Chapter 11 Scene 5

by Richard Perkins
This entry is part 44 of 65 in the series Doormaker's Fall

Crossing the White Sea had been an arduous experience. The tribespeople’s ingenuity had amazed Simon. The handler had driven his lizard team up through the tunnel beyond the veil. Their path was lit only by the soft glow of thousands of crystals. But the old tribesman drove the team with great confidence at a speed that kept Simon in constant fear of a collision with the twisting sandstone walls.

When they broke into the open air, Simon let out the breath he didn’t even realize he’d been holding. The salt flat was a shimmering blanket, a sea of stars every bit as scintillating as those overhead. It made the horizon difficult to distinguish. A darker constellation soared upward from the south, the obsidian mass of the Island of Black Glass.

The elder tribesman wrapped his robes tightly. He bound rough cloth over his mouth, nose and hands after dousing it with a splash of their dwindling drinking water. He helped the mages do the same. He was not satisfied until the only exposed skin was a small strip around their eyes.

Then the handler revealed the purpose of the mysterious device from the Cave of Tears. He slowed their break neck pace and hopped down from the wagon to adjust the head harnesses on his lizards. When he returned to the driver’s seat, he rested both feet on the bladder and called out a guttural command to his beasts. They clambered forward more slowly than before, their heads held upright and sweeping their ridged heads from side to side as they went.

As they reached the edge of the salt flat, the handler pressed down gently on the bladder with his feet. Simon watched in amazement as pressurized jets of the white liquid burst forth from the lines each lizard carried. As they swept their heads from side to side they broadcast an overlapping spray in front of them, drenching the crystal laden sands ahead.

Simon quickly saw that the drenched salts could not be stirred up into a cloud, even by the heavy wagon wheels. Their progress was slow compared to the breakneck pace through the tunnel. The handler did not allow the lizards to speed up or slow down, but maintained a steady ground eating pace.

Just being on the White Sea was taxing. Simon found it difficult to breathe through the damp cloth over his nose and mouth. His breath came in shallow gasps. His eyes felt raw and ragged.

The temperature had fallen precipitously with the setting sun. Simon soon huddled within his robes, fighting an uncontrollable urge to shiver violently. Despite the chill, sweat beaded on his forehead, only to evaporate instantly into the dry air that hung over the salt flats. He felt himself constantly swallowing in a vain attempt to moisten his throat. They had used the last of their drinking water on their masks. As the night wore on, he felt increasingly wrung out, even desiccated. He wondered if Gunther was suffering as much inside the wagon.

Simon asked the handler many questions as much to keep his teeth from chattering as to pass the time. If the elder tribesman felt the same strain that Simon did, he gave no sign of it.

“Is the powder safe to handle when it’s wet like this?”

The handler shook his head.

“The crystal material is very dangerous to the inside. Cutting the skin with a large crystal causes fever, chills, and sickness. But not death unless there are many cuts. This fine powder wears through the skin in many places, absorbing into the body’s water quickly. It is even worse to breath. Wetting the dust keeps it down, but can’t make it safe.”

Simon stared at the terrain uneasily. The salts were a potent blood poison. He wondered how they caused the symptoms the tribesman described.

“Do the crystal fragments affect the lizards in the same way?”

“Their scales are hard, and the shards will not cut them. But if they get dry powder into their mouth or nose you don’t want to be within reach of their claws.”

“Why not?”

“Their blood is different than ours. It protects them. But the powder of the sea still drives them mad. It makes them uncontrollable. They lash out, attacking anything that comes near. They forget themselves and their training. Sometimes they kill other lizards or injure themselves. Sometime they have to be destroyed.”

“Destroyed? You mean the fever doesn’t kill them?”

The handler shook his head.

“No. If we isolate them before they inflict too much damage, the frenzy subsides. Especially if we can get them into the sands quickly.”

“Into the sands?”

“After every crossing, they must return to the sands of the open desert. They roll in the sand to polish and clean their scales. When they are in a frenzy they will bury themselves entirely. Only when covered by sand can they recover.”

Through the haze of mind numbing dehydration, curiosity tickled the back of Simon’s thoughts. The Healer’s Guild would be very interested in this information. He could only imagine what uses they might find for it, but the healers were always collecting scraps of obscure knowledge.

The stars wheeled overhead and the dark monolith of the Island of Black Glass drew steadily closer. The imposing tower of obsidian reminded him that he would not deliver any information to anyone unless they survived the high desert and the machinations of the mysterious Tribe of Prophets.

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