Fern

There is something lurking in the desert, something ancient and terrible, something vicious and bloodthirsty, something that has slept for so long that human language has forgotten its name. Now it is awake, and it is hungry.

Listen carefully. It is speaking, whispering in the language of the dunes.

In the strip of green between two vast, deadly deserts--one of sand and one of saltwater--there lay a small but thriving town, which was composed of mud-brick huts with palm-frond thatched roofs and flourished on a diet of questionable legality and dubious morality.  Rum was its lifeblood and piracy its primary economic engine.  This was the primary attraction of Alyaport, City of the Setting Sun, but it was not what drew the strange traveler in from the Great Setyan Desert on one moonlit summer night.  At least, it was not foremost in her motivations.

She was a young woman, little more than twenty, with a dirt-smudged face and dark, friendly eyes.  Her long, black hair was braided and tucked away into her broad-rimmed hat, and she wore men's clothing--trousers, loose shirt and riding boots.  Her name was Fern, and she was a thief.  But while she could practically feel the tingle of easy money in the very atmosphere of the town, this was not, at the moment, her top concern.  She would empty a few unsuspecting pockets, but not before she was rested and hydrated.

The night was alive and humming when she arrived, an uninvited passenger riding in the back of a cart full of merchandise.  The driver, who was still quite ignorant of her presence, happened to be a vendor of spices, so Fern had spent several days amidst clay jars and burlap bags of such aromatic items as cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and tarragon.  The smell had leached into her clothing, but it had ceased to bother her some time since.  Thus perfumed in the guise of a holiday treat, she hopped from the spice-seller's wagon and landed, crouched, on the dry dirt road that served as the main street of Alyaport.

The road, while not crowded, was busy considering the lateness of the hour.  No one noticed as she stood and slipped in with a group of passersby.  No one noticed much of anything in a place like this.

The End

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