Oct. 24th, 2015

grayfoxblog: painting of a gryphon backlit by the sun (Default)
So there you have it. For more than a thousand years, Ra’Qara and Re’Gelrin ruled their people. They expanded their clan’s territory, traveling east into the steppes held by the Brown Skins. There they learned new skills, new ways of living, and so they settled down on the fringes of the desert. They built great cities of stone for themselves and abandoned the nomadic way of life that the degonti had embraced for generations.

But not all degonti became People of the Stone, or so we call them now. Some still retained the old ways of following the moon and the wind across the vast desert plain, the ways of the Sandwalkers…


“Ocotillo. Spiny shrubs that bear red flowers during spring and summer. Soothes coughing and sore throats. Liquorice. Bears white flowers in early summer; the roots taste sweet. Relieves aches and strengthens the body against infections. Kingsberry. Small bushes with bright red berries that grow near water. No practical use, but very tasty.”

The makhani facing Drai nodded slightly at his reciting, the ornaments in her hair tinkling softly as she moved her head. Her hair was bleached to off-white from her great age, and her degonti skin was almost black from so many years under the sun.

“Well done. Keep going,” she said in her hoarse voice. Drai bowed his head respectfully and continued.

“Aloe vera. Stiff stalks shaped like spiny leaves. Cures infections and…and…I-I forget.”

“Soothes stomach complaints when ingested,” finished the makhani. She looked up at the sound of footsteps approaching the tent. A male degonti poked his head inside. He ran his eyes over Drai and scowled softly, but quickly turned to give the makhani a respectful bow.

“The sachem wants to see you.”

The makhani tipped her head up slightly, and Drai directed his gaze to the rugs on the ground. He was a cripple, and so he garnered no respect from the other male. If only his lungs were not so weak…

“Did he specify a reason? I am teaching a student,” said the makhani calmly. Drai stared harder at the rugs as if he could burn a hole through them that he crawl through. He wished she wouldn’t mention him. Bad enough that he couldn’t become a warrior because of his weak breath, but he was forced into a position usually only held by women...

The other degonti cast a distrustful look at Drai and reluctantly said, “It’s about the Enemy.”

“Mm. Very well.” The makhani slowly got to her feet. “Continue your recitations, Drai. I should not be gone long.”

Drai bowed his head as the makhani followed the other degonti. When she was gone, the yurt became very quiet. Outside were the voices of children as they played and of women as they dressed the carcass of the kill the hunters had brought in that morning. But here in the yurt, Drai felt as if he were apart from them, in a separate world.

And so it has been all my life.

Drai stood and lifted the tent flap just enough to look outside. The camp was in good spirits today, exuding feelings of warmth and family that Drai never fully felt for himself. Drai pulled his gaze away from the others, over to the sachem’s yurt that the makhani had just entered.

She was in there for a very long time, and Drai wondered what was so important. The Enemy had been a scourge to the Sandwalkers for generations. It was He, Re’Sheek, who commanded the desert winds to blow as they did, burying watering holes and snuffing out the delicate plant life. It was said He had been mortal once, and would be mortal again when Re’Vekra returned from the grave to destroy Him for His treachery.

Not that anyone believed those old stories. Re’Vekra had been murdered ages ago by the jealous Stone gods. The stories of his return were only tales told to children to soothe them when the tents flapped particularly violently, when the howl of the wind rose to a shrieking like a wounded degonti…

Drai shuddered. Sometimes he heard words in those winds. A bad omen, his people believed. The only voice that spoke on the wind was the Enemy’s, and thus He lured His faithful to Him.

Eventually the makhani emerged from the sachem’s yurt, looking grimmer than usual. She cast a perfunctory glance at the other members of the tribe, and then turned to look Drai straight in the eye. Drai quickly dropped his gaze, but she strode up to him purposefully.

“We must talk.”

“About the Enemy? I will gladly give my life as is honorable—“

“Yes, the Enemy! Shush, child, these are not words for the rest of the tribe to hear. Step inside.”

Biting back a protest, Drai stepped aside, holding the tent flap open for the makhani. She entered and crossed over to her favorite rug. As she settled down on it, her slow movements seemed older than ever. She looked at Drai, or through him, rather. Drai sat down opposite to her and waited for her to speak first.

“And so it has come to pass at last,” sighed the makhani. She passed a hand wearily over her brow, an unusually evocative gesture that made Drai squirm uncomfortably. She paused then, unhooking one of the baubles in her hair and handing it to Drai.

