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Close to the Sun

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Chapter 7

Explosions boomed nearby, and gunfire ripped off and blasted. People screamed out as they were wounded or killed, screaming reverbed around me like an echo chamber in the infinite darkness. I couldn't move. Panic began to set in, I couldn't breathe but I could feel something approaching. Closer, and closer and closer-

- . -

"Get up."

I jolted awake; Aries stood over me looking equally as unimpressed as he did the day before.


I quite literally rolled out of the repurposed medical bed and got to my feet, now that I wasn't under the threat of being killed for the moment, I could practically taste the blood I was caked in. The scent was so overpowering that it nearly made me gag. Yet my stomach argued with my brain. In fact, I couldn't remember the last time I had eaten.

It must have been, what, three days ago now? Assuming the crash was two days ago- Shit, how much time passed since I was shot down?

"See how quickly you followed orders and nothing bad happened to you? Strip. Put these on."

He threw a pair of small shorts at me and crossed his arms. Hatred surged. This was demeaning, there was no reason for this.


"You're in no position to demand answers from me."

But what choice do I have? I don't think this is the hill I want to die on... Literally.

I swallowed my pride and began taking off the armor bit by bit while he watched, whenever I stole glances at him, he didn't seem particularly interested in me. It just seemed like he was in some sort of hurry as he tapped his foot in blatant irritation. I shrugged off the last pieces and began undoing the combat skin, I pulled it about down to my waist and looked up. He stood unwavering and unbothered by my gaze.

I stared at him hoping to get the point across, "Do you mind?"

"No, not at all, continue," He rolled his shoulders.

"I'm going to be naked."

"For a moment, to put on what was asked of you."

"Well, you're gonna see-"

"Stray, there is not a single thing that could be on your body that I haven't seen during my life. Stop stalling and put the goddamn shorts on."

Worth a shot.

I took off and tossed the combat skin to the side, stepped into shorts, pulled them up, and felt my tail get stuck. I shook my head muttering curses under my breath; I'd always had this kind of problem, in most of my clothes I just would cut a large hole so my tail would fit through. It was more just shitty luck with genetics than an actual issue with the clothes. Most clothes weren't fitted for a rare issue like mine.

Short and can't fit in a-

"Unbe-fucking-lievable," Aries snarled.

He crossed the room, circling around behind me. The taller chupa pulled the back end of the shorts toward him and I felt a tight grip at the base of my tail, I lost control of my body as a shiver ran up my spine and I swore I felt my eyes roll a little. Only by a pure miracle was I able to fix my face before he circled around back to my front.

"The hell's the matter with you?"

I frowned and crossed my arms mimicking his behavior when he entered the room, "Ya got cold hands."

"Bitch about it later, follow."

What the fuck is wrong with me? What was that?

I thanked my lucky stars that he led. We hit the hall and made way for the stairs, passing the room I had been detained in only yesterday. In no time flat, we were on the ground floor, and we passed the sandpit spotlight as I've deemed it, I realized I hadn't seen outside the entire time I'd been here. Granted I couldn't have been here that long, but the only sunlight I saw was from a window I couldn't see out of, and a skylight of which daylight spilled in currently. Aries led me through a pair of double doors and out into what must have been the lobby of the place when it was in operation. The doors we came through were one of three sets, one in the middle and the other two off to the opposite sides. This hospital was much bigger than I was led to believe- well I guess I wasn't led to believe I just wasn't told, probably on a need-to-know basis and I must not have needed to know. Vines grew up, down, and through the cracked and shattered glass, more armed chupas sat around eating or talking. It seemed like they were deliberately not looking our way as we walked past.

"Samson," Aries called and the short chupa wasted no time making his appearance known.

"Yessir," The little chupa stood before him with hands folded behind his back, he didn't look afraid of Aries just awaiting an order.

In the light, I could see his cobalt coat caked in soot and dirt except for the area around his golden-brown eyes. His overalls looked just as dirty as the rest of him, but the tools in his belt and the goggles on his head were very clean. Hell, they damn near looked like new.

"Get him the travel pack."

Samson scurried away dipping out of sight for a few moments before popping back out, lugging a large bag that had to be as heavy as it looked but he still managed to bring it over without it touching the floor. That was a respectable work ethic in my opinion.

