Monday, 27 July 2015

Shadows in the Sand - Chapter 4




JD59, Night


Another night of doing bugger all and freezing our backside off,” declared Max.

Bayoud shrugged off his friend’s comment as he stood guard during his night shift.  He was proud to stand guard and protect the city he loved.  For him, ninety percent of being a soldier in Nimar was patience, vigilance and self-discipline.  The other ten percent was being brave and heroic when the time came.  Attacks on the city were infrequent – months would go by without any action – but when they did occur, attacks often had fatal consequences and caused huge damage to the city buildings.  What mattered to Bayoud was being ready, for the slightest delay on his part could spell disaster for those he loved and cared for inside the walls.  All newly graduated soldiers started out on watch for the first three years, patrolling the massive outer city wall on a constant twelve hour shift.  Once you ranked up from experience and age, you’d then get the easier jobs of sitting inside coordinating the soldiers or, better yet, be chosen to go on a scouting party like the recent one that had left earlier that day.  Bayoud had grown up listening to the heroic tales of previous Grandmasters and Master soldiers and wanted his name to go down in legend someday as well. Perhaps one day, he would wield the ultra-weapon of his people – the giant axe called, ‘Gravemaker’.

At 6ft 5”, Bayoud was tall but his bones outpaced his muscles and his build was lanky as such.  Smarter than the average soldier, Bayoud’s intelligence had not gone unnoticed by the Masters during his training.  Every soldier was equipped with a 5ft wooden spear and a knife.  Only the Masters and the elders had alternative weapons, passed down from one to another, which were custom-designed and extremely valuable.  Max turned around to survey the town. 

“We should be with the party that left today to kill the snake.  Greater strength in numbers I say.”

“And if the serpent kills all the soldiers, who is then left to defend the city if we’re attacked by golems or the serpent in its vengeance?” responded Bayoud.

The mention of golems – the biggest threat to Nimar – quickly shut Max up.  Bayoud stared intently out into the darkness that enshrouded the lands to the south.  No one had ever ventured south; the early hunters reported a great flat expanse which they called The Void, a nothingness bereft of life, water, and even shrubs, so no one ever went there. But the south intrigued Bayoud, sometimes on the clearest of nights, when the atmosphere had cleaned itself of dust and sand he thought he could make out a faint violet and green tinge to the southern night sky even if no one else could.  Something lay beyond the horizon, of that Bayoud was certain.  Bayoud’s concentration was interrupted – as usual – by Max, returning to the wall after popping down to fill up his water, or so he hoped he could.

“They’re rationing the bloody water again!  I need to drink more water I think, it stings when I piss,” said Max.

“You should go get yourself checked out. It might not be a lack of water.  A sand leech may have crawled inside you during your sleep. It’s a common problem in our quadrant, something about the living conditions being less sanitary and our beds closer to the ground.”

“What would you know about that? Your bed is up on top.”

Bayoud smiled and replied, “The merits of winning the spear throwing trials.  You should have trained harder.”

“It’s your gangly and unnaturally long right arm that is the problem – no one can compete with it.  Fine, after this shift ends I’ll go see a medic.”

“Good, I’ll come with you to make sure you go.  I know you don’t like those cacti needles.”

Max liked to play the tough guy, exaggerating and hamming up the bravado, but Bayoud knew his friend was no natural soldier.  In previous attacks Max had been nowhere, rearing his head only when the danger had passed.  Bayoud sensed Max’s overt swagger was because his friend was actually on edge because the city was emptied of its soldiers, especially Grandmaster Jax. It was the elder who usually took care of any attacks. 

“Here, have some of my water if you’re thirsty,” said Bayoud.

Max gratefully accepted a few swigs of Bayoud’s water.  As a child, Max didn’t know what career he wanted to do and, frankly, he didn’t care. Consequently, he was placed into the soldiers’ quadrant by default like so many of the rest, mainly boys.  Gripping his spear and focused on the surroundings, Bayoud trusted his gut and he sensed that the predators outside the walls were watching and waiting for the very second the soldiers dropped their guard.  The greatest enemy was that which couldn’t be seen.  Bayoud kept a watchful eye on the south, his intuition telling him that one day something would come out of The Void.  It was cold.  The biting wind blew in from the south, but Bayoud would take a night shift in winter over a day shift in summer, when the suffocating heat was at its most unbearable.  Bayoud stretched his fingers and suppressed his yawn from the other soldiers.  It would be a typical night of slow-pacing the wall.



