Echo felt her legs go numb as she rushed to Lucas's body.
She paid no heed to Stahl lying dead above her. Blood marked where Lucas had been shot in the chest.
Her stomach filled with cold dread. 'Sinclair. It had to be him. He came in to take the weapon. He shot Stahl and Lucas.'
Lucas's face was serene, his eyes closed and his skin pale. With one hand trying to suppress his wounds in vain, and the other shaking him, Echo pleaded to the Shadow Marshal.
"Come on, Kellan. Wake up! It's me, Echo. I'm here now. Please, wake up! Open your eyes! Lucas!"
She stopped shaking him and slowly reeled back, unable to face the reality before her. In her spinning head, one emotion flitted after another. Shock, incomprehension, rage, grief. She slammed a fist into the floor and screamed. Heavy breathing became broken sobs. She lifted him to let his head rest on her lap.
"No...you can't do this to me. You can't leave me." Tears welled up and blinded her vision. "I...I was going to tell you...that you were going to be a father. That I'm pregnant."
She bit her lip, unable to say more as her throat clenched. She was too late. He's dead, and he would never know. It broke her heart. Tears spilled unhindered from her green eyes. All alone in the chamber, Echo didn't have to worry about the shame of crying. As the Chancellor's daughter, a Visari, a Helghast...she was above weakness. Echo had always struggled with her hotblooded and rebellious manner. But she fared better with reining in other emotions. In the face of her iron-willed mother, and her people, she had to be strong and unflinching. Like a rock weathering the storm.
But she never felt this way till now. Falling in love with a man, only to have him cruelly ripped away from her life. Echo found the pain unbearable. It crippled her heart, shook the foundations of her mental strength.
She only knew him for a few months, but the precious short time they had together was something she'd never forget.
The mutual trust they initially had grew into something more. She remembered the night she gave herself to him...savoring his kisses, his touch, those wonderful moments when no wall could come between them. A few weeks later, she found out their love had made a baby. She and Lucas were so caught up with trying to stop the weapon that she had no time to tell him.
Echo could just turn the gun on herself. So many Helghast have done this when they couldn't bear the pain and despair in their lives.
But she wouldn't do it. 'I know what I have to do,' she thought with grim determination. 'I'm going to finish this. For me, for Lucas, for the Vektans and the Helghast.'
Stahl was left to rot in his own machine for war. Echo moved Lucas's body to her dropship. The charges she set all over the base detonated as she flew out. The silence on the way back to Vekta made her feel so lonely. When she landed in New Helghan, she ordered troops to move Lucas's body to be stored in a morgue until she returned to give him a proper burial.
But not before donning on cloaks and taking Lucas's identity. With it she infiltrated VSA headquarters, the heart of enemy territory. What she set out to do was absurdly reckless and dangerous. But Echo wouldn't give up. She had to see this to the bitter end.
The moment of truth came when she got a good sight of Sinclair. He was in the middle of a speech, deriding the Helghast as depraved and bestial beings.
Echo felt unusually calm as she loaded her StA-61 rifle. Her movements were slow, deliberate, full of purpose. She trained the crosshairs over Sinclair's head.
She whispered to her unborn child: "For Lucas Kellan. For your father."
Joy did not come to her upon the death of Sinclair. She didn't revel in the chaos that ensued, the screams of terror from panicking civilians. She wasn't Tyran. Instead she felt a grim satisfaction. Justice was served.
Echo left as quickly as she had come. She left no trace she was ever there.
She could never forgive the extremist VSA director for stooping so low to kill Lucas: his foster son, her lover, the father of their unborn child.
What she had to do next was to take care of the weapon and dispose it properly. It was sent into space, hurtling towards the sun. Never again would it threaten to touch a single Vektan or Helghast.
Hera Visari worked as hard as she could to restore order among her people. Any evidence of espionage involvement was carefully concealed. No one would ever know the whole truth. All everyone needed to know was that they were safe from all-out war.
Echo stood by her mother, out of her usual armor and dressed to look like a proper politician's daughter as Lady Visari made her newest speech. She talked of negotiations with Vekta, and even the possibility of the wall being torn down. It had been a very long time since Echo presented herself in public. Since joining the army's special forces at a young age, her identity had been kept secret as she carried out missions. Many even assumed that Lady Visari's daughter had been dead over the years. To Echo's relief, the excitement over her sudden appearance quickly died down as the people thought of life-changing events for the better.
After the speech, Echo retreated to the Visari estate. Two guards closely flanked her. They were far from faceless nobodies. She knew them well. They removed their helmets, revealing faces that bore experience and had seen plenty of combat.
Pitru and Viglo, twin sons of the late Colonel Radec, weren't just her bodyguards. They grew up with Echo, as close to her as brothers. A couple of years older than her, they had been born on Helghan before its destruction. Lady Visari, who admired the Colonel's service to Helghan, had taken in the boys after their father's death. They've faithfully followed and protected Echo ever since.
