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The Thief and the Box

Part One


Joel Clark




The Thief and the Spire


            A faint howling pursued the wind across the silver dunes of a shifting desert as a man moved determinedly beneath the moonlight.  He was not a mere traveler crossing the sands by night, trading the blazing heat of the day for the bitter cold of night; neither was he a lost merchant, separated from his caravan by some misfortune.  This man who hurried steadfast and sure was a thief, traveling with few articles to give his feet boundless energy.  For two days and now on his second night, he dared the scornful wasteland, risking his life for a treasure that was likely nothing more than the dreams of passing merchants.  He had listened to their tales about a far-off tower of stone existing in the desert as they drank in taverns of towns bordering these badlands.  It stood alone, unguarded, and full of riches, some would say, claiming that a distant acquaintance had ventured the monolith and came away with as many riches as he could carry.  Others, who had never passed the site or the treacherous lands it stood on, scoffed at these claims.  There were also those who spoke of curses and demons that dwelt beneath every rock and shade of cliff.


            The risk of life was nothing new to this thief.  To face a demon or a curse was a price willingly paid for a treasure of immortal magnitude.  He had chased tales of this sort before — many false — but a narrow few proved profitable.  The wealth of a prince had met his hands on more than one occasion, but great wealth slips through a man's fingers like sand, and is ultimately none the more precious to a fool.  He traded it away for fleeting pleasures: fine assortments of brilliantly colored garments fit for a king, good food and strong drink, and the company of beautiful women.  He found more ways to squander wealth than any man could think of, until it left him but the few coins he began with, and exhausted with pleasure.  All friends he gathered to his company deserted his presence to seek shade in another fool's paradise, but this was all with his blessing.


            Riches and fame were not his heart's desire; as strange as it appeared.  To foolishly squander away such wealth until poverty welcomed him back gave him much more pleasure than what money could hold.  For it was not in finding and keeping such treasures that drove his thieving nature, but in the act of chasing it down.  He was as much a hunter as one who seeks a living, breathing prey. 


            Now, that same thrill channeled through him, his every thought was of his prey, and every bit of energy his body produced was devoted to chasing it down.  But a new feeling gathered within him — an emotion of intensity — like the lightening of a storm.  He was closing in on his prey.


            As he rode his inner tempest, his mind exercised the scenario of a great vault in which the depth of the treasure was immeasurable.  If such was the scale of his prey, how was he to reap its full bounty?  At his present solitary state, he could carry only so much; though alone now, it hadn’t always been this way.  Until the day before, he was carried by horseback across the sanded inferno, tearing through great clouds of dust and dry heat.  The steed was, of course, stolen, so he had little regard for its life.  Like all things he stole, their worth was used up quickly.  He pressed the beast mercilessly, pushing it far beyond its limits, until it could no longer bear the strain.  After two days of hard riding under the fiery gaze of the sun, the horse slowed, stumbled and then collapsed beneath him.  He was cast against the dunes; the sand stinging him with heat through the thin cloth of his garment.  It wasn't long that he examined the condition of the miserable creature, just enough to understand the current state of things.


            The horse was wheezing, choking on its fluids as they drizzled out its chapped nostrils.  It would die soon — it was inevitable — but rather than draw his dagger from its embroidered leather sheath, he gathered the water skein and one saddle bag, and took to foot across the vast desert, leaving his dagger unmoved — not sparing the horse the fate of baking alive in the remorseless sands.


            Now, he traveled absolutely alone, with very little water and but one saddle bag to transport his spoils.  Bleak as his state seemed, he had made it through far worse, and was determined survive this, as well.


            That all seemed so long ago, the furious heat of the memory seemed impossible against the frigid, pale landscape the night offered up before his hunting eyes.  But it had happened, and come the break of dawn, when the fiery glow of the sun spilled over the sands for another day, this night too would be remembered as if it was an illusion.  Thus was the cruel nature of this desert, to bring upon those who dare wander its sands a fire to burn the soul, and a cold to crack the bones.


