His very home was pillaged, wrecked, and broken.
Seeing the blood on the walls, he knew they’d slaughtered his family; when he found his wife and children, their bodies cut and busted, and their heads spiked to the wall, he fell on his knees in the shards of pottery, and didn’t feel the cuts.
He went hot and cold, saw red and black, and fell forward.
When the two men who’d stayed behind to watch for him finally entered the remains of his home, he never felt the shackles and blindfold they put on him, before the larger man slung him like an empty sack over his shoulder, and carried him away.
It was dark when he woke up, and took his eyes a moment to adjust until he could finally see a little more than nothing.
The sun was setting, and the cell they put him in was full of lengthening shadows and strengthening wind.
His mouth was dry, and his clothes were too thin for the cold, and the place reeked of waste.
When he tried to sit up, pain smacked his forehead and sent him rolling onto his side, moaning and wincing with the sudden pain.
“So you’re alive.”
The raspy voice, coming from a dark corner of the cell, startled him, and despite his brain pounding against his skull, he scrabbled like a crab to the opposite corner.
The raspy voice gave a raspy laugh.
“Who are you?” the new prisoner said.
“One who was, and is no more, as you will be soon.”
“Where am I?”
“In the land of great pharaohs, and now, you are underneath the ground, soon to be a part of it.”
“Why are you talking nonsense? Is now the time for riddles?”
The face that belonged to the raspy voice slowly emerged and fixed itself in the last ray of sunlight. It was scarred and lumpy, misshapen to the point where it was barely human, and its eyes were filmy with opalescent mucus that glinted in the dying light.
Its smile, even with missing teeth, was feral, and the overall impression was one of insanity.
The new prisoner flinched at the grim visage.
“That’s where you’re wrong, friend. Look around you; time is all we have, and even that is running out.”
“Please, please tell me, what is this place?”
“The land is called Raama, a city in the midst of deserts on one side, and jungles on the other. Its ruler is named Kahi, a woman who believes herself a goddess, and every ten years, she picks a village, slaughters its women and children for their blood as a preserving sacrifice, and imprisons and enslaves its men, burning them in high pyres when they can no longer be of any service, according to her whim.”
“And yet you are here, rotting in this cell along with me, and speaking in riddles.”
Again, the raspy laugh.
“I am her brother. I tried to stop her; when I couldn’t do it with reason, I tried to do it with steel, but her power over men is great, and they captured me. They beat me for hours, tortured me for days, and finally threw me in here, to be forgotten and die.”
The new prisoner took that in, saying nothing at first, but then the sun was gone, and the man’s face still haunted him, though now it was back in darkness, invisible to the eye; he still wasn’t sure the man wouldn’t attack him, and he was afraid, so he said something else to keep her brother talking, so he would know where he was.
“What should I call you?”
“Call me spirit, for soon I will no longer be flesh.”
More riddles; actually, a rephrased repetition of an earlier one; he was better off not talking, but he had to know, since his family was dead.
“This…ritual…of your sister’s, does it work?”
The raspy laugh ended in a coughing fit, then a long silence.
The new prisoner, resigned to his fate, leaned back against the cold stone, and closed his eyes, thinking he would get no answer, when it was finally uttered, out of the utter darkness.
“When you see her, you tell me.”