Achara reached the base of the Red Wall minutes later after taking off. She brought her horse to a screeching halt a mere five feet from where the salt flat stopped and the cliff rose straight up over her head. She looked back across the salt plain and could see nothing: no beast, no light from Camon’s sword, and no horses. She only saw the evening sun still casting a slight glow to the clouds overhead and silence.
Moments later, she heard something coming near. It was the sound of hooves thundering across the plain, and then she saw a chestnut mare with its rider clinging to the horse’s neck, not seemingly knowing that he was careening straight for the wall. Achara quickly dismounted her horse and let out a whistle that got the horse’s attention, which slowed to a canter before stopping. Achara looked at the rider. It was Jorn. He had fainted, and she nudged him to wake him up. He stirred and moaned in pain before coming to his senses and noticing his surroundings.
“Where’s Camon?” Achara demanded to know.
“Camon?” Jorn answered. “Oh, Camon…”
“Yeah, Camon,” Achara shouted. “Where is he?”
“I don’t know. He put me on this beast, and I rode off,” he said. “That’s all I know.”
“Liar!” she screamed. “Where is he?”
Jorn became less listless as he saw the fury in Achara, and he managed to sit up. “I told you I don’t know,” he said. “Calm down, and I’ll tell you what happened.”
Achara looked at him with scorn that could have burned a hole straight through him. Jorn shook his head and moaned again, grabbing at his bad leg. He shifted his weight in the saddle, grumbling while he did it. He then explained how the cart was attacked and tipped over, then how Camon found him and put him on the horse and sent him on while he stayed and faced the beast.
“Shades!” Achara cursed. She went and stared out over the plain, waiting for something or someone to appear in silence for the better part of an hour, pacing back and forth.
“Face it, kid,” Jorn finally said, “he’s not coming. He’s likely dead now.”
“Shut up!” she commanded.
“Or you’ll what?” he scorned. “Your friend was many things. And most of all, a fool. He could have saved himself, but his misguided sense of righteousness is why I’m not dead and he is.”
“You’re an imbecile,” Achara hissed.
“Ouch,” Jorn said sarcastically.
“Don’t you have a bone of empathy in your body?” she shouted at Jorn, fighting back the tears.
“Kid, when you’ve seen as many people die as I have, you get used to it,” Jorn smirked. “You don’t get too attached to anyone for that reason. If it’s worth anything, he was a good man. I’ll give you that.”
“I don’t care what you think,” she murmured again. “Your life isn’t worth his.”
“Maybe not,” Jorn said. “But listen to yourself. You’re beginning to accept it.”
“Accept what? That you’re an ungrateful prig and that Camon did everything he could to save your life?”
“You too would have never made it hear without me,” Jorn boasted. “You’d starved to death.”
“Only because Camon refused to leave you to die in the wilderness,” Achara said.
“I can’t help that he’s a self-righteous bastard,” Jorn said. “What was he anyway? Some kind of priest? He has healing magic and some kind of enchanted sword.”
“Why do you care?” she snapped. “You care nothing for him or anyone else in this world.”
“Kid, I told you a long time ago,” he explained. “I’m a man of fortune. I care only for me and my lot.”
“You are a piece of work,” she hissed. “And don’t patronize me by calling me ‘kid.’ You’re not my father.”
“Was he your father?” Jorn asked.
“No,” she mumbled. “But he could have been…”
“Your attachment to him is pretty strong,” Jorn said. “And now you’re upset because he’s dead, and I’m not.”
“Shut up! Or I’ll finish what I started back when we first met!” she shouted.
“Temper, temper,” Jorn mocked.
Achara walked over slowly towards him as he watched unsuspectingly. She then, in a fury, reared and kicked his bad leg in the knee, and he howled in pain. She then shoved him off the horse, and he fell to the ground screaming. Achara then went over and kicked him again, then spit on him. “That’s for Camon, you pig stool.”
“Blast girl,” Jorn moaned. “I’m sorry, okay? Calm down, will you?”
Achara stood over Jorn feeling somewhat justified, “Camon may bear a high sense of righteousness, but I don’t. I suggest you don’t talk ill of him again, or I’ll do worse.”
Jorn writhed in the salts and then managed to pull himself over to the wall where he propped himself up, “You realize that we’re stuck here. All of our water and provisions were in that cart. We’re probably as good as dead ourselves.”
Achara said nothing for a while, “If you want to live, you’re going to need my help getting out of here.”
Jorn derided her, “And where do you think we can go?”
“West, to the library.”
“Library? What library? There’s no library out here in the desert!” Jorn said, laughing. “You came all this way for a library? You really are crazy, and so is your friend. I can’t believe he conned you into coming all the way out here into the desert to find some mirage! What have you been drinking? Because whatever it is, it must be good!”
Achara went over and kicked his leg again, and he howled in pain, “I told you not to talk ill of him.”
“There is a library out here,” she said. “And I mean to find it! Camon knows the way, and he’s been there. How else do you think he knew about the trail, the ruins, the watering holes, and all the other markers along the way?”
“A map, perhaps?” Jorn said, “But you have got to be kidding me to suggest that there’s some kind of library out here!”
“Do you have any idea who he is or what he represents?”
“Some kind of wizard, that much is sure. He’s got magic.”
“Do you really not recognize it based on what you’ve seen?” Achara asked again.
“What?” he asked incredulously. “Is he supposed to be something I should recognize?”
“Are you really that dense?” Achara said.
Jorn chuckled again, “I see it now. You think he’s something out of legend. A Paladin. He’s pulled the wool over your eyes. Maybe it’s him who isn’t the fool, rather you!”
