A/N: Thank you all for reading! I am now publishing under a different name, TK Anez. Please check out my new story: s/2826156/1/Ishiki If you like this story, you will like Ishiki :)
Part 2: Shatterproof
Tak didn't talk much on the way back to Jenna's house, pretending to be transfixed by the Jewel in her hands. Viveza and Jenna talked vivaciously; a silly pop song played at a low volume on the radio. Tak could not bring herself to smile. Running her fingers over the cool surface of the gem, she tried to rid her head of all nagging suspicions.
"Where do I have to go next?" Tak finally asked, her voice strained of anger.
"Edona," Jenna answered.
"Isn't that the desert city where all of the terrorist attacks are? The Dark Fury I think they're called. Crazy suicide attacks and stuff have been going on there. I hear it on the news all of the time," Viveza said thoughtfully
Jenna nodded, "Yeah, I hear that too. I know a boy who lives there - Megumi's his name - he says it's a very frightening place to live. I think he's doing alright there. I just wish he'd come back, you know?"
"That's too bad," Tak replied hollowly.
"Hey, Jenna," Viveza started meekly. "I think I should probably get home soon. Even though we had a fight before, I don't want her to be worried about me. Can you give me a ride?"
"That's very considerate of you, Viveza," Tak responded in a slightly more sincere voice than she had used with Jenna.
Both red hands of Jenna's car clock pointed to the number twelve. It had been an hour since they'd dropped Viveza off at her house, where her sister was waiting for her, and they'd been driving to the train station ever since.
"Are you coming with me?" Tak asked Jenna when they arrived at the train station, five minutes early.
"No. I don't think so. I've got to stay at home," Jenna replied professionally.
Tak smiled lightly, "You got a hot date tonight?" The anger she had felt before was beginning to fade away.
"I guess you could say that."
Four minutes until the train would arrive.
"Anyone I know?"
"Not yet," Jenna twirled an auburn strand of hair around her finger, letting out a soft giggle.
Three minutes left.
Jenna continued twirling the same strand of hair around her finger, raveling and unraveling the honey-brown curl. "Maybe I'll call Megumi tonight."
Two minutes to go.
Tak sighed. Jenna followed.
Cold night air rushed through the open windows as the train finally pulled up. Tak embraced her friend before exitting the car; "Keep in touch."
Jenna smiled at Tak, holding up her little red cell phone, "I'll be sure to. Get back as soon as you can. Good luck!"
She made her way onto the train leisurely, not looking back.
Tak woke up to the raw sound of metal on metal. Her eyes quickly snapped open as she jumped out of her seat, only to find no one panicking. Holding her pounding head in her hand, she looked out her window at the scenery she was passing. Vast mountains overlooked sienna sand, shimmering daintily under a cerulean sky. It would have been a breathtaking sight had Tak had the insurance that there were tracks supporting her.
"The train ran off the tracks! The train ran off the tracks!" she shouted, running down the aisle of the train.
"Shut up, kid," barked an irritable old man a few seats in front of her. "The conductor said everything is fine. It's just some, uh, turbulence."
"Doubt that," Tak shot back through her growing migrane. In a rash move, she flung herself on the door to the conductor's compartment, shouting repeatedly that the train was completely unstable and that they were all in danger.
"Calm down, miss. The train is on course. Stay back in your seat; we'll reach Edona shortly," replied the conductor, calm and cool behind the door.
"The train ran off the tracks, I know it! You have to do something!"
"Miss, listen," he opened the door, motioning for Tak to come in. "Come listen to the radio here. If the train were off the tracks, HQ would be in constant contact with us. But what do you hear?"
Tak lowered her eyes, "I don't hear anything." And then a reluctant, "Sir."
"Please, now can you go back to your seat before you cause a commotion?" his face was haggard but forgiving. "The next stop is our last. We'll be there in about ten minutes."
Balls of fiery light glimmered in front of her, streaking the deep blue night sky with its brilliant colors of yellow and orange. She smiled triumphantly, for she had reached her destination. She was in Edona City.
As she drew closer and closer to the walled city, she began to see thick clouds of purple smoke add to the beauty of the heavens. When she was close enough to touch the adobe walls, she noticed gleefully that they failed to enclose the sweet-smelling smoke infecting the night air nor the infectious pop tune playing inside.
Casually she walked through the city's entrance. She glanced around to see large groups of people laughing and eating while listening to a live band that was playing. It didn't seem to phase the people that she walked in and sat down at a long wooden table next to a girl with dirty blond hair who was clearly enjoying the concert.
"Hey," she said, turning to Tak. "I haven't seen you here ever, and I pretty much know everyone from here."
"More than I can say. I'm a newcomer."
She laughed, "So, what's your name?"
"Oh, OK," she responded. "I'm Nora. Nora Sigel."
