Trek For Survival Chapter 63
63 Chapter 63 Emptiness Of The Wastes
They had been traveling for over a week, stopping twice a day to let everyone get out to stretch their legs and use the bathroom, but otherwise, they were stuck in the same space, barely able to move, while the dead elephant continued to plod along. Gia had to admit it was faster traveling in the elephant, but it was also very boring.
Tom had already finished several sculptures out of the bone Sudar had given him, and was currently working on one of the dragon they had encountered along the coast. Carla wasn't sure she was going to let him trade that one, because he was adding spaces for some of the shells she had kept in her bag. They all knew that he enjoyed the enthusiasm Carla was heaping on him, and that he probably would not keep the sculpture or use the shells that she loved so much. He could easily carve another one using her shells when they reached their home.
Mikey spent most of his time giving Tom pointers on what the creatures he was carving needed, since Tom hadn't seen them, and playing with his Limcheez. The way he talked to it made them all wonder if the creature was responding, and they just couldn't hear it.
Gia found it hard to sit still, as they traveled farther and farther into the wastelands. The grass was almost gone by this point, with sparse brown clusters poking up out of the hard-packed dirt as if taunting the burning orb in the sky. It was hot in the elephant, but experience taught her quickly that it was even hotter outside in the sun. Strangely, the elephant didn't stink. She still avoided touching it whenever she could, using a blanket or something to keep her skin from coming in contact with it.
Vonn dozed most of the day away, staying awake more at night, to keep an eye on things as there were more creatures out and about in the cool dark than there were during the stifling heat of the day. Gia couldn't manage to change her hours around like he did, no matter how hard she tried. She ended up looking forward to the few moments she could get out and move around, anticipating them like a starving man would his supper. She knew it was silly, but she couldn't help it.
Sudar tried to fill the time by asking questions and showing Gia how to drive the elephant, even giving her the reigns to practice a little, but she felt too uncomfortable being so close to the strange man and quickly handed them back. She ended up hiding behind Vonn the rest of the day.
The other traders, Brin and Kei, were indifferent to them, ignoring them for the most part, and barely spoke during the breaks. Geth seemed to have lost all interest in Gia, which relieved her immensely, and he ignored her whenever she noticed him, but she still kept her distance out of caution.
In the middle of the second week, while they were stopped early in the morning, Sudar stopped them as they began crawling out of the elephant.
"We are going to be stopping early tonight, for our break," he mentioned, getting all of their attention. "There is an oasis where we always stop to refill our water before the last leg to the orc camps drawing closer. We've made good time and will be getting there before we normally stop in the evening."
"That's great!" exclaimed Mikey with a grin.
"Will there be a lot of dangerous animals?" asked Vonn with a frown.
"It is one of the only places we can get water in a long while," said Sudar with a nod. "There will undoubtably be a large number of creatures there. The general rule is that nothing attacks anything else while they are getting water, but once they leave, they are open game. So you should all be fine, as long as you are close to the water, but if you wander too far, then something may decide to go for you."
"That means no exploring," sighed Mikey, before anyone could direct caution his way. "At least we can get out and be out for a while, right?"
"I normally like to rest there a full night, leaving just before dawn, because the creatures like to hunt the most at night. They have a hard time attacking me in the elephant, but I don't like to risk it."
"Do you think it would be safe enough to set up the tent?" asked Vonn, thinking about how cramped everyone had been in the elephant. Sleeping in the tent wasn't much better, but they wouldn't have to worry about accidentally kicking someone.
"It depends on what it looks like when we get there. Last time I was there, there was plenty of space for a tent without any issues, but the time before it was pretty crowded."
"It would be nice to sleep flat," murmured Carla softly, not wanting to be ungrateful.
"The space can be pretty restraining for so many people," chuckled Sudar.
"I'll help switching out the water bags," said Vonn, moving around the elephant with him while Gia went with her parents and brother to do their business. The coming oasis was all they could talk about, as they finished and returned to the elephant.