Drai stared at it as he held it in his palm. It was a string of beads, each carved to represent different parts of the prophecy of Re’Vekra. The symbol of the Wanderer, the circle of kings, the Starpool, the draconic khurarl, and at last, the Forest of Jade. Drai turned the first bead in his fingers. The Wanderer was always said to be despised wherever he went, but to bring great fortune to those who gave him lodgings.

“I give this to you. It will help guide your journey.”

Drai looked up, confused. “I don’t understand.”

“You know the prophecies as I have taught you,” said the makhani. “The Wanderer picks up his staff at the turning of the winds. The circle of kings calls to council once more. From the Starpool emerges a champion to right those wronged. The khurarl gather to fight, and the Forest is reborn anew, giving bounty to all.”

Drai shook his head. “It’s just a bunch of nonsense. The khurarl don’t even exist.”

“No!” the makhani snapped, and Drai cringed at her fury. But on looking at him, the fire left her eyes and she softened. “No, it is not nonsense, my child. The winds are stirring. Re’Sheek’s people gather their strength. Now is the time for the Wanderer to emerge.”

Drai stared at the beads. For a moment he thought he saw the carving of the Wanderer shift, his hood drawing back to reveal his face. He had long hair like a sachem.

But then it was gone, and the hood was back in place. Too much hinterweed, thought Drai. “I don’t understand what you want me to do.”

“You have not been happy here,” said the makhani gently. “The other warriors have earned the right to grow out their hair, but still you sit here with a shaved head past your twentieth spring.”

“I do not lack strength!” snapped Drai in protest. “I’ll earn the right. Someday. I will. I won’t dishonor my family.”

“Your family is lost,” said the makhani. Drai looked up at her accusingly, and she stared calmly back. “Your destiny is not that of your warrior kin, Drai. I see that now. I understand why the sachem had me train you. You are not a fighter.” She paused and a smile touched her eyes, though Drai couldn’t see the levity in the situation. “You are a dreamer.”

Drai squeezed his eyes shut, bowing his head and clutching the beads hard. “No, I’m not a Deviant! I don’t—won’t listen to the voices. I won’t betray the tribe. Please d-don’t--don’t exile me.”

“No,” said the makhani. Her gentleness had disappeared and she spoke with the authority of a sachem. “Your place is not here. You will go out into the world. Today.”

“Please…”

“You will find this Wanderer. You will find the champion of the Starpool. You will set these prophecies into motion.”

Drai felt a lump in his throat that wouldn’t go away when he swallowed. He felt someone kiss his forehead, and he looked up into the makhani’s face. “It is not exile,” she whispered. “Not the exile of one who has betrayed the clan, anyway. You are needed, Drai, but you are not needed here. This is not your family. You owe no one here the birth debt.”

She was talking about his foreigner father. Drai’s mother had been one of the tribe, but his father had arrived from the desert. No one knew him and he had no breeding, but he earned the tribal rights anyway.

And then he had betrayed the tribe in favor of Re’Sheek. Their warriors were still suffering from that loss.

“But I can make up for—“

“No!” said the makhani and shoved him away. “You will go. This is the order of the sachem, and not my doing. You will leave. You will go east. You will not return until you have fulfilled your duty.”

There was nothing he could do. Drai looked away, feeling his weak chest tighten as he tried to keep his sobs down. Warriors did not cry. But he was not really a warrior now, was he?

He felt a hand on his shoulder, and, not roughly, the makhani pulled him to his feet. She picked two bags of dried herbs—those that delayed hunger and those that soothed pain—from her stash and set them in his hands. With a pause, she also took down the beaded pouch holding the Zmbah from where it hung on the wall, and pushed this in his hands, too. Drai ran his fingers along the tiny colored beads, praying for the magic in the pouches' contents to give him strength.

“The sachem has ordered provisions set aside for you. He will give you your heading.” The makhani went quiet, studying him, and at length she pulled Drai into a hug. “Don’t despair, my child. I will always consider you one of my own, even if I did not birth you.”

“Thanks,” Drai whispered. And he couldn’t help it when his tears escaped.

*****

The place was like nothing Kevaar had ever seen before.

The plains had continued beneath his feet for days now, rolling monotony after rolling monotony of grass and the occasional rock. In contrast, the cliffs had appeared quite suddenly, like a coyote had taken a big bite from the land, revealing the red rock beneath, like the striated muscles of the living earth. Bands of carrot, cream, rust, and greenish ochre painted the rocks all the way down, ending in a soft sand the color of rosewood. This sand stretched on into the dusty horizon, a deadened plain even flatter than that of the grasslands Kevaar still stood in.

