- July 31, 2022
Raydorn: The War in the Black (Chapter 28)
“Monsters hide under the bed and act as nightmares in their dreams, but only men take children when they’re awake.”
Uday Wadiya, Shivan of Endica, 440 A.C.A.
“Dis-ARM!” Jack yelled, and in response, every man, woman, and child dropped their spear and took out their wooden swords.
“Re-ARM!” Jack yelled again, walking between the rows of people with his hands behind his back as they performed the harder part of the exercise.
They all tried to stick the tip of their toe under their staff and kick up back to their hand. First, he taught the Icee, the Hotun, the lapsing legionnaires, and even some of the Raze kids how to attack, then how to dodge without a weapon, and then how to sidestep with one.
Today, he taught them what to do if they lose their main weapon, and then how to get that main weapon back. As he walked between them, he gave them a short little quiz, his voice somehow drowning out the waves crashing against the plateau rather than the other way around.
“What happens to those with arms?!”
“Who doesn’t die?!”
As they dropped their staffs and pulled out their swords, Jack thought to himself, They at least have that part down, the simple act of getting out another weapon will save their lives.
Some were successful, kicking up the staff back into their hands before sheathing the sword. Most either kicked them away, sent them into someone else, or smacked themselves in the face.
“Ow! Fuck!” cursed Penny Tweed, whose nose was beat red. The blonde teenager had managed to get the staff up several times, but had failed to ever catch it. As she sheathed her wooden sword and picked up her staff with a speed that would get her killed, she turned and saw Penny Prim flipping her staff between her fingers.
“I hate you,” Penelope Tweed told Penance Prim.
The other Penny only laughed.
They were interrupted by Jack walking between them, and yelling, “DISARM!!”
They both fucked that part up.
As they struggled with the simplest part, Jack walked away smirking to himself. I can’t say I didn’t miss bullying cadets. That part was always fun.
As he was reminicinising he looked off into the sunset, and took the time to listen to how loud the waves were. They weren’t calming which meant the fishermen should be coming back, and they’ll need help, even if those offering to help are sore.
He walked to the front as he told them one last time, “RE-ARM!!!” to see that more had managed it than not.
“At ease,” he said, before repeating it in Uzuri and Icee. “You’re all making good progress, so today we’ll end early.”
He was met by immediate cheering until he added, “And I expect to see you helping by the docks with that free time.”
He was met with disappointed sighs at that.
But Jack only smiled. Was this what I needed?
Quintus can never know.
As they left, some asked for help and pointers as always, but this wasn’t the first day they practiced either technique so there weren’t as many. When the last man approached, seemingly waiting for the rest to go, Jack started to grow this feeling in his stomach, and it wasn’t unpleasant.
A man of the Hotun walked up to him with a playful walk, before bowing his head with his hands clasped in front of him. “I have no questions, only to give you thanks for teaching us.”
His Rayne is pretty good. How long has it been since they came here that he’s gotten that good?
Jack couldn’t help but return his smile and assure him, “I am owed no thanks, we don’t exactly have the money to pay you what we should, so if our wanted status catches up to us, you should be more than able to defend yourselves.”
Sharda’s brow purse, and Jack thought, Did I say something?
Sharda’s hand went to his mouth, as his next words came out slowly. “I think… you all… are… hard on yourselves?”
“Thank you, and…” Jack said as he tried to remember what he could from the words he’d been learning, “<I understand your language…>” he stopped before he almost slipped into Susannan, “<more than I… speak? You don’t have to… try Rayne… if you want.>”
Sharda immediately asked, “<Really?>” with this pearly white smile on his face. Jack felt this woosh in his stomach seeing it, and stopped himself from clutching it. “<Well, maybe we’re both fast learners.>”
“Yeah,” Jack agreed, “maybe.” He had to pause to make sure he understood what Sharda said exactly. He might understand me better than I understand him.
“<And I mean it,>” Sharda said, “<the Black Legion is too hard on themselves. You freed us from chains, saved us from Krone, and now you train us. We more than owe you.>”
“Well, we… desire nor deserve thanks. We’re mercenaries, hardly people of morally high-standing, better to not forget that.”
Sharda’s eyes narrowed but his pearly whites didn’t. “<Duly noted,>” he said, but Jack had his doubts.
Rather than let this go, Sharda took a step closer to Jack, to sort of rub his shoulder against the ex-Stormguard. Jack could feel how warm the man’s bare skin was through his own thin cloth. Sharda looked him in the eye while he knew no one else would see.
“<Still, there must be some way we can repay you.>”
Jack moved his arm, as if to react, instinctively to push along the same road as Sharda… only to find no idea of what to do with his arm. It’s… it’s been a long time since there’s ever been someone new. What do I do with this stupid hand, where do I put it, what do I say?
Do I just touch him? No, that seems inappropriate, even if he wouldn’t mind how awkward it would be, what if he gets confused? If he smiles at me more do I just put my hand on his arm?
