The Shifting Sands

Runner-up-The Out of this World Pirate Story Competition Runner-up-The Out of this World Pirate Story Competition

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic


As Tiko tore through the sky, bits of sand ricocheted off her goggles and cascaded off her skin. Her sail thundered louder than a drum from the merciless beat of the wind. She took in the endless view known as the shifting sands and smiled.

It was wonderous.

It was breathtaking.

And it was her home.

Her entire being begged her to scream out in pure bliss, but she held herself back out of fear that it’d take forever to get all the sand out of her mouth. It was hard to believe, but those who were much older than her hated the same view. They told of times when the sands had lain still, when the only way to traverse them had been to ride some strange creature called a sunmel, a creature that apparently bore an odd resemblance to old man’s Saul’s face – and was nearly as lazy to boot.

These were the same old fogies who also whispered of a time before the world eaters – a time when Solvara wasn’t dying.

Tiko grinned.

As if a time like that ever existed, she thought to her grim amusement as her glider slid across a dune.

True, these rumormongers swore it on their great-grandads’ tombstones, but in times like these, people would sell those same tombstones for a warm meal. Regardless, Tiko simply refused to believe the myths because…well…they seemed so boring. Why the hell would she want to ride some slow creature for hours as the hot sun ate away at her skin? Or hope that she carried enough water to make it from one town to the next?

After all, it was far better to glide.

She’d never seen a world eater before. Heck, she didn’t even know if they really existed, but they didn’t seem as half as bad as the elders made them out to be. According to the rumors, these ginormous creatures had appeared one day unannounced and begun tearing the world asunder.

Why?

Tiko had absolutely no idea, and for that matter, no one else did, either. They just showed up out of the blue all willy-nilly, which brought up the point, if world eaters were so important to remember, then why didn’t anyone even bother to get a decent look at one?

What truly mattered was the world the supposed creatures left in their wake. The once sleeping sands began to shift, flowing almost deliberately, and humankind lost the ability to walk on them.

Entire species went extinct – those poor sunmels, supposedly.

Powerful kingdoms collapsed…as in collapsed into the ground…not the way most people would think.

To put it bluntly, the world changed forever.

Tiko’s ancestors migrated east, where there was still solid land to put under your feet and fresh water where you didn’t have to spend hours filtering out the sand. The shifting sands effectively split the world into two – the daredevils of the east and the westerners, who had a stick shoved firmly between their two butt cheeks. In the middle of it all, the land remained ravaged by the world eaters, who continually ate away the world beneath their feet…or so the legends said. However, Tiko thought this was just people trying to explain the unexplainable. There was no truth to their words.

Only myths, legends, and other tall tales to scare little kiddies.

However, there was still one undeniable truth: walkable land disappeared year after year, and it wouldn’t take long for the rest of it to disappear. Tiko could only take some solace in the fact that it wasn’t likely to happen during her lifetime, but it would happen. Until then, her people needed to know how to survive in this new world. With the death of the poor sunmels, it became blatantly obvious that it was impossible to cross the shifting sands.

It wasn’t until years later that some genius invented the gliders. Supposedly, his exact words on the day he invented them were: “Hell, let’s just throw a damn boat on them!”

No wiser words had been muttered since.

These marvelous contraptions floated on top of the shifting sands. The sands’ current would carry the boat, and a person could navigate it as long as they had a sail and a strong wind. Tiko’s glider was large enough to carry up to two people and was highly mobile, which was important for her life as a pirate.

The feeling of gliding through the shifting sands was hard to explain, but if Tiko had to put one word to it, she would say that it felt like freedom. People were afraid. Year after year, the world caved in on itself. Food became slim, while hungry stomachs became plenty. Water dried out, while throats grew parched. However, with her glider, Tiko controlled her destiny. There was no place she couldn’t go, and more importantly, it gave her the means to survive.

Tiko brought the glider to the top of a dune cascading down into what was known as the Great Kraal Crater. She lowered her sail so the glider slowed to a crawl. She thought about lowering her anchor, but she always felt slightly unsteady if she wasn’t moving around on the shifting sands, like something horrible was going to happen if she stayed still for even the briefest of seconds.

After she tied off her sail, she took in her surroundings, sparing a brief moment to watch the sands swirl down into a whirlpool at the base of the crater. It was a sad thing when a glider broke down in these parts. The current was strong enough to take it down into the crater, and once some unfortunate soul fell in, it was doubtful they’d ever be seen again.

