Fantasy Fiction posted October 10, 2018


Exceptional
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A 'Green House in the Swamp' Entry

Loyalty by Choice


The author has placed a warning on this post for violence.
The author has placed a warning on this post for language.

I could feel every sinew, every taut muscle along the length of his hard body against my backside, shoulders to ankles. His breath poured over my neck and down my front, igniting things deep inside that really should not be ignited in this situation: Bernard’s muscular arm held me against him as that SwingBlaze pressed dangerously against my neck. I knew this was simply another self-defense exercise, but my pulse raced all the same as my body was primed for a fight.
 
It seemed these ‘exercises’ had become more and more frequent as of late, their intensity and ‘surprise’ only adding to the anxiety that seemed to be building in Bernard and, in turn, in our once docile and friendly relationship.
 
Because ‘friendly’ is all it has ever been. Not that I wouldn’t want more – oh, cherie, I’d take more of his gorgeous body any way I could get it! – but Bernard has always made it very clear through his actions and his body language that he considers me off-limits for anything other than a friend and a co-worker.  
In fact, one of the few sentences Bernard ever completed was, I ain’t gotta listen to you.  Of course, my patent answer was always, That’s what you think. And we’d both laugh…okay, I would laugh and Bernard would just shake his head slightly and go back to whatever he was doing. But he always had an almost irresistible light in those cerulean eyes of his, and that was enough for me to know there was no malice in the statement.
 
Odd, I know, but there’s no way in hell I would ever do anything to jeopardize our comfortable companionship; it’s been far too many years in the making.
 
Bernard’s attitude is understandable, I suppose, as I’m not exactly the picturesque female – more of a Kyra on the Chronicles of Riddick but with cotton-blonde hair. Not a whole lotta fluff and femininity going on here. Being a female trapper, hunter, and commercial fisherman here in the Barataria region of Plaquemines Parish has always come with its share of, shall we say, hurdles; however, our past few years performance in the Nutria Control Program as well as our remarkable trophies in the alligator hunts (both were over 10 feet) have earned us some modicum of respect when we go into Point Celeste to shop for supplies.
 
Of course, the ‘us’ and the ‘we’ I’m talking about here includes only Bernard and myself as we’re the ones that run the family businesses now. There was never a ‘respect’ problem when Daddy was around; nobody ever gave Malin Thibodaux any problems. I figured between his large muscular stature and his ‘back the hell off’ nature, wasn’t anybody ‘round that would think it was worth the fight some teasing might instigate … that it being whether or not he taught his daughter everything like most others taught their sons. Or that this guy, Bernard, had just shown up about ten years back and been granted ‘family status.’ But some bastard had murdered Daddy earlier this year – ambushed him from behind and stabbed him multiple times in the back with a long knife, of sorts, that had never been recovered.
 
Bernard’s foot rammed into my shin, pinning even my legs against him now – his arm tightening to where I could barely breathe.
 
“Remember, Mel,” he growled in my ear.
 
Because Bernard spoke so rarely, his speech had real impact when he did. His words propelled my thoughts directly to that horrible evening by the bayou. The evening that I didn’t even get a chance to say good-bye: Daddy had bled out before Bernard and I found him, hanging off the side of the pirogue. In addition to the stab wounds, his throat had been slit so deeply his head was nearly severed, his blood dripping into the water and covering the boat deck. 
 
That image filling my vision, I let slip a gnarl of my own as I struggled in Bernard’s hold. Reaching back, I found the Ka-Bar he always had lashed to his thigh and freed it from its sheath. Before I could wonder why the hell he would even leave that within my reach, I had it poised and ready to strike.
 
“Call it, Bernard!” I threatened, even as air had trouble entering my lungs.
 
But instead of yielding his hold, I felt his SwingBlaze push harder and his teeth graze my scalp.
 
“Target.” His voice was muffled in my hair, the motion of his head indicating the direction in front of us. “Underhand.”
 
My pulse picked up again. This was new; I squinted against the sunlight. As new as that target was. Our standard practice bullseye been replaced with one having a six-pointed star at its center. So, he actually wanted me to throw his damn Ka-Bar at the new target across the clearing? Underhanded?
 
“What the fu-” I lost my words as my lungs emptied, Bernard’s hold tightening further, if that were even possible at this point.
 
He growled again. “Target!” And I actually felt him bite my damn scalp.
 
