in the empty train car, for several
minutes in silence. It was all just... strange. Unwelcome, to put
fed up with both the situation and her own behavior in the moment,
Rakashi took a deep breath and forced her body into action. She
stood and turned, offering a hand to her traveling companion. She
had no right to be anything but a leader then and there. Later, when
they were safe, she could spare some time to think and react. After
what had just happened... it was clear she had to become stronger to
adapt. More defensive. More ready to attack and kill rather than to
let her curiosity get in the way.
thoughts fled when Rean grabbed her hand--and pulled her back down to
the floor. His gaze was even, feeling suddenly quite brave. The
question was quiet, but full of meaning. "What happened?"
blinked, finding his grip unrelenting; not tight, but holding. It
was a puzzling thing, really... but his eye contact would not break
until he'd gotten an answer. In the back of her mind, she made note
of how her former assistant would have made a better officer, had the
military possessed any actual sense. He couldn't have known what he
was asking, but she would try to answer regardless. "That man
was... not a man."
anywhere near the sort of response he'd been looking for. The idea
took some seconds to sink in. "Then what was... it?"
shook her head, unable to come up with even a single word to properly
describe... Familiar, her mind told her. She wanted to deny
that, to bury it until it no longer existed. She could tell how
deeply Rean was searching her eyes for an answer, probably
instinctually aware that she was holding something back; and he
didn't seem to have any plans to let go of her wrist anytime soon. The
word just wouldn't go away, refused to disappear. "It's...
familiar." She finally admitted, still at a bit of a loss. "I
don't understand it..." She struggled for more, reaching
desperately for anything she could tell herself, let alone her
companion... but there was nothing else.
felt a bit surprisingly overcome with the need to comfort her, but he
just... didn't know what he could possibly do. While he wasn't in
the least bit aware of her thought process, he did get the gist of
her silence, understanding that she wanted to hold everything quietly
and controlled until at least the end of the train ride. He would
just have to remind himself that she was probably going to need an
opportunity to vent at some point... and to stay completely clear of
another word needed, Rean stood up that time. Never releasing her
hand, he waited patiently for her to get the hint. She stared up at
him at first, curiosity and perhaps a little suspicion in her gaze,
but followed his lead. It was only when they reached the door he'd
broken through moments ago when he realized that he was still
holding her hand. Clearing his throat, he released his hold and
stepped aside, somewhat desperate to divert attention from his
near-panicked embarrassment. "Lead the way. Sir."
either did not notice his nervousness or chose to ignore it, giving
him an appropriate nod before going on ahead. It wouldn't be too
long before they reached the station. To rest for a while... that
seemed a good thing to look forward to.
and drenched in silence, they rode out the rest of the
trip in their own original car... with the door open. Perhaps it had
something to do with some kind of mutual claustrophobia, or the fact
that neither of them were quite willing to remain unaware of what may
happen right outside.
watched what he'd grown absolutely certain was Rakashi trying to keep
her mind blank. Away, distant... her eyes were the first thing that
he'd noticed to be switched off like a light, followed by her
expression. It was a fascinating thing to watch, actually, like some
perverted form of meditation taking shape. Fascinating as it was, he
didn't really want to see her like that...but it wasn't as if he
course, she wasn't that blank; she caught him looking. The
sudden, very aware eye contact caused him to look away guiltily.
was a dull sort of amused smile on her lips, and her voice made her
sound incredibly exhausted. Maybe she was--she didn't care to
explore even that much until they were safely off the train. "Torture
was interesting. "Pardon?"
what you're taught as an officer. What I was 'retaught'." The
laugh was anything but jovial. Rakashi took a deep breath and
cleared her throat, trying to work herself back to nonchalance.
"Disconnecting. Mind and body becoming separate. Unfortunately, I don't
think it's very helpful in this situation."
So--wait. Was she feeling
tortured by this? Maybe not physically, but... "Wanna get a few bottles
of something in Cheres and camp out for
the night?" The sheer brashness of his sudden bright idea
nearly made him finch. That was probably the stupidest thing he ever
could have possibly--
sounds impossibly good right now." The former general answered
with her eyes closed, leaning back into the not-quite-padded-enough
seat. "We still have our horses. There's a tent in the
supplies. The weather's been warm here. We're not far from our
destination, and we've obviously got plenty of money for it."
were very good points, there was no doubt about that. Rean was
actually a little surprised to have heard them over the sound of his
own racing pulse.
grateful when the train ride continued without any
more interruptions. Rean believed himself to be even more grateful,
the possibilities of him saying something else alarmingly stupid or
downright dangerous seeming to lessen once they were concentrating
more on travel.
