What is darkness? Is it only space void of light? A moment in time succumbed to obscurity? Is it a point where life ceases to live up to its full potential? Or is darkness simply a beginning to an adventure so vast it would be hard to fathom in one man’s dreams?
Calem blinked his eyes open, peering up into the dim gray light of dawn. Images of his dreams still haunted his mind as he attempted to focus his eyes on one tiny sparkling flame in the sky. He knew the name of the star, but his head was so clouded by hunger he couldn’t recall what it was. He rested his head against the sandy ground as he continued to stare up at the stars.
A deep refreshing breath of dusty desert air filled his lungs. He loved the smell of the morning almost as much as he loved the taste of cold water. He and the desert had a connection, like kindred spirits traveling together on the same journey, both unsure where to go next.
The breeze blew over him, brushing over his chapped lips. Within the breeze carried an unfamiliar scent, almost like flowers. His mind drifted to the last time he saw flowers. He was young, too young to remember much, but he did remember a woman with a yellow flower in her hair. What was her name?
“Mom?” he whispered in a thought. No, that wasn’t possible. His mother had died in the clan wars years ago when he was five.
He ignored the thought and the smell, reaching down to his canteen held tight to his belt by a thick piece of leather. There were a few drops of water left.
Clouds moved across the moon, gathering against the closest mountains, which were about twenty miles away. With any luck they would rain. He knew a good watering hole near those very mountains where he could refill his canteen. He had planned to head that direction anyway and make camp in an old cave he found, just until the winter months had passed.
His fuzzy vision slowly cleared, allowing him to see straight. When his eyes finally focused fully, it was on the business end of a pistol aimed directly at his nose. Behind the pistol stood a tall, slender woman dressed head to toe in layers of white fabric covered by a long, black coat. Her face was also covered by a thick bandana spun from the same cloth as her clothing. Her long, white hair was tied into a braid, yet a few strands managed to escape and blow wildly in the wind. She held a thick and very straight walking stick in her left hand that towered above her already tall frame.
“Calem Bruim?” she called out in a muffled voice.
He nodded as he lifted his hands. Had he grown so used to the sounds of the wind that he had allowed himself to become venerable?
“Come with me,” she insisted, motioning with her pistol to the right.
He squinted to see her clearly, the first rays of sunlight bouncing off the sand and into his eyes. “Why?” he called back, his voice hoarse from lack of speaking for so long. It was then he thought about the last time he spoke. He couldn’t recall when he last heard his own voice. It might have been at least one or two years ago.
She shot the ground beside his right elbow, causing him to jump to his feet. “Fine, fine, I’ll come,” he gulped.
From her ankle length, black coat she lifted out a water pouch. He could tell it was full of wonderful, refreshing water. She tossed it over to him and he caught it in midair.
“Drink!” she demanded.
Carefully, as so as to not drip any water, he untwisted the cap. It could have been poisoned for all he knew, but he didn’t care. It had been some time since he tasted any refreshing water on his tongue. Water poured over his tongue, trickling through its crevices and down his parched throat, swelling with cool refreshing moisture. He lifted the water pouch to thank her.
“Follow me!” she demanded, aiming her pistol at his head.
“Go ahead, shoot me. I’m worthless to you dead,” he returned cocky, daring her. Deep inside his stomach quivered with anxiety to the point of nausea. Whoever this woman was, she was determined to take him somewhere. By her looks though, he somehow doubted she was affiliated with the slave-traders in the region. She was too attractive and her accent unusual bordering on exotic.
“Dead or alive, you will come with me. I’m strong. I will drag you if I must,” she warned, lifting her pistol to his forehead.
He turned his eyes back to the barren and dusty wasteland. A chilling breeze blew passed his barely covered shoulder, reminding him that the desert would be blanketed by a thick layer of snow soon.
There was a good chance he could fight her away, take her pistol and flee. Her hand shook as she gripped the pistol. She was nervous holding her own weapon. If she was nervous, then there was a good possibility she didn’t know how to use it.
If he was to continue on his current path, he’d be dead in a matter of days from the freezing temperatures, regardless of how much water he had. If he agreed to go willingly, he could possibly take the rest of her water and whatever else she was carrying and survive a few extra days. It was cruel, but he didn’t ask to have a pistol waved in his face. He would lose nothing by playing along for a few days and possibly gain a lot more.