Athmane and Faria,


JD60, Sunrise



Faria had hardly slept during the night. She didn’t know if it was excitement or nerves she was feeling but, whatever the emotions might have been, they were too much to allow her to sleep.  Like all of the citizens, she didn’t have many possessions – a satchel bag, water flask and some wooden carvings she had whittled when a teenager.  They were her lucky charms and she had taken them into every exam she took, not that she needed luck.  It hadn’t taken long for her and Athmane to organise their things and they’d said goodnight well before midnight.  Despite Athmane’s advice to not bring much, before leaving the dorm Faria borrowed two more satchels from her sleeping roommates, they wouldn’t notice, and she put some empty slates in them with some chalk.  No one really needed the slates anyway and it was important she could sketch out Helven in detail.

Faria left her dormitory, pausing to look back and reflect if she’d ever see it again.  It might not have been luxurious but it was safety and security – home.  The lands outside were a dangerous place, even in the company of an experienced hunter.  Nimar was quiet at night: only the patrolling soldiers made whispers of noise and Faria’s footsteps crunching along the gravel drew their eyes from high upon the wall.  Most of the soldiers thought nothing of it, just another citizen going to the toilet, yet they did wonder why she had so many belongings with her before she passed out of sight towards the gate.  The wind was cold and Faria already missed the relative warmth of her dorm, she wondered if she’d even be able to cope the first night away. 


As the first beams of the rising sun un-blackened the southern sky, Faria waited by the gate and passed the time by watching the soldiers patrol the wall.  She spotted Bayoud and waved to him.  Nearing the end of his shift, Bayoud waved back and smiled, curious as to why she had a rucksack but his eyes didn’t linger on her too long, his supervisor, Master Cawes, was nearby and he kept his eyes fixed on the land outside. 

“Good morning.  If you insist on carrying that extra weight, be my guest, I’m not helping you,” said Athmane.

“I know you advised against it, but I decided not to listen to you.  Besides, Prisa said you’re to assist me however you can and I feel it’s important to detail Helven to the maximum.” 

“I had an inclination you’d ignore what I said! Give me a few satchels then.  But if we’re being chased by a golem, these are getting dropped first.”

Grandmaster Prisa arrived at the gate, pleased to see both hunter and craftswoman were on time and ready for the task at hand.

“Good morning to you both.  I trust your Master explained your mission, Athmane.”

“Keep Faria alive, at all costs.”

“You two were chosen for your youth, dedication and excellence in your fields.  I would like you back here in four or five days to report your findings.  I believe that is ample time, but don’t rush.  It’s important you make a thorough assessment and stay safe,” said Prisa.

Another figure approached from behind Prisa – it was Grandmaster Hawk.


Grandmaster Hawk carried his longbow and the deadly black arrows in his quill, twice the size of the conventional arrows.  Sporting a black moustache and stubble, Hawk’s fierce blue eyes shone in the dawn sun and his thick black hair blew in the wind, partially covering his eyes.  Hawk had the air of authority about him, and at the age of fifty he was the youngest elder.  Lean, fit and a handsome face, Hawk assumed command of the hunters and the soldiers in the absence of Grandmaster Jax.      

“Congratulations on your number one ranking.  I hear your skill with a bow is almost as good as mine,” said Hawk.

“I came close to beating your record in the training ground, but narrowly missed out,” replied Athmane.

“You should have no problem using this then.”

Grandmaster Hawk handed Athmane his longbow – the ultra-weapon of his quadrant.

“This is one of the three longbows our quadrant possesses.  I have mine back in the Sanctum, Master Thane has his on the scouting party and now you have the other.  No one has been to Helven in over a hundred years and we do not know what beasts may lurk there.  It would be irresponsible of the city to send two of its most promising people without maximum protection.”

Athmane held the longbow in awe.  Bayoud couldn’t help but notice from the wall and stared at the remarkable scenes involving his friend, not caring anymore about being caught by Master Cawes.  The longbow was the most revered weapons in the hunters’ arsenal.  The three longbows were crafted by Grandmaster Rufus two hundred years ago and they were kept in the Sanctum.  The elder hunter was the only one entitled to the longbow and only he, or she, could decide who could wield the other two.  Lighter than Athmane’s current bow, despite its bigger size, it was made of the strongest wood and had double the range of the other bows. 

“You’ll need these arrows for it as well,” said Hawk. 

Grandmaster Hawk handed Athmane a quill with ten black arrows – oak shafts with obsidian arrowheads. 

“Thank you, I’m overwhelmed. I’ll bring it back in one piece,” replied Athmane. 

“Finally, here is a map of the Helven region with the safe route to the centre.  We’ve done our best to reconstruct it out of the mess of parchments we had and I’ve double and triple-checked it.  I hope it will help, trust your instincts though,” said Prisa.

Prisa ordered the soldiers on the wall to open the gate, Bayoud assisted, and the gate slowly began to open with the rising sun visible through the widening gap.

“All being well, I’ll see you again soon.  Good luck,” said Prisa.

