The smell of burning flesh permeates the cold night of Kal. The wails of Endre Gosz are nearly drowned out by those of his employer, his mistress, Gloria Gillory. Solace presses the quickly cooling wire brand into a fresh patch of Gloria’s skin. Two destroyers have to hold her down as she flails. The four of them are in Dahlia Fox’s shed, normally filled with whatever beautiful thing the owner has finished making, now dark and splattered with blood.
“Where did he go?” Solace demands.
“Cochon , fils de pute , je ne dirai rien!”
“Speak American Frenchie!” one of the Destroyers says, giving her a violent shake.”
“Desmond, I’ll ask you again, please shut the fuck up.” Solace points the brand at the wiry man. Desmond nods and tightens his grip on Gloria. Solace looks back at her and adds, “je ne vais pas arrêter.”
Endre struggles against his bonds, but his shattered arm and ribs make escape an impossibility. He can only watch as Solace reheats the brand. Soon, when pain takes over and his Mistress faints, it will be his turn. He is accustomed to punishment and will give nothing to this madman the Destroyers call the Traveler.
Byran had told stories of him, stories that would dissolve any glory and hero worship. Solace Arrives has had a quieted history of violence and sadism. Byron once mentioned that on a trip to Greece, when the two were younger, a thief tried to attack them. Solace beat the poor boy within an inch of his life. If Byron had not stopped him, he would be rotting in prison now.
“Where has Casanova gone? Where is Byron now?” Solace screams at an already fading Gloria.
Riddled with pain and wounds Gloria drops her head into her chest and stammers. “There is a base camp…”
“Mistress no!” Solace’s boot snaps Endre’s jaw in two. He spits blood and in a garbled voice adds, “say no more, mistress.”
“No, please say more. Where is the base camp?”
“It is two miles east of the river.” Gloria says, barely audible.
“Charles, go tell Tony about the camp” Solace points the brand towards a young man, who in his haste to obey knocks right into Endre. He stands and rushes out of the shed.
The survivors of the battle are still out gathering the bodies. Charles makes his way towards the east watchtower, were Tony and Mayor Teresa assess their losses. Along the way he can hear Kalians and Destroyers alike whisper rumors to each other. Theories about how Solace escaped the monsters after they surrounded him. How they seem to have vanished and what he could possibly be doing to his captors to cause such screams.
“Derk told me he is in there raping the woman while the man watches.” A woman says to her friend, their arms laden with ointments and solutions for the infirmary.
“You’re kidding, right?” her friend says, disgusted though she may be her keen eyes look for someone to pass this information on to.
Charles picks up his pace and trots around a corner, he slams right into his father, a fellow Destroyer named Solomon Bail.
“Charlie, watch where you’re going kid.” Solomon says in a deeply soothing voice. “Where you off to? Aren’t you supposed to be helping the Traveler?”
“He sent me to Tony, I got some info for him.”
“What you got?” Solomon ask, a bit more greedily than he’d have liked.
“Pa, you know I can’t tell you. I need to get to Tony.”
“Can’t even tell your old man? Such a shame. You know I ran with the club before ol’ Death Kill knew how to turn on a Bike.” Solomon lights a cigar, “he was nuts bringing us here you know. I mean look at this place, what are we saving?”
“People who aren’t wearing our colors? Hell I don’t even know if we’re getting paid for this.”
“No I don’t think we are. But ol’ Greg Rogers said we were doing it to get rid of that guy Byron.”
“And what has he done to us. Hell I think he’s doing us a favor, every town his men run into is weakened enough for us to just roll in and take. We out number those Dandy bastards ten to one now.”
“I don’t know, pa. It was good seeing you but I have to run.”
“Yeah, you go do what they pay you to do.”
Charles leaves his father and takes off at a run to make up the time he lost. Solomon watches his only son disappear around a corner. Normally he is in a much better mood, but after weeks of preparation for this fight and then only to have it go all wrong really took a lot out of the old man. Three of his closest friends are dead, and another might follow. Everyone around him weighs heavy on his mood. Why are all these people still alive? Why didn’t the Traveler warm them about those monsters?
Solomon makes his way to a large group of Destroyers sitting around half a dozen fires. They are all laughing and eating, as if the battle didn’t just happen a few hours ago. The loudest of them is Bobby Pitchfork, the only one of the eight charter heads, apart from Tony, to not volunteer for the Casanova search party. Bobby catches Solomon’s eye and jovially makes his way over to him.
“Sol, how the hell are you man?” Bobby puts his arm around him, sloshing stew onto himself. “Are you hungry? You are. Come on, lets get you some of this good shit the local girls made.”
“No, I’m fine Bob.”
