The Soldier and The Sniper -Ch4

The nights were painful to GŸnther the silence lacked the distractions that he needed. All these painful memories and now the reality that followed being here his friend’s widow, this place, this farm, and this house they once held happy memories that now just remind both of them of what they were missing. GŸnther looks to Lois who may seem frail but is still strong and holding herself together better then he would have thought.

He has the painfully burning urge to embrace Lois. To find comfort in another in a warm body but he knows that to her he was just a reminder of who she had lost.

He felt uneasy trapped even so he forced himself to go out into the night. A pub would be the best place for him to go late at night, so he did. He quietly strolled through the silence village no lights in sight only the stars lit his way till he got to the pub. He stopped outside to peer into the window, from there he could see old acquaintances huddled at different tables their eyes forlorn and casted down at their drinks. GŸnther entered the pub and ordered himself a large mug of a honey tasting alcohol that made him smile despite himself.

GŸnther sat at one of the table of a group of men he knew who he had worked with before the war on the farm. He inquired upon their melancholy a few let out sickening sighs that sounded like the cries of a dying man.

“Auschwitz” One said GŸnther blinked rapidly. They told GŸnther that they had seen Auschwitz an American general had brought the whole of the village down to the horrible concentration camp that was several miles from the village. GŸnther did not know what they meant and when they told him he felt sick. It was just a rumor that was spread among the soldiers as a way of scaring you like Krampus nothing more. A ghost story.

***

Virgil went to his former place of employment his boss Mr. Oliver was looking off to his right his eyes transfixed on the horizon. A glass of ice cold tea between his hands. “I say, Mr. Oliver why do you look so content” Virgil said with a laugh.

Mr. Oliver spun in his chair to look at Virgil, part of him never expecting to see him ever again. “You’re looking good Virgil” Mr. Oliver said. He stood up from his large oak desk and reached out to give Virgil a handshake that hurt as much as when he first started to work here before the war. Mr. Oliver looked no different since the last time they had seen each other he still was short and partially balding but with a full moustache that hid his upper lip and thin glasses.

“Thank you sir,” Virgil said with a cordial smile “I’m sorry about ending my relationship with Julia I was just concerned about her having to wait for a man who may never come home.” Virgil said with a frantic panic.

“It is fine Virgil, Julia has met another man he’s a lawyer.” It sounded like a backhanded compliment but Virgil wasn’t so sure.

“I say, good for her.” Virgil said with a nod.

“I will have a position open for you” he adjusted his glasses as he looked down at his accounting books. “Martins wife was taking up your position while you were away. Come back on the Monday of next week and I’ll but you straight to work.” Martin’s wife, Willow she was a beautiful woman that could make any man’s knees weak. But she was also strange, too strange for a woman. There were always rumors flying about. Virgil paused in confusion because for some reason he couldn’t remember any of the rumors he heard. Nothing. Just a blank were memories once were. Soon Virgil realized that he had been silent for a bit too long.

“That’s great I hope I’m not putting you out.” Virgil asked unsure.

“Please no it such a pain having a woman working for me.” He rolled his eyes they looked like a fish sticking its head out of a fishbowl as his eyes bobbed over the rim of his glasses.

“Of course,” Virgil said with a smile nod and laugh. Martin’s wife the woman who married a cripple a sad thing, truly tragic.

Advertisements

The Soldier and The Sniper -Ch3

Good morning, my little heartache

Home, to finally be back was something they would never imagined to see again. This is what both GŸnther and Virgil felt. But for GŸnther it was a bitter sweet pill the farm house was gone and many of the animals were dead. Everything felt empty like the life blood of the most beautiful memories had been ringed dry.

“Lois…” GŸnther said catching her attention. She turned to him with a stiff sad stance. She looked through him as soon as she saw her husband was nowhere to be found. Her face was sunken and her frame was thin her cloths hanging off of her as if she was a fence.

“Helmuth, ist er tot?” She asked with a deeply sad tone. Already knowing her husband was dead and now she is a young widow, at least she did not have to deal with the burned of having a child. That’s what GŸnther tells himself trying to find some solace for her.

“Ja” GŸnther said with a dry bobbing of his Adam’s apple as he swallowed back his tears.

Suddenly his pack felt too heavy and he needed to drop if but he held on tight enough for his knuckles to whiten from the strain. He shook his head as he walked back to where his bed was. The house was bare several trinkets that were family heirlooms were gone along with Helmuths favorite snuff box. It was a thing the two of them shared and would pass between each other while they tilled the fields late into the night.

Brauche Hilfe?” GŸnther asked as he approached Lois from her right side. It wasn’t right for him to fall apart on her when she needed his help. She was bent over a large bed of vegetable that seemed to have survived whatever ordeal that had ravaged the rest of the farm.

She pointed towards the wood stump that had an axe embedded in it “Holz hacken” she said.

***

The bus dropped Virgil off at the corner that lead to his childhood home. Virgil was chest fallen from his experience as he got off the plane of the Birmingham–Shuttlesworth Airport. He had expected his family to be waiting for him on the tarmac. He felt and probably looked like an unwanted and forgotten child as he walked past all of the family’s welcoming home their sons.

As he walked to his home he felt unease as everything felt strangely the same like the war had never even happened. Well really nothing had changed no bomb were dropped on his street and no German or Japs were matching down the boulevard.

Virgil came up to the front door of his house with a strong balled-up fist pounded on the door. When it opening with a careless swing that would cause it to bounce off the wall and make his dad red in the face. Virgil was happy to see his family once more his brother and sister were beside themselves with a sickening worry of never seeing their big brother again. His father stood stiffly in front of him his face drawn into a frown as he evaluated his son. Virgil placed his large suitcase to his feet and looked back up to his old man. Wondering to himself if the war changed his son as much as it did to him after the Great War. The protracted silence between the two is broken by his wife running past him and hugging her son with happy tears in her eyes.

“It’s good to see you too mah” Virgil said with a laugh. She was lost for words holding him tighter as if that would help them spill out only thing that did come out were. “I made dinner” she said pulling back whipping the tears from her eyes.

“I say, that sounds great” Virgil agreed. Dinner smelled delicious a familiar comfort that gave him the feeling that, yes I was home again. His parents went back inside and his two sibling were now alone with him but still within earshot of their parents.

His sister, Edith came upon his right looking more dolled up then he had ever seen her “So what was it like did you go to Paris?” She asked.

“I say Edith, it seems like you want a souvenir more than a welcome home hug from your big brother.” He said with a laugh, she pouted.

“I don’t need you giving me things Virgil, I got’s a job now” she grinned proudly bobbing her head in a prideful manner.

“I say, good for you but I think dad aint to happy about that.” Edith frowned at him as he took a fire to her happiness.

His younger brother chimed in with a wicked smiled “keep on talking like that Virgil and she’ll light your clothes on fire again.”