            Toward the eastern horizon, the thief watched the passing of night’s heavy cowl, as in crept the light of the budding sun, painting the far-off sky a placid lavender.  The sun remained concealed beneath the earth for the moment, but dawn would soon break, and the past chill of the night would mingle with the future blazing heat of the day to make a temperate hour in the morning.  It was at this time the thief discovered a new face of the desert.  The smooth, endless bodies of sand were defaced by the presence of crumbling cliffs and sharp, jagged rocks jutted from the sands, like the teeth of some behemoth maw buried below.  The slow rise of the new day’s sun cast lengthy shadows by these stone formations, lending to the unease the cautious man felt boiling within his soul.  Surely he was venturing into cursed land, just as the fearful patrons of the civilized taverns discussed with hushed words and solemn eyes. 


            The new day revealed another fearsome sight to the thief; at the far end of the shallow canyon, through the hundreds of jutting stones there stood the stonework of a tower.  His eyes could not see it in detail, only that it was there, like a phantom body in the early light.  He pondered the mystery of the tower only briefly.  The reasons as to why such a thing should be built here provoked his thoughts.  Yet, the ultimate how’s and why’s of a place’s existence meant nothing to him.  He had seen many bizarre ruins that seemed to have been constructed from pure enigma, but he had only concern for what precious articles they held.


            Having survived the desert prior, and holding his target in sight, the thief sought to continue his approach for the time being.  His fleet footing would carry him thusly, until the sun was higher, and the heat unbearable; then he would seek rest in the shadow of a rock or cliff.










The Gozlqand



            The thief navigated the dense forest of standing stones to the best of his ability, making the most of what energy he still had.  As the sun grew higher, his feet became all the less secure and steadfast.  He was well within the clutches of fatigue, having worked his body for nearly a day and a half without rest, and even longer without food. Only by very strict rations of water had he sustained himself thus far, but now in the heat of the high sun, he found himself in the presence of the tower, at last.  The canyon had opened into some form of caldera filled with the army of sharp stones, some ranging in scale from the size of a man, and some that rivaled the tower in height.  Many of the large natural sandstone columns were toppled ages past, leaning against the surrounding cliffs of the caldera.  Remarkably, there was very little sand this close to the tower.  In this place, there was only rock and pebble, eroding from atop one another, their chattering echoes sounding from all sides of the caldera.  The thief, in his exhausted state, felt the foreboding cries of his soul more deeply now as he came to behold the lonesome tower.  It stood true, with no visible failings in its integrity, its ancient walls holding together under the weight of its layered stonework.  It was cut from the same variety of rock that surrounded it, and yet somehow, perhaps by the contrast of its man-crafted mien with that of the circumambient nature, it dominated the caldera from atop its mound of gargantuan stones.  A pretense of serenity suffused the area, affecting the thief’s nerves.  Something deep within his mind, like a primitive instinct keen to some ancient terror that hunted man long ago, was lit and attempted to subdue any notion or desire he possessed to draw nearer to the tower. 


Convinced this was merely his body expressing its great desire for rest, the thief sought refuge from the sun amidst a collection of cavities within the nearby cliff.  From his resting place, he had an excellent view of the tower in full, affording him ample inspection of its possible ins and outs.  For the first time in a long while, he stopped moving as he succumbed to fatigue among the sandstone.  Hunger pangs seized his stomach, but their protests were little competition for his tiredness.  And as he drifted off to sleep, he remembered the horse he left to die in the desert, wishing he had some of its flesh to feed upon at this very moment.         


            Over the course of an entire day and through the following night, the thief slept, gathering his strength for the exploration of the tower.  The only interruption in his sleep, was awakening just long enough for a sip of the precious water that would prolong his life in the hot desert.  However, in the midmorning of the following day, the unmistakable smell of death rode the wind, and its pungency stirred him.  Something out in the caldera had died.  He had not seen any proof, whether in the form of animal prints or scat, that any breed of critter dwelled in this forlorn landscape.  However, if there were any chance for a morsel of nourishment, he was keen to pursue it.  Surely some number of predators would be at the corpse, scavenging a meal.


