[Dates unknown, 2725 AD; Kals Dale, Maeitakohn – Oak District]
I still remember that day vividly. It was like a ghost that refused to leave alone. The screams of the people around me as the houses burned to the ground still ring in my ears, as well as the sight of soldiers storming through and torturing people. I can even remember what I was doing: my family was trying to evacuate their house when a couple of soldiers showed up at the front door.
“We know you’re in there!”
As the knocks got louder and more violent, my mother and father looked to me and my older sister.
“We want you both to leave out the back,” said mother.
“But what… what about you!?” I asked.
There was no time for either of them to respond, however, as the door broke down and in came the soldiers. Father shoved the two of us aside as my sister and I rushed through the back of the house and out the back door.
It was too late, however, as the next sound I heard was the sound of gunshots that I could fear had taken the lives of my parents. There was little for my sister and I to do as we ventured out into the chaotic scene that was playing out on the outside. Fire was burning all throughout the neighborhood as trucks rolled through.
“We… we can’t be here!” My sister looked around. “Sorry, mother… father…”
She led the way, holding tightly to my hand as we climbed over the fence and into the park. There were some places to hide, but unfortunately there were already soldiers strewing about for either of us to move forward. From the distance I could see another child, an older boy, surrounded by two of the men as they threw him to the ground and started kicking him.
“Hey, there’s gotta be more people here, right?”
“Aren’t we supposed to just capture the target?”
“The general gave us an order, didn’t he?”
“Yeah! By any means possible! Who cares if these people die?”
I wanted to scream. I wanted to cry. I just wanted to do something, but instead I was too scared to move. That must have been the signal for those soldiers to notice my sister and I standing as she snapped out of her daze and looked at me.
There was no response from my lips as I just did what she said and began to run. I continued to run and run, but something did not feel right. Taking cover behind the nearest bush, I looked up and saw that they had already caught her. What was going to happen now, I wondered. Though I knew the answer why, I wondered to myself why I could not move as those soldiers did the unthinkable.
Those were the last words my sister uttered as the next bullet took her life right before my eyes. Here I was, the complete coward, too afraid to do anything as she lost her life in place of mine. I had little time to think though, as the reality of what had happened struck me as I still had to run. Only the heavens know how I was able to make an escape, but escape I did.
A week had passed since the day I lost my family and I was just getting by to survive. Sneaking around the next town, I managed to sustain myself, but it eventually began to take a toll on me. During one of my ventures, I lacked the strength to move and collapsed to the ground. The next thing I knew, I woke up in a twin-sized bed to the smell of hot soup boiling on the stove.
I rubbed my eyes. “Where… am I?”
“So you’re awake.”
I looked up and saw a man dressed in a brown jacket and jeans standing at a stove. Apparently, he had found me earlier and had decided to take me in.
“I normally don’t care for kids,” he said, “But I saw you just wandering about and I had to do something.”
“Who are you?”
“It doesn’t matter who I am,” the man replied. “Listen, kid, I heard there was an attack last week in Kals Dale. You wouldn’t happen to from there, would you?”
Next thing I knew, I was crying. The man had decided to bring up a still bleeding wound and I had no idea how I would cope.
“You… don’t have to cry, kid,” he said. “I understand.”
He walked up to the bed and sat next to me. There was something comforting about him, even though I knew nothing about him.
“If it makes you feel better, you can travel with me,” he said. “At least until I can find you some shelter.”
“Maybe you should tell me your name and I’ll tell you mine. At least it won’t feel like I’m a complete stranger to you.”
I struggled through the tears but I managed to tell him my name. Then he told me his. It was a name that I was not sure to forget, even to this day. I knew that he was going to make good on his promise and I was indeed able to walk alongside him travelling the Thekohnian Region. Days turned into weeks, which became months and then soon as I knew it, three years had passed.
“You must be tired,” he said.
It had been a particularly long day, a summer day during the war in which he and I were setting up shop in Oelaans. The two of us spent the time providing weaponry for the Thekohnian military. I had grown a lot over three years, which was noticeable to everyone around me.
“He seems to be getting used to this sort of thing.”
All the man in the brown jacket could do was laugh. “Kid’s got a strong desire to fit in,” he said. “Can’t believe there was a time I was gonna just ignore this kid.”
