The Sunken City
Namoo sat upon the sand looking out at the gentle waves lapping up at the shore. The stars faded from the sky and first of the morning light began to creep across the beach. Shivering, Namoo poked the remains of the small fire she had made and watched the last embers float away in the breeze. When she looked up, the calmness of the sea turned violent, crashing against the shore. As the waves sped up the beach towards Namoo’s booted feet, she scrambled back to a safe distance.
It was time, she realised. Ten years had gone by so quickly and she wondered if she was ready. Her training had been hard, learning from the greatest warriors, forcing her body to go beyond exhaustion and focusing on a solitary life to prepare for this day. As doubts crept into her thoughts, the city rose from the depths of the ocean. Spires and twisting towers burst upwards from the sea. The buildings huddled together in a great mass of black, a city bigger than any Namoo had ever seen. With her heart pounding, Namoo jumped to her feet. From what she estimated as three miles from the coast, the city settled into place. The sea fell from the towers like a thousand waterfalls as the city took a breath after ten years of submergence. Down the beach, the Droth Draili warrior strode down into the water until it was up to his waist, looking out at the risen city as the waves became calm once again.
Idiot, Namoo thought. The Droth Draili turned stiffly to look towards her as though he had read her thoughts, but looked back to face the black towers of the distant city in the sea. A few hours ago she had considered killing him, sneaking up from behind and slicing his throat. But he had ignored her, setting his own fire at a safe distance. So arrogant were the Droth Draili that he did not see her as a threat. Contemptuously, she snorted and kicked sand over the remains of the fire. The sun had now risen over the ocean and she had to squint to look at the Sunken City.
The boatman was late, she realised with mild irritation. She gathered her possessions, placing her two swords into the scabbards strapped to her back. The Droth Draili had come back up the beach and watched as Namoo strapped her daggers to each thigh. Working slowly, she tightened her boots, shooting the Droth Draili warrior a wry smile. She stood up and stretched, sending out a prayer to her ancestors.
“Watch over me this day,” she whispered, thinking of her mother and father. The rising sun warmed her face and she closed her eyes, breathing in deeply as she found a moment of peace. Birds called out to her above the sound of the waves and she thought of home, so far away. When she opened her eyes, she saw a small boat had beached upon the shore and the boatman dragged it away from the sea. After a small struggle with his boat, he stood watching Namoo and the Droth Draili, leaning upon an oar. Behind him the towers of the city dwarfed him and cast him in shadow. The Droth Draili headed towards him and Namoo strode down towards the waters edge, pulling her hood up and letting her left hand hover by a dagger as her right hand clenched, ready to draw a sword from her back. As Namoo approached the Droth Draili she kept her face expressionless. The Droth Draili looked away from her, his expression full of distaste.
The boatman shook his head slowly and cast a disapproving look at Namoo. “Women do not sail with me.” He cleared his throat and spat upon the sand. Moving closer to her, he sniffed. “Not even ones as pleasing to look upon as you.”
Namoo tensed, her skin crawling as she caught the stench of rotten fish from the man. The boatman was ancient, a scrawny man with faded eyes and straggly white hair. Namoo threw a leather pouch and the old man caught it in his bony hands. He shook it and the sound of coin jingled. “This woman sails with you,” Namoo said, her tone calm and measured. “So you can either take the coin, or I take your life.” She stared into the boatman’s grey eyes, her lips pressed into a tight line. After a ten year wait for the city to rise again, she was not going to be turned away.
The boatman’s eyes narrowed and he spat again. His fingers delved into the pouch and drew out three copper coins. “I’d say you weren’t worth more than this.” He threw the pouch back to Namoo who caught it with a smile.
The boatman turned to the Droth Draili. “Your people are treacherous and vile,” he said, pointing an accusing finger at him. “You live for war, stripping away at the land as you go. Why should I allow you to sail with me?”
The Droth Draili was silent and Namoo looked between him and the boatman. The Droth Draili were a people quick to anger and she could see the tension within the warrior’s stance. His arms were bulging muscles that shook and his jaw clenched. His blue eyes cut into the boatman. Namoo moved her hand down to her thigh where her fingers wrapped around the hilt of her dagger. If the Droth Draili went to attack, she would have no choice but to kill him.
