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. 2)

The Alpha squad followed behind as the two boys merrily made their way to Watanabe’s house. The outskirts of the city were near a village. In the center stood a small white Minka, built for a family of four. The yard was unkempt, but a little garden filled with a variety of vegetables was plotted with a thin-wired fence around the perimeter. Watanabe’s mother and younger sister waited to greet them in the garden.

“Konnichiwa Okaa-san. Look who came to join us for a twelfth time in a row,” Watanabe said.

“Irasshaimase, Jiro,” the woman replied gleefully.

The chubby little girl screamed, “Onii Chan!” Then she ran up to hug Yoshida’s leg.

“Hey, I’m your big brother. You never welcome me with such fanfare,” Watanabe scoffed.

Yoshida grinned and knelt down to hug the girl.

“That’s because I’m more handsome. Isn’t that right, Hinna?” he teased.

The girl nodded and kissed him on the cheek.

Watanabe scoffed and grabbed the basket of cabbage from his mother. He barged inside the house without looking back. Mrs. Watanabe winked knowingly, then went inside as well. Yoshida remained outside with Hinna. They both giggled at the silliness of her brother. The sun was setting, so Yoshida scooped the girl in his arms to whisk her away. Hinna sheepishly tugged at his ear.

“What is it Hinna-Chan?” he asked.

As she leaned in to whisper, both he and the Alpha squad could smell the sweetness of honey cake from her warm breath.

“Did you know; today is a special day,” she replied

Yoshida pretended to ponder for several minutes until Hinna’s eyes teared up.

“Let me see. I know today is special. It could only be for one reason alone. Today is Hinna-Chan’s birthday!” he answered.

Her tears quickly receded, and she grinned from ear to ear.

“There’s no need to fear. Your big brother will always remember all the special things about you, Hinna-Chan,” he said, as he dug around in his uniform trousers. When he plucked out his fist, Hinna anxiously tried to open his hand. “There now, you see. Today is your 4th birthday, so I brought four crayons to brighten your day.”

Hinna clasped the crayons to her chest, as if they were a handful of the finest jewels. She hugged Yoshida tightly around the neck and whispered, “Arigato gozaimasu.”

Yoshida’s memories flashed forward to a future time. He stood alone in a large office decorated with scores of antique weapons (swords, rifles, laser pistols, and knives) on all four walls. The Cherrywood desk was also decorated with smaller swords and daggers. Yoshida appeared taller, and at least two years older than before. His long hair was tied in a samurai bun, and he wore a traditional black kimono. He looked sullen, yet attentive.

Mr. Yoshida entered the room without so much as a word. He sat down at his desk and looked over at least a dozen documents before acknowledging his son’s presence. He gruffly cleared his throat, then began.

“I called you in here today, because I believe it is high-time you become acquainted with the harshness of reality. Old Toyoko was furthest away from the initial impact of the dueling houses. Our state remained preserved from the effects of war with a biochemical shield that kept us hidden from plain sight. Eventually, technology could not keep up, and the veil was removed after a series of bombs blasted through the exterior. Showers of ashes consistently fell from the sky and could not be resolved. The once bustling cities and country sides became vast wastelands.”

Yoshida sighed, and said, “Yeah, I know about all of that. What does it have to do with me.”

The elder Yoshida chuckled at his son’s disinterest.

 “Fortunately for you, I was born into the prominent Kuge aristocratic class. As grandnephew to the Shogun, there was an expectation for me to assume the position when my father took deathly ill,” he replied.

Yoshida abruptly interrupted his father.

 “With all due respect, Oto-San, I am disillusioned with the stifling hypocrisy of high-society. The eccentric trends segregate us from the rest of the war-torn society, and only make us appear as an established cult. Though rumors had been repeatedly denied, the elitists clearly favor of the Greater House. I know about your hefty donations of monetary tributes to avoid the infantry lottery. The entire state has been exempted from sanction as well.”

Mr. Yoshida shuffled his papers, then peered firmly at his son.

“It would behoove you to appreciate the sacrifices made on your behalf. I know you are resentful that I have kept you home for the last month and a half. Your well-being is my utmost concern. That is also why I shooed away that ruffian boy who came to see you last week. No good could come from hanging with the likes of him,” he said.

Yoshida stiffened his jaw.

