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Fiction Tales of the Temple City, Poneextlan

Discussion in 'Fluff and Stories' started by Tlac'Natai the Observer, May 20, 2016.

  1. Tlac'Natai the Observer
    Cold One

    Tlac'Natai the Observer Active Member

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    Turns out I needed to start a new thread for my stories because I didn't realize that I can't just edit the title of the thread (unless you can, and I just don't know how, in which case this is all useless)

    This first one is NOT a lizardmen or seraphon story. It is, however, an introduction to the Apisi; a half coyote, half man beastman. They play the main nemesis in my on going story of desert Lizardmen, so their tale is really close to me.

    The Jump In

    On a plateau in the southern region of Naggaroth, coyotes reign supreme. In an act to sow chaos unto the world, the Dark Gods employ all means to reach the corners of it. As such, these coyotes are granted the gifts of chaotic birth into a Beastman. Most are born after a particularly savage kill; latching on and ripping side to side, killing the target on the spot and concentrating the blood into a small pool. Some have been known to be born after the coyote empties it's bowels in the same area too often. Others, born for having a large pack, with all the adolescent males kicked out.

    This coyote today... stalking a lone stag elk. Without engaging, the coyote kept the pressure on the elk, keeping it moving and always under threat. The coyote meant to tire it out. Every once in a while the coyote would disappear from sight and show up somewhere completely different, using smell alone to track its way back to the elk, startling it. This chase has continued for two days and two nights, through sparse forests and rolling plains. The chase seemed to end when the elk decided not to exit the forested area, and stopped short of the clearing. Standing ground, the elk faced the coyote who stopped as well. The trick now was to back away and disappear from sight for a while, only returning when the smell goes faint; the coyote pretty much had it in the bag. All this cunning while approaching the enemy grabbed the attention of a fickle god, and the coyotes spine began twisting. Before the coyote could see out its plan, its limbs and head and body were contorting to fit the image of a champion of the Dark Gods. Sharp yips of pain grew into deeper and harsher howls.

    The elk was confused by the display, and backed away, but never turned around. In exhaustion, the newborn Beastman was now coughing at the ground and trying to catch its breath. The stag, feeling it now had an advantage, stomped the ground a couple times before lowering its head. The Beastman cold barely see through the shades of red and low night light, but a growing image of a charging elk prompted two hands to reach forward. The right hand found a hold onto the antler, but the left hand slipped and broke the thumb clean off. The antlers pierced into the shoulder and arm as well. With a howl out of anger, not pain, the Beastman pushed with both palms into the antlers and rolled the attacker off to the side. Still with a firm grasp on the antler, and now a standing advantage, the Beastman torqued the elks neck violently. Hooves that were flailing in the air a moment ago were now limp.

    Standing over the lifeless elk, the Beastman stared in silence; only the sound of heavy breathing, until the sun pushed through the trees. Every moment of stillness, in anguish.

    And then, the hungry breaths came. The Beastman was in no shape defend this kill. He spotted something that looked remarkably similar to himself. Only a moment later, the Beastman was tackled from behind and subdued on the ground. With eager yips, the rest of the party came out of hiding to either pick at the elk, or kick the new found Beastman. Before long, the elk was nothing but scattered bone, but they continued to trade turns holding and pushing and striking the Beastman. Without any notice, they dropped him to the ground and ran, with yips of excitement.

    A shaman kneeled next to the curled, beaten mass, and whispered Ko Ty Ro. The shaman lifted the Beastman up to carry him over the shoulder. The Beastman passed out after a few minutes.

    With a fuzzy head, the Beastman woke to a hazy tent. Slowly, the sound of chanting got louder. The words were mostly gibberish, but he picked up on the words Ko Ty Ro again. The Beastman sat up to look at the shaman and the chanting stopped. The shaman picked up a pipe and a burning wick, and took a drag from the pipe. The Beastman stared until the shaman blew smoke into his face. The shaman motioned for the Beastman to do the same, and slowly, he did. Before the smoke reached his lungs fully, the Beastman coughed violently, and curled forward. The shaman laughed and continued chanting.

    The Beastman heard the words, "Your name is Kotyro" come from the shaman this time.

    Still coughing and struggling for air, Kotyro said, "That's my name?" Puzzled with himself, he looked down his snout.

    The shaman said, "You understand." to which Kotyro could only nod while coughing. The shaman continued, "I can't believe you're alive." The shaman turned around the stool he was sitting on and grabbed a cup from the ground and turned back to hand it to Kotyro.

    Before he grabbed the cup, Kotyro felt the anger saying, "Then why did you beat me!?" The display of aggression that tried to escape only made him wince.

    The shaman recoiled and took back the cup, cocked his head and snarled. It took a moment before the shaman calmed himself down enough to say, "You, must, understand." The shaman held the cup back out with one hand while turning around again. Kotyro caught it with a little spilling on his arm. The shaman was filling another pipe and saying, "It is traditionally the Beastlord that challenges the new-spawns. However, ours was taken from us by an assassins blade many moons ago; few remember HAVING a leader." The shaman paused a moment and leaned back toward the bed, "Do you remember anything before you...?" Kotyro looked blankly and grunted No. The shaman continued, "What about your earliest memory?" and leaned forward to continue what he was doing.

    Kotyro let out a resistant sigh, "All I could see was red, but I knew I was being charged. Before I knew it, I was on the ground. I managed to push the beast off of me and then killed it." The shaman turned around with a questioning look, "snapped its neck."

    The shaman held out a loaded pipe to Kotyro and said, "You are Sated...which explains the uneaten kill." The shaman laughed, "Tzeentch has made you special in a way. We shall see how, until then, you must find your place in the pack." The shaman stood up, although mostly hunched over because of the size of the tent, "You should be fine now; finish up, and leave my tent before I get back." The shaman pointed at the pipe and cup and moved to push aside the tent flap, "You cannot leave the camp unless with a group." The shaman exited the tent, leaving behind swirls of smoke lit by the ray of light from outside. Kotyro's head started to rush, and pushed his body back onto the mat, and into a deep sleep.

    ***There we have an introduction into the ways and current struggles of the the Apisi, who will be referenced a lot through out my stories as they are the main aggressor to the citizens of Poneextlan. You can find my next chapters... past the comments; I'll bold the titles or something.***

    Just a Hunt

    It had been a few weeks since Kotyro had been jumped into a band of Apisi beastmen, and he was allowed to leave the camps with the hunting parties now. He needed this hunt; if you don't go out and kill anything, you get the scraps that they couldn't eat, or flat out nothing. The hunting party was armed with a variety of bows and spears, however, Kotyro had half of a spear. One camp goer didn't like how fast Kotyro was able to make a spear and snapped it over their knee; the bottom half found its way back into the thigh of that camp goer, and Kotyro still kept the top half. Even though he trailed at the back of the pack, they all respected him to some degree now.

