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Friday, February 23, 2024

Dust and Sand – Chapter 28 by Sean P. Wallace

Chapter 28

Shadows Fade followed Dust, the Wanting Man, the herald of the only god who didn’t want to kill her people, out the small storage room and through the dark temple. With Omnis’ Collar removed he ran more freely and she no longer had to check her speed at every turn.
Just most of them…

Shadows Fade had expected more from him. She got the feeling that most people did. He was strong, sure, had impressive recovery abilities and a mind for fighting but he’d barely survived fighting a few dozen dark spirits. Even she and Godly Claw would have fared better. Someone infused with Resistance’s favour should be capable of more.
But then, the difficulty may have come in who was supporting him. Or not, as it happened. It was very possible Dust had formed a plan that relied on Eleanor Naismith and been caught by surprise when she froze. For now, the warrior would believe that had been the case.

So he was slower than he should be, more damaged and gnarled. At least he showed no fear. That she liked. And he was now leading her through the temple, taking them straight to the acrid scent of the ritual, so his extra senses had returned. Most importantly, he would not be a drag in the coming fight and would not hesitate as he had when that Soulless had attacked them.
Shadows Fade snarled to herself, quiet enough that Dust would not hear; she was furious at letting something like that surprise her. She’d been too cocky after capturing that bandit alive, hadn’t paid attention to her surroundings. If she had, she might have felt his presence, masked though it was by artefacts; she certainly wouldn’t have let it wrap its cold, pale arms around her, or had to fake her death.

Soullesses were rare though; most people, white or otherwise, were too squeamish to give themselves over to the Old Gods and turned to magic for power instead. That Soulless had used artefacts to supplement his abilities but was still powerful. In fact, its willingness to use artefacts showed a self-awareness and lack of arrogance that made it very dangerous.
It must be the one pulling the strings in this cult, the real power behind it. That was how these collectives organised themselves, keeping their most powerful members hidden to avoid opportunistic ire from every other dark spirit. It would usually take something extraordinary to pull something like that from its hole.
Something like the Wanting Man.

Shadows Fade realised a flaw in her logic about the Wanting Man; she hadn’t given herself to Resistance, had been too ‘ squeamish’… but The Wanting Man had, albeit in a different way to the Soulless. Perhaps, she thought, she should praise him for that bravery. He was not called The Wanting Man for nothing.
They were soon at the kitchen area, a series of tables and pits that stank of human flesh. Shadows Fade looked up and whistled, knowing that it was unlikely anyone would hear, and Godly Claw appeared over a pothole in the ceiling as expected. It was the first time they’d seen each other since their ‘death’; Godly Claw always took a while to reappear after the spell and usually it was some distance away, as though the winds of magic had blown her like a fallen leaf. She knew Shadows Fade well enough to come to the temple and the warrior knew her Spirit Wolf would be drawn by the magic escaping those vents.

“Claw of the Gods is alive,” Dust said. He seemed glad of this.

“Godly Claw,” she said. It was annoying that Eleanor Naismith had garbled her Spirit Wolf’s name so much but only to be expected from an amateur.
He frowned, then nodded. “Godly Claw.”

The Spirit Wolf barked then jumped down into Shadows Fade’s arms. Being mostly willpower, she weighed little and was easily caught.

When they touched again, reconnected, Shadows Fade closed her eyes and took in a hitched breath; the biggest drawback of faking her death was the sharp disconnection between her and Godly Claw, an emotional ache that hurt more than a real death could. The Spirit Wolf felt it too so they remained entangled in each other.

In the embrace, Godly Claw told her that many dark spirits had stirred following Dust’s fight in Crucifix. She did not know if they had retreated at seeing Dust captured as she had concentrated on hiding from them. Shadows Fade hoped they had slunk back to their holes for Father Kilkenny’s sake. The Spirit Wolf also gave her a rough layout of the temple, showing that they were maybe half a mile from the entrance in the valley. That information, and the knowledge of some of the other potential exits, might come in useful later. But what mattered most was that she was here, with her.
“We’re close,” Dust said after a polite length of time.

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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