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UKArchive ID: 36725Chapter 26: First Kills by mitch
Originally published on July 15, 2016 in Fiction

Chapter 26 of the Light-Father: As the deadly storm rages, Harold listens in horror as Fierce tells him how the three young sisters learnt how to kill...



It was midnight and the storm was still raging unabated. Harold was exhausted by both the work and the children’s excitement and it took all of Fern’s patience and story-telling skills to calm them down. He retreated to his makeshift mattress in the foreman’s office to find a fresh set of overalls, slacks, socks and underwear set out for him. “Ah, she’s dropping a hint,” he smiled ruefully after sniffing at an armpit. He noticed the bowl of water and bar of coal tar soap on the desk. “And now she’s rubbing it in.”

He felt refreshed after a wash and a change of clothes but he was reluctant to part with his oil-stained overalls as they had far more pockets than its replacement. The clamour abated slowly as Fern settled the children down into their beds and promised them that she would take the first watch. Enjoying a rare moment of privacy, he lit up a cigar and luxuriated in the smoke. “Only two left,” he sighed wistfully. “I needed to give up anyway but I bet this world has no Cuba to grow some decent tobacco.”

Fern appeared at the doorway. “It’s a disgusting habit but they do have cigars, as you call them, here,” she said with a slight frown. “I had to put Kai to sleep with a potion as the poor boy is making himself ill with guilt and the horror he’s witnessed.”

“The Order makes the religious fanatics in my world look like rank amateurs. I can’t wait to look this Schimrian in the eye and ask him what gave him the right to slaughter billions.”

She leant against the doorframe and folded her arms. “Oh, you’ll get the Will of God argument the Motherhood has had to endure for centuries. We’ve been persecuted and burnt at the stake for trying to tell the world that the Order would bring about Armageddon. There have been others like poor Moss so we knew this,” she sighed, indicating the shed. “Would come to pass.”

“So why did you keep fighting them if you knew you couldn’t stop them wiping everyone out?”

“The Motherhood could not simply step aside and do nothing in the face of such great evil so we took comfort in the hope that we could somehow delay the inevitable.”

“There’s something else you’re not telling me,” he said shrewdly, blowing a large smoke ring. “I might not be able to read minds but I do know when someone is intent on keeping something from me. Come on, what is it?”

Fern exhaled noisily. “I feel apprehensive about going to the Great Abbey because Moss told us that we Mothers are fated to face a far greater threat than the Order itself.”

“Huh? What could be a greater threat than one hundred and forty-four thousand raving lunatics who calmly wiped out the rest of the human race?”

“She wouldn’t say and I wouldn’t take it from her mind - not out of respect but because she would have fried me if I’d tried. We could see that what she saw in her visions terrified her to the core so we did not pry. She would not say who is going to survive this unknown ordeal but she said that if we did nothing then we would all be hunted down and killed by the end of this year.”

“She left you with no choice but to do or die then.”

“She did at that,” Fern sighed. “I think she wished her foresight was more specific but she was never wrong, bless her.”

“Fine,” he said. “At least the Phoenix is ready to roll the second the storm eases up. Listen to that. How can anyone possibly sleep through all this thunder?”

She entered the room and took the cigar from him and stubbed it out. She then surprised him by kissing him gently on the lips and forehead. “I have faith in you, Light-Father,” she smiled, enjoying his scarlet blushes. She stepped back to the doorway and tugged Fierce into view. “Only little Hild and her Honey Bear here are still awake. She has more bad memories to face so it’s time for you to weave your magic again.”

“I keep telling you – I have no magic,” he protested.

“I keep telling you – you have. She needs to talk and there is a deep magic in just listening. I’ll go and keep watch with Eliza and Jacob – Ferals have sharp senses and need little sleep.”

“Oh, come in, Fierce,” he relented. “I need to lie down as my muscles are aching but there’s a blanket and some seat cushions over there you can use but I want you tucked in before we talk.” He switched off several of the overhead lights as she made herself comfortable and wrapped the blanket around her. She’d placed her weapons alongside her and to his surprise, he had his own sword to hand without even consciously thinking about it.

“Do you snore?” Fierce asked bluntly. “Shield sounds like a blocked drain and Mouse babbles in her sleep.”

“Hmm, Andrea said I didn’t do either.”

“Good. The nightmares are bad enough.”

