“Why do you cry?” Mason asked.
Rebekka looked up at the girl. She clung unto Jude’s back–he carried her throughout the long weeks–and was staring at Rebekka with the roundest, most innocent eyes.
Rebekka wiped away her tears and replied, “Sad thoughts.”
“What kind of sad thoughts?”
“Mason,” Jude said keeping his eyes on the horizon, “it is not our place to ask of such personal things.”
“It is fine,” Rebekka replied. “They are better to be spoken than stored away inside.” She thought for a moment before continuing. “I was thinking of a friend.”
“Oh, so you are sad about your friend,” Mason said. “Why? Did something happen to them?”
“I don’t know. The last time I saw ‘im, I was helping ‘im escape.”
“Escape from what?”
“The High Officer.”
Mason gasped, clasping her hands over her mouth and Wert looked over at hearing the name.
“And that’s why you’re here?” Wert asked.
“Did your friend escape?” Mason asked through her hands.
“Yes, but I don’t know if he got to safety.”
“Of course he didn’t,” Wert scoffed. “No one can escape the High Officer. The man is like a fox. He knows what you’re up to before you even think it. He has scores of soldiers under his command. They say he’s so evil, no one ever sees his face and live to tell about it. You’ll never see your friend again.”
“Oh, yeah?” Rebekka said mockingly. “Well I fought ’im. Shot ‘im once with and arrow and burnt ‘im with a poker.”
Mason giggled into her hands.
Wert’s eyes went wide. “You’re making this up.”
“Seven-foot-tall, three foot at the shoulders, greasy black hair, and a whitish scar right across the forehead.”
“Yes, that’s him,” Jude said.
“Yeah,” Wert said quietly, “it is.”
Rebekka narrowed her eyes pointedly at Wert. “Well if you saw ‘im, how can you believe the tale of never seeing ‘im and living to tell of it?”
“I didn’t s-say I believed it.” he stammered. “Just saying the rumors.”
“No one wants to hear the rumors Wert,” Mason said. “We’ve had enough of those. Now what were you saying Rebekka about you fending against the High Officer?”
“It’s not much to tell,” Rebekka replied.
“Well, I still want to hear it anyway.”
“Do you really?”
“Yes, yes, yes I do! Stop wasting time and tell it already!”
“What time is there to waste Mason when there’s hours of walking ahead of us?” Jude asked.
Mason stuck out her bottom lip. “Who asked you anything, Jude?”
Rebekka chuckled softly and said, “Alright, I’ll tell it and I’ll start from the very beginning so it will be longer than it actually is.”
As Rebekka began, Mason giggled with excitement. Jude continued looking across the horizon and Wert, though he pretended not to care, was listening also. The only people who really weren’t interested were the Superiors. But it didn’t matter about them anyway. If anything, Rebekka hoped her retelling would show them the people they were invading held no cowardice.
Four of the main characters… Others are coming in the next posts.
When the sun began to slowly dip into the horizons of each day’s end, Rebekka was able to carry out the first part of her plan. In this time the wood for night had to be gathered. Superiors always forced their captors to complete this chore and for the last three days, Rebekka volunteered to do so. Each time she was accompanied by Superior Tallow, and though she didn’t like the man, she was thankful it was him instead of the others.
Out in the frigid wastelands of the low midlinds, a type of dead woody bush called the sikan berry bush, had to be collected along with the branches of small sparse trees. These lifeless bushes died back after having fruit instead of becoming brittle and wasting away, the bush dried and its withered roots stayed nestled in the ground. This meant the bush had to be pulled from the ground, and even in death some were hard to get up, but they burned long, hot, and clean. However, if they were green or hadn’t fully dried, they smothered a fire and produced a foul-smelling smoke.
Rebekka knew these things about these plants, but it seemed that Superior Tallow did not. He let his arrogance and pride best him at all times whenever he accompanied Rebekka to gather the wood and he was always gracious to show it. He yelled at her when she was too slow or missed a shrub that he thought she forgot to pull up. Truthfully, she was going slower than she usually would, but the shrubs she missed were either still green, or hadn’t dried. But who was she to argue with the Superior? Her thoughts didn’t matter. Her plans did.
Each evening she had went to collect wood, she browsed for any herbs she hoped to encounter. If she came across one that would be useful, she pulled up the shrub near it, green or not, and craftily tucked the herb away into the sleeve of her dress. And though the Superior was ever so watchful, he never took notice.
