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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Dust and Sand – Chapter 32 – By Sean P. Wallace

Chapter 32

Eleanor Naismith was almost giddy as she rode through the Badlands. Her horse, the pathetic beast that it was, trotted gently beneath her. She kept it at a gentle pace to avoid aggravating parts of her left tender by the Wastrels’ orgy; she had to hand it to the followers of That Which Sins, they knew how to throw a party.

It was such a shame that she had to leave early. That Faustian would be bathing in the blood of the Wanted Man by now and would have his newest Vessel to boot. They’d lost a few Vessels, sure, and all their cultists but with the boost provided by whatever he had planned for Resistance’s lackey it’d only be a matter of time before he tried to make an Avatar.

And, well… that was when the real fun would start.

She laughed to herself, a high bark that echoed. It had all been so easy. That was what excited her most. That obese whore Mahrey had been bought cheaply with orgies and spells that looked almost like what she’d wanted The Faustian had had no choice about the matter, needing his blubbery masthead. And Dust, oh Dust… convincing him she was just a spoilt brat, showing her underbelly in a way that weakened him and got him captured… that had been the most fun she’d had in a long, long time.

The last two days hadn’t been so much a mission as a vacation, a wonderful dalliance in the lives of those who thought they were more powerful and smarter then her. That she could enjoy her service so much was proof that Omnis loved her.

Her only annoyance, her only concern, was Shadows Fade. She’d tried to get Dust to ignore the bitch but he’d insisted on bringing her along. The Faustian had understood she was a threat and taken her out first… but somehow she’d survived, whether through a regeneration spell or some secret Indian ritual. She could be the only thorn in their plan, the only grit in the mechanisms.

“Fucking Indians,” she said, her joy all but gone. Of all the Triangle, Omnis had the greatest enmity towards the natives of this land; Omnis was the god of magic and knowledge, the Seeker of Hidden Truths, and the Indians kept the most powerful rituals of this world to themselves. As far as Eleanor knew, any and all attempts to get them to spill their secrets had failed.

Well, after tonight, Resistance would have less influence over the world. The Indians would be weakened and some would naturally turn to Omnis instead. Eleanor smiled again, remembering how she’d pretended she’d not heard of the fourth god when Dust spoke about him. It’d been so much fun and oh so simple.

Her Bite, her personal familiar, found her smiling as she rode away from Crucifix. It circled overhead, a black ball of fur with bat-like wings, and emitted a rapid succession of staccato notes that sounded deliciously alien.

Eleanor recognised the cry and looked up. Why had it returned? Usually Bites waited twenty-four hours before delivering their payload and she had only summoned it that morning, when she’d left camp to urinate. It had been a risk, casting a spell with Dust busy making breakfast, but she’d gotten away with it.

Frowning, she drew her rifle and beckoned the Bite down with a sharp whistle. It chirped then swooped down. As expected, another creature went for the familiar; being small and weak, it was a natural target for the Badlands’ predators. The opportunist was a Paint, perhaps a straggler from the herd she and Dust had destroyed. Eleanor put a shot through its swirling form before it got its… self on her familiar.

Grateful, the Bite settled on her arm and clicked like a noisemaker. She stroked it idly. It often begged for attention and her mood was so bright she was glad to indulge it.

Bites were information gatherers, creatures that lived on and for knowledge. Their great power came in their stealth; they flew high above the world and used so little magic that not even the Wanted Man could detect them. Omnis used them extensively, gave them complex instructions, but this one had been set a simple task; monitor the Wanted Man, learn everything about him.

Satisfied with being fussed, the Bite opened a great mouth which spread right across its spherical torso, revealing an array of shark’s teeth and a gross tongue curled like a spool of thread. This tongue unfurled. Data secreted from its pink flesh and coalesced, becoming thick honey that slowly shifted clockwise around a central mass. There was a great deal of it, more than she’d ever seen gathered by the creature. Perhaps it had returned because it was full?

To find out, she put her finger into this gooey knowledge. It was cold to the touch. Numbers, facts and statistics flooded her vision. The Bite had learned much about Dust; height, weight, relative strength, surges of magic and the levels they’d reached and even the average time it took for his wounds to heal, rated by severity. It would be very interesting to analyse later.

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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