“What happened to you? Oh god, did you see your hair?” Kyla was the first one to rush over. His hair, once neatly trimmed and styled, now had random pieces missing and chunks cut off all over.
Leon caught her hand to stop her fussing. “I look good, don’t I?”
Kyla huffed. “Now is not the time for jokes. Who did this to you?”
A few feet behind them, Jaycee peered over their heads. Kyla wasn’t kidding. It was clear, even from where he stood, that they had tortured him. His left eye, swollen and sealed shut, looked like someone had taken a bat to it. They singed parts of his hair off, and as Kyla held his hand, one could see some missing fingernails and see caked blood dried underneath the remaining ones.
“What did they want to know?” asked Alec. He rolled up his sleeves and started accessing the damage. Jaycee watched him work, diligent fingers examining every part of him. “Lift your shirt.”
Eventually, they helped him inside. The blacksmith offered them a room for the night at no cost. She assured them they’d talk business in the morning. The room she provided had two twin beds with an attached bathroom. The air in the room was stale, but nothing an open window couldn’t fix.
“I call the bed by the big window!” Kyla plopped down next to Leon, who had his eyes closed and head turned towards the wall. Alec settled him in as far away from the door as possible. He’d be useless in a fight at the moment.
“No one wants to share a bed with someone who kicks in their sleep,” said Alec. He was busy messing with the sheets on his bed.
“I do not,” she whined. But she did. Kyla also had a bad habit of talking in her sleep, or as Jaycee liked to call it, her coma. The filter on her mouth was almost nonexistent in that state, and she was impossible to wake up.
Those were things he wished he could forget.
The small group got comfortable, and silence settled in the room. Kyla helped Leon wash up, and now they were lying down. His ragged breaths filled the area, drifting over to where Jaycee lay. Next to him, Alec sat with a book in his hand. There was a tiny window above his head, with the last of the light from the day pouring over him. His hair fell over his face, obscuring it.
Curious at what he was doing, Jaycee snuck a glance. “What are you reading?”
“A history textbook on the war. You can’t find these anymore.” Alec didn’t look up from it, but he adjusted his position on the bed.
Jaycee silently agreed. When he was a child, his parents had told him they burned a lot of the former history books and essays. His father said it kept them from forgetting the past, and that it was impossible to create a better tomorrow if something constantly bombarded you with previous mistakes. That made it simpler to forget the foul deeds and damage that had already been done. Although, the current reality was no better. A lot of good that had done.
His thoughts drifted to the mercenary on the other side of the room. “Did Leon tell you what happened?”
“Alessio got ahold of him.” What had transpired between then and now left little to the imagination, considering the condition they found Leon in.
“I wonder how he escaped, or if they let him run after getting what they wanted,” Jaycee contemplated, eyes drifting to Alec. It startled him when he found the man staring at him, heartbeat picking up.
“Leon is loyal. If I know Alessio, he let Leon go, so he’d lead him to us.”
While that logically made sense, Jaycee found it hard to focus. Alec’s piercing gaze distracted him. A few strands of Alec’s long hair tickled Jaycee’s arm.
“Jaycee.” Alec whispered his next words, voice raspy. “What turned you into such a coward? Why are you scared to fight? This is not the man you were five years ago.”
Suddenly, the world around him stopped. “We’ve met before?”