The cobblestone path began at the gates Damien stepped out of. He drew a shuddering breath and took a long look at the world before him; two halves of something fascinating divided by an entity that was mundane, predictable. He truly despised the path, and everything it represented. Because of the way it seemed to transport the castle from one side of the horizon to the other so that he faced it, Damien felt constantly like he was being watched.
As he stared up at the sky, four more of the fireballs careened out from behind the eclipse. Two streaked to the left, and as they crossed into what Damien figured to be the border between path and land, they seemed to vanish. He craned his neck on hope of a better view, but it was no use. One minute they were flying through the air at an unimaginable speed, the next the fireballs were gone.
Without consciously deciding what he was about to do next, Damien was running away from the tall stone walls and the safety of the castle. If he was to find out what was going on, he had to get as far away as the path would let him.
In no time the castle had shrunk to the size of a speck on the horizon. If he kept moving forward now, it would just appear in front of him again. He kept a wary eye out for stray fire, ready to throw himself through the barriers and into an unknown world. From here, the desert on the left looked almost the same as it always had, although the eclipse meant that more than blinding light could be seen. Damien stopped to appreciate the strong, solid outline of the pyramids. He tried again to see what was carved upon the sides, but everytime he tried to focus on one thing, his attention was attracted to something else.
Dotted haphazardly about the place were trees, although theywere nothing like the tall, towering evergreens from the forest on the right. The leaves on these seemed about ready to fall off, and the trunks were keeling dangerously sideways, as though stricken with a lopsided pain. Still, he could not see anyone walking around.
A shrill, agonising scream filled the air. This was not a shout of anguish or of inconvenience; it came from deep within someone, a call of loss and pain. He laid a hand tentatively against the barrier on the edge of the path, unsure whether to move forward. More screams began to pepper the wind, and made the decision for him. Reaching forward with his boot, he felt a little resistance before crossing through. Suddenly his feet were on sand, and the cobblestones were behind him.
Figures were suddenly running where there had been no-one just seconds before. It was behind them that Damien saw the source of the screams.
Blackened corpses littered the ground around the pyramid, and the smell they gave off made his stomach turn. At least for now, the screaming had stopped. The inhabitants of the desert worked quickly and efficiently to stop the flames from the fireballs spreading by dousing them in sand. He ducked low behind a small rock as a line of natives walked past.
Never before had anyone seen one of this species up close. From his hiding spot, Damien could see the texture of their leathery skin, and their eyes, as pupiless as the legends had fortold. Finally, he caught a glimpse at their feet. Incredibly long and wide, he was unsure how they managed to move so fast, and with such agility.
There was a soft tap on his shoulder, and Damien yelped in both fear and surprise. Standing behind him was a native, who smiled, revealing three sets of razor sharp looking teeth.
"You shouldn't be here, Damien." It said in a low voice that seemed to echo around them.
"How the hell do you know my name?" Briefly, he considered the possibility that they could also read minds. The native smiled wider, amused.
"Everyone knows your name. You should leave, before that old dog Dion comes to get you. We have enough to deal with as it is, thankyou." He turned to walk away.
"Wait! I've got questions. And something tells me Dion won't answer them, so you should." The creature rounded on him with lightning speed.
"What on this earth possesses you to speak to me in that manner? And what is to stop me cutting your throat and offering your bloodless body to the pyramids? No-one has been here for 500 years boy, apart from us, and we're used to things that way."
"Please?" Damien gulped. He knew he was on to something, and he felt that it all started with the eclipse. "I just want to know what happened the last time."
The native raised what Damien imagined to be eyebrows. Maybe he wasn't used to being spoken to.
"I'll tell you what happened - Dion betrayed me, and left our people to fend for ourselves after he convinced the Queen at the time to cast us out from the castle. I remember it perfectly..."
The creature introduced itself as Ezra, the elder of the Klixmoor tribe. Damien watched as his face went from angry to reminiscient, and finally to hurt.
Ezra said that there had once been a time where the path didn't exist. Everyone lived within the confines of the castle and its courtyards; all other land was split for farming, mainly. Dion was advisor to the Queen, a role he had to share.
"He hated working with me. Constantly trying to find ways to undermine me in front of Her. Over time, She fell for his charms, and his constant berating of my character. My role became less and less important, until eventually my opinion on important matters meant nothing to Her at all."
Although he could never prove anything, Ezra was sure that Dion was up to no good. He enlisted the help of a friend, Eleazar, but by the time they found out what was being planned, it was too late.
"The eclipse comes around every 500 years. For one hour, the sun is totally covered over by the moon, and with it comes meteors. Last time, he used these to destroy all of the crops in the fields outside of the castle. Everything was burned to the ground, including a few people's houses. Those working in the fields at the time were killed.
"He blamed it all on me, and told the Queen that I was trying to overthrow her. Of course, being brainwashed, She believed him. Eleazar rounded a few of his friends, and I a few of mine to try and contest her rulings, but she was adamant, and in a unforgiving mood that day. We were all cast out."
Using the Royal staff and the Royal gauntlets, the Queen created the path, to keep each set of revolters seperate from one another, but also seperate from the castle. As punishment, Ezra was subject to intense light and heat, and Eleazar to almost constant night and rain.
"Since then, my people and I have been stuck here, waiting for someone like you to turn up. We've been changed by our environment, and I would relish the opportunity to let Dion see for himself what he has done. But we cannot leave until the gauntlets are reunited; the Queen buried one in each demesne, and the only person that can cross between barriers is a Royal." Damien's eyes widened.
"You mean me?"