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Chapter 4

Rayne was shocked at how quickly it became totally pitch dark. It hadn’t seemed like there were any lights on the caravan but clearly there were. The moon was high, but there was nothing in the desert to illuminate. And it was cold. Rayne had only her jerkin and her pack. There wasn’t much in it. Her gesture had been a bit of a bluff. She hadn’t expected the old man to let her go. She wanted to turn around. To look back at the line of wagons. She had no idea how many there were, or if they really carried lights on them. She wanted to see if anyone was following her. If Delsin was coming after her to tell her to come back. But she didn’t want to look like she was expecting them to pursue her. She pulled the front of her jerkin closed and tucked it under the leather straps. She realized she was still holding onto the short sword Del had given her. She didn’t know what to do with it so she just held onto the handle. It couldn’t hurt to have a blade on her; To fend off animals or cut water baring shrubs … or dig herself a grave.

Rayne peered into the darkness. She was working hard at walking in a straight line but there was no way to know for sure if she was. She looked up at the night sky. It was full of tiny specks of light. She looked for something recognizable, a shape, a brighter star, something to focus on that would give her a baring. But it was all meaningless to her. She was starting to feel panicked enough to attempt turning back and begging Delsin’s uncle for passage across the desert, when she heard something in the darkness. It sounded like heavy breathing. A fast short snort. Rayne froze. She gripped the handle of the sword. She tried to get her eyes to focus on something in the darkness. She imagined she could see pale shapes moving just beyond whatever small amount of light was shining down from the moon. Then she heard it again. Like a dog panting. She sensed something behind her and spun around.

“It’s okay.” Delsin was moving swiftly across the sand and he put his hand on her wrist to stop her from running him through with her blade. “It’s me.” He assured.

“Something’s out there.” Rayne said.

“Saekalish.” Del said. He put his arm around her shoulders and began guiding her back the way they came. His other hand was firmly on the hilt of his sword.

“Saekalish.” Rayne repeated.

“They’re desert dogs.” Del explained, “They are not very big, but they are quite intelligent and travel in packs. They will single out an individual human if they think they can win.”

“Will they attack us?” Rayne asked.

“Not likely,” Delsin said, “But I don’t want to stick around to find out.”

Before the words were even out of his mouth a single animal came, seemingly, out of the air at Delsin’s left side. The two of them were knocked to one side and Del lost his grip on Rayne’s shoulders. She fell sideways into the sand, but before the animal could recover from the collision Del had his sword drawn. In the dim moon light Rayne could now clearly see four other beasts encircling her and Delsin. They looked like skinny tall dogs. Their coats were almost the same colour as the sand and they had pointed ears and long snouts. She’d seen jackals in the city. They scavenged the garbage dumps and back alleys. The Saekalish were like jackals only larger. They were not nearly as skittish either. They seemed to move in sync with one another and periodically one would look to another as if receiving instruction. Rayne didn’t take her eyes off the circling Saekalish. Until a flash caught her eye. The moon light reflecting off Del’s blade was distracting. His movements were as fluid as a rushing stream and as Rayne looked up the first Saekalish’s head went flying off into the desert.

Something told Rayne that the death of their brother should have been enough to send the Saekalish fleeing into the night but they continued circling as a second moved into the circle. It was trying to get to Rayne, but Del placed himself between her and it.

“Jums būtu saprātīgi veikt savus zaudējumus un aiziet.” (You would be wise to take your losses and go.) That Delsin suddenly spoke in another tongue was as surprising to Rayne as it was that he spoke to them at all.

The lead dog responded in what sounded like a series of growls and snarls. The dogs stopped circling.

Del held his falchion with both hands. His feet were planted. “Es esmu Delsin no Oasis. Ja Jums ir kādi vēsturi, jūs esat dzirdējuši no manis.” (I am Delsin of the Oasis. If you have any history, you have heard of me.) He passed his blade from one hand to the other causing it to reflect the moonlight back at the Saekalish.

The Saekalish let out a snort and the four remaining dogs slunk off into the darkness. Just before it disappeared into the darkness the lead dog turned and spoke. “You will be wise to stay out of the desert north of Kip-Ri. Something stirs there.” It let out another growl and then was gone.

Rayne was frozen on the ground. Her brain was trying to process everything that had just happened. Del’s hand was under her arm and he was pulling her to her feet.

“What just happened?” She asked.

“I told you they were intelligent.”

“Intelligent is one thing,” She protested, “Talking dogs is something else. What language was that?”

“Suffi. It is the language of the ancient desert peoples of Kip-ri.” They started walking back toward the caravan, now faintly visible in the distance. “The Kip-rit once ruled this desert. They were great warriors and all who crossed the desert did so at the behest of the Kip-rit.”

“Where are they now?” Rayne had to run to keep up with the long strides of Delsin.

“Wiped out. During the great wars.”

“How do you know their language?” Rayne asked. She was running along like a little kid.

“My family has kept it alive for two centuries.”

“How do the Saekalish know it?”

“They were once allied with the Kip-rit. They too were a proud race. They did not scavenge and prey on weak travelers. “ something in Delsin’s voice sounded far off and sad.

“Are your people related to the Kip-Rit?” Rayne asked. They were entering into the line of the caravan now, and Rayne could see that the driver of each wagon had a small lantern hung from a hook. She hadn’t noticed before.

As soon as Del and Rayne were within a few feet of their wagon the caravan began to move. They had to rush to catch up and climb aboard. Delsin climbed up first then gave Rayne his hand to help her up.

Del was silent for a while, as he settled himself at his post.

“You never answered me before.” Rayne said after a long while.

Del looked at her.

“Are you related to the Kip-rit?”

“Perhaps.” Del said. “Distantly.”

“You should sleep.” He insisted. “Tomorrow I will show you how to use that blade.”

Next Chapter: Chapter 5