The Black Shield and The Watch Commander

“Okay, so this one’s actually a fanfic of a sort.  Recently I’ve gotten more into roleplaying, especially within the Warhammer 40k universe.  This was the backstory to the character that I play as, so a lot of people will probably not get a lot of the terminology or significance of the names and ranks within this short story (more of two flash fictions really).  If you’re interested here’s a link that would greatly help with defining what’s what in this fictional universe, otherwise, I sincerely apologize if the lack of context lost your interest in this one.” -Justin, September 2014.


A Black Shield


A Watch Commander
Pictures taken from here

Watch Commander Mordigael read the files of the young marine in front of him, studying his features. From his medium length, dark brown hair, to the posture of his body under the black and white armor, every feature pointed to a youth. Indeed, his file’s basic information said that the young battle brother was barely half a century old. Yet his eyes seemed like they had already lived three Astartes’ lifetimes. Unfortunately, the files contained little else except his combat capability, which is substantial. The Watch Commander looked at the young marine.

“Normally I would not pry into the business of one wishing to be a Black Shield,” he shifted his stance, the power sword at his side reflecting the dim light of the chamber. “But normally a space marine doesn’t get dumped at my doorstep by an Inquisitor of the Ordo Hereticus, escorted by a squad of Black Templars.  This kind of… treatment raises a few questions,” he gave the files another glance, “Jester.”

Jester moved his steady gaze from the floor as the Mordigael addressed him, the tired dark brown eyes fell on the senior commander of the Deathwatch. “What would you like to know Commander?”


The two held their silent gaze at each other, until the Watch Commander realized that his vague question may have confused the youth, who probably endured much at the hands of the Inquisitor for the past few weeks. He rephrase his response, “Tell me, what happened to your chapter, the First Sons?  Where are they now?  Why did you leave?”

Jester broke his stare at the older veteran.  After a moment, he began,

“Our first company was tasked with clearing out heretics at the underwater hive world of Cilix 225.  I was attached to a veteran squad for my success during our last engagement.  Kathal, the 1st company captain then,” Jester grimace, “thought it would be a good opportunity for me to gain additional experience, and for him to take note of my abilities.  The mission was successful, and we captured a few heretics for the… victory rituals back on Scelus, the homeworld.

There was an Inquisitor that accompanied us during the mission, Pietias, I think her name was. She found out about the victory rituals we do, where we would take some our enemies, xenos or otherwise, spill their blood at our fortress monastery, and consume them.  It’s an eon old tradition, where we would thank the Emperor for the enemies he delivered into our hands, and the strength we would gain from devouring their flesh.  The Inquisitor took offense by what she saw and requested a force from the Sororitas to halt the rituals and arrest Kathal for purity tests.  She also requested that the chapter suspend the practice of all rituals until a thorough investigation into the nature of rituals can be completed.”

Jester took a deep breath, “Kathal ordered us to slay them on the private chapter vox channel, saying the Inquisitor and her troops had no right to interrupt the blessings of the Emperor and that they were insulting the honor of the chapter.  The first company fell upon the Celestians with no mercy.  By chance my squad was stationed on the outer perimeter of the ceremonial anti-theater, and a squad of Sororitas were near by.  Locius, my sergeant, turned and gunned downed one of them before the rest of us could even raise our weapons.  I… I just reacted, and by the time I understood what was happening all nine other members of my squad were dead, and my chainsword was dripping with their blood.

The three remaining battle sisters were still clutching their weapons, one of them losing a lot of blood from her lacerated mid section. They wanted to rescue the Inquisitor, and to regroup with their larger force and fight their way out, but I knew there was no possible way that could happen. The Sororitas were already outnumbered at least three to one, and that’s not counting those that went down during the the initial assault.  Add the home advantage in and it would take a primarch to fight a way in and out of the fortress. It took some convincing, but eventually they relented.

We managed to make our way to the launch bays and took one of the thunderhawks.  While we were flying away in low attitude to avoid the anti-air defence we caught a glimpse of the anti-theater below: Kathal had completed the ritual using the Inquisitor herself.  We flew to the other side of the planet and then out of the range of the scanners as far as possible.  The Emperor must have been watching over us that day, not only we avoid being picked up by the orbital chapter fleet’s scans, we ran into an inquisitorial vessel just on the edge of the system.

