A/N: It's already May! I hope you all like this chapter - Please review!
Lieutenant Michel Dubois, of the fifth demi-brigade of the Chasseurs Alpins, stood up just as the sunrise reached the apex of the mountains. He supposed that to someone else this would be a magnificent sight, something the "heavens" would have sent, but he was used to it.
Actually, he was near sick of it.
There was a small village located near the base of these mountains where an army base was recently built. The last time Dubois went down there was months ago – he wasn't even sure if was still existing or not, especially in this war.
It was worth a shot. Dubois was getting bored of looking at the rotting men all around him. He had chewed on every cigar and cracker he could find on them, and now he felt restless. He would go down to the base, tell some officer in charge that his camp had been ambushed (leaving out the part about him murdering most of them), and be sent somewhere else to fight again.
Also, he needed a rifle. Two days earlier he had thrown it over the ledge, along with some being called a "dôji". Dubois scoffed. It was all so ridiculous. This Paresse said he wasn't a man, but wasn't some toy either – he was a dôji. More of them supposedly existed, assigned to good or evil, in order to battle.
Something created to battle. Dubois was momentarily entertained by that thought – created to fight and kill, it sounded like him – but he quickly discovered that Paresse wasn't a fighter. It was laughably too easy to get rid of him. He was sure that he was dead somewhere, buried in snow and branches.
But enough of that. He was gone now. Dubois was sure that he was perhaps some mental-afflicted man that the old man managed to bribe into climbing into a box. What he now had to focus on was being sent back to the front lines again. Lieutenant Dubois loved war – the bloodshed, the way everyone was stripped of their morals. It was gratifying. He was disappointed in his "fellow" soldiers that they did not like killing others, and that they just wanted to be sent back home.
Dubois caught himself and almost scoffed again. It was time to stop thinking about things he did not care in the slightest about. So the lieutenant stood up, kicked a body out of the way, and started to make his descent down the Alps.
He remembered the first time he climbed these mountains, back in training camp. The general in charge did not think he would make it all because he was not husky and big-boned compared to the other trainees. But Dubois showed him – he was the first and only one that traveled the French side of the Graian Alps without falling or getting frostbite. He could have won the Tour de France with his vitality. The other "strong" soldiers had all either deserted or were sent to the hospital.
The said general was later found mysteriously a month later on the verge of death in the middle of a forest. Dubois smirked at the memory. No one should ever doubt him.
He was so skilled now that he could simply slide down through the snow without skis, and when he needed to stop he just had to grab hold of one of the various rocks and tree stumps scattered around. Dubois then swiftly climbed down from ledge to ledge.
As he climbed closer and closer to the ground, he thought it was odd how he did not find any remains of that dôji. He was sure he saw his arms and legs breaking apart as he flew down the mountain.
Finally, he turned around and could faintly see smokestacks that belonged to the tiny houses in the village. He climbed down another few hundred feet before jumping down from the last edge onto the ground.
Dubois looked around to make sure nobody was following him, and then continued on.
Through the tall trees he continued to look for the smoke that indicated the village. Soon he could hear faint voices and fanfare – typical of a town where an army base was.
Just as he was going through the last layers of trees, he almost walked into a bundle of – something. He looked down, and actually jumped back.
It was Paresse, curled up in a rangy ball. He was in extremely tattered condition now. One long blade-like extension that was his arm was wrapped around him, while the other arm lay on the ground next to him. His mask even had a few scratches on it.
"What are you doing here?" Dubois was genuinely dumbfounded. He had seen him fall down into oblivion.
Paresse's mask made a small click as he looked up at the lieutenant. "You kicked me off a mountain."
"You're supposed to be dead!"
"I told you-"and here Paresse's mask cracked a small smile. It seemed that he was out of energy to do any big actions. "You can't harm me."
Dubois regained his composure quickly. "Well, obviously I did if your arms broke off."
Paresse leaned his head back and didn't respond. Dubois still could not believe it. How could anyone survive that drop? He stepped forward and picked up his arm and examined it. Paresse didn't seem to care, continuing to lay on the ground as if he were some put down rabid dog.
It felt like a normal arm right until the elbow, where it abruptly turned into a long blade.
