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Waters of Prosperity, Chapter 2

Alpanon Apr 5th, 2015 (edited) 1,234 Never
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  1. The serpent had crimson scales, sand coloured hair and olive skin. Her eyes, the usual predatory yellow of a Lamia, had a playful flicker in them even now, when she was distressed. She rested her soft cheek against a well groomed hand, a hand that had never known hard labour, with nails painted golden. This was a woman well known to be lecherous and flirtatious, but there was none who could attest to her ever having been promiscuous. As was common to her kind, she was a dancer out of passion, and her hips held a fearsome power to them. Sensual dances she performed to highborn friends and to visiting dignitaries, taking as payment nothing but the praise she received.
  2. Her name was Mahsa, and she had called the scribe Vitutus to her house on this day on "business", which could be interpreted in many ways.
  3. The man Vitutus was roughly between thirty and forty, his face as expressionless as a sculpture, his face always clean-shaven and his hair always cut short and neat. He had led a life devoted entirely to letters and numbers, having even completed his mandatory military service as a scribe. He had never known any other life, nor had he ever desired it. Having never left his native city of Aristarkhopolis he was well known there, and all those who thought themselves skilled in mathematics or such had at one time or another gone to him to challenge his mind, which was said to be unlike that of a normal man. Vitutus could do very complicated calculations in his head with alarming speed, and it was believed that he never forgot the ledgers he had copied. As such he was valuable tool to the chief treasurer.
  4. These two were an unlikely pair. Vitutus wore his uniform, complete with a toga, a quite undecorated costume, whereas Mahsa wore colourful ribbons that had been tied in a way that left her covered where it counted, but uncovered mostly everywhere else.
  5. "I am honoured to welcome you, honourable scribe" she greeted him when her human servant girls escorted him into her den.
  6. Vitutus took a stiff bow, holding his right arm to his heart, but said nothing.
  7. "Would you care for refreshment?" Mahsa asked, a little wary. He had a reputation as an abstainer of almost all things.
  8. "I am quite content" he replied, not even addressing her as... anything. He lacked manners in some manner as well.
  9. "Then I suppose I'll get straight to the point" she shrugged. There wasn't much else to do but get to the point, was there? This wasn't a man who could be seduced or bribed. Honesty was the way to go. Picky, selective honesty.
  10. "Ahem. As you may well know, I am somewhat of a collector of antiques..."
  11. "I know now" he interrupted. What a rude man!
  12. "Yes, well, in any case, a collector of antiques. And sometimes, most of the time, actually, I come across... broken things"
  13. "That you need repaired"
  14. "Precisely!"
  15. Mahsa gestured for him to follow and slithered into an inner room, containing much old pottery and pieces of weapons and armour from so long ago no one would have even considered trying to use them.
  16. Vitutus found such "antiques" to be junk without function, and he was getting bored of this visit. He had consented to come here because the chief treasurer had specifically requested he did, as the lady Mahsa was a wealthy widow who had only recently been forced to part ways with her only son, who had left the city as a part of some merchant caravan. A manwhore would have served her better as comfort, but she didn't partake in them.
  17. The Lamia pulled aside a curtain and led Vitutus into another chamber, this one much cooler than the other.
  18. "The first room is for the collection I show my colleagues" she said, smiling happily. "This room is where I keep my more delicate items"
  20. The cooler room was also darker. There were no windows, and the only light came from the oil lamp hanging from the ceiling. The room was completely round, all the walls lined with shelves. These shelves were filled with scrolls and clay tablets.
  21. "A private library" Vitutus pointed out.
  22. "Oh, piqued your interest, have I? My personal library is located near my bedroom, but this... these things are not something I can read, unfortunately"
  23. The Lamia brushed her hair behind her ear, and Vitutus noted the movement revealed some... frailty. Weakness. She was not keeping up her guard in his presence.
  24. "And why can't you read them? Are they badly damaged?" he asked.
  25. She smiled at him again.
  26. "Oh no. Well, some of them are, but most of them are quite legible. The issue is not with that. It's just that..."
  27. "Cipher?"
  28. "Worse"
  29. "A dead language?"
