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World in Tatters Ch. 40

By Kevin Barkman

By Kevin BarkmanPublished about a month ago 9 min read
World in Tatters Ch. 40
Photo by Claudio Testa on Unsplash

The hours pass quickly. Waking Alice only takes a moment. As soon as I enter her tent, she springs from her bed, knife in hand. Turns out, she’s a light sleeper. Like me.

Now that the three of us— Rachel, Alice and I—are ready to go, we gather by the horses. Most of the camp has gone to sleep for the evening, or at least they’re pretending to. Alice had a lot of questions about our upcoming excursion. Questions for which I had no answers. When I told her that we’d just have to trust Richard, she immediately scoffed. Trust doesn’t come easy to her. Given her past, it makes perfect sense.

Shortly before the agreed upon time, the three of us slip out of the camp. As silently as possible, we proceed into the nearest tree line, our horses in tow. Once we’re out of earshot of the last set of tents, we mount up, riding toward the meeting spot.

As we enter the clearing, I spot a group of several horses tied up at the other side. I dismount, leading the others to the center. I suddenly feel extremely exposed in the glare of the moonlight.

Up ahead, three figures materialize from the darkness. I feel my free hand drift to my holster. It’s not until the figures come into focus that I realize it’s Kiera in the lead. I breathe a sigh of relief at the friendly face.

It’s odd, though. Richard isn’t among them.

“Good, you’re here!” Came a familiar voice behind me. I spin around, only to find Richard approaching from the direction we came. Seeing my confused expression, “What? Had to make sure you weren’t followed.”

“Fair enough.” I gesture to my companions to dismount. “Who are your friends, Richard?”

Passing between Alice and me, “Glad you asked.”

At his shrill whistle, two more soldiers appear near their horses. A third stumbles out of the darkness, frantically hoisting up his trousers. In his effort, the man trips over his own feet, tumbling in front of his compatriots.

I’ll give him one thing, whoever he is. He knows how to break tension, whether he intends to or not. The two remaining soldiers help the klutz to his feet, all but dragging him over to meet us.

“Now that’s the show’s over,” Richard sighs. “Let me introduce the team.” Starting from my left, a wiry dark-skinned man with a long-gun draped over his shoulder, “Steven, Alice, Rachel, meet Jarvis Butler. Best marksman I’ve ever seen.”

“Pleasure.” Jarvis dips his chin.

“Next, we have our explosives expert, Peggy Snow.” A petite woman, dark hair pulled back into a tight bun, Asian descent, I’d wager. “To her right, this is Ren Stern. Their quick fingers will get us through any locked door you can think of.

“And of course, last, but not least, we have Artemis and her brother Apollo.” The way his tone drops on the last word, I suspect Richard has had to deal with a lot from him.

“That’s not your…real name, right?” Rachel questions the siblings.

“Oh, god, no.” Scoffs the peppy young woman. “But it sounds better than Agnes and Abderus Iordanau, don’t you think?”

“I guess, but why…?” Rachel didn’t even need to finish her question.

The young man, maybe eighteen—the same one who, only moments ago, was falling over himself— winks at her, “You’ll see.”

Rachel’s reaction is actually quite satisfying. The look of pure disgust at his blatant, and frankly unwarranted flirtation, brings a smile to my face. Alice tenses slightly, assuming a protective posture. I don’t think she likes our new friend “Apollo.” Not sure I do either, but if Richard’s bringing him along, I’m sure he’ll come in handy.

By the way Richard rolls his eyes, ignoring Apollo, this is clearly a common occurrence. “Despite Apollo’s…personality, he and Artemis are incredible archers.”

That’s when I recognized them. Something about their faces seemed familiar, but in the darkness, I couldn’t be sure until now.

“And when they’re being serious,” Kiera chimes, flashing a glare at the twins, “Their stealth abilities are unmatched.”

“Aww, shucks.” Apollo mocks.

“I see,” Nodding, I glance across the faces of our new allies. Gesturing to the twins, “I recognize the two of them from the night you got us out of Butch’s camp. Didn’t have the chance to formally meet them though. It’s good to meet you all. It’s nice to have—”

A rustling draws my attention to the edge of the clearing. Two figures amble into the dim moonlight, one on foot, and one on horseback. The entire company snap into action. In the blink of an eye, Jarvis has his rifle leveled, Alice has blades in both hands, Richard grips the hilt of his sword.

“Richard, my boy.” Comes the familiar voice of Richard’s grandfather. Our company breathes a collective sigh of relief. “Were you just going to leave without a goodbye?”

“What are you doing here, Jedd?” Richard’s tone reflects more concern than annoyance.

“This young man here noticed Steven leaving camp. He was concerned.” As the two get closer, the clouds move away from the moon, the light revealing the boy’s face: Chris.

I knew we should have told him. Chris pulls his leg over his saddle, dropping onto the ground. I hang my head, pinching the bridge of my nose. “Why are you here, Chris?”

“Jason told me what you’re planning. I—”

“Damn it, Jason!” I huff. “Look, Chris. Jedd. I appreciate your concern. I really do, but we have to do this. Jedd, I know my mother doesn’t approve, but we’re—”

Jedd holds his hand up, stopping me. “Your mother and I have known each other for a while. She has helped our movement make great strides. However,” Locking eyes with mine, his voice becoming serious, “In this instance, she is unequivocally wrong.”

“So…” Artemis muses, “You’re not here to stop us?”

A broad smile crosses Jedd’s lips. “On the contrary.” He reaches into a pouch hanging at his side, pulling out a roll of paper bound with a piece of twine. Passing it to Richard, “I came to bring you this.”

“What is it?” Kiera questions.