I should have killed him last night, she mused. If he killed the boatman, no one would take them across to the city. Only a fool would swim into these waters and she saw movement within the depths. No other boatman would be brave enough or stupid enough to sail close to the sunken city. But the Droth Draili relaxed, throwing a pouch that landed at the boatman’s feet.
“Pick it up and hand it to me,” the boatman said, staring at the Droth Draili.
“You push your luck, old one,” he said, his voice deep and accented with the harsh southern tongue. He reached down and picked up the pouch from the sand, handing it to the boatman. Namoo let out a breath. She had forgotten how much she hated the Droth Draili and she felt uneasy standing so close without killing him. It had been some years since the Droth Draili had fought the Kylorn. Many Kylorns had died defending the pass into their lands and the blood feud remained. The Droth Draili were merciless warriors, but they had underestimated the strength of the Kylorn. The way this one looked at her, Namoo saw he also underestimated her. That gave her an advantage, for she had a feeling she would have to kill him.
The boatman weighed the pouch within his bony grip. He looked to Namoo, and then placed the entire contents into his cloak. “I don’t care much for the Droth Draili,” he told her. “You are from the Kylorn lands, strong people who are both proud and honourable.”
Namoo bowed slightly. “Nevertheless, it is not wise to speak out of turn to a Droth Draili.”
The Droth Draili shot a sharp glance at Namoo. “Do not speak for me, Kylorn.” He looked at the Boatman. “I grow tired of these games, old man. If you are going to take us, then do so.”
Namoo snorted. “You Droth Draili are such a charming people. If I had the time, I would teach you some Kylorn manners.” She smiled to the boatman and helped him to push the boat into the sea, aware that the Droth Draili’s eyes were burning into her. The three climbed on board and the boatman began to row. The beach drifted away from them and Namoo watched it go, realising that ten years of training was about to be put to the test. The Droth Draili sat opposite Namoo, watching her with a weary look.
“So what’s your story?” Namoo asked the Droth Draili in a forced cheerful tone.
The Droth Draili looked taken aback, but his face became a scowl. “Do not talk to me, Kylorn.”
Namoo shook her head. “Well, as it appears we will be the only two facing the city, perhaps we should join forces?” She hid her distaste for such an idea behind a mask of innocence. No one who had ever gone to the city returned. But whatever dangers lurked in the city, there was a great treasure at the centre that drove warriors to succeed where all had failed.
The Droth Draili looked out at the city. “You propose an alliance?”
Namoo shrugged. “We help each other to reach the treasure. When we make it out alive, we fight to the death for it.”
The boatman chuckled to himself. “Do you even know what the treasure is?”
The Droth Draili snorted. “Aye, it is a great sword of fire that can lay waste to an entire army. The Gods forged it in the depths of the world and the Necromancers claimed it. As punishment for stealing their weapon, the Gods sunk their city and it rises every ten years so the sword can be claimed by the chosen people. We Droth Draili are those chosen.”
Namoo sighed. She had heard many tales of the city. The truth of it would never be known; the city had been cursed so many years ago it was forgotten to legend and myth. Whatever caused the city to rise at dawn and sink by dusk every ten years was a mystery, but the threat of any powerful relic falling to a race such as the Droth Draili was too much for the Kylorn to ignore. Ten years ago the last Kylorn champion had failed to return along with the last Droth Draili champion. Namoo had been a young warrior maiden of just fifteen when she had won the right to be the next champion. Now the best warriors of their people sat opposite each other.
The boatman pulled harder on the oars, speeding the small boat onwards towards the city. “One man returned from the city,” he said. “It was fifty years ago and I remember taking him back to shore. The man had gone insane, muttering to himself. In the end, he sliced his own throat, scared the demons would follow him. He was a Droth Draili.” He pointed a long finger to the beach. “He died right where this Droth Draili had been camping.” The boatman laughed cruelly to himself.
The Droth Draili looked uneasy for a moment. “Once we have the artefact, the alliance is over.”
Namoo nodded, studying the warrior’s powerful frame. Every inch of him bulged with muscle; even his neck was thick and strong as though he was born to fight. While he had the advantage of strength, Namoo thought, she would have the advantage of speed and stamina. Sending champion after champion in every ten years was certainly not a winning strategy. At least this Droth Draili could see the sense of it. Perhaps they were not all stupid. “Very well,” she said. “You have my word on my ancestors.”
