After the adventure at the Smoking Crown we all agreed quickly to direct our way to the City of Secrets to find out more about the Stone Heart. If I say “all”, I mean all of us with more intelligence than a piece of dead tree bark. Corrin tried to convince us to join him going to the forest. But since his most convincing argument was “The forest is green!”, we quickly decided to just ignore him although he managed to keep pace with us – jumping more than walking – on one only hand followed by cart wheels and flik-flaks. We should really sell him to a travelling circus. Then we would have our peace and quiet, although I have to admit that he was always really effective during recent fights. At this point I didn’t have a clue yet that it would be just a short time until his fighting skills would be desperately needed again.
On our way to the City of Secrets lay the obsidian mines near Makla. After a two days march we finally were about the reach the small miners town and just had a few hours left to walk in the dusk and beginning darkness. Suddenly we all realized simultaniously that there was not just the fire of the Smoking Crown in our back, to which we were all perfectly used to by now but also a shimmer of light that reflected on deep hanging clouds right in front of us – something was burning in the south-east… and something was approaching us from that very direction as well. A tall figure wearing a cloak with a hood and carrying a spear came nearer and nearer and finally we could identify him as a large blue man. Grax and I were quite surprised that our companions knew that strange guy – his name was Sarghon and accompanied the other for quite some time before we met. He told us that he was coming straight from Urik, where he escaped from prison in which Alina was held captive as well. He could tell that the city was apparently burning for more than two days now.
I still don’t really trust that blue guy. Isn’t it quite surprising that he escaped the prison BEFORE Urik started to burn? If he would have left Urik in the chaos, I would have understood this, but isn’t it quite a coincidence that he could flee from the normal every-day-life in the prison and knew directly where to look for us? Fortunately, my old friend Grax is sceptical as well. I think it sounds more as if he was sent, but the others are just to blind for mistrust and just want to go quickly to Urik to search for Alina – especially her sister Aryenne.
Arriving in Makla we learnt that they already sent out riders towards Urik to figure out what happened but they haven’t been back yet. They thought that it was quite suspicious that so far no refugees arrived from Urik fleeing from the fire and I could only agree. Not to waste too much time we quickly traded some minor artifacts for some food and Corrin managed to acquire a new figurine. I swear, at some point he will need a pushcart for that junk.
Before we could leave we met a caravan that had left Urik a few days ago and they told us that the king Hamanu hasn’t been seen for quite some time now…
After a one day travel towards Urik we met the riders which were back on their ways towards Makla. They didn’t stop at all, just shouted at us: “All dead! Everyone is dead!” and rode on.
After four days we reached the city or what was left of it. The whole area looked like a burned battlefield: just ashes and ruins. The leftover of the palace was a black hulk and stood stunted against the smoke blackened sky. Sarghon led us to the Templar district where he was held captive but the cell tower didn’t survive the hell of flames – no signs of Alina as well. Aryenne was devastated. On our way through the city we found two molten swords made from metal and one obsidian one, which was still perfectly fine. We strapped them to our pack crodlus and went on to Yaramuke.
Coming closer and closer to the City of Secrets it seemed the world got darker, more desolate and lonelier with each step. Meeting in the beginning regularly travellers and passing unmanned guardhouses, these occasions became rarer and rarer. When we reached the black water, only a black mud pool was left. Approaching the city even the sounds left the world. All noises were muffled and quieter than usual. After the sounds left the light: the sky grew darker and darker and in the end we couldn’t see the sky at all although we knew that it was the middle of the day. From the corner of my eye I could make out shallow shadows but as soon as I turned the head and tried to concentrate on them, they were gone… like ghosts. This place is doomed…
Finally a really high mountain arose in front of us. On top of it, we could identify the shadowy city with a huge amount of towers. The road spiraled upwards and we followed – everything in deep silence. Died black grass ‘grew’ next to the road and I knew, everything that stays here longer than necessary will die! The moving shadows came more often and closer and the other saw them as well. Now, there were hundreds, shuffling around, never specifically looking at us. The wind carried voices towards us, hundreds and thousands of voices repeating in a choir: “We were the finest of Uriks lions. Battle for battle we brought honor to the code. Then we were betrayed by our own king!”
