Chapter III : The Desert Beyond II

Chapter III : The Desert Beyond

“ Invisible “

The group’s pace was slow but steady. Since the townsfolk were not used to traveling in the desert, their guide Errol walked slightly ahead but he paced his steps. Hunter, who was playfully harassed by Puppy earlier, walked close to the little historian. He looked at the child-like boy and wondered if what he thought he saw earlier was true, or if his eyes tricked him.

“ Where are we heading? “ Xing’s son asked; he tried to start a conversation.

There was no answer from the black-haired historian who continued to walk forward. Now that he had nothing else to do but to walk, and did not have to worry about stray sunflowers, dodder or an acorn that could fall onto his head, Hunter looked over their guide. The first thing that anyone would notice was Errol’s height. He was very short and his forehead would reach only up to Hunter’s chin.

Another noticeable feature was Errol’s completely black hair which was longer at the front, and the back seemed to have been crudely cut. His head seemed quite small because of the massive brown hat that he wore, but the smile that was usually plastered across his face was very wide. Behind Errol’s brown goggles, his black eyes could be occasionally seen under proper lighting. The rest of his body, unfortunately, was almost completely hidden by his large, hooded cloak. However, Hunter did notice that the historian’s left sleeve was rolled up to his elbow, and his whole left forearm had a thick, strapped leather glove. The rest of the boy’s clothing- his shirt, pants and boots- were all brown. And he had a book; it was a thick, heavy-looking brown book which was, apparently, Errol’s original copy of History of the World. That book was twice as thick as the copy that Hunter saw in the Town Library.

“ We’re here, “ Errol suddenly said.

Hunter stared at the large grey rocks in front of him just as the rest of the group caught up to them.

“ And where is … here? “ Thyme asked, now wary of losing his temper around Errol because he was afraid that Puppy might eat his head.

“ Here- here! “ the little historian declared.

Suddenly, the grey rocks moved and revealed familiar faces. They looked like Puppy’s clones.

“ Tardigrades! “ Rina gasped, a bit scared but also excited, “ There’s so many of them! But I thought they were… uhm, rare? “

A shadow appeared amidst the awakened tardigrades and as it got closer, the figure was revealed to be a human. He had wild reddish-brown hair; not quite as red as Thyme’s, but not as brown as Hunter’s either. The man wore a large grey cloak, which explained why the humans did not see him earlier.

“ Errol, brother! “ he had a toothy smile as he greeted, picked up, hugged and spun the little historian around.

After that odd greeting, he put Errol down and greeted the other humans in a conventional way.

“ Oh, hello, “ the man waved. He was tanned; the darkness of his skin was obviously unnatural. Behind the unkempt look, he seemed to be just a few years younger than Steel.

“ Your… brother? “ Hunter turned to Errol.

“ He calls everyone his brother, even if they’re girls, “ the historian shrugged.

Something burst out of the ground and it made Thyme reach for his spear, but when the sand settled down, the culprit was none other than Puppy. Errol’s tardigrade heaved off the sand and, as he grunted loudly, landed right on what seemed to be the head of another tardigrade. Soon, the rest of the large creatures joined in and in the end, it was a tardigrade pile.

“ Hah! See that? “ Errol’s friend laughed, “ They’re all so happy! “

The tardigrades rolled around and Thyme swore that such a ruckus could effectively destroy a whole pack of volcano wolves, thus he could not believe that to these creatures, it was all just play time. Meanwhile, Hunter was deeply humbled; to have seen such a rare creature as Puppy was already enough to make a tamer feel accomplished, but now, he was in front of a tardigrade colony. He tried to count them, but he stopped at forty-five and got lost when the creatures began to chase one another at top speed.

“ I’m here to ask if you’ve seen, you know… “ Errol’s voice interrupted Hunter’s thoughts, “ … that THING. “

The historian seemed to be worried about something as he took out a piece of paper from his book and handed it to his friend.

“ Errol’s map! “ Rina shrieked as she ran over to the stranger’s side, “ With all of its drawings and stuff! “

The map looked like Rina’s but it had more details. There were numbers, figures and scribbles that the female historian did not understand.

“ Hmm… I guess, the numbers are towns? “ she asked.

Errol’s friend laughed, clearly delighted by the girl’s enthusiasm and intelligence.

“ I’m Rina! “ she took that chance to introduce herself.

The wild haired man nodded at her and politely introduced himself.

“ And I’m Shoo! “ he offered a handshake while his other hand held onto Errol’s map, “ It’s nice to meet you, brother! “

Rina shook his hand, much to Thyme’s annoyance.

“ Shoe? Like the ones that we wear on our feet? “ the guard grunted, “ I’m Thyme. “

“ Er- no, “ Shoo replied as he let go of Rina’s warm handshake and looked over the map.

“ … it’s shoo as in ‘ Shoo, go away, we don’t want you here ‘, “ Errol explained, “ He was driven out of town and these tardigrades took him in. “

The group fell silent while the massive grey creatures rolled around in the background. It was a long moment without sunlight.


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