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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Dust and Sand – Chapter 10 – By Sean P. Wallace

Chapter 10

Dust and Naismith rode hard for the rest of the day. The Paints had stayed together along a circuitous route, one which would have taken them a week to follow. But Dust knew Paints, knew how they moved, and so could trace a straight line through their meander.

They were well on their way to finding Penelope Chalmers, he could feel it. But the sun began to set just when Dust noticed that the Paint’s tracks had started joining with older sets. They were so close but had to stop; taking Naismith through the Badlands at night would’ve been the same as wrapping his hands round her neck.

So he led them to a plateau halfway-up a small mountain, reached into his bag and pulled their tent out. A large canvas with spells written across it, pierced by four poles, its structure was simple but effective. Each pole had been carved from the crucifixes of executed men. Wrapped around them was wire of indeterminate metal, probably copper.

“We’ll set up camp here,” he said.

Naismith shrugged. She was slumped, had deep bags under her eyes. “Okay.”

The Badlands were an oddly-shaped tumour. In some places, they were barely a mile thick but others were almost a hundred miles wide. And the boundaries always shifted as eldritch creatures killed one another or migrated according to their own designs. The Solution had a whole team dedicated to redefining the safe zone every month, a report which businesses like the TTC and locals always awaited with extreme interest. This unpredictability meant the Solution couldn’t know whether Dust and Naismith would have to sleep in the Badlands, a dangerous endeavour without the proper equipment. So they’d been packed with this ‘special’ tent.

And they would have to share it. The tent was plenty roomy but it had to fit Horse and Naismith’s ride too so they’d be packed in pretty tightly. Dust didn’t enjoy the prospect; he hadn’t been in such close proximity with a woman he disliked for… well, since he’d learned to handle his drink.

But needs must. Dust rolled off Horse and drove the poles into the plateau’s soil. After checking the poles were each firmly in place, he threw the canvas over them. The canvas seemed to expand as it unfurled, as though being folded had hidden its bulk, and it settled like icing on a cake, soft and pliant. Dust then arranged it so the right spells were over the right poles and tied the copper wire to the poles, forming a square to close the magic.

Apart from the spells, the tent was not remarkable; it was roughly the same colour as the sandstone mountain, tall enough to admit Horse without him having to duck and just as wide and deep. The canvas had two shrubs painted onto each face, not masterpieces but they’d suffice at range. It almost looked like any other survival tent.

Naismith maintained her weapon whilst Dust built the tent. Dust looked up and her rifle was open as she cleaned it out, made sure that what should be greased was and what shouldn’t be greased wasn’t. It was prudent. Dust approved.

He checked the tent one last time then grabbed Horse’s rein. “Come on boy, in you go.”

Horse gave a soft whinny when they were inside. Like Horse, Dust still found it impressive; the geniuses hadn’t earned their nickname by playing about.

The tent was bigger inside than it ought to be; twelve feet by twelve feet of room had been squeezed inside. There was a small staging area first which had just enough room for two horses and a humble sleeping quarter that lay beyond, which would just about fit the two of them. It was taller than it ought to be too; Dust couldn’t reach the ceiling unless he jumped.

Naismith led her ride inside, then wrinkled her nose. “Where’s the rest of it?” she asked.

“There isn’t any.”

She scoffed. “Then where are you going to sleep?”

He pointed over to the sleeping quarter. “In there.”

Naismith looked at the small canvas room and then back at him. “No you’re not.”

Dust led Horse over to the small ‘stable’ and gave him quick pat to tell him to stay put. Horse relaxed. He knew his day was over. Dust wished his was too.

“I’m not too thrilled with it either,” he said.

“And why not?”

He nearly smiled. That was women for you; she’d been furious at the thought of sharing a bed with him and now she was just as angry that he didn’t want to. Dust wanted to point that out. He didn’t.

“It’s only for a couple of nights,” he said, gently stroking Horse. “We’ve got sleeping bags.”

Naismith sniffed. “I suppose it’ll have to do.”

He gripped Horse, who tensed and gave Dust a disapproving look. His tattoo warned him with a painful shudder. Dust smiled apologetically and patted Horse twice.

“It’s settled then,” Dust said.

He left the tent before Naismith could respond.

Sean is an editor, writer, and podcast host at Geek Pride, as well as a novelist. His self-published works can be found at all good eBook stores.

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