S1| Ep08: First Snow II (下)
April 6, 2011
(A/N: Longest update so far, probably confusing too. D: Please call me out on whatever you find unclear; I’ll either elaborate further in later installments or try to fix this one up some more. Or both. Also, just a reminder, but in order to make up for last week’s missed update there will be another update this week on Friday
in which Intan will actually start acting like a proper main character again. Anyway, this month is still going to be a bit busy for me, but I will do my best to keep the weekly update schedule from now on.)
The wail of sirens grew closer as they ran.
“What happened?” Intan tried to ask, but Tuyet glanced back and shook her head.
“Not now — we have to get to the plaza. They’ve planted a bomb.”
Intan slipped on a patch of ice. “Eh?”
“It’s just a distraction. It’s the Gushiken head they’re after — those bastards don’t give a damn about who gets caught in the crossfire.”
“Are the Gushikens that important?”
Tuyet tugged her down another small lane. The sirens crescendoed, then grew muffled. “They’ve always been one of the most powerful Clans. Rumors say the current head’s even set his sights on the throne — and there are those who believe he deserves it.”
“But why would the rebels want him dead so badly? Doesn’t that make them on the king’s side?”
At that Tuyet slowed to a stop. “If only it were that simple.”
Intan said, “Do Zeke and the others hate the king, then?”
“It’s me that he hates,” Tuyet said quietly at last. “As for the others… Well, His Majesty has never really been particularly popular. Not since his esteemed father made such a mess of things.”
“Oh.” Intan had never realized. Back in the village, no one had ever spoken much of the goings-on at the capital. The royal family and the Great Clans had seemed then more distant than even the gods, who even now still dwelled among men.
Yet she thought of the sorrow of the rogue Dolls, the quiet desperation of the girl named Sita as she lay dying on the shore of the lake. The stiff resignation in Zeke’s back. Hatred?
She did not understand.
Tuyet pulled out a crumpled sheet of paper. “Here, I nicked this from one of the guards.” A rough map was scrawled on it, marked with an X and several scattered circles. “They’ve positioned gunmen at the circles. There’s no time to clear everyone out of the area. You get the bomb; I’ll take care of the rest.”
Intan wondered for a moment how Tuyet had managed to pull together all that information so quickly. Nothing added up. Perhaps everything was connected; perhaps nothing was.
But innocent lives were at stake. That was enough.
She would find her answers sooner or later.
* * *
Tuyet, being more familiar with the city, left the map with Intan as they parted ways once more. The plaza was not too far away. In the distance, sirens continued to screech. All along the streets people stopped, confused or perhaps trying to catch a glimpse of the excitement. Meanwhile, Intan rounded a corner and saw, to her surprise, a tree sprite watching her from a rooftop, pudgy figure bright against the freshly fallen snow.
More of them popped into sight as she drew near to the plaza, huddling together for warmth, staring at her with open curiosity. Some of them clutched at their leafy ears, wincing.
Despite the sirens, she found people still milling throughout the square, going about their business, utterly unconcerned.
“Mama, what’s going on?” asked one small child Intan passed.
“Hush,” said the child’s mother. “The constables are rounding up bad guys.”
“What kind of bad guys?”
“Oh, the usual sort, I’m sure.”
Intan looked at the map. The mark indicated the central fountain — when she looked at it, she saw that its waters were stopped, though its surface was frozen over.
By the fountains were stacked several unmarked crates of bamboo. Intan approached cautiously, half expecting to get stopped by someone. But no one spared her a glance.
She looked around, then took a deep breath and bent down to examine one of the crates.
Sure enough, beneath the dried slabs of bamboo lay hidden bundles of dynamite sticks.
All these crates. All these people. Hadn’t Tuyet said there was just one bomb?
As if on cue, one particular brave sprite materialized and waddled over.
“Can you help me?” said Intan. “Please?”
More sprites appeared, some of them pulling strange faces, most of them still shivering.
They could feel it too, she thought. It was as if the whole world had turned upside down.
“Please,” she said again.
The first sprite cocked its head, considering. Finally, it offered her a wide, toothy grin, nodded, then vanished.
And not a moment too soon. As the other sprites flickered away, a hand clamped down on her shoulder.
“Don’t make any noise.”
* * *
The new tenement buildings looked strange and out of place, rising like strange giants overshadowing the square. So much had changed in three years, thought Tuyet. But she did not dwell on it for long.
