Chapter 11

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Cold mountain air rushed over Tano's exposed, goosebumped skin. With the sun well below the horizon, the boy was forced to stop walking and seek shelter, lest he bumble off a cliff in the darkness. He huddled up against the biggest tree he could find: a scrawny seedling no wider than his ankles. But as cold as he felt, he resisted all temptations to build a fire. One wrong move and he would find himself locked up by the Angleyans like his sister. Assuming they took him alive.

The thought of Hakana being tied and gagged like him in some Angleyan dungeon made him shiver harder than the cold. Should he try going back? He shook his head. It was a fool's errand. He knew nothing of wielding a sword, of honing the powers which, until a week ago, he didn't even know he had. And even if he were as mighty as the monster that had slaughtered his captors, he also had no idea where his sister was. He also had to consider what would happen if the Angleyans had a backup trigger for the bombs still strapped to his limbs.

Tano's thoughts were cut short by the sound of movement in the sparse shrubbery behind him. He stood up and balled his fists. He squinted his eyes toward the source of the noise to see what, if anything, was out there.

He saw them, or rather their shadows in the dark. Before he could even blink in astonishment, the soldiers were upon him. Though he couldn't see any insignia on their uniforms, Tano could guess who had sent them. If he was lucky, they would make it quick and kill him before he felt any real pain. He wasn't feeling lucky though.

The women and men- they were evenly split between the genders- shouted at him in a strange tongue. All Tano could do was raise his arms and shake his head, frantically crying back that he didn't understand them. Evidently, none of the foreign soldiers understood him either as their shouting only grew louder. A dull pain shot through the side of his head as one of them bludgeoned him. It only lasted for a moment before everything faded from Tano's view.

When he woke up, Tano was once again strapped down so tight he couldn't move. Unlike last time, it was so blindingly bright he had to squint.

"I'm sorry for how my troops treated you. None of them are fluent in the Angleyan tongue," a woman's voice said. Her voice wasn't loud. It was barely louder than a whisper. Yet Tano found himself shrinking from the noise all the same. After a few seconds of blinking, he was just barely able to keep his eyes open long enough to see who was addressing him. "My name is Major Zoe Kruger. You have a name too, right?"

Zoe Kruger was shorter than Tano expected. Even his teenage sister would have been a few inches taller. She was slender and had jet black hair, a jarring contrast to her pale skin and green eyes.

"I'm... I'm Tano."

"Ah, Tano. What's an Amazonian doing wandering onto Dannic territory?" Zoe's eyes sharpened and focus on Tano.

"I... I didn't know."

She raised a skeptical eyebrow. "Really? And why should I believe you aren't an Angleyan spy?"

The mere thought made Tano want to retch. He remembered the crystalline monster which had ripped his mother's head off her shoulders. The heat of his burning village, the dust and dirt that flew into his mouth, everything rushed through his mind all at once.

Tano didn't even realize he'd fallen into a complete daze until Zoe snapped a finger in front of him. With a startled yelp, he jerked his head back. "I'd rather die than do anything for those murdering bastards," he grumbled.

"As if I haven't heard that line before. You're not exactly the best or brightest from Angley's ranks are you?"

"I'm not their spy!" The dozen or so soldiers lining the bright white room all pointed their rifles at Tano. At this point, it was more irritating than intimidating.

To her credit, Zoe remained still as a statue. "Prove it."

"How?"

"You can start by telling me how and why you ended up stumbling onto Dannic soil."

Tano let out a sigh. This was going to be a long, long conversation.

By the time the boy was done retelling his story, Zoe's face looked as stoic and bored as ever. He wondered if she had even been listening.

"What would you give to save your sister?" she said. The question came so softly it took a while for Tano to feel its weight.

"Anything. I'll fight for you, I'll destroy all of Angley and kill every last one of those monsters." Zoe raised an eyebrow.

"Is that so? Tell me. Are you any good with a gun? Are you more a marksman or a bomb technician?"

"I..." Tano fell at a loss for words. "I haven't really been formally trained."

Zoe rolled her eyes. "An untrained, frail and temperamental little boy with no talents or reason to declare loyalty to Dan pledging to fight for us. Yes, I'm feeling very confident."

"Please. To whom would I betray you?"

"It's not that you would betray us. It's rather that you really aren't worth the trouble. We spend years training and indoctrinating soldiers and even more on our spies. You?... Even if I truly wanted it, I'm not sure I could sway my superiors to sanction you for anything." Zoe knelt down to meet Tano at eye level. "But I do wish I saw more women and men with your passionate hatred for the enemy among my ranks. What I can do is send you to a barrack just south of here. Depending on how you hold yourself, you can either be our prisoner or prove yourself fit to fight for us. And should you prove fruitful... we'll see what we can do about your sister."

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