Dipped in Styx
Khemi – the black jewel of Stygia, holds many secrets. The city, riddled from within by brutality and inhumane rituals to appease the bloodthirsty Gods, is coated in a layer of civilization not stretching far beyond the erected buildings and luxuries this land can offer. Yet it is those residing in the finest abodes, surrounded by rarest of riches that make the gravest mistakes.
The sun burned hot as ever in the Stygian desert, east of Khemi. It felt like the heat was seething holes in the dark-skinned man’s already ragged clothing; his blistered feet shuffled forward through another dune. He was not sure if he still had his sandals, the sand was too hot with or without them. Short black hair fell just over his light green eyes with every step, and he welcomed the blocking of view – he didn’t want to look up to see another endless sea of golden dunes. Warm sweat trickles down his forehead, down his hair, and falls into the sand. He could swear he heard a drop hiss as it evaporated touching his foot. Breathing heavily, the man checked a quiver of bolts covered by a few lairs of cloth on his side – it felt still wet. The only flask of water at his side was to serve a different purpose than quench his thirst.
The man’s name was Bardia. Looking young in age, perhaps 20, he nevertheless had a beard from being unattended for several days. His dark skin and features clearly indicated him a Stygian, somewhat short and well-toned, though not very muscular. He carried a crossbow on his back, a sword on the left, and a dagger on the right side of his belt.
Not a moment passed without him wondering how the wood of the crossbow has not yet set aflame in this heat, how he should perhaps drop the weight – but he needed it yet. Licking his cracked, callous lips he tried to focus on something else besides the hindering weight of his weapons, or the sun’s burning touch. Too tired to recall much besides the shrieks and wails of what happened several nights ago, Bardia knew he was chasing a shadow of his family’s past. Though tampering in the demonic is not the most unnatural condition for a Stygian man, the young man’s great-grandfather left his family to pay for his mistake. The curse was thought to have been destroyed with the death of Bardia’s ancestor. “I can fix this, I will set this straight…” – the young man kept thinking as he dragged himself over yet another dune. It wasn’t valor or self-sacrifice that drove his actions however, for the one responsible for its awakening that night was Bardia himself. Mesmerized by the promise of power and secrets that sorcery held, the young man had snuck off on many nights to break into his family’s vault in secret; studying, learning, reading about the types of demons – how to control them, their powers and weaknesses, until one night he found his great-grandfather’s own diary. Arrogant and young, he thought he would not repeat the mistakes of his ancestor; did not know that great power did not come without consequence. Like his great-grandfather, it was not until too late that the young man realized the purpose of a particular incantation.
The steep incline of another dune sent Bardia tumbling down through the sand, not feeling the burn anymore. More of his clothes crusting off little by little, sand sticking to his body, drenched with sweat, like glue. Finally coming to an abrupt stop the man felt stone against his skin. “This is it,” he thought, raising his hand to press against the stone to raise himself. A small dark cave stood before him, and shuffling inside, the young man took the crossbow from his back, slipping the barely wet rag off of his quiver of bolts. Loading one in, he raised his weapon, taking careful steps inside. “Show yourself!” he yelled, getting only an echo as answer from the cave. Tired and drained though he was, he felt reinvigorated by fear of being mistaken about the weaknesses of the demon he came to kill. Banishing the thought from his mind, he shook the wet hair from his eyes, trying to focus. A step echoed through the small cave, making the young man flinch. Then, a faint sound of water hitting ground, as Bardia’s nerves gave in, and he fired his crossbow hitting nothing but rock. Starting to back up, he reached to load another bolt; the rag dipped in Styx itself, from whence the demon was summoned, wet the tips of the bolts in the river’s water, this weapon being the only means of piercing the demon's thick scaly skin.
Too late to load another bolt, Bardia felt large clawed hands grasp him as he is hurled out of the cave and back onto the hot sand. Fear grasping his heart as he slides back, the young man opened his eyes only to see the black creature coming towards him once again. Jumping back from the brink of death, Bardia felt one of creature’s claws reach his face, leaving a scar on the left side. The demon gave out a deep, dark laugh as the young man struggled to his feet. Shaking his head, he heard the demon say something he couldn’t make out – probably a taunt; but wasting no time, Bardia reached for the flask on his right side – filled with the water from Styx, only to have himself hurled back again. As he fell, the flask broke - the water spilling onto the sand around the Stygian man. His view going dark, as he saw the demon unable to reach him through the protective barrier the water had created. “I can fix this… I can fix this…” – Bardia murmured to himself as he lost consciousness. A caravan of slavers coming across his body rudely waking the young man up with pushes and kicks, the sound of a leash cracking in the background. “I can set this straight...” he thought in a daze, finding himself being loaded onto a slave-ship.