Chronicles of Juriak-7: The First Week

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Everything​ ​was​ ​lost.​ ​The​ ​tower,​ ​the​ ​city,​ ​the​ ​vanguard,​ ​the​ ​Traveler, even​ ​the​ ​light.​ ​We​ ​had​ ​lost.​ ​How​ ​had​ ​this​ ​happened?​ ​How​ ​was​ ​it​ ​that​ ​all that​ ​we​ ​had​ ​achieved​ ​together​ ​as​ ​guardians​ ​was​ ​able​ ​to​ ​be​ ​swept​ ​aside​ ​as if​ ​those​ ​achievements​ ​meant​ ​nothing?​ ​To​ ​the​ ​Red​ ​Legion​ ​we​ ​were​ ​nothing but​ ​insects.​ ​A​ ​tiny​ ​bug​ ​to​ ​be​ ​stepped​ ​on​ ​by​ ​the​ ​boots​ ​of​ ​this​ ​new​ ​conquerer, Ghaul,​ ​who​ ​desired​ ​to​ ​prove​ ​himself​ ​greater​ ​than​ ​us.​ ​I​ ​knew​ ​what​ ​this meant​ ​to​ ​him,​ ​he​ ​must​ ​have​ ​heard​ ​of​ ​our​ ​exploits.​ ​He​ ​knew​ ​that​ ​we​ ​had proven​ ​our​ ​existence​ ​against​ ​the​ ​Vex,​ ​Hive,​ ​Fallen​ ​and​ ​Taken​ ​many​ ​times over.​ ​So​ ​to​ ​him,​ ​defeating​ ​us,​ ​meant​ ​that​ ​he​ ​had​ ​proven​ ​himself​ ​that​ ​much greater.

It​ ​has​ ​been​ ​4​ ​days​ ​since​ ​the​ ​fall​ ​of​ ​the​ ​last​ ​city.​ ​I​ ​managed​ ​to​ ​escape the​ ​carnage.​ ​Perhaps​ ​it​ ​was​ ​the​ ​will​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Traveler?​ ​I’ve​ ​heard​ ​the murmurs​ ​of​ ​many​ ​of​ ​those​ ​around​ ​me,​ ​that​ ​the​ ​Traveler​ ​was​ ​dead​ ​and​ ​it was​ ​up​ ​to​ ​us​ ​to​ ​save​ ​ourselves.​ ​I​ ​didn’t​ ​want​ ​to​ ​believe​ ​that.​ ​I​ ​believed​ ​that it​ ​was​ ​still​ ​alive,​ ​if​ ​only​ ​barely.​ ​I​ ​had​ ​sworn​ ​I​ ​felt​ ​it​ ​guiding​ ​us,​ ​helping​ ​us push​ ​back​ ​the​ ​encroaching​ ​darkness​ ​that​ ​sought​ ​to​ ​extinguish​ ​humanity.

Thankfully​ ​against​ ​all​ ​odds​ ​my​ ​exo​ ​frame​ ​wasn’t​ ​damaged​ ​beyond repair​ ​from​ ​the​ ​fall​ ​off​ ​of​ ​Ghaul’s​ ​command​ ​vessel.​ ​However​ ​I​ ​still​ ​required attention.​ ​I​ ​could​ ​walk,​ ​but​ ​not​ ​very​ ​quickly.​ ​I​ ​could​ ​fight,​ ​but​ ​barely.​ ​My ghost​ ​had​ ​done​ ​what​ ​he​ ​could​ ​but​ ​without​ ​the​ ​light​ ​it​ ​was​ ​just​ ​enough​ ​to keep​ ​me​ ​moving.​ ​Where​ ​I​ ​was​ ​going​ ​I​ ​had​ ​no​ ​idea.​ ​The​ ​city​ ​was​ ​lost​ ​so where​ ​else​ ​was​ ​there​ ​to​ ​go?​ ​I​ ​had​ ​heard​ ​stories​ ​about​ ​the​ ​settlements outside​ ​the​ ​city​ ​but​ ​I​ ​had​ ​no​ ​clue​ ​as​ ​to​ ​where​ ​they​ ​were​ ​or​ ​where​ ​to​ ​even start​ ​looking.​ ​So​ ​I​ ​just​ ​kept​ ​moving​ ​forward.

My​ ​ghost​ ​and​ ​I​ ​had​ ​remained​ ​mostly​ ​silent​ ​as​ ​we​ ​traveled​ ​across​ ​the landscape.​ ​“How​ ​many​ ​people​ ​do​ ​you​ ​think​ ​made​ ​it​ ​out​ ​alive,”​ ​my​ ​ghost inquired.

“I​ ​don’t​ ​really​ ​care​ ​to​ ​speculate,”​ ​I​ ​answered​ ​tersely.​ ​This​ ​wasn’t because​ ​I​ ​didn’t​ ​worry​ ​about​ ​everyone’s​ ​safety​ ​but​ ​because​ ​it​ ​was​ ​simply overbearing​ ​to​ ​think​ ​about.

My​ ​ghost​ ​looked​ ​away​ ​and​ ​decided​ ​to​ ​change​ ​the​ ​subject.​ ​“Well,​ ​at the​ ​very​ ​least​ ​we​ ​should​ ​talk​ ​about​ ​our​ ​options.”

“We​ ​don’t​ ​have​ ​any​ ​options,”​ ​I​ ​replied​ ​bluntly.​ ​“The​ ​only​ ​thing​ ​I​ ​can think​ ​of​ ​is​ ​to​ ​try​ ​to​ ​find​ ​someone,​ ​anyone​ ​and​ ​then​ ​determine​ ​the​ ​best course​ ​of​ ​action​ ​from​ ​there.”

