It’s a bit late, but here’s the conclusion to Tiamat Unbound. I hope it’s been/will provide entertainment, and I look forward to working on bigger projects in the future. Let’s just say this might not be the last you ever read of the men and women of Tiamat Unbound and the associates. Enjoy!
Metal clashed in a symphony of cringe-inducing scrapes with enough friction to generate sparks with each blow. The intensity of the contest kept our eyes going back and forth like we were witnessing a tennis match from hell, and both players were going all out, neither willing to relent to the strength of the other. One contestant pushed back the other until the other returned the favor. In relation to their contrasting sizes, it was the battle of David and Goliath…if that story involved sword duels between a modern-day samurai and a very prideful grappler. Finally, the smaller man dropped to the ground and swung his right leg out, knocking the larger off of his feet and sending him crashing onto his back. Silence gripped us. Before the big guy could recover, his aggressor put the tip of his blade to the giant’s chest, causing both women on each side of me to gasp as the tension hit the high point. Then the samurai on the ground smiled as he pushed the blade away with the palm of his right hand. He stood to his feet with some help from his opponent, and that took a lot of strength. Both men bowed to each other before sheathing their swords, and then the larger spoke.
“You have improved,” Makoto Nagase told his new pupil sincerely, “I am impressed.”
His opponent, Jackson Lewis, smiled at his rival-turned-teacher in earnest, “I picked that sweep up from the last person to beat me. Years ago when you handed me my ass with just a wooden sword, I just couldn’t stand the humiliation. A rematch is all I’ve ever wanted,” he handed the sheathed replica sword to Makoto as he spoke, “Though I wish the fight would’ve been even,” he commented as he nodded towards Makoto’s dead left arm. Makoto had mentioned before that he was still able to operate it at random times, but for the rest it just teetered between numb and stinging. I’m no expert, but that sounded like some of the symptoms of radial nerve dysfunction.
Makoto bellowed a laugh, “If I had the use of both arms, you would not be so grateful.”
Lewis shrugged, “I’d rather fight you at your peak; I trained hard for the day I’d get another shot at you.”
“I wonder,” I said from the sidelines close by, “did you mean today, or four months ago when you both squared off over your petty rivalry while the three of us here were handling business?”
Lewis snorted a laugh and flipped me off instead of using any of his usual choice words. I was speaking, of course, about the day we three men as well as our two lovely yet gun-savvy assistants stormed the headquarters of the world’s most powerful private military company and killed the CEO before she had the chance to launch a nuclear weapon. We didn’t even know of that last bit of information until Lewis found out from one of his sources who’d managed to obtain that classified intelligence from the UN documents following their own raid. Luckily for us, they came in moments after we’d already fled using the CEO’s personal chopper.
To be completely honest, the past six months had been hell for all of us now situated here in my mountainside retreat in Obersalzberg, and that wasn’t just because we were situated only a few miles from where Hitler’s residence was. I was glad that I took all of my money out of savings before splitting with Kriegspartai, because without those years of profit we’d be in a royal pile of shit. Now, where to begin?
In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth…and at some point a pink-haired nuisance named Lydia Dedov to interfere with my plans. One lovely afternoon in Italy I was tending to some business that one could argue crossed into the shady side, when my client’s head…well there’s no nice way to say he was shot in the head. I then spent the next fifteen minutes held up by a mysterious assailant who was concealed in one of the many buildings that surrounded me in the town square. To this day, I’ve never been able to pinpoint just where she was, and she still holds it over my head, just like the scope of her rifle that day. Luckily for me, she was willing to give me a shot at redemption for selling weapons to the company that had gotten her father killed, and thus began our great endeavor to topple an empire.