“Oto-San, what boy?” he asked.

Mr. Yoshida went back to reading his documents in silence.

“Father, what boy?” Yoshida shouted.

Mr. Yoshida slammed his papers on the desk and said,

“Some fat bastard-child, I imagine. He said his name was Watanabe.”

Yoshida dashed out of his father’s office, then out of the house. He ran as fast as his feet would carry him to Watanabe’s village. The village looked deserted and lifeless. No people roamed about the dirt paths. Every house looked like a slum. Even the once well-kept Watanabe garden matched the unkempt yard. There were flowers and candles were lit around the porch area. Inside, the house was dim, with the sounds of weeping.

Yoshida somberly went inside the sitting room to see Mrs. Watanabe laying on top of Hinna’s body. He gasped at the dead child, whose angelic chubby face was slender and blue. An old nurse wept along with Mrs. Watanabe, as she pulled the mother off to put a dirty burlap blanket over Hinna. Yoshida fell to his knees beside them.

“What happened to Hinna-Chan?” he cried.

No one answered him. At least nothing could be articulated through the heavy sobs from each woman. Yoshida continued to weep as he helped the women bury young Hinna in the front yard near the garden. By nightfall, the women left him sitting by the lump of dirt. Suddenly, someone came behind him.

“Where were you while we buried your baby sister?” he asked.

Watanabe remained silent. For several minutes, only sniffles could be heard between the two. Finally, Yoshida rose to face his friend. Anger and bewilderment kept them at a distance. A sickly, frail cat skirted by them, and for a moment their attention was drawn in that direction.

Yoshida took in a big gulp, then said, “Oh, Jiro. Gomen.”

Watanabe wiped his nose on his sleeve. His face was bruised and caked with mud.

“You’re sorry is all you have to say? After all this time, I thought we were friends. Did you know Hinna called for you when she got sick? I hesitated to go to your house, but my mother begged me to ask you for help. She thought you could sneak some medicine and food for us. Your house is so big. I didn’t know which window to climb, so I tried a few. Your old man caught me. He cursed me out for all that I’m worth, then sent his bodyguards to attack me. They busted me up pretty good.”

Yoshida burst into tears.

“Believe me, I came as soon as I could. It looks like I got here not long after Hinna died,” he said.

Watanabe spat at him.

“Hinna died three days ago! Whatever illness came over her made her look blue all over. Some big brother you are. You’re too late for everything.”

Suddenly, Watanabe lunged at Yoshida. The boys fell to the ground and tussled. Yoshida allowed his friend to punch repeatedly in the face. The cruelty of the scenario hurt far worse than any landed blows.

~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~

1st Year, P. 6 (con.)

