HARD

CHAPTER 13

At the crack of the cold, silent dawn, the blood-soaked the wood floors and the hay sickened the horses. Though she had dug a ditch deep enough to dump the body, the stench persistently lingered across the barn. Karin washed herself of all evidence but left her quarters the way it was. She took a horse with her and rode it to the East wall. The gallops broke the silence, gently waking the farmers and the field workers. ‘Is she making rounds?’ they wondered as their first tobacco ridden breaths broke out of their yawns. Those who co-conspired gathered to their stations, silently walking away from their tasks and duties.

A sniper followed her from the wide open window at his port, all the way to the gate approaching them. Through his scope lens, he peered. She was attractive, strong, but she had a wooden leg. Then she disappeared behind the walls. He lowered his rifle and blinked to rest his eyes. He then peered far into the distance watching the sky slowly pierced by warm radiant light of the horizon. A mesmerizing purple hue took over.

Then he saw something. In the green fields, a white wisp floating, rapidly. He raised his scope lens to find a woman in loose white sheets running. ‘From what?’ his lens followed her but found nothing. ‘Then to where?’ he peered ahead and saw that she was aiming for the southern gate. ‘Was she escaping?’ He moved the lens to the mansion where they kept the women and adjusted a closer zoom. There were no guards patrolling, just one man hanging like a ragdoll over the balcony from on top of the roof. ‘SHIT!’

He moved his lens back to running women and re-adjusted his focus on her. He noticed her struggling to run past the terrain, barefoot, breathing heavily and he took aim. ‘Just a little bit… and…’

Before he could fire, he felt a sharp tightness around his neck. A sudden excruciating pain soon followed once the shock was over. His head was pounding. The blood from his head was pressured to stay, unable to flow down past his neck. Suddenly he felt his life leaving him. He dropped his gun, his knees became flaccid while his hands tried desperately to free his neck. The wire was too thin. He couldn’t do anything but beg and convulse. His fate was being sealed by an assailant he would never meet. He would at least know he died watching the sun. ‘It’s you, isn’t it? The lady with the wooden leg?’ he muttered to himself as those last words left him. He surrendered his life and dropped to the ground.

Karin released the wire; just a thing she made out the raffia in the barn. She grabbed the scope lens and peered into the distance. She aimed at the Janet, still running, helplessly, with all hope that she would survive. Janet kept at it, knowing there would be guards awaiting to greet her at the gates. ‘Please let this work!’ she prayed and prayed as her knees cried for her to stop and breathe, but her spirit was relentless and Karin was truly impressed at the courage this girl possessed.

‘POW’ a sharp shot from the silencer. One guard was down, and it spooked the other. Before his reactions made him think, ‘POW’, another went through his skull. The gate was still barred now, and Janet saw the guards collapse before her as she headed straight for them.

‘POW!’ a glass panel shattered. Janet still at her fullest speed couldn’t stop in time before she slammed her body on the steel doors, just happy enough she was finally there. She stammered, panting relentlessly, trying to catch her breath. Her throat was dry from it all, and after swallowing some saliva, she slowly crept toward the panels. ‘Come on, come on!’ She pressed the numbers on keys. ‘What did he say?’

Kade had some experience in torture, as it was his previous job. He learnt of ways to tunnel a blade under the nails of his hostages, twist and turn to cause only pain and not injury. They would speak eventually. It wasn’t all too difficult for Janet or any of the girls though. All they had to do was lure just one guard with the lowest self-esteem for a kiss. ‘Just a kiss wouldn’t hurt,’ one gullible victim thought but to his surprise was ambushed by a group of limber young women, all dressed in sheets, rags and overalls, just the tribal clothes they came with. They stood in a semicircle, bunched together, awkwardly finding courage, armed with merely household items. Kade sneaked from behind, covered his lips while the others yelled a loud war cry, launched at him, grabbing his arms and legs, tying him to a chair.

‘Please, I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you… it’s…’

‘32476…’ the passkey worked and Janet heard the metal cogs turn and the steel doors slowly open. Tears rolled down her cheeks. She braved the entrance to see the world. The open horizon of mountainous ranges coveted by a long stretch of clear field and beyond that the thick of the woods.

‘POW!’ another shot from behind. She heard the bullet clang on some metal. She took one look back at the towers before running off out into the world.

‘Fuck!’ Karin cursed. She moved her scope to next visible tower adjacent. Another sniper kept shooting at the scene. Karin moved the scope lens sideways, slightly hanging her torso off the window to get a clear shot. She noticed him moving his rifle toward her as well.

