Moving across the desert by camel is an effective way to travel. It is however, not a comfortable one, especially when the creature possesses an uncooperative and subversive nature as well as a bony backside. Veracity was badly bruised within a few minutes, and he doubts that Beloved has fared much better, despite her chumminess with Constance. To its credit, the beast has been trudging dutifully for several hours. This bloody desert! Veracity had never known any luck out here, at least none that lasted.
Beloved tried imagining new places, but was unable to visualize anything fully enough to transport them, although she succeeded in producing two khaki colored, military issue canteens filled with water and a plastic bottle labelled “sunscreen”. At first he was loathe to rub the oily gel over his exposed skin, but, as Beloved had promised, it had kept him from burning. If only he had thought to apply the foul smelling stuff to his scalp, which is now beginning to sting fiercely. Before he can open his mouth to ask for a hat, he feels a weight on his head. Beloved is now sporting a ridiculous snowy white knit cap with ear flaps, as if she were on some polar expedition, while he is graced with a black felt sombrero, ostentatiously decorated with a flowery pattern of white and gold and edged with a thick golden braid. Grimacing, he puts the oversize hat back in place, his curly brown hair flattening against his skull.
Beloved must learn to control the power she holds here. Steering her means anticipating her thoughts, allowing her to discover some things while hiding others. It was all exhausting. That conniving she-cat hadn’t helped matters. He needed Sable’s insight to spot the things that he was destined to miss, but she had taken off across the sands in search of an identity she could never reclaim. The Guardians would hardly be happy to see her after that nasty business at the olive grove. She would never pass through the gates alive.
“Veracity, where will she go?” Beloved possesses an uncanny ability to pick up on his thoughts. He hopes it is accidental.
“Home, I should think. She was born not far from here.”
Beloved snorts loudly and chokes on sand. There is an even louder snort from Constance, who has taken to mirroring the indignation of his mistress, especially when it is at Veracity’s expense. “We’ve seen nothing in the way of settlement. Besides, you said locations shifted here, so that nowhere was reliably near anywhere else.” Beloved narrows her eyes in a way that reminds him of Sable before he painted her face.
“Yes. Well, Zerzura is an exception.” Constance abruptly sits down and Veracity lands unceremoniously on the nearest dune. Dusting himself off, he pauses to give the camel an exasperated stare. “Zerzura is a city fixed on top of an oasis at the end of a desert valley. The occupants, civilized in some ways and barbaric in others, use dream magic to keep the city in one place and to guard it against intruders.” Best to keep things as encyclopedic as possible when it comes to the white city.
“You’ve been there.”
“Once. It wasn’t a great experience.” Veracity sighs. “Really. I was lucky to get out with my life.”
“Sable helped you.” It isn’t a question. How unnerving!
“Yes. Well, I don’t think right now is a good time to go into my personal history. If I have to tell you everything I’ve seen or done since I was a child…”
With an deafening sound, like a tremendous piece of fabric tearing in two, the desert disappears. Constance, Beloved and Veracity hang suspended in blinding whiteness, then find themselves facing a small grove of redbud trees. Beloved’s eyes grow wide. Beneath the trees is an expanse filled with violets, the deeply veined, heart shaped leaves creating a marvelous green carpet. Illuminated by the sunlight streaming through the branches is a square, rough-hewn rock of yellow-white limestone, and upon that rock sits a child. As they approach, a girl’s voice rings out.
“Do you want to see a miracle?”
Veracity laughs dryly. “We’re a little old for your miracles, dear.”