The emcee egged the audience on. When the screams reached a heightened pitch, he finally chimed in.
“Now, it’s about time I give you what you’ve all been waiting for. This beautiful beast needs no introduction, but the at the very least I can say his name. In the right corner, I give you The Cobra!”
The crowd roared and hissed like a snake. Roudan hopped off the stool and pranced around the arena.
“Clearly Emmett is favored among this pack of wild animals,” Shevchenko hollered.
Yoshida cheered along with the audience. His childlike enthusiasm was a stark change from the normal nonchalant mannerism. Savoi cheered along as well, but placed her hand over her heart. She looked like a proud but fretful mother at a performance. Farouk also bought into the excitement.
“I’ve got to give it to him. He certainly has flare,” he said.
Roudan and his opponent stepped to the center of the rink and waited for instructions from a referee. The men shook hands before they returned to their respected areas. With the ring of a bell, the fight began.
The opponents squared off in the center of the ring. The Wolf was at least five years older than Roudan. His demeanor was confident. He sized Roudan’s slender build against his bulk, and determined that it would be an easy win. Roudan was not fazed by the Wolf’s smug dance around him. The audience simmered with anticipation as they waited to see who would make the first move. 
Minds were blown when Roudan dodged The Wolf’s left hook, and countered with a quick jab to his throat. This move disrupted the Wolf’s rhythm. Toucan followed with a round kick to his stomach. Cheers and jeers flooded the warehouse. Yoshida spiritedly whistled along with Roudan’s fans.  
“I like this man’s style: pull all the punches, render no mercy,” he said. 
Roudan’s aggressive timing for each blow kept the Wolf in a constant state of agony. He wooed the audience with an under hook, which allowed him to body slam the Wolf onto the mat. Shevchenko’s smirk of wicked satisfaction could not be concealed by the dim lights.  
“Emmett is absolutely amazing in there,” she gushed. 
Savoi beamed a knowing smile at her, as she was also impressed. Shevchenko quickly retracted her smirk, not intending to appear smitten. Tension shifted and the hungry crowd hissed at the Wolf’s fans. Farouk joined in with pleasure. 
“Finish him,” Yoshida called out. 
Roudan’s final move was a ground strike. He used maximum force to take his opponent out. The Wolf laid lifeless on the mat, while a referee shoved Roudan back to his corner of the ring. Dead silence swept over the warehouse when a team of medics rushed in to examine the injured party. After several minutes of deliberation, the Wolf was unconscious. The emcee blurted over the loudspeaker, “Ladies and gentlemen; we have a winner of this match. I give you The Cobra!”
An enthusiastic stampede ensued as the audience pushed their way through the ring to get to Roudan. He was rushed back to the locker room. Yoshida encouraged the team to follow suit. They elbowed and clawed their way to catch up to their teammate. Inside the tiny locker room, Roudan was met by two well-groomed men who both looked exactly like him in appearance. Their blonde hair, fair skin, and green eyes left no room to doubt that they were of the same kin.
Roudan greeted the men with long hugs, then sat on a metal bench. One man wore a blue 3-piece suit, and the other wore black. The man in blue brought a towel over to dry Roudan’s face.
“Well done, nephew,” he said, then massaged Roudan’s shoulders.
Roudan sighed heavily with the towel wrapped around his head.
“Thank you, Uncle Victor,” he sobbed.
The man in black brought a thermos to Roudan. The men fretfully looked at each other. Everyone from the Alpha squad was stunned to see Roudan in such a state, especially after his savage victory against the Wolf only minutes ago. All the machismo and arrogance that he was known for at the academy was nowhere to be found. His somber mood caused alarm.
The man in blue unwrapped the towel from Roudan’s face and looked him in the eyes.
“Nephew, you mustn’t allow our news to sour your spirit. You had us worried when you threatened to call off the fight earlier. I’m glad that we could see you this one last time. You fought hard like the champion you are,” he said.
Roudan’s uncontrollable sobs became louder. Savoi was moved by his pain. She knew it stemmed from something deeper than the few strikes the Wolf could land. Farouk placed his arm around her shoulder while she silently wept.
The man in blue spoke again.
“Nephew, please understand this necessary evil. Your brother and I are doing what is best for everyone. Our home state, La’Montre, is roughly 400,000 miles from the old capital of Soleste, Nerou. When the first war of the two houses took place, La’Montre was immediately sacked after the fall of the capital. Many of the lower nobles joined the Lesser House to ensure their properties and interests would not be adversely affected. Nearly all the cities of La’Montre were known as industrial commerce hubs. The smallest rural farmlands were run by the lowest level of nobles who lost every well-abled body to the infantry line.”
Roudan glared at his uncle, unconvinced that he was being consoled.
Victor smiled and continued.
