Chapter Twelve: The Chase
For once, Anna felt all sorts of pleasant things. She had assumed the soldier's lips would feel rough against her own. He can't blame her for assuming, for she could only imagine the kinds of places he had been to, and most of the time she pictures place that are either humid, or rough to the skin - both times she ached for his safety. Nevertheless, their contact was much more gentler than she had thought. He had very soft lips.
When he pulled away, at once she searched for his eyes and without speaking she intend to let him know how happy he had made her feel. But just as fast as the fireworks in her heart spread through her entire body, it was ignited just as quickly when she realized that his eyes were nowhere near hers.
Instead his attention was bent straight behind her, where she heard a loud rumbling of what she could assume had been coming from a large vehicle.
And it sounds like it's getting closer.
"Anna," he whispered. "Get in. Now."
She nodded, and immediately she pushed herself back in. Before Anna could fully close her side of the door, bullets start to fly in their direction.
"This wasn't how I wanted things to go down today," complained Daniel as he stirred the wheel. "When do they plan to give me a break?"
Anna turned her head to the side mirror and spotted their sudden visitors. As if their kiss had been some sort of trigger to someone watching from afar, shots fired immediately upon their contact.
"Who are they?" She popped her head out to get a closer look, but he quickly pulled her back in.
He sighed. "Rogues."
He nodded. "Rogues aren't represented by any territories in Zuwan. More specifically, they're men who abandoned their own armies. Trigger-happy fellows, I would say," he smirked. "They must have seen us leaving the Siho border and decided to give us a warm welcome."
"Some warm welcome that is," Anna said under her breath. "They wouldn't really shoot us though, would they?"
"Actually, they've already shot a couple."
"But they're all alive," continued Daniel. "...I think."
Anna's eyes widened, and Daniel couldn't help but laugh.
"We're strong men, Anna. A gunshot or two isn't going to kill us. Maybe it could put one in bed for months but-wait. Hold on."
Leaving his left hand on the wheel, Daniel used his right to open the small compartment under the seat, taking a pistol and handing it to Anna.
"Have you ever used one before?"
Anna shook her head, but her eyes glued itself on the weapon. She had never seen a gun so exquisitely made before. She had only seen handguns colored black, but Daniel's handgun was silver, even the trigger. It had a longer, much slimmer than average nozzle for a quiet aim, and a dark brown wooden grip to avoid any unnecessary slippage of the hand.
"Beautiful," said Anna.
"It's lighter than most guns that exist. Make sure to have your index finger wrapped around the trigger before you shoot. And when you do, aim forward. And breathe. Never forget to breathe."
"Why are you giving me this?"
"The people outside Siho aren't as trustworthy as you hope them to be. I want you to keep that near you whenever possible. Although I hope you never have to use it."
He showed her a faint smile.
Nodding her head, she stuffed the gun in her backpack while Daniel reached for a black semi-automatic pistol, the one latched on his side. This one he kept.
Another round of gunshots rained over the top of their heads, a bullet making its way on top of Anna's lap.
"They sure are persistent," said Anna. "Why won't they get tired?"
"They love a good fight, " replied Daniel. "We found ourselves as their unwilling playmates. Besides..." he paused, "they won't leave us alone now that they've seen you."
Anna scrunched her forehead. "What are you talking about?"
Daniel opened his mouth, but he closed it right away.
"I'll save those words for another day. Our pursuers just got closer."
Worry crossed Anna as she placed her attention towards the black cylinder case sitting idly beside her. Inside contained the map of her father's exact location in Sonddor. It had been placed right there, by Daniel when he joined her. Her entire purpose for this trip was to ensure the safety of this map getting safely into the hands of the Nationals Guards that are already planted inside the frontal borders without getting caught.
But what if their pursuers were to get this map?
She trembled at the thought of them finding out about this search.
Quickly, she straightened up her gaze and analyzed their surroundings. With a worried glance, three things popped in her head.
First, they were driving on a road located in the middle of the woods.