Well, actually, I’m sure he’ll know. He has to know.
“<Jack?”> Sharda asked as Jack seemed to freeze.
Wait, let’s… let’s say something, distract! Distract!
“Is there really a ‘we’ or is this you?” Jack asked him.
Sharda’s eyes flashed something fierce, as Jack asked himself, Did I really just say that? Yeah, that was smooth. Smooth accident I’ll say.
Sharda stepped closer practically stepping into Jack’s arm so Jack didn’t have to figure out what to do with the dangling limb himself.
He whispered to Jack, “<Well, I consider myself giving a man, I want to give more than I get, and I right now I owe you much,> Starshield.”
Roll with it, roll with it, let him lead!
“What did you have in mind?”
Then Sharda asked a strange question. “<Do you swim?>” Jack’s expression twisted, garnering a laugh from Sharda. “<When we are not learning the art of war from you, and building up our home, the Islanders of Ice have taught us to swim, and all the places to see. I would love to show you.> Maybe practice your tongue.”
Jack made a little wheeze in the back of his throat. He rubbed it as he asked, “You-you… you mean Rayne?”
Sharda’s head tilted a little as he asked, “What else?” his Rayne absolutely perfect with those two words.
“Maybe…” Jack said as he raced to think, “maybe before dinner? Yeah, yes, before dinner, better to swim on an empty stomach than after eating Astrid’s gruel. It is her turn-”
“I heard that!”
Jack jumped away from Sharda, immediately looking for where the small Susannan woman was hiding and listening to him.
Damn you, Astrid, what the fuck?
He looked around the rock they standing near and didn’t find her and jumped to check the top but she still wasn’t there.
When he let go and slide back down, he had a truly haunted expression on his face. “She’s worse than the assassins.”
Sharda laughed, only a little perturbed. “<Haha! You gronins are funny people.> Yes, before dinner is… fine… not that I… don’t… like gruel!”
Astrid didn’t answer Sharda so he shrugged. “Before dinner,” he said, but it sounded more like “dinna,” as he let the last syllable hang.
He bid Jack goodbye, exactly when Jack realized he had started to hold his breath.
Jack watched Sharda walk away a little too long, long enough for a 5’4” woman to sneak up on him.
Astrid jumped up with her hands on his back, yelling into his ear, “Jack’s got a date! Jack’s got a date!”
As Jack escaped, he growled, “You make me wish I was stuck on the boat with Lucy,” which only garnered this child-like glee, and he was watching Sharda again, but at this point, he was so far way, he couldn’t be anything more than a little black dot. That’s when it happened.
When the hole feels filled, love is impenetrable, even if its just the chance for love and not the feeling itself.
But then when the smile goes away, you’re left with the hole again. It all washes away and love is so fragile once more. Then your mind only thinks of what stole part of you away.
“Damn you, Kion.”
“What is it?” Astrid asked him, ceasing her mockery of him.
He just shook his head. “Like I said, just wishing I was stuck on the boat with Lucy.
“<When the Krones had us chained to the paddles, making us row their galleys, I tasted two things,>” Piss man told her, “<the putrid salt of the water and our own blood. I learned how much I touched my face without thinking.>”
Lucy did her best to ignore him as she slowly stopped rowing the boat she was chained to, which itself was chained into this waterway filled with sewer water. It was as strapped down to its place as she was, and as she rested, she could feel her hands crack from how chaffed they had become.
After a little reprieve, the salt came, and it burned the back of her hands. She screamed out towards the platform above her. Piss man poked his head through the little hole to look down through. His unyielding eyes loomed over her, unblinking.
“<Keep rowing,>” he said. Lucy didn’t, she only scrunched her nose at him as she yelled in the nastiest of snarls.
Then he shook the sea salt over her head.
Lucy huffed… and then started rowing.
“<You’re feeling what me and brother felt, but the water your tasting surely has more flavor,>” he told her, and at the sound of his voice she rowed faster. “<I don’t have a whip like the galley did, I only have this salt. The whips they used on us to keep us going were regularly replaced, paid for by their ship’s owner, the merchant, your father. They told us it was under the instructions of our own that we be whipped should we ever stall.
“<The Krones had to have their spices, I hear that’s why they invaded Endica. Their own was too bland.>”
Piss man jiggled the salt container and it made Lucy’s muscles twitch.
“<Are you sorry yet?>” Piss man asked.
Lucy slammed the oar forward as she screamed, “<I didn’t do anything!>”
“<Even if I believed that, doing nothing is doing something,>” Piss man said calmly, a far cry from how he screamed at her before, “<how many suffered while you supposedly did nothing? Said nothing?>”
Lucy felt liquid coming from her hands as her rowing slowed. The liquid took its time falling from the oar, as she dry heaved, out of breath, but had enough breath to scream, “<I’m sorry!>”
“<I don’t believe you,>” he said as he jingled the salt again, and took off the cap. “<Our people have a saying, surely you know, ‘that the evil of the world triumphs because the good stand by and let it happen,’ so you can’t be a knowing bystander and be good. Do you understand Lucilla Indu Nero? You are not good, you have never been good, and you never will be.
