Monster In Our Midst

Yay we’ve got to the end of April. Might not sound like an achievement but it feels like one as writing has been slower for me recently. Still, I’m proud I’ve got here. Anyway, to the reason as to why we’re here, the story. It’s a mixture of Sci-Fi and fantasy. Not something I’ve really done previously, much like I don’t often not explain the overarching world but this is one of those times. I did that mainly because I wanted this tale to be more about the events then the universe it takes place in. But that is all you’re getting from me. If you want to know more you’ll have to read on. Enjoy!

In his youth Sascha Numerov had walked the roads of the world searching for… well, he didn’t know other than to say something. Perhaps it was a cause, a purpose, a calling. Whatever the reason was that was why he walked all over Qwervee.

To pay his way he would undertake jobs. Some were peaceful, simple things like mending doors and gates while others were disposing of… let’s just say less than favourable souls who took pleasure in the suffering of others.

Before he took to this nomadic life he’d trained in combat. He never did become a soldier but he was more than proficient with most weapons that might be laid out before him. But as to why exactly well that is a different story entirely; one that will not be told here, today.

It was on these travels across and over the lands of kingdoms, fifes and republics that Sascha came across a village. If he were given a map he would not be capable of pointing it out and expected it was too small to be marked.

Such is often the case with these quaint communities which dot the land comprising far more of the worlds populace than the big cities behind their walls of rough hewn stone. That might change one day but Sascha cannot say for sure that it will. People like space after all and the cities offer so little. Yet, more flock to them all the time. In a fashion that suggests the numbers might be endless. They are not but appearances can be deceiving, especially on busy days or following struggles and conflicts.

This village however, felt different from the moment he set eyes upon it from a not very great distance.

Where others, most he had ventured through, were bustling places filled with life, joy and people grafting hard as they work. This village, Ptunem, could be no further from that for the settlers skulked around, gazes averted, heads lowered. If their clothes were not so ragged and torn he might not have been aware of their skeletal bodies either.

On several occasions he tried to introduce himself to a number of the inhabitants. All of them ignored or quickly scurried away as if he were cursed, diseased. One in particular quaked in fear as if Sascha were about to strike him with malice. He was not. He had no reason to.

Not long after he caught a whiff of the air, it smelt of fear. He should’ve known from the moment he arrived but hadn’t. That was a failure on his part. Though, as to what the people were fearful of he could not say, did not know. As far as he could see the village held no keep or palace; the common seats of dictatorial power which aid oppression and subjugation. The very same entities which are believed to have led to the downfall of civilization until it was back at its early roots, forcing it to build and grow once more, except now in the shadows of the ruins of before.

Sascha has never concerned himself with the before. Those days are long gone, dead, but sadly not quite buried. Perhaps it would be easier if they were, though he is not sure.

Alas, the world is the way that it is. Though, with the speed at which many of the ruins of before have been falling as of late it is possible that few reminders will remain soon. That, he thinks, might be for the best.

Anyway, with the people of the village adamant about refusing to acknowledge his existence, Sascha continued on. For while help is something he freely offers it can only be done so if it and he are welcomed. It was clear these villagers did not welcome an iota about him and so he settled on pushing through.

Soon he’d be out the other side able to continue on his journey. It didn’t feel right but…

Before he could leave Ptunem there was a call that drew his attention. If he were to describe it he would’ve said it was somewhere between a whistle and a click. Oddest sound he ever did hear. If it hadn’t been it would likely have never registered with him for its volume was so unbelievably low. It was a miracle it ever reached his ears and yet it did.

In reaction to said sound his head swung right to find a shape lodged into a narrow gap shaded by the palm leaves of the roofs of the villages’ shacks. Without delay the shape beckoned him over with a gesture. If anyone else saw this shape they ignored it. Perhaps a little too well if Sascha were honest. Still he held no fear, only curiosity, and so with that trudged over to the narrow gap at times thinking himself mad for the mass in the shade regularly disappeared and reappeared during his approach.

That had to be an optical illusion, a trick of the mind. Probably also meant it was purposeful too; a way of hiding their presence in case anyone with prying eyes might grow too curious as to why a stranger is walking toward a narrow slit between two unremarkable buildings they have no business with.

It struck the wanderer that if he were omnispective the strangest thing would be the lack of interest from those around in him venturing toward a space between the two buildings. Hell, even as a member of the community it would strike him as odd, truth-be-told.

