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Seeing Double

Sunset Village

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a part of Seeing Double, by Crystal Flamedance.

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Crystal Flamedance holds sovereignty over Sunset Village, giving them the ability to make limited changes.

267 readers have been here.

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Sunset Village is a part of Seeing Double.

3 Characters Here

Jessamine Nightshade [11] "The law's about as fun as the cops...so what's the point?"
Jemima Roseblade [8] The law upholds peace, and I uphold the law
Edwin Sharar [6] Those who desire peace must prepare for war.

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Character Portrait: Jessamine Nightshade
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Jessamine frowned, looking over the small village carefully. Surely it hadn't been like this when she was born? When her father had been there? When her mother had lived there, or if she did; she didn't know whether or not she was even alive still. She walked through the alleys, keeping herself to the shadows, where she felt the safest. Hiding was much more comfortable to her than being out in the open; thieves in the open got caught, and if you got caught, you weren't really much of a thief. That was how she was raised, so that was what she very firmly believed in.

She froze, hearing someone walking her way. Then she moved, hiding back further in the shadows, looking carefully from the corner of her eye. Seeing whoever it was pass by, she let out a breath she hadn't realized she had been holding. 'So much for a peaceful village,' she thought, reminding herself what her father had told her about the place. No, something must have happened. The place had changed; her father hadn't mentioned soldiers patrolling, or people being treated as slaves; surely he would have mentioned that, if only to keep her away from the place. But she couldn't ask him; he was too far away, and she had no way of knowing where he was to contact him.

While she hated to do it, she snuck into a building that appeared to be abandoned, and peered out of the window. No, it hardly seemed like a quiet place to live in. Too many people with weapons, too much of what looked to be slavery, and certainly too dirty to be the village she had been told about. She turned away and began to explore the building. She would need a place to stay while she figured things out, and since no one appeared friendly enough to offer anyone a place to stay, this was the best thing she was going to find.

"How could this have happened?" she asked out loud, despite the fact that she was sure she was alone. Who cared if no one answered? "I should have stayed with Dad...or at least wait until he could come along...now I don't know what to do..."

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Character Portrait: Edwin Sharar
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Dear Mother and Father,

I pray this letter finds you in good health.

A month ago we succeeded in liberating Sunset Village from the forces of imperialist dogs. The people here are overjoyed to be under the benevolent rule of our Glorious Leader. I have been given vice-command of the village under Colonel Jaromir. My duties are: to ensure the welfare of the people, to maintain security, to prepare the village for exploitation of its resources, to investigate and put down rebels, and to oversee new recruits into our military.

I am concerned that Col. Jaromir, who is a hard man, may be treating some of the villagers with unnecessary force. However, it is not my place to question his methods. Our Noble Leader has put his faith in Col. Jaromir for a reason, and I must trust that all will turn out for the best. I am also concerned that some of our new conscripts, who resent our presence here, will attempt a counterattack. In time they will come to accept the rightness of our cause, but at present they must be watched carefully for any sign of disturbance.

Sunset Village is appropriately named, for the days here are short and nights are cold. I have received the scarf you knit for me, Mother. It reminds me of home and is often a comfort on cold night patrols. I am in fine condition and have sustained no injuries yet. All this training in the cold mountain air is doing wonders for my constitution and complexion; you would hardly recognise me! I hope that we will see each other again soon.

Your loving son,
Eddie (now Lieutenant-colonel; yet another promotion)


Edwin read the letter a final time, searching it for any subversive comments that could get him in trouble. No, he had mentioned the Glorious and Noble Leader and his benevolent rule. He had criticised Colonel Jaromir and called him "a hard man", but the Colonel would probably take that as a compliment. The letter was safe.

He nodded to himself, folded the letter and placed it in an envelope, which he slipped into his breast pocket. Sadly his parents' village was too small and poor to have access to computers or even phones. Besides, writing letters had a more personal touch.

He sighed, ran a hand through his hair and stepped out onto the street.

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#, as written by shmband
Jemima had been on the verge of drifting off to sleep, lulled into slumber by the smooth rasping of the charcoal brazier set up in the corner of the room. Huddled with her legs up on a plastic chair, her cowl-neck sweatshirt pulled up over her chin, her mood was so low that she almost couldn’t muster the energy and will to eat. She especially wasn’t hungry for pierogies, but that was all she had. Another soiree in search of supplies would be required soon, but she’d need to wait until something happened to disrupt the regular patrols on the streets at night. Like some sort of attack or uprising.

In the early days after she’d taken refuge in the old telecommunications building, she’s taken advantage of the military regularity of the patrols to time her expeditions out to find food and other necessities. But lately there were more soldiers, more frequent patrols, and her only hope of getting out at night unseen was to have the militia’s attention focused on something else. The CB radio she’d salvaged was good for picking up on when that happened. The building had long since been stripped of anything the invaders could use, and had been supplanted in function by the army’s own communications array in their makeshift barracks; meaning that nobody ever came here.

