Hello there! Please enjoy this work of mine, and feel free to review and tell me of any mistakes I may not have seen. Also, if anyone wants to correct the genre, please let me know what to put this story under, as I'm not the best at categorizing my own works. Thank you!
"I need a weapon."
Garth blinked, face impassive. "Who ticked you off?"
Sarah, who stood on the other side of the tall bar, shifted. She wasn't going to answer that. Though it seemed she didn't need to.
"You wanna go after that cult."
Relenting with a sigh, she reached for the small bag on her waist and set it on the countertop. That was her current life savings—thirty-five silver pieces. "Yes, and for once, you can't stop me."
Garth held her resolved gaze for a moment, brown eyes piercing her green ones. This woman—this girl, as she was only seventeen—was the most reckless he'd ever met. She didn't care about her own safety; only to the extent of staying alive to exact her vengeance. So he had taken it upon himself to look after her. Someone had to.
"No," he said finally. "But I can refuse service to customers I believe are a danger to themselves. Or others, for that matter."
Sarah scoffed. "I'm the danger? Not the psychos who've started going around, burning villages, killing innocents—" She was cut off there.
"You know what I meant. This… obsession you have with those guys isn't healthy. It will get you killed one day."
Here, she hesitated in her next words. "Look, just because your brother—" Once, more she was interrupted.
A biting tone had risen in the man's voice as he frowned at Sarah. "This has nothing to do with him. You and him aren't the only people who have dedicated their lives to revenge. Every time I've seen it happen, it never ended well."
"It's not just about revenge. Someone needs to step up to those people! This violence will never end if we don't do something!"
"Is that right?" he said, voice back to its usual flat tone.
She let out a huff and took back the bag of silver. "If you won't equip me, I'll find someone else." She turned to exit the small weapons shop, ignoring the call of her name coming from its owner.
As soon as she stepped into the dying heat, though, she stopped. Who was she going to go to for a simple weapon? The next smith or seller she could think of was a day's travel away, in the city of Kir. This micro-village wasn't big enough for a smith, instead relying on… well, Garth.
Sigh. Better start packing.
Her small shack of a home was on the other side of the village, isolated from the rest of the people. When she came to them, around half a year ago now, she first met Garth, who, after allowing her to stay with him for a few weeks, started on renovating the recently abandoned house on the outskirts. She never had it confirmed, but she was pretty sure that it belonged to him and his brother, once upon a time.
To that extent, it felt odd staying there, but there really was no other option if she didn't want to forever sponge off of Garth.
She heaved a sigh as she closed the wooden door behind her. Garth really had done a lot for her. And what had she given him in return? Nothing.
At the same time, he had always insisted that he didn't mind helping out. Still, it had to be nice to know how much the other appreciated the efforts every now and then.
She had just been so focused on bettering herself every day for when the opportunity to take down the cult arose, training herself, honing her instincts. Saving up for a real weapon.
A weapon that she still needed to obtain.
She wasn't a danger, was she?
She shook her head, not letting herself have doubts. She'd made up her mind.
In the morning, then. She would be gone in the morning.
Ten. There were ten left. Out of over ten thousand people, only ten remained.
Captain Tristan Yuri had long since let his mind go numb as he withdrew from the tragedy that occurred little over half a day ago. Right now, all that mattered was getting these people—all ten of them—to the nearest settlement. The time for dwelling on the past would come, and he would be alone when it did.
If he was right in his navigation, they had another thirteen hours left until they hit Pol, a small, out-of-the-way village. It would be sundown by the time they arrived.
But looking at the condition of the nine other survivors… There was just no way they'd all be able to cross the shrublands. Not without some rest. Three were ready to pass out from blood loss, one had passed out because of the clotting wound on his severed arm, two were suffering from heatstroke. The rest were in shock, and no one had said a word since they left the city. They had no supplies, nothing but the clothes on their backs and a small survival knife kept securely in his jacket.
