“Who are you?” Konal shouted the question, trying to raise his voice against the storm. The words fell short of audible, muffled by the repeating thunder. Again, he pushed the words out, powered by a greater force of breath, with no better effect. The sense of helplessness that followed directed his thoughts to a possibility. I‘m not helpless here. I am in this storm! If its body ismy body, why not its voice my voice? Like an open floodgate, the unhampered forces washed over his senses, filling him anew with their raw power. The experience seemed a completion of himself, both terrifying and wonderful. For a moment the storm’s essence became the question that burned a path through his thoughts, and with a whisper from his lips, the tempest became his voice. “Who are you?” the words thundered, hammering across the sky like a tumbling mountain.
For a time, only the chaotic rage answered, filling his senses with its heady tempo. The thought, that perhaps the voice from the dream had been nothing more than a fabricated hope, left him unsure. Then suddenly: “I had every intention of asking you the same thing,” it said, with equal intensity.
The storm lurched under Konal’s amazement, causing his breath to catch in his chest. Panic replaced power, and wondering if he should respond became his only thought. His confusion displayeditself by suddenly splitting the storm in two opposite directions. He gasped in pain, and began to fall.
It only took a moment to right himself, but the storm felt different, less powerful. He somehow knew the split was complete and he had lost his source of water. His mind and senses raced while he grappled with the elements, trying to pull the forces back together. With a thunderous rush, he and his little storm crashed into the greater force and became enveloped by it. The surge of power thrilled him, filling him with more confidence. Once again, with the quick fire hammering all around, he raced to the storm’s dark and icy heart.
He thought he could hear laughter. He sensed amusement and joy all around, and smiled despite the situation. Was this thing that played with him one of The Gree or a Stormwalker? He didn’t know which he wanted more.
“Are you a Stormwalker?” Konal asked, thrilling at how his voice carried so powerfully, resonating and changing until he didn’t recognize it at all. It became a part of the tempest.
The laughter stopped. Konal was fearful of the answer. Maybe it was best if he didn’t know. If it were one of the Silent Five—The Gree, perhaps such a question was an insult.
“I am as you are.” The powerful voice answered, from the swirling ice and mist.
For a long time, neither spoke. Konal waited, straining to hear or sense the Other, almost forgetting about the new found pleasure of the storm. He could feel his heart beating a frenzy in his chest. He was not alone! Were there others beyond this one?
The thought of what he was brought his focus back to the storm. Once again, with a jarring clarity he became the thing that surrounded him. He called the quick fire and it lanced his body, as it had in the desert under Jorgan’s hand. And just as before Konal sensed his existence through the elements. He was immense! Greater than the quick fire, greater than the water, and air that made the storm, and greater than the ground that he hammered and tore to sandy bits. He let his senses ride to the edge of his form, and saw a world, tiny and helpless below.
Jorgan was wrong! Konal had been wrong. He could control the storm—all of it! He possessed it and could do as he willed. Once again the laughter filled him. He wasn’t sure if it was his, the Other’s, or both—and it really didn’t matter. His senses ran the length and breadth of the tempest. He felt the draw of water from outside the desert, beyond the Stoans, and felt the surge of its spray as it showered the Dries below him. He was indeed an impressive storm, a true maelstrom of the wild power.
He took a step and the storm responded with a movement of its entire form. Just as quickly, it stopped, resisting his will. In the very next moment it moved back, returning to its original course, instantly jarring his senses back into its dark heart. It was clear the Other had stopped him.
Konal raged, drawing the quick fire to himself, then releasing it in all directions. The Other laughed.
“Why do you stay in this dry place?” the voice asked.
“I have chosen to,” Konal lied. Jorgan had told him that sometimes the long answer was perceived as the lie.
“That is not entirely true, nor is it the way of the Stormwalker. Surely, you know this to be so?
“I have my reasons for staying here,” Konal said.
“Then you deny your true meaning. What reasons could you have to deny this wild ride? Or perhaps you have your reasons made for you.”
The voice was right about that and Konal now felt exposed. He didn’t think he could hide anything from it. Maybe he shouldn’t. Maybe he should tell all and learn from this other Stormwalker; perhaps go with it. “And what of you?” Konal asked. “Why have you come to the Dries?”