    On these kind of hunting trips, there is never a plan, yet an innate strategy that they fall into, so Kotyro did his best to fit in when they smelled prey. Everyone fell silent and spread out through the sparse trees. Up on the hill, there was a clearing with three healthy deer, and this pack intended on catching all three, so no one wanted to scare them away. As much as possible, they were going to surround the hill. Until someone whimpered in pain and Kotyro found the deer fleeing in his direction. Most of the party bolted in the direction of the cry, but Kotyro fought with himself about how to react to a charging deer. The three deer leaped and dodged the rushing Apisi and darted past Kotyro who was standing still. When the moment was over, Kotyro snapped out it and raced toward the scene, which was growing louder.

    Last edited: Nov 29, 2016
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  2. Tlac'Natai the Observer
    Cold One

    Tlac'Natai the Observer Active Member

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    Monsoon Season

    The wind had been picking up over the last hour. The sun shone a few last rays through the crags of the gnarled gray clouds as they drifted ever higher into the atmosphere. A few of the giant clouds reached that menacing height which drove them to take the shape of an anvil; this desert valley will experience heavy storms throughout the night.

    Ezhno (ej-no) woke to the soft sound of distant thunder. The monsoon season is welcomed in this desert valley, as they have their own terrible way of bringing life to it lasting the whole year. The skink lay where he woke, and watched the landscape turn red, orange, pink and purple before everything went gray for the night. The flashes of lightning became more evident and the smell of dust and rain took control of the air. Ezhno took in one more large sniff of the air before being interrupted by his spawning brother.

    “Get on your feet! Ahtunowhiho (ah-toon-oh-whee-ho) wants everyone to assemble!” the skink said hurriedly before dashing off to find all of their other brothers.

    Ezhno slowly gathered up his dart pouch and blowpipe before moving out of the rocky nook in the hill. He stared at the rumbling storm a few more moments before heading up to the top of the hill. At the top there was frantic movement indicative of a battle to come. Ahtunowhiho stood on a large boulder at the top of the hill watching all the skink brothers with stern eyes and caught the late comer Ezhno joining the party. Ezhno received a quick glare from Ahtunowhiho before he raised his hand and all the skinks fell silent and motionless.

    “Reports are still coming in, so the details aren’t clear yet, but there is a band of Apisi roaming to our North. I want everyone to get to the bottom of the hill and ready to move north.”

    The Apisi he spoke of were beastmen: half man, half coyote. They wander these deserts and the neighboring regions. The Apisi are a necessary evil to the desert skinks though. They are a constant threat, but also contribute to the reason why the city has remained a secret, hidden in this valley. Since the Apisi have no allies and no formal tongue to speak, their intelligence on the city and the inhabitants does not travel to the outside world where it could find organized invaders. The Apisi also take to battle before most opposition even realizes they are at battle to begin with. Ambushes and all out aggression keeps would-be wanderers from drawing a path through this largely unmapped valley.

    “Hang back if you need me for anything, otherwise…dismissed!” Ahtunowhiho always left himself open to his subordinates, which he thought promoted morale.

    Without missing a beat, the skinks moved together like a flock of birds down the hill. At the bottom, they all went prone, ready for an attack at that very moment. Silent minutes passed before Ahtunowhiho showed up.

    “Change of plans; the scouts say that the band is to our northwest now, and heading west. We’ll move west to intercept them. We’ve sent word to the other outposts nearby, but we need to buy them time. Move out!”

    The skinks kicked up several pebbles as they left their positions. Ezhno followed his brothers as they weaved around the low lying bushes and rocky outcroppings. Ezhno once again had the chance to gaze upon the storm clouds as they were lit up from within. As they got closer to the storm, the lightning pierced through the dense clouds above.

    Ahtunowhiho ordered a halt and all the skinks went prone again. With the sound of movement stopped, even Ezhno in the back of the loose formation could hear the distinct “yip” sound of the Apisi between the cracks of thunder. Ahtunowhiho had most of the skinks stay put while he and a few others advanced again.

    Every skink knew what was expected of them; they had all been trained for this. While Ahtunowhiho was gone, the skinks kept their heads below the bush line and shuffled the javelin wielders to the front and blowpipes to the back and flanks. They spread out and tried to hide as best they could. When Ezhno got settled in with a suitable ambush point, rain spots were showing up in the rocky sand around him and the wind seemed to stop moving entirely. Within a minute the rain became an all-out downpour and dominated the smell, sound and sights around the ambush party.

    A distant chirp alerted Ezhno. He kept his head still and eyes wide open. A second chirp was closer this time. Ahtunowhiho and the other vanguards rushed through the formation and began chirping frantically. The ambush was sprung and the skinks set loose a crossfire of javelins and darts at the rushing Apisi. As the Apisi charge got closer to the center, the skinks would fall back and the trap took its true form; the Apisi were surrounded. The surviving Apisi scattered to meet the skinks in individual melee. Some reached the outer edge through their speed alone, while others had the prowess to dodge the missiles and close in. The most the skinks could hope to do was resort to their basic training which would have them fall back and lead the Apisi on until someone else could strike.

    The skirmish ended with a handful of skinks dead or wounded. The skirmish would be measured as a success due to the amount of Apisi that dropped in the initial moments. Some Apisi had broken out of the trap and ran aimlessly into the dark storm.

    Ahtunowhiho only caught the attention of a fraction of the Apisi band. He wasted no time gathering the skinks and finding a safe place to safely leave the wounded so that the others could keep moving. The rain moved away as quickly as it had arrived. These types of storms move around in cells and eventually will touch every rock and bush in the valley. With Ahtunowhiho’s lead, they began moving again. It seemed to Ezhno that they were leading a charge on the very clouds themselves.

    The dark outline of a low hill up ahead was undoubtedly their destination. This hill marked the outpost nearest to where he and his spawning brothers were stationed. The hill was under assault by the torrential rain. Ezhno and his brothers ran through a curtain of rain which divided day and night on each side of the curtain. Even as the rain's noise grew, Ezhno could hear the battle being fought at the base of the hill. Ahtunowhiho began frantically chirping again, and all of the brothers joined in; they were trying to draw more Apisi out of the hectic melee. The Apisi had already broken through the loose formation of skinks and there was an area at the base of the hill that was a mix of Apisi and skink. Missiles and swinging weapons were everywhere. Ezhno and his brothers were pressing the Apisi rear effectively. The defenders of the hill were regaining morale and confidence as it seemed the situation was almost under control.

    Ezhno could hear the yips of more Apisi from beyond the hill. The last of the Apisi were broken and scattering, but that was hardly the end of it. Ezhno felt the weight of more yips getting heavier, and closer.

