The Red Hand Part 22
by Shane Migliavacca
The Red Hand Part Twenty Two The Duru Zylhorn
“I would have killed him myself.” Third says to me. “If you hadn’t.”
We’re sitting under a large overhanging cliff with the rest of our new squad. The air is still, humid, sound is nearly nonexistent. We’re waiting here for our first mission with the squad. After what happened with our final test, with First, Sixth and me, all the tyros were sent to their new posts. I was lucky to get a squad with Third. Third Sader now. Sader being the clan she joined. Why can’t these guys just have a last name when they’re born? But, I’m glad I’m not alone here. I don’t think I’d even talk to anyone else in squad. There’s twelve of us including me and Third. I have yet to speak much with them except for when somebody gives me an order.
“I did…I did what I had to.” I say. “Let’s not go into it, okay?” Not really wanting to talk about with her. The whole thing makes me want to shut down, even now. It takes every bit of my strength to keep going every day. I picture the urn with her ashes sitting in my quarters. In the days after her death I found myself talking to it, taking it to the garden she liked. First’s body was left in the desert for scavengers to have. I don’t particularity feel sorry about his fate. He brought it on himself. I’ll never be able to forgive him for her death.
“I’m sorry if I opened those wounds.” Third says.
“No. They haven’t healed yet.”
“Yes. I know. They haven’t for me, perhaps they never will?”
“I just want you to know she was my friend and yours, and now you are my friend. She would have wanted that.”
I smile at Third despite my mood. “Yeah, she would have.”
“Cut the chatter,” Our team leader, Second Gar says. A bulky looking lizard. He’s a bit like an army sergeant. From what Third has told me about him he’s loyal to his team above all else. He was the second in command till last week. The squad’s first died in their last battle. Promoting Second Gar to a job I don’t think he wanted. Another thing I’m fairly sure he didn’t want was me being assigned to his squad. I’m becoming a bit of a celebrity here. Not something I want. But there’s nothing I can do about it. Tied over his right eye is a strip of cloth. Third tells me he lost it a few years ago, some sort of skirmish with desert scavengers. His head is shaved, but there’s a faint fuzzy patch of white hair atop it, where it’s growing back in.
I pull my hood up over my head. If we can’t talk, maybe I can take a little nap. I close my eyes trying not to think about anything. Letting all the tension fall away. I drift off to asleep for a short time. I dream of a field of giant sunflowers the size of trees. Sixth is there running among them.
“They’re here.” Second Gar says.
I snap out of my nap, feeling a bit light.
We were told we’d be working with a special unit but I never pictured this. Headed toward us on large wolf creatures are The Duru Zylhorn. The beast riders. Third tells me in this in excited whispers. They stop a few feet from where we sit. These creatures make Wolfie look like the runt of the litter. The lead rider jumps down from her mount and approaches us. The woman looks like an amazon compared to the other woman I’ve seen here. She has long black hair pulled back into a tight ponytail. A long tan cloak hangs off her shoulders. She and Second Gar exchange a salute. They talk a moment then Second Gar turns to us.
“Mount up! This is our transport to the objective.”
Great. We’re riding those? Third smiles, clearly excited by this. I’ve come to learn that she’s a bit of a nerd. History being her thing. I can see why her and Sixth were friends. Sixth had her gardens and Third has history.
We get up, gathering our gear. I pick up my trusty ax. This one is a custom job made by their weaponsmith, perfectly weighted for me. Embedded in the handle just under the ax head are a few crystals. This was Maebh’s doing. To give me a little extra help. I reach down, touching my crystal sword hilt hanging from my belt. Can’t leave home without it. I sling my pack over my shoulder, can’t leave the food behind either. My last bit of gear is just as important as the others. I don’t have claws for climbing like these guys. Instead I have to lug around some hefty rope for climbing. I coil it over my shoulder. There’s a metal ring at the bottom of the ax’s handle, designed to use with the rope. So now I can climb a little easier now.
The amazon lizard points at me. “You! You ride with me!” She barks, before climbing back up on her mount.
I walk towards the beast. Drool oozing over its large fangs. It exhales in my face. Damn, smells like vomit and dog crap in one furry package.
“Let him sniff you,” Amazon lady orders.
Wonderful. He presses his big wet nose against my face, taking a long sniff. The big goof then licks me. Well, I did need a bath I suppose.
“Get on,” The amazon says.
I walk around to the beat’s side. His coat smells as great as his breath. Like someone pissed on their favorite musty rug. Amazon offers me her hand and pulls me up. Sitting behind her, I look around at the rest of the squad. They’re all mounted up as well. Third still grinning like a kid on Christmas morning.
“Move out!” Amazon lady shouts.