Across from the Great Kraal Crater, Tiko saw her prey: a massive salvage vessel most likely holding cargo for trade in the city of Eimdale, which sat on the shores of the western continent. Through the centuries, lost technology had sunk to the bottom of the sands. It wasn’t strange for an oddball collector to pay high dollar for some weird gadget.

Tiko nodded in approval at the sight of it.

She reached up to her ear, pressed the button on her transmitter, and said, “Dohr, are you there?”

When no answer came, she debated trying to call the pompous windbag again. Fortunately, as she started to, boisterous laughing came through her transmitter. It was immediately replaced by a voice that demanded attention.

“Will the lot of you shut up already! I swear to God, the next person who opens his mouth is going for a dip and will be digging sand out of their undies for the next month if I don’t get some damn peace and quiet!”

The sound of laughter immediately died out. Everyone knew Dohr was as good as his word, and no one wanted to spend a night picking sand out of their britches. His voice surfaced again, hiding a thin lining of eager anticipation within it. “Out with it, Tiko. Are you going to be making me a rich man today?”

Tiko chuckled. “I don’t know. Am I going to be a rich woman?”

“It’s obvious, isn’t it?” Dohr scoffed. “If I’m a rich man, that makes you a rich woman by association. It’s what us sophisticated folks like to call the transitive property.”

Tiko eyed the transport for a moment. She thought about lying to the old fox. After all, if she did the job by herself, it only meant more coins to fill her pockets. Sadly, she knew the truth of it. There was no way that she could pull off a job this big by herself, not to mention that if she somehow pulled off the heist of the century, Dohr would instantly know. There wasn’t a single rock that she’d be able to hide under if Dohr cared enough to find her.

“Yeah, it’s there, alright,” Tiko answered with a hungry look in her eyes. “It’s the biggest one I’ve seen in quite a while. We get this one, and we might not have to hit another for the next couple of months.”

“Did you hear that, boys and girls?” Dohr announced to the crowd that had must likely gathered around him when they’d heard Tiko on the other line. “Looks like we get to have some fun tonight!”

A roar of approval erupted from Tiko’s transmitter, so loud that she was tempted to turn off the transmission. Dohr let the crowd tire themselves out and then asked, “How many guard ships are there?”

“Give me a sec.” Tiko lifted her goggles to her forehead and reached down to her side to find a pair of binoculars clipped to her old leather belt, which had seen better days. One of the lenses was cracked horribly, and the thing rattled with sand. The damn stuff got everywhere.

Tiko eyed the salvage ship through the binoculars. From what she could see, five smaller ships and more than a fair share of gliders hovered about it protectively. It wasn’t going to be an easy heist, but with a job this big, Dohr wouldn’t have any trouble finding the hands to pull it off.

She relayed the information to Dohr and added, “Whatever they have on the thing must be pretty juicy, Dohr. The ships are nipping at its sides and being careful not to stray too far.”

  Tiko watched as the salvage ship lowered its crane back into the sand. “It seems like they aren’t done picking up what they came out here for…either that or they’re just plain greedy.”

“Well, I ain’t going to interrupt them,” Dohr said with a grunt. “It’s more for us to steal.”

Tiko attached the binoculars to her belt, lowered her goggles, and sat in her glider for a quick rest. “So, what do you want me to do now?”

“We’re going to attack it at dusk,” said Dohr, as then he rattled off his plan as if he’d rehearsed it a couple of times in front of the mirror. “We’ll hit them fast with our gliders. I know I don’t have to tell you, but that includes that dainty thing you’ve been riding around in all morning. Take out those annoying gnats buzzing around so they can’t interfere and then focus on the salvage ship. By the time you do that, our larger ships will have caught up. We’ll fill them up to the brim and use the night for our escape.”

Dohr didn’t bother to ask Tiko if she had any questions. She’d run with him long enough to know how he liked to do things. “Roger that. Don’t make me wait too long now.”

“Just be ready,” said Dohr, who was already snapping orders to the others. “If you get left behind, you get nothing.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Tiko said with a sigh as she sat down. “I hear ya.”

Dohr didn’t even bother to answer, and the transmission cut off. Tiko stared up at the sun. It would be at least a few more hours until the sun began to set. The Great Kraal Crater wasn’t too far off from Dohr’s hideout, so it shouldn’t even take that long for his group to arrive. He’d have plenty of time to gather any outlaw in the area drooling to make a quick payday.

