Sands of Sorrow

By: Viola Grace

Tales of the Citadel Book 52

Chapter One

Salika crept against the walls and held the small, squirming body against her chest. Possession of a sand dog was punishable by death. They were not only sacred; they were deadly.

The puppy in her arms whimpered, and she stroked it, and the soft scales on its back smoothed out under her fingers. She eased her way to her tiny home and breathed more easily when she was inside the walls of her shelter.

She set the puppy down and thought about what the sand dogs ate. He curled up in a corner of her bed, and she smiled. He needed meat, and he could eat carrion when an adult, but he was a baby now, so she was going to have to steal some softer foods.

She smiled at having someone to look after so much time alone.

“I will be back soon.”

The orphaned pup lifted his head and snuffled at her. She grinned and ducked under the door flap. With her mission in mind, she crept back into the walled city. She had another mouth to feed.

* * * *

She fought the hands that held her, commanding Saluk to remain in their quarters. “No! You can’t!”

“Street trash, you are a disgrace and you have broken the laws of our people. You have stolen food and clothing. The penalty is death.”

She bucked as the priests pulled her toward the pit. The crowd of townsfolk jeered at her, and she finally slumped, accepting that they were going to toss her in and that nothing would stop them, aside from a fatality.

She didn’t want to kill her people. She didn’t want to die. It was a problem that was about to be taken out of her hands.

Without further ceremony, they threw her into the pit dug into the sand.

Salika stood, and the lid was lowered. She was in the dark, and soon, the sand was shovelled onto the lid of the box.

Buried alive. It was the desert dweller’s worst nightmare. She listened to the thudding of shovels and the hissing cascade of sand.

It normally took an hour to bury the condemned completely. Salika crouched and made her way to a corner of the box she was in, and she sat while the heated air seemed to grow thick and it made her dizzy.

She focused on keeping calm and listening to the impact of sand above her. They would watch for any signs of her trying to burrow out for another hour. After that, they would return to the city, and she could try and escape.

Salika just had to remain alive long enough to make it out of the pit.

The digging woke her out of her slip toward death by suffocation. Saluk’s claws were far larger than they had been when she had first found him next to the mother that had just birthed him.

Salika concentrated and started to move the sand. Saluk let out his echoing bark, and she felt he had shifted aside.

She crawled to the centre of the pit and lifted her hands above her head, pushing upward to drive the sand away from the lid of the pit in waves.

Over and over, she thrust her hands upward until black spots clouded her vision. She swayed and fell.

Saluk barked again, and she heard him digging. His claws shredded the wood easily. Two minutes and she felt air caress her cheek. She woke with difficulty but stood up to reach for the lid.

Saluk carefully gripped her hand in his powerful jaws and he moved backward, pulling her into the night air.

Nothing could move on sand like a sand dog. They swam through it when they were attacking a foe, and it was moments like this that Salika appreciated the chance that had driven her out of the protective walls of the city and into the desert.

He pulled until she was lying next to him on the sand, panting for air.

She eventually rolled to her belly and waved her hand over her deathtrap, filling the whole thing with sand.

Salika struggled to her feet and started walking toward the landing site that was hosting the guest of the town. When he returned to his ship, he was going to find that she and Saluk wanted a ride elsewhere.

“It will be good to get away from here, won’t it, Saluk?”

He let out a huff and stayed next to her, supporting her when she swayed.

She talked to him as long as she could. She was tired, hungry and desperately thirsty when she saw the gleaming silver in the moonlight. The ship.

She was nearly crawling when she finally got to the vessel, but she made it. She collapsed in front of the steps and hoped that the recruiter returned before she expired.

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