The rest of their trip through the Labyrinth of Detroit was uneventful, at least as far as Bernard was concerned. They came across a few more guards, but Bernard dispatched them with ruthless efficiency. They were hired guns, little more than thugs really, and most of them were not killers like he was. Their deaths were quick since he held no particular grudge against them and efficiency made for less noise. He was going through the motions, ready to be free of the walls of debris.
Rasine watched Bernard work and her awe, and fear, of the man grew by the minute. There was an wild beauty to his movement, a grace that she would not have expected from a killer, but a hunter. Perhaps that was what he was, not the cruel murderer she suspected him of being, but a huntsman, detached by hours of solitude spent surviving. She smiled at the romantic notion.
It wasn’t an ill fitting image, but it couldn’t have been further from the truth. Bernard was a hunter of sorts, but there was no romance about it. He didn’t kill because he had to, though he had to often enough, he killed because it made his life easier. Men and women alike were nothing more than obstacles to be overcome, he was not emotional about it either way. It was just something he did.
Once again, Felix went ahead of Bernard and the girl so that he scout out the best path, and hopefully find some horses they could steal. Bernard appreciated the sort of team the two of them made. Felix never really killed, having discovered long ago that he didn’t have a knack for it, but he was great for finding the best ways in and out of any place and had a knack for finding just what they needed when they needed it. Where Bernard was cold and detached in his killing, Felix reveled in it and encouraged Bernard to more and more horrific displays of violence. Bernard didn’t care for it, but it made his only friend happy.
“When are we going to stop? I’m tired of walking,” said the girl. She had not been wearing shoes when Bernard took her, and the walk through the labyrinth and beyond had left her feet covered in cuts and bruises.
“Not until we are well away from here,” Bernard said as he dragged her along behind him. “We’re still within Ivan’s domain and it won’t take long before he sends a search party.” Bernard ducked under a low hanging tree branch and pulled Rasine forward. “For you he will use his cars and motorcycles no doubt, and horses may not even be enough to keep him away.”
Bernard resumed his quick pace through the sickly trees and brush, cursing under his breath with every pace. It was still too early in the day and the comfort of darkness was unlikely to get there before the warlord’s men found them. He could ditch the girl and get away without too much effort, but the job was to bring her back, and Bernard had never failed on completing a job.
“Over here Bernard,” came a whisper through the grass. Bernard motioned for the girl to be silent as he slowly pulled her forward. He peeked through the grass as he crouched down and saw Felix standing in front of a pair of horses, holding their reins. He motioned to Bernard to be quiet and pointed in the direction of a small tent.
Bernard entered the clearing and looked about, quickly noting the small campfire and backpacks. He considered taking them and killing whoever was in the tent, but neither was necessary. He pulled the girl so close to him that his lips brushed against her ear as he whispered, “be quiet and lead the horses away. I’ll be right beside you. If you, or the horses, make enough noise to wake whoever is in that ten I’ll have to kill them. ” Rasine looked as if she were about to say something when Bernard interrupted her. “They’re not Ivan’s men. I don’t want to kill them, but I will if they try to stop us.” His voice was firm and unyielding. There was no menace, simply iron clad resolve.
The girl nodded and took the reins from Felix who turned to watch the tent. “You know you should kill them anyways,” he whispered to Bernard.
“Perhaps, but I don’t want to,” he replied. “I’ve killed enough people today, and I’m sure there will be more before the day is through.” Bernard walked to the tent, his footsteps as silent as a ghost’s. He looked through the mesh covered window and saw a man and woman sleeping within. A thin blanket covered them below the waist, but nothing more. The woman’s long blonde hair hung loosely about her head, a tangled, unwashed mess, but it did little to distract from her clearly pretty face. The man wore a short brown beard and his hair was nearly as long as hers. Where she had been attractive, he had been plain, a hard looking man who had suffered and survived, but even still a slight smile was on his face as he slept.
Between them laid a baby. The chubby little thing quietly chewed on its fist and stared back at Bernard. It smiled around its hand and shook with happiness as it reached toward him with it’s other. Bernard couldn’t remember the last time he had seen a baby that had been starving or dying, much less happy. It gave a little squeal and the woman rolled over slightly, snuggled it close to her bosom, and smiled.
Bernard stepped back from the tent and smiled to himself. It was a fragile thing, like snow on a hot pan, and was gone before it could be witnessed, but the feeling remained inside. He turned and trotted after the girl.
“What are you doing Bernard,” Felix asked.
“Not now,” he said back. “Rasine, stop and bring the horses back.” The girl turned, clearly confused, but did as he said. “Felix, backtrack the way we came and scout us a way south. We’ll try for our own gear.”
“You have got to be shitting me. You’re going to leave them their horses too? What the hell?” Felix’s voice grew louder as he spoke until he was practically yelling at his partner.
“Just do it Felix. These people don’t deserve death at our hands, nor at the hands of Ivan’s men,” Bernard said before turning away from Felix. He was sure that his friend would do as he was told. Felix might hate leaving people alive, but he would never turn on Bernard.
Rasine watched Bernard and listened, confused by the proceedings, but she was in no position to question. When Bernard turned back toward the tent she felt a moment of fear, not trusting the words he had said only a moment earlier. He had left no one alive in his wake, so why should the people in the tent be the first?
“Excuse me,” Bernard said as he stood over the tent. The bearded man’s eyes flew open and he reached for the gun tucked against the tent’s wall. “Don’t,” said Bernard, his own gun pointing at the man through the window. “I’m not here to hurt you, but I’ll kill you before you can touch it.” The man backed off, keeping his hands in the open. The woman pulled the blanket up to cover her chest and the baby, her eyes wild with fear. “Look, some bad me are coming this way,” the assassin said. “They are after us, but they’re the type who will not hesitate to kill you and the baby before they rape your wife.” The woman clutched the baby closer and the man’s face paled slightly. “We’ll lead them to the south, but I would get out of here if I were you. Head north or west, and stay away from the roads. They have cars.”
“Why are you doing this?” asked the man.
Bernard looked from the man to the woman and back again before he said, “I had my parents taken away from me by bad men. No one should have to go through that.” He stepped away from the tent and motioned for Rasine to follow him. “You had best hurry. They will be here soon.” Bernard led the girl by the hand back through the brush and disappeared before the small family could emerge from the tent and escape to the west.
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