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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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Hidden Sunlight - 11. Innocence Lost

"Our friend Konstantin spoke of you," Hartley told me, the Russian nodding at this. "He told me you were in a spot of trouble. How fortunate that you've come through it."

'Fortunate'? The cynical double meaning was intended for me and me alone; it was a hidden message, a smiling riposte. Fuck your 'fortunate' and the horse it rode in on. Sofia should have taken lessons from this guy. His eyes revealed no clues and his face was a poker player's dream. There was nothing to give him away, and were it not for that single mention that Le Renard had made, I wouldn't have known. Comparing him physically to an actor was one thing, but Hartley had it in him to play the role as well. Any role at all, it seemed. Right then that role was 'Wolf In Sheep's Clothing.'

He ordered his officers to bring us here. They would have informed him I escaped yesterday and now here I am, right where he wants me. He knows who I really am and I'm positive he has realised that recognition is mutual.

I've got to get us out of here. The sooner, the better.

"Uh, yeah," I shrugged, ignoring the flagrant nervous tension that had inserted itself into my thoughts. "It was real fortunate." I looked directly at Konstantin, trying to catch his eye. "Uh, can I talk to you privately? Please."

Need to warn him. Convince him at least.

"Of course." The Russian tilted his head to Hartley apologetically. The man smiled graciously in understanding and without a word, stepped away, back to the computer terminal they were attempting to break into. Konstantin took my arm and led us to the corridor.

"What's wrong, Shay?" He was unconcerned, unaware.

"It's Hartley," toned down to a half whisper. I swallowed anxiously. "Do you know who he is?"

He looked back at me puzzled, a frown inching onto his placid expression, thick eyebrows pushing down in consternation. "Miles?" A curious uncertainty. "I met him in this area before, about two months ago. Nearly shot him actually, before I realised he wasn't totally barbaric and homicidal like most survivors in the wilds. He's a sort of tech splicer, is the best term, and scout, for a group way up near Fibonacci, away northwest." Konstantin gave a noncommittal palms-up gesture. "We compared notes, traded information. For a chance encounter it was about as lucky as I could hope for."

Too lucky. "That's not really who he is."

"What do you mean?"

"The group that Federico told us about, that León was passing information to? He's part of it."

Doubt spread across his face. "Are you sure?" His voice was slow and his hand grasped my arm as he spoke, his head forward, looking me in the eye much as my father had when he was sure I was mistaken about something. "Shay, you've never met him before. Miles isn't one of those men."

"He is." I was insistent. "Konstantin, he's not just part of that group, he's the leader!" My voice was a furious whisper. Not sure how big this window of opportunity will be, I need to convince him. "We have to get out of here. I'm serious."

Hartley's voice came from in the room. "I don't mean to interrupt, but the help has arrived. Konstantin, I'd appreciate your attendance."

"Help? What is that about?" The Russian mused. "Listen, I am sure this is a mixup, but we can talk about it after this, okay?"

"Konstantin, this is important! We have to leave n-"

"Enough, Shay." His interruption was a stern warning. "After this, I promise you. It can wait a few seconds."

Then he was back into the room, trailing me behind him.

No!

"Help?" Konstantin called across to the other man. "What help is this?"

Hartley was by the room's window, and he motioned us over. "Oh, just some friends of mine I asked to lend a hand." He nodded at the carpark, fully visible from the window's vantage point. "Here they are right now."

Cautiously, I leaned forward. Two vehicles were parked below. They must have just pulled up and killed the engines, as men I didn't recognise were climbing out of the far vehicle. Next to the closer one, a tall thin figure was leaning rakishly against it, smoking a cigarette. Le Renard flicked the butt onto the ground and glanced up at the window. His mouth twisted into a cool half-smile and his hand raised up in a jaunty mocking wave, his eyes watching me.

Ah ... fuck.

Hartley turned to us, the indistinguishable poker-face still comfortably in place. "You must meet them. I very much insist."

It was too late.

The trap had been sprung.

-o-0-O-0-o-

Being surrounded by people I didn't know and had zero affinity for was never at the top of my list of priorities. It was even less desirable when they were standing around us with weapons on full display; nothing being pointed directly but knowing that it was unnecessary since we were outgunned and outnumbered. The four soldiers were dressed no differently than any I had seen at the base those few days back, though these were wearing combat helmets that obscured their heads completely, making them faceless minions. Mira was unperturbed at their arrival, taking it all in his stride, but Carlos seemed very taken aback, his fists clenched, a fiery anger in his eyes belying how still he was holding himself.

However, the final two to enter were anything but unrecognisable.

Le Renard was the same as I remembered him; a cruel, cold, arrogant bastard. No change on that count. However, behind him was another man who set the bar even higher for physical intimidation. While Konstantin was both tall and heavily built, the stereotypical Russian bear, this man was bigger. Maybe half a foot higher and stacked like a professional wrestler on growth hormones, his physique was as bulky as Konstantin's, only with a greater ratio of muscle mass.

Simply put, he was fucking huge.

Like the others he was wearing the same uniform, rolled up around his massive arms. Hair was shaved very close to the scalp, a bristly mustache adorning his upper lip. His face was sweaty and red in the warmth and where Le Renard was cold as ice, this guy was simplistically easygoing. A rather offputting 'if you fuck with me, I will easily snap you in half without working up a sweat, so let's make this all calm and rational' look was on his face, and it persisted even after he surveyed the room and what it contained. He was definitely Germanic, to the point of being a caricature, and it left me with no doubt to his identity.