He looked around. Little more than bushes and cacti of a couple varieties surrounded them. The vastness of it all only made him feel more tired, frustrated and—he'll begrudgingly admit—a little anxious. He let out a sigh and felt the tension leave his muscled body before he righted his posture once again. They had no choice.
Finally, it was Yuri who broke the twelve-hour-long silence. "Terrace," he called. Paul Terrace—a young man in his early twenties—looked up at him. Yuri didn't expect that defeated look in his eyes to go away anytime soon.
"I want you and Waters to harvest the fruits of the cacti," he ordered. "If it's pink and spiny, break it off and bring it here."
A few others in the group eyed him confusedly at that.
"May I ask why?" Ryan Waters asked as he joined the pair.
"Those fruits have water in them," Yuri explained. The word water alone got their attention. They were no doubt wondering why he didn't say something before. "I was hesitant to use them because they contain a powerful and unpredictable drug. However…" He trailed off to observe the former citizens of Kir once again. "You'll probably die if you don't take of it."
Terrace and Waters wouldn't remember what they called the Trials back in the city. They had just been transferred around a week ago, with a number of other rookies who unfortunately didn't make it.
The yearly Trials weren't much more than building up the more experienced soldiers' tolerance for certain types of chemicals, and to document how volunteers reacted to the ones that could have been considered dangerous.
This cactus water, unnamed thus far, made it to the Don't Touch list.
Some people underwent hallucinations, some experienced other uncharacteristic and extreme psychotic breaks, others had lapses in time, thinking a month had passed (with memories to prove it) when only a week had gone by. There were physical conditions, as well, such as tremors, sweating, vomiting.
He, himself, could have sworn he lived the entirety of someone else's life, knew the names of the guy's friends and family, could name every gift he got for all forty-seven birthdays, could recount the adventures of every place he'd ever visited, even remembered the pain, both physical and emotional, this man had felt all throughout.
But no, he was assured that only a day had passed, no more. It took him a total of twenty-three days to readjust himself to his own life. He never wanted to touch the fruit again.
It had also been proven, though, that its contents were capable of filling a starved stomach and quenching a parched throat. And right now, that's exactly what they needed.
The two rookies, the only Kir soldiers besides himself that were alive, set out for the pink terror.
That thing was a last resort for him, as he needed to be sober and sane if he ever hoped of getting all of them to Pol.
He then addressed the perplexed people before him. "You don't have to drink it, if you don't want to, of course. If you wish to push your luck and see if your body holds out, be my guest."
One man shook himself from his thoughts and spoke to him. Yuri recognized him as the pastor of the chapel, the only building that hadn't fallen, despite the waves of destruction that swept through the city. He and his son were especially lucky to be alive, going and sacrificing themselves like they had.
"We'll abstain," he said. Yuri didn't need to question him; he and his son would probably rather die than take of a substance that altered their bodily chemicals and perception of reality. He couldn't blame them.
The Captain nodded. "We'll challenge the desert together, then."
The conversation caught the attention of the aging man's son, a boy not much older than Terrace in whose green eyes one could see tiredness and anger—if he looked hard enough, he could see red.
"How much farther?" His voice was soft, weary, despite it.
Yuri did a quick number crunch in his head. "I estimate another forty miles, maybe more."
The boy nodded.
"We'll be there by midnight," Yuri continued.
But it was just before noon. Midnight seemed ages away.
It took the rookies around ten minutes to get back with an armful of the cactus fruit, just pink orbs covered in spines. Yuri dropped to his knees and gestured for the fruits to be placed before him. One of the healthier ones perfectly fit in his palm. He took his knife from his inner pocket and sliced at the fruit, near the top, only enough to make a significant hole out of which the clear liquid could flow without the danger of… getting poked.
He handed off the first fruit to a reluctant woman, explaining, "The drug should kick in in about an hour, and can last for up to a week."
"But I'll live," she continued, bringing the water to her lips.
"You'll certainly have a higher chance."
She drank the water, grimacing for a moment as the bitterness of it washed over her, before swallowing harshly.
The others watched her step aside, and Yuri cut open another fruit.