Without hesitation, and happy to escape the city once more, Athmane confidently walked out of the gate with Gryth’s ashes safely in his satchel and the fierce longbow proudly on his back.  Athmane wasn’t a Master, but he sure felt like one now.   Faria followed behind, pausing slightly as she walked on the outside ground. Resisting the urge to looking back, she ran a little to catch up with Athmane and then kept pace. 

On the wall, his shift now over, Bayoud watched his friends leave with curiosity. First the large party of soldiers and now this. He didn’t like not knowing what was going on and he felt like, out of the four of them, he was the one least developing as even Mary was shift supervisor during the day.  Bayoud left with Max to the medical quadrant and then he would try to gather as much gossip as he could from the city. 

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Shadows in the Sand - Chapter 3



JD59, Afternoon



Athmane was walking through his quadrant where the hunters trained and lived.  This sector was always the busiest, as the elders always placed the greatest emphasis on gathering food.  There always had to be a minimum number of hunters, the city could get by with fewer medics, crafters and soldiers but it would soon collapse without the hunters bringing in the food.  The elders knew exactly the population of their city and the minimum amount of food and water required to sustain them. 

New trainees were busy in the archery range, setting traps in the training ground and studiously listening to all the Masters had to say within the school buildings.  Athmane smiled, he was glad those days were behind him.  Unfortunately, this quadrant was so busy because it also had the highest turnaround rate.  Nearly 30% of new hunters died in their first few months outside the city – snakebites, exposure, dehydration, golem attacks, climbing accidents – it was a tough and merciless world outside the walls.  It all seemed easy to the trainees when they went on field trips with the Masters, but out on their own, it was a different matter.

Currently, there were seventy-two active hunters in the field, ten in the medical quadrant recovering from various injuries and twenty-four Masters.  Athmane proceeded to his Master’s quarters, whose name was Master Doma.   Athmane walked into his Master’s quarters, on the stone wall was a giant chalk drawn map of the area Master Doma was responsible for.  Slates covered his stone desk, each one was a tablet with the symbol of a hunter under his command and, below each symbol, a chalk tally of supplies gathered.  During his active days Master Doma was always glad to have company in the field – unlike Athmane – he loved the sound of his own voice more than anything.

“Welcome back, Athmane.  Unless my tally is wrong, you’re nearly half way to meeting your monthly quota already.  Not bad, you clearly learned from the best,” said Master Doma, smiling and laughing.

Master Doma had always been an optimistic person, he believed in motivation through constantly expressing a positive and joyous outlook on life.  There were much grumpier Masters out there and Athmane appreciated his good fortune.  Master Doma was tanned, with a tuft of blonde hair sticking up above the forehead, although the rest of his hair was receding.  He also sported a patch of black facial hair below his lips.

“The Erevas Outcrop has been very good to me this month and it’s pretty safe.  Life stocks are high at the moment, I feel it could even accommodate more hunters if you so desired,” said Athmane.

“Maybe I’ll rotate a few newbies into there then.  Now, on to business.  I’ve selected you for a mission of the highest importance.  Grandmaster Hawk consulted all the Masters and asked us to call in the best hunter.  Gryth was the best, but he died yesterday. You’re now number one.”

“What happened to him?” Athmane had been good friends with Gryth all through training and they regularly bumped into each other in the field and swapped news, his death came as a sad shock.

“He was bitten by a sand viper and panicked, running back to Nimar instead of staying calm.  He collapsed outside the walls before the medics could revive him.  I’m choosing you to replace him on a mission organised by the elders.  You are to assist a craftsman as he, or maybe she if you get lucky, explores the Helven region.”

“I’m essentially on babysitting duty then?”

“Yes, and you’ll be the best babysitter this world has ever seen.  Keep the crafter alive, that’s your assignment.  Grandmaster Prisa will meet you at the gate in the morning to give you your instructions.”

“I hope I’m not stuck with some old grumpy crafter who can’t keep up.”

“I doubt it.  Grandmaster Hawk said urgency was paramount and fitness was essential.  They won’t send someone who can’t handle the field.”

Athmane thought of Faria, it had to be reason she was called to the Sanctum and he smiled.

“I suggest you get yourself off to medical for a quick check-up and a little clean-up wouldn’t go amiss either. You might be the best, but you stink.  Good luck.”  

Athmane smelled his armpits, perhaps Master Doma had a point.  On the way out Athmane stopped by the archery range, where he deposited the five arrows in his quill and replaced them with repaired ones.  Even emptied of nearly all its soldiers, the city was still too cramped for Athmane’s liking.  After watching the trainees firing at targets in the archery range for a while, Athmane went to his dorm to pick up a satchel and a spare wolf-skin cloak before leaving to the morgue.  The hustle and bustle of the noise reverberated off the stone buildings, while the sun’s heat remained trapped within the narrow gaps and streets.  The breeze did little to quash the heavy and punishing air.


