Chapter Nineteen: Barren

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Damian stood overlooking the dune. The sun was white hot, reflecting against the sand on the backdrop of the clear blue sky. He adjusted the hood on his poncho and straightened his visor. He turned back toward the trail and continued on his way.

It'd been fourteen weeks since he'd started traversing the desert and his resolve was wearing thin. So far he'd been getting by by taking odd jobs and joining caravans as a stagehand, but here, on this upcoming stop, he had plans to finally settle down.

It'd been rough on everyone since the great cataclysm so many years ago. Damian didn't even remember a time when the world wasn't an endless landscape of sand and heat. At one point there were cities and prosperity and hope. He was only reminded of such when he tripped over old remnants of buildings or stumbled over dead gadgets. It was almost funny, really.

What was that poem about fire and ice?

He shook off the thought. He was never really one for poetry anyway.

The way into town wasn't far, but it felt like eternity after meandering around the desert for so long. He watched from the corner of his eyes as dozens of other travelers and merchants passed him. He paid no mind to it. His focus primarily lay on his destination and his aching feet.

After what felt like forever, the first market stands began to pop up like weeds on the side of the road. They called to him, beckoned even, trying to get him to stop if only for a moment to check out their wares. But Damian didn't stop, he didn't even meet their gaze. He only had one task at hand and he wasn't wavering until it was finished.

With each passing step now, the road became more crowded. Foot traffic became a foot traffic jam. Damian's shoulders became bumpers for pedestrians to bounce off of. The sound of merchants at the stands blended into an incomprehensible cacophony. A couple of children snaked through the crowd and ran past him. He adjusted the pack hidden under his poncho, reminding himself to be wary of pickpockets. He may have reached the end of his journey, but his destination was not a friendly one.

The busy roads soon morphed into busy city streets. Buildings, real buildings, began to line the streets. They weren't very pretty, clay colored walls and roofs far different than the gilded skyscrapers some people would lavish about around communal campfires, but it certainly was the most impressive thing he'd seen in a long, long time.

Damian lifted his head to try and read the signs on the buildings. He quickly noticed the signage was more symbolic than alphabetic. He often forgot just how many people these days couldn't read. At least, in the traditional sense.

His eyes continued to wander, searching for one building in particular. By the time he spotted it, the sun was already casting different shadows.

It was a humble building in comparison to the ones surrounding it, but it was still more sizeable than what Damian had grown accustomed to. The sign was a long board that stretched the width of the building and was painted with the similar red color most other buildings were decorated with. The sign had three items on it: a bag of coins, a wheel, and two outstretched hands looking like they were about to shake on a deal.

Damian silently swallowed back his growing anxieties and went inside.

The room on the other side of the entrance was as modest as the appearance outside. The floor was tiled with a cheap brown material that sounded like sandpaper whenever someone shuffled over it. Most of the light filtered in from tall windows facing the street. There was a desk, though. A single desk in the middle of the room with a woman who looked to be a receptionist sitting at it.

Damian approached the desk without further thought, removing his hood and lifting the visor from his eyes. "Uh, hello," he started, forcing himself to sound confident.

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