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Prologue Edit

Time passes in a rather steady way. Since James and Rebecca left Strider, it has been two years, one month, and seventeen days, or seven hundred and seventy-seven days, or eighteen thousand six hundred and forty-eight hours. In this time, they have not found what they seek, though it does indeed exist. And it threatens more than simply Morcia, or Militiregnum.

Chapter One: Two Pointless Years Edit

James and Rebecca walked through the dark trees in low spirits. They were armed, and tense, but they seemed tired. Their clothing was worn and had hints of dirt and mud, and their surroundings seemed just as dismal as they were. "So..." James said in an attempt to make conversation,"Why do you think they call it the Bewitched Forest?"

"What, that place in the Northeast? This is a planet with sorcerers, enchanters, and all sorts of weird stuff like that." Rebeca replied. "We'd best keep our distance."

He shook his head. "You know, I liked it when our most difficult enemy was the Kolhestrans."

"Agreed. They were a bunch of idiots." Rebecca stopped as she heard movement, and raised her bow, drawing back the string. James did likewise, and they gazed about, before seeing it was just a rabbit. James couldn't keep himself from laughing at this point. Rebecca glared at him, and he stopped.

"What?" He asked, slightly confused.

"We need to take a break at some point if we're jumping at every shadow, or rabbit for that matter, that we see." She replied, relaxing her bow's string. "We've been hunting for whatever it is you're worried about for two years. Two pointless, idiotic, wasted years. What about the people on this planet?"

"Rebecca," James began,"It's not just a worry. It's knowledge that some THING is here with malicious intent. What ever it is, it's visible on the fourth plane, especially here. Everything's just a little bit...well, something else is here."

Rebecca sighed. "You better be right. Because if not, we've wasted alot of time."

"I hope I'm wrong," James stated. "Because if I'm right, well...things on this planet are getting bad."

They walked on for a few minutes again. The forest around them was dark, and their path overgrown. Animals remained mostly silent the further into the forest they got, and their surroundings got more and more dismal. The few beams of light that cut through the leaves above them were rare, and while they could see clearly, it was nevertheless a bad environment for travel. And in the distance, there was a slight clattering. It began to grow, and they both swore, hiding in foliage off the path. As they did so, a group of orcs came into sight. These orcs were aggressively marching, and were a large column of an army. They were headed out of the forest. They took around twenty minutes to fully pass. Even then, James and Rebecca waited another twenty before they came out of cover.

Rebecca pinched herself twice on the left arm, before saying, "What in the Chiroa just happened?"

"I can honestly say," James replied, "I have no idea." He shook his head. "They came from that direction," He pointed down the path."Should we see what's there?"

Rebecca groaned. "Fine," She said, "But we need to be cautious. That wasn't a small force."

Orc Camp

Fifteen minutes later

When James and Rebecca arrived, they found the camp to be large. A great clearing, with around one hundred tents, housed the army. Campfires, carcasses of deer, and great piles of weapons were visible. The clanging of a forge implied they had metalworkers, and the number of tents proved they had a great army.

James and Rebecca stuck to the forest, staying out of sight, and moving silently. Until, that is, James stepped on a branch. Rebecca swore, as did he, and the orcs began to move in their direction. They ran as fast as they could, hoping to evade detection, but the crying of voices and howling of wargs made it clear they had failed. This spurred them to greater speeds, as they ran in a random path, trying to lose the enemy chasing them. James nocked an arrow onto his bow, and fired it back, hearing a satisfying scream as it hit something. "I'll kill you, human! MEAT'S BACK ON THE MENU!"

"Well," Rebecca remarked. "That certainly worked."

As they neared the edge of the forest, the orcs and wargs seemed to falter, and when they exited it, they simply stopped, and snarled.

"Seems they don't want to leave." James said with a satisfied smile, before he fired an arrow into the forest again, hitting something which yowled, and causing the orcs to back off.

Aquilone Town

The inn was, at best, old. Its walls were shoddy, its roof at a noticeably incorrect angle, and its occupants matched its state. They varied from the workers of the town, to the low-lifes. The wooden floorboards inside were moldy, the beer stank, and the glasses were generally chipped. Into this inn walked two odd individuals. One of them a man with black hair, ranger clothes, and a longbow, as well as a sword and two knives on his belt. The other a woman with brown hair in a braid, a similar longbow, and a dirk as well as three visible knives on her belt, not counting the one in her hair, the one in her boot, and the one in her sleeve. They both sat in a corner, laying their bows on the backs of their rickety wood chairs, and began to discuss something. Not much was heard by the bartender, an older man in his fifties, other than the word 'orcs'.

As the two people sat down, a man at a nearby table took a disliking to them and approached. "You're sitting at one of our tables." He stated, his hand on an old rough knife.

The cloaked man thought for a moment. "Apologies. My name is James, this is my wife Rebecca, and, well, I'm afraid we aren't going to move."

The man drew his knife. "Why not, mister James?" He asked with a sneer.

James reached to his belt, and Rebecca to hers. "Because I've already sat here, and you're outnumbered and outmatched."

"Outnumbered?" The man grinned. "You don't know who you're dealing with." Three other men stood up and approached, all armed.

"Fine then." Rebecca said. "Just outmatched." She drew a knife and slashed the man's chest, then stabbed him. James threw a knife into one of the others, then drew his sword. The remaining two standing backed off slowly, then ran out the door.

"I'll have a strong ale." James said, turning to the counter. "The good stuff you hide in the cellar, not the junk you sell to drunks."

"Yessir." The man replied, slightly trembling. "And for the missus?"

"Likewise, unless you happen to have Guinness." Rebecca said jokingly, to the bartender's confusion.

"Guinness...?" He asked, before giving up and running through the door behind the bar to go to the cellar.

James and Rebecca sat again at the table in the corner, this time not being attacked. "How would orcs get here?" She inquired.

James thought for a moment. "Remember when I said something's moving?"

"Yes." Rebecca nodded. "Think it's orcs?" She didn't seem to expect a positive answer to her question.

"No." James shook his head. "Just why they're here." He looked around for the innkeeper, then satisfied that he was not near, spoke. "Magic on this planet doesn't create orcs. Something else would have to."

Orc Camp

Amidst the whimpering of wargs, the angry growling and arguing of orcs, one sound rose above the others. It was a voice, rough and angry. "You allowed humans to see our encampment?!?"

A large orc, whose sword was particularly savage, matching his demeanor, was reprimanding a smaller one, who was shrinking away. "Please sir, it was a mistake!"

"I do not tolerate mistakes!" The larger orc swung his sword, which lopped off the head of the smaller one fairly easily, and then turned to the others in the camp. "We shall eliminate the town before our existence is known by any others! Sharpen your swords, string your bows! Tomorrow shall be a day of war!"

