Gazelle handed the dust rider her single knapsack and watched him strap into the dust devil’s harness. She wore her heaviest canvas jacket and wondered how a dust rider could be so daft as to insist on something so heavy in summer. She was going to melt like a pat of butter.
The dust devil flicked long, curling ears at his rider. He smiled, patted its head and spoke to her. “Climb on up. I will strap you in first.”
Mud-colored spines ran along the sides of the devil. She put one foot on it and clambered up to the saddle. The dust rider showed her where to put her legs, then looped a harness over her shoulders and leashed her to the saddle. Like she was a cow or something, too stupid to know when to stay still.
She scowled at it. The leather trapped her as surely the gold paid for her.
The dust rider hoisted himself in front of her and strapped himself in. He did not, she noticed sourly, use the shoulder harness on himself.
He caressed the dust devil’s ears. “Fly!”
It reared up, roiling under her like a fishing boat caught in a storm. Gazelle fisted her hands, fingers digging into her own skin. She would not clutch at the dust rider. She wouldn’t.
Miles of long, sleek brown skin stretched out behind her. The wind from the dust devil’s launch rocked tree branches and blew her mother’s skirts up.
She watched her family farm become smaller and smaller until it was a mere spec on the ground. They flew above the clouds and she could see nothing but white fluff. Her ears froze and then burned. The devil was a comforting warmth under her.
Gazelle didn’t know how long they flew, but the sun set. The rider handed her some hard biscuits from somewhere.
It was still dark when they started descending. There was a gigantic grassy space, enclosed by wire fences and lit by dozens of torches. Many dust devils gathered on the ground. A small group of young people like her huddled in the middle, close to a big bonfire.
“The devils’ lawn!” the dust rider announced.
As a side note, I think this one might be least stand alone out of all them so far.