CHAPTER 18 - Lycanthropy (3)
Alex clutched the ID tags in his hand, the metal grinding together with almost no sound. He watched as the flag was folded and handed to a woman he’d never seen. She was in such a state of hysteria that she dropped it. The soldier beside her reacted with almost supernatural speed and caught it before it hit the ground, honoring the memory of the person it belonged to.
The casket was lowered into the ground, and Alex found his focus drawn to the photograph. One of his friends throughout the first year of the MAGES program stared back with stern eyes from the picture.
He wondered to himself if the woman would still be crying if she had seen what her husband had looked like by the end.
“I told you, Specialist, back in class. You better want this as much as you claim.”
The First Sergeant stood next to Alex, watching with calm, almost detached, eyes.
Alex was silent for a long moment as he remembered the gradual shift Jackson had taken during the rigors of the first year of trainings and surgeries.
Could the body in that casket even be called human anymore?
“I no longer ‘want’ this, Top.”
He glared at the old photograph once more, unable to shake the anger growing in his eyes.
“I. Need. This.”
“I can’t do that, stranger. I don’t need you attacking me again.”
This caught Alex by surprise, but ALICE spoke out, opting not to use telepathy this time.
“He’s being nice, you know. We could just kill you and tell the guards you attacked us.”
The man looked around, trying to find the source of the feminine voice as Alex sighed. He hefted ALICE and pointed at her.
“Listen, it’s a long story, but she’s right. I’d rather not take you out, brother. So just… you know, play nice for a bit?”
Stunned by the implications as Alex gestured towards the rifle, the man’s eyes narrowed.
“Are you a mage?”
“I mean. Yes? But also, no. Like I said, looooong story. So, about that hood?”
With a huff of resignation, the man lifted his hands to the sides of his heavy hood, hesitating there without removing it.
“I have never triggered. Please believe me.”
“Triggered? What does that even mean? Does this world have ‘safe spaces’ too?”
Both men stared at each other with confusion splayed across their faces. The stranger was the first to come out of his stupor, though. As a slowly building laughter rose from deep within his belly, he drew back the hood.
“Alright, if you’re calm enough to make jokes about ‘that,’ then I suppose you can’t be too bad!”
Finely chiseled features revealed themselves in the moonlight beneath a shaggy mane of golden hair. The eyes had faint feline markings, much like Alex had spotted before. But the feature that caught his attention now were the two protrusions from the filthy, matted locks.
“Holy guacamole, are those cat ears?! Are you, like… a beastman or something?!”
The laughter suddenly stopped, and an angry reply assaulted Alex’s ears along with a scowl from the other man.
“You dare compare me to those weaklings?! I am Quinn vel Hurtzag, a proud Lycan of the Leo Tribe! You may have bested me in combat, but another such remark and I shall tear you limb from limb!”
Alex suddenly raised his hands in mock surrender, like when he had met the guards upon first arriving in Arcadia.
“Whoa, whoa, Bro, chillax! Didn’t mean to offend you, for real. I’m not from around here, I don’t know the… well, anything, basically. Here, I’m sorry. Seriously. Can we just, like, forget that I said that?”
Quinn looked at him for a few seconds, as if trying to see if Alex was lying or not. Seeming to find satisfaction in his search, he calmed again and nodded.
“You are… unique. Are you not afraid of Lycans?”
“What, like werewolves and shit? Nah, fam. In fact, you kinda look like an old friend. Buddy back from my training days named Jackson. Oh, right, my name is Alex, by the way. Alexander Jaeger.”
Quinn stepped forward and offered his hand to shake.
“Well, Alex, it’s a pleasure to meet you. Where is this Jackson now? I’d be honored to meet a fellow Lycan!”
Alex took the offered hand as his smile faded.
Then the two men turned in unison at the sound of approaching footsteps wearing heavy armor.