That must be Klaus.

The Frenchman and the giant with him both stopped in front of Hartley and saluted him. Miles dismissed the formality with a flick of his brow. Then, to Konstantin: "I would think you're quite angry with me."

The Russian had been standing next to me this entire time, gobsmacked. His voice sounded stressed and the accent seemed particularly pronounced, as if the emotional distaste was pushing it to extremity. "Angry is a good description," spat Konstantin. He pointed a finger at Miles. "You are a deceiver. Not the good man I considered you."

"I am sorry," Hartley replied, whilst not looking even slightly sorry. Sorry my ass. You're in exactly the place you want to be right now. "The end is justified by the means, though. I have done worse than trick a fellow survivor for gain." A pleased smile. "This is the time for a new introduction, I fear."

Gesturing to the Frenchman and the enormous mountain of humanity beside him;"You have already met my two deputies, Le Renard and Klaus von Eichel." The German nodded benignly, and interjected a simple affirmation of 'Ja' before Hartley continued. He gave a graceful sweeping bow. "I am Lieutenant Colonel Miles Hartley, commanding officer of the 3rd Aurum Tactical Assault Regiment or the 'Lucere Liberators' as we came to call ourselves a number of years back."

Lucere Liberators? I had thought these men were some mercenary paramilitary group, but they were actually a splinter of the Lucere military that was still operating. Holy shit. A surviving military unit with a functioning command structure after this long. Credit for tenacity was due, if nothing else.

"Incidentally, I am the most senior officer in command and by the law of military succession, that makes me Marshall of the Army. Since martial law is still technically in place, I am also sole executor of governance until civilian order can be restored." He gave a 'what can you do' shrug of sheepish whimsy. "Quite legit, you can find it all in the Articles of Constitution. I don't like to brag, but it does make me de-facto ruler of the entire planet."

Konstantin grunted disdainfully. "I suppose you think that God made you his right hand also and that you can kill, loot and act as you please because you have the moral authority to do so."

Miles laughed, the sound oddly musical to my ears. "Don't be absurd. I have the moral authority because of a legal loophole that's simple to abuse for the sake of legitimacy. It's symbolic, but conveniently so." He breathed in heavily and spread his arms. "That is why I can kill, loot and do as I please. That, and the fact that there isn't any human resistance with the means to stop me." A pause. "Though I'm sure if there is a god, he would approve of the righteous quest to purge the world of apocalyptic disease. So really, isn't it a win for me either way?"

Not waiting for a rejoinder to the rhetorical question, Hartley continued on. His eyes came to rest on my face and I drew in a sharp breath. I had considered other individuals I had met so far on Lucere dangerous, but this man had stepped into a category above them all. Physical power, psychotic disposition, devious intelligence or just plain cruelty were threatening attributes, but Hartley was worse than that for one reason. He seemed to combine all those things together in some measure but I could see in him more than that; he was ambitious, manipulative and above all, had a diabolical ruthless edge, a will to use anyone for his own ends.

Dangerous.

His attention wasn't something I wanted but it also wasn't something I could now avoid. "It was completely true when I said it was a pleasure to meet you, Shay. Not merely because you are uniquely disease immune but also because there are so many curious things about you." His hand came up to rub his jaw congenially and he gave me a warm smile. The sentiment made me want to soften my distrust and hatred of him, it seemed so genuine, but I immediately tempered that with caution. He's ... damn good. Don't be fooled. Don't let him play with your feelings or your thoughts.

"For example," he went on, "I was transcribing your file into my personal log, and the computer apparently runs an archival sub-routine that checks personnel files against stored official data, to cross reference the file with whatever else it can find. You know, it shouldn't find anything at all, since, well, there hasn't been anyone recording official data for a long long time. You though? The military kept duplicates of customs records amongst other things. Tell me, does the name Tethys sound at all familiar?"

Tethys? I don't think I know it. Maybe it was ... oh ... wait. No- ... no! I couldn't help but frown, even as I wished I hadn't displayed any response at all. Oh shit. He knows. He fucking knows!

"Ah." Hartley nodded in confirmation, the look on my face betraying my intention to not say anything. "I thought as much. You see, the Tethys was a shuttle registered under the Space Transit Authority, based in Galbraith and Aspira. The passenger manifest listed a 14 year old boy named Shay Andersen arriving in the capital on 9 February 2104 and obtaining an entry visa for Lucere. Quite a staggering coincidence, don't you agree?"

Oh god, I'm in trouble.

"So that makes you the odd one out here, in more ways than one. We have the best the old world has to offer," gesturing to the room and the people in turn as he spoke the appropriate demonym. "By chance perhaps, but a showcase if you will. French, German, Russian, British, Spanish." He paused on Carlos. "You're his whelp aren't you? Interesting that you came to be aligned with these folks, the Judas instinct must run strong." Then to me, without breaking his verbal flow. "But of course, you stop that trend. American descent and not European. Isn't that always the inclination of your forebears through history? A spoiler of events."

A spoiler? What does that even mean? For some reason, it pissed me off enough for me to reply, the fear ignored. "Descent? I'm not descended, I am American! A citizen of the United States, a citizen of Earth!"

"Quite." Cordial and aware. "I know that, I just wanted to hear you admit it."

I ... hate this guy.

