Lucas rummaged through his linen closet.
He skimmed through till he saw what he wanted, an angry red leather zip-up with a breastplate; just the kinds Lucas found eccentric enough for a date with death at his door. He stormed passed the corridor, watching the long stretch of window panels vibrating, holding strong against the winds. He looked out to see the red of the storm and sands coming his way, scratching the windows, clawing to get in. He stopped to look at the sky.
‘You can keep trying.’
Rayna and her brave young horse braved through the strong winds heading to Northern gates. The entrance stood on a small empty mound uphill. She stayed close to the paved trail until the foliage ended. She didn’t want to attract any attention so she decided to go the rest of the way alone. She moved her forehead closer to that of her mares’ and bid farewell. The horse gave her rosy cheeks a loving lick and neighed a happy cry.
Hidden under the cover of thick bushes, Rayna peered ahead at the looming northern tower of the so-called fortress. There were numerous parked vehicles but none of them occupied. Before what appeared to be steel doors double the height of the average person, two figures kept a lookout. Then, she noticed one of the figures approach her. She backed away and ducked quietly into the bushes.
He was too approximate for her to retreat anymore without causing a stir.
He dressed in black leather, a tiny limber young man. He picked the closest bush that he found satisfactory, just meters before her, unzipped his pants and relieved himself of his stream. Rayna was just meters away, but she could smell the vile stench creeping up on her. Besides a grimace, she persevered in staying quiet. Her breathing, however, was far too audible especially for a trained guard of Lucas’ ward.
‘Hey!’ he shouted into the distance startled. He quickly zipped up and peered closer.
Rayna was surprised to see him directly staring at her. ‘YOU!’
She froze and stammered, her blood was pumping hard and she needed to make a decision fast.
‘Yeah YOU!’ he pointed and crept close.
She ran at him with her crossbow, hitting him careless over his head repeatedly.
‘Ouch!’ he moved back rubbing his scalp while she kept throwing her arm down at him in succession. He immediately caught her wrists in between attacks. He stared at her for a bit, awestruck at her beauty. Rayna had been accustomed to that sort of reaction but this time she decided to use it to her advantage.
She kneed him in the groin. ‘Why you bitch!’ he was getting furious, holding on his crotch all ducked and vulnerable. She hit him on the head with the crossbow again hoping to knock him down unconscious.
‘Why you,’ he came for her neck with his hands. Instinctively, she just pointed the crossbow at him and fired.
An arrow pierced his right palm. ‘ARGHHH’ he yelled. Rayna grew more frantic. She shot another two arrows, one straight for chest, buried its head flimsily and another punctured the side of his neck and strayed off, sending a small fountain of blood spurting from above his left collar bone. He backed away, horror-stricken and knelt to the ground, his hand clasping his neck while the blood seeped through the fingers like runny water. His other hand reached out to her, a desperate call for mercy.
Rayna had to make another decision. She saw the path to the northern gates, now with just one more guard distracted on a chair sleeping and before her a man gargling, choking on his own blood hoping to keep his soul.
‘I’m sorry!’ Rayna said before tearing the edge of her sleeve and helped compress the wound for him. He used his free hand to remove the arrow from his chest. He watched her tender loving eyes concerned for his wellbeing, then just started chuckling by himself, before the pain reminded him to stop.
‘You’re no killer. How did you escape? Everyone else went west but you decided to head this way out. Smart, betraying your sisters like that.’
‘What the hell are you talking about?’ Her little compression cloth quickly became a blood-soaked wad of fresh blood, oozing out of him like from a drainpipe. She frantically kept exerting pressure despite how pale he was getting rendering it all her efforts pointless.
He turned to get a closer look at the woman who just killed him.
‘Stop moving so much!’ Rayna panicked, ‘you’re losing too much blood,’
‘Listen, I know I’m dead. A piece of advice. Change your clothes. Use mine. Wear a mask and cover nose and mouth. Milky whiteness like you walking around all by yourself is not a good idea… I mean I never did it before you know… the guards go around forcing the prisoners all day, just fucking… just on again and again and again… just… you know get to a point where you start… you start… you….’
He collapsed onto her while her hand still tried to pressure his wound over his neck, hesitant to let go. She cried a tear for herself. It was her first kill, and it wasn’t as romantic or stylish as Karin had made it look. She had robbed a person of his life, maybe even a good soul and she didn’t even know his name.
Karin found herself in the corridors of the main building. She had taken judicious steps creeping from wall to wall, taking out sentry by sentry in the quiet, manoeuvring through the maze-like structure with stealth and precision. While most of them were pre-occupied with barricading the walls from the oncoming storms and the mutineers, Karin appreciative that the odds were at her favour, knew she could not just rely on pure luck alone.
