Author's Note: Here we go, my first Claymore chapter work. I hope you love it. Please R&R, people!
Warmth in the Frozen North
The Fall of Pieta
The mass evacuation of Pieta was commencing. People were gathering up their things and leaving. Generally, there were no complaints; after all, these people had seen what the Awakened Beings had done to their neighbors, and there were more coming. Still, no matter what the oncoming disaster is, there are always a few people who feel that they need to bring more stuff than they can. Clare heard a few of these complaints, but not many. Maybe it was because she was the lowest ranking Claymore there (and in totality), but that would imply that these people not only knew what the warriors' ranks were (and they didn't exactly wear rank badges), but also understood what they meant, both things which, in her experience, humans neither knew nor cared about. Or maybe they were simply all going to Miria. These people might not have known exact ranks, but people could always tell who the leader was.
Speaking of Miria, Clare saw her dealing with such a person as she was walking down the street thinking these thoughts. "Look, I'm sorry, but we're in a hurry, and we don't have enough time to set up slave transports. You're just going to have to set them free."
"You don't understand, ma'am—if I lose an entire shipment, the Slavers' Guild will have my head!" the man pleaded.
"Just explain to them what happened—" Miria began.
"I shouldn't even be here," the slaver continued. "A wheel fell off of one of the caravan wagons a while back, and it took us about a week to repair the damage, so we're about a week late. We should have been here and gone a long time ago! Even ignoring that…lady, this is the Slavers' Guild we're talking about! They don't have a drop of compassion in their bones!"
Clare broke in. "Where are they being held?" She ignored Miria's and Helen's surprised looks.
The slaver, thinking that she was going to help him, relaxed and said: "In the basement under the courthouse. Two blocks down." Clare jogged to the place, while the slaver ran as fast as he could, trying to keep up. She threw the doors open, went down into the dungeon, and stopped to look around at the prisoners. Could he be here?
"CLARE!" Raki shouted from behind the bars of one of the cells, confirming his presence. Clare, not usually one to show emotion, expressed her feelings by running to his cell and ripping the door off of its hinges—no mean feat, even for a Claymore. My arms will be sore in the morning, she thought (in actuality, her arms would not be sore in the morning, or at least not from that, as that night she was going to awaken them and then have her body forced back to normal). He ran to her and hugged her tightly, burying his face in her chest, though she was sure he didn't mean it like that. He was just glad to see her, is all.
"W-what are you doing?" the slaver asked.
"He is leaving this place," Clare said.
"I…can't allow that," the slaver said.
Clare slowly drew her sword, and leveled it at him. "Really? You can't?"
"Y-you can't do that. I know. If a Claymore kills a human being, she gets executed by her comrades," the slaver said nervously, sweat that had nothing to do with the exercise he had had following Clare beading down his face.
"You make the mistake of assuming that I value my life above his," Clare said, dead flat and yet somehow with a murderous edge.
"I-I-I still can't allow this," the slaver said, trembling so badly that he could barely stay on his feet and yet standing his ground all the same, unarmed, and staring down the blade of a Claymore's claymore.
"Look, sir, I suggest that you stand down," said Helen, who had gone unnoticed during this drama. "Like Miria said, you're going to have to free these slaves, anyway. It's not worth your life."
"Myabe not, but my wife and children are. How am I supposed to support them if the Slavers' Guild kills me?" said the slaver, his eyes never leaving the sword that he felt certain would be his demise. "I'm sorry, but I can't let these slave go free. Kill me if you must!" Such admirable passion…too bad it's wasted on such a wicked occupation.
Helen tossed her bag of money at him.
"Wha…what is this?" he asked, not comprehending.
"I'm buying the slaves and setting them free," Helen said simply.
"I…I…" the slaver was speechless, blinking and staring dumbly at Helen.
"I'm giving you an out that allows you to save face and retain your life. I suggest you take it," Helen said.
He was shocked back into himself. "Oh. Yes! Yes, ma'am! But…uh…this is way too much, even for all of them."
"Keep the change," Helen said. "Use it to feed your family while you find yourself a less unsavory line of work. Now, get the keys and set these people free."
"Yes, ma'am! Thank you, ma'am!" the slaver said, running off to do as he was bid.
The slaves cheered as Helen, Clare, and Raki left the dungeon. "You gave him all your money," Clare said.
Helen shrugged. "It's not like I'm going to have much use for it. After all, like Miria said, we were sent up here to die."
"WHAT?" Raki demanded.
