The Assignment: In Search of Death

 

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Chapter One

Present, Future

It was inside a room lying on a bed under crisp white sheets. It was called 01, presumably because it was the first. Around it's bed were machines for various things he did not know about. Some of them were large, grey blocks, others were smaller, flatter, longer, some black, some white. Some had buttons and knobs of different colours, and a couple had screens which flashed numbers and a graphs. From some of them wires came out and hung over his bed. Things clicked and whirred, and little lights flashed and blinked.

01 could feel something up his nose, and it tickled. It itched and irritated and he started to quickly inhale gulps of cool air to try and prevent the sneeze that was coming. Violently his body jerked as he sneezed, his face scrunching up in a wince as the metal tubes inside his throat grated against his skin.

Just one more day of this and he would be free. No more tubes down his throat, no more pain, no more fluids being injected into him by a fat nurse, no more being fed through clear tubes in his stomach, no more doctor's taking samples of his blood. And, at last, no more being rushed in to emergency operating rooms and being cut in to before the anaesthetic started to drift him off to the world of sleep.

He could not remember how long he had been in the hospital for. The days seemed to last for hours, but the hours seemed to last for days. 01 spent most of his time between not doing anything and the countless operations drugged up to his eyeballs on whatever they gave him through the needle in his left arm. Behind their surgical masks he could feel their looks of pity for him.

But no more! Tomorrow he would be a free man, free to do what he liked, free to eat what he liked. Free.

While he was dreaming of this a doctor and nurse had entered the room and proceeded to wheel him out into the long, white, antiseptic smelling hallway. As they pushed him he tried to image what it was like outside the walls of the hospital. Green grass? Wide open, blue sky? Fresh air? He could not imagine it; he gave up in defeat. It was too much for him, he would find out soon enough.

01’s thoughts drifted over to a new question that had formed in his mind: Where were they taking him? He did not recognise this part of the hospital. The walls had turned from bright white to dull grey. The floor did not feel like the smooth floor he was used to. There were no doors leading out of the hallway that he could see. It just kept going on, and on, and on. In his drugged state he could faintly make out the sound of the doctor and nurse talking away in a quiet whisper. He tried to focus on what they were saying and understand them, but he could not and let his head fall back onto his pillow. Slowly he drifted off in to a sleep that seemed to last for only a second.

'File. Nails. Wrench. Hammer. Rubber bands. Clear tubing.' The voice floated into 01’s dream. He was walking in a field of long, green grass. Soft to touch and his hands trailed by his sides, brushing over it. The air was heavy with the scent of flowers he could not name, and the sky above was bright blue. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale.

He opened his eyes and the sky above suddenly turned dark grey, the grass melted away and the smell of flowers turned into the strong, choking smell of antiseptic.

Inhale.

He started to cough, the pain in his throat intensified with each lung full of sterile air he brought in. A voice above anxiously called out an order. More than one voice now was ringing above him, all toned with worry. He blinked and the fuzzy images above him started to take shape. Blurred though they still were he could tell they were the doctors and nurses. What were they doing? Where was he?

Panic filled him and he started to struggle, his arms pulling against the brown leather straps and held him down. He kicked his feet to no avail. A pain in his left arm told him that someone was injecting him again with something. He had long ago stopped worrying about what they were giving him. His coughing stopped and his breathing regulated itself. A stillness entered his mind and once again the dream state carried him away.

~2~

The morning sun rose over the clear, blue water lake as creatures from all walks of life proceeded to wake up. Among them was a No One. A name given to inhabitants of the forests of Gamdagleeare Luff that were scratched off the lift of creatures that should exist. The sky turned orange as the final rays of the red sun rose over the edge of the lake. While the lake appeared close, it was actually an hour or so walk from the No One that was rising from the deep, blue grass it had been sleeping on and rubbed his eyes.

'The sun is getting brighter each morning, Nor-Viscoe. We must be nearing the water edge,' the No One commented. He was a young male, eighteen years of age, but unrecognisable. He stood on two legs like a man, walked like a man, spoke like a man, even had two arms like a man, but it was not a man. The resemblance stopped there. Most creatures if they saw him turned and looked away.

Turning, the No One picked up a stick and poked hard at something that was lying on the ground at his feet.

'Nor-Visoce!' he called loudly. The body on the ground moved jerkily, and then rolled over. 'We should be going, Nor-Viscoe! The sun has risen anda we are beyond the tree line. We are in, what you told me last night before going to sleep, a danger zone outside of the shelter of our forest.'

The forest he spoke of loomed beside them. A gigantic array of trees that appeared to be growing upside down. Their branches were small and thin at the bottom, and grew out larger and thicker as they moved up. The forest was black.

'You told me to wake you when the sun rose over the lake.'

Grunting, the figure at his feet moved again and then slowly sat up. 'All right, all right, I'm awake,' he said. 'And my name's not Nor-Viscoe, Holin,' he said grumpily.

'How do you know?' Holin asked, a frown crossing over his features. 'You said you didn't know your name.'

'That's not the point. Until I do find it, I'm sticking with the one I picked. You will call me Captain Von Delgo.'

'You'll always be Nor-Viscoe to me, though,' Holin told him before turning to look at the field in front of them. 'I think we slept in a field,' he told the Captain.

'A field?' the Captain rubbed his eyes and grazed around as the lush blue grass.

'Who do you think it belongs to?' Holin asked. 'Look at the grass! I have never seen grass this long or this fresh before.'

