Read Chapter 1 here!
Well, they weren’t dead yet. That was the good news. The shot had been a one off, either an accident or someone who decided it wasn’t worth the risk after all. Either way, not knowing caused an increase in tension within the group that made it difficult to concentrate.
And the bad news was Terrin still hadn’t found a good source of water, they were still more than three hours away from town with injured crew, and the sun was inching ever closer to the horizon. They weren’t well equipped to deal with an injury, and they were not at all equipped to staying overnight in the desert. Even now, with the sun still hanging threateningly in the sky, Terrin felt a chill ripple across her ribs. Her bloodstained shirt was now being used to rest Yumi’s head in the dust.
Terrin was sitting on the ground, her hands resting flat against the earth, desperately listening to the quiet shifting underground. Moving water was easy, even buried beneath several feet of rock. Out here, most of the water was resting in a still aquifer, and the faint movements were near impossible to decipher from the other sounds of the creatures scuffling around and the constant motion of the earth itself.
She felt Mags approaching, her footsteps thundering in the earth and up into Terrin’s palms. She gritted her teeth. Mags sat down beside her, weariness radiating from her body. Terrin sighed and lifted her hands up onto her knees.
“How are they?”
Mags sighed, and it rumbled in the earth beneath them.
“They’ll live. If we get back, we’ll all live.”
She didn’t sound convinced. Terrin looked back at Connor, still leaning over Yumi, who now at least looked as though they were resting peacefully.
“We would have to ride slowly,” Terrin said, turning back to face the setting sun. “But we could make it. Even if I don’t find anything.”
Mags let out a quiet scoff that seemed to bounce off the earth and ring in Terrin’s ears. She looked down at her hands, then reached one out for Terrin to inspect.
Terrin winced. It was worse than she thought. She had felt it herself, the ever dryness, the scraping of bones twisting drily against rough skin. But the skin on Mags’ hand was cracked like the earth, the skin peeling back and forming ragged edges.
“Does it hurt?”
Mags scoffed again and pulled her hand back.
“Of course. It always hurts.”
“How long do you think you have?”
“An hour or so. Maybe.”
Terrin twisted to face her.
“If we leave now, maybe we can make it. Maybe I can find something on the way…”
“You know it’s all used up around town. Why do you think we’re all the way out here? No, there’s nothing on the way back.”
“I can kill something, bleed it.”
Mags eyed Terrin, then stood.
“Save it for Yumi,” she said, and walked away.
Terrin reached down into the earth, one last desperate time, then pushed herself up in frustration. It was her first time out for Panlassa, and she was not going to lose someone on her first assignment.
She trudged back to the ground, where Connor and Mags were conferring quietly. Terrin glanced at Connor. His skin wasn’t as bad as Mags’, but she could see lines forming in his bronze skin. They were drying up, from the inside out. Terrin was supposed to be able to help.
“How are we going to carry Yumi?,” she asked, sidling up to the others so she could speak without the sound skittering away to unseen ears.
Connor and Mags gave each other a glance, then looked down at Yumi. Yumi was quiet, and almost seemed to be sleeping.
“Well, they can’t ride,” Connor said, lifting his hat and running his hands through his dark hair. “We were thinking of making a hammock, hang them between two of the horses.”
Terrin glanced at Mags, but she was looking off into the horizon and wouldn’t meet Terrin’s eyes.
“Use mine and Yumi’s,” Terrin said, leaning down and beginning to pull off her boots. “They are a better match, and can match their gaits to not jostle them so much.”
“What are you doing?” Connor asked incredulously as Terrin stuffed her boots into her pack and pulled out some rope. She handed it to Connor.
“I’ll walk ahead. I bet I can find something on the way back.”
Mags turned to look at her, her gaze hard and difficult to read. Terrin could see that Connor was looking to Mags for orders, although it was obvious to all of them Terrin had the most experience here. Terrin couldn’t tell if Mags thought the plan was stupid, or if she was just sore she didn’t come up with the idea herself. Finally, she turned to Connor and nodded.
Terrin turned and started walking away, not bothering to watch Mags and Connor rig up a hammock. She had her job. And time was running out.
The desert light stung, the sunlight ricocheting off the earth and right back into her eyes. It didn’t even matter that she was wearing a hat. The light had a way of finding its way into your vision, exposing every angle and revealing every shadow. That they decided to even come here was one thing, but now they wanted to stay. What was out here but sand, venomous insects, and that ever blazing light. She licked her lips, and took a precious swallow from her canteen. It would have to last her the rest of the day. They certainly wouldn’t be providing her another one, especially if she didn’t finish the job.
