Fields of red

A group of fighters send on a mission of penance will encounter a force far greater that they ever imagined, a force that will change the future of their world.

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1. Storm

The caravan leader, a tall, stringy man with a bright red bandana tied around his shaven head, lowered his binoculars and swore. He threw the reins to his son and abandoned his position on the sideboard of the lead pack-ox. Leaving dignity behind as well, he sped down the road waving and shouting.

“Triadeer! Triadeer Gin!” As he passed, the shaggy oxen turned their heads and looked at him with anxious eyes, while the human drovers tensed and stared towards the horizon with fearful expressions.  

Two young women, who had been trotting alongside the caravan, raised their heads and urged their mounts into a gallop. 

            “Triadeeeeeer!”

 The women reined in sharply in front of the caravan leader, the skidding hooves of their quadrilles raising a sprayer of greyish sand.  

            “Yes, Alazar?” the closest of the women said, as casually as if he had asked her to pass the tea. Her voice was melodious and bright with youth, her hair a cloud of yellow curls around her smiling face. Her companion, a sinewy brunette with unusually pale skin, looked on in silence, her expression thoughtful. An axe with a head of serrated metal larger than Alazar’s own head was strapped to her back.    

            “Bonestorm, triadeer!” Alazar gasped, winded from his frantic run. His normally rough voice carried a ragged edge of fright.

“Bonestorm?” The curly-haired woman’s eyes went wide. Alazar pointed to the south. A thin band of pale red spanned the entire horizon, and it was rapidly growing bigger. There was a low thrumming, barely audible, resonating in the bones and behind the eyes.

            Gin looked at the caravan leader, her lips curled back to reveal crooked teeth.

“I see. How bad is this?”

            Alazar cringed under the presence of the triadeer. She had extender her aura just enough for it to tickle his skin, but he knew what she was capable of. She was khamim and she could break his spine without moving a finger. He mentally berated himself for such thoughts. The warriors of the Paradise Valley were the saviors of the people of the Outlands, protectors and teachers and healers. However, there was something with this triadeer, her smile and her eyes did not fit together. And her aura was like crushed glass against his skin.

            “Very bad, triadeer. Gonna rip us to shreds out here in the open.” The presence increased, a slight pressure on his shoulders now. Behind them, the oxen were stamping and shaking their heads with the massive E-shaped horns. Their instincts told them to form a circle, their armored rear ends towards the storm, and soon they would be beyond control. It didn’t matter. A bonestorm coming over the Trough of the Giant would shear flesh from bones and cut lungs to shreds. And do much worse to the mind.

            “We cannot save you all,” Gin said, tilting her head. She was right, of course, but to state it like that, so casually… Alazar steeled himself and reached under his loose shirt, reminding himself that it was death bearing down on them, and his entire livelihood.

“Could you, if - if you had this?” he stammered, holding out a glittering object on a string of

intricate metal links.

Methay!” the triadeer exclaimed, her eyes narrowing. For the first time she was not smiling and Alazar cringed. 

“My father found it, years ago, in the mountains, in naked land, it belonged to no-one,” he babbled, while he fumbled with the lock of the necklace. Quick as a pouncing cat, Gin leaned down, and tore the necklace from his hands. There was a short flash of power and the chain snapped, leaving a bloody line along Alazar’s neck.

“You will hear of this, after we are done saving your petty hides,” she ground out and then turned to her companion. “Sofie, get this to the runt. This is on him.” Sofie nodded, grabbed the necklace and galloped down the road, long brown braid flying behind her.

“Let’s play!” Gin suddenly laughed, and turned her quadrille around. Her aura ignited around her, becoming a shimmering mask of diamond shards that obscured her features from Alazar’s senses, and above there was movements, like a huge, invisible mass was writhing in the air.

With a fierce yell, she charged into the wind.

Taking in a shaky breath, Alazar pulled himself together and turned his attention to his men and animals. He could do no more. But he suspected that even if he did survive, the worst was yet to come.

 

********

 

He was riding a good 50 meters behind the last ox, and kept his mount on so short reins that the distance was steadily growing. The sedate pace did clearly not sit well with his quadrille, a bluish stallion named Moshari, long-legged and jewel-eyed. The creature shook its head every so often, rolling its huge eyes, stamping its feet, and was generally throwing a tantrum. The rider didn’t notice. He was staring absently ahead, paying as little attention to the rocking backside and swinging tail of the pack ox in front of him, as to the stark beauty of the desert around him. He swayed with the erratic movements of his mount with habitual smoothness and superior reflexes.

He was a slender boy, not tall for his age and had a malnourished look about him. A cloth that might have once been white was tied loosely around his lower face, and his poncho was caked with pinkish dust.

            Immersed in dark thoughts of pearly liquids and bloody knives, he did not make for engaging company, and his position as rear guard suited everybody just fine. 

Suddenly he straightened, and looked around wildly, extending his aura. Something had hit his mind with an effect like setting off a gong in his head. For a panicked heartbeat he scanned the surroundings, then he saw Sofie coming straight at him, riding like she was on fire.