Long story short, the wounded sister expired from her wounds, but thanks to testimonies of her squad-mates, I was spared the swift blessings of the Emperor’s Peace.  However, the Inquisitor in charge, Kinious, was a close friend of the fallen Inquisitor, the one my former brothers consumed.  Under his… watchful eyes, I undergo a series of tests to prove my purity, needless to say, the fact that I’m standing before you proved my… lesser degree of guilt.”

The Watch Commander’s blank expression did not change as he heard Jester’s story, not even when the ritual was described.  As the young marine concluded his answer, Mordigael asked, “So that is it? Kinious just gave you a longer version of the purity trials, and left you here? If that is the extent of this Inquisitor’s grudge then I would say you got off easy.”

A slight smile hinted at the edge of Jester’s mouth, “as much as I had prayed to the Emperor that the Kinious would have done that, like you said, I would have gotten off easy.”  The Watch Commander prompted Jester to continue, “The Inquisitor wanted me to be executed, but someone on board the vessel accompanying him forbid a seemingly innocent Astartes to be killed so wastefully.  I cannot remember who.  Nonetheless I could not be released so freely into the Emperor’s galaxy, so a compromised was reached.

I would take a death oath, and undertake that quest alone, or die.  Only upon the completion of that oath will I be allowed to return to the Emperor’s light.  So either I will find peace in death, or my penance will be paid for my efforts.  Without much of a choice, I agreed.  I would be dropped off at one of the worlds on the edge of the Eye of Terror to search for a certain relic from the ancient days before the Age of Apothesey.  So a lone thunderhawk took me to a planet called Crasis, and left me with my armor, a chainsword and bolt pistol with one clip.”

Mordigael rubbed his chin thoughtfully, “Crasis, isn’t that one of the planets that was swallowed by the Eye for a while?”

Jester nodded, “the same. I’m sure you have better things to attend to than to hear me speak all day, but-“

“How many did you come across?”

Jester stared, “I’m sorry commander?”

“How many of the First Sons did you kill during your search?”

Jester stopped and dropped his eyes to the floor, and after a minute, looked back up, a quiet fury in his eyes “They took the name Sons of Malice, a final betrayal.  I killed six of these ‘Sons of Malice’.  Three with my chain sword, two with pistol, last with my hands.”

“Was Kathal one of them?”

“No, Emperor forgive me.”

“And the rest of the story?”

Jester sigh softly, “I found what I was looking for on a distant planet from the Eye after a period of time, the warp storms throwing me time and time again to different planets, and was able to flagged down a passing cruiser with an old imperial beacon.  Coincidentally, it was a Dark Angel’s ship, the Formidable.  The Battle Brother in charge immediately place me in quarantine and contact the nearest Inquisitorial authorities for instructions.  By the Emperor’s will, it was Kinious who responded first, arriving with his ship and transporting me another prison of Ordo Hereticus for a much longer and intense test of purity than our first encounter.  Once more, by the Emperor’s grace, I was found cleanse of any influence of the archenemy.  After a long… discussion between the higher powers of the Inquisition it was decided that I have earned my chance to rejoined the Emperor’s fold, and I was transported here.”

“Do you believe that?”

“I… I live to serve the Emperor commander.”

“That’s not an answer.”

The two Astartes held their gaze at each other, each trying to penetrate the other’s steel shield to the other’s true intentions underneath.  It was Jester who faltered first, dropping his eyes.  The Watch Commander studied the assault marine before him, and after a while, spoke, “I will permit you to join deathwatch as a black shield,” Jester looks back up, his eyes hopeful,” but under one condition.” The Watch Commander watched the determined youth carefully, “You must swear to me that you will never place your interests ahead of that of your kill-team, the Deathwatch, or the Imperium, this includes your hunt for the Sons of Malice. And if you fail in this oath, I will issue the Emperor’s Peace on you personally. Do you accept my offer?”

Jester hesitated, then nodded. “I accept.”

“You accept with your words, it remains to be seen if you accept with your heart.” With a motion of his hands, a servitor entered the chamber, “please show Brother Jester to his chambers and provide him with his new Black Shield armor, he’s one of us now.”


Three men stood in front of Mordigael, the Master of the Hunt, a Master of the Forge and Deathwatch Sanguinary Priest Ethros of the Blood Angels.

“-and I want an inventory of the basic armament of this fortress in three days, nothing about secretive weapons, just everything between bolters rounds to the macro-shells.” The three men nodded and prepared their departures when the Watch Commander remembered what he wanted to ask, “Brothers, how is our newest Black Shield adjusting to his new home?”

