Sojourners Travel Alike
Lock emerged from the tunnel first, with Tara trailing behind him. He gazed upon the green moors that led to the home of the Returners, hidden deep within the Wayfarer’s Wall. Tara exited the shadowy tunnel out into the green pastures with the sun beaming down on her face. They took a minute to admire the view. There was not a house in sight, with fluffy green fields leading to the Ire River in the distance to the west. Just barely inside her field of view she saw the legendary Wayfarers Wall.
This ten foot high wall not only bordered in between two countries, but travelers used this landmark to track their progress through the county. Every three miles or so there was a staircase that led up to the top of the wall and down the other side to allow for easy passage over the top. Upon each set of steps was marked by an emblem indicating whose territory it belonged to such as Velxeer, Cormire, etc.
Tara’s face beamed as she looked at the beautiful scenery and the crystal clear lake, where she saw a family of saber wolves were drinking from the cool water to replenish their energy. Less than a hundred feet from the pack were two rabbits drinking the cool water as well. The wolf pack wasn’t bothering to even look at such an easy meal. It’s like the water brings peace and kills hate, Tara thought to herself.
Lock looked over at Tara and saw her smiling away at its beauty. It was the first time Lock had seen her really smile; she was gorgeous when she was happy. Lock hated to break the mood, but time waited for no one.
“Come on, that’s our destination…” said Lock as he pointed to the Wayfarers Wall.
“Hmmm?” said Tara, “The other side of the wall?”
“No. The wall itself,” said Lock clarifying.
They began walking toward the wall across the plains; here they could finally let their guard down, seeing as the threat of predators was low here, and the Empire couldn’t step foot in this land for the penalty would be war with Velxeer. This area of land was officially under the rule of the Velxeer kingdom. If the dared show its face here, King Luther would consider that an invitation to wage a full-scale war.
“Do you even know how to use that?” said Lock looking at her left hand as it gripped the silver .45 caliber pistol.
“It’s rather simple isn’t it?” She said bending her elbow to bring her hand up to her own view.
She pointed the gun into the air and gripped it with both hands and turned her head away as she tightly shut her eyes in preparation to fire the weapon. BANG! BANG! BANG! She fired the weapon three times and with each discharge it kicked her hands back a full foot, almost causing her to drop the weapon to the ground. She opened her eyes and looked at Lock who was amazed at her fear of an inanimate object.
“See…” she said as she snickered at Lock.
“Yeah, easy as pie…” said Lock as he rolled his eyes, “but just to be safe, maybe you should practice when we get home.”
Tara felt rather insulted by this and the thought of his home didn’t feel her with joy. She tightened her grip on the weapon, turned and fired. This time there was no struggle between the weapon and her hands. The bullet pierced through the left side of a sunflower. She turned back to Lock with an angry look and started walking towards the wall.
Lock shook his head from side to side and chuckled, Thinks she’s a marksman, thought Lock to himself as he hustled to walk alongside her.
Several minutes past as they walked in silence, neither of them knowing what to say, Tara’s mind repeating the words Lock said to her you’re my mission – Just a job, then he hugs me when I’m feeling down. What’s with this guy? Acting tough so I won’t think he likes me? Was the hug just to shut me up? Jeez, wish I had more experience with men, what is he thinking? Am I just a job to him? Oh god!!! Do I like him? Is it a deep feeling inside my soul or just a physical attraction fueled by the fact that he killed in order to save my life? Does he have a woman? Tara, get a grip, just wait, you’ll know soon enough. If his heart belongs to someone, I’ll find out when we get ‘home’.
“So…” said Tara casually, “Where are you from, originally?”
Lock answered without looking at her; his eyes stayed focused ahead as if waiting for something to pop out.
“Born and raised in Listka, an island to the south of this continent. A piece of a former continent destroyed in world war three. Left when I was seventeen. Stowed away on a boat with a friend from the same town to get to the eastern continent and after five long years of traveling, we joined the Returners.” Lock continued looking over the wall.
