Coursers in Black

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With explosions of sand, her hidden company burst into sight. As they jogged around the wagon to join them on the road, not a few of them looking with surprise and some apprehension at the unconscious soldiers on the ground, Jaeda glanced quickly up at the sky to take her bearings. Then she pointed to a course that angled off and away from the road.

"That way to Kala'finae," she announced before throwing a quick look over at Patrik. "Do we proceed?" The thief princess was deferring to him now? Instead of pondering the strangeness of it, the lean young man simply acted.

"Aye, that we do," Patrik returned grimly. With a nod of acknowledgment, Jaeda set off at a jog, Patrik and her company quickly following.

Thankfully the burst of energy Patrik derived from the explosion of quicksilver ice fire into his veins was considerable and they made excellent time across the wind-sculpted dunes. The wondering kevan also discovered his feet finding their own way, transformed from stumbling outsider to a long time desert inhabitant by the strange quicksilver event, each step easily placed to find maximum balance and thrust through the shifting sand.

Thusly made capable, the lean young man flew across the sand like a dancing zephyr, sometimes outpacing his astonished companions before they managed to reel him back in by sheer dint of effort. Only when they had put a good two or three leagues between them and the spot on the road where they encountered the soldiers did he feel the strength and unnatural grace begin to seep out of his body until, with a groan, he fell to his knees in a flurry of spraying sand as his legs lost their final bit of strength, completely exhausted.

Instantly Jaeda skidded to a halt beside him, careful to avoid spraying Patrik with sand as she dropped to her knees beside him.

"What filled you to overflowing on the road is gone now, isn't it, Patrik," she asked quietly after lifting his drooping head with a light hand beneath his chin, her skin soft and supple despite the conditions. She grimaced when Patrik managed a nod of confirmation between great, heaving lungfuls of dry, hot desert air into his starving lungs.

"I was afraid of that. Still, God blessed us with what strength was given you. We've done well to put so much distance between ourselves and our pursuing hounds. Perhaps a short rest is in order." She let her fingers trail along his jaw briefly before dropping her hand away. Focusing on the company as it began to cluster around them, she spoke: "We'll pause and take water."

As the rest of the weary company dropped into crouches all around them with a variety of groans and sighs of relief, the concerned young woman helped Patrik swing around to sit cross legged on the ground, instead of on his hands and knees. The relief to his hands from the burning sand was immediate and Patrik joined Jaeda's company in sighing gratefully though the sand still burned through the weathered fabric of his breeches. He accepted a water skin, growing frightfully thin, from Jaeda with a nod of thanks.

Returning his nod with a smile behind the fabric of her retied keffiyeh, the desert princess turned to look down the path they had come, a winding river of slowly fading footprints that darted along the path of least resistance over, and between dunes of ocher and brown, fading as they marched back into the distance. Tracing them with her eyes, she smiled even more broadly when her vision reached the horizon to see it darken with an approaching storm.

"At least the desert herself has decided finally to help our cause."

Not understanding, Patrik looked up and followed her pointing finger to the distant storm, a darkly seething maelstrom of motion clearly visible to the naked eye as it approached.

"A sandstorm?" he asked hoarsely, careful not to spill any water from the skin still lifted to his mouth as he looked over at Jaeda for confirmation. The slender young woman shrugged.

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