Chapter 5 Scene 4

by Richard Perkins
This entry is part 20 of 65 in the series Doormaker's Fall

“What is the meaning of this, Prophet? Why have you left the enclave?” The flank to the lead’s left called down to Tor. Her voice boomed over a strange lull in the force of the storm. Her eyes did not turn in his direction for a moment, but continued to scan the open desert.

Possibilities spun in Tor’s mind. He was on slippery sand, but was certain he could turn the situation to his benefit. He only needed to find the right words.

“You are surprised to see me. Yet you expected to be followed, no?” He waved a hand, indicating their regimented formation.

The watch turned his head and spat in the sand, the waste of water expressing his disrespect more eloquently than words ever could. Tor spoke over the returning voice of the storm. “You walk your own land, your tribespeople at your back, as the most honored of the desert’s hunters, as storm chasers. Yet you watch as though you are among enemies, and move as though you are far from home. Are you outcast then? Forsaken?”

“Never! We do not turn our back on the Great Desert’s bounty!” The wing’s carefully neutral face became an animated snarl as he spoke. His sling began to whirl menacingly.

The woman who had questioned Tor stopped scanning the horizon to glare down at the wing below her. “Hold Drez! The elders could not have compelled this one to do the deed. You raise arms against the Prophets!”

Drez hesitated, and Tor seized the opportunity. “Honored storm chasers, I offer you no harm. But your elders have abandoned you. As I left, the enclave was mobilizing.” A slight exaggeration perhaps, but if Tor had judged this group accurately, it was a safe one.

Drez faltered, his sling forgotten. “Why should we believe you?”

The stocky watch turned and growled at his companion. “And why shouldn’t we Drez? It’s what they wanted isn’t it? To flee from our shame, to forget we were ever…”

“Enough!” The lead scout’s voice cut like a crystal blade through the desert air. He still had not taken his eyes from the storm.

“Prophet. Your brethren are seers. Come look on this, then.”

Tor sensed danger in the air as he navigated through the wedge of hunters toward the summit of the dune. Each of them inspected him minutely as he approached. As he passed, each of them turned away from him in stony silence to watch the desert.

When he reached the summit, Tor stood to the right of the lead, who continued to stare at the storm to the southeast. He was tall and lean, his face desert scored and intense. He wore the traditional eye shields of the storm chasers, round stone flakes ground smooth by hand. They were designed to cover his eyes completely except for two narrow slits scored through the stones. They blocked out any stray light that could distract him. Such techniques revealed nuances of distant storms that were invisible to the unshielded eye, even if it was on the far horizon or obscured by the sun’s glare.

“Well Prophet? What do you see?”

This was a test, a challenge. Tor gazed out at the scene before him. The storm had left a trail of debris scattered in its wake as it advanced. But it had become too massive, the weight it carried too heavy, and halted its march at last. Soon it would break up, dropping its bounty to the desert below for the quick and the brave to salvage.

It was a monster, one of the largest he had ever seen. It darkened the sky, a towering beast whose hungry breath reached out to them even at this distance. Beneath its dark bulk, he could just make out the shadowy outlines of a settlement. Though he couldn’t see enough of it to be certain, he suspected it was Edgeways. They would have to wait until the storm broke to find out how much of the settlement still stood.

His eyes could tell him no more than that, so he closed them. This storm had a strange quality he could feel but not see. It hummed with an almost otherworldly energy that tingled at the base of his neck. It resonated in the palms of his hands and the soles of his feet. It was no ordinary storm.

He could not know what the storm chaser saw through his eye shields. But clearly it was something that disturbed him. Tor listened for the same whispers that had guided him to the hidden enclave. They were stronger now, almost insistent, but he could not understand their message. Tor opened his eyes. He chose his next words with the care of a master Prophet. “I see a storm shaped by destiny, poised above a settlement built by greed, on the site of a defeat forgotten by time.”

The lead scout answered slowly, his voice laden with equal measures of sorrow and rage. “It is our shame returned to taunt us.”

For the first time since he had left the enclave just after dawn, the storm chaser turned away from the storm. He removed his eye shields, revealing gray eyes flecked with purple. He looked into Tor’s eyes, the mirror of his own, the eyes of a shaman. “The elders have forgotten that before we were Scattered, we were Shard Wardens, protectors of the Crystal Cave. Have the Tribe of Prophets also forgotten who we were?”