The young woman to my left, Alexis, had killed her own father under orders from the American branch of Tiamat Unbound. Fearing for her life otherwise as well as those of the people she cared for, she complied, with remorse to follow in her trail. After that traumatic event she split from the company and went on the run, and the higher-ups just couldn’t have that. In response they sent countless mercenaries after her, and one by one she cut them down. It wasn’t until they sent Terry Shields-her former trainer and at the time current affection-that she finally gave up on running, but not without a fight. Unbeknownst to her at the time, Shields had begun to question his superiors himself, so when the two finally were able to speak once more following an encounter that left Shields with a lot of lead in his left shoulder, they were glad to be on the same side. That happy reunion was cut short four months ago, however, when all of us minus the samurai engaged in combat within the subway system of New York. Tiamat Unbound had planned on activating an EMP device underneath Wall Street, and Shields spearheaded our undertaking to stop them. Jackson Lewis was on opposite terms with us at the time, what with being the leader of Tiamat Unbound’s Special Force Group Dragon’s Talon after their former leader decided he liked our resolve much more. In the end, both Lewis and Shields spared each other’s lives, but Shields lost his in a sacrifice to stop the downfall of the economy, and Alexis had lost yet another important person in her life. All of us liked Shields; he was a mentor to us all, and a valuable asset in bringing down the dragon. In death he became a martyr to these people.
My attention was drawn to the big guy, Makoto, who was approaching Lewis as he departed from the patch of grass between gardens of flowers that served as the arena for the two men. Lewis turned back and awaited what the samurai had in store him. None of us were prepared to see Makoto holding out one of his extra sheathed swords to the former Dragon’s Talon leader. Both were bitter rivals just a few months back, and now Lewis was being given a high honor in regards to a samurai.
“What is this?” Lewis asked, staring at the present as if it were going to spring from the sheath on its own accord and run through his chest.
Makoto shoved the weapon into Lewis’ arms with enough force to push the man back before replying, “Yours.”
Lewis held the object in his hands and turned it around and around, like a gunsmith inspecting his weapon for any abrasions. With an inquisitive eye, he grabbed the hilt and slowly withdrew the blade from the sheath. As the daylight stroked the metal, a red hue was visible to us all. The blood-red color sent involuntary chills down my spine, like I was looking at death itself. What the hell was that thing?
Lewis held the blade upright as he admired the craftsmanship, “This is the sword you tossed to me four months ago, when we dueled during the raid on Tiamat Unbound.”
Makoto grunted in agreement. I had never had the chance to see it that day, mainly because their duel happened in the hallway behind me while I was busy trying to keep my colleague, Lydia (or “Wrench,” as I often called her), from blowing the brains out of the leader of the mercenary company before we could get more information out of her. Lewis placed the weapon back into its sheath, and then bowed to Makoto.
“Raise your head, Lewis,” Makoto spoke, “That blade belonged to my brother, Toya. It is a replica of the legendary Muramasa. He used it in hatred, but I expect you to use it in justice.”
We’d managed to coax a bit about his brother out of him one night over drinks. For a big guy, Makoto couldn’t handle a lot of alcohol. I guess that growing up under such a strict system as the Bushido didn’t allow much in the way of hindering judgment. I admired the fact that he respected the true aspects of the term, and not the ‘purification through war’ crap. Apparently Makoto’s brother hadn’t developed the same mindset when they were growing up. Lewis had worked with him before, but I didn’t know Toya Nagase. All I knew was that Makoto slew his own brother in a snowstorm somewhere on a mountain range in Russia. Toya was the head of Dragon’s Scales, and a fierce warrior who obeyed his orders to the detail. Makoto spoke of him with disappointment clinging to his words, but somewhere beneath that was a dash of regret. I don’t know what brings a man to kill his own sibling, but I’d never ask the big guy up front. War is hell when it forces flesh and blood to stand on opposite sides.
“Why give me a token of your brother?” Lewis asked. Makoto’s eyes seemed to gravitate towards the sword, and his demeanor took a sudden shift for the grim.
“Toya used that blade to commit countless atrocities. Personally,” he grunted in disgust and glared at the blade, “I could not stand to wield the weapon, but since Toya did not survive to atone for his sins I thought it best for someone who has a lot to repent for to carry on in his wake.”
Lewis looked offended, “What exactly are you saying?” he asked in scrutiny.
Makoto grinned, “To Toya, that sword was a tool of destruction. To you, Lewis, I hope that it is a tool meant for whatever new path you have chosen after Tiamat Unbound.”
Lewis nodded, “And what do you know of my future?”
“I know that there will come a day when we will be forced to face our decisions,” he stated, “I know that we must be prepared for that moment.”
The man was a philosopher. I leaned up in the chair and called out to him, “Mr. Nagase, I’d love to pick your brain for a few hours someday soon, if you wouldn’t mind?”
