Chapter III : The Desert Beyond VII

Chapter III : The Desert Beyond

“ Resolute “

The humans could feel the uneven movements caused by the wound despite the tardigrade’s attempt to maintain his balance. They could also hear the sloshing sound of the useless limb which Errol’s pet dragged across the hot desert sand. Then, there came another powerful leap that almost drove the acacia’s thorns through their bodies.

“ We can’t outrun it, not like this, “ Errol stood up and was able to remain on his feet atop the tardigrade’s back even though it moved, “ Hunter, hold onto this for me. “

The little one took his cloak off and wrapped it around his bone knife. He then put it in Hunter’s bag. His shoulders were narrow and his shirt and pants were fairly loose, as if the historian really was a child… or…

“ You have a plan? “ the tamer asked.

“ Of course, so stay down and hold on, “ Errol began to unfasten the straps on his left glove, “ Are you ready, Puppy? “

The tardigrade grunted. Just then, the acacia leapt towards them and its shadow fell upon the group. There was no escape. Puppy could not swerve due to his injury, otherwise he will fall over. Their only hope was that somehow, the thorns would narrowly miss them again. The humans closed their eyes, except for Hunter who, after his earlier ordeal, felt that he could now face death with a content heart.

But there was no death. There were no thorns on their bodies. There was just Puppy who stopped so suddenly, and Errol who jumped off his pet’s back, landed gracefully on the ground, knelt down on it and buried his left arm into the sand. For brief moment, Hunter caught a glimpse of the hidden arm; it seemed to have black thorns. But before he could think about what that meant, an unbelievable amount of thick, thorny, woody vines erupted from the sand and formed a dome around them. It almost completely blocked the sun’s rays but there was just enough light for him to see that the dome entangled the acacia’s branches and held it in place.

“ Whoa! You did i- “ the guard almost rejoiced at their victory, but his eyes fell upon Hunter who stared blankly at something on the ground.

One of the acacia’s branches had gone through. The dome was unable to entangle it completely before it hit its mark. On the Desert Beyond’s warm surface, there knelt a small, black-haired figure with its left arm in the loose sand… and two acacia thorns that ran through its back and out to the front of its chest. A dark liquid dripped onto the desert as the humans stood on the tardigrade’s back; they were frozen in place. Even Steel, who had seen many deaths before, was speechless.

“ Ah, shit, it hurts, “ Errol suddenly coughed up, “ I can’t hold it much longer. “

The vines tightened its grip around the acacia and tried to pull the thorns out of the historian’s back, but the bloody thorn tree was stubborn.

“ You should go- to Linnorm, “ the little one said.

“ Errol! “ Hunter almost jumped off from where he sat, but Thyme held him back.

“ We can’t do anything, let’s just- “ the guard’s sentence ended abruptly due to a strong punch to his face.

“ If only you listened! “ the tamer furiously grabbed his friend by the collar, “ If only you weren’t such a stubborn bastard! “

“ Oh, c’mon… humans really are… “ Errol coughed again as the acacia managed to rip through the vines. It stabbed another thorn through its target and it managed to impale the little one’s right leg onto the ground, “ I know that you won’t like it but… just this once… Puppy… please. “

The tardigrade grunted loudly and the divisions on his shell opened up. The humans and their belongings fell into the creature’s back but before they could climb out, the shell closed up. Each human was in a separate area though their belongings were mixed. Puppy’s back was soft and warm like a bed, but it was still incredibly tough. Rina began to cry when she felt the tardigrade move; her fiancé was speechless and he felt empty as he realized what just happened. Steel kept saying thank you, thank you– Hunter was the only one who would not go down without a fight. He kicked and screamed at Puppy’s shell, but soon stopped when he realized that he might be hurting the tardigrade. The young tamer grasped Errol’s bone knife and cloak tightly in his hands.

As the journey continued, the humans felt as if they were traveling forever. They didn’t want to fall asleep, but their weariness overcame their frail bodies. While his passengers rested, Puppy continued to run as fast as he could. Forward, always forward; he didn’t waste a moment, he didn’t look back at the vine dome which was soon beaten down and completely destroyed by the acacia. By the time that the solitary hunter was done with the one who was left behind, the others were safely on their way to their destination: Linnorm.


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