The Longest Shard: 26

Shard

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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Day 1561


“Gideon… Gideon… Gideonnnnnn… Smog it, man, are you still with me?” 

“Apparently,” Gideon said, opening gummy eyes to find Tyche halfway sunk behind the Jackal’s Fangs, staining the desert in shades of red that varied from Fujian Rose to battlefield bloody. 

He wondered how long it had been since he’d told Renny what happened to Cassandra. 

Then a terrible thought spiked through the haze. “Wait,” he said as he sat up too quickly. “Wait,” he said again, this time as he watched Renny divide into two, then slowly subside back into a single, annoying phantom. “Am I still alive?” 

Renny let his eyes slide over the desert before sending Gideon a pointed look “Why do you care?” 

“I care,” Gideon explained, “because if I were already dead, and you were still here, we could well be stuck together for a very long time.”

“Oh,” Renny said. “That would be…” he paused, seemingly at a loss.

“Excruciating,” Gideon suggested. 

Renny huffed. “No need to be cruel.” 

“Right, that’s your thing.” 

“Was it cruel of me to leave you breathing, that day in the vein?”

“Maybe it was,” Gideon said before he thought better.

“Oh?”

“No.” Gideon clamped his mouth closed hard enough the teeth clacked. “I’m not getting into this. I have places to go and steps to count.” 

“Well then,” Renny said as he popped to his feet, “let’s be off, shall we?”

“There is no we,” Gideon snarled. 

“I beg to differ,” Renny said. 

Gideon’s eyes closed, mostly to block the vision of Renny’s smile. “What will it take to make you go away?” 

For a time there was silence, and he dared hope the specter had fled, but when he opened his eyes he found Renny was not only still present, he’d crouched directly in front of him.

“Tell me why you’re here,” Renny said simply. 

“Why?” Gideon asked, his voice cracking with more than thirst. “Why does it matter to you that I’m here?” 

“I don’t know,” Renny admitted, his head tilting as he considered Gideon. “But it must, or I wouldn’t keep asking, would I?” 

At that question, Gideon’s anger—and the strength that came with it—slid from his limbs and into the ground. 

Sagging back against the rock, he let his arms rest on raised knees. “It’s not that exciting,” he warned.

“I’ll be the judge of that.” 

“I guess you will.” Gideon shook his head, but nothing, not even a snarky not-a-ghost, could shake free the failure that hovered over him like an Earth-born smog. “I was reading a newspaper,” he began, and turned away from the expression of satisfaction on Renny’s face.


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