their horses off the train and right out onto the main road, Cheres
proved to be a very nice town. It was clean, alive without
being overly crowded, and the buildings managed to maintain a small
town feel to them. It was no surprise when the liquor store happened
to be right next to the apothecary, leading Rakashi to grin at her
don't you go in." Rean didn't quite ask. He still looked damn
young, not to mention that he had no ID on him whatsoever. The woman
just... carried herself as older--and could probably argue much
better than he could, besides.
grin had not disappeared by the time she strolled into the liquor
store. Nor did it seem to have disappeared at any point, as it was
still there when she walked out several minutes later with three
he asked despite his desire to not make complications for himself. It
was just hard not to notice that two of the bottles were the
wine." She corrected. "Much better. And Cure-All."
his eyebrow, he couldn't help himself. "Is that really what
that's what I know it as." Rakashi shrugged, showing him the
bottle. 160-proof. Yes, that would cure and/or kill just about
everything. Packing those safely away for their travel, she kept an
eye out for a general store where she could get a local map for a
decent enough price.
they continued walking their horses down the road, Rean was still
stuck on the idea of something that was 80% alcohol. The idea that
the woman could probably manage to drink Demi under the table
was incredibly amusing... and sort of tempting to try to get to
what she was after, the woman once again entered the store alone and
returned with exactly what she was looking for. She waited until
they'd found a nice little secluded alley to stop in, glancing around
to make certain they were indeed alone first. Unfolding
the map against the wall, she took a long moment to orient herself, studying
it--then laughed to herself. "We're here." She
pointed for her companion's benefit. "Since Sarah's note
said I'd know what to look for, I'll bet they're right here."
"Um." He managed, having no idea
how she came to that conclusion.
Rakashi traced it for him. A curved river going through the bottom
of a giant basin, with two towns near the top of the basic itself. "For
all intents and purposes... this is a smiley face. And
I'll bet the ranch is right at the nose."
"Stupid." She finished for him,
grinning again. "But it's also so very
Sarah." It was mentioned once in passing, her secretary's
absolute disdain for smiley faces being drawn without noses--but it
had been so amusing and so completely out of nowhere that it had
never been forgotten. When Rakashi jokingly started to leave smiley
faces on documents, it was Sarah who would surreptitiously add the
nose to each one. "It looks like we can find a decent place to
camp before nightfall and manage to be there by evening tomorrow."
was both amazingly good to know... and extremely worrisome. Rean
didn't really know if he was ready to see Demi again. Nor was he
sure that he was ready to face Rakashi, ice wine and Cure-All so far
from civilization, either.
on horseback, but wound up on foot a couple of hours
later, when the roads seemed to disappear altogether and leave only
long-traveled paths through patches of forest. It was actually kind
of nice to walk after the riding and the train, though, sort of
relaxing... and maybe made for a more healthy kind of tired. The
horses certainly didn't seem to mind.
a beautiful bit of luck, they came upon a clearing just far enough
from the road to allow them a half-decent view of it, but not so
close as to be watched from it. Since the light of day was starting
to fade, it seemed as good a place to stop as any, and there were
some good-sized trees around the far edge of the clearing that would
serve to tie the horses to.
how "warm" the nights had been, the fact remained that they
were still a little chilly for sleeping outside. Since a small fire
was a useful thing in keeping unwanted wild animals at bay as well,
Rean was tasked with gathering kindling and wood while Rakashi made
some attempt at not being angered by the nonsensical tent. It was a
bit of slow going at first, admittedly, but she actually managed to
get the thing standing by herself. Whether or not it would remain so
all night... well, all the more excuse to make an early start of
things, she supposed.
sort of amazed." Rean admitted, arms full of decently dried
wood that would hopefully last the night. Dropping it all into an
unceremonious pile, at least he did know how to set up to get
a fire started.
make rank for nothing." She joked, the words containing a sting
that she tried to push aside. "Afraid there still no cooler for
the ice wine, though."
there are matches, I hope?" He wasn't quite willing to admit
that he was already getting a little cold with the last rays of
seemed to understand enough, walking to the horses and digging
through one of those bags. "Even better." She waited
until Rean had looked over at her before tossing a lighter to him. It
was either luck or Demi thinking ahead again. If they'd had
matches which managed to get wet in the rain... well, no need to
dwell on that. What Rakashi was more interested in were what those
rations were. Looking through the small and all too square
foil-wrapped packages, she had to wonder for a moment if it wouldn't
be more worth their time to try and shoot dinner. But that
was just too much work in the moment. Sighing, she selected the
least offensive of the bunch--"scalloped potatoes", it
said--and a bottle of ice wine to bring to the fire.