Once everyone was relatively satisfied that wanted to be, they resumed their trek to the south.
She spent the rest of that day packing for her journey to Kir, making sure her home was spotless, and reading until the sun vanished and she couldn't see the words without straining her eyes.
She tried her best not to feel guilty about leaving for what would probably be her last time; once she had a weapon, she was finally set for taking down the cult. She was sure someone there could give her information about them, despite Garth saying that they were practically nonexistent. In short, she had little reason to come back.
What would Garth say?
He likely would be expecting it. Sarah had gone on for months about how dedicated she was to hunting down those cultists. At first, he had tried to talk her out of it, saying that it wasn't worth it, telling her about his brother, Grant, who got himself killed in his pursuit of revenge. Over time, he gradually stopped and quieted himself, not bothering fighting with her. It was clear that she had made up her mind, and couldn't be unconvinced of what she thought she needed to do.
Sarah appreciated that. But she couldn't help but feel like she lost the opportunity to gain a close friend, as her obsession with the cult made Garth sort of… distance himself.
She couldn't guess why.
But that didn't matter. Garth didn't have to worry about her anymore. She didn't have to burden him.
Her biggest decision now was whether or not to tell him goodbye.
If she did, he would undoubtedly try to stop her, calling her crazy—but in that way that told her that he cared about her and her well-being—in a last ditch effort to save her from herself.
If she didn't, she would be severing ties with him for sure. It would tell him that his words, everything he did for her, really did mean nothing, that he might as well have left her in the dust when he found her that day to fend for herself, that her life would be no different if they had never even met.
And that just wasn't true.
Sarah would be dead if he hadn't dragged her broken body back to the village after stumbling upon her. If not dead, then she would have killed herself to end her grief after losing everything.
Garth gave her the means to fight back. And he knew that.
She shook the thoughts from her head. She could sort this out tomorrow. She needed to go to sleep if she hoped to wake up early enough to get a head start on the road.
Of course, Someone upstairs had other plans.
The first thing she heard when she awoke in the middle of the night was someone screaming for help. The voice was a man's, and sounded torn and abused, like he'd been screaming for days and wouldn't stop until he was heard.
She got up immediately, throwing on a quick outfit and bolting out the door. The cold desert air clawed at her skin, but that was forgotten when she neared the north entrance to the village.
A small crowd had already gathered by the time she arrived, and one sprinted off as she approached. Garth was among the remaining and stepped forward with his arms outstretched—
—to two men, looking like they'd just lost a brawl.
Each was holding a body in their arms. Whether they were alive or not was beyond her.
Garth took the youngest man's burden, which was a man twice his age with greying hair and a small religious pendant around his neck. A priest? "I'll take him to Kaden's—he's our only doctor," Garth said, already heading for the nearby building. "Come with me."
Both the boy and his companion, a tall, broad-shouldered soldier whose insignia was impossible to see in the darkness, made to follow after, when the former suddenly stumbled forward, looking close to fainting himself. He was gasping by this point, and the nearest townsperson wrapped his arm around them as support, leading him to the doctor's home, just a few buildings down.
Sarah watched, waiting for someone to need something or tell her what to do to help. For the moment, she stayed close to the soldier, who appeared to be in much better condition, and followed him inside.
The clinic—divided into two different rooms; a lobby and the clinic itself—was small, but it was still one of the biggest buildings available and was well-equipped to take care of most issues. Kaden could be seen preparing his med kit to meet them, the townsman who ran to wake him standing nervously off to the side. When the five of them stumbled into the building, the doctor immediately began setting his things out again.
"Set them down," he said, gesturing to three of the empty beds. Garth and the soldier moved to obey, and the man practically carrying the latter's companion decided he better follow suit. "I need someone to tell me what happened."
The soldier sighed as he carefully took a seat on the edge of another bed, and the doctor checked the vitals of the survivors. "We crossed the desert from Kir. We're all that's left."
Sarah's eyes widened considerably, taken aback. Now that she could see the insignia in the dull torchlight, she could see properly that it was Kir's symbol on the soldier's arm. "What do mean, all that's left?"
