Chapter Eleven

FRESH MEAT

Gratitude is about as common on Nocturne as water is on the sun. Nevertheless, the night Nimbus first laid on eyes on Melkaz stirred something very close to it, in his cold black heart.

Trouble was, ‘What next?’ Over the aeons, he had dreamed up all manner of visual pyrotechnics to entice a victim up through the Tear, but the pathetic looking creature gazing skyward didn’t appear to have the ability to fly. Frustrated, Nimbus climbed out on the Tear to have a closer look. It was a stupid move as Melkaz spotted him, nearly giving the game away.

Nimbus was amazed and overjoyed when Melkaz turned up again the following night and created a light and sound show that even impressed him. As we now know, Melkaz took the bait, and returned each night to be serenaded by Nimbus’s deception.

By the 11th night, Nimbus was feeling a tad frustrated with Melkaz, who did nothing but lie on the ground, soaking up Nimbus’s illusions. On the 12th night, he disappeared.

Disappointed but desperately hopeful, Nimbus continued his nightly to forays to the Tear; dragging two fecundate Silth with him, just in case. As you and I both know, his patience was rewarded, so let's return to the scene of the crime.

When Melkaz woke, his headache was just a dull thump, and apart from being thirsty he was feeling a little more functional. Grabbing the water bladder, he nearly sucked it dry.

He still felt a bit hazy about the last few days, and had only a vague recollection of his encounter with the slug. His most pressing problems now were to try to rouse Methiyal and find water. The hill on the horizon seemed to be their best option. Just beyond it he could see something glinting, he hoped it was a stream or a lake.

After half an hour or so, Methiyal finally came too, and like Melkaz his headache was fading. Melkaz passed him the nearly spent water bladder and despite his terrible thirst Methiyal only took a tiny sip when he felt how light it was.

How are you feeling friend?” asked Melkaz, feeling guilty about the mess they were in.

Much recovered, how goes it with you friend?”

Steadfast, but weary. If you’re up to it, I think we had best get underway and try and find some water.”

Methiyal nodded ”The sooner we find water, the sooner we can get back to the Shrike; it is not good to leave her alone in such a terrible place.”

Melkaz pointed to the glimmer on the horizon, and they both agreed it was their best option for now. As they walked through the endless dust, they hardly spoke, as every word increased their thirst. Slowly but surely the hill became more distinct as did a lake that lay at its base. Unfortunately this was just another of Nimbus’s illusions, but for now it gave them hope.

It was Nimbus who had mauled the Shrike, ensuring that it would not be able to leave for a few more days. He needed the Silth to complete their work, removing all knowledge of their existence, before allowing Methiyal and Melkaz to return to the world below. To keep them distracted he had emptied most of the contents of Melkaz’s water bottle while they were unconscious.

Nimbus was sitting on top of a huge dune, watching their approach with glee. His plan was working better then he had dreamed, though it still had a long way to go. Even if he managed to get them back to their world, he would still need to do some wheeling and dealing with the Scroyle, a race he despised more then most. Twice in the past, the Scroyle had outfoxed him and Nimbus’ ego was still smarting.

As Methiyal and Melkaz trudged through the dust, the Silth were busily feeding on the hapless pair. For now they were still aware of the parasites, but the Silth’s venom was at work, erasing their existence from Methiyal’s and Melkaz’s vision and memories.

When the lake was tantalizingly close, they shared the last few precious drops of water and crawled to the lakes edge on their hands and knees, too weak to stand. Just as they were about to take a draught of the cool blue water, Nimbus gleefully closed the illusion.

For several seconds they lay prostrate before the sea of sand, not wanting to believe their eyes. Crushed by despair and dehydration they passed out, their hope no longer able to sustain them. Watching from his vantage point on top of the dune, a huge smirk broke out on Nimbus’s feline face. Leaving them to their misery for a few more hours, he slunk away, immensely pleased with himself.

While Melkaz dreamed of rivers and streams, Methiyal relived the terrible nightmare of the slugs in the great hall of the Gnarl. Its ugliness wrenched him out of his bad dream. When he opened his eyes, he was afraid they were being deceived again as lying next to him were three full water bladders. Praying they were not another mirage he crawled over and touched one, hope filled his little heart, it was real. He took a tentative sip. The contents were warm and brackish, but it was water. Grabbing Melkaz’s shoulder, he tried to speak, but his swollen tongue gagged him. Taking a small mouthful, he let it trickle down his throat. Nothing in his entire life had ever felt so good. He shook Melkaz’s shoulder again, eventually waking him and very carefully poured some of the precious liquid into Melkaz’s mouth. Melkaz made a muffled rasping sound as he begged for more.

Taking turns, they sipped from the bladder as they slowly but surely slaked their awful thirst.

The only clues as to where the water had come from were the large catlike prints in the sand. When they had regained some strength, they decided that the best thing to do was to ration the water carefully and return to the Shrike. They had no idea how much time had passed since they had left her, and Methiyal was very concerned for her welfare. Melkaz merely wanted to escape this hellish place.

Before heading back they climbed to the top of a nearby dune so they could survey the landscape. As far as the eye could see, there was nothing but an endless desert, which was exactly what Nimbus allowed them to see. Descending the dune, they began the long trek back to the Shrike, using their old footprints to guide them.

Due to their big difference in size, Melkaz’s water requirements were much greater then Methiyal’s, but it wasn’t in Methiyal’s nature to begrudge him this. Despite having already drunk more than twice as much as Methiyal, Melkaz would take the occasional extra sneaky drink when Methiyal wasn’t watching. Each time the Silth on his neck would pulsate and grow a tiny bit bigger. Melkaz's guilt decreased as the Sith grew. By the time they got back to the Shrike, they were completely shattered and their water was nearly gone. Methiyal insisted on giving his ration to the Shrike.

The Shrike was overjoyed to see them and Methiyal was very happy when he saw her wounds had almost healed. “Is she ready to fly?” asked Melkaz eagerly.

I think we’ll let her have one more sleep, and then we will leave.”

Though disappointed, Melkaz knew he had no other option but to agree.

Melkaz could no longer see the Silth on the back of Methiyal’s neck, nor did he have the slightest recollection of their attack. All he wanted to do was leave this horrible place and forget it forever.

Methiyal however, could still discern the Silth on Melkaz’s neck, and though the Silth attack had almost faded from his memory, the recurrent nightmare he had about the Gnarl continued to plague his mind.

Soon the pair of them fell asleep, as the sedative in their water took effect.

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