    The rain was moving on again and Ahtunowhiho had plans to use this cell of rain. “Everyone! Move with the rain!” he barked to anyone that could hear him, even the skinks on the hill followed. Ezhno stared at the black outline of the hill and witnessed the edges of the dark hill begin to vibrate and shake; Apisi were flooding over the hill like a waterfall and the source of the yips became clear. Their charge from the top of the hill would have been devastating if the defenders were not relieved moments earlier. With their momentum from the hill, the Apisi made chase for the dwindling skink numbers.

    The skinks were following Ahtunowhiho through the storm, however, the Apisi moved through the desert landscape faster. Skinks in the back of the pack were being picked off and offering little resistance to the Apisi. Ahtunowhiho had found what he was looking for with little time to spare. He jumped down into a wash and had his brother follow “upstream.” The sandy banks of the wash provided a moments worth of cover by breaking the line of sight in this mostly flat landscape. When the Apisi figured out where the rest of their prey were heading, they continued the chase blindly, unaware of the Skink Chief's intentions.

    Ahtunowhiho heard the kind of rumble he was searching for; not the rumble of thunder which still kept a presence in the chaos of these skirmishes, but the rumble of rushing water. Ahtunowhiho kept leading the pack towards the surge of water. When the water around the corner revealed itself to the chief, he turned and yelled “Up the left bank!” The skinks all scrambled back up the bank with the Apisi nipping at their heels as they ascended the hill.

    Ezhno had barely heard Ahtunowhiho from where he was towards the back of the pack and started up the bank a bit late. He felt some fingers wrap around his ankle before the water almost insantly slammed into his would-be killer and swept both of them downstream. Ezhno had thus far considered himself lucky. He had been surviving the Apisi as they ravaged the back by weaving through the bushes and making hard to follow turns. He was tired and barely fit to swim although he knew how to. While he now considered himself to be unlucky, he couldn’t be more wrong. Ahtunowhiho had intentionally led the Apisi here because of how notoriously bad they are at swimming, while the skinks swam regularly within the safety of their city. Ezhno struggled against both the unrelenting Apisi assailant and the churning muddy waves. The beastman's hold was fast, and the water made it difficult for Ezhno to do anything about it. He had the presence of mind to fight for oxygen and swam for the surface every time the churning water turned him over on top of his enemy before he was forced back underneath. This cycle happened for a good minute before the grip loosened on his ankle, and he wriggled free to swim for the bank.

    He pulled himself up half way and let his legs dangle in the water a moment longer as his lungs caught up with the rest of him. He felt the bank begin to crumble into the wash and scrambled away just before it added to the mud of this torrent. Ezhno watched as the last of this Apisi band were being taken by the current and witnessed the last one fade off downstream. Safety still didn’t feel real to him at the moment, so he headed back towards the rest of his brothers. The rain was moving on once again and left the air fresh and calm. Without the rains to dull his vision, he found the brothers all as drained as he was. The only one standing was Ahtunowhiho who was moving from one wounded warrior to the next. When he saw Ezhno approaching the group, he gave him a quick look up and down and hissed quietly to himself.

    All told, the skinks numbers were not crippled as badly as they could have been, all thanks to Ahtunowhiho’s quick thinking and bold strategy. The Apisi band had been dealt with successfully, but the skinks would need to send out hunting parties for next couple weeks to fully clean up the rest of the Apisi that had been separated from their band. To this day, no incursion has found its way into the city these Lizardmen spend their lives protecting.
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  3. Tlac'Natai the Observer
    Cold One

    Tlac'Natai the Observer Active Member

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    A Change of Pace

    Ezhno has experienced his first monsoon season in the desert valley. He fought under the command of the greatest skink chief alive in the valley, Ahtunowhiho. In his first year of duty, it was clear to Ezhno that the monsoon season brings the most turmoil by far. The monsoons are crucial to life in the valley, but they have a way of causing issues as well. The flooding forces critters out of their holes and carves new washes out of the flat landscape. The desert becomes intensely alive during these months, which brings the attention of the Apisi (a half man, half coyote breed of beastmen). With Ahtunowhiho making the decisions, Ezhno has survived the violent season.

    With the incursions becoming less frequent, Ezhno now found himself within the safe walls of Poneextlan, the only city in this desert valley. The city was frantic with the everyday business that made war possible. Ezhno walked a few paces behind Ahtunowhiho while they found their way to the military temple. The building wasn’t much; it was really just a book keeping area for the priests to manage the finer details of total war and keep their movements organized. Ezhno looked around the large open room while he waited behind Ahtunowhiho who was talking to a priest standing at the opposite end of a granite table. He wasn’t paying too much attention to what they were saying until the priest leaned to the side to ask “Is this the one?” staring directly at Ezhno.

    Ahtunowhiho kept talking before Ezhno had a chance to say hello. “Yes. He is good with his hands; I frequently find him repairing spawn brothers broken weapons and making trinkets out of raw materials.” He said in a bright tone. Ezhno put a puzzled look on his face. He had never been exposed to a lie before. He had never fixed a weapon in his life, and he didn’t think of inspecting rocks in his hands as “making trinkets from raw materials”. Why would Ahtunowhiho say nice things about him that weren’t true? Ezhno had received many negative looks from Ahtunowhiho while under his command.

    Ezhno looked down and pondered these thoughts for a moment longer. The priest placed his hand on Ezhno’s shoulder. “Come with me, young one.” Ezhno looked back at Ahtunowhiho who was saluting silently to Ezhno with his fist over his heart.

    “What’s your favorite medium to work with, Ezhno?” The question came with genuine interest from the priest, “do you like clay, glass, wood, or wicker?”

    Ezhno didn’t know how to answer this question; he panicked and said the first one he heard. “…Clay?”

    “Great! We have a few workshops that need the help.” The priest said with enthusiasm.

    The priest led Ezhno winding through alleyways to a small workshop with two doorways and no doors. The building was a reddish brown color with a white cloth awning over each doorway. An older skink stepped out of the doorway, wiping his hands off with a cloth. “Greetings priest, how can I help you today?” The old skink approached the priest, but his eyes never left Ezhno, and he had what could be considered a smile cracking from his old jaw. “I can take a guess, but I’ll let you explain.”

    “I believe we’re all on the same page then. You’ll have a new apprentice. This, here, is Ezhno.” The priest stepped aside as he said this. Ezhno put on a puzzled look again; he wasn’t on the same page until now. The priest directed his last words to Ezhno, “You’ll report to Nayavu from now on, Ezhno.” The priest took a shallow bow before turning to leave.

    Ezhno stared at Nayavu expectantly. “Come. We’ll start with safety procedures!” Nayavu quickly disappeared back into the workshop. Ezhno took a sigh and dropped his head in defeat.