"What's with these…gloves…?" Dubois said, not knowing a better word to describe them. He turned the arm around and almost dropped it at what he saw. Instead of guts and veins spilling out of the arm where it had broken off from Paresse's body, there were wires and cords.
"What are you?" Dubois looked at Paresse.
"I told you…. A dôji." Paresse seemed to be enjoying Dubois' reaction, with the way he drew his words out in that hoarse voice of his.
The lieutenant's expression soured. He hated to be taken off guard. He threw Paresse back his arm. "Yeah, whatever. But what are you made of?"
"I…" Paresse stopped short and looked at the lieutenant. "I'm not telling."
"Why not?" Dubois narrowed his eyes.
Paresse turned away from him. "You're not my master. I don't have to tell you anything." And with that, his mask devoided itself of expression and openings, ending the conversation.
"….che." Dubois didn't care anyways. He walked around the dôji and continued to the commune. If that monstrosity wanted a "master" – whatever sick role that entitled – that was his problem. He was admittedly still confused on why there were mechanical wrappings inside the doji's arm, and how he survived that damnable fall.
Something he disliked about being a soldier was that wherever he went, people would salute and patronize him for his 'heroic' work on the battlefield. He saw people walking through the streets, and decided to cut through the forest around the town until he caught site of the army establishment.
It was easy to spot. It was the largest building in the area, all made out of brick. Dubois quickly went inside.
The inside was not as polished as the outside. It seemed the war had usurped a lot of the material needed to build furniture – everything was made out of cheap wood, almost akin to cardboard. It was one giant fire hazard.
The front desk was empty. Dubois wondered whether he should leave or wait for someone to come.
"Michel! Is that you?"
Just hearing that guttering low voice made Dubois inwardly groan. He turned around to see Major Georges stride proudly toward him. Before he could back away the Major wrapped his arms around him and was laughing.
"When was the last time I saw you? It's been too long, Michel!"
Dubois managed to get out of the hug without breaking Georges' neck.
"Bonjour Georges…" Dubois formally greeted.
"Are you ok?" Major George finally took notice of his worn condition. "Have the mountains been treating you well?"
"Actually…" Dubois tilted his head down, his expression instantaneously turning forlorn. "The Germans ambushed my camp. I just made it out to come and tell you."
Major Georges' face turned grave. "Were there any survivors?"
"I see. I'll send a telegram immediately to inform the generals about this. In the meantime, you should see a nurse. You're all beaten up."
"You're sure?" Major Georges looked around, then leaned in closer, his face contorting into an expression of genuine concern. "How's your eye doing?"
Dubois scowled. Damn him. He had forgotten all about the eye patch on his right eye up until then, and how what was underneath could never be recovered ever again.
"I'm fine." He gritted his teeth.
"Huh." Major Georges examined Dubois until a nurse walked in.
"I'm sorry I'm late," she said. "I thought I saw a person limping outside this building."
Fils de pute.
"Wonder if it's a surviving member from your team, eh Michel?" the Major said.
Dubois eyed him. "I don't think they could have made it down a mountain if they were limping, Georges," he responded icily.
"That is true. I'm sorry," the Major turned to the nurse. "This is my dear comrade Michel. We came from the same small mountain town and joined the military together."
"It's a pleasure to meet you," the nurse politely curtsied to Dubois. "Do you need any help?"
"Can you give him a new uniform?" Major Georges answered for him. "And a new eye patch?" he whispered.
"Of course." The nurse glanced upward at Dubois' threadbare eyepatch before walking into another room.
"Well," Major Georges said. "I have to go send that telegram. You have to be assigned to another group, after all. Take care of yourself, all right?" he patted Dubois' stiff arm once more before leaving the room.
Dubois gritted his teeth.
"Here," the nurse walked back into the room, handing Dubois a neatly folded uniform. "There's a bathroom to left down that hallway. Are you sure you don't need stitches?" she gestured to the bloody holes in his current wear.
"They're just shallow cuts. They've already healed." He told her. She nodded, and he went to change.
As he was unfolding the shirt, something fell out of it. He crouched down to retrieve it from the tiled floor. It was an eye patch, and he once again scowled.
