Artemis [ Chapter 3a ]

“The night has begun to spread, and it will consume the world starting with the Middle Lands.

The suffering of your people will be trivial in its shadow, for they not yet know true suffering. And you cannot lead them, not if you wish for them to live. If that is what you desire, you will need to join the last great war of this world and make haste of it. Walk out into the desert tonight to meet with your destiny, young Artemis. Once you have done so, you may return to do one deed for your people on the morrow, after that, leave for good. Think of your destiny and you will know whereto.” This the old woman said to Artemis after she had stepped closer.

“How can you know this?” Artemis asked as if struck by lightning. She did not want to leave her people behind, and she only cared for one destiny: her birthright. And just like that the old woman told her to throw it all away and go off on some strange quest?

The woman turned around. Her face was so very old. She almost looked like one of the great trees in the Evergreen Woods far down north. Artemis had seen drawings of these trees in books her father had her read when she was younger.

‘And even when the snow falls, they keep their green coat,’ her chasha had told her. ‘What is snow?’ she had replied. She still didn’t know how it truly looked like.

“I see these things in the bones and hear them in the wind and the rushing of the sands. Those who possess the third eye know the way of the world: where it has come from and where it will go. Some say it is the breath of every particle we see, some say it is a Great Clockwork of the heavens, some even say that the gods give our destiny shape.

No matter, I see that shape and can tell much from it. I see the path ahead of you as clearly as you see your own tracks in the sand. Go now! If you miss the call, it will mean great destruction for all, especially your people.” The old woman was unyielding and she had turned around again, tending to one of her books.

It looked as if she was done with Artemis and she did not seem likely to be swayed to change her precognitions on her account, so Artemis left.

Walking the Red Sands at night was like to get one killed. There were vipers and scorpions hidden in the sand, and even though as a girl of the land she knew how to avoid them, that land grew cold as ice during the hours of the moon.

She ran back to her tent and grabbed a blanket to wrap herself in. Before she left again, she gave Sem-La a kiss on his forehead as he lay there breathing steadily, peacefully. “I will see you on the morrow, my sweet prince,” she whispered lovingly and left the tents and the encampment.

She did not know where to go; the old woman had not given any direction, so she just walked. She walked and walked and yet there was nothing. And what should there be? Why did she listen to the ravings of a mad old Kaltani skâman? The Red Sands were sand over sand, tall and small dunes, but all sand and nothing else. There was nothing here save perhaps buried ruins of the days of paro Avra Yillix Bartûv, when much of the desert had been settled and prosperous. But she had not brought a shovel, and the further she went the sillier she felt about all of this. She turned around and could still see the spires of the palace. But just as she wanted to walk back, the ground under her gave in and sucked her down like crocodile dragging its prey below the depths of the Giranja.

<Quicksand!> she thought in terror. There was no escape, only cold, suffocating death. “Sem-La!” she screamed with tears in her eyes before the sands had swallowed her whole and nothing remained to tell of her presence.

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