2019-10-25 - Desert Fates: The Meeting


Two titanic personalities collide in Northern Africa in 1942. It's an easy exchange: an escort for a lost soldier in return for his expertise and marksmanship. Or will it be so easy?

Log Info:

Storyteller: None
Date: Fri Oct 25 04:17:12 2019
Location: RP Room 3

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Theme Song




"…no, I don't want to hear about what the Ghul did today, Weston."

Coming upon one of the campfires set up near to a collection of tents, conversation can be heard. British soldiers are passing around a flask, either seated on their coats on the rocky flat ground or on purloined empty crates, almost akin to a throne in this environment. It's a sallow-faced man speaking, his long face tired and worn, passing the flask back to a ruddy-faced comrade, sunburnt despite his dark hair and supposed darker skin tone by proxy.

"Cor, Gwynn, it was insane," this Weston presses before glancing up at Barnes. "Oh. Yankee sharpshooter, lads, watch your sixes." His smile is friendly enough. Gwynn gives Bucky a dismissive nod of greeting, going back to watching the fire from atop his crate. The other two present, a young man blond and brown-eyed and a man who must have Grecian blood simply consider Barnes.

It's Thanksgiving, in America. Steve is alone in their apartment, but at least he's got some of Buck's pay to take care of things….and a chance to eat dinner with the spinster sisters down the hall who've always made a point of mothering 'those poor orphan boys' to the best of their ability.

But the transformation from the smiling, light-footed boy of Brooklyn to the hard-bitten veteran Steve will meet in almost a year has begun. He's red-eyed with tiredness, dusty, and separated from his unit- there's a few of them, straggled in from the aftermath of Operation Torch. "Hi," he says, gruffly. "Mind if I join you?" Since it's apparently story hour.

"Not at all, old chum. Drag over a crate." This is Weston again, who offers out the flask towards Bucky with a shake of it, encouraging him to take it. "I'll bet the Yankee doesn't know about the Ghul." Weston isn't derailed in the least by the soft groan from Gwynn, even as the latter puts his face in his hands. His knuckles are blackened with grit and oil; he must have been working on the vehicles earlier in the day.

"If you talk about him enough, he will show." This is the Greek, soft-spoken where he looks up from reading a thin, tattered book in his cross-legged sit. His accent outs him in a heartbeat. The thing is, this observation sounds more like a warning.

"If he does, I'll ask him to sit for a spate and share a drink with me," Weston claims, very convinced this is a fine idea.

"If he does, we are to report him on sight." Gwynn speaks firmly from his crate, scowling. "Simply because he appears to fight for the Queen does not give him free reign to act as he does."

"I think you're jealous because he can dismantle a Panzer tank with nothing more than his bare hands and a wheel lug-nut wrench," replies Weston, smirking. Gwynn continues scowling. "Without being shot." More scowling. "By an entire platoon of Germans firing live at him."

"Shut the fuck up, Weston," the long-faced man growls.

He knows that soldiers tell stories. Gossip, spin yarns, tall tales. He heard them in the barracks and in transport. And it's a way to beguile the time. "Don't mind if I do," he says, more cheerfully, as he takes the flask, takes a swig, wipes it politely before handing it on.

He'll never have much more in terms of lines around his eyes. Less than a year before Zola freezes him as a permanent baby-face….but the dust on his face only accentuates the ones that are there. "What kind of ghost story is this?" he wonders, grinning. "Got a genie fighting for you? I'm told this is their country and that they hate the Germans…."

The collection of soldiers goes silent at the question. Even Weston glances over at Gwynn as if for some unspoken permission. With a scoff, Gwynn gestures for the man to get on with it.

Weston actually rubs his hands together. "He's a ruddy ghost, Barnes. Supernatural — "

"Witchcraft," the Greek volunteers as he turns a page.

"Made a deal with the Devil," the younger blond man says very quietly, his hands in his lap as he stares into the fire. By the tightness at the corners of his eyes, he's fighting with himself mentally about something.

"Showed up out of the bloomin' darkness one night to speak with Major Jock MacLeod. Man's got brass balls the size of melons — I've never heard such the Major go from raising cane to silent like it. Turns out the Ghul's a lost Desert Rat, slated KIA."

"Weston, you're full of shite," Gwynn complains.

