2nd Year, P. 2

There was little time for celebratory merits from the land navigation exam. Rigorous core training continued seamlessly. One of the training exercises comprised service on the Arms Guard in the artillery room. General Benavides took it upon himself to approach Roudan during his service. The cadets had been on duty for nearly 24 hours. Roudan was exhausted, and his uniform was disheveled. He perked up and stood at attention once he saw the senior officer come down the corridor.

Benavides smirked at the gesture. Without hesitation, he commanded, “At ease, soldier.” He pulled out a cigar. Roudan once again declined his offer to take one. The General quickly lit the cigar and took a long drag. After he exhaled, he continued to speak. “As you are aware, the kingdom remains in turmoil at this very hour. The war is far from over. Over half the 3rd year cadets have been deployed to stop the damage. Even with our best intelligence unit at the fold, there is little grasp of what the future holds as far as the war is concerned.”

Roudan’s eye twitched with discontent as he tucked the back of his dress shirt further inside his trousers. He was unsure how to respond, so he remained silent. Benavides nodded through a spaced-out gaze. “I haven’t forgotten how skilled you are at tactical reasoning. You will serve the academy and kingdom well when you whip your squad into shape. Everyone is counting on your success,” he said.

Roudan dimly smiled. He wondered if the same pressure had been placed on his uncle and brother during their enrollment at Calvary academy. He also wondered if General Benavides had forgiven their trespasses, since he had not mentioned it at all. One thing he knew for certain; all eyes would be watching his every maneuver as Skull Leader and captain of the coveted Alpha squad. It was imperative that he help them shine to become the best defense against the dueling houses.

An hour later, the night watch completed their shift. Roudan returned to the barracks just before sunrise. Farouk was still asleep, while Yoshida slumped in the lounge chair.

“What’s got you beat?” Roudan asked as he unbuttoned his dress shirt.

Yoshida let out a long sign, which turned into a yawn.

“Thomasa stood me up,” he answered.

Roudan sifted through his laundry bag to find a fresh pair of shorts, but turned intuitively and chuckled.

“I didn’t know you guys had a date. Is she finally ready to give you some play?”

Yoshida promptly flung a pillow back at him, which woke Farouk.

“Thomasa isn’t that kind of girl,” Farouk whined.

Yoshida leapt up and belted, “It wasn’t an actual date, you dolts!”

Roudan held his arms out in surrender.

“I was just kidding. We know she is a good girl. Which is why I wondered what she would be doing with the likes of you?” he said.

Yoshida walked over to his clothes hamper and found a clean pair of shorts, which he loaned to Roudan.

“Morphology. I figured since Thomasa aced the Land Navigation exam so easily, she’d give me a few pointers,” he said.

Roudan and Farouk looked crossly at each other.

“Why didn’t you just ask Lily?” Roudan asked.

Farouk crawled out of bed and pulled some clean socks from his dresser draw for Roudan.

“Yeah, linguistics is her field specialty,” he interjected.

Yoshida paused for a moment, then scoffed.

“True, but Lily is often monotonous with her delivery. The last time she took point on our study sessions, I nearly failed the Semantics exam because she bored me to sleep.”

Roudan shook his head to keep from cracking up.

“She’s not that dry.”

The trio briefly looked at each other in silence, then burst into an eruption of laughter.

Roudan collected the articles of borrowed clothing and paced about the room to look for his shower shoes.

“Well, where was Thomasa? Why didn’t she meet you to study?” he asked.

Farouk reached inside the lounge chair cushion and pulled out one of Roudan’s shoes.

“I saw her head to the lab with that Molvik fellow,” he said.

Yoshida lifted a pillow from Roudan’s cot to retrieve the other shoe.

“That knucklehead Molvik demands her time often. It’s like she’s at his beckoning call or something.”

“Molvik. Molvik. Why does that name ring a bell?” Roudan asked.

Yoshida handed him a clean towel and replied, “That’s because you beat up his younger brother the night of the Entrance ball.”

Roudan gathered his belongings and headed for the door.

“Oh yeah, that Delta dog! He sure was an ugly mutt. I wonder whatever became of him and his flea-bitten crew?”

“Most of the Delta squad bottomed out and were recycled. His older brother is a 3rd year in the Bravo squad,” Farouk answered as he handed Roudan a bar of soap. With his hands already full, there was no place for the soap to go.

Yoshida mindlessly stuffed the soap in Roudan’s pants pocket.

“Well, the older brother can’t be all that great. Especially since he wasn’t selected to deploy with his class of 3rd year cadets. I can’t imagine what Thomasa sees in him,” he scowled.

Roudan departed for the shower rack. The topic of Molvik, the 3rd year Bravo who hadn’t deployed with his class, weighed on him heavily. He was reminded of General Benavides’s demand that the Alpha squad rise above their current standing. This would be no easy feat.

~The Waring Robins~

2nd Year, P. 1

The beginning of the 2nd year’s term boomed in with an intense wintery blast. Calvary academy appeared like an enchanted snow fortress from a dark fairytale. The premise of a new looming war cast a menacing shadow over the delicate mounds of snow. Training was no longer a simple, competitive wager between the squads. Every merit point would bring each cadet closer to realizing their duty stations. All hearts geared toward the most prominent state of Nerou, where the battle between the dueling houses was born.