“<Do you understand?>”
Lucy looked up at him, with the uncapped salt hanging in his hands, and blood hanging from hers. Her pink eyes glowering at him with the flickers of fire.
I’m good enough to sever you from your balls, you fucking hasbut, she thought.
She answered, “<I understand,>” and it sounded like the same thing.
Piss man ordered her to, “<Cease rowing, I would not have you die before the others have their chance.”
He turned away and Lucy eyes started to glaze over as she let her head fall forward.
Why oh, why am I still here? How long has it been? A day? Maybe two? Surely that must have set someone off, Andy and Malum definitely…
Unless they were on a mission.
Then the crew, the crew would be searching for me, but… they have to find me. They’ll find me.
“Heeeefff…” she hissed as the metal bottle came down on her head. She let out a little cry as her eyes slowly crept open and saw Endica’s version of a canteen. It was this large rectangular thing that captured cold water, and Lucy clutched it with little hesitation.
As soon as she uncapped, she went to drink, until a voice said, “<Stop.>”
Lucy did, and started to look around for the voice. It was ear level and it came from above, but the walls were just close enough for her to row. Where would it be from?
The sound of the drain cover slowly sliding drew Lucy’s attention to her right. There she saw it slowly slide open with the help of two smaller hands.
Soon came out a boy, another from her homeland. “<That’s not water, you should be able to tell by the smell.>”
Lucy’s nostrils were all but deteriorating. She had to take a long whiff to realize they had thrown her more watered down piss, rather than real water.
She chucked it down the waterway, and the sound it clanging against the walls soon brought laughter from above.
She looked back to the boy who had come closer out of the shadows to hand her another canteen. She looked his hand up and down to see if there was anything else, and all he did was gesture for her to reach.
What more could I lose? I’m already covered in shit.
Lucy reached over and saw the boy’s face, recognizing him instantly. “<You were there when I woke, beside the woman,>” she said as she took the canteen.
He could only be 14 or 15 at most, but he cowered like a child half that.
Lucy undid the lid and wafted the water towards her nostrils. It smelled like clean water, and she took a slow sip, one that turned into a long gulp.
At least he brings me water.
Lucy took a few more sips before she noticed that the boy was still there and still watching her. She lowered the canteen to lick her lips as she looked him up and down, crouched in the man-sized pipe.
He had to have crawled through shit to get this to me.
She gestured to him with the canteen in her hand. “<Why are you helping me?>”
“<I am surrounded by bad people,>” he said as his looked away from her, his gaze lost to a moment of thought, before returning, “<that does not mean I must act like it, even if their victim may be bad herself.”
Lucy’s expression twisted down. “<I didn’t do the things they say I did.>”
The boy’s head tilted a bit. “<Did you free the slaves?>” he asked.
Lucy clenched her teeth as she saw half-hearted words. “<I… I couldn’t…>”
“<Did you want to?>”
“<Why wouldn’t I want to?>” she asked rather than answered. “<They were my people, I hated my father for how he betrayed Endica, for what he made us into, that’s why I left him!>”
“<Shhhhh!>” he shushed her, and they waited in silence. He silently yet violently pointed up towards the top, where she waited and watched as no one came.
They slowly turned back toward each other, but from then on, they spoke in whispers.
“<But then why did you not return to Endica?>”
Lucy gestured to her surroundings. “<You really expect me to believe that I could have? That I would have been accepted back? They can say I could have returned all they want, people are still people, and they do terrible things to those they don’t trust… they’ll make up any excuse that lets them do the bad things they think makes them feel good, whatever helps them believe the lie.>”
Lucy leaned back as the boy’s mouth clenched shut. Her eyes remained on him as she slowly lifted the water towards her face.
That’ll be some food for him to think on-
“<Are you good?>”
Lucy stopped drinking before she even started. “<What?>”
“<Are you good?>” he repeated. “<Are they wrong about you?>”
Lucy looked him up and down, her brows tightening into a glower. “<What does it matter? They never gave me the chance to prove it.>”
She started to drink more, and the boy watched her for a little while longer. When she didn’t turn towards him after two more gulps, he began to turn back the way he came.
Before he started to leave, he told her, “<I’ll bring you clean water when I can. Do whatever you can to not drink what they give you. They want you to suffer before you die, but they do want you to die, and they’ll kill you slowly as they watch you get weaker and weaker. They want you to die like they thought they were going to die, like their loved ones died.
“<I know it may not seem like it, but these are not acts of rage, they are acts of grief.>”
Lucy gestured to the shackles around her wrist. “<I can’t tell the difference from down here.>”
“<Hmm,>” he hummed as he started to walk away, “<I guess you never went below the decks.>”