Broken Soldier by Orin Drake
A Novel In Progress.

        Chapter 13

        He hadn't expected to be quite so thoroughly unconscious. He'd been exhausted, yes, but... he just assumed the nervousness of sleeping next to Rakashi would have kept him from moving. At all.
        Those were less than coherent thoughts on the edge of waking. He'd felt the bed shift as she'd pulled away, forcing him to roll a bit. Maybe more than a bit. It was upon realizing that he'd gotten close enough to feel the chill as she left that
really woke him--then kept him stock still.
        She either genuinely didn't notice, or consciously gave him the benefit of pretending not to. The first rays of sunlight had just touched the window, and as far as she was concerned there wasn't time to do much more than splash a bit of water on her face, eat, and leave. Truthfully, she'd slept a bit longer than she'd actually planned, but her body clock was still mostly reliable.
        Hearing the bathroom door close, Rean decided that perhaps it was safe to open his eyes. Safe enough, at the very least. He felt strangely compelled to get out of bed as soon as possible, throwing his legs over the side and then coming to a rather solid stillness when he saw the envelope containing the "secret message" on the dresser.
        The scale of
everything finally hit him, with force. One life had already been taken away from him as an orphan, and another one lay recently collapsed. It left him with what felt like even less than he'd had before.
        The bathroom door opened. The footsteps on the wooden floor were hesitant. Maybe she sensed his mood, or even worse... maybe she understood it completely.
        Either way, there wasn't time to wrestle back control over himself. There was rage bubbling up in dark places that he'd never even known to exist within him. It came on quietly at first, his voice gaining momentum and intensity. "How can you just... keep going? When you only know some things, but... far from everything... when everything you were working for is
gone? How is it so easy for you to survive? The Tower... battle... killing people..? How can you just keep going now?"
        It was the anger of a long-building frustration, she knew that. She'd encountered worse on the battlefield. Men going mad... "Stop looking to me for answers, Rean." She responded softly.
        It hadn't been a harsh tone. Rather a gentle one, actually; but it didn't calm his emotions any. "Then who am I supposed to look to?"
        "I don't know." She admitted, not shying away from honesty even if it wasn't quite what he wanted to hear.
        Rean stared at that envelope again, sort of wishing that he were a more violent person. At least then he could have gotten some of it out, could work himself down to near-exhaustion so he'd be too tired to think about it anymore...
        "And I don't know about you," Rakashi continued, "But I'm going to use this freedom we have now to find answers." Answers to questions they may not even know yet, or never wanted to find to begin with. After slipping her boots back on in silence, she merely opened the door and went downstairs to find out about those other supplies.
        He remained there on the bed, just thinking. Not of anything in particular, really, but the anger had waned considerably as the stairs creaked with her decent. It was quiet without her...and the room was cold because it was only dawn. With a sigh, he decided that breakfast was in order since he didn't want to just get in the way... not to mention, he wasn't terribly interested in the idea of being anywhere near that bar again. He'd just be morbidly looking to see if the blood had been cleaned up.
        Pushing that thought aside, the idea of a cold sandwich first thing in the morning wasn't the most pleasant... but he was hungry. And, maybe--no, certainly, he'd been much too harsh. Especially considering Rakashi's patience. Seeing as how both of the sandwiches were the same, he set one aside to "warm up" a bit. The other was devoured slowly as he waited.
        It struck him as he heard someone coming back up the stairs that he had no way to tell just who it was. That was just slightly terrifying at the moment, the only thing standing between him and a potentially life-threatening situation was a pistol that might in itself be much more threatening to him than any would-be killer.
        When it was quite doubtlessly Rakashi who opened the door before closing and locking it again, he could only be so relaxed. Particularly because there were entirely too many things to apologize for. "About earlier..."
        "I get it." She answered easily, map in hand. Settling back onto the other side of the bed and unwrapping the sandwich as though she'd just left it there herself, she unfolded and smoothed out the paper. "Nothing to worry about."
        "I'm not worried..." Rean assured, not quite certain of why he was pushing the point. He could have let it just fall away and be forgotten so easily. "It's just... courtesy. I'm sorry, this is all just..."
        "Yeah." She finished quietly when it became clear that he had nowhere to take that thought. Despite her voice sounding completely uninterested, she was watching him closely. "Did you want to look at the map?"