“The Returners will change this land for the better,” he continued, “ I joined because it seemed like everywhere I went was under the control of the empire and it made me sick; just to see the fear in people’s eyes. Small villages, big towns, it didn’t matter! The Empire was everywhere raping and killing and taking what wasn’t theirs.”
Lock’s jaw tightened as the memories flashed through his head.
“I remember the day I couldn’t take it anymore; I was in Korsla, a little village south of Turklane. I held a girl in my arms as she slipped slowly into the reaper’s grasp. Couldn’t have been a day over eleven years old and she had been viciously raped numerous times by a troop of imperials.”
Lock’s lip quivered as he continued; reliving that day.
“Raped…in every place imaginable. Beaten while they did it because she couldn’t help but scream, any girl would scream out of desperation and pain, right. I looked into her eyes, eyes that were dead from the torment and pain within her body and mind. I wanted to get help, but she begged me not to go. She wanted to die the pain was more then she could bear. After she passed, I laid her lifeless body on the floor and sought out vengeance. I sought out a resistance group I heard rumors about. Sure, I could have killed the men that raped that poor child, but that wouldn’t protect anyone else and it wouldn’t bring her back. The smart thing to do was to end the Empire’s reign of terror as a whole.”
As they walked, Tara looked at Lock realizing he was baring his soul. This man who had saved her had experienced a lot of pain in life. She suspected the girl of his memory was but girl is just the tip of the iceberg. She quietly walked up and tried to touch his hand to supply some comfort but she wasn’t quick enough. He moved away before she made contact.
“There,” said Lock as he pointed to the wall that was a few yards away now.
Tara looked towards Lock and not only saw the wall ahead, but also a short stalky man of about five and a half feet standing there, no doubt waiting for them. She slowed her walk, but Lock placed his palm on the small of her back to assure her it was safe, which allowed her to continue forward.
“Lock, I expected you yesterday. Thought you were dead till the scouts said you emerged from the tunnel just a short while ago.”
“Yeah,” Lock retorted.
“Smith, this is Tara…your welcome, by the way,” said Lock sarcastically.
They didn’t seem to like each other, noticed Tara, possibly father and son.
“Hello,” she said extending a hand.
“Pleasure, Miss Tara,” he said with a slight accent as he shook her hand and did a very slight, head bow keeping his eyes on her as he did so.
“I’ll do a spy check,” exclaimed Lock starting to walk away.
Smith nodded at Lock without making any actual eye contact.
Smith looked into Tara’s eyes very intently seeing fear and depression.
“You have no need for fear here young lady,” said Smith reassuringly as he smiled like a father to a child, “…you look so much like Rina, it’s baffling.”
“You…knew my mother?” gasped Tara.
“Yes, she was a wonderful woman. And powerful.”
“I don’t understand.”
Tara looked at Smith puzzled, then looked around for Lock and saw him about fifty yards along the wall peering over it as he climbed the wall. Lock leaped off and began walking toward them. When Smith looked to Lock, Lock nodded assuring Smith all was clear.
“Let’s talk inside,” said Smith as he turned around to the wall and placed his palm on its surface.
The stone surface beneath his hand began to glow a bright yellow and the brick he was touching sank forward into the ones surrounding it and the large bricks began parting and inserting into each other. Tara was in awe over the rotating, vanishing stone pieces; this was the most high-tech display she had ever seen. After several seconds, there was a gaping hole where the stones once stood. Smith stepped aside and swung his arm toward the door, indicating that Tara was to enter. Lock was now at her side; she looked to him.
“It’s okay,” whispered Lock sincerely and gently.
Smith analyzed the mannerisms between the two: what had gone on during the trip back? He looked to Lock after Tara entered, expecting some kind of explanation. Lock just stared intently at Smith.
“I’ll head up the rear,” said Lock looking for any excuse to hang back and just listen.
