Errant Road: Jade's Story (part 3)

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Re: Errant Road: Jade's Story (part 3)

Postby Jack Rothwell » December 14th, 2010, 12:15 pm

Chapter 6 (cont.)

The drivers at the front of Logan’s supply line drew to a halt as the old man hopped off his perch with surprising nimbleness. He called to the men with a cheeriness that sounded alien in his throat.

“Hail Lorrelian Militia! Hail, lackeys of arms dealers and dogs of the state! Hail corrupted law enforcers!”

The men at the front scowled at the address. The driver’s mouth set itself in a thin line and the soldier next to him unholstered his rifle.

“Get out the road old man, and take your wagon with you before you get run down.”

Jade watched from two wagons back with her heart in her mouth as Rufus raised a hand to the men as if to placate them.

“Sorry lad, if I did that then my day would’ve been wasted. Would you do an old man a favour and give me that wagon that’s carrying Logan’s money? I’ll be on my way a lot quicker if you do.”

The two men looked at each other a moment, and burst into laughter. The Blacksmith could see why, a lone man approaching the twilight of his years holding nothing but a bolt action rifle standing front of an armed convey and demanding their valuables was something to be laughed at, until you caught the humourless look that was in the old man’s eye. A second pair of guard joined the first, pointing barrels in the Captain’s direction. The first man wiped a tear off his cheek.

“Alright grandfather. A joke’s a joke. Move along before you find yourself paid in lead.”

Rufus took a few steps backward with his palm still showing to the four men in front of him. He stood shoulder to shoulder with the tipped cart.

“Go fuck yourself.”

He dropped his hand and dived sideways behind his makeshift cover. A moment later a whining noise sounded from the hill nearby. Too late, the militia looked over and realised the trap they’d fallen into.

“Draw your guns!” The leader yelled. “There’s a war-” There’s a war machine he wanted to say. But before the soldier could get to the end of the sentence the bullets started firing, no, hailing down upon the lead wagon. The man’s voice cut off to silence as hot lead tore through his body and erupted in bloody explosions from his back. The man next to him shrieked in fear and went scrambling behind the vehicle. The other two men turned their rifles to face the source of gunfire, a moment later one fell clutching his neck as Rufus popped out from behind cover and fired.

Jade’s group were already in motion, the guards behind them had followed the example of the other driver and ducked behind their respective wagons. The one driver who’d tried to gig his horses away from the scene had been blown sideways off his perch a moment later.

Jade saw all of this and none of it at the same time, her mind had gone to a place that was all instinct and survival. Their own drivers had helped them untied the crazily bucking horses from their own wagon. One of the panicking animals nearly killing Eve with a hoof that lashed out within an inch of her temple. The steeds, now freed, went galloping away from the carnage as quickly as their legs would allow. The five man team grabbed the wooden slats that pointed from the front of their cargo. Jade drew a lungful of air that smelled of tin.

“Now!”

The group heaved as one, the wooden wheels on the vehicle made a tortured squeak as it began to roll backwards towards the back of the convoy. One of the militia shot a glance over his shoulder at the approaching structure.

“What the fuck are you doing? Don’t-“

A gunshot cut him off. One of Nathan’s men, Victor, Jade thought it was, held a smoking revolver which showed where the bullet had come from. Unfortunately one of the dead militiaman’s companion had seen it too.

“Traitors!” he roared. “Kill the mercenaries!”

The half dozen men still left in the second half of the escort turn to face their new attackers just as the wagon The Hands pushed bumped into the wagon behind it. A volley of bullets flew; Victor went down with several holes in his chest. Jade cursed, babbled, leapt onto the front of the wagon and yanked open the hatch. Leo and Nathan’s other man, Matthew had drawn their firearms and were doing their best to keep their enemies in cover. Bernard’s fusillade swept across the battlefield and finished the task.

Jade looked around, locked eyes with Eve and nodded, she jumped off the wagon, flapping her arm at the younger woman as she reached into pocket for the incendiary device that Bernard had given her.

The Silver Hands pulled back, trying to escape the retaliation of the men and clear the blast area of the approaching explosion. The men in front of them now numbered two thanks to the efforts of Bernard’s and volley and Rufus sharpshooting. The blacksmith snapped off a shot at an unsuspecting target.

