She was cursing herself for not having the foresight of wearing a veil around the back of her neck. With her dark hair up in its ponytail, the tiny grits of sand were having a field day stinging her tanned skin, the wind whipping the pieces as if her neck was a target. Her eyes glanced at her partner’s back, promising herself not to utter a word of complaint, seeing as he did not mumble any curses against the sand flying by his narrowed, unprotected eyes as he gazed stubbornly at the sea of sand surrounding them.
“What are you thinking about?” she asked softly.
His response was her only indication that he had heard her words above the wind. “How Aknia will survive this threat…”
“We will survive it brilliantly, just as we do whenever unfortunate circumstances happen.”
His chuckles were bitter, humorless. “I am glad you still have some of your optimism,” he said, his light cape being tugged and pulled as the wind tried desperately to yank the material off of his shoulders in order to brand him with its hot sand. The cape, like its wearer, would not yield to the desert’s arrogant power, however. With a flourish, he turned back from the deep hills that he had been staring at and walked past her. She followed just a few steps behind him obediently.
“The Sword of Fire is not here,” he said, his shoulders slightly slumped as the pair trudged through the heavy sand.
“Perhaps another part of the desert?” she suggested, handing him a flask of water. Although warm, the liquid at least quenched the dryness of their throats. His head shook slowly, allowing drops of precious water to spill out of the flask, evaporating before they had even finished their run down the leather covering.
“Not that I can sense. It must already be gone.”
Her eyes stared at the sand that she passed by as the two walked back to the outpost. “How…?”
“The same way the Sword of Water has disappeared, I suppose,” he said with a grumble. “You are certain the Sword of Earth has been sealed?”
“The Earth Guardian had guaranteed it,” she said. His steps halted, causing her to almost knock into his back, and he turned to her in a fluid motion, his crimson eyes hard like the steel of his daggers.
“You did see the Sword sealed with your own eyes?”
She hesitated to respond and immediately cursed herself for her pause. “No,” she said. “I am afraid I did not. I took the Earth Guardian at her word, without demanding to see the Sword for myself–”
“By the Light…”
He seemed to have growled out the words, turning away from her. His walk began again, his steps longer, faster, and she struggled to keep up. Eager to redeem herself for her foolish mistake, she said, “I will return to the Forest of Illusions once we get back–”
“You will not,” he said. “I will go to the Earth Guardian myself while you remain with the queen.”
Her face burned hotter than the sand scorching her feet, but she nodded. “As you wish.”
“I need to see the Sword with my own eyes.” His voice drifted back to her on the wind, and she allowed herself to smile behind her protective veil at his reasoning. Silence brushed over the pair for a while, until she spoke again.
“What are we to do about the Swords that have disappeared?”
“Find them,” he answered without hesitation.