Pilgrimage Of The Blademaster

Setting his feet onto the cold stone brick, Marcus cursed his old age. When he was younger this sort of trek would have been nothing to him. Now, he questions whether he truly had the physical acuity to endure the entire pilgrimage he was being commanded to take.

Biting wind blew at his face, lessened only by the cotton scarf he’d wrapped around his head for warmth. His tunic and chain mail were insulated with an elastic material that contoured to his skin. A small crystal glowed red amidst the tiny flakes of snow that amassed so quickly they blotted out the valley beyond the mountain ridge.

Though this was not his first time ascending a mountain ruin, it was his first time doing so at the behest of a voice in his head. A brick path led him winding up and around the cliff face. Small walkways that would normally be slippery were no challenge to the spikes on his boots.

“Why on earth did you do this once, let alone multiple times?!”

An image of a brown man clad in ornate golden royal armor appeared in his minds eye. Followed by a tan woman with eyes that shone with ferocity. Lastly, the image of a brutish pale man smirking. That was Aric.

If you’re going to harness my power, I need to know that you’re capable of handling it. This pilgrimage was designed to test your wits, your endurance, and your tenacity. Strength and brutality may have been Aric’s benefits, but you’re much more well rounded. I like knowing you’re willing to play my game to prove you’re capable of my presence.

Shaking his head, Marcus couldn’t believe it for a second. Marcus had met the Blademaster when he was just thirteen in Aric’s tomb. There’s no way he would keep this pilgrimage until now for no reason.

“I call bullshit. I peaked out my body long ago. I feel like you would’a had me do this rigmarole then unless you needed something on the other end of it. What’s your angle?”

A moment passed in silence as the image of Aric disappeared. Marcus knew he very well could be working towards losing what little bit of control he had over this wretched demon inside his head.

This is what I like about you Marcus. You refuse to play the victim when you have any say in the matter.

A force gripped Marcus’ mind like never before. He knew this supposed partnership would end in possession eventually. He just didn’t know when. Or what to do when it happened. He kept walking the trail the same as he had been without missing a beat. The Blademaster knew how to mimic him perfectly.

But let me make it very clear to you: You don’t have a say in the matter. At all. I play along with you living your life because I’ve had many lives. Why not give you your free will and see what you can do with it?

He felt the otherworldly grip on his mind loosen and he was his own man again. Clenching his fists, he punched the wall next to him and shouted at the top of his lungs.

“I WILL NOT BE YOUR TOY!”

His voice echoed and boomed with magical energy, sending a concussive shock wave that could be heard for miles around.

Are you mad?! You could-

Marcus wouldn’t allow him to finish.

“Start an avalanche? Yeah. They’d never find my body. Which means your royal pawn is no more and where would your agenda be then, eh?”

Moving his feet forward, he heard the rumbling of snow falling above him. An avalanche had indeed been triggered.

What now, boy?

Chuckling to himself, Marcus motioned to the wall next to him and drew a door with his hand. Glowing red, an outline appeared and the rocky cliff side was replaced with a stone door. Turning the handle, Marcus walked nonchalantly inside an open room carved cleanly from the rock inside the mountain. In the middle of the room lay a glowing white quartz to illuminate the freshly formed shelter.

“Wait it out in relative safety. Play nice, boyo. Don’t think I don’t know you have a reason to be here.”

Marcus felt a pang of anger. He had successfully shown the Blademaster they were on a relatively even playing field. For now.

Land of the Ley-Lines - Stoking The Fire

Searching through his tunic for his gem purse, Marcus frantically tried to remember where it could have gone to. The sword he was entrusted with from the Freyan Guard Academy needed to be sharpened. Even though he wasn't particularly thrilled about being enrolled in the Guard against his will, his father thought it would be the best way to keep him from trouble.

The burly blacksmith rolled his eyes and turned around to continue sharpening another student's blade.

“Tell me if ye find it son. If not, then I gotta keep it 'ere til ya do.”

Where could it possibly have gone? He had just had it after leaving his house. Could he have gotten pick-pocketed? His memory was a bit shaky from the nerves of ceremonies tomorrow. Although he did remember running into that cute girl on the way here... Could she have swindled him? He was pretty distracted, and a good thief can spot that a mile away.

As he pondered what may have happened, a chime came from the bell above the door as another customer came barging in.

