The silence echoed as they stepped out of the gateway. Nobody was outside, and the houses...well, they weren't destroyed, per se, but they looked in need of repairing. Everything semmed to have turned a dull brown-gray colour, and the only thing that made the place look the slightest bit alive was the healthy-looking flora.
"What the...Where is everyone!?" Mizu said, confused, putting his hand about his forehead and scanning the place fervently.
"...I..." Makoto began, but couldn't find the words. Her, Gale's, Mizu's, Tsubaki's, Rakurai's and Arashi's (although the latter three hadn't really experienced much of it-they had been sent to Hikari and away from the imperials when they were about three years old) home was no more than a derelict, abandoned husk, which nature was slowly reclaiming- there were even whole houses that were covered in moss, ivy and tall, tall grass.
"If anybody is, in fact, still here, I doubt they're going to come out. We'd do better to disperse- we'll find them much more quickly that way," Roux said matter-of-factly. Everybody nodded or grunted in agreement before splitting off into groups of two or three- Altair and Gigas heading straight and ahead, Skylar, Tsubaki and Makoto heading east, Roux, Tamari and Nina heading west, while Arashi and Rakurai stayed with their parents. Gale let out a deep breath.
"Right. Let's go home," she said nervously, pointing down the long path, past all the abandoned houses, the tavern and the Guild Hall to where her old house was. She wondered- and feared- what had happened to it: was her mother buried there? Did her metal airship-flying father still live there? Had all the flora and fauna died, or worse?
She both hoped and feared to find out.
"Shinji, Jinsoku, why don't you go and seeif you can find your house?" Mizu suggested. Shinji's and Jinsoku's eyes lit up-clearly they had forgotten all about their old home. They quickly sprinted away, eager to see the place again.
"Shall we?" Gale said to Mizu.
Skylar, Tsubaki and Makoto abruptly flug open the door to a house, Makoto quickly but intently scanning the place for signs that it was hers. One might think that one would know exactly where to look for their own home, but after being away for eleven years,a nd the village having slowly succumbed to the insatiable appetite of nature, it wasn't such an easy task.
"Is this it, Makoto?" Skylar asked. Makoto looked around a few moments more, then pulled her head back, righted her posture, bowed her head, and shook it disdainfully.
"No," sighed sadly. A short silence followed.
"Hey, cheer up, Makoto! We'll find your house in no time!" Skylar chirped, ever optimistic, placing a hand on the woman's arm (Makoto was quite tall, and Skylar was a little small, so she couldn't quite reach her shoulder). Makoto smiled meekly as she looked down at the fourteen-year old, raising her again cofidently and walking away from the dusty husk, eager to find her home.
____________________________________________________________________________________________Gigas and Altair had been searching houses for a few minutes now, and all they had found were old ruins, rusty blades, many old skeletons, still in seats or at benches, rusty old weapons, sharp knives and even workbench tools embedded in what would've been fatal areas some were so old and brittle that chunks of bone had turned to dust or fallen away, and some limbs such as hands and legs had snapped off and fallen to the floor. Whatever had happened here in the last eleven years, it was nothing less than a massacre.
Altair had stopped opening the doors, barely even looking at the mundane surroundings anymore, just trudging along behind Gigas, who still bashed down doors with verve, as if he expected some kind of threat to jump out from behind them. He wasn't even really looking for anything, this wasn't his home. Judging by his throaty growling and aggressive behaviour, he was angry, most likely angry about what had happened here (this was obviously the handiwork of the empire). Everybody dealt with their emotions in different ways. When Gigas was upset, he got angry. When Altair was upset, he withdre into himself, like he had now.
As Gigas prepared to bash dow another rotting door, Altair interrupted him.
"Stop, friend. Nobody is here. 'Twill not make you feel any better by breaking down ever door in sight," he said mournfully, as if giving a sermon at a funeral. Gigas slowly calmed himself, staring at his palm as he balled it into a fist, before flinging it through the air angrily, turning away from the house at the same time.
"Damn these bastards..." Gigas growled. "We've got to destroy them NOW!"
"Well, we can't do that, can we?" Altair snapped back imatiently. Then, ashamed of his outburst he looked down a little. "We might be Descendants, but...thirteen people does not constitue an army. We need an army- maybe even two- to bring these...these..."people"...down."
"Gigas stared at Altair for a moment, then turned away, looking at the village in melancholy awe. The air filled with tiny dust specks, the grey dawn peeking in over in the distance, shedding the tiniest shreds of light upon the emptiness.
Tamari, Roux and Nina had given up searching the houses, having not found any signs of life, and had amalgamated with Shinji and Jinsoku, who had just come out of thier old home, thier faces totally at peace-not happy, but not sad either.
"Have you made your peace?" Nina asked, with more care and concern than she usually did.
"Yeah. It's dead. Our whole home is dead. But it's okay. When we kill Shinkaiyami, the White Star, Kazir...and the empire is no more, we can come back here. We'll bring some people over who have nowhere else to go, and we'll work with them to rebuild Hyoku. This place will be great again..." Jinsoku said with happy sadness. "...I swear it."
And for the first time ever, they saw Nina smile. Not a thin one, a forced one or an almost-smile of bemused ment and ever-so-slight derision; a proper, well-meaning and true smile.
"I've no doubt that you will."
Makoto had found her house.
