Disclaimers: No, none. Don't use my characters without my permission, I tend to get pissed when people take characters I've been whittling away at for the past two years. Ask me nicely first if you want to use them :-)
Warnings: Language, alternative (ie. lesbian) relationships, a bit of cussing, but nothing explicit sexually.
This is a story that takes place in a fantasy world, a country named Amazonia to be exact. The time is measured in ACE, which stands for Amazon Common Era. The year 1 ACE is reputed to be the year the Goddess Artemis told the ancestor of the Amazons, Mau, to found the sacred city of Themiscrya.
The tall, young soldier gritted her teeth, her shoulders tense, her eyes weary and defeated. She turned over her shoulder to look at her squadron of ten young womyn, who looked at her with expectation that she would get them out of this mess, soon.
She turned back around to face her adversary. One who understood no reason and the cadets could not fight, Mother Nature herself in her relentless cold fury. Alex kicked herself. How could I be so damn stupid? she chided herself. If it wasn't for following that damn false lead we wouldn't be trapped in this snowstorm miles from the Citadel, now would we?
She scratched her dark, short, thick mane of hair, and turned around to face her cadets. It wasn't the first time the 17th Cadet Squadron of Alpha Company of Fort Hartford, 8th Division, had gotten lost in the woods; but that was summertime, when extra daylight and warm temperatures bought them room to fudge.
Alex sighed. There was no room this round. Her head weary, she sat down on the snow and tried to figure just when and where she went wrong.
Her friend Jessie sat down next to her. "What's going on?"
Alex peered back at her equally tall friend. Whereas Alex had a wiry build and dark, black hair, Jessie had a thick, trim build and towering height that surpassed nearly everyone back at the Citadel.
She leaned back. "Here's the thing, Jessie. Somewhere we managed to get tricked into following the wrong path. And I'm not sure how long ago we got sidetracked, a fierce storm is coming in, and I'm not sure which way to move."
Jessie arched a blond brow. "I think it was a long time ago. The last clear landmark was that vista towards Mount Ashwood."
Panic crossed Alex's face. "You're kidding me. We're that far west?"
"I'm afraid so."
Alex shook her head. "Jessie, since you have a better idea where the hell we are than I do, could you help me get back on track?"
Alex got up, and lent a hand for Jessie to get up. She walked back and met with the group of eight other expectant faces.
"Listen up. We're going to backtrack up the trail we took and see if we can find the correct turn off we were supposed to take to get to the citadel. Jessie, lead the way."
Groans crossed the group; the last hour had been an easy trip downhill and now they were going to have to climb up the mountain again.
"Good grief, Alex, I'd think you'd have the common military sense your mother had."
The very thought of her mother brought grief to her mind.
She was back home in Amasia, one of the three sacred cities in Amazonia. It was home to the glorious temple of Athena, home of the National Militia, the Red Guard, who patrolled the city in shimmering brass armor and crimson kilts. School had adjourned an hour ago, and her best friend Lina was discussing politics with her on the West Amasian commons.
"You don't understand, do you, Alex?" Lina said, her hands animated. "The country folk of the Rycroft and Wheatley Valleys resent the central powers that control the country."
"I know that," Alex said. "I'm not that stupid."
"Then what don't you get? Whenever you mention this ongoing civil war, you talk about it like it's one big game."
"I do not!" Alex snapped. She sighed, regretting snapping at her. "I don't understand this whole conflict, Lina. What's their beef with the central powers of Themiscrya and Amasia?"
A glimmer of progress glinted on Lina's eyes. "Themiscrya and Amasia are the two largest cities in Amazonia, save the coastal port of Sinope, but Sinope is isolated compared to Themiscyra and Amasia. It takes only a day to travel between the two cities, but seven or eight days to Sinope. That means there is a power hold by the two cities, the central powers."
Alex nodded her head. "I understand that."
"See, the people of the Halys, Rycroft, and Wheatley Valleys to our west are farmers. Rural folk. People who cannot understand the political inclinations of the city. Because they have fewer people per capita, their voice is not well heard in the House of Elders. They resent that, and decided the only way they could be heard was to rebel."
