This is an excerpt from my wip (work-in-progress) 2nd Hit, the second book in the Renegade Agents of A.R.S.A. series. It’s first pass rough draft, so be kind. The first book in this series is available now at Amazon and on pre-order until April 1 everywhere else. 2nd Hit should be ready to publish before the end of summer 2018 and it’ll be up for pre-order by April 1.
No More Rachaels
So I cleaned up. Washed my face and hair, even. For a moment, I felt almost normal. But that didn’t last long. I doubted I’d ever feel truly normal again. While I’d worked at the café, it was easy to forget in the routine of work and sleep. But out here, everything reminded me of how not normal my life had become.
I dug around and found the brush in my duffle bag. Such a simple thing and it brought such a huge amount of comfort. Before long, I felt myself smiling. I dug around again and pulled out a clean shirt, fresh socks and clean underwear.
“Are you about done up there?” Dersuss called from below.
“Almost,” I answered. “Be right down in a few more minutes.” I changed my clothes and put all of my things back into the duffle bag. Feeling refreshed and about as normal as I thought I possibly could feel, I went back down the trail to join my mentor.
“I don’t mind leaving this here now, if we will be passing this way on the way back.” I told him as I dropped the duffle bag.
“Good. The thing weighs a ton. You do look a lot better though, so it’s a good thing I convinced you to bring it along, I guess.” He laughed at his little joke, and I let it go. He sniffed the air. “You smell a lot better now, too.”
“Good to know. Are we coming back out this way?”
“Yes. Just put it somewhere out of sight. And remember to get it as we go back.”
He started down the trail toward the Holding while I shoved my duffle bag under one of the overgrown rose bushes that flanked the side. For good measure I kicked a bunch of leaves on it. There. That’s camouflaged enough.
I caught up with him.
“So. Do you think they’ll be glad to see us again?” I asked.
“Humph. They’ll be a lot happier than they were the first time,” he said and laughed. “Except Noach. He won’t find it very pleasant.”
“Just wait. You’ll see.”
Just then I spotted shielding cloth, or rather, reflected sunlight in the trees overhead. We were close now.
As before on our approach, two men with guns stepped out from behind trees. Casey was one of them.
“God-damn it all to hell, man. You made it!” Casey said when he recognized Dersuss. “D-R-S-S,” he said his name by saying each letter of the acronym, “you are a miracle worker. Better than Brother Noach himself.”
Both men lowered their guns and let them hang loose with the straps. Casey slapped Dersuss on the back and hugged him. The other guy looked at him with eyebrows raised. Casey turned to him.
“This is him. He’s the one who went into the desert to kill the monster,” Casey said.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
Dersuss interrupted him. “Now, hold on a minute. I have to set that record straight before it gets out of hand.”
“Good thing, because I was getting ready to do so,” I added.
Dersuss cleared his throat. “I didn’t kill the thing.” He pointed to me. “She did.”
The look of shock and surprise that washed over both Casey and his companion’s faces both irritated and amused me. Why should it be so shocking that I might have been the one to do the job? It was me sent out there to do it, after all.
“Oh. You just assumed I’d die once they pushed me through to the other side, didn’t you?” Fuckers.
“We thought …”
“No. Well … ummm,” Casey and companion both stumbled over their words.
“Yeah. You just thought since I was a woman, I’d just run around with my hands in the air screaming, or something. Well, get this-” I walked up and pushed Casey hard on the sternum. “I killed the thing with nothing more than an old bone in my pocket.” He stepped back from me. “Don’t ever assume anything with me.”
I turned back around to find Dersuss smiling.
“How long had you been plagued by that thing?” he asked the men as we all began walking toward the gate.
“I can’t remember,” Casey said. “Was it there the last time you went through the field?”
“I think it’s been nearly five years,” the other man grunted as he and Casey put their shoulders into moving the huge bolt securing the gate.
“When I came to bring salt last year, it was there. I think the time before that, it was there, but I don’t remember having trouble crossing before that. So about five years sounds about right,” Dersuss agreed.