He turned lastly to Mira. "You though. You are elusive." The boy didn't say anything, of course, and his mask of neutrality was just right, as always. He had been fixed on the lieutenant colonel the entire time, not even looking at Le Renard or Klaus, and I knew that he was doing some kind of evaluation, some kind of mental judgement. I understood Mira's desire and then it was simple; 'if I see an opening, I am going to eliminate you first, before anyone else.' It goes without saying I feel better Mira is here but something makes me very uncomfortable about the way Hartley looks at him. Almost like they're on the same level, in some way.

"Just what is it you want?" Konstantin broke into Hartley's monologue. "If you engineered this whole thing, then what's the point?"

"The same as you." He nodded to the computer terminal. "Our goals aren't mutually exclusive. I am not after medical data, however. Mine is more 'intelligence' you could say."

Intelligence? From Volkov? Going to take a stab in the dark here. Improvise. The Frenchman was looking for specific information from me when I met him, remember? So, Hartley must be after the same thing. Follow that lead. "Wouldn't have anything to do with the inhibitor locations, would it?"

Hartley stopped his articulation, blinking as his train of thought was derailed. Caught off guard, just for a moment. Oh god, it does! It was what I needed to see; a sliver of hope. Yes! Use that! Make it work. What drives him is knowledge, he's sold on the 'knowledge is power' idea so ... play on it. I swallowed and forged on. "So, I'm sure you want to know how I survived from 2104 to 2318. I'm not going to tell you about that unless you share information on the inhibitor locations."

He gave me a long, slow look. "There is nothing to stop me lying."

"Nothing to stop me lying either," I countered.

His even gaze slipped into amusement. "Indeed there isn't," he concurred. A thoughtful nod and then: "Very well, a gentleman's agreement. I keep my word and you keep yours." Miles walked across and offered me a hand, an inverted repeat of when we met. I shook. "Don't be concerned I will break it, I am not the boundless cad you may think I am. An accord is an accord."

I nodded. I can accept that, but I will hear what he has to say first before I know for sure.

"So, the inhibitor locations." Hartley glanced across at Le Renard. "It was you, wasn't it?" How the fuck does he know? He's either got a brilliant mind for matching up details or he's a fucking psychic.

The Frenchman had the minimal amount of decency to look sorry. He gave a lackadaisical shrug. Mournful, almost. "Désolé, monsieur."

Miles waved it away. "Ce n'est pas important." Then to me. "It's well enough known that the Sharpe virus works at different speeds in different people before it breaks out and mutates them. If it wasn't for this latency, the planet would be lost as the virus would move too quickly and no humans would be left. What isn't so well known is that this is the result of geography. The inhibitor locations are exactly what they sound like; places where the virus is inhibited and grows much slower than everywhere else."

Whoa!

Lily was right. It was all beginning to fit into place. This goes back to the very first conversation I had with them not long after we met. The inhibitor locations are places that slow the virus. Compare that with what Lily told me, that aemfid was linked to the virus somehow and that the phenomenon was just the visible result of some yet-undetectable force. Later too, that based on the GSPI data, she thought aemfid was happening more often at certain 'geophysical locations' on the surface of the planet and the conclusion isn't hard to see.

Wow.

The unseen force, the same one responsible for causing aemfid, was powering these inhibitor locations. Cause and effect.

It was slowing the Sharpe virus down.

Hartley would know this. He has to. There's a lot more he's not saying, but he has kept to his word. He's told me what I asked.

"So, that is why I'm here," he conceded. "There are secrets hidden all over the planet in places like this. I shouldn't need to say how crucial it is to discover where all these locations are. I will uncover them for a greater purpose." Then, a beat. "Now, your end of the agreement, Shay. Do explain your origins."

Here goes.

"There isn't much to say." I ran a hand through my hair. "Um, I came here for medical treatment. To this place -- Volkov -- when it wasn't a ruin. I was put into suspended animation for the treatment. It was temporary, but somehow I came out of it now, waking up in these times. I don't even know how it happened."

Hartley was staring at me, fascinated. So was almost everyone else in the room for that matter. The scrutiny was unnerving, but I ignored it. "Really." His voice was low and smooth, the word lengthened in haunted attraction. The handsome face evaluated me, the sharpness of his intellect seeming to pierce my thoughts as if they weren't even there. "You are something different. Volkov was even busier twisting the limits of science than I thought." He gave a hmph of contemplation. "No matter. It's time to wrap this up and do what we are here to do. Your circumstances can be investigated fully after."

Turning back to the soldiers, he addressed Klaus. "I trust the cargo managed to arrive safely and properly attended, unlike the prisoners?"

"Ja." The big man nodded curtly. Thick and heavy, the German tone was so strong it was cartoonishly distinct. "As you command sir, we bring four with us."

"Good. Let us waste no more time."

-o-0-O-0-o-

Breaking into the computer system didn't take long after Hartley's tech guy began work on it. The soldier hacked through the protections in place in next to no time and Hartley immediately told Konstantin to find the information he was after. There was nothing surprising about that to me, because as he knew it, we were his prisoners and that information was as good as his anyhow. Miles followed Konstantin after he was done, ransacking the Volkov files for his own purpose.

Then, we were all escorted downstairs.

Le Renard was Mira's custodian, Klaus was with Konstantin; one of the soldiers, who were apparently from the Liberators' Theta group, was with Carlos and Hartley himself was with me. In the lobby, the other soldiers had unloaded the 'cargo' that had been mentioned and my apprehension turned to concern when I realised what that cargo was.

