Tales of Redemption: The Tree Dragon Chronicles
A hodge-podge of clothing hangs from the frame of a lanky figure. A tooth grin gazes out from beneath the brim of a wide bowler hat, a smile that looks a bit of balance.
The sun fades slowly into the west as a lone figure sits over the dying embers of a fire. Next to the rock on which he is perched rests a black leather backpack. A large laser rfile and a vibrosword lay over the backpack in the shape of a cross, as if warding away the ghosts of the past. The young man is leaning over a journal, writing almost frantically onto the lined pages with a nub of a pencil, trying to finish his words, in a desperate race against the mounting darkness.
I have to get it all down. It has to make sense. It has to be written so that I know, even if no one else does, that what I did matters. That why I did it matters. Maybe if I write it all down then I can see what I have to do, what I can do now that I’m where I am.
My name in Irwin Haster. I was born, I was raised, I loved, but I won’t die. Or perhaps I will. I will simply fade away into the nothingness of insanity. Is it death if slowly, piece by piece, my mind falls away into nothingness? Where do I die? Do I die when I can no longer remember who I am? My name? My purpose? What is that final piece between life and mere survival, mere existence? But this is too much already. I can’t waste this time, these hours, waxing philisophic about the meaning of life and what the fuck it all means. I need to tell you why. I need to tell my why. Why did I get these damn rods shoved into my skull, why did I join the ranks of the crazy men?
All my life I wasn’t a fighter. My father was a farmer and I figured if the dirt and earth was good enough for him then the dirt and earth was good enough for me. Life was never really great in the border of the Pecos empire. Sure there were raiders and they came and took your cattle, took your crops, but they left you enough to eat. That way they could be sure that crops were be rich for the plunder the next year. Some of the time it was mighty hungry for us, but that was just part of the living. You got used to it or you got the hell out.
My mother taught me the basics, what you can eat, what you cant, she taught me my letters too. My father taught me the land, how to get enough out of her to keep from getting planted in her yourself. It was a good life.
And then there was Jenny.
I knew from the first time I saw Jenny at age 15 that she was going to be my wife. She had those eyes. Those bright blue eyes that just peered right into my soul. She could make me blush with a look and make me randy as a bull with a wink or a flip of her skirt. I was 17 and she was 16 when we got hitched up for good. My father even cut me off a piece of his land near the South border and between the two of us we bought another piece from a neighbor at a really good price. The crops were good, the loving was good, and life was good.
But the storm was coming in fast.
The bandits rolled in around the same time they always did, right after the harvest, right before the festival. But they were different men this year. They were harder men, tougher men, with more guns, more bikes, more ego, and more evil about them. They tore through town saying our crops weren’t enough. They insisted we were hiding more. When my neighbor stood up to them and told them that was all there was, that they could not get blood from a stone they shot him dead and commented that they could not get it from a stone but they could get it from him easily enough.
Panic broke out. People were running everywhere. I grabbed my wife, my Jenny, and fled to our home. I closed the door and cowered with her in the corner like a child hoping the nightmares would go away. But they did not. We could hear them moving from farmstead to farmstead, building to building. We smelled the smoke, we heard the screams, mostly from the women; the screams of the men were short and sharp. Then they came to us. Three of them tore off the door and laughed as we both cowered in the corner, I could not even bring myself to fight them. They grabbed Jenny and threw her across the wood floor. They tore her dress open, that same dress she used to tease and toy at me with. One held her down as the other started to have his way with her. That is when I flew at them, but the third man merely hit me in the throat, my windpipe caving under the pressure. He held me up against the wall with just one hand, like a parent holding a disobediant child at bay. He made me watch, watch while they raped my wife, again, and again, until she was tired or dead. And then they made me watch as the put a bullet through her brain.
Then these men, who had destroyed my life, destroyed my home, murdered my love, turned to me and they said: “You aren’t even worth the bullet you pathetic weakling.”
They left me crying over my dead wifes body as my village burned to the ground around me. I don’t remember what happened next, whether it was the next day or the one after that when I finally dragged myself out from my home. The smell of burnt crops, death, and cooked meat hung sick and heavy in the air clogging my nostrils. There was nothing left for me so i gathered what little I could and staggered off down the road, heading towards the next major village. I wandered around there, lost and hopeless, sleeping in doorways, eating out of trash. And then I heard that Emperor Lasar was looking for more people to join his army. Free training, juicer and M.O.M. conversions! I knew I had found my salvation. I would never been week and helpless again, I could join the Empire and help stop the tyranny that had squashed my village. I guess even at that point I also thought that perhaps if I became a crazy man then I wouldn’t have to live with the guilt.
So I signed up, I put my x on the line and they went to work with the spikes. It was amazing! I could not believe the changes I underwent. Where before I could barely heave a sack of grain I could now almost juggle them. I became so fast, so strong, so perfect, I was ready to start work. I went through the basic training in near record time, I was so eager to get out and help people live better live.
And then we were told our first mission. We were to go into a local town and find a group of banditos who were hiding there. They were enemies of the empire and sentenced to death on sight. I hopped in the truck with my fellow brothers in arms and headed off to the village. We road into down and fired our guns. We called for the men and women listed as bandits and enemies to come out. The villagers refused. They claimed that they were only defending themselves and they would not give up their own.
Before I knew it it was my village all over again, only this time I was the one marching from building to building, torching and killing. I watched as the others went group to group. Then I heard something, off in the distance, a woman screaming. I broke away from the group and snuck up as quietly as I could. One of the bastards had found a lone girl by the well and was closing in on her. I knew what he was going to do, even if he didn’t, it was the same measured eager approach the men had used on my wife. Before the girl could even notice I charged my commerade and buried my vibroblade into his back, it made an odd crack and a hiss as it tore through his organs, and as I pulled it out his body slumped to the ground.
The girl saw me, saw my spikes, and screamed. She must have thought I killed him just so I could have her for myself. I don’t know why, but I ran. I ran into the night as fast as I could, and believe me, that is fast. I ran for almost 10 hours straight before I finally allowed myself to stop. I cleaned my sword, his blood still on the blade, and I sat and thought. I couldn’t go home. I couldn’t go back. I had no where else to go. So that is where I went: nowhere. I started walking and I have been ever since. I don’t know if the Empire is looking for me, or if they have written me off as a casualty. I know that I gotta keep going unless there is a past riding up behind me.
So here I am. Alone, and doomed to go crazy. It still matters, it matters to me, what I do, what I say. Maybe I still have time, I can still do good, make up for what happened to Jenny, make up what happened to the whole village. But when I die, when I fall away into that total insanity, am I going to be another monster just like the ones that took Jenny? Or will I be worse?
I don’t want to remember anymore.