“But​ ​isn’t​ ​there​ ​anyone​ ​you​ ​can​ ​think​ ​of​ ​that​ ​we​ ​can​ ​contact,”​ ​my ghost​ ​asked​ ​with​ ​a​ ​hint​ ​of​ ​desperation​ ​in​ ​his​ ​automated​ ​voice.​ ​“Maybe​ ​the Awoken?”

“The​ ​Awoken​ ​probably​ ​have​ ​their​ ​own​ ​problems​ ​to​ ​deal​ ​with,”​ ​I replied​ ​with​ ​exasperation.​ ​“I​ ​would​ ​be​ ​surprised​ ​if​ ​they​ ​haven’t​ ​already​ ​fled the​ ​system.​ ​Most​ ​of​ ​their​ ​fleet​ ​was​ ​decimated​ ​when​ ​they​ ​battled​ ​Oryx.​ ​So they​ ​wouldn’t​ ​have​ ​any​ ​strength​ ​to​ ​oppose​ ​Ghaul’s​ ​armada.”

“But​ ​there​ ​has​ ​to​ ​be​ ​someone​ ​out…”

My​ ​ghost​ ​fell​ ​silent​ ​as​ ​he​ ​was​ ​interrupted​ ​with​ ​a​ ​not​ ​too​ ​distant scream,​ ​the​ ​scream​ ​of​ ​a​ ​human​ ​child.

“Did​ ​you​ ​hear​ ​that,”​ ​my​ ​ghost​ ​asked.

I​ ​didn’t​ ​answer.​ ​I​ ​had​ ​heard​ ​it​ ​and​ ​was​ ​already​ ​limping​ ​as​ ​fast​ ​as​ ​I could​ ​towards​ ​the​ ​screaming.​ ​There​ ​were​ ​others​ ​out​ ​here​ ​besides​ ​us.​ ​I​ ​felt a​ ​surge​ ​of​ ​what​ ​I​ ​had​ ​come​ ​to​ ​recognize​ ​as​ ​hope​ ​as​ ​I​ ​climbed​ ​up​ ​one​ ​final hill​ ​and​ ​laid​ ​eyes​ ​upon​ ​the​ ​source​ ​of​ ​the​ ​screaming.

There​ ​was​ ​a​ ​small​ ​clearing​ ​up​ ​ahead.​ ​The​ ​scene​ ​was​ ​dotted​ ​with small​ ​bits​ ​of​ ​foliage​ ​and​ ​thin​ ​trees.​ ​In​ ​the​ ​center​ ​of​ ​the​ ​clearing​ ​was​ ​the human​ ​child​ ​that​ ​I​ ​had​ ​heard​ ​screaming​ ​before.​ ​He​ ​was​ ​being​ ​circled​ ​by two​ ​dregs​ ​who​ ​were​ ​prodding​ ​him​ ​playfully​ ​with​ ​their​ ​blades.​ ​I​ ​then​ ​heard shotgun​ ​shots​ ​and​ ​the​ ​grunts​ ​of​ ​a​ ​grown​ ​man​ ​off​ ​in​ ​the​ ​distance.​ ​I​ ​quickly made​ ​the​ ​connection​ ​that​ ​this​ ​was​ ​most​ ​likely​ ​a​ ​family​ ​that​ ​had​ ​gotten separated​ ​from​ ​one​ ​another.

I​ ​didn’t​ ​think​ ​twice​ ​about​ ​what​ ​needed​ ​to​ ​be​ ​done.​ ​I​ ​pulled​ ​out​ ​my sidearm​ ​and​ ​took​ ​two​ ​quick​ ​head-shots​ ​at​ ​the​ ​closest​ ​dreg​ ​who​ ​after​ ​letting out​ ​a​ ​cry​ ​of​ ​surprise​ ​fell​ ​to​ ​the​ ​ground.​ ​The​ ​other​ ​dreg,​ ​who​ ​had​ ​no​ ​doubt assumed​ ​this​ ​child​ ​was​ ​easy​ ​pickings​ ​whipped​ ​its​ ​head​ ​around​ ​to​ ​look​ ​at the​ ​new​ ​threat.​ ​I​ ​saw​ ​an​ ​expression​ ​of​ ​what​ ​I​ ​assumed​ ​was​ ​horror​ ​on​ ​its face​ ​as​ ​I​ ​landed​ ​three​ ​more​ ​shots,​ ​two​ ​in​ ​its​ ​torso​ ​and​ ​one​ ​in​ ​its​ ​skull.​ ​The child​ ​didn’t​ ​immediately​ ​get​ ​up​ ​but​ ​instead​ ​remained​ ​scrunched​ ​on​ ​the ground​ ​trembling.​ ​As​ ​I​ ​holstered​ ​my​ ​sidearm​ ​and​ ​rushed​ ​to​ ​the​ ​child’s​ ​side​ ​I heard​ ​one​ ​final​ ​shot​ ​of​ ​a​ ​shotgun​ ​and​ ​the​ ​cry​ ​of​ ​a​ ​fallen.​ ​The​ ​man​ ​had survived,​ ​good.

I​ ​kneeled​ ​next​ ​to​ ​the​ ​child​ ​who​ ​I​ ​now​ ​saw​ ​was​ ​a​ ​boy​ ​and​ ​gently​ ​laid​ ​a hand​ ​on​ ​his​ ​shoulder.​ ​“It’s​ ​over.​ ​They’re​ ​gone,”​ ​I​ ​said​ ​to​ ​him.​ ​The​ ​boy shuddered​ ​a​ ​little​ ​at​ ​my​ ​touch,​ ​but​ ​after​ ​looking​ ​up​ ​and​ ​seeing​ ​my​ ​helmeted face​ ​he​ ​smiled.​ ​This​ ​was​ ​heartening.​ ​I​ ​hadn’t​ ​met​ ​many​ ​citizens​ ​of​ ​the​ ​city. All​ ​of​ ​my​ ​time​ ​had​ ​been​ ​spent​ ​in​ ​the​ ​tower.​ ​So​ ​seeing​ ​the​ ​smile​ ​of​ ​this​ ​boy was​ ​a​ ​joyous​ ​feeling.​ ​At​ ​least,​ ​it​ ​was​ ​the​ ​feeling​ ​that​ ​I​ ​had​ ​come​ ​to associate​ ​with​ ​joy.

