The Great Race: Part Six
“Hot!” Sirenia panted. “Of all the lands, this has to be my least favorite.”
“It's worse than the Haunted Woods?” Kanuah asked with a smile.
“Well, you won't have to suffer much longer, here's our contact's house.”
They had left the woods earlier that morning. Sirenia, who had always been a fast healer, had woken Kanuah up while Ankhele and Luke were still asleep, and they left. They were now in Qasala knocking on the door of their contact, Arabella.
A dark skinned girl opened the door. “Come in, come in, you'll die of heat out there.” She ushered them in and shut the door.
“Actually,” began Sirenia. “We were just going to stop by. We really need to go.”
The girl firmly shook her head. “I can't let you do that. In this heat, you'll faint within an hour. No one goes out in the middle of the day. You can leave at dusk when it's cooler. It's a rule of thumb in the desert: Rest in the day, travel in the night.”
“But the other team...”
“If they have any brains in their head, they'll wait until it's cooler too. They won't gain anything by going now and neither will you.”
A shy desert Ixi poked her head around her owner's legs.
“Isn't that right, Isha?” asked the owner.
The Ixi nodded. “You'll need these too.” She shyly handed them two cloaks of white material. “White reflects the sun instead of absorbing it like black does.” She looked at Kanuah. “You'll really need it.”
Sirenia sat on a stack of cushions on the floor. “So we wait?”
Arabella set two cold qando fruit punches in front of the travelers. “You wait.”
“Wait for nightfall? But the other team is already to Qasala!” Ankhele protested.
“And in Qasala they will stay until dusk if they have any brains in their heads,” replied their host as he dragged Ankhele back into the house. “You'll have plenty of time to overtake them...” He released her into the living room. “Later.”
Luke curled up on a cushion; he was still recovering from his side adventure. “So we wait?”
Their host set a drink in front of them. “You wait.”
Ankhele peered into her drink. “What is this?”
Her host's Shoyru took a sip of her drink. “Lost Desert mystery beverage.”
Luke sniffed it. “What's in here?”
The Shoyru winked. “It's a mystery.”
“It's cool enough now.”
Kanuah poked his head outside of the door. “So we can go?”
“Not without these.” Isha handed Kanuah and Sirenia two large containers of water each. “Drink regularly and sparsely,” she advised them.
Sirenia hugged the Ixi and her host. “Thank you for everything.”
The host gave her a gentle shove out the door. “You're welcome, now get going!”
“Thanks!” Kanuah waved as he trotted down the street.”
“Remember to walk by night and sleep by day!” their host called after them.
“Ah! Desert air, nothing like it.” Kanuah breathed.
“That's because nothing's as dry,” grumbled Sirenia.
Kanuah held his shadow lantern over his map. “Nothing but sand.” He returned his map to his pack and pulled out his compass. “We'll go by the stars and the compass.”
Sirenia pointed towards the sky. “There's the Thief, he points west.”
Kanuah looked at his compass. “Yup, west it is then.”
“Is Altador next?”
“Yeah, but let's get through the desert first.”
“Do you think they got out of Sakhmet before we left Qasala?”
“That's what you always say,”
“That's what I always think.”
“There's the dawn.” Kanuah pointed behind them.
Sirenia turned her head. “You can see it coming from a ways away out here with nothing to block it.”
Kanuah picked up his walk to a jog. “We should get some distance in before it gets hot.”
Sirenia trotted faster. “Sand's hard to run in.”
“Hot sand's even harder to run in.”
Five hours later the sun beat down with a vengeance.
Sirenia touched the circlet carefully. “Ouch! It's time to stop; the circlet's heated up.”
Kanuah pointed to a crop of rocks. “Let's stop there. We can stretch our cloaks over us and make a tent.”
“Stop! Not all of us are fire painted!” Ankhele begged her brother.
Luke, who was used to heat, was little affected by the desert sun. “Sure.” He grinned and he pranced back to his lagging sister. “We can make camp if you want; we've come a ways.”
Ankhele threw down her bag next to a small circle of stones. “Good.”
She lay panting as Luke set up a shade tent. She rolled her eyes. “Must you whistle?”
“Sorry. But this is the best part of the race for me. Maybe we should get Taylor to move to the Lost Desert!”
Ankhele have him a scathing look.
Ankhele lay her head against her bag. “Do you think the other team is ahead?”