            The thief stood from where he was resting, his legs somewhat recovered in strength, and looked out from the sandstone cavity toward the tower.  He believed he could spy a few dark spots along the stonework of the tower, perhaps indicating tunnels, or windows.  If they proved to be what he hoped they were, then his need for a way in was satisfied.  The thief assumed that by logic of the tower’s design, he was studying the back of the construction, for he had yet to see the front entrance of the structure.  However, being a thief, he was never seeking the front door, anyway.  One spot of the tower held the most promise; a large, dark opening a fair distance above the foundation.  It was possibly higher than it appeared from his current position but demanded nothing more than a simple climb.  His tactful mind was satisfied.  However, the burning instinct to flee this cursed place remained, and as he looked upon the tower, he could feel himself wilt, as if a part of his inner thoughts wept in dread. 


With a series of light slaps to his face, the thief steeled his nerves, reminding himself of the wondrous riches he would soon behold.  When he found himself hesitating in the most challenging of times, his insatiable greed would always prove manifold in his devotion to treasure and motivate him to venture forth.  He scampered down from the cliffs in which he had sought his rest and rejoined the host of pillaring stones.  The midmorning sun was still a comfortable temperature, and he desired to reach his targeted spot on the tower before the heat grew cumbersome.  Like most days in the desert, the sky was a crisp blue, unmarred by clouds or treetops; and against the sandy, orange sediment of the terrain, both elements of sky and earth clashed, reflecting the inner workings of the thief, his confidence and fear.


            He set forth through the forest of stones, making for the tower; but first, he would investigate the smell of death that was between him and his goal.  It was an easy trail to follow, his sensitive nose tracing every waft of putrefaction to its point of origin.  The horrible odor increased with every stride he made, and it began to attack his eyes, stinging them.  There was no possible way a single dead critter could emit such permeating stench, and he was spurred onward by a mixture of curiosity and the need to know what possible dangers he faced in this cursed place.  He discovered the truth of the smell, and more, as he passed around one final column of rock.  Though the strong scent stung his eyes, they unabashedly widened at the sight before them; a sea of rotting carcasses adorned that cursed land, woven within the many standing stones, painting the failed serenity with a macabre brush stroke.  In shock and disgust, the thief turned away and wretched.  His gut was empty of any substance, so nothing was expelled by his dry heaving.  After he recovered himself, he masked his nose and mouth with a hand and studied the dead.  Among the corpses, he could see camels, horses, and men.  They were most likely traders who traveled the many caravans across the desert, but by what cursed force were they brought here to die?  The thief felt it necessary to walk elsewhere and study the dead ones from another angle, in hopes he might discover the cause of their deaths.  As he did so, it became evident that this was a frequent occurrence.  Not all bodies were in an equal state of decay.  There were the freshly dead, which smelled the foulest, but there were also many that were nearly nothing but sun-bleached skeletons.  A deep fear overcame the thief, the sort that is exercised when the answer to abhorrence remains elusive.  This proved to be but a brief condition, for all too clearly did the terrible answer reveal itself to the thief.


            At some distance from him, the thief noticed movement.  He glanced in its direction to realize it was coming from where he had just been standing when he first came upon the horrible scene.  Something had passed behind the sandstone column.  The thief ducked behind a stone, peering at the last location he saw the movement, waiting for whatever was there to reveal itself.  There was nothing that returned.  A sudden and terrible possibility revealed itself to the thief.  Whatever had passed by the column was there because he had been there.  It was looking for him.  And if it was as good a hunter as the great quantity of dead bodies testified, then it would surely discover him in his current position.  With quick, sharp movements, his head and eyes darted all around, trying to glimpse anything out of the ordinary, but found nothing.  This only fueled his paranoia, and in a desperate mixture of instinct, cunning, and frenzy, the thief dove for the nearest corpses to hide among the dead.  The smell of decaying flesh was more than familiar to his nose, now; however, being this close to the dead, he could only tolerate sparse, shallow breaths.  This no longer became a factor when out from the stones he was formerly hiding near, the creature that was indeed hunting him revealed itself.  His breathing ceased, the sight he beheld too horrible for his body to have concern for its basic needs.


