The sandstorm subsided into the night without a single notice. Faint starlight could be seen amidst the different hues of gray in the sky.
The explosion was especially loud in the dead of the night, the echo travelled great distances, but even then, the boundless desert engulfed all of it. The rattle of gunshots, the screaming, the light signals, along with any hope of survival; they were all consumed by an abyss of nothingness.
“Tai Mi Pali!”
He heard a raspy voice amongst the screams, followed by a few rounds of gunfire, and everything fell into silence. The only sound that remained was the violent beating of his heart.
He knelt on the sand with his hands behind his head. Ten minutes must have passed. Reluctant to lay eyes on the corpses of his companions any longer, he looked up at the skies. At this instant, he caught a glimpse of the long forgotten stars.
He could not help but think that this may be some kind of omen.
He was merely an ordinary merchant trying to make a living. He has been traversing the desert for over a decade, risking every kind of danger in order to provide for his wife and children. Even though he sold overpriced or fake goods on the odd occasion, he had remained a good person at heart. At least he had never harmed another soul while trying to survive in this cruel world.
“Tai Mi Pali!”
The bandit, wrapped in thick layers of tattered clothing, growled and pointed his rifle at the merchant’s head. Bumps protruded from his swollen calves as if a sack of potatoes were stuffed inside his pants – a Soil Ghost, he and his kind hail from a nation, cursed by nuclear radiation, leading to congenital limb deformities in all newborns. “Damned desert bandits! As if money and goods were not enough, they have recently begun taking lives too. Those deformities must be spreading to their brains!” The merchant thought as he seethed in fear and rage.
The barrel of the rifle pressed against the merchant’s forehead. Dark clouds once again consumed the stars in the sky. In this Acid Rain World, even the rain-deprived deserts are covered by clouds laden with nuclear fallout at higher altitudes.
Being able to catch a glimpse of the stars before his death was perhaps a good sign. Maybe this meant that he could go to heaven, if such a place indeed existed. The merchant closed his eyes and accepted his inevitable fate.
Gunfire suddenly erupted again, but, this time, the source was unexpectedly distant. It sounded like the thundering of heavy machine gunfire.
The merchant opened his eyes and saw the Soil Ghosts rushing to their jeeps while returning fire. A strange low-frequency sound closed in amidst the machine gunfire. The merchant put his hands on the back of his head and dove into the sand.
Large quantities of sand blew from the direction of the gunfire, causing a mini whirling sandstorm. Something monstrous was approaching fast. More gunshots were fired in the flurry of sand, but the sound of the ensuing gunfire soon dissipated as the rumbling of the jeeps grew increasingly distant.
The merchant was pulled out of the sand abruptly by a metal arm. He could feel the cold touch of metal digits on the side of the soldier’s arm, before being abruptly dragged out of the sand.
“One survivor found. Over.”
“Roger. The Soil Ghosts have retreated to the southwest. RTB. Out.”
A soldier equipped with the Omanga Empire’s multi-armored suit and automatic rifle stood in front of a military hovercraft. Their presence felt ever so towering and dependable to the merchant.
The trembling merchant stood up and grasped onto the orange prosthetic arm of his savior, expressing his gratitude with tears streaming down his face.
He was the sole survivor, the only person in the entire company of merchants and mercenaries to have survived in this infernal world.
This incident marked the eighth time this month that the Soil Ghosts engaged in open combat.
Original Story : Kit Lau
Author : Perl Grey
Translator : Johnny Ko