Lead vs Fantasy 3-1

Author’s note:  

Hello all, I just checked out the site stats for the first time in a couple weeks and it looks like some people are actually reading this now. It even seems that someone from Saudi Arabia has read through most of it and someone from the Netherlands has been opening one page a day recently.  

Was everything I just said really creepy?  Whatever.  The point is, I’m excited to see you all here and I’m also a little terrified.  Now that anyone’s paying attention, the words I put down actually matter.  This whole thing could quickly become a life long embarrassment for me if I do it wrong.  

Putting that aside, welcome all, I hope you enjoy yourselves.  That’s the whole point, right?

Now for the real note.  On account of the holidays and a wedding I have to attend in South Dakota, I won’t be posting anything for the next two weeks after this.  For anyone that wants to mark it down in their calendar, I’ll go back to weekly posts starting the 13th of January.  Friday the 13th.  Because I like good omens.  

 

3-1 You Awaken to the Smell of Feet

 

Erik felt like he was floating in darkness.  Kind of.  It was a very shaky kind of floating.  He was being jolted back and forth in nothingness.  Like he was a blind fish owned by a terrible child.  After a while of this, he remembered his eyelids worked.  He slid them open and was greeted by the bright blue of an open sky.

A few seconds later, his other senses started playing catch up.  His back started to dully ache.  His nose reported the smell of feet mixed with the earthy zest of mud.  Then he heard a voice.  “So you’re finally awake.  Are you sure you’re not a child?  I was fourteen when I got my first and I was up in six hours.”

It took Erik a few seconds to recognize the unfamiliar voice.  It was a new acquaintance.  A mercenary.  Like he was now.  As his memories slowly took a roll call, a name came to mind.  “Edge?”  He asked, pushing himself up on his elbows.  “Where am I?”

“That’s not a fair comparison,”  Lotus’s voice didn’t answer from Erik’s left.  “Your body’s weird.”

“My body’s weird?”  Edge’s voice demanded as Erik slowly turned his head around and took in his surroundings.  “You don’t have nearly enough scars to be a mercenary.  Plus, you barely look like you’ve ever starved at all.”

As Erik understood that he was laying on the floor of the rover while it bounced through a prairie, the Captain chimed in from what should’ve been the front seat.  “She has a point.  You did have half your shoulder torn off and recover in five months.  Even for a merc, that’s a bit much.”

“That’s just cause of knives… probably,” Edge rebutted without much conviction.

“How was the nap?”  Cauliflower’s easy voice inquired from behind Erik as he now sat in the middle of the rover’s bed.

Erik gingerly brought up a hand to rub his eyes and said, “My head hurts, but I think I’m fine.  What’s going on?”

“You didn’t wake up in time so we had to drag you along,” Champ thought he was answering as he grabbed Erik’s shoulder and guided him into one of the bench seats.

“Along where?”  Erik asked, trying to remember what’d happened before he fell unconscious.

“We got a job,” Cauliflower answered cheerily, as always, looking into nowhere.

“Kind of a job,” Edge complained as he turned irritable eyes on the Captain.

“Rush jobs mean more money,” Champ spoke up, waving his hand dismissively.  “Stop being bitchy, it doesn’t suit you.”

“We were supposed to be headed for Farantine,”  Edge declared, crossing his arms and looking past Erik into the swaying grass.  “Normally we discuss decisions.”

“It was our only paying option,” Cauliflower said, turning her face towards Edge.  “Besides, it’s not like it’s shocking that he’d want to go to Narabesque.  Even you should get homesick sometimes.”

“I spent more time being sick at home,” Edge grumbled, refusing to meet Cauliflower’s eyes.

“We’re escorting a merchant,” Lotus spoke up, turning away from studying Edge’s reaction and pointing behind the rover.

Erik followed her gesture and saw a small transport vehicle bouncing along in their wake.  The covered back of the truck was only large enough to fit five people comfortably and the front cab was clearly made for two.  After inspecting the truck, Erik craned his neck to look further beyond it.  As he did so, he only found a small cloud of dust and an empty field.

“I thought they normally moved in caravans.”  Erik knitted his brows as he turned back to his new companions.

“Normally they do, but he was in a hurry,” Champ instructed from beside Erik.

“Which isn’t completely suspicious at all,” Edge complained.

“The mercenaries he usually contracts wiped a few days ago.”  The Captain called out from the front seat.  “Then he ran around trying to figure out another option in time to make his delivery.  It happens all the time.”

“And following up on the job of dead men is supposed to be reassuring?”  Edge asked, turning a rebellious glare towards his captain.

The Captain met Edge’s gaze without blinking and said, “This isn’t the same as before.”

Edge turned away and the car was filled with an uncomfortable silence.

After about a minute of this, Champ clapped his hands together and shouted, “The Newbie’s officially up.  That means it’s time!”

“Time?  Time for what?”  Erik asked, unable to keep his voice entirely steady.  He was starting to remember the previous point when it was time to do something with him.  His stomach still ached a bit when he thought about it.

