Gasp! Yes, Beet is beginning to post her novel. And since I hadn't finished this chapter by the time Snoink started reviewing my stuff (which I haven't gotten back yet... no pressure, m'dear), I won't have to change it once I do get my critique back ^_^ So please be as harsh as dear Snoinky. I can handle it.
The Child's Last Name
“Shingo! Where are you going?”
Shingo Shantell didn’t turn as he quickly slipped into his jacket. “To find Moore.”
“What? You don’t think the kid will have stuck around this long?” Marcus said. His friend didn’t reply. “Shingo, we can’t do anything! Soriev won this time. We have to accept that!”
“NO!” Shingo yelled, spinning around. His stormy grey eyes held a fire that few had ever seen. His breathing was quick as he faced his old friend. “Moore can tell me where they’ve taken the officers.” Marcus saw Shingo’s hands shaking. In anger. In desperation. Shingo’s voice was thick in his throat when he said, almost pleading, “We can still fight, Marcus!”
“We’ve taken a huge hit already. We can’t afford to lose more people,” Marcus replied. He had been Shingo’s friend and mentor since the young Shingo had joined ARK three years past.
“If we can’t save them... if I can’t save her... then I’ll kill Moore myself.” Shingo turned again, but Marcus grabbed his arm.
“Please, Shingo. Ilia is lost. You can’t do anything for her now.”
Shingo brought his eyes to meet his friend’s. “But I’ll do what I can.” He pulled away from Marcus’ grasp, storming from the nearly evacuated ARK base and into the cold winter air. Marcus ran an anxious hand through his dark hair, cursed, then ran out after him. He found the stocky form of Shingo standing outside, ignoring the wind’s haunting cries, as he pulled his jacket closer to his body.
“Shingo!” Marcus yelled over the wind, approaching the man. He laid a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Where do you intend to find Moore?”
“He’ll have gone into Rievanu,” Shingo said, a disgusted snarl twisting his lip. “The rat probably feels safe in the capital city of Soriev. Come on.”
They set off, anger driving Shingo forward, Marcus just trying to keep up. The fields which surrounded the ARK base were void of any activity, but for the sparse trees shuddering in the frigid breeze. The frozen grass below crunched under their feet. Marcus began to fall behind, and a pulsing pain stabbed at his side. He cursed Shingo’s youth, knowing he himself wasn’t in as good of shape as he should be.
By the time they reached the road which would lead them to the capital, which was just barely visible in the distance, Marcus had to call out Shingo’s name to stop him. The young man stopped, turning with an anxious scowl. He called back,
“We don’t have the time, Marcus!” But he doubled back nevertheless, to his gasping friend. Marcus was hunched over, his breath steaming the air in front of him.
“Shingo... I can’t... keep this up,” Marcus panted, forcing himself upright.
“Then stay behind.” The tone was accusing. Marcus scowled.
“You think I wanted this to happen? You think I don’t care? Those people,” he threw his arm out in the general direction of the capital, “Are my family! But Shingo, what can we do?”
Shingo dropped his gaze, his breath heavy with not exhaustion, but anger.
“Even if we get there in time. What are you going to do? Rush towards them to your death? You can’t save them!” Marcus grabbed Shingo’s shoulder, forcing his eyes up. “You can’t save her!”
“Coward.” Shingo’s voice was soft, barely audible over the wind’s groans. A shiver swept through Marcus. “We’re wasting time.” He turned and merged with the road, and Marcus found no option but to follow, if only to keep the man out of harm’s way.
Slowly, the frozen fields gave way to a dappling of houses. The heavy, winter curtains were drawn shut on each one, and the most movement Marcus saw was a young child peeking through a curtained window, before being pulled away. The space between homes waned, and the height in buildings grew, until it finally merged into the trade district. They were finally here.
Rievanu wasn’t buzzing with its usual activity. An occasional person would stride past, head hung against the bitter wind. These rare occurrences only heightened the feeling that the city was eerily empty. As if their only companions were the ominous stone buildings which loomed over them, their sullen grey faces matching the sky’s monotony. The main road, which they traveled with a now slower pace, was wide and open, branching off into many smaller and more enclosed avenues. On either side of the road were sidewalks lined with lampposts and benches, then the stark walls of the buildings.
