Author Topic: Rust 3  (Read 8804 times)

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Offline Daen

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Rust 3
« on: October 10, 2022, 05:02:44 AM »
“What were you thinking, taunting him like that?” Esme inquired, about an hour later. “You’re supposed to be Rustle, the ghost! The evil spirit tormenting the Torgans, not the traitor’s child they killed years ago!”

We were off the road again, but not too far. She could see it, she said, so we wouldn’t get lost in the wilderness. On her insistence, we had gone after the boy, Mirri. Now that our errand in the Torgan base was over, she was free to pursue her original interest: finding out exactly what this boy was doing out here, and if he had anything to do with the Sanctuary story.

I groaned, and not just at the misfortune of Marsden’s reaction to me. I was still feeling the bruises from our altercation. My mission had been successful, but they knew a lot more about me now.

“He recognized me, Esme. I don’t know how, exactly- maybe he could remember my scent from back when we were kids. He called me by name, and everyone who knew that name assumed I died years ago with my father.”

“I see,” she said slowly, and I could practically hear her thoughts bubbling in her head. “Why did you leave him alive, then? I don’t enjoy killing, as you know, but you’d be a lot safer if you’d just killed him instead of knocking him out.”

“He doesn’t know everything that the Governor has done, or he won’t let himself believe it yet. Maybe if he does come around, I can convince him to turn against Sterling. Or at least give us information on what Sterling’s even doing out here in the first place. Assuming this message doesn’t do that,” I added, grunting as I tried to shift the message cylinder open. These things were carved to be virtually indestructible, and this one was living up to the reputation. If push came to shove, I could just break it with a big rock, but I didn’t want to risk damaging the message inside.

“There’s more to it than just using him, though,” Esme said in a thoughtful tone. “Isn’t there?”

I started, nearly tripping on a small stone. Sometimes I forgot how aware she could be. “I thought you said you couldn’t hear my intentions in my voice.”

“I can see your face, Rust,” she reminded me.

I snapped my fingers. “Right. I keep forgetting that. You can see right into my soul, can’t you?”

She laughed lightly. “People wear their souls on their faces. Maybe before the Fall, when everyone could see, they practiced hiding their feelings, but nowadays? It’s as easy as breathing to me.” She sighed. “Why did you spare him, then? The real reason, not that turning him against the Governor wouldn’t be a good thing, mind you.”

I shrugged uncomfortably. “He’s an able tactician. He proved that when he set his little trap for me. It would have worked, if you hadn’t been there. Killing him would be like putting down a well-trained dog for no reason, or shattering a well-made clay pot, just because I could. It would be wasteful.”

“He’s an enemy, though. That should be even more reason to kill him. Keep trying, lover.”

She was taunting me now, but it was in a good-natured way. She could easily be using her sight to manipulate me, but I knew that she was just trying to lead me to a realization I would otherwise have missed on my own.

Why had I spared him? Why had I told him I would delay his well-deserved killing until after Sterling was dead? “I… don’t know. It’s a little shameful to admit, but I think, maybe, I just missed him. We played together as kids, and our parents were close friends.”

“That’s not shameful at all,” Esme said briskly. “I still miss some of my friends from back home. Even after they found out I could see, and I had to leave because of it. Just because other people change, doesn’t mean we do, and that’s not a bad thing either.”

Sometimes I forgot that she’d been through similar experiences to my own. She was such a curious, spirited person, with so much experience traveling the world, but her past had its own horrors. She didn’t often talk about her home village, across the sea. Mostly when she spoke of her past, it was of her journeys, and the amazing things she’d seen on her way here.

She went on, oblivious to my thoughts for once. “I think there’s another reason, and it’s one not even you have realized yet. It’s part of why I joined you on this risky lifestyle. If you just wanted vengeance, you would have poisoned Sterling, Marsden, and all the others a long time ago. Well, you are a man, so maybe you would have snuck into their rooms and stuck a knife into each of them instead. Either way.”

She gripped my hand as we walked. “Instead, you chose to start openly killing Torgan soldiers, even before I joined up. You made yourself into the last noise your targets ever heard: Rustle, the ghost. You turned yourself into a symbol for everyone. I think you’re trying to overthrow the whole Torgan Republic, as a whole. Not to rule it,” she added hastily, before I could object, “and not to replace it either. Just to stop it from hurting people like it hurt you and yours.”

I walked in silence for a while, following her sighted lead. I had never considered why I took the name Rust for myself. Sure, it was a thrill to constantly sting the Torgan war effort, like a wasp that could never truly be swatted down, but it was hardly sustainable. I’d accomplished a lot before meeting her, and even more since, but why had I done it in the first place?