A high pitched cry sounded from behind her. She turned. Eve knelt twenty feet back, clutching a hand over her thigh. Crimson pumped between her fingers.

“Fuckers!” She screamed, fumbling for the pin that triggered the fuse. A second bullet zipped by her ear.

Jade didn’t hesitate, she wheeled around and started running back to her teammate, ignoring Leo’s alarmed cry. Eve brought the device she held to her mouth and yanked the pin free. As she pivoted on her knee and threw it another shot struck her in the ribs, she let out an agonised yell and hit the ground. The incendiary device however, kept its course. It flew true, passing neatly through the hatch into the wagon just as Jade reached the other women and dragged her to her feet.

She gritted her teeth and hauled, producing another roar from Eve as she was forced back to her feet. Jade bit back a hiss as a slug grazed her cheek, drawing a thin, warm line whose pain was lost through the adrenalin hammering through the Blacksmiths heart. The pair managed half a dozen staggering steps before the device went off.

The force of the explosion was terrific. Both women felt a blast of warm air pressed hard enough to lift them and deposit them several feet from the starting point. Charred wood and metal fell on the field like black and silver rain. Everyone threw themselves flat and covered up; there was no time to do anything else.

Jade groaned and pushed herself off the damp earth, feeling the back of her head and wincing at the tender skin there. The smell of burned hair immediately came to her nostrils. She shot a look back at the soldiers who’d been firing at them a moment before and went pale. The men were all over the place. There was only one left unharmed, and he was running away as fast as his legs would carry him.

In front of them came a last few shots Leo and Rufus caught the final lead guard in a quick scissoring crossfire and cut him down before he had a chance to recover from the shock of seeing half his friends getting blown up.

Rufus stepped out of cover and waved an arm to Bernard on the hill. The big man, understanding the signal, stopped turning the lethal device, silence descended, and for a moment Jade was left with nothing but a faint ringing in her ears.

Rufus stood motionless in the aftermath, holding his smoking rifle and surveying the scene with the air of a man lost in a trance. The Blacksmith recognised the look for what it was; the red mist that had held them in its grip and given them the ferocity to fight for their lives was fading, leaving behind a hollow sense of emptiness and the taste of smoke in their mouths. In a strange way it wasn’t much different from the aftermath of Rek’s attack on her hometown, Jade reflected.

‘Although at least this time I’m on the winning side, and there’s no-one screaming about having their children murdered before their eyes.’

The old man threw back his head and let out a roar of triumph which came from a depth of feeling that only years of torment could create. It chilled The Blacksmith, but brought her back to her own senses long enough to look down at the fallen woman by her side.

Eve was unconscious, but fortunately, not dead. The black clothes she wore were now a pattern of darkening blotches that crept through the material and bled tiny trickles on the dust of the road. Jade knelt by the girl on legs made of rubber and gently turned her over.

“Eve? Are you still with us?”

“Fucking… fuckers.” Came the raspy voice from the young woman’s throat. Jade smiled a little despite herself; if Eve was angry enough to curse it was probably a good sign.

“Good enough for me.” She pushed upwards and went searching for something to tear into bandages, eventually settling on a still half-clean shirt that belonged to one of their fallen foes.

Leo, she saw out the corner of her eye, had busied himself picking the lock on the relatively intact wagon that had been marked on the LWD’s inventory as the payment coach. The click-clack of pins and tumblers turning filled the oppressive quiet.

Rufus had come back to himself, waving at Bernard, still on the hill, with a sunny smile across his lips that made him look closer to a man in his forties than an old coot the wrong side of fifty. The surviving soldier from Nathan’s backwater organisation only stood, mouth agape, at the scene of destruction scattered around him.

Jade looped the makeshift bandages around her injured teammates wounds and pulled them tight, elicited a snarl of pain from the girl which demonstrated more clearly that she was going to pull through than her waking expletives had done. A moment later a distinctive clicking noise announced at Leo had completed his job. He punched a fist in the air and pulled the door open.

And a moment later things began to go very, very wrong.