The morgue was a small, grim, grey stone building on the outskirts of the hunters’ quadrant nestled up against the wall.  The dead were kept as far away from the rest of the city and their bodies disposed of within hours.  As Athmane entered he saw that a body was already in the fire and smouldering down into ashes.  A hole in the wall channelled the smoke through a wooden pipe out of the city. The smoke was then carried by the prevailing wind away from the city (on a good day). 

“That’s Gryth, I assume?” said Athmane.

“Yes.  Been a busy two days unfortunately, only just got round to burning him,” said Teoth, a trainee hunter in his early teens assigned morgue duty for the week. 

“I want his ashes.  You can use my satchel to put them in.”

“Very well, you can collect the ashes by sunrise.”

Athmane wanted his friend’s ashes so he could scatter them in the wilderness, not here in the city where his soul didn’t belong and would never find peace.  Gryth was a true hunter, his passion for the wilderness and the hold it had on him was obvious to anyone.  Athmane left his satchel and then went to the hunters’ dorm to try and rest. He’d decided to skip the medical check-up – there was nothing wrong with his body.  The dorm was empty most of the time, but today Athmane found two other hunters fast asleep already. 

Using some of his water, he wiped his body and then crushed some juslen herbs, their fragrance masking his body in a sweet and pleasant odour.  Feeling tired all of a sudden, Athmane planned to lie down and collect his thoughts for a few minutes before heading to find Faria. But under the shelter of a roof and the protection of the soldiers on the wall, a deep sleep consumed him.  This part of Nimar Athmane did miss.   



Athmane and Faria,


JD 59, Evening


Faria had finished her day shift.  It had been a long afternoon but fortunately being a supervisor carried with it the power to tell her workers to stop asking questions and to concentrate on their work.  She’d discussed for five minutes with her co-workers, with Master Hamed eavesdropping, that Prisa wanted to know more about the new toilet system design. Yet she could sense their suspicions and unease. 

Faria hurried off to find Athmane in the hunters’ dorm, having expected him visit her. She had, after all, been in the Sanctum – a hugely rare event.  Faria gingerly opened the door.  The last rays of the setting sun shone through the roof and dimly illuminated the room, she saw Athmane fast asleep on the bed.  The room smelled nice, if a little heavy on the sweet side with a touch of spice.  It nearly made Faria sneeze but she repressed it, not wanting to wake the others.

“Athmane,” said Faria, touching him dotingly on his shoulder.

Forgetting where he was, Athmane woke with a jolt and instinctively sprang upright, reaching for his knife.

“It’s me!” shouted Faria.

“Faria!  I thought a golem’s tongue was licking me.”

Faria hit Athmane softly on his arm and said, “My hands aren’t like one of those beast’s tongues!”

“They are quite rough, no offence.”

“Any crafter without rough hands isn’t a true crafter.”

“I didn’t mean to fall asleep.  You’re finished with the Sanctum?”

“Hours ago, I had to go back to my shift but now I’m free to prepare.  I’ve been tasked to go to Helven and evaluate the land for access, with a hunter to guide me.  Are you my hunter?  Is that why you came back?”

“Yes.  It wasn’t due to be me, but Gryth died yesterday.”

“It’s a shame about Gryth; I know you two were good friends.  Did your Master tell you about the mission?”

“Only that I had to guide you and keep you safe.   Helven is a forbidden area for us to go, truth be told I’m a little anxious.”

“Prisa said she will double-check the map Grandmaster Hawk drew tonight and hand it to us tomorrow, supposedly with a safe route through to the centre.”

“I hope she gets the map right, one wrong step and we’re dead if the stories are true.”

“Is that all your Master told you, to guide me?”

“Yes.  Why?  What else is going on?”

Faria whispered into Athmane’s ear everything about the dried-up water pool, Dunein and relocating.  It dawned on Athmane that this was suddenly a lot more than just accompanying a craftswoman. 

“Come, let’s go to your dorm and I’ll help you prepare your things.  I shouldn’t have fallen asleep, everything just got a whole lot more serious.”

“Maybe you were more tired than you realised?”

“I think it was the herbs, perhaps I used too much and the scent knocked me out.”

“It is pretty strong in here, nice though.  You don’t smell bad if that’s any help.”

“Should we tell Mary and Bayoud?” said Athmane.

“Bayoud is on nights, he’s already up on the wall.  He doesn’t like being distracted; you know how he is with duty.  I couldn’t find Mary either, she must be working extra hours and visiting dorms.  We’ll tell them when we return from Helven.” 