As she slipped inside the first building, she reached up to her chest, fingers brushing briefly against where the pendant lay tucked beneath her clothes.
Gushiken was in a extra last-minute meeting with the high minister on account of the delay in his travel plans, Zeke had said. And for a moment, she had been tempted, truly. The man was shady by all accounts. He would become a danger to the royal family sooner or later. And once, long ago, she too might have dreamed of a world where blood no longer mattered, a world in which true peace and equality might be achieved — what did the deaths of a couple hundred amount to in the greater picture? Sacrifices must always be made.
Pity, then, that they needed the bastard alive. She could almost laugh.
Don’t forget, the Headmistress had warned her before they set off.
As if she would ever forget.
From the moment she’d been told of the mission, she had understood. Perhaps she had even been expecting it all along.
No sense in letting it get her down now, though. From the private briefings, she had a fairly good idea of the kind of man this “Captain Mok” was.
Too damn trusting about summed it up. Trusting — and yet a perfectionist at heart. Everything had to go just the way he wanted, and he couldn’t be certain of that unless he were right there to witness it. It was utterly laughable.
She headed for the elevator and pushed the buttons for the roof.
Sure enough, the grille-covered doors slid open to reveal Mok standing, waiting, watching. Tuyet drew her gun and deliberately let her footsteps announce her presence. Mok turned slowly. He did not seem at all surprised.
“Well, well. I told that boy it wouldn’t work. But he insisted.”
Tuyet stepped forward. “I have what you want.”
This time, he could not hide his shock entirely. But to his credit, he swiftly smoothed his expression. “Interesting. And I suppose you’ve come to bargain?”
“You’re in no position to bargain,” said Tuyet.
“You’re right, of course. But what you want is information, isn’t it? Or more specifically, answers.”
“I already have the answers that I need. You want to destroy the Clans, and the royal family at the center of them all.”
“Oh? That’s what your Headmistress told you, is it?” His mouth twitched into a smile.
Tuyet ignored him.
“What I don’t understand is — why do you need… this?” She raised her hand once more to her chest, then forced herself to lower it.
“Interesting,” he said again. “So she hasn’t told you, after all. I wonder… does she even realize you’re the one who has it?”
Tuyet opened her mouth to respond, but heard a noise behind her and turned slightly, gun still pointed at Mok.
“Let him go.” A man’s voice, panting from exertion.
Zeke. A bruise already beginning to darken and swell beneath his eye.
And Intan beside him, with a gun pointed at her.
A quick scan confirmed that the girl was unhurt, even unconcerned. There were times Tuyet couldn’t tell whether this was due to training or simply her natural personality. But either way, from the looks of it, Zeke was distracted, his grip unsteady. The girl could easily escape at any moment if she so wished it. Tuyet would just have to gamble that Intan’s current inaction meant she’d already managed to take care of the bomb.
She smiled. “My, I thought you were better than this, Zeke.”
“Speak for yourself,” he growled. “Or have you forgotten?”
For a moment she could see the old despair flashing across his face.
Did you know, Tuyet? Did you know this would —
She ignored it, drew herself together.
“Why does everyone think I have such terrible memory?” she sighed. “Unlike your dear leader, I’m not anywhere close to senile, I’m afraid.”
“Don’t you dare talk about him like that! Do you have any idea — how much he’s done for me? For all of us?”
“Oh, the usual, I suppose. Fed you lies, whispered sweet dreams in your ears…”
“He did damn well more than you ever did for us!”
And so what if I did?
“Such loyalty you inspire, Captain,” she said, turning her back to Zeke to face the older man. “Don’t you think it’s cruel, using your men like this?”
To her surprise, Mok burst into laughter. “I expected no less from one of Bea’s students. Cool as a cucumber, both of you. Unfortunately for you, it won’t make any difference.”
Something in the distance exploded — several somethings, in fact. Debris rained down from the sky. There were a few scattered screams, even someone shouting about fireworks.
So the girl had managed to pull it off somehow after all.
“Give it up. It’s over,” said Tuyet, smiling. “The military will be here any second.”
Mok shook his head.
More screaming. A great shadow upon the sky.
Tuyet looked up to see a trio of Dolls descending upon the city, painted with fierce, grinning red masks.
Intan, a look of panic on her face, kicked the gun from Zeke’s hand and ran immediately for the elevator. The doors slid shut.
One Doll landed with a slight tremor.
Before Tuyet could react, Zeke tackled her.