“Are​ ​you​ ​a​ ​guardian,”​ ​the​ ​boy​ ​asked​ ​with​ ​wonderment​ ​in​ ​his​ ​voice.

“I​ ​am,”​ ​I​ ​replied.​ ​“Are​ ​you​ ​injured​ ​at​ ​all?​ ​Are​ ​you​ ​alright?”

At​ ​this​ ​my​ ​ghost​ ​revealed​ ​himself​ ​and​ ​asked​ ​the​ ​next​ ​question​ ​that was​ ​on​ ​my​ ​mind.​ ​“Where​ ​are​ ​your​ ​parents?”

The​ ​boy​ ​who​ ​couldn’t​ ​be​ ​any​ ​older​ ​than​ ​eight​ ​or​ ​nine​ ​looked​ ​with amazement​ ​in​ ​his​ ​eyes​ ​at​ ​my​ ​ghost.​ ​He​ ​didn’t​ ​answer​ ​any​ ​of​ ​our​ ​questions and​ ​instead​ ​pointed​ ​and​ ​asked,​ ​“Is​ ​that​ ​your​ ​ghost?​ ​He​ ​can​ ​talk?”

My​ ​ghost​ ​emitted​ ​a​ ​whistle​ ​that​ ​I​ ​had​ ​never​ ​heard​ ​him​ ​make​ ​before and​ ​jittered​ ​a​ ​little​ ​bit​ ​before​ ​continuing​ ​to​ ​speak.​ ​“I​ ​am​ ​and​ ​I​ ​can.​ ​Where are​ ​your​ ​parents?”

The​ ​boy​ ​didn’t​ ​answer.​ ​He​ ​stared​ ​at​ ​us​ ​and​ ​spoke​ ​with​ ​admiration and​ ​excitement.​ ​“My​ ​mom​ ​used​ ​to​ ​tell​ ​me​ ​stories​ ​about​ ​the​ ​guardians. About​ ​how​ ​they​ ​kept​ ​us​ ​safe​ ​and​ ​protected​ ​us​ ​from​ ​the​ ​bad​ ​aliens​ ​outside the​ ​city.​ ​Are​ ​you​ ​a​ ​titan,​ ​ooh,​ ​are​ ​you​ ​a​ ​warlock?​ ​I​ ​want​ ​to​ ​be​ ​a​ ​warlock! Mom​ ​said​ ​that​ ​maybe​ ​someday​ ​I​ ​can​ ​be.​ ​What​ ​can​ ​your​ ​ghost​ ​do?​ ​Does​ ​he live​ ​inside​ ​your​ ​head?”

I​ ​felt​ ​overwhelmed​ ​with​ ​questions​ ​but​ ​also,​ ​I​ ​felt​ ​happy?​ ​Was​ ​this​ ​how normal​ ​human​ ​children​ ​acted?​ ​If​ ​I​ ​could​ ​smile​ ​I​ ​would.​ ​I​ ​removed​ ​my helmet​ ​so​ ​as​ ​to​ ​let​ ​the​ ​child​ ​get​ ​a​ ​look​ ​at​ ​my​ ​face.​ ​Upon​ ​seeing​ ​that​ ​I​ ​was​ ​in fact​ ​an​ ​exo​ ​his​ ​expression​ ​faltered​ ​a​ ​little​ ​before​ ​smiling​ ​even​ ​wider.

“You’re​ ​an​ ​exo,”​ ​the​ ​boy​ ​exclaimed.​ ​“A​ ​real​ ​exo?​ ​Like​ ​you’re​ ​a​ ​person but​ ​a​ ​robot?”

I​ ​was​ ​about​ ​to​ ​reply​ ​when​ ​I​ ​heard​ ​someone​ ​shout​ ​from​ ​ahead.​ ​“Son, get​ ​away​ ​from​ ​him.​ ​He​ ​doesn’t​ ​deserve​ ​your​ ​adoration!”

I​ ​looked​ ​up​ ​and​ ​saw​ ​the​ ​man​ ​who​ ​I​ ​had​ ​undoubtedly​ ​heard​ ​fighting fallen​ ​beyond​ ​the​ ​hill.​ ​He​ ​was​ ​awoken,​ ​broad​ ​shouldered​ ​and​ ​had​ ​a​ ​grim expression​ ​on​ ​his​ ​face.​ ​He​ ​was​ ​wearing​ ​simple,​ ​dirty​ ​and​ ​tattered​ ​clothing and​ ​wielded​ ​a​ ​shotgun​ ​that​ ​rested​ ​on​ ​his​ ​shoulder.

“Dad,​ ​look!”​ ​The​ ​boy​ ​pointed​ ​at​ ​me​ ​as​ ​I​ ​got​ ​up​ ​from​ ​my​ ​kneeling position​ ​beside​ ​him.​ ​“A​ ​real​ ​guardian​ ​dad!​ ​He​ ​can​ ​help​ ​us!”

“Are​ ​you​ ​the​ ​boys​ ​father,”​ ​I​ ​asked​ ​as​ ​the​ ​man​ ​approached.

“I​ ​am,”​ ​he​ ​replied.​ ​“Now​ ​get​ ​back​ ​here​ ​son!”

The​ ​boy​ ​looked​ ​disappointed​ ​and​ ​didn’t​ ​move​ ​for​ ​a​ ​bit​ ​but​ ​then​ ​got​ ​up obediently​ ​and​ ​walked​ ​towards​ ​his​ ​father.