The room she’d taken up residence in had formerly been a server room. There were no working machines or telephones anymore, but it had a dedicated power supply which had not yet been found and cut off by the garrison. That meant she’d been able to set up an ice-box to keep food fresh, a microwave, but those were the only ‘mod cons’ she had anymore. Just the brazier, some pots and pans, the chair, a duffel bag full of clothes and a roll-mat for sleeping on.

She also had a police issue 9mm pistol with a full magazine; she’d not had to use it yet. It wasn’t like she was going to take on the army by herself. It was there just to force any intruders to take cover, giving her time to dive into the duct system and escape. It was a drill she’d rehearsed plenty of times, and if she ever had to do it for real, it would probably mean a do-or-die attempt to escape the village. Without this place to hide in it would be no time at all before she’d be found and enslaved. Or put in ‘prison’...if indeed that’s what the jail was anymore. Nothing had been heard of anyone who’d gone there. And Jemima knew the jail well enough to realise that it wasn’t big enough to imprison all the people who’d been sent there. The likely reality was far more grim, and the question she asked herself every day was whether her mom was actually being held there, or whether she was one of the people she was sure had been executed by the brutes who had invaded the village a few months earlier.

The pierogies in the pan on the brazier were just starting to brown, and enough of an appetising fragrance began to rise for Jemima to rouse a little. She leaned forwards slightly to check the progress of her ‘dinner’, and nearly toppled off the chair as there was a noise from somewhere near the building entrance, followed by a female voice calling out something indistinct with a clearly frustrated, anguished voice.

Jemima stood up and grabbed the pistol, hoping to God that she wasn’t about to be forced to go on the run on a cold night on an empty stomach! Tiptoeing over to the doorway, she flattened herself against the wall and listened for any further movement.

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Character Portrait: Jessamine Nightshade
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Jessamine sighed; so apparently the building was abandoned. She had half-hoped someone was here, even if it was someone who wold attempt to catch her. She was just too fast, and too smart, for that. But it also meant that the soldiers outside hadn't heard her, so clearly she was safe, for the time being. 'No one has escaped this army, then,' she thought, glancing around the room. She opened a door, wincing as it creaked on the way. But, if no one had heard her talking, who would hear it creaking? Chances were, if she made a lot of noise, someone would come looking, but probably not the people she wanted to find her. Even if there was anyone left to find.

She poked her head around the room; mostly empty, possibly an old break room. Where was she? She hadn't been in a building like this before. Old warehouses, abandoned homes, old opera houses...but this was new. Despite the situation, she was quickly becomming excited. She loved to explore new places. And there were no soldiers in this place to find and capture her. She grinned, poking her head around, wiping dust off the small table. The room was a little small for her liking, but it was something small to explore. Besides, later on, there was another door she could look in. And the room she had been in at first...there were a few other doors there, too.

She finished exploring the small room with a sigh, and went back into the first one, humming the words to one of her favorite songs to herself; an old one her father had taught her years ago. It was often a comfort to remember the words, and to hum or sing it to herself in situations like this. She didn't like being caught...but she absolutely hated being left on her own like this for really long periods of time. The silence really bothered her. At least people who were captured were able to hear that there were other people in the room, even if it was only breathing and movement. But here, she heard nothing. She peeked out the window again, to make sure no one was going to enter the building, and ducked down quickly as someone passed, hoping the windows were filthy enough that he might have mistaken her for the wind, or something.

She moved away from the window quickly before approaching another door, but paused to glance at the window again, mostly to see if she could see anyone through it, or if anyone could see her. But no; the amount of dirt that had coverd it wouldn't allow them to see through it at a distance. She was safe. She laughed quietly.

"And I thought Dad's friends were slow...they aren't even checking every building!" She opened the door, looking around curiously. She didn't see the person hiding behind the door; she was much more focused on the machines. Perhaps now, if everone was dealt with, they would all understand as much about the machines as she did; nothing. She had a natural hatred for some machines; so many alarm systems were made out of them these days, at least they were in some of the larger cities. She didn't mind ones that she playes games on, of course, but most others, she couldn't stand.

"Now...how much of this stuff works..." she wondered out loud, walking into the room. The place was abandoned; why would she be looking for someone that wasn't there?

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#, as written by shmband
Jemima continued to listen, as whoever had entered the building moved slowly about. It didn’t sound like the intruder was looking for anything in particular, and certainly not with any sort of military precision. What’s more, it sounded like she started to sing at one point. Even stranger, the melody she emanated triggered a memory of some sort in Jemima...she knew that song from somewhere. Something her mother used to sing? If so, it must have been from a very long time ago. Her mother wasn’t the sort of person who sang about the house, or even in the shower.

She didn’t allow herself to relax or untense. Just because this intruder wasn’t apparently looking for her, wouldn’t mean she wouldn’t turn hostile if she realised she wasn’t alone. Jemima glanced at the gap in the tiled ceiling, where she’d pushed a tile to one side and frequently rehearsed using the chair to hoist herself up into the crawlspace up there; her route out of the building concretely memorised. But maybe it wouldn’t be necessary. Whoever this was, it sounded like they were acting alone. If so, would anyone miss them if she...

