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This Woman's Work Part 4

 
Lance Striker's picture
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   “Vista?” Anna asked, stood with the 3 rangers. “You didn't tell me you were a Vista, you told me

   you were from Hope Springs.”

 

   Striker is,” Danielle replied, offering Anna another drink, “well...sometimes.”

 

   “Striker? I thought his name was Shadow?”

 

   “He's such a mystery, with his many names and lives.” Arin mocked, smirking at a grumpy Shadow

   who was speaking into his radio.

 

   “Second team be aware, we've secured Yankee One, stand by. Over and out.” Shadow declared

   before checking over his gear.

 

   “Yankee?” Anna asked, inquisitively.

 

   “Apparently it means hostages.” Arin replied.

 

   And x-ray means bad guys,” Danielle added, “what even is an x-ray anyway?”

 

   “I think it's when you spy on people through their bedroom window.” Arin said, somewhat sure of himself.

 

Danielle eyed her brother with disgust.

 

   “You're such a perv.”

 

   Shut up, both of you, and listen up. Danielle take Anna and circle the perimeter, I want eyes on the other

   side of the compound. Arin, you're with me. It's time for that.” Shadow ordered.

 

Arin sighed, looking a little nervous. Danielle smirked at him and took Anna's hand as they disappeared into

the treeline. Shadow gave them a moment to gain some distance then nodded at Arin, who turned, giving

access to his backpack. From inside, Shadow carefully removed two gas masks and a sealed metal

cylinder, which he tucked into pouch for the time being. The rangers donned their masks, though Shadow

was a little weary about his own – having a beard meant he wouldn't get a perfect seal around his neck but

it would probably be fine. Probably.

 

He signalled forward, the rangers leapt over the wooden fence and stealthily made for the crawlspace under

the main building. They inched silently across through the darkness until they had a good view of the right side

of the compound, including the campfire. Shadow counted: six around the fire, three were in the storage building

and one was unaccounted for. He radioed Danielle.

 

   You in position?”

 

   Yeah, that's a lot of bedroom pervs.”

 

   One's missing, is he by the front of the building?”

 

   “Let me...yeah, doesn't seem to have spotted his dead buddy in the watchtower.”

 

   “Keep an eye on him, we've got the rest covered.”

 

   Roger that, boss man.”

 

Shadow looked at Arin and nodded before taking the metal cylinder from its pouch and carefully removing the lid. He

carefully tipped it onto his palm, he could feel the spherical death rolling slowly through the tube and out onto his

hand. The small, dense, brown ball made both men nervous and rightly so – coma weed was dangerous in its natural

state, but dried and mixed with tree resin, it amplified the potency of the aptly named plant by several magnitudes. A

single sniff of a fresh leaf can leave a man brain-damaged, this ball would destroy any semblance of humanity left.

 

Shadow concentrated his mind on it, pushing and rolling it away along the grass, hidden and imperceptible. It crept

up behind the gathering at the camp fire and skittered into the flames in a bright burst, catching the attention of a few

Travellers. Both rangers nervously adjusted their masks, not giving much worry to the ill-fated men eyeing the resin

ignite. Ten seconds passed, the men grew silent as their nervous systems succumbed to the fumes, stripping their

cognitive processes. Twenty seconds passed, the men began falling to the floor one by one, effectively in a vegetative

state. A few more seconds went by and even the men in the watchtowers fell lifeless at their posts. The three rangers

watched, in their own way, at the ease and horror at which these lives were destroyed. Shadow, knowing more of their

role in this whole situation, felt no pity.

 

He signalled for Arin to follow him out and approach the campfire while he rounded the corner of the main building and

vacated the skull of the remaining guard with another pebble. Arin drew his machete and looked at Shadow

expectantly, who pointed at each watchtower in turn as Arin went to finish off the comatose men.

 

   Keep an eye on the windows.” He radioed to Danielle as he went about cleaving his own machete through the spinal

   cord of the men strewn about the camp and storage shed.

