Sahn sat in the shadows of a tall mesa and snatched a fat lizard off the dusty desert ground. Still wearing the now sweat-stained chillsuit which the frihar stones had lost their chill with his back against a mesa wall, Sahn lifted the struggling lizard to his mouth and bit into it. With a distasteful grin on his face, he forced himself to swallow the bits of food in his mouth and bite down on some more until he tossed in the last leg of the tiny reptile and chewed it up. With the twisted yellow suns passing over the top of the tall mesa he sat against, Sahn pressed himself up tight trying to make use of whatever shade he could to keep his blistered exposed skin out of the searing heat of the desert suns.
“You can’t just sit here all day.” Sahn leaned forward with his hand blocking the light of the suns to see Darvin standing over him. “Come on get up. You need to find water.”
“Water,” Sahn mouthed the word his labored breath barely escaping his parched lips. “I would like some water.”
“Well then get up and I’ll lead you to some.”
Sahn struggled to push himself up from the ground until Darvin reached out a hand to pull him to his feet. Sahn staggered forward in a clumsy crouched walk next to Darvin who stood straight and tall and showed no signs of being the least bit fatigued. Sahn struggled to keep up. After a short time he looked over to his left side and saw his wife Ammaline walking next to him on that side holding the hand of his young daughter who walked next to her. He looked back to his right and Darvin turned to him and smiled.
“Where are we going?” Sahn asked in a weak-raspy voice.
“To get some water,” Ammaline cheerfully answered. Sahn turned again to her walking on his left. He reached his hand forward and touched his rough fingertips to her soft lips.
“You… You’re my wife,” he proclaimed as if he just realized who she was.
“Yes dear. We’re taking you to get some water.”
As Sahn stumbled forward across the hot desert, the scenery suddenly changed. He now saw himself standing up straight walking through a lush valley with tall green grass. Ammaline handed him a large striped berry and he held it in his hands, as he walked examining it before lifting it to his lips to bite into its cool crisp skin. Dark blue juice ran across his now smooth lips and down his chin, as he savored the delectable goodness of the berry. He tossed the remainder of the berry into his mouth, as Darvin handed him a large container of mead. Sahn held the crock of cool mead with both hands. He continued to walk forward with his eyes on the cool liquid within, as it flowed toward his waiting lips.
Sahn suddenly stumbled over something and fell. The lush valley was gone and his face pressed against the dusty desert floor. His mouth was half-buried in thick dust, as he smacked his lips.
“Ammaline,” he spoke with what little air that could seep out of his lungs. “Amma…line.” He called out again, but no one appeared. After laying there with dust blowing over his still body for several minutes, Darvin re-appeared.
“Why are you laying there in the dust?” Darvin asked, as he looked down at Sahn.
“Ammaline,” Sahn choked out again blowing dust away from his mouth.
“I thought you were coming with me to get water.”
“Yes come on you can’t just lay there in the hot suns.”
“I can’t?... Who are you?” Sahn turned his head to look up at Darvin.
“You know me. I’m Darvin.”
“Yes now get up.”
Sahn tried to push himself up from the dusty desert floor, but his weak arms couldn’t seem to lift his body and he fell back again.
“I think I’ll just lay here awhile.”
“You can’t just lay there. Now get up!” Sahn tried again to push himself up but Darvin had to reach down and pull him up. The two of them walked together again across a section of desert with no plants or any signs of other life, just an endless blanket of dust on the ground and blowing all around them. Sahn continued to stagger dragging his feet with each slow step with Darvin holding him up by one of his arms. With the blaring heat of the suns directly overhead, they continued to trudge their way across the desert until they stopped at the edge of a deep gorge.
A small stream flowed deep below in the gorge with plants and trees further away along what used to be the banks of the now much narrower stream. Sahn dropped to his knees alone at the edge of the gorge. His deep-rooted fear of being seen by anyone outweighed his powerful thirst, as he first thoroughly surveyed the area for any signs of activity before sliding down the dusty embankment. Laying on his stomach he pulled at the ground before him almost as if he were swimming. He plummeted down until his face dropped into the cool stream of water. He drank his fill of the cool water then splashed it all over his body. He looked back toward the ridge of the cliff he just slid down and saw images of Darvin and his wife and child waving to him from on top of the cliff. He smiled with cracked lips and raised an arm to wave back at them until they again vanished.