“Because you and I are the same. We are Stormwalkers.”
“How did you know I was here?”
There was more laughter. “I could feel you growing.”
Konal looked around, trying to use his new senses. The voice seemed fully part of the storm. “For that alone, you have come?”
“Yes!” the voice answered with a boom. Suddenly the storm pulsed with fresh power. Konal felt its draw and pressure: the burning desire to unleash its fury on the world below him. His hands trembled. He wanted the storm and quickened his senses, readying to wrest it from the voice and take it for his own.
They began to move.
“Where are we going?” Konal asked, knowing that at least, he was heading east and farther into the Dries.
“We go where we will, Stormwalker. We are no longer men of the world. We are the Hammer of the Gree.”
“You know it is so,” the voice answered and the storm began to move faster.
Konal sensed it waning, losing its supply. It was dying, and quickly. He could feel the lines of power from the world below and the sky above weakening, being shortened toward a water supply it could no longer reach.
He sensed urgency from the storm, and the Other.
“What is your name?” Konal asked.
“Does it matter? Surely, that is a thing for men.”
“It does. I am Konal Darmah. Give me your name.”
“I am a Stormwalker. Isn’t it enough to know you are not alone?”
Konal was now one of two Stormwalkers. Could the Gree be using them again to wreak havoc on the world? On Kelidon? Perhaps Jorgan was at least right in one of his concerns. “Are there more of us in the world?”
“We are not in the world, Stormwalker, the world is within us!” the voice answered, then laughed thunderously.
The storm was relenting, giving up great portions of its rain with no replenishment from its distant source. The ice was now much smaller than before, its chunks falling downward more than upward. The heart of the storm was losing its form and strength.
He then tried to rally it, hoping for all his worth he could salvage it and maintain it, make it wild again. His strained efforts met resistance from the Other and the waning supply of water. In the end, he relented and felt himself lowering through the thicker mists below.
“Tell me your name!” Konal cried out, not wishing to leave without knowing.
“You know my voice, Stormwalker. That is enough,” the Other replied, clearly more distant now as Konal lowered farther away from the storm’s shrinking heart. He wanted to go back. Finally, the ground appeared beneath him. He controlled the descent the rest of the way, furious that the Other was abandoning him. His bare feet landed square on the soaked, sandy gravel.
Above, the storm moved away to the east, rapidly diminishing as it went. His heart wrenched as he watched it dissipate and move beyond his vision. It felt like he was witnessing a death. The effect sent him to his knees, weeping. The wild power was gone, taken away with the storm.
Around him, the rain soaked ground was covered with the debris of torn up desert grasses and brush, floating on rivulets that ran everywhere in all directions. The distant last rumbles of the storm mingled with the gurgling sounds from a hundred separate rivers running their short courses into the thirsty ground. He discovered he was holding his breath while listening.
After standing, he took several unsteady steps, with muscles aching, far worse than any day he had spent with his uncle in training. Exhausted to a depth he never possibly could have imagined, his head pounded with each and every step. Maybe the power cankill me?Maybe you were right, Uncle. Now, from this vantage point, he realized how little control he had actually had over the storm. The tears continued to flow.
The sandy gravel crunched and gave in to Konal’s weight, his feet sank several inches into the soggy coarse stuff. Looking around for some familiar landmark left his head spinning. The monoliths were larger here, much larger than the ones back home. The height of the rocky outcroppings indicated this was very near the center of the Dries. How could I have traveled such a distance? It was truly a waste this far in, with the sun doing its worst work on the land. The trek back would be a long one, and perilous if he weren’t careful. At least it will give me some time to think about all of this. He wiped the last tears from his cheeks and nearly laughed at the situation. “This changes it all, Uncle. If I live to get back home, we’re going to have a long talk.” The world had suddenly become a much larger place.
Above, the sky was clear and full of stars. The moon was peeking out from beyond the last clouds in the east as it began its evening climb. Konal decided he had been right after all, that he had not been sleeping long when the storm had come. His thoughts began to race as the cool of the desert night folded in around him. He was tired and a bit hungry, but the food would have to wait. Water, he could get anywhere, at least for awhile. Traveling now in the cool of the night would be wise, surrounded by so much water, but his body refused him. A place to rest, a place to sleep and recoup some of his strength, would be best for now.
