Like an ocean, hot as the noon sun and still as if time held up his hand to stop it, the rolling red sands of the dessert dunes sizzled and rippled in endless expansion around her. The sun at its peak beat down like a hammer on the caramel of her bare shoulders where skin cracked and peeled away.

Slick strands of purest black hair fell loose from the twisted knot atop her head, plastered to her neck and brow like lines of wet ink. Her feet were wrapped in white cloth turned rust colored by the dessert, a skirt like red silk in a river tangled at her ankles with each trickle of dry breeze that stirred the sand under her like the tides. It was knotted low on her waist and all that covered her breasts where precious sweat trickled down her stomach were heavy golden bangles and chains hung around her neck. At her belt slung a saber, no longer than wrist to elbow and with a handle whiter than the whites of her eyes. Golden charms dangled from the hilt, and chimed with each staggering sway.

With each step her knees shook and buckled and, finally, under the glairing sun she collapsed sobbing onto her hands and knees. The wind howled a mournful cry with her, which kicked up red sand over her blistered bare back, knowing full well her tongue and lips were cracked as dry bone and her skin felt crisp as cooked meat.

'rise.' said the wind, and pet her quivering shoulders with the caress of its breath.

'just a little further. Lift your eyes and see.'

By no means could her human ears hear the words in the shifting sands, however, as the shreds of her unwavering soul begged her little strength, the woman grew quiet and lifted her chin, tear tracks stained red. Behind the haze of heat and the glare of the sun was a tower of glittering white in the sky, its top flecked with leafy green that brushed the cloudless sky. The walls of the city became visible in the growing wind, parting sand like a curtain on a stage. The city of voices.