Author’s note: I did my best to fit this with the prompt.
Here’s the playlist: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/7jkFsttAFHo6VWcqXBw3tq
Early morning sunlight filters into my room, bringing with it cool, fresh air which chases the sleep from my mind. My eyelids flutter open, and I reach over the edge of my hammock, fumbling for my shoes. Instead, I feel a slip of paper. Curious, I grab it.
A photograph. I immediately know what it is. Taken days after the battle, it features me, Ember, Echo, Ivy, Wren, and a very battered-looking Hawk. It used to be glossy but now it is dusty and worn.
I smile as I turn it over and see the fading autographs on the back. A scribble from Wren, shaky disjointed letters from Hawk. Tidy cursive from Echo, a cramped scrawl from Ivy, and a couple of doodled hearts from Ember….
After the Battle of Sparrowhawk, things didn’t turn magically perfect for us. We still had a long way to go, and many ups and downs ahead of us.
Directly after the battle, we chained up Astrid and confiscated her flaming sword. Hawk, of course, received immediate medical attention. He lost much of his eyesight, and thankfully not much more.
In all, there were only four civilian deaths, eight Peregrine deaths, and over fifty Sparrowhawk deaths. We stayed near the Dome to pay our respects and to rest another day. Before setting off, we salvaged supplies and freshwater from the Dome, and anything else we might need.
Then we began our trek into the desert. We traveled many nights and many days, fighting exhaustion, dehydration, and mutants. On the ninth day, we came across a small cluster of red stone caves, set shallowly in the ground, the fragrance of water lilies wafting on the air.
Ember and I recognized the caves almost immediately. We shouted excitedly, and a young woman appeared at the mouth of the cave. “LOTUS!!” I screamed.
My older sister looked different. Her once shiny and thick, dark brown hair was now scraggly and limp. Her deep brown skin, once full and smooth, was dusty and scarred. But her eyes were the same, river stone hazel, full of hope and love. “Dune? Ember…?”
“Hi,” I whispered. “Sorry I didn’t tell you, but I brought company. “
Lotus’ eyes filled with tears, and her dry lips crack into a watery smile. She sobbed as she flung herself on me. I pulled Ember in and we all stood like that for a moment.
Finally, Lotus straightened up and yelled over her shoulder “MAMA! IT’S DUNE AND EMBER!”
There was a cry from inside the cave and Mama appeared, the very image of Lotus, but with more lines around her eyes, and hair wrapped in a loose scarf.
She embraced us with even more ferocity than Lotus. And more tears...
With the help of my mom and older sister, we navigated the desert for the next few months, learning how to set up camps, hunt food, and dig wells. Skills that Ember, Lotus, my little brothers, and I already knew of course.
After the fourth month of traveling the desert, we found the first suitable place to live. Situated at the base of a red stone cliff, and shady nearly all day. But the small shrubs growing in the sandy soil near the rocks were what sold it for us. Where there are plants there’s water.
With everyone’s help, we set up tents, dug wells, and irrigated water. After the essentials were set up we made a jail cell for Astrid and her associates in one of the small caves farther down the cliff. Here they partake in character-building activities. Though no one voiced it, we didn’t think it would help them become better people.
With each day that passed our camp became more like a home, and our straggly survivors became almost like a community….
SEVERAL YEARS LATER
It’s been almost eight years since we moved to the cliff. Our former shabby little tents eventually transformed into frail little plywood shacks, and then into real wood and clay cabins. Over the years as the population has shot up, we’ve had to build farther up, and the cliff face is now dotted with stilted cabins with arched roofs, and wooden stairs and boardwalks.
Everyone is a young adult now. Ember is already almost ten months pregnant with Hawk’s baby, and Echo and Ivy have been dating for almost three years.
Our geoengineering project was an instant success, and with everyone’s effort, much of the area around the town has been restored to its original rainforest state, and the skies have even begun to turn back to a muddy blue.
Not everything is perfect, of course. We are still struggling to rid the ocean of millions of tons of plastic and to mend the ozone layer. Mutants still roam the nights, and the smallest storms can be devastating and deadly….
