A Never Ending War
The moonlight filters through the slats of the shutters, revealing floating dust particles around in the air. The window itself is broken; shattered glass litters the floor but no one is around to pick it up. At least, no one dares to.
Sounds of fighting and screams are distant but the incessant knocking on the front entrance is all too clear.
“You have five seconds to open this door.”
We both cringe in our hiding spot, holding each other’s hands firmly.
Five seconds pass.
The door explodes off its hinges, slamming against the wall opposite with a splintering crackle. This is followed by a small troop of Darigan soldiers who promptly spread out through the house in search of the hideaway mother and daughter- us.
“What’s going to happen now?”
My voice is barely audible as I whisper to Mother, a kind faced brown Mynci who’s been rubbing my forehead with her thumb constantly. We’re hiding together in our mansion house, hoping that the troops don’t find us. We hid when Father and my brother were taken a few hours before... obviously they’d researched a little more and found out about mother and me.
“Hush, Chinaza. We must be silent.”
“But Mother, how will we escape?”
The Darigan troops aren’t on the second floor yet but Mother is careful to check the hallway before speaking. We can hear them shattering our porcelain plates in the kitchen below. There’s much shouting.
“Don’t worry. We’ll figure something out.” She smoothes my hair back and I flatten my clothes, that of a royal girl Mynci. She looks stressed and squeezes my hand every so often, mumbling something over and over to herself. We’re hiding behind the bed in my room; it was the only place we could think of to conceal ourselves in such short notice. We hadn’t seen them coming until too late, and we’d run in a panic. We would have moved to a better room but the troops below are almost done with the first floor. There’s occasional shouting for us but the sounds have gone down to a general rampage of our belongings.
This is the battle of Meridell; it had been raging on for a few days now. Father had said that since our house was out of the way, the Darigans wouldn’t attack us. He was proven wrong.
Abruptly we hear stomping that travels up the stairs, followed by angry snarling as the troops argue with each other.
“Are you sure they’re still here?”
“Positive! They were stupid enough to leave the lamps-”
“It could be a decoy, you idiot.” A slapping sound is heard, followed by a suppressed whimper.
“Sorry, sir.” Scuffling.
“They’d better be here. If not, you’re the walking dead. You know that they’ve been caring for the enemy; you know that, by getting rid them, we’ll get rid of one more Meridell troop’s rest stop.” This voice is low; it rumbles ominously through the hallway. Most of the crashing and shouting from downstairs has stopped. The pair of us barely hear his next words, spoken in an angry growl. “We’ve got to take them both.”
“What about the child?”
I gulp, focusing on the wooden boards at my feet. The child... that’s me. “Lord Kass said to take them all. We’ll follow his orders accordingly; none spared.”
The fellow speaker doesn’t respond for a few seconds, letting an uncomfortable silence settle itself between them.
“A child, sir?”
“What Lord Kass decrees. Do not question him.” The answer is robotic.
Mother softly touches my cheek, trembling, making me face her. “Yes, Mother?”
“Chinaza.” She’s speaking in an undertone and I lean closer to her mouth to listen. “You must escape through the window. You’ve climbed down before, haven't you?”
I nod enthusiastically, leaving out that I’ve only done so a few times before. But should I really worry? I am a Mynci after all; royal girl or not, aren’t we supposed to be good climbers?
“What about you?”
Mother recoils at the problem and I tilt my head in slight confusion. A door slams open down the hallway and we both jump. “Don’t worry yet, my love.”
I furrow my brows. “I can’t leave you.”
“Chinaza...” Mother takes me in her lap carefully and speaks, voice still a diminutive hush. “...you know that when you leave...”
She said you. Not we. I try to pull away but she keeps me in place.
“...you must keep running. And you must never look back.”
“I can’t do that. I won’t do that, Mother. I won’t-”
“Look at me.” I turn to face her, realizing that her eyes are filled with tears. She’s shaking uncontrollably. “You know what hope is, don’t you, Chinaza?”
“Yes, Mother. But-”
“Life is hard, Chinaza.” She cuts me off quickly, a motherly sternness in her voice. “Life is so hard... and that’s what make the best moments beautiful.”
Another door smashes down the hallway, closer. We both wince as if we’ve been whipped; her hands tighten in a strangling grip around mine. “And even through these terrible times, you must keep hope. There will come a better day, Chinaza, I can whole heartedly promise you that.”
I nod, silenced. I don’t know what to think. They’re coming closer; they’re shouting. My heart pounds with each footstep.
“You will always be in a war, my love. There is a neverending war that you have been in since you were born. You just have to learn to choose the right side.”
“What do you mean?”
The door slams open. We both freeze and a troop comes in ahead of the others, searching the room with unsteady eyes. He turns around to say something to his companions-
“Run!” Mother almost flings me out the window and I barely grab hold of the windowsill, fingers grasping wildly. I glance back at her, in time to see her try to push the troop away. He grabs her wrists, shouting, “I’ve found her! I’ve found the woman you described.”
Another troop enters the room, a Gelert who sniffs the air experimentally. “Her daughter is around here somewhere. Take her along; we don’t need anymore problems.”
I remember what Mother had said, instinctively obeying her commands and picking my way down, sliding on the lower roof below the bedroom window. I jump down, alighting on the grass, before looking up. I wait.
“Get the girl! I just saw her leave through the window.”
-- “Run, Chinaza! Don’t look back!”
Conflict rages inside me and I can’t help but keep in place. My toes are roots; they plant themselves deep into the ground.
“Mom, I can’t-!”