Smith nodded and entered as Lock took a last look in every direction before he entered backwards, with the stones slowly closing the hole behind him. Tara and Smith walked side-by-side down the long dark corridor that was lit by a single lantern every fifteen feet on the ceiling.
“Don’t trust him?” said Smith without any provocation.
“Who?” questioned Tara.
Smith looked at Tara raising a bushy tan eyebrow and curling his lips.
“He has a habit of getting involved with his missions. Not to mention the maids and errand girls here.”
“Just watch yourself.”
Tara stopped and Smith turned to face her. Lock was now catching up to them. Tara’s eyes were slanted and her brows were sharp.
“I am in a strange dark place standing in front of a man that made a stone wall, a landmark, vanish by touching it. On the other hand, Lock risked his life to save mine. This man is the only person in the world I trust. You knowing my mother’s name will not change that.”
Lock was standing behind Tara, not knowing what prompted this defensive argument on his behalf. Lock gave Smith an annoyed look, a look Smith had undoubtedly seen numerous times.
“Way to make her feel welcome,” said Lock as he placed his hand on her back, “come on Tara, there are nicer people inside.”
As they walked past Smith, Lock purposely slammed his left shoulder into Smith’s right arm pushing him back. They walked onward, with Smith trailing behind; upset with how the welcome had turned out.
“So, this is ‘HQ’,” questioned Tara.
“Yeah,” Lock sighed.
Several minutes later found the trio venturing down the corridor, which had taken on the appearance of a never ending stream of singular lanterns and bricks. Tara swore that she actually saw the same stain on the walls every few feet. They abruptly came to a set of wooden double-doors. Lock hammered his fist against the large doors sending a repeated banging echoing throughout the corridor. The slot in the door opened and through it, two beady, youthful eyes looked out at them.
“Lock! What’s the word?” said the boy.
“The word of the day is ‘Rapier’,” said Lock mechanically like he was signaling for something.
The slot slammed shut and the doors swung open.
“Password?” said Tara.
“Yes,” answered Lock stoically.
“But, if they know you why do they need one?” Tara asked confused.
“Think about it: I get captured, tortured, and forced to bring the Empire here and they use me to get inside and eliminate their threat or ‘rodents’ as they call us.”
“Ah, so you say a different word and BOOM! Returners run out to save you?”
“Something like that, yes. For the record, the distress word is ‘feline’. Got it?”
“Mmmhmm,” hummed Tara.
Lock walked through the doors as Tara followed. Tara’s mouth stood agape as she looked upon the ‘Lair du Returners’. The large room housed a dozen tables ten feet in length, which were currently empty except a few tough-looking men. They were sitting and eating some kind of lumpy soup-like substance.
She looked around the room seeing a kitchen in the far back with three people moving about doing various jobs. One was looking into the cupboards as another was marking things down on a checklist. The third was stirring a large pot on the stove that was larger than the cook herself.
Tara looked along the right wall and saw three doorless entryways no doubt leading to more rooms or the like. On the left wall was a single door marked ‘Returners’. Next to the door an all-black German shepherd lay on his side. He picked his head up from the ground and glanced at Tara for a second before dropping it back down and sighing, which caused his jowls to vibrate. Tara felt claustrophobic as she looked up at the ceiling that barely hung above nine feet.
A young girl of about thirteen years old with blonde pigtails and a dirty, faded pink dress was running towards her. Lock stepped forward and lowered to his knees as the girl ran into his arms giving him a big hug.
“Uncle Lock,” said the pretty little girl, “Your back!”
“That’s right,” said Lock as he stood to his feet smiling down at the little girl,
“This is my new friend, Tara.”
“Hi,” said the girl cheerily, “I’m Sandy.”
“Hello Sandy, nice to meet you,” said Tara bending her body at the waist to bring her head down to the little girl’s level.
”Anything interesting happen in my absence?” asked Lock with a semi-genuine smile.