“Here!” Champ declared happily, thrusting his assault rifle into Erik’s hands.  “Take it!”

Erik slowly took hold of the gun, making sure to not accidentally point it at anyone.  Once it was firmly in his grasp and pointed into the air, Erik asked, “What now?”

“How do you feel?”  Champ asked, leaning towards Erik excitedly.

“F-fine, I guess,”  Erik answered, trying to scoot away, but quickly running into the firm metal railing.

Champ stopped moving forward and pursed his lips.  “Don’t you feel right or complete or a rush of power or… anything?”

“Not… really,” Erik answered, turning his gaze towards the gun to see if he could glean anything.  The weapon was mostly black and had a nice matte finish.  As always, it was heavier than he felt it should be and it was probably well maintained.  Not finding anything useful, Erik turned back towards Champ and asked, “Should I?”

“Ummmm, try shooting it a bit?”  Champ suggested, screwing up his face in thought.    “Maybe that’ll help.”

Erik looked at the gun skeptically.  Then he shrugged and moved his finger towards the trigger.  Before he could fire he felt a pressure against his hand, pushing the gun towards the exterior of the rover.  Following that feeling, Erik found Edge’s boot roughly pressed against him.

“Shooting up is bad practice,” Edge informed when their eyes met.  “Bullets come back down.”

Erik’s face flushed as he nodded at the lesson.  Then he turned to look over the metallic railing behind himself.  He took a firm grip on the gun, aimed at the dirt a few paces away from the rover, and pulled the trigger.

As the mechanism was already moving, Erik remembered what he’d forgotten.  However, it was too late.  Erik immediately started releasing his finger, but the gun had received its order.  It let out a few explosive cries and spat out three pieces of lead.

Erik didn’t even bother observing the small columns of dust sent up when the bullets struck home.  On reflex, he‘d already dropped the gun and brought his hands up to his ears.  Then, as the rifle bounced off the railing and clattered to the floor behind him, Erik realized something.  He could hear the clattering.

He could also hear the gentle squawking from the radio in the front, “W-What was that?  Is there an attack?”

Erik didn’t even bother listening to the Captain’s response to that voice.  As he contemplated his strange new resilience, he turned and settled back into his seat.  Once he had, his eyes alighted upon Edge’s stony face.  Those crimson eyes stared coldly into Erik’s.  Then they slowly shifted towards the floor of the rover.

Following that movement, Erik saw the black assault rifle he’d just been grasping.  Its butt was resting on the rover’s bed and its barrel was leaning against the bare seat between Edge’s legs.  Following the line of that barrel, Erik saw Edge’s chest covered in wrinkled black fabric.

Seeing that, Erik’s blood ran cold and his skin crawled.  He quickly bent down to retrieve the weapon as he said, “I-I’m sorry.  I was just so surprised.  I didn’t think-“

“Ah, it’s fine!”  Champ’s jovial voice smashed through the tension.  “Your body’s going through some changes, Newbie.  There’ll be a lot of surprises.  More importantly, did you feel anything just then?  Like an ‘ah, this is right,’ sort of feeling?”

“N-no,” Erik answered, shifting his gaze between Edge’s unmoving figure and Champ’s dissolution into abject disappointment.

Champ collected back his rifle and hugged it to his chest for a moment, as if consoling it.  Then he drew the handgun from his thigh and handed it to Erik, grip first.

Erik took the weapon again and held it for about half a minute.

“Well?”  The Captain’s inquisitive voice came from the front.  He didn’t exhibit the overbearing excitement Champ had shown moments earlier, but there was a certain anticipatory shine in his voice.

“I don’t feel anything special,” Erik answered slowly.  He squinted at the gun for a moment, demanding from it the answers his teammates refused him.  Of course, the weapon offered nothing.

Erik looked back at the Captain’s anticipating face and Champ’s curious expression.  Then he turned around and aimed at the dirt.  After firing the weapon twice, he was once again greeted by the surprise that his ears felt fine.  There was nothing wrong at all.

This time, thankfully, he managed to keep his hold on the weapon.  Not that this meant he had some kind of revelation from it.

When Erik turned back to the Captain he tried to give an apologetic expression.  He couldn’t shake the feeling that he was somehow failing the man.

The Captain gave a chagrined smile and nodded a few times. This gave Erik a bit of relief from his unfounded guilt.

As soon as Erik had given the handgun back to Champ, Cauliflower excitedly cried out, “It’s my turn now!”  Then she punched him in the eye.

That wasn’t quite right.  When Erik had recovered from the dull ache around his eye sockets, he understood that the pressure he’d felt couldn’t be from a fist.  Once he had gathered the courage to open his eyes, Erik found a pair of binoculars floating a couple inches from his face.

Since these binoculars were still tied to Cauliflower’s neck, she was leaning in close as she held them out.  Erik found himself growing strangely embarrassed as he looked at her, looking at him, from such a short distance.  Erik desperately held his breath.  He felt like his face might combust if he caught her scent from so close.

