As the Zatla Cowboys joined the raucous celebration, the amber shardmind Zuri stepped back out of the firelight and into the shadows. Leaving the broy-swilling, zatla-smoking, laughter-bellowing Crimson Legion members behind, Zuri slipped between tents in the darkness. It soon grew quieter as the nexus of light and sound that was the celebration slid away.
Here, among the tents and the darkness, was quiet. The only sounds were the occasional snores of Legionnaires who had had too much to drink too early and had already retired to their beds. Somewhere off in the darkness was the clacking of the army’s kanks tied up away from the sleeping area. It was not sleep that Zuri was seeking, however. It left the camp entirely and crossed into the desert, where the flaxen light of Ral and Guthay was its only illumination.
Soon, a stone building appeared amidst the badland flats. Dim light, flickering, shone from its windows. The shardmind approached the door and rapped on it with its crystal-pear-topped staff. The door opened, and plump middle-aged woman peered out. Her cheeks were heavily rouged, and her eyes were lined with a thick layer of kohl. In the darkness the lipsticked redness of her mouth looked black.
“Welcome,” she said in a sultry, smoky tone. “We’ve been expecting you.” She opened the door wide, and the shardmind stepped inside.
Zuri found itself in a dimly-lit, smoky room whose walls and angles were softened by curtains and silken-wall hangings. A strange stringed musical instrument played a sensual tune from somewhere behind one of the curtains. The dim outlines of writhing bodies showed from behind some of the more sheer curtains. Led by the woman who greeted it, Zuri passed by the dark forms and towards a back room.
“Here is what you have been seeking,” purred the woman as she opened a door, gesturing with a jewelled hand tipped with lacquered nails.
Yes, Zuri telepathed her. I must have it! I must! But she held out her hand to stop it.
“First, the payment. Such pleasures do not come cheap.”
Its trembling hands covered with a slick of silicon sweat, Zuri fumbled a precious nub of gold out of his coin-purse. It was in the shape of a lion’s tail, roughly snapped off at the base. Now! Now! Zuri telepathed the woman, straining forward. She eyed the golden tail carefully and bit it. Satisfied, she slipped it into the top of her dress between two full breasts. Zuri surged forward into the room.
Smooth hands took hold of the shardmind as it entered and stripped it of its robes. Zuri was gently lifted down and forward, sliding into a smooth-walled chamber. It felt a cool splash as lubricant was squirted onto its body. Then cool, clean sand was sprinkled over its form. The chamber door was swung shut with a clunking noise, leaving the shardmind in darkness, surrounded by grit and lubricant.
“All right, boys!” came the faint call from beyond the thick walls. The grunting of several men swinging their muscled bodies into position could be heard, followed by the clank and rattle of a pulley and wheel system. Then, the entire chamber Zuri was laying in began to turn. It flopped over onto its front as the grit and lubricant spread all over it. The chamber began to turn faster, and faster, and Zuri flopped and clattered and tumbled. Yes! Yes! its mind began to broadcast uncontrollably in all directions. Oh, god, yes!
It seemed to be over so quickly, though Zuri knew it had really been some hours. After being cleaned off and helped back into its robes, the shardmind was ready to head back to the Legion. On its way out, though, it stopped to admire itself in the mirror. Smooth, shiny, and glossy, its amber body gleamed in the candlelight. Yes, thought Zuri, It’s been far too long since you had a proper tumble. It turned in its heel and walked out into the night with a confident and satisfied stride.