Carefully we wiggled trough the army of ghosts and went on until we came to a gatehouse. Next to it a gate stood open – bent and rusted. It looked like something tried to get into the city from the outside – with success. A ghost lingered next to some toppled over statues and repeated on and on: “We guarded the secrets of the queen. Through our efforts, the queen could never die. We failed.”
Although this gate stood wide open, the next gate towards the city we found was black and old but intact and closed and apparently locked, maybe barred from the inside. Grax managed to go up there and met another ghost soldier on the wall, moaning: “I was a soldier of Yaramuke. I protected its people. Then I died.”
Grax went down on the inside and opened the gate for us. A screeching sound set our teeth on edge but died away in the large city without an echo. Behind, another about twenty transparent soldiers lingered around, repeating: “I was a soldier of Yaramuke. I protected its people. Then I died.”
Fortunately Grax did find an old map of the city and led us towards the queen palace. Where else should we find out more about the Stone Heart, right? I really hoped it was not a long walk. This city really sucked all the happiness directly from the bones and just after a short time I felt empty and lonely and I could feel that Grax felt the same.
We passed streets and alleys. We met a lot of ghost lingering in the streets – bakers, merchants, watchmen and many others – repeating sentences like mantras as: “I was a dyer. Because of me, Yaramuke was always dressed in the brightest colours. Then I died.”
The city didn’t look like a large fight took place here, but each soul was dead.
Next to the merchants headquarter stood a very detailed statue that was unharmed.
The palace turned out to be a big tower complex without an additional wall around it. After crossing the prechambers we directly came to a large hall in which a dirty and tattered red carpet led the way and couldn’t believe our eyes: in front of us sat a statue of a woman on a podium, twice the size as a normal woman – made of pure gold. She didn’t have eyes nor a mouth nor hands. It was not as if they have been chiseled out by some plunderers, no. They are just not there. Where you usually expect eyes, they face was as flat as at the cheeks. The only attribute her face possessed was a nose. Was I mistaken, or did this nose a little bit like Aryennes? But maybe I was influenced by the pointy ears which perfected the statues head.
On both sides of her stood two chairs each, in which skeletons found their last place – their undead ghosts floating above them. On the left and on the right side of the hall were high pillars and eight life-sized statues on pedestals guarded the entrance, the podium and the space in front of it. Each pedestal had an inscription:
“ What the spear has pierced, will always be dead.”
“What the shield has blocked, will always be blocked.”
“What the bow has shot, will always be dead.”
“What the voice has said, can always be retold.”
“What the hands have done, can always be redone.”
“What the sword has slain, will always be dead.”
“What the hammer has forged, will always be unbroken.”
“What the eyes have seen, can always be reseen.”
Behind the statue lay a thick red tattered curtain, which apparently separated once this very part of the room from an area stuffed with tables and other old furniture.
As soon as we approached the podium, the ghosts floating above the skeletons started to whisper. The ones on the left side of the statue and the one in the rightmost chair started in a choir: “I was a revisor of Yaramuke. I provided knowledge of everything that happened in the kingdom. I did it in the duty of my queen.”
The fourth ghost started to hizz: “I was Ta Ori, senegal of Yaramuke. I cared for the city, I cared for my queen. By protecting the eyes, voice and hands, I protected her sectrets….. I protected her sectrets… and I’m still protecting her secrets!!!”
And then, the hell broke loose. All four ghosts rose and attacked us in the same moment as soldiers – dead? alive? – enter the throne room! Flashes swirled through the air, followed by shurikens and thunder. Ta Ori vanished for quite some time, sent to another world by Grax enormous powers.
While attacking and defending I see out of the corner of the eye that Aryenne was badly hurt. Both, Sarghon and Grax do their best to rescue her and they managed. She survived, we all survived… the question is how much longer will we survive in this city of perdition?