“You are not from round these parts, yes?” The voice said from beneath a long hood covering much of their face but doing nothing to hide the deep wrinkles and skin folds around the base of their neck.

“That is right.”

Try as he might Sascha’s replies have always sounded far more official than is necessary. What comes from having grown up being trained in duty and the art of combat, he thinks. Still, it surprises him that it’s a habit, learned and practiced, he has never fallen out or away from. He often wonders if others have or if they like him are too practiced to be rid of such things.

“Do you think this a strange question?” The shape says raising their head as if to look at the traveller but only managing to reveal, whether that is their intention or not, a glimpse at their pointed chin and cracked lips.

Dehydration, an affliction Sascha has, at times, known far too well for his liking. Though from him the sight illicits no physical reaction for he is used too much worse sights. However, he would’ve been lying if he did not admit the time it would take to sink to such a level of suffering stirred feelings deep within him, for he was brought up with a code. The highest tenet of said code being that the innocent should not suffer at the hands of others. From what he has glimpsed thus far this suffering is not natural, it is enforced for he has spotted plenty of food stuffs. Enough to feed all he has seen several times over and with no sight of rot or malnourishment to indicate that crops might be failing, yields low.

All this makes in more perplexing as to whom, from where and exactly how this oppression might be occurring. It is a reminder to him that there are things in this world he does not yet know. As a child that would’ve seemed ridiculous with all the study he undertook, but with advancing years comes the realisation that what any one person knows is only a fraction of what exists.

Is that why I took to the roads of Qwervee, he wonders while issuing his reply, “I do not.”

“Are you a warrior?” The shrouded shape blurts quite uncharacteristically yet obviously referring to the heavy repeater slung across his back.

A shake of the head is followed by, “I am but one man who walks this world.”

“For what reason? It does not matter, I’m sorry. But you know how to use that weapon, yes?” The sudden shift from curiosity to desire is jarring, as if an internal conflict is pulling the figure in different directions.

“I would not carry it if I did not.” Comes the honest, succinct and frank reply from the man on the road.

“Then you might be what we need most here in Ptunem.”

There is hope in that statement, an abundance of it. Nevertheless it sounds strange, not to his ears but rather as if the figure had lost and forgotten such a thing existed. It’s why in reply Sascha at first raises an eyebrow high and then utters, “And that is?”

He is curious, intrigued, interested in what it is the people of Ptunem, which he assumes is the name of this village, might require of him.

“Aid. We need aid. We are starving, suffering and cannot take much more. Will you help us?”

The tone is pleading, desperate. Clearly they are sincere with their request.

The shapes hands, wrinkled and pale, shake as they reach toward Sascha. They never reach him; they stop short, hold in the air continuing to tremble.

Finally the villager has shifted enough to showcase their eyes. One is bright and gleaming through the shadows of the hood, the other is dull.

“I have no food, nothing to give.”

The hooded figure shakes their head with a mild look of surprise upon their face.

“We want no supplies, only your skills. If you are speaking truth, that is.”

“What is happening here?” The traveller questions believing there is a need to get to the point rather than dancing around it.

Alas, before any reply can be given to Sascha’s query a whoosh of air tears down the street. The hooded figure goes stiff as a board with fear, then mutters some unintelligible words only to scurry off down the narrow slit between the buildings leaving Sascha, the traveller, the stranger, alone.

The hooded figures escape is quite impressive for the narrow route was barely wide enough for a single width of shoulders; still they made quick work of it prior to disappearing as if they never existed to begin with.

A sigh escapes the wanderers’ lips, it’s followed by a nod and then finally Sascha turns. To no surprise the street is empty, entirely, now. The citizens of the village, who had been milling about forcing themselves to avert their gazes previously, have since vacated, fled into the other buildings that line the road that bisects this village. Alone, Sascha was left to wonder if he should call out. He didn’t, though better of it. Instead, he unslings the repeater from across his back, pulls on the short lever which sticks out one side of its long body to ensure the rounds are ready for discharge and prepares for what might come next.

In an instant the clouds descend, unnaturally, all around only to begin swarming as if sentient. Then rain sprays like he has only ever seen once before when he a child. That was back at the training grounds when one of the before pipes burst. He recalls being told the cause was something called pressure and then watched with interest as the pipe was patched until the spray was no more. He hadn’t then and doesn’t now understand such things. He’d never needed to, but they drew his curiosity regardless, at least when he was a child they did anyway. These days he accepts things for what they are. There should be sadness in that he thinks prior to being ripped from his thoughts when the sounds of youthful cackling reach his ears.