The trio looked at one another, and the Master of the Hunt spoke first, “Jester is diligent when it comes to his training, he spends a good majority of his days either training in my hunting grounds, fighting as much as I’m willing throw at him, or he is at the armories, checking on his weapons and armor.”

The Master of the Forge nodded in agreement, “Although I cannot teach him the ways of treating machine spirits, Jester has been most attentive during my instructions on how to maintain his equipment.  The machine spirits both in his armor and his weapons are well pleased, and the equipment themselves in fine conditions.  Were he of a younger age, I would recommend sending him to Mars to train as techmarine, but it would seem as though his interest lies more in battle, and the casings of the machine spirits but the simple tools of war.”

Noticing the lack of response from Ethros, Mordigael dismissed the two other Astartes, and when their footsteps faded in the distance, the Sanguinary Priest spoke up, “Jester spends the last two hours of each day in one of the sanctuaries, either praying to the Emperor or consulting me for counsel.  He’s… he’s been asking about the Red Thirst and the Black Rage.”  Ethros looked unsurely at the Watch Commander, a Blood Angel himself.

But Mordigael simply nodded and gestured Ethros to continue.  “In addition to questions on faith and forgiveness from the Emperor, Jester seek to understand how we overcome our urges for uncontrolled bloodlust in the midst of battles, to not lose ourselves to our urges and place our minds on our honor and duty.  He does not know or pry our conditions specifically, but have read enough reports to know of our chapter’s ferocity.  I told him I could not answer him yet, as I do not know how to put our resistance quite in terms that could be understood by those outside our chapter. But Watch Commander,” Ethros leaned forward slightly, “I do not wish to pry, for I have asked nothing of the young Astartes and he has revealed nothing in return, so forgive me for asking.  But Mordigael, is he one of us?

The Watch Commander received the question thoughtfully, then replied, “no, Ethros, he does not suffer as much of a temptation as us, yet he must resist another form of darkness within him.  Do all you can to guide him, as you would any Blood Angels, without revealing our lusts.  For one day he must face that darkness head on, and on that day he will either fall from the Emperor’s light or ascend to greatness.  I cannot order you to do this my friend, only ask you to do this one favor for me.”

“Of course commander,” the Sanguinary Priest bowed his head, and walked away as Mordigael dismissed him.  The Watch Commander ran a gauntlet over his head, sparing another thought at the young Black Shield, and turned his attention back to the other responsibilities that awaited him.

Teutoburg Boulevard

“This was a short story I wrote, inspired by the video game Dishonored.  The style of the world was designed similarly with the video game world, yet the specific details I created myself.  Hope you enjoy.” -Justin

            The sweat froze on Viktor’s brows as he tried not to breathe.  The steam from his breath threatened to ruin everything.  He regulated his inhales and exhales in short bursts, so that the white cloud would dissipate a few inches from his face: tonight was too important for any slip-ups.  The cold air cut straight through his hooded trench coat, his padded shirt, his wool laden gloves, his slacks and his socks.  Viktor shivered erratically, and only with the greatest efforts had he been able to control himself from giving away everything.  Checking his Arc Wielder; the metal exoskeleton around his right arm crackled to life with electricity, illuminating before his pearl colored eyes.  The crouched silhouette a few feet from him stirred in annoyance and Nico shot him a hard look from the next pile of rubble. The light died just as quickly as it was born.  Stop messing around, even in the shadows the Senior Harbinger’s message was clear, you’re gonna get us all killed!  Viktor leaned his head back against the column and wondered how many of them will die amongst the ruins of the old district.  Chancing a glance around his cover, he poked his head around the column at the lonely, snow covered streets below.

On the other side of the column, an eight ton armored truck thundered past, followed closely by another.  Viktor could see each vehicle was coated in grey steel.  They had another layer of reflective photo-armor laid on top, each a white screen monitor.  It made sense, since the T-Car could maneuver better in the tight streets.  The repeater guns on top of the T-Car swiveled side to side, looking for any excuse to fill the air with infrared beams.  The sound of footsteps complemented the roaring engines in Vincent’s ears.  Soldiers in light tan armor filed along the column of slow moving vehicles, weaving in and out between the T-Cars and the transports.  Each of them had a camera-gun strapped on. A few greetings echoed above the static noise of the moving transportations throughout the line, and yawns hopped from face to face.  Viktor’s eyes fell on a massive figure moving about the column.  A six and a half foot goliath marched about with a giant camera gun.  Even in the darkened streets Viktor could make out the Juggernaut’s imposing presence.

