Under the blanket of stars, Xala, Mills, and Anaxis made their way down the riverbank.
“It’s so beautiful this time of year,” Anaxis said. “Not too hot, perfect stargazing conditions. My parents haven’t let me out to see the constellations for days.”
“Just how badly are you going to get punished for this one, do you think?” Mills asked.
“I don’t know. I’ve never been grounded, so that was the worst they could come up with. I imagine it’ll be death,” Anaxis answered.
“Ah, well,” Mills said. “You were a good friend, Anax.”
“Thank you, Mills,” said Anaxis. “Pity for it all to end this way.”
“You two are silly,” said Xala. “How far do you think we are from the crash site, Anaxis?”
“Maybe twenty runs,” Anaxis answered. “To be honest, I was so excited, I wasn’t paying attention as to how long it took to get back. I’m not sure when in the night I spotted the crash, or how long it took for the sun to come up the next morning.”
“I suppose we’ll get there when we get there,” said Xala.
“You do know we’re going in the right direction, though, don’t you?” Mills asked Anaxis.
“There’s only the one river, so, yes,” Anaxis answered. “We’ll come to the fork, we have to. We’ll take a left there.”
“Okay,” Mills said. He scooped up a smooth rock and skipped it across the murmuring river.
“Look!” Xala said, pointing up. “Meteor shower!”
The sky lit up with tiny white tears, which appeared and disappeared like dancing sparks from a fire.
“How did what you see compare to those meteors?” Mills asked Anaxis.
“Well, it looked the same, at first. But then it changed to a green color, as it got closer,” Anaxis answered.
“Meteors can be many colors,” said Xala. “Most of the ones we’re seeing must be burning up in the atmosphere.”
“What I saw turned green, then burst into flames before it hit the ground,” said Anaxis. “It was the craziest thing ever. Actually, now that I’m remembering, the night before I had eaten biora, from the river, and it made me hallucinate. What I saw under the effect of that was really weird, too.”
“Ah, biora. I know it well. What visions did you see?” asked Xala.
“First I saw a purple lizard, it talked to me. Said hello,” Anaxis answered.
“Purple lizard, huh?” Mills asked.
“Yup. And then I saw the sky bend, the stars, they pressed down in the shape of a face, and the face told me to go to Gnirean. Isn’t that strange?” Anaxis asked.
“Yes,” Mills answered. “Yes, it is.”
“Why would your subconscious tell you to go to Gnirean?” Xala wondered. “Perhaps you are yearning for something more? Perhaps your dissatisfaction with village life, combined with our talking about Gnirean days before, combined into the vision you had?”
“Maybe,” said Anaxis. “I don’t want to go to Gnirean, that’s for certain.”
“No?” Xala asked. “I think I would.”
“Have a bit of a death wish, do you?” Mills asked Xala.
“Hardly,” Xala answered. “And I don’t believe Gnirean would mean death. In fact, I think it would mean wonders untold. A better life, in fact. From what I read in that book I had, the Gnirean are a fascinating people.”
“I don’t know,” Mills said. “Don’t they mutilate cannar? Don’t they enslave outsiders?”
“I don’t believe those things to be true,” Xala answered. “Or, at the very least, I don’t know. And so, I’d like to. I’d like to see the place with my own eyes. You can only believe what you experience for yourself, you know.”
“Hey, maybe after we explore the crash site, we can go to Gnirean together,” Anaxis joked. “Why, we might as well trek across the whole planet! Make a day out of it.”
“I know you’re joking,” Xala said, “But I don’t have too many years left. And I plan on doing that very thing in the near future.”
“You’re going to leave us, Xala?” Mills asked.
“I have to, Mills,” Xala answered. “So that someone can take my place. I don’t want to die in Talx.”
“Me either,” said Anaxis.
“I wouldn’t mind,” said Mills.
The three had entered a field of angular rocks.
“Something about this place seems familiar,” Anaxis said.
“Maybe because you’ve been here before?” Mills asked.
“No, that’s not it,” Anaxis said.
Some of the rocks started to tremble.
“I remember now!” Anaxis shouted. “It’s a freck! We’re standing on a giant freck! Run!”
“No,” Xala countered. “No, hold tight to one of the rocks!”
“Xala…” Anaxis started to counter, but the instructor was already holding fast to one of the shaking forms.
“Hold tight, trust me!” Xala shouted.
Against his best judgement, Anaxis grabbed one of the freck’s spikes and clung tight. Mills did the same, and the three were lifted up from the desert floor. The huge freck they stood atop started to lumber forward, as the sand fell from from between the spikes on its shell and the three riders standing on it.
“Frecks are excellent modes of desert travel, Anaxis,” Xala said as the three bobbed up and down with the movement of the animal.
“I guess that makes sense,” Anaxis said. “I was just so scared, when it happened before and I was alone.”
“That is understandable,” said Xala. “But sometimes, when life gets shaky, it doesn’t mean you have to run, it means you have to hold on even tighter!”
The freck walked alongside the river for some time, before it climbed the banks and slipped in. Xala, Mills, and Anaxis rode the animal as it paddled downstream, a cool wind blowing through their hair and the meteor shower putting on an incredible show overhead.