Maybe she was right. Maybe I was aiming bigger than just myself, without even knowing it. I was doomed to fail, of course. No one man could overthrow the thousands of soldiers and tens of thousands of people within the Torgan Republic, but I could make a statement, and one that would echo across the land. “Yes,” I said with mock confidence. “That’s precisely why I did all this. I am the hero of this tale, and even in death, I will win, because my name will be spoken by all. Who else would take such risks, and live in such isolation, but a renegade warrior with a heart of gold and nerves of iron? Who else would win such an incredible woman to stand at his side in this doomed fight of the ages?”

She chuckled, and elbowed me, thankfully in my uninjured side. “Don’t be an ass. It was just a theory.”

“A good one,” I admitted after a moment. “I never really thought about why, but you’re probably right. After my parents were killed, I was all rage and hate, but that slowly changed. I still have those within me, but now I use them, instead of letting them use me.”

“It’s why I joined you,” she pecked me on the cheek. “It’s part of what I love about you.”

I felt my cheeks warm a bit. When I’d been a child, Mother had told me that women appreciated honesty, and it seemed she was being proven right. Not that I had much right to blush, after what Esme and I had been doing for months now. Come to think of it, according to her Church from home, we’d been married for a long time, though neither of us thought that way. We were together, and that’s what mattered.

“Can you still see him?” I asked, more to change the subject than out of any real concern.

“Yeah, he’s up on the ridgeline, donkey and all. Tough little nut, isn’t he? How does he even know where he’s going, if he stays off the road like that? I’ve only seen him return to the road once, and that was just after we caught up with him.”

“He must be a Munga,” I said simply. “I thought I recognized his accent from before. They know this territory like the back of their hands. From what I’ve heard, their ancestors were no different back before the Fall. They were able to live in the wastes with no real difficulty, while mine, the people who came over the sea, always had a hard time finding and killing them.” It was shameful to admit my own people’s hateful ways, but that history had survived even the Fall. People like Sterling continued to lie about it, but that didn’t change what had happened.

I had been working unconsciously this whole time, to loosen the message container, and I finally felt it creak a little bit. They were built to be opened only by mechanical means, but time and effort could overcome that. The body was a machine after all, just not as durable as one of the machines built before the Fall.

Esme helped me retrieve the knotted string inside, and I found the start of the message. She couldn’t read our carvings of course, but she’d told me that her people across the sea had their own carving system for sending messages between islands.

“It’s pretty much what we thought,” I said as I went through the message. “Sterling ordered his Lieutenants to invade all of the Munga villages at the same time. They were to kill their spiritual leaders, and search their shrines for some kind of machine. The message doesn’t say what machine it is, or if they found it.”

I kept on with the string. “Ah. Once the villages have been pacified,” I spat on the ground at that word, “the Lieutenants are to keep pushing west into the waste. He has approximate coordinates here, in the wilderness, but they’re supposed to be searching the area for… a mesa out there. When they find it, they’re supposed to send a pigeon back to Darwin to tell the others.”

She leaned forward, obviously interested. “Any mention of the Sanctuary? Could that mesa be it?”

“No idea, but the Torgans are definitely looking for something out there, and that means I’m interested too.”

“Well, our little friend turned west about half an hour ago, and left the road even further behind. He’s heading in that direction, so I’m willing to bet he’s involved with… whatever this is.”

I grimaced. Kids shouldn’t be caught up in wars, much less drafted as soldiers. Mirri had stabbed a Torgan in the neck, not out of hate but desperation. I could relate, having had to do similar stuff when I was first starting out on this life of crime. “We should confront him,” I said on impulse.

“And what? Tell him we know he’s lying? Just say that we’re there to help him with the Torgans, with no proof whatsoever? If we want to find out where he’s going, we have to keep him from knowing he’s being followed.”

Her reasoning was sound, but it still felt wrong. With her eyes, we could follow him at a much greater distance than any normal person, and if he was attacked again, we’d be close enough to help again. Granted, my assistance last time had been more of an incidental thing, but I had helped. Whatever that liquid was he was transporting, it was important. The Torgans hadn’t broken a century of indifferent peace with the Munga just to conquer a little more territory. Whatever the Governor wanted was past their territory, and that’s where Mirri was headed like a pigeon flying home.

“Looks like he’s setting up camp for the night,” Esme reported, and slowed our pace. “We should do the same. Are we downwind from him?”

I smirked. She’d relied on her eyes for a very long time, but she was learning fast to think like one of us. “Yes, and I think we’ll stay that way. Still, we shouldn’t light a fire, just in case. We’ll have to keep each other warm again,” I added, putting a hand to my forehead in mock dismay. “Oh, what a burden we must bear indeed! A truly calamitous turn of events.”

“I told you not to be an ass,” she said lightly. “Come on, lie down on your back with me. I’ll describe the starshapes again.”
« Last Edit: October 10, 2022, 05:06:50 AM by Daen »