He woke, gasping, sitting up in an alien landscape, where the lizards might kill him and the coyotes would wait until he was weak. Where the bloated moon loomed, and the bruise-colored sky rested above all. He felt his cheeks and wiped away tears, ashamed.
“You sleep troubled, Shadrach.”
Indigo was standing some distance off, making water. He adjusted and turned. “You spoke of someone named Paz. You told her to stay.” He leaned his head to one side, again looking more animal than man. “Forgive my intrusion. You talk as much in your sleep as you do awake.”
Shadrach cleared his throat and shuffled out of the blankets. He needed to pee. “Yes, well,” was all he could manage to say, and he walked a distance. In the midst of his shame, he felt blessed relief as he urinated upon the dusty ground.
“Who is Paz?”
“Who’s bleating like a woman now?” Shadrach grumped. He glared at the amber-eyed man, who was gathering up his belongings. Our belongings, Shadrach reminded himself. He still has my gun and knife.
Indigo chuckled. “You speak a name in your sleep. I am merely curious.”
Shadrach harrumphed. He began gathering up what remained his belongings. “How long did we sleep? It’s still dark. It doesn’t feel like it was that long.”
“It was long enough. Remember, we’re being followed.”
“No,” Shadrach interjected. “You’re being followed. I’m just lost.”
Indigo spread his hands. “By all means, travel alone. See how long you last, especially when they find someone that doesn’t know his way.” His amber eyes flickered maliciously. “Or, come with me, and live a bit longer. Perhaps.”
Daybreak came some hours later, and Shadrach looked at the horizon before them in wonder. The clouds loomed together, the color of steel. There was no telling how far away that squall was, but it was evident that it was going to be brutal. He glanced at Indigo, who said nothing, only moved ahead. He smelled it, Shadrach thought bitterly. I’d be meat out here without him. He loathed the dependency.
They rested briefly in the early afternoon. The trees were growing more frequent, though still spread apart. There were leaves here, and the ground showed random bursts of greenery. Indigo acknowledged they were reaching the edge of what he called “the Burning Ground.” Shadrach felt elation; he was sure as they left the badlands there would be people, maybe cities, and in a land where they knew of Migration he might be able to find a way out.
“There’s leagues to go,” Indigo responded, but he sounded uncertain. “And even out of these wastes, we will still be pursued.”
“Yes, but if I can cross over, we will be safe. They won’t know how.” He cleared his throat, realizing he’d spoken out of turn. “That is, if you would come with me. You know: Migrate.”
Indigo looked ahead at the looming clouds. “My path might take me with yours, but I won’t know until we get there. I still have promises to keep.” And of this, he said no more.
They kept ahead. The sun began setting, and the thunderheads didn’t seem to grow any closer. Shadrach wondered if the storm was moving perpendicular to them, but Indigo admonished him. “Storms go as they will, but smell the air. It approaches as it will, but above all else, it approaches.” Even Shadrach could now detect the metallic scent in the air, and while it seemed refreshing, it frightened him as well.
Greenery continued its perpetual emergence as they moved. The badlands were behind them, doubtless, but the storm was ahead.
Night loomed dangerous around them. The more sparse symphony of the previous night was a distant memory, replaced by catcalls, howls, and far more mysterious cacophony, swelling around them and threatening to smother them. Shadrach jumped frequently. Indigo worked silently, undeterred by the restless beasts surrounding them. He cleaned the chambers of his guns (our guns, Shadrach thought furiously), sharpened his blades (our blades), and, occasionally, raised his head the direction of the opaque clouds before them.
They were randomly visible, only when the jagged shards of lightning glowed within the roiling clouds. Shadrach jumped at this, too. It was angry lightning, the sort that didn’t mean to simply glow the sky but rather strike forcefully and violently, destroying all that dared to dwell beneath. Thunder rolled in the distance, many seconds after the flashes. Still far away, Shadrach assured himself, but in so many ways, those clouds, shrouded in the darkness of night, frightened him far more than the beasts that lurked and crooned.
Indigo agreed with him. “Storms like that don’t just bring the wet, they bring suffering. If we are stranded in that squall…” He said nothing else, allowing Shadrach’s overeager imagination to take control. Drowned in a flash flood. Crisped by a hungry thunderbolt. Swallowed up by a cyclone and pitched miles across the landscape. He noticed that Indigo was no longer honing his weapons, instead watching him and smiling. He grunted furiously, and shook as a coyote bayed what sounded like only meters away.
“We’ll have more pressing issues to face before we come near that storm,” Indigo said. “Someone approaches, and quickly.” He laid his weapons carefully before him. “They might not arrive until morning, perhaps later if they are wise enough to consider I have already sensed them. If you wish to live, and I see that you do, then you will need to heed me until it is done. Those chasing me aren’t going to be soft. They will kill you if it keeps them from me.” He took Shadrach’s knife and pistol, giving them brief consideration, and offered them back to him. “I trust you enough to have these. You will need them.”
Shadrach gave him a sideways look. “I don’t want them if you’re just going to jump on me again.”
Indigo shook his head. “I trust you enough, now.” He offered a small smirk as Shadrach took back his weapons, holding them carefully, as if hot.
“By morning?” Shadrach looked back they way they had come, which was barely visible in the on-and-off glow of the moon. “How can you be sure? I don’t see anything. What I am missing?”
Indigo aimed callused fingers at his eyes. Tapped his nose briefly. Gestured to his ears. And then, with one of his wry smiles, tapped the side of his head. “I’m not saying you are a stupid man, either. Just that you don’t know what I know. They’ll be here by morning. You’ll need to be ready.” He drew his pale, mysterious sword, looking upon it briefly, considering something. “You’ll need to be ready, but not to run, as a coward runs.” The amber eyes flickered away from the blade, and shined on Shadrach, and the thought of tigers again sprang forward. “You’ll need to be ready to kill. Can you be ready to kill?”
And despite the fact that Shadrach was never more uncertain of such a question, that he doubted his heart could muster the courage to do such a thing, he nodded his head. His fear of answering Indigo incorrectly far outweighed his desire to tell the truth.