TW: war/violence, blood
The sun was below the mountain peaks when a woman rolled down the gradual hill on a motorcycle. She was shivering, even though it was mid summer, and she was wearing long grayish teal pants and a blood-stained button-up. Daniel veered from the path to the dining hall he and Rui had been walking and rushed over to her, catching her as she began to tip over.
Rui gasped at blood pouring from the woman’s wound.
Daniel carefully pulled the woman to the ground. His shaky hand slipped on her shirt as he tried to stop the bleeding. “S-shit, go get help—I’ll stay here!” he stammered, eyes darting from the woman’s face to the holes bored into her stomach. Rui nodded, bolting for the hospital. The woman coughed.
“Help…” she rattled.
“We’re getting help, we’re getting help. You’ll be okay.” Cold sweat, on both of them. There was so much blood.
“Not me,” she said, “We were ambushed. A Haelian platoon. I managed to get away...” Daniel finally noticed the tears running down her face—from fear or her injury, he didn’t know. “We’re only 20 minutes away. Please.”
A platoon—an army, Daniel said in his head. He kneeled there, silent, feeling the heat on his skin from burning buildings and the smoke that filled up his lungs as he raced away from bullets. It’s closing in.
“Danny?” Rui’s voice snapped him back to reality. She stood with two paramedics, one of which immediately took the woman from Daniel and began properly applying pressure.
He cleared his throat as he shuffled back in the grass, forcing the memories to the recesses of his mind. “How many people are in your group?”
“Were 30. Now...” she shook her head weakly.
“Alright.” Cogs whirred rapidly in his head. The field of trucks behind the Assembly Hall—it was the evening, people were gathered near it at the dining hall, easy to round up a group—
Wait, she’d said a Haelian platoon ambushed them. What had they done for the Haelian army to…
No. He inhaled sharply as he stilled his mind. That can wait, people need our help.
“Rui, can you get some cars ready?” She blinked in surprise, before nodding and dashing off toward the trucks. Daniel stood to run towards the dining hall. He stopped.
“What’s your name?”
The woman looked up at him, faint. “Irene.”
He hated to ask it, “Can you guide us?” She slowly nodded. “Will you two come with us?” he said, turning to the paramedics. They also nodded, though apprehensively. “Good.” His feet carried him toward the hall.
A chapel’s steeple splintered against the ground. Daniel jolted in the truck’s seat—a tree. Not a steeple.
This is not Ansfield.
Ra-ta-tas of gunfire droned in the distance. Another tree fell, crushed by muffled whirring. Car tires tore across the dry grass as they rocketed towards a dense treeline, set ablaze by the blasts, whose smoke struck his nostrils through the cracks of the car. Rui gripped the wheel with white knuckles.
This is not Ansfield.
Irene groaned in the back seat, laying against a paramedic—she’d gone ghost white during the ride, giving them directions in gestures and vague statements like “north of the hill with the big trees”. Only with her and the deafening noises of war had they managed to find their destination.
Daniel swallowed his rising panic as Rui screeched to a halt behind the treeline, safe from the platoon. For now. The rest of their tiny brigade followed suit.
“H-hurry,” Irene wheezed. Any response Daniel had caught in his throat, he could hardly move, much less talk. He gave a nod, more of a twitch, really, before throwing open the truck door.
All of the dozen or so people Rui had collected were already running from their cars and for the treeline, crouching low to avoid any stray bullets. He followed suit, sliding behind some bushes once he was close enough. Blurs of motion peppered his vision. More uniforms, shiny gunmetal, a tank clambering through the trees. Shouts had begun to replace gunfire—wait, where was Irene’s group?
Then he saw the first of the bodies.
All sorts of clothing twisted between the trees, bloodied and torn with wide, milky eyes. There were two dozen... more, even. Daniel was glad he couldn’t talk, or he would’ve screamed. They were too late.
Whispers flittered through the would-be rescuers until they finally began to creep back toward the cars, still unnoticed by the platoon. Daniel was about to join them when a flash of blue cloth and tanned white skin caught his eye. He whipped around, sinking below the bush again.
His eyes widened. A survivor, desperately trying to load a revolver while gritting his teeth, a shoulder caked in blood. Breaths came in short bursts as Daniel looked to the man, to the cars, then the encroaching platoon. The survivor was just a few yards away...
He clenched his jaw, then leapt over the bushes.
The man started, immediately raising his half-loaded revolver. “Get the fuck back!” His voice was visceral, like a cornered wolf’s growl.
“Shhh!” Sweat dripped down Daniel’s back when the platoon’s shouting stopped, replaced by leaves that crunched toward him. So much for being stealthy. He extended a hand to the survivor, unsure of what to say. The survivor’s dark blue eyes darted to Daniel’s palm, then to his face. Without lowering the gun, he took it.
They erupted from the underbrush. Surprised glances met the two as they sprinted toward the cars, gunfire on their heels. “Go!” Daniel shouted as he pulled the survivor to Rui’s car. The survivor all but threw himself into the back seats while Daniel rushed into the front. Rui slammed her foot on the pedal, lifting the truck off two of its wheels as she turned in the direction of the commune. A moment later, their caravan was speeding into the valley, bullets occasionally pelting the bumper.