“A combination of severe droughts, heavy land taxes, and lack of manpower played a role in the nationwide deterioration of each state. The Roudan family has overseen farmlands in La’Montre for twelve generations. With me being the eldest current heir, I’ve become the property executor. I feel passionate about protecting our homeland from the clutches of the two houses. Many of my peers supported the Lesser House, to which I vehemently oppose. Therefore, I’ve enrolled at Calvary Academy to become an officer and serve as an engineer specialist. I have also relinquished my role as executor to my younger brother, your father, Emilio.”
The man in the black suit opened the thermos and poured a clear liquid into the cup. He took a sip, then handed the cup to Roudan.
“Drink up, little brother. This is a celebration, not a funeral,” he said.
Roudan sipped his drink with both eyes closed. He winced as if he had consumed poison.
“Yuck! Emille, why would you bring me father’s whiskey?” he asked.
Yoshida cackled. “Ha! This must be long before Emmett a lush.” He elbowed Farouk in the side and said, “He’s the only person I know who can drink me under the table.”
Emille snatched the cup from his brother and poured more whiskey. He teased Roudan by offering him another sip. Roudan slightly shoved his brother’s hand away, so Emille offered the cup to Victor. Roudan dabbed his face with the towel, then clasped it to his chest. His somberness seemed to lift once the whiskey kicked in.
“What does father have to say about any of this?” he asked.
Emille shook his head.
“What can he say at this point? He was always hard on me. I was seven years old when you were born, and he didn’t change. If it weren’t for Uncle Victor, we wouldn’t know how to function properly in society,” he replied.
“You lads should go easier on your father. Emilio has had a tremendous amount of strain working the lands that the commoners had to abandon for the infantry line,” Victor chimed in.
Emille poured another shot of whiskey for himself.
“Father has never taken the time to appreciate who we have become as men. Like Uncle Victor, I opposed to pledge support to the Lesser House. It was also my choice to enroll with Uncle Victor at the academy. Emmett has enjoyed life as a moderately successful underground MMA Fighter. He will have to give that all up once our father demands him to attend to the family duties. I can only imagine how father will lash out at him in response for our sins,” he said.
The men hugged each other with a tearful final goodbye. Roudan’s memories shifted over to him being sought after by ten different MMA Fight promoters for new matches. He declined each offer to begin his duties of overseeing the twelve massive properties own by the Roudan family. Most of the farmlands produced very little profit. His daunting efforts to salvage as much as possible seemed in vain.
“This long war has had an adverse effect on so many lives,” Savoi said.
Yoshida nodded in agreement, as they watched Roudan transform from the wild and free youthful boxer to a hardened young man. Even Shevchenko seemed to take a more empathetic stance in her opinion of him.
“I wish things could have been different,” she replied.
Roudan’s memories went black briefly before he was seen standing in front of a small brick stone manor. An officer, with the rank of Major, stood beside him and handed him a letter. He read the letter out loud.
“Victor and Emille Roudan were assigned to the Charlie squad at Calvary Academy. During their 3-year stint at Calvary Academy, both the Greater and Lesser Houses called a ceasefire. General Benavides warned the graduating classes of cadets that this was not an end to the war. Benavides had concerns, which he advised the Tribunal Council. To his dismay, he was correct in his assertions. The day after graduation, bombs blasted once again all over the Kingdom. Charlie squad was sent on a reconnaissance mission shortly after. A report came to the Tribunal Council that during the mission 2nd Lieutenants Victor and Emille Roudan were seen fleeing the pinnacle of action after an ambush by the Greater House knights. The officers were confirmed dead by General Benavides, though their bodies were confiscated by the knights.”
Roudan crumbled the letter and wept. An elder man with the same blonde hair and green eyes came out of the manor.
“No need to weep for the dead. What’s done is done,” he said.
The Major addressed the elder man.
“Emilio Roudan, I am here to advise you that your report date to Calvary Academy is pending. You will have 30 days to complete a full physical and mental evaluation, which will determine your position as a replacement for your brother and son.”
Emilio clutched his chest.
“Impossible! You drag me into that bloody massacre while I am embroiled in massive amounts of debt because of a decline in harvested crops. How is this fair?”
The Major looked at the younger Roudan and smirked.
“Both of you seem well able to report for duty. It makes no difference to me which of you should go,” he said as he walked away.
Emilio watched his son weep bitter tears and scoffed.
“Your tears are meaningless here. Victor and Emille were dead to me when they left us to drown in misery. We could have found some support with the Lesser House, but they refused to listen to logic. Look at them now; written off as scandalous cowards by the Great General Benavides, and the laughingstock of the highly acclaimed Calvary Academy. This damn war has been cruel to all of us. After your mother shriveled up and died from whatever infectious disease claimed her life, it has been a burden for me to find a reason not to put a bullet in my head. Today, I know there are none. I suggest you do the same.”
Emilio left Roudan standing alone. Five minutes later, a gunshot was heard from inside the manor. Roudan dropped to his knees, then laid on the bare ground in the fetal position.