“You always say that.”
“That's what I always think.”
“The air's getting cooler.” Kanuah sniffed.
“Then let's get going.” Sirenia took down the tent and began to pack up camp.
“Where's the water jugs?” Kanuah asked her.
“Right...” Sirenia turned to the rock she has set the water next to. “Here?”
They weren't there.
“They were right here!” She looked around the rock.
“I believe you. I saw them there.” Kanuah walked around the camp site. “There's no tracks or marks except ours, there's no signs of wind or of wings and we're not going to steal our own water. That leaves two options.”
“Shadow Usul or Paint Devil, take your pick.”
“Of all the times to steal something!” Sirenia groaned.
“We can't stay here; we'll just get even more thirsty. The only option is to get to Altador as fast as possible.” Kanuah shouldered his pack. “Let's get moving.”
“I'm getting thirsty.”
Kanuah checked his compass against the stars again. “Try not to think about it.”
“That's hard when my tongue is sticking to the top of my mouth.”
“Here.” Kanuah tossed her a pebble. “Suck on that; it helps.”
Sirenia polished it on her arm before sticking it in her mouth. “Do you know how far till Altador?”
“We've been walking for a day and a half and it's a three day walk across the desert.”
“So we're half way there?”
“Maybe we should pick up the pace.”
“Just suck on your stone.”
“We're going to be okay, aren't we?”
Kanuah tugged on her mane. “Of course we are.”
“Liar.” Sirenia muttered to her brother as she dragged herself along. She needed water more than Kanuah did, as she was a water animal. “We are so not okay.”
Kanuah put Sireina's hood up on her white cloak, picked up his sister and carried her. “We'll be just fine.”
Kanuah looked up at the sun. He was starting to worry also; they still had a day's worth of traveling to go, there was no place to stop in the shade, and they were out of water. The food was fine, but it make them even thirstier. “Just think about Altador. We'll be there soon.”
“Sure,” Sirenia muttered. “If you says so.”
Kanuah continued to walk. Walking on two legs wasn't as easy as four legs, but Sirenia couldn't walk anymore. Hot sand shifted under his paws. Two hours later, he could go no more. He fell to his knees and set Sirenia down. “Sorry,” he whispered. He unsheathed his katana and set it across his lap. He then tilted it till it reflected the sunlight. “Someone, please.”
“Pass the water.” Ankhele put out a hoof.
“No problem.” Luke handed her the canteen.
“Shouldn't you drink some?”
“I had some an hour ago. I can go a while without it,” Luke said a little smugly.
Ankhele took gulp and handed back the water. She shaded her eyes and looked intently into the distance. “Do you see something?”
“No, something shiny.” Ankhele pulled the binoculars out of the pack and put it to her eye. “Luke! It's the other team!”
“So we caught up?”
Ankhele was running. “I think they're in trouble!”
Luke cupped his paws around his muzzle as he ran after her. “Hey, Kanuah!”
The shape in the distance waved its arms.
“I said that.” Ankhele snorted and tossed her mane.
Luke was the first on the scene. “Whoa, what happened to you guys?”
Luke handed Kanuah a jug. “We have plenty.”
Kanuah splashed a little on Sirenia's face. She had fainted in the last hour.
Sirenia blinked. “Are we there yet?”
Kanuah put the jug to her mouth. “Drink.”
Sirenia did with great speed.
Ankhele handed Kanuah another canteen. “You should drink too.”
Kanuah took a long drink. “Thanks.”
“So what happened?” Luke helped Sirenia sit up.
“We were visited by either the Shadow Usul or the Paint Devil.” Kanuah took another drink. “They took all of our water.”
“Ouch.” Luke winced. “How long ago?”
“Last afternoon. Thanks for rescuing us.”
Ankhele handed him two large canteens. “You can have these. Luke hardly drinks anything.”
Sirenia was already up and ready to go. “We should get to some shelter; it's almost the hottest part of the day.”
The two teams looked at each other.
Kanuah sighed. “I don't think either of us want to run across the desert anymore. I say we rest together, get across the desert together, and split at Altador. Your contact lives on the east side; ours lives on the west side.”
Luke nodded. “Sounds good to me. Then we can beat your tails to Shenkuu.”
Sirenia gave him a playful shove. “Not if we can help it.”
To be continued...