With Love in Their Hearts

by Robert Jeschonek


“I love you!” Hissing the words through the blood in my mouth, I lunge at my opponent. And I mean those words with all my heart – I have to – even as I swipe my dagger across his chest.

As he dances back out of reach, a line of red opens up where I cut him. His dirty, bearded face clouds… then quickly clears. “I love you more!” He smiles as he leaps at me with both fists forward, aiming them like a battering ram at my face.

Beaming with all the affection I can muster, all the true sweet regard for my friendly fellow man, I spin around out of his way and tag him again with the dagger, plugging the blade deep in his left kidney.

Howling, he stumbles into the thick-trunked oak that was just at my back. He takes it headfirst and bounces off, weaving drunkenly in the mud.

“Friend warrior.” This is how I finish him, all sweetness and light. Without the slightest shred of darkness in my heart. “You are like unto the finest flower in the brightest sunbeam on the loveliest day in all the year.” Darting to one side, I duck down and recover the sword I dropped earlier in this battle – dearest Eros. “God bless you for bringing such joy to my life.”

With that, I swing the sword up, then down and through his neck with a perfect, practiced stroke.

So good am I at this that not a trace of hatred or savage satisfaction punctuates the moment when his head separates from his shoulders and plops into the muck.

Breathing hard, I scan my surroundings. I see the bodies of the three men I’ve killed, sprawled in various bloody contortions… and the body of Vicka, my partner on the road until now, whom they killed before I could kill them first.

That is what love can accomplish. Its power is arrayed around me for all to behold.


Moving swiftly lest another patrol comes my way too soon, I secure my beaten black body armor, then retrieve and put on my battered helmet with the old red-white-and-blue banner etched into the hard plastic. I retrieve my motorbike too… but the front tire has been slashed, and it won’t start. I guess I can’t complain; it’s over a century old, and I’ve gotten a lot of use out of it until now.

“Go with God, fair machine.” I drop it in the muck, grab my dagger from the dead man’s kidney, and set off at a brisk jog through the woods. The autumn sun is closing in on the horizon, and I need to make my destination by nightfall.

Everything is riding on the completion of my mission. All my people down in Burytown are counting on me to succeed.

Though it is hard to imagine I can succeed this time. The killing of men and women has always come easy to me. It is that very inclination that could make this new mission such a challenge.

Heart pounding, I run through the mud, brush, and leaves, ever up along the steep contour of the mountainside. This part of what was once known as the state of Pennsylvania is full of such mountains – the Alleghenies, as we call them yet today. They have been my home for all five and twenty years of my life, and navigating them is second nature to me.

Reading the wind and the angle of the sun, I know I’m not far from my goal. In spite of the best efforts of my attackers, I will reach my destination, though what happens after that, I cannot say.

Finally, I burst from the woods and find myself at the edge of the old road. I also find myself face to face with two men in camouflage body armor, wielding six-guns.

Slowly, I take off the helmet. “Greetings to you both.”

“Hail and well met, good stranger!” The one doing the talking has the biggest, friendliest smile… and the steadiest grip on his revolver. “State your name and purpose, that we may love you all the better!”

Instinctively, I meet his gaze with the most genuine grin I can muster. “I am Sir Gardner Schell of Burytown,” I tell them. “I have come to meet my bride.”


Expected as I am, the sentinels holster their guns and lead me through the barricades blocking the road. On the other side, my destination awaits – a place I’ve only visited a handful of times, though Burytown lies but seven miles to the west of it.

The building looks for all the world like an old ocean liner (the kind I’ve seen only in photos), complete with decks, portholes, and a pair of big smokestacks on the roof, angled toward the stern. It is as if, by some miracle, a seagoing vessel has been stranded in the heights of a mountain range, along the curve of a once-great highway that has seen better days.

GRAND VIEW SHIP HOTEL. That’s the old name of it, painted in big black letters on the side of the ship facing the road. SEE 3 STATES AND 7 COUNTIES. That’s painted on the prow. Armor plating has been added all around, but those words out of history remain.

The real name, the one it’s known by now, is not painted anywhere. But ask anyone within fifty miles of here if they know of Kendall’s Keep, and they will point you right to it. Everyone who uses this stretch of road – known in olden times as the Highway of Lincoln – must pay a toll to Kendall’s men to pass this point.

“What took you so long?” Lord Rubicon Kendall strides out of the keep in a white sea captain’s uniform, looking hale and hearty and overly friendly. A sword hangs at either hip, plus a long rifle at his back, and rightly so; his clan is at war. “You were expected this morning, good sir knight.”

