Monthly Archives: November 2013

The Fallen

Standard

“We aren’t good people, Alexa. Sometimes, we need to do the hard thing—make that hard choice for the better of everyone. Sometimes we need to kill. You made that decision, and now all you can do is deal with the consequences.” –Sterno Stew

__

Sunlight dappled the forest floor, filtering across the crimson and gold leaves that crunched underfoot. The spicy scent of Autumn wafted through the trees, carried by the breeze that rustled through the wood. A few birds chirped, their twittering calls echoing as several women pushed through the underbrush—as they walked deeper into the unknown.

Alexa stepped over branches as she followed the others. Her eyes scanned the area warily, her hand hovering over the hilt of her blade. It was risky—what they were attempting. But it needed to be done—now more than ever. They couldn’t allow more to be taken.

Besides, it’s Bo Stalin. You can’t turn back.

Alexa swallowed, controlling her breathing as her heart raced. Calm down. They were heading into the belly of the beast, each one of them—Antigone, Shea, Rayna, Soutreia and the others. But at least it was a force that was competent. Each of them wore serious faces, eyes set on the woman’s back who was leading them. They would do what needed to be done, no matter what it was.

They stopped. The woman who had led them turned, her eyes gleaming in the dim light. She smiled benignly as she pushed brown hair from her eyes, revealing the paint that marked her face, marked her as one of themBo Stalin. She nodded politely and then turned, letting loose two sharp calls into the forest—high pitched noises that sounded in the gloom.

There was an answering call—two more sharp sounds. Then figures suddenly shifted from behind trees as they revealed themselves. They were there—swathed in blood and red cloth, weapons drawn. They were there—silent and waiting, eyes painted and cruel. They were there with their pacifying actions, their treaties. They were there, and all Alexa could do was watch. The Ban-She.

Alexa felt the other women around her shift as the Ban-She moved closer. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Antigone draw her blade, so similar to her own. There was a tense silence, the moment before the plunge. Then Bo Stalin turned with the same smile on her face, “Run with them.”

The confusion was almost palpable. The others stared, hands still on their weapons as Bo Stalin gestured to the Ban-She—to the raiders that had once been women like them, “They can teach you tactics. Run with them and they will show you. I want to make up for what we’ve done.”

Is she joking? It wasn’t a trap, after all. They had expected a fight and all they were getting was help. All they were receiving as training. Are they really serious? From far off, Alexa heard Antigone and Rayna agreeing with Bo, agreeing to run with the Ban-She. The taste of blood. Something sour bubbled in the back of her throat as she took a deep breath. Stay calm.

She had to play the game.

__

She ran. The wind tore through her hair as she leapt over logs and branches, as her feet pounded across leaves. She ran as the others surrounded her, moving on either side—all women. They ran as a pack, predatory grace aligned in every movement. They ran as if they had done so for years. They moved as one.

Alexa fought down the urge to scream.

They emerged from the wood into a larger field, keeping to the edges. Alexa paused, her eyes scanning the area in front of them. Tables were set up with wares displayed. Men and women milled through the open space, most of them not even glancing their way. Credits changed hands as vendors haggled over prices. A few sat in groups, chatting to one another in the sun. It’s the trade fair. Alexa felt her heart sink, her stomach flipping. Damnit.

Once more, the Ban-She moved forward. Alexa gritted her teeth and followed, keeping one hand on her weapon. Now people were starting to stare, some of the traders watched warily as they moved. Alexa felt something grip her chest, constricting her as she followed. She couldn’t seem to catch her breath, couldn’t seem to see straight. This is what you could have been.

More eyes followed them as they maneuvered and turned, as they screamed and rushed targets. It was a training drill. It shouldn’t be a big deal. After all, DOC conducted drills all of the time. Pain lancing through my back. It was a way to bond. Quincy’s blank face as he’s sucked into the ground. It could be a way to actually keep the Ban-She at peace with the town. Emotion that ripped and tore through heart and mind. The need for food. The hunger for flesh. The disregard for the walking dead—no threat. Only the living should die.

Alexa felt a hand on her arm. It was only then she realized that she had stopped moving, stopped participating. She jerked her head, glancing toward blue eyes and a pale face. Antigone’s voice filtered into her thoughts, bringing her back, “Are you okay?”

Alexa shook her head her head slightly, “No. This is my worst nightmare.” Antigone’s voice receding in the distance. The Ban-She staring down at her as the world faded around her. “But it has to be done.”

