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[astro] From what I've tasted of desire, I hold with those who favor fire. [18+]

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simply
(@simply)
Joined: 6 years ago
Posts: 254
Topic starter  

Posted: Thu Nov 22, 2012 9:21 pm

by Simply

The world ended on December 28th, 2067 – well what most people considered to be their world. This day marked the nuclear holocaust that wiped out nearly 95% of the world’s population. It didn’t happen right away of course. No, most people got sick from the radiation and began to die from the complications of the radiation effects. Then the climate shifted, slowly at first and then more rapidly. The ground grew cold and the air grew thick. It was often times hard to breathe those first few years after the end of the world. No one today could really remember how the war started but it did and then it ended lives, hundred of billions of lives.

The major cities were hit first – Tokyo, New York City, Mexico City, Dallas, Los Angeles, London, Madrid and many more. New diseases began to spread, as well. People became infected and died. Hospitals were overwhelmed. Governments collapsed. Small groups of people began to band together and travel to remote areas to attempt to survive. Electronic communication ceased to exist. Cars only ran when gas was stolen from other cars. Food stopped growing and animals grew scarce.

People killed other people over a bag of chips. Men stole and raped and killed for the thrill or for necessity. Cruel men rose to power and stockpiled weapons, ammunition and tools. They formed small armies and grappled for control of areas of land. They fought each other and more men died. Children were rare and prized. Often the men in power would steal young children approximately around the age of seven and brainwash them. They raised them to be fighters if they were men and whores if they were women. The rest of the population hunted, fished and attempted to farm the land. It was a new attempt at being civilized but it was nothing like it used to be.

Madison was born seventy years are the world ended to a young couple who had managed to find a small slice of land to sustain themselves meagerly. They worked hard on a semi-fertile crop and hunted when they were able. Small game, like squirrels and occasionally a feral cat would creep up and foolishly step into their traps. When Madison was born, it was a miracle. Most women could no longer bear children due to the contamination from the radiation but somehow Emily Gallow conceived, carried and bore a young girl into the world.

They lived comfortably for the time, if comfortable was still a word that was used. They had enough food to provide for Madison and they had a hideaway space for when the military men stopped by to collect whatever stores the Gallow family had set aside. Madison spent hours down there on occasion, trying to listen to what was going on but never heard anything. Her parents made sure of that. When she would be allowed to come up, her mother’s eyes would be swollen from crying and she’d have changed her dress. Her father wouldn’t be around. He always went out hunting shortly after the military men left.

The days following, since she turned six, he began to teach her how to defend herself. Arms up to block. Don’t be afraid to kick a man where it would hurt him most. Break a nose like this. Throat. Eyes. Inner knee. Every day she helped hunt, collect food, cook, hide in hole, take care of the horse, and learned to fight. Once a year, or what they would consider a year, her father would go into the nearest “town” and buy supplies and what he could. Once, they managed to save up enough berries and nuts that he returned with a beautiful, thick scarf. He gave it to Madison as a present when she tracked, killed and skinned her first deer. She wore it every day since with her bear-fur lined jacket. Her mother was quite adept as sewing and she made most of their clothes.

On a bitter cold day, the militia came. She was told to hide in the basement, as she always did but something was wrong. She could hear her father arguing this time as she crept closer to the hidden door in the floorboards. She craned her neck to hear, this woman who was close to twenty. Then a shot. BANG. And another. BANG. Madison jumped and she felt her heart begin to pound in her chest like the hooves of her first deer kill against the ground. She heard noise above her and rummaging and then there was nothing. Tears streamed down Madison’s face but she didn’t move.

She didn’t moved because someone would come and get her. Her mother would open the door, dressed in a new outfit with her eyes slightly puffy but everything would be fine. Madison swallowed hard and waited and waited. Time inched by or it flew, she wasn’t sure but no one came. Finally, after what felt like multiple hours, Maidson let herself out. She shoved the wooden planks up and crawled out. She looked around their small kitchen with the firewood stove. Crystalline blue eyes saw blood trailing in from the large room they shared as a common area and bedroom. Her heart stopped.

Both of her parents lay dead on the floor. They were covered in blood, soaked with it. It stained the light wood of the floor and Madison fell to her knees. The blood seeped through her pants and she felt it against her skin. Sobs racked her body and eventually she couldn’t breath and slammed her palms on the ground. Madison didn’t know how long she cried.

That was nearly three years ago by any estimation. Madison left their home quickly. She packed what few stores they had in a large pack. She carried her bow and arrows, a hunting knife strapped to her leg and another against her abdomen. She traveled and sold what she caught in exchange for other things. Her goal was to find the men that killed her parents. She didn’t know how she would or if she would ever manage it, but it gave her some sense of purpose.

The nearest sign pointed to Atlanta within fifty miles. Pursing her lips together, Madison didn’t like the idea of a city. Cities meant more people – cruel people, horrible people. The idea made her stomach turn but she needed to find some more med supplies. She had a few bandaids, a few antibiotics (equitable to gold from the old days) and some small bandages but if she could find some antiseptic in exchange for the large squirrel she had gotten…it might be worth it. Biting her lower lip, she looked at the road ahead. Multiple cars stood rusty and abandoned with doors open and tires stolen off parts of them. Hesitation rose in her chest and she turned off of the path and headed into the nearby woods.

As she walked, quickly, Madison ran her finger back and forth over the ring on her right hand ring finger. It had been her mother’s. It was a simple white band. It was…she closed her eyes and focused on the memory. Platinum. It was platinum, that’s what her mother had told her. It steadied her nerves until she heard something in a small clearing ahead. She froze and withdrew an arrow from her against her back. Notching it, she held it at her side and lowered into a hunched position. Carefully she stepped closer. It might be game or it might be prowlers – men who worked for hire at times to kill other and gain valuables. Often times they worked with the militia but were given a certain amount of freedom not permitted to soldiers. They raped, tortured and killed without a second thought. Madison was not prepared to die today.


   
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simply
(@simply)
Joined: 6 years ago
Posts: 254
Topic starter  

Posted: Sun Dec 16, 2012 1:04 am

by Astrophysicist

T H E // F I R S T // U P R I S I N G
1 2 . 0 8 . 2 0 7 5
+ 8 y e a r s

------

They could never win. They didn’t have a chance.

Armed with rust-covered pitchforks found buried in sterile fields, crudely-repaired firearms that had been discarded in the aftermath of the global nuclear disaster, and a determination that flashed sharper than silver knives, they’d stormed the very groups who had sworn to protect them, the infiltrators-turned-traitors who brought terror, greed, and starvation with their forceable reign of the land.

The rebel group consisted mainly of farmers who were tired of hearing their children’s hungry cries as they struggled to sleep in the glowing night, men whose beloved wives had died slow deaths from radiation poisoning as they struggled to comfort their whimpering young ones. Mothers, sisters, daughters had joined the cause, their anger fueling their desire for vengeance as they marched forth to satisfy their thirst for justice in the aftermath of the war that had destroyed them in the first place. They were a mass of ragtag hungry soldiers rising against the newly-formed militias of men who had been trained to fight, trained to kill.

And kill they did. The rebel swarm had been disorganized and misinformed, and as consequence they had stumbled into the militia base without knowing just how outnumbered they were. The tradesmen, the farmers, the eager twenty-somethings—they all fell that evening, their lives swept away by a torrent of white hot bullets in the hazy night.

From then on, it was said that what little grass dared grow from that tainted soil shone crimson from the spilled blood of innocents, the desperate residents of a desecrated countryside.

T H E // S E C O N D // U P R I S I N G
0 5 . 3 0 . 2 0 8 0
+ 1 3 y e a r s

------

The First Uprising sparked outrage in the small rural communities surrounding the many militia bases. Able-bodied men and women attended meetings by candlelight that stretched from midnight to early mornings when the dawn began to streak the sky with its golden yawns. They hid behind tattered blackout curtains as they whispered plans to overtake the nearest holding place, how to infiltrate their strengthened fortresses and avenge their murdered predecessors.

It was perhaps too soon to make their move, but they pressed on anyway, anxious and impatient in the smoldering glow of their anger. They made their move when the vicious winter gave way to a warmer spring, and this time, having learned from the mistakes of the brave souls of the First Uprising, they were met with a mild degree of success.

Attacks happened simultaneously throughout the inhabited regions of the United States. The smaller bases fell at the hands of the rebels, with the blood of militia soldiers mixing with the fallen rebels’ in the dry earth. The larger ones, however, were more ready for such an ambush. With more manpower, more functioning technology, and more experienced commanders, the black-clad armies easily overtook their untrained assailants, taking prisoners to torture as well as cold-blood lives.

Despite the triumph of the smaller organizations, the rebels’ progress towards justice only advanced the brigade of villains they fought so hard to eliminate. By autumn of the year 2080, just thirteen years after the nuclear holocaust marked the end of the modern world, the small regional militia groups joined branches to be united as one reigning governmental force. They began to standardize their training operations; they established a hierarchy of ruling ranks; they laid down laws for a land too weak to oppose them. Initially short on recruits, they forced their women prisoners to reproduce, bearing recruits by birth and converting them while they were young behind their own stone walls.

So-called ESMs, or Expansion and Security Measures, allowed small groups of soldiers to pillage—or “inspect,” as they called it—all non-military settlements in the newly-designated hospitable zones. They confiscated any tools that had the potential to be used as weapons, leaving the many agricultural villages little but their hands to plow the soil. And when their military numbers expanded enough, they began to take prisoners, offering no more explanation than that their citizens were being taken for “routine questioning regarding the well-being of contributing communities” as a performance of their “legal civic obligation.”

Those unfortunate souls never returned.

The military’s central government, the top tier of their national organization, drank the fear of those too drained to retaliate, drawing strength from their abiding terror. One man, one hardened, battle-stoic officer who had held a similar position in the United States Army pre-apocalypse, rose to power amidst the turmoil and seized control of the fledgling military dictatorship nearly twenty years after the beginning of the Second Uprising. Naming himself Central Commander General, Ulysses Kleinfelt standardized the nation’s regulations and established a system designed to prevail against and prevent any further uprisings. With all the charm of a magician and the icy, heartless thirst of a killer, General Kleinfelt ensured that his people continued to fear him, fear those who commanded beneath him, and enable his reign—and legacy—to last beyond the span of his own life.

T H E // T H I R D // U P R I S I N G
0 6 . 0 6 . 2 1 3 0
+ 6 3 y e a r s

------

The assassination of the aging General Ulysses Kleinfelt brought his second-in-command, Thatcher Beloit, to the spotlight as new leader of the directed militia. After a thirty-year rule under Kleinfelt, Beloit found it difficult to assert himself as the new voice of the party who had become accustomed to their first commander’s ways, and therefore did not hesitate to prove his seriousness as their younger general via drastic means. There were also rumors circulating about the upper ranks that Beloit had slain his own mentor to take his title.

In an attempt to earn back the respect and trust of his own men, General Beloit’s first order of business was to write a unanimously-supported mandate that required a military service enrollment of at least ten years for every male between the ages of 15 and 30. All healthy women were given a choice; if they opted out of military service, they were instead required to produce at least two children in their lifetime to maintain a solid population. These new laws won Beloit tremendous support from his colleagues unlike any Kleinfelt had ever seen, and in that reaction he basked.

General Kleinfelt had never been kind, but neither had he been so cruel and blood-hungry as his replacement. Horrified and unwilling to cooperate, more rebel groups joined together in secret—this time with higher strength in numbers and with greater intelligence about their centralized military enemy—and bided their time until they moved in for their kill.

And kill they did. After six years of careful plotting, scores of inside information from those recruited by General Beloit’s new mandate, and a meticulous collection of smuggled weaponry, the Third Uprising—deemed the longest and bloodiest in this new chapter of unfortunate history—managed to rid the world of Beloit and twenty-three other high-ranking commanders who sided with the madman. Nearly two thousand original-militia soldiers (designated with red bands around the upper left arms of their midnight-black uniforms) perished those four days at the hands of the rebels, painting the soil a deeper shade of scarlet all over again.

It came with a price, of course. Few rebels escaped the Uprising alive, and those who were lucky enough to dodge the bullets found themselves praying for death in the interrogation rooms buried deep underground in their fortresses. The militia held control despite the turmoil in the aftermath, and in December of the year 2136, Central Commander General Gregoray Walther ascended to power.

Gregoray Walther was a notoriously quiet young gentleman, a man who had seen his fair share of conflict and emerged all the stronger. His silences were said to be so frightening he could stop a man’s heart with a wrongly-placed glare. The task of mending his broken regime was ideal for the icy perfectionist, a man who lived for the achievement of utopia and breathed for the opportunity of the accompanying fame. To strengthen his forces, he reexamined General Kleinfelt’s training curriculum and reinstated harsher, more difficult challenges for his recruits to face—obstacles so dangerous that it wasn’t unheard of for younger trainees to be maimed or even die from their practices. It was crucial to use his programs to weed out the weaklings, the faint of heart, and the kind; he saw no use for softness, no use for emotion, and certainly no use for cowardice.

It was laughably ironic, then, that Gregoray Walther should be the first general to hold office with a family of his own. No one dared question the contradiction, of course, so he lived his non-ruling life in a state of relative peace—with his loving wife, Zinnia, who was pregnant with their first child when her husband came to power.

Gregoray Walther II—known to all but his commanding father by his middle name, Remy—was born on January 1, 2137 on a frigid mid-winter morning. With his mother’s soft eyes and his father’s stern features, he spent his childhood in a world of sheltered luxury, groaning at his lessons and arguing with his sister, Azalea, five years his junior.

And that was how they lived. Until the Fifth Uprising. The Fifth and Final Uprising when everything—and nothing—changed forever.

1 0 . 1 3 . 2 1 6 0
+ 9 3 y e a r s

------


He didn’t remember much from the Fifth Uprising, the one they called the Final Revolt. He’d been twelve years old when the rebels stormed their mansion home, firing their bullets into the marble ceilings and bellowing their crude threats in the middle of the night. They’d doused the house in darkness, hoping it would cover them as they broke through the guardsmen and the gates, and all Remy could recall was the black—how it didn’t matter whether he widened his eyes or clenched them closed, it all looked the same. Later, he learned that his father had swooped into his bedroom and half-carried, half-dragged him into the strong-room, where it, too, had been black as a nightmare.

Black. Black. Everything was black.

His sister had disappeared, and his mother had been slain that night. His sweet, adoring mother, the woman who’d done nothing but care for her children, the woman who had no say in her husband’s ruling decisions, the woman who had even followed the laws of the land by bearing two healthy children lay dead upon her bathroom floor. Silver shards of the shattered mirror were sprinkled over her half-naked, pale body, casting tiny dots of flickering reflected light into the pool of congealed blood beneath her head.

His father had forced him to look upon the scene, forced him to face the cruelties of the rebel soldiers. Remy had sobbed, but his father had simply stood in silence, his bearlike hand on his son’s shaking shoulder.

He had been a different person then. And as far as he was concerned, Gregoray Remington Walther II had died that day too. The no-nonsense twenty-three year old man today was naught but a shadow of that weak, wounded boy.

The road he walked now had dwindled to a rarely-traveled path barely distinguishable from the underbrush that grew wild in the dense woods on the outskirts of Atlanta. It was dangerous to roam the forest alone, he knew, but he also knew the urban streets held their own breed of danger—and at this point, it was simply a matter of picking his poison. He did have a gun, a top-grade militia-issued handgun, but it was hardly good for more than a show; with little ammunition and even littler desire to pull the titanium trigger on a foe, it was the ultimate tool for bluffing his way out of a skirmish.

There were other weapons at his disposal, of course; he carried a knife sheathed in worn leather at his waist, and another he kept hidden in the ankle of his ragged boots. He was quick to yield a blade; if life had taught him nothing else, it was that to hesitate was to willingly offer one’s life to the enemy. His weapons were small and convenient, and easily replaceable (at least compared to a gun or a bow) if lost or stolen. Because it would be suicide to stride through the dim, trap-filled woods without some form of aggressive defense, if not from other humans than from ravenous predators driven desperate from lack of free-roaming game.

He just hoped they wouldn’t be so unfortunate to run into him.

But he heard the rustle of leaves somewhere ahead of him, and that was enough warning for him. He froze where he stood, straining to listen for another sign of movement. It had been too deliberate for an animal, too calculated for the wind.

“Show yourself, and you will not be harmed,” he called gruffly, hoping that his words were the truth.

-----

g r e g o r a y // r e m i n g t o n // w a l t h e r // i i

-----
o.o.c. :: omg. this is poopy. HAVE A GREAT VACA. <3


   
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simply
(@simply)
Joined: 6 years ago
Posts: 254
Topic starter  

Posted: Fri Dec 28, 2012 1:23 pm

by Simply

The wind was calm today, which was both fortunate and unfortunate. Madison had a remarkable sense of smell and could tell when something about an area smelled like the stench of a human that hadn’t bathed recently (which, was most individuals in the current time.) She inhaled sharply, keeping her eyes trained on the area where the nose had come from. Her heart pounded in her chest but the sound of blood rushing in her ears never happened. Adrenaline was useful but too much could cloud someone’s judgment. Her father had taught her that it was important to remain calm enough to think rationally, to be able to use all her senses and most of all, to stay alive.

Bright blue eyes scanned over the area and she took a step to the side, not looking down to where she placed her food. Fresh pine straw covered a twig and it snapped beneath her weight. She opened her mouth and closed it upon her lip, silently cursing herself for not watching where she was going. She had been too worried about missing her target. She needed to know how many of them there were. One, she could probably take, maybe two but more than that – she was just a woman. She wasn’t superhuman and she didn’t have the strength of five men. She was just Madison Gallow and she didn’t want to die today.

A voice rang out in the middle of the day and she raised both of her eyebrows but didn’t lift her foot, didn’t move at all. That was the biggest lie she had ever heard. Not be harmed? What kind of fool did he think that she was? She swallowed and lifted her foot slowly so that the ground beneath her foot wouldn’t protest her movements too vehemently. Then she crossed one leg over the other and moved silently through the trees, this time being careful to look before she placed all of her weight on a particular spot.

After three steps, she saw him. A tall, well-built man with a striking face stood tense in the clearing. She licked her chapped lips again and kept her arrow notched in the bow, ready to lift and release the second she suspected there might be more with him. So focused on him was she that Madison momentarily didn’t smell the stench of rotting flesh. It floated beneath her nose and she shoved her face into her shoulder to keep from gagging and choking on the odor. Inhaling through her mouth, she turned away from the man and noticed two lumps beneath pine straw and rotting leaves. Dead bodies. One was thinner and the other seemed larger and Madison knew that they were dead. This man before her, in the clearing, he had killed them.

Rage bubbled up into her stomach. She knew that he had raped the woman, the thinner form, before stealing all of their belongings and ending their lives. They might have been young, in search of a life outside of the military commander’s lands. It was rumored that there was a safe haven in the far south, where some place called Alabama used to be. The fury inside of her was all she needed. Silently, she crept away. It took nearly five minutes but she noticed the man turn just enough that she could kill him - her arrow would lodge itself in the base of his neck, severing his spinal cord.

“Empty your pockets, drop your weapons and your pack and I won’t kill you.” Madison said in the clear air. She surveyed him. He could be hiding a number of weapons in his attire and there could be someone else with him. She shivered and kept her ears sharp for any signs. She wanted to kill him for what he had done. She wanted to destroy him.
He deserved to die.

 

Posted: Thu Jan 03, 2013 10:21 pm

by Astrophysicist

The snap of the twig echoed through the silent forest with all the startling presence of an exploding gunshot.

The general’s son froze in place, and when he called out, the bite of his voice in the quiet felt as poisonous and damning as the crack of the branch beneath the foot of his hidden foe. He tensed, hardly daring to blink—he did not yet know whether he was a predator on the hunt or the prey ready to flee. There were a thousand dangers lurking in the shadows of this broken wilderness, and even for an armed man trekking his way with confidence through the underbrush, there was never a guarantee that he was the stronger contender. And—be it fortunately or unfortunately—this particular young man knew those types better than most.

Breathing soft, shallow breaths, he surveyed his surroundings without moving his head. It was less than ideal; of the acres and acres of dense cover he’d already navigated, this point of confrontation found him in a clearing of tall grasses with a carpet of fallen, half-dried greenery. Being so close to the remnants of the former urban Atlanta, this stretch of woods had suffered the most in the decades following the great end. Fires regularly ravished the terrain, and game was nearly impossible to come by after fugitive citizens and starving armies hunted and poached the life straight from the trees. Rogues and bandits had replaced white-tailed rabbits and spotty-pelted fawns as the common residents of these strained wildlands.

Doing his best to relax, to pinpoint the direction from whence the crack of the twig came, he inhaled slowly, deeply—and nearly gagged. The stench of rotting flesh drifted on the slight breeze to his nostrils, and he choked back a dry heave as he searched wide-eyed for the source of the putrid odor. His gaze came to land upon two irregular mounds upon the ground a handful of paces away, concealed by the gently swaying grass and the camouflage of fallen pine needles. Realizing at once that they were the shape of human remains, he clenched his teeth, scanned the line of nearby trees, and before he recognized what he was doing, sprang forward towards the source of the smell.

He saw the young woman in the shadows just as her words rang out in furious response to his blind threat. The scruffy young man instinctively tightened his grip on the beat-up leather satchel at his hip, and he met her fierce gaze with a fiery look of his own as he knelt to the ground. Saying nothing and praying to a god he didn’t believe in that she wouldn’t fire her notched arrow through his heart, he dropped his pack to the grass at his side and dug his hands into the carefully-placed pine needles that covered the forms like a prickly blanket. As the layers peeled away beneath his fingers, he quickly realized he was looking at a lost cause—the reek was enough to determine that alone—but that didn’t stop him from uncovering them further.

“No, no, no,” he muttered to himself tersely, brows furrowed as sweat poured from his scalp to matte his unruly sandy hair to his forehead. “Come on, damn you. No.” He brushed away leaves that covered a young woman’s pale sunken face, and his heart dropped to his stomach. He pressed two fingers to the notch at her throat beneath her jaw, feeling desperately for a pulse of life beneath her cold skin. No such luck.

Still determined, he reached into his bag and pulled out a stethoscope—the likes of which few had ever seen in this age of military oppression and lack of proper healthcare for those unassociated with the brigades. He pressed the round metal end to the woman’s chest, not daring to hope what for the disappointment of the lost cause he knew it to be. But he had to fight, had to try; there was simply no other option in a world as scattered and deranged as the one in which they found themselves now.

 

Posted: Sun Jan 06, 2013 4:13 pm

by Simply

The bodies she saw beneath the brush were nothing like her parent’s bodies. Those bodies had still been warm, still smelled like her mother and her father. They were real people to her but those in the brush – they were unfortunately in the wrong place at the wrong time and they suffered the consequences for him. She could think about them objectively, for the most part. If he had been the one that killed her family, he would have been dead on the ground minutes ago.

Narrowing her eyes, Madison’s finger trembled slightly on the trigger when he moved but something told her to wait. She didn’t need to kill him yet and she swallowed hard, watching his movements. What on earth was he doing? Was he going to look back at his kills? The idea made her stomach knot and the familiar desire to wretch crept up on her but she swallowed it down, burying it.

She took a careful step further into the clearing, watching him hurriedly brush the damp brush away from the bodies and the stench rose up to meet her nostrils, furiously trying to singe her nostril neurons. His words, hurriedly whispered, met her eyes and she lowered her bow slightly. The arrow stayed notched in place but she slightly lowered her guard, watching him bring out some equipment that she had never seen. What was he doing?? After a moment, she realized that he was trying to…revive her?

“Don’t make any sudden movements. They’re dead. You killed them.” She breathed, raising her bow and arrow once again. He deserved to die for this but…the way he had rushed to the bodies it was almost as though he had seen them for the first time. People these days could be tricky. No one was to be trusted. No one was kind-hearted or selfless anymore. They only thought of themselves and the things that they could gain by exploiting, harming or killing other people.

“Anyone with half a nugget of a brain can see that they are dead. The smell alone.” Madison was growing exasperated with this man before her but she didn’t enjoy the idea of killing someone. It made her nauseous, almost as much as the smell. Her heart pounded in her ears and she wanted to kill him but it was wrong, completely and totally wrong. She just needed him to answer her.

“They’re dead.” Her voice was cold with the truth of the matter. “Who are you and what are you doing to them?”

 

Posted: Sun Jan 06, 2013 5:32 pm

by Astrophysicist

It was a lost cause. He’d known it the moment the stench of putrefying flesh drifted to his nostrils, the moment his bare fingertips brushed the cold, stale skin of the dead woman’s neck. The bitter taste of bile burned the back of his throat as he peeled away the leaves from her abdomen. The sour, metallic scent of blood filled him with familiar dread, and when he saw the gaping wound that left her entrails exposed, his breath caught in his throat. The pale stripes of her flayed ribcage sneered at him through the dry pine needles, a mangled maw carved from torture and decay that silently screamed, It’s too late! It’s too late! It’s too late!

His gaze wandered to the other half-covered form, and he heaved a heavy sigh. Momentarily forgetting the fact that a notched arrow was poised and ready to fire straight through his throat, he leaned back on his knees and tucked his nose in the crook of his elbow, doing his best to fight the vomit that threatened to erupt from his throat. He’d never had a particularly strong stomach even as a child, but he’d learned to hold back his nausea in the face of worse horrors than the one sprawled in the grass before him. It was an unfortunate truth that anyone had to learn to cope with such atrocities if they wanted to survive, but there was little to be done to rectify the cold facts—the world had changed and left humanity behind, and it was up to the individuals to chase after its receding light if they had any hope of getting through the barbarity of the new modern age.

Obeying the woman’s demands not to make any sudden movements—as much as he did not want to cooperate with someone holding a proverbial gun to his head, he knew he had little choice at such close range—he rose slowly to his feet, his fingers wrapping around the strap of his pack as he returned it to his shoulder. “Yeah,” he replied gruffly, eyes narrowing as his gaze flicked from the stranger in the shadows to the half-exposed dead woman in the leaves. “They’re dead. They’re dead, and I was too fucking late to save them.”

He gritted his teeth, searching for the live woman’s gaze again through the greenery. Atlanta, he’d learned in his childhood studies, had once been a lush area of the former United States of America, a large, thriving cultural and transportational hub to the southernmost districts in the country. Since the nuclear disasters, however, its once-dense population had been stripped down to a fraction of its former glory, and the subtropical ecosystem had long since perished in favor of a colder, more barren climate with nasty swings in weather and drastic shifts from day to night. No, he hadn’t been the one to kill them as this stranger boldly accused—it was the state of the environment, the heat, the cold, the infection that had ruined their chances of getting through.

The general’s son bristled at her interrogative questions, but he remained still, knowing it was far better to comply than to defy. “I’m a doctor,” he stated plainly, his baritone voice terse in the unsettling quiet of the vacant woods. “I was checking for a heartbeat. Any sign of life.” He shook his head, confirming what she’d already declared, and frowned deeply as he held up the stethoscope for her to examine from a distance. “I didn’t kill them, for chrissakes. But it was you, wasn’t it? Who are you?”

 

Posted: Sun Jan 06, 2013 7:14 pm

by Simply

Madison, felt the cold against her fingers, unable to effectively shoot with her gloves on. Her mother had made them herself, so beautiful leather gloves that were lined with rabbit fur to keep her warm in the colder climates in the North where she had traveled from. Even though she was technically was in what used to the be South of the United States, she still kept them on to keep the chill away. If you had told her that a hundred years prior during this same season, Georgia had been topping eighty degrees, Madison probably would have laughed at you. That’s what nuclear warheads do.

A doctor? Did that explain that funny instrument that he had stuck in his ears and then the hose towards that woman? She frowned but brought the arrow back up, training it on his throat again, knowing that it would quickly pierce through his jugular, sending his life’s blood spilling out onto the harsh ground below him. She wanted to do it but he hadn’t killed them, he said. And she believed him. They had been dead for a few days at least and no one would make a camp around them. The people that had killed them, would certainly take their goods and move on.

That didn’t make her lower her weapon though. She looked at him, directly in the eyes and tried to talk himself into killing him. Even if he hadn’t killed these two, what was to stop him from killing her? But then, weren’t doctors supposed to preserve life? Weren’t they supposed to protect people? Licking her chapped lips, Madison snorted when he said it was her.

“Do you see any arrows sticking out? And they’ve been dead for days. Why would I stick around - just to enjoy the smell??” She glared at him, moving her arrow to rest higher, trained on his eye. “A doctor? There haven’t been doctors since before the Cold.” That’s what people from where Madison was raised called the thermal drop that occurred rapidly after the nuclear explosions. It had been a dramatic shift in the climate. It had killed crops, livestock, people. “What’s your name? Where are you from? Are you militia?” She asked the questions in quick secession, ignoring his question about who she was.

“Show me your wrists. Hold them out!” She shouted at him, moving the arrow to point to his hands and then raised it back up, letting her eyes stay focused on him.

 

Posted: Sun Jan 06, 2013 8:13 pm

by Astrophysicist

He probably should have been afraid; this young woman held his life in her hands. As he narrowed his eyes to study her through the spotted shadows and greenery, the tapered glint of her sharpened arrow stared him ominously in the face, and he clenched his teeth tighter still at its winking point. One flick of her finger, and he would find himself on the ground, his spurting blood dyeing the grass scarlet as he joined ranks with the two fallen bodies at his feet.

He knew better than to try and retaliate. Staying still and cooperative was his only chance of getting out of this particular confrontation alive. Though he’d been in much worse predicaments since his days of living under the watchful eye of his father’s militia, this was also a unique interaction unlike any he had encountered before—his foe was not an aggressive, burly renegade soldier, but rather a slight woman who, from the details he could make out in his position, could use a hearty meal and wasn’t in much better shape than he. That said, desperation did crazy things to the deprived psyche; despite her size, she was as much a threat as any other bandit roaming the deciduous forests, and there was the added threat now of a long-range attack.

Nevertheless, he found himself growing annoyed at her interrogation where he should have, he supposed, been grateful she hadn’t simply killed him on the spot. He physically bit down on his tongue to prevent lashing out in response. He didn’t owe her anything, let alone an explanation—she hadn’t answered his own question anyway. As far as he knew, she was going to send an arrow through his flesh regardless of his answers, whether he obeyed or not, whether or not she deemed his belongings valuable enough to sell on the black markets. He stifled a sour laugh. Was this truly to be his end, the runaway son of a commanding general falling to rot amongst the tree roots and mouse droppings?

“These weren’t arrow wounds,” he declared, his voice gravelly with tense frustration. “Arrows are precious enough that you’d dig them out and keep them anyway. Or you would if you, ah, had half a nugget of a brain.”

Though what she said was true about a lack of doctors since the Cold, he said nothing, choosing to evade the prompt by answering her more direct questions instead. It was a tale too long for a poised bow and arrow at the throat of the narrator, and there was little chance she would believe him anyway. He cleared his throat loudly, perhaps a bit too theatrically, and spared their two dead companions a quick downward glance before continuing.

“My name is Sterling.” Slowly he pulled up the sleeves of his tattered jacket, raising his arms straight in front of him to show her first the fronts, and then the backs, of his wrists. “I’m from the coast of the eastlands, and no”—he rotated his arms once more, giving her a second thorough look at the markless skin of his wrists and forearms—“I am no militia man.” He punctuated the statement by spitting at his feet, his brows knitting together furiously. “Do you think you could lower your bow? Please,” he added, biting at his lower lip, “I could answer your questions a lot more easily if I knew you weren’t going to murder me in my shoes before I finished my sentence.”

 

Posted: Sun Jan 06, 2013 8:37 pm

by Simply

His frustration was evident but she wasn’t going to let that get the best of her. She kept her bow high and was ready to kill him the moment his anger boiled over. He made a point of her withdrawing the arrows if she had killed him. They were precious to her and she cleaned and fixed any that were pushed into an animal for her dinner. She pursed her lips and studied him from where he stood apart from her.

Brown hair blew in the breeze that suddenly picked up but she didn’t falter from her mission. Piercing blue eyes bore into his, trained where her arrow would lodge if she was to decide to release it into the air. Sterling. She frowned and quickly examined the exposed skin of his wrists. He wasn’t a militia doctor. He wasn’t militia. She sighed, as though visibly relieved that he wasn’t a part of that hideous organization.

“Fine.” She lowered her arrow and her bow, stepping back from him. She stuck her arrow back in it proper place and attached her bow to her pack for quick access, though if she had to, she’d happily lodge her knife into his heart. “I don’t kill for fun, even if that is a pastime of yours.” She narrowed her eyes, keeping her hands at her side, ready to defend herself at a moments notice. This world was not made for the kind-hearted. People that helped other people ended up dead…or worse. They would end up like her parents had.

“And don’t mock me. That isn’t the way to get what you want.” She had noticed how he made fun of her ‘nugget of a brain’ comment. “I’ll let you go your own way and I’ll go mind. If I find you following me, I’ll kill you faster than you can clear your throat, Sterling.” She placed her hands on her hips, the stance looking rather hysterical as she had a large pack on her back and oversized clothing. It probably made her look ridiculous or more formidable. She had never bothered to ask someone about it.

“Deal?” She stepped around, making a wide semi-circle around him, her back facing the direction that she wanted to go. The second he accepted the arrangement, she would hurriedly exit this clearing and be on her way. She was on the hunt. Any militia man better beware her wrath.

 

Posted: Sun Jan 06, 2013 9:19 pm

by Astrophysicist

He breathed a sigh of relief despite himself as she lowered her bow and returned it to her back, and his shoulders slumped forward as the spotlight of her wrath shifted from his jugular. He dropped his arms to his side and rolled his sleeves back to their proper position, grateful that his father had not chosen to brand him amongst the common-ranked soldiers during his coming-of-age ritual. It was not the first time he’d been asked to display his wrists, and he knew it wouldn’t be his last. Marking him instead on his left shoulder blade was perhaps the best gift his formidable, distant father had ever bestowed upon him, and it was the only thing he could bring himself to remember favorably about the man.

Suppressing a shiver at the memory of that wicked day—a day he preferred not to remember—he returned his stethoscope to his satchel and secured the bag’s wide leather strap over his shoulder and across his chest. “Threatening to kill someone isn’t a great way to get what you want either,” he said, immediately regretting his insolence but knowing that she—as a wanderer of the same woods, armed with a well-cared-for bow—knew very well that threats of murder were exactly the method to ensure things went your way. They lived in a world where only the strong survived, and even those souls were never guaranteed to evade a nasty end. She’d followed the unspoken protocol, he had complied, and now they were to be on their separate ways.

“Deal,” he affirmed with a curt nod of his head, careful to keep his hands in her plain sight. She had lowered the point of her weapon, but she had not sheathed it to a place where it was difficult to access—one false move on his part and all his good behavior would be undone with a swift point to his throat. He backed away from her as she circled, facing her as she faced him, easing his way to the edge of the clearing where the treeline began. He turned his back when the underbrush at last blocked his view of her, leaving her to navigate the sea of swaying grasses herself, and sidestepped a new path around the small meadow to keep her from easily tracking his path if she chose to sever their treaty and gun him down after all.

That was when he heard the voices. They were distant enough that he knew he could escape without being discovered, but close enough to put him on edge. He froze in his tracks, his hand wrapping around the hilt of one of his hidden daggers, and strained to make out the words. “Put down the bow, little slut, and we’ll make it nice and easy for you,” one said. “Don’t make it harder than it has to be,” croaked another. A third voice with an accent Sterling couldn’t place joined the chorus as the other two erupted into fits of raucous laughter: “’ow long’s it been since you ’ad a good fucking, girl? She a pretty one, eh!”

Sterling bristled, crouching low as he crept back to the edge of the clearing. He could see the silhouettes of two shabbily-dressed men, one larger than the other, through the tall yellow grass. He couldn’t make out the third from his current position.

Thankful for the cover of the grass, he crawled through the leaves past the rotting bodies until he was close enough to spy all three of the grisly bandits. Grappling through the soil, his fingers found a palm-sized stone—and before he knew what he was doing, he found himself holding his breath and launching the rock as far across the clearing as his muscles allowed. The result was a rustling of leaves and a crackling of branches in the close woods opposite, and the general’s son took the opportunity as the only one he would likely get before they closed in for the kill.

The three of them turned their heads toward the distraction simultaneously. “Shoot! Now!” Sterling cried to the girl, leaping from his position with his dagger in his hand.

 

Posted: Sun Jan 06, 2013 10:47 pm

by Simply

They reached an agreement and she turned on her heel and quickly moved into the woods, leaving the man she had met moments before in the clearing. She sighed, relieved that she had made it out without a scratch, despite the fact that she had to inhale the horrendous stench of dead, rotting bodies. It was a predicament that she had been sad to encounter but pleased to escape.

So wrapped up in her thoughts of Sterling and the clearing, Madison didn’t notice the change in the wind and the scent that it carried. Men. Before she realized it, two men were hurriedly approaching and the only thing she could do was to draw her bow and arrow hastily, holding it out in front of her as the three men circled around her. She tried to keep an eye on all of them, turning 360 degrees around, moving her arrow to count for their variable heights.

“Put down the bow, little slut, and we’ll make it nice and easy for you,” the fattest one said to her, taking a step forward and then another back, as though he was playing with her, like a cat would play with a mouse.

“Don’t make it harder than it has to be,” croaked the second, a shorter man with a mean scar across his face, as though he had been burned.

“’ow long’s it been since you ’ad a good fucking, girl? She a pretty one, eh!” The idea made her want to vomit. Her parents had kept her hidden for a reason. She had never been violated like so many women in this time. She had been lucky to keep her honor and virtue and sanity. She’d kill herself before she let them put a hand on her.

Just when she was contemplating taking some of the Daphne berries that she kept in a small pouch on her belt, she heard a familiar voice though instead of frustration it was laced with urgency. She immediately complied, letting her arrow fly into the scarred man. It lodged in his throat, but missed his carotid artery by a hair.

She grabbed another and shot towards him, catching him in the eyeball and he fell back, blood spurting out at he landed on the ground. Sterling was busy with the accented one but as Madison made to grab another arrow, the large man tackled her to the ground. Her bow fell out of her hands, strew further away in the brush. She gasped as the air was forced out of her lungs by her impact with the ground.

Madison pulled her knee upwards, ramming it into his genitals so that he gasped and loosened on arm that was resting on her shoulder. She brought her arm up and let her elbow contact with his thick jaw. His head whirled sideways and she squirmed free, struggling to get far enough away and then draw her knife.


   
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Posted: Mon Jan 07, 2013 12:09 am

by Astrophysicist

Her arrows flew fatally true—so swift was her firing that Sterling had difficulty following them with his gaze. The sharp points buried themselves in one of the men, the first striking his throat and the second his eye. Blood exploded in a spray of warm crimson rain from the punctured socket, alighting on the breeze in one horrifying moment before it splashed to the ground. He staggered back, sickening gurgles taking the place of a scream, and collapsed into the grass. In the brief moment of calm before the frenzy to come, the young doctor realized he had been right in his wariness of this woman—she shot to kill, and when she was in danger, she did not hesitate.

But the slow-motion second was over practically before it began, and Sterling sprang forward, reaching down to take the knife from his dead fingers as rushed past the bandit’s fallen body. With a shout, he charged the third man, the one he hadn’t seen from his initial position in the meadow. He threw the stolen knife ahead of his sprint, the blade shimmering in the cloud-filtered light as it spiraled before him to strike the predator in the shoulder. The man screamed, but did not fall; the knife had sliced through skin as evidenced by the stain of blood on his checkered sleeve, but it had missed its sticking mark and clattered to the ground.

Sterling swore under his breath and brought out his own dagger as he approached, thrusting the razored end through the man’s gut as he slammed his form against the larger man’s body. The momentum took them forward and off their feet, but Sterling maintained his grip on the hilt of his knife; he felt it tear through the flesh of the bastard’s upper abdomen as they toppled over. Horrified, he jumped away, leaving the blade in the steaming flesh of the incapacitated bandit. His right hand, covered in blood, dripped its scarlet stain at his feet as he recovered his balance.

The clatter of the girl’s bow hitting the earth brought him back to his senses, and he looked up in time to see that the largest of the three men had pinned her down before she could launch an arrow through his heart. Sterling, drawing his second dagger from his belt, ran forward to assist as she struggled to free herself from his burly grasp. The doctor leapt onto the portly man’s back and wrapped his arm around his chin, twisting the bones apart to sever the tender spinal cord and render him as good as dead. He fell unceremoniously to the grass, narrowly missing the girl as she scrambled away.

Silence greeted them now in the aftermath of their battle. Sterling, his arm still painted red with blood from his first foe, climbed from the second man and retreated several paces back in horror, his shoulders lifting and dropping dramatically as he tried to calm his heavy breathing. His hands trembled when he sheathed his knife on his hip. For a moment, he thought he might faint. Instead, he doubled over in the weeds and vomited.

When he stood back up, he was surprised to see that the woman was still there, that she hadn’t immediately made a break for the trees again. He cleared his throat. “Are you…are you okay?” he asked coarsely, mopping his sweat-soaked brow with his unstained sleeve.

 

Posted: Mon Jan 07, 2013 10:29 pm

by Simply

Silence enveloped her and she inhaled sharply, before gasping and sputtering as she relaxed on the ground. Her whole body ached from the exertion and she started to shake uncontrollably. Every ounce of her being wanted to cry out, to sob into the damp grass that her face was pressed into now that she allowed her sore neck muscles to relax. Bright blue eyes closed tightly to keep the onslaught of tears inside.

Madison heard his throat clear and then his voice. Inhaled slowly, she pressed her hands on the ground and slowly hoisted herself upwards into a sitting position. Without responding immediately, she stood and walked over to her bow, picking it up and inspecting it delicately. Nothing seemed to be irreparably harmed but she held it to her chest, as though it was a long lost lover that she had been separated from for too long. The sweat she had released began to dry on the back of her neck and it chilled her, making her shiver and bringing her back to the present.

“I’m fine.” She picked up the pack that had been thrown from her body and made sure all of her arrows were inside, minus the two lodging in the man a few yards away. She looked in his direction. Securely attaching her bow to her pack she headed over to him. Reaching down with a strong arm, she wrapped her hands around one arrow, placed her foot on his flesh beside it and yanked. The arrow came free with flesh and blood and guts spurting out. She did the same with the one in his eye, hearing the crunch of his skull beneath her boot.

Turning back to Sterling, she met his eyes, holding the bloodied arrows in one hand. “Why did you come back for me? After I nearly killed you?” She asked, her voice full of concern and confusion. Madison was not used to people being kind to her. It was not something that happened. People were cruel and selfish and this man wasn’t like that. Her stomach tensed tightly as she looked him over. She didn’t move hardly at all, only the steady rise and fall of her chest. “Why did you save me from those men? They could have killed you.” The confusion still plagued her voice. She had to know why.

 

Posted: Wed Jan 09, 2013 1:03 am

by Astrophysicist

Waiting for his stomach to settle, he closed his eyes against the cool breeze and heaved a heavy sigh. The forest, though generally a silent place in absence of the majority of its sentient animal life, seemed to have fallen to a deeper level of quiet in the aftermath of their massacre. He cleared his throat, listening carefully to the whisper of the woods as the wind tossed dry branches on its breath.

There was little way to know if the three men they had slain were a solitary group, and Sterling did not want to take the chance of being caught so close to the bloody scene if any straggling allies were nearby. Plagued by sudden anxiety and a desire to travel as far from this accursed clearing as possible, he picked his way through the grass and waited for the young woman to finish removing her arrows from the fresh carcasses. He cringed at the crunch of the first man’s skull beneath the pressure of her boot, but he managed to keep his nausea under control as he stepped over a puddle of crimson. He knelt at the side of the third man, eyeing the gaping hole he’d cut in the bastard’s gut, and gingerly reached between the folds of severed skin to retrieve his dagger.

The blood was still warm as he wiped the blade clean on stalks of dry grass, and he was thankful for the distraction of the girl’s voice when she spoke. Hell, he was thankful for the company—even if she had threatened to kill him where he stood, at least they had shared a common enemy and knew, if only temporarily before they parted ways, that they fought the same battle. It wasn’t often that a traveler encountered a kindred spirit in a world as bruised and broken as the one in which they lived, and Sterling had learned it was better to be thankful than dismissive when those rare coincidences occurred.

He looked up, glad to be meeting her gaze without the hostile implications of a pointed bow, and nodded once curtly in acknowledgment. “We had a deal,” he said plainly, his voice coarse. “You spared me, I helped you. A life for a life, even exchange.” Sliding the blade along the edge of his already-soiled cuff, he held it to the light with one closed eye for inspection and returned it to its place on his belt. “I make a point to repay my debts.”

He retrieved his pack from the ground and slung it over his shoulder. “You’re sure you’re not hurt, uh…you didn’t tell me your name.”

 

Posted: Wed Jan 09, 2013 8:22 pm

by Simply

Nodding, Madison knew that he was an honorable person and she was momentarily glad that she hadn’t shot an arrow into his eye back in the clearing, or through his throat. However, that didn’t mean that she trusted him completely. He had merely repaid a debt that was owed and that was all. Swallowing, she wrapped her bloodied arrows in a bit of cloth that had been tied to her sack. She placed them back in her quiver before turning to look at him.

Inquiring about her current health status was kind of him, something she certainly was not acquainted with since her parents were murdered. “Madison.” She responded when he asked her name. “And I’m fine. I can’t…” She struggled with the words and the emotions of being saved by a complete stranger that minutes before she had threatened and nearly shot. It sent chills running down her back and across her arms, making gooseflesh erupt beneath her clothing.

“I can’t put into words how I feel but I am grateful.” She said, meeting his gaze as she dusted her hands off on her pants and placed them in her jacket pockets to keep them from the slight chill in the air. It was getting colder and would frost before it reached midnight and nighttime was a dangerous place to be without shelter on the road.

“Are you traveling towards Atlanta or working your way around?” She asked, taking a few steps closer to him to get away from the bodies. They needed to move and she began to walk, waiting for him to catch up after a moment. If he was heading to Atlanta then they could part ways tonight but if he was working his way around the city as she was…she wouldn’t mind someone like him around just to have someone to keep the watch at different hours. It meant a full night’s rest, not one spent with only half her mind asleep, ready to strike the moment she heard anything that might be remotely suspicious of bandit activity.

“If you’re headed around, I wouldn’t mind the company.” A shrug lifted her shoulders as her gut told her to temporarily trust him, just for a little while at least. It was hard not to find solace in a kindred spirit, especially someone who seemed as noble as he was. Virtues such as those were more rare than working electricity…which, no longer existed.

 

Posted: Wed Jan 09, 2013 8:55 pm

by Astrophysicist

Had Sterling known her thoughts, had he realized that she considered him an honorable, noble man, he would have thrown his head back and laughed. It wasn’t that she was wrong; compared to most militia men and haughty renegade deserters, he was all morals and good intentions, a knight in a suit of proverbial shining armor. But he was living a lie, fleeing a past full of disrespectable deeds and the truth of his identity. The Walther family history, at least on his father’s side, was volume upon volume of outward violence and cruelty, and he hated that he was a living branch extending from that abominable tree. It festered in his veins like an infection no measure of antibiotics could chase away, coursing through his blood like a poison that never killed, only tortured. Noble and honorable? It would take a lifetime to redeem himself to such an exalted status.

His training as a doctor—or as close to a doctor as would ever be since the Cold—was only a small part of making up for the actions of his father, his ancestors. Sterling himself had not done much to be ashamed of; he was young yet, and growing up he had been sheltered from the horrors of war and the hells of lower-militia life. His accumulated crimes were not so extensive as to include genocide or torture or any form of pleasure-killing, and if he’d kept count, he would have been able to reassure himself that the lives he had saved far outnumbered the lives he had lost or been forced to take. But still he despised himself—the heart that beat strongly against his chest wall, the very hands that granted him the power to heal or to harm, the thoughts that whirled in his mind as he struggled to come to terms with his own inner dilemmas.

Her voice brought him back to the foul-smelling scene of fresh carnage and old death, and he nodded once, repeating her name. “Madison,” he affirmed quietly, then added a coarse mmhmm as she continued and professed her gratitude. A pang of feeling he could not identify resonated through his chest. It wasn’t often that people expressed their thanks, or that they were even able to do so.

He breathed a long sigh, his exhale forming a white swirling cloud in the rapidly cooling air. “I’m just glad I was within earshot,” he said at last, his genuine tone betraying the truth of the sentiment.

He cleared his throat at her question, straightening his posture and glancing to the west. The night was creeping in on evening’s heels—a dangerous and unpredictable time to be caught unprepared in the wilds. “Around,” he said shortly, taking several steps towards the edge of the clearing. “We should probably get out of here, then,” he continued, his way of accepting her invitation to accompany her around the city. “Those bastards might not have been alone, and I wouldn’t mind putting some ground between us and them.” He glanced to the three dark shapes in the grass before his gaze wandered back to Madison. “Let’s go.”

 

Posted: Sat Jan 12, 2013 11:02 pm

by Simply

“I am too.” She murmured, knowing that she could never describe to him how grateful she was that he showed up when he did. They would have raped her, repeatedly, and either killed her or forced her into bondage. After having finish with her, they likely would have sold her into slavery or prostituted her in some of the lesser towns. The militia attempted to tell larger towns that they didn’t allow such things, but most militiamen turned a blind eye or eagerly engaged in these practices. It made her stomach turn.

Drawing her scarf around her neck, she tucked it into her jacket and then raised her hood over her head. A lot of head was lost through one’s head and Madison wasn’t in the habit of wasting her energy. It was important to keep as warm as possible, even though this area of previous North America was much warmer than where she had grown up. Nodding, she settled her hands tightly in her pockets and inhaled the cooling evening air.

“Yeah. I’m certainly not wanting to stick back.” She moved up beside him and they began to walk. Madison wasn’t sure what to say to him. Was she supposed to talk to him? She had never known someone her own age intimately, like…had a friend. She had met people her own age when she passed through small towns or farms but she never lingered long. Lingering wasn’t good for a young woman without any male companion to stake a claim on her. Most men did it because they could but some did so to protect those they loved or cared for.

In silence, they walked out of the woods and circled around, veering far away from the city that had small firelights twinkling. City dwellers, commonly referred to as citers, were a harsh bunch of individuals were thrived on the chaos that thrived since the Cold set in. Swallowing, she finally decided that she should say something, but couldn’t think of a way to start a conversation. What did people talk about? She bit her lips beneath the shadow of her hood as night descending upon them.

“We should find a place to camp for the night. We can take sleeping shifts.” It was something that silently thrilled her. She was used to sleeping with half of her mind, always ready to awaken at the slightest noise. It was how she had survived this long. “There’s a spot there with some protection behind the bushes.” Bushes lined the gas in random patches and it would obstruct them from view of this dirt path they walked on.

 

Posted: Mon Jan 14, 2013 11:23 pm

by Astrophysicist

Remy Walther had always been quiet. Growing up in the spotlight of the militia meant there had been dire consequences for any misbehavior, and he had learned very early on that speaking out of turn—and indeed, speaking at all—was frowned upon in anyone’s presence but his dear mother’s. To disappoint his father, to bring shame to his family, was as good as committing mutiny, and the Central Commander General could afford no display of weakness or fault from his picture-perfect family. His younger sister, too, had grown up speaking behind closed doors, her toddler babble banished to the confines of her room as soon as her nonsense syllables became pieces of recognizable vocabulary.

A lot had changed about Remy when he departed that life. Upon adopting his medical mentor’s surname and living a life of relative secrecy, he had grown bolder, more confident, stronger. He could fight, he could reason, he could debate—but even still, under the guise of Sterling, he was a young man of few words. While he enjoyed true conversation, he was rarely the party to initiate the discussion, and small talk was simply not something in which he would partake. He was guarded to a fault, and while his short quips could potentially come across as hostile or irritable, it was nearly always a misinterpretation—most often he simply did not know what to say.

He was therefore grateful for his new companion’s silence, reveling in her company with the sound of her quiet footsteps at his side rather than her voice. There was something steady and reassuring in that rhythmic pattern, like a muffled heartbeat in the still forest, a sign of breath in an otherwise lifeless void. And though he still wasn’t certain whether or not he could trust this girl, it put him at ease all the same.

When the broke the densest section of woods, he glanced toward the glowing horizon where the urban citers dwelled, heaving a heavy sigh that spilled from his lips in a cloud of warm breath on the chilly air. “Yeah, we should make camp,” he agreed, gnawing at the inside of his cheek as they continued forward in the darkening forest. He followed her gesture when she indicated a suitable location behind the underbrush, nodding his approval as he followed her to the protected niche in the bushes. He stepped over the dried branches—a fortunate barrier, one that would be noisy should any intruders stumble over them—and placed his pack on the ground.

“I’ll take the first watch,” he volunteered, working the outer buckles of his satchel free to unroll the ragged blanket he kept strapped at its base. He spread it wordlessly over the ground, knowing it would do them a world of good to have an extra layer of wool between them and the frostbitten ground, and gestured for Madison to take a seat. “I don’t think we should make a fire here. It’s too dry. Too close to the path.”

 

Posted: Mon Jan 14, 2013 11:38 pm

by Simply

When he agreed that it was a good spot, she nodded her silent approval. He had a keen eyes, just as good as hers and recognized that this spot would alert them to any potential animal or human threats that may attempt to advance upon them. She was careful to step over the dried leaves and branches, not wanting to call attention to their spot in case anyone else was out and about in this area. It was fortunate for them that so many people had died in the Cold since the bombings. Many women failed to reproduce and many more people died of cold, disease and hunger. Without a lot of people, they could travel hundreds of miles and avoid any human contact. As much as companionship seemed advantageous, meeting strangers on the road could be deadly.

“Okay.” Madison was exhausted and politeness was something that was best for a dinner table, not a campsite for two people that had just met. Her bones ached and her muscles were sore from the combat she had seen with those men. Emotionally, she was also drained. The adrenaline had quickly worn off and left her feeling lethargic and numb. All she wanted was a few hours rest before she took over for this Sterling fellow that she was traveling with.

Watching him spread the blanket, she narrowed her eyes and then looked at him skeptically, raising her eyebrow over her left eye. “You want to share your blanket?” She snorted a little, as though the idea was completely preposterous until she realized that he was serious. Nodding, she murmured her thanks and took her pack off, setting it down. She withdrew a thick blanket of her own, one side lined with wolf’s fur and the other slick leather to keep the rain off. She spread it out slightly before crawling under it.

At her home, she would have removed her shoes but they were vital in keeping her feet from getting the frost and then the rot. “I agree completely, though we should probably take kindling from here in the morning. I heard further North, around Atlanta where the mountains are, it can be damp and hard to find timber to burn.” It was just a simple suggestion and he could take it or leave it. She would be taking some light twigs with her when she left here in the morning. “You don’t have to share your things. I am capable of taking care of myself.” She responded, not trying to sound ungrateful but letting him know that he would not be getting anything from her in exchange.

Miles back

“Why’duh they leave duh stuff den, huh?” A man’s voice filled the air as they trekked through the clearing, clearly hunting for something.

“Maybeh for some game.” A woman’s voice responded, following after him until she smelled something and crinkled her nose. “Sometin’s dead.” She murmured, moving out of the woods into a small clearing. She saw bodies and nearly let out a cry but bit her lip. It was dark and animals were about – not the kind you’d want finding you, neither.

“Sometin killed dum.”
“Shit’s eyes, Hank.” She breathed, moving around to see them before she came to the man with the scar and dropped down beside him. Placing her hand on his forehead she withdrew her fingers with blood on them. Raged bubbled up inside of her. “Not sometin’. Someone. And Ima find dum and kill dum.”

 

Posted: Wed Jan 16, 2013 8:48 pm

by Astrophysicist

In spite of their unfortunate distraction—the forced massacre back in the clearing—they had made good time that evening and covered quite a bit of essential ground. Remy wasn’t entirely certain of their exact location, but as far as he was concerned, the more distance they trekked the better off they were. As long as he kept his head down and avoided contact with any members of the militia, he didn’t particularly care what specific coordinates found him each night; his mission had less to do with an end destination than it did anything else. The important thing, as any wary traveler knew, was to keep moving.

He longed for the warmth and comfort of a fire, but as he had already proclaimed to his newfound companion, it was simply too dangerous. As the sun descended below the western horizon, the clouds swallowing the last of its reassuring glow, he zipped up his fur-lined jacket and tried not to think about the creeping chill of the night. The truth of it, he reminded himself, was that even if he were to kindle a small flame, even if circumstances were ideal, he would worry more about being seen than the fire would be able to reassure. It was best to endure the cold, to leave his thoughts as they were. At least this way he knew his senses would be sharpened for his watch.

As Madison cocooned herself in her blankets and drifted off to sleep, Remy leaned against the small rocky ledge and watched her until the light became too dim to make out her features. He still wasn’t sure he could trust her; while he did not believe she was going to kill him, he would not put it past her to rob him of his belongings. Without his pack, he was as good as dead—a useless doctor’s apprentice graduated too soon, his only tools his hands, his only means of survival being to find someone else to surrender aid. She’d already seen his stethoscope; she knew he had strange goods stored in his satchel; but was she desperate enough to rob him while he slept?

He gnawed at his lip, staring into the darkness through the dried branches of their brush cover. The light of the moon barely filtered through the thick cover of clouds, and while the lack of illumination was inconvenient, it was also fortunate—an enemy would be less likely to spot them in their already-camouflaged campsite. He traced the track of the moon’s path by the halo of its light through the treetops, and when it was time for them to switch their positions, he contemplated the best way to wake her without startling her slumbering form.

“Madison,” he whispered, using her name in hopes that it would reassure her against the presence of an attacker. He paused before he repeated himself, not daring to touch her for fear of any automatic defensiveness. “Madison, it’s time.”

