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Burn Away

by Hartley Harms

Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11

Chapter 8


Footsteps broke through the serene quiet of the Lactan forest.  Tharin and Martin both trekked through the woods.  The pair made sure to keep to the tree line about a kilometer in so they would be at the Lamtha border at all times.

“How far away did ya’ say that shrine was?” Martin asked as he stepped over a few fallen trees, following close behind Tharin.

“It shouldn’t be too far now,” Tharin replied, “We passed that army base earlier.  It’s about halfway between where we left Max and Dante and the shrine.” Martin slumped his head down as they trudged along through the woods for another few hours.  The two had already been walking through the woods for more than an entire day.  Dusk was settling in as they finally spotted the spire of the shrine poking through the tops of the trees. Tharin stepped forward and approached the grounds of the shrine.  He looked around to see if there were any maidens tending it.  The pair searched the area, unable to find anybody.  Tharin turned his attention inside the structure and ascended the metal ramp and paced along the balcony before spotting someone sitting in a chair alone.  He called out to them but received no answer.  He looked over toward Martin’s direction before turning back and approaching the person.  From their brightly colored robe they looked to be a maiden.  She gave no reaction as Tharin approached.  He put his hand on her shoulder and felt not warmth but bone.  Tharin recoiled and called out for his partner, “Martin!” he yelled as he reached back over.  He heard Martin’s footsteps as he paced up the ramp and saw Tharin kneeling down at the maiden’s side.

“Oh, ya’ found someone?” he asked as he jogged up to approach them.  It was then when he saw Tharin take her hand and hold it gently, nothing but weathered bone remained.  Martin gasped and stepped back slightly as Tharin solemnly stood up and walked past his partner, “Whadoya think happened?” he asked as Tharin paced along to the opposite side of the shrine balcony that they didn’t see when coming up the ramp.  Tharin stopped and stared at the wall before Martin joined him, both looking down at eleven corpses, all maidens and priests.  There were numerous gunshot scuffs on the metal, “I thought those H.A.D.E.S guys handled this kind’a stuff.  Don’t they protect these places?”

“They can’t watch all of them.”  Tharin said as he walked along the balcony to descend down towards the living quarters.  Martin knelt down in front of one of the slain maidens and looked at her robe, feeling the fabric before closing his eyes, turning away and continued on to follow his boss.

Tharin split from his partner to look for food and supplies as Martin explored the hallowed grounds. He entered the dining hall and stared down at the floor.  Strewn about were broken teacups and platters.  Martin continued through into the living quarters, finding bead curtains ripped down and scorch marks on the floors of some of the rooms.  Furniture was upended and thrown across the rooms.  There were more bodies on some of the beds, skeletons lying on busted up cots with robes on the floors to the side.  Martin covered his mouth and left the rooms to go find Tharin.

“What did you find?” Tharin’s voice rang out from down the hall.  Martin followed back towards the dining room and into the kitchen to see Tharin pouring over a small booklet.

“Just reasons not’a stay here,” Martin added as he looked back towards the bedrooms, “what the fuck happened here?”

“Soldiers, probably AWOL,” Tharin replied as he turned through the pages of the small book, “They throw out their orders and come and defile these shrines, the animals,” he said dismissively, “It doesn’t look like there’s any food left over, but I found this,” he said, closing up the book and handing it to Martin, “It’s a flora guide for Lactan.  It’s got lists of all kinds of edible plants.”

“Great, no’wer foragin’,” Martin said as he opened up the book and started looking at the lists of local berries, “I take it their gardens are gone?”

“Burnt to a crisp, nothing’s left alive.” Martin squeezed his eyes shut and sighed.

“What a fuckin’ mess.  I wonder what Max and Dante are doing right now,” Martin said as he leaned back against the countertop, “Probably livin’ it up’n one of the safehouses.”