“Mmmmm, nope! Welcome home Uncle Lock…gotta go! Bye.”
She ran off and into the right doorless entryway and disappeared.
“You gonna show me around?” asked Tara.
“Right, come on.”
Lock started walking through the middle of the room toward the back and through the tables as he introduced her to the men eating.
“Tara, these are some of our soldiers,” began Lock as he pointed at the men as he spoke their names in order from left to right.
“Chuck, our explosives expert.”
Chuck nodded hello with a full mouth of mush. Tara could only see Chuck’s Torso, but could tell he was a very short and stalky man; not the type to be in a hand-to-hand fight, so the explosives expert fit. He wore a tannish tank top with food and gunpowder stains all over it. His face was messy with food around his mouth. His long, six-inch goatee had food in it, as did his stubble-covered head. How do you get food on the top of your head? Thought Tara.
“Lars; one of our best spies…spent a lot of time within the Empire’s walls.”
Lars looked at Tara and grinned respectfully. Lars was sitting up straight with great posture. Though he was sitting, it was obvious he was a tall lanky man and cared about the way he looked. He was clean shaved with his hair combed neatly and his dress shirt, with rolled up cuffs, was sparkling in comparison to the two on either side of him.
“Tomorrow we’re gonna post flyers so everyone knows my secret, right Lock?” said Lars sarcastically, without a trace of humor.
“Alright,” said Lock apologetically.
“And this,” continued Lock avoiding a further argument with Lars, “is Pearl.”
Tara gasped for a moment, a girl? She thought; Pearl didn’t look like a girl with her hair that was shorter than Lock’s and a very seasoned face. She wore no makeup or even showed a hint of regular bathing. Pearl was smoking a rolled cigarette as the introductions were made; when her name came up she rose to her feet; six feet tall with very short white hair.
She was obviously a fan of rings; a ring sat on three fingers of her right hand and two on the left. She wore a big long-sleeved shirt to cover her female figure, which was perfect. Pearl seem very manly, but Tara was surprised at how incredibly beautiful her eyes were. They were the light blue of the cleanest sapphires. Pearl was looking at Tara sternly.
“Pleasure. Lieutenant Pearl Vanhearse. I shall teach you all that you require,” Said Pearl loudly from her diaphragm causing Tara move back a step at her intensity.
“Uhh, actually Pearl, she isn’t a new soldier exactly.”
“Very well,” she said disappointed as she sat back down and finished her cigarette.
“This is Tara, guys.”
The three soldiers grunted as Lock dragged Tara toward the kitchen.
“Pearl is the toughest woman I know, so watch your tone with her,” said Lock quietly to keep Pearl from hearing.
“Kay,” said Tara.
Once in the kitchen, Tara could smell various things especially the fresh bread baking in the coal oven that looked ancient. The three cooks didn’t stop working at her entrance. Lock led her through the kitchen and past the big pot of mush that the soldiers were eating. They were eating it cold and which had smelled ok, but the smell from the pot was like rotting hare and week old tomato sauce. She turned her head in displeasure and followed Lock to where the head cook was mixing something in a bowl that looked like melted pistachios, but probably wasn’t.
She turned as she felt someone behind her, before her stood a short, elderly woman of oriental origin with straw-like black hair reaching down to the small of her back.
“This is Wisco,” said Lock introducing the two, “anything you need, she’ll make.”
Wisco reached in her pocket and pulled out a small case, opened it and removed her tiny glasses that were curved on the bottom and straight on top. She put them on while looking at Tara as she reached out and shook Tara’s hand. Wisco had wrapped both of her tiny hands around Tara’s right hand to do so.
“Preez to mreet you.”
“You to, “said Tara sincerely, “my name is Tara.”
“Rike tha pwanet?”
“Mmhmm, but spelled different,” said Tara referring to their planet which was known as Tara.
