I

It was colder outside than I had last remembered. Armie was still asleep in the cabin, humming softly to the thoughts in her head, breathing to a steady beat. She was probably still cuddled up in her tank top and shorts that substituted for pajamas. She would always cling to a pillow, and curl up in the thin sheets. She never seemed to be cold, no matter how little clothing she wore at night, no matter where we were.

That beautiful girl. I couldn't get over being with her. Her blonde hair, down to the middle of her back, straight, with bangs that crossed in over her eyes. But she was gentle, despite her piercing eyes, and sharp features. Her smile never seemed to be a smirk, and she never seemed to gloat, or taunt. Just a caring, compassionate creature.

I had been with her for a long time. We first teamed up when I was about, oh… twelve. She was eleven, and much more immature. Much more youthful. Much more happy. I missed those days on occasion, though these days weren't the worst I'd ever experienced. I was seventeen, Armie sixteen. Again, the good old days were much too far away to look for and hold onto, though they were good to remember every once in a while…

Ever been in a forest in the evening? Yes, I have. When you have a single father and an older brother who are obsessed with hunting, you're forced to be out with them in the woods, under the strict orders to be completely silent, still, never step on a stick, never make a sudden movement, never breathe, never think of anything other than hunting. The usual. I carried a gun with me when we went on our trips, though I myself would never shoot a living breathing creature. Of course, my family would and did.

At the time, my father was in his late forties, with hair that was starting to gray, and wrinkles that were more defined than you would think for a man of under fifty. His mustache was straight down, reaching his upper lip barely, matching the color of his hair. Black, of course. Like most of the men in my family, he had black hair. Genetics tended to do that to a family tree.

My father always wore brown while hunting, and my older brother, Marcoh, took after him in that sense. Black hair, brown clothes, aside from the army boots they wore. Marcoh was naturally quiet, reserved, and generally didn't complain about many things. As a little twelve year old, I envied Marcoh for his level-headed and composed being.

I would usually stay to the back of the group whenever we went out on hunting trips. I never wore the twenty pound army boots, or layered down with jackets and backpacks like Marcoh and father did. I just wore my simple button down shirt, black pants, and crummy shoes that most Genian boys wore. It was usually something like that or similar to it in style.

The year was 1904. September 3, 1904 was the day everything changed.

Let me elaborate on something. People say that change is a good thing. Contrary to that, people say that change should never happen, and that life should be completely orderly. I personally don't agree with either of those theories. I believe change brings opportunity, though it can be hard to say what kind of opportunity it is, or if the aftermath would be positive or negative. How can you say that something is naturally a good thing if you don't know what will come of it?

Well, I guess you can't tell anything until it's over and done with. So at the time of September 3, 1904, there was no way for me to know if the change I was going to face would be good or bad. I also didn't know there was going to be any change in the first place. I expected it to be a normal hunting trip, where father and Marcoh shot a deer and a bird or two, and we had some good dang meat, but it was too much to ask for.

"Breda," my brother hissed at me at one point, though I ignored him. The sun was setting, and I was getting distracted by the vibrancy of the watercolor sky. The sky always seemed prettier to me when we were near the country of Fi'iro. The forest was dense, but the sky was clear. Pinks and oranges would drip through the trees and rest on the plain green leaves for a beautiful combination.

"Breda," his tone was more severe, so I perked up, and looked to see what he needed me fore, and if I cared at all in the end. His handsome features were smudged by dirt, mud, and sweat, all piling together. It was a warm September, especially to be wearing full-body brown, military like clothing.

"Yeah?" I peered over at where he was standing. His rifle was up, though it wasn't pointed at me, and he was looking down to the end of the nose with intensity.

"Keep it down over there, will you?" He asked. "You've been staring off into space, and I can hear your footsteps way too clearly."

I held my hands up in front of me, trying to keep him calmed. "Sorry."

Marcoh walked on, gazing up at the sky, not examining the beautiful harmony of colors, but examining the tree tops for an easy bird to shoot.

Father was further ahead of us, looking up at a ledge above the lake we were by. A lake was apparently a good place to stay, in case we needed something important like water. Made sense to me.

