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By Burke Speed

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Evocatus 1: a soldier in the Roman army who has served out his time and obtained a discharge but has voluntarily enlisted again at the invitation of the commander 2: a veteran called again to service

Chapter 1
When I left home my mom told me there’d be difficult days, but she never told me there’d be days like this. Honestly, we would’ve had her medicated if she did. It just goes to show that there’s more to this life than meets the eye.

The little bell tinkled as I stepped into the gas station’s mini-mart. I stood motionless and looked around the place, my head full of fuzz and my nerves tingling the way they used to, you know, before.

Why am I here?
A small light flickered in the dim recesses of my mind.
Hmm. I’m…here to get something. No, that’s not right. I’m here for…some-one?
I shook my head, trying to clear it.
Yeah, Jamie. That’s not weird at all. Going “person shopping” now? Why would I possibly need to look for somebody in a mini-mart?

And yet I settled in place, stock still, heart bumping an insistent beat. I kept watch, carefully scanning the store over the rows of products. I numbly registered that they had everything from motor oil to Milky Ways, two-day-old burritos to bubble gum. Everything except…

Why wouldn’t it come to me?
The cashier and the store’s patrons paid me no mind. In fact, no one had looked up since I strolled in. It was almost like I wasn’t even there.

I exhaled a long breath and waited.
Even at five foot nine, I had no problem seeing over the tops of the rows of gas cans and air fresheners. There weren’t that many people in the store, which allowed me to carefully inspect each face.

That seems an odd thing to do, right? But that was my move when I was spooked, and for some reason my senses were on high alert. In my previous job, I’d spent a lot of time reading people. One of the first indicators of something wrong wasn’t what people did, or even what they said…it was their eyes.
The nearest person, a four-and-a-half-foot-tall geriatric lady with blue hair and thick glasses, studiously consulted the back of a container of antacids. Her lips were moving slightly as she read the instructions, her age-spotted hands trembling slightly. She reminded me a bit of my grandmother’s friends, and her crinkled, kind eyes told me she wasn’t the one I was looking for.

A young couple shopped two rows over from where I stood. The guy looked like he had stepped out of an Abercrombie & Fitch advertisement, and the girl was similarly dressed. Their full attention was devoted to the magazine rack and the rows of beautiful people staring back at them from the covers of the magazines. Neither of them looked up from their evaluation of L.A. Style. Both seemed oblivious to their less-than-glamorous surroundings, and their eyes were bored. I moved on.

The one other customer in the store stood in the back by the beverage cooler. Though he was about the same height as me and appeared to be in his twenties, it was difficult to be sure. He was dressed in blue jeans, dull tennis shoes, and a dark T-shirt, and his persona was, well, unremarkable.
His hair was short, as black as his T-shirt, and he had a small, angular face to go with it. He acted as if he was carefully considering what type of potato chip to buy. He had his hand to his chin and was studying them like a selection of precious diamonds.

As if.
I mean, really. How tough can it be to choose between onion-flavored and spicy?
For no conscious reason, my heart began to bang like an artillery piece, and my hands involuntarily clenched into fists. My stare burned into him for a moment longer, and when he looked up, our eyes met.

We have a winner.
He gazed back at me, and in a fraction of a second his demeanor morphed from one of passive indifference…to something terrible.
His black eyes locked onto mine with an intense hate that felt endless.

Then he smiled. Well, I guess you could call it a smile, but it was actually somewhere between smirk and vicious grin. Whatever you call it, my blood ran cold.

As he kept his gaze fixed on me, he tilted his head forward, then turned it slightly left and right. I felt like prey being appraised by a predator. He calmly stepped from behind the shelves. What I saw next froze me in place.
He held a dark, three-foot-long sword.

Okay, I admit that it was weird enough to see a dude carrying a sword in a mini-mart, looking like a lost child of the Manson family. But the sword itself was morbidly fascinating. It was black. I mean, really black, from tip to hilt to handle, so much so that it kept disappearing in the shadows.
He swung it back and forth, nicking the floor and spewing sparks.

