The walk home was slow. Although the idea of such an adventure and becoming a legend seemed exciting at the time, the weight of what he had just agreed to was finally starting to sink in. Thomas suddenly wished he had ordered something stronger than water back at the tavern, a nice potent ale perhaps. It was too late now, and there was certainly no way he was going to turn around and go back.
The eerie silence that haunted the streets when Thomas was walking was still present. He didn’t mind it so much now. It gave him the luxury of zoning out without worrying about bumping into other people.
Despite walking as slow as possible in order to give himself time to think, Thomas eventually made it past the abandoned buildings and markets to his house. He stopped in front of the door and took a deep breath to put himself in the right state of mind.
Just walking into his house was a fool’s errand. The smell was overwhelming when you first entered, even to Thomas. He opened the door to find a large insect come out of hiding and scurry past his foot.
Thomas ignored it; he needed to go back to sleep. Thomas stepped inside and pushed the door closed behind him. He drudged over to the couch and with one sweep of his arm, cleaned the garbage off the couch. He plopped down on the couch and managed to doze off within a few seconds.
It was a short-lived nap, much to Thomas’ dismay. It wasn’t the voices, as it had been so many times before. As easy as it would’ve been to blame them, Thomas woke up simply because he fell off of the couch. The ensuing thud of his body hitting the floor was enough to jolt him back into consciousness.
“Go figure,” Thomas muttered.
It was probably for the best, he did have to pack. He lurched over to the closet and nudged the door open. Some papers, along with a small box, fell out. It took a minute of rummaging for Thomas to find his travel bag. It wasn’t very large, but it would serve his purposes just fine.
Bag? Check, clothing? Thomas thought about it for a second, deciding whether or not he should bring extras. He was going to be travelling through a desert and a jungle. The clothes he was wearing should be fine. They were loose and light. Food and drink were the higher priority; extra clothes would just weigh him down. Thomas grabbed the bag and headed towards the kitchen.
Finding food supplies was easy enough. Thomas needed only to clear out his pantry for that. Most of it was canned goods; finally being too stubborn to cook for himself had paid off. He grabbed several cans randomly and tossed them into the empty bag. There wasn’t any logic to it when Thomas did stop. He was sure to leave room for drinks. Water was just as important as food, given the climate of the Deadlands, probably more so.
Thomas put the bag down on the floor and walked over to the cooling unit. He opened it, thinking that there would be something to keep him hydrated. There wasn’t much. He was down to nothing but some old milk and a bottle of ale. It didn’t matter; Thomas could buy water from one of the local merchants for cheap.
With that, Thomas closed the bag, picked it up, and headed out to the foyer. There was only one more thing that needed to be taken care of, finding a weapon. If used creatively, Thomas knew that anything could be used as a weapon. The problem lay in the fact that nothing he had would do any good against someone like Kul.
Thomas rummaged through his house for over an hour. The only thing he had found was an old slingshot. It wasn’t even a very good one, a cheap toy he had received as a child. It was a Y-shaped stick with a piece of elastic stretching across the top with a small pouch where the shooter placed the stone. It certainly wasn’t much, but it was all he had and it was better than nothing. Thomas’ aim was never spectacular, but he would have to make due. As a fallback, Thomas went back into the kitchen and grabbed the biggest butcher knife he could find.
He had everything he needed, except water. That could be gotten later. Thomas went over to the travel bag and put the knife and sling inside. He went through a mental checklist. Outside of water and some stones for his sling, both of which could be acquired en route to the airship, he had everything he needed. That meant just one thing; it was time for a nap.
Much to Thomas’ delight (had he been conscious to experience it that is), the voices stayed quiet. For the first time in a long while, Thomas slept peacefully. He dreamt of returning to Crenshaw after the epic battle with Kul. King Arden had rewarded him with a cart full of gold coins and had a professional team hired to clean his house. The dream was cut short when Thomas fell off the couch. His head hit the hard wood floor with a thud. He screamed and cursed as he shot back into consciousness and held his head in a futile attempt to stop the throbbing.
