“Victoria lays slain,” Winston said. “Gwen was with her.”
Rabbit stopped in his tracks, and I stopped too. “It’s probably garbled, Rabbit,” I said. Things like that happen in battle; Victoria was probably injured but would live. I don’t know if they were engaged or not, but I know they fancied each other. I tried to catch up to the others.
I must have turned the wrong way; I was in front of the Rose’s tower.
“Better ta be leavin’” said one of them.
I shrugged. I didn’t want to be here; it had been a wrong turn. I turned to go…
…and someone grabbed me. I struggled; gritting my teeth and preparing to scream. Before I could shout out, I’d squirmed my way loose and fallen to the ground. Sarah was counting now… why?
I scowled as I pulled myself to my feet. Bitch. I really should have killed her myself before she betrayed us to the Undead, but this wasn’t the time to deal with that.
Sarah followed me to strike me in the back.
“Five, now!” she said.
So she had been counting to five to kill me. That explained the numbers, then! See, things usually make sense in the long run. Usually to my disadvantage. I tried to move faster, but found I was already toppling, my legs paralyzed. I struck the ground, still struggling to get to my feet, as the others crowded around. My legs just weren’t responding to my will at all. They struck me again and again. I couldn’t feel the pain; it was all a bit too much of a shock.
The world went grey and swirling, stretched, hollow, flat… there was a rush of wind in my ears. I sat up at last, easily, and noticed my body being left behind, still being beaten.
“They nay listen, they will learn.”
“Most likely they will naut.”
“Wha tha fuck is wrong with people tha they donnea know wha tha word ”˜Go’ means?”
“You can stop beating me any time now,” I told them. “I’m fucking dead, thank you very much.”
They didn’t seem to hear. I thought about saying it again, louder, but decided that while they were beating my corpse at least they weren’t killing someone else. Let them waste as much time as they wanted.
I could see my grey matter now through the mashed pulp that had been my skull. Fascinating. There was…
Getting too graphic? Sorry. I’ll skip ahead a bit.
I waited around, trying to figure out what had happened to me. A waste of time? Well, maybe. I didn’t have any immediate plans for eternity, though. The Roses had given lip service to asking me to leave, but they had tried to block me from doing so. Then they had beaten me to death, and past.
I’ve never been dead before; I can’t say I like it. I suppose it beats nonexistence, though. I was able to come up with some of what had happened; the Lady was back…
…the Lady. It’s funny. I always call her that. I avoid calling her by her name. I’m not even sure I know what it is anymore…
…right, the Lady was back and apparently the Roses were in her employ. Under Alex? Must be. I had actually come earlier to warn Deb about that, but I hadn’t been able to find him.
I’ll be honest with you; I have a love-hate relationship with Deb Rahl. He’s a good guy and a good commander and all, but the man has an ego only matched in size by… well, I can’t think of anything. Let’s just say it’s big and leave it at that, okay? I think that’s the real reason the Roses lost Lazarus, Silent, Haplo and so on. He probably knows it, too.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. Sure, Deb Rahl is a blowhard, sometimes, but he’s a lovable one. He’s exactly what the Roses needed back when I was with them, probably still what they need today.
Well, actually, I think what the Roses really need is a savage beating!
Anyway. The point is that I’m pretty sure Deb Rahl would rather disembowel himself slowly with a spoon than help the Lady. Surely death would have been an option at some point. Rahl knows what She is capable of. I had no such impressions of Alex; I think he’d sell his own father for the right price. Perhaps he was a Rose again, but he was forever my enemy.
Ha! Not that it mattered anymore. What can I do, whisper him to death? Maybe knock over a pot at night? Please. Useless, utterly useless.
Once a Rose, always a Rose? Give me a break here. They’d just beaten me to death. I think I’m entitled to be a bit angry, don’t you? OooOO OooOo Oooo!
Anyway, I’m rambling a bit, I know that. So I’ll skip ahead to the next major event, which was Myca’s arrival. He was making small talk with the Roses.
I gathered my strength to appear before him. “Flee, quickly,” I said.
“Appear again, Shade,” he replied.
Damn. Right, I guess I have to hold the effort. “Flee, Myca. Things are not what they seem.”
“Shade? Vhat is it?”
“Things aren’t right, Myca,” I said.
“Oh?” said Myca.
Bless the old fruit bat. No, wait… he probably wouldn’t live through it. Curse him, or whatever it is he likes. He could understand me!
“You’re not safe,” I told him. “These people — they’ve given in to the Lady. They killed me for turning my back and walking away when I was asked to leave.”
“Oh? I see.” He said something else, but I missed it.
“Alex was corrupted by the Lady,” I told him.
Myca nodded causally. “I see. Vell yea should find a healer if thou ver slain by an aligator.”
I blinked for several seconds before I realized what he was doing; I could hug the old bat. “The cape denotes those loyal to the Lady, the red cape, those are the ones who follow the Lady.”
“Vell i am sorry yea lost yer things. The svamps cin be most dangerous; I sugest yea make for a toun and try to join the living vorld again.”
“We were looking for Gwen, they kidnapped her… they killed Victoria as well, I think Rabbit escaped.”
He turned back to Pagan. “Buna Pagan, hou art thou?”
“Danellosi Myca. Well enough, other than being cheated on by Kenyon and losing one of my children…”
I wanted to laugh. Threefold, they say. Serves you right. Sorry, “boss”; maybe one day you’ll be free of whatever is controlling you. Right now, though, I’m still a bit bitter about being dead by you and your outfit. It’ll probably pass in a few thousand years.
How long do ghosts “live,” anyway?
I won’t tell you everything that happened next. It isn’t my story to tell; I was dead for much of it. The healers managed to bring me back. I swear I’m not a vampire or zombie, though. My heart beats, my cheeks are animated. I’m real. I don’t understand it. I don’t think I’ll tell anyone… better for them to think I was just wounded. I’m so weak now…
…rambling again. Sorry.
They put me into a bed and helped me get uncomfortable. (I know, I know — that wasn’t the intent.)
“If I don’t make it through the night, I’m sorry I quit, General. I always wanted to come back… I meant to one day.”
Between my oath to William, which is still open, and Glenn and the children I knew that day was a long way away. And — let me be totally honest, here — I’m a bit pissed at the Roses right now.
“No worries lass. Rest up, we’ll get ya fixed up proper.”
I didn’t think I was going to make it. I was sure I’d be dead again before the night was done. “General, if I make it through the night,” I said, “I want that bloody orc ribbon.” Let me explain — a long time ago, I’d volunteered for the Roses during the war. I think they call it the war of the Two Towers. Yew fell.
Things were really greate before that war. I think Rahl was a Captain, Lazarus Shade a Lieutenant. That war was probably the beginnings of Yew’s problems. I don’t think things would have gone much better if we had won; some of the defenders we managed to find were as bad as the orcs.
The Roses even gave me a rank. I had followed orders better than the real Roses in the war for Yew (ask Laz!) and had stood at Kent’s when the last rush of orcs came. But somehow, my name had been lost. I’d earned that damned ribbon, but I’d never had the guts to ask for it before.
He pulled his off his lapel and pinned it to my robe. “Domine, Domine, Domine, congratulations, you’re an Orc Wars veteran.”
Rahl, bless you. Not that I ever disobeyed your orders, at least when you were in your right mind, but you always knew how to make me want them as much as you did. I’m keeping your ribbon, Debinani Rahl, you’re not going to get a chance to pull it off my corpse. You can get another one for yourself.
Tomorrow morning we’ll see what other trinkets you owe me.