I could hardly focus with the pressure around me. If I could only take a breath…
 
Bernard pulled my hair with his teeth. “Target, Melisande!”
 
I let fly the knife even as I felt his hold relent completely. I turned, not even waiting for the knife to hit.
 
“What in the ever-living hell was that shit, Bernard?!” I reached up and felt my neck, my fingers revealing just a bit of blood from where his SwingBlaze had pressed. I caught my breath and anger surged through me as Bernard simply brushed past me, jogging toward the tree target, “Don’t you ever, and I mean fucking ever, try that again, got it?! Are you listening to m-”
 
Bernard never broke his stride. He never even raised his voice as he reached the tree, pulled the blade from its dead-center rest, and murmured just loud enough for me to hear him.
 
“I ain’t gotta listen to you.”
 
It was a good thing we got along so well.
 
******
 
The next few weeks went by with a record number of nutria tails collected. We even got in a few orders for skins so, a number of the animals paid nearly double – a real boon for us. Bernard and I celebrated by buying a new window unit for the cabin. Bernard kept up the insanity of the self-defense lessons with the addition of the Ka-Bar throws. I learned to throw much faster and without much shoulder motion so that my neck didn’t bear any unnecessary scars.
 
Yeah, I realize it may be hard for someone to understand who wasn’t brought up our way, but ‘rough’ is a way of life. We live on the land, and we respect it … and all the critters that you share it with. We also know there’s never much law enforcement around when you might actually need something of the sort, so we look at our exercises as working on our own home security system. Daddy’s killer was still at-large, there was no denying that fact. And I could tell Bernard seemed to always be extra-wary when we would harvest the more isolated traps in the evenings and run the trot lines at night, even though he never said anything about such.
 
Gliding the pirogue onto the shore near one of our more productive traps, Bernard suddenly became completely rigid. He stood, unmoving, pole in hand, not even stepping off to pull us completely to land, as the boat just bumped a cypress knee and began to slowly turn away. Following the direction of his gaze, I saw a small house tucked back amongst the cypress and the vines, a house that had never been there before today. It was completely covered in green kudzu so, it was nearly impossible to pick out any distinctive features except that, with the density of the undergrowth here, it was evident there was a light on the front porch.
 
A low, feral growl emanated from Bernard as he simply let the pole fall and stepped off, sinking easily above his knees, but almost angrily taking the next step and then the next until he was striding toward the green house on boggy land, leaving me still seated at the rear of the boat.
 
I stood slowly so as not to tip our pile of already-gathered nutria and scrambled as gracefully as possible for the fallen pole.
 
“Bernard!”
 
No answer and no bodily response to even let me know he’d heard my voice; he just kept marching determinedly toward the little green house.
 
“Wait, let me guess,” I muttered to myself as I guided the boat in and tied it off, “you don’t have to listen to me.”
 
I shook my head in frustration as I placed my crossbow across my back holster and my thirty-eight in my belt. I had no idea what I was walking into, and I certainly wasn’t going to do it unarmed. Yeah, Bernard was a pain in the ass, but he was my pain in the ass, and I wouldn’t let anything happen to him if I could help it.
 
Shaking my head as he disappeared inside the front door, I approached the house a lot more cautiously than he had. A front porch light was supposed to be welcoming ‘round here, but this house hadn’t been ‘around here’ long enough to learn that or anything else.
 
As I neared the front porch, I heard quite a commotion inside, but the second my foot hit the porch, everything went silent. Not just inside the little house, I mean everything. The birdsong, the insects, the wind blowing through the moss-covered trees – all of it. Just. Stopped.
 
The silence was so disconcerting that I pulled my foot back to the ground. Just as soon as my shoe connected the soggy ground, the noises – including those inside the house – began again as if they’d never halted. I un-holstered the thirty-eight as every nerve-ending in my body that had not already been on alert, immediately did so.
 
I stepped cautiously onto the front porch, pausing momentarily to let the silence wash over me again.
 
“Bernard!”
 
The silence was my only answer.
 
I took another step toward the front door as the smell of Daddy’s alligator sauce piquant immediately assaulted my olfactory. Taking another step, the darkness inside the little house was immediately replaced with a bright light. Stepping through the doorway, I found myself inside our kitchen at our cabin before Daddy paid for the makeover a few years before –
 
“Oh, Melisande!” An unfamiliar yet strident female voice startled me. “Put dat dam gun away, yeah!”
 
