Buzzards circle the ruins of bold settlers. With a bare foot, Abel steps on a warm piece of what had been the lone building. Black and shiny under the sun, it is back-breaking granite covered in unbreakable adamantine resin. A treasure from another world, the machined block had fit with thousands of others in a master-craft of stone joinery.
Naked and grim, Abel paces out the foundation of its humble size. No bigger than a small tavern, it nonetheless had the makings to survive the hammering of any battering ram carried by man.
Foot-prints of the monstrous horde have churned the earth like a farmer’s plow. He steps across the tracks to a pile of black stone and crushed bodies.
One wild-haired survivor weeps on his knees, as skin-bare as Abel.
Abel says, “Why didn’t anyone else follow the rule? Why did they all pack in like eels in a barrel?”
The man sniffles. “Rung like a bell when it popped. They said no room for me. Said I should strip and bury my face in the dirt. Said daytime would send the horde away and all would be well to carry on with the work. Now, no one but me to work the road. Stone by stone, that’ll take a long long while.”
This fool’s people were new to this world and trusted their stone more than native wisdom. Abel smirks.
The man says, “Half as long though, if you join me. I’m Termie. Not what my mama named me, but people smile when they say it. So, I like it.”
Termie has wide shoulders and big hands, but his forehead slopes and his top teeth rest on his bottom lip. They left their simpleton outside to test the truth and karma crushed them for their callous choice.
Abel shades his eyes. “Okay, Termie. Where are your buried stores? I’ll help you dig one out in exchange for whatever I can carry.”
“I only know where one is. The important ones, they kept secret.”
Abel rolls his eyes. “Fine. We’ve got a lot of hand digging and not many hours of daylight.”
“But-but, the aberrations will come back if we dig up artifice.”
“Unlikely.” He points back the way he came. “My caravan was hit last night, right before you. They’ll keep going. I won’t expect more than a solo beast pestering us. I’m sure the horde has moved on down the road, probably going to test the next settlement’s defenses tonight.”
“Sharp teeth. Long claws. One is scary for me.”
Abel taps stylized runes tattooed across his skin. “I paid my way through seven cities with the bounties for outlaws and beast fangs. If you got any weapons in your stash, I’m willing to fight anything smaller than a pack.”
Termie holds out his tanned hand. “Guess why they call me ‘Termie.’ ”
“Because you terminate productivity.”
“No, no. It is on account that I’m like a termite.”
Termie scratches his head, releasing a snowfall of dandruff. “I’m not sure, but people laugh when I think about it.”