"I fucking heard it myself through the tent, Gwynn," the other soldier claims firmly. "He claimed he was slated KIA." A beat where Weston's hazel eyes find Bucky. "Before the first war, 1910 or something." His eyebrows dance up. "Wait until you see this chap. Doesn't look a day over twenty-five at most."

"Fucking suck him off already." Gwynn gets a solid sock in the thigh for that one and there seems an incipient scuffle until the Greek looks up from his book again. Apparently, that's enough to make both men settle down. Maybe it's a matter of pride and decorum in front of the non-Brits — or maybe the Greek is the CO.

They're having it off at his expense. Pulling his leg, stretching his credulity. And Buck's content to go along with it. "Wait, so he's immortal? Or a ghost left over from the Mesopotamian campaign?" That's some further east than the Allies have reached, in what is currently German held territory. "Also, uh, any spare chow I can scrounge?"

The comment about sucking him off makes him blush, rosily. If only. "A guy old enough to fight in 1917'd be middle aged, by now…."

"1910," Weston repeats, now having had his flask returned to him. He lifts the opening to peer into it; as if that might ascertain its volume…there's little left now. "He's not middle-aged, not this one. Ballsy corker looks no older than you, Yankee."

It's the Greek CO whose attention lingers on Bucky now. He places his finger upon his page to mark the spot and reaches into the pocket of his coat. Out comes a C rations tin. "If you would barter for it, what would you offer?" By all appearances, the tin is untouched. There's no gauntness in the Greek's cheeks. He seems unperturbed by the idea of one of his tins traded off, pending on the opposing offer.

"There is no such thing as immortals or ghosts. It's all heat delusions and fume effects," Gwynn grumps from his crate.

What does he have to trade? The idea makes Buck look chagrined. He has no pay in his pocket. "Cigarettes?" he offers, hopefully. He doesn't really smoke, not like he does. They're just trade goods, now. Wampum. He pats himself down, pulls out the squashed packet of Luckies.

The blue eyes flicker between them. "How do you know it's not all a story, this ghoul?" he wonders. A nod to Gwynn. "I mean….it sounds like a fish story to me….

"This time, I will humor you, young man. You appear to require the calories more than myself." With that softly-spoken agreement, Bucky's Luckies are traded for the C ration tin. The seal is indeed unbroken, so Bucky gets all of its contents without blemish.

Gwynn scoffs in agreement about the fishy tale. "It is a load of bollocks. Regardless of Weston's obsession with this Ghul, the Major has requested his presence be reported immediately in the camp. He's not proven himself beyond a security risk and — "

"Oh, tut-tut…"

The voice slithers out of the shadows beyond the glow of burning sticks, with barely enough air passing over vocal cords to give it fullness. Still, each consonant is hit clearly as a pebble on glass in the warped British accent.

Gwynn nearly kicks enough sand into the fire to put it out as he rises to his feet; his hands flash for his gun. Weston also scrambles to his feet, half-crouched. The silhouette behind them both is human, but the nightshine red reflection where whorled pupils would be? Absolutely not. What dulled firelight falls upon the man shows a military outfit almost…cobbled together. Elements of British infantry pre-World War one are apparent in the wrappings from shin to knee beneath the loose fall of khaki material and at the open vest he wears. His darker boots lace to the knee, a lost style given this war's bucklings. His arms remain sleeveless, given the glance of bare skin. About his neck, loosely wrapped to hang almost as a stole down each side of his chest, a black fringed length of fabric. Teeth appear slowly, white enough to catch in the wane light.

"Are you going to call alarm on me, Master Gwynn? I am only making the rounds…" The weird and wending tone of voice might raise fine hairs on the body. There's something wrong about it, like finding a lens askew in your rifle's scope.

Buck has already learned enough about Army life to not stop eating. Actual djinn shows up, do not drop the rations. If anything, he starts eating faster, like he intends to flee in a panic if he has to, still stuffing crackers into his mouth.

But his eyes do widen. "Ears burning, Ghoul?" he asks conversationally, once he's had a swig of water. A little New York brass there - no showing fear. Curious, though, that's clear, as he looks up. Still shiny new, beneath the dust, the way the GIs are, in contrast to the sun-bitten veterans of Africa.

