The Red Hand Part 31
by Shane Migliavacca
The Red Hand Thirty One The Ragged Edge
The two figures lead us too some old ruins. Just a few miles shy of entering the city. A long stone building, about one story high. Our guides keep their swords drawn as they escort us inside. They’ve also been kind enough to take our weapons. We enter through a large stone archway. The interior is a long hall with stone carvings on the walls and columns of stone pillars on either side. Our escorts hold their swords at the ready. I notice my guard is being a little lax with their sword, holding it at their side. While Nasr’s guard holds it uncomfortably close to the Troika’s side. The thought of jumping him crosses my mind. But that might make everything a lot worse. I decide for now it’s best to let this play out as is.
There are no crystals here to light the interior. Instead there are a few scattered torches attached to the columns. With the flickering light, I’m able to make out a little bit of the carvings as we pass by them. They appear to be about a great battle and a lone warrior gathering a large army. In one the warrior stands atop a fallen building. A great army rallying around him.
Ahead of us is a large altar at the hall’s center. Standing in front of it are two more hooded figures. The last time I saw this many hooded figures was our final test. When Sixth died. The smaller of the two at the altar seems to be in charge. As the other figure bows to them as we approach. Our two guards now both hold their swords close to us. I can feel the sharp tip touch my side.
The leader points to my guard and they take the sword away from me. When they do this, I catch a glimpse of the leader’s hand or more importantly what they’re wearing on their hand. A metal gauntlet. Crystals embedded on its backside.
“Wait a damn minute!” I say. “Tenth?”
Nasr and the four figures all turn and look at me.
The leader sighs and drops their hood. Revealing a very annoyed Tenth.
“Indeed sister.” She answers, walking over to me. “I had an idea of what you were up to.”
“And you followed me.”
“Yes. To keep you out of trouble.” She answers. “My continuing burden.”
Is she being sarcastic? I might be having a bad influence on her.
She nods toward Nasr. “What’s he doing here, with you?”
I shrug. “Heh, long story. He kind of tagged along. Can I keep him?”
Tenth looks at me puzzled. My bad attempt at humor lost on her.
“You don’t trust him, do you?” She asks. “He’s the enemy.”
I look at Nasr. The look on his face is pained. His guard still has their sword pressed into his ribs. “I trust him, he saved my life back in that Tonzu nest.” I only trust him so far though. I don’t tell Tenth this. She’d most likely just have him executed. I do owe him for helping me back there in the nest. Besides I think he’ll behave after what I told him about being poisoned.
“I think he’ll come in handy. There’s stuff he knows about the enemy supply lines.” I add. Trying to sweeten the deal for Tenth. She’s my friend, but if I just ask her to keep Nasr alive, I doubt she would. Not without some further incentive.
She thinks for a minute and then says. “Okay sister. If you think he’ll be useful, then I’ll honor your wish.” Tenth motions to Nasr’s guard. “Give me some freedom, but keep an eye on him.”
The guard withdraws his sword from Nasr’s. I can see him take a deep breath, clearly relieved not to have a blade poking him in the side.
“I have something to attended to Serena. I’ll return in a bit.” Tenth turns to Nasr. “Do not give me a reason Troika.”
Tenth leaves the guard to keep an eye on Nasr before going off with one of the others. They keep their distance from us. Not sheathing their weapon or lowering their hood. With Tenth here. Giving orders like she is, I’m fairly certain these are some of those sentinels or whatever. Like the ones from the supply wagon.
“What is going on here?” Nasr asks me, keeping his voice low. “What have you gotten us into.”
I bite my lip. Not sure how much to tell him about them. Not that I know that much to start with.
“There’s another…group here.” I say. “That’s all I really can tell you.”
He scoffs. “I’m sure.”
Didn’t think he’d take my word for it. “Just don’t cause trouble.”
“Cause trouble? You poisoned me. What can I do, but obey you?”
He glares at me. I feel a slight feeling of guilt. Forcing me to justify myself. If such a thing is possible.
“Believe it or not, I feel bad about that. But understand, I’m desperate. I did what I had to do to insure you’d help me save my friend.”
Nasr nods. “I see. And the antidote?”
“Like I said.” I point to my head. “Trust me. I’ll give it to you. Just trust me.”
He laughs bitterly. “We’ll see.”
I walk over to the altar. It’s an ornate and carved from stone. There’s an amazingly detailed interconnecting line design on the base. Sitting atop the altar is a small stone statue of the warrior from the wall carvings.
“Who is this?” I ask Nasr, as I look at the statue.
“Cerim. The one who united the races in the old times. During the dark days. 1,000 cycles before Isr came. This was once a great shrine to him.”
“They did amazing work. This altar’s design is very intricate.” I run my hand over it. Feeling the ancient stone work under my fingers. It’s incredible to think that this thing is thousands of years old.
Nasr goes over to a nearby stone bench and sits down. He bows his head, looking a bit tired. A little defeated. Is he paying respect to this Cerim? Or just resting?
The guard stands halfway between us. Just watching. Their hood still concealing their face.
I wander around a little. Looking at a nearby pillar until I get bored and sit at another stone bench a few feet from Nasr. He looks over at me.
“Have they told you about the Dark Days? What it was?”
“They told me about the great wars and the machines.”
“This came in the time before. Before the great wars, before the golden age. We were very much as we are now. Warring tribes. Squabbling over territory. A great enemy invaded from another land. The tribes were easy taken over. Subjugated to the will of this great enemy. Cerim stood up. United the tribes. After a great struggle the invader was beaten. Thanks to Cerim we became a united nation. Powerful. Until what he taught us was forgotten and our leaders became corrupt and the people became lazy, complacent. We let the machines do the work. Our enemy came back stronger and we were not ready.”
“We have the same trouble back home.” I say. “Minus the world ending stuff.”
I feel myself about to apologize to him when Tenth comes back. The other two hooded figures trailing behind her.
“Serena. I need a word with you.” She says.
I stand and she has me follow her. Leaving the others with Nasr.
I could sense a bit of urgency about her. “What’s up?”
“Something only for our ears.” She responds. Her pace quickens. Almost leaving me behind.
She walks past a column, behind it a small hallway.
“Who are the other three?” I ask. “Part of that group? Like you?”
“Yes. Their job is to keep watch on the city. Which they were doing until…”
“...Until me and Nasr came along.” I say, as we walk down the hall. My boots clicking on the stone floor. The sound echoes down the sparsely lit hall. What could she have down here that’s so urgent?
“It’s a good thing sister, that I followed you. Having that Troika with you, that may have gotten you killed.”
We enter an alcove off the hall where I see…
“Hallie!” I blurt out. “Holy shit!”
Tenth shoots me a look. Her expression says. “Good work being discreet. Ass.”
“Sorry.” I say, in a whisper. As if it makes it any better.
The Mater sphere hovers there. Hallie, the name I gave it. Created by Maebh, it’s a kind of living computer. It’s been some time since I last saw “her.” I suspected the old woman sent Hallie to guard the Red Hand.
“Tell her what you told me.” Tenth says, casting furtive glances about.
“They’re coming for it. The Hand. They’ve taken its location from her.” Hallie says. Her cold tone not betraying any emotion.
“How-How do you know?”
“When I was created. Maebh infused me with some of her life force. We are linked in mind. I know what she knows.”
I look at Tenth. She looks grim. Her expression is a mirror to mine. They already have the location of the Red Hand.
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