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In Search of Sky

#1
The Omniverse was full of rumors and legends. Harry Dresden, himself, occasionally spent some time as the subject of the former, between his work with the Death Mountain assault, a decent showing in Dante's Abyss, and a couple other things, which proved that occasionally the rumor mill could be relied upon for accurate information. In this case, the rumor that had brought Harry to Carrefore and gotten him onto a train to the Town with No Name was a tale of a mystic oasis hidden in the Dunes. According to that rumor, anyone who drinks from this hidden oasis is forced to confront themselves in some manner. From there, each individual account changes drastically as a result of the nature of rumors; some said anyone who drank it would confront an evil version of themselves, others said it was what you aspired to become, and still others that you had to confront the parts of yourself you most feared, and no amount of research would substitute for actually finding the oasis. Harry wouldn't be interested, save for a small glimmer of hope that flickered across his mind as he asked the residents of Carrefore what they'd heard about the Spirit Oasis.

The Winter Mantle was part of him, and yet at the same time, it was not. He couldn't afford to purge it from himself completely, though he didn't doubt that someone in the Omniverse knew how to do that, or that he could devise a way himself with thaumaturgy and Omnilium, especially without Mab there to punish him for the audacity of such an attempt. It was simply too useful, in this cruel and violent world, to be able to tap the power and instincts of a Mantle that had more experience than any mortal in the ways of cruelty and violence. The Spirit Oasis, however, didn't sound like it would strip anything away from Harry, not if the rumors were anywhere near accurate, and there was a chance, a better than average one, that he could use the magic of the waters to confront the Mantle and make it submit to him, make it stop whispering and goading him. That push, the constant nudging towards greed and violence and just taking what he wanted, whether that be food or goods or even people, it would drive him mad if he couldn't master it, and Harry Dresden had never been predisposed to anything but the direct route. Walking into his own mind and forcing the grafted-on Winter magic to behave itself sounded far more up his alley than wizardly eremitism.

Which was why Harry had volunteered to guard the train carrying Golden Cross supplies to the Town with No Name for staging before they would be transported to Nippur. From the Town, he could learn more about where this oasis likely was. If he could get more information on its nature, and on finding oases in the desert in general, he should be able to find it. Not easily, but between magic and mundane navigation skills, not to mention the ability to summon food and water instead of having to ration it, Harry rather liked his chances of succeeding eventually. The sound of a train whistle roused him from his thoughts; the trip seemed to have passed uneventfully, and shortly the train would arrive at the station in the Town with No Name. An hour or so of unloading was all that stood between Harry and the start of his journey.

Perhaps if this went well, he'd visit Nippur with another Golden Cross caravan after he returned to the town.
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#2
As Harry set the last crate of supplies down next to the train, he nodded to the conductor. The aging man had overseen Harry and the other younger males from the train and the town as they'd worked, dispensing advice on an as-needed basis. Not that Harry had needed it. He might have looked like he was twenty-something, but he was pushing thirty-six now. The beginning of wisdom might be realizing how little you know, but Harry did at least know how not to hurt himself shifting boxes around.

That said, he also knew just how little he knew about travel in the desert. He could summon water, sure, which negated the most obvious danger. He needed more information, though. He didn't know how to navigate. He could get back here with a chip of wood, a splinter, that had broken from the post of the train station. Like called to like, and a simple tracking spell, while it had proven unworkable with regards to Primes in the past, was more than sufficient to find the wood that this splinter had come from. It was the work of a few minutes to test that, and to summon a small bottle to store the wood in for use in a tracking spell later, should Harry feel the need to return to town.

The problem was; that didn't help him find the Spirit Oasis. Sure, Harry could get anywhere he'd already been and had a piece of something from, but magic wouldn't help him find a place he knew only through rumor. If this were the forests in the Ozarks near Ebenezar McCoy's farm, he'd be able to navigate by the stars, but those were different here. "At the absolute least, then," the wizard muttered to himself as he wandered the streets of the Town With No Name, "I need a star chart."