The Droth Draili lowered his gaze. “And I give you the word of mine.”
The boatman laughed. “A Droth Draili’s promise is another word for a lie.”
The Droth Draili’s hand shot out to the boatman and gripped him round the throat. “Another slur on my people, and I shall snap that neck of yours!” He pushed the startled man back in his seat.
“Pah!” the old man spat, letting go of the oars to rub his neck, appearing unafraid. “You would not dare waste ten years of training on an old man’s words. Would you swim back to the beach if you survive the city?”
The Droth Draili muttered something under his breath, but to Namoo’s relief he relaxed. The Droth Draili looked pale and he cast a sly gaze at the city. They continued the rest of the journey in silence and Namoo stared into the murky depths of the sea. When they reached the edge of the city, the sun had fully risen and was surprisingly warm and bright. Looking at the city, Namoo shivered and drew her cloak around her. The boatman stopped short of the edge of the grey rocky shore and gestured for them to leave.
“I shall wait until just before the night falls,” he said. “If you are still in the city by then, the sea shall claim you.”
The Droth Draili jumped from the boat and scrambled up the rocks. Namoo smiled and thanked the boatman. “I am sorry for my companion’s lack of manners.”
The boatman smiled. “And I am sorry the sea shall claim one as beautiful as you.” He cleared his throat, spat into the sea and sighed. “The city is alive, you know. Listen and you can hear the heart.”
Namoo paused and looked up at the city. “How can I fight such a thing?” she whispered.
The boatman sighed. “You do not fight that what you cannot defeat.” He looked into her eyes and for a moment Namoo saw the glimmer of a man who had once been a great warrior, tinged with sadness and regret. He looked away from her. “You should go.”
Namoo threw her coin pouch to him and jumped onto the rocky shore. “See you in a few hours.” She hurried up the rocks after the Droth Draili until she stood next to him at the arch to the city. They looked into the depths of the city, along the narrow streets. There was silence, save the crashing of the waves against the rocks and a wind that whistled through the city, giving it a sorrowful voice. The Droth Draili turned to Namoo. “It is a beautiful thing to stand here and behold a thing carved from the magic of the ancients.”
Namoo studied the Droth Draili, shocked at hearing something almost poetic from him. “Any magic here was an evil thing,” she said, a feeling of dread within.
“Watch your words; the ancients sleep lightly.” The Droth Draili strode into the city, his expression dreamlike. Namoo followed, unsure of her companion, tempted to run ahead and ditch him. The boatman was correct: the Droth Draili were a treacherous race.
Then why do I trust this one? Namoo wondered. As she thought upon the muscled warrior, she found herself within the city. The towers lined the street ahead, built of different sizes and shapes. There was a chaotic mess to the design, as though the builders worked without care for beauty and unity. There were few windows within the buildings and they looked down at the adventurers with what felt like menace. Walking up to a building, Namoo touched it and felt cold stone. From this close up, Namoo could see they were not actually black, but dark grey, the colour of the rocks upon what the city was built, almost as though the towers had simply grown from the rock. As she rested her hand upon the stone, she could feel a throbbing that vibrated through her hand and she put her ear to it, hearing a distant pounding.
A hand grabbed her arm and pulled her away. The Droth Draili looked at her with anger. “If you slow me down, Kylorn, I shall leave you behind.”
Namoo pulled her arm from the firm grip of the Droth Draili. “We should not rush into the city.” She looked around her and noticed she had lost her way. The city arch was no longer in sight and the street had become narrower. “Have we wondered this far already?”
The Droth Draili turned from her, looking uncertainly around. “We make good progress.
They walked cautiously on through the street, unsure of where they were heading. With each step, Namoo’s head felt heavy and the sensation washed through her body. It was like walking through water, Namoo realised, and as they went further the water got deeper. But it was not only deeper, but colder, too. The Droth Draili slowed with her and he shook his head a number of times. The towers closed in on them, blotting out the sky. Pain throbbed within Namoo’s head and she rubbed at her temples.
“I need to stop here,” The Droth Draili muttered. He turned around, looking at the streets that branched from the one they were on like a great tree. Namoo tried to see the route they had come, but somehow they had lost the way. Suddenly it was difficult to think. The Droth Draili dropped to his knees and held his head within his hands. Namoo swayed upon her feet, her vision blurring. Suddenly a thousand voices whispered in her ear, distracting her. Spinning around, she staggered and dropped to one knee. For a second, she forgot where she was.
