Chapter Thirty Three
For his plan to work, Adam needed to waste some precious hours sneaking back to the homestead.
He’d lost his spear when he was attacked in the tunnels, so needed to rearm himself. He also needed a bellower, and some food packs.
As he moved silently back through the jungle, he hoped the ogres hadn’t discovered their camp and their stores remained untouched.
Upon arrival, he stayed in the shadows of the tree line and scanned the homestead. It was still, the only sound the wailing of hungry flappers calling for their supper.
He waited for another few minutes, watching, before he crouched low and shuffled quietly up the trail and past the fence line.
As he stepped through the area, he was relieved to find everything still in its place. It was a miracle he accepted as a good omen. Now that the tribe had reemerged from their subterranean home under the mountain, he knew it was only a matter of time before they discovered it. He looked up and thanked the great gas giant above that they’d been spared that hardship for now.
Wasting no time, Adam grabbed his sturdiest longspear and strapped it across his back. He also belted a short spear and a rock stomper along his right flank. He didn’t know what trouble awaited him when he caught up with the ogres who had Emma, but he wanted to be ready for anything when he did.
Now that he had everything he needed, he quickly fed the flappers and checked the camp’s traps and alarms. He did this out of habit more than anything, imagining bringing Emma back and having everything exactly as she would want it to be. In truth, he was probably desperate to feel like things would be normal again.
When that was done, he took a long look at their hut. The vines covering the entryway swayed slightly back and forth in the evening breeze. Emma appeared suddenly, pushing them aside and walking out, a smile spreading across her face upon seeing him.
“Fooled you, silly,” her voice said lightly. Then she laughed and vanished and Adam was along again.
He turned away and ran.
It didn’t take Adam long to the track the ogres. They made no effort to hide their movements and left great roadways of trampled jungle behind them as they cut across the landscape.
Judging by their tracks and the state of the extinguished campfires that littered their way, Adam concluded he was no more than five days behind them. It was far more dangerous, but he decided to travel on the ground. If he could keep moving at a steady pace he could probably catch up with the horde in less than two full days. They would be slow in such large numbers, doubly so if they lead beasts of burden and had children with them.
He didn’t know exactly how many days he’d been recovering in the mapmaker’s cave, but he was suddenly struck by how closely he’d come to never waking up again. The idea made his blood run cold and he feared for Emma’s safety all the more acutely.
He cursed himself for letting her out of his sight when he knew full well the dangers that lurked in the moon’s shadows. She was tough, there was no question of it, but their whole lives they always worked better as a team. It was what Pin had always taught them.
How had he become so complacent over the years the ogres had vanished? If it wasn’t for the nightmares that still plagued him from time to time, Adam wondered if he might have forgotten them completely.
They always come back, he thought as he picked up his pace. Why and when was of little concern. Evil things just do, and you have to keep your guard up. I’ll never make the mistake again.
The familiar bellowing of horns woke Emma. The ogres had stopped their march to set up camp again. It was a ritual she had grown accustomed to over her days with the horde.
Once again, they broke into various groups, each with their tasks to perform. Fires were lit and tents were erected with many furrowed brows and agonizing sounds erupting from the workers.
KoKo had learned this was the best time to steal food and her wide yellow eyes appeared next to the cage right on cue, a few lengths of putrid dried meat sticking out from between her teeth. She chirped excitedly when Emma plucked them away between her fingers.
“Thanks, KoKo,” Emma said weakly, tearing a mouthful off and chewing. “I honestly don’t know what would have become of me without you. I think I’d have wasted away into nothing. Oh, when will this nightmare be over? It’s been so long I’m almost used to the taste of this stuff by now.”
Emma stuck two fingers through the bars and let KoKo nuzzle them as she tried to determine where she was and what options were available to her. There weren’t many.
“You need to leave,” she said soberly after some time. KoKo’s ears perked up as though she understood. Emma had no doubt she did. Growing up together, KoKo had developed a surprisingly good grasp of their language and responded to most of their commands and words. “If Adam’s out there somewhere you have to find him and make sure he gets here.”
KoKo ran up and down the length of the cage, chirping erratically.
“I know you don’t want to, but there’s no other way,” Emma whispered harshly. “You can’t get me out on your own.”
Suddenly, two male ogres—soldiers, one holding a bone club in his lower arm, the other a thick spear with a slider barb at the head—stomped towards her. She barely had time to scream before they grabbed the cage and tore it from the large cane sled.
The grey beast that was carrying it thundered a thankful groan before one of them gripped two of the cane bars and ripped them from the cage as if it were nothing at all.
Emma marvel at the ogre’s strength then noticed the other one reaching in to grab her. She kicked at the ogre, but couldn’t stop him from pulling her out roughly.
Fighting against his grip his all her might, Emma managed to escape and turned to run. Surprised, the ogre bellowed an anguished cry that reverberated across the camp before taking chase. Everywhere Emma looked, ogres turned to face her, but she kept moving. If she could just make it to the tree line she might be able to—
A sharp pain shot up Emma’s right leg. It was cramping up from too much time in a tight space. Biting her lip, she tried to endure the pain, but her legs grew heavier with every stride she took until she felt like she was wading through thick mud. She cried out uselessly before collapsing to the jungle floor.
Strong arms grabbed her shoulders and yanked her to her feet. Two ogres held her by her feet and two grabbed her under her arms and carried her back towards the camp. As Emma screamed and struggled to pull herself away, she caught sight of something purple behind them. It was KoKo scurrying away unnoticed into the dense jungle.
Emma cried out, but onlookers turned away as the ogres continued on through the camp.
“Where are you taking me?” she screamed. “Let me go!”
Without answering, the ogres carried Emma all the way to a large tent at the front of the horde. They stopped at the entrance and put her down, making sure to hold her tightly so she couldn’t run again. Her eyes darted desperately to determine what was happening, but they just seemed to be standing and waiting.
Finally, after some minutes, the tent’s thick, red flaps opened and a figure came out. It was an ogre Emma had not seen before, a female, thin and quite a bit smaller than the rest. She wore an elaborate headdress made of wrapped animal hides and adorned in bones of various sizes. Her eyes were deeply bloodshot and glistened, almost as if they were weeping. The ogre pointed a long, bony finger toward Emma then beckoned her forward. The two ogres holding her let go their grip.
Emma hesitated and one of the ogres shoved her hard, sending her stumbling through the tent’s entryway and into the ogre’s arms.
The ogre let her go and Emma stood tall. She looked at the sickly ogre with eyes wild with terror. The ogre stared back for a long moment as though examining her before pulling her inside the tent and closing the flap behind them.