Need to catch up? Here are Chapters 1, 2, and 3!
Cass was standing in the doorway of his building when Terrin approached, his muscular arms crossed against his broad chest. As soon as he saw her, he stepped down into the street and drew her into a hug. Terrin, quite tall herself, tucked her head under his chin and returned the hug.
“I heard you almost died,” he said, pulling back and studying Terrin closely.
“How’s Yumi? Are they ok?”
“They’ll pull through. It was close though.”
Cass nodded, looking thoughtful, before turning and stepping back up onto the porch. Terrin followed him inside the building, which was well lit and comfortably warm.
Cass owned the building, which housed the resident attendants of Wy-dess. They paid rent for rooms and were able to provide whatever service they were skilled in, whether that was massage, spiritual services, or, more likely, sex. Cass kept the house in order and employed an in-house doctor, but outside of that his interests remained firmly in the area of real estate. Most of the attendants lived elsewhere in town, allowing themselves a comfortable distance between work and home.
“How are the dennies?,” Terrin asked as they moved through the foyer. There were several coats hanging on the rack, as well as a fair number of hats. Terrin wondered if their owners were actually here or if people tended to forget and leave them behind. Depending on what service the attendant provided, she wouldn’t be surprised if quite a few things got left behind.
“Everyone’s doing really well, thank you,” Cass replied, waiting while Terrin shed her own coat and hat. “We even have someone named Denny. He’s new.”
They entered the parlor, where several attendants were vetting customers or simply enjoying the evening amongst themselves. Cass led Terrin up to a young man who was standing in the corner, talking to another dennie Terrin thought looked vaguely familiar.
He was thin, waif-like, standing a few inches shorter than Terrin. His curly chestnut hair sat atop his head like a crown, and his blue eyes were lined in black. He smiled as they approached, and Terrin thought he was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen.
“Terrin, this is Denny. He recently joined us from So-mars, and is our newest sex attendant.”
The young man tilted his head, his smile deepening, and said, “I also give singing lessons.”
His voice was certainly musical. It was a light tenor, and colored with an accent Terrin didn’t recognize. It was rare to meet someone with an accent, especially out here. The continent was small, although she knew there were some settlements that still spoke old languages amongst themselves. But she had never met anyone who spoke anything other than Standard.
“Terrin is my oldest friend from Ne-riv,” Cass explained, while Terrin and Denny continued to examine each other. “She’s just stopping by for a drink tonight.”
Denny nodded and reached out to touch Terrin’s sleeve. His nails were painted a dark green.
“It’s very nice to meet you, Terrin,” he said, his voice gentle and lovely. “I hope to see you again sometime.”
Terrin nodded, afraid to speak for fear the rough cadence of her voice would spoil the moment. Denny seemed to understand and laughed lightly. He turned back to the other attendant and Cass and Terrin moved away.
“Quite taken, are we?” Cass laughed as Terrin ducked her head and blushed. “You’re not the only one. He just got here and already his appointments are booked for six weeks.”
Terrin cleared her throat.
“Why’d he move out here?”
“Why does anyone? New blood. New prospects. Boredom.”
They rounded the corner and entered the dining room, the biggest room on the ground floor. Several attendants were dining with customers, and someone was lightly playing the piano. Terrin saw a familiar face, and strode away from Cass to greet her.
Selena sat placing cards out on the table, reading them idly. She looked up as Terrin approached, and immediately broke out into a bright smile. She wheeled her chair out from the table so Terrin could bend to kiss her cheek. She was dressed in a red satin gown, the hem resting just above her knees, exposing her soft caramel skin. Selena caught Terrin looking and laughed.
“Reddy!,” she called. She was the only one who called Cass by his surname, and only because he allowed it.
“Get us a drink,” she said sweetly, and Cass rolled his eyes but walked off to oblige. She smiled at Terrin, rolling her chair back to the table while Terrin settled herself next to her.