“I’m not surprised. So what do you want to talk about?” he said kindly. “I only know your story up to the point where you were living in that old man’s house. What happened next?”

~~~~~


Fierce sat in her favourite chair idly tracing the exquisite Celtic knot-work designs carved into it with a finger as she imagined herself as the heroine in some ancient and bloodthirsty saga. She’d dragged it out onto the verandah of the drawing-room to watch the bloated River Craw racing past. Occasionally, a tree or some part of a wooden structure that had collapsed into the torrent upstream went racing by to break the monotony.

The dull roar of the river and the constant rain had faded into the background generating the unnerving illusion that the river was still and it was the house that was ploughing upstream. She fell into a pleasant daydream where the house was taking them home to where their parents were waiting for them...

“Shhh, don’t cry, Fierce,” Shield said gently, placing a hand on her shoulder. “I know you come out here to think about them and there’s not a day goes by where Mouse and I don’t do the same. Come in – it’s time for your lessons.”

“Why are we reading stupid history and geography books when everyone is dead?” Fierce snapped but regretted it instantly as she saw the pain and sorrow upon her sister’s face. “I’m sorry - but we’ve been here for months and we have only enough food for one more day so I see no point in reading a book.”

“We are not going to starve,” Shield said adamantly. “And we are not going to remain ignorant either. The old man had an expensive library so we can’t let the Order take away our minds as well as our parents. We owe it to Mum and Dad to learn as much as we can as well as practising every day with our weapons.”

Fierce drew the blade from her swordstick and looked along its length. “I wonder if I could kill someone…” she said distantly. “Maybe I could kill a Father or a Brother but what about the boy in that photograph upstairs? Could I kill him?”

“If he threatened to hurt you or Mouse, I would not hesitate for a second,” Shield said passionately, making a fist. “Come in and practice your reading then we’ll search some more houses for food. We should be all right – we haven’t seen anybody…”

“There are men out in the street!” Mouse shouted from upstairs causing their hearts to flutter with fear. “They’re dressed in long black coats and they’ve got these long black spears! They’re going into the houses across the road!”

“Dad and Mum said the Order would keep looking for us,” Shield declared. “Keep calm, get your weapons and rucksacks – we have to leave this house and find somewhere else to stay.”

“I don’t w-want to go!” Mouse pleaded as she raced into the drawing-room, shivering with fright. “I love this house. I feel safe here. Can’t we hide under the beds or out in the garden?”

Shield hefted her rucksack onto her back and put her knives into their sheaths – one on her belt and another attached to her shin-guard. “They’ll find us, Mouse,” she urged. “This is why we keep everything packed like this. Get your rucksack, your spear and your knives. They’re on the kitchen table. Quickly!”

“Don’t shout at me!”

“Then hurry up and do it!” Shield snapped, readying her cross-bow. She placed the bolt at the ready and checked her quiver. She took two bolts and tucked them in a strap attached to her small triangular shield so that she could reload faster. She went back out onto the verandah and peered around the western corner of the house and gestured for Fierce to do the same at the eastern side. From those two vantage points they could see out across the road. She turned as Mouse clattered out onto the verandah, laden with bags containing the last of their food. “Leave them, Mouse - we can’t run while carrying all that.”

“Ugh, I hate being wet all the time,” Mouse shuddered as the rain lashed down. Shield turned to say something to her but she pointed in terror. “There’s someone on the wall!” she screamed.

Shield whirled around in time to see a powerful man in a swirling, hooded rain-coat leaping from the top of the neighbour’s wall to land close to her. He had a long black spear in one hand and a stun-gun in the other but he never had a chance to use either. Instead, he stared down at the bolt shaft protruding from his chest for a full three seconds before toppling backwards like a felled oak. His lifeless body sent up a great spray of water as it hit the sodden ground and sparks erupted from beneath the hood.

“What in Styx is he?” Shield cried out in horror. “He’s not human,” Her hands trembled violently as she realised she’d just killed a man. She gagged and almost vomited.

“There’s no time for that,” Fierce urged, grabbing her hands. “There are more of them coming down the drive.”

Shield shook herself, reloaded her cross-bow then led them over the opposite neighbour’s dividing wall. “We’ll go through the gardens along the river’s edge,” she explained as they ran. “We need to keep as far away from the houses as possible.”

