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|Posted: Thu Oct 02, 2014 2:51 am Post subject: Actual Original Writing
|“Where is Cassie?” he asked without thinking, sitting on the litter, ignoring the sharp pain in his side and leg for only a moment, then wincing sharply back into a lying position.
“Who?” Bash looked at him as if he had grown a tree from his head. Bash was never the cleverest individual, but right now, Tripper didn’t feel like humoring the half-orc’s complete lack in the realm of implications.
“Where is she?” his voice came out in a growl. It surprised him as much as it did the others. Lizard shook his head, but Nine replied coolly.
“She’s dead. Not going to get better from that.”
“What?” his voice was devoid of inflection. It was just a question.
Birdie put her hand on his shoulder, “Nine shot her in the gut. Tumbled into the ocean. I don’t think Snare is coming back, Trip.”
“Why did you kill her? We were going to get her!” he spat. There was venom in his blood, now. Heat in his muscles. He was going to kill Nine, wring her neck out. Lizard, Bash and Birdie too. They killed Cassie. They killed his best friend.
“We’re Death’s Company, Trip,” Nine, or maybe it was Birdie, said to him. “No one leaves Death behind.”
The little band’s maxim to remind people that they were supreme badasses who didn’t suffer anyone deserting, ever. But Cassie wasn’t going to desert. She didn’t quit. She had to have had a good reason for what she did, and a better one for telling no one that she was doing it.
Of course they killed her. She was not Cassie to them. She was Snare, and Snare had gone off and broken the Big Rule. He was silent the rest of the way back to the camp, and was pretty much silent the entire way back to the main encampment of the Company. He was almost entirely mended before the Company surgeon or healer even got a look at him.
Handsome bothered him while he was staring out the window of the nice castle the Company was operating out of in the city one day. “You okay, Trip?”
“What else am I supposed to be?”
“Well, you ain’t exactly been your bright and cheery self as of late, so I am thinking something might be buggin’ you.”
Gods, I want to punch you right now. “What could be doing that? It’s just another day on the job. It’s not like I haven’t been hurt before.”
Handsome shook his head and took a seat. He jagged scar that covered a third of his face really did a number on his namesake. “Tell me ‘bout it. But it’s Snare, you and I both know it.”
“Snare’s dead.” He wasn’t sure what it sounded like to him. Snare is dead. Cassie is dead. Cassandra is dead.
“Yes, she is, and you want to say something. So say it to me, so that you don’t get in trouble, ‘kay?”
Tripper faced him and balled a fist, thinking to just knock some of his teeth out and make him even more good-looking, and then suddenly lost all steam and leaned against the window, looking wistfully outside.
“You and Birdie, how long?”
Handsome’s eyebrows raised a little, “Four years, for me. Eight months, her.” Hah. Waited until he was mauled before telling a woman. Tripper knew that bravado was an act. And their little tryst was a well known thing, the officers just ignored it because they kept it to themselves so well. “So, you and Snare were that close, huh? Shoulda guessed it, really. Ya’ll signed up together, probably eloping or some crazy shit like that, am I right?”
“No. We weren’t like that,” the words were flat. He was flat. Except when he was roiling. Handsome was right. He ought to just work this through, and keep his composure. Captain says she dies, so she died. He didn’t have to go. He volunteered himself.
“So there was nothin’ up with you and her?”
“Nothing between us.” That was technically true, anyway. Or had been. They didn’t keep secrets from each other for most of their lives, but that had changed.
“Not sure I believe that, but we’ll roll with it. Look, Trip, you’ve got to work through whatever it is going on in your head, or you’re gonna do something you’ll regret. Or you won’t, which will be worse,” Handsome shrugged and stood up, making to leave. “I’ll be around if you decide you want to talk, buddy.”
He did want to talk, but not to him. Not to anyone alive, actually. Cassie. What did you do?
She was always the smart one, though. Had been since they met, when his mother took him to one of her friends house because she had a kid his age, and it was high time that he made friends. He pulled the girl’s ponytail, because what else did you do with a ponytail, so she pushed him into the dirt. He almost called for his mother and cried, but she told him to stop it and gave him a cookie shaped like a dog, so he bit its head off because that’s what you did with food shaped like animals. He remembered her frowning at him and telling him that you shouldn’t eat doggies’ heads, and then introduced him to her dog, and then her informing him that they were going to be bestest friends for life. He had agreed to it, because well, she gave him a cookie and let him pet her dog.
They had grown up together, from that point on. People that knew them teased them for it, the other children in the school kept saying they would get married. They didn’t think they would, instead talking about how they would be neighbors and how he would wind up with so many cats. They planned for her to meet some nice guy with a ton of money, and he would be an eccentric uncle to her kids. Or she had, because she was the smart one and she did planning, he just did what she planned.