‘POW!’

‘POW!’

Headshot! Karin smirked as she gathered more ammunition from the pocket of the corpse to reload. She saw the sniper fall from his balcony to his imminent death. She readjusted her position and kept scanning for more lookers.

‘POW’ she felt her shoulders wet. Her back had been soiled with her own blood. She immediately took cover and tried to examine the wound. ‘Fuck, that’s deep,’

Karin moved herself to the opposite side of the window. She knew that her sniper was waiting, zoomed in at her window in her tower. It wasn’t safe for a clear shot. Then, a miracle happened. She heard loud thunderous roars, beating from the grounds, along with the loud neighs of her equine friends. She peered her head up just slightly to see all her horses released from the barns, escaping into the fields. A few of them fell to their death as bullets flew from the towers. Ahead of them was a rider in shabby clothes; Kade, leading the horses out the southern gate now unguarded. She saw some of the other girls running amongst the horses, hiding in between huge equine torsos and legs trying to keep up. They were holding hands, helping each other push ahead, screaming and wailing at the chance of freedom.

‘POW! One of the girls was shot in her back. She stood stiffly with her arms wide open while she fell flat. Two girls came screaming at her, while some of the others pushed on, even forcing those who stalled to keep running.

‘POW!’ another shot send them all in a frenzy, chaotic, panicking without direction. Kade had to keep his company in line. ‘Move forward. There’s nothing you can do for them now,’ he shouted against the loud thunderous murmurs of the stampede.

Karin studied the trajectory of the shots. She quickly got up to her feet and rested her bottom on the side of the window, half her torso outward. ‘There you are,’ she noticed another sniper guard, on a separate tower behind them. She still couldn’t get a proper aim so she moved out even further, hanging one leg out loose, balancing herself not to fall, while she held the rifle steady and zoomed. The guard seemed distracted by the scene. It was the perfect opportunity.

‘That’s right. Look at your property leaving you at the gate.’ She took her shot.

‘POW!’ the recoil pushed her elbow to the back, grazing her flesh against the cement of the wall. She immediately felt her nerves tingle and her hands immediately let loose. The rifle was out the window, gracefully falling while she grasped on to the inside of the wall to escape a similar fate. She peered hard into the distance and could make that the guard was wounded, but was still trying to get up.

‘SHIT!’ she cursed under her breath.

**

sunset france twilight normandy

The three unlikely friends now stood in the plains, stationary on their horses against the backdrop of a rising sun behind a tall silhouette in the hills.

‘There she is!’ Kim looked past her binoculars, then passed it on to Kira.

‘That’s the place?’

‘Yup! That’s the place,’ Kim sighed. ‘It’s filled with men though. Mostly fighters. Not those that I can’t handle but they will give you a good run for your money.’

They were on an opposing hill, facing a tall steel fortress in the distance.

‘Looks like an abandoned factory,’ Kira explained.

‘Oh it’s not abandoned,’ Kim explained.

‘Can I have that?’ Rayna muttered. ‘Huh?’ Kim yelled to intimidate.

‘I asked if I can have that,’ Rayna exclaimed pointing at the binoculars.

‘Just let her see.’ Kira tried grabbing the binoculars but Kim was too quick for her. She slapped her Kira on the wrist sneering at her.

‘It’s ok!’ Rayna walked a few steps ahead and could vaguely make out familiar parked trucks in the distance. ‘That’s them,’ she pointed.

‘That’s who has your friend?’ Kim peered into the distance. ‘That’s odd,’

‘What?’ Kira was intrigued.

‘You would expect more guards at the front gates but for some reason, it doesn’t look that way. What they have more important things to do than keep watch?’

‘Well, according to the map, we should head over the hill from the back corner. There is a communications tower over there.’ Kira asked for the binoculars. She zoomed into the distance and noticed there weren’t any guards around the perimeter at the back as well. ‘There! It’s outside the barriers of the fortress. We could just go in, do our thing and leave quietly,’

‘I think I know why they aren’t many outside. I think they are barricading the inside,’ Rayna took the binoculars, scanned the skies ahead and pointed. ‘Look!’

‘That’s?’ Kira was shocked to see a vague swirl in the sky. The tornadoes were coming from North-east.

‘So we are heading that way,’ Kim pointed north-west, ‘and Rayna is heading that way?’ she pointed with her other hand north-east toward the storms.

‘Yes!’ Rayna braved herself to answer. There was a deep note to her voice, a voice of rage and solemnity.