Makoto approached with Lewis in tow, but both were making a beeline for the patio door. Makoto slid the door open and looked back over his shoulder, “As long as you do not mind if I pick the contents of your refrigerator.”
Who the hell was I to say no? Not big enough, for one. Both men disappeared into the two-story structure as Lydia and Alexis rose from their seats and approached the settlement that had served as the sparring grounds for the past three months. I had planned on expanding the surrounding gardens, but not with these people trampling the ground…they’d already crushed a bed of roses. My hand tightened around my glass of rum. I liked my roses.
“Let’s see how you’ve improved!” Alexis shouted at Lydia from across the lawn.
“It doesn’t take accuracy to hit you in the face!” Lydia retorted. I placed my head in the palm of my hand and grunted. She was such an amateur. Both contestants paced in a circle as they finished tightening their gloves, eyes locked onto each other in a heated stare down. Finally, Lydia charged at Alexis…and was met with a foot to her chest. I had to give her credit; she knew how to take a hit and get right back at it. I wondered how long it would take for them to start to pull hair and verbally insult each other…
“That’s pretty tame,” a voice said behind me. I leaned my head back to see Lewis, upside down in my view and standing over me with a beer in his right hand. Something was tucked underneath his left shoulder.
“Why do you say that?” I asked.
“Considering what they’ve been through I assumed they’d use this as an excuse to vent a lot of-”
He was cut off by Lydia screaming in frustration as she swung for Alexis’ head, only for her to duck underneath the assault and jab her in the stomach. It was sad.
“Never mind…” Lewis finished. He took the seat to my left and leaned back until he was in a nice and comfortable position to spectate the one-sided bout.
“I guess she’s not making any progress,” I remarked before downing the rest of my rum. Should I have been drinking on such a beautiful day? Probably not, but I wanted to relax, unlike the rest of them.
“How much are you paying that specialist to come out here in private?”
“Not enough, apparently,” I grunted, fumbling with my glass as the ice rattled inside. I was having a therapist come and see Lydia and Alexis once a week. Killing a lot of people in a span of two months could do a lot to a person, and I saw that for myself the day Lydia killed the CEO of Tiamat Unbound. The poor thing broke down on the spot, and I had to carry her up to the helipad so we could escape before the UN arrived. It took two weeks to even get a word out of her. The sorrow may have finally subsided, but she still hated herself. That was evident enough in her frantic attempts to land a blow on Alexis, and with the latter being a trained former mercenary, there was no taking it easy. Alexis herself was fighting inside too, but she’d never speak of it. I did speak to the therapist once about their progress, and that was enough for me to learn that she didn’t regret killing her father. I can only assume it had something to do with her not being who she wants to be. If anything, she missed Shields much more than she missed him.
Something landed in my lap and broke my concentration. Lewis had thrown me a manila folder that was stuffed full, some of the pages inside sticking out of the corners.
“What’s this?” I asked, examining the exterior for any indication of just what the hell it was.
“Files on Tiamat Unbound’s cancelled projects,” Lewis answered. He chugged most of his beer as he observed the beat down Alexis was now administering. Without guns, Lydia was in a jam. I was betting on Alexis; even if she had developed some hand-to-hand tactics, Lydia was an amateur after all.
“You said cancelled?” I asked. Lewis was shaking his head at the two feuding women in disappointment.
“Cancelled now,” he stated. I had to snicker at that one. He leaned back in the chair and sipped from his beer, “Makoto got me thinking about the future, so I figured I should share this with you.”
“Okay, so what’s in it?” I asked. Lewis looked away from the scene to eye me and raise a brow.
“Look for yourself.”
I complied and flipped the cover open, and the very first file inside took me by surprise. It was information about utilizing methods of psychological warfare, but it didn’t stop there. Tiamat Unbound had been planning on…
Lewis nodded, “That’s right. It gets more and more bizarre the deeper you get into it. Aaron,” he said sternly, “we stopped a lot of things from happening. Some within the bounds of completely insane. They wanted to make biological weapons to instigate incidents where America would be framed. I was…well, you’ll see,” he said awkwardly before downing the rest of his beer and excusing himself to get another.
I could only imagine would he meant by that. What was worse than child soldiers or biological warfare? I continued to skim through the documents until I came upon one that called for experimentation on certain members to enhance their abilities beyond human limitations. It was something straight out of a science fiction story, and the two personal files attached to the document were those of Toya Nagase and Jackson Lewis; the former top-ranking mercenaries of the company.
