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Ever since turning to the worship of the Greatmother and her Consort, the degonti of the Stone have been unappreciative of the toils of the Sandwalkers. For then, as now, we have been the tenders of the desert, not only reading the portents of the winds, but also ushering in the seasons through careful maintenance of the bantam groves. It seems strange to us, being so much a part of the cycle now, but degonti of Kevaar's time did not fully understand the magic of these groves or the waters that fueled them.

After all, how could they? Under the harsh heat and the light of the sun, nothing rots. The spirits have nothing to cling to. Those that endured the dryness were powerful sorts, powerful enough to frighten, and dangerous to the unschooled regardless.


"It means me," Azzir announced one day.

Drai turned his head halfway, regarding him out if the corner of his eye.

He could be more excited, Azzir thought. But he was too excited himself at the thought to take offense for long. "The prophecies. The Wanderer. It's me. I am the outcasted son of a Ba'malra. It all fits."

Drai didn't answer. Such an infuriating travel companion, Azzir thought.

"You've done it," Azzir said to mollify the man. "You fond me like you were supposed to do. And I, i must do...whatever it was the Wanderer was supposed to do. It's my destiny!"

To his credit, Drai didn't snort, though his eyes glinted with soft amusement. "Yes," he finally said.

Azzir felt another flash of annoyance from Drai's lack of reaction. "Well, you're the one who knows the prophecies. What's the next step? How am I to defeat this Re'Sheek? Wait a minute, do you think that really means I am the reincarnate of--"

"The next step is to not speak so plainly," Drai said firmly. "The desert has ears."

"And eyes, and a mouth, I suppose," muttered Azzir, but he relented into a softer voice. "How am I supposed to defeat Him?"

Drai again was silent for a very long time. Azzir was beginning to consider prodding him in the back when the Sandwalker began to speak, voice barely above a whisper. "Tula'hara ama isia roth. Hara'l'non, ai isa tu'un. They say the way has dust in the wind. A saying among my people to mean harsh and unclear. New growth made and destroyed in an instant. But I am uncertain..."

"New growth?" commented Azzir. "That is a rather odd thing to say, isn't it? New growth of what, exactly?"

"Perhaps it means the Lurid. The transformations of those--it is terrible to speak."

"Oh, please. Heshti are the things of every children's story. The old pilgrim tricked by the wolf heshti. The king betrayed and poisoned by the sidewinder heshti. Eat your vegetables or the sand cat heshti will get you."

Drai's backwards glance was severe. "Re'Sheek's followers may be stories to you, degonti of the Stone, but to my people they are much real."

Azzir was taken aback, not even feeling driven to laugh at the bad grammar. "Sorry," he finally said. "It's just that I've never seen an actual heshti before. You know, fur and teeth and everything. How am I supposed to kill something if I don't know what it even looks like?"

"You will learn," Drai said, but it was in an offhandedly manner, the degonti's mind clearly somewhere else by the dark look in his eye. "I could take you. Take you, yes, to Shuluk Kar. You learn their looks, you learn fight them."

"What is Shuluk Kar?"

"Bantam grove. When wet season rains start, Shuluk Kar forms in desert. Very green, very wet, very magical. Place where heshti dwell."

"It's not the wet season. And I thought the groves were all just a myth, even to your people. I mean think, about it, whole great stands of giant yucca plants springing out from nowhere in the middle of the sand. It's all pretty fantastical, don't you think?"

"No one sees it, it is true. No one knows why oasis form, either. Only know that heshti come from swift new growth, heralded by the rains. Animals flee, water turns rancid; we starve, we sicken. We fight, drive heshti away, and desert returns to normal. That is cycle. Cycle you peoples of the Stone know nothing about, sheltered as you are."

Azzir growled, "I really hate to burst your bubble, but we don't even have a sword or anything to fight them, Drai. You and I are about as 'sheltered' as the Ba'malra you demarcate can get."

"No need for sword," muttered Drai. His eyes were still far away; he had apparently missed Azzir's sarcasm. "Shuluk Kar heshti very weak now. It is difficult to say in your language. Unjoined. Their souls...still apart. They attack the spirit not the body. No grip on the land without the rain, you see."

"That sounds even worse," said Azzir. "I have to fight something that doesn't even exist?"

"Not know this word, exist. But Azzir is not to worry. Unjoined heshti not bad, not enough to harm wise degonti." Odd, Azzir thought, that Drai's voice sounded more bitter than reassuring. "But you not smoke hinterweed when we come closer. Very important."

"Lay off the hinterweed!" Exclaimed Azzir, and then gave a sigh that could only be described as dramatic and long suffering. "I suppose I have to give up a few creature comforts if I'm to be this Wanderer hero."

"Indeed," said Drai good-naturedly, but his eyes only darkened more.

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Gray Fox

March 2016

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