Four sharpelings were chained to the wall, thick metal bolts anchoring the tethers to the surface. The other end was connected to a collar around each sharpeling's neck. Though there were nearly a dozen people present, the creatures were all sitting subdued and sluggish, like they were too tired or depressed to move. They didn't even stir when we entered, staying put. The collars were thick rings of electronics embedded into metal, with a number of protrusions and blinking LED-type lights on display. It was clear the collars were keeping the sharpelings docile and submissive, though for what purpose, I didn't know.

Hartley walked into the middle of the lobby and glanced the sharpelings over. "One cannot deny that they are remarkable, as prolific and formidable as they may be. We will find out just how far that goes soon enough, but first: this situation is to end, once and for all."

"This is how it will go." He turned, folding his arms across his chest. Dignified, striking, magnificent. The epitome of control. "Konstantin, you are valuable and I will use your experience and knowledge to ensure an eventual practical solution to the Sharpe virus. You," he indicated to Carlos, "have the makings of a soldier about you and no doubt you will find that position hard but rewarding; certainly a better life than struggling on your own in this land. Shay, you are beyond valuable. Priceless, I dare say. Whatever secrets you hold, I will find them all. That leaves only you." To Mira. "Innately skilled. Unpredictable. Uncontrollable. A quandary, to be sure. There is, however, a solution to this problem."

His voice came to me, compelling my attendance. Imperious, remote, indisputable, but somehow still fair, a benign dictator on a shining throne. "Shay, look at me."

I looked at him.

"He watches you like a hawk, drifts behind you like a shadow. I would say you are as close to him as any two boys might get. Perhaps closer." Pause. "However, you are just that: a boy. A lost confused young man playing with forces beyond his capacity to control and understand. Innocent and naive, but for scarce longer." His eyes refused to let me go and I stared back, an odd sick feeling brewing inside my chest. "I want you to look at me Shay, so I can see your mind, your heart. You will remember this day, this moment, forever."

"What moment?" I whispered.

"The moment your friend dies."

I heard the sound first and tore my eyes away in time to see the tip of the blade emerge out of Mira's torso, Le Renard's left hand was on his left shoulder, the right driving it from behind. The boy looked down at the perforation in confusion, then up, directly at me.

Telling me he loved me.

Pleading.

Imploring.

Begging for forgiveness.

A moment stamped into my soul for all eternity.

Then the blade retracted and Mira fell forward, slumping onto the floor.

Dead.

-o-0-O-0-o-

There was no sound, no light in the world. The colour had drained away and vaguely I knew that people were shouting. There was nothing else though. No coherent thought, no viable emotion. Just a narrow tunnel of perception, a body lying on the floor. Stab wound in the middle of his back, eyes shut, peacefully asleep.

Asleep.

I couldn't look at anything else. There was nothing else right then.

My vision was growing darker, the edges of it regressing into putrid blackness, the focus narrowing into an emphatic inky delineation. Everything was tinged with red and I identified an emotion, a feeling, that I could understand in the impossible dearth of everything else. Rage. A clear single-minded rage that was unlike anything I had known before.

Sound came, but it was only the thump of my heartbeat and the in-out of my breathing. Those two things were the entire world; they were as loud as earthquakes, as booming as thunder, as rushing as a typhoon. Next to them, the rage grew greater and with it came a host of other things, dragged along but subsumed still beneath the overpowering desire for vengeance.

Then it happened.

Superimposed over the real world, a lens of ethereal vision. Where it came from and how it appeared I did not know, but it was there. Everything had a second layer to it, another skin and a fleshing of the same kind. Golden warmth, invisible and intangible, was everywhere in the air and upon the ground and through the people and the walls. It highlighted and imbued reality. It even drifted through the sharpelings, but it did not mesh with them, their bodies. My hands, my skin, my whole being was lit up with it.

I was a beacon, aglow with transformative glory.

As the hurt spiralled further inside me, into an infinite spire of solid wrath, it reached some kind of boiling point and my mind, coalescent with it, acted. The crimson fury of my wounded self, the core of what had been pushed upon me, exploded in an unseen nova of power.

Kill them.

Kill them.

My breath came faster and my vision narrowed to binocular acuity, my pulse driving my rage with unmatched predatory hunger.

Kill them. Kill. Kill. Kill ... kill ... kill ... kill ... killkillkill.

The golden energy coursed outwards, inundating the sharpelings. It embedded into them. Torturing them. Burning them. Eating at their minds, their docility, their instincts, their desires, their imperatives, their very flesh and blood.

Burn in body, burn in spirit.

Burn and kill. Burn ... and kill.

KILL THEM.

In the space of a moment, all four went berserk. Imprisoned in a cage of subservience, the horrific acidic pain, eating at them, forced them to their feet. Anguished howls exploded through the room, soundless to me, and together they were thrashing, tearing at their bonds like mindless wraiths from the deepest pit of hell. The chains ripped from the walls, the collars as useless as if they were paper and plastic. One sharpeling froze, consumed by the horrendous conflicting forces grasping at it. With horrifying speed, the three others followed where my will pushed them, to Le Renard. The bystanding soldiers, frantic and surprised, were ignored, and they leaped on top of him; frenzied, ravenous, and driven by an insane desire for blood.

Make. Him. DIE.

I could not hear him screaming as they tore him limb from limb, but his mouth was open as the teeth and claws punctured and rent his flesh three ways at once. The room was devolving into a mess of confusion and fear, and the mutilated body of the Frenchmen was not even fully dismembered before the sharpelings were abandoning it. The blood-craze was not done and it demanded every soldier as payment, to sate the hunger, to remove the torment I was visiting upon their wretched forms.

