Swamped Chapter 33 Page 4

You see a large mammal emerge from the sand. Its fur forms into tough spikes; you’ve no idea if they’re actually sharp or not, but it doesn’t seem worth taking chances.

At the moment, it doesn’t seem hostile. Just wary. It’s watching you carefully; you probably don’t want to make any sudden moves.

Before you know it, Yvonne’s scurried over to you.

“Giant spineshrew,” she says calmly. “It’s not aggressive, unless it thinks you’re going to eat it. They tend to get confused around us because we’ve always got our faces covered when we go out into the dunes.”

“So, how should I handle it?”

“It’ll probably back off in time. But, ah, best not to be too loud. Lots of things live below the sands and rely on noise to track prey. What’s this about a wagon?”

You hand her the long goggles and point it out. She frowns.

“That’s odd. Not one of ours. But who else would be fool enough to go all the way out into the desert?”

“Maybe they arrived through a gateway, like we did?” you ask.

“Could be, but that doesn’t look like the sort of thing you’d see in the swamp, either. It’s worrying enough if only two places are affected, I hope it’s not more.”

You watch the spineshrew finally back away. It dives into the sand very suddenly.

“Ah, good, it left,” Rider says suddenly. You realize that everyone else has turned up behind you; you didn’t even notice. “We should take a look at that wagon; it would speed up our trip significantly if we can use it.”

“Gonna be real hot when we get out of this shade, though,” Corvus mutters.

“You’re fortunate,” Rider says, stepping forward. “It’s cooler in the evenings and at night. I was here in the noon sun.”

That seems to shut down the backtalk.

But as soon as you take a step out of the pillar’s shadow, you definitely notice it getting hotter. And you thought it was hot enough to begin with.

The group walks towards the wagon. When you get close, Rider suddenly tells everyone to stop.

“Someone’s in the wagon,” he says. You don’t know how he can tell; you can’t see in there, and you don’t see any human or grebling footprints in the nearby sand. But he sounds sure enough of his assessment.

“Okay, so we send someone to knock on the door, then,” Corvus says. “Any volunteers?”

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Yvonne volunteers! She can at least say ‘pardon me’ in the regional tongue while knocking, on top of whatever y’all are speaking right now. It might make whoever’s inside less wary of the obvious group of foreigners yammering outside.

Yvonne doesn’t necessarily want to be investigating a strange wagon but she also doesn’t trust these swamp folks not to screw it up so yeah she volunteers.