            “Martin! Storm! You have to save us!” He rolled his eyes at her choice of words, but did not doubt the severity of the situation. Sofie was just a peculiar mix of brutal honesty and naivety.        

“What’s going on?”

“Omega,” she yelled, protocol language for death. Reluctantly, Martin opened his mind to the bond that existed between the members of their small group, their triad, and he sank into his slow mind. Instantly, the flow of time stilled, like the world was caught in a drop of honey. His mind segregated, levels of awareness and sensations flowing by like rivers.

Gin’s conversation with the caravan leader and her confiscation of the object that Sofie had brought him, filled his mind, and beneath that ran the sensory input of the rising wind and a new smell, dry and acrid and unnatural. He should have been more observant.

Bonestorm! He shuddered. Before they set out on this leg of their journey, they had been briefed on the dangers of the Red Fields, and there was no worse fate than to be caught in a storm that blew in from the direction called ank esett, the dead east. It was the wrong season, otherwise the caravan would never have set out, but one could never be sure of anything in this world or the next.

“Give it to me,” he said hoarsely, and Sofie thrust it at him, using her aura. Catching it, Martin felt a touch of sweetness as he palmed the object. He investigated it quickly, probing and prodding and was terrified at what he found. As suspected, it was a sibling, an innocent but fitting name for such a thing. It might save their lives, but he hated that he had to use it.

The sibling was ancient, so the caravan leader’s story might be true. It had an alien simplicity that he had never seen before, a single, round case of a dull, scratched metal with several holes along the edge and glassy, dull nodules at one end. It fit well in the palm of his hand and he could feel the presence inside of the metal case. The sibling was still functional and he had to make it respond. He shuddered. Could he do it?

There was a sting along his cheek; the storm was getting closer. He had to do it.

“I will guard them,” Sofie said. She had unstrapped her axe and the heavy weapon was morphing, the metal liquefying and running like melting wax.

“And Gin will be my anchor…” Martin whispered.

“I am sorry, Martin,” Sofie said, while her brown eyes took on a soft cast. “But she is the strongest of us. Her ego is so much bigger than mine.”

“Yes, you are right,” Martin muttered. Drawing on the power of a sibling, gentle Sofie would be blown away in a matter of seconds, and he would probably not fare much better. It truly was a joke. He was blessed with the ability to soar as high as the sun, and cursed with a heart so light that he would drift away, never to find his way home.

“For the blue skies,” he whispered, and clutched the sibling to his throat and reached out to find Gin’s blazing presence.

 

********

 

Found her facing down a wall of red death, and he felt his heart lurch with a respect that was somehow the counterweight of his fear and the reason he persisted in this triad. The sandstorm was vast, stretching to the heavens and as far as the eye could see to either side, howling like a demon out of legend and swirling like the hot blood in a human heart, a monster with a million red, razor teeth.

And Gin snapped her head, sending her gold-bright curls flying and laughed, and her quadrille reared and danced and they were aflame with life in the face of death.

“There you are!” she yelled, her words carried straight to his brain by their shared connection, and there was no fear in her, no trepidation, as if she had never doubted that he would not be there in time.

“Touch me!” she urged, and Martin closed his eyes and rushed forward. Her soul was a tower of finest ivory and golden steel, through which a river of sun-hot lava coursed, and Martin latched himself to her, feeling like an insect on a mountainside, and his hands burned with her passion.

            Far below him was her inner waters, rough and acidic, a deadly deterrent to any intruder, and Martin was endlessly thankful that he only had to hang on, not to join up with her.

            Securely anchored, he raced to seek out the sibling, and with skill and knowledge he pried open the casing and was briefly stunned. Caught in a network of synthetic nerves, the presence within was even more alien than its shell, barely recognizable as anything living, and for a breathless moment he feared that he would not be able to speak to it. Tentatively, he touched the nerves, letting his adaptive instincts, which had always been his greatest forte, guide him as he attempted to wake the petrified spirit. Something ghosted across his brain and he opened his mind to it, holding out his hands. There was a hesitation and then he was grasped tentatively.

            He shuddered. The sibling was truly ancient. He could not even make out was base life it had been constructed from and its words were almost gibberish.

Lllll-llonellllliiii, ssooo allooo

He soothed and preened and assured it of his affection and friendliness. Each sibling was unique and Martin raced to establish rapport. Long, cool limbs slid through his fingers, and lambent eyes formed out of the ether.

Whooo

An electrical pulse of impatience shot through him, and he flinched. Gin’s soul quivered beneath him and Martin abandoned all tact. He yanked his hands back, dragging the spirit to him with far more force than necessary. It shrieked in protest and tried to pull back, but it was too late. Martin grabbed its exposed nerves and latched onto the spirit’s core, the gateway to energy that was the true purpose of a sibling. There was a token resistance, and then he completely overwhelmed the just-awakened spirit. With a whimper, it submitted and Martin drank deeply from the its energy, his soul igniting.

The sandstorm engulfed them.

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