        Such a... mundane question. He wondered if he was just imagining things, or if that was really her way of asking if he wanted to go on with her. He wasn't sure that he wanted to know. "Yeah. Did you find anything?"
        The change of gears was subtle but astounding all at once. "I'm running partly on instinct." She prefaced, pointing out what she'd managed. "Nova, Pavelin, Jant, and Serafem. They could be four corners, except that they aren't quite set up that way."
        Tilting his head, Rean supposed that he could see they were askew. They could still make a diamond-shaped box if connected... "What are they, then?"
        Drawing with her finger, there was the slightest grin on Rakashi's lips. "If you take the fact that Nova and Pavelin are in a line, here, and that Jant and Serafem are off to either side but much closer to Nova... it's a giant arrow."
        That was too obvious. Too ridiculous. "It reeks of Demi."
        "Of Sarah, as well." She informed with a quiet laugh, finally taking a bite of food as she thought about it. "The woman could be quite evil that way. Taking that knowledge, I'd bet it points the wrong way."
        Blinking, Rean went about studying the former general rather than the map. "Are you sure?"
        The shrug probably wasn't reassuring. "There was a battlefront outside of Kender. We had absolutely no reason to be there save the Tower's need to get rid of us for a little while. It was after the war with no actual fighting in sight, so... Sarah decided she would keep the troops from getting bored. All it took was a little white paint and some reversed arrows on the official orders. Kept everyone busy and confused for several weeks, and the best part was that the Tower took the heat for it."
        Those really weren't the kind of war stories he expected. Particularly with Rakashi treating them as though they were just common daily anecdotes over her sandwich. He really had to laugh a bit, in spite of himself. "I guess that makes sense, then."
        "I believe so." She agreed, studying the map again. "On the other side of that arrow is Feres, and they've got an enormous train station. I'll bet we've got another message waiting for us somewhere there."
        Creepy, the way it all fell together... but he hoped the theory proved true. Even then, he wasn't quite sure if he was ready to confront Demi. How many lies had the man told him with that careless smile? Was all of the joking and the laughter completely fake? "Can I ask now... what kept you in the military?" he found himself asking a bit timidly. Particularly when her gaze turned back to him, seemingly trying to divine the meaning of the question. "I just remember... you said you had a reason, and... well, I wondered what that was. I mean, I don't expect an answer, but..."
        Well, it wasn't as if she had a reason to either lie or completely hide the truth. "I always suspected that something was 'off'... I just had no idea that it was to such an extent."
        They both might have laughed in any other situation. Rean tried, but his breathing was off and his heart definitely wasn't in it. Thoughts again turning to times before, times and places he'd once thought were "safe", he suspected that they both felt like the Tower had been a bit of a prison. The general more so, he was sure.
        "And the Control Room knew." She nearly growled at that knowledge, at the memory of slamming the Captain into the wall, demanding answers. She still didn't have all of them, but she was determined. "Maybe they destroyed the Tower themselves to hide something, or opened up the front doors and let something in. Either way, I'm certain they weren't ignorant of the destruction."
        Well, that was an added terror he didn't quite need to think about. Even so, it had to be asked, "Can you be sure it's destroyed? Just because... Andrew said so..."
        Rakashi gave a quick nod, feeling her gut wrench just a bit at the thought of how many people she'd been working right next to had managed to fool her so completely. Not that she could have known, she supposed, but that was no comfort. "Regardless of the rest... he was telling the truth."
        "Instinct?" Rean prompted lightly.
        "Hasn't steered me wrong yet." She answered with simplicity. A lot of other things had gone horribly wrong, yes, but her instinct was always something to listen to.
        His mind was still moving, though, still diving for explanations and trying to figure out how everything could have started to go wrong. "Was... well, could Sarah be a spy?"
        "No." It was a word spoken with absolute certainty.
        And possibly just a little too quick for his tastes. Maybe it was just that the former general didn't want to face the idea since they did seem so close, but... "Can you really be sure?"
        There was a measuring sort of look before Rakashi stated, "Completely."
        He had to pause then, pondering if he ought to continue to push. He might have simply let the subject go before then, but... "Can you at least tell me why?"
        The sigh was a bit unexpected. As was the answer. "We were involved for a time. Very involved."