“Hey Padraig! I got your money!”

Marcus recognized that voice. It was the same girl from earlier. Keeping his cool he looked away towards the shield rack stacked behind the counter. She walked quickly up to the counter next to him and leaned over it, poking the blacksmith in the back.

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Land of the Ley-Lines: The Echo Frequency

Kim loved the smell of libraries. Books always reminded him of easier times. At least when reading didn't come with strange consequences. Texts laid on the table were open in various places, lit from the dim white light of the large crystal chandelier in the middle of the five story library. Kim was studying on the second level near volumes of encyclopedias filled with studies on Ley-Line energies and how attunement effects the level of efficacy in spells.

Off to his left a group of students walked by dressed in plain black robes. One girl in particular stood out with gold embroidering of a raven on the front. Long black hair flowed behind her head like a silk waterfall. Something about this girl intrigued Kim. Pulling on the ley-energy around him lightly, he enhanced his sense of hearing to eavesdrop on their conversation.

“This is really risky guys. We have no idea how a ritual like that could effect the Ley-Network.”

The guys all chuckled uncomfortably except for one. A loud mouth young man with a buzzed haircut and a smell of hubris Kim didn't need to enhance his senses to pick up.

“Yet what if it's successful? We would be stars of the academy!”

The girl crossed her arms and cocked an eyebrow. Kim went and sat back at his table of books, pretending to be oblivious to the group.

“Or we could shut down the ley-grid for the entire city for months to come. Is that worth it for notoriety?”

The man laughed and patted her lightly on the arm.

“Absolutely! What do I care? My family's got entire storage rooms full of charged crystals. It wouldn't really effect me much at all!”

Sighing and putting her face in her palm, she shook her head.

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Land of the Ley-Lines - Lessons from a Sellsword

The smell of burning hickory and meat clashed with the clean moisture of the river. An army of invisible crickets and frogs sang an unending quiet song as Marcus sat on a rocky outcropping near a river. A simple looking wooden bow slung behind him resting on stone.

Rustling of leaves betrayed the movement of a rather large man trying desperately to push through the brush. Cursing under his breath, he finally broke through the line of pines and ruffage that lay a handful of meters from the river's edge.

“Bloody fine place you picked to relax. Food's ready ya emo bastard.”

Marcus turned only his head towards Carney. The slow whisper of water flowing made it easier to deal with looking at an enemy who became a friend within a matter of hours.

“Not sure if I'm hungry.”

Carney brushed his hand over his bald head and gave a disapproving snort. Stepping down with ease from the wooded outcropping, he found it hard to get a proper foothold on the loose rocks being nearly eight feet tall. The fact that he was wearing a simple sleeveless tunic and shorts didn't help his trek through the woods, and his sandals are betraying him on uneven ground. Not the sharpest sword in the barracks, but not someone you want to underestimate either.

“Don't give me that crap boyo. Ye haven't eaten since the border skirmish. That was three days ago.”

Carney managed to slowly make his way over to wobble on a stone just behind Marcus.

“Carney, I've got bigger things on my mind. I'm not worried about nourishment. I'm worried about leaving a border completely unde-”

Carney shouted with such force it caused the crickets and frogs to still in fear. Marcus was more shocked at the interruption.

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Land of the Ley-Lines - Kim's Corruption

Kim sat in the oak chair he had relished so many nights reading in front of a fire. A small layer of sand spilled through beneath the rustic wooden door, as candle light flickered beneath the ornate obsidian interior. It had been days since the torrent of sand had stranded everyone in the city in their homes.

Holding a bottle of gin he had been saving for a special occasion, he scratched at the armrest in deep thought. Mumbled words burst forth as his eyes darted back and forth. A book sat in his lap, brown with golden binding. There was no name to the strange scripture he had stumbled on in his library.

For years Kim had been a book collector, spending his time crossing the expanse of the Tyrianian Empire for the rarest volumes he could find. This one he had stumbled upon from a traveling adventurer who sought to pawn it after finding it in a lost tomb.

“How could it be? Just from reading it? That's... no... Not really. Can't believe that at all.”

Mumbling continued as Kim's mind raced with strange visions of distant past lives. An eery silence had fallen over his humble abode. All he could think about was the words he had read out of boredom. It didn't take long for him to finish the entire volume. At first he didn't know really what it was talking about. There were diagrams and charts.

