Castle Keep

Larabee's Lepers Universe

They had been running for hours. It didn't just seem that way, it was the truth. For all their running, they should have been in friendly territory by now. They weren't, though. He knew the area well enough to recognize that, running in a random pattern as they were, the border was still miles away. It was a necessary risk, however, if they were going to live to see that border.

Chris Larabee slowed to a stop, the others with him stopping as well. He adjusted his hold on the man in the middle, who slumped between him and Wilmington. Looking across at the bigger man, he said, "We've got to find somewhere to stop for a little while. He's about had it."

Looking at the slender form that scarcely stood with their help, Buck was pretty certain there was no 'about' to it. Vin Tanner looked on the verge of collapsing on them. But all he said was, "yeah."

Chris slipped a hand under the injured man's chin, lifting it to look in the pale blue eyes. They shifted futilely back and forth. Larabee wasn't certain if the young man was really seeing him, but doubted he could make out any more than vague shapes and shadows.

They had been on a mission. It had sounded simple, requiring only the three of them to complete. And, while they managed to retrieve the documents they had been after, it hadn't been without its cost. As they exited the little courthouse being used by German troops, things had quickly gone bad. In the fight that ensued a grenade had been thrown, exploding so close to their sharpshooter that he had been tossed through the air like a rag doll.

He and Wilmington had managed to get to the injured an, lifting the limp body up and carrying him between them. They had begun their marathon run then, desperately trying to get away from the enemy.

When Tanner showed signs of coming around a short time later, they had found a place to stop. Lowering the younger man to the ground, they attempted to coax him to consciousness, hoping to get a little clearer picture of how badly he was injured.

"C'mon, Chief," Buck called softly, using the nickname he and the other cons had stuck him with. In every way but his coloring, the man was an Indian. Gently taping a cheek, the big con said again, "c'mon, time to wake up."

Tanner grumbled crossly, sandy brows furrowing in a frown. After more coaxing, his eyes opened to a pair of dark slits. Larabee registered the signs of shock and pulled his jacket off, slipping it around the trim frame. Vin groaned hoarsely in response as the movement brought pain with it. "Le' me be."

"Can't do it, need you to tell us where it hurts." Chris instructed.


"Where does it hurt?" The Lieutenant asked again.

Moving slightly, the young con cried out as pain poured through him like hot lava. "Ev... ever'where...."

Heaving a sigh of frustration, the blond asked more specifically, "your head?"


"Back?" Tanner had landed hard.

"Mm," he grunted in the affirmative.


A nod.


Another nod, then, "said... ever... where."

With a grim smile, the soldier continued his impromptu examination. "Open your eyes for me."

"Le' me sleep."

"Open your eyes."


"I know," Larabee said compassionately. "But open them anyway."

Slowly his lids lifted, eyes roaming in confusion. "'S dark."

Frowning up at the sun that was shining through the tress, Wilmington said, "Not yet."

Chris glared at the big man, silently berating him for his thoughtless comment as he barely caught Tanner. The young man lunged upward, arms flailing before him. Grasping the searching limbs, he said firmly, "Stop it, Vin."

Tanner gasped, then tumbled forward, finding himself held by a pair of strong arms. Over and over he mumbled helplessly, "cain't see... cain't see... cain't see..."

Unconsciously rubbing a hand in light circles over the trembling back, the Lieutenant said, "Calm down... calm down Vin... calm down."

After several minutes, the injured man settled limply against his commanding officer. The older man cupped one hand behind his head and supported his back with the other as he laid him back on the ground. Vin was clutching Larabee's shirt with one hand, but couldn't seem to let go.

Chris laid a hand over the one holding on to him, but didn't attempt to remove it. Instead, he said gently, "calm down now... concentrate. Tell me... can you see anything at all?"

Tanner took several trembling breaths, ran the tip of his tongue over his lips, and nodded. "Okay... okay..."

"Now, tell me... what can you see?" The officer repeated. Then, as he felt the other man's grip tighten, he added, "calm down, you're not alone... concentrate."