"It does not concern you, Raki," Clare said. "Evacuate south, like everyone else."
"No way! After being reunited with you at last, and especially after what you just said about being willing to die for me, you expect me to leave you?" Raki demanded incredulously. "I am not leaving! I already told you, all of those months ago, that if you die, I die! I'm staying right here!"
"Oh, my, isn't your pet thoroughly dedicated to you?" said Helen. "It's impressive, how well you've got him trained—he hasn't even felt your body in months—" Clare lunged at her with her sword. "Don't hate me because I'm right," Helen added.
"You're a pervert!" Raki said. He added, softly, "It's not like that at all…"
"Leave, Raki," Clare said, her sword already resheathed. She hadn't of actually been trying to kill Helen after all…
"Not a chance! I'm staying with you! I don't care if I do die! Use my body as a shield if you like, but I'm staying!"
"You'll die for sure!" Helen said, beating Clare to the punch. "The organization has sent us all up here to the north, in order to use us as a shield, so that they can buy time against the invasion of an army of Aw—of Voracious Eaters. Chances are good that none of us will survive this; you won't stand a snowball's chance in hell!"
"I don't care! I'm staying with Clare," Raki said stubbornly, tears running down his face.
They were silent for a minute. "Very well," Clare said. "Lets find someplace to hide you." Raki nodded, knowing that this was the best he was going to get. Besides, if I were in the actual battle, I'd just get in the way.
Miria looked from Clare to Helen when they returned, than looked at Raki.
"I'm not leaving," he said preemptively.
"I'm going to hide him somewhere before the battle starts," Clare said apologetically.
Miria recognized him then. She snapped her fingers. "That boy who used to follow you around. Your name was Lucky, wasn't it?"
"Close. Raki," said Raki.
"Right. Well, you might as well hide him in the cave we had our meeting in last night," Miria said. "He should be safe there."
"I'd like to be useful, if at all possible," Raki said.
Miria considered. She tossed him a container of pills. "Find a knife, and cut twelve of these in half, so that there's half of a pill for each of the twenty-four of us. After these people have evacuated, look through the buildings for anything of value or of use they might have left behind, and move it to the cave. I doubt that they'll be back for their stuff, and besides, there's no sense letting it get destroyed, after all."
Raki did not like the implication that the coming battle would destroy a good number of buildings. Or the implication that the Claymores were going to lose said battle ("I doubt they'll be back"). "This evacuation will take a while. What should I do in the interim?"
Miria shrugged. She looked at Clare. "What does he normally do for you?"
Helen snorted. "You're going to whore him out to all the warriors here? I don't think we have that kind of time!"
"He's my cook." Clare said.
"Uh-huh, of course he is," Helen teased. "Since when does one of us need a cook, anyway?"
"Well, then, Raki, you can cook us a feast," said Miria. "Mind you, we don't eat a lot, but there are twenty-four of us here."
Raki nodded. "Lots of cattle are being abandoned. I'll slaughter one of them. That should do it." Part of him wanted to salute before he left to fulfill his assigned tasks. He didn't, though.
"Is any of that really necessary?" Helen asked.
"Not really. But it does give him something to do," Miria said.
"Oh. I see. But what's this about halving pills?" Helen asked.
"You're going to have to find out when everyone else does," Miria said.
Raki checked on the large pot, tasting the contents, and added a few spices.
Jean walked in. "You're the boy that Clare came up here to find, aren't you?" she said.
Raki nodded. "I'm Raki. And you are?"
"So, she talked about me?" Raki asked.
"Some. She doesn't talk a lot. Neither do I," said Jean.
"Ah. I see," Raki said.
"Perhaps you could tell me about yourself?" suggested Jean.
"Don't you have important Claymore stuff to do?" Raki asked.
"Not at the moment," Jean said.
Raki shrugged, and stirred the stew, more to give his hands something to do than because it needed it. "What's there to tell? My family was killed by a yoma who then disguised itself as my brother. He tried to eat me, but Clare saved me. I followed her out of town," or at least, this was the sort version, "and eventually, she allowed me to travel with her. We got separated, and now we're back together," another "short version."
"Clare obviously values you," Jean pointed out.
"Yeah…well…" Raki shrugged. "What about you?"
"What's there to tell?" Jean echoed Raki's previous statement.
Raki gave her an incredulous look. "You're a Claymore. Erm, no offense."