been such a nice idea. Throw a few back, get piss drunk, completely
forgetting about everything... but she'd known even when the idea was
presented to her that she wouldn't be able to go through with it. Not
completely. It wasn't the right thing to do, firstly. And,
second... if perhaps she could get Rean drunk enough to stay asleep
for a while, maybe she could finally vent a little. As loudly
as she pleased.
course, that idea was destined to be ignored as well. She wouldn't
have just left him alone to be completely defenseless. Nevermind
what a day of horseback riding while hungover would feel like. Well...
her companion interrupted her thoughts, sitting beside her with a
little distance after he'd gotten a decent fire going. "About
gave a soft snort, digging into her pocket. "Have at it. Got
us a corkscrew, as well." Though, she supposed she may as well
do the "honors". Mostly because she wasn't entirely sure
that Rean knew how to use one, nor did she think that she ought to be
the one to teach him.
don't suppose there are any cups, though." It was merely an
idle comment, feeling he ought to say something.
not. I think you can handle my cooties, though, Mr. Coi." Rakashi tried
very hard not to grin at his blush, taking the first
sip straight from the bottle almost in challenge. Yeah, it wasn't
the great stuff, but it was still pretty damn good. Handing
the bottle over, she was a little curious as to what he would do.
the bottle slowly, he gave it a measuring look. The wine he was used
to was... not good, to put it lightly. Demi's choices, mostly;
cheap-ass and probably made from half grapes and half things he
didn't want to know about. He expected basically the same
sweet-vinegar fruit juice flavor to hit his tongue as he took a sip
himself; but it was a pleasant surprise. The sweetness wasn't overly
powerful, the flavor didn't become unbearable, and there wasn't that
extremely unpleasant burn as he swallowed. He could still tell
that he was drinking alcohol, sure, but for once Rean didn't
particularly mind the flavor. "This is... a lot better than I
the bottle back as it was offered, she laughed. "Could never
stand any of the crap made available at the Tower. This is more of a
'dessert wine'--a concept lost on a good deal of ration-pushers."
he took the bottle back after Rakashi had taken a longer pull from
it. Since she'd mentioned rations, he prodded at the foil packet. "Do
these two pair well?"
don't pair with anything." She assured, disgust clear in
her voice. Even so, she reached forward to attempt to pry the
included plastic "fork" off of the side before opening the
little packaged horror. "I think you might want to be careful
of that wine, though." It sounded like a suggestion. "Considering we
still have to ride tomorrow, it would be a bad
a little too quickly upon realizing she was right, Rean managed not
to cough. "Was that really the plan all along?" He was
pretty sure he could already blame the alcohol for making him brave,
if he had to.
she admitted, "Getting smashed was a good idea. But
ultimately too impractical." With a shrug, that was just the
long and short of it. Trying some of those "potatoes",
they really weren't that bad... but she did go for another swig of
wine as soon as it was offered. "It's sort of nice to just...
sit here and eat and drink like a human being."
words stung a little, even as he reached for the fork himself. He
wasn't hungry... though she'd already made her point with the
alcohol, and he knew that he should eat. "It's not such
a great thing." Stabbing a few layers of what at least looked
like sliced potatoes, he could feel her curious gaze more than see
it. "Human beings... well, you've seen what they're capable
knew what he meant, what he was trying to do, but... maybe it was the
idea itself that seemed hollow. She waited until Rean had taken a
few bites and surrendered the fork before handing the bottle back,
taking over where he'd left off. "I'm apparently capable of at
least the same, if not more... does that make me more than human?" She
amused herself with the question, shaking her head and not wanting
an answer. "No sense in dwelling on it. There's
not even enough information to worry about yet."
Hm. "You seem to think there will
be reason to worry..."
she couldn't really commit to any thought on the matter. "We'll
see. In any event, now is not the time to worry." Putting the
fork down, she wordlessly invited Rean to finish the rest.
was not the most pleasant invitation. Taking one more sip of the
wine and deciding to call it quits for the night, he placed the
bottle on the ground and declared, "I think you ought to finish
the food. You need your energy and all that."
laugh was short and quiet, but genuine. "Really, you are much
too polite Mr. Coi." She half-accused, corking the bottle--and
still leaving the rations alone.
supposed that maybe the alcohol was getting to him, a little
bit... but it was quite pleasant. "As are you, General."
