Chapter 1: Eavesdropper

"We never know the worth of water till the well is dry."

~ Thomas Fuller, Gnomologia, 1732

Follow the sun to the bending grass

Between the mountains through the pass

A songbird sings his tone so sweet

Listens the traveler with weary feet

Once in the valley there is no return

This is the home which you will learn…

The sun is absent in the evening sky, hidden behind a mountain ridge far off in the west. The coals of the fire before me are hot, and hungry for tinder. I sit with my knees up, turning a blade in my hands and watching the horizon. A cold breeze filters across the landscape, twirling dust from the ground and chilling my spine. The flames lap in the wind displeased.

It was so desolate in this part of the region. Most of the time I'm trekking through forests and jungles, not barren wasteland. You could see for miles and miles in each direction, with no points of interest. The most impressive thing out here was the small mountain range with the white caps. But who would want to go there, for it surely held a few Steelclaws.

My back aches from miles of walking in the brutal sunlight. With no suitable furniture around, this ground I sit upon offers little support. I feel foolish for trading my tent in the last town, but food is always the top priority. Besides, I haven't seen any rain in the past week or two.

A bug began crawling up my boot, and I kicked it away towards my gray tattered backpack. There was hardly anything inside, just a bottle of water and a lighter. It was rarely full, only when I would find something of trade value.

I sheathe the knife, lace my fingers behind my head, and lay back on the hard dirt. It won't take long to fall asleep out here; the cool air and spacious scenery are calming…

When I open my eyes again, I see a dark sky filled with thousands of stars. The moon is perched high, directly above me. I slowly rock myself into a sitting position, seeing the dying embers from my fire. I'm just about to toss some more wood on when I hear a noise in the distance. It's faint, but growing louder each second. Then I see it, far across the plains to my left I watch as two lights grow brighter. The sound finally registers in my mind - a truck's engine. I don't see many, and have only ever heard one or two working.

I quickly sense the panic rising in my stomach, and hastily kick the fire to nothing more than a blackened pile of ashes. Nothing left to do but duck low, I thought, just as the truck halted about 30 yards away. It was hard to tell what was happening in the limited lighting. I was guessing they were parked on the road that led from the town I came to the one I was heading towards.

There was a mound of dirt next to me, and I slowly crawled my way to the top. I squinted, straining to capture all the moonlight available to help form a picture or what was happening. The truck was old, from what I could see, with the left headlight nearly falling off. The driver-side door popped opened, and I pressed my chin into the dirt. A man exited, flipping on a flashlight and shining it back into the front of the truck. I could see a bit better now, and noticed another man exit on the other side. He must not have a door, I thought.

He too flicked on a dim flashlight, and I could see a shiny object glint in his hand before he disappeared around the back of the truck. I could hear the two of them talking, even laughing, but they were just out of earshot. I flinched as they let the tailgate slam down with a loud metallic bang. The smart thing to do right now would be to run, but the curiosity inside me was winning.

The two men worked together, both reaching into the back of the truck. I was now craning my neck to get a glimpse, when suddenly three more people appeared. The two men shoved them to the side of the road, pressing them all onto their knees. When I noticed their hands were bound, it became clear to me what was happening. It wasn't the first time I'd witnessed such an act, and in this world it won't be the last. The three newest members were frantically looking around in all directions, obviously unaware of their location. The two others walked over, removing the hostage's blindfolds, and ripping the tape from their mouths.

I decided I'd seen enough, and rolled back down the dirt mound to my ruined fire. They wouldn't bother me, if they didn't see me. Executioners usually just go about their business and go home. I closed my eyes trying to get back to sleep, which is pointless considering I would hear three gunshots fairly soon.

"Nooo!" a woman shrieked, making me cringe. My heart started racing, and I waited for the gunshot, but it never came. I groaned, and crawled back up the dirt mound.

The two executioners were now standing in front of the three, shining the lights in their faces. I could see the one closest to me now had blood dripping from his face. He had short, light hair and a tall structure.

Next to him was a woman with long dark, curly hair, crying frantically and rocking back and forth. It was hard to see the third, for whomever it was they were cowering behind the woman.

Ah, I get it, these are the kind of executioners that enjoy their job. Sick bastards, they love torturing, or 'playing', with their victims. They were talking to each other again, but I could only make out a few words. I crawled forward a bit, forcing my ears to hear them. I was almost too far out when I was satisfied.

"Waste of ammo…knife," one of them suggested.

Such a cruel way to die, to hear it coming I mean. Yes a knife is bad, but if it was a quick cut with no warning, it's no worse than a gun. Telling somebody you plan on cutting them is just wrong. The man started to holster his weapon, when suddenly the third captive jumped up and bolted straight for me.

"Hey!" the man shouted as she passed. He raised his gun and took a shot, the bullet whizzing right by me. I'm frozen, too shocked to move at all. As the figure neared, their body takes appearance; A young girl, with short orange hair and tarnished clothing. She was running up the mound to me, when she tripped and fell into the dirt. I remained still, and watched as the executioner hesitated.

"Well," his friend shouted, "Go get 'em!"

