The Wellspring was a truly beautiful place. When Tappa descended in easy spirals, Sia tried to take in as much of the beauty as possible. It all seemed familiar somehow – the shimmering reflection of the sun in the long lake, the amber trees with huge roosts inside their crowns, and the sweet scent that covered the whole place.
Sia climbed down a wooden ladder and sighed when her feet touched the hot sand. For days, she had wanted nothing more but to arrive at this place, hoping that it would bring along answers to all the questions she had in her head.
Now there were more questions than answers, but she was still glad to be here. Home.
All of them followed a footpath, led by Erimon in his long red cloak. They passed tents and canopies, other Dousan bowing towards the Sandmaster, some of them even waving at Sia. She returned the greetings sheepishly, not knowing how she should act since she didn't remember those people and her relationship to them. There was probably a lot that Erimon still had to tell and show her through Dreamfast, if he wanted to help her that much. The last thing Sia wanted to be was a burden to him, but at the same time, she felt lost in all this familiarity.
The dark and scary storm wall lingered behind the Wellspring, and even though Erimon had told them that the storm wouldn't get here, Sia still had doubts. But right now, there was nothing she could do, so she followed Erimon and the other travelers to wherever he was leading them.
Amri asked if the Dousan had already lit their fire, and Sia immediately felt the might of what she had been allowed to witness back in Cera Na. While Erimon didn't understand the question at first, she did. And she wanted to see the Dousan fire to be lit so badly, just because it would mean to feel the power of solidarity again.
"An ancient sage brought us these traditions", Erimon told them, "when the Dousan first found the Wellspring. He taught us to meditate, to guard the rituals of the earth and the song of Thra. It is our way to guard those rituals as well, in his absence. In the tranquility of that meditation, if Thra wishes to speak to us, it will. It is all we can do, to surrender to that wisdom."
So Erimon wanted to light the fire by meditating? Sia wasn't sure if this was how it worked, but she hadn't been close enough when the Sifa had lit their fire either. Maybe each clan had their own way to light it, and this was how the Dousan did it?
She wanted to ask the Sandmaster if she was allowed to take part in the rituals, but in the moment she opened her mouth to speak, Erimon pointed towards an empty tent next to them.
"Now! Night falls soon, and the desert is more dangerous then. In the morning, meet me at Tappa. I will take you across the sands again so you may continue your journey, knowing the Dousan are with you in spirit. In the meantime, use this tent, and the Wellspring itself, as your own. I must go and meet with the Xerics, to prepare for Maudra Seethi's arrival." He bowed to the other travelers as they entered the tent, but then he turned to Sia. "But I want to talk to you first."
They strolled along the path for some time longer without speaking a word, but then Erimon stood still and placed his hand on her shoulder.
"I am glad that you're back home, even though you've chosen dangerous times for your return. There are some really important matters that I have to attend tonight, but I want to talk to you in private as soon as possible. Maybe we can find out something more about what happened to you after you left, and what can be done about this spreading sickness."
"You… you have to prepare the meditation ritual, right?"
Erimon nodded. "Exactly. Maudra Seethi will be the one to lead it, but things need to be settled before that, and that's the duty of us Sandmasters."
Sia swallowed, hesitating with her next question. "Is is possible for me to attend the ritual too?"
Eyes widening with surprise, Erimon tightened the grasp on Sia's shoulder. "Of course it is! You're one of us. You have the same right to meditate as any other Dousan."
That was exactly what Sia needed to hear, and she answered Erimon with a thankful grin. The Sandmaster soon disappeared to greet the other xeric leaders as they arrived one after one, and Sia felt a bit lost.
Sure, she was home again, but what was home if there were no memories left? On top of that, the atmosphere seemed to be tense, and the storm wall came closer with every passing hour. Erimon had said that the storm wouldn't get into the valley of the Wellspring, and Sia really wanted to trust the handsome Dousan, but it looked too dangerous to just pass away.
