My heart pounded furiously as I detected a sharp escalation of hostility in the gravelly voices carrying on above us. I longed to leap out of the cellar and silence those voices with bullets, but I knew that such a course of action would only get us killed.
Despite how gracious a host the priest had been, I couldn’t afford to risk my life trying to save his, and I don’t believe he’d have wanted me to make the attempt.
Minutes after the shouting and breaking of things finally ceased, and the heavy bootsteps faded, the door scraped across the gritty, sandy floor, once again admitting light into the cellar.
The priest’s face, no worse for the wear, popped into view.
“It’s alright, they’re gone. I managed to convince them that I’d never heard of you.”
He helped us up and out, and I looked around. The statues had been knocked over, and the cistern full of water had been removed.
I got angry, but the priest implored me to forgive them.
“I’ll avoid a fight with them if I can, father,” I said, somewhat annoyed by the extremity of the man’s unwavering pacifism, “but if it comes down to me or them, I won’t hesitate to do what needs to be done. Again.”
“Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.”
“Sorry, Father, but I plan to do neither.”
We slept well, and took our leave of the church at dawn. After several hours of making good time across much less rocky, more more wide open terrain, Kol brought his steed to a stop.
“What is it?” I asked after circling back around to meet him.
“Have to pee.”
“Me too,” I said, “now that I think of it.”
We relieved ourselves, and before we resumed our travels the boy made an inquiry of me.
“Why does the man back at church not fight?”
I sighed. “I know what you’re thinking, that he’s a coward. Well, it’s more complicated than that. He’s not a coward at all, I’ll tell you that much.”
“He doesn’t believe violence is the answer to anything.”
I pondered this for a moment. “Sometimes, but it’s not ideal. Violence should be avoided whenever possible, but sometimes bad people… well, sometimes that’s all they understand. Violence or scrip.”
He seemed to understand. In the sunslight, the sight of the filth covering the boy’s body was jarring.
I’d bathed myself in the filthy communal tub we shared with four other farm families a week prior, and I’d complained about it.
Could’ve at least brushed yourselves off a little better beforehand!
This child had probably drank much worse. I wanted to get him off Anshar, and take him back to Galenia with us. Raise him as our son, perhaps.
Delindria and I had always planned on having children, but once we arrived on Anshar and found out what kind of place it really was, we decided it would be unconscionable to bring a child into such an environment.
“When I get my wife back, do you want to come live with us? On Galenia?
His eyes widened. “Go away from Anshar?”
I nodded. “Of course, you’re going no matter what you say, because you’re a child and I’m an adult.”
“I want to go.”
I smiled. “Good. Then we’re on the same page. Because I’ll tell you right now, I’m not letting you stay here in this hellhole. Now all I’ve got to figure out is how to leave.”
I threw back my head and laughed. “Oh, kid. If only it were that easy. Believe me, you’re not the first one to suggest doing just that. He’s got guards, though. People who’ll die to protect him.”
Kol looked down. “Oh.”
“Hey,” I said, putting a hand on his shoulder, “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. Alright?”
“Never mind, kid. C’mon. We gotta get.”
We mounted our steeds and resumed our journey towards Orbis. I took in my unfamiliar surroundings with trepidation, as I’d never been so far from Amaritia.
We came upon several geysers with iron filtration machines attached to them, and stole water from their reservoir tanks.
I didn’t feel bad about stealing the water–it was me or them, and I’ll always choose me. Such was the cutthroat nature of life on the outermost Galenian colony world. The lost world. The forgotten world.
Yes, they’ve forgotten us. They don’t care. The GDF isn’t going to show up one day to free us from our captivity. It’s never going to happen. We have to save ourselves.
Navigating around the geysers was difficult, because the heavy red mist they generated hung low to the ground and obscured their presence. At one point, Ace fell into one and nearly threw me off my saddle.
He squawked and leapt out of the hole, his feet no doubt singed by hot steam.
“Sorry, fella,” I said, patting him on the neck.
I saw mountains in the distance, and as we drew closer to them, the terrain once again grew increasingly difficult to traverse. I became concerned that we’d have to abandon our steeds and travel on foot across the two giant mountains that lay in our path, but as it turned out, that wasn’t going to be necessary.
Standing on the edge of a cliff that overlooked a canyon so deep I couldn’t see the bottom of it, I turned and looked at Kol.
“That,” I said, pointing to a sagging, rickety bridge constructed of assorted junk linked together by a fraying, sun-scorched rope, “is a bridge.”
“We are going to walk on it?”
“‘Fraid so.” I placed a boot down on the first step, and found it to be wobbly but sufficiently sturdy. Same for the next step, and the step after that.
“I think it’ll support us,” I said, but I’ll have to take the steeds first and tie them up at the other end before I come back for you.
I led Ace all the way across, never once looking down, even when a sharp gust of wind caused the bridge to sway. I tied him to one of the bridge posts and came back for Kol’s steed. I repeated the process and came back for Kol, who seemed extremely reticent to set foot on the bridge, but took my hand anyway.
“Don’t look down,” I told him. Of course, it was the first thing he did. His nails dug into my arm, and I winced but didn’t say anything.
Then came the howls.
Now, I already had a good idea of what I was going to see when I turned around, but I was hoping I was wrong.
A slew of skinheads, some armed with swords, knives and hammers, some with bows, and even a few with guns had lined up on the edge of the cliff and were watching us, making their horrible sounds.
“Alright, no more pussyfooting around,” I said. “Move.”
I afforded myself a quick backwards glance as we tumbled forward full speed ahead on the clanky, swaying bridge.
They weren’t following us. Why?
The answer to that question arrived almost immediately after it had entered my consciousness, and it wasn’t at all the one I was hoping for.
On the other end of the bridge, flanked by even more skinheads than stood at our backs, stood a tall, dark figure wearing a cloak covered with black federsteed feathers and a helmet made from a human skull.
In his hand was a sword with a long, hook-ended blade which gleamed so brightly in the suns’ rays that I had to squint to avoid being blinded.
The howling intensified, and came from both sides of the chasm, echoing off its jagged, rocky walls.
The figure raised a black-gloved hand, and they all fell silent.
“Come,” bellowed a strange, artificially enhanced voice that seemed almost robotic in nature.
The figure raised his sword, as if preparing to strike one of the ropes holding the bridge together,
Considering my options, I realized that I had little choice but to do as he commanded.
He was even more frightening up close, and for the first time since embarking on my quest, I experienced true fear.
“Who do you think you are, trespassing on my territory?” came the robotic voice from behind the clenched, brittle teeth of the skull mask.
“Your territory,” I whispered. “That means you’re–”
The man removed his helmet, and revealed that he wasn’t a man at all, but a woman. A severely scarred and disfigured one, at that, with some sort of electronic device embedded into her neck.
“I am Blackfoot Deathrider,” she said. “And you have five seconds to answer my question.”