Otherwise, they’ll keep doing the same.

__

They walked together along the path through the forest, almost as if they were friends. Their footsteps matched one another’s as they traveled, trailed by the red haired man behind them. Voices mingled, speaking each in turn—polite, controlled. At a distance, you’d never suspect that they were actually enemies.

Alexa glanced toward her companion, noting the way her eyes darted from side to side. She seemed unsure, stressed.  Alexa knew how that felt—the way it could overtake you and suck you under. Emotions had a way of sneaking up on you when you weren’t prepared, and she could imagine the hell that Bo Stalin had endured. After all, Alexa had gone through the same thing.

You could have become what she is.

Alexa maintained eye contact as she spoke, making sure to put emphasis behind her words. Make her trust you. “I know that it’s hard, but you have to remember. They aren’t your true family…your true commune.” She paused for a moment, letting the words sink in before continuing, “You may have adopted them as one, but that’s only because you didn’t have the option of going back to your family. It’s now possible. I will give you the cure.”

Bo stared back at her with wide eyes, hands twisting against one another. She’s uncertain. But that makes sense—she is the Ban-She Queen. Finally, she replied, “But…how is it that you were cured? Why didn’t they give it to me?”

“We only recently discovered it. And we had no idea you’d become what you are. But you have the chance now. Remember your family.” Alexa watched the other woman’s eyes, noting the uncertainty there. I almost have her. “Remember the ties you have to them. Remember what they mean to you.”

There was a pause and Bo looked away, her eyes flickering off to the woods. Alexa gritted her teeth for a moment before allowing her features to smooth. She closed her eyes briefly. Time to bring out the heavy artillery.

“Do you really want to wind up like them? Do you really want to feed on…others? I know the hunger. I know what it’s like—how it feels when you want to eat a person and you can actually feel their fear as you cut into them. Do you want to have to keep feeling that way?”

The woman’s voice cracked as she responded. Alexa noted that her eyes were shining, barely concealed tears glistening at the corners, “No…”

“I’m giving you the chance to change things.”

“Can I…think about it?”

Alexa remained silent for a moment as she glanced down at the path. Leaves mingled with dirt and rocks; cracked, frayed edges of foliage browning as the minutes and days passed.  She exhaled before replying slowly, “Yes. We’ll meet back here in an hour. Then you can give me your answer.” Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Bo nodding, her face troubled.

“Yes, an hour.”

__

Her screams rang out through the forest—pained, terrified. They were the sounds of a wounded animal, of a desperate victim. They were the wails of the pleading and the dying. They were the cries of Bo Stalin.

Alexa stared down at her as the woman writhed on the ground. Bo’s voice was already turning hoarse as her fingers scrabbled at the dirt uselessly, her nails bloody. This was you.

Slowly, Alexa knelt down and drew her sword, leaning over the woman. You were like this—in pain. You felt this, and you’re no better than she is. She studied Bo’s face, the way it contorted as the screams went on and on and on. You’re no better than he is, either.

Alexa took a few deep breaths, her sword still hovering over Bo Stalin’s throat. It’s the plan. She tried to hurt the town before and she’ll try to do it again. She remained poised as the woman sobbed. She tried to manipulate everyone by asking for those with faith—she’ll kill them.  Bo Stalin continued to cry, tears streaking her face. Move, Alexa. It’s the plan.

Do it, Rook.

The feeling of pain. The sound of screaming. The sensation of sand against her back as her blood soaked into the ground—as the stars and the moon shone above her. Eyes stared down at her—eyes that turned hard, eyes that waited.

She snapped.

There was nothing left but to follow the plan.

__

Alexa couldn’t think. She didn’t want to think. She just walked—away from the startled faces, away from the accusing glances, away from the blood. Her feet carried her back up the path, past trees and rocks and leaves. They carried her toward town and away from death.

She had to do it. It was part of the plan—part of what she told the others. But she hadn’t expected Bo’s answer. But who could have? She was the Ban-She queen. I had no choice.

Keep telling yourself that.

The feeling of guilt—of doubt. It churned inside her. It threatened to pull her under as she took one more breath. Was it the right choice? She didn’t know.

She was a Ban-She—their leader. What else could you have done?

