Blooming Rose in the Desert Expanse - Ch 1 – The Great Nasser Caravan
Pulling her scarf tighter against her face the the platinum blonde women settled her feet more comfortably beneath herself. Her companion, a young girl about 17 with a thin willowy build, olive skin, and inky black hair, quickly took a squealing tea pot off the hot plate. Her sister, a physical mirror of her elder sister, threw down a large pillow next to the blonde and mimicked her sitting position.
"Hello, Amara," The soft voice of the blonde crept out from behind her scarf.
The little girl smiled and held out a looped piece of thread taunt in her fingers.
"Ah, Jacob's ladder again or something else?"
"Amara!" the sister chided, "Don't be a bother." She held out a large ceramic mug steaming with hot tea to the blonde and sat down next to her sister.
The pale women nodded her thanks as she took the offering. "Oh, she's not a bother Nuri. It's a nice way to pass the time." She blew on the steam from the mug and took a tentative sip. "It's delicious as always, thank you." Shifting the drink into one hand she began navigating the young girls string into the correct position.
Nuri swayed slightly with the movement of the caravan as as she came to sit beside her sister with her own mug. She stretch over and carefully re tucked the door stop to prevent anymore desert dust from slipping inside.
The woman took a sip from her mug and then said, "Well, it's a few hours until bed-down. Do you want to hear a story Amara?"
The little girl smiled wide and nodded enthusiastically. Her sister looked equally as interested.
"What do you want to hear about?"
After a moment of thought the girl said, "Creatures!"
The blonde smiled. "You'll have to be a bit more specific. There are many creatures that walk, crawl, swim, and fly this world."
Here Amara interjected, "Tell us about creatures in the snowy places Ms. Clove."
Clove took a long draw on her tea then began her tale of the living snow mounds of the high range mountains.
Their nomadic convoy had been traveling across the desert expanse for the last 4 days. At least another 10 days were left until they finish their journey. The sister's small caravan had become Clove's home for the duration.
Five days prior Clove had been sitting in shady tea house weighing her options. She had been careless and had ended up in a barren sandy land just as she was over due for a bout of sun syndrome sickness. Sand was no substitute for rich black dirt. If she had to bury herself in the shifting sands there was no guarantee she'd be well enough able to crawl back out before the desert covered her or worse she was drug out and eaten. Two options lay before her.
Firstly, she could board a ship and transverse the sea. As a creature that tended to sink rather then float she did not like this option. The other was to transverse the desert expanse to reach the rich forest and grass lands of the river flood valley. The most common route was to skirt the end of the expanse which made a wide curving arch. This was the safest way but it was also the longer of the two routes. The other way was to cut straight through the expanse risking monster attack while you weave around Noble wreckage from the war against the OSB. This was the only route the dhampire reasoned would work. Unfortunately, traveling the desert expanse on a cyber-horse by oneself while worrying your debilitating genetic sickness could show its head at any moment did not work.
"Leaving tomorrow at dawn!" bellowed a loud voice from the street. "The great Nasser Caravan starts its journey to cut a line straight through the desert Expanse!"
'How convenient' Clove tossed some coins on the table, fixed her veil so only her aqua eyes peaked out and leaned against a pillar to listen from the shadows.
The man was portly with large guerrilla arms covered in hair and sported a thick full beard. He stood up on the ledge of a fountain waving his arms as he made his announcement.
"We are on an urgent timeline and are looking to hire new-watchers and gunmen to protect our people!" A few gathered only to immediately scoff or out right laugh at the man before moving on with their day. A young mocha skinned man with wavy brown hair at the crier's side seemed embarrassed by the whole ordeal and kicked at pebbles on the ground.
The guerrilla man continued. "A rich pay with food and board included await you on the adventure of a lifetime!" Here he punctuated his pitch by pointing at able bodied men. "You, you, or how about you sir?" Passers by continued to ignore the man's pleas as he continued to spin the venture as being less deadly then it ultimately was. Clove pushed off the pillar and approached the pair.
"Maybe you should pitch you venture to adventurous foreigners instead of locals who know better."
The boisterous man pointed a thick finger at approaching women and dismounted from his perch. The younger man simply stared, a common place occurrence for the beautiful women. Even veiled and hidden away as she was she gave off a presence that drew others to her.
"Adventurous foreigners such as yourself I presume?"
Clove shrugged. "Adventurous, I suppose. Foreign, most definitely. I need to get across the expanse as fast as possible. You're cutting a line straight through. Let us help one another."
A wide grin spread across the bearded man's face showcasing a mouth of white teeth. "I agree." He held out his hand. "Name's Baqi Nasser, leader of the Nasser Caravan!"