Aquilone Town

The inhabitants of the town slept well that night, certain the next day would be simply another day of work. So they rested, not realizing the danger which approached them in the dark. A danger which was visible by the torches, clanking and glinting of armor, and clear lack of concern about being scene. This danger camped outside the town walls, and was unseen by the guards, who were all sleeping at their posts, or distracted by the cold of the night. Even those who noticed the lights assumed it to be another unit of thedude's military.

The orcs took full advantage of this. Their warg riders were saddled before the sun came up, their archers ready around the same time. The town's security was lax, the gate constantly left open. And so, at dawn, the orcs made their move. The gate was overrun swiftly by warg riders. The town went into chaos as orcs began to kill all on the streets. People fell left and right, and shouts filled the air. James and Rebecca heard this, and rushed outside, armed. However, when they saw the hundred orcs, they began to run, chased by a small pack of wargs.

"I'd say this is an emergency!" Rebecca drew her handgun, and at the wargs behind them, causing beast and rider to fall. When the riders still living charged, James drew a sword and cut one down, then having to parry a strike from the right. Rebecca did likewise, and they managed dispatch the last three orcs, before beginning to run again. They came upon a small door in the wall, and bashed through it with their weapons as sounds of growling and shouting grew near.

As soon as they had reached the forest, they hid in foliage, watching as orc scouts grew near before giving up and turning around.

An odd man appeared out of no where. He wore Assembly Engineer gear, a fez on his head, and had a broom in his hand. James and Rebecca turned to face him, and Rebecca said, "Who're you?"

"I'm the Janitor!"

"What in the..." James brandished his sword. "Why are you here?"

"I told you, I'm the Janitor!" The odd man with the fez waved about his broom as proof.

"WHAT IS GOING ON?" James yelled to Rebecca's amusement. She laughed, and he glared. "What?"

"How does this annoy you, yet you had no trouble with Boris-Boris?"

"Can we focus on him?"

The Janitor simply began to sweep the battlefield with his broom.

Rebecca drew her pistol in response to James's question. "I'm going to ask you one more time. Who, in the harch are you?"

In response to that move, Shadow swung his broom at Rebecca, not hard enough to be an actual attack, and hit her on the head, "No".

"Please?" James asked.

"Aha! So, you're attempting to use interrogating techniques to make me talk! No!" The Janitor struck James on the back of his head with the broom as well.

James sighed, and gave Rebecca a look. She nodded, and they began to walk away, ignoring the 'Janitor'.

"Oh, I'm late!" the 'Janitor' said, and after pressing some button on his gear, he disappeared again.

"A town of people just died, and that's how that guy reacts?" James was flabergasted. "Just when I thought the world couldn't get colder.

Rebecca shook her head. "Said the sociopath."

The 'Janitor' returned again. "Jimmy, Becca. Come on! We need to go. The Federation's man has found us!"

"WHO ARE YOU?" James cried in shock. "And how do you know our names? And what Federation?"

"Heck. I arrived in the wrong time. Stupid device. Must get it fixed!" He disappeared again.

Rebecca facepalmed, while James groaned. "I hate my job."

A few hours later ,as James and Rebecca were headed to the camp of the Merry Band, something rather confusing occurred. It was just over noon when the 'Janitor' reappeared, as sudden as earlier.

"I'm back! Strange Odd Shadow pointed out I should find you".

James jumped. "WHO ARE YOU?" He yelled, while Rebecca again drew her pistol.

"Strange Odd Shadow, of course. The Original Janitor!"

James calmed down. "Then what do you want?”

"I was sent to find you".

"By whom?" James inquired, while Rebecca slowly lowered her weapon.

“I already told you. Strange Odd Shadow”.

“So...you sent yourself to find us..." James parsed this in his head. "I hate time travel.

"Who time travelled? Sounds interesting. Was the Federation involved?"

James facepalmed. "I  hate you."

"I like you, too!"

"So, where's your dimension device?".

"Go. Away." James commanded, walking off. Hearing the word dimension, he paused. "Wait...my Janra?"

"Is that your uncle or something?"

"No, it's a dimensional travel crystal I had." James replied. "I got rid of it."

"Rid of it how? Did you make a mess?"

"I gave it to a friend and had him destroy it." James became solemn.

"Oh. Well, mess cleaned. Seems like I don't need to interfere! Bye!"

He disappeared.

"What is..." James sighed, and Rebecca laughed.

"What?

"You're ridiculous."

Then, Shadow reappeared.

"Never caught your names?"

Rebecca spoke first. "I'm Rebecca, this idiot's James."

"Okay, bye! Idiot! Beccy!".

Shadow disappeared again, but then reappeared almost instantly.

"Just occured to me. Do you have a Jarna, too, Bec?"

"Will you stop doing that?" Rebecca asked as politely as possible. "Also, it's Rebecca, and as for my JANRA, it's broken."

"Messy. But it'll do. I like being a Janitor, but that doesn't mean I like having to clean people's messes everywhere”.

"Ok..." James interrupted. "So, why are you here?"

"I'm the Janitor".

"Of what?" James asked aggressively.

"Of everything? Maybe. I'm the original one, though!"

James facepalmed.

"What? You're a fan of the Succeeding Janitor?"

"No, this just makes no sense. At all."

"What's THIS for you to require it to produce sense?"

"Just please shut up." James requested.

"I rebel".

"And no Star Wars references!" James cried. "I've had enough of that dimension as is."

"Oh boy! Look at the time! I'm almost late for my regular sudden disappearance".

James facepalmed again, while Rebecca laughed even harder, prompting him to glare. Shadow disappeared again.

"How does he know about interdimensional travel?" Rebecca asked James all of a sudden.

Chapter 2: Reunion Edit

As James and Rebecca semi-stumbled into the camp, tired from nonstop travel, they noticed the same old bustle of the camp. It was nice and familiar, almost relaxing. The tent layout had changed slightly, but it was the same camp, except something was different, in the faces of the people. Time had worn them. As they walked through, James noticed a familiar face. The man with the sword, whose brother had been killed by Marcus. He sighed, and turned to Rebecca. "Can you get Strider? There's someone I need to talk to." Rebecca gave him a look, then nodded. She walked on as James approached a specific man. He was walking in from the perimeter of the camp, unreeling a large hose, and his face was thoughtful.

James approached him solemnly, and said, "Hello....?"

The man was gently relieved of his reverie, and his head leveled with James. "You." he said evenly.

James looked him in the eye. "Yes, unfortunately for me. Can we talk?"

"We're on speaking terms, James," assured the man. "But let me finish this." He hefted the large coil and motioned to a nearby tent. It was recognizable as the Medical Tent.

James nodded, and began to assist with the load, without saying a word. After the hose had been hooked up to some sink, with sophisticated filters to filter out the brook's impurities, the man nodded to James, and they headed back outside.James spoke first, reluctant.

"I never heard your name."

"Adrian."

"Who was your brother?" James asked, knowing this was about to get uncomfortable.

"Bryan."

