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Dust, Sand, and Smoke

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GM

 

Down South, by the Magic Mesa

 

In the midst of the desert and rock, stood a tower of black stone. The sun blazed low, and cast long shadow on the ground. Insects and dry weeds scuttled and clung to the dirt, and vultures flew overhead, looking for bones to pick clean. 

 

Bones there were aplenty, but dry and white and devoid of flesh they were. 

 

The Dust Devil landed in this land, travelling from Freedom City through the sand. Here, he had learned, was Abdul, the occultist and leader of a band of merry bohemians who had discovered some strange leaf that, if smoked, sent the brain spiralling through space and time, and rotted it with madness whilst doing so. 

 

By the Mesa, space and time started to become strange. They became stranger still as one approached the black rock tower. It would take considerable skill to navigate through this strange land, but fortunately, this was the Dust Devil. And he could navigate with ease. 

 

By the dirt was a buick, dry and damage from smoke inside. Iniside a young woman lay unconscious, dry, and near death, sprawled on the back seat wearing a summer dress bleached from light. 

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Cassidy still couldn't get used to the feeling of travelling through the sand. It was a whirling, disembodied experience. He felt like he could use himself in the web of sand that seemed connected around the entire world. Maybe that was what happened to the first Dust Devil. Maybe not. Either case, he tried to only do it when necessary, and if Abdul had reached the Magic Mesa, then it was time. 

 

He appeared not far from the buick, the tower of black stone looming in the horizon. Cassidy's first thought came to Abdul. Maybe he had managed to crash the car, before continuing on across the desert. He felt the pull to continue, to head to wherever Abdul was going, but then he noticed the woman. He should hurry on ahead, he should find Abdul, but he couldn't just leave someone like this. Moving to the buick, he pulled at he door of the backseat. If it wouldn't open, he would pull it off, before pulling the woman out, gently lifting her into his arms. She would need water, but where would he find it here?

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GM

 

The door of the buik opened easily enough. In the silence of the desert, it seemed to creak rather loudly. 

 

"uhhh...who are you..."

 

The voice was faint and parched, as the woman was clearly dehydrated. Close up now, the Dust Devil could detect a faint, sickly sweet smell. Not sweat or dust, by the lingering aroma that had been present by the bohemians in the Jazz club. 

 

This woman had been smoking the mysterious leaf. 

 

She presumably was fairly dry, and ill, but perhaps part of her faint headedness was the leaf. 

 

"Abdul...get Abdul..." she croaked again. 

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"The Dust Devil." Cassidy still felt weird saying it out loud. He had spent some time researching rumors and stories about the Magic Mesa and the first Dust Devil after gaining his powers, but it still felt off. The Dust Devil was a legendary figure. Few were sure if he were real or just a myth, but sightings had been reported for centuries. And here he was, stepping into the role. Big shoes to fill. 

 

He noticed the sickly sweet smell almost immediately. It was disgusting, to say the last. He had never been one for sweet perfumes, and this was much worse. What the hell was that leaf? At least she seemed to want him to get his hands on Abdul. Great, that was something he could agree on.

 

"That's the plan." She needed water. "Did you bring any water in the car? Or anything to drink at all?" If she didn't, or Abdul had taken it all, he would need to bring the woman along. Leaving her here like this would be a death sentence. The only question was how the leaf would make her react. If it had the same effect as it did on the creepy rich kid, then bringing her along could complicate things.

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GM

 

"Boot..."

 

It was a cracked voice but the meaning was clear enough. The boot of the car. And, like the door, it was unlocked. 

 

Inside said boot of said car was a jumble of rubbish. Half eaten crisps, maps of the region, a spare tyre, a couple of old books on history and occultism (one actually written in Arabic, from what the Dust Devil could make out), and - yes - a couple of bottles of water. 

 

And, almost predictably, was another large leaf. Purple and sweet smelling, dried ready for burning. 

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Cassidy gently placed the woman in the car, making sure she was in a sitting position, before he went to investigate the car's boot. His eyes first focused on the leaf. How many of these things did Abdul bring? They couldn't be that important to him if he were willing to just leave them behind like this. First, Cassidy grabbed the leaf and carefully placed it with the other. If he were going to do something other than just punch Abdul out, he would need evidence. The leaves would have to do. Then, he grabbed the water bottles, before returning to the woman.

