-I'm so sorry I take so long to update! We've (my family) been preparing to receive guests from Brazil for MONTHS, so I apologize! I sure hope that you will forgive this horrendous act of stupidity.

CHAPTER 8

When the two entered the quarters, those who were awake simply greeted them with silence and a solemn stare. Many went up to Nabuca to give him reassuring words and Boo had wrapped his arms around him in a warm hug.

Although the air of the room was calm, Nabuca wasn't. Needless to say, all this attention was rather overwhelming, and he looked frightened.

"I-I-It's alright, no need to make such a fuss, let's all just go and get our rest, OK? Bedti-."

Suddenly, there was a loud screech of pain.

Everyone turned to Kiyuko. Her hand was rubbing her forehead and she bit her lip.

"Are you okay?" Nabuca asked, concerned. She looked up at him. Her vision was blurred.

Kiyuko fell to one knee.

"I'm fine. I'm perfectly fine. J-Just a headache."

He was trying to help her up. Everyone else simply watched in confusion.

"Are you sur-"

"Dammit, I'm fine. Let's just go to bed and sleep! Everything is fine. I'm probably just tired. I'll-GAAAAAAH!"

Another scream resounded, this time higher-pitched and cracking.

"You're not okay, Kiyuko."

Slowly, she turned to him.

"I know a trick for headaches, maybe I could...!"

"NO," In seconds, she had Nabuca by the collar and pinned against a steel wall. "I'M GONNA BE OKAY! EVERYTHING IS GONNA BE OKAY!"

She began shaking him, rage and tears overflowing, as the others watched on in fear.

"'OH, YOUR NOT GONNA BE OKAY. OH, YOUR FATHER'S NOT GONNA BE OKAY!' EVERYONE TOLD ME THAT! THEY WERE ALL LIARS! THEY ALWAYS WERE! FATHER'S GONNA BE OKA-..."

Her eyes widened as what she had just screamed began to click in her head. The shaking gradually stopped.

"Father's...gonna...be okay..."

Kiyuko finally let go of him.

There was no sound until she spoke.

"I-I'm sorry."

He fixed his disheveled hair then, like the others, walked briskly towards his bed.


The morning had a tense air to it as nobody spoke or even looked at Kiyuko, except for some glances, uncertain of her sanity. She didn't seem to mind and, instead, sat away from the group and would whisper, to no one in particular.

It must have been afternoon already when, out of nowhere, the ship's P.A. turned on to make an announcement.

"All citizens prepare for expedition. Please report to nearest drillmaster for your supplies and be ready in exactly two hours."

It was still training, so the drillmaster yelled at the children to stay and ran to get supplies. Everyone was somehow even more uptight than before. Everyone but Kiyuko and Shu, who just looked confused.

In barely ten minutes, they had their supplies. A light brown, large jacket and goggles. That was it.

It had been more than an hour since the orders came, and just about every soldier was outside in the sandstorm by then. Some were in large machines.

The crowd was making a ruckus, and conversations sparked up all over the place. Some were boys complaining about what a drag this was, some adults talking about how the youngsters needed to shut up. The noise was unbearable.

Then everyone fell silent.

Kiyuko turned to look in front of her and saw a woman. There had been a small stage set up, on which she stood

"Who is she?"

"Lady Abelia, now be quiet!" A boy behind her muttered.

She began to speak. Her voice was loud enough to hear from the back of the audience.

"As you all know, our fortress was penetrated last night, by assassins seeking King Hamdo's life. Fortunately, he was unharmed, but there is no more time to waste!"

The speech seemed to go on and on, and many people spaced out. They only really heard the "Move Out!", that wasn't even said by this so called "Lady Abelia".

Everyone turned, and a tiring walk that seemed to last forever began.


It had probably been almost a day when they finally were allowed to rest. Water bottles, only the size of someone's hand, were rationed out. Tents were assembled and more than a dozen people sat under their shade at a time, which didn't really make a difference. They were still sweating buckets.

Nabuca and Kiyuko sat somewhere with few people. Boo, who was walking with them moments before, had wandered off. A long, awkward silence plagued that corner next to a rock for what felt like forever.

"I'm sorry for...um...last night, Nabuca. I didn't hurt you or anything...right?"

