Chapter 10 Scene 1

by Richard Perkins
This entry is part 34 of 65 in the series Doormaker's Fall

Chapter 10: Separate Ways

“Not all of the Desert Tribes have fared well under the leadership of the Tribe of Prophets. Desert dwellers that trade with outside merchants are often outcast or shunned by other tribes. Long term relationships between merchants and desert traders are very rare, as Plains merchants return to find previous trade sites abandoned or raided after a few successful visits. There are a few permanent outposts along the Great Desert Migrations which have avoided this fate.”

Modern Desert-Plains Relations

The test caravan rolled out of Edgeways boldly. The coarse shouts of the handlers rang through the air as the lizard teams creaked in their traces. The windswept dunes soon swallowed all visible landmarks. The trackless desert stretched from horizon to horizon, an intimidating vista broken only by the hard packed sand of the Migration as it unfurled steadily beneath their wheels.

The test team included a Guildmaster from each of the five guilds in addition to Simon, Bernard, and Gunther. The Guildmasters had grumbled loudly when they departed. Their objective was Guardian Village, and they viewed this search for an unknown Tribal Gathering as an unnecessary diversion. Simon worried that their attitudes would sabotage his efforts to screen the Desert Tribes and had said as much in his report.

But the aptitude test team had always included representatives of each Guild. Some applicants were equally suited for more than one apprenticeship. In such situations, each Guild was very outspoken about how allocations should be resolved. Deals were brokered, favors were exchanges, and promises made. They refused to abide arbitration by the Doormakers.

But if it came to a confrontation, Simon was not sure he would be willing to drag the Guildmasters into the high desert by force. Was the Council’s mission important enough to risk Doormakers’ lives, or to force the Guildmasters to risk theirs?

That afternoon they stopped to avoid the worst heat of the day. As they were setting up temporary shelters and sharing out rations, they heard a high pitched whine cutting through the desert air.

Simon turned his eyes to the south to see a small shadow detach from the southern horizon, streaking across the sky toward them at high speed. “Your drone is returning Gunther.”

The young air mage looked incredulous. “But how does the High Mage know our location?”

Bernard smiled. “He doesn’t. Better hope that that thing doesn’t fall on us.”

Both elder mages laughed for a moment at the look on Gunther’s face. Simon finally took pity on the young man.

“I wrote our planned route and approximate rate of travel in my report. The High Mage has a great deal of control. He will drop the drone somewhere on the Migration just ahead of our anticipated position.”

As it passed overhead, the pitch of the drone changed almost imperceptibly. Simon thought he saw the craft shudder slightly, before losing altitude. The spinning projectile arced gracefully down toward the Migration route ahead of them.

He saw a short plume of dust rise in the distance where the vehicle landed. Already he was sending elemental power into the dunes, pinpointing the impact location through the vibrations in the sands. But before acting he decided to test the limits of Gunther’s training.

“Gunther, can you retrieve the drone from here?”

The request startled the young air mage from his reverie. He frowned in concentration for a moment before giving up.

“No. If I had been more prepared I could have traced that plume and re-energized the drone before it settled. But I wasn’t paying close enough attention. I’m sorry Simon.”

Bernard raised a querying eyebrow, but Simon shook his head. He already had the drone in his own web.

“No matter.”

He closed his eyes and visualized a glowing white light running directly from his feet through the dunes to spot where he could feel tiny grains of sand still settling from the drone’s impact. He spread his hands slightly and filled the channel of light with earth power. Using the stream of elemental energy, he mobilized the sands into a wave crest that carried the drone across the desert surface toward their camp. He heard Gunther’s indrawn breath, but allowed himself no distractions.

When he opened his eyes, the sand wave crest he had visualized stood before him. The drone floated on the continuously flowing wave of sand, suspended at waste height. He plucked the device from the frothing sands with his left hand. The mound of sand slumped back to the desert floor. As Simon made a gentle sweeping motion with his right hand, all traces of the disturbed sands disappeared into the dust of the Migration and the dunes all around them.

Simon removed the message tube from its cradle, and then casually handed the drone to the astonished Gunther. The coded message from the High Council was quite clear. But his blood ran cold when he read it.

Magus Simon. It is the Guildmasters’ responsibility to advise the test team. If they are unwilling to perform their duty, send them on to Guardian Village without you. But gain entry to the hidden Prophet’s Gathering at all costs. When you have located it, report back immediately. Do not concern yourself about the waystation at Edgeways. May the Scion guide your quest.”

Simon had his answer. If only it didn’t fill him with such dread.

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