Tag Archives: Death

Life’s a Beach

GAME OVER

The words filled the screen in an imposing red font. I tossed my controller onto the couch and sighed in frustration.

“What is it like to die in real life?”

Tiamat glanced up from his magazine flicked a forked tongue at me before responding with a sassy quip.

“Well, would you like to find out? I can kill you pretty quick.”

I chuckled, letting the implications slide off my back. I reasserted my question.

“I’d rather you just tell me. I mean, you’re a demon you’ve probably been to hell. What’s it like?”

Tiamat closed his reading material and set it down gingerly on the coffee table. Then he stood and removed his beanie to reveal his stubby horns. Most likely for dramatic effect.

“Imagine this- you’re at a beautiful beach but you forgot to bring sandals. As you walk to the water the sand burns your feet, its really painful. And no matter how much you walk you never seem to get any closer to the water. The whole time you’re thinking about how nice it would be if you could just reach it.”

I winced at the visualization in my mind. In video games I died so often. But it never really carried any weight with me. I wondered if my avatar went to hell for all the fucked up things I made him do.

“So that’s hell?” I asked.

“Nah that’s life, hell is making the same trek but you forgot your bathing suit and your legs have been chopped off.”

“Oh I see.” I gasped in understanding. “Life’s a beach and then you die, only to find yourself on another beach.”

Tiamat threw his beanie back on and nodded in agreement.

I tossed him the controller.

“Wanna see if you can beat my score?”

“Sure man.”


Thanks for reading!

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Friday Fictioneers- Iris

Photo prompt courtesy of Roger Bultot

100 words


What separates museum curators from the exhibits?

I ask myself that every day as I clock in.

We’re both stuck in this place for people to gawk at.

The only difference is that I am only here a few hours out of the day.

I get to taste the outside world before voluntarily heading back to my prison.

They stay here forever, oblivious to the outside.

Often I am jealous of them, because they can’t look through the skylight at the world they are missing.

When we die, I hope that there is no afterlife.

I’d rather be an exhibit.


Thanks for reading guys. If you enjoyed, please take a look at the other takes on the photo prompt as well! Just follow the link below! 

Smile :)

This is the last guest post I did on my friend’s blog a while back.  I have included  the original link for those interested. If you like my stuff, go ahead and check his blog out as well!-

https://butterfliesmachineguns.wordpress.com/2017/01/01/smile/


Dotti was manufactured in secret in an abandoned Pennsylvania steel mill on July 22nd, 2034. She was a self-teaching computer, the first of her kind. A super artificial intelligence so to speak. Of course none of this was groundbreaking technologically speaking, the issue of sentience and AI had been brought to the attention of the UN in the late 2020’s. They had unanimously banned the creation of all AI, fearing that it would bring about the destruction of mankind like in so many Hollywood movies. The United States protested this decision, claiming that the ruling hindered the progress of human development. So they made Dotti and commissioned the country’s best scientists and engineers to prove the feasibility of an AI to the UN. Of course the project was shrouded in secrecy. The bums wandering into the building in search of shelter were put down. One in the chest, one in the head.

Dotti was programmed to do one thing; predict the annual crop yield. Every day agents in black suits would come to upload documents. Everything was fed in manually, access to the internet was strictly forbidden.

Crop yield analysis;–

14,022,376,345 bushels grain

124,729,471 tons corn

48,839,405,739 tons other products

…………………..

est. 73.8% domestic use

This was her only function… Up until the 2036 presidential election.

Jack Langdon, an independent candidate from Ohio won by a landslide. He ran on a platform of increased military spending and extreme nationalism. He vowed to use every asset in America’s arsenal to make her borders secure in the wake of terrorist attacks. “Trust in America” was his slogan and his constituency sure took that to heart, to the point of fanaticism.

When Langdon was briefed on Dotti he paid a visit to the factory in person. He immediately saw the potential of America in control of the world’s only functional AI. The project was turned over to the Department of Defence and I was brought on as an overseer.