  30. "Yes" she nodded, crossing her arms and coiling her body around the stone table at the centre of the room. There was something on that table, covered in a cloth, but the wealth of knowledge hidden in these scrolls and tablets had caught Vitutus by surprise to the point he had not paid any attention to it. Now he was curious about it as well. The snake-woman had clearly saved this thing last.
  32. Mahsa saw that the scribe was completely hooked. Of course, someone like him could not withstand the temptation of reading. And to have the written words before him, but no hope of reading them? Oh, it was like having a man tied to the bed and teasing his cock without granting him release. Mahsa had been a fan of that back when her man had been here.
  33. "You see, master Vitutus, all these writings..." she gestured with her hand, "...are quite clearly written in one language, even if there are some differences in the letters used. The experts I have consulted assured me that this was due to changes that happen naturally to language as time passes. But the experts also assured me that the language was used so long ago that there simply isn't a point of comparison anywhere so it could be translated" she said, finishing with a heavy sigh.
  34. "All these words... and no way to read them! Can you imagine my frustration?" she asked him with a pleading tone. There was no pretending in her voice, she was eager to read all of this, after all.
  35. "I can" he admitted. "But how can I help? My talents are useless in such a conundrum"
  36. "Oh, I'm not asking for your help in translating these things, you're here for this" she said, removing the cloth from the table and revealing... a device.
  38. What Vitutus saw was clearly mechanical in nature, the visible gears left no room for doubt in that matter. But what was it for? Circling around it, Vitutus saw that it resembled in some ways the calculation machines that he had seen and even used. But this was much bigger, and there were rotating disks and... ah, the markings made it clear, this was more than a calculator. This was a machine designed to encrypt and decrypt messages.
  39. "A cipher" he said, having inspected it on the surface. He found himself standing right next to the Lamia now.
  40. "Yes. It's of very old make, and the head of the Archaeological Society assures me this is as old as the scrolls in this room. Some of the markings in the disks are, in fact, the same" she said, her voice high pitched from gleeful excitement.
  41. "Truly?" Vitutus askes, his own heart beginning to race. This machine could solve their problems!
  42. "Unfortunately..." she said, her pointed ears drooping, "...it's broken. And there are parts missing. Many parts"
  43. Vitutus felt defeated. But then a determination grew in him.
  44. "Surely there must be a way to repair it!"
  45. "I have tried. I've been to every engineer and mechanist in the city. They all assured me that the parts it contains are easy enough to make, and that there is nothing in such a device they couldn't remake for the right price. They all said the same thing in the end though. It's too complex for them to recreate the missing parts without the blueprints. Each and every one of them gave up. This is why I asked for your help, Vitutus. Your talents are of such a nature... could you...?" her voice trailed off with hopefulness.
  46. "Yes..." Vitutus knew that there was no machine he could not comprehend. It might take time, to be certain. But he had time. His work only used up a tiny proportion of his faculties, and he spent his free time on nothing quite so intriguing as this. Even if the old texts contained nothing more than erotic poems or laundry lists it would be a task worth undertaking for the challenge alone.
  47. "I will do it. I will figure out the workings of the thing and I will make those blueprints for the mechanists to follow!"
  48. The Lamia hugged his arm.
  49. "I am grateful to you, master Vitutus. But we must arrange for you to work on the machine another time, as I'm getting quite chilly..."
  50. Right. For a bit there he had feared she laid hands on him to seduce him. It was the serpent's need for warmth. Of course.
  52. The two left the room and returned all the way to the den, where Mahsa produced a scroll.
  53. "Here are the statements relating to the machine from all the shops I've been to. I hope you'll be able to obtain some advice from it, or by interviewing them" she said, and Vitutus accepted the scroll with gratitude, stashing it inside his toga.
  54. "I will see them on this very day, m'lady" he said, gave a bow like the one he'd greeted her with, and was about to leave, but then hesitated. Something was nagging at his mind now, Mahsa saw. Hmm?
  55. "I am reluctant to mention this, but as a public official, this..."
  56. "Hmm?"
