After a run in with Ishtir’s War Dogs, our hero continues his journey toward the city of Tirradon. For more backstory, catch up on parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. # As I continued
As I continued east, I kept to the cover of the trees as best I could. The sun was still high overhead as I emerged from the forest onto a wide plain and beheld the city of Tirradon. High stone walls concealed all but a few rooftops, but those that peaked over were elaborately decorated in bright colors and fine metals. But towering above roof and wall alike was a great circular structure with no roof. Even from that distance, the sides gleamed in the sunlight. A day’s ride beyond the city rose a mountain range, cutting off my view to the east.
All my answers could be there.
I took the road the rest of the way. There was no real cover on the plain and it would look less suspicious for a traveler to arrive by the main track than over the fields.
It took a few more hours before I arrived at the gates. The stone arch was adorned with ancient runes, which glowed in the corners of my vision. Above the gate stood two gigantic statues. On the east side a great wolf howled at the rising moon and on the west sat a coiled serpent, crowned in fire by the setting sun.
The gates were open, but a guard in rune-etched armor stopped me at the threshold.
“What is your business in Tirradon, stranger?”
“I’m seeking a man, Anasei.”
He straightened at the name. “I see. You’ll have the best luck searching the Serpent Quarter, to the west as you enter the gate.”
I thanked him and started to walk past, but he caught my arm and said:
“Remember, this site is sacred to both sides. Keep your holy war outside the city.”
I nodded, and the guard released me.
As I passed under the arch of the gate, my tattoo burned, but faded as soon as I entered the city proper.
The main street split the city in half. To the east, the houses were simple and unadorned, whereas to the west, the so-called Serpent Quarter, they were grand and gaudy with color and displays of wealth. The only exception was the towering, circular building, which stood at the heart of the eastern half of the city.
I turned west.
There were no true roads through the Serpent Quarter, only back alleys which twisted between the villas. After some dead ends and back tracking, I exited into a courtyard.
A group of about twenty children sat in a semi-circle at the feet of an old man. They listened with rapt attention as he spoke.
“But after they had killed the Great Bull, the Father of Monsters, Ishtir betrayed Shimash, for she coveted his power. And they fought in the high temple, but Shimash could not bring himself to kill her for the sake of who she had once been. So he crafted a spell, which froze the very time around them, trapping them both in an endless battle.”
His audience gasped.
The old man looked up from his story to see me standing at the edge of the courtyard. “Run along now, children. That’s enough for today. I have some business to attend to.”
Obediently the youngsters scattered and disappeared into the alleys.
Once we were alone, the old man hobbled over and embraced me. He barely came to my chest. Looking down, I could see an old tattoo of a black serpent on the back of his bald head.
He backed up a step and bowed. “A thousand pardons, my lord. I am he.” Anasei looked me up and down. “You have come to us through great trials.”
I shrugged. How much can I tell him?
“Feval!” The old man called toward one of the houses, and promptly a straw-haired young man emerged. “Find proper armor for the master.”
“At once.” Feval bowed and then took off down a side alley.
Anasei turned back to me. “I see you carry a War Dog’s death curse upon you.”
He laughed, mistaking my question. “Do not worry, it’s not strong. Still, best to be rid of it, for even weak curses can strike true from time to time.”
“Can you remove it?”
“Of course, my lord. Come with me to the market, they’ll have the supplies I’ll need.”
He led me down twisted alleys until we reemerged on the main road. The market stood at the very center of the city, bridging the gap between the simplicity of the eastern half of the city and the lavishness of the west. The whole square was packed with people and a loud commotion had risen somewhere in the crowd.
Anasei grabbed a man from the edge of the mob and asked, “Ulstir, what’s happening?”
“Ishtir is here. They say she’s come to make a pilgrimage herself.”
Anasei muttered something under his breath. “My lord, it’s as I feared, your curse has struck true, we must act quickly if we are to prevent it.”
Ulstir stepped closer. “But surely the city wards will protect him.”
Anasei smacked the back of the younger man’s head. “Can mortal magic bind the goddess of war? Go, fetch me ginger roots, quartz dust, and horseradish. Quickly!”
Ulstir bowed, then disappeared into the crowd.
I turned to Anasei. “How can Ishtir be here, if she’s trapped in eternal battle with Shimash in the high temple?”
He sighed. “I always said Yosuf neglected the teachings of our history. This is not truly Ishtir, as the man who sits in the temple of Senovitch is not truly our lord. They are aspects, shadows cast by the gods’ power. Thus their war in the high temple is reflected here below. Now, if you wish to live, let me work.”
I might have pressed for more answers, but then I saw her.
She stood head and shoulders above the tallest man in the crowd. Her blue-grey hair was pulled up into a ponytail that still hung down below where I could see. A red cloak billowed behind her, and the crowd parted before her as wheat before a storm.
Behind me, Anasei chanted something softly.
She stopped suddenly, and announced in a voice like thunder, “someone here has spilled my blood.”
Silence descended in a pall as her gaze swept over the crowd. Her eyes were mismatched—the right was a steel-grey, hard and unforgiving, while the left was amber, like a wolf’s.
“That one, bring him.” Ishtir raised her hand and pointed.
To Be Continued….