After dinner, Ruthie retired to the women’s designated dorm as Tara hung back to explore her new home. She waited for all to be clear in the dining room before sneaking out to investigate further. She found her way through the door marked ‘Returners.’
The door creaked as Tara opened it slowly and peeked her head into the hall. From beneath the cracks under each door was darkness except for one. Smith’s light was out and that’s all that mattered.
Tara opened the door further and strafed her way through the half-open door shutting it quietly behind her. She tiptoed down the hall stopping at each door to press her ear against them and listen in. She heard a loud vibrating growl as she approached the second door on the left, “CRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!” heard Tara as she pressed her ear to the door. Whoa! That’s some bad snoring, thought Tara as she pulled her ear away and looked at the door that had a name carved into the wood
“Pearl?!” she said to herself.
She clasped her hands over her mouth.
“What are you doing in here?” whispered a voice from behind her.
She turned to face the voice behind her; it was Lock.
“I was…” mumbled Tara just before Lock grabbed her by the arm and drug her to his room and shut the door.
As he was closing the door she just stood in the center of the room facing his back while rubbing her hands, like a child caught red-handed. Lock set the latch on the door and turned to face Tara; his eyes were blood shot with bags beneath them. Tara just looked into his eyes and could tell he was either extremely tired or he was crying earlier which she thought was highly unlikely.
“Now,” said Lock, “Answer my question. What are you doing back here? Did they get to you?”
“Who?” asked Tara.
Lock lunged toward her and grabbed her by both arms.
“You know damn well!” he yelled.
“N-n-n-no. I was just curious, that’s all. And,” she mumbled looking down to the ground, “I wanted to see you.”
Lock released his grip and rolled his eyes as he sat on his bed and looked up at her.
“Don’t, okay? Just don’t. Please go.”
“You can’t say you don’t feel anything and if you don’t let anyone in you’ll die alone and unhappy,” said Tara after a long sigh as she opened the door with her back to him.
She unlocked the latch and as she opened the door a crack she heard Lochs slurred voice.
“Alisa. Ask Ruthie cuz I can’t talk about her anymore. The memories hurt enough.”
Tara turned her head and smiled at Lock as she left his room and shut the door.
When Tara got back to the women’s room she saw it was bustling with activity, there were girls’ playing cards on their beds, a couple writing in notebooks, and even a couple young girls in the corner singing together. She walked past everyone to her bed, which was next to Ruthie’s.
Ruthie was sitting on her bed writing in a tiny leather bound book in her nightclothes; plaid pajama pants and a loose fitting white T-shirt. Tara sat on her own bed next to a pile of folded clothes and looked at them.
“Those are for you,” said Ruthie not looking up from her book, “Thought you might like some clean duds.”
“Thanks Ruthie. Who’s Alisa? Lock said to ask you.”
Ruthie looked up at her with wide eyes as she closed her notebook.
“Alisa? You mean Lock’s ex fiancé?”
“He was engaged? Him?”
“Don’t be so surprised, he may seem cold to you but that’s because you don’t know each other yet. He was cold to me when we first started traveling together when I was just knee high to him even though I’ve known him all my life; it doesn’t mean he doesn’t care. His heart doesn’t extend to his emotions; he hides them very well.”
Ruthie smiled at the thought of back then, “I remember when I had just turned eleven years old. It was right before we joined the Returners and we were in a camp town called Malijo. They welcomed us with open arms when we arrived. Said they always needed workers and that they would treat us ‘right’. So, me and Lock did some manual labor all day long and they fed us and provided shelter. Next thing I knew my hands and feet were bound and I woke up in a dark cave with a small fire with four men looking at me with little doubt what they had in mind. They approached me and attempted to attack me and cut off my clothing and groping me. They even told me the awful, depraved things they intended before cutting my throat. Out of nowhere Lock appeared from within the darkness and….killed them. That part isn’t surprising, but then he untied me and held me for hours. I could feel his tears drop on my shoulder and that’s when I knew that I was family to him. That’s when my little girl crush ended. It’s true, I had a hard crush on him once too. But that faded that evening when I saw him less like a companion and more like a big brother.”
Tara glared at Ruthie trying to convince her, “I don’t have a crush,” said Tara. Ruthie scoffed and continued.
