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The Sun had just set and the first of the nights stars could be seen. I turned north and pulled my cloak closer, trying to hide from the chill wind. In the distance I could just see my destination and I hurried my step.
(1)The path that I walked seemed to laugh at me as I struggled on towards my destenation. My feet slipped on thin layers of ice that covered the rocks that littered the path. Who would have thought that the ending of summer would happen so quickly? Apparently I had not because I had only brought with me light gear for my journey. (2)Of course I had also not thought it would have taken me so long to get to this point. Everyone had told me that the fabled city was far away, of course. I was sure no one would believe that I had even come in sight of it! But now, my immediate problem was not to freeze in the high altitudes.
(3)I decided to quicken my pace even more. If I were to stop, or even slow a bit, I knew the cold would take me. Too many tales I have heard of those fools who fell weak to chill winds and dark winter nights. Too many tales of their frozen bodies discovered all blue and still. I kept these visions circling in my head, and they gave me conviction enough to overcome my fatigue. Then I saw the light. The single, flickering light, like a solitary torch. Its dancing warmth beckoned me. My thoughts then shifted to that light and my overwhelming desire to get to it. But after a few steps it vanished into the darkness ahead. I stopped. Cursed at myself for doing so, and started moving agian. The winds churned and twisted all about me. I shivered agian and pulled the hood of my cloak tight around my face. I could see but a thin view of the path before me, then I halted agian, for the light returned, this time much closer and brighter.(4) Then as before, it vanished! Had I really seen the light? Or was the cold taking my wits?
(5) The city was my only salvation. I knew the bitter wind would cease to chill my bones once I was within some shelter. My first glimpse that I had reached my goal was the crumbling walls that seemed inseparable from the rocky terrain from whence they came. I could have slipped between the missing stones and loose mortar of the barrier, but somehow I knew I could not. The past honor and glory of this place demanded I enter as all of the other inhabitancy had long ago. I found the main gate were it had stood for over a thousand years. Age has not dulled its magnificence.
(6)I traveled deep into the ancient city. Some had called it Xinsh meaning, lost gold. Its true name was as easy to discover as its lost inhabitants. After a few hours of searching in the outer halls and houses of the city, the solitude began to take its toll on me. Strange, though, that I had not noticed it before. But there was a haunting air about this place.
Don't be stupid! I said to myself, harshly. The only ones here now were the rats and other small creatures. There was no one else. I was alone, as I had been throughout my entire journey. Or was I?
I heard something, whether before me, behind me, right, or left of me, I could not tell. I could feel the fabled enchantment working at my sanity. I pondered whether or not I should leave. I might never find this place agian! My mind screamed at me. But if I was caught in the enchantment. . .
(7) A chill wind caught my heart and stopped me dead in my tracks. Icy winds began to gather around me... A stark silver, mingled with sparkling crystals of light sprayed around the air I felt invigorated, yet sleepy; excited yet so weary.
"What if I became trapped here?" My thoughts screamed...
The cold must be playing tricks with my mind.
"No.." a voice whispered.."No, you shouldn't have come here."
The voice was a bell, a thousand at once...soft and gentle...relaxing. Male or female, it couldn't be determined. It was a multitude speaking at once. It wrapped my body and soul in a chill blanket and clouded my thoughts.
(8) The bellvoice spoke again.
"Clouding your thoughts won't help. I know everything about you. You can't hide anything from me. I warned you that you shouldn't be here, now you will have to pay the price."
I shuddered and wrapped the blanket tighter around me.
"What do you want from me? Where am I?"
I screamed a soundless scream as the silver light surrounded me and began drawing me forward.
The voice laughed, a million glass bells shattering. "Why, you have found Xianth, and now you are mine."
(9)It was a SoulStripper, one of those blasted phenomenons that lurk in the ponds and pools of the Lark Marshes. I wondered what one could be doing so far away, and then realized that a marsh is a marsh, even in the depths of winter or the coldlan ds, and I had inadvertently stumbled into one. In the half-darkness, the willow beside me gleamed silver-pale against the sliver of moon that was present. "Go away," I whispered, clutching at my talisman that the good mage Clarion had given me. "Go awa y..." The creature only laughed softly. "I am not fooled by crystals or potions, Man," it said, with a voice that was like a bind: it seeped into my blood, it echoed into my deepest soul, it entered into every part of me. The creature was chaining me with her voice, I realized; that was the spell that these beings knew, and it was a powerful one indeed. Beware the marshes of Lark, Especially after dark. An old child's rhyme, taught by many a wet nurse on rainy eves by the fire. I had been stupid, and now I would pay.
(10) The voice around me became two, then three, and four. The laughter shrieked out like a wild chorus. Deafening! I fell to one knee and put my hand to the ground as my body buckled under the intensity of the noise. "No," I grunted to myself. "This can't be." I put my head to the stone beneath and covered my ears with my arms, clutching my head tightly. Still the sound permeated my soul. The bells were becoming screeches and the laughter was now screaming. All voices were directed at me, screaming with the kind of intensity that could shatter glass. As the horror began to overtake me I reared up and realized it was my own screaming that was filling my ears. I stopped myself and gasped for air. As I breathed vapor into the cold night, I realized the only sound around me was that of my panting. I held my chest to regain control and listened into the silence. There was nothing. The cold dead of night. Although it was freezing, I was sweating through my clothes. Warily, I looked around to ensure that I was alone. I wasn't. A child stood in the doorway of an old ruin about a hundred hands behind me. Atleast the figure looked as a child; short and slender with a slightly enlarged head. I could not see the face in the dark. It must have been standing there watching my fit of insanity. Calmly watching. I was shocked to find that I had drawn my dagger at the first site of it. As I rose to my feet, the figure slowly backed away into the darkness of the ruins. My answer must lie within that door. Cautiously, I proceeded forth.