She couldn't wait to see what the oasis was like, and found herself watching for it in excitement as they resumed their boring plod through the wastes. About midday, the edges of the trees came into view, and her eyes watered in anticipation. How thrilling to finally see some trees again! The flat of this unending land would drive anyone insane. How these traders managed to survive and thrive here was beyond her. How could they enjoy this enough to want to continue doing it their whole lives?
Watching as the trees grew on the horizon, it quickly became obvious that the lush greenery around the pond was constantly under attack from the things that ate it. One whole section had been stripped to the ground, giving them plenty of space to bring the elephants in close to the water.
Gia's eyes grew large as she finally witnessed some of the creatures Sudar had told them lived in this bleak land. There were all manner of lizards and snakes, as well as scorpions, giant scaled bugs, and small rodents with long tails and legs. Maybe she didn't want to sleep in the tent. Glancing over at Carla, her mother seemed to be having the same thoughts.
"Don't look at any of them too long, or they'll think you're going to attack them," cautioned Sudar, climbing down out of the elephant. Vonn followed to help him gather water.
"I don't know that I want to get down," whispered Mikey as he watched Vonn and Sudar make their way towards the water's edge.
"Me either," admitted Gia.
"I don't like the looks of any of them, but I have got to use the bathroom and stretch my legs," said Tom with a frown.
With a sigh, she climbed down to help her parents get out. It did feel good to stretch her legs, and she knew she needed to use the bathroom, but this audience was not going to be pleasant.
As they were heading back to the elephant, they hesitated to climb back inside. Sudar had said they would be there all night long, and the inside of the elephant was starting to feel claustrophobic. Gia could hear Vonn talking to Sudar about using them in the tent as bait for more snakes again, like he had before they had left, but Sudar didn't think it was a good idea. He suggested that if they were going to set up the tent, they do it right next to the water, to keep everything from wanting to attack them, or right next to the elephant so they could retreat to safety if they needed to.
The more she watched the strange deadly looking creatures around her, the less she wanted to sleep in the tent, no matter how nice it would be to stretch her legs out while she slept.
"Sudar, could you help me haul my water bags?" asked Brin, struggling with one of his bags.
"I could use some help, too," added Geth, not glancing around.
"I'll help you, Brin," said Kei, rushing over to help him before he dropped the full bag.
"Vonn, do you think you could help Geth?" asked Sudar, fighting with some of the straps on the side of his elephant.
Vonn frowned but nodded. Sudar must not have known about Geth's attempt to buy Gia, but he couldn't risk upsetting Sudar now. There was no way they would be able to make their way across the wastelands. They all understood the dangers this area could bring to them without the benefit of the elephant.
Gia watched uncomfortably as he helped Geth move water bag after water bag, holding them in place for Geth to lash to the side of his elephant. There were so many! Why would he need that many water bags? Even Sudar didn't have that many water bags, and he was providing water for all of them as well. Could Geth be planning something?
If he was, he didn't give any hints of it, keeping quiet until they were done and then thanking Vonn with a gift of jerky. When he returned, he looked perplexed.
"Is that his famous jerky?" gasped Sudar, spying the package in his hands.
"What's so special about it?" asked Gia, not interested in eating anything that came from Geth.
"I'm surprised he has any of that left! The lizards normally buy every last bit he has on him. He must have made another batch," said Sudar. "It takes a lot of time and patience to make it just right in these conditions, but it tastes delicious. I'm jealous he gave you some for helping out. I would have traded places with you in a heartbeat had I known."
"I guess I would be willing to share it with you?" offered Vonn, obviously thinking Gia would be fine if he gave it all away.
"I wouldn't mind a taste, but I would never take it all. I bet you guys will love it!" said Sudar. By the time that evening had rolled around, he had convinced them all that it was the best food in the world. They all finally agreed to try it, and Gia found it was actually really good. She didn't dare ask what kind of meat it was, though. She didn't want to know if it was giant bug or scorpion. She wasn't sure if she would be able to deal with that.
As night started to fall, and more and more creatures showed up to get a drink, the decision to sleep in the elephant became easier to make. After eating all of the jerky, shared between all of them, none of them had any trouble going to sleep. As Gia fought to keep her eyes open, a sinking feeling of dread wafted through her foggy brain before fading completely.