He jumped and turned to her, still silent, only this time, looking at her wide-eyed. She mumbled on.

"I-I mean, I did bang you against a wall...pretty hard..., a-and one would assume that would hurt, t-to a certain extent, but, I mean no maj-"

"No, um, I'm fine. Nothing's broken, or-or anything...like that."

It was quiet. Again. That is, until people started to yell, which completely butchered the silence alive.

Nabuca groaned and rolled his eyes. Kiyuko looked hard in front of her and saw the source of all the noise.

Tabool, Boo and that Shu kid in the same location, less than two feet away from each other.

Oh, hell no.

She listened to hear who was screaming.

Tabool. TABOOL. WHY WAS I EXPECTING THAT?

Filled to the brim with annoyance, she got up and trotted over to them, murder in her eyes. That annoyance transformed into utter rage when she saw Tabool hit Boo, sending the little boy down to the ground.

"HEY!"

The boys turned to her in surprise. She stopped right in front of Tabool, glaring at him and growling.

"Get away from them!"

"Come over here and make me!"

"So you wanna start a fight? You can hit a little kid, so why not come here and hit me?"

"With pleasure!"

He rolled up his sleeve and raised his fist.

"STOP!"

They swerved to look behind them.

"Look, it's already tense out here, nobody needs you guys making it worse." Nabuca said, almost looking as if he was going to snap.

Kiyuko bowed her head apologetically at him.

"I-I'm sorry, Nabuca. That was immature."

Tabool simply scoffed and began to walk away.

"Tabool," He stopped. "Is everything all right? You've been acting strange lately."

Tabool snarled.

"It's none of your business."

"Well, if that's how you want it, screw up where I can't see it, and die as far away from me as possible."

All the other could do was stomp away and grumble.

There was a pause, then Nabuca reached into his jacket's pocket and took out his water bottle. He shook it and listened for little splashes.

He handed it to Shu, who, confused, meekly held it.

"Here. There's a little bit left."

"Thank you..."

"Don't get me wrong," He snapped. "I'm just doing this so you're not too weak when the time comes."

"When...the time comes?"

"Let's get this straight," His tone was all business. "I'm of the same opinion as Tabool, those who do not fight have no right to receive food or water. So think about that while you take that drink."

Suddenly, the P.A. turned on to make an announcement.

"We have spotted a village. We are planning to strike as soon as the sand storm clears,"

Nabuca and Boo's eyes widened in fear.

"Complete all arms inspections and stand by."

Nabuca nudged Kiyuko, muttering anxiously.

"Let's go."

"Alright."

They sat down again, where they were a few minutes ago. Kiyuko glanced at Nabuca.

He looked so different up close. He looked younger, smaller...almost helpless in a way.

The young man looked back at her, and suddenly his face contorted in confusion.

"What the hell happened to your hair?"

Suddenly self-conscious, she went to stroke it. It was curly and thin, as always.

"What do you mean?"

He reached into her jacket pocket and took out the water bottle. With his coat sleeve, he polished it, then held it in front of her face.

Her eyes widened.

It was still close to white but...it was lightly tinted a kind of rusty color.

Nabuca lowered the water bottle.

"See what I mean?"

"B-but why is it suddenly red-ish?"

"Maybe it turned white before you got here and the natural color's coming back."

"So my hair is naturally red? Two discoveries in barely two days, something bad happened to my father and my hair is red. That's a record, don't you think?" Kiyuko chuckled, horribly failing to lighten the mood.

No answer.

She turned to him, gazing expectantly. But he had gone back to his original state of anxiety.

She'd know why he was so anxious.


They were all in formation, the serpent-like war machines, the tanks, the troops, everything. They were in uniform, ditching the large coats from before, to reveal the scarlet of the neckerchiefs and mustard-yellow of the jackets and pants.

In order from left to right stood Kiyuko, Nabuca, Shu and Boo. Tabool was, to everyone's relief, far, far away in a whole other group.

"Well then, you changed your mind?" Nabuca asked.

Kiyuko, who had been looking straight ahead the entire time, turned to look at the conversation that had just started.

"Don't get me wrong," Shu mumbled. "I'm still against fighting. But since I have taken food and water from you, I should at least help."

