"Edmund II of England died of natural causes on November 30, 1016, though some report that he was stabbed in the bowels while attending the outhouse."
It rained that night.
Harsh. Cold. Bitter.
Sitting in a tree, on a stiff branch, Proxima plotted any posible way of killing her quarry. She planned and she had an idea. She knew how to kill Jier Rustin. It was crazy. As crazy as dervish dancer setting himself on fire whilst still whirling. But perhaps, just maybe, if she did this – she could contain the flame from burning her and still make a great performance.
Whether or not she survived was a different question all together.
She looked below her. Everyone had taken the sleeping-bags out of the trees for the night. They did not fear. Proxima told them to rest well, and they felt they’d be more comfortable on the ground. Federico and Medea were fast asleep just like she had ordered. Roderigo was propped up against a tree-trunk, face turned skyward, eyes closed – just allowing the rain to pour onto his face. Proxima sighed, her insides searing with a lust; and desperate want – almost a need – to forget the mission and travel back to the Decagon just to stab Sheldon in the face. But that wasn’t happening, so she climbed down from the tree. Roderigo looked at her lazily. He narrowed his eyes.
“Is it bedtime for you yet?” he asked.
Proxima sighed, a cloud of frustration trickling from her mouth, “What do you know about Rustin?”
“Why?” said Roderigo, “You almost sound like you want to take him out on your own.”
“Perhaps I do,” said Proxima, leaning against a tree, looking at the sky thoughtfully, “You know… wolves hunt in packs.”
As if on cue, a wolf howled – a slow, shrill sound that could only be described as mournful.
“But sometimes,” continued Proxima, “a lone wolf will leave the pack, and find its own path,” she looked at Roderigo, “Perhaps for the greater good of its kin.”
“Vixen…” Roderigo began, but then shook himself, “I’ll tell you what I know, but Sheldon covered most of it. Rustin is the scariest person you’ll ever meet – worse than the Emperor, maybe even worse than Death himself. One thing I have to say though is: Nothing is impenetrable. There’s always a way in – even if you can’t see it, it’s there,” Roderigo paused a moment, before continuing, “There’s a small village called Maraed next to the Deoroc Mountains, the people there will never deny a person assistance. Gather climbing supplies there: Oxygen tanks, food, warmer clothes, anything. Everything you need. From there on, you’re on your own. I’m sorry.”
Proxima nodded grimly, “Do you know a way in?”
Roderigo shook his head, “I’ve met Rustin, but I ain’t never been to his Barracks. Sorry.”
Proxima stood up. “Then, I guess I’m off.”
“Vixen… you sure you wanna do this?”
“Roderigo, I think you know my answer. It’s not a question of want,” Proxima picked up her pack, and wore her pashmina hood, “It’s something I have to do, or Cato will die.”
“Cato would be proud of you.”
“No he wouldn’t,” said Proxima sadly, “He’d be prouder of me if I joined forces with the Methists and destroyed the Empire alongside Rustin.”
“Then why don’t you?”
“For the same reason I listen to Sheldon,” said Proxima, “Cato put his life on the line for me. It won’t go wasted.”
Roderigo regarded her solemnly.
“Watch Federico and Medea,” said Proxima, “If I’m not back by the beginning of the next month, don’t wait for me any longer. And don’t go back to the Empire. They’ll kill you,” she looked Roderigo straight in the eye, “Path, if I don’t come back, find Ruict, live in Methum,” there was a glint of a tear in Proxima’s eye, “Take care of them, Roderigo. They never should have been caught up in this madness. None of you should have been.”
Proxima began walking away, and Roderigo said, “Be careful, Vixen, none of us like you; but none of us want you dead either.”
* * * * *
Proxima looked down at the little village of Maraed. The people there had indeed been hospitable to Proxima. At first they had thought she was a lost traveler, so the innkeeper, Old Grams, insisted she stay for at least a week and offered to pay half the price off everything Proxima needed.
“Don’t you be afeared, young lass,” Old Grams had told her, “We gonna treat you good as long as you stay here.”
