Friday, June 14, 2024

Dervish Sanders & The Ghost of Ibn Al-Hasan

The Al-Qarawiyyin Library stood in the heart of Fes, its walls adorned with intricate mosaics and shelves groaning under the weight of centuries-old manuscripts. It was a place where the air smelled of aged parchment and the promise of hidden knowledge.

Dervish Sanders and Ayla were very familiar with the place, having spent many hours in the library pouring over dusty old tomes, searching for information about the fabled Sun Palace. But, after several months of research, Dervish was beginning to think there was nothing here to find. Or, that, if there was, they would never locate it.

"The library administrator, Fihriya al-Qurashiyya said we should speak with the head librarian, Zahra" Ayla remarked. "You got an appointment?" Dervish asked. He had been trying to get one for awhile now, but the administrator always seemed to be busy. "Yes, I saw her this morning, while you were on your daily run. Her office is this way" Ayla informed Dervish, pointing.

In a far corner deep in the library they found an unmarked red door. "This is it" Ayla said. Dervish knocked. After waiting awhile, the door finally creaked open. An elderly woman in her 70s, possibly 80s answered. "Ahh" she remarked, her eyes lighting up. "You must be Dervish Sanders. The administrator said I might be getting a visit from you".

Zahra opened the door and ushered them into her small office/apartment. "I hear you are seeking information regarding the usturi Sun Palace" she said, smiling. "Do you know anything about it?" Ayla inquired. "Possibly, young lass" Zahra replied cryptically. "There may be a tome that has some useful information about it. If I remember correctly. Though it has been over a decade at least since I saw this tome. It is deep within the library, in a section not open to the public".

"I was just translating these documents" Zahra said, pointing to a desk with some scrolls laid out on it. "My vision isn't as good as it used to be" she sighed. "Can you show us where we can find this tome?" Dervish asked after several seconds of silence. "Oh, I think I might be able to" Zahira remarked. "Even though, as you can see, I am very busy. But for the famed adventurer Dervish Sanders I can make some time".

"Can you hand me my walking stick?" Zahra indicated a cane proped up in a corner of the small room. Ayla retrieved the cane and handed it to the librarian. "Thank you, dear" Zahra replied, taking the cane. The trio departed the aparment, Zahra slowly leading the way. "I saw it in the basement, I think. Like I said, it must have been 20 years ago. The Sun Palace is just fairy story, though. I don't know of any evidence suggesting it actually exists".

The elderly librarian led them through dimly lit corridors and down a flight of stone steps. Further and further they descended. "The library holds more than books", Zahra said, her voice a gentle murmur. "It harbors secrets -- some buried intentionally, others lost to time". As they wandered deeper, Dervish noticed a flicker of movement -- a shadow slipping behind a bookcase. Ayla drew her jambiya, her instincts sharp. "Did you see that?" she whispered.

"Beware the Whispering Stacks", Zahra cautioned. "They tempt those who seek answers. Follow". They pushed aside a heavy tapestry, revealing a hidden alcove. The shelves here were different -- older, dustier. Zahra pointed to a gap between two leather-bound volumes. "Press there", she instructed.

Dervish hesitated, then pushed the books together. The wall shifted, revealing a narrow passage. They stepped into darkness, torches flaring to life along the stone walls. The air grew colder, and echoes of forgotten scholars seemed to murmur in their ears. In the heart of the hidden passages, they encountered a figure -- a translucent silhouette dressed in scholarly robes. The ghostly man turned toward them, his eyes hollow yet filled with longing.

"I am Ibn Al-Hasan", he said, his voice echoing. "Once a librarian here, now bound to these halls. Seek the ancient scroll that bears the map to the lost city of Zephyria. It will guide you to the Well of Eternity". "Zephyria?” Ayla asked, confused. "We are searching for clues to the location of the Sun Palace. Not this Well".

"oh" Ibn Al-Hasan replied, "I just assumed. I figured that, some day, someone would come looking for information concerning the Well of Eternity. But..." he trailed off. Apparently he was deep in thought. "Yes, I think I know of a document nearby that contains information about the location of the Sun Palace".