The degonti squinted, but his second eyelids were of no use against the glare. Even the chirping and buzzing insects that had been his constant companions in the grasslands were silent here, from awe or a trepidation similar to Kevaar's, he couldn't tell.

The degonti thumped his walking stick against the parched red dirt of the road, bringing himself back to reality. "Well! No time like the present, eh?" he said to an unseen observer, then began to pick his way down among the rocks.

He could almost forget himself in this silent land watched only by the sun. But to Kevaar, that was preferable. A dozen tales of intrigue and gallantry dogged his footsteps, or so he liked to brag to the barmaids in the taverns he had frequented along the way. It was a brave face put on a less than brave past, and somehow the most ignominious parts of his history never made it into stories told in the smokey taverns. The patrons were sure to hear such things after, Kevaar thought, once his pursuers arrived and he, with any luck, was long since gone. Kevaar grimaced.

Any of those barmaids probably would have thought him out of his mind if they learned he had journeyed here, far from all things familiar. Out in the deserts was no place for an enterprising young rogue, or so his old masters would have told him. The natives were savages, too ill bred to even know how to read, and he would find nothing of value unless he knew an avid collector of stone handaxes and bird feathers to pay the acquiring fee.

Perhaps his old masters were right. Kevaar cursed as he slipped on the gravelly slope, stopping himself from plummeting to his death only by grabbing on to a nearby boulder. I am out of my league, or would be, if there were any leagues out here worth mentioning!

Which is exactly why he had chosen to come here, he reminded himself. No organized crime meant no competition. No competition meant no one hankering to slit his throat in a back alley... The land was wild enough that even his pursuers would think twice about following him here. Yes, it had been a very good idea to come here.

The self-congratulating thief was too wrapped up in his thoughts to notice that the western horizon had begun to darken. A native could have told him that a sandstorm approached and he should find cover. Unfortunately for Kevaar, no native was nearby.
grayfoxblog: painting of a gryphon backlit by the sun (Default)
When the wise woman told Sandwalker Drai the tides were turning, she had been right.

Years prior to Drai’s birth, Re’Sheek had been cast into the Starpool, as I told you. Many, including Ra’Qara and Re’Gelrin, believed he had drowned. His followers retreated deep into the desert, and the war seemed to be won.

But with each passing year, it became clear that Re’Sheek’s spirit still walked the dunes. When the sandstorms were particularly fierce and our Sandwalker kin had to take cover in their yurts, it was said you could hear whispering on the wind. Nightmares visited the Sandwalkers in their sleep, promising power and glory if they were to seek out the One Sachem. Those who left in search of the answer to these riddles never returned.

The dreams came from Re’Sheek, of course, but how he had managed this new devilry was anyone’s guess. The Dreamingwind, as they called it, became more frequent, even going as far west as to begin harrying the People of the Stone in their solid abodes.


There was that wind again.

Azzir lay awake in his bunk. He was far from his comfortable bed in Isafa, where the majority of his family's holdings was concentrated. He missed the splendor. The cot he lay on smelled of the previous occupant, and the blankets were holey and stained with something he didn't want to identify. The innkeeper had grinned at him with a gap-toothed smile and wished him pleasant evening, but so far, the only pleasant part of Azzir's evening was his thoughts of home. The infernal wind wasn't helping his gloom.

That infernal wind...it had such an eerie sound to it, as if someone were sobbing. The Sandwalkers that came to town always waved their hands near their forehead as if warding something away when they heard it. Azzir didn’t understand it. The wind didn’t get up to the same speeds here as it did in the deep desert, and the moaning was probably just the air howling through the arches and alleys of the city. What were they so worried about?

"It's just silly Sandwalker superstition," Azzir's father would have grumbled, if he were here, his bristling eyebrows nearly hiding his squinty eyes from sight. "Don't listen to the nonsense, boy. They're just trying to scare you out of a few more coins for their charms and witchcraft."

"Just because the Sandwalkers are heathens does not make them thieves," would scold his mother. She was always hurrying in and out of the house on business, but somehow always managed to catch his father when he began on one of his long rants about the shortcomings of the other peoples.

Unperturbed, a eager young Azzir would then ask, "But it still makes them witches?" He had always wanted to see a real live witch, to see if they had hair sprouting from their faces like his friends claimed.