Alexa watched the ground as she moved, noting how the leaves were already crumbling into the dirt. Soon, it would all be covered in frost, the packed earth hard underfoot. Soon, there would be snow that blanketed the forest and muffled sound and word and deed. She swallowed once. Stay calm. Then she glanced back upward.

That’s when she noticed who was waiting at the head of the path. Shadowed eyes watched her expectantly as each step took her closer. Pale hands rested on the top of an umbrella, its point stuck into the ground at his side. His face remained expressionless, unjudging.

Alexa stopped, her eyes staring as her limbs seemed to freeze. She didn’t deserve his sympathy—his understanding. He helped. She flexed her fingers, eyes lowering, allowing the feeling of guilt to wash over her. Can it really be the right decision? How much will I do to survive?

I need to get out.

She continued up the path, past him and toward the town. It was time to face the consequences of her decision.

__

I stood at the edge of a precipice, staring at the darkness below me—afraid to face the darkness behind. In the end, I had to make a choice: whether to back away from that edge or tumble over it. Now I find that I am plummeting—and there is no going back now that I’ve fallen head over heels down the rabbit hole.

The Guardian

Standard

This piece was written thanks to Josh Demers, who pitched me this idea. You can blame him for the story, and me for the embellishments. Enjoy!

 

My job is to protect people—to save them. But to do that, I got to keep my guard up—dropping it isn’t an option. Thing is, I keep wondering what would happen if I did…and then I realize I might have already done what I promised myself I’d never do.

The morning dawned grey and dreary, rain lashing at the ground and forming puddles of mud that pooled and trickled and slicked the roads with damp. Trees dripped with water, the branches heavy and laden with the storm. A few brown leaves plopped to the ground, no longer able to grip onto trembling twigs.

Stew stood there in the rain as it streamed down his face, as it fell in drops against his coat and pattered on his shield. He stood there with his blade as he stared down the road into the gloom. He could hear them—the shuffling footsteps of the dead. Their groans echoed in the mist, growing louder as it mingled with the sound of the water around him.

He gritted his teeth as he lifted his sword, barely noticing the cuts and tears that already crisscrossed his body—the blood that flowed in rivulets down his arms and hands. They were inconsequential at the moment, the marks from a battle already lost. I will not fail them. I will not fall.

He had fought with his brothers and sisters throughout the night—a war seemingly without end. They had to fall back, regroup. But he wasn’t sure where they were—wasn’t sure if they’d even made it. He was alone, standing against the restless dead in front of him as the relentless dawn lightened the darkness around them.

They emerged from the fog; grey clouds clung to bodies in tattered clothes. Water made their hair stick to their scalps—hang in front of their faces. Blank eyes stared at and through him, mouths slack and drooling. They used to be men and women and children. Now they were just bodies that needed to be cut down.

Stew hefted his shield, adjusting it to one arm as he waited. There was no reason to run into the mass when they were already closing in. Right where I want them. He had a duty—a job. And he wasn’t about to neglect it. I will protect them.

And then they were on him.

Yellowed nails tried to tear at him, grasping at his armor and shield. Wild eyes stared as teeth gnashed and guttural voices snarled. Stew cut them down, pushing forward as the sound of metal carving into rotten meat mingled with the shuffles and groans and the falling of rain and blood. He pushed them back, bodies falling around him. And then he heard her.

“Help! Please!”

The voice cut through the air, ringing in his ears—a familiar voice. Alexa. He jerked his head to the side, catching a glimpse of pale hair near the ground—a flash of black and red. She was there—broken, helpless.

“Please!”

No. He didn’t think. There was no time to think. He didn’t wonder how she’d gotten there. He didn’t question it. He shifted his shield and stretched out his exposed arm to help her off the ground. “Alexa, here.”

That’s when he realized his mistake.

There was a sharp pain in his arm, the feel of something tearing into him. He turned to focus fully on the girl, noting how her skin was paler, how dark circles ringed her eyes, how blood coated her fingers as her teeth sunk into his forearm.

No.

Green eyes stared blankly back at him as she ripped away a chunk of his flesh, strings of meat hanging from her mouth. She swallowed quickly, showing the insatiable appetite of the dead as words came from her mouth again—a hollow mockery of the living.

“Help. Please! Don’t leave me here alone.”

Stew stared at her a moment too long. The others were suddenly on him, dragging him down, pulling him to the ground. Stew struggled as pain lanced along his body, as they tore into him, stripping flesh from bone. He didn’t have a chance to yell—to cry out. Only one thought filtered through his head and he sank into darkness.