 

Savage but effective work. Definitely the kind of thing Hyle had asked him to keep to himself, though he had her blessing

to do as he liked. Shadow waited for a moment, spying the first light of dawn creeping up behind him – the night had

played its part, now they had the perimeter secure and six men left to neutralise. He radioed for Danielle and Anna to

join them, deeming the short-lived terror of nature to have passed.

 

Still, removing his mask was a reluctant thing and it took him doing so and the apparent well-being of the girls to get Arin

to do the same. Shadow took them both and stowed them back in Arin's pack before giving him a firm pat on the shoulder

as both a confirmation and a recognition of a job well-done. He signalled for a huddle, and whispered their next move.

 

   All right. Good job, team, but the risky part is still to come. Primary target is still inside, with five x-rays. We have the element

   of surprise, so let's use it. Arin, you stay by the door with Anna. Danielle, we'll enter and neutralise quickly once we secure our

   targets. Do not harm the primary, understand?”

 

   You're not seriously letting him live, are you?” Anna rasped, angrily.

 

   Need to have a little chat with him first, don't you worry. Now let's go.”

 

The trio took up their positions by the side door, with Anna behind Arin. Shadow and Danielle had their pistols drawn as

he gently opened the door, peering cautiously inside. He hadn't expected a kitchen on the other side, but welcomed the

lack of men and another closed door at the far side. The pair sidled up once more as Shadow opened the second door

ever so slightly, this one revealing a hall, fairly well decorated for somewhere so remote. Still, no men to be seen, and

Shadow began to suspect luck, and the time of day, were on their side. He crept into the hallway, his partner close

behind. To their left was a corridor running down the length of the building as it junctioned into the L shape, to their

right was a slightly open door that led to the part of the building where Shadow had heard The Shepherd the night

before. He signalled for Danielle to follow the corridor as he headed for the door.

 

Cautiously, he peeked through the opening, wanting to maintain their stealth until the last moment. A wall ran

straight, from the side of the door frame with the hinges, and out of his angle of viewing – another corridor. He pried

the door open a slight, wincing with every creak and crack, and cursing himself for not bringing a hand-mirror to see

around corners. He stopped, waited anxiously for any reaction on the other side, and mulled over an idea. Satisfied

he hadn't disturbed anyone, he crept back into the kitchen and began eyeing up the knives, much to the confusion of

the curious heads of Arin and Anna floating by the side entrance. Most of them were combat or crafting knives, ill-suited

for culinary work, a testament to the idiocy of Travellers in Shadow's mind. Fortune still favoured him, it seemed, as he

found exactly what he was looking for – an old, worn knife with an eroded chrome surface. His hand-mirror.

 

Shadow scuttled back to the creaky door, leaving a bewildered Arin and Anna behind, and used the blade of the

knife to take a look down the corridor. Between the spotted patches of erosion and the small viewing area, making

anything out was no easy task. The dimly-lit corridor was warped and disproportioned in the reflection, like a surrealist

painting, but with a steady wrist, he could bring aspects of it into focus. Something moved, ever so slightly, as he

observed and he manipulated his view to focus on it. There, at the end of the corridor were two men, almost statuesque

and armed with guns he couldn't quite make out. Not that it mattered, corridors were deathtraps in a shootout.

 

He waited, growing more anxious with every quiet second Danielle had been on her own. These were not rangers

he'd trained himself, he wasn't sure of their capabilities but they'd come highly recommended. He gazed impatiently

out of a window, watching the warm tones encroach on indigo as dawn loomed.

 

   Striker...have eyes on three x-rays. Sleeping in their bunks.” Came Danielle's voice over the radio, barely audible.

 

   Perfect, we go loud on three. Stand by.”

 

All the guards were accounted for, The Shepherd was on the other side of the door and soon it would all be over. He

took a deep breath, flicked the safety off on his pistol and gave the signal.

 

   One. Two...Three!”