"'S all blur... blurry. See a... a little light. I c'n sort 'a... see you... jist a... sh-shadow... that's... that's all."

"Okay, that's good." He had no idea if he was speaking the truth or not, but he needed to get Tanner calmed down. "Do you remember what happened?"

He tried to remember, but only succeeded in causing his head to ache even more than it had. With a groan he shook his head.

"Okay, we'll work on that later. Now, I need the truth, Vin. We need to move... can you walk?"

"Y... yeah."

They lifted him to his feet, Larabee on one side and Wilmington on the other. Carefully they started off, picking up the pace until it seemed that self-preservation kicked in. Tanner managed a stumbling gait, keeping up with the other two men as they began to run.

They had been running ever since.

The blond shook himself back to the present. Looking into the injured man's face, the Lieutenant said, "Vin? You still with us?"

"Ti... tired."

"I know. We're going to find somewhere to rest. Can you hang on for a little while longer?"

He seemed to consider the question, finally nodding weakly. Then with a groan he collapsed, kept from falling only by the strong arms of the men on either side of him.

Lifting him between them, Chris and Buck moved on through the woods. Wilmington slid a glance sideways to see that Vin's head had dropped to rest on Larabee's shoulder.

Seeing the smile that began to spread across the ladies mans face, the blond said, "You say a word..."

Hearing the warning tone in his C.O.'s voice, Wilmington nonetheless chuckled as he answered, "wouldn't think of it."

"Yeah right. I - " Larabee broke off, staring ahead. "Well I'll be..."

Following the Warden's gaze, the big con said, "looks like our luck's changing." Then as he heard a distant rumble of thunder he added, "And none to soon, either."

Just ahead sat a large estate, seemingly untouched by the war. The men moved toward it with renewed strength, anxious to reach shelter before the rains started. To their dismay, however, Tanner began to struggle as they passed the open gate into the courtyard.

"No... no... cain't... go... git out... no... go... cain't... cain't go... lemme... lemme go... no!"

"Tanner, knock it off! We're going to rest here for a while. You've got to - "

"No! Lemme go! Cain't... we cain't go... go in... th-there!" He continued thrashing, trying desperately to gain his freedom from the restraining arms. "Lemme go!"

Tightening their hold on the delirious and hysterical man, the soldier and the con continued moving forward, reaching the front door just as dark clouds covered the evening sun. The door was opened a crack, but that was nothing unusual given the state of the war torn country. Wilmington shouldered it open the rest of the way, and they crossed the threshold.

As they did, Tanner screamed, "NOOOOOOOO!!" Even as the last sound passed his lips, the injured man collapsed, going completely limp in their arms.

"Well at least he'll be easier to carry now," Buck muttered as they entered the big house.

"We need to get him back to friendly territory and medical help soon," Larabee countered. Then he felt the big man stop. Turning, he frowned as Wilmington simply stood there, staring around him. "Buck, unless you want to just stand here holding him, I suggest we keep moving."


"What's the matter?"

"Didn't you hear that?"


The big con looked at the Army officer, matching the blonde's frown. "You mean you don't hear that? Voices... they're off a ways, but there's a lot of them."

"We need to get under cover until we can check it out. Might be soldiers."

Nodding, Wilmington shifted Tanner toward himself. "I'll take him, you go ahead... sir."

Larabee barely hid a smile at the man's show of respect. It was slow in coming, but the men under his unique command were beginning to react like real soldiers. "All right, let's go."

They moved through the rooms, finding little damage to either furniture or the structure. Feeling it was safe Chris led the way up the broad staircase to the second floor. Choosing a large room facing the road, he said, "We'll stay here. It'll be easy to see anyone moving this way."

"What about those voices?"

Shaking his head even as he pulled back the canvas dust cover from a bed that sat in the middle of the room, Larabee said, "I still don't hear anything. Are you still hearing them?"

Pausing long enough to stretch the lean body in his arms out on the bed, Wilmington stood, listening. Finally he shook his head. "Don't hear them now, but..."