The ghostly figure of Ibn Al-Hasan drifted away. "Follow me" he intoned. They followed Ibn Al-Hasan's guidance, passing through chambers filled with star charts and cryptic diagrams. Finally, in a forgotten alcove, they found the scroll -- a delicate parchment adorned with constellations. Its ink shimmered like stardust.

As Dervish unrolled it, a map emerged -- a celestial path leading beyond the known realms. The stars aligned, revealing a hidden gate in the heart of the desert. "Take this scroll", Ibn Al-Hasan whispered. "Zephyria awaits. But beware -- the Well is guarded by the shaytan Akuma".

"I don't think we want to deal with a Demon" Dervish replied. "AHHHH!" Ibn Al-Hasan cried in frustration. "Then leave the scroll here. It is library property". "What about the Sun Palace!" Dervish shouted as Ibn Al-Hasan began to drift away, dematerializing. But he faded away entirely and was gone.

"Don't worry, dear" Zahra counseled. "The tome with the information about the Sun Palace is here". The elderly librarian pointed to a medium sized tome on a nearby shelf. "Oh. ok. Thank you". Dervish located the book in question. "The secrets of the Sun Palace" he said, translating the title on the cover. "This looks like it might contain the information we have been searching for all these months".

"Wait!" Zahra yelped. "Do not touch. Use these". She handed Dervish a pair of sheepskin gloves. "I don't want your oils to be transfered to the parchment" she explained. Dervish donned the gloves before handling the ancient tome. "Carry that back for me and I will make you a copy. I can't let you have the original. It is library property".

Zahra turned to leave. Suddenly Ibn Al-Hasan rematerialized right in front of the elderly librarian. So close that their forms overlapped. "YEEEAHHH!" The librarian screamed in shock and terror. Her grey hair turned white, then fell out. Her wrinkled skin wrinked more. She rapidly aged in front of their eyes by at least 30 years. Then she dropped to the floor, a bag of bones.

"You killed her!" Ayla cried, drawing her jambiya. "Oh, no" Ibn sobbed. "I didn't mean to do that". "Well, she is definitely dead" Dervish remarked. Ayla rushed to Zahra, cradling her body. "I hear an extremely faint heartbeat" she said after placing her head to the apparent corpse's chest. "What can we do?" Dervish lamented. It surely looked hopeless. There was little more left than a dried out husk of what used to be a person.

"I can fix this" Ibn claimed. Dervish and Ayla doubted what the ghost said very much, but Ibn insisted. "There is a small wooden box on the shelf over there" Ibn indicated. "Hidden behind a copy of the Nefzawi". Dervish lept to his feet, found the box and opened it. Inside he found two vials. "That is my personal property. From the time that I lived" Ibn explained. "One of the vials is a healing elixir". "Which one?" Dervish asked. "I do not remember" Ibn admitted. "Give both. The other has some regenerative powers as well. Well, the street vendor that sold them to me claimed that".

Dervish extremely doubted these alleged elixirs would do any good. But they surely could do no further harm. So he uncorked both, parted Zahra's leatherly lips and poured them into her mouth. Nothing happened. "I can't say I'm surprised" Dervish remarked. They'd have to let Fihriya al-Qurashiyya know what happened. Maybe they'd be banned from the library? For allowing the head librarian to be killed while on a task for their benefit. Dervish was quite worried. Also sad that this poor woman had met such a fate.

"Wait!" Ayla said suddenly. "She lives!". Zahra's eyes, deeply sunken in her skull, opened. Then, remarkably she began to age backward. In a matter of minutes she was 70 again. "Help me to my feet" the old librarian croaked. She stood, leaning on her cane. "That scared the shit out of me!" Zahra moaned. To Dervish and Ayla's amazement Zahra continued to de-age. Now she appeared to be in her 40s. "oh, my!" she exclaimed. "When will it stop?".

"I remember now! There was an elixir of life and the other was an elixir of youth. I wish I had taken them before I passed" Ibn lamented. Indeed, youth was what was bestowed, as now it was obvious that Zahra, a gray haired granny with a stooped posture in her 70s when they met earlier, was now a vibrant young woman in her 20s. Her hair grew back in. It was a luserious shimmering blue-black. Her skin a rich olive brown hue. She surely was a beauty.

SWTD #424, DSA #8.

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