"We should show them Greatmother Qara's beneficience," his mother would answer crossly, turning to Azzir. "Go to the temple now, my son, and pray for the wisdom of living gods."

And so Azzir would go and pray, and return from the temple glowing with the glories of the church. But somehow he always felt like he was being punished by his mother, and he would return home to find neither of his parents seemed to remember the argument. After enough times of kneeling on the hard stone floor on the temple, making sense of moaning chants of the priests and harpy-like squalls of the choir, Azzir learned to stop asking about the Sandwalkers.

That had been years ago, when Azzir still had the idealism of youth. As he grew older, the world seemed to grow less colorful. Or perhaps it was too colorful: the stains of alcohol on the head priest's robes, though he tried to hide it with ever brighter dyes...the blood on the hands of the healer woman who couldn't save the baker's daughter...the powdered cheeks and painted eyes of the women on the street corner, which his mother would always huff at the sight of and hurry Azzir along before he could stop to say an admiring hello.

He was a son of House Telerine, and his parents would not let him forget it. But no matter the lessons in pensmanship, the drills with sword and spear, or the long temple services, they could not seem to impart the importance of honor to Azzir. He was more interested in the click of the dice and the bottom of a mug of ale, in smoking than leading the esteemed life of his warrior ancestors.

It had come to a head just weeks before tonight. His father had burst in on one of Azzir's smoking sessions in a rage. Azzir's friends were used to his father's temper, taking it in with the same placid cow-eyed look common to users of hinterweed. But this time was different. Even Rahai went scrabbling for the nearest window, abandoning to Azzir to his deserved fate.

His deserved fate, so proclaimed his father, was to get up off his worthless arse and go into the worthless world to obtain a worthless living, and not come back before he had done so. Azzir wasn't sure why he'd want a worthless living in the worthless world, but his mother had been in uncommon agreement with his father. Out the door he went the next day, without so much as a sand mask or a hinterweed pipe.

He had signed on to one of the caravans that passed through Isafa on their trade routes along the rim of the desert. He thought it would be an idyllic life, sitting on the back of a wagon watching the land pass by, and perhaps even indulging in an occassional smoke donated shared with him by the friendly caravan master.

The old adage of "too good to be true" struck again, however, and Azzir more often found himself pulling along with the yez to get the wagons out of sand drifts and yelling at the yapping coyotes skulking along the outskirts of the camp at night. It had come as a relief to reach town, even though the caravan master had him unload all of the sellable goods by himself. Later that evening, Azzir spent his wages on a couple of packets of hinterweed and had burned through half of it in the first hour. With a hazy contentment, he had walked into the first inn he had come to and collapsed in the common room. The innkeeper had taken the rest of his wages, but not wanting to upset such a placid customer, had thrown in a meal and several pints to boot.

Azzir had slept off the fumes well into the next day, waking up to the sound of his caravan wheeling out of town. The caravan master had refused to hire him back on, and Azzir had come crawling back to the inn at nightfall. The innkeeper had taken pity on him, and administered what he claimed was the only sure cure for a hungover head and a lost job: loads and loads of dishes to wash.

Though the treatment had convinced Azzir of the charity of innkeepers, it hadn't done much for his head. He had fallen into bed and laid awake for most of the night, listening to the howling wind.

Azzir closed his eyes. It was a bad job of it, and that was all. He would just have to accept it. After a few more tosses and turns, Azzir peeled himself out of bed and had a dunk in the scummy washbasin. Blearily smoothing his hair, walked out into the street. He was immediately greeted by a mouthful of sand.

The city of Sathay sat astride an old Sandwalker water well. Here, springs of past ages had carved many gullies into the rock, and the Ba'malra--or People of the Stone, as the Sandwalkers termed them--had built themselves a town in its maze. Streets in Sathay were narrow, and it wasn't uncommon to be able to walk with one hand on both walls. The streets collected sand like a miser collects coins, and like an ill-tempered miser, the wind seemed to take particular delight in throwing it in the faces of poor nobleman's sons.

Coughing and cursing, Azzir pushed himself off the wall and stumbled down the alley. He overturned a bucket or two, and nearly overturned a degonti who appeared suddenly in his path.

Azzir squinted at the degonti through sand-and-smoke bleary eyes, but couldn't tell much more about him besides he wore the patterned animal hides of a Sandwalker, and a mask over his face to protect against the swirling sand.

