2019-10-30 - Desert Fates: The First Leg of the Journey


After departing from camp post-haste, Ambrose leads Bucky across the fastest and shortest route possibly towards his errant convoy. The thing is, the Jackal's mount is about as unusual as he is and the bolthole is surrounded by quicksand. What is normal out here?

Log Info:

Storyteller: None
Date: Fri Oct 25 04:17:12 2019
Location: RP Room 3

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Theme Song




Yes: Private Barnes' desert guide insists on leaving immediately. Whatever Bucky has, he must bring with him — surely a few necessary supplies were gathered before meeting at the proposed rendezvous point along the edge of the campsite, beyond the reach of the patrol guard's flashlights. Out here, the risen moon turns the sands sapphire and tourmaline and casts all shadows into dusky hues.

Ambrose, still having not formerly introduced himself despite the conversation about the fire (sure to leave Weston slavering for more to brag about later), can be seen easily enough. He's seated on an outcropping of wind-worn boulders and staring off into the distance beyond the camp, towards the interior of the continent. If he seems to give the impression of being thousands of miles away…it might be correct: there is the sense of listening hard, of straining senses. Here, sound carries far and distorts as it reaches the ear.

Bucky's approach is heard easily enough. The ground here is flat and pebbles shift beneath the feet. His guide doesn't look to him just yet. Instead, there's a long minute or two of silence before the Jackal sighs heavily.

"I suspect you are wondering whether or not we'll make the march on foot…" His voice is pitched low and yet the British accent clips like shears. "I would not subject you to this. You would be slow and lag." In a rustle of clothing and metal, he shifts off the boulder to walk around the outcropping. On the other side?

A camel. A single, long-lashed, cud-chewing camel, settled down on its knees with a blanket and saddle afore of its hump. "This is your mount. I suggest you treat him well because he will bite." Ambrose lingers without actually touching the creature. It turns its sandy head and large dark eyes towards Bucky, teeth still moving on the horizontal.

The GI is geared up - pack and rifle and helmet. No losing what Uncle Sam gives ya, as his drill sergeant told him, down in Georgia. He's already developed the infantryman's ground covering march - not parade-ground crisp, but good enough. Chewing gum like cud, himself. A shrug of acknowledgement for the comment. "Figured we'd hitch rides on convoys," he says.

But then there's the camel, and his dull stoicism cracks into childlike delight. A camel! He glances between the beast and the Jackal. "I get to ride a camel? I dunno how, but I'll learn." Back to the beast. "I gotta write Steve about this. He'll be so jealous."

"Yes, I assume you'll be a fast learner. I will only aid you in remounting the once should you fall. Beyond that, it is your task to master." Ambrose eyes the camel, who frankly eyes him right back, and makes a quiet groan. "Puh."

Turning to walk away a few steps, he lifts upon his toes and shades his eyes against the…moonlight. "I considered the option of a convoy, but there is something to be said for shoulder-room and fresh air rather than the cloy of humanity and diesel fumes. That, and when the Gibleh comes, we will be less exposed."

Turning in place, the soldier eyes Bucky. The silvery gleam falls upon his face in half-profile, showcasing the darkness of deeply-tanned skin and the shadow of unshaven jawline. It could be hazarded in the gloom of night the Jackal's hair is brown, but moonlight catches in paler strands threaded through his nape.

"Strap your pack to the camel's belting, beneath the blanket. Once you've done this, take its rope and settle atop its shoulders, before the hump. Click twice and pull the rope towards yourself. I expect him to balk, so do be persistent if you wish to tell your friend of your skill," the guide informs Bucky blithely. "I've my own mount to retrieve."

He's incandescent with delight, is Buck. He mutters something about the Arabian Nights, and then he's doing as ordered. "Fair enough," he allows. "This is …..I can't believe it. And yeah, the Germans won't be looking for a guy on a camel."

Once he's satisfied that he's secured the pack, he mounts, gingerly. Trying to find a position where he feels secure enough to try and urge the beast up to its feet. Grinning all the while - it's infectious.