    It was noon, and the two spent the rest of the day getting familiar with the shop: where things were, what to touch, what not to touch. However, Ezhno’s mind was distracted the entire time. He was bothered by the fact that he ended up here because of false information, and he couldn’t focus.

    “You seem to have a lot on your mind, Ezhno.” Nayavu’s head lowered and tilted to find Ezhnos’ eyes. “I’ll tell you what: I’m going to finish up my quota for the day… why don’t you take a seat outside. Or, you can go to the bath house for a while as long as you come back here before sundown.”

    Ezhno finally let out a real thought for the first time of the day, “No… I think I just need to be alone for a while.”

    Nayavu clapped and rubbed his hands together like he was ready to get back to work. “I’ll be here!”

    Ezhno stepped out the back door, into the heat of the sun. He scanned the area for a place to sit and wallow. There were an assortment of clay pots and other miscellaneous items stacked up next to the workshop. He sat on the ground in between the door and the stack of clay items. Ezhno tuned out the sound of slimy scraping clay and clanking of tools coming from the workshop. He stared at his hands in emotionless wonder; his attention punctuated by the occasional skink artisan scurrying through the alley.

    The sun was slowly dropping out of the sky and turning the horizon orange, pink, and purple. Ezhno stared at the colors in the sky, and he felt at ease for the first time today. Nayavu stepped outside, standing next to Ezhno, rubbing his hands off with the same cloth from earlier. Nayavu’s gaze was fixed upon the changing colors of the horizon as well. He joined in the silence with Ezhno for a few moments.

    “Time to leave. I’ll show you to your bunk, but first I need to take a bath, so you’re stuck with me for now.” He said with a suppressed laugh. Nayavu threw the rag back in the shop and headed off to his favorite bath house. Ezhno reluctantly got up to chase Nayavu around the corner. As they made their way through the city, all of the other artisans were closing their shops as well. The streets were crowded with skinks, all heading to the bath houses as well.

    There were three bath houses in the city; the one Nayavu frequented was completely open air. Red rock pillars formed a courtyard around the pool and the floor around the pool was made of smooth, tan granite. The pool was large enough for the mass of skinks that everyone got a bit of personal space. Nayavu and Ezhno stepped down into the water and waded to an area that was empty. Ezhno submerged his head up to his eyes and turned to watch the last moments of the suns’ brilliant effect on the horizon. The noise of the conversations turned into a hum and the water was warm from being under the sun all day. Ezhno felt at peace with all the sensations around him.

    Nayavu mimicked Ezhno and watched the horizon with him. Nayavu grew bored of this quickly and picked his head back out of the water and asked the question that’s been bugging him all day, “What’s making your head cloudy?” Ezhno poked up his head enough for his ears to hear and shifted his eyes towards Nayavu who repeated, “What’s making your head cloudy?”

    Ezhno sighed while he tried to find his own emotions. “I’m frustrated. That’s all.”

    “I don’t understand, is it something I did?” Nayavu prodded for more information.

    “No.” Ezhno replied quickly. He took a moment to find the right words. “My commander told a lie to that priest today. He said good things about me that weren’t based in facts.”

    “Sounds like your commander didn’t want you anymore. That’s the way most of us end up in the city as an artisan. How many confirmed kills do you have?”

    Ezhno didn’t have to think hard about this question, “Three in the one year that I was stationed near The Sands.” he said with pride.

    Nayavu giggled “Three? I’ve killed three in one battle back in my day, and I was discharged the same as you. Don’t be too hard on yourself; we all still have a chance to play our part. Do you think that we could sustain war if we didn’t have anyone to gather food, make weapons, or haul materials around the valley?” he said rhetorically, “focus on doing your best and your brothers will prosper.”

    Ezhno nodded his head as he took in the new idea. He hadn’t considered this perspective, and he felt the angst leaving as a new purpose opened up for him.

    “I’m clean now, I know you are too.” Nayavu turned to get out of the pool. The air was still hot and they were dry by the time they reached the bunk house.

    There are five bunk houses in the city that housed all of the skinks at night. They were all set up the same way; a long pathway through the middle of the bunkhouse with one doorway on either end, and bunks lining the pathway. The bunks were stacked three high with one underground, one at ground level, and one at shoulder height. Each bunk had a cubby built into the wall near where the skinks would lay their head. The bunks were all made of a stone slab, but most of the skinks had a few blankets or wicker mats to make it easier to sleep.

    Nayavu sat down at the foot of his bunk, “This is it for me, you can pick any bunk with an empty cubby.” Ezhno looked around and sat down at the first one he could find nearest to his new colleague. The sound of shifting skinks became ambient noise to Ezhno, and he fell asleep relatively easy.

    The next morning he woke to the sounds of shuffling feet and tools clanking together in their pouches. He looked to Nayavu’s bunk which was empty. Ezhno rubbed his eyes clean and lazily stood up to leave. He walked in the general direction of the workshop, all the while watching the artisans around him in a hurry to get to work. He turned a few corners and realized that he didn’t know where he was. Now the hurried feeling sank into his stomach and he picked up his pace. He went up and down the alleyways until he narrowed it down and found the workshop. Ezhno walked into the workshop to find Nayavu sitting on a stool, hunched over the work table.

    “Good morning Ezhno, are you ready to work today?” Nayavu didn’t bother to break his focus on the work at hand.

    “I am now!” Ezhno said, out of breath. “What are we doing today?”

    Nayavu held up his finished piece with a grin and turned to face Ezhno. “I… am filling a special order for tool organizers!” It was a simple box with holes in the top for any various type of working tool. Nayavu had just finished carving patterns into the side for decoration. “You, however, will be making vases all day! Vases and pots are always in high demand… you can never make too many.”

    Ezhno got to work, starting with a lump of clay and fashioning it into a crude bowl. “I don’t think this can pass as a vase.” He said with disappointment.

    “No worry, all shapes and sizes have a use.” Nayavu said trying to keep spirits up. He took the bowl and worked his hand into it until it was a taller shape. Ezhno watched the whole time, but he didn’t know what just happened. Ezhno worked a handful of crude bowls and vases the rest of the day. Each one needed less and less help from Nayavu to complete. Half way through the work day they piled all of the clay items they’ve both made into the kiln out back. After a quick snack, they went right back to work.

    Days like this went on and Ezhno found himself in a routine: wake up, go to the workshop, fill orders (or make vases), feed the kiln, bathe, sleep, repeat. He had a few mess ups along the way, but every time he learned more and more about his craft. Every now and again he and Nayavu had off site orders to fill, mostly wall repairs. Ezhno’s favorite part was gathering materials in the field.