Captain Mok leaped off the roof and onto the Doll’s head.
* * *
As she fell, she remembered:
“Not this one again!”
She sticks her tongue out. “Why not? I think it’s cute.”
“Well, I think it’s stupid,” he replies, blushing. “I mean, come on, a bunch of cats saving the world –“
She drags him into the darkness of the theater anyway, laughing all the way. And together they watch the flashing screen, entranced, as if they haven’t already watched the same film dozens upon dozens of times already.
“Almost time for intermission,” she whispers, during the scene where the corrupt mutt cop kidnaps the hero and traps him in a cage dangling over a steep cliff. Want to go grab a bite? she wants to ask, but stops when she sees the tears glistening in his eyes.
He swipes at his face with the back of his hand. “Sorry. I just…”
“I’m glad you found me,” he whispers.
“Silly,” she whispers back, and leans up to kiss his cheek.
* * *
Tuyet laughed and laughed as she lay there, sprawled out on the snow at the edge of the roof, cold seeping through her clothes. Suddenly nothing seemed to matter any more. Not the cold, not the screaming and the sirens below, not the rebels, not the Doll. The whole world could come to an end at that moment, and still she wouldn’t care.
“You really do want to kill me, don’t you?”
Beside them, the Doll’s massive bulk shot up, back into the sky.
Zeke drew back, shoulders slumped.
“So, what are you going to do now? Looks like your precious captain’s left you behind as a sacrifice.”
“You’re wrong,” he said, but he was trembling, and not from the cold.
Tuyet sat back up. Waited.
“Why, Tuyet?” he said. “That’s all I ever wanted to know. Was it all just a game to you? Were we just your tools? Is that why you didn’t even give a damn when Turtle and the others –”
At last, he burst out, “If only I’d never met you! If only you hadn’t abandoned us then!
“Is that what you think?” she said quietly.
“What else was I supposed to think!” For a moment he looked shaken, but his eyes steeled again. “We all knew — you were always destined for greater things. You didn’t belong with us. You never did. Still, we believed in you. We trusted you –”
“Did you, now?”
Her show of indifference seemed to fuel his rage. “You were the only thing holding us all together! Do you have any idea what happened after you left? Charles got arrested! Haru and her buddies got recruited into the Asuras! Most of them were killed within the year!” He choked, composed himself. “I tried — I tried so hard — but I couldn’t stop them. I couldn’t stop any of them.”
Behind them, a building burst into flame.
She remembered that boy she had first met, that dark, rainy day. Skinny, disheveled, his clothes evidently of fine quality despite the wear and tear. Shivering. Lost. Looking years younger than her though he was her senior. How easy it had been, then, to reach out her hand, pull him out of the shadows and grime.
“You’re the one who never understood,” she said.
Gunshots echo in her ears. Before her eyes she sees the children butchered one by one, a single bullet to their back — and knows, deep in her gut, that they have been betrayed. She has failed them all.
All for a stupid stone.
“What do you mean?” he demanded.
I have to protect him. He’s not one of us. He wasn’t meant for this life. I have to protect him.
“Why didn’t you just go back to your family?”
“Come with me,” says the silver-haired woman, puffing away at her cigar. “You won’t find justice in a place like this.”
“How could I possibly — after everything –”
“It’s not justice I want.”
A cryptic smile. “All the more reason, then.”
“I guess you just had too much fun playing rebel, didn’t you? Ah, I get it. That’s why you joined up with this bunch, isn’t it?”
“Fine. But only if you promise me…”
“How could you say that! I –”
“Why did you always have to be so gullible, you silly fool? Do you have any idea what you’ve done?”
“I’ve only done what should have been done long, long ago. What we should have done together!”
“Have you ever even thought of what would happen if the royal bloodline were to die out? Have you ever considered why it is that we’ve been able to remain independent from the mainland for so long?” Tuyet shook her head. “No, never mind. It doesn’t matter anymore.”
More Dolls dotted the sky now, these recognizably military.
The elevator doors slid open again. Soldiers stormed through, guns drawn. Tuyet stood with a start.
“Wait –” she cried.
Shots rang out.
* * *
“It’s a deal.”
* * *
The soldiers surrounded them as she sank to her knees beside his body.
He reached up. She realized the pendant had slipped out of her clothes, dangling between them.
Confusion, then a brief flicker of understanding. Resignation washed over his face.
His hand dropped.
The snow continued to fall.