Sharia galloped on the wings of the storm through the empty boulevards of cursed Nazerak. Fine red sand soon covered her. The dromedarian ran blind, his drooping face turned to the side, trusting in Sharia to guide him. The flame princess exulted on the wild ride into the blowing storm. Her hair blew free, trailing long streamers of crimson sand behind her like a slashing wake in a roiling ocean. Her face was covered by a rune embroidered veil of thin silk. Through it she could breathe and see the world with silk-softened edges. The fury of the storm threatened to tear her veil away, but she paid no mind, and drove her steed on, for she was Sharia the Princess Paladin of the Spirit of the Flame, and she was fearless.
She rode through the abandoned city, following the wide expanse of the avenue of White Palms, as it passed through plazas large and small. She held her sword Skarn before her and it cut through the storm-shadows with burning light. The blade was long and curved, since its back edge was made from a bent rib-bone of a black sand shark. Embedded into the rib was a wide blade of glassy obsidian, with a mirror finish and a razor sharp chipped edge. Its pommel was hammered bronze and rubies.
From the blade’s edge, where it cut through the boiling storm of sand and dust, a creature of flame clung, nose to the wind, and its long fiery fur wreathed her blade in living flame. The spirit of the flame loved nothing more than to ride Skarn when Sharia would wield the blade. He was a sinewy creature, about as long as Sharia’s fore-arm, with a fuzzy corona of flame for a coat and a flickering tail as long as his body. He never burned Sharia, only her foes. He could disappear at will, and was known to speak on occasion.
Into the broken city center they passed. Soon the Ziggurat of Zagnazdiak loomed out of the roiling sand-clouds to her right. The avenue of the White Palms continued north to the city’s edge and beyond, but where it passed Zagnasdiak’s tomb was a battlefield sacred to her people. Sharia herself had fought here at the crossroads, leading her Jalalabar chargers against the traitorous Eldar of Albrion, but never had she approached the haunted Ziggurat itself. It was a stepped structure with a square base, composed of stone blocks. Each level was smaller than the one below, and impossibly green gardens grew on the uppermost terraces. Even in the throes of the windstorm, Sharia caught the heavy scent of its blossoms.
Sharia had a mind to give the tomb a closer inspection, and her mount responded by slowing to a walk. Sheathing her blade through a thick loop of braided hair at her waist, the spirit of the flame ran up her arm on four coal-black feet to nestle into her hair, invisible. She dismounted and gave the dromedarian a comforting pat on the rump to let it wander. The wind was shifting to sporadic gusts that told her the storm was playing itself out as quickly as it had begun. The light was changing from the burnt orange of the storm to the lighter crimson of a late afternoon. Above her, rents in the clouds formed through which the indigo sky glowed.
The stepped pyramid stretched upwards, with a stone tiled staircase cutting though all seven levels to the gardened top, whence it was said a doorway lay into the cursed tomb. From there a pathway of winding madness led to the shadow city beneath Nazerak where the dark reflection of her people dwelt, known as the shadow-eladrin. One day she would enter that door and bring battle to those cursed souls, and as she looked up tier upon tier of the pyramid rising over her, she thought the day may have come.
A low wall of crumbling sandstone surrounded the pyramid and Sharia paused at the corroded gateway into the grounds and watched the last eddies and dust devils chase each other across the boulevard. She bent to brush the red sand from her lithe limbs, then to shake the dust from her untamed hair. Her skin was pale ivory under the dust, with a rich patina of sun-stained pink cupping her musculature. Her limbs throve in the fullness of youthful vigor. She was long and curvaceous both, and her tenderest parts were armored in the mirror-burnished shell of the desert ynix, over which a flowing cloak of white and orange was cinched about a waist with a belt of gold coins whose mintage spanned millennia long gone.
Sharia was a warrior princess among a war-like people, and her poise was tall and straight, with a sharp chin up-thrust, and high tapering ears. Her eyes were wide ovals in a heart-shaped face. Her thin red lips curled up at the corners, giving her a look of perpetual amusement which was reflected in her glittering eyes. She had no fears, no worries, and no desires, other than to test her mettle against the challenges of each day anew.
After kneeling to remove a pebble from her sandal, Sharia tucked her veil down under her pointed chin, the better to sense the world around her. She was just rising, when an arrow from behind slashed past her, drawing a line of pain across her shoulder blade, and severing the leather thong that held her shell shoulder piece in place. It was aimed at her left temple, and may have ended her life, had she not started to rise just as the arrow was loosed.
