Chapter 21: One Word Too Many

Only a fool names the desert in a fit of rage for she has no humor or forgiveness.

—Chitosane Achyòga

Desòchu sat with his back against one of the Wind’s Teeth. A small fire, only a log’s worth, crackled merrily in front of him. He never realized how much he counted on the warmth until he had to sleep alone in the desert. The air grew cold quickly and he was surprised he survived the bite of darkness. He rested one of his arms and held his hand near the flames as if the fire would disappear in an instant.

He wasn’t tired. He should have been, he had run for leagues but somehow his legs didn’t burn from the effort and sweat didn’t dry on his skin. It was a startling contrast to only weeks before when he was forced to run around the valley. Every step had been a struggle, yanking his bare feet from the burning sand or finding some way to wipe the sweat from his brow from the baking heat.

Desòchu didn’t know what had changed but he suspected something had happen when his focus sharpened while running. It was the only thing different. He tried to bring back the feeling, to summon it with the force of his will.

It remained quiet but he could feel it. It was a fire in his chest, a tingling along his arms and legs. He couldn’t quite describe it, but he felt the euphoria deep inside him. All he had to do was summon it.

He frowned and concentrated on the sensation.

It slipped away.

Desòchu let out an exasperated growl and then tried again. He closed his eyes tightly and concentrated on his body, trying to feel past his skin, to push to a formless depth inside him. He could almost see it in the back of his head, a shifting golden flame.

The energy was there. He could feel it.

Like scratching a healing wound, he kept clawing at the sensation trying to draw it out. Time seemed to spill away as his efforts were met with failure after failure. It felt like trying to cup water with his hand, no matter how many times he managed to somehow grasp it, an errant thought was all it took to have to slip away.

“Damn it!” he swore. He pounded the sand with his fist.

Taking a deep breath, he screwed his face tightly and reached out for the energy. He needed to feel it, to experience that rush as it flooded his veins. His body shook with his effort.

The energy refuse to rise.

He pounded the sand again and again. “Damn, damn, damn!”

His fingers caught on a leather pouch. Without thinking, he scrambled to his feet. “Shit on you!” he bellowed before throwing it away.

Desòchu only had a glimpse of his still-steaming dinner spilling out of the pouch before it disappeared into darkness.

He froze, his breath coming in hard gasps. His eyes focused on the world around him, a barely lit sand. He didn’t remember finishing cooking the rations. He dug back in his memories until he found a vague recollection of pulling it out of the fire.

Balling his hand into a fist, he shook with frustration. Why was everything going wrong? What did he do?

He looked down at the cache of supplies he had found. There were only four more pouches of food, enough for dinner but then he didn’t know how long he was going to be out there. His family, his clan, had abandoned him to the desert to die.

He turned back to the night. Tears of frustrated rage burned in his eyes. His stomach hurt and he was hungry. His injuries seemed to throb all at once, grinding down his senses.

Taking a deep breath, he screamed into the darkness. “Shit on you, Mifúno!”

He didn’t care about the desert anymore. Let her take him, it was just tales the clan used to keep him quiet.

“Shit on your sand-damned skull! It wasn’t my fault!”

A breeze kicked up. The sand rippled along the ground around him.

He kicked at it. “Only fools are scared to call you by name. Only idiots are wrong. Your just the sands, just the rocks, you are nothing!” He stepped forward and continued yelling even as his throat began to hurt. “You took everything from me! My mother! My father!”

Tear ran down his cheeks. “Why didn’t you take him!? Why didn’t you take the one thing I didn’t need! Why not him! Why are you so—”

A blast of sand slammed into his face.

He sputtered and stumbled back, smacking against the rocky pillar.

The light flared with the wind, burning brightly as the sun for only a moment.

When it grew dark, he gasped and looked down.

The fires was dying. Not not from running out of fuel but because the logs were crumbling into black ash. As he watched, the embers were snuffed out as the wind blew away his only source of warmth and light. In a heartbeat, there wasn’t even a sign that a fire had been there.

“W-What? No!” He dropped to his knees and grabbed at the logs. It didn’t matter if he burned himself, he couldn’t handle the dark.

Desòchu managed to catch one of the twigs but it crumbled in his palm. Only a ripple of cold was left behind. The sensation feel suffocating as it rippled along his skin.

A high-pitched hiss drew his attention to the supply cache. To his horror, it began to dissolve into black ash also.

“No, no! I didn’t mean it!” He reached for it.

All his supplies, food and water for days, blew away into the darkness.

“No!”

Then he felt the presence of the desert. A darkness that rose above, looming like some beast. He looked up and realized he couldn’t see the stars or moon anymore. Everything was black, pitch and empty. Not even a glimmer of light surrounded him as he felt the hands of something terrible reaching out for him.

With a sob, he lost control of his bladder. He held up his hands but the terror just flowed around it.

Mifúno griped his heart with claws that somehow ignored his skin. He sobbed as each beat became a struggle, a thud that clawed at his insides. The pressure increased as he dropped his hand and knees, bending over as he clutched his chest. “P-Please… I’m sorry.”

The invisible claws of death dug deeper. It felt like she was about to tear out his heart. He grabbed his chest with one hand, cracking his knuckles in a foolish attempt to remain alive. Blood dripped from his tongue where he had bit it. Every orifice of his body burned as if he had eaten too many spices or he was losing control of everything.

He opened his mouth to draw in his last breath.

It filled his lungs and he exhaled.

Then he took another deep breath.

The pain in his chest lessened, drawing away but leaving the memory to scar his heart. He slumped forward and sobbed. No words came out of his mouth, he couldn’t even think of the words.

Panting, he shook as he lifted his head and looked around.

The moon and stars had returned, painting the ground in a pale blue glow. By it, he could see that the fire and supplies were still gone. He hoped they would have been returned. After a few seconds of looking, he realized it was a small cost to still be able to breathe.

Desòchu’s body ached as he got to his feet. He felt empty, hollow. As if something had been extinguished inside him. He reached up for his chest, his fingers pressing against his cool skin. He remembered the flame inside his thoughts, the energy and rush that he craved to feel again.

The energy inside him was gone, snuffed out by the desert.

He froze, his thoughts blowing away like black ash.

Desperate, he concentrated on himself to find any hint of power.

When he found none, he out a long, strangled cry. His knees buckled and he dropped to the ground. His momentum drove him to sit on the backs of his feet, upright but with nothing left to move again. He lost himself as he focused on the empty void in his heart. With each attempt to find magic again, his fingers clawed at his cheat.

The desert had touched him. Just like his grandmother said it would, just like the others did. Mifúno had taken more than his mother and father away, it had taken his hope.

He sobbed again, tears burning at his eyes. “I’m sorry.”

Mifúno wouldn’t forgive him. She was a cruel mother, a desert that destroyed families.

Desòchu let out a long, shuddering sigh. He should be happy he was still alive. He was, but his thoughts were still broken, blasted like the ashes, and his thoughts kept returning to the empty hole in his chest.

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