Then she remembered a distant day within the Kylornian highlands. She had just been selected to train as champion of the Kylorn, one of ten other hopefuls. She had been the only woman and she stood in line with young, fresh eager faces. Ignoring the mocking looks from the men, she focused on the old Kylorn warrior pacing down the line. He stopped in front of Namoo and studied her, his wrinkled face creasing into a frown as he regarded her with steel eyes.
“You think yourself stronger than these men?” he asked, waving his arm down the line.
Namoo swallowed back anger. “I fear no man.”
The teacher smiled. “Men are stronger than women.”
Namoo glanced at the other men, their eyes locked on her. She returned her gaze to the teacher and smiled back at him. “But they are not half as clever, my teacher.”
The teacher laughed, turned and walked to the centre of the courtyard. He drew his sword and planted it in the dirt before him. “Then come and fight me, show how cleverness wins a fight.”
The men laughed, irritating Namoo. She felt her face flush red as she drew her own sword that suddenly felt heavy within her hand. Advancing towards the old teacher, she raised her sword and swung out at him, but his sword was in his hands before she could cut him, and the metal clashed. The teacher pushed back against her sword, but Namoo strained to keep her own sword firm against his and pushed back.
“Good!” the teacher said. “You have strength for a woman.” He twisted his sword over Namoo’s and she stumbled sideways, surprised by the strength. Before she could right herself, the teacher brought his sword down to strike and she parried it, but too slowly to avoid a cut to her upper arm that stung. Ignoring it, she fought back furiously, the teacher blocking each blow without effort. Exhausted, Namoo pushed on, refusing to give in. But the sword grew heavy and the teacher appeared to block without effort. Finally, the teacher moved in and locked her sword in a downward strike, twisted it and knocked Namoo’s sword from her hand. It flew from her and clattered on the ground. Exhausted, Namoo dropped to her knees.
The teacher held his hand out to help her up, but she ignored it and stood herself. “You desire to humiliate me?” she asked, panting.
The teacher shook his head. “You do not lack strength, young one. But your mind is clouded. You must all learn to focus on the moment. Listen to your heart, not your mind. When you are fighting, your mind should not be where you were, or where you want to go. It should be here!”
Namoo grabbed her sword, her face now red with anger and embarrassment as she returned to the smiling line of men. “I promise I will defeat all of you,” she muttered under her breath. By the time her training was over, Namoo had fulfilled her promise and the day she knocked the sword from her teacher’s grasp, her mind had never wondered from the sound of her own heart.
Focussing back to the present, Namoo heard a distant beat. Getting shakily to her feet, she closed her eyes and listened, pushing every thought from her mind and going inwards. The beat grew louder until it pulsed through her entire body. The heaviness left Namoo and the distant beating of the city began to energise her, lifting the fog from her mind. For a moment, she considered leaving the Droth Draili where he was and continuing on, but she had made a promise. Cursing, she leaned down and shook him.
The Droth Draili looked up, his eyes red and his face creased in pain. “I cannot go on!” he cried, trembling. “The city is cursed!”
Namoo slapped him across the face and he fell back to the floor. “You dishonour your clan, Droth Draili!” she spat. “I knew you would not make it.” She laughed, watching the growing anger in the Droth Draili’s face. He got to his feet, advanced towards Namoo.
“I will kill you now, Kylorn!” He grabbed at his sword and gritted his teeth. But he was slow on his feet and Namoo swung a punch that collided with his nose, knocking him back and spraying blood. Righting himself, he shook his head. Expecting the Droth Draili to swing back, Namoo readied herself to a fighting stance. The Droth Draili laughed, wiping blood from his nose with the back of his hand. “Do all Kylorn punch as hard?”
Namoo smiled. “Welcome back, I thought I had lost you.”
The Droth Draili shook his head. “Aye, for a moment you had.”A distant screech caused the Droth Draili to spin around. “Did you hear that?”
Namoo nodded. “We need to move. Do not let your mind wonder, find a still point and focus on it.”
“Which way do we go?”
