There are few to remember the acts of men in the emptiness of time. When time pours itself out, no legends, no myths, no legacy continue on to hold up the names of courage and sacrifice in a land where everyone does the unthinkable for their next meal, facing horrors, selling one’s body or soul, or scraping lichens off stone if they are lucky enough to find them.
Sometimes, though. Sometimes I encounter a man who should belong among the legends, even though we have forsaken them ourselves. Jendis of the Cagarthet nomads was such a man.
The tsheemarocs advanced upon us, darkening the morning sky. The Cagarthets gasped sounds of ruin and death.
Even against the worst of monsters, man’s brain is the most dangerous weapon in these desolate times, but some bestial catastrophes are too much for it. Even so, I opened my mind to the great vision of our surroundings, looking for an impossible opportunity of escape.
Our camp of three sections rested among the sandhills just above the river, foothills far to the east and a dead forest of kratcher trees to the west. Giant gobahrs appeared from every direction, tiny in the distance, lumbering toward the swarm to hunt the tsheemarocs as their frenzied assault on the ground brought them near.
There was no way to escape them. They came too fast, and we were too close to the middle of their course.
“This is the end,” said Jendis. He gripped my arm. “Mallocrest. Save who you can.” He must have seen the bleakness I felt, because he shook his head and said, “I know.” He grabbed his shotgun and ran for the covered corral.
I grabbed Enta under my arm and sprinted to our tent. Inside I picked up my semi-auto rifle and slung it over my shoulder, my handguns already holstered on each side. I whooped for Jendis’s son and daughter, Burr and Leeta, the only ones of his left, and we ran hard out of camp toward the foothills. It was desperate hope, but hope nonetheless, that propelled me with that greatest vanity of wishful thinking that maybe we would make it out of the tsheemarocs’ path.
Over and around sandhills we ran, the distance so small in this vast expanse. Leeta faltered, so I slowed us to the top of a grassy dune to survey our position and revisit the vision in my mind. The Cagarthet’s livestock, near a hundred backabans, scattered toward the dead forest, Jendis among them, clubbing them on the shanks and firing his shotgun to keep them running.
“Let’s go!” I don’t know if Burr and Leeta can see as far as me. Few can. But the tsheemarocs surged toward Jendis, and I didn’t want them to witness their father rent to pieces.
When Burr and Leeta could truly go no further, I stopped them at the base of a sandhill to drink while I trotted to the top. Without thinking I still carried Enta up with me. It didn’t matter. I hide nothing from her.
I could not find Jendis in the frenzy. He was probably already gone, but after studying the scene for a minute, I realized what he’d done. By scattering the backabans, he slowed down the tsheemarocs and redirected them ever so slightly to the west.
It probably wasn’t enough, but in this desolate time, life survives upon the slimmest margins and the thinnest lines of luck. Jendis traded his certain death for the slightest trace of advantage he knew would not be enough to save us.
“Do you think Jendis made it?” asked Enta.
I will never lie to her. Sometimes the fate of a man is a mystery that you will never find out, whether his chances were good or minute. And although I will never know Jendis’s end, I am certain of it.
“I’m sorry, Enta.” She nestled into my shoulder, and I stroked her hair.
There’s nothing new in the emptiness of time, and the things of old are stale and dim. But there are moments that are worthy of legend, even if they will never be known.