Yuri stared down at his hands as he explained, "There was a massive attack. At first, there were ten of us, but…" He trailed off, not wanting to continue.
Kaden pressed, however. "I'm sorry, but I need to know what happened," he repeated.
The man shook himself out of his thoughts and nodded to the priest. "He passed out from the heat and dehydration a few hours ago. She…" The deep voice wandered off again but picked back up on its own. "We had no choice but to distribute the pink fruit if we had any hope of making it here."
"I assume not everyone took of it?"
"No. Not all of us."
Kaden paused in his treatments for a moment, trying and failing to put the pieces together. He had all the information he needed, though, so he turned his focus to the new patients after telling the onlookers, "I have to ask you to wait outside."
The soldier moved to follow them, but Kaden stopped him. "You're not going anywhere until you get some water and those cuts looked at."
He did, indeed, have a few scrapes on his hands and face. He was also littered with bruises, he was sure. But he didn't think they were any cause for concern.
He reluctantly settled back onto the bed, but the young brunette girl tensed her shoulders, clearly unhappy. She wasn't going to leave without getting her questions answered. Only Garth had stayed beside her, silently trying to convince her to just walk away, to ask later. It wasn't working.
Kaden, noticing her lack of departure, frowned at her. "I said I—"
Sarah cut him off. "How on Leria does ten thousand turn into four overnight?" Her tone demanded an answer.
"Sarah, please." Garth was reduced to near-begging now. He was starting to panic.
Yuri didn't respond to her, matching the look in her eyes with equal intensity.
"What happened to Kir?!" She was close to yelling, a rush of urgency washing over her. She had her suspicions. Brief flashbacks shot through her mind, images of fire, pain. She remembered the smell. Smoke and burning bodies. It was so potent and foul—she couldn't forget if she tried. The thought of it twisted her stomach, and she had to fight the urge to vomit right then and there.
Her body trembled as a shiver ran down her spine. Garth felt the room's temperature drop dramatically. The red in her eyes… he'd seen it in his brother's, saw it in Sarah's when they first met. He knew it wasn't a good sign.
Yuri was torn between telling her everything just to get her out of the room and continuing to ignore her, partly curious as to what would happen, and partly to spare himself having to relive all of his failures of the last thirty hours.
Finally, he relented. "A cult."
The girl's eyes widened. Garth froze where he stood. Kaden tried his best to simply disappear from the tension in the air by returning to his treatments.
Yuri continued. "They attacked from inside. Burned half the city down in an hour, then proceeded to kill anyone they could get their hands on. I was showing a couple of recruits around the city. We just so happened to be in the chapel when it happened." He shifted. "Us and a few others were able to escape through the tunnels. We came here after making sure we weren't followed."
"Did they wear purple?" Sarah asked. That, of all the things she remembered from that day, stood out the most. The most beautiful shade of purple she'd ever seen, untainted by the light of the fires and the spray of blood. Somehow, the purple always remained perfect.
She hated purple.
Before Yuri could answer, Garth, having come back to reality, placed a hand on Sarah's shoulder. "Sarah, don't do this to yourself."
But she hadn't heard him.
At that moment, the rage mysteriously died out, leaving an eerie calm in its place.
"Do you know them?" Yuri asked.
She heaved a sigh, and Garth finally let go of her, accepting that he could do nothing to this situation. "I do," she said. "They took everything from me." Her voice was just above a whisper.
Yuri didn't know what all that meant, but he certainly didn't want to press into this one's past.
"I assure you," he started, "I'm going to do everything I can to track those monsters down and take them out."
Sarah heard the man's own anger. Heard that underlying hate. He, too, had lost a lot, if not everything, to these people. And, frankly, she believed him. She believed every word he said. That he would end the cult.
And she wanted to be there with him when he did.
He must have seen that in turn, for he turned his gaze away, letting out a small huff of air, a ghost of a smile gracing his lips.
Garth witnessed the silent conversation with incredulity.
He'd surrounded himself with psychopaths.