Chapter 2

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The day passed uneventfully with the two siblings fast asleep. A few times, a beast would come by and sniff the tent, but it would leave after smelling it. One beast bit the tent, but quickly left afterwards. The suns set and were replaced by the green and blue moon. A beastial roar rang through the air, followed by a series of howls. Palan’s eyes flickered and regained their luster.

“Andrea,” he said and gently shook his sister’s shoulder. “It’s night time. Wake up.”

Andrea groaned and stretched her arms out in front of her body. She flopped to the side and nibbled on Palan’s leg. Palan winced and extricated himself from her jaws. Andrea rubbed her eyes. “Palan?”

“Right here,” Palan said as he inspected his now-torn pants. A tiny trickle of blood dribbled down his thigh. “We’re going to town today.”

Andrea yawned and sat up. Her stomach gurgled and drool leaked from her mouth as she blinked a few times. She turned towards Palan and pouted.

Palan sighed. “There’s still half of the lizard outside,” he said. “You can go eat it while I pack the tent. I’ll kill something else for you on the way to town.” Andrea beamed and hugged her brother before skipping outside the tent.

Palan stepped outside the tent and frowned. His father’s corpse lay next to the tent, missing its innards. A bird that was as tall as his knee was perched next to the body, staring at him with a bloody beak. Another bird stood behind it, eyeing Andrea as she gnawed at the lizard’s body in the distance. Palan narrowed his eyes and kicked his father’s corpse in a direction away from Andrea. The birds cawed and flew after the mangled body.

Palan directed his attention to the green tent; there was an orange stain on its side. A small pile of dried vomit laid in the sand next to the tent. Palan frowned and pat a pouch on his waist before sighing. He cursed and muttered, “Looks like I need to buy more poison in town too. Those stupid animals should learn to smell.”

He picked up the tent by its corners and folded it, careful to avoid the green exterior. He rolled it into a cylinder and bound it together with the leather strips used to hold it up. He strapped the tent to his back and picked up a leather sack which he strapped to his waist. He turned around to look for his sister and walked towards the lizard corpse. “Almost done?”

Andrea nodded as she sucked the marrow out of a bone. She licked her lips and smiled up at her brother while discarding the bone on the ground next to her. She dashed in front of him and spread her arms out to the side. “Carry me.”

Palan flicked her forehead. “You’ll turn into a sloth,” he said. “Walk by yourself.”

“Fine,” Andrea said and pouted while rubbing her forehead. She walked next to her brother and held his hand. The two set off.

“It’s so quiet,” Andrea said as the two walked through the desert, encountering no creatures on the way. Palan frowned and squeezed his sister’s hand. “Where are all my snacks?”

A gale rushed past the two, causing their hair to fly parallel with the floor. Palan picked his sister up and buried her head in his chest. “Close your eyes,” he said and used the tent to shield his sister’s body. Moments later, a torrent of sand crashed into the two siblings. Palan crouched and kept his eyes open, staring into the storm. Ten minutes passed in this fashion before the sandstorm was beyond the two.

Palan’s nictitating membrane flickered and all the sand that had built up on it fell off, clearing his vision. Tiny lacerations decorated his arms and face. Andrea popped her head up. “Is it over?”

Palan nodded and stood up, slinging the tent back onto his back. “That’s probably why there were no animals out here,” he said and spat out a clump of sand.

“Boo,” Andrea said and frowned as she held her brother’s hand. “Stupid weather.”

“Stupid weather,” Palan echoed and nodded as the two set off again.

“What’s that?” Andrea asked and pointed to the side after they had walked for half an hour.

Palan narrowed his eyes at a pile of bleached bones, half-buried in the sand. They looked humanoid, but spikes grew outwards from their surfaces, making every bone seem like a miniature porcupine. Palan frowned and pulled his sister away as he covered her mouth and nose with his hand while holding his breath. Andrea struggled to breath and clawed at her brother’s hand. He lifted her and dashed forward for thirty seconds before letting go of her face. She coughed and inhaled deeply before glaring at her brother.

“Plague skeleton,” Palan said and placed his sister back onto the ground. “The sandstorm must’ve uncovered it.”

Andrea’s face blanched and she squeezed her brother’s hand. Her voice was lower than usual as she let out an, “Oh.”

“Don’t be like that,” Palan said and tugged her hand as he continued to walk forward up a hill. “We’re almost there.” The two reached the peak of the hill and saw a cluster of stone buildings in the distance. Smoke billowed towards the sky as a fire lit up the center of the town. Two torches illuminated the entrance to the town, revealing a huge figure sitting in front of the gap with a cluster of people waiting outside.

The pair of siblings reached the edge of the shouting crowd. Most of them were men with scars decorating their bodies. Weapons made of bones hung from their belts or were strapped to their backs. They all stared at the man sitting in front of the shabby bone gate leading into town. Palan walked through the crowd, shoving people to the side with his right hand as he held onto Andrea with his left.

“What do you think you’re doing!?” one of the shoved men yelled and extended his hand towards Palan’s shoulder. A pair of tusks protruded from his mouth and his nose was shaped like a pig’s snout. Palan stepped to the side right before his shoulder was grasped and pulled on the man’s arm, causing him to stumble forward. Palan tore the pig-man’s neck with his teeth and left a gaping wound, severing the man’s jugular vein. The man let out a groan as his face blanched and he clutched at his neck. Seconds later, he collapsed onto the ground with a puddle of black blood expanding in the sand. The surrounding men narrowed their eyes and cleared a path as Palan ignored them and continued towards the entrance.

The two stopped in front of the gatekeeper who was easily six hundred pounds of muscle. He had large floppy ears and in place of a nose was a trunk that extended down to his belly. A pile of corpses lay scattered in front of the stone walls around him. He stood up and stepped to the side while nodding. “Palan.”

Palan nodded back and placed a pouch in the gatekeeper’s hand as he walked past him and entered the town with Andrea in tow. The gate clattered shut behind him and the ground shook as the gatekeeper sat back down.

“Why does he get to go in?” one man asked and crossed his arms over his chest.

The gatekeeper ignored the man as he tucked the leather pouch away into his pocket. He crossed his arms over his chest and glared at the man who spoke. His trunk swished back and forth in the air. “The boss will judge you soon. Just wait.”

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