I paced from one side of the chamber to the other. The soldier was still unconscious, sitting and propped up against the cobbled, moss-covered wall. Other than the wind, no sound came from the ruined home’s entrance.
We would be much safer now that we were above ground and among the city’s ruins. There was nothing up here but ancient buildings and old, undisturbed corpses. They were either bandits or other Nomads that had taken the pilgrimage through here like us. They must have been here long before the Necrolisks nested, otherwise they would have been picked clean.
Eno was sitting and staring at the floor, close to tears. “I can’t believe he’s gone.” He wiped his cheeks and shook his head. “He ... he would want me to be strong. He always said that if we wallowed in sadness ...”
I stopped pacing. “That we’d be lost to the world,” I added.
He nodded and stood. “That was the first portal you’ve made since ...”
“I know,” I said. “I know.”
I looked back at our captive. What was I thinking? More soldiers were going to pursue us now. I didn’t even know why I had rescued her; was it because of guilt? I should have just left her to fend for herself. We didn’t owe her anything.
“What you did was really nice, Sis,” Eno said as he knelt next to the unconscious soldier and studied her. “But isn’t she just as bad as them? They shot Grandpa!”
Eno had matured so fast. I still had memories of changing his clothes for him, and yet here he was, debating whether or not we should murder this girl. He was taking our grandfather’s death well. I’m sure he felt the same as me and wanted to burst into tears, but he always tried to remain tough.
Deep down it felt like my heart was twisting in place. I wanted to cry, but I needed to stay strong for him. I wanted to hurt this girl, to make her pay. But ... I also wanted to tell my brother about my childhood memories and that this girl was just like me. He’d probably hate me if he knew who I really was.
I knelt beside him. “We’re not killing her ... but if we leave her, she probably won’t live long without us. I don’t know what to do with her.”
“I don’t know either,” he said, looking down at the soldier’s damaged armour we had removed. He bent down and picked up the leggings. “Well, so maybe you can wear these and pretend to be one of them?”
“No, we didn’t take them off so we could wear them. They could probably use the armour to trace her location. Help me throw it all away.”
Eno approached an open window and pelted the leggings towards it. They hit the window’s side and dropped back in the room.
“Come on, be serious,” I said with a furrowed brow. “This isn’t a game.”
“I know that!” he yelled, bending down and picking them up again.
I watched him throw the leggings out properly. The armour could be heard tumbling and smacking into the open sewer tunnel outside, back down into the depths. He turned around and stomped back past me, giving me a hurt look. He picked up more pieces, grabbing more than he could realistically carry in one trip.
“I’m sorry for yelling,” I said as I leant down and picked up the soldier’s helmet.
I examined it in both hands. Its transparent faceplate was made of a sturdy material, maybe some type of hardened plastic? A splotch of blood was smeared to its underside. The whole suit seemed to be made of the same plastic, and its silver colour glistened in the light, which poured in through the window.
I walked to the window and hurled the helmet as far as I could, before letting out a sigh of relief. That was the last of it. Good. With any luck they would look for us down there instead.
The soldier had a slash wound along her ribs. The Necrolisk had cut right through her armour and white under-suit. Strangely, her wound didn’t seem that bad, just a dark bruise.
A moan, followed by a whimper suggested that our new prisoner was awakening. What do I even say to her? Sorry, but you’re coming with us now?
The girl was thin and petite. She had much paler skin than my brother and I. She had spent most of her life sheltered in a big steel city, so it was no wonder we were far more tanned. Her shoulder-length auburn hair was longer than my neck-length dark-brown locks. I was clearly stronger and taller than she was.
Shehad two bright blue streaks in her fringe, one hanging on each side of her face. These streaks were a sign of the Female Dominion Military and I think it was for rank. Not that it mattered out here anyway; she could have been their commander for all I cared.
She looked about my age, maybe a bit younger. I’d say around 16 cycles. At least she wasn’t a child soldier ... like I had once been.
The girl continued to stir, then regained consciousness. Her hazel eyes fluttered open, before widening when she realised where she was. Her arms squirmed around as she felt for her surroundings, but were restrained by the cord I had tied around her wrists.
“Our prisoner is awake,” Eno said, rushing back over to her.
“Stay away from her,” I warned as I raised my pocket knife. “She’s not our friend.”
“I know that already,” Eno snapped, as he stopped in place and looked back at me with his arms folded.
Ignoring my brother, I walked in closer and gestured the knife towards her. “Don’t try anything ... or I will use this.”
She ceased to struggle and looked up at me. “Alright.” She shifted her body weight forward so she could stand up.
“You shouldn’t get up. You took a pretty nasty ... uh,” Eno said as the girl was able to stand up without trouble. ”Oh ... I guess ... I guess not. You seem fine now.”
Her eyes searched around the chamber. “What have you done with my armour?”
I glanced at the window behind us and then back at her. “I threw it down there.”
“I did, too,” Eno said, folding his arms again and eyeing her with a smug expression.
“My weapon as well?” she said with raised eyebrows.
“Gone,” I replied. “Your friends won’t find you, if that’s what you’re thinking.”
“What? Then what exactly are you planning on doing with me?” she said with disgust.
I sneered. “I suppose thanking us for saving your life is out of the question.”
She looked down at her feet as if embarrassed. “I ... uh ... you? How? Why would you save me?”
“I was thinking we could use you as a hostage,” I said before a look of repulsion spread over her face. “If our enemies came too close, I could threaten to kill you,” I added as I crossed my arms defensively like my brother.
“That makes perfect sense. You Nomads are all the same,” she said as she twisted her arms, trying to break free. “You can forget about a heartfelt thank-you, especially since it was you who led me into that nest in the first place!”