    The clay had to come from somewhere, and each artisan in the city had to gather their own raw materials. If anyone left the city, they were accompanied by a military escort even though the artisans had their own weapons. These gathering parties rarely ran into any issues since the military worked diligently to keep their valley safe. While these trips were routine for the military, it was each individuals’ responsibility to know where to look for what they need. Nayavu showed Ezhno the good areas to find clay, and even taught him that new washes would sometimes uncover new clay pits. Once they found what they needed, they loaded it into hand wagons with big wheels that negotiated the rocky terrain with ease. One wagon full of clay would last about two weeks.

    After a few months, Ezhno was no longer considered an apprentice; he was filling special orders without any complaints. Ezhno liked his craft so much that he started making side projects for himself; he particularly liked making figurines. He would paint these figurines after going through the kiln, and then he would trade them for things like blankets and favors from other artisans.

    One day, Ezhno stayed late at the workshop to finish sculpting a life-size gecko. The skin looked like it was really made of scales, and the eyes seemed to be taking in light. Ezhno glazed it and waited until the next day to fire it in the kiln. Once fired, he stayed late again to fully paint the gecko. After it was fired one last time, he held the figurine gingerly in his hands. The bright colors and dancing patterns kept his eye moving across the figurine and it was hard for his eyes to rest in one place. He was so proud of his work that he decided to keep this one for himself; he rationalized that he deserved it, and placed it on display in his cubby.

    When Ezhno fell asleep, he had a smile stuck to his face. However, when he woke up the next morning, it was a different story.

    Ezhno sat up in his bed and pushed all the blankets off of him. His head was hanging down and he was rubbing his eyes out. He tried to open his eyes but everything was blurry, and most of all it stung to have them open. He stumbled his way out of the bunkhouse into the empty morning streets. His right hand was fixed to his right eye at this point, and he walked with his left hand outstretched.

    He decided to go to the bath house because it was closer than the workshop, and he thought he could also wash out his eye. He leaned over the pool and got a few splashes into his eye. In his hazy state he lost balance and fell into the pool. His heart skipped a beat in fear, but he welcomed the warm water as it engulfed him. Ezhno waded in the pool, and stared at the horizon where he knew the sun should be revealing itself soon. When the horizon started turning brighter, Ezhno sensed an overlapping image throbbing in and out of his vision. Ezhno felt sick and disoriented.

    The artisans of the city were all heading to their respective workshops for the day. Ezhno slowly made his own way to the clay workshop; his sense of duty was nagging him. On his way there, he bumped into a few other skinks that looked at him funny and continued on with their own business. When he got to the shop, Nayavu was looking at him the same way that the others had.

    “You’ve got something odd in your eye…” Nayavu said with uncertainty “let me take a look.”

    “It’s been hurting all morning. Earlier I tried to wash it out at the pools.”

    “I don’t know what to say, it’s red, and… odd! Just… odd.” Nayavu stood up and forced Ezhno’s arm over his shoulder to pick him up. “We’re going to see if the priests know what this is.”

    The pair went to one of the minor temples in the city. The priest that greeted them immediately called other priests to his side. There was a buzz over Ezhno for a minute as they all reached out to touch his face and tried to get a closer look. One priest in the back seemed unimpressed.

    When the spectacle was over, the priest in the back stepped forward. “You should see Tlac’Natai, he’ll be able to help you in this matter.”

    Nayavu gasped “the Great Slann?!”

    “Indeed. In fact, I believe he’s the only one who could help.” The priest said assuredly. “I’ll take the poor young one into my care. Thank you for bringing him here.”

    Nayavu was concerned but he passed Ezhno to the custody of the priest without a word; he wanted to say something but he couldn’t find any words. The priest hefted Ezhno’s arm over his shoulder now, and led him down some stairs at the back of the temple.

    They winded through corridors that eventually connected to the main temple where Tlac’Natai resides. There are three chambers to the main temple all stacked on top of one another. The first chamber is a meeting place for priests, the second is where Tlac’Natai could usually be found, and the third is where all the texts and plaques are catalogued and stored. The priest was leading Ezhno into the second chamber; a greenhouse that is taller than it is wide with great trees that rise to the limits of the chamber. The chamber ground was covered by spongey moss and the walls were dominated by creeping vines. Light came in through a hole in the ceiling which was scattered by the haze in the room from the moist air. Tlac’Natai sat atop his floating palanquin in the middle of the room. The pair of skinks moved closer to the great slann.

    “Excuse me, Great Slann, I have a pressing matter that calls for your attention.” The priest said with a firm voice.

    Tlac’Natai opened his right eye with his head still tilted back and looked down his nose. The priest placed both hands on Ezhno’s head and used his fingers to force open his eye. Ezhno’s eye was very red, yet the anomaly was easy for Tlac to notice; a second smaller iris and pupil was nestled in the corner of his eye.

    “When did this happen.” Tlac demanded.

    Ezhno spoke up “Last night. I had a dream, and when I woke up, my eye was in great pain…” he waved the priests invading hands away from his face, “or rather, it still is.”

    “Tell me of your dream young one.” Tlac was full of demands at the moment.

    “I… was standing… in the desert, except it wasn’t the desert because there was water up to my ankles. I was looking at the stars and they faded out while one got bigger. The big star turned into a feather which flew like a missile into my eye. Then I woke up.”

    Tlac’Natai continued the information gathering, “Do you see anything right now that is not here?”

    “I can see my bed.”

    Tlac’Natai groaned for a moment. “Go to your bed. Find the source of your vision and bring it here.”

    The priest led Ezhno back to the bunk house. When Ezhno got to his bed, he could see himself. Ezhno closed his eyes and pointed his head in a few directions. He opened his eyes and it took a moment for him to pinpoint; the gecko figurine was on the wall of the cubby. The colors of the gecko had changed and it was blending in with the surroundings. Ezhno slowly reached his hand toward the gecko; the vision of his hand got larger. The gecko turned to leap into his hand and immediately changed color to match his tan skin. The gecko then wiggled its way up to Ezhno’s shoulder and his double vision seemed to go away.

    “Everything is clear again” Ezhno hid a thankful laugh.

    “Great. Let us go back.”

    Ezhno moved closer to the great slann with the gecko in his palm, offering it to him.

    “This is a part of you, young one, it is not mine to take.” Tlac’Natai said while leaning closer to get a better look. “Priest; Summon Ahtunowhiho and his most elite. We have no time to waste.” The priest bowed an exit and scurried off. “What is your name, young one?”

    “Ezhno…” he said with an unsure tone.

    “Ezhno… what do you know of furnaces?” he was obviously getting at something.

    Ezhno stood a little taller, “I have been working under Nayavu, a clay artisan; that’s how I made this...” He pointed to his shoulder where the gecko seemed to feel most comfortable. “we use a kiln to fire our clay into a hard, finished product.”

    “Very well then, but do you know how to make a kiln?” Tlac’Natai again had something else in mind.