        The world seemed to grind to a little bit of a halt right then. "You and..?" No, that was... dumb and rude and many other things that were jumbling in his mind, causing a bit of a pile-up before anything managed to make it to his mouth. "Does that mean you're--" He managed to stop himself cold the instant he realized what he was about to ask.
        Rakashi laughed. "Not that you are in need of that information, Mr. Coi." She not so secretly delighted in his blush. "But no, it does not."
        Leaning back, he simply covered his face with his hands in sheer embarrassment. The woman's occasional chuckle while eating didn't exactly help, but somehow it made everything just a little less pathetically awkward and more like... "normal."


        Breakfast finished, the two of them descended the stairs and simply left the back way, not wanting to bother the man who'd been kind enough to let them stay and arrange their transportation... even though he'd most likely been paid handsomely to do it. Well, that was how these things worked. Sure enough, they were greeted with a pair of horses--which Rakashi did actually check the mouths of, not to mention hooves, backs, and then searched every pack and blanket attached to them for supplies.
        In most circumstances, Rean would have called that rude. Considering these, he completely understood her desire to be careful. Still, it brought up just a bit of teasing. "Assessment, General?"
        She snorted quietly. "Healthy horses, decent shoeing, rations," she made a slight face at that, "Several blankets, some camping kits, plenty of water, and what looks to be one of those impossible to construct tents."
        That was... thorough. "I guess we're ready then, huh?" Those horses looked awfully big while he was on the ground...
        She smirked, but didn't comment about his expression. Instead, she busied herself with getting the hood of her raincoat up. "The rain should let up before we hit Feres, at least." And from there... well, she didn't bother to guess at exactly where they'd be heading. Someplace dryer, with any hope.
        Rean followed her lead, buttoning his coat tightly and putting the hood up. "How long until we get there?"
        "Three hours or so, I'd imagine." She answered easily.
        Three hours on horseback... that sounded unpleasant. The former general's chuckle was pleasant enough, but it still made him frown.
        "It'll pass like nothing once you learn to go with your horse's rhythm." She stated, failing to be completely reassuring. "Watch."
        The unexpected order got him to blink, realizing almost too late that she was demonstrating how to mount a horse. Well, it... looked easy enough... until he planted one foot in the stirrup and wasn't entirely sure what to do next.
        "It's just like a step." Rakashi attempted to instruct, sounding like she'd done this before. "A very high step, but... step up, swing over, and you and the horse will be fine."
        It seemed so easy for her to say from her vantage point. Rean held in any complaint that threatened, trying to take her advice. It was awkward, and he definitely landed more heavily than he'd intended (not too painfully, at least), but he couldn't help a mild feeling of accomplishment.
        She didn't comment, though her grin said enough. Even so, she demonstrated how to hold the reigns. "It'll become natural after a bit."
        He wasn't even entirely aware of what he mumbled, though it became clearer that he was not much of a morning person. He wasn't sure if he was a horse person either, but it was a little too late to be pondering that.
        Clicking her tongue, she managed to get both of the horses moving. "Know what to do if your horse gets spooked?"
        Not really the conversation topic he wanted as the animals started trotting, hands very tight on the reigns. "No..."
        "Fall away from the hooves, curl into a ball, protect your head and hope for the best." Rakashi was watching him out of the corner of her eye, trying not to let her ever so slight amusement show. Too much.
        Not helpful. At all. Rean had the distinct impression that was on purpose. It didn't comfort, exactly... "I'll do my best, sir."


        Three hours on horseback wasn't quite as bad as Rean had feared... though he had the lingering impression that muscles he hadn't even really knew existed would be a bit sore for a while. The horse was well-behaved, though; at least, as far as he was concerned. It didn't veer off or do anything terrifying, so he was just fine with that.
        Part of the animal's behavior probably had to do with Rakashi. She rode with confidence and ease, clicking her tongue in ways that got the horses to obey instantly—and he was suddenly trying very hard not to let Demi-like thoughts invade his head. It was as if he was trying to over-correct for the lack of the idiot's comments.
        It was their destination itself, lit through honest sunlight through parted clouds, that mercifully distracted such thoughts into silence. The spires of the city of Feres should have been famous. They were immaculate stone towers, turning the entire city into something enchanting rather than just an old converted fortress town.