"Cool," Tak said, not really paying much attention to the conversation because she was liking the music she was hearing. Nora laughed giddily, and then jumped to dance to the next song, which was a fast one.
"If you were an angel . . .," Nora sang along. She turned to Tak before running off to some of who Tak assumed were her friends and said, "See you around I guess. Bye!"
Tak walked off; away from the concert, making a mental note to find out who the band playing was. She wasn't looking where she was going, for she was exhausted and preoccupied, and she walked head-on into someone.
"Sorry! I'm so sorry!" she exclaimed when she realized that she'd walked into someone.
"Don't worry," said the woman. Well, at first glance she'd thought she'd walked into a woman. Looking closer, she realized that the heavily made-up figure sporting the dirty red dress was really a man carrying a small baby in his arms. He extended his arm, "Miche Kolorado. This is my daughter, Miyuki."
Tak shook his hand, completely unaffected by the transvestide's fashion, and said, "Nice to meet you."
"You aren't from here, are you?" he asked, the second time someone recognized her as an outsider. Edona City was a truly close-knit community.
"No. I'm from Jukyuu."
"Oh, you're from Jukyuu? What a terrible thing that happened at the Salmar mansion. Did you know anyone involved in that?"
"No, fortunately," Tak lied.
"Yes," he said quietly as to not disturb the baby's sleep. "I don't know what you're doing here, but you're welcome to come to my house."
Tak hesitated, she had just met Miche a minute ago, so she was justified in feeling uncomfortable with going to the complete stranger's house.
"Uh," she stuttered. She didn't want to hurt his feelings, though she couldn't think of a very good excuse, "I, uh, have to go home now. It's getting late. But thanks anyway."
Miche smiled knowingly and assured her with a laugh, "I'm gay! What are you thinking, that I'm gonna rape you?."
There was a certain sincerity in his voice that won Tak over to him; "Thank you -"
They walked through the concert to the south of Edona, blissfully unaware that anything was wrong.
"You know, I wasn't always like this," Miche took it upon himself to start a conversation. "Before the string of terrorist attacks started, I was successful. I had a nice, lucrative job and I adopted my daughter. But then the Dark Fury came and the company I worked in was shut down.
"I met my lover at my next job: a night club where um, flamboyancy, was enouraged. Satoshi Niwa and I were assigned to a specific act, and we fell deeply in love. After work every night we had our fun, and we were going to take our relationship to a more serious level when . . ." It had become quite apparent that his large eyes were desperately holding back tears, "I didn't go to work that night because little Miyuki had fallen ill. The damned Dark Fury took out everyone in the club. Including Satoshi. They'd taken him away from me. For the mere fact that he was gay! They targeted the club because it was run by gays!"
Tak put her hands over her heart, whispering consolation after consolation for the man's loss, the story really hitting the surprisingly emotional girl hard.
"Well, after that I couldn't help but feel responsible. I was, after all, his partner. I contributed it to the fact that he was a homosexual. That's why I continue to dress in drag. To put a veil over my true self. To protect others from myself. To protect myself from myself."
"Why are you telling me this? I barely know you," Tak asked, looking at Miche with the most solemn sincerity.
Miche shook his head, indicating a change of subject, "You saw that party, right?"
Tak nodded her head, hoping that this wasn't going to lead to another depressing story about the horrible effects of the anarchy in the state.
"They're all going to die before the sun is up." Tak instantly lost all hope for a happy story.
"How do you know?" she inquired.
He waved a hand in the air for a moment in a gesture that clearly said that the reason was obvious, "It's never happened on this large of a scale before, but those bastards usually wait for the people to group before the commit mass-homicide."
Tak raised her eyebrows and widened her eyes, screaming silently, 'Why don't we do something about it?'
"Who are we supposed to tell? The police?" Miche demanded through a dark laugh. "It doesn't matter, even if there was a police force still intact here, and even if they'd believe a teenager and a transvestide, I already heard gunshots. The Dark Fury's probably already finished their buisiness by now. Damn bastards should be brutally murdered for all they're doing to us!"
"Listen, I agree what they're doing is wrong, but isn't it just as immoral to kill them as it is if they kill you? Don't you think that every living thing has the right to live, no matter what?" She automatically felt protective of the morals she firmly believed in. She hadn't thought about the serious topic since her biology teacher attempted to force the class into dissecting frogs, something which Tak thought of as an unnecessary and disgusting murder.
'Save it for the medical schools,' she'd told the teacher, who soon became one of the hugest supporters of Tak's pending expulsion.
Before any consequences could be issued, Tak had walked out of the class with no intent of making an appearance there for a long while. Her rebelious action had earned her a certain notorious fame among her classmates, which she considered a high compliment.