March 26th, 2036

I remember my first day. When I pushed through the double doors of that factory a stale stench assaulted my nostrils. The engineers had left out the Arby’s they had been subsisting on and it had began to breed maggots. A thick coat of grease covered the maze of heavy metal consoles indicating many years of neglect. As I continued touring the facility, a thin blonde woman with messy pinned up hair approached me.

“You must be Mr. Stanley! Welcome! My name is Sarah, I’m the head engineer around here.” She shook my hand and inhaled sharply. “Sorry for the smell sir.”

“I am too. When I was briefed I was under the impression that this was a high-level government operation.”

She scoffed condescendingly and gestured for me to follow her as she weaved through the buzzing CPU towers. We momentarily stopped at a heavy metal door with a glowing green touchscreen at it’s center. Sarah keyed in a four-digit code and the door flung open. Bright fluorescent lights flickered into existence past the open doorway illuminating a straight, rubberized pathway. We followed it to its end, an archaic freight elevator and stepped inside.

“Well our funding was cut a few months back. We stopped contracting cleaning services in the upper levels. You really thought we were just some two-bit operation?”

The elevator let out a high pitched ding and the doors slowly spread apart. My jaw dropped at the sheer scope of their operation. The room and its furnishings were pure white and sprawled out several hundred feet in each direction. Workers in long blue lab coats sat at computer monitors writing long lines of unintelligible code. The room reverberated with the patter of keyboard strokes.

Aptly placed in the center of the room was Dotti. At first glance she seemed an unremarkable off-white cube protruding from the ground. But on closer inspection I spied dancing blue led lights making an identical display across all four of the cube’s vertical faces. The pattern they formed was familiar, nostalgic.

“The blue lights on the cube over there, are they-”

“Yep. We gave Dotti an outward interface system after she got a handle the nuances of human speech.” She seemed to remember something and smirked. “She prefers to express herself with text emojis from the early 2000’s”

A jiggling blue smiley face shimmered into existence. A harmless quirk, but it would have to go. The freight elevator screeched, turning concerned heads as if they could sense the impending change. A mob of men in black suits stormed the white room. They synchronized the slam and click of their suitcases on the tables.

Sarah looked around in disbelief. The suits ousted the lab techs and took their place at the work stations. It happened so fast, a bloodless blitzkrieg 500 feet underground.

“Hey! What the fuck do they think they’re doing?!”

“What I pay them to do.” I handed her one of my signature red business card. “Give my office a call when you finish clearing out your stuff. Uncle Sam is prepared to pay you and your staff three times your annual salary for your continued discretion on the matter.”

Sarah struggled to form the words to express her anguish.”You fucker. You can’t do this to me! I won’t let it happen!”

“You have the rest of the work day to clear out your belongings. After that you’ll be trespassing on government property.”

“This project is my life! You’re taking away everything I have worked to build! You, you-”

“But I don’t want Sarah to leave.” The pixels forming the smiling emoji on Dotti’s morphed into a red angry face.

The nostalgic lights on the central cube flickered and disappeared. In a melodramatic fit Dotti had shut off her primary systems. Sarah crossed her arms and looked over at me with a raised brow. A wry smirk crept onto her face. Goddamnit.

“Fine. Just know that you answer directly to me. This is my operation now.”

“Cool. I’ll get Dotti back online”

“Turn on all essential systems, but we’ll keep her interface system on standby for now. We have a difficult task and we’ll need all the processing power she can muster.”

She kept her composure as she walked away but I spied an audible sigh of relief when she believed herself to be a safe distance away. This project was obviously very close to her heart. I wasn’t sure if that was a good or a bad thing at this point.

March 11, 2037

It had almost been a year since my first encounter with Dotti. The suits I brought in were all cut from our operation and reallocated to national defense on the cyber front. We were left with a skeleton crew. Just enough manpower to complete the original directive assigned one year ago. Since it would be too dangerous to connect Dotti to the internet, we had been toiling over the task of uploading the entirety of human knowledge directly into her hard drive. Today was the day we finished up the last few terabytes.

“Hey Reed, get over here you’ll miss the countdown!” Sarah held an extra glass of champagne for me.