title almost made her wince, but really... it was still sort of
natural. She'd grown so very used to it, and it was a decent
reminder to hold things together and continue to act like a
general... more or less. In the morning, they'd head out with the
knowledge that they'd be meeting Demi and Sarah by evening. It was a
little frightening, in a way. Rakashi knew that those thoughts just
had to be shoved aside, put away for the time being as nothing
more than ridiculous worry. "Since dinner seems to be over and
the wine is, for the moment, put away... I suppose sleep wouldn't
certainly hadn't managed enough alcohol to make him feel all that
terribly warm, though. That was starting to make him worry...
even more than the dawning realization of how small that tent
seemed. "How many blankets are there?"
herself to stand, she walked over to the horses to check, pulling out
a grand total of... two from the saddle bags. They were large and
thick, true, but the fact remained... "Well, maybe the tent
fabric is good at trapping heat."
gave her the sort of look that he usually reserved for Demi, then
glanced back at the tent. "I don't really think that would even
keep rain out..."
you calling the military a bunch of cheap assholes, Mr. Coi?"
the former general teased, bringing the blankets over.
sir." He chuckled, moving to unzip the tent... and then it
looked even smaller. Well. He really, really hadn't had
enough wine. Bravery and stupidity were both battling it out in the
back of his mind, but he was sober enough to realize that he couldn't
really tell the two apart. "Well... you know, body heat... is
the, um... b-best way to..."
line is so much older than the two of us." Rakashi all too
kindly cut him off before he attempted to finish the increasingly
embarrassing ramble. She busied herself for a moment with checking
the fire, making certain the wall of stones around it was high
enough, that there wasn't a strong enough wind to carry it where it
didn't belong. "If you think you'll be cold, it is alright
to stay close." She finally assured, walking back over to make
certain the horses would be warm enough. They really ought to
be, particularly with the fire there... and they had each other to
curl up with, if needed.
Rean was losing his nerve a little quickly. "I guess there's
always that Cure-All..."
thought of it as more of a gift for the captain." She admitted
with humor, taking a long moment to just look upward, gazing at the
stars. That was something the Tower could never have offered... and
she suspected that was very much on purpose. A stretch of silence
passed as they both stargazed before she finally announced, "I
think... unconsciousness would do me good about now."
would have made him laugh even without the alcohol. "Yeah. I
think I know what you mean."
was a soft smile at the corners of her lips as she partially crawled
into the tent to get the blankets in place. Shame that they didn't
have a travel mattress, but if that was as close to "roughing
it" as they got, Rakashi couldn't find much to complain about. With one
last visual check of the horses and the fire, she simply
left her boots outside the tent flap before crawling beneath the
only felt more nervous at that moment, hesitating. Seconds ticked
by, and still he couldn't quite convince himself to move...
cold in here, you know." She finally prompted jokingly.
enough, that got him to laugh and to move. Crawling inside, he
couldn't help but notice that Rakashi looked quite comfortable on one
side--perhaps particularly because she left her gun resting within
reach. Well that was a good idea. He placed his own pistol very
carefully on the opposite side, as close to the wall of that tent
(and away from him) as possible before zipping the flap closed.
Granted, that gave him an awkward moment of trying to find his way
beneath the blankets in the dark, but he managed, facing away. The
blankets were even large enough to allow some space between them.
Unfortunately, there was also a shiver, the ground still cold
yet?" the former general seemed to tease quietly.
found that amusing. With an overdramatic and long-suffering sigh,
she turned toward him and pulled Rean a bit closer, nearly
able to feel his blush radiating like the sun. "This never
happened." She assured. "If it did, it was the alcohol."
everything else... he could go with that. "Right."
an empty bed. That didn't seem unusual, exactly, but maybe a
little odd. Slightly unexpected... but if he hadn't been woken yet,
there was probably still a little time to drift back to sleep.
sudden and very loud explosion corrected him--not to mention got him
up extremely quickly. He heard the shrill whinnies of the horses,
their hooves stomping out of what seemed to be panic; much like the
way he could hear his own pulse racing. Reaching for the tent flap,
Rean paused just for a moment, wondering if he ought to just stay out
of sight. Still, what had that sound been?
Gunshot. He knew because the
second one was closer and he was awake to
hear it. Pulling the tent flap open just enough to peer out--
was that man again. The man who was "not a man", the weird
guy on the train. If he was there, then where was--
Shit! He scrambled for his
own pistol before he could truly grasp what was
happening. He'd seen Rakashi's left shoulder covered in blood,
dripping, clutching it tightly with her other hand. She had hold of
her own gun, though the hand grasping it seemed to be hanging from a
limp arm for the moment. Not that the blood or the pain seemed to be
dimming her glare any, eyes golden and glowing fiercely at the
strange man, lips pulled back, exposing teeth.
not-man, however, looked completely unfazed. Completely unhurt,
despite the fact that he was bleeding from the front of one thigh.
didn't see a weapon on the man. He wasn't entirely sure that he was
ready to use one himself, but at the cost of saving Rakashi's life...