"Remember the rope…" Bucky's guide reminds him in a distracted tone. After all, he's fishing around in the interior pockets of his vest. "Ah, here." Out comes what appears to be a finely-buffed cylinder of ivory — like a collie whistle? — which can be nothing but bone. Hollowed deliberately and carved with a single hole, it has a thin metal chain threaded through it.

The camel hems and haws (and groans a few more times), but with an extreme lurching, the animal rises to its splayed and spongy feet. It turns in the direction directed by the rope tied to its halter with a surprising amount of attention; pull too hard and he'll turn in a tight circle, after all.

Moonlight winks through Ambrose's eyes in red as he glances over at the other soldier. "Hold him steady for a second…" There's a Cheshire Cat's grin, as if the Jackal is about to greatly enjoy what's to come.

Bringing the bone whistle to his lips, he then lets out a long and lingering tone. It arcs high and dies out…or does it? Echoes off the empty air begin to build, to fluctuate against the ear, with the rasping of a whisper beneath — a steady rhythmic pattern like an animal breathing quickly — and cooler air than the night itself briefly swirls around them.

From around the far side of the outcropping steps a creature long of gently-arcing horn and tight of drum-skin over bone. It was once a scimitar oryx, pale of coat with ruddy neck — once it was, given the desert claimed it centuries ago. Now it approaches with a sullen purple gleam in its half-lidded dark eyes, clearly a thing of necromantic summoning.

Ambrose whispers to the creature in greeting, his own words echoing around the empty air, before he lithely leap to straddle its back. There are no reins, there is no blanket, but he seems right at home despite astride the drum-back above its chest.

"Shall we away…?" he asks even as he nudges the heat-dried creature into motion, watching Bucky as he passes. A click-click from the Jackal entices the camel to follow.

As the camel rises, Buck flops back and forth, stifling curses, but he manages to hold on. And once he's up, he's grinning again, pleased as punch about all of it. Carefully, he does just that. About to say something to Ambrose….

And then that creature appears, and he shuts his jaw with an audible snap. His eyes don't exactly bug, but they do go wide, and he sort of huddles down against the camel's hump. Swallowing as if his throat were suddenly full of sand….then he demands, "What the hell is that?"

Ambrose leans subtly in his seating and the desert-desiccated creature wheels about with shocking smoothness of motions despite its tendons and bones tenting beneath its skin. He brings its travel wide around Bucky and explains in a melodic, storyteller's manner.

"They were once called 'ran', bred and kept by the royalty of the Two Rivers of Arabia and the pharaohs of Egypt." He names it in the current tongue of Farsi before continuing. "We know them as oryx. This particular one died at least…two centuries back, but the old thing has life in its bones yet." Again comes the purring chuckle to curl behind his gleaming smile as he directs his mount in the original direction of northwest. "It won't bite, I assure you. Come along then. We've ground to cover before the dawn and another reconnaissance by aircraft. If we are lucky, we might reach the first resting point just after sunrise."

More freakishly enough, the oryx leaves no tracks behind as it takes up a ground-covering smooth gait. "Come along, Private Barnes, we follow the moon," Ambrose singsongs yet again.

At least both he and the undead antelope cast a shadow.

Part of him desperately wants to go back and scream at the Brits for doing this to him. Throwing him to this. The camel bubbles and groans a bit - following out of habit, for his hands are slack on the reins. Mostly trying to just hold on to the saddlehorn, against a wave of dizzying fear.

This is like nothing he's ever met….and god only knows what the Army censors will make of his letter, if he tries to write of this to Steve. A babbling madman, no doubt. But for now, he's utterly mute, face glazed in fear sweat, as the camel pads along on its lurching way. He looks positively seasick.

At first, it might appear that his unearthly guide chooses to remain as silent as…well, the dead. Meters become kilometers. The pacing of the oryx remains smooth upon the sand in comparison to the gentle rocking of the camel, though the latter keeps up easily enough. Behind them, a single set of camel tracks leading back into the darkness and rapidly-vanishing gleam of humanity beneath the immensely vast blanketing of the night sky.

It is cool without being clammy. Little tufts of sedge grasses harbor life. At one point, they startle up a long-legged hare which scarpers off in a quick burst of speed and fluffs of sand where it touches pockets in its fleeting retreat.

