The Angel's Flame and the Sands of Death

by Ben Billups

            As the early noon sun rose above the desert of Moleshde, its blazing rays descended upon the land. A twelve year old boy sprinted through the land with clouds of dust rising from his every step. He wore a red leather tunic with a hood covering his head and each of his limbs were wrapped in animal hide; even between his fingers and toes. Behind him eight grotesque warthogs ran after him. Each of the beast towering over a normal size man from the hooves of their feet, to the pair of humps on their back. Their six red eyes fixed on the boy as prey. The boy glanced back at their massive hairless bodies and slowed his speed, yet staying mindful of the beasts menacing tusks protruding from their snouts.

            When the animals grew closer the boy returned his gaze to the path ahead. His dark brown eyes widened as another warthog emerged from a cluster of tall grass just before him. The boy ducted to his left just in time as the animals tusks grazed the boys side. The leather exterior protected the childs side as he was forced off of the beaten path and began to run in between a deadly brush and a river. The brush was filled with paralyzing thorns that could fire out, carnivorous serpent like vines to ensnare prey, and red berries fatal to the touch and the river swarmed with schools of violent piranha.

            Seeing little choice, the boy continued on even as the space between the brush and river grew narrow with every step. Coming toward the end, the boy crossed his arms in front of his face and moved ducked his head down as he crashed through the brush. He could hear the snarls and wails of the wild animals pursuing him as he continued, and then a sudden pop. Immediately the child shut his eyes and held his breath. Yellow bulbs within the vegetation burst releasing thick clouds of powder. The sound of sharp snaps then resonated through the air as the brush released its poisonous thorns.

            The boy held out as long as he could as the brushs attacks bombarded him. The thorns scraped against his bindings, the thorns bounced off of his clothes, and the powder caked all over his body. One of the warthogs giving chase through the brush then collapsed when a thorn fired into its eye. The beast whined as the projectiles toxins quickly circulated through its body and froze every muscle. The beast collapsed to the floor unable to move. Sensitive roots below the pebble stones sent an order to the rest of the brush as a large vine with a gaping mouth revealed itself and struck at the fallen animal with a cobras speed.

            As the deadly greenery sank its teeth into the animals hide, the vine pulled the warthog further into the brushs depths. Hearing all of the commotion, the boy began to run faster in fear of meeting the same fate. But, his heart started to hammer in his chest as he felt the pressure of his lungs beginning to force him to give in. As he blindly ran on, he felt his hold starting to wane more and more. A rush of relief washed over him as he no longer felt the vegetation brush against his hide bindings.

            Unable to contain his breath, the boy exhaled with several sharp coughs that followed. He then took a gulp of air being careful not to swallow any of his sweat that collected the paralyzing powder.

            Cuganwa duck! came a sudden shout. The boy didnt hesitate from the order. He quickly dropped face first into the sand as thirteen arrows sailed over head. Each with sure aim and force burying into the remaining animals skulls and necks. The beasts collapsed all around the child.

            Cuganwa?! Cuganwa?! the call came again as twelve men stood up revealing themselves. The men quickly made their way toward the child as the boy weaved. Each of the men were wearing light tan tunic and trousers in contrast to their dark brown skin. Their clothes camouflaged the men in the tall brush scattered about the desert. As three of the men stopped to attend to Cuganwa, the others covered the area with bows in hand as a few of them retrieved the arrows.

            Well done Cuganwa, one of the men greeted after they washed off the boys face.

            Thank you, Uwegna sir, the child wheezed.

            Soon after, the men called for another man to approach. Another man then came from over the horizon leading eight camels by their reins. Each of the animals had saddles on their backs built for two people to sit as well as extra room to carry gear and luggage. The man was quite stout and short, but was muscular all the same. He had a thick black beard with streaks of gray and shallow wrinkles showing his seasoned age of fifty two.

            Sutama sir, your boy has brought us a bounty, Uwegna announced as the man grew closer.

            A gleeful smile crawls over the mans face as he replied, Well then, I believe hes earned his place amongst the party. The man looked back at the others and shouted, What do you think boys? A short rally of cheers sounded from the others and Cuganwa began to smile feeling proud of himself although still uneasy from holding his breath for so long.

            The boy then changed into an extra pair of clothes and then helped the others to set up several sleds out of bone and leather. The hunters quickly set up the equipment and roll the warthogs onto the sleds. None of the men noticed a figure crouching in the brush watching over them. The figure wore a light tan runners garb similar to Cuganwas along with a sash carrying several small satchels and bone daggers. The men then left down a path toward the south. On their slow trek, the figure followed after.

            As the group trudged on, they shared stories and joked with one another to pass the time. Cuganwa sat on the last sled as since he couldnt pair with anyone and eyed an elegant ivory dagger with several ornate details carved into the guard and hilt. Uwegna lead his own camel and was paired with another rider back to back with him and bow at the ready. The two guarded the rear as the group continued on.

            However, with everyone grew complacent allowing an even larger warthog to approach. The beast crashed through the brush and was coming upon Uwegna and his company.

When Cuganwa looked down, he noticed the animal rushing toward the two hunters and yelled, Uwegna, look out!

Hearing this, the hunter looked back then pulled on the camels reins. The camel rose to its hind legs. Its front legs barely missed the warthogs tusks, but still collided into the beasts hump. The collision sent the hunters and camel flying to the side as the animal continued heading toward the boy now. Just when the beast was only a few yards away, an arrow flew from up ahead and struck the animal in its front right leg. The beast winced under the pain and steered toward the right. This only empowered its fury as the animal refused to be deterred and instead head toward the next sled ahead of Cuganwa.

The beast struck the sleds side taking down the two camels dragging it and the four hunters along with three of the warthogs that were tied down rolling off. The rampaging beast also fell from the impact, but quickly shook off the blow. Cuganwas eyes grew wide and he quickly took off toward the animal with his dagger in hand. The warthog heard the boy approach and turned around to face him.

Cuganwa! came a shout from further ahead.

As the boy came closer, the warthog started toward him as well. Just before the boy came in contact, he felt a strong shove force the boy to the side hitting the ground with a lot of force. Slightly stunned the boy looked back up only to see a figure he didnt know standing near a slain warthog with a strange transparent crystal with a red tint in their hand. As Cuganwa rose, he watched as the entire body of the warthog disappeared completely from a crimson flash of light emitted from the crystal.

The boy stared at the figure with his jaw dropped. The witch, Cuganwa realized. The two words echoed through his mind as he retrieved his dagger and lunged at the figure. The figure saw him and gave a swift kick to the childs torso sending him back to the floor.

