140 One Small Step
After spending several minutes brainstorming and weighing all of her options, Zoey had a plan, a plan to save the Asurai clan from their grim fate.
If it wasn't for the fact that Max was related to the General, and that she felt that nobody deserved a fate like this, she would not have considered helping them. But now that she had heard their stories and seen the dire situation they were in first hand, she could not stand idly by.
A vast majority of the Asurai in this canyon were noncombatants. By Zoey's count, there were barely fifty able-bodied warriors that could be considered capable of fighting. The problem was that there were over five hundred children, women, elderly, and wounded that the warriors had been protecting this whole time. All of them were in good health thanks to Zoey's healing array, but they were still malnourished and extremely low on supplies.
The food issue Zoey had a solution for. She had an entire space full of crops and food thanks to Custodian 704's hard work. The real issue was how to keep all of them safe. She had already decided that she would be heading out into the wasteland to hunt the source of the corrupted and hopefully find the cause for the beast tide while she was out there. While she had been thinking through all the options she had, 704 had suggested a solution; bring them all with her!
So yes, she had a plan. Not a fantastic one, but a plan nonetheless.
Zoey opened her eyes to find everyone in the tent staring at her. She cleared her throat as she looked back at each of them. They were obviously expecting her to speak.
Zoey sighed. This would not be easy. It was almost dawn, and her high altitude drones were reporting that the troops from Brumau that were supposed to keep an eye on this canyon were getting ready to come back to take a look. No doubt this was to see if the Asurai had survived the attack from the corrupted creature. At most they still had about two hours of time before they arrived, and Zoey did not want to be seen by them.
Zoey stood up and faced Commander Taigen. Everyone in the tent tensed up, waiting to hear what she would say.
Then Zoey spoke, "Taigen, I can save your people. But in order to do so, you need to trust me and follow my orders to the letter. If you cannot, I cannot help you."
Silence fell in the tent. Taigen looked at his sister, General Saigo, then at Ssaul. He then closed his eyes for a moment as he concentrated, no doubt mulling over the decision in his head. As the leader of the Asurai, it was his responsibility to choose whether or not to trust this masked stranger.
Finally he looked up at Zoey and said, "What would you have us do?"
His decision had been made. The lives of the Asurai were now in Zoey's hands.
"Get everyone ready to move out down the canyon within the hour. Take only what you can carry. Leave the rest," Zoey said, then turned and walked out of the tent with Max in tow.
A short time later the entire camp was a mess of activity as the clanspeople carried out the orders of their Commander. They were confused, uncertain, but they believed that their Commander had a reason for this and would not get them killed.
The Commander in question was currently wondering if he had gone mad, going so far as to trust a mysterious, masked girl with his entire clan's future. Sure she had healed them all, but he barely knew a thing about her!
The only reassurance he had was from Ssaul and Saigo who both seemed to believe that all of this had happened for a reason, and fate had not yet abandoned their clan.
And so, all of the Asurai were packed up and ready to move in less than an hour. Those who could not walk were placed on crude sleds with the remaining supplies. Everything that could be carried was either on someone's back or on a sled, leaving very little left in the camp.
Everyone then gathered up near the spot where the corrupted had been killed. Taigen ordered his lieutenants to command their warriors into defensive positions around the clustered clanspeople, then went to see Zoey with Ssaul and Saigo.
"We are ready," he said to Zoey, who was crouched near the corrupted creature's remains.
Zoey stood and turned, finding herself once again under the eyes of over five hundred Asurai clanspeople. She could see their fear... and also their hope, the desire for a chance to live. They were now depending on her.
She looked down at Max, who looked back at her, his face showing no uncertainty, no trepidation. It was time to start moving.
Her quiet voice spoke two words that somehow reached the ears of every Asurai in the canyon. When they heard her speak, they all felt a strange swell of confidence, a surety of purpose building up inside them. When they looked at the family and friends standing next to them, they all felt that this was their last chance to survive.
As Zoey and Max started down the canyon, the sun began to crawl over the horizon, its light illuminating the top of the canyon walls. Behind Zoey and Max, Commander Taigen took the first step in their wake, followed by Ssaul and General Saigo. Then, with one small step at a time, the rest of the Asurai clan followed them down towards the wasteland.
With hope in their eyes, hunger for a second chance gnawing on their bones, and the thirst for happiness long lost to them parching their throats, the Asurai struck out on one last journey towards the horizon.