He found a monolith that looked promising. It had a large hollow carved into the rock near its base. Climbing in, he nestled himself in the damp curved hole. Sleep came quickly, deep, and dreamless.
Morning brought with it a heaviness to the air Konal was not used to. The pain in his head had left him, but his body still suffered from a deep ache. Slowly, he opened his eyes, already feeling the heat of the day, even in the hard place of his sheltering stone. Outside, the Dries were not a familiar sight. The world beyond the mouth of the small cave was a misted landscape of water, stone, and sand. The sun had not yet shown over the distant monoliths, meaning it was no more than an hour after dawn. Yet the heat was already in the air. Climbing down onto the sandy gravel below the cave immediately sent shivers of stiff pain through his joints forcing a groan.
Though the rivulets had died, the ground was still drenched about him. Again, his bare feet slipped into the coarse mud. He cursed the fact that he hadn’t prepared at all for a journey. There was nothing to carry water in, and his bare feet would be blistered and sore by mid-day. “Such foolishness,” he chuckled. How could I have known? The sudden thought of calling a storm and flying home, made his head hurt again. I’d best get walking. The heat willbe unbearable by mid-day, and I’ll have to find shelter again.
It only took an hour of walking before his feet started to burn. He sat on a boulder and rubbed them. The sun now hung far over the horizon scouring off the last remaining mist. It seemed to be moving on unseen eddies. Konal was sure the heat was already playing tricks with his sight. He decided to drink before the water was all baked away. He took several handfuls of it into his mouth from a niche in a nearby rock. It was warm and satisfying.
Pressing on proved tiresome. The heat came on ever stronger, slowing him with each step. After only two more hours, it gained on him. Every footfall was a labor and he began to search for a place to sleep off the rest of the day.
A near monolith revealed a hollow in which to hide. He found this one was smaller than the first, but it still held water. Drinking his fill, he then regretfully willed the rest into a mist, leaving the hole dry. He crawled in beneath its shade, hoping sleep would come quick.
His rest was fitful, and he woke often shifting on the cool stone. His weather worn clothes scratched his skin along with the coarse rock. By the end of a few hours of broken sleep, he was ready to move on despite the heat. The damp gravel and sand continued to be harsh against his sore feet, but he ignored the unpleasant feeling, letting the thought of dying alone in the desert motivate his steps.
As he started out again, his thoughts turned to the voice in the storm and his dreams. His dreams of stormwalking were not entirely unlike the actual experience. None of them however had had a voice, and especially like the voice in the storm. Thinking of the thunderous roar he had been able to produce along with the Other, brought a smile to his lips. His uncle would have a hard time shut-ting that out.
Beyond the voice, he also thought of Jorgan, and what the old man would say when he arrived home. Had he tried this trick when he was twelve, he would have received a stern punishment, or worse, a stern lecture. Now at the age of twenty, with full Stormwalker abilities, he was sure Uncle Jorgan would carefully choose both his words and intent. Konal recalled with great clarity the old man’s face when he left him for the storm. It was fear that he saw there. The memory gave Konal an odd sense of power. He wasn’t sure if he liked it.
As the day wore on, the surrounding monoliths were getting shorter. Konal always had an unerring sense of direction and was sure he was on the right track. He wasn’t sure yet how far he was out from home, but he hoped he would see familiar landmarks soon.
The water was beginning to disappear leaving long tracts of dry patches and debris. Grasses and the mangled branches of small desert bushes gathered in clumps all along the wash banks that ran from the bases of the monoliths. The sun was making its way down to the horizon and Konal began to think it would be most of the day tomorrow before he reached home.
Just as he was about to find another pool of water from which to drink, he heard a sound ahead, in the distance. It was a clinking metallic sound. Perhaps it was Jorgan? He started to call out, but stopped, thinking he better be sure of who or what it was. An angry desert cat was nothing he wanted to play with, right now. It didn’t make much sense that a desert cat would make metallic sounds, but there were other dangers in the desert. Raiders and thieves came to mind. Konal made for the nearest stone outcropping and climbed as far as he could up its side, hoping to gain an advantage.
