THE SCANDINAVIAN INTERLUDE PT. 3
Her lonely figure stands still, far away and alone. The wind sends her long locks of hair scattering like rippling streaks of black through the air. She turns, extending a pale hand to Azure. He reaches towards her, stretching his hand as far as it will go. But she is out of Azure's reach.

"Azure," she says, "you cannot languish in Scandinavia forever. You are needed in Britain."

Azure continues to reach forward, but with every passing second she seems to grow more and more distant still. "Tsu… ki… Tsu—Tsuki—"


"…ko."

Morning dawns. Azure lowers his hand, which is still hanging idly in the air. Raising his head, he looks around at his surroundings. A patchwork of sleeping bags lies across the floor of the abandoned cabin, most of them filled with the still-sleeping figures of Azure's fellow inmates. Nearby, Xavier lies snugly on his back, sleeping soundly. As Azure watches him, however, he opens an eye.

Yawning serenely, Xavier rises as well. "My, you've chosen quite an early time to rise this morning, Azure."

Azure glances at their fellow inmates. There are only three others: a large, bald man with a thick beard; an elderly gentleman with graying hairs and deep lines on his face; and a young man in his twenties with wild, straw-colored hair. All three of them remain asleep.

"Is something the matter, Azure?" Xavier asks.

Glancing again at their roommates, Azure shakes his head. He stands up. "I just had a little difficulty sleeping, that's all. I think I'll go for some air before we start work today."

Endless fields of grass, growing tall and wild, surround the cabin on all sides as Azure exits it. To the north, a thick hedge of evergreens forms a wall of forest that disappears into the horizon. Nearby, a little stream tinkles merrily, cutting a path alongside the abandoned roadway in front of the cabin.

Azure looks back at the cabin as Xavier joins him outside. In reality, the cabin is no more than a tiny, derelict and rotting building with its roof partially caved in. Similarly, the pavement of the road before them is cracked and broken, damaged by years of neglect. However, further along, there are signs of it having been recently restored, albeit unprofessionally.

A cool breeze blows by, causing Azure to shudder. He turns to his companion. "It's incredible that we've been out here nearly a month already. We were lucky to find that mana generator; otherwise, who knows what the radiation would have done to us."

"We are fortunate as well to enjoy the company of someone who may conduct mana as well as you," Xavier replies, a smile flitting about his lips.

"Xavier," says Azure, his eyes on the horizon, "what can someone do to change the world if he is trapped somewhere where he cannot do a thing?"

"Is this related to your dream the previous night?"

Azure rounds on Xavier, his eyes growing wide. Xavier smiles back without saying a word. Finally, Azure sighs. "I had a dream about being freed from here. About being able to change the world. I've been sentenced to twenty years here and I know there's no chance for me to escape, but I still can't help thinking about what I could do if I had a second chance…"

Xavier continues to remain silent. Sitting down, Azure continues his thoughts: "Don't laugh, but I've been fantasizing about leading a rebellion against Harkess and his men. I know it's unrealistic, but if I can help everyone escape, then—"

"Then you have my fullest support," says Xavier.

"What?"

With a grin, Xavier joins Azure by taking a seat on the ground next to him. "If that is your desire, then I encourage you to follow through with it. However, if you wish to change the world, then you must become powerful. You must become powerful enough to lead your fellow men, and powerful enough to defeat your enemies. Without such strength, one is merely an animal in a pen. He roams freely, within the bounds of his master's land. He eats freely, when his master deigns to feed him."

"Xavier," Azure says. "Saying it is one thing, but doing it is another. I don't know if I have the strength to take on Harkess and the others, much less the Grand British Empire."

"When facing a stronger opponent, it is the will of the people that shall have the final say," Xavier replies. His emerald-like eyes gaze into the distance, penetrating the hedges of forest ahead of them. "If the stronger do not have the will of the people with them, then they are not very strong at all. You must ask yourself this: are the will of the people with Harkess?"