It had gotten dark outside, but Thomas wasn’t sure what time it was exactly. He assumed it was close enough to dawn that he might as well leave now. If he was early, he was early. As long as the tavern was empty, Thomas had nothing to fear. He got to his feet and grabbed the bag. Hard as it was to part with the pile of trash that was his house, Thomas managed to walk out the door with little fuss. As he closed the door, he took a quick scan of the area to see if he could find any stones. He was only able to find a small handful, but it would do for now. He picked them up and put them in his pocket.
The walk to the tavern had been a stark contrast to the one that Thomas had taken a few hours earlier. It was not even dawn yet, but merchants were already setting up their shops. Thomas saw a group of elves walking from house to house, leaving fresh samples of their cookies on the doorstep. It was a common tactic the little bakers used to get people to buy their goods. An elf waddled over to Thomas and handed him a cookie. He was waist high and wore all green. His brown hair was brushed to the side and a large smile covered the lower half of his face. Thomas accepted the cookie and thanked the elf. He couldn’t help but chuckle as the elf let out a giddy yelp before starting to skip down the street to the next house.
Thomas looked at the cookie. It was wrapped in clear plastic and sealed with a large red bow. He pondered over whether he should eat it now or save it for later. Thomas unzipped his bag and slid the cookie under the flap before reclosing it. He wasn’t starving. Besides, the cookie could come in handy later.
Even from a distance, Thomas could tell that he was not the first one to reach the tavern. Out in front of the tavern, in the middle of the road, sat a conspicuously large jet. Three people sat outside of it, leaning against the wall of the tavern.
When Thomas made it over, Karok and Sarge both stood up. Saul simply sat with his eyes closed. The old man was running his fingers through his beard as if in deep thought. All three of them looked at Saul, expecting him to get up. Saul didn’t. Kark nodded an acknowledgment and even Sarge grunted.
“We’re all set. You just gotta load your stuff on the plane and we can head out. Hope you got enough supplies, water especially. You’ll need it trekking across the Deadlands,” Sarge said.
“Water, crap, I knew I forgot something. Hold on one second I’ll be right back,” Thomas said as he bolted towards the nearest merchant.
Fortunately for Thomas, merchants were in abundance in this particular part of town. Thus, it was a quick run. Thomas reached into his pockets and grabbed all the money he had. He handed it to the clerk and asked for as much water as the money could buy. The man nodded and pulled out five large canteens. They were solid brown and equipped with straps for easy carrying. Thomas grabbed them, put his bag down and reopened it. He tossed the canteens in with his other supplies and reclosed the now crammed bag. He picked it up and ran to rejoin the others.
“You’re off to a good start kid,” Sarge joked.
Thomas didn’t respond. Instead, he just went over to the cargo hold on the side of the plane and tossed his bag in. As Thomas looked in, he noticed there wasn’t much. It was odd, given the length of the journey. Aside from his bag there were only three others. Each one was large and filled to capacity. In addition to those, a pair of swords lay in sheaths against the wall. Beside them, there was a large assortment of firearms. Thomas would’ve been ashamed, having only a slingshot, but he had seen this coming from the very beginning. The others hadn’t seen his arsenal, so luckily he wouldn’t have to take any grief for it yet.
Sarge came up and slammed the cargo door shut and made sure it was secure. The three of them walked onto the airship. The interior was quite impressive, larger then the outer hull led them to believe. Most airships appeared huge, only to have tiny cabins. The rest went to the engines, a thick hull, and weaponry should the owner wish to have it. Sarge’s somehow went in the other direction. The seats were cushioned and there was plenty of legroom. Karok sat in the first seat on the left side of the ship and strapped himself in. Thomas took the seat across the aisle and did the same. Sarge’s pilot seat was up closer to the nose of the plane and centered between the two chairs. Sarge started up the ship and they soon took off.
No one said anything for most of the flight. Karok stared out the window and Sarge focused on piloting the ship. Thomas followed Karok’s lead, sitting quietly in his chair and staring out the window.
