Square your shoulders, lift your pack, and leave your friends and go.
rating: +28+x

Boston had changed.

What had once been a vibrant city full of optimism and a 'piece of cake' attitude for the War of the Rebellion had turned grey. Countless beggars missing limbs, no doubt veterans, littered the streets. Posters depicting Uncle Sam, Columbia, and a colored man and woman marching in unison encouraged all citizens to join the effort. Some others depicted Columbia herself holding a rifle in one hand and a ballot in the other, encouraging women to sign up for service in exchange for the right to vote.

Jay grumbled under her breath, cursing the fat cats which would no doubt deny her the ability to cast her vote for having served as a 'man.'

But what was more prevalent than any other poster were ones advertising a mysterious new company which had risen to provenance following the advent of the war. Various different posters in a rainbow of colors depicted men in uniform with bizarre contraptions replacing their limbs. They were advertised as 'the pinnacle of craftsmanship and alchemy,' an odd mixture to be sure. She sneered at the thought of how much money Anderson must be making, gazing at her stump as she continued down the filthy streets of Boston.

An hour's march later, she stood across the street from her home. Jay sighed a bittersweet relief as she ran across the dirt road. Her heavy boots thudded against the creaky wooden steps as she bound with excitement. Her knapsack hit the porch as she reached for the doorknob. The smile which had briefly lived on her face faded upon the realization that the lock had been removed.

"Nick?" She called to her brother in the false masculine tenor voice she had trained herself to speak in.

Dread pooled in her mind as her only hand trembled at the doorknob. There was no answer, not even the familiar barking of their dog. Had they left her? It couldn't be, she had received the letter from him a few weeks ago and he had promised he'd be ready for her arrival. Hesitantly, Jay turned the knob and the door slowly creaked open. The faint outline of a man was visible in the kitchen, he sat with his feet on the table.

"Justine Everwood. Please, come on in." The man beckoned her over, his unfamiliar accent sending a shiver down her spine.

"J-Justine?" She almost slipped into her natural voice. "No. I'm Jay. You must be confusing me for my sister. She died a few years back."

"No. I know exactly who you are. Now please, come on in." the voice was confident in itself, menacing yet polite, he spoke like a man who wielded true power. Not wanting to upset him, Jay, entered her house and shut the door behind her.

"Who are you?"

"That is not important at this moment, Miss Everwood. Please take a seat." The man leaned back, removing his feet from the table. He appeared to shuffle for a moment as she wearily approached. By the time she took a seat across from him, the gas lantern on the table was illuminating the stranger. His head was completely shaved and his expression was unenthused. There were several scars visible along his face, and he was built like a lumber worker.

"What do you want from me? Where is my brother?"

"I'll answer your questions in a moment, but I need you to answer mine first."

She nodded.

"Good. Now, Miss Everwood, I'm with the Union Government and I-"

"If you're here to arrest me for joining the army with a fake identity, just do it already." Jay spat defiantly, not bothering to mask her voice further. The man wheezed with laughter for almost a minute, which felt like an eternity to her. She would have been mad, had confusion not overtaken her.

"Oh Lord. No, Miss Everwood. We don't give a damn about that. The army is full of idiots, so I'm not surprised you fooled them as long as you did. I'm not here to bring the law down on you, I'm here to talk to you about the 682nd cavalry."

She tensed up, color washing from her face.

"You should consider yourself lucky. You're one of five people to have survived them so far, but the first one to be able to speak after the fact." The man leaned forward, folding his hands on the table. "I need to know everything you know about the 682nd."

They shared a silence for what felt like another eternity. Jay had tried her best to suppress any thoughts of that fateful day, but she had failed. The memories of the screams, spilling scarlet, stomping, and slashing of sabers would haunt her to her last breath. Were it not for the likelihood of her brother being in danger, she would not agree to recount her tale.

"It was about a month ago. I remember my unit and I were marching to reinforce the forces at Spotsylvania, but we got ambushed by them. Most of us had thought they were just a myth to scare the new recruits. An entire cavalry of black horses and riders you can't see the faces of? Come on, that's… That's crazy." She chuckled nervously.

The man nodded.

"Yeah… They first came up from behind a hill and I swear it was sunny until they showed up. There was this smoke, kind of like a coal train's smoke but it made me feel sick. It spooked all the horses we had and made it look like heaven was about to come crashing down on us… And then they charged."

Jay grew silent. The man nodded again, waiting patiently.

"Sorry, I…" She removed her cap, placing it on the table and ran her hand through her short hair. "Okay. I'm okay. They charged, and it sounded like a thunderstorm or something. I've never heard anything like it. They unloaded their first barrage while we were still getting ready to defend ourselves. I got hit in the arm, and I collapsed from the pain… I didn't see much of anything else, but that same arm got trampled…" Jay reached for her empty sleeve, tugging at it idly.

"What happened then?"

"I passed out. I don't know how long I was out for, but I got picked up by the Army of the Potomac. The doctor was a kind soul, she had one of those prosthetic faces... I don't remember much about the days after. I spent almost all of them asleep. Next thing I knew I had my arm hacked off and I was on a train back home."

"Very well." The man leaned back, folding his arms and observing as Jay struggled to keep herself together. "Just two, maybe three more questions. Would you be able to identify the 682nd cavalry from a distance if given the opportunity?"

"I will never forget what I saw."

"Now, given the chance to stop the 682nd cavalry, would you take it?"

"… I… I'd be lying if I said I was a diehard loyal to the Union. I'm not out for revenge. I'm not trying to fight for any ideals. I joined because my brother and I needed to make a living. I couldn't find a job and he's… slow."

"This was a yes or no question."

"Would I be compensated?"

"As one would any job."

"How much?"

"More than your discharge pittance. Now, what do you say?

"… yes."

The man turned around, reaching behind him to grab a sleek, brown box. It was decorated with an eagle and the letters 'AP' were painted on in royal gold. He gently placed it on the table, then lifted the lid to reveal a prosthetic right arm. It was made of refined steel, bearing a few runes and inscriptions on it in red ink elegantly painted in gorgeous patterns. There was even a very comfortable velvety cushion to place between her stump and the cold metal of the device.

"Put this on so we can shake hands. Name's Agent Lombardi. Welcome to the Union Investigations Unit, Miss Everwood. I forgot to mention, but we'll be taking care of your brother so you don't need to worry."

Jay stared at the arm, then Lombardi. "Where is Nick?"

"At headquarters, probably eating lunch." He produced a pocket watch, flicking it open and checking the time. "Come on now, we don't want to keep him waiting."

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