Hasib Asad seemed to be little deterred as the low storm of sand continued to rage towards him. His blue eyes seemed to dance almost as if he was seeing a friend after many years.
A couple of metres away from Hasib, the sand storm suddenly dipped and slid along the ground. It separated into many different streams of sand and wrapped around Hasib’s feet like a whirlpool. The sand streamed in circles around his feet and then seemed to disappear as if it had never been there. No sooner had it disappeared then another stream went shooting back in the direction it had come, this time not in a mass but looking much like slithering snakes.
“Hasib, what is happening?” Fariha asked, her eyes wide with surprise.
Hasib didn’t respond, he seemed incredibly distracted and his head was watching each strand of sand as it wrapped around his feet.
You’re back! Hasib heard a child’s voice from the sand.
Hamar is not happy that you took so long. A deep male voice stated seriously.
We missed you so much!
“I missed you all too. However you half scared the whits out of my two companions there.”
A stream of sand slithered back towards the camp as Hasib thought out his reply. Hasib didn’t speak out loud and the more the voices from the sand greeted him, the more slivers of sand returned from the direction the storm had come.
Did you get any gifts, Uncle Hasib? Another child’s voice pressed.
“I may have picked up a few trinkets from my travels, although whether I choose to share may be another question.”
Hasib, Torin said that my new dress looks ugly despite what you said about it looking good on me, a female voice cut through the rest.
“I’m sure he didn’t mean it, you know that he says stuff he doesn’t mean when he’s nervous.”
Hasib, Bluey thinks I hate her dress cause I froze up and said something stupid again, a young male voice said, his tone notable with concern.
“Then go and tell her that, she’ll understand.”
The bulk of the small storm had faded and Hasib’s slivering replies were sent off in an orderly fashion. Trailing far behind the other sand messages, one tiny sliver of sand twisted up and onto Hasib’s shoulder. It was different in colour than the other sand and was almost pure white like snow.
The sand began forming into a small creature about thirty centimetres tall. It had short chubby legs and the only ‘clothing’ it wore was made out of sand and was a bandana styled wrapping. The ‘bandana’ was tied in a way that covered the top half of his round head and seemed to be covering the area his eyes would be. A small nose poked out from the bottom of the bandana but the creature didn’t seem to have a mouth.
“Fariha, this is Muse, he’s my pal and helpful sidekick,” Hasib introduced.
As soon as Hasib said sidekick the small creature lifted one of his legs and did a sidekick into Hasib cheek. A tiny puff of sand dusted Hasib’s jaw and then fell away. The creature then casually dropped his leg back to its standing position and shuffled to sit down on Hasib’s shoulder. He kicked gently on Hasib’s shoulder as if he was swinging his legs on a seat that was too tall for him.
“How did you find it?” Fariha asked, staring at the creature.
“It has a name you know. This chap found me on my journey through the desert when I was sent away. He saved my life by leading me to what is now my home,” Hasib replied, patting Muse affectionately on the head.
“Well, it’s a pleasure to meet you, Muse,” Fariha said with a curtsy.
Muse nodded his head and then gazed off towards where the sand messages had disappeared. He tapped Hasib on the neck and then pointed his fingerless hand towards the mountains.
“Now I must warn you, my dear sister, my people may scare you at first,” Hasib stated, grabbing Sheldaz’s reins.
“Is that because they are a warrior tribe?” Fariha asked.
“Far from it, what gave you that idea?” Hasib asked, with a smile.
“You said you were a warrior, I just assumed they were the type of tribe that expect to fight.”
“No, the tribe is secluded and peaceful. It’s more the beasts and the odd marauders that we are challenged with. The thing that may scare you, until you get used to them, is that they aren’t your usual humanoid. They don’t speak, well at least not in the normal way, so don’t expect lively vocal conversation.”
“Ah well, I’m not up to great conversation right now anyway. And I’ve always taken pride that I accept people no matter what they look like. I mean, I accepted you, didn’t I?”
Hasib met Fariha’s twinkling eyes, and grinned back. It didn’t take much to make Fariha happy, and although the day before had been hard for her, she now seemed to have a positive outlook. That was something that Hasib didn’t think he’d be able to do. Though he enjoyed his life and never let anything bring him down, he still held grudges and got angry just like most other people.
“Come on, let’s go and meet your tribe,” Fariha said. “I’m sure they’ve missed you.”
“Yup, I’m sure to get a talking to by Hamar too,” Hasib stated. “They must have been watching for me, from that attack of messages.”
“So that sandstorm was them?”
“Yeah, they do not speak any language other than their own. Their language isn’t by sounds but rather by these sand messages. I can understand them since I’ve been living with them and have learnt their ways, but to an outsider, it is impossible to decipher. As a result, they may not understand what you are saying. You’ll learn over time how to speak with them, but until then you’ll have to speak via me.”
“Like a translator?” Fariha asked.
“Exactly, but only until you can learn,” Hasib explained.
They made their way towards the mountains and as they drew closer they could make out buildings. The buildings were made out of sand, which was somehow formed into walls and stairs. Windows had clear panes of glass and smoke rose from several chimneys. Several ornaments made out of shells hung from archways and glinted in the afternoon sunlight. Most of the houses were shaded by the mountains behind them and a couple of wells were dotted through the camp. The sandstone mountains had passages and rooms carved out. Two large stain glass windows marked where the main hall was and Hasib pointed them out to Fariha.
“So I see your camp, but what about your tribe members? Are they invisible?” Fariha asked gazing around.
They had just arrived in the shade of the mountains and Sheldaz whinnied softly. Several other whinnies answered him and Hasib smiled as several horses trotted into view. Each of them were dappled brown and their height measured equal to Hasib’s. Unlike Sheldaz who was bred specifically for carrying the weight of a half-orc, these horses were bred for speed across the sand. Sheldaz seemed to tower above them but they dodged around him playfully.
