Saara made her way up the cleanly polished stairs of the upper district of Rockwell, the great oasis. The harsh sun beat down on her exposed skin, prompting her to move more quickly. While easy to move about in, the ceremonial outfit she wore offered little protection from the harsh desert sun. Thankfully, the chamber that she was given to change into her ceremonial garb wasn’t far from the source, so she wasn’t likely to get burned.
As she rushed up the last few steps, she glanced over at the aqueducts leading to the lower parts of the city. Typically, they would be filled to the brim with fresh water drawn up from the earth below, but they were currently only filled halfway. She grimaced as she reached the top of the stairs and walked up to the guard standing just under the edge of the large pavilion. He looked at her with a worried expression but gave her a sharp salute anyway.
“Ma’am, we’ve been expecting you. Councilman Sadi is waiting for you inside,” Saara nodded briefly and made to move past him quickly, but he held up a hand to stop her as she hesitantly glanced back over his shoulder and whispered to her, “Mind yourself in there. It seems the council is rather upset that they have had to call you again so soon. I don’t think they’ll do anything rash, but better safe than sorry.”
Saara smiled at the kind man before moving quickly past him, “Thank you. I’ll keep your warning in mind.”
Once under cover of the pavilion, the temperature of the air seemed to drop dramatically. The shade of the large marble structure combined with the massive pool of water that flowed up from the stone below saw to that. Yet, the coolness of the air did nothing to improve Saara’s mood. The simple reason was that the massive pool was already half empty, despite her being here just a month ago.
Standing by the pool was Councilman Sadi, wearing a rather grim expression. He stared into the water as if searching it for some sort of answer until he heard Saara’s footsteps approaching him from behind. Turning around, he looked at her with an annoyed grimace, “Saara, care to explain what’s going on. I understand that there can be some fluctuations in how long the ritual lasts, but a month seems far too short.”
Saara crossed her arm over her chest and gave a quick yet graceful bow. Despite Sadi’s hostility, she understood why he might be upset. In the several hundred year history of Rockwell, the source had never drained this quickly after the drawing ritual. The quickest it had ever been recorded reaching this level after a ritual was 5 months.
“I’m sorry, Councilman, but I don’t have any answers for you. There were no issues with last month’s ritual as far as I could tell.”
“Well clearly something went wrong,” He suddenly shouted at her, “You are aware that the delegation from Crystalis will be visiting our city soon, don’t you? We intentionally timed their visit shortly after the drawing ritual so that they could see the great oasis in its full splendor. Negotiations will suffer if they see this miserable mess.”
As he finished his sentence, he waved a hand toward the half-empty pool. Yet, despite his protests, there was little that Saara could do to soothe his rage. The ritual she had performed just a month ago had drawn the water from the earth deep below as it was intended to. If it had disappeared so quickly, then something must be using it more rapidly than usual. Still, she didn’t think that Sadi would listen to such an explanation given his current mood, so she offered him the only solution she could.
“Councilman, I suggest that we perform the ritual once more. It may be that the water continues to drain just as quickly, but it should last until after the delegation has left.”
“Very well. In the meantime, I will ask the council to investigate the reason for the excess usage of water,” Sadi narrowed his eyes at her as he read between the lines, “Though I am aware of no leaks in the aqueducts.”
Saara let out a heavy sigh. It seemed that no matter what she said, he intended to pin all of the blame on her and the ritual. Still, if he was right and there were no leaks, she wondered what was using the water so quickly.
Shaking her head, she set that problem aside for a moment and stepped closer to the edge of the water, “Please step back while I perform the ritual, Councilman Sadi.”
“Very well,” Sadi stepped back, clearly annoyed at being ordered around by someone, “Try not to mess it up with time.”
Saara ignored his rude comment and closed her eyes, taking a deep breath. A moment later, she began to move. Starting off slowly, she took great care in placing her feet and hands in the correct position as she expanded her senses, searching for the familiar sensations of the great source of water below. Then, as she began to feel it deep in the ground beneath her, she sped up, moving faster and faster.
Her slow, rhythmic steps quickly became a heated dance. Each time her feet hit the stone floor below her, she felt the source below her. Then, with each fluid movement of her hands, she worked to pull part of the source up toward her. She had performed this dance, this ritual, hundreds of times. It was as natural as breathing to her. Saara would dance, and the water would flow. That was what always happened.
Yet, today, something was different. She could sense the source below, but no matter how much she pulled, the water would not flow. For the first time ever, Saara found herself straining, focusing as hard as possible as she continued to reach out to the source below. Faster and faster she danced, her fluid motions from before gained a fierce, sharp quality that they usually lacked.
As the ritual neared its end, she began to put more and more force into each movement, until finally, the last step came. Digging deep, she pulled harder than she ever had before. Deep below, something finally gave, and the ground rumbled. A moment later, a massive pillar of water exploded up out of the pool, spraying the entire area. Saara collapsed to her knees, breathing heavily.
As the pool settled, Councilman Sadi walked over to her, a smug grin on his face, “Well, that was quite the show you put on there, nothing like the ritual you performed before. I guess it really was your lazine-”
Saara reached up and grabbed the man by the collar, pulling his face down close to hers, “Assemble the council immediately. I need to speak to them.”
At first, Sadi only stared back at her incredulously, but she didn’t let her gaze waver. This was too important for her to yield. The strength of her gaze broke through whatever arrogant thoughts he might have been having, “V-very well, I will call them. Meet me in the council chambers in an hour.”
Without another word, he rushed off, seemingly eager to get as far away from Saara as possible. Saara, on the other hand, spent a long while staring at the water, trying her best to convince herself that she had only been imagining things. Yet, no matter how much she wanted to fool herself, she knew that wasn’t the case. Standing up, she rushed off toward the council chambers.
Something needed to be done, or else all the water would be gone. She had felt it deep underground as she had reached out to the source and pulled. Something else had been there and that something else had pulled back.