In the chaos of scattering personnel and desperation, one of the soldiers, terrified for his life, threw a concussion grenade. The blast threw us to the ground, and I was stunned. Struggling to stand a few dozen seconds later, the lobby was cleared of nearly everyone; two soldiers were mauled and dead on the ground, Klaus and Hartley had fled to the vehicles, the sharpelings were gone in pursuit, and Konstantin was helping me upright, my ears ringing. Carlos was on the other side, supporting, and together they pulled me away from the Volkov Medical Centre.

I remembered making it to the bike, somehow, the sound of engines and weapon fire bursting in the distance as the Liberators covered their retreat. Carlos was sitting me on it, sandwiching me between him and Konstantin. I sat, motionless and numb, his arms wrapped around my chest, a safehold of travel and comfort as the ignition was started.

After that, I didn't remember anything else.

-o-0-O-0-o-

Consciousness came to me slowly. Vision drew together as my eyes focused and the blurred haze became the flat white surface of the ceiling. I sat up, rubbing my forehead and blinking. What was I doing here, in my bed?

What had happened?

Was I dreaming?

Then I realised I was alone.

Sleeping alone.

Blankets gone from the floor.

No limbs tangled with mine, no warmth of skin, no breath on my neck, no adoring smile.

The space beside me was empty.

I remembered.

I remembered all of it.

I was barely able to make it to the toilet before I threw up. Over and over. Every time I thought it would stop, my stomach heaved and it happened again until finally there was nothing left. I lay there, my face pressed against the coolness of the porcelain.

"Shay?"

Lily was there next to me, her hand on my shoulder. "Honey, come here." Pulling me up, an arm around my side, she helped me back to my room, guiding me. Sitting me down on the bed, she pulled a blanket over my back, hugging me. My head came to rest on her shoulder and I could feel her hand softly stroking my hair.

The sensations all felt so far away, so distant. A million miles from where I was, lost somewhere in an endless maze of fog and distorted shapes. Reality itself didn't even feel real and I wondered again as I had some days ago if I was actually totally insane. If this entire thing was some horrible vivid imaginary hallucination, a purgatory from which I would never wake up and never escape.

"You've been worrying me," she said, not more than a half-whisper. "Dimi had to give you a triple dose of sedative to get you to sleep. You weren't responsive for hours before that, last night."

"I- ... I don't recall anything," I whispered back. "Nothing after- ... after ... "

"Ssssh." She hushed me. "Don't."

Don't?

Don't what?

"Lily," I breathed. "I know what I saw. I know what happened. I know it. It's ... it's ... he ... "

"Shay." Her voice was cracking. "Don't think about it. Don't torture yourself."

Torture?

"He's ... gonna come back, Lily." I leaned into her and breathed out, feeling so weary, so exhausted from ... everything. Just being awake, being conscious. Didn't really have the will to do anything. "I know ... he's gonna come back for me."

"Oh, sweetheart." I heard her sniffle and she hugged me closer. "It's gonna be okay, I promise you. It's gonna be okay."

"He's going to come back," I sighed and closed my eyes.

He is going to come back.

-o-0-O-0-o-

The sun is high and hot in the sky, the waves constant, a tableau of little whitecaps. Pale sand stretches both ways along the beach and the tropical wind is blowing. The touch it gives is soft and soothing and the clouds in the sky are distant and untroubled. Palms hang over the beach and it is undisturbed, quiet. Just him and me.

He's walking up out of the water and I watch in appreciation as it highlights all the parts of his chest, stomach, neck, legs, the water sliding over it like a magical enchantment. It is a glistening coat of fluidity that the sunlight glosses and I smile, a joyful smile. He beckons to me and I am standing and walking down the beach. I can't resist him and he knows it. His allure is my catnip and I am the hungry kitten.

I reach him and he pulls us together by the hips, using one of his favourite parts of me as a handhold. I feel breathless, but so alive, so free, as my arms surround his shoulders and his lips find mine. We lose ourselves for a minute, the backdrop of sun and beach and wind coming in a poor second to what's in front of me.

Then I blink and without a beat, it's dark. Nighttime has come and the sea is pale silver, moonlight coating the surface, painting it with the lunar reflection. The beach is empty, the sand dim and grainy. The trees are still and the breeze is gone. There is only the sound of the water moving and the stars, twinkling in the dark, beautiful but way beyond reach.

I am alone. No one else is here. I sit down on the sand and wait. I don't know where he has gone, but I feel like I should know. I want him to come back. Surely he must be on his way, but the night drags on. There is no sign of dawn, no sign of the awakening of the sun. Patiently I sit still, wondering when I will see it rise. Maybe it will be soon. I hope it will be. Night is cold, and long.

Still, I sit.

Waiting.

-o-0-O-0-o-

Dreams.

Fuck dreams.

I was done with dreams. It was late in the evening when I rose again, but I was done with sleep also, with being sedated, with being tired and feeling lost and confused and sick. Sick in heart and mind, sick from hoping and feeling that I was chasing a delusion. I was done with all of that and as I walked into the kitchen and sat on a stool, looking out the window into the darkness outside, toward the garden and the animals, I wondered what to do next.

Do I even really want to think about the future any more?

The truth was, I didn't know what to do. I had no idea. I couldn't say with any clarity that I had really felt much at all the last couple days, but one thing I did know was that it was like being gutless. Having your core, the most integral parts of you ... just gone. It was a massive empty space that didn't tell anything, couldn't provide any emotion, and held no meaning.

Because it was gone.

So, what then?