 

"Here. Drink." He was uncomfortable about this. He couldn't leave her behind here. He might be able to make it through the desert, but there was no telling if she could. And she would slow him down. "Who are you? What are you doing here?" He paused for a moment. "And where is Abdul?" 

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GM

 

'Twas both fortunate and unfortunate that the woman was so intoxicated with the leaf's vile fumes. She had no guile or deception in her, and this was fortunate. But, misfortunate too, for she spoke gibberish. 

 

"Abdul is at the Mesa. Smoke, he is! Smoke we all are. Just cosmic dust!" she said, rambling. "I study astrophysics at Freedom City Univeristy! I should know!" she added emphatically, gripped by a transient moment of lucidity (and pride). 

 

"We were running low on the leaf, and Abdul said he could get us something even stronger! His supplier...the genius who grows the leaf. He is....there!" she said dramatically, pointing at the Mesa itself. 

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Just great. Abdul had gone to the Mesa. And he was finding something even stronger than the leaf. The woman was working with him after all, and spouting more gibberish, just like the rich kid had. If this had to do with the Mesa, then this was going to be worse than just some street drugs. Magic and worse would be involved. He probably didn't have long, but he had to know if the woman was still on Abdul's side or they had a falling out. He couldn't just abandon her here, no matter what. 

 

"So why did he abandon you here?"

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GM

 

With a little water inside, the woman seemed to perk up somewhat. "He...he said only he could go to the Mesa. I just came for...company" she explained. Although quite what the company was...was left unsaid. "I...think I smoked a bit too much. In the sun. Alone...it showed me the cosmos beyond time and space....its...beautiful..." she whispered. 

 

Coming too a bit, she focussed her attention on the much less palatable here and now. "Hey, who are you anyway? And why are you asking about Abdul?" she asked, a hint of suspicion in her voice - although she seemed in no condition to do anything about her suspicion. 

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So, she is with Abdul. No falling out, just being left behind after doing what Abdul had told her. She was getting better, but she was still not completely out of her high. She had water now, and with some luck, she wouldn't get up to any other trouble. He turned to sand as he said just a few more words. "The cosmos want you to live. Go home." At the last syllable he turned completely to sand, and let the wind spread him away. With some luck she would think he was just a part of her hallucinations and would go on her way. If not... well, then he would deal with that. Hopefully his lack of foot prints left behind would help sell his bluff.

 

At least he knew where Abdul was supposed to be. Gathering himself into a humanoid form a short distance away, Cassidy kneeled in the sand and travelled once more, this time directly to the Mesa itself. Time to find Abdul.

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GM

 

And it did not take long. For the magic mesa was dominating the landscape, and twas surely where Abdul was. 

 

The Dust Devil flew up to the top, aware of how time and space were distorting. It would be a perilous flight if someone was not innately attuned to the Magic Mesa such as Dust Devil Was. He understood - on many levels - how things worked - and he danced around the spacetimedimensional warping in a remarakbly eloquent jig. 

 

At the top of the Mesa - and how on earth Abdul got there was anybodies guess (for now), was Abdul, tending to a small fire on which a number of leafs (of mystic variety as previously envountered) were gently smoking. He was inhaling - with some gusto - the fumes. 

 

Adbul was a man of average build, a thick black beard, and arabic descent (although he was second generation and quite American in culture). He had a certain intense handsomeness, augmented by his engrossed state (which made him quite obliviuos to the Dust Devil, it seemed). 

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Even if he hadn't been back to the Magic Mesa since becoming the Dust Devil, Cassidy could find his way around with ease. Everything around him was warped, but it was how it was supposed to be, after all. The Magic Mesa was more than just magic, and, somehow, he was supposed to be the protector of all this. Even for Cassidy, navigating the Magic Mesa required concentration. It was a beautiful sight, but also haunting in its own way.

 

In time, he reached the top of the Mesa, and there he saw a man. It had to be Abdul. He was strange to see anyone else here, at the top of the Mesa. No one was supposed to be here, and especially not someone what Abdul was doing now. More of those damn leaves. Did they come from one of the other places that could be accessed at the Mesa? If they were some otherwordly drug, then that would explain a lot. He could just strike, but he wanted answers, too. And to find a way to keep Abdul from returning.

 

At least Abdul didn't seem to have noticed him yet. Cassidy materialized from the sand on the opposite side of the small fire from Abdul. His arms were crossed as he looked down at the man. "You shouldn't be here, Abdul." Who knew? Maybe calling him out by name might help.