“Him and Alisa were engaged about ten years ago in a little town called Listka,” began Ruthie.
“Listka? He mentioned Listka when we left Sangrohl.” asked Tara.
“That’s where I was born. Lock was actually in the room when I was removed from my mother’s stomach. She died in the process and my father was killed a year later, so Lock has been all I have ever had. Anyway, it took me and Lock years to travel up here where we met the Returners, but that’s a different story.”
“Oh. So, you’ve been through a lot together.”
“Yes,” continued Ruthie. “Anyway, Alisa was the daughter of the town’s blacksmith, Jorgan. They were so in love, Tara. You ever read a story about true love? That’s what it was like; it was like they didn’t need anything but each other. Just about every night you could walk to the ridge at dusk and you would see them watching the sunset or each other.”
Tara smiled as she heard Ruthie tell the story, but she was also sad for Lock. Obviously it ended, but it still had aroused some jealousy in her.
Ruthie’s eyes were glossy with forming tears from the memories of their past.
“I was very little, but I remember thinking she was the most beautiful person I had ever seen. I wanted to be her. She had blonde hair as gold as stardust, glowing green eyes with thick eyelashes, and a firm slender body that would make any man’s flesh emit steam. That part was out of Lock’s character, he enjoys a ‘meatier’ gal,” giggled Ruthie, winking at Tara.
“But it wasn’t Alisa’s physical beauty that captured Lock’s heart. They just had a magnetic attraction to each other; they could talk about nothing for hours or… do nothing for hours.”
Ruthie’s nostalgic smile faded.
“Then, with four weeks till the wedding, it happened.”
“What? What happened?”
“Lock and his would-be bride went for their usual afternoon walk along the northern shores of Listka. A short time later Lock returned to Listka with Alisa cradled in his arms unconscious from a sting from a sand mantis. The stinger rose from under the sand and spiked her through the back and into her heart. The doctor couldn’t bring her back, no matter what he tried. She was in a comma till the day he left. It was a sad day, made worse by Lock’s banishment from the town by her father. Jorgan had the power, he was the town’s founder. Lock left the next morning.”
“But, I thought you and Lock…” questioned Tara.
“Yes, I ran away a week later and found the camp Lock had made for himself. After a year of exploring the entire island we decided it was time to see more of the world; we had had enough of the island of Listka. ‘How big is our world,’ I had asked Lock. He smiled and told me we should find out. So, we made a boat and sailed north to the southern point of this continent.”
“Wow, poor Lock,” said Tara shaking her head from side to side.
“So, you’ve seen a lot,” said Tara.
“Yup, and a lot more to see. I’d like to see the western continent one day. I’ve heard stories of large ruins made of steel and glass.”
“Hmm, weird.” Said Tara.
Tara rummaged through the pile of folded clothes on her bed and found a teal blue nightgown with short sleeves. She was a naturally shy girl, so she went into the bathroom to change and wash her face.
She got into bed and read a few pages from the book Ruthie had given her. She read about the INO (Internal Neuron Osmosis), which enabled people to use their mind to alter the elements to their advantage. As she read on she learned that the INO started with the ‘cloning’ of living beings. My ancestors weren’t born into this world? They were created? thought Tara confused. She folded the book and laid herself down on her bed and felt the soft pillow under her head and slowly fell asleep.
Tara was awakened the next morning by the sound of the dorm’s inhabitants moving about the hard cold floor. In her sleep, Tara had rolled to face the wall that her bed was pushed up against. She let out a long-winded yawn and rolled to face her friend, who was in her pajama pants and nothing else.
“Oh god! Sorry… sorry… sorry,” exclaimed Tara as she attempted to cover her eyes with her sheet.
“Wow,” giggled Ruthie aloud, “you really are as shy as you look.”
Ruthie pulled on her tube top underwear followed by her shirt.
“Okay, it’s safe,” laughed Ruthie sarcastically.
Tara turned to look at the now fully clothed Ruthie who was wild-eyed and giggling at Tara’s red tomato-like face.
“You look like a radish Ter,” exclaimed Ruthie, “I’ll be in the dining room; breakfast in ten. If you want you can change in the restroom over there. Make sure you check in the cupboards for people waiting to see you naked,” laughed Ruthie, slipping her leather gloves into her pockets as she left for the dining room.
