This could all be his own fault, Alan continued walking along the dirt road.
This is why he had wanted to avoid the guards, he thought ruefully not for the first time, but even so he had still either underestimated them or overestimated his own abilities. Alan struggled with the decision to come clean. If he had cooperated and told the guards everything he might have avoided this situation. He might even be endangering lives by not telling them about the Goblins.
It was the end of the first day on the road heading towards Boulder. Though Boulder was Alan's original destination, the city he had dreamed of living in while attending university, this was not quite the way he had hoped to approach it.
After his failed interview yesterday, the guards had woken him up early and set him up for the journey to the capital. It was not a friendly interaction, and Alan was under no illusions that he was anything other than a prisoner at this point. The road was dusty and well traveled and they set a pace that was steady if not hurried.
His group consisted of Gene, David, the tall man who had been present during his interrogation, and several guards for accompaniment. Alan was surprised to see Blake the guard who had found him among the group. When he had seen the burly man join them on the road, Blake had given him a small wink before shouting orders at an unsuspecting young officer.
He wasn't sure what to make of that.
Other than that the journey had been uneventful, and tomorrow they were soon to reach Boulder. Along the way Gene and David had continued to ask him questions, David with open hostility and Gene with seemingly genuine concern. He had been thinking over his choices and decided to come clean.
He had nowhere else to go, one or both of them had a Skill that let them know he was lying, and in all likelihood the truth would be taken from him one way or another. He was completely in their power and there was nothing to be gained from keeping silent. And they were Guards, their job was protecting citizens, it stood to reason that they were all on the same side.
Someone had probably tried to use a Skill on him to get information from his dreams, but honestly he had no idea who had done that and what motive they had. It could have been just a bad dream. There was nothing to gain from keeping silent any more.
They were stopped by the roadside for one last break when he pulled both Gene and David to the side. There had been few travelers on the road that day and with the sun still in the sky, but with the day just starting to wind down the atmosphere seemed almost peaceful.
"I've decided to tell you what happened," he stated matter of factly after going far enough away from the rest of the group to not be overheard.
The two glanced at each other before turning back towards him. "Ok, go ahead we're listening," Gene responded encouragingly.
Alan took a deep breath. And began to tell it all. The wind died down as he began, the rustling of the trees quieted. His voice echoed in the sudden stillness.
He started from the day before the attack. He talked about how the day had been like any other and then how Eric had asked him to sleep in the rafters. He spoke about his confusion with the request, and then how he had eventually woken up to the sound of screams and the destruction of his town. He told it almost distractedly. He didn't focus on what he was saying.
He watched the way Gene brushed her hair aside as she listened intently. The way David's glare relaxed as he went on. He felt the sweat begin to form on his forehead as the humidity increased with no wind to cool him down. It was hot and uncomfortable. He thought of the bath in the guardhouse and of having a cold drink of water. He paused as he reached the point where the Goblins made their appearance.
"I didn't move from my hiding place." He continued, "I was scared, I was terrified... Even so eventually the door to the stable burst open and I saw the attackers, it wasn't--" he stopped as David fell over.
"What?" he asked confused.
Gene moved too quickly for him to see. Suddenly she was at his side with a knife to his neck.
"Don't say anything more." She whispered in his ear. "Who knows what Skills might pick up any stray words. David here had a Skill called [Mindshare] on him for instance. He could share thoughts at a distance with his... benefactor." She glanced down as she spoke to where David lay on the ground. He wasn't breathing. "So what I'm saying is don't speak needlessly."
"What-" Alan began but was quickly interrupted.
"Don't say anything." Gene hissed, "I'll have whole the truth from you but now is not the time. I'm going to back off slowly and you will not move or make a sound are we clear?" she said quietly.