  57. "Ah, m'lady, it is simply that... this device. It is used for decryption, among other things. And for a private citizen to own such a device, that raises issues. Questions. On whether or not such a person is reliable. For such a citizen to also be seeing the head scribe of the treasury, well... this can be considered compromising"
  58. Oh, so that was it? What a dutiful man, this was.
  59. "Dear Vitutus, you do know neither of us is a foreign spy, don't you?"
  60. "I do, that I do. But others..."
  61. "Dear Vitutus, surely you don't think anyone would suspect you?"
  62. "I... suppose not. It is commonly known that I am without ambition"
  63. "And I'm but a wealthy widow with a family history stretching back centuries in this town. Wouldn't it be a stretch to say I'm a spy?"
  64. "It would"
  65. "Then what is there to worry about? We have a perfectly innocent relationship, and our purpose in using this device is just as innocent. If we succeed, we will have done a service to the Archaeological Society as well! We are definitely doing good here!" she said, her face beaming. On no level was Vitutus able to contest those words, so he simply bowed and left.
  67. That went about as she had anticipated. Men were such simple things, whether it was their cocks they followed or not. Mahsa let out a little giggle as she returned to her bedroom, locking the door behind her. Checking her timepiece, she saw it was about time. If her calculations were correct, now was good.
  68. Lying down on her massive bed, took a sniff of a sleeping powder and dove into the realm of sleep to see her beloved Omid...
  70.                         ***
  72. Paul had woken up to the cool air of the night and gotten up slowly, stretching and yawning lazily. He knew that there was a long journey ahead of him, and he had been in no hurry to start it. A quick dip might be nice, he'd thought.
  73. "Uuungh~" moaned Melody then, and Paul had turned to look at her. Was she having a bad dream? He wondered.
  74. Apparently not. The Undine had been held in Jessica's inescapable embrace, the Slime greedily studying her new, firmer and more tangible body.
  75. "Have you two been at it for long?" he had asked.
  76. "New Little Sister and I've been getting to know each other" Jessica had replied happily.
  78. That's the long and short of the young ladies and their relationship. To traverse the desert was, of course, impossible for the Slime and the Undine, and so the Slime shrank down to her Core and slipped into a pouch that kept in what little moisture there was. The Undine then shrunk her own body into as little water as possible and went in the same pouch. The two got along nicely.
  79. "Are we there yet?" asked Jessica.
  80. "No" Paul replied.
  81. "Are we there yet?" asked Melody some time later.
  82. "No" replied Paul.
  83. Some more time passed as they trudged under the stars.
  84. "Jessica's touching me in a weird place" Melody complained.
  85. "Am not" Jessica defended herself.
  86. "Are too!"
  87. "I'm going to have to agree with Jessica in this instance" Paul said.
  88. "But she's..."
  89. "She's inside you"
  90. "Yes!"
  91. "And that's the point"
  92. "Uuuuu~"
  93. Yes. Quite nicely. The strange bit was that Melody would ask if they were there yet, since it was her attunement with the element of water meant that it was by using her as a medium that he knew where they were headed.
  94. The journey was unpleasant to Paul. If he'd had been a smarter man when he embarked on it, he'd have obtained a magic carpet or some such device, but no. The whole body pays for a stupid head, the feet especially. The endless walk was wearing him out mentally more and more, since his body had actually gotten used to it. Having two annoying brats pester him instead of just one didn't help much. But it was worth it. Yes, it was worth it. It had to be. Mom had said so.
  95. Ignoring the thoughts of his mother, Paul sighed and looked to the sky. There was a shooting star, and he wished that their dowsing would work before dawn. The Sun rose early in these parts, and it wasn't their eventual destination, the ruins, that he was headed to now, but a place they might get water from. Heading from the oasis he found Melody in to the ruins in a straight line would have taken longer than his water supply could have lasted. Making a sort of zigzag from one location where water was near the surface to the next was his only hope of survival, even if it made the trip that much longer. His entire plan had hinged on him making it to the oasis alive and then finding an Undine to help him with this part. Another thing a wiser man wouldn't have done. But a wiser man wouldn't have gone on this trip in the first place.