The girl wandering around suddenly gave a soft laugh, and muttered something about people not checking the building. So...she was hiding? How much did that change anything. Jemima held her breath as the footsteps go closer, unti they were right outside the door. She pushed herself flatter against the wall, and kept her body taut. No doubt when they entered the room they would become aware of the burning brazier and the food which was now starting to catch and burn on the pan.

As expected, a girl entered, and Jemima waited until she was fully in the room before stepping to the side, blocking the escape route, and levelling her pistol at the girl’s head, cocking the hammer with a recogniseable ‘click’.

“What are you doing here?” she said firmly, waiting for the girl to turn and see what her reaction would be.

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Character Portrait: Edwin Sharar
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As he walked the streets, Edwin kept one hand on the handle of his pistol and paid close attention to his surroundings. The town was unnaturally quiet. The distant rumbling of machinery and the heavy tread of boots echoed through the streets, but the sounds of chatter were conspicuously absent. A dim, dismal air hung over the place. Occasionally, squads of soldiers would march by on patrol. They would salute Edwin, and he nodded to them in return. The Colonel had organised the patrols so that the new recruits were divided into different squads. It wouldn't do for the Sunset Villagers to spend too much time together, as it would give them an opportunity to talk among themselves. They couldn't yet be trusted. For that same reason, their armouries, stores and other vital buildings were guarded by trusted soldiers.

The few defiant villagers Edwin saw were grey and worn-looking, being herded along by soldiers. They would be put on work gangs in the factories and mines, provided they cooperated. If they resisted, they would meet a crueller fate.

He noted with unease the empty buildings now standing unguarded throughout the village. Their first priority was securing the perimeter, but as soon as they were able, they would need to search the buildings and put guards on them. It would be too easy for fugitive villagers to take refuge in them.

After delivering his letter to the communications office (it would be at least two weeks before the next caravan left for his village), Edwin changed out of his uniform and into his street clothes. Lying himself down on the couch in his tent, he took a few volumes from a nearbly shelf, opened the nearest one and began to read.

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Character Portrait: Jessamine Nightshade
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Jessamine paused, hearing a click, and then another voice. She decided to ignore it for a moment, and instead touched one of the machines there. She turned to face the girl, and paused again. Something seemed…unusually familiar. Almost like looking in a mirror…but with a completely different style of clothing, and using…a pistol. That was never a thief’s best friend; it made too much noise, and was more often used by police than thieves. Well, the thieves she had hung around had never used one in her view before.

She thought about an answer for a moment, then shrugged.

“That depends; why am I in this village, or why am I in this room? There’s a very distinct difference, you know, and the answers for each are very different. Besides, that’s not what you care about; it’s whether or not I’m a threat to you, isn’t it?”

She paused to take a deep breath, looking around the room again. She looked up at the tiled ceiling, then around the machines again. A couple of her dad’s friends knew how to work all of this equipment, but there was no way she could figure it out without their help. Besides, what use would it be? She probably couldn’t do much with those sorts of machines. So much for that idea. Maybe she’d have to look for a computer, or something, and try to get a hold of one of them. They’d have some useful advice for her. She looked back to the girl.

“In any case, I’ve proven not to be a threat to you, for the time being; the only weapon I have is a knife, and I haven’t attacked you. I would also be very pleased if you stopped pointing it at my head; I have no way to defend. Now, seeing as we both appear to be hiding, perhaps a bit of cooperation is necessary here?”

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Character Portrait: Jemima Roseblade
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#, as written by shmband
Jemima froze as the other girl turned around. For a moment it was like her sanity had cracked; like she was having an out-of-body experience and looking back at herself. This girl was so alike to her that it stretched the imagination to suppose that it was entirely coincidence, and Jemima chided herself that her first thought was the ridiculous idea that the invaders had some form of ‘clone’ technology that they were using to try to confuse her. But when the girl spoke so lucidly and plausibly, the entire question was left open.

“OK,” she said, lowering the gun but keeping it ready, “so you’re here hiding. From the soliders I suppose. That leaves the other question, which I wasn’t going to ask but since you brought it up...what are you doing in the village? Nobody except soldiers come in from the outside these days, and I can’t understand why anybody would want to.”

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Character Portrait: Jessamine Nightshade
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Jessamine rolled her eyes, turning her back to the girl. She went over her first thought; that she was looking in a mirror. Her father had never said anything about her having any siblings…she had assumed she was an only child, and that her mother hadn’t been able to care for her, and so he had taken her. But maybe there was another relative in the village? She shook her head; surely he would have told her about that/ But what was this, then?

“From the soldiers…I guess that’s right.” Since when does a village this small have soldiers, and not just a police force? So something had happened here. And this girl…perhaps it was nothing. There were times when some people looked like others, without any relation…but to that extreme? Maybe she’d find out if this other girl would cooperate. She thought about the second question, then turned back to the girl.

My father told me my mother lived or lives here; he’s not sure whether or not she’s alive anymore. I thought I’d see if I could find her. Obviously not possible, under the current circumstances, it appears.” She paused, and a small smile found its way to her face.