        Of course, it was an illusion that had to be questioned when they rode into the city proper and witnessed how very many... "ladies of greeting" there were along the main road. It's not that they were scantily clad, not really. It was just a look. A smile, a walk, slight tempting gestures that had Rean staring straight ahead and hoping that wherever they were going was close. At least he could focus on the architecture and the slightly more legitimate street vendors.
        As for the former general, she was ever so slightly annoyed when there was no clear place to go. They'd passed a couple of pubs already, but nothing about either of them had grabbed her attention. The shops were all open, the streets were well maintained, the people seeming genuinely friendly--and while all of it was appreciated, it gave her less of a clue as to where to go. There was less to notice and hold onto when everything was so perfect, coming into the town square and finding that everything was easily marked.
        When the horses came to a stop, Rakashi's mild look of annoyance recognized, Rean couldn't really help but ask, "Now what?"
        She gave a light snort, having been wondering the same thing herself. "Now... we try not to look like we're searching for a clue as to where to go next."
        That didn't sound like an easy task at all. Nor terribly hopeful. "Have you been here before?"
        Shaking her head, she admitted, "In the area, but never here." And such a shame from how nice it was. "I'm not sure what we ought to be noticing. If we're supposed to be looking for--" Stopping abruptly as her eyes caught something, there was a little smile in the corners of her lips. Well, that did seem like a clue. "Numerology." Without explaining herself, she dismounted and approached the small building.
        Rean stared at her questioningly, trying to get off of his own horse without falling and breaking anything. It was just a little more difficult than he'd hoped it would be. "You think Numerology has something to do with this..?"
        "Normally, no." She admitted, waiting for him to walk up beside her. "But take a look at the number below the numerologist's sign."
        183. In large, gold numbers. "Well, that seems like a good start."
        The short laugh spoke of Rakashi's agreement. "You stay here with the horses."
        But it didn't really seem like the kind of place where someone ought to go in alone. "Are you sure? I mean, this looks like a nice town and all..." He really wasn't certain if he was more concerned for the woman or for himself.
        "You still have that pistol, you'll be fine." She teased with a grin.
        "Not funny."
        "You'll be fine." She assured. "And so will I. Either way, this won't take long."
        He had no idea why he was worried about things right then, of all times... "And if you do take a long time?"
        That little sigh might almost have been called impatience... and it might have actually been, had Rakashi not mentally acknowledged that these concerns were more than appropriate. "If you hear gunshots, take that horse of yours and leave. Find a safe place. Otherwise, I'll be right back."
        Leaning far into the negative in terms of being assured, Rean finally relented--on that point. "Is it really safe to stay outside, then?"
        Her laugh was more assuring than anything else had been. "You'll be fine, dammit. I'll be right back." And with that, she opened the door and slipped inside with only the sound of the hinges and a soft little bell above the door.
        Inside, it was like any random "fortune teller's" establishment. Dark, smelling of rich herbs, warm and somehow humid, candles giving glows and reflections off of various baubles and beaded things. She paused for a moment after closing the door behind her, letting her eyes adjust so she could pick up any movement. She didn't feel like this place was a trap, but that didn't mean she couldn't be proven wrong.
        "Ayu venitar." Came a soft, feminine voice from behind a sheer curtain. The light from the candles came just short of showing anything but a blurred silhouette.
        "Ayu venitar." Rakashi repeated. It was a greeting made to "strip the sins" off of a person, to cleanse them before entering somewhere sacred, a sanctuary. Always a funny thought to her, and particularly after recent events, but tradition was tradition. "Do we speak the same tongue?"
        "I believe that we do." The laughing voice responded. "Please do venture further... but you'll need to leave your pistol outside."
        She started, slightly. Too many possibilities here. "Why would you think I have a pistol?"
        "I have skills beyond number reading." Was all that was offered.
        The former general allowed herself to think this through fully before responding. It wasn't as if she couldn't defend herself without a weapon... but fists and legs against a pistol in the wrong hands were not very even odds. Taking a breath, she prepared to take a step back and make for the door if she had to--
        And the woman behind the curtain noticed. "Ah, Rakashi. I know who you are, you have nothing to worry about."
        Not that the words set her at ease... Still, there was no sense of a trap so much as the fact that she still didn't know what situation she was in. That was enough to keep her defenses up. "Then why do I still feel worried?"