"What do you want?" Azzir asked. His throat still felt scratchy the night before's indulging.

"Degonti of the Stone," came the Sandwalker's voice haltingly, as if unsure of the language. "What village is this?"

“Sathay,” answered Azzir. “More of a city than a village, actually.”

“Sit-tee?” said the Sandwalker uncertainly.

Must be from the deep deep desert, thought Azzir. “City, that’s right. Never seen one before?”

The Sandwalker shook his head slowly. “My kin do not make city. Make villages of hide, not grass and rock.”

The Sandwalker’s way of talking was so strange that Azzir had a hard time following him. “Oh. Well, water well’s in the center. Just go down this road, turn left, then go straight. That’s what you’re looking for, isn’t it?”

The Sandwalker seemed to have a hard time deciphering Azzir's words too, and at length he shook his head. “Not here for water. Looking for degonti.”

“Plenty of that here, too."

The Sandwalker shook his head. "No. No, not want many degonti. Want one. Looking for one degonti." He shifted, his eyes nervously darting behind his sand mask.

"Does he have a name, this degonti of yours?" Azzir rubbed his eyes irritably. His head was beginning to ache again.

“I do not know.”

Azzir wondered if it was just the accent or if this Sandwalker really was a lack-wit. “That makes things hard, doesn’t it?”

The Sandwalker was quiet, and Azzir thought maybe he had offended him. He remembered back to his mother's stories about the magic of Sandwalkers, and decided maybe he should try to be more helpful. “Uh, maybe you can describe him for me? I’m new here, too, but I get around.”

“He wanders,” the Sandwalker said at length, “from stone to sand, but claims neither as home. His kin do not treat with him. He is despised by most, loved by few, but rewards well those who help him.”

“That’s...very poetic." The ache in his head was becoming a full-on throb, now. "Did you write that? Because I’m afraid it doesn’t narrow it down much. There’s lots of homeless degonti around here. Including me. And more in the other cities, like Muatha across the hills.”

The Sandwalker was quiet for a long time again. Azzir couldn’t tell what he was thinking--if he did think--under his patterned mask. “You are a Wanderer, yes?” he finally asked.

“A wanderer? Well, sure, I guess. I'm out to seek my fortune, you know." Azzir straightened up, but he knew he looked far from impressive.

The Sandwalker tilted his head slightly. “Yes, I know. You come with me?”

“With you?" Just what he needed, Azzir thought. A lack-wit Sandwalker companion, to go with the bad ale and the lack of hinterweed. "Why?”

“To—“ The Sandwalker struggled to find the right word. “To help me...us. To help us, yes, to help our people.”

"I'm good with people," Azzir said absently. "Talking to them, fighting with them, drinking with them--I mean, whatever you want to do. What DO you want me to do?"

“All will come clear,” murmured the Sandwalker, half to himself. The eyes behind the mask narrowed, scrutinizing Azzir. “If you wish it, I will—“ the Sandwalker paused again as he looked for the right words. “Buy you a round."

"You'll buy me a round? You mean a round of drinks?" Azzir said in disbelief.

The Sandwalker nodded, the eyes still narrow. "Yes. It is custom among People of the Stone, yes? Meet friend. Drink sour cactus. Tell story."

Azzir smirked sardonically. Well, he certainly wouldn't stop the Sandwalker if he were so eager to pay his tab. "Yes. That's our custom, you're right. The more rounds, the better, actually." He glanced back down the alleyway. If he played his cards right, maybe he wouldn't have to return to dish washing for that gap-toothed innkeeper. "In fact, I know just the place. Follow me. No, not that way. Behind you."

"I follow," said the Sandwalker, his voice soft and thoughtful. His calm was somehow unnerving.
grayfoxblog: painting of a gryphon backlit by the sun (Default)
The degonti of the Stone have a very strange way of bartering. Every item, whether it’s a tent or a spear or a bundle of hinterweed, is assigned a value. Instead of trading the actual items for each other, a degonti of the Stone trades small pieces of metal that represent that assigned value. The metal is of no practical use unless you were to melt it down and forge it into spearheads, but doing so would make the degonti of the Stone very mad, which why it is best to just store the chits or throw them away. I remember Tiichi poking holes through each of his coins and stringing them up in his tent. While the degonti of the Stone frowned at this, they were still accepted as currency, and they did make such a lovely tinkling noise in the wind.