Stay down, Cuganwa, Uwegna shouted as he and his partner fired arrows at the witch to avail. The figure easily dodged the projectiles and made her way toward the sled where the other warthogs had fallen off. The boy stayed down as arrows continued to fly about, but none meeting their target. The men were careful in their aim not to strike one another, yet they all watched helplessly as the figure shined her crystals light onto another of their game and the beast disappeared. The witch then took off running toward the red mountain plateaus toward the west. Her speed was as fast as wind itself.

Come on after the witch, one of the men shouted as everyone regrouped and were about to give chase.

No! Sutama ordered. His voice then cut through the air stopping everyone in their tracks. The men all turned to Sutama as the hunting party leader dismounted. What could any of you do against the witch? Dont waste your lives chasing something much more dangerous than what you prey. Sutama then made his way toward Cuganwa. His fury expressed with every crease on his face. When Sutama stopped in front of his son, he paused and began to grind his teeth. Their eyes met and before the boy could utter a word, his father struck him with the back of his hand and followed with a quick embrace.

When Sutama let go of his son, he then made his way toward Uwegna without exchange a word. Shortly after, a series of shouts were berated the two rear guards for not paying attention. After several minutes of Sutamas lament and gathering their equipment, the men continued down the trail. After an hour they eventually passed over a large bridge made up of several elephant skeletons signifying that they were close to their village.

When the village came into view, they saw the wall of bones layered with several rows of nine foot long elephant ribs that bordered the five mile wide village. The ground surrounding the village was cleared of the deserts tall grass to prevent any predators sneaking closer to the wall. A severe lesson the village learned when a large saber cat snuck over the wall and killed three people before it was killed by a rain of arrows.

As the grouped approached, a guard standing on a large sand dune spotted the Sutamas group coming by and sounded for the village to open the gate. Dozens of villagers then made their way up a ramp and dug up part of the bone gate. Once an opening was made, archers moved through and stood guard as the hunters passed through. The men lead their way down the ramp as the gate was reassembled. The village was completely dug out and was two stories lower than the desert surface.

            Welcome back to Kelverts Base, little hunter a voice uttered next to Cuganwa as he walked on. When Cuganwa looked to his side, he saw his mother walking alongside him.

            Hello mom, the boy replied as wrapped an arm around the womans waist in a brief hug.

            Hey Cuganwa! came an over excited voice. This time coming from his seven year old sister scurrying up on his other side.

            The boy smiled as he said, And hello, Caluu.

            As the hours passed, the sky grew dark as three enormous bonfires were formed to roast the carcasses of each hunting groups kill. As the villagers cooked the food and prepared supper, the fifteen hunting leaders and their seconds met with the village leaders and elders to discuss the villages conditions. To Cuganwas surprise, he was also brought along. However, the boy was more concerned with the filling his stomach with a salted lizard roasting he spotted earlier than the agendas of the village. As the leaders spoke, Cuganwa heard his name mentioned and returned his attention to the conversation.

            His father began, The witch had taken two of the warthogs, but thankfully she only wanted food and not vengeance.

            She being spotted far more often than usual, another hunter stated. If she is growing this bold what is to stop her from returning to the village and doing whatever she wants?

            Us, Sutama declared. If she feels inclined to attack let us be the one who kill her or be killed. Cuganwa narrowed his eyes as he looked upon the elder hunter trying to understand the meaning behind his words.

            The boy thought back to his encounter with the witch and remembered her eyes glowing like a bright ember flame. Cuganwa returned his thoughts to the meeting when the subject changed to the ending season.

            As of now we will leave the gates open for two more days. After that, no is to leave the village in preparation for the storms, the village leader declared. The leader wore a similar attire as the rest of the men aside from a machete held to his side as one of the last remaining relics from a dead culture their people survived only a hundred years ago. The man was slightly taller than most and had a trimmed beard. Well everyone good work, but I believe we should eat now. Isnt that right, Cuganwa? the leader questioned the boy with a soft smile.

            Cuganwa looked down with and replied, Yes, Uigna sir.

            The others laughed as well and rose to their feet. Everyone strolled to the exit of the large tent where everything was made for the village. Outside, Cuganwa shared his story with the other children about his first time outside the village. Everyone was pleased with the closing of a promising hunting season.

            Away from the others, Caluu sat at the edge of the canal that fed through and was filtered by the bone gate near the camel pin. The small was speaking to the witch.

            Why are you out their? the little girl asked.

            The witch merely paddled abut stay afloat as she replied, Oh, not too many people like me.

            Do you like it out their? Caluu added.

            Yes. There are lots of weird animals and crazy plants, the witch said.

            I wish I could go, Caluu whined.

            The witch shook her head as she approached the canal edge and said, No, its better to stay here with your family. At least, you will be safe and never alone.

            But my brother got to go today, and hes only twelve, the girl stated. The woman then remembered seeing Cuganwa trying to attack the warthog and her without thinking. If Im too young, then hes too young, the girl added.

            No your brother goes out hunt, not to see weird animals for fun, the woman countered. The witch started to feel a sense of warmth. It was nice to talk to someone who wasnt trying to stick her with arrows of spears.

            Mm, okay, the child conceded. Oh do you want to see a cool trick?! Caluu wore a large grin as she waited for the womans answer. Her excitement barely contained as she teetered back and forth.

            Sure, the witch replied. The womans ember eyes widened in horror as she witnessed the childs eyes begin to glow as well. No, the woman whispered. Shes in danger. Can I take her with me? What should I do? the questions ran through the witchs head. Caluu merely waited for a response.

            No Caluu. Never show those eyes, The witch instructed.

            Why? the girl questioned as her eyes returned to their dark brown. Theyre like yours.

            Yes, but sweetie, Im from the village like you. No one here likes those eyes. They will hate you and kick you out like they did me, The witch explained. She knew she was lying to Caluu, but didnt want to scare her into thinking that the village would hurt her.

            Thats not fair, the girl whined as she rose. We didnt do anything. Why would they hate us? The child voice began to rise.

            Caluu, relax, the woman pleaded in a low tone. Do you know the story of the witch, Caluu? The child shook her head.

            The witch then told the child of her past. From her mothers death when the village found out about her eyes, their fear that anyone with the eyes were demons because of their abilities, her escape into the desert, and her years alone. After the story was over the child was crying afraid that she would also be in trouble. The witch then told her, Just dont show your eyes. You will be safe, ok?

            Caluu stopped sobbing and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. The child finally replied, Ok.

            Caluu! came a call from out of the dark. The childs mother was approaching.

            The child sat up straight and looked back with a look of worry. The witch merely held up a finger signaling for the child to keep silent as she slowly paddled away.

             Caluu then waved to her and said, Goodbye Nuyani.

            Caluu where are you child, the girls mother called again.

            The child stood up and answered, Here I am.