“If not for the second ambush, I most certainly would have been here sooner. And Vicka, my late retainer, as well.” I point at the path that I traveled up the slope. “The Loved Ones grow ever bolder, my Lord.”

Rubicon grins through his neatly trimmed ebony mustache and goatee. “It is a delight we have in common, yes? Your people down in Burytown have been especially showered with their affections, have they not?”

“Such a blessing.” I say it stiffly, though I manage a smile. The siege of Burytown is my whole reason for being here. An alliance with Rubicon’s clan would give us the punch we need to break the siege and lay our friends the Loved Ones to rest for good.

Though such an alliance does not come without a price.

“I am in your hands, my Lord.” I bow my head and spread my arms. “Assuming our pact yet stands.”

“It does. My Lady Kendall, God rest her soul, had people in Burytown. I am only too happy to offer you this chance.” He lays a hand on my shoulder. “If you are ready for the challenge, Sir Gardner.”

“I would not be here if I were not.”

“Well said.” Rubicon nods sagely, peering into my eyes with the focus of a hawk. “And would you accept the guidance of an advisor in this quest of yours? He was of much help when I was in your shoes.”

“Thank you, my Lord, but that won’t be necessary.”

Rubicon cocks his head to one side, looking amused. “May he provide a benediction, at least?”

Before I can answer, an old man rises on the main deck on the second level of the ship/keep and clears his throat. “Let us pray,” he calls down to us. Like Rubicon, he wears a uniform, though the pieces don’t go together well: white cap, black jacket, red ascot, lemon trousers.

Confidentially, Rubicon leans over and whispers to me. “Bon Cloister up there will perform the ceremony, you know. If there is one.”

“In the century since the Great Collapse,” says Cloister, “only love has sustained we few survivors. As this young knight stands on the precipice of the greatest struggle of all – holy wedlock – we pray that he may turn to another face of love and do what we all know he must do to succeed.”

“Amen.” Grinning, Rubicon smacks me on the back.

“Times a million,” says Cloister as he digs out a pipe and lights it with a hellaciously long furnace match.


“Here we are.” Rubicon leads me past armed guards into the keep, then down a short hallway. “Have a seat in the Coral Room, Sir Gardner.”

We enter a room with turquoise walls and red-rimmed portholes. A polished wooden bar occupies most of one side, with a black-cushioned elbow-rest and pink-upholstered barstools with backs. Dusty glasses and bottles line shelves behind the bar, glinting in the last flickers of daylight slipping in from the windows in the dining room next-door.

I sit on a long red bench against the opposite wall. A knight must never sit with his back to the door, as I have learned the hard way.

Just then, I hear footsteps – hard shoes descending a staircase.

“Here she comes.” Rubicon smiles and bounces on the balls of his feet. “Good luck to you.” He winks and whispers that last.

My heart beats fast as the footsteps approach down the hallway. I have fought a thousand battles, but this is new ground for me.

“Sir Gardner.” Rubicon steps aside and gestures at the doorway. “I introduce my daughter, Listy Kendall.”

I rise as she enters the room. Never in my life have I seen anyone so beautiful.

Listy curtsies. “Sir Gardner.” She is in her early 20s, with all the firmness of youth in her pale, porcelain skin. Loose, dark curls frame an oval face with lively eyes, delicate nose, and full red lips. I can see from the fall of her long, creamy gown that her body is perfectly sculpted, bust and hips swelling pleasingly above and below a slender waist.

I manage a bow, but words fail me. Entranced, I can but stare as she watches and waits, smiling.

Rubicon raises an eyebrow and gestures at the bar. “Perhaps you might like a drink, Sir Gardner?”

His question barely registers. I am spellbound.

“My father has pledged my hand to you, good knight,” says Listy. “It might do us well to converse upon this betrothal, don’t you think?”

Her voice, as soft and flowing as the song of a meadowlark, freezes me further. I am drawn to her, mesmerized as I have never been before – yet locked down as if shackled and gagged. A man of action I have always been, but now I am turned to stone.

And none of it makes any sense to me.

“Ha. I wondered if this might happen.” Rubicon walks over and squeezes my shoulder. “Perhaps some time with Bon Cloister might not be a bad idea after all, sir knight.”


Fresh air does me some good. As I stand at the railing of the keep’s main deck and watch the sun set, my wits slowly return to me.