    Ezhno lost his posture, “I guess I don’t.”

    Tlac chuckled under his breath, “Do not worry, young one, you will find out how shortly as you have no choice. I have a task for you: find out what materials are needed to make a kiln, and Ahtunowhiho will escort you while you gather the materials.”

    Ezhno looked up at the great slann and opened his mouth to take a breath in before he spoke but was interrupted by Tlac who continued, “You have been given a gift that is like mine…” Tlac turned his head to the right and opened his left eye which had been closed thus far. He revealed an eye that had a second iris and pupil in the corner. The only real difference is that it was in his left eye, rather than the right, like Ezhno. “…however, I do not know how long it will live, hence the reason why you need to build a small furnace soon.”

    Ezhno was sincerely curious to know what the slann was talking about, “Why is a furnace important?”

    “My eye, like yours, is connected to a separate being from my own. The great eagle you see land in this temple… comes here to die in fire, and then it is reborn.” The great eagle he spoke of was the Poneexcuatl; a large eagle with bright orange and yellow feathers that was a regular sight in the city. “The great eagle only lives for four months, and it is a large creature. I cannot imagine that the life-cycle of your tiny gecko lasts any longer. The gecko must dance its’ death within a furnace in order for it to have a healthy life-cycle… if it is anything like the Poneexcuatl, that is.” Tlac’Natai himself was the only being he knew of that had this gift until now, so there was no way of telling if the gecko had the same kind of death-habits.

    Ezhno seemed calm in the face of this new information; he thought it fitting that this once clay figurine should be reborn the way it was first created. “We should go, now.” He said referring to his gecko.

    Tlac’Natai nodded, “Nayavu will be the best source of information for you in this task. I will have Ahtunowhiho wait for you at the east gate when you are ready.”

    Ezhno went straight to the workshop to find Nayavu. He did so with his eyes closed half of the time; because his eye still hurt, and with the gecko on his shoulder made it so that he never actually lost sight of what was in front of him. Every step he took felt like he was walking off balance though, like he had two right legs.

    Once Ezhno made it to the workshop, Nayavu dropped what he was doing to greet Ezhno “You’re alive! Who’s your little friend?”

    Ezhno smiled, “the reason my eye hurts, apparently. I don’t have a lot of time to explain, but I need to make a kiln or furnace for it before it dies. I am to leave the city soon in search of the materials.”

    Nayavu grabbed a wooden plank and smeared clay all over it and began drawing lines into the clay with his finger nail. He was drawing a crude map of the desert valley and put a couple large X’s, “You’ll find a special white clay near The Rim, and you’ll also need fine grain sand from The Sands; if you can’t find the fine grain stuff, we’ll just grind it down ourselves. Then we’ll mix the two and the kiln should be able to withstand any heat.”

    Ezhno grabbed the crude map and noticed that these two spots were on opposite sides of the valley. He was trying to figure out which way he wanted to go first.

    Nayavu gave Ezhno a vase and poured a small amount of water in it, “Fill this with clay and a handful of the fine grain sand and that should be enough for… a tiny kiln. I’ll start working up designs for one, ok?”

    Ezhno looked happily at all the items he was carrying, “That would be great. Thanks for everything today.”

    Nayavu’s seemingly permanent smile grew larger, “How much time did you say you have?”

    “Right!” Ezhno scrambled to hold all the items comfortably before he hurried off to the desert. When Ezhno got to the east gate, he was the only one around. After a few minutes of standing and waiting, he decided to lay the items on the ground and sit by the wall. An hour of nothingness passed; he sat anxiously shaking his feet and whipping his tail on the ground. After an hour of waiting, two terradons landed near the gate, only one of them with a skink rider.

    The rider held up his hand and waved at Ezhno, “Where is the rest of the party?”

    Ezhno stood up and grabbed his things. “It’s just me. I was under the impression Ahtunowhiho was coming.” He said looking into the air for more riders.

    “He is, I just got here faster. If you’re alright with heights, we can meet them half way… are you ready to go?” the rider was fastening the saddle of the second terradon.

    Ezhno scanned the beast, “I’ve never ridden anything before; will the extra weight be fine?” he looked down at his full arms.

    The rider smiled and toughly patted the beast on the neck, “I think she’ll be fine, but you don’t want to drop those… why don’t you let me help.” He took the map from Ezhno and gave it a quick look over.

    Ezhno explained, “the X’s are where we need to go. The Rim for a white clay, and The Sands for… fine grain sand.”

    “I know these areas,” the rider said confidently. “let’s take off, shall we? Hug her with your legs, and she’ll take care of the rest.”

    Ezhno clumsily hoisted himself onto the terradon and shifted around until he was comfortable. The rider chirped and hopped onto the other terradon and he was quickly hovering in the air. The terradon under Ezhno began to move and he quickly remembered to keep his legs tight. Ezhno’s beast was following the other, and before long, they were cruising through the air over the open desert.

    Ezhno had never seen the desert this way before; it was beautiful. He had a painfully large grin on his face and couldn’t stop looking around. The tan land below seemed to go on endlessly in every direction, with dull green bushes dotting the landscape.

    The rider ahead of him pulled back to fly side by side and yelled, “What’s your name?” Ezhno had to break his concentration to give a questioning look back, and the rider repeated, “What is your name!”

    “Ezhno!” He still had a smile in his eyes.

    “I’m Tadi! We should find the others soon!” Ezhno nodded back and continued scanning the ground.

    They were in the air for about 15 minutes total before they spotted Ahtunowhiho and the others jogging at a good pace. Tadi pushed on the neck of his terradon and they started descending towards the escort party. Without any commands, the terradon Ezhno was riding descended as well. The terradons landed, yet Ezhno was reluctant to get down; he had too great of a time in the air.

    Ahtunowhiho stepped forward with a disgusted look on his face, “The Great Slann summoned my elites to escort a party of one? What’s this all about?” he said as he snagged the crude map out of Tadi’s hands.

    Tadi stood over Ahtunowhiho’s shoulder to point at the X’s, “We need to go to both of these places.

    Ahtunowhiho lowered the map by his side and looked to Ezhno, “Are you going to be able to keep up?”

    Ezhno looked at the vase in his arms and muttered, “…sure, if I can fly.” He was fond of the terradons.

    “And have you land in an ambush without support? I don’t think so.” Ahtunowhiho said condescendingly. Tadi shrugged at Ezhno. Ahtunowhiho continued, “Just give the vase to someone else so we can go. We’ll head north, to The Sands first.” One of the warriors stepped forward to take the vase from Ezhno. Ezhno stood dumbfounded for a brief moment and the skinks all took off at the same time. Ezhno felt his shoulder to make sure the gecko was secure and followed suit.

