It was hard to believe we were getting out of there without a fight, and from the grumbling of the war boys, it seemed they would've preferred one. We were about five miles from the gates, still in sight but distant enough not to be an immediate threat, when a young war boy, not one I recognised, hung from the top of the cab over Nux's window and told him, "She says stop."
Nux nodded without taking his eyes from the road, and eased the tanker to standing. The gigahorse had been in front, but now Furiosa wheeled it back and stopped by Nux's window. I leaned across his body to look down at her, and he took one hand off the wheel and rested it on my waist.
"Still want to go to the canyon?" she yelled up at me, her blue eyes so piercing I wondered briefly if she could read my thoughts.
I nodded. "Yes. How long will it take?"
Furiosa huffed to show me what she thought of doing this, "'Bout four hours give or take. Give those scav rock riders some gasoline to shut 'em up. We'll stay 'til dark, then you're on your own."
I smiled down at her. "Thanks for doing this." I told her.
She rolled her eyes, and waved me back into the cab. As I leaned back in, Nux kissed me on the cheek and then wrapped me in a quick tight hug, before grabbing the wheel again. The sound of Furiosa's car horn split the air, and Nux swung the wheel to follow her as the gigahorse accelerated away at right angles to the road.
"So you're really going?" He asked, his voice quiet yet clear over the hum of the engine.
I bit my lip and rested my hand on his thigh. "I don't know; I just want to see."
He glanced over at me and gave me a wan smile, then turned his focus back to the desert. I wanted to hug him, but I didn't want to distract his driving, especially now that the land seemed to be getting rougher. I tried to remember if we'd come this way, but it looked so different in the day, speeding over it so high above the ground. It was very hypnotic; the huge blue sky, the dusty red expanse below it, the continuous motion of the cab as it rolled along.
After awhile I started to get bored, and leaned out of my window to see if I could detect the mountain range the canyon belonged to. If I leaned far out I could twist my head and see the war boys lounging in their makeshift perches on top of the rig and behind the cab. Pieces of car bodies had been welded to it, forming small towers along its length, with a larger turret at the back. A couple of the young men saw me, so I smiled and waved. They waved hesitantly back, but motioned me to go back in.
At the same time I felt a hand yanking me back by the waistband of my cargo pants. Nux pushed me into the seat and glared at me.
"Not safe." He snapped, and then his eyes narrowed as something in the distance caught his eye. "Buzzards." he breathed and then yelled out of his window, "Buzzards!" before pulling on the rig's horn.
I covered my ears at the sound and peered in the direction he'd been staring. Far away I could see several puffs of dust rising, creating long trails as they came purposefully towards us. The war party's vehicles closed around us in a tighter formation, and I saw various war boys readying their lances of checking their guns were loaded. The atmosphere of the group became more ebullient; the young men working themselves up into a frenzy of anticipation for a coming altercation.
I'd expected us to slow down before they attacked us, but instead everyone seemed to be speeding up, Furiosa's gigahorse rocketing forward as plumes of flame shot out the pipes from its rear. The tanker cab was starting to bounce with the increased speed, and I clung to the sides of my seat, wishing I had a seat belt.
"Shouldn't we be slowing down?" I screamed above the clamour of many engines.
Nux laughed wildly, and as he turned to me his eyes shone. "Today might turn out to be chrome after all!" he exulted, and over the sound of the engines, I could hear the war boys yelling 'War!' at the top of their lungs.
Soon the vehicles making the clouds of dust were close enough to be visible, and I experienced a moment of surreality staring at them. They looked like some strange cross between cars and hedgehogs, covered in long thick spikes, and sprouting weird folded appendages.
"Get down!" ordered Nux, but I shook my head; for once I wanted to actually see what happened, and not just a confused part of it like I usually did.
He gave me a glance intense with a mixture of worry and annoyance, and then jerked the wheel one way and then back again, avoiding an outcropping of rock which seemed to rise out of nowhere. The swerve unbalanced me, and I had to brace myself against the side door of the cab.
My head against the window frame, I saw the gigahorse nearing the front hedgehog car. The ethereal white form of a war boy rose out of it carrying one of the exploding lances. He hefted it over his shoulder and threw it overarm towards the other car. At the same time Furiosa swerved violently to the left, and as an orange explosion bloomed out of the other car and it jumped and twisted in the air, I saw she was trying to avoid being caught in the wreckage.
