HOLD FAST Part 3: Introductions
Trailing slowly behind the rider, Gem could hear the ruckus of the town, the same melodious sounds she had just enjoyed, die out as the stranger came through town.
Arn Cloudgazer, blacksmith and artist, ceased his hammer falls as he peered out at the pair.
A bead of sweat trickled down the face of Topper Rivers as she flipped the greens roasting on the grill outside her tavern. She rubbed her eyes and stared.
Gem was close enough to the mount that she could almost reach out and touch its scaly tail, but just as she began to lift her hand, the stranger spoke again.
“Y’all don’t get many visitors, do ya?”
“You do or you don’t?” it replied.
“We don’t,” she mumbled.
Soon they were upon the well at the center of town. It was wide with many mismatched stones stacked on one another, the wooden cover cracked and brittle, the rope and bucket having seen better days. Normally this was a place where the citizens would congregate at the end of the day, but nobody dare come out while the stranger was here.
The figure dropped from its saddle in one fluid motion, his boots kicking up a small dust cloud. With one hand he started easing the bucket down into the darkness and with the other he pulled down his scarf.
His skin was a lighter shade of brown than hers was – if her skin, like everyone else’s in Krell, was charcoal, and his was a soft, smooth leather.
“What’s your name, kid?”
“Gem,” said Gem. “Gem Heatherwing.”
“Well, Gem Heatherwing, thank you for the escort,” he said as he grasped the bucket and pulled it to his mouth.
The lizard thing made a dry hissing sound, and the stranger smiled and held the bucket out to it.
“What…is that, mister?” asked Gem.
“This ol’ girl is Shasta. She’s a desert walker, a monster of a lizard that’s damn hard to come by nowadays,” he said. “I’ve known her since she found me.”
“She found you? What do you mean?”
He chuckled dryly, like laughing through a burlap sack. “’Nother time, kid.”
The stranger put his hat on Shasta’s saddle, and slid his goggles off. His hair was close cropped but wild, untouched by any sort of comb. He dumped the rest of the bucket on his head, letting it slowly trickle down. He looked at Gem with a half-smile, and she felt her breath catch in her throat.
One of the stranger’s eyes was a dark, luscious brown, and the other was shock-blue like a lightning strike in the middle of the night.
“My name’s Imran.”