"Yeah. I'd think your mom would have explained that before she left."
"I'm sure she would have, if she wasn't in such a hurry."
Sad eyes looked back at Alex. "I'm sorry for presuming you knew."
"It's okay," Alex replied.
She hadn't noticed the messenger until a handsome older woman, clearly a representative from the army, was standing before her. "Alex Fletcher?"
"That'd be me," the dark haired woman said.
"Here's a message from the Blackguard." She handed the scroll to the youth, a fifteen year old nearing the end of her formal schooling and on the cusp of graduating into the Cadets.
Alex opened it warily, worried what it might say. The Blackguard usually didn't contact family members unless something was seriously wrong, and Alex feared the worst."Dear Alex Fletcher: We are sorry to report that your mother has fallen in the line of duty. The Blackguard will hold a formal burial at the Citadel in Themiscrya 7 days after the Storm Moon.
Included with this memo is your mother's rank and insignia patch and buttons. Additional possessions will be handed over at the ceremony.
We'll notify you of ceremony details in the next few days.
Colonel Washburn, Delta Company, 5th Division
She felt her face pale. "Alex?" Lina asked, worried. "Alex, you alright?"
"No, it can't be..." the dark haired girl cried. "It can't be...."
"What can't be?"
"My mom can't be dead...."
"NO!!!!!!" The tall, dark haired girl whirled about onto her feet and ran as fast as she could away from where she learned the bitter news that day.
Lina sat there, the scroll in her hand. "I'll stop by later and give this to her. No one should have to go through that alone."
"Alex?" a voice asked, tugging her back to the present. "You okay?"
"I'm fine, Jessie."
"I went ahead and told Jackie that those words were uncalled for."
Alex nodded numbly.
Captain Amara Fletcher was one of the most distinguished soldiers in the Black Guard. Her swordfighting skills were legendary, her valor unmatched, her dedication to the service unparalleled. For twenty-two years she had served her country, was on the cusp of becoming a colonel and kept out of harms way, when the debilitating news came that her mother's dream would never materialize, her life cut short two months before she could be in the safety of Fort Atwood and not the dangerous front lines of the civil war.
Everyone pinned Alex to follow her mother's footsteps, and when it became apparent that Alex didn't possess her mother's sense of military smarts, she began to get lots of trouble from her teachers, later her drill sergeants, and now she was getting flak from her own squadron. Those arses should have known better than to pressure me into the Blackguards, she sighed bitterly to herself.
"Penny for your thoughts?" Jessie asked.
Alex turned around. "I'd love to know whose fucking idea it was to pressure me to join the Black Guard."
Jessie shrugged. Not that she would have the answers, she was from Somerfield up north on the coast. "Listen bud, I know they got you rattled. You need to stop underestimating yourself."
"I'm never going to live up to my mother. I didn't inherit her military sense."
"You always beat the crap out of me at chess," Jessie told her.
"That's a stupid game, not real life reconnaisance missions," Alex retorted.
The snow was beginning to come down thick and cold. The rest of the squadron huddled up in their cloaks.
"I swear, if one person dies I'm impaling myself on this sword by my side."
"We'll be out of here long before that."
Alex put her hand up and motioned everyone to stay silent. Finally she whispered, "You hear that, Jessie?"
The blonde shook her head.
"Everyone draw your swords and square out."
No one in the squadron knew what Alex was talking about until an angry cat pounced out of the bushes.
"Shit! We're surrounded!"
Six hungry mountain tigers emerged from the brush, eyeing a delicious feast. "We're going to bluff. Scream on the count of three. One, two, three!"
"ARGH!!!!!!!!!!!!" the womyn yelled shaking their swords and spooking the cats, who retreated a few steps. Their eyes then darted upward, and Alex looked up in time to see one leap off the cliff.
"WATCH OUT!" she cried as she drew her sword up to impale the beast. The force knocked her to the ground and the chaos incited the other tigers to attack. She struggled to get the heavy weight off her, then got up to defend herself against the other hungry cats. She landed a punishing blow to one cats neck, pried one off a comrade, impaled one that was rushing to attack another comrade from the back, and snapped the spine of the one that Jessie was frantically trying to fight off her.