It was a terrifying ordeal for the three young sisters as they ploughed through hedges, bushes and overgrown gardens with whistles, shouts and horn blasts pursuing them. “Why are they hunting us? We’re not foxes,” Mouse gasped as they pushed wearily through yet another thick border hedge.

“They think we’re vermin, Mouse,” Shield said. “Come on – we have to keep going or they’ll kill us. That thing back there was going to shoot us with some kind of gun.”

“What’s that noise?” Fierce said. “It’s coming closer.”

“It’s a rotor-craft,” Shield hissed as she dragged them under the skirts of a huge fir tree in the nick of time. “Keep out of sight!”

The black machine hovered briefly overhead and they could clearly hear the Order half-tracks roaring up and down the nearby road. Three more Tally-men raced past their hiding place and briefly the wind tugged their hoods back to reveal the shining metal of the Guides punched through their bald skulls. They flinched as a Guide sparked causing one of their pursuers to emit a howl of agony before he could draw his hood up again.

“What are they?” Fierce whispered.

“I don’t know,” Shield shuddered as the strange figures moved into the next garden. “But they scare me more than the Fathers do. They’re like machines. What has the Order done to them? Did you see those metal things in their heads?”

“But you got one, Shield,” Mouse whispered proudly. “Shhunk! Straight through the heart.”

“Yes, I killed him,” Shield said miserably. “No matter what the Order did to him, he was still a living person, Mouse.”

“No, there was nothing in his eyes,” Fierce said, holding her sword at the ready. “Mouse, watch out!” she warned and lunged, piercing a huge rat that was about to bite her little sister on the leg. “Gah! If I see another rat, I’ll scream. They’ve got fat eating all the bodies.” She started as baying howls were followed by bitter yelps of pain from a nearby garden. “Sounds like those wild dogs tried to attack those men in the black raincoats,” she observed. A few weeks previously they’d entered the drawing-room to find twenty dogs waiting out in the rainswept garden and staring into the house with a terrible hunger in their eyes. “Let’s hope they kill each other,” she added, baring her teeth.

“What do we do?” Mouse asked miserably as the ceaseless rain seeped through the branches and large drops splattered upon their heads and shoulders. “We can’t stay inside this tree – we’re soaked and there may be more wild dogs and rats about.”

“The branches reach right down to the ground and hide us from the houses, Mouse,” Fierce explained, taking her hand. “We can’t be seen but we can’t make a run for it either as they’re on both sides of us now and the river is too deep and too fast even if we could swim with our rucksacks and weapons.”

Shield squatted next to Mouse and put a reassuring arm around her shoulder. “We’ll have to wait for nightfall before we can move. They won’t give up especially as I’ve killed one of them.”

“We’re lucky that they don’t have dogs with them,” Fierce noted. “Sorry, Mouse – she’s right: we have to stay here.”

“But I’m hungry and wet,” Mouse grizzled.

“Shhh, dear heart,” Shield soothed, cuddling her little sister. “Be brave and keep quiet - for our parents’ sake.”

It was the most miserable and frightening time as the three girls clung desperately to each other for warmth and respite from the relentless dripping water soaking them to the skin. The rotor-craft hovered above the tree for what seemed like forever before moving north. An hour later, a Father and three Brothers appeared to search the garden but they stopped by their tree to talk - they were so close that Mouse could have poked the nearest one with her spear.

From their conversation, the cowering girls learnt of the true scale of the plague and how little the men of the Order thought of their billions of victims. They discovered what the Tally-men were and how they were created as Shield silently suppressed her retch reflexes. After smoking several cigarettes and debating the internal politics of the Order, the four men were discovered by an Abbot who angrily instructed them to resume the search.

“Blessed Jesus, save us,” Shield whispered in horror after they’d left. “They’ve created monsters to hunt us down.”

The noise of the rotor-craft and half-tracks faded as the grey twilight deepened and they crept into the house to spend an hour killing the rats infesting the rooms. Shield barricaded the rear door after throwing the carcasses out and drew the curtains before risking a lighted candle. It was a similar house to their old refuge and there were plenty of tins of ham and fruit in the kitchen. After they had eaten their fill, Shield was delighted to find that the propane gas heater in the utility room was still working and set out their saturated clothes and rucksacks to dry.

She found a torch and went upstairs, keeping its light to the bare minimum so that she could safely draw the curtains. She discovered the gnawed remains of a family of four huddled together in one of the bedrooms where they’d died in each others’ arms. “Thank you for your food and forgive us our intrusion into your home,” she whispered as she draped blankets and sheets over them.

