A Desert Massacre(Welcome to our new special feature. Each week DaRK PaRTY will be publishing a chapter in a five-part swords and sorcery adventure called Sand. A version of this heart-pounding, action-packed short story was originally published in Lost Worlds: The Writers and Artists’ Science Fiction and Fantasy Forum.)
A shredded banner flapped in the desert wind. A heavy gust snapped the flag like a horse whip; the sound echoing across the flat plain. A golden sphere on a black background was the crest of the Dark Tarkkum Guard.
Radric had found his quarry.
Dead soldiers and their mounts surrounded an overturned carriage, its roof caved in. Fat, ruby-necked vultures picked at the remains of a warhorse, squabbling amongst themselves with squawks and pecks. One of the birds lifted its head and glared at Radric with tiny, black eyes.
Arrows riddled the bodies of the soldiers. The attackers had been swift and in a hurry; not bothering to retrieved their weapons. The arrows were crudely constructed, the shafts shaped from sun-bleached wood. D’jaren design. Desert dust coated everything and Radric knew that by nightfall the shifting sands of the B’Kar Waste would swallow the battleground.
Radric dismounted and tied his mount to a broken section of the carriage axle. He paused, cocked his head, and listened. The wind hissed across the sand, the banner rippled, and the vultures argued. Otherwise the dunes were silent. He walked to the nearest soldier and knelt down to investigate.
The soldier was a seasoned veteran. Scars and a shaggy, brown beard covered a weathered face. He was garbed in the tradition black armor and red sash of the Dark Tarkkum Guard. A pair of arrows protruded from between the links of his breastplate. His sword and dagger were still sheathed. The soldier had been killed instantly and judging from and looked to have been dead for only a few hours.
Radric stood and counted the bodies. Fourteen men. He walked to the perimeter and wasn’t surprised to find a series of shallow pits. A D’jaren ambush. An old trick. D’jaren warriors armed with bows would lay buried under the sand in a semi-circle. When the unsuspecting party moved into the center of the horseshoe, the warriors rose out to the sand and fired. Anyone not killed by the arrows would be cut down with scimitars. By the number of pits and arrows, Radric estimated the D’jaren party at 20. A war party.
The inside of the carriage had been stripped. Radric found a torn orange jacket under the seat that matched Caswell’s fashion taste. The mage was fond of colorful silks. There were no dead D’jaren, which meant that Caswell had not been able to cast a spell before being captured. The D’jaren were wary of necromancy and would have been quick to disable the wizard. That meant they knew Caswell was coming. The ambush hadn’t been a random attack, but a planned kidnapping. That complicated things.A caught a glimpse of himself in a shattered fragment of mirror. His grizzled face was speckled with grayish whiskers, his long brown hair, streak with white, was tied in a ponytail with a piece of worn leather. He stared into his cold blue eyes, a sneer splaying across his face. Then he knocked the mirror over.
The sun hung low on the horizon. Radric dismissed a brief notion to camp inside the carriage. Better to sleep away from the carrion eaters and the ghosts of the fallen guards. He mounted his horse and rode over the dunes until he found a rock outcropping that would break the cold, night wind of the waste.
He had found Caswell. Now all he had to do was rescue him from the D’Jaren.
(Stayed tuned for next week's installment of Sand -- Chapter Two: Discovery in the B'Kar Waste)
Labels: Fiction, Sand