Early one frosty morning, Shevchenko laid in her cot with her eyes wide open. She had tossed and turned so fretfully through the night that her legs were tangled in the linen. The cold air seeped through a cracked window, which combatively chilled the beads of sweat over her body. She concluded sleep would not prevail, then made a mad dash to the shower cabin to beat others with the same desire for a scalding hot bath.

After a quick wash up, she returned to her barracks room and finished getting ready for the day. Savoi had just stirred in her bed as she headed out for breakfast. Roudan, Yoshida, and Farouk were already in the chow hall line when she arrived. The four sat silently in their booth and slowly ate. Nothing could rouse them from the dreary mood that lingered among them.

Forty-five minutes after they sat down to eat, Shevchenko noticed Yoshida’s gaze from across the room. Savoi stood in the chow line, seemingly forlorn and spaced out. The buttons on her blue wool overcoat were mismatched and looked a size larger than her actual frame. She was less than her usual cheery self. Farouk stuffed the last bite of toast in his mouth, then waved for her to join their booth. She nodded with a yawn.

“Boy, aren’t we a sorry lot,” Roudan sighed. “Even Thomasa has taken to brooding.”

Yoshida stiffen his jaw as he continued to study her demeanor. It was undeniable that she appeared to be in a funk, which had never been her normal state of mind.

“Maybe this cold winter doesn’t agree with her so much,” he said.

Farouk swigged his orange juice quickly, then chimed in with his theory.

“Your assertion might be correct, Haru. Islanders aren’t familiar with snow or cold temperatures. I believe the lowest temperature off the coast is no less than 65 degrees.”

Roudan poured more black coffee into his mug, then agreed.

“I bet you’re right, Maaz. Thomasa may be having trouble adjusting to the climate, and that’s probably what has got her so down,” he said.

The men shook their heads in agreement as they watched Savoi collect her food tray and proceed over to their booth.

Shevchenko stayed in a continued state of annoyance with the way everyone often fawned over Savoi. She erratically mashed her eggs onto her plate, but no one noticed she was bothered.

“Thomasa spent most of the night in the laboratory. Apparently, Lt. Co. Adame has deemed her fit to work with the 3rd year cadets on some special projects,” she said.

The men looked in astonishment at Shevchenko’s confession. It was unheard of for a 2nd year cadet to advance to any dealings with their seniors. Though Savoi had received no formal education, she possessed superior knowledge and skills as a chemist. This set her apart from the rest of the Alpha squad. Her brilliance was one of many thorns in Shevchenko’s flesh, aside from Yoshida’s obvious infatuation. Savoi seemed none the wiser, no less.

The men perked up when Savoi finally came to sit with them. Yoshida stood to allow her a spot between himself and Roudan, but she pivoted and squeezed herself next to Shevchenko instead. Farouk’s tiny body was mushed up against the wall at Shevchenko’s silent protest. Yoshida disappointedly kept his thoughts to himself as he sat down. An invisible blanket of tension descended on them.

Farouk broke the air when he sifted through his backpack to pull out a bronze binder. The rest of the table rolled their eyes and sighed in contempt. He continued.

“I know no one wants to discuss this, but we really need to focus on the upcoming land navigation exam. I surmise the best way to study is to select the team member with the most accurate notes to take lead,” he said and feverously tore several pages of notes. “Through process of elimination; we’ve determined that Emmett’s handwriting is worse than chicken scratch.”

Roudan stood with a bow as Yoshida cackled and clapped. 

Farouk gruffly cleared his throat and continued.

“We can clearly see precisely when Haru fell asleep.” He held up a page and pointed to all the zigzagged lines.

Yoshida snatched the page from him and crumbled it up. He tossed the crumbled paper at Roudan, who cackled louder than him.

Farouk huffed at his teammate’s insolence, which made Savoi sigh impatiently. Roudan and Yoshida stopped laughing just enough for Farouk to continue. 

“Lily has the best handwriting, and it would be easiest to allow her to take point in this study session,” he said.

Shevchenko smirked indignantly behind her coffee mug. Her victory was short-lived when Farouk continued to speak.

“Both Thomasa and I have the most detailed notes,” he finished, and waited for the debate to ensue.

Yoshida mused over the information briefly, then said,

“This is a no-brainer. I propose Thomasa take point on this study session.”

Roudan nodded in agreement, but timidly looked at Shevchenko, who was obviously annoyed.

“Why should Thomasa take lead?” Shevchenko scoffed. “Clearly, this is an opportunity for someone else to shine in this squad. I propose Maaz should be the point, especially since his own father was an Apache pilot. Navigation is in the boy’s blood.”

Farouk squirmed in his seat with such pressure being dropped in his lap. He agonized over whether he would be the best team member to lead the study sessions, knowing full well that Savoi was better suited to take command. Roudan and Yoshida murmured to each other, as they completely ignored Shevchenko. 

Suddenly, a 3rd year cadet named Molvik entered the chow hall. His olive skin was a stark contrast to his almost clear-blue eyes. He carefully surveyed the room until he found Savoi. Their eyes met with a knowing understanding. With a smile, he departed. Savoi shrugged her shoulders and said,

“Lily is right. Maaz is perfect to take point for the study sessions.” She hurriedly gathered her belongings and uneaten food. “However, go ahead without me. Duty calls. Best of luck to you all!”