As the craft got closer to the Deadlands, the voices started up. It was only whispers, but Thomas still took it as a bad sign. Between the demonic voices and the quasi-omnipotent warlock that waited for them at the end of their trail, there seemed to be little to look forward to.
The ship began to shake. It started as mild turbulence, but soon grew more and more violent. Thomas was thankful that the ship’s straps were as secure as they were. Even with those, the violent shaking was getting bad. A sharp jerk threw Thomas’ head slamming into the wall.
“Ow! Son of a…” Thomas yelled as he grabbed his head and massaged it, trying to ease the throbbing pain.
“We can’t stay in the air like this. I’m taking her down,” Sarge yelled back to them.
Karok, oddly, wasn’t fazed. He simply sat there with his eyes closed. His hands held on to the armrests, but he wasn’t clutching at them the way he should’ve been.
Despite Sarge’s best efforts to stabilize the landing, the shaking only got worse. When the ship did hit, it hit hard. Even Karok let out a grunt as they collided with the ground. The ship continued to skid while Sarge appeared to hit every button and pull every lever trying to slow them down. The endless sea of sand dunes that made up the Deadlands was visible through the front windows. They had, at least, made it out of Crenshaw.
The ship started to slow down, and eventually, came to a complete stop. Though the ship had stopped, it took several seconds for everything around Thomas to stop spinning.
“Nice landing,” Thomas muttered.
“Bite me,” Sarge snapped.
“We should go. We have a lot of ground to cover,” Karok added out of nowhere.
Thomas’ jaw dropped. After all this time, it turned out the warrior could talk. Sarge didn’t seem to take in the significance of what had happened the same way Thomas did.
“He’s right,” Sarge said.
With that, the trio got up and de-boarded the wrecked ship. They walked around to the cargo hold and Sarge opened the door. The cargo seemed undamaged; it wasn’t even displaced. Everyone grabbed their respective bags and gear. Thomas peeked into his bag just to make sure that the canteens hadn’t leaked; they hadn’t.
Sarge claimed two of the other bags, in addition to the pile of guns. Sarge had brought two revolvers, a machine gun, and another weapon that Thomas didn’t recognize. It looked more advanced than any weapon Thomas had seen and much larger too. Sarge holstered the two revolvers. Like Karok’s blades, the other two guns were equipped with straps. The machine gun hung off of Sarge’s shoulder while the other unknown weapon hung behind the soldier’s back.
“What is that thing?” Thomas asked.
“This? This is a laser pulse rifle. I built it myself. This baby can level a frakkin’ house. I figured we could use all the firepower we could muster.”
“I’ve never heard of such a thing,” Thomas said perplexed.
“My own design, very cutting edge.”
As Sarge and Thomas discussed firepower, Karok got his own things in order. He put the sheath straps to use and hung them off his back. The swords formed an X on his back with the sword handles sticking up behind his shoulders for easy access.
“Everyone ready?” Karok asked.
Both Thomas and Sarge looked at him and nodded. With that, the three began to walk towards the Deadlands.
It was a short trip from the crash site to the border of the Deadlands. The division between the normal land and Deadlands was obvious as it formed a perfectly straight line where fertile grass became dead, useless soil.
All that lay ahead of them was a never-ending plain of sand dunes. Off in the distance, Thomas saw something burst from the sand. It was only a silhouette, but the thing, whatever it was, was gigantic. The sun, hovering above the horizon, made it difficult to discern what it was. It seemed to be cylindrical in shape and wasn’t interested in staying above the ground. Rather, it popped out, only to plunge back into the sand.
The process took a few minutes. Thomas the creature had to be at least a hundred feet long. Both Karok and Sarge joined Thomas in watching the tail of the creature disappear beneath the sand.
“What…what was that?” Thomas asked.
“That, is a creature called the sand worm. It’s one of the mant friendly inhabitants that we’re likely to run into on this little stroll. Welcome to the Deadlands, kid,” Sarge answered as the three looked on into the vast desert.