OOC Triple post today to catch up on the story which is now.... **drum roll** finished! At least in it's first draft. When this is done I might repost it at a much later date expanded, edited and otherwise revised. The rest'll be up over the next two days. All feedback will be returned./OOC
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Re: Errant Road: Jade's Story (part 3)

Postby Graybeard » December 14th, 2010, 11:51 pm

This is really good stuff; thanks for sticking with it. Sorry I've been dragging on Lorrin, but there'll be a major dump this weekend.
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Re: Errant Road: Jade's Story (part 3)

Postby Jack Rothwell » December 15th, 2010, 2:49 pm

Chapter 7

Bernard had had the benefits of a bird’s eye view throughout the proceedings that had given him both cause for relief at being some distance from the combat and cause for regret that he hadn’t been able to stand shoulder to shoulder with his comrades and protect them personally. As he’d rained death and terror upon the militia his higher thinking had taken a vacation as everyone else’s had.

Now, as he stood at the edge of the slope watching the barrels of Nathan’s monstrosity cooling down he felt the same elation his Captain had shown, waving back as his chest swelled further with pride, both for himself and his brother-in-arms.

“By the Gods, we did it!” He cried, beating a fist over his heart. A thundering filled his ears as if the blood in his veins was drumming a celebration.
He grabbed the axle of the war machine and began to drag it backwards, all patting himself on the back aside, there was still the matter of completing the theft and escaping the field to complete before-

Bernard stopped what he was doing and frowned, suddenly aware that a warning bell was clamouring for attention inside his head. He cocked to the side as if to listen, his concentration struggling to get around the thundering noise that had seemed to climb in volume.

The thundering noise.

Growing louder.

Realisation hit the big man like a stone. He turned on his heels.

And saw them.

The sound, now at an undeniable volume, was coming from the next hill and closing rapidly. The Sergeant’s heart sank as he saw the two dozen horses the thundering belonged to. Horses rose by men, and headed in their direction.

Bernard spat curses, then grabbed the artillery and screamed a warning.

…………………………………………………………………………………………..

“Rufus! Reinforcements coming!”

At first Jade thought she’d misheard him, standing as she was with the weight of Eve leaving against her shoulder and her own body distracting her with a thousand promises of aches and pains on the way she could be forgiven for thinking the Sergeant was simply making a dramatic declaration of his coming to meet them.

When the gunfire started anew, however, that comforting idea vanished in the smoke.

“No.”

She looked around, Leo had paused, caught in the act of dragging a chest out the wagon. Eve, next to her, was looking up weakly with a grim smile tattooed across her youthful face; even Rufus froze momentarily at the unexpected turn of events. Jade could’ve sworn at that moment she saw the wheels turning inside the Captain’s head; the questions being asked in a flurry. Who’s coming? Who’s leading them? How did they know we’d be here?

The Old Man’s experience pulled him back from the brink of panic. The Blacksmith saw Rufus raise a flat hand and strike himself across the face to bring him back to reality. A thin trickle of blood crept down his nose as he began barking orders.

“Get the horses! Mount that wagon up! Bernard! Ger over here! There’s too many!”

Jade, now half-walking, half dragging Eve to a horse, wanted to protest that the Captain couldn’t know that, not while their enemies were out of sight, but the noise told her different. There were too many hoof beats, far too many for a half dozen to stand against.
…………………………………………………………………………………………

Bernard heard his Captain’s cry clearly despite the rising volume, but he didn’t heed it. Even if he’d been willing to break his position and regroup with the rest of his squad the option was taken away from him as soon as the lead riders opened fire with their first volley. Bernard’s horse, which had been waiting patiently for its owner, made an unearthly cry of pain as bullets exploded into its side and neck. It went down like a sack, its eyes rolling wildly as its life force ebbed away.

The Sergeant grunted, turning the gun on its huge hinges to face the approaching threat, shots ricocheted off the frame, whistling past him. He roared back to the group at the bottom of the hill as the militia reinforcements fell into his sights.

“There’s no time! Get the loot and go, now!”

He turned the wheel, feeding the bullets through with his ham-sized hand. From behind him came a scream of pure frustration; there was no opportunity for Bernard to look back and see why, he was too intent on the job at hand. Three riders fell, two with holes in their torso’s and the third from the collision caused by the dead men pulling their mounts down with them. The riders fanned out and kept firing.

A white hot pain seared through the big man’s side. He stifled a wince but didn’t slow down, he spat defiance.

…………………………………………………………………………………………..

