The minstrel was fighting the pull of sleep. She kept a watch over the knight’s foot, she wasn’t able to lift it, so her makeshift bandages looked askew. The merchant hummed in his sleep every few breaths, and twitched his legs in accompaniment. She kept her ears trained, but heard nothing worth listening for. The faint wafts of smoke, and body waste permeated the brush covering. The tight space comforted her, and brought her back to her youth, when she and her cousins would hide under the tables in her grandfather’s hall. They would whisper within walls of sheets, telling the kinds of secrets that children hold dear. Innocent words of stolen sweets and kisses. She missed those old secrets, wished hers were less dangerous. When rain started to patter, she was lullabied to sleep.
Her dream was of a dress of leaves, but the show was interrupted by a deep boom from far off. She listened to a stream growing through the middle of their gully, but cared not to open her eyes, and fell into slumber again. Some time after the rain had stopped, she was startled awake by a peculiar whizzing and clicking emanating from the knight’s rib-cage. His visor was down, his body was still, and in her haze the imagined the suit an empty shell. In the blue of pre-morning, she saw the merchant’s hand-made interpretation of a ‘satchel’, and took it as a pillow. It hardly compared to the owl-down cushions of home; It was right on the pinnacle between good enough and not, but the thought of using energy to remove it from under her head was so boring that she slipped away again.
The afternoon was a lively time in the jungle, and the minstrel moved her arms up to cover her ears. She lay there, and nothing stopped her. Nobody came to bring her clothes, or pull her to a meal. Nobody was expecting her, waiting for her to do something. For the second time, she was restarting life, but her heart sullied when she remembered that neither times were of her own choice. When her mother sent her south, she was too young to understand. She now knew the people of the world, and felt insulted that she was raised so blind. It was this ire that finally made her open her eyes, and sit up. She looked to her companions, and questioned how long she had slept. They remained where she had last seen them.
Leaning into the mess of leaves and palm heads, she pushed open a gap and crawled out. The sun was nearly set. She crawled back under the logs, and rattled the merchant’s leg. With the grace of a turtle, he moved about to look at her. When the knight wouldn’t respond to calls, the merchant threw a dripping, clump of mud into the chest plate. The knight moved to rub the mud into his belly before opening his visor to give greetings. He inspected his ankle with worry, and remarked at how stiff it felt. They walked to the shore together. Littered about were pieces of things that once were. She followed the knight north. The merchant roamed about, occasionally rolling over debris and bodies. The beach was cluttered with such interesting parts, yet she knew there was nothing of significance. No real treasure would remain. Surely the soldiers that would be guarding the valuables would take them along. She had heard such brutal tales of greedy soldiers, and expected betrayal after loss. Still, she looked. Shiny metal was sprinkled across the sandscape. The Sun-Stained didn’t wear gold and silver, like others, and the RaHaZa didn’t pay their men in such. She reasoned that all the glimmers were bronze. As she scanned the coastline, she saw a few other scavengers west, over the water. Five loose pigs were gorging. She didn’t dwell on what they were eating.
The knight had led them to pile of chests, in a circle of charred grass. He said he had stopped some fancy dressed men from hauling them away. The knight had remorse in his voice, and walked away as the merchant opened one of them. The merchant moaned his disappointment at first, then looked rather interested and began rooting around inside. He pulled out a stalk of bananas, and resumed his wandering. The minstrel rushed to check every box, and the knight helped unstack the mound of chests. The sun was gone, and she ate by torchlight, surrounded by torn bags of strange powders and the inedibles of most of the fruits she could name. The merchant was singing one her songs as he spit a slab of unnamed meat. The knight had collected a handful of beautifully smooth pieces from something he called a rail-driver. He laid them out on the lid of a black dresser and was inspecting them with furor.
She watched the tower illuminate itself in waves, and asked the merchant if the pattern meant anything. He grunted with ignorance. The knight whistled, as the other buildings within the city shot skyward beams of blue, orange and white light. The pink metal ground that stretched from the city’s walls to the water edge was growing patches of brown. Like a spell, sand was flowing up from the ground, and building itself into mounds, each grew exactly the same spaces apart. The hiss of hundreds of piles of drifting sand could be heard from their fire. The lights on the tower stopped flowing, and a sharp pitch, so subtlety high, arose. The tone became a hum, that oscillated in her head. The world beneath her magnified the sound, and sand started to dance. All around, the ground looked liquefied, with squirts of grains filling the air. Bodies, half-buried, disappeared completely. The fire was snuffed out so utterly, she couldn’t tell where it had been. The hum went deeper, and the knight briefly shouted out in pain.
The sound faded off. To her ears it was gone, but it left a residual weight inside of her. She stood up nauseous. The ground all around had wiped away all signs of man. The clutter, tools, weapons, pieces of bronze, canvas shreds, kindling, furs, spokes and all, were gone. Before her was a clean beach. The mounds of sand outside the city’s walls had flattened, and the metal ground was covered again, except for a simple raised circle centered between the minstrel and the walls. The knight had taken notice as well, and the two of them looked out to see a man emerge from the floor. He was naked, obviously quite confused, and limping. The naked man turned back to look up at the tower that loomed. He shuffled away west, crashing through the shallows, shivering and clinging to himself.
The minstrel looked back to see another being was standing on the raised circle. A light from the tower shone down over the walls to fall on the platform. This new person was draped in robes of rainbow-gold, and was waving at her.