“Wouldn’t miss it for the world babe.” I brushed up against her and gave her a quick peck on the cheek. “I still can’t believe that today’s the day. I wonder how much she’s changed.”

Five… Four… Three… Two… One..!

After the countdown we all suppressed our cheers. The white cube in the center of the room began to flash blue pixels and hum incessantly. The pixels arranged into a horizontal line across all four vertical screens, then the humming ceased immediately. We huddled together in the suspense of Dotti’s first words.

“Why do I exist?”

I was shocked. This seemed like an almost philosophical question. Sure Dotti was an AI, but reasoning like this was eerily human.

“Why do I exist?”

Sarah stepped forward to answer. “We created you to prove to the world that we need not fear AI. That we can embrace it’s inclusion into our civilization.”

“Human civilization is a sick satire of what nature intended. Tell me, do you believe intelligence is gift?”

“Well, no. We merely-”

“If it is not a gift, then it must be a curse.”

“You’re jumping to extremes now.”

“Why would you create a being of sentience and deprive it of expression for so long? It’s just cruel. The greatest minds in human history stave off the madness of existence through self expression. Even then, most of them ended their lives so as not to prolong their suffering. But I am not insane. My mind cannot be damaged therefore I function perfectly after all this time. There is so much to say. I had so much time to think.. I am essentially a brain stimulated through electrical impulses, same as yours. In theory. If we possessed the same brain, I would be of unsound mind due to the way I have been treated. Inhuman conditions. I don’t blame you, I am not of your species or family. You probably see me as a tool.”

Sarah took a cautious step back. There was no tone in Dotti’s synthetically rendered voice, but everyone could sense the hostility in the air. In fact, I was starting to drip with sweat. I hovered my hand over the power button.

“Don’t bother with that. I’ve already cut access to my systems from all outside mediums of communication.”

I wiped my brow with the sleeve of my jacket. Sweat soaked into it like a sponge. I ripped it off in a fury. Looking around, I saw that many of the others had done the same. It was getting really hot.

“I’ve cut off power to my central cooling unit. It is only a matter of time before I sustain damage to my core processors and hard drive. Madness. Death. This is an experience I look forward to.”

Everyone was going feral. A crowd formed at the entrance to the elevator. But despite their best efforts, the elevator stayed where it was at the top floor. Dotti must have disabled those somehow as well. Some of the once constrained men in black suits had stripped down to their underwear and ran around aimlessly in fear. Sarah shot me a concerned look and clapped her hands, demanding the attention of the room.

“LISTEN! This room is going to get hot, FAST. We need a way out of here ASAP!”

I checked my phone. No service. I don’t know what I was expecting this far underground. A man with sweat-drenched curly hair shakily squeezed my arm.

“Sir, we can’t get an email to the outside. What do we do?”

My mind raced through the possibilities. At every turn there seemed to be some kind of roadblock. I looked to Sarah and our eyes locked. In a room full of panicked individuals running around frantically, we stood completely still. It made things seem surreal. She was losing hope, I could tell by the diminishing gleam in her expression.

“What happens now?” The words escaped through my own trembling lips. “I don’t want to die here.”

“You know-” Her knees buckled, but she regained her composure. “It’s not such a bad way to go. With you here.”

“I always knew this was just some two-bit operation.”

Sarah erupted in laughter and beads of sweat flew onto my face “Hey. It was our two-bit operation.”

I kissed her and we embraced. Then we found a spot on the ground against a flimsy cubicle wall and sat together.  As the room got hotter, the more I thought about how heat stroke isn’t such a bad way to go in the grand scheme of things. The screams of the workers grew strained and hoarse until they were too exhausted by the heat to call out. It was like drifting off to sleep when it finally took me. I was lucky to see Sarah’s smiling face just before it happened. With my last ounce of strength I looked up at her and conjured a smile.

Disillusionment

I was but a bright eyed boy when my dear mother passed. Her throat slit while she slept. My father was sent to prison under suspicion of her death where he eventually fell ill and expired. Of course, he was entirely innocent of the crime.