"What are you going to do?"

This confused the boy.

"I dunno...dig some holes?"

Suddenly, Nabuca looked absolutely furious.

"Did you not hear a single word of what Lady Abelia said about our mission? Don't you know what kind of expedition this is?"

"Nope." Kiyuko piped in.

Nabuca turned to her, in one of the worst moods she had ever seen him in, then turned back to Shu.

"You won't be digging any hol-"

"But I can't fight..."

"You won't be fighting either! This..."

He paused, and then, his voice barely audible, muttered.

"This is much, much worse."

"All units, move out!"

They all began to march forward, Shu almost getting trampled. out of the side of her eye, Kiyuko saw green lines zipping across the sky, each going down with a BOOM, followed by towers of black smoke. In the distance, people were running around, screaming in utter terror and picking up farm tools and crude spears.

She felt sick to the very core.

The troops stopped in front of a group frightened men, holding up their tools as a last resort.

"Do not resist. We are a requisition party from Hellywood. We're not interested in needless bloodshed. We wish to make peaceful negotiation. Drop your arms at once."

Reluctantly, one by one, the villagers lowered their sickles, pitch forks and spears. They were all rounded up, in a crowd. The village leader stood at the front, and out of one of the tanks, the leader of the troops walked out.

"I've heard about this," The elderly leader said in contempt."How Hellywood acquires men and supplies from villages by force. But I never really believed it 'till now. I didn't think anyone could be that shameless."

The officer shook his head.

"Do not misunderstand, we are not here to pillage. We're here to requisition soldiers in the name of King Hamdo. We ask for your cooperation."

"How on earth can you expect us to cooperate if you point guns at us? If it's food you're after, take what you wish and leave us alone."

Again, the officer shook his head.

"I'm sorry, but that is not what we've come for. We need women and children. And above all, we need men who support King Hamdo's ideas and join his holy war. I give you this chance to join."

The elder snarled.

"Some negotiation this is! There is nobody in this village who supports that...murderer!"

"So you will not cooperate?"

"As I said, take as much food as you want. But you are not taking any of my people!"

The military officer looked around, then sighed.

"We need to leave before another storm hits. Oh well."

Then, as if it was the most ordinary thing in the world, he took out his gun and shot him. Just like that.

The entire crowd gasped, and Kiyuko looked away in absolute revulsion.

"Soldiers are what we want! When the war is over, you may return to this village. You have my word."

"Liar! YOU'RE A DAMN LIAR!"

In a fit of rage, a man ran from the crowd, and two gunshots hung in the air.

Kiyuko looked towards Nabuca. What the man had said made him go rigid.

"Don't make me waste any more ammunition!"

"No!"

Shu ran from the battle formation, and knelt down beside the bodies.

"You can't die! Please, don't die!"

"What on earth are you...?"

Shu turned to the officer in rage.

"Why? WHY DID YOU KILL HIM?"

He ran to the officer, but before he could reach the older man, Nabuca ran into him with his rifle, then firmly secured Shu's arm under his thigh and neck under his knee.

"Damn you!" He muttered.

"Who is this fool?"

Quickly, he faced the officer.

"Forgive me sir! He's a new recruit in my core!"

"Well, straighten him out before he subverts discipline!"

"Yes sir."

"AGH, LET ME GO! LET ME..."

Nabuca hit him in the back of his head with the butt of the rifle, knocking the boy unconscious. He got up and sighed. Boo ran up and mumbled something, drowned out by the sound of the leader barking orders, earning him a glare from Nabuca.

"Just keep an eye on him."

He snarled as he got up.

"What a pain in the ass...Kiyuko, work in a pair with me."

"..."

Everything seemed to move in slow motion. They only heard the sound of thundering footsteps as they walked into one of the the thatch roof homes. As she searched, Kiyuko heard a sob and whirled to look.

Nabuca had found a little boy, who started crying.

"Don't kill me, don't kill me, don't kill me, please don't kill me..."

"I'm not going to kill you, now be a good boy and come out."

She took a few steps toward them.

"Please, mister, p-please let me go..."

"You know I can't do that. Just come with me," He was suddenly speaking in a hush, trying to soothe the little child. "If you do, they won't kill you, they'll take care of you."

