The temple proved to be largely intact and good shelter from the increasing wind. It even had a basement leading to what seemed to be its catacombs but we all agreed to leave their dead alone, a curtsey they had not offered us.
We all went to bed while Khurdan and Kuzeyli stayed up to skin the wolverine. I was however woken not too long afterwards by their frantic shouts as they pulled on my beddings. They asked me if there were gods lurking in the basement. I tentatively sniffed the air, but I could at least not smell any signs of alcohol.
Had I not known Kuzeyli I would have thought she had simply worked herself up while telling stories. It was not unheard of that shamans were woken up at night by otherwise proud and noble warriors who had started jumping at shadows after sharing stories of spirits and ghosts around a campfire.
But I did know Kuzeyli and her tone was all too serious. She explained that the halls in the catacombs seemed alive, moving to something akin to a heartbeat. I made sure to wake myself properly and then head out to see this for myself.
I understood what Kuzeyli had meant, there was something akin to life in the halls of the catacombs. It was a tear, a weakness between the realms, where spirits or indeed shamans had an easier time crossing over to the other side. It was also a place where powerful sorcery could be used.
The area around it had the risk of temporarily muddying the mind of those who stayed there too long, but other than that it was largely harmless without the work of outside forces. I went back and explained the situation to the others and we decided to move our sleeping area a bit further away from the stairs to the basement and returned to sleep, with Khurdan taking the first watch.
When Khurdan woke me to take over the watch, he warned me that strange voices kept seeping out from the basement. I told him it should not be dangerous, but to be safe it would probably be best if he did not listen to them. He returned the advice back to me, and then went on to settle in for the night.
I was not worried, I had been taught to steel my mind to dark whispers. Besides, what could they possibly offer me that would have any sway over me?
The voices Khurdan mentioned began making themselves known.
It could well have been my mind playing tricks,
but it seemed as though they were saying…
They, were calling out my father’s name. For what purpose? Did they seek to speak with him, to tell me he was in danger? My advice I had given to Khurdan just a short while ago began fading from my mind. I had to find out more.
But I did not trust myself, I knew I might well make a mistake while going down there. I needed to wake someone to keep watch in my stead, ideally over me as well. Kuzeyli was the logical answer, but she was exhausted from the travel and she… trusted me more than she should. If I stayed there too long, if I did something foolish, she would likely accept it and trust I knew what I was doing. I needed to rely on someone who could see things more clearly.
I woke Zeynep and briefly asked her to take my place while I returned to investigate the basement. She seemed concerned but did not argue and readied herself to wake the others should she have to.
I walked down once again and the voice kept calling out my father’s name. I reached the source, a mound in the floor, leaking out gas and fumes. I asked out loud what it wanted, what business they had with my father. It whispered something in return, but too quiet to hear.
I leaned in closer, but it was still too quiet. Once more it whispered and I got closer still. Debris, dirt and stone and blocked off the source, making it hard to hear. If I only removed them and cleared the way, surely I could…
Finally I stopped myself. Nature had sealed this place and it would be the worst kind of arrogance for me to ignore that, especially when I did not know more about the spirits of this place. I realized that I had drawn far closer to the source than I had intended and quickly took a few steps back. I was lucky my father was not there, if he had seen that he likely would have punished me severely, and he would be right to do so.
But the fact remained my father was not here, even if there were answers to be gained from this creature it would not matter. There was nothing I could do for my father from where I was, nor anything he could do for me. I remembered my conversation with Araataan; I had already made my choice and nothing would be gained by second guessing it. The voice soon faded and I returned to take over my watch, but Zeynep must have seen something in my face and offered to take my watch and I gratefully accepted.
The night passed without further incident, the voice stayed dormant and we awoke the next morning. Zeynep deemed Scar ride-worthy once more and after a quick breakfast we rode out, leaving whatever slept down there buried and forgotten.
After a few hours, Khurdan asked me to climb a tree to get the lay of the land. I saw a large Hyperborean army making camp north of us as well as the village we were heading towards. I also saw a small Khazaricamp hidden in the woods.
I went down and told the others what I had seen. After some arguing, we decided going to the Khazariwas the right thing to do. They might be in need of aid, and if not, they might know more about the area and about the large Hyperborean force.
Khurdan was displeased by the decision but led us after our brothers. We found, first their camp and not too long afterwards, we found our brothers riding along a river. They also brought with them a Hyperborean woman, bound and bundled on top of one of their horses.
This was not unheard of, especially not out here in the north. At times, it even happened in the southern lands, like in Ondar… That did not make it right. I did not care about the Hyperborean, had I had my way then we would simply slay her and be done with it. But we dishonour ourselves and what we stand for when using the same vile practices as our enemies, even if we do pretty up the language, calling them ‘guests’ or ‘wives’ who you have to keep under guard.
They said she had been part of the payment they had been given for telling the Hyperborean leader of the camp that they had seen The white stag in the area. This too shamed them. The stag was a spirit of the forest, some even call it the spirit of the hunt and as such there is no shame in hunting it to test your prowess, but to sell its whereabouts to the enemy and have him hunt it with an army…
This all seemed wrong. But it was still nothing close to Azarga’s sins and no laws had been broken. So I remained quiet and observed. Everyone seemed to be in a sour mood, we had all but wasted the day and especially Khurdan seemed to be taking it badly. Perhaps the talk of marriage had brought with it foul memories.
And then there was Kuzeyli, she had been talking with the women since we arrived, barking at each other in that strange tongue of theirs. Then she began trying to buy the woman. It was a strange thing for a Khazari to do, but her reasons I suppose were noble. They refused her offers however, claiming the woman was meant as a wife for their chieftain. I could tell that my sister felt torn, she would not draw her blade against Khazari but she did not want to leave the woman to be a slave wife.
I wished she did not feel any kinship with the woman and I did not want her to foster such things in her, it would only make things harder for her. But I would also not sit idle while my sister struggled for something she believed in, so I did what little I could.
I scared them. Or unnerved them at least. I brought forth some foul smelling herbs and capsules and began a prayer for safe travels. They did not know the intent of course and shied away at the ominous sounding words. When questioned I explained their sins and how that might well be viewed poorly by others. Man and spirit alike. It was perhaps a crude attempt, but it was enough at least for him to agree to sell the woman to Kuzeyli in hope that might appease the spirits, or at the very least, me. Kuzeyli gave away what she had, and in return the woman gained her freedom.
With that the parties parted ways and we rode back to use their old camp for the night. Khurdan still looked displeased by the whole event and arranged to camp quickly and went to bed. The rest of them did similarly as I took the first watch and then switched with Kuzeyli.
Sometime later, Kuzeyli woke me up. Much like she had the night before and I quickly understood why. Animal sounds came from behind the trees, wolves. We quickly woke the others and Khurdan swore at himself for forgetting to check if the others had dumped their supplies near their camp before leaving.
What was done was done, and now we needed a plan. Kuzeyli acted on the advice of the Hyperborean, throwing food in amongst them. After some deliberation, Khurdan seemed to agree that giving them our food might well make them less likely to attack us. It seemed like a risky proposition, especially with the Hyperboreans hunting the forests en masse. It would likely be difficult to restore our supplies. But I followed my brother’s council and we chucked our food in within them.
And so we waited, they were still out there and it was up in the air whether or not they would attack us or not. Thankfully, as dawn rose the wolves began to disperse and we could finally breath more easily again. We broke camp and set out.
Hopefully there would be no more excitement before reaching the village.