Alan didn't dare to do anything but nod. He glanced down at David's body. The man had fallen face up. Dirt and blood covered the man's shirt. It was already starting to smell, the man's bowels must have loosened. In the space of seconds, his entire situation had changed. He was far enough away that the others probably hadn't noticed what was happening yet. He debated calling out, but he hadn't even been able to see how she had killed David or get so close to him, so he kept silent.
"Ok," she took a step away staring down at him, "Now liste-" And suddenly there was blood spraying from her neck. It happened without warning. He saw her eyes widen right as her hands began to reach up. A gaping slit had appeared, and Alan stared horrified as blood sprayed violently in his face. It was hot, hotter than he would have thought. He could smell it, he could taste it, she had been close when it had happened. And the moment seemed to play in slow motion, a bright red fountain spraying him before he knew what was going on.
He tried to back away. He felt manic, he felt frantic, he no longer understood anything of what was happening. Two people had just been murdered in front of his eyes. Alan couldn't take it anymore, he screamed. Or tried to, but nothing came out.
"Won't be doing you any good boy." A familiar voice sounded behind him.
Alan whipped around to see the burly guard Blake striding up, wiping blood off of his short sword, looking much the same as he had on the day that he had found Alan riding towards the town of Stonewall.
"Don't know which one she was working for, but sadly couldn't take the risk to find out. That lady there had some deadly Skills no doubt about it." He spat over his shoulder as he spoke.
"I have a Skill that lets me silence you," he said as he kicked Gene's body testingly, sword still out. His uniform looked dusty and unkempt. "I'm gonna remove it don't you worry, but before I do let me just say screaming won't do you no good." He rolled over the body. The gaping wound in her throat still weakly pumping out blood, dripping onto the dirt ground in a brown pool.
"I had to go and kill the whole guard unit. Worked with a couple of those boys before. At least she took care of David for me, that would've been another troublesome one. I might have had some issues if I had to do the both of em."
Alan stood frozen in place, still processing the last few moments.
"Listen, I'm not mean hearted" Blake continued, "I actually owe you one and I'm sure you're curious so let me just fill you in a bit here. You saw something you shouldn't have. I know it, you know it, she seemed to know it" he gestured towards Gene's bloody corpse. Alan was breathing deeply, this was too much.
"And not just any small thing you saw, no sir" Blake spat on the ground, "you saw Goblins within the boundary. You probably know its some troublesome news, which was why you was keeping silent, smart that, smarter than most your age would be in the same situation I'm sure... But what you probably don't know is that it is more than just troublesome, it is something that CAN NOT BE." Blake stared hard at Alan, his eyes hard and dark as coal. "Just how it is. You shoulda died, don't know how you managed to escape the raid, no one does, but we'll get that out of ya don't you worry."
Blake looked over at him, eyeing him up and down. "Now I'm gonna deactivate my Skill so you can speak, but realize that this is just me being nice. If you become too troublesome I'll silence you again, and bind ya with this handy rope I got to boot. Thing is I owe you one. If you had blabbed when we first met or at the station... well we can't be letting people just go around with the knowledge that the boundary failed like that. Things woulda gotten awful bloody awful fast. Woulda had to end a lot of people. A lot of friends. I've been in the Guards no small time ya know, I'm acquainted with plenty of folk at that station. Not to mention my own life would've been in considerably more danger. So there's that."
Alan nodded slowly.
"Alright you're free to speak," Blake said expectantly. Alan had felt nothing change and had not noticed the guard making any discernable motions, but sound now came out as he cleared his throat.
He was tired, he was shocked, he was covered in blood and was starting to smell. Two bodies lay at his feet and the blood which had been bright red was quickly drying into a dirty brown. Flies were starting to gather as the summer sun beat down. He looked at Blake, standing there in a casual, almost friendly manner waiting for him to speak.
"Is there somewhere I can rinse off?" He asked using the same calm voice he had when they had first met. He was starting to recognize that was what he did when processing a situation was too much. It was either remain calm or break down.
