pursuers and racing down a narrow alley. She ran faster than he did and quickly took the lead, hacking through vines as he guarded the rear. The things raced after them, and he turned twice strike at the ones who came too close.

They rounded a corner, and he heard Amarna cry out. Thinking she was attacked, he rounded and saw only a heap of rocks before them, remnant of some ancient landslide. Amarna flung herself at it in desperation. “No! No, this is the way! This is the way out!”

Cursing, Mansa turned to face down their pursuers, saw dozens of them crowding the narrow street, crawling like insects on the walls and among the vines. He set his feet and held up his sword, ready to make them pay for his life in blood. And then he heard a long, ululating cry from high on the cliffs. It came again, more urgent, and he saw the incoming creatures freeze in their places.

Even as he looked, the cry was repeated a third time, and the savage hunters all looked to the sky, seeing the blue of day turning to the violet of evening, and then with cries of terror they all rushed to escape. They climbed over one another, swarmed up the walls and disappeared overhead, and he heard their screams echo as they fled into the deepening night.

Night. “No,” Amarna said. “No. We have waited too long, and the way is blocked. We cannot get away in time.”

“The Guardian,” Mansa said. “That is why they fled.”

“It comes from the red door, from the pits beneath the city where no light dwells.” Amarna shivered. “It comes.”

He turned and looked up at the pile of rocks ahead of them. Impossible to climb, but perhaps not in another place. “Come,” he said and pulled her down another side street. He pulled them through the city, seeking another escape.


The sky grew darker, and the stars began to blaze across the firmament. He heard drumbeats from the cliffsides, and then there was a great rending crash from below, and s thunderous howl that set his hair standing on end. He looked back down into the dark hollows of the city and saw – or thought he saw - a crimson glow moving in the blackness.

“It’s coming,” Amarna moaned, hiding her face. “We have to get out.” She looked up and was still for a moment. “Wait. Here. If we go into this tower, climb up to the roof, then we may be able to climb the slope. Quickly!” She ran to the door, began shoving the debris aside to get at it. Mansa cursed under his breath and ran to help her. When the door was clear she tried to push it open, but it was stuck fast.

Mansa threw his shoulder against it, pushing and grimacing until it shifted. It was like moving a mountain. He wondered if something had fallen against the inside when the landslide came down and half-buried the structure.

A red glow bloomed down the hill, and Mansa froze as he heard what sounded like terrible, thundering footfalls. The door was open just a crack, and he wedge his sword into it, used it as a lever. He wrenched and pulled and strained, forcing it open a little at a time, more, and more.

Something was coming. Something like a walking fire emerged into view at the foot of the hill, and it began to climb. Mansa cried out and gave the door one last wrench, snapping his sword blade in half, and then it was wide enough for Amarna to squeeze through. “Go!” he told her, and she gave him an agonized look before she wriggled through the gap and vanished within.

Mansa looked down the hill, watching the Guardian approach. It was taller than a man, suffused by fire, but that was all he could see of it, and more than he wished to. He hurled himself against the door, again and again, and he realized Amarna was inside, heard her shoving and pushing things aside, and then the door burst open and he almost fell inside.

“I told you to go!” he panted as he got to his feet.

“Everyone I ever knew is dead!” she said. “Do not tell me to leave you as well!”

“Up the steps, quickly!” He pushed her and she pulled him, and they ran up the broad staircase. It was dark, and they both stumbled more than once. Mansa almost fell but managed to catch himself, and then red light bloomed up the stairwell and a great blow shattered below them, shaking the tower as if it would collapse.

“It’s coming!” Amarna cried, pulling at him, and they ran on, up and up, feeling the stone shudder beneath their feet, until at last there was starlight above them, and they stumbled out under the sky. The top of the tower had been destroyed in the rockfall, the roof crushed in, and what remained was all but even with the heaped debris of the landslide. Without hesitating, they both clambered out onto the uneven hillside, making their way over rocks and shifting earth.

Something furious and burning exploded up from the tower, and Mansa turned and saw the Guardian itself burst from the ruins and stand terrible and blazing under the night sky. It was like a suit of black armor, and from every joint and aperture poured red fire as baleful as the glow of hot iron. In place of a head there was a blackened skull jagged with horns, and it opened furious jaws and howled at them as it came onward to destroy.

Amarna cried out in horror, and Mansa groped quickly for the spare sword he had chosen, drew the long, heavy blade and held it ready in both hands. The Guardian came for them, heat baking from it, and Mansa felt his mouth dry and hot with terror. A great fist crushed down and he leaped aside. The heat was terrible, and he could barely see as he leaped in and struck a fierce blow that rang on the armored breast of the monster.

The thing reached for him, hands open to grasp and hold him while he burned, but he staggered back and almost fell. The rocks and loose earth shifted under him, and as the Guardian took another thundering step, leaving burning footprints upon the stone, Mansa realized the only way open to him.

Even as it loomed overhead, heat baking down upon him and armored hands reaching for his flesh, Mansa drew back his sword and struck the stone the creature stood on. The ancient blade fractured the rock and it splintered under the weight of the Guardian. The beast shifted, off-balance, and then Mansa leaped up and smote it a terrible blow on the head, snapping off one of the twisted horns that grew from the black bone. The Guardian reared back, and then the slope crumpled under it and it fell.

It turned over, struck the wall of the tower, and then was dragged down in a cascade of collapsing stonework as it roared. Mansa began to slide after it, only to have Amarna grasp his collar and pull him back from the brink.

They lay gasping on the stones, and then Mansa got to his feet and pulled her up after him. “I think it will come back, we have to keep going.”

“Yes,” she said, breathing hard. “Where will we go?”

“I am going east, to the Kingdom of Umaru. I was only a caravan guard, but now I think I shall be wealthy.” He shook the parcel of jewels at his side. “You are wearing enough jewels to be a queen yourself.”

“Take me with you,” she said. “I do not know the world any longer. I would not be alone.”

He took her hand. “Then come, let us leave this cursed place.”

They climbed the slope of debris, until they reached the top of the cliffs, and then they looked down a long slope to the desert floor and far horizons. Mansa saw lights in the desert, and he realized it was a line of caravan lanterns, far but not too far. “Come,” he said. “If we hurry, we will find a better place to sleep than on the desert rocks.”

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