‘Guess this is where we part ways then.’ Kim smiled.

Kira moved toward Rayna and stretched out her hand for a shake. Rayna was deeply touched. She needed all the courage she could get. A small part of her just wanted to follow the girls but her heart was with Karin. There was nothing in the world that could stop her from trying to get back to her lover. She knew she would die trying.

Rayna believed that she could not have been more fortunate to meet this strange duo but it was time to be on her own again. ‘I’m sorry I lied, but I am happy we met. It was an adventure, really.’

Kim agreed. ‘All the best kid,’ she said, almost sounding genuine. She kept tugging at the horse reins a little each time her partner’s head tilted.

‘Just one piece of advice. Stop pulling so much. She’s getting confused. Let her move about. When it’s time to go, you can show her the way.’ Rayna was impressed that Kim picked up horse-riding so quickly and despite her unwillingness to take any advice from her, she felt at this point it was the least she could do. Kim did oblige, as a sign of respect and gratitude. Rayna smiled just a bit. She would miss her two friends who rescued her from the forest.

‘Thanks for the arrows!’ she said holding on to her crossbow.

They then bid their goodbyes and started to move in diverging paths, looking ahead and never back.

**

Lucas woke to a surprise. His general yelled his name several times before he even realised it. ‘Stop it, man. My head is pounding.’ He tried to open his eyes slowly, as the little rays of light that touched it singed through his corneas.

‘You need to hear something, urgent.’

‘What?’ Lucas slowly raised himself to sit, slowly turning his head to meet that of his generals’.

Steed narrated the events that took place in much detail.

‘It was her plan to go to the barn all along,’ Lucas smiled. Steed was even more surprised at his employer’s cavalier reaction. Lucas got up from the bed, tied his robes together and started pacing.

‘Smart little bitch isn’t she?’ he chuckled while approached his desk and raised an empty glass

‘Sir?’

‘She’s the one Steed. She’s the one. I can’t believe I am saying this but she is the FUCKING ONE,’ Lucas smashed the glass over the glass of his window, just shattering and falling off the panes. A strong wind blew inside the tiny dust of glass bits. Still, Lucas walked toward the window, pushing aside the remaining glass shards with his bare hands to clear his view. ‘And who is this Kade fellow?’

‘A rebel. Some say he’s an alien. He helped fix our planes before.’

‘Really? What happened to our planes now?’

‘None of them are starting up. They knew we could easily get them by air, so they are on foot and they made sure we are on foot too. Even the all the ground vehicles have their engines pulled out. This was no one-man job,’

Lucas was impressed, quickly bursting into a private chuckle. From ahead he could make out a storm coming their way. He smiled recanting in his head the stories his mother used to tell him.

‘Sir?’ Steed awaited his master’s instructions.

Lucas turned around, smiling, ‘People are going to die today Steed. People are going to die.’

**

‘POW’

As Steed as his men followed the stampede from a close distance, they started firing, taking out the slower girls who had long been left behind they were in for another surprise ahead.

Artillery started shooting from the sides. These were men covering behind the bushes and walls of smaller huts and stables. They were the farmers, the workers, the engineers. The masturbator friends that Kade and Karin had made along the way. They were excited to see the girls up close, and not even in a sexual way. They were fans, and it was their turn to help them.

‘Pull back!’

‘NO!’ yelled Steed. ‘Forward! He pulled hard the reins of his mare as he galloped straight toward the bushes, bullets flying past him and his horse. Like the horrors in their dreams he came for them, all those servants who in mutiny, who lost their sense of allegiance. Who was this Kade? Who was this Karin? How did they convince an entire workforce to rebel in a matter of days right under their noses?

As the mare leapt behind them, his AK sprayed a frenzy of surprise bullets right through the lot, bloodying the walls with their flesh and ending their great rebellion even before it started. This was the price of mutiny. Those who dropped their guns and surrendered were spared, only to await a harsh sentence after. Steed continued to press forward through the bushes and the cleared the flank as the rest of the generals headed into the open stampede and gunned down the remainder fleeing slaves, way past the gates into the open.

‘POW!’ Steed gave a clear shot a the legs of Kade’s horse. They tumbled on the ground, the horse whining in pain, Kade got up limping, sorry he put through this. Her blew her head with his shotgun to end her suffering. He counted easily 7 bodies around him, all the girls from the mansion. ‘I wonder how many actually made it?’ He thought.

‘You Kade?’ Steed trot close, hovering above him. ‘You are in for some real shit later,’ he warned before he and his mare sped off to join the others.