The thirty-eight vanished from my hand just as a woman entered carrying a large serving spoon and approached the over-sized dutch oven on the stove. She was about my height, perhaps an inch or two shorter, although I couldn’t get a good look at her face from this angle. Lifting the pot top, she made to stir the contents as she took a deep inhale of the aromas.
 
“An’ put yore cross-bow dere by de doe, cher,” she replaced the lid and put the spoon on the wooden countertop, “de gater’s a’ready cookin’ – he don’ need t’be shot agin t’day.”
 
She turned toward me, and I had to catch my breath. Damn! I could have almost been looking in a mirror except for her hair and eye color – both were as blue as the summer sky – and, of course, the fact that there wasn’t a blemish or a scar on that perfect face.  And there was definitely a difference in her overall countenance as well; I think I would say hers was a bit imperious or even haughty.
 
“Now, do li’e mama say an-”
 
I never had a mother as far as I knew. I shook my head to clear the questions as I grabbed hold of the cross-bow on my back.  Having had no say in the gun’s disappearance, I had no plans to let this weapon out of my sight.
 
“Who are you? And where is Bernard?”
 
A knowing if not scary grin graced her red lips.
 
“Ya stay out in de sun too lon’ agin, cher? Ya know, ya daddy’ll be home soo-”
 
I felt a tremor of sadness mixed with irritation rise up inside of me.
 
 “My daddy’s dead, bitch,” I raised my crossbow, “and I asked you a question.” I leveled the stirrup in her direction.
 
The blue-haired, porcelain-faced woman never even flinched, but she did narrow her eyes in defiance.
 
“You asked me two questions, Melisande,” every bit of Louisiana Cajun drawl disappearing from her voice, “I will answer one.”
 
At least we were getting somewhere.
 
“Where is Bernard?” Yeah, I really didn’t care about her.
 
The lady’s porcelain face seemed to betray a bit of surprise before returning to its statuesque perfection. She even let one eyebrow rise just a hairsbreadth in question as her eyes, once again, narrowed at me.
 
“Through there.” She indicated a door to the side of the kitchen I had not even noticed, but there it was.
 
Keeping the crossbow trained on her, I made my way to the door, warily looking around at the amazing likeness of my kitchen that once was. The woman’s eyes were all that she allowed follow my movements; she stayed still otherwise. That was until I turned my head instantaneously to open the door because, when I glanced back, she was gone.
 
But that wasn’t the real surprise this time. No, the surprise was the fact that I had, unbelievably, just stepped into St. Jude Church where I’d attended mass right up through Daddy’s funeral this year. As the cool air and the organ music washed over me, I turned to get my bearings and was met with the back wall of the church – the door through which I had just passed was gone.
 
Turning quickly back around, I noticed a few parishioners seated throughout the large sanctuary – none of which were Bernard. And there was Father Joe up the main aisle near the altar, wearing his full vestments, bending over as if to pick something off the floor.
 
Before I could step toward him, a gentle voice spoke softly to my right, and I felt a nudge on the crossbow.
 
“I’ll hold it for you, Miss Melisande.”
 
It was old man Fontenot, who was a hundred if he was a day, but he had always been so wonderful toward me. He wanted so much to help around church, but his frailty limited his abilities so, everyone always let him lend a hand even when it wasn’t necessary.
 
“Thank you, Mr. Fontenot,” I smiled and released the crossbow to his charge.
 
“Gaston, Miss Melisande,” he took the crossbow with both hands and bowed his head graciously. “You can call me Gaston.” But, just as I went to look toward Father Joe again, this Mr. Fontenot raised himself to his full height, and his face lost about sixty of those years.
 
A much younger and definitely more fit and trim Gaston motioned his arm toward the altar. In fact, he was almost a dead-ringer for Bernard except his face was just a bit different around the jaw bone. His vision wasn’t hard as the unknown female’s had been, though, there seemed to be a hint of respect in those blue depths along with that same playfulness that Bernard’s used to harbor before Daddy died.
 
“Father Joe has been expecting you.”
 
I looked intently up the main aisle and turned quickly back to retrieve my crossbow, but there was no Gaston. In fact, all of the remaining parishioners seemed to have vanished as well. My crossbow along with them.
 