            The witch then watched as the two walked off toward the rest of the village. Painful memories reemerged as tears began to stream down Nuyanis cheeks. The witch then made her way toward the bone gate and forced her way little by little. She then released a powder before clearing the gate to the other side. The piranha cleared the powder as it slowly sank to the bottom. After the witch cleared the gate, she made her way back to land and ran across the desert. Her heart wrenching at with every step.

            The next day, Nuyani awoke with feeling quite ecstatic. All her senses were alert and energy seemed to well up within the woman. Not one to waste time, the witch then rose to her feet and exited the stone carved hut where she slept. It was one of many dome shaped structures that littered the cavern floor. The ceiling rose too far and too dark for anyone to see and the only light to be seen were a large opening in the side of the cavern wall where light entered through and hundreds of lunar blooms (guvima moccu), a strange flower that grew on vines and emitted a gray light.

Though the abandoned village went further into the cavern and away from the light, Nuyani never cared to travel far from the cave entrance. She quickly made her way toward a lone basket sitting near the stone wall. After retrieving the strange crystal, she released the two dead warthogs. Nuyani then started a fire in a nearby fire pit and proceeded to cut up the warthogs. With some of the meat cooking on the flame, the woman took the rest of the meat she cut off and began to climb a latter carved out of the stone and up to the wall opening.

When she reached the opening, Nuyani then placed the slabs of meat on the stone surface of the mountain. There she stood in an indentation the shape of a bowl with a series of long bones crossing one another to make a cage wall and leather straps holding the structures together. Though the sun had barely risen above the horizon, Nuyani didnt care if it was too early for her to leave the meat to dry out. She stood silently for a moment as the mountain breeze brushed her face.

However, her moment of peace was broken when she heard a voice then interrupted, You were always such a strong child, Nuyani. The woman quickly snapped around stood frozen as a woman stood before her. A few wrinkles on her and a warthog medallion around the womans neck was all that separated their looks. Nuyani stepped forward with her mouth gaped open and her lip quivering as she tried to search for words. Stay well. Dont hate the others.

Mo, that was all the witch could say as a sudden crash of the bone gate buckled and struck in the head.

Nuyani looked only to find a red griffin flailing about in attempt to break the barrier and retrieve the meat. Nuyani looked back down and found that her guest was gone. She began to grind her teeth and crease her face as she reached for her dagger. Just as the griffin attempted to break through again, she managed to stick her hand through one of the openings and cut the beast on its left foreleg.

The griffin shrieked and decided to give up as Nuyani yelled, Youre lucky I dont have my bow or youd be the one I was cooking!

She then slumped down as she felt her tears start to return, but suppressed the urge knowing that tears couldnt raise the dead. It also helped that she still was feeling unbelievably anxious to move. Nuyani didnt what to make it and decided merely to act. Continuing on, Nuyani left the cave and moved northeast from the western mountain plateaus. She spent most of her day collecting various parts of the dangerous hedge for her arsenal. A few yellow bulbs, some of the deadly red berries most liked to call fatal kiss and several of the thorns from the cacti like stems. She tiptoed throughout the area careful not to alert the sentient bush of her presence, even if she was confident in her speed. After hours of gathering, Nuyani returned to her home feeling compelled to leave every warning in her mind telling her to leave.

The witch thought it over and ignored the warning knowing that there wasnt any point in leaving. She the settled down on one of the many rock pillars standing outside the cavern entrance and began to crush one of her pouches containing the yellow powder with a stone. As she worked, her thoughts retreated to an old memory of her and her mother in the crafts tent making various tools and items for the village. She breathed a heavy sigh and decided to look out for a moment.

Her senses then blared and ordered her to duck. Without hesitation, Nuyani did so just as an enormous saber cat lung at the woman from behind. The witch landed on her feet just as the nine foot long beast crashed into the pillar ahead toppled it with the impact of its weight. The beast fell to the side, but immediately began to stand as the fallen pillar kicked up a cloud of sand. Nuyani studied every aspect of the creature. Nothing but rippling muscle showed under its furless brown cover. The beasts foot long teeth on either side of its upper jaw gleamed with fresh blood. The strangest part was the beasts eyes.

There glossed over color told Nuyani that the creature was blind, but here it was turning towards her as it had no impairments at all. The witch then thought to reach for her dagger, but her senses told her to run instead. Not wanting to argue, Nuyani did so and tore off toward the entrance. The saber cat bounded after her. She didnt need to look back to know if the creature was chasing her.

In her ten years of exile, Nuyani knew that saber cats hated the smell of the guvima moccu and hoped that the hundred lining the cave entrance would deter the beast. As she ran through, Nuyani made her way toward her hut and hid as she watched the entrance. Her hopes were dashed as the beast also ran through and only stopped to sniff the air. The witchs heart pounded in her chest. Everything about this monster was more dangerous than the others.

No sight to hinder its hunt, larger than normal saber cats, a sense of smell that is quite strong and immune to the scent of the cavern flowers, and even worse. The beasts ears flexed and faced Nuyanis direction. Her brow furrowed when she realized why, but not how. She was breathing low and faintly. Hunting had trained her to stay silent, but that didnt matter. The beast then growled and released a load roar before it charged toward her at full speed.

The witch managed to run through the opposite entrance of the hut just as the beast brought down a powerful swipe on top of the hut destroying it with a single blow. Debris flew everywhere with a several rocks rolling along the floor. One of the rocks struck the witch in the back knocking her to the floor. She winced in pain as she tried to lift herself up. The saber cat snarled and Nuyani realized the beast was about to pounce. She shuffled forward and flipped over just as the saber cat was upon her with its jowls extended open.

Nuyani groaned as she shielded herself with her arms. An orange sphere of energy then erected around the woman guarding her from the beasts fatal bite. The woman felt the impact and rolled back into another hut. She frantically looked about, her mind barely able to piece together what was happening. Nuyani looked through the transparent barrier and saw the creature approaching once again. She watched as the beast came toward her again and swiped at her from the side sending Nuyani rolling about being tossed around within the barrier.

When she finally stopped moving, Nuyani gave a smirk. Thank the protector, Nuyani voiced in her mind. The saber cat began to rake its claws across the floor in frustration. Her smile disappeared however after the barrier faded away. The beast then took a whiff of the air and growled again. The creature then lifted his head and started after the witch once again. Nuyani stepped back until she was against the cavern wall. She felt the same surge of energy rushing within her. A twinge of insight began to emerge as Nuyani then pictured the desert outside. In an instant, she disappeared. The saber cat stopped in its tracks no longer able to sense the womans presence any longer and began to sniff around the dirt and flex its ears to catch any alien sound. The beast let out a loud roar shaking the cavern and left the cave.

