Usually I try to post a chapter every week, however I was delayed this week by exams. Technically I should be preparing myself for my maths exam tomorrow, except the mere thought of maths has me sick. :( I'm really bad with numbers.

Thanks for all the comments guys, they were much appreciated, especially considering you actually stopped long enough to write something.

By the way, I have a 'reviews returned' feature, but my memory isn't always the best. If I forget to go review a story of yours, send me a reminder. :)

-x-x-x-

It was easy to see that Francis was annoyed. Once sufficiently far away from the village, he had been forced to stop so that Saga could unsaddle and vomit, near one of those huge crevices sufficiently large for somebody to fall in if they weren't prudent. Of course, Saga's vomit went down into that crevice, disappearing into the darkness.

Her face was a sight to see; all red and puffy, her chin trembling uncontrollably. She was full out sobbing, snot running down to her lips, her cheeks completely wet.

"Mummy is…" She hiccuped. "And daddy…" The events were too horrible for her to repeat.

Francis went over to join his sister, patting her awkwardly on the back. It was one of the very rare times he tried to comforted her. Usually, he was highly unpleasant to her when she cried.

"It will be fine…" he muttered.

"No it won't!" She couldn't believe him. "Our parents are dead! They were killed by soldiers! Do you know what that means?! We are now considered traitors to the dynasty, because our parents refused the Emperor! Daddy is dead! In his absence, we will have to settle family matters ourselves! Our house will be seized by soldiers, and everything in it will no longer be accessible to us! Consider yourself lucky I left home today with my debit card, or we would be sorely lacking in money after barely a day!" she shrieked.

"Hantuch's Sword, Saga! You are a Curatum, act like it! Your teachings never told you to cry like a child whenever something goes wrong!"

Saga's gaze turned incredulous. Sniffling, she turned her gaze on Francis, her eyes harsh.

"Something goes wrong? Oh, I'm sorry, but I could have sworn you just treated the death of our parents like something unworthy of concern! You…" She trailed off, unable to find the right words.

"What?"

"You are nothing but a heartless bastard!"

That was the wrong thing to say.

With one swift movement, his fist came around in an arc and hit her head, sending her sprawling and creating a cloud of dust. He walked forward, towards her.

Saga was already picking herself up, her indignation turning to fear as she saw his expression.

He looked utterly murderous.

The death of her parents had blinded her with grief. Like all nobles, Francis detested having his blood purity be put in question. Bastards were shameful things, and were never legitimized - the parents would be too ashamed for that. Spending time with Edel had gotten her used to such crude words, to the point that she had forgotten herself and accidentally used one of them in the presence of her older brother.

She knew he was violent, and sometimes she had mocked him behind his back when she was with Edel, calling him a psychopath. But now… without their parents, it was as if he had lost all self control, and didn't fear the consequences of doing as he pleased.

He pushed her back down, slamming her into the dry earth.

"Have you forgotten your lessons, Saga? Do you need me to remind you?"

Oh no, she had not forgotten. During her childhood, every time she had acted in a way deemed improper, she had been punished. She could still remember the time when an old woman selling fruits had dropped an apple, and she had bent down to help.

Her mother had given her a terrible lashing, promising worse if she ever consorted with such poor folk again. Being friends with Edel should've gotten her punished, yet her family had never done so. Perhaps due to the money he made, selling animal skins and meat, he wasn't considered poor enough for Saga to be punished?

She was just glad her mother hadn't put a stop to the friendship. Edel was the only light in her world, and she knew that he knew her well enough to forgive her for occasionally being impolite or disdainful towards him. He knew she was used to acting like that, and anyway, he always got his revenge, either by ignoring her until her begging forced him to react, or by forcing her to say she was sorry.

"Well?!" Francis roared, holding her by her top.

"Please!" she whimpered. "You're hurting me! Leave me alone!"

"Alone?" he asked, pinning her arms down.

Saga tried kicking him, but he used his body to immobilize her, straddling her, thus hindering her attempts at making him desist in his actions.

"Do you know what happens now? Our bloodline has weakened with every generation, and with the death of our parents, a certain law comes into effect. Mother has probably told you about it before; the last time it happened to a Curatum family was about 160 years ago, during the Genocide of the South. Do you remember what the two remaining Curatum family members had to do? Hm?"

Saga struggled even more fiercely, disliking what he was insinuating. The two remaining Curatum survivors of the massacre had been forced to commit incest, because marrying other noble families would have weakened their blood too much, and the magic the Curatum family possessed. Francis was, basically, announcing incestuous desires towards her. Ugh.

'Sick creature,' she thought.

"They had to see the King for protection?"

It was an outright lie, and Francis could have easily guessed that. Fortunately, he was an imbecilic brute, incapable of much logic, so it didn't even cross his mind that she might know her history, and lie to him.

He laughed at her answer, surprised, and in that moment, his grip slackened enough for her to push him to the side. He was fast, though, and immediately rising to get back at her. This time, her kick had more effect, causing him to lose his balance…

… and fall right into the enormous, five meters-wide crevice behind him.

-x-x-x-

Tatj'ana stayed as quiet as possible while she pulled herself together. Despite her confusion and fear, she knew that she couldn't have the men in the office know she'd been listening in on their conversation.