 

He swung open the door with his foot, swept around the corner, crouched low and took aim at the first guard. The

first, tight pull of the double-action trigger filled the complex with a deafening pop. A second followed immediately

after as the P226 settled into single-action and the first guard expired with the signature calling card of

22 Regiment – the double tap, straight through the mouth to cut off any message to the trigger finger. The second

guard had barely raised his gun by the time he received his own, and Shadow had never stopped moving

forward, already sprinting full pelt down the corridor as more shots echoed from deeper inside the building. Adrenaline

surged through him, and his telekinesis surged forward, blasting the door from its hinges as he leapt over the bodies

of its sentinels.

 

On the other side, caught in the tac-light of his pistol, was a mountainous figure, dazed and blinded by the beam in the

corner of the room. Another, scrambled, screaming in panic, leapt from a bed and divided his attention.

 

   “DOWN! BOTH OF YOU GET DOWN NOW, HANDS ON YOUR HEAD!”

 

Fear and chaos ruled in the room, neither figure quick to register his demands. The woman was screaming and sobbing

as she clutched sheets over her figure, The Shepherd was clearly still in shock at the arrival. Shadow's aim darted

between the two as he echoed his demands once more, he was taking no chances with the girl, not after what Hyle

had told him about her raid on Diamond Lil's.

 

   “I SAID GET DOWN AND PUT YOUR HANDS ON YOUR HEAD OR I WILL SHOOT YOU BOTH.”

 

There was still no compliance from either, and Shadow was close to making good on his threat. He needed fatso

alive for questioning, but if the girl wouldn't co-operate...

 

   Striker!”

 

The other rangers spilled into the room behind him, and with their combined threat of gunpoint, The Shepherd

relented, falling to his knees and putting his hands on his head. Anna barged past the three of them, quickly eyeing

the room, then ran to the distraught girl and wrapped her arms around her. At last, there was silence and reassurance.

 

   “Is that him?” Shadow asked, glaring at the mound of man in the corner.

 

   Yes...” Anna said, shakily, cradling the other girl's head in her bosom.

 

Shadow lowered his gun and glanced over at Anna for a moment. He could see the fear in her eyes, the confrontation

had stripped away some of her determination. The trauma the sheer sight of him inflicted upon even her was more than

words could describe. He looked back at him, beaten and vulnerable in the corner, and saw nothing akin to what Anna

did. He spoke firmly into his radio.

 

   “Second team, move in. Site secured. Over and out.”

 

   “Who are you? How did you get here!?” The Shepherd asked, too demandingly for Shadow's liking, who simply

   ignored him. For now.

 

   “Anna, a rescue team will be here shortly. Go with Danielle and find the key to the basement and the bus.” Shadow

   said softly, staring into The Shepherd's eyes.

 

Anna was motionless for a moment, the shock and realisation that this was all real hadn't hit her yet. Danielle

gestured for her to follow and lead her and the other girl out of the room. Arin's gun remained fixed, Shadow

joined him again and motioned for The Shepherd to stand. Follow. Outside.

 

Shadow led him back down the corridor, through the pool of blood and brain that were his guards, and out the front

of the building. Arin followed behind, gun trained on him. Shadow clicked his fingers as he pointed to the grass.

 

   “Down and keep those hands on your head.” He said, calmly.

 

In the light of the morning, he got a better view of his prey. An older man, bald save for wisps of matted hair either

side of his blemished head. He wore nothing more than a pair of underwear, exposing his putrid mass of rolls – slick

with sweat. Men like this disgusted Shadow to no end, regardless of their deeds; it was like looking at a spotted leather

sundae. His glandular, laboured breathing grated on Shadow's nerves but he endeavoured to be professional. For now.

 

The Shepherd looked around, eyeing the lone corpse to his right, and the mass of them to his left by the fire.

 

   Who are y-”

 

   Be quiet.” Commanded Shadow.

 

Minutes later, the secondary team arrived on the scene. A handful of rangers and dozens of caretakers, spilling

out of pickups and other load-bearing vehicles. A familiar car horn caught Shadow's attention and brought a smile

to his face; the warden from Trader's Flat had brought his car for him. Immediately, the caretakers – the civilian and

domestic wing of the Vista – got to work unloading supplies such as food, water, and clothes, as well being on-hand

for emotional support. The rangers formed a loose guard around the contingent, but were otherwise stationary. Their

leader approached Shadow and Arin.

