How does one approach a snake? I wondered this as my friend, Fox, dug in the sand around the panicked head. A sun-burnt prisoner left to rot in the deserts or, as was the case now, be swarmed by the bright green snakes. These beautiful creatures, although small, were a great threat and I stood between one and my friend.
“Shoo!” I yelled at it.
I took a step closer as if to squish it, but it was unmoving. The little snake showed now fear, while I showed plenty in my panicked stance. I always had one foot pointing away from the snake as I was in the squat position. If it were to dart towards me, I would spring away and I believe it knew that.
“Kick sand at it!” Fox ordered as he began to pull the prisoner from the sand.
I did as instructed, shifting my position, standing over the snake and kicked a bunch of sand towards it. The snake was blocked from sight, but when it settled, the snake was gone. I felt relief for a moment until I felt a tightening around my ankle. Lowering my eyes to my left foot, I saw the small, thin snake had wound itself around my leg.
I screamed in panic, but my left foot remained anchored as I feared that a single movement would set it off and it would bite down on me. However, it was Fox who came to the rescue as a shot was fired. The snake writhed for only a second before falling still. A chunk of it was blown away and the snake unwound in death.
I flicked my foot and sent the snake flying over a dune. I knew that Fox was a great shot, but I counted myself lucky that my foot wasn’t blown off. Those guns were unpredictable at best, firing chunks of brass that were razor sharp.
I turned to see the thin, old man laying in the sand with Fox standing over him, loading the gun with more brass shards. The prisoner’s face was brown and black, but his skin from the neck down was far paler. The man had experienced hell and it was a miracle that he didn’t die or the snakes didn’t get to him.
Falling to my knees at his side, I began to attend to the prisoner, giving him water as much as he desired. I rubbed a pale blue cream onto his face and sighed as some skin fell off. I could not hide my disgust and worry from the damaged man. He gazed up at me and his eyes watered.
“You’re going to be fine,” Fox announced, taking the lead of the treatment. “We just need to get you into a cool bed, my friend.”
Immediately, the prisoners was feeling uplifted. He collected himself and even in his weakened state, pushed himself into a sitting position. I could not believe what I was seeing, but Fox had that effect on people. A power to inspire and push them forward. It is why so many followed him, so many strong people made stronger with his leadership.
“Tie him to your horse, we ride now,” Fox told me. “The sun shall set soon on this day and we can’t let them catch us so far from the fort.”
“Will do,” I replied, gathering the prisoner in my arms. He was so light.
We saddled up, the prisoner sitting in front of me. He had the strength to hold hold strong, but I still tied him to my torso so he wouldn’t be shaken from the saddle. Fox patted the side of his lean horse. It had the legs for sprinting, perfect for short distance. However, my horse was built strong for the long haul. I feared that his horse might lag behind and indeed, thirty minutes into the journey, he did.
Night began to fall and stars began to speckle the sky. The prisoner moaned softly, unable to speak, but knowing what this meant. I was the first to spot them after a while and pointed them out to Fox. In the silence of the night, I heard a whisper in the wind. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a shadow move.
From behind large protruding rocks, their horses appeared, their riders invisible save for the charcoal-black smoke wafting off their invisible riders. The Fading Riders had spotted us and spotted us quickly. It was then I realized the prisoner was simply bait in a larger trap.
“Fox!” I yelled. “They’ve spotted us! It’s an ambush!”
Fox was already riding between us and them, drawing a pistol, a marvel of engineering. A small gun with many bullets perfect for close range. Fox knew this and it is why he rode to meet the Fading Riders. There was a flash of gunpowder, an explosion of fire as the brass connected with one Rider. More followed, their clawed hands missing with each strike as Fox kept his distance.
However, my attention was soon drawn to the hands of the prisoner which groped at the air around the saddle. I knew what he was looking for and reached down the side, drawing the rifle. I planted it in the prisoners hands and told him to hold strong. I was immediately caught off guard further when the prisoner aimed the rifle back at me and I moved my head out of the way.
With a deafening bang and a burst of fire behind me, I turned to see a pursuing ghost who climbed onto my horse silently, fly off and evaporate as the brass destroyed him.
“Thank you,” I told the prisoner, although with my ringing ears, I couldn’t be sure.
We soon reached the old fortress, Fox following after us with no pursuers. The gates opened for us and were pushed closed by strong soldiers who watched over it. What followed next was a blur as a mob of people swarmed Fox for orders, panic in their eyes. The prisoner was taken to the infirmary and I followed after the mob.
There always seemed to be something to do and I knew that this would be another long night if the Fade had its way.
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