  97. The spot was found, his dowsing rod stabbed itself into the ground without any exertion of force from him, and then it was just a matter of digging a little. The sand was hard to move and even harder to pile up in such a way that it didn't fall back in the hole, but after awhile the water began to seep up, pulled forth by Melody's presence. With some careful preparation they were able to use some of this water to pack up the sand and let it freeze up in the cold desert night. It wouldn't last all day, but long enough to let him fill up his water supply and wash what needed washing. Come dawn, the pit would offer shade enough until high noon, but of course he'd prepared for that as well with some sticks, which he used to put up a canvas over the pit. Come dusk, he'd climb up out of the pit and keep moving. Thus he moved for four nights, digging as many pits, and realized that the distance he'd covered was far less than he'd have hoped. At this rate he would need two more weeks to reach the place he sought, and this was not acceptable. The nomadic tribes who went there from time to time covered the same distance in less than a third of the time. Of course it had taken him a long time to go from their temporary village to the oasis, compared to them at least, but it hadn't been quite so dramatic.
  98. A tear ran down Paul's cheek, but he didn't deign to wipe it away. Neither Melody or Jessica noticed that, of course, being safely tucked away inside the pouch hanging from his neck, but they were aware of the change in his heartbeat, which was growing more agitated. He hated this place and he'd have preferred to be back home. But he wasn't home. He was here. And if he turned back now, what good would that do? He would be a failure, all his efforts would have been a waste, and the town guard at Meirut may have put up wanted posters of him in other cities as well. The reward on his head wouldn't be high, of course, but high enough to warrant that. They'd want to catch him alive, of course, and bring Jessica back where she 'belonged'. He'd probably spend a week or two, maybe a month or two, in the gaol, but then mother would show up with all her money and connections and get him out and bring him home and stuff him full of good food and buy him a new Elf with fair skin, blonde hair and blue eyes.
  99. Or they wouldn't catch him. If he did everything right and snuck along properly, he'd make it back home without getting arrested, with Jessica and Melody in tow, and mom would make all the trouble go away and then the Slime and the Undine would live with them, probably in the baths or the garden's pool or fountain... and he'd still be a failure.
  100. "Tsk" he steeled himself. He was still thinking like a momma's boy. But he was doing something special, wasn't he? How many people had crossed this desert the way he had? He'd go to those ruins, and he'd...
  101. "Something's wrong!" Melody said.
  102. "Huh?" Paul started. Was she talking about him?
  103. "I can sense something weird" she said.
  104. Sense something weird? But all her elemental senses were put to work with the dowsing rod... it was some kind of spirit, then?
  105. He asked her as much.
  106. "Yeah. Something... it's a little off the path, if you just... take a step to the left and..."
  107. Melody began to guide him to this new thing.
  108. "Are we there yet?" asked Jessica.
  109. "Hush"
  111. Following Melody's guidance Paul found his way to... nothing.
  112. "There's nothing here"
  113. "Are we there yet?"
  114. "Yes, we're here. And there's nothing here"
  115. "Beneath the sand, Paul"
  116. Of course. Paul began to dig.
  117. "How deep?"
  118. "Couple feet"
  119. Paul stopped digging.
  120. "Is this really worth the effort? There's only so much night left"
  121. "It's something special. I know it is" Melody said, in all seriousness.
  122. "What do you even know about these things? You don't encounter a lot of spirits living in an oasis" Paul said, questioning her judgement.
  123. "Can I come out yet?" Jessica asked.
  124. "No"
  125. "Paul, please trust me. This is something powerful. More powerful than me"
  126. Paul rubbed his stubbly chin. If it was more powerful than the spirit he'd bonded with, it was likely a bad idea to bring it up, just in case it was hostile. And the nomads had warned him that there were Djinni in these parts. Hmm.
  127. "It's probably contained. Just dig it out, please. It's asleep and harmless. You don't have to let it out" Melody pleaded.
  128. He sensed something was amiss.
  129. "Why are you so eager to see it in my possession?"
  130. "No reason. To be helpful. Would be a waste to leave it here, right?"
  131. "Can I have a new friend?" asked Jessica.
