“Did you hear about it?”
“From the green sector!”
“There was blood everywhere. And guts too!”
“It was amazingly cool.”
“I’m not kidding, his neck was totally broken!”
“That makes three of them doesn’t it?”
The situation within the training camp had gotten severely tense; groups of men would gather up at random places, whispering at first - their voices rising steadily each day – before it became outright discussions meetings. Every single higher ranked soldiers were on high alert; each of their respective superiors bearing down on them with unmasked frustration.
Within two weeks, three recruits had taken their lives. At first, the first incident had been shushed up by the higher ups, the recruits that had found the body first were taken away for a number of days before they returned with the promise of secrecy. Without a doubt, the news had spread throughout the entire camp by the next morning.
The first recruit had been from the blue sector and his body had been found bled dry with both his wrists slashed in his tent; he had neglected to show up for morning training and a fellow trainee had been assigned to rouse him from his tent as no one had seen him at the dining tent prior. The second had been declared missing at first; his superiors had assumed he had neglected his duties and had escaped. They were ready to send a search team after him as deserters were punishable by death. At least, that was the case until they found him face down floating in the river.
The third body had been discovered this very morning – hanging by a noose from one of the training beams. Although the body was discovered in the morning, the birds had gotten to him first. The cries from huge black crows had been what drew the attention of the people first; flocks of crows were found circling over the body; pecking out chunks of flesh from the body. His eyes had been the first to go – dried blood ran down from hollow pits in interrupted streaks. Bits of flesh had been ripped out from the cheeks leaving behind gaping wounds into the mouth cavity. Apart from that, it seemed as though some wild animal had tried its luck on the decaying body as well – whatever it had been, had sunk its teeth into the recruit’s foot and had tried to yank it down. The effort by this animal had dislocated the recruit’s cervical vertebrae from the spinal cord.
Although Yue stopped herself from following the crowd; the stench of decomposing flesh was thick in the air; accompanied by the audio narration from those who had the corpse in view – it was enough to make Yue feel sick.
“Heard them saying that these are suicides.”
“Bet they’re regrettin’ makin’ us train this ‘ard eh.”
“We’re cutting the rope! Catch him!”
Although Yue couldn’t see whatever was occurring, she heard the dull thud of the body against the earth along with cries of disgust from the people closest to the area of impact. Shuddering, Yue pressed herself against one of the back tents as more spectators pushed past her; she was having a hard time calming her heart down. Sure, she could jump off ledges and into freezing waters; she could handle venomous reptiles and ferocious animals; she could sit in a car that would eventually drive off the road and into the lake; however, dead bodies were a whole other matter.
As someone who had never been exposed to death or dead bodies, Yue couldn’t help but feel scared. She was terrified of anything supernatural-related; and most supernatural occurrences consisted of the dearly departed. Her colleagues used to frighten her with ghost stories or of accidents that they had happened to witnessed – being in this line, fatal accidents were bound to occur sometime. Film sets were also often said to be haunted by spirits of the departed crew members who were slightly too attached to their past haunts; superstitious directors and or crew member had often asked for cleansing or prayers for the sets before starting a project.
Whilst she had been lost in her thoughts, the group of officers who were in charge of clearing off the body suddenly appeared before her, with the body on a stretcher. Before Yue could register anything, she looked directly into the decomposing face of the recruit; the hollowed eye sockets; the bloodied check bones; the dislocated neck; and it was then when the entire smell of rotting flesh hit her nose did she feel the bile rising from her gut back up into her oesophagus; on its way out her throat. Turning as quickly as she could, Yue collapsed onto all fours as she threw up her entire breakfast. Hot tears formed quickly as her throat burned from the gastric acid; even after emptying her stomach of its contents, her stomach continued to retch. Coughing painfully, Yue became acutely aware that her breakfast was somehow not entirely on the ground – a large portion of it was splattered over somebody’s ankles and feet.
Even though the thought was utterly disgusting, Yue wished she had the guts to replace whatever she just threw up back into her gut. Fear and shame clouded her features as she looked up at the imposing figure before her. Where was Lady Luck – rather, why was it him of all people to throw up on. Groaning inwardly, Yue used the back of her arm to wipe the remnants of her breakfast off her face before forcing her legs to stand.
The man before Yue was none other than the commander.
Kang stared down at the smaller sized man; the smell of vomit reaching his nose causing a crinkle of annoyance to form on his brows. His line of sight shifted as he looked at the mess covering his boots before shifting it back up to the culprit. Kang felt his anger rise from deep within as the soldier lagged a faster apology; without a single hesitation, Kang backhanded the soldier and watched with little satisfaction as the soldier fell to the ground with a groan. From his peripherals, he saw his vice commander twitch suddenly the moment he landed the blow on the soldier. Kang turned and looked at Lang; but the other remained impassive.