James shook his head. "He was a nice fellow," He remarked as they strolled. "You been ok since...?"

Adrian's gaze pierced at James. "What did my brother do for you, that you'd remember him?"

He paused. "He was the first person I met in the Band. He seemed nice, kinda talkative. And I always try to remember when someone loses a person to him..."

Adrian's gaze dropped. "It's been hard. Nothing's the same. Everyone is thankful for what you've done- or rather, did. But it's hard to say so when ..." Adrian's voice faltered.

"It's not all you, of course!" he gasped past the lump in his throat.

James patted Adrian on the back. "You're not the only one who's lost family to him."

"Everyone's been affected, if not by him, then by-" Adrian spat. "him."

"At least he wasn't family to you."

"thedude? No, you mean the other him." he smiled weakly at the realization there were two conversations.A small pause arose.

James did likewise. "Goodness no. My family has no problems with basic English." He sighed. "The only thing worse than a stranger shooting your brother is finding that your brother killed your daughter.

Adrian frowned. "There are lots of wrongs in this world. But I don't want to hear about them. What's your reason for being here again?" he asked. Non-threatening, but curious.

"We found something. Maybe worse than thedude." James frowned as well. "We're trying to find people to help stop it. Right now we're looking for Strider."

"Something worse than thedude?" Adrian was dubious. Then he shook it off. "You're in luck. Strider is here."

James was relieved. "Good. And, Adrian, if you ever need some help, just tell me." He then strolled off.

"You'll want the Leadership tent!" called Adrian. James nodded over his shoulder in thanks. "And I don't need your help. Or your pity." Adrian murmured.

"There's a difference between pity and debt." James replied, hearing this.

Adrian turned to attend to his next chore, not caring for conversation.

When James entered the leadership tent, he saw a large fold-out table, with various maps, papers, and other notes splayed out across the entire 8-foot breadth, from where he was standing at one end. There were posters and other reference sheets on easels standing in the dirt floor all around. On the right, Strider stood with a large twig in hand, indication positions on a map of Morcia, while on James' left, there sat 5 people on the other side of the laden table. There were to notable people sitting in the center. A ancient woman with a thousand wrinkles sat with her hands clasped in her lap next to a small young man bundled up in a odd seat. A scooter. The raspy-rattley noise of his breath was noticeable as soon as James had opened the flap.

James recognized them after a moment. Hucklepatt and Stabb. He did not recognize the three others in the room, but they did not matter at this moment.

James realized after a second of thought why Stabb was in such a condition, and immediately he felt a pang of guilt.

Strider was just in the middle of explaining something. "Therefore, if we were to have you, our resistance would have a supplier that could reasonably reach anyone within a-..." Strider paused and followed everyone else's gaze to the open entrance. All eyes were on James.

"I take it my timing isn't the best?" he asked with a wry grin.

Strider tossed the stick absently. "Recess." he said, as he made for the door.

"Finally!" Said one of the unknown people, a young man with a decent beginning of a full, curly beard. "I need to check on my plants."

As everyone was standing up and stretching, Strider tried to hook James into a friendly headlock, but James counter-blocked it as if it was a right hook. Not stopping, Strider simply brushed past him, and turned around the corner of the tent, as the others, minus Stabb and Hucklepatt, filed out.

James followed. "Look, Strider, we don't have time for catching up."

"But by the Stars! It's good to see you whole," Strider mentioned. Then he turned around and saw James' face. "What's the bad news?" he asked, his own demeanor quickly matching.

James sighed. "I don't know how to say this." He thought for a moment, then asked, "Do you know what an orc is?"

Strider thought hard for a moment, then replied firmly. "No."

James nodded. "It's like a goblin...but meaner and less slimy."

Strider tried to picture it. "And not a mythical story creature?"

James seemed offended. "Some of my best friends are goblins! ....but, yes."

Strider closed his eyes tightly in confusion and mild disgust as he got an impression of James being friends with the type of evil, underground-loving, and wiley goblins that were part of many tall tales told in his young Morcian Years. "I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that for now."

"Myth goblins aren't like real ones. For one thing, the ones I know have a milkshake river that was a mountain, then melted." James grinned, especially at Striders expression.

Strider refocused before he got carried away trying to figure that sentence into a coherent picture. and said, "But what about these... Oarks?

As Strider spoke again, it faded. "Orcs. O, r, c, s. They're active in Aquilone."

"Aquilone? That's a good distance away."

"Not for long." James replied. "Orcs just took out one of their towns, and there are thousands of them. They'll start to take Morcian land."

"So... Other than the obvious problem, why have you traveled all this way for me again?"

"Because I need help, and I need it to be someone I can trust." He stated. "Not many people on this planet fall under that category."

Strider smiled. "I'd be honored to help, you know that... But..."

Strider looked back at the tent entrance.

"I'm trying to get these guys together. To band against thedude. To be the heroes they can be, not just the victims." Strider's face misted over, and seemed almost wistful.

"If we don't stop the orcs, these people won't be either. They'll be dead."

Strider recovered by his own will, and looked back at James.

"Wouldn't thedude deal with them?"

James laughed. "Paradox rogues against the spawn of Melkor? Please, they wouldn't last a minute."

Strider ignored the name that he didn't understand. "I'm talking about Barny-Bots. They're growing in numbers. The Camp's been really threatened by the increased patrols."

"Orcs'll tear them apart. If anything, we have a month before thedude's forces are defeated..." James paused, then grinned. "OF COURSE! Look, we do what you're doing, we get finished in a month, Meanwhile, thedude's forces and the orcs are thinned, so we have less work to do!"

Strider nodded slowly. "This will take less than a month, one way or another," he clarified. "But after this, I'm willing to do anything."

James nodded. "Good. Because we need all the help we can get."

Now Strider's smile broke into a determined grin. "Then it's a good thing that in the past year, 'help' is all I've been gathering."

James's face became grim. "Let's hope that's enough."

Chapter 3: Fruitless Endeavors. Edit

That Night:

Strider knocked on the wooden post of a new tent in the camp. He was wearing his Samuria Breastplate, leggings, and boots, but other than that, only had his Katana hanging off his belt. In other words, he was very casual, especially considering the cold, but thankfully dry, weather.

Someone sighed from the inside, and James' voice followed thereafter. "Come in."

As Strider did so, he saw a variety of maps and pens, with James and Rebecca sitting next to each other, sketching.

"You look about as tired and annoyed as I am."

James seemed irritable, "Well, I am."

Strider nodded, and perused the sketches. "Woah. Is THAT an Arc? " Strider asked, pointing to a sketch of an angry charging humanoid with a cleaver.

"Orc." James corrected, "And yes."

Rebecca poked James in the arm to get his attention, and pointed at the map. "We move a squad from here to here, it'll confuse them. Then we get any calvary charging from the center while the other unit goes to the right."

He smiled as he visualized it in his head. "I like it."