This would be the first time since graduation that they would spend more than two days together, and the two friends looked forward to each other’s company.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Shadows in the Sand - Chapter 2


The City of Nimar,

JD 59, Morning



As a child Faria had always been fascinated by the city walls – the way the chunks of white limestone lay on top of each other – and how the mechanism functioned to open the city gate.  She wanted to understand the structures, their strengths and their weaknesses.   Her natural curiosity of how things worked meant that choosing to become a craftswoman was a no brainer for her.  Those children who knew what they wanted to become always made the best students.  The craftsmen and women lived and trained in the Northeast quadrant and they specialised in either carpentry or stonemasonry.  One subject was not enough for Faria, so she specialised in both.  Faria wasn’t the first to study both disciplines but her intelligence, passion and skill always set her name apart from the rest of the trainees.  Most of the wood from the surrounding gravel plains was of poor quality, weak and dry; it was good for nothing more than firewood.  The very best wood – that brought with them from the northern lands over 300 years ago – was used for the arrows and spear shafts. Those trees which were growing in the outcrop around the water pool had been chopped down and used for roofing, pipes and other structures.  Hunters occasionally brought in extra wood from the Dead Forest to the east when it was needed, but that place was not without its risks and was only a last resort.  Naturally, being built around an outcrop, stone was abundant.  Although that too varied in its qualities as a material. 

Faria’s motivation and leadership qualities saw her rise through the training ranks and at the mere age of twenty-one, she was already dayshift supervisor of the maintenance and development of the entire Southwest and Southeast quadrants of Nimar.  Leading a team of ten craftsmen, Faria patrolled the two quadrants to help with repairs or act on any problems reported by the citizens. 

“The sandstorm really clogged her up good,” said Arnou, blowing out the sand particles and replacing the outer hood of one of the cooking furnaces in the city.          

Tall, with fiery red hair curling down to her shoulders, Faria was an imposing presence and she commanded the respect of her all-male unit.  With an infectious smile, hazel eyes and luscious lips, she had no shortage of admirers either.

“You know what to do – a complete clean out.  We can’t have everyone chewing on bits of sand.  Collect another baseplate from the store as well, this one is cracking already.  I told Master Jud we shouldn’t use the stone from the Syris Outcrop, it’s too brittle,” said Faria.


Although she cared for the city, deep down Faria had always felt like it constricted her ambition.  There was a world of opportunity beyond the walls, a wealth of resource and where others saw difficulties and rough terrain, she saw roads linking new settlements, bridges creating shortcuts and defence systems to aid the soldiers in their fight against golems.  In Faria’s mind, Nimar didn’t have to be one city trapped within its own walls, but a network of small cities working in unison.  Faria saw expansion as the key to Nimar’s future, the only key to its future.  No one else she worked with cared for ambition though, for them, life was a simple routine based on food, water and survival.  Despite feeling frustrated sometimes, Faria couldn’t criticise the current elders as it was under their leadership and guidance that she had been able to train and learn her skills.   Life in Nimar was a routine, but it was a life and the Nimerians had never had it so good since crossing the Black Mountains. 

Faria longed for the shift to end so she could work on her projects in peace.  She lived, like all the citizens, in a shared dormitory with twelve other craftswomen.  Her sketches, created by etchings on slate, were scattered across her bed and her roommates, although each accomplished craftswomen in their own right, couldn’t make one bit of sense out of them.  They didn’t understand why she had to think outside the box and couldn’t settle for a simple life within Nimar: build new buildings, repair old ones, retire.  Her drawings of long-range projectiles and enormous bridges channelling water from afar, all confused and baffled her roommates.  Still, Faria was respected and liked enough not to have any over-inquisitive questions and shady looks every time she entered the room.  However, Faria didn’t have any good friends within her quadrant.  Her best friends – Athmane, Bayoud and Mary – all roughly the same age as her, had each joined a different quadrant but they’d remained very close during training and their teenage years.  They continued to hang out between shifts where possible, even though Athmane was in the field most of the time. 

Master Hamed, one of the current forty Master craftsmen, joined Faria by the furnace that was being repaired.

“Faria, you’ve been summoned to the Sanctum.  I don’t know what it’s about but I suggest you go straight away,” said Master Hamed. 

All eyes turned on Faria, who herself was startled by Hamed’s words; it was unusual for anyone, ever, to be called to the Sanctum who wasn’t a Master, but especially someone so young.  Master Hamed struggled to hide his jealousy of Faria.  It was the Sanctum’s messenger, Master Filas, who had been sent by the elders to instruct Master Hamed to find Faria.  Although the elders often walked around the city, looking in on their respective quadrants, talking to the Masters and addressing any issues, they always slept in the Sanctum and it was in there that all the plans for the city were discussed in complete secrecy. 

Faria had been silenced by Master Hamed’s words and he repeated himself again.  

“The Sanctum, Faria.  We don’t make jokes in our quadrant.”

