Disclaimer: Claymore is not mine.
A/N: Seriously, I dunno if I'll ever get around to adding more. More a test than anything. Anyway, hope you enjoy. (Damn formatting, got rid of the line breaks)
Brittle - Chapter One: How to Face Facts
The sky was fading to a spectrum of colours, the sun glowing gold on the horizon and sparkling through cracks in the forest. She watched the light speckle on her hand, jumping around energetically like it was trying to savour those last few moments before the night took over.
How long would it be until the night took over her: the metaphor of night, ironic – the dark cover of death, or awakening to its depth? She couldn't say, but she had been told long ago that those two paths would end up being the destiny of their kind – those the humans called 'Claymores'.
"Tch, what the hell are they thinking? Sending a trainee out into the field so early? They haven't even given her a symbol yet, let alone a freakin' number! I don't want to look after her!" The woman scowled down at the girl beside her, obviously annoyed at her presence. The girl's movements were meek at the comments.
"Please… don't talk like I'm not here," she said quietly. Her fingers intertwined with themselves nervously.
"I'll talk however I freakin' want, you little runt," the woman retorted, still glaring. The girl walking beside her was definitely no warrior she'd seen before, a gangly short thing that seemed incapable of carrying the large sword on her back. The woman sniffed irritably and tucked back a lock of blonde hair, her style unkempt and on the wild side. It was a contrast to the young girl who had clearly put an effort into looking her best for this day.
"The Organisation told me if I wanted to promote to a number, I needed to gain experience in the field working alongside you, Number 23." The girl paused, thinking to herself for a moment. She wanted to prove herself, really she did. "All of the other girls in-training were sent out too. I know a few were given two to look after as well."
The woman's mouth twitched. "Doesn't mean I'm any better off with you having to hang off my arm. Geez, is the Organisation so shorthanded they need to send little girls out to free up resources for more experiments? Before you know it they'll be sending out failures." She shot a glance down at the girl again, wondering just what kind of person the old fogies had paired her up with.
"I'm… not sure why they have changed the training program so quickly," muttered the girl. She looked up at the woman with the same silver eyes. "Is it because the boys are gone? I used to hear them in the other complex until a few weeks ago."
A clear shiver ran down the woman's back. She frowned at the distant horizon. "That's none of your concern, and hardly any of mine either. We are given jobs by the Organisation, and we complete them. We're not meant to engage in politics. You talk too much for a trainee, you know. It's annoying."
The girl murmured an apology. They walked in silence for a few miles, the afternoon sun beating down upon them.
"What's your name anyway, kid? I wasn't paying attention to the old guy when he handed you over."
"It's Valerie. Please take good care of me."
The woman raised an eyebrow. "Yeah, yeah, enough with the formalities. And from before, don't call me by my number, I have a name too ya know."
Valerie nodded. "Okay, Hazel."
Hazel hated it when people didn't thank her. "Freakin' morons, least they could do is show a little respect. And fearful awe doesn't count, damn it," she muttered under her breath.
"He-here's the money!" A man approached and held out a small black bag, the coins jingling around inside as he shook with terror.
"Just give the money to the man in black when he comes, I have no need for it. Next time, learn the proper procedures for hiring us, old man." Hazel turned her back on him.
The jingling of the money quietened down. "Uh, will the young one be alright?" he asked nervously. He seemed to ask out of fear of being rude rather than concern.
"None of your business, but she'll be fine. She's just a clumsy idiot." She took off towards the west gate of the town, carrying the girl in her arms. Valerie chewed on her bottom lip, fighting back tears. She gripped a finger on her right tightly, trying hard to reattach the severed digit to the stump.
"I'm sorry I failed…" she sniffed.
Hazel sighed and gave a roll of her eyes. "It's what you get for being careless in battle. I haven't seen someone with such pathetic control in all my life. You could hardly even take on that simple yoma by yourself without using your yokai too. It was flickering all over the place. Geez, if you're not careful you'll end up turning into one."
Valerie kept muttering apologies repeatedly until a hand clamped itself over her mouth.
"Shut it, I hate weaklings that feel like sorry will make up for everything. Actions, Valerie. If you want to apologise, work your sorry ass off to make up for it." She dumped the girl onto the ground and continued walking. "'Sides, it's my ass on the line too. I'm not going to let myself look bad for having a weakling like you get promoted."
"Please teach me whatever you can," replied Valerie, picking herself up and running after Hazel. "I'll do whatever you tell me to do!"
"Better listen hard then, I got a lot of advice and I'm sure as hell hoping you got enough room in that skull of yours for it. But first I want you to tell me something…"
Valerie blinked. "Yes?"
"What'd they do to you, to make you so pathetic?" Hazel raised an eyebrow. "Don't skip around the question, just answer the damn thing."
Silence reigned for a minute or so as the girl struggled to find words. "They told me they were trying to find alternate ways of transplanting…" More silence for a moment. "Something about my bones, I'm not sure."
"The Organisation… always keeping the community informed," muttered Hazel bitterly. "You the only one that survived then? They usually do these sorts of things in 'batches'."
Valerie shook her head. "There were two others that lived, but they still had their normal hair colour."
"Failures, then," interjected Hazel. "And you're the unlucky one that passed. Guess they won't be making any more of your kind then if they're going to turn out as weak as you. And you're supposed to be an offensive type too, tch."
The young Claymore's shoulders drooped at the words. It was always the same, weak this and disappointment that. But underneath all that, she didn't care that much. If anything, she was afraid. This unique part of her, what would it mean? She hadn't told Hazel, but there had been another girl that survived and had been labelled a "success" at first. Sitting in her cell next to the other girl's, a few days later she'd heard screaming as though an animal was dying. People came running. She could only stare in disbelief when they'd carted the body out – it was like a puppet. The limbs hung everywhere, floppy, unsupported by anything. She heard someone murmur in the chaos 'her bones dissolved into dust', and fear had struck her. Would she suffer the same fate?
