He watched his mother die in his father's arms within the dark walls of their small wooden shelter . She was picking berries right next to the outer gate, but the gates were no longer as safe as they used to be. No one was quite sure who they were, or where they had came from. Some guessed they were looking for adventure or the legendary treasure the city guarded. Others thought perhaps they were simply young warriors seeking the glory of razing the impenetrable city. Still others sought refuge at the grand temples, believing the invaders to be a punishment from the gods.
None of that mattered to Nippur. All he knew was that they had killed his mother when she had done nothing to hurt them.
His father, Kish, held the woman he loved as dark red blood poured down her pale face. It began pooling on the floor. Her unwavering gaze mocked the shortness of her breath. She whispered something to his father that Nippur couldn’t quite make out.
She glanced at him, then her eyes darted back to Kish.
“For Him” she murmured. Her final words.
Fear. Confusion. Anger. Pain. The young boy was bombarded by an onslaught of emotions that paralleled the battle raging outside.
The grand city fortress of Aratta had been both a symbol of its people’s strength and a center for worship. Its fame brought pilgrims from all over the world who worked together in protecting the great secret of the caves beyond the city walls. For years however, Aratta had been under siege by mysterious foes. The city was running low on warriors, the walls were running low on stones, and the people were running low on food.
Kish lowered his love to the floor and embraced his son. “It will be alright Nip, we’ll find a way. We always have” he said, though this time he knew he was lying.
The smell of smoke and sound of distant screams filled the musty wooden room. Someone began pounding on the door.
“KISH! It is time brother! We have to act now,open the damn door!” It was Ashur, the general who had led the city’s defense since his father's death a year before. He was also Nippur’s Uncle.
Ashur let himself in, the 2 long scars across his face brought order to his long shaggy black hair. Another man entered behind him, his face hidden beneath a torn grey hood.
“I...I’m sorry, Kish.” Ashur said as he saw his sister’s body strewn across the floor. He had brought her back when the skirmish at the outer gate subsided, but not soon enough.
“We have no time for mourning, we must act now” the old hooded figure said. He looked around the room then locked his gaze on the father and son. “They are coming for our cities great secret, and the walls have nearly fallen. You have read the prophecy, have you not?”
Nippur was speechless, still in disbelief of his mother's death.
“Yes. We have old one. The virtuous savior will emerge from the caves to redeem the city. Is he here? Has he come to our rescue?” Kish asked.
“No, but he can be. The gods have brought me to this house. It is you who must save the city.”
Nippur looked up at his father, his face marked by the wrinkles of his age but his eyes showed his fiery passion. Whether it was for revenge or justice, he wasn’t quite sure.
“I can’t believe you’re right, but if the gods say so then we must at least try” Kish said.
“The three of you will go past the temple chambers to the back mountain gate, there you will take the staircase of the frozen path to the grand cave of our ancestors. There you will find the key to our cities redemption” the old man said. He coughed “I am far too old to help you, it seems I must pass with the city. Go now, and may the gods watch over you”
“b..but what’s in cave?” Nippur squeaked.
“There is no time for that young one, you must leave now!” yelled the old man. The screams of battle and the smell of death grew closer.
The mountain grew colder with each step up the frozen path. Kish looked uneasily at his son who began shivering the higher they went. Cold streams of water fell around the winding stairs and moss covered rocks complementing towers of ice. The balance of vegetation and ice brought about an unsettling dread that quieted the three travelers.
Their legs grew sore as they reached the final steps to the grand cave. Its tremendous entrance opening to a deep intimidating void. Ashur ran forward to the entrance, and nodded at Kish before racing into the cave.
Kish looked down at his son. “Think you’re ready nip?” he asked.
“I..I guess father” the boy stammered.
“Alright then” Kish muttered as he reached into his pack to grab his torch and flint. When it was lit, he smiled at his son and the two walked cautiously into the cave.
The cave was void of light, except for a single orb which glowed from deep within. Kish called out for Ashur, his echo penetrating deep into the cave’s depths. There was no answer.
The two walked for what seemed like miles to the orb, finally coming within a few feet of it. It was blue, and seemed as bright as the sun. It sat upon a pedestal, and the two were forced to look at the ground rather than its rays of light.
Nippur pointed to an inscription on the ground. Kish read it aloud
LET HE WHO IS OF VIRTUE REIGN IMMORTAL
Kish took his son’s hand, and the two walked together toward the orb. Kish reached out and grabbed it with his free hand. Suddenly the orbs light died, and only the soft glow of Kish’s torch filled the cave.
A thunderous roar filled the cave. Rocks fell all around them. The orb began to hum softly, and its light began to flash, sending both father and son backwards staggering.
Kish yelled to his son “Head back to the entrance, we need to bring this ba-”
He was interrupted by a spear piercing his heart. Blood gushed out of his mouth as he dropped the orb. Its flashing stopping as it bounced off the floor. He tried calling for his son, but couldn’t form the words.
Ashur ripped the spear out of him as he fell to the floor. The roar of the collapsing cave still filled the vast chamber.
“WHY?!?” Nippur cried out.
“For the sake of the city boy! I have to bring its salvation!”
He reached for the orb, but Nippur beat him to it. The boy stepped back, and the orb turned bright blue again. Nippur began turning a bright blue color himself. He look down in shock as his body changed.
Ashur didn’t waste a moment, and drove his spear through the young boy. The spear tip covered in the blood of two generations. The orb fell to the ground again, and Ashur went to pick it up, releasing his grip on the spear. The orb was soft to the touch, so much so that he could not pick it up. He struggled to wrap his clothes around it so as to bring it back and claim the honor of saving the city.
His spear crashed to the ground in front of him. The boy stood, only feet away. Entirely unharmed. He reached down and unsheathed the sword carried by his father’s corpse.
“impossible” Ashur muttered.
The boy ran at him, and he picked up his spear just in time to block a fatal blow. The two battled in the collapsing cave. Swinging and stabbing, parrying each other's blows. The esteemed veteran fighting with an unquenchable thirst for power and glory. The immortal boy craving revenge for his family.
The two clashed on and on, and Ashur was able to land several blows, each of which healed immediately. Eventually, he grew tired and missed the boys swing, knocking the spear out his hand.
Fire filled the city. Thousands screamed as the city was set ablaze. The old hooded man looked out from the top of the temple, seeing nothing but smoke and death. The temple had a window which faced the frozen path. He turned from the city and looked back at the cave longingly. He knew there would be treachery in their journey, even the prophecy said there would be. He just hoped that somehow, the gods would choose to spare the city and bring the boy back.
It grew darker and quieter. As the old man saw the cave collapse, the last of his hopes collapsed with it. His eyes followed the rocks tumbling down the frozen slopes. A tremendous sorrow filled his heart as he felt the sting of cold steel against his neck.
And then, darkness.