"But what?"

"I didn't imagine them, Warden. They were there."

Seeing that the man was not only serious, but worried, Larabee said, "you stay here with Vin, I'll take a look around."

"Lieutenant - "

Finding himself oddly comforted by the look of concern in the dark blue eyes, the blond said, "I'll be fine. You see what you can do to make him comfortable, I'll be back soon."

Reluctantly nodding his agreement, Wilmington watched the retreating form as the soldier moved from the room. Larabee held his sidearm at the ready, but the big con wondered if it would be enough. Then, deciding that the panic stricken words of the now unconscious Tanner had him on edge, he moved to do what the Warden had ordered.

Vin lay limply on the mattress, looking as pale as Buck had ever seen a man that was still breathing. Even unconscious, his eyes flitted back and forth beneath the lids, as if he were searching for something. Finding a clean cloth, Buck tried to clean some of the blood off the side of the young man's head. He moaned softly in response. "Sorry, Chief... don't mean to hurt you."

The big man straightened when, suddenly, he heard the voices once more. It was as if he were listening to a mob from a distance... a great number of angry voices, all speaking at the same time. Stepping away from the bed he moved to the window and looked out, half expecting to see a gathering of soldiers or townsfolk below. He found the open area around the house empty. Turning, he crept as softly as possible to the door, peering out into the hallway. Again he found no sign of where the voices were coming from.

Suddenly a soft sound from behind caught his attention, and Wilmington turned to find Tanner thrashing on the bed, vacant eyes open and staring wildly around him.

Moving quickly back across the room, Buck leaned over the bed, carefully grabbing the younger man's arms. "Take it easy, Tanner, you're okay... you're safe. Take it easy."

"No... no... gotta git outta... outta... here... cain't... c-cain't... stay... die... git outta... outta... ou-outta here."

"You're safe here, Chief... no one's gonna hurt you. Me an' Larabee 're here... you're not alone."

"No... no... no... git out... gotta... ohhhh..." Vin collapsed back on the bed, panting for breath.

"Now, let that be a lesson to y', son. Lay still and let us take care of things," Wilmington groused. Then he started as he heard a gunshot somewhere in the big house. He grabbed his gun as he hurried back to the door, peering out in an effort to decide where the sound had come from. Then, as he waited impatiently, he heard a soft voice in the distance.

"Buck... help me!"

"Ah hell," he cursed. Turning back to see the injured Texan laying limply on the bed then back in the direction the voice had come from. What did he do? If he stayed with Tanner, the Warden could die. But if he went searching for the soldier, the young con could die. "Why ain't nothin' ever simple?"

"Buck... Buck... please..."

Heaving a sigh and throwing a glance over his shoulder toward Vin, he made a decision. Pulling the door closed behind him, he went in search of their commanding officer.

Reluctantly he opened his eyes, groaning at the painful glare of light that greeted him. With great effort he rolled to one side, pain causing nausea to take his breath away. After several deep breaths he managed to shift, pulling himself upward. Achieving the task of sitting up, he leaned forward, resting his aching head in trembling hands. Then a sound took his mind away from his physical pain. Laughter.

Somewhere nearby, children were laughing.

Raising his head, he blinked into the light, searching for the source of the sound. He quickly found half a dozen small figures standing nearby, watching him. He could scarcely make them out, his vision still blurred at best. He vaguely remembered being injured, not being able to see more than shapes and shadows, and feeling himself carried along. After that... he couldn't remember. Taking as deep a breath as he dared, Tanner asked, "whe... where'd y'all come from?"

They said nothing, simply giggled again. Frowning, he asked again, "where'd y'all come from."

One of the children stepped forward, putting a hand on his arm. "You need to come with us."

"Wha... what?"

"Come with us."

The little one's voice was strange, not only its accent but its timbre. Looking closer, he decided that there was something strange in the child's appearance, too. His head hurt so badly, though, that he couldn't hold onto a thought long enough to follow it to its conclusion. "Cain't. I... where... where's th' others? Men I come here with?"