The three of them crossed the threshold into the house Virgil noticed that the house had changed from when he was last home. There was a new carpet and a beautiful varnished table that dad had been working on before the war began. On the mantel he saw a photo of him in his uniform glasses discarded to avoid the glare of the flash. Virgil felt wrong looking at that photo as if he was looking at an impostor because that is not who is he is now. He’s not that bright eyes kid who thought he had his whole life ahead of himself. Now he just feels lost like something was missing like he was, broken.

virgil

The table was being set by his dad who lazily touched each utensil making sure that every one of them was accounted for. Mother soon called that dinner was ready, she walked into the dining room with a crock pot and a large spoon bobbing from the pots depths. She placed the heavy pot on the table then quickly left for the kitchen to discard her mittens.

“So son, what will you do now that you are back” his father asked as he cut at the piece of steak that floated to the top of the stew.

“Well I was planning on seeing if Mr. Oliver will give me my job back,” Virgil said as he eyed his sibling who were feigning disinterest. “If he cant then I can always work at This did not go unnoticed by Virgil’s father who knew the burning questions they wanted to lob at their older brother and he would not have any of it.

“That’s good,” he father says looking at Virgil “Mr. Oliver has been wondering when you would get back along with Julia.” Virgil blanched at the thought of his former girlfriend, Julia Oliver.

“Right, Julia. I was thinking that she would be better off when another guy who can handle her” Virgil offered up innocently. His father frowned but said nothing. He’s only in his twenties he’ll find another girl soon. His father thought.

<<Chapter 2   Chapter 4>>

The Soldier and the Sniper – Ch2

Chapter 2 -Sniper

The sniper slid to the floor of the room, he hid in. He couldn’t go on alone any longer, he couldn’t kill alone, and the weight was crushing his soul. He slipped the bullet from the gun taking it into his hands so to cling to it for dear life. He looked to his left to where his friend, Helmuth. His dead comrade, his only friend, lay face up, his face grey with death.

They both remembered the Great War huddled in the trenched the rats crawling along their bodies and into their clothes.

GŸnther, Atem.” Helmuth would whisper. The sniper just a boy back then would shudder at those words cold and hunger suffocating him. A slow creeping thing that clawed at his soul, this left a coldness that only his closest friend’s death could shatter and make him human once more. They were a few of the lucky one to have survived the war without becoming disfigured or lame.

Helmuth prayed that they would survive this war together but only GŸnther did. A cruel fate befell Helmuth when he received a Kampfwunde in battle during a skirmish with a squad of Tommys and it had festered. It was unbearable to watch his comrade, his war brother for all these year to die in his own scheisse. That’s not how any man should die, crying in agony begging for death.

How long has this war gone on? It seems to him easier to count bodies then days, the fading sense of self and the weathering of time eroding his perception of it. Nine years of war and so many more of poverty and starvation. No wife and no child to go home to. No one. GŸnther was an old man now he was never a scholar or a farmer just a despot who was lucky to get a meaningless stipend and a cherished friend as his only means of living. Would Helmuth’s wife even let my come back to live with her even with her husband gone, GŸnther doubted it.

His dread and melancholy was flipped on its head, when the boarded doors to his hiding place rattled, as the sound of a single intruder entered. A panic rose in him and an angry cynical conscious who criticized him from running away from the enemy.

“GŸnther, Atem.” He whispered to himself, he had his enemies within his reach how foolish had he been not to kill them all. He’s gotten too soft in his old age. He took his last Stielhandgranate in hand the wood of the handle cold to the touch, he could feel it through his gloves. He briskly twisted off the cap from the bottom of the stick grenade, he could he clumsy plodding feet from the downstairs slowly coming up. Who would be so foolish to come alone in the night to face his enemy? The Ami is much like an outlaw he once heard from a long dead friend.

When the door to the room within his hideout was opening- his fingers wrapped around the fuse, ready to die.

A hand poked out of the door holding an orange and the words “kein Kampf” the German sniper frowned at the butchered German the stranger spoke. “Gut?”

“Ja,” the sniper said setting down the stick grenade at his side. The American soldier finally opened the door secure in the fact that he would not be shot, hopefully. GŸnther was shocked at what he saw the Ami he was young, younger then he would have expected. His hair was a tussled mess of brown hair and he had a strange set of large grey eyes framed by glasses.

Virgil was equally surprised at the scene he saw before him a dead body lay pressed up against the sniper’s waist. The sniper himself was much older than Virgil would ever expected the German army to utilize. He had to be in his 40s, his black hair was peppered with white patches and had several large scars across his forehead and face. As Virgil stepped inside the room he was transfixed by the sharp blue eyes of this stranger.

gyther

Virgil bent down to one knee shifting the orange to his left hand and gently rolled it on the ground. GŸnther unsure of what to make by this gesture other than maybe peace. He picked up the orange and with a few quick tugs of his finger nails and thumbs he was able to pry the fruit free from the skin.

The stranger tried to speak in German a strained but heartfelt attempt but GŸnther saw it as a rather pathetic site to behold. “I know English,” GŸnther groused out his voice dry and ruff from lack of use “use it instead or we’ll be here all night.”

“Oh,” the Ami said with a laugh “I say, sorry I was never good with speaking other languages.” His accent was strange and perplexed GŸnther’s ears. The stranger brushed the back of his head with a nervous smile on his face. GŸnther was silently perplexed by that smile he did not understand how anyone could possibly smile anymore, what was there to smile about in this life. The sun rose and set every day and man died by the second in every day.

“Why do you come here?” GŸnther asked. He shifted his weight as he felt the weight of his gun digging into his hip. He looked critically at his former enemy, searching with his eyes for a knife, grenade, or pistol hidden in an easy place to extricate it from. A boot, maybe a back pocket, or a gasp in a boot.

“To see if I made the right choice in not killing you” Virgil said. With a sickly pale color rising to his cheeks his serious glare seemed rather comical to GŸnther at least. So young and full of hope of a better tomorrow. The German eyes focused on the Ami’s hands that he was wringing in a circular motion over and over in a near hypnotic fashion.

“Now you have seen for yourself, go before your comrade’s follow and kill me.” He finished the last of the orange setting it next to Helmuth as a kind of tribute to the dead man next to him. Helmuth dearly loved fresh fruits and vegetables, probably just a desire spurred on by being a farmer. Helmuth hated the lack luster rations they were forced to eat, Helmuth may have gone rogue at the sight of an orange, if he was still alive. After letting his mind settle on the faint orange fruit he brought his eyes back to his guest.

The Ami was right next to him before he could register the silent steps and the lost personal space that was once his and Helmuth’s alone. “My name’s Virgil.” He said with an outstretched hand.