Namoo thought for a moment. She dropped to her knees and placed her head to the ground and closed her eyes. Within her head she could feel the beating heart of the city. Looking up, she sensed it was stronger to the right, down a twisting street. “We need to head down there.” She headed into the city, but the Droth Draili pulled her back.
“How do you know to go that way, Kylorn?”
Namoo sighed. “Can you not hear the city? The heart is beating like a voice calling out to me.”
The Droth Draili’s face creased into a frown. “The only beating heart I hear is my own.”
Namoo snorted. “The problem is that you Droth Draili have no imagination. You will have to trust me, Droth.” A shriek cut through the city. “Or you can wait for whatever that thing is to catch up.”
The Droth Draili nodded and they hurried down a twisting street. At every turn, Namoo dropped to her knees and rested her head against the ground, listening to the distant thud that grew stronger as they neared the centre. The sound of it filled her with energy, pushing her onwards. But the Droth Draili struggled. The city seemed to drag him down. He fell back against a wall and panted, wiping sweat from his brow. He looked up at Namoo and sighed.
“I need to rest,” the Droth Draili said. His muscles were shaking and he slumped to the floor, resting his head within his hands. The shriek of the hunter was more distant. Perhaps, Namoo thought, they had managed to lose it.
“I thought you Droth Draili were invincible warriors,” Namoo said, slumping down next to him.
The Droth Draili looked up at her and a small smile broke across his face. “You forgot to mention that we are vile and treacherous.”
Namoo laughed. “Was that an attempt at a joke?”
The Droth Draili looked away and pulled a small silver chain over his head. Attached to it was a small seashell and it seemed to Namoo an odd piece of jewellery to wear. The Droth Draili caught her watching him and closed his fist over the shell.
“My love gave me this for luck,” the Droth Draili said, his voice softer. “I found this shell on the beach the night we met. She thought it was so very pretty.”
Namoo turned away from him. It was strange to sit next to a Droth Draili and actually feel sorry for him. Just the previous night she had considered slicing the Droth Draili’s throat and letting him bleed to death upon the sandy shore. Now she was glad she had let him live.
“I am sure you will see your love again,” Namoo whispered.
The Droth Draili stood, putting the chain back around his neck. “If I do see my love, then you would have died by my sword. Only one of us will leave with the treasure. If that person is you, then go to the Droth Draili lands and tell her I died fighting.”
Namoo nodded slowly. “I promise I will find her. But what is your name?”
The Droth Draili sighed. “Ask her when you find her.”
They continued on, the maze twisting around them. The Droth Draili followed like a dog, silent but ready to spring to her aid. Again, Namoo wondered why she had not killed him. He was only slowing her down and each time she glanced back at him, she saw the look of effort upon his face. Just as she considered leaving him behind, a figure appeared before them, the sun behind casting it into shadow. It moved towards them, metal armour clanking as it did so. It was twice the height of a man, a great black cloak billowing out behind. Within black armoured gauntlets, it carried a great broadsword, bigger than any Namoo had ever seen. Upon the head was a great black helmet with a mane of black hair and around the knight’s waist was a belt made of human skulls.
Namoo dropped to her knees, her entire body going weak. She cried out, praying to the Gods to save her. The black knight stopped before her, looking down at her with red eyes shining beneath the helmet. “Gru Mear!”
The Droth Draili knelt next to her. “What is it?”
Namoo was unable to take her eyes from the knight as it began to lift the sword, slowly due to the great weight of it. The skulls at the waist clunked together. “Gru Mear,” she repeated, closing her eyes. “It comes to all unworthy Kylorn to drag them to an eternity of pain.”
The Droth Draili laughed. “I am not Kylorn,” he said, drawing his sword. He pushed Namoo back and charged the knight. Namoo scrambled away from the fight, the image of the Gru Mear filling her with dread. Her father had told her stories of the Gru Mear coming for her should she ever fall from the path of a warrior. She watched as the Droth Draili battled on. As the swords clashed, the sound was deafening. The Droth Draili had seemed to find his strength and pushed the Gru Mear back. It was slow, Namoo realised, carrying that weight. Just bringing the sword up to attack the Droth Draili took great effort. Watching the Droth Draili fight was beautiful, she admitted to herself, the dread fading from her. His great muscles bulged as he parried and slashed at the knight. Finally, the Droth Draili swung out with his sword and it crashed through the Gru Mear’s neck, taking the head off. The helmet went rolling down the street and the great headless body smashed to the ground where it vanished as though it had never been.
