Meditating was something I did. She didn’t quite understand or subscribe to it but would respect when I was in the middle of it. Can’t blame her. I admit I didn’t believe in the spiritual aspect of it either. I believed in the simple fact I was pausing things; focusing, opening my mind up to other things. I was allowing myself to see more than I had up til that point. Meditating may or may not be a real spiritually but for me, it gave me time I didn’t think I had when anxiety would come for me. I would always come out of it and know that things would eventually be better. If not because of the meditation than because she would assure me. Her optimism was a bit infectious like that.
Alexi and Echo had ran for what felt like hours out of the forest. Once free of the trees they had entered what could only be described as remains of a town. See it was remains of a town because nature not only had reclaimed it, but it was obvious that it was man that abandoned it. Skeletal frames of homes, some only beams. Others still having walls standing were all around, only a few though. Large space between each, made him wonder what it was like back when this place was full of life. The thought connected him to another lifetime for him. He lowered his head, closing his eyes and fighting back memories before shaking his head and inhaling deeply to disperse them. Reaching down to his pocket he checking his phone. It had vibrated a few times while they were running before and he didn’t exactly think of checking then.
Two new missed calls, one text. The first missed call was a number he didn’t have saved or recognize. So he ignored it. Checking the other, he knew the number- it was Kaden. So he hit the play message button and placed the phone to his ear waiting for it to play.
“Ay dipshit! You’re probably still ignoring calls, but hey it’s us, figuring we’d call to check on you. Hopefully you’re not dead! When I renewed the bill for your phone it said you were traveling so I’m presuming it’s cause you’re still out there. But if you’re someone who killed Alexi and stole his phone- let me the fuck know so I can cancel this number!” Obviously the joke wasn’t lost on Alexi who cracked a small smile and shook his head. “Anyway, yeah- we miss you man, we know you gotta do what you gotta do, but traveling out there- by yourself too? We just wish you told us, we all could have came with you. We’re home waiting for you. All of us. So you know- when you’re ready just come home, or hit call once and a while- some of us would die to hear you again. Yak at ya later!” The message ended and it was obvious that calling was not an easy thing for them. The two hadn’t spoken since he left home a year prior.
Next was the text. He knew who had sent it. Took him a bit to read it. Echo nudged at him, seeing the lingering pause on his face while he stared at the phone. The nudge snapped him out of his thousand yard stare and caused him to smile.
“Hey, these are private you know. I don’t go through your mail do I?” Which was met with a few accusatory noises. “Oh yeah cause you are totally private in your love life, you’d not be screaming your vocal box mute over someone who got your wires all crossed like that.” He teased the machine which nudged him again in response. This time more like a headbutt to his shoulder playfully. After laughing at the little machine’s attempt at fake anger he returned his attention to the phone and opened the text.
I know you’re reading all these, and I know you’re only listening to the voice mails. But I don’t see you ignoring them or throwing the phone away so that tells me you’re still there and you’re not giving up on us. I miss you. Come home soon.
With that, he closed the message app and re-locked the phone before replacing it back into his pocket and examining the area.
“What do you think little buddy?” He asked pursing his lips. “Anything around here maybe useful? Anyone you can detect or anything for that matter?” Echo responded, not by noises but instead moved around him in circles. Scanning for anything nearby. moving ahead of their position a bit, near to one of the old homes. Checking behind a few things, after a minute or two the machine started to excitedly beep and bounce in air for Alexi’s attention. So he brought the wooden sword out from his side and kept it ready.
Echo kept bouncing wildly as he approached it and kept motioning ahead of it behind a wall into one of the old homes. There was, upon reaching the floating friend a mess inside awaiting him. His face showing a bit disappointment, he entered and searched.
“What? I don’t see anything.” He asked trying to figure out what got the little guy so excited. He got his answer when something knocked over a chair to the right. Instinctively prepared to fight off something larger than himself, Alexi dropped into a defensive stance. His breathing rigid but his mind racing. What he saw though instantly caused him to make the sourest face before turning to Echo.
“We really need to figure out how you focus on finding things you know that?” He asks returning the wooden blade to his hip and moving across the room. Echo followed behind happily, not even mad that he got scolded. Watching as Alexi knelt down to pet it.
It was a dog, from what he could tell it was a young one still not fully grown but obviously not a pup either. Putting the face of bravery on for the intruders, but the illusion shattered when the hovering machine and man got close enough. Nervously whimpering until Alexi smiled and began petting it behind it’s ears with one hand and put the other out for the animal to sniff him.
