King Darius stood outside the city walls and stared at the sandstorm that raged on the horizon.
His advisor, Audita, watched him from the gate. "Perhaps it's time we go inside," she called out.
Darius ignored her.
"It'll reach the city walls soon."
"How long do you think it'll take?" he asked.
"Your scientists say within the hour."
"And what happens to those who get caught outside?"
"Pardon me, my King?"
"Have you ever heard stories of survivors?"
She stared at the once great man. His broad shoulders were now slumped and defeated.
"I've heard talk..."
"A shepherd returned after the Sedge—"
"I only tell you what I've heard, my King."
"And I've heard that guards had their skin stripped after a single day atop the wall. How could a shepherd survive the whole week?"
Darius glanced over his shoulder. "How?"
"He killed his sheep and buried himself in their bodies."
Darius shook his head. "Always a sacrifice."
Audita stepped away from the gate and towards the King. "It's time we go back inside."
Darius didn't move.
"They were my children, Audita."
"I know they were, my King."
"I ordered their execution."
"But you didn't know—"
"Their blood is on my hands."
"They were traitors. They'd conspired against you."
Darius sighed and dropped his head. All fight seemed to be out of him.
"I wonder if I had raised them differently—"
"You had to be our leader first—"
"Yes, but if I'd given more responsibility and authority to them sooner—"
"You gave them all you could."
He nodded and extended his hand backward. He held it out, waiting for her to take it.
She approached, and he pulled her in. "If only they'd had a loyal advisor like you."
He held her tight, and his strength surprised her.
"Perhaps we should head inside," she offered.
"You're not the only one who hears talk, Audita."
"My King?" She gently pulled against him, but he didn't let go.
"I heard a story of someone who grew envious of my children and whispered poison in their ears—"
"Whatever stories you've heard, I can assure you—"
He pushed her forwards into the sand.
"Your assurances mean nothing to me any longer."
He looked back at the horizon. "My scientists tell me this storm won't be nearly as long as the Sedge, but the winds will be just as powerful."
Guards had appeared at the city gate, and he turned and walked towards them. He paused and looked back.
"I'd suggest you go searching for your sheep, but I made certain that you find no one to help you for miles around the city."
He entered back through the gate, followed by the guards. Audita scrambled to her feet and raced towards it but didn't make it before it sealed shut.
She turned and stared at the coming sandstorm as it rose high above her and blanketed out the sun. It wouldn't be long before it arrived.