Nux aimed the rig right through it at full speed, which seemed a bit reckless to me, given we were pulling a tanker of highly flammable liquid, but no one seemed all that concerned about it, and the rig hardly even jerked as it plowed through. I saw a phalanx of motorcycles surrounding another hedgehog car, their pillion lancers slamming exploding lances into it from all sides before they veered away and returned to the main formation.
A short crossbow bolt zipped through the window on Nux's side and clattered over my head. I jumped, startled, and this time when he yelled "Get down!" he punctuated it by grabbing my arm and pushing me forward off the seat. I crouched there, holding onto the walls, while more bolts pinged and impacted around us. Nux spun the wheel and the rig leapt to the side, smashing against something which caused the cab to shudder so much it made my teeth chatter in my head.
"Got 'em!" he whooped, leaning over the wheel with a look of fierce concentration.
From outside came the booming sound of an explosion and several voices yelled, "Witness!"
I clung to the seat, burying my face in its dilapidated leather. "I didn't know it was going to be like this!" I shrieked above the sounds of engines and battle. "Are we going to turn back?!"
Nux grinned down at me before glancing back up again. "Why? This is lovely!"
There was a wildness in his voice which surprised me; sensitive and thoughtful he may have been, but he was also a war boy, and he seemed to positively enjoy situations like this. I probably should've pointed out to him that people were dying in horribly violent ways, and that there was the distinct potential for us to die too, but at that moment another explosion sent glowing debris flying against the side of the cab.
I screamed and put my hands over my head, reminding myself this was exactly why I didn't want to stay in this world. Miserably, I wondered if we would make it to the canyon at all.
And then all of a sudden things quieted down and apart from war boys yelling to each other, the only sounds were engine noises.
"They ran." Nux commented as I looked up at him, placing my hand on his knee. He sounded vaguely disappointed.
Slinking back into my seat, I noticed that he had some shrapnel cuts on the side of his head and shoulder.
"You're hit!" I exclaimed, reaching out to touch him. Could I give him just a little energy, enough to heal those? I was a bit afraid it might distract him from driving, but I did it anyway.
He let out a deep breath and then grinned at me. "Thanks."
I nodded, too breathless right then to speak. After this things became a lot calmer, and I settled in to looking out of the window again, watching the desert roll by. The mountains very slowly became larger as the shadows became longer in the afternoon sun. It was early sunset by the time we got there, weaving through the foothills to the canyon. I was interested to see that a lot of the rubble had been cleared away, enough that you could walk or ride a motorbike through the gap.
Furiosa signalled the war party to stop a little way from its cliffs. Silence replaced the hum of engines.
Turning off the rig's engine, Nux turned to me, his face serious, and said, "This is it."
"Yeah." I answered uneasily, taking his helping hand as he stepped down out of the cab.
It felt strange to be on solid ground again after so long driving. I stretched and looked over to where Furiosa beckoned.
"Plan is give 'em a few cans of guzzoline for holding back while you explore." She said as she waved over a couple of war boys carrying jerrycans in both hands. "Things go bad, run."
She set off with megaphone in hand, walking towards the canyon's entrance. I, Nux, and about four war boys loaded with fuel, followed her. She stopped at what Nux whispered was just out of bullet range and then the megaphone hissed into life.
"Want to make a deal: fuel for checking the wreckage."
A man's figure popped up on the top of the cliff; dredded and masked like the people Nux had fought all those days ago when I'd first arrived.
"Deal didn't go so well last time. And it's our salvage!" He shouted, his voice hostile. Around him other dredded and masked men appeared, aiming their long rifles at us.
Furiosa turned and scowled at me, then said, her voice booming, "Don't want salvage. Looking for…" she seemed to be casting around for an excuse, and finished lamely, "…a body."
"What?! They're all picked clean now, can't tell who's who. Tell us another." This man didn't seem at all inclined to give Furiosa what she – or more accurately, I – wanted.
I felt a sinking sensation; so close and yet so far. Crazily I started to wonder if I could slip in undetected after dark, but knew that it would probably not end well for me.
"Does it matter? We won't take salvage, and you get as much fuel as you can carry." Furiosa was starting to sound like she was losing patience.
The men conferred with each other hastily; I could see the leader wanted nothing to do with it, but his fellows were obviously very tempted by the petrol. The sun was just starting to set, glowing orange a few inches above the horizon, when the leader threw up his hands and turned back to us.
"Sure, sure, we'll take it. Bring it over." He beckoned us closer.
Furiosa turned and made a signal to the rest of the war party. Instantly a group of war boys trotted up, their weapons drawn.