That drove him to a general store, helpfully labelled as such on a worn wooden sign swinging above the door, the hinges creaking in the wind. The interior was lit with a few gas lamps, just leaning hard into the Old West vibe. Closer inspection revealed that the lamps actually had light bulbs instead of flames, which made Harry suppress a chuckle. Electricity was just too darn convenient. He could feel the faint chill of an air conditioner being run at a sensible temperature as opposed to full-on terraforming-level ice blasting, an indicator that whoever set it either didn't want to pay a high power bill or knew that he'd just make himself more miserable in the heat, when he finally did leave, if he ran it too hard.

The shopkeep was an older gentleman, balding, his eyes almost completely shut under thick grey eyebrows, his grey hair swept back on either side of his head like his morning routine included standing in a wind tunnel. A small smile quirked the corner of his mouth as he inclined his head in greeting. "Good evening, young man," he said. "How can I help?"

Harry couldn't help but smile in answer, the shopkeep's good cheer infectious. "I'm planning a trip into the desert, but I don't know what I need, except for some star charts."
The shopkeeper crossed his arms and regarded Harry with his almost-shut eyes, looking the wizard up and down, gaze critical. "Well, sonny, the first thing you'll need is a new outfit. That'll be fine in town where you can get to shade, though how you wear that much black in this heat baffles me, but you absolutely will not get away with it out there, on the dunes."

The shopkeep walks out from behind the counter, a geriatric maelstrom of sage advice and gathering merchandise. The former was heaped onto Harry figuratively, the latter literally. The wizard's arms were full of this and that as the shopkeep regaled him with bits of advice, such as carrying a lot of water, drinking at a slow and steady rate as he travelled, moving at night when possible, finding shelter from the sun when feasible, and a million other things. The price for the goods was considerable, but given the sheer amount of gear, it was reasonable, and Omnilium was considerably easier for Harry to get than money had ever been.

The shopkeep had even been kind enough to allow Harry to change in his office, and when the wizard exited the general store, he looked ready for the desert. His previous clothes were folded neatly in the bottom of his pack, and he was clothed in light, loose-fitting clothing; pants and a long sleeved shirt made of some breathable fabric he'd never encountered before. A brown leather belt held up both the pants and a pair of waterskins, one on each hip. He looked up at the sunlight and found a quiet place in the shade of the saloon to sit, pulling out white thread, a needle, and a very, very light cloak. It wouldn't serve as well as his duster, but Harry had a lot of time until nightfall, and without some manner of spell-wrought clothing defending him, he felt almost naked, so he'd stitch the same designs from his duster onto the cloak; the spells that absorbed and redistributed kinetic energy from incoming attacks.

Harry doubted that these spells would last long, but if they started to fail he could call the trip off and return to town, if he wasn't close to the oasis.

Quote:1510 words total so far.
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#3
Harry took one last look back at the Town with No Name, which looked positively errie in the waning light. Sure, traveling at night would keep one safe from the glare of the sun, but it wasn’t all safe. Evil things, monsters both human and inhuman, roamed the dunes at night, and for someone who didn’t return from the dead in a few short days, it was risky. Secondaries rarely stayed active after dusk, and hardly at all out of doors. The saloon was the busiest place in town, but with it out of sight, the place looked like a ghost town more than anything. It reminded Harry of Camp Kaboom, where he’d helped train a new generation of Wardens for the war with the Red Court. That thought used to irritate him, but now, knowing that those young men and women were done seeing combat against the vampires for good, he felt a certain sense of satisfaction. Bittersweet satisfaction, tainted with the knowledge that no matter what he’d gained from it the price was too high by far, as was always the case with the Fae, but satisfaction nonetheless. It was similar in flavor to the satisfaction he’d felt when he’d killed Justin DuMorne, or beaten that fae with the ribbons.

Harry shook his head and moved on, conscious of the limited time with which he had to travel. The light of day faded quickly over the horizon, sunset playing across the wizard’s mental senses like the beat of a giant’s drum. The time of man was done for now; the night belonged to other things, colder and crueler things. Winter sang in his blood as the day’s heat faded, the temperature dropping like someone had kicked it into Lake Michigan after fitting it with a fresh pair of concrete slippers. The moon and stars overhead were bright enough to see by, Harry’s sandy-colored cloak allowing him to almost fade into the dunes. Cold didn’t faze the wizard, so the light, daytime desert gear was perfectly comfortable even in the frigid night.

