The strangers to the wasteland came out of the ruined city of Allovast before sundown, and made it half-way up a mountainside before deciding to camp for the night.
“Can they reach us up here?” Mills asked as he helped Anaxis set up a tent.
“Who?” Anaxis responded.
“No, I don’t think so. Why would they want to reach us?”
“I don’t know. I guess it doesn’t make any sense to think they would.”
“We’re safe here, as safe as we are anywhere in the desert,” Orn said, overhearing their conversation. “It won’t be long until we’re out of the harshest desert, either. We should all be proud for having made it so far.”
“How are we going to get home, once we reach wherever it is we’re headed?” asked Mills.
“We’ll be able to get you back home, don’t worry,” said Laquin. “And then all of this will be a strange dream.”
“I don’t know that I want to go home,” said Anaxis.
“Why is that?” asked Xala.
“Because everyone hates me there,” said Anaxis. “For messing up the hunt.”
“I’m sure your parents will just be happy to have you back,” said Xala. “They are good people, not grudge-holders.”
“Well then maybe I don’t want to go back for more selfish reasons,” said Anaxis.
“Like what?” asked Mills.
“Like nobody ever understood me there,” said Anaxis.
“I don’t think that’s entirely true,” said Xala.
“Well, apart from you two,” Anaxis said, nodding to Xala and Mills. “They’re all content to scrape out their meager little lives from the desert floor.”
“And what would you do instead, if you had the choice?” asked Laquin.
“I’d see the rest of the world! I was so often told that I couldn’t, that life outside the protection of the village would mean death. But they were wrong, weren’t they? There’s so much to see, so much more than I ever could if I just went home and carried on with how I had been living,” said Anaxis. “How could I do that now? That my eyes have been opened?”
“What more is there to see?” asked Mills. “It’s hard out here.”
“It’s harder, but it’s really living!” said Anaxis.
“Wouldn’t you tire of the hardship?” asked Xala. “Is that really living? Struggling?”
“The whole world isn’t a desert, Xala. There’s Gnirean! And the forests to the south, and the lakes to the north. You told us all about these places, haven’t you ever longed to see them yourself?” asked Anaxis.
“I’m too old for that now, Anaxis,” said Xala. “And I’ve always been content dreaming about them.”
“If you truly wish to see Gnirean, Anaxis,” Orn said, “That might be possible.”
“Orn,” Laquin said, “Don’t you even think about it.”
“About what?” asked Anaxis.
“Nothing, yet,” Orn answered. “But a trip to Gnirean might be possible for you.”
“Have you been?” Anaxis asked him.
“No,” Orn replied. “It is very difficult to enter Gnirean. Even harder for someone my age. But someone your age, well, it just might be possible.”
“Why would you do that to him?” asked Laquin. “Don’t listen, Anaxis. It wouldn’t be worth it.”
“Wouldn’t it?” Orn asked Laquin, “Even if he could take the talisman to the high priests?”
Laquin stopped what she was doing and stared at Orn, then turned her stare to Anaxis, then back to Orn. “You don’t mean to say you think that’s possible?”
“What good would our having it do, if it weren’t?” Orn asked her.
“What talisman?” asked Mills. “What are you guys talking about?”
Orn gave a stern look to Laquin that seemed to implore her to say no more.
“Nothing, for now,” said Orn. “But it’s not wrong to dream of more, Anaxis.”
“You should also always remember that you are complete as you are,” added Laquin. “That seeing the world won’t change you. That at the end of your days, friends and family will mean more than anywhere you could ever travel or any heights you could ever scale.”
“He’s right about that, Anaxis,” Xala said. “But if you wanted to see the world, I would encourage it. I would wait with bated breath your return, to hear of your wild adventures!”
“I think you should just come home, Anaxis,” Mills countered. “We’ll be out of school soon enough. Those stupid bullies will grow up. Or, if they don’t, forget them, we won’t have anything to do with them. And you’re the smartest in town, we need someone like you.”
Anaxis lowered his head to think. “I don’t know,” he finally said. “I think I can travel and still come home, can’t I?”
“Not if you never make it back,” said Mills. “Or decide you never want to.”
Anaxis scratched his head. “Who knows,” he said. “For now, anyways, I’m hungry. Can I help with dinner?”
“Please,” said Orn. “I found some xacat when I was relieving myself. It’ll be good eating tonight!”
“That’ll relieve us all,” said Laquin.