        "Because, I am told, you are 'simply like that.'" The voice returned playfully. Sarah's words from many occasions. "Ay, General, no worries. I'm still the hired lady of a Mr. Dulce, paid good money to sit here and wait for the woman who would not give up her pistol."
        Rakashi was a bit stunned. "And what would have happened if I were someone else?"
        "I would feign innocence and pretend I was just coming out of a vision, of course!" A giggle followed. "Fortune tellers and other hired company aren't all that different, are they?"
        Chuckling to herself, Rakashi stepped forward--but still didn't step through the curtain. Hired lady or no, the rules of this place were still to be respected... and there was no way in hell she was dropping that pistol. "Might I ask what's waiting for me here, then?"
        A hand emerged from the curtain, holding an envelope; then the rest of the woman's body followed. A lovely girl, svelte and elegant in her stance and motions, though her eyes spoke of an intelligence beneath that most of her clients probably didn't recognize.
        The woman was trustworthy because she'd been hired to be. That was all that Rakashi needed to know. Taking the envelope with a nod, she asked, "Might there be a train in the near future?"
        "There might be." The woman smiled. "But you are a bit later than expected. Your train to Cheres leaves in twelve minutes."
        With a grin, the former general had just enough time to bow in thanks, turning and leaving with a bit of money fluttering behind her. Already having been paid or not, good service always deserved a bit extra.
        Once more outside, door closed behind her, Rakashi gave a light smile to Rean before mounting her horse again.
        "Well?" he prompted when it became clear that she wasn't going to explain on her own.
        "Just hold on for dear life." She suggested. "We've got a train to catch."


        Despite the white knuckles, it did kind of feel good to let the horses simply run. Signs along every road made it quite clear that the train station was on the other side of the town, Rakashi leading them through some slightly less crowded avenues to get there (as it likely wouldn't have been looked upon kindly if they managed to trample anyone on their way).
        While they arrived at the station later than they'd hoped to, it turned out that they actually had plenty of time to spare due to one modern miracle: technical difficulties resulting in a late departure. That meant they had time to get the horses on board with them, a bit of dumb but so very appreciated luck, particularly when the full delay was less than half an hour.
        There was a bit of a... bathroom issue, however. As in, there were none on board. As in, Rean had ridden a horse for some time, while consuming a healthy dose of water every so often, and was suffering.
        Initially, Rakashi seemed to be of no help at all. "Just go off the side." She suggested. "Belt yourself to a hand rail, open up a side door and go."
        He was horrified at the suggestion. A person didn't just do such a thing... until she recounted a tale of a Captain Sirquest who'd done something similar from a low-flying plane. The man had never lived it down, apparently, because he'd managed to relieve himself at just the wrong moment, while he was over his own men.
        It was at that point in her tale that Rean had given her a long, calculating look... and continued to try and hold it. "Besides," he argued, "I mean... you're here."
        She turned away before her expression betrayed her. She'd always known that the boy had never been to war, of course, but that was just another reminder that things were very different for him. Something to... protect, maybe. If she could. Not that she particularly favored the idea of being near anyone while they were taking care of personal business, but one got used to it rather quickly on the field. "Well." She commented, taking an obvious look at the nearby door. "Your belt will hold fine if you decide to go that way. Just double-check the hand rails."
        He managed to ignore her advice, and the fact that she'd wandered to the other side of the car, for almost twenty minutes. That proved to be entirely enough as he decided that taking her advice would be for the best for so very many reasons. He knew better than to complain about the lack of toilet paper and the ability to wash his hands, but they were still on his mind as he cleared his throat behind Rakashi.
        She was graceful enough not to say a word, more or less trying to hide her smirk as she lead them in comfort to their seats. They'd both wondered at first if it was Demi's doing to get them an entire car to themselves... but then the train seemed mostly abandoned to begin with. Maybe it just wasn't a day to travel.
        Thoughts like that one were what prompted the former general to stare at the envelope that she'd been given before arriving at the train. There was nothing written on the outside, no signs or seals or indication of who or where it was from. What was inside was thin, another single sheet of paper. Something about her wasn't quite ready to see what was inside even as she slowly tore it open. The possibilities were staggering. Almost painful.
        There was a light, almost nonexistent nudge from Rean, though. It was such a ghosting of his elbow against her arm that she couldn't be certain of whether it had been intentional--until she caught him watching her from the corner of her eye.