The weather and the night had no answers and I couldn't think of what I wanted, because I didn't know. The quieted logical part of my brain told me to go on with the quest; to help find a cure to the Sharpe virus, to save people, to give some kind of hope and security to those left on this fucked-up mess of a world.

Yet, what did that matter?

I knew what mattered to me.

It was gone.

So what was left?

Vengeance. Miles Hartley is out there somewhere, alive.

That's something I can change.

Standing, I wandered through to my bedroom. I pulled my shoes on and a jacket. Coming back through to the unused office space, I retrieved Jankowski's rifle from where it had been stored. Fitting a magazine into the chamber, I dumped the spare rounds into a backpack and slung it over my shoulder. I was hardly an expert with guns, but I'd seen the Tokarev up close enough times to know how they worked, and this one wouldn't be any harder to use. I had no idea of the make, just that it was semi-automatic, scoped and a lot heavier than a pistol. Not ideal for travelling, but I'd make do.

I was back in the kitchen and about to enter the lounge when a voice came out of nowhere. It made me jump and I turned in fright. Carlos was there, in the door between the lounge and hall and he was looking at me with a difficult to read expression.

"Shay." He said carefully. "What are you doing?"

"What do you think?"

"What do I think?" His eyes narrowed and he walked casually across the lounge until he was blocking the doorway in front of me. "I know what it looks like, but I'd rather you tell me."

"Well," I said to him, coolly dispassionate, "I'm going to find Hartley. When I find him, I'm going to empty this gun's magazine into his face."

"Really."

", Carlos." I mocked. "I think you heard me just fine. Now if you could move yourself out of the doorway, I'd be really grateful."

"So," he continued on, as if I hadn't said anything, "you're going to track what is probably the most dangerous and well protected individual on the entire planet. You don't know where he is, how to get to him and if even if by some luck you do find him, you're more than likely going to end up dead in the attempt."

"Then at least," I growled, "I will have fucking tried. I don't give a fuck how hard it will be to stalk him, I will hunt him down and I will kill him."

"You're actually that selfish that you will let go of everything here -- everything!" He snapped. "Is that really who you are?"

"You?" I gave a laugh of cynical disbelief. The anger was building and I was in no mood to be pushed around or talked down to. "You're calling me selfish? You're a goddamn hypocrite. I'm not listening to any lecture on morality from you. Get the hell out of my way."

"No."

Turning, I laid the gun carefully on the table. Then, I spun quite quick and sucker-punched Carlos on the jaw. He stumbled backwards into the lounge and I followed him. The boy was bigger than me, but fear wasn't in my vocabulary right now. The older boy was bigger than me, but fear wasn't in my vocabulary right then, and I threw another punch, hoping to put him on the defensive. He half dodged and it grazed him, and he grabbed my arm in retaliation. As I tried to shove him away, he shoved back, causing me to trip, both of us falling together.

Squirming on the carpet, he used his size and strength to his advantage. I tried to shake him off, but before long he had me pinned and then was sitting on me, preventing me from moving at all.

"Shay, stop this! Fuck!" He rubbed his jaw. "Hijo de puta! What's gotten into you?"

"What's gotten into me?! Are you fucking serious? What the FUCK do you think has gotten into me? I want to kill that asshole. I want to destroy him for what he did. I want to make him pay!"

"Shay," he sighed, and all the fight just seemed to leave him, but he didn't move off me. "No-one wants to say it to you. Konstantin and Lily have no idea how to talk about this, but it's still the truth." He stopped, looking at me slowly. A single tear ran down his cheek and he wiped it away angrily. "I spent my entire life so far watching the wrong things happen. I can't let you do this because- ... because Mira is dead. I don't want to see you die too. I couldn't- ... " He stopped and looked away, then back again at me. "I couldn't live with myself if something really happened to you and I sat by and did nothing to stop it. He's dead, Shay! Dead. We all saw it happen. You know it's true."

"No! He's NOT dead!"

"Yes, he is. You saw it with your own eyes. I don't know what really happened after that or why those sharpelings went crazy, but the French bastard stabbed him right through the chest. People don't live through that. You saw it, I saw it, Konstantin saw it. His body's gone. He's gone. It's the truth. He ... is dead. You have to accept it. Please!" He begged.

"No." I refused him, the tears now beginning to wet my face, as the images I didn't ever want to return to my conscious mind were being forced into that space. "I don't care what anyone says. I don't care what you saw. I don't care what it looks like or what it feels like or how it really seems. He's gonna come back! He's not dead!" I was nearly shouting, but I couldn't keep it up and I collapsed back onto the floor. "He's not dead," I repeated, softer. "He- ... he can't be. I refuse to believe it."

Sighing, Carlos stood, wordlessly, and walked into the kitchen. He took the backpack and the rifle. "I'm going to put these somewhere safe. I'll talk to you later, Shay. Don't go anywhere. Please."

Then he was gone.

Standing, I wiped my face and wandered aimlessly across to the lounge door. Ignoring the darkness, I exited out onto the terrace. The night was warm, but misty. Clouds of it glided past, coating me, clinging to my clothes and hair. The moisture was heavy in the air and I leaned against the balustrade, staring out across the hidden expanse of the estate.

The truth had been put in front of me. Confronted by it, I had never felt so lost and alone in my life. I didn't want to let go, I didn't want to face it.

His belief in me was absolute. I couldn't abandon my faith in him either.

Yet even as I clung to it, there was a part of me that knew it was inevitable that I give in to what reality told me; what I was forced to acknowledge through the uncaring and indifferent objective lens of events. The facts of what happened were undeniable.