“Holy shit…” was all I could actually utter. This was inhumane. This was wrong. This was-
“Found it, I see,” Lewis’ voice announced from beside me. I didn’t even hear him return as my mind struggled to come to terms with this. I dropped the folder in my lap and stared absentmindedly at the fight before me.
“How could she even consider this?” I asked, “When I met her to sign the contract between our companies, I didn’t even suspect that she could be so twisted.”
“They’re not necessarily her ideas,” Lewis told me, “she just insisted on keeping them safe from prying eyes like ours or anyone else who was looking to shut them down. They’re the products of the R&D team, and they were dead set on insuring that they could keep conflicts going to fill their own pockets.”
“That’s a war economy for you,” I muttered, “Did she expect you both to consent to such a thing?”
“She was probably going to try and sell it to us,” Lewis explained, “She knew how to make even the most horrid of things sound appealing, and someone like Toya would have been happy to hear her out,” he said, grimacing at the sight of Alexis upper cutting Lydia so hard she actually got some hang time for a brief second.
“Wouldn’t you have been inclined just as well just six months back?” I inquired. Lewis grunted and crushed the beer can in his hand before tossing it aside.
“Look, I was willing to do things to get ahead, but that’s a bit beyond my ego.”
“Fair enough,” I replied. I just still couldn’t grasp the fact that Elizabeth Belmont’s empire was going to implement such horrors. I have no idea what drives a woman to those extremes, but I have to admit that I feel a bit sorry for her. I hadn’t even intended on her getting killed that day. It would have gone much smoother if she just could have answered for her actions.
“You know,” Lewis commented from my side, “I guess you and Lydia could consider yourself heroes after all of that. It was because of you two that everything worked out.”
I flipped through the pages, skimming some of the outrageous experiments and proposals by the coordinators of Tiamat Unbound, “I don’t feel like a hero.”
“Well if you did,” Lewis remarked with a laugh, “I’d be worried. Killing isn’t supposed to make you feel great. It takes its toll, and I’m pretty sure you had never killed many people before that day in the subway, not even counting the tower just a few weeks later?”
I nodded, the images still clear in my head as if someone had cut open my skull and infused the very sights into my memories with vivid clarity. I don’t know why it didn’t bother me as much as it did the women. Maybe it was because I didn’t work for Tiamat Unbound to begin with. Maybe it was because I had accepted the fact that the weapons I sold were used in horrible acts. Maybe I was a bit sociopathic before having death held over my head in the form of a scope by Lydia. Either way, I imagined the guilt didn’t grip me as tightly as it did the others. Lewis may have been the only other one who understood that, but I honestly wished he was a bit more burdened.
“There’s another thing,” Lewis said, reaching into his pocket and withdrawing something that was concealed in the palm of his hand, like a dark secret he didn’t want the world to know of. I had to suffocate my curiosity, but all of this new information had my mind going like a factory trying to process so much at one time. The alcohol wasn’t helping, so there was no point in a refill. Something was bound to give in, and of course, it was curiosity.
“What’s that?” I finally asked.
Lewis regarded his fisted hand with a grin, “Well, let’s just say that the dragon was sitting atop a mountain of gold all along that it was very protective of.”
Lewis opened his fingers and revealed a black flash drive, “This contains the records of all of Tiamat Unbound’s assets. All of the money and what banks it can be found in, from Switzerland to Australia, and any other economic stronghold you can name. All of it is on this.”
“Wait!” I sat upright and eyed the device, “That contains the sources of money for them? How…why do you have that?”
Lewis smirked, “I nicked this along with those files from a safe on the wall right after Lydia shot the bitch,” he pocketed the drive and leaned back once more, “The door on it was ajar, so I figured it was free game. You have to know how to pay attention to detail when dealing with life-threatening situations every day.”
“I wouldn’t know, I guess,” I replied, my attention back to the ladies.
“Well, I know a lot of people who do, and they’ll need some help.”
“What do you mean?” I asked off-handed.
“The drive also contains the records of all of the personnel that were a part of the company at the time before we set up for the UN to come in and clean house,” Lewis explained.
“Meaning?” I had no idea what he was getting at.