Tiko took the time to retie her ponytail. It didn’t take more than a few hours of hard riding on her glider to shake the thing loose, and she didn’t need her long black hair to flop around in every direction in the middle of a fight. Dohr had told her a million times that she needed to cut it. She’d never tell him so, but he had a valid point. A person took whatever advantage they could get during a fight, and more than one asshole had tried to drag her to the ground by grabbing a fistful of her hair. Even so, she still liked to keep it long. She didn’t have a reason other than that her mother liked it, but that was enough.

After she finished tidying up her hair, she reached to her side and checked her pistol. The thing was aged and had its fair share of scratches and nicks. This was not surprising, as she had managed to pick it up on one of her raids with Dohr. The treasure had been in a cask a salvage ship had hoisted up, and it had included a good bit of ammo. Pistols were an oddity on Solvara. The means to craft them had long been lost to her people, and the few that existed were only found through salvage, which was why it surprised her so much that Dohr had let her keep it.

Tiko could still remember his words. He’d chuckled and almost had a fatherly look in his eyes as he’d said, “You hold on to it, kid. It’ll do you some good to get rid of some of the rumors running around about ya. You’re too young for so many people to look at you like you’re some kind of monster that’d slit a person’s throat for looking at ya funny. Trust me, it’ll make you more sophisticated.”

Tiko used it only when absolutely necessary. With six bullets in the chamber and four lonelier ones hidden away in one of the pouches tied to her leg, she only had ten bullets left. In all of Dohr’s raids, she had never been lucky enough to find any more ammo. It wouldn’t be long until the only way she could use the thing was like a club, which made it completely useless, as she already preferred to use the two daggers hanging from her hips for close-quarter combat.

About six hours passed, and then the sun began to set. Impatient, she tried to call Dohr to see how far out they were, but she received no answer.  She let loose a slight yawn. She always had problems sitting still for long periods. She even had issues going to sleep sometimes, as she would get a slight tingle in her legs that begged her to move around and explore.

So, to feed her nagging compulsions, she reached for her binoculars to see if the salvage crew was up to anything interesting. For the most part, they utterly failed to entertain. The main salvage line was in the exact damn position it had been in the last time she’d talked to Dohr. However, to her delight, the crew on the ship had begun to move around frantically as they reeled in the line. A person who appeared to be the ship’s captain barked orders at his men in eager anticipation of what they’d just pulled out of the bottomless abyss known as the Great Kraal Crater.

In all honesty, after six hours of doing nothing, Tiko was curious to see what they’d fished up. Most salvaged technology was useless, but this ship had been acting strangely. Usually, they didn’t salvage too long in a single spot. There was so much lost treasure in the shifting sands that, as long as someone had the right equipment, they were bound to find something. From the way this ship was acting, they knew exactly what they were looking for, and the crew was dead set on finding it.

However, that hardly seemed to matter anymore, as Tiko’s heart sank as she noticed two men walk out onto the ship’s deck. They wore sharp white uniforms with two blades in golden sheathes strapped to their sides. She was too far away to see their rank, but it didn’t matter. She could clearly see the emblem of a lion with a gouged-out right eye – the emblem for an officer of the imperial army of Eimdale.

Tiko reached for her transmitter and said as quickly as the words could flow from her mouth, “Dohr! Do you hear me? You have to turn back. There are sleeping lions in the sands.”

Tiko got nothing but silence on the other end.

Her heart raced as she wondered what she should do.

There was one rule for every pirate on the eastern continent: if you see those lions in white, abandon the fight and hide from sight.

No pirate on the eastern continent didn’t know of the tale on how Dohr had risen to power. It wasn’t because he was some criminal mastermind or the strongest man on the shifting sands. He was just the only pirate wise enough not to participate in a raid involving the imperial army over ten years ago. The raid failed miserably, but the imperial army wasn’t satisfied with just winning the day and invaded the eastern continent with the sole purpose of finding and destroying everyone involved. They’d covered the sands in blood, and by the end of it, Dohr had been left standing on top.

Tiko tried Dohr again as she continued to watch the scene unfold through the binoculars. Strangely, once they raised a decently sized cask from the sands, they immediately lowered the thing on a smaller ship, which was accompanied by one of the officers. Tiko watched as the ship splintered off from the main group and very discretely made its way toward the western continent.