I​ ​couldn’t​ ​help​ ​but​ ​stare​ ​at​ ​this​ ​man.​ ​What​ ​did​ ​he​ ​mean​ ​I​ ​didn’t deserve​ ​the​ ​boy’s​ ​adoration?​ ​I​ ​wasn’t​ ​one​ ​to​ ​bask​ ​in​ ​people’s​ ​praises​ ​but​ ​I didn’t​ ​see​ ​any​ ​harm​ ​in​ ​letting​ ​the​ ​boy​ ​admire​ ​me.​ ​I​ ​found​ ​him​ ​curious​ ​and innocent.

The​ ​man​ ​grabbed​ ​his​ ​son​ ​by​ ​the​ ​wrist​ ​and​ ​started​ ​to​ ​walk​ ​away without​ ​another​ ​word​ ​to​ ​either​ ​of​ ​us.​ ​I​ ​reached​ ​out​ ​to​ ​say​ ​something​ ​but​ ​my ghost​ ​was​ ​the​ ​first​ ​to​ ​speak​ ​up.​ ​“Excuse​ ​me,​ ​where​ ​are​ ​you​ ​going?​ ​We could​ ​help​ ​you.”

The​ ​man​ ​ignored​ ​my​ ​ghost​ ​and​ ​kept​ ​walking.

“If​ ​you​ ​won’t​ ​listen​ ​to​ ​him,​ ​maybe​ ​you’ll​ ​acknowledge​ ​me,”​ ​I​ ​called out.​ ​“We​ ​could​ ​come​ ​with​ ​you​ ​and​ ​keep​ ​you​ ​safe.​ ​It​ ​looks​ ​like​ ​you​ ​had​ ​a tough​ ​time​ ​with​ ​those​ ​fallen.​ ​I’m​ ​an​ ​exo,​ ​so​ ​I​ ​don’t​ ​have​ ​to​ ​sleep​ ​at​ ​night,​ ​I could​ ​keep​ ​watch​ ​for​ ​you​ ​two​ ​and​ ​see​ ​that​ ​you​ ​make​ ​it​ ​safely​ ​to​ ​wherever you’re​ ​going.”

“Well​ ​thanks​ ​to​ ​you​ ​and​ ​everyone​ ​else​ ​up​ ​in​ ​the​ ​tower​ ​we​ ​don’t​ ​have anywhere​ ​to​ ​go!”​ ​The​ ​man​ ​shouted​ ​as​ ​he​ ​finally​ ​stopped​ ​and​ ​whipped around​ ​to​ ​face​ ​us.​ ​He​ ​specifically​ ​avoided​ ​eye​ ​contact​ ​with​ ​my​ ​ghost,​ ​which I​ ​found​ ​rude​ ​but​ ​thought​ ​was​ ​pointless​ ​to​ ​argue.

The​ ​man​ ​walked​ ​towards​ ​me​ ​making​ ​angry​ ​gestures​ ​as​ ​he​ ​continued to​ ​talk.​ ​“You​ ​guardians​ ​are​ ​the​ ​reason​ ​that​ ​we’re​ ​in​ ​this​ ​mess!​ ​All​ ​of​ ​this. You​ ​could​ ​have​ ​stopped​ ​this​ ​but​ ​you​ ​didn’t​ ​and​ ​now​ ​everything​ ​is​ ​gone. The​ ​city,​ ​our​ ​home,​ ​my​ ​wife​ ​and​ ​brother,​ ​gone!​ ​We​ ​barely​ ​made​ ​it​ ​out​ ​of there​ ​alive​ ​without​ ​anyone’s​ ​help​ ​but​ ​our​ ​own.​ ​We​ ​made​ ​it​ ​out​ ​without​ ​the help​ ​of​ ​the​ ​guardians​ ​and​ ​we​ ​can​ ​make​ ​it​ ​out​ ​here​ ​on​ ​our​ ​own​ ​as​ ​well.”​ ​At this​ ​he​ ​turned​ ​again​ ​with​ ​his​ ​son’s​ ​wrist​ ​in​ ​hand,​ ​who​ ​was​ ​still​ ​looking​ ​back at​ ​us​ ​longingly.

“But​ ​dad,​ ​they​ ​can​ ​help​ ​us.​ ​Mom​ ​would​ ​ask​ ​them​ ​for​ ​help,”​ ​the​ ​boy pleaded.

“Kira​ ​is​ ​gone,”​ ​the​ ​father​ ​replied​ ​with​ ​a​ ​softer​ ​tone,​ ​“it’s​ ​up​ ​to​ ​us​ ​to​ ​find shelter.”​ ​At​ ​this​ ​he​ ​looked​ ​back​ ​over​ ​his​ ​shoulder​ ​and​ ​shouted,​ ​“Don’t​ ​follow us!​ ​We’re​ ​fine​ ​without​ ​you​ ​or​ ​the​ ​Traveler’s​ ​so​ ​called​ ​blessing!”

At​ ​that​ ​they​ ​walked​ ​over​ ​a​ ​hilltop​ ​and​ ​disappeared​ ​from​ ​view.​ ​My ghost​ ​continued​ ​to​ ​watch​ ​even​ ​after​ ​they​ ​were​ ​gone.​ ​He​ ​broke​ ​the​ ​silence, “Well​ ​that​ ​was​ ​rude.”

“They​ ​do​ ​have​ ​a​ ​point​ ​though,”​ ​I​ ​spoke​ ​with​ ​solemnity.​ ​“It​ ​is​ ​my​ ​fault that​ ​everything​ ​is​ ​gone.​ ​He​ ​lost​ ​his​ ​family.​ ​I​ ​won’t​ ​ever​ ​know​ ​what​ ​that​ ​feels like.”​ ​If​ ​I​ ​was​ ​physically​ ​able​ ​to​ ​cry,​ ​I​ ​would​ ​assume​ ​this​ ​would​ ​be​ ​a​ ​perfect time​ ​to​ ​do​ ​so.