“Dining on only the finest of canned beans,” Tharin said poshly as the two of them laughed.  Martin looked down as his smile began to fade a bit.

“There’sum cots in the bedrooms back there, but I’m gonna’ pull one out here to sleep,” Martin said as he stood up from the counter, “It’s pretty rough back there.”  Tharin nodded as the two grabbed a pair of cots from the bedrooms, making sure to take unoccupied ones.  They drug the beds out into the dining area and sat down on them.  Martin fluffed up one of his pillows and laid back, groaning as he let his back and tail stretch out.  Tharin sat up on his cot staring down at the floor.

“I used to know someone who ended up in one of these,” he said without looking to his partner.

“Oh yeah?” Martin asked without looking back either.

“Her name was Kelly or… Shelly, or something like that,” Tharin continued as he laid back on his cot as well, staring up at the ceiling of the shrine, “We used to go to scripture class together.  I always wondered what she was doing there, she was always so spacy and aloof.”

“Did you two ever…” Martin said coyly as he chuckled to himself.

“Eh, once or twice,” Tharin replied, “I couldn’t stand her, ya know? She always had her head in the clouds.  The priest would always pair us up to do scripture presentations and I always had to do all of the work.”

“She sounds like a real bitch,” Martin said as he scooted himself back and propped himself up against the wall his cot was against.

“She sure was.  She would always tell me how she was meant to be some ‘spiritual healer’ or something like that.  Said she wanted to be a maiden,” Tharin said as he kept looking up at the ceiling, observing the contrast between the angular, metallic structure and the man-made fixtures added in, lights that were strung up, plywood walls added and shoved up against the metal.

“Do ya’ think she could have ended up in here?” Martin asked as he turned to look at his partner.

“I don’t know,” he replied, not wanting to make eye contact, “We grew up this small town on the edge of the ring.  I left and went to school for microbiology, and she stayed behind.  It’s weird,” Tharin said as he turned his gaze back to Martin, “whenever I was around her I just wanted to leave, to go home and be as far away from her as possible.  I couldn’t stand that spacy, ditzy bitch, but whenever I think back all I can think about is how much I want her here right now.”

“Hey, the heart wants what the heart wants, pal.  Don’t try’n fight it,” Martin said

“I guess we all have our vices,” Tharin said as he laid his head back to try and fall asleep.

“Ha, I wouldn’t call some annoying hippie chick a vice,” Martin replied, doing the same.

“Do you have someone like that?” Tharin asked, “Someone that drives you nuts?”

“Nah, everyone I knew like that ratted me out and got me put in that frigid taint,” Martin replied as he turned over on the cot and tried to get some sleep.

Tharin laid motionless in his cot, watching as the dusk light bounced across the metal surfaces of the shrine and into the room they were in.  His eyes traced along the etchings in the metal.  He stared at the ceiling and wondered to himself what could have possibly carved into the metal to make such grooves as nothing had been able to even scratch the material before. He wondered what could possibly be stronger than the shrine’s metal.  He pictured things trying to scratch it: the mother cat, Sirca, Lord Omega himself, though his mind painted a white-furred being.  Tharin saw the chupa’s claws digging through the metal like it was butter.  The chupa turned to face Tharin, staring at him with deep, blue eyes.


A navy blue sedan pulled up to a small shack at the western foot of the Quarrel mountains in Episemon.  Maxine and Dante stepped out of the driver and passenger seat respectively.  Max took a moment to stretch out as Dante approached the shack.  He pulled out Tharin’s wallet that he had given to the two of them before they departed.  Max and Dante had been making their way across Episemon.  They had taken turns driving and were entering the shack at dusk.

“Fuckin’ a, I never thought I’d miss that van,” Max let out as she pulled her arm across her chest before repeating with the other.

“We’re lucky we found this,” Dante replied as he scanned Tharin’s ID card and unlocked the door, “You saw that driveway.  It was either this thing or a couple of bikes.”