She insisted he find himself a new name, because Taren did not sound like a boy’s name at all, and so for the next year she called him by a different name each week. She was the one that decided they should go hunting and camping on their vacations from school. Anytime a guy expressed interest in her, she went to him before her parents for his input. Cassie was just a fixture in his life, and he assumed he was a fixture in hers.
Gods, did he really have any memories that didn’t involve her? He remembered kissing her, her idea again. They were still too young, and they had found the experience not at all enticing and wondered why her older sister put so much stock in it. He remembered kicking around the idea of him moving to the provincial capital and taking up schooling there, she was the smart one, but he had always been good with books. He could’ve been a scholar, or a teacher, or a librarian. She decided, then and there, that she would go with him and take up something, anything that tickled her fancy. Politics was the idea he tossed her, and the face she made told him that he had come inches away from dying then.
So how, in the name of all the gods he did not believe in, did they wind up in a mercenary outfit? Death’s Company was a big name, lot of historical precedent. He knew that they spent most of the last two decades handing around the Free Cities, being sort of a standing army for Sonata, and not much had happened down there. What convinced two bright, promising Imperials from respectable families with a run of good luck to leave the Empire and join up with a mercenary gang? It was a sense of forbidding, really. A stupid thing, a stupid, stupid thing that Cassie should never have died for. They had a shared nightmare. A reoccuring, shared nightmare. The lives they always dreamed of, talked about, they were in terrible danger. And somehow, Death’s Company had something to do with those lives they wanted to not be destroyed.
Life. Not lives. Life. Taren and Cassie. Cassie and Taren. They were together, always. Until now. Now she was dead, and he was alone.
What the hell were they thinking, two Imperial, city kids just up and leaving their home, and then joining up with a famous band of professional killers. He would never forget their initiation. It was the most ridiculous thing, they were sent to go hunt down a serial killer who had gone out of Sonata’s walls and was lying low in a village. They had no business doing this. He had tried to talk her out of it, but Cassie insisted they do it. And so, they flushed him out and caught him in a snare. She treated it like a big hunt, and in the end, it worked out.
Sure, the man almost gutted her. But he had always been a fair shot, and seemed to have a lucky streak when it came to trick shots anyway. He had grabbed a crossbow from who knows where, and shot the gun in the almost-foot. He fell over backwards and set off the snare with his arm. Then they had to kill him.
To this day, he didn’t know which one of them actually did it. They both shot him at the same time. They killed him, together. Their first time.
He smiled grimly. They’d been shadowed and their progress observed, and they were accepted into the Company and given stupid nicknames. She even commented on how Tripper was even more emasculating than Taren. But in private, they were still Cassie and Taren. For a while, anyway.
The second to last time he held her, he felt her skin crawl. She let him do it, but put her arms over his, pinning him so that he did only what she wanted. She had started acting oddly, the last couple of months, and the Captain asked him to keep an eye on her. Seemed like she knew almost instantly, and treated him likewise. He had not liked the gulf between them, and now he missed even that. Instead of a gap, it was a void.
The last time he saw her, actually, was the day before she had run off. She caught him eating in one of the common rooms, and she started talking to him like nothing had happened.
“Taren, got a minute?” she used his real name, the name they were supposed to have buried away.
“Only for Cassie,” he replied. And they talked like they used to, except she didn’t ever talk about the future, but the past. She talked about anything and everything, if they had done it previously. Their last goodbye did seem strangely final, looking back on it. He really should have known.
“You always think you’re taking care of me, don’t you? All these years,” she had given him a sad, small smile. “So silly. Goodbye, Taren. I… take care of you. Keep your eyes open.” And the next morning, she was gone, and by that afternoon the order to go after her was out.
He was not accustomed to sleeping alone, he soon discovered. It was not like they had always shared a bed, but it had actually been more frequent than anyone knew their entire lives. She habitually snuck into his house whenever she had nightmares as a child, and they continued the habit into their teens and even into early adulthood. Within the five years they had been in the Company, it had been a regularity for them, but never did it turn to more than sleeping. Sometimes, she needed to be held, sometimes, he needed to be touched, and they were friends. He couldn’t even bury her body. He wasn’t sure he’d be allowed even if he did.
Officially, he wasn’t allowed to grieve. Nobody would stop him, if he kept it private, but she was a deserter, and desertion was the greatest crime a Company brother or sister could commit.
We lost it, Cassie. Lost it all, our life. All over a bad dream. We made a bad choice, and now you’re dead and I’m paying for it. Goddamn it all, Cassie. Why did you leave me here?
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