“If he isn’t a Paladin, then what is he?” she scorned.
“Girl, I’ve traveled across lands, and I’ve seen many things, including men with magic swords and mystical abilities,” Jorn said. “He was nothing special. He probably picked up on the motif somewhere and has been gallanting around claiming to be an incarnation of something out of legend to get attention. I’ve seen it before. He’s an attention snob and quite a selfish one to be sure.”
Achara stood. Jorn coiled this time and received the kick expectantly, “You must be a masochist the way you keep talking about Camon. Either that or you are just provoking me.”
After he stopped moaning, he started laughing again, “You really are a fool!”
“Camon is many things,” Achara said. “Some of them I find quite annoying, but he’s no prima donna. He is one of the most humble and selfless people I’ve ever known. And you’re still alive because he chose you over himself. Can’t you at least see that?”
“He’s left us both to die,” Jorn said.
“Well, if that’s the case, I just assume find out,” she said. “But just to make sure, I think I will take both horses with me.”
“Wait, you can’t leave me here!” Jorn said.
“I told you, you need me to get out of here. I’m going back to the cart to see if I can find Camon and anything else that might be salvageable.”
“You’re crazy to go back out there!” Jorn cried. “That thing could still be looking for its next meal!”
“You said it yourself – we’re as good as dead,” Achara remarked. “I’d rather die trying to live than die doing nothing about it!” With that, she went and got Camon’s horse and her own. She mounted up and set out across the flat back towards the cart with Jorn screaming all the while as she rode off. She rode for a solid thirty minutes in the moonlight, retracing her steps back to the cart. She spotted it then and went over to inspect what was left. Tangmaw lay on the ground, still panting and slightly spooked, but she calmed her down. After doing so, she used her dagger to cut the mare free from the tangled mess of tack. When she did, the horse got back on her feet and shook her mane. Amazingly, she was uninjured.
Achara searched the area for any sign of Camon or the beast. She found nothing other than the scuffle of footprints and where something had been drug across the ground. As she got to the end of the trail, she looked upwards into the sky. A strange hollowness came over her as she stared into the deep blue beyond. She then shook it off and went back to the cart.
At the cart, she inspected it and took inventory of the supplies that had fallen off. The cart’s hitch was destroyed, one of the iron rims about one of the wheels had come off, and the axle was cracked. She managed to salvage some of the food. Most of the water casks had broken and leaked out. She did find a few that were still intact. She cut tack from the cart and found anything that she could use to create a rigging of some kind for the supplies. She removed the saddle from Camon’s horse and coaxed her into a kneeling position. Achara then rigged a frame over the horse from wood from the cart, then lashed the casks of water to the frame. She then divided the food into two bags and put one on her horse and one on the packhorse. She then saddled the packhorse and sweet-talked all the horses into a line where she hitched a guide rope to her horse, then the packhorse, then finally Camon’s horse. She remounted them and went back to the wall at a steady pace.
It was well into the night when she got to the wall. Jorn was still leaned against the rock face just as he was before. When she came near, he commented, “Look at you! You have food, water, and even an extra horse, and you lived to tell about it! And it looks like your friend really is dead!”
“He wasn’t there,” she said somberly. “There was no sign of him or the beast.”
“Well, that can only mean one thing then,” Jorn chided. “I was right.”
“You don’t know that,” she said.
“You’re a fool to hold on to hope, and you know it,” Jorn said. “Accept it. Camon is dead.”
“I accept nothing,” she hissed. “I just assume to leave you here to die!” With that, she turned and led the horses away to the west. She could hear the protests of Jorn as she rode off. She went about a mile west before she stopped and unloaded and unsaddled the horses to let them rest. She fed and watered them, then brushed them down. She then found a place and laid down for the night. She tried to sleep, but sleep did not come. She occasionally would sit up and look out over the plain, and a tear would roll down her cheek. She tried not to despair, but she couldn’t help it. “What if Jorn is right, and Camon is dead?” The question flooded her mind, and she wanted to go and find him or something that would tell her one way or another. But every time she did, she resolved to continue despite what had happened. She needed help but didn’t know where to turn. Eventually, the weariness overcame her, and she did fall asleep.
She awoke the next day. Judging by the light, the sun had just risen in the east. She resaddled and reloaded the horses, then mounted up and went back east towards Jorn. When she found him, he was still in the same spot leaned up against the rock dozing. She shouted out to him, and he jolted awake. “If you want to live, you get on the horse in the rear.”
“I can’t,” he said. “Not without your help.”
“So I am right,” she said. “You need my help to live.”
“Don’t be so sure of yourself,” he said. Jorn then used the wall to come to a standing position. Then, with much pain, he hobbled over to the horse, grunting with each step. When he got to the horse, he counted to three and lifted his good leg into the stirrup while shifting his weight to his bad leg, which caused him to scream all the more. Then with a great effort, he swung himself onto the horse. He then sat straight up and smiled with satisfaction.
“You’re as stubborn as a mule,” Achara said.
“I didn’t want to give you the pleasure. And I knew you would come back. You’ve got that same sense of righteousness that your friend had,” he said. “But if it’s all the same, we best go east.”
“East?” Achara said. “No, we’re going west.”
“When are you going to face reality, girl?” Jorn protested. “Your friend is dead, and there’s no library out here!”
“I told you, we’re going west,” she insisted. “It’s not open for debate. The only reason I am keeping you alive is that’s what Camon would do. Believe me, if it was up to me, I’d leave you out here to rot.”
“And I’m the stubborn one?” Jorn said.
“You’ll see,” she mumbled. She then popped the reins on her horse, and the train started moving westward along the base of the Wall.