I strode up to her face. ”Oh, so what should we have done instead? Turned around and asked you nicely to stop? You were the ones chasing us, remember?”
“To save you.”
“We didn’t ask to be saved, least of all by you.”
She shook her head in disbelief. “Well, none of this matters anyway.” She glanced at the nearest doorway as if expecting to see someone. “More soldiers will probably be here soon to rescue me. They will get the drop on you when you least suspect it.”
I gritted my teeth. “So you’re saying we should just kill you instead?”
“Enough,” Eno interrupted. “There are Necrolisks still around. Are we keeping her or not?”
I locked eyes with him. “You’re right,” I said, sighing. I leant down, picked up an old robe from the dusty floor and looked at the soldier. “You’re going to put this on. You would draw too much attention if you were wearing that under-suit and nothing else.”
As I approached her, I raised the robe over her head and then over her front and back like a sheet. Her head fit through the hood and the robe covered her conspicuous Dominion clothing. She almost looked like one of us, if it hadn’t been for the binds around her wrists and the blue streaks in her fringe.
“Alright, let’s go,” I said as I gestured towards the passageway behind her with my knife.
She didn’t move, instead eyeing me with contempt. “And if I refuse?”
“Then we die here. Your friends might find you, but it’ll be too late by then. We need to get out of this city and find somewhere safe in the desert before dark. We need food and water, especially water.”
She hesitated, but slowly made her way to the exit. ”Eck! It’s all mouldy,” she said, breaking her tough facade as she looked down at the stains and growth on the robe. “How long have you held onto this? Is this yours?”
“No. Ask Eno, he found it,” I said.
“It’s his,” he said, pointing towards one of the desiccated corpses in the corner of the chamber.
The girl’s eyes widened and she squealed in disgust. Was this girl really what passed for a Female Dominion soldier?
We must have been close to escaping the city. I felt the hot desert wind blow through the stone passage. With my knife pointed towards our captive, I directed her to head left at the next fork.
“We’re almost out,” I said as the passageway guided us into a large ruined chamber. “I think we’re near the outer wall.”
Eno ran off ahead down a different passage and out of sight, before running back and stopping in front of us. “Nope, not that one,” he said before darting away again.
“Eno, stop running off,” I called out. “There might still be Necrolisks around, remember?”
He stopped in his tracks with a concerned look, before turning on the spot, rushing back over and huddling by my side.
“So ... in the sewer back there, why did you really jump in after us?” I asked as we walked down the corridor. “I doubt it was because you wanted to rescue us.”
“I didn’t lie about that,” she snapped back. “But it ... it is our job to track down you people. And ... we figured you had something to hide. Do you both have special powers? Are you Acolytes? That old man killed himself to stop us getting to you. That was insane what he did.”
I stopped and slammed her against the wall. “Do NOT ... speak about him like you know anything!”
"Whoa, easy ...” she said as she looked down at the knife pressed against her neck, trembling in my hands.
Up until today, I hated no one person more than Aberym. But now that he was gone, I felt a strange sense of loyalty.
Eno shoved her in the side. “He was protecting us because we’re his family, something you monsters don’t get.”
I lowered the knife, turned to the side and tried to compose myself again. “You have no right.”
She shook her head. “We wanted to take all of you alive, those were our orders. If it’s any consolation, he almost killed a couple of my friends. How about that?”
“Almost isn’t good enough,” Eno replied.
She shrugged. “Look, I’m sorry, okay? I don’t know how to make that any clearer. I’m guessing he was important to you?”
“He was our grandfather,” I stammered as I cried. “We’ve travelled everywhere together. He was all we had left.”
Eno’s whole jaw quivered and tears rolled down his cheeks.
I waved my hand at her dismissively. “And we don’t buy your apology.”
Eno wiped his tears. “Since when does a soldier like you care about what happens to us in the desert?”
She looked down at our feet. “Because I’ve never really ... spoken to a Nomad before. We were told you were all rapists and crazed-mutants ... and cannibals.”
Eno stared at her with wide, tear-soaked eyes. “Then let’s prove them right and eat you.”
She reeled back, believing him at first. Why was she acting this way all of a sudden? Empathising with us now that she was our prisoner? She’d probably strike when our guard was down.
“That’s not funny,” she said, continuing to avoid eye contact.
I wiped my eyes with my sleeve. I was sick of this conversation. I gestured for Eno to join me as I walked towards the other end of the corridor. “Let’s go.”
Eno and I didn’t look back at her, but we could hear her nervously following.
“What’s your name?” I called back.
She jogged to catch up. ”Uhhh ... it’s Tau.”
Eno wiped away a small tear. “Tau? That’s a stupid name.”
“I’m Sacet. This is my brother, Eno,” I said, gesturing at him as we walked.
At the end of the corridor there was an archway leading outside into the desert. A hot and wavy haze emanated from the yellow sand outside. We finally found our way out of this wretched place. Our footsteps echoed as we walked through the archway. The glare blinded me for a moment, but my eyes adjusted and the outline of the sand dunes on the horizon became clear.
Now that my portals had returned to me, travelling over the desert would be much easier. I wondered how many I could create in a day? I concentrated on the distant sand dunes. I stopped, and so did the others. I weaved my fingers in circles, closed my eyes, and felt a zephyr of air swirl underneath my robes.
“Do it, sis,” Eno said as encouragement, but it sounded more like impatience.
“What are you doing?” Tau asked.
A large ellipsis appeared, taller than all of us and wide enough for us to pass through. The portal’s destination was visible through the window. Its circular edges appeared as a smooth haze.
I stepped through the reality-defying gate and looked back at Tau’s stunned expression. “Coming?”