A Scent of Life

The agonizing sobs stopped. The forest was quiet, except for a fresh offshore breeze that teased the leaves on branches in the trees and trampled brush. Tall grass leaned over in rippling waves and pointed at the carnage inside the tree line whispering, over there and there, there too.

Raul stopped and hooked his damaged helmet on his battle pack. The scent of carnage filled his nostrils as he scanned the forest. First light of dawn eased a cold light through the gaps between trees illuminating a surreal scene. He strained to hear or smell his enemy.

The Dragon made his way past a torn body – a Cybrid. The second was not far away, also ripped apart with a fury that spoke of anger, hatred, and fear. Those deaths were especially brutal and made Raul’s stomach churn. He gave no mercy nor expected it. Still, the butchery got to him, choked his breath, and forced him to clench his jaw.

He saw the sitting figure not far from the last body.  She clutched her sister’s head to her breast and rocked.  Raul approached slow and reverent, not willing to challenge or disturb the figure lost in the ritual of grief.  Just a few feet away, he recognized his love in her black suit. The helmet lay discarded on the ground like a severed head. Gauntlets, their talons sticky with coagulated blood, rested in the leaf litter palm up as if asking why.

Her hair hung loose and disheveled, matted with blood stuck to her cheeks and hiding her face. Raul knelt down and placed a hand on her knee as he looked into her face. She wore the honored beard of blood. She had killed in battle in a time-honored way. He didn’t try to speak; his voice clamped in his throat and tears clouded his eyes. She lived. His love was still alive. Dear gods below, at what price?

Gloria looked up at Raul. She spoke like she owed him an explanation. Raul knelt down next to Tamari’s lifeless body. He placed his hand on her ripped open belly and listened while he tried to cover the young Dragon Sister’s wounds from view.

“I told her to go to the horses and move back. She saw a Cybrid coming up on my flank as I engaged another one. She ran at him as he fired at me. She took the full burst to save me and ripped the bastard apart before she died.”

Gloria stroked Tamari’s face, leaned down and kissed her forehead to say goodbye.

“She was one of my best trainees before she returned home to her beloved Georgia. She was so selfless and brave. It’s my fault. I asked her to guide us to Tbilisi to the safe house.”

Raul moved closer to Gloria and took her head in his shoulder and wrapped his arms around her.

“She died a warrior in battle. There is no higher honor for us. If we die on this mission, let it be as she died with our enemy’s blood in our mouths and the fire of Dragons in our eyes.”

Gloria held tight to Raul and for a moment, a decade of pain, sorrow, and self-hate spewed out of her in wracking sobs.  Raul lifted her head and took out his sweat rag and wet it with water from his water bladder. He wiped her face and hands then helped her to her feet.

“Come, my love. This forest is not friendly ground. Our plans have changed, and we need to get moving before they counter-attack.”

Raul watched as Gloria seemed to stiffen and choke down her pain. The cast of her eyes across the battlefield was no longer broken but resolute. The warrior ingrained in her genes and imprinted in her mind from years of training and fighting returned with the glow of vengeance in her eyes.

Raul could think of nothing to say until the words came to him. The words that echoed selfless sacrifice of soldiers from a period long gone.

“Theirs not to make reply, theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die.”

“I see you are a fan of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s elegy for the Light Brigade.”  

Gloria’s tone seemed flat and unemotional to him. He reached over and helped her out of her gear and suit.  She turned to him and spoke in a voice unlike the warrior and more like the oracle foretelling their future.

“Boldly they rode and well, Into the jaws of Death, Into the mouth of hell.”

Neither spoke as Gloria helped Raul out of his battle gear. They knelt down and removed Tamari’s clothes and put Gloria’s suit and gear on her body. Gloria then pulled on Tamari’s bloody clothes and gathered just a few things to take with her.

Raul went back to the Rebel he shot at the edge of the woodline and put his suit and gear on the Cybrid and put on the clothes he took from the body. He took the Cybrid’s weapon and an extra magazine then headed back to find Gloria and the horses.

“Scout ahead about 50 meters and wait for me. I’m going to have a last look around and try to hide our tracks.”