“What​ ​about​ ​your​ ​fireteam,”​ ​my​ ​ghost​ ​asked​ ​me.​ ​“I​ ​know​ ​I​ ​feel​ ​close to​ ​them.​ ​If​ ​I​ ​were​ ​you,​ ​I​ ​would​ ​consider​ ​them​ ​my​ ​family​ ​and​ ​we​ ​don’t​ ​know if​ ​they​ ​made​ ​it​ ​out​ ​alive​ ​either.”

At​ ​this​ ​I​ ​felt​ ​a​ ​shock​ ​that​ ​I​ ​had​ ​associated​ ​with​ ​emotional​ ​hurt.​ ​“Hmm,” was​ ​the​ ​only​ ​thing​ ​I​ ​could​ ​utter​ ​to​ ​what​ ​my​ ​ghost​ ​had​ ​said.​ ​They​ ​were certainly​ ​the​ ​closest​ ​thing​ ​I​ ​would​ ​consider​ ​to​ ​family.​ ​I​ ​put​ ​my​ ​helmet​ ​back atop​ ​my​ ​head​ ​and​ ​started​ ​walking​ ​toward​ ​where​ ​I​ ​saw​ ​the​ ​father​ ​and​ ​son disappear.

“Wait,​ ​what​ ​are​ ​you​ ​doing,”​ ​my​ ​ghost​ ​asked​ ​as​ ​he​ ​floated​ ​back​ ​to​ ​my shoulder.​ ​“Are​ ​you​ ​going​ ​to​ ​follow​ ​them?​ ​Even​ ​after​ ​they​ ​made​ ​it​ ​pretty clear​ ​they​ ​don’t​ ​want​ ​you​ ​to?”

“He​ ​is​ ​in​ ​mourning.​ ​He​ ​isn’t​ ​thinking​ ​clearly,”​ ​I​ ​told​ ​my​ ​ghost.​ ​“Despite his​ ​abilities​ ​to​ ​defend​ ​himself​ ​in​ ​tight​ ​situations,​ ​he​ ​won’t​ ​survive​ ​out​ ​here alone.​ ​I’ll​ ​follow​ ​at​ ​a​ ​distance​ ​and​ ​keep​ ​out​ ​of​ ​view.​ ​He’ll​ ​never​ ​know​ ​that I’m​ ​following​ ​them.”

“Listen,​ ​I​ ​want​ ​to​ ​help​ ​them​ ​as​ ​much​ ​as​ ​you​ ​do,​ ​but​ ​think​ ​about​ ​this​ ​a little.​ ​You​ ​don’t​ ​have​ ​your​ ​light.​ ​If​ ​you​ ​die​ ​defending​ ​them​ ​I​ ​can’t​ ​revive​ ​you. And​ ​then​ ​we’ll​ ​never​ ​be​ ​able​ ​to​ ​protect​ ​anyone​ ​else.”

I​ ​didn’t​ ​reply.​ ​I​ ​knew​ ​about​ ​the​ ​risks,​ ​but​ ​this​ ​was​ ​about​ ​more​ ​than​ ​just protecting​ ​this​ ​family.​ ​I​ ​felt​ ​guilty​ ​and​ ​that​ ​I​ ​needed​ ​to​ ​atone​ ​for​ ​my mistakes.​ ​I​ ​wasn’t​ ​there​ ​when​ ​the​ ​city​ ​was​ ​attacked.​ ​I​ ​could​ ​have​ ​helped.​ ​I didn’t​ ​though.​ ​No​ ​matter​ ​what​ ​my​ ​ghost​ ​thought​ ​I​ ​still​ ​felt​ ​it​ ​was​ ​my​ ​fault.​ ​I could​ ​sense​ ​my​ ​ghost​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​protest​ ​further.​ ​Instead​ ​he​ ​kept​ ​quiet, disappearing​ ​back​ ​inside​ ​my​ ​head.

I​ ​followed​ ​the​ ​family​ ​at​ ​a​ ​distance​ ​as​ ​I​ ​had​ ​said​ ​I​ ​would.​ ​My​ ​ghost kept​ ​me​ ​updated​ ​on​ ​when​ ​they​ ​changed​ ​direction​ ​or​ ​stopped​ ​so​ ​I​ ​could avoid​ ​being​ ​detected.​ ​Nothing​ ​happened​ ​of​ ​importance.​ ​I​ ​saw​ ​Cabal​ ​ships flying​ ​overhead​ ​on​ ​occasion​ ​to​ ​and​ ​from​ ​the​ ​city​ ​but​ ​they​ ​never​ ​took​ ​notice of​ ​us.​ ​Or​ ​maybe​ ​they​ ​did​ ​and​ ​didn’t​ ​consider​ ​us​ ​a​ ​threat.​ ​On​ ​the​ ​second night​ ​following​ ​them​ ​a​ ​thunderstorm​ ​rolled​ ​through​ ​so​ ​I​ ​had​ ​to​ ​seek​ ​shelter in​ ​a​ ​forested​ ​area​ ​after​ ​my​ ​ghost​ ​told​ ​me​ ​that​ ​they​ ​had​ ​found​ ​shelter​ ​as well.