The bedroom ceiling had been punched through by the hail and the walls were soaking and thick with mildew and cobwebs. The stench and the flies were unbelievable and she couldn’t close the door quickly enough after saying a prayer over the family. She sealed it shut with duct tape and used up three canisters of insecticide before the last blowfly in the upper rooms of the house dropped dead. She dragged mattresses downstairs and made up beds for them in the back room then sealed the door to the lounge below the bedroom of death because foul water and worse had saturated all the lounge walls and furnishings.

Thus they spent a largely sleepless night by candle-light with the ceaseless roar of river and the rain in their ears and the incessant scratching of hungry rats in the wall cavities. Mouse finally drifted off but Fierce remained awake staring hard at her older sister as they sat up in their improvised beds. “We can’t stay here for long, can we?” she said after a long silence.

Shield shook her head as she thought about the words and the cruel laughter of the men of the Order. “So those things are called Tally-men,” she sighed. “They tally the Unworthy."

“They said they actually cut into the brains of people that survive the plague and stick those metal things into what’s left,” Fierce shuddered, wrapping her arms about her knees. “Ugh! I want Mum to wake me up and tell me that it was just a bad dream and everything will be alright.” She paused as Mouse groaned in her sleep. “I wish I could do that for Mouse as well.”

“They’ve killed everyone,” Shield said angrily. “They’ve brought about the End of Days, Fierce. They did it not God!” She gritted her teeth and fought back the tears. “I don’t feel sorry for that Tally-man anymore. You were right – he’d already been killed by the Order so I what I did was an act of mercy.”

“It was but how did you hit him?” Fierce demanded suspiciously. “I’m sure that the bow was not pointed at him when you fired the bolt. You should have missed him.”

“No, you’re mistaken,” Shield replied slowly. “I was aiming right at him otherwise how could I have hit him?”

“I suppose so but I swear the bolt curved through the air,” Fierce yawned as she stretched out. “Set the alarm clock – I think we should be away from here before it gets light. They won’t be searching in the dark so we can relax for a while.”

“You’re right,” Shield agreed. She had began to wonder why Fierce - who had barely eight years - seemed so completely at home in this situation. She smiled as she thought about how their mother had chosen her name, Hild, well for she was indeed a battle-maiden and her skill with her slender sword was astonishing. She was thinking how deeply the bolt had penetrated into the chest of the Tally-man when she too fell asleep despite the all-pervasive smell of death about them and the scrabbling of the rats.

She awoke suddenly with her sisters tugging frantically at her arms. “You didn’t set the alarm, stupid!” Fierce cried bitterly. “It’s daylight and the rotor-craft is hovering above us and those Tally-men are searching the houses. I think some of them are chasing people through the back gardens!”

Shield pulled back the curtain a fraction and saw three children running westwards across the garden. In the lead was a boy who had about ten years, carrying a sledgehammer and drenched with blood despite the rain. He was dragging a small red-haired child who was clinging onto a stuffed rabbit but she too was covered with blood. A pale, long-haired girl who had about nine years was running backwards behind them with two long red knives at the ready and watching their rear like a seasoned soldier.

She was about to cry out to them when Fierce shushed her. “You’ll give us away and it looks like they’ve killed something.”

“They were all bloody,” Mouse agreed in hushed tones.

A minute later, three boys who had about twelve years arrived to search the garden. They were dressed in the postulant robes of the Order and they heard them cry out that it was safe for any ‘naughty’ children hiding in the bushes to trust them as they would all be forgiven by the Brothers for killing a Tally-man.

“Liars!” Fierce hissed, unsheathing her sword. “Who are they fooling? They’re as bad as the Tally-men. They’re evil.”

“They obviously know no better,” Shield said sadly. “Dad said it was called ‘brain-cleansing’ – they’re not allowed to think for themselves any more than those Tally-men can.”

“They’ve found two children hiding in the shed,” Mouse whispered urgently. “It’s a boy and a girl who have eight years. They’re bringing them to a Father only he looks really angry with them. Oh, no – he’s drawn a knife!”

Shield placed her hands across her sisters’ eyes but she could not drag her own eyes from that terrible scene as the Father took the knife and calmly slit the throats of the two children in front of the postulants. Shuddering, she finally managed to turn her head away only to see in the faint light, a large family photograph – which included the two children she had just seen murdered. “So that’s who they were looking for,” she groaned. “Oh, God, receive them into your arms - they were just children like us!”