 

Posted: Wed Jan 16, 2013 10:20 pm

by Simply

Sleep washed over Madison and she accepted it, reluctantly. She slept better than she did when she was traveling alone, but she did not allow herself to sleep fully. She may be thankful that he had saved her life but that didn’t mean that she trusted him with her life. As she slept, she dreamt of her parents and the life that they had lived before all of the horrible things happened in her life. She dreamed of her first birthday that she could remember, when her mother let her have another helping of corn from their garden with a sprinkle of salt. It was still one of the most delicious things that she had ever tasted.

Even when she was sleeping, she knew when her time had passed as the second he said her name, she woke easily, opening her eyes and looking at him through a slight haze of sleep. Madison stretched, letting her toes point inside of her boots and her back cracked as she pushed herself up and left her blanket where it was so that he could use it if her wanted to. She moved over towards his spot, which was as good of a look out spot as any and she looked at him directly. “Thanks.” Thanks for waking her up? Or thanks for not killing her in her sleep? Probably both.

She brushed a few fingers through her greasy hair and settled into watch. In four hours it would be time for them to get a move on again. They couldn’t stay here for that long. She wanted to get into the mountains before winter set in. Since the Cold it was nearly impossible to travel north during the winter with the snowstorms and the freeze. So they needed to desperately make good time.

As she sat in the dark and he slept, she watched for signs of other life and listened for any sounds. Her mind drifted as she looked at his sleeping form. He was a strong, handsome man and she was surprised that he was out on the road. Most of the people on the road were barbarians. With his physique and attractive looks, the militia would eat him up in a minute, attempting to make him one of their generals.

Then she heard a snap and that snap meant footsteps. She reached and grabbed her bow and some arrows, setting them beside her. She scrunched down and nudged him with her bow. “Sterling.” She hissed between her teeth as low as she could. “We have company.”

 

Posted: Wed Jan 16, 2013 10:36 pm

by Astrophysicist

He curled up in his own cocoon of blankets, deciding that he was grateful to have a watchful eye over his slumbering form despite the risk it posed to his belongings. It was better to be guarded by a thief than a killer, and he much preferred the company of the former to the prospect of a late night attack in the darkness. Besides, he was accustomed to using his satchel as a makeshift pillow, and any prospective thief would be hard pressed to maneuver it away without waking him. And if she were to slit his throat, well…he wouldn’t be needed his medical supplies after all.

His exhaustion heightened his paranoia to an excruciating degree, and as he forced his eyes closed so too did he banish such dire thoughts from his mind. Rest was as essential a survival component as the knife he carried on his belt or the coat on his back, and a fretful mind—as tempting as it was to succumb to its wiles—was a sure way to deny himself what little sleep he was likely to come by as it were. So he concentrated on his breathing, and before long, he had drifted off to a light sleep.

His dreams were troubling, as they always were. Images of his aging father, lingering visions of his long-deceased mother, the mischief of his younger sister—they all floated before his mind’s eye in a tremulous pool of half-recalled memories. If they weren’t in such a precarious situation, he would have been grateful for the interruption, for the gentle nudge of Madison’s bow against his shoulder, the hiss of warning after the snap of a nearby twig. He’d long ago learned how to wake from slumber, and he seemed to know instinctively whether to react with a retaliation or to rise calmly and quietly. In this case, he allowed his eyes to fly open but his body to remain still, and he looked up to his companion questioningly before he stirred.

Slowly, silently he untangled himself from the blankets, kneeling on the hard ground as he peered low through the bushes. His fingers had already unsheathed one of his blades from his belt, and he kept it tucked in his grasp at his side as he struggled to make out the shapes in the darkness. He was thankful for the reassurance of Madison’s bow and arrow; if her aim was as good as it had been back in the clearing, then she had the potential to take down a foe before they got close enough for his knives. At the very least, it could buy them time, or buy them a route of escape.

He strained his hearing, then glanced toward his companion when the sound of rustling leaves pierced the silence of the forest. “Do you see anything?” he mouthed. But no sooner did he ask than another voice sounded from the void in front of them, a reasonable distance away but still too close for comfort.

“Dey had to’ve come this ’ere way, Hank,” he heard one of them say, a woman. “Couldn’t’da gotten much further! Dat blooda was still hot when we’s found dum.”

Sterling glanced again to Madison nervously, wondering if she had made the same connection. It seemed they were being followed, and he did not like the gruff sound of them.

 

Posted: Fri Jan 18, 2013 1:45 pm

by Simply

Madison watched him rouse from his position and she nodded at him, turning away and lodging an arrow, pulling it back. Bright eyes strained in the darkness to better make out the people that were moving towards them. People is definitely what they were, coming towards the spot where Sterling and her were residing. Straining to hear, she closed her eyes for just a second to focus and realized that these people were hunting them. Why? She was curious for a second before she put the pieces together. The men that they had killed were not alone. Cursing silently to herself, her eyes shot open and she kept a careful eyes on them.

She mouthed “bandits” to him and lowered her voice, speaking. “We could move through the woods back there.” She kept her voice so soft that she was sure he would have to strain to hear her. “Or I could shoot them but it’s dark, I might miss and they could locate us.” She turned her heard back, watching the pair travel along the path in a manner that was not all that silent.

The young archer might be able to shoot them but he eyes weren’t that good in so little light. The moon was not full and the clouds were thick in the sky, drifting back and forth over what little moonlight that there was. Frowning, she drew her arrow, rested the wood against her face and focused on the dark moving shadows in the dark. Swallowing, she relaxed the string on the bow and shook her head. “We’ll have to make a run for it. I can’t shoot them, not reliably.”

She kept the arrow and bow in one hand and quickly and silently packed up her stuff with her free hand. She rolled the blanket and put it on her bag, wrapping everything into place. Brilliant blue eyes flashed over to him, tossing his blanket towards him. Her lips pressed together when she turned and realized that the people were closer together. Her bow would be unreliable in these conditions and she put them in their place before drawing out both of her knives and holding them carefully in her hands.

“Ready?” She whispered, crouching down and moving backwards, one step at a time, keeping her knives close to her legs and out of any light that may suddenly appear. It wouldn’t do to have a beacon beckoning the murderous pair towards them.

 

Posted: Sat Jan 19, 2013 11:27 pm

by Astrophysicist

He nodded at Madison’s admission that she had the potential to miss her targets in the darkness, and revealing their position to a pair of bandits that they could not see was as good as suicide in these dense woods. It was always best to assume the worst, Remy knew, and therefore he was automatically preparing himself for a physical confrontation like the one back in the clearing. If that was what it came to, then it was likely to be even bloodier than their first battle; from the sound of it, these people, whoever they were, knew these particular woods far better than passing-through travelers like Remy or Madison.

Taking his companion’s cue, he gathered the rest of his belongings in silence, moving as quickly as possible. With practiced ease, he rolled his blanket and strapped it to his satchel, slinging the leather pack over his shoulder and rising to his feet. In the dim, irregular moonlight, he could make out two figures picking their way through the underbrush, their path a slow but sure diagonal in their current direction. Remy’s throat tightened at the realization, and he looked over to Madison. Their only chance was to make a run for it—a very quiet, very calculated run. They would be flying blind, fleeing across unknown terrain in an unfamiliar territory, but Remy knew it was their best shot.

He drew his other dagger and held it tightly in his left hand, keeping the glinting blade down against his thigh to avoid drawing unnecessary attention. He was glad to see that Madison was doing the same, and he followed her lead as she began to back up. “Ready,” he mouthed in return to her prompt, nodding once curtly in the darkness. He took several more steps forward while she moved backward—that way they could watch one another’s backs until they were a more comfortable distance from their unwanted company—and held his breath, his heartbeat thundering in his ears. This was not the first time he had been in such direct danger, but it never got any easier to endure.

He stopped slowly, keeping his head stooped, and mouthed, “Turn around.” He stepped up to her side, and murmured so quietly it was difficult to discern his words from the hollow wind, “On the count of three, we head through the woods. Don’t run. But be fast.” He tried futilely to swallow the lump in his throat, peering through the darkness ahead for any potential obstacles. It was almost impossible to see.

Nervous, he turned back to his companion. “One,” he said under his breath, swiveling slowly to face forward. “Two,” he went on, even quieter this time, “three.”

And with that, his head still low, he sprang stealthily forward into the density of the night.

 

Posted: Mon Jan 21, 2013 3:57 pm

by Simply

It was hard to make out the words that his mouth was forming in the dark but she understood. They needed to make a run for it and take shelter in the woods, that were not as dense and she would have desired, unfortunately. If possible, they could retreat into the trees themselves, but Madison didn’t know if he was a capable climber and if he would be opposed to the idea. It was a good enough idea, if the bandits were foolish enough to stand below their tree during the daylight, then Madison could pick them off one and a time with her arrows.

Turning on her heel, she moved into the darkness in front of them, wishing that she could keep and eye on those that were following them. Her stomach dropped into her lower stomach, making her feel slightly nauseous – she couldn’t keep the idea of those three men from her mind. Oh, she wasn’t concerned with the fact that she had killed them. She was unsettled by the fact that they had come so close to raping and killing her. It reminded her, once again, that she was in Sterling’s debt whether he thought so or not.

When they reached the treeline, she heard a shout. “Hank. DER!” Maidson could envision the shout being accompanied by the pointing of the woman’s hand and then she heard footsteps growing louder behind them. She inhaled sharpled through her teeth and gave Sterling’s shoulder and push.

“Run.” She hissed loudly, turning the blades in her hands so that their blades pointed downward as she ran. The frigid night air burned her lungs and she breathed hastily in and out of her mouth. Her muscles protested the movement, still slightly weary from the sitting she had been doing for the past few hours. The footsteps kept up with their own as they burst through the line of trees that marked the entrance to the woods and she sheathed one blade in her boot, before grabbing his wrist and hauling him sideways, heading diagonally through the trees.

Madison knew that pursuers had entered the tree line and her bright blue eyes darted around in the dark before she looked to her left and up in the tree. She could climb it relatively quickly. It was still dark but if they were close enough…Turning back to her companion, she hastily whispered to him. “Do you trust me?” Her voice held all the urgency that came with impending death. Her heart thudding in her chest and she placed her knife back in its place underneath her clothing at her waste. Her pale skin shown in the moonlight before her jacket was placed against it again.

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Posted: Mon Jan 21, 2013 9:40 pm

by Astrophysicist

Madison’s push in conjunction with the strange woman’s shout in the darkness made his heart leap into his throat, his brain dumping adrenaline into his sleep-deprived limbs as he sprang to action. They pushed through the line of trees quickly, concerned only with speed now that they had been spotted. It didn’t matter if his foot cracked a twig in his path; it didn’t matter if her pack rustled the leaves of a scraggly dogwood. At this point in time, they were the prey where they had been predators only hours before—they had chosen to flee, banking on the chance that they could outrun the bandits under the cover of darkness.

Remy, his chest heaving as he sped through the woods at Madison’s side, tried not to let his imagination get the better of him as they moved. He tried not to imagine what the bandits looked like or what weapons they carried; he banished thoughts of what they would do to them should they be caught; he refused to acknowledge the fact that their enemies’ footsteps were only growing louder through the dry underbrush as they picked their way hurriedly through the trees. He longed to shout, but he had nothing to say; logic told him to save his breath even as his fear propelled him to cry out.

He clutched his knives tightly in his hands as they sprinted, making certain to keep the blades pointed outwards in case he were to lose his footing and fall atop one of the sharpened blades. The last thing either of them could afford was some kind of foolish injury in the chase; they would simply have to resign their fate to the angry bandits in their wake and hope that the other was able to get away.

They slowed as they reached the denser section of the forest, and he followed his companion’s example as they paused just beyond its border, taking the opportunity to sheath one of his daggers at his belt. He nearly protested when she dragged him in a diagonal path, but he followed anyway, realizing that she had more experience with this kind of terrain than he did. They snaked a swift serpentine path through the straight trunks, and Remy strained to listen for the footsteps of their pursuers as they marched. There they were, plain as the hooting of an owl in the night—their foes were rapidly approaching, and by the sound of it, they hadn’t had any difficulty tracking their movements.

Her question—with the intensity and desperation of her tone—caught him off guard, and for a moment, he did not know how to answer. “No,” he told her honestly, glancing behind them with a flash of fear in his eyes that matched her tone. “Guess I don’t have a choice, though,” he amended breathily, catching sight of a shadow of movement to the south.

 

Posted: Mon Jan 21, 2013 10:04 pm

by Simply

His response wasn’t quite what she had been hoping for, but at least it was honest. Shrugging her shoulders, she licked her lips against the cold, knowing that it would only chap them further. “You don’t. Stand here, slightly behind that tree and don’t move. They don’t have bows so they’ll come at you for hand to hand combat.” She kept her voice low but based on the sounds, the couple were drawing ever closer. She had to work quickly. Removing her pack, she set it at the base of the tree and slipped her bow over her arm and then began to climb, using small hooks she withdrew from her bag. She shoved four arrows through a loop in her pants.

Shimming up the tree was more difficult in the dark, especially when Madison was trying to make as little noise as earthly possible. Inhaling, she reached for a branch and felt it give a little and she froze, waiting for the characteristic cracking sound of the limb falling. It didn’t. Letting her breath go, she kept climbing until the branches grew thick enough to support her weight. She swung one leg up onto the branch and then another. Sitting then, she looked down, noticing that Sterling was standing maybe twenty feet from the rapidly approaching bandit.

Hurriedly, Madison grabbed an arrow and notched it, pointing at the moving shapes but they were too blurry at the rate they ran. She hoped Sterling would hold position. If he didn’t, he could probably survive but they would steal her items, maybe run off with them…or they’d wait until morning and she’d shoot them dead. Either way, the most alluring option was to have Sterling be bait for them. She needed him to hold his ground.

The male slowed and chuckled in his throat, looking around. “Say Gerdie, whurs da lil’ chickadee?”

The woman withdrew a long hunting knife, perfect for rapidly and effectively cutting through hides much tougher than human skin. “Lata, Hank. He’s hidin’ ‘er most like. We’lls get her after we skin him.”

Right as the woman stopped at his side, Madison closed her eyes for one brief moment before opening them, taking aim and letting an arrow fly. It lodged itself comfortable into the chest of the big man, nearly an inch above his heart. He cried out in pain but Madison didn’t wait. She placed another arrow into the woman’s stomach, near her kidney…or something in that area. She watched as the woman doubled over, before holding another arrow steady but the couple moved back and they were hidden beneath some of the pine needles that hung from the lower tree branches.

 

Posted: Mon Jan 21, 2013 10:27 pm

by Astrophysicist

It was difficult to trust anyone these days, let alone someone you’d become acquainted with solely because you came face to face with a notched and pointed arrow. Remy didn’t have time to ponder much more than that; their enemy was quickly approaching, and he certainly didn’t have a plan other than to keep running. Following Madison’s instructions seemed his best bet to get out of this alive and unscathed, and it seemed she needed him just as much as he needed her to ensure survival. Taking comfort in that—and the fact that she hadn’t killed or robbed him in his sleep earlier—he nodded curtly, but he would be lying to say he wasn’t more than a little terrified at the prospect of being used as glorified live bait.

He felt helpless and, if he were honest, a little humiliated at his own vulnerability. He may have saved Madison from the trio of rapists back in the clearing, but his confidence dissolved easily in the face of their current scenario. He held his ground, however, wrapping his empty hand around the hilt of his belted dagger and drawing it slowly back into the night air. His opposite hand, fingers already white-knuckled with how tightly they grasped the handle of his unsheathed blade, tensed as he caught sight of the approaching pair. They knew this terrain; their maneuvering was obviously practiced, and it was difficult to track them with his eyes as they wound their way towards him.

His fear dissipated then, replaced with a pure hot rush of adrenaline that fueled a thunderous heartbeat in his ears and put a tremble of energy in his limbs. His brow knitted together as he continued to search for their pursuers, his light eyes darting back and forth like a crouched feline ready to spring on his prey. He knew they had spotted him by the pattern in which they moved, so he took a daring step forward, wordlessly communicating that he was there for the challenge. If nothing else, it would goad them closer.

“Say, Gerdie, whurs da lil’ chickadee?” the burly male croaked as he approached, following the woman’s lead as they marched confidently towards Remy. The general’s son took another step forward, not wanting to betray the fact that he might be hiding something in the general area of the tree. Her belongings were close by, which, if they caught sight of them in the brush, would indicate Madison had stuck around. He had no intention of giving them that satisfaction.

The bandit woman’s hunting knife made his throat tighten as he saw her draw the glinting blade from the folds of her rugged clothing, and for a moment, he wondered if he would be able to see well enough in the darkness to dodge it should she decide to throw it. But it was long, heavy, and cumbersome, obviously made for things other than self-defense. He could smell her stinking clothes and rotten breath as she sidled closer, toying with him, her voice sliding through the chilly air like venomous slime. His instincts told him to lash out now while she thought she had him paralyzed with fear, but he knew he had to wait—Madison had a much better chance of killing them with a single blow from afar, and he didn’t want to risk more than he had to by striking first.

Instead, he waited for the arrows to fly. And fly they did. The first must have struck the bearlike man in the chest, because he saw him falter and stumble to the ground just a few paces away. Remy sprang forward, forcing the woman to turn, giving Madison a clearer shot at her torso. She doubled over and cursed, dropping her knife as she clutched her bleeding abdomen. Remy did not wait for a third arrow; he tackled the female bandit to the ground, forcing the arrow to pierce through the woman’s back as he reached for her neck and twisted violently.

“Fucking hell,” he swore beneath his breath as the silence greeted them once more, standing up straight and peering up the tree towards the young woman. “You can come down now. They’re dead.”

 

Posted: Mon Jan 21, 2013 10:50 pm

by Simply

Madison watched carefully, the noises that the man made indicated that he would be dead in a matter of minutes. She couldn’t see anymore and waited, unable to help him in any way. She noticed the shapes moving below and saw him tackle the woman. Her breath caught in her throat and she realized that she was rooting for him to kill her. She vehemently hoped that he would survive the encounter. Swallowing, she heard his voice. Fucking hell. His voice, not the other woman’s. Exhaling slowly, she released her tight grip on the bow.

Slowly, she crawled down the tree, dropping the last seven feet to the ground with a thud. She set her bow and remaining arrows down by her pack and shook her head. She placed her hands on her forehead, and drew them back over her head. Her hands began to shake and she grabbed her gloves out of the pocket of her jacket. Slowly, she pulled them onto her hands and moved over to Sterling.

The woman’s head laid skewed to the side and it was apparent that he neck was broken. She looked without feeing nauseous, as she had since she had taken to the road. Her heart pounded in her chest and she looked at him as he stood up. Her eyes drifted to the man who had blood pooling beneath him like an aura surrounding his body. It stained the ground and sunk in, ruining the straw and grass beneath. She watched for a moment too long before turning back to the man before her.

“Thanks for trusting me. I wouldn’t have left, y’know.” She stated, moving back to her bag. She began to slowly put her things away, watching as the sun began to creep up in the distance. Sighing, she knew that the better get going. She doubted highly that there would be any more companions to the people that they had killed but it was better to get away from dead bodies as quickly as possible. No use dwelling on blood and pain.

“Ready?” Madison inquired, shoulder her pack and loosening her scarf, knowing that the adrenaline and the walk would make her perspire. Although the temperatures were cold now, people had grown somewhat accustomed to the conditions.


   
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Posted: Mon Jan 21, 2013 11:05 pm

by Astrophysicist

Despite his declaration that he did not trust her, Remy realized in the bizarre calm following the attack that he had not once questioned her plan; he had not once believed she would use him as bait only to abandon him, or worse, shoot him in addition to the bandits from a perch where he could not easily retaliate. His breathing was still heavy as he waited for her descent, and he leaned against the trunk of the neighboring tree as his trembling limbs struggled to recover in the wake of his ebbing adrenaline.

“That was quick thinking,” he commented as she hopped gracefully down, rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly with his hand. Sweat dripped down his forehead despite the chill of the night, and he breathed a sigh of relief that was almost tangible. As the chill of the night set in, he suppressed a shiver as he pulled his jacket tighter around his shoulders. His stomach churned, but this time he managed to keep its contents and swallow away the bile that burned the back of his throat, following Madison’s gaze as she surveyed the scene that had been hidden to her from her treetop perch.

He saw her eyes sweep across the woman’s twisted neck. “It’s the most humane way to do it,” he offered as explanation, his throat tightening as he spoke. The most humane way to kill. Was there a humane way to kill, to murder, even in self defense? He was too exhausted to swallow any sort of inward ethical debate. They would have killed him, skinned him. He’d done what he had to do. After a pause, he added quietly, “Thanks for, y’know, not firing blind into the bushes there. Guess I should have thought of that before I knocked her down.”

He offered her a small, tired smile in response to her words of gratitude, which seemed comically out of place given their situation. Clearing his throat, he retrieved his pack and put away his blades, shaking out his hands as though to rid them of the deeds they had committed in the past twelve hours. He paused, glancing down at the woman’s hunting knife, and retrieved it from the grass. There was no sense in letting it go to waste; if they happened upon any game, it would be useful in skinning and butchering. At least it would be more efficient than his smaller, lighter knives.

“They weren’t carrying much else,” he said softly, biting his lip. “Let’s go.”

 

Posted: Mon Jan 21, 2013 11:32 pm

by Simply

“Thanks.” She offered him what might be a smile but the conditions weren’t exactly right for it. He mentioned how humane it was to kill the woman that way and she raised her shoulders in a shrug. “I don’t necessarily think they deserved humane but…” A shrug again and she walked a little ways in the direction that they would be going when he gathered his thing. Brushing her hands in their gloves against her side, she looked at him, and took in his smile. People rarely smiled these days.

Once he gathered his things, her bright eyes scanned the woods before then and picked up her pace beside him, strolling casually. There was no need to hurry away and exhaust themselves before they could stop for something to eat at noon. She shoved her gloved hands into her pockets as they walked. There wasn’t really anything that she wanted to say. They had helped and saved each other multiple times within the past few days and it was odd to have that kind of camaraderie with another person.

As they moved towards the words, Madison wrinkled her nose as the stench of rotting tissue filled her nostrils. She moved over slightly and followed it, carefully placing one hand on her bow and the other was poised to draw and arrow. She’d find a hard time shooting with her gloves on but she would do it if necessary. When she came to the source, a rotting, desiccated animal lay there, resembling a wolf. She brought her free-gloved hand to her mouth. She turned away.

“Dead animal.” She shrugged until she heard rustling. Immediately, she turned back around and withdrew her knife from her boot, letting her bow rest in its spot. “Don’t move.” She tossed the words back to him as she headed towards the pile of brush that the sound was coming from. It could be an animal for them to eat – squirrel or rabbit perhaps? That would go nicely in a watery broth and the oil would help sooth her aching lips.

She brushed aside a little of the straw and leaves, waiting to see if the animal darted away. Instead she heard a whine of pain and her eyebrows came together. She leaned down carefully and brushed some more away to reveal a couple of forms beneath it and a horrible smell arose. She turned away and looked back at Sterling. What lay beneath were four bodies, with one still alive. Small puppies…small dead puppies. Something inside of her fell and she reached in, feeling the one small warm body that lay within. She picked it up and cradled the small being in her arms. She could have killed it…eaten it…but something innate prevented her from doing so.

Turning back to the man she was with, Madison looked at him and raised both of her eyebrows. “Uhh…well…”

 

Posted: Mon Jan 21, 2013 11:51 pm

by Astrophysicist

He was thankful for the brightening sky. This particular section of forest was quite dense, and the thick canopy above acted like a leafy ceiling to block what little light had emanated from the clouded-over moon. He’d had quite enough of the darkness of night, and for the first time in several days he felt true relief flood his system. The past twelve hours had been more eventful than the past week of his travel combined, and he was ready and grateful for a reprieve, even if it was as small as a few rays of sunshine penetrating the perpetual cloud cover.

Though their unwelcome guests had robbed him of several hours’ sleep, he felt strong enough to go on, riding on the lingering energy from their sprint through the trees. He strode beside her, trying not to take the leisurely stroll of their pace for granted; it was a welcome break not to be rushing to a destination or running from harm, and he found he could actually enjoy the silent company of his companion. Just the sound of her footsteps next to him kept him grounded and in the present; his thoughts remained on the path ahead instead of dwelling on painful memories of the past, and it put him at ease to have an ally—a smart ally, at that—against further attackers.

His breath caught in his throat as his inhale brought the pungent stench of rotting flesh to his nose, and he furrowed his brow with disgust, glancing to Madison to see if she’d detected it too. Judging by her wrinkled nose, this was no hallucination; his heartbeat sped up, and he wondered if this would be another repeat of the clearing, if they’d stumbled upon another one of the bandit clan’s victims. Following his nose, he remained at his companion’s side as they strayed from their path to find the source of the odor, dreading what they might find at the end of their trail.

She voiced what she saw at the same time he laid eyes on it—undeniably dead, it was the partially-devoured carcass of a canine, large enough to resemble a wolf but small enough to indicate that it was no natural predator. “I don’t think it’s been here long, but jesus…” he said, twisting his lips in distaste as they approached. “Something else has been here.”

As the words left his lips, the rustle in the bushes nearby startled him enough to draw a knife automatically, and he remained perfectly still, glancing ahead to Madison, who was nearer the source. In all likelihood, it was just a small animal, perhaps some game for them to later cook and eat, but their experience that night had him thoroughly spooked and suspicious—and he didn’t trust unexplained noises in the brush.

The whine of pain from the leaves prompted him to put away his blade. When his companion turned back to him with a squirming bundle of dirty fur in her arms, he raised his brows in surprise and closed the distance between them. Squatting down to inspect the whimpering creature, he shook his head. “Food?” he questioned, wondering what was going through her mind. “Might be better to keep it around. If it grows as big as its mother, it could come in handy on our side.”

 

Posted: Tue Jan 22, 2013 9:43 pm

by Simply

The smell was quickly forgotten when she picked up the little dog in her arms. The animal didn’t even try to escape. Pulling off a glove with her teeth, she shoved it in her pocket, holding the pup in one hand for the moment. She ran her hands over it, noticing ho its ribs pocked out of its body and she frowned, looking at Sterling. She should snap its neck and eat it but…there was something about the little dog, the little helpless animal that needs someone else to provide for it.

“Oh fuck.” She sighed. “I don’t need something to take care of but…” She looked down as the little animal stuck out its poor tongue and licked her bare hand. Sighing, her heart broke a little and she carried him off into the words, away from the smell. “Come on.” She said, figuring that the man she traveled with would follow her. When they were out of the range of the foul smell, she settled onto the ground with her pack beside her. She set the pup into her lap and it only struggled to move for a minute before flopping his little fluffy head on her leg. Her hood slipped off of her head, revealing the long braid and the few fuzzy hairs that had fallen out of the knot she had made.

She rummaged in her pack, shoving her other glove into her pocket as well. She found some dried venison in her pack, wrapped in the cloth she tried to preserve food in. She broke a little off and held it in front of the dog’s nose. He sniffed once – twice, then stuck out his tongue to lick it, a little wary of the possibility of being offered such a treat. He clearly had suffered severe starvation since his moth and siblings passed. Finally, Madison watched him begin to eat before turning her face up to Sterling.

“Our side?” She smirked a little and raised an eyebrow, amused by the suggestion. “How long to you plan on traveling with me?” She ran her hand over the dog’s fur and noticed that some patches were thinned than others, likely due to his malnutrition and living conditions. Swallowing she ran her hand down the dog again and felt a comfortable feeling slip through her like a warm broth on a cold, bitter night.

The pup finished the venison and looked up at her with bright brown eyes, questioning if she had anymore. “Got anything to spare? He’s starving.”

 

Posted: Wed Jan 23, 2013 12:26 am

by Astrophysicist

“It is another mouth to feed,” Remy agreed, but his tone was unconvinced—it was clear even before Madison held out the squirming bundle of emaciated fur that he had neither the desire nor the intention of killing or allowing the creature to be killed. The chiseled features of his face softened as the young puppy continued to whimper in her arms, and he arched his brows not in incredulity but with gentle amusement as he watched it nuzzle his companion’s palm.

He was no veterinarian—he doubted those existed at all anymore; the only reason he knew anything of the profession was through brief references in his mentor’s old medical textbooks—but he did have a knack for healing. Like Madison, there was something about seeing this helpless little bundle of black and brown fur that made him want to care for it, to nurse it back to health and give it a chance at a better fate than perishing alone and cold next to its long-gone brothers and sisters. There was always the possibility it would not survive even if it did accompany them, but that was a chance he—and his companion, it seemed—were willing to take.

“Wouldn’t be much by way of a meal anyway. There’s no meat on his tiny bones,” he said as he rose back to his feet and followed her, grateful that they were leaving the terrible scent of decay behind them. He remained standing as she knelt to the cool earth and removed a strip of dry venison from her pack, keeping an eye on their surroundings as she occupied herself with convincing the puppy to eat her offered morsel.

Her arched brow and smirk in response to his suggestion prompted a shrug, and he folded his arms defensively across his chest. “We make a good team,” he asserted, lifting his shoulders. “I’ll travel with you until you want me to leave. Until then, it makes sense to stick together.”

He knelt across from her, reaching out to run a fingertip down the small creature’s spine. “My reserves are getting low, but I think I have enough to spare for this little guy,” he said, unbuckling his pack and retrieving a small strip of dried meat. “We shouldn’t give him too much right away. It could kill him as easily as not feeding him at all.” He held out the venison with an outstretched palm, the puppy’s tongue lapping eagerly against his deer-leather glove. “Here, can I see him for a sec?” he asked, taking off his gloves and extending his arms.

 

Posted: Wed Jan 23, 2013 7:47 pm

by Simply

Madison nodded. “You’re the doctor.” She said in response, knowing that he would know more about dehydration and such that she would. Did he work on animals too? Were there such things as animal doctors? Frowning, she considered the thought for a moment and shrugged it aside, highly doubting that such a thing had ever existed but according to the stories that her mother told her the world had been very different. Her mother had never seen it of course, but her grandmother had and stories were passed down.

It was…comforting, almost – that idea that he thought they made a good team. It was nice to have some companionship on the road, knowing that someone would have her back when she slept and make sure that people didn’t kill her. Some part of Madison was unsure though, still, even after what they had been through. He was a man and she was a lone woman. Bad things could happen to a lone woman on the road, even if Sterling was supposedly a decent fellow.

Watching the dog lick at the offered food, she hesitated when he asked for the dog. Instinct made her instantly protective of the tiny bundle of fur but then she realized that it was an animal she had just found and she had no claim to it. She picked the pup up and held it out to him, placing the skin and bones into his hand gingerly. Licking her lips, she immediately put her gloves back on out of habit. Even though the temperature reached what was equivalent to thirty degrees in the old days, it wasn’t wise to leave her fingers bare longer than necessary.

“It will be hard to find food for him, when he gets older too. He’ll eat a lot.” She shrugged and pushed herself up onto her knees, putting her pack back together and taking a little bit of water from a jug she carried. It was a plastic bottle with the letters REI in bright green letters on it, though the R was starting to fade with use. She twisted off the lid and hesitated, unsure of how to offer him water. “Do you have a cup of bowl or anything?” She didn’t. She mostly ate with her hands and had left all manner of utensils and plates back at her parents home in the west. It wasn’t prudent to take too many things.

“I have my small pot but…I want to give him some but I don’t know how and I bet he needs it.” She’d have to find a stream or pond somewhere and boil the germs out. It was a hard process and often yielded significantly less than she collected but it was better than getting the intestinal worms and diseases that many travels caught.

 

Posted: Wed Jan 23, 2013 8:37 pm

by Astrophysicist

Remy watched his companion for a moment as she coaxed the small creature to eat. Her hood had fallen back, and it was the first opportunity he’d had since their chance meeting in the clearing to study her face in the daylight. She was rather pretty, he noticed, watching as the light breeze tossed the loose strands of hair that had fallen from her carefully-plaited braid. It was little wonder she had attracted the attention of the bandits in the meadow, although in truth Remy figured they would have ambushed and assaulted anyone who happened to cross their paths.

But still, he recognized the danger for a woman traveling alone, and though she had already demonstrated her capability of defending herself, there was always safety in numbers. Even their attackers had realized that, despite using the knowledge for the wrong reasons entirely. But they hadn’t counted on Remy’s sudden appearance, or Madison’s rapid-fire arrows. His words to her about their being a team had been genuine, and he sincerely hoped she would agree to have him along at least until they were through the thickest of the woods. For both their sakes.

He cracked a small smile when she held out the puppy, and he slipped off his gloves before taking the fidgety canine from her grasp. He fit easily in his palms; the creature was even thinner than his fluffy fur let on, and Remy could feel his prominent ribcage and hipbones beneath his fingertips. The puppy whimpered slightly, and the general’s son responded with a soft shhh as he held it to his chest and gently felt along its side and abdomen. “Animals aren’t really my specialty,” he admitted, placing the dog gently on the leaves between the two of them. He cocked his head to the side, watching as it stood, trembling to support itself as it regained its footing. “But he seems healthy and uninjured, apart from, y’know, the starving part.”

Remy tucked a hand beneath its belly as he reached into his pack with his opposite hand and pulled out a crude wooden bowl, one he had painstakingly chiseled himself for crushing poultices and ointments. “Here,” he said, thrusting it at Madison. “Won’t have much use for it for awhile. Not in these woods, anyway.” He lifted one shoulder in a half-shrug, momentarily letting go of their new addition as he tucked his pack back in place.

The puppy, however, seemed to have regained some of its strength in light of its recent meal. It yipped hoarsely and bounded shakily back from whence it had come. Remy furrowed his brow and held up a hand to Madison, rising to his feet to chase after the mischievous young animal. But when he reached down to scoop him back up, he heard another whimper—this one distant—seemingly in response to this puppy’s cries. “Did you hear that?” he called back to Madison, furrowing his brow. “Hang on.”

Handing the creature back to his companion, he crept back within range of the scent of rotting flesh, listening for any sign of life in the vicinity of the deceased adult. Sure enough, the rustling of leaves sounded from the same area from which Madison had pulled the first one. He knelt in the brush and pushed away a pile of dried leaves, holding his breath as the stench of the other tiny dead bodies reached his nostrils. Determined, he dug a little deeper in the carpet of pine needles and soil. And then, all at once, there it was, a slightly smaller—but no less alive—pup, squirming and whining as the cold air reached its tiny black nose.

Remy gently slid his hands beneath her, feeling her tiny bones beneath her thin layer of flesh, and brought the shivering creature to his chest.

“Looks like he has a sister,” he proclaimed as he returned, picking his way back to Madison.

 

Posted: Wed Jan 23, 2013 10:15 pm

by Simply

When he handed her the bowl, she took it. She was just about to pour some water into the bowl when she watched the puppy bound away. Great. Just what she needed, to go chasing after a little dog through the woods. Quickly, she took her hand and hoisted herself up, following him in the direction that the little dog was running. Bright blue eyes danced along the ground as she noticed its little tail flicking back and forth as it stood next to the pile that Madison had retrieved it from.

As she came closer, the young woman heard a noise and looked at Sterling. “Yeah.” She murmured, moving closer and taking the dog that she had found from him. She cradled it in her arms. He yipped as though he was annoyed with her keeping him from his mission that he had set out upon. She watched as her companion leaned down and rummaged through the dead bodies and she buried her nose into her shoulder, breathing out of her mouth to try to keep from gagging. It was a horribly unpleasant smell.

“Oh fuck.” Madison muttered again and then laughed slightly. This was ridiculous! She had just met this man and now she was going to attempt to take care of two lost dogs with him as they traveled. It was a laughable prospect and she shook her head as though trying to rid herself of the ridiculous thoughts. “A sister? Two pups? I don’t know…” She pressed a gloved hand to her hand, holding it there as she looked around, letting the black and brown dog rest in her one arm, with her fingers still holding on to the edge of the bowl.

“Are they trainable? How do you train one?” She didn’t understand all the important nuisances of raising something and nurturing something beyond herself. She walked away from him, heading back to their bags. She settled back next to their packs again, letting the little rascal bound away before it bounced, much like a rabbit, back towards her. It tumbled and stumbled about, clearly its muscle atrophied from disuse but otherwise it appeared to be a happy animal. It’s optimistic bounding was inspirational and endearing.

“I don’t know if we should do this. It’s two more mouths to feed that are probably hungrier than we are. I can hunt well enough but with food scarce…” Her stomach fell at the thought as she poured water into the bowl. She placed it on the ground and the dog approached it cautiously. Madison dipped her fingers into the water and then held it out for the pup, letting it lick them to figure it all out before it sniffed at the rim and then dunked its nose in. It sputtered and sneezed before yelping eagerly and lapping up the little bit of water she had placed in there. She was careful to not give him too much like Sterling said.

 

Posted: Wed Jan 23, 2013 10:36 pm

by Astrophysicist

The female puppy squirmed in his arms, but it was too weak to put up a big enough fight to convince Remy to let her down. She was smaller than Madison’s pup, and it seemed her slight separation from the rest of her litter had made her more vulnerable to the cold. Her tiny body trembled against his coat, and he wrapped his hand around her middle in an attempt to loan her some of his warmth.

“Shit. Yeah. Two pups,” he echoed with a slight nod, his own doubts regarding the logic of this commitment coming through in his heavy tone. He stroked his puppy’s ears with his fingertips, pondering. “Well,” he said, thinking aloud, “there’s always the possibility that they won’t make it. Even if we try our best.” It was the grim truth, and both of them knew it. He looked down, running his hand down its bony back, and returned to the place they’d settled outside the range of the stench. Easing the pup to the ground at his knees, he offered her a morsel of venison, which she took to with an immediate yip. Remy exhaled a breathy laugh.

“I dunno how to train them,” he admitted, picking up the fluffy creature and directing her mouth to the bowl of water. She, too, seemed suspicious and reluctant to drink until she saw her brother take the lead. “I’ve never had a pet.” His words weren’t entirely true—pets were reserved only for the very wealthy or the very high ranked, as only those families could truly afford to feed an extra mouth for the sake of luxury. Small working animals like herding dogs were prevalent in the plains regions, but the land in the south after the Cold did not loan itself well to farming or grazing.

His family had had several dogs that roamed the military palace, large, short-haired, pinched-ear breeds that the militia had apparently bred for speed, stealth, and loyalty. Remy used to toss his toys down the long corridors for them to chase and bring back, and he’d always loved the way they would wag their tails with excitement when he called to them. But he’d never seen them trained, never seen how they were raised. Looking back, that was probably for the best—the ones that weren’t kept indoors had been trained for work duty, which, in other words, meant to attack and kill.

“You could look at it this way,” he said thoughtfully, watching as his small puppy rolled freely in the leaves with her brother, “when we part ways, we’ll each have a guardian.” He shrugged. “Do you think they could be trained to help with hunting?”

 

Posted: Fri Jan 25, 2013 12:11 am

by Simply

The idea of the puppies not surviving made her feel a little ill, though it was probably due to the fact that she hadn’t eaten in over fourteen hours. Her stomach gurgled in protest and she knew that she would have to hunt down something soon. The words would be good for a squirrel or two and perhaps a few nuts or berries but those were likely frostbitten but anything could be thrown in some boiling water and made relatively edible. In these current times, no one really had the luxury of being choosy…except for the militia.

“We’ll have to be firm, I think and make sure that we start training them early. Little things first, like tricks for food but we’ll have to dry some meats and hunt more frequently.” She swallowed. “Can they eat soups? Broths? That is usually what I make at night because they’re more filling without as much work…considering there is water.” As she spoke, almost as though speaking through the process herself, she ran her hand over the dog and let it nip at her fingers a little. For being so close to death, he was playful for a good minute before his little limbs seemed to give out.

He crawled over towards his sister and rolled with her for a minute before biting her tail and pulling her downward. They lay on the ground and snuggled together into the leaves, like they had done with their dead siblings. Madison’s bright blue eyes didn’t leave the pair of dogs for a long moment before she turned her face up towards the human companion of the group. His comment made sense and she nodded before pursing her lips.

“I don’t know. That would take more…discipline.” She tested the word as though she was unsure that was the one that she wanted. It had been a while since she had an intelligent conversation and words that her mother had encouraged her to use had been lost. Although she sounded like she had been raised in a militia camp, she could neither read nor write with any decent level of skill. Most kids in the militia camps were given schooling of some sort, in order to pass letters and create some sort of normalcy like the life that had been lived on earth before the Cold. “We would have to make sure they didn’t eat what they killed before we got to it.”

A shrug raised her shoulders as she watched the pups take small, synchronized breaths. “I should get food for us to eat. Do you hunt or would you…want to stay and watch them?”

 

Posted: Fri Jan 25, 2013 6:50 pm

by Astrophysicist

Not knowing the first thing about animal welfare or well-being, Remy felt a little uncomfortable that Madison was speaking to him as though he held any kind of authority on the subject. He wasn’t even sure he was qualified to call himself a doctor—although in all likelihood he was probably the closest thing outside the consultants in the high militia since the passing of his elderly mentor—but he supposed there were aspects that carried over from one species to another that could be useful in this case. Regardless, under their care, these puppies had a better chance of survival than they would have on their own. He doubted even their mother, had she survived whatever predator or accident had taken her down, could have kept them all alive.

He lifted his shoulders in a shrug. “I don’t see how it could hurt, but I’m really no expert on animals,” he said, twisting his lips uncertainly. “My guess is they’d be like human kids, you know? If they don’t like it, they won’t want to eat it. But right now they just seem happy to have something in their bellies.”

He realized he had been one of the very few, very lucky people to have a childhood that afforded his young self the luxury of choosing which foods he liked and which he did not; the matter of sustenance was not one of life and death in the Walther household, as there was always more food, always more choices. If peas were not to his taste, he could substitute with golden kernels of corn; if he wanted a chocolate treat instead of a hard candy, all he had to do was ask.

That was not the case, of course, outside those exclusive walls of luxury. Food was scarce even for those who farmed the land and raised livestock; the majority of it was taken by orders of the militia, and they were left with little more than scraps for their own tables. There were a lucky few who dwelled upon lands fertile enough for large crops, and they often had the spare square footage for personal gardens that they kept carefully hidden from military inspectors. But for lone travelers like Remy or Madison, the contents of a meal was entirely dependent on the ability to hunt and trap and scavenge. If they could somehow train the dogs to assist, their lives would certainly be simpler.

He looked up when Madison rose to her feet, and at her question, he glanced down to the slumbering pups and back up to meet her gaze again. “I’m not much of an active hunter. You’ll be better with that.” He nodded to her bow and cracked a halfhearted smile. “I’m good with snares, though. I can string up a few while you’re out. I think the food made them drowsy.”

 

Posted: Fri Jan 25, 2013 7:21 pm

by Simply

Bright blue eyes nodded. They would eat the broth and soup if they were hungry and it wasn’t much more than slightly flavored water, which the boy dog tended to enjoy quite a bite. Pushing herself up, she changed her gloves to thinner ones that she wore to keep her hands warm when she hunted. She grabbed her bow and arrows and slipped them onto her shoulder. It was nice to have the opportunity to hunt without her pack.

“That could work if you want to stay in these woods for the night but don’t let them wander.” She felt the fierce desire to protect the dogs and a slightly uneasiness at the prospect of leaving the dogs alone but she needed to get some food. She licked her lips and pulled her hood up around her head with one hand, letting her lips curl up slightly as she nodded and headed off without another word. He could handle himself.

She ran a short way to separate herself from the pungent odor of the dead mother dog and from the smell of the pups and her companion. Deer, squirrels, boars and other animals could smell a human for a good ways and she wanted to get something as large as she possibly good. Her stomach growled and she used it to motivate herself as she stood, looking down under her feet. She paused and noticed the ground, seeing characteristic wild pig droppings. She narrowed her eyes and moved slowly. They looked fresh and a small amount of steam was evident. Very near.

As she waited, for a good thirty minutes, she hoped that the animal would make its way back. It was apparent that it wasn’t and she moved upwards, following the tracks slowly. Finally, the tracks came to an end and she froze, listening intently. She slipped an arrow into her bow and pulled it taut. She heard a noise to her left and slightly behind her. Swallowing, she turned slowly, careful not to step back. The wild pig snorted into the ground, shoving around some brush in order to find something to eat.

She pulled back and released then again, notching and firing quickly. There was an audible thud and the pig fell, to arrow protruding from his body, one from his throat and the other from his stomach. He cried out and Madison moved quickly to slit the animal’s throat, letting it bleed out into the ground. She looked at its sad eyes for a moment and whispered a small “thank you” to the animal. It was something that her father had discouraged but she felt necessary to do. She was just trying to survive and so was the boar. It just turned out that she was victorious in this round.

She cleaned the animal and tied its feed together. She hoisted it up and carried it carefully, making sure not to leave a trail behind her. It wouldn’t do for anyone or anything to follow her back to their camp. She had been gone for nearly four hours when she arrived back at their camp, wondering if he had successfully placed any traps. They could stay here a few days, one or two and make sure that they had enough food to continue their travels into the mountains. It would be a long journey, especially with two new additions.

 

Posted: Fri Jan 25, 2013 11:28 pm

by Astrophysicist

He watched as Madison departed, breaking into a swift jog to put distance between herself and the area that had become their makeshift campsite. He felt a pang of jealousy as she disappeared silently into the trees, wishing for a moment that he, too, could wield something as efficient and stealthy as a bow and arrow. He had his knives, of course, and he had forced himself to practice long hours with them when he’d first left home and began to roam the real world. But throwing a dagger no matter how sharp or forceful did not allow for long-range attacks, and it was difficult to aim with the same amount of accuracy. He could strike a man in the chest, the back, the stomach, sure; he’d demonstrated that on the rapists in the clearing. But he never could have struck out an eye, not like Madison had.

Remy, however, had never been much of a physical fighter. He disliked confrontation nearly as much as he hated unnecessary slaughter, and he would rather spend his time avoiding trouble than seeking it or battling his way out of it. But he did what he had to do—it was the sad, harsh reality of their world, and what he lacked in the desire for combat, he made up for in determination to survive. According to his late mentor, that kind of quiet drive was precisely what made him a good medic. He housed an innate desire to perpetuate life, a quality that he was able to communicate through care and healing.

He retrieved his tightly coiled ropes from his pack, loosening their ties and draping them over his shoulder. The two pups, exhausted from the excitement of their rescue and the new nourishment they’d received, huddled together in slumber with their noses tucked beneath their tails. He smiled crookedly and covered them partially with leaves, then strategically placed his blanket overtop of the pile.

He crept out so as not to draw their attention, heading in the opposite direction his companion had taken. Rather than run from the smell, he wondered if he could use it to their advantage. Scavengers would detect the foul odor before they would detect his, and even so, dead carcasses were popular stops for all kinds of creatures in the forest. With food being scarce, he doubted his scent would deter many. Quickly and quietly, he tied the snares with practiced ease, hiding them with dry pine needles and fallen branches. Unlike Madison, who would have her sights on larger prey like deer or boars, Remy’s traps were meant for smaller meals—raccoons, for instance, who would be drawn by the smell, and he even dared hope for a stray coyote.

He returned to their belongings after a few hours, never having been far from their sight, and uncovered their tiny new companions. Madison’s male stirred, waking the female, and Remy coughed a small laugh as they sleepily rolled over. Waiting for his human comrade to return, he poured them another bowl full of water from his canteen and watched as they fought over whose turn it was to drink.

 

Posted: Fri Jan 25, 2013 11:49 pm

by Simply

Madison arrived at their site just in time to see the puppies begin to bound towards her male companion, eagerly seeking out what nourishment he was providing them. She approached silently at first but then, halfway there, she realized that he might hear her and accidentally attack. Clearing her throat, she called out to him. She made sure to be loud enough that he would adequately hear, but soft enough to not draw attention to their campsite. “Back.” Is that the way to do it? How was she supposed to say it? Frowning, the nuances of companionship were lost on someone who had only spent an extended period of time in the company of her mother and father.

She moved a little closer before setting the pig down. She moved over to her pack and rummaged around, grabbing some small tools from her kit and then moving back. She made sure though, to take off her hunting gloves and run a bare hand along the top of each pup’s head as they drank from the water bowl that Sterling had provided for them. “I have to clean him and then we can build a small fire and make something for tonight. I’ll carve up the rest and we can make jerky stripes in the morning. It should last us a few weeks at least, if they don’t need to much.” She bent down beside the pig and slowly, gutted him.

Nothing was wasted. The pig eyes and the snout and the tail would make a broth for soup that they would eat tonight. The meat could be dried over the fire tomorrow morning. The one fortunate thing about the Cold was that there was really no need for a refrigerator. The earth kept it perfectly edible at an outside temperature if it was kept sealed long enough.

Swallowing, she didn’t bother talking while she worked. She wasn’t used to talking. Did people where he grew up talk to each other? Had he grown up solitary like she had or had he been in a militia town until he somehow escaped? No…that wouldn’t make sense. They would have marked him at twelve. All boys were marked early to indicate that they belonged to the militia whether they wanted to or not.

It took her quite a while to finish, but finally she had everything carved the way she wanted and set apart. “Do you think they could eat the liver? I don’t…enjoy it particularly.” Pig’s liver was utterly foul. Now, that didn’t mean she hadn’t eaten it before. But if it would feed the dogs and prevent her from having to eat it…that was best.

 

Posted: Sat Jan 26, 2013 12:07 am

by Astrophysicist

The pups drank more enthusiastically this time, especially the smaller female. While they seemed perfectly comfortable with one another, they still seemed wary of human hands—completely unsurprising, as far as Remy was concerned. If they had known any human prior to his and Madison’s intervention, he didn’t doubt they had been unkind; few roamed these forests with good intentions, and those who did often didn’t have the resources to feed a mother dog with a full litter of puppies. But they were young, and already they seemed more comfortable with his poking and prodding as they waited for Madison’s return.

She appeared suddenly, calling out to him from a reasonable distance, but still he was startled. Recognizing her voice, however, he did not attack, nor did he draw any of his knives. Instead, he pushed the bowl of water away—the puppies following playfully, nipping at the edges of the wooden piece—and rose to his feet. “Christ. A pig,” he voiced aloud, arching his brows. “I’m impressed.” He helped her lower it to the ground. “Pigskin is tough. I’ve got that dead bitch’s knife in my pack. Might make it easier as you go.”

He didn’t want to build a fire prematurely; the heat (or at least as warm as it was going to be) of the day had not yet begun to dissipate, and he knew it would be risky to draw attention to their location with a plume of smoke. It was best to wait for the cover of twilight, when the sky’s shifting colors could mask the billowing clouds into the darkness of night. Remy knew it was generally the smoke that gave away campsites rather than the glow of the flames themselves, and he knew he could keep the fire just large enough to cook their meals and keep them warm without giving them away to any passersby.

While Madison silently worked, Remy gathered dry kindling from the area surrounding the campsite, piling smaller twigs next to thicker branches that he severed with his longer knife. Their timing was ideal; thick clouds were gathering beyond the canopy above, granting them the leeway to start the fire a few hours earlier while allowing his companion to finish gutting the beast. He arranged the firewood and procured his flint from his pack, striking it with the blade of his dagger. A tail of sparks flew from its sharpened tip, catching the pile of needles he’d stuffed beneath the pyramid of sticks.

“I don’t see why they couldn’t,” he said, pouring a little more water into the bowl for the pups to lap up. “I’ve never liked liver much either. Hopefully they won’t be quite so picky.” He paused, running his hand down the backs of each dog. “I’ll check the snares in a couple of hours, but it looks like we’ve got ourselves a feast as it is.”

 

Posted: Sat Jan 26, 2013 12:17 am

by Simply

Christ. She frowned. What was that? It sounded much like an expression of surprised but she wasn’t quite sure what it meant. Was it a person? Sounded like a name in a sense but she didn’t want to ask and betray how completely incompetent she was when it came to human social skills and intelligence. Sure, she could hunt and kill with the best of them but if you put her with more than 4 people, she was likely to throw up. “Thanks.” She responded at the offer, knowing that the appreciative word was appropriate here, at least. She took the knife he offered and had set to work.

Finishing up, she brought over the liver in one bare hand. She would need to find somewhere to clean her hands soon, but that would wait for now. With her other hand, she unclipped a strap on her pack that the pot hung next to. She dropped the liver inside and would place it directly on the wood logs to good it slightly. She figured that the dogs would likely eat it raw but she was unsure what their stomachs were used to. It wouldn’t be pleasant to have sick animals to tend to.

Hearing a familiar crackle she turned around and smiled. Madison appreciated that he was useful. He had been her savior when it came to killing those men and escaping their pursuers but that didn’t mean he was any type of woodsman. It warmed her inside a little to know that he could make a fire and set snares.

“Good. We’ll need all the stores that we can carry. The mountains at this time…they’ll be cold I heard. Often the snow is so thick that you’re confined to where you stay so we’d do best to get as far as we can within the next few weeks and find a place we could hole up until spring.” Spring consisted of slightly less snow and a few more animals. Summer in comparison with a hundred years ago was a joke, as the temperature did not rise above thirty-six degrees. However, when winter was consistently a brisk negative value, thirty-six sounded pretty damn warm.

She set the pot on the fire and watched as the liver changed colors. Using a small bit of water from her canteen, she let it run over her hands before grabbing a ragged cloth from her pack and cleaning off her hands. She immediately put on her thick glvoes. Bright blue eyes traveled over to the pups who had just finished their marathon of water consumption and she smiled a little, genuinely. “I suppose it will be nice having them around. And you.” It sounded odd when she said it. Did people say that to other people? Swallowing, she focused on the pot. “To walk with, I mean. It’s nice having someone that can hunt and watch my back when I sleep.”

 

Posted: Sat Jan 26, 2013 12:39 am

by Astrophysicist

He was somewhat taken aback at her frown, wondering what he had done to upset or offend her. Had he not just declared his admiration, his respect for a job well done? He shrugged it off and continued with setting the fire, glad to see she was making use of the heavy duty knife he’d stolen from the hands of the dead woman. He was not superstitious by any means; he’d been raised to discount such folly and rely instead on hard facts. But that didn’t make him ungrateful, and it certainly didn’t mean he was willing to let good tools go to waste simply because they’d been touched by someone who no longer lived. There was also the prospect of someone else stumbling upon it, someone who would use it for deeds far worse than the functional necessities of simple survival.

He fed the fire slowly, one small branch at a time, knowing it was better to use thinner kindling and add it more often than to commit to thicker, heavier logs. Not only were they more difficult to come by, they also burned brighter and longer and were harder to extinguish in a hurry. This way, he could control the flames—larger and hotter for cooking, shorter for smoking, and glowing hot for warmth through the evening and night. Now, he was catering to the first need, establishing a triangular foundation that could be used for resting utensils.

As she continued to speak, he smiled slightly, looking up at her from his kneeling position at the base of the fire. “So you do want to travel with me,” he declared matter-of-factly, perhaps a little teasingly. He cleared his throat and added a few more bundles of sticks, watching as the sparks floated upward within the smoke. Unlike Madison, he had grown up overexposed to social gatherings. Expected to be on his best behavior at all times in light of the constant company and important guests, he was well-versed in conversation and upper-class etiquette; it had been engrained in his brain since he was young enough to walk and speak.

It made him appreciate being alone, but he often yearned for more than just passing company or the occasional unwanted guest. In this case, he seemed to be getting the best of both worlds—the presence of another he could apparently trust, but not someone for whom he had to put on any sort of show.

“It will be nice to have them around,” he agreed, nodding as the aroma of searing liver reached his nose. “I wonder if they’re like wolves. Maybe they still have that pack instinct left in them.” He wasn’t sure, but it was worth investigating as they grew. “Might be easier to train them not to eat their prey right away if they know they have a pack to feed.”

 

Posted: Sat Jan 26, 2013 12:49 am

by Simply

She did appreciate him. Wanting to travel with him? At first she was going to respond and then she saw his face. He was teasing almost. Madison blushed and looked back down, suddenly thankful she had left her hood up. The young woman didn’t understand teasing all that often. Of course her father had done it and her mother, but it was different. This time it made her body feel funny and tingle as though she was embarrassed and pleased at the same time. It was weird being around other people.

Unsure of what to say, she grabbed a long piece of wood from her pack that resembled a spoon. It was evident that she had smoothed and carved it herself but it certainly wasn’t a master job. Widdling was not something she was an expert at. Packs. Now that was something she understood. Her father had taught her a lot about animals during their training sessions and their hunts. She knew that there was an Alpha, who was the one that was in charge of the pack and all of the other members were submission to his will. She smiled and looked over at him.

“We’ll have to make sure that they know we’re the alpha. My father mentioned that alphas traditionally get first feed, even if they didn’t take the animal down personally.” Licking her lips, she stirred the liver in the pot until it seemed tender enough. She scooped it out and pulled off one glove with her teeth. With her bare hand, she took the warmed meat and then used her teeth to remove the other glove. She tore the liver in half and whistled softly.

The female pup whipped her head around and upon smelling the liver, bounding over, tripping over her paws and having her brother barrel into her. Snorting, Madison smiled and placed the liver on the ground, letting them sniff and lick cautiously. Taking her canteen, she poured a significant amount of her water into the bowl. Retrieving the cleaned intestines, snout, tail and eyes, she tossed them into the pot with the water. The mixture would take a while to warm but it would be a hearty meal, especially if she added in some extra pieces of meat afterwards.

Again, she used the cloth to wipe her hands before putting her gloves on. “We’ll need to find a stream soon to bathe and refill.” Her brown head nodded towards her nearly empty water jug. It would last her through the evening and some of the morning but they would need to find some soon.