'I don't know and I don't care,' the Captain told him. 'The sooner we get out of it the better.'

A couple of minutes later they had both packed up their sleeping rugs and were slowly making their way through the grass, being careful to stay down low so as not to be seen.

As they neared a house, Holin rose to his feet to have a better look around.

'Get down!' the Captain hissed angrily, grabbing him by the waist and pulling him down. 'What do you tink you were doing standing up this close to the house?' he demanded. 'We don't know who or what lives there, you could have been seen!'

'I-I wanted to have a look.' Honest fear was in Holin's eyes as he stared at the man he called his saviour. He was simply curious about the house, all he had wanted to do was look at it.

'Then you will look at it from this view.'

'I'm sorry,' Holin said again, looking away.'

'Don't do it again,' the Captain ordered, shaking his head in annoyance before crawling on his hands and knees to a brick wall that was currently in the making. Easing himself up he peered over the top.

'What do you see, Nor-Viscoe?' Holin whispered from behind him.

'Two workers, but I can't tell who they are from this distance.'

'What are they doing?'

'At the moment, having breakfast.'

'What are they eating?'

'How do I know?' the Captain hissed, dropping down to the ground and sitting with his back against the wall.

'What do we do?'

The Captain shrugged and rubbed his chin in thought. It was bristly, he needed a shave. And quite possibly a shower as well. He couldn't remember the last time he had been clean, proper clean. Not just diving into the first lake or dam they came across and hoping the water would wash away the dirt. If anything the water simply added to it. What he wanted was a nice hot bath, with soap. He dropped down and proceeded to crawl along the wall.

'First off, we get down low and follow this wall. My compass is dead, and they only do that when we're near the edge and it can't get proper bearings.'

'Do you think the workers will notice us?' asked Holin as he crawled after the Captain.

'Not if you don't go jumping up trying to get a look,' he replied steely.

'I said I was sorry,' replied Holin quietly, his voice almost breaking. He couldn't stand to think that he had disappointed his saviour after all the man had done for him.

'The past is not changeable. If you muff something up then you will never get the chance to correct it, you can only wait for something in the future to happen for you to make up for the past.'

Holin nodded, and together they both crawled along quietly. After a couple of minutes silence, he asked, 'Have you ever muffed something up?'

'Maybe,' was the short reply, the Captain didn't want to think about it. 'Now shush, we're getting close to the farm.'

'What happens if the workers see us?'

'I don't think it will be fun.'

'Who for?'

'You id you don't shut up!'

Silence reigned for a little longer than five minutes. Finally worried when Holin didn't mention something, which was not in his nature not to do, the Captain stopped and looked behind him. Holin was still there, safe it seemed, but he was staring behind him.

'Why so quiet?'

'Huh?' Holin twisted his head to stare at the Captain. 'Nothing,' he said, shaking his head.

'You sound slightly worried.'

'Oh, right.' Holin peered back over his shoulder again.'

'What?' pressed the Captain.

'Are the workers supposed to have disappeared?' he asked at last.

'What?' cried the Captain, horrified, his heart skipping its already irregular beat as he turned his head in the direction the workers had been sitting.

'What did they disappear?' he asked. 'Did you see them get up? How did they disappear?'

'They just sort of... faded.' As Holin said this, his guide rose quickly to his feet and pulled Holin to his.

'Do you see that line of fence just over there?' he asked, pointing to the distance where a white picket fence sat. He tried to keep the worry from his voice.

'Yes,' replied Holin, following his finger.

'You will run to that fence as fast as you can,' the guide ordered. 'When you get over it, you should be able to see the world's edge if the compass is anything to go by. You will run to it and keep running, you hear? If you see a place in full sunlight with no shadows, hide there.'

'Why?'

'Don't ask questions, just run!' pushing the No One towards the fence, the Captain pulled out two, gleaming silver guns from the recesses of his clothes. After making sure that Holin was on his way, he turned in a quick circle, his eyes sweeping over everything that was lying in front of him. Even taking in the things that weren't.

If he was up against what he thought he was up against, then he would be lucky to survive. The Shadows were the supreme creatures on Gamdagleeare Luff. That’s what the High Lord proclaimed them as, and he was correct. There were two kinds of Shadows, the Mortal Shadows and the Immortal Shadows.

The way the Mortal Shadows was worked was this: Say you have a wooden chair and you decide you don’t want it anymore, rather than give it to someone else you burn it. The Shadow, the shadow of the chair, is connected to it. The chair is the Shadows life; if you destroy it then the Shadow dies with it. The Shadow cannot survive if its life piece is destroy. All you have to do to kill them is find what they are a shadow of and destroy it, which may take years depending upon what it is. If it is not easy to destroy, like wood, you run the risk of merely separating the shadow into thousands of different pieces which can all change and cause as much damage as the first.

The Immortal ones are slightly different. They were able to disconnect themselves from their objects whenever they were about to die and switch to something else. In a way they acted like parasites. It was a survivor. After millions of years it had evolved so much that it no longer needed to connect to some thing to survive. That made killing them almost impossible. In theory you could kill them, but it took too much time.

All of a sudden a chill descended his back and he froze. A split second later he turned just as a black shadow flittered across the ground in front of him and took the shape of a fist. Before the Captain could step aside, the fist connected with his shadow and sent him staggering. Another punch landed, this time with such force that he flew back and crashed into a pile of bricks behind him.

