Night fell upon the desert city of Zabian, striking nowhere darker than upon the Smuggler’s Maze at the city’s heart.
Illuminated by starlight within that ruined quarter, the blasted faces of crumbling palaces gaped like dumbfounded skeletons upon piles of rubble bleached white by the sun. Bones jutted out here and there from the debris. Skulls lay scattered over the ground like strange stones.
With the darkness came the dogs, mongrel packs congregating in cindered alleyways and baying at the four moons in anticipation of the hunt. Their scattered choruses sounded throughout Zabian like unholy horns as Heider Al’ Dinaffa followed the old crone Adta and the blindfolded child she led by hand into the Maze.
One last time the warrior turned back to look at the lighted windows of the city’s sandstone spires rising up into the sky. It felt as though he was looking at the world from the threshold of some darker plane, one from which there would be no return.
Maybe I am, he thought. Maybe that is exactly what I am doing.
He shook his head and turned back to follow the woman deeper into the ruins.
They followed a serpentine course through broken architecture for a long time before Adta, swaddled in her purple hijab, came to a stop. They had reached the entrance into a broad, tiled courtyard with an obliterated ivory fountain at the center. From the sand-filled fountain rose a column with two disembodied feet atop it, the only remains of the statue that had once stood there.
Adta knelt, removed the boy’s blindfold, and caressed his face with one long, jagged fingernail.
Watching the boy with Adta was like seeing someone about to step on a snake, and Heider’s hand floated instinctively over to the kukri sheathed in his belt. She was an elder member of the Order of Szuth, a group that Heider had only just joined, but something about her repelled him.