            Nuyani soon reappeared on the trail where she encountered the hunters yesterday. She walked trotted about, barely able to control her balance as she searched the area. With no sign of the saber cat close by, the witch finally rested and slumped down in the sand. What was that thing after, Nuyani questioned as she breathed heavily. The buildup of energy was now gone and Nuyani was starting to feel quite disturbed for her exhaustion. She never felt so weak in her entire time alone in the desert.

            The witch however heard a soft patting sound and saw Sutamas group approaching. Still out of breath, Nuyani crawled to a nearby cluster of brush and hid. She kept her breathing shallow and waited as the party passed. Please, no one see me, Nuyani whined as she lied still, eyes shut. However, her luck ran out as danger came once again. With her ear pressed against the ground, Nuyani felt the rapid vibrations of the ground growing stronger with every second. Her shot open knowing that her predator had returned for sure.

            The witch! came a cry from one of the men. Who saw a large dust cloud in the distance getting bigger. All of the hunters drew their bows and pointed them in the direction of the advancing figure.

            Cant leave us well alone, huh? Fine. Everyone, fire the moment you have a shot! Sutama ordered. But Nuyani knew better. The woman began to sit up just as Sutama started, Fihh. What?

            The large beast launched itself into the air about to pounce on the witch. The men stood bewildered as they watched Nuyani burst from the shrubs and sprint away from the group. The beast ignored Sutamas men and went right after the witch. Nuyani zigzagged back and forth barely dodging the beasts swipes and lunges. Fatigue however was starting to set in as the beasts latest swipe grazed the woman on her hip.

            As shallow as the blow was, it caused Nuyani to stumble and her immense speed sent her crashing through the brush until she stopped in front of the hunting party attempting to return home. The camels in front stopped and stood on their hind legs, but were then ordered to continue on by their drivers. Nuyani clutched her arms as she saw the men ready to run her over. However, luck seemed to favor the poor woman as the beast soon followed and tackled the closest rider. With its speed stunted, Nuyani used the beasts split second delay to dodge the creatures bite. She felt the gust of wind on her neck coming from its closed mandibles and rolled away.

            Seeing the danger, Sutama then ordered the men to fire on them both. The first few arrows fired into the beasts back buying the witch time as she moved away. The moment grew more chaotic as the saber cat reeled around and gave a menacing growl before charging at the men. The beast crashed through the hunters ignoring its wounds as more projectiles decorated its hide. Camels toppled over and men rolled about. Toward the middle of the group, Sutama road on a camel with Cuganwa as his company. The animal chose to stop its sprint and swiped at the group leaders camel. The blow nearly flipped the wailing camel as its front legs both were severed under the saber cats powerful blow.

            Sutama and Cuganwa landed hard into the dirt as every ounce of air escaped their lungs. The fell to the side as Sutama went flying a few feet away. During this time, Nuyani was busy dodging more arrows as those who recovered from their fall focused half the groups effort on her. Think. If I run home, the saber cat will just follow me if it doesnt die here. Ill be cornered as well. How did I get out here any, Nuyanis thoughts cut off as she glanced over toward her attackers and saw the beast closing in on Cuganwa. Without a single thought, the witch changed directions and tore off to the boys side.

            Sutama also saw the animal approaching and immediately drew an arrow as he lied on his back. Cuganwa merely looked back and saw the beasts glazed eyes. He then felt another force coming over him as Nuyani wrapped her arms around the boy shielding him from a likely fatal blow. However, before the creatures blow could connect the two disappeared. The saber cat struck nothing but dirt just as Sutama released his arrow and lodged it in the beasts left eye.

            The saber cat collapsed to the side as the hunters came to Sutamas aid and helped their leader to sit up. As the mans breath returned he began to lament as he quickly crawled toward the fallen animal and beat it with his fists. Sutama Shouted and cursed Nuyanis name and beg Kelvert for vengeance. The other men came to his side trying to restrain their leader.

            After a while, Sutama calmed down and mounted another camel with the rest of his men. He ordered half the group to return to the village for help and to take the saber cats hide as well. Sutama and the rest decided to head west and with any hope retrieve his son.

            This isnt an order, the man started as he spoke to the remaining few. Im going to retrieve Cuganwa and kill that witch. If you find this foolish, return with the others or hunt. Im going to find my son. I will be a days ride out, but will any of you join me.

            The men stepped forward as Uwegna then replied, We dont like to waste lives either sir. Lets save one. After a group cheer, everyone mounted their camels and proceeded to the western plateaus.

            Back inside the cavern, Nuyani lied still on the floor her breathing labored by her continuous use of her uncontrolled powers. Overhead, Cuganwa stood with his blade in hand. The child looked down at the weakened witch, but was unable to move. Cuganwa shook as he tried to muster the strength. The witch was the villages greatest threat. She was the creature said to lure men with lust and feed hunters to her pet saber cats. Aside from the powerful sand storms that killed anyone caught in them, the witch was the only creature that everyone knew must be destroyed.

            Yet here Cuganwa stood able to kill the very nightmare that had saved his life twice now. Nuyani watched the boy and looked him in the eye cursing herself for now it seemed she had invited her own death. Cuganwas brow creased as the boy raised his arm over his head ready to plunge his dagger into Nuyanis chest as he shook. The boy then gritted his teeth as swung down. However, the boy stopped half way and his legs buckled. Cuganwa clenched his stomach as turned to the side and vomited onto the cavern floor.

            As he began to cry for failing his village, he couldnt bring himself to harm someone he never knew and who had saved his life. Kelvert, forgive me, the boy thought as he tried to recover. Nuyani then began to laugh hysterically knowing that death had come close once again.

            Why do you laugh? Cuganwa asked in grumbled words.

            Trying to control herself, Nuyani merely chuckled, Ive survived ten years alone on luck and being clever. I thought you were going to kill me, though I saved you. But, Im still alive because you have remorse, or pity. Either way, I almost dont care. Nuyani struggled to sit up as her smile stayed. At this time, the two had settled down waiting for the other to speak. Seeing that the boy was going to stay silent, Nuyani merely asked Cuganwa if he wanted to eat.

            The boy wore a look of confusion on his face, unsure whether the womans words were real. Not waiting for a reply, Nuyani stood up and staggered toward the remains of her hut. She looked about the ground for a moment and found all of her supplies scattered along the floor. Among the debris, she found the crystal, never realizing the stone had fallen from her person. Continuing on toward the fire pit, Nuyani found that the meat she left on the fire were now charred and inedible. She then remembered the meat she left outside and left to retrieve it. Cuganwa then came over and sat by the flame, unsure of what to do. He kept silent even after the witch returned, the meat was cooked and they had eaten.

            After an hour passed, Nuyani then said, Listen, tomorrow I will take you back to the village. Although, Sutama may come here himself. It will still take him a days ride on camel. If nothing else comes after him.

            What do you know of my father? Cuganwa asked finally speaking.