Clove grasps his hand, her small pale hand disappearing into his large tanned one. "My name is Clove. I'm a hunter and from what I hear of the Expanse you'll need someone like me."
"Ha! What luck! Yes, Yes – a woman of your caliber would be greatly appreciated!" He gestured to his companion to come closer. "This young one is Dmitri." The young man shyly approached and shook Clove's hand. "He is my second in command as it were. Come, we can walk and talk."
The trio started to move away from the town's center. "You see normally we would take the safest route but also normally we transport regional products. Along with being transporters the Caravan is a family unit. We try and keep our people as safe as possible. However, this time we are charged with transporting an more exotic and expensive item. Our clients are insistent on a specific timeline and say they will make it very worth our while. "
"Hm..." was the only response Clove gave to this bit of information. Expensive items, on a tight timeline, and with a hefty price tag often meant Noble tech. Most likely it would be on the way to the Capital after getting to the river. Clove said nothing of her suspicions but if anything the transporting of possibly dangerous Noble tech justified her presence.
The crowds began to thin as they exited the market area and Baqi continued. He explained their usual routine of circling up at night, setting a watch, and placing thermal barriers. All manner of creature populated the desert sands such as Sand Poolers, Sand Wolves, and Night Wasps that only grew in number and ferocity the farther into the Expanse you went.
"So, how many do you have for this night-watch?" Clove asked as they neared what must have been their caravans. The friendly wave Dmitri and Baqi got from a small dark hair girl confirmed this. Dmitri strode out toward her and scooped her into his arms.
"Our caravan is 5 cyber-horse drawn vehicles and one diesel. 4 medium sized, one small, and one," here he gestured to the monstrous metal paneled vehicle they where walking toward, "huge one. This is where we store our extra cyber-horses and the majority of our cargo although each camper can store things on top or below. We like to maximize space and profit." This last bit he said with a grin.
"You have room for one more horse I hope?"
"Oh yes!" He replied looking pleased, "We have two open hanging stalls actually. Saves us some more money, we'll only need to buy one more steed instead of two. Oh, sorry I forgot to answer your question. We have 20 total, mind you not all are fighters. We usually split in ten and ten, day and night groups. We'll probably just do a few extra on nights plus you and our other adventurous foreigner."
Baqi showed Clove around and introduced her to many of the other Nassers and a shaved head, large shouldered standout; the other foreigner. They parted ways for the night and Clove had her last comfortable night sleep in her inn room before meeting back with the caravan at dawn with Ives in tow.
The following three days and nights went without incident. Clove slept during the day in the smallest caravan that the sisters used and stood atop it at night. Over the orange glow of the thermal barriers she would scan the sands for any signs of animals. Dmitri would shyly point out the gaping maws of Sand Poolers in the distance and the sharp howls of roaming packs of wolves. The fourth day passed peacefully as well. The call came to circle up just as Clove was finishing her tale.
The dhampire finished the last of her tea and handed the mug back to Nuri. She removed her veil to expose a thick ponytail of platinum blonde hair that hung to her waist and began gearing up. Clove gave Amara a pat on the head and exited the vehicle. The air still hung hot with the heat from the cloudless day. She approached the circle center where her fellow watch-men gathered.
Baqi, with a mouth full of smoked meat, began lecturing the crowd. "Stay vigilant, don't get complacent, and look out for each other!" He took a large swig from his canteen and wiped the back of his hand across his mouth. "Alright get to where you ought to be!"
"Rousing and elegant as always..." Clove murmured to Dmitri as the pair walked their respected spots. This earned a chuckle and smile from the shy man who in four days had said but a dozen full sentences to the dhampire.
Clove climbed a top the sister's wagon and surveyed the landscape. The others did the same. Some taking spots atop the other wagons while others chit chatted and walked the grounds. Four hours passed in this quiet way until all hell broke loose.
A piercing howl cut clean through the night air. Additional howls joined the first in a melodic night song; a song that drew closer and closer to the caravan. Clove's eyes found a horde of moving masses. With fur a sandy brown to blend into the desert she could make out a dozen four legged animals heading toward their direction.
"Men stand ready, wolves incoming!" cried Dmitri from below her. The sound of ammo being loaded and weapons being checked added to the wolves song.
Clove pulled her short sword from where it sat against her hip as she studied the rapidly appearing animals. The creatures had large shoulders and thick looking skulls. So thick and plated, their eyes sat wider then a predator's should.
"How do they plan to by pass the barriers? Jumping?" The woman's answer shortly from the wolves themselves. The animals thundered toward the barriers, jumped into the air, and dove straight into the ground only to burst up on the other side in an explosion of sand. A shower of particles rained down on the watch-men as wolf after wolf popped up from the ground.
