The desert. Dry. Red. Sandy. Sparse. Heat bubbles swelled and popped, showering me with an intense burning. I was parched; there was no water for miles around, and my pouch had long since dried up. My skin was cracking from lack of moisture and I looked like a blistered lobster, boiling in a pot. Dunes surrounded me as far as the eye could see.
I was hopelessly lost.
Nothing remotely edible grew. A few cacti lingered here and there, but I was not stupid enough to approach; if a person came within a four metre radius they would be riddled through with cactus needles. No, there must be some other way to get water. I could last for three weeks without food, although I would be close to starvation, but I could only manage close to a week without sufficient water. If it came to it I could drink my own piss, but the thought was revolting, and I had no intention of becoming that desperate yet.
I stumbled and fell, my ankle twisting beneath me, and I yelped. Gingerly I lifted the edge of my loose cotton trousers - already the joint was swelling. I cursed my ill-luck and got to my feet, valiantly hobbling onwards, towards death or salvation I did not know.
I dreaded the thought of night. Not only would the harsh environment's temperature drop to near freezing, but creatures that could not bear the heat as well as I would be roaming, and I was defenceless. I tried to swallow some saliva, but my throat was drier than dead leaves, and all I managed to do was nearly choke myself. I coughed and spluttered, and huddled at the base of a large dune. I hadn't planned to get myself into this mess, and I most certainly had not planned on becoming lost in the Desert. It was remote and hostile, only fools and lizard-men ventured into its endless depths. Oases fringed its edges, but the further in you strayed, the less water there was, and the less chance of coming out alive. Or at all. The best I could pray for was a swift death.
Night came, pulling its blanket of stars over the light blue sky of the day. The desert, so red and angry during daylight hours, became cloaked in blues, lilacs and violets. The few night plants that survived the day's heat opened up their petals, soaking up the moonlight. I huddled further into myself, and then sprang outward when I felt sand begin to trickle down my back. I got up; I was too agitated and restless to sleep anyway. My blood had come at the most unfortunate time imaginable, and I was moody. With no one to take it out on it grew and eventually boiled over, and I was left screaming at dust-devils and cacti.
"ARGH!" I screamed to the silent night. "WHY DON'T YOU JUST TAKE ME ALREADY?!" I kicked at the sand, yelped with pain, and fell flat on my behind. I had used my injured leg to kick. "I can't do anything right," I muttered, and unbidden memories of my master rose to the surface.
"You never do anything right Aliyah!" I flinched, ducking the imaginary bucket he had thrown at me. I didn't remember my offence; it had probably been miniscule, like forgetting to sweep the courtyard. I rubbed the hideous brand on my arm. I hated being a slave. I had been born into it, and treated with contempt, like all people of my class. Not that it even deserved to be called a class. It was a torturous living - to be at the beck and call of a master or mistress who controlled life and death over you and yours. I found myself rubbing at my head, surprised to feel slight fuzz growing. I had barely been gone a week, and my life was already in tatters. But I refused to go back. I would make my own way in the world and prove that I could survive, that I was as good as my menfolk, and that no man or woman would ever have control over me again.
I felt stiff when I awoke. The sun, already high in the sky, blared down on my face, burning me with its impassionate intensity. I ripped clothe from my tunic and tied it around my head to ward off heatstroke. I had a reasonable amount of endurance and an even greater amount of fight left in me. I would continue to walk until I dropped from sheer exhaustion. I would persevere because that was all I knew how to do.
I couldn't believe what I was seeing; up ahead, wavering from the heat, was a huge lake. I licked my parched, cracking lips and limped towards it, beginning to run. But no matter how fast I ran, no matter how much closer I got, the further away it seemed. Finally, exhausted and defeated, I fell to my knee and buried my head in my hands, weeping bitterly. I should never have left. It might be a horrible life, but it was a life I knew. And to be tricked by my heat-addled mind into believing that a huge lake lay before me? It was pathetic. I dug myself a hole and crept into it, sleeping.
Someone had started a fire and covered me with a blanket. I sat bolt upright, my heart beating frantically in my chest. A boy warmed his hands by the fire, the flames dancing shadows on his face. I scrabbled for some weapon, a rock or even a stick. "Relax," he said. I didn't.
"Wh-who are you?" I stammered. "What do you want with me?"
"Relax," he repeated again. "I'm not here to hurt you," He offered me a waterskin. I eyed it warily and then grabbed it, sculling greedily. I handed It back and he smiled.
"My name," he said, "Is Theim. I'm an Outcast."