Chapter 45

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The desert was quiet but for the hush of rain on sand, and the odd bellow of thunder from clouds that seemed to mock the melting dunes. A web of lightning cracked in the distance and even from miles away, Salleh sensed the heat in the earth, the transmuting of sand to glass, the burnt air crackling with power. 

Silently, the Seer walked between two dunes. The one to her left sloughed like punctured bread dough, the one to her left fizzled with countless ruts made by heavy, warm raindrops. She cut through the valley between them with eyes closed, because she'd grown sick of pulling her soaked cowl away from her eyes. She closed her natural eyes were closed, so she could not say how her robes might have matched the colour of the darkening sands, or how tender her fingertips had grown in the storm, or how puddles and sand conspired to ruin the cloth of her slippers. 

All this she felt and saw as energy flashing in the darkness, images flaring and melting in shadow.

But in her mind's eye, she was clear. A figure cloaked in a tight bundle of Kinetic aura, stoneiris glowing like a moon through a mist. Cote's soul showed no colour in her spiritual sight. It was little more than a dead ball of energy stored in a clay hanging from her neck with a ragged silk ribbon. The hank of silk she had ripped from her sleeve had left her heart hand bare, but Salleh's was not an elemental path, so she could not cup a ball of fire there as Sanele might have. Kinetic aura knitted between her fingers like woven moonlight. 

When she opened her eyes, she saw how that aura washed the circle of sand around her a chalky white. She only opened those eyes because she had arrived at her destination. Her and Wenyanga's footsteps had long since dissolved into the mud, but the shovel still stood tall in the earth at the foot of Cote's grave.

When the battle cries and looting howls of the approaching scavangers grew loud enough, Salleh closed her stoneiris. Her natural eyes hooded with fatigue, and that other thing that was more than fatigue, sitting heavy near the back of her heart. 

The first scavenger crested the dune where Salleh had stood, holding back the sand as she'd watched Wenyanga dig her husband's grave. She didn't care what the scavenger's robes were like, nor those of the second mage who came to stand beside him. Or the third. Or the fifth. Or the tenth.

Their gazes weren't on her, they were on the freshly laid soil just before her. Then they crawled up to her chest, where the clay pot hung. She sensed their curiosity wash over her chest and neck, sensed it chill to a deep hunger.

The ribbons of Kinetic aura swam around Salleh's heart hand as she reached for the shovel. When she gripped the wooden haft, the aura flooded it, illuminating the wood and its metal spade. 

"Shit," one of them said. "She's a Perfect."

"Who gives a shit? It's one of her on however damn many of us."

"Fair enough. Oi, down there. Hand over the soul."

Salleh flooded the shovel with more aura. It was still just a shovel, but for a moment it flashed in the grey rain with all the splendour of a Judge's hammer. "Come here and take it."

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