The land was no longer land, but a vast rippling snake-filled lake with isolated villages appearing out of it on mounds. Some of those villages were empty now, cleared out on state orders after the disease had taken hold. Ghost towns, thought Merit, where even the dead are no longer treated with respect. Fear of one's neighbour meant that everyone was so suspicious of the slightest cough or sneeze that the dead were hastily buried in desert graves where they were carried by prisoners of war under orders. Some of the living had now joined the dead.
That was the sound constantly carried by the wind these days: the howling of desert beasts and the wailing of shocked people unable to give their loved ones the rites of death. To die alone, with no-one to care, or to put a few precious belongings into the grave of even the poorest person - this was a pain that the heart itself could not bear. Living people with the first signs of the disease were banished to the demon-haunted deserts and once they were truly dead, no one was there to give them a proper burial or mourn for them, their souls destined to be forgotten and their bodies eaten by wild beasts.
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