Author Topic: Jack 2  (Read 9579 times)

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Offline Daen

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Jack 2
« on: October 10, 2022, 05:04:49 AM »
As soon as seardown had passed, I was on my way.

It wasn’t easy hiding a donkey and fully-loaded cart from notice, but thankfully the townspeople were still focused on all the horror that had happened to them. They would eventually realize I was gone, and maybe even search for me, but by then I would be long gone.

Sarah had been… sparing in her details. All she’d really told me was that this task had been my mother’s, and that it had fallen to me now. She seemed to know that I was only thirteen, but hadn’t commented on it. I would have complained, but I’d been raised with a similar view. Life was unfair to adults and children alike, and those who didn’t rise to the challenge, simply died.

It was the first time I’d ever left the village alone (or been this far out alone, at least), and it was exciting. Asa had good eyesight for an older donkey, and would steer the cart to the side if there were any obvious obstructions on the road. The heavy load on the cart was a problem, especially at first as we went uphill, but she rose to the challenge and was now maintaining a steady pace. Another advantage to travelling at night was that there was less chance of meeting anyone, even on a road. I was fairly handy with a knife, but I didn’t want to test myself against any bandits who might want to steal from travelers.

Though what they would be stealing was the great mystery, wasn’t it? The cart was carrying over fifty clay pots, painstakingly filled over the years, by the steady efforts of my mother.

She’d told me it was medicine, the first time I asked. She often crushed leaves with a mortar and pestle, and ground them. Sometimes she even squeezed the juice right out of them, as with some of the tonics that she would put in jars. Strangely, the jars with bent necks kept their precious contents much more safely than those with straight necks. All the different powders, and mixtures, and leaves, and tonics, had each had a different purpose, and mama knew all of them by heart. This one, though, was no mere medicine.

I’d also asked her why she needed so much of it, but had only been shushed in response. Her reasons were her own, and she’d been doing this since long before I was born. Twice a year, in the late spring and early fall, she’d been outside harvesting these precious plants, and then spent most of the summer and winter distilling them.

What could the spirits want with this medicine? Why would spirits need any medicine? They were beyond life and death; Wollunka most of all! I supposed it made sense that Sarah would need someone of flesh and blood to haul the liquid, but why keep it a secret? If she’d made herself known, many in the village would have gladly undertaken her task, despite the recent attack.

The road underfoot was getting rougher. It was a sign that there was a fork coming up. I patted Asa on the neck, urging her to stop for the moment, and then swept my cane in wide sweeps, until it thudded into a signpost. In ancient times, the sighted had used such posts to divine where to go next, or so the stories said. For all of us nowadays, we had other means.

Hanging from the post was a heavily tied rope, running through multiple wooden disks. Each disk had been carved with a few letters, and by running my hands from top to bottom, I was able to read the whole message. It indicated that the fork to my right, towards the rising sear, would eventually turn north towards the Springs. I had been there before, and still had some friends living there, probably. The Springs were also occupied by a Munga tribe, much like my hometown. There were five or six Munga villages in the area.

Unfortunately the Springs were also probably in the path of the Torgans. The Springs had a shrine much like our own, which meant the Torgans would also go there, and search that place as well. Maybe they sought the spirits themselves, but Sarah had just been able to stay silent and they’d passed right through her.

A burst of anger passed through me. Those yanamuls had just trampled through our home, as if it had been their right! They’d hurt my mother- maybe killed her for all I knew, and placed their mark in Tennant. What gave them the right to do any of that? Part of me hoped this liquid was actually a poison, and that Sarah meant to use it on them.

I returned to Asa, and guided her to the left fork, and off the beaten path. These roads had been carved by the ancestors, long before the Great Fall, and they were made of an unknown rock. It was a miraculous material, which expanded in the summer and grew smaller in winter. Once, or so I’d been told, a thousand carts could pass by on this road in just a few minutes, and the ancestors could visit ten or twenty villages in a single day! But those were just old stories. That knowledge had been lost a long time ago.