"We will take you to them. Come with us."

He stared long and hard at the little one. Then, slowly, he pushed himself upward. Both hands were taken by his visitors, and he was drawn forward. "Y'... y' promise yer t-takin' me... t' m' friends?"

"Yes," the small speaker said, barely stifling a giggle, "we'll take you exactly where you belong."

Lieutenant Larabee slipped along the dark hallways, searching each room as he came to it. He had yet to find any sign that there had been anyone else in the house for some time, and had nearly come to the conclusion that the big con had been hearing things. Suddenly he heard a sound and turned, gun at the ready. Dropping the muzzle, he said, "You almost got yourself shot."

A look of fear crossing his handsome features, Wilmington stood stock still, hands in the air. "Yeah, well my Mama always said I was born under a lucky star."

"What are you doing here?"

Frowning, Buck dropped his hands, staring at the other man. "What are you talking about? You called me."

"No I didn't."

"I heard you! First I heard a gunshot then you called out for me to come help you." Looking the smaller man over, he said, "You aren't hurt?"

Shaking his head, the blond said, "Do I look hurt?"

"You didn't fire a shot?"

"I haven't even heard a gunshot, Wilmington. Now, get back to Tanner, and keep an eye on him!" Anger flared in the hazel eyes, a glare leveled directly on the bigger man.

Flashing a final look at the man, Buck turned and jogged back the way he had come. As he moved quickly toward the room where he had left the injured man, he tried to make sense of what was going on. He knew he wasn't going crazy. He had heard voices. He had heard a gunshot. He had heard Larabee calling to him. It had all happened. He wasn't crazy. Then, reaching the doorway leading to his destination, he stopped.

The door was open.

With gun at the ready the big conman cautiously entered the room, ready for anything. At least he thought he was ready for anything. Finding the room empty, though, caused him to second guess anything he had thought during the last several hours.

Vin Tanner hadn't been able to walk on his own. He hadn't been able to see the hand in front of his face. He had been out of his head since they passed into the estate yard... had been all but unconscious in all that time. There was no way the young man should be able to stand, let alone walk. And he certainly wasn't in any shape to go anywhere, given his condition.

Someone had taken him... it had to be. Whoever it was that he had heard earlier had distracted him long enough to come in and take the Texan away.

But who?

And why?

He stumbled along, surrounded by the children. His head pounded so hard that he half expected it to just up and explode off his shoulders. The pain made it difficult to think, leaving him confused and disoriented. He noticed that he couldn't see past the glow that seemed to surround the little ones, everything beyond cast in darkness. He tried to see if the children were carrying candles or lanterns, but it was too hard to focus on any one of them. They all seemed to dance around him, as if he were a living, breathing maypole.

"They much... much... farther?" He asked the words through clenched teeth. His only answer was a chorus of giggles. "C'n we... sit a minute? I'm... not... f-feelin' too... good."

"Not much farther," one little voice called to him. "Not much farther. You must come with us. Not much farther."

"Look... p-please... I need t'... sit... down."

"Not much farther."

The hands holding his gripped more firmly, squeezing until he grunted with pain. He tried to tug his hands loose, but it was no use. His mind continued to spin as he tried to make sense of what was going on. Children shouldn't act like this. Should they? He pulled again, crying out as one of the little ones dug into his hand with their nails. No... not nails... claws.

With a startled gasp, he renewed his efforts, trying to pull loose. "Leggo a me! Leggo!"

The voices changed. They became deeper, menacing. He was jerked forward, nearly crashing to the floor. Struggling to keep his feet under him fought the hands that pulled him along as easily as a toddler pulled a toy on a string. Continuing to fight the things that had so effortlessly captured him, he cried out, "Buck! Warden! Help me!"