There was a strange silence that grew as GŸnther tried to find the words to respond but could only come up with- “GŸnther” he said with a dry, wry, sputter as he shifted uncomfortably again. GŸnther shivered at the touch of this stranger’s hand and he became quickly reminded of how long it has been since he last bathed. The dirt and grit pressed in-between new hands.

Virgil’s face hovered far too close for GŸnther’s comfort, drawing himself back from the man he said sternly “Go.” Virgil’s face fell as he looked on at the German with an intense gaze that GŸnther had only thought women to have towards their husbands.

“Time for you to go” GŸnther said. The Ami frowned but nodded in agreement.

“When this is over, if you ever need a place to stay while in American looked me up, it’s Virgil Muller I’m from Alabama.” Virgil smiled at his new friend before disappearing into the night.

<<Chapter 1

The Soldier and the Sniper

*This was originally a set of poems and a narrative poem but I like the story so much I wanted to expound upon it. They met on the battlefield as enemies but not all men are meant to fight each other, some are meant to love.*

Chapter 1- Soldier

Out here in the crumbling French country-side, a soldier stands, with his men surrounding him they are a band of brothers. He’s on edge, but his head is held high with teeth bared to the sky, as he fights the ever present fatigue that leaves him hobbling forward. The mud has claimed him bones for its own, soon the hope to make camp and reclaim their manhood for future treks.

They soon come upon a town, empty but still there lingers a presence, the soldier clutches his rifle close. The wood and metal cradled in his arms, it is comforting like the embrace of your only friend, a lover, or a mother. Forever protecting and staying with you. As long as you treat em’ right.

Julia, he’s reminded of her he wonders how she is doing. He thinks of her smooth skin and freckled cheeks pressed against his arm as they walked down the boulevard, hand in hand.

From the corner of his eye he sees a flash. Someone is out there. Waiting for us. But nothing is out there in this empty city. He feels a fool as his men snicker at him, “Little Virgil is all jumpy again.” They snicker trying to appear like they had no fear no cause to feel weary for their very lives. They were winning, we were winning, there was nothing that could stop them, their power was to great thinking only of the allies plowing through the western front.

But that was then and this is now and now they are tired and lethargic slowly collapsing. Leaning on each other as their feet cried to be allowed to rest. At least they didn’t have it as bad as the blacks and the japs the horror story of the constant turn over in deployed soldiers in those companies could turn your gut. But better them then me. Virgil mused with a sick grin.

They make camp in a blown out and destroyed house that had spare beds and blankets. When night falls Virgil feel eyes upon himself. He quickly steady’s his rifle peering down his sights to see, the enemy looking back at him through their sights. Virgil draws in a breath. The winter air tears him to bits. Death will soon come for one of us. The slower man will die. The weaker man will die. But we will be the heroes. I will be a hero. Receiving the: Glory, Victory, and Honor. That we deserve.

I will not flinch, I will not run, and I shall be victorious, but now, here I wait, ready to fire, clutching my rifle. With the calloused hands of a typist, rendered to nothing but gnarled twigs, the endless tightening of boot straps and quick closing of buttons had rendered them numb and dull. And here he waits, for his hand to stop shaking, for that Mauser Rifle to, finally, kill him, and for his flag, to be rested upon, his coffin. Would my father be there, would my mother cry, who would my brother and sister blame for my death? God, The President, Hitler, or would they say it was my fault for going in the first place.

But death has not come to him, just yet. He clears his muddled mind so he can truly see pushing back the fog that was clouding his fearful mind. The enemy is gone, he escaped in Virgil’s moment of weakness.

Smith nudged Virgil in his sleepy state. Whispering his name. “Virgil what is it?” He inquired upon his stance and his weapon drawn probably just wanting him to stop making noise so he could sleep.

Virgil is speechless unsure what to do. So he says, but its a sputtering out of some words with restrained duress. “It was just-” He paused thoughtfully. “A lonely deer searching for its family.” Virgil receives an eye roll and a dismissive yawn. “Well if you’re hungry kill it already or go to sleep, country boy” he said. He returned to his sleep and Virgil stays awake watching where the sniper once sat. The enemy soldier was still gone from his perch but he saw no one leave the building. He must still be inside, he reasoned. He wonders to myself as he settles down to sleep if he’ll meet that deer one day.

Either on the battlefield or on the streets of Germany. But- I want to see my enemy, to touch my enemy. He’s a man not a monster.

Chapter 2 >>

Con of a Blade-Chapter 4

“Why, Roy, it’s so good to see you.” The voice was dripping with smarm, and it was the first thing that hit me as I stepped into the parlor. The second was the sight of Rolon, dressed in his formal finest, sitting on the divan and drinking delicately from a cup of tea. “I thought your wife might like some company in this trying time, so I stopped in to see her. She is still your wife, right? You haven’t grown tired of her yet?”

“What do you want?” I said coolly.

“Me? I wanted to pay my condolences. I heard you had lost a…friend.” He said with mock remorse.

“Yes. I have. Now get out of my house.” I motioned to the door.

“Must you always be so brusque? You’re not the only one her passing has affected. I’m sure there’s tree huggers somewhere who care, too.” Rolon tutted. I stepped forward, tensing up. One good right hook, and I could have the pleasure of dragging his unconscious body out the front gates. I imagined what it would look like. Him tumbling off the divan. Teacups shattering. The satisfying ache in my knuckles from putting them hard against bone. A hand settled on my shoulder.

John quietly entered the room behind me “Excuse me. Would you be bearing the name Netvor?” John asked distraction Rolon. “’Would I be bearing’…? Yes, actually. It seems my reputation precedes me. Would you like an autograph?” Rolon said with a laugh. “Your forefather was a cheat and a scoundrel. I spit on his name.” John said Rolons smile dropped “…cute. Does he also do tricks?” I blinked. What the hell had just happened? “Wherever did you find him, Roy? On the streets, perhaps?” Whatever nerve John had struck, it had been a solid hit. A muscle in Rolon’s face had begun to twitch, and John looked like he was getting ready to lunge.

“Better to be a mongrel than a bi—” Claire entered the room “–t of a bother.” It was a smooth recovery, but Rolon and I gave him the exact same look. One eyebrow raised, and the other ready to go up in case it needed reinforcements.

“Oh, I see we have more guests. I take it the three of you are already acquainted?” Claire said. She smiled softly allowing the wrinkles on her face to show.

“Yes. You could say that.” Rolon replied coldly.

I cleared my throat gaining their attention “Claire, may I present John…uh, Alabaster? He’s an old friend of mine.” I said presenting him.

“And I was visiting Liberdam.” John said “Just for a little while.” I countered. “And I didn’t know Roy lived here.” John added “We’d drifted out of touch.” I affirmed “And we just so happened to bump into each other.” John continued on.

“Yes. Uh, yes. Yes, we did.” I said. I risked a glance at Claire. Her expression was absolutely unreadable. “It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mr. Alabaster. Have you been traveling for long?  Would you like anything to eat?” Claire said with a curtsy. “No, madam. But thank you for the kind offer.” John said in a mumble manner.

