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World of Dust And Ash

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The world is a wasteland of dust and Ash, where demons freely walk the earth. What is left of humanity has turned savage and lawless. Growing up in the deadlands as a young female had been no easy task for Zara Wild. Without the help her older brother Ash, she would be dead. Zara soon finds her world turned upside down when her brother is taken. In a world where survival couldn’t be more difficult, and trust comes at a steep price. Can Zara survive the journey to be reunited with her brother? Or will long lost secrets rip them apart?

Fantasy / Romance
5.0 1 review
Age Rating:

Chapter One -Dead World

(Zara P.O.V)

I take another cautious step towards my brother—the wood creaking under the heel of my boot, causing me to wince. Ash’s copper eyes glancing back at me, shooting daggers in my direction.
Sorry, I mouth back, holding my hands up in surrender. Ash says nothing; he didn't need to. I knew what he was thinking without a single word passing between us. Right now, he'd be reciting from his 'Survival rule book 101' Rule four; curiosity will get you killed.
Honestly, most of the time, Ash acted like a drill sergeant rather than my actual brother. Maybe that wasn't fair. Raising a child single-handedly in hells realm couldn't have been easy. Without him, I would have long ago been burned to cinders. Besides, in the past three years, I had more or less earned his respect.
I roll my shoulders in an attempt to soothe my restless soul. A trickle of sweat and dust runs down my forehead. It was barely past dawn, and already the early morning heat was unbearable.
Serval minutes pass, or had it been hours? Yet I heard nothing—the only sound the rustling of the makeshift tarpaulin roof and the occasional creak of deadwood. Ash had returned to peered through a crack in the curtains. The dusty scrap of fabric doing little to block out the scorching sun yet was enough to block my own view. From where I stood in the middle of our humble home, I could only glimpse rusty copper walls and Ash’s back. His weapon, a crossbow and bolts, strapped over his should. If Ash saw anything, he didn’t share, his body tense and unmoving, watching for any inkling of danger on the ground below.
I let out a deep breath through my nose. My impatience was slowly getting the better of me. There was nothing out there. If there had been, it was long gone by now. Yet Ash seemed to be picking up something my own ears couldn't detect.
In the past eight months, we had been living in the treehouse. We had not seen one survivor. Considering we were in the middle of nowhere, the nearest town over half a day's walk from here. There was close to zero chance anyone would stumble across this place or even realise it was here. Lesson seven, nobody ever looks up.
The scuff of dry earth caused my ears to prick up. A survivor? Or something far worse? No, it was impossible. The Fallen never came out this far. Not to mention it was daylight.
An icy chill breaks out over my skin; despite the heat of the day. I felt cold right down to my bones. The world seeming to fall silent. Even the wind seeming to pause.
If I believed in the gods, I would have prayed to them now. But with beasts like demons walking the earth, how could I? When the world was nought but a wasteland of Dust and Ash. The only thing I believed in was myself.
Suddenly something big and hard slams into the tree below. Causing the world to shake beneath my feet. I manage to keep my feet rooted, bending down low to steady my balance—our few possessions clattering across the floor.
The thing bellow snarled, more beast than man. The sound, low and gravely, vibrates through me. I swallow down my anxiety; I will not be afraid.
It had to be Fallen then. A grunt by the sound of it, a lesser demon. Half beast, half something else.
I let the killing calm overtake my body. The air drug and got as it slowly fills my lungs. Ash's eyes were locked on mine, his face mirroring my own. Wordlessly I unsheathe my daggers, holding the hilt with a closed fist. The blades protruding ageist my arm. My worn fingerless gloves steady my sweaty grip. My brother retrieves his crossbow, loading a steel-tipped bolt into the rail of the bow.
Once loaded, Ash nods to me in silent command.
The fallen grunt bellow us, slamming itself into the tree again. Making the walls shudder. Neither of us losing our footing. I shove away my dough, focusing on my surroundings, on the task at hand. Lesson one, survive or die. Adrenalin pumps through my veins. I take a steadying breath, nodding. I was ready.
Silently and as graceful as a summer breeze, I cross the space, the door swinging open, my brother only a step behind me.
The light temporally blinds me as I move my tinted goggles into place. The dusty landscape surrounding us turned purple, and finally coming into focus, I peer over the rails of the treehouse, sizing up my mark.
A fallen grunt angrily paces the scorched earth 20 feet below us. A beast approximately two meters in height and weighing a good 900 kilograms, appearing similar to a bull in appearances, only more monstrous. It's leathery black hide, so dark it seemed forged from the darkest depth of shadows. Horns so sharp they could scour a man. Its back, shoulders and tail decorated with mean-looking spikes. A greenish shim to the tip of its tail, venom. Poisonous from the look of it.
It appeared to be alone.