She approached a broader area, with all four corners of a balcony facing a large open space underneath. Her body was weak, her left arm insensate, and with only one working arm left, she held tight a rifle she picked up from earlier and scanned over the balcony for guards.
‘HEY!’ a voice shouted from her left flank. She quickly turned to fire and sprayed a load of ammunition into his chest. Like ragdoll convulsing, he danced for her before falling flat to the mercy of gravity.
‘SHIT!’ So much for incognito!’
The alarms were up, and the sentries headed for her both from all exits of her floor and below.
‘POW!POW!POW!’ Karin had to ensure she was hyper-focused. She begged her body not to let her down. She looked for any position to cover herself. To her left and right were narrow corridors. Though one might think of this situation rather boxed in, Karin had maximum confidence in her sharpshooting skills.
Crouched, her eyes though struggling to keep up, still she managed to stay on the target. One shot left! Then scout, then 1 shot right, then left again, then scanned the bottom, the exits, then the top, and the exits. She kept going on and on. POW!POW!POW!
‘God, how many of them are there?’
Three new ones approached from the bottom, different, smarter, black in Kevlar crouched with shields facing upwards 45 degrees. This was a personal militia.
‘That’s where he is,’ she tried scanning ahead to see if Lucas was hiding behind them.
While they steadied their shields before reading to fire a bullet-storm at her trajectory, she put her foot up on the balcony and launched into midair, the nose of her rifle aimed down, firing over their heads, bouncing off their helmets and the shields immediately roofing over their heads, as their bodies gently turned to never even for a second give her their backs.
She slammed herself over the floor. She could feel her shoulder pop on her bad arm but as long the other arm was good she kept at it, reloading and firing right at them. The shields now faced her, meters away, with little peeks by the sides for the noses of their rifles. Guns blazing, shots back and forth and Karin was a sitting duck.
‘FUCK! You guys are good’ she screamed.
A loud machinery vibration came from elsewhere. The guards were stunned as they were being fired at from behind. A rush of bullets came at them for their posteriors and Kevlar or not, squirts of blood escaped them, bleeding them dry.
‘WHO?’ Karin struggled to see past the bodies.
‘KARIN!’ a familiar voice sounded back, jolting her brain.
Karin was losing sight, blood and had taken too many bullets in. She had no idea how bad her wounds were but she knew she had to let go soon. The light was tunnelling, and she closed her eyes, thinking of her life, trying to forget the pain.
‘KARIN!’ A voice called and she was in the forest again. It was sunny, bright and warm and the breeze calm and soul lifting. From the bushes, Rayna popped up, running at her holding some rooted rhizomes she had found. She was so excited, in a lacy white dress coming right for her, placed her soft tiny hands over her face. ‘KARIN!’
‘Nice! You are the last thing I’m gonna see,’
‘No! Karin, come on. I’m taking you back!’
‘No, I think I’m done. Cook the radish. Let’s have a meal aight?’ she smiled watching her eyes.
‘Raddish?’ she replied, confused. She grabbed Karin by her shoulder and frantically started shaking her vigorously. ‘KARIN!”
Karin snapped back. She could vaguely make out a girl before her. She felt the grasp of her tiny hand and elbow holding her up. Her eyes struggling to focus until they eventually locked glances.
‘NO…’ Karin was dumbstruck. She slowly raised her hand to touch her face. ‘You’re real,’
‘Yes!’ Rayna started tearing and approached her lips for a kiss. ‘You’re alive! Thank God you’re alive.’
Karin felt her life invigorated, jumpstarted to a whole new degree. It was all too surreal. ‘This isn’t happening!’ she muttered. Maybe it was the blood loss but everything was moving at a slowed frame. She felt her immediate space unsteady, fragile, weightlessly dematerializing about, nothing truly solid.
Rayna raised her gun and started firing ahead of them at sentries approaching. Karin was awestruck with her form, her confidence, the bloodthirst in her eyes.
‘Look out!’ she yelled and started firing behind Karin.
Rayna pushed her down, as Karin watched bullets slowly leave Rayna’s rifle, breaking the spatial matter above her and penetrating straight into the sentry’s frail bodies.
‘This IS happening!’ the sudden realization forced Karin to grasp hold of reality. She moved slowly to regain balance and footing and there it was her opportunity back in; a dropped rifle on the floor. She flung it up with her foot and reloaded.
