|Legacy of the Shadowsword|
|Chapter 1 (part 2)||Author:
02 Jun 2007
|Pirias had awoken with a start—the first thing he remembered was the crash—the sickening feeling as the skimmer rolled over. He wiped the cold sweat from his forehead as he relived those last few panic-filled moments in which he’d realized he had no control over the situation. Still trembling, he closed his eyes and rolled to the side, trying to fight down the urge to vomit. It had been so long since he had eaten he wasn’t sure there would even be anything there to come out.
As he slowly regained control of himself, he took stock of his surroundings. He lay on a bed of pine needles beneath a very large tree. They were actually surprisingly comfortable: the dry brown needles formed an almost mattress-like cushion underneath him. The tree trunk was behind and to his left, rising into the mass of branches and green needles above him. He could see where the snow had drifted up against the lower branches around the perimeter of the natural shelter. Opposite where he sat, an entrance had been dug through the deep snow and in beneath the protection of the enormous tree.
As he took all of this in, it occurred to him that he had likely not gotten here naturally. The haze resulting from the shock of the crash was beginning to fade and, in its place, he found himself becoming more worried.
How had he gotten here? He peered around the trunk of the tree in search of more clues, but nothing moved. Instead of another person—or worse, a Coalition soldier—he found a pack, leaned carefully against the thick trunk.
Oh no! he thought, where’s the Journal? Pirias suddenly became very nervous and glanced around furtively, expecting his captor to spring form the branches at any moment.
Had they managed to track him this far and used his unfortunate crash with the skimmer to capture him and take back their prize? But they hadn’t come back yet. He wasn’t sure what they were doing, but they apparently had not expected him to wake up so soon. Maybe they had left the Journal in the pack and would be back soon to retrieve it and take him in for torture. Or just kill him on the spot.
He had to act quickly. Crawling over to the pack, he pulled it open and began pulling the contents out onto the ground in a frantic search to find the object he had been entrusted to safeguard.
A few minutes later, he had managed to spread nearly all of the pack’s contents on the ground and was unable to find it. So far, the pack only contained routine hiking equipment and some clothing. Dumping a pair of socks onto the pine needles, he flinched then froze as he heard a gruff voice behind him.
“You things here,” it said in what Pirias thought was supposed to be elven. It was followed by a soft thud as several heavy objects were set down on the ground.
He slowly turned to face the voice, trying not to make any sudden moves. The voice belonged to a human who had just crawled down into the shelter.
“I not hurt,” the human said, raising his hands in a non-threatening gesture.
Pirias ignored the terrible way the man was butchering his language and decided to respond in Sharkarian—a language that most humans understood.
“What do you want?” he asked fluently.
The other at first looked confused, then annoyed, and muttered something about not bothering to embarrass himself next time. When the man didn’t immediately respond, he repeated himself.
“What do you want? Where are we?”
Pirias tensed as the man finished crawling through the hole, revealing a large rifle strapped to his back. He was a stocky-looking human and must have been strong, judging from how he easily moved the other packages he had brought in one hand, despite their obvious bulk. It would not be easy to get past this human, not to mention outrun him once outside the cover of the tree. The man was well dressed for the cold temperature, unlike Pirias, who was trying unsuccessfully to suppress his shivers. The air seemed to get colder as he thought about it, and a chill ran down his back, shaking his body. Now that the urgency with which he had awoken was fading, he was beginning to shiver uncontrollably and struggled to even keep his teeth from chattering.
“There’s a blanket there if you need it,” the man finally responded in Shakarian, pointing where Pirias had woken up.
“You still haven’t told me who you are or what you want,” he responded after taking a moment to steady his voice.
The man shrugged as if to say ‘suit yourself,’ and sat back in a relaxed position near the entrance to the shelter. Another chill shook Pirias’ body, and he glanced back to where the man had pointed, seeing a thin blanket—he must have discarded it without noticing when he had woken up. Grabbing it, he pulled it around himself and hunkered down, surprised at how quickly he warmed up.
“Modern polyfabrics are amazing,” the man said with a wry smile. Pirias nodded gratefully, attempting to control the shaking which was continuing, despite the warm covering.
“Now to answer your questions, my name is Jared. I’ve been up in this area for the past week, hunting. As to what I want, well, first off I’d like to know why your skimmer crashed. While we’re at it,” he paused, his expression turning from the easy-going nonchalance to a focused gaze, and his tone hardened, “Who are you, and why are you the only one piloting an empty cargo skimmer through this region at this time of year?”
Pirias glanced away. He couldn’t tell this Jared about the Journal, nor that the Great Library had been attacked. He couldn’t trust this human, much as he wanted to be able to just hand the problem off and let others take care of it for him. He had to come up story, quick—it would have to be at least partially true: Pirias knew that he was a terrible liar.
“I’m Pirias. I’m one of the monks that work in the library of Zan-Sen,” he paused, watching Jared’s face for signs of surprise. The man simply nodded, still looking at Pirias and waiting for the story to continue. It was probably not surprising—the monks’ clothing was distinctive and the skimmer had been marked with Zan-Sen’s colors and insignia.
“I was going to Trin Rian on a sabbatical, in order to visit my family,” he continued. “My older brother works in the government and I wanted to visit him before his recess ends.”
His stomach growled and he suddenly noticed that he was very hungry. He hadn’t eaten anything since his break before the library closed—it had been nearly ten hours since then, not even counting the time he had been unconscious. Jared was still looking at him, eyes narrowed slightly, studying. His hand had found its way up to his chin and was rubbing the stubble that had grown after a week in the northern mountains.