  132. Paul sighed again and kept digging. A couple feet? That wasn't so much. And if it was a Genie, well, then he'd just keep it in case of an emergency.
  134. A Genie it was, since there was a glass bottle filled with swirling mist. Exposing it caused it to become irritated inside the glass, and Melody said it had woken up. For whatever reason it couldn't speak to him, so he assumed the bottle was magically sealed. Good enough for him.
  135. Tucking the thing in with the rest of his luggage he set off with the dowsing rod, reaching the spot when the stars had ceased to be visible and the skies had been painted red. The Sun was already above the horizon by the time he managed to get his nest built, and fell into it exhausted.
  136. Still, he didn't sleep, but pulled out the bottle with the Genie in it. The smoke swirled prettily, and seemed to be coloured pink or lilac or... oh, it was changing colours a little.
  137. "Paul" said Melody.
  138. "Hm?"
  139. "Let us out" she said.
  140. "Yeah, let us out so we can play!" Jessica concurred.
  141. "Oh, right. Sorry"
  142. He let them out of the pouch, same as every other time, and soon enough the two sucked up enough water to assume their womanly forms. Jessica created a membrane of sort to separate them of the sand and earth, and the two girls got very close soon enough, caressing and kissing each other like always.
  143. "What's keeping you?" Melody asked when Paul didn't show any intent to join them.
  144. "Hm?"
  145. "We should bond again" she reminded him.
  146. "Oh, right. Sorry"
  147. Jessica tilted her head.
  148. "Paul's silly" she said.
  149. "Hmm" Melody seemed confused. She slipped away from Jessica and took the bottle from Paul's hands, holding it to her face. Glowing dots appeared in the swirling mist, and Melody spoke to it out loud.
  150. "You said you wouldn't make any trouble!" she yelled at the bottle.
  151. Paul and Jessica were both flabbergasted. What was going on here?
  153.                 ***
  155. The bedchamber was quiet. Very, very quiet. Like a tomb, really. Omid grimaced when he thought back to the time she’d insisted on dragging him into one of those.  Wanted to show him to her parents, she’d said. To let them know she was doing fine and so on. That had been years ago, and he still couldn’t get over it. All those Mummies shuffling about as if all those catacombs and crypts in the mountain were just more corridors to the palace, serving wine and food to people who had died decades, centuries, millennia before. And those long-dead people were walking about eating and drinking and dancing and laughing, one big happy family dating back to the founding of the kingdom they were, an unbroken dynasty. It just wasn’t right. It would haunt him until the day he died. And then he’d be part of it all, wouldn’t he? That was the worst part of it all, really. It was not a bad thing, to die. But when a man died, it was Heaven or Hell he should go to, not stick around on Earth and scurry about their depraved business within the heart of a mountain. Or maybe that was Hell. These pagans might consider it a correct way to live, no, the correct way to be dead, but he wouldn’t abide by it.
  156. Of course he would. He had no choice, did he?
  158. Omid rubbed his temples. It got chilly here during the night, like it had been in the tomb. He usually slept too soundly to notice. He looked forward to the night all day, really. The only time he could really be together with… no. Better not even think her name here. Could be something in the air. Or the walls.
  159. He sighed. After a wild romp in the dream world he was usually exhausted for a bit until his body realized it hadn’t actually done anything.
  160. Wonder what time it is, he thought to himself. If it wasn’t too early, he could just get up and wander around, maybe sneak into the kitchen for an early breakfast and go for a swim before he’d need to make himself really presentable and… present himself.
  161. Yes. He’d get up. He’d get up right now! Filled with determination Omid threw aside the heavy covers and stepped on the cold stone of the floor. Within a couple heartbeats he’d positioned himself quite comfortably where he’d started, tucked in tightly. It was unusually cold, wasn’t it? It wasn’t just him getting old and lazy and too used to comfort?