On​ ​the​ ​third​ ​night​ ​I​ ​sat​ ​alone​ ​thinking​ ​to​ ​myself​ ​while​ ​staying​ ​aware​ ​of my​ ​surroundings.​ ​The​ ​family​ ​had​ ​stopped​ ​for​ ​the​ ​night​ ​and​ ​were​ ​sound asleep.​ ​Occasionally​ ​I​ ​heard​ ​nocturnal​ ​animals​ ​going​ ​about​ ​their​ ​nightly routines.​ ​Some​ ​of​ ​them​ ​scurried​ ​around​ ​as​ ​families.​ ​I​ ​couldn’t​ ​help​ ​but​ ​slip into​ ​deep​ ​thought.​ ​What​ ​was​ ​family?​ ​Was​ ​family​ ​only​ ​biological?​ ​If​ ​that were​ ​the​ ​case​ ​then​ ​I​ ​would​ ​most​ ​likely​ ​never​ ​come​ ​to​ ​understand​ ​the feelings​ ​of​ ​biological​ ​beings.​ ​I​ ​was​ ​an​ ​exo​ ​which​ ​meant​ ​that​ ​I​ ​didn’t experience​ ​emotions​ ​like​ ​others​ ​did.​ ​It​ ​was​ ​even​ ​possible​ ​that​ ​I​ ​didn’t experience​ ​emotion​ ​at​ ​all.​ ​I​ ​had​ ​no​ ​memory​ ​of​ ​my​ ​life​ ​before,​ ​if​ ​I​ ​even​ ​had one.​ ​All​ ​I​ ​had​ ​of​ ​my​ ​past​ ​was​ ​my​ ​name​ ​etched​ ​into​ ​my​ ​chestplate,​ ​Juriak-7.

Just​ ​then​ ​I​ ​heard​ ​a​ ​rustling​ ​sound​ ​that​ ​brought​ ​me​ ​out​ ​of​ ​my​ ​deep thought.​ ​I​ ​looked​ ​around​ ​and​ ​noticed​ ​that​ ​the​ ​moon​ ​had​ ​passed​ ​midnight. How​ ​long​ ​had​ ​I​ ​been​ ​thinking?​ ​I​ ​shook​ ​my​ ​head​ ​and​ ​quietly​ ​got​ ​up​ ​to​ ​look around.​ ​Nothing​ ​appeared​ ​to​ ​be​ ​amiss​ ​but​ ​something​ ​felt​ ​off.​ ​My​ ​sensors were​ ​giving​ ​confusing​ ​signals.

“Ghost,​ ​I​ ​whispered.”

“Yes​ ​Juriak?”

“What’s​ ​the​ ​family’s​ ​status?​ ​Are​ ​they​ ​still​ ​safe?

My​ ​ghost​ ​was​ ​silent​ ​for​ ​a​ ​moment​ ​before​ ​replying.​ ​“They​ ​haven’t moved​ ​from​ ​their​ ​location.​ ​Do​ ​you​ ​want​ ​me​ ​to​ ​scan​ ​the​ ​area​ ​for​ ​threats?”

“Yes.​ ​Something​ ​doesn’t​ ​feel​ ​quite…”

Just​ ​then​ ​I​ ​was​ ​knocked​ ​off​ ​my​ ​feet​ ​by​ ​something​ ​I​ ​couldn’t​ ​see.​ ​I didn’t​ ​get​ ​it,​ ​was​ ​my​ ​viewing​ ​sensors​ ​damaged?​ ​I​ ​rolled​ ​over​ ​just​ ​in​ ​time​ ​to hear​ ​a​ ​blade​ ​dig​ ​into​ ​the​ ​ground​ ​where​ ​I​ ​had​ ​been​ ​just​ ​moments​ ​before.​ ​I tried​ ​to​ ​stand​ ​but​ ​before​ ​I​ ​could​ ​a​ ​dreg​ ​jumped​ ​on​ ​top​ ​of​ ​me​ ​and​ ​pinned​ ​me to​ ​the​ ​ground.​ ​I​ ​writhed​ ​under​ ​the​ ​weight​ ​of​ ​the​ ​dreg​ ​but​ ​they​ ​had​ ​caught me​ ​by​ ​surprise.​ ​Had​ ​the​ ​light​ ​made​ ​me​ ​weak?​ ​Was​ ​I​ ​helpless​ ​to​ ​defend myself,​ ​much​ ​less​ ​others​ ​when​ ​I​ ​didn’t​ ​have​ ​the​ ​aid​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Traveler’s​ ​gift? The​ ​now​ ​fully​ ​uncloaked​ ​marauder​ ​ripped​ ​off​ ​my​ ​helmet​ ​off​ ​as​ ​the​ ​dreg held​ ​me​ ​down.​ ​I​ ​knew​ ​the​ ​killing​ ​blow​ ​would​ ​come​ ​next.​ ​Summoning​ ​all​ ​the strength​ ​I​ ​could​ ​I​ ​punched​ ​the​ ​dreg​ ​in​ ​the​ ​side.​ ​It​ ​gave​ ​a​ ​loud​ ​whelp​ ​and​ ​let go​ ​just​ ​enough​ ​for​ ​me​ ​to​ ​throw​ ​the​ ​dreg​ ​over​ ​my​ ​head.

I​ ​stumbled​ ​to​ ​my​ ​feet​ ​and​ ​looked​ ​where​ ​I​ ​had​ ​thrown​ ​the​ ​dreg.​ ​When I​ ​spotted​ ​it​ ​I​ ​was​ ​surprised​ ​to​ ​find​ ​it​ ​had​ ​been​ ​impaled​ ​by​ ​the​ ​marauder’s sword​ ​that​ ​would​ ​have​ ​very​ ​likely​ ​killed​ ​me​ ​if​ ​I​ ​had​ ​hesitated.​ ​The​ ​marauder tried​ ​to​ ​pull​ ​out​ ​its​ ​weapon​ ​from​ ​the​ ​lifeless​ ​corpse​ ​to​ ​no​ ​avail.

“Juriak,”​ ​my​ ​ghost​ ​interrupted​ ​my​ ​thought​ ​with​ ​urgency.​ ​“The​ ​father and​ ​son…”

“I​ ​know​ ​ghost,”​ ​I​ ​quickly​ ​interjected​ ​as​ ​I​ ​pulled​ ​out​ ​my​ ​sidearm​ ​and took​ ​aim​ ​at​ ​the​ ​marauder.​ ​“The​ ​fallen​ ​must​ ​have​ ​been​ ​tracking​ ​us​ ​both.​ ​I just​ ​hope​ ​that​ ​I​ ​can​ ​get​ ​to​ ​them​ ​in​ ​time.”​ ​I​ ​let​ ​off​ ​two​ ​shots​ ​at​ ​the​ ​marauder who​ ​abandoned​ ​its​ ​weapon​ ​in​ ​order​ ​to​ ​sidestep​ ​and​ ​avoid​ ​my​ ​projectiles.

