They traveled several more days before the sandstorm hit. It came upon them suddenly. They were walking. The day was hotter than normal, but not unseasonably so. The air was still. Then, the sand below their feet began to move. The air around them began to betray them, swirling and whipping about them. Before they knew what hit them, they were caught up in a blazing cyclone. Smoggit’s whole body shook as he summoned all the magic within him to fight it off, but Mother Nature played the cruel mistress that day. She crashed into them like a wave, knocking them to the floor, sucking the wind out of their lungs, and then burying them upon several feet of burning sand.
As the world grew dark around her, Pamela closed her eyes and surrendered to death; but death would not have her. A golden and ethereal hand seized her and Smoggit and yanked them up out of the abyss. Like a geyser, they spit up out of the earth and plummeted back down, vomiting out sand and other desert debris as they went. Her body was weak. Her clothes were torn. She gasped for breath and life-giving water. But, still, she was alive.
It was after seizing upon that reassuring truth that she fainted.
She woke on the back of a worronî. She gasped and nearly fell off. However, a reassuring yet unfamiliar hand kept her still. At first, she thought it the same as before, but this one was bandaged and distinctly male. The other was not from this world.
“Rest. Preserve your strength. I can tell you have been through quite an ordeal,” said the man.
Not having her wits and still being quite weak, she did not argue. She did look around though, searching for Smoggit.
“Your friend is fine,” said the man. “He is with the others.”
She saw him, on the back of another. These sand rider had them both in their protective care.
“Who are you?” said Pamela.
“Servants of the desert guardian, Yarí,” he said. “It was she called us to you.”
She nodded and said, “I know.”
This was not a time to make sense of the situation. The situation, in fact, was beyond sense. So Pamela, even in her state of weakness and veiled understanding, understood enough to keep her words few and go with the flow.
Later that day, she, Smoggit, and the sand riders had dinner. It wasn’t much: just a few scraps of capachi root and morning dew with a hint of burrén rat. Still, it was good and much appreciated.
“Thank you for your assistance,” said Smoggit.
The chief sand rider waved off the gesture.
“Think nothing of it,” he said.
“Is there anything we can do to repay you?” said Pamela.
The sand riders glanced at each other, then nodded in consensus. The chief turned to face her again.
“We are sure that the time will come when we will need your help, either in this incarnation or the next,” he said, “we ask that you meet us boldly in our time of need.”
She smiled and bowed.
“We can do that,” she said.
“Yes, we’d be happy to,” Smoggit said.
Her gaze shifted to the worronî.
“Fascinating creatures, aren’t they?” said the chief.
“Yes. Fascinating,” she said absently.
“They mate for life and are faithful caretakers of their young,” he said.
“So I’ve heard,” she said.
He paused until the time was right, then said, “would you like to pet one?”
Her gaze shifted to the floor.
“I really don’t know if that’s a good idea,” she said.
The chief didn’t miss a beat before responding that time.
“Maybe not, but I feel it’s something that needs to happen,” he said. “Will you trust me enough to try?”
Well, you did save my life and all, she thought and gave him her hand.
The chief led her over to the creature. Her heart beat quicker the closer she came. When she reached the beast, she felt as if her heart were about to jump right out of her chest. He waited a beat and then set her hand upon the worronî. It twitched. She flinched.
“Give it a minute,” he said. “Bonds do not form instantaneously.”
She forsook her own desires and reservations and calmed her breathing. The tension in her hand diminished and her fingers came to rest gently upon the beast. She swore she heard it exhale as well. Sooner than she thought possible, she began patting her “enemy.” The worronî bubbled in approval.
Later that night, as they headed out, she hugged the chief sand rider.
“Thank you,” she said. “Two times over.”
He bowed to her.
“Thank you for letting kindness take its course,” he said, then waved her “farewell.”
She waved back, then they departed. The worronî she had bonded with lifted its head towards her as she went. She waved it “farewell” too.