“My turn. Or are you still holding the pistol because this is an interrogation? Because you’re with the soldiers, and you’re looking for those in hiding? It’s a plausible excuse; certainly believable.” She thought about adding on the question of being related, but if she didn’t know herself, how would this other girl know? This didn’t do her any good at all. …Well, perhaps it gave her a good ally, provided she could reason with her. That would also make it so much easier to escape later on, and to find out about her mother.

“Oh, wait, before you answer that, one more thing! I’m Jessamine; conversation seems boring without names to go along with it,” she added on hurriedly, with a larger grin. She was starting to have fun with this. It had been a while since she had had a full conversation with anyone that didn’t end in a swift escape, with the other party yelling at her, and at the police to catch the escaped criminal.

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Character Portrait: Jemima Roseblade
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#, as written by shmband
Jemima was astute enough that was the other girl spoke about her father telling her her mother lived her, a very plausible explanation for their similarity formed in her mind. The only obstacle to believing it was that her own mother had never mentioned her having a sister. So...a cousin perhaps? Problem is, most sisters didn't look as similar to each other as she did to this girl, let alone cousins. Despite the fact that they were standing off in about the only safe hiding place in the village no knowing whether they could trust each other, it was still difficult not to be distracted by the question.

"Hmm, OK." she snorted at the slight flippancy of the last remark, "I'm Jemima. And no I'm not that interested in interrogating you. It's just that I've been holed out here for nearly four weeks and if this hiding place gets compromised then I'm pretty screwed. The town's under occupation as I'm sure you've noticed. The local police force were either conscripted or imprisoned. My mom's an officer and last I knew she was taken into the jail. That's why I can't leave. Not that getting out of the village would be an easy thing but then...you must have gotten in somehow right...?"

She cocked her head quizzically as that thought occured. Every reason that made escape nearly impossible should theoretically have made infiltration just as difficult! Especially for a teenage girl acting alone. She lowered the gun further. As weird as the whole situation seemed, it wasn't looking like Jessamine had any untoward intentions. But to steal into a town under military occupation was a hell of a risk to take just for a family reunion.

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Character Portrait: Edwin Sharar
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Edwin scanned the maps again, making notes. He could see why the Leader had chosen this village for a major military base. Geographically, its position was ideal. The village was bounded on three sides by difficult terrain, making it difficult for an enemy to assault them. To the west was a mountain range they could mine for minerals to be processed in their factories. To the north, a forest provided a ready supply of timber. The plains to the south were fertile and capable of producing enough food to feed their forces for some time. All they needed was the labour, and the villagers could be... persuaded to fulfil that function.

But why did he get the feeling there was something else going on? There were many villages along the coastline that were suited for their purposes, but the Leader had marched them long and hard to take Sunset Village. What was so important about this place? Was there some rich resource here the Leader didn't want them to know about? What was he looking for?

Edwin frowned and absent-mindedly tapped his chin before reshelving the books and making his way out of the tent. It was time he took a walk around the village and checked on how things were going.

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Character Portrait: Jessamine Nightshade
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Jessamine tilted her head to one side, watching Jemina carefully. She almost seemed offended that she would suggest that she was working with this invading force. That decided it, then; it wasn't always this way, and this was a recent development. But her own personal question was answered; of course she would be so straightforward. Her mother was a cop. She winced internally; that made this girl the last person she wanted to work with. She looked up at the ceiling as she considered her other question; how did she get in?

"Well...the forest is only filled with dangerous animals on the floor...if you know how to stay above their heads...and not fall..." She paused, looking at her feet for a moment before pointlessly kicking the floor.

"I did have a friend with me, but he kinda disappeared...distracted a few wild animals for me...well, not so much a friend...a travelling companion that I couldn't trust to do anything but act as bait...to let me through on my own. He didn't quite see that coming...but then, he wasn't all that bright to begin with." She shrugged; obviously, she didn't care much what had happened to her companion in the forest, and chances were he had died. But, in her mind, he had deserved it. He had been the one that had attacked her as she was passing through another city; him dying in a forest was only appropriate. In any case, she hoped that being open about someone she had tricked earlier would help her gain this girls trust; why would she tell her if she planned to do the same to her?

The fact was, she was getting irritated, though she hid that fact from Jemina. The similarity bugged her, like there was something she should have known, but she couldn't figure it out. Her father hadn't said she had any siblings...hadn't even mentioned anything about the rest of her family at all. So why? She attempted to shove the thought out of her head, with little success. Much as she hated it, she would have to wait until later to figure everything out, if she ever did get a chance to figure it out. She hoped she did, though chances of that seemed to be low.

"So I have a question: if all the police are in the jail, what of the others? Thieves, burglars, killers? They just...run free? I know the others are being worked like slaves...those normal people...but of your criminals?" Surely any criminal wouldn't allow themselves to be treated that way? At least, not one confident in his abilities. But if the jail was still being used for that purpose...would they just end up killing each other? The thieves and cops?

"Surely they aren't in the jail with the police, are they? If we could just find any that are still running free...maybe they could help us! We need to be able to cneak around...and they're bound to realize they haven't searched the village thoroughly...someone will find us here if we just sit here, in the same spot. I mean, you do want to free your mom, don't you?"

