The Red Hand Part 7
by Shane Migliavacca
Part Seven The Storm
As we make our way back to Maebh's cave, I'm overcome with a strong nagging feeling of guilt. If I hadn't been so damn curious and didn't look over that hill… If I'd just listened to Tenth. We wouldn't be fleeing back to the old woman's to get her out of there. That thing, man wouldn't be dead. My curiosity got me here in the first place, and it keeps getting me into trouble. I feel like curling into a little ball and hiding away where nobody could find me. We storm into the cave then Tenth tells Maebh what happened. She show's her a paper from the pouch she took. Whatever it is, Maebh's reaction looks bad. Tenth doesn't shy away from blaming me for what happened which makes me feel even more wonderful. I stand there feeling ashamed. Better she do it now, I can only imagine the fumbling confession I would have given the old woman later on. She takes care of the cut on Tenth's arm. Putting some gunk on it before bandaging it. The three of us quickly pack up what we can. Tenth glancing at the door every few minutes and I catch myself doing the same thing. We're both waiting for them to come crashing in. Worse yet, what if they're quietly waiting out there? We finish getting what we can. Maebh takes a long wooden stick from her room. It looked like one of those wood staff's from kung fu films. A crystal is affixed to its headpiece. The old woman takes one last look at her home. I notice she hasn't so much as looked at me since we returned. I can’t blame her. I'd like to jump out of my skin right about now. I'd turn my back on myself if that was possible.
We stop at the water cave. Taking as much water as we can. I wash dried blood off my face and hands. Tenth plans on taking the long way around. Hopefully avoiding any of our blue friends. We go through that passage into that cave I spent my first night in, Maebh using her staff to light the way. Tenth takes us parallel to the mountains I'd been trying to reach. Endless orange sand stretches ahead of us. Except for when Tenth has to tell us something nobody speaks. I pull the hood down over my face. I don't want them looking at me. After several hours we stop, resting on some rocks. I gulp down some water and wipe my sweaty face off. Maebh takes some kind of fruit from her pack. She hands one to me and then one to Tenth. I take it trying to avoid eye contact. I bite into it, it's very sweet. Juice dribbles down my mouth and I savor it. I begin wondering if we have enough supplies to last us. However long this journey is going to be. Tenth climbs up on a tall rock and sits. She eats as her eyes scan our surroundings. I've never seen someone so on point, I couldn't help but admire her. Even if I didn't care for her bluntness, I'm pretty sure she felt I was a burden. It didn't stop her from watching out for me.
Tenth finishes her fruit then she jumps down from her perch. She asks if we're both ready and we both of us nod. We travel for quite a while, keeping a fairly steady pace. Finally Tenth notices a cave set up off the ground on the side of a large outcropping of rocks. Two smaller rock formations stand in front of it, like large stone pillars standing guard. She tells us we should make camp here, my feet are aching so I agree. The old woman agrees to this as well so climb up the rock side. The cave is large enough that we could sleep without being right on top of one another. We have no way to make a fire so we eat some weird potato things Maebh hands out. Tenth brought a bunch of food with her on her visits. I wonder if her people grow this stuff or does she gather it herself. Tenth tells us that the two rock pillars should shield us at night from anybody or anything that might be out. She'll stand guard for a while before getting some sleep. She was sure the Roka wouldn't be traveling at night, especially this far from their territory, but standing guard makes her feel better, I guess.
I lay on the fur bedding from Maebh's cave. We managed to roll them up. We each managed to carry one on our backs along with some supplies in packs. It gets cold, bitter coldness creeps through the air, I'm not sure if it's because we're higher up or just how it is out here. Tenth gets up from where she's sitting and comes over to me, she seems sluggish.
"Are you okay?" I ask.
"The cold," she says, almost slurring. "I need...warm."
And then I realize what's wrong. She's cold blooded! Of course, it never occurred to me.
"You want to share mine?" I say. "For warmth?"
She starts stripping off her armor and clothes. She tries to do it quickly but the cold is slowing her down a little. As much as I don't want to cuddle with a nude Tenth, I can't say no. Not after all she's done for me. I help her off with the rest of her stuff and she slides in with me.
