~~~

Alysa Monroe sat down directly in front of Lady Clementine, joining her in the meditative position, which was custom, but wisely leaving about five feet between them to avoid some nauseating display of affection.

“It’s good to see you.” Clementine resisted the urge to reach over and hug her anyway.

Alysa frowned, keeping her shoulders tense, and her hand within reach of her knife. “I can’t say the same,” she said, rubbing the tired from her eyes. She’d pushed hard for four days since departing New Cleveland to get back here. “I got your message… though a bit cryptic… I caught the urgent intent. And where the hell did you dig up that old infected guy? Just being within a few feet of him made my skin crawl.”

Clementine dismissed Alysa’s candor and found it refreshing. Usually, no one addressed her as Alysa did now, but their relationship was a bit unusual. “You mean Taven? That’s not important. He serves many sides and no one’s.”

“Yeah, Taven. He told me a lot,” Alysa said. “Frankly, I was surprised at how much he knew.” She stopped there, not wanting to reveal her own hand. “Bottom line, I sensed that there was trouble coming… and that you needed me.”

Clementine appeared genuinely touched, but deep down, she hated that Alysa hid things from her. There were many methods she had at her disposal to acquire information, both through the organization’s vast resources, but also through some very unnatural means. But it vexed her when Alysa held back. “You were right to come home when you did,” she said. “I know you’ve asked me to respect your privacy and your need to distance yourself from the Ama-Eskua because of what happened to your sister… and I’ve tried my best to honor your wishes. But we need you here for what’s coming.”

“And what might that be?”

Clementine smiled and waved off the question with a laugh. “Bah… so serious! You just got back and we’re already talking business.” She leaned in and grabbed Alysa’s hand, causing the young warrior to flinch at the woman’s cold touch. “So, tell me now, how have you been? I haven’t seen you since you relocated to that horrible little cabin in the middle of nowhere.”

Alysa frowned, slowly pulling her hand away. “You know how I’ve been. I’m sure you’ve tracked my every movement between the cabin, all the way to New Cleveland.”

“Yes… I’ve kept an eye on you… sure. But I’ve kept my distance. Don’t fault my actions because I’m still concerned for you. You may not be my real daughter, but I still love you as my own.”

Alysa shifted uncomfortably. “Fine. But stop pretending you don’t know exactly what I’ve been up to. I deserve better than that.”

Clementine nodded patiently. She shifted gears. “You know, you caused quite a commotion when the Ama-Eskua attacked the intruders over at the underground shelter. I’m told that you killed Malachi, their leader, and helped some of the intruders get away. Is this true?”

“He was acting dishonorably toward his prisoners.”

“The Ama-Eskua take no prisoners,” Clementine reminded her.

“I know that!” Alysa tried to calm down. “They were toying with their prey. That’s not our way. We’re warriors not fucking bullies! The intruders were clearly beaten. Malachi was torturing them because he enjoyed it. That is not our way! He deserved worse than what I did… disgracing himself in front of the others… they all deserved to die.”

Clementine nodded. “Understandable. But, need I remind you… you’re no longer Ama-Eskua. What business was it of yours to intervene?”

Alysa had no response to that.

“And since you insist on insulting my intelligence, trying to convince me that these particular intruders didn’t mean something to you, enough for you to risk your own life on their behalf, then I won’t bother asking why you continued to help them escape afterwards.”

Again, Alysa remained silent.

“No matter,” Clementine said, with a laugh. “I vouched for you, by the way… as I always do. The Ama-Eskua wanted your head, but they won’t dare cross me.”

Alysa averted her eyes and swallowed her pride. “Thank you.”

She smiled. “You’re very welcome, daughter. But tell me, why were you even there during the attack? That was the first time you’d ventured out of those lonely woods since your self-imposed exile from the rest of the world. You must have had a really good reason.”

Alysa stared at the old woman, shaking her head in disbelief. “There you go again, fishing for answers you already have.”

“It was for the man you rescued, right? The one you kept in the cabin for three weeks?”

Alysa said nothing.

“Who is he? A friend? A lover, perhaps?”

Alysa’s eyes burned bright. “That’s none of your damn bus-”

“He’s here… this man. Somewhere in the forest to the north,” Clementine broke in. “That’s part of the reason I sent for you. He’s out there, right now, with another from his group—a red-headed woman, though calling her a woman at this point is a stretch. She’s gone feral, living too long in the wild. First, it was just her, then he came along a few days later. I’ve been monitoring them ever since they entered the forest, trying to decide what to do with them.” She stopped and stared at Alysa, trying to gauge her reaction.

The former Shadow Dead did her best to hide her surprise. “Okay… what’s that to me? And frankly, what does it even matter to you… or Mother? They’re insignificant people who pose no real threat. They’re probably just trying to find somewhere to hide and survive.”

Clementine raised her eyebrows in surprise. “Oh really? Then you won’t care if I go ahead and eliminate them both?”

Alysa stared at her.

“Up until this point, they’ve just been a minor nuisance. Hell, the red-headed one even did me a favor when she recently killed a deserter who had the misfortune of running right into her.”

“Then what’s the problem?” Alysa asked, trying her hardest to downplay the two survivors in the northern woods.

Clementine smiled at her. “Okay, is this how you want to play it? Fine. As much as they’ve been a minor distraction at best, they have been spying on us… and training. Which says to me that they intend to attack us… as ridiculous as that sounds.”

Alysa laughed. “Then let them. If they’re foolish enough to do so, then perhaps they simply want to die.”