He dropped to his knees, one of his empty hands cradling his stomach as he hurriedly searched for his guns. He had dropped them in the flight. In the corner of his eyes he saw another Shadow take the form of a man and start to head after Holin.

Lunging, the Captain dived for a silver gleam he saw in the grass. As he moved he was caught midway in the chest by a book. Gasping, he dropped to the ground as the kick pulled him to a stop. He could feel that two of his ribs were broken. He gasped again, trying to get more air in to his lungs.

The Shadow that attacked him loomed over him. It had also taken the form of a man to fight, but there was nothing to remember it by, it was just a black form. Before the Captain could move, it reached down and grabbed him by the neck and lifted him up. Holding him at arms length it punched Nor-Viscoe again, knocking what little breath he had been able to suck in. It punched again, breaking another rib.

It's hands round the Captain's throat was blocking off his air and he was beginning to feel like headed. If he didn't do anything soon then he would be done for. Groaning loudly, he swung up an arm and hooked it around the Shadow that was holding him. The creatures didn't really have a form, his hand should have gone straight through the shadow holding him, but it was his own shadow that he was using to fight. Using his own shadow, the Captain forced the Shadow's arm down. Then jerking down while using his arm to pull up, the Shadow's arm broke.

Screaming, the Shadow cried out in a mimic of pain as it's fingers unclasped the Captain by the throat and the man dropped to the ground. Landing hard on his backside the Captain kicked out, his foot's shadow making contact with the Shadow's knee which forced it to crumble to the floor. Before he could kick out again, the Shadow disappeared.

Still groaning from the pain in his chest, the Captain reached out behind him to find something to hit the Shadow with when it returned. His hands felt a brick and he clasped it. As soon as the chill returned, the Captain threw the brick at an empty space just as it became occupied. The Brick's shadow hit the Shadow on the nose and it squealed again, it's arms reaching up to feel it's broken nose. There had been a shatter of bone, and the Captain allowed himself a quick moment to smile. He'd found.

While the Shadow was distracted by it's broken nose, the Captain rose quickly to his feet and scooped up one of his guns. Taking careful aim, because he had to get it just right, he pulled the trigger. A deafening crack echoed through the empty farm and there was a faint thud as the bullet embedded itself in the Shadow's head. Already a dark stain was spreading out over the blue grass. Then, the Shadow seemed to fall apart and disappear. All that was left when it was gone was a broken piece of bone with a bullet poking out.

Rubbing some of his own blood off his face, the Captain turned and saw the other Shadow moving fast across the ground in the distance. It had already passed the fence. Taking a deep breath, he chased after them.

Panting for air that just wasn't making its way into his lungs, the Captain jumped over the fence and landed in a heap on the ground. Unsteadily he rose to his feet and felt like he was about to be sick. The kicks to his chest must have done more damage than he though. Turning round in a circle he tried to clear his vision, he was light headed. Two figures were running away in a north-western direction to his left. Or was it his right? And how did he even know the direction? His compass didn't work. Trying not to think about the pain, the Captain ran after them.

Holin was giving the second Shadow a run for it's money. Ducking under a bush, he dodged a tree and then pulled himself to a sudden stand still before he fell off the edge of the world. He had reached the cliff. Looking down he expected to see ground, having never seen it before, but there was nothing but space. He gazed mesmerised as stars and distant planets glimmered far below him. The swirling of planets, moons, and suns filled his vision and he started to become sea sick. He pulled away and turned to face a tall, black, one dimension creature opening it's jaw to reveal massive, sharp pointed teeth. He screamed just as the sound of a gun shot shattered the air. The blank face peering down at Holin changed suddenly to nothing, and then they were both tumbling off the edge of the world.

'I don't suppose you could try climbing up the side of the cliff instead of just holding onto my arm?' the Captain's voice carried down to Holin's ears.

'What?' asked Holin loudly, 'I missed what you said.'

'Never mind,' the Captain answered. Straining, with a grunt of effort, he tensed his already sore muscles and lifted Holin up onto solid ground.

For a few moments they both lay there, and then Holin broke the silence. 'Thank you, Nor-Viscoe,' he said quietly. He was aware that a lot of what had happened was his fault, he had probably been the one to alert the Shadows to their whereabouts by his constant talking. Tears came to his eyes, but he forced them down because he knew his guide would object to them being spilled.

'Don't bother thanking me, Holin, it's what I'm being paid to do,' the Captain panted. With a heave he rose to his feet and swayed for a moment before steady. 'But if you want to show your thanks, call me the Captain. I won't tell you again.'

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Chapter 2

Dark black smoke swirled in the red sunlight, purple flames licking the trees added to the beautiful mix of colours. The forest was burning.

'Why are they burning the forest?' asked Holin in grief as he stared at the place which had been his home for so many years. He had grown up in the forest with all the other No Ones, he knew it inside and out, every tree and blade of grass he could find with his eyes closed, he could walk backwards and know where he was heading just by the different smell of the leaves. They were burning his home.

'Why?' he cried again, tears streaming down his face as he lay on the cliff edge and watched the scene below. The thick smell of burning timber was inhaled with each breath he took.

The Captain turned away from view by rolling over. 'I don't know why, Holin, but the Shadows must know that one of them is dead and the other missing. They must be looking for who killed it, and that's me. You are with me and that means that if I'm caught you will also be caught and both of us will be dead. We should go before they search the area surrounding the farm.'

'But they didn't have to burn the forest!' was all Holin could say, not understanding why the Shadows were burning it.

