Lyana's Lament, Chapter 5

Lyana kicked at the grass and swore in the direction Clayton and his crew had traveled. As much as she wanted to give chase and wring some answers from him, there was little point. The deed was already done, and Rick didn’t care about the loss of half his passengers, so why should she? For all she knew, Clayton and his crew were the marshals they claimed to be, and they’d just delivered a particularly quick and brutal justice.

Besides, she’d given Rick her word that she’d protect his caravan. She couldn’t claim to be proud of her efforts thus far, but there was no reason she couldn’t do better from this point forward. Her destination was to the west, and it did her little good to get sidetracked by every tragedy she came across.

She climbed back into the cart with her bedroll and tried to sleep.

Unfortunately, sleep fled from her as effectively as Clayton had, and she ended up lying on her back, staring at the stars and letting her thoughts race in circles. She’d seen that pale blue glow before, deep under a mountain where a monstrous sagani had attempted to claim her body as its own. Tomas had told her the glow came from a nexus, powerful stones that were somehow connected to the sagani. He’d warned her, in no uncertain terms, that to touch one as a host was to die.

Funny that she’d come across the stones again now, on her way to find the man who’d saved her when she’d first encountered them. She could think of a dozen reasons why they’d been in this caravan, but couldn’t decide which, if any, was most likely.

The sun rose, finally putting an end to her sleepless night. She was tempted to connect with her sagani, but avoided it. That was the other lesson Tomas had taught her after he’d taken her from that nightmarish mountain. The less she used her sagani, the longer she would live before madness took her. It was hardest on mornings like this, when a slow trickle of the sagani’s strength would have wiped the weariness from her muscles like a week of enforced rest.

When Tomas had told her the simple trick to maintaining her sanity, she’d considered most hosts fools. Now, though, she understood better. The temptation to become stronger, to think faster, and to heal quicker was stronger than any hunger or thirst she’d experienced. Life was hard, particularly in the west, and becoming a host gave one the chance to rule over whatever small number of acres they called their own.

Today, she triumphed and let the sagani slumber.

She’d barely risen from the cart when Rick approached. He stopped several paces short of her and studied her like she was a mystery to be solved. When he spoke, it was as a believer confessing his sins to the local priest. “After we left town, Clayton told me he planned on arresting the family. Told me they were transporting stolen goods.”

“Do you believe him?”

“Not for a moment, but what could I do? I asked him to keep you free of it, though. I got the sense you might fight him, if you weren’t made aware. I was hoping to avoid bloodshed if I could. Turns out, it didn’t much matter.”

Lyana glanced back at the covered wagon, quiet as it had been most mornings, but for a decidedly different reason. “It sure didn’t.”

“For what little it’s worth, I’m sorry. I’ll pay you Clayton and his crew’s share when we reach Razin. I figured there might be trouble, but nothing like this.”

Lyana bowed. “Obliged. If you don’t think he was a marshal, what do you think he was?”

Rick shrugged. “Couldn’t say. I probably don’t need to tell you, on account of your recent service, but the whole west has been thrown into turmoil over the last couple of years, thanks to Tomas and the army bringing down the church the way they did.”

Lyana didn’t react to Tomas’s name, or the bitterness with which it was said, but only because it had been on the lips of so many people lately. She’d first heard his name trickle east first because of the Chesterton Massacre, but since then she’d heard it in other contexts, too. Rumor had it he’d been working with the 34th when they formed the tip of the spear that stabbed deep into the heart of the church. To hear some tell it, he’d single-handedly ended the church’s rebellion against the government.

She’d believed some rumors, as it seemed very much the sort of trouble he’d get into, but she hadn’t realized they were whispered outside the army barracks, too.

“You think all of that has to do with Clayton?”

“Good as guess as any, I figure. The church has splintered into dozens of factions. The Family isn’t as strong as they once were, and the land is still flooded with veterans of both your war and the one previous. Sometimes I think people out here have more reasons to fire a gun than there are guns.”

“Nothing more dangerous than a closely held belief,” Lyana agreed.

“I hate to ask it of you, but I need you to stay behind while I lead the caravan on. I’ll tell the others some version of what happened here, but I plan on sparing them the details. Once we’re out of sight, dispose of the bodies, then catch up to us with the wagon.”

Lyana didn’t bother protesting. Considering she now stood to make more money on this trip than she’d saved in the last year in the army, Rick could ask her to do basically whatever he pleased. If he wanted her to jump on one foot while singing the anthem, she’d ask him how loud he wanted the chorus. She agreed, and Rick began the morning as he would any other. Before long, the rest of the caravan pulled away, leaving her alone with a wagon full of dead people.

She watched them go while she debated how best to handle the task given to her by Rick. In the end, she opted for simplicity. Once the rest of the caravan was out of sight, Lyana pulled the bodies, one at a time, out of the covered wagon. She grabbed them by their feet and tugged, and once they were on the ground, she pulled them away from the trail, far enough they would raise the alarm of any other riders or caravans passing through. Of course, given how trains were now taking more passengers west than horses, Rick’s caravan might be the last one going this way for quite some time.

After she’d pulled them all away from the trail, she searched their clothing for clues. She struck it rich when she put her hand in the son’s left pocket. There was a small case there, and as her hand came close, she felt something she hadn’t sensed in a very long time. It called to her, promising both strength and respite.

Lyana pulled her hand out of the pocket and backed away, staring at the corpse as though it were covered in scorpions. Her heart pounded in her chest, and she took a full minute to regain her focus. She was being a fool. The stone was in the case, so there was nothing for her to worry about. She reached back in, grabbed it, and was about to slip it into her own pocket when she hesitated.

She opened the case and was welcomed by that familiar pale blue glow. The pull it exerted was almost physical, as though it had wrapped a tiny lasso around her fingers and pulled them closer.

Tomas had touched the nexus and lived to tell about it. If anything, he’d emerged from the experience stronger than before, more in control of his sagani.

If he could, why couldn’t she?


Chapter 6 is here

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