Two men from drastically different backgrounds begin a dangerous journey across a strange, vast world.
Dawn. Sunlight crept over the horizon, tentative. He shifted in his bedroll, shielding his face from the reticent daybreak, and released two harsh, barking coughs. His back felt a brief but familiar flash of pain from another night without a proper mattress beneath him. He wiped at his face, squinting at the slowly reddening landscape. Dead trees stood sentinel in stretching gaps, and grass peeked out in random intervals, as if the flora was uncertain of this region. Just as bleak as I left it, he judged.
He reached to his left, where he always kept his canteen, and frowned as his fingers only touched unyielding ground.
“Looking for something?” said a soft voice. One might imagine this is the voice of a tiger, its tail swishing with interest, its slit eyes peering through the low brush, as its prey stood oblivious at the edge of a pool, only meters away.
He was afraid to turn, but knew he must. His jaw hung open as he looked upon the darkest man he had ever seen. He loomed over him, lean and muscular and tall. His head was bald, and a pair of dusty goggles hung around him like a collar. He was dressed for the climate, with a long coat that would shield his skin from the harsh sun and the bitter cold nights. Easiest to see was his eyes, which glowed the color of soft amber. That and the blade hanging from his hip, and the revolver in his hand, both of which spoke a much more primitive and frightening language.
“Aaagh,” was all he could muster in response.
The dark-skinned man smiled, and his teeth seemed like pure alabaster exposed from beneath the ebon lips. For a moment, in his fear, they seemed to be pointed like that of a tiger as well. “It could be that I mean you no harm, but I am not one to take any chances, either. Your name would be a good start, but consider, stranger: I do not suffer liars.”
“Shadrach,” he said quickly. “I swear on my mother’s soul, my name is Shadrach.”
The dark man laughed; it was a rich, throaty sound. He lowered his pistol and stuffed it into a hidden holster beneath his coat. “It is a good thing for your mother that fear pries truth so often.” He squatted on his haunches, hands resting poised on his knees. His unsettling eyes shimmered. “That said, I’ve also been told that only a coward would bargain with the soul of a loved one, but not his own. Tell me, Shadrach: Are you a coward?”
Shadrach considered this briefly. “Most likely. I can live with that.” The operative word being “live,” of course.
The dark man smiled again, this time more earnestly. “An honest man. Very well.” He offered his right hand. Shadrach looked at it momentarily before accepting it. The strength in that hand was significant; he could have easily snapped Shadrach’s neck in his sleep. “My name is Yorrick Mordecai Baptiste. However, most know me as Indigo. It is my honor to know you.”
“Sure,” Shadrach said. “Likewise.” He peeled the bedroll off of him and stood cautiously. He was unarmed beneath his rumpled clothes. He did carry a pistol and a knife, though currently they’d become as scarce as his canteen. He squinted at Indigo. “Um, my things?”
“I have them,” Indigo acknowledged. “I believe you to be an honest man, but I also need you to understand that I am most certainly a cautious man. Your things will be mine until I am as certain of your integrity as I am of my own prudence.”
It was clear by the last part of his little speech that he meant the weapons. Little good they would do me, Shadrach thought with a sulk. He’d probably have sliced me into quarters by the time I was ready to pull the trigger. He didn’t fault Indigo’s careful nature, however; it was precisely the sort of thing he was trying to accomplish. Considering all of the dangers he’d barely avoided, Shadrach felt pride in the belief that he was a cautious man as well. Looking at this newcomer, however, led him to believe that mostly he had been the beneficiary of dumb luck.
“Fine, fine, if you must.” Shadrach examined his boots carefully, and when he was certain they were free of any sort of tenants, he began pulling them on. “I have some water in a canteen, and some bread wrapped in my pack. I was going to eat something. Seeing as I don’t think I can smother you with stale bread or drown you with the water, I would hope you could part with them, as a gesture of good faith.”
Indigo offered more throaty laughter. He did acquiesce, and Shadrach began his breakfast, grudgingly.
“Traveling alone is not something I would recommend for a person in these parts,” Indigo mentioned, rummaging through a small bag. He fished out a thick heel of bread, and something that was perhaps a kind of cheese. Shadrach eyed it warily; he was growing tired of what he’d come to think of as a ‘prison diet’ during his brief tenure in this place. Indigo either didn’t notice or didn’t care, and chewed meticulously. “Dangerous sorts dwell here.” He smiled around a mouthful at Shadrach’s petulant stare.
“Yes, and something tells me I’ve already run into one of those,” Shadrach muttered, jaw nearly unhinging on the hard bread he called a meal.
Indigo gestured to the terrain behind them. “I’ve a decent lead on a man that means to capture me.” Shadrach tried to picture someone that was either brave enough or crazy enough to consider someone like Indigo as quarry, and figured that the person must be a raving loony. “Truth be told, I haven’t seen anyone in these parts, save his scouts.” His eyes seemed to flash as they narrowed on Shadrach. “Which is more of a reason for me to lift your meager arsenal.”
Shadrach nearly choked. “I’m not a scout!”
“Do you work for Hiram Blanchette?” The tiger returned to his voice, this time a beast clearly meaning to strike, and no longer toying with his next meal.
“Who? I don’t know who that is!”
He stood, and the movement was far too quick for Shadrach to keep pace. There was a soft hiss, and the blade was naked in the morning sun, shimmering pale and thirsty for blood. Shadrach shrieked and scurried backward on his hands, his rump digging a soft trench in the dirt as he moved in a clumsy crab-walk backward. Indigo snarled and rushed forward, and the tiger in his voice was joined with the snake in his movement, a liquid speed that was as horrifying as it was astounding. He snatched Shadrach up by the collar and hoisted him to his feet. Indigo’s breath was hot and furious against Shadrach’s cheek. The tip of the milky white blade rested against the side of Shadrach’s neck, twitching slightly with the thrum of his rapid pulse.
“I would not advise playing foolish with me at this moment,” Indigo whispered. “I’ve spilled blood of braver than you, and I have no qualms with snuffing out the life of a coward either, especially a coward with a mouth brimming with lies. Tell me where Blanchette is, and I will make it quick.” His eyes were wide and furious, burning orange orbs.
“I…I…” Shadrach’s breaths were soft and rapid, his heart was threatening to jump from his chest. He didn’t know what else to do, but lock gazes with those horrible orange eyes. “I don’t know who Blanchette is,” he managed, voice croaking. “Please don’t kill me.”
“The others begged,” Indigo growled. “The others cajoled, or attempted as much. One at least had the courage to defend himself, for all of the good that it did him.” The blade tensed, and Shadrach let out a moan. He was certain that he would soon feel blood spilling down his chest, and here in the middle of nowhere, with only a murderous lunatic as his final moment’s witness. “Tell me, Shadrach…why should I believe you?”
“Because I don’t know what you are talking about!” Shadrach shrieked, spittle flying and desperation overtaking. “I don’t know who the hell you are! I am just passing through, trying to get out of this forsaken waste! And I really don’t want to die right now!”
The blade didn’t move. Which was partially good, because that meant it hadn’t opened his throat yet. Shadrach stared at the amber-eyed man and tried to read his thoughts, and was troubled at the look of murderous fury in Indigo’s eyes. “You are just passing through?” he asked. It sounded like an accusation instead of a question.
“I swear it.”