“John, this is my wife, Claire Armstrong.” I commented.

“It is an honor to meet someone my old friend thinks of so dearly.” John said cheerfully. If I had been drinking a glass of water at the time, I would have sprayed it. Claire just smiled sweetly. “Likewise, good sir. If your schedule ever affords you any free time, I would love to sit and chat. I’m a curious girl by nature, and my husband only tells me rarely of his past.” Claire said. She ran her hand through her faintly graying red hair.

“I, uh. That is to say…” I tried. Ironically, it was Rolon who saved me.

“As fascinating as this all is, I am afraid we must be on our way. Begging your leave, Lady Armstrong?” Rolon said. Claire agreed in turn “It was wonderful of you to stop by, Rolon. I do wish you and your son would visit more often.”

“Father?” a small voice called from the hallway. When he entered the room he let out a small “ah.” Despite being in his early twenties, Nola still moved like a boy. He stood awkwardly in the doorway, staying just outside of the parlor, one hand holding onto the door frame like he was afraid he might be dragged away. Compared to the confident, self-centered Rolon, the apple couldn’t have fallen any further from the tree. Every time I saw him, it made me think of a dog that had been kicked too often.

“There you are. I was just telling our lovely host that we were ready to leave. Where were you?” Rolon asked his son. “I was…ah…talking to…La….” Nola replied meekly. Rolon fixed him with a steel-tipped stare. “…I was walking the grounds.” Nola corrected himself.

“Very good. A regular constitutional will keep you healthy. Do not ever neglect your body.” Rolon adroitly switched his attention back to my wife. “Claire, you’ve been an exceptional host. I really must do this more often. And Roy. Oh, Roy. What can I possibly say to you that would express how I feel? Your loss saddens me deeply. As, I’m sure, it saddens you. Knowing that there is one less elf in the world.  Why, I must blink away tears. I can only hope that your grieving period is brief.” He turned to leave.

“It was good to see you again…” Nola said. I was practically shaking with anger. “It was good to see you, too.” I was able to squeeze out that one nicety. Nola smiled before exiting the room. Claire waited until they were gone before she took a deep breath. “What was that all about?” he asked.

“Nothing.” I crossed my arms, composing myself. Rolon and I had never seen eye-to-eye. He was old money. I came from successful tradesmen. He had passed his middle-age. I still had the prime of my life before me. He was a smug, xenophobic, self-righteous asshole. I had stolen the woman he was courting. Like she would’ve wanted a widower in the first place.

“If you’re going to pick fights in front of me, can you at least tell me what they’re supposed to be about?” Claire asked.

“I was not picking that fight. He started…damnit. John, can you give us a moment?” John was staring intently at a point on the far wall. I glanced at his chest. He wasn’t breathing. “…John?” His lungs kicked back in, double-time. “Oh! I’ll just…um…stand out in the hall.” John said fumbling to get out.

Claire let out a sigh “He’s your guest. We shouldn’t make him wait. I’ll let you get back to him in just a minute, but can we talk about this? I know you’re taking her death hard, Roy. I can only imagine what this feels like for you. But something has felt wrong with you lately. Even before her…” She must have seen something in my expression, because she stopped on a dime. “I’m sorry, Roy. If there’s anything I can do. If you need someone to listen, you can always ask me.” She stepped forward and hugged me. I patted her reassuringly on the back. It was a practiced motion, cold and mechanical.

“Thank you, Claire. I’ll be okay.” There was a hollowness in my stomach belying the words. “I should go attend to my guest.” I turned to make my way to him “Will he be staying overnight? Should I have the staff prepare the guest suite?” Claire asked. I nodded “That’s probably a good idea. Thank you, Claire.” She hugged me again, and then wordlessly left the room. She had never been terribly good at reading me.

“John?” He looked out of sorts standing there I ask what his problem was. “But I don’t think even a team of dedicated experts could tell me that.” The corner of John’s lip twitched, which was as close as I’d ever seen him come to smiling.

“Roy?” John said. “Yes?” I asked. “I don’t think I get tired, but I’d like to lie down all the same.” John said in a quiet tone.

“You’re taking it better than I would.” I said jokingly. John looked confused “Waking up after centuries of imprisonment. You’re taking it better than I would.” I elaborated.

“I didn’t wake up, Roy. I was conscious the whole time.” John said. I felt a chill run down my back. “I think you’re only proving my point. I’ll have the staff show you to your room.”

<<Chapter 3  Chapter 5>>

Clementine-Chapter 4 p.2

CHAPTER 4.2

Vahn sat in the seat of the ARM to see that she couldn’t possibly fit in there if she tried she’d would be choking on her knees. “Well shit…” she commented. She gestured to Rico who stood still unsure of what he could possibly do “Rico. Come here I’ll need your help.” Rico ran to her side as she got up from the ARM. She grabbed his shoulder with her good hand as she removed her pants handing them off to Rico. She was standing there in her underwear, with two metal limbs, where flesh legs would be.

Straker look horrified along with the John and his men. She sat back in the seat of the ARM. She searched through the ARM till she found what she was looking for a strange metal shaped device. She quickly inserted it into her leg with a violent twist her leg detached and Rico caught it. She did the same to the other leg. She placed the lever back in the ARM in a place hidden and out of sight. Vahn looked up to the group of men standing gob struck around her. Vahn frowned not particularly pleased with her life being side show attraction.

“What the hell are you guys still doing here?” She groused at them. The group of men sputtered embarrassingly and quickly left allowing the mechanic to come up to Vahn. She was covered in grease and was breathing heavy. “Everything is ready I will start the launch sequence once the lift moves” said the mechanic.  Vahn nodded thinking momentarily before asking the mechanic “how much running power does this old ARM have?”

The mechanic paused thinking “Anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes. At least.” Vahn clicked her tongue nodding her head for the mechanic to begin. There was a deadly silence that came over everyone who was still left within that hanger, till Straker spoke up. “I will proceed back to my ship to provide cover fire” he said as he turned away. Leaving before anyone could respond, but under her breath, she muttered. “Just don’t shoot me…idiot.” Her eyes followed him till he disappeared from view noting faintly in the back of her mind how disheveled his hair looked.

Vahn strapped herself into the archaic metal death trap that was a pilot seat. The oxygen mask that she was provided was not brand new but made her feel at ease. Pulling it over her face securely and tugging on the straps till it was snug and in place.

Vahn pulled out a metal chip from around her neck that was previously tucked against her bra. It was half and inch thick with 20, 10 cm pins along its bottom. It was gold with black strips that had faded around the pins. It took her a second to find where the slot for it was ‘I’m surprised they didn’t remove this’ she thought as she flipped it open. She slid the chip into place closed the latch and turned the untouched knob. The machine started to whirr for her as the front of the ARM had a holographic gold decal appear on the chest that read, AA071.

