50th of Yaris, 2710
For most of his journey, Oisin had been glad of the horse. Across the scrubby grasses and rocky ground, they had made good time, eating into their quarry's valuable lead. On such terrain, the distance between them would evaporate in no time, and anywhere else in the world that would have been all that mattered: but this was Mugroba, and time was far from the only consideration.
It had been a difficult choice: far more difficult than the one Oisin had faced when he volunteered for this solo expedition. On flat, solid ground, his horse had several advantages. For one thing, it was faster than the camel his quarry had liberated for her exodus; for another, it was familiar, one of the several such steeds that he and his fellow mercenaries had been using on patrol of late. By contrast, the misappropriated camel was a creature of endurance: slower on even terrain, but better suited for the shifting sands of the dunes, and naturally equipped to better survive the dry environs of the Mugrobi wilderness. Ultimately, it had been familiarity that swayed his choice. On horseback, he knew he could outride the errant Mugrobi, and with luck on his side he'd catch her before they even reached the dunes. If not, then he'd rather have braved those scorched sands on a creature he knew how to ride, than on the back of an unfamiliar and disconcertingly awkward-looking dromedary.
Luck had not been on his side after all, but the mercenary could feel in his bones that he was drawing closer. Oisin was twenty-three now, less than a week as such, but still - old enough, he had decided, that he could start having feelings in his bones. Perhaps it was instinct, perhaps it was hope, perhaps it was the mona - but to Oisin, it didn't matter; and to others, it didn't seem to either. The only difference between a guess and a hunch was conviction, and the only difference between a hunch and an instinct was whether or not you wound up being right.
Oisin wasn't riding entirely blind, of course. Camels were hardly subtle beasts, and the trail that Aziza had left behind hadn't completely been consumed by the desert and its wind. Trampled undergrowth here, a broken branch there, faint perforations in the distant dunes: like faded pencil that someone had worked hard to erase, a faint remnant still lingered, and that was enough to steer Oisin's course. Apparently, some of what he'd been taught about tracking by his fellow mercenaries had managed to sink in: not that they'd be impressed if they knew, of course.
They hadn't been impressed when Oisin had volunteered to help, either. In his defense, it had seemed like a prudent survival tactic at the time: whenever an undesirable task came along, Oisin usually found it assigned to him if he didn't volunteer for it first, and at least by volunteering he was able to keep his pride intact. Normally, such delegations brought his fellow mercenaries amusement and relief, but not this time: this time, it brought potential delays, and diminished their number for the task at hand. We're mercenaries because we get paid, the Sergeant had chastised him. If you work for free, that just makes you an idiot.
Oisin had been undeterred: for while the mercenaries hadn't appreciated his intentions, in this rare instance someone else had. Oisin had seen it, the worry in the eyes of the girl's mother. Oisin and the mercenaries had passed through this particular settlement enough times to start remembering names, and they knew - as the mercenaries reminded him - that Aziza had a habit of this, fleeing home by various means only to be found and brought back, sent back, or turn back of her own accord. But this time they were concerned. The camel, the direction: Aziza was making a break for the dunes, and for Oisin, the If she dies, she dies, attitude of his cohorts and comrades simply would not stand.
The locals had been more helpful than the mercenaries, once Oisin had agreed to help. Rough maps had been sketched of the path to the dunes, and insights offered into where Aziza might have gone, what she might have known, and where in the long term she might be heading. 'Away' seemed to be the best guess, away from the village, away from the Turga, and that meant west: that was the only direction - or at least, the easiest direction - to go if you didn't plan on wandering the wastes forever. West meant towards the sunset; and so as dawn dawned, Oisin stood with his back to the sunset and peered off at the horizon, his eyes scanning the horizon for signs of Aziza's journey, his hands busy attending to the task of refilling one of yesterday's depleted water skins from his own internal fountain. It was a grim precaution, but a potentially vital one, especially if he didn't come across a more pure source of water: and besides, a little bottled urine wasn't something that a little Spoke's magic couldn't fix.
Liquid provisions and camping supplies stowed, Oisin eased his way back into the saddle, and set off across the sands, muttering a story to himself and the mona as he rode, about a young man and his horse traversing desert dunes, in dire need of the mona's help to aid their balance. Oisin could feel them on each descent, on each perilous and unstable angle, as he and Smoke cantered, stumbled, and galloped their way through the wastes, sight set on the broken sketched-out trail that Aziza and her camel had pencilled across the dunes.