She turned her back towards him and began to walk, which shocked him. She turned her back on her prisoner? Would she make it so easy on him? No, he would wait. He wanted to learn more about why she was looking for him and why she knew his name. He glanced back at the desert, concerned if he chose the right path. He was taking a huge risk by following her.
For hours they walked in the desert. She kept a steady pace in the lead, only occasionally glancing over her shoulder to see if he was still following. Not once did she speak to him during their journey, only pointed in the direction she wanted them to go. It was near twilight, as the sun was kissing the sands when she finally stopped.
“We will camp here tonight,” she announced, tapping her walking stick into the ground. She had struck the ground so hard with her walking stick that it stuck four feet deep into the sand.
Calem’s gaze turned to the horizon. They had entered an area of the desert called The Dead Zone. It was thought to be radioactive from the old wars. The area was once a lush rainforest, but now only sand remained. It was dangerous to be in the middle of the Dead Zone without shelter. They were bound to be found by the mutated beasts of the desert or worse, slave-traders. What concerned him more was the wind and how it was blowing. Wherever the wind blew swirls, it meant a sandstorm was brewing.
His intense copper eyes stared down at a dust devil near his right foot. It looked harmless enough, but he could feel its much larger brother was close by, just waiting to spring on top of them. “We should keep moving. I feel a sandstorm approaching from the south,” he mentioned.
She turned to him, removing her bandana from her mouth. A wave of nauseating shock washed over him when he saw her beauty. In his eyes, she had the face of a goddess. Her skin was pale, far too pale for someone who spent their days roaming the desert. Her lips were full and pink, not chapped from lack of water like most of the people he had met. Her delicate cheekbones framed her face perfectly.
“There’s no storm. You’re just scared of the wind,” she returned sarcastically as she removed the black lining of her coat. “Sit!” she demanded, pointing to the ground.
“You’re not scared of being caught by slave-traders?” he asked with astonishment as he took a seat on the sandy ground. He thought every free man was afraid of slave-traders.
She shook her head, then lifted her chin to show a diamond tattoo on her throat. “I’m one of Derome’s daughters. Slavers wouldn’t dare touch me. My father’s army is too vast,” she explained. She hooked the coat lining to her walking stick, creating a tent. She removed a rope from her jacket, then knelt down in front of Calem. “We will be fine here tonight,” she assured.
Calem’s copper eyes widened in amazement as he watched her set up the tent. “Derome?” he questioned in his mind as she wound the rope around his wrists. He had heard of the man before. He was practically a king who lived in the Eastern lands of Brazil. Little was known of him other than his thirst for wealth and treasure.
“Why would he send his daughter to find me?” he questioned as he leaned back against the ground. Suddenly his head buzzed, forcing him to lean forward. He held his forehead in his hands, seething.
The woman’s hand caressed his shoulder. “Are you okay?” she asked, her voice showing her concern. He nodded several times, wishing he hadn’t. “Let me see,” she insisted, forcing him to look up at her.
Calem opened his eyes, looking up into her stunning, crystal blue eyes. She tenderly examined his forehead where a large scar was still healing. “What happened here?” she asked.
“I… I fell down a sand dune and hit my head on a rock a few weeks ago. My mind’s been fuzzy ever since,” he leaned forward again, clutching his head with his bound hands. “And these damn headaches.”
“You remember your name though?” she questioned. He nodded. “That’s a good thing. Rest. I’ll have the tent up soon.”
He gave a jerky nod. He glanced down to his right hand, noticing his beige wrapping had peeled away to reveal his skin. His name was tattooed on his thumb. It was hard for him to forget his name considering it was permanently tattooed on him.
Her eyes glanced to his wrist, curious what he was looking at. He quickly rolled the glove fabric back over his tattoo. “What’s that?” she questioned.
“A scar,” he returned cryptically. She rolled her eyes and continued to construct the tent. “Nice trick… with the tent,” he called to her, mainly due to the size of the tent. It could have easily fit three more people. “You wouldn’t happen to have any food, would you?” he mentioned, motioning to her jacket.
She finished the tent, then returned to his side. Carefully, she pulled on his binds to make certain they wouldn’t come undone. From a pocket inside her jacket, she removed a small bag of dried meat and shoved it into his hand.
“What were you going to eat before I found you?” she asked, her words thick with an accent he didn’t recognize.