“Can you hear that?” Asked the merchant. “Horns?”
The minstrel tilted her head, and faced an ear toward the island. “Hmm, not any horn I’ve heard.”
The knight stepped back, and looked about. “City’s music is strange.” He shook his head before adding, “He is still there. Shall we go see what he wants?”
The ambassador stool on a pillar, half a man above the sand ringing the city walls. The tower bathed him in a orange light. As they crossed through the shallows, the sounds stopped. The knight, having seen the ground swallow the Sun-Stained, hesitated, and waited for the merchant to test the way. As they neared the ambassador, the merchant stepped into the light of the tower, and felt the pocket of warmth it created. Within steps of the pillar, it receded down, and faded under rising sand. The three found themselves steps from the walls, face to face with a citizen of the island city. He was the most peculiar man the merchant had ever seen at that point, and he considered himself well traveled.
“Welcome! Do you seek asylum?”
“Good gods! Your teeth! What happened to you?” The merchant leaned forward, staring.
The ambassador laughed with the bass of a lion, then opened his jaw wide to give the three a good look. His teeth and gums were solid gold, and his throat and tongue were comprised of a net of golden scales.
“I have been gifted skills of speech. I am a Golden Throat, an agent of the fine city behind me. I speak for the council, and the tower’s host may speak through me.” He shifted his posture back, and held a disarming smile.
“Shall we retire within? Follow me, if interested.”
Golden Throat started walking back towards the walls. A pathway before his feet sunk down, and whirs sounded from sand sucking pipes lining the depression. He stepped down, and walked into a lit tunnel under the walls.
“Wait!” The merchant shouted down. “If we go in, can we leave freely?” The night fell silent.
A voice, light, feminine and warm, came up the dim stairs, “You man come, and then you may go, but not return.”
The merchant looked to his bandaged arm, and then back to his traveling companions. “Is there anything else you two need to resolve out here? No? Well, time to say goodbye to our old lives, we’re about to step into a wild old world.” With the panache of a chorus leader, the merchant tightened his belt, and marched down the stairs. Further down, he called back, “All safe, I see lights.”
The minstrel started after him, hiking up her draping pants.
“Stop” Said the comet knight. The minstrel faced him, confused.”Why do you want to go in?” He asked her.
“Are you scared?” Disbelief in her tone.
“Just cautious.” The knight looked up to the layered tower.
“Don’t they tell you of the city, where you are from?”
“It’s different from what they said.”
“How so?” She took a step up.
“I never saw anybody on the walls… and, uh, the music is… off-putting.” The knight fell on a knee.
“What music?” The minstrel reached out for him.
“And the Sun-Stained were swallowed…” He was on his side, propping himself up with his elbow.
“Don’t go.” She said while reaching her fingers through his visor to brush his face. The minstrel turned down to the tunnel and sang out. “He’s cold. Help!”
Golden Throat stepped out of the dark tunnel, and grabbed her hand. He held her by the waist and led her down into the depression. They stayed to watch a magnificent flyer, with enclosed wings, colored pearl white with golden trims. The sand below it was not disturbed, nor did it make more sound than a shush. It’s belly opened as it neared the ground.
Golden throat said to her, “We call them the blessed beetles.” Its shells landed around the knight, and they wrapped him inside its center. The flyer raised him up, and flew into the city.
“Let us go see to his health, yes?”
The minstrel took his hand, and descended. In the middle of the tunnel, under the walls, the merchant was waiting. “What happened to sir biggie?”