The strange man and the former general were far enough apart to take
confident aim. Without letting himself think too much on it, he
simply pulled the trigger.
Nothing. Just a dull click. Twice
more, same result. He knew
there had been bullets in the gun...
voice drained every ounce of courage Rean thought he might have had.
No, he was not
followed the strange man's gaze to see the tent open enough for a gun
to fit through, then movement as the pistol disappeared back inside.
Her expression changed quickly. Dammit, he was awake. Her cold gaze
turned back to that not-man, standing there, smirking and bleeding,
looking considerably less fearsome than he had on the train. "You told me
you'd keep him out of this."
can't very well keep my concentration if I'm being shot." He
quite an uncomfortable thing to be there just then, Rean realized.
Breathing. Alive. It was all a little... uncomfortable. Especially
to be noticed and talked about, having absolutely no clue what was
being said or why... but at least he was distracted when Rakashi
somehow managed to raise her arm and fire again, hitting the man just
a little below the knee that time. The horses let out another shrill
sound, but that just couldn't be helped.
"Now go away." She hissed, not a single measure of
viciousness lost with that
know I won't stay away for long." The not-man nearly teased,
favoring the leg that hadn't yet been shot but still showing no signs
enough to meet on my terms." She growled in a way that struck
Rean as... similarly non-human.
words seemed to please the strange man. "And your terms are..?"
"Alone." She barked, the sting of
the bullet in her shoulder catching her
nerves again. Fuck... it had been a long time since she'd been shot.
Not long enough. "You leave everyone else the fuck out of
not-man seemed agreeable enough, nodding. As if he had nothing at
all to fear from the former general, he simply turned and limped into
the woods. The further away he walked, the calmer the horses
became... but the woman's glare was still smoldering.
was a bit in shock from... so many things really--but focusing on
Rakashi's bleeding shoulder once again forced him into action,
tugging the tent flap open. From what he could make out, she'd
definitely been shot, but... the strange man hadn't seemed to have a
gun. She had hers, and... his lacked bullets...
it just wasn't important right then. He could ask later, figure it
out when she wasn't bleeding. "What can I do?" he asked at
her side, feeling completely useless for something like this. Still,
he was close enough to see
the motion of her throat, to take note of that one, small moment when
the look in her eyes was more than uncertainty. Something
had happened while he was sleeping, but what...
me cut these sleeves off." It was very matter-of-fact. It was
which was both concerning and comforting.
to focus on the latter. "Knife?"
lifted her left foot slightly. "Check the inside wall of my
that worked. He knelt down, glad at least to feel a moment's
amusement at the picture they presented. Kneeling before a wounded
general at dawn. Yeah, if someone painted them now, it'd go for
millions. Shaking the thought off, he reached inside the boot and
was immediately rewarded with a flat, curved bit of metal that
slipped out of its sheath easily. Definitely a specialized knife.
Standing again, he made quick but careful cuts to get those sleeves
off, not going too near the wound so that she could continue to put
pressure on it. It was all sort of a numb moment, having read
manuals about these kinds of disasters... but the real thing was a
didn't seem terribly fazed by recent events, herself... or she was
just good at hiding it. Either way, she hissed as she removed her
hand, blood clearly still flowing. She took it upon herself to wrap
the longer sleeve around the wound several times. "Pull it
tight and tie it off."
voice was becoming... harsher. Not toward him,
not quite even in an emotional sense, but it was noticeable. He did
as she told him, pulling until she told him to stop. It seemed like
the perfect (or perhaps the very worst) time to ask, as he was tying
the last knot, "Rakashi... what's going on?"
managed to hide whatever her initial reaction was; something that she
wasn't even sure of herself. "Rean... do you trust me?"
"Yes." It was true, spoken
without hesitation. Almost a scary admission,
actually... but she'd never given him the least bit of reason to
her eyes, she would have admitted to being a little surprised by his
response. "Then, please. I will
tell you, but it has to wait."
didn't like that at all. But if that was necessary... it was still
frustrating. At least she was willing to tell him eventually, and he
supposed that would simply have to do. "So, we... get there
today..." Okay, maybe that wasn't as helpful of a subject
change as he'd hoped.
don't sound so eager." She pointed out, grateful for anything
else to talk about.
shook his head, walking with her to do most of the work of packing up
the tent. Well, disassembling it couldn't be that difficult...
right? "I... don't know what to expect." He admitted. "Demi... I don't
know what was real."
made a quiet sound of agreement. Yes, she could relate.