Leo stared at the open chest in front of him, eyes wide and unbelieving, oblivious even to the reinforcements shooting at his friend.

“Gravel.” His mouth trembled.

Rufus was cursing, spitting, grabbing the reins of their horses and pulling them towards the wagon the younger man stood by, their eyes met, Leo’s heart quavered.

“Get the fucking chests back inside, you fool! We don’t have time to move them!”

Leo swallowed and managed to reply, his voice cracked in its despair.

“There’s nothing here Captain! We’ve been set up, there’s no gold here!”

Rufus let out a bloodcurdling scream. Above them, the gunfire renewed.
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Re: Errant Road: Jade's Story (part 3)

Postby Jack Rothwell » December 15th, 2010, 3:00 pm

Chapter 8

The riders numbered nineteen now, Bernard gritted through blood-flecked teeth, firing the artillery ceaselessly as they closed the gap with dizzying speed.

“Fuck you, you state lackey bastards! You’ll never take us-”

Another slug struck him, this time squarely in the chest, Bernard was driven to the ground, still snarling. His head swam; his right arm went numb, he crawled to the rifle with black spots exploding in his vision. He hoisted it against the crook of his useless limb and took a shot, another rider flipped from his saddle. The big man gasped for breath with lungs that seemed to be filling with blood and tried to cock the gun again.

The lead rider was now a mere thirty yards away. Bernard saw the six-shooter he wielded; he saw the black void in the barrels as it levelled with his face. He smiled in understanding.

There was a flash of powder, and sickly sounding wet noise. Bernard fell a second time and was still.

…………………………………………………………………………………………..

Jade lifted Eve onto her horse with some difficulty; the young woman was hanging onto wakefulness by a thread. She saw a tear running down her cheek, she could feel them painting by own for that matter. Her thoughts were running rampant, as panicked as a bird trapped in a barn.

‘It’s gone wrong, it’s all gone wrong, we’re going to die… all of us…’

No.

She pushed the debilitating thoughts away and focused, she had to, otherwise they’d never get away, and she’d never get her revenge. She wouldn’t die here on the side of the road at least until she’d fulfilled her purpose. By the Gods, she’d made an oath.

Escape was clearly their only option. As Bernard’s gun fell silent, she put a foot in the stirrup to mount up beside Eve, a hand fell on her shoulder. It was Rufus; his eyes were red-ringed and dead.

“I’ll do it.” He said in a calm voice, alien to the anguish and frustration he’d expressed only moments before. “Go with Leo and escape to Lorrel. I’ll ride with Eve and go to Atawarr.”

“We should stick together.”

“Don’t argue! I’ll not see us run down like dogs and I have business to finish. Leave.”

Jade didn’t argue, there was no time and no point. The riders were cresting the hill and beginning to shoot. The Blacksmith untangled herself from the mount and sprinted to Leo. She grabbed his arm and the pair ran to their horses. A sharp cry turned her head around just in time to see Nathan’s second soldier being torn to shreds in a hail of lead as he desperately tried to mount his own steed.

‘Nathan Blackwater…’

Suddenly it became clear what The Captain’s business was, Nathan was the only other person who knew their plans. The rat-bastard had sold them out.
Ten seconds later three horses broke away from the remains of the shattered convoy, two heading west; the third heading east.
…………………………………………………………………………………………..

They fled with the wind at their backs, bullets behind them made a deceptively light pitter-patter sound like raindrops on a tin-roof as they struck the disabled wagons between them and their pursuers.

Jade and Leo rode with twenty feet between them, the cold logic in that being they’d be harder to fell as separate targets. She dug her heels into her mount and urged him faster, not daring to look at Leo for fear of the grief she might see. Bernard was dead; she knew it as a certainly but held the knowledge at an emotional arm’s length. There was no time for mourning right now, later, if time permitted, she would shed a tear for the kind and gentle man who had welcomed her with open arms into the group. But for now there was only the horizon, the pounding hooves and the desire to put as much distance between her and the killers as possible.

Distant bangs made her turn behind involuntarily. A cloud of ashy smoke now punctuated the midday sunshine, the rapidly shrinking figures on either side of the cloud confirmed that Eve had been aware enough of her situation to unlimber the last few incendiary devices the Atawarr arms dealer had lent to their cause. If lifted part of the shadow that had fallen across the Blacksmith’s heart; her comrades-in-arms might escape cleanly after all.