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Character Portrait: Jemima Roseblade
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#, as written by shmband
Jemima's eyes widened at Jessamine's frank account of what happened to her "travelling companion". That didn't exactly inspire confidence. But then, maybe there was more to the story. And besides, it wasn't as though Jemima was being presented with a selection of prospective escape partners from whom she could choose. Either she could coexist with Jessamine, or Jessamine would be a problem she'd have to get rid of. And that wasn't Jemima's style.

"I see." she said flatly. "Well that worked getting one person in, I'm not sure it'll work getting two people out."

She walked into the middle of the room. It was a small gesture of trust, because it did after all leave the door exposed if Jessamine wanted to make a run for it. Jemima hurried over to the brazier and took the pierogies off the heat. They were overcooked, but still edible.

"And we don't really have police and criminals in this town anymore." she said bitterly, "There's two new classes of people instead; people who are willing to be the invading force's lapdogs, and those who aren't. Those who aren't are in the jail, whether they're criminals or police. Regular civilians get put to other kinds of work. But law and order's gone down the drain, there's just the army's rules and the army's punishments. They haven't even stated demands, they've just marched in and taken over. I guess the same thing's happening in other places...what'll happen in the long run I've no idea. I just want to get my mom out and get out of here. With whoever else I can help...but right now there's not much I can do."

Jemima looked across at Jessamine and sighed. She was right, this wasn't going to be a good hiding place indefinitely.

"Yeah we'll have to do something sooner or later. Right now, gotta eat. You wanna share this? It's nothing amazing but until I can get out for supplies it's all there is."

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Character Portrait: Edwin Sharar
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"Sir!"

Edwin stiffened as the soldier called to him, his right hand instinctively going to his pistol.

"What is it?" he asked, turning to the man, his eyes flicking from left to right.

"We caught another four trying to escape."

Edwin frowned. He needed to get to these people before the Colonel did.

"Take me to them immediately," he ordered. The soldier saluted, turned and jogged swiftly away. Edwin followed at his heels.

They passed through the grim silence of the town, their boots drumming loudly on the streets, until they emerged into the open, flat space bordering the southern plains. A circle of soldiers were pressed around a small group of people.

A family, Edwin thought ruefully.

They were a pitiable sight, thin and hungry-looking, their clothes reduced to little more than rags. The youngest was hardly more than a baby. The two children were crying, the adults staring blankly into the distance.

"What shall we do with them?" one of the soldiers asked.

Why are you asking me? You know what we must do with them. Will you make me say the words? Are you trying to rub this into my conscience?

"The Colonel has commanded that any who try to escape must die."

Click-click. The sound of a rifle being cocked.

"Not yet," said Edwin, his ears beginning to burn. He knew he was on thin ice now. The Colonel already disliked him. The only thing keeping him alive was the Leader's favour. "I will execute them personally. Take them to the cells to await their sentence."

"What's this?" a cold voice asked, sending chills down Edwin's spine. Swivelling on the spot, he saluted smartly. The other soldiers did the same.

"At ease." Colonel Jaromir's hands were clasped behind his back as he advanced on the little family, walking in his deliberate, upright military posture. "Kindly explain what is going on, Lieutenant-colonel Sharar."

Edwin swallowed and cleared his throat.

"These villagers were apprehended in the act of fleeing the village, Sir," he said, keeping his voice level with some difficulty.

"And did I not make it clear that the punishment for such an offence was death?"

"Yes, Sir."

"Then why do you delay? Are you trying to intervene on behalf of the criminals, as you did earlier? I have already warned you, Lieutenant-corporal, that this village is under my command. The Leader placed you here to assist me, not to subvert my authority."

"Sir, my only duty is to serve you. I would never subvert your authority. I was merely - "

"No. No delays, no more excuses. Do it now."

"Sir?"

"I believe you wanted to do it personally? Well, now's your chance. Go ahead. I'm waiting."

Edwin nodded, stony-faced. He drew his pistol and pointed it. The woman started screaming and wailing, trying to shield her children. It took a great deal of effort to keep his hand from trembling.

"Start with the youngest."

Somehow he kept his face blank. He couldn't look at them, couldn't see the fear and the grey hopelessness in their empty eyes. It would destroy the last part of him that was still a decent human being.

"Do it!"

Edwin squeezed the trigger.

Bang!

"Now the next one," said the Colonel.

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Jessamine hid her grin as Jemina’s eyes widened. Apparently she hadn’t much approved of what how she had dealt with her travelling companion, but who cared? He had deserved, and she didn’t need to explain herself to this stranger, no matter how much they looked alike. Already she felt just a little superior. Just a little; after all, she wasn’t the one holding the pistol, and wasn’t the one with all the supplies. Just the one who was able to get a hold of more, provided she could get some sort of distraction.

For a moment, she thought of using Jemina for a distraction, but quickly shoved that thought aside. She’d be useful for a lot more than that, even after this entire mess was taken care of. She briefly noted the now open doorway, but stayed where she was, instead turning back to continue her examination of the machines working there. Even if they didn’t work, they were a minor source of entertainment for her. She did, on occasion, have her childish and imaginary moments.