Fortunately for the Alpha squad, Farouk turned out to be a good fit to lead the study sessions. The group received the highest marks, which ranged from 92% to 97% between them. Savoi could attend none of the six study sessions, and her team worried how she would fare. Notably, Savoi earned the highest mark of 100%. 

~The Waring Robins~

A Battle Within

With all the grains of salt I’ve collected through the years, I’ll need more than a shot of tequila to take this one down.

The benefit of experience;
Having the right perspective is far better than any fantasy realm. That way you know what is real and what is fiction.

I exposed far much more of my soul to him than I intended, without realizing he had not intended to be the recipient.

Damn. I stand here with a smile before you, but really he has wounded me to the core. If I were to walk away there would be a trail of blood to follow behind me.

~The Waring Robins~

1st Year, P. 8 (fin)

Twenty-five years ago, Dosea became on the brink of economic ruin after the dueling Houses began the war. Through shared seaports with Intagua Island, our entire state had succumbed to impoverishment in a matter of months. During those early years, aristocratic families segregated from the rest of society. We migrated to a mere seventy acres of land, which was enclosed inside a giant bubble encased with a chemical repellent to toxins. It is no secret that funding for this encampment was largely donated by the Great House counsel.  

Your babusya reared me in the old ways, but soon those days died out. When I met your mother, she helped us become accustomed to the new ways. We became immersed in lavishly eccentric cultures. Together, the three of us established the soiree seasons in which matrimonial pairs were matched to ensure wealth would remain within the establishment. Over time, the Tribunal Counsel sanctioned our state for refusal to contribute well-abled men and women to serve in the armed forces to end the war. Lilya, you owe us a debt of gratitude for the easy and comfortable life we gave to you,” he said.

Shevchenko took another gulp, then curtsied.

“Forgive me, bat’ko, if you believe my actions to lack in character,” she replied.

“It is your lack thereof which keeps us concerned,” her grandmother snapped.

“What would you have me do? Mama, your cousin’s sister’s brother, is more than twice my age. We have nothing in common. When I told him, he refused to come to the cotillion. I am at a loss for how to please you. I beg you, have mercy,” Shevchenko pleaded.

The family congregated in a circle, leaving Shevchenko to the side. When they finished their discussion, her mother brought her into the center of the circle.

“Dochka, I have the perfect solution. Last week, I visited my cousin’s family. The nanny recently came to learn that she will inherit some of the late Baron Chernichenko’s fortune. I could send for her to have tea with us to get things in motion,” her mother mused out loud.

Shevchenko gasped. “Mama, that woman is seventy years old.”

“Seventy-nine, to be exact,” her grandmother interjected.

Shevchenko pushed past her sisters to break free from the circle. She made her way towards the top of the ballroom stairs.

“I have an idea of my own, which I will now share with you all. These unattractive marriage proposals are not the route I want to take for myself. I want something different, freedom. Freedom from the stifling lifestyle and this goddamn useless bubble, which is actually killing us all while we wallow in wealth.” She paused for a moment to catch her breath. “Yesterday, I enrolled myself in Calvary Academy!” Her family gasped in shock, but she continued. “There is an amazing linguistics program, which will benefit me. I could be of significant use in helping to end the war. That way, we don’t have to keep up this deadly ruse.”

Her father marched to the bottom of the stairs and raised his fist at her.

“Fool! Do you realize what you have done? If word got back to the associates of the Greater House that a Shevchenko would dare to go against them to stand with Calvary Academy, we would all be beheaded,” he barked.

Her sisters were so aggravated that they took off their shoes to throw at her.

“What an evil bitch you are Lilya,” they screamed.

Her grandmother and mother rushed up the stairs, prepared to lay hands on the girl. Shevchenko wept as she waited for her punishment, but her father called out to them.

“Enough! There is no need to waste precious energy on this one. She is of no use to us, at any rate.” He looked at his daughter with abhorrence. “Go to the Academy. I hope you make use of yourself over there. We no longer have any ties. Never return here, unless you can bring better fortune,” he said.

The memory went black, which left the Alpha squad in the dark to talk amongst each other.

“So, that was it? Her reasoning for enrollment was to avoid marriage to an old geezer and schoolmarm?” Yoshida cackled.

Savoi went to pinch him, but thought better since they had just witness Shevchenko’s grandmother use such brute.

“Her family is awful. I can’t imagine growing up surrounded by enemies. No wonder Lily is so rigid with the rest of us,” she replied.

Roudan chimed in. “This is a true testament of her character, indeed. When we are born, there are two paths. One can land you in the hands of a caring adult and others who choose to breathe positivity into your life. The other path is the opposite. The real kicker is regardless of if you are dealt the harshness of negativity or neglected altogether, the lack of positivity automatically equates to negative.”

Light came into the space they were in, and as the Alpha squad was being transported to another memory, Savoi said, “My goodness, Emmett. That was incredibly insightful of you.”

~The Waring Robins~

1st Year Part 8 (con)

Savoi smiled knowingly at Farouk.

“Maaz is right. Lily has endured nearly all our memories. She witnessed the bad and the ugly. We owe it to her, as fellow squad mates, to regard hers.”

Yoshida took in a deep sigh, then finally turned his attention towards Shevchenko. It occurred to him that whilst he was amid pleading his case to Savoi, Shevchenko’s memory was still in motion… yet she was not.

“How long has she been standing there in the same spot?” he asked.

“For at least nine different dance songs,” Farouk answered.

