Noriandara Remontar, Princess of the Sun Clan, looked at me with what seemed to be a mixture of disgust and incomprehension. Even so, she was remarkably beautiful, with the same sharp features and dark blue skin that her cousin Vena Remontar possessed.
“Your friend the Zoasian will probably lay in wait to attack us somewhere along the trail,” she said.
“Perhaps,” I replied, “but I will not kill a defenseless enemy, and leaving him tied up out here would be just the same as running him through.”
“Well, let’s be on our way,” she said, then pointed in the general direction from which I had come. “My soul calls me from this direction. I have to retrieve my sword.”
“Of course,” I replied. “Is it at the site of the wreck?”
“Possibly. The Zoasians were not quite sure what to do with our swords. They recognized the connection between the Amatharian and the soul, but were unsure how to deal with it.”
“How many of you were taken captive?”
“Three knights, sixteen swordsmen, and eighty two warriors,” she replied. “I wonder how many of us survived.”
“I am afraid not many.”
As we started climbing the rock barrier, I told her of the assault, and the many horrors which I had witnessed in the mountain installation of Zonamis, of the pursuit of herself in the gigantic truck, and the victims at the site of the wreck. By the time we had reached the ground on the other side of the rocks, I had finished my tale.
“Well,” said Noriandara Remontar thoughtfully, “at least we can report them to their families.”
We walked through the desert, which was still relatively cool and pleasant. We didn’t follow the exact path that I had taken to find the Princess, following instead the mental message sent by her sword. Nevertheless, after walking for some while, we came to the small streamlet, where I had napped before. We stopped to take a drink, fill my canteen, and rest for a moment.
By this time, the throbbing in my arm was so painful that I thought perhaps I would be unable to bear it. I also suspected that I had an infection, because I felt as though I had a fever. Then I remembered that I had a small packet of medicine in a belt compartment. It was a package of two capsules. I was hopeful that they would bring me some relief, though I didn’t expect too much, as I suspected they were the Amatharian equivalent of aspirin. I popped the pills in my mouth, and swallowed them with a drought from the stream.
“Let’s be on our way,” said Noriandara Remontar. “We can rest after we find my sword.”
We climbed out of the stream bed and continued on our way. As I had suspected, the mental connection between knight and sword led the Princess to the wreck of the Zoasian transport. When the vehicle came within our line of sight, we could see several large figures moving around. They proved to be, when we were close enough to see them clearly, predatory animals, feasting on the remains of the dead.
There were four of the animals, picking clean the bones of Amatharian and Zoasian alike. They were about four feet tall, standing on two legs. Though they looked quite bird-like, and had beaked mouths, they were covered not in feathers, but with a wrinkled, leathery hide. They had forearms were only about a foot long, appearing quite useless, but had vestigial leather wings.
“We should be able to scare them off, don’t you think?” I asked, now starting to feel much better, but not feeling like a prolonged fight with probably vicious animals.
“First, take a picture,” the Princess advised. “I may well be the first Amatharian to see these beasts”
“We may be the first Amatharians to see these beasts,” I corrected.
“That remains to be seen.”
I pulled out my camera and snapped a quick image of the desert predators. Then I traded it for my pistol, which I had almost forgotten I still carried. Firing four quick shots, I killed three of the animals, and sent the fourth running for its life. Walking over to the wrecked Zoasian vehicle and sitting down in its shade, I closed my eyes and dozed off.
When I woke up, of course it was still noon as it always was in Ecos, but some clouds had obscured the sun, and the wind was beginning to whip up. Nearby was the body of a Zoasian, with half a dozen large spiders, just like I had seen at the stream bed, feasting upon it. I just sat for a moment watching them. Then Noriandara Remontar stepped up beside me.
“You have been asleep a long time,” she said. “I roasted a piece of one of the animals you shot, but it is not very good.”
“I see that you recovered your sword,” I said.