The Darkfordian Chronicles: Wind - Part Three
Kaseem reached the camp as the last rays of sun kissed the earth. The firelight was welcoming, as were the cloaked figures standing on the solidness of rock.
The Border Lands are indeed a wasteland, but only to those without the skill and knowledge to utilize them. Like the Lost Desert, the Border Lands had once been submerged under an enormous ocean that is now long forgotten. However, unlike the Lost Desert, the Border Lands had been one vast and seamless plain of flat rock. As the fledgling world of Neopia had groaned and stretched, preparing itself for new life, it had inadvertently lifted both the Lost Desert and the Border Lands to a new elevation. This caused all of the ocean water to flow away, leaving the bear sand a desert and the flat plain of rock. But Neopia wasn't finished yet, with a great heave the Border Lands were shattered from one flat plain into jagged rock formations. Steep cliffs and deep crags, some say there are crags so deep they are said to reach Neopia's core, now characterize the landscape. Over time, the wind had worn down the tallest peaks and smoothed the sharp edges of the cliffs; this created a landscape that appeared to be a vast grey ocean. The crags, however, remained. Most had never been explored at all, and many were extremely dangerous. However, the wearing down of the stone had produced a fine dust colored soil, rich in nutrients, which allowed grasses to grow in areas where the soil had collected. The wind would cause the grass to sway, adding to the illusion that the rocky terrain was a sea.
Despite the foreboding appearance of the land, it had been settled long ago. The inhabitants were mainly migrant shepherds; their flocks were generally of babaa. It would seem that the grasses that grew in the nutrient rich greyness of the soil were perfect for encouraging wool growth in the petpets. As a result, the migrants would often be able to shear their babaa four or five times more often than usual. This excess of wool was the main export of the migrants, sold to any merchant who wandered their way. It also served as the medium with which the shepherds made their dense cloaks; the cloaks were died a deep grey so that the shepherds could match the landscape. No need to attract unwanted attention, after all.
The wind whipped at the sand as Kaseem stepped off it and onto solid rock. Night had fallen, but the cloaked figures were still bustling about. Walking into the circle of firelight, she looked around the small camp. Seven tents were somehow moored into the rock, each as grey as the cloaks of the camp dwellers and about as large as the small military apartment she had left behind. Around these were pens made of scraggly scraps of wood. There was, however, an eighth, larger tent set slightly apart from the rest. Ducking under the opening, Kaseem entered the main hall of the camp.
As she did so, a shadow Scorchio stepped up to her.
"Good evening, milady," he said, with a slight bow. "I assume you would like to rest here for the night?"
Kaseem replied, "That would be very much appreciated. How much?"
Smiling, the Scorchio answered, "Some food to add to the communal pot is all that is required. You will have to barter with Shekle for a cloak, however. That is, if you were planning to buy one."
Laughing, Kaseem responded, "I am not so much a fool as to think my thin desert robes will keep me warm in the Border Lands or the Woods beyond."
The Scorchio, whose name was Shinkt, led her to a corner of the tent where a rickety table had been placed. Upon the table were thick wool robes, in various sizes, but all grey. Behind the table, a camouflage Ruki stood. Before Kaseem could ask, Shinkt said, "This is Shekle, he'll be the one to provide you with a cloak. You can ask him who sells what around here if you need to." After that, he hurried off to settle a dispute between a fire Krawk and a brown Tonu who seemed to be arguing over who would herd their babaa into which pen.
Extending one of his claws to gesture to the array of cloaks, Shekle asked, "Which do you think would fit you best?"
After a great deal of searching, Kaseem found a cloak of the proper size. Then, she spent a good hour trying to convince Shekle to accept payment in the form of the extra set of desert clothes she had brought. Eventually, he agreed to exchange the cloak for the clothing plus twenty neopoints. Not exactly a bargain, but she was well aware that the cloak was a necessity. Unwilling to extend her time with Shekle, Kaseem asked, "Do you know where I am supposed to sleep?"
"Ask Shink," was his brief reply. Apparently, he was just as disinterested in a continued acquaintance as she.
Exiting the tent, Kaseem found the camp to be much more populous than when she arrived. There had to be at least thirty neopets present. Babaa were being swiftly herded into the pens and the fire had been stoked to increase the amount of heat it produced. Over the fire hung a large caldron, already bubbling. Shinkt was standing next to the caldron, and he appeared to be accepting any and all additions.
I've eaten a lot of . . . interesting meals over the years, but this might just take the cake, she thought to herself.
When she reached Shinkt's side, she noted the odd, coiling greenish purple steam and undefinable odor the caldron was emitting. For a moment she wondered if she had been mistaken and that this was not meant to be dinner after all. But then Shinkt turned to her and said, "So, what do you have to add to the communal pot?"
Well, it could be worse, she thought. They could have not allowed me to stay at all.
With this thought in mind, she handed Shinkt as much of her rations as she dared. He promptly thrust the entire lot into the caldron, where it sizzled oddly.
"Good news!" he said as the last Cheops Plant sank to its doom, poisonous leaves and all. "Sheemii has agreed to be your escort across the Border Lands. He's even willing to accompany you all the way to Neopia Central. He was headed up there anyway, apparently."
"Thank you," Kaseem replied. She was touched by the shepherds' willingness to help her despite the meagerness of their own means.