Lock put his left hand between Tara’s shoulder blades as he pointed to the other two cooks.
“And this is Carl and Ed.”
“Hello,” they both said in unison.
“Hi,” responded Tara noticing that they were exactly alike; twins.
Lock proceeded to push Tara out of the kitchen and once in the dining room he saw Smith making his way toward them.
“Dammit,” said Lock, not even trying to hide his angry thoughts of Smith.
“Lock!” yelled Smith from across the room, “Bring her to my chambers after you show her the dormitory.”
“Sure!” yelled Lock back at him, then leaned into Tara.
“You’re gonna eat and relax first, of course,” whispered Lock.
“Thank you!” smiled Tara as his sudden compassion for her.
They proceeded through the left entryway hole and into a large room with walls lined with jars and tiny boxes. There are eight empty cots with a large sink in the back that had with a large box of yellow gloves protruding out of it. Only one other person was in this room; a very skinny middle-aged man in scrubs.
“This is the medical room for the injured or sick or as Smith would say: ‘The infirmary’,” said Lock imitating Smith’s deep, accented voice.
Tara giggled quietly to herself, then walked into the infirmary towards a middle-aged man with a handlebar mustache wearing scrubs; she was getting more comfortable as the tour went on.
“Hello,” she said as she extended a hand, “I’m Tara.”
“Ma’am. My name is Dominic but every just calls me ‘Doc’ for obvious reasons. I apologize for the absence of my nurses; Bridget and Helena.”
“I know you’re disappointed. Helena won’t shut up about you since…you know,” he said grinning over at Lock.
Lock rubbed the back of his neck,
“Damn. I was hoping the breakup would be clean and we could just go back to before.”
Tara looked behind her at Lock.
“What happened?” she asked cautiously.
“Well, she wanted me to give up being a soldier.”
“Ah,” said Tara understandingly.
“Anyway,” said Lock, “I’ll show you the woman’s dorm.”
“Kay, “she said, “See ya Doc.”
The doc smiled and waved goodbye.
They were back in the dining area again and they walked past the middle doorway.
“That leads to the training area and the supply room,” said Lock as they entered the right door.
They walked down the hallway leading to the dorms and Tara noticed art all along the walls. The pictures were filled with towns, castles, country side, people done in water colors, and animals of all kinds. Tara stopped to look at beautiful picture of a town with green grasses, flowers, and children playing.
“This is beautiful. What’s this supposed to be?” she asked looking at Lock who also stopped.
“That’s Sangrohl. Three years ago. Come on, Tara,” he said without looking to the picture.
Halfway down the hall was a wooden door; a man emerged from it and walked toward Tara and Lock and smiled at the sight of Lock.
“Hey man! Just getting some grub. What’s out there?” asked the young fit boy. “Rabbit bisque,” answered Lock.
That’s what that was, thought Tara.
“Yippee,” joked the boy sarcastically. They passed the door he came out of and Lock gestured towards it.
“That room is off limits to women; the men’s dorm.”
Tara nodded as Lock looked at her for confirmation of her compliance.
At the end of the hallway stood a wooden door with red painting in the shape of a lioness, Women’s room, thought Tara.
“Man entering!” yelled Lock through the closed door as he knocked with the bottom of his fist.
“Clear!” yelled a female voice from within.
He pushed upon the door for Tara as she entered first. Inside were thirty bunk beds making holding up to sixty people. Each bed had a different colored blanket and various items on the bed tops. The walls were made up of cupboards and closets for storage. At the moment, there were only about a dozen girls in the room; mostly girls that were too young to work or be of any use.
“Come on, there’s someone I want you to meet,” said Lock as he walked to the opposing side of the large room.
They walked along the shiny tile floor and Tara realized that everyone’s possessions were atop their beds because the floor was just finished being cleaned. A young girl, about fifteen years of age, was sitting on her bed reading a book. She looked up from reading as Tara and Lock approached. She slowly creased the top corner of the right page before closing it and placing it on her pillow.
