The last embers of daylight had long since faded and the desert rested quietly under the night sky. There was no moonlight to trace a course over rocky hills and spilling sands, and the barren expanse was cloaked in darkness. Only the stars were there in the velvet sprawl of the heavens, giving a faint light that was more a reminder of their presence than an aid to those down below. In the emptiness of the great Southern desert their twinkle was answered by a lone campfire nestled in the base of a jagged rise, its faint flicker a…
Oh man, sorry about that! Can you imagine having to slog through another paragraph of that stuff, let alone a couple thousand words? What is this, the ‘Tale of Sethra’s Daughters’? I mean, don’t get me wrong, that kind of purple prose can be fun to read at times, like those times when you’re forced at sword point to do something. If given the choice between death and reading ‘Tale of Sethra’s Daughters’ I would totally choose to read ‘Tale of Sethra’s Daughters’ and be happy about it. Maybe.
Where was I? Oh yeah, the South, capital ‘S’. That’s how you know it’s a direction of Creation, and not something like the south side of Chiaroscuro, or the southern reaches of the East or, gods help you, the southern reaches of the North. Can you imagine living in the North? Even the southern North? I imagine it’s a lovely country, what with all of the snow and bad weather and what have you, but gah! So gloomy. No sun, no blue sky, just rain and snow. It would get to you quick. I mean, have you ever talked to a Northerner? It’s nothing but gloom and depression all of the time until you just want to go out back and hang yourself. Heck, you want to go out front and hang yourself so everyone else gets the hint and knows to stay away from this guy and…
Whoops! I digress; back on track now, I promise. The South. The Great Desert, the one in between the Fire Mountains and the Southern Mountains. A bunch of sand a rocky hills. A campfire. Me.
I’m alone, for the moment. In addition to my ability to effectively use foreshadowing, I have many other talents. Unfortunately, metalworking is not one of them and the reason’s that’s unfortunate is because that’s what I’m trying to do. Metalworking, that is, not be unfortunate or something else or…gah! This is harder than I thought. Being a narrator is a real pain.
But there I was, working metal with my bare hands. It was a hard thing to do but…wait. I should probably tell you why I can work metal with my bare hands. You see, not only am I a really great guy, I’ve also had that fact Officially Recognized by Cosmic Forces. To wit, I am a Lunar Exalt, a No Moon caste, a Chosen of the Argent Madonna. For you Realm types out there that means that I’ve been possessed by a demon and granted superpowers and you should now address me a Mr. Anathema, sir. For the rest of you, I’ve earned the eternal blessings of the gods and powers far beyond the ability of your puny mortal minds to comprehend.
Or maybe not. Most people can comprehend metalworking, right? You take the metal, you smash into the shape you like and – hey presto! – you’ve got something. In this case, the thing I had was a series of twenty-eight metal scales, each one crafted during a different phase of the Moon. The one being crafted tonight was the no moon scale, which explains the dark and reason why I needed a campfire. Sure, I can infuse any object with my infinitely protean essence and shape it according to my whim, but seeing in the dark is hard! Besides, I’m in the desert on a dark night with nothing else visible for miles; what could go wrong?
Nuts! Someone’s there, a woman by the sound of her, interrupting my solitary narrative. I put down the scale and pull my hood up over my head. See, I have this hood that’s attached to the back of my coat that I can pull up and not have to bother with wrapping my head with a turban or wearing a hat or that kind of thing. It’s great for shading the sun or blocking the grit from a sandstorm, especially in combination with my blue scarf.
That last paragraph was a total waste, wasn’t it? Who cares about my clothing? Well, I guess I do. See, I made the hood myself and the scarf is, like, one of the three nice things that I own, so I’m going to talk about them if I feel like it, and you’re just going to be at my mercy. Besides, that was more foreshadowing. Yeah, that’s right, foreshadowing.
I scramble to my feet. The woman’s right by the campfire now, and I can see that she’s dressed in tired travelling clothes. She kind of looks like a Southerner, dusky skin and dark hair, and she’s pretty. Not that I’m judgmental or anything. Besides, I’m more concerned with why some random person would be wandering around an empty wasteland at night than I am with how attractive she is.
