Author Topic: Rust 7  (Read 5484 times)

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Offline Daen

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Rust 7
« on: October 10, 2022, 05:01:09 AM »
Jack said it would take another day or so of travel, but we didn’t quite make it that far. It was getting increasingly hard to move during the day, as the heat got overpowering. Our water rations wouldn’t last forever, either, but Jack said he would keep going, even if we went back. Again, I was impressed at his fortitude. Were all Munga children this resilient, or was it just him?

Nearing the end of the day, Esme grabbed the donkey’s reins, and slowed it down. She tapped me twice on the shoulder, a sign we’d made earlier that meant she wanted silence, and I did the same for Jack. Then Esme was gone, forward and out of our easy hearing. Jack’s breathing was tense, and I squeezed his hand encouragingly. Torgans had a special silent way of speaking, using fingers on palms, but I knew our language was different from the Munga way. It was certainly different than the Pinos, Esme’s people. All that Jack and I could do was wait.

She came back after a few minutes. “There’s a body on the road,” she reported breathlessly. “A man, but I don’t think he’s Torgan. He’s unarmed, and wearing simple robes, like you, Jack. I think he was killed a day or so ago. I saw multiple stab wounds in his chest, and his robes were covered in blood.”

She hesitated, probably for Jack’s benefit. “He was also… tortured, I think. There was skin missing from his neck and shoulder. Whoever killed him probably interrogated him first.”

“Is this who you were supposed to meet, Jack?”

The kid was silent, but then let out an affirmative noise. He probably couldn’t trust his voice to speak right now.

“I guess we have confirmation that the Torgans are ahead of us,” I said bluntly. “Not even bandits would be that cruel to someone on the road, though they would happily rob them naked. You can see the Torgans a good distance off, especially on ground this flat, but I doubt we could get past them if they brought a full battalion.”

“What about Jack? He completed his task, bringing the liquid here. Isn’t that right?”

“I want to go on,” Jack said stubbornly. “If the person I was supposed to meet is dead, then I have to keep going and deliver the jars myself.”

“Deliver them where?” I asked as gently as I could. “Even if we could follow the road and get past the Torgans, we don’t know where to take the cart!”

“That’s the thing, Rust,” Esme put in. “The road ends, right there where the body was left. Either there’s another marker buried there, or the dead man knew another way to go.”

“That’s that, then,” I said with finality. “Jack, you should go home. Take Asa and leave the cart- you’ll be faster that way. You can carry water and food until you reach places you can forage. We’ll stay here and figure out what to do next, but you’ve completed your task.”

Jack let out something like a whimper. “I can’t! If I do, Sarah might take back her gift!”

I felt Esme tense up upon hearing that, as did I. “What gift, Jack? And who is Sarah?”

There was a long silence, but then it seemed that Jack was ready to explain. “Sarah is one of the spirits- a servant of Wollunka. She told me how to save mama, and in exchange, I had to deliver these jars for her. If I just leave here, Sarah might take back mama’s life! I have to make sure the pots get where they need to go!”

That was… unexpected. Clearly Jack believed in this, nonsense though it was. But again, my earlier doubts came back to me. How could I be sure? “How do you know that Sarah is a spirit?”

“She spoke to me, in the shrine. She wasn’t there, but she was. I heard no breathing, felt no warmth, but she answered me and gave me instructions all the same!”

I felt Esme take me by the arm and pull me away. “Give us a moment, Jack,” she said gently as we left.

Once I was reasonably certain he couldn’t hear us, and Esme would probably warn me if he started to follow, I spoke up. “You’re sighted. Is this possible, to throw your voice like that?”

“Not as far as I know, but Jack is a true believer. He will wander into the desert, alone if he has to, in order to protect his mother. He’ll die if we don’t help him.”

We’ll die if we go with him! Either on the end of a Torgan sword, or gasping for water in the sun!”

“Not necessarily,” she said, and a mischievous tone entered her voice. “For the past hour or so, I’ve seen something on the horizon. Something big. The road wasn’t taking us towards it, so I didn’t mention it, but if the road ends here, it’s our only lead.”

“What does it look like?”

She hesitated. “I think it’s one of those mesas like the story mentioned. It’s a huge outcropping of rock, sticking right up out of the desert, and it’s flat on the top. It must be leagues across, from end to end!”

The only mesa or butte that I’d ever heard of was off to the east, inside Torgan territory. I’d never been there, but my countrymen had dug a series of trails in the side of it, to reach the top. There had been nothing up there, so they’d abandoned it eventually. Still, it matched what she was describing. “Do you think that the Sanctuary is real, and it’s there?”

“Only a sighted person could find it, remember? There’s too much coincidence to ignore this. The Torgans are mostly to our north, right? If we head straight for that mesa, we should bypass them.”

“And if there is no Sanctuary there, we die of thirst in the desert,” I said grimly.

That caused her some disquiet, but eventually she went on. “I’m willing to risk it if you are.”

“Let’s go, then,” Jack’s voice piped up, and I nearly jumped out of my skin! I heard Esme gasp, and then turn suddenly, as if looking back at the cart.

“Jack! Good God, you’re sneaky!” She let out an exasperated noise.

“Not really. You’re just not that good at keeping quiet, and Rust was distracted. It must be a sighted thing,” he said contemplatively. “Come on, let’s bury the Munga and then head out. We still have a few hours of searsedge before it gets too cold.”

Apparently getting over her fright quickly, Esme added, “the Torgans won’t be able to follow as quickly. They don’t have a sighted person guiding them.”

That wasn’t entirely true, but they certainly didn’t have one this close, sure. I weighed the risks and rewards here.

Esme was right about me. I did plan on overturning the Torgan war machine. My vengeance was back home, but whatever Sterling wanted out here could be just as important. Stopping his plans took precedence over my own. Finally, I gripped both their hands. “All right. Let’s get this done.”
« Last Edit: October 10, 2022, 05:07:16 AM by Daen »