Maral shrank back from the stranger feeling small and exposed. His voice was gravely and belonged more to his stern face than the kind eyes she had seen. He continued without waiting for her to respond to his opening observation, “You, like many before you, believed the lie.”

“What lie?” Maral asked in a tiny voice.

“That you are not physically capable to cross this terrible wasteland. Once one agrees that they cannot go one step farther, that their limitations are too much, and that what they face is impossible the mirage appears.” He shook his head sadly, “There are no oases in this dry place. One must persevere.”

Maral interrupted, “But why is there no place to rest?”

The stranger sighed, “Because no one would ever leave the place once found. The conditions are so extreme here that none would have the willpower to leave it.”

Maral wondered if she had in fact seen kindness in this stranger’s eyes.

“This place is made to be hard.” Suddenly, his arm shot up and cast the rope that had been resting upon his shoulder out at the horizon. It sailed with magnificent speed but landed upon empty sand. He began to recoil it. Maral realized he had not stopped speaking during this odd action; she forced herself to focus on what he was saying, “You doubted yourself and chased a mirage, but you were not swept away by it. That speaks of great strength and wisdom.”

During her entire experience with this stranger, Maral had been feeling weak and foolish. His words took her shame away but left the humility; she felt taller.

“The Shifting Sand wasteland is difficult but it is not impossible. When you feel you can go no farther, go farther. Prove to your mind and your will that the limitations placed upon you are imagined. Everyone is far more capable than they realize, but most will never discover the deep wells of ability without the harshness of this place. This place demands that you delve deeper into your stores of strength and fortitude than you otherwise would.”

Again, his arm cast the rope into the distance. This time it caught something. Maral couldn’t imagine what he was doing. He began pulling in the taut rope. He continued speaking with only a mild strain to his voice betraying the amount of effort he was expending on his rope.

“It is not easy or comfortable and most will never attempt to cross this. They will never discover their potential depth.” Now for the first time he paused his monologue to completely apply himself to the task at hand.

In these moments, Maral’s mind ran over all he had said. She was surprised to realize that the clinging sand, her torment since she fell, had finally fallen off. She felt free and able to do anything.

She intended to tell him this, but when she looked up, she saw that what he had lassoed was a tall female Sprite. They both were struggling against the sand that appeared to be sucking her down. Maral felt powerless, but then the stranger with a final mighty pull hoisted her up to the firm path.

The Sprite was crying and choking on sand. He disentangled himself from her aggressive hug to offer her some water to wash the sand from her mouth and eyes.

When he spoke to her it was markedly more kind. “You have won little sister,” She cried harder. “You will not fall again. Rest here tonight; tomorrow you will continue your journey.”

The Sprite looked at him, astonished that he would send her away so soon. He only smiled, “There is one here who will walk with you.” He indicated Maral.