I have never had to train a recruit before. I have been with the group for close to a year. But training someone was never one of my duties. It dawned on me suddenly that I did not have any duties. I was being trained for – I am not sure any more. I am skilled, of this I am sure. I have taken on spirits single-handedly. But apart from this assigned role, I know nothing else. All I know is, I am being trained. For something. In all of this, it is impossible that they would expect me to train Spv.
This was neither the time nor the place to teach him how to use weapons. I can only hope that his instincts will take over – he is an Empath after all. There was only one thing I could tell him, “No matter what, don’t fall into their line of vision. I’ll handle the rest.” I hear a conviction in my voice that I don’t quite feel. But I can’t let him see that. I start forming a strategy, I am on my own now.
“OK. So, it’s possible that we can see them without them seeing us?” he asks.
“Yes.” I don’t have the time to explain it is not exactly that.
“I have one more question.”
“What are they? Do you know? Will they take a shape or something?”
“Yes, Spv. The house we’re heading to now, I know exactly what’s waiting for us there.” I am aghast that Spv has not even been informed of this. My voice is surprisingly composed.
“Undead dogs, Spv. And they’re not a friendly breed.”
We continue walking as before, stepping over broken branches and dead leaves. We finally reach a clearing. I peep out – in front of me is a large house that seemed to be falling to shambles even as I stood watching. Dilapidated pillars, that would once have been majestic, flank its entrance. The roof near the entrance has fallen in.
To the left are three large dogs.
Large, unkempt, and black as night. Their wide jaws seem to drip with blood – there is a village nearby that they had been attacking and feeding off for a while; surely there was no shortage of blood. It is a cloudy afternoon and they look more sinister in the lighting.
One of them lifts its nose. “Hide!” I hiss. They can smell us. I know they can smell us. My heart beats loudly, like blood falling in waves in my ears. One of them turns. I see its eyes – a strange, sick shade of green. Like illness. Like plague. Like death. No, I correct myself, not eyes. I don’t know how to stop the beating of my heart, but I know as long as we crouch low, we are safe. Safe being an overstatement.
I mark a trail with my eyes. If I manage to get into the house and out the back door (which I can see through the wreckage of the roof) I will be at a safe spot to capture them with my Empath Rod – a harpoon-like weapon that sucked in the spirit like a syringe. Once far away from where the spirit resided, the rod is burnt. The spirit is tortured; the rod remains intact. In this case, I know I can insert the rod into only one at a time, while risking being attacked by the other two. Besides, I don’t know if there are others waiting inside. I can only hope not.
There is one thing I can do.
I am startled as I realize what it is. I realize why Spv has been sent here with me, without warning, without explanation, without training. I look at him, even as he stares hard in the direction of the spirits, a frown on his face. The face of the man I’d loved for so long, the freckles I had kissed on so many lazy summer afternoons. I could feel my heart fall with a crestfallen thud. I look down at my hands, blistered by the stick I used to walk through the forest.
“Spv,” I began, hoping to keep the tremor out of my voice,”are you really an Empath?”
He let out a breath. “I don’t know. I could never see anything, or talk to a… a… spirit. But I kept hearing thoughts in my head that weren’t mine. It got so noisy. Requests, demands, asking to be connected to others. I couldn’t figure any of it out.”
Q. It had to be. Queen Empaths can project their thoughts and make others – normal human beings – hear thoughts that are not there. I looked at Spv, wondering why Q had done it to him, why she had brought him here. He was no Empath – they had not even bothered to tattoo his assigned name on him before sending him with me.
I sighed deeply. The dogs rested, with their wide, torn jaws and sharp fangs dripping blood, like drool. Could I do it? Could I throw Spv to them like a piece of meat?
End of Part 2