The church loomed more cavernous with no occupants, and the forced solitude gave me more than a slight chill up my spine as that organ music slowed to a dirge. Still, my footsteps echoed along the columns and cathedral ceiling as I strode determinedly to Father Joe, but he spoke before I could even open my mouth.
 
“Haven’t seen you at mass, Melisande,” his back was still to me and his voice seemed…well, it seemed forced. I tried to grab hold of his arm, but ended up with a fistful of vestments.
 
“What the hell is going on here, Father?”
 
Back still to me, his head simply angled toward my hold, an odd laughter tumbling from him, as he shook his head.
 
“You and your daddy never really belonged here, did you, Melisande?”
 
I let my hand drop as I gaped at his back in question.
 
“Oh, your daddy hid you real well; went through the motions; even had you Confirmed when you seemed the right age, but I’ve always wondered who he was,” Father Joe chuckled that uncharacteristic laughter again, and I took a step back from him. He paused and drew a deep breath, “I mean, haven’t you wondered who you are?”
 
As he finally turned to face me, I caught my breath. The body was definitely Father Joe’s – the build, that quirky hand-waving of his, and that was certainly his unruly hair – but it was not Father Joe’s face or eyes! No, those features belonged to the same bitch I’d just left in my old kitchen!
 
God, but the image was terribly disconcerting! It was like me-but-not-me with Father Joe’s body – arggh! I closed my eyes tightly and re-opened them just to be sure this was real. Then I took a few more steps back to put some distance between us because I realized I was no longer armed. Shit!
 
“Where is Bernard?!” I demanded, trying to find some modicum of control in this madness as my eyes frantically searched for something I could use as a weapon.
 
Just as my eyes lighted on the candelabras on the altar table, an infant’s scream surmounted the organ’s moans and echoed off the surfaces around us. The disturbing Father Joe image seemed to try to prevent a smile from forming on its confounding face – just creepy. Another wail rang through the empty sanctuary, drawing my eyes to a small open door beside the huge retable.
 
The next baby scream was followed closely by that of a woman. The grin on the face before me was not so much evil as it was simply empty, devoid of any real emotion, empathic or otherwise.
 
“Go,” Father-she-it said, tersely, “Perhaps you may find what you seek.”
 
I couldn’t get through the door soon enough, and, just as I did, the cool air and the organ music that had defined St. Luke’s sanctuary was instantly replaced with a clean, earthen smell mixed with the unmistakable scent of blood and other odors I could not quite identify.
 
It was a small room – bright white with ethereal colors that soothingly swam through the air – and off to one side was another woman who, once again, looked so much like me it was almost heartbreaking. Her hair, too, was blue, as were her eyes, although hers were definitely a deeper shade than the female I’d already met. She lay on a bed and was in obvious pain that seemed to be mixed with anger as another woman stood beside her, holding the crying infant.
 
Neither of them even seemed to notice me standing at the foot of the bed. It was as if I was not here at all.
 
“But, your majesty,” pleaded the standing woman as she tried desperately to quell the baby’s screams, “he loves y-”
 
The queen laughed as she tried to adjust herself on the bed, her discomfort obvious.
 
“They know nothing of love, Mira!”
 
Her face screwed up into a scowl that had me feeling sorry for ‘them’ even though –
 
“They are like dogs: eager to serve, eager to please, and eager to die if ordered to do so!”
 
The handmaid – Mira? – shrunk back at the woman’s strident tone. She still whispered and cuddled the infant in a futile attempt to stop the crying as a shock of cotton-blonde hair peaked out from the swaddling cloth.
 
The woman – the queen? – on the bed reached to her other side. There, a young girl, a vision of myself at the young age of perhaps five, maybe six, years old. She, however, had that blue hair and eyes, but, again, the resemblance was like a distant reflection rather than an observation. The queen reached over the bedside and grabbed the child’s hand as she gripped the covers over her abdomen with the other.
 
“I will not have an abomination disrupt the reign of my beautiful Andre-e-e-a-a-a-h…..!”
 
The end of the apparent daughter’s name morphed into a scream of pain as the queen’s face contorted, and she grabbed her abdomen with both hands. Two gorgeous males burst into the room from behind me, literally passing through me to get to the foot of the bed.
 
