What was left of the stream bed quickly disappeared into the sands as we walked into the harsh desert. My forest shimmered green and cool on the horizon, but we had left that behind that morning. Now it was little more than a mirage in the distance. At first, the tracks we were following had been clear and easy to follow, but because of the constant wind the tracks were hazy and indistinct by the time that night fell. When the sun went down, Tas and I gathered up as much of the scarce vegetation as we could and built a small fire on the lee side of a large sand dune.
"The stars are very bright out here." Tas said, craning her neck as if to see all of them at once.
"Yes, but I prefer to see them through the branches of a tree." I replied, doodling in the sand with my finger
"You've never been out of that forest, have you?"
"No, not that I can remember anyway."
"So how did you learn to speak, and all of that stuff?"
"Well, I think that I must have lived in a village at some point, and learned how to be human, but my earliest memory is of smoke and fire, and being terribly afraid. So- HEY! Who are you?" I jumped up, with my hand on the hilt of my sword as an old man walked into the circle of firelight.
"Hehe don't mind Old Grumbknuckle, just getting warm." He said, preforming an awkward bow while edging closer to our small fire.
"Who?" I asked, startled and rather confused by this stranger's sudden appearance
"Grumbknuckle. Friends call me Grum, or they would, if Old Grumbknuckle had friends."
"OK Mr. Grum, what do you want with us?" Tas spoke up
Grum seemed to see her for the first time, and he shuffled over and said "Mr. Grum? Hehe just Grum, just Grum," then bent down and whispered (rather loudly) "You're following the raiders."
Tas gasped "How did you know?"
"Only reason anyone comes into Grum's desert is to follow the raiders, but they don't find them, hehe not unless Old Grumbknuckle helps them!"
"Oh please Mr. Grum, will you help us find my family?"
He paused in thought for a moment, it seemed to take quite some effort, then said "Yes, Old Grumbknuckle will lead you through the desert to the city of the raiders. But first, he has to get supplies. Sleep now, Old Grumbknuckle will be back in the morning."
And with that, he disappeared into the desert.
"Any, do you think we can trust him?" Tas asked, fighting back the worry in her voice
"I don't know that we have much choice, the tracks will probably be gone in the morning, we need someone that knows the area. And if he is not as helpful as he pretends to be, I think that I am the stronger of the two of us."
She nodded, but still looked doubtful.
"Look, we'll worry about it in the morning. Until then, sleep. I will take first watch, and wake you when I can't keep my eyes open any more."
I gave Tas the blanket out of our small pack, then wrapped myself in a cloak and walked to the top of the dune to guard our camp against the shifting sands and moonshadows fleeting across the desert landscape.