"What are these?" Strider asked, pointing to a large, wolf-like thing.

"Wargs," James replied. "Around horse sized wolf-esque being."

Strider's brows shot up, visibly impressed by the prowess displayed in the creature's features.

"Pikes then. Or spears...?" he thought aloud.

"Exactly." James said with a grin.

"Have to be fast, but keeping them at a distance is in our best interests..." Strider continued.

Rebecca nodded. "Exactly."

James glared at her, saying, "That's my line!"

"And this makes the first 4th wall break in a long time." Strider said with satisfaction, as if he was taking the first bite of a Snickers.

James sighed, and gestured for him to sit down. "Come on, this might interest you. By the way, how'd things go with the leaders?"

"I think I'm losing them," he mentioned, annoyed. "They still want to hide. Which... I understand, but," as he sat down, he slapped the maps roughly. "It's not possible anymore!"

"Well, I won't give you the advice you gave me when we," James gestured towards Rebecca, "were having problems."

"Which was...? All I'm remembering was 'follow your heart, and do it all for love, like a total lovestruck idiot." Strider pondered. "But I dont see how that applies here."

"You told me," James replied, "And I quote, 'Just kiss her.'"

Strider's face twitched as he tried to maintain a straight face.Then he burst out laughing.

"AAH-HA-HA-HA!!! Ha-ha-WHO!-Ha-ha-ha!"

Rebecca interjected, "Ignoring idiocy, how about you...lay off for about three days?"

Strider was still giggling, but he managed to say, "I do need to give them time." Finally able to breath deeply, and recover, he reflected. "I never thought I'd become this sort-of diplomat on my shore leave." his amusement threatened to immobilize him again.

She sighed, "Then just point out to them the benefits of having allies. Give them hope."

Strider bobbed his head in agreement. "I have, but hope can't co-exist with fear. I think they don't even realize they have it. It's all masked by their clinging onto their merriment.... Carlos had a balance..."

Strider shook himself from the marsh of thoughts dragging him away. "But we've adjourned for the night. Tell me how I can help here."

"Give us ideas." James said with a smile. "And get us some coffee. Lots of coffee."

Woods around the Camp of the Merry Band

One eternity later or rather a couple of days, the pair of former C.O.D. agents was walking through a forest very near to the Camp of the Merry Band, they came upon a tree. Having just finished a heavy session of attempting to make a plan, the two of them decided to have a walk outside the camp. After all, they were a couple.  The tree they came upon wasn't the only tree there since it was a wood, but the tree was special.

Because a Strange Odd Shadow was growing on it. Or that was what he was trying to look like at least.

"What are you doing?" James asked, exasperated.

"Photosynthesis."

Rebecca glared. "Shadow, get off the tree."

"Shoosh. I'm an apple now."

"No, you aren't." Rebecca replied. "That's an oak tree."

"I did not say otherwise."

"You implied so."

"I said nothing."

"What is wrong with you?" she asked after a moment.

"Perhaps the fact that I'm upside down. I'm getting dizzy. I expected you here sooner."

"Well then get down!" James exclaimed.

"Interesting proposal. I will consider it and get back to you on it."

James thought for a moment, then yanked Shadow off of the tree. Falling down and hitting his head, Shadow quickly got up.

"Aha! So, you're Federation, then!"

"No, you were being annoying." James replied.

"I know to be annoying towards Federation men."

"WHAT FEDERATION?" James asked, unable to stay patient.

"Come on, Beccy. Let's leave that hypocrite and go find some real friends."

Rebecca facepalmed. "He's not with the Federation, he just, like me, doesn't know what's going on. Besides, he's my husband."

"Oooh. You're married. Is this your honeymoon? I always love to see newly wed couples! How was the wedding?"

"Not a honeymoon, we've been married for nine years." She replied with a sigh.

"That's a long honeymoon."

"IT'S NOT A HONEYMOON!" She exclaimed. "We didn't have a honeymoon."

"Oh. So you decided to have a honeymoon now? I've heard people do that."

"No. This is not a honeymoon." She said again. "We don't really have time for one."

"There's always time for working on your relationship. I think all you two need is to really listen to each other and your relationship problems will dissipate in no time. Otherwise, I have a really good couple therapist to recommend."

"We don't need a honeymoon to have a good relationship." James interrupted. "It's just that we're generally busy, because whenever we have free time, the world decides to try to end."

"See, that's why you have problems with your wife. You take her for granted, work all the time for the Federation and then when you come back to the house, you're too tired for her."

"We don't work for the Federation! Besides, we work together! We have time to talk! Except when being shot at and annoyed by janitors."

"I don't remember ever shooting you. Wanna do so now?"

Rebecca shook her head. "He means other people, not you, shoot at us."

"Okay", he conjured an Inventor launcher after hearing the words “Shoot at us,” and shot at Rebecca, only the launcher failed. "Hey, what's with this? Is it broken?" he looked inside its barrel.

"Don't do that." James commanded.

"Do what?"

"Don't look down your weapon's barrel!" He exclaimed.

"Oh that? It's more fun, if you pull the trigger, too," Shadow replied, but put the launcher back in his backpack. "So, have you guys by any chance seen Strange Odd Shadow around?"

"That's you!" James cried out. Rebecca shook her head

"James, he seems a little confused."

"Oh, I understand why you might be confused. He also goes by the names of John Steele and Wiz Ardon, usually. So, I've heard at least."

"That's still you." James stated wearily.

Shadow stared at James for a moment, then turned to Rebecca, "You're right, Becca. Jim's an idiot."

Rebecca sighed. "You told us you were Strange Odd Shadow."

"I recall."

"And you asked if we had seen Strange Odd Shadow, who is you." She continued

"Incorrect."

"So there are two people by your name?" She asked.

"More, I believe."

Rebecca nodded. "So are we talking about time travel or multiple dimensions?"

"Jimmy's the one who mentioned time travel. I'm the one who mentioned dimensional thingies."

"Ok, can we please stick with just one of you?" She requested.

"I don't think that's the author's intent."

"Great." James muttered. "Just great. Infinite idiots."

"I am proud to be able to call myself a genius."

"Well, you're an annoying one." James stated.

"Ha! You didn't even queschon the truth or objectivity of my words."

James gave up. Rebecca simply asked, "Could you please tell us what this...Federation is?"

"The Federation? We can't speak out in the open! They might be listening!"

"Then where can we speak?"

Shadow thought about it for a moment. "I'd say nowhere".

"Oh joy." James remarked. "So what do you want, Shadow?"

"World domination. Or maybe world peace? Either one is good."

"Well, I support peace. Why domination?"

"Sounds like fun. I could finally forbid people walking slowly in front of me."

"You're ridiculous." James stated. "Still, why do you want us?"

"It's your beautiful smile that slaves me."

"Very funny." James said with a groan.

"So, what are you guys up to?"

"Trying to deal with an orc invasion." Rebecca replied."And you?"