"No," says Azure. He leaves the word hanging in the air for several seconds; only the chirping birds and the flowing river disturb the calm air of a late summer morning. "At least, he doesn't have the will of the prisoners here."

Leaning back, a smile flittering about his face, Xavier now watches the clouds. "Then you may rest easy, for you will be acting upon the will of the people, Azure. The same applies to the Grand British Empire as well—men such as Harkess may presently rule it, but that will not always necessarily be the case, for it is always the will of the people that shall have the final say."

"But who's to say whether you're acting on behalf of the will of the people, or they are?"

"There are none who may say for certain," Xavier replies. "But those who believe in the certainty of their convictions will act anyway. It then becomes history's duty to decide who is right and who is wrong."

Azure lets out a long, slow breath. He looks up at the sky as well; only a few white, wispy clouds occupy the pale blue canvass of the sky. "Maybe you're right. A… friend of mine used to speak often about changing the world, too. I never bothered to ask her how she'd do it or why she believed so strongly she could do it, though."

Xavier's brilliant eyes glitter ever so slightly as he glances at Azure, but he does not say any more.

Movement begins to sound from the cabin behind them. Azure and Xavier rise as their fellow inmates in the Irradiated Zone emerge. Among them, the burly bald and bearded man waves a casual salute at the two. "You two are up early!"

"Morning, Bill."

Stretching and yawning with his mouth wide, Bill claps his hands together and stalks over to inspect the road in front of the cabin. "It's right amazing, but we've made a ton of progress on this here road in a month! I don't know where Woody, Sammy, and I would be without your extra two sets of hands!"

"Let us quickly get to work," says the shriveled old man with deep lines on his face. He totters over to join Bill on the road, picking up a shovel nearly as tall as himself on the way. "Wouldn't want Peters to catch us dallying."

The five inmates turn to the cottage somewhat down the road. Especially in comparison to the cabin, this cottage is much more well-kept, with freshly painted white walls, a short fence around it, and even a small garden nearby.

"Peters doesn't usually wake this early, Woodrow," says the blond man. He wears a raggedy pair of overalls as he fishes a wheel barrow full of dirt out from a corner of the cabin. "But point taken."

Without much more discussion, the five inmates promptly begin to work on repaving the road. Though it has been partially restored, much of its surface is still pockmarked with potholes and cracks. Azure and Xavier assist the others as they go about filling one of the potholes.

After several minutes of work, however, Azure pauses. He stands straight with his shovel planted in the ground, surveying the others. "Bill, Woodrow, Sam," says Azure. The three men turn towards him. "I've been thinking… if the five of us were to work together, we might be able to defeat Harkess and free everyone in the camp."

Azure's fellow prisoners stop working at once. A heavy silence hangs in the air as they straighten up, staring at Azure with round eyes. Woodrow, the elderly gentleman, speaks up, but not before shooting a quick glance at the cottage down the road. "W-what are you talking about, Azure, boy? Defeat Harkess? Don't you dare let Peters hear you say that, or we'll all be shot!"

"I'm serious," Azure answers in a low voice. "I have a plan, and I think we can win."

"It will not be easy, Azure," says Bill, grasping his chin with his large palm. "The overseers and guards have guns, and we have nothing."

"Even getting rid of ole Peters will be a challenge," adds Sam. "He may be one of us, but he's a dog working for Harkess. If he finds out about this, we're all dead."

Azure shakes his head. "I'm going back to the regular camp soon. If I can find others who'll be willing to help, then together with your guys' help, we can—"

"Shh!" Woodrow hisses, quickly bending over his shovel and going back to the work. The others hurriedly follow suit.

"Peters—?"

"Good morning, my little rats," says Commandant Harkess. His heels click against the gravelly ground underneath as he approaches the five inmates. Pausing at the edge of the road, his eyes flicker across its surface. "I see you're making progress on restoring this road. Good. Our transportation network to our various bases across Scandinavia will be better for it."

"Commandant Harkess!" the others hail, their feet snapping together in salute.

