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Badlands V: The Hatching
(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)

This contribution is part of a series:-
1. Badlands (5-Jun-2014)
A knight and a demon, on a mission to save a town from an unknown danger.
2. Badlands II: God of Wrath (16-Jul-2014)
Revisiting an old love, the knight finds her missing. Only the demon can help find her - and, if possible, to rescue her from where she is.
3. Badlands III: Boat on the River (3-Dec-2014)
Something strange is happening to the world and the knight and the demon must solve the problem if they are to survive.
4. Badlands IV: The Beginning (3-Jan-2015)
Where it all began - The demon, the knight and the beast meet each other for the first time.
5. Badlands V: The Hatching (8-Feb-2015)
About a mountain slope on a winter night, a lost girl, a meeting with an entity, and how something was created, immortal and dangerous.
6. Badlands VI, VII & VIII (7-Sep-2015)
Three new parts to the series.
7. Badlands IX: The Mountain God (31-Jul-2016)
An erupting volcano, a cult which lives on its slopes, and the knight, the beast and the demon must attempt a rescue mission.

Page 1

All the short winter day, the tribe had laboured to make its way down to the pass. It was hard going, especially since the herd was restless and the cold was intense, but they had to do it or spend the night freezing on the exposed slopes, and nobody wanted to do that.

They would not have been in this situation, if only winter hadn’t come so early this year. The witchman should have known, but had not predicted it, despite all the usual ceremonies and sacrifices he’d made in the autumn. And when the winter had clamped down, like a fist squeezing the world in its grip, they’d still been on the high plateau, and only beginning to ready for their migration down to the plains.

Even now, they could not ask the witchman about it, or demand explanations. He was above criticism or questions, and being too insistent was not healthy. The witchman might not have powers which always worked, but he had his own group of armed followers ready to enforce his commands.

So even the Elder Council of the tribe couldn’t criticise the witchman, but they were as desperate as any of the rest, and they took out their desperation on everyone else. And as the slow trek down the mountain continued, the snow grew thicker, the cold more intense, and the anger all around threatened to boil over.

They could have abandoned the animals, of course, and made better time, but the herd was all the wealth of the tribe. If the herd was lost there would be no future for anyone. The tribe would have to find new herds, or find another way to survive. Both were equally impossible, in this day and age.

And if they didn’t get down to the plains before the pass was blocked, they’d lose the herd anyway, and that would be the end of them too.

Santi knew nothing of any of this, because nobody ever spoke of it, except maybe the Elders whispered of it to each other behind their hands when they were sure the witchman’s people weren’t listening. All she knew was that she was tired out, and very cold, colder than she’d ever been in her life, despite the skin cloak she wore and the fur-lined shoes lashed with leather thongs to her feet. And she was hungry, so hungry that she had almost forgotten what it was like to have eaten.

Everyone was in the same condition, so it wouldn’t have done any good to complain. She bent forward under the bag she’d been given to carry, which was really far too heavy, and slogged on, wiping the snow out of her face and trying not to think of anything.

By her side, Aachi trotted, sometimes nuzzling at her and watching her out of great liquid eyes. The calf was not only orphaned but undersized, and would normally have been slaughtered as too weak to be worth the effort. But Aachi had been born with bright, golden-white fur, such a rarity among the rich chocolate brown and midnight black of the herd that the Elders had decreed that the calf might be allowed to live, so that, if she survived, she might in future make babies with the same colour.

Now, though, her golden-white fur was partly obscured by the load tied to her back, and the rest of it was so matted with slush and mud that it was, like everything else, a dingy brown.

Occasionally, as she walked, Santi reached out and fondled Aachi’s ears and nose, or rubbed the top of her hard little head. The calf was her personal charge, given to her because the little orphaned animal needed a foster mother, and she was just about old enough to give her that care. But over the few months that they’d been together, the bond between them had grown to something that almost approached friendship on the girl’s part.

And on the calf’s part? Who can say? But Aachi stuck closer to Santi than any other calf, at least a fostered one, stuck by the side of its mother.

The gloom above darkened noticeably, and a wind whipped across the slope, knifing through everyone’s leather cloaks like paper. The herd rustled and grumbled, uneasy. Aachi whimpered.

"Hold on," Santi told her, rubbing her neck. "We’ll stop soon. We’ve got to stop soon."

Santi’s own foster mother, Aanjn, walked past leading a line of animals roped together and burdened down with bundles. "We won’t stop before we get down to the pass," she said. "Even if it’s night before we reach it, and it will be, we’ll have to keep going."

[ Continue to page 2 ]

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Genre:General Horror
Type:Short story
Rating:7.87 / 10
Rated By:10 users
Comments: 1 user
Total Hits:13962

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