            Nuyanis eyes widened as she gawked at the boy. Y, your father? she stuttered.

            Cuganwa continued, Yes, but how do you know him.

            A sudden swell of rage started to broil in her, but Nuyani kept her feelings in control as she merely replied in a low tone, Im from the village as well. Either way, what is your name child? Her thoughts were racing as she realized that Caluu was in danger now.

            Cuganwa, the boy replied. The boy stared at Nuyani noticing her demeanor was hardly that of menacing as he was always told. She seemed gentle to him, but Cuganwa wasnt ready to trust her just yet and more questions began to surface. Why do you hate us? the boy asked.

            Nuyani faced the boy with a scowl, her ember eyes brightened from her fury and was about to yell, but then paused for a moment. After a brief second she replied, Because the village is always trying to kill me. And they are evil.

            Cuganwa then stood to his feet, out raged by the womans comment before firing back, Youre the one whos been killing us and stealing our food! Youre the evil one.

            Nuyani merely wore a smug grin as she replied in an even tone, The hunters who chased after me died because they were too busy trying to take my head and not paying attention to the hazards around this area. Two men died chasing me when a pride of saber cats happened to see them. The animals were slower than men, but they can outrun camels. And I even fell an elephant on my own for more supplies in which your father chased me off and took it like an entitled scavenger. She just watched the boy seethe as she continued to insult Sutama. I hate the village because they killed my mother and want to kill me, because of my eyes.

            Cuganwa said nothing wanting only to tell her she was a liar, but knew he couldnt. He knew nothing of this woman and his village so far has told nothing but stories of her evil deeds. Now he was vexed for his savior was the one person everyone hated.

            Why me? the boy muttered as he sat back down and stared at the floor.

            Nuyani gave a small chuckle as she replied, Seems Kelvert wanted us to meet.

            A short time passed as the afternoon came closer. Nuyani spent the remaining day light recovering more of her supplies from amongst the debris and settled in another hut a few rows away from the entrance of the cavern feeling much more cautious. Nuyani was surprised to find Cuganwa had joined in and didnt mind. It felt nice to speak with someone once again. Though the boy did attempt to take her life, Nuyani was conflicted as well from protecting the child.

            As night fell, the two went to sleep on opposite ends of the hut. Though night was peaceful, Nuyanis vivid dreams were not. The womans dreams returned her to her old memories back in the village. At the age of six, her eyes began to glow and Nuyani showed her mother who immediately told her not to show anyone. Several scenes of years passed as Nuyani stayed away from others or by her mothers side so no one would know what she was. The waves of fear and anguish washed over Nuyani from many close calls. She struggled more and more every passing year to control her eyes.

            Everything came to a devastating end the night of her sixteenth birthday when she was discovered. Her father came in late at night with an ivory dagger with an ornate guard, the same dagger that Cuganwa had. Her father woke Nuyani up. When the girl opened her eyes, a subtle ember glow emitted from her pupils. Nuyani smiled, but her cheerful demeanor changed when she saw the horror on her fathers face. Sutamas face grew a look of fury as he dragged the girl by her hair outside where many adults were still up and talking to one another by the large bon fires.

            Everyone gasped as Sutama revealed his daughters eyes. The villages fear stemming from a predecessors attempt on the life of an earlier village leaders life. His want for dominance made every fear those born with the orange eyes and lead to the purging of those who bore the same eyes. Even if they were children.

            Nuyanis mother begged for everyone to leave her child be and that she was not evil. No one listened as the witchs mother was restrained from stopping Sutama who was task to end his own childs life. Nuyani Struggled and pleaded for her father to let her go, but was ignored. Her mother then slammed her foot down onto the toes of a man who held her at bay and drove an elbow into his nose. The villager released the woman do to the severe pain from broken bones. The woman darted forward yelling at Sutama to let go. Before anyone could restrain her, Sutama swung around violently, only wanting to tell his wife to stay silent. Not being mindful of the dagger, Sutama unintendedly drove his dagger into the approaching womans chest.

            The man gasped and released his grasp on his daughter as he held his wife in his arms before she could collapse to the floor. As he clutched her in his arms and sobbed, Nuyani screamed in horror as she clutched her head. The child then teleported about the village until she wound up appearing outside the village wall. Confused and now alone, Nuyani found herself outside the cavern entrance. As if lead there, Nuyani went inside the cavern.

            The past memory seemed to end as another scene with a bluish hue then appeared. All around, Nuyani could only see a thick fog surrounding and the transparent bodies of floating women all about. What is this? Nuyani questioned as she looked all around her.

            Nuyani, came a call trailed by echo. Looking toward the source of the voice, Nuyani found a ghostly form of her mother floating in front of her with pale white eyes.

            Mother? Nuyani called.

            Listen my child, you are all in danger. The village will be destroyed by the storms. They are more powerful than ever. Please forgive them. Save everyone. Please. Kelvert has marked you to protect the others, Nuyanis mother pleaded.

            Before the witch could utter another word every woman turned into balls of light like the stars in the sky and they all converged into a single point. Nuyani covered her eyes from the bright light as sound all around the woman grew deaf. Suddenly the shrieks of hundreds of women the lament at once. A wave of energy exploded from the point of light kicking up a towering wall of dust and wind. The wall of sand rushed forward and then engulfed Nuyani.

            Mother?! Nuyani shouted as she awoke in the hut. The woman looked about and saw that Cuganwa was also awake.

            Youre my sister, arent you? Cuganwa questioned.

            Wait. How did you Nuyani started.

            But they both turned their attention toward a blue light hovering over them. The light then shot off into the deeper recesses of the cavern with a glimmering light trail marking where the light had left. Without hesitating, the two got up and immediately followed after the strange glow. They followed further into the cavern passing larger and larger stone structures. Soon they uncovered an entire city of stone with carved pillars. The two followed the light and found its trail leading toward a dried out fountain sitting in the center of several buildings. When the two neared the fountain, they found a hole in the base and without a second thought, the two went down into a room lit only by the strange blue star.

            What is this place? Cuganwa questioned voicing both of their thoughts. The two looked around the hidden chamber finding only skeletons and the partially dissipating stench of death.

            The room looked bare and unimportant. Not sure what to expect, the two looked back toward the werelight wondering why it had brought them there. The light then brightened and fired into a nearby wall. Dust then poured from the stone wall like water over a ledge. Nuyani found herself attempting to pull Cuganwa behind her by his arm, but the boy didnt budge and kept his gaze on the shifting stone. As the dust cleared, a faded mural appeared with etched detail lit up.