While waiting for the evening to come, Sia busied herself with strolling around the Wellspring. Most of the small tents were taken by Dousan to rest and sleep, but there were also some bigger ones for common use.
In one of them, she spent most of her time, because there were some musicians playing on instruments made out of bone. One had a bone flute that was as large as her arm, and the other played on a drum that was covered with painted leather. There were no vocals, but the instruments sounded fascinating enough and the rhythm was almost like a trance.
During the day, there always were some Dousan who greeted her with a silent boy or the clasp of hands, but to Sia's surprise, no one was talking. Was that part of preparing the ritual? And when exactly would it begin?
She had hoped that such memories would return as soon as she experienced them again, though there was nothing but silence inside of her. Once the musicians laid down their instruments, Sia searched for some water and food and was glad that a sturdy Dousan offered her some without asking for payment.
Like the others, she took the offer with a deep bow and sat down at the lake to eat. The fruit was almost too sweet for her taste, but mixed with the water, it was quite tasty. Yet the sandstorm grew stronger and she had problems keeping the sand off her meal, and she threw another worried look into the still darkening sky.
More and more Dousan were gathering around the lake, sitting down with their legs crossed, and no one was talking. The ritual seemed as if it was about to begin, and somewhere in the distance, she could see several Dousan wearing red capes and Erimon among them.
There was a rhythm again, deep and vibrant, and she felt it more through the roots she sat on than she could hear it. Several drummers had taken seat around the water, so their sound would reach every single Dousan.
To her right, Sia could see that a bone cup was going around and everyone was taking a sip. It soon arrived at her place, and she followed the example of the others. The liquid was slabby and bitter, and it instantly blurred her mind.
She quickly passed on the cup before the dizziness would cause her to drop it. Everything turned around her and Sia closed her eyes. The drumming got more intense, and she felt her heartbeat adjust to its rhythm.
With her eyes closed, it was a wonderful feeling, because she didn't see the world turn around her anymore but could focus entirely on the message of the drums. Even the thunder was pushed to the deepest corners of her mind and she gave in to the sensation.
It was kind of similar to the Dreamfast she had shared with Erimon on Tappa's back, just that this wasn't only between two Gelfling. She felt connected to all Dousan sitting around the lake, and without opening her eyes, she could see a silver strand that connected her body with all the others. Those silver filaments covered all the roots, caused them to glow even deep down the lake. She didn't know if it would look like that with one's eyes open, but Sia didn't feel the need to see anyway.
This was absolutely beautiful, and suddenly her heart wasn't empty anymore. It was filled with the feelings and thoughts of so many other Dousan, and she could hear dozens of voices even though she understood not a single one of them.
The drum sound disappeared, but the rhythm continued to sound inside of her. Sia felt a prickle on her skin, like the rough touch of sand, and somewhere hidden deep in her mind, there was pain and worry. But those feelings wouldn't break through as Sia was focused too much on the shared wonders that happened through the meditation.
Deep down, there was a foreign sound of music, different from the Dousan instruments, but Sia had heard it before. It was like the firca that the Spriton songteller used, and its song was full of life and hope.
Suddenly, the sound of a horn broke the silence and tore Sia out of her meditation. The sandstorm was raging through the Wellspring and there was not one tent still standing. If Sia could see anything through the sand, it was destruction and chaos, and fear filled her heart.
What was going on? How could none of them have realized the actual danger of the storm?!
Squinching her eyes almost shut to protect them from the sand, Sia tried to find the source of the sound. It was Erimon, holding a huge horn into the wind, and he didn't wear his red cape anymore. Instead there were scratches caused by the sharp sand, and just so faintly, she could hear him call.
"To the cloisters!"
One after one, the Gelfling around her awoke from the meditation, some shaking their heads in confusion and others screaming out in surprise of the storm. They arose, pulling up others with them, and a shaking hand was grabbing Sia's shoulder too.