After a few calming breaths, she managed to conjure her usual neutral expression. Stone-faced and with a stiff posture, she knocked briskly on the wooden door. There was a moment of hushed conversation between the two men on the other side. Finally, the Sergeant called out:

"Enter."

Tat'jana straightened her shoulders then let herself in.

She saw Sarge sitting behind his desk and another man in military dress relaxing in one of the plush chairs. His numerous pips and badges showed him to be a decorated member of the force and the symbol on his shoulder made her estimation of his rank bump up. He was rather handsome, for an older gentleman.

She couldn't let them get to her. She wouldn't.

"Report," the Sergeant ordered.

She gave the two men a detailed summary of the underling's transfer from the gates to the lab. It was kept as brief as possible, while still giving all the essential information. Basically, she told them that the transfer had been a success.

Once she was done, the Sergeant dismissed her. She saluted, her stance rigid., and let herself remember the appearance of the other man, who knew about the death of the mage.

There was nothing left to do afterwards but calmly leave the office and its stifling atmosphere.

Knowledge was a hefty burden and the newly discovered information she'd learned was weighing heavily on her shoulders. Her stomach felt sour and her temples were throbbing with a fresh headache. She half wished she'd never heard anything. Ignorance was bliss after all.

Wishing wouldn't do anything. She'd already heard incriminating words and there was nothing short of amnesia that could take this knowledge away.

Tat'jana pursed her lips.

She didn't know what to do. She knew she had to tell someone, her conscience demanded it. However, her rational side knew that alerting people would do nothing but assure her a fast death.

Reluctantly, she returned to her duties. She spent the day all day thinking, her mind building and deconstructing possible ideas on what to do. She was fighting herself. Part of her said she needed to report that poor mage's death and let everyone know that the superiors were fueling a war AND allowing innocent people be slaughtered for financial reasons. A second part of her thought it was none of her business; if she wished to stay alive then she'd better keep quiet.

Then there was that last part of her. It was the smallest one, but it ached terribly.

She thought of all the children who'd been ripped from their homes and families just to be thrown into training, like she had been, years ago. She thought of the pain and tears that came in these camps, hardening even the softest mind. She thought of her daily visits to the therapist, something which all soldiers were to do. she thought of the suicide rate, and how people tended to complain about it all, stating that an unhappy army wouldn't win wars.

Those people were often sent to the frontlines early.

What hurt her the most was remembering that she hadn't been permitted to see her mother. After she'd received word that the woman was deathly ill, she had been desperate to return home, even if just for a few days. They had said that training to protect the dynasty came before family. Tat'jana had understood, but always regretted never trying harder.

Tat'jana wondered how long she'd been bereft in her thoughts. Though once she looked down at the tray of food in front of her she saw she was in the mess hall again, only now it was dinner time. She looked around and everyone looked normal. They had no idea the extent the military's unethical actions went. And she knew that if she could she'd probably want to forget. But she couldn't, and the knowledge was eating her away like a putrid disease.

Suddenly any appetite she may have had was gone, replaced with a feeling of nausea. She pushed her tray away, knowing she'd never be able to keep anything in her stomach.

Elrich looked at her, puzzled.

"Need help?" he asked.

It was his own subtle way of asking if she was sick.

She didn't answer, but her pursed lips were enough to betray her. She stood.

"I have to leave."

Without adding anything to that, she walked away from the hall, her squadmates watching her go.

Tat'jana made her way to the communal showers, intent on being alone. She knew that with everyone enjoying dinner,her wish would be granted.

The room, when she walked in, was devoid of life. Opening her assigned locker, she grabbed a towel, some toiletries, and her spare uniform. The uniform looked a bit worse for wear, meaning she'd have to buy a new one soon. She's already used up the extra money she had on buying the newbies some drinks, so a new uniform would have to wait. She placed her effects on a tile-covered bench, being careful to ensure they wouldn't fall on the relatively dirty floor while she was washing.

After undressing, she turned the shower on. Steam soon flooded the room, making it hard to see. Only once she was under the warm spray did she allow her tears to show.

It was as if something had broken.

The noise she made was growing louder, and nothing could stop it. She tried to control herself, but her chin wobbled in a horrifying show of weakness. Her efforts were for naught; the sobbing wouldn't stop. She just hoped no one would come in and hear.

She was facing a true dilemma. With her knowledge of her superiors machinations, she felt obligated to do something. Was reporting them an option? No. Only the Head General was above them, and he was currently with his own troops, fighting off a rebellion in W'tuit. Also, just the fact that she knew such dangerous knowledge meant that she could very well be killed like that poor mage, for knowing too much.

She didn't know if she could even stay with her fellow soldiers, if there were chances of her being discovered. There were no security cameras in the hall where she had been listening in on the incriminating conversation, but it was still highly possible for someone to find out that she knew the truth.

Her mind was coming to an uncomfortable conclusion.

She would have to leave. Become a deserter.

Be hunted down.

Tat'jana's cries grew softer, dissolving into mere hiccups. Being hunted like an animal while keeping her honor was leagues better than staying in the military and fighting under corrupt people who couldn't even be discreet when having top-secret conversations. They were clearly incompetent, and working for them wouldn't be useful to anybody.

She needed to leave.

"I won't be their puppet any longer. I won't stand by passively. I refuse."