The doors creaked open and Dersuss and I stepped through. Casey and friend pulled them shut behind us.
People that had been milling about or working on tasks stopped whatever they’d been doing to stop and stare at us. One by one, their jaws dropped as they realized who we were. Who I was. I swallowed. My heart sped up.
“I’ll fetch Brother Noach,” Casey said and I made a mental effort to slow my breathing and heart rate.
“Don’t worry,” Dersuss said as he placed a hand on my shoulder. “You’ve got all the advantage this time.” I could hear the pride in his voice and it made me feel glad.
People had begun dropping their tools and work to come toward us. A crowd gathered around, stopping before they reached us to leave a space of ten feet or so, as if they were afraid to any closer.
The first Rachael, the one who brought my food and applied the butterfly dust makeup pushed through the crowd. She came right up to me and kneeled in front of me with her head bowed.
“Stand up, Rachael.” She raised her head and looked into my face, mouth open with what I could only guess was awe. “What is your real name, anyway?” I asked her. It made me uncomfortable to have someone prostrate themselves at my feet that way.
Dersuss leaned over to whisper in my ear. “Don’t minimize your glory, Treya. These people will worship you now.”
I looked at him in horror.
“I don’t want that,” I told him.
“Maybe not. But you have it. So use it wisely,” he replied.
I took in a deep breath and let it out loudly.
Rachael mistook my frustration with Dersuss to be displeasure with her delay in response.
“Apologies, Mistress,” she said as she dropped back to her knees and bowed her head.
“Get up, I said.” The words came out tinged with anger. I didn’t mean to direct it towards her, but I couldn’t help it. None of this was going as I had envisioned. It could all get out of hand, if I wasn’t careful. I thought about it.
Perhaps Dersuss was right. If these people thought my every word or breath was so important and filled with meaning, then I’d better be damn careful what meaning I imparted to them. And if I had that much power, I had a few plans.
“You didn’t answer me earlier. What is your real name,” I asked her again.
She shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know. I’ve always been Rachael.”
“And your mother is Rachael?”
“And your sisters are Rachael?”
She nodded. I drew in another deep breath and looked at the sky and counted to five before letting the breath out slowly. When I looked back at her, she had her head bowed again, but at least still stood there.
By now an even larger crowd had gathered and they’d pushed closer. Brother Noach still had not appeared. Dersuss stood beside me with his arms crossed over his chest. Casey and friend stood guard.
“Alright then. What kinds of things do you like? I mean with a passion. What do you love to see or do?” I asked.
Confusion muddied her awe then. She shrugged her shoulders again and I thought she was getting ready to cry.
“You loved the butterfly dust, didn’t you? That was pretty amazing stuff, really.”
At that she broke into a huge smile.
“Yes, I do love that. And I loved applying it to your skin. You looked so beautiful with it on… I mean, you always looked beautiful, but …–”
I shook my head quickly. “I know what you meant. Here’s the deal. In honor of my vanquishing the beast that terrorized your crossing, I want each of you Rachaels to pick a new name.”
There was a sharp intake of breath from the crowd. You could have heard a pin drop in the silence.
“What kind of name?” Rachael’s timid voice broke in.
I looked at her and smiled. “Well, since you like the butterfly dust so much, what about Silver Wing, or Dusty, or something like that. You can call yourself anything you like though. I don’t care. Just pick a real name for yourself.”
Rachael that was almost not Rachael anymore laughed. “I like Dusty Silver Wing.”
“Very good.” I took her hand and raised it high in mine. “Everyone,” I said to the crowd. Do not call this girl Rachael ever again. Call her Dusty Silver Wing.” I looked at her. “Or just Dusty. But know her whole name is Dusty Silver Wing. Now each of you pick a new name for yourselves, if you don’t already have a unique one. But NO MORE RACHAELS!”
Before the crowd started murmuring and laughing, I could hear a chuckle rumble up from Dersuss.