"Where are we going?" She tried to scream as the Dousan led her through the sand, but the storm swallowed her voice completely. Sia tried to cover her face with one hand, but the sand was raging too much. The fabric of her dress had sheltered her from the force without taking too much damage, but uncovered parts of her skin were already covered in cuts and scratches.
There was no way she could see a path or aim, and luckily the other Dousan seemed to know the way. In an instant, the wind and noise stopped as they entered a cave, and Sia leant against the cold stone wall, breathing heavily and rubbing her hurting eyes.
It took a moment for her to see that there were already many other Gelfling inside this cave, holding hands and bowing their heads towards the ground. She saw Kylan playing his firca, and the voice of his flute mixed with the deep humming of the Dousan.
Sia didn't need to ask to understand, as she quickly grabbed the hand of the Dousan standing next to her and following their example. She closed her eyes and bowed her head towards the ground, and the connection returned immediately.
Her voice mixed with the hum of the others, and it became a powerful chant, even though she didn't know what its purpose was yet. The silver lines returned, but this time, they changed into pink and gold and pulsated stronger with each voice that joined them.
The storm lost its power, and this time it was not just Sia's mind suppressing the sound. This time, it was real, and she felt another power grow stronger and rise with the sound of the Dousan voice.
A sudden heat fell upon Sia's face and she couldn't help but open her eyes. As she did, a loud gasp escaped her mouth as her eyes fell upon an ethereal fire burning with the colors of a rainbow. It was similar to the fire she had seen in Cera Na, only that this time, she was part of it and close enough to feel its warmth.
Etchings appeared on the walls, showing a huge tree and Dousan meditating around it. Sia even thought to recognize Erimon and Periss under them, and also Kylan playing his firca. She had never seen something that beautiful before in her life.
Through the flames, other faces became visible. Other clans, more Gelfling staring into the flames of resistance. But those images disappeared within the blink of an eye, leaving only warmth in all their hearts and the certainty that they were not alone.
The song ended and the flame died, but the feelings stayed. Sia watched as the Dousan around her rose up again, examining each other with surprise and wonder. Then she heard voices from outside the cave, shouts of disbelief and joy.
She quickly ran out of the cave to see what was going on and almost stumbled through the sand as she caught sight of a huge tree that had appeared in the middle of the lake. Where had only been azure water before, now rose a winding tree high into the sky, and the storm clouds had disappeared completely. The sky was burning now, not with storms, but with the rising sun promising a completely new day. A new beginning.
The sight of this tree made her forget about the destruction for a moment. She didn't care about the torn skin and broken bones lying all around the Wellspring where once had been tents, and instead clasped other Dousan in her arms who were as relieved as her without the need to fully understand what had just happened.
A deep moan ascended through the ground, and Sia could hear the sound of dozens of Skimmers answering in return. One after one, the huge but gentle animals dove through the surface of the sand after hiding from the storm deep underground.
Multiple hands pointed towards the sky, and Sia could see another Skimmer approaching fast. It looked wrecked, its saddle completely destroyed and its leather skin covered in painful looking wounds.
The Skimmer almost crashed into the sand with no strength left to land properly, and Sia followed the example of others and grabbed buckets and other vessels that hadn't been destroyed to collect water for the Skimmer and its crew.
"Sandmaster Rek'yr! What happened! Where's Maudra Seethi?" She heard Erimon's voice as she offered a completely dried out Dousan some water.
"We were caught by the storm wall. We backed off to the south, hoping it would break, but it never did. While we waited along the southern end, a windsifter came."
"From Ha'rar?" Naia asked now, who came near with Amri's arms around her shoulders.
"Yes. Tragedy has struck. Maudra Seethi has left us to head its call."
Sia could see the Sandmaster hand over a scroll to Erimon, and the Dousan's eyes opened wide as he read the words written on it. Whatever it was, it couldn't be something good, and Rek'yr's next words proved her worst worries.
"The Maudra have been summoned to Ha'rar by Princess Seladon. All-Maudra Mayrin is dead."