“Take a detour,” Daniel said, panting. “Don’t let them follow us back.”
Rui’s voice was as shaky as Daniel’s hands. “R-right.”
Denial rose from the back seat. “No, no, Irene? Irene?” the survivor repeated her name. Oh Lord, was she…?
One of the paramedics started, “I’m sorry—”
“Why didn’t you help her?!”
“We tried! She had to guide us or we never would’ve found you!”
The survivor quieted. Daniel swallowed, his throat scratchy from smoke. The truck hit a couple of bumps—their new course was a bit rockier, it skirted the base of the mountains. Hopefully that would be enough to throw the rest of the steadily quieting gunfire off.
“How many are left?” the survivor’s words were dull, barely more than a whisper.
Daniel turned his head to look at Rui. “Did you see anyone else come out?”
“...Just one other,” she said. “But I may have missed some, there was a lot happening,” she offered.
The survivor let out a bitter, gritty chuckle. Daniel didn’t need to look at him to know it was a smileless laugh. “No, you probably didn’t. The army is thorough.”
Grim silence shrouded the rest of the drive.
“What’s your name?” Daniel asked on the trek from the now parked trucks to the hospital. Slung over Daniel’s shoulder was the survivor’s uninjured arm, the other hanging limply at his side. A light chill tickled the grass around them as the sun began to dip behind the horizon.
The survivor narrowed his eyes. “Why should I tell you?”
Daniel blinked back his confusion. “So I know what to call you…?” He pushed open the hospital doors and led the survivor to a waiting nurse holding a medkit. They motioned for the pair to follow them to a room down the hall, one near Valtteri’s room. A door thunked shut, but Daniel caught sight of brown skin and jet black hair, in a similar spiky style to the man leaning against him, just before it closed—the only other survivor. “Can you at least tell me what his name is?”
Daniel sighed. They turned into what would be the survivor’s bedroom for the next few days, and Daniel helped him onto the bed. He groaned, reaching for the wound, until the nurse gently pulled his hand away and began to remove his teal coat. It had the same patch as Irene’s—a perfectly symmetrical cross with edges that curled back into points at each of its ends, a gold circle in its center, four blue triangles peeking out of each of its inner corners, all on top of a baby-yellow circle. His, however, was nearly unrecognizable due to how many times it’d been carved through.
The nurse gasped. The survivor had their wrist in a death grip, his coat hanging off his shoulder, eyes wide. He blinked, as if he’d surprised himself. “Uh,” he swallowed, “sorry,” and released their wrist. “Just leave whatever supplies you have in here. I’ll take care of it.”
They took a moment to regain their composure. “You’ve been shot.”
“It’s nothing I can’t handle myself.”
“I said I’ll be fine.” The shaved hair on the back of his neck bristled. The nurse said nothing, but left their medkit on the bed. Floorboards groaned as they hurried out of the room.
Daniel raised an eyebrow at the survivor. “You’re… serious?”
“Yes. Can you leave too?”
Daniel hummed, feigning deep thought, then cracked a smile. “I will if you give me your name.”
“Lord,” he grumbled, staring out the window for an uncomfortable amount of time. “...Fine, it’s Anthony.”
“See? That wasn’t so hard.” Daniel started for the door, then spun on his heels. “What about the other guy?”
“Don’t push it.”
“Right!” Daniel turned right back around and stepped out of the room, letting the door click behind him. With the serious, almost icy, disposition Anthony had, he’d probably get along well with Valtteri.
Daniel walked over to the other survivor’s door. It was still open, and, peeking past it, he saw a group of nurses surrounding the unconscious man—no, boy. No older than 17. His face was still quite round, and only a few bits of stubble poked out from his chin. He was unconscious, probably from blood loss, his thigh propped up and wrapped in darkening bandages. Daniel slunk away from the door, worry etched on his face. Poor kid.
“Hey,” a cracked voice called from across the hall. Rui sat in one of the chairs lining the wall, her arms wrapped around herself. Dark bags had formed under her eyes, which themselves were dull, absent of their usual shine, and her hair stuck out at odd, frazzled angles. “He’s the same age as some of my older students.”
Daniel took a seat next to her, letting her head nuzzle against his shoulder. “How long have you been here? I didn’t see you when I came in with Anthony—that’s the other survivor’s name, by the way.”
“Just a couple minutes,” she said. Her hair brushed his cheek as she turned to look at his previously white button-up, which was stained with Irene’s, and a bit of Anthony’s, dried blood. “You’re probably gonna have to throw that out.”
He’d forgotten about the blood. Too focused on the chaos of the evening. “Oh. Yeah, I guess so.”
They were silent for a few minutes, watching the nurses work through the crack of the younger survivor’s door. None of them seemed worried, thank the Lord.
“What’s going to happen?” Rui broke the silence.
Daniel wanted to say that they’d be fine, that the Haelian platoon would give up on their chase and that the Federation wouldn’t bother them, but that didn’t seem likely and he didn’t enjoy lying. Especially not to Rui.
“I don’t know.”