 

Posted: Sat Jan 26, 2013 1:09 am

by Astrophysicist

Her blush prompted him to continue, and he bit at his lower lip. “It’s good to have you around too,” he affirmed finally, a little awkwardly. It had taken him awhile to formulate the proper words to return the sentiment. He straightened his posture, twisting around to add an extra bundle to the healthy flames. The fire coughed happily. “It’s been awhile since I’ve had anyone to talk to who wasn’t trying to slit my throat,” he admitted with a grimace, suspecting she had experienced something similar. Companionship like theirs—however temporary—was a rare treasure indeed.

“Your father knew about packs?” he asked curiously, glancing to the pups as they wrestled with one another in the leaves. His gaze wandered back up to Madison, who had taken out a crude spoon-like object that was about as expertly crafted as his poultice bowl. He wondered briefly about her past—where she had come from, how she’d been raised. Had she run from the militia as he had? Well, of course it wouldn’t have been the same, but the the majority of lone runaways he’d met on his travels had been fugitives from service. And far as Remy was concerned, he was doing just that.

Not sure what else to say, he lapsed into silence and reached over to his satchel, unbuckling the outer pocket and pulling out a small, flat metal pan with a wretchedly crooked handle. For more than one person, he realized, it was perhaps too small a container. But in conjunction with Madison’s supplies—and she did not seem short on much—they were more than covered. He wet the base of the pan with a few drips of water from his canteen, then gingerly eased it into the flames until the moisture lightly sizzled. When he heard the hiss, he reached over and tossed a few strips of remaining intestine into the pan, searing the outsides to a crisp while the insides cooked more gradually.

He sliced through them quickly, then tossed the bite-sized pieces into the rest of the stew. “Gives a better texture,” he muttered in explanation. “Makes you feel fuller when you’ve got something to chew. I’ve got enough water to last us through the night, but you’re right. With these guys, we’ll need a refill.”

A yip from one of the puppies drew his attention, and he smiled as he looked over to see them fighting playfully over the last scrap of liver. The male had the female by the ear, and they flopped to their sides with their tails wagging. “Looks like we found some takers for the liver,” he announced, nodding to them.

 

Posted: Sat Jan 26, 2013 9:46 pm

by Simply

“Yeah. He hunted a lot in the hills around our home and taught me how, too. He said the more you knew about what could keep you alive, the longer you’d last.” Madison looked down at the flames as they licked the bottom of the pot greedily. Fire was a ravenous mistress and she fell into silence at the thought of her father. It was hard to miss him sometimes. If she let it in, let it become a constant thought, it would consume her like the fire consumed the wood. Swallowing, the huntress tore her eyes away and watched him hunt inside of his satchel.

If he was surprised at what she had, he shouldn’t be. Her father had taken her into the woods for sometimes a week at a time, teaching her how to survive – as though a part of him knew what might eventually happen to him and her mother. He would allow her to choose from their things and she could only pack one bag so she knew what she would need if she was to survive. However, in her frustration and grief, she had forgotten a few things – like a spoon.

She watched as he helped prepare their food and se let her lips curl upwards slightly, but didn’t show her teeth with the smile. Sighing, she nodded and sat down, stretching out her legs in front of her. Her limbs were stiff from standing and waiting on the pig earlier and she was tired from their activities during the day. Killing three men and then two more people, before finding two dogs and capturing dinner…well, it made for a full day. All she wanted was to sleep but something inside of her felt a desire to talk to her companion, to get to know him, to become something she hadn’t had before – friends.

“Thank goodness. If we keep them around, we won’t have to eat it.” She smiled a little before pouring more water into the pan and adding the rest of the stuff to make their soup. It would be filling and would warm them tonight, which was likely to be colder than the last. Each night would grow worse as they headed north through the mountains to go east. Madison was headed towards a well-known militia camp. Not the capital, but a large one where she might e able to find some answer. Her eyes drifted to the dogs and she watched them bounce around each other. She let the pot simmer and bubble and grow warm, filling the water with its flavor. It would be a good meal for them. They’d need to dry some of the thin slices tonight for storage if they wanted to be able to travel by tomorrow afternoon.

She needed to find a warm place before the winter set in. “Are you traveling anywhere specific?” She longed to know why he wasn’t militia. If the militia found him – they’d kill him as a deserter or for evading militia law. All men, whether within their territory or not, were required to have some form of identification that they had done their time, that they were participating in alternative jobs or that they have travel documents. She was unsure about this.

 

Posted: Sat Jan 26, 2013 10:19 pm

by Astrophysicist

“You’re better off than me,” Remy admitted, the darkness of the reality of his words somehow diminished my his matter-of-fact tone. He shrugged lightly, staring into the flames as they licked the sides of the scuffed, dented pot. Like her, he was trying his hardest not to dwell on the past—but for very different reasons than his companion. It was best if he recalled nothing at all, nothing that reminded him of his former life and the young man he had never wanted to be. To the world, he was Remy Sterling, a traveler with remedial medical training, a bag of strange instruments, and a rugged scowl. Gregoray Walther II was as good as dead.

“My family didn’t do much hunting,” he continued, not knowing why he went on to speak but allowing himself to enjoy the rare, nearly unheard-of treat of having someone to listen. “I had to learn a lot on my own. About surviving, I mean.”

He looked up to Madison from across the fire, settling back to soak in the heat of the flames while their stew came to a boil. Clearing his throat, he glanced away when their gazes briefly touched, and turned his attention to the puppies. They’d licked clean what Madison had offered them, apparently enjoying the liver, and were now wrestling with renewed energy near the warmth of the fire. He smiled crookedly at his companion’s comment. “That’ll make it easier on us,” he agreed with a laugh that was almost cheerful, almost genuine. “I only eat liver when I have nothing else left.”

The upcoming days would be long and grueling, with equally endless and strenuous nights. Madison’s slaying of the pig was extremely fortunate, for it would provide them with nourishment for quite some time with careful rationing and controlled consumption. And if they had any luck at all, if the universe would reward them for the past day’s struggle with bandits in the forest, the morning would yield at least one successful snare from the traps he had set near the deceased mother dog. The mountains, he knew, were unforgiving at the best of times, and late autumn was a dangerous time to be scaling those narrow passes. They could use all the provisions they could get—especially now that they had two extra puppy-mouths to feed.

Her question caught him off-guard, although it really shouldn’t have; it was a reasonable inquiry, one he had answered countless times over the course of his travels. “I’m looking for my sister,” he told her plainly, truthfully. There was a long pause before he spoke again, his expression suddenly grim beneath the shadow of his hood. “If she’s dead, I’m wasting my time. But I’d never forgive myself if she was alive and I never found her.” He shook his head as though to clear his head of the unpleasant thought. “Where’re you headed, besides around the city?” he asked.

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Posted: Sat Jan 26, 2013 10:38 pm

by Simply

The stew bubble up and she stirred the mixture with the spoon and took up a few pieces and looked at them. They were not quite fully cooked and she dropped them back in, letting them plop with certainty into the liquid. Narrowing her eyes are the soup, she raised her brows and looked at him as she went to reach out to one of the pups. The girl came up to her and licked her palm before bouncing back and tackling her brother to the ground.

“Where is your sister? What happened to her?” Madison’s interest was peaked and she looked at him carefully, wondering what he had done. Where had his sister gone? Did he have a life similar to hers? Had he lived outside of the militia borders? She looked back at the dogs, wondering if she should tell him about her mission, about her desire but trust and friendship and letting him in were just not possible to that extent.

“To Thebes.” That was the name that the man in the farm miles from her old home had told her. The militiamen that killed her parents had been mentioning Thebes. It was the second largest of the General’s strongholds. She felt her heart beat in her chest rapidly and she looked over at him with her ocean blue eyes. “Some people that I want to meet are there.” It was true. She hoped to meet the men that destroyed her family. She hoped to meet them and kill them. Slowly. She would first shoot them in the intestines. She would let the blood slip out of him and watch it before marking his wrists with the names of her parents. She’d keep him alive long enough for him to beg to die and then…then she’d leave him to rot.

“It will take well into the summer months to get there but it’s where I am trying to go.” She shrugged and checked the stew again and realizing it was done, brought the spoon to her lips. She blew on it gently to cool it before sampling it. That was how she usually ate. She held the pot and the spoon out to him, since his bowl had been used to allow the dogs to drink some water. “It’s decent.” It warmed her to the bones and she lowered her hood from around her face, letting her long braid slip down her back.

 

Posted: Sat Jan 26, 2013 10:55 pm

by Astrophysicist

He had spoken the truth. Though his travels so far had produced nothing but further confusion and frustration, he was determined to locate the sister that had been taken from him so young, the sister that had disappeared from his life all those years ago. Since the premature passing of his mentor had cut his underground training short, he’d struggled to find a purpose, a destination. The real Dr. Edgar Sterling had promised to help him investigate the whereabouts of his younger sibling after he’d completed his training, but that opportunity came and went with a crossfire of angry militia bullets.

Remy had barely escaped with his life that day, and he carried the terrifying memory of every grueling second with sickeningly vivid detail. And where the militia had failed to capture him, they had succeeded in fueling the fire of his rage, pushing his hatred of their forces to a new extreme. So he sought out rebel groups, digging for any scrap of evidence of his sister’s whereabouts—they had never found a body on the premises of the commander general’s mansion as they had his mother’s mutilated corpse, so they had simply declared her dead. But Remy, knowing what he did now, suspected that the rebels, somewhere, somehow, had taken her hostage.

When Madison asked about his sister, he had to take a moment to calm his thoughts before he replied, not wanting to betray the rush of emotion that had suddenly engulfed his mind and seized his chest. “I haven’t seen her since in more than eleven years. She disappeared in one of the skirmishes with the militia when we were kids. Killed my mum, too.” He cleared his throat, his voice heavy with genuine emotion. When he glanced up to meet Madison’s gaze, this time he did not look away. His blue eyes simmered with determination.

Her mention of Thebes startled him, however, and he arched his brows. “You want to meet people in Thebes?” he asked, a little dubious. Although he had never been there in person, being one of his father’s largest strongholds, Remy was of course familiar with the organization and the location of the city-like fortress. “What kind of people? From what I’ve heard, Thebes isn’t a very welcoming place. It might be better to steer clear.”

He took the pot and spoon from his companion and sampled their concoction, grateful for something to satisfy the pangs of hunger in his belly. The warm broth chased away the chill that had settled deep in his limbs, and he exhaled slowly, savoring the sensation. Like Madison, he pushed back his hood after he returned the pot, running his fingers through his unruly honey-brown hair as his body warmed.

 

Posted: Sat Jan 26, 2013 11:13 pm

by Simply

Madison looked at his hair when he tossed back his hood. It was a beautiful combination of brown and gold, intertwining with each other to form a color that she couldn’t quite describe in her mind. Sucking in a breath, she realized that she was probably staring and she looked back at the soup pot. She took the pot back from him and took another two bites, savoring it. The soup wouldn’t last through the night so it would be best for them to have full bellies. It would last them until tomorrow evening at least. She was lost to surviving without eating for days.

Swallowing her mouthful, she passed it back. “Yeah.” She licked her lips, trying to figure out what was going on with this conversation thing that they were having. “Just a couple of people that I had been acquainted with briefly. I was told that they were there in Thebes.” She hoped that he wouldn’t pry anymore and so she changed the subject back to his sister.

“Sorry to hear about your sister. Hope she’s alive.” It was all she really knew what to say and she picked up on of the puppies and let the girl lick her nose before it squirmed away and tried to bark at her brother. It made a small yipping noise and she laughed.

An idea hit her and she looked at Sterling. “Do you have any rope or string? We should probably tie something around their necks and keep them close when we travel. We’ll likely have to carry them most of the time but it would be good for them to build their muscles.” She frowned and thought a moment more. “If we happen to get any deer or other animal, we could make a collar. I don’t think the pig skin would be efficient.” That was a little bit of a joke and she shook her head.

Madison motioned for him to pass the soup back to her again and she took two more heavy bites. “Do you want me to take first watch tonight?”

 

Posted: Sat Jan 26, 2013 11:29 pm

by Astrophysicist

“Yeah,” he said grimly, taking a large swallow of soup. “Thanks. I hope she’s alive too.”

Despite his attempts to banish remembrance from his thoughts, the power of his memories was simply too strong to keep permanently at bay. Visions of his mother’s mutilated body flashed through his mind, her naked flesh striped with long open wounds as her delicate skin lay soaked in a lake of crimson blood. Though her murder had been at the hands of the rebel troops of the Final Revolt, it was not those soldiers he blamed for her death—it was his father, his father and everything he stood for, having driven these citizens to such mad, extreme acts of desperation. The militiamen may as well have raped her and slit her throat themselves.

The prospect of going to Thebes made him uncomfortable, and he wasn’t sure if it was because of his hidden past or because it reminded him of all the militia’s wrongdoings in its too-long history. But he also knew that a woman traveling alone, even one as skilled and smart as Madison seemed to be, had very little hope of even penetrating the thick, heavily-guarded walls of the stronghold. He wanted to tell her just that, but he also did not want to seem like he knew too much about the whole thing. She hadn’t pried about his lack of militia mark; perhaps it was wise that he return the favor and say nothing more about Thebes.

He sniffled, taking another mouthful of the broth, and passed the soup back to Madison at her prompt. “Where’s your father now?” he asked instead, his tone gentle with the suspicion that he already knew the short answer. Dead, like all loved ones seemed to be these days. He tapped his hand on the ground to summon one of the pups, thankful for their playful distraction. The female attempted to bound over, but the male got in her way, tripping her as he stumbled over to lick at his fingertips.

“I’ve got some extra rope for snares,” he affirmed. “I’ll have more when I take them down in the morning. Letting them walk is a good idea.” He watched them for a few more moments in silence, listening to the irregular rhythm of the crackling fire. As if on cue with Madison’s question about watch shifts, he stifled a yawn, covering his mouth with the back of his hand. “Yeah, if you don’t mind,” he said, laughing a little. “Fucking intruders cut my sleep short last time.”

 

Posted: Sun Jan 27, 2013 12:07 am

by Simply

“Dead. My mother too.” She looked straight at the ground, watching it as though that little patch of dirt and brush was the more important thing in the entire world. Inhaling slowly, she shrugged and shook her head. “It was a while ago so I took to the road to find the people that I wanted to find and start over.” It wasn’t something that she would have chosen for herself but she had to do it. Licking her lips, she looked over at him and nodded. They could make makeshift leashes for the dogs as soon as they had the materials.

“Yeah. Go for it. I’ll keep an eye on the dogs and keep the fire low. I don’t think we’ll have any more company for a long time and the added warmth will probably help you to sleep better.” She scooted close to the fire and leaned on her pack, crossing her bow and arrows across her lap in case she would need them during the night, though she desperately hoped that she wouldn’t. Madison had endured more excitement and trials in the past two days than she had her entire time on the road prior to meeting Sterling.

She watched as he prepared himself for sleep and the puppies winded down. The girl curled up by Sterling next to the fire to keep warm and her brother laid down beside her. Time passed and Madison listened and just watched the fire, stoking it every now and then to make sure that it would keep them both a little warmer than they had been earlier. She exhaled slowly and the boy dog yawned and stretched, much like a cat would. He sleepily stalked over to her and pawed at her leg until she lowered it and allowed him to climb up on her lap.

He then pawed at her chest and she frowned, wondering what he wanted before she unzipped her jacket a little and he tumbled in. He rested under her breasts and she zipped her jacket back up. All that pocked out was his little nose against her neck. She loosened her scarf so that he could breathe and she smiled down at him. Lowering her nose to his, she whispered. “What am I going to call you?”

 

Posted: Sun Jan 27, 2013 12:20 am

by Astrophysicist

Dead. Madison’s word rang like a gunshot in the quiet forest, and Remy lowered his eyes in respect and understanding. He had suspected as much. But if nothing else, the common sadness between them was just another layer to their combined determination, another bundle of kindling to feed their fire.

In spite of his efforts against it, his thoughts strayed back to his sister. It was difficult to imagine where she might be, yes, but it was more disconcerting to wonder about who his sister might be. Did she remember her past, did she remember him? Did she remember her name, her mother, her bloodthirsty father? Given everything he had been through since his departure from home ten years ago, Remy didn’t like to think about what she may have seen and experienced on her own journeys. She would be eighteen now. If she was even alive. And that was the worst part of all—not knowing.

He looked back to the puppies. The female tugged at the ear of the male, but both of them seemed drowsy after their playful exertion. He nodded to Madison and gestured to the pile of firewood he’d gathered. “There should be plenty, but if you need more for any reason there seemed to be a lot toward the west there beneath those pines.” With that, he unfolded his fur-lined blanket and folded it so half was beneath him and the other half covered his legs and shoulders. He used his pack once again as a pillow, more for comfort than to protect his supplies this time, and closed his eyes to the gentle heat of the fire. He felt the female puppy snuggle up against him, and he smiled a little, placing his gloved hand on her side for additional warmth.

He drifted off to sleep quickly, and this time his slumber was dreamless. Whether that had something to do with the fact that he was warm, the fact that his puppy was pressed against him in dependence, or that he knew Madison’s watchful eye was keeping him protected, he didn’t know—but he was grateful nevertheless. The female puppy stirred and crawled beneath his arm to rest her head on his stomach, and he woke just enough to accommodate the new presence beneath his blanket.

Madison’s voice, though soft, stirred him awake, and he opened his eyes narrowly against the bright glow of the flames. “Hmm?” he asked groggily, lifting his head. “Time to switch already?”

 

Posted: Sun Jan 27, 2013 12:37 am

by Simply

Madison leaned over and woke him, carefully to keep one hand under the puppy over her jacket so that he wouldn’t move when she did. He let out a soft breath against her neck, but otherwise didn’t protest. She smiled slightly and looked down at Sterling. Bright embers of the fire crackled as she had just stoked it. “Hey, your turn.” She said, pushing his shoulder gently. “Sorry, I know it seems fast but I gave you an extra hour since you got so little last time.” She smiled a little, compromising.

She lowered herself to the ground and moved her pack onto its side so that she could sleep on it. She didn’t bother with her blanket this night since the fire would keep her warm enough, especially since the dog was warm against her body. They shared body heat and it comforted her into sleep. She didn’t bother for small talk. She was exhausted from the day and ready for sleep.

Her sleep was deep, as it always was when she was exhausted but she was plagued by dreams of finding her family covered in blood once again. Bright blue eyes moved behind her lids back and forth as she struggled through her dreams and her heart beat rapidly in her chest. After the four hours that she had to sleep, Madison woke right on time, out of habit. Blinking, she stretched and the puppy wriggled against her, as though aware that it was now time to rise. Madison was impressed that the puppy had slept through the night but it hurriedly crawled out of her parka and went to relieve itself after some sniffing.

“We need to dry the pork this morning before we move out.” She said, getting straight to business as the dog yipped at seeing his sister and bounded on her back, knocking them both over. Madison stretched and rubbed at the side of her face. A chill ran down her spine and she grabbed for her thicker gloves, putting them on. “Want to head out by midday? We could make it a good few miles before sunset.” She stoked the fire. “You can check the snares. I’m awake enough now…I think…” She smiled a little a rubbed her eyes.

 

Posted: Sun Jan 27, 2013 12:51 am

by Astrophysicist

It was refreshing to sleep without shivering, to huddle beneath his blanket for comfort rather than to avoid dying of exposure in the freezing night. Like any serious outdoor traveler in the aftermath of the Cold, he wore layers—layers upon layers, in fact—and yet still, even topped with his down-padded winter coat, he rarely found the state of true warmth that he experienced then. With a belly full of hot broth, a slumbering puppy beneath his arm, and a regularly-tended fire by someone he could trust, he was as comfortable as he had been in recent memory.

That did not make him unwary, of course; he knew as well as anyone that the personal state of one’s business or surroundings made no difference against potential life-threatening disruptions. He slept with his knives readily available at his belt, the hand opposite the one cradling his new charge wrapped around the hilt of his lightest, sharpest blade. When he felt the nudge against his shoulder, he tensed but did not attack, remembering as his puppy stirred that he was not in immediate danger. His eyes fluttered open, and he muttered unintelligible protests beneath his breath as he sat up, nudging his furry comrade out of the way as he rolled up his blanket and fed the fire one more time.

The four hours until dawn’s light passed quickly. His puppy snuggled against his knees between him and his fire, and he ran his gloved fingers down her back affectionately. When the sky began to lighten, he shifted positions, preparing to wake Madison. But as he moved, so did she, and he saw that she had awoken on her own. He raised an eyebrow as she sat up and instantly spoke of preparing for their day’s travels, to which he responded with a wordless nod. “Watch them?” he asked, rising to his feet and stretching his stiff muscles as he prepared to check the traps he’d set the previous day. “I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

He set off towards the smell, which, to his relief, had lessened somewhat after the coldness of the night froze the decaying bodies in the leaves. With quiet footfalls, he approached the first of his snares, not surprised to find it empty. He gathered the rope and twine and moved on to the next, which was also vacant. The third, however, seemed to have been triggered, and as he approached he narrowed his eyes through the frost to see a small raccoon ensnared and immobile in the grass. Startled, it shrieked its protest as he approached, but he quickly put it out of its frightened torment by twisting its neck.

With the ropes draped across his shoulder, he carried the raccoon by its striped tail to the campsite, making sure to produce enough noise with his footsteps so as not to startle Madison. He held up his bounty with a partial smile. “Small, but it’s something,” he announced, dropping to his knees and preparing to skin and gut the creature. “We can use the fur too.” Dropping the ropes on top of his pack, he added, “And there’s plenty of rope for leashes. They’ll have room to roam on them. Learn the smells of the forest.”

 

Posted: Sun Jan 27, 2013 12:40 pm

by Simply

Nodding, Madison allowed herself to wake up for a few more moments after her left before she watched the pups tumble around. She made sure they had a little water in the bowl before she removed her gloves and began to stoke the fire. She placed thin stripes of the boar in the pot and allowed them to essentially roast until they were tough but hopefully still tender on the inside. They would need the hard strips when meat grew thin. She would hunt again later on, if they found a place worthwhile after their travels. Hopefully a few squirrels and some rabbits. They needed to be able to fill their packs to the brim with food. The winter would be long.

Madison managed to finish nearly half of the drying of the meat before he returned. The noise he made set her mind at ease and she knew it was him before he arrived. The raccoon hit the ground and the dogs bounded over to smell it. The boy got their first but Madison snapped at him. “No.” She reached out a gloved hand and pulled him back, pushing his little puppy bottom down and looking directly in his eyes. “No.” She repeated and the little tyke almost appeared bashful…for a moment, before biting his sister’s tail and initiating a game of chase, all thoughts of the raccoon lost in their little minds.

“Perfect. It will also help them sleep at night, if we walk them as much as they can be walked.” She licked her lips and placed more meet into the pot, letting it crackle and sizzle and hiss against the metal. “I don’t know what to call him.” She said, looking at the dogs and she realized that she had somewhat laid a claim to the male and she looked down. Would that be all right? Is that how people did things? Did they just choose what they wanted? What if it angered him? She frowned and her brown furrowed. “If you didn’t want him, I mean. I figured they had really decided for us.” She smiled and turned the meat, letting the other side heat thoroughly.

She finished off the meat, laying some on her pack to dry and cool before she would wrap it and divide it between them so that they could each carry the burden. “The fur will be useful to line new gloves when we hit the mountains. I heard from a farmer miles back that to survive, you wear all that you possibly can.” She swallowed and although she was tough and sure of herself, she was nervous about the possibility of dying.

“We also need to find a stream today, if possible. I’m nearly out of water.”

 

Posted: Sun Jan 27, 2013 1:31 pm

by Astrophysicist

Following Madison’s lead, he wrapped his hand around the female pup and lifted her from the dead raccoon, placing her in front of him and looking her straight in her bright brown eyes. She nipped at him, thinking it was time to play, but he would have none of that. “No,” he scolded, making his already-gruff voice darker with disapproval. The pup, spunky and uncertain, cocked her head to the side and began wagging her tiny tail. “No,” he repeated, this time a bit harsher. She froze, then lowered her head before looking up at him sheepishly until the male began to chase her. Satisfied that he had made his point, he shook his head to himself and returned to the raccoon.

Using his smaller knife, he slid its point across the creature’s throat and allowed the blood to drain as he held it by its thick striped tail. When the process was complete—it did not take long for such a small animal—he sliced down the length of its belly and removed the organs from the cavity. Thankfully, the pups had forgotten completely about the strange new thing he’d brought to the camp, and he didn’t have to worry about them getting into the pile of raw meat he was building as he cut.

“What to call him?” he questioned when Madison spoke, then quickly realized she meant giving him a name. Of course. It had been a long time since he’d considered the responsibilities of pet ownership—although in their case it was less a luxury than a case of mutual assistance and companionship—and he recalled that the dogs he’d played with as a child in the palace had indeed been assigned names. Unattractive, strange names, however, no doubt named for their breed lot or specific trainers. Remy had given them his own names during their sessions of play, and he supposed it was only fitting that they do the same for these two. He smiled slightly in understanding, nodding slowly. “I think they chose us, yeah,” he concurred, pausing his knife as he glanced curiously to the female. “I don’t know what to call her either.”

They worked efficiently and simultaneously; Madison seared the pig meat while Remy prepared the small strips of raccoon, slicing the grisly muscle in very narrow pieces that would be good for jerky in the winter months. When he had finished, he carefully began to skin away the fur, keeping as much intact as he possibly could for later use.

“I’m almost of water too.” Remy looked up, wiping his brow with the sleeve of his coat. “It looks like there’s more greenery here than when we first started. My guess is there’s a source nearby. We’ll need to wash up as much as we can.” He looked over his bloodied knives, then glanced with a look of amusement to the dogs. “Think they could use a bath too.”

 

Posted: Sun Jan 27, 2013 1:59 pm

by Simply

It was comforting to have someone around that was working just like she was. They were both trying to survive this world that they were brought into – devoid of all the previous creature comforts that humans had possessed. She often imagined what her life would have been like if she had been born a hundred years before. She had heard about movies and music. She had always wanted to hear music. Her father had heard it when he was young – since he had been a town boy. He had described it as heartbreaking.

Closing her eyes, she inhaled slowly to savor the smell of the meat, as though that would help to make her stomach feel more full. Opening them, she laid out more of the warm meat, careful that the pups didn’t get too close. It wouldn’t do to have them eating it. However, she smiled a little and tossed them each a warm strip, which they smelled cautiously before devouring. Her lips curled into another smile before she finished off the last of the meat in the pot. “I don’t know what would suit him. I don’t know very many names.” She admitted. She knew her mother’s and her fathers and a few people that she had met on the road but not many.

“I want something that sounds rather…intimidating.” She thought that was the right word. “Something that makes people afraid, I mean. Is that right?” It was the first time she had admitted that she was unsure. Her mother had spoken using large words to describe things but much of those Madison had lost on her journey. She could feel the words sometimes, as though they were there but hiding on the other side of the water in her mind. Sometimes they crossed the bridge to her mouth and sometimes they didn’t.

“They certainly could. They do still smell a little like their dead siblings.” She swallowed and laid the meat out to dry. She wished that she had a table to place it on but there was only so much she could do in the forest. Fortunately in the Cold, it would dry the meat quickly and preserve it. She began to wrap the pieces that were already hardened in her meat cloth and packed her bag back up. She hooked the pot and spoon into their proper placed and pushed herself up, before realizing they’d need them to cook his catch. “These pieces should be dry in a moment. Do you need any help with the raccoon? I can cook it after you get done with a slice.”

 

Posted: Sun Jan 27, 2013 2:21 pm

by Astrophysicist

Using his smallest knife, Remy disconnected the last of the tissues from the raccoon skin and piled the skeleton to the side. If they’d had more water, he would have recommended boiling the bones and some of the organs for broth to fill their canteens for nourishment on the go, but it was better to wait until their supplies were heftier. The purity of the water that remained would be essential for keeping hydrated, especially if they weren’t able to find a nearby spring or stream. Doing his best to convince himself that the smell of Madison’s cooking meat was enough to make his belly full, he cleaned the back of the skin and laid it out near the fire to dry as much as it could before they departed.

“I know some names,” he said, frowning, “but none of them are…fitting.” The ones that flew through his mind had all belonged to various high-ranking militia men and their wives, none of whom were deserving of having their names passed on to the little ones they’d found. He thought of his mother’s name, Zinnia, but that didn’t feel right either. His mother had been small, yes, but she’d also been delicate and sheltered—neither quality of which this puppy had demonstrated in its short life, and never would if Remy could help it. And his sister, well…it felt wrong to use the name of a sibling whose current fate he did not even know.

He watched as Madison tossed the pups each a strip of cooked meat, and he found himself smiling. They’d only had them in their care for a day and a night, but already he was glad for the company, for the distraction. “Intimidating,” he repeated, looking to his companion with a nod. “That’s right. And that’ll be fitting, too, although they don’t look like much now.” He laughed lightly, watching as they tumbled clumsily over their tiny feet, chasing one another around their small site.

He wiped his knife on a large leaf, ridding it of the majority of congealed blood, and shifted positions to better reach Madison. “Here,” he announced, lifting a small pile of meat towards her, each strip carefully cut into a long, thin, narrow piece. They would dry quickly over the fire, the moisture evaporating and leaving the essential nutrients hardened and easy to store. Raccoon was not nearly so savory as wild pig or deer, but like squirrel and rabbit, it worked well for long-keeping and jerky. As Madison continued to cook, he continued to cut, working at the unaddressed pile until it had all been cut to adequate size and thickness.

“You can call me Remy, if you want,” he said suddenly, looking up. “Since you were interested in names. Most people call me Sterling, my last name. But I think we’ve been through enough to be on a first-name basis, yeah?” He smiled slightly, handing her another strip of meat to throw in the pot.

 

Posted: Sun Jan 27, 2013 5:24 pm

by Simply

“I didn’t want to name him something that was a plant or animal or something that was…” her shoulder rose in a shrug. She wasn’t sure what she didn’t want it to be but she knew that she wanted it to be fitting. Swallowing, she nodded at him and smiling. “Right now they’re just children and we don’t know them well yet.” She was starting to think of the dog as her own little child. Even when Sterling and her would part, which seemed inevitable, the dog would stay with her until the end. They were to be endless companions.

The long narrow strips were fresh and would make good jerky. She placed them into the pot that she had restored to its place over the fire. They sizzled against the warm bottom of the pan and when she withdrew the first cooked one, she took a big bite, savoring the fresh taste and the warmth that slide down through her. She held out the other half of the meat to him, letting him take it. “I figure we deserve it for being so good with catching them today. It will keep us relatively full before we make camp for the night.”

She continued to cook the rest of them and laid them out to cool. “Remy.” She smiled. “My name is still Madison.” She laughed a little and shook her head. “But you can call me Madi if you want.” Another typical shrug raised her shoulders. When they were finished with all the meat, she laid it out and for the last time, put her pot and spoon away. She settled to the rope, grabbing each pup and measuring their neck before she made a slip leash that would slide over their heads and tighten if they started to run too far away from her and Remy.

Madison handed him one of the leashes for his pup and then wrapped up all the meat and packed her half in her pack before handing him a cloth with the jerky wrapped up in it. “Ready? We should head out before it gets too late if the water source is further than we think.” Whistling gently, the male pup turned and looked at her and she pat her legs to draw his attention. He bounded over and she slipped the leash on him.


   
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simply
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Posted: Sun Jan 27, 2013 5:45 pm

by Astrophysicist

One of the benefits of the cold was how dry the air often became. Their meat, whether cooked or not, would lose its moisture quickly to the chilly breeze, helping to preserve it in addition to the drop in temperature. Likewise, the raw skin of the raccoon was rapidly growing stiff as Remy moved it where the warmth of the fire could not stretch. The heat, he’d found, made the skin malleable later, while the remnants of flesh would dry and be scraped carefully off in a few days. They had been incredibly fortunate despite the terror of their first encounter with one another, and he said a silent, respectful thank-you to both the fallen pig and the snared scavenger.

“My sister was named after a flower, I think,” he admitted. “My mother may have been too, but I’m not sure.” Flowers were difficult to come by in the vast regions affected by the Cold, and as all things with more beauty than function, their elegance was generally reserved for those who could cultivate them themselves. The general’s mansion had always been decorated with bouquets of colorful blossoms from the greenhouses on the grounds, but Remy had never known their names. “You’re right, though. We don’t even know them yet.”

He took the seared jerky gratefully when Madison offered, his mouth watering as soon as the warmth of it crept through his thin gloves to his fingertips. “Thanks,” he said, ripping off a piece with his teeth and savoring the hot, chewy morsel. It was little wonder the pups hadn’t had the mind to run off or stray too far—with warm food like this, there was reason to stick around. He finished the rest of it and finished packing up the rest of the raccoon, carefully wrapping the small bones along with the fresh internal organs. If they found better game—unlikely, but possible nevertheless—the remainder could be used to feed the hungry dogs.

Her laugh lifted his spirits, and he paused in rolling the preserved skin to look up at her. The breeze carried the musical sound to him over the dying crackles of the fire, and he found himself returning her smile automatically. “Madi,” he repeated, experimenting with the syllables on his tongue before nodding his approval. “It’s…” He paused, searching for the right word. “A nickname? Is that the right word?” A shrug. “Well, whatever. I like it.”

He summoned the female pup to him with a tap against his knee, and she trotted over with her tail wagging excitedly behind her. He slipped one of the ropes around her neck, wrapping it over her shoulders and across her chest again. The jerky was still warm when she handed him his wrapped supply, and he tucked it away in his pack alongside the raccoon skin and the rest of the meat. “I’m ready,” he announced. He rose to his feet and waited for Madison to gather the rest of her things, kicking out the rest of the dwindling fire to erase their presence. When she finished, he nodded, and they set off, following the patches of green.

 

Posted: Sun Jan 27, 2013 9:10 pm

by Simply

“I was named after an city where my grandfather was supposedly born. What we you named after?” She asked, curious. She did introduce herself to the farms and small towns that she had traded in and had heard a few names that were fairly unique but she had never come across someone named Remy. It seemed to suit him though and she thought that she might actually be able to say it every now and then. It was in that moment that she realized she had never addressed him by his name.

The way he said her name made her lips curl into a slight smile and redness crept into her cheeks, though she was unsure as to why she felt suddenly warm. “Nickname’s right. That’s what my mom told me, at least. She called it my love name.” A shrug lifted her shoulders and she was glad that he liked her name. It was comforting to know that her companion liked her, even a little bit. She snatched up her pack and shouldered it, the pot smacking her back at it typically did.

Bright blue eyes darted across the ground as she put on her gloves, pulled up her hood and maintained a firm grasp on the leash that she had made. The ground was frosty and crunched under her feet, except the soft green patches that just gave way to her weight and the bouncing of the pup. He quickly attacked his sibling and they rolled around a bit. Madison chuckled as they walked along, following the path that would hopefully lead to a stream or pond to keep them hydrated.

For three hours they walked, in relatively silence before she stopped him, reaching out and placing a gloved hand on his arm. “Do you hear that?” The trickle of water was very faint but she was sure she heard it to their right. “I think it’s over here.” She followed the sound and the dog padded along behind here, clearly exhausted from their long walk and it was probably time that she carried him. She led the whole group before stopped at a small creek.

“Thank goodness.” She breathed, unleashing the dog who bounded and splashed into the stream as though it was manna sent from heaven. He yipped to his sister, wanting her to join.

 

Posted: Sun Jan 27, 2013 9:40 pm

by Astrophysicist

Madison, a city? It sounded familiar from his history lessons so long ago, but he couldn’t place where it had been, or if it even still existed as an inhabited settlement. Somewhere distant, he assumed, and because it had not immediately conjured recognition he assumed it was not a place known for its military base or fortress. Those were names he knew, names he had engrained in his memory, names he had learned to fear and despise. Madison, however, sounded friendlier, more approachable, more human. It seemed an adequate title for his companion if that were the case, and he nodded, interested.

“I don’t know the origin of my name,” he said conversationally, noticing that it was becoming easier to exchange words with her now that he had spent more time in her company. “It’s from ‘Remington,’ although I know ‘Remy’ by itself is a name that used to be used in parts of Europa.” He shrugged. Europa was a nation across the sea to the east, a single conglomeration of what used to be nearly a hundred different countries and territories. Traveling between the two great world forces was not allowed by either government, so very few—if any—people had seen the other since the formation of the militias. He had learned some of its history in relation to the development of the former America, but much had been lost to more pressing matters of survival in the decades since the End.

He slid on his thick gloves and wrapped the end of the leash around his palm several times, giving the female pup plenty of slack for exploration and play. The dogs walked side by side, one following the other if they got sidetracked by a strange scent or object, and occasionally they paused to wrestle as they waited for the slack of their tethers to run out as their human companions trekked. Their pace was brisk but not brutal, and with the treat of half a slice of jerky before setting off, Remy found he was in good spirits as they picked their way through the forest. The greenery grew more lush as the hours slipped by, until finally Madison reached out to stop him, her hand on his arm.

He glanced down at her touch, a little surprised at the contact, and then strained to listen at her prompt. She was right—a faint trickle just to their right, hidden behind a grouping of dense shrubs. He followed her, his pup trotting along at his heels, and smiled softly with relief when they pushed through the branches to reveal a small bubbling stream. Joining her brother, his puppy bounded forward with fascination, and Remy loosened his grip on the rope to let her splash with him. He laughed genuinely, putting down his pack and crouching at the shore. He slipped off his gloves and tossed them safely away from the water, then slipped his bare hands into the gentle current and flexed his fingers.

He scooped up a handful of liquid and inspected it closely, searching for impurities with his eyes before taking a sniff just above its surface. Tossing the droplets back to the source, he slipped a damp finger in his mouth to taste the droplets—just enough to detect harmful substances without poisoning himself if there were any present—then looked up at Madison. “Seems decent,” he announced, dipping his hands in once again before bringing them up for a legitimate sip. “We should wash everything, just in case. All utensils and knives. Probably the tips of your arrows, too.” He reached to his belt and unsheathed the two knives there, dipping the sharp ends in the cold water. “Here, I can get started.”

 

Posted: Mon Jan 28, 2013 11:37 pm

by Simply

Madison’s eyes watched his hands penetrate the rippling surface of the water and she was nervous for a moment. People could get sick from tainted water but this looked pure – so far out here. One good thing about the Cold was the few viruses survived the freezing night temperatures and she could drink the water most of the time. Often, though, she preferred to boil it. The pups lapped at the water and bounded around, getting their rope leashes entirely soaked but at least they were getting clean. Swallowing, Madison, dropped her back by the side and rummaged through to take out the cup and things that she needed to wash.

Carefully, she scrubbed them with a small cleaning cloth that she used (she had made sure to take a lot of cloth for food, bandaging and cleaning when she left her home). She worked in silence beside him, letting the pups roam but whistling and praising them both when they returned like she asked. As much as she wanted them to clean themselves, she worried that they would wander off or attract an unwanted predator. She kept a watchful eye on them all the while. When they were done, she placed everything back in its rightful place after drying it off. It wouldn’t do to have it freeze.

The male bounced over and began to shake himself dry, clearly having had enough of the chilly waters that filled the stream. His sister followed, pulling on his leash and making him fall to the side. They tumbled with each other as they dried and Madison used her drying cloth to rub him down so that he wouldn’t be too cold. Her pack, luckily, was one of the large traveling packs that people used to travel around Europe with. It could fit nearly everything that she would need, especially since fashion was no longer a big object. She had four layers of clothes on at any given time and two pairs of everything, so that she always had a clean one to change into once a week or so – weather and time permitting. She had necessary room for food and cooking and enough to make new arrows. She also had some other odds and ends that kept her bag at capacity.

Looking at him, she wasn’t sure how to broach the topic that she wanted to. Rubbing the back of her neck, she lowered her hood and withdrew a small towel from the bottom of her large pack. A small bar of soap was wrapped in it and she held it all tightly in her hands. “I need to wash up…So…” She looked at him and then hurried looked away as the dogs curled up beside her pack and watched them both with their brown eyes. “I shouldn’t take long but I didn’t know…” Licking her lips, her bright blue eyes shot up across his face, hesitant in how to phrase this. “I have spare clothes so I can switch quickly after washing.”

 

Posted: Tue Jan 29, 2013 1:45 pm

by Astrophysicist

It was too risky to build a fire again, and he knew there was always a risk in drinking unboiled water from an unfamiliar source. It would do for washing up, for cleansing their utensils and their bodies, and when they made camp again that evening there would be time to heat the contents of their canteens. This far from any semblance of civilization, it was better to err on the side of safety. Even with the contents of his satchel, he wasn’t sure he had enough medicinal supplies left to cope with an unexpected virus. Especially one that infected them both.

He continued washing their wares, the methodical action of dipping and scrubbing and rinsing somehow calming in combination with the playful yips and splashes of the puppies. He spread a piece of cloth from his pack near the bank and rested the finished pieces there to dry. Catching the attention of the female pup, she bounded over, showering him with splashes where her paws broke the surface. Remy arched a brow and slid his hand into the current, then raised it quickly, sending a flying wave over the young dog’s ears. She yipped, startled, then pranced forward, stretching out her front paws while her tail remained in the air.

Remy laughed good-naturedly, tugging on the trailing leash to bring her closer, then ran his hands along her back to wash away the dirt and grime that had accumulated since their rescue. He was surprised to find larger patches of dark fur beneath the layers of dust. The pup quickly grew bored of her bath, however, and bounded away as soon as he relinquished his grasp on her leash, hopping to dry land and shaking herself off with a spray of mist.

He gathered the utensils and packed them away again, using the towel to dry off the pup’s fur. He glanced up when Madison spoke, letting the dog slip away to join her brother near his companion’s pack, and realized quickly what she was alluding to. Traveling alone, one did not have to abide by tropes of privacy; it was one of the very few benefits of such an endeavor. He nodded his understanding.

“Oh,” he said, a little embarrassed, “yeah. Of course.” He cleared his throat and rose to his feet. “I’ll, uh, get washed up over here. Just downstream.” Rummaging through his pack, he, too, pulled out a bar of crude lye soap and a cloth for washing, then wrapped his spare clothes and tucked them under his arm. “Just, uh, just whistle when you’re done, okay?”

 

Posted: Tue Jan 29, 2013 8:26 pm

by Simply

The embarrassment on his face made her cheeks burn with a bright red fire underneath. Sapphire blue eyes looked down at her towel and her soap that she had traded a rabbit skin for a month or so back. “Thanks.” She muttered in response, brushing her hair back. “I’ll watch the dogs so you don’t have to take them with you.” She said, waiting for him to walk downstream before she began to hurriedly undress. The cold winter air chilled every single part of her body and she stepped into the water, the dogs watching her movements.

She slipped into the stream as much as she good, though its shallow depth made it difficult for her to get as clean a she wanted initially. Using the soap, Madison ran it over her body, followed by a heavy handful of water and rubbing it into her soft skin. The pale glow of her skin began to shine through the dirt and sweat that had accumulated over the last few days. It was nice to feel the water wash away everything that she carried with her. Although her bathing usually lasted no more than 5 minutes, it was nice to take a moment just to become clean, emotionally and physically.

Finally, she knelt and dunked her head into the water, running the soap through her hair to get it clean. She stepped hurriedly to the edge of the stream and grabbed her towel, running it through her hair first and then across her body. She wrapped it around, barely holding it together by tucking it into itself. Hurriedly, but with precision, Madison braided her hair and then wrapped the braid around itself and pinned it into place in a tight bun on her head. It was the best way to allow it to dry without making her neck frigid with water droplets.

After she dressed in another pair of clothes, the pups looked up for a moment but their laid back down. Clearly they were exhausted from all the traveling that they had done. Madison knew, as she slipped her jacket on and zipped it up tightly, that she would end up carrying the little tyke the rest of the way. She filled up her water canteen and placed it in the side holder of her pack. Unsure, she bit her lip and looked in the direction that Remy had walked. Hesitantly, Madison pursed her lips and whistled low a tune that her father had used to hum when they would work in their small garden.

 

Posted: Tue Jan 29, 2013 9:18 pm

by Astrophysicist

Their embarrassment was mutual, although Remy knew there was no reason for it. They were giving one another the proper space for privacy, and besides, he was a doctor—he was more accustomed to the human anatomy than most, and he’d seen his fair share of unclothed bodies. Still, there was something about the fact that this was someone he knew—or at least knew better than anyone else, which was perhaps a sad realization to make considering he’d traveled with her barely more than forty-eight hours—that made the situation all the more awkward, and with slightly flushed cheeks he made his way downstream and out of sight of his companion.

Bathing in the aftermath of the Cold could be a dangerous game. The perpetual winter could quickly turn an innocent cleansing to a situation of life-threatening hypothermia, and it was well-known in Remy’s experience that any degree of remaining moisture, however small, could endanger the smaller extremities with the threat of frostbite. Fortunately, despite the chilly air and the icy temperature of the stream itself, the wind was calm and the water was swift. In a routine he had established long ago on the road, he laid out his clean garments and undressed from his old ones one section at a time.

He started by removing his coat and underlayers, leaving his chest, shoulders, and arms bare. With the crude, homemade lye soap he’d acquired as payment from a patient, he wet only one limb at a time and scrubbed carefully and efficiently, drying the patches of skin as he went. He knelt, then, dipping his scalp beneath the surface of the water, washing the oil and grime from his messy caramel locks. He used the suds that dripped down his neck to clean his shoulders, back, and abdomen, then rinsed with a cloth, dried the remaining skin, and dressed his top half in the clean garments. Swiftly, he repeated the process with his lower half, then re-folded the soiled clothes to keep in his pack to be boiled later.

He toweled his hair once again, unconcerned that it was in need of a trim and stuck up every which-way, and waited for Madison’s signal. He wondered briefly if she would even summon him back, or if she would make off with his belongings and the dogs and leave him stranded in the wilderness. Thankfully, his doubts were banished when he heard a low whistle, and he almost smiled, recognizing the tune as an old folk song he’d learned secondhand from working-class patients he’d treated on his travels.

Rather than announce his approach with words, he hummed the remainder of the melody, his low baritone resounding from his throat like tame distant thunder. “Where’d you learn that?” he asked conversationally, finishing the musical phrase. He cleared his throat, carefully stuffing his clothes in his pack. “I’ve heard farmers sing it. And travelers.” He looked up, studying her, noticing how different she looked sans the layer of sweat and grime. “Do you know the words?”

 

Posted: Tue Jan 29, 2013 9:32 pm

by Simply

When he arrived, she heard him humming and she turned around, shocked that he knew it. Her eyes displayed her surprised and the little male dog yipped at Remy as he approached, as if he too were surprised by the doctor’s knowledge. Madison raised her eyebrows and then he started talking so she decided that her curiosity could wait until he finished. When she went to ask him if he knew the words, he asked if she did.

Shaking her head, a frown pressed itself to her lips. “No, sadly. My father knew the words. He would hum it when we would work together sometimes when I was little. I wish I had learned them but after a while, he wouldn’t sing anymore and only hummed during the day. My mother said that he had a beautiful singing voice but when I asked he said singing was for other times.” Confusion lines wrinkled her forehead at the memory of it and she wished that she had pressed him for more information when he had still been alive.

“Could you teach me the words?” She asked, softly, as though shy to even consider something like that. A blush pressed itself to her cheeks and warmed her through before shaking her head a little and moving to collect her things. Even though Remy and Madison were beginning to gather their items and moving about, both pups rested comfortably together as they dried their fur. As she was about to turn away from him once again, she noticed absentmindedly that he was rather handsome when the dirt and blood and stink had been pushed off of his body by soap and fresh water.

“I thought that we could –” Right as she was speaking, she pressed her hand against the trunk of a tree and a sharpness slice her palm open. She inhaled sharply and made a soft exclamation “fuck.” She pulled her hand away and held it out, looking at the blood well up and drip around the side of her hand in steady streams as she stood there, uncertain if she wanted to risk dunking it in the stream that was not entirely pure. She stood there, holding her bleeding hand with her good one.

 

Posted: Tue Jan 29, 2013 10:09 pm

by Astrophysicist

The surprise evident in her expression was endearing, and he found himself smiling slightly in spite of himself. He looked away, turning his attention to the female pup, who seemed pleased to see him again—she bounded forward, her tail wagging back and forth so quickly it was barely visible in the air, and he crouched down to run his hand down her back. She licked his hand, then jumped up to place her front paws on his knee. He chuckled. It was nice—and also somewhat strange—to be missed. It was a feeling he’d not often known in his life.

Her disappointment at not knowing the words made him raise his brows with his own surprise this time, but he furrowed them again when she continued with her explanation. “Singing should never be for another time,” he said, his voice coming across gruff when he’d meant to be reassuring. He winced, looking at her apologetically, and continued. “Singing gets you through bad times. That’s what my mother taught me.” Offering her a smile, he nodded slowly. “It’s why people still sing that song. Supposed to give them hope, you know?”

He rose to his feet, lifting his pack to his shoulder. But when Madison’s curse broke the stillness of the forest and she held out her hand, dripping with crimson, he dropped it again. “Don’t put it in the water,” he warned, voicing her same concern. “Let me see. Here, sit.” He lowered himself to the ground and threw open his pack, taking out the small leather case where he kept some of his supplies. He took her hand gingerly, almost afraid to touch her, and dabbed away the blood with a piece of clean gauze. “You might need a stitch or two,” he told her quietly. “That part of your hand is prone to infection because of how often it gets used. The faster we can get it to close, the better.”

Remy rested her hand on his knee and put pressure on the gauze with one hand while the other unzipped the leather pouch further to retrieve a bottle of antiseptic. He drew out a small length of surgical thread from a miniscule plastic bag, threading it on a tiny curved needle with practiced ease that he then doused with the clear fluid. “This is going to sting,” he told her, grimacing on her behalf. Tipping the bottle just so, he poured a few droplets of antiseptic directly onto her palm and tossed aside the bloodied gauze.

“This is going to hurt,” he told her bluntly, searching her blue eyes. “You don’t have to watch.” He straightened the thread and paused before he began, allowing her to gather her thoughts. To put her at ease, he began to hum, replaying the previous tune. When he pierced her flesh gently, he transitioned from the throaty sound to words, singing to her softly as he worked. He had always been a man of few words, but his mother had told him even as a boy that when he sung he could command mountains. He drew in a breath, a little shy. “It goes,

Ring them bells, ye heathen from the city that dreams
ring them bells from the sanctuaries ’cross the valleys and streams;
For they’re deep and they’re wide,
and the world is on its side,
and time is running backwards
and so is the tide.”

He cleared his throat as he tied off the chain of stitches, severing the remaining thread with his knife and looking up at Madison. He realized he was still cradling her hand in his own, and he slowly withdrew, mopping at the residual specks of crimson blood with his eyes downcast.

 

Posted: Tue Jan 29, 2013 11:58 pm

by Simply

The blood pooled in her palm at first, which she had cupped to try and keep the wound from splitting wider. It pooled and then spilled over, like a cup that had been given too much wine. She watched, not exactly in pain and certainly not enjoying the sensation. Both pups looked up when she had exclaimed but neither moved, as if they could assess the urgency in the air and the importance that they not get in the way. Madison’s eyes watched blood, as though she was in a temporary state of shock.

When Remy told her to sit, however, she immediately did so. Her bottom met the ground but her eyes maintained their focus on the blood and the pain that she was steadily beginning to feel. It was deeper than any cut she had ever gotten and she wondered, temporarily, if she would survive this cut. It was a morbid thought for the early 2000s but now it was very much a possibility.

When he spoke to her about suturing the wound she hesitated. Madison had never had stitches. She knew what they were and she understood the concept but she had never received the procedure herself. Bright blue eyes met his with some alarm but she merely nodded as she set her teeth together. She could be brave when she needed to be, but that didn’t keep the sting of tears from her eyes when he initially pieced her flesh. The automatic response to gasp and inhale sharply was suppressed, but she did take her good hand and stick it in her pocket and grip all the fabric within tightly.

However, he began to sing and she looked from the wound to him in even more surprise than before. His voice sounded like a thousand thunderstorms collaborating to create the most beautiful symphony the forests had ever heard. It was deep and strong and the words made tears rolls down her cheeks. Madison’s nose began to run as she cried, not in pain, but in awe. She didn’t gasp or sputter or choke while she cried. Rather, she just let soft, silent tears roll down her face, dripping onto the sleeves of her jacket. She didn’t make any move to stop them from running down her face until he had tied the stitches and stopped singing.

Fascination was rooted deep inside of her and she found the warmth of his hand lingered on her own, even as he withdrew. Finally, she realized that he face was soaked and now bitterly cold. She hurried ran her forearms across her face to clear them of stains and inhaled sharply through her nose to prevent it from running down her chin. “Thank you.” She didn’t make any movement to get up, keeping her eyes on his face, even though his gaze was turned away. “You didn’t have to do that.”

 

Posted: Thu Jan 31, 2013 3:08 pm

by Astrophysicist

He kept his eyes fixed strictly on his work as he sutured, doing his best to ignore the suppressed reactions to the pain he was causing. A trail of less-than-perfect stitches could be just as dangerous as an untreated wound during this day and age, when infection reigned king over the rarity of antibiotics. Food was scarcer to come by even in heavily populated regions, and the lack of proper nutrition generally made the body more prone to such bacterial invaders. To be injured, even with something as small as Madison’s cut, was to toss the dice against an untimely death.

Remy did not often sing in the company of others, and he had never actually performed a song while treating a patient before. Judging by his companion’s reaction, however, he wondered if there was a good reason he had not; she seemed a bit startled, perhaps, and although she was not cringing for him to quiet his melody and had not interrupted him to politely ask him to stop, she seemed…uncomfortable, all the same. He finished up the line of careful knots as the old folk tune came to a close on his lips, and he glanced up when he had finished, a little surprised to see that tears were flowing freely down her cheeks. His face flushed slightly.

Figuring her reaction was simply in response to the pain in her nerve-rich palm, he said nothing, breaking away his gaze as he searched for a stretch of clean bandage to protect the freshly-sutured wound. He wrapped a narrow strip of soft beige fabric around her hand, tying it snugly around the base of her thumb. “Should keep it from bleeding any more,” he said shortly, still avoiding her eyes as he packed up the remainder of the thread—he had to save every piece he possibly could—and dipped the bloodied needle in the stream to be rinsed clean. “And it should fit beneath your glove.”

When his supplies were completely put away, he finally glanced to Madison again, suddenly a little embarrassed that he had sung for her. He responded to her expression of gratitude with a simple nod, and he licked his dry lips before he spoke again. “Try to move it as little as possible until it can form a proper scab,” he advised her, his tone somewhat strangled as he slipped his own gloves back on and rose to his feet. He held out a hand to her non-injured side, offering to help her to her feet. “We should take it easy for the rest of today and find somewhere to camp early. It’s risky to exert yourself until it heals s’more.”

He tried to offer her a smile. “There are more words to the song,” he said, trying to be conversational to distract her from the ache of her cut. He tapped on his thigh, summoning the pups closer. “I can teach you as we walk if you want. I won't sing it, but it might keep your mind off of your hand.”

 

Posted: Thu Jan 31, 2013 7:42 pm

by Simply

“Okay.” She breathed in response to his doctorly instructions. She needed to make sure that she never, ever got anything infections, particularly her hands. If she lost the use of her hands then she would be completely unable to fire a bow, to provide for herself and ultimately, she would be completely useless. She wiped her eyes and blinked them multiple times in order to clear her vision. Madison looked at her hand and ran her uninjured fingertips across the palm of her hand, feeling the fabric that he had wrapped around to protect it.

Pulling on one glove gingerly, she made sure that her bare hand was not used. Bright blue eyes looked at her things and she was thankful that she had packed before she had foolishly slammed her hand into the sharp object that protruded from the tree. She looked it over, noticing that there was a sharp metal object protruding from it and she frowned. It must be a remnant of the world before the Cold. Hopefully, nothing would happen from rust – though the metal didn’t look like it had rusted.

She picked up her pack and put it on before rousing her little pup and picking him up. She made sure that the leash was in her hand as well so it wouldn’t drag on the ground behind him. Madison placed her bare, wounded hand into her pocket, unable to put a glove on and knowing that it would get frozen if not. Cradling the dog in one hand, she looked at him and smiled. “I would really like that.”

Closing her eyes for a minute, she inhaled and then opened her eyes. They walked for a short distance before she licked her lips and spoke. “You should sing more, you know. I mean not necessarily to me but in general.” She shrugged a little and the pup gave a soft mew of protest at the movement, which caused the archer to smile at the dog and then looked at her human companion again. “You have a lovely voice. I had only ever heard my parents sing. I heard that in some of the militia cities, people are paid to sing to the general.”

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Posted: Thu Jan 31, 2013 8:10 pm

by Astrophysicist

Remy watched his companion for a moment as she studied her wrapped palm. She was wise to place it in her pocket, protected both from the cold and from any additional movement she might be tempted to make, or make without thinking. He lifted his satchel to his shoulders before bending down to retrieve the female pup’s leash, which was still damp from their play in the creek. The four of them each looked much different than they had prior to their baths, and the general’s son smiled crookedly.

He reached down and scooped up his pup, allowing her to nibble on his gloved finger for a moment before he draped the slack from the leash over his elbow and unzipped two of his layers. The pup, so obviously wanting to play but lacking the energy from their half day’s exhausting trek, opened her jaws wide with a yawn. Remy tightened the elastic bands threaded through the hem of his outer coat and then tucked her inside, each loaning the other body heat while allowing both his hands to be free. She struggled for a moment, then settled into a comfortable position against his stomach and chest, her little brown nose poking out from the top of the half-closed zipper.