Back in Shrkai city, as the days passed, Millaney remained in her cell. She was allowed visitors and her Shrkai sister Sarnay visited on a daily basis, on one day she brought a chess board with drawers in it to hold the chess pieces. The guards searched her as usual and also opened the drawers in the chess board, but only found the small figurines used as chess pieces. Millaney sat up on her cot when Sarnay entered and attempted to smile. She was dressed much more simply than she would usually, while still in a dress it was a simple leather work dress that covered over her breasts and beneath was a dark blue blouse. Her blond hair which was usually well-brushed and curled lay flat and dampened with sweat. Sarnay pulled a small table over and set the chess board down on it while Millaney just looked at her with her eyebrows lowered and legs crossed.
“Oh come on Laney… You remember this board don’t you?,” Sarnay said, as she was sure to look Millaney in the eyes, as she started to set up the dark wood pieces from the drawer on her side. “This is the same board we used in school when we were young.” Millaney soon caught on to what Sarnay was hinting at and thrust her legs down to the floor and opened the drawer on her side. She quickly pulled out the light wood figurines shaped like different types of soldiers, with small archer shapes for pawns, Shrkai soldiers on the backs of a velociraptor for knights and other pieces to represent the king, queen, priests, and castles. After all the pieces were out and set hastily on the board, she opened a hidden compartment and saw some folded pieces of paper.
Millaney looked to the door and could see the head of a guard standing on the other side of the door near the small opening in the door. After assuring herself he was looking the other way, she pulled out and unfolded the notes. Sarnay continued setting up the chess pieces of both light and dark colored wood, as Millaney read the notes which were written in an ancient Shrkai language that few people knew and Patrah taught both of them.
Hello my sister I am sorry for your situation and I know you worry dearly for our father…
Millaney pressed her lips together and lowered the letter. She knew her connection to Sarnay was strong and after recently meeting her human father a few years back, that Sarnay had accepted him as hers. She wanted to say something to her at that point, but changed her mind and kept on reading the notes.
… Be assured we are doing everything we can to free you both. We have not told Gaitlynne of the situation for fear she may want to take aggressive action. Patrah continues to insist we use diplomatic means to press our position, but he did send a correspondence to the Annuvian territory for aid…
As Millaney continued to read, Sarnay was sure to move the chess pieces on the board placing them a bit more loudly than necessary so the guard would hear them and think they were both playing.
…Darvin has come to stay with Frolin and myself in a hidden complex further from the city. We have to sneak out at night and we aren’t flying on the dragons to keep people from seeing us coming and going. I’ve found Frolin is really quite brilliant. Since you are so close to me as a sister, I must tell you that I am growing quite fond of him. He doesn’t have the great physical strength that I’m usually drawn to, but he is very sweet and his mind is quite sharp. Anyway the council has chosen Trajev, the priest who used to be in charge of Darvin’s sentencing to be the new Grand Chancellor. Patrah and many others were quite surprised. The city has been filling with Shrkai from the other regions for his enthronement. The housing in the city is full and there are thousands of tents set up throughout the valley. Ralomar’s influence over the council and the citizens of the city is growing every day. The heat has been unbearable even though it should be starting to cool, it seems to grow even hotter every day. Ralomar has convinced much of the people that the gods are angry with the human infestation, as he calls it even though really the only humans in the city are you and our father. Gaitlynne stays up in the mountains with her dragons and there are only a handful of humans working at the warehouses and docks along the river. Patrah says that Ralomar is simply using the humans as an enemy for people to blame their woes upon, however real or imagined the threat may be, the people in general slowly start to believe it to be true. He says that the new Grand Chancellor is really just a puppet and Ralomar with his influence is the puppet master. The council will soon meet to decide the fate of our father. We try to keep our hopes up, but I fear there is nothing we can truly do…
Millaney folded the letter despite having a line or two yet to read. She stood and walked out from behind the table with the chess board on it and tucked the letter into her dress. She looked to the small hole in the door and saw the guard turn and look in just after she tucked away the letter. Her anger started to swell, she wanted to confront him, to say what are you looking at? Or something similar, but she just turned away and walked across the small room to the other wall, then turned to look back at Sarnay, who just looked up at her with a smile.
