Tia finished rubbing the long broom handle and whittling it down, until it was nearly sharp enough to qualify as a weapon. He had, without a knife, exhaustingly smashed the broomstick against the stone ground and then sharpened it until it became usable. It was the third try before it produced anything worthwhile, as the other two broomsticks ended up as splintered shards of wood on the floor.
How he accomplished this, Emi had no idea. She guessed it was his years with private instructors who taught him every skill that might be necessary to run his family’s textile business one day. If survival skills were a a part of it, then his teachings were surely as strict Ms. Khami’s, but multiplied by ten times. And he was doing this all while dressed in a woman’s skirt, to top it off. There were reasons why Tia and Emi were friends.
“Are we ready?” Tia asked. He held out the stick towards the door, and Emi approached the door with a bucket full of powerful cleaning liquids in her hands. The rest of the group stayed in the back, protected by Tia’s boyfriend in case of trouble.
“Let’s kick these guys to the ground,” Pip said.
Tia screamed out, “Help! Help! Fire!” and the others followed suit, making feigned cries of agony. Emi kicked at the door a few times for good measure.
There was a voice from the other side of the door. “What, a fire? Oh no, some traitors are going to perish in flames. That’s so tragic.”
He didn’t open the door.
“That plan didn’t seem to work,” said Touma.
“No, no it did not,” said Tia. “Is there anyone who could perhaps… break the door down themselves? Maybe with a group effort?”
“I saw Ms. Khami bust down Emi’s door once before,” Pip said. “Make her do it.”
“Please, I hardly budged and that thing opened,” Ms. Khami replied. “I have never used brute force for–”
“I distinctly remember some brute force used on that stray cat that snuck in when I was four or five,” Touma said. “It traumatized me for life.”
“That’s beside the point,” she said.
“As tough as Sis is,” said Mother, “She can’t break that door herself.”
“And why not?” asked Touma. “Maybe if we all help her, we–”
“We really must be sensible,” said Tia. “This is not a time for joking around.”
The group argued amongst themselves about how to escape, but Emi stared at the door, locked and barred from the outside with at least one guard standing in front of it. She felt… something calling her to the door.
It was something in her head she couldn’t begin to describe. Not a voice, not an image. Just a feeling, an emotion she couldn’t quite pinpoint, that directed the door to the forefront of her mind.
Maybe it was the fumes from all the cleaning chemicals, or maybe it was just hallucinations from being so utterly exhausted both emotionally and physically, but for some reason she held out her hand and began to move it around in a circle in the air.
What was she… doing…?
All of a sudden–
–the door flung off its hinges and flew twenty feet in another direction. The pathway was clear.
It took a moment for anyone to realize what had just happened, but as soon as they saw the guard in front of them, they charged and attacked him, knocking him out in just seconds.
Emi stood in place, dazed and confused.
“Is anything wrong?” Tia asked.
“Uh, no?” she answered. “Let’s go.”
Tia took a few steps, looked side-to-side, and motioned. “It is clear. But I hear some yelling on the other end of the hallway, so be careful.”
The eight of them stepped outside the closet. Tia’s boyfriend and Pip took the front of the group, while the others stayed behind for safety. Even in the back, though, Ms. Khami held one of the broken, nearly useless broom handle shards as if she was about to be in the fight of her life. “I don’t like this one bit,” she said.
“It’s a lot better than being executed,” Emi said. She bent down and picked up the rebel soldier’s sword, which was surprisingly light. It was also unlikely to be a useful weapon in a fight for someone completely untrained like herself.
“Give it to me,” said Father. “I practiced fencing for eight years. Let’s see if I can jog the old muscle memory.” He twirled it around, trying to get a feel for its weight and shape. Emi couldn’t tell if he liked it or not.
“Just stay behind me and we will be okay,” Tia said. He had only a sharpened stick, but he held it with tight confidence.
