The dust had been swirling all day in small cyclones that lifted off the barren path outside her hovel, spiraling into the air and adding to the haze cloaking the distant purple mountains. Had the local priest of the shrine been visiting, he would have thought it a bad omen and said the desert spirits were agitated. Misha simply frowned and kept her passing superstitions to herself; she had enough to worry about.
Stories from the ‘Desert Fantasy’ Collection
From worlds far across the desert sands they met, the dark girl with pale skin burying something in the ground, burning feathers and sticks that held a stench about them like that of carrion baking under the hot sun, and sooty, gray-white smoke rising up from their ashes to swirl in the breeze like tiny, angry spirits with terrible, fanged faces.
Perched above her in the branches of a strong desert tree — his graying once-red feathers hidden amid the patchwork green leaves, a tattered ghost of age and all the conflicts visited upon him during his time beneath the olive sky and black sun — the bird-man watched quietly. Much more quietly than the noisy girl below kneeling in the white sand, chanting and breaking, cursing and burning and pleading like a child sacrificing to the long-dead spirits of the desert wastes.
Sing, poor Elvasa, sing like the wind across the dunes, sing to the bones of your father, and carry him with you all your life, until your children bear up your own bones unto the winds…
The song died away, drifting slowly away across the red evening darkness towards the blue edging upon the horizon and becoming lost in eternity. The gathered tribe drifted away, the ritual completed as Elvasa admired the shining ivory blade he now held, turning the thin crescent over to admire each side of the weapon…and to remember…
“Your father is with you now forever,” the old bone-singer’s voice broke into his reverie, and Elvasa looked up from the new blade into his milk-white eyes. The voice trembled with age, but there was still strength and tenor in it, subtle shadings of skill that remained eternally young lurking beyond the aged flesh. He wondered how the old man knew where to look without eyesight.
Ghalek stared out across the red sands and broken orange-brown rocks at the thin white band set across the desert’s breast, and the shining spike rising up into the sky above it, the glittering hues of the god’s shields dancing in the empty, white sky above it. The bloated corpse of the black sun sagged on the rim of the world behind him, painted crimson by the dust hazing the air and throwing long, sharp shadows that stretched towards the distant city like grasping claws.
I was barely seventeen when I decided to cross the black deserts of the Kai and brave the deadly midnight dunes of Kirrel, said to be full of lying ghosts and hungry, vile beasts.
No longer a child, dressed now in sacred star-patterned robes of blue and white worn by the men of the Kaihk, my parents wept as I left with all I owned upon my back — and little it was. There was nothing more they could do but curse and weep at my foolishness, for I was a man and they could no longer protect me from my dreams.
Thirteenth-Jaguar-Sun did not like the smell that lingered in the air.
It was like the smell of the great temple fires that burned at the foot of the temples to Child-of-the-Bloody-Moons when the winds shifted and blew their black smoke down over the city: it was the charnel smell of flesh taken by flame, the smell of sacrifice, of bodies given over to the eternal fires by the priests.
The red-orange haze of the far horizon as it curved away north and south bled into the pink-and-white of the sky, the sun boiling red and angry hot in the sky above like a drop of shimmering crimson blood on the flesh of the air.
And near the edges of the sky, separated from each other by celestial arcs, hung three small objects: two were pale white and washed out in the brightness of the daytime sky, lumpy and irregular, their shadows the color of the sky. The third was little more than a metallic glimmer in the heavens, though its brightness would grow in intensity as dusk approached. These were the three moons.
…After the Wars of Extinction, the Cleansing Wars, the Champions of Rajaat became the all-powerful sorcerer-monarchs of Athas, overthrowing their master when it was found that they, too, would become victims of his desire to return Athas to the near-mythical Blue Age…
“So, do you think we did the right thing?”
“Destroying the world?”
They looked out upon the barren dust, the heaped corpses their armies were piling onto a massive, smoking funeral pyre downwind. Carelessly tossing bodies of comrades and enemies alike onto the blazing, stinking pile. The billowing black column of greasy smoke could be seen for miles. Centuries ago, such a scene might have disturbed either of them.
His fingers had withered to gray, brittle sticks, worn down by years of rape and defilement, of rampant excess and the sickness that comes with too much power left unchecked and unopposed. This punishment extended to the rest of his body as well, which was equally withered and decrepit. He wore skin the pale color of the diseased, skeletally emaciated except for the bloated paunch of his naked belly, his back bent and cratered with ridges of bone and thin flesh.
“Why do you hate me so?” the decrepit man queried, his voice a strained whisper of age, the whole done without gesture and immersed in a slack wantonness.
Patience had never been a virtue – not one of his in any case.
He let the fine, dusty red sand sift through his fingers to blow away in the weak and inconstant breezes that teased the thin air of the deep deserts. The black sun hung above him — a quarter of its journey away from the blazing, dry heat of noon — sucking the last vestiges of moisture from the air and soil, eating the pale sky in its endless, cyclical fury.