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GM

 

"Where should I be?" mumbled Abdul cryptically. Fort all his vagueness he had an intensity to him, and intelligence and drive to his eyes. 

 

"I saw you coming you know. Not with my eyes. The leaf sends your mind into the past, and the future. And this is where it grows. My...supplier....gave it to me" he explained. "You should try it..." he added, wafting a few smoking fumes towards the Dust Devil. 

 

"Now my eyes have been opened to the Cosmos, I cannot close them again. I wish to share these beautiful visions with all of humanity!" he declared, full of magmanimous righteousness. 

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So, this was what it was going to be? A rambling conversation with a guy that might be high out of his mind, or might just be messing around with something really dangerous. Cassidy looked down at Abdul. He hadn't moved, he hadn't been shocked at all to see a man appearing out of the sand. That was a first. At least he gave the most coherent description of the leaf and what it did, if it wasn't just hyperbole. Eyes open to the cosmos, beautiful visions... Cassidy knew he hadn't been the Dust Devil for a long time, but that honestly didn't sound like anything good for the rest of humanity.

 

"Not here. This is not your domain." Cassidy finally replied. His voice was deep. Deeper than he had intended it to be. And his words weren't quite his own. "Who is your supplier? What is that leaf?" Cassidy had to know what he was dealing with, then he could get Abdul away from here. 

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GM

 

"I never said I owned this place. Its too wonderful for anyone to own" replied Abdul, getting firm in his voice. "My supplier...ah....haha....he is a snake!" he laughed. "He cultivates the leaf deep within the Mesa. I don't understand how this place works. Things get...twisted...inside. But he approached me showing me the leaf and all its wonderful mysteries. It is born from the Mesa, and like the Mesa, it is beyond time!" he said, a grin on his face, his voice full of enthusiam. 

 

"Me and my buddies, we started smoking the leaf regularly. It gives you such insight into the cosmos!" he said. "We discuss philosophy, theology, occultism, astrophysics....its wonderful!"

 

Abdul slowly stood up. "You protect the Mesa? Then you should protect the leaf too!"

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Cassidy could feel his anger bubbling. There was something about Abdul being here, and how he spoke about the Magic Mesa that just pissed him off. Did he speak in metaphors or actual truths? When it came to the Mesa, it could all be true. He would be better off taking it at face value, instead of trying to guess anything. While Abdul rambled, Cassidy remained silent, right until the point where he stood up.

 

"I'm the Dust Devil. If you know anything about the Mesa, then you know what that means. Now you will tell me exactly where that snake is." He was done with all the cosmic ramblings. First the rich kid, then the woman, now Abdul. He had to get to the end of the line. 

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GM

 

Abdul pointed straight down, to the cracks in the Mesa, leading to the strange doorways, caverns and caves that lead to even stranger times, places...and things that were neither times nor places!

 

"Now...I don't think you are with me on this" said Abdul, astutely enough. "I got a feeling you want to shut down the leaf. Closed mind, closed mind..." he said, softly now, even sad. Mumbling just a bit. 

 

He took one massive nostril inhalation of the leafs fumes. 

 

"See, when you really get to understand this, it doesn't just send your mind to spacedust, you become spacedust!"

 

And with that, he faded. His body became wisps of smoke, grey and incomplete. So transformed, he oozed down through the cracks!

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So that was how it felt for others when he turned to dust. At least Abdul running meant that he had something to follow. No more questions, just a chase. He could do that. First he created a small sandstorm around himself, enough to put out the smoke and probably ruin those leaves. No reason to leave this behind.

 

Turning to sand, Cassidy then followed Abdul into the cracks. The sand that made up his body shifting and turned, sliding through the cracks in the Magic Mesa with purpose. Moving quickly, he descended into the depths of his place of power. If there was something in here creating this poison, he would destroy it.

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GM

 

Down, down, down into the caverns and tunnels and cracks of the Magic Mesa the Dust Devil seeped. 

 

Down, down. 

 

And north, west, east, south, and up. And other directions too! for this was the Magic Mesa. 

 

Anyone else would surely have got hopelessly lost, for this was the Magic Mesa, and Abdul was taking the most torturous path, through the heaviest distortions. But the Dust Devil knew this place better than Abdul, and probably better than anyone. And more importantly, whilst Abdul had got a head start, he was slower than the Dust Devil. 