I let my guard down.

Stew woke up.

Death of a King

Standard

We try to play the game as kings and knights and queens. We think we are in control—that our carefully laid plans will bear fruit and win us a quick victory. But what happens when we lose that power? What happens when we realize we are no longer players? We are all pawns in the end—the pieces that unfathomable forces move across the board. James King realized that fact a little too late.

__

Waves flashed along the water’s shore, lapping at the sand beneath a sky that was an undiluted blue—fathomless as the ocean, pure as the air. Grass whispered in the chill wind further up the lake slope as red and gold leaves spiraled to the ground, landing on colored, rippling cloth spread over the tables that were carefully set with cups and plates.

It looked like there should be a party taking place—a picnic or celebration. It was only as you ventured nearer that you realized there was no food on the dishes, no drink in the vessels.  It was only as you walked closer that you saw the blood, congealing on surfaces, dripping in the dirt—death at a wedding. But what else would you expect from someone who was no longer living?

Alexa walked down the path toward the water, her eyes scanning the scene before her.  A figure stood there next to the lake, beneath dying trees and open sky. The sun caught the glints of red in his hair, lighting up the contours of his face as he slowly turned toward her. James. He smirked, lips curling slightly as his blue eyes narrowed. Alexa felt her muscles tense as they stared across the space at one another—as their eyes met.  Then he looked away, past her and toward the woman in the white dress beside her: Rosemary. Her face was stern and set. Dark curls spilled around her eyes, catching and tangling in the breeze as she walked toward him. Alexa slowly forced herself to relax, forced herself to watch Rosemary walk; after all, this was all planned—a necessary part of a dangerous situation.

“Isn’t this nice? I’m so glad you could all come.” The high, almost-girlish voice cut into her thoughts, making her turn and glance at the others present. Many had followed them down to the lake, their faces unfamiliar and unknown. They spread out among the tables and gore, nervous glances flitting between each in turn. The woman who had spoken stood at the head table. Her pale skin looked garish under the sun, blood and makeup smeared across her face in a way that made her look almost doll-like. Elizabeth always did need help dressing herself. She clapped her hands together as she swayed back and forth, her body moving to music that only she could hear, “Let’s…yes…let’s have the servants serve the food. And then…yes…and then the bride and groom stand just there. Yes, just there like a happy couple.”

Rosemary glanced at Alexa and then moved to stand at the head table with James. They remained there, inches apart, their hands flexing as if they wished they could strangle one another right then and there. If looks could kill, both of them would be dead right now. Alexa moved as well, standing next to Elizabeth as she continued to sway, her voice speaking out again in the silence, “Where are the servants? We need them to serve.” Her voice became higher pitched, bordering on hysteria, “Where are they?”

Play along. That’s what the Toy Box wants. Alexa shot a glance at the people sitting at the makeshift table. Most of them were locals—townsfolk. The only real face she was familiar with was the one that was half rotten, flesh peeling back in strips. His weapon and shield lay at his side as he crouched, eyes watching the scene warily. Then he stood, moving with one other to play the part—to play the game. Good thing Stew’s here. They gathered bowls and handed out crumpled leaves, pretending to serve refreshments that were never there.

Alexa found herself shifting uncomfortably, not quite knowing what to do or where to stand. She had to role her part, of course—a role that was at once unfamiliar and eerily familiar. She was always the guard in the corner—the one that attracted the least notice. And yet now she found herself in front of a crowd, the focus of attention. That’s a change.

Elizabeth turned her pale face toward her, dark eyes staring out from tangled hair, matted with blood, “It’s time to give your speech now, Rook. You are the bridesmaid, after all. Time to give your speech. It’s time.”

Alexa stared at the woman for a moment, resisting the urge to ask her if she was joking. She then slowly turned to look at the crowd. Confusion and worry flickered across the sea of faces, their eyes fixed on her. Alexa turned her own gaze away, staring at the ground as she spoke. She was never good with public speeches. She could fake it with some preparation, yes. But there was a reason she preferred others to take the lead and be in charge.

“I’m glad that you could all be here. It’s wonderful to have two families…the Banks and the Kings…unite in this way.” Alexa paused for a moment as her mind went blank—at a loss for what to say. Words failed her completely as she felt heat rising to her cheeks. She bowed her head slightly, allowing pale hair to cover her face as she stumbled over the rest, “To see the new Mr. and Mrs. King in this way is a joy and a pleasure. And I can only hope that this union will be…profitable.”