“Aaron,” he turned to me, “a lot of people were left with nothing after that. Many were arrested for war crimes, and the rest are in hiding with no way of supporting themselves. Haven’t you ever seen the stories of the soldiers who come home from war and are unable to cope with the reality of a normal life again?”
I nodded, “Yeah. Countless times, actually. Hell, they used to run commercials about that stuff all of the time.”
Lewis was a lot more serious than he was moments before, “Those people are going to need a place to go, now that the world has been violently thrust upon them,” Lewis explained, “Most aren’t ready to handle that.”
“Yeah…” I replied, watching Alexis toss Lydia over her shoulder like she weighed nothing before spinning around to deliver a kick to her chest. I wasn’t really enjoying the match, my mind on the matter of coping with everything that had transpired over the past six months. These people as well as myself had gone from serving under or being oppressed by the might of Tiamat Unbound to bringing the dragon down and all that followed it, including ourselves. The majority of us were wanted criminals for connections with the PMC, and I myself was a wanted man since my old company Kriegspartai Industries threw me under the bus after Lydia’s interference drew attention to the fact that I was selling company weapons illegally on the side. Lydia herself had managed some lists as our ‘pink-haired accomplice,’ which I found highly amusing. I reflected on that day and looked to the bubblegum-haired young woman, who was busy getting to her feet while Alexis taunted her. Lydia was the sole reason we had even managed to do all of this. She was why we were here today.
“I have a plan,” Lewis announced, “but I need some input.”
“Well, to put it simply,” he began slowly, as if he were bracing for incoming insults that I hadn’t even began to compile, “I’d like to set up an organization.”
That one got me, “Wait, an organization? For what?”
“For all of those who have nowhere else to go,” he continued, “They’re set to battle.”
“Hold on,” I held a hand up and picked my next words carefully, “Are you saying you want to establish another PMC?”
“No, no,” he argued, “nothing like that. I mean…” he trailed off, like another thought was creeping around his mind and just striving to get his attention, “If I ever considered doing something like that, I’d definitely take the steps to avoid something like Belmont’s mistakes all over again.” He mustn’t have liked the look I was giving him, because he was quick to retract, “Of course, I’m not saying I would, you know? I just want to construct a place where they’ll be welcome with open arms, unlike they would be to the rest of the world. Think about it,” he held up a finger, “most of them will go to straight onto other battlefields, because that’s all they know. What if we gave them another option?”
I decided against talking against it, “I’m listening.”
“We could use the funds that turned them into what they are and rehabilitate them. Who better to help out those men and women than us? Besides,” he stood up and went to pick up his can, which I was grateful for. I had planned on chewing him out later over his messy habits, “we owe it to them.”
“Because we’ve pretty much doomed them to that kind of life?” I asked.
“Exactly,” he replied, examining the crushed aluminum in his hand as if it held the answers he sought as to what to do next, “So? What do you think?”
“As long as it’s fixated on rehabilitating them and not preparing them for more battle, I think it’s a fine idea,” I stressed, “but how do you intend on getting something done when something like that would obviously draw a lot of attention to you? Remember,” I pointed to him, “just like us, you’re a wanted criminal according to the rest of the world. Besides, you’d draw a lot of the people you want to help out of hiding who could end up being arrested.”
“I’ll work something out,” Lewis said with confidence as he sat back down, “Besides, the rehabilitation could potentially serve as part of their sentence. You never know.”
“I think that alcohol is stronger than you think it is.”
Lewis laughed, “You think I’m crazy, don’t you?”
It was hard to be honest, especially to a man who could kill you in your sleep, but sometimes you just have to speak it, “I don’t think you’re crazy. I just think it’s risky, and although it’s admirable for someone with a past like yours, I just don’t see it working out like you say.”
“Won’t know ’till we try,” Lewis replied with a smirk. I couldn’t argue with the confidence, but I wasn’t keen on the idea of what could potentially turn into another PMC funded by the dragon’s blood money. The pane door behind us slid open with a thud as Makoto rejoined us on the patio with a right arm full of random packages of junk food. The big guy really packed away on the calories, but I wasn’t going to tell him to slow it down. Maybe the fats were just as terrified of him as I was, because he shoveled food with no signs of weight gain. The three of us observed the fight as it seemed to be reaching its conclusion. Lydia stood on her feet, heaving every breath as she glared at her opponent. Alexis maintained her cool and awaited the next attack, preferring to play the counter role.