            It was an abomination of nature.  A monster twice the size of any man, covered in feathers the color of sand.  At first, he believed it a very large bird, but only because he first noticed the two mighty wings which twitched as it marched to the edge of the pile of dead bodies.  It stood a matter of yards from where he laid among the dead horses and men, and it acted as though it was searching for him.  Its torso was not like a bird, nor any possibility of nature.  The skin was pink and bare, absent of the dense feathers that lined the wings and back of the beast.  There was no head atop the body, nor any beak.  The maw of the abomination was fixed in the torso, spanning the height of its body.  Lining the jaws, top and bottom, were large, ragged incisors, like those belonging to some variety of Rodentia, and they were continually parting and joining as the horrible beast softly panted.  On nearly every part of the torso, surrounding the mouth, eyes were randomly arranged, as if they were recklessly cobbled on the body.  The presence of eyes extended to the under sides of the wings, as well.  This was the very picture of terror.  The monster gave a guttural grunt before it spread its wings, and in perfect silence, took to flight, revealing its tripedal set of talons.  The terrified man watched it land upon a sandstone pillar and begin to gnaw at the tip, sharpening the stone.  Believing the creature to be well occupied, the thief drew his steel dagger and began to flay the hide from the dead horse lying beside him.  He planned to wear the smell of death, as it seemed to be what prevented the foul creature from detecting him.


            As the man worked, he recalled stories of such monsters in his homeland.  They were described a variety of ways, but always having wings and many eyes.  Gozlqand.  Eyed Wing.  An impossibility of nature, a character of mythology, and yet all too real and deadly for the thief to ignore.  He donned the parcel of hide he had separated from the corpse, joining it around his neck by tying bits of rawhide together to form a rudimentary cloak.  It smelled horrible, which satisfied the thief.  He watched the Gozlqand as it continued its gnawing, and he made for the tower, navigating within the sea of dead bodies.  He dared not leave them until the monster was out of sight.


            The heat of the day had grown intense, the sun stood high at its zenith in the clear, blue sky.  Heat billowed from the decaying bodies, as well, baking the thief in his horsehide covering.  As he moved, he keyed one eye on the perched Gozlqand at all times, watching its figure dance in the rising waves of heat.  The tower danced, too, swerving and bending like a mighty stone snake.  Sweat from his brow poured into his eyes.  Precious water was being robbed from him by the insane heat, and he knew he would have to hurry away from the Gozlqand and bodies if he wished to escape heat stroke.  He crossed a vast portion of the dead, reached a new line of stones, and cautiously entered the narrow shade offered by a few tightly gathered rocks.  Trying to control his breathing — afraid heavy panting might attract the Gozlqand — he watched the winged nightmare from afar.  It was still preoccupied with scraping its teeth against the sandstone pillar, giving no sign it had ever noticed him again.  Tentatively, the thief backed himself deeper into the host of stones, vanishing among them, and leaving the monster with its victims. 


            Finding a deeper pocket of shade, the thief hid from the sun and sipped his ration of water from his depleting waterskin.  He sat still, collecting his nerve until he felt he could carry on.  The tower was nearly upon him, now.  The monolith was so close that it blocked the sun.  He marveled at its posture, how such a large body could keep together through the ages until at last he reached the foundations of the tower.  The structure was set upon a mass of what was solid rock but which had formed separations long since the tower was built.  A multitude of cracks ran the height of the foundation, and piles of stones that splintered from the shifting substratum were collected in large mounds of pointed rocks and gravel.  It was within one of these cracks the thief placed himself, feet and hands touching one side of the stone, pressing his back against the other.  Carefully, he scaled the foundation, remembering to look around him every so often for the Gozlqand.  He spotted the monster taking flight, which made him hold his breath as he felt a chill in his spine.  The creature flew around for bit and then perched itself far from him atop another pillar of rock and remained still.  He exhaled, relieved that the monster hadn’t caught sight of him, but knowing the next part of his climb would be at greater risk. 


