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From Moon to Joshua (The Sands of Deliverance - Book 1)
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From Moon to Joshua
by Matthew Moffitt
Copyright © 2016 by Matthew Moffitt
“Again?” Malcolm asked, rolling his eyes and lighting a cigarette.
“You seem surprised.”
The horses we sat on nickered impatiently. We had been through this before—a hundred times before—and every time he felt the need to ask. Malcolm, for all his handsome looks, sometimes had a penchant for stupid.
He eyed me from under his wide-brimmed hat and exhaled in annoyance. “You ain’t a bloody saint. This yer wayuh givin’ back?”
“Something like that,” I said, mind wandering.
He waved a hand as if a fly were in his face. “Well don’t expect me tah be comin’ in after ya. I ain’t messin’ with that shit. It’s like a pack of wolves with fresh meat just lyin’ there waitin’ to be ripped apart.”
“Didn’t ask you to. And would you mind?” I coughed from the smoke.
“Oh, piss off, Dray.” Malcolm’s face contorted with disgust.
I ignored him and raised my face to the sky. Through the haze of heat the sun burned white and pulsed to the beat of my boiling blood; clouds hovered between us, but that did not stop the sun’s rays from searing through and cooking the earth. Hot didn’t begin to describe what it was like here—walking on sand was like walking on flames. It’s why we wore heavy leather boots and why the horses had leather wrappings around their hooves: it was the only protection we had.
Luckily, Malcolm and I were perched under a small oak tree that had somehow managed to grow in this god-forsaken ground. If you were to glance around, all you would see was miles and miles of dry, hardened land, bereft of water and hills, the usual for the Desert Land. Some days it was too much. Some days you’d find your mind losing itself in the endless picture as your body decomposed, much like the land, in need of water and nutrients. But this was how it was: survive or die. There were no other options.
I glanced at Malcolm, then turned my attention ahead. We were about a half a mile from the Docking; it was just enough time.
Our horses’ ears perked up to a sound only they could hear.
“Right on time.” Malcolm nodded toward the sun.
I nodded. “See you back at Northwall.”
Malcolm blew another puff of smoke and grunted. Tipping his hat, he turned and trotted into the misty heat.
The warm wind that blew across my face was thick as milk. Wiping the sweat from my brow, I reached under my leather overcoat for my six-shooter; it rested in the sweat-soaked holster on my hip. I clasped the smooth walnut stock and checked the black steel barrel. Six bullets. That’s all I had. I hoped that I wouldn’t need any of them. I didn’t make it a habit of firing bullets; they were too precious. On my other hip was my sword. I refused it a glance, but gripped it and assured myself it was safely in its sheath. The very tip of my fingers touching the silver hilt made my heart shudder. A lump formed in my throat. There was an abomination at my hip, something that had seen the light of day one too many times. I told myself I would never draw it again, not if I did not have to—God himself would weep at the sight.
With a hard slap of the reins, I took off toward the Docking.
I gazed at the long, metal platform. The Docking was where the train—if you could call that hunk of rusty metal a train—arrived from the Rich Land. Once a month, the Rich Land shipped all their criminals like cargo across the world here, to the Desert Land, in order to “purify” civilization.
Today was that day.
Ages ago, so long that even our oldest denizens barely remembered, there were permanent prisons in the Rich Land, but the Rich Land is only rich for those not sealed behind thick metal bars, for those not forgotten. As time passed, the forgotten people grew and grew, expanding like gas in a sealed room, waiting for a match blow the walls down and flood the streets. The government had to act. Now a bunch of criminals inhabited a land that wasn’t habitable—hell, most citizens in the Rich Land don’t even know what’s out here. No one does, except the people who manage to survive here. And let me tell you: there isn’t anything but hellfire days, chilly nights, beasts that want to kill you, and people trying to come to grips with living their lives under the muzzle of a gun. There’s no segregation. Murderers roam amongst petty thieves. Rapists among prostitutes. Men and women thrown together like rats in a very large, very harsh cage. And there was always the possibility of an innocent man or woman being sent here by mistake… Malcolm was right. I’m not a bloody saint, but I have my reasons.
Breathing heavily, my horse pounded across the sun-scorched terrain, an endless shadow kicking up dust. Sandstorm, I called him, for his hooves drum the ground like rolling thunder, and the only tracks he ever left were the brown swirls of dust spiraling to the sky.
The wind met his ferocious gallop with a wail, causing my leather overcoat to flap like the wings of a leather demon. I checked the hilt of my sword and my six-shooter once more as the Docking came into view, squinting as rays of light hit my pale face. The train was still a few miles away, but my gaze caught the cables—those long black wires—swinging to the whims of the wind and the weight of the train; they were connected by wooden posts stationed every hundred feet or so, the nails in our coffin, so to speak. It occurred to me then, as I continued to catch peeks of the those long black cables, that they were just another form of restraint used by the Rich Land: first it had been rope binding our hands, then electric wires, and now these black cables were keeping us tethered to a world we so desperately wanted to be rid of, so desperately wanted to be free from. A third rail ran beneath the wheels, in case the posts and cables above came crashing down, so that no matter what the Rich Land could get rid of its garbage.
It’s a monster in its own right: The front looked like the face of a wolf, dark and black, with one golden eye, while the rest of its body slithered like a snake, car after car. There were no windows on the train. You’d starve for air if it weren’t for the vents on every cable car. However, inside was worse. The belly of the beast was lined with cheap leather, bloodstained carpet, and filled with metal benches that, after sitting on for hours on end, made everybody itch to start a fight, which, before the electromagnetic shackles, was a common occurrence (believe me, I know). Still, fights arise on the train and there’s nothing anyone can do—blood will spill.
As usual, airships floated above, an extra measure of security. They followed a track of their own as they passed through large, gold rings suspended in the sky, one giant colossus after another. I didn’t pay them any mind, except for the largest one, gliding right above the platform. The elongated body was decorated in white and gold, and its wings jutted ostentatiously, like silver feathers on each side. Soldiers wore crystillium armor and stood sentry, like ice scattered across the outer deck. I would have to be careful: no one ever knew what the Rich Land militia would do. Guns like mine wouldn’t even breach the electrical field they had around them.
As I made my way closer, I noticed the Docking was more crowded than usual. People jostled as near to the metal platform as they could get. Welcome to a twisted homecoming.
There’s something important you should know about the Docking: it’s not a proving ground. It’s a playground for devils—many, many devils—who lie in wait to snatch their prey the minute their worn feet step on the Desert Land. Those who step off the train are not all inimical, but what waits for them at that platform is. There isn’t a man or woman waiting at the Docking who wishes these newcomers well. It’s simple: the less hostile you are, the more vulnerable you become in the Desert Land. Simple, easy pickings…
With a screech and an exhale, the monster of a train came to a stop.
Burn the three moons. I was barely going to make it. I smacked the reins and Sandstorm broke into a full gallop as the prisoners staggered into the sunlight, still bound by electrical chains.
The doors closed and the train moaned.
Somewhere on the silver-feathered airship, a commander stood encased behind a wall of soldiers. He pushed a button.
The electrical shackles vanished.
All hell broke loose.
My name is Drayaden Sinclaire and I live by three rules: I kill when I need to—never before. My word is my oath. And I never draw my sword.
Cocking my gun, I thought, I hope I don’t break one today, and entered the fray.
The Desert Land
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