“Do you fear the dead?”
Hearing the sarcasm in his voice, Yue couldn’t help but shoot the Kang a glare. Sure, she vomited, but it was not as though she did it on purpose. She did not choose to aim her vomit all over his boots nor did she even want to cover her entire oesophagus with burning acid. To add salt to her wounds; her right cheek was now throbbing in pain from the blow she had received from Kang. So what if he were the commander? Did that give him the right to out rightly punish his soldiers just because they could not stomach their breakfast in the face of death?
“Yeah, I do. So what?”
Pissed off; Yue forced herself to ignore the throbbing pain and to stand facing Kang. Her blood was boiling and her knuckles were itching to land some revenge punches on that undoubtedly handsome face.
However, her smart mouth got her a punch in her solar plexus. For a moment, Yue blacked out. The force from the punch knocked all the wind out from within and when she regained whatever conscious she had left, Yue realised that she was lying face flat on the ground – her face right next to her half-digested breakfast from the morning. The after effects from the punch was still reverberating through her nervous system; small dark spots were still dancing wildly in her eyes and she could not tell if she was truly awake or not.
“This is not a child’s den. This is a battlefield and people are going to die every day. If you cannot take even such a small obstacle, I have no use for such worthless waste-of-space. Any of you who are the same as this vermin over here can get the hell out of my army.”
Having said that, Kang kicked off his boots before leaving.
Yue didn’t know how long she spent lying next to her vomit. One moment, the vomit was still within her line of sight; the next, she was looking up at the cloudless blue skies above.
“Come on, try standing up properly.”
A familiar voice spoke from her left, but Yue couldn’t comprehend whatever the voice just said. Her ears were ringing as though the irritating fire alarm from her school days had just been tripped right next to her. She stared at the owner of the voice – unable to gather her thoughts.
Yushan sighed heavily as he placed Yue’s arm across his shoulders while his went around Yue’s waist. He could tell the Yue was still unable to comprehend whatever had been said to her at the moment. The commander always had a very powerful punch; he knows this because he had been on the receiving end more than once. Yushan asked the crowd surrounding them to give way as he dragged his friend towards their sleeping quarters; at this rate, Yue would not be able to participate any of their trainings, at least not until late afternoon. Upon entering Yue’s tent, Yushan dumped the still dazed Yue onto the futon before he went back to retrieve the commander’s boots – he knew that if Yue didn’t clean them, there was going to be another one-sided fight just like the one that just occurred.
Groaning in pain, Yue’s eyes shot open; sitting up quickly made Yue regret instantly. The pain from her abdomen intensified as her arm circled around her abdomen – the additional pressure providing her a temporary relief. Once she felt that she had the pain under control, Yue cursed the name of Kang to the high heavens and to the depths of hell. That bastard deserves all the misery and pain she was cursing him with. To her utter dismay, her eyes caught sight of the very boots that started everything, standing innocently – whilst still covered in vomit – by the entrance of her tent. Reaching for whatever was within arm’s length, Yue promptly threw her sword at the vomit stained culprit.
The sword hit the offending footwear before falling back onto the ground. Although it did nothing to soothe the anger in Yue, it helped release some of the frustrations raging through her. Lifting her top up, Yue spied the bruise forming on her abdomen and cursed Kang even more. This was going to cost her during the trainings for the next few days.
And she was right.
Throughout the entire week, the news of the fight between the commander and Yue had spread through the entire platoon; even troops from other sectors were well-informed in the outcome. Both Lang and Zhao were entirely indifferent to the matter, although Zhao had shown up outside her tent on the day of the fight to give her a small bottle of medicated ointment for her bruises. They were the same during trainings; relentless and unforgiving. If anything had changed because of the fight, it was that they realised how bad Yue was at hand-to-hand combat. Therefore, they had increased the hours and rounds of hand-to-hand combat trainings for everyone.
New bruises joined the existing ones as the trainings dragged on. Although Yue told Wei that she was going to fail out of army training, she wasn’t given the opportunity to fail at all. Even though Kang had mentioned that he wanted people like Yue out of the army, it seems the army needed the soldiers more than the soldiers needed (or wanted) the army.
No one was allowed to leave.
Days turned into weeks and weeks into months without much notice.Unlike that of the number of bodies that started to turn up all around the army camp.