Under Desert Sky
“Don't lose hope. When it gets darkest the stars come out.”
A pale, eerie moon hung in the violet sky; like a glowing orb suspended by an unseen hand. The desert was stirring...
The wind whispered its warning, rousing the sand dunes. Every grain hissed out with caution, crying that danger was near, it was coming, it was close... The cries fell on deaf ears; yet the wind continued to wail, crying out for all souls to turn back. It was a mournful, empty howl, one that shook through the cacti and sent shivers down the spines of wandering petpets as they retreated from its miserable moans into their soft underground burrows for the night.
Only one spirit wandered the desert on such a night. Huddling her thin shawl closer around her, she darted through the raging storm. Cursing the misfortunes that had brought her to her present circumstances, the young princess pulled out a worn piece of parchment.
She had memorized the path long ago, knew every crease and fold of the worn material in her hand, yet she had to be sure. Rechecking the faded map that had once been scrawled carelessly by an inexperienced hand, she pushed onward through the night.
The wind crooned a lullaby, singing softly to the night.
He closed his eyes in pain, trying to block out its melody. His finely tuned ears could hear the words that it whispered; pick out the hushed teasing meant only for him. Gritting his teeth, he drew in a rattling breath as his glowing, crimson eyes snapped open.
He was alone...
So alone as he wandered the endless desert. Not a single soul dared to stand in his presence, even the air seemed to shrink away from him. He need not look up to see that the sky was cloudless; he could sense it in the stillness of the sky.
His own deranged mind allowed him to hear the wind’s muted speech, understand its taunting. It was reminding him that he didn’t belong here, that he was a monster, a malevolent fiend doomed to wander the dunes under the light of the moon, forever...
The moon cast odd shadows on the palms, the young Aisha noted, as she sank into the sand by a trunk. Letting out a satisfied sigh, she shoved her faded map back into her pocket. The sky was cloudless tonight, perfectly clear, so that every star seemed to be laid out only for her eyes. She gasped as she wondered at its beauty, and a delighted smile sprung forth to her lips. You couldn’t truly see them from the cities; you had to venture into the unforgivable wilderness of the desert in order to get a view of the endless sky.
Here – caught up in the magic of thousands of tiny pinpoints of light looking down on here – the night felt calm to the young princess; though she could still hear the sand swirling just a stone’s throw away from her.
She propped herself up onto her elbow, and looked around the oasis around her. A laugh of delight escaped her when she saw how brilliantly the light reflected over the still dark waters, and how a gentle breeze caused the palm leaves at its shore to sway.
Here, in this simple yet magical place, she felt alive...
There was no purpose to his life; the Nightsteed remarked bitterly, as a wave of apathy washed over him. His existence was meaningless. He spent his days sheltering himself from the glare of daylight, hiding out until the flaming ball of misery went down. Then, he would come out, and roam the desert until it came up again.
What did he have to live for? He often wondered to himself, as he strayed through the never changing landscape.
Oh, he had started out fighting. He had been bitter and angry from the very beginning. But he had hunted through the desert then, it was his for the taking; he had been king of the night, and relished in it. Solitary, he had no need for anyone. This dry wasteland had been his alone, to share with no one.
Now, he saw no point in it. He was alone. Infinitely unaccompanied. Now, he resented what had once made him who he was. He was tired of running; he had forgotten what he had been running from in the first place. Now, he was tired. Forlorn and miserable, and each passing day was as dull as the last.
He’d lost hope.
So lost in his own self pitying, he had not noticed the girl until he was standing just a short distance away from her, with nothing but a few feet of water separating them.
Seeming to feel his gaze on her, she looked up at him. His heart stopped in his chest, and his startled eyes flashed alarmingly.
She had not noticed the Uni until she felt his presence upon her. The air seemed to vibrate, pulse around her, and she had looked up into his frightened eyes.
A small tremor shook through him as she approached, hand outstretched. It seemed that he had not encountered another living spirit for quite some time, and was unsure of how to react to her.
She stared at him curiously, keeping his gaze until he looked away.
With a voice that sounded as if it had not been used in a long time, he finally broke the silence. “Aren’t... Aren’t you going to run away?” he asked unsurely.
She smiled back reassuringly, as if the question amused her. “I’ve done my share of running,” she responded with a laugh, “besides, what have I got to run from?”
The question hung in the air, and he tensed at the sound of her voice. He seemed to be waiting for something, bracing for an impact that was never going to come. Shrugging, he turned away.
“Wait,” she called after him, her voice laced with concern.
A mix of emotions was flooding through him. He had talked to her. To this fragile little Aisha who stood so confidently in front of him, stared fearlessly into his eyes. It was the first time in a long while that he truly felt alive, and it hurt him to turn away.
But he knew that he had to, and so he retreated quietly. It was her voice, however, that called him back. He froze, hesitation tearing at him. With one graceful motion, he turned on her, unleashing all of his terror.
His midnight black mane rippled in the wind as he reared up on his powerful hind legs, and his eyes flashed menacingly. He meant to scare her, to get her to realise what a monster he was, get her to run away from him, screaming. What she did instead shocked him.
She reached out to him, touching his mane, meaning to calm him. His strength was nothing compared to her gentleness, and he succumbed to it. And there, he told her his story.
Of his dreary existence, the way he’d lived his life all this time. And she listened to him, making no comments, just letting him speak.
“We are alone,” he said in despair. “So alone in this world. This desert has brought me nothing but misery. There is no life, nothing worth hanging onto in it. Aren’t you tired of running away?”
“We are never alone,” she answered defiantly. “Look up,” she said.
Obediently, he did so. And gasped.
In all his time he spent wandering the desert, he had never really seen it before. Now, he looked up onto the sky, he saw it for the first time. It stretched out endlessly before him; billions of tiny points of light all blinking down on him. He was momentarily startled.
“As for running,” she said calmly, “I’m not running away. I left the city, yes. But I haven’t run away from it. It’s not about what you’re running from, it’s what about what you’re running toward. Whatever dream you’re chasing, you’re moving toward it.”
She paused, before continuing on. “And as for the desert, it’s a magical place. So alive, so bright. You’ve got to open your eyes and see it.”
He knew in his heart that she was right. He had spent so long wondering what his existence meant, he had forgotten what it meant to be alive. Here, under the light of a pale moon that hung in the endless violet sky, he felt something new, a feeling that pumped through his veins like a shock of adrenaline, filled his very soul with sweet emotion.
Now the wind whispered lovingly into his previously deaf ears, and each star was like a beacon, tying him to the rest of the world. Someone, somewhere across Neopia was looking at the same sky as he was. They were all connected by the twinkling lights that sparkled alongside the moon. He could feel it.
He felt hope.