She was met with complete silence and blank faces. Alexa kept her head bowed as she slid her eyes to look at Elizabeth. She was smiling, her body still swaying back and forth as the quiet stretched out further and further. A harsh voice suddenly sounded in her ears, mingling with her own thoughts.

Yes, that’s right. Keep quiet like a good servant.

Alexa jerked her head and gritted her teeth. No. She unsheathed her blade as she glanced at Elizabeth’s back, noting the unguarded way she held herself—how easy it was. Now.

Alexa shifted her grip on her weapon and moved. She slammed her palms into the woman’s temples and then jerked her sword back, running the girl through—or at least she would have. The blade glanced off Elizabeth’s side, making Alexa stumble slightly before she quickly recovered herself.

Alexa felt her heart plummet as she took a step back, as she realized that somehow, some way, they’d failed. Elizabeth turned with raised eyebrows. Rosemary and James were watching her, faces revealing nothing.

That’s when Elizabeth spoke, dark eyes staring at her—staring through her, “You should take advantage of this situation. Rosemary should take advantage.”

That’s when all hell broke loose.

James suddenly moved, unsheathing a dagger from his side as his face turned into something ugly—something Alexa was all too familiar with. He sneered, his polished voice lowering slightly, “I’m done with this charade.” She saw, almost in slow motion, as his blade arced toward Rosemary, as she shrieked and backed away. Blood spattered the ground—fresh blood, Rosemary’s blood.

Alexa stared for a moment as the bright droplets colored the tablecloth—as James advanced and as Rosemary stumbled. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw more movement. Arms emerged from the ground around them, dirt and soil spattering the plates and bowls. Shouting and snarls and groans sounded through the air as the dead dragged themselves from the earth, from the grave. The guests were already in motion, cutting into flesh and bone and sinew as the monsters continued to come, continued to arrive with gnashing teeth and wild eyes.

Suddenly, Alexa was in motion—running before she could even think. She was in between Rosemary and James, her blade aimed at his throat, “Stop this, James. We’re here for a reason.”

His blue eyes narrowed, his face becoming almost impassive as he unholstered a gun from inside his dark jacket. Alexa noted the stylized crown on its side, the way gold and silver gleamed in the light as he leveled it at her head, “I’m done with this. Move.”

“No.”

The shot rang out, echoing in Alexa’s ears—but she had already ducked. Her sword flashed out, catching him on his arm as he stepped to the side, avoiding a more fatal blow. Alexa gritted her teeth as she moved forward, striking once, twice, then three times—blocked every time by his dagger. The sound of metal clashing against metal rang out over the lake, over the sound of screaming and groans and cries as the dead continued to rise, continued to assault the living.

James smirked at her, teeth flashing as he struck out with his blade. He’s enjoying this. Alexa blocked the blow, feeling the way it jarred along her arm as she backed away from him toward the water. She whirled and ducked, trying to get out of the way of his advance.

“You were always afraid of me, Alexa. This isn’t any different.”

Alexa opened her mouth to respond, and then she felt the hand around her ankle. She had a brief moment to realize what James had done—why he had pushed her toward the water. He smiled at her as she was dragged off of her feet, inexorably pulled into the lake by one of the drowned dead.

There was no air, no space, no light. There was no way to breathe or think. It pressed in on her as she struggled and thrashed. She tried to scream and lost more precious air, bubbles floating to the surface as she was drawn further into the depths. Teeth and nails dug into her skin, ripping and tearing her apart as her sight blackened, as her hair floated around her face like weed in the tide.

Arms were suddenly around her, dragging her upward—back into light and space and air. Alexa choked and gasped, water flowing off of her as she struggled onto the lake shore. There was pain—the throbbing feel of wounds that were torn by dulled nails. Then something was being shoved down her throat. There was the bitter taste of liquid and then the pain ebbed—seeming to disappear. Alexa jerked her head, noting briefly that a woman had saved her before she took in the rest of her surroundings.

It was chaos. Men and women were battling for their lives as blood slicked the grass around them, turning it red. Some cried out on the ground, arms outstretched as the dead tore into them. Alexa caught a brief glance of Stew pushing forward, his blade rising and falling and then rising again, coated in blackish gore.