The convoy was running through the night in an attempt to escape detection: an effort that ended in vain.  Even the best kept secrets could be discovered with enough persuasion, and a certain lieutenant was more than willing to cooperate once 10,000 volts went through his body a few times.  Viktor mused at the irony of the situation: in an attempt to avoid detection and attack, the convoy had chosen a narrower, more dangerous route.  Yet it is this decision that will doom the lives of so many walking this Historical District’s street.  Funny how the past repeats itself; this street, which shared the name of the forest where three Roman Legions died in an ambush by the Germanic barbarians, would the site of the strike.  Either the commander of this escort was not a superstitious man, or he was painfully ignorant of history.  Regardless, he would pay tonight with the lives of his men.

Viktor retreated back to the safety of his cover, and the ruins around him pushed his thoughts drifted back to the beginning of this war.  He could remember the beauty of the Historical District before the power shortages, before entire sectors of the city went dark, before people began dying of starvation and exposure.  When the Edisonians announced that electricity became scarce due to fuel shortages, no one thought that they would abandon half the population to their deaths.  First there was an increase on the already high prices of power.  Then as less and less people could afford electricity, the government would shut off the power going to certain districts altogether.  Things got bad quickly as starvation and homelessness spread, and a few protesters petitioned for help, but the Edisonians mowed them down with automatic fire.  Viktor clutched his fists as a scene appeared in his mind: the night a cold, hungry boy stopped and listened to a yelling herald at Franklin Square.

“Even now, our “rulers” sit comfortably in their lap of luxuries, laughing at our misery.”  None of the orphans had any food that day; they had failed to meet the quotas set by the Edisonian overseers at the cotton mill and those that could still walk snuck out to scrap up what they can to eat.  “And when we peacefully ask for their aid, did they send it?”  The cuts on Viktor’s back throbbed as he drank in the impassionate speaker, each word stinging as much as the whiplashes earlier that week: punishment for helping a little girl with her workload.  “NO!  They would reply with empty words and camera gun fire.  When we asked for life, they would send us death.  When we ask for peace, they would have war!”  Balling his hand into a fist, he joined the chorus roaring in anger around him.  “If they want a war then we give them a war so terrible, that Edison himself will cry out from his grave!”  The white-eyed went back to the orphanage, and spread the word of the revolution amongst the others.  “And as their bodies deck the ruins of our streets, as their blood flows in the gutters of back alleys and the slums they have forced our fathers into, as we rip the morning light from their eyes and deliver them into eternal darkness, they will know this.”  He didn’t feel hungry anymore.  “We are the Sons of Tesla and we will be free!”

For a second, the snowflakes held their positions midair, the atmosphere had a sense of calmness about it, and even the wind stopped howling.  A full moon illuminated the tranquility of midnight—its bright rays bathed the battered street when the white ball emerged from its dark veil.  The young runner took a deep breath as an explosion rocked through the air, breaking the trance.

The detonation came from somewhere down the road.  Immediately there was shouting everywhere and a second flash appeared to the opposite side of Viktor, this one much closer than the last.  Within seconds Viktor charged his Wielder, threw on his hood and vaulted over the rubble.  An image of chaos confronted him: a wrecked T-Car was ablaze to his left, and bodies of tan armor and grey hooded trench coats littered the ground.  Lifting his right arm, Viktor chucked a lightning bolt at the nearest Edisonian trooper.  The electric bolt collided with the side of the soldier’s head, decapitating the man with an explosion of blood.  His squad mate’s gaze darted upon Viktor and the barrel of the bewildered fighter’s gun swing on Viktor.  A beam flashed inches from Viktor’s face and he dove sideways.  The ground rose and slammed his face hard; the light traced the earth around his body, scorching the frozen soil.  Scrambling to his feet, the two combatants exchanged projectiles with one another, every scorch light answered by a lightning bolt.  The furious assault forced Viktor to maneuver himself behind the wrecked T-Car, and found a moment of solace.