Gloria mounted the horse and held the reigns of the other two horses as she ambled off through the trees.

Raul waited until Gloria was out of sight and he couldn’t hear the horses. He knelt down beside Tamari and touched her face. Her lifeless eyes stared back at him as he spoke.

“Forgive me, Tamari. I have to ask one more favor of you. I need you to fool the Cybrids for a day or two to give us a chance to get away and up into the mountains.”

He patted her cheek as if she understood what he had to do. He took the Cybrid weapon and fired several shots so she couldn’t be recognized. He listened for any movement around him and satisfied he was alone; he did the same to the Cybrid wearing Raul’s battle suit. He headed off through the woods after Gloria.

They headed east to the Khobi River and washed themselves and their clothes as best they could. They remounted and headed farther up the river into the Kolkheti Wetlands. The tall grass and water at the edge of the swamp hid their tracks as they wound their way northwest to the foothills of the mountains. Twenty kilometers away they released the third horse to graze and continued their journey.

They rode through the heat of day staying in the narrow draws and canopied trees of the countryside. They rode through the night mesmerized by the sound of hooves echoing from the stone cliffs and boulders that guarded the path. Raul avoided lighted areas and signs of humans.

The next day, they rested in the shade of trees on a hillside overlooking the valley that dropped away into the blue horizon and jagged mountains. Finally, that night they found the remote ruins of a 5th-century monastery. Only a few walls and stone litter remained, but it was enough to hide them and the horses from view.  They snacked on what remained of their rations and water and talked in whispers spare of words; more from exhaustion than the desire for security.

Raul looked up into the stars and paused to think before he spoke.  “I believe we should make contact with a shepherd family or some remote village and get supplies. We need a change of clothes to something more subtle with fewer holes.”

Gloria looked at him with her piercing gaze illuminated by the moonlight. Raul loved how the starshine reflected from her skin in dappled spots that crawled across her body as she moved.

“Are you suddenly fashion conscious?”

Raul stared at her then they chuckled together. He was happy to see the old Gloria return. He lay back on the saddle and horse blanket as Gloria came over to him. She rested on top of him with his raised knee between her legs and kissed him hard on the mouth.

He didn’t waste any time responding. It didn’t matter they smelled as bad as the horses. Their bitter, earthy odor was like perfume compared to the death that seeped into their pores on the beach. Raul inhaled the mingled scent. She smelled, felt, and tasted alive, so damned alive.

24 thoughts on “March of the Cybrids-19

  1. Rebellion, the violence of war, death and the release and temporary forgetfulness in sex. Yup, all there, Mr. Hemingway. How much of an advance are you thinking of for your novel, and tell us it’s not stand alone, uh?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your wit and humor is unexcelled Sha’Tara! I most appreciate that. Hemmingway was one of my favorite authors. I’ve collected all of his published works. Of course, I haven’t been able to meet his ability to write concise prose. I guess I’ll have to break down and submit something to a publisher and see if I hear the cash register Ka-ching before the negotiations begin. There are 4 novels in this series in various states of disrepair and remodel. Each tells a story about a Dragon Sister’s origins and then together they bring the errant prophecy of super dragons to fruition. My online versions are the reader’s digest amalgams as sort of a public manuscript in draft form. The Agony of Ecstasy was a first start and needed revision before I finished it so I took it down rather than assault my cherished WP friends with the train wreck it had become. I became romantically involved with two beautiful souls in separate war zones in separate eras of my life. They gave me a reason to live and the energy to continue on. That wartime romance is on an order of magnitude greater than everyday bar meetings. In both cases, they were killed by the violence I was there to stop or so my mission profile declared. My first love died in my arms from gunshot wounds, the second disappeared and was never seen again. I suppose she sleeps in a mass grave somewhere. I’ve written historical fiction about them in two separate novels but, they were my first attempts and the reason I write today. Of course, they are so poorly written in terms of storytelling that I have laid them to rest as stillborn children of my mind. I’ll bring them back to life someday now that I have had a few years of learning. My WordPress friends who write as well have been the greatest inspiration and teachers, not only in writing but in living without the pall of dark thoughts related to the past. Ahh, see? You have gotten me to confess my dark secrets. It feels good. I should write about it someday.