Without invitation, Bon Cloister shuffles over to stand beside me, lighting a fresh pipeful of tobacco. Up close, I see how withered he is, how ancient in his shabby hodge-podge uniform.

“What is the Story of Love, Sir Gardner?” He puffs twice on the pipe, then exhales sweet cherry-smelling smoke from his nose. “Tell me how love as we know it came to be.”

Everyone knows this story, but I humor him. I’m embarrassed about what happened in the Coral Room and eager to make things right.

“One of the plagues of the Great Collapse in the 21st Century was The Commandment,” I tell him. “Scientists unleashed a contagion to rewrite human DNA and bring about peace on Earth.”

“How so?”

“People became physically unable to harm others out of hatred or anger. This was in fulfillment of Jesus Christ’s commandment to love thy neighbor as thyself.”

“Indeed.” Smoke from Cloister’s pipe drifts out over the vast landscape sprawling beyond the mountain. The setting sun casts blazing light over the acres of trees in their red, gold, and orange autumn finery. “And how did that work out when the other plagues struck, and civilization collapsed?”

“It made it nearly impossible to fight for survival.”

Cloister smiles. “And so we learned to fight – to kill if need be – the only way we could. With love in our hearts.” He pulls the pipe from his mouth. “And we got very good at it, didn’t we? The love-that-kills?”

I nod.

But!” Cloister jabs the pipe stem at me. “What happens when we get so good at it, we forget what it’s like to feel the love-that-cherishes? For some, especially the more… accomplished warriors, like yourself… this can sometimes lead to profound… disharmonies.”

“The love-that-cherishes?” I scowl.

“Caring for someone so much that we don’t want to damage or murder them,” says Cloister. “Feeling an attraction so real and profound that we want to join with the other person in a multitude of ways.”

The song of the katydids buzzing in the trees makes more sense to me than what he’s saying. “Is that even possible?” I ask.

Cloister narrows his eyes. “Do you want it to be?”

I think of my people in Burytown, who are depending on me. I think also of that beautiful girl in the Coral Room, and the way she seemed to glow when I gazed at her. “Yes.” I whisper the word. “But how?”

“Righteous discipline.” Cloister clenches his right hand. “And self-control. You must reach deep within yourself and change the love-that-kills to the love-that-cherishes… but only for this one person, your bride. For all others, especially those who threaten kith or kin…” He unclenches his hand and draws the edge of it across his throat like the blade of a knife.

Frustrated, I close my eyes and clench my teeth. I feel like going over the rail and running off into the night with Eros in hand, ready to love all comers. That, at least, would not be like the great unknown I now face.

“So many feelings…” I grip the rail hard. “What if I can’t master them, Bon?”

“Then your bargain with Lord Kendall will never be consummated.” Cloister puts the pipe back in his mouth and puffs on it. “For neither he nor Listy herself shall brook a union where there is no true affection.”

“Damn.” I toss my head as if I’m trying to wake myself from a terrible dream. “I don’t even know where to start.”

“There are some mental drills that might help.” Cloister pats me on the back. “Perhaps we can get you ready for tomorrow morning.”

“What’s happening tomorrow morning?”

“Your first date,” says Cloister. “Also, if all goes well, your marriage proposal.”


I wake, as always, before dawn, springing to full alertness with all the force of old habits. Sleeping too soundly or late can get you killed in the field, after all.

I wash up in a basin of tepid water in my room, then dry and dress. Looking out the window, I see it’s still dark outside… but won’t be for long. I am early for this morning’s meeting, which is just how I like to be.

In this, Listy Kendall and I have something in common. When I arrive on the main deck, she is waiting there already, setting up an easel and palette of paints by the light of an oil lamp.

“Good morning,” she says, waving a brush in my direction. “I trust you slept well, Sir Gardner?”

My heart races, and words catch in my throat. She looks as lovely as she did when we first met, in the Coral Room… and I feel just as frozen, just as shackled by conflicting emotions.

But then I run one of the exercises Cloister taught me, repeating these words in my head: Kindness is not always hatred. Hatred is not always kindness.

Something about that simple repetition weakens the bonds just enough for me to speak. “Yes, I did sleep well.” It isn’t much, but I consider it a victory.

“Glad to hear it.” She strokes a rich red base on the canvas as the sky begins to brighten. “You don’t mind if I paint, do you? It’s going to be such a lovely autumn morning.”

“Not at all.” I can barely force out the words. The way her lacy white blouse clings to her breasts, and her black britches hug the curves of her hips and bottom, I have trouble focusing on the conversation at hand.

