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Twisting the fiber carefully, Damian made his rope into a strong braid. Yes, there was synthetic that he could purchase, but this felt good in his hands. Coiling it into a bundle he stuffed it back in his duffle bag, which held the sum total of his worldly possessions. It felt good that everything he wanted to own could be slung behind his back. Freedom.

The salt flats spread out in a white expanse down below. Glancing up at the taut sails he knew they were making good time. Two days at most – then Butcher territory.

They had not always been butchers, just like he had not always been a desert junker. The old memories, hidden away behind years of disappointment and pain were rarely visited, but still remained. Best not to think of them, it was a dream that could never be regained. He thought about the prophecies of Eden, the lush, well-watered plains flowing with every good thing. He cursed, shaking his head, It’s a lie, just like everything else the Red Seraph had said. Just a mirage full of false hope to dying people in the deserts of Hala. Yet, Brenzel…she was real, she had actually been there…

“Good morning, Commander Damian.”

He turned, surprised to see the Halan woman. “Good morning, Komae. Please, just call me Damian.”

“Thank you,” she said, as a brief smile flicked across her lips.

Damian turned to leave.

“How much longer until we reach Butcher territory?” Komae asked quickly.

He turned back to look at her, “Two days if this breeze holds. We’re making good time.”

She held his gaze, and he hers.

Something inside him knew it was time. He hesitated anyway, then drew it out at the last moment. “If you have the time, I would like to speak with you.”

Surprise registered on her face, as she nodded, clearly caught off guard.

He motioned to a hatch where they could sit, taking his place first.

Not a cloud was in the orange sky above them, the twin suns now in the noon day cooling. They were alone, for the crew always took a break during this time, resting from the morning’s heat.

I don’t hate you

Looking into the Halan’s eyes, Damian considered his words carefully. “I don’t hate you – or your kind.”

The effect was immediate, as Komae’s features softened.

“I…don’t hate you, either,” she said, hands fidgeting.

Slowly, he reached into his pocket, pulling it out -the finely braided cord holding the arrowhead.

“This is yours,” he said, handing it to her.

“Where?. . .Where did you get this?” she asked, reaching for and taking it.

“I took it from you in the desert when you were unconscious.”

Annoyance flashed in her eyes, but her mouth said, “Thank you for giving it back. But why did you take it?”

Damian shifted his weight, looking out over the airship’s railing into the light orange expanse.

“I would like to tell you a story,” he began as he looked back at her, squarely. She must know, he thought, but she gave no clue if she did.

“I was Tech Clan, Komae, a desert junker. A good one at that, but I ran afoul of one of the Clan leaders. His woman liked my package more than his, and it seems he took exception. Long story short, he got both of us banished to the Outers. Her name was Ha.” He looked back out into the sky.

“Times were tough, and we struggled to survive in exile, but we scratched a living by doing whatever we could. Out of desperation, just so we could eat, we hired onto a marauder ship.”


Damian turned to look at Komae and her eyes widened a little, “You became wood cutters,” she said.

Damian nodded. He could tell by her stiffening body language she was fighting a deep seated revulsion.

“It was that, or starve. It was our lowest point. But even then, at least I had Ha, and that made even that bearable.” He began to slowly unbutton his tunic as he spoke in low, earnest tones.

“We cut wood for a couple of seasons. We were fast and worked hard and the captains liked us. Of course, we were expendable and we never knew if a forest warden would show. We were lucky though, none did. Until that day.”

Damian brought out two things from beneath his tunic, one was a medallion which housed the mind shield. The second item caused Komae to gasp, as she put her hand to her own arrowhead, now replaced around her neck.

“We were the last to board the ship as it took off that morning. Ha and I always worked until very last moment. I was running up the gang plank, Ha in front of me, when she took an arrow to her shoulder and fell to the ground. I knew the ship wouldn’t wait.”

Damian took the arrow head and held it up to Komae’s stricken face.

“They left us. Another arrow barely missed me and we ran – into the forest. She died in my arms. . . and this is the arrowhead that killed her. Before I buried my love, I dug it out of her and swore I’d find the devil that took her from me.”

Pressing at the medallion, Damian switched off the power supply, suddenly opening his mind to her, his grief and loss no longer hidden.

Komae looked down and away.

“When I found you in the desert and saw the arrow around your neck, I compared it to the one I had. It was identical. It is said all forest wardens forge their own killing instruments and each is unique as a finger print.”

Komae sat still, closing her eyes.


“I stood above you in the desert, my weapon primed, pointed at your temple. The revenge I had dreamed of for all those years after you killed my mate lay unconscious right in front of me.”

Komae looked back up, eyes wide with grief, knowing everything now. “Why didn’t you?”

Emotion flowing across his craggy face, lips tightening, his eyes searched the Halan’s features. “Ha didn’t hate Halans. She said that we Hadites were the ones that invaded your home, burnt your forests, killed your people. She taught me that I was wrong to hate you and that the only way forward for our people was through forgiveness.”

Komae put both hands against her heart, as though it was bursting.

“As she lay dying in my arms she said, ‘Forgive.’ I admit, I wanted to watch you die, but her last word rang in my heart until I put my weapon away. . . .and then my hate.”

Taking the arrow head from around his neck, he took Komae’s trembling hand and closed it around the arrowhead. “This is yours, I don’t need to wear it anymore.”

Desert Blues by The Alman Brothers