Desert Children

by Niko


Riyad Shihar D'sen kept low behind the small dune, listening and waiting, trying not to breath too heavily or disturb the sand around him. It would give his position away, and there was no way he was going to allow for that. He'd been too cautious for too long to mess it all up so easily. The cloth over his nose and mouth made his face itch and the sweat falling down from his temples made it sting but he couldn't move just yet. Just a little longer. He held his breath as the top of his target's head became visible, counted down in his head the time he had until he would be spotted. He had to act before then or the element of surprise was lost. Three...two...one!

Ath'ran landed on his back with a girlish shout as Riyad launched himself over the top of the dune and rolled them down the windward slope, laughing in triumph from his perch on his chest once their motion had stopped. Ath'ran pouted up at him. "That's not how you play Explorers. We're supposed to be looking for buried cities."

"Well, now I'm a mutant, plague infested creature from the Cataclysm. You have the plague now too." Riyad stood up and offered Ath'ran a hand to help him rise, pulling him up so they stood again on the shifting sand just outside the furthest walls of the D'sen lands. Most of the earth was solid and cracked but near the tall walls where the daunted sandstorms left their loads was the small lake of sand left for their amusement. It was safe there from the harsh desert, the wall casting a pleasant, cooling shadow over their playground in the early mornings. The shadow had since nearly disappeared, though, leaving them hot and sticky in the high sun's gaze. Riyad untucked the cloth from his turban to breath in more deeply after the adrenalin rush of surprising his friend. The air was hot and dry.

Ath'ran shook himself free of sand. "We play Cataclysm mutants every time the dunes get high enough for you to jump at me and you never tell me we're playing till after you've done it."

"Well, then, you should have known better by now." Riyad smiled, still glowing in his accomplishment.

"Whatever. The only reason you can surprise me is because I forget how small you are. I could never fit behind one of those puny dunes."

"I am not small!"

Ath'ran raised an eyebrow at him, the only part of his face visible with the cloth still covering his own mouth. "That's not what the wall at mama's house says."

Riyad gawked. "That doesn't count, I'm big in real life!" The markings on the kitchen walls in the Mukshah home had been there for as long as he could remember. There was one set for Ath'ran and one set for himself, side by side, made every couple of months when they felt they had gotten bigger. For the most part the lines were almost the same but Ath'ran's seemed to be getting a little further ahead of Riyad's own. Still, it wasn't like he was a giant. Riyad could easily see over the top of his head if he got on his tiptoes. He stuck his tongue out at him. "You only look bigger because you got big hair."

Ath'ran's hands went instinctively to the top of his head where the cloud of tight black curls was safely tucked into the cloth wrappings to save his scalp from the sun. It was still much poofier than Riyad's which was much more loosely wrapped without the threat of poof ball hair to toss the cloth away. That he did manually, grabbing the untucked portion and shaking it free, the harsh light making the red tints sparkle. Sweat slung off the bottoms of his curls as his hot head was finally naked of all its trappings. It was much too hot.

"Riyad Shihar, you put that back on this instant!"

He looked over to the gates of the wall where a few of the Mukshah woman sat in the remaining shade watching over them. He pouted. "It's okay for just a minute!" he told her but her hands at her hips told him otherwise.

"Don't tell me what's okay, young sir! You put that back on right now and both of you come on back inside. It's almost midday."

"But we're not tired!" Ath'ran shouted back, coming to stand beside his friend. Riyad nodded as he began his first attempt at tying the cloth back around his head. Midday meant it was time for a nap and as comforting as the cool bed always was after playing in the sands, he wasn't ready to go.

A sudden gust of wind and sand blew up from nowhere, tossing the long cloth for his turban out of his hand and dancing with it further out past the walls and towards the endless desert. Riyad started to run for it but was halted by a more quickly shouted "I'll get it!" as Ath'ran ran past and over the snake like dunes. Riyad put his hand up to guard his eyes.

A shadow passed over his head, startling him slightly with his focus trained on his friend and his windy pursuit. Riyad tilted his head back far enough to see the cover of the journal Du'shan had been presented with as a welcoming present being held over him to keep his head protected. He leaned back further to see Du'shan, blank faced and decked in blinding mourning white from head to toe in respect for his deceased mother. Riyad smiled up at him. "I forgot you were out here. Still writing?"

"You're going to regret taking that off all the time when you get a scalp burn and can't stop scratching your head." He replied, ignoring the question. There was a pen holding his place in the book shielding Riyad's head though and a shadow of words inside that were sun baked into the paper.

Ath'ran, out of breath but beaming with pride, presented his prize in outstretched arms. "Told you I'd get it."

Riyad smiled gratefully and took it from him. "Yep. You're my hero." He began trying to wrap it again, the ends becoming a jumble as he blindly tied it in place. No sooner had he wrapped it though then he felt it being pulled off. "Hey!" Riyad exclaimed, whirling around to snatch it back. Du'shan was untwisting it; his journal was tucked into the waistband of his pants as he made sense of the long cloth and began to wrap it correctly around Riyad's sweating head. It took him very little time to do and felt much more secure than the one Riyad had made. He smiled, touching the fine work. "Thanks. I'm used to doing it with a mirror."

Du'shan nodded silently and began to walk back towards the front gates and the waiting Mukshah women.

"What he meant to say was that you're welcome." Ath'ran sighed and took Riyad's arm in his. "Let's go back and see if we can find Herazade."

"I am not playing with the Jackal! You can't make me!" Riyad protested but did not pull away from his friend. They walked into the cooling shadows where the others waited and smiled at the light chastisements he was rather used to getting.