The appearance of the letters and numbers startled Rico who was standing far away from the ARM. “What was that?” Rico asked still clutching Vahn’s legs as he followed behind the female mechanic. She paused momentarily searching through her mind for the answers. “I’d heard rumors that military ARMs pilots were given special call sign chips,” she said thinking as she prepared the ARM to be released, her thumb hovered over the button “but to think fuckin Vahn was one. Crazy.”

Vahn smiled as the door to the ARM finally closed leaving her in a cramped claustrophobic closet of a space. “Home sweet, home.” She mused to herself.

***

The launch into space was ruff. She was sure that the ARM would fall to pieces before she even left the hanger. Luckily she didn’t.

There were 2 Mors ships along with 3 combat ready ARMs leading the way and here Vahn was alone with a mad android fighting alongside her. “Could my lucky be even more shit right now…” she grunted out frustrated. She felt around for her weapon systems which were located along her feet as pedals.

As they boosted closer to the station she readied herself “I’m going to fucking ruin you” she said with a feral smile forming on her face. Euphoria is the only word that came to mind as she entered battle. When she was in an ARM that feeling of maddening bliss and ecstasy that she could never feel in bed with a man.

As she closed in she could see hesitation in the movement of the ships. A Mors space cruiser would have blown by her already but they held back creating a line as the ARM charged forward. She pulled put the mounted rifle from the back of her ARM, charging it as the enemy approached. She guided the enemy ARM is a dance that flowed in her favor. A one on one ARM fight was a normal thing for her, when facing Mors who preferred to one-on-one battles whenever possible.

When the 1st Mors ARM fell after falling for her trap using Straker’s presence as a distraction. He didn’t even need to fire a shot. The 2nd Mors ARM was way more aggressive then the first Vahn was forced to drop her weapon and use a blade that was located in sections along the legs. The enemy sliced the arm off of her ARM, she cursed quickly making sure that there wasn’t a sever breach that could harm her. “Stay back. Straker. Trying to help me will only make the 3rd ARM attack.” She said coolly noticing his change in positon as her arm floated useless through space.

She focused back to her enemy who was pulling back along with the other ships. “What?” She said out loud confused beyond belief. Just then the power in the ARM hit critical and was getting flashing warnings of her power finally draining. She sat back, racking her brain for whatever this could mean.

Something was off…The Mors had left way to soon Vahn knew they had so much more man power that they could have just over whelmed her and pushed her back to the station. So why stop after losing only one of their own ARMs?

The only power that was left in the ARM was which gave her the little oxygen that she needed. Floating out in space with Straker flying around her. She clenched her left hand into a fist and winced. Her prosthetic hand ached even though countless checks by doctors and by herself had showed nothing wrong with it. She was assured that it was phantom pain, crossed signals in her brain that still registered her flesh and blood arm even though it was long gone, rotting or floating in deep space. A panic set in as her missing feet started to tingle like an unwanted friend who has come home.

“Vahn…” Straker was speaking to her “I released a cable so I can take you back. Have the ARM take hold of it.” She laughed to herself, he sounded so distant like he was not just slamming her face into her own ship not just half an hour ago. With the little power she had left she did what was asked of her. The ARM was dragged behind the ship like a lifeless doll or a deflated balloon.

<<<Chapter 4.1   Chapter 5>>>

Clementine-Chapter 4 p.1

*Sorry for the late update and short chapter. New school semester is happening. Also was stuck on how to do the beginning of the chapter.

Enemies in Love

Vahn along with Straker were placed in a cell. She was standing up against the bars trying to get John to talk to her. There was a rickety bench between the both of them. John believed her she hopped but you can never know what exactly is going on with a known smuggler.

“Damnit it John at least don’t leave me in a cell with this son of a bitch.” She swore hitting the bar with her fist.

“We don’t have the space Vahn. And I shouldn’t worry too much if he wanted you dead he could have finished you off already.” John commented over his shoulder and he sat at a table in an adjoining room.

Vahn turned to look at Straker who stood with his hands behind his back and his unblinking eyes looking at her. “Stay on your side of the cell Straker.” She says as she moved the closes wall.

“Language.” He said with a fatherly tut.

“What?” She hissed.

“Don’t use foul language. It is not lady like.” He said with a pinched tone that sounded like a disappointed father.

“Oh really. Fuck. Fuck. Shit. Asshole. Bastard.” She yelled.

“Vahn. Cut that shit out. Or would you prefer the airlock? Because. That can be arranged.” John yelled annoyed. She gave John the finger which caused Straker to frown deeply at her.

“It would be better if you would stop hindering me in my mission.” Straker said. John made a dismissive grunt to him that made Vahn smile smugly.

“Just cuz mom and dad made you look more human doesn’t mean that see you any more than a machine.”

“I see you prefer lesser models.”

“Rico was human. Unlike you.”

“I see. You sympathize with him.” Straker noted as if he was studying her.

A loud siren broke the silence of the standoff. Every human blanched looking at each other. John pulled out his communicator. “Don’t tell me it’s the Mors?!”

The radio let out a hiss as a voice responded. “Isn’t it fucking great and Loris is fuckin sloshed at the moment so he can’t pilot the ARM” the voice on the other side was of a panicking woman running to and fro trying to get everything to work to stop the Mors.

“Fuck,” John cursed the color drained from his face.

The woman on the communicator “I have contacted the Military Legion. But they won’t make it in time” she said sounding hopeless.

“What type of ARM do you have?” Vahn asked having regained her footing. John looked dumbstruck so one of his men who was sitting in the room along with him spoke up “7700 series DDR2.”

She frowned slightly “Jesus. How do you expect to protect this space station with such an old ARM?” She took a step towards them starring them down through the bars of the cell. “So where is it?”

“Where is it? Why in the hell would that matter to you?” John questioned.

“I can fly it.” She said urgently seeing her chance for escape from this cell.

“Not like we have many options.” The other man said. John walked towards the cell unlocking it. “You stay.” John pointed at Straker who look unamused.

“I have a ship. That can fight.” Straker said.

“Fuck’n fine. But when this is over both of you are going back in the cell.” John pulled the door open letting the two of them out. Vahn made sure to give a wide birth of Straker while they stood in the hall. When they moved quickly out of the room Vahn saw Rico who was sitting panicking across from the door. “Come Rico. I’ll need your help.” Vahn said as the group was leading her to where the ARM hanger was.

They all ran towards the hanger. Straker followed as well, impassively looking at all of them. The ARM hanger was cramped, rundown with parts strewn about. The ARM itself nearly scraped the ceiling of the hanger. It was aged with faded paint and deep gashes in its limbs. It was bipedal with a faintly human composition to its stance. The paint had work off years ago and there was graffiti along the feet and legs.