'They're looking for us,' the Captain explained. 'No one would kill a Shadow and then run to the edge where they would be cornered. The first place anyone would run would be to the forest. I would have run there had I not come to get you.'

'It was my home!' continued to sob Holin, tears streaming down through the soot which had come to cover his face.

'It will grow back again,' consoled the Captain. 'Creature limbs when they are pulled apart and burned in different islands of Gamdagleeare Luff will not. We need to leave.'

Pulling Holin by the hand, the two made their way down a narrow path away from forest towards a thin stretch of trees which grew apart from the forest. There was little protection in them, but more than there was anywhere else.

They made their way slowly, being careful to step behind every tree that could cover them and protect them from any prying eye that might look there way. The Captain hoped that if anything looked over that they would just mistake them for trees. It was a slim hope, but there was nothing else to do. Eventually they passed out of the crop and hurried down another steep hill. They were further away from their destination than they had been that morning, instead of moving straight forward they had been forced to take a detour and now were making their way the slow route by following the island edge, which was also the edge of the world.

There was a sudden, shocking explosion behind them and the trees they had been taking shelter in exploded in a burst of flame. It was just like the Shadows, destroying everything in their way if it will help them seek revenge.

To get to the harbour you have to follow the Mainstream, a system of cobble paved roads that lead from all over the the world criss-crossing every island. As they reached the bottom of the hill they caught sight of it. A long stretch of black to their far left winding its way east toward the harbour. At the moment there was a large procession on it, almost a mile long length of people and carts all moving together towards the harbour.

Pulling to a stop, the Captain turned to Holin. 'This is what we're going to do. We're going to head to that stream you see down below, when we reach it we join in and follow along with them for a while. We don't want to stay with them for too long in case some of them question us, but there is safety among them. Make sure to cross over when you can, on the other side we'll cut across the hills instead and stay out of sight. When you're on the other side just walk along and I will join you. Also try to stay hidden and not cause attention to yourself. You're still a No One, no matter who's company you're travelling with.'

It would have been far easier to wait until the people past and then cross over the empty road, but if Shadows were following them then the Captain wanted to loose them in the stream.

'What if someone sees us and tells the Shadows?'

'I'll take care of that, that's my job. Your job if they see us and come for us is to run to the harbour and hide.'

'Will you be all right though. Can you handle them?' asked Holin, his face, already a strange sight all covered in soot and tear drops, morphed to a look of fear and concern.

'I've been through a lot,' the Captain told him, 'I can take care of myself. Come on.' Pulling his hood over his head and down low over his face, he set off in the direction of the stream. Holin followed suit and hurried after him.

As soon as they reached the heavy stream of traffic moving quickly, the Captain slipped in as soon as he found an opening. As soon as he did so he lost sight of Holin as carts, men on horses, and stragglers on foot obscured his view. They pressed in hard on either side of him, jostling him away, he hardly needed to walk. But if he slipped he would be trampled underfoot and lost. He hoped that Holin would be able to survive. If there had been a different way for them to reach the harbour he would have taken it, but you had to enter the stream. You couldn't just follow along side it.

Finding himself caught with no exit to shift along to the left, the Captain struggled along. In front of him were two men chained together to make sure they weren't separated chatting away. With nothing to do, the Captain listened in.

'...Did ya hear 'bout those poor jokers runnin' from ta Shadows?'

'Na, what 'bout 'em?'

'Appa'ently two freaks from ta forest attacked a couple of Shadows,' the first exclaimed excitedly. Then his voice dropped low as he continued, 'They say, one of 'em's dead.'

'Cor, really?' exclaimed the second excitedly, then his too dropped low. 'A Shadow, dead? By No Ones?'

'Heard there's ta be a rewarders for the where'bouts of 'em,' the first replied loudly, then shook his head in answer to the second's question.

The second's ears picked up at this news and all thought to a No One killing a Shadow was lost at the thought of money.'

''Ow much?'

Suddenly finding an opening, the Captain stepped through, missing the first's reply. He didn't want to know what it was anyway. He couldn't figure it out though how they knew, or even how the Shadows knew so soon after it happened. But if they knew, they obviously knew who to look for. Even if they didn't know exactly who was involved, the Captain planned to stay hidden for as long as needed until Holin was safe. Then it didn't matter who found him or knew.

There was a sudden piercing scream and the crowd surged forwards, trapping the Captain against the side of a tall cart that had slowly been plodding along. There were two gun shots in quick succession and the crowd pulled to a stop. They crowd twisted and turned this way and that to try to find out what was going on but it was almost impossible to look out of the center if that was where you were. Tugging, the Captain pulled himself loose and climbed up the side of the cart and looked in the direction of the shots. Fierce black horses were charging towards them down the hill the Captain and Holin had come down from earlier. They commenced to ride alongside the stream, every now and again a rider would hold up his gun in the air and fire a sharp crack which caused the horses to whine. Ducking down, the Captain pressed himself out of view.

Shadows on horses? Was it possible? It was too hard for him to make out what they were. Their bodies were covered in darkness and that was all you could see. If it were night time, which was in a couple of hours, you wouldn't be able to see them.

Finding a gap between the people by his side, the Captain peered through to see what was happening. The rider at the head of the formation had leaned forwards and was whispering quietly to the companion to his right. The rider nodded before giving a signal and charging off down the stream, two more split from the group and followed him while the other four charged up the stream in the direction the travelers were facing. They were searching for something.