Wilmington ran from the room, searching the darkened hallway beyond. Just as he started toward the stairs, thunder rumbled and lightening split the sky beyond the windows. In the brief illumination, he thought he saw several small forms scuttling away into the retreating shadows. Deciding it was a trick of his imagination he shrugged off the fear that tried to take hold of him and moved on. He had to find Larabee and tell him what had happened. Or perhaps he should just go in search of Tanner instead. Either way he went, he feared that the outcome wasn't going to be good.

Larabee had finished his search and was starting back to where they had left Vin, and where he hoped to find Wilmington now. If the big man wasn't back there, watching over the injured young man...

Chris' thoughts were disrupted as he heard footsteps coming his way. Slipping into the deep shadows, as he waited to see who approached. As the familiar figure of Buck Wilmington came into view, he cursed under his breath. All but flying toward the bigger man, he said, "What are you doing here? You're supposed to be watching after Vin!"

"I'm tryin' to find him, Warden!"


"He was gone when I got back to the room!"

"Gone? Were there signs of a struggle?"

Shaking his head, Buck said, "not a cobweb out of place."

"Then you must have gotten the wrong room."

"No I didn't! I ain't a fool, Larabee!"

"He can't see! How could he leave on his own?!" With that, Chris pushed past the bigger man, heading toward the stairs at a run. He heard Buck coming along behind him, but at the moment he was too angry with the man to care.

Reaching the room where he knew they had placed the injured man earlier, Larabee bolted into the room then stopped in his tracks, staring. The room was empty. Turning toward the big con coming up behind him he said, "This doesn't make any sense."

Biting down on his urge to say 'told you so'. Wilmington said, "There's somethin' strange goin' on here, Warden. We gotta find that kid and get outta here."

Turning fully to look at the man, Chris said, "Yeah, well first we've got to find him."

"Please... pl-please... lemme go." Tanner tugged and pulled, trying desperately to get loose. The tiny hands held on, effortlessly dragging him along. The light surrounding his diminutive captors kept him from seeing where they were going. "P-please... I ain't done nothin' to y'all."

"Quiet man," one of the little ones ordered.

"But tell me... who y' are... what's goin'... goin' on... STOP!" He screamed the last as he felt claws and teeth bite into the flesh of his arms and legs.

"Quiet man!" The voice repeated.

Panting from exertion, soft moans escaping his lips from time to time, Vin struggled to keep his feet beneath him. After what seemed like hours they stopped.

The little ones released their hold, leaving Tanner standing alone. After a few seconds he toppled over, crumpling to a hard, cold stone floor. Biting back a cry, he curled up on his side, rocking softly as pain continued to wash over him in waves.

*Warden... Buck... help... help... Warden... Buck... help...* the words tumbled through his confused mind, a litany of fear. Then he felt himself grabbed, pulled to his knees. His hands were bound, the rope hauled upward until his arms were stretched taut above his head. He tried to see what was going on, but once more found it impossible to see anything but vague figures in the strange light.

"Please... what... whattaya want... what... OW!" He cried out as something pierced the flesh of his arm. "STOP!"

His pleas fell on deaf ears as his tiny tormenters danced around him, giggling as they stabbed at him. With each slice or slash, they were rewarded with a grunt or barely stifled cry of pain. On and on they twirled and cavorted, working themselves into a frenzy as the they tortured the slender man.

Vin thought he must have gone mad. Maybe he had been captured by the krauts during the mission. Maybe it was really the Nazi soldiers that he saw, their blows he felt. Perhaps they were trying to find out what he knew. "I ain't... ow... got no... unh... n-no... se- secrets... stop!"

Laughter, hideous in its gaiety, was his sole answer. On and on, his captors danced their evil dance. Slicing and poking until blood ran freely from any number of wounds on the lithe form. Vin slumped, head on his chest, unable to even respond to the pain any longer. *Please... Warden... Buck... hurts... help me... please God... help me * the words tumbled through his mind. He felt the hot sting of tears, but couldn't hold them back any longer. "Oh... God... please..."


The foul creatures stopped, looking upward. They howled and screeched as they saw two more men standing above them at the top of the stairway. While some of them scuttled away, others continued to poke and stab at their victim, and still others approached the bottom of the stairs, snarling and growling in defiance.