        Rakashi was enormously glad for his company, suddenly. Not enough to get mushy about, granted, but it was enough. With a hesitant breath, she tugged at the paper within, unfolding it as neatly as it had been folded. There was a simultaneous ache and flutter in her heart as she recognized Sarah's handwriting.

        I would assume if you're reading this then you've made it right on time to Cheres. There's a big ranch a ways outside of the city, called Si'Terre. Even most of the locals don't know about it, so you'll have to do some searching. I trust you'll know what to look for when you find a better map of the area. When next we meet, Rakashi.

        Elegant script illuminated the woman's signature... followed by a P.S. in a script that was far less elegant.

        P.S. Sure hope you happened to bring Rean along. That boy just can't take care of himself, you know?

        She couldn't help but notice the immediate clench of her former assistant's hand as he read that line. At least she did her best not to grin, instead offering, "Looks like we're headed in the right direction."
        Not that he didn't want to relax, but he was finding natural pessimism a lot easier these days. "You definitely recognize the handwriting?"
        Nodding, she assured, "I had to read over pretty much every note that Sarah took on the field, including inventories and letters to the Tower. Her style would be hard to forge. Not impossible, I suppose..." Rakashi had to stop and take stock of all of the information that they had. Anything could be a trap, but instinct swayed away from that possibility. She would still watch, of course, be careful...
        But there was something, wasn't there? Not something about the note or the writing, or even the information they were lacking. There was something... off. Close-by. Something she couldn't quite place, like a whisper in the distance...
        "Is something wrong?" Rean had noticed a change in her expression, the woman having gone very still save for her eyes.
        "I don't know." She answered honesty, softly. They'd come too far to be lying to each other, to try to tell him that everything was fine. Something felt very much... out of place. She just couldn't pick out what, or why the feeling was getting stronger. "I want you to stay here. I'll take a quick look around."
        That idea didn't really sit well with him. "What if--"
        "Rean." She stopped him quietly but firmly. "Lock this door when I leave. And the one on the other side. Keep your pistol ready."
        He still didn't like the idea, but... "You're not a general anymore." He muttered, already surrendering.
        "True." She granted. "But out of the two of us, shouldn't I be the one to investigate what feels a little dangerous?"
        It was a good point. "Good luck, General." He found energy enough to joke, and even to throw out a mock salute.
        That earned him a devious smile. "Lock these doors immediately." Rakashi ordered.
        "Yessir." He continued the gag, following her if only to prove that he was indeed locking the door the moment she stepped out.
        Giving a nod before she turned to walk away, she was glad to hear the slide and thud of the old metal lock on the other side of that door. That much done, she took a long look at her surroundings--which happened to be another empty train car. With no one and no luggage in the way, it gave her a quick chance to admire the landscape out the windows. Rolling hills would turn into rocky cliffs, if they followed the tracks long enough. They didn't plan to, Cheres being somewhere under four hours on a good day. The sky was clear, at least.
        There were some bags in the next car, though from the looks of them they were long abandoned. Likely picked clean of valuables and left behind... though she wasn't really willing to check. Beyond the lack of people, everything still seemed normal. Peaceful. That was why she had one hand on the pistol the whole time she was advancing, opening the door to the next car.
        That one was abandoned as well, void of even luggage. It was about the third step in when Rakashi simply stopped. Without so much as being aware of why, her footsteps merely halted.
        Something did not feel right. Like the last day of the Tower, like some of the conversations she never quite managed to overhear enough to make sense of; there was something not completely in place. Something very integral was... askew.
        The door across for her opened slowly. To her own surprise, she didn't panic. Didn't move, didn't blink; only watched.
        It was a man, on the other side. Stepping through, coming closer.
        But it was not a man.
        It looked like a man. It looked human. But it wasn't. How she knew that so easily, a fact beyond questioning, was something she didn't understand. Unclear, unknown. But it was as true as all truths she'd ever come to know.
        It was... disturbing. There was nothing visually wrong, out of place. No smells or any other sensory element that seemed off. There was just something deeply instinctual that was... wrong.
        The eyes, perhaps. The startlingly clear eyes full of color; unnatural, shifting, kaleidoscope blue.