So, if I had felt as though I was an observer before, that strange almost nauseating feeling that hit me upon their passage certainly confirmed it. I was here to me but not to them; I bent over slightly and tried to control my breathing to keep from either vomiting or hyperventilating or both.
 
Settling, I walked toward Mira and turned to get a better look at the males. They wore select body armor of which I was completely unfamiliar, but, more importantly, they really looked a lot like Bernard! There were slight differences in scars and hairlines and one of them even had a dimple under his left eye (whereas Bernard’s was under his right), but they could have all been brothers, no question.
 
“Now, get rid of her and tend to this afterbirth!” The queen’s visage turned positively evil, there was no question as to the intent in her next statement as her stare bore into the males standing in front of her. “Give her to Malin – let him dispose of his indiscretion.”
 
I caught my breath along with Mira as I watched a myriad of emotions pass through the eyes of the men. They went from shocked disbelief to murderous rage settling finally into a cold, blank stare that was almost more frightening than the rage had been.
 
But, wait…did she say Malin?
 
“Now!” The queen demanded, and Mira passed through me to comply, holding out the struggling infant with that almost luminous white hair to the men. And, no, that ‘passage’ did not feel any less disconcerting this time than it had the last.
 
And there was still no sign of my Bernard!
 
Mentally grappling with the queen’s use of Daddy’s name but not wanting to lose sight of the innocent baby in this fucked up scenario, I decided to follow the ‘soldiers’ out of the room.
 
Just as I passed through the door, the room, the people, and the entire house simply evaporated. The welcoming sounds of the swamp greeted me, and I found myself standing in the familiar clearing where the mysterious green house had stood just minutes before. Looking at the now darkening sky, I realized it had definitely been more than a few minutes – hours, at least.
 
And I was not alone.
 
Standing across from me was the female who had just earlier claimed to be my ‘mama’ in my old kitchen.  Only now she was clothed in some sort of ethereal, metallic blue battle armor similar to the ‘soldiers’ in the room I’d just left. The difference, it seemed, was that their breastplate had been replaced with a metal ‘bra’ for her – goodness knew she needed it – and a huge ornate six-point star cutout pendant that hung perfectly between the bra and her neck, revealing just a hint of skin at its center. Her long, blue hair was woven almost magically around some sort of crown that adorned her head and her skin had some sort of luminescence of its own. So much insanity here and so many questions that needed answering, but there was only one I cared enough to voice.
 
“Where is Bernard?!”
 
A smirk – emotionless and rehearsed – appeared on that picturesque face.
 
“Strange that you wonder about such insignificance, Melisande,” she seemed to relax her stance just in the least – good, you keep relaxing bitch, “but it is my turn to ask the questions now.”
 
My fists clenched at my side, but I didn’t respond; the feeling of being unarmed was an ugly, clawing feeling in my gut. Visions of everything I’d just witnessed? Experienced? They all swam around in my head. Still, I sensed another presence, but, looking around, I saw no one.
 
“I am Andreah, Regent of the Anora Inter-Dimensional Warrior Clan.” There was that haughtiness I’d sensed before. “What did your sire tell you of us?”
 
I felt the anger rise within me as bile threatened in my throat at her referral to Daddy as some sort of livestock. I willed my feet to stay planted knowing she could definitely take me between that long knife lashed to her thigh and the throwing knives sheathed on both of her upper arms.
 
 “You mean my father?” I dug deep for patience I did not feel as the visions began to coalesce in my mind and find reason.
 
Even her fucking laugh was empty and practiced, and it dug into the base of my spine. “They are not men as you believe them to be; they are my Sutartra, and their obedience runs to the core of their being.” As she spoke, she fingered the long knife. “Right, Bernard?”
 
The long knife on her thigh…Daddy’s wounds…
 
“You bitch! You killed Da-”
 
My forward stride and my words were arrested by a yanking back on my hair as an all too familiar arm crossed my body in restraint.
 
“Bernard, you bastard!” I spat as I fought and kicked, to no avail, “You fucking lying bastard!” My insides burned as my heart broke in two. At the same time, rage fueled every heaving breath, every tearful snarl in my fight for freedom.
 
Bernard held me tighter against him, pulling an agonized and furious growl from my depths as Andreah approached us with slow, methodical steps. She was actually smiling this time, and it wasn’t empty at all. It was the visage of pure evil and the blue in her eyes glowed with it.
 