Second, she could see the road splitting into two - one looked as if it would lead to a meadow, the other led to a cliff.
Third, that they were heading for the cliff. And they were heading there fast. Really, really fast.
"...Daniel," she tugged his shirt. "You couldn't be thinking of..."
"It's hot, don't you think so, Anna?" He replied. "A nice swim wouldn't be too bad. The height even gives excitement."
"Not for us, silly. Hold on tight!"
It was in that moment that Daniel sped even faster, the vehicle vibrating at every rock and gravel that the wheels had touched upon. Anna planned to close her eyes as she could foreshadow their truck flying off the beaten road and into the hands of the cold hell that is the ocean in Spring, but it was only a second later that she realized another road laid hidden just to the right side of the cliff. Daniel had so intricately maneuvered the wheels on their vehicle beforehand, that as soon as they reached the end of the main road, they appeared to be heading to the cliffs when a quick sharp turn resulted a smooth landing on the road just beside it.
Anna watched with both eyes open as the black jeep fell down the cliff. It felt surreal to see such a scene.
"That really happened," she breathed.
"Don't get too excited," said Daniel "Another one's behind us."
She turned her head to confirm that another vehicle was indeed on their tail. She hadn't seen the truck earlier, so it must have followed behind.
And this time, they're even more aggressive.
"Why are we being pursued so much?!"
Daniel didn't get a chance to reply, as another round of gunshots resounded on Anna's side of the truck. The truck was a lot higher than the previous one. It had massive tires, with black tinted windows and an enormous, dome-shape roof that looked as if it could open any time. But as she looked closer, she counted three men inside the vehicle - the driver, the front seat passenger and another one in the back seat. Each one had their guns at hand, the nozzles all pointed at them.
She ducked, and only after the bullet bounced off from the right side of the windshield did she think that may be it was her head they had aimed for.
When she looked at Daniel, she could spell out his confusion:
This wasn't some random attack.
"They're not the rogues you're talking about, are they?" She said.
"No," he admitted. "They've never been this persistent. Keep yourself down."
The truck shook as he sped up, and Anna could feel herself almost flying off, if it wasn't for Daniel's hand holding her arm. "Grab on to the handle," he warned her.
With her hands gripped tightly on the handlebar, Daniel grabbed his jacket that was flung on the floor and covered her with it.
"I'm sorry, " she heard him say, "but this will hurt a bit."
In one swift motion he turned the wheel to the left, entering the tall wall of corn stalks twice the size of the truck. Anna could feel the leaves poking her body, so she leaned herself forward. She could still their chasers following them from behind, and they were much closer now, as the gunfire was much louder now.
Landing on a small dirt road, Daniel reached behind for his handgun.
"Do you want me to load it?" She asked him as removes the jacket covering her.
He shook his head, putting the jacket back on her. "It's already loaded. Keep that thing on, I beg you."
Anna nodded, and then she watched as Daniel curled his body, popping his head out with the gun on his right hand while his left remained on the wheel. Like being in the midst of an action film Emily had been so fond of, Daniel pushed the trigger three time times - two aimed for the front wheels and the other on the driver.
The truck flipped midair, crashing down on the side of the field.
The chase stopped.
"Stay here," he told her. "I have to check something."
He got off the car, and with the gun in his hand he jogged to the black truck that had broken down on the side. Popping her head from the windshield, she could see the bodies of two men hanging on each side of the door. She looked on as Daniel bent down to grab any weapons they process, kicking them on one side of the road while he dragged their bodies to the right. The man sitting by the passenger seat lost his life as the car spiraled midair, crashing his skull in the windshield.
The driver died seconds before - with one bullet in his head.
She waited in the car as Daniel instructed, and she eyes roamed at the thickets of trees that enveloped the dirt road. They were certainly not in Siho anymore. It was a perfect getaway. As she had never left the Siho territory before, she imagined the outskirts to be bare or covered with sand, but she didn't imagine herself in the middle of the woods. If she was a runaway, this place would be a perfect cover...
