Chapter 13 Scene 3

by Richard Perkins
This entry is part 59 of 65 in the series Doormaker's Fall

Their tortuous crawl across the face of the salt flat was beyond exhausting. Simon had tried to retain what little awareness he could while his body dragged itself league after league. But the sameness was overwhelming. He had drifted in and out of consciousness.

When he was awake enough to notice, the sun played tricks on his vision, bouncing it off shimmering veils of heat. Dimly he remembered looking out across the scintillating plain in the night as the stars glinted overhead. How long ago had that been? Hours? Days? Quints? He had lost all track of time. And under the sun’s baleful eye, his saw no more than a few yards in any direction. He felt as though he crossed the same few yards of endlessly.

Yet he persevered. Some part of his consciousness had latched onto a bearing of some sort, and followed it doggedly. He felt their destination calling him, felt its inexorable pull. He counted their progress in cuts on his ragged palms, rubbed raw by the sharp edged crystal dust. He tracked the passage of time in rents torn through the knees of his tattered robes.

So when a small outcropping of stone loomed ahead of them, Simon would have wept for joy if he still had control of his own tear ducts. Under other circumstances, he would have overlooked the small protrusion from the surrounding sea of featureless white. A dark glassy stone, with metallic flecks visible on its lustrous surface, it thrust above the sands by less than a handspan. It was several fingers wide at the base, tapering to an irregular point at the tip. It was completely unremarkable, really. But the relief from the White Sea’s endless monotony gave Simon hope that they were not crawling in circles. It tortured him with anticipation of something beyond this nightmare, if they could only reach its edge.

He watched the dark stone hungrily as it appeared out of the endless reflections in front of him. He longed to touch it, to reassure himself of its solidity in an increasingly dream-like world. But whatever was controlling his body’s progress was not interested in the silent sentinel of black stone. Again Simon would have wept if he could, as they passed it by without pause. He only managed to steal one last glimpse of farewell as the pinnacle receded into the shimmering reflections behind them.

But mere moments after leaving the stone cap behind, Simon realized that his shambling crawl across the sands had slowed. Was it possible the strange force that had energized and driven him on was weakening? He tentatively tried to take conscious control of his limbs, but animal instinct was still firmly in control. It pushed him aside effortlessly. No, something else had changed. He slowed his own thoughts, and tried to mesh them with the dark awareness that had driven him to crawl league after blind league. He felt the faintest echoes of thoughts, if they could be called that. He could still feel the faint pull of their destination. That had not changed, unless perhaps to grow faintly stronger. Overlaying that weak pull he could still feel each of his cardinal directions. He felt the sky above and the sand below, the mountains ahead and the plains behind, the sunrise in this direction and the sunset that one. He could feel these directions as tingles in the bronzy skin on his back and vibrations in the graying hair on his scalp.

He felt them in the same visceral way he felt the weak heartbeat and shallow breathing of the young air mage he dragged in his wake. And now he felt something else. There was a presence off to their right. Something moved through the constant mirages that blinded him, drawing closer. Now it was in front of them, approaching the path to their distant destination. And then quite suddenly, it stopped.

This confusing new presence waited just ahead on the concealing haze. It confounded the animal instincts within him. He felt one heartbeat, heard one creature’s breath, but sensed more than one presence. He also felt a separate pull toward this new presence, similar to the pull of their destination. It felt smaller somehow, diminished. Yet it fought with the pull of their destination because it was much closer.

Hesitantly Simon found himself inching closer to the shadowy apparition just beyond the shimmering veils of mirage. Ever so slowly, the wavering figure solidified out of the vapors. The familiar dun colored robes of the Prophet resolved in front of him with every halting step. He felt his lips curl in an attempt to hiss. His neck strained at a foreign impulse to snap his jaws at the stranger as he approached warily. But he was helpless to do anything as the mysterious Prophet reached into a tautly stretched pouch with one hand and held forth a fistful of sand, pure desert sand. He let a tiny rivulet of the golden grains trickle between his clenched fingers and Simon felt the animal instinct within him lurch desperately toward it. As the first grains of sand touched the swollen skin of his face he felt his tenuous link to their destination dissolve as if it had never been.

And though he wailed against it with all his fading strength, Simon could only watch in horror. The Prophet circled around the two broken mages, leading them back in the direction they had come, leaving a serpentine plume of sand across the salt flat in his wake.

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