"Oh. I'm just stuck here, because my dimensional gear seems to be malfunctioning."

"Well then talk to someone who knows how to fix it!" James replied with exasperation.

"That would be Le Moi and also people in other dimensions currently."

James shrugged. "Fine, I'll try to fix it."

"Wait...have you been here before?"

"Yes, multiple times. Didn't you notice me?"

"Yes...didn't know if that was future you. Well, you do know that there's an anti-tech curse here, right?"

"Mmm. Interesting. Something did seem off with this planet."

"Well, something is."

"The Federation?"

"No," Rebecca interjected, "It's an old curse. And for cryin out loud, what is the Federation?"

"Already told you it's too dangerous to speak... but know they're corrupt and powerful. Nasty combination. And they're out to get me."

"No, it's not. If you're going to ramble about a hostile group then refuse to tell me what it is, why should I trust you?"

"Because... I'm the Janitor and I' here to help"

"Really? Well, Janitor, help me by doing this: GO AWAY!" James yelled in exasperation.

"Okay. But when you're missing me, it won't be my fault!" He disappeared again.

"I want you to go away." He replied.

"Okay. But when you're missing me, it won't be my fault!" He disappeared again.

"What is this guy's problem?" James asked, turning to Rebecca.

"I dunno." She replied with a shrug.

Camp of the Merry Band

Days passed, and both endeavors did not see significant progress. After a week since James' arrival, Strider announced he was ready to leave. And so they went off, intent on finding help, and bringing a small willing contingent of the band. Adrian was at the head of this small contingent.

"So, where to?" James asked.

Strider balked at James. "Why are you asking me? This is your show." he said with a grin.

"We need backup. You know some."

Strider thought as he walked. "Not as much as I'd like, and not readily available. They're waiting... Preparing... For the big one." Strider explained, his eyes pinning James. "I have sent a letter to some friends in the area of Aquila, but I doubt they will get it, and even more-so that they will be able to mobilize anything large to help us..." Strider's brows furrowed in contemplation.

James shrugged. "Ok, then we're going to Aquila."

{[INSERT OTHER PARTS HERE, LIKE THE LIGHT DUSTING OF SNOW ON THE PLAINS, BUT THANKFULLY NOTHING TOO BAD. (BECAUSE IT'S CONVENIENT FOR THE AUTHORS. :P MOSTLY DRY AND COLD. I HAVE TO CHECK THE MAP AGAIN, BUT A SWAMP MAY BE SOMEWHERES IN THEIR DIRECT MARCH. THAT WOULD BE TREACHEROUS DURING THIS TIME OF YEAR. WE MIGHT EVER GO WITH THE IDEA THAT THEY GO AROUND IT. THEY ALSO PASS SOMEWHAT CLOSE TO MOUNT THUNDERCLAP, IF THEY TAKE A DIRECT ROUTE, WHICH SEEMS MORE AND MORE UNLIKELY.....]}

The Contingent Camp

Ten miles from destination

As the camp settled down for the night, Stirling was sitting by a fire, cooking something over it. James approached, and set next to him awkwardly. "Ready for this?"

Strider spared a glance at James, then stared back into the captivating fire. "Always."

James nodded, then began staring into the fire as well. "Can you do me a favor?"

"It's what friends are for."

He smiled, half amused, then became quiet and solemn. "If I don't....make it out this time, can you...keep an eye on her?"

"Of course." Strider looked back at James. His eyes were solemn as James.

James seemed relieved, as if that was one loose end dealt with. "Thank you. And...just...keep an eye on the band too. If necessary, pull them out."

"You have my word." he promised as he held his hand out.

James shook Strider's hand firmly. "Thank you."

Strider smiled, but it was tempered with heavy thoughts. James noted this, and, inwardly groaned. "What's going on?"

"Nothing, just focusing on what's ahead."

"You're thinking of home, aren't you." James said, slightly accusatively.

"I don't have a home anymore," he said gruffly.

James gave him an odd look. "Strider, my emotions are turned on. You aren't good at hiding it."

"It's not important!" he muttered, then seemed to realize how he sounded. "No, I mean... It is."

"Just spit it out."

Strider gave James a dirty look, and stared back into the fire.

James shrugged, as though he didn't care that he had aggravated Stirling. "Friends do each other favors. They also help whether or not you want them to."

"It was awhile back," he said, audibly annoyed. "We passed by a tower in the distance. Calibus Tower."

James nodded knowledgeably, before kicking himself just as the words exited his mouth. "Silverstine Clan's home."

Strider jumped on his seat. "Uh, no. That, we passed too, but it was in the northern range, and we couldn't see it from here on the plains."

James paused, still frustrated with himself. "Sorry. getting old files mixed."

"No, Calibus is on our southern flank, and I... I lost... Well, I have bad memories associated with it now!" he summarized irritably.

"I can't help you." James sighed. He knew Strider's attitude like an old friend. Stirling's expression was one he had worn many times. You can only help a patient so much if they refuse treatment. "G'night Strider." He stood up to walk back to his tent.

Strider barked, louder than he intended, "I lost my brother Austin there!"

James sighed, and patted Strider on the back. "Blast..." He knew he couldn't help now.

Strider made vauge motions, like he was trying to catch the words. "It just reminds me... It reminds me, that I've failed."

James seemed sympathetic, but semi-unstable. As if he was suppressing old memories. "Exactly."

"I'll never have all of my family back, and I wonder if anyone else in my clan knows that, or if I have to be bearer of that news." Strider struggled to maintain composure.

"No point in worrying now." James said.

"It's all I can worry about!" Strider snapped. "Unless..." he took a breath to steady himself. "Unless I busy myself with other things."

"After this, we're finding your family. No matter how dead you think they are." James walked away, now knowing Stirling's true mental state, and perplexed by it. "Blasted emotions." He muttered.

The Contingent Camp

Seven miles from Aquilone Town

James again approached Strider as he sat at a fire. This time, however, he was much more business-like. "Strider, you know these men better than I do."

"Not by much, but yeah."

"Find the Four smartest ones, then bring them back here."

"Smart is a matter of opinion, " began Strider, but then shrugged. "I'll see what I can do." James nodded, then reached into his satchel and began unrolling maps.

Strider looked out among the group, mingling amidst the tents. "/Four smartest, hmm?/" Instantly, Strider picked out Robin, but what others did he know? There was Adrian, who was the unspoken '4th' in command after James, Rebecca, and Strider. Perhaps he would know better his own people. Shuffling through towards Adrian, who stood by a campfire, talking with others, Strider called out to him, and Adrian excused himself and joined Strider midway.

"Yes, sir?"

"I need your help. Who's the smartest folk in your contingent?" "Smartest?"

"Sharpest. Most analytical."

"Wise?"

"I suppose." “

With age comes wisdom. Jim's one."

"I've thought of Robin as one, what do you think?"

"That's good."

"Who's Jim?"