“Bullshit, you fought harder than most of us, you need something nutritious. Maybe some stew, some whiskey, hell maybe even one of the locals will let you nibble at them.” Bobby barks with laughter. “But we cant do that now can we? No, no, old Tony said we couldn’t. Fucking little guy always blue-balling me. Shit look over there, man I would love to split that one down the middle.”
Bobby points over at Patricia, she is making her way towards a group of female Destroyers. Bobby watches her say something to the group before turning to leave, now followed by Vivian and Francine.
“How about we go meet up with them young girls, just you and me Sol?”
“Shit more for me.” Bobby struts his way drunkenly towards the three woman walking into the infirmary. He takes one last look at the group of destroyers, rises his drink and enters after them. Moments later Bobby flies back out, landing painfully on his back. Francine walks out holding his drink, drains it and drops the glass onto his chest. The crowed hollers and whoops at Bobby as he fails to stand back up.
“What did he want?” Patricia asks Francine when she returns.
“Just being his usual asshole,” she smiles and helps bandage up a Kalian boy with cuts across his face. He gives her a worried look, “don’t go using that kind of language, you hear.”
“You are a terrible role model Fran.” Vivian says ticking the little girl sitting on her knee, her burned shoulder is already cleaned and wrapped.
“I can’t believe what happened to Doc Fin.” A Kalian woman says helping her patient up and out of the building. “I don’t know how well we’ll do now that he’s gone.”
“We’ll just have to find you another doctor, won’t we?” Francine asks. The woman bursts into tears. “What did I say?”
“Fran, can’t you see she had a thing for the Doc?”
“What? No, I… he was just… I mean the town…”
“Oh, I see. I’m sorry your boyfriend is dead, honey.” Fran says guiding the boy out of the door.
“Baby, please tell me you tapped that handsome motherfucker before he went.” Fran crosses her arms and raises a demanding eyebrow.
“He was a very good friend and an amazing Doctor.”
“She fucked him.” Francine and Vivian say in unison.
“Whats your name honey?” Vivian asks.
“Well Lena, I think it would help if you tried to remember him in a different way than what we saw today. When did it first happen?”
“I don’t know…”
“Lena, you may as well tell them.” Patricia says while setting up for the next patients. “They wouldn’t leave me alone until I told them about me and Jacob.”
“The Brits got a point.” Francine says, nudging Lena.
“A year ago. We had just finished a shift during a flu outbreak.”
“Snot and phlegm, how romantic.” Vivian teases.
“He asked me if I wanted to take the day off tomorrow since I had been working for thirty six hours. And I thought what the hell he was already shirtless-”
“What, hold up! He was what?”
“Shirtless, oh this little boy had just thrown up on him and he was changing out of his scrubs. So I guess I took advantage of the situation.”
“Atta girl!” Francine yells, clapping Lena on the back, “so you banged while he smelled like puke, sounds like my last relationship.”
“No! We kissed and went back to his place where he showered.”
“Did you join him?” Patricia asks.
“No, should I have?”
“Yes!” the three women exclaim.
“Oh, I figured we’d just take turns showering then see what happens after. And well it happened.”
“What happened?” Vivian teases again.
“You know, it.”
“What?” Francine chimes.
“We had Sex.” Lena whispers.
“Who had sex? And why wasn’t I invited?” Edgar walks in looking offended. His left eyebrow is cut and bleeding, there are deep scratches on his neck and exposed chest. He is closely followed by Alan, who alone escaped without a scratch. “Well? Who had sex.”
“Lena here.” Patricia informs him.
“No a year ago!” Lena’s face burns red.
“Sweetheart that is much too long.” Edgar puts an arm around her.
“No, this particular time.” Vivian says smiling at the mortified nurse. “She’s had it tons since then.”
“I wouldn’t say tons, Henry was a busy doctor.”
“You had Doc Fin? Lucky.” Edgar pats her shoulder, “his name was Henry? Well I have this handsome man anytime I want. I can share him if you like?”
“And I’m leaving now.” Alan says getting back up and walking out of the infirmary. He looks around, trying to find something to do.
“Young man, could you get me another drink?” Bobby calls from the floor.
“Of course.” Alan walks over to a table littered with bottles and brings it back to the fallen Destroyer. “Whiskey?”
“A man after my own heart.” Bobby takes the bottle and spoons it before falling asleep.
“Right.” Alan smiles at the man and decides to join the litter of people by the fires.
On his way over to Dave and a few other Kalian guards he catches Andy waving him over from under a tree. He waves back and walks over to him instead. Andy, half lit by the fires yards away, paces under the tree. He is trying to decide the best way to ask his friend a very important question.
“He won’t believe you, sweetie.” Teller calls to him from the tree branches.
“I have to try.”