“And me,” Pip said. She held only her own fists. Wait, didn’t she say she lost a fight earlier today…?
The group advanced down the hallway. They heard some banging on another door a little ways in.
“Wait a minute,” Emi said. “I didn’t even think about that. We aren’t alone, are we?”
They opened ithe door to reveal another group of ten or twelve captive prisoners, some of them gagged with fabric in their mouths to keep from screaming. They freed those prisoners and added even more to their group.
“Thank you so much,” a skinny woman in a fur coat said. “What in the name of Nexurk is happening today? Why are the peasants revolting so… callously?”
Emi decided not to respond except by rolling her eyes.
“Well, that’s a bunch more people we have to protect,” Tia said to Emi, as if she were the leader of the group.
“Well, the more people, the more help we have, right?” She shrugged, unconvinced at her own statement.
“I know we have a couple weapons, but that doesn’t mean we can form our own army,” Touma said.
Father agreed. “If Tia and I are the only ones who can defend ourselves, we won’t stand a chance.”
“Hey!” Pip shouted. “You got weapons, but I got these babies. Nobody’s getting past–”
“HALT RIGHT THERE.”
Pip froze and lost all composure.
The group turned around to find two older men holding gardening hoes like weapons, advancing towards them.
“I don’t want to hurt you,” Tia said. “Just go home and nobody will remember any of this.”
“You’re all traitors,” one of the men said. “You have already hurt us beyond repair by giving our country to a bunch of tyrants.”
“You might be right,” Tia said. “I cannot speak for the actions of my family and peers. But right at this very moment, I am just trying to protect the people I care about. Is that okay?”
The men charged at them, so their answer was clearly given.
Emi took a step backwards, but Tia took one forwards. He jabbed his sharpened stick ahead and knocked the men off-balance. One of them swung his hoe, but Tia tripped him and he crashed on the ground. The other tossed his hoe aside and instead threw a punch. Tia swerved and dodged and shoved the man. He hit the ground the same time as the hoe he dropped.
These men weren’t soldiers. Not even close. They were just old men who wanted their home back. If only she could be sure her family would be safe, Emi might just have failed here on purpose for the sake of these desperate people.
Intentional or not, that chance to fail was growing greater by the moment. More soldiers ran down the hallway towards them… but they were not brandishing weapons, and they ran past the freed prisoners without a second glance.
There were thuds of heavy footsteps, and then a gigantic monstrous being appeared before them. It was eight feet tall, with lanky arms and legs and an astonishingly ravenous glare. It groaned and balled its massive hands into fists.
The woman in the fur coat shrieked.
Pip, Tia, and Emi’s Father readied themselves for a fight. Even Emi’s Mother tried to keep herself composed. But this… this was a monster! What in the Gods’ names was such a beast doing here?
It looked at the group… but it didn’t attack.
It seemed perfectly docile now, despite its horrifying appearance.
Something about its face struck Emi as familiar, though…
Soon, two more figures ran up behind the monster–
Beatrice Ragnell and Runa Arakawa.
“Don’t hurt them,” Runa said. “They will be loyal subjects just like you, my lovely Hasha.”
Emi threw down her sword and ran over to Beatrice. And those pairs of eyes, glimmering brown and shimmering blue, met once again.
“You’re safe,” they said in unison.
Beatrice giggled. “We were coming here to rescue you, you know.”
“I… I worried so much about you,” Emi said. “With everything happening out there, I just…. I–”
Beatrice shut Emi up with a kiss on the lips. She felt that same spark of electricity she always did and hugged Beatrice as tight as she could.
She felt so safe in this moment, like everything had suddenly become completely okay. Of course, they were still in the middle of a rebel uprising in Castle Balarand. They were still in the depths of danger. But knowing Beatrice was okay at this moment still filled Emi’s heart with glee.
“I love you,” Emi said.
“I love you too,” Beatrice said. “But we need to get out of here. The city’s on fire, and soon the castle will be too.”