S1| Ep07: First Snow I (下)
March 16, 2011
(A/N: Sorry again for the skipped episode last week! I’m experimenting a bit with storytelling choices; thanks for bearing with me in the meantime and excuse any bumps along the way. Please do let me know though when something isn’t working/strikes you as silly [sometimes it’s intentional, but sometimes it’s NOT] or if you’re just plain confused. XD)
She hadn’t changed at all.
One of the older men clapped Zeke’s back as they picked their way through the abandoned warehouse that served as their base. “You didn’t tell us your girlfriend was so pretty.”
Zeke shrugged off the hand. “Ex-girlfriend.”
“Oh? Pity, dumping a nice girl like that. Or let me guess: she was the one who did the dumping?”
It’s none of your business, he thought, but did not say.
The man guffawed. “Well, here’s your chance for revenge now, isn’t it?”
“This isn’t about vengeance,” said Zeke at last, turning to look the other man in the eye. “Or have you forgotten the Captain’s orders already?”
Stupid of him, really. He should have known three years couldn’t change a person so drastically. Tuyet wasn’t so weak. He knew that, had known it ever since the day they first met.
He swallowed the surge of anger that arose in him with the memory. Captain Mok would be questioning the two girls any moment now. The Captain had asked Zeke to be present for the interrogation. It was a great honor, one Zeke had eagerly accepted. But that had been before. Before he’d arrived on location and seen her — standing there in the snow, chatting away with her friend as if they were regular schoolgirls on an outing — and only then, in that moment, realized the identity of the spy’s contact. Now he wondered if it wouldn’t be better to ask to be excused, no matter how cowardly the others would think him. He had no confidence in his ability to control his emotions, and he knew very well what that might cost them. The Captain trusted him; he was determined not to betray that trust.
And yet how many times had he relived that day in his dreams? Too many, perhaps. So many times that the details were beginning to fade into a blur of stills, like the faltering, colorless reels they showed at the theaters.
Rain. Hunger: gnawing, relentless.
A pale, outstretched hand. That brilliant, fearless smile.
Zeke shook his head, shoving past the man accompanying him. In the end they’d just been a bunch of dumb kids, really. Perhaps it was meant to be this way after all. He would go. Face his past once and for all. Move on.
He would become stronger, just as he’d sworn he would, over the bodies of their dead friends.
* * *
Captain Mok was already waiting for him in the walled off area towards the back that doubled as cell and makeshift meeting room. The girls were there too, sitting bound and blindfolded on the floor.
“You’re late, kid,” said the Captain, but without rancor in his tone.
The Captain acknowledged his apology with a wave. As Zeke took a seat, the Captain ordered two other men to remove the girls’ blindfolds. Tuyet glared straight ahead. The white-haired girl shook her head a bit and looked around, oddly unfrightened and at ease.
“Your contact is dead,” said the Captain, in an easy, conversational tone.
Tuyet said nothing. The other girl seemed to be staring curiously at an old photograph on the wall. Zeke knew instantly which photograph it was, for he had seen it countless times himself. It was a picture of the Captain and his old war buddies: two women and a grizzled older man in the front, and in the back, three younger men including the Captain himself. Zeke had asked some of the others about it once, but no one knew much about it. The Captain didn’t like to talk about much about his experiences in the war. Who knew what Tuyet’s little companion found so fascinating about it.
Zeke turned his focus to the Captain.
“I suppose your Headmistress will be disappointed.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” said Tuyet at last. “My friend and I just decided to come to the capital on a little shopping trip.”
Zeke glanced at her then. He couldn’t help it. A chill ran down his back.
Sure enough, there it was again: that fierce, shit-eating grin he knew all too well.
The Captain leaned back in his chair. “You’re not a very convincing actor, are you?”
No, she wasn’t. She never had been. That idiot. What the hell was she thinking?
But of course. She must have realized that they couldn’t afford to hurt her. Not with their plans so close to fruition.