Pictures of human anatomy, brain structure, and even speculation on how the nervous system interacts with Ley-Line energy. There were ideas Kim had never thought of before. Musings on life and death, and how you can't have one without the other. Much of the book was incredibly intriguing philosophically. Yet there was one detail that bothered him.

Something Kim couldn't shake about the last page. He had word of power within words, but nothing like this. Opening the book again, he slowly opened it to the last page.

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Land of the Ley-Lines - Tyr's Sanctum

Looking down, all Marcus could do to keep himself from getting dizzy was pretend that what he was looking at was actually an illusion. Somehow he had ended up among the clouds, joined only by birds and light chills from the southern winds. It's howling was barely a whisper among the vast reaches of open sky. Beneath his feet was marbled greenish stone, which was lightly camouflaged as the distant land below him was lush with greenery.

“Right then. I, uh, suppose this is a thing.”

The moss covered door lay behind, with no real outlet off of the small ledge which he now stood. A blur of a bird swept up behind him with amazing speed, blasting him with a fierce wind as it flew past and disappeared. Losing his balance due to vertigo, he tripped and fell forward. Bracing himself for a long fall, he watched as a gust of air appeared quickly beneath him to stop his fall. The wind whistled and hissed as it increased in intensity rapidly, creating a strange smoothness that resembled hard ground.

Running his hand over it, he was awestruck.

“Wow... That's a new one.”

A screech resounded in the distance, and Marcus realized the bird was on it's way back. Before he could react, the bird had appeared and stopped with a massive burst of air that threw Marcus back at the temple door.

“I am not your enemy sharpened one. You may stay your blade.”

Brown feathers refracted light, as if the sun itself would stay it's power for the great beast. His beak moved as if he were chirping, yet he still spoke in as plain of a tongue as any man.

A voice familiar, yet distant filled Marcus' ears. Uncertainty was replaced with a feeling of confusion. Before him was the bird he had known many years ago, as a child. Mordecai was a great roc of the eastern provinces. Many days Marcus had spent riding the great hawk around the Freyan valley searching for hunting prey. He had never heard him speak before now, but perhaps there was no need to before.

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Story Excerpt - Land of the Ley-Lines: Kim's Glamour

The hustle and bustle of a bigger city never really was Kim's thing. Even when he was a kid he stuck out like a sore thumb. Albino, born with a host of problems that somehow worked themselves out, awkward demeanor and the like. Wearing a plain navy blue robe, he looked more like a monk than a necromancer. The only thing that might give him away would be if you could see past a glamour that made him look like a spry old man.

In reality, Kim wasn't very impressive. Shorter than most, skinnier than most, and definitely more awkward than most. Tied around his waste was a golden silk rope that held his grimoire book at his side. It was ornately designed, with ancient symbols of life and death, long forgotten in the cultures he now sought to understand. Sitting on a stone bench near the Freyan Castle courtyard, he studied people as they walked by.

Guards eyed him through polished steel as they walked by, suspicious of his presence. A pair of young lads adorned in chain mail and crystal bands around their arms approached him confidently. The smiles on their faces as they bantered at each other from across the courtyard near the tavern told a tale of unkindness approaching Kim. “Ey, old man, where's yer gatekeeper?!” Kim laughed along with the boy's friend at the young man's drunken rambling.

They both wore crystal integration bands, something reserved for wizards and nobility. While they may not look like much more than a piece of cloth with a ruby embedded in it, it could tell a person whether they should be in for the fight of their life, or a brawl that could end them up in jail. Neither are desirable outcomes, but one is definitely more desirable than the other. “Oh, he's just takin' a leak out behind the castle proper for old times sake. Used to run mead from the emirate before the war he did.”

Both young men looked at him in shock, their smug outfits adorned in clan symbols, medals of honor, and house ranking badges. These boys were at the tavern on a mission. One flicked his longer brunette hair to the side and laughed. “Got a lotta nerve sayin' fings like that 'round here old man. But I like you. Didn't get the feelin' ya meant ill of yer words. Be careful out 'ere eh? May not be ye think people can see ya, but we do. Keep yer 'ead low eh?” Maybe these boys weren't just nobility after all.

