In the early light Theo wakes and stands. . .


Pyramie feels the cool air when she pulls back the skins and follows her up. They eat some of their food and take water and continue moving over the sharp rocks and through small yellow bushes that grow out of the cracks.    

            When the sun is almost fully up, a brown animal runs across them and into a hole, hissing wildly. His snarls echo against the walls and Pyramie has to call Dogo off from killing it. He grabs the canine to quiet him and then they move on. Theo does not stop. She is nearly running on the jagged surfaces and Pyramie runs behind her with Dogo to close the distance.

            They come to a sheer cliff wall of black stone that glistens in the rising sun behind them. The wall protrudes into their path. There is no way around. Pyramie stops Theo from going down into the forest, “Wait,” he says, “we should be careful.”

            He walks up to the cliff, different from the stone the day before. Yesterday the rock was flat and gray; today this cliff face appears like the night sky full of overlapping stars in many colors. He begins to climb up again. “I want a view back to the forest.”

            “No,” she says. “You may knock down the stones again or get hurt. We already know they’re not ahead of us. All we have to do is go around the rocks and then we will be fine.”

            “But you do not know what is on the other side.”

            “And you won’t be able to see what is there by climbing.”

            She starts to walk away from him and he follows her down toward the forest. She slows as she reaches the wooded edge and looks around, leaning on the Followers staff that she carries. After a moment she enters, and he stumbles to catch up to her there.

Inside the wood the ground is dry and covered in old leaves. The trees are open and growing farther apart than where they slept and there is less undergrowth. Pyramie catches her here and they continue, keeping the sheer cliff wall to their right. Once around the cliff and back up high on the scree, they maintain their pace without stopping except here and there for water and berries.

Finally Theo sees the open desert in the distance and the sun falling into it as if the sand were the womb that it died in each night. She keeps moving, even faster now than before, and Pyramie is tiring under his burden, but passes ahead of her. She is holding her belly, but smiles when he goes by. He scowls back and continues down the scree and back in among the trees.

            The mountain is behind them now and they move down until they come to flowing water from the mountaintop. There she drinks as much as she can and fills the water skins. It is nearly dark. He wants to rest there for the night.

            “We should bed here,” he says.

            “We can make the desert,” she says.

            He ignores her, and stops and drinks, but the heavy burden on his back shifts and he slips on the bank and falls into the flowing water up to his waist. She laughs. He does not.

            “The food is wet,” he says.

            “Be careful, then.”

            When he pulls himself from the flowing water he begins walking in the direction of the desert, more out of anger than from any real thought of reaching the sand before dark. She tries talking with him several times, but he charges harder ahead, the light ever decreasing and the trees growing thicker together with heavy brush and growth as they get near to it. He shouts runes ahead of her, and Dogo stays at her side. Then Pyramie cuts the undergrowth in the dark and lets her through a dry and dying leaf wall hung between massive trees. The wood is impassable and only grows thicker, but he can smell and taste the dry air.

            Leaving her where she stands, he drops his burden and snakes beneath the undergrowth until his hand touches the sand and he can see out into the openness ahead where the sun is falling. He is bleeding from his trip through the wall and he cuts back a low opening that he leads her back through.

At the edge of the sand he cuts an open area from the sun-burnt thicket and spreads out the animal skins beneath them. He removes her foot coverings and cleans the wounds. She wipes the blood on his face.

            “I will walk out and see what is here,” he says to her. She shakes her head in agreement, and he walks out where the sand meets the forest. The sun is large where it falls into the desert. Following the forest line he shields his eyes; a few steps away he finds a trailhead that snakes back into the direction they came from. He is angry and walks back to her.

            “There is a trail we could have used,” he says, and she shrugs her shoulders.

            “We did not know,” she says, and moves off to eat some berries she has laid out for them on the animal furs.

            Annoyed, he goes back into the sand and squints his eyes, looking into the falling sun. He wants to know if he can see the ocean already. But it is not there. There is only sand, and the sun stands at the end. He goes back inside and tells her.

            “I do not know how far it is to the ocean.”

            “I don’t care,” she says. “We will get there, or we will die, but we will die anyway.” Then she sighs and says, “But they do not go to the ocean; the Elders only talked about it once.”

            “What did they tell you about it?”

            “That you could see it from the high place. There were other people that came from there, but they never said more. There were things they wouldn’t tell me, they only wanted me to be the one thing and never thought I should know more than what I needed. They would get angry when they were teaching talking words and I would ask them questions.”

            “What else did they teach you?”

            “I don’t know.”

            “Who is Ashirah?”

            “She is who they say she is.”

            “She is not. I have seen her; she is just a woman.”

            “She is just a woman, but they make her what she is. She is whatever they tell the Gatherers she is.”

            Pyramie asks her no further questions. Some of what he wants to know has no answer. And then he is frightened because he knows that if the Elders know of the ocean then so to do the Hunters. But soon it is dark and he lies down beside Theo, watching the night fires glow in the purple sky at the desert edge. Some of them move and he wonders what moves them. Then he is asleep.