“It’s all of the intelligence we have regarding President Falstrom.” Richard begins untying the cord, but Jedd puts his hand over Richards. “You’ll have plenty of time to look over this when you get to Atlanta. For now, you should get going. Before someone less pleasant comes along.”

“Right. Of course.” Richard’s tone turns authoritative, as he turns away from his grandfather. “Alright, everyone, mount up. We have a hard ride ahead of us.”

Richard and his contingent rush off. I watch as each member double checks their saddle. Practiced hands work quickly, tightening straps and securing saddlebags.

Alice nods at Jedd, speaking for the first time, “Thank you. This will make a huge difference.”

Jedd looks pleased with Alice’s gratitude, maybe even a little surprised. “Of course, my lady.”

“I hate that title.” Alice grumbles. With a quick smile, Alice mounts her steed. Rachel and I follow suit, walking the horses over to rejoin the others.

After a moment, I get a feeling as though we’re being followed. I tug on the reins, bringing Stormy about. Chris just about runs into me as he trots behind.

“What are you doing?” I call out.

“I’m coming with you!”

“No, you’re not.” I turn Stormy back around, returning to our path.

Chris urges his horse forward, looping around to cut us off. “Yes, I am.”

“Chris,” I sigh, pinching the bridge of my nose. “I get that you want to help, but you need to stay here.” Gesturing to the others, “Clearly we have enough help.”

“I’m coming with you, whether you like it or not.” There’s a sternness to his demeanor, something I hadn’t expected from the scared boy we met a couple weeks ago. For a moment, it was like looking into a mirror. I can’t believe my family’s stubborn attitude has rubbed off on him this quickly. “I’ll just follow you if I have to.”

“Fine.” Alice’s voice surprises me. “But don’t slow us down.”

“Of course not, Al—” A shrill whistle interrupts him.

“Guard shifts are about to change!” Kiera calls. “If we’re going, we have to go now.”

Richard, Kiera and their contingent start down a trail I hadn’t noticed in the darkness. Alice takes off after them, spurring her horse to a gallop. Rachel looks to me for confirmation before joining them. Chris, on the other hand, makes no motion to follow. Instead, he waits, staring straight into my face, he and his horse positioned directly in my path.

“Well, go on then.” I urge.

“So, you’re okay with this?”

“Nothing about this is ‘okay.’” I concede, “But if I tried to stop you, I’d be the hypocrite.”

In the moonlight, I glimpse the edges of his mouth curl upward. In an instant, he whirls his horse around, trying desperately to catch up to the others. Stormy and I are hot on his heels, riding as quickly as possible in the dim light of the moon.

*****

We ride hard until midday. By that point, we’re far enough ahead of the resistance army that we feel no qualms about resting for a while. During our hard ride, we come across a river running parallel to the road. We allow our horses to drink from the waters and munch on the grasses at the bank.

After a few minutes of rest and rehydration, Richard and Kiera call the entire company in for a meeting. Once all eleven of us gather in, Richard pulls out the bundle given to him by his grandfather. By the way the seal had been broken and the twine binding hangs haphazardly aside, I’d guess the couple has been looking over the intel without us. All the same to me. I’d rather not have to dig through it myself.

Everyone listens intently as Richard begins going over everything they’ve learned from Jedd’s reports. Frankly, it’s a lot of information, but the primary gist is that, by all accounts, Alice’s mother is in fact alive.

Not just alive but being well cared for. Counter to my expectations, the deposed president isn’t locked up in your standard prison cell. She’s sequestered in a room at her old home: the president’s mansion. I doubt it’s her old chambers, considering her circumstances, but according to the reports, she’s well fed. Based on one report, Elias Drum likes to bring her out during state functions. He dresses her up like a doll, parading her around as entertainment for his constituents. I suspect it’s more than that, though.

I fear he uses her as a way to keep his people in line. If they see how completely he’s been able to subjugate the great Nora Falstrom—the woman who brought Savannah into the Alliance through sheer force of will and negotiating skill—then they’ll fall in line, fearing for their own standing. And their lives.

Even those who don’t agree with Drum. Even the ones who might have a mind to rebel, won’t openly challenge someone like that. Most of them probably have families, so even if they don’t fear for their own lives, they won’t risk their loved ones.

By the way Alice reacts to the intelligence reports, I can tell she’s probably thinking the same things. And it’s taking its toll on her. For years, her mother has been subjected to this disrespect and degradation. I subtly keep an eye on her during the briefing. I watch as she clenches and unclenches her jaw, her fists tight at her sides. All in all, she’s able to keep her head level, not giving in to the emotions I’m sure are coursing through her.

There’s one good thing about all this, at least. The fact that we have this much information means we most likely have an ally at court. A spy feeding us information from the inside.

As soon as they finish going over what we know about President Falstrom’s situation, they start into the plan for the next couple days.

Kiera pulls out a map of Atlanta, pointing out the mansion and its surrounding armaments. It looks like an older map though. I can’t help but wonder at its accuracy, but Richard and Kiera seem confident. They point out the Presidential compound, marking the defensive positions based on available intel.

According to Richard, Apollo and Artemis will attempt to make contact with our source later tonight while the rest of us wait just outside the city. They’ll secure us a place to stay the night while working to infiltrate the mansion.

“From there,” Richard declares, “We’ll be in a better position to move forward, but I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves before conferring with our mole.”

And that was that. As soon as our meeting concludes, each member of our merry band mounts up once again, riding hard toward Atlanta.

familyYoung AdultSeriesSci FiExcerptAdventure

About the Creator

Kevin Barkman

Somehow, my most popular story is smut. I don't usually write smut. I did it once, and look what happened. Ugh.

Anyway, Hope you enjoy my work. I do pour my heart, soul, sweat and tears into it.

PS: Please read more than my smut story.I beg

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