After Rebekka had finished gathering all the wood she could, she would store the herbs she collected within a large sock. At night, before the prisoners doused their campfire, she would place the sock within the pillow of her bedroll. By the end of the third day, Rebekka had enough herbs to make what she needed. Now she could initiate the next step of her plan.
In the night of the fourth day, before she volunteered to collect wood, Rebekka made her poultice and finished a weak tisane. The poultice was for Acidine and contained six different healing herbs. The tisane was for the Superior who guarded the prisoners. It was made from whey nut, knobby seeds that, when peeled and steeped in water for an entire day, made a tisane that placed a person in somnolence. However, the tea was not to be consumed, it was meant to be smelled.
Rebekka knew it wouldn’t be long before the Superiors made a daily request for one of the prisoners to collect their firewood. She was actually looking forward to it. She sat near the campfire with the other three prisoners staring at the burning pile of wood but listening intently for her opportunity.
“Oi! One of ya up to get wood.” Superior Tallow barked. “We’re getting cold!”
Wordlessly, Rebekka stood still holding her cup of whey nut tisane.
“Eh, Tallow keep ya voice down.” Superior Kident warned peering a cautious eye out across the dark. He was the guard on duty to watch the prisoners. “There’re spirits out in these wilds.”
Superior Tallow snorted a scoff. “Spirits are for those who believe in ‘em.” Tallow’s eyes snapped to Rebekka and his face twisted into a scowl. “How do you think you’re going to get carrying that?” he motioned to the cup she carried with annoyance. It’s just what Rebekka wanted.
“I-I thought–” Rebekka said making her voice stammer.
“Did I ask you to speak? Put it away!”
At his explosive command, Rebekka over exaggerated a flinch, intentionally tripped over her own feet and nearly fell into Superior Kident, spilling the tisane all over his front.
“Da– it Tallow!” Kidane shouted. “Now look at what you’ve done!”
“Wasn’t me. It was that rat faced girl you blind numskull!” Tallow snarled back.
“You’re tha one who spook her you idiot!”
“Not my fault she spooks easy!”
“Silence!!” The Head Superior screamed from his tent. “We only have two days before we reach our destination. Two! If you cannot keep your heads until then you are not fit to call yourselves Superiors. Discipline and restraint are what I want and expect from you. Man up and stop quibbling like children! Am I understood?”
“Yes sir!” both of the soldiers said crisply.
“That’s what I like to hear. Tallow you get the wood.” Tallow began to protest but the Head Superior cut him off short. “That is a strict command.”
Superior Tallow saluted, cast a sour at Rebekka and stomped off grumbling into the dark with a torch.
“Alright up and get back over there with your friends,” Superior Kidane snapped, “Ya get the night off. Hurry it up, or else I’ll get the Head to change his mind.”
Rebekka picked herself up, snatched her cup from the dirt and went back to the campfire. And there she waited. She waited until the other three had retired to their bed mats, until the scanty campfire had died down, and eventually until Superior Kidane began to nod off in the place he stood. Rebekka watched him closely, timing his nods, and then made her move.
She doused the campfire and quietly but quickly, made her way to her bedroll. There, she packed the poultice into her cup and scuddled in a low crouch to the small carriage carrying the Superior’s supplies. She flattened herself against its side and peeked around a corner to see if Superior Kidane had noticed her. He was still dozing, but when Superior Tallow dropped his large armful of branches and sikan bushes, he started awake.
With held breath, Rebekka watched him look over the sleeping prisoners. Just when she felt she would burst from suspense, Superior Kidane blinked his heavy eyes and began to nod off again. Rebekka released a silent breath of relief and turned to look around at her surroundings. The next moment she had to stifle a shout of surprise.
Standing right next to her was Jude.
“What ever you are thinking to accomplish will not end well,” he said. He didn’t have to whisper; his voice was light enough.
Rebekka recovered from her shock. “How did you get here?” she hissed.
“Isn’t it obvious? I did what you did.”
In the dark, Rebekka scowled. “Why are you here?”
“To warn you.”
“I don’t need a warning. I know what I’m doing. You should leave before you get us caught.”
Jude sighed, almost tiredly. “As you want.”
Rebekka watched him sneak back over to his bedroll near Mason’s. Superior Kidane was still dozing so she went on to complete the rest of her plan. Following along the carriage, she felt her way around to the back, where she knew the cage of Acidine was. Before she reached her destination, she heard the faint voices of Superiors. Yes, there were always two superiors on guard duty for the monstrous creature, along with four Superiors to patrol around the camp. She didn’t have to worry about the patrolling superiors at the moment and certainly not those guarding Acidine. As long as she kept to the shadows, she didn’t have to worry about being seen.