Whatever it was, the Captain was sure they would find it. The people of the world were controlled by one thing, fear, and that went by the other name of the High Lord. A ruler with a love of inflicting pain on his people. If someone did something that the High Lord didn't approve of, the whole of Gamdagleeare Luff would suffer for the mistake. No one could ever object to the punishment, or anything else the High Lord decrees because there was no stopping him. He had the power, the people had none, and he would use it anyway he liked.

The sound of something on a horse drawing nearer made the Captain sink down underneath the cart and lie flat on the dirt ground. As the rider and horse passed by, the Captain proceeded to calmly crawl his way up the lane under the cart and the horses carrying it. He stopped under the cart in front of the previous when another rider right across from him outside the stream.

The crowd had continued to be still and silent, and as the rider stopped they all held their breathes in anticipation of what was going to happen. None of them knew at all. Even the Captain held his breath as the rider climbed down from his horse. There was a clink of spurs on his boots to indicate that he had landed, and the Captain listened hard as the boots walked shortly up the stream and then stopped. The Captain's heart beat in his chest, an uneven, irregular pattern that would have any man worried.

Through the breaks in the feet of the people in the stream, the Captain was able to see the rider standing still. From his view on the cobbles he could see that the rider's cloak wasn't black, like he had first thought, but was a dark blue. The robe opened slightly in a gust of wind to show the rest of the clothing underneath. It was black this time, real black, a red and black scabbard hung from a silver chain which was tied to a brown belt which it wore around its waist. The rider drew its sword and there was a sharp murmur in the crowd as they shuffled around, then they split apart as the creature moved forwards, brandishing its sword dangerously. It stopped by the cart and the Captain could hear a faint whistling coming from above, and then the creature bent down on one leg and peered underneath the cart.

There was a click as the Captain removed the safety catch from his gun and aimed it at the creature's face the moment it bent down. It wore a mask of simple design on its face, it was made completely of leather with two rugged holes cut in for the eyes to see out of and a thin horizontal strip for the mouth. The mask was old and patched, pieces of it replaced with newer, shinier pieces of leather for the parts that had broken. The rider looked from the gun facing him, and to the Captain. It reached slowly inside it's robe as the Captain readied his finger on the trigger just in case, and pulled from within its robe a scroll of parchment tied with red string and rolled it along the ground. It stopped next to the Captain chest.

The Captain's eyes moved quickly from the scroll and back to the rider, confused as to what it meant. Were they not here to capture them after all? Did they only want to deliver a message? Before the Captain could ask, the rider rose and strode back through the crowd and climbed onto its horse.

'Not here,' it said in a loud voice before urging it's horse around and riding back the way it had come from, the others quickly followed behind.

Grabbing the scroll, the Captain stuffed it inside a pocket and rolled out from under the cart just as it started to move forwards and pulled himself to his feet before he was trampled on by the sudden moving bodies behind him.

As it was, standing up didn't prevent him from being trampled on. He was pushed and shoved backwards and forwards and narrowly survived by missing feet as they dropped down to almost hit his head. He cursed under his breath as he pulled himself to his feet and surged on, if he was having such a beating then how well was Holin fairing? He just hoped the little No One was better than him at getting through. Finally after a gruelling ten minutes of near death experiences, the Captain neared the edge of the stream and stepped out. He watched it amazed as it surged past him. There were thousands, millions of people all walking along the stream heading towards one little town which held one little harbour. There was hardly room at the harbour town for five hundred, let alone a million, and he wondered what they were all heading for, what their purpose was, and where they would all go.

Holding his breath to stop himself from breathing in the dirt that was being kicked up into the air, the Captain headed to a small hill to get a better view of thing. The plan was to meet up with Holin on the other side, but down among them it was hard to see if Holin was out or not. It would be just his luck if Holin had gotten lost and had come out on the side they had entered by.

He reached the top of the hill and lay down on his stomach, and was just able to stop himself from crying out loud. He had forgotten about the bashing he had taken that morning. It was strange to think he had just spent so long being pushed and shoved about in the stream and hardly noticed it, but the moment he lay down he felt it. He tried to ignore it, but it was hard to.

Reaching a hand into one of the many pockets of his coat, the Captain pulled out a nocular. Adjusting the focus he closed one eye and squinted into it with his other. There was the steady stream of people moving and the Captain followed along with it trying to find Holin. After going up and down it twice, he adjusted the focus again and the image pulled out to include a wider view. He suddenly stopped searching and focused on one section of the stream. A body was struggling to get through and then it was thrown from the stream. A thin grimace flitted across the Captain's face and was followed by a sigh of relief as he saw it was Holin. The No One stood up and looked around, bafflement on his face, then he looked up the hill and a smile crossed his face and he started to trudge towards the Captain.

Shortly Holin was standing beside the Captain as the man gripped him by the shoulder and moved him towards the height of the hill and pointed. 'Welcome to the edge, Holin.'

Below them was a town of unimpressive stature, what was amazing was the harbour. It was huge. It stretched a mile long, with docks stretching from it out over the edge into space. Tied to them and floating were the boats, one of which would take Holin off world and to safety. Some were big, some were small. Others were huge and towered above the buildings of the town. The boats aren't really boats, more of ships. Huge ships. And they don't sail on water either. They sail in the sky.

The whole purpose of coming to the edge was to find a ship for Holin to take to get him away from the world. There is not much that a No One can do on an island that hates them. The Shadows were particular, if you weren't a Shadow then you were an abomination. The Captain was an abomination because he was a man, but even a man is purer than a No One. They were everything and everyone put together, the impurest beings in the galaxy. The Shadows hated them more than anything else. The Captain's job was guiding No Ones across the world and finding them safe passage at the harbours around the edge to get them off.