"Jim is an old man, who's still quite fit. Used to be a blacksmith, then a Tavern Keep, then a double agent, sort of information broker, then exiled, now a longstanding member of the band. "

"Exiled for information brokering?"

"Under King Matthias."

"Oh, he's really old then!"

"You wouldn't guess it by looking at him." Here the two began walking, Adrian leading the way. After some time, Strider made his way back to the campfire where James waited. Behind him was Robin, wearing the typical garb of the merry band, plus a cowled cloak, Adrain, in piecemeal armor, with the merry green garb poking out from underneath.

Behind them, Jim came, wearing regular loose clothing, but nothing specifically symbolic, other than a small gold leaf-pin denoting veteran status with the Merry Band.  And behind him, came a teenage girl by the name of Lucy, who in turn was followed by a lithe lynx. Tan, with dark brown spots.

As they approached, James began to speak. "So, we need to invade the castle. You people know the men with us." James smiled. "And we have a basic strategy for this."  Strider's four picks spread out, and James viewed them.  He noted all, then fixed his eyes on Adrian. "Hey, Adrian? We need to talk."

Adrian's browes furrowed, but he followed James a few discreet steps away, as the others sorted around the maps. "Sir?"

"Look. I want to trust you. You seem like a nice guy." He frowned, in deep thought. "But I also know you blame me for ....Bryan." The older Brother frowned, his knitted brows deepening into one.  "If at any time, you let your emotions get in the way of commanding your men, and it gets someone killed, I will hold you responsible. So you better promise you'll do the job."

The frown lightened upon realizing the nature of the talk. "Commander," he said, straightening up, "I would't have it any other way." he followed this up with a salute.

James held out his hand with a smile. "Glad to know it." Once Adrian shook it, James sat on a log by his map, and turned his mind to strategy. "This is the town," He pointed to a large structure on the map, "and here we are. We planned to attack at these small side doors, while distracting them at the main gates. Any thoughts?"

"We don't have enough for any sort of diversion, or splitting of forces, realistically," Strider noted. Robin saw the map from the side.

"We should avoid the Gates if we can."

"Well," James remarked, "I have an idea. Lucy?"

"Yes?" Her voice was sweet as the songbird sitting on her shoulder.

"Can you get some animals to distract them at the front gates?" James paused, then added, "If you can get a large boar and a squirrel willing to do the hula while singing about eating said boar, it'll distract the orcs. It works with Hyenas." Everyone but Lucy and James again paused in confusion. Lucy nodded, as if it was the most sensible solution in the world.

"Of Course! Burr does a fantastic Hula. And you already know how risque Tom can be!"

As Rebecca approached, she heard this and facepalmed. "James, the Lion King is not a strategic guide."

Strider glanced up, glad to have someone more sensible join in. "Do you have another alternative?"

"Well, we could plant a cubic meter of C4 at the edge of the forest." She replied.

"WE DON'T HAVE C4!" James exclaimed.

Strider's eyebrows shot up. "thedude has C4."

James shook his head. "We don't have time to steal some from him."

Strider nodded, along with the rest. "Right."

Rebecca gazed at the map, then thought for a moment. "Lucy, keep the hula idea..."

James shook his head. "I thought you said it was a bad idea?"

"Well, it is." Rebecca replied. "But so is any other idea you have, and we're still alive today."

He seemed indignant. "Name one idiotic idea I've ever had!" Strider laughed heartlessly.

"Well, about nine years ago you got down on one knee and held out a ring." She stated with a smile. "I have no idea why that worked out."

Everyone there but Robin found voice. "Nice."

"Aww!"

"It always does!"

"Oh, hey now!"

"chitter-chatter!"

James facepalmed. "One little joke and they're already off topic. Great job."

"Dear lord people!" She exclaimed. "I was just teasing him! Can we please focus?"

Jim was winking, "It always works, don't it, James?"

Groaning, James facepalmed again. "People, focus." Adrian was trying to focus, as was Robin, while Lucy was trying to calm down the various animals around her.

Strider was simply NOT focusing. "Well, it's not a kiss, but it works!" he commented.

"Strider, you're supposed to be mature!” James exclaimed.

"Right! Right." Strider stared at the map doggedly for a second, then burst into laughter.

"I hate my job."

Robin had hardly moved, and the robin in his hair was appreciative, but now, Robin turned to James. "One has to enjoy the little things, or else how can one get to enjoy big things?"

He nodded, but frowned. "But if one takes too much time focusing on the little things, soon nothing else is left around them."

Robin shrugged. "A balance, as always, is needed."

"Well, with the merry band, that balance is blown into smithereens." James replied with a wry smile.

"That's why we're here." Robin replied. "Not everyone agrees with how the Band is operating.” He paused. He seemed to regret speaking.

Noting this, James sighed. "Ok, people, focus. How many men do we have?)

"18" Strider said, finally focusing.

"So, 18 humans against around one hundred orcs?" James groaned. "Well, this is just terrible."

Jim raised a mysterious eyebrow. "Where there's a will, there's a way. Not all of us are... Average humans." Here his eyes shifted to Lucy, who was scratching an ear of a squirrel, -not Tom- on her shoulder.

Raising his own mysterious eyebrow, James nodded. "You have no idea. Ok, all commanders go and pick your men." Jim took this rather well, and smiled back The group split up, except for Lucy, who already had her legion with her.

Aquilone Town

As the orcs on the wall, tried to occupy themselves, something moved out from the woods fifteen meters from the town.

This something was a boar. It was followed by a squirrel, dressed in drag, who was angrily chattering. The boar sat down near the wall, then the squirrel jumped on top of it, and began to dance and chatter in a musical manner, to the amusement of the orcs. On the three other sides, as the orcs became distracted, men with foliage nets crawled along the ground. The camouflage and the distraction allowed these men to reach the doors. When all had surrounded the doors, they bashed through each, to the surprise of the orcs. Squirrels climbed up the walls, and began to stab small sticks into orc eyes. In the commotion, gunshots rang out from where Rebecca's unit was, while a group of tumbling orcs was thrust aside by a shield held by a certain Silverstine. James began to stab and slice at various orcs, and all in all, the whole scene was a tumult. At first, they seemed to be doing well. Orc bodies piled on the ground, while only a handful of humans and animals were dead.

However, the orcs began to gain momentum against the humans, as the surprise of the attack wore off. Several men fell, and the parties were forced back through their respective side doors. James swore as he realized this, and whistled several piercing notes, signaling for a retreat. As he did so, the men at both gates backed off, and the clash started to move away from the fort. As they backed up, Rebecca shot an orc in the head, yelling, "How did they get this many orc onto the planet?!?!?"

"I don't know!" James replied, parrying a strike from an enemy sword, and stabbing his opponent. "Stirling, get the Band out of here!"

"I WON'T LEAVE YOU!" Strider replied, slashing down an orc.