Tack gently jingling seems to bring Ambrose back to the present. He glances over his shoulder with an eyebrow arched, and then the attention becomes more focused as he turns at the waist, a hand rested on his hip. The oryx trots on unendingly. "I thought you might be enamored with your current circumstances, but you appear more to be assuming I'm intending to bury you in some shallow grave and let the carrion beetles do what they will with you."

It takes him a moment to realize he's being spoken to. Buck's got that thousand yard stare, fixed on the trackless sand before him. And he drags his focus to Ambrose with deliberate slowness. "You're not?" He might as well find out where this nightmare is going.

No bravado, no bluff or bluster. If a unit of crack commandos is afraid of this guy, what is one poor GI gonna do? Not much. Shoulders hunched, miserable. A German bullet, a bomb, maybe. He'd almost reconciled himself to that….but this….how can he?

Bucky is stared at for a number of seconds lingering long into Very Very Awkward Land. Does Ambrose even blink? He does, eventually, even as the corner of his lip curls up into a silent snarl. It twitches briefly into a toothy smile before that too falls into a flat line.

"I assure you that if I wished you dead, you would have fallen to sleep before the campfire and never woken." Bucky is informed of this like his total at the grocer's store, sweet and simple and immutable information. The Jackal's tone swings abruptly lighter and self-amused. "I think you do not understand the nom-de-guerre I have been graced with. Very well. «Five-Stripe»," he repeats in Farsi. "It means 'he of five lines', pertaining to a species of scorpion well known for sharing habitat with humanity. Do shake out your boots in the morning," he chides idly before continuing. "Their sting is swift and numbs quickly, with lethe to follow. Few survive. However…"

Again the eyes strafe Barnes' figure seated on the camel. "I claimed earlier that I was bored. You are entertaining. That, and delivering you to your unit saves another from the ruddy Germans intent on raiding my lands." His lands, apparently. "As such, fear not, you are in the safest hands." A gleaming grin is shot at Bucky. "Now that I have told you of myself, let us have further discourse. Tell me of yourself, Master Barnes." A wending of charm makes itself known in his tone. "No one is present to deride beneath the heavens."

He's silent, for a little, as he listens to that. "I know," he says, quietly. "I'm not worried about you killing me. All you'd have to do would be to just leave me. I don't have a map, I don't know the territory, I'd probably die of thirst before someone found me." He levels that pale blue stare on the Jackal.

But he doesn't seem reassured. "I'll be careful. It's more the entertainment you might have in mind before you handed me over that has me a little…..uncertain," James finally settles on. He shrugs. "I'm from Brooklyn. No living family beyond some second cousins. I lived with my best friend who's practically my little brother. He's 4F, thank God, and safe there, unless he gets run over by a bus, or something. Nobody in particular."

An inscrutable little gleam flickers through Ambrose's eyes at the spoken settlement. At first, upon that point of matters, he keeps mum.

Instead: "Brooklyn…" The Jackal on his pale ride musingly repeats the name of the borough. "I cannot say I have visited it…rather, I have not wandered your country. I intend to at some point. After all, I have all the time in the world before me." He sounds equally parts thrilled and disgusted at this. "A mixed blessing that your friend is safe and sound in his home, I think… If he is akin to many of the Yankees I've met, he is no doubt full of braggadocio and intent upon proving his mettle against the Germans and their allies. I suppose he might collect tin cans and keep the homefires burning," he expounds almost musically. Chuckling briefly rounds up against his sliver-bared teeth. "He is lucky. War is hell."

Ambrose turns at the waist to look back at Barnes again. "Do not worry yourself over my inclinations in entertainment. This is the most civilized variant of it I've indulged in many a week. Month?" He pauses. "Weeks."

Another pause and a little groan. "But ruddy hell, I'd entirely forgotten: Lieutenant Atherton, of Her Majesty's Army. A pleasure to attend you, Master Barnes. I would offer to shake your hand, but you would not be pleased with the result, I think." A sly, slightly manic smile flashes across his lips before Ambrose turns back forwards again.