“I would have taken a bike,” Max said as she stepped in front of Dante to get into the safehouse, “ladies first,” she added playfully before finding a comfortable chair to sit down in and kick her feet up.

“You would have been halfway to Blarganthia by now.  We stick together,” Dante said as he tossed the car keys onto a table just beside the door.  He looked around the small room and noted the lack of bedrooms.

“Ha, I’d just get here before you to warm it up,” Max added, “no bedrooms in this one.  Glad we didn’t stay in it on our way down.”

“I think this is why Tharin avoided this route,” Dante said as he sat down on the sofa up against the wall.  Both of them faced a small TV in the corner of the room and Maxine turned it on, flipping through the channels.

“Great, it’s all just public-access crap,” she said as she went through each channel.

-ve out of Episemon we have Linda McArthur on the scene of a murder that was reported hours ago.”  Maxine stopped to listen to the broadcast.

“Hey look, we made the news!” she said emphatically as she leaned forward in her seat.

Thank you, Mitchell.  I’m here at the corner of 33rd and Sullivan Street in the city of Juniper Grove where there have been reports of a murder that occurred earlier today at around 3200 CM.” Dante watched intently as his heart raced, “The victims were identified as Kara and Tate Harms.  Their son, Hartley was injured in the assault.  He remains hospitalized but in stable condition.  Many of you may know of Tate Harms from his philanthropic efforts throughout Episemon.  Tate Harms was a pillar of the local community, lifting up businesses so they may thrive in the local economy.  It is with a heavy heart that we say goodbye to such a beloved community member.”  Maxine scowled and leaned back in her chair before kicking the recliner up.

“Motherfucker, the kid lived…” she said as she looked at Dante.

“If that idiot would have just stuck to the plan we wouldn’t even be in this mess right now,” he replied, “he could have just popped that brat in the head, same with the sister and we would have been on our way.  Slight change of plans, but we could have rolled with it.”

“So, what now, do we go back to hunting them?” Max asked.

“Tharin said to keep in touch,” he replied, “I’ve been dropping updates periodically on a secure network. He will give us our orders once he’s set up on his end with Martin.”

“They’re on foot… through Lactan,” Max said annoyed, “that could take them days!”

“Then I guess we better get comfortable.”  Dante pointed back towards the TV.

So far there are no leads on the perpetrators, however a black van was spotted westbound from the Harms residence.

“We ditched that van hours ago after heading back east.  There’s not a chance they make us, and even if they do they won’t have the sedan we took,” Dante said as he muted the broadcast, “From what Tharin and I have discussed we’re going to cast a net for them.  There’s no way they stay in Episemon, they’re sitting ducks.  They have to go either east or west.  Either way we can catch them and end it right then and there.  All we have to do is dig in and fortify.  There are only a few paths through the Quarrels.  It’s likely they will go out the same way we came in.”

“Tharin mentioned they had some SSF connections, right?” Max asked.  Dante nodded and pulled up a map of the Quarrel mountains on his phone to show to her.  She got up from her chair and sat down next to him on the couch.

“It’s likely they have an escort on their way to Stigma.  That’s the safest place for them,” Dante said as he zoomed the map in, “They won’t be flying out as we can access the flight itineraries, so they have to come through here.” Dante pointed to the same road they took into Omegrad a couple of days prior, “We can set up an ambush for them as they come along.  One of us can act as a spotter a few kilometers west while the other can operate a rifle and catch them as they drive by.”

“Where the hell are we gonna’ get a rifle?” Max asked.  Dante grinned and got up from the couch and walked to the opposite end of the shack from the TV.  He took out some thumb screws holding a metal panel up onto the wall and reached his hand far back in behind the drywall before pulling out a case.  He set the case down on the floor, ‘SRS99-AM’ painted on in bold, blocky letters.

“Tharin told me about this before we split up.  How’s your aim?” he asked, smirking to Maxine.





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