“Hello,” I call back.
“Oh, thank goodness,” the woman says, stepping fully into the light. “I’d hoped someone was here.”
“Someone? Anyone? Sounds like low standards.”
She looks at me closely. Thankfully, I’m a big, strapping lad, all of five feet and five inches, with well over one hundred pounds to my name, so I cut a dashing figure in the firelight. The woman steps closer. She’s about the same size as me, though the dimensions do better credit to her, and she looks like she can handle herself. No, not that way, perverts. I mean in a fight, like she’s a legionnaire or something.
“Do you mind if I share your fire?” she asks. “It’s a very dark night and I’m afraid that I’m a little bit lost.”
“Well, I don’t know…” See, strangers and I don’t get along very well. The look at me and then they tend to get the urge to kill me.
In a related story, I don’t have many friends.
In another story, related in a different way, the woman was looking at me, squinting in that suspicious way that people do before they try to kill you.
“I’m sorry,” she says, smiling a smile that would melt ice if that ice happened to melt response to pretty women giving seductive smiles, “I don’t want you to get the wrong idea; I’m just passing through, on the road to Valen. I’m Petal.”
“People call me Fennec.”
Wait, crap! I haven’t told you my name yet! Well, that’s true enough, people do call me Fennec. Actually, Fennec’s my name. Sort of. It’s complicated. I’ll explain later when I have more time.
“Well, Fennec, what do you say?”
“I say maybe, though I can say other things too.” I wiggle my eyebrows, an effect that’s probably lost on Petal because I’ve pulled up my hood, obscuring my face.
The woman ignores my joke and looks at the pile of bags at my feet. And by pile I mean one; well, two, if you count the canteen as a bag. My blanket was unrolled over to the side of fire, and my knife and my boomerang were on top it.
“Is that all you have?” she asks.
“This? Yep, that’s it. I travel light.”
“I’ll take it.”
“Oh no, it’s not for sale. See, out here in the desert life is simple and we operate on the barter system and…”
“Shut up and give your canteen. The provisions, too.”
I cock my head to the side. “I don’t respond to threats, lady.”
I probably should have seen this coming, but I’ll be generous to Petal and say that she was fast. Really fast. Her dagger was out of its sheath and at my neck quicker than you could say Princess Magnificent with Lips of Coral and Robes of Black Feathers.
“Oh,” I gurgle heroically, “by ‘don’t respond’ I meant ‘give in instantly.’”
“Are you alone?” The dagger was sharp, a fact my neck could verify.
“Well, you’re here.”
“Are…you…alone?!” It was a lovely growl, full of the right mix of malice and hostility. Whether it would make ice melt would depend on the ice in question, I suppose.
“Yes, all alone!” The relationship between the dagger and my neck had gone on long enough, and I felt that it was time to end it. It’s not you, it’s me, and all that. Okay, it was mostly you.
“And this is all you have?”
“You already asked that question.”
Petal glares at me, but as she does so her expression turns from anger to surprise to disgust. She reaches out with her none-dagger wielding hand, a hand that I was generally a fan of and preferred to the other hand, and pushes back my hood.
“You’re a Dune Person!” she exclaims.
Crap, that’s another thing I forgot to mention! I am a Dune Person, with the white hair, the white skin, the hating the sun, the cannibalism, the whole thing. I was going to get to it, I swear, but little miss knifes alot had to wreck my narrative.
“Thanks for noticing,” I say. “You’re a bandit, that thing over there is a rock, and that other thing is a campfire. What that sound is, though, I don’t know.”
Petal glances to the left and I take the opportunity to scramble away from her, falling on my backside in a completely intentional and planned maneuver. Petal, however, is not interested in me anymore. In fact, most of her attention seems to be devoted to deciphering the low, wailing noise that I had been unable to identify.
“Horns,” she says, turning pale. “The Wyld Hunt.”