~The Waring Robins~

1st Year, P. 5

Malta reached across the table to touch Galayna’s hand.
“This is precisely what I wanted to bring to your attention,” she said as she looked over at Oliver. “Thomasa is special. She is what we call a gifted child. Her reading, writing, and arithmetic marks are well above what the average child twice her age could accomplish. At my estate, she could flourish even more.”
Oliver burrowed his eyebrows and said, “It’s one thing that you want to whisk my wife away to make your fancy dresses, but I cannot let you have Masa. She belongs here, where her family has always lived.”
Malta smiled with ease as she continued to negotiate.
“Mr. Savoi, I understand your concerns. You have a fine wife and daughter. We all only want the best for them. Renata and I asked that they come to live with us so that Galayna will have more space to create her magnificent designs. Thomasa would be under our care, because we know you will be far too busy tending to your cane field to mind after her. Your income sources would quadruple uninterrupted, while Thomasa would be properly educated. Nothing would be denied to her.”
The adults at the table fell silent, while Renata tickled the child. “My goodness, Thomasa. You have outshined everyone with your big brain,” she beamed. “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Savoi appeared to look directly at her fellow Alpha squad cadets for a moment, as she pondered.
“I want to be good like Mummy and Papa. They take care of people with sugar cane, medicine, and nice dresses,” she answered.
Shevchenko rolled her eyes and sighed. “Always such a showoff.”
“It’s not showing off, when she is merely showing us who she is,” Farouk chuckled. “There has to be a logical reason that this memory resonated with the chemical potion.”
Roudan crossed his arms over his chest and said, “Let’s see what we know so far; her father was an amazing agriculturalist; her mother was a phenomenal dress maker and herbal practitioner and midwife for her community. Thomasa had no choice but to thrive as the gifted child General Malta deemed her to be.” He placed his hand on Shevchenko’s shoulder, and continued. “Her beginnings might seem meager to you, but she came from a good foundation. That is why she is the glue that holds us all together.”
Suddenly, the entire room went pitch-black. The next thing they saw was that everyone left the room, except the young Savoi and her father. He anxiously paced back and forth with his head in his hands.
“Masa, where does Mum keep the pain medicine?” he asked nervously.
His voice became more aggressive.
“Masa! Don’t you hear your Papa speaking to you?” he barked.
She jumped up from the rug and went to the herb shelf. There she found a mason jar filled with a thick yellowish oil inside. Oliver snatched the jar from her and muttered under his breath. He aggressively rubbed the oil on his temples. His hands were slick enough to cause the jar to slip and shatter on the floor. Savoi quickly ran to fetch a broom. Oliver frantically roamed through the shelf. He found a purple beet root, which he shoved in his mouth.
“Papa, you mustn’t eat that. Mummy said those are dangerous,” Savoi warned.
Oliver became irate. With one large hand, he clutched the child by the face so that she could not speak. The Alpha squad gasped in horror. A hard knock at the front door broke the tension, and Oliver released her to answer it. Two infantry officers with brown hair and woodland uniforms entered the room. They looked at the terrified child, then at Oliver.
“Is everything alright?” the shorter officer asked.
Oliver darted cold eyes at his daughter, which caused her to freeze.
“Everything is what it is,” Oliver replied belligerently.
The taller officer cleared his throat.
“Ahem. Oliver Savoi, we have come here today to inform you that the Infantry Lottery will begin in 90 days. Your name has been selected to be drawn. You will have from today until then to close up your affairs and report for duty.”
The news stunned Oliver. He raised a balled fist in the air.
“This is ludicrous. First, they want to take my wife and child off to some fancy plantation. Now you say that I must report for service. What will become of my cane fields? Who will tend to them?” he asked.
The officers looked at each other in confusion.
Oliver continued his rant.
“Before the war, Savoi cane fields were the most prominent in the entire kingdom. Intagua Island was the third state to falter from the war, with a devastation of famine. We established the central trading posts for food and goods. Conflict deserters fled to our beaches for refuge, only to be met with a fatal chemical substance in the water. Scores of human and livestock remains piled up along the coast, as the infestation consumed our region. What little left of the untouched cane is all that remains. Tell your commander that I cannot simply close my affairs within 90 days without a complete collapse of the kingdom’s commerce system.”
The officers walked over to the fireplace to deliberate. When they returned to the entryway, the taller officer said, “We will report to our administration all that you have stated. In the meantime, I suggest you make this work. Otherwise, you would be breaking the law by not reporting for service. Do you not have a son eligible to take your place?”