In an effort to distract himself, Erik determinedly shoved his face into the proffered binoculars.  Once he had, he found himself taking a very intimate interest in Edge’s right shoulder.  He could even see the fine grains in the unkempt black fabric the man wore.

After about thirty seconds, Cauliflower pulled the binoculars back and stared into Erik’s eyes.  “Well?”

“I guess they let you see far,” Erik answered, attempting a smile.

Cauliflower pouted and leaned back into her spot as she said, “I’d hoped I could pawn some of my work off on you.”

“If that happened, we might just trade in for the newer model,” Champ observed with a light laugh.

“Edge, it’s your turn,” Cauliflower called out, very pointedly not looking towards Champ.

At those words, Edge slowly shifted his weight and drew a black knife from his hip.  Then he gently flipped it up, caught it by its blade, and proffered the hilt to Erik.

Erik gingerly took the knife, a little terrified he might accidentally cut his superior.  When he ‘d retrieved it, he grabbed the handle properly and just held the knife for a minute.  Unlike the knives Erik had used before, this was obviously a weapon.  The blade was half a foot, had a razor’s edge, and came to a sharp point.  As with the other weapons, he was surprised by the knife’s weight.  It was certainly heavier than its kitchen equivalents.  Other than that, however, he felt nothing special.

Erik carefully looked up at Edge and found that the man had his fingers interlaced and was intensely observing Erik.  Feeling like a little more should be done, Erik clumsily attempted to slash the knife in the air a few times.  Nothing really came of that, though.

Eventually, Erik was forced to shake his head and carefully hand over the knife.  Erik was waiting to see a look of disappointment spread across Edge’s face.  He didn’t, however.  Instead, Edge wore a faint, yet refreshing smile.  Erik couldn’t help but stare at this curiously.

When Edge noticed Erik’s gaze, his smile morphed into a smirk and he said, “Can’t have you stealing my role, can I?”

As Erik continued to study Edge, the rest of the car turned its eyes to the woman sitting beside him.  With the weight of those stares on her, Lotus placed one hand on the rifle which leaned on the bench to her left.  Then she said, “We only have one good rifle.  Even if he has the affinity, he won’t be able to make use of it until we reach the city.”  Her frosty eyes scanned the car as she finished decisively, “He doesn’t need to use my gun to check anything.”

“My rifle’s good,” Champ grumbled as the team seemed to give up on something.

With that, no one else was ready to thrust a weapon in Erik’s face.  He decided to use the lull to his advantage.  “What were we trying to do here, exactly?”

“We’ve gotta find your affinity.”  Edge answered after settling back into his seat.  “It’s important to know what your main weapon will be if we want to properly train you.”

Erik felt like he had some understanding of what was just said.  However, he also felt like he didn’t understand just as much.  He took a few seconds to look at the various options that’d been presented to him.  Then he turned his eyes on Lotus.  He didn’t know much about this stuff, but he just couldn’t see himself following in the footsteps of that woman.  He wondered if he didn’t have any ability or affinity or whatever.

Looking down at his feet, the sentiment spilled out of his mouth.  “Maybe I just don’t have one.”

“You do,” Edge’s matter-of-fact tone cut through Erik’s melancholy with surprise.

“Why do you say that?”  Erik asked, looking up at the man across from him.

“Can’t you feel the difference?”  Edge asked, staring into Erik’s face.  “Your body should be a little lighter, a little more resilient.  Should be faint right now, but still noticeable.”

Erik tried focusing on his body.  Did it feel any different?  He rolled his shoulders experimentally.  Then he tried clenching his fists.  He couldn’t really tell the difference.  What did it feel like before?  He didn’t exactly remember.

“There’s also the more obvious thing,” Champ called out as he thrust a well polished flip lighter into Erik’s hand.

At first Erik didn’t know what to do with the thing.  Then he figured it out almost immediately.  Looking down at the polished metallic surface of the lighter, Erik saw his reflection.  At least he was pretty sure it was his reflection.  It had his face and everything, but it somehow felt alien.  Maybe it was just the eyes.  His muddy eyes had never been a source of pride for him.  Now they were different.  Still muddy and lacking in excitement or vibrancy.  However, they’d changed.  There was now some iron in that mud.  Just a bit, but enough to fascinate him.

After looking at himself for a moment, Erik looked up at the people around him.  They all gave him varying degrees of smiles.  Even the icy lotus curved her lips pleasantly at his dumbfounded expression.  After a moment, Erik turned his mystified eyes back to their own reflections.

“Welcome to the marvelous job of killing things,” Cauliflower declared happily, patting Erik on the head.

Erik should’ve complained at that treatment, but he found himself captivated by looking up into the clear blue sky.  Somehow, today it felt so much broader than before.

Then Erik dropped his gaze to his shoes and ran his fingers through his hair.  Merely thinking that thought made him a little embarrassed.

 

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2 thoughts on “Lead vs Fantasy 3-1

  1. Pingback: Lead vs Fantasy 2-4 | Dakotah Sicking Web Novels

  2. Pingback: Lead vs Fantasy 3-2 | Dakotah Sicking Web Novels

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