It was eerily quiet, like it often was during hunting. The only reason I came along was to maybe get some inspiration for drawing, and to kill time, though it didn't take long for me to realize that it was this time I needed to actually kill. The time spent out in the forest, waiting for my father and brother to actually shoot something was really just down time for me, though I had to follow them wherever, no questions asked. Fun…

We (I) stood for a short while, looking around for something remotely interesting to keep my mind pre-occupied. Nothing really caught my attention, so I just let my gaze sweep through the thicket we'd been in for hours by then.

My father stirred from where he was standing. Marcoh and I turned to see what he was looking or listening for. Nothing I could see, though after working hard, I could hear something: Footsteps. We all leaned in and listened closely, causing me to lean too far, and almost trip over, which would've infuriated my father and brother to no end.

We were silent for a little while, as the mysterious person (or most likely people) approached. The steps were neither heavy nor light. Not a band of hooligans, and not a group of hunters. They were walking at quick speeds, despite the setting they were in. Definitely not hunters. I backed up wearily, eventually standing behind a tree in nervous anticipation. I drew my pistol carefully, keeping it close to my chest, not looking from behind the tree. I'd shot the gun before, but didn't intend to use it, unless absolutely necessary.

The intruders were growing nearer, and I felt myself break into a cold sweat. I was cautious by nature, and not to mention a bit easy to scare. Father and Brother were still in the small clearing by the lake, easily visible to the oncoming people we would soon meet. I was starting to get nervous.

That nervousness doubled in the span of about one second.

I heard a the footsteps stop, and gun shot, and a black haired figure cry out as he tottered to the ground. My father let out a wail as he watched Marcoh collapse, and not move. I peered out from behind the tree, fear brewing in my stomach, and the chances of vomiting were rising. Marcoh had been shot in the head. Blood was pouring from the pierced spot, and he himself wasn't moving. My heart sped up, and I felt myself pant.

I watched my father point a rifle at one of the perpetrators, supposedly the one who had shot Marcoh. We both looked at him with rage. I studied the men more intently from my hiding spot. They were all wearing a bright red uniform with a good sized golden pin on the left side of the chest in the shape of a tree. The roots spread down. The tree of life, maybe?

There were five of them. The one holding and pointing the gun was the only one wearing a hat, and seemed to have more star pins on his uniform than the others. Probably the leader of the platoon. He was taller than all the rest, with obvious muscles and slicked back dark hair, making his shoulders look unrealistically broad. Among the others, there were two blonde men, a black-skinned man, and a man with tan skin and white hair. The fatigues were easy to recognize. The Fi'iron National Military.

My father screamed at them. Asking why they had done what they'd done. Apparently, we were hunting on their land. I knew we were near the border, but I hadn't known we were that close. Their general being was not of pride or cold rage, but rather indifference and intent to kill. Cruelty. The man in front pulled the trigger once more, striking my father in the chest. They all turned their backs to us, and walked off quickly, dumping a large bag down off the small plateau the were standing on. It hit the ground with a loud thud, but I disregarded it, and ran to my father's side.

He was still barely breathing.

"Dad," I mustered between heavy breaths. "Dad, I'm so sorry..."

"It's fine, son."

"No it's not!" There was a noise in the distance. I ignored it.

"It is," he said, more firm and assertive. "You get to keep on living. You can make it without me, I'm sure. Just try to find your way out of Fi'iro, and away from the military. You'll be fine."

"Dad, I-"

He grabbed my arm. "You'll be fine."

Tears flooded down my face, as I grasped his hand. The sunset was magnificent, glowing a stunning maroon I'd never witnessed before.

"I'm going to meet your brother again." He smiled, and let his arm drop. "And your mother."

That was too much for me to bear. In a matter of minutes, I'd lost my only remaining family to some military goons. There was nothing I could do. I picked my father up, and let him rest in my lap for a minute, as I cried. The life did slip out of him, and I felt a cold wind hit my wet cheek.