And Rosemary…

James was advancing on her again as she tried to stumble away, doing the best to defend herself. Somehow she’d gotten a weapon—a large piece of metal. But that wasn’t going to hold him back for long.

“Help her.”

The voice stole her attention, making her jerk her head to the woman who had spoken: Elizabeth. She stood next to one of the tables, fixing Alexa with a vacant gaze as she spoke again, “Help her, Alexa. You should take advantage. Help her.

Alexa’s eyes drifted over the dead woman, looking at the lines of her face—the way her dark eyes seemed to, for once, make sense of the world. She means it.  Alexa glanced from her to the table; it was coated with blood now, body parts strewn across its surface. The colorful cloth was almost completely hidden beneath death and decay. And yet something gold glinted on the surface—something that Alexa recognized.

“He almost considered you to be a daughter at the end. He would have wanted you to have this.”

Something stirred inside her, something that stuck and twisted in her gut. Her hand darted out and grasped the gold object. Without thinking, she threw it over her neck, the pearls settling along her throat. A familiar weight pressed against her chest.

She glanced once more at Elizabeth before darting toward Rosemary and James. She dodged the living and the dead, nearly losing her footing on the ground, slick as it was. She watched as James stepped forward, slashing at Rosemary. She watched as her white dress turned red.

And then she was in front of Rosemary—again. Alexa held out her own blade, catching her breath as James stared at her—cold, calculating. She swallowed, not daring to look away from him as she spoke, “That’s enough, James.”

“It’s never enough.”

He dashed forward at the same instant Alexa raised her blade. Metal clashed as they both whirled, gathering themselves before attacking again and again and again. Steel flashed in the light, faces pulled into something more serious, green eyes meeting blue. He pushed her back as she defended, stabbing and slashing. And yet Alexa noted how he sometimes pulled his strikes, how he spent more time driving her back rather than aiming for a final blow. He’s not really trying to hurt me.

Alexa gritted her teeth as she knocked away another blow, “What are you going to do, James? Kill me?” She struck forward with her own blade as James neatly parried it aside, “Doesn’t seem like it.”

James smirked in reply, backing up slightly. His eyes bored into hers as he responded, pitching his voice lower, “Oh no. I don’t plan on killing you, Alexa. I plan on beating you down and then dragging you back. And this time? You won’t escape.”

She was back there with him—back in the dark. She stared at the man’s face—how the bruises stood stark against his pale skin. She watched as James advanced, watched as he pulled out the knife, watched as flesh was peeled away.

Alexa stared at James as everything went silent. She could no longer hear the cries and screams, could no longer hear the crash of metal and the sound of gunshot. There were no hurried footsteps or moans or shouts. There were no words. There was no meaning.

Blood spattered the ground, chains dragging across the stone floor with a rasp. There was a whimper, the faint sound of someone who had given up hope.

James’ face seemed to change, becoming something monstrous. Blue eyes turned into steel; red hair turned into rust. He wasn’t a person—he was a force. He was everything and nothing at that moment. He was the world and he was death.

Rook, I need you.

The sounds of the dying echoed through the chamber.

You always run, Alexa. You always run.

Sharp pain dug into her skin, lancing across her body as the feeling of something slick and wet dripped across her shoulder from the wound.

Are you really any better than he is?

A woman grasped at her ankle, wide eyes pleading in the shadows as blood dripped from her lips—as he kicked at her head.

Rook.

The hollow, crunching noise of broken bones.

You can’t protect them. You can’t protect yourself.

Something snapped.

Alexa stepped forward, her voice shaking, “You can’t make me go back.” She took another step as she saw the hesitation in James’ eyes—the uncertainty. “You can’t make me.”

Kill him.

Alexa struck out with her sword, blade slicing through the air, “I won’t run! You can’t make me go back!” She was screaming now, wordless. She struck again and again and again and again, meaningless sound tearing from her throat, “I won’t go!” Blood spattered the ground, coating her hands and her legs and face. James stumbled, red blossoming across his shirt and vest. You are nothing. He fell to the ground, his features mingling in a mixture of surprise and shock. Nothing made sense anymore as metal slid against flesh, as she screamed, as she kneeled down, as she stabbed him over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.

And again.

And again.

Strong arms suddenly encircled her, dragging her back. She continued to scream, struggling against whoever it was who was pulling her away, trying to reach James, trying to rip into him, tear into him. She fought, snarling, eyes fixed on the trembling, blood-soaked figure on the ground. Kill him. Destroy him.

