At night, the wind howled over the tent like an angry djinn, forcing its sandy fingers through tears and clumsy folds. “Tonight is the Aisra’s,” they’d whisper in nearby towns as the wind fought to erode the frictionless forcewalls, but if the Aisra caused the storm it was indifferent to it, curled drowsily upon a succulent-floss pillow as its tail flicked in response. There were no pilgrims on nights like this, but Saika tended to the candle as if the sky were clear and the dunes carved sharply by moonlight. Even an unseen compass knows how to find the north. As she was taught as a young child, she left the tent four times an hour, scarf pulled tight against the endless and violent desert. Always, the flame burned in its glass case, leading strangers to their unexpected home.

In the moments between her duties, Saika stroked the sacred creature, her fingers brushing lightly against the softest fur. Legend said that the Aisra wove the dreams of the people, that it carried nightmares away from children and released them into the swirling sand. Saika was the Aisrakeeper, and by extension, a silent monk. The tent was always silent: words weren’t of the dream world, and they would distract the Aisra from her duties. When people came to worship, they said nothing as they kneeled before the small creature and asked to be protected from dreams. The desert caused dreams. The light-years between the colonists and their ancestral home causes dreams.

Tonight is the Aisra’s, Saika thought as her fingers pressed gently into the back of the creature. Keep dreaming, she told it. Let the desert carry it away.