Desperation began to show on Shingo’s face as he realized how futile his task was. How was he to find a single boy in the largest city in Soriev?
His eyes constantly scanned the streets, blindly searching for sight of his target. They came upon a bundled figure moving with a quick and fearful pace through the dying wind. Shingo quickly moved towards the person, who noticed Shingo and stopped uncertainly.
Marcus stood behind his friend at a slight distance as Shingo questioned what he now noticed was a woman. Had she seen a nineteen-year-old boy about his height, with thick black hair and bright purple eyes? No, she hadn’t, and she was sorry. Did she know why everything was so quiet? No, she was just coming from a friend’s and was on her way back to the pub which she owned.
Shingo turned from her without a word, and Marcus strode forward, thanking her for her time, then caught up with his friend.
“Shingo,” he began, his voice much softer now, “This is impossible. It’s too big of a city to-”
“We’ll find him!” Shingo’s voice shook, and he collapsed upon a bench on the sidewalk. He cursed hopelessly.
A silent moment passed, in which Marcus felt uncomfortable. He heard the muffled sobs of Shingo, whose head was buried in his hands. He had never seen Shingo cry...
“I saw him.”
Both men glanced up, Shingo unashamed of his tear streaked face. To their right, up against one of the shop doors to soak in any escaped heat was a man in worn but heavy clothing. He was dirty and unshaven, emaciated with age and lack of nutrition.
Shingo was immediately to his feet and in front of the homeless man.
“Where?” Shingo demanded, his tone forceful, yet pleading. The homeless man raised a feeble hand, pointing south, the way the woman had been going.
“He passed by here not long ago. Going fast. Looked like he had something on his mind. Think he went into that pub over there.”
Both Shingo and Marcus immediately looked toward the pub, and without a word Shingo started running. Marcus nodded his thanks before following after his zealous friend.
Shingo tore the door open, causing the little bell on the inside of it to fiercely scold him. The warmth of the pub swept over him, and Marcus, who was right behind him, smelled fresh bread and felt his stomach groan. But Shingo’s eyes were locked on a figure in the far left corner table. A young man with violet eyes had glanced up to see who had so unceremoniously entered the pub.
Brynt Moore’s eyes widened, and he paled. He coughed whatever he had just taken of drink of, hunching over as if to disappear.
“Don’t let the cold in,” a female voice said as she peered around the door frame to the kitchen, and Marcus noted it was the woman they had encountered earlier. He also noticed Shingo had left his side, bulling past tables to the boy’s. Marcus quickly joined him.
“You bastard,” Shingo growled, grabbing Brynt by the jacket and pulling him up. “You son of a-”
“Shingo,” Marcus hissed, nodding towards the others in the bar, who had looked up to see the commotion. Shingo turned his head, fire in his eyes, to see the spectators, who quickly drew their eyes to their drinks.
“Take it outside, boys,” the barkeep warned, lowering the glass he had been polishing. Shingo didn’t question it, but dragged Brynt alongside him, shoving past Marcus. He pushed the door open and back into the biting air, then down the pub’s alley. Marcus stayed a few yards away as Shingo slammed Brynt against the cold exterior of the stone building.
“Where are they?” Shingo yelled, his face inches from the colourless one of Brynt Moore. “Where did they take the officers?”
“I- I don’t know!” Brynt cried, fear engulfing his face. The face of a child, or so Marcus saw it.
“YES YOU DO!!” Shingo hollered in fury, his olive coloured face marred with an anger which was ready to kill. Brynt only shrunk back, his body shaking, but not from the cold. Shingo’s hand clasped around the boy’s neck. Brynt choked, fighting for air, trying to scream for help. But few would hear. And those who heard wouldn’t care.
Brynt mouthed something, and Shingo loosened his grip enough for the boy to gasp, “Altana Square.” His violet eyes shut tightly. “For sentencing.”
“You betrayed them!” Shingo spat as his grip on Brynt’s neck tightened. He had his information. Now he would make the traitor pay. Brynt struggled, desperation grabbing hold of him as his pale hands tried to loosen Shingo’s grip. His thin mouth opened, trying to suck in air, but to no avail. A tear leaked from his left eye.
“Shingo, stop!” Marcus yelled, stepping forward. “Don’t kill him... “ This boy didn’t deserve to live, but... Marcus couldn’t let Shingo become a murderer for Brynt’s sake.
