Author Topic: Rust 4  (Read 7937 times)

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Offline Daen

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Rust 4
« on: October 10, 2022, 05:02:14 AM »
I had slept more soundly since meeting Esme than ever in my life before, and tonight was no exception. My only warning was borne of my long, paranoid experience with sleeping in enemy territory. I’d been hunted before, by entire city guard forces, and I still bore the scars from some of those encounters.

It was the change in breathing. Esme was still asleep from her breaths, but there… was someone else here! Trying desperately to control my own breaths, I slowly reached for one of our stolen swords, but didn’t get very far.

“Don’t move!” A voice said sternly, from my right. “I’ve got a blade at her throat, and if you so much as twitch I’ll kill her.”

Esme woke immediately, but mercifully didn’t cry out or move either. My heart seemed to have stopped with fear. Risking my own life was one thing, but he didn’t have a blade to my throat, did he?

“Esme?” I asked softly. “Are you hurt?”

She was still as a stone. “No, but he’s not lying about that knife,” she said with remarkable steadiness.

“Mirri? What… do you want?” I asked faintly. I wanted to reach for Esme’s hand to reassure her, but that was too risky. I didn’t even have thoughts in my head for how he’d known we were here. Maybe the wind had shifted in the night.

“Why are you following me?” He insisted, and I heard a pained noise from Esme. At least I didn’t smell any blood. Yet. “Tell me, now, or I open her up!”

“We think the Torgans are after the same thing you are,” I said quickly, my heart racing again. “We raided that outpost and stole some of their messages. They’re looking for something in the wastes, around the same direction you were going.”

“Why didn’t you tell me? It’s not like I could have stopped you from coming with me,” he said scornfully.

“I didn’t think you would trust us,” Esme spoke up. “I thought if you had company, you would change your path, and lead us somewhere else, to protect whoever you’re meeting.”

I grimaced. That didn’t make us sound like good people at all, but it was the truth. At least we were telling it now, even if we were being forced to.

“Trust us, Mirri. We helped you before, and we can help you again. Whatever your task is; whatever’s in those jars, won’t it be easier to handle if you have two adults helping you?” I said desperately.

“For all I know you’re bandits, and are just hoping I’ll lead you to something valuable you can steal! Why should I believe you?”

Poor kid. He’d been through a lot, apparently, and was hearing threats everywhere. “We’re not bandits. You can trust us, because I’m Rustle, ok?” I admitted aloud. “I’m the ghost who haunts the Torgans.”

It was very strange to hear coming from my own throat. I’d told Esme of course, but that had been different. She hadn’t been born in the land, so she had no idea the importance of what I’d been telling her. This kid… might.

Or might not. “Rustle is a myth,” he said stubbornly. “It’s no more real than the Sanctuary story. It’s just something Torgan mothers tell their horrible kids, to get them to behave.”

“Oh, I’m very real,” I assured him.

“So am I,” Esme put in, still calm despite her imminent danger. “I’m sighted.”

I felt my jaw drop. Admitting to treason and murder to overthrow a nation was one thing, but just saying you were sighted like that? She might as well have said that water flows upwards, or that pigs could fly.

“That’s impossible,” Mirri said predictably, but I felt Esme shake her head.

“It’s not. You have a scar on your left cheekbone. It’s small, maybe one finger wide, in the shape of a half circle. You probably had a fall, years ago, and hit your head. No, I didn’t touch your face,” she reminded him, as even I could feel the boy tense up at her words. “I saw your face, just as I’m seeing it now in the moonlight.”

His grip trembled, and he slowly sat up, away from us. “It’s true, isn’t it? I thought I heard you say something like that, but I didn’t believe my ears. How did this happen? Did the spirits bless you? Or curse you?”

In and out like a striking snake, I snatched the knife from his hand, but it didn’t matter anymore. His will to hurt us had been shattered by what Esme had said, and he was no longer a threat. He didn’t even react when I took it.

“I don’t know,” Esme admitted. “I was born this way; different from everyone else in my village. So was… someone else I knew,” she amended quickly. “I can do things that most people can’t. Here, feel behind you, for my pack. Do you feel that long, curved thing? That’s a bow. I made it to hunt animals when I was alone, and it’s how I killed those men who were holding you prisoner.”

“Tiny spears,” he whispered, barely audible in the night.

“Arrows,” she clarified. “My ancestors used to use them in the ancient tales, and that’s how I know about bows and arrows. The ancestors had much, much more powerful weapons and tools as well, but those are all lost to history.”

“We want to come with you,” I put in, trying to focus the kid back on his task. “We think it’s important, not just to the Torgans, but to Esme as well, because of the Sanctuary story. I mean what are the odds that there’s an ancient Munga myth about a place only a sighted person can reach, and then a sighted person lands on our shores? If I believed in your spirits, I’d say it had to be their work.”

“You- you came here from across the sea?” Mirri asked, stunned.

“I did,” Esme said warmly- much more so than I would have, after what the little brat had just threatened to do. “I found my way by following the stars, just like my ancestors did in the old tales. I was very scared many times, and I almost died twice, but I made it here, because the old tales said this land had a great many people. I was hoping that there were others like me here, and I was right. At least partially,” she added, and I scowled reflexively.

“So what do you say, kid? Can we come with you? We’ll protect you, if the Torgans come after you again, I swear that to you.”

“I was told to come alone, in case of Torgan spies,” he said faintly. “I don’t know if she’ll think I broke my word.”

I felt my hands twitch. She? I tried to focus. “If ‘she’ is any kind of wise adult, she’ll know that we’re not with the Torgans, at all,” I said as reasonably as I could. “And adults should never blame kids for things they can’t control. If she asks, just tell her that we forced you to take us along.”

He was silent, but Esme spoke up right away. “I can see you trembling, and shivering.” She pulled up one of the travelling blankets from a nearby pack and quickly wrapped it around him. “I know you’re afraid. I would be too, and have been many times. But you’re also brave. Rust told me about the Munga, and how connected you are to the land. You have that spirit within you, and that’s what has brought you this far. But you’re not alone anymore, and you don’t have to be. We’ll protect you; we promise.”

With a burbling noise, the kid lunged forward and hugged her, fiercely. Even with my lingering resentment, I felt a kinship with him. He mumbled something into her shoulder, and she chuckled. “Say again?”

“I’m Jack,” he clarified, still holding on.
« Last Edit: October 10, 2022, 05:06:57 AM by Daen »