"WE'LL BE FINE! WE'LL HOLD THEM FOR A FEW MINUTES, THEN LEAVE! NOW GO!"

Stirling groaned in anger, but, with grumbling, ran back and began to help Merry Band members, including several wounded, out of the fray. As he did so, Rebecca and James fell back to the door, fighting all the way back. Soon, however, they both realized they couldn't get out easily.

"Rebecca, go!" James commanded.

"And leave you to get captured, or killed?" She protested. "James," Rebecca shot another orc, "I admire you chivalry, but it's gonna get you killed idiotically!"

"Only one of us can go, someone has to hold them! And, with our side project," James slashed at an unprotected orc arm, and a scream rang out. "You're a more valuable asset!"

"ARGH!" Rebecca cried out, but reluctantly she ran. When she reached the edge of the forest, she saw James fall, hit on the head with a blunt object, and get dragged back. Her eyes squinted as she tried to make out the scene, and she swore as she realized what they were doing. "Rashlaman!" She muttered angrily.

Nevertheless, after a moment, she turned and ran, and the wooden door shut with a loud, and final, "Clack!"

{[ STUFF . ALSO, WHY ARE WE WRITING STUFF OUT OF ORDER NOW? NOT THAT IT'S BAD, JUST... I HAVE NEVER DONE IT THIS WAY, AND WHEN I HAVE, IT DOESN'T WORK. ALL WELL, WE SHALL SEE. :P ]}

{[BECAUSE THEO'S BRAIN IS WEIRD WITH THIS BOOK. I DON'T KNOW WHY.]}

The side door lock wasn't hard to pick for someone with experience. As for the orcs behind it, two suppressed gunshots dealt with them. After this, it was a simple evade, move, evade, move pattern down the street. As she carefully hid in alleys and behind carts, Rebecca noticed a single pattern. The entire town was empty. The occasional orc patrol passed, but there was no sign of the inhabitants. Just blood spatters. Rebecca walked through this wartorn wasteland for several minutes, observing and memorizing patrol patterns. She did this until she found the jailing building. She managed to slip in, and aquire the keys off of a less than aware, and now dead orc. Now it was a simple patrol. As far as she could see, there were no people in the jail. Just blood stains in the cells.

However, she found her objective after a few minutes. James was sitting down, staring off into the distance. His clothing was torn, and he was injured. He appeared to be in a forced silence, most likely to resist interrogation.  She motioned for him to be quiet nevertheless, and he jumped, but stayed silent, and anxious.

As Rebecca approached James's cell warily, drawing the key from her pocket, behind her something moved. Before James could say a word, an Orcish blade swung down and crunched against her head. Her body fell to the ground as the orc grinned sadistically, then opened the cell and threw the body in. It grunted, picked up the key,  and wandered off, as James kneeled down and began to hold the dead body in his arms, sobbing. At this moment, Strange Odd Shadow materialized out of thin air. Only he looked a bit different. His brown hair was longer, his face seemed more wrinkled and battle-worn. He wad ridded of the fez and broom and his left fore-arm was robotic.

James looked up to him and muttered, "What do you want?" He barely squeezed out these words, and, as it was, seemed to be unable to make a reasonable response.

Shadow’s hazel eyes, much sterner than they were earlier, took in the scene of James and Rebecca's body. He did not reply to James, but rushed near the lying and the sitting figure. His hands moved over Rebecca's damaged head and there was a light blue glow coming out of them. James tried to shove him away, but failed, unable to muster the strength to do so. As Shadow did so, Rebecca's wounds were mended, until her head was fixed to a bloodied, but intact one with a peaceful expression.

"There. That's better", he said with a hoarse voice. "It's always better to get the image out of your head". James nodded in thanks, but still did not speak. Shadow spoke again. "I wish I could do more. But in her condition..." 

James shook his head, and managed to say a few words. "Can I just...have a moment?"

"Moment's all you have". The man moved away as far as he could in the small cell.

As James sat there, he stared off into space. After a minute, he turned to Shadow. "Why...why are you here?" He asked, his heart sinking as he grasped what had just happened fully.

"Let's just get out of here first". Strange Odd Shadow gets a grip on both James and Rebecca and suddenly James got the feeling that he was being pressed on all sides. Then, the feeling changed and he felt the reverse. It was all over in a second, and suddenly they were out in the open. "If you wanna throw up, just do. It happens to people".

James shrugged apathetically. "I've done it before."

"I noticed Wiz Ardon was wandering in this area of the Multiverse, so while I was looking it up I discovered this flow of goblinoids into your dimension I'm investigating." 

"You should have started earlier."

"One can't be everywhere, I'm afraid. I never even came near this place before today. Want to bury her?"

James sighed. "Not here. Somewhere I can...visit."

"Suit yourself. Do you have somewhere to go? A base, perhaps"

James seemed vacant for a moment, before saying, "We've got a camp nearby."

"Picture it in your head". Shadow reached with his flesh hand and touched on James's forehead. James groaned, but complied. Again, with the same pressing feeling, they found themselves in the camp, shocking the Merry Band members around them.

"You're gonna be okay now?"

"Probably not."

"I need to go hunting again".

James nodded in sorrow. "Don't worry, I have a friend here."

"If you come upon Wiz Ardon or think you need me, you can call me by whistling like this", the man whistled a tune. “I’ll hear.” Then, he was gone.

James nodded again, still seeming vacant. The others gave him a wide berth, unsure of how to act. Moment's later, they made way for Strider.

Chapter ___ : RETRIBUTION Edit

"James? JAMES!" Strider rushed forward, seeing the comatose Rebecca.

James did not reply immediately. He sat there taking in what had happened in the past few minutes before looking up, and even then he did not say a word.

He merely shook his head.

The worry and fear fell away from Strider, to be replaced by helpless despair. "No."

James nodded, beginning to weep again. He was still torn from his time in the orcish jail.

Strider stood frozen, shut down from the heart.

"I...I should have...should have...." tried James. The words failed to form.

Adrian roared, an angry bellow, and began cursing to the sky. "THOSE MONSTERS WILL ALL PAY! SHE SHOULD NEVER HAVE MOUNTED A RESCUE BY HERSELF!" More venting of anger followed as he left- ran - from the sorrow.

"It...it almost worked." James replied, his voice broken, just like his spirit. "I saw them kill her."

"Almost is still not quite." Robin said mournfully.

"We need to finish this," voiced Strider, gaining a sense of purpose. He raised his head to meet the unsteady gazes of the others. "The one thing they expect of us is to charge in there headlong. Now, does anyone have any OTHER ideas?" Only the slowly melting resolve in their own eyes answered. No, they didn't have any ideas. Rebecca was the master strategist, and hers failed!

James again grew silent, before something changed in his mind. He reached into Rebecca's satchel and withdrew her gun and what few magazines she had left. "I'll deal with it." He stated in a cold voice. A voice that spelled death.