They set off at a reasonable pace, neither too sluggish nor too ambitious, and made quite a bit of progress before Madison broke the silence between them with her comment. He felt his face grow warm with a slight flush, a reaction he hoped would be masked somewhat by the blush from the cold air already present on his cheeks. Nevertheless, he cast his gaze down and struggled to find the words to say. It had been a very long time since he had been on the receiving end of a compliment, and despite his upbringing in a world of stiff propriety and manners, he found he no longer knew how to respond. “Thank you,” he said at last, simply, glancing at her quickly before looking away.

But what bothered him more than her sweet flattery was the second part of her statement. Her words prompted a flashback of memory he’d rather have pushed away. He remembered those guests, the peasants and workers with calloused hands and dirt beneath their fingernails despite their efforts to look presentable for their commander, who always entered their home looking terrified and hateful at once. Remy had not often attended such soirees, but the few he could recall had always made him simultaneously uncomfortable and sympathetic. They were paid, yes, and often a decent sum of money or goods if their voice was good, but Remy knew now that they had only come out of necessity, braving the palaces in hopes of a warm meal for their families.

“Yes,” he said slowly, a little distantly. “I’ve heard that too.” He tried unsuccessfully to return her smile, then decided he had little to lose in proceeding with the song. Keeping his tone low, he began again, humming at first and encouraging her to join.

“Ring them bells, Saint Peter, where the four winds blow;
ring them bells with an iron hand so the people will know
that it’s rush hour now
on the wheel and the plow,
and the sun is going down upon the sacred cow.”

When he smiled again this time, it was more genuine, a little less shy. “I don’t know a lot about its origins other than it’s normally sung by laborers,” he admitted. “I think Saint Peter had something to do with Old World religion, before the Cold. Before the End.”

 

Posted: Tue Feb 05, 2013 11:29 pm

by Simply

While the walked, occasionally, Madison had to shift the dog back and forth between her arms, until her fingers got too cold and she had to put them back in her pocket. She should have been more careful, she chastised herself silently as her fingers became too numb to hold the sleeping pup in her arms. He protested in annoyance at the movement but Remy distracted her with his words and she didn’t bother too much that she had upset the pup.

“I don’t know much about religion.” She admitted when he had stopped singing. Madison may not be astute at human emotions but she had realized that he seemed a little off put by her compliment. Maybe that had been inappropriate to say to him – to a person or just because he was male or maybe because they didn’t know each other well? Madison wasn’t sure but put it in her mind to remember later so that she wouldn’t make the same mistake twice. “My grandmother was apparently a religious woman after the Cold calling it the…”She pursed her lips against the cold wind, thinking.

A long moment past. “Poclipse?” She furrowed her brow, unsure before she moved on. “I like the tune. I wish I could sing but I don’t think it would sound like yours does.” She shrugged as though it didn’t really bother her that much. Sighing, she hoisted the dog up further just to give her arms a chance to relax for a long moment. Then she remembered something her mom used to do while she cooked. “My mom used to chant, maybe? It wasn’t really singing but more of fast speaking.” Her lips curled into a smile at the thought. “She would do it when she cooked or helped my dad prepare the meat we caught.”

Inhaling slowly, she began, smiling as she remembered the moments she had spent with her parents in their kitchen.

The fox went out on a chilly night,

Prayed to the Moon to give him light,

For he had many a mile to go that night

Before he reached the town-o, town-o, town-o.

He had many a mile to go that night
before he reached the town-o.


She laughed a shook her head. “It was such a silly thing.”

 

Posted: Wed Feb 06, 2013 6:52 pm

by Astrophysicist

Religion even in these troubled times was controversial, and Remy, having spent his childhood in luxury, had been forced to attend private masses held for only the highest ranking members of his father’s militia. Though it tended to be reserved for the wealthy and esteemed—perhaps because they felt some sort of unconscious guilt for their status and well-being, perhaps because they felt they owed some kind of thanks for the blessing of their easy lives—threads of the old belief systems still lingered in the countryside. Though it seemed to hav”e survived more in story and song than in practice or praise, Remy knew it lived on in various levels of importance to those who fell on hard times, and he did not disparage anyone for wanting someone to blame—or trust—when hope was dim.

“Apocalypse?” he asked curiously, the word strange on his tongue. “I think that was the word. Does that sound right?” It had been years since he’d heard the word spoken aloud, back when he’d received his history lessons from the stuffy old woman who seemed more spiteful than thankful for her position amongst the military greats. Remy had always felt a little sorry for her, but he had never voiced those concerns aloud. Now that he was older, he understood her position; she’d been one of the last people of high education, and he doubted anyone else held as much old world knowledge as her.

Madison’s smile in remembrance of her mother was contagious, and Remy found himself glancing sidelong at his traveling companion, his own lips tugging upwards at the corners. “I’ve heard villagers chant it in the east, like a nursery rhyme,” he said eagerly, licking his lips. “It has a tune too, I think. You can sing it. Here.” He took in a deep breath, hoping she might join in if she knew the second verse.

“He ran right up to the farmer’s pen,
Ducks and geese were kept therein!
He said, “A couple of you gonna grease my chin
Before I leave this town-o, town-o, town-o.
A couple of you gonna grease my chin
before I leave this town-o.”

The words came out in a rush, and he laughed as he finished. “My mum knew that song too. She used to sing it to my sister at bedtime, and I’d listen from the other room.”

 

Posted: Sat Feb 09, 2013 9:15 am

by Simply

Madison laughed delightedly when he started to actually sing the song. Her face flushed a little against the wind and she enjoyed the sound of his voice dancing upon it. The young woman had never really tried to sing but was almost nervous to do so. She supposed it was because if she sounded like a cat trying to get out of a bag, she would be embarrassed and feel completely inadequate next to him. After all, it would be hard not to since he had the voice of a thousand sunbeams.

For a moment after her laughter died, she didn’t say anything before she remembered the next verse.

He grabbed the great goose by the neck
He threw a duck across his back
And he didn't mind the quack, quack
And the legs all danglin' down-o, down-o, down-o
He didn't mind the quack, quack
And the legs all danglin' down-o

She gave a shot a singing and it wasn’t entirely unpleasant. Her voice sounded like the soft patter of rain and felt like a gentle caress of a lover’s hand. It was nothing so moving as his – which commanded attention with his kind ferocity and could have made mountains kneel before him in shame at a lack of their own greatness. After she finished, she realized that it was the first time he had mentioned a parent and she wondered where he had grown up. Most stories of travelers on the road these days were tragic, horrid tales so she didn’t ask. It wouldn’t due to ruin such a lovely moment between them.

They had walked a long way so far and her arms were growing weary and her hand bandage likely needed to be assessed for any sign of bacteria festering beneath it. With a happy smile, she turned to him, “Do you think we should start looking for a place to camp? There should be a town within the next few miles tomorrow where we could stop and trade.” She needed to trade the small tusks of the wild boar for some things she might need. As much as she enjoyed avoiding any type of settlement, it was the best place to obtain items necessary for her travels.

The pup seemed to rouse and scramble in her arms so she stopped and set him down gently, letting him bound around until he ran smack into Remy’s leg.

 

Posted: Sat Feb 09, 2013 5:34 pm

by Astrophysicist

Her laughter encouraged him. It was a strange sensation, to have the reinforcement to continue; he found himself smiling through the melody, interrupting his musical syllables with a few coughs of his own laughter. He finished his verse and looked to his companion, grinning broadly now. The proverbial ice had been broken, and he felt more comfortable now, glad that they were able to share in something as innocent and diverting as an old, playful folk song. In the violent world they’d experienced together already, it was reassuring to indulge in a lighthearted activity that required no bloodshed, no fear.

Remy allowed her to sing the next verse without joining in, listening in awed silence, his lips still wearing an impressed smile. Her voice was soft and tender, timid; where his was rich and commanding, hers was subtle and sweet. She was the gentle drizzle to his distant thunder, and together, their voices swirled into a well-matched stormy symphony that spoke of their own unique pain and heartache. He thought for a moment about his mother, how her voice had been a pronounced soprano—the last woman’s voice he had heard rendition this particular song—but pushed the thoughts away, not wanting to spoil the kernel of happy amusement that had nestled warmly in his chest.

“You have a pretty voice,” he commented, watching her in his peripheral vision as they walked. He unzipped his jacket a little further, allowing his pup—who had until that moment been sound asleep—to stick her black nose back into the cool air. He smiled down at her, reaching one arm across his torso to hoist her further up. His gesture only succeeded in rousing her further, however, and she yipped when she saw her male companion prancing about their heels in the leaves. “Hush,” he told her, pulling the zipper down until it released and lowering her to the ground. He wrapped the end of the leash around his fingers, stuffing his hands in his pockets.

She bounded around them in circles. Remy stepped over the leash with a brow furrowed in mock irritation, then laughed when the two dogs collided. “Do you think there’s another water source nearby?” He looked to Madison curiously. He knew that towns and settlements outside major cities frequently settled near springs. Their supplies had not depleted since their departure that morning, but it was always a blessing to find a place to rest with water flowing nearby. Besides, he had laundry to do, which would need a fire to dry in a reasonable amount of time.

Madison’s pup, chased by the female, ran smack into Remy’s boot. He chuckled, then reached down to scoop the male up. He held him up, looking into his eyes, and smiled. “Behave yourself,” he told the pup. “You have to set a good example for your little sister.” Placing him back on the ground to romp with his furry companion, he smiled, then looked back to Madison. “I’ll need to check your hand again tonight,” he said. “How’s it feel? Can you fit your glove over the bandage?”

 

Posted: Mon Feb 11, 2013 12:03 am

by Simply

“Thanks.” A hot blush raced across her cheeks quickly, before settling down the back of her neck and disappearing. Her voice would never command the attention of a crowd but it was nice to know that she at least had his approval. A smile graced her lips and she enjoyed the moment that they had shared together where she didn’t have to think about bandits, or food, or survival. She let the pup down and maintained a firm grasp in her good hand on the dog’s leash.

Madison watched appreciatively when Remy scolded the dog. Her bright blue eyes danced as she watched him, before considering if there was a water source nearby. “Likely but I think that there is a town closer by and it is likely militia affiliated. They would have a firm hold on the water supply and charge more than I could afford. We should ratio our water until we pass through tomorrow and hopefully can find some further along.” Their leashes tangled together but Madison quickly righted them, brushing her wounded hand’s fingers across her forehead.

At his mention of it, she looked at the bandage and shook her head. “I’d have to spread my fingers to put on the glove. I think that might split my stitches.” She frowned deeply. Bright blue eyes bore into the bandage as though she could make it heal just by the power of her will. Unfortunately, that was not the case. She put that hand back into her pocket to keep it warm as they walked along at a slower pace than before.

Finally, the sun began to set and she stopped in the clearing, looking around before noting some small covering to their right. “We should probably set up there. We could tie them to the base of that shrub. I don’t like the idea of them being allowed to roam. A hawk could get them.” She pursed her lips and watched them bound about before continuing on her way towards the place she had noted. Once they arrived, she dropped her pack and tied the leash to the branch of the bush that she had been eyeing.

She pulled her hand out again and looked at it before she held it out to him. “Want to bandage it up before we make some dinner? I don’t think that a fire would be wise – which means we’ll probably need to eat some of the dried meat from this morning. I had hoped to make a soup but –” She shrugged and felt the tightness of the stitches in her hand and knew that whenever it came time to remove them, it wouldn’t be a pleasant experience.

 

Posted: Tue Feb 12, 2013 9:30 pm

by Astrophysicist

Militia affiliated. Bile burned the back of his throat in sudden panic when she uttered those words, but he bit back his shock and nodded expressionlessly. Of course it would be. They weren’t so far removed from more populated areas than the dense woods would have them believe. And where there were larger numbers of people gathered in one place, there would be militia to supervise them—to keep them in line, of course, but also to feed their numbers with recruits. The hair on the back of Remy’s neck stood on end.

As he had already shown Madison, he did not possess the traditional mark of militia men—his wrists were unsullied and unmarked, with no evidence of the usual crude tattoo marks that acted as permanent badges of service. To an outsider, that meant he was either unfit for service—which was obviously not the case, and at any rate, those people were marked with black circles on their palms—or he was a deserter. For young men, desertion or avoidance was punishable by death, and the fatal sentence would only be carried out after several years of forced military service.

The sky darkened quickly behind the thick forest canopy above. He gave a tug on his pup’s leash as Madison pointed out a suitable campsite for the night. Remy followed her as they picked their way past the thick shrubbery, silently agreeing that it was probably the best they would find in what little daylight remained. He placed his pack at the base of a tree and looped the pup’s leash around the same branch that Madison had selected, thankful for the chance to sit down and rest after a long day on their feet. With a tired sigh, he rolled his shoulders back and slipped off his gloves.

He took her hand wordlessly with one hand, reaching into his pack with the other to retrieve another length of gauze. “It may sting,” he warned, squinting a little through the dim light of the twilight. “The blood may have stuck to the fabric as it clotted. You can look away.” Methodically, he untied the knot at the base of her thumb and unwrapped her bandage, happy to see that the wound had held together well. He tossed aside the bloodied cloth and rested her wrist on his knee as he prepared the new strip. “You did good, not moving it,” he said as he worked, gnawing at his bottom lip as he wound the gauze around her hand once more.

Tying it off at the base of her thumb once more, he nodded his approval and sought her gaze, her hand still cradled gently in his. For a moment more he said nothing, transfixed by her fierce blue eyes until a sharp yip from one of the playing dogs brought him back to reality.

“Rest your hand. I’ll unpack the meat,” he said huskily, reaching into his bag once again. His hand emerged with a large deerskin mitten, and he held it out to his companion, a little hesitant. “I…ah, here. You should take this. You can keep your fingers together tonight. It’ll get cold without a fire, and we can’t risk traumatizing the hand.”

 

Posted: Tue Feb 12, 2013 10:05 pm

by Simply

When he took her hand, her heart pounded in her chest. It thudded its way from her chest and all the way to her toes, which began tingled at the sensation. Swallowing, she noted his concern and shook her head. “I’m not squeamish.” Her eyes trained on the bandage as he untied and unwound it, taking it away from her hand. The wound had begun to heal but her hand was caked with dried blood between the stitches that he had so expertly placed.

The new gauze felt fresh around her skin and she flexed her fingers slightly as they were so stiff from lack of movement all day. When he finished, she smiled at his work before raising her eyes to his, focusing on him. His expression surprised her and her smile slowly faded from her lips. Her eyes searched his until their reverie was broken by the sound of the dogs.

Shaking her head, she withdrew her hand and took the glove from him. “Thank you. It was irritating to have to keep it in my pocket the whole time.” A grin brushed against her lips and her face turned a little red as she slid the glove onto her hand. Warmth spread over her fingertips and she sighed. She settled down onto the ground and the little pups bounded back and forth. Gathering the things she needed, she poured a little water for them, only as much as they needed to stay hydrated. They had to be careful with rationing.

“We’ll need a story for tomorrow.” She said after a moment, screwing the cap back onto her water canteen. She rummaged in her pack with her good hand to take out a hairbrush. She hadn’t used it in front of him before but if Madison allowed herself one thing, it was that she brushed her hair nearly every night, giving it that soft brown luster that it maintained. Unraveling her hair from its place on her head, it spilled across her shoulder.

The brush ran through the strands, letting them untangle with each stroke. “Most folks don’t mind a traveling pair but they like an explanation. This isn’t militia high season so the militia men won’t be about but…” She cocked her head, wincing when a strand caught on the tips of the brush. She worked it out slowly. “Any suggestions?”

 

Posted: Tue Feb 12, 2013 10:27 pm

by Astrophysicist

“Forgot I had those,” he said, gesturing toward the roomy mitten she’d slipped over her bandaged hand. “Would’ve offered them up sooner. I use them over my gloves when the cold gets bad.” He took out two modest helpings of meat for each of them, then brought out some of the gamey raccoon liver for the pups. Diligently, he unwrapped each serving, the lingering scent of smoke and the fresh aroma of food capturing the attention of their furry companions. They halted their playing and crept closer curiously, their small wet noses stuck high in the air as they approached.

When they got too close, however, Remy stopped what he was doing and turned to them fiercely, furrowing his brow as he looked into each of their small eyes in turn. It was no fresh catch as the boar and the raccoon had been earlier that day and night, but if Madison was right—and he had no reason to doubt her—it was best to establish their dominance early. “No,” he told them sternly, causing each one to flinch in turn and lower themselves to the ground. “No.”

He glanced up to Madison, watching for a moment as she brushed out her hair. The young woman was rather pretty, he observed; it wasn’t the first time he’d taken note of it, but they had been so distracted over the past few days of travel that there simply hadn’t been time for such attention. “Here,” he announced, extending her helping of dinner with a small, shy smile. Remy took a bite of his own share, making certain the pups saw him chew and swallow before he handed over their meals.

“The militia men are always about,” he said, furrowing his brow a little as he took another small bite of meat. “I don’t trust their seasons.” He cleared his throat. Glancing down at his hands, which remained bare after he’d removed his gloves to examine Madison’s wounded palm, he became painfully aware of the blankness of his wrists. Momentarily forgetting the rest of his meal, he fished around in his bag for the blue fountain pen he kept in the innermost pocket. He rolled up his sleeves and began to draw upon his flesh, working with the smoothness of practiced ease to produce a series of numbers and a small circular symbol that shone navy against his skin.

“We could be siblings,” he suggested. “Although we don’t look much alike. A…” He hesitated, twisting his lips with uncertainty before flicking his gaze up to her. “A couple? Maybe we have a sick kid back home. We’re traveling to find medication.” A shrug lifted his shoulders. “Usually I just tell them the truth, that I’m looking for my sister. What’s your usual story?”

 

Posted: Tue Feb 12, 2013 10:41 pm

by Simply

“Have you had run-ins with them before?” His tone made it sound like he had a distinct dislike of anything military. She set down her brush in her lap and took the food he offered. She ate a good portion before the male pup sauntered over with his tail low but his ears up, sniffing towards her food. She smiled but reached out her wounded hand and very gently pushed his bottom down. “Sit.” She said sternly, before he popped his but back up. She repeated the motion. “Sit.” He kept his bottom down and she rewarded him with a piece.

Madison’s eyes then darted over to see what he was doing. Frowning, she noticed the symbol immediately and it made the hairs on her neck stand on end. Quickly, she turned her eyes away and focused on the little food she had left. “We could be a couple.” She nodded, thinking that that was the smartest of the options. Beyond that, Madison didn’t dwell on it. “It’s best to be on a mission of that sort when traveling through towns.” As ruthless as many men were, when it came to children they often let many women pass through town untouched…relatively.

“I avoid them at all costs. If there are militiamen about, I go around regardless of what I need. Girls traveling alone…don’t usually leave town the same way they came in…” She trailed off and picked up her brush again, resuming the task that she had started when she began to brush her hair.

When she was satisfied, Madison blue eyes traveled over to him, glad that the tattoo that he had drawn was now covered up. The appearance of the symbol made her stomach churn and the desire to vomit push at the back of her throat. Closing her eyes, she pushed the idea out of her mind and then proceeded to put her brush away.

“Do you need anything when we’re there? It would be best to go in with a purpose and leave as quickly as possible. I don’t like lingering.”

 

Posted: Tue Feb 12, 2013 10:55 pm

by Astrophysicist

He paused, keeping his eyes lowered for a moment before he heard the words fall from his lips. “They killed my mother,” he said gruffly. “And my father.” It was true enough—though the rebels had been the ones to slay his mother, the only reason they had attacked was to rise against the unreasonable militia forces that oppressed them. As for his father, well…as far as Remy was concerned, the bastard was as good as dead, and he had no intention of seeing him again whether or not breath remained in his lungs.

He finished the remainder of his dinner quietly, listening as the wind wound its way through the bare-branched trees. He returned his pen to its compartment and re-sheathed his wrists, sliding on his gloves once the marks had fully dried. Like Madison, the sight of it upon his flesh was enough to make his stomach churn—but it was a necessary precaution, as he was sure she understood, and he would wash it off as soon as they found an independent water source down the road. He simply couldn’t risk that kind of discovery. Though he had the mark on his back to ensure he would not be killed, they would still take him away, no questions asked.

“I could use more cotton cloth for bandaging,” he told her, trying his best to sound more cheerful. “And antiseptic. Alcohol would do, but that’s hard to come by these days without a script from the militia.” He reached out to the female pup, who had traipsed up to him after quickly devouring her snack. Her tail wagged happily in the air, and when he held out his gloved hand, she licked his fingers affectionately. Despite himself, a small smile emerged upon his expression, and he scratched her behind the ears.

“I could use a new shirt,” he admitted. “I’m not sure any amount of scrubbing will get all the blood out from the attack back at the clearing. I don’t like to carry reminders of that kind of thing if I can help it.” He glanced up to Madison, who had finished brushing her hair and was studying him quietly. “You need anything? If we don’t have enough meat to barter with, there’s always the raccoon skin.”

 

Posted: Sat Feb 16, 2013 8:29 pm

by Simply

“I’m certain that they’ll have cloth.” She nodded her head, looing over at him after their lapse into silence. “Antiseptic might cost you’re the raccoon skin. I heard that the medicines are far more scarce here since the militia began to ration out their own supplies and commandeer the supplies that towns had.” She frowned deeply, remembering a small town that she had passed through that had no medications for the bacterial infections that were being spread from person to person.

Madison smiled as the dog licked his fingers. It was endearing to watch a man like him, a man in general really, be so affectionate with a small animal. Bright blue eyes flicked over to her own pup who saw that she had no more food and instead when to see if Remy had any leftover residue on his fingers. It sniffed around for a moment before realizing that everything was gone. As quickly as the thought had come, he tackled his sister and they tangled their leashes about. A small grin played on Madison’s lips.

“I need a few things. I could use a plastic container but I’m worried it would cost more meat than I would be willing to part with. “ She shrugged her shoulders and was appreciative of the glove that he had given her. Finishing with her brush, she placed it away in her bag and let her hair catch the fading light of the sun as it disappeared. She bit the inside of her cheeks.

“We have to be careful how much we trade. When we head into the mountains, I’m told that winter in the Cold settles faster there. You can freeze in your sleep and not even realize that you’re being covered in snow. And food doesn’t cover as much ground there.” She shook her head and ran her ungloved, non-injured hand through her hair. “It makes me nervous, that’s all.”

 

Posted: Sun Feb 17, 2013 7:37 pm

by Astrophysicist

Remy was thankful that she hadn’t said anything about the death of his parents. After a revelation as heavy as that, there simply were no words, and for most, the fact could exist as an unspoken mutual understanding that both sides had suffered such an affliction. Madison would never know the truth of his father, at any rate, and it wasn’t exactly a lie to say that the militia had gotten the better of him—for it certainly had. His wrists were clean and his intentions were pure, and apart from survival skills those were the only things that actually mattered anymore. His past was his past, well behind him where it belonged.

He sighed at the mention of trading away the raccoon skin, and he settled against his pack with his brow furrowed. “It’s hard to say,” he replied, thinking aloud. “We’re not to the mountains yet, but I don’t know if I’ll get another pelt as clean as this one. Either one could be life-saving if we have it and fatal if we don’t.” He gnawed at his chapped lower lip, glancing to Madison as she ran her non-injured hand through her long tresses. The sun had dipped low enough to the west to filter horizontally through the dense trees, and her hair caught the golden light like a prism. With the locks over her shoulders and her expression thoughtful, she looked radiant, almost angelic, and Remy’s breath caught in his throat as he inhaled.

“It’s a risk,” he went on suddenly, tearing his eyes away to observe the tumbling dogs. He cleared his throat. “Same could be said of the meat we’ve got. We might find more before the winter sets in, but if we don’t, we’ll be worse off.” He held out a bare hand to the pups, who tripped over each other as they bounded over to sniff his empty palm. Wrinkling his nose, Remy made a playful growl and leaned forward, covering each puppy’s head with his large hands. They responded with playful yips as they struggled to free themselves, their tails wagging energetically despite the length of their day.

“It’s smart to be nervous,” he told Madison, sliding his gloves back on his hands when the dogs’ attention turned to one another’s ears. “I’d be worried if you weren’t. I’ve heard some scary stories too, especially about the blizzards. They come without warning, people say, and that they can blow for days and days without lessening up.” The thought sent a shiver down his spine. “I don’t think we can be too careful. And until we’ve trained these heathens to help us hunt…” He glanced to their wrestling animal companions. “We’ve got their mouths to feed as well.”


   
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simply
(@simply)
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Topic starter  

Posted: Fri Mar 08, 2013 5:28 pm

by Simply

If Madison ever found out the truth about who he was, she would likely shoot him on the spot. Her vendetta against the General and against the militia was overwhelming. If she had to kill every single one of them one-by-one, she would. Slowly, but surely, she would take down this army. She had no desire to see other families ripped apart, as hers had been. Swallowing, she licked her lips and hunted in her pack for her precious tub of Vaseline. If Harry Potter books were still around, people would likely have compared her pack to Hermione’s magical purse but there was a skill to packing that Madison had mastered. It paid off to have everything they needed.

“Especially with the pups.” She added again, looking at them as they played with each other. “Right now, we barely have enough food to get the two of us through the winter. With them, especially growing, we’ll need all we can get.” The brunette furrowed her brow, before smiling slightly. “Hopefully they’ll get bigger though, because they can keep us warm at night. “ Their fur looked thick as it was, it would be nice to cuddle up next to another warm body. Her eyes sparkled slightly when he watched them play with them and she shook her head, laughing a little under her breath.

She echoed his words and felt a little silly after she had done it. She placed a small amount of the gel on her fingertip. The smallest amount possible before brushing it across it lips. It was something that her mother had taught her. It kept the frost from chapping her lips and kept sores from erupting. Pain of the mouth could be the most excruciating kind. It made her smile, the warm feeling of the soothing ointment against her lips. She applied it only every few days.

Bright blue eyes darted over to Remy and shook her head. “We should get some sleep before heading into town tomorrow. We can stick with the couple idea. Getting medicine and supplies for our child.” She laughed a little at the thought of ever bringing a child into this world. To suffer under the hand of an oppressive leader and not be able to help them survive. They’d always be hungry, they’d always want more. She sighed and the idea suddenly made her sad, as it would almost any woman. Children were something that she innately had to desire. She swallowed and stretched her muscles. “You want me to take first watch?”

 

Posted: Thu Mar 21, 2013 10:08 pm

by Astrophysicist

Remy had no intention of returning to his former life. He would have welcomed Madison’s arrow through his heart—straight, pointed, forceful death—over the prospect of going back to that prison, that lie of a life. The world had hardened the once-protected boy, transforming him into a young man older than his years, a young man wounded and changed by the workings of a society his own blood had helped to shape. He loathed himself as much—if not more—than his travel companion would have if she knew the truth of his lineage. That made his burden all the more difficult to bear.

He watched as the pups wrestled in the leaves, growling playfully at one another as they took turns tugging at each other’s ears. Madison was right; they would provide more than just companionship and the potential for hunting assistance, they would also be useful for body heat when the worst of the winter set in. The thought made his bones quake just imagining the blustery blizzard winds and the frozen springs and the drifting white flakes of falling snow, and for a moment, he wondered whether it was wise for him to have joined forces with someone whose path lead through such dangerous territory. But he dismissed the thought nearly as soon as it had manifested, banishing it from his mind. Finding a partner—a friend, even—in this unlikely place was a blessing he refused to walk away from.

Madison’s reiteration of their plan reassured him that it was a solid one, and he nodded his response, gnawing at the inside of his lower lip. His thoughts were similar to the young woman’s; the very idea of bringing a child into such a hellish, unforgiving life was so absurd it bordered on comical. It was little wonder the population growth had stagnated; in addition to a lack of food and resources, those with functioning moral compasses refused to expose new life to such inevitable strife. If the militia had not begun to order its women to bear children all those decades ago, humanity would have been on the brink of extinction like so many other species.

“I’ll take first watch,” he volunteered, meeting her gaze in the dying light. The chill of nighttime had begun to set in, and he unrolled his blanket from beneath his pack to wrap around his shoulders. “The pups are tiring themselves out.” Glancing at them as they wandered crookedly back towards Remy and Madison, he couldn’t help but smile. They hardly had the energy to wag their happy tails before they collapsed together in a heap near Madison’s knees. “I’ll wake you in a few hours, okay?”

 

Posted: Fri Mar 22, 2013 10:09 pm

by Simply

When he volunteered, she smiled briefly and grabbed the male pup in her good hand. She set out her necessary items, letting her blanket wrap around her legs, making certain that it was padded down with her injured hand. It was delicately done so that she could set the pup down next to her when she was finished, hoping to keep him out from her jacket. He wasn’t having any of it though and pawed at her chest greedily, until she allowed him to creep in and curl around so that his nose poked out.

Brushing a strand of her hair back from her face, Madison laid down against her pack. “Thanks. That sounds good.” She closed her eyes and immediately fell into sleep. Her dreams were gentle this evening, as though the pup that guarded her heart also guarded her mind from the terrors that she often saw when she closed her eyes. She let herself follow the gentle waves of sleep back and forth.

But the waves soon ended when he woke her. She stretched and cradled the pup with one hand as she sat up. She nodded at him in thanks and reached for her knife with her free hand. She let it rest against her lap, holding it carefully and letting her eyes readily adjust to the darkness. Nothing stirred as she sat, carefully ready for anything that might come towards them.

Tomorrow was going to be difficult for Madison. The guards and the men that would walk around would make her nervous, but she wouldn’t be allowed to show it. She would have to act as though going into a militia run town was a common occurrence, as if she was a young woman with a child and a husband. She frowned at the idea, as she sat there, the idea of having a child or committing herself to a person for life made her stomach knot and bubble.

She thought of a number of things before the sun began to rise and the pup stirred in her jacket. She let the dog out and it bounded towards Remy, pouncing on his nose.

 

Posted: Fri Mar 22, 2013 10:22 pm

by Astrophysicist

The further north they traveled, the shorter the days would become. Already in their progress Remy could discern a difference in the length of the twilight; the golden glow of the setting sun dipped below the horizon all too quickly, leaving the thick black-blue of impending night to saturate the remainder of the sky. The long shadows grew to consume the entirety of their surroundings, and his eyes quickly adjusted to the shift in lighting. Unsheathing one of his blades as a precaution, he positioned himself against the trunk of a sturdy oak and tucked his knees to his chest before wrapping them with his blanket. Since they had no fire, it was best to conserve as much body heat as possible, and folding himself into as tight a ball as his long limbs could manage was worth the discomfort to his muscles.

The female pup whimpered softly, and Remy smiled at her through the darkness as he reached out his unarmed hand to lift her to his chest. She sneezed—more like an airy squeak—and snuggled against his jacket. She was still almost immediately, having fallen asleep with exhaustion from a very long day. It was unlikely they’d had much exercise since their mother had died, so it would take time before they regained their stamina. With warmth through the night and at least something to eat, however, they were well on their way. Remy harbored no regrets for taking them in; it was good to be kind, to prove even if only to himself and to Madison that there was some good left in humanity.

Judging the time by the position of the moon whose light occasionally peaked through the cloud cover above, Remy set his dagger aside and rose to his knees when it was time to wake his companion. He held the sleeping pup with one hand to his chest as he leaned forward. “Madison,” he whispered before very gently nudging her shoulder, knowing it wouldn’t take much to wake her. Wordlessly, they switched roles, and the general’s son wrapped himself tightly in his blanket on the scratchy pile of leaves and grass.

He slept soundly, but his dreams were strange—manifestations of his anxiety of the day to come. He saw faces of militiamen, their rifles slung across their backs; he saw stony-eyed women and children hiding in shadows, staring as he strode past. Suddenly, something struck him, and he reeled backward against the blow—

—but it was a cold wet nose and bundle of fur. Remy gasped and sat up immediately, startled, disturbing his own puppy who yipped her response to the excitement in a frenzy. “Morning to you too, pup,” he croaked, blinking sleepily against the brightening sunrise in the east. He stretched, then began to roll up his blanket.

“How far outside the settlement are we?” he asked quietly, trying not to let his nerves show.

 

Posted: Fri Mar 22, 2013 11:02 pm

by Simply

Madison snorted her laughter as she pushed herself up and began to fold her blanket. She packed her things. “About an hour’s walk, according to the people I spoke to before I ran into you and judging by our pace over the past few days.” She shrugged her shoulders and licked her lips. She grabbed a small sliver of meat from her pack and lured the dogs towards her, letting them gnaw on the bits that she tossed their way. They needed to eat, but not excessively.

She grabbed another piece for herself and placed it into her mouth all at once. She closed down but savored the taste of the dried meat as she packed everything in its place. She stood, lifting the bag onto the shoulder and slinging it across her back so as to slip her other arm into the loop. It settled firmly onto her back and she watched the pups, having finished their scraps, bounding around and waiting for Remy to finish getting his things together.

Bright blue eyes scanned him over before she leaned down and wrapped the rope leash around the male pup’s neck, letting it loosely restrain him. “We’ll need to be quick and careful with the dogs.” She frowned slightly, the idea of entering the town making her more and more nervous as time went on. She wiggled her toes inside of her shoes, but tired desperately to make sure that no other outward signed of nervousness were showing.

“Extremely fast. I’ll get mine things and you get yours. We’ll meet outside the main store and depart.” She looked around, held onto the rope firmly and shut her eyes for a moment. She inhaled slowly and exhaled just as slowly. “Married. Child and just need some medicine for him. I’ll purchase the medicine. Antibiotics would be beneficial.” She looked at him carefully, ready to go.

 

Posted: Fri Mar 22, 2013 11:30 pm

by Astrophysicist

Remy cleared his throat as he packed the remainder of his belongings, doing his best to suppress the nerves that had suddenly sprung alive in his system. While he was certainly no coward, he had every right to be afraid entering a settlement run by the militia—whether he held familial status in their ranks or not. He assumed Madison was just as nervous as he was; they had developed a friendly rapport during the days they had known one another, and the silence that suddenly settled in its stead could only be an indicator of their mutual anxiety.

He reattached his pup’s leash as the female struggled to bound away, and he laughed quietly, doing his best to remain calm. His efforts were as much for Madison’s benefit as they were his own; it was never a good idea to display fear around his father’s soldiers. Though most of the men had come from humble beginnings and good families, serving only because they were forced by law, the armies were quick to brainwash—they swooped in with their pretty words and propaganda and before long, they were all drones of the same despicable breed.

“I’ll get cloth and antiseptic,” he volunteered, slinging his pack over his shoulders. As they began to trek away from their campsite, he felt a lump of anticipation form in his throat. “What’s our kid’s name? In case they ask us to verify our story…” In all likelihood he was being overly cautious, but it was better to be prepared than to scramble and hope prying soldiers didn’t notice your inconsistencies. He placed a hand on his sleeve above the skin on his wrist where he had painted his faux-tattoo.

The trees and underbrush began to thin as they approached the village. Still behind the cover of shrubbery, Remy paused and rolled up his sleeve to inspect the mark he had so carefully drawn there. One smudge, one blurred line and he would be in very real danger of imprisonment—or worse. Saying nothing, he pulled his gloves back on and nodded to Madison, doing his best to wear a neutral expression as they breached the edge of the forest and strode into the small gathering of wooden structures.

“Five minutes, we’ll meet outside here,” he confirmed urgently in a whisper. “Supplies or not, we shouldn’t stay long.”

 

Posted: Sat Mar 23, 2013 12:21 pm

by Simply

“James.” She said immediately, as though she had been thinking the same thought that he had, as they came closer to leaving for the the small town. It was her father’s name and she thought it fitting that she would use her father’s name to dupe the soldiers that killed him. Licking her lip, she looked over at him and nodded. Soft gaze traveled along the soldier’s mark. In the back of her mind, she knew that it was fake; she was watching him scribble it onto his skin with practiced ease. Still, the sight of it made her blood begin to bubble with rage, threatening to break the surface as her lips twitched. Hurriedly, she turned her eyes away and waited for him to finish.

The walk was slow and even the playful bounding of the pups could not distract her. “Agreed.” She picked up her male pup and tucked him up in her good hand. Luckily, he didn’t whimper or bark, as if he could sense the desires of his owner, his savior. Sighing, she put on her brave face and continued walking towards the encampment. The pharmacy, if it could be called that, was opposite the general store, where her husband would need to go. She walked up the rickety steps, past two soldiers conversing and into the store.

There was a hefty woman behind the counter that was sewing something, likely for a real child that existed. Madison made her way to the counter and the conversation was brief. She exchanged some bits of meat and a little of the oils she had saved from the meat. A baby started screaming behind the door in the back and that played to Madison’s advantage. The woman wanted to go check the babe, and was clearly frustrated so she gave Madison a clear plastic container, dried fruit and antibiotics for the oils and a small portion of meat. “And that small blanket.” She said, pointing with her good hand as she held the dog. The woman had been heading back towards the back room when she stopped, huffed a sigh and nodded her head, pulling it down and tossing it towards Madison in a somewhat irritated manner. Madison smiled when the woman disappeared and she considered herself very fortunate that the child had fussed when it did. She probably wouldn’t have made out half so well if the woman had given Madison her full attention.

For a moment, Madison set the put down to place her purchases in her bag. The blanket was small, a child’s blanket nearly, as it would likely only cover from Madison’s toes to her thighs but it would keep the dog warm when he was too big to fit in her coat. She shoved everything in and clipped her pack back tightly, before pulling the dog back into her arms and leaving the small shop. Before opening the door, the traveler pulled up her hood around her face. It wouldn’t do to attract any attention. More people were in the street now, beginning their day of trying to find items to trade. A tall man in a large coat made of some thick fur walked by with a young woman and Madison assumed that he must be the militia’s puppet in the area. He was called something that she couldn’t remember. He ran the day-to-day activity of the town and made sure that everything was paid to the General properly.

Sighing, she was lost in her thoughts when she left, her eyes having followed the fur clad man. She didn’t notice the militiaman in front of her and promptly ran face first into his shoulder. Her hood flopped back off her head, revealing her soft face with its braid of chestnut hair braided around her neck. She immediately took a step back and hastily apologized before turning away to go meet Remy. Unfortunately, that wasn’t going to happen. “Aren’t you going to apologize?”

Madison bristled. “I did.” She responded, her voice monotone despite the anger rising inside of her.

“Did you hear that tone?” He asked his companion, who had turned to see what was going on.

“I didn’t have a tone. I apologized and then told you that I had apologized.” Madison’s grip on the dog firmed slightly as the man took another step towards her. She needed to hold her tongue or she would get into a lot of trouble.

“Mouthy, this one. What are you doing here in our town?” He asked, moving so that he had backed her against the wooden railing of an adjacent shop and his eyes bore down onto her.

“Getting medicine for my son.” She responded, smoothly.

“Son?” He laughed. “A bastard or is his father a drunkard that sends you to do his bidding.” He laughed again, elbowing his companion who smiled, showing rotting teeth and discolored gums. Madison swallowed and used all of her willpower not to narrow her eyes.

“He’s getting some cloth that we needed.”

“Oh is he? Convenient how he’s not here.” The man clearly didn’t believe that Remy existed or that she had a husband. He reached forward and lifted up her braid before letting it fall against her shoulder, making her flinch despite herself.

 

Posted: Sat Mar 23, 2013 1:01 pm

by Astrophysicist

“James.” He repeated the name under his breath and nodded once, casting Madison an expressionless glance before they broke apart to seek their separate supplies. Remy pushed his hood back as he headed into the pharmacy, the rickety wooden steps groaning under his boots as he ascended to the doors. It seemed the shop had just opened with the light of dawn; two young men were still rubbing sleep from their eyes as they milled about behind the long glass counter, restocking the shelves that lined the walls to the ceiling.

Holding the pup to his chest with one gloved hand, he cleared his throat loudly to announce his presence. Both employees turned at once, somewhat startled to have a visitor this early in their normally slow day—it was rare, after all, that even the townsfolk could afford to make regular trips for these kind of precious supplies. Remy could see the confusion on their faces—they were obviously brothers, if their matching almond eyes and messy blonde hair was any indicator—and it gave him immediate pause. Although dealing with young people was often easier than bartering with seasoned middle-aged shopkeepers, sometimes it could be much more dangerous. Especially if they were family; there would be an unspoken loyalty between them that could turn very, very ugly if they were to feel threatened.

So Remy did his best to be cheerful. “Hello,” he said, smiling lightly. “I’m here for some antiseptic. And some cloth.”

The taller man drew his posture straighter still, and though Remy had never been lacking in height, this fellow made him feel small. He held his ground nevertheless as he continued. “My son is sick. My wife’s over at the general store, and we need supplies. Please.”

As if on cue, the pup in his arms gave a soft, pitiful whine. The tall man’s expression softened, although whether it was in response to his story or his pup, Remy wasn’t sure. “We’re limited in what we got for an’septic,” the man drawled, nodding to his brother. The other boy retrieved a dusty box from beneath the counter.

Remy fished two small bundles of meat from his pack. “How much will this buy us?”

The younger boy took out a small plastic bottle.

“And cloth?” Remy prompted.

“We have linen. That’ll get you a yard.”

Remy considered a moment, then brought out a small helping of jerky. “Two yards, two bottles. And a bottle of your penicillin.”

The two brothers paused suddenly, suspicion written all over their faces. Remy, trying not to be alarmed, donned a look of confusion.

“Coun’ry folk don’t know about penicillin, usually,” the taller man said. The air had grown exponentially more tense between them. Even the pup could sense it; she snuggled into Remy’s chest and remained obediently still.

“That’s not your business,” Remy said. “Do you have any, or don’t you?”

They eyed him, then exchanged glances. “Show your badge.”

The words sent a chill racing down Remy’s spine. Show your badge. It had been a long time since he’d heard that exact phrase—the militia slang for displaying the wrist mark—and he had no choice but to comply. He looped the pup’s leash around his arm before placing her on the floor. Heart pounding in his chest, he rolled up his sleeve to bear the counterfeit tattoo. The men breathed an audible sigh of relief.

“Two yards, two bottles of antiseptic,” Remy barked, playing the part of the inconvenienced militia man, “and two bottles of penicillin for your insolence.” He slid the bundles of meat towards them, keeping his arm uncovered. He was practiced enough in military manner; he knew how to play the part despite the adrenaline that coursed through his veins with every pulse of his heart.

The men complied quickly, wrapping the bottles in thin brown paper before tying the loop of fabric around the outside. Remy bundled his purchases quickly inside his pack, then scooped up the pup before heading outside. Before he could breathe a sigh of relief, however, he caught sight of Madison ahead, her braided chestnut hair catching the warm light of the early morning as a man—a militia man—lifted and dropped it with a sneer.

He closed the distance between them quickly, his wrist still bare as he wrapped his arm protectively around Madison’s shoulders. “What is the meaning of this?” he demanded, pulling his companion close as he glared at the toothless soldier. The brute’s eyes found Remy’s mark before they flickered back to meet his gaze, and he took a step back. Remy, ignoring him, turned to Madison. “It’s fine, sweet, it’s fine. James will be fine too.”

He turned his glower back to the soldier, but when he spoke, it was to Madison. “Let’s go, sweet. Before he runs out of time.”

 

Posted: Sat Mar 23, 2013 6:10 pm

by Simply

Crystalline eyes saw him coming over the shoulder of the brute that had her cornered. She nearly sighed when his arm wrapped around her and turned to look at him, giving him a gentle smile as though she had been doing that all her life, from the moment that they had met in some small village further from this town. At first, she didn’t realize how warm the contact was from his hand. She was just happy to have her story proved true in time so that the grubby militiamen would back off of her. She settled comfortably into the crook of his arm, noticing just briefly, that the fit rather well together.

“I’m just so worried that we won’t get back in time.” She said, putting strain into her voice so that it sounded as though she really was a worried mother, stressing over the current health status of her child. She turned her head into the shoulder of his jacket closing her eyes for a moment. Inhaling, she pulled her head back up slowly, having noticed how the man backed off once he saw the drawn on tattoo that Remy displaced on the arm that was wrapped around her.

“Now just a moment.” The brute said, stopping them from turning away when they attempted to make their escape from this town. “When did you finish your tour?” He asked, noticing his buddy cross his arms and nod in agreement. After all, most men served in the militia until they were older than what Remy was. There would have to be a good explanation for him having the mark but not being in the military.

“I don’t see what business that is of yours.” She said, looking from her husband to the man that had tried to frazzle her. Swallowing, she looked up at Remy before back at the man and dipped her head in slight apologies. “We don’t have time for you to discuss his service. Our son is sick. We need to get back.” She turned and looked at Remy as the pup in her arm tried to reach over and grab his sister’s ear. She pulled him back slightly, but her stomach churned. This was not going as swiftly or as well as she might have hoped.

 

Posted: Sat Mar 23, 2013 6:34 pm

by Astrophysicist

It should have been the last thing on his mind, how Madison’s slight frame fit so naturally against his. For a moment, he was caught off-guard; the two of them had adopted their false roles almost too easily, as though they had been practicing their guises for months—or as though their imaginary relationship was not a work of fiction at all. It was all for the best, of course, because if they could convince themselves then they would certainly convince the citizens of a small, remote village in the forest. But that, it turned out, was not the issue.

He had perhaps been foolish to leave his sleeve bunched up at his elbow, but it was easier to wear it as though it belonged there than to act like he’d rather keep it hidden. Pulling Madison tighter to his side instinctively, he shook his arm to allow his cuff to cover up the tattoo as he glared at the two military buffoons who threatened them.

“It’s none of your business,” he snapped, bristling, “but I was discharged almost two years ago.”

The gap-toothed man’s lips curled back in a vicious sneer, a poisonous laugh shaking from his throat. “Discharged on what grounds?” he asked, stepping uncomfortably close to them.

Remy turned, angling Madison so that he stood between her and the soldier. “Honorable discharge,” he spat back, narrowing his eyes. He let his arm slip from his companion’s shoulders, then handed her his pup’s leash. He knelt in the dirt, tugging at the cuff of his canvas trousers until he could draw the fabric to his knee. The cold air made him cringe as it struck his bare skin, which bore a handful of spidery pink scars that led to a slight indentation in the muscle of his calf. “I took two bullets for one of your generals,” he told them bitterly. “Saved his fucking life. Took so long to heal right that they told me not to bother coming back, I’d only slow them down. They passed along his thanks, though, so you boys don’t have to bother.”

He re-laced his boot and unfolded his pant leg, placing a hand on Madison’s shoulder as he rose back to his feet. The men, who had seemed doubtful before, wore more modest expressions on their grisly faces, but Remy could still see their annoyance. “Get on your way, then. Before I report you for your smart mouth, fucker.”

“Come on, sweet,” Remy murmured quietly to Madison, “James is waiting.” He kissed her head quickly before sweeping his pup back up into his arms, giving the soldiers a wide berth as they made their way out of the village.

 

Posted: Sat Mar 23, 2013 7:55 pm

by Simply

Questioning his discharge made her spine straighten just slightly. She was nervous about the idea that he would need more of a story than she was prepared to follow with. They hadn’t planned their story out in this much detail and the idea of their stories matching seamlessly. Biting on her lip, she stared angrily at the men before her before taking are to grasp the female’s leash firmly in her slightly wounded hand. She looked down at Remy’s leg when he drew up his pant leg.

It took all of her willpower not to act surprised when she saw the wounds on his leg. Licking her lips, she snapped her eyes back up to the acting militiaman as though accusing him of wasting more of their time and causing their child so much pain. The words that they said to Remy, made her cringe but she turned happily into her companion’s arm, feeling the kiss that he placed against the cold skin of her forehead. It sent a chill down her spine and she struggled to keep it from being evident.

The soft feel of his lips against her skin was like a breath of fresh air, like a warm fire on the coldest of Cold nights. She knew immediately that her cheeks had turned a bright shade of red against eh cold wind that met them when they finally made their way out of the village. She didn’t moved out of his arms until they were out of the sight of the town. Inhaling slowly, she set the pup down and they bounded around each other.

“How did you get those marks on your legs?” She asked, bending down to take the leash off her pup. She slipped it over his head and let him run around, chasing his sister when she was released from her bondage as well.

“Your mark’s not real, so where did those come from?” She knew that he had just saved her life and that they had managed to get away from the men that would have likely confiscated their things and…perhaps done worse to her. Curiosity piqued her interest, and she tried to keep judgment out of her voice.

 

Posted: Sat Mar 23, 2013 8:49 pm

by Astrophysicist

It took every ounce of his willpower to retain his composure as they strode through the rest of the town and broke through the forest line once again. As soon as they were out of sight, hidden behind dense layers of dry underbrush and low-growing trees, he released his pent-up anxiety with several deep, rapid breaths. Grateful for the pause as she released her pup, he untangled his own furry companion from the leash and rested his hands on his knees, doing his best to quell the frightened heartbeat that thundered against his breastbone.

He straightened his posture before leaning against the thick trunk of a weathered old tree, and his opposite hand unconsciously went to the wrist where his counterfeit mark decorated his skin. “I wasn’t sure we were going to get away from them so easily,” he panted, shaking his head. The consequences of defying any rank of officer were dire; they would rather immediately rid themselves of defiant individuals than change their ways to please the very subjects they claimed to protect. The two of them had walked a very dangerous line.

It was several minutes before he could form words to answer her question. “I sure as hell didn’t save a general’s life,” he said. “But I was shot, twice, from a militia man. I was thirteen. Almost died from it, too.” He snorted. “Almost lost my leg. It’s fully healed now, like it never happened. But they don’t have to know that.” He tried to smile, but the expression didn’t touch his blue eyes. “That’s how I found my medical mentor, actually. He saved my life.”

Remy spoke the truth; it had happened only a few days after his escape from his father’s military mansion. Mistaking him for a rebel invader too close to the Commander’s abode, a small battalion of soldiers had chased him through the grounds until they lost him and left him for dead in the wilderness three miles from his former front door. He wasn't about to tell any of those particular details to Madison, but he felt better knowing he didn't have to hide the framework of that reality from the young woman who had become his friend.

Realizing his hands were trembling, he balled his fists and looked to his companion. “Did you get everything you needed back there?”

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Posted: Sat Mar 23, 2013 9:42 pm

by Simply

She listened to his story, watching him as he spoke, carefully following the inflections of his voice. She narrowed her eyes when she heard him speak of his mentor. She frowned slightly, feeling as though something was wrong with his story. However, her gratefulness for his heroic rescue of her before and from those thugs in the militia squashed whatever doubt she may have about his truthfulness. She licked her lips and shook her head. “That’s awful. I bet it hurt something horrible.” She turned her head away to watch the dogs tumble about with each other.

Madison’s gaze darted across the skyline. They had lingered too long in the town and now they wouldn’t make it as far towards the mountains as she had desired. “I did.” She admitted, hefting her pack further up on her back. “I got the container I needed, the antibiotics and a small blanket for the pups. It’s more of a scrap really but it’s better than them sleeping in my jacket until they’re larger than me.” She smiled at the thought and started walking. “Well, come on. We have a lot of terrain to cover before winter fully sets in.”

A sigh escaped her lips at the thought of spending the winter in the middle of the mountains that wore a sheet of frost as thought it was a blanket. Snow would make it hard to hunt and most animals would be in hibernation. She would struggle with finding food and the idea of being hungry again made her uncomfortable, but that was life. She would survive if it meant being uncomfortable.

The pups followed along after her, leaping and bounding back and forth in front of their feet. Madison looked over at him. Her curiosity had not been entirely quenched by the prior information that he had given her. “Where did you live before this? And how did you manage to miss your militia time or get out of it, rather? That is quite a feat these days – unless you grew up in the West.” It was curiosity but it was not as though she was trying to catch him in a lie.

 

Posted: Sat Mar 23, 2013 10:09 pm

by Astrophysicist

“Good,” he said, relieved that she’d gotten the supplies without much trouble. “I got two yards of linen. If we don’t use it for bandages, we can use it to insulate our gloves and boots.” He followed her as she took off walking, clenching his pup’s leash in one gloved hand. “I got two bottles of antiseptic. They didn’t have much, but mine’s not gone yet. That doesn’t mean you can go hurting your hand again, though.”

He looked over to her, his smile a little brighter this time with the gentle tease. “Got some penicillin too. For emergencies.” His sidelong glance went from her blue eyes to her injured hand, and he arched a brow with concern. “When we stop tonight, I should clean your hand again. Do you think we can get far enough north today to have access to the stream? I’d like to boil some water, if I can.”

Remy was thankful that the story about his leg didn’t rouse any additional questions about his past—but as soon as the notion occurred to him, Madison voiced her curiosity and shattered his premature relief. He grimaced. It pained him to lie to her. She was the closest he’d been with another person since the death of his mentor, and betraying her trust was a necessary evil on his part. Promising himself to stick as close to the truth as possible, as he had with the story of his leg wound, he drew a breath to speak.

“I was born in Columbia’s District in the east, near the Washentown base.” He looked straight ahead as he spoke, tugging on his pup’s leash as she strayed after her playful brother. The area had once been called Washington, he knew. “We moved to a remote village in the west when I was too little to remember. Then when my parents were killed…” His voice broke, and he cleared his throat. “When my parents were killed and my sister disappeared, I ran away and made my way back east to look for her. I’ve been dodging the militia ever since I came of age. I haven’t…lived…anywhere in a long time.”

He shook his head to himself. “Where did you grow up? How come the militia hasn’t tracked you down to bear their soldiers?”

 

Posted: Sat Mar 23, 2013 10:32 pm

by Simply

She smiled at his teasing. It was nice, having banter with someone and not worrying that they may kill you in their sleep. She hadn’t been teased since her father had died. There had been a kind farmer, who we had helped for nearly three months before she moved on, once, but she had never let herself grow that comfortable with him and his family. She had known that he had wanted her to stay – his wife had passed and his children had died or run off to seek better things (if there were any to be found anymore) – but she had a mission to complete.

“I think so. It shouldn’t be far. I wanted to ask the woman in the shop but if the militia questioned her…” She shrugged. “I rather have them believing our story long after we’re gone rather than give them anything to search for after we’re gone.” Licking her lips again, she drew her hood up around her head. She noticed the clouds gathering in the distance and would have mentioned it but he went into his story. Washentown was something that she had heard about. It was one of the larger cities. The Commander had used it as his base before the destroyed city had become a cesspool of disease and so he had moved slightly further north in order to escape and rule from a house that mimicked all the luxuries that the previous era had known.

“I grew up in the western lands of the Commander’s domains. The furthest outskirts, I guess.” Her eyes were trained straight ahead as she walked, but it became evident that they were slightly glossed over and she was moving rather mechanically as she recalled her life before now. “The militia men came every year, once a year. My mother never had any kids but me and they hid me below the floorboards every time they came. She didn’t meet the quota for children and my father had been injured so he had been dishonorably discharged.” She laughed a little, bitterly. “They said it was dishonorable how he had allowed a farmer to shove a hoe into his leg when he attended collections.

“They raped my mother every time and I never knew until they killed them one night. I came out from under the floorboards and found them dead.” Her eyes remained straight ahead and she almost tripped over her own feet. It jarred her form her revere and she shook her head. “They never caught me because I never lingered long in a town and I have killed any lone militiaman that tried to take me in.” She swallowed and looked at him. Her face showed no shame even though she had caused their deaths. “I don’t plan on having any kids because someone tells me so and I don’t plan on ever being with a militiaman.”

 

Posted: Sat Mar 23, 2013 10:56 pm

by Astrophysicist

He, too, noticed the clouds in the distance. Swaths of cobalt and gray made their ceiling a patchwork quilt with the thin canopy of leaves above; it was as though they were striding through a strange indoor corridor with tree trunks for columns and dried pine needles as lush carpet. He was thankful for the density of the forest; it made him feel as though more distance had passed between them and the village at their backs. But the weather worried him—in the months preceding the worst of winter, storms of all kinds could crop up without much warning. Rain, sleet, snow—it was all fair game, and Remy wasn’t sure how far they could get before it began its onslaught.

“The militia is the only thing that’s dishonorable,” he said darkly, shaking his head. He wasn’t sure what else to say, or even if any words existed to console such tragedy. Instead, he listened to the remainder of her story, then stepped a little closer to her as they walked. He fell into stride, matching the rhythm of her steps precisely, and wrapped his arm around her shoulder as he had in the village. This time, however, it was not under the pretense of marriage, it was genuinely for comfort—a gesture he never would have thought himself capable of.

He dropped his arm away and resumed his position a pace away, hopping over his pup’s leash as she darted around their legs. He chuckled softly, scooping up the downy bundle and clutching her to his chest. When she protested with a yip, he laughed and let her down.

“We’re a pair on the run,” he commented. “I feel like I’ve been running since I learned to walk.” His shoulders rose and fell with a heavy sigh, and when he continued, his voice was soft, hesitant. “I stopped keeping track when the amount of men I killed outnumbered the patients I saved.” He sniffled against the cold, eyes cast down. “I don’t see how anyone could bring a kid into a fucked-up world like this. I really don’t.”

Silence settled between them, interrupted only by their rhythmic footfalls on the frosty ground. A low growl of thunder resounded from the horizon, and Remy glanced to Madison. “It’s not far off,” he said. “It’s still early, but we might be better off setting up a shelter soon in case it pours.”

 

Posted: Sun Mar 24, 2013 2:59 pm

by Simply

The darkness that filled his voice reiterated that he was just as damaged by the militia as she was. She wondered, more, about he extent of his involvement with them – as it was clear that he was not telling her the whole story. But everyone had a right to their own secrets and Madison would respect Remy’s. He had given her every reason to trust him with her life. When his armed slid around her, she stiffened just slightly. Human contact was not something that she was familiar with on a daily basis. It had been years since she had had someone truly attempt to comfort her with a hug, a gesture of kindness. She smiled at him almost sheepishly, before the contact was broken and they continued on their journey.