"Here it is, sir."

Aries nodded at him before shooting a cold look at me, "Put it on-"

"Yeah, yeah," I muttered, "Hand it over little guy."

Samson looked miffed but handed off the bag, I hefted it onto my back and felt the weight instantly. It's heavy, but it's bearable. I shrugged my shoulders and shifted the bag into a comfortable position.

"Should I give him the map," Samson inquired.

"This time, yes," Aries began to go for the front door, "Meet me outside, Stray."

I watched him leave before turning my attention to Samson, maybe I could get some information from him. Aries seemed to be somewhat pleasant to him.

I leaned down and opened my mouth but was cut off by a rolled-up paper slapping me flesh in the face, I whipped my head back to look at him.

"Don't ever call me ‘little guy' again, Snowball," He shoved the map into my hands, "Here's your map. You don't want to keep the skipper waiting."

I think... I've pissed him off.

I fought the urge to smirk as he practically waddled away, it wasn't every day I saw someone shorter than me. I jogged to the door that Aries went out of and stepped outside for the first time.

"Holy shit."

I felt the humid air wrap itself around me as I was bathed in midmorning sunlight, being in the sun never felt so good. On the negative, it really made the blood in my fur glitter. I remembered I looked like a corpse. Right, I was still covered in and smelled like blood. I did a stretching squat to loosen up. The roundabout in front of the entrance had been paved at one point, a mossy stone fountain of some faceless chupa sat inactive with the water green. In an abandoned building retaken by nature way, the place looked presentable and more importantly unsuspecting.

"You shouldn't piss off Samson," Aries looked up at the sun with his back to me yet still managed to talk down to me, I was more lost on how he knew I'd said anything to Samson. "He's really handy... And in charge of your gear. Last thing you want is a weapon malfunction. Now open up that map, you know how to use a paper map right? They taught you that at least. Find us."

I unrolled the map wordlessly, I wasn't gonna let his demeaning tone bother me. It was just words and that was all it was ever going to be, all talk. The map I was given was ancient or, at the very least, older than I am. But I found the old hospital on the map, I pointed at it with a claw.

"Good," I squinted at him even more confused at how he knew, but his ponytail just bobbed as he continued, "There's a hill about twenty kilometers north of here, it is not marked on the map. Meet me there in the next four hours. If you take longer than four hours, I will find you. Don't make me find you. Don't leave the bag."

Before I could ask a question, the black chupa tore off through the thick jungle and vanished. The bag on my back was starting to feel heavier, I sighed and started walking looking down at the map. This was a new low, even for me.

At least HADES fed me.

- . -

I scrambled up the side of the rock face, rolling away from the ledge and onto my back slipping the bag off. I had gotten turned around and one point and ran the rest of the way in fear of whatever Aries meant by he would find me, I didn't want to find out what that entailed.

"Three hours and fifty minutes," I looked over and spotted the black chupa who was sitting in a weird-looking pose with his hands resting on his lap. "You did it. Barely. Not fast enough."

"Wha-whya," I sat up trying to catch my breath, "Why-ya sittin' like that?"


"See what?"

"Old habits."

Aries' hair drifted silently around his muzzle as a new gust of refreshing wind introduced itself, he made a presenting motion with his hand to the area behind him.

"Get clean, take a drink if you must."

I rose up and looked past him, about ten meters ran a wide shallow stream that was maybe a foot or so deep. I cautiously inched past him before diving in and being rewarded with the cool sensation of water flowing through my fur, I cupped my hands and took a much-needed drink before starting to work the clotted blood out. I began to rethink the whole situation, maybe I wasn't being deprived of anything. Maybe they just didn't have anything to spare.

Maybe Aries is about to hand over some food about now?

"One or two, Stray," Aries called from his sitting position.

"What," I stood and shook my fur out, spritzing him with water by accident but he didn't flinch. "My bad."

"One, or two? Pick a number."

"Two I guess- why? Are we about to eat or something?"

"Soon, maybe. If I feel you've earned it."

"How do you reckon I do that?"

Aries finally rose from his seat and turned his golden eyes on me with his short blade drawn, "I'm so glad you asked, Stray. I already told you, you lack discipline and focus. So, I'm going to teach you. You're going to fight me again, and every time you do something wrong- I'm going to cut you."