It didn't matter where the ships were heading, to a No One anywhere was better than Gamdagleeare Luff. In Holin's mind there was nothing to keep him home. They had burned it so there was nothing to return to.

After some searching the Captain found a boat that would take Holin as a passenger. The Shadows hated No Ones and would kill them on sight, pest control was what they called it. And if someone was a friend with a No One, the Shadows would kill them too. So as a rule everyone else that lived on world hated No Ones just to please the Shadows, and to protect themselves. The captain of the ship, however, was pleased to take Holin after he saw what the Captain would give him as payment. He also offered to give Holin the best cabin on board after the Captain told him what he would do if he found Holin mistreated on the voyage.

'Is it safe?' asked Holin as they entered the cabin and looked around. There was a bunk in one corner with white sheets slightly stained yellow, a chair nailed to the floor, and a desk of drawers nailed also to the floor and wall. A port hole sat in the wall at the side of the bed so that if you wanted you could look out and watch the stars fly past. In all it was all right for a cabin, but if it was the best one then the Captain didn't want to see the others.

'It's perfectly safe,' the Captain told him after checking to make sure that the room wasn't about to crack open and allow the oxygen to rush out and kill Holin while he slept. It would be unacceptable if that happened. No, it was all good, as near as possible anyway. There was no use worrying Holin about things that might happen while he was on board, it would worry him and probably kill him.

'I've got to go now,' the Captain told him, turning from the port hole to look at Holin. He made a point of every time he talked to a No One to look them in the eyes, not look away and avoid their faces. There was nothing that a No One could do about their looks, or anyone, and it was insulting to them to have people shy away from looking at them.

'If anyone gives you any trouble on this ship I'll know about it sooner than they will themselves,' he told Holin as he headed to the door and marched up the stairs to the deck, Holin close behind him.

'Thank you for helping me get here, Nor-Viscoe. I would never have survived if you hadn't come with me and helped.'

On deck the air was hard to breathe as they were so far away from the edge. It was easier down below because of the regulated oxygen. Once they sailed from the harbour the shield would come up and surround the ship allowing Holin to walk on deck and survive.

'Don't thank me,' replied the Captain sharply. He didn't like good byes and he didn't like being thanked, it made him feel strange. Particularly by people who's future he knew what would happen and could prevent it.

'But I do,' replied Holin. 'You have save my life more times than I can count.'

'Then don't bother counting. I don't want to know, neither do I want to be reminded of what I've done.'

'But it's not as if you have done anything bad to me that the very thought of will ruin your life,' Holin pressed, not understanding the Captain's wish to leave the subject alone.

'Are you ready to go?' the Captain asked, changing the subject rather than continue it. There was no other way to get Holin to leave the subject except by changing it.

'I've been ready to go ever since we left,' he replied, smiling. The Captain looked away, no longer able to bare looking at him. Holin was so innocent and had no idea what was about to happen to him.

'Great, then have a safe trip, my friend. Don't come back,' the Captain warned, forcing a light smile on his face to hide his true feelings.

Walking to the edge of the boat the Captain headed down the ramp to the wooden dock. He stayed there watching Holin wave at him as the sails were released and filled with impossible air and the engine rumbled into life. Then, slowly, the thousands of tons of wood and metal that made up the boat was lifted away into space and sailed away.

Holin on board the ship waved until he lost sight of the Captain. He turned and looked around at the stars and planets flying past him as the boat picked up speed. It was darker in space than he had ever thought it would be. His senses took over and his body yawned as it believed it to be night time. He stretched, worn out after a long day. He looked forward to being able to sleep without fear of waking up with something at his throat, or not waking up at all. With one last look at the view around him, Holin headed below to his cabin where he promptly fell asleep on his bunk.

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Chapter Three

The Captain made his way into town, his hood pulled down low over his face to keep it hidden from prying eyes. Men on horses rode past, shoving people out of their way as they rode through the town. Men and women with carts laden with food, cages of animals, anything to sell, also moved through the busy street on their way to the market. The smell of fresh bread, herbs and cooking meat lay heavy in the air, strange spices also hung in the air, bringing tears and drowsiness to those that inhaled too deeply. The Captain followed the smells in search of a meal and a doctor. No one seemed to pay him any attention as he pushed past those pushing past him, stopping occasionally to glance over wares set out on stalls. Stopping next to a fruit stand he pinched an apple without the owner noticing and moved on, bitting into it. Warm juices ran down his chin and he wiped it away with the back of his hand before taking another bite. Stopping in the center of the courtyard where the townsfolk had set up he looked around in search of the medical tent he knew would be set up somewhere close. There was no sign of it. As he stood a man selling clothes ran up to him and tried to make him buy a new wardrobe. Placidly the Captain sent him on his way and continued his search. Another man came up and the Captain started to brush him away before stopping.

I don't want to buy anything, but I'm looking for the medical tent. Do you know where it is?' he asked.

'Maybe,' the man told him, nodding his head. 'Maybe I do.'

'Can you tell me?' the Captain ask, taking another bite of his apple.

'Maybe,' the peddlar repeated, obviously not anxious to finish the conversation. 'What's it to me if I tell you?'

'Nothing,' the Captain replied. 'I just want to know where it is.'