"Move, you damn beast," she said, pummeling it until it limped away in defeat. The other cats slinked away, their battle for dinner lost. But the gore inflicted left the squadron prone.
Two were dead, and a third one was bleeding too fast to save, although Jackie desperately tried to avert fate. Two others were seriously hurt, two were left unscathed, four had minor injuries, and Alex saw Jessie wasn't looking too well.
"Jessie!" she said, rushing over to her fallen friend.
"Ugh," she mumbled, seriously hurt.
"Hold on, bud, we're getting out of here."
Jackie faced Alex. "It's your fucking fault."
"Shut up, Jackie, this is not the time to blame," Jessie wheezed before passing out in Alex's arms.
I'm not leaving your behind. Alex tendly scooped her unconscious friend into her arms. "Okay. We need to move before it gets any darker and more mountain tigers come out."
"We can't leave the dead behind."
"Then gather them up quickly," Alex told them. "Else leave them, the mountain tigers don't like unfresh kills."
Jackie sat on her heels, sadly looking at her dead friend. Four of her comrades gathered, paying last respects to the dead before the squadron headed on, leaving them for the trackers to take back the next morning.
They ambled up the switchbacks until the reached the top of the mountain. Alex had a clearer view in the fading sunset of how far they were from the citadel. She set Jessie gently down and looked at the panorama, trying to figure out the best way to get there.
An hours walk away. Not as bad as I feared. But where's the path...?
"Alex," a familiar voice wheezed. The dark haired girl turned around to face Jessie, who had regained consciousness.
"I see the turnoff."
"By the clump of birch trees down there."
"Where? Oh, there." She turned back around. "Jessie?"
No response, her friend had passed out cold again.
Thirty minutes passed until the squadron reached the clump of birch trees. "Hook left," she instructed the group.
"Why should we listen to you? You got us lost," Jackie growled.
"We are not lost, Jessie has the best damn sense of direction in this group."
"Fuck you, my friends are dead."
"Our friends. Walk now, blame later."
"You are going to be in so much deep shit when we get back to the citadel. If we get back to the citadel--"
"We're going to be there within the hour, Captain Optimist."
The light was fading and it was incredibly difficult to see the path amidst the blowing snow, dying light, and thick forest. But true to her word, the squadron hit sight of the citadel within forty-five minutes.
Alex wasn't sure how much longer she was going to be able to carry Jessie. Alex herself was six one, and she estimated that Jessie was probably six foot six, and certainly by no means light. How she had managed to get this far was a mystery to her, a mystery she didn't want to think about until later.
Everyone was rushed to the healers immediately.
She was summoned to Lieutenant Scott's quarters after she came back from dinner. Alex wasn't sure what was going to be the outcome of the meeting, and her palms were sweating profusely as the rotund woman walked in.
She set a folder down on her desk and looked at Alex, her eyes angry.
"Cadet Fletcher," she sighed, opening the folder. "I have been informed by Sergeant Jules that three members of your squadron died on today's excursion."
"That would be correct, ma'am."
Lieutenant Scott readjusted her glasses. "She proceeds to write that they were killed by mountain tigers just west of Mount Sedgewick. You were not supposed to be out there."
"We had missed our turnoff, ma'am."
"That's no excuse," Scott growled. She set the folder down, took off her glasses, and glared at Alex. "Cadet Fletcher, you are an embarrassment. Your mother is rolling in her grave, watching her incompetent offspring fuck up every single mission she's given. Don't you want to make your mother proud?"
"Then straighten up and fly right."
"I am marking this in your permanent record."
She stopped by the infirmirary before she went to bed to check on Jessie. "Hey bud."
Drowsy brown eyes looked back at her. "Hey, Alex," she whispered.
"Feeling any better?" Alex asked, kissing her on the forehead.
"That tea the healer gave me knocked me out."
"An act of mercy, I'm sure."