Land of the Ley-Lines - Necromancer's Blade

Blackened sandstone was all that Marcus could see. He was lost inside of the massive metropolis that dwarfed even the renowned Rángard. Streets laced together with crystal lamps lining them to keep things bright and warm during the cold desert nights. To his left was a string of shops, some of them had glass windows that were still dusty from the sand. The signature blacksmith's anvil lay outside the front of one of them. 

On it was a small broadsword with a ruby fitted into the where the blade met the hilt. It didn't appear to be anything fancy. Aside from the ruby it was pretty plain. Still, he had lost his sword in the sands somewhere, so having one will have to do. Grabbing the sword he looked over it a little more closely. "Interesting blade eh? I haven't seen one like that before. Most swords around here are serrated on one side. Lots of bone cutting with those sand Wyrms ya know?"

Mose was still following Marcus, although it's unclear whether that's good or bad. "Aye. I'm not quite sure myself of what it could be, but doesn't look like anything special. Maybe there's a scabbard inside for it. Shall we?" Mose shrugged. "Sure. Why not? I mean, what's the worst that could happen?" Marcus looked at him awkwardly. "I'm not one for superstition, but that just sounds like a right awful thing to say at a time like this."

Mose chuckled and patted Marcus on the back. "What are you worried about? Even if I'm not the only abomination out there, people around here weren't ever the kind to just start swingin'. I mean, worst case scenario a shade devours you in the shadows. But there isn't one in there. I can tell you that for sure."

Picking up a stone, Marcus willed it to shine like a miniature lamp. He threw it inside of the shop anyway, and the movement triggered crystal lights inside. "Huh. I guess you're right." Walking into the small doorway led him into a much larger shop than he had realized. The way things were built made it hard to tell where one building ends and another begins.

"Oooh! I remember this! Hartford's Smithy! He umm... Made me a thing back in the day. I forget what it was. But he did a thing!" Marcus chuckled and browsed through the various swords and daggers. There were even some pretty fancy bows. "Did a thing? Looks like he did a lot of things. Tell me if you see where he hides the sheathes so I can get one." Mose lumbered over behind the counter and started digging.

"Hey! Look at that!" Marcus made his way to the counter, only to find Mose fiddling with the change drawer. "He's still got some money in here! Not much, only like fifteen rupees total in petty change. Looks like his last few days weren't too good. Poor guy." Marcus sighed, and stepped behind the counter and found the door to the back. "Oh. Hey. Ummm I feel like that's a bad idea. Not sure why, but something's telling me bad. Up to you though. Just be prepared for whatever I guess."

Marcus cocked an eyebrow at Mose. "What the hell is wrong with you? Part of your brain missin'?" Mose just laughed and shrugged. Readying the blade in his hand, he gripped the handle on the door and slowly opened. "You know guys, we should totally do this every week. Not like we don't have time." A dusty voice was talking, with a few others mixed in. It almost sounded like a party.

"Ey Boss, when're we gonna get back to the outside?" A few men were standing in the back of the plainly furnished room talking, with three men playing cards at a table near the wall and another door. "I dunno Milo. Not really up to any of us. We gotta wait until someone drains all the sand. That could be years from now." A woman came through the door on the other side, followed by another. They were talking about fashion and what some of the neighbors were up to.

One of them noticed Marcus opening the door, and wave at him goofily. "Hello there! Would you like to come in? We're not doing much right now, but you're welcome to join us!" Everyone in the room looked at Marcus and Mose. One of the men at the table was wearing a tattered robe, which stood out from the rest of them wearing plain clothes. "Moira? Is that you?" Mose grabbed onto Marcus' shoulder and tried to peek into the room.

"Mose?! You're back dear?! Does that mean the sand is gone?" One of the ladies came running over to the door. As Marcus got a closer look, she also was missing some flesh. More undead. "The sand is gone? Well I suppose that's a good thing... But I was hoping we could you know, hang out a bit more?" The man with the robe stood up and looked at the room. "Oh Kim, we've been hangin' out for sands know how long. We'll get more time soon enough. We want to go see the outside world again!"

Kim shrugged, and draped the hood of his robe over his head. "Alright. Fine. You guys go have fun. But I'll be getting in touch with you soon for another hang out night!" Marcus just let his arms fall in disbelief. The Tyrianan scourge was before him. Yet scourge didn't seem like the right label for what was happening. "Umm.. Excuse me, but I'd really love to know what's going on with the city. Can any of you shed light on this? Kim?" 