Deserts, Harry reflected, were places of extremes. Extreme hot, extreme cold, extreme danger, and extreme distance. When all you could see was sand, for miles in any direction, well… it made you glad of the stars. Harry had, at the top of his pack, a map and a star chart, which were referenced and cross-referenced frequently. The map was marked with a route, one which would take him far out past Nippur without coming near Gilgamesh’s city in a roughly straight line, with various stops marked out along the way. Then, when it reached the wider expanses of dunes, the lines began to zig-zag between locations, often doubling back to locations that should be safe to rest a day away in more than once. The map, after all, wasn’t so useful as to have the Spirit Oasis marked upon it. Harry would just need to search. He ought to be able to tell when he was close… he hoped.

Harry had thrown together an enchanted cloak for one reason; camouflage. The flowing white fabric broke up his silhouette and turned him into another patch of white blankness rolling across the face of the desert with the wind currents. It wasn’t an invincible thing, by any means, there was a reason that, in the evolutionary arms race, camouflage had made a consistent appearance in every single biome on Earth. If a thing can’t see you, then, for the most part, it can’t eat you. Harry didn’t exactly enjoy the idea of fighting another person out for his head like that Fae girl had been. Better to at least put a token effort into avoiding notice. He’d need to deal with the consequences of slagging those Imperial guns eventually, but “eventually” was later.

The reason that the wizard had time to think all of this was pretty simple; the travel was utterly mindless. Check the map, check the stars, sip some water, and walk for a bit. Rinse, repeat ad infinitum. Harry was good at distracting himself, but eventually his thoughts turned to the last topic he wanted them to, out of a lack of literally anything else to occupy his mind with. They turned to himself, and to Winter, and wondering how much of what he’d done was the Mantle and how much was himself.

Harry pondered his recent actions. Not just the events at Chichen Itza, but everything that had happened since he got to the Omniverse. He had run into a lot of fights here; the Rathalos and Rathian, that thing in Coruscant with Samus, Dante’s Abyss, Volvagia, and that girl on the ocean. It wasn’t too much different from what he got into back home, but… it felt like he wasn’t trying that hard to avoid them.
“Hell’s Bells, I miss Murphy,” Harry sighed to the lonely desert air. Officer Karrin Murphy was a good friend, and one of the people that Harry could trust to call him on it when he was being stupid. He missed Michael, and Molly, and Thomas. He missed game nights with the Werewolves. He’d had plenty of adventure, but no chance to recharge his batteries. No rest from it all. Just one fight after the other. Action and adventure were all well and good, but taken by themselves were not a recipe for a healthy lifestyle. “Heh. Maybe I should put up a want ad for an Arcanos game when I get back to Edinburgh, just go around to all the taverns in Camelot with posters.”

Or, you could call up Samus or Proto Man, an errant thought suggested, or Erza, or Mickey. Harry could have been fast friends with any of them, if he hadn’t decided to walk off into the desert on this little spirit quest. But this had to be addressed, the Winter Knight had to be confronted, for Harry’s own peace of mind if nothing else. Maybe he could meet with someone to unwind later.
At any rate, the time for self-reflection was over. Hours of walking and thinking had passed, and the sun would soon be up. Harry would much rather be out of the open when he tried to summon more water and food for the next leg of his journey, so it was a good thing his first planned stop was close. It was a small building, little more than a white box, long since looted clean of pretty much anything that wasn’t nailed down or too much trouble to carry through the desert for its value compared to its weight. Still, it had four walls, windows, and a roof. Harry would handle cooling himself; a swamp cooler would be easy to summon up and effective.

Harry approached the building warily, every sense on high alert, but the place was well and truly deserted. Appliances were still in the walls, having been so thoroughly attached and ruggedly constructed that attempts to remove or damage them were laughable. Instead, panels had been removed and internal components stripped out. It was probably easier to carry the plunder that way, too. The beds in the barracks were still there, mattresses and all, and aside from the damage to the electronics the entire facility was fastidiously clean. Paranoia drove Harry to canvas the entire building with a figurative fine-toothed comb, but to no avail. Writing the whole thing off as “Omniphysics”, a rather bulging mental file under the larger mental heading of “Shit That Makes No Sense”, Harry claimed a bed and slept the kind of sleep usually reserved for coma patients and exhausted kids. His lack of dreams was probably a kindness.

His awakening to the sound of a vacuum cleaner was decidedly less kind.

Quote:1,510+1,290=2800 Words
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