“I’m glad you came,” Selena said softly, reaching out and placing a hand on Terrin’s for a moment, before sweeping the cards into a pile in front of her.
“Did you hear what happened?”
Selena nodded, shuffling the cards and placing them in a neat stack at the edge of the table. Terrin watched her nimble fingers.
“Are you surprised?”
Selena gave Terrin a sharp look but chose not to answer her question. Instead she picked up the top card from the stack and looked at it, her expression blank. Terrin started to lean over to look at the card but Selena pulled it toward her chest, smirking. Terrin raised her hands in surrender and settled back into her seat.
“So why did you move out here?” Selena had been the most popular attendant in Ne-riv. Her appointments were booked months in advance, and she had the means to do anything and go anywhere she wanted. Selena shrugged.
“I’m always up for a challenge,” she winked.
Read Chapter 1 here, and Chapter 2 here!
Terrin glanced back at the others. Their silhouettes glimmered in the fading sunlight, another half an hour or so behind her. They were making terrible time.
Terrin sighed and plodded forward. They should have been more prepared. No, Mags should have been more prepared. She was the leader. She should have planned for things like this, brought extra water, left Yumi behind.
Terrin didn’t like the idea of leaving anyone behind. She had never lost anyone on a job before. And she liked Yumi. They didn’t talk much, but they were funny. There was something about them, a lightness, that brought everyone up around them. So she couldn’t really blame Mags and Connor for not wanting to leave them. But if she didn’t find something soon, they were all going to die. And Terrin wasn’t about to let that happen.
And there it was, a tug to the left. She stopped, closing her eyes and pressing the soles of her feet into the ground. Yes, it was there. Only a few hundred meters away. How had they missed it before? Panlassa had sent a few expeditions out before this one, and no one had mentioned anything in this direction. Even if it it was somehow bad, poisoned or spoiled, they would have marked it on the maps so anyone else would know to pass it by. It might be new. New water sources popped up every once in a while. But it was rare. So either someone knew about it and didn’t tell anyone else, or Terrin and her crew just got very, very lucky.
Either way it was their only chance. Terrin veered off in the direction of the water she felt, knowing that Mags and Connor would understand that she would catch up with them if she found anything. And they would only be getting slower, their bones bristling and scraping against each other, their skin cracking and peeling, causing no small amount of pain.
That was another thing that made Terrin grateful to be a diviner. She may not be able to create water out of thin air, but her body knew how to conserve it in a way that the others couldn’t. But they were all human, after all. She would eventually dry up too if she went long enough without.
The soles of her feet burned with pain, but Terrin ignored it and stepped forward confidently. Little clouds of dust hovered behind her, leaving a visible trail just off the ground. She felt the water with every step she took, growing nearer. Something about it didn’t feel quite right but Terrin was not about to panic. The sun’s edge was barely clinging to the horizon, and things were only going to get worse. Terrin couldn’t waste time worrying.
She stopped, the water singing out to her beneath her feet. She wouldn’t know if it was bad until she tasted it, but it still seemed strange that someone would leave a perfectly good water supply untouched out here. Especially if the company had sent Terrin and her crew out to find water much further out.
It didn’t make sense, but Terrin didn’t have the time to consider it further. She knelt down and touched the earth. It didn’t feel too deep. That, at least, was something good. She pulled the canteens off from around her neck, unfolded her shovel, and began digging. The dirt was dry and cracked open easily beneath her effort. Soon the moisture showed in the soil and soon after a small puddle pooled up.
Terrin sat back on her heels and watched the water bubble up, muddy and thick. It was too easy. She should have felt it on the way out. They never would have gone as far as they did if she had just listened.
Shaking her head, she leaned forward and scooped some water into her hand, bringing it to her lips. She would worry about it later. The water was gritty, and tasted of metal, but it was not spoiled. That much she could tell. Terrin quickly filled all three canteens and stood, turning to run back to the rest of her crew, leaving the slowly filling pool for the night creatures.