His voice was filled with hope, as if he were going to choke on it.

"If you can stay alive...you're bound to come back some day!"

"B-but I never ever wanna kill people."

"...I know you don't...neither did I."

And he took the little boy's hand, leading him out the door.

Out of nowhere, they heard children screaming and a single gunshot.

Nabuca ran out, frantic, letting go of the boy, and Kiyuko followed.

A crowd of children was running, with Shu urging them on.

"DAMMIT!"

Nabuca sprinted over to Boo and snatched his gun, with which he had been fumbling with.

"GIVE ME THAT!"

He took aim, eyes focused, their path straight and unwavering. Firmly, he pressed the trigger, sending a bullet flying, which made impact with Shu's leg.

He toppled over, and Nabuca angrily pushed the gun to Boo and ran over.

The other boy was slithering, barely able to crawl, and in a fit of rage, Nabuca jammed his foot onto the bloody thigh of the other, who flailed and screeched in agony.

"WHAT IS THE MATTER WITH YOU? WHY WON'T YOU JUST STAY OUT OF OUR WAY FOR ONCE?" The young soldier screamed.

"Y-you can't do this! It-it's just not right!"

"NEVER MIND RIGHT OR WRONG! AN ORDER IS AN ORDER!"

He took some time to pause, his yelling causing him to lose his breath.

"This is what they did to us."

"And these kids will kidnap other kids?"

He fell silent, his scowl replaced by a look of surprise. He began to tremble and he bit his lip.

"So tell me...who's gonna stop it?"

He looked up, to the village. His remorse faded into terror, horror, disgust. His breathing was shaking.

"N-nabuca, are you...?" Kiyuko mumbled, concerned.

The pressure on Shu's thigh receded.

Suddenly, Tabool was right next to him, leaning on his gun, a jeering look on his face.

"This kid is real trouble. We better report this when we get back, Nabuca."

"I'm going to..." His voice was a faint whisper, dripping with self-pity.

Moments passed, and the officer trotted over.

"What's going on here?"

"Captai-"

"CAPTAIN!" Nabuca interrupted, leaving Tabool there to glare at him. "The new recruit from my core has obstructed our mission, sir. Therefore, I suggest that he be restrained during our journey back to Hellywood, and subsequently be court-marshaled." There were no traces of shakiness in his voice.

"Hmmm, obstruction?"

"S-stop it...Something is wrong with you people...You're all crazy..." Shu whispered.

The remorse had come back to Nabuca's face momentarily and he stared down at the boy he just shot, the boy who was proving him wrong more and more each passing second. Then he looked back at the captain.

"Very well," the leader ordered. "But place him under close guard, and know that if he escapes, the entire core will pay the price."

"I understand, Captain."

The captain nodded and sauntered away, raising an eyebrow, maybe admiring the, albeit false, firmness of the boy he just spoke with. Tabool simply stomped away in a huff.

Finally, Nabuca let off his foot from Shu's leg, and he slowly walked away, head down.

Kiyuko followed and brushed her hand on his shoulder.

"Nabuca, are you oka-"

He aggressively shrugged her hand off.

"Nabuca, please tell me what's wrong..."

He stopped to run his fingers through his fringe and grab it, taking a long inhale.

He almost sighed his words.

"I need to be alone. I-It...ugh..."

He shot a glance at her.

"It's complicated..."

She stared after him, as, for the first time since they've met, he was truly in a pathetic state.


Kiyuko's POV

We had arrived at Hellywoood, exhausted, and just about everyone fell asleep the second they fell on their beds. I wasn't one of them.

I needed something to comfort me. So, naturally, I went to the deck outside, to breath the fresh air.

"Hey, Kiyuko. For the hundredth time, it's bedtime."

I didn't even turn to face him.

"Hello, Mother, I missed you so much."

He made a sound, about to speak, then stopped, maybe to glare at me.

"HA HA HA, how funny."

He sat down next to me and grumbled.

"I can't sleep."

"Me neither."

I looked at him. And I remembered the village, how he was suddenly so...touchy.

Should I ask him? Or will he just...nah, it's okay to risk it...then again, "better safe than sorry"...aw, forget it.

"So, Nabuca...?" I began.

"Hmm, what is it."

