Desert Journey: Part Five
As she watched Noel disappear over the valley wall, Aria couldn't help but feel a sinking feeling inside.
Was I wrong to let him pass? Will I regret this decision?
Running down the valley, the thoughts continued to haunt Aria. She had violated pretty much every rule her tribe lives by. Aria didn't want to know how they would react to her admission of guilt.
Yet she couldn't stop thinking about Noel. No other outsider showed such genuine qualities as him. Deep down, she felt like he would bring no harm to Qasala and her tribe's way of life. On the other hand, Aria's lifelong duties continued to drag her back in line.
The conflicting thoughts were tearing her apart. Finally the emotional pain of betraying her tribe was too unbearable. Hoping there was still time, Aria dashed towards the valley wall to revive her pursuit.
Noel pressed on towards the mountain. A light breeze darted across the desert dunes with welcoming hands. He smiled at air dancing around his cloak. The scorching heat no longer bothered him. This desert now felt like home, like Noel had always belonged here. He no longer felt a sense of danger as the mountain drew near.
Gradually Noel came across more ancient pillars rising above the desert sand. Each pillar more intricate than the last, Noel eagerly absorbed the new images and inscriptions. While the hieroglyphs once again hid their meaning, Noel drew his eyes across the various illustrations attempting to tell a story. Civilians were erecting a temple on one pillar, while the next pillar showed more warriors defending a temple. Intrigued, Noel wanted to learn more.
Perhaps the Xweetok knows more about the history of this civilization.
Then he remembered her warning. The thought quietly flew out of his mind as he moved towards more pillars to admire. What appeared to be a few pillars turned into many as Noel approached the looming mountain. He stopped to ponder whether this was the beginning of the ancient city, yet he could not see any buildings. The city his grandfather had mentioned seemed much more magnificent, probably rivaling the city of Sakhmet in size. Since the pillars depicted grand temples, Noel figured he still had some distance to go before finally reaching the ancient city.
As he passed through the momentous pillars, Noel began to notice the sands beneath him sloping downward as if he was descending an immense sand dune. Gradually the dune's inclination grew steeper, causing Noel to partially lose his footing with each new step.
What if I try to surf down the sand?
Noel shifted his weight forward. Almost instantaneously, he began to smoothly drift down the sand like an elegant ice skater from Happy Valley. He flew past more pillars and rock formations, picking up more and more speed as he made his descent. Enjoying the ride, Noel cheerfully knew he would reach the mountain city in no time.
Shortly after she scaled the desert valley wall, Aria swiftly surfed the flowing sand dunes like her father had taught her long ago. Flying past the pillars of her ancestors, Aria knew the quickest path to Qasala.
Surely I will encounter him before I reach the city.
As the sun illuminated the sands around her, Aria couldn't help but take in the scenery. She wondered if Noel took pleasure in the same beautiful scenery or if he continued to solely focus on the lost treasure. Not wanting to lose pace, Aria leaned forward some more to gain in her pursuit. The sands blissfully parted at her feet, sending her even closer to Noel.
Minutes felt like hours as Aria frantically scanned the area for the Zafara. Just as she curved around a dozen more pillars, the lone outsider finally entered her line of sight.
At last I have found you.
As the much more experienced sand surfer, Aria quickly approached Noel. A mere few feet away, Noel suddenly spotted Aria gaining on him. Not wanting to end the journey this close to his destination, Noel made a sharp right turn towards a thick crop of pillars jutting from an even steeper sand descent. Shocked at this turn of events, Aria adjusted her position towards Noel once more.
What is he thinking surfing that close to the pillars?!
Her tribe members knew it was extremely dangerous to surf that close to the pillars and normally Aria would stay away from this area. But Noel had proven to be increasingly evasive and Aria was not willing to let him get away yet again.
She spotted Noel to her left and dodged another pillar to move in behind him. In turn, Noel shifted right two pillars in an attempt to lose her again. Back and forth, the two weaved in and out of the pillars as the steep descent rapidly increased their speed. Pillars flew by faster and faster and the danger of their actions was growing ever so close to an imminent disaster. One of them was bound to crash, yet they both continued down the sands with ease.
Impressed that Noel could sand surf this well, Aria decided to execute her best moves and end the pursuit once and for all. She darted past two more pillars and found herself yet again within reach of Noel. The bottom of the sand dune was drawing near, and any minute Aria would catch him. In one last desperation attempt to avoid her, Noel shifted directly towards an approaching pillar.
What is he thinking?!
Not wanting to lose him, Aria moved in behind Noel. The pillar was growing bigger. They would have to dodge out of the way soon or risk running into the pillar head on. Still, Noel held his course. Aria leaned forward, closing the gap between them. She reached out her hand and could almost touch the red cloak flowing in front of her. Aria was moments away from grabbing Noel when he suddenly darted away from the pillar. Unable to properly react in time, Aria leaned left and clipped the pillar. She tumbled to the sands below with a piercing scream.
Noel was just about to reach the bottom when he heard her fall. Skidding to a stop with his hands and knees, Noel got up and turned towards Aria. She was lying on her side, unconscious from the impact.
What have I done?!
Without thinking, he frantically made his way over to her. He noticed a considerable bump on her forehead. Grabbing her, Noel cradled the Xweetok in his arms and slowly made his way towards the first shelter he could find.
The wind was beginning to pick up and Noel could sense a sandstorm was coming. He needed to find shelter fast or they would both be in trouble. Up ahead lay a trio of small ancient buildings. As he moved towards them, he decided on a building with the least structural damage.
A ferocious howling of winds ripped across the lands. Noel turned and saw a vast wall of sand heading their way. He quickened his pace but the strain of the sand surfing on his legs left him weak and vulnerable. Leaving the Xweetok would allow Noel to make it in time, but he could not abandon her now. Clinching his teeth, Noel exerted the last of his energy to reach the building. Just as the sandstorm closed in, Noel threw Aria and himself into the ancient structure.
As the sands pounded against the walls of the building, Noel further examined Aria. Her eyes remained closed and breath labored. He removed his cloak and folded it into a makeshift pillow for her head. Grabbing his water container, Noel poured some refreshing water onto her head before drinking some water himself. He made sure to leave plenty of water for when she wakes.
I hope she will be fine...
Noel bowed his head in shame. He knew this was his fault. If he had never gone on the journey, then this poor Xweetok wouldn't have fallen. Then again, it was her decision to constantly chase after Noel.
As the sun began to set, Noel settled in for the night. He tried to sleep, but distressing thoughts kept racing through his mind.
Should I stay or leave her here? Will I still have the mental strength to continue my journey or will guilt overcome me? Am I going to regret helping her?
The constant flow of thoughts worried Noel. He wanted to make the right decision, but was unsure of what to do. He began to think that selfishly searching for some lost treasure was not worth abandoning this Xweetok. Yet he couldn't just forsake his grandfather's dream of finding the treasure.
What if the treasure doesn't even exist?
Noel shook his head. He decided to stay with the Xweetok until she woke up.
Whatever treasure is out there can wait.
With his conscience clear, Noel finally closed his eyes and let sleep come. Tomorrow would bring a new day as Noel hoped he wouldn't regret his decision.
To be continued...