 

And then, they seeped, together, through a crack in the mesa, and landed in a magnificent, hyperfertile, hyperalive, jungle. 

 

Millions of years ago!

 

"Awesome!" said Abdul. "I saw this in my visions. But to actually be here!"

 

A pair of many-toothed dinosaurs, a dozen feet high, whipped their heads to the two gaseous forms, wondering if a new meal had arrived!

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Abdul had to be joking. If he had visions of this, a world of dinosaurs, then why would he even go here? Hadn't he ever watched Jurassic Park? Abdul was smoke, and Cassidy was dust, and yet, a pair of nearby dinosaurs noticed them. Not that Abdul's exclamation had helped keep them hidden. Cassidy knew little of dinosaurs, and he wasn't sure what would happen if one of them actually managed to take a bite out of him while he was like this. He wasn't really anxious to find out.

 

For what would probably not be the first time, Cassidy wondered if he should have tried to take out Abdul at the top of the Mesa, even if he needed to find the supplier. As they were, he wouldn't be able to do much against him. Instead he let the whirling sand that made up his self drift a bit further away from the dinosaurs, as he waited for Abdul to make his move.

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GM

 

Abdul, still smoke, turned to the Dust Devil. "I'm glad you followed me!" he said, keenly. It was not really malice, or gloating, in his voice. Rather, he seemed gripped by a furious fever to show the Dust Devil infinity. 

 

And beyond, of course. 

 

"This is the past. This is the land of the snake. Tell me, do you know the true ancient history of the world? Do you know of Lemuria? Of the civilisation that predated man? Of Atlantis? Here, all these things are now!"

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"You're crazy." Maybe not the best comeback, but Cassidy was sure there were more to Abdul's ranting than just the effect of the leaf. His sand form moved closed to Abdul's smoke form. They wouldn't be able to do much to each other, but creating a sandstorm might have some effect on Abdul's smoke form, if necessary. So he had that plan, at least. "I've heard about Atlantis, somewhere out in the ocean. But being around at the same time as dinosaurs? Don't be ridiculous." 

 

You had to admire Abdul's drug business on some level. He wasn't content with just peddling normal drugs. No, he went to the past to get them. How could he even do something about this? Would stopping something in the past while time travelling even matter? It probably depended on how well Abdul could control his travels through the Mesa. He would figure that out later, once he found the supplier.

 

"Stop stalling. Where is the Snake?"

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GM

 

Adbul looked genuinely dissapointed. 

 

"Really? I show you beauty beyond time, I show you the ancient history of our world, and still your eyes are full of mist!" he said, both sad and a little angry. 

 

"Ah! If you are so small, then I wonder why the Mesa gave you such power?" he mused, irritated with the questions - and answers - he posed himself. "But I must ask now - and you must answer truthfully - what is your intent when you find the Snake? For I suspect you are ill disposed, at best. You wish to impose your will on others, and do so with the impunity that power brings!"

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So, Abdul was disappointed. He wanted to impress Cassidy, to bring him over to his side, whatever side that was. It didn't matter. He wasn't here to join a time travelling drug dealer. He was here to stop this, before Abdul's leaves spread, and before he misused the power of the Magic Mesa further. He looked once at the dinosaurs, and the world around them. Yes, it was beautiful, but he rarely thought about the world like that. He hadn't bothered before, and he wasn't going to now. Not in a situation like this, at least.

 

The cloud of sand took on a more humanoid shape, while looking straight at Abdul's smoke form. "I already told you who I am. That should tell you why I'm here." Of course, Abdul had guessed right, and Cassidy could lie, but he had made his intentions clear already. Changing the story now wouldn't do him any favors. "I will find the Snake. And I will stop both of you. Simple as that."

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GM

 

"You probably will" conceded Abdul. "Much to the misfortune of man. Ah, it is terrible that someone like you, whom can navigate the bountiful dimensions of the mesa is so constricted. Perhaps, then, this is why you were chosen. Only the narrow-minded and blind would serve and protect so blindly, I suppose. At the end of the day, are you not just a tool?"

 

"What if I showed you the Great Race of a million years in the future? Or the burning world of ideas, with islands floating on the northern lights? Would it make difference if you could see the lake of souls? Or wander the inside and outside of the puzzle box?" he asked, each temptation dropped with genuine eagerness. 

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