Tak had never told her parents about how she'd stuck up for the frogs - the underdogs. She had always doubted her parents would understand. In fact, she never really told her parents anything for that same reason. Miche didn't seem to understand either, unsure of how to react to the outspoken girl. Quickly terminating the conversation, he nodded his head in uncertainty.
It took about half of an hour to walk through the dusty back roads of Edona to a shabby little house just outside the walls of the city. The collapsing home bluntly illustrated the utter poverty Miche and his adopted daughter were stuck in.
"Hey . . . Miche?" Tak asked tentatively as they approached the house. "If you need any money, I'll be more than happy to give you some."
Miche stared at her, his expression not of one offended but of someone utterly confused, "You like playing the hero, don't you? I just don't understand why a teenager like you has these thoughts in her head."
"How many times do I have to have to tell you, Mii; there are nice people in the world. You shouldn't have so little faith in the human race. You gotta lighten up," said a tall man who had emerged from one of the many gaps in the building.
"Yeah, I know. Don't give that whole lecture about how there's always hope in mankind," he dismissed.
"And womankind," added the man, glancing at Tak, who couldn't help but smile at him
Tak extended her left arm to the man, only to realize that the man was missing the said limb. A rosy blush of embarrasment coloring her pallid cheeks, she hastily shook his other hand.
He smiled knowingly, "Yeah, I know the whole arm thing is creepy. I've gotten used to it. I mean, I'm right-handed anyway. By the way, my name's Gary. And you are?"
A smile played at the corners of her mouth as she was overwhelmed with a newfound respect for the charismatic Gary, "I'm Tak."
"It's nice to meet you, Tak."
"Well," Miche stretched out the word as to get Gary's and Tak's attention. "Why are we standing out here in the middle of the night? Let's go inside and I can put Miyuki to bed."
They walked inside the cramped room which was the entire house. Pillows, worn with age, scattered across the mold-infested floorboards, Miche placing the sleeping Miyuki on the cushion farthest from the door.
A soot-covered face and dark dress nearly concealed the well-pregnant woman watching the three from a corner.
"Found another veteran?" she asked Miche. "Doesn't seem like she's met the Dark Fury yet, though. Hopefully it will stay that way."
Upon closer inspection, Tak noticed the woman had sported thick scars all over her body. Her blue eyes nearly as dull as the deep brown hair that hung limply at her shoulders.
"That's Diane," whispered Gary to Tak. "Her husband was a part of the rebellion against the Dark Fury that took place a while back. No one ever heard from any of them, but the terrorists tracked down the families of the rebels in an attempt to murder them. She was beaten up severly, but she survived. If only her child had been so lucky; she's been carrying a corpse in her body since the attack."
Tak drew her breath in and stayed silent for a moment of mourning for the baby. Diane turned to Gary and Tak and asked what they were talking about, saying she thought she heard her name.
"No, Di, I was just telling Tak here about how I got here. You know, how the Dark Fury tried to kill me, but they only got my arm. The person who amputated my arm did not believe that I'd live. But you know what I always say, Di. Always believe in yourself, even if no one else does, because when you become successful, they'll all believe," Gary told Diane with a grin.
"But you aren't successful," Diane said dryly. "You want to die, isn't that right?"
"Sometimes," Gary thoughtfully admitted. "But I'm not going to give the sick DF the pleasure of having me die for what they did to me. And about being successful, I am more than confident that one day I'm going to be okay. It's all about the moral victory."
"Oh, come back to Earth, Gary. You're a handicapped beggar. There's no victory in that. Our lives are all in shambles! The only difference between me and you is that I don't make up lies to sing myself to sleep every night."
After more talking and a slice of dry bread, Tak was sick with exhaustion. Having traveled without rest for the entire day and hearing the intense evil that was the terrorist group plaguing the helpless city of Edona, she was ready to sleep. The only thing keeping her from nodding off was the sheer uneasiness in sleeping in the shack with the strangers in none other than the infamous city under fire.
When everyone had fallen asleep, Tak decided that she could not stay with the others any longer - partly because of the environment of the run-down house she was in, and partly because of the guilt she felt from not being able to help better the lives of Miche and Diane. Even Gary, who gave Tak a new perspective of what was needed to be done, needed to be left behind.
She tiptoed across the room, dropping the little bit of money she had on the floor so maybe they could buy some decent food to live on. So close to slipping out unnoticed, Tak foolishly stepped on a squeeky floorboard, causing Diane to sit up quickly in her makeshift bed. Tak froze as they were locking in a long, silent moment staring into each other's surprised eyes. To Tak's relief, her reaction was nothing but a smile unfit for her face before drifting off to sleep again.
Reddish rays of early sunlight illuminated the sky as Tak emerged from the deteriorating shack and, in the utter exhaustion which had plagued her every morning since that fateful December day, she collapsed into the gentle sands of the Edona Desert.