The Sandwalker didn’t have any currency accepted by the tavern. Azzir didn’t have the heart to tell him that degonti of the Stone didn’t exchange drinks for cured hides, so he bought the drinks himself, promising another night of dishwashing in return.

At least he’s familiar with alcohol, Azzir thought gloomily, watching the Sandwalker sampling the local brew. While most Sandwalkers seemed to grow their hair as long as possible, this one's head was shaved clean. His grey scalp shone in the light of the tavern’s fireplace.

“I am sorry,” the Sandwalker said at length, setting his mug down. “For the bad bartering. I do not know your customs.”

“The Julakhan’s customs, you mean.”

The Sandwalker cocked his head, so Azzir elaborated.

“Julakhan. This land's held by House Julakhan. I don’t come from here, you see, so they aren’t exactly my customs. I'm a son of House Telerine.”

"You are of the clan Telerine?" The Sandwalker looked faintly disappointed. "So you know your parents."

"Of course. Don't you?"

The Sandwalker remained silent. Azzir again wondered if he had offended the degonti, or if he was just slow on the uptake. The Sandwalker closed his eyes, so even the faint glow of his irises couldn't give Azzir a clue as to what he was thinking.

"I am called Drai. My clan and kin are...no longer important," said Drai at last. His eyes opened, and they were a dark color Azzir had only seen in very ill degonti. He tensed up, unnerved. But then Drai blinked, and they were back to normal. "What is important is I find degonti."

“So you said before,” muttered Azzir.

Drai sighed and pulled a string of beads out of his tunic. He tossed it down on the table as if it would explain everything. Azzir just stared in bewilderment, eventually picking the beads up when Drai didn’t take them back.

“These are, ah, very nicely carved. Would probably sell for a fair amount. But what is it for?”

“They show prophecy," explained Drai. "Is old prophecy, important to my tribe. I look for the one on the first bead.”

“This hooded and cloaked man?” Azzir asked, flicking the carving on the top bead. “Is he the prophet or something? Why is he so special?”

Drai reached over and took the beads back, sliding them into his tunic. Azzir winced, but the oddly unoffendable Sandwalker just sat silently for a few minutes, his eyes a thoughtful brown.

Hasafla iso-ia imasa,” Drai whipered. Azzir could only guess it was the Sandwalker language. “The Wanderer chooses the way,” Drai explained haltingly. “It means he chooses path? Or way of being? I know not your words."

"So he makes plans for others," Azzir suggested.

"Plans, yes. He chooses what others will do. Tama sa-uba dia imtasa. The Wanderer goads the kings to act, to fight the evil, then...I do not know words for the rest. Is long prophecy. But I must find this Wanderer. Find him, and side-near-side bring prophecy to bear.”

“Side-by-side,” Azzir corrected absently. He stared at Drai’s tunic, where the beads were hiding, as if that would help him picture what was engraved on their sides. “It’s rather vague, even for a...a myth. Now I’m not saying it’s all folly—“ Azzir held up his hands. “—but it’s not much to go by. Isn’t there something else you know about this Wanderer guy?”

“There is another prophecy, different prophecy, about the Wanderer.” Drai stopped, his eyes glowing an ever richer color of golden-brown as he jogged his memory. “Prophecy is not right word; perhaps story is better. It tells of a Ba'malra, separated from his kin, and now has no riches, no honor. Many do not like him because of his looks.” Drai pointed to his eyes, referring to the double-meaning that a foul-hearted degonti was often revealed by the colors of his eyes as well by as his demeanor.

“And what happened to him? In the story, I mean.” A noble in exile, like me, thought Azzir glumly. But a bad one. Not like me. Definitely not.

“He is hunted into desert by those he once called friend. He is taken by Demon Prince, Re’Sheek.” Drai paused, and his eyes flashed that odd dark color again. “The story does not tell how, but he later re-emerges as a leader of his people.”

“Huh,” said Azzir, his tone sullen. "So an exiled noble, is he? They're easy to spot. You know them by that funny mad look in their eye."

“How can one be funny and angry at the same time?” asked Drai.

“Not that kind of funny," Azzir growled. The mention of exiled nobles had put him in a foul mood. "Funny like...odd. Strange."

“Funny is a funny word,” said Drai. If he hadn't known any better, Azzir could've sworn he saw a gleam of mischief in the Sandwalker's eyes.

Irritated, Azzir replied, "There's a lot of nobles around here. So you better get started if you hope to find him in the next century."

“You are not coming?” Drai actually looked crest-fallen for a moment.

