When Querrick comes back he finds Lykas up and about like he’d never been sick in his life. Isabel rushes to him and gives him and big, hearty hug and thanks him for the soup he made. Querrick pats her on the head, puts his stuff down, and goes over to inspect the boy. He seems to be in pretty good shape. He’d better be, Querrick thinks, I put all the mystical jasmine root I had into that bowl.
“Alright,” Querrick says, “now that you’re back on your feet, your training begins tomorrow.”
“Nice!” Lykas says, “what’s first?”
“Strength training.” Querrick says, “your sister started this morning, so you’ll be a day behind. Think you can catch up?”
“Easy!” Lykas says.
Isabel looks at Lykas and feigns being disrespected. Lykas smirks at her because he knows she’s happy to see him back to his old self before the orphanage. Querrick gets his stuff, places it on the counter and starts putting things away. After that, Querrick sits with the kids by the fireplace.
“Alright,” Querrick says, “let’s hear it.”
“Hear what?” Isabel asks.
Their story takes about two hours to complete which is insane for kids that aren’t even teenagers. Querrick has heard stories like this before so none of it is surprising. The city across from the forest is a dark and corrupt place that purges innocence shortly after it is conceived, and those who don’t fall prey to the corruption either leave (much like Querrick would have if he knew better) or they die early. No in-between.
“So,” Isabel asks, “you heard our story, what’s yours?”
“War.” Querrick says.
“You mean the Two Great Wars?” Lykas asks.
“Yhup,” Querrick says, “Chief Commander of The Forbidden Battalion.”
Shock consumes Isabel’s face when she hears that and Querrick knows exactly what she’s just realized.
“You’re the Headhunter. . .” Isabel gasps, “with over three hundred confirmed kills by decapitation.”
Querrick sighs, “seems my name hasn’t lost its luster.”
Lykas’ jaw drops in amazement as he is now completely starstruck.
“Pick your jaw up, kid,” Querrick says, “there’s nothing cool or impressive about war.”
“But still. . .” Lykas says, “the Headhunter in the flesh. . .”
“Well, there’s that factor.” Querrick says.
“Is it true your mother is the High Priestess of The Carnage City Church and your father is the Commander of The Dark Army?”
Querrick turns to Isabel, “who told you that?”
A bone crippling chill goes through her spine, but she manages to speak, “we’ve heard a lot of things on our travels. Old people in taverns, prostitutes on the corners, even priests and popes on the church steps. We had to be crafty and stealthy to keep from being picked up.”
Querrick raises an eyebrow, “Picked up?”
“Yes,” Isabel says, “there’s an active hunt for children without families. They take them to concentration camps and torture them before killing them and harvesting their life force for Adrena’s Grace.”
“The Dark Carnage Syndicate,” Querrick says, “seems they’ve finally taken full possession of the city.”
“You were just there,” Isabel says, “didn’t you notice?”
After two wars corruption looks the same in all its forms,” Querrick says, “distinguishing between the varying degrees becomes pointless.”
“So,” Lykas says, “what’s it like to—”
Isabel smacks him in the back of the head, “Lykas, don’t ask questions like that!”
“What was that for?” Lykas says, “I was just gonna ask what’s it like having two badass parents and end up serving two wars and living in the woods after!”
“Isabel squints at Lykas, “I know you, Lykas, you were gonna ask what it’s like to cut someone’s head off.”
“If I was I would’ve asked,” Lykas says, “or did you forget what happened to Benny?”
That shut Isabel up.
“Trust me,” Lykas says, “what it’s like to cut someone’s head off is the last thing I want to know.”
Querrick chuckles, “seems you have a strong spirit, kid.”
“It’s Lykas.” Lykas says.
“Learn how to fight first,” Querrick says, “and maybe I’ll address you by name.”
“Deal.” Lykas looks Querrick in the eyes and the two have a battle of wills. Lykas loses.
“You’d need twenty years before you can take me head-on,” Querrick says, “but I like your confidence.”
“Querrick says, “anyway, it’s getting dark out.” Querrick stands and heads for the door.
“Wait a minute,” Isabel says, “where are you going?”
“Hunting,” Querrick says, “there are more mouths to feed.”
“Just don’t bring back a head,” Lykas says under his breath.
Lykas puts his arms up in surrender.
Querrick leaves before the grin can begin to pull on his face.