He holstered his gun again, "Nah, she won't last out here. Won't matter much anyway…"

The girl lifted her face out of the dirt and coughed, struggling to get back on her feet.

The executioner yelled up at her, "Watch this! You did this!"

She turned and watched as the man slammed the knife into the first captive's throat. It crunched going in, and the man gargled as the knife was removed. The second captive, the woman, began screaming hysterically, cut short by a boot to her face.

The girl was already sobbing, and began using her feet to kick herself up the mound.

"Don't kill her jus' yet…" one of them said grabbing the woman by the hair. "We'll have some fun with her."

That was my chance, I thought. The executioners took the screaming woman to the bed of the truck and I slowly began slipping away back down the hill. The girl hadn't noticed my exit either, luckily, and I remained quiet as she got up and took off down the road from which I came. For a while, I just plugged my ears and tried to sleep again, until the truck started back up. I listened as the driver door closed. They took off back down the road, and I gave it another good five minutes before I stood up.

It was dark again, and the moon was sitting a bit lower in the sky now. I grabbed my backpack off the rock I'd set it on and strapped it over my shoulders. Scanning the area cautiously, I edged my way down to the road and walked over to the dead captive's body. It was a grim and gruesome sight, of course, but nothing new out here.

Plastered with blood and sticking to him were a plaid, blue and yellow shirt and ragged jeans. It wasn't his shirt or pants I wanted though, it was his boots. They were worn, but not nearly as bad as mine were. I sat on the ground next to his body, removing his boots as well as mine. I held my breath as I slid my foot into the new boot, relieved when it fit. That was a surprise too, considering he was a man. I smiled happily while tying them on tight, sometimes you just have to enjoy the little things.

After I got the second boot on, I popped up and tried them out. I did a little dance, spinning in a circle and wiggling my hips around. I even rejected, laughing as I remembering the songs from a long time ago. I'm only in my twenties, but it seems like ages ago since civilization existed…

"Thank you," I whispered to the dead man. I left my ragged boots beside him, seeing no reason to put them on his feet. I did, however, take the time to close his eyelids with my fingers.

I jumped, and almost yelped when I heard the sound of rocks tumbling. I turned to see the girl from before, with her hands still tied, walking slowly my way.

I began backing away from her, keeping my hand by my knife. How pathetic it is that I have to keep so alert around just one other girl. I'm not a good fighter though, never was…

She was staring at the dead man, "My dad…"

I glanced, only for a moment, back at the corpse. "I-I just took his boots. I must be going."

"Wait," she stopped me. "Who are you? Untie me."

I ceased my retreat, and stood up tall. "Look, I'm not here to make friends. My name is Ashley, if it matters to you any."

She waited, hinting back to her bound hands. I took my time walking over to her and pulling out my rusted knife. I took her hands, noticing they were bloody and tender from the rope digging into them. I used the serrations on the back of the blade to saw up through the thin fabric, backing away once her hands were loose.

She smiled and let out a long drawn out breath. "Thanks…"

I stared at her from under my brow, "Yeah."

"Why are you so nervous?" she asked rubbing her wrists.

I was disappointed to see how obvious I must've been making it. "Just, cautious…"

"You seem tougher n' I do, I'm Jenny," she grinned holding out a bloody hand.

I stared at it for a moment, and decided she seemed harmless enough. I realize this is a bit much, but being alone for so long makes you a little awkward. I accepted the handshake, staring her back in the eyes. They were so vibrant and blue, they almost seemed fake. Then I realized she wasn't even looking directly at me.

I tilted my head to the side, gently releasing her hand. "Are…you?"

She seemed confused, and then her face lit up, "Oh, yes, I can't see very well."

"Very well? Your eyes aren't pale…" I replied.

She blinked hard, "I see blurry images, but not enough to make out your face."

I nodded, "Oh, I see…." I looked around the area, at the nothingness. "Well, I guess I'll see you around."

She grabbed my shoulder as I turned, and I instinctively shook her loose, "Watch it!"

"Sorry!" she apologized, "Look, can you take me back into town?"

I wrinkled my brow, "No, besides, why go back there? They'll kill you anyway."

"Not if I tell Josh first," she said.

I sighed, "Who?"

She shifted her position, looking around at the spot where her father was lying, "Josh, my boyfriend."

I couldn't stifle my laugh, "Boyfriend or not, I don't think he stands much of a chance against them. You're better off moving on up the road, there's a nice town abou-"

"No, Josh can help," she insisted.

What was her deal? She just escaped death, watched her parents get slaughtered, and all she cares about is her boyfriend? Oh well, it's her funeral, not mine.

I sighed, "Do whatever, I don't care. You know the way home."

"I need your help to get inside though…" she explained. I was just about to protest when her voice changed to a pleading tone, "Please…"

I stared off down the road; the sun would be rising in a few hours. I should really start listening to all the men who heckle me for traveling like I do. They were right, I'm too soft for such a job. I just couldn't picture a blind girl roaming the wasteland at night…alone.

I sighed and hung my head, "Fine, but if I get in any trouble," I warned, "I'm turning you in…"

Thanks for reading!

Chapter 2 coming soon!

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