This wasn’t the first time the Shrkai people had locked her up. Only a few short years ago she was held in the volcanic caverns on the island of the exiled Dragon Clan of the Shrkai. Now Ralomar the same leader who had them locked up on the island was again in a position of power as he was appointed to the high council of the Shrkai on the mainland. This time it was much different. Before she had the wide open spaces of the caverns and she wasn’t alone, Patrah, Trallana the Shrkai priestess and Gaitlynne even though a dragon then were with her.
She looked at her Shrkai sister sitting on the chair waiting for her to return to the chess match. She had grown up with Sarnay who was born a few days later to the Shrkai woman who Millaney was brought to as an infant. Millaney pressed her lips together and walked back to sit on the cot trying to push her troubles aside at least for the moment and enjoy her sister’s company.
“Was it my move?” Millaney formed a meek smile, as she looked at the chess board.
As Millaney and Sarnay continued their chess match, Millorny was held prisoner much further under the building in a dank cavern. His bare arms were stretched out together over his head tied to an iron stake hammered into a tall thick stalagmite. Moisture dripped down the stalagmite along his arms and down his bare firm chest. He wore only a loose-fit pair of trousers and his feet dangled a short distance above the moist stone ground below. He quietly hummed then started softly singing a festive song, as a multi-legged bug crawled up his pant-leg. The bug crawled along his taught abdomen and up his compact, but muscular chest. Millorny watched as the bug continued up and over his shoulder and off his body onto the stalagmite. Trying to keep his spirits up in an agonizing situation, Millorny finished one song then thought of another and was starting to sing, as Trajev and two burly armed soldiers entered from a passageway in front of him. Millorny kept singing and even raised his voice a bit, as the priest walked forward to within several feet of where Millorny was hanging.
“You humans amaze me,” Trajev began with a chuckle in his voice. “You don’t get enough of murdering each other, you have to come here and murder us” Trajev waited for Millorny to comment and seemed quite surprised he had no response. He watched as Millorny squinted one eye a bit and recited lyrics of a song he was trying to remember how it went. “You seem awfully upbeat for a man who’s about to die a horrible death.”
“Well if I’m about to die a horrible death, than there’s no reason I should be cordial to a lecherous milk-livered canker blossom like you…. Now there ya go you made me forget the song I was trying to think of.”
“Do you not know who I am?” Trajev fumed.
“I think I just summed up who you are rather well actually.”
Trajev pressed his lips together obviously quite angered by Millorny’s non-chalant attitude. He turned to look at one of the soldiers with him, and saw a snicker quickly leave his lips.
“I don’t know why I bothered coming here. You humans are all dregs… an infestation upon our lives.”
“I don’t why you bothered coming here either, perhaps you like playing with your catch like a cat does a mouse, but I think it was just to gloat myself, now if you will excuse me the air down here is foul enough without you adding to the ambiance.” Millorny returned to trying to think of his song.
“Always so smug…. I’ll tell you why I came here..”
“Oh here it comes.”
“I wanted to look upon you before deciding your fate, and now that I have, the cruelest death I can think of will not be fitting.”
“You’re doing a good job of boring me to death.”
“You forget I still have your daughter’s fate to decide.” Trajev smiled as though he had finally struck a nerve and won their verbal battle.
Millorny paused for a brief moment. He again squinted his eye and seemed he was about to unleash a verbal lashing of extreme magnitude, but he knew he was being baited and just then he remembered the lyrics of the song he was searching for and started singing.
Trajev tensed his muscles and turned sharp on his heels. The soldiers couldn’t help but snicker, as they turned to follow. Millorny sang louder and louder, as the trio of Shrkais disappeared into a narrow passageway. After they were gone, Millorny looked up to the iron stake he was tied to. He bent his arms to pull himself up closer to the stake, then tried to reach out for it before his body would fall back, but the leather was long and his grasp could not get close to the iron stake before falling painfully back to his original position. He tried several more times in hopes to pull the pin free, but it was staked deep in the stone and though his wrists bled and his shoulders felt as though they were going to rip free from his body, the stake did not budge.