Yoshida stepped closer to Shevchenko to examine her disposition. With a tilt of his head, he said, “Tulle certainly seems to be her go-to ballroom attire. Didn’t she wear something similar at the induction ball?”

Savoi rashly interjected.

“There’s nothing wrong with tulle. My mum said it was all the rage for debutantes.”

“Yeah, if you were born thirty years ago,” Yoshida cynically replied.

Savoi instantly jabbed him in the side.

“Hush, now. Her dress is perfectly fine and looks nothing like the one she wore at the induction ball. I think the color was maroon,” she said.

“Burgundy,” Roudan cavalierly interrupted.

The rest of the team noticed he appeared smitten, as he stood next to Shevchenko. They were not unfamiliar with that notion, but this time Roudan did not bother to hide his feelings. He had often morphed into a love-struck kitten in her presence, but her cold shoulder snapped him back into the fearless leader he truly was. His gaze was interrupted by a few uncontrollable giggles from Yoshida. Savoi darted a chilling glance that caused both men to regain composure.

Farouk had no choice but to diffuse the tension among them.

“I feel sorry for Lily. Did she really attend these events just to stand in one place all evening?”

Yoshida walked around the room to escape Savoi’s intense glare.

“Certainly not. These preposterous coming-out parties were invented as marriage proposal ceremonies. Vapid men and women attend to be swooped off their feet, or in no uncertain terms, to form valuable financial alliances among each other. The biggest problem is that it may seem like there are a lot of attendees, but the circle is extremely small. Most of everyone here is not-so-distant blood relatives. The practices of the elites are frowned upon throughout the kingdom,” he answered.

Moments later, the conductor of the orchestra turned to address the address. He was a short, bald man, who appeared to have excess skin drooping through his ill-fitting tuxedo. The microphone stand was far taller than him, and it took several orchestra members to put down their instruments and help pull the stand to his mouth level. After several minutes of awful sound feed through the mic, he could speak.

“Honored guest; the Shevchenko family warmly thanks you for attending the season’s final cotillion. We hope this evening was profitable for many of you. Thank you, once again, and good night.”

As the attendees cleared the room, all the chandelier and candelabra lights were switched off to a natural light. The guest appeared to have a sickly, pale-green complexion. Apparently, the former lights were infused with an altering ultraviolet beam to conceal the effects of a population who had blocked off the sunlight for over twenty years.

Once the room had emptied, all that remained were cadet Shevchenko and five others who resembled her enough to conclude that they were her family. The male was attractive and could have been in his late fifties, but his complexion and slumped posture made him seem older. The woman who stood beside him wore enough to make-up to doctor her otherwise sickly appearance. She donned a blonde wig, which had shifted to reveal patchy grey strands of hair. Two other blonde women in matching topaz gowns stood beside them, and they both appeared to keep somewhat of a youthful glow. The elder woman appeared ancient. Though she wore a majestic magenta ballgown with jewels fit for a queen, she did not bother to play along with the hiding her condition. She had patches of silver hair beneath a golden tiara.

“Come hither, Lilya,” her father called sternly to her.

With a loud gulp, Shevchenko finally relieved her position, which is the same spot she stood in for the duration of the ball.

“I take it this evening did not manifest the results we’d all hoped for?” her father asked.

Shevchenko did not respond, but teared up when the other girls giggled loudly. Her father sighed without an ounce of empathy towards her.

“Speak up, daughter!” her mother demanded.

“No need to shout, mother. It’s obvious that our tragically inclined sister did not meet her match,” one of the young women interjected as she fidgeted with a large diamond wedding ring.

“She didn’t even dance all night,” the other blurted with a smirk.

“This is unacceptable! I am Viscount Leopold Shevchenko. My family has been a part of the elite for centuries. We are members of the high-aristocrat society, mainly through our abilities to gain successful marital alliances with other nobles. Your mother, Titania, and I worked tirelessly to ensure your older sisters followed traditions down to the letter. Their marriages have kept a steady stream of revenue for our fortune. It’s time that you followed suit,” her father said.

The elder woman hobbled over to Shevchenko and pinched her on the arm.

“A candle which burns slow causes everything to linger. You mustn’t sit idly while your family clings on for dear life to our livelihood,” she said sharply before she fell into a brief coughing fit.

Shevchenko squealed but withheld her tears.

Her father wasted no time in continuing his tirade.

~The Waring Robins~

1st Year, P. 8

A loud swishing sound sent the Alpha squad through another tunnel of light. They were thrusted onto a marble floor within a golden grand ball room. The walls were decorated with yellow, green, and purple flags to represent the statehood of Dorsea. Through the large windows, the encasing of a giant bubble was visible in the distance. The swishing sounds turned into melodic rhythms from an orchestra. Several hundred men and women dressed in the finest ballroom attire danced about. Not even seven feet away from where the Alpha squad landed, awkwardly stood Lilya Shevchenko.

She wore a fitting tulle yellow gown, with daisies and tulips embroidered within the satin fabric, and hoop skirt. Her fine blonde hair was tucked in a French roll, bedazzled with a gemstone comb. There seemed to be no age gap in this memory, as she appeared roughly the same age of eighteen as when she enrolled at the academy. Noticeably, she had removed her left glove and bit her nails.

