The sand engulfed Seth’s feet as he stood where the green tapered to tan. The horizon rose before him like a blemish in the sea of earth. What remained of the dune that was blown away centuries ago leaving only its core. The hard stone that was forged in the belly of the Earth before time itself. And before it, Dune’s Groove. A great valley of dessication where the backside of the ancient dune once stood; now eroded into this sunken place.
The great wave of the dune ran North-South like a pipeline. It’s canopy stopping any moisture from licking the surface of the Groove. Though, when the sun was at its youngest and oldest on each day, it’s rays pelted the Groove with terrifying heat. Seth would have to be mindful of pace and timing as he entered that treacherous terrain.
He entered the place when the sun was highest in the sky, shielded by the dune. Though he trekked in the shade, he did not account for trapped heat. The blade on his back scorched him. He resorted to carrying it over his shoulder, but it soon dragged in the dirt. Each ounce of water from his body purged from his skin as he cooked in that oven.
The blade’s tip made a trail of dust that bloomed like a signal fire as it rose to the ceiling of the dune canopy. It hurt to raise his eyes to check the distance he had left. Minutes, hours went by as he hazily scanned the lines of desiccation beneath his wavering feet. As he reached the depths of the canopy, where it widened overhead, Seth collapsed to his knees. His body unable to squeeze another drop from itself to move forward. His sword wedged itself into the ground until it was just over his kneeling head. It held up his tired body.
He knelt there, hands gripping the hilt of his blade, for what seemed like hours in the sweltering shade. He wiped his forehead but salt only remained. But then, as his bones ached, Seth stood again and began to walk. It was only when he opened his eyes that he saw an elderly woman walking with him. She had thrown his arm around her shoulder.
“You must keep moving, boy. Relief is just ahead.”
Seth could only respond with a grunt through his dried lips.
When they reached where the canopy met the ground the woman sat Seth down against the black rocks. Life entered him again as she poured water into his mouth. Seth opened his eyes to see the grey-haired woman. She must have been in her sixties. He wondered what she was doing out here on her own. He took another gulp of the liquid.
“Where did you find water?”
“Water is always in the chalice, but that is no ordinary water,” She pointed to the silver cup in Seth’s hands. “I call it Tenacity.”
“But water can’t survive in the Groove.”
“Only in this spot, my boy,” She pointed to the ceiling of rock above them to a grouping of hanging plant life. “The chalice is first come first serve. For the dew from those plants can nourish few.”
Before the sun dipped above the horizon every morning, the chalice was filled with that singular plant’s dew drops. The Chalice of Tenacity, he thought.
“I’ve never heard of this Chalice of Tenacity. What’s its origin?”
“It’s just a cup, son. The fancy name came from this old woman’s mind. Named so for my own entertainment.” The woman chuckled as she dipped the corner of her shirt in the dew and wet Seth’s head.
“So you brought the chalice here? As a gift to travelers?” Seth said as he was now close enough to see the details of the woman’s face.
“Oh, no. I don’t know it’s origin. I merely stumbled upon it as I returned from my own journey.” She stepped back before sitting down across from Seth, watching as he sipped the last of the dew.
“What is your name?”
“I’m Seth. What city do you travel from?” He sat the cup down on it’s throne of flattened rock.
“Whitewool,” She saw a change in the eyes of Seth as they shifted. “Don’t worry. I’m much too old to get caught up in the wars of young men. You don’t have to tell me your home.”
Seth wanted to tell her he was from Sternum, but that in itself felt like a betrayal to the Sword. He knew that he would most likely be found on the battlefield facing many men from Whitewool in a month’s time. He saw that the woman was kind, but he could not open up to her. After a silence, he said, “So, Reed. What brings you to Dune’s Groove?”
“I would imagine the same thing that brought you here. Except, I’m on the tail end of my journey.”
Seth sat up with childlike excitement. “You’ve seen it? The Shape?”
“What was it like?”
“You’d have me spoil it for you?” The woman chuckled and motioned to the hardened dirt around them. “All of this for nothing? No. You must see for yourself.”
Seth leaned back against the black, stone wall. His finger picked against the sharp end of his sword. It’s teeth dipping into each groove of his fingertip. “What did you wish for?”
“I didn’t speak a word to it.”
Seth looked at the woman with confusion, but she continued to talk.
“I’m sixty-three years old. My days consist of routines. Planned routines.” Reed breathed heavily out of her nose. “I wanted an adventure, something to break the monotony. So, I set out to find that ancient Shape, but once I met it I realized that the journey there was the adventure that I sought. Not a wish. So, I turned and left.”
“Your wish had already been granted when you arrived. That’s why you left?”
“That, and how terrifying the being was.” She smiled, but something about her smile told Seth it was filled with terror as her eyes drifted from the conversation.
The sun began to set. The cooling sand crackled and popped. The only thing in Dune’s Groove that resembled the sound of rain. The woman agreed to stay there for the night with Seth, but that they’d need to part ways before the sun rose in the morning.
The temperature dropped drastically in the shade of the dune canopy. Dried out weeds and desert flora were used as kindling for a fire.
“So,” Reed said. “What’s a boy like you going to see The Shape for? You look no older than sixteen.”
“I’m eighteen. My father left when I was young. Four, I think.” Seth drew abstract lines in the sand with a twig. “I joined the regiment in my city and I’ve come to wish for safekeeping in my battles that I’m sure I will encounter.”
“I see. I’m sorry to hear about your father. What was his name?”
“Is. He’s not dead. His name is James Keihatsu.”
The fire cracked like the sand did before it. Sparks drifted to the top of the canopy before dying out in the cool air.
“Keihatsu. I’ve heard that name before.”
“He was one of the best swordsmen in the regiment.” Seth didn’t want to let her know of the Sword. He felt unsure of telling her of his home. Sternum and Whitewool had been in many battles as far back as history had been written. “There are many theories to what happened to him.”
“And what theory reigns true to you?”
“I don’t know.” Seth looked up at the stars that peaked around the edge of the rock above them. “My uncles said he is a traitor and fights in enemy lands now.”
“Do you believe them?”
“I think so. I think I do because I’ve grown to resent him a bit.”
“Any boy in your circumstance would, I think.” The woman sighed as she followed Seth’s eyes to the stars. “But you’ve chosen to follow in his path. A warrior. Why is that?”
“The warrior, James Keihatsu, and my father have been separated in my mind somehow. I still acknowledge the dignifying path he led as a swordsman.”
Reed smirked at the young man’s mature nature and rubbed her hands against the warmth of the fire. “You seem like a smart boy, Seth. You’ve not lost your head yet.” She tapped her finger against her temple.
The next morning, after Seth and the woman had parted ways, he climbed up the slope of the dune to see what lay ahead. Tiny avalanches of dust and clumped dirt fell from the soles of his boots. The slope beneath Seth was ash grey from the living earth that once inhabited the now burnt place. When his eyes finally broke the crest of the grey ground Seth saw what would lay before him in the hours to come.
A vast plain of beige grass and weeds broken only by what seemed, from that distance, a thin line of trees. Though, from the stories he had been told, he knew this was The Windbreak and it was anything but thin. And the plains around it – the Dual Plains.
Somewhere in that hairline of trees was The Shape. A giver of good and taker of better.