Jessie gave her one of her crooked smiles. "Yeah, I was feeling like ground beef before that."
Alex rubbed her hand through Jessie's short locks. "Take care, okay, I'll see you tomorrow."
"You too." Jessie reached over and gave her a squeeze of the hand before succumbing to the effects of the tea.
"Sleep tight," Alex said, before releasing her hand and returning to the bunkhouse.
It was dark when she returned. She shucked her shoes, climbed into bed, pulled the sheets to her chin, and fell asleep, oblivious to her comrades' scrutiny.
Jackie waved her hand, and the other cadets silently got up, opened their lockers, wrapped a bar of soap in their towels, then silently padded over to where Alex was sleeping. Corrie snuck up behind and gagged Alex with a towel, startling her awake, and the rest of the squadron took her cue, raising their towels and then snapping it forward to whip her.
I shall not scream like a wuss, I shall not scream like a wuss, I shall not...OWWWWW! shall not...OWWW! shall...OWWWW! She scrunched her face in agony as the blows rained down over her torso, immobilized by her comrades from defending herself. Blow after blow, they were merciless, they were not going to forgive her for losing three of their comrades in the field.
Jackie retreated from the beating, coming back with a blunt 2x4 and shooing the other members back. She arched the 2x4 back and began raining blows to Alex's torso.
It slowly became dark, and the pain slowly edged away with each blow....
It was an unspoken agreement that she not rat out her squadron. She wished she didn't wake up that next morning, but luck was not on her side. Why didn't they just kill me? she wondered. Three members of my squadron are dead and my best friend is grieviously injured.
She went to mess and Sergeant Jules summoned her afterwards. "Come with me."
The short, stout red head dragged her to the empty training field. "You do realize your behavior yesterday was unacceptable?"
"I didn't hear you."
"Get on the ground, fifty push ups."
Inside, her body was screaming protest but she bit her tongue, hard, and forced herself to comply to the sergeant's orders.
"One, two...thirty, thirty-one...forty-nine, fifty."
"Those aren't push ups. Do them again."
"One, two...twenty, twenty-one...thirty-nine, forty, forty-o..."
Her arms gave out, and she bit her lip, willing herself to get up.
"Get up cadet! You lazy piece of shit, move your ass or you'll have to do another set of one hundred!"
She let a gasp come out, she got on one knee and started to stand up when her legs gave out.
"You useless pond scum! Get up!"
She felt her heart rapidly pulse, her skin chilling, arms trembling, her vision blurring.
"GET UP BEFORE I DRAG YOUR ASS UP AND BEAT IT!"
She wobbled one knee above the other and started to stand up when her legs gave out, and her consciousness too.
"I'm going to give you an ass whooping if you don't get up!"
Still no response, not even a twitch.
"Don't say I didn't warn you!" She rolled Cadet Fletcher over, and saw her eyes swimming vacantly at the top of her head.
Her shirt had ridden up her torso when Sergeant Jules turned her over, revealing ugly bruises the shape of a two by four.
"Not another report," Sergeant Jules groaned.
Jessie rolled over, yawning, and daring to open her eyes. She gasped when she saw Alex in the bed beside her, eyes vacant like a freshly killed deer. "Alex?" she gasped. "What the hell happened?"
Sergeant Jules walked into the infirmarary, followed by Lieutenant Scott. "Tell me if I have this right: you took her out to do her punishment when she passed out on the field and you saw her torso littered with bruises?"
"And you think it was the squadron who did it? Why not the mountain tigers?"
Sergeant Jules came over to Cadet Fletcher's beside and pushed back her shirt.
"Shit," Lieutenant Scott grumbled. "The Captain's going to expect a full investigation of this. Who was involved, what was involved, the whole nine yards."
Lieutenant Scott pulled her shirt back down over her torso. "Go call the squadron back in."
"Dismissed." The two left the infirmirary.
"Oh my friend, what did they do to you?" Jessie asked worriedly, knowing she wasn't going to get an answer out of her battered friend. "When I told you I'd see you tomorrow I didn't mean like this!"