"No. Steve's not like that. He's quiet. He thinks and reads and draws a lot." Buck's expression is wistful, as he gazes off over the camel's neck. Where is Steve now? Is he safe and warm? Is he lonely?…..he's lonely. "He's brave, just not….his body isn't strong." A glance at Ambrose. "It's not his fault."

Then he blinks. "Just Private Barnes. James Barnes. A pleasure, Lieutenant Atherton." He says it as Americans do - Lootenant, not Leftenant.

Ambrose checks the undead oryx now. Its more brisk pace slows in order for him to fall into place beside the lolling stride of the camel.

"James Barnes." There's a measuring way the man's name is repeated back at himself, as if his eerie guide might be wondering if it matches him. "Not so much a pleasure, I think, but I thank you for your manners. I have been shown far less for my magnanimity before."

A sigh almost ghosts before the Jackal's lips. As they've traveled into the earlier hours of the night, the temperature has dropped noticeably. "This Steve does sound like a contemplative sort. I suppose he might have much time to indulge in the cerebral, what with his status as 4F. I think many in our platoons might envy him these days." A glower winking of carmine to aimed elsewhere than at Bucky — instead off to the horizon where the moon still hangs full and bright.

He doesn't confide his nickname. That's for his friends, and he's not sure what Ambrose is, yet, beyond scary. "Being rude's not gonna help any," he says, gently. "And I'm in your hands right now. Last thing I want is to tick you off at me. He's always been like that…..and yeah, I know a lotta guys who'd kill to be back home." A mirthless smile stretches his lips. "It's like one of the sergeants always says - the road home is the one that goes straight through Berlin."

"Through Berlin, is it? I thought it was through the morgue."


Ambrose then wrinkles his nose and tacks his tongue off the roof of his mouth. "My apologies…that was tasteless of me. You are not incorrect. I have heard enough of Berlin and its importance. Perhaps my travels will take me north and within its borders one day…but not until my work here is done." A harder, absolutely zealous note turns his last thought to steel.

"But tell me more of yourself, James. You must have other hobbies you indulged before your sense of patriotism caught you by the short hairs."

"They're not gonna ship bodies back. Not with a fight on this scale," James's voice is distant. "I already got buddies who are part of Africa forever." The look in his eyes is one no young man should ever have to wear. Then he glances back at Ambrose. "But it sounds like you've been fighting your fight out here for a long time. Enh, I draw, I read, I play handball. We were always poor, so no money for fancy hobbies."

"If you've an inclination to linger after this war is over, you might find yourself fancier hobbies," his guide suggests distractedly. The Jackal has pulled out a trench knife more suited to butchering than being worn at his belt and is cleaning beneath his fingernails one at a time, completely ignoring the natural subtle rocking jounce of the mount beneath him.

"You will have to show me your ability to draw, I think. I might find myself impressed." He appears to be smiling down at a fleck of rock stuck beneath his thumbnail now. "It would be a nice change of pace after…after…"

The knife's motions slow and stop. Ambrose appears to be thinking hard, his brows drawn tightly. He looks up into the nothing of middle distance. "…has it been so long…? It was…and then fifteen years," he continues murmuring, apparently having forgotten Bucky is right next to him. "And then…" His throat moves thickly. "…took another…twelve?" Tension seems to fill him along with a flitter of what could be grief.

"I think once this war is done I am heading back to Brookly as fast as my feet can carry me," James's tone is definite. A squint for Ambrose's ability to do that without chopping off his own fingertips. "If you want. I don't got anything to draw with, though. Nothin'." Not true - he has paper and pencil for writing letters, but those he won't part with. "Could maybe……I dunno. We'll figure somethin'. Maybe on the back of a map." More gently, he wonders, "You okay? What's your story?"

Ambrose literally jitters in place upon his mount once Bucky asks of his state; it further cements the possibility that the Jackal did very well forget the Private was next to him on the camel. A hard and hollow huff of a sigh is followed by a growling groan, as if he were remonstrating himself.

"…I have no story, Private Barnes. I am the Ghul — no, «Five Stripe». I exist to remind Rommel of his egregious error in thinking to ransack my land." It sounds as if the Lieutenant is bitterly reminding himself of this even as he goes back to cleaning his fingernails again. Interestingly, he hasn't looked back at Bucky again. It's got the effect of a street dog all in all, wary of kindness.