“Or…” Clementine countered. “I could just have them destroyed. I could do it with a single thought and end them just like that.” She snapped her fingers for emphasis. “I could easily gather what remained of the dead in the forest, along with several herds still picking at scraps along the Interstate, and ‘compel’ them toward their camp. They would be overwhelmed in moments.”

Alysa said nothing.

“Actually, that sounds… entertaining… to me. Just give me a few minutes, daughter, and I’ll take care of this little problem right now.” Clementine started to close her eyes to summon the dead.

“Wait… please,” Alysa said.

Clementine opened one eye and smiled. “Is there a problem? You don’t actually care what happens to these ants in the woods… do you?”

“You know that I do,” Alysa admitted. “I don’t care about the red-headed bitch… but the other one… he’s… different.”

“Different? How so?”

Alysa knew Clementine was playing games with her. She had no choice but to play along. “He’s not like the others in their group. He’s… tainted by the darkness in a very significant way.”

“So, you’re drawn to him,” Clementine pushed. “Does he remind you of yourself or is it something more?”

“I haven’t seen a soul this dark in a very long time… perhaps I never have. He believes he serves Death directly.”

Clementine was amused. “Really? Wow! I’d like to meet this man who serves Death.”

Alysa sighed. “He doesn’t know how much I know about him. But he told me everything after I drugged him. I believe he’s been killing people for a long time, long before the outbreak.”

“Interesting. A serial killer from the old world.” She chuckled at the thought. “And do you admire him for this?”

“I… relate with him. He’s got so much unrealized potential. If steered in the right direction-”

“If steered in the right direction, you would have a powerful alley, and someone who finally loves you for who you are,” Clementine finished.

Alysa was stunned by her own transparency. “I thought that initially,” she admitted. “But that’s changed now. However, this man would still be an asset, if trained properly, to serve the right cause… and not this delusional one he’s obsessed with.”

“And who would train him, this man who serves Death? You? Surely not. That sounds like something only the Ama-Eskua could handle… if this man’s as dark as you claim.”

Alysa could see where this was headed. “I’m not going back to them. Besides, you already said they want me dead.”

“And as I already told you,” Clementine added crossly, “I took care of it.”

“But-”

“But nothing!” Clementine pushed. She glared at her wayward daughter and continued, “I have tried to be patient with your inability to let go of the past and embrace the future. I’m sorry that your sister died due to the misguided behavior of others in our organization… but she’s dead, as well as those who were involved… and you are not.”

Alysa started to protest.

“Be silent!” Clementine said. “I have listened to your whining and tolerated your insolent behavior long enough! You, who have been given so much, so many opportunities… and yet you squander them all in your childish rebellion against Mother. You should be leading the Ama-Eskua by now, but instead you choose to sulk among the trees and drown in the blood of your poor, dead sister! It’s time to stop acting like a privileged princess, doing whatever she pleases under the umbrella of my protection, and take your rightful place!”

Alysa wanted to rise, retrieve her hunting knife, and remove the old woman’s face. She endured the insults instead, understanding that she’d be dead the moment she reached for the weapon. Among the many things that Lady Clementine was capable of, one of the most terrifying abilities she possessed was being able to invade the deepest thoughts of her enemies and tear them apart from within. Alysa had seen this happen only once and it had been enough. There was a man, whose name Alysa could no longer remember, that had gone completely insane by the time Clementine had turned his mind into mush. All he had done was cross Clementine’s path and look at her while the Lady had been in one of her dark moods.

Alysa wisely let Clementine finish her verbal lashing, rather than risk pushing her toward anger.

Clementine suddenly stopped, staring off into oblivion.

Alysa had seen this before. When the old woman got riled up, it was like a blazing forest fire going off in her mysterious mind that caused her to… drift away… at times.

Alysa waited, hoping the old crone would die of a brain aneurysm.

Clementine started to return. She took a deep breath and smiled at her. “Sorry, daughter. You know how foul I can be sometimes. It takes a lot out of me. What were we talking about?”

“The two intruders in the woods.”

“Yes, of course.” Clementine paused to recollect herself.

Alysa took advantage of the woman’s vulnerable state to misdirect her focus away from Russell and Gina. “What can you tell me about… Meredith?”

Clementine laughed. “It seems I will never get out from under the shadow of that woman.” She turned and gave Alysa a curious glance. “You’ve never asked me about her before. Not once. Why do you ask now?”

“Taven brought her up,” Alysa said. “He told me that she’s important in what’s coming. He seemed very intense about the matter.”

“Well, yes… Meredith Montgomery is very important. You know this already. It is the only reason the Ama-Eskua attacked the underground shelter. We needed to draw her out.”

“Yes,” Alysa gently pushed. “But you’ve never explained the relationship you share with this woman. I have seen you sleep and wrestle with this Meredith in your dreams, as if she were a demon.”

“I suppose you have,” Clementine added with a smile. The old woman stared off into the dark hangar, slipping treacherously back into the time capsule of memories. “I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to tell you what happened between Meredith and myself. Perhaps by getting it out, I can finally move past it, and maybe then you’ll understand why it is so important that you stay this time and help me finish what needs to be done.”

“I’m listening,” Alysa said.

Clementine smiled at her and nodded. “Meredith Montgomery was my best friend. When our small, private slice of the world tried to take her from me… that’s when I destroyed it…”

~~~

Next Episode 46-3

Previous Episode 46-1

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 46-2: Clementine” 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.

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