When Trace told me some creatures called remediers took my Enta, I delved into inquiry with him, encouraging him to talk until he was spent.
He spoke of the remediers in disjointed words. At first he talked of wrathe-like forms visiting the camp and touching them all, but I soon realized he perceived any living creature not partaking of the pilo as blurry shapes without substance. Trace rambled on about their temperament, the way they helped the pilolites get the most of the pilo and brought them new blood, even new pilos sometimes. It took some time for his corrupted mind to form a corporeal image of them.
“They’re like bugs.” He woke me from a haze after we’d been underneath the same rock for three days, avoiding the sizzling rain that melts the skin if you are under it for long.
I grabbed my pistol. “Where?”
“The remediers are like bugs, but we called them kazhasha.”
I holstered my pistol. “What kind of bugs?”
“What is a camberskop?”
We huddled against the stone. Some of the rain had splattered my pack, turning the hide white, so I pulled it in closer.
“The kazhashas’ bodies are like a four-legged tree trunk, round, hard, and rough, and their neck sticks out like a pole, but not quite so long as the camberskops. Their heads—the kazhashas’—are the most like bugs, big eyes bulging out of the upper sides, and….”
“I can’t see their mouths.” He squinted. “Try as I can, I can’t see them.”
We devised a plan to bring them to us. I was to sell him to deenay feeders, and when he did not participate in their way of consumption, the kazhashas would be informed and come for him. We didn’t understand them well enough to plan further, but he was willing, which gave me some small concern.
I can count the number of men I care about on one hand, all the rest being stitched out of pure evil, and I must ceaselessly guard against them. This man, Trace, was nearly a wasted soul, but I was grateful to him for the small assistance that may lead me to Enta. I took a wary liking of him as we traveled the next several days looking for feeders of the Desiderasha. He was eager and the focus on our mission seemed to calm him.
I led him through the lowlands of Sheckleggen to avoid the porgrent migrations through the knolls. “I think our plan might leave you too vulnerable.”
Trace caught up to me. “How?”
“Won’t the temptation be too great to join the feeders?”
The look on his face displayed an intense disgust and nausea far beyond what I expected. “Impossible.”
Further questioning revealed that different kinds of feeders of the Desiderasha repulsed each other. I mentioned many to him, oolblasts, fangelles, crusties, and others. As long as we avoided the pilolites, he should be okay.
We came across a cluster of hokluses, shaped like men, but covered in black welts, two fingers on each hand extended extra long, and when they met each other, they pierced welts on the other with the fingers, letting out a dark blackish brown puss that would absorb into the fingers that had released it.
In the hell of this emptiness of time we accustom ourselves to horrible smells, and they never leave us entirely, but the smell of these hokluses brought me to the brink of vomiting. They anxiously accepted my price for Trace. I should have demanded more. I waited to see their treatment of him, and saw him recoil at their attempts to pierce him. They did not press it, but kept at him for some time.
When I left, he sat next to one of their huts made of scrub, where they finally left him in peace. He nodded at me as I left to spy on them from a distance.
The thin line of luck was with me. The kazhasha arrived after three days. They meandered into the cluster, feeling them with their long, prickly legs and claws, and licking them with long, wormy tongues. There mouths were fuzzy, feathered openings, from which the tongues darted out and in.
I watched them for most of the day, uncertain what they did other than brush against the hokluses and whip them with their tongues.
From the middle of the cluster, blood and puss splattered from the claws of a kazhasha. The rest of the kazhashas tore into all of the hokluses around them, tearing them to pieces. Many fled, but the kazhashas ran them down.
I knew Trace was in a hut on the edge, and I flew toward it. He pushed out of it and looked around, then turned away from the cluster and ran. A kazhasha pursued him, hot on his tail. I fell to a knee and pulled my rifle off my back. Loaded and ready, I aimed and fired. A hole at the edge of its right eye burst with muddy orange blood, and the kazhasha fell.
I slung my rifle and sprinted to Trace. Another kazhasha pursued, but I held off spending another round since we pulled farther and farther away. I found some scrub high enough for cover, so we ducked behind it and watched. Even so far away, the horrid smell made the back of my throat convulse.
“Have they ever done that before?” I asked.
Trace shook his head.
“They’re in my sights, so I’ll follow. You’re free to stay with me or go your own way.”
He looked afraid, and I pitied him. He didn’t answer me, but when it came time to follow the kazhashas, he stayed with me.
“I’m happy for your companionship,” I said.
We followed them for six days before they came upon a pilolite settlement. I could see the traumatized feelings on Trace’s face.
“You should leave,” I said. “Find a place to settle far away from here.”
After a day, the kazhashas left the settlement and traveled south. We stayed with them, and when night fell, I put us on a rock ledge because there were too many monsters in these sands. At daybreak, I looked around for Trace, but couldn’t find him, and when the kazhashas started moving, I had to keep up.
Some way out, I looked back, and I could see a tiny form running toward the pilolites, and I knew I’d lost Trace forever.
In the emptiness of time there are few men you can have hope for, and what little hope you have is usually crushed. I followed the demons to find Enta, and didn’t look back to watch my friend be engulfed by the pilolites.