But Shingo’s grip only tightened, even as Brynt’s face began to turn purple. He would not stop.
“Shingo!” Marcus repeated, grabbing Shingo’s arm, ready to pry him off of the boy. But in one final attempt to save his life, Brynt was finally able to choke out,
“It wasn’t me!”
Shingo’s grip faltered, and Brynt took the opportunity to gasp, “Ilia’s husband!”
The shock caused Shingo to stumble back, his hand releasing the boy’s neck. Brynt fell to the ground, coughing violently, then sucking in the cold air.
Shingo and Marcus exchanged awestruck looks, and Marcus knelt down, forcing Brynt’s face up.
“What do you mean?” He demanded. “You were passing information on to Soriev!” Brynt kept his gaze on Marcus.
“Yes, but... not this. Ilia's husband- he was the one who told Soriev where ARK hid the officers. I wouldn’t have known where they were. But he’s an officer! He knew. It wasn’t me.”
“He’s lying,” Shingo growled. “You’re lying!”
“I swear it, I’m not.”
Marcus watched with hesitation as Shingo stood there, staring at the beaten form of Brynt. Finally, Shingo hissed,
“Burn in hell for what you’ve done.”
Brynt didn’t move as Shingo spun around. Marcus glanced quickly from Brynt to Shingo, then got to his feet and hurried from the alley after his friend.
Brynt remained on the filthy ground, gingerly feeling his neck and taking in the blessed air. Alone and alive, he finally allowed his lips to twist into a triumphant smirk. “There’s nothing you can do now. They’ll be dead before you get there.”
Altana Square was in the center of Rievanu. It took Shingo and Marcus over ten minutes to reach it, by which time a light rain had begun to fall. The oppressive buildings stopped abruptly to form a massive city square. Stone benches formed an inner square, and trees void of leaves stood as deathly sentinels, their roots stretching out below the paved stones. Normally, tinkers and tradesman would set up tents here, but none were present this day. In the middle of the square was a huge statue, topped with the remnants of the last snow. The stone man stood on a high, squared pedestal, and his grim features looked skyward. He was dressed in simple army attire of old, a brilliant broadsword in his hand. Around this statue was a shallow pool of frozen water. Couples would often sit on the edge of this pool and share a treat they had gotten from the venders.
This was where the crowd was gathered, all facing that statue. Or whatever was before it. The crowd was immense, as if every shop had closed, the shopkeeper taking his customers along with him to this place. Shingo and Marcus could not see the reason for this massive group of people, but they did not have to guess at it when they heard a gunshot rip through the silence.
“No...” Marcus murmured, for Shingo seemed beyond words. They shoved their way through the people with little resistance, until, finally, they reached the front. Just in time for another gunshot to pierce the air. Shingo felt the bile rise in his throat as the body of a man he’d known well fell to the ground, his face torn by the bullet which had ripped through his skull. Marcus’ hand clenched Shingo’s arm.
Before them were about twenty or so Sorevian guards in a semicircle in front of the statue, their rifles ready in their hands. Standing before the edge of the pool were two people in torn and bloodied clothing, a man and a woman. The woman held a bundle of blankets, her face buried in them, trying to soften the murmurs coming from within it. To their right were four bodies. One had slumped over the edge of the pool, his blood melting the ice as it spilled over. The other three had fallen in grotesque forms to the grey stones beneath, their blood pooling into the cracks, diluted by the rain which was growing in intensity.
These were, and had been, the officers of ARK. Leaders who had become friends.
Before the two remaining condemned stood a Sorevian general. In his hand he held a pistol, and its barrel slowly moved to the next in line.
BOOM! Another shot fired, and another life lost. Shingo bit his lip until he tasted blood, a desperate attempt not to cry out. Shingo’s eyes moved to the next and last to die. Fear and horror gripped his heart.
Standing tall and proud, her ripped underclothing barely covering her, was Ilia Lri. She was unwavering, and Shingo could see only a brief glimpse of fear in the depths of her cerulean eyes. From the bundle came a baby’s whimpers, threatening to break into sobs.
