There were no Shadows upon the desert, at least none that they had seen, and the cohorts were growing restless, their desire for blood growing stronger even as a lingering unease began to edge into their thoughts the farther into the desert they went. Would they lose themselves in this place, as so many had said before whenever an invasion of the desert had been proposed, whether at court or in a drinkery, chasing Shadows? The kehels and seconds merely repeated what their Gvers, who themselves were beginning to feel anxious about the entire enterprise, had told them: they were marching to the ruined city Esyln there to face the Shadow Men and their alkemysts. And what if they should find only ruins there, the men asked, and to that there was no answer.
The answer, Donier thought as he relieved himself in the latrine dug the night before, was that the Council Adepts would decide the matter, letting the Gvers and the Qraul think the decision was theirs. That was how they had ended up here in the first place, after all. The Adepts would take them everyone to their doom all over a couple of engines.
Donier spat when he was finished and clapped his hands together, a ritual begun sometime in his youth and now done unconsciously, though he could not have told anyone of its providence. He picked his way among the still-slumbering cohorts, going mostly by memory, dawn still a little way off, though there was a hint of light on the horizon. A false light, he knew; the sun would not arise for at least another hour.
He had become used to the desert in the last week, now knew its rituals. There was the false light before morning, the endless sunsets that seemed to color the whole sky, the wind that would pick up late in the morning and die as evening settled in, to say nothing of the unrelenting heat of the day and surprising cool of the night. The vastness of it all, these endless landscapes, red rocked or dull green, fading to brown with scrub, and the scent of sage everywhere.
It was the place of his dreams, he realized. It all had the same feel, the same absence of any other living things, and the silence but for the wind. The valley where he had walked endlessly he felt certain was here somewhere, though he had no urge to discover it and the destination he had been seeking. The Gods, though, would decide the matter, he knew. He could only thank them that the dreams had absented themselves since the march into the desert had begun.
His thoughts were still upon the dreams as he slipped into his tent, hoping to get another hour’s sleep before duty called him forth, so he did not notice the other man’s presence until the hand was at his throat and the point of the dagger was pressed into his back. Continue reading