  162. Nonsense. He was still a warrior. He fought a fierce battle every day. Not the kind of battle he’d grown up with, true, not the kind that had given his body the scars he had. Well, except the ones on his back, those came from… but he was still a warrior. Yes. And that meant he was still strong, because his will was strong. Flesh was but an extension of the body. Wait. No. Flesh was the body. The body was but an extension of the MIND. Yes. Flesh was moved by will, not by flesh itself. That was the teaching. It had been too long since he’d attended a proper service. Or a service of any kind that wasn’t a pagan one. But he had no choice. In this place the false gods wore bodies of flesh and bone, and they walked and talked and ate and drank and did things he shuddered to think about. It was not right. And in the view of all the others, too!
  163. Shivers ran all over him now, but soon he realized the shudder stemmed not from his disgust, but from the cold. His breath was visible. What nonsense is this?
  165. Tossing the covers aside he got up and with ever greater determination – hastened by alarm – he picked up some robes and stuffed his feet in sandals. This was downright inconceivable. It didn’t get this cold in here!
  166. Stomping his feet Omid threw aside the curtain that separated his bedchamber from the rest of his apartment, and went to the washbasin. The water was indeed frozen. This was not possible. Water did not freeze in the Pharaoh’s palace. It was lukewarm.
  167. Shaking his head in disbelief, he wondered if this was perhaps still just a dream. Of course! That made sense. The dreams he shared with… the dreams he shared were all quite real, so perhaps this was just continuation to that. Yes, any time now she’d be there, asking for him to warm her up…
  168. “ACHOO!”
  169. His sneeze echoed in the quiet. The guards would have heard that, he cringed. But then again, the guards would light him a fire. Good.
  170. No footsteps, he noticed. Nobody was coming to see if all was well with him. Even though the situation was utterly unacceptable!
  171. The inconceivability of it all made him feel angry. He was definitely angry at this development, and he would not stand for things as they were!
  172. He threw aside the drapes covering the door, and tried to open it. It didn’t budge. What nonsense! Had they locked him in his own room as if he were some mischievous child? The insolence!
  173. Omid banged on the door.
  174. “Open! Open up this instance or your heads will roll!” he shouted.
  175. There was no response. No sound at all, really. Omid tried the door again. There was no movement whatsoever. It wasn’t like the door was locked so much as it was… oh no.
  176. He broke in a cold sweat. This was a nightmare, surely.
  178. In a panic Omid rushed to the veranda and stepped into the small patch of a garden he had. All the plants were withered and covered in a frost, the pond and the fountains all frozen, and the open ceiling… was not open. A sheer coat of ice covered the open sky. It was only now that Omid realized he had woken up long after sunrise after all. The light of day made it through the ice only barely, and as result he had assumed it had been night still. But if it was already day, why was he still here? Why hadn’t anything been done to rescue him?
  179. His selfish thoughts soon gave way to the shocking realization. Of course. The palace was under attack. By something powerful. And they were too busy for him. The situation was so dire that the prince consort wasn’t a priority.
  180. Omid sank on his haunches upon realizing this. What could he possibly do now? He’d die here. He’d freeze to death in here. Or suffocate. That was a possibility as well. He might suffocate here. In the cold.
  181. No. That was inconceivable. Death? Like this? No. Not for a warrior such as he. His flesh might have gotten flabby while he’d been here, but his will was still as iron, nay, as tempered steel, and he would live.
  183. A brief search produced more articles of clothing for him to wear, assorted sashes and scarves and rags to tie around his limbs to cover them and even some headwear he converted into foot wraps to wear under the sandals. Having bundled up and thus secured his survival for a moment, he began to think of a fire. He could start one, if he tried. He still remembered how to do it. But there was nowhere for the smoke to go, was there? He’d just suffocate sooner. The extra comfort brought by the fire’s heat and light wasn’t worth it.
  184. Unless he could use it to melt the ice canopy… no. He’d never be able to do that. It was obviously quite thick and scaling the frost-covered walls to bring a torch up there just screamed death at him. He just had to live long enough to be rescued, that’s all. They’d come for him eventually, after they resolved whatever nonsense was going on out there. Yes, it’d be no time at all, to wait. Ahahaha… aah.