    The party moved swiftly across the flat rocky ground. They kept the pace for almost an hour before they could see the sand dunes. The closer they got, piles of sand became more frequent. Any object that broke the flat terrain had a pile of sand built up next to it. They needed to go further to find any sand that was fine grain, though. The party slowed down the pace and Ezhno took the opportunity to speak.

    “We’re looking for fine grain sand…” he said as he scanned the landscape for something that looked promising.

    Ahtunowhiho sported his best mocking tone, “Oh, WE are? Are we?” he was clearly frustrated. “Spread out. Fine grain sand. Let’s make this quick.” He said as he shook his head.

    The party fanned out to inspect every pile of sand they could see. Ezhno went straight for the large dunes ahead and left the rest of the group behind.

    Ezhno found a boulder that was half covered by sand, and the exposed section had a hole going underneath it; no doubt a critters home. Ezhno shiftily looked around to see if anyone was watching and kneeled down next to the boulder and extended his hand towards the hole. He paused, second guessing this move, but still felt compelled forward. The gecko scurried down his arm to the ground next to the hole. The idea popped into his head that he should have the gecko lead the way. Ezhno closed his eyes and he could still see the same bright colors of the desert landscape. He sat with his eyes closed and thought, felt, willed, and the gecko inched forward cautiously. When the eyes of the gecko adjusted, he could see down the hole and there was a bend that he couldn’t see around. The gecko advanced through the dark sandy hall and there seemed to be a lot more sand back there; and luckily no critter to speak of. Ezhno willed the gecko back out of the hole, and it ran up from his feet back to his shoulder.

    Ezhno opened his eyes and pushed his arm deep into the hole. He was in up to his shoulder and tried to get a good position so that his head wasn’t in the way. When his fingers landed in the cold sand he knew immediately that this was some exceptionally fine grain sand. He scraped the little sand that there was and brought out as much as he could with one hand but some of the sand was lost; it felt like water running through his fingers. He did this a few times and placed the sand he got into his other hand until he felt comfortable with the fistful of sand he gathered.

    He carried the sand back to the party with both hands, taking extra care not to let any slip through his fingers again. He chirped loud enough for the party to hear and they all came to his side.

    “This, here, is what we came for.” Ezhno said proudly. He carefully poured the sand into the vase.

    Ahtunowhiho was unimpressed, “Great. We should be able to make it to the next mark before sun down. Everyone, take some water; we won’t be stopping.”

    The party was back to the pace they held earlier. Endless low lying bushes limited their line of sight to only twenty yards or so; hours went by twenty yards at a time. The occasional tree and cactus broke the monotony for Ezhno, but he couldn’t tell if they were going in the right direction or not; he just kept following and trusting them.

    He knew the trust paid off when The Rim was constantly in sight above the bush line. The Rim was a behemoth in this desert; the red rock cliff went almost vertically up for three-thousand feet and stopped abruptly in a flat top. The Rim country had a different set of foliage that was blending in with that of the desert and it was getting harder to see very far.

    Ezhno thought it was a good time to get everyone up to speed, “Look for any washes; we’re here to find white clay.”

    Ahtunowhiho wasted no time in chirping up toward Tadi, and he came swooping to the ground. Ahtunowhiho relayed the message and he was back up in the sky to search. The party continued onward until they were in the shadow of The Rim. They went through a few washes on the way, but with no luck of finding any clay at all, let alone a white variety. Ezhno was getting uneasy with how long it was taking to find this white clay. Besides the giant shadow they were under, the sun was leaving the sky duller by the minute. Ahtunowhiho and the elite group were focused on their task and just considered this darkness to be their prime enemy at the moment.

    Tadi quickly dropped out of the sky with a terrified look in his face. He used a series of head bobs and twists known as proto-saurian (a form of communication, like hand signals, that is universal within reptilian creatures). The message was simple: physical threat, to the north. Everyone in the group huddled closer together, and unofficially called off the search. Ahtunowhiho replied with a few head bobs himself, and the group moved together towards the base of The Rim.

    Over the millennia, the cliff face has had a fair share of large chunks fall off, creating a zone at the base of the cliff which was littered with jagged boulders. Here, Ahtunowhiho elaborated on his plan, “No fires tonight, we will stay in these boulders and wait until the morning to resume the search. We will rotate watches throughout the night. Everyone take a sand bath.” At Ahtunowhiho’s request, all the skinks kneeled down to the ground and smeared handfuls of sand and dirt on their skin. Skinks don’t generally smell very heavily, but Ahtunowhiho was the type to stack advantages, and didn’t take chances.

    The pile of boulders they chose was large enough that they could all stand tall under the rocks that were suspended above the ground. Tadi and the terradons left to find their own form of safety on the cliff, where he found a ledge large enough for the beasts to sleep. The group got settled in for the night with the “yips” of the Apisi breaking the silence from time to time.

    Ezhno sat against a still warm rock and tried to get some rest. His mind was racing with anticipation, and the Apisi yips pulled his eyes open with anxiety every time. All of this was weighing heavily on his mind, however the biggest obstruction to relaxing came from the gecko; when Ezhno would close his eyes his vision through the gecko was still there. In his first day, he was already getting somewhat used to having the double vision and its’ disorienting effect, but he wanted a break from the images. Fear set in when the thought crossed his mind that this effect would last forever. He was a mental mess, but didn’t want anyone to know so he kept his eyes shut.

    Half way through the night, the Apisi cries left the area. Ezhno’s body responded by relaxing without him consciously knowing it. He might as well have been asleep for real. The gecko began to move slowly, leaving his shoulder and onto the rock wall. The gecko made its way to open air where the stars flooded Ezhno’s vision. The gecko would move from place to place, taking a moment to pause each time and take in the landscape. Ezhno would pull back the gecko with his mind anytime he thought it was going too far away, but throughout the night, he was confident that he had seen every nook and cranny in the area. While he couldn’t dream anymore, he at least kept his mind busy during the night.

    Ezhno lay safely under the rocks with the gecko perched up on top of the rocks. He witnessed the dark slowly brighten up before the sun revealed itself. Colors were coming back to the landscape and when the sun finally blasted the wall of The Rim with heavy light, the cliff wall seemed different than it did the night before. The Rim was not merely a plain red wall, it was made of every color red, with tan, black and white veins randomly cutting through the wall. This was something that caught Ezhno’s interest. Through the eyes of the gecko, he stared in awe at the cliff face.

    Then it hit him; what are those veins made of? He had to get a closer look to confirm his suspicions. He thought about sending the gecko, but then the whole party seemed to sense the new days sun at once, and they all shifted back to life. He willed the gecko back to his shoulder before he got up to leave the rocky hideout.

    “I have to check something…” Ezhno said to no one in particular as he left.

    A few of Ahtunowhiho’s warriors followed Ezhno on his way to get closer to the base of the cliff. They found Ezhno kneeled down in an area where the ground was white. He looked back up to them with a smile.