<<Chapter 3     Chapter 4.2>>

Con of a Blade-Chapter 3

County Roads

“Honey? I’m home, and I brought a friend.” There was no response. The front hall of the Armstrong estate echoed with the sound of my voice. Despite our marriage several years ago, there had been no formal name change on her property. All things considered, I can’t say I blamed her for that. Claire was the blue blood, not I.

“Roy, is that you? I thought I heard someone at the door…” Said Lain my maid as she came down the stairs. “Lain, where’s Claire?” I asked. I guess she hadn’t thought I was coming back today. When I addressed her, she practically jumped. “Oh! I didn’t know we were expecting more guests.” She said taken aback by John. Lain was Claire’s maidservant, and a sort of de facto autocrat over the rest of the household staff. At Lain’s say-so, floors got washed, meals got cooked, and the whole operation ran as smoothly as the lives of the gentry should. I wonder if she ever regretted it; that this was what she had been chosen to do with her life. After all, she’d graduated from the guild only a few years behind me.

“You said ‘more guests’?” I asked with a slight edge to my voice. Lain nodded “It’s just a social call, although the way that man bustled in here, you’d have thought he was the king himself.” Lain said with a sigh.

“The king!” John said. Lain looked at him. It was an appraising look. The same sort of look you might give to small, impulsive dogs or over-excited children. It said ‘are you about to break something?’ and ‘if so, will I have to clean it up?’ “Lain, this my friend, John Alabaster.” I said.

“Very nice to meet you, Mr…Alabaster.” She greeted with a suspicious glare. “How do you do, miss?”  John said with a smile. Lain cocked an eyebrow at him. I could see her sizing him up, trying to decide what to think. “I do very well, thank you. Where did you say you knew Roy from again?” She said.

“He, uh, didn’t.” I tried to say when John interrupted me “The military. We were in the army together.” I face-palmed so hard at that moment.

Lain revealed a devilish smiled, crossing her arms “My, my, Roy. You must have lived a very busy life. Was this when you were fifteen, before we met? Or did you squeeze it in recently?” John had a scared look on his face. I grab Lain’s arm “Can you give us a minute, John?” I said as I guided her gently into a room. After I closed the door she got right up in my face “You never mentioned a John before.” She said. I nodded “You’re damn right I didn’t. Until about an hour ago, I’d never seen the man before.” She looked shocked “Then why is he–?” I interrupted her “Just play along with it for now, alright?” She folded her arms. “I don’t see why I should.” She stated. “Because I’m asking nicely.” I said with a smile, she sniffed.

“I was going to say, ‘what if he’s some sort of con-man, or a hardened killer looking for a place to lay low…’” She paused.

“…and then you realized how ironic saying that would be?” I smiled.

“Shut up. I don’t know him. I’m allowed to be skeptical. Hell, you don’t know him either. I can’t believe you’re not being more cautious.” Her face turned a slight red. Despite herself she could come off motherly.

“I have my reasons, okay?” I said. She sighed “Whatever you say, boss.” She didn’t have to roll her eyes when she said that. The words did it for her. “He’s still very strange. You have to admit that, at least.” She said eying me. “Well, he’s a spirit.” I said with a laugh, Lain looked shocked. She stood there, stunned, but quickly pulled herself together. “Well, then. Do you have any more supernatural house-guests you’d like to spring on me, or shall I get back to my job?” She motioned towards the door.

“Why don’t you take the day off?” I said with a smile and a hand on her shoulder. “If you say so…Look, before I go, you should know that Rolon’s the one visiting with Claire. I know you two don’t see eye-to-eye, and he’s always an ass to me.  If you feel like kicking him out, be my guest.” I thanked her, she smiled “I thought you’d appreciate the heads-up.” Lain then left.

John drifted over from where he had been standing unobtrusively. The portrait he had been studying—one of Claire’s ancestors, confined to eternal stodginess by some well-intentioned hack—went back to slouching in its frame. “What did you tell her?” John asked. I looked at him with annoyance “That you suck at lying. And that you used to be dead.” His brow frowned “Was that wise?” He asked. I reassured him “Basically, it’s easier if she knows. I don’t know if I could keep up the deception for long if you end up staying here for a few days. Plus, anyone who spends more than five minutes around you can tell that somethings not right.”

“I see…” He sighed, defeated, and put his head in his hands. “Are things always going to be like this?” He asked. “Like what?” I asked. John replied “The hiding?” I rolled my eyes “It’s not my fault you offended the laws of nature. You should’ve thought about that before you decided to cheat death.” John became silent. It came out harshly, but it was true all the same. No one had ever coddled me, and I wouldn’t do it for anyone else, either.

“…Don’t dwell on it. Come on.” I motioned for the door “We have a guest to make unwelcome.”

<<Chapter 2  Chapter 4>>

Clementine-Chapter 3

Wild Is the Wind

“What the Hell is going on Cap’n?” Zed asked running up to Vahn as she pounded on the hanger door to close. He’s red in faced, clothes disheveled.

“Is Moxie gone?” She asked moving past him stopping momentarily at the stairs waiting for an answer. “No she’s in my room getting ready for a session of fuckin,” he made an exaggerated sideways piston motion. Vahn made a disgusted noise at him. He rolled his eyes when all he got in response was a deadpan stare “Of course she’s gone I sent her away after you were yelling over the comm for us to leave.”

“Good, strap yourself down somewhere and prepare for a fight” Vahn yelled back to him.

She moved along with Rico to the back of the 1st level of the ship past the water and disposal rooms, past the elevator that didn’t work to the gunner room. Rico moved to the gunner seat which swayed stiffly from lack of use. In the corner was a ladder that connected to the helm of the ship. Vahn climbed it till she was as the helm wheezing. Muttering to herself “I need to work out more.”

Briskly she buckled into her chair and shoved her headset on. There was a gargled mess on the comm link between Rico and Vahn. It soon faded when Rico spoke up his robotic baritone broke through “What is your plan Vahn?” Rico questioned.

“Get as far away from him as possible and hope we made it to a Space Station that values me enough,” she paused having lost her train of thought “that don’t wanna see me dead.”

“That. That’s your plan,” Rico covered his face with his metal hand “might as well just let him capture you.” Van bit her tongue focusing herself on the sensors instead of her mouthy co-pilot. Her pursuer’s ship was catching up to them on the sensors she was able to see it was a Republic cruiser built for combat over speed the antithesis of her ship. Her ship was a stealth cruiser that served the purpose of out foxing larger ships and hiding away from sensors. Just her luck she was in open space with no place to hide.

He was soon on their starboard, she turned to see port side of his ship dangerously close to them. “Shoot” she commanded to Rico over the connection.

“He hasn’t attack us Vahn” Rico noted confused. His eyes shifted to the UI checking to confirm the position of the enemy.

