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Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Dust and Sand – Chapter 12 – By Sean P. Wallace

“And I suppose she’d say that any blanket we gave her would be filled with disease, that we’re bloodthirsty and vicious.”

“What do you mean?” she asked, probably feigning such ignorance.

Dust kept calm. He reckoned he’d need to use a lot of words, mimic how she liked to communicate, to bring her around. So he took a moment to frame his response and said “That stereotypes get us nowhere, that she has just as much to worry about from us. If she were bloodthirsty, she’d have ambushed us when she thought she had the drop on us. She’s strong but not strong enough to worry me. But listen, you want to see Penelope alive again? Shadows Fade represents a significant increase in your chances of doing so.”

Naismith’s eyes narrowed. “That’s something of a low blow, invoking Penelope’s name.”

“Know what they call a dirty fighter in the Rangers?”

She shook her head, not following the change in subject.

“Alive.”

Naismith searched his face and then shook her head. “Fine. But on your head be it.”

She removed her slender hand from his chest and asked the confused-looking Shadows Fade whether she would consider joining them. A conversation followed. Penelope’s name was mentioned, as was his. Then Shadows Fade looked at him, examined him in such a concerted way that he felt a grain of discomfort, and said something.

“Well?” Dust asked.

“She says she’ll do it on two conditions.”

“Which are?”

“The first is that you come with her afterwards and talk to her band; she hopes that the famous Wanted Man might influence their pathetic cowardice.” She paused then added, “Which I suppose is reasonable if they’re being babies about this.”

“I think we can manage a small detour once we’re done.”

Naismith said nothing in the most pointed way possible.

“And the second condition?” Dust asked.

Naismith barked a short question. This time, Shadows Fade simply pointed towards Dust’s midriff and said three short words.

“Prove who you are?” Naismith said hesitantly.

The meaning was clear; she wanted to see his tattoo. Dust supposed it was a fair request. He’d have asked for the same in her position.

Having the tattoo had been odd at first but he’d become so accustomed to it that its importance hardly crossed his mind. But he understood the impact it could have; it marked him out, set him aside, showed for definite who and what he was.

So Dust rolled his sleeve up, closed his eyes and centred his thoughts on the tattoo. It was a wilful thing, headstrong as Dust, so it took some concentration and a few pleas to move it. And the damn thing would never stay where he wanted, preferring to migrate around his body as though exploring and, like in Low Tracks, get him into trouble. This time he barely had to ask before it started moving. It usually left no trace of its movement but a rapid passage was always marked by the feeling of a feather lightly falling across his skin; up his torso then along his arm.

When it got to his bare hand, he opened his eyes and his palm to show it.

Shadows Fade’s eyes widened.

“My God,” Naismith said.

Naismith and Shadows Fade saw a beautifully-rendered drawing of Dust, one so lifelike that he could almost use it as a mirror. It sometimes changed in size but was usually the size of his hand. In the tattoo, he faced the viewer, looking up slightly. He wore a Ranger’s outfit; tans gloves, cross-draw holsters with no guns, high-heeled black leather shoes, big spurs and a tan waistcoat with his badge displayed proudly.

But that wasn’t what shocked people. It was the wounded state that did that; manacles with links bigger than his head hung from his arms, drawing blood as they tried to drag him down; and two spears had been thrust down through both his shoulders, their tips protruding from his ribs and their hafts crossing behind his head. In spite of this, the tattooed Dust stood tall and firm, determinedly ignoring the bonds and wounds.

Naismith flinched. Shadows Fade took a step forward, scrutinised the tattoo; Dust guessed it had shifted. Sometimes the drawn Dust would adjust its position as though to alleviate sore muscles or blink and sigh. But it would always return to that strange and stoic position.

“Is she satisfied?”

Naismith didn’t hear him. She just stared, fascinated.

“Naismith?” he asked, keeping his voice kind.

She shook her head. “Huh?”

“Is Shadows Fade satisfied?”

Naismith looked at Shadows Fade and back at Dust. “Oh, of course. Sorry.”

She asked Shadows Fade is that was enough. The warrior considered his tattoo for a moment longer and then nodded.

“Does… does that hurt?” Naismith asked, pointing to the tattoo.

He looked at his hand, at himself. The drawn him almost seemed to hold his gaze. “No. It doesn’t.”

“Did it?”

The tattoo’s shoulders slumped slightly at this question, as though the truth weighed them down. “More than you can imagine,” Dust said before he caught himself.

He released his tattoo, let it wander where it may, and looked at his growing team: Naismith, with something approaching respect in her eyes; Shadows Fade, who had already turned to survey the way ahead; and Claw of the Gods watching him closely. They were a strange old posse.

“Shall we head out?” he said, his tone indicating he wanted nothing more said about the damn tattoo.

SeanPWallace
SeanPWallace
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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