The difficulty of carrying enough water through the arid lands is not a new problem; Khitans have dealt with that in the dry countries for centuries. Hesheyel is one means to mitigate it, a harsh, even dangerous concoction that helps someone go much longer with much less, a substance also called ‘water spice.’
Hesheyel’s ingredients are fairly common: the root of the guinija cactus brewed with the leaves of everyday garden vegetables and the blood and sinew of various desert animals such as the kuroo mouse or the tiny arara lizard. Water spice creation requires no magic, but is a skill carefully guarded by a caste of alchemists and country witches. These are numerous enough that none hold a monopoly on hesheyel’s trade, but rare enough that each can make a good living brewing the spice while secreted away in dark places filled with their vials and boiling pots. The final product is either a foul liquid that must be drunk quickly or a soft lozenge packed with salt that one can suck on for an hour or more.
A single dose of high-quality hesheyel allows a man to survive on one-tenth his required hydration for a day. This holds true for other non-human races, as well, since the spice acts upon the living tissues to alter their water intake. For a profit-minded caravan master, getting as many of his workers to take water spice as possible is good business; they price of a high-quality dose saves him probably double the money in water conveyance alone. Many caravans require its use. To boost those profits, though, unscrupulous merchants turn to inferior quality hesheyel, cheaper to produce but decidedly more dangerous. Most desert people, even those accustomed to hesheyel, find it difficult to tell the difference between good- and poor-quality water spice until it’s too late.
Hesheyel shuts down certain body tissues that can turn into ‘death flesh’ in just a few days. For the first few days, death flesh remains hidden internally, but eventually manifests on the skin as grey and brown patches. Later the hair falls out, eyes grow bloodshot, the teeth loosen and tongue thickens. Several weeks of continuous use can turn a person into a desert zombie, forever wandering the wastelands with no will or consciousness. Any damage short of that, however, can be regained, basically taking three days without use of hesheyel to repair the damage done by each day with it. Desert zombies are easy to spot and defeat, except when they gather into massive groups; putting them down is considered a mercy. Animals forced to imbibe too much hesheyel can become desert zombies, as well.
Also, as death flesh progresses through the body, the mind is weakened, especially one’s sense of sell and of freewill. They become more susceptible to influential magic and hypnosis, to the point where even an unskilled person can gain control of their actions fairly easily. In the final stages, a hesheyel-devastated person can be easily swayed or commanded, and has little cognizant connection with the real world.