“We are. I don’t know anyone these days that isn’t on the run anymore.” Licking her lips, she then laughed at herself. “But then again, I don’t know many people. Mostly just you. All of my ties died with my parents.” She shrugged her shoulders, letting the male continue to bound along with them off of his leash. He didn’t seem interested in running too far from food, friends and his sister. She smiled down at him before realizing that Remy was much more of a kindred spirit than she had thought.

When they had killed those men in the field that had tried to rape her, she thought that he might not have the stomach for the road but clearly she had misjudged him. A frown pressed itself to her lips when the thunder rumbled in the distance. She didn’t enjoy a storm, although it did help the dryness of the land that she had been crossing for the last few years. Rain had become scarce since the Cold set in and although the snow on the mountains was abundant, it didn’t frequently melt into any streams, it just…disappeared.

“Agreed. I wish we could have made it to the edge of the mountains, though. Supposedly when the Cold first set in, people retreated there and carved out small homes out of the mountains.” She slipped her wounded hand into her jacket, holding onto her pack with the other. Bright blue eyes kept a watchful gaze on the pup as they walked. “Hopefully, we can find one and ride out the winter once it sets in. And be more successful than the people that made it.”

The people that had retreated to the mountains after the Cold had been ill prepared for a life of living off the land. People were used to their warm homes, their televisions and their electricity. Madison heard that the Commander still had electricity – that he had found engineers and tools and old functioning equipment. She had heard the tales but wasn’t sure if it was just common folk talk.

 

Posted: Sun Mar 24, 2013 4:19 pm

by Astrophysicist

His expression was troubled as another rumble of thunder echoed in the chamber of the forest, but it was not the impending storm that had him so preoccupied. With thoughts far away, thoughts momentarily lost in the turgid back-flow of remembrance, the memories of the night of his escape haunted him one more time. The pain of his injury, the hazy dreams brought on by blood loss, waking up in a location so dark and unfamiliar that he thought certainly he’d died and passed into some other hell—he had never felt so completely lost, so completely helpless as in the moments he’d accepted his dying fate.

But he hadn’t died. He’d endured agonizing horror, pushed through weakness so potent he had difficulty blinking his bloodshot eyes, screamed murder at the piercing sting of hundreds of sutures in his mangled leg. But as loud as he bellowed, as fervently as he begged for release, death refused to answer his cries. He battled through bone-numbing infection and feverish, aching nights, but he had emerged all the stronger. In hindsight, his injury had functioned as a vicious rite of passage to mark his transition from coddled, clueless general’s son to the world-hardened fighter he was now. It had also brought him to Dr. Sterling, the man who both saved and changed his life forever.

He snapped out of his dreary reverie when a large splash of cold rain struck his cheek, the drop running down his face like an icy teardrop. He chuckled humorlessly, wiping the water away with the back of his glove and glancing back towards the darkening sky. It was only mid-afternoon, but the clouds that shrouded the sky were thick enough to impersonate late evening. Thankfully, the storm wasn’t yielding much more than the occasional raindrop…yet. He knew better than to believe that’s all it would produce.

“It’s a little greener here,” he noted aloud. “Maybe the water source is close. If we don’t find it soon, we should settle for someplace else. Once the rain starts, we’ll never get a fire going. And if we get soaked, we won’t make it through the night without one.” He gritted his teeth, tugging lightly on his pup’s leash to keep her close by.

They walked for several more minutes. The weather loaned a tension to the air that Remy could practically taste; they were racing against its rage, defying its booming threats. But at last, the faint music of trickling water reached his ears, and he looked excitedly to Madison. “It’s only a trickle, but it’s enough,” he said, noticeably relieved. “We’re not far from the spring.”

He shrugged off his pack and unzipped the largest compartment, retrieving a carefully-folded brown tarpaulin. “If you help me set this up for cover, we can get started on collecting some firewood before it gets too wet.”

 

Posted: Sun Mar 24, 2013 8:07 pm

by Simply

She nodded and set her pack down. Bright blue eyes danced across the landscape that he had chosen. It was as good a place as any – well, it was better than any place she conceded. It was hard for her to be able to admit that someone was just as good as she was at surviving. It wasn’t as though she was jealous of him, but it was hard for her to work with someone. Madison, however, was pleased that it was Remy, if it was going to be anyone. She set her pack down and slipped her leash around the pup’s neck when he came close enough. She tied him to her pack and watched as he pulled out a large tarp for cover.

Convenient.

She coveted it. Sighing, she immediately set about to drape the brown water-repellant fabric across a low branch. They didn’t want it to be to high up or else water would sweep in sideways with the wind. There were strings at each corner of the fabric and she moved away slightly to grab a large rock and anchor them down on the side that she was working on. They settled into place and the tarp was pulled tightly.

Licking her lips, she moved the pup and her pack beneath the tarp as a few more drops fell. She drowned and set about finding wood. She found numerous pieces, but some were already too damp to be of any use. She did, luckily, manage to discover a few that would be provide them with a steady fire throughout the first part of the evening. Hopefully, her companion was just as lucky in his endeavors.

The water dropped down harder and she raced back, deposited the firewood under the safety of the tarp and moved off towards the stream, filling both her canteen and her cooking pot full of water. She would be able to drink her fill this evening before they could fill up as soon as the rain stopped. Making it back, she slipped under the tarp and sat down, looking up at him and them over at the pup as he jumped into her lap. “Lucky to have this. I’ve seen people kill over material like this.” She smiled. “Fortunately, I’m not one of those people.” She laughed and looked down, beginning to arrange the firewood.

 

Posted: Sun Mar 24, 2013 9:18 pm

by Astrophysicist

Remy took the opposite end of the tarp and slung it over another low branch, securing the straps at each corner with a rock and a damp piece of wood. It was a modest shelter, but a shelter nevertheless; it would keep their belongings dry and their fire alight through the night, both of which were necessary for the upcoming stretch of their journey. They would reach the mountain bases soon, which meant even more unpredictable weather and cold that was bitter and unforgiving from dawn to dusk.

He ducked beneath the ceiling, which was just high enough for the two of them to sit comfortably upright. Digging inside his pack, he brought out his small bowl and dented copper pot before reaching up to loop one of the straps on the branch under the cover. Off the ground, it wouldn’t be in danger of getting wet from moisture seeping through the ground near the edges.

Quickly, he dipped the small bowl into the stream and set it out for the pups to lap, then filled the other container before he set off in the opposite direction of Madison to fetch some firewood. Like his companion, he too found more wet branches than dry, but he returned with a usable armful that would hopefully last them through the night if they kept the blaze strictly under control. The rain picked up as he returned to camp, and he ducked beneath the brown tarp just in time. He placed his stack atop Madison’s, then brought out his flint to start the pile of small kindling she’d arranged.

“Fortunately, yeah,” he agreed, returning her smile. “I got this in exchange for stitching up a farmer’s son’s knee a few months ago. It doesn’t rain a lot here, but it’s good to have when it does.” He shivered, watching as the tiny flame began to grow. “I don’t know where he got it. Probably stole it off a corpse; there was a lot of fighting in that region.” He shrugged. “I would have done the same, but I’m never that lucky. The best I usually find is a dull hunting knife.”

He broke a smaller branch in half and added it one piece at a time to the fire. “I’m going to boil some water. I want to take a look at that hand.”

 

Posted: Sun Mar 24, 2013 9:26 pm

by Simply

Madison set to helping him with the fire, pleased when it sparked to life after their careful ministrations. She took off her gloves when it roared a little strong and held them above it, feeling the familiar tingling sensation when skin that was too cold met something that was too hot. She pulled back slowly and looked up at him with her inquisitive blue eyes. They were striking, to say the least, the way they seemed to know what a person was thinking. Her mother had always commented to her father that they would never be able to keep her innocent. She would find out what she longed to sooner or later.

“All right. It doesn’t hurt much, only when I flex my fingers like this.” She did so on her good hand, to adequately demonstrate what she meant. Then she began to unwind the cloth, before she paused halfway through and dug around for a few bits of meat. She tossed them to the pups, which had stretched out beside the water, their eyes cautiously darting to the fire. They neared the bits of meat and hungrily devoured them before chancing a walk closer to the fire, that was large enough to boil a stew on and keep them warm through the night.

The brunette finished unwrapped the wound and held it out to her partner. The skin was pink at the edges and pulled tighter where he had stitched it up. She examined it with mild interest, touching along the stitches but pausing when the skin tugged enough to make the movement uncomfortable.

“Do you think you’ll find her?” She asked suddenly, having forgotten about secrets and the desires that people had to keep them that way. “Your sister, I mean. Do you think she’s alive?” It was blunt but it was a question she wanted to ask. To have that much hope…it was very much a foreign concept to the young woman. She didn’t like that idea of placing that much feeling into one thing. Hell, she didn’t really bother with emotions much at all. Except hatred and rage. Those were useful.

 

Posted: Sun Mar 24, 2013 9:51 pm

by Astrophysicist

He placed his copper pot over the flames, settling back to wait for it to begin bubbling. He watched as she unwrapped her bandaged hand, eager to see how the wound’s healing had progressed after a day and a night of travel and strain. When she held it out for him to inspect, he leaned forward, gnawing at his lip. “It’s a bit swollen,” he commented, watching as the pinkness of her skin turned white beneath the pressure of her fingertips. “Nothing to be worried about, though. The scab is intact.”

When the water began to boil, he removed the vessel from the flame and set it on the dry ground to the side of the hearth. He removed his gloves and pulled out the linen he’d gotten from the pharmacy, tearing a narrow strip along the very edge of the longer piece. He tore that in half again, left with one bandage-like swath and another that he folded neatly into a small square. When the water had cooled to a tolerable temperature, he dipped the square inside and gestured for her to extend her hand. “This’ll sting,” he warned her quietly, then pressed the dripping cloth gently to the wound.

Careful not to rip at the scab or the sutures, he cleaned away the residual dried, crusted blood from her palm before tossing the fabric back into the pot. He added her used bandage to the hot water too before returning the container to the flames, boiling out any bacteria so they could use the gauze again.

Her question caught him off guard, and his expression darkened as he mulled over how to answer. “I have to,” he said finally, taking Madison’s hand once again and slowly re-wrapping the wound with the new bandage. He sighed heavily. “Believe, that is. Believe that she’s alive. Believe that I’ll find her.” He shook his head, tying off the linen before finally looking up to meet his companion’s blue eyes with his own. “The hope keeps me going. I hardly know what hope is, but it gives me reason enough to keep surviving, and that’s what I need right now. A reason.”

He paused. “The linen will help it breathe overnight,” he told her mechanically. “Keep the mitten off as long as you can. The tarp helps keep the heat in, so maybe the rain’s actually a blessing.”

 

Posted: Sun Mar 24, 2013 10:06 pm

by Simply

Madison watched him wrap the linen around, carefully observing each step so that she could replicate it after they parted ways. They undoubtedly would part ways, after all. No one stayed together very long, whether in a relationship like theirs or otherwise. When she considered the option of when they would part, he looked up at her and she realized that he was answering her question. She intently watched his face, following the words that he said.

“I have heard that Misery is often the result of too much hope, too much belief.” She swallowed and listened to his mechanical speech. Frowning, the brunette ran her good hand through her hair that brushed across her forehead. “Thanks for patching that up. “ She looked down and scooted closer to the fire, which was inadvertently closer to him. She frowned and something in her chest pounded as though she was upset.

“I’m sorry I asked about her. I don’t usually ask about people’s secrets.” She snorted and looked down at her pot, which was full of water. She turned to her pack and withdrew some small dried leaves and some of the meat. She tossed it into the pot and placed it onto the fire, letting it begin to bubble, so that it would form a stew. She also added a little bit of flour ad some other ingredients that would help the mixture to thicken.

“I’m not used to having people to talk to. I guess you could say I’m not very good at it all together.” As the stew simmered, she took out her hairbrush. Carefully, she untied her hair, coming out the strands that made up the braid. Then she began her ritual of running the brush through it over and over. The soft feel of the silken tendrils between her fingers soothed her and she finally grew brave enough to look him in the eyes. “I am sorry.”

 

Posted: Sun Mar 24, 2013 10:34 pm

by Astrophysicist

“Misery isn’t the result of too much hope,” he replied, his voice more tired than bitter. “It’s the result of living.” It was something he’d accepted as fact long ago, as soon as he was old enough to recognize the lies his comfortable life covered up as a child. Hope may have been pointless, it may have been a waste of thought and energy leading only to high hopes and disappointment, but it was what inspired the need for hope in the first place that made it so unbearable. There was no such thing as a silver lining. Not anymore.

He sighed again, removing his pot from the fire so Madison could start on the stew. He watched as she dug through her pack to retrieve the thickening ingredients and spices to make it tolerable, and though his belly did not feel particularly hungry his mouth began to water all the same. He helped her toss in the last pieces of meat, then added another small branch to the flames.

“My sister’s not a secret,” he said at last, his voice betraying his weariness. “I didn’t mean to be so defensive. Turns out I’m not great at talking to people either.” He tried to smile, watching as she went through her ritual of combing the knots from her hair. “Don’t be sorry. Maybe it’s good that we’re practicing.” He met her gaze when she finally looked up at him, studying the expression in her bright blue eyes. It was refreshing to meet someone so genuine.

As the stew came to a boil, the rain fell harder, assaulting the tarp above them with a cacophonous roar. The pups yipped, startled at the sudden surge of water falling from the sky, and edged closer to the warm fire. “Got that up just in time,” he commented, trying to lighten the mood. He looked up, watching as the tarp rippled beneath the torrential pour. After a shiver, he inched closer to the fire, extending his bare hands to the radiating heat.

“Her name’s Azalea,” he murmured after a pause, staring into the fire. “My sister’s name is Azalea, like the flower.”

 

Posted: Sun Mar 24, 2013 10:53 pm

by Simply

The exhaustion in his voice was likely what was also evident in her own voice. She was tired more often than she wasn’t. Se was hungry more often than she was full. She was so many things but angry with him was not one of them. She smiled at his somewhat apology. He didn’t need to apologize for her behavior or becoming defensive over his secrets. She was prying in places that she didn’t need to be prying. Swallowing, she watched as the pups bounded towards them to get away from the onslaught of rain and angry thunder.

“That’s a pretty name. I’ve never seen an azalea.” She said, tasting the name, the flower. “I had never heard of it until now.” She looked down again, stirring the stew with her spoon before drawing some up and letting it trickle back in. Once she decided that it was still too thin to eat, she returning to running her comb and fingers through her hair. “My mother used to have a few flowers that she would tend right outside our kitchen door.” She said kitchen door as though there were more than two rooms in their little shanty. The kitchen door was merely the second door, towards the back of the house, which they used for usual coming and going.

“Also, I saw a water lily once. It was quite beautiful.” She remarked. She stopped combing her hair and suddenly realized how insane it may seem to him. “I must look ridiculous to you, huh?” She asked, as she sighed and moved to put her brush back in its proper place in her bag. “Brushing my hair like the Commander’s wife on a summer day.” She frowned. It was a common enough saying among women-folk. If they were being indulgent, they were being the Commander’s wife.

“I just...it was something my momma always used to do.” She turned her attention to the stew. It was right thick enough and she pulled it off of the fire, setting it down. “She would untie my hair at the end of the day and brush it. It’s…soothing, I suppose. Since her, I haven’t had anyone run their fingers through my hair.” Another shrug at the idiocy of it. She withdrew her bowl from her bag and poured soup into it, before sipping at it, letting the warmth flow through her.

 

Posted: Sun Mar 24, 2013 11:38 pm

by Astrophysicist

Remy didn’t want to lie to Madison. And while everything he’d said about his sister so far was truthful, he knew it didn’t make up for the gaping holes he’d left in the other pieces he’d revealed to her. He was living and breathing the lie, trying to convince himself as much as the world that the backstory he’d invented was accurate. He wasn’t proud of the life he’d come from; in fact, if he could truly forget all the years he’d spent in ignorance, all the years trapped in those lavish palace walls, he gladly would have paid any price. But pretending was the closest he could get to that reality, and if it meant spinning invented tales, he would spew them like his very own.

“I’ve never seen an azalea either,” he admitted, a chuckle escaping his lips despite himself. “Or maybe I have, and I just didn’t know it. I don’t know much about flowers.” The palace gardens and greenhouses had been extensive, of course; blooming almost year round in vibrant patches of silken blossoms, the Walthers had never lacked in the perfume and color of fresh petals. Remy had only walked amongst them a handful of times, having been forbidden to venture outdoors without a two-man escort.

He looked startled when she declared how ridiculous she must have appeared, but what really shocked him was the casual mention of his mother—the Commander’s wife. He wondered briefly if his father had even revealed to the world that his wife had been murdered, or if he, too, was keeping up a familial lie. Fumbling with how to respond, Remy simply shook his head, not immediately trusting his voice. “You look fine,” he said after a pause. He followed suit in pouring his helping of stew, grateful for something to occupy himself while he inwardly regained his composure.

“I’m sure I’m a right mess,” he said, smiling crookedly after taking a sip of hot soup. “I haven’t shaved in a week.” He ran his hand over the scruff on his chin and neck, then threaded his fingers through his unkempt mop of sandy-brown hair. “I haven’t looked in a mirror in months. Figured it was best not to know.” He took another swallow of soup, shifting positions slightly and attracting the attention of the curious pups. Remy smiled. “When do you think we should start training the dogs?” he asked.

 

Posted: Fri Mar 29, 2013 8:25 pm

by Simply

“Who has time to learn anything that’s not entirely useful these days?” She said, smiling. Knowing flowers might have been useful at some point, but these days it was much more important to know where you could find food, what berries would kill you and which ones would sustain your life. Brushing her finger across her lips that had tasted the soup, wiping a small drop from the corner of her mouth that would have dribbled down her chin and eventually her neck.

Madison noticed how his face twitched, as though something under his skin was prickled by her words. She narrowed her eyes slightly and she tried to brush the thought away but was unable to. Instead she held it inside of her for another time. Being observant, like she was, was the most important way to survive in this word. Knowledge was power and the way to obtain knowledge was to watch others and figure them out. People killed people much more often than the Cold.

When he mentioned it, she noticed the stubble on his chin that was rapidly becoming better described as a full on beard. Grabbing her spoon, she began to slowly eat the stew, letting the warm liquid slide through her and heat her bones out to her skin. The young woman cast her eyes to the pups, contemplating his question. “Within the next few weeks. We should probably start teaching them to sit now, maybe before we feed them, as like an incentive? We should also train them off leash too, teaching them to come back when we call them.”

She rubbed at the back of her neck for a moment with her good hand, holding her bowl and spoon in her injured one. Then she went back to eating slowly, as though prolonging the food would make her even more full, to keep her comfortable through the night. Bright blue eyes narrowed as she thought. “But anyone would be able to call them then, if they knew the words we used. I don’t like the idea of someone confusing them, but I don’t know how we’d fix that. What do you think?”

 

Posted: Sat Mar 30, 2013 8:51 pm

by Astrophysicist

She had a point—learning anything that didn’t benefit one’s survival in the long run was generally a waste of time and energy. Few people were privileged enough to afford that luxury; learning for the sake of learning had been all but wiped out. The exception, of course, were the wealthy generals and high-ranking militia men; without worrying about whether or not there would be food on the table for their families, or whether or not their child would survive their next scraped knee, or whether or not there would be enough wood to get through winter, it was easier to give priority to schooling.

Measured from those standards, Remy knew entirely too much. He had been schooled at home under strict tutors, learning all manner of academic subjects ranging from mathematics to chemistry to literature. In hindsight, he wished he’d been more attentive; he hadn’t recognized his lessons for the rarity they were, and now he would never again have such an opportunity. But he was also torn, because already he was ahead of the majority of the population—and sounding too educated was almost as dangerous as not being educated enough.

Absentmindedly, he ran his fingers over his scratchy chin while he waited for his soup to cool. When at last it was suitable for drinking, he brought the rim of his bowl to his lips and sipped at the broth before digging his spoon from his pack. “That’s a good point,” he said when he’d swallowed, pondering a moment before he continued. “We need a system. Something they’ll recognize. Subtle.” He thought for another minute, slowly taking another bite of stew.

“How about this?” he said suddenly, eyes brightening with an idea. He looked to Madison and then to the pups, who were wrestling energetically near the fire. He drew in a breath and pressed his tongue against the roof of his mouth, clicking it loudly in quick succession. The sound carried over the applause of the rain, and the pups, startled, looked curiously towards him with ears straight up. Remy grinned. “We could train them with patterns,” he suggested. “What do you think? We can’t snap or clap with gloves on.”

 

Posted: Sat Mar 30, 2013 9:29 pm

by Simply

Madison watched him, as she always did, except when she was sleeping. He had proved that he was trustworthy and that she could allow herself some sense of wellbeing around him, but that didn’t take away the years that she had honed her mind to watch others. It was an frequent thought that she had, always being aware of what she was doing with other people. As she considered that, the young woman wondered if other people had done it before her – before the Cold. Was it a matter of survival for them or was people watching more of a hobby?

She finished off her soup right as he began to talk about what they might use. The strange clicks of his tongue made her brow furrow together and she was about to brush it off as a waste of an attempt when the dogs looked over at him curiously. Her eyes flicked from the animals to her companion. Interesting. That would certainly prove useful in the days to come, if they could manage it.

“You could intersperse whistles in there, for different commands and to have the sound carry.” She admitted, setting down her bowl and taking the pot, pouring a small amount that was left and mixing it with some cold water. She poured the concoction into the dogs’ bowl and let them lap it up eagerly. A smile played at her lips, before she devoted her attention back to Remy. “My only concern is if we could remember all of it ourselves.”

For a moment, it was a legitimate concern but then she thought of all the long days they traveled and the nights they sat here, illuminated only by the soft glow of firelight. There was plenty of time. Despite the struggle to survive in this world past the age of thirty, there was still down time when one was a Traveler, walking the roads in search of food, a home, or work. A laugh escaped her lips. “I guess that was a joke. We have ample time while we travel, but we’ll have to come up with a few basics first, before we try to teach them anything. “

She rinsed out her things with a tiny, tiny amount of water she had put in her canteen and then dried them, putting them in their rightful places once more. Perfect. “Should we start in the morning?” Weariness was constant, so she wasn’t particularly tired. “You can rest first, if you’d like. She wrapped her blanket around her legs and the male, who had been tugging on his sister’s ear, took that as a sign. He moved over and began to scratch at her waist, trying to reach her bosom. Madison laughed. “Someone knows its his bedtime.” She frowned. She hadn’t named him yet. “I don’t know what I want to name him yet.”

 

Posted: Sun Mar 31, 2013 12:28 am

by Astrophysicist

“I’m not very good at whistling,” he admitted, a little sheepishly. “But I can practice. We’ve got the time, you’re right.” He smiled a little, glad that the slight blush that rose to his cheeks was hidden beneath the thick cover of facial hair. He was musical, as she had already witnessed, but the art of whistling had always eluded him. Not that he’d tried on a regular basis, of course; he’d had little need of such a skill until this point, and he hoped she’d have some pointers.

He clicked his tongue again experimentally, and the pups reacted the same way—they paused their play fight, looking over at him quizzically mid-tackle. He shook his head and finished the rest of his soup, savoring the salty broth just as much as the thin strips of meat in the bottom of his bowl. Like Madison, he ate slowly; it was the best way to trick the stomach into believing it was fuller than it was, that their modest meal was as good as a lavish feast.

“We should start tomorrow,” he agreed, nodding. “Maybe we can start with getting them to follow us. You know, on our heels.” He licked his chapped lips and settled back against his rolled blanket, watching as the rain drained in torrents off their tarpaulin roof. The rhythmic of the frantic droplets was strangely relaxing despite the chill, and he smiled slightly as he closed his eyes. “It’s a bit like music, you know?” he commented softly, folding his arms across his chest. He wasn’t particularly sleepy; their walk had been cut short by the weather.

“I’m not sure I can sleep yet,” he admitted. “You can take first rest if you want.” He beckoned the female pup, holding out his hand and wiggling his fingers. She trotted over and climbed into his lap, resting her chin on his knee. Remy rested his hand on her neck, scratching behind her ears absentmindedly.

“So who are you meeting in Thebes?” He heard himself voice the question before he could ask himself whether or not it would be proper to ask, but he was genuinely curious. Watching her through half-closed lids, he tilted his head innocently to one side to watch her body language. He knew her well enough to believe that if her intentions weren’t inherently good, they at least would not be too malicious, and now seemed as good a time as any to get to know her a little better.

 

Posted: Sat Apr 20, 2013 2:22 pm

by Simply

“That’s a good idea.” She admitted, watching him before closing her eyes for a minute. The rhythmic pattering of the rain on their makeshift shelter could almost sound like a tune. She focused on it, allowing the beating of the water to fill her, as though becoming a part of her own heartbeat. For a moment, she was greater than herself, she was more expansive than just her own mere thoughts of vengeance. Madison felt the pulsing slowly subside and she opened her eyes, letting them dart to him. “Much like music, though it won’t be easy.” She paused delicately over the word though, not wanting to see as though she was discouraging their endeavor in any way.

“I’m not really tired.” She said, shrugging. Although Madison could always will herself to sleep, the desire to close her eyes wasn’t overwhelming, as it had been before they met. Before she had taken him as a companion, she always slept lightly, ready to jump up at any moment but now, over the past few nights, she slept deeper and therefore, wasn’t as exhausted.

Blue eyes stayed cast down when he asked his question. It had to be answered carefully but what did it matter? She frowned for a moment, thinking to herself as she touched her pup’s ear, flicking it up and then down with her middle finger before he seemed irritated by it and moved his head further out of her reach. “I’m not meeting anyone. I’m…” What word? Madison lifted her gaze to his, noticing the innocent tilt of his head and narrowing her eyes slightly. It wasn’t innocent, not really, but it wasn’t spiteful either. Sighing, she shrugged again, her go-to motion when she wasn’t sure how to adequately express herself.

“I’m hunting the men that killed my parents. It’s not logical, I know, but it’s something. I have no idea what they look like but I know they were from there, my father mentioned it once or twice. They were lower ranking men, except for the colonel. I’ll find them, somehow and I’ll…” She’d what, kill them? Frowning again, she shrugged, her shoulder lifting and falling in familiarity with the motion. “I don’t know. I had to do something. I couldn’t stay.”

 

Posted: Sun Apr 21, 2013 9:48 pm

by Astrophysicist

Remy shook his head slowly back and forth, not in disagreement but rather in thought. She was right—it would be a bit like music, a tune known only to them whose intervals could command and control and, like real music, perhaps even soothe. The fact that they’d acquired the pups so young would make their job somewhat easier in getting them to recognize sounds they weren’t accustomed to, even sounds that most people weren’t accustomed to—but as Madison had already stated, their road ahead would not be so simple.

“I’m not that tired either,” he said, leaning his head against his suspended pack and experimentally closing his eyes. It was nice to simply relax, to rest a little easier knowing he had someone nearby he could trust. There was also no urgency to keep moving; with the storm, it would actually be worse to continue on, so for the first time in a very long while Remy could simply sit without feeling guilty or afraid. He scratched behind the female pup’s ears and stared into the shifting flames of the modest fire.

When his companion spoke to answer his question, he looked up, meeting her blue eyes with his own with a genuinely curious expression upon his features. “Oh. Sorry. I thought you said you were meeting someone,” he said as she shrugged, figuring she would simply leave it at that and change the subject. In a lot of ways, Remy knew Madison better than anyone else, and yet he knew he’d only scratched a very shallow surface of who she was and what her motives were. When she spoke again, having gathered the words to go on, he was surprised—pleasantly surprised, in fact—that she was opening up what turned out to be a very sensitive story.

“Ah,” he breathed at first, nodding his head knowingly as he cast his gaze down. He looked back up at her, intrigued but also impressed. “That’s as good a reason as any.” Lifting his shoulders in a small shrug, he added another branch to the fire and allowed the raindrops’ symphony to play momentarily between them. “You know, it’s against everything I’ve trained for—helping people, and all that—but I…I could help you. There’s a good chance my sister’s in Thebes. It’s a big enough place. We both can search, if you want.”

 

Posted: Sun Apr 21, 2013 10:08 pm

by Simply

Madison felt alone, completely and utterly alone, when she remembered that the only two people that she had loved and known were dead. They hadn’t just died, not in a way that would allow her to be more accepting of their absence. They had been snatched, like a thief had stolen their souls and only left their mangled corpses behind. When she would close her eyes and try to remember their faces, the first image that flashed lightning fast behind her lids was the blood and the limbs. Swallowed, she opened her eyes quickly.

The soft syllable that he uttered made her nervous. Her stomach clenched inside of her, causing a ripple of nausea to rise into her throat so that she had to slowly inhale through her nose and exhale the feeling out of her mouth so that she wouldn’t vomit right into his lap. Well, that was the end of their companionship. She had no doubt about it. What man wanted to accompany a woman with which he could have no relations and who appeared in every way to be completely mad? After all, who searched for people that they didn’t know, with every intent to killing them painfully when she managed to secure their location.

She was wrong.

It happened every so often, though it wasn’t a feeling that she was used to. Madison looked at him carefully, bringing a finger to rub at the corner of her eye were she felt the salty sting of a tear that must have escaped. Scratching with her fingernail, she brushed it aside without ceremony and pursed her lips at him to keep from smiling in what must have been happiness. He understood her. He comprehended her mission and knew why it was of value to her, even if it did seem a little insane.

“I couldn’t ask that of you.” She admitted. She had to do this alone. She had to find them and cut them, one extremity away at a time, like drawing away the peel of an apple. They would fall in anguish and the screams of death, only to not have it permitted. She would let them bathe in their own blood and stench and filth. Madison would have her revenge and she knew that if he saw what she would do, he would never be able to look at her the same.

“I don’t think that what I have in mind…I don’t think I could have someone there with me.” She shook her head and looked down, curling beneath her blanket she tightened it up a bit around her and looked at him again, inhaling slowly between her teeth. “But I would appreciate help looking for them and I could help with your sister, if you want too. I don’t know how much help I’d be though. I’ve never been to a town larger than…well, the one we were in today.” She shoved her hands into her pockets after tucking the blanket firmly where she desired it.

“I’ve heard that before the Cold there was a government and the people chose people who ruled them. Not like this…” She wiggled around as though trying to figure out a word but she had no concept of it. “No this inheritance stuff. The Commander’s son is supposed to inherit from him. I’ve never heard talk of him though…”

 

Posted: Sun Apr 21, 2013 10:24 pm

by Astrophysicist

Her reaction troubled him; he watched her carefully as her expression changed in the dancing light of the fire, watched as her posture shifted and her face paled. Even her breathing was different; her breaths were slow, calculated, as though she were doing everything in her power to remain calm from a panic he couldn’t see behind her hardened façade. His own throat tightened in response to her obvious distress, and he sat up a little straighter, brows furrowing with concern. It wasn’t just the doctor in him that was suddenly worried, but also the friend and companion who could sense, though they’d known one another only a short time, that something was terribly, horribly wrong.

He bit the inside of his lip until the metallic flavor of blood washed over his tongue. The sparkle of a solitary tear rolled down her cheek, and he hardly dared to breathe for fear of somehow breaking the dam of—of what? Emotion? Rage? Fear? He didn’t know, couldn’t know. When she finally opened her eyes, he met her gaze earnestly, releasing a long breath of his own with a relief more powerful than he could really explain.

“You all right?” he asked finally, not sure whether to speak or simply let silence settle over them once again. He wet his lips with his tongue and settled back, disturbing the female pup who had fallen asleep against his leg. She whimpered a protest and curled up once again, tucking her nose beneath her tail.

“That’s okay,” he continued, nodding his understanding. He tucked his hands into his pockets, thankful that their makeshift tent was keeping the air warm enough to not require his full gloves. “I get that. If my sister’s dead, I’ll do the same. Make them…make them suffer.” His tone had turned dark as well as his gaze, and he looked away for a moment, composing himself. His sister’s situation was different, and truth be told, he wasn’t sure how he would handle it. On one side of the coin, they had been rebels fighting the same battle he sided with now. On the other, Azalea was still his sister, and if they’d murdered her in cold blood he wasn’t sure he could suppress his wrath upon receipt of that knowledge.

The Commander’s son… His breath halted in his throat when she heard those words leave her lips, and he looked up slowly, nodding his head. “The militia is a poor excuse for a government,” he said bitterly. He’d had enough practice talking about the commanding family that the lies came with relative ease now. He only hoped Madison did not sense his unease. “I heard the Commander’s son died in the Fifth Uprising." That's what his father would believe, anyway. "Probably just a rumor, but who knows. I doubt they’d want that kind of thing spread around.”

 

Posted: Sun Apr 21, 2013 10:46 pm

by Simply

“I’m fine, just thinking.” The hunter responded automatically, as though she had been asking herself that same questions hundreds of times and had coached the elicited response to produce itself. Licking her lips, she nodded at him, understanding the desire to make others pay. It was a need that filled every single inch of her, bubbling under the surface like a volcanic eruption, waiting for that perfect storm – waiting to find the perfect reason – to explode.

Madison had heard, once, that some god or another didn’t desire his people to seek vengeance. Something along the lines of if someone struck you, you should turn to the other side in order to allow them to do so again if they so chose. This woman would be damned if she even allowed someone to strike her once. If they managed that much, she would promptly shove her hunting knife into the hollow of their throat and watch as blood poured down the neck and they gurgled wordlessly as they died.

Frowning, she looked at him when he spoke of the militiaman’s son. “I hadn’t heard that. Last I heard he was still in line to succeed. Perhaps the Commander had another son?” She shrugged, not that interested in the ruling family’s inner workings. “I just know that his son will succeed him and the reign of terror will continue as it always has. Men will be slaughtered for sport, women will be raped for pleasure and nothing would ever change until a person changed them. All it would take would be for one member of the ruling family, one of the Commander’s successors to realize how horrific the conditions were since the Cold.

“I wonder what he’s like, the son.” She closed her eyes, this time not thinking of her parent’s and so her face relaxed, a small upturn to the corners of her mouth as she just thought out loud. “Would people call him a prince? My mother told me stories about then. But the Commander isn’t a king, but he’s like one so perhaps?” A shrug lifted her shoulders slightly as she rested her head back, just talking for the sake of having a conversation with another person. It had been a long time since she talked about nothing with anyone but herself.

“I wish he was like the stories of princes that you hear about from long before the Cold when this place was fresh and new and warm.” She laughed at the idea of something being warm, unaware that if they had been sitting in this exact spot a hundred and forty years ago, that they would likely be sweating. “I wonder if he is like them – handsome, brave, strong and kind.” She opened her eyes and looked at Remy. She thought, for a bright moment that he was kind and brave and strong…and handsome.

Madison cocked her head slightly. “But that’s nonsense. He’s likely strict and harsh and ready to drink to the misfortune of those that he will rule over.” She frowned. “It’s so unfortunate. I’d kill him, if I had the chance, y’know. Then what would the Commander do? Then someone else might take over…someone that might give us a chance…”

  

Posted: Mon May 13, 2013 7:31 pm

by Astrophysicist

While Remy was immensely glad that Madison seemed to have calmed her silent internal storm, it left him with a strange taste in his mouth—she was clearly more of a force to be reckoned with than he’d initially thought. She knew how to survive; she knew how to get by better than most wanderers thrice her age. But there had to be some kind of fuel, and as it turned out, that substance in the young woman—that drive, that motivation—came with a psychological rage to match her physical skill. And Remy, having only known her for a week, was not certain whether he should fear her or admire her.

His unease was not lessened, however, by the topic of conversation their words now took. He’d practiced this kind of thing before; he knew his cover story so well it almost had more bearing in reality than the truth. It wasn’t the first time he was in the company of those wanting to discuss the general’s family, either. He knew the rumors, he knew the stories, and he also knew the pieces no common man or woman could possibly be aware of. He was prepared for this. Yet when Madison spoke, when she posited her theories and touted rumors he’d already heard a thousand times over, it was different.

It was different, he realized suddenly, because she was his friend.

Lying, like hunting or scavenging or finding shelter, was necessary for survival in this troubled world. He was doing it to protect himself—and, frankly, to protect those around him as well for fear of unrightful persecution—but that thought offered little solace as the rain pitter-pattered on their tarpaulin and the warm fire danced between them.

“The Commander is like a king,” Remy agreed, his gaze boring into the flames as swashes of orange and gold erupted from the fresh logs. “If he’s planning for his son to succeed him and take his position someday, then yeah, that sounds right.” His throat tightened at the thought. “A king,” he spat bitterly, shaking his head. “A king and a prince. Isn’t that just what we all need?”

He looked up, feeling Madison’s gaze upon him. “I wish he were all of those things too,” he said quietly, biting his bottom lip. “But he’s probably just a bloodthirsty coward like the rest of them. Hiding behind his walls. Waiting.” In a way, Remy was hiding behind walls too—but walls he’d built of his own accord, walls meant not to designate wealth or power, but simply to forget and protect. “I wouldn’t blame you for killing him.” He laughed darkly. “I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about doing exactly that from time to time.”

 

Posted: Wed May 15, 2013 7:05 pm

by Simply

Madison smiled slightly at their mutual interest in the downfall of the Commander and his descendants. Of course, it was something many people talked but few could actually voice, for fear of being tried and killed as a traitor. Her fingers itched to slip around the Commander’s throat and press her thumbs into the soft hollow so that life slowly began to leak out, like a hole in a water jug. Swallowing, she lowered her gaze from his face, sensing the darkness that was slipping over him.

If she had known exactly what his words meant, well, she wasn’t sure how she would feel. It would be difficult to cope with the reality of who he was, but fortunately for them both, he kept up his charade. Bright blue eyes flicked over the fire as it began to flicker a little less brightly. ”Probably.” A sigh escaped her lips and she snuggled further back against her pack, “which is oh, so unfortunate.”

Another sigh escaped her lips and she closed her eyes, suddenly much more tired than she had been. “You’re going to have to stop saving me from disgusting men, I’m tired of owing you.” She smiled a little, indicating that she was joking and in reality, quite thankful for everything that he had done for her over the past few days. She was lucky to have been stumbled upon by him. Rolling her shoulder back just slightly so she could more comfortably rest her head, Madison settled in to sleep.

“Still want to take first watch?” A half smile played at her lips, before she closed her eyes fully. “Wake me up when you get tired and I’ll take over. We should get an early start if this rain lets up by dawn. If not…” She trailed off, giving a mental shrug before continuing with her words, “guess we’ll just be talking a day away and training the pups?” She smiled and fell asleep before he would have a chance to answer.


   
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Posted: Wed May 15, 2013 7:44 pm

by Astrophysicist

Madison was right. Most feared voicing their thoughts regarding the Commander; any slight against the militia at all, however small, was by law punishable by death, but Remy knew few were given such mercy. He shuddered at the thought of what the naysayers were put through; he’d seen firsthand the methods of torture subjected to prisoners, some of whom were little better than slaves. So it was—in a strange sort of way, given who he was—refreshing to speak openly about their mutual loathing. In the middle of the forest, they were protected from prying ears and vengeful motives.

He watched her from across the flames, settling further back against his pack as well. The female pup whimpered a protest at having to move, and she sleepily stood up and climbed atop his stomach to rest her head on his chest. Remy chuckled, reaching up with a bare hand to scratch behind her ears.

“Owing me?” he repeated, looking up in surprise when she spoke. The darkness gone from his expression, he returned her smile with a small one of his own. “You don’t owe me. I think we’ve saved each other enough times to be even.” He laughed lightly despite the seriousness of his words and their situation. “I should be thanking you.”

As she settled back and closed her eyes, Remy’s expression softened. “I’m fine,” he reassured her. “I’ll wake you halfway through the night. We have plenty of wood to keep the fire going if the rain keeps up.” He could tell by her breathing that she was asleep before he’d finished speaking, and he shook his head to himself. She looked peaceful, peaceful and pretty, a complete departure from the role of fierce warrior she adopted during daylight hours.

It was hard to tell the time without the position of the moon to guide his judgment. The rain pattered on, and Remy added another log to the fire before reaching over to gently shake her by the shoulder. “Fire should be good for awhile. We’ve got plenty of kindling if the rain keeps up.”

By that time, he was thoroughly exhausted, and he slipped off into a sleep more restful than he’d had in months.

 

Posted: Wed May 15, 2013 8:28 pm

by Simply

She woke and nodded, not much for conversation right when she woke up in the morning – or night – or whatever time it really was. She stretched a little and the pup wiggled around in his usual spot against her chest before she scratched his ear and he settled back down with a slight huff of annoyance against her chest. She stoked the fire and held her bare hands above the flames, letting the warmth lap at her skin. It made her healing skin tingle beneath the cloth and she withdrew her injured hand earlier than her other.

Madison passed the time in thought, until the pup decided that it was time to wake and easily roused his sibling with a yip. He escaped from the confines of the warrior’s jacket and shook himself off, as though he had just gotten out of a bath and wanted to dry himself off. Swallowing, she brushed a hand against her head, scratching at a spot that seemed to be bothering her for the past few days until she felt a small bump. Bug bite. “Ugh.” She sighed.

She nudged Remy’s boot with her own. “Hey, you hungry?” She asked, beginning to rummage in her pack in hopes of finding the ingredients to make another stew. The storm didn’t cease, continuing to let the droplets fall down rapidly as they had done the moment it had begun. It appeared as though they would remain in the tent for another day. It didn’t bode well for their future travels but there was no use crying over spilt milk.

“I can make another stew for the day.” She found the ingredients she had been looking for and put them in the pot that she retrieved as well. Filling it up with some of the water, Madison began to heat it easily over the fire. It began to bubble and she let it remain there for some time, allowing the meat to cook fully and become soft once again.

“It doesn’t look like the rain is letting up, so we should train them.”

 

Posted: Wed May 15, 2013 9:02 pm

by Astrophysicist

He slept more soundly than he had since…well, since he could remember. He didn’t like to think back on the nights where he slumbered in his childhood bedroom, swallowed in the warm downy embrace of a spring mattress and a stuffed comforter. It made him sick to imagine those days of ignorance, when he had been too naïve and too sheltered to realize what was happening all around him.

But right now, drifting off to the chaotic rhythm of the steady rain, warmed by the fire and the small body of his pup, he felt at ease. He felt safe. It was almost frightening to realize it, since for the first time since his father had introduced him to the inner workings of the high-ranking militia that he truly felt secure. It was a false sense, he knew, and he wasn’t fool enough to let down his guard completely, but he wanted to enjoy it while it lasted.

Before he knew it, his eyelids were fluttering open, and he groaned theatrically at having been woken up. Opening his eyes for a moment before promptly closing them again, he muttered a hoarse, “Always,” to her question about being hungry before chuckling groggily and sitting up a little straighter. His pup, already awake and eagerly watching Madison rummage through her bag, was wagging her tail as she watched. She had already learned what it looked like when food was going to be prepared.

“We can use some of the meat to train them,” he said, watching as his companion stirred the stew. His stomach grumbled audibly through his thick jacket. He paused, watching as the two pups tumbled together near the flames. “Magnolia,” he said suddenly, nodding toward the wrestling dogs. “I think I’ll call her Magnolia. Lia for short.”

Remy smiled, looking up to Madison. “What do you think?” he asked. “Named for the tree. It blooms in the spring, sometimes through the snow. I saw one last year, probably one of the last around.” He shook his head. “It’s a symbol of hope, I think. And happiness.”

 

Posted: Sun May 19, 2013 4:13 pm

by Simply

“I think that’s a great idea.” She tore off a few small, tiny portions of meat and tossed them pups eat a small one, just so they could get something in their bellies and then they would train. Madison stirred the soup and held the meat in one hand, holding it out to see if he wanted to take little bit so that they could begin after they ate. She tucked her strips into her pocket, ruffling the pup’s fur before beginning to spoon some of the soup into her bowl before offering him the same option.

Madison pursed her lips as he said the name, thinking it over. It didn’t sound very intimidating. That could be comforting to someone but they needed to make sure the dogs could defend themselves, name or not. “It’s a good name, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a magnolia tree.” She imitated the way that he said the word, making sure that she sounded confident with the words.

“I don’t know what to call him yet. I need a name though,” She shrugged her shoulders, deciding that the soup was hot enough now and the few ingredients that they had added would be sufficient to keep them full into later in the evening. If they could make it until dinner, then they might be able to keep their supplies running throughout the duration of the winter. They needed to survive.

A big ladle-full of soup was splashed gently into her bowl and she cradled it in her hands, letting it warm them before she grabbed her spoon and began to slowly draw the soup up towards her mouth. It wasn’t the best tasting soup she’d ever tasted or made but it would do to keep her full until the evening time. She watched him fill his own bowl and she pondered, silently, over a name for her little rascal who was currently making soft whining noises and wagging his tail at the smell of the contents of her bowl.

“I just can’t decide or come up with anything that sounds remotely like him.” She shrugged her shoulders, bringing the bowl to her lips to drain the last remnants of the liquid. “Ander, Damien.” She gave an annoyed exclamation under her breath and began to pack up her bowl and spoon after making sure that they were relatively clean. “Any ideas?”

 

Posted: Mon May 20, 2013 9:20 pm

by Astrophysicist

“Magnolia.” He repeated the name under his breath, watching the female pup as she tumbled in the dry dirt near the fire. The more he thought about it, the more fitting it seemed—a symbol of hope indeed. She and her brother had been blossoms of life amongst the cold dead leaves, and it seemed only fitting that the little dog bear a name just as miraculous. She didn’t need a frightening name; her actions would define that enough for her once she was trained. There was enough violence in the world already, Remy thought, he didn’t need another reminder.

“If we find a magnolia tree, I’ll point it out,” he said wistfully. “I’ve only ever seen a drawing, but I’ve heard villagers talk about them.” He smiled his thanks at Madison when she spooned him a helping of soup. He brought the bowl directly to his lips, sipping thoughtfully on the broth as the fire flickered low beneath the pot. "I like Damien," he told his companion between swallows. "What other names do you know?"

There was a pause while they both continued to eat. “Maybe the rain is for the best,” he suggested, licking his lips after he finished the soup. “Give us a chance to catch our breath, you know?” Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a small strip of meat and began to cut it to very small pieces with his small knife. He popped one in his mouth before holding out a morsel to Magnolia.

The pup immediately lost interest in biting her companion’s ear, and she raced up to nibble at his fingertips. He did not let go of the piece, however; he let her get a taste of the meat before retracting it and clicking his tongue once. She looked at him curiously, big ears perked up, tail swishing madly back and forth. Remy reached over and pressed her bottom to the ground, making the same sound again. Click click.

She licked her chops and stood back up immediately.

“No,” he said sternly, pointedly. “No.” He made the same sound and pressed her bottom to the ground again. Sit, he thought, holding out the meat again. This time she stayed still longer before leaping forward again. He gave her the piece of meat and leaned back, laughing.

“This is going to be harder than I thought,” he admitted, smiling at Madison across the flames.

 

Posted: Tue May 21, 2013 8:35 pm

by Simply

“Damien. It does sound rather demonic, doesn’t it?” She laughed a little. “Copper? Bandit?” She was trying to remember something that he father had talked about. She pressed her lips together and made a noise that could only be described as a whistle-gurlge-spitting noise. Madison would inhale air between her clenched teeth and it would make a whistling low-pitched squeal. “Radar?” She laughed and shook her head. “It was something my father used to talk about that used to be able to tell where objects were…something like that. I’m not sure. I didn’t go to one of the Commander’s schools.”

“Those are the only dog-like names I know, I supposed. Others, Randall, Bruce, Christopher, Amandi, Megan, Penelope…”She trailed off, whispering her mother’s name last. She shook her head and rolled her shoulders back, watching him begin to or rather…attempt to train his pup. Her bright blue gaze flickered over them both, watching carefully as the female abandoned her brother.

The failure made her chuckle and she rolled her eyes. “It was never going to be easy. Nothing ever is.” But she said this with a soft curl to her lips as she too, set to the task of making her dog sit. She managed it with the words, then adding in the noise that would denote the command. He managed to get it after about forty minutes, though his interest in her waned when she ran out of small meat nibbles to give him. Instead, he turned his attention towards his sister, tugging on her tail in an attempt to get her to play.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had a time where I had nothing to do? I’ve traveled through the rain before…well, I usually do. I think it would be too difficult with the pups.” She smiled at him and leaned back against her pack, sighing. “Even when it rained on our farm, my mother would have sewing and knitting and so many chores for me to do that it felt like a day in the fields and out hunting with my father. “

She closed her eyes, but not in exhaustion, just for the pleasure of doing so in the middle of the day. “Do you know of any more towns past the mountains? If we hurried maybe we could find refuge. I have heard that there are places where someone can pay to stay and get fed like a hotel.” A frown played her face. “But I don’t know if I could afford it.”

 

Posted: Wed May 22, 2013 9:50 pm

by Astrophysicist

“No,” he agreed, returning her soft smile with one of his own. “Nothing is ever easy. If it is, it’s probably some kind of trap.” A quiet chuckle shook his shoulders, and he repeated the command to his pup, who had completely lost interest in his orders and was now more involved with distracting her brother than learning tricks.

“Damien suits him,” he commented, watching as the male promptly lost interest in training as soon as the meat was gone. Remy laughed; the female had done exactly the same thing. But even a little progress was still progress, and with an attention span like a young dog’s, there was only so much teaching one could do in a single session. Thankfully, with the way the rain was still coming down, they had another couple of hours in which to try again before they took off for the mountains.

“I’ve never sat out a rainstorm either,” he admitted, settling back against his pack again. He wasn’t particularly cold, but he drew up his blanket anyway, doing his best to enjoy the dry warmth while it lasted. “At least not for long. It’s harder to manage escaping it when you’re by yourself, you know?” He looked to Madison, meeting her bright blue eyes with his own. The exchange was an expression of wordless gratitude, a notion he hoped she picked up on over the dancing flames of their modest hearth.

“Past the mountains?” he questioned, twisting his lips in thought. “I’m not sure. I think there are a few small settlements on the other side in the foothills. But I don’t know how far they are. Or if they’re friendly.” Cringing somewhat—a town’s friendliness level he cleared his throat and continued. “We’re not far out from the base of the range, though. And there should be some towns on this side of things too. Maybe we could find a hotel to brace for the mountains.” He gnawed at his lower lip. “We do still have the raccoon pelt. But I don’t think we should risk anything before we head into the mountains, in case we need it up there.”

Remy sighed. “We could hurry either way. If we don’t make it, we’ll have had to be in the mountains for winter anyway, right?”

 

Posted: Thu May 23, 2013 9:19 pm

by Simply

“Damien, it is then. I supposed I should start saying it to him more often, so he grows accustomed to it.” She whistled a bit, as she settled against her pack and he bounded over, tugging on the hem of her jacket. She got a sour face and scolded him. “No. No.” The pup stopped and yipped at her, sitting on his behind and wagging his tail. “Good boy, Damien. Good boy.” She scratched behind his ears with her good hand and let him lick right beneath her sleeve before he moved off against, going to smell whatever it was at the corner of their tent. He quickly found a small puddle just outside and lapped eagerly at the water.

Madison was pleased that he had found his own water supply and was drinking it. If he could learn to find those for them, that would prove to be immensely useful. “Friendliness is preferable. Though I could tolerate begrudging help if that was all that there was.” She picked lightly at the cloth on her wounded hand, just idly messing with it, with no real intent of tearing the fabric apart. “We’ll need supplies the moment that the winter ends.” A sigh escaped her lips.

Her fingers flexed on her wounded hand and she shifted her weight around. “We will. I don’t see any way around it, with the weather already this poor. It will be cold there and we’ll likely go without food for a few days at a time. That will lend itself to sleeping frequently and exhaustion.” Sighing again, she clearly dreaded the prospect but was resigned to the reality of the whole matter.

“What were your parents like?” She asked suddenly, as though the topic of spending winter in the mountain starving was too much for her to talk about currently. She didn’t want to dwell on it just yet. If the weather cleared tomorrow, she would go hunting and the next day. They only had a week, maybe two, before the Cold’s harshest cold set in and they would be confined to some place that they found in the mountains. She would need to gather as much as she could carry…and more.

 

Posted: Thu May 23, 2013 9:54 pm

by Astrophysicist

Remy watched as she picked at the bandage on her hand, keeping his lips pressed firmly together so as not to scold her unnecessarily. Idle hands were one thing, but prematurely opening a bandage without a clean one to replace it right away could spell death in the woods just as easily as a lack of food or water. Infection was a serious problem even in well-settled areas; to succumb to one in the middle of the forest or amidst the mountains meant a drawn-out, painful end.

He suppressed a shudder at the thought. They lived very dangerous lives; to wander between places, to never have the guarantee of a next meal or campsite, to go for days without seeing another living soul—it could be mentally and physically trying, and the sunrise each morning brought new obstacles upon which to gamble it all. Sometimes he wondered how many more rolls of the dice he had before his luck ran out.

“Careful with that,” he cautioned, arching his brows. “I don’t want to change the bandage until tomorrow sometime, if we can.” He sensed her dread, which mirrored the slow swell of fear rising in his chest. “It should be healed enough to take the sutures out in a couple of days, well before we get into the worst of it. You won’t have to worry about that, at least.”

He tried to smile, but his own reservations about their upcoming crossing prevented it from touching his blue eyes. When Madison hit him with her sudden question about parents, he nearly choked, covering his surprise by clearing his throat and shifting positions. Magnolia bounded up to him as he moved, tugging at his jacket sleeve with a playful growl. “No,” he scolded, pointing a finger. She let go immediately, tilting her head at him curiously. “Good girl,” he praised, nodding. “Did you see that, Madi?”

Shaking his head to himself, he realized he couldn’t avoid her question without seeming suspicious. “My mother was the most caring woman I’ve ever known,” he said quietly, thinking back not to his true mother—who had been kind but disconnected—but to the woman who had raised him, his nanny, Celine. “I wasn’t very close with my father. He was always distant. Worrying about the militia.” All technically truths, he reminded himself. “But my mother was there for me and my sister. When she died…” He trailed off, shaking his head and allowing the crackle of the flames to fill in the silence of his pause. “What were yours like?” he asked, returning the question.

 

Posted: Fri May 24, 2013 9:06 pm

by Simply

“Sorry.” She apologized immediately, making sure to press the small frayed ends of the cloth back against the skin of her hand. Madison really didn’t want it to fester and result in the amputation of her hand. She wouldn’t be worth her salt if that happened and would likely die, because she swore she would kill herself before she ever, ever resorted to selling her body to survive. It was deplorable and the mere thought made her stomach churn.

Madison hadn’t been paying attention but she was suddenly much more alert when he called her ‘Madi.’ Her eyebrows rose far above her bright gaze, surprised by the sudden use of a nickname that she hadn’t heard since her parents were alive. She looked down, almost embarrassed to hear him use that term of endearment. She reached up and brush back a soft strand of hair from her cheek, making sure that it stayed firmly in place behind her ear. “I missed it, unfortunately.” She said, smiling a bit. “What happened?”

“Worrying about the militia? Had he served at all?” She was curious. Most men served their allotted time and then devoted themselves to the tasks that would produce enough to feed themselves and meet the harsh demands of the militiamen that collected goods, taxes and the like. “How’d she die, your mother?” She asked, as the male grew tired of playing around and liking the puddle. He padded slowly back towards his master, plopping down on the cold earth beside her. She scratched at his ears absentmindedly before shrugging her shoulders.

“Mine were…normal?” She shook her head, unsure. “I don’t know. I don’t have anything to compare them to. We were solitary. We lived alone. I was never allowed to travel and if there were even hints of people traveling through, I would be hid in the storage hideaway space below the house. I would have been….raped, otherwise. If the militia heard that I existed…”She trailed off, looking a the dog’s fur intently while she talked, not meeting his face. He didn’t know what it was like, being a woman in this world.

 

Posted: Fri May 24, 2013 9:53 pm

by Astrophysicist

He realized he’d used her nickname as soon as he saw her reaction in his peripheral vision. Glancing up from the wrestling pups, he offered her a small apologetic smile as he met her gaze. She did not seem to be offended, however, and for that he was grateful—he didn’t know what had inspired him to use the abbreviated form of her name, but now that it was in the open, he was glad he had. If they were to spend an entire winter holed up together, they may as well be on as friendly terms as possible.

“She”—he stopped abruptly, correcting himself in order to get used to using the pup’s new name—“Magnolia seems to be learning the command no. I guess we’ve been saying it enough to them, they’re starting to recognize our tone.” He reached over and scratched behind the female’s ears. They’d only been traveling with the dogs for a short time, but he couldn’t help feeling proud of his young charge. It had only been a few minutes since he’d said he thought training them would be harder than anticipated, but now that he’d seen a small glimpse of progress, it was starting to seem more doable.

He tried not to let their discussion of parents disrupt his improved mood, so he took a few patient breaths and nodded to himself before answering Madison’s next question. “Yeah, he served.” Remy gritted his teeth; no matter how hard he tried, it was a difficult subject to discuss. “I think that’s what made him so…far away. They sort of…broke him.” He heaved a heavy sigh. “My mom died when I was thirteen. Killed by soldiers. I just remember a lot of blood. She had been…violated, too, before they shot her. That’s when my sister got taken.”

Despite his efforts to remain unaffected, he shuddered at the memory. Flashes of bright crimson played before his mind’s eye like a horror film turned real, and he shook his head in an attempt to free himself of the haunting memory. “It’s good your parents hid you away,” he said gravely. Remy may not have known firsthand what it was like to be a woman in their cruel, barbaric world, but he’d certainly witnessed the atrocities. “Maybe my sister would have…” He stopped, unable to form the words. Maybe they wouldn’t have taken her if she’d hidden, he wanted to say, but his tongue wouldn’t speak them.

Clearing his throat, he folded his arms across his chest and leaned against his pack. “You were lucky. We have been lucky. What were your parents’ names?”