But she'd made a decision – live this life, fight, defend, show she made a difference no matter how short the time was. And every little step she'd make would feel like a miracle.
The forest was dark as they walked through, miles away from the town by now. Hazel veered off to the right to a small clearing, planting her sword in the ground that Valerie had learnt was the signal for making camp for the night and waiting. The girl followed suit, clumsily stabbing the earth until her sword stayed upright. They sat in the darkness, dozing slightly, or just simply staring at the sky.
"You should really light a fire so I can tell where you are," came a voice from nearby. A young man stepped out from some bushes, waving aside the branches trying to slap him in the face. "Just because I'm new doesn't mean you should go about hazing me in such a manner."
"Suck it up, Lialm. You're my handler – you're supposed to be able to handle situations like these." Hazel gave an aloof look at the young man dressed in black.
He gave her an exasperated look before frowning. "If I was a less lenient handler, I'd have reported you to the Organisation."
"Hmm… let's just say I didn't light a fire so I wouldn't attract any bandits to attack our cute little newbie here." Hazel raised an eyebrow, gesturing over at Valerie. "How about that? You guys are short on numbers as it is, it's more of a survival game at the moment."
Lialm kept frowning. "You say you don't like getting into politics and then you say that to me."
"Just stating the truth," replied the woman casually.
"For number 23 of 25, you sure are much too cocky," muttered Lialm. Whatever he was going to say next became stuck in his mouth as he found Hazel towering over him, the woman at least a head taller.
"Don't dare bring my status into this, not while the Organisation is running around headless from their own foolish mistakes. The warriors that still fight for them are their saviours and we damn well deserve better respect. Even if we're not the Organisation's precious male warriors, we're still fighting and winning all the same!" Hazel's fists were clamped tightly shut. Finally she gave a huff and sat down next to her sword again, arms crossed.
Lialm seemed like a small child told off by his mother, in between wanting to argue back but knowing it was fruitless. He grumbled to himself lightly. "I have a new mission for you – Frieda Harbour has requested our assistance."
"Again? Geez, I was there just a couple months ago."
"Regardless, they're a wealthy town and have done well on their payments before." Lialm gave a glance over at Valerie. "I believe your 'cute little newbie' was born there."
Hazel gave a look back at her trainee. The girl's face had gone pale, probably as soon as she'd heard Frieda mentioned. It didn't take much to connect the likely situation the girl had gone through: kid born into town with almost-regular attacks by youma; family succumbs to one; kid survives but is shunned out of the village; is taken in by the Organisation. It was a story known far too well. But going back to your hometown after something like that… after instead of receiving not help but stones thrown at you… it would be tough to go back, even if they wouldn't recognise you.
The woman frowned, hating that sense of pity. Pity would get her nowhere, and more importantly, get the girl nowhere if she took it easy on her. She gave a careless glimpse at her handler. "We'll be there by tomorrow afternoon. We'll get your payment."
Lialm, fed up with the arguments, simply nodded and disappeared back into the darkness.
"Better keep your wits about you tomorrow, kid. Don't let any feelings you have get in the way of finishing your job." She watched as Valerie gave a shaky nod.
The dream was always the same… Valerie woke up with the feeling of warmth over her eyes. Sunlight managed to penetrate the dense forest and dapple the ground around her. The fear of the nightmare was lingering, but it evaporated as she took slow breaths through her nose, the smell of dewy grass calming her. She stared up at the mottled sunlight glad that today had arrived for her and the night had not crept over to claim her.
"About time you got up," muttered a voice. Metal clicked as Hazel placed her armour on. "We gotta get to Frieda before the afternoon, earlier if we can. Or else we'll be barging down people's doors to find this thing."
Clumsy clanging sounded as Valerie raced to secure her own armour. Hazel stretched while she waited, giving small looks of curiosity occasionally. How would this turn out? She'd never been back to her hometown herself, but the thought of it was something unimaginable. Well, mostly because her entire hometown had been burnt to the ground, but still… The irritated look on her face made Valerie pause for a moment before going even faster with placing on her armour. She awkwardly pulled her sword from the ground, stumbling slightly before managing to slide it into place on her back.
"Let's go," she said. Hazel could hear the tension in it despite the girl's best efforts.
"You don't have to pretend to be strong about this," replied the older Claymore, brushing aside branches on their way through the forest. "Not to me anyway, you're too obvious. But you make sure you do a better job of it in front of the people who are paying us. Freakin' customer service… Only a matter of time until the Organisation will drop the crap. Once they've made villages dependant on them for protection I guess. Until then we gotta rebuild their trust again."
Valerie listened with a frown. It seemed like there was just so much she was being left out on. The reason for the sudden disappearance of all the boys at the training academy, Hazel's outburst last night, and even the push to place trainees such as herself out on the field so quickly. Something wasn't right.
"Hazel…?" The girl flinched as the woman glanced back. "Please, I want to know… About what you said about the male warriors?"
"I said politics wasn't any of our concern," she grumbled back.
"But last night…"
The woman continued to mutter under her breath until she let out a loud sigh. "Really, there isn't much to work out, Valerie. The male warriors are gone simply because the Organisation didn't have the common sense to control them. When, no, if, you graduate, then you'll be part of the first generation of all-female warriors working for them. Geez, so much talking – I've never spoken this much in what I do in half a year. It's really freakin' annoying."
Thoughts ticked over in Valerie's mind. Simply gone…
So the boys at the academy…
"Dead…?" she whispered.
"About time you realised," grunted Hazel. "Now hurry up, you're slacking off."