"Well, that's crap," says Barnes, in his sweetest, most cajoling tones…..not exactly. "You didn't hatch from an egg or get made out of clay like a golem. You don' wanna tell me, you don't gotta tell me, but hey, no bullshitting me, either, okay?" The camel seems to agree with him, by echoing that retort by a groan of protest that makes Buck bark laughter.

The camel gets a look betrayed, down to the wrinkled twist of Ambrose's lips and a scoff to follow — how very dare it agree with the saucy Yankee!

"You poncy son of a cur," he snarls towards Bucky at first in a swift hackling. "You think to — to — " Then, rustily, he begins to smirk. It's still at least half a series of scoffs rather than full laughs and then Ambrose indulges in an eyeroll spanning horizon to horizon.

"I am of England, of course, a single child born to parents who managed to find a broom closet to rut in when my mother's chaperone lost sight of her." He chuckles again and sighs. "They were of noble blood, t'was all hush-hush, but…here I am. What else to tell? I was born, I grew, I came of age, and the streets were mine… The stalls…the stables… My father's name meant nothing to the people of Basra, but to a young man keen and confident of his lot in life, certain that his bollocks had fallen?" His shoulders rise and fall, his head briefly tilting to one side as accent. "It was a kingdom. I knew my queen and I lost her to the long-kept social mores of arranged marriages. I was scruffed to the Queen's Army not long after and…look at me now." Arms are thrown wide; it brings the knife accidentally close enough to flash past Bucky's leg without contact.

"I have returned."

There's a good number of decades somehow skipped in this explanation.

"Yeah, but *when*," persists Buck, in full hard-nosed mode. "You're leavin' out a lot there, Lieutenant, like how you look like you're my age, but you're old enough to have fought in my father's war." He shrugs at that, hands on the saddle horn, letting the camel follow the trackless mount. "And what you're doing on *that*," a nod for the ran. "I dunno what that is, but I know something wrong when I see it."

The camel bubbles disapprovingly. Apparently it's decided that its role is Greek chorus for this discussion.

Bucky gets an urbane glance for his insistence. Still reflective, the knife continues working grit from under the Jackal's nails as he rides. His posture, upright with hips loose, imparts the eerie impression of the sullen-eyed creature mostly-mummified and shambling, as no one more than an average thoroughbred horse.

"You may have heard the veteran scouts of the European platoons call this creature a 'gemsbok'," he murmurs. "But why does everyone want numbers? Numbers here, numbers there… It must be the drilling they use these days. Numbers were all well and good, but one still did simply aim down the ironsight and pull the trigger when I was young lad."

Young, he says, he of immortal fair face.

"Still…" Oh, and SUCH the sigh to follow, as if it made Ambrose weary that he must further explain. "…you might encounter things you do not understand during our travels." As if he wasn't one of these things? "It might be wise to educate you in at least what not to touch. After all, I am a prime example of the old adage, 'Look, but do not touch'…"

His smile grows feral and twisted for a passing second before Ambrose seems to compose himself. "What do you know of magic, James?"

"Because I know I'm bein' bullshitted," James says, jaw tightening. Trying to hold himself in check. He's still under the Jackal's paw, as it were, and if Ambrose wants to bat him around like a stunned mouse, well…. He sighs, softly.

"And yeah, I already have," he adds, nodding at the gemsbok. "Magic? Not a damned thing - I assume you mean the real deal, not just stage tricks to entertain audiences." Resigned, a little, though nothing like he will be, in time.

"If you've a wish for stage tricks, I can do those too, yes. I shall show you how to pluck someone's card not from the deck, but from behind your teeth." This must apparently be an extremely magnanimous offer by the tone of his voice. "But…yes, James, I am speaking of true magic. Allow me to demonstrate."

Abruptly, the knife twinkles as it's flipped in his hand with a confidence of long-practice. Gripping the hilt, the Jackal buries between the undead mount's ribs on the side facing Bucky. Anyone any bit familiar with anatomy will recognize the placement as a killing blow. The creature doesn't even flinch. It keeps on walking sedately beside the camel. When the blade is removed, it comes out clean and clear of any viscera.