As she stood up to greet the duo, Tara could see she was a petite girl, not more than five and a half feet tall and maybe a hundred pounds soaking wet. She had straight mandarin colored hair hanging at ear level, bright green eyes, rosy lips, and smooth clean skin.
She was dressed in dark green knee-length shorts, a gray tank top, athletic sneakers, black fingerless leather gloves, and a blue bandana tied around her right bicep in a double knot. It looked very much like the one Lock currently wore on his head; in fact they could be identical.
Tara thought back to everyone she had met thus far. She realized that everyone had a blue bandana, either hanging out a pocket or tied to a body part.
“You must be Tara!” said the girl gleefully.
Her voice was bouncy and bubbly like she was a four year old being pushed on a swing. She had the kind of voice that you couldn’t help but smile when she spoke, which is exactly what Tara did.
“Yeah, that’s me,” said Tara happily, Wow, her happiness is contagious, Tara thought.
“I’m Ruth, but call me Ruthie…its way cuter,” giggled Ruthie.
“Okay, I have to go give my report. Ruthie, can you issue her a bed, give her a snack and show her to Smith’s room in about thirty?” chimed in Lock.
“O-ffimative!” saluted Ruthie.
Lock nodded at Tara and walked towards the door and exited the room.
“Handsome, mean Lock. You think he’s cute?” giggled Ruthie.
“Yeah, I guess,” shrugged Tara trying to squash the attraction she felt towards him.
“Anyway,” said Ruthie, “This will be your bed. Right across from me and don't worry I cleaned the sheets and blanket. Do you have any possessions?”
“No,” frowned Tara, “Lock saved me in the middle of the forest and he thought it would be safer to get me here right away. So, I didn’t bother to ask if we could stop at my cabin to pick up a few things. All I have is this!”
Tara reached to the back of her dress and revealed the .45 and pulled the magazines from her skirt pocket on the side.
“Hmmm,” pondered Ruthie, “Well, we have tons of books, blank journals, and clothes. So…”
“Okay,” answered Tara as she placed her .45 and the two refills beneath her pillow.
Ruthie lifted her mattress and retrieved a brown bag.
“Here,” she offered shoving the bag towards Tara.
Tara looked inside; it was some kind of dried meat that had a strong musty smell of wild meat.
“It’s like a steak you can eat with your hands. Very chewy,” explained Ruthie dipping her hand inside to retrieve a piece for herself.
Tara took out a small piece and bit down. She had to pull hard to get it to break in her mouth, but found she was enjoying it.
“Mmm, that’s very good,” said Tara.
“Hey!” said Ruthie loudly, “Check out what else I made.”
Ruthie modeled her gloves for Tara; she clapped her hands together a single time and three sharp two inch studs popped out. She flipped her hands over and banged her wrists together and they retracted.
“Wow,” said Tara as she chewed the dried meat, “You make that for a soldier?”
Ruthie looked at her seriously confused.
“You’re…a soldier? But you’re so young,” she said in surprise.
Ruthie seemed a little offended at the new girl’s comment.
“I’ve got seniority over half the soldiers here! I’ve been fighting since I was six.”
She said this like it was a good thing. Tara looked deeply into her eyes and saw an innocent little child with a happy and pure heart.
“Have…you ever killed anyone?” she asked hoping to hear a negative answer.
“Of course! I’m a soldier! But, don’t worry; they were all Imperial soldiers so I’m not a murderer.”
She began laughing hysterically. Tara didn’t understand, but then again she didn’t know what the Empire’s purpose even was. After all, Tara had been in seclusion for as long as she could remember.
“So,” said Ruthie, “Can I see it?”
“You know…the power? Or will it destroy this room.”
“Why does everyone think I have powers?” whined Tara seating herself on her new bed.
“Cuz you do, honey.”
“Ruthie? Can you tell me all the rumors you’ve heard about me?”