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  2. You do scene and setting as well as any published author. That is your strength. The breeze teasing the tall grass…rippling waves pointing at…what? Carnage! OMG! You set me up with a peaceful meditative setting and interrupt my reverie with blood stained battleground! Whoooo! You bring in all the senses…sights, smells, (yes it would be putrid) to bring me right into the moment. I’m learning from you Bro!! No one brings me into a scene better than you! And even after Tamari’s selfless sacrifice (how noble!) you still swing it back to the erotica left on the table, not to be unserved in this hot, salty tale! Yes, you made me feel so damn alive as I jump into your characters head and you remind me of my raison d’etre.

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    1. Brooooo! You give me raison d’etre and write. It was exactly that way for me in many places. We never seemed to deploy to nice places but in time I saw the true beauty of the population, their culture, humor and love of life. In most cases I learned important life lessons from them and came to appreciate the magnificent reveal of their lands and history. In this beautiful setting lived the greatest horrors and it pained me so much to see the destruction that came from intractable views, power mongering and outright thuggery for no gain, no reason just the thrill of destruction. I try to recreate that in the story. I happy you get this so well. I feel like I’m doing it right.

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  3. So damned alive! I like the masterful uniform swap that Gloria and Raul performed to help cover their tracks, although Raul had to do some face erasing gulp. I’m relieved that the happy couple is still together but Tamari is a deep loss. A profound choice using lines from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem. Let us keep charging ahead!

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    1. Thank you Lauren. I’m relieved you can see the beauty and sacrifice that goes hand in hand with this chapter. I truly loved being damned and alive. It had a rebellious allure. I almost wish I left the face erasing part off. That might have been unnecessary. I actually use some actual events to weave into the tale but as I’ve mentioned before, reality in a fictional framework is often not well received. I lose myself in it sometimes. But hey, there is zero pretty or glorious about deadly conflicts and I hope we can someday stop kidding ourselves about that and just stop. I first read ALT’s Charge of the Light Brigade when I was a kid and for some reason it resonated with me. Later I studied the battle that resulted in the poem. It stuck with me since.

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      1. I would say keep the face erasing in – they say to write what you know, and whether that happened or not, the reality is that you’ve seen some awful and gory happenings in your day. You left out just enough to where we knew what was happening, but there was no need to over saturate with grotesque imagery. I haven’t read Charge of the Light Brigade in a long while, but this was the perfect place to use bits of it.

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        1. Then it’s settled. The scene will remain. I do believe I can now show what is happening without too much reliance on shock value. You have weathered a lot of my questions about different difficult scenes to write and tho it is still easy to fail to find that golden sentence structure, it comes more natural and rewarding to write. You deserve credit for hanging in there.

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          1. We’ve got enough shock value with horror movies these days – that and video games, so there’s not a lot that phases people any more, at least not me (I’m talking about you, Midsommar movie)! You’ve implied what is happening and that is enough…people can go where they want with their imaginations. It’s easy to hang in when the author does a great job. 😊

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            1. This is very true Lauren. Our CGI and movie technology makes it so real and in your face it’s hard for print words to compete. But, as you said, the reader’s imagination properly fueled is a deeper form of involvement in the scene. I actually prefer to read those stories that let me paint a scene and stand there as the story unfolds. You have helped me through some of my most challenging obstacles to writing and I can see the improvements with each adjustment. I am eternally grateful Lauren.

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  4. Amazing detail and images that set my heart pounding. Did Tamari have to die? The cost of war is high and brutal. Even to the end she sacrificed for her fellow warriors. Such a deep and enduring love between Gloria and Raul, sweet and passionate. You are the master of imagery Dan, I am spellbound.

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    1. I love how you get this so well Rene. I could not ask for better as I take us through this sojourn of the heart. The tightest bonds are forged in fire and here we see the glowing embers of the forge reshaping Gloria and Raul.

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