The aarakocra kept their promise and showed us the way through the desert. We closed in on the hills and mountains at the far border of the desert lands, and the birds showed us the way towards a high pillar standing there like a gateway. When we got close enough to make out a hand painted in black at the top of the pillar, the aarakocra suddenly lifted and circled higher than before. “Krrraaaa! We go no further”, said their leader, “this is what we agreed. You are now on your own.” He had barely finished the sentence when an arrow flew against him and brushed his feathers when he wriggled to the left and then made two hard strokes with his wings to get out of range of further attacks. He and the other aarakocras disappeared in the skies.
From behind the pillar and large stones in the area raised half a dozen warriors. Their clothes did not conceal much of their painted bodies and they had necklaces dangling with bones and feathers. Two of them had bows pointed at us, the others carried spears. “Vått yo vant vit Shukkriya tribe”, one said in a growling voice, “friends åv Aarakocra are nått velkom here!” We tried to convince her that we had only used the bird-people to show us the way through the desert and that we wanted to speak with the Ember Seer. “Seer nått servant of strangers”, she replied, and not until we told her about our news of the big events in the Tyrian valley did she agree to take us to her mistress.
We were escorted through a landscape of red stone and high mountains. In the narrow valleys between the mountains were large pools of bubbling, hot, red, water. The steam hung low and we did not see the small village until we walked in to a narrow opening with caves and low shelters and tents surrounding it. The warriors gave our crodlus to a pair of young boys, who looked terrified at the sight of the large animals, before they showed us into one of the larger caves.
The Seer was a pale, sooty girl dressed in ragged black dress and a mask of an aarakocra beak. Beside the stone chair, where she was half-lying, stood an old man clothed in black; “Great vårriors kome to overr land in trobblesome times. Vått gifts do yo bring to the Ember seer?” We tried to offer her pieces of jewellery that we had found in the Vault of Kalak, but the advisor was not impressed, not until Grax offered the beautiful bow he had found in the ruins of Bodach. This seemed to satisfy the Seer, or rather the advisor; the Ember seer had not opened her mouth once. She seemed drugged and far off. Apparently, this people put greater value into weapons and practical tools that can help you survive, than jewellery and glitter. They also seemed well isolated; our news from the valley of Tyr was really news to them. But neither the bow, nor our information from the southern lands could make the Ember Seer answer our questions about the stone heart…
We sat outside one of the caves, eating some stale bread that the Shukkriya had offered us, when people started shouting and pointing towards the north. There was smoke rising from behind the mountains. The Ember Seer walked out from her cave on unsteady legs, supported by the advisor’s arm. She walked right past us and the other people standing on the bank of one large pool. The advisor stayed on the shore, but the Seer continued her walk until she was waist-deep in the bubbling water. It was obviously hurting her, but she stood there for several minutes, facing north. The people were absolutely silent until she turned and walked back to the shore. Then the advisor called out: “Theerre are grreeaat times ahead. The Iptiyamuta is here!” and everyone around us started to cheer and dance.
Tables were drawn out from the caves and stews were cooked over open fires together with large pieces of meat, turned slowly over the flames. We went to the Seer’s cave once more to find out what the feasting was all about. “Iptiyamuta is the start of a new era”, the advisor explained, “When the large Mountain off in the north starts breathing fire, the time starts again. But first there will be a feast for three days when the most courageous of our warriors travel to the Mountain to get the sacred artefact. If you are willing to make this journey with us, we might answer some of your questions.”
We did not even need to discuss it. Of course we took the challenge and started to prepare for the journey. Legion intimidated some clan members to give us food and water, but we had a hard time convincing him not to try the basilisk meat. The warriors of the clan apparently proved their greatness and courage by eating pieces of this poisonous meat; the ones who remained unaffected passed the test, while the ones rolling around on the ground, moaning with pain lost their status as warriors. An utterly stupid rite…
Early the next morning, after only a few hours of sleep, we started to make our way towards the mountain range far off in the distance, where smoke was still rising from the highest peak. Our party consisted, apart from our usual group, of the Ember Seer, her advisor, a few warriors and three servant girls. We spent the night at the foot of the large mountain and started the climb as the first ray of light was seen. At the rim of the crater the advisor stopped and turned to us. “From here on you are on your own. In the middle of this crater you will find a shrine, and inside lays a dagger made of horn. Bring it to me.”
We found a way down into the smouldering crater. The heat made the air condense and the fog lay thick. Further down, the fog lifted and we could see lava bubbling and smoking at the bottom. Some fifteen meters above there was a system of ramps and pathways leading out to a stony island in the centre of the crater. There, on an altar in the middle, lay the shrine.
We walked out to the altar and opened the shrine. Suddenly, the island started to shake and two large drakes appeared, Ipti and Yamuta. We had no trouble killing the beasts, the group has been fighting together for so long and by now we know each other’s intentions without the need of further communication. When the drakes were slain (one had fallen down and disappeared in the sizzling lava, and one lay beheaded on one of the pathways) we took the knife from the shrine and went back up to the rim, where the rest of the party waited.
When the Ember Seer saw the dagger, I saw how her eyes cleared for a short moment. She took the knife out of Corrin’s hands and held it, watching it closely. Then, without taking her eyes off the blade, she started talking.
“You want to know more about the Adar Na Tia, and I will tell you what I see. The heart once belonged to the Queen of Secrets, Queen of the city once called Yaramuke, but the city is now as dead as its ruler. Its ruins are hidden in darkness; they shelter the secrets of her powers…”
I remembered the story of how the great city of Yaramuke was destroyed by Hamanu in a fight over the Obsidian mines. This was a story my father often told us after dinner when the flames of the cooking fire started to fade. The Seer continued: “Oronis the Dirge was the lover of Wylin of Bodach. Wylin and Sielbe of Yaramuke were like sisters before the Great War. Who knows what Oronis would want with the power of Wylins former sister? Little is known about Myra the Scorcher, though. She was almost as distanced from the others as Kalid-Ma; the Stranger, but wilder and more treacherous.” She suddenly turned her head and looked right at me. “Your sister is kept in Urik. The blood of Sielbe of Yaramuke flows in your veins, but not in hers.”
The Ember Seer went silent. Her eyes were now fixated on the knife once more. She turned to face the crater and started to silently sing a slow tune with words from a forgotten language. Her voice grew stronger and suddenly she shoved the dagger right into her own heart. She fell to the ground, but neither the advisor, nor her servants or the warriors seemed to be surprised. The advisor turned towards us and said. “The old era is gone. A new one begins! You have helped us to accomplish this, now you have to choose our next leader, the new Ember Seer.” He pointed towards the servant girls and introduced them by name; Inana looked as an outgoing girl, Astarte had a clever look in her eyes and Melana seemed shy and frightened. We finally decided to pick Astarte.
We parted at the foot of the mountain. They went back to the village to introduce (and probably drug) the poor girl and we decided to make our way towards Yaramuke, the City of Secrets.