Warchild: Pawn (The Warchild Series)

BOOK: Warchild: Pawn (The Warchild Series)
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WARCHILD: Pawn

Book 1 of The Warchild Series

©2014

Ernie Lindsey

www.ernielindsey.com

Cover Design
by
Jason
Gurley

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Ernie
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June
2014

 

 

 

 

 

“And
a girl shall lead them.”

CHAPTER ● ONE

Don’t ask me how or why
the world ended, because I can’t
tell you. They stopped teaching us about our history long before I was born and
before Grandfather was born. The only connections we have to the past are the
stories the Elders tell around campfires when they’re trying to scare the
children.

Maybe I believe some of these
stories. The tall tales about cars and how people actually drove them—I’ve
never seen one, but it seems possible.

What’s left of the roads, those
dark, hardened paths, cutting through the Appalachian Mountains, crumbling and
filled with holes, they had to be used for something. They go somewhere far,
far from here. But if you’re smart, you stay away. They’re too open, too
exposed. Roving bands of Republicons hide in the hills, waiting on travelers
too tired, or too ignorant, to know that they’ve crossed into the PRV.

The People’s Republic of Virginia.

That’s where I live. If you could
call it living.

We are the depths of what remains. If
you can survive here, you can survive anywhere.

I’m leaving one day.

But first...war is coming.

***

The drums echo down through the
valley, racing across the lake and up the hillside where I’m hiding in a thick
group of rhododendrons. It’s been raining for months, and at first, I think the
heavy, rhythmic booming might be thunder.

Blue sky? I don’t remember what it
looks like.

I know the difference between drums
and thunder, but when you’ve been on point for twenty-four hours, watching,
waiting, scouting—your mind starts to go numb. The crack of a branch might be a
warning of an approaching bear, or the screech of a blue jay might sound like
an arrow flying by your head. It all blends together. They say that when one of
your senses goes, the rest of them work harder to compensate, but when your
mind starts to stumble from exhaustion, they’re all hazy.

I shake my head, clearing out what
cobwebs remain. There it is again.

Boom, boom, ba-boom.

As this ominous sound registers for
what it is, it sends a shot of adrenaline throughout my body and I’m instantly
alert, shocked out of the fog and terrified. The Elders said this would happen.
They didn’t say when, but they knew it was inevitable. Grandfather told me so. He
said that Ellery, the mystic, spoke of it during their last meeting. “War,” was
all she said.

When I lean up on my knees and push
the branches apart, the wet leaves dump their rain puddles into my shirt where
it runs down my back and gives me the shivers. Or maybe it’s the drums. I can’t
tell the difference.

Boom, boom, ba-boom. Boom, boom,
ba-boom.

I cock my ear and listen intently,
just to make sure. Sometimes the younger children will sneak up into the hills
and pretend to have battles. There’s always a fight over who gets to be a part
of the PRV, and who gets to be on the side of the DAV, the Democratic Alliance
of Virginia, our northern enemies. The children play their little drums and
shout and pretend to shoot each other from blinds and tree houses.

But this sound is bigger. Heavier.

Boom, boom, ba-boom. Boom, boom,
ba-boom.

It’s the war rhythm, for sure, which
means it’s coming from a large army. The children’s drums are softer, no bigger
than the buckets we use to carry water. And in fact, that’s what they are—old
buckets with animal hides stretched across the top.

Boom, boom, ba-boom. Boom, boom,
ba-boom.

I strain to hear over the rain
pounding the leaves and the forest floor, trying to figure out how far away the
invaders might be. With all the forest noise amplified by the downpour, it’s difficult
to say. I focus, hard, grinding my teeth together as if that’ll allow me to
hear more clearly. Then I realize they have to be closer than I thought.

Ellery tells stories of how, in the
past, they could hear them coming from two valleys over. But this—no, this is
different—the sound is too defined, the echo is too clear, to be coming from
the other side of Rafael’s Ridge to the north. The trees and underbrush would
dull the sounds if they were that far away.

They’ve crossed the Ridge already,
and I’ll be in trouble for not reporting in soon enough.

If I can’t make it back to our
encampment within a few minutes, we’ll never get prepared in time.

I grab my supply sack—the one filled
with a canteen of water, soggy, rain-soaked bread, and goat cheese—pick up my
slingshot, my bag of hand-picked rocks, and then I run down the hillside,
slipping on the wet leaves and muddy earth, trying to be careful, but hurtling
in a panic at the same time. I don’t want to break an ankle, because if I’m
lying in a writhing heap of pain and can’t make it back to warn the others,
we’re doomed.

I reach the path skirting the lake’s
edge, intact and unbroken, and then push my legs into a hard sprint. My feet
squish inside my boots, and I slip several times on the wet mud, my pack
swinging wildly on my shoulder, but I keep going, running, running, running
between the trees, jumping over downed limbs and rockslides that have happened
because of the constant rain. The ground can only contain so much water before
it loosens its grip and sends the small boulders tumbling down the hillside. I
jump over the same pine tree that’s blocked the path for years. I should know
better—I should remember that the path dips on the other side.

But I’m panicked, not thinking
clearly, and I forget this important fact.

