The Oasis of Broken Bones
Part Thirteen – A Chase in the Dark
Peregrine pounded on down the tunnel, intent only on reaching the fleeing hermit ahead. She could make out a baleful red light bobbling along and the shadowy outline of the hermit as he fled. The darkened tunnels were cramped, forcing her to run in part at a crouch. Whether they were natural formed or man made she could not tell.
The dark and the confines did not trouble her overly, though the manner of the one she chased did give her moments of pause. He did not bleed as a mortal man should, which begged as to how he could be killed. Peregrine knew of only one way to deal with the matter though, to attack him until he was done and could fight no more.
Slowly at first, but then more rapidly as the hermit tired, she gained ground, coming close enough to hear his laboured breathing. Then the light disappeared up as the hermit clambered some rough cut stairs. Peregrine surged up them and into a small cave set at the base of the broken hills. A narrow entrance shrouded in coarse bushes led out. The bushes were still shaking from the passage of the hermit out through them. Peregrine pushed on through, ignoring the minor scratches they left upon her limbs, to emerge out beneath the moon, the deserts spread before her.
The hermit still ran, making his way further up the slope of the hill. Small rocks and dust were dislodged by his scrambling feet, sliding back down towards Peregrine.
“Turn and face me, cur,” Peregrine snarled, her voice cutting through the still air of the night.
The hermit stopped and turned, looking down towards Peregrine, holding his handless arm close to his chest. His eyes gleamed in the moonlight, reflecting hate and rage. He took a few steps towards Peregrine and his will bore down on hers. Whereas Blade had been a product of the cities, and had dabbled in the mysteries of magic, all of which had left him vulnerable to such attacks, she was of the wild Aedring, who above all valued their freedom. A thousand generations of fierce Aedring independence rose up in her to meet the assault, coupled with her own indomitable stubbornness. Her jaw clenched hard as she battled against the effort to cloud her mind and will. The two stood still, locked in a struggle for dominance of Peregrine’s mind, unmoving beneath the silvery sheen of the moon.
The whistle of an arrow in flight broke the silence. The hermit staggered back as a shaft appeared in his chest, followed moments later by a second. A shout sounded from nearby as a pair of Hashalite bowmen notched fresh arrows to their bows. The hermit’s assault broke and he turned to flee once more. He staggered as two more arrows lanced through the night to strike him in the back. He continued his climb as other arrows were sent his direction with the unerring accuracy that the Hashalites were renowned for.
Then the hermit pitched forward onto the slope, his back feathered with shafts. Peregrine approached cautiously, ready for any ruse that the hermit may have been playing. As she neared, she saw a pool of blood forming around the fallen body, streaming from the arrow wounds and the stump of his arm. She prodded at the body with her sword. There was no reaction to it.
Blade and Halakir emerged from out of the cave, joined by the two Hashalite archers. They made their way up to where Peregrine stood over the body of the slain hermit.
“He is dead,” Peregrine told them, “Though he did not die easily.”
“His type never do,” Halakir replied. “At least now the oasis is free from his grasp.”
“Aye, that it is,” Peregrine said, sheathing her sword. “What will you do now?” she asked of Halakir.
Halakir smiled, a dark smile. “Now we return to the caravanserai to take what is rightfully ours, and whatever those vultures have left behind. There are no guards left to defend it.”
“And after that?”
Halakir waved a hand out towards the oasis. “We shall bring the tribe here and settle. With the compound in the hills and the oasis below, we shall grow rich and strong.”
“And be a target for it,” Blade pointed out.
“It is ever so,” Halakir replied with the fatalism typical of the Hashala. “It may be that a strong tribe shall come one day and drive us out, but until then we shall fight to hold what we have taken. The strong take what they want and the weak must bow to that. It is the way of the deserts and always will be.”