Mira was gone and he wasn't coming back.

It's possible some of you might be shocked or unhappy with me over what you've just read. I would suggest you check out my post in the discussion thread.
Copyright © 2013 Stellar; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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ahhh...so it happened. I knew someone was going to die...but Mira? T^T I had to literally pause my reading for a little bit lol. But like Shay, I shall await for what happens in the next chapter and hope to see some resolve. Please update sooooonnnn.

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Argh My Oath!!!!!!!!!!!

And we were just chatting about killing off Mira in chat!!!!!!!!! And now he's dead!!!!!!!!!!!!!! OMG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sorry I actually felt quite physically sick when I read that he was dead. I know that this is the short, sharp, unkind reality of the world, but even still. Fricken heck!

:(

I miss him already damnit.

Oh for the love of revenge! I want blood and lots of it!!!!! Argggggggh.

Ok, great chapter Stellar, but I'm still major miffed the beauty of Mira is gone. Having said that, I did wonder if Carlos and Shay would ever...... erm...... well you know! I am pretty damn sure now that Carlos has some proper intense feelings for Shay! So hey, maybe it is not all bad!

I'd still love to know what the hell Konstantin and Hartly have discovered/understood/worked out. Argh, major impatience for the next chapter now! Tomorrow??? :P

hehe :D

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On 10/04/2012 12:33 PM, murakisdoll said:
ahhh...so it happened. I knew someone was going to die...but Mira? T^T I had to literally pause my reading for a little bit lol. But like Shay, I shall await for what happens in the next chapter and hope to see some resolve. Please update sooooonnnn.
and resolve you shall see, I can promise.
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On 10/04/2012 02:01 PM, Stephen said:
A shock! Now we wait for more of the unexpected, no doubt it will be just

that.

well I don't know what people are expecting, really. I know what I'd logically guess at though!
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It was almost as interesting to read the comments as the chapter. It's a natural reaction to react badly to the death of a character you've invested in and readers seem to naturally assume you'll bring them back at some point. Personally, I think that in a story of this kind with the kind of brutality inherent in the circumstances, it's pretty inevitable that someone was going to die at some point. Yes, I'm sorry it was Mira. I adored Mira but still... All I ask is that his death is not in vain and Shay becomes stronger for it. Oh yeah... and revenge would be sweet.

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On 10/04/2012 11:55 PM, Yettie One said:
Argh My Oath!!!!!!!!!!!

And we were just chatting about killing off Mira in chat!!!!!!!!! And now he's dead!!!!!!!!!!!!!! OMG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sorry I actually felt quite physically sick when I read that he was dead. I know that this is the short, sharp, unkind reality of the world, but even still. Fricken heck!

:(

I miss him already damnit.

Oh for the love of revenge! I want blood and lots of it!!!!! Argggggggh.

Ok, great chapter Stellar, but I'm still major miffed the beauty of Mira is gone. Having said that, I did wonder if Carlos and Shay would ever...... erm...... well you know! I am pretty damn sure now that Carlos has some proper intense feelings for Shay! So hey, maybe it is not all bad!

I'd still love to know what the hell Konstantin and Hartly have discovered/understood/worked out. Argh, major impatience for the next chapter now! Tomorrow??? :P

hehe :D

I have no problem saying it was rather emotional for me to write. I still feel guilty about this, but as the story unfolds, ultimately you will see events validated.

 

It is safe to say that Shay thinking about anyone else romantically isn't going to happen while he's haunted by this knowledge. Maybe not for a long time.

 

Konstantin and Hartley? Well certainly we shall find out more about both of them in approaching chapters, and further information will be uncovered about the force behind aemfid, Shay's magical 'attributes' and potentially a bit more ancient history

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On 10/05/2012 01:33 AM, Nephylim said:
It was almost as interesting to read the comments as the chapter. It's a natural reaction to react badly to the death of a character you've invested in and readers seem to naturally assume you'll bring them back at some point. Personally, I think that in a story of this kind with the kind of brutality inherent in the circumstances, it's pretty inevitable that someone was going to die at some point. Yes, I'm sorry it was Mira. I adored Mira but still... All I ask is that his death is not in vain and Shay becomes stronger for it. Oh yeah... and revenge would be sweet.
A day does come when the villain in this story gets his due, I can assure you of that. The reactions are something I am quite prepared for.
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You are a masterful writer, so certainly this chapter development was planned a long time ago. We have seen quite a number of deaths so far, so one more shouldn't come as a surprise, but of course Mira is not just another Red Shirt.

The display of Shay's "power" or ability was quite interesting to see, but I was most intrigued by the way Hartley made a show of killing Mira right there and then and of hurting Shay by doing it. Hartley is a man who likes to display his powers and play with his preys so it isn't quite unexpected. Still, it feels like he was expecting something to happen from this, beyond Mira's death (and indeed something happened as this unleashed Shay's power once again). Anyway, this is probably a long-winded way of explaining why I still believe in a Mira-cle and can't wait for Chap. 12.

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As Bleu has already stated, the writing is masterful. thumbsupsmileyanim.gif It's an excellent story.

Do you feel a "but" coming? tongue.png

BUT, we just happen to be at a point in the story where everything totally SUCKS!!

I feel better already. whistle.gif

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On 10/05/2012 02:33 AM, Bleu said:
You are a masterful writer, so certainly this chapter development was planned a long time ago. We have seen quite a number of deaths so far, so one more shouldn't come as a surprise, but of course Mira is not just another Red Shirt.