“Yes, Master.  Sorry, I’ll head there right away,” she finally responded.

The crafters’ quadrant wasn’t renowned for its sense of humour, they tended to take everything as seriously as their constructions; it was in the soldiers’ quadrant where jokey banter was to be found.  As Faria walked over the compressed gravel of the city streets, her eyes fell on the hunter who had just climbed onto the wall.  It was her close friend, Athmane.  Always happy to see Faria, her red hair sticking out from the crowd, Athmane shouted to his friend from the wall.

“Where are you going?” asked Athmane.

“Inside the Sanctum,” she replied, with a wry smile.

“Ha! Yeah right.  A day of my rations next time I’m here says you won’t even dare look Master Braegon in the eye.”

“Just watch me.  I’ll enjoy eating your food.”

Faria’s confident response brought Athmane running down off the wall to join her on the streets.  It was impossible to get lost in Nimar as the rigid quadrant structure meant you always stumbled onto one of the four main streets which all led to the central Sanctum.  Athmane and Faria hugged each other.  Along with Bayoud and Mary, the four of them were the closest of friends having grown up together as foster children, in the care of Grandmaster Fleur – the medic elder.  Despite joining separate quadrants, the four of them had remained close, sharing a connection and bond which could never be broken. 

“More importantly, why are you here?  I thought you had three weeks left outside?” said Faria.

“I’ve been summoned.”

“Don’t tell me you picked the wrong mushrooms again and nearly poisoned us.”

“That was one time, in my first week outside.  You’re never going to let me forget it, are you?  I can’t wait until you make a mistake.  Anyway, I don’t know why I’m here.  Now, I believe you had some crazy idea about going inside the Sanctum?”

“Yes, I can’t delay any longer.  I’ll see you later, hopefully and we can catch up more then.”


Master Braegon was the soldier who stood watch outside the Sanctum entrance during the day; Master Ariss took the night watch. Reaching the Sanctum, Faria looked up at the spire, as she always did when she was near it, and marvelled at its beauty.  Now she would get to fulfil the wonderings of many and discover the inside.  Athmane watched incredulously in the distance as Faria engaged in conversation with Master Braegon, a huge man with a beard down to his chest and strong, muscly arms.  Next to Master Braegon the eternal flame burned on.

“Welcome to the Sanctum.  I hope you live up to your reputation – we need it from the sounds of the commotion coming from the centre,” said Master Braegon.

The centre!  It must be the water pool, thought Faria. 

“I assure you I’ll do my best,” she replied.

“I’ll lead you down there.  Come.”

Master Braegon opened the thick, wooden door which creaked loudly so that entries would be known, and they entered the Sanctum.  Watching on from the streets, a mix of envy and puzzlement consumed Athmane, but he was happy for his friend and he knew she’d spill the secrets later. Athmane made his way to his Master’s chamber. 

Inside the Sanctum, Faria was instantly hit by how much cooler the air was and her eyes adjusted to the darker room, which was illuminated by slits in the rocks above filtering only shades of sunlight through.  There was a natural and pleasant earthly smell within the Sanctum, none of the peculiar mix of odours which wafted through Nimar.  Master Filas, the messenger and internal guard, stood erect at the bottom of the smooth, white stone steps which led up to the elders’ chambers, the archive room and the top level – the important parts of the Sanctum.  It was quiet inside the Sanctum, the hustle and bustle of the city blocked by the thick walls and heavy door.  It had an air of exclusivity about it and Faria greatly admired the stonework. Untouched by the rough winds of time and unspoilt by the battering of the sand storms, the rocks which looked beautiful on the outside still retained their true colours on the inside, the quartz crystals within them sparkling in the faint light.  Faria stood in awe.

“Not too shabby, eh, this way,” instructed Master Braegon.

Master Braegon led Faria down the spiralling stone stairs towards the precious resource: a circular pool of water several metres deep.  In the centre of the spiral, a bucket-pulley system powered by a waterwheel continually brought water from the well up to the first floor of the Sanctum and into the water tank, where it was distributed – or not, if the elders restricted it – by four stone half-pipes to the separate quadrants of the city. 


Faria estimated to be at a depth of 10 metres below the surface of Nimar and the air had gone from cool to cold.  The natural light no longer penetrated the depths and the stairs were lit by flames burning the oil which resided in little potholes carved into the walls. The potholes would be refilled every day; oil was something Nimar was not short of, stockpiling huge amounts which the hunters replenished every week from the tar sands.  Reaching the bottom of the stairs, Faria was met by the engineering elder, Grandmaster Prisa, a sixty-year-old woman who’d pioneered the water-pulley system and freed the water carriers of their backbreaking duty.  Prisa was a gifted and intelligent craftswoman, well respected and admired by all in the city.  Out of all the elders, it was Prisa the citizens looked to for advice and they trusted her judgement and word.  Master Braegon retreated back up the stairs and to his post.