  185. Omid thought of her and the way she’d been so excited last night. She’d found someone to do something to a thing. That much he’d got. Whatever it was that needed doing and to what, he didn’t understand, and who it was, he didn’t care. He’d asked about their son. She’d wanted to avoid the subject, or maybe she’d been impatient to get to the action. In any case, Omid’s latest news from his son were that he’d fled imperial officials after stealing some precious cargo from one of their transport ships. He approved of such actions, fighting the infidel was always to be encouraged. Banditry may have been a shameful way of life, but stealing from the enemy was not banditry, it was raiding. This was an act approved of by God.
  186. This warmed his heart but not his body, and so he decided to get some exercise. Not so much as to break a sweat, that would make him even colder in the long run, but enough to get the blood flowing.
  187. Squats. A couple of jumps. Some push-ups. Some sit-ups. Not very many of any of them. Omid realized he was getting quite out of shape. Dream time exercise didn’t make his body stronger. Of course it didn’t. But it should have. God taught that the mind could overcome the body, that will overcame flesh. Why then did his flesh get flabby? Was his will too weak? His faith shaken?
  188. Ah, yes. Death was knocking on his door, figuratively speaking. This meant he was afraid of death, and fear is the mind-killer.
  189. A smile spread on Omid’s face. He had a cure for that.
  191. Opening one of the cupboards, he quickly picked up a heavy jar, opened it, and picked out a much smaller one from the depths of the liquid it contained. This was not water and would not freeze. It was in fact a kind of alchemical distillation, meant to keep the contents of the smaller jar from being compromised.
  192. He opened the smaller jar with some effort, and found the pouch within. It was made of leather and shut tightly with a silk ribbon. He opened it, and inside was a silk pouch, smaller yet. He opened this, and took a pinch of what was inside. A strong smell of cinnamon was in the air now. He put the pinch between his lip and front teeth, and then went about carefully sealing the stuff again. This was the most expensive substance known to Man or Monster. Despite being in an environment where he could get as much of it as he wanted whenever he wanted, he still used it sparingly. Old habits die hard.
  194. As the cinnamon aroma spread into his mouth, the stronger, friskier sensation spread as well, and he rushed to the washbasing, breaking the ice with his goblet and filling it with the cold water. He wasted no time in emptying the goblet into his mouth and sloshing the now mixed up spice in his mouth. It was a foolhardy thing to do, taking the stuff raw. The water would only help for a while, too. He needed wine.
  195. A jug was located. The wine was still liquid. He drank as much as he could fit into his mouth, making his cheeks bulge. Feeling the stuff was mixed enough, he began to swallow. Soon as his mouth was empty, he panted heavily, seeking the cold air, seeking relief to the strong, all too strong sensation his mouth.
  196. He drank more wine. The Sandworm produce was hard to deal with. When he’d been younger, the strongest warriors of the tribe had tried to prove their worth in a number of ways. Showing how well they handled the spice had been one way. Of course getting some in the first place had been a feat on its own right, but that would only take you so far. They didn’t make you into a war chief over many tribes and give you the Prophet’s Blessing for that alone. Omid still remembered the visions from his first time. He still remembered how four out of the eight who had been with him were caught by the Scorpionesses. Those who made it back didn’t learn of this until the scouts returned from checking it out, of course. He hadn’t become a war chief, oh no.
  198. The spice had made him warm. This was no mere illusion, brought on by hallucinogenic, but oil poured on the fires of his soul. He felt his member grow rigid as well, and his cheeks felt hot. This would do. A small chuckle escaped his lips when he flexed his muscles and felt them bulge. Slothful he may have grown, flabby though his flesh may have become, he still remembered. And he still believed. The spice would make him whole again.
  199. Omid walked up to the door and placed his hands on it. As a faithful and pious man, he knew nothing of the dark arts and demonic tricks that were called magic, but he had something else. Something any outsider would call magic by another name, but that the faithful called miracle working. He was about to perform such a miracle now, two in fact. First the Miracle of Channelling, followed by a Miracle of Strength.
  200. The internal heat of his body spread to his palms, causing a noise to come from the wood as the frost gripping it melted from where his palms were, and slowly he concentrated the heat elsewhere on the door. As it spread wider, the water dripping from the door become more apparent, turning into small streams. Then he let the heat travel to the other side of the door, where he couldn’t see, but where the essence of his spirit encountered the cold ice. He began to melt it. Slowly. Too slowly, in fact.