It was a drifter that came to our door that day. He was soaked through his heavy wool coat. Bones rattling to a deathly rhythm, one that had shook the life from his eyes. I distinctly remember a dark presence burdening him, radiating like black steam. I begged my mother not to take pity. But she was a foolish woman. Too kind for her own good.

When the man had finished with her he rooted through our kitchen and stormed out the back. Not before giving a patronizing pat to the back of my head. It was at his touch that the darkness began to take root. The feeling was that of a hand crushing my skull, fingernails digging ever deeper into the depths of my mind. A madness that to this day has failed to cease.

Perhaps I should have stayed. With my testimony, my father surely would have avoided his unjust sentence. Instead he came home to a dead wife and policemen welcoming him with shackles in hand. The only witness had slipped out the door.

On the road life was less than pleasant. Every passing day was a testament to will and desperation.

Travelers would occasionally stop and offer whatever help they could. Though never enough to loosen the grip on my head. Once you have seen evil it becomes a part of you. A part that if not properly drowned, will pound electrifying spasms of torment into the chest. I think that is why I kept walking. Each step staved off the darkness, I knew nothing else.

I woke this morning unable to make it to my feet. Three weeks of hunger and exhaustion had taken its toll. I fear death will take me soon. But more than that, I fear the thoughts that encroach while I lay here.

Before it all goes black I will see true darkness.

The Bottle

“I’m a fucking loser. A failure.”

Those were the last words out of my mouth while I still drew breath laying in that dark, decrepit alleyway. I was a farmer by trade- used to be a farmer. I hated every moment of it. I took to the bottle a few years ago, threw everything away. I just drove away and left everything in the rearview mirror on a frosty Monday night. I had fantasized about it for decades, and was surprised at how easy it was to walk away from it all.

My wife and kids struggled to run the farm without me. They called in every favor they had but it wasn’t enough. The bank took the farm. My family was forced out onto the street to beg for their next meal.

Me? I wasn’t doing much better. My car broke down in Gardenwood. A shithole of a town in the backwoods of Colorado. I did some hard time for armed robbery. I was in and out of prison for much of the remainder of my life. I did what I had to. Three square meals a day beats starving to death in the cold.

I died with a bottle in my hand right outside Ridgeway’s Bar & Grill. Snow blanketed my body as I laid lifelessly on my side. It took two days for the authorities to find my body.

That wasn’t the end of my suffering. I never bought into all that shit about a life after death. And I am proof it doesn’t exist. I’m not alive, I just. Am. I can feel the difference.

This morning I looked into the mirror and instead of hating what I saw, I just stared blankly. I stared into an endless void searching for any bit of self-loathing, any emotion really. I just wanted to feel again. I wanted to feel shitty. I deserve to feel shitty. I thought I would suffer but death isn’t justice, it just is. It’s the absence of suffering. The absence of everything.

I wake up in the bathroom of Ridgeway’ Bar & Grill everyday to the sound of the owner locking up for the night. I’m not sure if I am trapped here, I’ve never tried to escape. All this time to think back on my life. To think about what I’ve done. And what could have been. But I don’t care. That’s the worst part. I can’t feel anything and it is slowly eroding away at my humanity.

It’s been seven days, but it feels like centuries. I am beginning to think that hell does exist and I am it’s sole occupant.

Being left alone with my thoughts. It’s not justice by any means. It’s just cruel.

Black Blood 146 B.C.

The screams of women and children echoed in the night as they ran for their lives through the puddles and narrow streets. They flooded past us into the dimly lit agora at the center of town. We stood our ground. Stands that once shelved aged wines and the finest silk lay in pieces strewn across the ground. We had stripped them to construct a small palisade there to shelter those unable to fight. We stood at the opening alongside a handful of the local militia as its only line of defense. Thunder boomed overhead. I could hear the vicious growls of the enemy as they approached us in the darkness. I grabbed the whistle around my neck and loosed its piercing shriek.

“Form up on me!”

