Author Topic: Part 48: Endless Waves  (Read 10325 times)

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Offline Daen

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Part 48: Endless Waves
« on: May 23, 2023, 12:40:17 AM »
They had been rolling for days now. At first, Rane had been overwhelmed just observing as Moss directed the cart around the rocks and hills. When he'd been given control, he'd nearly rolled them right down a sheer cliff! He had learned quickly though, and now he handled the controls with a lot more confidence.

It was still so miraculous, from Rane's perspective. They were… actually moving through the hills, heading west towards the sea. Like a massive qar crawling its way, or a rollweed tumbling across the ground. Mobility!

Moss had spent most of the trip in silent contemplation, aside from periodically offering to take the controls so Rane could go into dormancy. Rane had allowed that only rarely, and then reluctantly, because he wanted to get used to it. Even when he wasn't directing their course, Rane spent the time thinking back over it, and getting very little rest.

Now they were moving through what was hopefully the worst of it. Because their cart couldn't handle steep climbs, they had to go around the biggest ones, which meant skirting the edges of the mountains inside the Desolation. Moss had impressed upon him the importance of speed here, but haste would do them little good if he ended up flipping the cart and rolling them both into a ravine. Rane didn't have many opportunities to be self-congratulatory, but he had to admit, he'd become a fine carter. If that was the right word.

He'd tried speaking to Moss now and then, early on, but his friend barely responded. Aside from giving him the occasional bit of advice about their course, or how to avoid getting stuck, Moss had continued his internal planning. At first, Rane had been afraid he might try to leave him behind again. That was one of the other reasons he'd been so reluctant to give up control. But as they continued, he was more and more certain Moss was thinking of other things.

It had to be their plan. Whatever that plan was. Moss hadn't said a word about it, so all Rane had was his theories. He might not be the greenest branch in the grove, but he wasn't stupid either. They'd consumed more than half of the water and fuel that had come with the cart, which meant they were heading somewhere they could resupply. They weren't heading to any Union grove—of that he was certain. All the groves west of their hometown had been burned to ash. That meant the resuppliers would be sandkin.

Char had been the only sandkin he'd ever met, as far as he'd known anyway. She wasn't anything like that trejun lord who had seemed so impressive, in his own aloof way. She'd been personable and chatty, insightful and patient with all the questions sent her way, and calmly confident in both her people and the Union. He could understand why Moss had bonded with her. But how much of that had been genuine? The last foreign visitor they'd hosted had been lying right from the start! Was she really such an outgoing and engaging person, or had she just been pretending? Sure, the sandkin had turned balance of the war in their favor again, but what would happen when the war was over? If it ever ended. Like the strange repetitive noise coming from up ahead, he felt like the fighting might continue forever.

Rane tried not to think about that. The only family he had in grove Praska was his grandmother. Jora had raised him well, in addition to her duties as Grovekeeper, but she'd been opposed to his decision to join up. She'd been worried he might die up there, or come back changed, as Moss had also feared. Rane felt shame over how he'd responded to her at first. "People are dying all over the Union, all to keep us safe, grandmother! I have a duty to help them—to make their sacrifice worth it! Not to do so would be wrong, and you taught me to value what's right."

She'd been so relieved when he'd told her he was going with Moss instead. So had he actually, but privately. As much as he felt it was his duty to defend the Union, he didn't want to risk dying. Or killing someone.

Whoa. Up ahead, the terrain was changing. Rock gave way to sand, and tough, wiry plants were disappearing as they moved on. Sand couldn't support much by way of plant life. And beyond that… was something he couldn't even comprehend.

Rane had seen enzyme images of the ocean, but actually experiencing it directly was something else! The repetitive noise he'd heard before was amplified tenfold, and the rush of water, so much louder than that sloshing he'd heard back in Praska's aqueduct, stretched out to the north and west for leagues! It was mixed in with animal noises, too. Strange-sounding small birds were soaring above the waves. They weren't like the small ones back home at all. Their… what was the word? Beaks? Yes, their beaks were much larger, and they stayed up there for long times by comparison. The little birds in Praska would flit from tree to tree, or from treqar to treqar, and then sit, making their little songs. Here, these creatures just floated up there, swaying back and forth like he'd done directing their cart this far.

Speaking of which, he didn't know where to go from here. He sent an enzymatic prod in Moss' direction. "Hey."

It took a couple more prods, but Moss eventually came out of whatever dream he'd been having, and took in their surroundings. "Wow."

"Yeah. Reading about it just isn't the same, is it? Now, where do we go? You just said reach the sea, and we have."

"South," Moss directed. "Stay on the sand, but out of the water. The wheels are wide enough to handle it—they were built by desert-dwellers after all."

"You got it."

He was getting used to the noise from the 'waves' as he'd read them described. Apparently at some times of the season, the waves were higher, and at others lower. Sometimes they pushed further into the sands, and sometimes less. "How long will we be on the sand?" He asked casually.

"Not long," Moss said distractedly. "A few hours, maybe. I'm not sure where the settlement is."

Rane kept in a surge of satisfaction. Finally, some details! The sandkin settlement, he assumed. He was eager to meet more of them, and compare them to Char. Unless they were under attack or something. He didn't want to fight, but he was willing to. Their cart had a pair of thunderers in the front and back, and he was trained in using them. He'd been practicing with the articulator limb even before leaving with Moss. Maybe now was the time to press his luck and wheedle more information about what they were doing all the way out here. "So, anything I should know about this settlement? Should I start loading the thunderers?"

Moss let out some amusement. "I doubt it. They're expecting us. Hopefully they'll have what we need to continue the journey. If not, for all I know, they'll just resupply us and send us back to grove Praska."

That hadn't been the answer Rane was expecting. "Wait, what? You mean you don't know what the plan is? Then what have you been pondering for days now?"

"I know the general plan, Rane; don't worry. I just don't know if it starts at the settlement or somewhere else. As for what I've been 'pondering', I… I'd rather not get into it."

"Ah." That was a relief. "Female troubles, then?"

Moss' sense sharpened suddenly, but then softened a bit. "You could tell, huh?"

"It's not much of a stretch, actually. It really only could have been one or the other. Are you sure you don't want to talk about it? I'm a good listener, and I can keep a secret."

"I don't want to bore you either."

Rane tried to hold in his incredulity. "Moss, we've been traveling in near-silence for days. As wondrous as controlling the cart has been, I could use the distraction."

His friend hesitated again. All right. "We've got some time before we reach the settlement."