The ambush had disintegrated into a series of individual battles, and men clashed in every direction.  Viktor recharged his Wielder and peeked his white eyes over the charred metal: the soldier that was shooting at him now skirmished with another runner, each trying to get to their weapon while prevent the other from reaching his.  Viktor spared another second to take in his surroundings, and with no one nearby he turned and drove himself back into the fray.  Almost immediately another Edisonian appeared and another burst of light flashed at Viktor.  The fire collided with a barrier of light that materialized two inches from Viktor’s arm, each impact draining his Wielder.  Sprinting at the man, the Viktor unleashed a torrent of lightning through the air.  The trooper twitched violently as his flesh cooked from the inside out; smoke still streamed from his open mouth as his corpse hit the ground.  Savoring his victory, Viktor reached down to a scabbard on the dead soldier.

Unbuckling a button on the sheath, a seven inched blade appeared in Viktor’s left hand.  Dashing about the battlefield, he descended upon the unsuspecting troopers all around him, blasting at bodies and severing tendons and arteries.  He caught a glance of Nico, who just sent three men flying through the air with a well-placed scatter light, an ultra-powerful short range attack that can kill nearly anything within five feet of the blast.  Satisfied, Viktor turned back to the direction he was heading towards, only to look into the lens of a camera-rifle.  The young Teslanite looked up at the smile of its owner as the Edisonian squeezed the trigger.

In seconds between the first and second explosions Vincent knew the whole operation was in trouble.  The tight corridor in which they had been traveling down could barely fit two T-Cars side to side let alone maneuver in battle, so all the mobile vehicles were sitting ducks.  Even if the heavy repeaters could provide limited covering fire, the rest of the infantries were on their own, and if the infantry can’t keep the Teslanites from getting close, then everyone in the motorcade was as good as dead.  Once the lead T-Car was reduced to fragments one thing became instantly clear to every single guard up and down the line: a lot of them were not going to see the sun rise again.  Vincent switched the safety off of his camera-rifle and fired at the ruins to the left.  It was as if someone kicked an ant hill: the shells of the great buildings on either side of the road came alive with Teslanites crawling everywhere, and scorch light and lightning began soaring through the air instantaneously.  A corporal from his squad looked over at him and was about to say something when a flash roared past his ear and took the man’s head clean off.  Vincent gritted his teeth and returned fire.

The first shot barely missed the hooded runner’s head and he dove sideways to avoid incineration.  The scorch light from Vincent’s gun peppered the ground around the prone figure, who hastily climbed to his feet and returned the favor.  In the adrenaline rush of the initial battle the young Edisonian forgot his training, and his resulting attacks did nothing but chase the killer into cover.  Crap.  As the used clip from his weapon fell on the ground he heard a noise from his rear.  Spinning on the spot, he brought the stock of the rifle down on the materializing shape behind him, but the harbinger caught the gun and brought his own Arc Wielder to bear.  The air sizzled with electric energy as the two traded blows back and forth.  Finally Vincent raised his right foot, and drove the armored boot into the veteran’s mid-section.  While the harbinger stumbled backwards, the Edisonian’s sidearm pressed itself against the leather hood, and sung a sweet lullaby through the man’s skull.  Vincent put away the camera-pistol and took cover by some debris.

Sliding a fresh clip into his rifle, he looked around, trying to get a feel for the battle.  One of the troop transports exploded as it evacuated its cargo: pieces of corpses scattered next to its hollow flaming shell.  People were fighting everywhere, mostly at close to medium range engagements.  Sargent Blake waged a path of carnage with his destroyer gun, lightning bouncing off his juggernaut armor like snow upon marble.  He grabbed a fixer with his free hand and snapped his neck, never ceasing the continuous stream of fire from his firearm.  However, his herculean efforts had attracted the attention of every enemy in the vicinity, and volleys of lightning streaked towards the mammoth of a man.  Looking over to the other side of the line, Vincent could see that things were not going as well there.  The harbingers held the attention of the main troops while runners weaved in and out, injuring and maiming anyone they could get close to.

Vincent sprinted over to the retreating front, bringing down a runner with some shots and tripping another, he finished off the fallen Teslanite with a blow from the stock of his rifle.  There was a huge bang, and several Edisonians flew through the air.  Vincent was traced the origin of the attack: a high ranking harbinger had unleashed a scatter light on the unfortunate combat engineers; most of them would be dead before they hit the ground.  Unexpectedly, Vincent spotted a lone runner standing a few steps ahead of him.  Seizing the opportunity, the trooper ran up and just as the Teslanite turned, raised his weapon and pulled the trigger.