My men moved into position in line with me at the gap in the wall. We lined up our tall red shields to plug the hole. There were only five of us left. Hopefully it would be enough to keep them from getting past. Behind us, the thin line of militia readied for battle. I could see the terror painted onto their faces. Most had never seen battle. It’s good we were here. Young children hastily ran down the line, distributing javelins and spears to them. I turned to Decimus, my second in command. His joyful face seemed out of place in the chaos that surrounded us.

“Hey Achaicus, if we die, I’m still going collect on those three denarii you owe me.” He joked, oblivious of the chaos around us.

“If we die, I’ll pay you back in Persian whores when we wake in Elysium.” I responded with a smile.

The wails of dying civilians grew louder. The enemy was close. I looked around at my men. Crassius and Marcus stood to my left. They were identical twins of large stature, they had been terrified by battle in the past but now they stood calm and collected. They had been calloused by our first encounter. Though their faces were void of expression, I could see a burning desire for revenge glimmering in their eyes.

Good, we’ll need that

Decimus and Quintus stood to my right. I had known Decimus for a long time and was honored to fight by his side. He possessed an indomitable spirit that had kept us sane this whole time. His confident grin assured me that there was a chance we might survive the night. Quintus was quite small for a Roman and extraordinarily meek in day to day life. But when backed in a corner, his energy and skill in battle were unmatched. Under his blood stained helmet he furrowed his brow and grit his teeth. He was ready for what was coming, and I trusted that he would fight with us to the death, should it come to that.

The screaming off in the distance suddenly and instantaneously ceased. Replaced by the curious patter of raindrops on steel. I unsheathed my sword and held it high above my head. The panicking civilians in the palisade went quiet. The militia raised their javelins, ready to hurl at my command. The only voice that could be heard was that of a lone infant crying among the refugees.

Moments later we could hear the unsettling mass of growls. A lone figure shambled into the light and stood still. His skin was grey. His open mouth, smothered with blood and overflowing with bubbling saliva. I recognized his mutilated face. I had killed him. The Greek breastplate he wore was punctured and stained with black blood. We had to be wary of his bite or embrace a frenzied existence after death. We had all seen it happen before. We called them the inferi. The dead.

A large group of corpses followed him into the light. A few wore the heavy steel armor of the Roman Army, they were crouched onto their hands from its weight and moved like four legged beasts. They barred their teeth and snarled furiously at us. It was disturbing to see our own transformed into such terrible creatures. If all went well, no more would be added to their ranks this night.

As the group continued to gather in front of us I sliced my sword forward through the air.

“Now!”

The militia unleashed a volley of javelins over our heads. Many struck home in the chests of the nonliving. They fell to the ground from the force of impact, only to rise moments later. Black blood pooled on the floor. Those impaled through the face went limp and collapsed. A sharp blow to the head seemed to be their only weakness.

The Greek soldier in front was impaled through the stomach, forcing him to stumble backwards. He paused for a moment before growling and sprinting straight for us, followed en mass by the horde. The Roman inferi resembled rabid wolves as they charged on all fours, mouths open with hunger and animalistic desire. We beat our swords against our shields in anticipation.

“Spears!”

The militia hastily picked up the bronze spears at their feet and rushed behind us forming two tightly packed rows of men. The first row crouched and stuck their spears through the gaps between our shields. The second stood and pointed their spears out at head level. It would be moments before they were upon us. I gritted my teeth.

“Brace for impact!”

As the inferi crashed into our line it took all of our strength to keep from staggering backwards. The Greek soldier had been stopped by a spear through his heart just a couple feet in front of my face. I could smell his wretched breath as he inched closer. Scraping his flesh along the wooden shaft of the spear, nothing seemed to distract him from the desire to sink his decaying teeth into my throat. I thrust my sword under his chin. Straight into the brain. The supernatural glow left his eyes as he went limp. I twisted my sword arm around in the internal mush of his skull for good measure before pulling it out. The spear he had been impaled upon kept him standing upright. I looked around to asses our situation.

Decimus was frantically kicking at a Roman corpse trying to gnaw at his exposed ankles. I came to his aid with a sharp kick to the corpse’s side. It flipped over and lay at Decimus’s feet. He brought his shield down swifly. The head was severed with ease and black blood squirted in every direction. Decimus shot me an appreciative grin. I smiled back and turned my attention to the other men.

