After the war of 1972, world leaders made the superior decision of splitting the surviving ten million people into six distinctly different domains - merging culture, religion as well as language in order to live in their own perspective territory. Each domain is ruled by a Prime Minister, guaranteeing that all persons be provided by whatever they need to survive.
Over the years it had remained peaceful, but five nations soon began to display their desires for more territorial claims. Only the nation of Siho remains in neutral grounds, choosing the side of peace.
To prevent another war from breaking out, Siho's Prime Minister created the National Guards Alliance, a special defense army that vows to fight for peace and order. They act as the kingdom's peacekeepers, and are made up of men not only from Siho but also those who sided with Siho's beliefs.
Anna, a Siho native, is accustomed to seeing men in uniform roaming around town since she was a child, but the presence of a new face awakens her curiosity, and ultimately, her heart. This is a love story of a young couple, in a time where war is inevitable.
Chapter One: DUSTY OLD BOOKS
Anna was finding more and more reasons to turn the bookstore into her permanent home.
She found herself utterly comfortable sitting on the old, wooden benches where one simple reach can give her a fresh story to read. It was comparably better to hang around the bookshop than having to walk a few blocks away from the main town, where a small little loft with her name could be found.
That's why it made her so happy when Harry Fingerstone offered her a part-time position here at the shop. The 57-year-old complained of back problems from time to time, so having an extra help would lessen the trouble.
"Would you make it at your other job?" Asked Harry as he dusted the pile of books that Anna had grabbed upstairs. "What kind of clinic opens until midnight?"
"You're the only one whose business doesn't open until midnight, Harry."
She grabbed another pile and placed it in front of her. "I'll only work here twice a week, so I certainly have some time to rest before my shift starts over there. Besides," she paused.
"I'd still be hanging out here even if I'm not working."
"Crazy lad," teased Harry, "people your age wouldn't want to be in this ancient place." He sighed. "They'd party all night or spend the nights with the town's lonely soldiers."
"I was told I have a mindset of an 80-year old," said Anna as she nodded her head.
"And you think that's a compliment. Sheesh." Harry waved her off. "Why don't you grab the mop and clean the upstairs? I heard the new dispatch had arrived and I know they'll be here for maps."
"From where?" She asked. The thought of seeing new faces excited her.
"You'll be surprised," he answered before shooing her away.
In Siho, it was customary to come across many men and women wearing various military uniform. After the prime minister formed the Nation Guard Alliance ten years ago, he allowed the participation of those coming from the other five nations.
He never judged a soldier based on his place of birth, but only of their personal merits.
Anna remembered the words spoken by the prime minister when he first formed the army. She was 11-years-old then.
"To become a national guard requires sacrifice. You must forget where you came from, those you fought with, and what you fought for. Coming here meant you wanted to peace. However, we can only administer peace by defending, and by defending we require your skills. You are not fighting for Siho, but for the entire kingdom of Zuwan. If you cannot cut ties with your nation now, you have no reason to be here."
To accommodate those visiting Siho, most of the businesses open until midnight, including the clinic that Anna works for.
Eventually, visiting soldiers become locals as soon as they've decided to surrender their military badge to become a national guard.
Considered as traitors by some, and heroes by others, she respected them nonetheless.
"But the maps are located on the main floor," argued Anna.
"Not anymore. I moved them upstairs so they can take a look for more books," Harry replied. "More business, if you ask me."
"You beady old man," Anna said under her breath as she walked to the back.
Grabbing a mop and a small blue bucket, she filled it with water.
As she started to work, she noticed that a few of the books had fallen out of place. When she grabbed them, she looked up to see where it had come from, only to realize that it had fallen from the highest shelf.
"This is going to be tricky," thought Anna.
Putting the mop aside, she started to tiptoe in order to put the books back. She knew she could easily do it with a ladder, but simply thinking about having to carry the heavy thing upstairs have made her more determined to do it without.
And it isn't like Old Harry would be able to help.
Grabbing the bookshelf carefully by its side, she raised herself up by climbing on the ledges. Slowly, she reached the fourth shelf, placed the books quickly, and jumped down. The old fart would be mad if he ever finds out what she did.
Suddenly, Anna heard the sound of low clapping.
"That was some show," said a deep voice from behind.
Anna turned around to find a tall young man standing curiously on the doorway. He appeared to be in his early twenties, and wearing a dark green army uniform. His face was clear and clean-shaven, his back broad, and his black hair was cut short to imitate the customary military haircut.
Her face turned red, and she turned her head the other way so he wouldn't see.
"Are you here for a map?"
He shook his head, waving an unopened map of Siho, complete with a silver compass.
"I found it a few minutes ago on the other side of the floor," he said. "It's because I was worried you'd fall that I've come to see if you'd need someone to catch you."
Anna didn't know how to reply. She had been caught off- guard by the handsome stranger.
"Thanks, sir. I think I'll do fine." She turned around. "Let me show you my gratitude by leading you to the counter."