            The thief succeeded in reaching the top of the foundation, a distance of nearly one hundred feet, but he did not dare surface yet.  Bracing his light frame within the crack, he peered over the ledge and examined his surroundings.  He could see the tunnel on the side of the tower, the one he had planned to enter.  From the foundation, it appeared to be at a height of around sixty feet.  There was nothing to hide behind from this point forward, the foundation was a barren flatland of stone and sunlight.  If he was too obvious, the Gozlqand would easily spot him, easily.  A new plan formed in the thief’s mind, one that measured the existence of the beast.  He would have to attempt the far wall of the tower, the side facing the back of the caldera.  There, he suspected he stood a better chance of not being spotted by the Gozlqand.  He weighed his options, and his execution.  Either way would leave him exposed on the surface, but he reeked of death and was covered in a dense layer of the caldera’s dust, so he hoped these would serve to his benefit and conceal him from the creature’s scrutiny.  He eyed the winged creature one final time before deciding to break from below the surface and make his way to the far side of the tower.  The stone walls were a good thirty feet from his position, but the base of the tower was massive, and it would be another fifty before he reached the far side.  He moved as smooth as he could, not letting his feet pound the hard ground too loudly as he hastened across the hot stone.  Paranoia reminded him to peer over his shoulder at the Gozlqand, which remained on its perch, as still as the neighboring stones.  The thief reached the nearer wall, and like a rat, followed the stonework to the far side.  Once again, he had lost sight of the Gozlqand as he rounded the tower’s base, but felt he could breathe easier now that there was no mutual line of sight between them.


            The sunlight felt more intense on this side of the tower, and he had to strain his weary eyes to search the face of the wall for any openings.  To his surprise, he had not discovered a main entrance, at least none that remained an entrance.  For upon closer examination, he found what were once steps, now damaged so severely they looked like nothing more than a rugged stone mound, and the passage to which they once led was obviously sealed with an assortment of misshapen stones.  The figure of a large doorway was still visible, butting up against the invasive stonework, and the thief knew this was a good sign.  It told him someone wanted to keep people from getting at whatever was inside, and he was going to find a way to it.  A series of cavities were arrayed on this side of the tower, much like the other side, but the lowest one was twice as high as the tunnel he previously intended to infiltrate.  This meant more time in a very vulnerable position.  However, he had little choice but to accept the terms of the tower.  He ran his fingers over the large stones, feeling their texture and the spaces.  There was no doubt in his heart he would be able to climb this tower, perhaps even quick enough to completely evade the presence of the Gozlqand. 


            The thief rubbed his hands and the many tattoos he had on his arms, as a sort of ritual for good fortune.  After blessing himself, he took to scaling the stones.  The base of the tower was constructed with a slightly concave slope that made getting started effortless.  That phase of the tower was brief, however the rest of the climb proved a test for his finely honed digits and sinews as he defied gravity’s influence upon the sheer face of the tower.  The dust of the caldera that settled upon every inch of matter in this cursed place made slick the stones as he fixed his hold upon them.  For the sake of security, the thief would occasionally sacrifice some of his moisture by licking his fingers, making them stick better to the stonework.


The air was fresh, and though his horsehide smelled terrible, the breeze kept the rotten scent from his nostrils, allowing him to recover his appetite.  Hunger fiercely gnawed at his insides, protesting the strenuous activity, but going hungry, even while working like this, was nothing new to the thief.  His mind was conditioned to such abuse, and he scarcely acknowledged the cries of his gut.