 

Posted: Fri May 24, 2013 10:31 pm

by Simply

Madison raised her eyes and watched him as he talked about his father. There was something dark in his eyes every time he mentioned his father and she was curious about it. But curiosity often got people in trouble. It was an emotion and a desire that she often suppressed. No matter how close they became, the young huntress could not stop her basic nature and the instincts that she had developed as a child. She was the embodiment of the will to survive in this world. Nothing would stop her.

The shudder that passed through him caught her attention and she frowned. “I’m sorry to hear about your family...” It was true, she realized. There was an unfamiliar feeling in her heart that ached and wanted to reach out to comfort him. The idea of doing so made her eyebrows converge further before she shook her head and turned her attention back towards the little pup that was shoving his nose beneath her thigh to inhale warmer air. She smiled at little at his gentle nuzzle.

“My father’s name was Jerome and my mother’s name was Penelope. My father always called her Penny. He liked to go around saying a Penny saved is a Penny earned. I never really understood it but it always made my mother blush.” She smiled at the memory but it turned sour when she realized how much she missed hearing her father’s stupid sayings that he hung on to from before the Cold.

“Anyways.” She said, shaking her head and pushing herself up. “I need to move but this rain won’t stop.” She stretched her legs out before pushing her feet into a pointed position and then withdrawing again. Madison’s muscles were beginning to ache from being still for too long. She had never sat in one place so long…except the day that her parents had been murdered. That little hideaway beneath the floorboards had kept her oblivious to what was happening above her…preventing her from somehow saving them.

“Ever thing you’ll settle? Farm life?” She laughed a bit, not being able to see him as such but he would be able to make a good living as a physician in any relatively large town. It was a coveted knowledge and people would keep him well stocked and busy if he stayed.

 

Posted: Fri May 24, 2013 10:46 pm

by Astrophysicist

No matter how much he practiced, no matter how often he rehearsed his story and told it aloud in front of his reflection, he never would have been able to rid the darkness from his gaze when he spoke of his father. It was different to speak of his mother, his sister; his mother, especially, had been distant in such a way that was only appropriate for a woman of her standing, and in all truth, it had probably been best for both of them that she’d been kept mostly away. His mother had not asked for her position, and while she certainly hadn’t been forced to take it, she had been a victim just as much as Remy and Azalea had.

But his father, of course, was another story. As heavily as he tried to cloak the truth, the intensity of Remy’s feelings simply could not be suppressed. He didn’t know if Madison had picked up on his hesitance or his reservation, but if she had he was thankful she did not push the topic. Family was a sensitive issue regardless of military relation; there had been so much tragedy since the Cold—and the recent years before it—there were few souls who had weathered it unscathed in some manner or another.

Despite the thoughts of his father, the general’s son smiled at Madison’s anecdote about her parents. “That’s sweet,” he commented genuinely, his expression at last regaining a hint of emotional warmth. “My parents didn’t get along like that. It sounds like they loved each other. And loved you.”

He sighed in agreement when she declared her desire to move; he, too, had not been still for this many hours in a row for quite some time. He shifted in place and rose to his knees, his head brushing against the tarp as he settled backward and stretched his arms wide. His bare hands stuck out beyond their makeshift rooftop, and he cupped them, gathering tiny pools of cold rainwater in his palms. Bringing one to his lips, he swallowed a single mouthful before looking mischievously at Madison—much like he would have looked to his younger sister before stirring trouble.

His only warning being a mirthful smile, he tossed the other handful of water playfully towards his companion—a tiny splash which largely missed its target. “I’m not really the type to settle,” he admitted, rubbing his hands together to spread the moisture before holding them out to the fire. “I take it you aren’t either. What do you think?”

 

Posted: Sun May 26, 2013 10:28 pm

by Simply

“I think they did. Very much. I was lucky…for a while.” She said, moreover, she whispered the words, letting them be the last thing she said concerning the matter. Her thoughts drifted over a number of things, watching him rise from his sitting position to walk around their makeshift quarters. As she watched him, her gaze shifted until it glossed over, remembering all the sweet terms her mother used to whisper to her father when they thought that she couldn’t hear them.

Although she was looking at him, she wasn’t seeing him. Not until she felt the small sprinkles of cold water on her face. She gasped and blinked rapidly, glaring at him from across the tent. She realized that she hadn’t received the brunt of the water but he has still managed to hit her somewhat. “You’ll regret starting a war with me, Remy. Losing isn’t my nature.” She was smiling and laughing and wiping off the water from her face.

Shaking her head a bit, picking up a small pebble that was beside her bottom and tossing it at his chest as he warmed his hands. “Settling…I don’t think that’s me either.” She shrugged. “I was happen when my parents were Settled. He served his militia time and she ran the farm while he was gone but…being Settled is different from settling. I suppose I could settle for a while but never permanently. I could maybe settle for a time, but ever be Settled.” Being Settled was something that meant permanently planting roots, never planning on moving.

Madison knew that now that she had been on the road, now that she had braved the Cold and survived, she couldn’t go to a normal life. At least, not until she had killed the men that had killed her parents. Swallowing, the thought took her to something she also knew as a fact. If she killed them, she likely wasn’t to survive the ordeal. The Commander would find her and they would hang her for treason. It would be worth it…to slit their throats.

Coughing a little, she continued with a more pleasant thought. “I couldn’t settle alone at least and I don’t see myself finding someone with this lifestyle. Imagine being Settled alone.” She wrinkled her nose at the idea of it.

 

Posted: Sun May 26, 2013 11:09 pm

by Astrophysicist

He returned her smile with a broader one of his own, resting back on his knees at the edge of the fire. The pebble she tossed hit him straight in the chest, but he hardly felt it through the layers of thick clothing he wore. “A rock’s a little more violent than rainwater,” he teased, flicking his thumb and index finger in her direction so that the remaining droplets of moisture once again flew in her direction.

The pups, sensing the conversation’s change of tone, halted their game of tug-of-war with one another’s tails and sat up, looking to the two humans curiously. Remy chuckled when he saw them staring, their heads cocked to the side in the same direction, so he splashed a few drops towards them as well. The female bounded upward, catching a speck of water in her mouth with a snap, landing on all four paws with a furiously wagging tail.

“She’s got the making of a hunter, I think,” he declared, not without a hint of pride. He reached his hand outside the tarp again, gathering another palm full of rain. He tossed another splash towards her, and this time both dogs made an attempt to catch it. “So does Damien,” he added with another laugh. “I know they’re still pretty young, but maybe we’ve been underestimating their potential.”

Glad that their discussion had taken a turn toward conjecture instead of retrospection, he nodded his agreement. “Settling sounds…boring.” That much was true—he had little interest in farming the land when his other skills could be put to better use. “But then again, maybe settling alone wouldn’t be so bad,” he mused, pondering the notion. “It’d be dull and lonely, I guess, but it would be easier. Less stressful. I mean, look at us, we’ve been traveling alone for a long time until recently.” A shrug lifted and dropped his shoulders.

“Do you plan to wander forever?” he asked, genuinely curious. It was something he’d thought about before, but future plans were rarely given priority even in his thoughts. There were never guarantees that he would live to see another sunrise, let alone another week or month or year.

 

Posted: Sun May 26, 2013 11:31 pm

by Simply

“I definitely think that they could turn into magnificent hunting companions,” Madison said, using one of the big words that her mother had taught her to use to describe something extraordinary. Licking her lips, she watched them eagerly waiting for the next bit of water to be thrown their way. Damien even offered a hesitant bark at Remy, as though unsure of what noise would come out of him when he attempted it. After hearing his own noise, Damien wagged his tail happily and moved over to Madison, as if asking if she had seen what he had done. She smiled, but just a little. Encouraging barking could prove detrimental.

A shrug lifted her shoulders. “Farming is too bad. It’s a lot of hard work but it was nice to nearly always have something to eat and the work gave us something to do, well…we had to but it was routine.” She shrugged again, trying not to reminisce on the happy days she had spent in the fields with her father, scouring the ground for the potatoes that they had hoped would take root and grow large enough to feed them through the winter.

At the mention of forever, Madison looked over at him. She had never really planed for a forever. She had planned an excruciating end for the murderers she sought and beyond that…well, she had just assumed that she would die. There wasn’t really a life after reaching her goal. Swallowing, she looked away from him and out towards the rain, watching it fall over and over again, as though it did not concern itself with a single living entity on this planet.

“Forever is a long time.” She said, almost philosophically, but it was really just to avoid telling him what she suspected would happen to herself. It sounded gruesome, more heartbreaking than their world even was. Madison found Remy to be uplifting, light-hearted and kind. It wouldn’t be right to burden him with something like that. It also wouldn’t be advantageous to have him attempting to sway her form her plans.

“In an ideal world, without a Commander and without this hunger…” a soft pause, her eyes unfocused on what lay outside their makeshift home. “I dunno. I suppose I like the idea of a family. I would like to be like my mother was. She was beautiful, my mother. She lit up the whole house when she laughed and when she smiled, even my father couldn’t be sour.” Her voice was far away, as though she might not realize she was speaking allowed. “I always wanted to be just like her. A big lender in the closest town had wanted to marry her when they were young but she had her eyes set on the poor man just out of the militia with nothing but a small plot of land and little farming experience.”

 

Posted: Sun May 26, 2013 11:49 pm

by Astrophysicist

The male pup’s bark inspired Magnolia to follow suit, but her attempt was softer and less successful. That only encouraged her to try again, her small body jumping with each hoarse new breath. Remy snapped his fingers, catching her attention, and muttered a quick, serious, “No,” as he met her dark little eyes. She quieted immediately, sitting back on her haunches and wagging her tail slowly, as though she weren’t sure if she were allowed to do it.

Remy turned his attention back to Madison, pleased that the dog had obeyed his command. “I’ve never done much planning,” he admitted, shrugging. It was normal even amongst those who had already settled to avoid plotting too far ahead for fear of jinxing the days to come. For the general’s son, it was less superstition than the harshness of reality that kept him from thinking too far in advance. He’d seen enough in his travels to know that even the smallest of mistakes could lead to a painful demise. Sometimes it wasn’t enough to use care and caution; life had a way of being terrifyingly unpredictable in spite of it all.

“To be honest,” he began, looking into the fire as he spoke, “I don’t expect to live very long. I mean, I don’t want to die, but with how things are…” He paused, shaking his head as though the rest were common knowledge—which, unfortunately, it was. When he went on, his tone was matter-of-fact despite the macabre implications of his words. “It’s hard to picture the future when you can’t even picture your next meal or your next drink of water.”

He nodded wistfully as is companion described her mother, wishing he had known a similar kind of family life. “She sounds lovely,” he told her, adjusting his position and leaning against his pack. Magnolia trotted up to him and curled up against his leg; he responded by scratching absent-mindedly behind her ears. “You’re beautiful too, you know,” Remy commented gently, smiling a little. “Seems like you’re well on your way.”

 

Posted: Mon May 27, 2013 8:44 am

by Simply

Madison smiled at Magnolia. She did have a lot of fight in her. Her noises emboldened Damien to try again, letting out a louder bark, then another. Madison turned to him and tapped his nose with two fingers, like a mother scolding her child. “No.” She said firmly. He bounded away and barked again. “No!” She said louder and he dropped to the ground, rolling on his back in the dirt and looking at her from his place on the ground. She smiled but didn’t reach out to touch him. “Good.” She said firmly but her voice was a little higher in pitch, which seemed to please his ears and he went and sat beside his sister.

Madison trailed of and shook her head, laughing at his words. “Beautiful like a pig’s bottom.” She laughed, grateful for something to say to draw her out of her memories. It was no good to dwell on them for too long. She would grow despondent if that were the case. After all, a person could only relive so much happiness without becoming completely depressed with their current, unfortunate situation.

“I could never be like her anyways. She was so,” she drew out the ‘o’, contemplating the word that she wanted to us, “pure. She was everything that was not made for their world. It was too harsh of a life, the Cold. She was made for comfort and a life of happiness, not what she got. And it was their fault. Every year, it was their fault.” Her voice dropped and grew dark with anger. She slipped and shook her head again, returning to the conversation about forever.

“Those are my fears as well, or…realizations. I don’t think I will live beyond my,” she swallowed hard and stopped talking. It was not something that she wanted to discuss at length. She felt the prickle of a runny nose and caught herself from the thought any further. Madison did not long to die, but her desire to kill those militiamen outweighed her desire for self-preservation. “I don’t expect to live long, but the idea of being Settled.” She smiled, turning her gaze to him. “I could do it, theoretically.”

 

Posted: Mon May 27, 2013 5:14 pm

by Astrophysicist

Remy chuckled with her when she laughed, but he didn’t exactly share the sentiment inspiring the amusement. He hadn’t been in situations like this very often, and his lack of interaction with young women like Madison made him question his behavior to a point where it made him a little anxious. He didn’t want to make her uncomfortable, but he also felt it was important for her to recognize the truth of their reality. “No,” he disagreed, tone lighthearted but his eyes serious, “I think you’re a damn sight better than a pig’s bottom.” He smiled, putting another log on the fire to ensure its survival for another couple of hours.

“You could be like her in all the other ways,” he suggested, watching as the kindling sent little sparks spiraling into the air. “Kind, smart. Nurturing. Motherly, even, if you count this guy here.” He gestured to Damien, who was busy watching Remy feed the flames between them. “But nothing can take away the other stuff. The fight, the skills to survive. Not everyone’s the same, but we can always grow from the people we admire, you know?”

He thought then not of his family, but of his mentor, his throat tightening at the memory of his death. He was grateful for the chance to speak more generally about settling as Madison continued, and he returned her smile with another small one of his own. “I guess I could do it too,” he said in response. “Theoretically, anyway. Right now it doesn’t sound very…” He paused, searching for the word before speaking one that he wasn’t sure was right. “…appealing.” A shrug lifted his shoulders. “I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. Right now I just want to find my sister.”

He’d allowed a tinge of hope to resound in his voice, which sounded strange when he heard himself speak the words aloud. He gazed off, watching as the droplets ran off their makeshift plastic ceiling. “Looks like it’s letting up a bit,” he said encouragingly. “Maybe we could leave this evening and travel through part of the night to make up for lost time. I doubt the bandits were as lucky as we were to be dry and rested.”

 

Posted: Mon May 27, 2013 8:41 pm

by Simply

“That’s the best idea. I don’t like the idea of getting caught too high up in the mountains during winter.” She began to pack of all her things back into the pack, making sure they were in their designated spots. Damien noticed her packing and began to wag his tail eagerly, as if he suspected that they would be leaving again. The soft patter of the rain died away and they were able to begin to pack up their makeshift tent. She attached the rope around Damien’s neck, making sure that it was in place securely.

They walked a ways, finding a stream so that they could fill their canteens appropriately. She let the dogs drink their fill while they were there, filling up everything that she had with fresh water. Madison swung her pack up onto her back and nodded at Remy, before tugging on Damien’s leash. “Come.” She said, offering two low whistles. He looked at her and then trotted along beside her like a tiny horse. “Good boy, Damien, good boy.”

And that was what they did with the next few days. They walked through some of the evening, before settling down to sleep. Then up at dawn to begin walking again. They made light conversation and starting coming up with the whistle and click commands that they issued to the dogs as often as they could. Madison figured that the more they used their little crude language, the more the dogs would consider it common place and begin to follow it better. They developed simple commands for Sit, Come, Stay. Stay was something that was still in the works though, as most of the time, the pups’ attention spans were extremely short.

Three days since they left the rain behind, Madison laughed when a bug flew right into Remy’s forehead before flying off with an angry buzz. “Your big fat forehead really showed that one.” She smiled before her expressed immediately soured. “People.” She whispered, looking past him at the bend in the road where nearly fifteen people were coming. There was no turning away. They had been seen. However, she could avoid them easily. “I think it would be best if we slipped off the path. We’re almost to the mountain base.” The woods were denser and the land had slowly begun to climb to a higher altitude. “I don’t think cavorting with them would be wise.”

 

Posted: Mon May 27, 2013 9:40 pm

by Astrophysicist

Following his companion’s lead, Remy began to pack up his belongings, stuffing them as quickly and efficiently into his bag as he could. He attached his leash to Magnolia’s neck, wrapping the rope a few times around his wrist before he and Madison began to dismantle their makeshift tent. He shook the excess water from the tarpaulin before rolling it and tucking it amongst his other belongings, their fire hissing as the lingering droplets of rain struck its warm hearth.

It felt good to be on the move again, to stretch his legs and feel the blood pumping through his veins. They made significant progress after their long period of rest, which prompted Remy to think that their delay may have been well worth it in the long run. Even the pups seemed more eager and energized, and as such it made them more apt to learn their crude language of clicks, snaps, and whistled commands.

The terrain gradually began to change as they walked. The forest grew more dense, the trees older and taller, and the undergrowth more sparse beneath their thick shady canopies; the soil beneath their boots grew rockier as well. The land also started to pitch and fall in rolling hills, signaling their approach to the mountains. They also passed streams more frequently now, swollen and full in the aftermath of the recent rainstorm.

The interaction between the two travelers also seemed to come easier now after their long break during the late autumn deluge; though they did not converse on a constant basis during their treks, their short dialogues and evening discussions seemed to have become easier, more natural. They were finding their stride with one another and with their situation, and Remy was thankful for it. So when she laughed at the collision of the angry insect with his forehead, he knew immediately to play along.

“I do not have a big forehead!” he exclaimed, pretending to be offended as he covered his forehead with his palm. “You can’t even see my forehead half the time. It’s either covered with my hair or my hood.” His fun, however, was interrupted abruptly as they rounded the bend. He spotted the group as Madison breathed the word, and he tensed, all the humor draining from his face to be replaced by determination and alarm. “Yeah, let’s go,” he agreed, eying them for a moment before following his companion into the trees. He scooped Magnolia up into his arms and took off, praying to gods in which he did not believe that the strangers wouldn’t send someone after them.

 

Posted: Tue May 28, 2013 5:02 pm

by Simply

The ease with which they walked and talked through the day was comforting. They fell into a strike that was all their own and didn’t have to force anything. Madison enjoyed that they did not need to fill the moments with mindless chatter. As they moved off the path and further into the woods, the huntress scooped up her pup, which had begun to sniff the air in the travelers’ directions. Closing her eyes a bit, she inhaled and exhaled, making sure that her knives were readily available. Her hand was healing and they had decided that tonight they would take her stiches out.

“And you do have a big forehead.” She whispered, grinning at him for just a moment, keeping her eye on the people a little distance. Damien struggled in her arms for a moment, trying to get towards them and let out a low whine. “No.” She hissed under her breath and his ears pressed back against his head, lowering his nose into the crook of her arm in defeat.

“We need to get to the town by tomorrow for her to survive. She’ll bleed out and the infection…” The voices of the travelers carried over to where Madison and Remy were walking quickly. They were about to pass each other but their voices kept arguing it seemed and their movements had stopped. Madison frowned and looked over at Remy. He was tenderhearted. She hoped that he would want to help them. Madison was kind but kindness was not easily and readily repaid in this world that they lived in.

“Even if we traveled all night, Rean, it’s not like we would make it. We’re too slow when we carry her.” A woman’s voice responded, sounding distressed but realistic. Madison swallowed hard, stopping to look through the trees at the large group. She surveyed them carefully with their guns at their hips and knife along their legs. They were vastly outnumbered and although they looks like civil folks, looks could be deceiving.

She hoisted the pup up a little bit in her arms. “Come on Remy, let’s go.”

 

Posted: Thu Jun 13, 2013 11:25 pm

by Astrophysicist

They had to get out of there. She was right.

Come on, Remy, let’s go. Madison’s words echoed in his mind as though she’d spoken them in a cavern, resounded with a truth he could deny no more than the blood in his veins. If they were to ensure their own survival—if they were to make it into the mountains in time to find adequate shelter for the winter—they couldn’t waste their time or their energy with a group of strangers who could pose any number of risks.

Yet his feet wouldn’t move. Even as the young woman led him away, he remained where he was, peering through the dense foliage with furrowed brows. “I can’t,” he said quietly, pursing his lips. “I…I have an obligation. We have to help them. We could trade for furs or food or…” He trailed off, pausing. And before he realized what he was doing, he was shooting Madison an apologetic glance and stepping into the open.

“Rean!” one of the women shouted, terrified, when she caught sight of Remy stepping from the bushes. The man whose name she called immediately drew a knife and stepped forward with a mean scowl.

Remy dropped Magnolia to his feet and held up his empty hands, palms out. “I can help you,” he breathed. Despite his calm voice, his heart was slamming against his ribcage in sudden fear. “I’ve been trained as a doctor. I have supplies. I…I sewed up a cut on her hand…” He gestured to Madison, who remained hidden in the bushes behind him

The man lowered his blade and stepped back in line with the woman, both of whom stood separately from the larger group. “She’s over here,” he grunted, his hand gripping the sheathed blade at his hip as they both turned toward the others. The men and women parted, revealing their injured comrade lying on a makeshift stretcher of ripped cotton and dirty flannel.

A child. Remy’s heart plummeted.

“Can you save her?” a teary-eyed young woman asked, her voice hoarse from sobbing.

Remy said nothing, glancing nervously at the dozen people that now surrounded him, each of whom wore a different type of weapon. He remained silent, kneeling at the young girl’s side, checking her forehead and pulse before going on to stripping down the thick bandage across her middle. She couldn't have been more than six years old. A jagged gash across her upper abdomen immediately began to bleed in the absence of the pressure of the blood-soaked gauze, and Remy replaced it as quickly as he'd taken it away.

Calmly, he kept one hand on the bandage while he turned to look at Madison. “Madi,” he addressed, his voice as smooth as though they were back in the woods, conversing to pass the time of the journey. “Could you hand me my suture kit from my pack? And the gauze as well?”

 

Posted: Fri Jun 14, 2013 4:40 pm

by Simply

I can’t. And Madison rolled her eyes nearly all the way around her head. He had to be joking, but clearly he wasn’t. “An obligation?!” She hissed between her teeth, taking a step or two after him but holding Damien close to her chest and Remy went off to foolishly offer his services. This was going to get both of them killed…or worse. Swallowing, she brushed her fingers over the soft fur behind her pup’s ears. In addition, the startled sound of the woman made Madison uneasy. This all made her feel relatively sick to her stomach and regret the whole notion that traveling with him was a good idea in the first place. Getting involved with someone that couldn’t walk away from an injured person…well that was a sure fire way to get raped and murdered quickly.

Perhaps he could just quickly help the child and then they’d be back on their way. Stopping to assist people every time they happened across an unfortunate stranger would set back their timeline significantly. Madison remained where she was, praying that he would just hurry up so that they could continue onward. She was in no mood to make conversation with a large band of people and hoped that she could remain where she was until he returned.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.

Madison swore softly when he brought her into the conversation. Slowly she stepped out of the trees, setting Damien down but holding onto his leash firmly with one hand. At the slightest movement from one of the band’s members, she’d throw her knife into their chests. She kept her face straight and watched all of them as much as she could, on edge. There were far too many people in one place for Madison to be comfortable in this situation.

Carefully, she tied Damien and Magnolia together to a tree and they whined slightly before she turned and clicked at them, as they had been teaching them to be quiet. The easy tone that Remy look calmed her, but just slightly. She retrieved the necessary items from his pack and knelt down beside him, looking at the people around them and made a motion to get them to back up. She did it so they could speak more privately and was slightly appreciative that they listened to her.

“Remy, this is stupid…they could easily rob us and leave us for dead after you help this girl.” Swallowing, she waited for him to give her something to do. “We need to get out of here as quickly as possible.”

 

Posted: Fri Jun 14, 2013 8:12 pm

by Astrophysicist

It was dangerous, and he knew it. He was risking not only his own life, but also that of his traveling companion and those of their two young dogs. He regretted his decision as soon as he stepped into sight and hustled over to the injured child, realizing that this kind of risk was exactly the kind he’d been hoping to avoid by traveling with Madison. One person—an individual who had saved his skin more than once—was beneficial, logical. He could trust the young woman; she’d proven it already. Together, they had a better chance of surviving not only the winter, but the journey to the mountains beforehand.

But an entire group, a dozen people who would each need food, water, protection? It was too much, and he was afraid they would realize just how unequipped they were as soon as he stitched up the little girl’s wound. He and Madison were more than capable of defending themselves as a team, but they were well outnumbered here. And though they’d battled unbalanced numbers before and emerged unscathed, this time they were dealing with people who had plentiful weapons—and who likely knew how to use them.

Grateful for Madison’s command for the group to give them space, he cleared his throat and pressed the bandage against the wound with a little more force. “I know,” he replied quietly, making sure to keep his face completely neutral and his tone, however quiet, calm. He cut a few narrow strips of clean gauze with his knife and packed the wound slowly, exposing only small areas at a time down its length. “I’ll work fast. Maybe we can negotiate some kind of trade. What else do we need that we don’t have right now?”

He lifted the original bandage and discarded it to the side, looking at the edges of the gash. “It’s already started to rot,” he said, the pungent odor of decaying flesh filling his nostrils now that the full wound was exposed to the cool air. “I’ll need to cut away some of this skin before I stitch.” He gritted his teeth, thankful that the girl was already unconscious, and used his knife to begin slicing away the dead skin after he wiped a conservative amount of antiseptic on the blade. There wasn’t time to re-sterilize all his equipment; the girl would die without his help anyway, so it was more important that they act fast before night fell.

Finishing quickly, began to stitch together the open skin, working in two layers to make certain it would close—assuming the child would survive the oncoming night. He removed the gauze as he worked to prevent additional bleeding, tossing aside the crimson-saturated strips until a pile of bloody rags sat beside them. When he tied off the last suture, he blotted the seam with another cloth soaked in antiseptic, then covered it with a wide band of linen that he tied around her stomach.

The sky was already beginning to darken when he packed up his tools and rose slowly to his feet, signaling Madison to follow suit. “She still may not make it,” he told them honestly, his voice exceedingly calm. “But she has a chance now. If she makes it through until morning, her odds go up. Just…keep her hydrated and warm.”


   
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simply
(@simply)
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Posted: Sun Jun 16, 2013 2:22 pm

by Simply

To say that Madison was displeased with Remy’s behavior was an understatement. The only reason that she wasn’t chewing him out right now is because the little girl in front of them was oozing pus and blood from the wound and he had already gotten them into this mess. The second that they managed to get away from these travelers, she’d certainly give him more than just a small piece of her mind. He would see how truly frustrated she could become and he would understand, perhaps, why she had never traveled with other people before. Other people would get you killed, by walking headlong into a large group of people and telling them that you’ll save their kid. At his understanding response, she snorted. If he knew that this could get them killed, her clearly didn’t value their lives very much.

“The quicker, the better.” The light was growing scarcer by the second and she didn’t like the idea of traveling through the night again. Her feet ached and her hand itched, as it began to heal itself, Madison found the stiches more and more unbearable. He had promised to take them out soon though, preferably tonight. He had looked at the skin previously and it was pink and fresh, healing nicely from the foolish cut. She needed that hand to hunt effectively with her bow and they also needed food for their travels.

His accomplice lifted the girl when he needed her too and she kept her vigil beside him, though occasionally her eyes would flit up and across the band of people that were nervously awaiting the termination of this surgery. Madison’s tongue darted across her lips to wet them as they laid the girl down. She rose and retreated wordlessly to the tree line, standing beside the pups that were sniffing at her boots and eagerly wagging their tails.

“We can’t thank you enough for your help.” Rean said, clearly the leader of their little group. “We’ll stay ‘ere for the night and we insist on repayin you with a hot bite of food. Jorc snagged some rabbits a bit back datta way and her life is worth more den dat.” His accent was scattered with improperly said words and quick phrasing. It was common for those that hadn’t been educated in one of the Commander’s schools or for men that hadn’t been in the militia for too long. The Commander was a stickler for proper grammar and speech, Madison had heard, and assumed that this man was either injured or had managed to escape his service. She shifted her weight and narrowed her eyes slightly, looking from Remy with his blood soaked gauze and then back at the group. Turning them down could be dangerous but so was staying.

“We leave at first light and we’ll camp further away.” Madison said, straightforward but with a bit of an edge to her voice. She wanted to make certain that they knew she was not planning on joining their little troop.

Rean laughed heartily as his companions began to set up their camp and create a roaring fire. “By all da means!” He said, turning to start preparing their food and seeming to ignore the individuals that had come along. A young woman and a man moved the wounded girl away, laying her on a small bed of furs towards the outskirts of the camp that they were building. Madison looked over at Remy, cocking her head slightly, wondering what else they were to do when they have been brought into this situation. She bent down and scratched the pups’ ears as Remy approached. “We should sneak away in the dark, before the sun rises tomorrow before they know we’re gone. They’ll have a watch though.” She kept her voice low but put a gentle smile on her face as though she was talking to her companion about something far more pleasant. “We eat, we pretend to sleep and we leave. I don’t do troops.”

 

Posted: Sun Jun 16, 2013 8:48 pm

by Astrophysicist

Remy could sense Madison’s unease as though it had taken flight in the cold evening air, stinging and palpable to the touch. His own discomfort mirrored hers in a way he tried desperately not to show, maintaining an air of complete and total calm that would not only put the troop’s minds at ease, but also his own. If he acted the part, maybe he could believe himself a little too—and that was something he desperately needed in the midst of this tricky situation. His companion’s tension was doing nothing but skyrocketing his own anxieties, and though he certainly appreciated (and understood) her concern, panicking would get him absolutely nowhere.

Rean, the group’s leader, spoke so quickly and with such a strange cadence that it took him a moment to fully understand his words. He smiled weakly, the expression not reaching his icy blue eyes. “We would appreciate a hot meal,” he replied simply, doing his best to keep the situation as neutral as possible. He shared Madison’s unvoiced concerns that this man was either a deserter or a dropout of the militia, neither of which could be good news for anyone, let alone someone like Remy who bore a tattoo (however false it was) denoting his full service.

Thankfully, the man didn’t bring it up. “Dere is not much else we can do fer you,” Rean went on, stepping a little too close to Remy for comfort. He inched to the side under the pretense of adjusting Magnolia’s leash. “But ye two are welcome, by all da means. Please make at home yerselves, we be ever grateful.”

Remy exchanged glances with Madison, kneeling down as she did so they could converse without arousing suspicion. “We should get away as soon as we can,” he whispered, nodding once as though agreeing happily with his companion’s words. “I don’t like the way that guy was looking at my medicine kit. Or me, for that matter…”

He allowed his voice to trail off as rose back to his feet, checking Magnolia’s leash once again before he made his way slowly to their fire. Because they had more people to feed and keep warm, they’d set light to a pile of kindling larger than Remy would ever dare gather. The light, smoke, and smell of cooking food in such large quantities would attract people and predators alike, which could potentially make their own escape a little more troublesome through the dark, unfamiliar forest.

When the food was finished, he took his serving with another humorless smile, sitting near the outside of their camp’s circle where he could keep an eye on the dogs. When Madison joined him, he kept his voice low. “If they eat this much hot meat instead of storing it, they’ll go to sleep fast tonight. We should go as soon as we can. I don’t want to stay any longer than we have to, and the two of us can travel faster than them to get away. Which one do you think will take first watch?”

 

Posted: Sun Jun 16, 2013 9:12 pm

by Simply

Nodding, she cast a final sidelong glance at him, before conversing briefly with one of the women of the troop. They talked about hunting and where the group had traveled prior to deciding on their current destination. It was all superficial and Madison was wary of the woman, entirely, but did her best to play the part of being interested. She helped them ready their camp slightly before asking for a small portion of meat for their dogs. The eagerly offered her some of the fresh rabbit meat and she moved over to Damien and Magnolia, giving them a few scraps each, which they eagerly consumed and wagged their tails, tugging at their leashes to follow her. She clicked at them once, they slightly stopped before continuing, she did it again and they sat down, looking at her.

Madison took a bowl of the soup and followed Remy. He seemed nearly as uneasy as she was with the whole situation, but he was the fool that had gotten them into this. She was still quite livid at him and couldn’t wait to tear his ear off the second that they were alone. She was almost looking forward to the idea of letting him not hear the end of this little charade for the whole winter that they were likely to spend together. Bright blue eyes rested on his face as she settled down beside him. “I’m not sure but likely one of the men. There are eight of them. Four women. The rest are kids, including the one that you just had to save.” She swallowed hard and looked over at him, setting the soup down. She wasn’t really hungry.

“Traveling tonight will be the best option but I don’t really like the idea of it. The sooner the better though. I don’t like groups, as nice as they are.” She kept her voice low and turned around to check her boot knife when she kicked over her soup. She frowned slightly and watched as the liquid spilled out into the ground, soaking into the dry earth. Ah well, she could grab some jerky from her pack later.

Brushing a hand across her forehead, Madison moved a strand of hair from her cheek. “Can you take my stitches out tonight? It looks good but I really would like the use of my hand back, just in case something were to happen.” She shrugged, nonchalant about it. He was the medical expert here after all and she had to do what was best for the preservation of the use of her hand. He began to slowly unwind the bandage from her hand and flexed it, having it return to feeling normal was wonderful, it would be even better if she got the stitches removed.

Madison held it out to him, taking the bowl from his hand and setting it, half eaten on the ground, careful not to knock this one over. “Please? Just look?” She smiled a little, falling back into some comfort when it was just the two of them. Even if she was angry with him, that didn’t mean that she would be that way forever. Just as soon as she got it out of her system, she would feel better – the sooner she got away from these people, the better. “Tilt your big forehead down and look at this.” She grinned a little and nudged him with her elbow before letting her gaze go over to group, who were talking loudly and working and singing. The little girl was being attended to by one of the women, but she hadn’t yet regained consciousness.

 

Posted: Sun Jun 16, 2013 9:35 pm

by Astrophysicist

He could feel their eyes on him from the moment they took their servings of broth; their eyes followed them both as they took their seat outside their direct circle. A shiver that had nothing to do with the cold raced down his spine. The heat from the vibrant flames was hotter than he was used to, having gotten by on very small fires only once every couple of nights. Madison and Remy had traveled quickly and efficiently, two characteristics that this group couldn’t have shared even if they’d wanted to. There were simply too many of them. And with children who were too young to contribute much more than whimpers and empty bellies, their progress was likely too slow to get them far before winter set in. He may have felt sorry for them if he hadn’t been so unnerved.

“We don’t have to go far tonight,” he agreed, spooning a bite of soup into his mouth. It tasted strange, almost metallic, on his tongue, but with the men and women watching their every move he deemed it wiser to continue eating than to come across as ungrateful. “Just far enough to get away and hide. I don’t like the idea of traveling at night either, especially so close to the mountains. We don’t know what’s out there.”

He downed the rest of the broth in a few swallows, saving the chunks of gamey rabbit meat for last. He grinned, genuinely this time, when Madison extended her injured hand to him and made her quip about his forehead. Unwinding the bandage slowly, he rolled up the excess fabric and examined her palm in the flickering firelight. “It’ll feel better after this,” he told her with a crooked smile, confirming her thoughts. “My forehead’s still a little insulted, but it’ll get over it in a few days.” Working quickly, he retrieved his tiny pair of steel surgical scissors from his pack and cut away the tight sutures. “How’s that? Better?” Before relinquishing his grasp of her hand, he turned it once again towards the light, pausing for a moment—he was suddenly a little dizzy—before he focused in on the faint pink scar across her skin.

The group had thankfully shifted their attention, settling into their nightly routine of conversation and song. He felt strangely warm, with a pleasant numbness radiating from his chest outward to his limbs. His legs especially felt strange, but he attributed it to the stress of their encounter in combination with his full belly of food.

He stood up, knees slightly wobbly, and made his way with Madison to the very edge of the campsite where the dogs were tied. The group’s singing had progressed to tired hums, and the young man tending the fire was allowing the flames to die down in preparation for sleep. “There,” Remy said, nodding with an overly pleasant smile—in case anyone was still watching them—towards the halo of firelight in the darkness. “I think he’s the first watch. We should be able to make a break for it when the fire gets a little lower.”

 

Posted: Sun Jun 16, 2013 9:59 pm

by Simply

She smiled a bit more when she mentioned the feelings of his forehead. Biting her lower lip, she tried to keep the pleasure from displaying on her features though and instead looked at him sidelong. Her gaze was settled on his face, watching him carefully as he worked on her hand. The way his fingers moved over her skin made it tingle and rush up her arm, beneath the layers and layers of clothing that she had on. “Much better.” She breathed, looking up at him and watched as he blinked a few times. She narrowed her eyes and then brushed the idea off.

As they walked, she noticed that his pace was not as steady as it normally was. She walked beside him carefully, keeping her hands by her side. She was always ready for anything. She watched as some of the members of the group began to slip down into their cots and pull their blankets over them. Some of them ended up in pairs, clearly mates or lovers or whatnot. She watched each of them carefully as they moved around the encampment together. His smile was broad and she smirked back a bit, watching his eyes.

“Agreed. Let’s get out of here quickly. I left me pack by the dogs but I’ll be able to use my bow if anyone tries to follow us. “ She leaned up against a tree, putting her foot up, bent. She shoved her hands into her pockets and then drew them out again. Her blue eyes focused on the scar, brushing her fingers across the little pink scar she felt how it was raised compared to the rest of her skin. It was odd, but she enjoyed how ti felt, reminding her not to be so stupid.

She looked over at him, watching him sway slightly and she frowned. Her eyebrows came together, knitting like a blanket. “Are you okay? Remy…” She breathed, putting her hand on his shoulder and pushing off of the tree. Rolling her shoulders she put her face closer to his so that if they were being watched. “What’s going on with you?” She asked, licking her lips, standing in front of him so that she couldn’t see what was going on behind her, just watching him and the way his eyes looked far wilder than they ever had before.

The pups saw them and yipped a little, tugging at the bottom of Madison’s pants. She bent down and rubbed at his head before standing up again, in front of Remy, looking at him. “You’re looking a little unsteady there.” She smiled a bit but let her lips fall away from the curled position they had taken.

 

Posted: Sun Jun 16, 2013 10:36 pm

by Astrophysicist

It took an incredible amount of concentration to walk upright, to remain balanced and on his feet. His head felt cloudy, as though he were stumbling through a thick fog after a spring rain, and his thoughts were sluggish as they tried to deduce what was coming over him. Was he coming down with a cold, an infection? Logic told him that would be impossible; the sudden onset of his symptoms were not characteristic of any common illness he knew of, and he’d felt perfectly fine up until they’d gone to move back to their own subsection of the campsite.

But still he felt afraid. His heart raced in his chest, slamming against his ribcage in a wild rhythm as panic began to set in. He took a deep breath, steadying himself against a tree as he tried to talk sense back into himself. You’re fine, he thought over and over, repeating it like a mantra. His speeding heart didn’t make sense, anyway; it had to be the result of his fear. It didn’t make sense with the rest of his symptoms, which felt, strangely, as though he’d consumed too much alcohol—a harsh but valuable substance that was rarely used for drinking anymore, except for the higher-ups in the militia who could afford such uncommon luxury.

On the night before his thirteenth birthday, his father had allowed him his own chalice of bitter red wine, made from the garden’s grapes and so strong it had practically rendered him catatonic—but he remembered how it had coated the inside of his skin with warmth, how it had slowed his racing thoughts and made him so sleepy he could hardly keep his eyes open long enough to make it back to his bedchamber.

What he was feeling now wasn’t quite the same as alcohol-induced inebriation; he felt more strange than warm, and his anxiety was not at all quelled—in fact, it had been heightened. He gripped Madison’s arm without thinking, closing his eyes for a moment before opening them to look blearily at his companion. “I think I need to lay down,” he said quietly, not quite keeping all the alarm from his voice. He lowered himself slowly to his knees, doing his best to look as though he were getting ready for bed with nothing out of the ordinary.

“I…my limbs feel…weird.” He coughed a little, blinking rapidly in an attempt to clear his streaking vision. He couldn’t have returned her smile even if he’d seen it; it seemed to be getting more and more difficult to move, like he was losing control of his muscles in favor of acute paralysis. “I don’t know what’s happening…can I…can you get me the…canteen?”

 

Posted: Sun Jun 16, 2013 11:08 pm

by Simply

He needed to lie down. No, this was wrong, this was all wrong. A frown played at her lips suddenly, replacing the amusement that had been there before. Sighing, Madison grabbed his arm and then his other one, holding him upright. She searching his face and noticed the small amount of sweat that had begun to form along his hairline. She reached up with one finger and brushed at it, letting the bead form on her finger and then shook it off. She helped him ease downward, the concern evident on her face.

She swallowed hard and his words made her rack her brain for why he would be feeling this way. “They gave you something.” She hissed, thinking back to the soup bowl. Remy had eaten enough to the point that if they had poisoned it, he would certainly feel the effects. “Fucking shit.” She breathed, letting her curse fill the warm air between them. She crouched beside him and reached for his canteen. The two pups curled up beside him and whined low in their throats. She looked over at them and hurriedly poured him a small cup of water. Madison tilted his head up and held the water to his lips.

Madison had been distracted and hadn’t noticed that the men had started to get up. They stood a short distance away and as one of them moved, Madison heard the crunch of their boots. She pushed herself up and whirled around, drawing her knife. “Now look, you can try to kill us, rob us, but I’m going to take some of you with me when I go.” She said, straightening her body until she was at her full height, which was rather tall for a woman.

“Now dere,” Rean said, sticking his hands into his pockets. The men at his sides had firm grasps on their clubs and weapons of choice. “We just want da doc dere. Itd be usefal to have a doc round the troop.” He smiled and Madison looked briefly over her shoulder at Remy before turning back to Rean.

“Just the doctor?” She asked, watching Rean nod his assent. She cocked her head, appearing as though she was weighing the benefits of such a trade. “In exchange for the large bear fur there, I’ll leave without a fight.”

That made Rean laugh heartily and nod to one of his men. “Deal. But ye clearlay ave little regard for em.” Madison had no other choice right now. She couldn’t do anything to stop these men or to get Remy moving, she had to take her chances on her own. Her mind was racing, trying to formulate a plan to get out of here alive. One of the men brought the fur but she held up a hand, stopping him.

“He had little for mine when he came out of the woods. It was a partnership of convenience. It’s suddenly become inconvenient…” she paused, pointing to the fur, “Toss it and don’t move or he’ll have my knife through his heart in an instance.” Swallowing, she caught the large pelt as they tossed it to her and then she proceeded to tie it to her pack. She grabbed the leashes in one hand and pulled the dogs away from Remy’s frozen body. She cast one glance at him. “If anyone follows me, I’ll kill them. There will be nothing for your new doctor to save if they follow.” She backed away from them and disappeared into the trees.

 

Posted: Sun Jun 16, 2013 11:43 pm

by Astrophysicist

They gave you something. Through the haze of his thoughts, the realization struck him just as Madison spoke, terror once again ripping through his veins. But try as he might, he simply could not get his limbs to cooperate—his arms were too heavy to lift, and his legs tingled with a numbness so intense he doubted he could have supported his own weight even if he had been able to get to his feet.

He was also fully conscious despite the wooziness of his head, which meant that despite the delayed processing time, he could still hear and see and comprehend the things happening around him. He was trapped in his own skin with little more ability than breathing and moving his eyes, neither of which was particularly useful at getting himself out of this situation. Without his motor function, he was as good as dead—they could butcher him alive, steal all his belongings, his food, his pup… He looked to Madison, who had risen to her feet to confront the group’s leader, then took a moment to catch up with what was going on right in front of his eyes.

But she wasn’t defending him…she was…abandoning him? Trading his life away without a bat of her eyelashes? If he could have screamed, he would have. Foggy frustration boiled within him, a maddening, blinding anger conjured by her extreme betrayal and exacerbated by his utter helplessness. I saved your fucking life! he wanted to shriek, but the words halted in his throat and manifested in a strangled cough. What are you doing!? Madison! What happened to you!?

If thoughts had any real effect outside the mind, the men that surrounded him—including Madison—would have fallen to their knees at his deafening protests. When his former travel companion threatened to run her knife through his heart, he nearly choked, sputtering like a half-drowned child as he struggled to come to terms with the betrayal he was powerless to stop. Furious and terrified, he could do nothing but lie there, watching as she untied the dogs, including Magnolia, and disappeared into the darkness surrounding the encampment.

Rean waited several moments before he dropped to his knees at Remy’s side. “Don’t worry dere, doc,” he sputtered. A grin curled his lips that looked more like a sneer, and if the general’s son could have flinched, he would have. What did you give me!? he thought ferociously, his heart beginning to race again.

“All you gotta do is cooperate and we’ll tek care of you. Dat simple.” Rean laughed that same hearty laugh, his cronies joining in with hollow chuckles. “De drug will wear off in a couple of hours. No harm done. Best to sleep fer now, ya see?” He clapped Remy roughly on the shoulder, dragging him by the neck of his coat to rest closer to the fire—and closer to their guard.

Remy’s eyelids were suddenly as heavy as his limbs, and slowly, cursing Madison and Rean and his father and everything that had led him to that hideous moment, he drifted into a deep, motionless sleep.

 

Posted: Mon Jun 17, 2013 9:05 am

by Simply

Madison walked until she was far enough away that the pups, if they made sound, would not be heard. She settled down and Magnolia seemed agitated, looking around and back behind them. She tugged at her brother’s ear and whimpered for a moment, before the meat had its effect on them as well. She yawned, her tongue stretching out before she licked her nose and settled down beside Damien. Madison watched and set the fur around them, tying their leashes to a tree. She placed her hands on her head after she lowered her pack to the ground. Her pink, raised scar felt rough against the skin of her temple and she let her hands fall back down.

What am I supposed to do now? She asked herself, pacing back and forth, wringing her hands together nervously, thinking so fast that she could not even keep up with her own racing thoughts. Calm down. Calm down She inhaled slowly, trying to rid herself of the thoughts of her parents’ bodies. They weren’t going to kill Remy, they were just going to keep him drugged until they brainwashed him into joining their troop. Licking her lips, her breathing slowed ands he calmed her mind.

For two days, Madison planned, she crept back to the camp, watching from a distance, careful to avoid making any unnecessary noise, but with that many people in one place, it was unlikely they would have heard her anyways. As she watched, she heard Rean conversing with a woman about his drugs. They needed to take him off of them so he could check the stitchings on the child, he couldn’t do it in a compromised state. Rean agreed andRemy was allowed to detox, but he was kept tied to a post near the center of the camp. Her eyes drifted over him ands he recognized the agony of abandonment in his eyes. It made her heart thump in her chest. He actually thought she had left him behind for a bear pelt. Frowning, she would have to have a significant talk with him about his faith in her after she rescued him.

The young girl recovered from Remy’s help after a day and a half, though she still had to remain relatively immobile. That was fortunate, for her rescue attempts at least. Swallowing, she went back and fed the dogs, walking them around a little to tire them out. After the sun began to descend and the forest grew dark, Madison slipped her bow sheath on her back, securing it firmly before taking her bow in her right hand. She counted the paces towards the camp carefully and to where she had hidden a couple of traps that would hopefully prove useful.

Madison took position, a few yards outside the camp. This better work. She swallowed, drawing an arrow, but it was different than the others. It was wrapped in a gentle cloth at the end and wet. With her flint, she struck it enough and a spark danced from the stone to the cloth, igniting. Turning hurriedly, she notched the arrow and fired. It slammed into a pile of brush on the other side of the camp that she had placed there, to draw their attention away. When she heard a shout of alarm, Madison wasted not time doing it again, in a different location. More of the men were dispatched, leaving Remy relatively alone with some of the women.

This was not going to be easy. She slung her bow across her back and drew her knife, slipping up quietly behind the post as the women huddled around the children, whispering hurriedly about bandits coming to kill them in the night. Madison almost felt sorry for them, if they hadn’t attempted to drug both of them. “Can’t believe you thought I would trade you for a bear pelt. You’re worth that and a few rabbits at least.” Madison whispered, kneeling down she placed a hand on his arm and began to saw through the thick rope with the knife. “Can you run?” She asked, hiding behind him, breathing as softly as she could, hearing the men starting to return.

 

Posted: Fri Jun 21, 2013 6:12 pm

by Astrophysicist

Two days. Two long, agonizing days, days lost to fitful sleep and frightening dreams. He was kept on the edge of camp, continually guarded by one of the troop members. Their job was easy, of course, as Rean kept the general’s son paralyzed with a cocktail of drugs; he couldn’t have run even if he wanted to—and lord, did he want to—but his thoughts were so hazy he could hardly formulate a plan. He could taste the metallic tracings of medication in the water they forced him to drink and the salty broth they forced down his throat thrice a day, but apart from that, he wasn’t aware of much else going on beyond his frozen view of the treetops.

The worst part of it all was being left alone to his sluggish thoughts, listening only to his breathing and the whisper of leaves through the dense forest canopy. He may have been slower to process information under the influence of these narcotics, but still he seethed about Madison’s betrayal. The scene played out over and over in his foggy mind—the young woman’s eagerness to trade his life for a pelt, her claim that she wouldn’t hesitate to slide a knife through his heart, the fact that she’d taken Magnolia without a second thought—he burned with disappointment and anger as he lay there, as good as dead, a prisoner both of his own body and of the troop. And the worst part was that it was all his own fault.

Late morning on the second day, he was suddenly lifted from the ground, being carried by men he couldn’t see to the center of the camp near the fire. For a moment, he thought they might be about to burn him—but they placed him a few paces away, close enough to feel a hint of relieving warmth, tying him tightly upright to a post they’d pounded through the frosty soil. “You’ll be checkin’ Landa’s stitches dis afternoon,” one of them said, backing away. He saw Rean come out from around the other two members, but the troop’s leader said nothing—only smiled that broad, toothy, grotesque smile that left Remy feeling chilled to the bone. When they came to feed him again, there was nothing out of the ordinary in the broth—both a blessing and a curse, he realized quickly, knowing it would take another couple of uncomfortable hours to fully detoxify if they were cutting him off without weaning the dosage.

By the time night fell, Remy had regained most of the feeling in his limbs, and he was able to roll his shoulders stiffly against the ropes that bound his arms. He was still groggy, however, and when he saw the flaming arrow soar across the campsite to strike a pile of dry brush on the opposite end, he thought he might be hallucinating. When he saw the familiar shadowed figure emerge from the darkness of the surrounding brush, his heart began to race—half in relief, half in unreasonable anger. Madison’s whisper in his ear stirred a feeling of hope nevertheless, and he straightened his posture in an attempt to make it easier to get to the ropes around his body. He would have laughed at her quip about his value had the situation been different (and had he the strength), but for now, all he could do was nod breathlessly at her question and rise shakily to his feet.

Seizing Madison’s arm for stability, they took off through the camp, hindered somewhat by Remy’s clumsy steps. As they passed his pack, which hadn’t moved from where he’d left it two days prior, he scooped it up and swung it over his shoulder with all the strength he could muster. He could hear the men behind them, realizing what had happened in a chorus of angry voices, the loudest of which belonged to Rean. The sound sent a shiver down his spine, and he gathered the strength to pick up his speed as they dashed into the darkness of the forest.

He let his companion lead the way; he was still disoriented and tired, his muscles protesting his every step as they picked through the forest brush. When at last they slowed to a stop, he fell to his knees, propping himself above the ground with his knuckles as he began to tremble.

“Do you have any water?” he asked, hardly able to choke out the syllables.

 

Posted: Fri Jun 21, 2013 11:03 pm

by Simply

Madison and Remy moved, with her helping him as much as she could when she began to hear shouts behind them. She looked over her shoulder, putting her hand subconsciously to one of her knives. Her heart began to pound faster and she was grateful for that fact that Remy picked up his pace and began to move more lithely through the trees. Soon though, the trees began to thin, closer to where she had made her camp and he had to stop. Shaking her head, she looked over at him, taking a few steps away and catching her breath.

Large inhales and exhales of air were taken as she straightened herself up and made sure that her bow and arrows were properly positioned on her back. “I’m not far. I have some water up there by my camp.” Far off, she could still hear the troop and anxiety began to creep back into her chest, latching its talons around her heart. “If you can make it to the camp, we can get you some water, but we’re going to have to keep moving.” She sized him up and down, watching him carefully to see if he would suddenly collapse from exhaustion.

The archer didn’t want to ask him if he could make it. She feared the response that she would get. Instead, she slipped her arm beneath his and they moved briskly to the camp that Madison had set up. The pups let out a bark of excited before a quick hand shot out to clamp around their jaws. “No.” She hissed, clicking as they had been practicing for just this occasion. After they settled and Magnolia was able to smell Remy, she moved over to her canteen and lifted it up. She opened it and held it out to him. The full canteen would likely be empty when he was finishing quenching his thirst, but it was better to be thirsty than dead.

When he took it, she took off her bow and her arrows, before pulling on her pack. She settled everything into its place. Looking at him with her bright blue eyes, Madison took her canteen back and slipped it into her pack. Finally, she gathered up the courage to ask the question that she had meant to ask but sill feared the answer to. “Can you make it? They’ll hunt us, at least for a while.” Swallowing, she moved to untie the dogs’ leashes. Carefully, she slipped then around the tree that she had tied them to and held them in her hands.

If they couldn’t move fast enough, Rean and his lackeys would catch up to them. They would immediately kill Madison and take Remy hostage. Likely they would kill the pups and eat them in the stew that they would drug Remy with for the remainder of the month. Then they may sell his services, keep him in servitude and he would die early. The idea was not comforting.

 

Posted: Fri Jun 21, 2013 11:24 pm

by Astrophysicist

“I can make it,” he insisted, his breath leaving his chapped lips in silvery clouds against the cold night air. He hauled himself to his knees, his heart pounding mercilessly against his ribcage, his legs aflame as the last of the drugs began to exit his system. “Can you help me up?”

Taking Madison’s arm, he rose shakily to his feet, moving as briskly as he could towards the camp his companion had established. The bark of the dogs loaned him strength despite their misbehavior, and distantly he was impressed that they were obeying their clicking commands under such important circumstances. When they cleared the bushes and he caught sight of the female pup, he breathed a sigh of relief and lowered himself to the ground, slinging his pack to the side to keep the weight off his shoulders as much as possible. Soundlessly, the little dog rushed over, her tail wagging excitedly at the return of her human compatriot. Had Remy the strength, he would have smiled, but he settled instead for a brief scratch behind her ears and a grateful look to Madison when she passed the full canteen.

He drank three large swallows before he surfaced for air, his lungs still starving for oxygen from their escape from the camp. “Thanks,” he finally was able to say. His face was noticeably pale even in the darkness of the forest, and the sweat that covered his brow was cool and clammy. He needed time to recover, but time was one thing they didn’t have. “I can keep going,” he said, nodding as much to reassure himself as to communicate to his companion. He ran his hand along Magnolia’s back once again before he rose to his feet, resting his hand against the rough bark of the closest tree. “Okay,” he announced quietly, taking the pup’s leash from Madison and wrapping it around his wrist. “Let’s go.”

With Madison’s steadfast help, Remy managed to stay on his feet until the sun began to brighten the sky. After a short rest to rehydrate and feed the dogs, he was feeling mostly back to normal; his stride was faster, steadier, and he no longer had to cling to the young woman’s arm to keep himself from toppling to the frosty soil. The nights grew colder as they traveled, the long dark hours so frigid that the days could barely recover a shred of warmth. The trek had also grown more difficult; they reached the base of the mountains within three days, picking their way around the craggy cliffs and frosty pines that marked the beginning of the pass they sought. Game was growing scarcer with every hour forward they pressed, and on the afternoon of their seventh day, snow began to fall from thick, dark clouds.

Where the two had traveled in comfortable silence before, the quietness that settled between them since the ordeal with the troop was tense and awkward. They exchanged words only when absolutely necessary, keeping their conversation to a minimum in the aftermath of Remy’s great mistake. She was angry with him, he knew, but they both were aware that a confrontation would simply be a waste of precious time and energy.

The snow fell heavier in the coming hours, and judging from the sky it was not about to let up anytime soon. With a cold wind blowing down the tall, snow-capped slopes, Remy was beginning to be concerned about finding appropriate shelter—these unpredictable mountain storms could cover a sleeping person before they could wake to dig themselves out.

When Magnolia began to bark, bounding eagerly forward ahead of the humans with her brother at her side. Remy clicked for her silence and peered ahead in line with their gaze, stopping in his tracks and turning to Madison. “There’s a cabin,” he said quietly, gritting his teeth. “There could be people. But if it’s abandoned…”

 

Posted: Sat Jun 22, 2013 7:36 pm

by Simply

Madison was pleased that he was safe and the comfort that came with knowing that she had saved his life, but it also allowed the anger that she had from his reckless actions to bubble forth. She only spoke when she was spoken to and focused on the task at hand. They had mountains to cross and climb, during the winter, which would certainly prove difficult now that the snow had begun to fall. At first, the pups loved it, bounding and trying to catch the flakes. However, they soon grew disenchanted with the whole affair when it began to cover the ground and kept their fur wet.

The sky gave a formidable rumble and Madison cast her gaze skyward. Frowning, she knew that the snow was not going to relent any time soon and they needed to find shelter…possibly for the whole winter. Living in a tight cave would be…difficult at the very least, but fortunately she still had that large bear pelt, which would prove to be beneficial for them in the coming months. They were likely to remain there for at least two months, until the snow began to melt.

Distracted, she heard Magnolia and turned her face towards Remy before looking ahead. The sight of it made her heart stop, momentarily. “We have to be careful.” It was well hidden behind a line of trees, clearly an old retreat for some rich family before the Cold. She shouldered the straps off of her pack and set it down against a nearby tree before tying Damien’s leash to the same tree.

She retrieved her arrows and her bow, looking at Remy intensely. “I’ll go aound back and circle the cabin. Just…” She sighed, as though frustrated with him. “Just wait here.” Her anger from their previous encounter with other humans had gotten back into her mind. She just wanted him to stay here. God only knew that if there was a hurt person inside, he’d just have to go in and help them, likely causing a similar situation.