Chris and Buck stared down into the cellar; uncertain of just what it was they were seeing. Vile, misshapen figures, as small as children, nearly filled the damp, cold room. And there, in their midst, was their lost compatriot. Tanner slumped on his knees, held upright by thick ropes binding his bloodied wrists. He seemed to be covered in blood and, as they watched, several of the creatures slashed at him with thick claws and gnarled teeth.

"Good Lord, what are... what are those things?" Wilmington asked.

"I don't know," Larabee replied as he took aim and fired. As one of the creatures screamed and fell dead, he said, "but they can be killed."

The two men fired time and again into the horde of evil figures, dropping one for each shot. They looked on with revulsion as the other creatures turned on their fallen comrades, violently ripping the still twitching bodies apart.

"Ah... hell," Buck gasped, looking as if he were about to be sick.

Looking at the other man, and doubting that he looked any less nauseous, the Lieutenant said, "Come on, let's get Vin and get out of here."

They made their way down the stairway, firing as they went. More and more of the creatures fell under their assault, more and more of the others attacking them. They reached the bleeding form, Larabee producing a knife. While Wilmington covered them, continuing to fire on the tiny creatures, he sawed through the bloodied hemp. As the knotted rope finally parted, Tanner slumped forward, dropping against the blond. Quickly sheathing the knife Larabee pulled the now unconscious man up, unceremoniously slinging him over his shoulder.

"Let's go!"

Retreating as quickly as possible the men climbed the stairs, Buck bringing up the rear. He accounted for several more of the vile little monsters, sending the others even farther into a bloody frenzy as they set upon their fallen fellows. Reaching the door at the top, Chris jogged through, still carrying Tanner. Behind him, Wilmington slammed the heavy wooden door, shoving a bolt into place.

Turning toward the blond the big con said breathlessly, "That probably won't hold them for long."

Listening to the storm that continued to roar outside, Chris said, "We can't take him out into that."

"You wanna stay here... with that?" Despite the heavy door and thick walls, they

could still hear the inhuman fury that continued below them.

Hesitating only long enough to hear the miniature monsters begin to pound on the other side of the door with enough force to cause the wood to vibrate, Larabee shook his head. "Let's get out of here."

They quickly made their way out of the estate, into nature's maelstrom beyond. As they reached the yard, they slowed only long enough to shift Tanner. Carrying him between the two of them once more, the blond soldier and the big con ran from the house at a dead run.

They moved as quickly as possible, heading in as direct a route as the countryside would allow. After a time they found themselves beyond the storm, the first rays of the morning sun lighting their way. Tanner began to moan softly and once more they found a place to stop.

Lowering him to the ground, Chris carefully tapped one bloodied cheek. "Vin? Vin... can you hear me?"

Blue eyes blinked open slowly then shuttered back to half mast. "Wah... Warden?"

"Yeah, it's me."

Suddenly the memories of what had happened to him came flooding back and Tanner cried out. "We gotta... gotta... oh God... we gotta get... outta here!"

Grabbing hold of the injured man as he lurched upward Larabee spoke firmly. "Vin, calm down. Calm down, you're safe. We're out of there. Hear me? We're out of there."

"Out... outta there?" He asked, confused.

"Yeah," Chris was happy to see that the young man was listening to him. "Yeah, we're out of there. Now, calm down, all right? Calm down."

"Outta there," Tanner muttered softly. He slumped tiredly against the blonde's broad chest.

Carefully wrapping an arm around the slender body, Larabee let him rest there for a minute. Looking around them, he slowly calculated where they were. With luck they would be on friendly soil in another five miles or so. Wearily looking over at the third member of their party, he said, "Let's go home."

Vin Tanner shuffled along, feeling like an old man. The Sergeant Major, Josiah Sanchez, was helping him navigate the halls of the mansion that had become their home these past several months. He could make out more and more of the world around him, but things were still blurred. He had spent almost a week in the hospital, recovering from his injuries. He had returned to the big estate two days earlier, but had spent most of the time since in bed. The others were gone, sent on a mission, leaving him alone with Sanchez.