Proxima had shaken her head, embarrassed, and said that she wasn’t a traveler, but someone who wanted to join the Fyddin. Old Grams had stared at her eerily for at least five minutes before saying, “What a noble little colt you are!”
Grams had made her coffee, and asked, “What’s your name? We Maraed folk like to have something or the other to talk about, and want better than for me to boast about hosting a soon-to-be veteran.”
You mean: hosting the one who’s about to destroy your world, thought Proxima shamefully.
Proxima had said, “My name is Valentia. Please, I don’t wish to stay long. The mountain pass is treacherous, and I’d like to complete it as soon as possible.”
“Valentia, eh? My, my, you even got ‘power’ in your name! Leaving soon, are you?” said Old Grams, unhappy, “Well, you ain’t leaving till I put some meat on them twigs you call bones!” Proxima ate a full three course meal [on the house] and she’d had to beg her way out of desert.
Old Grams took her around the village shops and paid for everything – even with a lot of protest on Proxima’s part.
Old Grams had said, “There’s plenty o’ food around the village – dried and roasted and salted and pickled. Them crackers will fill you up, and they last long…” and “You’d need some warmer clothes for them mountains. They be cold like a sun o’ ice, I could get you them thermal vests, and them mittens, and a nice little wooly hat. Our queen takes those hats quite kindly…” and “Why not takes a hinny or a mule or a horse with you? You’ll be so tired; you ought to have a poor beast helping you. We want our Hero Valentia well when she meets our General!”
Proxima felt bad. Like a murderer who’d sought shelter in the house of his victims. Old Grams had taken all the expenses [except the mule, which ‘Valentia’ had vouched wouldn’t be able to climb up the mountains] and Proxima had escaped the inn with much trouble. Many people had noticed her, and many people were loath to see her leave.
Old Grams had been the saddest, saying, “Be careful, love, the General is a great man, but he ain’t no sweetheart. And them mountains ain’t no kinder. If you gets hurt up there, don’t be afeared to come back to us. To your Old Grams. We takes good care o’ you, and we be more than overt-joyed to do it again!”
‘Valentia’ couldn’t help but hug the old woman. Proxima couldn’t help but feel guilty and sad about staying at the woman’s inn; only to climb and conquer the Deoroc and then to kill the General she praised so much.
Now Proxima had her hands in her armpits. The Deoroc was not something you wanted to joke around about.
One false step – you’d fall to apparent death. On false action – you’d freeze to death. One false sound – you’d get avalanched to death.
In this freezing hell, not even vultures followed you around – nobody wanted to eat frozen flesh. Proxima shook her head, and walked back into the cave she’d picked out. She wondered if Old Grams was still worried about her. The old woman seemed the type. A bit like Cato, only it suited her profile more. Old Grams was an old woman, Cato was a middle-aged army veteran.
She wondered what the rest of her team were doing. Federico was probably cursing the hell out of her, Medea was probably rocking back and forth: worried sick, and Roderigo would just be… sitting there.
Shaking her head in disdain, Proxima rummaged through her pack carefully – afraid her fingers would fall off – and found some dried meat. She chewed it, miserably, noting the tasteless and chewiness of the meat as well as freezing in her thermals and her coat. She couldn’t hunt – the mountains goats were too fast for her shivering arrows – and she wouldn’t know how to eat it anyway. She was too afraid to light a fire, in case it attracted someone’s attention…
* * * * *
Proxima peered over the mountain, knowing what to look for. It was early morning [Proxima refused to sleep more than 5 hours] and she’d finally gotten used to the cold. She had no idea how many days had passed. She was too focused on her objective. She was looking for something. It was something so crucial to the success of her plan, that if she did not find it – she’d have to think of a new one. Or die.
She was looking for a river.
Proxima’s plan was simple. To break into a medieval-style Methist barracks – she would use the same method as a medieval knight. In the past, the sewage and waste of a people was thrown into a river. In Ancient England, this problem got so bad, people couldn’t drink from the River Thames or they’d get cholera and diarrhea. If Proxima found a river, it would lead her to the barracks’s sewage system. From there, she could attack and kill an unsuspecting… er… user, steal his/her uniform and try to get close to Rustin.
