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“It’s not fair,” Fallon said, as they sat at the changing station, “we sleep in the same bed, for God’s sake! Why doesn’t he touch me? I wouldn’t say no.”

Brenzel raised her eyebrows, looking at the young woman beside her. She could see she had filled out nicely, her cheeks were no longer hollow, with a pleasing roundness to them now.

“Fallon, have you thought of simply encouraging him?” Brenzel offered as they both stood, seeing an inspector approaching.

“I’ll tell you later,” Fallon whispered.

The woman, tall and businesslike, approached the two ladies in the morning light. Fallon and Brenzel had yet again changed their attire, now into Hammer Clan regulation dresses. At least these people are more sensible, dispensing with the corset, Brenzel thought. She quite liked the broad rimmed hat with a large, puffy feather sweeping towards the back. Appropriate.

The woman walked around them, pulling on the laces that ran from the small of their backs to their shoulders. Fallon had protested at showing so much skin, but agreed with Brenzel that it was a good trade if it allowed them to discard the bodices and be able to breathe.

“Hold out your hand,” the woman said, stamping their wrists with an ink mark that said, in the local dialect, “Passed.”

***

Again in their large carriage, sporting a new driver and relief steam mechanics, Brenzel rumbled along with the others. How dull this is becoming, she thought.

Wichapi hadn’t sent her another feather and felt far away in her heart. Where did she go?

She looked around at her companions, eyes resting first on Damian who slept in the corner, the acolyte holding his arm as she laid her head on his shoulder. God knows what they’d been up to the night before. Brenzel shook her head a little, serves you right, she thought, remembering how he’d fumed when informed that he was to escort the visiting courtesan to the Hammer Clan as part of the price of passage. While everyone else had to behave properly in public, it seemed that being part of the priestesses’ retinue had it’s privileges. The woman showed signs of aging, but still looked no more than mid thirties by normal measurement. Brenzel watched her fawn over their Hadite leader in public to a ridiculous degree, making sure everyone knew he was the High Priestess’ consort and she her representative.

Komae sat next to them, looking lost in thought. Her features had softened. She too, seemed to be relaxing into her new mission. Brenzel felt her turmoil inside from time to time, though she never pried. She was growing to respect the Halan as a friend and a mentor. It was easier to communicate through mind talking, and Brenzel was beginning to hear bits and pieces of other people’s thoughts these days, too. It felt strange, for what people thought and what they said were often very different.

Derek and Fallon always sat close together. He treats her like a princess, Brenzel thought, wondering why he never took her body. She suspected it had nothing to do with Fallon herself, but rather his degree of respect for her. At least that is what it felt like. The big man was hard to read, though, and kept her, as well as Fallon, guessing.

Brenzel sighed deeply with boredom as she looked out the window.

Take a left, came the words in her mind and heart.

What? Brenzel thought, then asked in her mind, Did you say that, Komae?

The Halan looked up at her and shook her head.

Take a left, again came the words, making Brenzel remember now that it was the same voice she experienced long ago when she was instructed to go to Charlie’s room. It had a sense of urgency to it now, just as back then.

Brenzel opened the window, sticking her head outside enough to see ahead, the dust created by the wheels causing her to cough. She squinted her eyes and saw the road ahead. It did diverge.

“Damian!” Brenzel said, pulling her head back inside the carriage.

The Hadite commander slowly roused from his nap.

“What? What is it?” He looked at Brenzel, then down at the acolyte who had fallen asleep on his arm, drooling on his sleeve. Looking disgusted, he pushed her off and leaned forward.

“There’s a fork in the road up ahead, we need to turn left,” Brenzel said.

Damian raised his eyebrows, “Impossible.”

“No, I mean it, we can’t go right!”

“By Hades, why not?”

“I – I don’t know,” Brenzel said, “I just know we have to go left.”

Looking even more annoyed, Damian tapped on the roof of their cabin with his cane as the carriage hissed to a stop. Brenzel followed him out onto the dusty road.

