Jean stood silently by the flag pole.
“Jean!” Beardface called. “We’ve restrained them. Did you know Peter can spin webs? Astounding!”
She didn’t hear him. She took a step toward the flag pole and started untying the several scarves attached to it.
“Also, we’ve stripped them of their belongings. We should be able to fit into their clothes and masquerade as them.”
As she took the scarves off she uttered a prayer for each of her family members.
“Oh, and I managed to interrogate one of them. The poor man has never met a Mountish before. He seemed to be under the impression that I’d gnaw at his flesh given half a chance. Brahrahra.”
“Beardface!” Jean shouted. “I’m trying to have a moment here!”
“Oh! Uh… Apologies!” Beardface stammered and disappeared back into the tent.
“Family. An angry fire burns within me. I’m more than capable of going back into that tent and killing every last one of those Djulok raiders.” She collapsed against the pole. “Look at me. Perhaps all this time away from home has corrupted my mind if the first thing I think of is cruel vengeance.” She stood up strongly. “No. I am a child of E’ni. I will put this fire to good use. I’ll use it to light the way. We will be together before the changing of the sands and before the light is…”
“Excuse me, Jean! Do you have any nourishment that we hungry three might partake…”
“In the stitched basket!” Jean bellowed.
“Excellent. Thanks. Sorry.”
“Okay. Where was I.” She looked off into the distance meaningfully. “We will be together before the changing of the sands and before the light is…”
“Is it the blue one or the lemon-tinged chartreuse?”
“BLUE!” Jean roared.
“Wonderful. Appreciate it. Apologies.”
“And. Before. The. Light. Is…” she stared at the tent, daring someone to interrupt her monologue. “Exting…”
“Ah! We’re fresh out.”
Peter, Gregor and Beardface silently ate their sand apples (which actually were in the blue basket, Beardface had simply not looked hard enough) while Jean fumed silently back in the tent.
“Wait. Are we in the tent too?” Beardface asked. Peter shrugged.
“Ah. This is why syntax is so important.” Beardface laughed.
“So.” Jean said. “What did you learn?”
“He spoke of ‘the worm’.” Beardface said. “He said all the E’ni were being taken back to it.”
“I’ve never heard of it.” Jean said. “But, did he say why?”
“He said they were doing it on the orders of the King.”
“What!?” Jean’s expression of frustration-under-wraps exploded into confused rage. “Are you certain of what you heard?” Jean said sharply.
“Quite certain.” Beardface said.
“Immolon claim the fool! How dare he?”
“I tried to ask the man more about ‘the worm’ but he kept saying he would not be tasty because he was suffering from a bout of diarrhoea. I do believe he seriously believed I would eat him. He fainted soon after.”
“I can’t believe this. The king! Our own cousin. It’s too much to bear.” She held her head in her hands and went silent. Beardface put his hand on her shoulder.
“This must be hard for you Jean. I’m sorry we didn’t return on happier circumstances. I was rather looking forward to meeting your family.”
“Oh, you’re still going to meet my family!” Jean said defiantly. “I’ll make sure my mom gets your name wrong! Even it’s the last thing I do!”
“Brahra! I can’t wait!” Beardface laughed. “Now, we must solve the mystery of this worm.”
“Yes!” Jean’s spirits were visibly lifted. “Hmm. I know the Djuloks grow sand worms. But, I don’t see how…”
A rumble shook them.
Beardface looked at Peter who shrugged.
They quit the tent and were immediately whipped by sandy winds. On the horizon a massive dust cloud approached.
“Is that a sand storm?” Beardface asked.
“No, not at this time of year.” Jean said. She went back into the tent and emerged a moment later with a pair of pilfered goggles. She crouched down and adjusted the far-seer.
“It looks to be…” her jaw dropped.
“An out-of-season sandstorm?” Jean passed him the goggles. He focused on the cloud and as he did the dust began to form a more solid shape. A huge shape.
“It appears to be some manner of creature.” Beardface said incredulously. “But, I’ve not yet seen one of this magnitude. It’s at least ten times the size of a land whale!”
“It’s… a sand worm.” Jean said staring blankly into space. “But, I don’t understand. The Djulok sand worms are only about the size of a cat. I heard they were trying to grow bigger ones but this…”
“We’d better get our disguises!” Beardface said.
The worm blasted passed with impressive speed and they were immediately blanketed in dust. They ran ahead of it and out of the dust cloud but then realised they were being chased by a giant worm and started screaming wildly. The worm slowed. The dust cloud thinned.
It was bigger up close, nay, gargantuan. The worm’s massive body was adorned in various ropes, bridges and pathways. There were even structures, nay, buildings strapped to its astonishing mass. It was a veritable moving castle, nay, fortress.
“What’s wrong? Have you forgotten the signal?” yelled a Djulok from one of the bridges.
“Uh… Yes!” Jean said.
“Hold on. Weren’t there six of you?” the Djulok scrutinised.
“N.. Ye… Well, uh…” Jean floundered.
“The others were eaten by a stray travelling Mountish.” Beardface attempted.
“Oh! Did you kill it with fire?” the Djulok asked.
“Yes! Burnt it to a crisp.” Beardface said.
“Wait a second, Djokstrap, I’m pretty sure you were a man before.” the Djulok said to Jean.
“Uh…” Jean said.
“And you, Tshiporftheoldblok, I’m rather certain you weren’t an insect.”
“Bzz.” Peter said nonchalantly.
“I’m getting serious impostor vibes from you guys.” the Djulok said.
“What? But I love Djuloks!” Beardface said. The Djulok vanished.
“Alas, she must have gone to alert the others!” Beardface cried.
“Peter! Gregor! Can you fly us aboard?” It was no use, they were still exhausted from the journey there. However, they were in luck. A stray rope dangled along the side of the worm.
“Climb it, hurry!” Jean and Beardface then carried Peter and Gregor (who were too tired to climb) up the ropes. They thought it was rather nice to be carried for a change. The worm began to build speed and their rope swung precariously. They walloped painfully into its side. Beardface slipped but Jean grabbed him by the hair. She swung him, pendulum-style, back and forth and threw him onto the bridge above. She climbed up after him. And just in time for a large cloud of sand rose up below them.
“Friends, are you uninjured?”
“I’m fine.” Jean said, but the arm she’d used to toss him was obviously in bad shape.
“Jean, let me see your arm.”
“Beardface, we don’t have time for…” A figure dove between them and held a knife to Beardface’s throat. It was the Djulok who’d seen them.
“Jean? Beardface? Sounds like the names of impostors to me.”
“Would you like to hear one more?” she asked.
“Wait, that voice.” Jean said. The Djulok sheathed the knife and pulled off her goggle hat (an edgy Djulok alternative to straight up goggles).
“Zev!” Jean shouted.