The ride back was englufed in deathly silence; Katie long passed out from pain, Beddard afraid to even look at me. My eyes stayed focused out the window, searching for any new enemies whom might be foolish enough to try and attack me now. The Jade they knew, the one Chris loved, was gone, destroyed by grief and left to thrive on anger. Vengeance filled my lungs with each painful breath I took as we pulled up to the guards for Beddard to pass the signal.
"How are we going to tell them about...." Beddard began, but quickly cut himself off as I opened the door and jumped out of the still moving humvee. We weren't going that fast, so I barely had to roll to catch myself as I used the forward momentum to bring my blade down on the unsuspecting undead lingering in the brush not thirty feet away from the camp. There was a cheer from the family at the humvee's return which didn't make my nerves any calmer.
"What's Jade doing?" Sergeant Shaw's voice inquired while I turned and held up the dead boy's head by the hair, "What kind of guards to we have again?" Throwing it at his feet, my body brushed past him while the large black man cleared his throat, "Well done Jade, one must have just slipped by. Now, let's get Johnson out here and see what you all collected yes?"
My blue eyes caught him in a fridged stare, causing his ebony gaze to widen while I slithered past the crowd of welcoming arms. Clutching my sword to my side, my feet led me to the tent Chris and I shared where our sleeping bags hadn't been disturbed since this morning. My knees folded down while the blankets let out a familar swoosh from my boots. Closing my eyes, I waited until the outraged cries confirmed the news of my lover's passing.
"What are we going to do now?"
"What about protection?"
"Are we still going to move?"
A fresh wave of disgust pulsated through me. Was that all they cared about? Their own protection?! But then, I knew Chris was so much more than any of us understood. While we had older, more experienced sergeants, Chris's natural leadership was a crutch most of the camp depended on. My fingers grasped the pillow we had shared the night before, his wooden scent still lingering as if to bombard me with unwanted memories.
Most of me wanted to curl up and savor that smell, wallow in the consuming grief I felt. Would anyone really be surprised? Wouldn't they expect me to crumble under the loss I felt? Would it be so bad to just give up? But as I reached down to clutch his pillow to myself, my katana pressed into my leg reminding me of the destruction I had wrought only hours ago. No, I wasn't some sniveling child nor a lost romantic.
Clutching my fingers around the hilt of my blade, a now familiar anger pulsed through me like molten lava. I wasn't helpless without my partner. I was a warrior, damn it! I was the woman Chris loved. The one who shot a bullet through his head and came out numb afterwards. I wouldn't fold in on myself like a weakling, never would I disgrace his memory that way.
"Jade? Do you want to talk?" Agular's voice inquired through the tent. Standing firmly on my feet, I pushed my way out of the tent and past her moist eyes which followed after me sadly. Head held high, I walked through the group of inquiring eyes, clutching my katana to my side as if it were my last life line. There were whispers all around me, pity filled concerns about my well being, how I looked, none of them suspecting I would hear.
My feet felt as if I were walking through mud and with the recent storm clouds, it was a good possiblity I would be soon. There were three members in the east corner of the camp; Doc crouched over Katie, popping her leg back into place and the man I needed to see above all others. Sergeant Shaw's gigantic frame blocked out half of Katie's body, but from the way she groaned and gasped past the stick she was biting, I knew the worst was almost past her.
The sound of my footsteps caught his attention as sergeant Shaw turned, his dark gaze meeting mine with all the sadness and concern a father could contain as he reached out his arms to me, "Oh Jade, I'm....I'm so sor..." But I raised my hand up to cut him off, "We need to move, tomorrow at dawn. We have a fresh supply stock so there is no need to waste any more time here. No more waiting."
He looked at me with new eyes, "Fine." My gaze flickered to Katie's painfilled face, "Get her taken care of. The last thing we need is her screaming during the move. We are already limited on our fighters." Doc's smokey eyes looked from me to Katie before he nodded silently. I turned to pack up my tent and stoke the fire, but stopped when I heard sergeant Shaw's gravely voice, "Jade...what are you right now?"
"Whatever I have to be." With that, I proceeded on, ignoring the comforting arms who tried to reach out to comfort me. I didn't want their pity, I didn't desire their love, weapons aren't in need of all that. But the question of what I was becoming did echo in my mind. Was I even real anymore? Did I want to be or would it be easier to forget the happiness I knew in Chris's arms?
Night fell deftly over us, no one really making that much noise other than the sound of pots clammering together and tents being packed away. It would be a tight squeeze, but with the three people we lost, not impossible to fit all the supplies and passengers into the two mighty humvees. I would ride up top, keeping watch for the undead or the rebels whom I had in no way forgotten about.
My eyes scanned the darkness for any intruders thinking they were brave enough to cross the boundries and attack our group. Let them come, I was ready. From the moon's position, I guessed it was about five in the morning, dawn wouldn't be far away and I did intend to move when we had even a sliver of light. A faint sound of footsteps crept upon me, as if they were nervous of disturbing me.
"I know you're there." My clipped tone replied as a sigh answered me, "I know that. I was worried you would lop my head off if I made too much noise." My eyes didn't leave the boundries when Doc came to stand beside me, a bowl of steaming soup in one hand, "I brought you some dinner. If you're willing to take your hand from that blade long enough to recieve it."
It was true, I hadn't let up on my vice like grip since taking over watch earlier in the evening. I didn't feel right without it, "I'm not hungry." He sighed and leaned against a tree, "You need to eat if you're going to fight today. Can't have you passing out, can we?"
"You are expecting a fight?" I inquired, the smell of his soup causing my stomach to flip. He answered quietly, "I don't know what to expect anymore, so I've come to accept the worst. At least then I can't be disappointed." The logic sounded familiar, if not depressing, though it was never more fitting than at that moment. If I didn't hope, if I didn't feel, then I wouldn't be hurt again. Numbness was better than breaking.
"Aren't you going to offer me words of condolence?" Doc asked quietly, a faint smirk reaching his lips when my eyes finally pulled away from the boundries to look at him, "No, because I know now that it doesn't mean anything. Does it?" He shook his head, smokey blue eyes locking with mine, "It really doesn't. But I will say this, I feel comatose without her. At first it felt as if ever fiber of my being was being burned away at the same time. Then, just like a cauterized wound, all I felt was numb."
"Isn't it easier like that though? To not feel anything, versus pain?" He shrugged and placed the bowl down at my feet before replying, "Maybe, but ask yourself this; is that what they would have wanted for us? Did they love us for nothing if that is all we are to become?"
The words struck something in me. A feeling of torment stormed within, but I quickly replaced it with apathy. Doc had the luxury of falling apart, of feeling however he wanted. I had a job to do, the mission was what mattered now. And with daylight about to break over the mountains, my thoughts were drawn to a far more deadly conclusion; what if all of this was for nothing? What if we all died without reaching the valley? What if Chris was just ahead of the game?
My already sore fingers gripped harder as I cursed myself, "No, I won't accept failure. The mission is what's important. I'll see this through until the end." When the first beams of sunlight peeked over the horizon and lit my still frame, I turned off the last bit of emotion I felt. This would end today, one way or another, an end was truly near.
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