 

   “Impressive as always, ranger. I take it this is him?” He asked, looking down on a now scowling Shepherd.

 

   Vista? What are you tree-hugging hippies doing on my farm?” He growled, largely ignored by the trio.

 

   “Aye, the rest of his men are dead. No friendly casualties.” Shadow replied.

 

   “You sure I can't tempt you back to Gaia? You're just as good for morale as you are for results.”

 

   “No can do, I have someone waiting for me back home.” He chuckled.

 

   A shame. Anything you need from us while we're here?”

 

   “Aye, have your men sweep the complex in full, retrieve any weapons and equipment and take them back

   to HQ, I have an idea. Tell them to keep an eye out for anything interesting, but leave them for me.”

 

   “We'll get right on it.”

 

The two men nodded at each other and the ranger traipsed off as Danielle and Anna ushered out a line of young

women from a door further along the building and into the care of the Vista. Shadow moved between them and

The Shepherd, smirking down at him in victory. The well of emotions visible in his eyes amused Shadow, a preliminary

justice; after all, the day was just beginning.

 

   Anna, no!”

 

Danielle's voice caught Shadow's attention. He turned to see Anna being held back as she wrestled to approach

his position. He asked Arin to keep an eye on their prisoner, and made his way towards the commotion. Anna

relaxed as Shadow approached, her tear-soaked, angry eyes met his and they asked the question for him.

 

   You can't let him live! I should be the one to do it, I want him to know. I want him to know we beat him!” She cried

   out, screaming around Shadow towards The Shepherd, whose taunting laugh earned him a booted warning from Arin.

 

   “If I let you kill him, you'll be no better than he is.”

 

   “I've already killed one man today, you owe me this one.”

 

Shadow placed a hand on her shoulder which Anna shook off violently.

 

   “Don't you fucking patronise me,” she spat, “you have no idea what we've been through.”

 

   If you want to show him he's beaten, stand strong with all of those other girls and you make him watch you

   get on with your lives. Ones you've chosen for yourselves.”

 

   “Will we though? Or have we traded one master for another?”

 

   Gaia is open to you, no one will force you to stay.”

 

Anna frowned at him for a long while, searching for any lie in his eyes. Finally, she sighed and relented, walking

back to the girls. Danielle let out a sigh of relief.

 

   Thanks...she's a feisty one.” She said, following after her.

 

Shadow, satisfied, returned to Arin and presided over their prey while the secondary team finished preparations

to leave. He gave the young man a pat on the back, and pulled out his pistol once more, taking over.

 

   Go on, kiddo. Don't wanna miss your ride. Good job today, I'll be sure to let command know about it.”

 

   Thanks! Sure you don't want a hand with this one?”

 

   “I have things under control.”

 

Arin shrugged, smirked at fatso and hurried off to get a ride back to Gaia. Shadow circled beside him, making

sure he got a good view of everything. There was fear in his eyes as the realisation sunk in; only Shadow's car

remained, and it wasn't big enough for him. Meanwhile, Shadow ejected his magazine and the round already

chambered with a satisfying clink.

 

   “Y-you wouldn't dare. Do you have any idea who I am?”

 

   “A shepherd without a flock.”

 

He was silent for a moment, contemplating his fate, ever wary of the pistol pointed straight at him as Shadow

circled back in front of him.

 

   “I believe you had questions.” Shadow said, calmly.

 

   Who are you?” He replied, begrudgingly.

 

   “Folk have taken to calling me Shadow, though your people know me better as Striker.”

 

   “Never heard of you.”

 

   Well then, that makes two of us. This time last week I'd never heard of you either.”

 

   “So why, no...how are you here?”

 

   Lucille Slater. Ring any bells?”

 

The Shepherd frowned, beads of sweat merged and poured downed his face.

 

   Slater? What's she got to do with anything?”

 

   You've been supplying her with girls.”