Azure's fist tightens by his side as Harkess and his haughty sneer pass. As usual, Harkess towers above all the others except Bill, his sharp teeth boring out from his mouth and his captain's hat hanging low over the scar on his eye. Harkess stops in front of Xavier.

"I've come to collect a couple of you vermin," he says. "Dunbarton! Your month is up; I hope you've learned your lesson. You're heading back to the main camp."

"Yes, sir!"

Harkess then glares down at Xavier, a tooth biting his lower lip. "As for you… It's time."

Xavier stares back with his bright green eyes, the faint smile on his face never quite fading fully. But after a few moments, he nods to Harkess before turning to face Azure. "Well then, I suppose this is farewell, Azure."

"Huh?" Azure glances from Xavier to Harkess, and then back. "What do you mean?"

His eyes twinkling, Xavier merely beams back. "I'm afraid I cannot quite elaborate, but our paths shall diverge from here, Azure. Please take good care of yourself and remember the words we have exchanged."

As Xavier speaks, though, Azure's eyes flicker momentarily back towards Harkess. He notices a revolver in Harkess' hand, the very same one used to threaten him previously. Azure's gaze soon falls to the ground. "I see," he mutters. "In that case, I suppose it truly is farewell, Xavier."

Feeling a warm touch on his hand, Azure looks up as Xavier grasps him by the hand and shakes it. He stares into the latter's emerald eyes, so familiar and yet so far away. "Take care, Azure," says Xavier. "Remember that you have the capacity to change the world."

Trying but failing to swallow the lump in his throat, Azure nods instead. "Goodbye, Xavier."

"Goodbye, Azure."

Clearing his throat, Harkess directs Azure with a tilt of his head. "You're to remain here while one of the guards takes you back, Dunbarton. As for you, please follow me. I will be your escort."

Xavier follows as Harkess leads him away. Glancing briefly back at the others, Xavier flashes one last smile before he turns his back and disappears with Harkess in the direction of the forest.

While a pickup truck approaches the group from down the road, Azure turns and faces the remaining three inmates. "Tell me you want to stand up and fight," says Azure. "We're all going to end up in the ground before they're through with us. There's no hope of salvation unless we make it happen ourselves."

"Aw hell, Azure…" Sam replies, scratching his bushy gold hair. "When you put it that way—I'm going back to the main camp next month. You can count me in."

Azure nods, flashing Sam a smile. At the same time, Bill strides forward and extends a large hand. "I will help as well, Azure! Just let us know what we need to do."

Woodrow sighs, shooting another furtive look towards Peters' cottage while Azure and Bill clasp hands. "I must be going mad, but I ain't getting any younger either. I'll do what I can to help."

"Very well," says Azure with another quick nod. He looks over his shoulder as the truck rolls to a stop nearby. "I hope to speak to you three again soon."

A guard hops out from inside the truck. Glaring at Azure, he gestures with his gun for him to board the vehicle. Azure promptly follows the order, clambering onto the back of the truck. But as the guard restarts the engine of the car, Azure takes one last look at the forest where Xavier and Harkess had disappeared into.

"Xavier…"


Snow falls on the camp in Loviisa. Azure stands on the porch outside his cabin, watching the silvery flakes float down from the sky and land on the grass on the ground. A flash of icy air escapes as Azure sighs. Glancing one last time at the dark sky, lighted only by a quarter moon, Azure turns and heads back inside the cabin.

There, in a tiny communal room, a small group of men and women are gathered. Sam's straw-colored head swivels around and spots Azure as the latter enters. "'ere's the man of the hour now, Azure!"

Azure shakes his head, shivering slightly. "Try not to make too much noise, Sam. We wouldn't want the guards to overhear us."

"Iz a good plan, but why must you have waited until November to do eet?" asks another of the men, an unshaven Frenchman with thick locks of oily black hair.

"It can't be helped, Claude," Azure says. "It took longer than expected to make preparations and to find people among the inmates here that we can trust. We only have one shot at this, so I had to make sure we were completely ready before starting."