Jean held up her hand. "Relax. We may not use the word amongst ourselves all too often, but it's hardly a derogatory term," unlike "silver-eyed witches."
"Oh. Good. Like I said, though, you're a Claymore: there has got to be a story behind that," Raki pointed out.
Jean shrugged. "Not as much as you might think. My parents had too many children, so they sold me to the Organization. I was made into a Claymore, and trained to fight yoma. Clare saved me from turning into an awakened being, and I'm following her until I can repay that debt. The end."
"There's got to be more to it than that!" Raki protested.
"And there's got to be more to your story than what you said," Jean pointed out.
"Fair enough," Raki said. "It looks like the last villagers are leaving. I had better get on my other duties soon."
"What about…?" Jean gestured towards the food.
"Oh, don't worry about it. That stuff needs a good four hours to sit properly, anyway," Raki said. "You know, it's a strange atmosphere, that of a city in the process of being abandoned, in anticipation of battle. I've never really felt anything quite like it before. You know?"
Jean, who was completely indifferent to the mood of civilians and so had no idea what he was talking about, nodded.
Jean was mortally wounded. She limped of towards the cave that Raki was hiding in. She didn't really believe that he could help mend her wounds, but the other option was to lie down in a pool of her own blood (and that of other people and things) and die. Not that she had any problem with that. She had repaid Clare for saving her from awakening—by the same coin, as a matter of fact—and so could die in peace. Of course, if there were any way in which she could survive, she would try, though (as long as it wasn't degrading). That was just what living things did; they strive to live, no matter how very not worth the effort it is. She stumbled into the cave.
"Jean! Are you alright?"
Jean smiled at the obviousness of the answer to this question. He remembered my name. For some reason, the fact filled her with warmth. After all, most humans never bothered to learn the names of Claymores, and here he was, after meeting nearly twenty he had never seen before… "I need some medical attention. Is there any bandages in here?"
Raki immediately found them and brought them to her. Jean undressed, and Raki blanched a little(whether at her nudity, the wounds, or…that, Jean would never know), but he kept his head, and assisted her in bandaging herself. "There we go. Now lay down and get some rest."
"Who are we kidding? I'm not going to survive. I have a hole in my guts and massive blood loss," Jean said. Not to mention, my body was used like a pincushion by Clare's claws.
"Don't say that!" Raki cried at her. He started to tear up.
"You're crying? Over me?" Jean asked. The idea that someone would cry over her, a Claymore, was beyond perplexing…but it also filled her with gratitude.
The food had been delicious, especially when you considered that these northern animals were all rumored to have terrible-tasting flesh. (It was partially due to the breeds of animal, bred more to be able to survive in the tundra than anything else, and partially because they were as a rule malnourished and stringy.) Miria had stood, indicating that she was about to speak. "I recommend you savor this meal, warriors; it will most likely be your last," she said. Raki looked at her in shocked disbelief. "Raki, hand out the halved pills. This won't be a battle to win, it will be a battle to survive…"
The boy, being the innocent that he was, could not believe how blithely Miria had commented about their own disposability. It was the same; he would fret over the lives of Claymores, and cry over those who fall in battle. Why? Because he cared; he well and truly cared. Having him cry over her made her feel like she mattered, something she had not noticed until that moment was lacking from her life, and indeed, from the lives of all Claymores. Jean had told Clare that she would use her new life however she saw fit, and now, she was glad that she had used it wisely. Jean gestured for Raki to come closer, and then she kissed him. It was not a thing of passion, or of romance, though; it was nothing more than or less than a very heart-felt "thank you." And then, she was dead.
It was the next morning when the survivors of the battle, being Clare, Miria, Helen, Deneve, Cynthia, Tabitha, and Uma, awoke. They started to dig graves, but they noticed that though Jean wasn't amongst the living, her body wasn't anywhere to be found, either. "I'll look for her," Miria said. "Just keep digging graves."
She headed for the cave where they had hidden Raki. Sure enough, there was Jean's body. Raki had cleaned her up, and wrapped her in a sheet respectfully. He looked up when she entered the cave. "Miria. Is it over?"
"Yes," Miria said.
"And…Clare?" Raki asked.
"She's alive." Miria said.
The tension seemed to physically drain out of him. "Oh, thank you, God of Rabona." But the relief was short-lived. "Who…how many died?"
"Seventeen. Including Jean. We're digging the graves as we speak," Miria said. She picked up Jean's body.
Raki fell to the ground. "Seventeen? Seventeen dead? Who…who survived?"