Well, perhaps "house" was a misnomer; there was mere ashes there. But she didn't feel sad. Seeing everything she once thrived upon burnt to a crisp only strengthened her morale. The imperials had made a big mistake targeting their greatrest enemy's -and their greatest threat's- hometown, and destroying their houses, and the houses of their friends and family. Such an act, whether it conjures despair or not, serves only to produce determination.
As she walked away with a hopeful smile and a head held high, she knew in her heart that killing these people was the right thing to do.
Gale, Mizu, Rakurai ans Arashi had arrived at their old home. The field of tall wheat and grass in which Mizua nd Gale would lose themselves- and sometime their clothes- in had shriveled and died, the brittle stems of grain all long since turned to chaff, and the dry ground was littered with dry, crumbled laeves from the now dead bug tree. The small wooded ebnch upon which the old beehive was situated had rotten away, collapsing on the left side, the beehive itself toppling over with it, the lid open and lying beside the main box. A few small, broken pieces of dried-up honeycomb lay beside it. The pier used for fishing had rotted away as well. The end supports must've collapsed, because the end of the small pier was partially submerged in the large lake that lead into the distance.
Gale then noticed a large, chipped headstone by the edge of where the ground met the lake. She ran over to it, crounding down and placing her left hadn upon the top of the stone slab, reading the inscription carefully. It was a little obscured,w ith some of the passage washed away by rainfall. The stone itself was cracked in some places by freeze-thaw erosion. It read:
H re Lie
Bel ved mo her, gran m ther an husban
Gale gasped and pulled her ahnd away from the stone and placed it over her mouth. She remembered that Kazir had killed her mother (how could she forget?), but she had never had chance to see the gravestone before. She bacame overwhelmed by emotion, and Mizu quickly rushed over from where he stood -with their sons, diagonally behind her- and caught the desolate girl in his comforting embrace, letting her lean on him as any good-hearted person would do. Raukrai and Arashi's hands interlocked with wistful brotherhood.
The berieved family all turned their heads sharply as everybody else came running down the path, the gravelly terrain making a slightly irritating noise.
"You okay?" Gigas said awkwardly, a fresh cigarette placed in the corner of his mouth. Gale paused a moment, then shook her head curtly and silently, sniffling as she pulled her self away from Mizu and stood up., Mizu follwoing suit.
Together, the hunters all trudged toward the aback door to Gale's and Mizu's old house, which led to the kitchen. The door was bolted shut with a series of haphazardly-placed lacquer planks, as was the window. Gigas easily demolished, the blockade, but again broke the door down in the process.
Everything on the inside was smashed to pieces, plates, catlery, kitchen utensils, and more. The table and its chairs had been clumsily overturned, and the wall had been scratched to pieces, a messy slur scrawled lazily across it, by someone with very poor literacy. It read:
Weel kill you evenchewally heethen skum
As the group slowly navigated the house (it was a difficuly, as the house was at its limit with thirteen occupants), steepign through the large doorway by the message and into the main living space, which was also ruined and vandalised, where a skeleton sat limply on a chair, it's hand's tied behind it back with some rope, which was close to snapping in two, the threads growing bare. There was several cruelly-fashioned knives stuck in between some ribs, one embedded in the left upper arm, one in the right shoulder and one through the side of the skull. The jaw was broken on the left side. Another note had been scrawled across the wall, with, with proper grammmar and spelling:
This is for being hard to catch. Grieve for your father while you can, you little bitch.
As more tears welled in Gale's eyes, a casual, smirking voice came from the corner of the room.
"Ah, you finally came to visit my five-year-old hadniwork, huh?"
Everybody pivoted around to see Kazir sitting casually on a chair, stroking the flat of his blade with his finger.
"I'll fucking KILL YOU!" Gale shrieked. Mizu held her back as she struggled forward, desperate to tear the man's throat out.
"Ah-ah. Not so fast now, I'm not finished," Kazir said calmly, as if he were a teacher talking to a pupil. Gale finally escaped Mizu's grip running at kazir, not even bothering to unsheath her Long Sword. Kazir grabber her head as she made contact with him, then slammed her into the wall forcefully and then spun around, kicking her into the wall opposite. She lay there, crying to herself and staring away from Kazir and her father's bones. Kazir knelt down beside her and cupped his hand under her chin, twisting it and making her cry out, forcing her to look at the skeleton.
"Look at it," he said firmly. "This is all your fault," he sneered, before letting go, standing up to leave Gale to sob to herself. "And do you know what else is your fault?" Kazir asked rhtorically. His body dissapered in a white haze, then reappeared behind Tamari, grabbing the back of her head and storming back into the middle fo the room before nayone ould say or do anything.
"This," he snarled, as he shaoved his blade through Tamari's abdomen. She let out a short, sharp cry as she felt the same cold that Gale had felt when Kazir had stabbed her (and Helyna), before he wrenched his now bloodied blade from the body, which fell to the floor clumsily, blood pooling from the open maw, staining the wooden floor and Tamari's blue kimono. After a short pause, he licked the blade clean of the blood, like a Pseudowyvern finishing of what remained of its meal.
"Live with what you couldn't do," Kazir said coldly, before he disappeared, leaving the remaining shocked hunters to do whatever they planned to do next.
To Be Continued in: Fate and Freedom XXIII: The Fiery Rebel