Before she could even process what this meant, she heard the all-too-familiar sounds of the sands being pushed aside by mighty vehicles and sails being pelted by the winds. Gliders rushed by her and circled the Great Kraal Crater. Dohr’s flagship, the Sandworm, trailed behind, causing a large wake that pushed Tiko’s glider aside.

Sirens echoed across the crater. The salvage ship had spotted Dohr’s gang, and they were preparing for battle.

It was too late. By the time Dohr noticed what was on the ship, it’d be far too late.

Tiko’s mind raced, screaming at her to do something.

Hurry up! You’ve got to hurry up and stop them! said the courageous voice inside her mind.

Are you kidding me? Get the hell out of here. Lie low, and maybe you’ll live through this, said her practical voice. In all honesty, this was the voice that made the most sense.

Look, don’t you see it? whispered a voice from the deepest pit of her soul. It gently tugged at the strings of her heart. Dohr hasn’t noticed the ship that splintered off from the pack. If you hurry, you can get to it before anyone even knows you were here.

The voice snapped her back from her mini freak-out as she quickly spotted the lone ship. The last voice was right. Dohr hadn’t even noticed the ship, or he didn’t think it was worth the effort when the big prize still sat in front of him.

Greed crept into Tiko’s heart, and a sly smile surfaced on her face. Her body took control as if it had a mind of its own, and she quickly untied the glider’s sail. She’d be hard-pressed to catch up to the ship. It had already gone quite far from the main group, and they’d see her from a mile away if she approached it from behind.

But that was only if she followed the outskirts of the crater.

Tiko urged her glider into the crater and turned it to follow the momentum of the massive whirlpool. She struggled to keep her vessel straight as the wind and current pushed it to such speeds that it felt like it would break apart at any moment. She braced herself by keeping one of her hands on the mast so she wouldn’t be blown off into the depths. Unable to help herself, she let out an ecstatic whoop at the thrill of it all.

She fell deeper into the crater and pulled hard against the sail, ducking low so it wouldn’t take off her head as it swung to the other side. The action slingshotted the glider, causing her to change her course and soar up from the crater’s depths. There was no way for the ship to see her approach as the glider flew into the air and fell onto level sands.

The momentum carried her glider forward.

Tiko lowered her sail as she slid her vehicle to the side. She could do little but lower her velocity as the glider pulled alongside the ship. Tiko threw two clawed grips onto the ship’s rails to fasten her glider to it, and with one deep breath, she jumped onto it.

By the time she hopped over the railings, two rather large brutes were charging at her with blades unsheathed. She never faltered as she unholstered her gun and planted a bullet in the middle of the left one’s head.

Deciding not to waste another bullet, she met the second man’s sword with one of her daggers, directing the man’s blade to the side and forcing him off balance. Before he could regain his footing, she kicked him in his gut, pushing him over to the edge of the ship. She didn’t even allow him to right himself as she rammed her shoulder into him. The man fell over the railing, and she didn’t spare him another look when his screams died as the sands ate him.

Tiko turned her attention to the deck. Her initial skirmish had given the remaining crew plenty of time to collect themselves, and she stood face to face with three more people aiming to take her life – one of them being the imperial soldier.

The man’s face was riddled with scars, and he gave her a look she was all too familiar with: the look of a person who had judged someone’s entire worth in the span of a breath. In this case, he’d already judged her as someone who had as much worth as a dead bug on the bottom of his boot. Tiko would thoroughly enjoy wiping the look off his face.

The soldier unsheathed his sword with a flourish and said sharply, “Do you have any idea what you’ve done here today?”

Tiko’s eyes wandered to what sat beyond the man. She holstered her gun and unsheathed her other dagger. Grinning hungrily, she eyed the cask, still littered with sand. “I gather that I’m going to be slightly richer than I was a couple of minutes ago. The question is, are you going to be on the ground, bleeding out as I take it, or are you going to put a ribbon on it and let me be on my merry way?”

The man let out a long, exhausted sigh. He squinted his eyes as if he had a horrible migraine and said, “Fine, have it your way.”

Tiko flipped the daggers in her hands. “I always do.”

