As we pushed our way through the dunes, I began to slide further and further into my thoughts. Talking was useless, and it took every ounce of energy to keep upright against the howling winds that seemed to grow stronger with each step. The plains might only be a few miles wide, but those miles seemed to take forever as we trudged along. As we continued, a wall of sand rose beside us, sloping up to form a tall hill directly to our left. It made me nervous—what if the winds shifted and it came cascading down on us? But we were nearly to the other side. In the distance I could barely see jutting shapes of something I assumed were the petrified trees, and I just held hope that we’d make it out before being covered by the cascading drifts. A scream cut through the wind. I turned, forcing my body to shift against the steady gale, and saw that the vampires I had brought with me had moved out of formation. Ron had vanished, and to the side of where he had been standing, there was a gaping hole in the wall of sand.
“Ron!” I tried to struggle back to him as the soles of his boots slowly vanished inside the sudden tunnel.
Jacob and Sandra were closest to him, and they pushed forward, trying to get to him, but the sand closed over the hole and it was as if he had never been there. I turned, frantic, to Trytian, but he shook his head and resolutely turned forward, beginning to move again. Torn between wanting to help Ron, to find him, and realizing that we were going to have to leave him behind, I bit my lip till it was bloody but returned to the trail and tried not to think about what it was that had reached out to drag him into its lair.
Another half hour and we stumbled out of the plains. The wind died to a slow whoosh, as the dunes once again faded into hard rock beneath our feet. We were staring at the petrified forest that sprawled in front of us. The trees had once been real trees— that much I could tell— but now their trunks had hardened to stone, and they were surreal sculptures rising from this barren land.
My ears hurt, and my throat felt raw. I turned to Trytian. “What happened to Ron?”
“Sand beast got him. Once they have hold of you, you’re dead. He was dead by the time they got him in there, vampire or not. They cut you into pieces and eat you.” His bluntness hit hard, but I realized that he was doing me a favor by taking away any hope that I had for rescuing Ron, and also by reassuring me that his death had been quick.
I pressed my lips together and nodded.
“Come, let’s get into the forest, where we can rest a bit. The going will be much easier than either the rock sculptures or the Plain of Winds were. There is no undergrowth, no living thing in the forest save for a creature or two who might be hiding in there. The trees turned to stone long ago, and there is nothing to impede our way.” Trytian motioned for us to follow him into the woods.