    “I think this is it!” he said as he dug his hands into the soft earth and held up a handful of clay to them. “it must come from the cliff face during the rains or something…” he trailed off when Ahtunowhiho came into sight.

    Ahtunowhiho made his way down next to Ezhno and looked over the area. “Is there any other reason why we need to be out here?”

    Ezhno was almost done filling up the vase with clay, and paused; he looked down to hide his face and the scheming eyes. He wanted so badly to make up a reason to stay in order to upset Ahtunowhiho more, but the moment passed and he said blankly, “Nope.”

    Ahtunowhiho chirped to Tadi once again who hastily swooped in gracefully, “Tadi, our business is done. Would you care to help this young one back to the city?” he said in an overly bright tone, as if he were happy to get rid of Ezhno’s company.

    “Gladly! Are you ready?” Tadi said to Ezhno.

    Ezhnos’ mood switched quickly at this idea; he liked everything about it. “Sure, I don’t think we’ll need this anymore.” He said referring to the map as he tossed it aside.

    The second terradon arrived and Ezhno approached the beast cautiously. The terradon respectfully lowered its head and Ezhno clumsily got on top again, clutching the vase as carefully as possible to his chest. The beast heaved itself into the air and left the party on the ground, and before long, they were out of sight.

    Ezhno again found that the view from above was spectacular, and he had a new respect for his homeland. He was also glad that he didn’t have to deal with Ahtunowhiho anymore as his negativity was pushing Ezhno towards some reckless thinking. Even with the anxiety of the trip coming from his sense that time was running out, now that it was over, he felt good about how quickly he got it done. His mind rested easy on the way back to the city.

    The city was in sight, and the flight almost over. He turned to yell through the wind towards Tadi, “Thank you for letting me use your… pet!”

    Tadi just smiled and started the descent. When they landed, Tadi helped Ezhno safely get the vase to the ground.

    Ezhno repeated the thanks, “You made this trip way better than it could have been, thanks again.”

    Tadi hesitantly replied, “No problem, stay safe.” He got back onto the terradon and left in a hurry. Ezhno watched the pair of beasts ascend into the sky and get smaller until they faded out of sight. He turned to pick up the vase and carry it to the workshop.

    Ezhno walked into the workshop to find Nayavu hard at work on a wooden box. Ezhno cleared his throat to get Nayavu’s attention.

    Nayavu turned around with wide eyes, which quickly shrank when he smiled, “Ezhno! You made it back!”

    “and sooner than expected, too.” Ezhno said with relief. “So, what’s next?”

    Nayavu laid out a wet clay tablet with a drawing of a complex box. “Well I called in a few favors and got some high strength hinges, a locking mechanism…” he was pointing to a few places on the drawing as he spoke. “… and this.” He held up an opaque white crystal that didn’t look special. “This will glow from the light inside, so when it’s not glowing, you’ll know it’s safe to touch and open.” He had a big grin, clearly proud of how he had covered all the bases; a true professional to the core. “Now that you have more time, can I ask why you would need a small furnace?”

    Ezhno pointed his shoulder, “This little guys needs to… die? In there. I’m not terribly certain yet, the Great Slann said that dying in flames is part of its life-cycle.”

    “And so the furnace helps keep the flames from going everywhere, huh? Smart.” Nayavu said, extrapolating the idea further.

    Ezhno shook his head, “He said it had something to do with the potency of the life cycle.”

    “Ahhh, a conservation of energy kind of thing, I get it.” Nayavu was more intrigued with every bit of new information. Nayavu reached for the vase full of clay which Ezhno handed over. “Let’s get this thoroughly mixed up, and then we can start building the furnace.” Nayavu dumped all the contents of the vase into a large sturdy bowl. He spread the sand around and started folding the clay and kneading it. “This might take some time, unless you help out.” Nayavu looked at Ezhno out of the corner of his eye.

    “Right! Sorry.” Ezhno said as he snapped out of his staring and sat down to mix the clay as well. The white clay and light sand were difficult to tell apart, so even after the clay mixture was a uniform color, they kept mixing until they were sure that the sand was evenly distributed throughout.

    Once mixed, Nayavu got the box he was working on that was meant to be the skeleton of the kiln.

    “I was thinking we could make it a cylinder.” Ezhno said hesitantly.

    “Sure, we can still use all the same pieces.” Nayavu said as he threw his drawing of the blue prints into a corner with other scrapped ideas.

    The two artisans went to work forming the clay into a nice tube shape and used special tools to clean up the inside and make it smooth. They formed the lid around the white crystal and marked where the hinges would be bolted in after it was fired. They got done forming the kiln by noon and would let it fire for the rest of the day. While they waited, they decided to go to the bath house.

    Under the midday sun, the pair of artisans swam through the open pool with high spirits. All the while, the gecko stayed firmly on Ezhno’s shoulder, even underwater.

    “Have you given it a name?” Nayavu inquired about the gecko.

    “I haven’t thought about it.” Ezhno furrowed his brow, debating with himself if it should even have a name.

    Nayavu was staring at the gecko, “Besides dying in fire, does it do anything else? Any tricks?”

    Ezhno turned to Nayavu and pointed at his right eye, “This extra pupil sees through the gecko. Anywhere it goes, I see what it sees. But I can still use my own eyes too, so it’s weird being able to see two different points of view at the same time.”

    Nayavu’s smile grew, “The gods must have a plan for you. It is odd that they did not bless you at spawning; it must be very important.”

    Ezhno didn’t like this idea. Nayavu was right though; the gods have only been known to bless spawning’s, not an individual who was well into their breathing life. Ezhno came to the conclusion, “They must be desperate.” He said aloud.

    Nayavu cleared his throat to get Ezhno’s attention. Ezhno turned to find Nayavu staring, and turned more to see what he was looking at.

    “Tlac’Natai wanted me to check on the progress of your task. Why are you not at the workshop?” said a priest who was standing at the edge of the pool with his hands behind his back. It was the same priest from yesterday who introduced Ezhno to the great slann.

    Nayavu swam forward to explain, “We’ve finished shaping the kiln, and now it is being fired back at the workshop. In fact, it should be ready by tonight!”

    “Most pleasing news. Thank you.” The priest said dryly. “It should be noted that this will be your last project in the workshop, Ezhno. As soon as this is done, you will be reporting directly to the Great Slann himself.” The priest pulled his hands from behind his back to reveal a small golden plaque that sat in his palm. “You will need this to get past the guards.” The plaque caught every ray of sunshine which created a dazzling effect to any eyes witnessing the plaque.

    Ezhno swam to the feet of the priest and reached up to grab the plaque. Upon closer inspection, it had runes carved into it which stated simply:

    Ezhno, Priest
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