Men and women passed by her with scornful glances, but none ever asked her for a dance. Her eyes watered up from time to time, as a new song was played by the orchestra. Though the room was filled with laughter and romance, Shevchenko may as well have been at a funeral. She remained stoic. Once the orchestra took respite, she allowed herself the pleasure of a small sugar biscuit and seltzer wine.

Yoshida stood next to Savoi and attempted to take her hand. After all, they had been so familiar for most of the duration of the class experiment. He was stunned when she denied his unspoken request, and instead walked through the crowd to examine their clothing up close. He broke away from the team to follow her.

“Thomasa, please wait,” he called to her.

She stood on the side of the dancefloor, beside two gentlemen who embraced each other fondly as lovers. A harsh sigh of irritation was the only acknowledgement she offered Yoshida. Still, he insisted on having a conversation with her about his past.

“Are they really going to do this now, during Lily’s backstory?” Farouk scowled.

Roudan chuckled.

“I suppose so. In case you missed the memo, Haru cares nothing for the aristocrats. Right now, his main concern is whether Thomasa hates him for selling all those weapons to the Lesser House,” he answered.

“True. I can see now why he was worried about showing us his past. It really was that bad,” Farouk replied.

Yoshida followed Savoi around the dancefloor, then out on the balcony where she was cornered. She fixed her gaze on the skyline, which was dulled by the film of the encased bubble. She leaned her head forward to look down at the surrounding area.

“I wish there was a breeze. I imagine the magic bubble was meant to keep toxins out, but also nature’s design,” she sighed.

Yoshida shook his head.

“That stupid bubble was built with depravity in mind, and absolutely unnecessary to begin with,” he said.

Savoi looked at him disappointedly and said, “This is war. Elements of depravity are absolutely necessary for survival. You, of all people, should understand that.”

Yoshida was struck by her coldness. Their past fallouts had been overcome with a mutual affection for one another. This time, her usual tenderness was replaced with an icy temperament. He reached for her hand again, but declined in fear that she would recoil from him.

“I’m sure you despise my actions, but no more than I do myself,” he said.

“I certainly do,” she interjected. Her attempt to hide the tremble in her voice was defeated with a single tear down her cheek. She broke into a full onset of grief and cried. “What you did was nothing short of disgraceful. You supplied a massive number of weapons to the Lesser House. I know you were just trying to get back at your father for what happened to Hinna and the Watanabe household, but that was the worst way. To think that my papa would have suffered had he reported to the infantry line, and the thousands of others who actually did. It grieves me deeply.”

Yoshida steadied himself, then grabbed Savoi’s hand. To his relief, she did not turn away. She instead allowed him to hold her. He muttered in her ear.

“There is no excuse for what I did. None of those treacheries would’ve revived Hinna back to life, or restored Jiro’s faith in me as a friend. What you need to know is that the memory I showed to you in my father’s study was to reveal his plans. Those papers he studied were contracts. He planned to trade those weapons with the Greater House in exchange for protection. His armory was always meant for evil. I beat him to the punch. What I did was no better.”

She looked up at him in shock at his confession.

“At least you enrolled in the academy to make amends,” she said.

He sighed and turned her loose.

“Initially, I enrolled because I was being blackmailed by Guitterez. My Gokudō family was at risk of being charged with war crimes. I had to protect them, since I was the one who supplied the catalogue of weapons.”

Once the orchestra resumed, Savoi snapped out of her somber mode and rushed away to return to the squad. Yoshida followed closely, grasping for her arms as much as possible.

“Thomasa, will you please stop! We are not finished,” he demanded.

Savoi shuffled past a couple of dancers, then bumped into Farouk. She curtsied for a quick apology and continued on her way to find Shevchenko. Ironically, the girl had not moved an inch from the time her memory sequence began. Her face expressed a hint of sadness, but the rest of her body language held the same apathetic manner.

Yoshida finally clasped Savoi’s arm and spun her around to face him.

“Do you hate me that much now? Can you not even look me in the eye?” he asked.

Savoi ceased any resistance. She pondered his question. Thoughtfully, she replied, “I don’t hate you. There’s just a lot to unpack with all that you’ve revealed. I’m uncertain of my feelings just now. I will tell you something that I know; it was the last thing my mum told me. She told me not to despise meager beginnings. I imagine in your case, I cannot fault you for your past misdeeds. You will make things right by helping us stop the dueling houses and end this war. I can look at you with a clean slate from here on out.”

Yoshida sighed with relief, but still wanted to be certain she was being truthful.

“Look me in the eye then, if that’s how you truly feel,” he said.

With a still body, Savoi looked at him. Her big brown eyes were clearer than ever. He noticed her pupils were fully dilated, which he remembered a biology professor’s claim that this was a sign of physical attraction. He was familiar with that look. Many girls and women gazed at him with the same attention. This gave him a great sense of satisfaction. However, Savoi seemed to look right through him. He felt the core of his soul being called to become every bit as good as she believed in him. A heavy wave of guilt crashed over him, and he look away from her.

Roudan and Farouk approached them with apprehension. Yoshida stiffened at their presence.

“Have either of you lost faith in me as a teammate?” he asked gruffly.

Farouk nodded his head and smiled. Roudan placed his arm on Yoshida’s shoulder.

“There’s no judgement from me. We all have to make amends here. Some of us just have a further way to go.” He said.

The two men shook hands in agreement. Laughed wildly at Yoshida, Roudan, and Savoi. Then he said, “Now that you three love birds have that settled, can we please pay attention to Lily? We need to see whatever it is she’s trying to tell us about her past and why she enrolled at Calvary Academy.”