I​ ​lowered​ ​my​ ​sidearm​ ​and​ ​gave​ ​a​ ​low​ ​growl​ ​as​ ​I​ ​charged​ ​the disarmed​ ​marauder​ ​who​ ​readied​ ​its​ ​stance​ ​to​ ​trade​ ​blows.​ ​As​ ​I​ ​charged​ ​I started​ ​to​ ​feel​ ​my​ ​damaged​ ​frame​ ​protest.​ ​I​ ​needed​ ​to​ ​end​ ​this​ ​quickly​ ​or else​ ​I​ ​would​ ​be​ ​terminated.​ ​I​ ​aimed​ ​a​ ​blow​ ​for​ ​the​ ​marauder’s​ ​skull.​ ​My​ ​fist whipped​ ​by​ ​its​ ​head​ ​as​ ​it​ ​dodged​ ​out​ ​of​ ​the​ ​way​ ​not​ ​realizing​ ​that​ ​my​ ​other fist​ ​was​ ​aimed​ ​at​ ​its​ ​side.​ ​My​ ​fist​ ​made​ ​contact​ ​and​ ​the​ ​marauder staggered​ ​back​ ​from​ ​the​ ​shock​ ​of​ ​the​ ​impact.​ ​It​ ​roared​ ​in​ ​anger​ ​at​ ​me​ ​right before​ ​my​ ​next​ ​attack​ ​found​ ​its​ ​mark.​ ​With​ ​a​ ​final​ ​thud,​ ​I​ ​smashed​ ​the​ ​head of​ ​my​ ​enemy​ ​who​ ​fell​ ​back​ ​lifeless.

I​ ​nearly​ ​fell​ ​to​ ​the​ ​ground​ ​as​ ​my​ ​frame​ ​trembled​ ​from​ ​the​ ​encounter.​ ​If I​ ​could​ ​barely​ ​fight​ ​back​ ​a​ ​couple​ ​of​ ​fallen,​ ​what​ ​could​ ​I​ ​do​ ​against​ ​the Cabal?​ ​I​ ​shook​ ​my​ ​head​ ​in​ ​resolve.​ ​No​ ​use​ ​in​ ​asking​ ​these​ ​questions​ ​now. “Ghost?”​ ​I​ ​was​ ​afraid​ ​to​ ​ask​ ​about​ ​the​ ​fate​ ​of​ ​the​ ​ones​ ​I​ ​was​ ​trying​ ​to protect.

My​ ​ghost​ ​replied​ ​quickly,​ ​“I’m​ ​still​ ​detecting​ ​their​ ​life​ ​signatures,​ ​but barely.”

“That​ ​means​ ​there’s​ ​hope​ ​left,”​ ​I​ ​said​ ​as​ ​I​ ​stood​ ​to​ ​full​ ​height​ ​and retrieved​ ​my​ ​helmet.​ ​I​ ​needed​ ​to​ ​do​ ​this.​ ​I​ ​owed​ ​them​ ​much​ ​more​ ​than​ ​I could​ ​give.​ ​Protecting​ ​them​ ​was​ ​the​ ​first​ ​step​ ​on​ ​a​ ​long​ ​road​ ​to​ ​redemption. I​ ​felt​ ​my​ ​frame​ ​resist​ ​as​ ​I​ ​ran​ ​through​ ​a​ ​forest​ ​towards​ ​the​ ​family’s​ ​camp, but​ ​it​ ​didn’t​ ​matter.​ ​The​ ​only​ ​thing​ ​on​ ​my​ ​mind​ ​was​ ​making​ ​sure​ ​the​ ​father and​ ​son​ ​were​ ​safe.​ ​Finally​ ​my​ ​ghost​ ​informed​ ​me​ ​that​ ​we​ ​were​ ​close​ ​and​ ​I slowed​ ​my​ ​pace.​ ​It​ ​was​ ​too​ ​quiet.​ ​The​ ​only​ ​thing​ ​that​ ​could​ ​be​ ​heard​ ​was​ ​a slight​ ​breeze​ ​through​ ​the​ ​leaves​ ​overhead.​ ​I​ ​was​ ​afraid​ ​I​ ​already​ ​knew​ ​the answer​ ​to​ ​the​ ​question​ ​that​ ​was​ ​growing​ ​on​ ​my​ ​mind.

I​ ​pulled​ ​back​ ​one​ ​final​ ​branch​ ​and​ ​there,​ ​in​ ​the​ ​clearing,​ ​was​ ​my answer.​ ​Two​ ​bodies,​ ​both​ ​limp,​ ​lay​ ​there​ ​on​ ​the​ ​ground.​ ​I​ ​was​ ​too​ ​late.​ ​I couldn’t​ ​save​ ​them.​ ​They​ ​were​ ​lost.

The​ ​next​ ​day

“None​ ​of​ ​this​ ​is​ ​your​ ​fault​ ​you​ ​know,”​ ​My​ ​ghost​ ​said​ ​breaking​ ​the​ ​day long​ ​silence​ ​that​ ​we​ ​had​ ​been​ ​keeping.​ ​I​ ​didn’t​ ​reply​ ​and​ ​kept​ ​walking forward.