“You’re a pathetic joke!” he boomed in a voice much bigger than his body.
It’s embarrassing, but I honestly did one of those quick look-behind-you-for-someone-else things to see who he was talking to. Yep, there was no one behind, or anywhere near me, and my awkward glance just made him laugh. At least I think it was a laugh. It came out as a deep, sinister noise that made the hair on the back of my sweaty neck stand on end.

“You shouldn’t have come here. I guess I’ll kill you,” he said very matter-of-factly.
Wow. Right to the point.

The mocking grin still on his face, he took a step closer to me, swinging the sword back and forth. It was mesmerizing in its own dreadful way.
Congrats, Jamie. You found what you were looking for. Now what?

Eyes darting, brain on hyperdrive, I quickly glanced around the store. Lady Blue Hair and the Abercrombie Twins didn’t seem to notice what was going down. In fact, it was clear that they neither heard nor cared what was going on between Lord Dark Sword and me.

With the old lady, I could understand if her vision and hearing weren’t what they used to be. I was at a loss to explain the rest of the group’s collective lack of reaction.

We’ve got bystander laws here, people! Sheesh.
Well, if they weren’t friends of mine, hopefully they weren’t enemies, either.
A detached part of my brain tried to process the whole thing. Why was I looking for this guy in the first place, and why did he want to kill me? And what is up with the sword?

To complicate things, I began to feel angry. Really angry. Not a someone-stole-my-parking-spot-at-Walmart kind of anger, though. A righteous fury coursed through my body like I was full of some sort of primal, crackling energy.

Though I had every reason to feel fear, I was confident and kept my gaze steady on his soulless eyes. My stare-down did not impress Dark Sword. In fact, he laughed again.

He looked me up and down with hunter’s eyes and slowly shook his head. He even made a guttural noise that sounded like a “tsk, tsk.” Suddenly, he drew a deep, raspy breath and set his lips in a snarl.
He ran straight at me.

He covered half the distance before I could register what was happening. Dark Sword was a blur of motion, his blade twirling above his head, a grotesque noise escaping his lips. He covered the remaining steps and swung his sword at my head.
In that half-second, I did something really ridiculous. I smiled.

No, that isn’t right. I grinned. I grinned the way you do when you’re about to level a guy on a football field and he doesn’t see it coming.
He brought his blade down in a screaming arc, that sick, snarling grin still on his face. He swung the sword like an axe, using every bit of his weight to try and kill me. You could say he was enthusiastic.

I moved, but all it took was a slight lean to the left.
His blade swept an inch away from my right cheek. I could feel the frostbite-like cold of his blade and hear small snaps of some of my stray hairs being cut. My barber might not be happy, but otherwise the blade passed harmlessly off my right side.

Aided by a foot I left in his way, he tripped as he flew past.
The result was a sidelong crash into the ice cream machine, which scattered sets of cups and rows of bubble gum. His unstoppable momentum flipped him over the counter headfirst, and he landed in an ungraceful tangle of arms, legs, foul language, and vanilla ice sprinkles.

Even though the guy almost caught a sword tip in the chin, all of this went unnoticed by the cashier, who was less than two feet away. So strange. I didn’t have time to ponder though.
Dark Sword wasn’t done.

Hands tingling, eyes padlocked, I took a few steps away.
He rose from behind the counter, then slowly crawled over the ledge. He looked really unhappy. He also looked a little different, at least for a moment, and not in a good way.

If I didn’t know better, it was almost as if his face flickered a couple of times. His features jumped back and forth between somewhat normal ones and another face that looked, well, grotesque.

His mug had not been much to look at in the first place, but the face I thought I saw looked drastically worse. It was almost as if the skin on his face had melted and then refrozen, and each of his teeth grew half an inch into sharpened points. His eyes turned soot black, as if filled with death.
My brain had barely registered the sight when he flickered back to normal. The change froze me for a moment.

“Dude! Seriously?” I said in disgusted wonder.
Not helpful.
His body tremored in anger and he snarled at me. His chest heaved and I could see a pulse pounding in the side of his head. At least it wasn’t the melted-face version. Ew.