Both engaged with their rifles, their backs against each other, engaged, with a full scope of their surroundings, raining hellfire on everything that moves. They had the renewed vigour of an unstoppable duo, rotating on an axis, one set of eyes on all the exits of the ground floor and another the balcony.
‘I missed you,’ said Rayna.
‘There hasn’t gone a day, sweetie. Those guard uniforms really make you look good by the way. I just feel like ripping them off,’
‘I came through some narrow tunnels. The outfits did make it easier. I took it off an innocent man though. Wasn’t like anything I ever imagined. No one was conspicuous until I heard firing. Was that you?’
‘Hhmm, sorry about that. No one is innocent by the way, sweetie.’
Suddenly, another shielded barricade marched from the southwest exit. Then from the corridor next to it, and the soon all the exits, above and below. They were surrounded by guards in Kevlar, crouched, planting their shields to ground. Someone was standing behind the row of sentries in the Northeast corridor.
As Karin craned the neck slightly to see past the shields, she noticed a small projectile being rolled to the ground straight toward them.
‘Quick, behind those pillars,’ Karin shouted.
‘Shit!’ a grenade stopped before them, ticking, counting seconds. Karin held Rayna by the collars and leapt for the opposing pillars.
BOOM! A bright flash followed.
‘LUCASSSSS!’ Karin shouted through all the ringing.
‘Drop your guns. You lost!’ Lucas’s voice roared from behind.
The two lovers couldn’t see their surroundings but their hands found each other and they held tight.
Everything was a foggy white until Karin felt a pressure between her breasts, the edge of a barrel. Karin dropped her gun.
‘NO!’ she heard Rayna scream as her hand let loose. ‘Let go!’ she yelled as the figure pulled her hair dragging her to the centre of the hallway.
The fog dissipated and Karin could now see that two men had Rayna knelt down, holding her back by each shoulder. Her gun confiscated.
‘You!’ the sentry slowly moved the barrel poking at her right breast, nudging her to move, made to kneel a few feet to her the right of her lover.
Lucas came out the shadows and walked casually into the scene. It was like in the forest, once more, both of them, on their knees at his mercy. ‘Déjà vu huh?’ he laughed.
Karin was silent, and for the first time genuinely afraid. Rayna saw how pale Karin was getting, her face muddied In blood, sweat and rubble. ‘Karin it’s going to be OK,’ she said. Karin reciprocated with a warm smile back.
‘Is it?’ Lucas responded. ‘I have to say it was clever. I mean nobody saw it coming but I should have been a tad wiser.
The winds were howling, the ground shook a little and some rubble strained down from the ceiling.
‘And somehow you got the winds to help out in your little coup as well.’ A small part of him doubted the strength of the fortress. He knew not to do that, and quietly in his heart apologized to the fortress, as Lucas was a very superstitious man.
‘You shouldn’t have killed all those girls. They were innocent. We made them run,’ Karin spoke under her wheezing breath.
‘Karin, my dear Karin. It’s like you don’t know me,’
‘I thought I knew a businessman, not a warlord,’
‘We live by a strict set of rules here. Abandonees and mutineers are treated all the same. The punishment is corporal regardless. You are aware of this.’
‘You just lost SO much money. Those girls were groomed for years,’
‘DON’T YOU THINK I KNOW THAT?’ he snapped. ‘WITHOUT RULES, THERE IS ONLY CHAOS. You can always get new girls, but you can’t rebuild all of this!’ he threw his wide open, his voice echoed off the walls.
‘So, what do the rules say now? You’re going to kill us? And then what?’
‘Nonsense. I am not going to kill you, Karin,’ He took out a pistol from his holster, a 9mm loaded handgun and cocked it. ‘This became personal. So I have to go a little outside the book,’ standing a less than appreciable distance away from Rayna, moved his right arm then took aim at her head.
Rayna tried to break loose but she was no match. She turned to Karin. ‘I love you!’ she muttered.
Karin gazed back, unshaken. ‘Why her?’ she retorted.
‘Because she’s the reason you so desperately want to leave.’
Karin sneered. ‘You know you will never have me right? I will never be yours. You can take me, rape me, but that’s all it’ll be, just YOU, never US.’
Rayna saw Lucas’s hand tremble just a slight, the handgun slightly tilting off aim. He had to use both his hands to steady it.
Karin knew she was getting to him, despite a pounding headache and lightheadedness, she understood that diplomacy and negotiation was the only way. ‘I should at least save the girl,’ she thought.
‘I thought you were smart. But it turns out you’re just a sore loser,’ she further prodded.
‘Are you pushing me to shoot Karin?’
