Fresh sunlight pierced through the darkness as the sun climbed up through the sky. Leftover dust storms from the previous night vanished in the early morning haze. Temperatures quickly began to rise, baking the sandy dunes of the desert.
Among the plains of sand rose a city, shimmering in the heat. Erected in a perfect circle around it were solid masses of stone, cracking with age. In the dusty streets hung a feeling of dread. The piles of ash that littered walkways and buildings, the burnt bodies of those who lost everything, from their buried souls cried a wailing sorrow unmatched. The hellish competition that took their lives, the nightmare that played on human nature, was about to repeat itself.
The single pair of gates that allowed access to the world slowly drew open, iron hinges creaking from lack of care. Over the doors was an inscription written in the stone: "Ye who enter here, what is it you seeketh?"
Sandy winds blew in, rustling the stacks of provision cases lined up against the gates' watering hole. The cases were intended to be taken by the travelers who would soon arrive. Being of seamless material made up of fifteen different types of wood, it was the first test given to those interested in the Wish. Opening it worked a lot like a complex puzzle box. Simple text was etched into each rectangular block of wood: "There are plenty of ways to die, and you have to figure out a way to live."
Behind the cases stood a stone fountain delicately spraying water in the air. It was one of several fountains located around the city, and served as the only places to quench the thirst brought on by the desert air. A sign was placed on one of the stone rungs, saying, "Rest your body in any shelter you wish. At dawn the church bell will be rung, signaling the start of the competition. There will be no rules, no mercy. Only one will have their Wish. Until then, rest and gather your strength. You will need it. --The Gatekeeper".
Sitting atop the fountain on a little pedestal, gazing at the horizon beyond the gate, was a cat-like crešture of odd beauty. Her iridescent body seemed to be made of crushed gems, layers and veins of colours swept about in an intricate pattern, mainly of silver, red and blue. A tattoo crept over her back, highlighting a small keyhole in between her shoulder blades. Light scattered as it passed through her, sending a cascade of faint rainbows on the ground.
Her lavender eyes scanned the wasteland as she had many times before, waiting. And slowly, dots appeared on the horizon, moving in closer. The travelers were coming, having heeded the Masters' call. It was almost time.
In the most somber of voices, the crešture murmured to the walls of the ache that grew in the center of her mind. The stone gave no response, neither did the piles of ash that lay at her feet.
"The sounds of destruction are all I've ever known,
Surely there's something better for me...
Somewhere out there.
"Out there in the cold unknown."