“Faria, it’s good to meet you again.”


The two of them shook hands for only the second time, the first being at Faria’s graduation.  Prisa’s hair had turned silver at a young age and had helped to give her an aura of authority and wisdom, while taking nothing away from her natural beauty.  If anything, it enhanced it. 

“The Masters speak very highly of you and they say you have a gift for envisioning ideas where others do not,” said Prisa.

Faria was a little startled by the remark.

“You’re too kind.  I have ideas, whether they can be translated into reality is another thing. I was under the impression the Masters regarded me and my ideas with disdain.”

“The Masters just don’t understand your ideas like I do.  They lack ambition and the spark of imagination.  I like those who think differently.  Your drawings in the construction building far outnumber the contributions of others, even some of the Masters I’m afraid to say.”

“Drawing is a form of escapism for me, it’s no chore.  So, what’s the problem?”

“Straight to the issue, just like a true craftswoman should be.  So I shall be blunt as well… Faria, in one month, we’ll all be dead.  The water in the pool is not replenishing.” 

Faria didn’t respond, Prisa had been a little too direct with the issue and it came as a massive shock.  Only when Prisa mentioned the water did Faria actually notice the near empty pool behind the elder.  Prisa turned around and spoke as she surveyed the water pool.

“We’ve always been careful with the water and if we noticed that the well was not refilling we’d reduce consumption to let it catch up and replenish.  Three hundred years and the well has never dried-up completely, a remarkable feat of sustainability and restraint.  But the last few weeks the water hasn’t refilled, even when times were very bad this has never happened before.  I fear the rains have not come in the mountains to replenish the groundwater. Or perhaps something else has cut off the water; maybe the earthquake a few months ago shifted the underground and diverted the groundwater elsewhere.  This could be a short-term problem and the well could yet replenish, we pray that it will, but where water is concerned we cannot just sit around waiting.  We must be proactive and source alternative supplies.”

“I agree with your evaluation, we need to source elsewhere but with all due respect, this is a job for the hunters to scout.  I’ll just be a burden.”

“Fortunately, two alternative water sources were located long ago.  There is a large well located at the centre of the Helven Outcrop to the west and that’s where you come in.  I want you to go to Helven and evaluate the area for access.  It is, by my understanding, a craggy, eroded and undulating terrain with much of the ground collapsing into sinkholes.  Water is the most precious resource we have and we can’t afford spillages, lengthy delays accessing it or worse, losing lives reaching the well every day.  You are to firstly locate the water well and secondly, you are to assess the best ways to access the well to mitigate the risks I just mentioned.  I believe you caused quite a stir in your final year of training with your unusual construction designs.”

Faria took a moment to take in all that Grandmaster Prisa had said.

“If the resources are available, I believe we could build bridges, water-ducts and even tunnels to help channel the water as easily as possible from the well to Nimar.  Even if we took all the wood from the Dead Forest, we would still only have enough to build in the Helven region.  Manpower would have to then push the water carts back and forth along the gravel plain.  It would be a huge operation.  Of course I want to help the city and I’ll gladly accept the task.  I just don’t feel we should put all our faith in this one plan.  It would be an enormous effort.  You said there were two wells?”

“You’re correct – Helven is Plan B.  All the elders have agreed it is best to relocate entirely to another region, one that is known to have vast reserves of water to last us forever along with adequate shelter to house us while we rebuild.  It’s no secret Nimar has reached capacity, we cannot continue here forever.   The plan is to move and rebuild Nimar in the Dunein region. It’s been discussed for some time, even before the water problem.” 

“Dunein?  I grew up with the horror stories about that locality.  Its caves are supposedly occupied by a monstrous snake.  Personally, I thought it was just a silly rumour and an extravagant tale to scare us, but those soldiers that left the city earlier – they were on a mission to Dunein, weren’t they?”

“We felt it was better to be safe than sorry.  Many years ago, well before my time, the elders sent a hunter on a scouting mission to the northeast lands.  The hunter reported a vast underground freshwater lake in the Dunein caves, but he also found something else: an enormous serpent’s skin.  Terrified, the hunter escaped the caves and that night, watching from afar, he eyed the serpent slither down from the Black Mountains and into the caves.  The hunter barely made it back to Nimar alive, apparently running most of the way back.  Delirious, dehydrated and in shock, the medics could only get strings of sentences out of him, nothing coherent.  Before his death two days after arriving back to Nimar, the hunter awoke in the night and traced out the figure of a snake in the sands outside the wall – it was over 50 metres long.  To be honest, we don’t know what the hunter saw all those years ago.  The sun probably fried his brain.  Still, we had to check out the area for water and to rid it of any beasts, hence the large party of soldiers we sent out to investigate the area first.  Two hundred years have passed since the hunter saw the snake and it will have surely died, if there was a snake in the first place.”