Fierce and Mouse forced her hands away from their eyes to watch as the Father led the postulants around the side of the house. One lingered and knelt to close the eyes of the two dead children and place a flower each upon their chests. They clearly saw that he was crying as he said a quick prayer over them.

“What’s wrong, Shield?” Fierce asked quietly, wiping the tears from her own cheeks. “I thought I saw a light in your eyes!”

“I… am… never… going… to… forgive… them,” Shield gulped out between sobs. “They were innocent. All they did wrong was to survive the slaughter but I couldn’t help them,” she added bitterly. “I just stood here and did nothing.”

“Don’t blame yourself,” Mouse said, hugging her arm. “It’s not your fault. You can’t go out there and fight them. They’d kill you and then they’d kill me and Fierce.”

“At least one of that filth had a soul left,” Fierce noted. “Brrr! Where’s that strange wind coming from?” Papers whirled about the room and the curtains billowed this way and that. She saw that Shield was staring into space and shook her roughly until she blinked and the strange breeze subsided. “Shield! What’s happening? You’re frightening us!”

“Oh, sorry, Fierce,” Shield smiled, wiping her eyes. “I was so angry that I thought my brain was going to explode.”

“Those devils have gone so shall we bury them?”

“Not yet,” Shield said anxiously, clutching her crossbow. “We have to be sure they won’t come back and search the house.”

To her great relief, she watched the half-tracks and the rotor-craft depart and all was silent again but for the sound of the falling rain and the river. “All these men and machines just to hunt down and kill two defenceless children,” she said angrily as she rejoined her sisters. “And had they not found them in the shed they would have searched the house and killed us as well.”

Mouse kept watch through the upstairs windows as her sisters dug the shallow grave. It was hard work because the ground was saturated but finally it was deep enough for them to bury the two children and the remains of their family from the bedroom. “Go in and keep watch,” Shield told her exhausted sister after they’d said a prayer together. “Mouse can help me lay the turf.”

Shield planted a grave marker as Mouse placed flowers on the grave and added her own prayer. They were both muddy and stank to high heaven as they headed back to the house in the fading grey twilight. “Well done, Mouse,” she said, shouldering her cross-bow. “Let’s get cleaned up and have something to eat.”

There was a tall coalhouse close to the back door and as they passed it, a large hand shot out to grab Mouse by the scruff of her neck. “I am Father Icarius,” the exultant cleric announced, stepping out onto the path and smiling triumphantly at the astonished Shield. “I just knew there were more of you Exodus brats around here - those two Unworthy vermin I Redeemed could not have possibly damaged a Tally-man like that.” He put his other hand around Mouse’s throat, making her choke. “Now drop the crossbow, child, or I’ll snap her scrawny little neck.”

Shield reluctantly lowered her crossbow slowly to the floor but Fierce emerged through the door and kept her sword pointed at him. A tall Brother appeared at Icarius’s shoulder and laughed incredulously. “Feisty little kit, isn’t she, Father? I think Abbot Michael would like to dissect them. They’re definitely related but it’s rare for three siblings to survive even with the vaccine.”

“True, Brother Bartholomew,” Icarius grinned, revealing several gold teeth. “It’s your lucky day, children - you get to live a little longer than those brats you’ve just buried for us. Get the restraints from the half-track, my son. Our Judas-baits can play with them on our way back to the Great Abbey.”

“Let her go or I’ll kill you!” Fierce snarled, undaunted.

Mouse gurgled in terror as he squeezed her throat. “Drop your sword and those nasty little knives or she dies now.”

Fierce shrugged but she did not lower the sword. “If she dies then I’ll kill you slowly. Hell will have to wait a little longer.”

“Delightful!” he laughed as Bartholomew returned to his side. “Pious will have such fun breaking you three. But seriously, you Unworthy little rat, you have no choice… aieee!” he screamed and released Mouse to stare down in disbelief at the hilts of two knives she’d embedded deeply in his thighs. “You little bitch!” he cursed and reached inside his coat for his handgun.

Shield was faster. Having laid the crossbow carefully over her right foot, she hoisted it up into the air, grabbed it and fired in one fluid motion. She scrabbled at her arm-shield for a second bolt as the stunned Bartholomew watched Icarius collapse into a gurgling heap with a bolt through his neck. He snarled and drew his dart-gun as Shield desperately reloaded but Fierce had already leapt forward. He halted and looked down into the merciless eyes of an Unworthy child who had just driven a sharp, slim blade up under his sternum and pierced his heart.

