This story has a prologue, called "The Power of Passion". If I were you I'd read that first. Well, this is a self-indulgant little project. Enjoy. Updates will be weekly.
An hour later found them walking through a thinning forest. The air was dryer, the trees more scraggly. They were nearing the desert.
"How is it that I'd never heard of this tribe?" asked Elphaba, breaking the silence.
"Elphie, I wouldn't have even heard of this tribe if I hadn't been Prince of the Arjikis. That's how remote they are."
"But still, I was as good as running the Vinkus for those months there."
"You didn't have the geography tutor I had."
After a few more minutes, Elphaba spoke again. "You're sure, than, that they'll be friendly?"
"They have no reason not to be. The Ozmas never knew of them, nor did the wizard, and they've all but forgotten they're a part of Oz. Truly. I don't think they even knew of me."
"Then why are we running to Quox? It seems perfectly safe here with them."
Fiyero sighed. "There is documentation of them. I know that Glinda was ditzy as a teenager, but you know that she always had a brain. If I were her, I'd have my people go through all the documents with a fine-tooth comb, and then take an inventory of all of Oz from top to bottom."
"If you were she."
"We can't take any chances."
Elphaba couldn't help but feel that Fiyero was just a little too zealous in his need to get out from under Glinda's radar, but she didn't press the issue. She could not admit to herself that a small part of her wanted to be found.
As the land grew drier, Elphaba and Fiyero spoke less and less and began to slow their pace gradually. Streams were fewer and farther between, and though the two tried to follow them as much as possible, the trickles of water would peter out or veer in an opposite direction. High noon arrived, and they ceased to speak all together, bent against the burning sunlight. Any cactuses they found, they immediately cut and ate, forcing themselves to store some for later. They barely noticed their agony as thorns were embedded in their hands. Elphaba was close to shedding her long black gown, or at least cutting off the sleeves and shortening the skirt, and it was only the thought of the burns she would receive that allowed her to soldier on. She was surprised that her sweat was still running clear; surely her skin would be dissolving into it by now.
Finally, as the sun began to tip off the halfway point, they knew they were walking through a proper desert. Some scrub could still be seen and cactuses blessedly dotted the sand, but they could see where the growth tapered off. It gave them both a chill to see the borders of Oz, their homeland.
Abruptly, Fiyero halted in his tracks. Tacked onto the cactus in front of him was a tiny doll, nothing more than cloth wrapped around a bundle of sticks. A stern, surprisingly elaborate face was painted on, and strange symbols adorned its chest.
Elphaba knelt to examine the doll further, to see if she could place the symbols. Something about the craftsmanship drew her, and she extended a finger towards it…
"No!" Fiyero grabbed her shoulder roughly and threw her backwards. Elphaba landed in a heap in the sand, her shoulder joint protesting loudly. Fiyero looked shocked with himself. "Elphie, I'm sorry, I hadn't meant to be so rough…"
"They're magic-makers?" she whispered, her voice parched. In that one finger, she had felt a frighteningly powerful force emanating from the little doll. Had she even grazed it, she didn't want to think about what could have happened…
Fiyero nodded. "I'd forgotten until now. Their leaders are the most powerful, but they can all do magic."
Elphaba wiggled her fingers. "Are they green, too?"
Fiyero laughed uneasily. "No. They're dark, almost black."
As they gazed across the desert, they could see more dolls dotting cactuses in a straight line. Fiyero stood and helped Elphaba up. "We follow those. They get more potent as we get closer, so you have to watch yourself. Don't even graze it with your dress."
Elphaba's eyes widened as she walked. It was no wonder these people were removed. "Will we be able to get into the camp?"
"We'll have to negotiate entrance. They're immune to the magic, and they'll do a little something on us so we can walk in unharmed."
This seemed so much more complicated than necessary, and she tried to stifle the temper that had begun to rise with the heat. "Fiyero, I know Glinda. She won't bother with them. She won't even know how."
"You left her the Grimmerie."
If Elphaba had been more hydrated, she would have screamed with frustration. As it was, she bottled it, though she wasn't entirely sure that she wouldn't spontaneously combust. She forced herself to take deep, calming breaths, and dust caked the inside of her throat. This was worse than before. She wanted to kill something. Preferably Fiyero. That good-looking bastard…Elphaba didn't care what colour his package was; when she was this uncomfortable, nobody had the right to look even remotely presentable. Fiyero's eyes met hers, and she angrily looked away, ashamed with herself.
"Was it something I said?"
"No, and let's keep it that way," she snapped. "And save the puppy-dog eyes."
"Elphaba, would you rather we parted?"
Elphaba shivered with irritation. "You insult your own intelligence at times, you know that?"
"You just seem so unhappy."
"Please." She stopped, grabbed his face and looked into his eyes. "So help me God, if you're joking, you're wasting your breath and being an idiot. Stop. And if you're serious, well, what did I expect, considering your last paramour."
Fiyero's eyes widened. "Don't drag that into this!"
"Why not? You seemed to have built every single plan we have around her." She began to stomp away, but Fiyero grabbed her waist.