Then something else changed. His body tensed and his eyes flashed.
He stared at me but not my face. He gawked at my right hand.
At first I thought, No, you’re not going to get me with the whole, I’m looking at something so you’ll look away and be an idiot thing…but he kept staring.
I knew better than to look away, but his eyes were locked by my side, and his expression gave traces of…what? Fear?

I couldn’t help it. I stole a quick glace down by my side.
There, in my right hand, was a sword.
Not just any sword, but a gold-handled, silver-bladed beauty that actually gave off a pale white light. I had no idea where it came from or how it got to my hand. It felt perfectly balanced and almost hummed with its own energy. It shouldn’t have, but it seemed familiar and comforting.

I looked back at up Dark Sword and shrugged. “Them’s the breaks, dude.”
I was surprised that I wasn’t surprised by a sword showing up in my hand, if that makes any sense at all. It just seemed right.

I don’t know what was going through his mind, but his body’s tremors heightened into a quake and his growl turned into a scream. For a brief moment, he was melted-face-sharp-tooth guy, and then not. Despite the flash of fear in Dark Sword’s eyes, he rushed me again.

He was more careful this time. He wound up like he was going to go all lumberjack with his sword again. At the last second, he tried to turn it into a horizontal swing. He kept a little distance as he swiveled, transforming the chop into a flat stroke, as if to separate me into halves.
Our swords met in a shower of sparks.

I don’t know how I knew how to do it, but I easily parried the attack. It came naturally to me, like I had been born for it.

He started swinging, slicing, and stabbing at me. Even though he scattered two shelves’ worth of canned goods in the process, he couldn’t get past my defenses. My sword was a bright blur, matching his black blade, flares of muted fire marking each blow. I was patient, content to defend for the moment, already thinking of the end.

After a minute of frantic attack, his coal-like eyes bulged. His growling gave way to panting. His swings became more desperate, especially when he noticed I was driving him toward the corner of the store. There was already little room to maneuver, and I was taking even that away.

The panic that first showed in his moves registered on his face. His brow furrowed and his eyes darted, apparently looking for an escape. I guess I should have felt sorry for the guy.

Not so much.
Instead, I was serene. I eluded his swings and began to test his defenses. A jab here, a slice there. He met them all but was sloppy.
He was fatigued and obviously wanted a way out. You could tell he thought he was being sneaky, though. He kept scooting toward the door with each swing.
As if I wouldn’t notice.

At long last, he faked a rush at me and took one last mighty swing. Apparently, he hoped that would give him room for a quick exit. He dove for the door.

Great idea, bad execution.

He hastily reached with his free hand toward the door, trying to escape. By doing so he left that extremity exposed. Without hesitation, I chopped down with my silver blade, severing his extended arm just below the elbow.
Instead of the limb bleeding or falling off, the flesh below his elbow disintegrated into ash and then disappeared. Seriously, specks just melted like snow on a hot day. It would have been sort of cool to watch, if it hadn’t been for the screaming and hollering.

For such a little dude he had some lungs.
He cradled the stump against his body and began to curse me in a foreign language. I actually understood some of it, too. It wasn’t very nice.
My ADD must have really kicked in for a second because I was distracted by the lack of leftovers from his arm. No blood, just a few fading flecks of black left here and there. So weird.

Focus, Jamie! I shook my head and looked back up at Dark Sword.
He was still breathing hard and holding his stump. He stared directly into my eyes. Then he said something very strange in a chilling, deep voice. “Let me go, and maybe we let you live. Else, you die with the others. Make your choice, boy.”

I heard what he said but didn’t understand what he meant. I got the we’ll kill you part, but what others was he talking about, and who was he calling boy?
I took a deep breath and looked to the ceiling. What are my options? Hmm.
I was never very good with multiple choice questions, but I thought I knew the answer to this one. I took a step toward him and looked him in the face. “I vote for the not letting you go part…boy.”

I swung my sword in a broad arc, instinctively letting loose a battle cry.
Eyes panicked and, still gripping his black sword, he sluggishly raised his good arm to ward off the strike. It was too late.

My sword caught him squarely below his jaw. It passed cleanly through his neck as if it met no resistance at all. His body exploded into dust and ash, and his sword vaporized like a breath on a cold winter day, disappearing with the last vestiges of his body.

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