“Try what?” Alan asks.
“I, um, wanted to ask you a question.”
“Do you believe in ghosts?”
“There is a race of energy beings on the other side of the galaxy known as the Thylomites. They take a form similar to whom ever is observing them at the time. They are also telepathic, sometimes they reach into the observers memories and take the form of a loved one. But you aren’t supposed to have met the Thylomites for another thousand years.”
Andy looks up into the tree and finds Teller giving him a dirty look, “if you call my a Thylo-whatever, I wont speak to you anymore.”
“No, I mean real ghosts.” Andy says wiping his brow.
“Oh, there is no such thing.”
“Are you sure?”
“Unless we haven’t found them even in my time, yes I am.”
“So, if its not a Thylomike-”
“Thylomite, from Terra Occu in the Gray System.”
“Yeah, one of those. If its not that what could it be.”
“I assume you are speaking of a hallucination you are having. This is quite common after a loss as substantial as yours, not at all helped by the trauma undoubtedly sustained by finding out a close friend is a traitor and then having to war against terrifying creatures as we did hours ago.”
“Did he just call me a hallucination?” Teller says hopping off her branch and landing within an inch of Alan.
“Do you see her now?” Alan asks, not taking his eyes off of Andy.
“What is she wearing?”
“What now?” Teller takes a step back.
“I’m sorry?” Andy sputters.
“What is she wearing right now?” he holds out a hand eerily in the direction of teller.
“Jeans, a white shirt, and her orange vest.”
“It is a hallucination. Most cultures that have an afterlife have a similar theory on what we look like after life. The spirit either wears what they died in or what we dress them in when the parting ceremony takes place. Some believe the spirits that remaining in this world have unfinished business, so keeping the attire they died in would be a way to keep the connection, for lack of a better word, alive. In either case Teller was buried in the clothes she died in. Her hunting clothes.”
“But I see her in that vest.”
“Her favorite piece of clothing.” Alan claps a hand on Andy’s shoulder. “You remember her at her happiest. Its called mourning, its natural, Andy.”
“How much longer do I have with her?”
“I don’t know.” Alan hugs him and leaves.
“You aren’t really there.” Andy looks over at the spot where Teller once stood. “You were never really there.”
The leaves in the trees rustle sadly in the gentle breeze. A heavy weight settles in the pit of Andy’s stomach, he has lost her again. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out an arrow head he has been holding onto since the funeral. He closes his eyes and touches it to his lips. “I’ll miss you.”
“Like hell you will,” Teller yells in his ear making him jump ten feet out of his skin. “I’m not going anywhere, and calm down people are looking at you. You big weird-o.”
“God damn it Teller, I nearly shit myself!”
“Aww I’m sorry sweetie.” She smiles “Jacob’s up.”
“Look over there, Jacob’s heading to Dahlia’s house.”
Sure enough Jacob had woken up and left the Infirmary. He is now limping his way towards the shed at the side of Dahlia Fox’s home. Andy catches Patricia, Edgar and Alan’s eye. “This isn’t going to be good.”
The door to the shed bursts open, Jacob stands in the Threshold nursing a bullet wound in the shoulder and four broken ribs. Solace looks up at his oldest friend, a half heated brand in one hand, a Torch in the other and a severely burned Endre at his feet. Jacob walks forward, takes the torch and shoves it into Endre’s face, trying to force it down his throat. Solace and Desmond jump in and pull Jacob away. Between his cursing and Endre’s shrikes very little can be understood.
“You fuck, and your cunt of a… burn your goddamn face off…”
“Filth! My Mistress is no… I will fuck your whore… Weak attempt…”
Jacob turns around and slams the door shut before the others make it to the shed. He jams a board into the frame to prevent anyone else from entering. “What have we learned?”
“Casanova could be in a base camp about four miles away from here. Tony has been informed. That was all I could get from her before she passed out. This one is a little harder to crack but has confirmed there is a base camp.”
“To small, we need to know where Byron is.” Taking another board from the floor, Jacob look Endre in the eye and smashes Gloria’s hand. Blood bursts from the now broken fingers, Endre screams and strains tremendously against his bonds.
“NO! You coward!”
“Where is Byron?” Jacob smashes her hand again. An agonized scream escapes the lips of a still unconscious Gloria. Endre rips from his bonds and lunges at his mistresses attacker. Inches from wrapping his hands around Jacobs neck, Endre takes a fire extinguishers to the top of the head. Solace and Desmond pick him back up and roughly re-tie him.
“I could have taken him.”
“I’m sure you could have.” Solace says turning off the torch. He walks over to the door and pulls the board jamming it shut.
“Did I fuck up?” Jacob asks leaning against the wall.
“Get some sleep, J.”