“So, Sir Gardner.” Listy swirls in white with the red, stirring it into a deep pink color. “What hobbies do you have?”

C-Love, not K-Love. That’s another exercise Cloister taught me. C-Love, not K-Love, as in the love-that-cherishes, not the love-that-kills. “Well…” I fight for focus. “I sharpen my blades in my spare time. And train younger knights in battlefield techniques.”

“Sounds more like work to me.” Listy tips her head and gives me a funny look out of the corner of her eye. “Do you ever court maidens, I wonder?”

I feel myself blush. C-Love, not K-Love. C-Love, not K-Love. “I, uh…no, I…” In spite of the mantra, my brain locks up, and my voice trails off.

“Oh, look.” Listy pauses in dabbing at the canvas and gazes out at the scenery, mouth open in wonder. “Come here, Sir Gardner.”

I step up beside her, following her gaze with my own. The sky, by now, is fairly bright, so the vast gulf below is awash in predawn light – but it appears not at all as it did the evening before. Everywhere I look, instead of swaths of colorful trees and distant green fields, I see an expanse of mist blanketing everything.

“I love when it’s like this.” Her voice is low and soft. “My grandfather used to say it was like an ocean of cloud out there. He half-expected to see a dolphin jump out of it, he said.” She bumps my arm with her elbow. “Not that he was biased, living in a ship on the mountain and all.”

“Three states, seven counties.” Lost in the view, I get my voice back. “It’s as if they’ve disappeared.”

“They’re still out there. They always are.” Her elbow nudges my arm again. “You just can’t see them.”

Staring into that milky abyss, I let my imagination run away with me – something I rarely do. “It’s more like Heaven than an ocean,” I say, though I’ve only ever seen photos of oceans or paintings of Heaven.

When a bird pops out of the mist nearby, it startles me back to reality. I become fully aware of Listy’s body next to mine, her elbow against my arm… and that triggers the kind of reaction I had before.

Even as it happens, I hate myself for it. Burytown is in dire need; am I so damaged that I can’t at least bluff my way through the one chance I have to save it?

Yes, apparently.

Stumbling back from the railing, I knock over a chair and almost fall. Listy turns, a look of pity on her face that somehow makes it all the worse.

“S-sorry…” All my life, love has been a weapon. Feeling it has always been a pretext, a preamble to some kind or other of bloodbath. Thinking of it now not as a means to murder feels wrong… confusing.

Yet it’s there… a whisper of that other love that Cloister talked about. And the more I feel it, the more I don’t know what to do with it.

Listy seems to have no such difficulty – unless, of course, she isn’t feeling C-Love toward me in the first place. She seems perfectly comfortable in all our interactions, even as I find myself intensely off-balance.

I’m sweating as if I’m in a fight, and my belly’s full of butterflies. I wish I’d never come here, opening myself up to all this confusion – even if staying home would have meant certain death without the alliance I’d hoped to find.

Time is running out for that home of mine… though just how quickly, I only now discover.

The door to the deck flies open, and a dark-skinned woman stalks through, heaving for breath. She is a woman I know, a messenger from Burytown called Polly Sullivan.

“Sir Gardner!” She gasps out the words. “I bring word of Burytown! Its downfall is imminent. This very day, your precious home shall fall to the wolves at its doorstep.”


I slide Eros down into his scabbard with the scrape of metal against metal. I do the same for the rest of my blades, slipping them into their various sheaths with familiar, practiced ease.

Standing in the middle of my room, I take a deep breath and release it. Everything is in its place again, and the world makes sense. My course is clear and straight, and my heart is filled with so much love for those who threaten my home.

Nodding to myself, I snatch my helmet from a hook on the wall, then storm out of the room and down the stairs. Lord Kendall, Bon Cloister, and Listy wait at the bottom, between me and the exit.

“Ho, sir knight.” Rubicon raises both hands as if to hold me back. “We have heard with deep regret the terrible news from Burytown.”

“Save your regret for the Loved Ones,” I tell him. “For I go now to shower them with my deepest affection.”

“Of course,” says Rubicon. “You have concluded your business with us in full, then? Shall I signal my man-at-arms to rally the forces we have pledged you?”

I spare a glance at Listy, who bears a troubled look on her face. There is a pull deep within me, a gravity catching at my heart – but other powers overwhelm it.