            What? Nuyani whispered as she studied the image. The moved closer to the mural. The entire piece showed the history of the stone village where they stood. In the mural, the people recorded their daily lives from hunting to gathering food. Part of the mural showed people worshipping another entity with light all around them. Nuyani peered over a section where many of those who appeared to have died and buried were taken by menacing hands and pulled to another place far away. A trail of people ran along the bottom edge of the mural leading to an entity that resembled a tornado of wind with fearsome eyes. At its base were many people drawn as if shouting and large plums of dust illustrated as if emitted from the being of wind.

            More illustrations of stone pillars and people near the plums were drawn broken or mangled. As they looked to the right more and more, the mural showed how the people burned the bodies of their dead and keeping the hands at bay. Continuing to look right, the two then saw a section showing another immense plum sweeping away a large group of hunters and after, that several figures resembling saber cats closing in on the cave and attacking the people. Each of the animals seemed to have a crown of swirling wind over their heads. As the two continued right, they found that the piece wasnt complete and only claw marks indented into the stone.

            What is all this? What does it mean? Cuganwa asked.

            I, Nuyani started as she pondered for a moment. I believe this is why the storms plague us every year.

            Those damn sand storms are for this strange beast to collect our souls, Nuyani went on.

            Cuganwa then added, Is that why that large saber cat came after you? Youre a threat to it for some reason.

            I think your right, Nuyani said as she began to chew on the knuckle of her first finger. The conclusion they made showed that everything taking place was too huge a coincidence, especially since the two now shared a vision. The light from the mural then disappeared and the travelers then exited the chamber and returned to the hut. They conversed along the way sharing theories and soon arguing at a suggestion the boy had given.

            Why? Whats wrong with bringing the village here? Theres plenty of room and its safer than where we live now, the boy argued.

            Nuyani sighed as she replied, Cuganwa if your father survived the encounter with the saber cat, hes more likely to think you are cursed by me if you even mention any of this. Aside from that, why would the village even listen to a little boy in the first place?

            Cuganwa was stumped for a moment before he then returned, Our, father doesnt lose himself to anger. He will listen, especially if we show him the mural.

Nuyani scowled at Cuganwa. She then snapped back, Sure. I should give them the chance to stick a dagger through me. They wouldnt hesitate at the chance.

Nuyani knew her comment would strike a cord within the boy. Cuganwa immediately retorted, Then tell me why you bothered to save me?

I dont know, Nuyani shouted. Her voice echoed throughout cavern. I dont want anyone to die, but Im going to be the only one paying for this. Cuganwa said nothing and only crossed his arms and waited for her to finish. Fine. I will try to help them.

The boy started to smirk in victory until he then remembered how much Nuyani had already suffered. He then dismissed his guilt as he continued on, We just need to show father the picture and tell him about the vision.

That is something we probably shouldnt mention until something strange comes around, Nuyani warned. The witch looked up to the opening in the ceiling and saw that dawn had already broke. Look. Its almost time, Nuyani added as she pointed toward the opening. Wait by the mural. Ill tell your father to find you there. At least hell look for you and see it then. The buy looked unsure as he was about to ask why, but instead kept quiet and made his way back to the mural with a lit torch in hand.

Nuyani in turn went outside and waited. As the sun rose higher, Nuyani was lying on the stone floor at entrance just as an arrow whizzed by and struck the ground near her feet. Nuyani sighed as she said, Glad you made it here. She started to rise up and she turned to see Sutama pointing another notch arrow at her. Half of his team stood behind him with bows at the ready as well.

She looked into the hunting leaders eyes and saw the unbridled rage he was struggling to maintain. In a low and cold tone, Sutama then asked, Where is my son.

Not sure. He might be with mother by now, Nuyani replied and grave a conceded smile.

Sutama released his arrow and the projectile grazed the witchs cheek and blood began to trickle down from the scratch though she didnt flinch. I wont ask again, the man said.

            Hah. So you can care for your children. I guess I was too early for you to mature, Nuyani spouted. Sutamas brow creased at the womans condescending tone. Follow me, Nuyani finished as she headed inside. Sutama relaxed for a moment with a deep breath then nodded for the others to follow in.

            When the men finally stepped inside, they found Nuyani had several torches already lit. She placed them against the wall and stepped away while keeping an eye for any of their sudden movements. Sutama took a good look at the witchs sash and found that she was unarmed. All of her daggers and pouches were laid out on the floor near a fire pit. When the men took up the torches, Nuyani lead the men through the abandoned village until they reached the fountain.

            The witch then stood to the side and instructed Sutama to enter through the hole. Her father instead readied his bow once again, his threatening glare illustrating his intentions. Cuganwa! Nuyani then called.

            Are they hear? the boy replied. The rest of the men looked into the hole and found their young companion holding a torch as well completely unharmed.

            Sutama, the boys alright. Hes safe, Uwegna confirmed as he looked down the hole. Nuyani crossed her arms and smirked in triumph. Surprised he hasnt tried to shoot me yet, Nuyani thought.

            The hunting leaders expression relaxed as he responded, Is he? Good. The man then released the arrow and everyone one turned when they heard the sudden thud from the bow being released.

The men stood silent as Cuganwa shouted, No father stop! She isnt against us!

The boy stuck his head out and found the two facing one another and an arrow broken at the shaft sticking out of the floor. Everyone watched the two as Sutama said, Thank you for saving him. May your mother guide me. A small tear began to form in the corners of his eyes.

Nuyani was now scowling at the man as she snapped, Well try to cheer up. We have bad news for you, sir. The two then explained what they had learned. As Nuyani had first expected, the hunters believed that it was a lie.

Look, we understand youre alone, but telling us that the village is going to be destroyed just because you want it to end doesnt give you the right to poison a childs mind, Uwegna accused.

But, were not lying! Cuganwa interjected. If we are, then father. The boy looked toward Sutama and waited till his attention was met. I learned something through our shared vision. Is Nuyani my sister?

Sutama said nothing for a moment before he also said, You told him? His saddened eyes were trained on Nuyani.

No. I showed them, came a womans voice from all around. Suddenly the same blue light fired from the mural and stopped at the center of the chamber. The light then took shape of a woman and the same ghostly form of Nuyanis mother appeared.

Halusuu? Sutama whispered. He then glanced over to Nuyani and found that she was also surprised at the appearance. He then returned his gaze to his deceased wife. Is this a trick?

No more a trick than the day when you wanted to name Nuyani as Caluu, Halusuu replied. Sutama felt his eyes beginning to water once more. The spirit then continued, The children speak the truth. Those who are buried as I was have their souls ensnared by a monster and it has the power now to destroy the village in a single blow. Move the village. You will not see me again. Goodbye my dear. Halusuu dissipated and the small traces of light began to drift southward before fading completely.

Sutama and Nuyani both called out to the spirit with no response in return. The two stayed silent and began to weep though both were quiet as they released their sorrow.

Uwegna then moved to Sutamas side before he said, Sir, if we are to go on this then we will need to move now.

