“Well,” Laquin said, “I was going to start the trip back without you. But I felt bad, and so I turned around.”
“You were going to leave us here?” Orn asked.
“I figured getting the amulet back was paramount,” Laquin said.
Orn nodded. “It was not wrong of you to think that. In fact, your sentimentality may prove to be a grave mistake. But still, I’m glad you returned.”
“I’m not looking forward to hearing the others’ opinions on the matter,” said Laquin.
“Let’s just not tell them,” said Orn.
Laquin opened her mouth to speak, then closed it again and though. “I suppose that’s a fine idea.”
“Are there any more of those horrible monsters around?” asked Mills.
“Certainly,” said Laquin. “But they’re not our biggest concern.”
“What’s our biggest concern?” asked Anaxis.
“Water, at the moment,” Laquin said. “Our particulator was busted in the crash.”
“That’s terrible,” said Orn.
“What does it mean?” asked Xala.
“It means we’ll probably die,” said Orn. “Or, most of us.”
Mills turned to Anaxis with terrible fear in his eyes.
“Why do you say that so casually?” Anaxis asked Orn.
“Because it’s a fact,” Orn answered. “I would say I was speaking factually, not casually.”
“Orn doesn’t waste much time on being casual,” said Laquin. “He was speaking casualty, though.”
Xala scrunched up her face. “Is that supposed to be a joke?” she asked.
“It was supposed to be,” Laquin sighed. “I guess it’s not a joke if it’s not funny. Anyways, we’ve got a few hours before the sun comes up and we can start to move. I recommend trying to get as much rest as possible. It’s going to be a twenty-five mile day tomorrow, and it doesn’t look like we’ll have any water.”
Orn moved to one of the fallen Yuta, unscrewed a canteen hanging at his side, and cut the beast open so that its blood could drain into the canteen.
“What’re you doing that for?” Mills asked, much more horrified than either Xala or Anaxis at the sight.
“It’s something to drink,” Orn answered. “You don’t want to drink too much blood, but a bit helps.”
“They drink blood!” Mills whispered to Anaxis. “Just like the Gnirean in the stories!”
“We don’t make a practice of drinking blood,” Orn said, having overheard. “But its that or die in the scorching heat tomorrow. Which would you rather?”
Mills whimpered. “This is awful, just awful.”
“You can stop that self-pity right now, young man,” Orn said. “There’s no place for it in the desert. You follow Laquin and I and we’ll get you to safety, alright?”
Mills nodded and frowned.
“You said it will be four days, before we’re out of the desert?” Anaxis asked.
“That’s right,” Orn said. “Though we may be met with a flash storm, which would be a stroke of great fortune.”
Laquin, who was draining another of the Yuta’s of its blood, added, “Either a stroke of fortune or the worst thing we could ask for, depending on where we are when it happens.”
“How do you figure?” asked Xala.
“Well, if it happens tomorrow, we’re in luck, because tomorrow we’ll be walking over the Jarry Sand Wastes,” explained Laquin. “If it happens, say, the third or fourth day, when we’re in the Buntin Washes, it will drown us and carry our bodies out to sea.”
“How often do you have to make this journey?” Anaxis asked.
“Never,” answered Laquin. “I’m excited to see how it goes.”
“Excited?” Mills asked under his breath.
“That’s right,” Laquin answered. “You only get one life, right? Might as well fill it with novelty.”
“This one’s got a beaded bracelet,” Orn said from where he crouched over the third of the dead Yutas. “I’ve always said the beasts aren’t quite as savage as we’ve commonly thought.”
“Ah well,” said Laquin. “If it’s trying to kill me, I’m going to kill it. I don’t care if it’s wearing a dress and a tiara.”
“Are we supposed to sleep right here?” Xala asked.
“Here, on the sand, or over there,” Laquin answered.
“What’s over there?” asked Xala.
“Different sand,” answered Laquin.
“Oh, dear,” Xala sighed. “I just hope I can make it to wherever we’re headed.”
“We’ll make sure you do, Xala,” said Anaxis. “How much longer do you think we have, until the sun comes up?”
“Three, four hours,” answered Orn. “Get what rest you can. I’ll wake you when it’s time to go.”
Xala, Anaxis, and Mills laid down close to one another, to keep warm in the cold desert air.
“Do you think we’re going to be okay, Anaxis?” Mills asked as they fell asleep.
“I guess we can only wait and see,” answered Anaxis.