***

Pulling Brenzel by her upper arm, Damian took her to one side, and pointed to the “Y” in the road. “Look, Brenzel,” he said, ” the road to the right takes us to the Hammer Clan, and that is the only way to find passage over the salt flats. Without one of their guides, we won’t find our way. Besides, we’re almost to the next city! The carriage needs water and wood, and we need someplace to stay. If we go left – I don’t even know what’s out there – it leads out into the wastelands! Why in the name of her majesty would we go that way?! We have to go right, that’s all there is to it.” He released her arm and started walking away.

“I know what you say is probably true,” Brenzel retorted, clenching her fists and feeling warmth rise up into her cheeks, “but this is the first time on this whole trip I’ve felt to say anything. 3 told me that I needed to make the decisions, else the Tech Wizard would see us coming. You know that was the last thing he said before he left.”

Damian stopped for a moment, then turned to look at her. With an exasperated exhale, he crossed his arms, tugged his beard a bit, then looked ahead to the fork in the road like he was trying to figure things out; trying to justify to himself why he should – or should not – listen to her. She could see he was torn between reason and what 3 had said about unpredictability.

Turning back, he pointed at her and said, “If we do what you say, and things go wrong, there is no backup. Only marauders venture into the wastelands this far south.”

Brenzel felt her stomach tighten and gulped, almost giving in to doubt. “Well, we have to go left. I’m sure of it.”

Shaking his head, Damian looked away. Then he shrugged, “Your call. . . Edenite.” He walked up to the driver and handed him something. The driver shook his head, arguing for a moment, then nodded. Left it was.

***

The noon cooling helped as they all sat on luggage in a dusty, arid valley floor. They carraige driver had taken their company as far as he could, but the road ahead was too rough. They had all watched as their steam carriage headed back to the fork in the road, disappearing into the distance, stranding them in the middle – as far as Brenzel could tell – of nowhere. The acolyte, along with Micron, seemed especially put out, looking uncomfortable and dispirited. Meha, knowing of a village nearby, had taken Damian to negotiate lodging and possible transport. Derek and Fallon seemed somewhat relaxed.

Komae, strangely quiet in mind and body, sat listening. A foreboding in Brenzel’s stomach grew as she looked at the statuesque Halan, seemingly as still as the canyon walls that now loomed ahead of them. Brenzel walked over to her and asked out loud, “what is it?”

“Get down!” Komae suddenly yelled to everyone, “Lie flat!”

Everyone but Derek dropped to their knees, though they lacked time to obey completely as the shock wave – a white wall of pressure – rushed up the road so quickly, only Komae was laying prostrate by the time it hit.

Derek was knocked completely off his feet, being thrown several feet away. Everyone else slammed down on their faces and hands. The ground trembled, rumbling from below, rocks tumbling from the high walls ahead, crashing in big rolling thuds as they came to rest on the canyon floor.

Brenzel’s ears rang, making everything outside of her seem remote, even when Komae tried to get her up and spoke right in front of her face. She felt one of her ears, then looked at her fingers, wet with blood. Suddenly, she felt very dizzy.

Through blurry eyes she looked around. Everyone was covered in dust as they struggled to get up. Fallon lay unconscious as Derek, arms scraped and bleeding, tried to rouse her. Micron held his ears, sitting on the ground, rocking back and forth, muttering. The acolyte staggered as she stood, seeming disoriented as to where she was.

Brenzel struggled to come back to her senses. From what she’d witnessed in the war with Hatty, she guessed that there must have been a colossal explosion.

She turned to look at Fallon, who was waking up. Komae was checking on everyone, making sure they were okay.

As Brenzel stood and looked into the distance, she gasped, cupping her hands over her mouth. From the exact direction of the city Damian had been leading them to rose a mushroom-shaped cloud. “My God,” she said under her breath, “whatever that explosion was, it was meant for us.”

Trapped – Avalanche

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