Sutama gathered himself together and replied, Yes. We must move now.

Soon everyone was ready to leave and quickly moved back outside. As the hunters all mounted onto their camels, Nuyani stood back and watched as the others to left. It was only until the hunters were close to the horizon that she finally unclenched first fist. However as she moved to go inside, Nuyani felt the same rush of energy surging through her. Learning from her last encounter, she took this strange sensation as a warning and tore off after the group.

Only a few minutes passed when she was able to see the men coming into view. The men had travelled with four camels originally, and now they were one down and two men dead. The men were attempting to fend off strange worm like creatures. Three from what she could tell burrowed through the earth as if they were piranha in water and kept pace with the camels. The men fired arrows at the animals only to have their shots deterred when the predators ducked into the dirt.

Nuyani then sprinted even faster and closed the distance between the others and herself. As one of the strange worms rose from the earth to attack the hunters, Nuyani reached out and clasped the creatures neck in a cold grip. The animal immediately died as its single yellow eye popped with a spurt of blood and the barbs all along the outside of the creatures body had blood pouring from them. The witch threw the animal to the side then proceeded after the next.

The worm had noticed her approaching and veered off to the side hoping to lose. However Nuyani followed after the creature with it leaving a trail of upturned dirt behind. Wanting to end the creature quickly, Nuyani spotted a thick enough stick and snatched the twig up before passing then shoved the small branch through the loose dirt spearing the large worm through its tail end. Off balance, the woman fell forward into a roll and regained her balance. She looked back and found her prey fastened in place.

Uwegna himself continued to fire arrows and released a small cheer when he struck the large worm on top of its head. The beast stopped moving as the men grew further and further away. His cheers however were short lived when the hunter looked up and all he felt was a great swell of dread. Everyone heard a growing hum in the distance. To southern horizon, they all saw the large brown haze becoming taller and taller.

No, Uwegna whispered as all sound drowned out to the stampeding rush of wind.

Within seconds, a wall of sand had descended upon the group from over hundreds of miles. The wind tossed everyone into the air as small grains of sand began to slice and scar their skin even before they were all consumed. The fierce torrents of wind prevented them from breathing. Cuganwa felt great dread as he watched the sandstorm close in all around them. Nuyani eyes then glistened in an immense orange light as sphere of energy erupted from her body expanding until it shielded everyone around her.

Within the barriers domain the air was gentle causing everyone to land on the floor. They all looked as Nuyani stood as if she were a statue with the sun shining off of her polished dark features.

What is happening? The storm has never come this early, Uwegna wheezed as he tried to sit up.

Isnt it obvious? They were right, Sutama replied with a gurgling sound coming out with every breath. The man looked around to find his son. When he found him, the boy was lying still, but Sutama could see the subtle rise and fall of his chest. Thank the protector, he added just as he relaxed then winced in pain. When the hunting leader looked over his body, he found most of his right foot stripped away with mud and blood covering the remaining portion of his flesh. I think you should have claimed a little more, Lord Kelvert, the man thought as he laughed at his severe pain. His head seemed to grow lighter, but the man tried to fight the heavy cloud of sleep.

He thought of the many years he suppressed his emotions as he watched his daughter stand still and the swarming sands berate the barrier. Sutama then felt something nudge his leg. In his dazed state, the man could barely make out Uwegna and another hunter attending to his grievous wound as blood spilt into the sand. The two men were in better condition than Sutama with only small lacerations covering parts of their arms, legs and faces.

Dont die on us yet sir. We have a lot of ground to cover still, Uwegna protested as a tourniquet was tightened around Sutamas ankle.

Thank you boys. Please, see to my son, Their leader whispered.

Uwegna then replied, Cuganwa is well. Just a little shaken is all.

Good, Sutama voiced softly as he fell back after fainting. The men looked at one another for a moment as they continued to dress the wound. Once Sutamas foot was completely wrapped up, the two sat back knowing all they could do now was wait.

Hours had passed before the storm subsided and night had fallen. At this time, Sutama and the other hunters were awake once again and this time Nuyani was out cold. The strain from using her uncontrolled powers had weakened her greatly. The witched lied on the sand floor covered in a thick shroud.

Great were alive. Now what do we do? Uwegna questioned trying to sound as comical and dismissive to hide his dread.

Sutama then replied, We ride back of course.

How? Cuganwa interjected. His voice started to crack and grow louder. We dont know where the camels have gone! They may have died in the storm!

Ease your worries, Cuganwa. You forget that the camels were here long before our people came to this country, the boys father reminded. He then let out a loud whistle. Familiar grunts then responded and everyone watched as dark silhouettes moved on the horizon until the shadows came closer. The light from the half- moon lit the area and revealed the parties camels had returned. They are born to survive any ordeal this land presents to them. If nothing else can be proven true, the loyalty and strengths of your camel can always be relied upon. The group then quickly mounted the animals and headed east.

Everyone was anxious to know what the fate of their village. They road on without stopping and soon came upon the dirt trail parallel to the river and continued south from there. After passing over the bone bridge, the group travelled on and looked in great horror as they saw scattered bones littering the desert ground and pieces of hut canopies flying about or flapping in the wind. The sight took a great blow to the groups moral. Dawn began to break as they neared the village. The villages bone gate that they all held so proudly was shattered as if an explosion had taken place in the rear. Gaps appeared in small sections of the bone gate.

Nuyani, who was riding with Sutama, had finally awoke and gasped as they came around and entered the village where the ramp was. Down below tents were destroyed and many bodies lied about the village. But the returning partys attention was drawn to the commotion of nearly one hundred remaining villagers huddled in a circle and every able bodied man and woman holding pieces of the gates as spears to fend off twelve red griffins. Nuyani knew this had to be the work of whatever monster the mural had depicted.

The airborne beasts swooped and lunged about looking for holes in the desperate peoples defense. Some of the hunters began to fire arrows into the sky but halted when the village leader ordered them to stop. Uigna was too late as one of the projectiles struck a griffin in the head and the beast plummeted to the floor with the circle beneath it. In an instant their defense broke as everyone scattered apart to escape the griffins two tons of crushing weight.

Screams and shouts sounded off as the griffins dived down and claimed the lives of several villagers before everyone could regroup. Sutama and the others charged in shouting as the griffins began to break away and attack them. As two neared them, Sutama and Uwegna fired arrows upon two of the griffins as Nuyani removed a dagger from her fathers sash and disappeared. She then reappeared high above and slashed at the throat of a griffin. Blood poured down the ivory blade as the witch teleported away from the slain beast only to reappear on the back of another where she repeated her efforts.