The beast sniffed the air, a low growl vibrating through its chest. Its front hoof scuffing the cracked dirt. Although it couldn’t see me, the grunt had caught our scent. It wouldn’t stop now, not until either one of us was dead. Survive or die.
Without giving myself a second to reconsider, I leap off the edge of the treehouse, the hilt of my left dagger held between my teeth. Allowing me to catch the rope as I plummet several feet toward the ground, twisting the rope around my legs to slow my descent. The friction stopping me only three feet off the ground.
The grunt turned toward me, nostrils flaring, the furry of a thousand suns in its eyes. Lesson six, do not fear death. I wink at the beast, my lips tugging up into a grin. Without hesitation, the beast charges. At the exact moment, I heard the click. The brush of air zooming past my face, ending in a thud as the bolt struck home. Landing in the grunts hide.
It let out an almighty snarl, a mixture of anger and pain. The grunt sliding to a stop only an inch away from my foot.
Not giving it time to recover, I pounce. Launching myself onto the beast's side, my dagger securing my landing, by impaling the grunts back. Making it easier to avoid the deadly spikes.
The beast snarls again, rising up onto its back hoofs in an attempt to throw me off. But I manage to hold firm, fighting the urge to cover my ears.
Another click as Ash fires again, the bolt embedding itself in the Grunt right eye. It stumbles forward, breathing hard—the smell like rotten flesh and sewage water. I grimace, feeling my breakfast churn up inside me. Holding my breath, I realise my left dagger from between my teeth.
The grunt charges forward too fast for me to predict its motives as I latch on, trying to keep myself from falling. I look up too late to react, the grunt racing toward a tree. The beast bucks, causing my grip to falter; I fall to the side, Crushed between it and the tree. The air expelling from my lungs, yet somehow, I manage to hold on—the dead tree groaning from the impact.
It growls, ready to charging again. But this time I'm ready. From this angle, it was almost too easy to plunge the blade into its heart. Twisting my wrist to force it deeper, right down to the hilt.
The beast stumbling a few feet, its breathe labour and wet. Before finally collapsing. Its molten eyes were still open, the fire in its gaze seeming to flicker; one final wheezed breath escapes its snort. Then nothing. The only sound my own heavy breathing. Dead.
It wasn't my first kill and likely wouldn't be my last. Yet the guilt still ate at me, it wasn't human, and there was no goodness inside the beast's black heart. It did not make me feel powerful or victorious, and it changed nothing. Death was death.
After a long moment, I realise the blade from the beast's back and climb to my feet. Ash was already sliding down the rope, his crossbow strapped back in place.
He nods to me approvingly. "You okay?" he asks, his voice gruff.
"I'm not dead," I shrug as if that was answer enough—Ash smirks.
"I would have been embarrassed for you to live twenty-three years, only to be taken out by a grunt," Ash teased, a smile tugging at his lips as he brushes back his greasy brown hair, his face stained with dirt.
"Please, like that would happen. I do all the work," I remark, grinning back at Ash. Being taken out by a grunt, although embarrassing, would have been a good death. There were fates far worse than dying. With no laws to govern the wastelands' survivors, people could be far more brutal than the fallen. Survival and greed made humanity crazy.
Ash, walking over to the Grunt, kicking it with his boot. The beast remained unmoving, dead as a rotten corpse. Satisfied it wouldn't be waking up anytime soon, Ash retrieving the knife strapped to his upper thigh, then crouches down beside it.
Ash gets to work widens the wound to allow his bolt to withdraw without damaging the head.
"It's fat considering," Ash noted, poking its leathery hide.
I nod. "The fallen are defiantly getting bolder if they are coming this far out," I consider, scanning our surroundings as if another fallen might be lurking in the shadows of the forest. The trees were dead, every single one of them, with no leaves hanging on their branches or dusting the forest floor. Many of the trees had cracked and hollowed from a lifetime without a drop of water. Several had even collapsed under their own weight. While others had charred black from the suns relentless heat. Bits of scrap metal and random junk litter the ground, among patches of crusty brown grass. A thick layer of dust hanging in the air.
Once the landscape might have been beautiful, It might have been home to many creatures and various plants. Peaceful, yet bursting with life sounds and smells. Every tree branch would have a blossom of green leaves, flowers or fruit, sheltering the forest floor from the suns golden rays.
But it had never been like that in my lifetime. Instead, I had been born into a dead world. With no parents that I could not remember if Ash did, he never mentioned them and never spoke about what the world might have been like before. Lesson Twenty-three; No point in dwell on the things you can't change, he'd say.
"Or desperate," Ash mutters, moving to the beast's eye. After retrieving his bolts, I get Ash to help me turn over the carcass to retrieve my dagger. The blood that clung to the blade was black as tar; I grimace at the smell, quickly wiping it clean on a patch of grass.
My brother begins hacking at the corpse, seeming almost unfazed by the smell of rot and death seeping from its blood, which would have made a weaker man puke his guts out—but not Ash. Desperate times.