For the first few short fractions of a second he believes the sounds to be little more than another memory laying itself indelicately over others. That is until he feels motion around him. It’s close, maybe an arm’s length away at most. In response to it he turns this way and that, though sees nothing but the too low clouds. They are almost touching ground now and resemble impenetrable fog more than anything.

Whispers kill any other thoughts he has, wrench him from that place and following a blink Sascha finds himself stood, hand clamped around the thin wrist of a child. He shakes his head from side to side to dispel… he has no name or description for what it is he hopes to dispel; a dream perhaps, no it is something else entirely.

In fact in so many ways calling whatever he saw, he felt, he experienced a dream is wrong. A vision?

“Who are you?” He demands of the child in his grasp.

The sudden change, the vanishing of the fog cloud is the first he recalls having seeing them, and in his mind if he has hold of them then it is for a reason, he believes.

“I’m no one. Now let me go. I did nothing wrong. You attacked me.” The boy assures, seething and struggling to break the grip upon their wrist.

Without a doubt Sascha will not be complying and letting go unless he wishes too, or unless it turns out the child has a weapon. That is doubtful, severely, he feels.

“Do not listen, they are a thief!” Someone exclaims from nearby.

Casting his gaze further than a narrow zone around him, Sascha realises he has an audience where previously there was none. It makes little sense, none at all honestly, for he was alone seconds ago. There was no one. His brow furrows, though he hides his confusion.

“A thief?” The words slip from his lips.

“Yes, he is but one of those who steal all we have to survive on and because of it we are starving.” The tone is filled with desperation. Something that is echoed by many others who think it time they add pleas in hopes this stranger, this traveller, will aid them. Right the wrong of what is happening in Ptunem. Yet, how they can be so united in their belief they are starving he does not understand as there is food… His dark eyes catch sight of the simple wooden boxes he saw chock full of food stuffs, they are slim. He does not understand how that can be possible.

“You’re stealing these good people’s food?” Sascha hears himself say in the moments prior to returning to the present.

“I have no choice. None of us do.” Are the assurances from the boy continuing to struggle. Though, it appears they are less against Sascha’s restraint and more in reaction to the accusations from the villagers that surround the pair.

There are so many, Sascha notes as cries of, “Lies!” “We’re dying.” “Save us.” fill the air with a cacophony of sound too much for his ears to cope with.

“Silence!” Is the order given from the closely cropped blonde haired man as his dark brown eyes scan those that surround.

The command has the desired effect as all those present fell silent with no efforts having been made to offer refusals or resistance.

“You ask for my aid yet bombard me with cries. If I am to aid you I must know what is going on. Let me question the boy.”

“But he’s a liar! He cannot be believed!”

“Yeah!” Is the unified agreement which follows the outburst.

“I will be the judge of that.” Sascha fires back with a glowering stare cast across many of those gathered around and closest to him.

Right after this his gaze softens when it shifts to the boy he has hold of still.

“Tell me all you know. There will be no interruptions.” I quick hard glance at the crowd is met with bowed heads and nods of confirmation.

“We…we work for this group. They… took us. Keep us locked up. Force us to steal for them. If we don’t they… they…” Rather than say what this group, which to Sascha sounds an awful lot like a bandit clan, might do he shows his free hand.

The boys palm is heavily scarred with what the traveller knows to be a mixture of punishing cuts and cruel burns. The sight sickens him, boils his blood. This is not how the innocent should be treated, especially children.

To Sascha’s eyes the boy looks to be nine or ten.

“Where are they?” He asks rather than demands.

“In a clearing, I can show you if you like.” The boys’ eyes shine bright with hope when he says those words.

Ignoring the grumbles, the man releases his grip upon the boy, who has his shaved head to stubble broken by where scars have healed making it impossible for hair to grow. A smile slips into place across the boys face. It’s followed by a frantic nodding.

“This way, I’ll show you where they reside.”

As he boy scurries off villagers espouse their concerns. Sascha ignores all of them and follows the boy out of the village and deep into the jungle woods which surround the palm leaf roofed timber cabins of Ptunem.

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