Droplets of sweat coursed stubbornly down Den’s flushed face. A feeble arm rose to wipe away the salty moisture.
‘It’s hot.’ He moaned.
Den’s companion turned to him with a look of undisguised scorn. ‘We’re in a desert. What did you expect?’
But it was hot, it was damned hot. Even Sasha had not expected it to be this hot, though she would never admit it to Den. The heat stripped moisture from their bodies within seconds, their open mouths drying even as they spoke. Sasha thought about the reassuring weight of the water in her backpack and began to think it would not be enough to see them through.
Around them the sand dunes, multi-hued in the late afternoon sun, stretched out as far as the eye could see. Like solid waves frozen in mid-peak. Like an infinite barrier between them and their city destination.
‘We should start.’ She said simply.
Den nodded. He’d given up on wiping the sweat from his face now, his eyes blinking with the attack of salt that had flown down his sloped forehead.
They started walking across the gritty surface, Sasha following the signal from her tracking device – pointing a direction then fixing on it for several minutes before checking again. With no clear features the desert was no place to be complacent.
The going was tough; the sand in places was deep and sucked down their errant feet, the heat made them stumble in their strides. The pair talked little, restricting themselves to points of note, ignoring the question of what lay ahead. Their task. In the long silences they sank into personal reveries, assessing their states of mind, contemplating their vague chances of success.
‘It’ll never work.’ That was Sasha’s first response when Den had first come up with this plan, all those months ago now. ‘The place is too well protected. There’s no way in to the citadel that they haven’t protected with multiple layers of extreme force.’
Den had only smiled. ‘Not if we go across the Waste Zone.’
For a moment Sasha had been struck dumb. The audacity of it. And yet… perhaps it was worth a shot. The thought that had convinced her finally to listen to his whole plan was the one that whispered bitterly that she had not been able to think of any other way to achieve their aims.
Freedom. Freedom from the tyranny of a foreign ruler. Freedom from the heavy burden of taxes. Freedom from the orders that changed frequently and with no cause. And, of course, revenge. Sasha grimaced to herself, feeling the fine grains of sand that covered her lips entering her mouth, choking on long buried emotion. Whether she succeeded or whether she died trying, either way it would be better than the long slow death she was living now her family were gone.