Loose, shifting desert sand turned to soil, held together by the roots of scrub grass.
Soil turned to rich, dark earth, nurtured by manure and copious amounts of precious water.
The women's footsteps turned from crunching, sliding noises to dull thumps as they penetrated deeper into the lands surrounding the impossible city -- impossible, because if there had been enough water buried beneath the earth to feed this large a settlement, someone would have dug for it when everything went wrong and the desert started to grow.
A rich scent filled the air; the smell of green things growing and fresh manure, of dark earth and the sweat of the workers toiling in the fields. There were sounds on the air as well; the bleating of goats, the calls of farmers to their fellows, the screams and laughter of children at play. Put it all together, and you had the symphony of urban life, a kind of urban life that neither woman had expected in this place, this age.
The city's gates -- made of wooden poles like the walls -- stood invitingly open. Two guards stood beside the gate and subjected the travellers to a cool, reptilian glance, but made no move to stop them.
The woman on the left cast what looked like a casual glance at the two soldiers -- they had the look and the unconscious swagger of such -- and memorized the condition of their armour and the weapons they carried.
'Sleeveless chain mail shirts. Wooden spears with steel heads.'
The woman on the right blew them a little kiss, which caused the gate guardians to blink, surprised.
The city inside the wall looked neat and orderly, though a bit primitive. All the buildings were built of wood. Children were brawling in the streets, and one could only hope they were playing with the dogs instead of torturing them. Everywhere, there were people; haggling, talking, shouting, laughing, living people, making noises, unpleasant smells, doing things terrible and wonderful, great and small, all in the same day.
"I don't understand," the woman on the right said.
The woman on the left did not reply; she quickened her pace, headed right for what looked and indeed turned out to be a well. A public water-well, out here in the desert. The only concession to the climate was that the thing was covered with a heavy lid, but she could move that away easily enough.
The rope and pulley squeaked and groaned when she hauled on the line, but a bucket full of clean, sweet, cold water steadily rose up to her from the depths. No one even batted an eye at her doing this, so... she drank, the cold water hitting her stomach like a fist. She drained the whole bucket before she let it slide back down into the darkness and closed the lid. A great belch rippled up out of her gut and passed her lips.
Still, no one paid her any attention -- save one person.
"I still don't understand," the woman on the right complained.
She started to take off the hood section of her robe, paused a moment to look around, and then continued; most of the women in the street were wearing cloths on their heads to help them deal with the sun, but none were veiled or masked.
The face she eventually exposed to the light of day was exquisite. Dark brown curls framed her creamy-pale features. Pale brown eyes, almost hazel in colour, sparkled even when their owner was clearly confused and growing frustrated.
"This is the desert," she said. "The desert. How is this possible? All the great cities that were here dried up and died years ago. That's what everyone says, even back home! So how come there's a city I never heard of here now? Where did these people come from?"
There was a distant blort of sound; someone had found it necessary to blow on a large trumpet, and this appeared to be important. All the people in the street certainly sprang into action, dragging little children into homes only to then reemerge carrying.... musical instruments.
"I don't understand any of this!" the beautiful brunette complained as her companion hurried to keep up with the townsfolk, who spared them not a moment's notice. "What is going on here?"
Her companion did not reply, she just followed after the townsfolk, who were talking to each other in tones of excitement and some little nervousness, and appeared to be oblivious to the strangers in their midst.