by Damian Campana
Cade walked through the red sand of the Ula’jro Desert. Each grain of sand stung as it hit his calloused torso. He looked at his staff, and a crimson glow travelled through his body. Cade, using his skeleton hand, slammed the staff between his feet sending an explosive force through the storm. The glow faded as the storm dissipated. He collapsed under his own weight and lost hold of the staff. He crawled a few feet, but only the sun and hills of red sand greeted him.
Cade raised his hands to his head. He looked back at the humanoid skull smiling atop the staff. He studied the face for the first time in years. His memory was cast back to the final battle when he claimed the staff. He remembered torrents of fire cascading from the burgundy titan’s mouth burning several of his friends. He remembered the titan crushing his friends under its feet. He remembered scaling the titan’s leg using his swords. He remembered knowing he had to get the staff away from the titan. He remembered grabbing the staff with his left hand, radiance pulsing out, and feeling a searing pain as his skin and hand muscles dissolved. He remembered his world falling to darkness.
“What’re you doing all the way out here, Mister?” a little voice called.
Cade blinked pulling himself back to the present. He looked around and saw a boy crest over a dune behind him. The boy wore an old potato sack held up with rope for a belt. Cade locked eyes with the boy. The boy’s head tilted to the left.
“I could ask you the same thing, kid,” Cade said. “Come here.” The boy walked closer, taking short cautious steps. “It’s dangerous to be out here alone.”
“Ain’t you alone too?”
“What happened to your hand?” the boy asked.
“I lost it in a battle.” Cade stared at the frail boy. “What’s your name?”
“Sable.” The boy extended a hand.
“Cade.” He shook the boy’s hand and sat relieving his knees.
“Is that scary staff yours?”
Cade looked back at his staff. “Well,” he sighed, “Yes, it is.”
“Did it make your hand like that?”
“Does it hurt?”
“Not anymore.” Cade trailed off clenching and unclenching his skeleton hand. His head pounded with a dull pain. “How long have you been out here, Sable?”
“I don’t know. I’ve been walking an awfully long time.”
“Sit down and rest for a bit.” Sable sat down an arm’s length away from Cade. The wind echoed off the dust in the otherwise empty desert. “The sun is going to roast us if we stay here too long,” Cade said. “Do you want to come with me?”
Cade stood and grabbed the staff. “Then follow along. Let’s find some shade.”
The two walked in tandem and didn’t speak. They continued over several hills searching for somewhere safer to rest. “Do you know why the sand is red here?” Sable asked, breaking the silence.
“No, do you?”
“My Daddy used to tell me stories about heroes and wars. He said the desert was where all the wars finally ended. He also said so much blood was spilt that it turned the sand red. He’d joke there are still people and titans buried under the sand, and that’s why the color stays red.”
“That’s a rather gruesome story,” Cade said.
“Daddy shared all sorts of stories. He knew everything like how the heroes in the final war protected the world from the titans. He always knew just what to say to make things better.”
“Where’s your father now?”
Sable’s brow furrowed. “I…I don’t know.” The wind exposed an object atop one of the dunes. “Mister Cade, what’s that?” Sable said.
Cade climbed the dune and poked the motionless object with the staff. A sudden ache pulsed through his head as he unburied a body.
“Oh,” Sable whispered staring at the corpse.
Another wave of pain pulsed through Cade’s head as he saw a deck of cards on the corpse’s side. “I…” He shook his head. “Let’s keep walking.”
He grabbed Sable’s arm and moved him away from the corpse. They continued through the Ula’jro meandering about. Cade thought back to the last time he went into the town named Thegerys. He remembered freezing outside the beaded curtain of a medium’s shop. An old man had sat on a blanket. He remembered the old man’s arms were covered in tattoos including a skull with three eye holes. “I sensed your presence from a mile away,” the old man had said and pulled a deck of cards from behind him. “I’m called Teran. Would you like a reading?”
With Sable beside him, Cade turned around to face his staff. He threw the staff past the boy into the sand.
“Mister Cade, what’s going on with you?”
Cade dropped to his knees. He glared at the staff. He again remembered Teran as the old man placed The Hanged Man, The Star and The Devil on the edge of his blanket. “You’re conflicted, Cade,” he had said. “You’ve sacrificed your willpower, yet you hope your sacrifice will end the suffering of others you care about. You fear willpower alone can’t destroy whatever it is that haunts you.” Cade remembered lifting the staff but stopping midstride. His eyes had rolled in the back of his head. He had turned and slammed the staff into Teran’s hand. Cade remembered commanding Teran with a foreign voice to give him the cards and crawl into the desert eating sand until he became one with the sand.
“Mister Cade, what is it?”
Cade shook his head wincing. “Sable, destroy the staff.”
Sable hesitated and reached for the staff.
“Wait!” Cade shouted holding out his skeleton hand.
Sable picked up the staff and immediately threw it back down. “It…it talked to me.”
Cade pushed Sable away and picked up the staff. His eyes rolled back. The skull’s eyes flashed, and sand wrapped around Sable’s legs.
“Mister Cade! What are you doing?” The sand slithered up his torso. “Mister Cade!”
Cade watched the sand solidify around Sable. He spun around slamming the staff into the sand. He gritted his teeth and slammed the staff again, sand flying everywhere.
The red glow of the staff faded, but he continued slamming the staff into the sand.
Cade’s tears were caked to his face. A single dark cloud appeared above him.
Thunderbolts struck each time Cade slammed the staff. Cade stood up and kicked the skull cracking the forehead inward. The cloud faded. Cade saw red glass around him.
“Help,” Sable whispered.
Cade saw scorch marks emblazoned down the left side of Sable’s face. “I’m sorry.” He peeled the thin sheet of glass off and eased the boy down to a sitting position. He removed his scarf and wrapped the cloth around the boy’s head.
“Mister Cade?” Sable asked breaking the silence.
“Are you ok?”
Cade looked at his skeletonized arm and the broken staff. He met Sable’s gaze. “Sable, you saved me.”
They set up a makeshift campsite in silence. Cade created a small fire using the top half of the staff. The fire poured from the skull’s mouth. Cade threw the staff into the fire. Sable yawned, and Cade saw just how young the boy was when his yawn travelled through his full body.
“It talked to you, didn’t it?”
“My father used to say magics like that existed, but I didn’t think it was true.”
“Your father was right about a lot of things.”
“Well I’m glad it’s gone now.” Sable leaned on his elbows lying down.
“I’m going to help you find your father, alright?”
Sable smiled. “Okay! Thank you. Goodnight, Mister Cade.”
“Goodnight. Get some rest.”
Within a few moments, Sable was snoring.
Cade unfolded the three dusty tarot cards. He ripped The Devil and The Hanged Man cards in half and tossed both into the fire. Cade crawled over to the sleeping boy. He slid The Star into his small hand and looked at the sky. He lay down and looked up at the stars. The red sand and glass was cool on Cade’s skin. Cade stared at the fire and watched the staff burn.
Damian Campana is a creative writing student in New York. He is an aspiring creator. He is passionate about telling stories through different aspects of art including music, acting, writing, and drawing.