Gwynn keeps the handgun trained on the shadowed figure now barely visible beyond the half-scuffed fire. Weston remains where he is and appears to be following the mantra of 'stay still and they can't see you'; still, he's breathing more rapidly, as if he's thrilled to finally have the supernatural story come to life on his watch. The Greek CO has his own hand on his gun's grip, though he appears to be half-hiding it by the uplifted angle of his book. His expression has gone hard and watchful. The youngest one, the blond with the worry-full eyes, is cringing.

Bucky, however, gets a narrowing of the ruddy gleams, as if eyelids half-fell. "I suppose you could say that…" the Brit allows in the low, velvety voice.

"You are trespassing, Ghul, and will be subject to —" Gwynn doesn't get very far into his tight reprimand.

"Please, it's «Five-Stripe», not the Ghul. Do not introduce me to your American comrade incorrectly." The nom de guerre comes in Farsi, 'qalam-panj', easily spoken with the nuance of long-practice.

The Greek makes a small sign before himself with the book; one might recognize it as a ward against the Evil Eye. As if cued, the carmine-bright pupils swing towards him.

"I beg you, do it again, Captain. I enjoy proving old wives' tales wrong," says the man beyond the low glow of campfire.

This is the best entertainment he's had in ages. He's read all the newspapers and books and comics he can get, outworn them all. Way beyond the reach of the few movie theaters. So Buck's still eating his way deliberately through the rations, eyes bright.

Gaze darting from Ambrose to the others. "They were filling my ears with stories. You really a veteran of the Great War?" His tone is not skeptical, not sneering. Like he expects a serious answer.

"Yes, I am." It appears that's all the details the mysterious stranger beyond the sullen reach of the fire intends to share at this time. The glow of nightshine palpably shifts from Barnes and to Gwynn and his gun. "Are you going to escort me out of camp then, soldier…?" How delicately the question floats from the shadows. The soldier can be seen to swallow.

From the heavily-shadowed figure comes a fluttering chuckle, breathless, curled into the back of his throat.

"Gentlemen… I am on your side." Hands can barely be seen to flare out off of his hips as if beseeching their trust further. "I pity your being bound by protocol."

"You are a soldier of the Crown, Ghul! You are — "

That is an inhuman snarl from the red-eyed man and it effectively silences Gwynn; it also makes him correct the dropping aim his service revolver.

"I am beholden to none." Teeth on display in an ugly grimace slowly disappear. Even his shift of weight is eerily fluid, as if he were to be considering slinking away, but not immediately.

"You, nosy little nadder." Now Bucky is the recipient of the unnatural focus of attention directly across the fire from him. "I have received word of your exploits with a rifle — you are a crack-shot, yes?"

"Somethin' tells me that if he looks like that after more'n twenty years out here, he's a lot more than a soldier you can give orders to." James has no dog in this fight - he's still sitting at his ease, hips indecorously asprawl. Helmet off, and the brown hair is grimed with dust. Like it's a show for his benefit.

He's finished crackers and cheese, and now he's on to the cookies and chocolate. Already thinner, if possible, than the boy who shipped out, if nothing like what he'll become after six months here. At that question, he looks up, swallows hastily, and shrugs. "Enh, I'm okay," he says. "Still pretty new. Not for me to boast."

"Regardless of number, I am at least aware of your percentile and it is to be lauded," the stranger notes from his stance in the shadow. Very, very cautiously, Weston has been feeding fuel to the fire and it blazes brighter suddenly as some of the dry desert grasses catch alight. More of the mysterious man's face is shown in a flash of ruddy shine; high cheekbones and a refined jawline, many days of growth about his face still tamed despite the rag-tag assortment of garments well-used.

"As an American, Private Barnes does not answer to the King's men, «Five-Stripe»." This is the Greek Captain, having now closed his book in order to level a vexed look at the intruder. His other hand remains on his gun's grip, the weapon still not drawn.

His immediate reply is a quiet, pained elongation of a groan from the back of the man's throat, as if the Captain were testing his very will to live with perceived idiocy. "Seven hells, Katrakis, you are as willfully testing as your uncle was," growls the stranger. Captain Katrakis seems taken aback by this enough to remain silent; he's even gone a shade lighter, as if NOW it were true that the Ghul weren't insane and does, in fact, exist.