My​ ​ghost​ ​materialized,​ ​flew​ ​ahead​ ​of​ ​me​ ​and​ ​stopped,​ ​blocking​ ​my path.​ ​“Juriak,​ ​we​ ​couldn’t​ ​have​ ​done​ ​anything​ ​for​ ​the​ ​city​ ​and​ ​you​ ​couldn’t have​ ​done​ ​anything​ ​more​ ​for​ ​that​ ​family​ ​out​ ​there.​ ​Sometimes,​ ​things​ ​just happen​ ​that​ ​we​ ​can’t​ ​control.​ ​All​ ​we​ ​can​ ​do​ ​is​ ​our​ ​best.”

I​ ​closed​ ​my​ ​eyes​ ​in​ ​thought.​ ​Deep​ ​down​ ​I​ ​knew​ ​that​ ​he​ ​was​ ​right.​ ​I guess​ ​with​ ​everything​ ​that​ ​I​ ​had​ ​done​ ​I​ ​had​ ​started​ ​to​ ​feel​ ​like​ ​I​ ​could​ ​stop anything​ ​that​ ​threatened​ ​humanity.​ ​Ghaul​ ​was​ ​a​ ​reminder​ ​that​ ​that​ ​simply wasn’t​ ​true.​ ​“I​ ​just​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​prove​ ​that​ ​I​ ​wasn’t​ ​helpless,”​ ​I​ ​replied​ ​finally. “If​ ​I​ ​could’ve​ ​saved​ ​that​ ​family​ ​I​ ​would​ ​have​ ​shown​ ​that​ ​I​ ​was​ ​still​ ​of​ ​some use.”

“As​ ​long​ ​as​ ​we’re​ ​both​ ​still​ ​functioning​ ​we​ ​are​ ​of​ ​use.​ ​Guardians​ ​are still​ ​the​ ​best​ ​hope​ ​that​ ​humanity​ ​has​ ​against​ ​the​ ​Cabal.​ ​We​ ​may​ ​not​ ​be able​ ​to​ ​do​ ​anything​ ​now​ ​but​ ​if​ ​we​ ​are​ ​patient,​ ​an​ ​opportunity​ ​might​ ​just​ ​well present​ ​itself.​ ​When​ ​that​ ​day​ ​comes,​ ​Juriak,​ ​I​ ​want​ ​to​ ​ensure​ ​that​ ​you’re there​ ​to​ ​shine​ ​in​ ​the​ ​darkness.”

My​ ​ghost​ ​was​ ​always​ ​there​ ​for​ ​me​ ​when​ ​I​ ​needed​ ​him​ ​the​ ​most.​ ​He had​ ​revived​ ​me​ ​countless​ ​times​ ​and​ ​kept​ ​me​ ​alive​ ​when​ ​he​ ​couldn’t.​ ​Yet​ ​I never​ ​expected​ ​him​ ​to​ ​lift​ ​my​ ​spirits​ ​like​ ​the​ ​way​ ​he​ ​just​ ​did.​ ​So​ ​many people​ ​took​ ​their​ ​ghosts​ ​for​ ​granted.​ ​Most​ ​saw​ ​them​ ​as​ ​tools​ ​much​ ​like​ ​the weapons​ ​that​ ​we​ ​carried.​ ​Here​ ​I​ ​was​ ​though​ ​being​ ​consoled​ ​by​ ​my​ ​ghost like​ ​a​ ​companion,​ ​like​ ​family.

I​ ​opened​ ​my​ ​eyes​ ​and​ ​looked​ ​directly​ ​at​ ​my​ ​ghost.​ ​“Ghost.”

“Yes?”

“I​ ​find​ ​it​ ​funny​ ​that​ ​I’ve​ ​never​ ​given​ ​you​ ​a​ ​name,​ ​don’t​ ​you?”

My​ ​ghost​ ​almost​ ​seemed​ ​surprised​ ​by​ ​this.​ ​He​ ​eventually​ ​replied, “Why​ ​would​ ​I​ ​need​ ​a​ ​name?”

“You’re​ ​my​ ​family​ ​are​ ​you​ ​not?​ ​I​ ​would​ ​think​ ​that​ ​would​ ​be​ ​reason enough.​ ​What​ ​do​ ​you​ ​think​ ​of​ ​the​ ​name​ ​Chester?”

“Why​ ​Chester,”​ ​my​ ​ghost​ ​seemed​ ​to​ ​be​ ​getting​ ​more​ ​and​ ​more confused.

“Why​ ​not​ ​Chester?”

After​ ​a​ ​moment​ ​of​ ​floating​ ​silently​ ​in​ ​the​ ​air,​ ​my​ ​ghost​ ​simply​ ​replied, “Very​ ​well,​ ​you​ ​can​ ​call​ ​me​ ​Chester​ ​from​ ​now​ ​on.”​ ​Though​ ​it​ ​sounded​ ​like he​ ​didn’t​ ​care,​ ​I​ ​could​ ​sense​ ​that​ ​Chester​ ​was​ ​pleased.​ ​We​ ​continued​ ​our journey​ ​after​ ​that.​ ​We​ ​didn’t​ ​know​ ​where​ ​we​ ​were​ ​going,​ ​but​ ​we​ ​both​ ​had​ ​a new​ ​sense​ ​of​ ​hope​ ​within​ ​us.​ ​Almost​ ​as​ ​if​ ​there​ ​was​ ​something​ ​out​ ​there guiding​ ​us.

After​ ​another​ ​half​ ​an​ ​hour​ ​of​ ​walking​ ​passed​ ​a​ ​memory​ ​resurfaced. “Chester,​ ​when​ ​that​ ​child​ ​asked​ ​if​ ​you​ ​were​ ​my​ ​ghost​ ​and​ ​you​ ​made​ ​that whistle​ ​noise,​ ​what​ ​exactly​ ​was​ ​that?”

Chester​ ​took​ ​a​ ​moment​ ​to​ ​answer,​ ​“I​ ​was​ ​flustered.”

I​ ​tried​ ​to​ ​smile​ ​in​ ​amusement.

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