“Terrin! Come on!”
Mags shouted. Foolish. She knew the sound would carry for miles, drifting across the sand and sliding into who knew what corners. Into the ears of whatever was in those corners.
She shook her head. No, Mags wasn’t foolish. She wouldn’t be out here if she was. She was older than Terrin by more than a few years, although Terrin knew she hadn’t been out here before. At least, not like this. Not without a full complement.
Terrin sighed. She knew Mags wouldn’t call again. She would know she had heard her, even if she didn’t acknowledge it. Terrin was the new one, the one who would be called foolish. Mags was probably complaining about her to the others right now. But she knew all the rules, probably better than any of them.
Not that they knew that.
She turned and trotted back to the group, which consisted of Mags, Yumi, and Connor. They were all sitting on their horses, watching her silently, their eyes shining in the heat. Terrin tucked her canteen in her saddle bag and lifted herself onto the saddle, taking time to adjust so that she was sitting comfortably. She could feel the others watching her. Finally, Connor asked,
Terrin shook her head.
“Not that way,” she replied softly, her voice small but sharp in the thick air.
“How do you know?”
Mags was the leader of this little expedition, even if she had no experience in divining. Terrin just looked at her, and Mags turned her horse and started back without another word. Yumi and Connor exchanged a side glance, but Terrin ignored them. Let them think she thought she was better than them. Let them think Mags was letting herself get pushed around. Terrin didn’t care. She was doing this for one reason only, and wasn’t going to waste time “making friends.”
Terrin let her horse fall into line beside Yumi’s as they started back to town. They walked at a slow, plodding pace, not only because the heat would kill the poor creatures if they exerted themselves. Terrin had seen someone galloping in the desert once, and the dust had hung in the air for days. She had heard the person was found two weeks later, their bones already bleached white in the sun, everything they once had stolen or destroyed. No, there was only one way to travel through the desert, and Mama help you if you didn’t have a diviner, or at least several pack animals to carry your water. No, Terrin was grateful she had the gift. Not only was her skill a commodity, but she didn’t have to rely on anyone else.
Suddenly, a crack shot through the silence. Terrin’s horse danced back, colliding into Connor’s, but neither whinnied, as though aware of the danger. Terrin saw Mags slump forward in the saddle and she jumped off her own mount, striding forward. Mags was leaning down, her hand on the weapon strapped to her waist. Their eyes met. Mags shook her head and looked back. Terrin followed her gaze, and saw a thick line of blood welling out from Yumi’s side. They were clutching their shirt, their face contorted in pain.
“Shit.” Terrin walked back to Yumi’s horse, holding the reins and staring at the blood staining their clothing. Connor was also leaning forward, trying to make himself a smaller target, his gun in his hand.
“Shit shit shit shit SHIT.”
Terrin looked back to Mags. They were almost three hours from town, and even if they could run, they wouldn’t make it back in time. Terrin whipped off her hat, shimmied out of her shirt, and bundled it up. Unbuckling Yumi’s gun belt, she wadded the shirt up against the wound and buckled the belt tightly around it. It wouldn’t hold, but maybe it would slow the bleeding.
Mags looked at Connor, who looked at Terrin. They needed water. Fast. Whatever they had left in their canteens wouldn’t be enough to clean the wound and get them back to town.
“Shit,” Terrin repeated as Mags and Connor dismounted and huddled together around her. Mags helped Yumi off their saddle. They groaned and gripped Mags’ arms until she grimaced.
“I have to treat that wound now,” Connor said, already going through his supplies.
“We can’t stop here,” Mags hissed. “We don’t even know where that came from. It could have been a wild shot, or just a way to slow us down until they can pick off the rest of us.”
“Either way, they are going to die unless I can stop the bleeding,” Connor jabbed a finger at Yumi, who was starting to shake.
Mags gritted her teeth, avoiding looking at Yumi directly. Finally she sighed, and turned to Terrin.
“We’re going to use what we have. Find us enough to get us back to town. If we get through this.”
Terrin nodded, turning away from the others as Connor and Mags lowered Yumi to the ground. She closed her eyes and inhaled, hating the way the heavy air felt in her lungs. She spread her fingers wide and stretched them toward the ground, feeling her veins push her blood toward the earth. She exhaled.