The road got much rougher from here on out. I was heading into the wastes, the uninhabited rough terrain which only the Munga had once lived in. I was neither piranpi nor Munga, but both by ancestry. Most of the people I knew, including my parents, had also been children of both lines as well. We lived by Munga ways, but our language was mostly piranpi, or what the ancestors had called ‘white men’. I still didn’t know what that meant. They were men, sure, but what was ‘white’?

It must have been a sighted thing. Before the Great Fall, it was said that all people had a fifth sense of sorts. It allowed them to do incredible things, much more so than just building the road I traveled. It had also allowed them to end the world. Some piranpi histories claimed that it was this ‘sight’ that had been responsible for the Fall itself. That was beyond my understanding, though. The world was the way it was, now. I could hope that it would change for the better, but I couldn’t do anything about it.

Strangely, whatever had stripped the world of sight had passed animals by. Asa could see, as could our sheep and goats, and the dogs we kept. Perhaps animals had been useful before the Fall, but they were definitely more useful now.

Suddenly I stopped, dead. Asa moved her head towards me questioningly, but I patted her to keep her calm. I could hear voices up ahead.

No one was supposed to be out here, especially this early in the morning. If people were stuck between villages after seardown, they camped near the road, so they could trade with other travelers. Come to think of it, bandits did the same, so they could prey on the same. These people must be here for another reason.

As quietly as I could, I led Asa off the road, to the right. She was very docile, probably because of her age, and didn’t protest much. She would stay put, at least for a while, if I left, so I had some time to investigate. I stole away from her and barely daring to breathe, approached the voices again.

“What are we even doing out here?” One voice was asking. “These primitives make poor slaves, and they have nothing worth taking. They don’t even offer good sport in a fight. They just scream, and pray to their stupid gods for mercy. They should be praying to us.”

I felt another stab of anger. I could hear two breaths, from people who were taking no efforts to keep quiet at all. They definitely didn’t care if anyone heard them, which probably meant they were Torgan soldiers. Had they been among those who had attacked Tennant? My hand went down to my belt knife, but then hesitated. I might be able to kill, skin, and butcher a sheep, but did I have what it took to kill a man?

They were male voices, and harsh. From the accents, they were piranpi. There were very few Munga ancestors among the Torgans. As a result they were probably mostly white like their ancestors, whatever that meant.

“Orders are orders,” the other voice responded. “The Governor wants us out here, and that’s all I need to know.”

“Come on, Lewis. You’ve got your ear to the ground. I know you have some suspicions, so what are they? What are we doing all the way out here, especially when we have the Queenslanders to deal with on the other side of the Republic?”

‘Lewis’ hesitated for a moment, taking in a slow breath. “There’s a Munga story I heard a while ago. The Sanctuary tale. It might be related; I’m not sure.”

I felt my chest tighten. I had heard the Sanctuary tale myself, but I’d never believed it. “Go on,” the other man prompted him.

“Rumor has it that one person survived the Great Fall with his sight intact. He collected as much of the ancestors’ knowledge as he could, and fled into the wilderness. Eventually the desert took him and he died, but before that, he hid it away in a special place. A Sanctum that he built himself. It’s said that those secrets are locked away, behind endless puzzles and traps set by this sighted person. No one who has ever gone after it has returned, and the waste is littered with the bodies of those who have tried.” Lewis let out a sigh. “I only bring it up, because according to the story, the Sanctum is near where we are now, out a little further in the waste.”

“Hm,” the other guy let out thoughtfully. “Any chance it could be true?”

Lewis snorted. “It’s a Munga fairy tale. They believe all sorts of garbage. Still, the Governor ordered a full platoon out here to secure these villages. Maybe he believes it too.”

I’d heard enough. These people weren’t looking for me or those jars. They’d just been ordered into the area. If I went back and led Asa further off the road, maybe I could stay hidden until they left. Searrise wasn’t far off, and then they would probably move on as well.

I quietly rose, but before I could turn around a huge hand gripped me by the hair on the back of my head, and a cold metal blade pressed against my neck! Whoever it was, must have found the cart, and waited here for my return!

“Well, well,” a third voice ground out from right behind me. “What have we got here?”