He looked up, and stared at his reflection in the bathroom mirror. He had a skinny, almost skeletal face, with unevenly-shaven hair hidden under the standard-issued beret all soldiers had. All in all, the typical, unassuming face you'd see on any soldier. Nothing to look twice at.
That is, except for his right eye.
Dubois already had an eye patch on – it was the white medical eye patch the doctor gave him when he was finally released from that damn hospital. It wasn't white now – it was long ago stained a dark brown color that was a mixture of blood, sweat, and dirt. Dubois carelessly grabbed it off.
His right eye was permanently damaged. It could no longer see. There were deep scars running into the eyelid, the iris pouring into the perpetually bloodshot whites of his eye. The doctor had told Dubois that there were deep fractures in the eyeball (though how that was possible, Dubois didn't know).
"If you had not ripped out the stitches, you would still have been able to see, and you would have been released from here a lot sooner," he told him.
Dubois spat into the sink, and threw the used eye patch into the waste bin. He put on the new one the nurse had given him. This one was already black, and it was more fitted to the hollows of his face.
He just needed a rifle, and he would be a man of war.
And that reminded him.
"Where did you say you saw a limping man?" Dubois asked the nurse when he stepped out of the bathroom, his face contorting into one of concern.
"Um, just outside the building, around the corner," she responded, slightly confused.
Dubois followed her directions, and he ended up behind an abandoned fish shop. All he saw were a bunch of green berry bushes.
"Paresse, come out."
A clicking noise, and then Paresse's gangly body emerged – slithered out – from one of the larger bushes. He looked like a hangover clown after a night of partying at the carnival – he was covered in twigs and dirt now.
"What are you doing here?" Dubois asked.
"I told you…I need a master."
"I thought I made it clear I didn't want to be your depraved master."
Paresse stared at him, and then gave a slow shrug. "Fine then," he said, and started to crawl towards Dubois.
He stepped back. "What are you doing?"
"If you…. won't be my master…. someone in this town will," and he continued to crawl, his fingers digging into the dirt.
Dubois snarled and sharply kicked Paresse back. "What is wrong with you?"
"What…?" Paresse looked up at him. "I need a master."
"You're going out there, crawling with one leg, while asking someone to be your master? You'll be stoned for being a freak."
"So? What do you care?"
And Dubois really didn't, but in that moment he thought of the scenario. Paresse being imprisoned, questioned, probably convicted of some perverted crime. The townspeople screaming at this thing when they find out that he couldn't be simply killed by burning or stoning. Word will leak out, and there would be attention swarming the town. Dubois wouldn't be able to get out.
"Just-"Dubois kicked him again. "Wait here."
He went back inside the army base and to the nurse. "Excuse me, can I go into the storeroom?" he asked her.
"What?" She asked.
"I need… an extra uniform. Just in case – you never know the next time I'll be back here-"
"Of course." She gave him a new duffel bag and escorted him to the small storeroom. After a moment of standing there, wondering why that was so easy, Dubois started looking for the largest size they had and stuffing it into the bag. A few minutes later, he was back behind the fish shop and throwing the clothes at Paresse.
"Put this on," he hissed. "So you don't look completely like some beggar when standing next to me."
"What do… you mean?" Paresse said. "Are you going to be my ma-"
"No – ta gueule connard! Just put the damn uniform on."
Paresse reluctantly clicked his mask and complied. Dubois watched, with some dull amusement, for the next ten minutes while the dôji struggled to put pants on with his sharp gloves, and putting a shirt on with his wild hair and mask in the way.
"Is there any way you can tame that hairstyle of yours?" he asked him.
"…Maybe." Paresse rasped after a moment of thought. His head shuddered, and once again Dubois was dumbfounded as his hair transformed. It was no longer long and wavy – it was now shorter, slicker and it had a lighter shade. He could now slide the polo shirt on with ease.
"How… do I…look?" Paresse asked, a hint of sarcasm in his voice.
"More like a soldier, less of a monster. Except-"Dubois gestured at Paresse directly. "Can you remove your…mask and gloves?"
Paresse looked down at his arms, where at the elbow his angular, striped gauntlets started. Dubois saw them open and then close in on themselves, revealing two large, bony hands.
