End Game

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Photo: Flickr/Cristian Bodnar

Photo: Flickr/Cristian Bodnar

“You gotta figure out why it is you do this.”

“Well why do you do it?”

“Well at first it was the fucked up need to make things better. And then it was to protect someone I loved. ‘Course, that didn’t work out too good—as y’all know.”

“Yeah, I was there for that show.”

“So what’s your reason?”

“…I guess it’s the need to help.”

“Why?”

“Because if it wasn’t, then I wouldn’t care about the reasons or the repercussions. I’d just do it. But I do actually care what happens.

“…Conscience is a bitch, ain’t it?”

“Yes, it is.”

~

There are nights when it is quiet in the town of Hayven. All you can hear is the whisper of leaves scuttling against the ground, the creak of branches and the chirp of insects. Your footsteps sound loudly in your ears as you walk down dirt roads; your only companions are the silver light of the stars and moon.

Alexa enjoyed those nights—the ones when she traveled alone in the darkness. Her heart would beat rapidly in her chest—not from fear, never from fear—but from the sheer exhilaration of relying on and caring for herself and no one else.

Tonight, though, was definitely not one of those nights.

Cries and shouts echoed through the darkness as Alexa walked down road. She kept the wrapped hilt of each of her thin blades gripped firmly in either hand, the worn leather rubbing against her palms. She was hunting—hunting for those that had gone through the grave and hadn’t come out quite right. She was hunting for those that could ruin the efforts of the town by killing. Unfortunately, she was sure she didn’t have the complete list of names. Just means you need to be more careful. Always be on your guard, Alexa.

Moonlight silvered the buildings and roads, creating an alien world as bulky shapes loomed in the darkness. A cool wind twisted her pale hair in front of her face, catching it before tossing it aside as she moved through the night. Quick. Quiet. She jogged down the side of the main road, turning off into the woods as she leapt over logs and branches. Green eyes darted around her as she looked for anyone hiding in the dark. Nothing.

As she exited the woods toward one of the smaller buildings, she saw him. He was a giant of a man with sword and shield at the ready. His stance seemed at once aggressive and unsure, as if he were afraid. Alexa glanced briefly toward the building—the Kennel—and then slowly took one step toward him, calling out quietly, “Stew?”

He cringed in response, his voice rumbling low and almost desperate, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Go away, Alexa. Please.”

Alexa frowned faintly, watching him and remaining still as if afraid of startling a timid animal. I thought there was something wrong at the morgue but…

She took another step toward him and he flinched, backing away. Alexa paused again and slowly placed her swords away. You should have questioned him when you saw him last. You should have stayed with him instead of letting him drive you away.

Briefly, his words echoed in her head as she remembered the way his hard eyes glittered in the dark. Go away, Alexa. You can’t help me.

She swallowed and then spoke calmly, “Stew, what’s wrong? Talk to me.” She watched as his back straightened, muscles shifting beneath his armor—tensing. His face remained shadowed in the night as he lowered it. As if he wants to hide it.

“I shouldn’t have…I shouldn’t have said what I did. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” his voice faded to a whisper as he turned away. “Don’t lower your guard around me, Alexa…please.”

She narrowed her eyes slightly, feeling her chest tighten. Still trying to be the protector—even after what I said to him. She took a slow step forward, holding up one hand, “It’s okay, Stew.” She took another step toward him as he crouched to the ground, clutching his head between his hands. He rocked slightly and she could hear him whispering over and over, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

Alexa grimaced and then crouched down next to him, holding one hand out, “What are you sorry about?”

“You were right. I don’t deserve you. You don’t love me—how could you? You…Don’t look at me, Alexa.”

She forced herself to keep her eyes trained on his face, hiding what she was feeling. You stabbed him in the back—deeper than any other before him. Selfish? Yes. Harsh? Entirely. But you knew that about yourself already. You’re afraid—and that’s what ultimately controls you.

Her voice dropped slightly as she responded, “Just because I’m not with you doesn’t mean I don’t love you, Stew. I always will. I just won’t be with you.” She reached forward and grabbed his hand, gently holding it for a moment. “Come talk with someone, please. You’re not alone. And you deserve so, so much better. You always do what’s right. You always stand up against the wrongs. You’re a good person. Do you know how rare that is?”

He shook his head slightly, lowering it further, “I’m not.”

“You are. Will you at least come with me to talk with someone? Please?”

He was silent for a moment and then looked up at her, eyes glittering faintly in the darkness, “All right.”

~

The woman’s face was shadowed in the dark. Her long brown hair fell wild around her shoulders, partially concealing a face with markings etched on it. It was the kind of face that reminded you of water—smooth and calm until the storm hit. And then it could transform into something ugly—something horrific and terrible.

Alexa stared at her, unblinking—not quite believing who she was seeing. The woman’s voice sounded out in the darkness as they stood on the dirt road concealed by the ever-present trees that whispered in the night, “Do you remember who I am?”

Quite frankly, she didn’t—not really. She had a few guesses, but they were far from anything close to being accurate. This woman—whoever she was—could be anyone. There was only one fact Alexa was certain of: she was a killer.

Alexa shook her head briefly, glancing to the tall man standing beside her—Stew. He had his shield and weapon, his eyes trained on the surrounding trees. His muscles tensed as he tightened his grip, teeth barred slightly. Hunting. She recognized the look from him—the look of a predator. He’s deciding whether or not the woman is prey. He’ll soon realize she’s not.

They’d been walking in the woods for about half an hour. Though “walking” was used in the loosest sense of the word. It was more than Alexa had been chasing after Stew, making sure he didn’t kill anyone offhand while “hunting.” Fucking Gravemind. Messing with people’s heads. She’d kept him in check so far, but she didn’t want to test her luck. There’s only so much I can do to control a killer.

Stew’s voice rumbled from the darkness as his eyes continued to train on the woman, “What do you think, Alexa?”

Alexa didn’t bother looking at him. Instead, she pushed a few pale strands of hair away from her green eyes, “Predator. I wouldn’t bother.”

Stew snorted in response, his eyes drifting elsewhere. Still hunting. Alexa prevented herself from cringing. Never show weakness around a predator. Ever. That was one of the rules—eat or be eaten.

The woman tilted her head to one side slightly, long hair brushing the side of her face as she considered the tall man in front of her. A faint smile quirked the corner of her mouth, “I like this one.”

Great. Love among murderers. Alexa tilted her head toward the woods, “Why are you here, anyway?”

The woman turned once more, training her eyes on Alexa—eyes that considered her and went through her, “Walk with me.”

~

“You need to stop playing these fucking games. Just do the work.”

“I’ve learned my lesson. That’s what I’m doing. That’s what I’m going to do.”

“Good.”

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