            He had scaled nearly halfway to his target when he happened upon a smaller cavity he had not spied from below.  It looked just large enough for him to stand in, perhaps at a slouch, but he was of the mind that the higher he climbed, the closer he would be to the treasure.  He sought to pass it up, until he spotted an object in his peripheral.  His head snapped about to face the Gozlqand gliding in the open sky.  At some point during his climb, the monster had taken flight, possibly to patrol its territory, and this time it seems to have caught sight of the thief.  It was flying in his direction, still one hundred yards away, but closing quickly.  A small cry of fear escaped the man’s lips.  He knew better than to keep still, and hastily clawed his way to the nearby cavity.  Adrenaline stung his heart as he reached the ledge of the opening and began to pull himself into the tower.  The Gozlqand’s flight was silent yet ferocious, as suddenly it was upon him, ramming its talons into his back.  The thief cried in pain, as his right shoulder was made to bleed.  The force of the blow pierced the horsehide he was wearing.  Monstrous talons snagged on the hide, nearly pulling him from the wall.  Holding fast to the available clusters of stone and mortar, the thief desperately challenged the Gozlqand’s strength.  The rawhide he used to tie the horse pelt about his neck was now turned against him, choking his breathing and breaking his skin.  He could feel a sticky layer form on his skin as the rawhide sawed away, blood was beginning to spring.  Suddenly, the crude knot he had tied in the rawhide gave way and he was hurled into the dark tower, out of the clutches of the beast.  He was fortunate but drew his dagger just to be safe.  He tenderly brushed his throat with shaking fingers and gasped in pain as the raw skin burned at his touch.  His disoriented eyes looked into the depths of the tower, there was only cold and darkness.  Facing the entrance, he watched in horror as the Gozlqand flapped and clawed wildly at him.  It acted with blind determination, a creature so bent on killing that it would never stop until it had its prey dead in its clutches.  It was far too big to fit itself in the hole.  Comparatively, he could see that his entire body would easily fit inside its maw. 


            However, to his horror, the Gozlqand began to pry at the set stones, and was managing to shift them from their mortar.  In a matter of moments, the monster could very well make an opening large enough for its body.  Perhaps this creature was the very reason these blemishes existed on the tower?  The thief was in no mood to discover how quickly he could die to the monster, so he sought to vanish in the darkness within the tower, but there was yet another danger coming from the blackness.  He heard the sound of hissing followed by the heavy thuds of coming toward him, and before he could see what it was, the creature pounced on him.  He grappled with the new threat, hearing the tight chomp of teeth near his face.  It was roughly the size of a large dog, but felt cold to the touch, hard and hairless.  He fell under its weight and partially glimpsed its figure against the light from the hole in the wall, where the Gozlqand was continuing to tear away entire stone blocks.  It had far too many legs for a dog, and their spindly forms were like those of a spider.  Appalled, the thief kicked at the massive spider-like apparition, trying to free his hands so he could slash at the creature with his steel.  Unexpectedly, the thief felt a pair of hands take hold of his arms, trying to pin him to the ground.  The shock frenzied the thief to such severity that he was able to use his leg to flip the spider over him, sending it toward the Gozlqand’s talons.


            The fresh abomination was captured by the Gozlqand and struggled to free itself.  In the light, the thief could witness its form entirely, and gape at the horror he had just battled.  It was very much like a spider, black and spindly, but at the forefront of its body was a pair of arms.  Black, human arms that struggled just like a real man’s would, beating against the monster that trapped it.  One of the arms was clasped in the jaws of the Gozlqand, and the creature screamed from a very human mouth fixed between the arms.  It had no eyes, and nothing else about it could be compared to a human.  Its torso was unlike the segmented body of a spider, but was instead, a single, arched pod.  It put up a valiant effort, all eight of its legs tugging against the flying predator, but very quickly it was wrested from the hole and twisted by the talons of the Gozlqand.  The thief heard a snap, like a twig, and the screams stopped.  He knew not what the Gozlqand ultimately did with the monster’s corpse, for it flew off with it, satisfied with killing something.


            He sat for a while, interposed between the worlds of light and darkness, trying to collect his nerves.  He knew not what was waiting for him within this cursed tower, but he had come too far to turn back now.  In fact, he had just become well aware of the possibility he may never be able to leave.  His body would wither here among whatever treasures these stones held, if there was any at all.