There was complete silence for a good twenty minutes. I alternated between mourning beside my brother's and my father's body. Each time I switched, I would pray for a good while. I cleaned the wounds so they wouldn't look so disoriented and destroyed. I cried. But all of it was silent. I couldn't muster up the courage to make any sort of noise. I let their journey to heaven be peaceful, as I prayed to God to welcome them with open arms.

After the good while of rest and mourning, I went over to see and examine the object the men had dropped off the rise. It almost seemed like a... body bag. I couldn't tell if the life form inside of it was alive, or if it was mocking me. Regardless of their intentions, I opened the bag, though still apprehensive.

Inside was indeed a body. A small figure. I pulled the person out and examined her. Her feet and hands were tied behind her back, and she was gagged. By the time I'd gotten over to her, she'd fallen unconscious, and was breathing quietly through her nose. I'd heard somewhere that it wasn't good to breathe through only your nose while sleeping, so I released her of her binds and the choke.

She was wearing a knee-length black skirt (that was riding up her thighs), brown tie-up boots, a black short-sleeved turtle neck, and a sky blue sweater over it all. Her hair was long and blonde, perfectly straight, with bangs hanging in front lazily. I heaved her up into my lap, trying not to wake her, and continued to examine her features. She had eyes that angled upwards at the end ever so slightly, along with a small, straight nose, and thin eye brows. Her jaw bone was angular, coming down to a sharply pointed chin.

Aside from her lovely appearance, she was covered in dirt from head to toe. Her lovely hair was ragged, greasy, and tangled beyond belief. There were bruises on her forehead, cuts on her cheeks and exposed upper arms, and more of the two on her very exposed legs. Even though she was broken and beat, I considered her to be beautiful.

I hoisted her up in my arms, one around her waist and the other between her knees, and tried to use my elbow to support her head, though that didn't work out too well. I carried her over to the lake shore, and laid her down, her head still on my lap.

Should I wake her up? I decided to wait for a few minutes, or until she stirred in her sleep. In the meantime, I decided to examine her more closely. Despite the sharpness of her facial features, she shill had rounded cheeks. She couldn't have been much younger than I was, and I was twelve. Her lips weren't very defined, though it fit her style well. Her bangs were straight down, short, and childish looking. I smiled as I looked her over. For a girl of twelve or so, she wasn't very developed. Her body was straight and thin, with no impressive or voluptuous curves to speak of, and she wasn't well endowed in any sense.

I was lost in my analysis of her appearance, when she stirred ever-so slightly, and her eyes shot open. Her gaze met mine. We exchanged looks of relief, on my part, and surprise and confusion on the other end. I removed my arm from where it was resting lazily on her torso, but didn't dare to move my legs.

"Uh..." She looked at me closely for a few minutes. The staring contest began, and we simply studied each other until we felt that we had mustered up enough courage to speak, or we assumed the other had.

"Sorry," I said, holding my hands up.

"It's... okay..." She sat up with little effort, and glanced around. "Where are we, exactly?"

"We're at the border of Genia and Fi'iro." I adjusted how I sat and stretched my legs out a little bit, relieved to be free of the weight of her head restricting my movement.

"Why...?" She pondered, putting a finger to her sharp chin.

"I was with my family hunting," I said plainly, though it pained me to think that just an hour ago we were hunting like we always had. "I don't know about you though. Those men just left you here."

"Men?" She looked at me in confusion. "Oh. I guess they were with the military, huh?" A small smile crossed her face, as she closed her eyes and rubbed the back of her head modestly.

"Well, they had the uniforms. That's for sure." I looked over at my shoulder at the corpses that laid behind us. Their smell was starting to linger a little bit.

"Thanks for helping me..." The girl followed my gaze until she reached the spot where the bodies were littered carelessly by the soldiers. She gasped, and stood, padding over to them slowly and quietly. "Are these people you family?" She asked in horror.

I looked down at my legs. "Yeah. My dad and brother." I crossed them, and leaned back, trying to ignore the stabbing pain that was egging me to cry again. Would it have seemed inhumane if I hadn't cried? I couldn't really say. I just didn't want to think about it.