Before the soldier could blurt out another retort, Tiko dashed forward, staying low to the ground. The soldier thrust at her face, but anticipating this, she rolled just underneath the blade. She regained her footing and lunged at the left soldier, who clearly didn’t expect Tiko to be there. The woman didn’t even get the chance to unsheathe her weapon before Tiko slammed both daggers into her chest as if they were fangs. Tiko followed the body to the ground and watched the life escape from the woman’s eyes.

She heard a scream of rage from the remaining sailor, but she didn’t even hesitate as she abandoned one of her daggers and reached for her pistol. She flicked her arm across her body and pulled the trigger without a thought. The bullet struck the poor sap in the throat. He staggered forward, struggling for air, but only took three steps before falling face first onto the deck to bleed out.

Although Tiko had done all of this as fast as she could, it still wasn’t fast enough. The soldier closed the distance between them and flickered another thrust in her direction. She cursed as the sword grazed her right shoulder and pain shot through her body. She tried to back away, but the soldier wouldn’t have any of it. He released another thrust, straight to her gut, which would have been fatal, but she twisted away just in time.

Tiko raised her pistol, but he responded with a downward slash that forced her to pull the shot into the air, far above the man’s head. He shot a self-satisfied smirk her way. Neither of them had to say it. If things continued like this, it would only be a matter of time until he won. However, sometimes life cares little about who is more skilled in battle. What matters is who has the most luck, and at that moment, it was Tiko.

An explosion rang out in the distance as Dohr began his attack on the salvage ship, and the soldier, who had no idea about the larger battle in the distance, shifted his attention for the briefest of seconds. Tiko, on the other hand, didn’t falter in the slightest. She closed the gap immediately, flipped the dagger in her hand, and rammed it straight into the soldier’s heart. His expression changed to utter bewilderment for only a second and then to grim understanding as he fell to his knees.

He coughed and, in his last few precious seconds, muttered, “You have no idea what you’ve done. You’ll be hunted for the rest of your days.”

“Funny thing about that,” said Tiko, retrieving her dagger from the sailor. “I doubt anyone will know I was here. You see, I’m going to leave your ship and body at the bottom of the sands… Such a tragic accident.”

The man didn’t respond. Tiko looked up to see that he’d died on his knees and was staring lifelessly in her direction.

Well, if that isn’t grim as hell.

With that, she proceeded to do as promised. First, she lowered the cask in her glider using the ship’s rig, as it was too heavy for her to carry. Then she turned the ship into the crater and steered her glider to safety.

She took a deep breath and pumped her arms into the air in celebration.

She’d done it!

She’d taken a ship all by herself, and to her knowledge, Dohr had no idea about its existence. She was certain his attention was elsewhere. He would spend the entire night ensuring that there wasn’t a single shred of evidence of his involvement in the murder of an imperial soldier. The salvage ship’s flames lit up the night sky, destroying everything that had been done here today.

Now it was time for her to check her prize.

The cask was a strange thing.

Completely metallic, it had two large hinges on the side that outlined a door. She brushed off some sand, which led to the discovery of some buttons and a latch. She pressed the buttons, but whatever life was left in the thing was long gone – most likely after they’d ripped the damn thing from the depths.

Tiko focused her attention on the latch. After some straining and a lot of cursing, she managed to pop the thing open. A cold fog flooded out of the cask and washed over her, causing her to shiver. She waved her hand, clearing it out to see what was inside, and when the last bit of fog cleared way, her heart sank as she stirred at the contents.

There was no gold.

No ancient bit of technology that she could sell.

Or even a bloody diamond.

In the center of the cask lay a girl a few years younger than Tiko. The girl’s skin was a pale white, as if it had never seen a day of sun in its entire life. Her hair was so blonde it was nearly white, a color Tiko had only heard about in stories, and it hid pointed ears that didn’t look human. However, all of these aspects paled in comparison to the forest-green eyes that now gazed into Tiko’s.

 


Submitted: April 14, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Patrick Borosky. All rights reserved.

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Comments

M.C.R.

Awesome!
I love the descriptions and feelings and personality.
I really think you might win :)

Mon, April 19th, 2021 2:08am

Author
Reply

Thank you for the kind words! I really enjoyed writing this and really wanted to expand on it more, but felt limited due to the word count restriction.

Tue, April 20th, 2021 9:14am

M.C.R.

Sure :D
I get that, I felt very similar when I was writing my entry to the contest.

Wed, April 21st, 2021 12:02am

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