“Do you know why you crashed?” he asked at length, still rubbing his chin speculatively.
Pirias was glad he didn’t have to lie about this one. “Well, I’m not totally certain. I think it had something to do with the battery running out. I didn’t notice it until the console flooded with red lights.” He paused a moment, looking chagrined, “I’m not very good with skimmers—I barely know how to fly one.” He conveniently neglected to mention that a major part of the reason he hadn’t checked the battery beforehand was that Coalition soldiers were hot on his trail and likely wanted him dead. Technical details, Pirias rationalized, what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him.
“Well,” Jared replied, shifting his weight, “It sounds like a plausible enough story. The evidence around the crash site corroborates your claims. I wasn’t able to find an external reason for the accident, and had assumed it must have been some sort of mechanical failure. A dead battery would certainly fit the bill.”
He shrugged. “At any rate, you’re still alive, right?”
Pirias nodded emphatically, “yes—I’m certainly glad to be alive.” Inwardly he was relieved that Jared had accepted his story. His stomach growled again, louder than before, and Pirias was sure it was beginning to gnaw on itself. His expression must have looked apprehensive and elicited a small amount of concern from the man opposite him.
“There’s some food over there on the ground, in that plastic bag,” Jared said, indicating one of the many objects that Pirias had taken out and spread around the pack in his frantic search for the journal.
“It’s got nuts and some dried fruit, so if you’re allergic, it might b better not to eat it.”
“No, it’s fine,” Pirias said as his stomach rumbled again. Even if he were allergic, he thought he’d eat it anyway. Glancing at it through the clear container, he saw that it was brownish and stuck together in small clumps with the various bits of dried fruit. He opened the bag and grabbed a fistful, stuffing it into his mouth and chewing vigorously.
“Um, if you don’t mind my asking,” he said between swallows, “what’s in those bags?”
“I think it’s mostly your stuff. There were some personal things that had spilled out in the crash, but I think I managed to get them all back into their respective places.”
Pirias tried to keep the apprehension and fear from his face. Had he noticed the Journal? Did he know what it was? It occurred to him that Jared could know exactly what he had found and was only pumping him for information, trying to find out how much he knew. Fortunately, Jared didn’t seem to notice any of this. He was turned toward the various things he had brought in and was naming some of them.
“There wasn’t much as far as supplies go. We’re going to have a hard time with that.
Several of the sacks were made of plastic or a mesh-like material—they had probably been cut from some of the lockers inside the skimmer.
“I think these are yours,” he said, grabbing two of them and handing them to Pirias, who tried not to appear that he was snatching them.
He recognized one of them as the one he had gotten in the catacombs below the Great Library.
“Is it all there?”
“I think so,” Pirias responded, trying to keep the anxiety out of his voice as he dug through the contents of the bag. There it was—sitting near the middle of the bag, concealed carefully in the cloak he had taken with him.
“Why are we going to have trouble with the supplies?” Pirias was able to relax a bit now that he knew the Journal was still safely in his possession. True, this Jared could be somehow affiliated with the Coalition, or maybe even some other organization, but at the moment, it didn’t look like he had much of a choice but to trust him—at least for now.
Jared looked over, a little surprised at the question.
“Well, we’re a long way from any cities and have no way out besides going on foot.”
Pirias nodded, still not quite understanding.
“And I’ve been out here for a week already—I didn’t bring enough food for two people.”
“The skimmer didn’t have much with it. I found a small emergency kit with enough food for twenty-four hours for one person. I was surprised—it almost looked like you left in a hurry.”
Pirias shrugged. It had been a hurry—a matter of life and death, as a matter of fact.
“Like I said, I’m not very good with skimmers. I didn’t even know it was supposed to have supplies on board.”
“Yeah…” Jared looked like he agreed with that admission. “On the other hand, skimmers these days don’t carry many supplies on them. Rescue response time is usually under forty-eight hours. Speaking of which,” he looked up at Pirias again, “how long will the other monks wait for you to contact them before they sound an alarm?”
“It can’t be that much longer before your skimmer would be expected to arrive in Trin Rian,” he mused. “Maybe we could just wait for the rescue team.”
He was eying Pirias as he spoke.
“Well, uh… It could be a while. See, I left rather in a hurry,” Pirias was thinking quickly, trying to come up with a reason. “So, I didn’t tell many people that I was going. It could be a long time before the word gets to the proper people and a rescue team gets sent out. How long would it take to hike out of here?”
Jared poked at the sacks he had brought in with him for a moment. “Well,” he said thoughtfully, “it’s about another four days out at a fast pace. I have enough food for maybe five days, just for me. Adding you into the situation, plus the small survival kit, we’d have enough food for maybe three days, if we spread things out a bit.” He paused for another moment. “But you,” he pointed, “don’t have any snowshoes and that’s a problem.”
Pirias was starting to feel dismayed.
“But fortunately, there’re plenty of pine trees around and we have a decent amount of this mesh stuff—we could probably make you some.”
Pirias nodded. He was feeling much better than he had been, but was beginning to feel dizzy again and his head was starting to throb.
“I think I need a little more of a rest,” he said, rubbing his head gingerly.
“That was quite the hit you took. Get some rest, I’ll see about making the snow shoes.”
Pirias nodded and curled up on the pine needles in the blanket, trying to calm his queasiness.