Malken and Rachel waited in darkness as the sounds of fighting in the distance crested, and then finally began to fade away.
As they waited, Rachel pondered. Every indication she had come across so far was that Xavier had headed south. That meant traveling through quite a lot of country controlled by animal people. Unfortunately, from what Malken had said on their trip out of the Deadlands it sounded like the Sundlin army had razed its way up the easiest route from Henka to the south-western lands of the nearby Confederacy. Which in turn meant that a pair of humans was likely to find a lot of welcomes like the one she and Malken had just received on the streets of Henka.
That was a major problem. Sedgewick was leery of taking control of her body too often, and to be honest she wasn't a big fan of that idea, either. She hadn't been offered much chance to worry about it initially, but the idea of some sort of snake god controlling her was kind of freaking her out. In any case, relying on Sedgewick to force their way through a large amount of desert seemed like a great way to lose parts of herself she couldn't recover.
Any way she sliced it, they needed Bafubani. The rabbit woman was angry, ornery, and way too quick to go swinging her giant hammer around, but Rachel was certain she would prove a powerful deterrent to being randomly attacked by random animal people. She'd been thinking about how to get the rabbit woman to listen to her, going over everything she remembered her saying with a fine-tooth comb, and Rachel at least had an idea for how to make her listen. Assuming the woman was still alive and in a position Rachel could help her.
Sedgewick, thought Rachel. Do you think Bafubani is likely to survive her little attempted suicide-by-army just now?
Sedgewick was silent a moment, though Rachel felt him turning the thought over. From the little that I have observed her in combat, I would give her even odds. Against individuals such as those we fought, she would be a formidable opponent. Given enough numbers, and without a large external distraction such as ourselves, however…I doubt the rabbit would retreat when outmatched.
Even odds, huh? That was better than Rachel herself had assumed, though now she thought of it Bafubani did successfully fight her way out of the center of the Sundlin army when Sedgewick tossed her over toward the weapon they were readying on the top of that dune. It was possible Rachel's perception was skewed by how quickly Bafubani backed down when Sedgewick first asserted himself. With that in mind, and given that she was what Bill would have called a "named character"…yeah, Rachel was willing to bet Bafubani was alive. Alive, and definitely in trouble.
If I could get her to open up to us, I think Bafubani could make our trip south a lot smoother. Do you think we could sneak over where the Sundlin were fighting and look for her without needing to fight ourselves?
Sedgewick coiled uneasily. Perhaps. If we cooperate, hmmm. Yes, I think we could make that work. The human would slow us down, however.
Right, Malken. Where did he fit into the little narrative Rachel was trying to build? She already knew he wanted to accompany her to the Confederacy; they'd talked about that on the way to Henka. If nothing else, it would provide him with a land largely populated by humans in which to find a new life. So, she took him with her, he blew her cover, and they had a massive fight on their hands. She left him here…yeah, he'd be found for sure. She wasn't sure where things would go from there; maybe he'd end up coming to her aid when the soldiers mistook him for one of their own. Maybe he'd be imprisoned and in need of rescuing himself. It was a risk either way. And if she encouraged him to make his way through town and try to meet him on the other side…well, same risks, except that he might find water on the way, which was something she was unlikely to be in a good position to accomplish herself.
Rachel felt around until she encountered Malken, then slid up next to him so she could speak in as quiet a tone of voice as she could manage. «Malken, I'm going to see if I can find Bafubani. We need a beast person if we're going to get safely down the valley, and she's our best bet. Can you take the canteens and try to find a well, then meet us on the south side of Henka?»
«That is risky, but I will try.»
«Thanks.» Rachel patted his shoulder and moved back to her pack, finding the empty canteens and water jug she had been hefting with herself by feel and passing them to Malken as quietly as she could. Wait. This was a world without cell phones or GPS.
Sedgewick, how will we find Malken?
Place your hand on the human's arm again.
Rachel moved back over to Malken, doing as Sedgewick had asked. «I'll find you whether I locate Bafubani or not.»
Sedgewick uncoiled slightly within her mind, and Rachel sensed the steady nima of Malken's upper arm shift and warp slightly. He sucked in a breath.
«What did you just do? That felt—strange.»
Sedgewick? «I—evidently marked you. It won't do any harm, and will dissipate within a day, but I'll be able to find you. That shoulder might be a little numb, though. Sorry.» Really? There are snakes who can track prey they've bitten based on their venom?
I have assimilated such before, yes.
And this isn't going to harm Malken?
Beyond a temporary localized numbness, no.
Good enough. She sensed more than saw Malken moving his arm about, and she could imagine the grimace on his face.
Alright, she couldn't think of anything else she needed to do to prepare, and the night was wasting. How are we going to do this, Sedgewick?
Hold still a moment, and I will adjust your senses. You humans are useless in the dark.
A few breaths later, and the darkness around her shimmered, flexed, and then broke. Although she couldn't tell for sure, Rachel was certain color had just fled her world. However, she could see the outlines of the walls, and Malken was shining brightly with one of those non-colors that she was certain were nima or heat. Or maybe a combination of both.
She looked directly at him, and Malken started then stilled. «I'm going. See you soon.»
«Ah, uh, yes. Good luck.»
Rachel turned and left, Malken's whispered words trailing after her. She was nervous, but whatever Sedgewick had done to her senses appeared to have drawn them closer together and his feelings of anticipation of a hunt were bleeding into her own emotions.
Luck? Who needed luck? She had a giant snake.
Rachel slid out the door of the building they'd sheltered in, and stalked into the night.