Sunday Serial: Wrathburnt Sands 2

Because life can be interesting when you are a character in a video game…

Milla found herself feeling like a fish in a rockpool after the tide had pulled back. One single sentence overheard staying with her, trapping her mind.
“One Eye, what’s an expac?”
“Ah.” He stopped arranging the fish on his stall and scratched at his head between the ridges of his crest. “An Expansion. The last one was before your time, so you’d not be knowing. It’s a lot of change. When the whole world shifts and nothing is ever quite the same after. New lands appear and new things. New people.”
Milla wrinkled her snout.
“You mean more Visitors?”
“No. I mean new people in the new lands.” He went back to sorting the fish, sliding them into place by size and colour. “Before the last Expansion I had my stall in a big city on the other side of the Silent Sea. It was my home. The only place I remembered. Then after the Expansion I found myself here and realised this was the place I’d come from. Wrathburnt Sands and the lands beyond are home to the ryeshor. So I belong here. So do you.”
His words reminded her of the really strange thing she had heard said.
“One Visitor said that when the world expands the ryeshor will become a playable race. What did they mean? Will the Visitors start to hunt us like they hunt the sandylions?”
For a moment she thought One Eye wasn’t going to answer her. He seemed to be avoiding her gaze with his good eye. Then he straightened up and sighed.
“I don’t know for sure. But before the last Expansion, the Visitors said the same of the kitta and wolfen folk.”
That didn’t sound too worrying. Milla had never heard of the Visitor’s hunting them. Indeed some Visitors were kitta and wolfen folk.
“Sooo…?”
“So, before the last Expansion, when I lived in that city, no Visitors were ever kittafolk or wolfenfolk. After the Expansion…”
Milla thought some more.
“So after this Expansion we might become Visitors? We might travel the world and do ventures?” She found it hard to keep the excitement out of her voice.
“Maybe.” But One Eye didn’t sound too convinced.
There was one more thing Milla had to ask.
“Is it very frightening when it happens?”
“What?”
“The Expansion. You said it changes things. Is it frightening?”
That made One Eye grin.
“Not in the least, young’un. You’ll sleep right through it. I promise.”

In that as in most things she ever asked him, One Eye Rye proved right.
Milla woke up one morning to find her little hut on the foreshore was now a very comfortable house. She was very glad One Eye had told her about the Expansion and how it changed the world in odd ways or she might have been frightened to find her home so different. But it was as if the force behind the Expansion knew exactly how she would like her house to be and had made it so.
There was a cozy hearth for the cooler evenings and to cook, a sleeping platform with a window that had a view over the sea where she and Ruffkin could settle comfortably on a mattress stuffed with dried seaweed.
“This is amazing!” she said, looking around for the little hound. He had gone to sleep curled beside her so she was surprised he was not right there when she woke up. Scrambling down the ladder-stairs she found there were new cushions and chests, a table and chairs and a cupboard full of food. But no sign of Ruffkin.
Sometimes he would get up and take a walk on his own, have a scamper along the beach and wait for her to join him. So she snatched her collecting bag and hurried out side.
Whoa! Things had really changed.
The village had grown and now looked a bit more like a small town. The houses were built of the same creamy stone her new home was made of, with dried palm leaves trimmed to make the roofs. The tavern had a big sign outside, and behind it, where the rubble of the ancient ruins had been, there was now a towering pyramid, twice the height of the highest house and with the sun glinting off the golden eye on its capstone.
Milla stood there in surprise, her mouth open and her frill-spines spread, for the length of several breaths. It was simply beautiful. But then she remembered and made herself turn away and head for the steps that led down to the beach.
The dock had grown and now more and bigger ships could harbour there. The land around the dock had a shambles of small lean-tos and pokey alleyways that looked oddly inviting, but also held a sense of danger that made her shiver. Even in the bright sunlight, they looked preternaturally dark.

We will return to Wrathburnt Sands by E.M. Swift-Hook next Sunday.

Wrathburnt Sands was first published in Rise and Rescue: A GameLit Anthology.

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