Dianire’s teeth ached every time the 1948 Ford International hit a bump on the broken pavement of the side road leading up to the Kierland, that massive castle in what had once been Arizona, shining in the early morning light on a Monday in the last week of August, 2528.
“The synthetics must have not got around to fixing the outer ring roads yet,” she said in short staccato bursts to the burly young Apache male crouched down beside her in the back of the truck. She looked into the rear window of the truck, to see another Nueguan Second Sister–Alyria of the Guild of Healers–sitting comfortably between a tall young Apache driver and a much older Apache hunched over apparently in pain. Alyria’s strawberry blonde hair–the normal color for a Tialan girl–was tied in a ponytail. It swung back and forth nonchalantly from Dianire’s perspective.
“And why does Alyria get to ride inside? I out-rank her in terms of age and accomplishments.” Dianire said to the Apache in the open truck box beside her.
“I don’t know, maybe she’s nicer than you? Cuter too.” The burly Apache–Hunts-the-Ruins of the Phoenix Clan, and newly-appointed Provisional Trader–threw up his right forearm, ready to take Dianire’s distinctly possible blow, all the while winking his right eye at her.
Dianire instinctively raised her left arm for an elbow strike, and then smiling, thought better of it. “Don’t tell her that, or you’ll never be rid of her,” she warned mockingly.
The truck came to a skidding halt as if stopped by an invisible force, although Dianire leaned out over the cab to see what it might be. There was nothing there except a faded, non-functioning electric sign proclaiming “The Kierland Grand Hotel and Golf Course”.
The door on the passenger’s side of the International opened and the aged Apache stepped out gingerly, clearly favoring his left side. He looked up at Hunts-The-Ruins, who, while leaning over the passenger’s side of the truck box, was readying his rifle. “End of the line for us Apache. Everyone out.” the old man said.
Dianire grabbed her Nueguan bow and quiver of arrows while vaulting over the driver’s side of the truck box. She came up to the driver’s window, stuck her head in, taking the young Apache driver aback and ignoring him while she addressed the other Nueguan Sister.
“That means you too, Alyria.” Dianire said. “Time to prove your worth in the real world of the Empty Earth.” With that, she marched to the front of the International, sizing up the possible threats on the Kierland grounds. Behind her, the tall Apache driver got out, gallantly helping Alyria with her large pack of Nueguan medicines and instruments.
The old Apache straightened up as best he could, coming around to the front of the International, its ancient radiator still ticking with heat. “Second Sister Dianire,” he said, the stress on the word ‘second’, “you are here at the request of the synthetics of the Kierland. There have been several incursions of Western Bandits onto their grounds since First Sister Rintiala opened the Sanctuary at Camelback Mountain and activated the Sky Wanderer’s Sentinel. Incursions so many and serious that the Apache Traders–meaning me–were notified. They specifically asked for Hunts-The-Ruins and three Nueguan Sisters, one each from of the major Guilds. And we’re already getting off to a rough start, as we are one Guild short.”
“We’re short because the Guild of Gardeners refused to send a representative,” Alyria said, hoisting her pack on the shoulders, adjusting its straps. “They think any negotiation with synthetics is a waste of time. So I have to speak for two Guilds,” she said, straightening up and smiling proudly.
“Don’t flatter yourself,” Dianire chided. “You’re just here as a milk cow.”
Hunts-The-Ruins came up with strapping on his Winchester 1893 to his back. “That’s enough out of you, Second Sister Dianire. As Provisional Trader, I outrank you on this mission, and I’m warning you to keep a civil tongue when speaking to Alyria.”
Dianire turned to Hunts-The-Ruins, crossing her arms in her ‘I could care less’ stance and regarded Hunts-The-Ruins with a raised right eyebrow. “Anything might happen here, and if it does, I’m better off without either of you. You won’t need to heroically rush to my aid, Apache.”
The old Apache–Finds-Water, First of the Seven Apache Traders–held his hands up for silence. “All of you need to look out for each other. The synthetics have asked for our help, and lot of the future of Tribe and Guild is riding on a successful outcome. That means diplomacy, and yes, I’m talking to you Dianire. “ With that, he motioned the tall Apache driver–Long Jumper, Candidate Trader for the Jicarilla Apache–back into the truck. With a grunt of gear shift and a stuttering roar, the 1948 Ford International backed up the way it had come, made a hard left, and drove off away from the Kierland.