- Small Worlds
- Chapter Thirty-Two
As the three silhouettes sunk into the tangled mass of Witherwood, Zeke glanced at a display in his helmet that told him the time.
His leg was in severe pain, but he had been a soldier for a long time now and he dealt with it.
Ten minutes. He could spend them planning the inevitable pursuit. He could spend them calling for backup from the SDF; they wouldn’t deny any request of his if a blaggemol was involved. But no, he wanted to spend them on something more cathartic. He wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
He turned to Noonjack, laying on the ground not far from him. He had collapsed on his way to the circle of soldiers, bolting outside the moment he had heard Vaniah was there. His pitiful attempt at revenge had just cost Zeke dearly, and he wanted the slow mercenary to be aware of just how much.
He told the soldiers to bring him into speaking distance, and once he was sure he was close enough, he tried to look as imposing on the ground as they patched his leg the best they could.
“Tell me, mercenary, just what were you thinking?” Zeke spat the words out. He was in too much pain to bother with composure.
“Vaniah…gotta…get revenge…” Noonjack’s leg had barely survived his trip outside. Zeke was surprised he could say anything at all.
“Do you realize what you have cost me just now?”
“Do…you realize…I don‘t care?”
The urge to kill him was overwhelming. But Zeke knew better than to waste men. Breaking them was worth the effort.
He ordered his men to drag him to his feet, despite their protests, and had them carry him over to Noonjack’s prone form. He pulled out his sidearm and trained it on Noonjack’s head for a moment before shooting him in his uninjured leg. He would’ve shot his arm, but his aim was shaky enough, and he didn’t want to risk him being unable to fire a gun; that was all he was good for after all.
“Take this idiot back to the ship.”
It was impossible to keep running for much longer as they got deeper into the Witherwood. The gnarled trees were placed densely, and no one wanted to take risks in a Witherwood. The few who were crazy enough to enter one at all, of course.
“If you have a plan, gunssslinger, I sincerely hope that it did not become obsssolete when we entered this damned wood.”
“We need to get back to our ship, obviously.”
“It isss bad enough you spent the enginesss and drive escaping the beam and landing on thisss planet. You mean to tell me the exsstent of your plan is to try to run again?”
“Give me something better.”
“For now, our plan ssshould focus on avoiding death.”
“Isn‘t that always our plan?”
“In the…cssircumssstancsses, I feel it bearss repeating.”
The Shedim “accent” gave him pause on the word “circumstances” but his point was made.
Werther had recovered enough to be walking on her own, though she was very quiet, muttering something to herself sporadically.
“Don‘t worry Visstor, I‘ve escaped worse.”
“We do not worry, we only plan. Worry is sssomething that only humansss seem to favor.”
Something twitched at the edge of vision, and Visstor and Variah immediately turned towards the source of the motion, both of them ready to draw their weapons.
A twisted branch on one of the trees twitched again, and they both hesitated to assume it was wind.
“You know why they are called ‘Whitherwood’, don‘t you?”
“How could I forget.”
They pressed onward. In the distance there was a scream, and Variah knew their ten minutes was either gone or on the way there.
Werther continued muttering to herself.
It may not do any good, but hopefully her noise won’t do any harm…
“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the bible tells me so… Little ones to Him belong, they are weak but He is strong…”
"Damn. This forest is bigger than I'd hoped."
The "whither" part was setting in. Everything shifted slowly, but it was enough over time. The longer they spent there the harder it would be to stay on track. And the fatigue was starting to show up too.
None of them had any idea where they were going, or what to do when they got there.
This gun is always leading me places. This whole mess started with it, and it'll hardly be the last one...
"Sstay alert, would you. Thiss iss no time for daydreaming."