Pitru was the more impulsive fighter. The many scars crisscrossing his face gave that away. They also differentiated him from his gentler brother, Viglo. Both were tall, broad-shouldered men. Excellent soldiers, just like their father. Just as Scolar Visari had trusted his life with Radec, Echo had immense faith in Pitru and Viglo. But right now she didn't feel like being in their company. They wouldn't understand what she was going through.
Echo made her way to her bedroom and turned to her friends before opening the door.
"Stand guard outside. Don't let anyone in. I...I need to be alone."
They could tell she was upset. Pitru gave her a look of understanding.
Viglo's voice was soft with sympathy. "Sure, Echo."
She went in and closed the door behind her. After months of roaming and fighting, it felt strange to be back. Only then, in the silence of her room and away from everyone, did she let her facade slip. She collapsed in the bed, heavy from the weight of the world that seemed to press down on her. She curled up in the bedsheets, feeling like she could drown in her grief. Echo hated feeling so weak. She blamed it all on herself.
'It's my fault. I should've been there with Lucas. I could have stopped Sinclair. At the very least, I could have been there in time to stay by Lucas's side before he died. It's all my fault.'
She fell into a fitful, uneasy sleep. Some time later, she woke up to the sound of her bedroom door sliding open. Her mother gracefully walked in.
Echo glared, though she felt more weary than angry. "I told Pitru and Viglo not to-"
"They have no choice but to obey orders that supersede yours." Hera sat at her daughter's bedside. "We've been through this before. I still hold authority over you, as your leader and your mother."
Echo turned away miserably. Her voice was a ragged whisper. "Please go away. I'm not in the mood for a lecture."
Hera Visari placed a dry, thin hand over Echo's. Usually stern and dignified, her voice was soft and gentle. "You loved him, didn't you?"
Unable to keep it bottled in any longer, Echo broke into sobs. Hera drew her into a embrace, one Echo hadn't felt in years. The young soldier stiffened in surprise, but only for a moment. She readily welcomed her mother's rare gesture of comfort.
Echo drew back from Lady Visari, hastily wiping her eyes dry and trying to compose herself. Then she took a deep breath before saying, "By the way...I'm pregnant."
"Is Lucas Kellan the father?"
Echo nodded. She stared at Hera apprehensively, gauging the older woman's reaction.
"So," the Chancellor finally said. "When will I expect the birth of my grandchild?"
"I-in eight months."
"Then I see no need to put you through an arranged marriage."
Echo widened her eyes. She felt her heart swell with gratitude. "Mother..."
Among the many things she and her mother argued about, there was the issue of arranged marriage. Echo knew it was part of her duty to marry and have children. But that didn't mean she liked the idea. For years she vehemently opposed the Chancellor's matchmaking attempts. She just couldn't see herself being someone's wife, let alone a mother. Echo joined the army partly in hopes to avoid marriage, but Hera was persistent. Thankfully she now had an heir to continue the Visari bloodline. Though the child was conceived outside of approved marriage, nevertheless Lady Visari was willing to acknowledge a legitimate heir. And after what she had been through with Lucas, and losing him, Echo didn't think she could ever love another man. She was so glad her mother understood all that.
"Mother...are you truly fine with this?" she whispered. "I've been nothing but trouble for you. I always thought you were ashamed of me."
Lady Visari put a hand on Echo's shoulder. "Yes, I get angry and frustrated. But never ashamed. Total war has been avoided thanks to you and the Shadow Marshal. I'm proud of you. I always have been, since the day you decided to join the army. I came to accept you were a born fighter. Your ways might not be the same as mine. But you care for our people all the same, and that's what matters."
Hearing that made Echo feel better.
Lady Visari rose. "The threat of war is over. You are expecting a child. Two reasons for you to be relieved of fighting for the time being. A soldier who fought hard needs a good rest in the end."
For once in a long time, Echo gladly obeyed her mother's orders. The second time she fell asleep, a blissful peace soothed her aching heart and tired body.
-3 months later-
As soon as Echo had returned from her vengeful mission, she made sure Lucas was buried somewhere quiet and secluded. Where only she could visit and honor him in a way Vekta never could.
Vekta had nothing for the unsung hero. Lucas himself once said that until he met her, he had always been a loner. A soldier who worked alone in the shadows, raised without real family or friends. He lived and he died, and the world moved on. Like he never existed. Like the world didn't care.
"But I care," Echo whispered over his burial site. "Lucas...I'll never forget. I love you. And I'll remember you for as long as I live."
She placed a hand over her swollen belly. "I'll make sure our son will remember you too."
Echo never thought she would be one for motherly intuition. But she just knew she would have a son. She had a duty to her child, just as much for her people.
A smile lifted the melancholy she felt in her heart. "I'll name you Pax. Latin for 'peace.' To honor the peace your father and I made for the sake of Vekta."
She looked up to see the sky...endless, blue and beyond the wall. Rays of sunlight streamed where demolished rubble gave way. She saw the trees and sparkling skyscrapers on the other side. The beautiful sight filled her with such hope that tears welled in her eyes.
"Pax, I hope you'll be able to live in a future when Vektans and Helghast could love and accept each other. Only then we can truly share this world in peace."