 

   “I supply a lot of people with girls, it's what I do.”

 

   “Not anymore.”

 

Both men frowned at each other, their hatred and disgust of one another painted as plain as day.

 

   That doesn't explain how you got here, hippie. Slater doesn't know the location of this farm, and she's

   already in the bad books...surprised her order was approved, but, well...as long as they pay.”

 

The pride on his face made Shadow feel sick, the urge to kill him right there was almost insatiable.

 

   “Your men aren't as careful as you give them credit for. Skulking about in trench-coats and using public radio

   in the middle of a city... Even a nineteen-year-old living in his mother's basement could've deduced they were

   up to something.”

 

The Shepherd looked again to his left, then back at Shadow.

 

   Then you've saved me the trouble of making an example of them.”

 

   “Fitting that they died like cattle.”

 

   “Good...” He smirked, bearing crooked, yellowed teeth.

 

   “You don't even respect the lives of your own men?”

 

   There are always more, do you have any idea who you're dealing with, boy? There are none above me

   within The Families, I am untouchable!”

 

Shadow decided not to correct the disgusting slob on who was the younger of the two.

 

   So...you'd be a big blow to your little hive of scum. The first of many, of course, after you've told me all

   about your dealings and where I can find the rest of you.”

 

   “Threaten me all you like, hippie, you'll get nothing from me.”

 

Shadow had noted the rise of confidence, amused at the assumption he was a valuable asset.

 

   You take pride in your work then?”

 

   “Oh I'm very good at it, Vista.”

 

   “Mhm...I know your type. Professional, meticulous in your dealings.”

 

Shadow eyed the open door before looking back at The Shepherd, whose expression soured.

 

   “I bet you keep nice records of every last 'transaction', and, well...if I managed to find you and topple your little

   empire, imagine what I could do to your clients, to your kinsmen... Maybe we'll share them with the Lightbearers, with

   the Enforcers, settle our differences... As we hunt every last one of you down, The Families will know it was you who

   made it happen. That will be your legacy.”

 

The Shepherd was furious, spittle spilled from his mouth as he ground his teeth as Shadow smiled down at him, calm

and collected. He growled, making the effort to rise and lunge at his captor, but was beaten back as Shadow's fist

smashed hard and swift into his nose, decorating his face in blood.

 

   “Does it hurt? To be left helpless, totally at the mercy of another?”

 

The Shepherd blew blood from his nose, coughing and wheezing as it poured down his throat. Shadow just

looked down at the pathetic figure and frowned.

 

   “The man known as The Shepherd, by the power given to me by Her Majesty Queen Hyle of Hope Springs, you

   are under arrest on suspicion of murder, trafficking of human beings and sexual assault. You do not have to say

   anything, but it may harm your defence if you do not mention, when questioned, something which you later rely

   on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.”

 

The Shepherd spat out more blood and began to chuckle before rising into mocking laughter.

 

   “Hope Springs? You can't hold me. Your little village will suffer when I'm through with it, every last woman

   will belong to me.”

 

   “You're right about one thing. Our jail cells are too small to hold you.”

 

Shadow moved the gun into his face and gave him a cold smile. The Shepherd went wide-eyed and flung his

hands up in desperation as Shadow wrapped his finger around the trigger and squeezed.

 

Click.

 

The Shepherd was shaking, the blood had drained from his face and he looked as if he was about to

burst into tears. Shadow holstered his pistol and spat in his face.

 

   “Pathetic... You didn't think I'd dignify you with a quick death, did you? You putrid fucking cunt. I'm

   going to make you suffer in ways you can't even begin to imagine.”

 

Shadow tapped into his mutations, wrapping around The Shepherd and lifting him thirty feet into the air. Rage

boiled up from within and he buried his good conscience deep inside it.

 

   “Wh-what's happening!? What are you – aaaaaaggggghhhh!”

 

Shadow began crushing his body with considerable force, ignoring the pain and resistance reflecting back

at his mind as the flailing mass of man struggled in vain. Shadow summoned more of his strength, twisting

and shattering the bones of his legs.

