Scorched Soul

In a scorched dystopia, Jenna Sand is just trying to survive, without knowing who her parents are or anything about how the world used to be. A servant in a ranch house, she flees the cattle ranch with the other workers, fearing the deadly 'Sand Plague'. The Harshlands outside the ranch, however, are aptly named, and surviving isn't going to be easy. Jenna struggles on, determined to keep going, but will her final, seemingly unjust, predicament be the last straw? Will her luck finally run dry?

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5. Setting off to Rairrk...

The kitchen was quiet, when Jenna went in to speak with Jamie. Rat-face (Also known as Carl) was sitting at the table next to Jamie, both of them drinking coffee and talking quietly. She could see Lucas out of the open window, leading a large, dark stallion out of a barn, and some of the cattle were milling about in their pen. One, she knew, had been butchered already, a light-beige cow, stouter than most, and the meat was going to be used for meals that day. It slightly saddened Jenna; they had travelled so far, yet they were all just going to the same fate. Death. 

 

"Good morning." Jamie's warm voice broke the silence, and Jenna nodded at him, not moving. "Please, sit down. We need to talk." 

 

Begrudgingly, she sat. Carl stood, going to make another cup of coffee, even though his was still half-full and piping hot, and Jamie put down his mug, eyes running over Jenna's small body from across the table. She studied his eyes. They were a soft green, unnatural, and they stood out against the bland browns, oranges and yellows of the desert. Finally, Carl came back to the table, oblivious to what had been going on, and the silence disappeared once again. 

 

"The bank." He reminded Jamie. "Rairrk." 

"Oh, yes." Jamie shook his head slightly, then took another gulp of coffee, before focusing on Jenna. "We need you as a distraction." 

"Hostage." Carl interrupted. Jamie raised his eyebrows. 

"Hostage, distraction, same thing. Anyway, you will ride into the outskirts of Rairrk with Lucas. You will dismount, he will hold you at gunpoint, you will walk into the town centre. While the officers try to make him let you go, we raid the bank. They can't be in two places at once. Once we're done, Will has a smoke bomb. He'll throw it into the street, you two will escape, and the officers will be none the wiser. Got it?" 

 

Jenna nodded, accepting the cup of coffee that was pushed towards her. She had never drank coffee: only cold tea from Mr and Mrs Miller's mugs or water. As she put the mug to her lips, it burned, so she hurriedly put it down on the table and stared out of the window instead, at Lucas, who was saddling the light skewbald horse and talking to another bandit, a dark skinned person with small, grey eyes and long legs. He wasn't from the desert. Not the South of the desert, anyway. She watched as the other bandit mounted his huge, inky black monster of a horse, who didn't even seem to sweat in the heat. Large horses didn't last long, that was what Kurtis said, and large dark horses just couldn't survive in the heat. Hm. Not this one. It tossed its head and stomped one heavy hoof, neighing impatiently, chomping on the bit, ready to go. It didn't exactly look like it was ready to keel over. Jenna just sighed internally. Was everything trying to taint her memories of Kurtis? 

 

"… and you'll be riding double-saddle with Lucas. Any questions?" 

 

Panicking, as she realised she hadn't been listening to any of that conversation, she just shook her head, and Jamie smiled, saying that Lucas was out near the barn, and he'd make sure she was ready for the journey. A wooden bowl of porridge appeared on the table, courtesy of Carl, and she ate quickly before going back to her room to change, mentally noting that it was the best porridge she'd ever eaten. Jamie had made sure there was a fresh pair of clothes on her bed; a pastel red button-down shirt, denim-and-leather chaps that were slightly too big for her, a pair of old riding boots and a bright red bandana, that she had to put over her face. They'd be riding faster than she was used to, since they weren't taking any cattle, and she had to be ready for all the dust and sand that would be kicked up during the journey. 

 

Lucas was still talking to the other bandit when she finally walked out into the slightly cooler desert morning. For a split second, she thought about jumping onto his horse and making a run for it, but then she remembered that they had guns and she would be alone if she ran off, with no food or supplies. The idea was quickly abandoned, as she, instead, smiled at Lucas, who returned the gesture before explaining something to the other bandit in a different tongue, which surprised Jenna. The other bandit led his horse back into the barn, and Jenna raised her eyebrows at Lucas. 

 

"Jesse speaks Plains-Tongue." He shrugged. "And he taught me it, so we could talk privately. I can teach you, if you like?" 

 

Jenna nodded, before looking up at the monster of a horse that was standing next to Lucas, questioning in her eyes. He explained that the horse was called 'Devil's Demon' and that it had been a present off Jamie for his birthday, seeing as he had been doing very well in raids that year. Jesse had said that it was a horse from the Plains, or the Wetlands, and he didn't understand how it could survive in the desert heat, but it did, and it was extremely reliable. Jenna just tried to stay away from those huge hooves, for fear of being squashed. 

 

Jamie decided that they would set off in the next five minutes, which led to some hurried saddling of horses whose bandit-owners had still been enjoying their porridge and coffee over a morning game of cards. Lucas offered to help Jenna into the saddle, and, while she would have usually declined, she realised that, due to the difference in size between her and Devil's Demon, it was probably best just to accept. So, that was how she ended up hopping up onto Devil's Demon, and she honestly felt like a mouse on top of an elephant. Lucas swung up after her, and guided the horse over to a small cluster of bandits, who were all mounted and ready to go. Jamie and Carl wouldn't be joining them, since small groups gathered less suspicion, but Jesse, a gambler nicknamed 'Heartsleeve' and an older bandit who used to live in Rairrk would be riding with them. The older bandit was called William, or Will for short, and he would be throwing the smoke bomb, since Jamie trusted him the most out of everyone in the group. That wasn't to say that they didn't all have very important parts to play; they did, and there were butterflies in Jenna's stomach just thinking about it. 

 

Rairrk was a day-and-a-half's ride away, over the notorious Harshlands, so Jenna settled into the saddle and held onto Lucas as they eased into a loping stride and started to make some progress. Devil's Demon was actually quite a good ride, although Jenna would never admit it, and, although his strides were sometimes way too long for Jenna's liking, he was quite comfortable. 

 

Just before the sun set that day, they were about three quarters of the way already, and Will smiled thinly at Jenna while they made camp. 

 

"We'll be in Rairrk before tomorrow is over." He lowered his head, staring into the slowly flickering flames of the campfire. "Whether we want to be there, or not."

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