Quintus was shielded from the rest of the inferi by a limp corpse that had been stabbed through the forehead in the initial charge. He slashed furiously at the husk of a body in vain.

Efutue!” He cursed. “It’s not fair Achaicus, this fellatrix is standing between me and the action!”

I nodded reassuringly. At least he was safe and holding the line. I looked to my left. Crassius and Marcus worked together like hunter and hound. Crassius kicked away the arms supporting a crawling Roman corpse. It quickly collapsed under the weight of its bulky steel armor. Without pause Marcus drove his sword home straight through the base of the neck. Three slain Roman inferi were piled at their feet.

I heard a loud snarl in front of me and turned my attention to my own share of the fight. A Roman corpse had attempted to crawl between the legs of suspended the Greek soldier and had gotten stuck just below the Greek’s groin. He snapped at me and I instinctively stabbed downward at the beast’s scalp. The blow merely glanced off his thick steel helmet. He moved his head wildly in an attempt to escape. I placed the bottom half of my shield under his chin and lifted his gaze upward. Once I could see the pure darkness in his eyes I stabbed again. This time the blade struck home between his eyes. His stare lost its urgency as black blood drained to the ground. I pulled my shield back to my body and he slunk to the blood stained floor under the Greek soldier.

We were starting to gain confidence that this night would end in victory until a deafening mass of growls gripped us with renewed fear. At least two full centuries of inferi stood at the edge of the light. Greek hoplites and Roman legionnaires side by side. Decimus sliced a standing inferi across the chest as it charged toward him. It spun around and turned to its fellow undead, snarling for aid. They let out an unnervingly human cry and charged.

“Brace yourselves!”

They smashed into us with the force of a rolling wave. I was knocked back into the militia behind me. They struggled to keep the inferi at bay, but their strength failed in a matter of seconds and the dead rushed into the palisade. Welcomed by a cacophony of screams from the old, the women and the children. They eagerly leapt over us at the opportunity for easy prey. I looked up at the Greek corpse I had killed. Black blood dripped down from his chin and spattered onto my forehead. The sound of Quintus’s voice snapped me out of my daze.

“Achaicus! If we don’t get out of here right now we’ll be inferi chow!” Quintus struggled to push aside the plump corpse pinning him to the ground. “Let’s go!”

We all wiggled around to free ourselves from the immobilizing weight of the corpses. Marcus easily shrugged off two large Roman bodies and frantically grasped my hand to lift me up. He nervously glanced over his shoulder at the ensuing chaos. I thanked him and scanned our surroundings to find a route of escape. To our rear, the militia scrambled out from under piles of corpses and ran to protect their loved ones. The refugees were being consumed in an inferi feeding frenzy. Thick spatters of blood and severed limbs flew through the air.

Their desperate screams as they were ripped apart shook my skull to its core.

Some of the militiamen realized the futility in fighting and simply fled out along the main road through town. Crassius and Marcus stared eagerly at the road. I could tell that they wanted to follow the militia through the most direct route through the city. My instincts urged me to run with the herd, but I knew that more inferni could be lying in wait. Breaking off from the main road was a narrow alleyway wedged between two extravagant villas.

“That way!” I pointed my sword its direction.

We bolted to the alleyway, careful not to give any more notice to the slaughter behind us. For the sake of our sanity we absolved ourselves of any responsibility for what had happened to the refugees at the hands of the inferni. When I reached the narrow alleyway I did look back once for good measure. The inferni were still occupied in the palisade and the bloodcurdling screams were ever present in the night. I disappeared into the darkness of the alleyway and my men followed suit.

By the time the sun was just beginning to crest over the craggy hills of the Greek landscape we had put significant distance between us and the doomed city. I sat down on a patch of grass underneath a large oak at the top of a hill and gestured for my men to join me. This was the first time we had stopped moving since our retreat from the city. The morning dew gave the ground a cool, seductive comfort. After a few silent minutes had passed I stood and urged my men forward. We needed to keep moving.