“Hey there, you live here don’t ya? Sorry bout coming in without permission. My friend here is a bit excited over you, I am not even sure they’ve seen a puppy, let alone one as pretty as you. You’re a good girl aren’t ya?” He asked very softly, the dog perked up and started to get closer for more pets and attention. “Yeah you’re a good girl, where’s your family?” He asked it, as if expecting an answer. He really was with Echo for a while if he expected all non human life to respond in a way he’d understand. But the canine simply lowered her head. “I’m sorry girl, how bout you come with me then? Better than being alone here huh? You like that idea? Wanna travel with us? I know Echo would love it.” He joked looking over his shoulder to the robot who backed up making a series of beeps. Alexi was convinced they translated to, “WHAT?! I mean….if we have to, I don’t wanna impose her on you…but can we please!?” The smile widened when the animal licked his hand and gave clear parent consent.
The three exited the building, Echo following the puppy excitedly while Alexi watched and laughed to himself. He had started this exile on his own and wound up with these two. He should not have done it but he couldn’t leave Echo where he found them, and let’s be real this little dog would have died if left here. There isn’t anyone around according to Echo’s scanning, he couldn’t leave the innocent thing to die. Besides the two already were becoming great friends. Echo was actually lowering itself to allow the pup to jump and try grabbing onto it attempting to climb on them.
“Alright what to call you though?” Alexi finally asked sitting on the ground after the two played for a while and Echo was done. The dog jumped into his lap and licked at his face. She had a slate colored fur. Black and white stripes along the sides, and her face was covered in black fur. Minus what looked like a white spade, from the playing card suits, marked her nose and eyes and forehead area. Speaking of her eyes Alexi noticed how they were icy and bright as hell. “You got blue eyes like someone else I know, you know that?” He muttered continuing to pet her, playing with the fur as her tag wagged excitedly. “You know I think cause I didn’t realize you were in that room til you popped up, and your coloring I should call you Shade. Do you like that?” He asked smirking. Shade responded by lunging up and licking at his face and panting. “Ok, ok! Shade it is,” Alexi laughed trying to get up. “Come on girl I need to get up now.” She reluctantly got off him and circled around in front of him as he stood. Dusting himself off he glanced over to Echo who had remained still, probably scanning for anything nearby. “What’s wrong? Sense something out there?” He asked. Echo chirped an affirmative. Tensing and feeling the tightness in his throat, Alexi went to ask but Echo answered unasked in a series of low sounds. “How many miles from where we came?” The few beeps came quickly. “Alright so we’re still far enough ahead, still gotta lose em though. Let’s go Shade, we gotta move, Echo, which way?” Alexi asked moving ahead and behind the robot. Shade following and keeping up, her playful nature replaced by a more serious one. She was able to realize her new friends were afraid of something.
The fear was justified. Just as Echo predicted a few miles back, the Tracker was walking toward them. The hood wasn’t on this time and their curly brown hair bounced as they walked. It wasn’t as long as Alexi’s but longer than most men wore it. They had eyes that weren’t malevolent or cruel but instead they were soft and almost kind.
“That’s right Wanderer, wherever you run I will pursue you. No amount of distance you put between you and home will deter me. I will settle the debt you owe.” Came from their lips. Softly, yet the way it was said could still send chills through any of the bravest of warriors. It didn’t carry confidence, instead it carried an ominous certainty, as if they knew as if it was foretold. “Whomever interrupts Shatter Point- becomes the cause of the next one. You foiled things once and now you must become the next Shatter Point.”
Once the figure reached the small town’s remains, they breathed in deeply, taking in all the scents of the area. Picking up a new one.
“Hmm you travel with another now. Before you walked a Lonesome Mile. Then you found that lifeless shell and now–” they inhaled again, “there it is, now you travel with a mangy creature. Your attempt to rekindle companions will not change your fate. I’ll rip all of them away before I take you.”
The flare gun again drawn from within their coat, aimed up at the sky and fired thrice this time. But instead of following, this time the pursuer sat in the middle of all the homes and closed their eyes, meditating. The sky, still blue in the early afternoon, now containing those three Emerald flares.
Alexi’s running slowed as he needed to collect his breath. He whipped his head back and saw all three flares soar into the sky above them, coming from where they found Shade. The dog and robot stopped fast, waiting for him. Until something caused Shade to drop into a defensive stance, growling and barring her teeth. Echo whirled aggressively and one of the micro tools on it’s chassis glowing a light red. Alexi rolled his shoulders and took his wooden sword off his waist, flourishing it, steadying his breathing. Listening to the world around him. Rustling in the bushes and trees around him made focusing hard so he tried again.