“I hope the soldiers will be safe.  I will do everything you ask of me.  I’m still a little unsure of why we are bothering with Helven now, after what you said.”    

“Well, undoubtedly there will be people unable or unwilling to move to Dunein – the sick, the elderly.  We can still use Nimar, a safe base for our people and hunters.  The bulk of the population will be in Dunein, but Nimar can still sustain a small percentage of people, supplied with water from Helven if we can resource it and transport it here.”

“It sounds good.  Two cities for our people, I never thought I’d see the day.”

“I know you won’t disappoint us and after chatting with you now, I’m certain sure you’re the right person for this task.  We need the energy and passion of youth on our side – this is for your future after all.  We’ll take everything one step at a time.  For now, you shall go to Helven with a hunter to guide you and keep you safe.  Grandmaster Hawk has asked his Masters to select the best candidate.”

Faria’s mind immediately switched to Athmane, although she knew he was second on the hunters’ rankings.  But then he had been called back…

Prisa kept on speaking.

“You shall evaluate Helven for its water and ease of access.  I want a full report when you get back.  You shouldn’t be more than four days.  I guess this is all coming as a shock to you, but know this: there are three possibilities for the future of Nimar. Either we bring the water to us, we move to the water, or we die.  This is the greatest challenge we’ve faced since the Great Flood caused our ancestors to migrate across the Black Mountains and yet it is nothing compared to their struggle.  We’ve come a long way as a people and the blood of the Nimerians will not be wiped out on my watch.  We have enough water in the stocks to last the city for four weeks.  By that time Grandmaster Jax will have returned from his mission to Dunein and the whole city will know the plan.”

“When do I leave?”

“You’ll leave at dawn. I’ll meet you at the gate and introduce you to your hunter companion.  Take whatever things you require from the store room.  I’ll have a few things to hand you tomorrow as well.  Grandmaster Hawk was working on a map to guide you safely through Helven based on old scrolls handed down through the years.  I’d like to spend another night double-checking the map, it’s not that I don’t trust Hawk but one mistake could cost you your lives and I’m a better reader than him.   Besides, it’s good if you go back to your shift and work as normal, prepare for tomorrow and rest well tonight.”

“There will be a lot of questions from my work mates.”

“Tell them it was about your design for the new toilet system, which I think is excellent by the way.  I’m sure you can redesign it for the new city in Dunein.”

The last of the water from the well was raised up by a bucket.  Prisa tied a ribbon around the handle which signified to the water distributor at the top to stop the waterwheel.  Nimar was now officially on a countdown.  The water remaining in the waterwheel was drained out and into the store tanks, not a drop was wasted.  Prisa and Faria stared at the moist pebbly bottom of the empty water pool.  The upper edges of the water pool had already cracked and flaked from dryness.

“I’ll stay down here for a bit, I prefer it down here than at the top, the colder air lets me think clearer.  See you tomorrow morning,” said Prisa.


Faria ascended back up the staircase, she was curious to explore more of the Sanctum and approached Master Filas, his cold hard stare resolute and his body unwavering.  Faria had not been given permission to go to the higher levels, only to the water well, and any act she made to get up there would be dealt with swiftly by Master Filas with serious consequences.  Master Filas slammed his spear down onto the stone floor, the noise echoing off the walls and making Faria jump. 

“Sorry, just wanted a peek,” said Faria.

Alerted to the noise, Master Braegon opened the Sanctum door.

“Come Faria, I’ll show you out.  Never mind Master Filas, once you come back and it’s known you helped to save the day I’m sure he’ll be nice to you.  Although he still won’t let you up the stairs.  Best of luck out there,” said Master Braegon.

“Thanks,” she replied.


The sun was shining and outside Faria squinted from the brightness. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky.  She was stunned and didn’t know what to feel.  All these years of daydreaming about leaving the city and now it was going to come true, yet any joy she was feeling was overshadowed by the threat to Nimar’s survival.  What if Jax didn’t return, or if he did and it was bad news?    The designs she had made during her training had been laughed off and dismissed by her colleagues as make-believe.  Faria knew otherwise, she wouldn’t draw something that wasn’t theoretically achievable.  If the materials could be sourced, the designs could be built and they would hold up within their structural limits – of that Faria was certain.  She was pleased her name had gone a long way and that Prisa had selected her for the mission.  Walking through the streets back to her dorm and seeing the children playing, Faria shook off any notions of doubt creeping in and resolved do to the best she could for the city.  Faria’s mission might have been a back-up plan, but she was determined to make sure the city could count on it.