I leave my brother to his butchery and instead make hasted gathering wood and starting a fire. Too risky to attempt during the bitterly cold nights when we needed it. But during the day, under the protection of the blistering sun, it was unlikely to draw attention.
We prep half the meat for curing, leaving it to hang by strings from the treehouse. The other half we cooked over the fire. Ash was surprisingly quiet as we worked; usually, he would be mid-lecture by now, detailing all the different ways I fucked up during the fight. Lesson twenty-four, there is always room for improvement.
But Ash's attention was locked on the fire as it held the answers to the universe.
"It's not going to cook any faster with you staring at it," I joke, causing Ash to jump, even though I hadn't been anything but silent.
"What is it?" I ask, taking a seat beside him on the log. The fire unbearably hot ageist my sensitive skin, making it hard to breathe. Ash shrugs, clearing his throat as I wipe away the sweat off my brow.
"You did well today," He declares. The compliment utterly out of character, I frown.
"Okay, who are you? And what have you done with my brother?" I question. Ash snorts, relaxing a fraction; he pokes the fire, the wood crackling under the metal pole.
"I've given you plenty of praise before, Sis," He counters, not meeting my gaze.
"Rarely, and it's usually followed with a list of 'suggested improvement,'" I point out. A smile tugging at my lips, Ash grins.
"And how could you have improved?" He prompts.
"Are you so lazy you can't even list them yourself anymore? Or is my big bad brother growing soft?" I tease, earning me a well-deserved shove off the edge of the log. I laugh.
"I can't always be here to look after you, you know? You're going to have to learn to be self-suffusion," Ash declares, shrugging his shoulders. I get comfortable on the floor, crossing my legs over and leaning back ageist the log.
"Oh really? And where exactly are you going to go?" I wonder. It wasn't as if either of us had any friends; we needed to watch each other's backs. It had always been that way, just me and Ash ageist the world. He was the only person I could trust, the only family I had left.
"I don't know, Zara. Maybe I find a girl and want to settle down, or something happens, and we get separated," Ash debates, rubbing the back of his neck.
"Unlikely that any girl would settle for your ugly arse," I tease. Ash goes to hit me, but I duck out of the way, holding my hands up to defend myself. "But on the rare, rare chance that you do manage to snare a woman. I'd still tag along," I assure him.
"What if I don't want you to follow us?" Ash counters. I raise a brow at him, almost as if to say, are you serious?
"You are my brother like I'd let you get rid of me that easily! I'd probably follow you to the gates of hell if I had too" I point out. Ash doesn't reply, busying himself by tending to the meat, a smile tugs at his lips.
We are quiet for a long while, while Ash sorts out the cooked meat and plates up dinner. It was a comfortable silence. Even though Ash hadn't replied to my words, I knew he would do the same for me. After 13 years of raising me alone in the wastes, our bond was thicker than blood; we were all each other had. Without Ash, I had nothing.
"Bottoms up," Ash teased, breaking me out of my thoughts. I take the wooden slab he offers me, my rations of grub meat and half a tin of soup stacked on top.
I groaned, taking a bite of the foul-tasting meat. My brother had brut it purposely in an attempt to take away the bitter taste. But it still tasted foul. I ate quickly, washing each mouthful down with the soup.
Without the label on the tin, I couldn't tell what flavour it was supposed to be. The taste was artificial and overly sweet, but at least it tasted better than then grub meat.
"We need to make another supply run," Ash stated after we had finished eating. I frown, looking over at him, with everything that had been happening recently, with the fallen turning up in the day and appearing outside their usual patrol roots. Now was not a good time to go wandering off into town.
"Can't we wait a week? Or a few days at least?" I debate. Ash sighs, rubbing his hands on his trousers, before finally meeting my gaze.
"No, it can't. The water is running low," He admits, rubbing the back of his neck. Ash looked drained, even with his eyes hidden under the goggles. I could tell he'd been contemplating the risk. Yet when I had last checked the stock, we still had enough water to last another week if we were careful.
I nod, not wanting to argue with him. Ash was older, wiser, and had taken care of me even when our parents no longer could. I owed him everything. So if he said we needed to take a trip to town, that's what we would do.
Supply runs were always dangerous, our local town was controlled by two rival gangs always fighting over turf, and they didn't take kindly to outsiders. Not surprising, people out here were unpredictable and couldn't be trusted. I'd learned that the hard way.
If we could have avoided the towns and other survivors altogether, we would have. But water didn't grow on trees; hell, nothing grew on trees anymore. It was a necessary risk, but after our last supply run, I was in no hurry to go back anytime soon.
"When?" I considered playing with one of my braids to keep my hands busy.

"Tomorrow," Ash declares, getting to his feet.

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