~The Waring Robins~

1st Year, P. 7 (fin.)

It only took a few swings before Watanabe grew tired and out of breath. His rage diffused into sobs. Yoshida allowed the boy to rest on his chest, though he dared not to embrace him. The overcast in sky lifted to reveal a golden crescent moon. A moment of relief came when Watanabe’s heavy breathing shifted into snoring. There were no other elements of comfort to cling onto

“Those poor boys. Hinna’s death must have been devastating for them,” Savoi said, as the Alpha squad stood over them.

“Perhaps she went quickly,” Farouk chimed in.

“I doubt it. My mother suffered from the same type of illness. It was long and not pretty,” Roudan replied somberly.

Savoi wiped a few tears away and nestled her face into Roudan’s shoulder. Shevchenko shook her head in disbelief.

“This is truly awful, but Haru’s father was only trying to protect him from all this pain. He tried to do the right thing,” she said.

“You can’t mean that,” Savoi’s voice trembled. “This war has spared no one. The dueling houses fight for power, while innocent lives are constantly thrown in the fray. Haru realized that through his friendship with Jiro. Perhaps Hinna’s death caused him to enroll in the academy.”

“I don’t believe it was that simple,” Farouk said, as he stood between the women. “Haru was in a gang before he came to the academy, and he seemed hesitant to show us his past. We might be on the brink of discovering the real story.”

No sooner than those words were spoken, did Watanabe wake up. He looked up at Yoshida, whose eyes were wide awake. He clumsily rolled himself off to the side, and they both sat up.

“How long was I out?” he asked.

“Not long,” Yoshida sighed, wiping a plug of blood from his nose.

Watanabe stood up and dusted himself off.

“Well, good. I have somewhere to be,” he said.

Before he could walk away, Yoshida grabbed his arm.

“Are you going to get your father?” he asked.

Watanabe snatched his arm away and said,

“Hell no. That sorry sack of bones left us, right around the same time you did. After the blasts, he was summoned to report to the infantry line. We haven’t heard from him since.”

Watanabe walked away without saying another word. Yoshida leapt up and silently followed him. They walked through the village all the way to the Red-Light district. They passed Mr. Watanabe’s old jade shop to an abandoned alley. A gaggle of young men stood in the darkness. Yoshida placed his hand on Watanabe’s shoulder.

“Jiro, what are you about to do?” he asked.

Watanabe sighed, knowing he could not run away from his friend.

“Nothing. Just wait here for me,” he said.

Watanabe joined the men, and they immediately laughed when he arrived. One man, who looked to be only nineteen or twenty, teased him.

“There you are, pudgy. Tell us; how is it you are so fat, when you clearly are so poor?”

Another young man chimed in, as well.

“Perhaps he’s a better thief than you are,” he cackled.

The first young man pulled out a wooden crate from inside a barrel.

“What do you mean? These stolen weapons are going to get us in for certain,” he replied.

Yoshida quietly crept behind them, just before five more men entered the alley. They each were smartly dressed grey business suits, but multicolored tattoos were visible on their necks, arms, and hands. The leader had a small green mamushi snake inked on his left cheek. All the young men hushed in reverence as the meeting began.

The leader glared at the young men with spite, then spoke.

“Tonight will be your final night. If the deal goes well, you will no longer be mutts. You will be invited into the Gokudō family.” He held a dagger to his throat, then continued. “If the deal goes south; you will no longer be mutts, you will be dead.”

His associates cackled, as the young men trembled in fear. The leader snapped his fingers, which was a signal for one of the young men to bring the wooden crate to him. No one was brave enough to do it, so the first young man kicked Watanabe in the shin. When he yelped, the leader called him to bring the crate.

“Hey you, fatso. Bring over the goods,” he said.

Watanabe gulped and looked around to see that Yoshida was nearby. Yoshida nodded for him to proceed. The crate was too heavy for him to lift alone. His bottom lip quivered as he trembled. Yoshida broke through the group to help his friend deliver the crate. The leader looked curiously at Yoshida, not remembering him being a part of the initial group of pledges. His traditional black kimono caused him to stand out from the rest, but he was muddy and looked as if he had been in a fight. The leader shrugged off any suspicion that Yoshida was anything other than a common thief, like the rest of the young men.

The leader opened the crate and pulled out a laser beam rifle. He studied it thoroughly, then tossed it to one of his associates.

“Does something seem amiss to you?” he asked.

His associate playfully tossed the rifle back and forth between his hands, and said, “Seems awfully light to me, boss.”

“I thought so,” the leader chuckled.

He gingerly sifted his hands through the rest of the crate, then looked at Watanabe and Yoshida.

“These are all fake. Do you expect us to take this bullshit merch to the Lesser House and demand our salary?” He slammed the lid over the crate. “They’d kill us on the spot.”

One of the bigger associates cracked his knuckles, then approached. The leader signaled for the other two associates to join in.

“The only way to settle is for us to kill you on the spot,” he said.

Each of the Gokudō associates fought with the young men and beat them mercilessly. The leader took turns fighting Watanabe and Yoshida. Watanabe hid underneath a boy’s body, while Yoshida fended for his life. The leader was shocked at Yoshida’s strength and agility. The boy in the black kimono was a classically trained martial artist who could outmatch him.

“What’s your name?” the leader asked Yoshida.