The robed man looked at him with a scowl. "Yeah, I can tell you. Are you gonna give me my sword back?" Marcus looked at the sword in his hand, and carefully grabbed the blade to hand the hilt to Kim. "If it ain't rightly mine, I won't take it. Here." Kim looked at him with surprise. Like he wasn't expecting Marcus to offer it so freely. "You aren't worried I'll try to kill you with it?" Marcus cocked an eyebrow and shook his head.

"If you're more worried about hang out time with your friends than you are a strange man walking in with a sword, then I'm not really worried about you being too hostile." Marcus's words must have hit Kim harder than he expected. Kim walked over and took the sword, set it on the table, and hugged Marcus. "That means a lot to me man. Really it does. I'm Kim, and I'm a Necromancer. Everyone always hated me because of it so... Thanks for not." Marcus awkwardly patted him on the back.

"Yeah, it's ok... Now, about what's going on with the city?"

Land of the Ley-Lines - Sleeping Treasure in the Sand

"You mean to tell me this is the Tyrianian Empire? No one informed me it was um... expired." Marcus shifted in his chain mail tunic, adjusting his scarf to cover his now sun bleached hair. Heat beat down on the desert lands like a massive boulder had been placed on your shoulders. In front of Marcus stood a man who had just recently been a corpse rotting in the sand. "Well, yes. Actually, this is mainly news to me but I suppose. Expired is the proper word for what is here now."

The short, balding man adjusted his quite broken glasses. His skin had obviously rotted slightly in the sand, but was replaced by the grains of sand that remained. Mose was his name. "Well then. I suppose I'm not going to find many answers here, then will I?" Mose shrugged, looking around. "Well, I can't say for sure. But may not hurt to look around. I can help with that. Not like I have relatives in town or anything." 

Marcus wanted to chuckle, but there was weight behind his words. Signaling forward, Marcus began walking through the sandy streets he found himself in. Taking a good look around, all he could notice was how every building was black and burnt. Yet there were what looked like Aquaduct pillars and grooves all around the street. "So, obviously it wasn't always this desolate. What was this place like?" 

Mose thought for a moment. His sluggish face contorted in deep thought. "Huh. I can't seem to remember." Marcus spotted a small altar with a crystal stand near the entrance to one of the buildings. He stopped for a moment and inspected it. "I've seen this before. Where though? It's a very fuzzy memory." Mose halted and looked back. "Yeah. Not sure. Oh man, looks like my memory is gone too. Ain't that something?"

Marcus looked at him awkwardly a moment. "Are you smiling? What's wrong with you?" Mose shrugged sluggishly. "Iono. I just feel like everything's ok. I feel safe around you. Maybe that's a clue in itself?" Nodding in agreement, Marcus eyed over Mose another time. "Do you know where we could find a library? Some place with information? Where might that be?" Mose thought for a moment.

"Yeah, I'm sorry I got nothing. It's like that whole part of my brain is gone or something. You know?" Marcus shook his head and began walking forward again. "Let's just get moving then. I'm sure I'll find something around here." Mose nodded and began to follow him down the sandy blackened streets.

Land of the Ley Lines - The Borderlands

Standing up, Marcus brushed the sand off his chest. The trek through the desert wasteland of Hoenir was a pandora's box of horrors. If it wasn't blazing heat, it was stinging sands. Roaming beasts lurked beneath your feet ready to strike any unawares travelers at any point. Yet Marcus tread confidently among the chaos and danger.

None dared attack him, and his survival training ensured he kept his body sharp. A conversion crystal came in handy when water was scarce. Yet even despite his known safety, something unnerved him. The landscape wasn't a threat. The local fauna aren't a threat. A dread wyrm had given away it's location within the sands, yet Marcus knew even it could tell exactly what he was. Who he had become.

Continuing his tread through the sands, he noticed something off about the landscape. The sand banks grew more deliberate. Something was forming around him. It's as if the desert itself was seeking to manifest. Marcus didn't like this one bit. Drawing his bow and pulling up his hood, he chanted a spell. Perhaps now was the time to hone his combat magic skills.