I jerked out of my trance, to find myself knee-deep in a rice field with Wren. “wha-”
“Come on, we’re supposed to be helping the rice farmers right now, stay awake.”
I roll my eyes when she turns away.
The small palm trees rustle in a gentle breeze, and only a few clouds linger in the sky. My back aches as I dig around in the muddy water.
Wren straightens, wipes her forehead, and twists her long black hair into a bun.
I murmur “This all reminds me of the day the whole… adventure started….”
Wren says kindly “Dune, if that day had never happened, we’d never have met.”
I smile. Wren is right more times than I would like to admit. I glance up again and Wren is still staring at me. I set down my basket and lean in-
Suddenly there’s a shout from down the hill. “DUNE! WREN! Come quick, Ember’s had the baby!”
I yelp and wade back to the edge of the field as quickly as I can. I spot Lotus who is already running back to the village. I grab Wren’s hand and we fly down the hill, occasionally stumbling on a concealed rock.
We reach Ember’s cabin, and I burst in, panting. “Ember-! Are you okay!?”
I spot her swinging gently in her hammock holding a bundle of blankets. Everyone else is already there. My family, Hawk, Ivy, and Echo.
Ember turns at the sound of my voice. Her hair is damp and she looks exhausted but she still manages to beam broadly. Hawk looks extremely proud.
I come nearer to Ember and she shows me the bundle. Inside is a wrinkly baby with a round nose just like Ember, and white hair just like Hawk. A smile breaks across my face, too.
Ember whispers “We named him Arrow…”
I absentmindedly stroke Ember’s hair. I used to wish that all of this had never happened. The desert, the dome, the battle, everything. I had nightmares for a long time.
But now, I’m grateful for those things. If none of that had ever happened I wouldn’t have met many of these amazing people.
Everything that happened made me so much stronger and wiser. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
I wander out of Ember’s cabin, letting the others crowd around her.
Without thinking I head for the jungle, my goal, the desert.
Remembering all those years I had to scavenge in Outside wasn’t pleasant. I had hated the desert for being what it was. Bare, desolate, unforgiving.
But I had grown to know the desert. Sometimes when I was scavenging alone I would lay on the cracked and peeling desert floor, and imagine I could feel what it was feeling. I imagined that it was more than a feeling. I imagined that I became the desert.
Maybe harsh on the outside, but hiding secrets in it’s soul.
After a few minutes I reached the edge of the forest, where the trees fell away to reveal the achingly beautiful redstone spires, arches, and towers that rose and fell away, one with the desert, one with the horizon. The setting sun reflected golden, purple, and deep magenta onto the rocks, giving everything surreal beauty.
I sighed, and sat on a long flat rock. I closed my eyes against the sun as it sank into a bed of blazingly golden clouds.
A gentle wind kicked up and whistled mournfully through the cracks in the desert floor. But there was something beyond that, buried in the melancholy song of the breeze.
A howling shriek, resembling the sound of bending metal.
The wind drops suddenly and I can hear the scrape of it’s ill formed claws, the wheezing breath of it’s warped mouth. Suddenly there is a scream of metal on metal, and my eyes flash open.
I twist off of the rock just in time. The mutant misses me by an inch, and I spring to my feet, withdrawing from my pocket a long leather bound lighter.
The mutant prepares for a second attack. I am calm, one with the desert. I ignite the lighter with a twitch of my finger.
There is a flash, the flare of fire heaves and sparks, elongating into a sword.
I raise it high above my head, I twirl, my face looking to the sky. I swoop down at the last second, the sword flashes, the mutant falls dead.
I straighten back up, murmur an apology to the desert.
The fire is sucked back into the lighter with another twitch of my finger.
I turn and face the sunset. The breeze returns, blowing gently at a short strand of hair.
The sun sinks out of sight, but the clouds keep their brilliant color. In the distance I can hear the soft noises of the town preparing for nightfall.
I can hear Ember singing a song to her baby,
This is my perfect world.