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The Shepherd Stands

Pressure was immense, bullying the riders. Blose was especially baleful today. The reddish tinged light doing nothing to mitigate that impression. The sail billowed with a steady southern wind. It sent the skiff surfing the face of a long dune, cascading down sand at it's passing. Wordless, the riders endured the solar abuse as they skimmed across the barren waste.   Each wore a thin garment, a robe of sorts, with a hood. Drawn close to prevent needless flapping, and pulled tight around goggles. Hands grappled with cords which passed around pullies and attached to the sail and boom. They made constant, minute adjustments in the contest against the wind. Calluses on hands and stains on the cords showed both riders and skiff to be veterans of such travel.   Spotted by one of the riders, a squarish dark object protruded from the sand. Giving slack to the cords, they allowed to the sail to lose its hold on the wind. The skiff slowed. The other rider turned at their companion's action.   Muffled by the robes pulled over their mouth, "What are you doing?"   "There is a box or crate or something coming out of the sand. Over there!" A finger pointed, dust rising from the robe, blown away by the wind.   "There isn't time! We have to get to Gulwin!"   "The settlement isn't going anywhere. The wind is good today and we've already made more distance than yesterday. We'll take a look, and be on our way."   The skiff slid to a stop within a few steps of the object. The rider dropped the cords, the sail fluttering uselessly. They stepped off the skiff, stretching for a moment. Walking towards the squared corner of the object, they pushed it with a booted toe. It was unyielding and solid. They stooped to start clearing away the sand. Under their hand markings came into view. Stenciled symbols remained clear and bold despite long years buried under the dunes.   The voice called back to the other rider on the skiff. "It is a crate after all. These markings place it from the time of the holocaust. Likely part of a supply drop, there could be more in the area!"   "No time for that!" snapped the other rider. "You've had your look, let's get going."   "There is time enough." The robed figure straightened and looked towards the horizon. The atmosphere rippled with the heat.


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