The griffins were now in disarray as a few came to close to the villagers and were skewered by their makeshift pikes. With half of the predators remaining, two attempted to flee only to wind up dead from arrows. The remaining four griffins however grew more aggressive and daring as one swooped in a tackled through the crowd of people. The climbed back into the air with one of the villagers in its beak and a spear in its shoulder. The villager screamed because pain resonating from their arm clenched between the beasts jowls, but then silenced themselves as they removed their own dagger and drove the blade into the beasts chest. The griffins path petered off and they fell into the river where the piranha instantly attacked them.

Cuganwa, despite his fathers pleading, began to run about alone to attract the remaining three for targeting. The remaining griffins however grew more difficult to remove. Even Nuyani found it difficult to attack them as the beasts swerved or halted at the last moment before she could attack them. As she made the attempt again, a griffin evaded her by spinning and swung in a wide arch. The beasts talons dug into Nuyanis side and the witch fell to the dirt. Unable to think from the shock.

            She began to fall from several stories high, but was then caught in the arms of Uigna before hitting the ground. Nuyani hadnt even realized she had fallen as she looked around still clutching her side.

            Lookout, a villager shouted as another of the beasts lunged at the two. Uigna quickly stepped to the side and cut at the griffins wing. The limb was lopped off and the creature rolled across the sand floor. When the griffin finally stopped and tried to recover, several of the villagers were already upon the beast and killed it with spears. With only two remaining griffins still airborne, the villagers didnt hold anything back as everyone fired arrows, tossed stones or threw the spears at the beasts. It wasnt long before the remaining griffins were also slain.

            For the moment things were calm as several village guards stood around Nuyani with spears at the ready and Uwegna standing between them from attempting to kill her. Sutama and Cuganwa left to search for the rest of their family, but quickly returned to Uignas side to explain everything. After they explained everything that had happened, the village leader was still unconvinced.

            Why hadnt she brought you here earlier then? the leader countered.

            Sutama merely admitted, Tension is still strong, sir. I had attempted to kill her, but slayed her mother instead.

            Uigna seemed to grow more furious as he then said, And the men she killed?

            I already told you before they pursued her despite my order, Sutama went on. She is not evil. The eyes mean nothing more than her abilities. The village leader leered at Sutama. The distraught father then pleaded, Please, dont kill her. She has save my son twice and the rest of my men twice. Even, though we still tried to kill her.

            As the two men spoke, Cuganwa tended to Nuyanis wound with a brief wrapping around her waist. Luckily the cuts were only superficial. Nuyani, despite her pain, rose to her feet as she then shouted, Kill me if you wish, but the storm will come again and destroy the village. Kelvert help you all, today was only the beginning to stun you all. Just run. Flee beyond the northern border and cross back into our elder country before you meet your end here. Everyone stood in silence. Their idea of a witch who manipulated men and led the creatures of the desert against them was shattered revealing only a banished woman. The storm will be stronger next time and will come again before day has fallen.

            Uigna then stepped to her and knelt down on one knee as he asked, Help us, please. We do not have the resources any longer to move all our people at once.

            Nuyani looked about and knew the mans words to be true. The camels were slain by either the fallen debris of the gates destruction or killed by the griffins. Many bodies lied about the village and all those who remained were now looking to her for hope. . A wry smile formed on the womans lips as she said, Only if you end the slaughter of the children with eyes of fire.

            Uigna didnt hesitate as replied, On my word, the purge ends.

            Nuyani began to grin as she glanced over to Caluu and her mother. Alright then and thank you. Uigna gave a puzzled look for a moment, but decided not to ask any questions. Now able to control her abilities somewhat, Nuyani retrieved her crystal from the cavern and took everyone into its hold. She immediately returned to the cavern and released the people of Kelverts canyon. Everyone was in awe of the space Nuyani had occupied, but as they settled in, many continued to morn over their enormous loss. Many were injured from the storm and Nuyani pointed many of the others in the direction of herbs or food. As time passed, Nuyani sat by the entrance away from the others. Every once in a while a villager came by to give their thanks, but never stayed long. All throughout the day, Nuyani could feel the energy of the unknown monster swelling from the days kill, but the storm never came, even as night came.

Nuyani then heard a shuffling step accompanied by a sharp tap in beat. She turned over and found Sutama shuffling toward her with the aid of a wooded staff for balance. Despite her animosity towards him, she said, Wouldnt it be wiser to let your wounds heal before trying to move?

No more foolish than sitting at the entrance to block a storm from entering into a cavern when youre tired enough to kill over, Sutama replied as he stopped and leaned on his staff. But you are the only one capable, arent you?

How fortunate for you, she replied.

Sutama merely nodded his head. The two remained silent for a moment. They heard the gentle breeze outside and they both grew slightly at ease. Sutama then said, As a people fled to safety with fewer than a hundred and nowhere to go, a lone star protected them from the dangers around them until the people became strong once again and learned the ways of the desert.

Nuyani slowly turned her head to face the man. The man met her gaze and smiled even as tears trailed down his cheeks. The woman wore a look of annoyance on her face as she stared at her father. She wanted to say something cruel, she wanted to curse and yell, but found her anger abated for she had already won more than she ever believed she would. It didnt hurt either that her father paraphrased the tale of Kelvert and their peoples travels to fit their predicament either. Nuyanis silence however gave the man a clear sign as he said no more and returned to the others only to be replaced by Uigna.

The man came with a bright smile as he started, Hello dear savior. May I join you?

Nuyanis scowl changed to curiosity as she replied, Well its your home now. You can do as you please.

The man then sat beside Nuyani as he replied, Oh really? And I thought we were only guests for a temporary stay.

No, this is your home if you wish, Nuyani said as she looked away and lowered her voice.

The man grew curious as his brow furrowed. It is also your home, Uigna stated. We would be honored to have with us. Nuyani looked back at the man and found him holding out his hand in plea. She saw the sincerity in his eye and opened her mouth, but then stopped as the memory of her mother returned.

Nuyani then closed the mans hand as she said, No. I must find out what has been killing everyone and save my mothers soul along with the others. She leaned forward and kissed the man on the cheek before concluding, And thank you for saving me.

With that said, Nuyani rose to her feet and went back inside. She quickly gathered some of her supplies refusing to let fatigue hold her any longer. She found Cuganwa standing beside her when she stood back up.

Tears started to well in her eyes at this point. The sudden barrage of thanks and kind gestures were starting to weigh on her resolve. She shook her head hoping Cuganwa wouldnt do the same.

The boy then held out his hand and revealed the dagger he held in his hand. She looked down at the weapon and then back at him quizzically. First born in the family is supposed to have the dagger. Bring it back alright, Cuganwa said then turned away and left to the other further into the cavern.

Nuyani said nothing as she looked over the ivory blade with designs of warthogs and the star, representing Kelvert, carved into the guard and hilt. She waited for a moment as the tears began to flow. Nuyani then teleported away with another goal in mind.

End

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