Shield finished reloading her bow then dragged Mouse to her feet as Fierce withdrew her sword, leaving Bartholomew to fall alongside Icarius. She retrieved their rucksacks from the house then she picked up Mouse’s spear, calmly tore the bolt from Icarius’s neck and yanked Mouse’s knives from his legs.

As Fierce supported Mouse who was rubbing at her throat, Shield wiped her knives and placed them in the sheaths. “Well done, dear heart,” she smiled and kissed her on the forehead as their mother had often done at bedtime. “It’s not over yet – we have to keep running. Can you be brave for just a while longer?”

“Yes,” Mouse nodded, staring at the bodies. “How many more bad men have we got to kill before they’ll leave us alone?”

“As many as it takes,” Shield told her. “Put on your rucksacks - we have a lot more running to do before we’re safe.”

Luckily for them, the half-track was parked some distance away so the three sisters were already several gardens away to the west before the bodies were discovered and a pursuit organised.

“Where are we going?” Fierce puffed as they clambered over yet another boundary wall. “Mouse can’t take much more – that brute almost strangled her.”

“I’m tough… ouch!” Mouse gasped, toppling into the garden.

Shield called a brief halt amongst the bushes of their original refuge and checked her crossbow and quiver. The urge to go back into a place they’d made their home was almost overwhelming but she knew full well that the Order would expect to find them there. “Goodbye, Mister Helfburn,” she said to the ghost of the old man who was on the verandah and waving to her. “Thank you for your house and your hospitality.”

“Can you see his ghost?” Mouse asked in a frightened voice. “I hate ghosts - there must be lots of them with everyone dead.”

“No, silly, I was just paying my respects,” Shield said but she did indeed see the old man now sitting in Fierce’s chair and raising a glass in a farewell toast. She closed her eyes and the image was gone when she opened them again but it took the sound of an approaching rotor-craft to spur her back into action. “Come on,” she urged. “We’re going to follow those children we saw.”

“How can you tell we’re on the right trail?” Fierce demanded as they climbed over a high stone wall.

Shield pointed to a red smear on one of the stones that the incessant rain had not yet washed away. “They were drenched in blood,” she said bluntly. “If they can fight as well as us, we’ll join up with them to have a better chance of surviving. Mouse?”

“Yes, Shield?” Mouse panted.

“Be brave. Just a little further.”

Finally, they climbed over the last wall and dropped down into Cartwright Road which ran straight on into the centre of Crawcester. Feeling dreadfully exposed, Shield scooped Mouse up and they ran across the road and dived into the rear lanes that serviced the terraced houses of the less opulent Wright’s Quarter of the city. They pressed themselves against a wall as another rotor-craft roared low overhead, deafening them.

Shield noticed the bloody imprint of a child’s hand on a sheltered part of a wall next to a door that led into one of the rear gardens. She unlatched it but she could only open it a fraction as someone had barricaded it on the other side. “They’re in here,” she said excitedly. “We’ll have to climb over into the garden.”

Suddenly a movement on the top of the wall caught her attention and she turned to see a boy jumping down at her with a sledge-hammer raised above his head and murder in his eyes…

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(c) 2012-13 Paul D.E. Mitchell Copyright protected.

© mitch (pdemitchell on OLD UKA)
UKArchive ID: 36725
Archived comments for Chapter 26: First Kills
Mikeverdi on 23-07-2016
Chapter 26: First Kills
Still with you, playing catch up😊
Mike

Author's Reply:
Appreciated, Mike - i am still getting pelnty of reads from merciless blagging on Facebook but they don't comment or read other's work on site which is a bit disappointing. Onwards!

Savvi on 26-07-2016
Chapter 26: First Kills
I would buy this mitch the writing is top draw and I love all tiny details and dialogue, so enough encouragement as a reader I found I wanted to lift my head up, to be above the drama and get more of a sense of the vista and the surroundings, you may have done this previously and I have walked in cold and please take this as a humble suggestion to a very accomplished body of work...damn you I will have to read them all now. you are very talented. Keith

Author's Reply:
Hi Keith - thank you for your kind words and encouragement The previous chapters lay the foundations fot this third part of the back stories of these remarkable Scatterling sisters - how these children learn to kill or be killed in a grim post-apocalyptic world... It was odd as I started fleshing out the characters as their back-stories virtually wrote themselves as flashbacks. It's an old trick - pretend you're eavesdropping on them and let the dialogue 'happen'... Mitch