"But why not wait until spring when ze weazair iz warmer?"

"We could do that," says Azure, his face darkening, "but spring is several months away. If we are going to go through with this, then we need to do it now. Too many things can go wrong if we wait that long. It's unfortunate, but we'll just have to put up with the cold. This may be our only chance to escape."

Tense grumbling follows as the prisoners gathered around Azure mutter amongst themselves. Claude in particular continues to frown, though he does not say anymore. Shooting a glance at each of his comrades' faces, Azure steps forward with a sigh.

"All right. Let's go over the plan once more."

A crude map has been drawn with charcoal over the wooden floorboards on the ground. Standing in the middle of the huddle, Azure begins pointing with his finger. "Thanks to Sam's scouting, we know that many of the officers on Harkess' staff gather in this cabin for a late night party every Saturday. During one of these gatherings, we'll lock the doors from outside to prevent them from getting out.

"Simultaneously, we will also have people set fire to several key buildings in the vicinity, so that the camp can't be used again. Meanwhile, I and some of the others will steal the locked-out officers' weapons and hold off any guards to buy time for everyone to escape.

"When the opportunity arises, we will flee on foot as well. Everybody will be on his or her own at this point. The goal will be to circle this way around the camp to avoid any guards and take cover in the wooded areas north of the camp. After that, you should make a direct cut westward and get out of the I.Z. as quickly as possible. There is plenty of wild game and plants in this area, so you should be able to get by surviving on them.

"Eventually, if you follow the coast you should be able to make it to Helsinki. From there, it's a matter of boarding a ferry into Estonia. Where you go from there is up to you, but most of us plan to travel east to Saint Petersburg in Russia. Any questions?"

The men and women around Azure shake their heads. Most of them wear grim looks on their faces, neither smiling nor frowning, but instead aware of the gravity of their situation. With his foot, Azure erases the simple map on the ground. "All right. Today is Friday, which means in less than twenty-four hours, we'll be setting the plan into motion. We've worked long and hard on this plan; now's the time to execute it. There will be no going back once we begin."

Azure's companions mumble their collective agreement. They quickly disperse as Azure dismisses them. On his way out, Sam gives Azure a pat on the shoulder. "We couldn'ta imagined doing this without you, Azure. Bill and Old Man Woodrow will be ready to chip in help on the outside too. Here's hoping to a successful escape!"

"Yeah," Azure says. He waves Sam off as the latter departs out of the room as well, leaving Azure alone by himself inside.

Inspecting the room for any remaining evidence of their meeting, Azure finally claps his hands with satisfaction and leaves the room as well. Outside, the dark hallway is already empty, illuminated only by the faint candlelight of the barracks' various residents.

Azure sighs again as he stands alone in the hallway, his hand on his head. "Leadership is difficult. I hope I can lead everyone out of this…."

Shaking his head, Azure makes his way back to his own room. Sitting down on the bed, Azure watches the night sky through his window. Faint starlight and a crescent moon obscured by clouds gaze back at him. "I suppose I should thank you for giving me the courage and wisdom to do this, Xavier. But somehow I feel this would be easier if you were here as well. I'll make sure to escape this prison, Xavier, and change the world in your place. It's the least I can do."


The light of innumerable lamps and fires burns from inside the large school building that has been converted into the officers' lounge. Music booms from inside the building while the voices of the men inside spill onto the empty yard outside. Azure and Sam watch from behind the corner of another building as two more officers knock on the door of the lounge and are let in with many laughs.

"As expected, all of the officers are in there now," says Azure.

"Yup, now's our chance to strike!" Sam adds. He raises a simple flag constructed from no more than a stick and white cloth and waves it to and fro. Another flag opposite them waves back, signaling the successful transmission of the message.

"Let's go."

Ducking out of the range of the various lamps strung about the area, Azure and Sam make their way to the front of the officers' lounge. Grabbing a chair sitting outside the building, Azure places it against the door, blocking the way.

Sam points a finger at the windows. "What about the windows?"