As for her and the mercenary; there were still half a dozen militia chasing them and the nearest cover was half a mile away, a copse of fir trees lining the edge of the road. As she faced them she saw a movement in the corner of her eye that suggested Leo was doing something complicated in his saddle. The agile thief performed a twist that finished with him facing his pursuers, he took his hand off the reins for a heart-stopping moment, steadied the rifle he aimed with his right and fired once. A whinnying noise announced he’d hit the mount of the one of the soldiers, mingled cries of panic and anger followed as the careening animal ploughed sideways through the group’s more densely packed ranks. Leo made a satisfied noise she barely heard over the wind in her ears and twisted back to his original position.

“Good shot.” She called to him.

“Thanks. Just don’t ask me to do that again.”

A brief crackle of guns going off told the militia had tried one last volley to bring their quarry down. Jade didn’t duck or weave out of way.

‘Because if I heard them, they’ve already missed.’ She thought, and then grimaced; as the cries fell away the gravity of their situation seemed to reassert itself. Rufus grand plan had failed, they thought they’d covered all the bases only for one loose end to come and completely ruin the whole thing. If there was a small mercy in all of this, she considered, it was that Logan’s company finding out about the Hand’s involvement must’ve been a recent discovery. If they had known from the start they would’ve surely been slaughtered before they’d even left the Port.
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Re: Errant Road: Jade's Story (part 3)

Postby Jack Rothwell » December 16th, 2010, 4:51 am

Chapter 9

What followed during the rest of that disastrous day? Months later, when the Blacksmith had resumed her wandering, the events of the there and then had taken on a dream-like quality, the same tableaux style series of images that marked the day her home had been destroyed. When she stopped to think why that would be the answer was immediate; to keep strong, to keep heading towards her goal she had to distance herself emotionally from the stress she’d felt, the near panic that had threatened to steal her reason when the hoof beats had begun never came to her again in her life. She even took a measure of consolation in the lessons she’d learned during the whole experience.

They’d headed to the Port as ordered. The pair of them had dumped their horses at the nearest stable and headed to the nearest general store to grab a change of clothes (the gunpowder, not to mention a smell like death had clung to them for the entire ride back and had earned them more than few suspicious looks). Jade remembered Leo throwing away the expensive suit he wore into an empty barrel with an expression of contempt on his face she’d never seen before. They’d headed to the waterfront afterwards at a feverish pace and jumped the first boat heading up the river. Fortune had allowed them that much at least; a clean getaway.

But what she remembered most of all was the dead look in Leo’s eyes as he reached into his breast pocket and produced the scrap of paper the old man had handed to him that morning. He’d held it out to her with a hand still marked by a streak of blood, spots of red clung to the paper as if in declaration of what the knowledge written on it would be used for. She’d taken it wordlessly with a hand which trembled slightly.

In bold black lettering it was there, the place where Theodore was holed up with his mob of outlaws, the Captain had even written directions to it with an anal-retentiveness which would’ve been amusing in other circumstances. She stared at the words expressionlessly, silently wondering how long it would take to find the would-be General and if she’d even stand a chance if she did.

Leo had understood, almost immediately, the futility of trying to talk her out of her course of action. Even so, he’d pressed forward with her, telling her there’d be another time for revenge, that they could regroup with Rufus and Eve and achieve the liberation of the country some other way. For the most part she’d simply shaken her head; to explain what she was feeling would cheapen it in some way. His insistence had first faltered, and then died in the face of her determination.

Some twenty four hours later she kissed the merc goodbye, sat astride a new mount and rode away.
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Re: Errant Road: Jade's Story (part 3)

Postby Jack Rothwell » December 16th, 2010, 5:21 am

Epitaph

Three months later at a makeshift camp in the forested wilderness of Trussia, a man sat at a dining table in the confines of a general-sized tent with an expression of satisfaction on his face. Yesterday’s raid had been a good one; his growing army of bandits had proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that they were stronger than ever. The burning homes and the piles of corpses of those who’d resisted were testament enough to that fact. The middle-aged man, his face criss-crossed with scars, leaned back luxuriously in his comfortable surroundings, placing his feet on a footstool that had been in someone else’s living room only twenty four hours before. He languidly picked up the silver goblet that rested on the table in front of him and tipped it to his mouth.