He continued to gaze at his newfound hands before he looked up at Dubois. "Do you…. have something I can cover my face with?"
Dubois, a few days ago, up in the mountains, had seen what was behind Paresse's mask. It reminded him of what was underneath his own eye patch.
This may be the only instance where he related to Paresse, and as a result he unraveled the worn scarf from his neck and gave it to him. Paresse's head clicked once more, and the mask disappeared. He rapidly wrapped the scarf around his entire face before Dubois could get a full view.
"Now what?" Paresse shakily stood up. His balance was surprisingly stable, albeit hunched, given that his other leg was still in the bushes.
Dubois took Paresse's other leg and threw it at him. "Can you somehow reattach that?"
"No," Paresse shook his head. "I'll need a master for that."
"Tch – un maître!" He spat. "Fine, can you just hold it to look like you're injured?"
Paresse held his leg in place as he limped after Dubois. They walked into the street, and Dubois was somewhat relieved that besides from the usual army salutes, no one paid any attention to them.
His one good eye twitched. Major Georges stomped over to them, his large frame towering over Dubois.
"Who is this fellow?" Georges gestured to Paresse. He had on a grin that made Dubois want to take a razor blade and connect a line between his dimples and his ears.
"I call him Paresse," Dubois said cordially, letting relief wash into his voice. "It turns out you were right – another one survived from my camp."
"Really? That's great news!" Georges slapped Paresse on the shoulder, making the dôji stagger. "Nickname's Paresse, huh? It's all right, I don't blame you!" he laughed.
"What's even greater," Georges turned back to Dubois. "They sent a telegram back. We're going to the trenches. You and me! Paresse can come along too. It'll just be like old times!" Now it was Dubois' turn to have a hearty slap on the shoulder.
"The military truck is coming at 21 hours. I'll see you two there!" and then Major Georges walked off, still chuckling.
Dubois' eye twitched again.
"So…Michel, is it?" Paresse's muffled voice said. "You two…friends?"
"That's Lieutenant Dubois to you," Dubois scowled and turned to Paresse. "And no, he's just someone whom I've had to put up with for most of my life."
"He's loud," Paresse said, brusque. "Fake."
Paresse shrugged. "If one of the Evil dôji found me still alive… they wouldn't react so flippant…and happily."
"I wouldn't either," Dubois sourly said. But he was right. Georges took news of Paresse and their new assignment too lightly. But he was always rather happy and annoying like that.
"Just make sure you don't blow your cover," Dubois told Paresse. "It would be too much trouble for me."
Paresse nodded. Dubois sighed. Now Paresse was stuck with him, but at least he wouldn't make a scene now.
"That's not how you hold a rifle," Dubois ripped the gun from Paresse's hands and rearranged the position of his fingers. It was nighttime, and it was time to meet Major Georges to their next destination.
"You must always hold your right hand low on the trigger, even when resting. But never use it unless you have to!"
"Why not?" Paresse asked. "Aren't we in a war?" Dubois made a 'tch' noise at the use of 'we'.
"They only hold three rounds, and magazines are scarce. Besides, if the enemy somehow captures you, they'll shoot you if they see that your gun is hot."
Paresse's head lolled. "This… is… boring."
"Then don't use it at all!" Dubois shoved the rifle into his hands, and felt a magnetic charge from the contact. "Just hold it right!"
They started walking through the dark; Paresse's dragging footsteps making more noise than Dubois' quick, nimble ones. They were once again at the outskirts of the town, where he had found the dôji this morning. After walking a few more meters, Dubois could hear the rumbling of the truck's engine.
"Lieutenant," Paresse suddenly said, his voice a hoarse whisper. Dubois raised his eyebrow at the tall figure. "What?"
Before Paresse could answer, Dubois heard leaves crunching on the ground behind him, and turned around. In a flash he took out his own rifle and pointed it at the brute that was creeping up on him. Soon he heard more rustling, and more soldiers – a full unit – come out of the darkness. They surrounded him and Paresse, all of their guns pointed at them.
"What is this?" Dubois snapped while eyeing all of them. He held his gun steadily, ready to fire.
"You should've known this was coming," Dubois moved his aim to Major Georges, who was standing right behind Paresse, his grip on his shoulders. Paresse didn't seem to notice that he was being held hostage.
