Chapter 11 Scene 6

by Richard Perkins
This entry is part 45 of 65 in the series Doormaker's Fall

The broad wagon wheels ground loudly as the handler drove the vehicle off of the powdered crystal of the salt flat onto a hard shelf jutting out from the towering obsidian monolith. They had arrived near the darkest hour of the night.

“Welcome to the Island of Black Glass. I’ll leave my wagon here with your equipment. The Prophets will transport it if you are allowed access to Ten Fallen Stones. You must follow the trail up to the center of the island to await the arrival of your guide.”

Simon’s breath wheezed in his chest and spots danced at the edge of his sight. He felt weak, feverish, and just wanted to lie down and rest. Some part of his sluggish mind refused to let him do so, for fear that he would never rise again if he did. Gunther staggered and nearly fell getting out of the wagon. Even the handler moved slowly, his previous deftness and efficiency reduced to deliberateness.

Simon didn’t understand how they had come to this. Surely a few hours without water should not be so debilitating, even in the desert?

“The Council is in your debt. Forgive me for doubting your warnings. I did not think the crossing would be so demanding.”

Simon’s speech was ragged, his breath coming in short gasps. He could not see the handler’s face under his mask, but he thought he detected a fleeting trace of sorrow in the tribesman’s eyes.

“The White Sea dries the body’s water faster than the harshest desert.”

He hesitated before continuing. He glanced around as if afraid of being overheard.

“There is more that you should know. Few would give voice to such superstitions. But old tribesmen like me hold certain fears in the silent places of their heart.”

The tribesman’s uncharacteristically furtive behavior made Simon nervous. But surely they were alone on this desolate plain. They had encountered no one moving on the desert since they departed the Star Seekers’ Gathering, let alone since they started this crossing.

“What fears? What are you saying?”

Simon was suddenly aware of a sound whispering from the obsidian spires of the island above them. It was as if a strong breeze stirred the standing crystals to produce a faint ringing of continuously changing tones. But there was no breeze where they stood. Simon reasoned that air must be stirring higher above the salt flat. It was the only logical explanation. The handler beckoned Simon and Gunther closer, so he could lower his voice.

“Some say that the sea hungers for the spirit’s essence as well as the body’s water. It is especially dangerous here for untrained shaman. Beware mages. You are in more danger than you know, but I can tell you nothing more.”

The handler’s cryptic warning told Simon nothing useful, but heightened his awareness. The sounds from the island became maddeningly suggestive of voices. Now that he was aware of it, he could not clear it from his mind. His skin felt overly sensitive to the chill dry air, sucking the moisture from his skin even as he shivered in a cold sweat.

If the tribesman noticed these conditions, he ignored them. He unhitched his lizards from the wagon. He moved more slowly than he had at the T’kulpa. Yet his careful hands made no mistakes. He finished all too soon for the weary mages.

He slung the bladder across his chest using the straps of the harness. He barked a short command and the lizards left their side by side position to line up nose to tail. He closed the nozzle on the trailing beast’s head harness, and looped its traces to a hook on his belt. He seated himself high on the shoulders of the lead animal, taking its traces in one hand while he maintained pressure on the much diminished bladder with the other.

He hesitated once again before muttering under his breath. His mount turned a scaly head toward him, and he scratched the bony ridge over one eye. He produced an object from his tightly wrapped robes and tossed it to Simon as he and Gunther stood on the shelf of obsidian.

It was a tiny vial, made from a hollowed shard of crystal stopped with a flexible plug of lizard hide. It held some fluid by the feel of it, but Simon could not identify it in the darkness. The handler looked him in the eye from the shoulder of his beast.

“If it comes to the worst, that may help you see your way to safety. Use only a few drops, and only if you have no other choice. Hold tightly to this thought: when you are clear of the Sea, you must go into the sands.”

The handler flicked his wrist and the lizards filed back onto the salt flat.

“Wait! What do you mean? What is this?”

The tribesman gave no answer as he rode his charges back across the salt flat in the direction they had come. Simon held the vial up against the dim light from the stars and the moon. The fluid inside was thick and dark, like heavy lamp oil.

Or like blood, Simon thought darkly.

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