The display of Shay's "power" or ability was quite interesting to see, but I was most intrigued by the way Hartley made a show of killing Mira right there and then and of hurting Shay by doing it. Hartley is a man who likes to display his powers and play with his preys so it isn't quite unexpected. Still, it feels like he was expecting something to happen from this, beyond Mira's death (and indeed something happened as this unleashed Shay's power once again). Anyway, this is probably a long-winded way of explaining why I still believe in a Mira-cle and can't wait for Chap. 12.

Ah, now that is an interesting way of looking at it. Hartley's motivation and reasons for acting can definitely be viewed in more than one light. Whether or not he was explicitly waiting for something more to occur (or not) is an open question.

 

Keep the faith! Chapter 12 will make things clearer.

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On 10/05/2012 08:20 AM, Conner said:
As Bleu has already stated, the writing is masterful. thumbsupsmileyanim.gif It's an excellent story.

Do you feel a "but" coming? tongue.png

BUT, we just happen to be at a point in the story where everything totally SUCKS!!

I feel better already. whistle.gif

Indeed, no denying that! That part does totally suck.

 

But at the risk of sounding like an advertisement .. it gets better!

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A powerful chapter. I didn't like the results though. :P

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On 10/05/2012 10:42 AM, Myr said:
A powerful chapter. I didn't like the results though. :P
Most people won't like them, I suspect :(

 

The show must go on, however. It certainly doesn't end there! ^^

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Shay has manifested another power outburst that affected the sharplings. Did it also have an effect on Mira? Plenty of ways the plot can go and I am still hopelessly hooked.

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I'll reserve my comments about what you did to Mira for now, but can you feel me staring you down? mad.gif I am hoping that Mira's ability to heal quickly will take effect and keep him from dying. I was beyond pissed off when they, Kon, Carlos and Shay, just left Mira there and took off. Okay, maybe I can understand Shay being in shock and not thinking but the others....just not acceptable! Maybe the energy that Shay created after Mira was stabbed had an effect on Mira and in some way helped heal him or kept him from dying.

 

I can honestly say that while I just started reading this recently I am glad that I have not had to endure all these 'cliffhangers' that you seem to be so well versed in using. I am however reaching a point where I will soon be caught up and waiting with the others for additional chapters. So my reprieve from your 'cliffhangers' is short lived. Soon I shall endure the torture of having to await the next chapter. Guess I better make sure that I have plenty of Starbucks handy at that point, lol.

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On 12/05/2012 10:41 AM, CW Prince said:
I'll reserve my comments about what you did to Mira for now, but can you feel me staring you down? mad.gif I am hoping that Mira's ability to heal quickly will take effect and keep him from dying. I was beyond pissed off when they, Kon, Carlos and Shay, just left Mira there and took off. Okay, maybe I can understand Shay being in shock and not thinking but the others....just not acceptable! Maybe the energy that Shay created after Mira was stabbed had an effect on Mira and in some way helped heal him or kept him from dying.

 

I can honestly say that while I just started reading this recently I am glad that I have not had to endure all these 'cliffhangers' that you seem to be so well versed in using. I am however reaching a point where I will soon be caught up and waiting with the others for additional chapters. So my reprieve from your 'cliffhangers' is short lived. Soon I shall endure the torture of having to await the next chapter. Guess I better make sure that I have plenty of Starbucks handy at that point, lol.

You have a good grasp of the plot's subtlety if you realised that fact *before* you read chapter 12. All things become clear! It is just a matter of discovering how ^_^

 

I must apologise for taking so long to respond to your reviews! I appreciate your comments though. It seems I am prone to using cliffhangers, but I can't help it. Building tension can be used stylistically and as a plot director, if there is an intelligent reason for it!

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why???? I'm sure you have a good reason but for now I will agree to disagree with you. It's your story, your muse I don't have to like it but I will read on. I'm really hoping Mira recouperative powers kick in and Shay is correct and he comeback to him.

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On 05/20/2013 01:16 PM, Daithi said:
why???? I'm sure you have a good reason but for now I will agree to disagree with you. It's your story, your muse I don't have to like it but I will read on. I'm really hoping Mira recouperative powers kick in and Shay is correct and he comeback to him.
why?? Why *what*? :D Just exactly what *did* you think happened? Okay, that's clearly a trick question. I know perfectly well the response.

 

Just that: everything is never as it seems.

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I'm really sad about Mira being killed, but I somehow don't think this is the last we will see of him. I can't believe they left his body there. Konstantin knew about Mira and Shay and would do his part in bringing Mira back, at least in my mind.

I am hoping that, from reading the other reviews and responses, that Chapter 12 does shed some light and answer some questions!!!

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On 05/23/2013 03:26 AM, Gene63 said:
I'm really sad about Mira being killed, but I somehow don't think this is the last we will see of him. I can't believe they left his body there. Konstantin knew about Mira and Shay and would do his part in bringing Mira back, at least in my mind.

I am hoping that, from reading the other reviews and responses, that Chapter 12 does shed some light and answer some questions!!!

Chapter 12 is interwoven with 11; 13 is the meeting point for the two, from which the rest of the plot continues.

 

He was left behind because in the context of the situation, Volkov was a very dangerous place to be at right then and besides .. well, you shall have to read on to discover the detail of it!

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This is the first time in this story that I find did not enjoy the chapter. If I wanted to feel sadness, I just have to look at what is happening all around in the world today. Having said that I will hold off any judgement, to see what next occurs in the story.

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