Tara emerged from her bed and began rustling through the stacks of clothes left on her bed the night before, which she placed on the floor before retiring. She loves dresses and skirts and ribbons and anything girlie, but was disappointed at the pile of clothes. They mostly consisted of nothing she normally wore; fatigues, vests, gloves, hats, and boots.
Tara sighed and grabbed random objects then headed for the bathroom to change. She entered, closed the door behind her and locked both the knob and the security bolt. She stripped down to nothing and grabbed a piece of underwear bottoms and slipped them on.
“Okay, what to wear?” said Tara said to herself as she stood looking at the pile, “This isn’t too bad,”
Tara held up a pair of dark green Capri pants with zipped pockets on either side. She continued rummaging through the articles of clothing until she found something girlie; a purple wire bra.
“Hmm, too bad no one will ever see it,” sighed Tara as she slipped her arms through the straps and closed the clasp.
She went back to the clothes.
“Really? No bright colors at all?” sulked Tara.
She angrily grabbed a black tank top and slipped it on before going over to the mirror to model for herself; she looked at herself in the mirror.
“Hmm, not bad. At least I look thinner in black.”
She grabbed the hair tie from around her left wrist and placed it between her teeth while she gathered all her long hair in her right hand and slipped on the hair tie with her left.
The ponytail really made everything else work in her eyes. She went to the sink and washed her face. To the left of the sink was a shelf with folded towels and toiletries.
After brushing her teeth she returned to her bed to retrieve her weapon and the two magazines. She placed them on the bed next to her as she sat down to put on the big military boots. She looked down at the boots hoping they would transform into cute little sandals magically.
“Excuse me,” said a small voice a few feet away, “Here, these might be of some use to you.”
Tara looked to her left and saw a young girl about the same age as Ruthie with pitch-black hair and bronze skin. The girl handed Tara athletic jogging shoes and a pistol holster that would simply slip into her belt making her .45 easy to access.
“Thank you miss-“asked Tara.
“Jojo, nice to meet you,” said Jojo just before walking away and leaving the dorm.
Tara was now the last one in the room. She tied the shoes and stood up to attach the holstered gun to her hip and placed the refills in her side pockets zipping them up.
When Tara finally got into the dining room, she discovered Ruthie in same spot as the night before with the same people. She sat down at the vacant seat where a steaming bowl of oatmeal was sitting and looked around at the familiar faces. Clyde’s bowl sat next to his shining spoon with his face buried in it while Pearl, Ruthie, and Ray ate with a little more dignity.
“Uh, where’s Lock?” asked Tara.
“Mission in Pan’dier,” said Pearl.
“Yeah,” added Ray, “Reconnaissance. Chuck and Lars are in Cormire getting supplies.”
Tara’s face was blank.
“Lock is gathering information on the empire,” explained Ruthie in a non-derogative way, “He’s not much for goodbyes. Don’t be offended.”
“Why is everyone else here? Shouldn’t he have help if the Empire’s involved,” asked Tara.
Ray just glared at Tara as he chewed his slop.
“He didn’t have help to retrieve you,” he said.
“Hmm,” said Pearl with a sharp grin, “I see what’s going on.”
Clyde finally lifted his face out of his bowl.
“What?” Ruthie smiled.
“It’s a girl thing.” Tara was worried, I hope he’s okay, she thought.
Pearl slammed her spoon into her bowl and stood up angrily.
“Alright! Clyde, Ray, let’s go.”
Ruthie stood and hugged Clyde.
“I will,” said Clyde kissing Ruthie on the cheek.
“Where you guys off to?” asked Tara standing up out of respect for their trip.
“Turklane,” said Ray adjusting the collar of his trench coat, “We have gotten reports that the imperials have removed a good percentage of their men from Turklane; so this is our chance to liberate the town.”
Tara nodded and noticed a metal gadget protruding out of Ray’s sleeve attached to his arm.
“How do you know they left?” she asked.
“We have a reliable source, let’s go!” said Pearl urging Ray and Clyde to go quickly.
“Well, good luck,” said Tara waving goodbye as they headed for the door guarded by the same boy that received the password from Lock the day before.
The boy opened the door for Pearl, Clyde, and Ray as he nodded ‘good luck’ to them.
“Got it!” said Pearl assuring the boy she now knew the daily password.