“Well, I suppose I could," Azzir said reluctantly. "What would be my compensation, hm?"

Drai looked at Azzir blankly. Azzir sighed.

“I find you the exiled noble, and you give me something in return. Like bartering. That's compensation.”

Drai’s eyes narrowed. “It is Ba'malra custom to exchange favors for goods?” When Azzir didn’t answer, Drai snorted and continued, “I will do Sandwalker custom. You will get favor in return for your favor. You may chose now or later what favor will be.”

It wasn't as good as money or hinterweed, Azzir thought, but it might be worth something. And anything was better than washing more dirty dishes.

"Fine, deal. I'll do a tour with you of the whole neighborhood if you want. We'll even case the baron's manor while we'll at it," Azzir snapped sarcastically.

“You have more knowledge of this hunting ground than I,” said Drai mildly. Azzir whipped his gaze back around to stare at the Sandwalker, thinking he had detected another note of mischief.

But Drai only stared back at him, eyes darkening with confusion.

Shaking his head, Azzir shoved himself to his feet. “You’re just going to have to learn to speak our language, buddy.”
grayfoxblog: painting of a gryphon backlit by the sun (Default)
The Ba'malra in those days were far from welcoming. While they considered the stories of Re’Sheek fairy tales fit only for frightening children into obeying their parents, they distrusted strangers with a fervor bordering on superstition. Those who came in from out of the desert, or those who had no family or House name, were especially distrusted.

One minute the sky had been clear, and the next minute, there was nothing but stinging darkness.

Kevaar dared not open his eyes. He had attempted it once, a few minutes into the sand storm, only for his eyes to smart so badly with the sand that he was afraid he'd never see again. He had ducked to the ground, rubbing fiercely, and tears were pouring down his cheeks before the pain lessened enough for him to continue.

The cliffs were nearby. All he had to do was find them, and take cover under one of the outcroppings. Surely the storm wouldn't take long to pass. Just like the rain storms back home, it would blow itself out in a matter of minutes, right?

He picked a direction and began walking in it. Seconds stretched into minutes, and minutes seemed to lengthen to hours. Surely he hadn't been that far from the cliffs in the first place? Kevaar felt a pit in his stomach. Or maybe he had simply chosen the wrong direction.

Scolding himself for his stupidity, Kevaar turned around and started back in the opposite direction. Or he thought it was the opposite direction. He couldn't see, and the rose-colored plain had been absolutely flat. For all he knew he was miles from the edge of the desert--

His outstretched hand met rock, and Kevaar gasped in relief. He collapsed on it, hugging it like it was the Holy Mother. But the jutting boulder didn't protect him from the sand. Leaning against it, Kevaar inched his way around it. It wasn't a large rock, only the width of two or three degonti and a few handspans higher than himself. He made his way around it twice, feeling it out, and by then had lost all sense of direction. He didn't know where he had first touched the rock, or even where the rock was in relation to...well, anything else in this blasted desert.

Trying to ignore the increasing raw feelings of his exposed skin, Kevaar thought back to that sweeping view of the desert he had taken from the grasslands. He hadn't remembered any standing stone out in the middle of the sand, but then, he could be miles from where he had first climbed down the cliffs. Still, it didn't seem like too outrageous a bet that he was only a stone's throw away from the cliffs.

The cliffs, and potential shelter.

Kevaar sat down and began feeling around with his feet, thinking he would be a merry show to watch if the sand hadn't been blocking anyone's view of his antics. Then again, if the sand wasn't blocking an onlooker's view, it wouldn't be blocking his, either.

He went around the rock once, patting and stretching, only to feel nothing else close by but more sand. Then daring, he lay down. The sand seemed to take it as invitation to march right down his mouth without even needing the wind to carry it, but he buried his nose in his shirt collar and hissed his breath past clenched teeth. He rolled about the rock, using the full length of his body...nothing, nothing, then...yes! Another solid object!

Pressing his feet against the other stone's reassuring solidarity, Kevaar sat up and crawled to it. This rock turned out to be a wall, and Kevaar hoped beyond hope he had found the cliff face. Now all he would have to do was walk beside it, until it dipped into a cave or other kind of overhanging, and then he could wait at the sandstorm in blessed shelter.

Taking long strides, Kevaar gratefully followed the contour of the cliff. His over eager steps drove his toes into a rock, and he pitched over face first. He threw his hands up to protect his face when he hit the ground.