In all the time since they had left the strange estate, none of them had spoken of what had happened there. By silent agreement they said nothing of the vile creatures that had tried to kill him. When asked about his injuries all any of them said was that he had nearly been killed by a grenade.

It was almost the truth.

Josiah carefully lowered the slender man to one of the big, wingback chairs, near an open window. Hearing the healing man sigh tiredly, he smiled. "Long trip, huh?"

Shaking his head, Tanner said, "Feel 'bout worthless, Sarge."

Gently squeezing one wide shoulder, the older man said, "nearly dying will do that to a man. You'll feel better as time goes by. You just need to be patient."

"Never been m' strong suit," came the reply.

Sanchez settled into another chair, watching the younger man silently. Neither man said anything for several minutes, an unease settling in the room as the quiet stretched on.

"Y' got somethin' on yer mind?" Tanner asked finally.

Hesitating only briefly, the soldier said, "I've wanted to ask you something ever since you returned."

When he said nothing more, Vin said, "well, go 'head 'n ask."

"What really happened out there, son? I saw the wounds when I dressed them earlier... not all of them came from shrapnel."

Heaving a sigh, the young con said, "No... they didn't."

"Whatever it was that happened... it's been weighing on you. All of you."

Nodding, Vin replied, "yeah, it has."

"I can't promise you anything, but perhaps I could help you sort it out."

"Doubt it."

"Why do you say that?"

"'Cause," the Texan said softly, "y'd jist think I'm crazy."

"Aren't we all a little crazy? These are crazy times, my young friend."

Studying the words, Tanner rubbed a hand, trembling slightly, over his face. Finally he rasped, "Yeah... maybe yer right."

Slowly, his words halting, the young man told the soldier what had happened. Despite everything, he could recall every detail of his time as a prisoner for the strange little creatures. Despite the pain those memories brought him, he shared them with the other man. Finishing with waking on the road beyond the estate, Tanner waited for a response. The one he received wasn't what he had expected.



"Imps... minor demons."

Frowning, Vin looked toward the large blur he knew to be the Sergeant Major. All he could manage to say was, "yer kiddin'... right?"

"I've seen a lot of things, my young friend, things that have led me to believe the words penned by the great bard." When the young man shot a frown in his direction, he added, "Shakespeare. Through one of his characters, a young man named Hamlet, he said that there are more things in this world than we can understand. What you describe sounds like the Hell spawn creatures that are called 'imps'. Minor minions in Satan's service."

Not certain he was completely following the other man, Vin asked, "then... y' b'lieve what I jist told y'? Y' b'lieve what I saw out there... it's true?"

"Son... we're living in a time when the human race is committing some of the vilest atrocities imaginable against itself. I truly find it no harder to believe that some of the Devil's children have come to visit."

Shaking his head, the injured man said, "Don't seem right... I mean... shouldn't we... we ought 'a tell someone... warn 'em... I jist... it don't seem right."

Josiah smiled at the Texan's confusion. Then he sobered as visions of all the things he had seen since the war began flashed through his mind. Heaving a sigh, he shook his head. "Son... I'm not certain anyone else will even notice."


The gathering sat in silence, pondering the final story. One by one they registered that the sun was just beginning to rise, its light seeking to outshine that of their dying fire. Their leader stood, nodding to the last storyteller. "A fine tale to end our gathering."

The smallest of their number spoke up. "But what of the others? They haven't been given the chance to bring their stories to our fire."

Nodding, the leader said, "this is true but, sadly, our time is at an end. My apologies brothers, your tales must wait for our next gathering."

The others responded begrudgingly as they began to disperse, retreating back into the shadows. They had all wished to be heard, and the three who had remained silent couldn't help but feel a sense of being forgotten. They knew, however, that they would be given their chance.

They would be heard at the next gathering.

The End