They walked in relative silence for some time, each of them weighed down by the new supplies they’d taken from their fallen pursuers. Indigo was bearing most of the burden, with dried food and water slung around his shoulders and a battered can of gasoline tied behind his waist. Shadrach assumed he was planning on using the gas as trade, but didn’t bother asking. He carried food as well, but not nearly the amount of his counterpart.
They both had added guns to their arsenal, and though Indigo looked imposing with his new double-barreled handgun, Shadrach felt uncertain with the carbine slung around his shoulders. It was cumbersome, but it looked imposing enough, and was fully loaded. He’d left behind his old knife and replaced it with a wicked curved blade the size of a machete. He’d noticed the look Indigo had given him at the choice, and thought it almost looked accepting, but he had his doubts.
Shadrach would glance back on occasion at the pillars and car in the distance, and as the miles passed they seemed to blend with the glut of damaged trees. The ground was spongy and damp and full of leaves and branches torn away from the storm. The flora here had suffered some sort of unspoken retribution, torn to the roots from the powerful gales that had passed through the day before. It was the killing grounds, only this was a slaughterhouse of trees. Despite these dark thoughts, he preferred this new surrounding much more than the badlands where he’d first met Indigo, but there was also something dark here, looming beneath the surface, like ghosts of the vegetation ready to haunt.
By the time the monument of Toad’s death was fully blended with the trees around it, Shadrach managed to find enough courage to speak. “I’m sorry about your friend,” he offered, knowing how feeble the words were the minute they left his lips.
“You didn’t kill him,” Indigo responded without looking back. “It was on the inside, from the crash. You’ve nothing to apologize for.” He grunted and stepped over a particularly abundant branch.
“I didn’t think I killed him, but that doesn’t mean I don’t sympathize with your loss,” Shadrach said, frowning. He slipped and stumbled over the same branch, but regained his footing. Indigo pressed ahead, his pace never slowing. “Look, I’m trying to say I am sorry that I wasn’t so worried about it before. It was clear that Toad cared about you, and you cared about him. Losing someone like that isn’t easy.”
“No,” Indigo said flatly. He paused, and hopped flat-footed onto the thick trunk of an overturned tree. It must have been four feet high, and Shadrach scowled, jealous. Indigo looked back, his amber eyes flickering and somber. “No, it’s not easy. But it’s also not the first.”
“I lost friends,” Shadrach offered. “In Amberline, when the riots dispersed. The patrols came for anyone and everyone tied in with it. They were taking people that were just rumored to be involved, and no one saw them again.” He struggled around a much smaller portion of the tree, and fell onto his bottom. He grunted and reset his packs. “One of the people taken was a friend that was like a brother. I still remember his mother crying.”
Indigo was watching him carefully, Shadrach noticed, and it was unsettling. He preferred the dark man not looking at him all, he realized, and the frequent imagery of a tiger in the high grass re-emerged. He coughed nervously, and continued his story, hoping it would keep the beast from pouncing.
“We were all speaking out against the government, all of us at the university. Some of us were doing it just to impress some girls, but some were hardcore anti-establishment.” He grimaced at the memory; Shadrach had clearly fallen into the former category and was no longer ashamed to admit it to himself. “Micah led so many rallies. I grew up two houses from him, and we used to play ball all the time as kids. Before I know it, he’s an outspoken activist, and boy did the cops hate him.”
“One night we’re all in the quad, and we hear that the patrols are taking all sorts of people, real military state stuff. I told Micah to head out of town, back to the ‘burbs for us where Mom and Dad could keep us safe, but he wouldn’t hear anything of it.” Shadrach swallowed; he was disappointed in his own cowardice then, but even more disillusioned by what would result anyway. “Micah refused, and he marched out into the night, screaming about the fascists in the Houses. We all stared at each other, we thought he was nuts, right?” He laughed sadly. “The screaming faded as he marched away, and then we heard someone shout, and Micah’s screams of defiance turned to…”
“Screams of fear?” Indigo ventured. His eyes flickered. “Or pain? Which is it Vagrant? I have seen these people that think words will change the world. I wonder if they are misguided or just stupid. Words change nothing.” He drew the double-barreled pistol and held it before his face. His orange eyes narrowed. “These change the world. Weapons. Guns and blades. Everything else dies away. Words drift in the wind, until even the echoes are a fading memory. Words are for fools.”
Shadrach gaped at the dark man as he hopped down from the tree. For a man that clearly didn’t wield diction even half as well as he wielded a blade, there was something darkly poetic about his speech. He wished badly that he could dispute it and prove otherwise. Instead, he hobbled after his companion, hoping badly that the sun would hang in the sky a few hours longer.