"Are you fucking insane? That'll kill me," I took a step away from him, fear was initially on my mind but the way he spoke down to me made my blood boil. I clenched my hands in absolute fury.

"Oh, believe me, I have no intentions of killing you- I would never. Yet. I know my way around a blade, if I wanted you dead, you'd be dead. Now, let's see you earn your meal."

I scowled as that same wide grin snaked its way across his muzzle.

"What's the matter? Afraid? You were smiling just a second ago."

I didn't say a word, just put my hands up and hunkered down a little. There was no way for him to catch me off-guard out here in broad daylight, I already knew how fast and dangerous he could be. There was virtually no sound except the rushing of the water around my feet as if the whole ring granted us an audience and respectful silence.

I'm ready.

I flinched as he darted forward with no warning, got low when he jumped at me, and instantly felt a stinging pain across my back as he landed with a light grunt behind me.

"I told you to stay focused, you'd turn your back on an attacker?"

I threw myself out of the water backward and rolled to my feet without breaking the line of sight, I couldn't tell how deep I was cut all I knew was that it hurt like a bitch. Aries lifted the crimson-tinted blade to his mouth and licked the blood from the blade, daring me to do something about it. I made the first move this time, jumping across the bank and charging him. I watched him shift a foot back and pull the blade to one side, I dug my foot into the dirt sliding to a halt, and ducked glancing over my shoulder. His blade whipped over my head, in the split second it took me to realize that he had missed I had realized that my tail was nearly wrapped around his leg, and he was off-balance. I yanked my tail hard and hopped back watching in sheer irritation as he went head over heels before catching his fall, practically cartwheeling back to his feet.

What the fuck?

He darted forward and past me, leaving me with two more lashes. He came again, I put my hands up and threw a combo of rights and lefts that seemed to get close but never connect. Every swing resulted in instant pain. I had enough, I tried to close the distance with a tackle, and right when I was close enough to grab him, he jumped. A heavy force pushed me down into the dirt and my spine was on fire now, I forced myself to my feet and I could feel the stinging cuts all over the inside of my arms. I hadn't even seen when he did that, I watched him gracefully twirl his sword and point it at me.

"Surely you can do better," Aries scoffed, "Ryder was no fun, he wouldn't even look at us when we shot him."

I don't know what began to come over me, I abandoned all sense of control and barreled into the taller chupa who bounced off of me. It felt like my brain was in overdrive. I clawed at him, but it bounced harmlessly off his royal purple shoulder padding. I threw an overhand right, Aries attempted to block it but couldn't raise his sword fast enough. He stumbled back and reset his feet before raising the sword up and bringing it down hard, the look in his eyes was different now. The taunting was gone, they just looked empty. I held up my hands and bit my tongue as I felt the blade make contact, I didn't need to see it to know that I was bleeding now. Aries jumped with his legs tucked and body horizontal, exploded out, and drop-kicked me across the grass. I tried to sit up with claws ready, but he firmly planted his foot on my windpipe with a force that meant business.

"No! Stay down! How is it possible," He started with anger shaking his voice, "That you gain skill and still learn nothing! Nothing you did would have preserved your life! NOT ONCE! I could have killed you two HUNDRED times over! Use your fucking head, I know it has to be good for more than just taking a beating over and over again. You're lucky I have the patience for this. Now get up!"

I sat up slowly, with the adrenaline ebbing away the cuts pulsed with pain. Something was tossed and I instinctively caught it, it was a Blue Army MRE. I could only wonder how he had obtained such a thing, I looked over and watched him fish silverware and a teapot out from the bag as well as another MRE.

That's what I was carrying? Food and silverware? I didn't expect this psycho to be the type to enjoy tea. So, if I had left the bag behind then-

"Don't just stare at the thing, if you don't eat, I'm taking it away from you. Be ready tomorrow, we'll keep at this until you get it right."

"How can you be so sure I will," I asked breaking the seal. "You seem pretty confident that I'm just some suicidal idiot."

"You are a suicidal idiot. You were trained to be that way- Programmed really. I'm rewiring your system; you're going to learn my way, and pain is an excellent teacher."

Red vs Blue © Rooster Teeth. Halo © 343 Industries. Concept by Myshu, assisted by The Department of Chupapology.

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