"Leave them," Azure hisses back. "They'll notice if we try to block off the windows. In any case, the goal is to delay them, not necessarily trap them."

Taking care to keep away from line of sight of the windows, Azure and Sam make a hurried but silent dash into a building adjacent to the lounge. Here, they encounter a variety of lockers, most of them left lazily unlocked. A variety of weapons have been left out in the open inside the room, including pistols, assault rifles, and shotguns.

The two inmates quickly set about gathering up as many of the weapons as they can hold. Then, heading in the opposite direction from which they'd entered, Azure and Sam scurry down a cold, dark corridor until they meet up again with three more of their fellow prisoners.

"Ze buildings 'ave been set alight," Claude announces as Azure arrives. "Ze guards will soon be alert, and before long, ze entire camp shall be thriving with activity."

Azure nods. "We don't have much time," he says, handing as many as three weapons to each of his co-conspirators. "Make sure you get in good position for an attack. We have to stall any officers and guards that get in the way for as long as possible so that everyone can escape."

Even as Azure speaks, several alarms spring to life and begin to clatter noisily, their sounds reverberating through the entire camp. Footsteps already begin to sound in the distance, while the voices coming from the officers' lounge nearby falter.

"Remember, hold them off as long as you can," Azure shouts over the din. "Once we've bought enough time, each of us will be on our own. Follow the planned escape route and you should be fine."

Azure turns around, an assault rifle in his hands. He takes a deep breath before plunging into a run. "All right! It's now or never!"

As Azure returns to the frontlines outside the officers' lounge, he sees that many of the other buildings in the camp have already been set on fire. Neither has the lounge been spared, with frantic thumps coming from the door of the building. One or two bewildered guards have already entered the area, their weapons raised.

Sneaking behind one of them, Azure fires a shot that strikes the man behind the back. He collapses to the ground without protest. "There's no turning back now!"

But with every passing second, more guards seem to pour into the area, blocking Azure's escape path. Hiding behind a huddle of crates, Azure spots Sam, Claude, and the others engaging in an exchange of gunfire with guards up ahead. He watches the skirmish, hesitating to rush into the line of fire.

Meanwhile, a loud crack of glass from the lounge signals the arrival of the officers. One of them has taken a chair and ripped a hole large enough to fit a man through one of the windows. Already, the officers begin to emerge from the burning lounge one by one.

"Damn it, they're getting out quicker than expected!" says Azure. He slips behind the crates and creeps around the gun battle from the other side. As Azure approaches open ground, he makes a wild dash across it to rejoin his allies on the other side.

"Azure!" shouts Sam, ducking behind a run-down car for cover. "Took ya long enough!"

"It doesn't look like we'll be able to hold this spot long!" says Azure, joining Sam at his spot. "The officers are already on their way. Once they figure out what's going on and get their hands on their weapons, we'll have to get out of here!"

"Aye!"

Already, the red glow of flames has lit up the night. Despite the cold air and dusting of snow on the ground, the fires have spread quickly, leaping from building to building and igniting the edges of the forest of trees hugging the backs of Azure and his men.

"I've nevair fought so hard in my life!" Claude says, raising his head to take aim at an approaching guard. A stray bullet whizzes by, going straight through his forehead. Claude slumps to the ground without another word.

Sam nearly leaps into the air as he sees what has happened. "Sh-shit, Claude!" he cries, while Azure grasps feverishly at him in order to keep his head down. "Claude, wake up!"

"Forget about Claude!" says Azure, trying to sneak a look at the approaching enemies.

Even as Azure speaks, two more of their fellow inmates give cries of alarm, dropping their weapons and raising their hands. Another tries to run. All of them are gunned down immediately. Azure's face grows dark.

"In the end, they're prisoners, not soldiers," he mutters. Grabbing Sam by the arm, Azure tilts his head. "I was hoping to hold this spot longer, but we've got to get out of here!"