'I don't know anything,' the peddlar replied sadly. 'If only I did I would help you... but, you see. I'm a busy man, so many things to sell and not enough people buying them. I have my work cut out for me and there is no room to remember where certain tents are. Besides, they change every month.'

The Captain said nothing for so long the peddlar began to think that he would get nothing. He turned to go when the Captain called him back.

'I'll buy something if you tell me where it is,' he said, as if making up his mind.

The peddlar stopped pushing his cart away and pulled it back to stamd in front of the Captain.

'What'll you buy?' he asked suspiciously, in case it was a trick.

'I'l buy anything you sell,' the Captain replied with an easy shrug. 'Just tell me where the tent is.'

'That way,' the peddlar pointed behind the Captain to a stop he had passed entering the market.

'Thank you.'

The Captain started to walk away when the peddlar behind him coughed.

'But o' course it could be in the opposite direction.'

Turning, the Captain found the man to be grinning. 'You need to buy somethin', then maybe tongues will wag,' the peddlar told him.

'I see.' Walking back over the Captain browsed over the man's good on the little cart he pushed. 'What happens if I buy something but you don't point me in the right direction again?'

The peddlar shrugged and grinned, showing rotting black teeth. 'You'll just have to trust,' he laughed, jiggling up and down on the spot. He was a short grubby man in desperate need of a wash, but the smell hardly disturbed the Captain or anyone around them. They were all in need of a wash but what was the point if you were only going to get dirty again? The inhabitants of the town worked too hard to afford the simple luxury of being clean.

With enough of chatting when the outcome was possible that he would be forced to buy something in return for empty information, there was a flash of silver and the Captain leveled his gun at the peddlars eyes.

'I don't have to trust when I can't trust,' the Captain's voice was low and firm, just loud enough so that only the peddlar could hear him. 'But you can trust me not to pull this trigger if you tell me the uncorrect way to the med tent after I buy a piece of your stock.'

The peddlars eyes turned cross-eyes trying to focus on the gun on the tip of his nose. 'You wouldn't pull the trigger,' he gulped. 'Not with all these witnesses about. You wouldn't dare! The Shadows will find you.'

The Captain let a small chuckle escape his lips. It was all an idle threat there was no bases for it. Moving in close he whispered, 'You forget where you are. No one cares who kills who, and the light? It makes death taste better when there are onlookers to the execution. As for the Shadows? They care about no one but themselves, do you really think they would trouble themselves over something as pettyless as this?'

'You aren't seriously going to pull that trigger if I give you the wrong directions, are you?' the man asked, rethinking himself and his situation.

'I said you'll have to trust me.'

'Uh,' the peddlar gulped. He was nervous, and the Captain would tell that he didn't know what to think. Finally the man said, 'It's down the right side of Easy Street,' he pointed a shaking finger. 'It's a brown tent with 'Areo' written on a sign out the front on a stand.'

'Thank you.' There was another flash of silver as the gun disappeared into the recess of the Captain's clothes and he took a step back. The Captain returned a hand to a pocket and pulled it out carrying a small pile of blue, square coins. He weighed them out and then tossed them to the peddlar. 'I'll buy that,' he said, pointing to a small, red bound book.

'Certainly!' exclaimed the peddlar, pleased to have his life still and to have business. He handed the book to me as he saluted with his free hand. 'Pleasure doing business with you!' he exclaimed one last time as he picked up the handles of his cart and pushed it quickly off into the crowd.

'Right side of Easy Street, brown tent, 'Areo' written outside,' the Captain murmured to himself as he looked around. 'Gotcha.'

The tent was indeed brown, and had a sign out front, however, it was on the left side. The Captain stood outside looking at it trying to decide whether the peddlar had merely been pushing his luck or had just gotten confused. He wandered in.

It was a large tent, four beds along one side, small tables sat at the end of each bed. They all held bottles of unknown substances, a pan with cotton wool buds, some with blood splatters, and surgical instruments. It was obvious to the Captain that someone had just been operated on recently, but the beds were all empty. Plastic clipboards were connected to the ends of each of the white paint faded beds, but only one had anything written on it. Walking over to it the Captain pulled it off and held it up to the lamp that hung from the roof which offered the only light.

The handwriting was tiny and springy, just possible to decipher. But he couldn't understand the words. They were unknown, he had never seen anything like them before. Positioned all wrong on the page, half the letters were incomplete while others had extra added onto them. A few of the words were crossed out too, but that didn't help him because it was a language he didn't know. That was puzzling. The Captain was a man of many means, many interests, and a very large past. It was full of knowledge that was ungained by ten men in a ten lifetimes. What he knew was impossible to put down on paper, it would fill the world. He knew every species of life on Gamdagleeare Luff, he knew where they lived, what they ate, and what they spoke and how. And so, coming across a language he couldn't understand, the Captain couldn't help but wonder what it was and how it came to be he didn't know it.

The clip board was torn from his hands and thrown across the room. Looking up the Captain came face to face with an arrow clicked into place on a crossbow.

'What do you want?' a strange accented voice demanded harshly. 'Thief are you? Well you won't find nothin' in here that you'll be able to take out of here alive!'

'I don't think that, that,' the Captain pointed calmly to the crossbow, 'is needed.' He tried to peer behind the bow but it was utter darkness. The light from the lamp seemed only to cover him and the tip of the arrow.

He wasn't scared being faced with death, he had luck. A great deal of luck that had kept him alive longer than he should have. He also prided himself on his ability to calmly talk out of a difficult situation. At least, talk long enough for the one attempting to kill him to become placid enough for him to even the fight and pull out his own weapons. Once they were out he would win. He never missed.