"You can thank her yourself," he replied with a smile. He gestured toward the darkness underneath a nearby shelf of rock. "Her tent is under there. Dinner will be served when the gong rings. First come, first served." This was clearly meant as a dismissal.
Obligingly, Kaseem walked past the edge of firelight toward the jagged rock face. Peering into the deep shadows beneath the ledge, she could barely make out the shape of a tent. As she got closer, she realized that there must be another source of light on the other side of the tent, as the tent edge had become clearly back lit. She quietly peeked her head around the edge of the abnormally tiny tent and saw an equally tiny grey Kyrii. The babaa in her arms also seemed smaller than usual.
"Umm. Hello, my name is Kaseem. Shinkt said you might be willing to travel with me through the Border Lands?"
The Kyrii jumped slightly at her words. "Oh! I didn't see you there." Her voice reminded Kaseem of a wisp of smoke. "Yes, yes. I'd be more than happy to have a travelling companion. Even if just for one stretch of the journey."
Curiosity compelled Kaseem to ask, "Why is it that you are traveling all the way to Neopia Central?" She had never before considered that the shepherds might go to such lengths to trade their wool.
Sheemii smiled, the bittersweet smile that only grey pets could really pull of, and said "Just time for a change. I've lived here my whole life, and I've been wondering lately what the world might have that I've never seen. So, I decided to pack up and move to Neopia Central. All kinds of neopets live there. It must be a very exciting place. Have you ever been?"
To Kaseem, Sheemii sounded a lot like her younger sister Nocturn. She remembered having long conversations with her sister late into the night about how their responsibilities did not allow for extended travel; and then Kaseem had left for the Lost Desert and been gone for seven years. Nocturn had only been eight when she had left. Her brothers had been young as well. And she had left them.
Wind whipped through the crevice and Kaseem realized by Sheemii's expression that much too much time had passed since the question had been asked.
"Oh, no. I lived in Darkford before moving to the desert."
"Dark fork? I've never heard of that place. Is it nice there?"
"It's Dark-FORD. And it's in the middle of the Haunted Woods. So, I guess it depends on what you consider 'nice.'"
"Oh. Is that where you're headed? Darkford?"
"Yes. I'm returning to my family, after... being away for a while."
Sheemii nodded and was about to speak when a loud clanging sound came from the main camp.
Eyes widening, Sheemii said, putting down the babaa, "We need to hurry or we won't get any dinner!"
Grasping Kaseem's paw, she began to run toward the light of the main fire. However, after only a second or two of running, she said to Kaseem "Hold on." and ran back to her tent. Back in less time than Kaseem would have thought possible, Sheemii pushed her forward once more.
When they reached the camp, it was in utter upheaval. Neopets were all streaming toward the caldron bowls in hand. Glancing down, Kaseem realized that that was what Sheemii had gone back to retrieve.
Shinkt stood at the caldron, attempting to keep order and only just managing it. When Kaseem and Sheemii reached him, he gave them each a ladle full of the "communal pot" and sent them on their way.
The two then returned to Sheemii's tent and sat at her (also tiny) fire. Seeming to have no end of trivial information about the Border Lands and the Lost Desert (most of which Kaseem already knew) saved up for conversations like this, Sheemii continued a long stream of one-sided discussion as she ate. Kaseem was once more reminded of her sister Nocturn.
Seven years is a long time to be away. Particularly, because I'm the oldest. I should have been there to care for them.
Her brow furrowed as she tried to think of the last time she had written to her siblings. And found it disturbing that she couldn't really remember. She did recall that, about four years ago she supposed, her eldest brother, Gamble, had stopped signing the letters that Widget, her youngest brother, would write. When she had asked why this was, Widget had responded vaguely and seemed to suggest that Gamble had also left the family household. For a moment, Kaseem wondered why she hadn't rushed home then, only to realize that she probably should have.
Later that night, after the last of the preparations had been made for their journey to begin in the morning, Kaseem lay on Sheemii's extra mat in the tiny tent. The babaa, Dorian, slept next to her and she could her Sheemii's deep breathing, mirroring the sighing of the wind over the stones.
But Kaseem did not sleep. She could not, for she had finally awoken to the reality of her selfish actions. Sheemii had asked, just before they went to bed, if she had written to her family before leaving Sakhmet. "Because you probably won't be able to find any Weewoos here. Or anywhere around here actually." No, no she had not. And for the first time in her life Kaseem truly wondered if she had a home to go back to. Her siblings had every right to be agree with her. She had failed in her responsibility to them.
As she thought of these things, the wind whipped louder outside of the tent.
Either way, you've decided. No going back. You'll just have to see what awaits you when you get there.
A short way from the tent, where the desert sand met the grey stone, the Wind of the Eastern Gate paced restlessly. The other desert winds had long since left and returned to their business. But this wind felt it owed Kaseem enough at least to travel with her until she reached her home. And so, finally resolving itself, the wind left the desert sand for the first time in its young life and scooted across the stone. When it reached the tent where Kaseem slept, having finally resigned herself to Fate, it curled itself around the tent and waited for the sun to rise. Waited for the next leg of their journey to begin.
The End... for now.
Thank you for reading! Please look for more of The Darkfordian Chronicles in the future.