Blake blinked at the question. Then burst out laughing. "Damn boy if you ain't got one huge sack on ya!" He continued to laugh as he started setting out back towards camp. "There's a river this way, follow me you dirty bastard. I swear but you're an odd one."
The heavy man continued to chuckle to himself as he began walking along the road. "Follow me!" He called back merrily, and Alan vaguely thought he heard him mutter something about "giant hairy balls" as he laughed to himself.
Not wanting to take his chances, Alan obediently followed the other man. He looked around at the empty road scanning for any people or witnesses to what had just occurred. He might be able to get help, but the road was oddly free of people. Might as well try to get information.
"What are you going to do to me?" Alan asked as he hurried after the man.
"Nothing you need to worry about now," Blake said, not slowing down. "And that's all you'll get from me on that. Would appreciate it if you don't ask further."
"Aren't you worried about witnesses? Or about being found next to all these bodies?" Alan asked not sensing any immediate malice from the man.
"Of course" Blake responded after a time, "I took precautions."
Alan waited for more explanation, but it didn't look like Blake would be saying any more on that subject. He thought of some more questions, but Blake only shared what he wanted to, which wasn't much. He decided to keep it silent as they made their way towards the river and distanced themselves from the bloody scene.
He would keep his eyes out for a chance to escape, but for now he was entirely in Blake's power. He had to assume the guard would kill him if he became too troublesome, no matter how friendly the man seemed. And honestly, he didn't even want to escape at this point. Where would he go? He just wanted to be clean and taken care of. Was that so much?
It took an hour to reach the river. Alan wished they could have taken the horses, but when he asked Blake about it the other man had just snorted. It seemed Blake only shared information when he wanted to.
More and more people began to appear on the road again after some time. They had cleaned themselves up as best as they could, but the road was wide and they tried to keep to the side to avoid being inspected too closely. The wind had picked up again bringing them both some much-needed relief from the heat.
Once they reached it, the river turned out to be more of a stream. A small path lead to it from the main road. There were a few other travelers along the water, but no one looked to be overly curious and everyone kept to themselves. Blake slapped Alan on the back as they stood at the edge of the water.
"Well, no time like the present." Blake smiled and began undressing.
Alan watched and wondered about how such a seemingly good-natured man could be a cold-blooded murderer. He sighed and followed suit. Rather than ease himself into the water, Alan ran in. It was not deep, but he could sit down and wash off the grim and dirt and blood from his body.
The cool water felt wonderful. And something about that almost made him break. He felt it inside him. Just hours ago, people had died in front of him, possibly because of him. And here he was, a seemingly peaceful and hot day, enjoying the feeling of cool water flowing around him. He listened to the calm and normal sounds coming from the other groups of people nearby. A little further downstream Blake let out a relaxed sigh as he plopped down in the water. It was almost as if everything was normal.
He didn't even think of running away.
They dried up, Blake produced some clean shirts from somewhere and they set off towards the city once more. The rest of the trip passed uneventfully. Alan keeping silent and Blake did the same while occasionally whistling a small tune.
Just as the sun began to disappear over the horizon, they arrived at Boulder. Cresting a hill they sighted the blue and red colors that the capital was known for. Alan had only been to Boulder on a few occasions and as always he felt a bit of wonder at the sight. The city was much larger than Willowbook or Stonewall. Large blue painted walls surrounded it at intervals and it expanded off into the distance. From his vantage point, he could make out the famous golden church and the blue palace where the king resided sticking out of the mass of structures. Inside Boulder Alan knew the streets ran in a grid system, but outside of the large walls a smattering of less orderly buildings and streets had sprung up over the long history.
"We'll be taking a different route here," Blake said, stopping short on the side of the road. "Rules are rules and I'm gonna need to drug you and cover yer head from here on out. Let's pull off to the side a bit and I'll get you situated."
Alan glanced away from the city, up at the man, and prepared to follow without complaint.
What else could he do?