The Longest Shard: 6

Shard

Tale of Fortune, originally published in spring of 2020, is a time-hopping prequel to Soldier of Fortune, and offers no spoilers. 

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Day  1561


Time passed. 

The suns moved. 

Sweat formed, and dried, and formed again over Gideon’s skin, and the ever-present thirst left his tongue feeling like sandpaper.

His breath rasped, harsh in his throat, and beneath his boots, the desert grit rattled. 

His shadows, twinned like the suns that cast them, angled to his left while, to the north, a glint shimmered from a low rise. Possibly another crystal vein, waiting to be harvested. 

It was hot, but it was always hot while Tyche and Nemesis ruled the Barrens. 

Eventually, he knew, the suns would sink below the jagged horizon, and then the cold would slide in, sly as a shard dagger in the hands of an enemy. 

From somewhere, close or far—one could never tell the way sound traveled in the desert—he heard the rustle of movement. 

A scarab, or lizard. Or a mouse, perhaps. 

Then another sound, a quick hiss, overtook the rustle.

A short scuffle and a shorter squeal told Gideon the likely fate of the scarab, or lizard, or mouse.

Since there was smog-all he could do about that—smog-all he could do about anything, really—he fixed his eyes on varying shades of red in front of him and continued to walk. 

As he did, a part of his mind kept track of the steps—4,232… 4,233… 4,234—while another part considered that, if he kept his pace up, he might hit the 7,562nd step soon after sunsset. 

Gideon understood the number of steps claimed to be the difference between returning to captivity and a lonely, thirsty death to be arbitrary, but knowing didn’t make the milestone any less stony. 

With no guide to speak of, Gideon chose to follow the suns, which were descending towards the toothy ridge of mountains named the Jackal’s Fangs. 

… 4,252…

He didn’t so much feel a lessening of heat, but he did feel a trickle of sweat that didn’t immediately evaporate, which meant night—and the cold—would eventually overtake him.

… 4,253…

His footsteps raised a puff of dust. The dry silicate tickled his nose, and the glittering vein he’d spied to the north curved closer, the spears and spikes of crystal sparking to fire in the late afternoon light. 

… 4,254…

And as he continued to move, step after step, doggedly making his way towards a jagged ridge he had no hope of ever reaching, he began to feel…lighter. 

… 4,255…

As if, he thought, he were fading away to nothing. 

… 4,256…

Perhaps that was how it happened, out here. 

… 4,257…

A body didn’t expire so much as just… disappear. 

… 4,258…

“A pretty thought, for such an ugly business.” 

… 4,25—

Gideon froze, and his heart skipped a beat as he came to a halt mid-count. 

For a moment he remained still, then the breath he’d been holding huffed out, and with an aching slowness he turned to the left, where the man who’d just spoken stood. 

“Hey, Renny,” he said in a voice rusty from dust, disuse, and disbelief.

“Gideon.” Eyes, as deep a brown as Gideon remembered, shaded to red in the light of the sinking suns. 

Gideon continued to stare. “You should know,” he said at last, “I don’t believe in ghosts.” 

“Nor do I,” Renny replied, letting his gaze rove over the desert before returning to latch onto Gideon’s. “And yet, here we are.”


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