For centuries the residents of Solsyl lived in peace and harmony with the planet. Then the dragon-demons arrived, causing the Great Shuddering. Majikals from everywhere scurried to find shelter from the evil while humans hid. Laud regretted his rash decision of exiling the demons on Solsyl and asked one of his advisors, a member of The Conscientia, to protect his people. Jeremiah Holyfield agreed to leave the peaceful world of Revrum Natura for a life of constant strife and fear on the newly renamed planet of Dracwald. But Narciss, ruler of Tartarus and King of the demons, desperately wants what Jeremiah has sworn to protect—a Prophecy of Narciss’s future doom. And Narciss refuses to take no for an answer. But Jeremiah discovers allies along his path and even true love, which he never dreamed possible.
Journal of Reverend Jeremiah Holyfield
500 yl Toxicorru Epoch
Haazbul Village, Season of Torridaesta
Day 2: Lightdo
Within moments, the purple night sky eased into a rosy glow that lightened by the second into a yellow halo over the Lucimons Mountains. Destined for another scorching walk across the blazing sands without food or water, I did not relish the fact. Besides, my burned face, neck, and hands ached. I spread another coating of aloe gel across them enjoying the cooling effect, but the grit from soot and sand scraped like sandpaper. I heaved a mighty sigh.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Lucy asked. “But you haven’t any water or food, have you? You seem to be injured, as well.”
I wondered how she knew before I realized I’d just been thinking about it. “You read minds?” The fact I was sanely conversing with a lizard while awaiting another miserable day and possibly my last, barely fazed me. Last night I had been a human heater for the desert crawlies. Why not have a cup o’ tea with a lizard? I decided I was probably going insane. My brains had cooked from dehydration.
Lucy’s soft laughter filled my head. “How do you think we’re talking?”
I’d been thinking the conversation without knowing it. Since my throat was too swollen and dry to use, I couldn’t talk. “Oh, yeah.”
“I have an idea for food and water. Head due west. You’ll come to a cacti forest. I’ll tell you what to do when we reach it.”
With a lighter step, if it meant finding water, I took off across the soft sand, which sifted around each step. The sun had risen, but not donned its fierce face yet, when tall green structures appeared in the distance. Cresting the peak of a dune, I saw the cacti forest Lucy had mentioned. Stumbling through the sand, which pulled at every step, my heart danced with joy.
Finally, I stood gazing up at giant spine-covered plants wondering how they would supply the promised food and water. Towering well over my head, with spines the size of fingers, I touched the smooth green skin and shrugged. It felt dry.
“Carefully knock the small balls off the tops of the plants. Beware the millions of spines. Use something to scrape the needles off each ball then cut them in half,” Lucy explained.
Quickly I searched the nearby area. A long narrow knife-like shard of rock with which to knock down and de-spine the balls protruded from the sand. Its tip edge also opened a crack in the fruit, which I further opened with a finger, cringing at the sharp pain it induced. Blackened skin on both palms cracked and bled despite the aloe gel.
What I found inside the cactus nearly made me giddy with joy. The pulp tasted bitter, but juicy. After scooping out the contents of three balls, I pushed one of the halves toward Lucy, sitting on a nearby rock, who demurely lapped at the juice.
“At least it is wet,” she said.
Once sated, I knocked down a dozen more balls, de-spined and debated where to store them. The thought of them splitting in the rucksack and despoiling the parchment was horrifying. The deep pockets of my trousers provided a perfect repository. However, it now felt as though bouncing tumors had grown on the fronts of my legs when I walked.
Although the sun’s effect had not changed, my outlook had. The consumption of pulpy juice made all the difference in energy and attitude. My pace quickened. Dropping my hooded head, I strode purposefully west for several hours without stopping. The sun slid past its zenith before a lack of energy forced another stop. Looking up to see a large cluster of boulders merely paces ahead filled me with delight.
Panting, I plopped in the shade. Excruciating pain from both face and hands, lanced my brain. Lucy hopped onto the rock and ran down to stand in my lap. Having been starved when we stopped last, I hadn’t studied Lucy properly. She was beautiful. Red, purple, yellow, and blue stripes slid down her back, while still more curled along her sides. Wide, intelligent amber eyes watched my every move. Her lavender neck frill lay flat across her shoulders, but I imagined it would be quite intimidating when raised.
“Thank you,” she said, demurely dropping her eyes for a moment. “I’m concerned about your burns. Have you nothing to help them heal?”
“Just the aloe plant I’ve been using.” I found it much easier speaking aloud now that my throat no longer burned and after so many years of solitude, talking aloud to myself in the chapel, I wasn’t comfortable hearing only thoughts.
“Don’t look now, but a snake just poked its ugly head from the crevice beside you. Once it comes out a little further, drop a rock on it, and let’s have lunch,” Lucy said in hushed tones, as though the snake might hear her inside my head.
Rolling the opposite direction, I scanned the area for a large rock. From atop the boulder, I then waited for the warmth of the sun to entice the snake into our trap. It didn’t take long. In even less time, I had a blazing fire with roasting snake on a stick. Luckily there were matches in the bottom of the rucksack from a recent excursion. But the dead tree in the middle of the boulder cluster was a sign from Laud. After winding the snake on a stick, I secured head and tale by spearing it then leaned the contraption over the fire. While it roasted, I took a straight long branch and shaved a sharp point at one end to use as a spear.
Once the snake had blackened, and my stomach could stand the delicious cooking odors no longer, we ate a bit, the juice of a cactus ball washing it down. Any appetite for actual food had diminished significantly, perhaps due to the heat, but the cactus was a welcome sustenance. The remaining snake meat, I wrapped in its skin, which got tucked into a trouser pocket separate from the cacti.
Refreshed, it was time to resume our trek across the burning sands. By nightfall, Lucy pointed out sprigs of grasses and stunted tree growth.
“We must be nearing Negoc Woods,” I said. “Since I know nothing about them, remaining at the edge of the desert seems most prudent.”
“Agreed,” Lucy murmured.
“Crossing the desert at such a narrow point was a gift from providence. I’m not sure I could have survived another day out there.”
“You did wonderfully, Jeremiah,” Lucy said.
Concerned about what creepy crawlies might find me in the night again, I tried to sleep sitting up, leaned against the rucksack. Still not hungry, we shared the bounty of another cactus ball. By the time the moon was on the rise, sleep had fogged my brain. Through fitful dreams, which startled me awake in a panic, over and over, I was sure to find myself covered with desert nightcrawlers.
During one of the startled jumps out of sleep, Lucy said, “You can settle down, now. The snake and spider carcasses are lying around you as a warning. No one else will bother you this night.”
I glanced around. The glowing moon displayed the victims as described.
“Thank you, Lucy. You’re a Laud-send.” My soft whisper carried away on the cool night air.
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Rebecca Ryals Russell writes MG and YA Dark Fantasy while living with her family in a Victorian house on five acres of North Florida countryside. She also runs a Vacation Rental Log House on the property: Florida Black Bear Cabin.
She is a fourth generation Floridian having lived all over the state. The daughter of an Elementary-school principal and school secretary, she always knew she was bound for the classroom and for fourteen years she taught Middle Grades, preferring English and Creative Writing. She had several students’ works published in anthologies as well as her own poetry, photography and stories.
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