The Red Hand Part 29
by Shane Migliavacca
The Red Hand Twenty Nine Rest Stop
Two days have passed since we left the mines of Dars Muru. Me and my unwanted Troika sidekick: Nasr Junner. The wind is insanely strong today. Not sandstorm quality, but we have our cloaks pulled tight with the hoods up. Neither of us can see more the ten feet in front of us. I remember a couple blizzards back home like this. This is as bad as that, but thankfully without the cold. The trouble is there’s no shelter to be found. I’ve been in more caves then I care to count on this planet and when I need one, it’s nowhere to be seen.
I stop atop a high dune. Nasr has fallen behind a little in the storm. I take a breather, waiting for him to catch up. I stretch my arm out. Pain shoots through it, from my shoulder to my fingers. The same shoulder I injured sometime ago. Not sure if I aggravated the old wound climbing down the stone pillar or maybe pinched a nerve. What ever the case, the pain is nearly consent. I haven’t told Nasr about it. Not sure how he’d take this “weakness” of mine.
I still don’t fully trust him. But I can’t say he’s done any shady shit since we left. He’s had my back the whole way so far. But there’s still a sliver of doubt deep in me.
He stumbles up the dune towards me. I can tell he’s not very used to the desert. His feet slide a bit in the sand. He reaches out a hand for help. I take it with my bad arm. Thankful my face is covered, covering the grimace I make.
“We need to find shelter!” He shouts, over the gusting wind.
“Tell me something I don’t know.”
Tenth made something when we were with Maebh. It was basically a covered hole in the ground. But this wind would make digging it near impossible. Besides neither of us have a fur blanket like Tenth did then.
“We’ll have to keep going till we find something.” He says, steadying himself on the dune.
“Agreed.” I say, sliding down the other side of the dune. Really, I don’t want to stop. I have to know if they have Maebh or if she’s still in the caves…buried. Dead. The thought of either of those possibilities weighs heavily on my tired shoulders. Twisting my gut in knots.
Nasr follows me. It amuses me that I’ve become a bit more adapt at the desert then him.
“Your not big on the desert.”
“Does it show?” He laughs. “No, I’m not particularly fond of it. Too much sand and too little of everything else.”
On and on we trudged. Our energy started to drain, muscles ached. My thoughts returning to thoughts of the old woman. Finally there was a break in the wind. Not soon after we glimpse a large layered rock outcropping surround by a bunch of other rocks on both sides. It’s a little ways from the entrance to a small valley. A valley we have to go through to get to the caves.
We agree that resting under the shade of the rocks sounded great. Even if it’s a little off the beaten path.
I drop my hood. Shaking dirt out of my hair. Nasr takes a drink of water from my extra water skin. I took two just in case, besides me being a little greedy. Looks like it paid off, having him along and all.
To tired to talk we sat there in the shadow of the rocks awhile. I take out my water skin. Taking a swig of water, before I use a little water on my face. Cleaning off the layer or two of sand that’s caked on.
“Something I’ve been meaning to ask you Nasr.” I say, after a little time has passed.
“Yes,?” His eyes blink open. Bright green even in the shade. “What’s that?”
Was he asleep?
“Nasr Junner, is that a title? Like Second Gar or The Reint?”
He laughs. “No. Unlike your friends: The Audar, my people use names.” He shifts his weight, putting his back flat against the rock.
The Audar. I don’t think I’ve ever heard their name mentioned before.
“They believe in the whole. Everything is for the good of the group. The individual is secondary. Individual names are not important.” His voice sounds full of contempt.
I dry my face off with my sleeve. “And your way is better?”
“I believe so. The Troika on the other hand, we feel the individual is the most important part. The individual’s self interest enriches the whole. Their uniqueness adding to society.”
There are people back home who’d go crazy studying these different societies. I’m not one of them. So the Troika have names anyway. Little easier then all the numbers. Wonder what other differences there are?
He closes his eyes again. “I don’t want to leave this spot.”
“How’d you end up in that wagon?” I sigh, leaning against the rock. I stretch my hurt arm out. Needles of pain dance down it.
“My job. I was put in charge of overseeing the supply line to and from the mine.” He says, sighing. His voice sounds full of regret.
“You don’t sound like you cared for it.” The rock supporting my shoulder, eases the pain a little. I think I could stay here awhile myself. If it wasn’t for…
“No, wasn’t the job I preferred. I was an administrator in the capitol city of The Imperium. Calculating supply routes. Mainly for the outposts and settlements. Before that I worked as a clerk in the Troika city of Jual. The numbers, doing the calculations in my head. That’s what I enjoy. ” His eyes flicker open again. He leans forward, staring off into the distance. “I made the mistake of speaking my mind. Angered the wrong people. Thus I was assigned to the field.” He picks up some sand, letting it fall through his clawed hand. “My punishment.”