“Remind me again what happened.”
Terrin glanced at Mags, but she was staring straight ahead. Connor gave her a quick look but then just as quickly turned away again. Yumi was at the doctor’s, their wounds being treated more thoroughly, although Connor had done the best he could. Terrin had gotten to them in time to save their lives, although it had still taken them several hours to get back to town. Now Mags needed to save their jobs.
“It is as I said, Director. We went too far. I should have pulled us back much sooner. We didn’t find anything out there. And then someone…something…shot Yumi. There was no confrontation. It may have been an accident, or someone decided it wasn’t worth their time to pursue.”
Director Miriam Blake was pacing behind her desk, apparently listening to Mags relay the events of their expedition, but her sharp green eyes were fixed on Terrin. Terrin tried to look anywhere but directly at her face.
“But you managed to get back because you did find something? A viable water supply?”
“That is unclear, Director.”
Blake stopped and leaned forward, her hands pressed against her desk. The Director of Engineering and Claims turned toward Mags, her face frighteningly blank.
“I don’t understand, Captain Maggis. You were sent out with a very specific objective: find water. You claim you found water, or clearly you would not be sitting here, given the report you just related to me. Why then, are you not filing a claim on behalf of the company to which you are employed? Why did an entire crew nearly perish under your direction when you missed something of such significance?”
Connor cleared his throat and shifted in his chair, but Blake ignored him. Terrin, however, leaned forward and the director’s eyes snapped back to her.
“It wasn’t that we missed it, exactly…”
“No, you missed it,” the director stood, folding her arms across her chest.
“Very well, it wasn’t that I missed it,” Terrin continued on, ignoring the director’s narrowing eyes, “it was that it wasn’t there. Or, I didn’t feel it going out. Only on the way back.”
“Not quite. The earthis shifting all the time. Seams open up and let water through that was trapped before. It could have been too deep or too far away to feel when we left, and then something brought it to the surface that allowed me to feel it coming back.”
“Convenient,” Blake said, but she unfolded her arms. Terrin didn’t really believe it herself, but it was a plausible explanation. The director looked at each of the crew sitting before her in turn, then settled once more on Terrin.
“Do you recall where you were? Can you find it again?”
Terrin nodded, projecting more confidence than she felt. There was a pause, and the room suddenly felt stifling.
“Very well,” Blake sat down at the desk, spreading out a fan of papers in front of her.
“We will review your report. If the diviner can find the water supply and if we can claim it for the company, we shall consider this expedition a success. You are dismissed.”
Connor and Terrin stood quickly, eager to be out of the room, but Mags sat for a moment more.
Director Blake looked up and raised an eyebrow.
“You of all people should know, Captain, that they are in the best of hands.”
There was a moment of tense silence, then Mags led Terrin and Connor out of the office and out into the street, her hat still clutched tightly in her hands.
“Well, that was terrible,” Connor breathed out a sigh of relief and his shoulders drooped.
“Not at all,” Mags snapped. “We got what they wanted, and we are all alive.”
Connor and Terrin shared a wary look, then nodded in agreement.
Mags sighed, looking suddenly exhausted.
“I’m going home. We’ll meet up tomorrow, discuss going back out to stake the claim.”
Connor and Terrin nodded again, and Mags turned and walked away, her heels thumping on the wooden sidewalk.
“I’m going to go check on Yumi,” Connor said, rubbing his neck. He was clearly fatigued, but Terrin understood the desire. She wanted to as well, but she had business to attend to.
Terrin shook her head.
Connor raised an eyebrow, and Terrin shrugged.
“All right,” he said, giving her a small wave. “See you tomorrow then.”
Connor gave her one last curious look, then headed toward the doctor’s.
Terrin looked out into the dark street, lanterns giving faint illumination to the handful of buildings they called a town. Well, they were alive. That was something. Terrin cracked her neck, rubbed her eyes, then headed down the street to Cass’s.
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.