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I write this late at night, having been woken by a frankly alarming
turn of events.
When we made camp this evening, one of Gilles’ men found a curious
onyx bauble in the sand. It was marked with Naptaan hieroglyphs, so
they brought it to me for study. I deciphered some parts — most intriguingly
the infamous name Setesh, and a strange mention of “winged
guardians”. Finding Grunstein in a rare moment of lucidity (the way
the qat juice blackens his lips is repulsive!), I got him to confirm my
findings before tiredness got the better of me, and I fell asleep with
the thing in my hand.
In my sleep, angelic figures visited my dreams. They reached out to
me, gently — but as their fingers brushed my face they became talons
of sharp bone. The flesh shrivelled from their faces, showing snarling,
inhuman skulls, and I sat bolt upright, tearing myself from sleep.
To my dismay, the precious artefact was gone. Bursting out of my tent,
I saw the thief had not got far. It was one of Gunther’s porters, the thin
boy with the weasel eyes – he was still clutching his pilfered prize as
he ran. Woken by my shout of alarm, Gilles went to intercept him with
a dagger in his hand.
I still do not trust my senses as to what happened next, but I will record
what I saw all the same. It seemed that something huge dropped
suddenly from the sky, its wings hiding the moon for a brief instant. It
landed heavily, blocking the boy’s path, towering over him.
It appeared only in silhouette, but in the moonlight that filtered through
its ragged wings I thought I caught the gleam of bone. With a sweep of
its blade it severed the heads of both Gilles and the boy, then stooped
down to recover the stolen treasure. With a single beat of its wings, it
disappeared into the night sky, leaving nothing in its wake but dancing
motes of sand.
The camp is now in a state of ferment. Abdullah and his guides have
struck their tents, saying they will leave at dawn — they say I am
cursed. Half of Gilles’ guards are leaving with them. The remainder
I have persuaded to press on — whatever the thing was that struck in
the night, we have come too far to turn back now.
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