Lydia was going in for the kill, head down low and lungs exhaling all air as she roared a battle cry and cocked her right hand back for a full-force punch. I heard Lewis comment on how wasteful she was being right before Alexis stepped aside and let Lydia hit the ground. She was up again and spinning around to find her target, who was braced for another artful dodge.
“I don’t think the poor girl needs this right now,” Lewis said with a sigh. Lydia jabbed and swept, but Alexis just kept gracefully evading the onslaught of violence. Lydia was a pouting child who just wanted to exert pain on someone, and it had driven her blind with rage. I couldn’t take it anymore.
“We need to stop them,” I said, standing up and preparing to interfere. Makoto stepped to the right to block my path.
“No,” he stated calmly, “leave them be.”
I looked to Lewis, who was potentially the only person capable of getting past the brute samurai. He remained seated, seemingly uninterested in what was transpiring. I couldn’t just let Lydia have a meltdown, so I did the only thing I could think of. I pushed past Makoto, only to have a hand land on my shoulder and tug me backwards with enough force to send me crashing into Lewis, who immediately shoved me off. I was dumbfounded. Sitting back up, I saw that Makoto’s right hand was still cradling the food, but that meant…
“Makoto, that left arm of yours may be faulty,” Lewis grunted to my right, rubbing his chest from where I had impacted, “but damn if it isn’t still strong.”
Makoto moved his left wrist a bit to indicate that it was still functioning despite the damage from having a blade shoved through his shoulder four months ago. Then something happened that had Makoto drop the food on the ground at his feet. Lydia made a last effort in exhaustion to swing at Alexis. Her hand was within inches of her opponent’s face, when Alexis tilted to the side so that Lydia’s arm crossed over her left shoulder. Alexis capitalized, reaching up with both hands and grabbing Lydia, whose head fell against her opponent’s chin as her body gave out.
Alexis embraced her.
Not one of us dared to speak as Lydia began screaming, her emotions finally breaking free of the dam she had fortified for the past four months. Her knees buckled and she began to slip away as Alexis followed her to the ground. Both were on their knees while Lydia cried into her shoulder. Alexis soon accompanied her wails of anguish with her own. The two strongest women I knew were vulnerable and broken before us.
“That’s something you can’t get through therapy,” Lewis remarked with a grin.
“Should…” I began, “Should we do something?”
“No,” Makoto replied, strongly opposed to the idea, “I think that we should let them settle their grievances in their own way. Let them drown in the emotions for now. It may just wash out their sorrows.”
I got to my feet and looked on with the other two men, and not one of us spoke another word. Lewis and I had it easy. We were able to cut ties and just leave our past to die, but Makoto, Lydia and Alexis had left important people behind. None of us were really the same person anymore; replicas had taken over our lives and left our old spirits to wither in the back of our minds. I had a bit of a limp from a bullet wound I suffered during the invasion, Makoto had lost most of the use of his left arm, and everyone else had lost a mentor in Terry Shields. We survived here today, a ragtag group of rebels who had set out with a purpose fueled by a hotheaded woman with a trigger-finger. In the end, we were alive, and we were together. Come what may, we were facing a future together where we were all finally free of the ties that bound us to manipulative masters. I can honestly say I’m a bit grateful for the young woman who pinned me down under her scope in Italy. Of course, there were the downsides to all of this. We wouldn’t be hailed as heroes, but remembered as villains to all who relied on Tiamat Unbound for their income. We wouldn’t be able to show our faces in many places without a chance of being arrested, considering the FBI and most other organizations around the world had us on their ‘wanted’ lists. With retribution came consequences, and we’d live with them until the day we died.
After several minutes Makoto took his leave of the area. I assumed that he had seen enough of the emotional scene, but maybe a part of him even felt moved by the display. I’d never know, and asking him would probably lead to my utter demise, so I’d just have to be content with his absence. Alexis stood to her feet and pulled Lydia up by the arm, both clinging to each other like they were each other’s last hopes in the world.
“Hey, Aaron,” Lewis said to my right, nudging me in the ribs.
“What?” Something was troubling him, and it wasn’t the awkward situation now approaching.