The Sorcerer


            After he recovered his nerves, it came to his attention that he was not in a tunnel after all.  The empty darkness was burrowed by the piercing light from the hole in the wall, but he could see that as the Gozlqand rampaged and tore stones from the tower, they extended beyond the scope of light.  Removing himself from the tunnel of light and stepping into shadow, his eyes adjusted and he spied the dim ember of torchlight filling the form of a distant doorway.  Evidently, he was in a large chamber.  He could not see much of anything in the dark, so he behaved like a rat again, and moved against the nearby wall.  For all he knew, the floor of this chamber was collapsed; he had experienced that on prior escapades, and he also knew the sturdiest bit of floor was always against the wall.  So, as he made his way to the glowing shape in the dark, he stepped cautiously, checking every step for weaknesses in the laid stones beneath him.  A piece of debris skipped over the stones after he blindly kicked it, prompting him to reach down and grab another bit of rubble.  He tossed it into the dark and heard it strike the stone floor level with him, but then he heard a second crack of the stone coming from below.  The rubble he had tossed tumbled down an unseen pit, the sound of its journey echoing back to the thief.  He tightened his posture on the wall; he had been correct about the chamber floor.


            Without incident, he arrived at the doorway, the light of flaming braziers covering his tattered appearance.  The lighted fires concerned him ­— greatly.  Could there possibly be people inhabiting this tower?  A cult?  The thief was no stranger to burgling the coffers of a dangerous cult; they usually had the best gems.  However, they were usually exceptionally violent, and being captured by a cult could be a fate worse than death.  He found himself examining the landing of a stairway, steps continuing either direction, bending up and down the same curved wall.  There were no distant footsteps, no ethereal voices chanting, only the crackle of flames.  The uncanny silence chilled the thief, but he boldly left the stone doorframe and opted to ascend the wide stairway to see what more was to be had at the higher levels of the tower.  The stairway was empty of all décor, save for the occasional brazier that had been mysteriously lit.  And after he had traveled some ways up the flight, a savory scent greeted his nose.  Somewhere in the quiet tower, there was food.  His stomach groaned, begging for a morsel of the delicious meal, wherever it was.  He hastened up the steps to another landing and peered into the adjacent doorway.  Before his eyes was set a meal that glittered as beautifully as any coffer of gold and jewels, and overwhelmed by hunger, he made for the grand mahogany table. 


            Baked fruits and roasted fowl decorated the furniture, and he greedily snatched one of the golden fleshed birds.  Savory juices burst forth in his mouth as he sank his teeth into the meat — such a flavor had never graced his pallet.  Tears welled in his eyes, his appetite rejoiced, and he began to sample every morsel the meal presented.  Between bites, he sighed, regaining his breath as though he were swimming in a pond of flavor, washing everything down with sips from a readied cup of wine.  His ecstasy evaporated when he heard a small gasp come from behind him.  He shot a glance at the noise and discovered someone, or more likely something, standing in an opened passageway with a silver tray in hand.  It was difficult to make out in the dimly lit room, but it looked like a very small person.  The thief’s instincts overtook him and he charged the small person.  They tried to remove themselves, but were too slow, and the thief seized them by the shoulders.  He struck the person in the face and threw them back in the dining area, spilling the food that dressed the platter.  The beating would have continued but for the face the thief saw staring back at him.  It was in no way human.  Yes, it had the right features to be compared with a man, but they were distorted and grotesque.  From down on the floor, the little creature stared back at him through crooked, dewy eyes, as its fat lips sucked the air.  A trickle of blood fell from its ugly nose, and it held its small hand up, moaning at the thief.  It was completely naked, its skin a patchwork scale of sickly gray.


            The thief pitied the ugly creature, its frailty caused him to hesitate, but he steeled himself after a moment or two and intended on ending its life.  Surely it would tell of his presence if he were to leave it be, and after all, he had killed for gold before.  The thief intended on closing in on the creature, but as he attempted to take a step, he collapsed.  An overwhelming weakness took the strength from his legs, and his vision grew hazy.  Had he been poisoned by the food?  No, that did not seem likely.  It was set for someone other than him.  The thief could not move, his body no longer his to command, and a voice from the dark spoke to him.


            “You dare come into my house, plunder my table, and beat my servant,” said the voice.  It was deep and mighty, fitting of the man who revealed himself by stepping into the room.  A tall man dressed in black robes and a red turban stood before the thief.  Silver ornaments draped from the turban, and gold rings dressed his long fingers.  A well-kept, long black beard grew from his face, accenting the deep set lines of musculature in his visage.