The general moved behind Ilia, and Shingo saw a sharp sneer on his blood splattered face. He was looking her over, circling her, his eyes lingering. He ran the barrel of the pistol along her jaw line, lifting up her chin. A look of recently satisfied hunger was in his eyes. His mouth went to her ear, he drew in a breath, then backed away. In a hushed voice, he said,
“A good thing we didn’t waste you with too early of a death. Why, if you weren’t a traitorous whore, you could have supplied me with many more pleasurable nights.” He smiled wickedly.
Shingo lunged forward, but Marcus caught him, no matter how much he wanted to join him. No one noticed. A tear rolled down Ilia’s cheek. The general moved back from her, then raised the pistol.
“I don’t ask that you spare my life,” Ilia said suddenly, her voice piercing the sickening silence. “But please,” Her resolve wavered, her voice cracked, “Don’t kill my baby.”
“Soriev does not need another rebel,” the general replied, his face twisting into that same snarl.
“No!” Ilia cried, holding the bundle of blankets closer to her chest. She took a small step backward, as if trying to pull her child away from her fate. “Please, no! She’s only a baby!” Desperate tears now fell from widened eyes, pouring as the rain from the sky. The baby began to cry.
“Marcus...” Shingo breathed, looking to his friend. The rain fell harder now, muffling his voice.
Ilia’s eyes whipped through the crowd, searching for support. What she found was two familiar faces- Marcus and Shingo. She looked to her now sobbing child, then the two men, a dire plea in her eyes.
“Please,” she said more softly, her eyes locked on Shingo’s. “Just save my Io.”
“Enough!” the general shouted, ripping the baby from Ilia’s arms.
“No!” she screamed, lunging forward. A bullet stopped her, and she, like the others, fell to the cold ground.
“Ilia,” Shingo gasped, staggering sideways. Marcus caught him, fighting for a breathe which was slow in coming.
The general threw the wailing baby girl, still tightly wrapped in the bloodstained blanket, on top of her mother’s lifeless body. He slowly aimed the pistol at her.
“Shingo,” Marcus hissed. “Get Io and run.”
“Just do it!”
Marcus ran forward, breaking away from the spectators. Before any guards could react, Marcus rammed into the general, the two men tumbling to the ground.
“RUN AND DON’T STOP!” Marcus yelled, and a sickening crack sounded as Marcus broke the neck of the general. Shingo had rushed from the crowd and swooped up the child as twenty shots fired in unison, all finding their mark in Marcus’ body.
With the shrieking child in his arms, Shingo ran. The stupefied crowd seemed to part for him as he tore through the streets. No one could catch him. No one tried.
He ran for so long, the freezing rain now beating against his face. He no longer heard the sobs of the baby. He heard nothing, he saw nothing, and he was on the edge of town before he collapsed to the rough ground below. His tears mixed with the rain as he pulled himself against a building. Ilia was dead. Marcus... Marcus was dead.
His mind involuntarily ran over that horrible scene again and again. The dead officers on the ground... Their names flashed across his consciousness, matching with each torn body. And suddenly Shingo’s breath caught in his throat. There was one officer who wasn’t there. One who should have been standing next to his wife until the end. Ilia’s husband, Vigo Lri.
“No...” Shingo cried softly. “He couldn’t have...” His breathing quickened as he realized what had happened. Brynt had told the truth. Vigo had betrayed ARK; he had betrayed his friends, his wife... his child. Shingo held the girl close, then, in utter despair, raised his face, shouting desperate pleas into the sky. The rain and humid air muffled his cries, robbing him of the impact which should have struck the world around him.
The baby girl’s tears began to cease, but Shingo’s continued to flow. He finally dropped his gaze, uncovering the baby’s face from her blankets. She was still whimpering, her bright cerulean, almond-shaped eyes red from crying. Shingo looked into those eyes, the colour so much like her mother’s. “Io...” He whispered. A surge of rage, of hatred, swelled within him upon looking at the girl. If it weren’t for her, Marcus would be...
Shingo shoved the thought from his mind, ashamed. He raised a rough hand to her delicate, exotic face, stroking it gently. He had to take care of the girl now. For Ilia. For Marcus. And he swore he would never let her take on her mother’s profession. He would never allow her to fight with ARK. He couldn’t risk it.
“Io Lri,” he said softly. His stomach churned at the name. “No,” he said, a scowl growing on his face. ‘Lri’ was her father’s name. Her father had been a traitor. She would take her mother’s name.