We got back on the road and started walking. It was already dark and we were tired, but no one felt like waiting around.
I still wasn’t sure what to make of my companions’ view of me. I don’t think you could call it a compliment. Given the choice of superhero powers, I’m pretty sure most people wouldn’t consider being able to spot a dickhead at five hundred paces an insta-pick.
To be honest, though, I had no magical spidey-sense when it came to horrible people (despite Claire’s theory that my ‘gift’ was due to the old playground adage of ‘it takes one to know one’). A more accurate description would be to say I considered everyone I met to be a dick, and statistical probability just happened to always be in my favour.
“Do you think he’ll come after us?” asked Maurice.
“Sonny? I doubt it,” I replied. “He hasn’t got a horse so he’ll probably go to the farm to get one. Of course, he’s going to bad mouth us to the farmer, but that might turn out to be a good thing.”
“How’s that a good thing?” said Claire.
“The farmboys may already have figured out why we skipped out on their hospitality. If they’re worried we might blab about what they get up to, they could decide to help Sonny take care of us. But if he makes it sound like we’re even bigger psychos than them, they might think twice. I don’t know, it’s probably fifty-fifty, but I don’t think they’ll want to waste time chasing us when they have work to do and an ogre that still needs to be dealt with.”
We didn’t take a break until sunrise. It was much easier to find our way back to the river with a little light to guide us. We washed up, refilled our waterskins and picked some berries for breakfast.
There was still no sign of the city on the horizon, but from what the farmer’s wife had said, we still had a couple of days to go. I wasn’t too worried about our physical condition—even though my body was aching all over from my recent attempts at getting fit—my main concern was Sonny.
Even though I had made it sound unlikely that he would bother to come after us, the truth was Aussies knew how to hold a grudge. I could easily imagine him forgetting about the ogre and convincing the farmer to lend him his wagon. Even with those tired old horses, he’d easily catch us up.
Lunch was handled surprisingly efficiently. Two of us caught fish, two of us started a fire and then prepared the fish as they were caught, and the last person stood out on the road keeping a lookout. We were back on our way in under an hour.
By the time it was dark, we were properly wiped out. I insisted we take turns keeping watch, even though the suggestion received groans all round. Nothing had bothered us for the whole day, not even a questionable sound from the woods. I made various excuses why we needed to not let our guard down, but the real reason was the image I had in my mind of Sonny riding those horses into the ground trying to get his revenge on us. And by us, I mean me.
Maurice and Claire kept the first watch. Flossie and Dudley kept the second. And I kept the third alone, which I didn’t mind. Although I did wonder if the others had spent theirs talking about me. My watch was also the shortest, as I got everyone up as soon as the first rays of the sun appeared over the horizon.
We got going, the day passing much the same as the previous one, save for two things.
First, I had to stop for a toilet break and ran into the woods while the others waited for me. I got past the belt of trees that ran alongside the road and was about to drop trou, when I saw something strange through the trees on the other side of the river. Cliffs.
I splashed through the shallow water and ran to the treeline, very nearly falling to my death. Beyond the trees, the ground fell away in a sheer drop to a canyon below with a rocky bottom. I held on tightly to the tree trunk I had grabbed to stop myself running out into mid-air like Wile E. Coyote.
In a land named for its flatness, it was strange seeing such a shocking gash in the landscape. But not as shocking as what I saw lying at the bottom of the canyon.
I had to get on my stomach and peer over the edge to make sure it really was what I thought, but there was no doubt. Four women lay with their limbs twisted in unnatural positions. It was the four girls who had arrived in the clearing with us, and who had disappeared after the first day. Judging by the way they were positioned, and the fact two were still holding hands, it seemed obvious they hadn’t fallen, they’d jumped.
I made my way back to the others who complained loudly at my inability to do my business in a timely fashion. Which is when I realised I had forgotten to go, and still needed to. Rather than have to explain what I’d been doing, I squeezed my buttocks shut and decided to wait it out.
There was no reason not to tell them what I’d seen, but something told me to keep it to myself, at least for now. I think the others could tell something was on my mind, but they didn’t say anything. I guess they were used to my strange moods.
Those four girls had probably struck out for the city on the first day, thinking that civilisation might offer them something other than murder as an occupation. They would have had water, from the river, but who knew if they found much food? The berries we picked were a nice supplement, but even with all the fish we’d caught, we were still hungry. They must have been starving, and with no sign of their destination, it must have been hard to keep going.
The fact they refused to kill simply because it was expected of them was admirable. That they would rather die than play the role forced on them was kind of brave, I guess. I had succumbed to that pressure, and despised myself for it. Fortunately, I already despised myself for a bunch of other stuff, so I was used to it and didn’t feel the need to throw myself from a cliff. But who’s to say I wouldn’t end up wishing I had?
And if this really was a game, maybe the moment they died here, they woke up back home. Or maybe they woke up in another world, even crazier than this one.
It was because all these thoughts were swirling around in my head that I was the last to notice the second thing. I was a little behind the others so I walked into the back of Dudley before realising they had all stopped. I had to step past him to see what they were all staring at.
In the distance, right on the horizon, tall spires reached up like fingers. Their symmetrical sides and even spacing very clearly indicated they were man-made. The towers of a city.
We all looked at each other, elated that our journey really did have an end point, and one we looked like reaching. I felt a strange sadness, too. If those girls had kept going for a couple more hours, they would have seen the same sight, and maybe they would have made it.
Then again, would Fengarad offer anything different from Probet? Perhaps their decision to log out early and take their chances with whatever lay on the other side was the smart move. Only time would tell.