Instead Sharia instinctively leapt forward while drawing her blade. She scrambled around the low wall just as a second arrow followed the first. It shrieked against the stones above her crouching form. She never saw her assailant who struck from behind, but she recognized the ivory arrows of her foe, the Albrion.
The flame princess bared her teeth at the audacity of the attack, and raised her blade to check her surroundings in its reflection. She had just time enough to see the streaking form of the third arrow as it crossed the wide open plaza from a dark doorway. She saw a puff of dust swirling around the door where the archer must be hiding. In that instant, the speeding arrow arced suddenly up and over her wall to plunge fletching deep into the sand between her legs. A rolling wind then passed over her.
“Wind strider!” she growled through grinding teeth, then crawled on hands and knees along the low wall as three more arrows peppered her last position.
There was a pause after the sixth arrow thrummed into the sand when Sharia knew instinctively that her only chance of survival was upon her. Without conscience thought her muscles flexed mightily and she leapt up and over the wall. Her long arms strained together to heave her scimitar up over her head as she leapt, and Skarn blazed like a beacon in the gathering gloom. She came down on one knee, and her heavy blade was moving so swiftly on its downward stroke that it caught the seventh arrow and split the shaft before it could split her skull.
Bouncing up and vaulting forward with her grounded blade, she ran, not for the dark doorway as she first thought, but for a narrow alleyway between two brick walls.
Her assailant was an Abrion Wind Strider as she suspected. The traitorous Eldar were a scourge in ruined Nazerak, and the two factions had been at war since the eve of Nazerak’s destruction. He wielded a bone bow, curved and recurved, and his arrows were slender darts of ivory. His clothing was distinctive, and it was told that through their clothing, the wind striders commanded the power of winds. Seeing him before her, Sharia did not doubt.
The sleeves of his jacket and the legs of his pants ended in bell shaped cuffs, large and rippling with an unknown wind. Faster than Even Sharia’s elvish eyes could follow, the wind strider pulled and loosed. His sleeves seemed to gulp up the desert breeze and then expel a churning gust that carried the arrow in its way. The arrow ripped towards Sharia in a curving arc, and she had to skid to a halt in the hot sand and slam her scimitar into the sand beside her just as the arrow slewed around on its wave of foul wind to shatter against her blade.
Again she was up and running. Ten long strides away from her quarry, her glare matched the fiery blaze of her sword, wrapped in spirit flames. She held the blade close to her cheek and where the flames ended and her hair began was hard to distinguish in that wild flight. Her foe chose to flee rather than face that wrathful aspect of righteous fury.
The eladrin wind strider crouched and leapt lightly upwards, and as he did so his cuffs snapped and exploded into the sand at his feet, creating a huge dust cloud that propelled him upwards to the top of the wall to Sharia’s left. Her velocity carried her into the cloud just after he vacated it, and it was then that another arrow from the edge of the plaza cater-corner sought Sharia as its target. It was the long range and the dust cloud that saved her, its buffeting winds causing Sharia to skitter to the side and narrowly miss scraping her bare shoulder against the cobble wall. Instead of striking her, the arrow struck the wall in front of her at an angle, snapping the slender ivory shaft.
Sharia ran down the alleyway, away from the archers. The plaza was triangulated to their advantage, and she was chagrined to turn from such odds. She came to a wider lane at the end of the short alley, and turned to her right. She ran the length of the plaza down this side lane, and after going far enough, she called to her mount. With luck, the dromedarian would be shielded from the archers by the ziggurat, if there were only two of them. She continued to call for her mount Jubul in the high pitched warbling Jalalabar chargers used to speak with their animals.
Another lane bisected this one and she slowed her pace and rounded the corner. Running down this lane, she caught glimpses the plaza through the ruins. Sharia saw her mount galloping towards a connecting alleyway ahead and she broke into a sprint. Old ruined buildings of cobble stones with gaping black windows and doorways created a narrow passage between them, and down this Sharia turned, and was caught by surprise by being caught in fact by two strong hands.
Wrinkled, long, and bony, the nut brown hands hid a powerful strength. They clapped about her arms just above the elbows, slamming her to a stop instantly and she looked up with a blank open mouthed expression into the face of her leering captor. At the other end of the alley, her mount Jubul was wrestled into submission by two more.