The girl stood by my brother, then turned to study my father, seemingly unphased by the amount of blood, especially around my brother's corpse. She just stared, eyes soft, arms crossed around her waist. I looked at her, and decided to find a way to lighten the situation.

"I'm Breda," I stood up and extended my hand as a greeting. "Breda Ricoum."

The girl returned to stand with me by the lake. "I'm Armira Vato," she said, clutching my extended hand tightly. We shook, and that was it. There were a few more minutes of silence. We did eventually release hands, and moved around a little bit. But there wasn't much of a place for us to go. We didn't have money, food, resources, or means of getting anywhere. All we had were the clothes on our back, and my pistol, which was still fully loaded.

At one moment we both seemed tot chose after an unbearably long ten minutes of silence, we turned to face each other, and started firing off questions. I was the first to go.

"Why did the military have you in custody?" I wondered. She seemed a little bothered by the thought of it, but not too terribly depressed.

"Well, I'm an orphan for starters," she said. "And my father was a scientist working with the military. He conducted some experiments that weren't very good for man kind, so they had not just him, but my mother as well, executed. I don't know why they had both of them killed, but I don't have any other family, so I was supposed to stay with the military.

"What about you?" she asked, forcing a small smile out. "What're you doing out here? And what happened to your family?"

I sighed. "Well, my dad and brother were big hunters, and so we came out here today to do some hunting. I'm not one for it myself, but I like to go with them on their trips. And we crossed the border, I guess, and met those men who had you. They killed my family, and tossed you down the ledge." A rather strange series of events.

We sat down by the lake once more, and decided to ourselves that talking would be a good idea. "What're we gonna do?" she asked once we were properly settled. Her face had softened to worry and concern.

"Well, I guess we don't have many options." I brushed the bangs out of my face that always hung there lazily. "We could split up, turn ourselves into our respective governments," I suggested.

Armira scoffed at the idea.

"We could," I continued, "Join forces." I shrugged in an attempt seem indifferent to the idea, though it was definitely my personal preference.

Armira seemed to ponder the thought for a minute. She once again brought her finger to her chin, and let it rest delicately, as she considered the pros and cons, the ups and downs, the reasons for letting me live, or even listening to me.

"How old are you?" I asked wearily.

"Eleven." My suspicions were confirmed. "You?" she asked.

"Twelve."

"You're kinda small for a twelve year old."

Even though it was probably a passing comment, it was very true. I was shorter than most boys my age, though there's no real average height. I had spindly arms, too. That made me seem even smaller and more pathetic. She caught that pretty quickly.

"Don't rub it in," I groaned, making her giggle a little bit under her breath.

"Well," she sighed. "I think that's the only thing we can do, now isn't it?" She was probably referring to my idea of joining forces. I watched as she stood, put her hands on her hips, and looked off into the distance, again seeming to think hard about something.

"Yeah." I rose, walked over to my father, and tried to sit him up. "I don't have a family left to return to."

"And I think I'm on the run from the law now," she confessed.

I looked up at her, while trying to remove my father's back pack. "But why would they dump you out here?"

"I don't know. They probably got sick of me," she laughed.

I smiled up at her, and handed her my father's napsack, and I went to retrieve my brother's for myself. After getting the pack, I closed his eyes, and did the same for my father, making sure he seemed totally at rest.

"You don't talk a lot, do you?" She asked, her voice light.

"You don't think much of being thrown in the forest and left to die," I shot back at her. "You do know they gagged you and tied you up, right?"

"That's creepy..."

"Yeah."

We stood there in the stillness of the oncoming night for a few moments.

"Well, maybe I can get back at them for that some day," she said quietly, though she didn't sound serious or vengeful about it in the slightest. I couldn't help but smile at it.

"Well," I started, getting her attention once more. "We should probably get some rest. We leave tomorrow, right?"

She nodded, and started to search through the pack I'd given her.

Strange, how we didn't have to talk very much, and we completely understood the predicament the other was in. Understood it as much as we needed, I guessed. That night, we slept in the cool September night on either side of the lake, a good distance from the corpses, and neither of us rested easily, I'll tell you that.