The click of his gun was the loudest thing Vincent ever heard in his life.  It was louder than the explosions that trapped the convoy in the Historical District.  Louder than the scatter light that killed the engineers.  Louder than the lightning bolt missed his head by a few centimeters and decapitated the corporal.  Louder even than the screams of the dying men around him.  His heart stopped for what seemed an eternity, as the fear in the Teslanite’s white irises replaced itself with confusion, and his own confidence melting away.  Both of the young men froze, paralyzed by the sheer chance of the camera-rifle jamming, but it was the runner who recovered first.

He tackled Vincent and slammed him against a half collapsed wall; his reflective armor clinked loudly against what’s left of the century old post office.  The right hook came, and smashed against the wall where Vincent’s head had been.  The Edisonian reached up, grabbed the back of his assailant’s head, and bashed it against the snow covered bricks, and before the hooded figure could recover, brought his boot down on the sprawling man’s right arm.  Sparks flew as the exoskeleton broke, but as Vincent rejoiced in his triumph the runner swing the knife in his left hand.  In an effort to avoid its sharp edge, Vincent lost his footing and with a kick the Teslanite took Vincent’s legs from underneath him.  The fall knocked Vincent’s breath out of him as he landed in the middle of the street.

Within moments the Teslanite was on the young trooper, bringing the knife down now with his right hand.  Vincent attempted to stop its descent, but only succeeded in delaying the weapon’s fall.  Somehow one of his hands found its way around his opponent’s throat and began to squeeze; this provided enough distraction for him to bring the struggle to a standstill.  As each of them fought for an advantage during the impasse, Vincent momentarily caught the sight of a T-Car rolling towards them, the heavy repeater on top decimating the Sons of Tesla’s ranks.  Only when it reached within less than ten meters from the duo did Vincent realized that it wasn’t going to stop.  The man struggling with him was completely oblivious; the hatred in his pearl colored eyes had blinded him to all but the immediate conflict.  The young Edisonian reflected on the irony of the situation: it was not the enemy that would be his end, but the very people that he trusted his life and his family’s lives would bring about his demise.  So it was almost with gladness that he saw the orb of lightning streaked across the sky above them and detonated the armored vehicle.  That thought washed away when the shockwave propelled the both of them into space.

Disoriented, Vincent tried to get up.  A sharp from his rib cage pushed him back down.  Looking around, everything within five meters of the T-Car was either on fire, blasted away, or both.  His white eyed attacker was nowhere to be seen.  A strange ringing in his ears displaced all the sounds in the world, so when Sargent Blake rushed up to him Vincent could see his lips move but could hear nothing.  Sargent Blake waved his arm and called to someone nearby, and a medic rushed up and injected a syringe into Vincent’s torso.  The painkiller flooded his body, and the battlefield gave way to a giant poster that presented itself in front of him.

Serve your country!  A proud armored trooper stood in front of an Edisonian Flag, a black rectangle with a yellow light bulb in the middle and the letters D and C on either side of it.  Free electric power to the first five hundred volunteers!  Suddenly he was sitting by a bed in a dimly lit room.  The elderly woman’s kind face was riddled with sadness; he gripped her hand gently, explaining again about how the free power will help them survive, especially when entire districts in the capital were going dark.  She expressed concern for his sister, Sarah, and who will take care of her if he left.  Vincent gently reminded her that Sarah’s old enough to take care of herself, and with the extra security in the streets they shouldn’t worry about the thieves anymore.  Her words danced around his, but there was no mistaken the message in her heart.  “I’ve lost your father and your brother, now I’m going to lose you too.”  Unable to answer, Vincent released her hand and stood up, and the bedroom transformed into the street in front of an old house.

A sobbing girl was hugging him, determined to delay his departure as long as possible.  The normally pretty face was covered in tears, yet somehow her waving brown hair made her seemed angelic.  “It’s time for me to go.”  Sarah looked up at him, defiance in her eyes.  Her flower dress had various patches sewed on to cover the holes, yet the ugliness of the dress did nothing but made her look even more beautiful in their contrast.  She buried her face into his stomach again.  “You know this is the best way for me to take care of you guys.”  After receiving another squeeze, he wriggled out of her grasp, kneeled down in front of her, and kissed her softly on the head.  “I’ll be back before you know it, and then I’ll show you that card trick you’ve always wanted to learn, ok?”  She threw her arms around his neck and whispered a question into his ear.  “Yes, I promise.”  The lingering smell of hazelnut filled his nostrils as he turned from the house.  The front door closing behind him was the last thing he heard before losing consciousness.

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