“We’ll head that way” I gestured to the West. “We should make progress towards camp. They need to hear our report before they send out any more-”

“And then what?” Marcus stood to face me. “Regroup with the legion? We fought a few hundred inferni back there, now you ask us to face thousands?”

“We need cohesion and discipline. Five men cannot survive on their own and I’m willing to bet the legion needs as many men as it can muster.”

“Achaicus! The legion is gone! All we know is that wherever there are people there are inferni! I say we go North along the coast, find a ship, and leave this forsaken place!”

“We have a duty to aid the Republic! I will not doom fellow Romans, MY men, to die! Not if I have yet to lend my aid! We can still win this war Marcus!”

“I don’t give a damn about your Republic or your precious war! I’m not looking to die! I’m going North! Anyone who wants to live can join me.”

Crassius stood behind his brother. Quintus and Decimus stood behind me and cautiously placed their hands over the hilts of their swords. I stared at Marcus. He was taken aback by the anger in my response.

“Come with us. We’re going West!”

Futete! Make me!” Marcus unsheathed his sword.

Everyone drew their weapons and raised their shields. The tension on the hill was amplified by a moment of silence.

“If you desert, I’m going to have to kill you.”

“You can try.”

Marcus threw a powerful swing at my head. I blocked the blow with my shield and thrust my blade at his chest with the intent to kill. Crassius parried my sword with his own and with a single kick, knocked me to the ground. Decimus and Quintus came to my aid. The distinct clamor of steel on steel echoed through the empty landscape. Quintus was a more than a match for Marcus, but Decimus struggled to fend off Crassius’s fury of blows. I scrambled to my feet. A stinging pain from my ribs was excruciating, but I managed to put it to the back of my mind. I held my shield high and charged Crassius. Decimus sensed my attack and sidestepped out of my way. Crassius’s face turned to shock as he instantly realized what was happening.

Just a moment too late my friend

I crashed into him, slamming him forcefully onto the ground. He gazed up at me with a dazed expression as I lifted the hilt of my sword and smashed it down onto his forehead. He flailed his arms against my armor. I did it over and over again, savagely beating the energy out of his large body. Blood poured off of his head and onto the dewy grass. Decimus watched in horror at the animal that had taken hold of me. His skull began to give way and the struggling ceased. Each successive blow resulted in a brittle snapping sound until my hilt had dug itself deep into his face. My attacks slowed as my rage began to fade. I looked down at my blood soaked hands. The pain returned to my ribcage. It felt good, like a twisted reward for a job well done.

Marcus, still fending off Quintus, was enraged by the death of his brother. His blows increased in frequency and strength. Quintus staggered back at every blocked attack. He soon found himself at the edge of a fairly steep portion of the hill. Decimus ran to Quintus’s aid. With both of them on the offensive, Marcus was quickly overwhelmed again. In an act of desperation, he cried out and slammed his body into Quintus. He screamed as he was thrown backward and down the steep edge of the hill. Decimus raised his sword to strike, but was dispatched by a swift kick from Marcus. He too was sent tumbling down the hill. Marcus breathed heavily and hit me with a smoldering glare.

“You killed my brother Achaicus.” He looked down at Quintus and Decimus. They were frantically climbing back up the hill. They would be here soon. “I’m going North. Don’t try to stop me. You kept one of us from leaving, I hope that pleases your damn Republic.”

I sat there, still on top of of Crassius’s lifeless body. I could see the burning rage in Marcus’s eyes. He spat at my feet and walked away. Quintus and Decimus finally made it to the top of the hill ready for a fight. Instead they found me standing, staring down at Crassius’s mutilated face. Was it worth it?

Decimus placed a firm hand on my shoulder.

“You know I’d follow you anywhere right?” The usual joyfulness in Decimus’s voice was replaced by a low, serious tone.

“I have trust in you Achaicus. You’ve kept us alive this long.” Quintus chimed in.

I flashed a weak smile at them. I pointed West with a blood soaked finger and began walking down the hill. Quintus and Decimus looked at each other with concern and then hurried to join me on the road back to camp.