Chapter 5 Scene 2

by Richard Perkins
This entry is part 18 of 65 in the series Doormaker's Fall

Tor moved easily across the desert in the morning sun. A small group of Shard tribespeople had set out just after dawn to track the storm. He followed them at a distance, quietly leaving the Shard encampment after the elders made it clear that he was not welcome.

They had been careful to provide him a semblance of the respect due to one of the Migrating Prophets. They supplied travel hardy rations and refilled his water skins. But they offered no more than was asked and that only grudgingly. Their insolence angered him, but there was little he could do, alone as he was in their territory. He had been conspicuously watched, one might even say guarded, as the tribespeople debated how to respond to the storm and his arrival. A heated argument had been held in hushed tones some distance away, leaving Tor to shake his head in silent frustration.

The proper course of action had seemed clear to him: send a party of storm chasers into the desert, and leave the tribal elders to provide hospitality for the visitor. But many of the Shard clearly viewed this storm an ill omen, colored as it was by the enclave’s discovery. The elders wanted to retreat north. A pitiful number of storm chasers had been chosen. None seemed eager to accept the honor, which was very unusual. Tor had seen easily enough that the chase was being used as a convenient way to rid the tribe of those who dissented with the elders. He had chosen to cast his lot with them. Perhaps their actions this day would redeem the rest of their tribespeople. Regardless, he would watch the storm chasers and leave the rest of the reclusive tribe to their fate.

He had little doubt that if he returned he would find the camp abandoned, all evidence of the Scattered Shard’s presence wiped clean. It would be a generation or more before they returned there, if they ever did. Tor wondered if they had told the scouting party about their plans or if they had simply chosen to abandon them to the whim of the desert. The latter, he decided, his ire at the fleeing elders rising further. Fuelled by his anger, he was unaware how quickly he sped across the sand until he had nearly overtaken the storm chasers.

He saw them more clearly as he drew near. There were five of them trekking tirelessly up the dune face above him. They moved in a regimented sweeping wedge, the leading scout in the centre keeping his eyes focused on the fast moving storm and flanked by two who scanned the horizon in a wider arc from positions slightly behind the lead. To their left was the wing scout, who trailed behind the flankers and scanned alternately to the left and right of the chasers. To their right was the watch, who traveled behind even the wing scout and periodically surveyed their back trail.

Storm chasers did not move in such formations, Tor thought to himself. It would slow them down when speed was usually the most critical characteristic for rescue and salvage efforts. They would not adopt such a formation unless they were expecting an attack or… He did not have time to finish the thought.

As the lead scout reached the summit of the dune, the watch spotted Tor following their trail. With a piercing whistle like the cry of a desert raptor, he signaled his companions and brought Tor up short. Tor looked upward from the base of the dune to see the storm chasers waiting for him at its peak.

On closer inspection Tor saw that their dun colored robes were cleverly tied for maximum mobility. They had not abandoned their sweeping wedge. The watch, lowest on the dune and to Tor’s right, had turned to face him. He was short but solidly built, with a spidery scar crossing his broad jaw and eyes that were shadowed by heavy brows. He was casually armed with a loaded sling. The wing, further up the slope to Tor’s left, had also turned toward the new arrival. He was taller than the watch, but the slightest of the five. He had a deceptively unlined face which showed all the warmth of a coiled viper. Tor saw that he too had a loaded sling at the ready. The two flanks had turned to the right and the left, but did not bother to face Tor at the foot of the dune. They were both women, tall and lean, with piercing eyes that never stopped moving. The lead scout was the tallest of the group, though Tor could distinguish little else about him. He had not turned his eyes away from the storm that loomed large enough even for Tor to see from where he stood.

It darkened the sky with dust and debris, and the glow of the sun reached them through it only weakly. Then the sun broke through a brief gap in the sand thrown by the storm, and the storm chasers were silhouetted by its glare. Tor saw the flash of crystal belts at the knee of the left flank and the lead. Shaking his head in the glare, Tor thought the crystal belts looked like bands of light. There was a hazy shimmer, and the group of storm chasers above him was replaced by a momentary vision. A ghostly hand rose up from the dune, trails of sand spilling from its aged palm, the cold glitter of crystal rings around the second and third fingers.

The vision passed, and Tor clutched at the crystal fragment he wore around his neck. Carefully etched with the image he had just seen, it was the talisman of his tribe, carried by all Prophets across the Great Desert.

His head spinning with the possibilities, Tor whispered to himself. “Can it be? The Hand of the Prophet!”

Comments are closed.