The cavern was dark and spacious, but it was not as cold in here as it was outside. Artemis had been lucky: she had come crashing down with so much sand ahead of her that her landing had been cushioned and she hadn’t broken any bones. The caverns had saved her from a slow, horrible death, buried in the sands - for now.
She coughed up some dust and looked around. Her eyes had adjusted as much as they ever would, but there was almost no light here. The ceiling was closed, there were no torches, but around a corner there was the faintest glimmer and she stumbled towards it like a moth towards the flame. There was no light source though, just another dark corridor, and far ahead the glimmer grew a little bit stronger. She saw glyphs on the walls and deemed this to be some buried castle or tomb. Of such there were many in the Red Sands.
The Giranja provided water and life, but mad Paros had sometimes dared to build further out in the desert, dreaming of the long past days of the Arkatrashian Empire that had fallen during the Age of Heroes, and one by one the sand had claimed back its realm and sunk the stone walls of men like any mighty ocean would.
Artemis followed the corridors as one led into the other, and the light became stronger with every step until she could actually read some of the glyphs. They told of a history most ancient and deeds most grand, but they did not interest Artemis half as much as finding the way out. A young girl like her would die down here quickly enough. She saw no signs of life, no water, and even without the scorching midday sun above her head she would grow thirsty quickly and succumb in a day or two.
After what felt like miles, she finally reached a great stone door that was open for just a crack. It was where the light came from, so Artemis pushed her fingers through the narrow gap and pulled. She wrenched and struggled but it was so heavy that she had to fight like a lion for every single inch, until finally it was open wide enough for her to squeeze through into the room behind it.
Inside there was an altar and on top of it lay a great bow that would have been oversized for any normal grown man and which was beautiful to behold. It was carved from strange white material that may have been wood or not and had patterns of the five elements, of feathers and clouds, and of many things engraved upon it. It was also covered in plate feathers on both arms, the string was snow-white like strands of tail hair from a white steed.
There also was a leather quiver with some arrows inside but they seemed ordinary enough. Artemis closed in on the bow and slowly reached out her hand. She just realized that the bow itself was the source of all the light here. Still, this only served to further entice her, but just before her hand could seize it, a wash of sky-blue, glowing runes appeared on the flat, gray surface of the altar before her. She withdrew her hand as she winced and read the writing in front of her:
The girl was born of dual kin
Her eyes are falcon, and wolf her skin
Her soul shoots true, when Windfall sings
She breaks through walls and iron rings
Artemis shivered when she read those words. Nothing about them seemed like coincidence and everything in her screamed that she was being addressed personally. Of the one hundred tongues of men only two were used to write the poem, the very two that were used most commonly in Arkatrash and the North. And Artemis was born of two kin indeed, for her father was of Arkatrash, her mother Kaltani. The most revered animal of the people of Arkatrash was the falcon, and for the Kaltani it was the wolf. Artemis’s eyes were golden, as was common in the former royal line of Arkatrash, and her skin was much paler than that of most of the people who were born in the Red Sands, much more like that of the Kaltani.
She could only guess that ‘Windfall’ was the name of the bow in front of her, and she could easily see what walls and iron rings there were to break. Still she hesitated a moment, fearful to believe what she wanted to believe. But in the end, she hardened her resolve, reaching out again, and this time she grabbed the bow from the altar.
She half expected for the walls to come crashing down or for her to burst into flame, but all that happened was that the bow stopped emitting light and the glowing runes vanished, so she was veiled in darkness once more.
She was scared at first, but as she wished for the light to return, the bow began to glow anew, though much weaker, like a small torch perhaps. After she picked up the quiver that had lain besides the great weapon, she saw that in doing so she had swept away some dust that revealed another, separate line, etched in there clumsily with a sharp object, perhaps a knife:
Rakata Rakta ri rul’yi
She did not recognize these words from anywhere and had no idea what they meant, which was quite odd: every child was born with the gift of one hundred tongues, the ability to understand the word of men instinctively and quickly learn any language should they be exposed to one for an extended period of time. Well, some accent of one’s first tongue tended to remain though. But no matter how hard she tried, the words meant nothing to her. They might have been the feint etchings of a fool or perhaps words in a secret or forgotten tongue, not that any of that helped her in any way. Now she had some sort of magical bow but still no way out.
Still, at least the bow gave her light to walk the corridors. But before she went to squeeze out of the room again, she decided to let an arrow fly first. She felt like she had just gotten a new toy and could not wait to try it out. When her family had still been whole, Artemis had played with bows sometimes, but she never had been a great shot. Surely there was still time to learn though.
She pulled out one of the arrows, nocked it, and drew the string in towards her chin as she held the bow firmly. Her arm shook a bit from the strain and the weight of the bow. It was fairly heavy to her, and she couldn’t hold it up straight due to its size, so she planted one arm on the ground.
She aimed at the door and let loose. The arrow thumped forward with great speed and power. Artemis could feel it soar away as the bow twanged, but there was no sound when it hit the door, no sound at any rate that should have come from this. There was just a strange wau sound and the arrow seemed to plunge into the door as if it were made of water. The stone even began to ripple as it transformed into a sharp image of sands and night sky. Indeed so sharp that it looked as if the room just led out into the desert even though it was underground and most certainly lead into a corridor.
Artemis suspiciously walked towards the disk of otherworld and tried to touch it with one of the bow’s arms, just to see that it went right through to the other side. It was no image or mirage; it was a portal of sorts. Artemis stepped through, seeing no better option in her current situation, and was returned to the Red Sands unharmed - she could even see the encampment in front of her.
As she turned back the portal was gone. Windfall was not. The Bow rested heavily and reassuringly in her hand, now dark again, but still with power trembling just underneath its snow-white surface. Artemis could feel it now.
The old woman said that she was permitted one last deed before she had to leave Arkatrash, and Artemis now knew what it was: She would free her people and shoot an arrow through the black heart of the usurper.