“We’ll meet again, Chinaza!” I hear a thump and Mother screams her next words. “Run, now! Don’t look back! Don’t ever look back!”
“Silence her!” a gruff, irritated voice breaks in.
Suddenly I’m bolting, shoeless feet wet against the damp grass.
“She’s going to run for it! Get her!”
Don’t ever look back, Chinaza!
Her words are echoing continuously in their shrill wail and I’m running on pure adrenaline now.
I sprint through the slim forested area around our mansion, dress tearing up as the stray branches on the ground poke into it. Running anyway, I ignore the sounds of my dress ripping, making slits in the sides as my legs jut out too far for the silk to handle. I’m a mess of tatters as I emerge from the “woods” as I’d called them many times before, even though they were more like a few rows of trees. Panting heavily, I look back, feeling side pains and regret. How could I have left her?
They’re following me.
Desperately searching the terrain, my heart thumps like a rock in a can of tin, clattering around noisily. It’s a wonder they don’t hear it.
Where should I hide? The vast expanse of Meridell field mocks me; it’s perfectly flat. They’d spot me in second because there’s literally no place to hide.
What should I do?
I can see a bit far off, the fires and yelling from near the castle. The battle rages on, even through the night, without a rest. Maybe I could run down there... they wouldn’t find me in all the craziness, would they?
Yeah, Chinaza, smart. Go right where the fighting is happening.
When Mother told me to run, she didn’t tell me where. I wish I hadn’t left her; I feel like a traitor. But was there anything I could do?
Every muscle tenses when I hear something a few feet away. Whispering.
Slowly, I look over at a small, moving bush on the side of the road. It moves slightly and someone is hushing somebody else.
“It’s a Darigan guard!”
“She’s gonna kill us!”
-- Wait... are they talking about me?
-- A third voice interjects, reprimanding them. “Hush you both! She jus’ a girl.” A blue Blumaroo pops up from behind the bush, looking down at his companions. “See? Ain’t no Meridell guard or nothin’. Jus’ a kid like us.”
Stupefied, I don’t say a word in response, gawking at him openly. He’s just a farm boy; I can tell by his dirty, potato sack like clothes. Tentatively following him come out a sandy haired green Wocky and an especially bright eyed blue Ixi. They’re all farmers it seems; the five year old Neopians hold on to the Blumaroo’s arms tightly.
“’Ey, ma’am. You hidin’ from ‘em Darigans too?”
Nodding, I come out of my unmoving trance, blinking curiously at the little assembly of escapees. “Yes...”
Crack! The branches snap in the forest.
I’ve almost forgotten about the Darigan troops!
Lunging at the group, we all tumble back behind the bush and into a small ditch that, evidently, had been dug by the little group while they’d been in hiding.
“What’re you doing, crazy lady?!”
The little Ixi bites my arm and I wince, trying to signal them to shush.
“Hanso!” The Wocky girl punches his arm roughly.
“Enough!” They both turn to my voice, involuntarily obeying. I’d almost sounded like... Mother.
“The Darigan troops are coming. They’re going to-”
Suddenly they burst through the foliage, eyes darkened by shadow. The three farmers quiet immediately, realizing what I’d been about to say.
“Where is she?”
“Idiots!” Slap. “She doesn’t matter anymore. She’ll be as good as dead by morning.” It’s a familiar voice, the Gelert that had mentioned us lighting our lamps in the hallway when I’d still been in hiding with Mother. “We needn’t mention something as little as this to the troop leader.” The following troops mutter their agreements, following him back through the trees quickly.
Pausing the Gelert sniffs the air. I clench my fists in anticipation, watching as his nose follows to the bush. He looks directly at us and then... he nods, giving us a regretful smile, disappearing with the others.
“Thank you.” I whisper this, unbending my cramping legs. That was lucky.
“Come on.” I help the little ones up, overlooking the concerned look on the Blumaroo’s face.
“What jus’ happened?” he says, eyes narrowed. He doesn’t look happy.
Sighing, I bring myself around to look at him. “They were following me,” I say pleadingly. “I had to run away... I didn’t mean to lead them to you.”
“Will they follow you any longer?”
“I don’t think so.”
The Blumaroo nods, sticking out one soiled hand. “I’m Wells. The Wocky’s name is Boomie and that little Ixi... he’s Hanso.”
The Ixi smiles innocently, something glittering in the hand behind his back. Eyes widening, I touch my neck, realizing my choker is gone.
“Hey!” I approach him quickly, towering over him before he has a chance to move. “Give me my choker!”
“What’s a choker?”
“Erg... necklace.” I snatch it from his hands, giving him “the look”.
“No trickin’.” Wells scowls at us both. “No suh. We gonna be a group for now. We gonna stay togetha’ ‘till get’ to Faerieland. Then...” He paused, thinking. “...we sep’rate.” Eyes narrowing at Hanso, he turns away, looking over at the fire filled horizon. “You be watchin’ that lil’ ‘un, girl. He...” Trailing off, Wells looks at me inquisitively. “What’s your name?”
His tale waggles a bit before he dips his head in tacit acceptance, scooping up Boomie in his arms. Following suit I try to pick up Hanso but he squirms defiantly. “I can take care of myself, crazy lady.”
“Don’t call me that.”
Shrugging mischievously, he follows Wells and then I’m jogging down the road with them. We aren’t much... are there others like us? Other kid refugees? Because they... we aren’t all safe here... not anymore.
I think I’m beginning to understand what Mother said about war. The war inside us. I hope, desperately, because that is all I can do. Someday I’ll come back.