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Friday, February 23, 2024

Dust and Sand – Chapter 18 – By Sean P. Wallace

Chapter 18

Shadows Fade again reflected on how odd white folk could be as she and Eleanor Naismith walked through the white band; a sensible band would have moved on to somewhere less dangerous, somewhere they wouldn’t face constant assault. But not the white folk. They were a people of permanence who develop strong, unnatural attachments to particular plots of land… so much so that their individual squares become more important than the infinite world beyond them.

Shadows Fade understood fighting to protect what was yours, but not claiming such small parts of the world and being willing to die for them.

Nor could she understand why the white folk would’ve treated Godly Claw with terror had she been present, for that matter. Their connection remained so she could feel the wolf stalking the outskirts of the band, laying low and gathering information, but the warrior keenly felt her companion’s absence; Godly Claw was a part of her. Her hand or her eye would have been missed just as much.

“What a poor place this is,” Eleanor Naismith whispered under her breath, interrupting Shadows Fade’s thoughts.

She cast a glance across at Eleanor Naismith. This was a girl she could not trust. It wasn’t so much that she knew Shadows Fade’s language, or that she acted so superior without having tasted real combat, but the way she acted around the Wanting Man that gave the warrior pause; as though she had plans for him beyond what Resistance wanted. And her attitude in general was rotten.

“All permanent dwellings are poor,” Shadows Fade replied.

The white girl sniffed. “Crucifix doesn’t make a convincing argument against that. This place… it is less than a real town.”

Shadows Fade couldn’t disagree; even her band were more numerous, had more connections with the world and better living conditions and they suffered from the white folk’s oppression. But this band had been standing firm, albeit stupidly, before a host of dark spirits so it was only natural they would be in such a dire condition.

Realization struck her like a blow; this was what her people feared they would become if they joined her hunts. Because they did not fight, did not see that the dark spirits could be banished, they thought action might incite a never-ending war that would reduce them to nothingness and squalor. The Elders, wearied by decades of facing the dark spirits, were fearful of becoming like this band.

What surprised Shadows Fade most was that the squalor and fear in the eyes of those white folk who dared scuttle out in the open made her understand her Elders’ fears.

“We should concentrate on gathering information,” the warrior said. She doubted the white girl knew enough of her people’s language to tell how shaken she was by feeling empathy for the cowards in her band.

Eleanor Naismith shrugged. “That makes sense. The quicker we kill these things, the quicker we can get out of here.”

Shadows Fade examined the white girl’s face to see if she truly meant that. She did. The warrior turned away, her face smeared with disgust; it wasn’t the sooner they could protect these people or the more likely they would be to save her friend but the quicker she could get away from a situation she deemed below her. It took a special kind of person to face dark spirits and still hold such disdain for normal people.

She held her views as she and Eleanor Naismith walked amongst the white band’s alien and permanent structures, all immovable clay, wood and glass. Even with holes riddling their hides, the buildings were frightful and encompassing. Though their customs and way of thinking perplexed her, it was that the white folk choose to live in such horrid places and lock themselves away from the world that she could truly not understand.

And because she couldn’t understand them, she couldn’t trust them. Not one of them. Of course, the Wanting Man was a different matter…

The warrior felt Godly Claw begin stalking round the band to provide a full picture of its weaknesses, and so concentrated on examining the buildings for anything which might help her protect them. After all, that was the reason she’d given Eleanor Naismith for them to take this walk.

The band were quiet as nervous prey as they went down every street, examined all sides of each structure. Desperation tinted the air like perfume, so strong it left its sour tang on her teeth.

Seeing the damage done to the band’s buildings taught her little though; there were no consistent patterns or markings, no one direction the attackers always came from and no clue as to what manner of dark spirits they were. All she learned was that the monstrosities had frequently grown bored and visited idle destruction on the white band’s homes.

Still, Shadows Fade judged that attacks were most likely to come from the north, where tall, looming hills provided good vantage points over the band for bows or guns and enough cover that a hundred careful warriors could approach without being seen or heard. She would ask Eleanor Naismith to convey this to the Wanting Man later.

“Well, this achieved nothing,” the white girl said when they had completed a full patrol of the band. She turned to the chapel and began heading back.“A complete waste of time, I feel.”

Shadows Fade might have agreed if information was why she’d invited her to survey the band; taking Eleanor Naismith away from the Wanting Man and the Father was, as her absence could only simplify whatever matter they had to discuss.

Thinking of the Father, she too turned to his chapel and the odd sight of her people’s sigils standing alongside those of the white folk. She looked forward to examining those walls in detail once they’d defeated the dark spirit host; that this band had survived for so long meant the Father’s wards had to be strong. Hopefully she could learn from his imaginative work, perhaps enough to add a new tattoo to her collection.

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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