"Known what was?" Dubois moved towards him, his voice mocking. "I thought we were going to fight and throw grenades at les Allemands, just like old times."
Major Georges sighed. "I've always known you were bloodthirsty and psychotic, Michel. Especially after this war took your eye."
"Che!" Dubois' finger tensed on the trigger. He heard the brute behind him raise his gun to the back of his head. "You keep on pitying me, Georges. All I lost was an eye-"
"You also lost your mind." Georges interjected. "Do you expect me to believe that you were put into the best unit in the Chasseurs Alpins, and yet you were the only one to survive after a few Germans attack a fully equipped camp?"
"Some detective skills you have there," Dubois hissed sarcastically. "I was actually surprised you took the story without a hitch. Funny, right? The psychopath doubted the idiot would believe him."
Georges sighed again. "Why did you kill them, Michel?"
"They were weak. They were all such damn fools," Dubois took one more step closer, and glanced around him. Talking would not hold them for much longer. "They were planning a coup d'état against me. They heard about my stay in that stupid asylum, which you signed me into."
"What else could I do?" Georges shot back, and tightened his arm's grip on Paresse. Dubois saw the dôji drowsily blink in the dark. "You wouldn't stop screaming and tearing at your bandages. I was trying to help you."
"Help me?" He snarled. And with that, Dubois finally turned and shot the soldier behind him point blank. He blinked once as he watched the brute's face get ripped apart by the bullet, covering his uniform with blood. The other soldiers yelped and were momentarily taken aback. He used this opportunity to shoot another soldier, and then stab the one next to him with his bayonet. One of the other soldiers rushed at him, and Dubois grabbed his collar and stabbed him repeatedly, hearing the ribs cracking between lunges.
"Stop!" Georges yelled. Dubois let go of the now dead soldier and swiveled to see him pointing a handgun to Paresse's back. Paresse tilted his head in dull surprise.
He started to chuckle. "What do you think killing him is going to do? I couldn't care less."
"I checked the military records, and there was no man on file with this Paresse's height and build." Georges pushed the gun muzzle deeper into his back. "I don't know where you found him, but you didn't let him die. Did he help you kill them?"
"Paresse?" Dubois laughed. "He couldn't hurt a fucking fly."
His gun was suddenly punched out of his hands, and he was kicked to the ground by another soldier. He gritted his teeth as the rest of the surviving soldiers surrounded him and held him down. He was caught off guard once more.
"I tried to help you," He heard Georges say, his voice cracking with a sob.
"Stop saying that!" Dubois slammed his fist into the ground and ripped out patches of grass. "You never helped me from anything."
"But I tried to," Georges persisted, gripping Paresse's shoulder tighter. Paresse himself looked as if he was about to fall asleep. "I-I wanted to get you back the way you were before you lost your eye." He was outright crying now.
"Before?" Dubois almost laughed. "Didn't you know? Haven't you ever noticed? I was always like this."
He saw Paresse's eyes open slowly.
"I'm sorry, Michel, my old friend," Georges said. He heard all the soldiers' guns point at him. "But I can't let you live. I will release you from this torment." He saw Georges slowly pull his finger on the trigger….
…And then felt a wet splat as he was suddenly covered in blood.
All of the soldiers around him collapsed into their own personal sea of blood. Their heads rolled off their soldiers onto the grass. George's own head fell to the grass with a loud thump.
Paresse loomed over the bodies, his gauntlet bloody and crackling from usage, his eyes opened wide.
Dubois stood up, and he noticed for the first time that his hands were shaking.
"You…" He looked all around him. The stench of the dead was beginning to permeate the area just as he realized what had happened.
"He… was about to blow my cover." Paresse said, his voice monotone and sleepy as always. "You told me…. to make sure that doesn't happen."
Dubois saw the blood staining the soldiers' uniforms. He noticed how their heads were neatly, almost cleanly, chopped off from their necks. He saw their concentrated faces – he had killed them so fast that they had no time to react.
He licked his lips, the metallic taste of blood all too familiar and enjoyable to him.
A slow, unhinged smile spread over his face as he looked into Paresse's eyes.
"You needed a master, you say?"