The Longest Shard, originally published in spring of 2020, is a time-hopping prequel to Soldier of Fortune, and offers no spoilers.
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Leaning against a shelf of rock, Gideon turned to look at the figure resting comfortably on the other side of the skeleton. He had to squint, as the suns were setting behind him.
“So why didn’t you do it?” he asked as Renny turned to meet his gaze. “You wanted me dead for years, but when you finally could have finished it, you walked away. All the way away,” he said, indicating the surrounding desert. “Why?”
“Are you asking the ghost, or the hallucination?” Renny asked in his turn.
Gideon grimaced. “Never mind.”
“I rather think I have to,” Renny said thoughtfully. “Very well.” He gave himself a shake and shifted to face Gideon, his legs crossed in front of him. “I walked away because in that moment, the moment I could easily have stuck my shard in your gut—”
“You’d have gone for the gut?” Gideon cut in.
“I wanted you to suffer,” Renny reminded him.
“Well, yeah, but there’s suffering and suffering.”
“Do you want to hear this or not?”
“Sorry.” Gideon waved at him to continue.
“The simple fact is,” Renny said, “as I looked at you, envisioning your demise, I was also struck by the realization of what waited beyond your death.”
“And that would be?”
“Nothing.” Renny held Gideon’s gaze as he went on. “With a life sentence, and no more Gideon Quinn to hate, all that remained was year after year of… nothing. No more revenge to plan, no more battles to fight. I’d made despising you my reason. Once you were gone, I’d have been left with nothing. It was then I decided it would be better to die with something—even if that something was a bone-deep hatred—than continue to respirate, empty of anything resembling purpose.”
The explanation complete, he studied Gideon. “Well?”
“Well, what?” Gideon asked.
“I’ve shown you mine. Don’t you wish to similarly unburden yourself?”
“Not so much,” Gideon decided, leaning back against the rock wall and closing his eyes—only to open them again when he felt a ping of something hard glance off his head. “Hey!” He glared at Renny, who already had another finger bone flying from his hand. Gideon batted the second missile aside. “Stop it!”
“No.” Renny picked up another piece of the unfortunate corpse. “I can keep this up forever. Or until you die. Either works, really.”
“Keepers,” Gideon hissed. “What will it take to make you go away?”
“The truth, I imagine,” Renny said. “But since you’re the one hallucinating me, you might ask yourself why you want me to know why you’re here.” He stopped. “I may have made myself dizzy.”
“You’re not the only one,” Gideon huffed. “Anyway, why does it matter why I’m here?”
“I don’t know,” Renny admitted. “But it must, or else why would I also be here, asking?”
Gideon blinked, then rubbed his dry eyes. “This is a ridiculous argument,” he decided.
“I couldn’t agree more.”
Gideon let his head fall back against the rock and, as Renny remained silent, let his mind drift.
With luck, it would drift all the way out of his body, and this farcical conversation would be over.
“I can’t believe you’re just giving up like this,” Renny said, putting paid to that hope. “What would Nyal say?”
“Guess we’ll never know,” Gideon murmured to the back of his eyelids. “Seeing as he’s gone.”
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