A strong breeze whipped through Tak's dark hair, pushing it in and away from her face as she lifted herself from the soft ground. Fearfully, yet determined, she walked towards the high and almost ironically welcoming gates to the city. Greeted by sand blown into her face once again, she quickly walked through the distraught town, stepping over the bloody remains of the people murdered the night before.
In a displeasing mix of disgust and frantic terror, she sped up her pace. Too panicked to be looking where she was running, she ran into a person in a dirty black cloak (which would make that person number three Tak walked into for the past two days, for those keeping count.) Cursing fluently under her breath, she thought for sure she'd just run into a member of the lethal Dark Fury, and backed away as quickly as she'd come at the cloaked figure.
"Wait!" yelled the person behind the robe. "Don't leave! I am desperate! Would you be kind enough to give me food or money? I will pay. In information."
Tak turned around, 'What the hell.' She walked to him and gave him the last of her money, one mulee.
"I'm sorry. This isn't much, but it is all I have left," she said sincerely, desperately hoping that she hadn't gotten herself in a kind of situation she'd have to fight her way out of (she just wasn't in the mood at the early hour of the morning.)
"You are very kind. This world needs more nice people. I can tell you where you can find what you are looking for."
"You don't need to tell me anything . . ." Tak wanted to get away as fast as she possibly could.
"Take this and give it to the owner of the shop around the corner. He'll tell you how to get to someone who will lead you to the tomb of an ancient Edonian king, from a time when Edona was just another Canduasan city-state. In the burial chamber there is said to be great riches . . . And the Jewel you're looking for."
'This is going to be a long day,' Tak thought to herself exhaustedly.
"Take this and go!" he put a flat stone into her hand and gestured for her to leave.
"Thanks," Tak said, unsure of what was happening. She looked down at the stone and looked up again to question the mysterious gift of the vagabond, but the beggar was gone.
Tak looked closer at the stone and noticed the engraving on it.
Tak vaguely recognized the strange writing etched onto it. Puzzled by the impression on the stone, she walked into the shop, realizing that for the first time in her life she was relying completely on someone else, a concept she despised. But what other lead to the next Jewel of Nikolaz did she have?
The dark, dusty shop was almost empty except for a man arranging items on old wooden shelves. He turned to Tak and asked dully, "What do you want?"
Tak showed the strange rock to the man, hoping her story would be self-explanatory. He looked at her with no emotion, and for a minute Tak thought miserably that she had shown the stone to the wrong person.
"You must be one of the chosen few," he said. Tak sighed in relief.
"O . . . K."
"The rest have died trying to help. He never really did have good taste in people. I guess you're the only person left that Megumi could draft."
"Hey," said the annoyed Tak. "I don't know who this Megumi person is, but I have to find him and get what I'm looking for, so tell me -"
"Uh-huh. Just go down the block to the abandoned house, climb the stairs to the roof and there'll be a little hut. Go in there, and you'll meet Megumi."
"Uh . . . Thank you," said Tak on her way out. She stopped and placed the rock on a table next to the monotonous man. "I'll let you keep this. I have no more use for it."
He said nothing, so Tak left in silence. She was glad for the quick escape from the store, thinking she'd go insane from the depressing aura of the shop.
Slowing down to a walk, Tak realized the pain in her stomach. It then hit her that she'd barely eaten in a few days. Leaning onto a dying tree in front of a dying house at the end of the long road in the pain of dizziness and hunger, she had thought that she'd vomit at any giver moment, and had almost acquiesced to the pain.
But her will was stronger, and the sight of the abandoned house was enough to let her know that she had come too far to give up and get sick over nothing. She smiled dimly at the house and ran into it, hoping she could trust the sources of the information she'd been given.
The house was small and dark, pitch black with only one room and a flight of stairs. Tak could barely make out where the stairs were, and when she did, she took a long time getting up them. Something about the darkness possessed Tak, however, giving off an almost detatched and surreal air as she made her way up. Smirking triumphantly, she'd reached the last stretch before reaching Megumi's house, where hopefully she'd be able to rest.
Just as she'd been told, there was in a small hut on the roof. She went to the door and knocked on it, half-believing no one would be there and that the hut was too run-down for anyone to live in.
"Come in," called a familiar voice from the other side on the door. Tak had no idea who it was in the hut, too tired to place the voice. Satisfied with the mere fact that she hadn't been misled, she opened the door cautiously.
The cramped living room of the few-roomed hut could barely fit the small coffee table and raggedy green couch, let alone the man in the dirty black cloak sitting on it. The same man from before.
A/N: Thank you all for reading! I am now publishing under a different name, TK Anez. Please check out my new story: s/2826156/1/Ishiki If you like this story, you will like Ishiki :)