Keeping their heads low, Azure and Sam both make their way out from behind their cover. However, Sam takes one last glance back at Claude and their fallen comrades. Impatiently, Azure looks back as well. But instead of focusing on Claude or the other prisoners, Azure's eyes fall upon Commandant Harkess, standing in the middle of the yard with a revolver in his hand and a mad grin on his face.

"So you're responsible for this, eh, Dunbarton?" Harkess shouts from across the clearing. "How courageous of you. I shall enjoy putting your head on a platter!"

His breath growing short, Azure tugs at Sam's sleeve again and leads him away. "Come on, Sam! We can't stay here any longer!"

The two of them retreat with bullets flying over their heads. Despite the smoke entering their lungs and the growing heaviness of their feet, Azure and Sam push through the narrow stretch of forest for several minutes, until they come to the very edge of the railroad from which they'd arrived.

Here, the air is clearer, with less smoke obscuring the sky. Through the clouds darkening the heavens, faint glimmers of starlight and moonlight can be seen. Snow begins to fall.

Azure looks up at the murky sky, then down at the powdery snow on the ground. He takes a deep breath. "Let's keep moving, Sam—Sam?"

Next to Azure, Sam is kneeling low to the ground, blood dripping from a wound on his shin. He grimaces as Azure looks down at him. "Just a graze, Azure. Musta hit me when all those bullets were flying."

"Can you walk, Sam?"

"Of course!" Sam replies, rising to his feet again with Azure's help. However, he quickly winces and drops again to one knee. "Or not! I can manage, Azure, but I don't think I'll be able to move very fast."

Biting his lip, Azure tries to help Sam to his feet again, but Sam rebuffs him. "No. I'll only slow you down, Azure, you keep going by yourself, I'll be fine!"

"Like hell you'll be!"

Sam shakes his head. "Go, Azure! This was your plan, wasn't it, Azure? It'd mighty stink if you weren't able to enjoy it because someone slowed you down. And it sure ain't gonna be me who slows you down."

Rustling from the foliage nearby quickly causes Azure to raise his weapon. But as Bill and Woodrow push their way out from between a clump of trees, Azure lowers his gun again.

"Bill, Woodrow!"

"What's going on, Azure?" says Bill. "Woody and I took out Peters and we were looking to rejoin you, but there were only guards and overseers back at the camp. Where's everybody else?"

"Dead or on the run already," Azure answers. "Harkess' men are moving faster than expected; they overran us and we had to get out of there. Not to mention, Sam's hurt. He'll never make it out on his own."

Looking down at Sam, Bill purses his lips but comes to a rapid decision. Bending down, he picks Sam up in his muscular arms; not expecting this sudden action, Sam flails his arms and gives an involuntary shout of alarm.

"Whoa, hey, put me down, Bill!"

The tall, bulky man shakes his head, patting Sam on the head and nearly crushing him. "I'll take care of Sam, Azure. You and Woody can get out of here in the meantime. I'll hold off the guards if I can."

"A-are you sure, Bill?"

Bill gives Azure the thumbs up. "Yup! Now you two go on ahead and hightail it out of here. We'll be behind you."

Nodding, Azure turns and sets off with Woodrow. The two of them follow the railroad tracks north, periodically ducking further into the thick of the forest in order to avoid being spotted. After several hours, they find themselves alone in the middle of the woods, the sounds of battle and other men completely drowned by the dense forest.

"They're goners, you know," Woodrow says. "Bill and that Sam boy, I mean."

Azure frowns. "What makes you say that?"

"Harkess' soldiers were right on everyone's tail back there. Being slowed by Sam, Bill would have been overrun immediately. Poor bloke had no chance with dead weight holding him down."

"I'd rather hope that they made it," says Azure, his teeth clenched.

Woodrow snorts as he follows Azure through a clump of trees. "I wouldn't bet on it."

The forest around the two of them has begun to clear, dwindling into a flat plain of snow and leafless trees up ahead. Few signs of civilization exist here, save for one or two abandoned buildings lining the horizon. In the sky, the very first signs of dawn have begun to appear, with thin streaks of gray and pink light creeping into the darkness of the night.

