Chapter III : The Desert Beyond V

Chapter III : The Desert Beyond

“ Solitary Hunter “

In town, Thyme had no luck at finding supplies. Everything was either shriveled to useless bits, or was too filthy to use. Rina, the ever-curious historian, ventured further beyond the houses until she reached the middle of 135. She looked up at the town hall and it was there that she found the townsfolk. They lay on the ground as sun-bleached skeletons. Most of them were in awkward positions as if they had been tossed around before they died. Some of them had completely crushed skulls. And then she saw the strangest things: yellowish spikes that protruded from the ground.

The historian looked around for obvious contraptions, but the spikes did not look like traps at all. It really did seem as if those spikes grew from the ground itself. She stepped a bit closer to one of them… just a little closer, she thought. That piece of knowledge was right in front of her, and she couldn’t ignore it.

“ Rina! “ yelled Hunter.

SNAP!

The living booby trap emerged from the sand. Nicknamed “bloody thorn tree”, it lived up to its reputation and never missed a target, until now.

“ RINA! “ the tamer shook his friend’s shoulders. He arrived just in time to pull her away from the spikes.

Just then, Thyme arrived at the scene. He had been drawn to the town hall by Hunter’s voice.

“ What ha- “ the guard’s eyes, which were on the shaken blonde girl, then looked up at the towering tree, “ Oh shit. “

It was a dream, right? He was still sleeping somewhere in the Desert Beyond… right? It can’t be true.

“ A-acacia… “ Rina whimpered as she tried to calm down.

It was the only other tree which survived through the Age of the Sun. Unlike the leather oak which made the soil arable, the acacia was completely useless to humans, animals and other plants. In fact, its existence was a bane to almost all life in the World. It looked very different from its ancestors because the acacia no longer had any leaves. It only had a trunk, branches, roots, and thorns. It was a carnivorous and cannibalistic tree that would eat anything and everything that contained moisture. All acacia would definitely eat animals, humans and other plants. Its tactic was to bury itself in the sand, and then it would snap up at nearby moving objects like a gigantic trap. Its thorns were almost as sharp and tough as porcupig quills, and were used to stab a target and drain it of its flesh and blood.

“ Run… “ Hunter whispered to his friends.

The couple didn’t budge. They were shocked and speechless, until the tamer yelled at them.

“ RUN! “

At that, Thyme took Rina’s hand and they both ran up the street to where they last saw Errol. Meanwhile, Hunter turned to look at the massive tree just as it brought down its thorny branches at the moisture-laden human. It wasn’t his first encounter with death…

… and it wasn’t his last either. Hunter swore that his eyes failed him again, because he thought that, just then, Errol deflected the acacia’s massive branches with just a key-shaped bone knife. He shook his head and saw that the branches narrowly missed both him and the historian who now stood between his shaking, fear-stricken body and the most feared plant in the desert.

“ Let’s go! “ Errol turned to Hunter and picked him up by the collar, “ Come on! “

The acacia’s thorns were buried deeply into the sand, and the tree was having a bit of difficulty when it attempted to straighten itself up. Hunter did not look back at all. He just ran after Errol who led the way; once again, the tamer noticed the peculiar key-like knife in the historian’s right hand, but it was not the time for questions. It was the time for running at top speed.

“ It’s just a tree, right? “ Rina frantically, and repeatedly, asked Steel when they arrived at the edge of the town, “ It can’t possibly… “

Just then, a loud crash came from the direction of the town hall. It was followed by the destruction of many houses. From between some of the crumbling structures, Errol emerged and Hunter was right behind him.

“ What the heck was that sound? “ Thyme yelled at the two boys as he stood close to Rina, Steel and the tardigrade.

“ Hop onto Puppy’s back! “ Errol yelled.

“ Like hell I wi- “ the guard’s statement was cut short when some of the nearby houses were completely destroyed.

Beyond the ruined structures, the acacia towered higher than whatever was left of the town. It moved.

Get the fuck on Puppy’s back! the little historian screamed as he pushed Hunter towards the tardigrade.

Steel did not wait for Thyme and Rina’s reactions. He immediately lifted the two up onto Errol’s pet as the creature began to turn towards the open desert. The black-haired historian hopped onto the steadily accelerating tardigrade when everyone was secure on its wide back. Behind them, Town #135 crumbled to a mess of white stones but Steel remained nervous.

“ I heard that the bloody thorn tree… “ his voice broke as he spoke, almost as if the experienced farmer whimpered, “ … could jump. “

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