“Echo how far? Where they coming from and how many?” He asked. Beeping quickly after spinning a few times like a top Echo brought itself back to a ready state. “So it’s only the Scorched Men that are coming right now, alright. Shade stay close, Echo you know what to do right?” Echo moved in a way that looked like it was nodding.
The sound surprised Alexi as from above in a tree, it lunged out. A creature that resembled a man but if you examined it you’d notice it was one that looked flayed. Because it was, parts of it’s body had been so badly burned you could only see burn scar tissue but the rest was burned away only leaving the muscle layers. These things were dressed in haphazardly crafted light armor. Mostly leather and bits of metal covering the torso. The arms and legs had leather padding. The one above him that had leaped out to strike him carried a large sword at least 2 meters long. It seemed crafted from pig iron, you could only tell because of the impurities in the metal were glaringly noticeable. Before Alexi could even swing his sword to protect himself, Echo whirled a battle cry and a fierce red beam shot from it igniting the creature in a blaze. This allowed Alexi to jump back as it landed on the ground howling in pain and rolling around trying to put itself out. Shade and Alexi both returned focus where it had came from, as a few more emerged from the treeline. Shade leaped up and tackled one of them going right for the face and neck, while Alexi rushed the other, barely dodging into a roll to get behind it. Upon returning to his feet swinging the wooded sword down on the foe’s collarbone. Hearing the bone crack, he jumped and swung his leg hard into it’s back sending it dropping to the ground as he landed and looked around to look for any other attackers.
Echo was hurrying over to the other two before it stopped in it’s tracks and back tracked just as fast, screaming out. Alexi had turned and with eyes widening he stared up at a Scorched Man at least 9 feet tall lumbering toward him. Holding what had to have been a street sign at some point, the metal shaft was square and grated with holes, and on the end was a large chunk of concrete.
“Shade, to me!” He shouted as he backed away then ran toward Echo with Shade hurrying in tow. Barking at the giant monstrosity hoping it’d be scared of her. “Echo can ya hit it with another of those blasts, in the face? Like now?” Alexi pleaded. Joining up with Echo, who bounced in air, the multi tool lighting up again as the creature moved toward them. Each slow step taken giving Alexi a bit of anxiety. “Alright buddy I’m gonna buy a few seconds, when you get the shot- take it, just…don’t hit me? I like living ya know?” He orders. Putting the sword down and pulling the two escrima sticks out of their holsters on his lower legs and rushing the creature. He ran up it’s leg using the knee as a step ladder. On his way up he kicked it twice in the torso before striking it several times with the sticks on his way down toward the ground.
Once fully on the ground, he got low, tucking and rolling around the giant and swinging at it’s knees. Hoping to buckle or at least hurt it enough to give Echo time to charge that beam. The creature roared when he struck it’s knees and that was the sign he wanted. Bigger they are- harder they fall. “Echo– go for the face! I got the legs!” He orders. Taking the sticks again and bombarding the Scorched Man’s knees. All while trying to continue avoiding it’s hands trying to grab at him to stop his assault. This continued for a few moments until Shade started barking loudly. Grabbing his attention. Risking it he looked over- Echo had started rushing toward them the multi-tool that bright red again and ready to fire. Alexi figured out why Shade barked- she was trying to warn him. He nodded and sprang up again slapping the face of the monster with both sticks. As he came down he pushed on it’s torso to launch off of and back flip over Echo who stopped just short of the monster and fired the beam directly at it’s face. Melting through the skin and bone killing it instantly.
Panting and replacing the escrima sticks in their holsters, Alexi collapsed onto his back laughing that they survived.
“Echo….we good now or are there more?” He asked. The beeps and noises was an all clear sign, so Alexi nodded and closed his eyes catching his breath and letting his body catch up with him. Shade trotted over toward him and nudged him making sure he was ok. “I’m good, don’t worry girl, just resting. You ok? You did great, really showed that dude one for.” He replied patting her and scratching behind her ears. The nervous panting turned to happy tail wagging and a confident bark in response.
The Pursuer awoke from their meditation and scoffed. Rising to their feet and dusting off their jacket, they began walking the direction that Alexi, Shade and Echo traveled earlier that day. All the while muttering a tune that couldn’t be placed but sounded like a funeral dirge. The journey would continue it seemed. As long Alexi ran- the Pursuer would follow.