Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Chapter Sixty-Four

“It’s hot,” grumbles the Wolf.

“Shut up,” scowls the Dwarf.

He removes his cap - now an itchy, stinking, wet mess of wool - and wipes the sweat from his brow. He’d throw the damned thing away, but the sun would burn his bald pate quicker than the wink of a cat.

Stupid sun. The bane of all Dwarfs. “Is it any wonder,” he thinks, “that we live underground in the dark, cool shelter of the Earth? What’s the sun ever done for any of us? Bah.”

The Dwarf - nearly blind from the glare - blinks again. He hopes the buildings in the distance aren’t another mirage. They pop up now and again in this eternal desert - houses and homes with their graceful roofs and their solid walls. But they only melt into the harsh, hot air as the two trudge closer.

They’ve been traveling for a long time. Too long, and neither one thought to bring extra water. They expected (although the Dwarf has learned never to trust the humans to do anything that made a lick of sense) the Doorway to be like the others - it would lead them near civilization, near where they wanted to be.

But here? Out in the middle of nowhere? Humans live like this? Humans choose to live like this? It boggles the mind.

In the sky, he spies with his beady eye another one of those desert mirages. Just a big, black speck. Or maybe it’s a vulture, waiting for them to collapse. Or with their luck, it’ll be a hungry flying elephant. Or a witch, back from the dead.

The Wolf pants pathetically and keeps licking his snout. The Dwarf had tossed him a button to suck on, but he’s pretty sure the animal ate it.

They plod on, too stubborn to collapse in the heat.

The Dwarf has bigger, better, brighter things to complain about than the sand in his boots. Neither is accustomed to the terrain, and they move slowly. Too slowly, should any predators - living or dead - come after them, but that’s a fish to fry once it’s landed.

“Looks like we found it,” says the Wolf. Although the shifting sands have covered any road or trail, they stand amidst the beginnings of walls. All crumbled. Small buildings, by the look of it. Collapsed.

“Yeah, but what found them?” The Dwarf looks at the broken, destroyed stone. It’s too solid of a construction to just fall under the desert climate. And there are too many scorch marks.

“Burned,” he says. “Look.” He points at the various huts, but this isn’t the mark of a fire. Not any that he’s seen before. It doesn’t feel right.

“These houses didn’t burn down,” he finally says. “They exploded.”

“Who cares?” growls the Wolf. “The prince wouldn’t live in these shacks, anyway. He’d live in a castle or somethin’.” He continues waddling through the sand with his lopsided, uncomfortable gait.

The Dwarf begins to follow, but something makes him stop. A sound. Scrabbling, scratching against the stone ruins. Too insistent to be a trick of the gritty wind, too strong to be an insect.

“D’you hear that?” he says. “Someone’s in there.”

The Wolf shrugs. “Leave it. It’s dead. They’re all dead. They can’t get out."

And now that the Wolf has mentioned it, the Dwarf can’t not hear it. From within each destroyed building, something stirs. And, while he doesn’t like leaving enemies between him and the Doorway, it’s not worth the effort to dig each of ‘em up and run ‘em through.

It’s just too hot.