"Cover us." She ordered their leader, and then motioned with a nod of her head for us to walk forward.
Our long shadows streamed out in front of us as we took hesitant steps forward. When we reached the base of the rubble, Furiosa signalled us to walk through the narrow gap under the broken arch of the canyon entrance. Now we were cut off from the rest of the war party. I cringed against Nux's arm; this was the perfect setup for an ambush, and I regretted being so gung ho about coming here. He put his arm around me, and smiled down, but his hand still clutched his sawn off shotgun.
"Put 'em down." Said Furiosa, and the war boys obeyed her; placing the jerry cans together in a square. She looked around at me, her face red in the light of the setting sun. "Ok, get going."
I took a deep breath and spun around, wishing that it was night so I could try to more accurately compare what I'd seen the night I arrived. Nux stood with the rest of our small party while I dashed around, stopping every so often to see if I could find a landmark. At first they all watched me curiously, but when nothing exciting immediately happened, a bored look settled over them, only Nux and Furiosa continuing to watch while the others leaned on boulders or wrecks. Up above the rock riders sat and boiled some water, occasionally pointing at me. It was all quite embarrassing, and my sense of desperation didn't help.
Night was deepening as I started to broaden my search, pawing the stones to see if any one of them might be an entrance way to another world. I closed my eyes, trying to will some sign of strangeness into view. There was nothing. I must've been over the wrecks and rubble about ten times, trying to find something, anything.
Soon, the first stars were springing out in the indigo sky, and that was when I'd had enough, throwing myself down on a large boulder with a sob. I couldn't believe that we'd come all this way for nothing. I kept going over and over my arrival in my mind, trying to recollect how I'd gotten here. Again nothing. All at once, the fear and loss I'd been denying swamped me, and I put my head in my hands and started howling. I was crying for the last of my lost hope, the hope that I could go back to my leafy city to putter around coffee shops and sushi houses, wasting water by showering every day, eating chocolate, knowing that I could walk down most roads day or night, and be relatively safe. To be surrounded by a million people who didn't know how bad things could get.
Now I was doomed to live the rest of my life in a savage and desolate world, with the constant fear of being forced by circumstances to murder or be murdered. I hugged my knees and rocked back and forth on the boulder, my chest heaving with the force of my crying.
After a little while Nux sat down next to me, his arm going around my shoulders. He pulled me close, his other hand cupping my face, drawing it up to his.
"'M sorry." He whispered, kissing my forehead.
I bit down on another sob and clung to him, my anguish suddenly tempered by a feeling that maybe I wasn't so alone after all. He could've been insufferable about this if he'd chosen to be, but instead he was as supportive and concerned as he'd always been. My heart flared with affection for him.
"Time to go!" yelled Furiosa from the knot of war boys, who were starting to fidget with impatience. Sensing the end was coming, the rock riders stood up, readying their weapons.
"Come on, let's go home." Nux murmured, pulling me to my feet.
I nodded numbly and allowed him to guide me back to the waiting war party on the other side of the breached canyon. I glanced back at the silhouettes of the jerry cans standing in the grey sand, and tried to imagine that I was leaving all thought of my old life with them. I'd been holding myself remote from this world as long as I'd been here, always thinking about getting home. And now that was gone. Somehow, I had to start thinking of the Citadel as home, of this world as my world.
Furiosa cast me a keen glance as we neared the main party, but there was compassion in it. While she and the other war boys leapt back into their vehicles, Nux hugged me by the cab door, wrapping his arms around me while he buried his face in my hair. We stood like that for a minute, unmoving, unspeaking, as if he was trying to communicate with me through skin contact alone. It made me realise like a flash that here was something worth staying for, whatever we had between us. I'd started this journey with him, and now it was over, maybe we could start something else together.
I broke free from his hug and stepped back to look up at him, holding both his hands, a shy smile flitting over my face. He smiled back down at me, blue eyes glinting in the glare of the gigahorse's headlights.
"Home sounds good." I said, knowing that for the first time that I meant the same place he did.
Well, that's it. It was hard to end it because I really enjoyed writing this, but now Rachel has come full circle so it seemed the best place to. Thanks to everyone who got through it all, and for all your comments, favorites and follows, I really appreciated every one.
Whoo, my first finished fan fiction! I've also just started an original fiction on FictionPress under the same name: look for "The Plateau" by Nienorbun under Fantasy (it won't let me do a link). So if you liked this, please check it out.