He looked over at me with a smile on his face, as if to say it was a comment all in good fun. This man was right, however, because I truly did want a place to belong. Who knew that it would be by working over in Thekohn?
“Hold on one second,” the man said, “Looks like they need me over for something. Just stay put over here, okay?”
I nodded and he went off with two Thekohnian soldiers as I continued to disassemble weapons and put them in the box. We were supposed to head out to Bel the next day and deliver goods to the soldiers there. As I was working, I suddenly heard yelling from the other side. That caused me to look up and see the man in the brown jacket run to me.
“I’ve got no time to explain, kid, but we have to go right now!”
“What’s going on?”
He rushed me along as we tried to escape the city. Seems there was another attack from the opposing military and we were caught up in it. I again was caught up in a power struggle between two nations, but this time was supposed to be different. Or so I thought. We found ourselves caught up surrounded by the enemy troops, three of them to be exact, as they had our guns pointed at us.
“Shit, this isn’t good,” he said.
I was too scared to speak. This time really felt like it was going to be it. Here I was, certain that I was going to die.
“Should we shoot you first, or the kid?”
The man in the brown jacket growled as he suddenly leapt forward without second thought. It caught the gunners by surprise as they all tried to aim at him, but the man was much too quick for them to focus. For some reason, they all ignored me as he continued to fight. Bullets were fired, but even as the man got hit, that still did not stop him from knocking out two of the three soldiers.
“Why won’t you die!?”
The man gritted his teeth as he locked hands with the remaining soldier. “You chose the wrong guy to fuck with,” he said. “Hey kid, why’re you still standing there like a frightened fawn!? Go! I’ll meet up with you later!”
His words startled me, but I did do what he said under the impression that we would meet again. I ran as far as my feet could take me, stumbling over until I could not run any more. My legs felt like sticks that were close to breaking, but at least I could tell that I was far enough from the scene to the point where none of those soldiers would come after me.
“Where am I now?”
The field was vast and long, green grass growing everywhere as I crawled over to the nearest stone and rested on it. I remembered what the man in the brown jacket said to me, that this was the Rio Plains just outside of the Royal Kingdom of Thekohn. I was not far away from the boundaries of the kingdom and I wondered to myself if they were going to discover me. I could see someone the distance coming towards me, however, someone very familiar to me.
“So you’re here after all…”
The man in the brown jacket hobbled over to where I was sitting and dropped to the ground. He was covering his arm as I quickly turned him over to discover a major wound in his stomach. Blood was soaked throughout that part of his jacket as I panicked.
“You’re… you’re bleeding!” I exclaimed.
“Oh, that… that’s pretty bad, isn’t it?”
“That’s really bad!” I said. “I should get you to the hospital!”
The man laughed, which caused him to cough up blood. “The nearest one’s in that kingdom, right? Sorry, kid, but that’s not gonna happen.”
“Why not!?” I asked. “I don’t want you to die!”
“Think they’re going to take in a guy like me?” The man looked up into the sky. “Besides, it’s too late for me… I did all I could so you could escape. That’s my final gift to you.”
“D-Don’t talk like that,” I said as I tried my best not to cry. “It’s too early for you to die! What will I do if you die!?”
“There’s… a guy I know,” he replied. “Of course… it’s going to be a long haul from here to Bel, but he’ll take you in.”
“But how can I get there?”
“Just… trust your instincts,” he said. “You’ve done well on your own before… All you have to do is ask for Karim Khadir.”
He coughed again, hacking up blood as I held onto him.
“I’m surprised I made it this long myself,” he said. “Don’t worry about me… kid. Just make sure you don’t forget me… Noa Mzade…”
His eyes closed for the final time. I did not want it to be true, but the man in the brown jacket was gone to the next life. I cried and cried as once again I was left behind all alone and without much certainty for the future, but he did leave me one bit of hope. That one bit of hope that I assumed would help me. It was those three words, “trust your instincts,” that gave me the ability to keep myself moving forward to where I am now.
