tagSci-Fi & FantasyNights of Alsitor: Xanthe & Narciss Ch. 03

Nights of Alsitor: Xanthe & Narciss Ch. 03


Narcissus was quick to reach the bottom of the tree, but Xanthe was quickly learning how to safely climb down the trunk. As her feet touched the moss covering the ground of the oasis, Narcissus took her hand, looking into her eyes with a smile. He walked away, leading her, to the edge of the oasis. He didn't pause when he reached the sand, pulling her out onto it at a steady pace.

Xanthe was frightened at first- she had been delivered by caravan, and fear of the burning sands had kept her isolated to the green jewel in the vast desert, but with the sun low, her bare feet sank into the sand with a sensation of pleasant warmness. As the sun disappeared and starlight began to leak from the heavens, she turned back to see the oasis disappearing behind them.

She was lost. The desert was dark, with only starlight to see by, and endlessly vast in all directions, yet Narcissus kept steadily leading her forth. Fighting a brief moment of panic, she reminded herself of the answer she gave minutes before and continued to follow in his tracks.

Though it felt like ages, they had only walked a few hundred yards from the oasis when they approached a jumble of crooked boulders sticking out from the sands. They were massive, piles of obelisks thirty feet long and a dozen thick, some standing, some broken. Narcissus never changed his pace as he walked up to them, and Xanthe noticed a path leading from the sand up a groove between some of them, criss-crossing up their height.

She heard voices. Deep voices, like Narcissus, and her heart skipped and tripped when she realized they were approaching a group of Myieaoul like Narcissus. The urge to flee crossed her mind, but she remembered his question and her answer. Gritting her teeth, she followed after her keeper.

They crossed the crest of the pile of boulders. She could see the shape of this rocky island- it was like a nest, a wall of stone surrounding a deep indentation, a hundred feet across and at least thirty deep. A natural-looking formation, composed entirely of lazily-crooked boulders except for some kind of flat, smooth altar, and a fire-pit which was blazing brightly. A handful of Myieaoul were lounging on the stones around the fire, laughing with each other as they stirred small pots and turned spits with fish and fowl.

One of them caught sight of Narcissus and waved, shouting something in a rough, guttural language- she understood only the word 'Narcissus,' which prompted the others to look up and cheer his arrival.

Narcissus stopped on the ridge above the campsite, hiding Xanthe behind him. Someone shouted something in a tone that sounded playful and impatient. Narcissus answered in a calm, serious voice, stepping aside and gesturing to Xanthe. Standing in the light of fire and stars, with pale skin and fiery hair, naked except some bracelets and her new fur collar, she was outstandingly beautiful. She was healthy and muscular, but slim, and she surmised that any one of these muscular creatures could overpower her. She repeated her answer over and over, squeezing comfort from the confidence she'd had when she gave it; I trust you, I trust you.

The camp went silent, every Myieaoul rising to his feet at the sight of Xanthe. Still holding his hand, Narcissus led her down the rocky path into the amphitheater. The gathering was a terrible sight; dressed for hot weather, they were mostly nude save for linen skirts and sandals, but each of the men wore masks of an artistic style Xanthe had never encountered- some covered the top of their face, some the bottom, but any parts left exposed were dressed in streaks of black or white paint, giving an eerie, inhuman feel to them.

Narcissus reached the sandy floor beside the fire pit, and stopped. Pulling Xanthe forward by her hand, he placed his hands on her trembling shoulders and held her in the middle of the six men.

"Friends," he said in a language familiar to Xanthe, "This is my ward and my student. Her name is Xanthe."

Silence followed. A man stepped forward with a pronounced limp, a long-nosed mask covering his eyes but not his curly black hair. He held up his hand pleadingly, speaking with clearly-pronounced words. "Welcome, Xanthe. I am Hephaestus Please, if you allow, may I see your hand?"

Unsure of what to say, she quietly held up her hand. Makeup covering his lips, the man smiled and gently took her hand, sliding a curl of wire around her ring finger, twisting it to just match the girth. As he worked, another man, olive-skinned and shorter than Xanthe, stepped forward. "Welcome, Xanthe," he said through the rectangular mask that covered his face. "I am Janus. If it doesn't trouble you, please, tell me... what is your favorite color?"

Xanthe found her voice, politely answering the question. "My favorite? It is... the blend of pink and gold of a sunrise sky."

A delighted chuckle rose from the crew, and Janus nodded happily and stepped back. He and Hephaestus retreated to the altar as another man approached, tall and slender, his skin black and his face covered from the nose down by a scarf. "Hail, Xanthe," he said, "I am Plutus. If you would allow it, may I see your foot?"

Unsure of how to refuse the strange request, she lifted her leg as the man knelt down before her. With a jar of balm, he dipped his finger in and smeared dark stripes over the top of her foot and along her sole before pressing parchment against it, pulling off a stained copy of the dark stripes.

As Plutus worked, another man, broad-shouldered with curly red hair on his chest, bowed politely. "Greetings, Xanthe. I am Apollo. Please, tell me- do you have a favorite song? Something famous, and well known?"

Trying not to be distracted by Plutus, she thought a moment. "Umm... 'the Coal Miner's Lament' is a fond memory of my childhood."

"Splendid!" Apollo beamed, "I know that one well."

Apollo and Plutus both retreated to the altar. The last two men approached, each with a matching half-mask, each taking one of her hands. By their matching bronze skin, equal stature and pale-brown hair, she assumed they were brothers, or twins.

"Well met, Xanthe," they said in unison. "I am Paris," said one, "And I am Perseus," said the other. "Please tell me, what is your favorite fruit?" asked Paris.

"My favorite?" Xanthe thought a moment. "I am very fond of mango," she answered as politely as she could.

Pleased with her answer, Paris retreated to the altar. His brother Perseus looked into her eyes and asked, "Tell me, Xanthe, and have no fear- what do you wish for your life?"

Growing anxious by the many strange and personal questions, Xanthe struggled a moment to find the right response.

"To... to be strong. To bring happiness on myself, and others. Also, to leave the world a better place, however I can."

Perseus nodded, a wide smile spreading on the exposed half of his face. "Very good! That is a very good answer, Xanthe." He turned and followed the others.

Narcissus stood in front of Xanthe, looking deep into her eyes. "Xanthe, listen carefully. What comes next is different from anything you have ever known before. The altar behind me is a portal into a world many will never know. Your entrance will be strange, and frightening. Be brave, be strong, and you shall know success and will some day understand everything." He held up his hand. "Do you still trust me?"

They paused, a warm breeze of the desert night passing over them, tossing their hair about. Straightening her back and looking defiantly into his eyes, Xanthe reached up and took his hand.

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