            He motioned to the creature on the floor, “He was of no threat to you, this homunculus.  And yet you struck at him.  Bloodying my servant’s face.  Can you not see how he knows not of violence, nor ill will?  Even now, after you struck him, he bears no hatred for you, nor love.  Incapable of both, he is only made to serve me and my needs.”


            The man commanded the homunculus, “Go, clean this room.”


            At once, the homunculus responded with a bow of its head, and struggled to stand.  After it stood, the creature slowly dragged its feet around the room, doing the bidding of its master.  The turbaned man studied the thief, a grin passing over his features.      


            “I am impressed,” he said to the thief, “I would have never thought a mere man could survive my malformations and enter here.”


            The man raised his left hand and gently waved it in the air at the thief, and all became dark.  He was not aware of how much time had passed between the moment he blacked out and when he regained his senses, but when he did, he was in a new chamber of the tower accompanied only by the mysterious man.  He was sat in a chair, still unable to move, but was granted the ability to look about his surroundings.  This room was dark and cold, dimly lit by a few small flames that boiled fluids within glass bottles.  He watched the silhouette of the man march to and fro, passing before the fires, working on something.  The thief could see collections of manuscripts, skulls, and other odd trinkets — articles of superstition and mysticism.


            “Are you a magician?” croaked the thief, his throat parched.


            The man held still and responded, “I am a sorcerer.  And what of you?”




            The sorcerer chuckled, “Truly?  Why would you come here, to my tower?  What could you possibly want that I possess?”


            “I came seeking the treasure of this tower,” the thief replied, “After hearing fables about the hidden splendor it was rumored to hold.”


            The sorcerer eyed the thief, his eyes glowing a faint yellow in the dark.   “Yes,” he started, “I do suppose any shiny trinket or bobble would serve to satisfy the avarice of a simple fool.  I myself do not seek to horde such materials.  It is pointless.”


            He approached the thief, igniting a flame without source in his palm, and in the firelight said, “I seek power — of any form, from any knowledge — I take it and make it mine.”


            The sorcerer moved the flame around the body of the sitting thief, as the nervous man eyed the moving fire.  Again the sorcerer laughed as he said, “But I do believe we are similar, thief.  You take items that were never yours, and I take power that was never mine.  It is how we live, how we exist.  But my aims are much more — profitable.”


            The flameless hand of the sorcerer was covered in a dark substance, and he continuously rubbed it between his fingers and palm.  Snatching a bit of the fire from his other hand, he said, “Hold still.”


            The large hand took hold of the thief’s forehead, and he felt something passing in and through his mind.  The thief cried out, not in pain, but from an indescribable discomfort, like a sort of hollowing within his depths.  The sorcerer removed his hand after a few moments, and returned to his workstation.  The horrible sensation within the thief did not vanished, and he felt cold.


            “What did you do?” asked the thief.


            The sorcerer turned back around, muttering an incantation in a language completely foreign to the thief.  He had his palm resting on an ornamental box that began to glow.  After completing the incantation, the sorcerer looked at him and answered, “I have removed your soul, and placed it in this prison.  You belong to me now.”


            The thief in all his life never bothered with the idea of his soul and cared nothing for its wellbeing.  However, it was something belonging to him, and as a thief, he despised anything of his being stolen — especially now that it seemed to have value for someone.


            “It was not for a whim that I have done this to you, thief,” spoke the sorcerer, “But for a grand purpose.  You have impressed me with your skill and guile, and most of all, your recklessness.  I could have divided your body into any number of useful tinctures or black arcana, but I want you whole.  There is an item I want you to steal for me.  Do you understand?”


            A great transformation was occurring in the thief, his aspirations were being rewritten, and he answered the sorcerer with little thought, “Yes, my master.”


            “Good,” spoke the sorcerer, “In the land of Bheoshoth, to the south east corner of this desert, is a grand necropolis.  It is ancient, older than most living civilizations of this age, and at its depths is a secret chamber.  It holds only one item — a box.  You will steal this box and return to me with it.  Do this by any means necessary; use every bit of guile and ruthlessness you possess.  I command it.”


            The thief answered only one phrase, “Yes, master.”

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