Now, finally, he's wary. As if realizing that having that scarlet stare focused on him might mean trouble of a caliber far beyond what he's used to having. But Buck's busy licking his fingers to get every last taste of the chocolate off of them….then more water. "That's flattering," he says, neutrally. "But the Captain is right. I'm lost, not detached. My duty's to get back to my unit." Which is no doubt somewhere on the road to Tunisia.

Interestingly enough, it's Weston to speak up, albeit quietly. "Betcha he knows the desert like the back of his hand. He could help you get back to your unit?" The sunburnt soldier glances between the silhouette beyond the fire and to Bucky and back. Gwynn makes a strained sound of frustration. The blond soldier has uncurled mostly from his hedgehog-like ball and is staring wide-eyed at Weston now, as if he'd just offered up the American G.I. to some ancient malevolence from beyond.

"Finally, someone shows an inkling of intelligence…" Another rounded chuckling behind the stranger's teeth can be heard. "I thought you all simpletons at first. Indeed…Private Barnes, was it? I have little issue escorting you to your unit." Gravel barely makes sound as he shifts weight again. "Poor little lost lambkin that you are…" the stranger croons with a slithering wending of amusement through his words. "The Gibleh winds will eat you alive otherwise."

Buck gives Weston the side-eye of dubiousness at that volunteering, as he wipes off his hand on a rag. "107th," he says, looking back to Ambrose. "I bet you could. I c'n just wait until I find another bunch of Americans going that way, though. You don't gotta get all Lawrence of Arabia about it."

There's a pause from the figure and it might become more apparent when he murmurs to himself, "…I believe I once knew someone named Lawrence of Arabia."

"Cor, mate, you knew him?!" Weston asks him with a bright spark of enthusiasm despite the uncomfortable atmosphere around the fire.

"Yes, briefly." Cuttingly dismissive, the response, and Weston's expression falls. "But do you need your ears cleaned, Private Barnes? I spoke of the Gibleh winds. Your 107th has no idea what they are about to encounter. Their compasses will fail to work…and I doubt any one of your fellow Americans knows how to read the desert."

Pride has him wanting to bristle, argue. Sense has him keeping his mouth shut. Steve was always the one to wade in on a fight when he saw wrong being done. His lips quirk to one side. "Probably not. You wanna play native guide?" he wonders, running fingers through his hair, as if to comb out the dust. "I mean, I bet they'd pay ya, if you needed paid work, but…."

"I need no payment. I am bored."

And by the stranger's tone of voice, that is possibly the worst state of existence, being subjected to ennui.

"That, and I suspect you are a man of honor, Private Barnes. For the delivery of your person to your unit, as safe and sound as a bird in a nest…" There is a subtle sibilance here accompanied by the sliver of a smile seen by dull firelight. "I expect to appropriate your marksmanship abilities as we travel and perhaps in the near future. I would consider it a fair trade, personally, given otherwise, I would find your bones later after the vultures and beetles made better use of you than your own unit did."

There's a scoff from Gwynn, he of the handgun now lowered off to one side rather than aimed near to Weston. Captain Katrakis seems to have regained his color and merely wears a sullen look.

So much for his hopes of leisurely wanderings with the Brits. But then….this'll be a story to write to Steve about. The prospect makes him brighten a little, and he rises, gathering up rifle and helmet. "All right," he says, staunchly. "I bet you're a much better shot than I am, but…." A shrug, before he turns to the others. "Thanks, gentlemen," he says, with a little salute, two fingers to his temple.

"Yes, well… I suppose we shall see what comes of things." There's a distracted element to the stranger's words now and the angle of the carmine-bright wink can be seen to shift down and up Bucky's form before narrowing. It almost appears as if the Ghul had been arguing for the sake of it alone and hadn't expected Barnes to ultimately agree. Regardless, he remains where he stands while the others bid the American adieu.

"I think I speak for everyone when I say good luck, Private Barnes. He's not joshing you," and Weston nods towards the shadowed stranger. "The Sirocco winds are nothing to toy with. If you can, grab a length of fabric before you leave. It'll keep the sand out of your face if you get caught unawares."

"He speaks the truth." For the bland compliment, the sunburnt soldier seems a bit more pleased with himself. "Attend, Private Barnes." Gravel can be heard as the storied stranger turns to then walk off into the gloom between campfires; buckles and tack gleams, but that is about it. For all intents and purposes, he is to play guide…if Bucky can keep up.

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