The sound of footsteps behind them causes both Azure and Woodrow to turn. Due to the darkness, however, little can be seen except vague, black shapes threading their way in between the trees. The two escapees huddle closer together, Azure cradling his assault rifle close.

Whispers reach their ears. Someone turns on a light, illuminating a tiny path through the dark and silent forest. More footsteps crunch against the snowy dirt underneath.

Tugging on Woodrow's arm, Azure turns them around. But almost immediately, he crashes straight into the chest of another person. Several more lights flash into existence. Azure stares up into the sneering face of Commandant Jake Harkess.

"Well, well, look what vermin we've caught," sneers Harkess.

Azure lies on the ground, his entire body sore from the night's escape. He spits out a mixture of dirt and slushy snow from his mouth, glaring up at Harkess defiantly.

Yet next to him, Woodrow cowers on the ground, his hands and shoulders shaking wildly. The older man prostrates himself until he is nearly flat on his stomach, his voice quivering as terribly as the rest of his body. "P-please, Commandant! I only went along with this because the others put me up to it! Don't kill me!"

Harkess only gives Woodrow a pitying smirk. He turns to one of his men standing behind Azure and Woodrow. "Shoot the poor rat."

"N-no! Please!"

Azure closes his eyes and turns away as one of the overseers steps forward with a pistol in his hand. Unable to prevent himself from listening, Azure hears the crunch of steps on the ground before a loud smack follows, possibly from the soldier striking Woodrow across the head. Finally, one shot is discharged from the soldier's weapon. Azure feels Woodrow's body slam into the ground next to him.

Opening his eyes again, Azure finds Woodrow lying still next to him, a bloody bullet hole protruding from the back of his head. Azure looks back up at Harkess, his face pale.

"On your feet, Dunbarton," says Harkess, the same smirk he'd given Woodrow still on his face. When Azure does not respond, Harkess reaches forward and pulls him up by the hair. "I said, 'On your feet!'"

As Azure is forced back to his feet, he feels the tip of Harkess' revolver punch him in the back. "Hands behind your head; we're walking," says Harkess' voice on the back of Azure's neck.

Little by little, Azure is forced into a slow walk out of the forest with his hands behind his head. The crunch of Harkess' footsteps as well as those of his men follow not far behind. Eventually, Azure finds himself out of the forest and in the middle of a snowy meadow.

In front of Azure, a truck has been parked. Azure nearly vomits at the sight of it; innumerable bodies, piled up on top of one another, have been packed into the back of the truck. A majority of them are bruised and battered nearly beyond recognition, with dried, congealed blood decorating the backs of their scalps. All of them wear the standard uniform of the Loviisa Camp.

Azure fights back a gasp of horror as he sees the faces of the men and women with whom he'd served his sentence alongside. Among the pile of corpses lie the bodies of Claude, Bill, and Sam.

"Of the twenty-eight inmates who escaped from our facility," Harkess says behind Azure, "twenty-two were captured and promptly executed. That old man back there makes twenty-three. And, with the ringleader of our little rebellion caught, that makes twenty-four."

Harkess' revolver clicks behind Azure. He feels the gun moved from the small of his back to the spot behind his head where the skull joins the neck. At the same time, Harkess forces Azure to his knees with the bottom of his boot.

Azure sits still on the ground, his breaths coming in short gasps. He feels the cold of the ground on his kneecaps, and feels the grainy texture of both the snow coming down from the sky and the snow on the ground. Puffs of cold air materialize as Azure breathes.

"Any last words?" Harkess asks.

"Eventually," says Azure, his voice low, "this world will change, and there will no longer be a place for you. Someone will do it. I know her. I am sure she will erase you from this world."

"How touching," replies Harkess. "But that won't matter to you, Azure Dunbarton."

Harkess places a finger on the trigger.

Azure shuts his eyes.

"N-NO!"

A single gunshot shatters the forlorn silence in Scandinavia.