“Okay, Rico. I get we haven’t gone over fighting protocol,” she growled as the red light that showed the opposing ship trying to make radio contact burned her eyes. She covered the light with her hand “but if I say shoot you shoot cuz our friend here isn’t gonna stay neutral, till you decide to do it!”

Pulling on the stick around to the right, Vahn brought her ship into a wide turn. Rico took a deep mental breath, he settled his awkward stiff hand on the stick and his thumb hovered over the firing button. The opposing ship came into the cross hairs on the computer HUD, Rico hit the button finally firing off the guns causing the opposing ship to sputter in surprise. ‘You really thought it was gonna be that easy arsehole,’ Vahn thought with a wide feral smile.

The opposing ship pulled back behind them ‘shit he’s aiming for the engines.’ Vahn sent the ship into a sharp turn from behind her she heard a loud splat of Mobi is sent hurling into a wall. Zed yelled from the engine room “Did nobody tell Mobi we were gonna get our asses chased though half the fuckin star system?!”

“Nope” said unanimously by Rico and Vahn.

The ship rattled like a tin-can, as a shot connected with the stern of the ship. Vahn sent the ship into a ninety-degree snap-roll and spun though the worst of the explosion. Getting herself above his ship allowing Rico a wide shot at the top of his ship.

He juked the ship to the starboard, then started a quick left turn, but Vahn is experienced enough in her own mind to not lose her position. Keeping the angle of attack in mind Rico was able to successfully stick the enemy ship 3 times before it pulled back for another attack. Vahn hit a switch and shifted shield power to the aft shields, a mistake she regrets in the heat of the moment. Her enemy anticipated her move and used targeting missiles for the abaft of her ship.

“He took out the weapons system. Rest. In. Peace. Glaive,” Zed yelled punctuation each word with anger “you’re fuckin killin me here Cap’n!” Vahn cursed herself for her stupidity ‘how could I let this happen’ she had been so careful all these years to never be found, but now she is trapped within her ship with absolutely no way out.

Her missing left arm started to burn again a painful reminder of where she ended up. She hunched over the controls willing the pain to dissipate as she uselessly rubbed at the metal arm. ‘He’s out there and he fuckin beat me, again’ she banged her head against the controls. Stopping with her face planted next to the communications switch that flashed over and over burning her eyes.

***

Rico left the gunner chair with enough haste that he let the damage to his shoulder worsen. He paused to see that his clothes are stained black from the shoulder to his waist looking as if coffee is dumped on him. A grimace pulls at his rubber face, a reminder that he was so much less than he was once.

Vahn was shaking holding onto the controls with an iron grip as Rico shook her madingly trying get her to listen to him. “Goddamit Vahn answer his hail!” Rico yelled and Zed could be heard in the distance echoing Rico’s plea. Vahn gave him a dark look of reserved anger before speaking to him finally “Your leaking oil all over the place,” she leaned over to the switch that would denote her surrender “go fix that now.” He pulled back from her.

She wish there was a third option she could take any but right at this moment it was. Have her ship destroyed and all her crew die or be taken in and all her crew live. She cursed finally deciding to listen to the only option she had left “Fine.” Rico relaxed finally stepping back from Vahn’s chair. She pressed a small red switch that let the other ship communicate with them.

“Surrender now RahVahn or I will be forced to cut your ship in two” the voice on the other side was flat, robotic, and emotionless. She gritted her teeth she knew he did not have the balls to kill her but if she did at least appear to comply things will not be disastrous for her crew. “I know you can hear me” The voice said even and flat but with a taunting cold edge to it that made her shake with anger.

Her fingers felt dead as she her toes lifeless and heavy, as she finally pressed the button. “I read you Straker, loud and fucking clear…” she hissed through clinched teeth. “There is a secure space station 30 minutes from here you will go there,” he said flatly “you and your crew will leave your ship unarmed.”

“…Whatever you say” her face rolled into disgusted wrinkles as she clicked her teeth keeping her voice tight. She let go of the hail button and let out a belated sigh as she looked over to Rico who is confused and scared. “We’ll be fine Rico” she smiled weakly trying to keep his confidence from hitting rock bottom.

A sad gurgle noise is heard from the kitchen of the ship it was of Mobi, who was still stuck to the wall because of his companion’s careless ness. “…we should probably get Mobi off the wall” Rico commented awkwardly. Zed sighed from the engine room as he unbuckled himself “I’ll get the spatula.”

***

The closes Space Station was Ironside, it’s built in the side of a small dead planet. It looked like a papier-mache ball that was kicked in by a giant metal ball and the force shattered sed ball leaving this strange mesh of rock, glass and metal. She had been here many years ago the people were hardworking and fun drinking buddies.

“Well this isn’t the worst thing that has happened to us,” Zed commented “remember that time we crashed into that worm-” Vahn cut Zed of mid-sentence.

“We agreed never and I mean never, bring that up again. I still have nightmares” she shivered at the unspoken memory. Rico looked at them concerned. Mobi gurgled a sad noise, Vahn looked back to shush Mobi, when a hand grabbed onto her. Vahn didn’t need to look back to see who it was the looks on the faces of her crew told her enough. Her body made a sickening crack as she’s slammed against the side of the space station. “I’m sorry for this, but it is for your own good.” He said. “Fuck you Straker” Vahn yelled kicking back at him. Her crew looked on in horror unsure what to do, not knowing what was going on. Rico was the first to run towards the man clipping his face with his fist breaking the visor he was wearing that hid his eyes. Straker paused to look at Rico his eerie blue eyes washed over Rico. He shoved Rico away from his person “stay back, or I will terminate you.”

Not far from where this was going on several other ship captains, and passengers were watching a strange cyborg shaking down a woman in front of her crew. “Where is security when you need it?” A tall alien commented to a human who was moving crates of supplies. “They’ll be here soon, but just to be safe let’s move out before someone starts shooting” the human said as he, and his companion briskly made their way to the screening room.

A group of men in security uniforms soon approached Vahn and Straker “What the hell is going on here?” The oldest and tallest of the group of four men asked guns in tow. They looked scruffy and 5 o’clock was on each of their faces along with large dark bags under their eyes.

“I am tasked with bringing her in for crimes I can’t disclose.” Straker said mechanically. The older man frowned and looked at Vahn “Is that so Vahn?”

She smiled “He’s full of shit, John.”

“Let her go scrap head or we’ll put a bullet in you” John said crossing his arms, as the men behind him readied there blasters.

Straker released her backing two-steps away hands raised he threw her a cold stare. Vahn laughed as she said, “What can I say Straker, Everybody knows me now.”

<<Chapter 2 Chapter 4>>

Con of a Blade-Chapter 2

The Soldiering Life

I awoke sometime later, my head spinning and my body a wet rock that refused to move. “Are you alright commander?” I heard a voice ask. I felt groggy and lethargic “What? Who are you?” I asked. I looked up at the strange man. There was a translucency to him that I tried and failed to chalk up to the light shining in my eyes. It was like he was only real in sporadic moments, and the parts of him that weren’t concrete and physical were just playing along. He looked sad and out of sorts as he talked to me “No. You look different. I should have expected you would be somebody else by now.”