**

‘Come on Sandra, get up! Get up. Think of home, let’s go,’ Janet pulled her friends’ arms. ‘I can’t do this without you,’ she peered back into the distance. Though they had made it outside the perimeter, past the gates, she saw more horses heading for them. She was still far from freedom. ‘Come on,’

‘Leave me please, come on. Go!’ Sandra cried right back, her thigh drenched in red blood, the bullet had buried itself deep, probably even fractured her femur. She knew she was not escaping this morning. This was it for her. ‘I’m happy. I am very happy,’ she pulled away.

‘POW!’

She felt a bullet chip a rock on the ground, small bits of sand and dirt flew into the air. She could make out three horse- riders. They were not merely the guards anymore, but rather Lucas’s right-arm men. ‘No! she gasped in dread.

Janet started to pace herself, then run looking only ahead. An array of bullets fired from behind. She heard the whooshing of the projectiles fly past her, one right next to her ear. A few tearing through her clothes but as long as her legs kept running, she had hope.

‘Mother, Father, I’m sorry I have been away for so long,’ she cried thinking of her tribe, her childhood, and how she was forced into enslavement when her father couldn’t pay his debts. She never forgave herself for being the reason her mother and father were brutally beaten. All because she didn’t volunteer when the marauders asked nicely for her to come with them.

‘POW!’

Janet started to slow down. ‘Why?’

Her dress was getting warm, wet and sticky, starting from her chest, downward. She coughed out blood and her knees got weaker. She stopped when her muscles finally forced her to kneel facing the dirt and grass. Blood entered her lungs, spurting from her nostrils. The forest was a few meters away downhill. She noticed several others still running ahead. Envious, but happy, she was ready to give in. Another stopped behind her. ‘No!’ she cried. ‘Just go!’ Her friend refused to listen. She gathered all her strength to pick her up by her shoulders and run with her. ‘We’re almost there.’

‘There are more behind us. I mean Lucas’ men. Just let me go. I’m slowing us down,’

‘No, it’s all of us or none of us,’

Janet couldn’t see her another fall because of her. She pushed back and fell back on her knees into the dirt. ‘GOOOOOOO!’ she screamed with her drying breath before another bullet came straight for her neck, through her throat. Her vision narrowed, slowly zeroing down to a small diameter and the last thing she saw was a strange teddy bear hanging from the waist of a fellow friend running away for salvation, looking back at her crying, her lips saying something she couldn’t understand but she knew she meant something in the veins of ‘I love you.’

POW!

afterglow avian backlit birds

**

Drenched in blood, stained with dead young corpses, the fields would forever tell an eerie story of a rescue gone wrong. Steed had the privilege of taking the last shot. He closed one eye and peered into the foliage, aiming, watching closely the barrel and the girl. She was gasping, tired but still gave it her all, tripping numerous times along the way but she always got back up. ‘Just do it, stop toying with her,’ the generals laughed and teased.

‘POW’!

She was inches from the woods. Her hand reached out and touched a leaf of a plant she had never seen growing on the inside. She saw it waver as she gently grazed it before she dropped flat on the ground. Breathing her last, without regret, her hand grasped on to her teddy bear, the one thing she took from her real home in her village. ‘At least it was better than another day in that prison, just waiting to be sold, enslaved, raped and tortured. At least I was free for just that bit,’ she engraved her final thoughts in her subconscious mind.

Steed lowered his gun. One the generals on horseback trotted closer and handed him a cigarette. ‘What a waste! All the money we could have made,’

‘The madam would have wanted it that way,’ another replied.

Steed peered coldly into the distance. He saw the horizon before them and poignance in the irony of it all. The dead must have been smart enough to know that they never had a chance yet clang to their sense of hope regardless. This wasn’t about them. This might have been a ruse. ‘It’s not over,’ he surmised. Then suddenly, the gates started to close them out. The generals tried to rush back in but it was too late.

Steed bowed his head in regret. His master was alone, left unguarded by his generals. All that was in there were lowly grunts, and the menace called Karin, that they had yet found.

Karin laughed as she stood tall, holding on to her shoulder, wrapped with a tourniquet she tore from a grunt’s shirt. Her hand on a panel of controls. She had closed the gates and there was no way the generals were coming back in. Her soul yearned to burst in anger and drizzle bullets into them for the girls, but she knew she had to finish her mission. She had to find Lucas, just a few storeys above, and so she continued forward with just a revolver in her working hand.

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