Interlude: Dreams in the Desert, part 1

He scowled at the figured curled up on the sand before him. He couldn’t be mad at him, but he was still so full of anger and hurt, even after giving everything he had in the Whispering Dark. Why were the negative emotions always the first to return? Why couldn’t he recall his mother’s face, his cousin’s laughter, a kind word, a sunny day? It was always the things he tried to keep buried that rose to the surface first.

He sat down in the white sand, hurling a handful of sparks to call a fire into life before him. He watched the shadows play across his sleeping companion, wondering if he should wake him. He never rested, never slept, and something about watching the other man lay there made him want to shake him. He didn’t feel like himself at all. He was usually so much better at keeping his calm.

He turned his gaze to the waxing moon, days away from zenith. The desert always seemed so haunted beneath the silvery light, but it was preferable to the empty stretches of darkness left when il’li Dareiya turned her face away. Balance. Where was his balance? He searched the goddess’s face for answers, but she was as empty and silent as he.

He turned back to the crackling fire, willing the heat to seep into him, to chase away the chill from his bones. Funny, but he never seemed to feel the cold of the Whispering Dark before. Numb, yes, empty, yes, but never the cold. Could it be the hawk?

And what was he going to do with her? She was clearly not the devious raptor spell caster she might have seemed—no, it appeared she knew just enough to be a danger to herself and those around her. And he’d shown her how to add more fuel to the fire. What a mess.

With a sigh, Naj pushed himself to his feet, deliberately divorcing himself from the tangle of thoughts and memories he should be putting to order. Let Seth do it, when he finally woke. The man never slept, and Naj didn’t have it in his heart to wake him, no matter how angry with him he was. But he wasn’t of a mind to Seth’s work for him, either.

Naj turned away and walked out of the desert without a backward glance.

The earth pressed close and cold around them. The smell of an extinguished torch was an acrid tickle at the edge of the shadows. He longed for a fire, but he knew why Aezir held their magic closed tight against them. Just a little longer, a few more days in the darkness, and the danger would be past. He hoped. They’d already gone so deep into the tunnels, flushed out of every corner they’d found to hide in…

A stern cough brought Seth from his fear, and he wrapped himself tighter around Naj, even as Aezir shifted his foot to brush against Seth’s leg. The long hours without contact from his nest was taking its toll. Not to mention the eerily silent dark.

He knew they were dead. Anyone who had not fled like they had were certainly smoldering in the remains of the temple above. How ironic that the Ahn’Ki Dai had been burned out of their stronghold. Perhaps that biting smell was more than just the torch.

Seth tossed in his sleep as the fire popped on the sand beside him. One memory of flames gave way to another, a long line of unbroken pain smoldering in his mind.

They were coming, and Master isn’t here. Why had he left him behind?

The Dai was fallen, there was nothing left to protect, nothing left to fear. So why had he been left with the nest, when Master marched off to war? Because there was still a war to fight, even with the temple razed. Their enemies would not stop until everything was s’Era, lost to the shadows.

This nest was nothing but shadows. Children of the gods, left to scrabble and fend for themselves in the ruins of a broken world. There had been power here, once. It had never been paradise, but it had been ours, and we will have it again…

A mind brushed over his, and he shrunk away, pulling deeper into himself as he went serpent still, willing himself to be silent, unnoticed.

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