“Think you can do that?” Her tone was harsh. Madison had a temper and was intolerant of foolish actions. She should have let it go by now, but she couldn’t let it go. She hadn’t told him how she felt about it. Instead of dissipating, her fury and frustration with him had festered and boiled to the surface like an infection. Someone had a bad attitude, that much was apparent.

 

Posted: Wed Jun 26, 2013 5:11 pm

by Astrophysicist

Madison’s irritation was almost palpable, floating as heavily on the icy wind as the thick flakes of white that tumbled from the ceiling of gray clouds. Remy shifted positions uneasily, glancing upward as the low growl of a winter thunderclap resounded off the rocky peaks of the mountains. They really needed shelter; at the rate the snow was falling, they didn’t stand a chance of getting through the next couple of days. And what made matters worse was that the longer they went without finding a suitable place to camp—either for waiting out the current storm or even weathering the entire season—the more difficult it would be to locate something suitable. And if they were caught off-guard by mother nature, well…their whole mission would have been for naught.

Not that they had much of a unified mission anymore, Remy thought begrudgingly. His female companion seemed about as willing to interact with him as she would be to interact unarmed with a pack of wolves. It was as though she stuck with him now only because he was convenient—he was no longer a friend, but rather a tool for survival, one that she didn’t have to carry sheathed in her boot or packed in her bag.

But he was tired of filling that role. Although he’d been the one to get both of them in the mess with the troop in the first place, he still harbored deep resentment toward his blue-eyed comrade. Her betrayal, though she had redeemed herself by coming back for him, still stung him, hitting far too close to home for comfort. And when she snapped at him to remain where he was, he felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up hotly despite the chill of the wind.

“I won’t do that,” he told her, his tone equally as harsh. “I’m going this way, and we can meet on the other side.” He dropped his pack next to Madison’s, tied Magnolia’s leash to one of the straps, and set off in the opposite direction around the cabin, not waiting for her to reply. He crept slowly toward the foundation of the crude structure where the snow was thinnest, keeping low. There were no windows—where would settlers this far into the mountains find the glass to cover them, and who could afford to risk losing that kind of heat? When he got to the rocky chimney, he slipped off a glove and pressed the back of his knuckles to the stone. It was cool to the touch—a fire hadn’t burned there in twelve hours at least.

When he met the young woman on the opposite side, he sheathed his hunting knife and met her eyes expressionlessly. “No fire, no footprints going to or coming from the doors or windows. The snow’s been here three days at least.” Hardly daring to get his hopes up, he paused, pressing his ear to the wall. Silence but for the howl of the wind. “I think we should look inside.”

 

Posted: Mon Jul 08, 2013 8:29 pm

by Simply

When he defied her, her face exploded in a fit of anger. Her eyebrows came together and her mouth twisted into a snarl, showing her teeth like a dog might when it was in a fight. She felt heat rush up into her face. Her immediate desire was to bash something hard into the back of his skull to knock him unconscious. The rage that bubbled up inside of her was quelled when he walked around one side of the structure and she gritted her teeth and headed around the other side, carefully.

Nothing of consequence occurred and she watched him sheath his hunting knife. Foolish. She thought, thinking that she should pounce on him, show him a lesson about never dropping your guard when you’re not in a place of safety. However, the hostility between them was high enough and she didn’t want to waste any more time on this nonsense with him. He had gotten under her skin and she would deal with it later.

Madison said nothing and nodded her head, looking at the back door to the sizeable cabin. It had to have been renovated since the Cold began. The walls before the cold would have been too thin, heated by electricity and warm water and power. Now it was dilapidated but not too badly. It would provide them without enough shelter through the winter to give them a decent chance of survival. She slipped her bow and her arrows where they were supposed to go and drew out her knife, settling it firmly in her dominant hand. With her left, she pushed the door open slowly, hearing the hinges creak from disuse. The smell that hit her nostrils was stale and she wrinkled it before making sure the door was open entirely before she proceeded in. Her eyes darted around the room, noticing that there were two doors off of a hallway and a loft that was accessible by a ladder that had fallen over and broken on the floor.

Madison pointed to the loft, indicating that he should scope that out as best as he could. She circled the room carefully before moving down the hall, opening each door carefully. One had a porcelain item in the middle that she recognized as a toilet that they had used before the Cold. It was moldy and the tile beneath her feet was broken. Her bright blue eyes scanned the small bathroom quickly before withdrawing and moving to the last room.

It was larger than she had thought and it had clearly served as some kind of storage facility. It was filled with boxes. Her eyes scanned them and it said Rubbermaid. Realizing that there was not a person in the room, she opened one of the boxes and found files of papers and photos and memorabilia from someone’s life. The people that had lived here? She thumbed through a few of the pictures before heading back out to the large center room.

“Remy?” She said the name cautiously as she rounded the corner to the large room.

 

Posted: Tue Jul 16, 2013 4:49 pm

by Astrophysicist

He watched the sudden torrent of anger streak across her face in response to his defiance, an emotional explosion and hot and vicious as a fire bursting to life on a dry hearth. They may have been a team, but she was no boss of his—even if he did owe her a debt for rescuing him from the clutches of his own too-hasty compassion. It sparked an equally-ferocious outrage within him, and as he crossed around to the opposite side of the cabin he felt his face grow hot with the pressure of its suppression.

Blinking snowflakes from his lashes, he stepped in after Madison as she pushed through the stiff old door to the stale, dusty interior. The walls were thick, clearly having been renovated since the set-in of the biting Cold, and despite the fact that it had been abandoned for some time it was several degrees warmer than the frigid landscape surrounding it. Sheltered from the wind, he pushed back his hood to allow himself to hear better, drawing a slender knife from the sleeve of his coat.

Following his companion’s gesture (much to his chagrin), he crept along the bare wall to where the ladder had toppled over to the dusty wooden floor. Holding his blade between his curled lips, he used both hands to lift it upright, the crude splintered boards creaking in protest of the sudden movement. Judging from its hasty construction, this was not the original ladder that would have been built by the owners of the cabin; it was too shaky, too unfinished, having clearly been fashioned from pieces of uneven fallen timber from the surrounding woods.

Despite its numerous broken rungs, the side rails seemed sturdy enough. He propped it against the loft opening above and placed his weight on the first rung, bouncing experimentally. The old wood groaned but held fast, and Remy ascended the uneven increments—skipping the broken rungs—until he could peer over the second-level threshold.

With his knife back in hand, he hoisted himself lithely upward, kneeling in the thick dust as he surveyed the shadowy loft. The ceiling was angular and awkward with the pitch of the roof, but someone had clearly made a home here long ago—a stocky bed was pushed into the corner where the diagonal of the roof met the straight stretch of wall, its lumpy mattress covered neatly with grime-coated quilts. Beneath its wooden frame were opaque plastic tubs that he’d seen from his ascent. An oil lamp with a broken glass shade sat on a haphazard nightstand fashioned from the same crude wood as the ladder, and scattered across the floor were torn pieces of cloth and paper whose ragged edges had been, at one time, nibbled on by shelter-seeking mice.

While the first floor had clearly been used as a storage facility, it was clear that the keeper of the goods had used the loft as his or her personal quarters. Nevertheless, cardboard boxes sealed with strips of adhesive plastic lined the wall opposite the bed. He approached them cautiously, squinting through the dim shadows before reaching out to wipe away the dirt from faded, scrawling handwritten labels. Albums, one read, then Kitchen. Bath. Toys. He’d been about to plunge his knife into one of the flaps when he heard Madison calling his name.

“Here.” He knelt at the opening in the ceiling where he’d placed the ladder, peering down at the young woman. He was calmer now, and a little more hopeful. “What’d you find? There’s a bed up here. A lamp. Some boxes of stuff.” The wind howled against the roof as he paused, reminding him that the weather was only going to grow worse by the minute. “We should go get the dogs. And our packs, before they’re buried.”

 

Posted: Wed Jul 17, 2013 9:51 pm

by Simply

He answered and she stepped out into the open, looking at him as he peered down at her. Bright blue eyes scanned his face and she could visibly see that his mood had improved. Unfortunately for him, Madison was still seething over his betrayal and them obstinate disregard for her commands. Never having had friends or companions or anyone besides her parents, however, the young woman was not sure how to approach the situation. Instead she handled it in what was likely the least advantageous manner – letting it boil and bubble beneath the surface. Eventually the young huntress would reach a point where she could contain her anger no longer.

“Okay. I’ll go get the pups and our packs. Why don’t you check out what’s in those boxes. There are more back there with things I haven’t seen.” She shrugged and held her knife back in a ready stance as she strolled out of the cabin before he could protest to what she said. When she made it back to where they had stopped, the pups were shivering together in the snow and a good fourth of an inch of snow covered the packs. She brushed it off and slipped her pack onto her back. She grabbed the leashes with one hand and then his pack with her other. It was heavy, but it wasn’t far.

Pushing open the door of the cabin with the toe of her boot, Madison let the pups run in, sniffing anxiously as all of the new smells. Damien quickly found a rug and began to roll around back and forth on it, trying to dry off his fur. It occurred to Madison to make him stop, but what did it matter? She could make that rug for the pups to sleep on in front of a fire – if they managed to clear out the chimney that was likely clogged with debris and snow.

Tossing their packs into a corner, she closed the door behind her and slipped her knife into its proper and quickly accessible spot. Taking off her gloves, she ran her hand over her eyes. It was exhausting being so angry with him but every time she considered what he had done – what could have happened to them both – it made her stomach clench and her blood press harshly against her skin. Swallowing, she cast the thoughts aside and moved over to the base of the ladder, looking at it skeptically.

“You climbed up on this? It looks like it would fall over if a raindrop hit it.” She touched it curiously, looking at the rungs. If they planned to stay here, they’d need to make a new one. The heat of the fire could rise upwards and it may be warmer to sleep up in the loft, if they could clear all the junk out of it. She wanted to take a look around up there but the idea of putting her weight on such flimsy pieces of wood made her squeamish. She took a step back and cast her gaze upwards again. “Did you find anything useful?” Her tone was softer than it had been before but at the slightest provocation it was highly likely that she would snap at him again.

Damien barked at his sister and pulled at her leash, causing Madison to move over and scold him. She untied their leashes and hung them over a worn down chair to dry from the dampness the snow had conveyed on them. With the door shut, this cabin was warmer than the surrounding of the winter world outside. She knew that if a fire raged in the fireplace that it would be more than comfortable to live in for the winter. They had gotten extremely lucky that they had stumbled upon this place. The only negative was that they would be cooped up together for a few months and nothing but anger inside of them.

 

Posted: Wed Jul 17, 2013 10:09 pm

by Astrophysicist

Despite the terrible condition of the ladder, the actual construction of the loft and its floor seemed solid. The floorboards protested beneath the weight of his boots, but they did not bend or splinter, a fact that reassured him nearly as much as the discovery of the makeshift bedroom tucked neatly into the angular corner.

Catching Madison’s eye from above, he did his best to remain civil, taking an approach similar to hers—burying his anger, tucking it way to be addressed at a much later time. This was not the opportune moment for battling things out; there was too much to do, too much to prepare. The storm raged on outside, hurling snow and ice upon the already-harsh landscape to the mournful whistle of gale-force winds.

He nodded once, acknowledging that he’d heard her command, and he retreated back to the stacked boxes along the wall opposite the bed. The cardboard had been wet at some point, leaving the brown papery material wavy and darkened on the flaps on the top layer of containers. Concerned suddenly about leaks, he looked up to peer at the dark ceiling, but there was no damage he could see to indicate a breach in its hold; the more likely story was that whoever had lived here before had carried these supplies inside during a storm, and the damage was caused by melting snow that had accumulated on the flats.

With perhaps more force than necessary—an indicator of his pent-up anger—he stabbed through the plastic adhesive strips with his knife, sliding it along the seams in the cardboard to reveal the contents of the box. He’d chosen the one labeled kitchen in faded ink, and was lucky enough to find several beat-up pans, one of which was slightly tarnished and incredibly heavy. He stacked up the cutlery and placed it in the two saucepans, piling it by the ladder along with a set of chipped lightweight cups. They appeared to be made of some kind of earthen material—clay? Porcelain? Materials he’d only ever seen behind display cases in his mother’s prized dining room, never used.

He heard Madison re-enter—he’d tensed at first, until he recognized the panting and yips of the excited, confused pups—and once again looked down at her through the opening in the ceiling. “You have to be creative about it,” he said, indicating the latter, “but it held me. There’s plenty of room up here. Some cooking supplies, some pans. Some cups and plates.” He held one of the porcelain glasses up between his bare fingertips, sniffling. “I feel like I could smash it with my fingers.”

When his companion retreated further into the cabin, he tucked a few of the supplies into his pockets, leaving the heavier metal pans above as he carefully descended the rickety ladder. “We should get a fire started as soon as we can. Before night hits. I don’t like the sound of that storm, it’s only going to get worse.” He paused, inspecting the dusty fireplace. "I'm going to see if there's any kindling nearby. We can dry it out in that back hallway."

 

Posted: Thu Jul 18, 2013 9:34 pm

by Simply

Madison did not want to get the least bit creative with that rickety little contraption that had supported his weight so he could access the loft. Wrinkling her nose at the idea of it, she cast her sights on him and the pots and pants that he had referenced. When he held up a porcelain plate with soft designs on the side that she couldn’t make out in detail from where she was standing, she cocked her head to one side. Her mother had had a small set of teacups that looks similar. A young Madison had known better than the touch them and she had only seen her parents drinking out of them perhaps once a year. They were something that she had found shattered on the floor when her parents had been murdered.

“Don’t.” Was her immediate response before she shook her head. “They might fetch a few items in some of the bigger towns where some officers can afford that sort of lavishness, I mean.” That was a part-truth. In actuality, she wanted to search through the things and see if there were any small teacups. They would serve as a reminder of what she had lost and what she would do to see that murders brought to justice.

She crept over to the fireplace and stuck her head in, looking up at it after he inspected it. “I’ll try and find something to clean this out with. But I think that it will be highly clogged. We’ll need to carry the junk out before we start a fire.” She turned away from him and moved into the back room that she had been in before. She rummaged around a few of the boxes when she found a dusty broom, or what was left of one, against the wall, having fallen over. Picking it up, she carried it back out into the living room.

While he was gone, she poked and prodded at the top of the chimney until it gave way and collapsed against the bricks that composed the hearth. Dust and straw flew up into the air and she turned her face away, coughing into her arm. When it settled, she looked at the pile and the snow that now covered a good portion of the floor. Frowning, she peered up into the chimney and saw the light twinkling down at her with a few snowflakes drifting down from the opening. She smiled at her accomplishment before putting her gloves back on.

Glancing around, the resourceful young woman grabbed a bucket that was near the door and began to fill it up and dump everything outside. Using the little bit of straw that remained on the broom, she swept all the dust into a pile and frowned, before carefully sweeping it towards and out the door. Completed, Madison placed her hands on her hips and turned to realize that the dogs weren’t in the room. Frowning, she strolled back into the room with all the boxes and looked inside. Her frown curled upwards as she saw them bundled together on a pile of clothing that she had moved when she looked through some of the boxes.

 

Posted: Sun Jul 21, 2013 5:40 pm

by Astrophysicist

Remy’s expression hardened somewhat when she told him not to break the porcelain cup, taken aback that she would think him stupid enough to waste something so potentially precious. With the way she’d treated him since his moment of misjudgment with the troop at the base of the mountains, he shouldn’t have been surprised. For a moment, however, he considered throwing the delicate glass from his perch in the loft, to let it shatter pointedly at her feet in a show of defiance.

But such senseless waste would prove nothing to either of them. Instead, he pocketed what he could and eased down the rickety ladder, crisscrossing his weight from leg to leg as he maneuvered down the creaking rungs. Keeping quiet, he unpacked his coat of the place settings he could carry, stacking them nearly on the floor next to the fireplace. In the increased light of the lower level, he could see that they were a pale blue-white in color, decorated around the edges with a subtle floral pattern that reminded him of his mother’s lavish dining room.

Catching sight of his pack, he rummaged through its contents to find a small, slightly rusted hacksaw. He also fished out his blanket, slinging it over his shoulder. Biting back the memories the plates had conjured, he moved back towards the door through which they’d entered, pushing past Madison without meeting her gaze. He pulled up his hood and slid on his gloves, drawing his larger hunting knife in his opposite hand as he pushed the door closed behind him and set off into the woods. The wind had picked up since they’d ventured inside, and at least another inch or two of snow had fallen on top of the existing drifts. He pushed through the piles authoritatively, making his way through the dense trees to find the lower branches.

The trees had been mighty once, he thought as he moved among them. Now, the Cold had stripped them of their dignity, leaving behind skeletons of the once-prospering giant oaks. Their spindly arms hung low and dying; even the evergreens had dropped their needles, unable to hang on to the last of their hunter-shaded clothing in the face of these terrible winters. Thankfully for Remy, that loss was their gain; it would have been impossible to find fallen branches beneath the gathering feet of heavy snow. He methodically began to saw through the thicker boughs, the physical activity keeping him warm against the bitter chill of the blizzard.

When he had several large branches, he began to cut them apart on the ground, tipping them at an angle to prevent sinking in the snow. The auxiliary branches were easy to slice through, and before long, he had a good pile of firewood that would last them at least two nights if they rationed carefully. Long enough, he calculated, until they could brave the storm and get more, perhaps together.

What he hadn’t counted on, however, was how much more the wind would pick up while he sawed away. His heartbeat began to accelerate with fear, fueling his quick action to spread the blanket on the white bank and load the firewood on top. Tossing the saw along with the wood, he tugged at the blanket and pulled it like a sled. When the dark outline of the cabin at last broke through the trees, he breathed a sigh of relief. Another fifteen minutes and he could have been lost to the storm.

“Madison?” he called, opening the door slowly so as not to startle her. The snow had piled high enough that it was level with the door, and all he had to do was pull the blanket through the opening to rest in the narrow hallway.

Throwing back his hood, he sniffled against the cold and tossed his soaked gloves to the floor. “Did you get it unclogged? The fireplace?” he asked breathlessly, closing the door with a slam. “This stuff’s wet, but it won’t take long to dry out if we can get something going now. Maybe with the broken pieces from this…” He reached over and placed his hand on the ladder, eyes sweeping the floor for its cracked-off pieces.

 

Posted: Sun Jul 21, 2013 6:14 pm

by Simply

She heard him and the pups did too, scrambling up from the little hovel they had created and bounded off down the hall, their tails wagging so quickly back and forth that they couldn’t run in a straight line at all. She followed them slowly, shoving her hands into her pockets to warm them. Her boots made a rhythmic tap down the hall until she came upon Remy and the load of limbs that he brought in with him. Her eyes fell upon him and even though she was probably the most angry she had ever been at someone, he was still her partner and not looking well at all.

“Christ.” She exclaimed, helping him in with the things before looking at the ladder. Her eyes scanned him over. His outer jacket was extremely wet, having been snowed on the whole time he was gone. “Get out of your jacket. I found a blanket in the back that we can put on you.” She ignored everything he said about getting a fire started and moved back down the hallway. She picked up the blankets their pets had been sleeping on. She shook them out and carried them back over her arm to the main room. She held them out, impatiently waiting for him to get out of the wet clothes. Hypothermia was dangerous.

It was then that she decided that she could talk about starting a fire to help dry the wood that he had brought in for them. “We could break down this ladder and build a better one, just the wood from it to dry the others?” She cast her gaze upwards to look at the loft. “I think we could easily climb up into the loft from one of the chairs that’s in the storage room as well, at least until we build another one?” She shrugged. If she was going to get up in the loft above the main room, she sure as hell was not going to be doing it on the piece of shit ladder that he was currently leaning on.

“It’s unclogged and cleaned, as best as I could manage for the time at least.” Licking her lips, she pushed her hair back out of her eyes and sighed. “We should start a fire…” She breathed, picking up some of the broken fragments of the ladder and moving them towards the fireplace, arranging them strategically.

She grabbed her flint pieces and began to strike, working carefully to get a spark to start the fire. Sighing, she stood up and went into the back room against, grabbing some random papers and tossed them in. Then she began again and the fire took hold, flickering in the fireplace and its smoke billowed upwards up the chimney and out into the Cold world.

She straightened up and the pups moved over to lie in front of the fire. Brushing her hands on her jacket, she returned her flint to its proper place in her pack before she rolled her shoulders. “There is a lot of stuff in the loft and in the storage room. We could start to go through it, keep what might be valuable. We could choose rooms, the loft or back there.” Madison jerked her thumb back to the room she had been in frequently over the last few hours.

 

Posted: Fri Aug 09, 2013 12:41 am

by Astrophysicist

By the time Remy reached the cabin, closed the door behind him, and started to unload the damp kindling from his makeshift sled, his teeth had begun to chatter. He clenched his jaw tightly against the tremors, removing his soaked gloves and repeatedly flexing his fists to restore some of the feeling to his fingertips. He was far from frostbite, but it was still too close for comfort—he relied too much on his fingers and hands to risk permanent damage. The very thought was enough to nauseate him.

While his companion retreated to the back room to fetch the blankets she'd found, he slowly stripped of his wet jacket, outermost layers, and boots, laying them out flat on the dusty floor. Though the current temperature inside the cabin was far warmer than the frigid air beyond its sturdy walls, folding the wet garments meant a slower drying time than simply spreading them out. Until they got a fire going, he did not have the patience to risk potential hypothermia.

He took the blanket gratefully when Madison offered it, hesitant to express his thanks aloud for fear of aggravating her further. His gathering of firewood was clearly not an answer to their ongoing disagreement, and though they worked together to get the fire going and assess the contents of their newfound shelter, there was no mistake that residual ire simmered beneath the surface of their curt words and gestures.

Wrapping the blanket around his torso and shoulders like a shawl, tossing in a few of the papers Madison brought from the back room and watching with relief as the flames began to catch. The temperature increased quickly as the fire grew, which was a good indicator that the single hearth would suffice to heat the entire cabin—or at least that room and the loft directly above.

He nodded at her suggestion. “We could start in the back room,” he said, tightening the wool blanket around his shoulders despite the fire. It was comforting to be too warm for once, and he relished in the opportunity like a starving man savoring the bites of a rare meal. “We should have no trouble climbing up to the loft, but it might be better not to risk falling until we’re more rested. If we have to carry anything down, we’ll have to wait for a ladder anyway.”

 

Posted: Sun Aug 11, 2013 9:42 pm

by Simply

Madison watched as he began to strip off his clothes before some innate, deep feeling made her turn her eyes away as though she was embarrassed. She shifted her feet slightly and turned to head to the back room to grab a couple of boxes. “Why don’t you uh…” she looked back over at him, glad that he still had clothes on. She hadn’t expected him to remove any of his clothes, well…she hadn’t anticipated it at least. Madison had spent time with him over the last few weeks but she had never, not once, seen him without any part of his clothing. “Sit by the fire and I’ll grab some boxes. We can start going through them.”

She walked down the hall and searched through a few of them briefly, before deciding on three that would stack nicely so that she could carry them down the hallways. She grabbed them from the bottom and moved forward again, rounding the corner and out the door. Bright blue eyes saw the pups bounding around the room and she stopped short, just as Magnolia’s tail swept across the top of her foot. “They’re going to trip me and I’m going to die one day.” She said, smiling a little and the tone in her voice lighter than it had been before. She may not have forgiven him yet, nor was she planning to, but at least she could be civil…for now.

Setting the boxes down by the fire, she felt the warmth of it against her face. It rushed down her back and she felt something on her cheeks. She brushed them with the back of her hand and almost laughed. She was flushed, as in too warm. She had not expected to be so warm. The air surrounding the fireplace was seeping through the insulated cottage and Madison momentarily reveled in it. She stripped off her jacket, handing it on a hook near the door they had entered from. Moving back, she sat down by the boxes and drew her feet out of her boots, setting them by the fire.

Wiggling her toes, the archer closed her eyes and let her feet begin to get too warm for comfort. Withdrawing, Madison drew down the top box and set it down. She drew back the flaps of the box and began to pull out books out, mixed in with papers and she frowned. Madison opened the books, flipping through the pages. She could read words, for the most part. She knew how to write her name and how to speak properly but books were a…luxury. She never had any, she never learned to read hundreds of pages fluidly.

“What are we supposed to do with these? Burn them?” She asked, tossing them in a pile. She peered over the side and into the box. “This one is all books. All of them. What do you do with some many books?” She pushed that box aside and took the last one, opening it wide. The new one that she opened was filled with a random assortment of items. She began to take things out when he hand grasped a soft golden orb filled with a soft pink liquid. On the top was a nozzle and she pressed her finger over it and it squirt directly into her face. Gagging, she dropped the orb into her lap and rubbed at her eyes with the back of her sweater. “Fuck.” She exhaled, rubbing at her eyes and then inhaling threw her nose. The scent was positively delightful. “What is this?!” She exclaimed, looking at the object warily from its place in her lap.

 

Posted: Sun Aug 11, 2013 10:58 pm

by Astrophysicist

It was strange, to walk around freely in so few layers without fear of hypothermia or frostbite. The fire had taken to its kindling with a sudden burst of energy, roaring to life more quickly and easily than Remy had seen of flames in a long time. It occurred to him that it was due to the dry state of the broken ladder; in the woods, even the driest wood was still somewhat damp, which naturally meant it took longer to light and more fuel to maintain a steady temperature.

As the air temperature began to improve, so too did Remy’s mood. His cheeks slowly adopted a reddish tinge, and he shed the blanket he wore around his shoulders, folding it neatly and placing it next to Madison’s boots near the hearth. It would be a long time until the heat melted the cold that seemed to have permanently settled in his bones, but it was a good start—a start he welcomed with open arms. When his companion returned with the boxes, he knelt beside the stack near the flames, reveling in the blast of warmth radiating from the flickering streams of orange and yellow.

“Books,” he repeated in surprise, sitting up to dig through the box. He took out a large stack of dusty volumes, some bound in leather, some smaller ones in paper. Books were a rarity, a luxury; few could afford them, and even fewer could actually read them. To see this many all in one place, well…it was a collection perhaps rivaled only by the one held in his father’s grand study, where all four walls were lined with cases containing the general’s favorites and those he deemed most important for preservation.

Remy picked one up and blew off the dust, opening it to an arbitrary page and scanning the letters scattered across the brittle old paper. “We could burn them if we have to,” he said reluctantly, sighing. “There’s probably not many people who would buy them, and they’re heavy…” He trailed off. The books conjured mixed emotions; on one hand, they reminded him of his father—but on the other, he had relied on old medical textbooks from Dr. Sterling to fill in the gaps of his medical knowledge after the man’s demise.

Thankful that Madison had moved on to the next box, he sat up a little straighter to peer inside, watching as she picked out a round glass bottle full of rose-colored liquid. As she pressed her finger to the nozzle, he held out his hand to stop her, but it was too late—the mist was already flying through the air in a cloud that covered the skin of her face and neck. She looked so shocked that Remy had to laugh—a kind laugh, one that calmed to a genuine smile as the aroma reached his nostrils.

“It’s perfume!” he said in explanation, somewhat awestruck to see something else of such luxury tucked away in old boxes abandoned in the middle of the wilderness. “You know…it’s like scented water. To smell good. Women used to wear it for special occasions. Men would wear it too, but it was called something else.” He thought for a moment. “Cologne? I think that’s what it was.” He chuckled. “Just try not to spray it in your eyes.”

 

Posted: Sun Aug 11, 2013 11:30 pm

by Simply

Making another gagging noise, she picked up the bottle and placed it to the side. The smell was positively beautiful, but Madison was too irritated with it for the moment to appreciate all the enticing components of the scent. “Why would people want to place this on themselves?” She furrowed her brow and looked skeptically at it for a long moment before turning back to him. “It would attract all kinds of horrible bugs. Special occasions?” She tried to think about it. “People would just put things like this on, to smell nice?” She rubbed at her eyes again, clearing away any remnants of perfume that lingered.

She winkled her nose and looked at the stack of books, confused slightly at his words. She had noticed the way that he had touched the books and looked at them. “Can you read them?” She asked, pointing towards the book with the next item she had drawn out of that box. “Like all of the words?” She asked again, licking her lips and wiggling her toes, as they grew too warm. Distracted by the feeling of wetness between her toes, Madison’s attention shifted to her socks, which she promptly removed and placed by her boots. Blue eyes moved back to him, looking at his face.

Her gaze fell to the item in her hand and she swallowed. It was a soft plush toy, in the shape of a bear. She tossed it aside and Daemon came over and snatched it, shaking it ferociously before Magnolia growled at him and tried to steal it from his mouth. They bounded off to tear at the toy and Madison reached back into the box, but paused. Her mind drifted back to the books. “Can you read them, for real?” She put her hand back into her lap and reached over for a book. She looked at the title and tried to form it out in her head, saying it a couple of times before she actually said it outloud.

“Games of Thrones?” She pushed her lips together into a pout. “What’s a throne?” She held the book out to him. It was a thick hardback book with the words written in gold against the black. It was a thick volume and she wondered what it was about. She almost wanted to read it but she knew that it would take her the remainder of her life to get halfway through the novel. As she looked at it, she suddenly remembered behind mad at him. She tossed the book over at him. Well better now than never.

“Why the fuck did you go and help that girl? Why didn’t you think?!” Her anger was palpable now. She was so furious just thinking about it. It’s as though the word game had triggered something in her, how he had thought this was a game – that their lives were just something to gamble away. Breathing heavily, she looked at him with ferocity in her eyes. She didn’t let her gaze stray from his, he was going to have to tell her.


   
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Posted: Wed Aug 21, 2013 7:55 pm

by Astrophysicist

Bugs? Remy bit back a laugh, studying Madison incredulously. The idea that perfume would attract insects had never once occurred to him, but of course it wouldn’t have. He had been raised with rare luxuries like libraries and cologne and fine china; she had grown up in rural seclusion, where finery was something described only in fairytales. “I think people would wear it for indoor occasions,” he told her, glancing back down into the box. “Bugs wouldn’t have been as much of a problem.”

He reached back into the box as his companion made the same gesture simultaneously, and he withdrew for a moment when their hands brushed. Taking care not to meet her gaze—they were still at odds, despite their momentary truce—he fished out a small paperback book whose cover was tattered and stained. The text was so faded he could hardly make out its title page, and he looked up, still squinting, when Madison spoke.

His expression relaxed, and he nodded slowly. “Yeah,” he told her with a shrug, “I can read them. Well, most of them, probably. I’m a little out of practice.” He put down the tiny paperback and looked to the volume she held in her hands, taking it when she offered it to him. “A throne is like a fancy chair kings used to sit on to do their…I dunno...royal bidding? I don’t think they’re around anymore.” He cleared his throat and opened the cover, greeted by a drawing of a map that he didn’t recognize. Westeros? He furrowed his brow. A work of fiction.

His thoughts were interrupted when Madison suddenly lashed out. When he looked up from the black book in his hands, his gaze flashed a fury to rival hers; his anger unfurled like a long shadow at dusk, his cheeks flushing beneath his whiskers as the heat of his ire met the heat from the fire. “What?” he exclaimed, his jaw dropping. “You have the nerve to accuse me of not thinking? Not weighing my options? Fuck, Madison, I’m not an idiot—I saved that girl’s life!”

Breathing heavily now, he clenched his fists and broke from her stare, taking a moment to glower at the floor. “That little girl was you. Or my sister. Or my mother. Or your mother. What if it had been one of them? This world fucking sucks, Madison, and if I can do anything to make it a little more bearable, I’m going to take that chance.”

 

Posted: Fri Sep 13, 2013 11:17 pm

by Simply

Madison would have been infinitely impressed with his ability to read and his description of the book if the sudden desire to completely break whatever temporary truce they had come to hadn’t overwhelmed her. She felt it bubble inside of her like a pot spilling over with a boiling broth. She didn’t know what suddenly changed her mood. Perhaps it was how perfectly content they were in that moment that caused it. Not in a traditional train of thought, of course. Momentarily, she had considered how nice it was to actually relax and then she thought of how this almost didn’t happen because he had nearly gotten them killed. Subsequently, it crossed her mind that she could be dead now, instead of finding out that he could read complex works of literature. All in all, the tremendous desire to strangle him filled the pit of her stomach.

“Have the nerve?!” She sat back as though he had hit her in the face. Who said that? Rich people said that. It gnawed at her, but only for the briefest of seconds because he was off cursing in her general direction. “Not an idiot?!” She didn’t realized that she was repeating everything back to him, before she was off to the races. She pushed herself up and took a few steps away from him, running her hands through her hair so furiously that it caused her braid to unravel around her shoulders. The tendrils of soft chocolate hair brushed against the back of her sweater before she whirled on her heels to face him again.

“You are a complete and utter idiot, moron, imbecile, worse than a roadwalker.” The words slipped out and to anyone in the present time it would be a clear slap in the face. A roadwalker was someone who had been Settled and then taken to the road, but in the most idiotic way possible – they followed the actual roads. The roads that were littered with troops and gangs and the lowest kind of human. All roadwalkers ended up dead, after being badly raped and beaten. She tossed her hands in his directions before spreading them out towards her side in an exasperated movement. “I don’t give a damn, Remy. You could have gotten me killed. You could have gotten yourself killed all for someone you don’t know, someone that in all likelihood is being kept around just so they can trade her at the next brothel for a couple of goddamned batteries!” Her mouth grew more foul as she continued.

“Fucking sucks. You’re goddamn right it fucking sucks. This world is harsh and cruel and unforgiving. UNFOR-FUCKING-GIVING.” Madison shouted it at him, moving back over and picking up and book and tossing it at him. The pups looked up from their positions and knew better than to try and get up. Mommy and daddy were fighting, best pretend to be asleep. “You got lucky that I was not some shithead trollop that would eat anything some strangers set in front of her. And I’m not sorry that I don’t share you idealistic belief that this ,” she motioned all around her, at the world in general, “can be made better. It can’t. and I don’t appreciate you taking liberties with my life. DON’T TAKE A CHANCE WITH MY LIFE! Do I not mean more than some nobody?!”

 

Posted: Sat Sep 14, 2013 2:55 pm

by Astrophysicist

What!?” The strangled syllable dropped from Remy’s lips with hoarse disbelief. Beneath the light brown stubble that covered his cheeks and jaw, his skin flared crimson—as much with increasing as the increasing temperature of the room as a result of their fire. Unaccustomed to the comfort of such heat, he found that it pushed his irritation even further, sending his simmering rage into a full-on rolling boil.

“If you had any idea the shit I’ve seen in this world, Madison…” His voice had gone quiet, its intensity magnified tenfold by the frightening gleam of anger in his blue eyes. He wouldn’t—couldn’t—look at her; his stare settled on the crackling flames in the fireplace, imagining her self-righteous face amongst the dancing flashes of orange and gold. “We’ve all seen some pretty fucked up shit, but I’d bet my life you haven’t seen what I’ve seen.”

He hurled his words at her as though they were solid objects capable of physical harm, and when at last he shifted his gaze to seek hers, his expression was a hybrid of pain and fury. You think the militia is bad from here? he longed to scream at her, you should see it from the inside! He raked his fingers through his too-long hair with blatant disregard for the snarls he snagged. Unconsciously, his hand trailed down his neck to grasp his left shoulder—just above where he wore the tattooed brand his father had printed upon his flesh on his thirteenth birthday. On this day you are considered a man, Gregoray, the commander had told him, clapping him proudly on the back as though he’d possessed some semblance of a heart, And not just a man. My successor.

Our world is on your shoulders, Gregoray.

A hot shiver traversed the length of Remy’s bony spine, and he bristled. Looking up just in time to see the book soaring through the distance between them, he batted it away with a swipe of his hand and watched as it fell open and skittered across the dusty floor. “Roadwalker?” he repeated, balling his fists at his side and taking several steps towards the smug young woman. “If it weren’t for me, you’d be dead already. I have to believe there’s something we can do for the world—something I can do. It fucking sucks here, but slinking around in the fucking shadows forever is letting it fuck you over just as bad as it’s fucking over those bastards in the troop. Don’t you get it!?”

He bent down, picking up the book and straightening its pages before slamming it closed in his hands and tossing it a little too forcefully back into the box. “Surviving isn’t just learning to live with what this fucking world deals you! I’m sorry if I scared you, I really am, but we have to fight for what little good is left, and yeah, that will probably mean I wind up dead. But I’d rather rot in the fucking ground than let this wasted society tell me how to live. Isn’t that the whole reason you’re going to Thebes!?” He was close to her now, his breathing ragged, his eyes glittering with indignation. “Now tell me that’s not worth fighting for.”

Something—his anger, his frustration, the fear he had repressed in that silent week of travels—seized him then, lifted his arms to firmly grasp each of the brunette’s shoulders. He shook her once under his tightened grip, stooping a little to search her azure eyes with his own furious glare, and then all at once leaned in to press his lips to hers.

 

Posted: Sat Sep 14, 2013 4:10 pm

by Simply

Madison’s blue eyes shined up at him when he drew closer to her. She was shaking in her frustrations and desire to inflict pain in his general direction. Her hands clenched by her sides, balling up so tightly that her knuckles blanched and her fingernails dug into her palms. She was mindless of the fact that her fingers were pressing against the freshly closed wound of her palm. Her fury was so great that a tempest would have a difficult time matching the storm was raged inside of her at this very moment.

“That is exactly what surviving is, Remy! It is taking the shit that you are dealt, that has come to you from those that fucked up and making the best of it. For you, apparently,” she snarled the world, her fists releasing and her fingers extending to their full length, as though ready to wrap him around his throat, “surviving means behaving wrecklessly and just managing to scrape by with the help of sheer and utter luck.” She snapped the words out as if it was hurting her just to speak to him now about these things. Brown wisps of hair brushed against her cheek as she shook her head.

But he grasped her shoulders and shook her back at him and her eyes shot wildly towards his. Her lips parted to respond to his comment about Thebes, but she didn’t have a second before his mouth was upon hers and all thoughts fled from her mind. She had been handled this way before…and yet, she hadn’t. This was different. Yes, it was forced upon her but it was so full of emotion that she was surprised. Something took over her and she was lost to place what it was. Her hands moved up, breaking his arms off of her shoulders, only to place her hands against his chest, parting her lips against his.

Yet the moment she did so, she pushed him away, taking a breath and looking at him, bewildered. “Are you fucking insane?! How dare you.” She hissed the words out between her clenched teeth. Her hands were in front of her and she lowered them down but then stopped, as if holding them out would keep them apart separate them. Madison’s heart began to pound rapidly in her chest, pressing hard against her ribcage with beats so furiously it began to frighten her.

“How dare you.” She breathed again, before she took the two steps towards him that closed the distance between them and pressed her mouth against his. The feeling of his mouth on hers, that first moment, had been exhilarating. It was sent shivers through her body, followed by the igniting o her nerve fibers. Madison was electrified by his touch and his mouth against her own. It was something that she needed to feel again and the reason she slipped her hands into his hair, feeling the long smooth locks against her skin. Her head pulled back just long enough to take a ragged breath that shook her whole body before she took his mouth again, so livid and electrified that she didn’t realized she had taken his lower lip gently between her teeth.

 

Posted: Sat Sep 14, 2013 10:11 pm

by Astrophysicist

The general’s son barely heard the words Madison spoke before his mouth was against hers, and their lips were parting against one another’s in a sudden outburst of repressed passion. His heart, already thundering against his ribcage in the heat of their argument, slammed harder against his breastbone. Every fiber of his nerves was suddenly aflame, rekindling a fire on the hearth of his soul that he hadn’t realized had been extinguished along the way.

He exhaled through his teeth in a long hiss when she shoved him away, and he threw his arms outward to keep his balance and prevent himself from stumbling over the pile of drying winter gear behind him. When he looked at her, the outrage in her eyes was cushioned by something more, something deeper—a hunger, a desire, a frustration, perhaps—and when she leapt forward to return his initial gesture he was reminded of a predator, fierce and graceful. In that moment before they collided, he caught a glimpse of a lioness, a creature he had long ago read about in an old book—complete with a mane of silken hair like a wild halo about her reddened face.

How dare you.

Remy stumbled back with the force of her sudden embrace, landing lithely on the half-dried pile of downy coats and blankets resting on the floor near the fire. Madison, her hands finding and tangling within his hair, fell on top of him as their lips forcefully caressed one another’s. But neither of them seemed to notice the sudden shift in orientation; it came as naturally as had the first kiss, enveloping them in a flash of white hot fervor that blinded them to all but one another, to all but their anger and their fear and the release of tension beneath an ever-looming threat of uncertainty.

His hands found her waist, supporting her, and then ran up and down the length of her back until his fingers tangled in her long hair at the nape of her slender neck. There was fury in his touch just as there was in hers, but it was never cruel, never harmful. His heart threatened to burst from his chest as she took his lip between her teeth, and he rode the rush of it—the act of danger, of risk—to seize hers in return.

He couldn’t say how long it lasted; the notion of time may as well have burned up with the firewood on the hearth or been buried in the relentless snow outside. At last he pulled away, pushing her firmly from his mouth despite the unlocked desire to continue, and he collapsed fully against the winter garments cushioning his back. Panting, he leaned his head back and stared at the bare wood ceiling, the sound of his blood pumping in his ears roaring as loud as the blizzard beyond the sturdy cabin walls. They exchanged no words.

As soon as he caught his breath, he rose to a sitting position, pointedly avoiding Madison’s gaze and staring into the fire. He cleared his throat. “I should stoke the fire,” he commented hoarsely, rising unsteadily to his feet to toss a few more pieces of the broken ladder into the moderate blaze. “We should probably eat something before we call it a night.”

 

Posted: Sat Sep 14, 2013 11:00 pm

by Simply

Their descent to the pile of garments went unnoticed. All that she could sense was his touch, his taste, his scent. It flooded into every single part of her, enveloping the huntress so completely that all she could think was his name. Passion mingled with anger that mixed with excitement. Madison had been kissed before, she had been fondled and touched and groped but having Remy’s hands hungrily press against her was something she had never even thought she would feel. She knew that he was angry with her, just as furious as she had been. They had both said things but those words could not convey their true emotions as well as this embrace currently did.

He pulled back and she rolled away, letting her body weight fall back next to him. Her chest rose and fell in labored breaths, exhaling through her nose to try and make the movement less noticeable. Words would have destroyed whatever had just happen. Madison said nothing. She made not motion to initiate conversation.

As she rose, she nodded, keeping her gaze fixated on the ceiling above her, counting the nails that were place firmly into one long wooden board. “It was getting low. That’s a good idea.” She said, pulling her arms up so she could rest on her elbows and look at the pups that had settled into sleep comfortably, though Daemon opened one eye to look at them, as if he knew what had transpired.

Her head turned to look at him, watching as he leaned over and dropped the wood into the fireplace that crackled and hissed like an angry snake. The bend to his back was delicate and she realized that she could almost see the muscles move beneath his shirt. It was the first time that she had seen him so bare and she hadn’t truly realized it earlier. Had she brushed her hand against his skin, his back, when they had been in that heated moment? She closed her eyes and tried to think back and realized that all she could actually recall was how utterly right it had felt to give herself over like that.

Madison had always though that she would never be intimate with a man – well, on purpose and because she wanted to. It hadn’t been a thought before her parents had died and since then her only desire was to see their murders shoved off of the highest cliff. Letting someone touch her like that – wanting someone to touch her like that – was foreign and made her skin tingle.

“I can get something started for dinner. While it stews, we should finish with this box. “ She looked over at it before moving to her pack and gathering the necessary items for them to have a decent meal. She finished adding everything into the pot and placed it onto the fire, letting it begin to warm. She ran her hands through her hair then, feeling warmer than she had in many years. So warm that she took off her second coat and wore only three layers – her undergarments, her long shirt and a thick sweater.

 

Posted: Mon Sep 16, 2013 2:15 pm

by Astrophysicist

“Yeah,” Remy said without looking at her, throwing another jagged piece of broken wood diagonally over the flames, “yeah, that’s a good idea. Okay.” He felt her gaze on his back, and he stood fully without turning around. His eyes searched the cloud of flying sparks instead, and the pieces of smoldering ash floating up through the newly-cleared chimney reminded him of the fireworks of their embrace. Unconsciously, he brought a finger to his lips, lips that were still tingling from the force of their exchange.

There had been something more than just desperation and loathing traded between them in those moments. It had not been robotic or mechanical, but it had felt altogether automatic, natural in a way he had only read about in books. Romance, love, desire—their society had banished these things out of necessity, outlawing them as impossibilities amongst greater concerns for survival. As Madison had pointed out, it was dangerous to show concern; it was a fool’s errand, and it was bad enough that the world punished those who dared let down their guards. But to become attached, to care? That was suicide.

And yet despite their anger, that was precisely what had become of them. Their status as emotionless team had perhaps never existed. For all their trying, for all their lying to themselves and each other, the truth was that there was far more than convenience holding them together; if it had been only that, either one of them could have been left for dead along the roadside. They had defied the odds in the lonely desolation of a crippled world, and the bond they shared as a result could be stretched—as their harbored grudges had tested—but never broken.

At last he turned around, kneeling at the box upon Madison’s suggestion. The room had warmed considerably despite the howl of freezing wind outside, proving that the cabin walls were well insulated. Sitting with his back to the hearth, he watched as his companion shed yet another layer of clothing, looking awkwardly away when she turned her attention back towards him. “Looks like more books,” he said quietly, pulling out three heavy hardbound volumes with tattered dust jackets wrapped around their edges. “Harry Potter,” he read aloud, running his thumb over the cover illustration to wipe away the dust. A drawing of a boy with round glasses and dark hair stared back at him, and he arched a brow. “These must all go together. Like a series or something.”

Momentarily forgetting the unspoken tension in the air between them, he reached back into the box and pulled out a large brown envelope made of paper and fastened with small metal prongs. He bent the flexible metal pieces and opened the flap, pouring out its contents on the floor in front of him. “Photographs,” he breathed, amazed. “And a couple of postcards. Look, this one’s from…‘The University of Wisconsin—Madison.’” Daring a small smile, he held out the rectangular piece of cardstock to his companion. “What’s it say?”

 

Posted: Mon Sep 16, 2013 7:49 pm

by Simply

Madison’s mouth burned. As she moved to stir the brother around, adding a few chunks of dried meat, she could feel the constant pulsation of her lips. It was something that she couldn’t distract herself from no matter how hard she tried. The sensation was the constant, throbbing ache of desire and unfulfilled need that she had never experienced before. Remy had started something that she was helpless to resist and powerless to stop – not that she particularly had wanted it to end.

The decision to return his advances had been instantaneous. She had been so angry, then he had kissed her and then she had been ever more furious that he had so forcefully come at her, as though she was some common whore. But as she asked him how he dared to do that, she realized that she would have gladly been that common girl that just gave herself away. For the chance to kiss him again, to feel again how that heat that had been anger ignited into passion, Madison would have given anything.

Letting the stew do its thing, the young woman settled down on the opposite side of the box. The awkward tension lingered in the air between them, binding them to one another and keeping them apart at the same time. Her small hands reached in to withdraw some more items, just as he took out some kind of package. Azure gaze turned towards the item in her hand, turning it over to look at the label that was on the outside. The glass of the container contained a brown liquid. She stared hard at the label and managed to work a few words out of it. Scotch. That was familiar. It was something that she had heard about in taverns before – only entering them to trade for food. She was out of those places nearly as quickly as she entered them.

He handed her the postcard and she set the bottle down in front of her feet, letting it rest against the plastic of the Rubbermaid box. She had heard her name but turned the postcard over to see it written. That was something that she knew. Her mother had taught her how to write her name, at least. As soon as she took it, she realized what he wanted her to do. Flapping the card back in his direction, the red and white badger on the front seemingly making faces between them due to the movement.

“Read it yourself.” She responded. Her tone wasn’t hard, but clearly more defensive than normal. “It’s probably just a crummy letter, anyways.” But the truth of the matter was that she couldn’t read it. Too many words strung together like that were hard for her to comprehend. She could make out three or four in a row at most at one time and even that took longer than it would take him. She had seen him read the titles of the books in the boxes. His eyes moved over the words seamlessly, as though the second he saw it, he knew what it was and what it meant. Madison had to sound the syllables in her head a few times before the word would materialize so she could move on to the next. The brunette quickly cast her eyes downwards and tried to appear busy as she reached her arm into the box again.

 

Posted: Mon Sep 16, 2013 9:00 pm

by Astrophysicist

The aroma of Madison’s simmering stew reached his nostrils with a whiff of smoke, grounding him once again back in the reality of their surroundings. They had been so lucky in discovering the abandoned cabin it was almost laughable, but it was a bitter breed of comedy—one that spoke more of desperation than humor. And it was the quality of their newfound shelter, he reasoned, that had coaxed forth the enmity that they had bottled up between them on their journey up the mountainside. Relieved of the pressures of survival, emotions and exhaustion had finally seized the appropriate moment to shine.

But what it meant for them in its aftermath was something Remy could not name, something he had never before experienced in the whole of his life. There was an uneasiness between them that was somehow even stronger than the previous tension of anger—and it was not borne of discomfort, but rather of reassurance. There had been something magical in their shared passion, something undeniable. He hadn’t wanted it to end, but at the same time he had been frightened by the power of what he’d felt. It was like the rush of an intoxicating drug—terrifying, and yet he wanted nothing more than to continue the experience.

His faint smile faded when she tossed the postcard back to him. He held it in his hands wordlessly, looking down at the red and white image on the front before flipping it over to read the scribbled words on the reverse. “Mom and Dad,” he read aloud, squinting to make out the faded letters of the messy handwriting. It was slow going, but he was able to decipher the message after a few seconds of pondering. “We won! The game was exciting. Last touchdown almost gave us a heart attack. But life’s good on the fifty yard line! See you soon, Adam.

Furrowing his brow, he placed the postcard writing-side up on the pile of old photographs. “I have no idea what any of that means,” he admitted. A chuckle shook his shoulders, but it was dry; the humor did not quite touch his eyes. He reached across the box and pulled up the glass bottle of amber Scotch. Wrapping his hand around the plastic lid, he twisted it and broke the seal, bringing the rim to his nose to give it a sniff. “Well, this is strong stuff,” he declared, a little surprised. He brought it to his mouth and took a swallow, gasping as the burning liquid traveled down his throat. “Here,” he said hoarsely, holding the container out to his companion, “have you ever tried it before?”

 

Posted: Mon Sep 16, 2013 9:28 pm

by Simply

Madison watched him read effortlessly and it made her stomach turn. She felt her face begin to redden as she realized how incapable of things she was beside him. He could hunt, fight, heal and read. All she could do was be skeptical, manage to hunt and somewhat train a dog to follow simple commands. The realization made her uncomfortable, especially after their recent intimacies that they were now not speaking out in a very pointed manner. She raised her eyes to his, brushing at her cheeks with one hand and moving a little further away from the fire, as though that was the caught for the flushing of her cheeks.

His laughed, but it wasn’t like it had been before and she studied him for a moment longer than she probably should have. His amusement didn’t touch his eyes, which had gazed directly into hers before his mouth had lowered and her own eyes had closed. STOP THINKING ABOUT IT. She chastised herself, looking at the stuff in her hands when his suddenly came around the corner of the box. Her whole body stiffened in anticipation and fear that he would touch her.

When he didn’t, she exhaled slowly through her teeth. She watched as he took a sip and then handed it to her. Licking her lips, she took it from him and looked at him, pulling a face at him. “You’re telling me to drink it after you say it’s strong and make that noise after drinking it.” She laughed a little, as though the tension fled the room with his first sip of alcohol and took her inhibitions with her. Despite her words, she took the glass from him and took a large gulp of the liquid. She had heard what liquor could do and she could use all the liquid courage that it could give her.

“Holy fuck that tastes horrible.” She wiped her mouth with the back of her sweater against her wrist and held it back out to him. “Why would people drink that?” But she knew why, because she already want to take another sip. After the initial pain burning down her throat, it settled into warmth in the pit of her stomach, spreading through her limbs and making her smile at him. She looked at the items she had placed in her laps and then tossed them into the pile of photographs. Licking her lips, she reached for the glass bottle again, taking a large swig. Shaking her head, she laughed. “God, that really is nasty.” She left it on the floor between them and headed over to check the stew, tasting it before deciding that it needed a short time more.

 

Posted: Mon Sep 16, 2013 10:15 pm

by Astrophysicist

When he looked up and caught her studying him, a shock hit his chest and traveled rapidly through his limbs. Remy glanced away quickly and cleared his throat, a little too aware of the feeling of her eyes upon him. Though he couldn’t quite read the expression they wore, her blue gaze had sparkled with the reflection of the healthy fire across the room, managing somehow to look withdrawn and focused all at once. Her face, too, seemed different, somehow more delicate, as though she had finally surrendered a portion of her guard and allowed the vulnerability she felt—that they both felt—to shine through her carefully-constructed walls.

He wanted to kiss every inch of that face, he realized; he wanted to feel the heat of her fire ignite once again beneath his touch, to coax forth that exhilarating rush of life that had fueled both of their bodies. When she passed back the bottle to him, their fingers lightly brushed, and without missing a beat he brought the rim to his lips and took three heavy swallows. He surfaced with another gasp and gritted his teeth as the burning sensation dissipated, feeling the liquid warm his empty stomach from the interior.

“That is some foul shit,” he said breathlessly, pressing a fist to his chest. “I don’t know why people drink it either.” But like Madison, he did know; as if to prove his point, he took yet another drink, smaller this time. He settled back and watched as his companion made her way to the pot on the fire, trying (unsuccessfully) not to notice the curve of her silhouette against the golden glow of the flames. As his thoughts became looser, less anxious, he rose to his feet and gathered the bowls for both themselves and the dogs. Magnolia, hearing the familiar sound of the containers, bounded over with her tail wagging furiously. Her brother soon followed suit.

Remy laughed, this time more genuinely, and placed his hand gently on Madison’s shoulder. “Look at them, lined up like two little soldiers in the cafeteria waiting for their trays,” he commented proudly, pleased at how obediently they sat and waited. Remy clicked his tongue three times in quick succession, and they each rose to all fours, perfectly still. They had discovered that it was best to test the dogs’ progress on self-control during mealtimes, when they were the most eager to disobey commands in hopes of a quicker meal.

He held out the bowls which he had filled with dried gristle. It was too much for the young dogs to handle, and Magnolia yipped excitedly. Remy, feeling a little more easygoing after his dose of Scotch, only chuckled and set down their helpings. “Stew almost done?” he asked, moving back towards the fire with the clean ladle and the container of alcohol in hand. "Here, want s'more?"

 

Posted: Mon Sep 16, 2013 10:29 pm

by Simply

When he said it, she looked over her shoulder at him and smiled. The stew needed only a few more moments before it would be ready. She turned around, unaware that he had been examining her when her backed was turned towards him. The woman settled right in front of the fire, pushing her legs out in front of her and leaning back on her hands. She watched as Daemon and Magnolia bounded after Remy, anxiously awaiting their evening meal. As she watched, she noticed how he gave in to Magnolias excited noise. She laughed and looked at him, her eyes much warmer than they had been in nearly a week.

Taking the bottle from his hand, she brought it to her mouth and took a large gulp, holding it out. “You’re a sucker.” She brandished the glass scotch bottle towards the pups, referencing why she had decided to call him that. “Giving in to her so easily.” But her mouth was pressed firmly, trying to suppress a smile that had already made itself evident in all other parts of her face. Then she remembered that he had mentioned the stew and she turned back to look at it, shrugging her shoulders. “Maybe a few more minutes but it better be done soon or I’m going to be drunker than the Commander’s men on payday. I’ve never had so much so quickly.” She frowned and brought her eyebrows together in concentration. “Well I’ve never had this much period.”

Bringing her eyes to the bottle, she realized that it was already half empty and that they were loosening their reserves and apparently Madison’s tongue. She reached out to him and touched his hair. “You’re going to start looking like a girl if you don’t chop that mop.” She smiled suddenly and brought her legs around to press against her thigh, rolling up so that her legs were beneath her. “I saw a pair of scissors in the back room. You should let me cut it for you.” She smirked a little and set the bottle down, taking his head in both of her hands, placing them firmly on either side of his face, studying his head. “Yep, I’m going to have to cut it off after we eat. Do you trust me?” She asked, releasing his head and moving back towards the stew.

She brought the big ladle up and out, tasting it and deciding that it would have to do, because she was really hungry. Madison took the bowls that he had retrieved and filled them to the brim, sliding his gently across the floor to him. The huntress cradled her steaming bowl of delicious aromas up towards her face and inhaled. In a very…unladylike manner, she began to drink the stew directly from the bowl. Ignoring the spoon that waited for her to claim it. Nearly halfway through, she stopped and took a deep breath. “Man, I was starved.”

 

Posted: Mon Sep 16, 2013 10:55 pm

by Astrophysicist

Remy lowered himself clumsily to the floor next to Madison, his left side bathed in the warmth of the fire. The scent of the soup was enough to make his mouth water, but the liquor in combination with the distraction of the dogs made his hunger more tolerable. “What can I say,” he drawled in response to her playful name-calling, “I am a sucker for…cuteness.” He fumbled over the word, cracking himself up in the process.

That’s not something I say everyday!” he proclaimed, swiveling his gaze to look at Madison. Sporting a crooked half-grin, he reached over and pressed a finger to her nose before wrapping his hand back around the bottle and passing it to his companion. “Might as well go all out, huh?” he said encouragingly, pursing his lips as if to suppress a laugh. The alcohol had obviously begun to be absorbed into his bloodstream, dissolving his inhibitions one swig at a time—and he wouldn’t have had it any other way. It was refreshing, freeing; their anger was a thing of the past, and all that mattered now was the glorious, slightly hazy present.

