~~~

Evening on the mainland seemed foreign to her now. The false, late-night quiet felt unnatural and was much more threatening in the brief lulls between what these sheep called sleeping and waking. This temporal illusion of a world where the pretentious slept and dreamt of successes driven by misguided aspirations seeded by their fragile god, the Almighty Dollar, would come to an end. The Lions would expose the lies for what they were. Soon.

The few short years she’d spent training within the island facility, and the surrounding forests hidden away behind by the continuous roar of the lake, had become her entire life. Everything from before, her past life and sins, had all been buried by the indifferent sea, ancient shipwrecks on the lake bottom, never to be disturbed or discovered again.

But now, she was back among them, although nothing like them, slipping between the shadows as the moonlight danced between the tall trees surrounding the secluded cabin.

“You will leave here, today, and face the third trial. It is designed specifically for you to fail.”

Donovan’s words cleaved to her, like a demon whispering the poison of apprehension into her ear, infecting her heart. As she sat in the darkness, observing the low light escaping the small cabin’s windows, it vexed her, wondering if her first real mission, one which no Ama-Eskua recruit had any right conducting, would be her final mission.

On the surface, the test was simple: Within the walls of that remote cabin were several enemies of the Order. Who they were or what they’d specifically done to warrant the attention of Mother’s elite to eliminate them quickly and quietly were of no concern to her. All Alysa knew was that they were branded as a threat to the cause and it was her mission to dispose of them.

Maybe they know about us? Alysa pondered. Maybe they had become aware of Mother and got too close, ensuring their deaths? Sure, it was possible. Mother’s reach was far and wide… anyone who was paying attention might have connected some of the dots leading them to one of Mother’s remote operations. They might not know much, but just enough to put their lives in jeopardy, and probably without knowing they’d done so. That’s probably why they’re out here hiding, she speculated. Maybe they found out enough to know what was coming and thought they could wait out the storm?

Alysa forced the questions from her head. Again, it wasn’t her place to understand. She had a mission to complete… and that was it.

“But it will be the most difficult test you will ever endure. You will suffer. You will want to end your own life. But you will prevail.”

More poison again, infecting her resolve.

You know what this is, she reminded herself. The third trial. So, whatever this seems to be, will certainly get you killed if you underestimate the enemy.

The only problem with that reasoning, was that Alysa no longer knew who the enemy really was. According to Donovan, Mother needed her, but the Ama-Eskua had already washed their hands of her. If her teacher’s words could be trusted, then this third trial was nothing but a farce.

The hesitation weighed heavily on her mind. You could run. You’re on the mainland now. They will hunt you, but you can avoid them… for a while… maybe. Eventually, the Lions will come and they will forget about you. She immediate shook her head at the disgusting, cowardly thoughts, understanding what it was immediately. It was the voice of Christina and the countless others who had failed along the way—it was the voice of fear.

“No,” she told herself firmly. “Whatever this is, my end or my new beginning, I will face it as a warrior.”

With that, she forced the doubts aside, and moved toward the cabin with renewed determination. Either Donovan had filled her head with lies, or, the Ama-Eskua had already rejected her. It no longer mattered. If it was her time to die, then at least she could die on her terms, and attempt to carry out the mission, and not linger like a frightened child.

She moved with ease up to the closest cabin window, wearing an all-black one-piece suit and mask designed for stealth. She slowly lifted her head to stare into the cabin window. The dying embers from a fire left in a fire place was the only source of light. She could just make out several forms appearing to be asleep, scattered throughout the large open space. They all slept in sleeping bags. She counted seven of them. No one standing guard. No visible weapons of any kind. Several large hiking backpacks were lined up against a far wall.

Alysa ducked back down and retrieved her katana, the weapon she chose knowing that she would be going into a close-quarter combat situation.

She’d already assessed from her initial surveillance of the area that there was no discernible access to the cabin by car. Whoever they were, they would’ve hiked in from elsewhere. She had met no resistance on the way in to these secluded woods. No guards within, or without. And she found this very disconcerting. Nearby was a quarry cliff that she’d used to gain a wider view of the area. There was nothing for miles around.