“The rest of you can come out!” Hasib called, stepping next to Fariha. “This is my sister Fariha and her very friendly steed Sheldaz. No need for you to be scared.”
As Hasib spoke, he sent a spray of sand messages slithering along the ground. As the messages reached the mountains and buildings, several sandy heads peeked out from the archways of the mountain halls. As some appeared even more followed and several of the heads were followed with the rest of their bodies.
Fariha studied the figures as they appeared, finding them to be quite intriguing. The figures were made completely out of sand, from their simple clothing to their hair. They stood to about Hasib’s height but there were others who were shorter and looked like children. Pearlescent shell was where other humanoids would have eyes and the sand covered and uncovered it as they blinked.
Their clothing varied but were all sand, almost as if it was part of their bodies. Several of the figures had shells forming breastplates and shoulder armour. They also had sheathes at their waists and Fariha guessed that they were warriors.
As Fariha watched in awe, one of the figures stepped forward in front of the rest of the emerging crowd. The figure was female and her clothing was flowing around her in constant movement. She had shells dotted around her head like a crown and her eyes narrowed as she marched up to Hasib.
Hasib received a spray of sand granules to the face and spat as several entered his mouth.
“Yeah, yeah, I know I should have sent a message. I’m sorry, okay, I had a few other things happening.”
The female sand figure crossed her arms and shook her head at him. She then glanced at Fariha and her eyes relaxed. She then turned to Hasib and more sand was sprayed on his face.
“Ok, ok, I’ll introduce you. Fariha meet Hamar, the elder elder of our tribe,” Hasib introduced. “Hamar this is my sister, Fariha.”
A slither of sand informed Hamar of the message in her own language and she nodded. Fariha curtsied and Hamar paused for a moment before copying the movement. Hamar then spun on her heel and marched towards one of the mountain halls. She glanced back after she was a few metres away and beckoned for them to follow.
Hasib went to follow Hamar and Fariha did the same. As they walked several sand children ran up to Hasib and latched onto his arms. Sand flashed around their feet and Hasib laughed cheerily as he conducted the silent sand conversation. Fariha felt slightly excluded but Hasib seemed to notice and offered translations.
Hasib was called ‘Uncle’ by many of the children in the tribe and was a favourite amongst the camp. The children watched Fariha with as much interest as she watched them. They peppered Hasib with questions about her and she responded as best she could. Fariha soon learnt a majority of their names, although whether she could remember who they belonged to was yet to be tested.
“Come along now, Fariha, Hamar will scold me again if we don’t follow her quickly,” Hasib said. “It seems they’ve prepared a gift for me and my new companion.”
One of the sand children nodded excitedly as Hasib automatically sent messages about what he said. The child then grabbed onto Fariha’s hand and pulled her through the first sandstone hallway. Fariha laughed and followed the eager child with equal excitement.
The halls were lined with walls of stain glass windows. Although no light shone through the glass because only sandstone was behind it, it still gave a beautiful array of colours to the endless pale sandstone. Pearlescent shell furniture was tastefully placed in the rooms they passed and everything was smooth and well crafted.
They passed several more of the sand people who nodded to Fariha and exchanged several quick messages with Hasib.
“Now that I know what they are, do you mind telling me what they are called?” Fariha asked.
“They call themselves the Ramili,” Hasib explained in a hushed voice.
“There doesn’t seem to be as many of them as I expected. There are many more houses than there are people. Are there more of their kind living elsewhere?” Fariha asked.
Hasib’s eyes darkened and he ruffled the hair of the closest child. Fariha noticed that Hasib no longer translated what they were speaking about via sand messages to the Ramili while he talked.
“As far as we know they are the last of their kind. Unfortunately their numbers have been reduced by their enemy the Barc,” Hasib said seriously.
“The Barc? Who are they?” Fariha asked nervously.
“They are more of a ‘what’ than a ‘who’. They are beasts that enjoy destroying all creatures in their path, however they have a taste for Ramili and will actually hunt us down.”
Fariha’s eyes widened at the news and she glanced around at the peaceful sand tribe around her.
“Why don’t they just move?”
“To move would be to admit defeat and the Barc would probably still track us down,” Hasib said, talking quietly even though the Ramili could not understand him.
“Then they just wait here to die?” Fariha asked, frowning at the thought.
“No, we haven’t lost anyone in a year. We’ve developed protective procedures, thus why I’m a warrior. My fellow warriors and I have trained so we are skilled in battling the Barc. This doesn’t mean we can slack off however. The more we retaliate the more they seem intent on hunting us.”
Fariha nodded as Hasib talked, it all made sense.
“There were some in the tribe who doubted that we had made anything better or whether we’d just caused the problem to get worse. However even they couldn’t argue with the fact that us defeating them and having to work harder was better than the tribe being wiped out,” Hasib stated, following Hamar into yet another hallway.
“So were the guards I saw when we arrived on duty?” Fariha asked.
“No, the guards, or warriors as we prefer to be called, aren’t on duty until night fall. The Barc come out at night to feed and obtain moisture. So in the day we are safe but as soon as night falls we have to be on guard.”
Hamar made them pause and then she sent several messages to another female Ramali who they met in the hall. Hasib noticed that the messages had to do with making dinner for another guest.
Muse seemed to become alert suddenly and stood up on Hasib’s shoulder. He then jumped down and disintegrated into a stream of white sand. Muse’s sand stream then slithered off back down the hall they had come. Hasib watched him curiously and then shrugged.
Finally they arrived at a pair of large wooden doors and Hamar pushed them open to reveal what was within.