Arrival at Maalek

“Here we are,” their guide announced, “the legendary city of Maalek,”

Serene rolled her eyes. The sprawling ruins in front of her did not look anything like the ballads that Kieraj had been singing about for the past week. They seemed old, realistic, and, well normal. Nothing like the soaring towers and gilded halls that were in the songs.

As if hearing her thoughts, Kieraj urged his horse forward towards the cliff edge. Maalek had been nestled on top of a hill before the gods had smite the land on which it stood. Thousands had died when the earth had caved inwards on itself, taking with it an entire city and population to a muddy  and earthy grave.

“That’s….Maalek?” he asked, peering into the forest covered depths, “where are the towers?”

“Under the earth,” the guide said, shifting awkwardly. Clearly even the coin they had paid him to get their party safety to Maalek had not removed his nerves.

Well, anyone with two braincells would be nervous around us, Serene thought. They were an odd, dangerous, and desperate group. Anyone should really avoid them.

“It’s…not as big as I expected.”

“That’s just your experience of the last town,” Lucio grumbeled, “as long as it has gold, who cares how big it is?”

“Now whose talking of their previous town experiences,” Kieraj shot back, a small smile playing across his lips. Lucio’s glare darkened further. Who knew that three months travelling as a group would result in their hired soldier warming to the wayward singer? Serene wouldn’t have never had expected it.

Serene urged her horse forward to join Kieraj at the edge of the cliff.

“You think it’s in there?” Serene whispered quietly. The others might think there was gold, but Serene and Kieraj knew the real treasures that lay within this buried and entombed city. Treasures Serene so desperately needed, if she was going to avoid death, or worse, jail.

Kieraj stared down at the ruined city, not making eye contact with Serene. For his wayward and rough appearance, the singer was surprisingly shrewd and as carefully guarded about parts of his past as they all were.

“I bloody hope so,” he muttered. Serene wasn’t sure if his words were meant for her, or just for Kieraj’s benefit.

It was as much as she was going to get from the singer today. Perhaps tomorrow, once they had made some progress, he might enlighten her about the location of the true treasures. “So,” Serene said, turning in her saddle to their guide, “how do we get in?”

Featured image credit: Ashish R. Mishra on Unsplash

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