“Alexa, that’s enough.”

She jerked her head around as she realized who it was who had pulled her back—who had brought her back to herself. The fury, the rage, the anger—all of it disappeared as quickly as it had come, leaving her empty, hollow. You are nothing.

Worry creased the lines of the man’s face as he watched her warily. Brown eyes met hers, waiting for her to respond. Alexa breathed in shakily as exhaustion suddenly washed over her, as her legs threatened to buckle.

Stew nodded his head once, “It’s okay.” He slowly let go of her, allowing her to stand on her own. He placed a hand on her shoulder for a brief moment, squeezing it slightly before picking up his weapon and shield again, turning toward the restless hordes still filtering around them, threatening to swamp them. Always the protector—the guardian. Alexa watched his back for a moment as she took another shaky breath. I can’t do this anymore. I can’t. She turned.

Rosemary was there. Her dress was soaked in red, patches marring the material. The piece of metal she had found was clutched desperately in two hands as she moved forward toward Alexa. She reached out a hand, grabbing Alexa’s arm, squeezing it firmly, “We need to finish this.”

Before Alexa could respond, before she could speak, she was dragged away. Her feet skidded against the grass as Rosemary pulled her back toward the figure on the ground.  His coat was slashed, his bowtie askew. The pale shirt he wore was now indistinguishable from his surroundings, covered in blood. He glanced up at them, wide eyes showing fear—real fear—as he tried to pull himself away from them, hauling his useless body across the ground.

“We need to finish this, Alexa. We’re in this together.”

Alexa suddenly found herself on her knees, forced down by a heavy hand. She continued to stare at James—at his pleading eyes and pale face. She could see it now—the resemblance. She could see it in the arc of his cheekbones and the shape of his eyes. Something sour bubbled at the back of her throat as she jerked her head away from him toward Rosemary, “Please…don’t make me. I don’t want to do it anymore.” Her voice cracked, shaking slightly, “I don’t want to kill anymore.”

Rosemary looked down at her, eyes wild, hair stuck to her forehead. Her lips thinned, becoming set as she spoke, “We finish this together.” She reached down, grabbing Alexa’s hands, forcing them over the hilt of her blade, pressing it to James’ throat. “Together.”

Alexa shifted her gaze to look back at James. He kept his eyes fixed on her face as he reached toward her with one bloody hand, fingers inching toward the necklace that rested against her throat, “Alexa…please. Don’t do this.”

Something stirred, wrenching at her gut as she stared. Pity? She couldn’t speak, couldn’t say anything. What was there to say? It had all been spoken—had all been done, had all been paid by violence and death. All she could do was hold the sword over his throat.

Then the command came again.

“Together.”

Without thinking, Alexa quickly slid the blade over his neck as Rosemary thrust her weight behind the piece of metal. There was the sickening feeling of flesh against steel, muscle and tendons parting. And then there was nothing. Nothing at all. Good-bye.

Alexa slowly stood, refusing to look at the body in front of her, refusing to see how his face stared blankly at the perfect sky above them, refusing to watch as blood pooled around him. Everything around her seemed muted, as if it wasn’t really there—just a dream. A nightmare. Rosemary was already stumbling up the slope away from the lake. The others were still battling the tides of the dead. It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered.

That’s when she noticed Elizabeth. The dead woman stood in the center of it all, her face beatific. A smile spread across her features as she swayed from side to side. Her eyes stared upward as she clasped her hands together and nodded slowly, “I can go home now.”

One more.

Alexa stumbled forward, ignoring the way her body was failing her, threatening to drag her to the ground. She drew back her sword as she neared the woman. One more. She struck. One more. Metal sunk into flesh, cutting through it, tearing through it. One more. Alexa grasped the small body as it fell toward her, as she continued to smile at her, “I can go home now.”

Alexa’s fingers shook as she laid Elizabeth on the ground, kneeling over her. The girl’s eyelids fluttered, the same expression still plastered across her face—fixed. Alexa’s voice sounded raspy to even her own ears as she spoke, “Yes, you can go home now.” With one motion, she drew her blade over the girl’s throat.

__

There are moments in your life where you need to make a choice—pivotal moments that can change a game forever. These are the times that can either win you a victory or destroy you utterly.

I’m still not sure if I made the right move.