This page was misfiled. Again. It is from Terra Absurdium vol 4, and furthermore, it was folded into a very unflattering bit of origami depicting what appears to be a shrieking monkey wearing senior librarian’s robes. The acolyte responsible left three years ago to become a belly dancer, which job she was, in all honesty, rather more suited for, but she obviously could have had a lucrative career in creative paper folding, too. - Vo
Margin note from Acolyte Wen: I had to recopy this page from the archives. When I suggested it’d be faster to unfold the origami one, the old coot about took my head off. The origami’s got pride of place on his desk now. I think he’s finally going senile or something.
We had been traveling in the desert for weeks. The oasis we were shooting for had been dry, covered over with sandstorms, the palm trees dying and dead. We had little hope of making the next one. Our horses had died, all but two of our camels had died, and one of those camels was under our guide and going with all speed in the other direction.
It was hot, and it was dry. My nose was dry. There was sand under my eyelids, and I was too exhausted to care. Heinrich was in even worse shape than I was—my people are basically adapted to desert and savannah, and his are a people of mountains and streams and snow. His eyes were rimmed with red and his fur hung in dehydrated folds.
I had just about figured out how it was going to go. Probably tonight, the camel would die, and we would eat it. Sometime tomorrow, Heinrich would die, and I would tearfully eat him.* The day after that, I would make a last, tragic entry in my journal, and then I would die, and the sands would eat me.
I was wallowing in the mental image of the memorial ceremony that would be held for me back home, in absentia, when we staggered over a rise and ran smack into the middle of a bazaar.
It was being held in the ruins of an old city, a brightly colored riot of tents and brazen-skinned natives, and glory of glories, the glitter of sunlight on water. I sat Heinrich down—this last shock had been too much, and he was probably not going to make it another ten feet—and went to the water with the reverence of a worshipper approaching the altar of his god.
It was muddy and brown and the camel had its muzzle stuck in right next to mine. It was indescribably sweet. I couldn’t drink much, or I was going to be ill, but I refilled every waterskin we had, and stuck my entire head into the trough, so that droplets fell like jewels off my eyelashes, and stung like a scorpion in my chapped nostrils.
I walked back, sloshing and leaving a trail of dark drips behind me, to Heinrich, only to discover that he was gone. At that point, I was far beyond any capacity for panic—I looked around dully, wondering if perhaps I had mistaken the place where I had left him. Then I heard his voice raised, hoarse and dry and exultant.
Some things are stronger than exhaustion, stronger even than death. I found him swaying in front of a table full of small packets of spices, manned by a toothless crone as bald as a snake, who wore an eye-searing pink sari and was grinning the grin of one who is about to make a great deal of money.
“Give me your wallet,” Heinrich rasped. “She has curry.”
*Translator’s Note: He’s probably not joking. In the original drafts of the rather shocking 8th volume of Terra Absurdium, Heinrich and Eland are forced to eat one of their sherpas, who had frozen to death the night before. This was censored by the editors as too sensational for the readership of the time, and did not make it to print, although people did wonder when the narrative suddenly came up short a sherpa.