Caution: Quills may be sharp Circulation: 190,988,443 Issue: 589 | 5th day of Eating, Y15
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Desert Journey: Part Two


by cureleantwilight

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Covered by the thick of night, the desert Xweetok observed her target. Aria, dressed in ancient tan robes, was a tribe member of the last surviving desert Xweetok of the Qasalan civilization. Although the tribe no longer resides in the ancient city, they still fight to hide Qasala's existence. She closed her eyes and remembered her duties.

      When Aria was a child, she learned the ways of her tribe. "You must prevent outsiders from reaching the ancient city Qasala. Even though our old way of life is long gone, we still come from a long line of Qasalan ancestors. Our tribe has protected these lands for many generations and now it is your turn to do the same," her father the desert Xweetok had said. "You must follow these rules of the tribe. Always set traps to stop outsiders. Follow at a distant so that you my never be seen. Absolutely do not come into contact with any outsiders. Finally, do what ever it takes to prevent outsiders from reaching the ancient city. We have only ever had one outsider make it that far and we will not let that happen again!"

      I must fulfill my duties. No outsider will ever pass through the desert on my watch.

      Aria was resilient. Countless outsiders have attempted to cross the desert on her watch and she easily thwarted all of them. This latest outsider would be no different. She would set up the same traps to distract him as with the others and honor her responsibilities.

      However, a part of her couldn't help but ponder about this new outsider. This one seems different. He travels much lighter and was able to save himself from the quicksand. Very few have ever succeeded against quicksand. He might be stronger than the rest.

      Even so, Aria was undeterred. She quietly left to set up a trap and wait for the rising sun.

      •••

      Morning finally arrived, as the sun rose to return heat to the desert. Noel awoke feeling refreshed but hungry. Wanting to get a good start, he quickly drank some water and ate a pyramibread. Once done with breakfast, Noel gathered his few possessions and once again started towards the mountain.

      Not long into the day, Noel spotted a reflecting light in the distance. He couldn't quite make out what the light was coming from.

      Could it be another traveler? An object buried in the sand? Or is the hot sun simply playing tricks with my vision?

      Noticing that the light fell in the direction of the mountain, Noel decided it wouldn't hurt to investigate. As a precaution, he held onto his elegant desert sword should any danger arise.

      Perhaps the light is nothing, but my curiosity wants me to find out anyways.

      As he approached the light, he noticed a small object buried in the sand. Quickly Noel scanned his surroundings for lurking figures but none could be seen. Gradually he inched towards the object while cautiously checking around for danger. Drawing near, he noticed the object was a Golden Anubis Mirror. Chuckling to himself, Noel knew these mirrors were common in Sakhmet city.

      Most likely a traveler lost this mirror on their way to the mountain.

      Noel thought about picking up the object but hesitated. He began to feel uncomfortable with the situation. Something was not right. Noel carefully stepped towards the mirror, only to suddenly feel the sand begin to give way beneath him. Quick to react, Noel managed to pull back just in time as the sand revealed a large pitfall.

      This was no accident. Someone dug this pitfall as a trap.

      Aware that someone was watching him, Noel reeled around and locked eyes with the culprit. He could easily make out the tan cloak of the figure, with detailed gold trimmings running along the edges. Although they were quite a distance away from each other, Noel could identify the figure as a desert Xweetok. As they fixated their gaze on each other, Noel immediately felt a sense of hatred coming from the Xweetok. Then the brief moment passed and the figure disappeared beyond the sand dunes with great haste.

      The tribe exists. I am being followed.

      Noel attempted to follow the figure, only to find himself alone again. How the figure was able to flee so quickly puzzled Noel but he didn't dwell upon it. Turning back towards his destination, he gazed up at the mountain peak. While the shadow in the sky appeared closer than the day before, the mountain still seemed miles away.

      He sighed. Noel knew this journey would not be easy, he just didn't think he would encounter so many obstacles in such a short period. With an enemy hot on his trail, Noel decided to press on with a little more swiftness to his steps. He did not want to fall for another trap.

      •••

      The outsider had seen her. Aria had broken one of the most important rules of her tribe.

      Follow at a distant so that you may never be seen.

      She knew she was too close yet thought her trap was infallible. But it was too late; the Zafara had instantly noticed her presence. In the moment they locked eyes, her hatred for him seared across the lands like the scorching sun. As quickly as she had been seen, Aria turned and dashed down the sand dune. She was not about to let that horrible outsider catch up to her!

      When Aria reached a safe distance, she slowed and began to break down. Tears filled her eyes as she realized her grave error.

      I have failed! My confidence turned to arrogance and I let that outsider get away. What will the tribe think of me now?

      She thought of her father, how he would be ashamed. Then she thought of her long lost grandfather. Back during her early childhood, Aria's grandfather, Geothel, was the greatest protector of the desert Xweetok tribe. He had stopped countless outsiders from ever coming close to the edge of Qasala. But then one night, her grandfather came back with a solemn look on his face.

      With a quiet tone to his voice, Geothel spoke, "An outsider has discovered Qasala. He managed to evade all of my traps and enter the city. I eventually lost track of him as he turned back towards the desert..."

      Fear and anger rippled through the tribe. Their hidden city has been discovered. Now more outsiders would come and threaten the remnants of Qasala. That same night, her grandfather slipped away in shame, never to be seen or heard from again.

      I will not be like my grandfather. I will not fail my fellow desert Xweetok.

      With a heavy breath, Aria recollected herself. She knew there was still a chance to stop him. The outsider had miles to go before he reached Qasala and the mountain. Once again motivated, she set out to stop the outsider.

      •••

      By midday, Noel had traveled a good few miles. He noticed the landscape began to change. The desert sand slowly disappeared, turning into red and burnt orange rocks. Noel was relieved to encounter this transforming scenery as the sand was beginning to wear on him. Walking forward, he came across a vast desert valley. He peered down and saw more orange rocks and rock formations. The valley was at least a mile down and across, extending endlessly across either direction.

      My grandfather failed to mention this in his journey.

      Noel glanced in either direction. He decided to head right, hoping that the valley would end so that he could simply walk across. After roughly an hour, Noel gave up and stopped to eat a puntec fruit. It became clear to him that the valley would not end anywhere in a close proximity to Noel's current location. Attempting to turn back and head left would only waste even more precious time. Not to mention a Xweetok tribal member was on the hunt, most likely tracking his every move in order to set up more traps.

      Noel quickly darted his head around for signs of the Xweetok. As usual, nothing was in sight except for sand, the valley, and the prized mountain. The sun blazed through his cloak but he shrugged off the heat.

      Perhaps I will never witness that Xweetok again. Maybe the figure wasn't even real at all and I was just seeing things.

      Frowning, Noel knew that thought was unlikely. The Xweetok was real, the mirror and trap was real, and now every step he takes will bring him closer to danger and his destination. Despite the growing fear inside him, Noel refused to give up. He had managed to already save himself from two perils and no Xweetok was going to get in the way of his goal.

      Looking back across the valley, Noel devised his next step. With a couple hours still left in the day, he would have to climb down the edge of the valley and climb back up on the other side. It would be a long and arduous process, but Noel had no other choice. Reaching the cliff's edge, Noel slowly began to climb down the orange rocks.

      As he made his descent, the determined Xweetok plotted her next move.

To be continued...

 
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Other Episodes


» Desert Journey: Part One
» Desert Journey: Part Three
» Desert Journey: Part Four
» Desert Journey: Part Five
» Desert Journey: Part Six



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