When I land, my boots slide with the
mud, kicking out in front of me, and for a brief moment, I’m airborne, sailing
along, and if I knew that the landing wasn’t going to hurt like hell, it might
be peaceful, almost enjoyable. It seems to take forever, but it can’t be more
than a few feet before I finally land on my backside, my jaws clashing
together, biting my tongue, as I skitter down the decline. Pain arcs from my
tailbone all the way up into my skull, and I taste blood in my mouth. My tongue
throbs. The pain in my back is sharp and blinding, but I get up, and I keep
moving.

Hundreds of lives, everyone in our
encampment, they all depend on me and the other scouts to deliver the reports
so they can gather up their weapons and cover their shacks with an extra layer
of metal or whatever they can find. Mostly, and not very often, maybe once a
month or so, a scout will come hurrying into camp and report that he or she has
spotted a roving band of Republicons.

These raiders, these thieves, travel
in small packs, five to ten of them at most, and they’re easy to fight off. They
don’t like to fight when they don’t have the advantage, and if you can get prepared
swiftly enough, they’ll scope out the situation and move on. But, if they catch
a scout napping and can sneak in unaware, you can count on lost lives and lost
supplies. Our group is especially efficient, and we’ve never been attacked, not
for as long as I’ve been alive. When we instruct new recruits, we train well,
and we train hard, and it’s made all the difference.

Everyone within our encampment knows
how to fight: the Elders, every man, woman and child. The blind and the
limbless. If you can pick up a weapon, any kind of weapon, you’re trained to
use it.

Thankfully, and up until now, we’ve
never had to.

Grandfather says that we haven’t
been invaded in his lifetime, nor in the lifetime of his forefathers. Only
Ellery, the mystic, tells stories of past battles. No one knows how old she is,
and she won’t say. How she’s managed to live this long is anyone’s guess.

Good genetics, maybe. Or altered
genes. Rumors travel on whispers from shack to shack that she’s the last
remaining Kinder. Again, they’re only legends, but the Elders talk of
experiments in the Olden Days, back when there was a government that thought
they were in control. Back before the world ended.

In the clearing off in the distance,
I’m close enough to see wisps of smoke from the encampment. It hangs low over
the rooftops. The heavy air pressure keeps it down, forming a low layer of gray
clouds hovering above the tin roofs.

Another half-mile and I can deliver
the bad news.

Behind me, a round of booming echoes
throughout the valley and races across the lake—the sound travels unhindered,
creating the sensation that they’re closer than what they really are. It’s loud
enough that I wonder if the others back home have heard it already. It’s
possible, and if so, I’m in trouble for not warning them earlier. It’s my
job—any scout’s job—to observe these things long before it has a chance to
reach the ears of those we’re trying to protect.

I run. My lungs and legs ache.

I spit out a mouthful of blood and
gingerly test my tongue against my teeth.

Ouch. Yeah, it still hurts. No need
to test that again.

I’ve been in such a frenzied state,
in a mad dash to get back to safety, that I’ve forgotten something—or someone,
rather.

“Finn,” I say out loud.

He’s my forbidden friend, a member
of the DAV, one of their forward scouts that I met in the forest a year ago.

I think,
Why didn’t he warn me?

And then I keep running.

We met on a sunny afternoon, before
the rains came and rarely stopped, and our first encounter didn’t go well. He
was far away from home. Two hundred miles, at the least, and someone from the
DAV had never been that far south before. Not in my lifetime. Looking back,
that may have been the beginning of their plans. The genesis of their war
machine. I trusted him. I probably shouldn’t have.

That day, I’d been hiding in the
rhododendrons as usual, and I heard something down by the lake. By then, I’d
been on point for over a year and I knew the sounds of the forest well. Which
trees creaked in the wind, which chipmunks lived in which burrows, what time
every morning the herd of deer came through for watering. The new noise was
foreign, so I snuck down to the lake to see what it was.

I found him bent over a stream,
drinking the runoff that feeds into the lake. He surrendered when I held a
knife to his throat. Told me who he was, where he was from, and what he was
doing so far south. I promised not to kill him if he gave me information
whenever he passed through the area. I didn’t see him often, maybe once every
couple of months, but he would always bring me gifts and thank me for sparing
his life. Gifts like apples and cured meat—things we didn’t have the resources
for in my encampment. He brought news, too. News of DAV troop movements, news
of how many groups of Republicons he’d seen in the area, or news of the world
outside our valley.

The information wasn’t worth much,
but I liked hearing about what happened in faraway places. People were still
starving. Rain had washed out ancient bridges and dams. DAV regiments from
Pennsylvania and New York had formed an alliance instead of warring between
themselves.

I kept this information to myself. It
was never important enough to affect our immediate families. This stuff that
happened hundreds of miles away, and in a group where everything was shared,
right down to the same hole in the ground when our bodies required relief. It
felt good, personal, to have something of my own, something that no one else
had. My secrets were mine.

And now maybe they’d cost many
lives.

By the time I make it to the
encampment, I can no longer hear the drums behind me, high up in the valley. The
pounding of the rain on the ground, on scrap-metal roofs and barrels where we
store water for bathing and cooking, drowns out the drumming. I’m relieved,
because I won’t be in trouble for not getting back soon enough, yet it’s also
bittersweet, because they haven’t begun to prepare.

It may already be too late.

BOOK: Warchild: Pawn (The Warchild Series)
8.77Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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