In the dim torch light, Rebekka saw the thick chain running from the supplies carriage to the cage of Acidine. It was too dark for her to see within the cage, but she could hear Acidine’s rhythmic breathing. So it was sleeping… or so she hoped. Either way she would find out. Carefully, she crept to the cage.
“Can’t wait until we’re through with this transfer,” a superior began. “I’m sick and tired of this frozen wasteland. Honestly, I don’t see why so many of us had to drop our post just to do this.”
“Don’t you know about the Axons?” the other Superior asked.
One step after another, Rebekka got closer and closer to the blue steel cage.
“Yeah, yeah,” the first Superior scoffed. “The glorious Axons. Suppose to be turning out soldiers able to replace us. Load of dung is what I say it is.”
“It’s true,” the second replied.
“Aw, don’t tell me your believing this too.”
“No, I know it’s true.” The Superior dropped his voice to a whisper. “The Axons are run by wizards and witches.”
Rebekka stopped in mid-step.
“Noooo,” the first whispered.
“Yeah. You see a few missions before this one, I was on guard of an escort to the Axon Three. Small group of officials near Shearpoint needed to do business there. Anyway, halfway there, I started to figure a few things. What business did a group of officials have at a war camp like the Axon? And to top that, none of them came out of their carriages.”
“Not once. Until it happened.”
“Wha? Wha happened?”
“We were attacked. Vicious monsters that looked like hell itself spit them up. One glance at the situation unfolding and I knew it was over. And right when I started to see my life play over again in my head, this bright light shot out of the carriage window and lit up the entire area. It was brighter than sunlight and more beautiful than anything you can think of. Shot clean through the beasts and dropped them dead. No weapon ever created could have done it, but I’ll tell you what it was.”
“Wha it was? Wha was it?”
“It was magic.”
“Magic… how come I never heard this story before out of anyone else?”
“’Cause it was only me who was there.”
“Ah, you made that up.”
“All of it.”
Through the bars of the other side of the cage, Rebekka saw the torch move. Three quick steps and she was out of sight in the darkest shadow near the cage. Of course, being in the darkest shadow meant being against the cage, but she didn’t notice that until she felt Acidine’s breath and heard its chain rattle as it shifted.
Slowly, she turned to the cage. In what little light cast by the torches, she saw Acidine was looking right at her, but… it didn’t have eye sockets. Where its eyes should have been was the smooth dark grey skin found on the rest of its body. Its nose was nearly blended into the rest of its face and its mouth stretched from cheek to cheek. Shaggy greasy black hair hung down several inches below its chin. A low growl drifted up and Acidine moved closer to the cage.
Rebekka nearly forgot what she had come for as the fear coursing through her being rose. But she remembered her courage and raised the cup of poultice she had made. Acidine smelled the cup, but it’s growl didn’t subside.
“I just want to help,” she said in the lowest whisper she could make. She didn’t know if Acidine understood, but she hoped it did. She pointed to its wounded leg that was now festered with infection. Acidine looked back at the leg and looked at her. So it did understand!
Suddenly the low growl flattened to something like a hum and Acidine moved its leg to allow her to apply her medicine. Gingerly, she scooped some of the poultice and reached through the cage. The cage was off the ground by several feet and made the application somewhat difficult, but she managed. On the third scoop, which was the last, something incredible happened. The wound began to heal right before her eyes!
Rebekka watched with amazement and then realization. If the Axon One could get Acidine to fight for them in battle, it could demolish scores of platoons with ease. But what about the rest of them? Did it mean that the Axon could use them the same kind of way as Acidine?
A sudden movement from Acidine snapped Rebekka from her thoughts. Once more it was looking at her, but silently. Rebekka didn’t know what to expect. She still felt fear, yes, but it was being rivaled by curiosity. Daringly she reached out, slowly, cautiously, and placed a hand on Acidine’s forehead. Its skin was nearly hot to the touch. At the same moment, a gentle glow spread from beneath her hand. Removing her hand, she revealed a glowing handprint left behind.
The handprint smoothly faded away, and that’s when Rebekka became aware of a secondary glow coming from her palm. Before she could move to examine it, Acidine swiveled its head around, mouth gaping wide, and clamped down on her upper arm. She stared for a split moment, before her mind could comprehend what had just occurred. Searing white hot agony boiled and seeped into every place of her body and mind. It constricted her lungs, stopping her breath, and just when she thought she would faint, her lung force themselves to work.
Rebekka gasped, deep and full, and released a shrill scream of pain. And that, is when she fainted.
Coming next… The Axon One.
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