The Red Hand Part 32
by Shane Migliavacca
The Red Hand Part Thirty Two Mists of Doom
Tenth and I are going for the Red Hand, just the two of us and Hallie. Moving fast across the desert. It’ll be grueling, I’ve done grueling. I think we can do it. Will it be in time? That’s a different story. Before we leave there’s something I need to do.
“You’re staying here.” I tell Nasr. “They’ll take care of you. Trust me.”
“Trust? You want to talk about trust?” Nasr says, anger rising in his usually calm voice. “You poisoned me!” He points an accusing clawed finger at me.
“What?” Tenth asks. She’s standing next to me. “You poisoned him?” Shooting me a disapproving look.
“Well…long story.” I reach into my backpack. “You had to be there.” I take out a small vile, tossing it to Nasr. “Here’s the antidote.”
He grabs it out of the air. Nearly dropping the vile as he fumbles with it, trying to open it. When he does manage to open it, he hesitates looking at me.
“Don’t worry. It’s not poison.” I say, trying to sound reassuring and failing. “Couldn’t leave without setting things right. Could I?”
He looks at me for a few seconds. Calculating his options, before finally drinking it down. Nasr coughs. “Disgusting taste.” He wipes off some that dribbled down his cheek.
“I can’t believe you poisoned him.” Tenth says. “Serena, that’s not right.”
“Alright. Alright. I didn’t poison you Nasr.” I say, putting a hand up to stop everybody from bitching at me. “I actuality never slipped anything in your water.”
“What?” Both Tenth and Nasr say, almost in unison.
“Never heard of a bluff?”
But who am I bluffing?
Hallie takes us north past the dead city. Tenth assures me Nasr will be fine with the three sentinels. I have to rely on my trust in her, because I don’t have time to worry about how they’ll treat him. Or whether Nasr’s big mouth will get him in trouble. The three of us keep up a brisk pace. Only stopping for brief breaks. Hallie and Maebh are the only ones who knew of the Red Hand’s hiding place. Tenth is just as much in the dark as I am.
There’s every possibly that we’ll be walking right into an enemy party looking for the same thing. It’s a risk. There’s really no other choice.
According to Tenth, she’s never gone this far north before. There’s a wasteland here called “The Emptiness.” It borders the Imperium to the north. It’s acted as buffer zone for a very long time, but now the Imperium has expanded their reach. Tenth tells me that the wasteland is littered with remnants of the great war. It’s an uninhabitable stretch of land. Her people stay clear of it, not wanting to come into contact with relics from the great wars. There’s a way to travel around it, that’s probably what the Imperium does, but we don’t have the luxury of taking the long way.
A day and a half into our trek we reach something I never thought I’d see. The end of the desert. Opening up before us is a great flat stretch of land. Gone is the endless sand and the dunes. Standing before us is a scared, flat expanse of land. The desert has given way to hell. As inhospitable was it is, the desert has a beauty to it. This is just a horrible gash of violence ripped into the planet.
Tenth and I share a glance as we enter this wasteland. Neither of us sure what to expect. Hallie buzzes along in front of us. If any of this fazes the little sphere, it’s not obvious.
“You’ve traveled through here before?” I ask, as we walk along. The ground hard under my feet. Such a switch from all the sand.
“Numerous times.” She says, betraying no emotion.
“Is there anything we should expect?” Tenth asks, as she scans the horizon.
“Trouble.” The sphere answers.
“Wonderful.” I mutter.
“The old ones tell tales of this land.” Tenth says, looking from side to side. “Long ago was an expedition sent here.”
“And they never returned?” I ask, thinking I’ve heard this tale before.
“One returned.” She answers, a visible shudder running through her body. “Driven mad by what he’d seen.” Tenth says it as if she’d seen it firsthand. Her voice filled with dread. “He babbled about the others. Some killed by the ones that dwell here. Others ran off. Never to be seen again. And there were some, like him driven mad. Turning on their friends. Killing them.”
A shudder runs up my spine now. What could be out here to do that to someone’s mind. Whatever it is, I hope we don’t run into it.
We pass by wreckage half buried in the dirt. Debris from a long-gone war. Bits of some kind of structure here. The rusted hulk of a very old vehicle there. An ancient graveyard. A monument to death.
As the day progresses, darkness starts to creep over the land. Bringing with it a chill. The cold starts to effect Tenth. Forcing us to slow down. The temperature continues to drop as the sunlight fades. Soon Tenth can barely move forward. I let her lean on me. Almost dragging her along.
“We should stop for the night.” I say, looking from side to side. Trying to find us some shelter.
“No.” She answers, her voice straining. “Have to keep going. Leave me.”
“She’s correct.” Hallie says. “We need to keep moving.”
I consider it for a second. Picturing Tenth left behind to the mercy of this place. “Like hell.” Finally, I answer, making up my mind. I wrap my cloak around her. Hefting her up onto my back. Tying her arms and legs around me.
We move forward. Hallie in the lead and me following, doing the best I could with the added burden I was carrying. At first I was okay. Adrenalin and a full head of steam kept me going for a little while at least, but soon that wore off and the added weight started to wear me down. My shoulder and back singing with pain. My feet feel like they’re made of cement when I lift them. My legs feel like twigs, ready to snap after each step. The only bit of luck is the night sky is cloudless. The moon providing a fair amount of light for the journey.