Querrick gets back with two deer’s, the heads detached and two bags of berries and herbs. He places the herbs down and goes out back to start skinning the deer’s. After he’s done, he tenderizes the meaty parts and bags up the undesirables like the intestines, the testicles, spleen, spine, etc. and buries them in the ground. He bags up the meat, comes into the cabin, rinses it off and wraps it up before going out back to put it in storage. The kids are fast asleep and Querrick stops for a moment to acknowledge and appreciate the peace and quiet as he know it’ll now be a rare thing with kids in the cabin. He washes his hands of the blood, goes out back to retrieve the pelts of the deer’s then turns them into something fashionable he can sell for money in Carnage. When he’s done with all that, he takes out the plants, sorts them out, places the mystical jasmine root in his crystal jar and hides it in the deep recesses of his cabinet. He chops up the other herbs and refills the jars. When all that’s done, he goes about cleaning the cabin for the night until he hears movement from all around the cabin. The footsteps sound in a familiar pattern and he recognizes the stealth formation his battalion used in the Second Great War; however, if his battalion wanted to see him they would just show up normally, no need to hide from their former Chief Commander.
No, Querrick thinks, these are mercenaries.
Querrick goes out to the roof of the cabin and makes himself known. The mercenaries come out and surround him on the rooftop. Querrick is unfazed as he knows who each individual is by their tactical gear and weaponry; however, why they’re here is beyond him.
“Been a while,” Querrick says, “what brings mercenaries to a cabin in the woods?”
“Good ole Headhunter,” one individual steps forward, “cool and calm as always!”
The two shake hands and the mercenary takes off his mask, “we just happened to be passing through on a mission and figured we’d say hey.”
“Lucas,” Querrick chuckles, “you leading missions now? The end must be coming.”
“Fuck you!” Lucas and the others laugh, “how’s it been Chief?”
“Eh,” Querrick says, “just greasing the groove daily.” He looks to an merc on the left of him, “that you, Benetta?”
“Yes sir!” the merc called Benetta says.
Querrick greets all the mercs one by one then turns his attention back to Lucas.
“So,” Querrick says, “the mission classified?”
“Nah,” Lucas says, “just recon shit, you know. Transporting packages.”
“From Forbidden Battalion to postal service, huh?” Querrick shakes his head, “bullshit.”
“Ain’t it?” Lucas says as he looks at the time, “alright, Chief, we gotta ghost.”
“Don’t let me stop you.” Querrick says as he salutes the mercs and they salute him back and they leave without another word.
Querrick gets back inside the cabin to find Isabel with his Bo Staff in her hand ready to fight, Querrick sighs and walks up to her and takes the Bo Staff, tells her it was just some of his old friends visiting and guides her back to the room where Lykas is fast asleep. He tucks her in and closes the door behind him when he leaves then goes by the fireplace, has a seat, and soaks in the peace and serenity of the night. The crickets, the deer traveling through the woods and the predatory creatures skulking around places Querrick in a state of no-mind, a state of absolute calm much like war (twisted as it is). When he first retired from the army, the visions haunted him like mad to the point he couldn’t blink. Then, as time went by and he began to learn how to meditate and connect with deeper parts of himself, the fear, anxiety, and stress faded into nonexistence. Now, Querrick is more relaxed than he’s ever been and is mad he didn’t learn to meditate sooner. Oh well, Querrick thinks, we all learn at our own pace, I suppose.
Querrick winds up going to sleep by the fireplace.
The next morning Querrick wakes up to the smell of eggs, bacon, and flapjacks. He sees Isabel getting the food prepared and Lykas cleaning up around the cabin. He leans all the way forward and sighs from the series of strange dreams he had last night then gets up and stretches, cracking his back, arms, and chest. He doesn’t bother saying good morning as to not disturb the flow of their work.
He goes to the bathroom and washes up then comes back out to a fully made breakfast. Querrick is surprised but hides it well with his poker face as he sits at the table with the children.
“Morning,” Isabel says.
“Morning,” Querrick responds, “seems someone’s a chef.”
“What kind of girl would I be if I didn’t know how to cook?” Isabel says, “I do plan on getting married one day.”
“Good luck to the sap that decides to take you in,” Lykas says, “No offense, Querrick.”
Querrick actually chuckles at that.
Isabel goes to smack Lykas, but he dodges and sticks his tongue out at her.
“I’ll deal with you after breakfast,” Isabel squints at him.
“So,” Lykas says, “every had a gal?”
“No.” Querrick says.
“Figures as much,” Lykas says, “guess they don’t allow freedom in the Dark Army.”
“You’d think that” Querrick says.
Lykas raises an eyebrow.
“We had all the freedom we could handle,” Querrick says.
“So what happened?” Isabel asks, “you don’t sound too enthused about it.”
“What’s there to be enthused about?” Querrick asks, “it’s war.”
“Aw come on!” Lykas says,” we told you our story! Tell us about yours.”
“Seems someone’s bored out his mind,” Querrick says, “alright, pick a war.”
“The first Great War,” Lykas says without hesitation, “the long version.”
Querrick smiles, “seems you figured me out, huh?”