"Earth, Fire, Water"


Nenka, Nek, Jaqu, Zach, Bob Minner and the small army all left their tables and drinks quickly as soon as Rengarde started for the door. What he was planning was anyone's guess.
"What was he saying to you?" asked Nenka.
Nek told him of the amulets and of the strange behavior of the land. Nenka remained silent the entire time, especially whilst Nek described the amulets. He seemed to know more than what he acknowledged, but he said nothing, even after Nek had finished, silence was his answer. Nek noticed nothing of the sort and simply took his silence to be incredulity. Jaqu still knew and Zach had learned a bit from his opponents. Newkan Irakiv, as always, had been out mapping the land. He came back murmuring disbelief under his breath. Apparently, he had borne witness to all that had been told to Nek.
"Where are we going?" Asked Zach.
"We seek an old man. I have just confirmed that he lives, or once lived in Navarna Wasteland, a two days' march away. We may reach him soon, I now see."
"So is that where we are off to?"
"That is where we hope to go."
"I believe I saw among the dunes a shack or cottage as I was mapping the land. A garden about the dwelling place was a bit unkempt, but not completely unmaintained, for it seemed to me that there was among the shrubs small fruits. It is therefore my guess that he still lives, for it would be him, or that he has but recently perished." Newkan said hopefully.
"So then there is still hope. Would you be able to conduct us to this dwelling or which you speak?"
"I have marked his house as notable on the map, for the country about is penurious and there is little to see."
"These are indeed good tidings, for now the quest can begin forthwith. We must, however, prepare you and my men, for even as we speak they tire."
"I must warn you, before we embark, that the journey was, even for me, hard and greatly taxed my endurance. The surrounding land yields little that delights the eye and minds will doubtless be quick to tire. Only shall you take the strongest of your men, or those whose will is unfaltering."
Said Rengarde then, "Then it is settled, we will leave just as we are wakened by the cocks who still see the sun. But first, come! For there is much to do ere we leave."
Rengarde took them down a forest path, lantern in hand, for the day quickly darkened under the shadow of the land looming above and the air stagnated, grew colder. Many men wept as the procession slowly made its way through the forest, for they would not see the sky again for years.
After a fashion, they came to a glade wherein a small village had been righted. There stood at the far end a barracks towards which the remainder of Rengarde's men walked dejectedly. There had been hastily erected in the clearing several shops and other smaller buildings, most probably for higher-ranking officials. Rengarde led them towards the armory, from which issued a steady line of simply accoutered soldiers. They entered and found within a large selection of armor and weapons, most cheaply made of thin metal and limited resources. Nenka's eyes bulged when he saw the prices.
"You must understand that here our resources are limited, for there is but one mine on this world."
Nenka looked at him, nonplussed, cocking his head slightly to the side.
Rengarde snorted impatiently, "The land does not permit us to delve into its skin. There is but one place, many leagues distant, that we can create such mines as are necessary to bring wherewithal to the surface, and that is all about the Source, of which your friend has undoubtedly told you, where the land is quiet."
Nenka nodded, he did understand. But there was something that still troubled his thoughts, something he did not understand. When earlier Nek had told to him of the amulets, he had felt that there was something he should have remembered. He knew he knew something more of those amulets, that sometime during his travels, he had become more deeply involved in them than he now remembered.
The vacationers, who now knew that they were no longer indeed vacationers, were soon suitably equipped, and, fortunately, for them and for their wallets, Rengarde made the purchases. They lugged them back to their cabins; little more than tents, for the army was now much smaller, after they were split asunder by the mountain range, and took full advantage of the hiatus by resting. Nenka changed out of his shirt, still wet from his battle with the can, into a rough, uncomfortable wool shirt given him by one of the men he had befriended in the bar, here there was little mistrust. It sufficed, and it was quite warm, and so Nenka was quite thankful that he had anything other than a wet shirt to wear for however much more time they were spending on this desolate planet, for the Anteres VI had quite unfortunately been left somewhere, though where exactly, he could but guess.
It was then that he slept, though he was sure many hours were left in the day. The encampment was silent but for the sweet, frightened melodies of the birds, for every planet must have birds, and it was this lullaby that lured lethargy to creep over him. If only the birds' plights could melt the heart of the enemy as they could the soul of almost any mortal…

Third installment to be continued...