Just as he suspected, the mound of sand in front of him grew to nearly twenty times his size. Sand shifted beneath him, but he was ready for it. Jumping slightly, he sent a burst of sound energy straight below him and launched into the air. The dread wyrm emerged from the sand with massive jaws open. A bellowing roar came first from the wyrm, then from something under the sand that burst forth.

No time. Marcus drew an arrow, and while he nocked it he imbued it with wind energy. Releasing the arrow, he sent it flying. Right as the arrow reached it's target, the beasts jaw, it sent a burst of wind energy everywhere. It boomed with such force it slowed Marcus' inevitable descent back to the ground.

Out of nowhere, a large stone fist pommeled Marcus from the side. His barrier took most of the force, but it still sent him flying at a dangerous speed. Thankfully he managed to slam into a sand dune not one hundred meters away. Painfully. Looking up, he assessed his wounds and his target. His body was bruised, at best. Yeah it hurt like hell, but now isn't the time to let it overcome. 

"Wha?" A golem stood before him, slowly making it's way to destroy him. It made a strange noise that resonated with the sand. The sand itself shivered and displaced at the sound. He's trying to make it harder to walk. Marcus got up, and decided fighting on the ground will be difficult. Searching his mind he desperately tried to think of a way to get a good footing. "That's it!"

Nocking an arrow, he imbued it with a massive amount of fire energy. Aiming towards the ground right below the golem's feet, he released and sent a massive streak of fire just above the shifting sands. The heat started to melt the grains into a liquid, and it became a hot sticky mess quickly. Landing at it's target, the arrow exploded with a huge fireball. Leaving behind a small crater of molten glass, the golem was thrown off balance and fell in.

Drawing another arrow, Marcus imbued it with frost energy, and released immediately. The arrow flew true, hitting the molten mess with the golem half submerged. It exploded with frost, freezing everything around it. The golem struggled in the frozen glass, and cracks could be heard. The ground in front of him was still molten, so he decided to nock another arrow and cautiously walk around to the golem.

"What are you? Why do you attack me?" The golem made a strange noise, and stopped moving. The sand started to vibrate again, but this time he could sense something moving beneath it. Keeping his bow ready, he continued to approach the golem. Air swirled in strange ways, with dust devils appearing rapidly and disappearing. 

"Why... do you encroach...?" A voice boomed from the golem. What does it mean? "I did not know I was. Is there something sacred in these sands?" A calm befell the sand, and it ceased to vibrate. A figure emerged from a dune behind the golem. "We are the ones here first. Our lands sacred. Don't want you here. What purpose does it serve?" It looked like a smaller, more human looking figure. 

"I am looking for someone. Someone important. I have been told that the Tyriani-" The sand boomed awake again, and the figure floated the air swiftly approaching Marcus. "You not Tyriani?!"  Marcus readied himself to attack. "No, I am not. Is that good or bad?" The figure came within a few meters, and stopped. It seemed to be considering something. "Your name?" 

Marcus looked at it seriously. Something didn't feel right. "Marcus Wainwright." Sand trembled, and loosened beneath him. It was creating quicksand. Quickly he sent a burst of sound energy in front of him. It sent him flying backwards into the dune. But his feet weren't in the quick sand. Still, he had to act quickly.

Drawing an arrow, he imbued it with wind energy. "This is gonna hurt." Nocking and releasing, the moment the arrow left his hand it burst with energy and flew forward and lightning speed. It created a small sonic boom near Marcus' hand, causing his arm to jolt away quickly and de-socket. He shouted in pain, but the arrow flew true and shattered the floating rock being completely. The sand settled for a moment, then it seemed to feel lighter somehow. It loosened, and he felt himself begin to start falling slowly.

He tried to watch all around him as he managed to keep himself from drowning in sand. Pillars began to emerge from the sand, and after what felt like a good hour of just trying to stay above the sand, he finally hit something solid beneath his feet. The sand began to trickle away slowly around his body. After another half hour of waiting for the sand to keep going down, he noticed buildings were starting to appear around him.

Sand was draining to reveal a lost city made of onyx colored stone. Whatever he killed must have been it's guardian. All he could do was watch as the landscape slowly unfolded around him. Eventually it peeled away to reveal a retaining wall an impossible distance away. He could only see one side of it it would seem. "This must have been an entire civilization buried under the sand. Things like this don't just happen. I need to investigate. There could be information here that would be useful against the emperor."