"Oh," muttered Clove as she positioned her grip for a downward stab. Lithely she jumped from the roof of the caravan and down atop the nearest animal. Her short sword cleaved straight through the animal spine rendering its back legs useless. Whimpering in pain the wolf tried to crawl away on its belly, dragging its legs behind it. Clove pulled out the blade and quickly sliced the animals head off; ending its pain.
The night air rapidly filled with the smell of gunshots, burnt flesh, and blood as the wolves rampaged through the enclosed area. A low guttural growl caused Clove to pivot as a large wolf charged straight toward her with its head down.
Clove readied her stand and with one forcefully straight motion sunk her short sword into the growling beast's eye. There was a sickening sound of flesh tearing before the the tip of the blade crack into the back of the animal's skull. Blood gushed from the wound as the creature gave its last death gasps and fell over. The sword was firmly lodged in place and instead of struggling with the weapon Clove decided to abandon it in favor for her plethora of daggers hanging on an modified shoulder holster.
She made her way around the perimeter helping the other overwhelmed Nasser watchmen with their skirmishes. Quick flashes of silver flew from the air as she sank dagger after dagger into the wolves skulls.
"Clove! Watch out!" cried Dmitri as he frantically slammed more rounds into his rifle. Clove was in mid toss, her posturing leaving her unable to do anything but watch as another wolf charged head first at her. A sickening crunch filled her ears as the heavily plated skull made contact with her right side.
'Ribs...' she though idly as she tumbled onto her left side and kicked herself back up to her feet. The wolf opened is maul to growl and braced to charge again. Just as it kicked off the ground a thermal round slammed into it flank searing a gaping hole into the animal.
Dmitri, from his steady kneeling firing position, swiveled around to take aim at another wolf. The force of the shot knocked the animal into the thermal barrier where it burst into flame and landed in the sand as a shriveled ashen chunk. The unarmed dhampire quickly made her way to young gunman's side. As she neared the man up from the sands burst another wolf poised to attack him from behind. Clove quickly dashed to his side, grabbed a pistol from where it sat against his hip, and pegged the beast in the eye. It fell heavily to the sand and added its blood to darkened ground.
The huntress grasp Dmitri on the upper arm and hauled him to his feet. "We need to get on top of the caravan. We cannot see all of them as they weave around the caravans from the ground."
His eyes blown wide from adrenaline Dmitri simply nodded numbly but did nothing to signal the others.
As she dragged the man toward the nearest caravan she yelled out, "Everyone, on top of the caravans! Shoot them all down from above!"
Clove gingerly touched her side as she straightened and surveyed the scene from the top. Her eyes immediately went to the north side of the circle where the thermal barriers had failed. Worried that an opportune creature would take the tech failure as a way to compile the travelers misery Clove quickly ran the length of the roof and jumped to the next caravan. Dmitri saw the missing patch of orange haze as well and joined her in her dash across the rooftops toward the open fencing.
There at the fencing gap she saw a tall dark swordsmen. His long thin blade sliced through the night air as he liberated wolf after wolf of their heads. His face was hidden from view by a large brimmed hat and his dark well worn travelers cloak flared out around him as he maneuvered around creatures. Soon a pile of brown furred headless corpses littered the area around him.
More Nassers made their way toward the opening as the pack was finished off. With fear and adrenaline coursing through them the men shouldered their weapons and pointed them toward the strangely timed newcomer.
"Who the fuck are you?" Screamed Baqi as drew a beat on the stranger with his large caliber handgun. The swordsmen ignored him and instead approached the downed barrier. With quick motion the barrier sprang back to life in a blaze of orange glory.
"Hold your fire!" Clove cried through labored breaths. She tenderly gripped her right side and jumped from the caravan roof.
From above her Dmitri called out, "You know this man?"
From the right came another call, "That's not the fucking question to ask! The question to ask is how does some guy she know end up wandering into a nighttime skirmish in the middle of the fucking desert expanse!"
Clove held her hand up for silence as she approached the taller hunter who was re-shouldered his saddle and gear that he had abandoned near the thermal barrier.
The last time she had felt afraid and small. She didn't this time. Clove stared at him then her face softened and she smiled. "Hello, D."
AN – Desert / Arabia theme for this adventure. I had to fight with myself not to add the badass fury road type grandma. I thought that if I did it would be to similar to Granny Viper (R.I.P!) especially with traveling in a caravan. Sorry for the long lead in, at least it ended with a nice fight scene. Tentatively planned to be 7-8 chapters, I Hope you all enjoy!