He jumped when he felt her hand brush against his hair, widening his eyes in mock offense when she declared his locks too long. “It keeps my ears warm!” he declared matter-of-factly, reaching up to run his own fingers through his shaggy mane of sandy brown. “Well, okay, I guess you’re ri—hey!” His protests were muffled as she placed her hands on either side of his face, her smooth palms pressing against his lengthy stubble. Her touch was surprisingly tender, and when she relinquished her grasp, he reached out to grab her hand.

“I do trust you,” he said, his words slurred but the expression in his blue eyes absolutely genuine. It was the first time he had admitted such a thing out loud to her, and in a chaotic world where trust was as rare and valuable as love or honesty, it was very much a meaningful, even intimate, declaration. Reluctantly, he let go of her hand, then turned his attention to their meal.

Following Madison’s lead, he too brought his bowl directly to his lips, slurping it up ravenously and resurfacing with a grin. “We haven’t eaten since yesterday,” he said, “no wonder we’re so…hungry.” Finishing the rest of his helping quickly, he sat up a little straighter and gestured toward the back room. “Want me to get those scissors?” he asked, rising tipsily to his feet and winking at her teasingly. “I can cut your hair next.”

 

Posted: Mon Sep 16, 2013 11:25 pm

by Simply

Madison wasn’t sure why she touched his face. His beard was growing longer than she had ever seen it. It looked coarse to her eyes but when she placed her hands there, it was softer than she had expected. For a mere breath of a moment, her touch lingered, until she felt the need to draw back. Her hand was supposed to end up by her side, but it was captured by his own and her eyes shot up to his, surprise flickering in her gaze. His confession made her heart skip a beat, but that had to be the alcohol – right? Certainly, it was just the scotch playing tricks on her.

No wonder we’re so… ravenous, insatiable hungry. The word hung in her mind full of connotations that he certainly could not have intended for her to travel to mentally. Swallowing, she finished off her bowl and put it down, shooting him a glare. “Not in a million years and no matter how drunk I got would I ever allow you to lay a single finger on my hair.” But she had. He had caressed them when they had tumbled to the floor. She had liked it then, having him run his fingers through the thick coils of her brown hair.

“You better sleep with both eyes open if you ever cut my hair, because you won’t live to see the next morning.” Despite having consumed the liquid meal, the scotch had begun to run its course. It made the very tips of her fingers tingle before going slightly numb. She touched each finger to her thumb, as though checking to make sure they were all there. The idea that her fingers would have suddenly run off on the own accord made her giggle and she stood up, shoving him gently with one hand.

She squirmed about and brushed a strand of hair from her face, before loosely tying it back into a knot. “I’ll go get them, you sit down by the fire. I’ll be back in a moment.” She scampered off, moving less gracefully than she normally did. Instead of being a lioness on the hunt, she was more like a doe frolicking out into a field. Returning with the desired item a minute later, she sat behind him. She moved his head so that he was facing forward. “Now stay still or this could end very poorly for you. And I’m not talking about just a bad haircut.” She laughed a little, delighted as she began to trim his hair, carefully collecting the strands that she cut off. Even drunk, she didn’t want to be finding his hairs all over the place.

When her hand grew too full to hold what she had trimmed, she moved off and found a small empty cardboard box that must have held something at some point (tissues) but had since been abandoned in a corner of the cabin. Shoving the scraps of hair into the top hole, she returned and knelt in front of him. Immediately, she set to task, starting around his ear and moving her way forwards, as she neared the middle of his face, she shoved the hair trimmings into the box again. Yet as she turned back, she caught his eye. The eyes that had been so furious with her for calling him names, for questioning his honor. What she wouldn’t give to see, to feel that ferocity again. Her lips parted, as if she was going to speak, but she closed them and cleared her throat, finishing up the locks on the left side of his face. Finished, she leaned back and looked at him full on. “Not bad looking now…for a roadwalker.” She smirked, teasing as she looked directly into his eyes and nowhere else.

 

Posted: Mon Dec 09, 2013 6:28 pm

by Astrophysicist

Since his departure from his old life all those years ago, the only element of keeping up appearances Remy cared about was the detailed rendering of the false militia tattoo on his forearm. The rest had fallen by the wayside in favor of action necessary for survival—food, fresh water, and the ability to defend oneself against whatever foe might deem you worthy of attention. He chopped his own hair with a hunting knife when it got too unruly for comfort beneath his wool hat and jacket hood, and he hadn’t looked at his reflection in anything clearer than a dark, rippling woodland stream in…well, longer than he could recall. Even his beard, which seemed to grow more quickly in the winter months, he shaved back without the aid of a mirror, using a distant, distorted reflection in the bottom of his kettle if need be.

Considering what he might look like to Madison now, with his auburn hair long and wild, his cheeks covered in thick downy scruff, he had to suppress a childish giggle. Without the layers and layers of clothing to dilute the unkempt effect, he likely looked all the crazier. And what was worse—and consequently elevated his chuckles to a full inebriated laugh—he was beginning to feel self-conscious, a tiny pang of concern for what she thought of him ringing with renewed clarity in the back of his mind. He wasn’t supposed to care about what he looked like, much less someone else’s opinion; they were trapped together in a desolate cabin while a deadly winter storm raged outside. Shouldn’t he have been more concerned about that?

But the plain truth was that he wasn’t. Something about Madison, beyond even the tipsy silliness brought on by the alcohol, had brought him to believe that everything was going to be all right in the end.

“Okay, okay, okay,” Remy protested suddenly, holding up his hands and shifting positions. “Wait. Be careful with those. Don’t make me look—” But the metal shears slid together with purpose, and he felt a thick lock drop from his scalp to the floor. “Ridiculous,” he finished. He laughed heartily, nodding before he realized it was probably not a good idea to move around. The thought only made the chuckles come quicker, but he quieted as she worked, moving around his head deftly as she collected the stray fallen strands. He closed his eyes, falling into a strange state that felt simultaneously sleepy and energized. The soft snip sounds of the scissors was oddly relaxing.

His eyes fluttered open when he felt her move to the front, her warm breath perfumed with booze brushing his skin. Her face was closer than he’d imagined, but he did not pull away; he studied her, expressionless, locked in her gaze until she broke their mutual trance and finished trimming away the long locks at his forehead. His head felt a thousand times lighter, and when she leaned back to study him, he ran his fingers experimentally through the shortened strands.

“Not bad for a damsel in distress,” he returned teasingly, mirroring her smirk. He shook his head back and forth, letting the hair whip this way and that. The room spun as a result, and he smiled crookedly until it halted its revolution. Captured by her steady stare, he leaned forward towards her, lips parting as if to speak. But instead of words, he closed the distance between them and planted a grateful kiss on her forehead, lingering long enough to catch the sweet scent of her hair as he wrapped his arms around her in a light embrace.

 

Posted: Sun Mar 02, 2014 6:20 pm

by Simply

Madison knew that she should not engage with him like this – at least some part of her knew it. It was the part of her that was strong and calculated and cold, both inside and out – but around him, that part didn’t exist and didn’t want to exist. To say that they were merely travel companions would have been a lie. She relied on him. She would have been dead in the words, defiled and molested without his help. It pained her to admit that she needed him, but this vulnerable piece of herself that she was showing him now knew it. The alcohol sang a sweet lullaby to her sensible self.

Watching eagerly as he tested out the feel of his hair, she smiled when he complimented her work. It pleased her to know that he wasn’t angry that she had taken his hygiene into her own hands. “The only distress this damsel was in was looking at that mop of hair for too long.” She smiled. “You look almost like a city dweller now. You could pass for –“ The words stopped sort on her lips as he leaned his weight forward and pressed his mouth to her forehead. Her skin stung delightedly and the burn traveled down through her bones, causing her cheeks to flare up with warmth. If that wasn’t enough, his arms slipped around her gently and she moved into them, without a second thought.

It was a far calmer heat that ran through her than before. It settled inside of her, nestling like Azalea and Daemon did into their blankets. She leaned into him, savoring the embrace before she leaned back from him. Something sparked in her eye, a glimmer of sensibility through the haze the amber liquid had produced. Turning away, she pushed herself upright, staggering with the effort, and moved back over to the box of things that they had been examining together. She grabbed at the book that they had picked up earlier and then chose another.

Her eyes studied the words on the cover for what must have felt like ages before she had pieced the individual letters together into the words. “The Night Circus.” She said to him, moving back over. The fog had settled around her mind again and she resumed her seat in front of him, though a respectable distance apart. “You know, I can’t really read.” She blurted out before she realized that she had said the words out loud instead of inside her own head. She covered her mouth with the hand that wasn’t holding the book and looked at him. Her eyes were as wide as saucers, the whites a stark contrast against the tanned portion of her face.

The huntress hurried to correct what she had said – to attempt to cover it up. “I can read. I’m just slower.” The alcohol slipped against her tongue again, working it’s magic against the defenses she hid her secrets behind. “I’m really slow. I can’t really read well.” She looked down at the book with it’s cover of black and white. There was a woman with a tall hat and a beautiful dress and a man with an umbrella. They were cast in white against a black background with a bright scarf of red around the woman’s neck. What a hideous outfit. She thought, as she looked at the woman, trying to distract herself from the laughter that was likely to follow. Remy was far more educated that she was. He was a [b]doctor[/i]. He could certainly read. That would be entirely useless.

 

Posted: Mon Mar 03, 2014 3:48 pm

by Astrophysicist

Just as Madison was reluctant to accept that she need him, so too did Remy wish he could deny his returned reliance upon her. While both were seasoned veterans of their cruel world and the harsh social and environmental realities that surrounded them, it was only after their individual independence yielded to the security and convenience of a partner that they recognized the stubborn inferiority of their old ways. Remy was certain Madison could survive without him, just as he, too, could continue on without her. But the startling truth was that even though both of them possessed the necessary skills, it was the harmony of their complementary abilities that made it possible not just to survive, but to live.

The general’s son laughed as the room settled back into place, and he followed the young woman back to the place before the fire where they’d begun unpacking one of the boxes. He dropped to his knees rather ungracefully, throwing one arm out for balance, and placed his fingertips on the edge of the plastic while he peered back inside. More books, he saw. His heart skipped a beat—although it was beyond him whether that was the result of the alcohol, the new proximity to Madison, or the excitement of unread volumes—and he picked up a thick paperback with a faded cover. “The Historian,” he said aloud, running his fingertips over the debossed letters. “What do you have?”

Night Circus was the title she announced, and before he could respond she was speaking again, confessing that her reading skills were rather lacking. Remy paused thoughtfully, his booze-addled mind churning to catch up with the words. Of course you’re a slower reader, he wanted to say, you wouldn’t have grown up with tutors and libraries and stupid lessons you would rather fake a fever than actually attend. But, of course, he could admit nothing of the kind; even inebriated, he knew better than to reveal the carefully-guarded secret of his past identity. He wasn’t that person anymore anyway. So instead, he grinned, watching as her expression became more steadily mortified at what she’d allowed to slip past her lips. It was…endearing, he realized. A strange swell of affection blossomed in his chest, and he had to bite the inside of his lip to keep himself from reaching out to take her hand.

“Well!” he exclaimed in response. As if on cue, the wind howled threateningly beyond the walls of the warm cabin. “From the sound of it, you’ll have lots of time to practice,” he suggested, playfully tossing a small paperback into her lap. “That’s all it takes. There aren’t a lot of books around anymore. People must’ve decided it was more important not to freeze to death or starve than to buy a hunk of paper with words in it.” He laughed, then his grin softened to an understanding smile. “I could help you,” he said, a little more quietly. “Maybe not now, since it’s hard enough to stay upright and talk at the same time as it is…but, you know, we’ve got all winter.”

 

Posted: Thu Apr 03, 2014 10:51 pm

by Simply

The Historian. That sounded completely dull. A book about someone that writes down and memorizes history? She pulled at face for a moment as the thought slide across the mush that her mind had become. And then the words were out of her mouth, spilling forth like some kind of word vomit – incapable of being controlled or stopped in any way. Although she was terrified that they were being said aloud, a great relief also washed over her, cooling the heat that had pressed itself against her cheeks.

His offer was genuine. He didn’t laugh at her inadequacies as she thought he might. He was so well spoken and well versed in things she did not fully understand. “That would be…really helpful.” She admitted, knowing that a few moments spent reading a sign or a post from the militia might save her life. Too many times had she stood fumbling over the letters in her mind. The words would form themselves into a cohesive match eventually but it took longer than she cared for it to. Yet Remy was so quick to read, so read with the words on the tip of his tongue. Perhaps it was his training as a physician. But there weren’t many doctors that stalked around the wilderness. They were valuable commodities and often placed in the larger cities and under tight military control.

“How did you get to be so good at reading? How’d you get to be a doctor?” Innocent questions…for innocent people. Yet, he was not who she thought he was. He was the son of a malicious bloodthirsty, power hungry man who deserved a slow and utterly painful death. At least, that was Madison’s humble opinion.

She set down the book and rested her forehead against the box for a moment when the world felt like it was ready to toss her off the ground. She wondered why people drank this stuff regularly. Men that frequently the taverns and bars in the towns that she passed through would drink until they passed out in a mound of their own slime. The idea of throwing up the contents of her last meal, however, actually sounded enjoyable. Maybe it would make the queasy feeling that suddenly overcame her go away. Yet, the instinct to survive was more powerful than the desire to remove the alcohol from her body. That little bit of broth with small chunks of meat would have to last her until tomorrow night. They were on scant rations until they could find some unsuspecting animal.

The feeling of nausea passed and she inhaled slowly from her nose, letting the air drift out from between her lips. “I don’t think I can drink any more of that.” She pointed at the bottle as though it was the devil incarnate and the contents of the glass were sin itself. She shook her head slowly, careful to keep her eyes closed for a moment until the room stopped spinning. “I don’t think I ever want that again. It’s tricky. First it’s warm and comforting but then,” she placed her left hand lightly on her stomach, “it really is not making friends with my stomach.”

 

Posted: Sat Apr 05, 2014 3:04 pm

by Astrophysicist

How did you get to be so good at reading? How’d you get to be a doctor? Despite the alcohol still running its course through Remy’s veins, the questions sent a silent jolt of panic through his body that made the room momentarily spin. He’d been expecting questions like these—normally, they came quickly in the course of a conversation; with Madison, they had been traveling together for weeks and not once had she asked for an explanation. Still, anticipating the inquiries and actually being presented with them were two very different things. He had a cover story—of course he did—but even a well-rehearsed answer was a false one. And it pained him to have to lie to the one person in the world he’d learned to trust.

“It was kind of an accident,” he admitted, a crooked smile tilting his lips despite himself. This wasn’t normally how he began his story, but he couldn’t seem to stop himself; the booze had loosened his resolve and opened barriers he normally kept closed and carefully guarded. At least, he tried to tell himself, he was being a little more honest this time. “I was on the run from the militia recruitment. I gashed my leg trying to get away…” He pulled up his pant leg, revealing bare skin and a bright, silvery scar along his calf. “I hid in a cellar on a farm outside of a settlement, where they’d spotted me getting supplies. I thought the farmhouse was abandoned, but an old man lived there. He found me and stitched up my leg. He was the physician that trained me.”

It felt good to speak, even if most of it was half-truth; he smiled, a little giddy from the alcohol, and tossed the book in his hands back into the box. “It was a painstaking process, you know? He had a bunch of old books he’d smuggled out of his militia base, since that’s where he’d done his training, a long time ago. Reading one of those books wasn’t like reading one of these. It took…a long time. I guess I’m thankful, in the long run, that I stuck with it. There were times I wanted to give up.”

He looked wistfully at the stack of books in front of them. Of course, she couldn’t know that he’d taken his mentor’s surname—Sterling—and that he’d gone by that name almost exclusively since the man had died. He’d been more of a father to Remy than the general ever had, and from the beginning Remy felt he owed it to the faithful old doctor to continue his work of healing the underprivileged whenever he came across unnecessary suffering. For the general’s son, that mission came with additional weight—the pressure of making up for all the cruelty of his father’s merciless regime, if only anonymously.

I’m not drinking any more,” Remy declared, glassy eyes straying to the half-empty bottle of liquor. “We’re both probably going to regret this in the morning. Or right now,” he added, looking at his companion as she clutched her stomach. He almost laughed, not because it was funny but because of the sheer ridiculousness of their situation, but instead he eased himself backwards to lie flat on his back. He stared at the beams in the ceiling for a moment, then wrapped his hand around Madison’s arm to tug her down next to him.

“Do you think the storm will let up enough to go outside tomorrow?” he asked idly, listening to the howling wind outside. It didn’t seem promising. “Oh, fuck it. I don’t want to think about tomorrow. My eyelids are too heavy.” He chuckled, throwing his arm over his face to cover his eyes with the crook of his elbow. “Now where have those pups gone off to? If they're sleeping, then count me as officially jealous.”

 

Posted: Tue Jun 03, 2014 9:57 pm

by Simply

“That’s nice. You don’t find people like that anymore or then either I suppose.” Her educated voice had slipped back into something a little more rural. The large vocabulary she had learned and employed were back in a far recesses of her mind, blocked by all of the alcohol that she had foolishly consumed over the past two hours with Remy. Her eyes followed him towards the mountain of books that they had piled together. She considered them for a long moment, contemplating the expanse of knowledge that was inside of them.

She shook herself out of the revere and turned her face towards him once more, unaware of how deceitful her traveling companion was being. Swallowing, Madison hoped that all of these things could last and last and last. That they would have stews and the comfort of a fire – that they would always be here, basking in what was steadily becoming a sound friendship. “I said it first to technically I have more self control than you do.” Madison responded, running her tongue across her bottom lip and smiling.

He tugged at her arm and she allowed her body weight to slide down beside him. Relaxing against him, finding security in the radiating heat of his body. She opened her mouth to respond to him, her tongue pressing against her tongue against her teeth and the words against her throat. However, the curse fell from his mouth and she laughed delightedly. The contents of her stomach settled, though she felt the remnants of an uneasy sloshing with each exhaled breath of amusement. She craned her neck up to see the pups shaking their ears about once their masters had laid down. They both ambled over, sleepily, falling upon each other slightly before they settled between Madison and Remy’s legs, piling on each other.

“Just sleep then and don’t be jealous.” She murmured in response, closing her eyes. “If the storm lets up then I need to hunt. “We’ll run low on supplies before too long. It better die down. I don’t think I would do well cooped in a cabin for the entirety of a winter.” She opened her eyes and looked at the roof of the home. “I haven’t stayed in one place for…many years. “

She stretched and then closed her eyes once more, turning her face against his chest and inhaling the musk of him. “Sitting and staying, I’m not made for it.” She curled against him, not really considering it and just finding the chill of the night lessened by his presence. “I’m made for walking and traveling and li-” Her words grew progressively slower, taking longer to leave her lips with each passing moment. Then her lips stopped, hanging partially open as her breaths changed and became steady.

 

Posted: Sun Jun 22, 2014 10:30 pm

by Astrophysicist

It was perhaps the first night he’d spent since leaving home that he felt utterly secure. Sleeping had always been a major risk, a necessary gamble with the sacrifice of valuable hours in the body’s most vulnerable state. But here, even with the raging storm beyond the walls of the cabin, even with the uncertainty of the future, he felt safe—and not just safe, he realized, as his eyes drooped closed. As Madison curled up next to him against his side, he felt powerful, as though he could shield and protect her from the wrongs in their misguided world. A service she did not need, he knew, but one he would have been happy to offer nonetheless.

“I’m not made for sitting and staying either,” he said quietly, his eyes closed against the inevitable spinning of the room. Without thinking, he nestled closer into the pressure of his companion’s form, savoring the warmth radiating from her body. Out in the unpredictable world, it was safer to be on the move; that was common knowledge for wanderers like Remy and Madison. Now, however, with the remnants of the alcohol in his veins, the reassuring heat of the roaring fire, and the sturdy walls to protect them from the blizzard, he wanted nothing more than to stay still, to pause.

It was the last thought that sluggishly crossed his mind as he at last succumbed to the pull of sleep.

He awoke with a start hours later, hardly having moved from the position in which he’d drifted off. The unfamiliar sight of the cabin walls disoriented him until he remembered where he was, and soon after he recognized the pressure on his upper arm as the weight of Madison’s head. He breathed a sigh of relief, reaching up with his free hand to rub the sleep from his eyes. The fire had diminished to a pile of softly glowing embers, and the light filtering through the structure’s only remaining window indicated not only that they’d slept through the night, but that the storm had abated.

“Hey,” he whispered gently, cringing as the sound of his own voice sent a jolt of pain through his skull. A groan escaped his lips. “Madison. Madison, it’s morning.” He yawned. “And I think it stopped snowing.”

A grimace pinched the features of his face, and he slid his arm gingerly from beneath his companion’s head. “Shit,” he breathed, sitting up and covering his eyes with his palm. “I feel like I got hit by a train. How're you holding up?”

 

Posted: Mon Jun 23, 2014 8:21 pm

by Simply

It could have been the inebriation or it could have been the level of comfort she felt within his gentle grip, but no matter the source – Madison slept better than she ever had, including when she was with her parents. Her dreams were nonexistent. The darkness that descended upon her in her unconscious state was like a warm liquid rushing over her in caressing waves. She accepted its presence and remained lost in sleep for hours, only rousing when the blackness gave way to a loud, annoying hum. It turned from a hum into a pounding, beating racket and the huntress groaned in discomfort. The whisper of his first worst was lost in the clamor, but she managed to hear her name against the madness.

“Ughh,” Madison moaned again as the noise became so loud that she felt her entire body convulse. “Why the fuck is it so loud?” She murmured, holding her head and feeling the convulsion again. Man, the noise was making the entirety of the cabin shake. It took her a mere moment to realized that she was shaking and not the house. She was shaking because her stomach was tightening and contracting so hard that she was powerless to resist. “Fuck.” She exclaimed softly, scrambling away from him and half crawling, half running towards the cabin door. She threw it open with little regard for the cold air that rushed in and chilled her bones.

The contents of the stomach, largely liquid, were emptied into the thick snow beside the door, as the snow was past the brick stairs of the cabin and nearly at Madison’s bare ankles. She wretched into the morning air until she finally felt that she could manage to make it far enough to close to door behind her. She spit one last time into the piles of fresh snow and then slumped back inside, pushing the door behind her with fatigued muscles. Her head hit the back of the wood with a gentle thud (which she immediately regretted, of course). “My body…how do people enjoy it?” She moaned in pain, clutching her stomach.

“I don’t think that I’m doing too well.” The murmur left her lips softly as the pups bounded over to her eagerly, licking at her wet toes. The warmth from their tongues made her laughed slightly and shoved them away with a playful push. “They’re hungry. It’s your turn.” Madison made the statement and grinned at him slightly, before she began to crawl back over to the pile of their socks, jackets and blankets that rested by the dying fire. If he was going to have to make their breakfast, the least she could do would be to make fire.

It was painstakingly slow but she managed to put two logs into the ashes and succeeded in lighting a small fire for them. She placed her toes close and let them dry, warming them slowly before searching through the pile of clothing that they had amassed on the floor. All of a sudden, Madison became a little nervous. She had kissed him last night. She had kissed him after he had kissed her. The idea made her face flush red and a different type of sensation entered the pit of the stomach. Swallowing, she pulled her socks on and ran a hand through her hair, which was completely disheveled. She felt it gently and shook her head, realizing that it must be standing out in all different directions. “I look like a drunken tavern whore.” She muttered, trying to press her hair down.

 

Posted: Tue Jun 24, 2014 5:45 pm

by Astrophysicist

“Whoa, whoa, wait up, don’t open the—” The door flew open behind the force of Madison’s push, flooding the dim cabin interior with a blaze of white light. Throwing his elbow up over his eyes, he stumbled toward the frame, nearly colliding with the young woman who had halted in her tracks. A blast of frigid air struck him instead, momentarily halting the breath in his lungs. The world spun, and with the sound of his companion throwing up just beyond the threshold, the contents of his own stomach began to churn dangerously.

He clenched his fists and pressed his tongue to the roof of his mouth as hard as he could, willing the terrible feeling to go away. Vomiting was a tremendous danger for people like Remy and Madison, those who called no place home; illness not only impeded travel, but it also posed the very real threat of dehydration. It was often also a symptom of spoiled or otherwise poisonous wild food. Thankfully, they knew precisely what was causing their nausea, and with the assistance of solid shelter on their side and plenty of meltable snow for drinking water, it would not be a fatal case.

That didn’t mean either of them were going to be comfortable, at least not for awhile. “I honestly don’t know,” he croaked, running his tongue over his lips in an attempt to rid his mouth of the flavor of stale alcohol. “I’ve never had more than a few swallows before. Shit.” He swallowed hard, relieved when they got the fire going again—if nothing else, the warmth was a comforting distraction. With his lips pursed tightly together against his rebellious belly, he followed Madison’s prompt and dug out a serving of meat for the pups. The sound of their bowls was enough to rile them up, and they tumbled over one another in an attempt to reach their meals first. Despite himself, Remy chuckled, and with a sigh he sat down next to them and placed a palm over his forehead.

“Do you even know what a drunken tavern whore looks like?” he said, his voice resounding a thousand times louder to his hungover ears than its actual volume. He cringed, but it wasn’t enough to completely erase a grin. “They’re way more put together than you!” His teasing exclamation, as good-natured as it had been, suddenly brought to light a sense of awkward tension that took root in his chest. He’d kissed her. She’d kissed him back. The memories were faint and hazy, but nevertheless the general’s son couldn’t deny the occurrence any more than he could deny his headache.

“I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I should eat anything. Not right now, anyway.” He cleared his throat, staring into the fire through half-squinted eyes. “Gathering firewood is going to be fucking terrible. But we shouldn’t waste this window in the weather, either. Judging by those drifts we saw on the way here, clear skies are pretty rare.” Just the idea of bundling up to venture outside was enough to exhaust him. “Maybe the game will be good for hunting. I imagine the animals will take advantage of the weather same as us.”

 

Posted: Mon Jun 30, 2014 11:27 pm

by Simply

Madison grabbed one of their jackets, unsure exactly whose it was and not particularly caring at the moment. She balled it up tightly and placed it under her head as she laid down in front of the fire letting it warm her back. Her skin began to prickle with the delight of the heat it radiated. She closed her eyes as she still kept trying to pat down her hair because she heard his question. One blue eye popped open and looked at him curiously, about to answer that in fact, she did know what a drunk tavern whore looked like, when she heard his tease. She wrinkled her nose at him and snorted.

“If I was not currently comfortable, I would make you eat those words.” She responded, smiling at his words though. Those words didn’t bring to mind their kiss. If he had said that she looked beautiful or that she was anything other than a complete mess, she would have felt the pressure of their awkwardness. Yet, she merely smiled as she closed her eyes back together and let her body warm slowly. “We’ll need to eat something.” She contradicted. “Perhaps not this minute, but something. Shouldn’t we?” She asked, suddenly concerned. He was the physician after all. Perhaps he would know more about it than she did – hell he had at least had enough alcohol in his life to remember consuming it.

She murmured something and then realized he probably hadn’t heard a thing she said. “I don’t want to leave ever. Let’s just stay here with fire and dogs and somehow the food will magically appear and someone will feed me so I never have to move from this position ever again in a million years – even when the world repairs itself and people become civilized again. I never.ever.want.to.move.” She punctuated the words harshly as she winced at the sound of her own voice, just like he had.

Daemon eagerly ate the pieces of meat that Remy gave him and nudged at his sister in an attempt to steal some of hers, but she defended herself well enough. Madison opened her eyes and groaned. “We’ll need food though.” The logical part of her began to take over. They needed meat to help get them through the winter. “I can go. In a few hours. Towards dusk when they’ll come out to forage. Perhaps some rabbits. Enough for the next two weeks. “ She swallowed hard and turned her eyes to him. “But you still have to make food. I’m offfffffffff,” she dragged out the f for what felt like an age and until her throat burned with lack of inhalation, “duty.” She finished.

 

Posted: Mon Sep 22, 2014 8:25 pm

by Astrophysicist

“Yeah, we should eat something eventually. Just…” Remy lowered himself next to her at the fire, his eyes half-closed against the light of the dancing flames and the sound of his own voice. “Just not when I feel like I’m going to throw it all up and waste it.”

It had been a very long time since he had indulged in something as superfluous as alcohol. Beer and liquor were supplies that were surprisingly easy to come by in most of the smaller villages, but the taxes imposed by the Militia were harsh, and the price was high despite the abundance of stock. Isolated farming villages often got by on selling homemade moonshine amongst themselves, trading it for food and other goods on the black market beyond the government’s sight. Otherwise, military-approved taverns and inns were affordable only for Militia-men and those who saved their pennies for seasons upon seasons.

But the principle was the same whether the affliction was a virus or a hangover—if one felt like throwing up, then it was often best not to eat, just in case it was necessary to preserve supplies. Now, it was not difficult to do; even the smell of the dogs’ food was enough to make his stomach turn. He lowered himself to his elbows next to Madison, sandwiching her between himself and the fire.

“Maybe we can train the dogs from here.” He groaned, leaning his head back against the floor. “They can hunt and cook for us while they’re at it.” The thought alone of getting up to gather firewood and track game later in the evening made him exhausted. At Madison’s comment about cooking, he gave an exasperated but teasing sigh. “All right, all right. I’ll cook. Later.” Playfully, he nudged her shoulder. The point of contact caught him off guard—an innocent gesture, of course, but in light of the previous night’s events (of which he remembered only snippets…but distinct snippets nevertheless) he withdrew his arm quickly.

“I don’t know about you,” he drawled, “but I’m all for sleeping this off until we can actually get something done. Because right now I’m totally useless.”


   
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Posted: Mon Jan 05, 2015 8:31 pm

by Simply

Madison had already drifted into the world of slumber when he finished describing how perfectly useless he was at the moment. The dreams washed over her like a sweet caress, brushing their long fingers over her mind. Lulled into comfort, her mind gave her pleasant memories that twisted into fantasy. For once, she did not dream of blood seeping through the cracks of wood and around thick nails in the floorboards of her parent’s home. Instead, she was graced with laughter and happiness that her parents brought to her. It shifted, slowly and the noise deepened and changed into the laughter of her current companion.

His laugh grew softer, as though it was coming closer, pressing against her ear. The noise turned into a hushed breath against her neck, rushing down and causing goose flesh to prickle upwards, elicited by him. She whimpered, unknowingly having done so outside of the dream as well. It was a soft mew of a noise, choked from her to her own surprise. The breath gave way to a touch, soft and damp against her neck. She inhaled sharply in both the dream and inside of the cabin.

Pressing her hand to her chest, Madison awoke to the sound of her own inhalation. Her body felt tight all over, and just not from the dehydration and stiff muscles. She groaned at the sudden movement and realized that it was nearly dark outside and she narrowed her eyes at it. Fuck all. They wasted the entirety of a day for no reason. Though, they wouldn’t be able to travel in this monstrosity of a storm. The pups had gotten into a little bit of mischief since their slumber and Madison wrinkled her nose in displeasure at it but she couldn’t blame them. They’d slept for over 8 hours since they initially woke.

“Remy.” She coughed, his name coming out horribly mangled by her dry throat. “Remy.” She said more firmly, turning her eyes over to him, looking at him carefully. She shoved his shoulder, hoping her hadn’t heard her gasp before. She rubbed at her head immediately following her movement against him. “Hmmm.” The mumble against her lips made her feel better and she continued to hum against them, distracting her from the pain in her stomach and the assault of dog poop against her nostrils.

Forcing herself upwards, she made it to her knees once more and pulled herself bodily towards the fire. The embers were dying in the fireplace, cracking and hissing softly against the ashes around them. She stoked them gently with a free log, before letting it fall into the fire and blowing gently against it, coaxing it back to life. It snarled angrily at her as though she had awakened it from its slumber. It flared up after a moment and she let the heat of it warm her face, relaxing back onto her heels.


   
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Each heartbeat sent a jolt of pain rocketing through his skull as he lowered himself to the pile of blankets next to Madison. He sighed heavily, angling his face away from the glow of the fire, and tucked himself against his companion as though it were the most natural thing in the world. Sleep came with merciful swiftness, relieving him of his hangover—but he paid the price in dreams, which came in disparate flashes caught somewhere between memory and imagination. He saw his father’s hard-lined face and cruel eyes; he saw the campsite where he’d been held hostage only a handful of nights ago; he saw Madison’s warm smile and gleaming azure eyes; he saw spilled blood and eviscerated bodies…

A groan escaped his throat in protest as Madison stirred next to him. She drew him back to the waking realm with a murmur of his name, and as soon as he realized the throbbing in his temples had abated, he allowed his eyelids to flutter open. For several moments, he said nothing, only blinked the sleep from his eyes as his companion tossed kindling onto the hearth.

“Shit,” he breathed at last, forcing himself to sit upright against the stiffness in his back. “No, but really…is that…shit? Ugh.” If they truly had been asleep for eight hours—and it certainly felt as though they had—then it was no wonder the poor dogs had been forced to relieve themselves indoors. Then again, they had never had the opportunity to be housebroken; until now, they’d lived their entire short lives outdoors. “Add that to the training list,” Remy croaked, his voice cracking with a dry laugh.

Winter in the mountains made survival a challenge, but at least there was an abundance of water—white, frozen water that needed only to be melted before a fire. Knowing this, he reached for his canteen and downed the remainder of its contents. It was an indulgence that his strict rationing rarely allowed, and one that his dehydrated body desperately needed after their night of drink. With his thirst quenched, he rose to his feet and stretched, placing one hand gently on Madison’s shoulder. “How are you feeling?” he asked. “Better?”

He relinquished his touch and began to clean the pups’ excrement, using the old brittle paper from the storage boxes to mop up the worst of it. The sky blazed with the pastels of sunset when he opened the door to throw the waste outside, a beautiful winter twilight that belied the bitter, dangerous cold. Remy shivered against the breeze and closed the door. He still wore only his base layer undershirt, his feet bare and freezing on the wooden floor.

“The weather is clear,” he reported, moving to stand next to her at the fire. “But it’s getting dark…what do you think?” He shifted his gaze to Madison, watching the fire reflect in her eyes. “Risk the darkness, or risk another, worse storm?”


   
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The coarse exhalation of his curse drew her attention to his face with slightly narrowed eyes, aching from the brightness of the fire she was coaxing back to life. His hand on her shoulder sent a minuscule shiver down her spine despite the heat pulsing off the burning logs after her ministrations. She gave a soft groan in response to his question as her stomach lurched slightly at the memory of the previous evening. Alcohol was not something she had a desire to partake of in the immediate future. “I feel about as good as you look,” she smirked, pushing herself up off her knees.

His hair stood up at odd angles and there were slight bags under his eyes despite the  long sleep they had taken. Madison did not doubt that she looked similarly disheveled.  The rush of cold air startled her bare feet and she inhaled with a hiss, reaching over to her pack and hastily grabbing her extra pair. Frostbite was not something she took lightly. Her father had lost his too small toes to a bad winter in his youth. The huntress jerked one sock on and then the other, hopping slightly to keep her balance. Having remedied that small situation, she turned to look at him within contemplative blue eyes. He had made his way back to stand by her. She looked from him to the setting sun outside the frost edged windows. The sunlight twinkled across the snow, playing with pinks and orange and a streak of red. The beautiful distracted her for a moment and not a second longer. It was clear, but for how long? Clouds loomed to the right and swirled with a menacing gray hue, but winter storms could do that. They’d rear their head and howl but not release one snowflake. Still, it made her stomach knot.

Their eyes met and she could not help but see the same faint glimmer in his eyes, the same one she saw when he had teased her about looking worse than a tavern wench. Madison did not fear anything, or so she had thought from the moment she began this journey to wedge a knife into the tender heart of the Commander. Now, she feared looking him directly in the eye. She was afraid of what she might see there. Worse still, she was afraid of what he might see in her own eyes. Clearly her throat, she was saved by Damien pawing at her newly adorned socks. He nipped her toes and she jerked back, giving him a soft pop on the backside. “No.” She said firmly, trying to keep the laughter from her voice. “No.” She emphasized again, causing the dog to turn his attention onto his sister with a playful pounce.

“A quiet evening can turn deadly in a moment and darkness is no time to be caught in a winter storm.” Madison gnawed at the corner of her lip, thinking. “It could be worthwhile to finish off these boxes and determine if there is anything useful. Perhaps the storm won’t come and we can leave at first light tomorrow.” Apprehension chewed inside her stomach. “I do not like the idea of getting caught out there at night. It seems like a risk not worth taking.” A shrug lifted her shoulders and she placed the fireplace poker aside, the fire cackling with a renewed energy. “We have enough food for a few days and before the sun completely sets I can go set some snares to check in the morning.”

She was suddenly, unexpectedly very aware of his proximity and his remarkable lack of sufficient clothing. It had not been like this before. She wouldn’t have spared it a second thought but since...that moment, she found it harder to ignore things that seemed so terribly mundane. They were having a simple conversation and he happened to have been warm and his shirt was sufficient.  Turning away, she pressed her lips together and began to pull back on all the layers that she had taken off the night before. Madison cast a quick glance at the window. “Just into the wood line I’ll set some traps. Do you want to grab some more boxes so we can sort through them all to see if there is anything worthwhile? I’ll be back before it is fully dark. I’ll take the rascals too. They need to released some energy.” Fully clothed in her thick winter garb, she slipped out of the cabin, whistling to beckon to dogs to stay on her heels.

Setting traps with bounding puppies had clearly been a mistake but she managed well enough. She’d toss a stick ahead and then cover their tracks and mask their scent with some fallen branches. As she had walked about as quietly as she was able, Madison saw mostly rabbit prints. It was mindless work when she had been doing this since she could walk. As she tied the snares, she tried to calm the uneven beat of her heart. It would pick up every time she thought of him, to the point she actively recited children’s rhymes in her head to block him out. The light had left the sky about fifteen minutes before she made her trek back. The dogs managed to follow her well enough with some encouragement from dried meat and she was stomping her boots on the cabin steps soon enough.

As she entered, so did a strong night gush of cold air. Damien and Magnolia rushed in and a tumbling ball of fur, sniffing at their empty bowls by the fire. “Find anything good while I was gone?” She asked, ridding herself of her thinking outer-garments. She drew the thick but tattered curtains over the windows. It wouldn’t do for someone to see their firelight and think it was a good idea to pop in for a visit. She hadn’t seen any signs of other humans, but that didn’t mean they weren’t lurking.


   
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Madison was right; it was best to split the difference in risk between darkness and weather, setting traps in the twilight in close proximity to warmth and shelter. They were both seasoned travelers and knew how to ration food. Even in the event of empty snares and another prolific blizzard, they were equipped to endure.

With the cabin suddenly to himself, the quiet was almost unsettling. Remy keenly felt Madison’s absence despite her having just departed, and as he added another log to the fire, he found his thoughts drifting back to the young woman…the way her hair tumbled past her shoulders, the flush in her cheeks as she passed the Scotch, the warmth of her touch despite the furious blizzard. Even her unabashedly sharp wit made him want to kiss her as much as shake her by the shoulders.

The crackle of the healthy flames sent a burst of warmth through the room, which had grown cool again as they slept. He pulled a pair of thick warm stockings onto his bare feet, then padded into the adjacent rooms. Stacks of plastic bins and cardboard boxes greeted him in haphazard towers. He moved several large, heavy containers to the front room near the fire, stacking them by size and weight for easy access.

Remy paused, biting his lip as he surveyed the boxes. There were even more storage containers above, in the loft, which was currently inaccessible due to the dilapidated ladder. The ladder would be simple to reinforce if he could find some nails, or perhaps a toolbox…and it didn’t seem unreasonable that the previous occupants would leave such behind with the rest of their belongings. All he had to do was find the damn thing.

He ventured once more into the back room, which he had emptied of the largest containers—making it far easier to search for smaller pieces, like the half-rusted, chipped red kit he found hiding innocently beneath a stack of strewn papers. It rattled when he picked it up; they were in luck. A smile touched the general’s son’s lips.

He scrounged together the remnants of the ladder and lined the beams up on the floor, salvaging the pieces they hadn’t used to kindle the hearth. With the exception of the very bottom rung, there was enough to reassemble the wood like a puzzle, and he crafted a semblance of a narrow ladder—one that was infinitely more reliable than it had been in its previous state. He reinforced each rung through the edges with an assortment of nails. Sweat beaded on his brow when he swung his new creation toward the opening in the ceiling, and he climbed halfway up tentatively, shifting his weight to test its limits. That was when Madison and the pups burst through the door, startling him.

Despite himself, he grinned. “Scrapped this together. What do you think?” he said, holding up the sad, banged-up hammer like a trophy. He hopped back down to the floor and reached up to wipe the moisture from his forehead. The cold gust of air that had followed Madison inside raised gooseflesh on his arms, which, despite the shock of it, felt pleasant against his heated skin.

“Go warm up,” he told her, kneeling down to greet the pups as they tumbled across the floor. “I cleared out most of the back room. We can go through some more stuff over dinner. How did the weather hold up?”


   
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Closing the door firmly behind her, she completed the task of taking off her shoes. She set them by the door, where they would undoubtedly form a little puddle of water from the already melting snow. Heat from the fire had warmed through the cabin and she felt her face blush already.  Madison pulled off her cap and tied her hair up onto the top of her head. Blue eyes appraised his handiwork, examining the remade ladder with approval. “Well done, roadwalker. You’re not so worthless after all.” Using the previous insult as almost a term of endearment, she continued her move towards the fire. Despite the immediate influx of heat, her hands needed to warm as well as her toes. Flexing them by the fire, she continued to examine the progress he had made since she had gone to lay down the traps.

“It’s not terrible but there is more cold coming in. Perhaps another storm or two over the next few days but if we make it out early tomorrow perhaps we can find another spot along the way.” Madison opened the door again, bracing herself against the cold where she heaped snow into the pot she had in her hand. The huntress put a few dried vegetables and meat into the pot above the fire, letting it come to a slow simmer to begin to make a broth. It would cook for an hour or so and provide…relatively decent flavor. “Hopefully, we’ll have some success with the traps to keep us full on the journey.”

Despite the comfort she had found with him, the mission was always Washentown. It was always the Commander. Madison would not turn from the idea of plunging the knife at her thigh into the soft flesh of his belly and watching his blood begin to stain her hands. Morbidly, she would mark her cheeks and above her heart with it, keep the feeling of its warmth against her forever. And then she would find the Commander General’s son and eliminate the obvious successor. His blood was less important but his death was important.

“Think there might be anything good inside of boxes?” She moved away from the fire and the bubbling liquid to begin to open boxes. One had clothing and she began to lift the pieces out. Thick wool sweaters unfolded, and not the dull colors that she was accustomed to. One was a deep cobalt blue and the softest thing she had ever run her fingers across, besides Damien’s underbelly fur. A thorough inspection occurred and she found no holes, no loose threads. Holding it up against herself, it was roughly the right size. “Have you ever seen anything this color that wasn’t patchwork? It must have been a glorious place before the Cold.” She set the sweater aside and sorted through more articles of clothing, deciding ones that he might like and which ones might replace her tattered items she wore.

“Better yet, did you find anything good up in the top there?” Madison gestured to the ladder and the loft. Her gaze traveled back to the pot, which she stirred and then adjusted the logs on the fire. She finished another 2 boxes that had nothing but stacks and stacks of paper than was yellowing and half chewed by pests. She pushed those aside and gave her attention to a plastic bin. Opening it, she discovered hunting and fishing equipment. Her light laughter filled the warm room and she smiled at him. “Before the Cold, they hunted for sport. Can you believe they had all this in this box, just for a rainy day…as I think they called it?” She laughed again, kneeling down to sort through it. Knives that were sharp and encased in fine leather holsters were nestled beside a first aid box with suturing material and bandages. “And even something for you,” she tossed him the kit. Then on to the next box, but she would certainly make a point to focus her attention on this box again.

The final one that she would examine before they ate was smaller. She lifted the lid and peered inside. Small round containers with silver lids filled the inside. Withdrawing one from the top, Madison hesitantly popped off the top and the scent of…something she had not smelled before wafted toward her. She recoiled and examined the container. Slowly she skimmed some of the words (unable to process the majority of them) and recognized candle. Candle. This was not a candle. “What does this say?” She held it out to him. “It says candle, I think but this is not a candle. It smells…odd and it’s so short and fat, this would not provide any light or warmth whatsoever. What is its purpose?”


   
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Remy deftly caught the small box she tossed his way and examined it in the firelight. The embossed plastic, which had probably once been white, had yellowed over the years—but it was still obviously a first aid kit, emblazoned with a peeling crimson cross beneath a fine layer of dust. The rolls of gauze and bandages inside would certainly come in handy, but it was the suture kit that he was most excited about. Medical-grade supplies, even expired ones, were next to impossible to come by. Stitching up a laceration in these mountains could spell the difference between survival and certain death.

He tucked the kit into his pack and returned to kneel next to Madison, who was recoiling from the scent of…what was it? Furrowing his brow, he took the glass cylinder from her and peered at the faded label. “It says, ‘Fragrance: Sweater Weather,’” he read. “ ‘An enticing blend of Juniper Berry, Sage, and Autumn Woods to evoke cozy winter evenings in your favorite sweater.’ ” He brought the candle closer to his nose and inhaled hesitantly. “It smells like none of those things to me. But I’d guess they lit these for the perfume.”

He leaned over and tugged a long piece of kindling from the pile of firewood, igniting one end and putting it to the stiff wick. It crackled, then turned into a small, steady flame. “What do you think?” he asked, grinning. “Does it smell like a fun autumn day in your favorite sweater, or whatever?”

As if on cue, a harsh gust of wind forced a whistle from the gaps in the cabin door. The pups lifted their heads, curious, before settling back down to their naps.

“I don’t trust the weather up here,” he said, amusement fading. “I think you’re right about heading out early tomorrow morning. Let’s hope we’ve caught something in the snares.” His lips twisted in contemplation, and he headed for the newly-repaired ladder. “There are more boxes up in the loft,” he said as he climbed, “and blankets and quilts. If we can roll some of them up to take with us…” He trailed off, dread pooling heavily in his chest. Staying put in the shelter of the cabin certainly seemed more appealing, but if they stayed too long, they risked the mountain trails becoming impassable. The sooner they could reach a lower elevation, the better.

“Not much up here other than blankets,” he called, tossing a small square pillow to the main floor as if to prove it. One box held nothing but plastic faux-greenery and brightly colored glass baubles wrapped protectively in paper. He paused, suddenly overtaken with a distant childhood memory…his mother hanging similar little spheres on small evergreen trees in the great hall, warning him gently not to drop them on the marble floors. Could you hand me the green one, sweetie? she’d ask, and he had obliged, proudly—if unsteadily—selecting the correct color and depositing it into his mother’s outstretched palm.

He shook his head as though to banish the thought. It had been for a holiday, he knew…but the name or purpose escaped him now. Whatever holidays might once have been recognized in the Commander’s house had died along with his mother, never to be spoken of again.

He climbed back down the ladder with an armful of useful things, spreading them out in front of the fire. “A couple of canteens,” he announced. “Some leather gloves to keep out the wet. Hopefully these aren’t too big for you. Even if they are, you can layer the others beneath.” He tossed the pair to Madison and smiled. “Find any more smelly candles for our journey? Might keep away the bears.”


   
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“Sounds like a bunch of fluff.” Madison said among a snort at the ridiculously verbose description of the supposed candle. “And wasting perfume on a candle? It really must have been the age of excess as all the old people say.” The wick flickered to life in his hand, tasting life for the first time in over a century. The smell that wafted towards her nose from his outstretched hand was no the smell of the fall days she was used to. She was distracted by the whistle as well, though she took the candle from his hand as he spoke. Her eyes focused on the candle, watched it dance back and forth, releasing its perfume into the air around her head. It wasn’t the worst thing she had smelled. A shrug lifted her shoulders while her eyes watched him climb the ladder.

“I could definitely use a blanket to exchange mine for. Mine has been patched to the point of exhaustion and I don’t think it would survive another season. I might be able to repurpose it into sweater for the pups. I think I saw a sewing kit in one of the back rooms the other night.” Madison pursed her chapped lips before she began to pick at the dry skin a bit with her fingers, absentmindedly. By thinking of her sewing, she failed the notice the far-off look that entered her companion’s eyes.  The clamor of canteens contacting the wooden floor withdrew her from her reverie.

Delicately, she took a pair of the gloves from his hand. The leather beneath her fingers was supple and dark. It was coated with something…perhaps something lost to time that was meant to preserve the strength of the material against the elements. She ran the tip of her pointer finger up and down each finger of the glove before slipping her hand inside. The fur that coated it was the softest thing she had felt beside the pups undercoats.  It caressed her skin like a lover, parting for her movements but still keeping her warm and secure. “They fit well. Wow.” She flexed her hand and then drew off the gloves.  Blue eyes took him his devastating smile and she faltered for a moment, before turning away. “No, not yet.” A laugh escaped her. “But I want to explore the loft before soup’s ready.” She grabbed the smelly candle and sauntered off towards the repaired ladder, leaving the gloves to be packed later.

Climbing with one hand on the side of the ladder and the other on her candle, she made her way upwards. “I’ll check the snares first thing in the morning, then we can go. Tonight should give me enough time to make something out of my old blanket for the dogs.” The archer set the candle on the floor of the loft and pulled herself up. Odds and ends littered the floor and then her eyes fell on a mattress made up with a ridiculously flower patterns duvet. “There’s a bed up here! What do you mean there’s not much?” Madison had no idea that a bed such as these would pale in comparison to the ones that adorned the multitude of rooms at the Commander’s palace. She moved over to it, careful to not bump her head on the low ceiling. She flopped onto it and sighed the biggest she had in ages. Comfort seeped from the mattress into every pore of her body. “Hey, stir the soup then come up here and feel this. I’ve never felt anything like it. This is a bed.” She emphasized the final word.

Her bed at the little cabin she lived in with her parents was made of straw and had to be cleaned out and resewn many times. It was lumpy and poked through her nightclothes regularly. This slice of heaven that she now resided on was made of a cloud condensed and packaged within another cloud. “How did they make these things? How did we lose this ability? Can we take this with us?” She laughed.


   
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Another gust of icy wind assaulted the sturdy cabin, sending the heavy door quaking in its frame. Remy tucked away a second set of wool mittens and a pair of men’s leather gloves that matched Madison’s into his pack, grateful to have found gear to protect their hands. The mountain gales were a howling reminder of the wintery dangers awaiting them beyond the timber walls. They could have all the luck in the world avoiding a storm, but none of that would matter if temperatures dropped subzero and frostbite set in—particularly if that frostbite affected their fingers and toes.

The scent of Madison’s perfumed candle wafted down from the loft. He shook his head to himself. There were certainly things from the old world that Remy was not familiar with—scented candles included—but he had grown up with more luxuries and conveniences than Madison likely knew existed. The fact that she was so taken with something as simple as the aromatic candle was…well, it was endearing, and he couldn’t help but smile.

It also threw into sharp relief the drastic differences in their upbringings, his being the one far outside the world’s norm. The general’s son hadn’t even thought to remark on the presence of a bed—he had been too distracted by the contents of the storage boxes. Despite several years of sleeping on straw mattresses on the best nights and frozen ground on the worst, it simply had not occurred to him that such a thing might be worthy of comment ahead of supplies. A bed was a luxury he had willingly forsaken to escape the terror of his birthplace.

“Coming,” he called back to his companion, dutifully stirring the stew over the calm fire before ascending the ragtag ladder. He appeared in the opening to find Madison sprawled across the comforter, whose floral print shone bright and colorful despite the layer of gray dust on its surface.

“I thought maybe if I didn’t tell you about it, you wouldn’t find it,” he joked with a crooked grin, hoisting himself up. “Then I could sneak up here and have it all to myself tonight.” Stooping low to avoid the low-sloped ceiling, he approached the foot of the bed. “Hey, move over,” he said, the words hardly leaving his lips before he playfully collapsed on to the mattress, landing practically on top of her. He clasped his hands over his chest as he lay on his back, peering at the shadows that played through the beams as the flame of the scented candle danced.

“Yeah, this is pretty nice, I guess,” he said teasingly. “Too bad we can’t float it down the river. Maybe we can use it as a sled…ride down the slopes on the snow?”


   
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Madison smiled, eyes closed, when she heard him acquiesce. As she lay there, the old mattress curved against her body as though it had missed human companions during its solitary confinement. It had endured seasons passing without a single visitor, when it had previously been the trampoline of young children and the secret keeper of young lovers. One eye popped open when he ascended the ladder and remarked upon his master plan. “You could try. I’d heard your loud, tromping roadwalker steps the moment you stood up from the floor.” Her lips parted to laugh before she was forced to exhale a harsh breath of a croak at the weight of his body partially atop hers. “You will have it all to yourself if you flatten me.” She teased, elbowing him gently when he rolled to the space beside her.

“Make it into the Northam’s most comfortable ship. I bet the dogs would love it.” The idea of a sled made her bark with laughter. “How’d we stop though? Just keep going until we’re smack in the center of the Capital at the Commander’s doorstep. Our valiant steed, the mattress.” Valiant steed. It brought her back to the stories that her mother would tell her as a child, after hunting with her father and working in their meager garden. A valiant steed carried the beautiful princess off to fight and slay the dragon to rescue the trapped prince in his isolated tower. The memory made her smile, then frown. The knot in her stomach coiled and she shook her head slightly, burying it back down.

Rolling onto her stomach, she looked down at him. Blue eyes danced over his face, taking in the sharp angle of his jaw and the lines that usually furrowed his brow were now smoothed. Her hair, in its loose, disheveled plait, fell across one shoulder. Remy had that kind of casual confidence that came with being raised well. Madison was well aware of little pockets of the Commander’s communities, full of his loyal followers. They said there were shops and food just sitting out to be purchased. Even places that would make you clothing from new cloth, from cotton harvested in the furthest reaches of the south.  She wondered if his parents had been upper class workers in such a shop, if perhaps his mother or father had been a healer or doctor.

Madison’s gaze fell down to the first floor, seeing Azalea stretch before biting her brother’s ear. Warmth wafted up, carrying to burning smell of the crackling fire with it. “My parents had a cabin like this, not as nice, but it was nice to me.” Absentmindedly she ran her thumb back and forth along the platinum ring on her right hand. “Do you ever wonder what it would be like to just stay in a place like this? Like really stay. You make it your own. You build on to the existing bones of the place. You grow. You hunt. You…” She sighed, drawing her lip between her teeth momentarily. “You live.” She swallowed. She turned back to him, meeting his gaze. The huntress’s mouth lifted slightly at the left corner. “I never really have, y’know? It never really…it is never an option for me. But I can see the appeal. Can’t you?”

The weight of it all stuck in her chest so she laughed slightly, forcibly. “You’d only have me to bandage up and I’m usually rather quick on my feet so you wouldn’t have much work to do.  You’d have to figure out a new profession.” She smiled, genuinely then. “I could even teach you some actual skills. Maybe then you wouldn’t get got by the cons that pass by.” She nudged his arm with her hand, letting him know she was just teasing. Her gaze fell from his eyes down to his mouth. Memory of the taste of it jolted through her, unbidden but not unwelcome? She swallowed and her cheeks began to redden.


   
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astrophysicist
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Remy felt her gaze shift to him as he stared upward, and he closed his eyes with something akin to self-consciousness. It wasn’t a familiar feeling. Sure, he’d worried someone in passing might recognize him for who he was, especially in the beginning after his escape, but this was different. Something had shifted in the air of the loft, and it wasn’t just that there was a bed beneath them. The warmth from the fire downstairs, the faint aroma of simmering dinner, the distant shriek of the cold wind outside, the soft yips of the playful pups below, even the damn perfumed candle…it was soothing. It was calm. It felt like…

It felt like a home.

Startled by this realization, his eyelids fluttered open. “Is this what a home feels like?” he heard himself say, before he could stop the words. “Is this what it felt like…at your parents’ cabin?”

Remy had had a house once—a very fine one, with towering stone halls and grandiose staircases and marble floors and electric lights—but it had never been a home. There was a massive difference between feeling safe with an army of guards posted at every door and window and stationed around the perimeter…and feeling safe due to trust and warmth and care. He’d had the walls and the protection. But he’d also had the abuse, the blood, the torture. A mansion—hell, a palace—that felt far colder than this cabin ever could, no matter how the fires raged upon its grand hearths.

He rolled to his side toward her and immediately caught her gaze. He propped his head up with his arm, his face far closer to hers than he’d intended…but made no motion to pull back. Her eyes shone passionately as she spoke of her—their, he realized—hypothetical future, and he couldn’t help but smile softly at the picture she painted. “You are pretty quick on your feet,” he agreed, chuckling. “I’d probably be more likely to stitch up myself than you. Especially if you’re planning on teaching me these ‘real’ skills you speak of. We roadwalkers aren’t known for our grace…as you would be the first to point out!”

Pulling a face in mock offense that quickly dissolved into laughter, Remy reached up a hand to give her shoulder a playful shove. But his hand lingered against the fabric of her sweater even as the laughter calmed, and almost without thinking, he ran a finger softly down the length of her arm.

“Yeah,” he said quietly, looking away. “I think I’d like it. Living. Growing. Building.” His voice had darkened with emotion as he echoed her previous sentiments. He looked back to Madison in the sudden longing quiet. He wasn’t sure what compelled him to do it—something about her expression, something about the shared pain of their vastly different pasts—but he gently pulled her in to his side, wrapping his arm around her shoulders.

“Thank you, Madison,” he said softly, watching the flickering shadows dance across the beams. “For..." He paused, unsure how to continue—there was simply too much to say. "For putting up with this roadwalker.”


   
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