I took a deep breath, preparing for the worst.

"I want to know about your past." I muttered quickly.

His eyes widened.

"You remember what happened to you as a child. I don't, so..."

He sighed.

"You sure you wanna hear it?"

"Why wouldn't I?"

"The story about how I got here, it-it's...not exactly a happy one. I don't want to bum you out or anything..."

I nodded.

"It's okay. I would have assumed that."

He shook his head and began.

"I wasn't even born when my father died..."

Nabuca looked at me, to see if I was gonna back out on hearing this. Sadly, I wasn't. I wanted to, but, I just had to know.

"He had fallen ill. He had already had three kids with my mother, two girls of which who were married, and the one who lived with my mother and I, my older brother, who was three when I was born. Nothing all that major happened for the next two years. When I was almost three, making my brother six, I met Tabool, who was about five..."

"He's older than you?"

He nodded.

"Anyways, they became friends, with my brother just dragging me over when Tabool called him over to play."

"Do you know about Tabool?"

"Do you want to hear about him?"

"Sure."

He began by shaking his head.

"He was one lucky bastard. He had a loving father, a loving mother, and younger brothers he bossed around all the time. I had a mother who was always missing her dead husband instead of paying attention to her kids, older sisters who barely even knew me, and my older brother, the only one who ever really cared."

Nabuca clenched his fist in jealousy, then sighed.

"Back on topic..."

Silence, then, he whined.

"I really don't want to do this."

Like when we were at the village, I rested my hand on his shoulder. This time, he didn't shake it off, taking a deep breath.

"W-when I was four, they came. My mother hid me as best she could, but one of those bastards,"

He pounded the ground with his fist.

", saw her just that second, and snatched her, a-and me, and my brother, then tossed my brother and I into one of those carts. And you know, they made us into soldiers. But then, that idiot...that idiot!"

Curled up into a ball, his voice was shaking uncontrollably.

"I was ten. He got the st-stupid idea of trying to run away! That idiot convinced s-some others to go, too! And then, they went ahead with the plan and in no time, they got caught, all the other village kids except for Tabool and I!"

Nabuca grabbed me by the shoulders and stared me right in the face, nose inches away from mine. He was trembling, and tears were streaming down his cheeks. I'd never seen him like this before, and droplets went down my face as well.

'And d'you know what happened next? We... were forced to kill them. I watched my brother plead for mercy as I pointed that gun at him. I shot my brother right in the chest. I WAS THE ONE WHO JUST STOOD THERE, WATCHING MY BROTHER CRY AS HE BLED TO DEATH! I... I...I..."

He snapped. He broke down. Letting go of me, he cried like a baby. He curled up again, hiding his face and muffling the sounds of his sobs, no, wails.

I couldn't believe what I was seeing. This boy was always so firm, so collected, around the others. When I met him, he was the apex of authority, diligence, focus. Now, he was a wreck, sniffling like crazy.

I could tell he was ashamed, ashamed of putting on this spectacle, as he was turned away. My hands gently held his shoulders and turned him toward me.

"No, don't look, you shouldn't have to see this, plea-"

"Hush."

He did so, and froze, completely stiff. I lifted his fringe off his face, and for the first time, I saw his forehead. My hand drifted down to his tear stained cheek, which I wiped dry.

"It's okay to cry. If it was wrong, why would we be able to? Huh?"

He shrugged, then winced.

"Ouch!"

His red, swollen eyes looked behind him, and he slipped out of my grasp to grab something.

When he turned, there was a flower. It was pure white, and it's petals were close together like those of a tulip.

"Where'd this come from?" He muttered, scrutinizing it.

"It must have drifted over."

"It stabbed me in the back," He tossed it to me. "Here."

I stared at him. My mouth was suddenly dry, and I felt my face burn.

"What? It tried to kill me, for all I know. I never liked flowers."

He got up and stared at me, with a smile, and I felt my palms get sweaty.

"Keep it. It's a gift for listening. And watching me act like a baby..."

He walked away, chuckling, leaving me there, blushing, dry mouthed, head pounding.

This can't be.

Is this that thing, that thing that ruins lives, that makes us only feel we are happy, called...

Oh, hell no.

-...*prepares to be stoned to death.*