“What the hell are you talking about? And how did you get here?” I said. I briefly looked about to see I was still in the forest now splayed in front of that damn tree.

“Why are you asking, when you know the answer is magic?” the ghost said in a matter-of-fact way.

“Yeah, fine. Magic. Get out of my face now, okay?” I said pushing him away. It wasn’t far-fetched. Most magic these days was carefully researched and licensed, mostly to prevent things like this from happening, but there were still plenty of unpleasant surprises left over from the days before regulation. In the older, wilder places of the world, it wasn’t unusual to find talking rocks, or colonies of winged snakes that spelled out complex mathematical formula with their bodies, or clouds that screamed like they were burning to death, thanks to centuries of haphazard spell-slinging. Even in the suburbs of Liberdam, you could still find small strangeness. Like men trapped in trees.

An unexpected wave of vertigo washed over me. Whatever had hit me when the containment spell on the tree unraveled was suddenly dead set on making the inside of my skull feel like a hangover wrapped in a bag of hammers. I cradled my head in my hands, trying to fight back the swelling pain.

The ghost commented examining himself “If I am correct, I seem to be some kind of spirit.”

I muttered annoyed “…big woop.”

The ghost replied “big…woop?”

I gritted my teeth. The spirit was not helping with my headache. “Yeah. I’ve seen ghosts before.” I said. They had been trying to kill me at the time, but that was mostly because I was also trying to break into their tomb and fence their stuff. That had been back when I was employed. “You can do all the usual, right?” I asked.

“I can phase through solid objects, and I have this feeling like I might be able to possess a person…” I cut him off “Enter me and I will kill you all over again.” I said dangerously pointing a finger at him. “O-okay….” he said shocked at my violent response.

I smiled as I continued to talk “And you’d better get used to living out here. They don’t like your kind much in the cities.” Despite their occasional harmlessness, ghosts were still listed in the Official Manual of Beasts. This meant they were fair game.

Out of necessity, the Republic of Rafhelt had kept certain provisions in its legal code that made it acceptable to kill any creature that had an entry in the Monster Manual. This tradition dated back to when we were still just a kingdom, scrabbling for territory with the monsters that dwelt in the wilderness. Over the years, certain entries had been added, removed, or clarified, but ghosts were still official. For anyone with the means and the desire to kill a spirit, no court in Rafhelt would convict them.

“What if I can pass for human? Watch.” He said. I gave him a doubtful look. The particles that made up his body seemed to draw closer together. Suddenly, he looked much more real. “It’s kind of like holding your breath, only you never run out of air.” He explained.

“Speaking of which, it’s not very convincing if you don’t breathe.” I pointed out. He looked sheepish. Moments later, his chest began to rise and fall with a steady rhythm. He looked at me for approval.

“Still creepy” I replied. He frowned saying “I’ll work on it.” He still looked ghastly pale emphasized by his long fair hair and blue eyes.

My headache had begun to subside, but at the same time an awkward silence bloomed between us. What the hell did you say in this kind of situation, anyway? I thought to myself.

“So, uh, you were stuck in a tree?” I asked.

“Yeah” he said looking away then back to me. “Um, how was it?” I asked hoping to fill the silence. The ghost looked off as he spoke “Dark. Dark, and you could feel everything growing around you. Have you ever listened to sap rushing by your feet and known that it must be springtime?” I shook my head and he continued “I have. It was the highlight of last year. And the year before that. And the year before that.”

“So, you’ve been in there a while.”

I hear him whisper beside me “Lifetimes.” I frowned asking “Why?” He laughed shaking his head “I’m not sure I really know anymore.” He sighed, looking at me as if I had all the answers. I wasn’t sure what to make of him.

On the one hand, the masked man had told me to break the seal on the tree. Maybe this spirit was supposed to be connected with my revenge. On the other, I had just jailbroken an undead creature out of an oak, and I knew literally nothing about him.

“What’s your name?” I asked. He replied simply with “John. John Alabaster.” That name sounded off to me so I asked “…is that your given name?” John gave me an impassive look “It’s the name I was given.” I sighed in frustration “Is that a yes or a no?” He turned his head away from me looking of in the distance through the forest ignoring my question completely. “And how shall I address you?” he asked.

“…I’m Roy. Roy Puliveivari. What was it you used to do before…you know?” I said trying to glean more information from this centuries old ghost. “I was a soldier.” I felt a little bit of hope come to life in my soul, like a fire tentatively catching on the first few twigs. “Who did you fight for?” I asked. He looked on edge “Everyone.” He said quietly with a sharp edge. Then I asked the most important question “You’ve killed, then?” I could read it in his eyes. He had. So had I, of course, but only non-humans. Anyone with an adventurer’s license could rack up as many goblin scalps and Wight claws and Mudboa tusks as they pleased, provided there was a spot in the manual for each creature. Killing a human was another matter. As was killing any of the other species we had come to grudgingly accept as citizens of the republic.

“How many?” I asked. He pulled away from me “More than I would like.” He said in an audible whisper. That settled it. The masked man had been helping me. A practiced murderer—especially one who could pass through closed doors—was the perfect means for retribution.

“So, what do you plan on doing now that you’re free?” I asked. “If you let me, I would like to travel with you again.” John asked. Again? I thought to myself. The stranger bowed his head respectfully. I wasn’t sure what he meant, so I took a wild guess. “Do I look like this commander of yours?” I questioned. He nodded slowly. I sighed. It would take him some time to adjust to everything else, but I was sure he would get over this pretty quickly. I was not a military man. Nothing in my stance, my behavior—even the way I carried myself—went as far as to suggest pressed uniforms and epaulets. I was a thieves guild alumni, and I looked it.

“Okay. If my wife asks how I know you, we’re old friends.” I said, John looked shocked. “You can pass as human, and you need somewhere to stay. I can put you up at my place. Don’t worry. If it’ll help your conscience, there’s a little matter you can help me with in return.” John stopped me “I don’t understand. Why are you trusting me?” he questioned me. I laughed “You don’t trust me?” I smiled, turning on the charm. I always got my way. John had that sheepish look again “It’s just, you shouldn’t…” he said. I patted him on the shoulder “Come now. You seem like a pretty stand-up guy.” I said reassuring him. “You don’t even know me. I’m hardly even wearing clothes.” He commented looking down at himself. I shrugged “We’ll stop by a store on the way home.” I continued ahead of him when I felt the whisper of John’s voice in my head it didn’t make sense what he said but it had to mean something, right? You never change, do you, Alexandria?

<<Chapter 1 Chapter 3>>