Miria listed off the survivors. Raki stood, and began to follow her out. "Where are you going?"
"I'm helping," Raki said.
"No way! There aren't any yoma about, are there? I barely know these people, granted, but I do want to lay them to rest!"
"The frozen earth is too hard for you to make any sort of leeway in. Especially without the proper tools."
"I'll prep the bodies, then! But I'm not going to do nothing for people who died protecting me and everyone else!"
Raki stared into her eyes defiantly, and Miria returned the gaze, contemplating. Finally, she nodded. "Very well." She turned and left, and he followed.
It was not easy work for him; the bodies had been out overnight, and had frozen solid. He had to create a bonfire in order to thaw them out enough to be able to arrange their bodies into a manner that seemed respectful. Of course, many of them were in pieces, which made things ever more complicated. Raki didn't exactly have a needle and thread on him, and didn't know how to stitch, even if he had, so he just decided to arrange the body parts as best as he could, and that they'd just have to lower the bodies into the graves piece-by-piece. Far and away, it was the most gruesome task that he had ever had to undertake, but he did it, silently bearing it, in order to honor these fallen warriors.
It took the entire day and night, but the graves had at last been dug, and the bodies lowered into them as the sun dawned on a new day. It seemed, in some way, appropriate, that they should be buried at dawn.
"Someone should say something," Raki said. "To commemorate them."
The Claymores looked at one another. When one of them died, her companions usually buried her in silence, left the sword to mark the grave, and left. There were no words.
Miria cleared her throat, somewhat awkwardly. "We gather here to mourn the passing of many great warriors: Flora, Number Eight in the Organization; Jean, Number Nine in the Organization; Undine, Number Eleven in the Organization; Veronica, Number Thirteen in the Organization…" and on the list went. Raki, who would never forget their symbols or what they looked like, strived to memorize their names and ranks, as well. "They were brave warriors, who fought bravely, and died bravely. May they live on in our hearts; they will not be forgotten."
They will not be forgotten… And now Raki cried. Now he allowed himself to cry. As foreign as the concept of being cried over was to Jean, so it was to the other Claymore, who stood and watched as he cried for their companions, transfixed. He ran out of tears, and they filled in the graves. At around noontime, everything was done to perfection, and Raki realized that he hadn't eaten or slept since the day before yesterday. Suddenly, he was overcome with severe fatigue and painful hunger, simultaneously. Clare handed him some dried meat.
"Thank you," Raki said, and then he scarffed it down with no thought to looking neat. He tried to walk somewhere, but now he couldn't even keep his eyes open. Clare picked him up and carried him to the cave. "Thank…you…" He buried his face in the nape of Clare's neck, taking in her scent and quickly losing consciousness. He had not been awake when, many months ago, after he had left his hometown but before Clare had agreed to take him on as her cook, she had carried him to safety, but deep in the back of his head, he had been aware in some way, and deep in the back of his head, being held like he was, taking in Clare's scent with every breath like he was, he remembered, in some way. He was asleep long before they arrived at the cave.
The next day, they took a large tent, dried food, and some heavy clothes for Raki, and then they left, looking for any other towns north of Pieta.
"You know, you don't have to restrain yourself for our sake," Helen said to Clare. "After all, we're all going to be alone together for a very long time. You might as well indulge yourself in his body."
"Nothing inappropriate goes on between Clare and myself," Raki snapped at her. "You know what I think? I think that the reason you keep saying things like that is because you're the one who wants me!" Helen recoiled like it was a physical blow. Something about the look on her face and the way she moved in that instant alerted Raki to it: "Oh my God. It's true, isn't it? I was just making stuff up. I didn't actually think…wow." The situation had gotten awkward. Raki decided that he needed to change the subject, and quick, before it got even more awkward. He would have stood there drawing a blank, making situation more awkward with his silence, but it just so happened that there was something that he had been meaning to talk to the warriors about:
"I want to learn how to fight," Raki said.
"Even amongst us, you wish to be the protector?" Raki would never later on remember who had said this.
"No, it's nothing like that. I know that even if I were to become the greatest human warrior to have ever lived, I'll never be the equal of even the least amongst Claymores. I just…don't want to be a burden. I don't want to drag you all down, make you feel like you've got to protect me," Raki said earnestly.
Miria considered it for a moment, and then nodded. "Very well. We will do what we can." She smirked a bit. "And with our training, you may very well become the greatest human warrior ever."
Next Chapter: Seven Years