"You are warm," she says. And then hugs me.
I feel her pressed against me. It was making me feel uncomfortable. After a few minutes I spoke up. "I'm going to turn over okay? You can hug my back."
"As you wish."
I turn over and I feel her arms close around me again, and feel her lizard lady boobs press against my back.
"How far are we away from your home?" I ask.
"Normally it is only half a day’s travel," Tenth says. I feel her head nudge against my shoulder as she settles in.
"But we're going the long way? To avoid those other guys."
"Correct." says Tenth, her voice sounds weary.
There's silence for a few minutes, as I work up the courage to say what I need to say.
"I'm sorry you know. About not going up the hill. I should have listened." I say finally. Not sure if she's fallen asleep. She doesn't answer. Maybe she's drifted off. Or perhaps doesn't want to answer me.
"You are brave Serena, but you lack discipline. You will learn it here or you'll die." says Tenth. She sighs, wrapping her arms tighter. "We should sleep now. There is still much ahead of us."
I lay there in silence for some time before sleep overtakes me.
I wake alone in my bedding. As my eyes adjust to the light, I see Maebh standing at the cave entrance. She's holding some kind of scope thing, like pirates have in movies.
"You’re awake." The old woman's voice in my head says.
"Yeah. I guess." I say. These days who knows? I look around the small cave, Tenth is nowhere to be seen.
"Thought you might sleep the morning away."
"I had "company" last night. It was hard getting comfortable." I say. I sit up. My back aches from the hard cave floor. What I wouldn't give for a mattress. "Where is she?"
"Scouting ahead. You should have something to eat before she returns."
I couldn't agree more. The old woman turns from the cave entrance. She reaches into her pack and tosses me another of those sweet fruits. I take a large bite out of it.
I'm not even finished chewing when I ask. "What were you looking at out there with your scope thing?"
"It's a spyglass. I was making sure we didn't have company."
Maebh puts the spyglass away. She sits down on her bedding. I told Tenth I was sorry. I owe the old woman that too.
"I'm sorry about all this. You leaving your home. I-I never wanted to be here. I know that's no excuse. I guess I'm too curious. That's what got me here in the first place."
Maebh smiles. "You know, if it wasn't for what you did we wouldn't know about this." She reaches into her pack and pulls out the paper Tenth took.
"What's it?" I ask.
"A map. They're looking for me."
Why the hell would they want the old woman? I look at the stub where her missing hand was. Where the stone hand was.
"They know!" I say. Excited about my own deductive skills.
She nods solemnly. "Yes. And I fear someone has told them. He's here."
My dumb curiosity may have helped for once. I find that hard to believe. If we didn't run into those blue guys they might have caught Maebh unaware. Still doesn't really make me feel better. Tenth returns as I'm thinking about this turn of events. I jump, not realizing she's standing in the entrance.
"Are you ready to leave?" She asks.
We pack up our bedding and head out. Maebh and I have our cloak's hoods pulled down over our heads. Giving us a little shade from the sun beating down on us. Tenth for her part doesn't appear to mind the heat, on the other hand the heat is taking its toll on me. Sweat drips down my forehead, I can feel it coating my tunic. I pray we'll find another cave with a large pool. The old woman uses her staff as support as she walks. She seems to be doing okay for her age, however old she is. After about half a day of traveling with the mountains at our side they give way to desert. We're now surrounded on all sides by orange sand. As dusk neared I began to make out structures on the horizon. Is that where Tenth's people are? She stops us.
"There are no more caves nearby. We must make a shelter for the night." Tenth says.
The three of us find a nearby dune. Using our hands we dig a trench large enough and wide enough for the three of us to lie down in it. Then using one of our fur bedding's we cover the trench with it. Using the sand we dug up we anchor the cover in place. Collecting a few rocks to help hold it there. At the open end of the trench we dig away a bit more of the sand so we have a good way to get in and out. By the time we finish darkness is encroaching on the light. We quickly eat some more potato things. Then the three of us crawl into our new shelter. Using our remaining bedding for the three of us. Tenth is between us. Giving her our maximum body heat, we hope.