The Droth Draili went to Namoo and held out a hand to her. “You have nothing to fear from this Gru Mear,” he said, softly.
Namoo looked up at him and saw his cold blue eyes held a hint of compassion. Suddenly Namoo felt herself overwhelmed by shame. She hung her head, unable to look the Droth Draili in the eye. “I have had nightmares about that thing,” she confided. “And when I faced it, I really was unworthy.”
The Droth Draili grabbed Namoo’s hand and pulled her up. “We have something similar, but we call it the Ha-Rula. It is shaped like a dragon with great claws to rip the soul from a man. If I had seen that, then it would be me cowering.”
Namoo pulled her hand away, anger bubbling within. “I am not a coward, Droth Draili.”
The Droth Draili shrugged. “Then lead us on, Kylorn. The sun has gone past the highest part of the day already and our time grows short.”
Namoo looked up at the sun, shocked to see they were well into the afternoon. How long had they been wandering the strange city? If it had taken half the day to get this far, then by the time they reached the city edge, it would be dark and once again the city would sink beneath the waves, taking them with it. But the beat of the heart was stronger here, she realised, feeling it beneath her feet. Looking ahead, she saw a tower, set away from the other buildings. It reached high into the sky, black and twisting without a single window like an evil arm that clawed at the clouds. It cast a long shadow over them.
“That is where we need to go,” Namoo said.
The Droth Draili’s expression hardened. “Then let us get this treasure so I can at last fight you and splash your blood upon the rocks.” He looked at Namoo and gave a half smile, heading towards the tower. In the distance, there was another shriek and with mounting horror, Namoo realised it was closing in on their position. If the city did not beat them, she realised, they would have to face whatever hunted them.
By the time they reached the tower the sun had sunk dangerously close to the sea. The sky had turned a light red as dusk approached. It was as though time was meaningless within the city, Namoo thought. Looking up at the tower, her head spun at the great height. How many other champions had made it this far? Could the two of them be the closest to achieving what others could only dream about?
The Droth Draili clapped her on the back firmly. “It is not over yet, Namoo,” he said softly.
Namoo blinked, shocked that the Droth Draili had used her name. Looking at him, she found herself beginning to like the man, despite who he was. They entered the tower, expecting darkness, but inside the walls had a faint glow and the sound of the beating heart was deafening to Namoo. The Droth Draili appeared not to hear it and headed towards the spiralling staircase ahead. He paused at the foot and looked back at Namoo.
“Are you coming?”
Namoo went to move, but her legs gave way under her as the beating heart vibrated through her entire body. Getting to her feet, she panted, stumbling towards the Droth Draili. She collapsed into his arms and felt them tight around her, lifting her up. “Do not let me down now,” he said, hauling her up the steps. “Our alliance is not over yet.”
Namoo smiled weakly. “If all Droth Draili are like you, then perhaps your people are not all bad.”
The Droth Draili put Namoo’s arm around his shoulders and helped her to walk the stairs. At last, they came to a circular chamber and Namoo slid to the floor. A great window looked across the sea and the sun glowed red in the view, shining down on a black box upon a stone table. Circling the table were six black robed figures, their heads bowed. They were twice the height of the Droth Draili and their scaled hands clutched around swords carved from what appeared to be bone. Struggling to her feet, Namoo drew her swords, though her arms shook with effort.
“They are just statues,” the Droth Draili said, moving towards the box. “If Droth Draili are the chosen ones, then they will allow me to take the treasure.”
Namoo staggered after him. “The city talks to me, not you. Perhaps I am the chosen one?”
The Droth Draili nodded. “What if we both are?”
Namoo smiled. “No one ever succeeded before us, but they never worked as one. Let us take it together, Droth.” Taking his hand, Namoo walked with the Droth Draili and stopped before the box. It looked heavy, made of solid stone, square and featureless. When they both touched it, Namoo heard a great sigh within her mind and a gust of wind rushed through them both. Lifting it together, the city suddenly became silent and the heart stopped. Both Namoo and the Droth Draili looked at each other, then out at the fading sun. Within an hour it would be night and the city would sink again. There were handles on both side of the box and they each took hold of one, lifting the box from the table. As they carried it away, Namoo could feel the statues of the robed figures watching.