        His voice was what finally snapped her out of her paralyzing thoughts. It too was human... but something deep inside of her very being told her that it should not have been so. "Come on, Rakashi. Kill the boy and come with me."
        The words themselves prompted her to pull the pistol and back away, the sheer horror of the idea breaking whatever spell the eyes seemed to have on her. She couldn't look at them, couldn't even let herself acknowledge them. There was something... uncomfortably familiar about those eyes...
        No. Not familiar at all. Wrong. Poisoned. Unnatural, damaged... not
        She aimed at his head, like always. Just like always. The military liked prisoners, but she'd never taken chances.
        This time, however, she wasn't shooting. That same instinct that insisted upon how off this man-looking thing was, was also telling her that it knew something. Intricate... personal... important.
        Rakashi growled to herself, trying to shake the ridiculous thoughts from her head. He was just some psychopath. Just some guy she might have seen somewhere, looking for revenge.
        But she knew that wasn't true. "Who are you?" she finally demanded, not willing to ask the real question of what he was...
        When he smiled--No, that is not a smile. People might mistake it for that, but it's so far from smiling--she felt her chest tighten, almost doubling over with a horrendous pain ripping through her abdomen. She managed to keep the gun trained on him... but he must have been perfectly aware of how weak her grip had gotten.
        "Rakashi..." his voice was velvet all of a sudden, warm, soft... consuming. He kept his distance, the voice something that would normally be found to be beautiful, melting... but his otherworldly stare, his not-quite-smile, kept her in pain. "You'll never find out if you're so unwilling to do what must be done."
        She squeezed the trigger in response, finding it extremely unfortunate that she missed due to the complete collapse of her legs from underneath her. Upon trying again, all strength seemed to be bled from her hands as the gun slipped from her grasp and skittered across the floor. Winding her arms around herself while that agony crackled like electricity through her chest and abdomen again, she focused on trying not to pass out. Rakashi panted, glaring with every ounce of power she had in her at whatever the fuck this thing was, digging into consciousness with claws and raw determination not to be thrown off so easily...
        A thud. And a damn loud one, at the door she'd come through. Someone trying to break in... but she didn't remember locking the door behind her.
        Another, very purposeful thud, and the door bent inward with force. That odd man-thing gave it a look similar to amusement, not appearing in the least bit worried--then turned to look at the former general again. His voice was soft, almost too soft to hear--but it resonated inside of her. "When you're ready to know, you'll find me."
        Darkness. Not a world dimmed, but a world plunged into black. It was a bit like losing hold of consciousness, but... colder.


        "Rakashi?" she heard clearly.
. Despite that knowledge... she wasn't certain if she really wanted to open her eyes or not. "You ignored my order." She didn't quite accuse, surprised by how soft her voice sounded.
        He blinked. He'd just managed to dislodge a fucking locked metal compartment door to get to her, finding her collapsed on the floor in front of some really strange guy who quite literally bolted through the window of a moving train. It wasn't a comment that he expected. "Guess so."
        "Why was that?" she asked out of curiosity, finally aware enough to realize that she was sitting up slightly, supported only by Rean's arm. Well. Sweet, she supposed. Sitting fully upright on her own, Rakashi let her eyes open--wincing when there was still a slight residual pain in her chest. Maybe the broken window in front of her said enough about what had wound up happening.
        He was actually a bit relieved that she didn't sound mad about the situation. Not that he'd have cared that much. "A feeling, at first. Then that gunshot..." Though he did fail to mention the part about not wanting to spend another minute in that empty car, just waiting. Good thing, obviously. "And... that guy was..?"
        She shook her head, acute pain shooting through it for only a second as she tried to picture his face again, his eyes... then gave up for the time being. There were too many ways to answer that question, and she couldn't be sure of details. She just didn't know. But... she was sure, beyond any doubt, that she should have known. "Rean..."
        "You're going to need to accept this order at all costs."
        She was looking away from him. That seemed... wrong. "Y-yeah...?"
        The words were easier than they should have been. "If I start acting strangely... very strangely, dangerously toward you... you're going to have to kill me without hesitation."
        He was very glad she was still looking away just then. He couldn't imagine how uncertain and wounded his look of surprise must have been. "What happened?"
        A long silence followed. "I don't know." It was simply the most honest answer that she could give.

Content copyright Orin Drake 2011.
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