Why are they out here? she wondered. They’re completely cut off. No vehicles, weapons, sentries of any kind. No easy escape routes. They’re essentially trapped here. If they were hiding from what is to come, then where are their additional supplies? What makes these foolish sheep so damn dangerous?

Again, the doubts crept in. She closed her eyes and tried to steel her mind for what came next. Am I just supposed to storm in and slaughter them in their sleep? That’s too easy. What’s the catch? What am I not seeing?

She considered if the cabin’s occupants already knew she was coming. Could they just be waiting for her to step aside, before springing their trap?

They could all be Ama-Eskua, pretending to be asleep, she thought. That would explain the lack of obvious weapons. Seven of them could finish me off with their bare hands if need be. Is that the trap? Is that how I’m supposed to fail?

Alysa took a deep breath. She concluded that this was the most likely scenario. If they weren’t Ama-Eskua, then they had to be contracted killers. Either way, she had to assume this was a set up. She would have to be quick and fierce once she entered the cabin. If she hesitated for a moment, she would be dead.

She crept toward the front door of the cabin, crouched down, blade at the ready. She reached up and grabbed the cold doorknob of a sturdy wooden door. It won’t be locked. There will be just enough sound from the door to cue them to attack. They will have trained to that sound, expecting my charge.

Alysa turned the knob and opened the door, quickly moving to the side of the entrance.

The door opened with a loud creak.

There it is.

The first shotgun blast disintegrated a piece of the door frame next to Alysa’s face. A sharp fragment of wood scratched her left cheek.

The warrior held her blade straight up as four more rounds blared from the cabin, before she heard the loud click of an empty chamber.

“I… I think I got it!” a man yelled.

Alysa heard shuffling feet from within the cabin.

That was her cue.

She spun around the shattered door frame and charged her attacker.

A young man holding a handful of shotgun shells, his back up against the wall next to the fireplace, had just enough time to raise and point the empty shotgun at her before the blade connected with his neck, sending the man’s head spinning off his shoulders.

There was movement from all over. Shadows were stepping over each other in a panic. A woman was screaming. Another man shouted, “Fucker got Michael! Get him!”

Alysa made out the muzzle flashes of two handguns as she quickly hit the floor and rolled toward the next attacker on the right. Both attackers were men and they missed their marks, aiming too high.

Her katana penetrated the chest of the next gunman. She used his body as a shield as she pushed the dead attacker toward the other, retrieved her sword, and quickly cut off the extended hand holding the second handgun.

The third attacker fell the ground screaming. Alysa slit his throat open.

The remaining four were scrambling around in the darkness, trying to avoid the crazed swordsman. Three of them were women, the fourth—another man cowering behind one of the women along the back wall.

Alysa showed no hesitation, expecting more gunfire, as she thrust her blade into the stomach of a long-haired woman trying to flee past her.

“Lana!” another woman yelled.

She quickly retracted her sword and sent it into the right eye of a short-haired woman charging at her with a fire poker.

Of the remaining two attackers, one managed to turn on a bright flashlight and aimed it at her face, temporarily blinding Alysa.

The warrior closed her eyes, as the last man tried to tackle her from the right side.

Alysa ducked down, avoiding the clumsy maneuver, as the man stumbled over her, slamming his head into the wall and snapping his neck.

The last attacker screamed at her and charged with nothing but the flashlight for a weapon. Alysa, turned in time to catch a young woman’s angry face as her attacker attempted to bash her in the head with the flashlight.

Alysa reacted, sending the sharp blade up under the woman’s chin, the blade exiting the back of her throat. The woman collapsed to the floor, dropping the flashlight. It rolled and stopped, illuminating the dying woman’s face as she choked to death on her own blood.

Alysa looked down into the woman’s face and froze. It was an older face, one she did not recognize right away, since she hadn’t seen it in years. But then recognition came… hard.

The katana weighed a thousand pounds as the warrior dropped it to the floor and collapsed to her knees in front of the dying woman.

It was Eva.

“NO!” she shouted, ripping the mask from her face. She gently grabbed her dying sister’s chin and cried, “How… This is not possible! You can’t be… this can’t be happening!”

Eva stared up at her attacker in horror as recognition set it. She tried to speak but spit out blood. Her eyes started to drift… and then she was gone.

Alysa felt her mind about to snap. She caught a glimpse of a monster reflected in a pool of her sister’s blood. It was frightening face that she would never forget.

“What have I done? WHAT HAVE I DONE!”

Alysa cradled her dead sister in her arms, sobbing and screaming, her grip on sanity… on anything… gone.