[10th of September, 2740 AD; Tranquil Cardinal Inn, Helm, Ahnlikohn]
Night time approached as Noa sat back in his hotel room. He had gone over his past earlier with the others and now he had the time to reflect upon that past. Over in the corner of the room was Victor Wihll as Noa was tasked with watching over him to make sure he would not escape. Wihll stared at Noa as he quickly looked away.
“You shouldn’t fret yourself,” Wihll said, “I’m not planning on going anywhere. Not yet, at least.”
“Can I ask you a question?” Noa asked.
“I see no harm in that.”
“What happened that day? Why did they decide to attack our town?”
Wihll laughed. “That’s all you had to ask, huh,” he said. “Surely you would have figured that out by now, wouldn’t you?”
“I know that they were looking for someone,” Noa replied. “An escaped man, they said. But why did they decide to take us with them?”
“Because they are hypocrites,” Wihll replied. “Every last one of these leaders say they want peace, but behind all that is a legacy soaked in the blood of innocents. Innocents like you and I.”
“Please don’t associate yourself with me,” Noa said.
“Or what?” Wihll asked. “You really believe the lot of them? The same people whose fathers would gladly use us without a second thought?”
“I know one thing,” Noa replied. “I know that you had caused a lot of grief and havoc for all of us in Maeitakohn. You don’t take too kindly to anyone that challenges your beliefs and carried out attack after attack in the name of my country. Because of that, I cannot forgive you.”
“What a disgrace,” Wihll said. “After all they did to you? Your family? The man that had taken you in?”
“I ask the same to you,” Noa said. “You continue to hold this warped mindset even though you yourself killed many people. How many people died in that explosion?”
“Be that way, then,” Wihll replied as he turned to face the wall.
“I just want to understand why,” Noa said. “Why decide to through all the trouble? Was there a reason for joining the True Thekohnians?”
Wihll did not respond.
“You could answer my question!”
Noa glared at Wihll. “I demand an answer!”
“Be quiet, Noa!” Mina yelled through the wall.
“I’m sorry,” Noa replied. “Just… trying to do something…”
“That is pathetic,” Wihll said.
Noa could not come up with a response, nor could he get Wihll to answer his question. All Noa could do now was sit back on top of his bed as the others were left to themselves. He wondered what they were saying and if any of their conversations were centered around him. There was a nagging feeling in his mind that they were laughing at him behind his back, but Noa did not want that to be true. He really did not want Wihll to be validated in any way, nor did he want to feel like he was being left out. No, Wihll was wrong. Noa just had to trust in that belief.
On the other side of the wall, Mina and Rain shared a room. The princess was busy sitting in her bed, writing in a book while Mina took to some brief training. With little space and no additional equipment, Mina decided to work on keeping herself in top shape for what was to come and do at least one hundred sit-ups.
“Ninety-nine,” she said as she got closer. “One hundred! Hey, Rain, are you watching?”
Rain looked up from her book. “I’ve been paying attention, yes,” she said. “You really do continue to impress me, Mighty Mina.”
“Aw, thanks,” Mina replied as she stood up. “What kind of book is that?”
“It’s just a travel log I’ve been writing in,” Rain answered. “I’m keeping all the details of this trip until I get back home.”
“Can I see it?”
“I’m sorry, but I can’t,” she replied. “Hope you understand.”
“It’s okay,” Mina said. “Do you think I can ask you something?”
“So what will you do once we get to the kingdom?” Mina asked. “If your father is still feeling sick, what will happen?”
“He’s still being treated, last I’ve checked,” Rain said. “What does need to be done is to make sure that he does not die during the treatment. I’m worried that someone might try to sabotage his recovery.”
“That’s really bad,” Mina said.
“What also worries me is that we might not have enough time,” Rain said.
Mina leaned forward. “What do you mean?”
“That man, Victor Wihll, we can’t go anywhere until the Iiayikohnian military comes to arrest him,” she replied. “Fortunately we have Noa to keep watch of him, but we cannot let him walk free.”
“I agree,” Mina said.
“Well, of course you would, after all,” Rain said. “Anyway, perhaps we can spend some time talking about other things. Something to get our minds off of what’s been going on.”
“Okay, I can do that,” Mina replied. “I really enjoy talking to you, Rain!”
Rain smiled. “As do I with you.”
To be continued…