Three. Her mind interrupted. There were three men sitting in the black truck, not two.
She stood up quickly from her seat, and her eyes frantically roamed through the dense group of trees.
"Daniel!" She called out to him, but his back was completely turned away from her, his eyes too focused on their dead pursuers to answer.
"There were three of them!" She shouted at the top of her lungs. "Three, not tw-"
"Good job figuring that out."
Anna's body stiffened at the sudden voice that came from behind.
How could the man so easily get behind her without making a single sound?
She didn't dare turn around, and only stood idly as Daniel finally took notice of them. Quickly he stood up and grabbed his gun, but he soon placed it down when he realized that the man has his own pointed in Anna's head.
She could feel the nozzle from the strands of her hair.
"Smart fellow," the man breathed. She could smell the cigarettes.
"Please let us go," she pleaded. "We were just passing by. We don't mean any harm."
"I don't believe you," the man argued. "You two have led unwanted visitors in this land."
"They were chasing after us. We have no idea who they are."
"I don't believe you."
"What would make you believe my words?" She asked timidly. "You don't seem to be the type that would beat around the bush."
For once she could hear the man produce a throaty chuckle. She didn't expect that at all.
"You're quite brave, miss. Your speech is eloquent, but with a certain chariness. You must be from Siho. Look, even your boyfriend there reeks of a soldier's smell. Would you look at that, a soldier has graced his presence in this part of the land.
Now, tell me why you're really here."
Anna closed her eyes. Could she trust him? She can't recall hearing his voice before, nor has she encountered someone with so much stealth. The depth of his voice revealed his age, and she could assume that he would be in his early forties. He had every chance to shoot both her and Daniel, but instead he took the time to get to know the situation. He ha
This is a careful man. A careful man is a dangerous man.
Anna let out a deep sigh. She decided to do what she does best.
Tell the truth.
"I'm here to search for my father," she told him. "My father has been held prisoner in Sonddor, and I'm here to get him out."
Anna waited to hear what the man had to say. Except he didn't say anything. Instead, Anna felt the pressure of the nozzle from her head gone.
"You should go back home. He's probably already dead."
Anna turned around to find a tall, slender man with trimmed dark gray hair and an equally trimmed yet scruffy beard. The man had dark brown eyes similar to her father's, yet there was caution in his gaze. She studied her new acquaintance, and that didn't make him comfortable at all.
"Stop looking at me like that," he hissed.
" You don't seem like a rogue," she stated.
"I never said I was." The man sighed, and he signaled Daniel to come towards them. Daniel ran beside Anna, and he, too, studied the other man.
"You brats need to learn some manners," the man coughed. "Do you realize how uncomfortable you make people feel from being looked at up and down?"
"With all due respects, sir, you aimed a gun in her head first," said Daniel.
"Well, soldier, you just caused that big clunker to flip. The other one you made to fall in the ocean. You don't see your friendly neighbors doing that now, do you?"
Packing his pistol back in his side, the man pointed to a thicket of bushes on his left.
Their gaze led to a blood trail. They caught a glimpse of lifeless body hanging on the side of the river behind it. Anna was shocked to see a harpoon protruding in the dead man's stomach.
"You were yelling about a third man in there, weren't you? He was hiding there. Almost got your pretty head too," he told Anna. "Ruined my fishing trip."
Anna knew it was a good plan to stay in the man's good side.
"Now then," the man sighed, "what could you two possible have done to have been tailed by the Union Army?"
Anna blinked a couple of times. "Union?" She looked warily at Daniel, whose own expression changed for the worse.
"Ah," the man nodded his head. "I see what's going on." Patting Daniel in the shoulder, the man quickly whispered something to him before quickly getting off the vehicle.
"Girly, you've got quite a lot in your hands after all."
Anna wanted to ask what he meant, but the man suddenly pointed his finger to his right.
"Keep walking that way, and you'll find yourself in a small village. Good people too. Now don't go bragging to them where you came from. They've left the territories for a reason. Go now as its almost night, and it ain't good to be roaming around that time in this place."