~~~

Alysa failed to return at the appointed time and place for extraction after her mission.

Eight hours later, Donovan found the broken woman kneeling at the edge of the quarry cliff, staring off into oblivion. He observed her from a safe distance for thirty minutes, understanding her volatile state, until the recruit finally spoke.

“You’re not as quiet as you think you are,” she finally said, refusing to turn around.

Donovan laughed. “If I didn’t want you to know I was here, recruit, you wouldn’t. I was giving you time to process your successful mission. I suppose congratulations are in order.”

Alysa finally turned. Her eyes were filled with pain and fire. “‘Successful mission’?” she spat with disgust. “And which mission was that? The one where I slaughtered a cabin full of kids… or the one where I murdered my own sister?”

Donovan frowned. “I prepared you as best I could… as much as I was allowed.”

“You knew,” she accused. “You knew… Eva… would be here… and you sent me in blindly, anyway.”

“Yes, I did. But that was not my decision to make.”

“Kill my sister… and then take my own life.” She shook her head. “That was the intent all along, wasn’t it?”

Donovan hesitated. “I told you that your trial was designed for you to fail. Have you failed, Alysa?”

“You all disgust me!” she said. “You, Ama-Eskua, Mother… none of you have any fucking honor!”

“Mind your tongue, recruit,” Donovan warned. “I’m patient with you now because of your loss… but that patience only extends so far.”

“You are a liar,” she said. “I trusted you. First, you tried to drown me in the lake… and now… is it your intention that I drown in my own sorrow?”

Donovan sighed. “Go ahead, then. Get it out of your system. Ask your questions.”

“Why was Eva here, Donovan? Why were any of those children out here?”

“They were recruited, just as you were. They were one of many cell groups that Mother has placed throughout the region.”

“Cell groups?”

“Yes. When the Lions come, it will challenge all of us. Mother does not want all her people together in one place when the time comes.” He dared a few more steps toward her. “So, we have been tasked with recruiting young, impressionable people to join our cause and prepare them for that day.”

Alysa shook her head. “I don’t understand. Eva’s nothing like me. She’s a good kid. She’d never-”

“Your sister was never the same after you were incarcerated. She blamed herself for what happened to you.”

Alysa turned. “More games? Do you really believe I can suffer anything further than the hell you just put me through?”

Donovan smiled. “No games, Alysa. But… yes… we will all suffer in the days ahead.”

“Good. I hope we all rot in hell.”

“As far as your sister… I speak plainly. After you murdered your stepfather, your sister struggled. She left your mother’s house and… lost herself. And then when you mysteriously died in prison… she descended further.”

Alysa closed her eyes. As a condition for her release from prison, Alysa could never contact her family again. Mother had arranged a prison riot resulting in an unfortunate lethal stabbing of one inmate. Alysa’s body had been secretly removed from the prison. Her wound had been superficial… just barely. After securing her release, Mother had nursed her back to health before throwing her to the wolves known as Ama-Eskua. “I don’t want to hear this,” she said.

“Your sister met the wrong people. Turned to drugs to escape her pain. Heroin became her god… and that god consumed her in many despicable ways.”

“You are evil, Donovan. Just… leave me be. Ama-Eskua wins. I am thoroughly destroyed.”

“Mother intervened on her behalf,” Donovan continued, stepping up beside the wrecked recruit. “Spared her from being swallowed up by this sick world… and offered your sister an ‘out’.”

Alysa said nothing.

“She was offered the hope of being reunited with her sister. She was told the truth, in part, and that you were safe and far away from the mess that brought you both to us.”

Alysa looked up at him. “She was trying to find me?”

Donovan looked down compassionately. “Yes. She got clean… with our help… and joined the cause.”

“The ‘cause’.” Alysa laughed. “What a fucking joke.”

“Careful, recruit.”

“Lies! All of it! You all filled me with that same hope… and then took it away!”

“I’ve never lied to you, Alysa.”

“You withheld the truth! Gave me bits and pieces, just enough to never see a clear picture! That’s no different than a lie, and you know it!”

“Perhaps,” he conceded. “But it was for your own good.”

“Who were the others?”

“They are of no consequence. Just troubled souls in need of a reason to go on… like your sister.”

“And now she’s dead, betrayed by your fucking cause and her own sister.”

Donovan took a deep breath. “Your sister found you. Her hope was satisfied.”

“How can you say that?”

He gave her a stern look. “Have you not learned anything? Be thankful that she died by your hand, mercifully, as opposed to choking in her own vomit on some cold street corner! She was spared… for your sake. Mother did that for you! Your sister, and those she shared that cell with, were offered a less cruel death than the one that’s coming for all of them!”

Alysa was stunned. “So, I should feel… what… gratitude? I just buried my sister down in those fucking woods this morning! No one will ever know her or what happened to her. No one will ever see her kind face, or hear her gentle laugh ever again! She was better than all of this! Better than all of us!”

Donovan eased up. He nodded and said, “I understand that your pain has clouded your judgment. But you will come to understand that the death of your sister, now, by your own hand, was an act of mercy… for both of you.”