“I think I see a problem with your reasoning; if your mom’s a cop, will she want to just leave this village and its people to live under their rule? And how will you get out? I’m not willing to be the bait for you and your mom, so unless you find someone else to do it for you, you’re kinda stuck. On the other hand…if we can manage to free these villagers, you won’t have to run at all.”

She winced at the smell of burning food, but leaned a little closer to sniff again. Well, perhaps this was all she had for now. She’d have to try to steal some later on. Still, burnt was better than undercooked any day. She reluctantly accepted Jemina’s offer.

“Hmm…I’m more used to taking food that sharing it…but, since we’ll have to work together for a while, I suppose it’ll do. I’ll just have to steal something a little more…substantial when I get the chance.” She winced slightly before she actually took one, though, and glanced over her shoulder, at the door, at the sound of distant gunfire. She took one, shaking her head, looking back to Jemina.

"That's not a regular sound, now, is it?"

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#, as written by shmband
Jemima was becoming increasingly uncomfortable with Jessamine's talk of her stealing habits and general morals. She shared out the food into metal dishes and leaned up against the wall.

"That all depends on what I find. I don't even know if she's alive. At least if some of us escape we might be able to get help...if there's anyone left out there to help..." she said wistfully, poking at the food.

The gunshots outside made her look up and pause. It wasn't nearby. Nor was it accompanied by any sort of commotion. The last time she'd heard gunfire it had been a bunch of civvies trying to rush a patrol and take their weapons. They'd put up a fight, but were kept in place long enough for a few more soldiers to arrive and tip the balance. No doubt all those who attempted the attack were now dead.

But these shots now...could mean anything. But Jemima knew what they probably meant. Executions.

"In a village like this," she replied, "it never used to be. Nowadays...well you've seen what it's like out there. It's under martial law. This is why I say I don't know anything for sure about my mom, because the jail isn't big enough to hold all the people who have been 'detained'. And I've seen for myself that the soldiers are more than willing to administer capital justice for anything they consider deserving it."

She looked down and ate a few more pieces of food as she considered her next question. "So what's your story then? You heard your mother lived here...why choose now to come? Where did you grow up? Where's your dad?"

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Character Portrait: Jessamine Nightshade
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Jessamine was somewhat disappointed at her answer; she still had no idea what was going on out there. Curiosity taunted her to go out and see what was going on, but at the same time, she couldn’t afford to get herself captured. Not now; not what she wanted to help. She sighed and turned her attention to the food in the metal dish she was supposed to be eating out of. ‘Obviously not overly confident,’ she thought, sending another glance at the door. She certainly wouldn’t trust just anyone to help free her village; especially if it meant going to someone she didn’t know. She was having a hard time believing this other girl would be of much help.

“My story…well, I suppose it couldn’t hurt...” She looked back at the food, reluctant to eat, though she knew she should. “It isn’t overly interesting, really. I never knew my mom, of course; Dad travelled a lot…him and his friends. We went here and there…he didn’t want to stay in one place too long…had to keep from being put in jail somehow. The only reason it’s taken so long is Dad wouldn’t let me go anywhere on my own until recently. And then I had to find the place.” She gave an exasperated sigh.

“You’d think he’d have told me where this place was, or at least given me more than the village’s name. But no; had to make me figure everything out. I suppose it was just another lesson…he always did say a stupid thief was as good as a captured thief…probably just trying to get me to figure things out on my own.” She shrugged before taking a bite of her food. Definitely burned, but at least it would hold her over until she had a chance to steal something else.

“Dad’s probably somewhere; last I saw, he was further east…talking about going somewhere overseas, though. Said there might be something of value over there; some treasure or something he’d try to bring back. I doubt he’s figured out how to get over there without being caught, let alone bringing back stolen treasures. He just told me to hang out here until he found the time to visit here, and then we’d all head off.” Never was one for thinking everything through, she knew. But then, maybe that was where she had gotten it from.

She looked back to Jemina. "Well, I've told my boring story; your turn. Haven't you ever left the village? You said where your mom was, but what about your dad? How did your mom get captured?"

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#, as written by shmband
Jemima practically had to swallow her indignation. So, Jessamine and her father were criminals. And proud of it by the sounds of things. Now in the current situation there was little room for scruples and moralising...ultimately they were both in the same bind. But she'd already heard what had happened to Jessamine's last travelling companion. What's to say Jessamine wouldn't stitch her up in the same way.

'No honour among thieves' as the saying goes.

"It's like I said," Jemima replied, "they made everyone swear into the army, or sent them to prison. My mom stayed loyal to the law, so they locked her up. Well, that's if she's lucky. Truth I don't know for sure what happened to her, but as soon as I find a way I'm going to find out."

She put down her empty dish and padded over to the door to listen. They were deep in the building and the room had no windows (one of the reasons it made such a good hiding place, otherwise the brazier would have attracted attention) so she shouldn't hear very much, but as far as she could tell only one shot had been fired outside so far. That was unusual. Had someone accidentally discharged their gun? Or had some poor civilian been made an example of.