"Long have those shunned to walk the Trigh el Abd known of these creatures, those preserved by the desert's mercies. Why not make use of them again?" Nonchalantly, Ambrose slips the knife away into its sheath at his belt again. "I was gifted the calling pipe from a fellow wanderer upon his death." Pulling on the chain about his neck with his thumb, out comes the small bone flute again; strung alongside it, a silvery coin. Both get tucked away beneath his shirt again.

"But I doubt you will believe me when I tell you I was born in 1880, so there we are. Shall I show you proof of my existence then? That you might be certain you do not converse with a true ghoul?"

He's only had a taste of combat, a whetting of the appetite for the long, long slog to come. He'll see America again, and then not for decades, save with his possessing demon riding him. James watches that demonstration with a kind of carefully measured pokerface. He does, however, flinch on the beast's behalf.

"Why wouldn't I?" he says, simply, looking up at Ambrose. In the desert moonlight, there's a wet gleam in his eyes. As if it had really sunk in that the chances are so very good he won't see Brooklyn again. Steve's listed next of kin - he'll probably be home when the telegram comes. "The guys back there think you're that old. I bet they've seen you do more strange things…..why am I here? Why did you volunteer to take me?"

Moonlight gleams too in the Jackal's eyes, though not wetly — with the self-same nightshine ever present during the night hours. It flickers briefly at Bucky before he looks on ahead. His detached air of amusement slithers away from about him like the shedding of a cloak.

"…because you remind me of someone I once knew. Someone who deserved better and whom I could not save." Weariness brings fine lines to the corners of his eyes and rounds his shoulders despite his straight-backed seating. "Karma is a bitch, Private Barnes. For once, I intend to make her mine rather than suffer at her whims." Wrenching normalcy into his tone, Ambrose continues. "That, and I do intend for your shooting skills to come to great use should we come to blows with enemy forces. My skill set requires a closure of distance more useful to melee combat."

High above, a desert owl circles. Its shadow swirls past them on the sand before continuing on.

His voice is rusty, raspy. His head nods with weariness, like a flower weighted with rain, bobbing in time with the tread of those big spongy feet. "I can't believe you're not a crack shot, if you've been out here as long as you say. When did you last walk in England?"

The line of his mouth flat, sadness in his eyes. The surreality of it is followed by a pang of homesickness, enough to make his throat work over a lump he can't quite get down.

Mercurial as a defense, Ambrose snickers at the question. It seems a sound anchored in discomfort. Why he feels compelled to answer the questions is something unusual given his long months of skirting campfires and pestering GIs for the pithy entertainment of it.

"I have not set foot in England since I was…five years of age, I believe. Insofar as being a crack shot…not with rifles," he admits. "My revolvers are well-maintained and I will claim marksman accuracy with them…that, and a sling-shot. When your ammunition is all about you, you take advantage of it."

There's a thought: entire German scout units felled by the whip and blur of desert stones. No wonder the Jackal is infamously eerie.

"I would appreciate it, however, if you manage to borrow a rifle, that you make judicious use of it. As I mentioned before…I needs must close distance with my enemies to be of greatest use to the Allied troops."

He has one - unslings it from his shoulder, setting it across his saddle. He's adapted already, at least a little, to the oceanic lurch and sway of the camel saddle. "Got one," he says, simply.

No threat in the motion. Whatever Ambrose is, surely rifle fire is no problem for him? He nods his head at that, solemn. "Gotcha," he says. "Fingers crossed we won't meet any Germans…." Not that he's sanguine about it. The front is porous here.

"Good." Ambrose notes the rifle and nods. "I can nearly guarantee we will come across some poor collection of souls who thought they might skirt about the main caravan roads utilized by the trucks," the Jackal assures his companion in a resigned manner. "You see, I spoke of the Gibleh earlier. These particular wind storms are fickle things. They might blow an hour, they might blow for three days, and we would be best hidden away during their passage. Compasses fail to work during these times."