“That’s insane.”

“Is it?” Donovan challenged. “Very soon, your eyes will be opened to the horrors coming to devour this world. When that time comes, you will at least know that your sister never had to face it.”

Alysa had no response to that. She shifted gears. “They knew I was coming last night. Those kids tried to kill me.”

Donovan nodded. “They’ve been in training since your second trial a year ago. As a part of their initiation, they were told to come here and prepare themselves for the battle of their lives.”

Alysa waited.

Donovan was running out of patience. “As with all the cell groups, they were informed that the world would change, and with it, there would be… monsters… coming to test them, to see if they were worthy for the next step.”

“Monsters? You mean… me… right?”

Donovan ignored this. “There are monsters coming, Alysa. And as I’ve told you, Mother needs monsters to face monsters. Just know that the necessary seeds were planted, whether by exaggeration of partial truths, and those recruits in that cabin were properly motivated. They knew exactly when you were coming.”

Alysa shook her head. “I’ve seen enough ‘monsters’ to last me a lifetime.”

“You haven’t seen anything,” Donovan corrected. “But you will.”

“No,” she corrected. “I believe I’m done. Just go away, Donovan, and let me finish my ‘mission’. I’m supposed to fail, remember?”

“You’ve already passed the third trial, Alysa. Walk away from this cliff and know that there’s nothing any of them can do to stop your ascension.”

She gave him a puzzled look.

“You will become Ama-Eskua, as Mother has predicted… against the odds.”

She laughed. “Like I give a shit now.”

Donovan frowned. “So, you will just throw yourself off this cliff, and throw it all away?”

“Something like that.”

“Then the life of your sister, who helped you get here… you’ll throw that away, as well.”

“It’s your turn to be careful,” she hissed.

Donovan shook his head. “A lot has gone into your training. More than you will ever know. Don’t take the coward’s way out, Alysa. You’re better than that… and destined for so much more. Die as an Ama-Eskua warrior, preparing for the real battle ahead, even if you despise the very Order, itself.”

“Now who’s the one sounding blasphemous?” she asked.

“I am… unorthodox in my methods. But I don’t need to justify myself to the likes of you, recruit. I have been at this game much longer than you.”

“So, it is a game.”

“Figure of speech.”

“Whatever. Just leave. Please.”

Donovan shook his head in disappointment. “As you wish.” He started walking off, then turned. “It was I who recruited your sister, just as I recruited you.”

She turned. “What did you say?”

“I was the one who trained this particular cell and they are my responsibility… not yours. So, if anyone is responsible for your sister’s death, it’s me.”

Alysa slowly rose to her feet and turned toward him. “I should kill you, right now.”

Donovan smiled. “Become Ama-Eskua, and you might get your chance… but not today.” He looked past her and finished, “Or, just jump off that cliff like another foolish girl who was told exactly how to think and what to believe.”

Alysa’s eyes blazed. She wanted to charge her instructor and rip him to pieces with her bare hands.

“There it is,” he said with a laugh. “That’s the warrior I remember.”

“I’m a killer… remember? I was already a killer when you found me.”

“Yes… you are certainly that, too. But your sister, however, was not. And it is only because of her death, that you should overcome the odds and become what you were meant to be… even if you deserve the fate of a killer.”

Alysa closed her eyes and considered the snake’s words.

“Die here, if you must. Or, choose to live… for the sacrifice your sister made.”

I’m so sorry, Eva, she thought. I’m so sorry I got you mixed up in all this… madness.

“I’ll go back with you,” she said. “I’ll become Ama-Eskua… for Eva’s sake… and then I’ll find a way to destroy every one of you involved in setting up my sister’s death… even if that means destroying Ama-Eskua to do it.”

Donovan smiled like the devil. “Well, come on then. It sounds like you’ve much to get started. Mother will be pleased with your decision.” Donovan stared walking away.

And I’ll take you down too, Mother… for Eva.

Her fire defeated her pain. Alysa Monroe, and her sister, Eva, died together in that bloody cabin.

Shortly after, she became Ama-Eskua to the extreme displeasure of the higher ups in the Order, who could not refuse her after sacrificing her own blood, for the cause.

Shortly before her ascension, Alysa wept once more for Eva, promising to make things right.

It was the last time she shed a tear for anything or anyone in the old world.

Two years later, the Lions came and devoured it…

~~~

Next Episode 42-10

Previous Episode 42-8

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 42-9: The Kill Room” Copyright © 2018 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Five: Remains. All Rights Reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission by the author.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

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