“What does it matter?” Yoshida answered.

The leader laughed.

“I suppose it doesn’t. Can you at least tell me why you’re here? I know for certain you are not like the rest of these mutts,” he said.

Yoshida signaled for Watanabe to come out of hiding.

“Nothing matters at this moment. All that you need to know is that I can show you where real weapons of value are stored.”

The leader smirked and rolled up his sleeves.

“Keep talking, young Doragon. If I don’t like what I hear, you and your fat ass friend will die.”

The Alpha squad watched on as Yoshida explained to the Gokudō leader where his father held forty-seven different warehouses that stored antique and new weapons. He and Watanabe were formally initiated into the Gokudō family, as they raided the warehouses and sold the goods to the Lesser House. Unfortunately, Watanabe was killed during one raid. This left Yoshida sullener and more depraved than ever before. He became the 3rd lieutenant of the Gokudō, and was feared by his peers.

One night in the Red-Light district, Yoshida laid on his stomach across a table in a tattoo parlor while a prostitute finished the remaining touches of ink for his Komodo dragon. A man in a military uniform entered the establishment. The name Guitterez was seen on his lapel. Yoshida raised his head and smirked at the man.

“Long time no, see Hatsuharu,” Guitterez said.

Yoshida laid his head back down on the table and said, “No one has called me by that name in a lifetime.”

Guitterez chuckled.

“That is who you are, isn’t it?”

Yoshida signaled for the prostitute to leave the room.

“Only God and the devil know who I really am,” he said.

Guitterez leaned over the table to whisper in his ear.

“Well, I am in good company, because I stood next to your father on the day you were born.”

Yoshida raised himself up on the table. Guitterez winced, believing him to be in pain from his tattoo. Yoshida’s ill mood was not tempered by his elaborate tattoo, which covered his entire back. He, instead, was annoyed by Guitterez’s unwelcomed visit.

“I have no dealings with my father. Whatever his sins are with his allegiance to the Greater House, they do not concern me.”

Guitterez sighed.

“I know the Gokudō are not properly aligned with the Lesser House, but you sold them over one hundred thousand weapons. You are no better than your father, who you loathe so much.” He headed to the door. “My offer still stands; enroll in Calvary Academy to atone for your bloody hands, or your beloved Gokudō family will all be brought to the Tribunal Council for war crimes.”

The scene went black as the Alpha squad gasped in horror.

~The Waring Robins~

1st Year, p. 7 (con.)

The Alpha squad moved to an old-style dojo where a group of adolescent boys, donned in traditional black and white Hakama uniforms, practiced aikido. There, young Yoshida was among the group.
“His hair must’ve always long with frosted white tips,” Savoi noted.
Roudan chuckled.
“He’s such a serious lad, isn’t he? Look how focused he is compared to the other boys,” he said.
 Suddenly, an entourage of eight men in business suits walked into the dojo. Their formation was four in front and four behind. Between them was a man dressed in a vintage black kimono with a red Komodo dragon embellished on the backside.
“That man in the center must be Haru’s father. He is the grandnephew of the legendary shogun,” Farouk called out, before Roudan muffled his mouth.
 The dojo Master, who was an elderly man with long white hair tied in a braid, called everyone to attention, then they all bowed at the important man. Once the formal bows were acknowledged, the dojo Master commanded Yoshida and an older boy to the center of the room. The Master gave a final command, and the boys began a sparring match.
“Look at Haru go,” Savoi beamed.
Yoshida and his opponent danced in a contactless circle for several minutes. The older boy became frustrated at Yoshida’s swift speed.
“This is hardly what I’d call an exciting match,” Shevchenko scoffed.
“I totally expected more from him,” Farouk chimed in.
“He’s toying with the older guy. A perfectly sound maneuver for any fighter worth his salt,” Roudan interjected. “Now pipe down; you just might learn something.”
Yoshida’s father gruffly nodded at the dojo master, then commanded his bodyguards to walk away.
“Enough!” the dojo master shouted.
Yoshida stopped in his tracks once he realized his father was displeased. The older boy used the opportunity to grab his wrist. Yoshida twirled his body around and behind his opponent. With his free hand, he jabbed the older boy in the neck and kicked his legs from beneath him. The maneuvers happened fast, and the older boy could not get off the mat after that. All of this was to no avail, as Yoshida’s father continued to leave the dojo.
The dojo master called the boys to attention, and they all bowed in reverence. Yoshida ran after his father in haste. He caught up to the black stretch limousine before the driver started the engine.
Out of breath, Yoshida called out, “Oto-san. I won!”
Yoshida’s father rolled the window down just enough to peer at his son.
“As you should. I expect nothing less from you,” he dryly replied.
Yoshida bowed as the driver started the engine.
“Oto-san, you came to see me. May I ask why?” he asked.
Yoshida’s father sighed.
“Ah, yes. I am going away on business for several months. Twelve, at the most. You should not look for any contact or communication from me during this time. I have placed a detail security to look after you in my stead,” he said.
Yoshida reached a hand in the window.
“Will my mother come to see me?” he asked.
Yoshida’s father cackled.
“Your mother was a courtesan. She enjoyed her life very much. The only reason I married her is because she produced me a strong son. Her affairs are her own, just as mine are my own. You should lose the sentiment that she will ever come to see you.”
Yoshida quickly removed his hand out of the window as it rolled up, and the limo sped away. His saddened demeanor was interrupted when a short and stubby boy dressed in a tattered tunic with shorts came from around the corner.
“Don’t tell me you’re gonna stand there and cry, now that your rich daddy has left you on the curb,” the boy laughed.
Yoshida released a few sniffles, then turned to the boy with cheerfulness.
“Watanabe, you always know what to say,” he replied.
Watanabe threw a playful jab, which Yoshida promptly blocked.
“Well, you know what they say; with a friend like me, you’ll never need enemies,” he said.
Suddenly, a silver sedan crept up the street. Yoshida grabbed Watanabe’s arm and darted down a nearby alley. The boys climbed a fire escape of a tall building, then leapt across the rooftops of three more. Once Yoshida knew they had lost the sedan, he stopped running.
“What was that all about?” Watanabe panted.
Yoshida grinned as he caught his breath.
“That was just my security detail. I don’t know why my father insists on giving me the worst of his flock,” he answered.
Watanabe gasped.
“Why did we run from them? Aren’t we gonna get into big trouble?”
Yoshida patted his friend’s shoulder.
“Don’t worry. Those losers would never report to my father that they lost me in a high-speed chase.” With a wink, he continued. “My father would actually be proud of my accomplishment, though he’d never say so out loud. His jerk crew, however, would probably lose their feet, hands, or eyes.”
Watanabe’s eyes grew as big as saucers. He stood frozen in terror.
Yoshida snapped his fingers repeatedly.
“Hey, snap out of it. I was just joking.”
Watanabe blinked and cracked a smile.
The boys snickered for several minutes before Yoshida said, “Let’s go to your house.”
Watanabe scratched his head and replied, “Sure, but why can’t we ever go to your big and fancy house?”
 Yoshida scoffed. “It’s more like a museum than a house. Dozens of rooms filled with ancient antiques. My father is always gone away on business trips. I haven’t seen my mother since I was three years old, and that was by accident when she came to demand a bigger allowance. There is no laughter or love where I live. Only misery and loneliness. That’s why we go to your house. It might be small, but your mother makes the best udon noodles ever, and your baby sister is delightful.”
Watanabe smiled.
“Well, alright then. Just know that if my father found out the shogun’s family was in our home every night, he’d have a heart attack.”
Yoshida wrapped his arm around Watanabe as they walked towards a door to exit the roof.
“It’s a good thing he works in the Red-Light District and keeps his jade shop opened all night,” he said.