 “His name is actually Jala, and he was sent to perform this duty years ago. Somehow, it was not accomplished, and I blame that traitor sire of yours.”
 
The visions all finally settled into picture in my mind – Andreah was the little girl in that last room and that white-haired baby? Well, that was pretty obvious now. But, with her words and my mind’s clarity, I felt the rage inside of me morph into fear and self-preservation, not that it improved my situation in the least. I was going to die here if I didn’t come up with something…
 
“So, you’d have your puppet kill your sister, you coward?” Oh, I saw those words strike a nerve so I pushed further, “Can’t get your royal hands dirty, fancy bitch? Well, your fucking mama got more than her hands dirty, didn’t she?”
 
In that moment, it was obvious that Andreah’s patience and mood snapped, but she didn’t move. She simply steeled her features and coldly commanded.
 
“Finish her, Jala.”
 
Bernard’s gnarl rose in its intensity as his SwingBlaze approached my throat in a tense, shaking hand. It was as though he was fighting himself…
 
Andreah smiled as Bernard bit my scalp and growled low in my ear.
 
“Remember, Mel.”
 
It was second nature to me now, like setting a trap or skinning a Nutria. Those words were all I needed. As if of its own accord, my hand went straight to Bernard’s Ka-Bar on his hip – the Ka-Bar I had forgotten in my anger and sense of betrayal – even as the star pendant around Andreah’s neck took on a whole ‘nother meaning to my mind: target.
 
And, just like the first time he’d pulled this shit on me and every time after, I didn’t miss. But, because Andreah was much closer than the usual distance to target, the Ka-Bar sank to the hilt through that hint of exposed skin in the star pendant’s center.
 
The light in her eyes had faded even before she collapsed on ground.
 
Bernard’s hold immediately relented, and he stepped away from me. My knees gave out, and I simply let myself fall. The ragged breathing I fought to get under control definitely resembled crying, I know, but I didn’t cry, not even at Daddy’s funeral, so that certainly could not have been the case. It was self-denial at its finest.
 
Suddenly, Bernard’s black boots appeared on the ground before my knees and his hand was there to help me stand. I smacked his hand away and stood on my own.
 
I took a step toward him, menacing but not serious. I was too drained for serious.
 
“You would have killed me, Bernard.” I examined the face that had become my world since Daddy’s death, “Or is it Jala?”
 
Anger only spiked momentarily in those blue depths before a small, almost sheepish grin tried to creep across his handsome countenance as he handed me Andreah’s crown. I merely looked down at it questioningly and raised an eyebrow before glancing back up at him.
 
“I am Sutartra,” he once again tried to get me to take the crown, “We were created to obey that untainted bloodline.” He indicated the empty space a few feet away from us containing only a smattering of blue battle armor, two upper arm sheaths, and a long knife.
 
I gently pushed the proffered crown away from me. He still hadn’t answered my question.
 
“We?”
 
Nearly simultaneous to my asking the question, the entire clearing was filled with a multitude of vertical spikes of light that each expanded to reveal one or more of the ‘soldiers’ identical to those in that final room of the green house.
 
As my eyes grew wider with more and more materializations, Bernard tried to give me the crown again, practically placing it in my hand this time. I took it from him rather mechanically as my mind was more focused on the large number of soldiers suddenly filling the area around us.
 
“Bernard?” My voice was low with awe and reverence as I surveyed the ever-expanding numbers and glanced between them and his handsome face. “What the hell is going on here?”
 
Bernard’s low chuckle washed over me, helping my body to find some anchor point, some source of recognizable reality in this insanity. One of the closest soldiers that had appeared was Gaston, from the church. He stepped forward, smiling warmly, and handed me my crossbow, inclining his head in a bow, of sorts, before stepping back.
 
“Your Sutartra, Regent Melisande.”
 
At his words, my head whipped around, my eyes seeking Bernard’s.
 
“Regent?” I almost choked with disbelief until the sarcastic words bubbled up without beckon. “But I thought you didn’t have to listen to me.”
 
That sheepish grin became one of the most beautiful smiles I’d ever seen in my life as, his eyes never leaving mine, he knelt on one knee. And every soldier in the clearing followed suit.
 
“We don’t follow you because we have to, Mel,” Bernard’s blue eyes shown with reverence and some other emotion I couldn’t begin to believe in this crazy scenario, “We follow you because we choose to.”

 


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