But he didn't hit anything, except more air. Kevaar screamed as he fell. He swallowed sand, choked, and so heard clearly the crack of his own bones as he hit the bottom of the gully.

He couldn't scream anymore, or he'd swallow more sand and suffocate. Instead he pummeled the ground with his fists, screaming from behind clenched teeth. The stinging sand on his bare skin was a pleasant tickle compared to fire in his leg.

*****

It seemed days before the sandstorm finally died down. He had sipped water and nibbled on a traveling biscuit from his pack, but it didn't stop the pain, and with every mouthful he swore he swallowed a little bit of the omnipresent sand, too.

Kevaar woke up without remembering that he had been asleep. Propping himself up on his elbows sent a shower of sand cascading off his shoulders. His legs were still buried, which Kevaar thought just as well, as he didn't want to look at the carnage of his broken leg. A sad little bush, half-buried like he was, stood a few handspans away. Kevaar was able to pull himself into a sitting position with its help, until the branch snapped off in his hand.

It wasn't as bad as it could have been, Kevaar reflected. He was at the bottom of a gully, but not one with steep sides, so he could probably crawl his way out. The sun was far to the east, promising plenty of hours of daylight. It was cool down in the gully, the stones still chilled from the long desert night. No creepy crawlies had come to rest inside his warm clothing, and with the exception of the bush, there were no other signs of life. It was unlikely he'd have to deal with any aggressive scavengers.

It was unlikely he'd have to deal with any friendly scavengers, either. Kevaar hadn't brought a map, and even if he had, it was no good to him now, blown off course as much as he was. (He took a moment to be amused with the thought he might have literally blown off course, in that gale!) He amusement didn't last long. He was stranded, in a desert, with a broken leg. He had water and food enough for a few weeks--he wasn't that stupid, to come unprepared--but he wasn't sure a few weeks would matter if he couldn't budge himself a few miles--perhaps a few hundred miles--in the direction of civilization.

"So what are you going to do, hmm? Sit down here and wallow in the misery of your plight? That won't do. Simply unhelpful!"

Grunting, Kevaar dragged himself along on his elbows, picking his way up the gulley. He squinted as he pulled himself over the top and into broad daylight, and had to stop and let his eyes adjust before he could see around.

Flat desert in one direction, cliffs in another. A maze of gullies and old waterways in yet another. Well, at least he might not crave for water. Panting from exertion, Kevaar laid his cheek to the cool sand, closing his eyes. If there was water, there might also be plants he could eat. If there was water, there might be critters of the meaty kind he could trap. He brought snares. He even knew how to use them. Yes, he wouldn't lack for food or water, just so long as he could get his leg to heal properly. Then after months of roughing it in the wild, he could be on his way. He could imagine the gasp of the appreciative audience as he told about his fight against the elements, using only his wits and courage...

His audience...the pursuers behind him. Kevaar's eyes popped open, and he scanned the horizons nervously. Nothing. But you never knew. They might be sitting in one of those shadows, watching him writhe...he had to get away from this place!

With a gasp of pain, Kevaar pushed himself back up into a sitting position and looked down at his legs. Well, one definitely wasn't at the angle it should be. The other just looked bruised. If he could just bend the other one back into place, and find something to bind it with...

"No good, no good," Kevaar gasped as he tried pulling his shin back into alignment. "Oh, gods, no good!" He almost gave into despair then, but he remembered the woman's sneer, as she tugged the dagger from his hands...

"No, I won't go back!" Kevaar snapped defiantly at the cliffs, and was rewarded with the faint echoes of his own voice. He would surely hear anyone who was trying to sneak up on him with the acoustics of this place. But he still had to find that water. And to do so, he had to bind his leg.

Yelling curses at all the gods he ever knew, Kevaar grabbed the two bone halves and wrenched them back into place. He roared blasphemy at all the saints as he snapped a branch from the obliging bush and bound it tightly in place against his shin. Then he cursed and screamed some more, until his throat felt raw, and the pain wasn't quite so fiery.

He wasn't going to be able to walk. But hopping along might prove to be a little more productive than crawling. Either way, it made him feel more like a man and less like a rat being upright. Kevaar rolled to the cliff face and pulled himself up along it, then hobbled the slow, painful hobble, down to the network of ditches that might hold his water hole.

Up above, a dark form shifted, watching the degonti until he climbed down out of sight into the first gully.

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grayfoxblog: painting of a gryphon backlit by the sun (Default)
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March 2016

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