~The Waring Robins~

1st Year, P. 7

A flash of blinding light invaded the memory. The Alpha squad found themselves back in the lab, standing over Roudan, who was still in the fetal position. Savoi sat beside him and stroked his hair. He moved his head into her lap and continued to weep. Shevchenko and Farouk stood motionless, not knowing how to assist in that moment. Yoshida knelt down near Roudan’s ear.
“Cheer up, Emmett. It’s all over now. We’re back in class,” he whispered.
Roudan slowly sat up and dried his face with a sleeve. Savoi gave him a reassuring smile he was safe. He hesitantly looked up at the rest of his peers, but Yoshida extended an arm out to help him off the floor. Savoi clung to both their arms when they pulled her up on her feet. She nodded for Farouk to take Shevchenko by the hand.
They stood in a circle, and she said, “I know this is a hardship to endure. Sometimes our pasts can haunt us, cause insecurities, and hinder our growth. Nothing revealed today should be held against any of us. We came to Calvary Academy from different paths, but with one goal; to end the war.”
“How are we all able to view each other’s memories so freely?” Roudan asked.
Savoi pondered, then spoke.
“There must be a psilocybin substance infuse with the Fuchsian. With it, one can enter the thoughts of the person or persons nearest to them.”
“She is correct. There are actually several chemical agents at play. I prompted you to think about your past to steer everyone’s thoughts in the same direction. Your experiences are led by whomever has the strongest desire to show themselves. I encourage those of you who have not had a turn to open yourselves up more. Let your team members inside,” Lt. Co. Adame said over the loudspeaker.
Shevchenko snatched her hand away from Farouk.
“With all due respect, Sir. This experiment is awful! What good can come from revealing each other’s worst truths? Surely there must be another way to build comradery,” she cried.
“This experiment is absolutely necessary. The same chemical agents are unleashed on our men and women in the field every day. Those infantry men who did not have the fortunate to be educated here at the academy are defenseless. At least we have the benefit of these experiences to know when we’ve been exposed,” Farouk interjected.
Shevchenko ran screaming away from the group and tried to pry open the entryway doors.
“Let me out! I don’t want to do this!”
Yoshida scolded her with cold eyes. “Leave. You must have a multitude of skeletons hiding. Is that the reason you don’t want us to see? Leave bravery to the rest of us, so you won’t be the weakest link.”
His rebuke cut her to the core. She whimpered back to the circle. Lt. Co. Adame was heard over the loudspeaker addressing his 3rd year cadets.
“Increase the dosage. They should not come to until the cycle has been completed.”
A steady stream of smoke descended on the Alpha squad. Farouk gulped loudly and hyperventilated.
Savoi swayed drunkenly.
“Everyone, just breath,” she said.
Yoshida squeezed her hand tight.
“Lend me some of your strength,” he whispered in her ear.
With a smile, she whispered, “You’ve got it.”
They inhaled and exhaled the smoke until the room went black.
 ~The Waring Robins~