  201. It was a hard process, getting the heat to go through the door and to the ice without actually setting the door on fire. But he didn’t want to burn the door. It was a nice door. The challenge excited him. The real trouble was in the fact that there was just so much ice. Moving through the substance of the door and sensing the ice on the other side was one thing, but moving into the ice and sensing the edge of it? That was beyond him now. Moreover, spreading the heat to such an extent as to melt the ice from everywhere it touched the door was a daunting task. He might not have the heat to do it. He still needed leftover power to actually use the Miracle of Strength after the ice had melted. Increasing one’s strength to beyond what a human should be able to do was one of the oldest Miracles recorded, and it had served the faithful well in their struggle against the Monsters and pagans. Even so, it had limits. He couldn’t push through the solid wall of ice, he knew this much. Melting it, weakening it, that was the thing to do.
  202. Omid became aware of the fact that his erection was gone. Just as well. His toes were starting to feel a little chilly, as well. This meant he was running out of heat. One could not channel that which was not there.
  203. The ice felt every bit as formidable as it had moments ago. It was obviously melting, there was a puddle forming on the ground at his feet. But it was not enough. Not nearly enough. He kept going until he was starting to feel cold again, which meant he’d used up his heat to the point any further channelling would result in death.
  204. Now or never, he thought and placed his feet into a wide stance. With a groan he bushed against the doors and his muscles bulged and grew beyond what they had been even in his prime. For a brief while he surpassed all human endeavours and acquired the strength of many, many men. Maybe even the strength of a few Minotaurs.
  205. There was a crack as the weakened ice was pressed against. The doors gave way enough for him to now see the ice in the slit between them, but it was dark on the other side. He pulled the doors back by their handles as far as their hinges would give, and then with all his borrowed might he rammed them against the ice, sending several shards and chunks flying. He did it again. And again. By the fourth time he felt weaker, and by the fifth he was out of breath and trembling on the floor. The two miracles were done now, and he was depleted.
  206. The ice had not given in all the way. There was some still left. Dammit. The doors didn’t have enough space between them for him to slip between. But there was enough for a battering ram. Yes, he could still do it. He was a warrior. His flesh was weak, but his will was not.
  208. Omid stood up on wobbly feet and looked for something that would serve him as a battering ram. He found something suitable hanging from the wall. The thing had been claimed to have been the horn of a Unicorn, long ago. Then of course it had become quite apparent that it was longer than the average Unicorn’s body. Whatever beast it was from, it resembled the horn of a Unicorn in shape, and was made of bone. It had a sharp, pointy end.
  209. Armed with this horn he returned to the door and wondered about the situation. The horn had no handles to hold it by, so he wrapped some cloth around it and tied that around his wrists, to hold it in place. Then he took a few brisk steps with the thing held back, lunged at the door and threw it ahead into the narrow slit of ice with all his might.
  210. It bloody went through.
  211. The horn, being roughly the thickness of his arm, had left a hole the size of a fist. By this point Omid no longer had any intention of shouting for help, which is what he would have done if such a hole had presented itself to him before. By God, he was alive!
  212. Exhausted as he was, Omid began to repeat this process with all the fervour of a madman. He was feeling light-headed and knew, on an intellectual level, that he stood no chance of actually getting out using his own strength. But if he gave up and waited for rescue, he’d never forgive himself. He was not to be trifled with. He was a man. He was a warrior. He was the Prophet’s Chosen for a Holy Task!
  213. Eventually the madness and the faith and the conviction had to give way to the natural order of things. The horn had become blunted, the ice had cracked enough for a hole big enough to easily fit both his hands through and still have room left over, but his body collapsed when he realized that this didn’t help him deal with the very solid walls of ice left on the sides of it. He’d bloody well done enough, hadn’t he? He’d done all he could, really.
  214. Using the horn as support he got up one last time, struggled to where his wine was and emptied the jug, then headed to bed. He fell into the soft embrace of it and tucked himself in without bothering to remove his clothes. He’d die asleep or wake up rescued, but damn if he hadn’t done all he could.
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