She walked ahead of him, and in a faster pace too. She hasn't spoken to a man close to her age in such a long time. As she glanced quickly from behind, she describes him in her thoughts as one with well-built shoulders and natural tanned skin, with small, almond-shaped dark brown eyes, single eyelids and a wide back. She didn't realize that she had been staring at him for longer than she had wanted to. He caught her looking at him, and smiled politely.
She turned her head back quickly.
"Even his eyes were smiling at me," she thought.
After leading him to Harry in the register, she fled to the other side of the room and started to wipe the shelves.
"He must think I'm a creep," she sighed. "He should have grabbed more books, because I don't think he'll ever be back here again."
She wiped one shelf, and then another, each one cleaner than the next. She was starting to forget about the earlier mishap, but hearing him clear his throat as he stood behind her made her aware of him once again.
"I apologize, but Mr. Fingerstone said you'd be able to lead me to the camp," said the young man. "Would it be possible to take up some of your time?"
Her eyes widened. She didn't feel his presence at all. He was like a shadow that appeared from darkness, quickly galloping to life in one quick swoop. She met his eyes and nodded.
"Give me a few seconds," she answered. Placing the cleaning cloth back to the storage room, she held her face a few times, hoping somehow that the redness in her face had subsided.
She straightened her garment, brushing off the dust that had stuck on her navy dress. Quickly, she tied up her long, black hair in a simple ponytail before looking at herself one last time. And then, she stepped out.
The town was filled with energy as they made their way to the camp. Merchants from across the kingdom filled the streets, each selling an assortment of articles ranging from silk cloths, silver jewelries, exquisite paintings, ceramic vases and delectable street foods.
Only in Siho can people talk freely to those in opposite nations. Declared as Zuwan Kingdom's neutral ground and home of the national guards, no one dares to start a fight here, much less a war. It was a place where humans can act humane towards each other without having any lives threatened, any lands burned.
They walked side by side, silently.
When she turned her head to his direction, she noticed that he was too busy taking in his surroundings with amazement. She smiled at his reaction. Siho was colorful, vibrant and loud, and people from different backgrounds have come to live here in harmony. It was a melting pot of different cultures, religion and beauty - the town she lives in is her pride and joy.
"Thank you for accompanying me," he said to her, and immediately she straightened her gaze back to the street.
"It's customary for a local to do this much," she replied.
"Forgive me, but I never introduced myself," he said apologetically. "I am Daniel Han, a lieutenant from the Andestris territory." he paused. " Actually, that might no longer be an accurate thing to say. Not when I've already left."
He started to scratch his head, and Anna looked at him in wonder.
Coming to Siho meant he had left Andestris to become a national guard. Whatever reason he may have, it was enough to part with his home, his family and everything that once was familiar to him.
Of course, not just everyone can be a guard. There are physical, mental and psychological tests that have to be done before the Prime Minister can even provide them a position. Still, their safety will continuously be the top priority.
Once a month, a ceremony is held in the main town where soldiers forfeit the army uniform they were wearing in exchange for the official Nation Guard combat attire.
The Andestris territory, located in the North, boasted of having the most prosperous land in the entire kingdom of Zuwan. It accommodated the richest families in the entire domain, the largest money depository, and plenty of high-classed cuisine to go around.
Anna wanted to ask him why he left, but she refrained from speaking.
"I didn't get much support when I announced my retirement in the Andestris army," confessed Daniel, and for a brief moment she caught his hands tighten.
"Do you regret it?
He shook his head.
"Then do you regret coming here?"
He shook his head again.
"So what's the problem?"
Anna's eyes glued themselves to him without her notice. Before she realized it, her face had already inched itself closer to his. She immediately retreated beside him.
"We're not bad people," she mumbled. "I'm sure you'll like it here."
Anna watched as his tight fist loosened, and found herself smiling a little. He caught her stare, and quickly hid his hand on his pocket.
"Oh," she gasped, pointing to the large silver gate ahead of them. "It's right ther-"
Anna turned her head to him.
"Thank you," he repeated.
She wanted to tell him it was fine, that it was her duty as a local to make him feel at ease, but something suddenly caught her attention. As the enclosed gates opened ahead of them, she spotted a group of men with daunting faces and large, sweaty bodies running erratically in four different directions. She saw another group trying to climb a colossally high wall with one flimsy rope, while another group was jumping off the wall without anything to support their fall.
She realized these hard -working men were doing drills in the middle of the hot day. She wouldn't really know where each one of them came from as they all wore the same thing - a short-sleeved sand-toned shirt made of thin cotton, brown cargo pants and brown combat boots.
And not too far from them, is another man attempting to accomplish the drill while still wearing a full uniform.
"A fresh dispatch," thought Anna, and she turned to Daniel. "Here's another one."
"Feels like home," he said enthusiastically.
"Home sweet home," replied Anna with a slight disdain. She could never imagine herself living in the camp. It seemed too rough for her comfort.
As she turned around to walk back, he caught her wrist.
"Your name," he said under his breath. "You never mentioned it."
"Anna Elixon," she answered. Then she held onto the sides of her dress and bowed her head to him, curtsying playfully.
"Welcome to Siho," she said with a smile. " Don't die on the first day."