Daniel lowered his head in a small bow to show his gratitude.
"Thank you for all your help," Anna replied. "But won't you tell us your name?"
"Hiram. I'm Hiram Mirscov. Now don't go asking where I'm from, because even if I tell you, you won't know. After all," the man scratched his chin, "I come from a different... place."
Anna didn't understand what Hiram was saying to them, but she felt that she shouldn't pry any more. After all, something about the man seemed strangely foreign, so conspicuous yet hidden at the same time.
Hiram turned around to walk on the other direction. Waving his hand in a casual goodbye, he disappeared from their vision in an instant.
"Weird man," Anna said slyly. With a sigh she turned to Daniel, only to watch him fall down on his knees.
"Daniel!" She ran to him. "Did you get hurt?"
He shook his head, but his head remained down.
"What's wrong?" She asked.
Daniel didn't say anything in reply. Anna waited for a couple of seconds to pass until he snapped his head back up. A smile sat warily on his face.
"Let's go," he said simply. He stood up, and he grabbed Anna's shoulder so she could stand. "We need to find a place to spend the night."
"The village Hiram mentioned," said Anna, "let's head there."
Daniel nodded, and they headed back to the truck.
Daniel was strangely quiet for the remainder of their travel. Coddling the black cylinder case in her arms, uneasiness filled Anna. She knew why Daniel acted this way. The truth was, she overheard the words Hiram whispered to Daniel. He tried to keep his voice low, but Anna heard it crystal clear.
"The past is catching up to the present."
"We're here," said Daniel as he stopped by the end of a dirt road that bordered a rural village. Anna was impressed by the magnitude of wooden houses built there. Never had she imagined Zuwan to have a hidden colony. Living in Siho, they never spoke of such people. It was a thriving community, with smooth dirt roads, livestock and laughing children.
Anna could faintly hear the sound of drums, but not much people were found.
"This village is called St. Helena," said Daniel, pointing to a small plaque located in the front gate.
As they inspected the area, they found a small lodge in the end of the road.
They walked in to find an old woman yawning on a glass counter as she played with a yellow cat. Taking notice of her new patrons, she flashed a smile.
"Ah, welcome to Linda's Inn. Do you want a room?"
"Two of them," said Daniel quickly.
The old woman looked at Anna, who nervously smiled at her. She didn't say anything else, and signaled them to come with her upstairs.
"This, for you." She pointed Daniel to a room on the left. "The lady, "she pointed to the room across, " this one's for you."
"Thank you," said Anna, and they waited for the innkeeper to go back down.
"We should get something to eat," said Daniel. "Why don't we meet up here in half an hour? I think it would be a good idea to check out what's going on outside."
She nodded before heading to her inside. The room was very simple. It was quite small, but enough room for one person. In the middle was a bedstead and a thin mattress sat atop it. A mahogany study table was placed on side with a matching hair and beside it was a bookshelf filled with various genres of literature. She wanted to examine it more, but her eyes circled towards a small bathroom, where she found soap, a few towels and a hair blower.
It was only after she sat down on that piece of wooden chair that she finally let herself go.
"Good job," she patted her shoulder as all those tears she held back all day dropped like rainwater. "You did good, Anna. You didn't seem terrified at all."
For years she had heard about the deaths of soldiers. It was normal. Not that her father nor Sahl would tell her a word about the brutal things they've seen in the field, but she'd always witness their melancholic expressions whenever they come back. What did you do? Who did you kill? Who have you lost?
She couldn't ask such things.
Yet, today she witnessed first-hand the deaths of men who had every intention to kill them.
Union Republic soldiers, she thought. Could they have figured out that Sahl had written a letter to me?
She shook her head. Why would they have every intention to kill us, if what they want is information? More importantly, how did they know where to find us? No one else should know about their departure.
"Father..." She closed her eyes. "I hope they haven't hurt you. Two years..."
She moaned in agony.
For two years I lived a fulfilling life while you stayed a captive.
