Dust and Sand – Chapter 23 – By Sean P. Wallace
Dust felt The Badlands stirring with interest as they ran to Claw of the Gods, a thousand eyes and consciousnesses giving them cautious initial glances and weighing up their options. The death of so many of their kin would always attract notice, let alone when he was the one to do it, and this attention gave Dust extra impetus to finish their business quickly.
Not that he needed any.
Naismith was behind him, her rifle in one hand and the torch he’d handed her flaming in the other. Ruining their night vision and giving their position away was unfortunate but having Naismith blind and defenceless was not an option. The fire showed her face had hardened with determination, the earlier tears were just a memory.
They were moving slowly and that was Dust’s fault. His legs were leaden and his lungs felt two sizes too small; recovering from his wounds had drained Dust good. He didn’t push himself for fear of emptying a well he might need to draw from soon. That and he trusted Shadows Fade to deal with anything that might come her way. Really, it was that comfort that allowed him to hold back.
It took them more than ten minutes to get to Claw of the Gods. The Spirit Wolf watched them with feral impatience as they clambered up to meet her then ran north the moment they crested the rise. She left the rifle in her wake. It dripped with the blood magic he’d felt before.
Dust wasn’t quite ready to start another sprint. “Woah there,” he wheezed.
It didn’t hear him. Naismith shouted “Hey! Wait!”
The Spirit Wolf turned and whined. It pawed at the earth again and kept looking north but stayed put.
“Are you alright, Dust?” Naismith asked.
He bent over, rested his hands on his knees. “Just need to… catch my breath.”
Her incredulity made him laugh, which didn’t help his breathlessness none. But he didn’t mind as he regarded Naismith with more endearment now despite her having the caused his troubles. Or, rather, because of it. That and her having shown another crack of decency beneath her spoiled shell.
“Really. Not even I can take a beating like that and come away Scot-free.”
“I… it is just that the stories suggest that you are invincible…”
He smiled and took a deep breath. Two more and he stopped wheezing. The tiredness washed through him, leaking out from his boots like piss.
“Course they do. Only two kinds of people tell stories about me, Naismith; those who survived me and those who’ve never met me. If they survived me, they exaggerate. Especially if I’ve handed them a beating. And if they’ve never met me, they make the story interesting as possible. No-one’s impressed by or interested in a man getting sore after a fight so that never comes up.”
She blushed. “I must confess that I hadn’t thought of it like that. Of course, that makes a great deal of sense.”
Dust stretched out and felt his bones creak. “You ready to go?”
With that Dust started jogging toward Claw of the Gods, who broke into a sprint.
Seconds later, they ran past the bloody corpse of a small Mexican wearing cheap, dirty clothes, one with only the faintest hint of magic about him. He had a gun in each hand and most of his throat was missing, having been torn out by Claw of the Gods. Drag marks trailed away from his feet, suggesting that he had been killed elsewhere, perhaps from the vantage point he’d shot at Dust from.
“One down,” Dust said.
Naismith looked pale even in the light of her torch. She refused to look at the corpse.
They ran on, an amber spot on the dark night. More and more things watched them, scrying spells and supernatural senses bombarding the group like rain in a storm. A few eldritch creatures were nearby, their taint dancing on Dust’s own senses, but they wouldn’t risk stepping out into the open.
Just to be safe, Dust straightened and ran as normally as he could.
Soon they passed another harrier. This one was much taller and wider, a formidable man when he’d been alive. His arms were splayed out by his sides and he stared wide-eyed at the overcast night sky with his tongue lolling. A broken rifle lay by his side. Three stabs to the chest seemed to have done for him, Shadows Fade’s handiwork.
Dust noted that there wasn’t nearly so much blood soaked into the earth as there ought to be. He checked the wrists and saw deep, badly-tended cuts; he’d been bled before the fight and was probably the first one to die.
“Please, Dust,” Naismith said, her voice small and weak.
“They were still men, despite what they did.”
“He willingly worked with people who worship the Triangle. And not even for faith but for money. He’s as bad as any monster we might face.”
Naismith couldn’t look at him, like he were the harrier’s corpses. “I don’t know if I can think like that.”
More unexpected softness. Though this time it was a weakness. “If you’re to take over the Solution, you’d better work out how,” he said, not unkindly.