by Travis Perry
Markas stood over his aspbug. Three of its legs had been torn from its body before Markas had killed the flailing mount himself. Ross stood beside him with the other two nomads, surveying the damage. One aspbug and all five buzzies dead, but the humans were still alive.
Ross could see in their eyes that nomads respected him more for having fought for himself. But he’d only been trying to stay alive. He tried not to flinch in pain as Markas bound his wound with a cloth, stopping the bleeding. He did his best to keep his hands from shaking—he thanked God he’d peed not long before the attack, or else he probably would have wet himself.
Standing next to Markas, Ross shifted his feet back and forth to hide the shaking of his legs from the tribesmen, none of whom seemed shaken at all. He watched Markas use his knife to open the body of one of the beasts who had attacked.
The inside of its carapace was crawling with white little moving shapes, like carrion fly larvae, but with legs like spiders. “See, stranger?” The nomad’s voice rasped in a hard whisper. “These are the cause, the reason the buzbugs ran yesterday, the reason they attacked just now.”
“I see them. What are they?”
“They are a sign of the wrath of Lallah. They come to execute His judgment on all that lives.”
“How do they do that?”
Before Markas could answer, one of the small white bugs leapt of out of the body of the dead buzbug onto the nomad’s right hand, the one holding his knife. Immediately the small creature began burrowing into the skin of his hand. With surreal calmness, Markas switched his knife to his left hand and held up the back of his right in front of his face. For a moment he watched the bug dig itself under his skin. And then with the knife in his left, he slashed at the bug, removing it and half the skin from the back of his hand.