“Empty. Damn.”

He punched the cup into the air and jiggled it from side to side.

“Your Lord demands a refill.” He bellowed; the spittle of the intoxicated flying past his lips and settling on the woodwork. The pair of nervous looking guards in attendance stammered acquiescence, one went to the flap of the tent and called for wine. A moment later a young woman appeared with a fresh bottle; keeping her eyes low and murmuring a shy ‘my lord’ as she tip-toed her way inside.

The bandit general took his fill of the lady. He vaguely remembered; one of the new recruits who’d been inducted a week or so ago. Theodore eyed her hungrily as she drew closer. Pretty, maintaining her femininity even with the blades and bullets she adorned herself with. The General stretched lazily and visualised a much more personal induction for the young woman before the day was done. He snatched his refilled glass and drank thirstily; it never did to enjoy oneself with a parched throat after all.

Theodore sighed, this was the life alright. Who’d have thought he’d find the charisma inside himself to rally these once divided men to a common cause? His head swan with alcohol and nostalgia of the memories. In just a handful of years Rek’s bandits had become a force to be reckoned with. All it had taken were a few simple promises of glory and dominion to draw the ragtag mobs whose only previous ambitions had been of emptying helpless traveller’s wallets and emptying the contents into barrels of whisky. Now they wore uniforms of red and black, now they saluted and called him ‘Lord’, now they bowed and scraped and catered to his every whim. His smile deepened as his took another draught of wine.

Theo frowned; his hand went to his forehead. The headache he’d chalked up to overindulgence in the wine was growing noticeably worse. His throat was tightening up as well. He put a hand on his mouth and coughed to clear it, the rapid expulsion of air seemed to make the room swim in front of him.
He looked down at the nearly-empty goblet. Realisation dawned. A cold sweat broke out on his skin. He removed the palm he’d pressed against his mouth; a bright red streak was painted across it like a warning flag.

He turned to the guard who stood at his left shoulder, wanting to call for aid, but his constricted throat turned the yell of panic into a dry rasp.

“Hel-“

The word died on his lips as his eyes finally focused on what he was looking at. The guard stood rigid, transfixed by the blade that was now protruding from his chest.

‘The woman…’

The other guard was just as shocked as he was, opening his mouth to shout for back-up. He never got the chance. From the corner of Theo’s eyes she seemed to move with a liquid, eerie grace. The blade disappeared from the dying man’s body and whipped across like a horizontal guillotine. The second man fell backwards, clutching a neck scissored neatly in half by the razor sharp weapon. He died without his cry being heard. Theo huffed, trying to push himself off the chair, to make an escape or at least face the treacherous woman before the poison disabled him completely. It was no use. His body was full of lead. Multi-coloured explosions flashed across his vision and that was all. He slumped back into the chair; a sense of doom hanging over him.

The room was silent now, save for a solitary pair of feet walking around the back of Theodore’s seat. The woman entered his line of sight. She didn’t say a word. She simply pulled up a chair and sat down facing him. She leaned forward on the table and rested her chin on the palm of her hand as if the dying general was the most fascinating thing she’d ever seen.

Theo stared into the green eyes before him, no longer able to speak. The blackness grew thicker.

His breathing slowed.

Slowed.

Stopped.

Theodore Reks, the destroyer of Solshire and terror of the borderlands, was dead.

………………………………………………………………………………………….

Jade sat another minute, staring at the corpse of the man in front of her. She absorbed every detail with a strange, empty feeling in her gut. It was funny; she’d always thought that revenge would be more satisfying than this.

In the end, infiltrating Theo’s men hadn’t been difficult at all. She had Rufus and the Silver Hands to thank for that. The information Leo had passed to her, the training and the subterfuge she had learned had all been put to good use. She’d watched over the last several days as this ass of a man had bellowed and roared and drank and stumbled through his life clinging to some pretention of glory.

Well there was no glory to be found here. Maybe there was no glory anywhere.

She pushed back to her feet and left the tent without a backward glance.

Outside, the sunlight played on her face, feeling somehow reassuring. Her head was empty now, save a single quiet thought that whispered at the back of her mind.

“What now?”


THE END.
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