‘You speak so much about rules but you can never kill me? Why? Do you like actually love me?’ she started to chuckle. ‘That’s so pathetic! You can make so much more with her. You KNOW that,’
‘This used up Milk?’ he ignored her insult.
‘Still, LOOK at her. The price she’d go for,’ she smiled at her lover, looking back confused.
Lucas knew he was being manipulated, but there was some sense in Karin’s words. The golden locks of her hair, the deep ocean eyes, the innocent look on her pale face; the customers would beg for more regardless of the price.
Lucas lowered his gun and started to pace away from them, slowly. The girls stared at each other as Karin smiled offering some hope. Rayna remembered how much she missed that look.
‘Fine!’ Lucas decided. He approached Karin and stood a good distance from her. He raised his gun to her forehead now instead.
‘As expected,’ Karin told herself smiling.
‘Any last words?’ Lucas, who was not known to usually ask that question, broke character for some reason. He was in love with her. He knew deep down she was ‘the one’. Why was she doing this to him?
Karin tilted her head at Rayna. ‘Thank you for everything!’ she said and a gentle tear rolled down.
‘No, no, no, no,’ Rayna cried out. Karin turned her head, her back straight, her neck craned up and gazed sternly, fearless, past the pistol right into Lucas’s steely cold eyes.
Lucas sighed because he didn’t see any alternative. He desperately tried to make an excuse but Karin was right. He would never have her. Hence, naturally, nobody should.
‘NOOOOOOOOOO!’ Rayna screamed at the top of her lungs as the bullet pierced through Karin’s skull.
As her knees lost support, Karin’s body dropped lifeless with a powerful heft.
Lucas sniffled as he shed a tear for her.
‘KARINNNNNNN!’ Rayna screamed for her lover’s life to come back. She wailed and wailed, her screams inaudible, just sheer horror through a grimace. Her chest was being slowly ripped apart with each long protracted howl. The moment played over and over again. Her lover, her friend, her Karin, now gone for good, just seconds ago, alive, kissing her, talking to her and promising to have a meal with her in the woods. It made her nauseous, just going back to it again and again, trying to process the horror; the bullet in the head, the last words Karin told her, the smile she gave, and her pitiable surrender.
‘Sir?’ one of the guards shouted, trying to get a word between the screaming. ‘The girl?’
‘Lock her up! As the law says,’ Lucas was retrospectively deep in thought to see if he made the right choice.
The guards started to move Rayna. As the squealing got worse, they slapped her and forced a cloth-gag between her teeth. They dragged her past the corridor as she kicked and squirmed on the way to the dungeons. She persisted knowing it was futile somewhere in the recesses of her brain. She just wanted to go back, and hug her lover’s chest, slap her and ask to wake up. ‘I need to go back. Please, you don’t understand,’ but all anyone heard was muffled screams.
‘It’s fine. Let her wear herself out. Makes it all the more easier then,’ one of the guards cavalierly joked while biting his lip watching her bottom.
Kade was beaten down, his fingers broken, he could feel the tiny fragments of his bones rotate against each other under his bruised skin. He sat close to the greasy walls of the dungeon where he had a little window to the next cell right next to him, and another high up facing the farms, both enforced with steel grills.
The wind blew strong, and the metals of the doors and windows rattled. Still, Kade had been in similar situations here before and for many years he had witnessed the fortress take a beating from harsh weather and nothing had ever stopped it, and by the looks of it, nothing was going to change now either.
He remembered the faces of the girls, empowered, fierce with a new spirit. How he led them straight to their deaths. How he gave them fleeting hope, all the lives he owed, all the pain he caused, all in a desperately concocted and botched plan. He could not even dare shed a tear for them. The guilt so immense, that he rather vilified himself then apologize. ‘I deserve no happiness,’ he spoke to the grills, hoping the winds would take them if not for all the walls protecting him inside.
He heard some bustling, and the harrowing screams of a woman echoing past the walls. She was being dragged in by a few of the guards into the next cell. He could see past the small hole of a window between cells that she was white & beautiful whenever the rays of light hit her from her own window. Though battered, exhausted, dirty & half the body covered in smears of blood, there was something truly captivating about her. She made eye contact with Kade and it literally shook him. ‘She wasn’t one of them,’ Kade knew instantly. He watched them slap her down & beat the humanity out of her until she was too exhausted to retaliate. One of them brought in a wooden chair. He placed it facing her, before hauling her on top of it, her bare knees pressed on the wood of the seat, her hands forcibly chained to the bottom of the chair, her perfectly round rear presenting to them prostrated. Rayna knew what was going happen but couldn’t find any more strength to resist. They removed her gag and she was silent. They laughed. She thought back to the old days, and how it felt. Kade kept looking at her eyes; the dead sorrow inside, devoid of hope, mirroring his own thoughts, judging his soul, like the one demon sent back to bring him to hell along with the rest of them.