"Those structures on the horizon, is that where you’re from?" I ask.
"No. That is the dead city of Kuma Torth. Lost countless cycles ago." says Tenth.
"What happened to it?"
"It was abandoned during the Great Turning. When my people were cast out," she says. I feel her shift beneath our covers. She drapes a bare arm over me. "Warm,” Tenth purrs. She lies her head on my shoulder.
Why couldn't she rest her head on the old woman? I move a little to make myself a little more comfortable with the added weight.
"Are we going there?" I say.
"No. It is to be avoided. I use it as a marker. We travel parallel to the city tomorrow. Now sleep. You ask too many questions when it is time to rest." Tenth says.
Well, guess I was told. Sleep comes in spurts. I wake numerous times during the night. I lie awake for some time listening to the breathing of my companions. I take comfort in it and drift off to sleep. The next thing I know it's light out and Tenth and Maebh are gone. Have I slept too long and they left me? Or maybe something dragged them off in the night? Frantic, I crawl out of our shelter, adrenaline pumping through my still tired body. I thankfully find the two using the old woman's spyglass. They don't notice me. Good. All panicked I probably look like a first class ass.
"Morning guys." I say. Hopefully sounding nonchalant.
"You’re awake. Good let us eat." says Tenth.
"I'm up for that."
We eat some root thing Maebh gives us. Then break down our shelter and head off. This time traveling west. On one side the mountains we passed and on the other the abandoned city in the distance. I could see something on the horizon, a large mass. Tenth stops in her tracks.
"Harnoon!" Tenth hollers.
"What's wrong?" I ask.
"Harnoon! We can't outrun it! There's no time to get to cover." Tenth responds.
"Cover your faces. We must join hands." The old woman tells us.
Then I see it looming larger as it draws near. This Harnoon is a sandstorm. A huge swirling orange wall closing in on us. We rip pieces of cloth from our cloaks. Tenth has us wet some of them down, covering our faces like old west bandits. We wrap more cloth around our eyes like a blindfold. Linking hands with Maebh in front and me in the rear and Tenth between us. The three of us crouch low to the ground. The old woman holds her staff in front of her.
"Hold here!" Tenth says over the rising wind. "We have to withstand the storm till it passes."
I feel the sand and grit start to pelt me, the wind was incredible. There was no way we could survive this. I feel a rock collide with my arm, fire shoots through it. I want to scream out from the pain, but I don't dare, even with my mouth covered. Instead I grimace and hold it in. The darkness from the blindfold only made the storm worse. Then a bright light cuts through that darkness. The familiar humming I hear, it's like when the old woman formed the sword, or Tenth's knife. I don't feel the sand hitting me anymore. I peek out from under my blindfold.
In front of Maebh a large shield has formed from her now glowing staff. Creating that same distortion effect like the sword. Rocks hit it, bouncing off. The sand slides harmlessly down it. Ripples created by the impacts play across the shield like skipping stones across a pond.
"Not sure how long I can keep it going." Maebh tells us.
"Let me help you." Tenth says.
She lets go of me and puts both her hands on the staff. The light emanating from the staff grows brighter, both of them feeding it their energy. I crawl in close behind them. Should I try it? I think. Can't let them do this alone. I put my hands on the staff. I feel a shiver go through me as the light from the staff grows a little brighter. We keep this up for a while as the storm rages around us. Some sand and rocks still hit us from the sides and overhead where the shield doesn't cover us. But I can feel a numbness in my arms as they grow tired. They're starting to feel like Jello. Tenth is looking worn down. How long could this storm go on? Maebh lets out a scream that pierces my head. This is followed by an explosive wave of energy as the shield crumbles. The force of this picks me up. Hurling me into the air, where I'm caught by the force of the storm. The last thing I see is Tenth grab the old woman as she collapses. Before I'm carried away by the storm, my friends are swallowed up in the orange sands.
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