Her throat felt like fire.
All this time, I've assumed you were dead. I didn't do anything to save you.
She tucked her fingers tightly into a ball, smashing it to a flower vase. She couldn't feel anything but shame.
How could I have dared to fall in love when you've been suffering all this time?!
The door in her room flung open. Daniel must have been in the middle of changing, for he only had his pants on, and a rifle in his grasp. His eyes darted to her bloody left hand.
"I'll pay them back," she told him, but he ignored her and left the room. A second later he came back to her with a first aid kit.
He bent down, grabbed her hand and placed it on top of his knee. With a wet cloth, he gently patted on her hand to remove the blood, and then he used tweezers he sterilized with rubbing alcohol to grab all the shards of glass that had dug its way into her skin. He squeezed her hand to make sure no glass was left, applied an ointment and bandaged her hand.
Once he was done, he sat quietly on the floor.
"Why did you do that?" He asked quietly. "What were you trying to do?"
"Hey, lieutenant, what do they feed the prisoners in the South Hall? Do they... get fed at all?"
She touched the bandage on her hand.
"He... wouldn't be dead too, would he?"
Daniel looked down.
"Captain Elixon is an important member of the National Guards. I never met him, but the guys in our camp often spoke of him- his intelligence, his perseverance, and his loyalty to our cause. It seems he is almost as important as the Prime Minister himself. They wouldn't kill him so easily."
"For information," whispered Anna. "They want him not for the man he is, but for the things he knows."
Daniel sighed as he nodded his head.
"It's the same for a lot of people in this kingdom," he explained. "Innocent civilians become targets everyday for simply foreknowing the things they do."
The color in Daniel's eyes changed in an instant. His gentle gaze turned deadly as he looked outside the window. Never had Anna seen him like this.
"When we were young, my sister often accompanied my father to his trips outside the Andestris territory. She had gone to Ezterdelle and Valkondh, even to the first gates of Sonddor. But mostly, she stayed in Siho, where my father spent most of his time in.
"Friendly as she is, she became good friends with a girl a few years younger than us. She told me how adorable and charming this girl was, and how much she enjoyed telling this girl stories about Andestris. My sister loved telling stories, you see, but it didn't help that I never bothered to listen.
"I... should have listened to her more. I should have listened to her when she told me to come with her and meet the friend she has been so fond of. But I-"
"...hated traveling. My brother hates traveling, you see."
Anna began to feel dizzy. His every word felt like daggers digging inside her throat.
She was starting to remember now.
"I hated traveling then. Nevertheless, she never stopped telling stories about this girl. She told me this girl had a special ability," he paused. "An eidetic memory, she called it. It seems her friend was able to vividly recall every detail on anything she sets her eyes on, even for the briefest amount of time. A heightened sight and mind, I would say.
"My sister often played games with her, where she would show her a page of a large encyclopedia, flip it back, then ask her to recite everything she remembers. Apparently, the girl recalled every nook and cranny of that thing. She was so amazed when she was telling me this, but what we didn't know then was that someone else was listening to us. Spies."
Anna covered her mouth to stop herself from making a sound.
"One day, I received a phone call from the hospital. My sister, along with my father, had fallen off a cliff. They told me it was an accident, but I overheard what really happened."
He closed his eyes, and he lowered his head dejectedly.
"My sister refused to reveal the identity of the girl to a man who had approached her a couple of times. She knew too well that his intentions weren't pure. After all, if an army were to get a hold of a talent that would identity the faces of every soldier from other territories, undercover missions would be impossible to complete. This would be even harder for National Guards, whose missions generally require identity concealment. This ability would certainly be a great advantage. But she refused to say who she was, not even to our father, who was the General. Well, you can tell what happened next. On their way home, my father's car was pushed on the side of the road by an unmarked truck, causing it to lose it balance. I lost my sister that day."
"Ah," Derek lifted his head up. "I keep telling you about her, but I forgot to say her name. It's Alexandra , and she was my twin sister."