They started to rip off her stolen uniform and gently stroke her bare skin at all the newly exposed areas. She peered at Kade, stern and lifeless while he watched as they forced themselves in from behind her, taking turns one by one, laughing and relieving themselves. She grimaced at most so as not to give them the satisfaction but they, in turn, they would only go harder and rougher until a squeal would escape her throat or her back would spasm. She was slapped, scratched, manhandled and beaten until she finally gave in to grunting and cursing and they only started to stop when they saw her tear. It was their confirmation that they had won. Ashamed, Kade turned away from the window and faced his own wall, closing his ears, trying to calm his thoughts from judging him. He found himself even getting erect in his nether regions. ‘NO!NO!’ he cupped his genitals and hit his head over the wall.
Hours had passed, and Kade woke up not knowing how he had fallen asleep. Curled up in the fetal position, his hands close to his ears, he heard gentle movement from the cell next door.
‘You ate anything?’ he asked.
There was no reply.
‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry for what happened to your people. I didn’t mean for it to happen,’
Still, no reply.
He further pressed on, ‘But you were not with them. You are wearing these idiots’ clothes. Who are you?’
After a long silence, she finally spoke with a cracked voice.
‘You enjoyed yourself?’
‘Earlier…’ she cleared her throat and spat out some blood and phlegm.
‘Nooo!’ he defended. ‘That wouldn’t be pleasurable for anyone,’
‘Why? Don’t you think I’m beautiful?’
Kade turned to the window. He saw her sitting opposite on the far end of the wall, facing him, knees to her chest, her shredded garments hardly covering her, practically nude. He could make out fresh scratches and bruises over her face, shoulders, breasts, knees and inner thighs, all new, and still raw, and she wasn’t shy to hide it from him.
‘I’m so sorry,’ Kade cried consumed with guilt. ‘But I do think you are very beautiful.’
‘Beautiful girls make good fucks,’ she said watching him sob.
‘It’s Is that what you grew up hearing?’
‘It’s true isn’t it?’
‘I hear that it’s the same for men in some towns too,’
‘Yes,’ Rayna recalled a funny memory of a conversation she had once with her lover. ‘Karin told me of a place. Women would seek women and men would seek men and the price all the same. I never found myself believing it to be true.’
Kade was stunned to hear that name exit the young girl’s mouth.
‘You know Karin?’ his curiosity piqued and finally surmised who this girl really was.
‘Knew her? Not really. But I loved her, and she…’ Rayna swallowed the lump in her throat.
‘Knew? As in she’s…’
Rayna and Kade stared at each other in the cold silence for a minute, each communicating what their mouths wouldn’t dare utter.
‘I’m sorry, yet again,’ Kade turned to his back and rested. ‘I thought at least she would have made it.’
‘Well, she didn’t.’
‘Please don’t be angry at her.’
‘She always spoke of you, the love of her life. She said she taught you so much and you were always so eager to learn. She just wished she taught you more. She always she admired your courage. That and something about how your eyes twinkled when you saw the donkey. It killed her when she watched it die in front of you,’
Rayna clenched her teeth and bit her tongue, holding in the tears. ‘Did she say anything else?’ eager for more.
‘She said she wanted to stop the whole thing and take you to the greenest place on this planet. She said you would love it there. And she went on and on about it, and I really wasn’t listening anymore. She was usually drunk at that point with her hand in her pants.’
Rayna chuckled a little. ‘Sounds like her.’
Kade had made her laugh. The demon that came to judge him was a pretty little being; a meek human just like him.
‘What’s your name?’ she asked.
‘Kade, you are Reno? Rana?’
‘Right. I wish we had met in better circumstances,’
‘What? Like this? Naked and dishevelled? It’s how I usually meet most men,’
‘Was that a joke?’ Kade was amused at her dark sense of humour. He understood why Karin was head over heels for this woman.
Unbeknownst to them, they were sharing a humbling moment, where for just a few minutes escaped to an elated fantasy where they just two people talking.
Suddenly, there was a pulse of strong wind. The grills on the cell gates and barred steel doors rattled even more rigorously. Dust and rubble escaped the ceiling and fell below.
‘Say, Rayna,’ Kade looked up.
‘You still want to get out of here?’
‘You have something in mind?’
‘I think I might, but I don’t know if you’re going to like it.’