“Now, I’m not a cruel man,” the Captain was saying. “And you’re just children. If you’re willing to cooperate, I am willing to treat you fairly. Otherwise…”
Tuyet’s smirk grew wider. Beside her, the other girl simply looked confused, as if she still wasn’t quite sure what she was doing here. “Well, as you said, we’re just mere children. And your men have already treated us most unkindly.”
Zeke stiffened, but the Captain continued without batting an eye.
“I know who you are. The Nine Dragons, the Headmistress’s dogs. So tell me. Did she find out about Gushiken and the king?”
Tuyet didn’t miss a beat either. “So what if we are, and so what if she did? We’re not the only ones she sent, you know. In fact, I’d say you’re the ones who ought to be cooperating here. The military doesn’t take kindly to insurgents. Especially deserters.”
Had she known? Or had she simply guessed? How much had the spy told them before the Captain caught him?
“You’re fools if you think it’ll actually work,” she continued, voice dripping with scorn. “But I guess you’d have to be fools, to even think of defying the heavens like this. You might as well just surrender now, before you get yourselves into even deeper shit.”
Zeke stood. “Cut it out already, Tuyet!” he snapped, though the Captain had warned him to watch and listen only, but not interfere. “Don’t you see, that woman’s just been using you!”
She turned her head to him then, for the first time since he’d entered the room. “Oh, I see. And I suppose your dear leader here isn’t ‘just using you’?”
He held her gaze, but in the end he looked away.
“A traitor like you wouldn’t understand,” he said through gritted teeth, and if she said anything in response, he did not hear.
What he remembered most, in the end, was the warmth.
Despite the bitter wind streaming through her hair, despite the rags they all wore. She had still been a girl then; he himself barely out of boyhood — indeed, none of them yet men or women. But they’d watched out for each other’s backs, Tuyet and him and the others. Laughed together, wept together. Together, they could have taken on the world. And they damn well might have, had it not been for —
“Sit down,” said the Captain.
He did, and realized he was trembling.
The Captain continued his questioning. Zeke sat there, stiff and silent, and found his thoughts drifting again, no longer to the day of their first meeting — but the day she left.
* * *
“I’m sorry,” said Zeke once the interrogation ended and the girls had been taken away.
Captain Mok shook his head. “I wouldn’t have asked you to stay if I thought you couldn’t handle it.” Then he turned, watching him, hawklike. “So, what do you think?”
“It seems they really don’t know anything,” Zeke replied hesitantly. Despite the questioning, neither girl had given away much. The white-haired girl had seemed genuinely clueless, while Tuyet remained defiant to the end. “You were right, Captain. I guess we’re going to have to use them as hostages.”
“I wonder,” said the Captain. “Liow’s a tricky woman. Always has been.”
“Tuyet’s bluffing, at least. If she really knew what our plans were, she wouldn’t have boasted about it like that.”
“Hm, perhaps.” The Captain stroked his stubbled chin, evidently deep in thought.
Zeke hesitated again. “How’s the situation now? Is the Gushiken head still here?”
The head of Clan Gushiken had arrived in secret that morning to seek audience with the king — just as the Captain’s spies had predicted some weeks ago. Zeke had never seen the man; of all the clan heads, Gushiken was the most reclusive by far. That he of all people was making a move at last meant that things were truly being set into motion.
It was exciting to contemplate, but also frightening.
“Yes. The men we sent to the airship docking just got back. It’s all going according to plan so far, but with Gushiken’s travel plans pushed back now…”
“What are we gonna do? Do you think the military’s on to us?”
“They will be soon enough. As soon as they examine the airship, they’ll know.”
“But they should have finished inspections already, right? Maybe they won’t do another one,” Zeke began, but he sounded doubtful even to himself.
“We can’t count on that,” the Captain replied grimly. “Gushiken’s a paranoid bastard.” He sighed. “Well, I suppose it’s no use worrying. If worst comes to worst…”
“The Dolls,” said Zeke, startled. “But it’s too dangerous to employ them in the city!”
The Captain said nothing for some time. At last, he muttered, more to himself than to Zeke, “That damned snow…”