Another glance over at Bucky. "I found many goods when I discovered the remains of a lost German scouting group not two weeks back. I am grateful for their idiocy. The bolt hole we shall reach shortly is more comfortable for it."

That makes him brighten. Maybe Ambrose will let him take souvenirs he can use as trade goods. "Yeah?" he asks, softly. "And I bet." A look up for the improbably star spattered sky - city-born and bred, he can't get used to it, seeing the arc of the Milky Way, the profligate scattering of stars. It all looks clear. "You think one's coming?"

"Yes. Without sounding theatrically sage, I can feel it in my bones. Notice. We ride through the scrublands now. Where are the creatures?" Ambrose sweeps his hand before himself to direct the view-taking. Not even a desert hare has spooked up since the left the last behind. No antelope, none of the lone inhuman predators that might wander for scraps…nothing.

"They have already entered their burrows and their crannies. It will be another hour yet before it arrives, but we will know it. The air itself will drop colder yet and become soft to the back of the throat. It bodes death." He nods towards the distant outcropping of rocks. "Direct your camel behind me. It would not do to be foolish of foot beginning here."

But why…?

"You would know," He'll never get this past the censors of his letters, but he's already mentally composing a narrative for Steve. A look around. "I dunno, but then, I never see much - they get scared away by all the noise we make, when we travel in convoy…."

Buck looks up again, a last look at the stars, and then he's gently urging the camel in line with the nonexistent tracks of the gemsbok. As if perfectly willing to believe Ambrose's assertion.

Once he's ascertained Bucky's in position behind him, his guide nods to himself. "Good. The creature has desert-sense about himself, so allow him his lead for now." The undead oryx begins a quicker pace with no visible bidding from Ambrose and presumably the camel makes to follow the lead creature. Things might get jouncy.

What looked like desiccated trees or scrub bush sticks at distance become rapidly something else entirely: pieces of twisted metal — a third of a femur bone — a half-buried rifle, its barrel bent in nearly a perfect U-shape — the top-line of a Jeep's forward window…?

"Quicksand," the Jackal explains airily. "The creatures know to avoid it or mark their steps. Humans and their vehicles do not. This particular bolthole remains unknown to all…save for you now." Subtle warning threads in and out of his voice. "We will take cover here until morning and you may sleep. I will keep watch." Their path continues wending through the visually-normal spread of graveyard sand.

Buck holds himself carefully still, like someone carrying a cup he fears spilling. Poised against the hump, rifle held across. The story gets stranger and stranger.

"Okay," he whispers, giving Ambrose a look. As if his unease were rearing its head again. He's alone here, trapped. His body could easily join those in the sand. "I could use a rest," he acknowledges.

"Of course — that, and a meal. I may be uncanny and canny alike, but you are useful, Private Barnes. I would be a bad host if I denied you any comforts I could provide." If Bucky's ever read 'Dracula', this might be an extremely uncomfortable parallel to note. "There is no running water, but I was able to lift a barrel of it from a supply vehicle gone astray. It has not gone sour yet. You may indulge in some of it as you wish. Might I recommend you limit yourself for your sanity. Your body must become acclimated to going without in these climes."

It is another two hundred yards before the monolithic collection of wind-scoured boulders is reached. Around it, discolored sand notes a barrier between solid and liquid ground. Ambrose dismounts with a grunt and then slaps the rear of the oryx. Off it shambles around the far corner of the rocks without a sound. Indulging himself in a spine-lengthening stretch with his fingers interlaced in an inverted bridging high above his head, the man then looks to Bucky.

"Attend, Private Barnes. About the back, by the petrified roots, is the latrine. No one will see you, I assure you. I have no interest in ascertaining whether or not your bowel movements are firm or the arc of your stream. I will take the camel's lead if you have business you must attend to. Otherwise, follow me."

Whether or not business is addressed, the camel's lead is rolled beneath a rock to anchor it from wandering. After this, Ambrose steps around to a point in the rocks and ducks down to just…disappear. From one angle, it appears he's vanished into thin air; from another, a narrow aperture can be seen. Dark at first, it then takes on a sullen glow after the hiss of a sulfurous match is heard and an oil lamp lit and hung within.

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