“Think on my idea, won’t you?”
I hated to tell him that I wasn’t as interested as he was, as thoughtful a concept as it was from the man who took pride in his style of murder. Honestly, I couldn’t see anyone here wanting to be involved in the past. Sure, he was right about us owing it to the countless we had left alone and abandoned in the world, but I wasn’t willing to do something that would probably have them back on the battlefield. Rehabilitation is meant to end violence, not give it another outlet that could potentially relapse into the same problem. Lewis grunted and stood up, standing to my right and facing the house as I faced opposite.
“If worse comes to worse, I’ll do it on my own,” he uttered as the women drew closer, “It’s the least I can do to try and absolve all of these mistakes. If none of you want to come along, I’ll take the money and do this alone.”
I said nothing more, and he only let the silence persist for a few seconds before entering the house and sliding the door closed behind him. Alexis and Lydia had finished drying their tears and approached as I let lingering thoughts die.
“You look troubled,” Lydia commented. That was coming from the women who had a red face, mangled hair, and visible bruising.
“You uh…” I fumbled with words, “You two going to be okay?”
Alexis smiled, “We’ll be fine. I think that fight alone did more for us than the therapist visits.”
I noted that with a grain of salt, “That’s good. Do…you two need some time?”
“No,” Alexis said, letting go of Lydia and walking around me to the door, “I think everything’s going to be fine.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” I said. I wasn’t sure what to say. Makoto and Lewis had left me to handle a delicate situation alone. Such men they were.
“I’m getting a shower,” Alexis called back, “Aaron, if you want, I’ll help you replant the rose garden tomorrow.”
I wanted to point out that she was the one who landed in it yesterday when Lewis booted her backwards, but I refrained and instead gave a thumbs up in reply. She slid the door closed behind her and left Lydia and myself alone on the patio.
“What were you and Lewis talking about?” she asked.
“Nothing to be concerned with.” I had no intentions of letting her know that he was looking to step back into the conflict. Of course, I had to remember that she was good at seeing through bullshit.
“Aaron, I still don’t trust him.”
“I never said I did either, but he helped us in the end, and that matters.”
The uneasiness in her expression overshadowed what I’d normally consider her cute characteristics, “Aaron, I’m serious. Unlike the rest of us, he didn’t lose anything other than free reign to kill, and now he’s free of the consequences. How do we know that I didn’t just set up for him to swoop in and take charge of something even worse than Tiamat Unbound?”
My heart skipped a beat, “What makes you say that?”
She began to involuntarily play with her hair, “I just have this bad feeling…”
“Is that your father in you?” I asked, remembering that her father was Spetsnaz.
With a disgruntled sound she turned away and spat, “You say that like you knew him, but you didn’t.”
“I know he’d be proud of you. You’re not the one-track-mind amateur that I met six months ago.”
She silently fumed and crossed her arms before turning back to me, “Why do you always know what to say?”
I laughed and clapped a hand on her shoulder, “I’m just optimistic. I didn’t trust you at first either, remember? Besides, he hasn’t tried to shoot me personally yet. I can’t say the same for you, Wrench.”
That got a smile, “I guess. Okay, I’ll behave, but if he steps out of line, I will kill him.”
“Noted,” I replied with a sigh, “Just learn to give people chances, okay? I did it for you.”
“Yeah, and look where it got you,” she pointed out. I shrugged.
“If I had a choice between my old weapons dealers and you crazy people,” I punched her in the arm, “I’d pick you crazy bastards any day.”
She smiled and leaned in close, “I’m flattered, but there’s something else I need to tell you.”
“Oh? What’s that?”
“Call me that name one more time,” Lydia uttered with a smirk, “and I’ll do what I planned on doing six months ago.”
“Think you can?” I asked. She laughed and brushed her hair from her left eye.
“I know you won’t do a damn thing about it,” she replied in a deadpan tone of voice.
“Oh yeah?” I challenged. She reached the door and slid it open, taking a step inside before looking over her shoulder and smiling flirtatiously.
“Of course. You can’t shoot, remember?”
With that she closed the door and left me alone on the patio as the sun was setting. She was right. There are two things I’ve learned over the past six months; first impressions aren’t everything, and challenging women is a bad idea unless you have a lot of support behind you. I would remember both of those lessons. Both would be my saving grace in life.