'Why not?' demanded the voice angrily. 'Give me a reason why you're in here alookin' 'round as if you were goin' to pinch stuff? And reading my private notes!' the voice rose into one of shrill indignation at the though.

'I'm in here to be looked at,' the Captain told her. 'That's the truth. I'm in a need of a doctor.'

There was a grunt, and then the crossbow was lowered. The dark seemed to depart and brilliant white light filled the tent. Through his tears from the sudden brightness the Captain saw the owner of the weapon to be a woman.

'I'm lookin' at you,' she told him.

He surpressed a chuckle at her humour. 'I mean I need medical attention. More than just a look at, I think.'

'I can do that. All you need. But why peak at my notes?'

The notes seemed to be important, but for the life of the Captain he couldn't work out why. He shurgged. 'I don't understand the language. I know what is out there and spoke, those words are not said.'

'I should say not. It's Tub.'

The Captain frowned at the unfamiliar name. 'What?'

'As in a bathtub. That's what it's called.'

'I don't recognise it.'

'Obviously,' she told him. Laying the crossbow down on one of the empty beds she moved closer. She was, by the colour of her hair, in middle age. It was held tight in a bun. She wore a brown outfit that matched the tent, also the kind that the Captain had seen surgions in the army wear. Though the ones that often wore them were long gone, war was a past time. That was back when there was something to fight for, now the people fought for nothing but sport.

The Captain could see she wasn't going to say anything else about the strange Tub, so he asked her instead if she was the nurse.

'No. I'm the Doctor,' she replied. 'The only one in this town at the moment.'

Moving over to one of the tables by the beds she picked up a pair of old stethoscopes and put them on.

'Army Doctor?'

'Yes.' She waved him to take a seat on one of the beds. 'What's the matter with you?' she asked, coming straight to business.

'Difficulty breathing, possible broken ribs.'

'How did that happen?'

'A kick to the chest by a pair of very heavy work boots.'

'Hmm. That ought to do it. Lift up your shirt.'

The Captain did as she requested. He hadn't yet checked himself out to size up the damage the Shadow had inflicted. Purple bruises decorated almost his entire upper body, under a dry coat of blood. The Captain couldn't help but wonder who it belonged to.

Cold metal touched his chest and he flinched, but stayed firm.

'Heart beat sounds normal to me.' Pulling her stethoscope from around her neck she walked over to a table and started to rearange the equipment.

'Your voice tells different,' the Captain said matter-of-fact, dropping his shirt back down.

'It's not a beat that is normal of anyone around here,' the doctor told him. 'But I have no idea if its normal or not because for you it might be. To me it's irregular. What species are you? That would help me to know.'

She looked at him expectantly, waiting for a reply that was not forthcoming. The Captain held her gaze as a million thoughts ran through his head. What was his species? Well, that was a question to ask all right. It would be even more to be able to answer it. He had no idea.

'I still have trouble breathing,' he said instead, switching the subject. 'What about my ribs?'

'I'll take an x-ray, to check. Lie down.'

As the Captain lay down the doctor pulled a trolley with a x-ray machine sitting on top from a corner of the tent that he hadn't notice before. Not that it was hard for him to miss it. Light and darkness was obeying no rule that he had ever known in the tent.

Taking the x-ray took five minutes, another five was added onto that to get the prints.

'So?' the Captain asked as he watched the doctor studying them intently.

'You have two broken ribs, but they haven't pierced anythin' from the looks of of things. The ribs are on both sides of your cage. Hold still,' she ordered as she placed the prints on a table and picked up a roll of material. After she was down wrapping the Captain's upper body she handed him a small vial with some blue liquid inside.

'This is for the pain. I can't do anythin' else for you. There's no charge,' she added, waving away his hand as he held out two bronze rectangles.

'Thank you for your help,' the Captain told her, pocketing the coins. Jumping to his feet he replaced his shirt which he had had to remove to have the bandages put on, his heavy coat came next.

'It's what I'm here for.'

As she walked him to the door the Captain felt her cold eyes on him. He turned to look.

'You're a stranger in town, aren't you?' she asked him.

'I am.'

'Are you the one the Shadows are looking for?'

It was such an outright question the Captain couldn't help but looked shocked by it. Straightening his face he shook his head. 'Nah,' he replied before wandering out onto the empty street.

A short moment later found him walking into a darkly lit tavern for rest. Ordering a drink he moved away from the bar and sat down. What to do now? Was his main question. He tapped the table absently while he thought, bringing the attention of the barmaid who thought he wanted something. Waving her away the Captain reached into his pocket and pulled out the scroll which he had gained that morning. Placing it on the table he admired the seal on it. He recognised it. Everyone knew who the seal belonged to. Looking up he saw the barmaid approaching once more and hastily hid the scroll. It would do no good for someone to see him with it. He would look at it later; he just hoped that it was worth it.

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Chapter Five

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Chapter Seven.

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Chapter Nine.

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Chapter 10.

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Chapter Eleven.

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Chapter 12.

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Chapter Thirteen.

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Chapter 14.

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Chapter Fifteen.

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Chapter Seventeen.

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Chapter Nineteen.

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Chapter 20.

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Chapter Twenty-One.

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Chapter 22.

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Chapter Twenty-Three.

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Chapter 24.

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Chapter Twenty-Five.

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Chapter 26.

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Chapter Twenty-Seven.

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~

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