It was some minutes before he heard it again. This time he was sure it was a person. There was a muffled voice mixed with the clanking sound. He caught himself hoping it was Jorgan. The sounds came again. They were no louder, and Konal realized they were coming no closer. After hearing it one more time, he was sure the voice did not belong to Jorgan.
He was suddenly filled with questions. Who could it be and why were they here? Some dangers, he knew, carried malice and a knife.
Konal cautiously moved from his perch, heading toward the sound. His ears were keenly attuned for distance. After some minutes of travel, he heard the voice again, much clearer, accompanied by the rattling of metal on stone.
“. . . and for what?” the voice said, accompanied by another clash of steel and stone. “Nothing, that’s what!” Konal pinpointed a direction and moved toward a near monolith. The voice was on the other side. It continued to rant. “Eight years, I’ve sweated for this damn place! Eight years, I’ve bent my back to their ridiculous requests. And now, you take them all from me? Damn you! ” There was another crash of metal, this time, ringing and clattering for some seconds before echoing away. “Damn the Gree! Damn you all!”
Konal arrived at the base of the towering stone. He stopped and listened a bit longer.
“I finally had a life, you bastards!” the voice said. “I had something and now it’s gone! All gone! What did we do to deserve this? What madness possessed you Silent Ones to send a storm to the Dries? I turn on you, do you hear? I will have nothing more to do with you! Why give me something and take it away when I was ready? Why, damn you, why?” After a minute of this, there was silence.
Konal waited, trying to learn as much as he could before facing this person. He was certain it was a young man. For several long moments there was nothing, but silence. Konal made his way slowly around the monolith’s base. There was a disheveled camp before him, with pots and large basins scattered all about. The camp was empty, otherwise. He crept closer, hugging the face of the rock, hoping to see the man before he was seen.
“Who are you?” asked a voice, from behind. A cold slip of steel came quickly under Konal’s throat. “And what are you doing here?”
“I am Konal,” he answered, fearing to move. The blade was like ice and very sharp. “I was caught in the storm,” he said, choosing the confession carefully. “Who are you?”
“I’m the one with the knife and that’s all you need know right now.”
Konal thought, maybe the man was a scavenger, one of the roaming few who traversed the desert, trading what they found or stole. It was not a comforting thought and the blade at his throat amply supported the assumption.
“You should know also, Konal,” the man said, accusingly. “I am not unfamiliar with scavengers. You won’t be taking anything in trade today. I also know how to use this knife.”
“I can assure you that I am no scavenger.” Konal protested, through tight lips, trying to avoid any excess movement.
“No wanderer in this desert can be trusted,” the man said. “I have no way of telling if you’re a liar or a lord, so hold your tongue, unless I tell you to use it. As you can see, I’ve been having a bad day. I’m in no mood for visitors.”
“I can believe that, friend,” Konal said, pleasantly. “So what do we do now?”
“I’m—I’m not sure.”
“May I suggest we break this confrontation and meet each other in a more civilized manner?”
“I don’t want to meet you!” the man said, clearly agitated. His voice shook with something more than anger. “I don’t want to meet anyone!”
The blade began to press into Konal’s neck. He thought it broke the flesh and he winced.
“Then what do you want?” Konal asked. “What do we do?”
Konal waited, keeping as still and calm as possible. It was beginning to look as if reason would not win him any better a situation. All he heard for response, was the man’s nervous breathing. He began to wonder over this odd silence.
“What do we do?” Konal asked, again.
The man’s grasp suddenly gave way and the knife dropped to the ground. He then fell forward against Konal’s back. The two tumbled. Konal grabbed at the cracks in the monolith’s base, pulling himself out from under the weight of his attacker. He kicked himself free and rolled away, gaining his feet, then after, turned to face the unseen assailant. Rubbing his neck, he pulled his hand away and found a light trace of blood on his fingers.
The young man lay on his back unconscious. He was arched, head toward the ground, over the foot of the low ledge that Konal had been standing on. His knife lay a few feet away. It was a fine blade of black steel with a handle carved from some type of bony antler. The man’s face was hidden beneath a tangle of blonde hair and a sandy beard. His hands were bleeding and bruised. He wore a thin vest and breeches with soft sandals. A bloody cloth was crudely tied around his right leg.
Konal expelled his breath, staring down at the ravaged man. “I guess you do have good reason to shout at the Gree, friend.”