Tor met the man’s proud gaze, unflinching. “The Prophets have forgotten neither your triumphs nor your failures. But your Mysteries are yours alone.”

The storm chaser bowed his head. The muscles in his jaw bunched as though he ground his teeth. “Then you can not understand our shame. You do not know what was lost when the Triad came to that place.”

As the storm chaser pointed toward the shadow of the storm, Tor experienced a glimmer of understanding. The scout’s next words confirmed it. “Once our sacred site lay hidden there beneath the sand. For untold hundreds of ‘turns the Great Desert protected our Crystal Cave at the end of a chain of underground seeps fed by a stream from the southern plains.”

Tor knew what must have happened next, but kept silent. The storm chaser lowered his arm, turning to stare out across the sand. “Then the cursed Triad came. In a single day they ripped the water up out of the seeps to fill their canal. In the night that followed they raised one of their stone houses above the caves from the sleeping bones of the earth.”

He dropped to his haunches, glaring toward Edgeways and the storm that towered over it. He scooped up a handful of fine sand, gripping it tightly in his upraised fist. “The Great Desert shook with rage, and then she swallowed the crystal cave. Only one of our shamans escaped her anger.”

He let a tiny rivulet of sand escape between his clenched fingers. “The horror of that night drove her mad, and she spent the rest of her days raving about crystal jaws and devouring sands. Our bravest warriors threw themselves at the Triad positions for five days and nights. On the sixth day, none were left standing and the Triad stood untouched. We had no choice. We fled.”

Then he opened his hand and cast the sand away from him. “Because of the Triad, we were Shard Wardens no more. We became the Scattered Shard, cursed to wander the sands from shelter to shelter but never to find home.”

He fell silent, contemplating the failing storm he had tracked across the desert. Sensing that kinship would be required, Tor squatted next to him, resting his forearms on his knees. “Though your elders may despair, you at least, have not forgotten your duty. Among my Brotherhood, I am known as Tor. What do the worthy among your tribe call you, Shaman of the Storm?” Tor gave him the honorific without hesitation. Though many would scoff at the idea of a shaman without a sacred site, Prophets were given a certain latitude for field work.

“The worthy among my tribe are all here on this dune. To them, I am Stephen Silver-eye.”

“I have told you what I see before us. Tell me Silver-eye, what do you see?”

“I see three mages who sit at the root of this storm. Whether they strive against it or with it, I can not tell, but it has not reached the outpost. I fear the Triad have returned, but I do not know how to proceed.”

Silver-eye turned to look at Tor. “Perhaps it is fate that brought you here, Brother Tor. The eyes of the Prophets see far. What do you suggest we do? We could attack. Against a Triad, we would surely perish. Or we could flee again, as the Scattered Shard do. Either way the last who remember the duty of the Shard Wardens would pass from the sands forever. Perhaps that is as it should be, no?”

Tor’s mind raced, as he rapidly considered and discarded alternatives. If these five were to become the Hand of the Prophet, he must preserve them now so they could fulfill their destiny later. “There is a third path. Mages have begun traveling the desert in growing numbers in recent seasonturns. The Prophets would like to know why. Perhaps if we approach them together and I speak with them, we will learn something to our advantage.”

Stephen eyed Tor speculatively. “And if they attack?”

Tor gave the man a wicked grin. “Then we will surely perish. But your hunters may be close enough to take one of them with us.”

“Should we leave one behind here to serve as witness if we fall?”

“Who would you ask to flee back to the Scattered? For your elders and those who follow them are Forsaken now. They will be Scattered Shard no more. Henceforth, they will be known only as the Scattered. If you would be Shard Wardens again, then all of you must follow the Prophets now.”

Stephen’s silver eyes lit with a fierce pride and Tor tasted success. The scout hesitated a moment longer, and then he nodded once. He rose and called over his shoulder. “Storm chasers, form a shadow line! Today we follow where the Prophet leads.”

As the other scouts arranged themselves in a single row at his back with Tor at the centre, Stephen Silver-eye nodded toward the outpost. “It is time. The storm fails.”

Tor squared his shoulders. “Good. Then let us go meet its Makers.”

As one, the Prophet and his new followers set off toward Edgeways.

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