“Good sir, the people of Burytown shall humbly welcome any and all forces pledged to act in their interest. But it is not true that our business is concluded.” I bow my head. “I have yet to fulfill the terms of our pact.”

“And will you?” asks Rubicon.

I feel Listy’s frown upon me as I speak. “If Burytown’s state is as dire as Polly Sullivan reports, I cannot promise anything. My own future might be exceedingly brief.”

“Then, regrettably, I cannot offer aid,” says Rubicon.

“Father!” snaps Listy.

Rubicon slashes his hand through the air. “We risk much, sending so large a force away from our own battlements. We risk this very keep and all who depend on it. We cannot – will not – take that risk without a pact.”

“But I am the currency in this pact, am I not?” says Listy. “Have I no say in this…”

Rubicon cuts her off. “The pact is everything. In this world, bargains are how we survive.” He shakes his head at Listy, then me. “Let me ask you this, Sir Gardner. Is there no possibility of forging a love-that-cherishes between the two of you?”

“I can perform a ceremony here on the spot,” says Cloister. “A bond of wedlock so hastily conceived shall be no less legitimate.”

I look at each of them in turn, considering. Again, when my eyes meet hers, I feel that pull, like the current of a river… but then that other force rises up and blots it out. K-Love wins out, as well it should. My people need me.

“It is not fair to the people of Burytown to linger one moment more as their home falls to invaders,” I say. “And it is not fair to you to take your hand in wedlock if I might make of you a widow before this day is done.” I bow to Listy. “As much as I might wish it could be otherwise.”

“But you are more likely to live another day with Lord Kendall’s forces at your back,” says Cloister.

“And what kind of man would I be if I married this woman to save my own neck?” Impulsively, I reach for Listy’s hand and kiss it. “That does not sound to me like anything close to a love-that-cherishes.”

I let go of her hand… yet my next words are intended only for her ears. “Farewell. Perhaps we shall meet again in that heavenly ocean of mist.”

With that, I square my shoulders, push past Lord Kendall, and march outside into the late morning sunlight. Polly, who’s been waiting, kickstarts her motorbike and revs it loudly as I don my helmet and climb on behind her.

Then, in a cloud of dust and gravel, we spin around and fly down the highway away from Kendall’s Keep.


It surprises me how much I think of Listy as we ride down the mountain. The memory of kissing her hand stays with me, as does the memory of gazing into the mist by her side with her elbow resting against my arm.

But when the time comes to banish her from my thoughts, I do. The field of battle, as I understand all too well, is no place for thoughts of C-Love… only K.

Polly and I dismount and stow the bike a mile back from Burytown, then travel the rest on foot. The sounds of the fight reach us as we hurry through the woods – the clash and clang of steel, the scattered blasts of pistols and rifles, the screams of the wounded and dying.

Then the fight itself reaches us, too. Within sight of the rooftops of town, we are set upon by a trio of Loved Ones, soaked in gore and whipped into a frenzy.

“I love you!” A red-bearded warrior leads the ambush, swinging a blood-smeared axe overhead. “I will show you how much!”

Adrenaline burns in my bloodstream as I slip Eros from his scabbard and stand ready to meet the charge. “Come then, brother, and let us see who has the most love to give!”

They attack us like men possessed, half-crazed with K-Love stoked to extreme levels by relentless bloodletting on the field of battle. But Polly and I are possessed by a love that’s as strong or stronger and untainted by corrupt motives. Our unwavering brand of love, born of devotion to home and clan, can carry the day against even the longest odds.

Though even as loving as we are, the odds we now face are long indeed. After ending the first three fighters with great love and swordsmanship, Polly and I push closer to the heart of the battle – just in time to see a horde of Loved Ones break through the line of defenders at the edge of Burytown.

People we know go down fighting as the invaders pile on. Every one of our noble warriors smiles with no less lovingkindness even as blades, bullets, and war hammers put them to rout.

It is now that I think of Listy once more, for I realize I shall never see her again. With the perimeter breached and our forces so clearly outnumbered, Burytown has not long to live.

Smoke fills the air as flaming arrows set fire to rooftops. Men and women on horseback and motorbikes tear through gaps in the line, escorted by slavering hounds. It is the end of the world, my world, and all the smiles and proclamations of love make it all the more hellish.

Doomed as our home may be, Polly and I charge into the fray with smiles and swords flashing.

K-Love, not C-Love. K-Love, not C-Love. Eros swirls and whizzes in my good right hand, slipping through one throat after another. In my good left hand, a dagger jabs and slashes, cutting faces, hearts, and guts like the fang of a dragon.

