The seeker - By Simon Hawke

Prologue

The twin moons of Athas flooded the desert with a ghostly light as the dark sun sank on the horizon. The temperature dropped quickly while Ryana sat warming herself by the campfire, relieved at having left the city.

Tyr held nothing for her but bad memories. As a young girl growing up in a villichi convent, she had dreamt of visiting the city at the foot of the Ringing Mountains. Tyr had seemed like an exotic and exciting place then, when she could only imagine its teeming marketplaces and its tantalizing nightlife. She had heard stories of the city from the older priestesses, those who had been on pilgrimages, and she had longed for the day when she could take her own pilgrimage and leave the convent to see the outside world. Now she had seen it, and it was a far cry from the dreams of her youth.

When in her girlish dreams she had imagined the crowded streets and glamorous marketplaces of Tyr, she had pictured them without the pathetic, scrofulous beggars that crouched in the dust and whined plaintively for coppers, holding out their filthy hands in supplication to every passerby. The colorful images of her imagination had not held the stench of urine and manure from all the beasts penned up in the market square, or the human waste produced by the city’s residents, who simply threw their refuse out the windows into the streets and alleys. She had imagined a city of grand, imposing buildings, as if all of Tyr were as impressive as the Golden Tower or Kalak’s ziggurat. Instead she found mostly aging, blocky, uniformly earth-toned structures of crudely mortared brick covered with cracked and flaking plaster, such as the ramshackle hovels in the warrens. There the poor people of Tyr lived in squalid and pitiful conditions, crowded together like beasts crammed into stinking holding pens.

She had not imagined the vermin and the filth, or the flies and the miasma of decay as garbage rotted in the streets, or the pickpockets and the cutthroats and the vulgar, painted prostitutes, or the rioting mobs of desperate people caught up in the painful transition of a city laboring to shift from a sorcerer-king’s tyranny to a more open and democratic form of government. She had not imagined that she would come to Tyr not as a priestess on a pilgrimage, but as a young woman who had broken her sacred vows and fled the convent in the night, in pursuit of the only male she had ever known and loved. Nor had she imagined that before she left the city, she would learn what it meant to kill.

She turned away from the shadowy city in the distance, feeling no regret at leaving it, and gazed across the desert spreading out below. She and Sorak had made camp on the crest of a ridge overlooking the Tyr Valley, just east of the city. Beyond the city, to the west, the foothills rose to meet the Ringing Mountains. To the east, they gradually fell away, almost completely encircling the valley, save for the pass directly to the south, along which the trade route ran from Tyr out across the tablelands. The caravans always took the pass, then headed southeast to Altaruk, or else turned to the northeast toward Silver Spring, before heading north to Urik, or northeast to Raam and Draj. To the east of the oasis known as Silver Spring, there was nothing but rocky, inhospitable desert, a trackless waste known as the Stony Barrens that stretched out for miles before it ended at the Barrier Mountains, beyond which lay the cities of Gulg and Nibenay.

The caravans all have their routes mapped out, Ryana thought, while ours has not yet been determined. She sat alone, huddled in her cloak, her long, silvery white hair blowing gently in the breeze, and wondered when Sorak would return. Or, perhaps more properly, she thought, the Ranger. Shortly before he had left the campsite, Sorak had fallen asleep, and the Ranger had come out to take control of his body. She did not really know the Ranger very well, though she had met him many times before. The Ranger was not much for words. He was a hunter and a tracker, an entity wise in the lore of the mountain forests and desert tablelands.

The Ranger ate flesh, as did the other entities who made up Sorak’s inner tribe. Sorak, like the villichi among whom he was raised, was vegetarian. It was one of

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