“They must be the Necromancers,” Namoo whispered, the box growing heavy as they hurried towards the stairs. The Droth Draili nodded, his muscles bulging as he took most of the weight. They hurried down the stairs, almost running. Fear gripped Namoo as she realised they had very little time and she saw a look of desperation within the eyes of the Droth Draili. They burst from the tower into the city now overwhelmed by shadows. The buildings appeared to have parted to make a path from the tower towards the walls where Namoo could make out the arch and the way out.
“It wants us to make it,” the Droth Draili said, pushing on with the box. Namoo ran with him, but as they hurried on, she heard a loud shriek and the thudding of something big following behind. “Do not look back, keep running!” the Droth Draili shouted.
Namoo nodded, struggling to keep hold of the box. Her arms began to burn, but now they were close, she felt a new surge of strength. A sudden thought came to her that they could just drop the box and make a run for it. Risking a glance back, she saw a monstrous creature behind. The thing was scaled, pulling its huge body along on four gigantic limbs. Two yellow eyes stared at them and a huge tail whipped out behind it. The distance between them closed at a frightening rate. Teeth snapped together and spittle flew from the thing.
The Droth Draili stopped and dropped his end of the box. “We can fight this thing,” he said, drawing his sword.
Namoo looked at the sinking sun and the growing shadows. If they stayed to fight, she realised, they would sink with the city. Time slowed as she looked back at the creature and then to the Droth Draili. “I am sorry,” she whispered to him. Looking at the confusion on his face, she drove her sword into his guts, pulling it out again in a spray of blood.
The Droth Draili fell to his knees, his eyes wide in shock, clutching at his stomach where blood dripped between his fingers. “And you thought the Droth Draili were without honour?” He reached out and grabbed at her with a bloody hand, but Namoo pulled away.
The creature gave a cruel shriek as Namoo grabbed one end of the box and dragged it away towards the arch. Behind her, she could hear the screams of the Droth Draili drown under the roar of the creature as it tore him apart. Under her breath she muttered that she was sorry, pushing down the guilt as she reached the arch and pulled the box down the rocks towards the waiting boat. Jumping into the boat, ignoring the boatman, she pulled the box in after her. The boatman rowed away from the city.
They remained silent until they were halfway to the shore. The boatman broke the silence first. “I had a feeling you would win the prize.”
Namoo looked away, ignoring the stabbing guilt that ate away at her. She was in no mood to talk and realised her hand bled where she still gripped the handle of the box tightly. By the time they reached the beach, the sun had vanished and the waves began to crash against the shore. Turning to look at the city, she watched as it began to sink beneath the sea once again. The boat lurched as it was pushed up into the sand, sea water spraying up around them. Namoo climbed out of the boat, dragging the stone box with her. It landed in the sand and half embedded in it. With effort, Namoo dragged it up the beach.
“What are you going to do with the treasure?” the Boatman called after her.
Namoo continued to drag the box up the beach. “It is not a treasure, it is a curse!” she called out. When she reached the top of the beach she stopped and watched the final tower sink beneath the sea. The boatman rowed back out to sea. Letting go of the box, she sat back in the sand and stared at it. Within the box the Droth Draili believed was a powerful weapon. Now it belonged to the Kylorn, but Namoo knew she had no right to it. Scrambling to her knees, she began digging into the sand with her bare hands. When the moon was high in the sky, she had managed to dig a deep hole and stood over it, looking down.
“I never did find out your name, Droth,” she muttered. Shrugging away the guilt, she pushed the box into the hole and began covering it in sand. The city would finally rest, she realised, at the bottom of the sea for all eternity and with it the souls of all those who had attempted to retrieve the treasure. When she had finished burying the box, she gave a last look to the now still sea before leaving the beach. As she walked from the beach, she changed direction from north where home and the highlands of Kylorn lay, to south towards the harsh lands of the Droth Draili. She had promised a Droth Draili to find his love, and she at least owed him that.
And when she slept later that night, she awoke with a start, thinking she had heard the screams of the dying Droth Draili. Every night, she would wake to the scream of a betrayed man. Then one day, fifty years later, the nightmares ceased and a warrior came across a strange buried chest.