"Oh and it's just my mom," she added, "was always just me and her growing up, she never said anything about my dad and I never really asked. I assume he's long gone."

She looked at Jessamine sternly and folded her arms. "So what's your plan now then? Still going to try to find any family you might have here? Or have you seen enough?"

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At the last second, Edwin was spared the horror of firing any more shots. The Colonel decided the three remaining captives would make a better example if they were hanged and displayed in the town square to remind people of the consequences of disobedience. Edwin was glad of that. Not their execution, but the fact that he wouldn't have to be the one to finish them. He stared at the ground as the three captives and their dead child were taken away, his hands trembling so much he probably wouldn't have been able to fire a shot even if he'd wanted to.

The fact was that he didn't have the constitution for this kind of work. Killing had never been something he'd wanted to do to. That was best left to men like the Colonel, who took pleasure in other people's pain. Edwin didn't mind being in the army so much, provided he didn't have to anything too violent. He could study maps and develop strategies and let other people do the dirty work for him, meaning that he could think about war as a kind of abstract thing: he strategically moved a few troops here and there, redrew a few boundaries, gained a few territories, and if there was some messy, bloody action involved, it was mostly handled by other people so he didn't have to think about it too hard.

Even a shootout was okay. At least the people on the other side were armed, and in the heat of battle there wasn't much to think about except kill or be killed. But this? Killing unarmed civilians in cold blood? Children? Babies? Looking them in the eye, seeing their fear before pulling the trigger? No. This was not what he'd signed up for.

He couldn't get the image of the dead child out of his head. After he'd fired, his stupid eyes hadn't been able to resist glancing at it, seeing the wet redness dripping to the ground, the way its parents had clutched at, its blank, dead eyes. He would see those eyes again in his dreams tonight. He shuddered.

"You did well." The Colonel nodded at him.

"Thank you, sir." Edwin felt his blood surge with anger, but he was powerless. There was nothing he could do.

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Jessamine frowned. "You mean leave? It took too much work to get in here and not find anything out. I'm staying. Actually, I feel a sort of attachment to the place, knowing my mom came from here. Obviously you won't be able to get your mom out on your own, anyway. No one can sneak around like a thief can, you know? Besides, this is how Dad always said you knew you were a master thief; ripping off a master criminal, or something like that. If I can stop this tyrant, or at least free enough people that could help, I'll have done one step above my own dad."

That thought made her grin. He had always been trying to protect her, saying she wasn't capable of everything. But her father had never done anything of this sort before. She hurriedly finished the food on her dish, then set it off to the side, watching Jemina as she listened, then looked back at her. She tilted her head to one side curiously, like a confused dog. Then she shook her head, standing up to poke her head out the door for a second, then turned back to Jemina.

"Besides, I'd lose face if I ran away now. How can I be called a respectable thief if I ran away from something like this? If I left without finding my mom? No, I have to stay. I'll help you free your mother and anyone else that might be of help, get rid of this tyrant, and then I'll see what I can find out. And anyway, didn't you hear me? Dad told me to stay here until he came to fetch me himself. Just because I'm old enough to do what I want doesn't mean I'll openly disobey him, you know."

The shots had stopped, she noticed. She had only heard one, but it had already stopped. If there was a real fight out there, it would have been much more than one shot fired. What was going on out there? She was burning with curiosity, but at the same time, she didn't know her way around. It had only been luck that she was able to hide the last time, when soldiers had passed her shortly after arriving in the village. She bit her lip, then looked back to Jemina.

"Don't you ever get curious enough to go out and see what's going on out there? I'm barely stayig put, myself..."

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#, as written by shmband
“A respectable thief...” Jemima scoffed, but stopped herself from saying anything more lest she alienate the only person who seemed able and somewhat likely to be of help. It was an awkward investment. Now way her and Jessamine were going to be friends for life, not if she was a proud criminal. But right now that was all up in the air.

She paced over to where she’d placed the gun and pulled off her sweater, leaving just a fitted black top. She proceeded to strap on a gun holster and placed the weapon in it, then turned to Jess.

“I’m not sticking my head out for curiosity’s sake,” she said, “but that was the last of the food. The general store is being used as a warehouse, that’s where I get most of my supplies. And I don’t know what that shot was fired for, but if there’s a chance it’s created an irregularity in the patrols, it’s worth a look. You wanna come alone? I’ll show you were the jail is.”

She looked down at the gun at her breast. It was the only weapon she had, and it was next to useless considering they were up against an army of professionals with military grade equipment. Jess didn’t seem to have any weapons visible, but she hadn’t needed one to get into town.

No, she thought to herself, all she needed was some sucker to throw to the wolves....

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Jessamine frowned again as Jemina scoffed. There couldn't be a such thing as a respectable thief? Clearly she hadn't heard of the honor thieves were so proud of. Granted, it was most often only noticed among thieves...or maybe it was just some misunderstanding, or a different kind of understanding. Regardless, it was probably something a cop wouldn't understand. She watched her strapping on her gun holster and then tucked the gun in it. She shrugged at Jemina's suggestion, though she didn't need much time to think on it.

