The International Writers Magazine
:Now Chapter Seventeen of our long running serial

The Great Beyond
Chapter XVII
Brodie Parker

I arrived in the forest outside our family home where Jerry was waiting with an old looking man with short white hair and a thick white goatee. They watched as I came in toward them and waited silently for me to approach.

I must have looked anxious; on my way back I had been playing through the coming battle over and over. I didn’t like our odds or the outcome I kept arriving at. Jerry made a gesture with his hand and one of fifty people hiding in the trees moved out to relieve me of the remains of my informant. He disappeared into the darkness without a sound.
"Sloan, I’d like you to meet Senator Dio." Jerry turned to the man beside him. "Senator, this is my nephew Sloan."
"Pleased to meet you Senator." I shook his hand.
"Likewise son, but call me Dio. I’ve been retired for quite some time." His voice was very relaxing, and there was something behind those steely eyes that pierced right through everything they saw.
"Okay Dio, call me Sloan. What state did you represent?"
"Athens." He replied quite casually. My eyes opened a little wider, and my attitude towards the man altered drastically. He continued, "From what your uncle tells me, my arrival has been very timely. My own sources estimate another day or two before the enemy musters all its forces. They’re moving quickly. Our own will take just as long, but we should have a sizable force of our own before they can put forth an organized attack. As we were just discussing prior to your arrival, our first move should be to choose a location to defend from. They will bring the fight to us, we can be most certain of that. We have to choose the place, and quickly. I have an envoy ready to parley with an enemy messenger to deliver a formal challenge and our terms for their surrender. They won’t accept, of course, but they will have our offer nonetheless."
"Why extend the offer at all?" I asked.
"Because we have the three of you to lead our forces, because it conveys a sense of arrogant contempt for theirs, and mostly because it’s the right thing to do. The off chance that they accept would step neatly around an enormous loss of lives and resources. We have to offer an alternative, even if we know it will be of no use."

He spoke so evenly, so calmly about it that we could have been talking about a game. He certainly knew very well that this was no game. He knew who I was and why they were after us. He knew that there would be no end to their fight to capture or subdue me. My unique talents were in much too great demand to be ignored or written off as a loss by either side; which brought to my mind the question of his loyalty. From his apparent rapport with Jerry, and his presence and manner I wanted to believe that he could be trusted, but that went against my instincts and my training. I was sure that he must have been an agent for the council at one time or another, or at least an ally on this side. I worried that he might still be, and that he might make this known at an inopportune time for us. I wanted to trust him, but I simply couldn’t. That left me with the dilemma of trying to discern the truth from a man who was young centuries before Christ was born. If he was loyal to the council then we could count on him to betray us, and we could prepare for it or possibly even use it to our advantage. If he had no loyalty to anyone we couldn’t possibly know what to expect; a possibility which had me much more worried. Jerry knew what I was thinking. He winked at me, and I felt slightly better about it.
Which ever way the wind was going to blow, Jerry seemed to have a handle on things.
"I’ve never served in an army. You should find another commander; I don’t think they would follow me. They don’t know me, and I don’t know how to lead them."
"No, it has to be you three. You are our strongest assets. With you three at the front we stand a greater chance of keeping our men alive. You will all have leaders under you to carry out your orders during the battle. They’ll take their lead from you, and the troops will follow. The fifty we have here are all capable soldiers, and with a word from me they would each follow you into the gaping maw of Hell taking as many enemies with them as they could before they fell." He was wining me over with his irresistible charm. I understood how he exacted such loyalty and devotion from his men. They all loved him. I had no doubt that they would, as he said follow me into Hell at his behest.
Jerry spoke up, "There’s some flatland about thirty miles from here with a series of hills we can defend from. There are only a few approachable fronts from either side, so we can narrow their attack into three bottlenecks, one from the east and two from the northwest and west. An approach from the south is unlikely because of a wide river. We should be able to hold them off for a while." He cleared some leaves away and began drawing on the ground with a stick.
"I wouldn’t worry about that." said Dio. "This battle will be decided in a day. Our enemy isn’t coming in to take over and occupy us. They aren’t bringing provisions to last through a prolonged siege. They’re coming to kill us all. We can expect a quick, brutal assault that won’t stop until one side is utterly destroyed."
"How many are we expected to have?" I interrupted.
"About five thousand. Maybe more if Allah wills it."
"The numbers I got from my informant were at least ten times that." I was getting nervous again.
"Those are just from his faction. We have to deal with whatever the council sends in as well. I’m guessing another twenty thousand. Possibly more, but not likely."
I started feeling worse. "What are our odds?" He seemed to sense my unease in the face of our situation.
"I’ve had worse. With the three of you on our side, I think they’re pretty even. Also, we’re defending. This will work to our advantage. Don’t lose heart yet. I’ve lived a long time and I can tell you not to count us out over those numbers. Even if they manage to wear us down it will cost them so dearly that they’ll regret their victory."

We heard a small group approaching and turned to see Urimaru leading my friends through the trees to where we sat. We grouped around the impromptu map Jerry had finished and they started going over tactics and strategies. I put in suggestions when I thought of them, but mostly just listened. I was out of my element.
After the plans were made and an envoy was dispatched it was early morning. The guys were asleep and I was going over some ideas with Jerry and Urimaru. Dio and his men were out on patrol around the house. "I still need to convince Gloria and Ma to come with us. I don’t like the idea of taking them with us to the heart of this fight, but we can’t leave them here."
"Leave that to us." Jerry motioned to my four sleeping friends. "We’ll get them to safety. You keep your mind on the plan. If we do our part, they’ll be fine."
Urimaru stood up and motioned for me to follow him. We walked out of the woods and along the lake. The sun was reflecting off of the water and a stiff breeze was blowing fog across the surface. "There’s no way we’re going to lose this fight you know." He didn’t break the silence with his voice. I heard it deep in my mind and answered the same way.
"I hope you’re right."
"I know I am. You’re fighting for the people you love. You’re fighting for their freedom, and yours, and ours. This battle was inevitable after we crossed over to this side. They won’t ever stop coming after us. We know that. After this battle, there is still the matter of crossing back over and cleaning up the other side. It has to be done or they’ll never stop."

He was right, of course. I had already been over all of this again and again in my mind. I knew what we had to do, but I was standing at the edge of a Herculean task. It loomed over me like my own personal thunderhead. My future consisted of crippling their ability to get to my connections on this side, then going back and finding a way to stop them on their own turf. I stared out over the lake. "I’ve never killed anyone before. Shugg killed Sharper, and all those creatures I cut my way through to get to him were never alive like we were or like Gloria or my Mother are."
"Very soon," he said "that will change. Just remember why you’re doing it. That’s the best way to cope with it. Let’s spar for a while. It will help you get focused."
We walked out onto the lake and squared off. Miles away on the horizon the crows began to gather over the place Jerry had selected for the battle. I could hear their cries over the clash of steel as we went back and forth at each other. They seemed to grow louder as the sun continued to rise and the armies moved in for the beginning of my war.

© Brodie Parker September 2005
Begun May 10th 2004 - this Chapter September 2005

Missed Chapters One & Two of our serialised novel - it begins here
Chapter Three here

Chapter Four here
Chapter five here

Chapter Six here
Chapter Seven here
Chapter Eight here
Chapter Nine here
Chapter Ten here
Chapter Eleven here
Chapter Twelve here
Chapter Thirteen here
Chapter Fourteen here
Chapter Fifteen here
Chapter Sixteen here
Chapter Seventeen here
Chapter Eighteen here

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