The sky is unimaginably large. Infinity as a pale, blinding blue, never a cloud. Your eyes always sting from the sand and from the bright, painful light.
This is the desert. It is the desert that lives in poetry: the shifting, formless sea of white and gold and red, in slow, sinking dune-waves. This is the desert of scorched cliffs and ancient stone; it is the desert of vast, eternal wind, bringing the bite of grit to bare skin. Sun's heat untempered by mercy and parched land flickering with false hope of oasis.
This is the desert of legend: the desert that hides prophets tucked in endless emptiness, where djinnis whisper on the winds and magic wells from the sands themselves. This is the land that can trap you and drain you, of memory, of past, of weakness; the land that secrets treasure away in caves and holds salvation in hidden water. This is the land that bakes you and cures you, lets the soft clay of your soul shape into something new.
The desert is a place forever between, broken with paths, sliced and scarred for the sake of trade. But the desert is a place itself, too, home for the nomads, the caravanserai, the dotted strips of live eked out of the dry. Home to the snakes and the birds and the twisted, thorny scrub, the camels and the horses.
It will seduce you with the rapture of quiet, the beauty of an emptiness that is never truly empty. But it will deceive you, too: a mountain days away that seems close enough to touch; a camp close enough to hear, but hidden in a fold of the dunes. If you lose your way, you could die of thirst an arms length from salvation. Dunes shift; paths bend. If you do not know the desert, it will kill you.
Who are you?
A traveler, trusting in the grace of a guide to bring your caravan safe to the other side;
A guide, walking by stars and distant hills through the land you know by heart;
One belonging to a caravanserai, an enclave of the desert, by precious water, gleaning a living from the harsh land and the travelers passing through;
A bandit, preying on the slow, plodding merchants;
A nomad, with the desert in your blood, watching the intruders pass through;
A hermit, solitary and empty, grown accustomed to the silence;
Or a creature of magic: a djinni, a sorcerer, a witch, a prophet?
What has happened?
An ordinary, exhausting day of travel, your mouth dry as dust?
Have you lost your way, straying, along and baking in the sun?
A raid by bandits, to take money, goods — people?
War, over territory? Over water?
Strangers arriving in the caravanserai?
Happening upon a celebration, of life, water, harvest?
A rainstorm, for the first time in years? A sandstorm, deadly, and far more common?
Or something else?