Oliver scowled.
“No. Only a daughter barely out of her nappies and off her mother’s milk,” he dryly replied.
The officers left the hut to return to their duty station. Oliver abruptly slammed the door shut and screamed. He continued screaming as he ransacked the house. The spirit of depravity had taken over him, as he looked at his daughter with dreadful contempt. Her body trembled uncontrollably until she wet herself. Pure terror siphoned any breathable air from the room. Without warning, he struck her across the face with an opened palm. The impact spun her around, and she crashed into a jagged edge of their wooden kitchen table. A steady stream of blood revealed that her chin had been cut open. She stifled her cry by covering her mouth. Only a single tear slid down her cheek.
The team stood motionless, completely horrified by what they just witnessed. The man who had once been a doting father suddenly became a monster. Yoshida clenched his teeth, enraged by the abhorrent abuse. Farouk covered his eyes, feeling hurt for the girl. Shevchenko looked away in shame at how she believed Savoi to be a coddled child with no sense of manners. Roudan was astounded by Savoi’s resilience in that moment.
“We have to stop him and help her,” Farouk blurted out
Yoshida kept him back from approaching the girl. “There’s nothing we can do, you dolt. This isn’t real,” he said while he pinned Farouk’s arms behind his back.
“What do you mean? Surely this happened to Thomasa,” Farouk yelped.
Roudan clasped his hands around Farouk’s face to make eye contact.
“Yes, this all happened; but it is the past. There’s nothing we can do to change it, so calm yourself,” he said.
Suddenly, Galayna burst through the front door in a panic from the commotion she heard outside. Her eyes glistened with tears as she watched her husband tower over their wounded daughter. She dropped all her bags and rolls of fabric to rush over to them. Her mind snapped into a fit of rage.
“You evil man! How dare you lay hands on my child!” she wailed.
Before Oliver turned around, Galayna picked up a wooden stool and clobbered him over the head with it. She beat him repeatedly until she saw the terror in her daughter’s eyes. Once she came to her senses, she dropped the chair to kneel by Savoi.
“Come to me, child,” she whispered in a raspy tone.
Savoi did not budge. Instead, she buried her head into her knees. She did not want her mother to see that she soiled her dress. Galayna removed her blue headscarf and allowed her long golden braided locks to hang over the girl. “The fear you have of pain or dying. Let it move,” she said, then wrapped Savoi in the scarf and scooped her up.
Farouk recalled how Savoi said the same thing to him when he was frozen during the entrance exam. Galayna carried Savoi away, but as she stepped over Oliver, he tugged at her skirt.
“She’s mine too,” he murmured.
“Not anymore,” Galayna snapped. She leaned down near his blooded body and said, “I will give you a choice; I can kill you now, so that you may rot in hell, or I can call the authorities and you can rot in a cell. Either way, you shall never set eyes on her again.” She spat on him, then left the hut.
A flurry of images appeared before the Alpha squad. They saw Savoi merrily running through a beautiful garden at the Malta estate. They watched her learn to dance a waltz, as Renata played the piano. The final image showed young Savoi looking through a large telescope as she named the different stars out loud. Minutes later, the same two infantry officers who came to visit her father at the hut entered the room.
“Thomasa Savoi, we have important news to deliver to you,” the taller officer said. He handed her a letter and continued. “Your father, Oliver Savoi, had been selected to report for service 10 years ago. He was allowed a waiver by the Tribunal Council to tend to his cane fields and keep the trading posts in full operation. During that time, he became violently ill. Apparently, he was infected with a brain eating ameba. All the fields are ruined, and the posts have been permanently defunct for some time. Twelve days ago, he was selected again to report for duty. Unfortunately, he succumbed to his illness. Being that you are his only surviving offspring, and are of legal age, you must take his place on the infantry line.
In a flash, the scrawny young child morphed into Cadet Savoi. She lifted her head from the letter and looked directly at her team members. There was no mistaken, this time it was really their teammate. The excruciating pain in her eyes cut them deeply. By then, General Malta entered the room. She took the letter from Savoi and read it to herself.
She addressed the two officers. “This is what will happen; the girl will not report to the infantry line. Her mother relinquished all parental rights to me. I will send her to the academy. There, she will train to become an officer and be of far more use to our efforts to end the war.”
The officers saluted General Malta in agreement. The scene faded to black before Savoi stood in front of the Alpha squad. There was not a dry eye among them.

~The Waring Robins~