We take off across the desert sands at full gallop. I pull my hood down over my face. These beasts kick up a lot of sand. I hold on tight to the amazon. These guys ride without any sort of saddle. I bury the side of my face into her cloak. I feel one of her arms taking my arm and pulling it tighter to her.
“Hold very tight!” She says. “I don’t want you falling off.”
“Thanks.” I say. Feeling a hot rush to my cheeks. If I hold her any closer, we’re going to have to get married.
“You are the outlander, The Spider slayer. I thought you’d be taller.” She says.
Oh no, is she a fan? “That’s me. I lost a couple inches.”
“I am Twelfth Bizi.”
“Pleased to meet you ma’am. Do you think you could teach me how to ride one of these guys?”
She lets out a loud bellowing laugh. “Of course!”
Our goal is just ahead of us. A large dust cloud moving through the desert. As we get closer my heart skips about twenty beats. I make out the large wheels first. Three on each side. Each as tall as a three story house. The body of the thing looks like an old sailing ship crashed into a train. The body of the thing is maybe eight to ten feet off the ground. Pulled by four mammoth beasts in harnesses. The hairy mammoths, each with long tusks, are about twenty feet tall.
“Give me your pack.” Twelfth orders.
I hand it to her. She ties it to her waist.
We speed up, pulling alongside the massive craft. I see my fellow squad jumping on to its sides, between the wheels.
“Go!” She says.
I look up at the side of the thing, then at the wheels to the front and back of us, and my heart stops altogether. I see one of the beast riders pull away, not timing it right, and getting crushed under the massive wheel. Smashed into the desert sands.
“Go! Go now!” She barks at me. “I can’t remain here long!”
I take a deep breath, readying myself. There’s a small ledge on the side. If I can get that with my ax. I can pull myself up the side. I tie the rope tight to the ax’s metal ring. The other end I tie tight around me. Concentrating, I give the crystals a little charge. They hum to life, covering the ax with a soft sheath of energy.
I let the ax fly. Now to see if all that practicing pays off.
The ax sails through the air, hitting just above the ledge and embedding its head into the wood.
I look at Twelfth. “Bye Bye birdie.” I say before jumping off.
She pulls the reins of the beast and they head off. Making it away without being crushed.
To my left and right are the massive wheels. If I drop I’m going under one of them, no doubt about that. Only thing to do is go up. Even with all the training my arms scream at me. My muscles burning like magma as I climb upwards. When I finally reach the ledge. I stop sitting there a moment, giving my arms a little break. After a minute of rest they feel a whole lot better.
Over the sound of the thundering wheels I can hear the clamor of battle above me. Damn I’m lollygagging while my squad is fighting. Time to get moving.
I look up. There’s a large lip about ten feet above me. Great, more climbing. I let use the ax again, sending it up a couple times unsuccessfully until on my fourth try it catches onto something. I start climbing. By the time I get there the battle will probably be over. Along the thing’s side there’s indentations. Claw holds for the lizards. I should invent a ladders for these guys.
I’m halfway up when a blue lizard male looks over the edge. He laughs seeing me climbing up the side. There’s a flash of metal as he reaches over the lip, a knife in his hand. He grabs my rope and starts to cut into it.
Frantic, I start climbing faster, my arms really hurting now as I try to close the gap. This makes him start cutting faster. But I’m almost there…just a bit closer.
Hanging by one arm I grab the hilt of the crystal sword. Pulling it from my belt. I imagine the blade extending from the hilt. The blade springs up shooting through the blue lizard’s head. He was so intent with cutting my rope he didn’t even notice what I was doing. He slumps forward falling over the side. I hug the wall as his body drops. Passing by me and falling under one of the large wheels.
I hustle up the last bit of rope. Not wanting the already weakened rope to give way, or one of his buddies to come along and try the same trick. Pulling myself up over the side, I let out a large sigh of relief. Up here it looks like something out of an old pirate movie as our squad takes on the enemy warriors. It’s a large deck area.
To my left Third takes down an enemy. She sees me and smiles. “Your late, sister!”
“I had a little trouble getting up here.” I say. As I try to undue the rope from my ax.
An enemy warrior charges me. Using the rope like a whip I let it fly, lashing him around one arm. I pull him off balance and into the waiting handle of my ax, which I ram into his face. He goes down with a grunt.
I scan the deck. There’s a large central structure. Like a large wood cabin. The remaining enemy are falling back to the cabin’s large wood double doors. It looks like we’ve got the advantage. There’s not many of them left. Their backs are to the doors now. There’s nowhere for them to go. This battle is almost over. One of the enemy warriors laughs and pulls open the large doors. Standing on the other side are red skinned lizard warriors in black armor. The battle is almost over. But I fear it’s going to be over for us.
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