 

   AAAAAAAHHH! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!”

 

The pressure he was subjecting his body too was immense, and so too was the pressure in his own head. He

needed more, more control, more power. Shadow focused as well as he could, tapping into the very depth of

his abilities and the change Shiva had wrought in his body; his eyes began to burn, imperceptible filaments set

his irises aglow as steely grey gave way to amber light that rippled forth in wispy tendrils. He could see more

now, the energy pouring forth from him bored through the matter of The Shepherd, putting every last atom in

his body at Shadow's mercy. He forced his head down, making him gaze at the monster controlling him.

 

   “AAAAHHHHH! PLEASE! I'LL DO ANYTHING YOU WANT!”

 

Shadow was in no mood for mercy. He could feel his own body tingling as it struggled to convert the energy

needed to maintain the field suspending his puppet in the air. His thoughts dove inside and through his

body, stretching and squeezing his internal organs, forcing shards of bone through his skin. The Shepherd

was dropping in and out of consciousness and Shadow made sure to reward every waking moment with a

new source of pain.

 

   AAAAAAAAAAAAAGGHH! AAAAAAAAAAAGHHH! AAAAAAAGGGGHHHHHHHH!”

 

His screams grew so loud that they drove the birds from their trees and echoed on a still wind.

 

   “Suffer! Scream! Cry out for help! Only the dead can hear you out here and they bay for your blood!”

 

His cries grew hoarse and weak as his futile efforts stripped him of his voice. A moment more and all he

could manage were desperate gurgles as his throat flooded with whatever vile fluids Shadow was wringing

out of him. Shadow grew weary and tired, nearing the limit of his reserves and decided to end it. With one

last brutal action, he forced The Shepherd's ribs out through his back with a sickening crunch and tearing of

flesh, then splayed his lungs out along them. He fell silent in an instant, and the last fanfare of his existence

was the sound of his blood watering the ground. Shadow was exhausted, the toll it had taken was heavy, but

justified. He released his hold on the corpse, struggling to stay on his feet as it fell to the ground.

 

He stumbled towards the building. He would gather all the information he could, then it was time to go

home, to Hyle, and leave this mess behind him.


Aunt Lucy was next.

 

 

 

 

Comments

Joe Spivey's picture

((Epic read! Lasted exactly one cup of coffee. :) Be careful with Lucy when you find her, she's rather brittle.

Stick with me kid and you'll be farting through silk.

Hyle Troy's picture

"You called me what?!"

Hyle had been chopping spring onions while she listened to Shadows account of the raid while she prepared dinner. But she paused and faced him, a glint of anger in her eyes.

" I just said..... "

"Her Majesty Queen Hyle of Hope Springs." Hyle finished the sentence for him. She placed the kitchen knife down in the counter with more force than even she expected. "Is that how you see me?"

"Well I... 

"Look! I know you call me that in private.. and usually as part of a joke or something. But for fanden skyld! Using that term in public is just so wrong!

"But...

"But nothing. I am Mayor, it's my job to guide Hope Springs to where I, you, and many other people want it to become. It's NOT my kingdom and I am NOT a queen. It would be pretentious and egotistical for me to even refer to myself as Queen and I hope you know me better that to even think I am either of those, RIGHT?"

Hyle's annoyance showed as clearly as the chagrin on Shadow's face.

Hyle turned back to the kitchen counter and mercilessly chopped the remainder of the onions, celery and lettuce.

 

"Anyway...  what happened next?"

I would rather die peacefully in my sleep, like Grandad, than screaming, like his passengers

Lance Striker's picture

Prince-Consort Shadow I of Hope Springs sat, sulking, on his porcelain throne. 

He had tried explaining to the missus how it was only a one-off joke, but apparently 'If it's any consolation, he's super dead anyway' didn't get through to her.

It certainly wasn't helping that her brief flash of anger brought the old soldier to attention and left him flying at half-mast.

He sighed, played another rasping section of his fanfare, and reached for the parchment.

 

That woman, and her cooking, can be a royal pain in the arse.

Lonely are the brave...



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