"I love you. You." He bent in to kiss her, but their chapped lips bumped together unpleasantly. Elphaba pulled away, her aggression spent but her discomfort increased. Hastily, she chewed a morsel of cactus and swished the pulp around her mouth. She wasn't sure if they were real or a mirage, but tent-shaped blobs had appeared on the horizon. Two hours later, they could make out people, and they quickened their pace, anticipating gulp after gulp of cool, fresh water. Actually, just cool; the quality didn't really matter at this point.
Gradually, however, they found it took much more effort to put one foot in front of the other. Elphaba clenched her teeth, determined not to show weakness, until Fiyero began to pant. They exchanged uneasy glances and doubled their effort. It soon became clear that there was a factor other than exhaustion holding them back.
They were fifty feet from the nearest structure when they had to stop. The effort required to inch forward was too great. They melted to the ground, clutching each other, and gazed into the camp.
If Elphaba had to guess the number, she would have said that two hundred people were gathered in the centre circle of the camp, and they were all dancing to no music. The moves were strange; they started standing straight up, arms and faces stretched to the sky. Then, they'd simulate melting, undulating their bodies until they had curled onto the ground. As a group, they would snap back up and repeat the entire move. The children were nude, and the rest wore only skirts.
"Some kind of ritual?" croaked Elphaba.
Fiyero nodded. "To lower the sun for a celebration." Elphaba glanced at him, and he elaborated. "It's too hot to dance during the day, so they wait 'til night. They believe this speeds things up."
Elphaba wasn't sure of Fiyero's use of the word "believe." As she watched, the sun slipped an inch or so lower to the ground. It seemed that, combined, these people had enough power to influence celestial bodies, and that frightened her.
They watched this for what seemed like hours. The collected cactus was running low, and the only other plant near to them was adorned with a guard-doll. After a while, a young girl broke away from the group and, unnoticed by her tribe-mates, began to wander out of the village. She froze when she noticed Elphaba and Fiyero, but only momentarily. Then, she ran back to the group and began tugging on the adult's legs, her voice piercing among the silence. Finally, as Elphaba and Fiyero watched, a woman responded to the girl. The two of them felt rather foolish. They knew they looked ridiculous, wearing so many clothes in the heat, and their bodies caked with sweaty sand. Quietly, the woman slipped away from the group and approached them briskly. Fiyero stood and began to brush off sand, and Elphaba followed suit.
"Sikko jejeba," said the woman as she approached with a guarded look on her face. She stopped five feet away from them, a distance they knew they couldn't cross without killing themselves.
"Jejeba," responded Fiyero. "Kenni ma Fiyero."
Elphaba was impressed. "What language is that?"
"Close to my mother tongue, staggeringly different dialect," he hissed. He began to speak again, slowly and clearly, and Elphaba watched as the woman nodded slowly, understanding the gist of what Fiyero was saying. Then, she began to speak. Fiyero's face registered gratitude, but with an undertone of perplexity. Elphaba nudged him. "She said that we're welcome."
"We're not the first visitors today. Apparently, they've had a visit from some sort of…god."
Elphaba started. "What?" This sounded messy.
"I know," he whispered. Then he looked at the woman again, and said something else. She shrugged, and began to walk away. Elphaba hated being in the dark like this. "What? What is it?"
"She's gone to ask the shaman to let us in."
From their position, they watched as the woman called to the people, halting them in their hypnotic dance. She spoke briefly and gestured to the two travelers, and a whisper went up around the camp. From the centre of the pack walked a man so adorned with jewelry that every step was accompanied by what sounded like a percussion ensemble, and as he approached the entire tribe of 200 fell into step behind him.
"Sikko jejeba." His voice was rich and deep, perfect for incantations.
"Jejeba," responded Fiyero.
"Jejeba." Fiyero looked at Elphaba, and she shrugged. "I'm not an idiot."
"Clearly," he whispered, and smiled. "Good accent."
The shaman cleared his throat, and the two snapped to attention again. Fiyero muttered something that sounded like an apology, and a dialogue arose began between them. Elphaba strained her ear for clues as to what they were talking about. Unexpectedly, the shaman turned his face towards Elphaba and addressed her. Without even thinking, she responded.
"Kenni ma Elphaba."
Fiyero jumped in, but not before the shaman flashed a small smile. He's impressed, she thought. I've passed some sort of test.
Evidently, Fiyero had managed to talk them into the tribe's favor because the Paniwawas had begun to edge across the invisible barrier. The two were guided into position, back to back, and their hands found each other, lacing together their fingers, neither admitting their nerves. A dense circle was formed around them. The shaman sang a note, and the rest joined it, adding harmonies, until they created a sound so rich and full that Elphaba felt her heart expand and tears pool in her eyes.
Abruptly, the music cut out, and the tribe's people began a low melodic chant. The circle began to rotate and a dance movement was added, a wave of the body where the chest led and the head followed, finishing with an extension of the hand. Put together, the entire motion looked like a heave. The full feeling in Elphaba's heart grew, and she began to swoon, supporting herself on Fiyero's back.
This felt horribly wrong. It felt as if her innards were going to explode. She took deep breaths, sucking in air to fill the frenzied void. The circle kept pulsating, the dancers kept chanting, and Elphaba dropped to her knees, clutching her gut. Her moans escalated to screams. Fiyero knelt in front of her. He was speaking, but she couldn't hear him. The chant cut out, and Elphaba lost all sense.
Well, hope you're enjoying it so far. Stick with me. The next chapter is written. It gets better.