It was better said than done.
Proxima couldn’t find a river, and she was beginning to lose hope. Proxima had also managed to find a little friend. There was a black bird circling above her head, cawing every now and then.
At least my corpse won’t go to complete waste, she thought grimly.
She decided to climb down and search around an area which wouldn’t be so hard to stand on. She slid down, and landed in a heap at the bottom.
Who knew snow could be so hard? thought Proxima, They never show it being this hard in the movies…
She walked down the flatter path, digging her heels into the soft ground. She began hearing a pleasant sound.
Gurgle. Burble. Splash.
Water. Music to her ears. Proxima allowed herself a small smile, before following the sound. Once she'd reached it, Proxima didn’t think she’d ever be so happy to see such a thing. It was only a stream, but it was something. She bent down, and dipped a hand into the icy water, but didn’t withdraw it. After a while, she pulled it out and touched the tip of her tongue on her frozen forefinger.
A good sign at last, she thought, inwardly sighing in relief.
River water was sweet, not bitter. Sea water was bitter. Urine was also bitter. That meant this was the sewage river she’d been looking for all this time. Proxima welled saliva in her mouth and spat, before following in the opposite direction in which the river was flowing.
* * * * *
“At last,” Proxima mumbled to herself.
She’d located the sewer. It was unguarded, large, and smelt as rank as any sewer was supposed to.
Of course it was unguarded, she thought, Only someone as undignified and as desperate as me would use this Augean method to kill someone.
Proxima decided she’d search the sewer in the morning, so she found a cave and set up camp in it. The little black bird joined her. It was smaller than Trevor, but looked just as evil. A raven, to be exact. As Proxima took out dried fruit to eat, it glared at her. But not in a hungry way… but rather in an intelligent way.
What are you up to? said a voice in her head.
Proxima stood up in shock, dropping her food and staring at the bird as it fluttered towards the meal and pecked.
Did it just talk to…? thought Proxima, her hands placed on both sides of her head; No! No! I must be going crazy!
There was an evil snicker and then, Not crazy, it said in the same cracked, evil voice, Not yet.
Proxima’s eyes widened as the bird looked up at her, tilting its head – its beak moving slowly.
Get out of my head, thought Proxima, gritting her teeth.
I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to intrude, said the bird mockingly, But I wasn’t given the power to speak the human tongue. Only to read human expression. I’m not inside your head. I do not know your plan.
How are you talking to me? thought Proxima.
The bird gave an almost Human shrug; It’s just something I do. The bird resumed eating for a moment and then persisted, What are your plans?
I’m not going to tell you, said Proxima, I don’t know whose side you are on.
The bird laughed again, Animals don’t pick sides. That’s what you heartless people do. I’m just curious… Proxima.
Curiosity killed your superior, the cat; it will kill you also, thought Proxima angrily.
Threats? Proxima, dying is not much of a worry for me, the bird cackled once more, People kill us all the time. Dying is only something people worry about – because they fear death. You’re very close to yours, Proxima, and that is no threat. When my master finds out about you, he’ll kill you.
Your master? thought Proxima. Her mind immediately registered the picture of Jier Rustin’s veiled face.
The hairs on the back of her neck stood up.
Oops, said the bird, Let that one slip, did I? Ah well, every dog has his day.
The bird pecked at the food once more.
Who is your master? thought Proxima.
The bird just cawed. Proxima clenched her teeth, her hands balling into fists – her knuckles becoming white.
I did not imagine that, she thought, I am not crazy.
She took her bow and one arrow out of her pack and took aim of the bird. It looked up, but did not move.
That confirmed her suspicion.
Before the arrow plunged into the bird’s eye, Proxima thought she saw the glimmer of a grin on its beak.
Now Proxima was worried. She had been watched all this time. And she had little doubt about who she had been watched by.