Strider turned a steely eye to James. "Don't you ever learn? We're in this together." Even if no one else was.

He shook his head, his heart as cold and heavy as rock inside him. "You may not want to see this." Priming the handgun, James set Rebecca down and began walking towards the town.

"One never does." Strider said, unsheathing a broad great-sword from his back as he followed James.

The larger part of the others slowly trailed behind, following their leaders.

Shrugging, James donned his cloak's hood, then disappeared in the forest. Only one of the people had the skill to track him. The rest slowly gave up. The battle was over.

As Strider trailed James, he took an odd turn. Approaching a small door in a hastily built wooden wall, he kicked it down, and shot the shocked orc behind it. Several more approached, and he neutralized them as well. One began to groan on the ground, and James put several shots through it. His pistol's slide locked back, and he reloaded it, then moved on. Approaching an inn, from which loud sounds came, he silently tiptoed towards the door, and checked his magazine capacity. He swung it open, causing all the orcs to freeze in shock, before they charged.

James this time drew a dagger. His intent went from simple revenge, to inflicting pain. He shot one in the knee, then stabbed it through the head. Another swung a sword from the side, and James shot it three times in the chest, causing it to fall to the ground as well.

One more charged, and James put one bullet through its head.

The body thudded on the ground, and a whimper emanated from behind the bar. Though he heard several thuds and shouting from outside, he ignored it, and rounded the bar. A small orc, clearly a child, was sitting in a corner, crying in fear. James thought for a moment, his conscience temporarily returning, then put his knife through its fearing eyes.

However, when he had removed his knife from its skull, he felt a discomfort that told him he was being watched. Turning around, he saw Strider, and sighed. "I told you not to come."

Strider was already filthy from battle himself, as he stood in the Tavern doorway with a already well-stained blade.

"No, you didn't. I quote, "I'll take care of it.' I'm just taking care of you." Strider corrected.

A strangled scream came from behind Strider. James fired an expert shot across Strider's moving right shoulder as he turned to slash it with his sword. Both hits connected, sending the grotesque creature back into the street, dead.

"I don't need your protection!" James replied, moving back around the bar towards him. There was a fire in his eyes, and his fists were clenched.

"And I don't need to see-" Strider stopped himself. "HANG IT ALL, JAMES, I'M HERE WHETHER YOU LIKE IT OR NOT!" He yelled, as he stormed into the Tavern and began boarding up the entrance with tables.

James nearly punched Stirling across the jaw in anger. "You get out of here, like I said, I'M GOING TO DEAL WITH IT. ...and if that means I don't leave here, so be it."

Strider restrained from grabbing James's shirt. " '"Friends do each other favors. They also help whether or not you want them to.' " he quoted in a dangerous whipser.

James groaned, then nodded reluctantly. "Fine. You win."

Strider rushed up the stairs, even as rough voices and thumps were heard coming down. Stirling equipped his blackened Knight's Shield, and Katana, for the closer quarters, and rushed upward with a roar.

James sat down on a bar stool as he heard the clash from upstairs, and began to think. His mind was chaotic, confused. The realization that the last person he loved was dead stung like ten thousand hornets. Eventually, he stared at his gun, then put it up to his own head.

When he pulled the trigger, the weapon clicked, and he swore, racking the slide and ejecting the bad round. As he did so, the fighting seemed to stop, and footsteps began to echo upstairs. Strider.

He put the weapon up against his head, then began to squeeze the trigger, when-

"James! Where's the bullets whizzing past my ears?"

James looked up. The wooden stairs creaked, and a Orc fell down the stairs heavily, followed by Strider peeking under the ceiling-line. "We need t- OH MY L- JAMES!" Strider threw a knife from his boot at James's gun, but erred in his shot, and instead made a neat slice of James' forhead, as well as hitting the gun.

James clutched the small wound, and collapsed onto the ground, sobbing. Not out of any physical pain, rather, loss.

Strider glanced up the stair way, then, confirming no hostiles, he bounded back down the stairs and ran over to James.

Once there, he gripped James by the shoulders and shook him as vigourusly as possible.

James did not respond, he merely stared off into the distance.

"Are you a drunkard?!" Strider commanded.

"She's...gone..." James muttered, still in a confused state. He shook himself, and replied. "No...but..."

"Then don't act like one! To Ankoria with this; and you say 'You don't need my help'!" Strider slapped James with his steel-gloved hand.

"GET A GRIP, SISSY!"

He shrugged it off, as if he hadn't felt anything. "I really don't care."

"I know you really don't mean that! Who killed her?" Strider's voice was beyond commanding, it was condemning, as it reverberated around the room and wavered with ferocious, unchecked emotion.

"Just another one of these! It might be one in here, it might be out there still! I don't know! They're all just bloody grunts!" James shouted back.

"Then, I don't know about YOU," Strider spat, "But I'm not stopping till EVERY BLOODY ONE is gone!" Strider let go of James and turned to the stairs. "You're welcome to join, but I guess you don't care about ..."

"I'm gonna kill every last one of the blasted things! I JUST DON'T CARE WHAT HAPPENS TO ME!" He cried at Strider, furious at his friend.

"Same here!" Then he charged back up the stairs.

James followed, weapon ready, teeth gritted.

In a few minutes, the inn was clear of all orcs. The two men had the single, terrifying devotion to the extinction of everything in that Inn, and once there was no more fuel for that mission, the only things standing were Strider and James, who were panting after their effort. Though the fire in their eyes had diminished, the embers burned brightly still in their hearts. The embers of hate and revenge. Their weapons had new scratches, and the floor was painted in blood and shells, the fuel of death.

James paused, then noticed a familiar blade. Next to it, an orc was trying to crawl away from the two killing machines that had destroyed his comrades. His chest had a sword mark in it, and his face was covered in his friends' blood. James approached the orc grimly, and said, "This one."

He then drew his pistol, and pressed it into the orc's foot. "That human woman you killed? That random casualty? That was my wife." James pressed the trigger, and the orc shrieked as a bulled ripped through its foot. James did not halt, did not show any change in attitude. He was like a machine.

James put the gun up to its arm, and continued coldly. Dangerously. "Now, I could just kill you, but I want to hear something." He fired again, and the orc screamed out in pain.

James now pressed it against the orc's other arm. "I want to hear you begging for mercy." He pulled the trigger once more, and the orc continued to scream.

He pressed the weapon on the orcs head, and said. "Come on, say something."

The orc began to ramble. "Please sir, please, stop, please...." James pulled the trigger, and its head thudded against the floor. He felt satisfied, but on the same note, guilt was starting to creep into his heart. A guilt he shook off as best he could.

Strider stood off to the side, arms crossed. Face Immobile, but eyes glinting.

"We still need to take care of the others."

James nodded, and fired three rounds into the head of the dead orc. He then reloaded the pistol, and primed it again, his face set in stone.

Standing up, he grinned coldly, without sincerity. "They should run."

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