Author Topic: Rust 8  (Read 159 times)

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Offline Daen

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Rust 8
« on: October 10, 2022, 03:00:47 AM »
According to Esme, the mesa was less than a day away, but we didn’t get far into our journey before running into trouble. And by trouble, I mean disaster.

She and I were behind the cart, talking about the possibilities of what might be up there at the Sanctuary, and Jack was up front with Asa. There was a terrible cracking noise ahead, and Asa let out a horrible screeching sound. The cart lurched forward and I grabbed at it. From what I could tell Esme did the same on her end. The front wheels seemed to dig right into the sand for some reason.

“Jack!” I called out desperately, trying to hold onto the cart. “Are you all right?”

Asa’s noise had stopped, abruptly. Too abruptly, really, but at least I could hear Jack’s quick breathing. “Uh, not really.”

“The ground gave way underneath them!” Esme exclaimed. “Asa’s gone, and her harness snapped. Jack’s hanging from the front of the cart!” After a moment, she let out a relieved breath. “He’s climbing out now.”

A moment later the pressure on the cart lessened a bit, and Esme and I were able to pull it further back. Once it was on solid ground again, Esme rushed forward. “Jack, are you hurt?”

“I’m fine. What about Asa? I heard her down below me, but I can’t anymore.”

I moved forward, snapping my fingers, and then took hold of Jack’s hand. Esme was silent, though. “A gap in the ground opened up, about two arms wide. Asa fell in, and I can see her down there. Jack, I’m afraid her neck’s broken. She’s gone.”

He let out a distressed noise, but then quieted. “I guess I’m lucky not to be down there with her.”

“How did this happen?” Esme asked. “Can sinkholes form inside a desert?”

“Not as far as I know,” I admitted. “I heard a cracking noise just before the cart lurched. As if something gave way under Asa’s weight.”

“You’re right,” she confirmed. “I can see them now under the sand. Wooden planks, covering the chasm. Someone set a trap here, and we could have died!”

“No, this is a good sign,” I realized. “This trap is too old for the Torgans to have set, which means that it was the Munga. Most likely that man we buried would be heading in this direction, but he’d be too light to break the planks and fall in.”

“How could he get the jars past it, though?” Jack said quietly, still breathing hard.

“This chasm isn’t that long, end to end,” Esme said. “I can guide us around it, but there are probably others. I think they’re meant to trap large groups of people. Only that much weight at once would break the planks. They planned for an invasion.”

We could work with this. It wouldn’t be as easy as before, but I was confident we would move on. Besides, we were heading somewhere, now. Someone had set this trap. “As long as one of us is in front, tapping the ground, the other two should be able to move the cart safely. It’ll be slower, but safer. And if the Torgans are following, they’ll lose a lot of people trying to catch us. As for who’s in front, I think it should be you, Jack.”

“Why me? I can pull my weight!”

“I know you can, but you’re a lot lighter than I am. If either of us does the tapping, it might be the last thing we do!”

“I guess that makes sense,” he said grudgingly.

I felt Esme take my hand and squeeze it gratefully. She didn’t want Jack in danger any more than I did, but he wouldn’t be able to pull the cart like we could, whether he thought so or not.

The rest of the day was very grueling. We ran out of water partway, and I kept on gulping, as if I could conserve what was in my mouth and throat. I could hear Esme and Jack doing the same. Hauling the cart didn’t help much either, though it was a bit lighter. Two of the jars had shattered when the cart lurched forwards, dripping their contents down onto the sad. I stuffed my pack in there to buffer the others.

The sun beat down on us as we moved, and the wheels didn’t find much purchase in the sand. We kept on having to turn, too, as Jack found chasm after chasm. This must have been a perfect place to set up, I realized grimly. Many Torgan soldiers would die here in the coming days, if their Governor ordered them to the mesa. And he would, too. The Sanctuary story was true, and he would try to plunder it. It’s all he knew how to do, really.

Esme sang a light song for us as we moved- some tune from her homeland. It had been thought up after the Fall, and by people who lived in a jungle and not a desert, but it lifted our spirits somewhat. I hadn’t even known what a jungle was, until she’d described it to me. It seemed so strange, to think of trees that close to each other, that wet with dew and rainfall. All I’d ever known was the dry air of the land here, and the salty air up in my childhood home.

I concentrated on that, to distract me from the sweat and heat and labor. One foot in front of another. The cry of seagulls in the morning. The grinding of sand under the wheels. The smell of fish being salted and sold in the markets. The gulping of my love and our… ward, I guess. The laughter of children playing inland from the docks.

I didn’t believe in the great serpent spirit of the Munga, nor the God of the Pinos, but someone had brought these people to me. Someone had blessed me, because I certainly didn’t deserve it. I was a killer. First of my parents, just by being born the way I was, and then of the soldiers who came for me. Then finally, I had murdered the officers I hated so deeply. Sterling was next, and he would come out here, sooner or later. He would.

“We’re here,” Esme croaked at me, finally. “There’s a path cut up the side of the mesa, flat and wide enough for the cart. Jack, come back with us. I think I see a door uphill, into the side of the mesa.”

It was a tremendous effort, after days of strain, but finally Esme said we could stop. We were just beneath the door now, she claimed. “The door looks locked tight. I don’t see a handle or hinges. It’s made of metal, too.” I heard her thump a fist against it. “I doubt we can knock it down.”

“Is there a set of six buttons on it?” Jack asked. “Two from side to side, and three from top to bottom?”

“Yes, there is,” Esme said after a moment. “It’s a little panel next to the door, with six little things in it. How did you know?”

“Do the buttons push in and out?”

I listened in bewilderment, and heard a few clicking noises. “Yes! There’s a little slot in each one that can be used to pull it out, or you can push it in.”

“Good,” Jack said. “The story is real. The full story, told only by the Munga, has those buttons in it. The entrance to the Sanctuary can only be opened by the name of the Great Spirit, Wollunka. And only by those who know the ancient tongue, Braylee.”

I turned to face Jack again. “Another secret you’ve been keeping from us? Let me guess, you know this language?”

“I know what I’m supposed to do to get inside,” he said, though his throat was still a bit raw. “I just never thought this place was real, until I heard a spirit speak to me. Just make sure all the buttons are pulled out, except for top left and the bottom left. That’s the Braylee carving for W, meaning Wollunka himself.”

I could hear more clicking noises, and then a hiss, to Esme’s right. A rush of cool air washed over us all, and a strange humming noise followed it. “There’s someone inside, walking up towards the door,” Esme reported. “A woman, and she doesn’t look armed.” I heard Esme grab for her bow anyway, and I didn’t blame her. We’d all been surprised quite enough for one trip so far.

“Well,” an unfamiliar voice spoke out, nearby. “This is a surprise. You’re not Torgan soldiers, that’s for sure, but you don’t look like Munga, either.”

I barely had time to register that before Esme spoke up, in shock. “Rust... she’s sighted! I can see her eyes!”
« Last Edit: October 10, 2022, 03:07:24 AM by Daen »