Sarral wiped the sweat from his brow. The sun was hot, and the dust being kicked up by the horses seemed to coat his throat in brown sludge. The cart rattled with every bump and stone in the abandoned road. He looked around with unnaturally sharp eyes, studying every peak and crevice of the surrounding cliffs. He didn’t see the cave at first but he knew this was the place. The pattern of the peaks matched his implanted memories exactly. He pulled up the reins and the horses stopped. The dust settled, but the sun seemed to get all the hotter.
He scanned the rocky outcroppings again and found a shadow with a spot of deeper darkness within. The old mine. Now that he’d seen it the trail up from the road seemed almost obvious. Sarral reached down to pick up the gun beside him. One of the prototypes, but fully functional. Still, he was glad he hadn’t had to use it. Maybe he never would. It would have come in handy if he had met up with Rauders or a band of thieves, but he had reached the mine and Messick could take over the guard duty.
It would be a rough going but the cart should make it. Messick would have made sure that the trail was passable even if it looked otherwise. Sarral snapped the reins and the horses surged ahead. He steered them to the right and up the steep path. The cart rattled worse than ever and the horses had to strain to get the load up to the mine entrance.
Soon he spied Messick peering out from behind a boulder. A few minutes later he pulled the cart just inside the abandoned mine. The cart barely fit between the timbers of the old entrance, and scraped noisily as it broke loose splinters to fall on the white dust floor. Messick waved him on making him pull the cart a full twenty yards deeper into the horizontal shaft, while three men at the entrance rolled a large wheel of white crystal to seal the opening.
Sarral climbed down from the wagon and immediately surrounded by four men with guns leveled at him. Messick waddled over. “Identify yourself,” he said.
“You know who I am,” Sarral said.
“Damn it, Sarral,” Messick replied. “You look just like Nexus. Sound like him, too. How can I be sure?”
“Don’t be an idiot, Messick,” Sarral answered. “I’m here at the right location, at the right time, with the expected shipment of energy.”
“Okay,” Messick said. He had the soldiers put down their guns and begin unloading the cart.
“Messick, do you have a magician here?” asked Sarral.
“No, I don’t. With all this white shit, wouldn’t do much good to have one.”
“Too bad. This body is really getting to annoy me. It would have been nice to transform back before making the return trip.”
“Sorry. But Kratia would probably want you to stay as Nexus a bit longer. At least until you leave the mine and get back to some town.”
Sarral nodded, knowing Messick was right but unhappy anyway. He rubbed his right shoulder where the crow grew out of it. It felt entirely too alien to be staring at the world through the narrow eyes of the pseudo bird. It messed up his balance and perception, even if his visual acuity was ten times better. Worse of all, his skin was beginning to itch intensely where it transformed into the tough claws and legs of the crow. And his shoulder bones ached where they had been reformed to support the additional skeletal structure of the perched bird.
Sarral hoped that Kratia hadn’t miscalculated the immune response portion of her transformation spell. The thought of his own body’s defenses eating away at him was unpleasant enough to strain the emotional barriers Kratia had been kind enough to reinforce. He shoved that thought away. Kratia did not make mistakes.
“Hurry your men, Messick. I’m anxious to be out of here.”
“So am I,” thought Messick as he motioned his men to hurry.