Author Topic: Rust 6  (Read 5411 times)

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Offline Daen

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Rust 6
« on: October 10, 2022, 05:01:32 AM »
The next morning brought us to the edge of the wastes. My people had sent scouts out this way a while back, but information that survived from the time of the ancestors was scarce. We called it the Tanami desert, and the road that we’d been following, at least roughly, led right into it.

Here was where things got tricky. In the fullness of the desert, water was both scarce and probably tainted. We had refilled at a stream two days ago, but if we went in there, chances were we weren’t coming back out. In addition, the road had long ago been covered by sand drifts. Not even Esme would be able to tell our direction for long, or so she claimed. I was still skeptical, given that so much of what she could do seemed like magic.

Strangely, Jack didn’t seem concerned. Once the noise from the cart’s wheels started to change, indicating we were on sand now instead of whatever hard material the ancestors had used to make the road, Jack pulled the donkey to a stop. “Could you keep Asa from wandering, please?” He asked. Then he tapped his cane on the edge of the road repeatedly. I could hear the noise from road, to dirt, to sand. “I was told there would be a marker buried somewhere around… here.”

After a few moments, and with some help from me, Jack unearthed a metal plate that had apparently been bolted into the ground. Judging by the brush growing around it, no one had dug in this place in at least a hundred years.

It felt like a sundial, actually. We had little use for a dial back home in Darwin of course, but there had been one built before the Great Fall. Other Torgan families had since chosen to treat it like a remnant of our past, and keep it from being torn down. I’d felt it a few times as a kid, and I thought I remembered seeing it once, too.

This one didn’t have that vertical spike in the middle, but the edges were ridged. I counted twelve large ridges in total, with five smaller ridges between each of them. “It’s a clock!”

Neither of them responded at first, but I could tell that Jack had stopped moving. “What is that?”

“Father told me about this when I was young. The ancestors used to have devices called clocks, that could tell them the exact time of day. I remember because this is a circle, and has twelve markers on it, just like their clocks! It doesn’t have a wand, though. That’s what moved in a circle, so that the ancestors could see what time it was.”

“Not a problem,” Jack assured me. He moved his hand to the edges of this flat circle, and felt for the ridges. “I need to find the biggest one.”

“It’s over here,” I told him, and he moved to my side of the circle. “Why?”

He didn’t answer, not that it was much of a surprise. Jack had been much happier now that he was no longer alone, but he still kept the specifics of his task hidden. “There.”

“I’m going out into the waste, alone for a bit,” he informed us, and I could hear him standing up. “If I find it, I’ll call to you, and you can follow my voice out and bring the cart with you. If not, I’ll just come back, I guess.”

“If you’re close enough to be heard, I’ll be able to see you,” Esme reminded him, and he stopped. “Are you sure you don’t want us to come with you?”

Jack laughed. “I forgot you can do that. Uh, no. It’s fine; this won’t take long.”

I reached out, and Esme took my hand, as Jack left. He seemed to be positioning himself very carefully before heading out. Esme leaned down, and then back up again. “I think he’s using your… clock, to guide him. He stood right in front of the third ridge to the right of the big one, and he’s moving in a perfectly straight line.”

“Three on the clock,” I remembered aloud. “That’s right! The ancestors also used clocks to tell direction! I just remember that twelve on the clock is straight ahead, and six is right behind me.” This was fascinating. Whoever had buried this clock here had studied the ancestors as well, and knew the same things. They had left this as a marker, for someone with the right knowledge, to be able to follow them.

“He’s stopped,” Esme said after a moment. “About two hundred paces in, I’d say. He’s sweeping the ground, looking for something. Another clock, maybe?”

Her instinct was proven right, and Jack called us out to him. From there he turned right again, though not as sharply, and went out another two hundred paces, or so Esme told me. Another few minutes, and he found the third clock. “This should be the last one,” he informed us as we finally caught up to him again. “Third ridge on the right, and then second on the right, and now second ridge on the left, and straight on ‘til morning.”

I recognized the saying right away. “You’ve heard the story of the Pan?”

“Yes!” He exclaimed. “Grandma used to tell it to me!”

“The what now?” Esme inquired.

“It’s a popular children’s tale in Darwin and other Torgan cities. Apparently the Munga have heard it as well. It’s about a boy who can fly, named the Pan. He flew away from his home during the Great Fall, and met with a fairy creature called the Bell. She would ring herself to guide him over great distances as he flew. Eventually he found other lost children, and gathered them together. They grew up together in a safe place, protected from all the devastation during the Fall.”

“That’s uplifting,” she commented.

“I had no idea the Munga told the tale, too,” I said to Jack. “Is it at all the same for you?”

“Mostly. Grandma’s tale had no fairy, whatever that is. The Pan’s closest friend is one of the spirits, a little girl named Tink, who flies through the air with him. She’s the one who guides him. Other than that, it’s the same, I think. All right, here we go. If I was told right, we should run into a path in a few minutes, after heading out. Remember to bury the circle again, just like you did the others.”

I did as he instructed. It was unlikely the Torgans would come this way, as we were far away from any Munga villages, and a good deal to the south of the nearest battalion, but he was right. Better safe than sorry. Soon enough, as he’d predicted, we came across a much narrower path, clearly not built by the ancestors.

“Impressive,” Esme said softly. “Even with sight, I wouldn’t have been able to find this path, not from the edge of the sands. Not without an army, anyway.”

“Sterling has an army,” I reminded her darkly. “If he comes this way, he’s got enough men to search the whole area and find the path even without the markers. For all we know he’s already done so, and his army is ahead of us.” It wasn’t a likely possibility, granted. Even one battalion would need a big water supply, and the closest source was that stream we’d visited days ago.

“Keep up that positive thinking,” Esme said wryly, and Jack chuckled.

“It doesn’t make sense, though,” I pondered aloud as we continued on the path. We were slower now, as the sand caused us to sometimes lose our way, but it was better than wandering the desert aimlessly. “You’re sighted, and the tale says only a sighted person can find the Sanctuary. But why would the markers be hidden so even a sighted person couldn’t find the way?”

“We still don’t know that the story has anything to do with Jack’s task,” Esme answered. “We don’t even know if the story is true at all. Maybe Jack’s friends live further to the south or something, and just meet in the wastes so that no one will know.”

“I doubt it,” I said slowly. “To the south is just deeper into the desert. The Munga people might be able to survive there for a few weeks, maybe, but no one else could. I get the feeling that if anyone is at the Sanctuary, they've been living out here for much, much longer than that.”

“Maybe they’re spirits,” Jack chipped in. “You don’t have to be alive to talk, you know.”

Part of me was tempted to berate him for his superstition, but I held back on that. Who was I to judge, really? I had thought that I was some kind of freak, or aberration, until I’d seen another person whose eyes were like mine. The whole world thought that sighted people were gone for good, and they were wrong. Who was to say that Jack wasn’t right about the spirits of the dead?
« Last Edit: October 10, 2022, 05:07:10 AM by Daen »