"Well, it'll help quiet my curiosity. And, if I get a good enough look at the jail, we can start to form a plan. Yeah, I'll come along." Anything to get her a chance to explore, to look around, to learn the area she was going to be staying in for a while so that she didn't get lost later on. She stretched a little, then automatically patted the side of her belt, where she often kept her knife hidden. She found that very few bothered to look for weapons hidden underneath a belt, especially when the knife ran alongside the belt, rather than hanging from it. She doubted it would be much help directly against the army, but it would help her escape, like it had so many times before.

'That's all I have to trust right now,' she thought, 'so far away from Dad and the others, and with a stranger, a knife's all I can trust. Decent help doesn't just walk up on it's own, does it?' She looked back to Jemina, then back out the door. It looked like no one had bothered checking this building for stragglers. Some army. But that made it so much more useful to them.

"Shall we be going, then? Before some patrol starts walking by, or a soldier with a gun, or something like that..."

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#, as written by shmband
Jemima allowed herself a crooked smirk at Jessamine's eagerness to get going. Well, at least the girl had guts. That would be an asset. The both of them were dressed in dark clothes...which ultimately just made sense, so she nodded and started pacing down the corridor towards the side door of the building.

"Alright we'll go." she said, "But only if we can be sure there's no patrol coming. Normally they're so regular that you just can't find an opening to slip out, but whatever that shooting was may have caused a disruption."

She padded up to a window and looked out, listening intently. Sure enough, there was something going on somewhere not too far away, but she couldn't tell what. It sounded like a crowd of people were congregaring. What could it be...a riot? No, not enough noise for that. A public execution...quite likely. Jemima's stomach rolled at the thought. She could scarcely be happy about the idea of civilians being killed by the army for what was most likely a menial 'crime' (if a crime at all), but the basic fact was that she needed to sieze any opportunity that was afforded to get out and get supplies, otherwise she would starve. If civilians were about to die, there was probably nothing she could do to help them. She had to keep her mind on the bigger picture.

"Looks like we might have out opening." she muttered, looking back at Jessamine. As she looked at her, the similarity between them jumped out and bugged her all over again. It made her skin crawl that it could mean there was some connection between them. But one thing seemed almost certain; whatever it meant, Jessamine didn't seem to know anything more about it than Jemima did. "The store is three blocks over in that direction. Jail is another block down but higher up, so you can see it pretty clearly. You ready to make a run for it?"

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The town square was slowly filling with villagers, pulled from whatever tasks they had been assigned. They were wary as the soldiers herded them along, no doubt afraid that something bad was going to happen. It was, but not to them. They were safe, this time at least.

Over the dull tramping of boots and the low susurration of whispers, the Colonel could be heard giving orders.

Edwin lingered by the edge of the square, watching with mounting unease as the gallows were set up. Around the raised platform, the crowd milled and surged against the ropes like fenced cattle. After a while Edwin couldn't take it any more, so he swivelled on his heel, pushed through the soldiers guarding the square's perimeter, and moved into the streets.

The lanes and walkways of Sunset Village were much emptier now, with most people in the town square. Edwin made a brief stop at his tent before walking the familiar path to the jail. He nodded to the two guards on duty, who saluted and let him in.

Sunset Village's small cells were crowded with several people each. They hadn't been built to hold such a large number of prisoners. Edwin slowly walked the length of the building, noting the depressed and malnourished condition of most of the occupants. The Colonel didn't believe in wasting precious food on enemies who were lucky to still be alive.

Edwin reached inside his coat and produced a few packets of biscuits. He distributed these to the three cells with the youngest children inside them.

"Bless you, sir," said Vivian, mother to a little boy called Cem. "And have you..."

"Sorry," said Edwin. "I've had no word of your husband or your daughter."

That was a lie. Edwin knew exactly where they were: buried in a shallow ditch south of town. But the woman didn't need to know that.

He continued pacing the corridor, lost in thought.

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Jessamine nodded. Making a run for it? How else would she have lived as a thief if she couldn't do something as simple as that? Granted, there was also the fact that often she was running to lead them into a trap, or into a place where the police couldn't follow her, but still. How far would they really have to run, anyway? She felt a shudder run through her body; a sign that she needed to be moving again soon, anyway, or risk becoming too hyper and ruining things. This wasn't always a good thing for her, but she didn't seem to notice it anymore.

"Alright...a run to the store. I can do that; let's go." While she was there, and Jemina was getting more food supplies, she could examine the jail, and look for any way into the building. Perhaps, if she could slip away, she'd wander a little closer, get a better look at the place. Who harm could it really do, after all? It wasn't like she wouldn't be able to get away if she was seen. The fact was, she was just eager to get moving, and to start forming a plan. She wasn't exactly going to be able to find her mother with the army marching around.

As they reached the side of the building, she looked carefully for any movement outside the building, hoping no one would get in their way. Not only would she have to get herself out of trouble, which she was confident she could do, but she'd have to make sure this girl got away, too; she was less confident about that fact.

"Ready when you are."