barren land

novel concept came about from this song

It felt wrong, touching the gilded throne. Asim draped his fingers over the delicate metalwork, narrowing his eyes at the glitter of halite studding the seat’s stone. Things so achingly familiar to behold, that fit so perfectly into the framework of his life, that it made his father’s absence more glaring by half again.

When the pharaoh’s absence had stretched from one week to two, the rumors had begun. The whispers delivered to him by spies secreted amongst the servants and laborers that the masses expected him to ascend to the throne. Fortunately, he thought, none of these whispers had suggested he had a hand in his father’s missing. They thought well of him. They thought him his father’s son—a guardian, a steadfast servant of righteousness.

They were right to think so. He’d had nothing to do with any of this.

It made everything almost worse. He struggled with the sense of helplessness. At least if it’d been some grand conspiracy, he’d feel more empowered. Perhaps he would feel less scandalized to even behold his father’s throne.

In the antechamber, a dog barked, its metallic voice hollow in its copper throat. Asim stiffened, drawing himself straight, trying to force his presence to be commanding and effortless in one moment. He felt that he had failed by the time the door opened, dumping his servant and two guards into the throne chamber.

“This is unheard of!” the servant sputtered, even now trying to push the guards back out the door. The three dogs that customarily traveled with each pair of guardsmen moved to separate servant from guards. They moved with such eerie silence, their eyes bright with alchemy, with whatever living force powered them.

“Pharaoh, it’s at the Jitaki border,” one of the guards said, disentangling himself from the confusion. “Two refugees made it through.”

Jitak, just to the north of Mait. Where his father had gone two weeks ago in pursuit of some information the scholars in Jitak’s capital had uncovered. The elder pharaoh’s unheard-of mission of cooperation had resulted in him now being lost in a country that did not exist.

“I don’t have to ask if my father was one of the refugees.” His voice felt hard as stone in his throat.

The guard’s mouth drew into a grimace. He bowed his head.

Asim’s gut clenched but he fought not to display a reaction.

“Is it visible?”

The guard looked up and nodded sharply.

“Barely. It’s not crossed the border yet. But it’s there.”

Asim’s fingers left his father’s throne. He moved through the guards and their dogs and the servant like a stone through clear water. They followed him as he went out through the antechamber and onto the balcony. He leaned over the edge and there, a cloud of sand against the darkling dusk of the horizon.

He couldn’t see it yet. Just the result of its inexorable march. Any other day the miles-high wall of dust may have been another sandstorm—an ordinary calamity. But this—the thing they called the cataclysm—had demolished every country north of Mait, including now Jitak. In his imagination, his eyes peeled back the billowing, still-distant sand and he saw the great black thing. He saw the great fangs it projected downward into the earth as it came on, as recounted in the reports pouring in from countries Mait hadn’t heard from in generations.

What a thing to unite them.

It occurred to him, belatedly, that the guard had called him pharaoh.


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