“So, both of us don’t want to be here.” I say, laughing. A bittersweet taste in my mouth.
My hand brushes an opening at the base of the rock. I look down to see a medium sized hole there. In the area between us. It doesn’t look normal, more like somebody made it.
“What’s this?” I ask, pointing to the hole. I knock some sand into the hole as I move to get a better look.
As Nasr to turns towards me there’s a loud hiss, like air escaping a tire, but louder. This is followed by a flash of white and green.
Instinctively we both jump up. Backing away from the rock. There’s a quick glint of gold as something springs up from the ground towards us hissing. That same something wraps around my right arm. Painfully tight.
A snake! Or something close to one. It’s scale covered body is coiled around arm, cutting off the feeling. It’s colored white with a spiral of green running around it’s long body. It’s eyes are glimmering slits of gold. Fangs drip with saliva as it’s head rears back.
I grab it just under the head by instinct. Bashing it in with the butt of my ax. Dying the thing lets loose of my arm. The body falls to the ground, twitching for a moment.
“It’s a Tonzu nest!” Nasr says, drawing a dagger from his clothes.
Three more of the damn things coil under the rock, right where we’d been sitting. One of them launches itself at Nasr. With a single slash he cuts through it.
“We have to get out of here!” He hollers.
A second one lashes out. This time coming at me. I catch it with the ax head. Breaking it’s body with a sickening squish.
We back off as the third tonzu attacked. Trying to latch itself onto Nasr’s leg. Frantic, he kicks’ it away. I lunge with the ax, slicing it in two, before it can attack. It’s two halves flopping around. Staining the sand with it’s blood.
There were hisses coming from all around us in the rocks. One jumps out from between some rocks at Nasr. He slices it’s head off as it comes at him.
A large one drops down from the rocks. Landing at my feet. It rears up. Hissing. It’s gold eyes shimmer in the sun. Glaring at me. I swing my ax, but the thing leaps at me. Wrapping it’s body around the weapon’s handle and my arm. Making me powerless to kill it. It’s jaw drops open. Big white fangs in it’s mouth. Ready to sink into my flesh.
“My dagger! Take it!” Nasr tosses the dagger. I catch it with my free hand, nearly fumbling the toss. I sink the blade into the thing’s eye. Deep into it’s head. Pulling the blade out with the eye impaled on it. The body goes slack and falls to the ground. I kick it away in disgust.
“Run for the valley!” He calls out. “Just keep going!”
We run full tilt. Hisses of anger coming from everywhere now.
Finally we make it through the rocky area. Heading towards the valley. The hissing tonzu don’t follow us. We stop to catch our breaths.
“Damn!” I say, my heart thudding away in my chest. “What the hell? Does everything on this planet want to kill me?”
Nasr laughs. “We were in their territory. They live under the rocks. Must have a nest there. They saw us as invaders.”
I look back the way we came. “They gonna follow us?”
He shakes his head. “Once we fled, we were no longer a threat. They’ll leave us alone.”
“Good to know.”
He holds out his hand. “Can I have my dagger back?”
I look down at the bloody weapon in my hand. “Where did you get this little number?”
“Might of found it back at the mine.”
“Found it huh?”
For a few seconds I contemplate giving it back or keeping it. But hell, he could have used it on me. Or left me to die with the tonzu.
“Here.” I hand it back to him. “I don’t want to know how you got it.”
He wipes the blood from the dagger’s blade. “For the best really.”
We enter the valley. It was peaceful compared to the snake nest we just escaped. Prickly looking little plants dot the valley. It feels like there’s hard stone under the sand here. Both sides of the valley are rocky. Hopefully nothing is living in them. The progression of survivors must have passed through here. They must have had the smarts or luck to avoid the nest.
Walking for some time, Nasr mentions that it’s getting dark. We make camp for the night. Eating a small meal of black bread and stew by a fire. Neither of us really talking. Both of us a really beat from before.
I lie down on my cloak, using my backpack as a pillow. The throbbing pain has gradually returned to my arm as the adrenalin from earlier fades away. Making sleep tonight look impossible. I lie on my “good” side. Closing my eyes. The last thing I see is Nasr warming himself by the fire.
“Are you ever going to tell me what this trip is really about?” He asks, after some time has passed.
I roll onto my back. Opening my eyes, I stare up at the night sky. A few stars shine in the darkness. Is Earth up there somewhere? Is this place even the same reality?
“Haven’t really decided.”
He rubs his hands together. “Do you trust me?”
“Haven’t really decided that either.” I answer, which is the truth. Too many questions.
He lies down. Using his rolled up cloak as a pillow. “But your not worried I might kill you in the night?”
“Well, I’ve thought about that. I figure you’ve done the “calculations” and found it would be better to keep me alive.”
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