After a couple hours of carrying her I have to stop. My body protesting too much for me to ignore it anymore. I set her down on the ground.
“Stop.” I tell Hallie.
The sphere stops. Hovering. “What’s wrong?”
Tenth mumbles. “What are you doing?”
“Resting a second.” I say, sitting on the ground next to her. I sigh in relief as my body already starts to feel better.
“Told you, leave me sister.”
“Not gonna happen.” I say, noticing something a little way from where we are. Long thin shapes sticking out of the ground. Getting up, I look down at Tenth. “I’ll be back in a second.” Turning to Hallie I say. “Stay with her.”
“We’re losing time.” She says, buzzing around me.
“Just stay with her.”
I walk away from them, towards the shapes. They appear to be branches of a dead tree of some kind, half buried in the dirt. I grab one of them. They feel pretty sturdy. That’s when I realize it’s not tree branches, but a kind of plant like Bamboo. We used to have some behind the apartment building mom and I lived in. No matter how many times the groundskeeper cut it down, shit always came back.
We’re losing time.
If I break off a few long pieces, I might be able to make something to pull along behind me. I could carry Tenth on it. I start to pull on one of the dead plants. Not only is it sturdy, the sucker doesn’t want to break. After a few minutes of trying, I remember the ax hanging from my belt.
You’re a moron Serena.
The damn ax. I take it off my belt. I might not be able to break the fucker, Mr. Ax on the other hand, makes short work of them. Soon I have a nice little pile of them. I go back over to Hallie and Tenth.
“What are you doing?” Hallie asks. “We don’t have time for you to mess around.”
“Not messing around.” I say, opening up my backpack. “I’m making something.” Rummaging around a bit until I find what I’m looking for. The rope for my “grappling hook.” I take it and go back to the pile. Quickly cutting some of the rope off, I start tying the plant shafts together. After a little trial and error, I have a fairly good stretcher rigged up. It’s not pretty, but as long as it works. I use the leftover rope to make harness. I can tie the stretcher to me and pull it along. Won’t be easy, but it’ll be a bit better then carrying her on my back.
I drag it back to Tenth. Helping her on to it.
“This is what you were doing?” She smiles at me weakly. “You surprise me sister.”
“I surprise myself sometimes.”
I pull Tenth along. Following behind Hallie. We’re back on track again. If I can just keep going.
Stay the course Serena.
Easy for you to say bitch.
Except for a brief stop to rest, I keep going all night. As dawn approaches a strange wind blows across the wasteland, bringing with it a thick eerie fog. We slow the pace a little. Hallie hovering closer to me as a precaution. To keep me from getting lost. Guiding me through the fog.
A voice calls from somewhere the fog.
“Who said that?” I ask, stopping to look around. But the fog is thick. I can only see a few feet in front of me.
Hallie stops. “I did not speak. Nor did I hear anything.”
I look down at Tenth, she’s sleeping.
I look up in time to see movement in the fog. A vague form in the distance. The mist swirling in its wake.
“Join us Serena.”
Another voice, coming from behind me. I spin around to see a second thing, moving in the fog.
“No! Go away!” You’re not wanted here!”
A hand reaches out of the mist. Pushing me.
“Stay with us.”
Another hand reaches out, taking my hand. I pull away from it. The other hand pushes me. Yet another brushes it’s fingers through my hair.
Go! Leave! They scream at me, then sing. Back and forth. Back and forth. Until finally, I sink to my knees. Holding my hands over my ears. Hallie asking me what’s wrong.
“Leave me alone!” I scream, tears in my eyes.
“Serena. We died here. So long ago. The pain…the pain. It never stops.”
A form emerges from the fog. A shadowy mass made from the mist itself. Feminine in appearance. It reaches out, touching my face. Wiping away my tears.
“Please. Help us. End the pain.”
“What do you want?” I ask, looking up at her.
Hallie hovers over me. “Who are you talking too?”
“No! Make her go!”
Another emerges. This one masculine looking. It grabs me, trying to pull me to my feet. I break free from its grip.
“Tell me what you want?” I plead. My head throbbing as the voices argue.
I look up at the female shadow. Is that my mom’s face I see forming in the mist?
She points at Tenth. A long-crooked finger of swirling fog.
“Her blood. The blood of those that damned us flows in her veins.”
“No!” I shake my head. “No!”
The male shadow stands at my side. His arms out stretched. In his hands a ball of mist forms. It elongates, taking on recognizable form. A long blade attached to a handle. A dagger.
“Take this. Spill her blood.”
“Serena, what’s wrong?” Hallie asks, hovering in front of me, oblivious to the shadow forms.
The female bends down. Her mist formed body flowing around Hallie. She brushes the hair away from my eyes. Smiling at me with my mother’s face. She strokes my face. Her mouth opening wide.
“Mom?” I ask, confused.
A long tendril of smoke extends from her mouth. Before I can react, it forces its way into my mouth. It’s foul taste making me choke. I feel far away all of a sudden.
My hand reaches for the dagger. I try to stop myself. Willing my hand not to take it. I watch as my fingers wrap around the handle. Helpless as I stand. Walking towards a sleeping Tenth. Hallie buzzes around my head. Asking me what I’m up to. I try to scream for help. To tell her it’s not me. But no words escape my mouth.
I kneel next to Tenth, holding the dagger over her.
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