Chapter 23: The Fires Within
Magic in the desert doesn’t happen because someone knows mystical words or waves their hands in some special way, it happens when a person’s actions and intent matches their clan spirit’s.—Exhaustive Study of Magical Manifestation (23rd ed.)
Desòchu groaned as he staggered away from the Wind’s Teeth. His stomach rumbled with hunger and his lips were cracked. The small amount of liquid he managed to get from the hole in the sand wasn’t even remotely enough to sate the ache in his muscles or the pain in the back of his head. It was hard to get his vision to focus on the dunes that surrounded the black pillars; he couldn’t help but worry about his fate.
He had heard many stories about dying of exposure in the desert. They were horror stories told during the impromptu lessons of how to find cache supplies or find water under the sand. Everyone had made a point of describing the looks of horror on the faces they found, the bones that stuck out from where the vultures had picked them clean, and even the bloody gouges in rock and stone. It was one of the many things imprinted in his memory.
Now that he was experiencing them, he decided the stories didn’t even come close to his misery.
He shivered at the morning cold and looked to the east. The sun had not risen yet, but the entire horizon appeared to be burning. There was only minutes before sunrise and he needed to find a new place for shelter. His feet slid on the dunes that surrounded the Wind’s Teeth and he had to drop to his hands and feet to crawl up to the ridge before standing again.
The rolling desert spread out in all directions. It was a ruddy tint, brown with a hint of red. Ripples of sand danced in the breezes.
It would have been beautiful if he wasn’t alone.
Desòchu groaned again and pressed his hand over his eyes to peer around. He desperately searched for smoke or bright lights first. Both would indicate an oasis or some sort of permanent shelter. Most of the safe places of the desert were claimed by other clans.
When he didn’t see anything, he started his search again for other hints of safety or at least landmarks to follow. He had to travel across the desert and he needed something to orient himself if he was going to walk during the day.
It would have been easier if he could have traveled at night. With hindsight, he wondered if he should have not threatened Fijimòsu. Seeing the desert lit up as clear as day would have been far more pleasant to considering his long walk in the unforgiving sun.
As if on cue, the sun breached the horizon.
To his surprise, he felt a quivering deep in his gut, a rush of euphoria that rippled through his body as suddenly everything seemed possible in that moment. It faded quickly into the same fires that he tried to draw the night before.
He held out his hand and stretched his hand into a straight line. A tingling rippled along his skin and he concentrated on it, drawing it up.
With a smile, he let the power flood through his body. It sang to him as it spread along his body before concentrating on his hand. Golden flames rippled along his palm before he ignited into fire.
“Oh, shit,” he said with a smile.
When he closed his hands, the fire disappeared. He opened it again and let it stretch into the knife shape. The fires returned along with the rush of power and energy. Tears of joy burned in his eyes as he looked around, curious to see if it would cut through anything. Seeing none, he raised his hand and dropped to his knee, slashing into the sand at his feet.
The ground exploded in all directions as he carved a deep fallow into the sand. The grains hissed violently as they melted together, hardening the sides. The stench of scorched ground rose around him.
Desòchu slashed the ground again. Muted thumps filled the air as he cut and dug into the ground. He felt each strike deep inside, the rise of power right before the impact and the snap of energy when the sands blew apart.
After a few minutes of destroying the sands, he stood up with his hand still burning. With his other hand, he wiped the grains from his face and started to look around but then felt a tugging of his attention. He let it guide his eyes as he scanned the horizon.
In the distance, he spotted some vultures circling around something. He froze as one dove down and then came back up. They had obviously found their meal.
Taking in a shuddering breath, he was surprise when the smell of rotted meat rose up. There was no way he could smell it, but his stomach rumbled with hunger despite the gamy, sweet smell. He frowned at his hunger, why would he want spoiled meat? Why did he want to taste blood on his tongue?
He shook his hand and let the fires die off.
The draw toward the vultures remained. He wanted to explore it, to head over there.
He wanted food.
Desòchu thought back to the night before, when he encountered the nigh spirit. The vultures must be another spirit calling to him like the ox did. Whatever was underneath the birds would be his calling.
Growing sicker at the though of rotted meat and blood, he searched for another destination. When he didn’t find one, he searched again until the sun began to prickle his skin. Finally, he had to admit that it was the only obvious destination.
Shaking his head, he began to walk down the dunes toward the vultures. He was check it out. If the vultures were his spirit, then maybe his nightmare would end.
He made it only a few chains before the slowness began to bother him. He remembered how running felt as good as the burning hand. He stopped to try pulling up the sensation again but it wouldn’t come. The Shimusògo only used their powers while running. He rolled his eyes and jogged toward the vultures.
As soon as he started moving, he felt the power rising. It was different than the vulture spirits but no less exhilarating as he quickly found a rhythm.
The world blurred for a moment and then everything came into sharp details.
He gasped and ran faster, racing down with no head to falling or tumbling.
The ground grew harder underneath his feet, solidifying into solid rock the moment before his bare feet smacked against it. When he drew up for the next step, there was nothing tugging him back.
Desòchu grinned and pushed himself to run faster.
A shimmering appeared in front of him. It was small, barely the size of a loaf of bread but looked just out of reach.
He stretched his hand out.
It moved faster.
He ran after it, accelerating. His fingers spread out to catch it. With a lunge, he snatched at it.
The haze sharpened into the shape of a small bird, a dépa. He knew it immediately, it was the same bird as the mural in their family cave: Shimusògo. The brown-speckled bird raced ahead of him.
He chased after it as the power rushed through him.
The ground grew harder, solidifying as the bird raced past it and crumbling behind him. The dunes seemed to flatten and the valleys filled in as he passed. All the pain and aches of his journey faded away.
Before he knew it, he was running faster than he had ever moved before. The world was a rushing past him as he crossed the dunes in seconds. Wind blew across his face, tugging at his clothes as he covered a chain in a second.
Desòchu embraced the energy flowing through him. The more he let it flow over him, the faster he went. He stopped reaching out for the bird and just raced after it. All he had to do was beat it.
Somehow, he knew he never would.