No mercy is shown, not a whit… though even as my blades sow mayhem, I feel only deep-down love for every soul I maim or kill.

I am, in these moments, perfection – my focus diamond-hard, my killing exquisite, my love unblemished. Dancing from one fighter to the next, leaving geysers of blood in my wake, I am like a holy angel, beaming and unstoppable.

But for every man or woman who falls before me, another three or four or more pile in. For every blow or cut that I deflect, another flurry rains down on me.

I swear I will fight to the last, but the outcome is set in stone now. The end is near.

Polly and I fight back to back, swords and daggers in constant motion – until suddenly, she is gone. Turning in my murderous gyre, I see her dragged under the bloodthirsty tide, and I move to save her.

But at that moment, someone gets in a lucky shot across my back with a crowbar, and I drop. Keeping hold of my blades, I twist, blindly sweeping Eros in a futile swath that catches nothing.

When I hit the ground, the horde closes in around me. Love you love you love you, chant dozens of voices overflowing with eager and deeply sincere affection.

I see the crowbar and other bludgeoning weapons hoisted overhead, ready to crash upon me like a landslide. Holding fast to the handles of my blades, I ready myself for one final fusillade to finish the day, one last statement to cast upon the canvas of this terrible work.

“I love you!” I howl the words at the top of my lungs. “I love you from the bottom of my heart!”

It is then that I hear a salvo of gunshots crackling nearby. Men topple around me like rotten fruit, dropping their bludgeons.

More clamor then – a thunder of footfalls, a clatter of blades. More gunshots and the twanging of bowstrings, the sizzle and thunk of arrows. More men and women fall, and the rest erupt in panic.

Seizing the opportunity, I leap to my feet and pick up where I left off, slashing and stabbing in every direction. As Loved Ones fumble and scatter, I clear them like chaff.

A giant of a man, bald as a pumpkin and bedecked in blood, refuses to panic and swats the helmet right off my head. I answer with a knife through his windpipe…just as a sword thrusts through his heart from behind.

He topples as both blades withdraw – and I see whose sword joined mine in stopping the menace.

It was hers. “Good Sir Gardner.” None other than Listy Kendall grins back at me from the visor of a white helmet. “Fancy meeting you here.” Laughing, she wipes the blood from her sword against the hip of her white body armor.

My heart hammers in my chest at the sight of her. I am so caught up in her beauty and the shock of seeing her that I forget to lose the power of speech. “You came?” Looking around, I see men and women wearing the coat of arms of Kendall’s Keep (in patches or tattoos) plowing through the invaders of Burytown. “But what of the pact?”

Listy narrows her eyes and lifts her chin. “Wedded or no, I will never stand idly by so long as there is something I can do to save good folk like the people of Burytown.”

In that instant, I get a shiver, a frisson of electric joy. I want nothing more than to wrap her in my arms and never let go.

Because she came. Because she’s fighting on behalf of my people for no other reason than because it’s right. Because she’s so beautiful and thoughtful and capable and confident, and I want her with every fiber of my being.

Is this what Cloister was talking about? The love-that-cherishes? An attraction so real and profound that we want to join with the other person in a multitude of ways?

“I suppose the pact is moot, then? Since Burytown got the help it needed without the two of us submitting to wedlock?” As Listy says it, a bruiser roars forth, and she dispatches him with a flick of her sword.

“Actually, I’ve been thinking.” Lifting Listy’s visor, I lean in and kiss her gently on the lips. “Perhaps we might discuss another pact?”

Her eyes lock with mine, and she kisses me back – not gently. “Perhaps.”

Then, whirling, she takes up the fight again, swinging her sword with all the nimble grace with which she paints an ocean of mist on a canvas.

Smiling, I fell an attacker of my own, dropping him dead with a heart full of love – but for once, it is not the love-that-kills.

Robert Jeschonek is the USA Today-bestselling, envelope-pushing author of the Starbarian Saga and Battlenaut science fiction series. He also edits the Decadium series of scifi anthologies that includes Space: 1975. His stories have appeared in Clarkesworld, Galaxy’s Edge, Escape Pod, StarShipSofa, Pulphouse, and many other publications. He has written official Doctor Who and Star Trek fiction and has scripted comics for DC, AHOY, and others. He won an International Book Award, a Scribe Award for Best Original Novel, and the grand prize in Pocket Books’ Strange New Worlds contest. His online presences:
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