By the time Beatrice could see again, she realized she was being pulled along by Emi, and they were running still through the streets near Castle Balarand.
Emi looked back at her and shouted, “We escaped!”
“That was you!” Beatrice yelled back. “How did you do that?”
“I have no idea! The magic of love or something!”
Oh, this girl.
Beatrice, Emi, Emi’s Father, and Runa were all safe, far away from the bulk of the fighting. Now that Dannark soldiers from the front lines of the war had arrived in Balarand, the rebels stood little chance–their forces had already begun to flee. The epicenter of the battle was still mostly around the castle, the entire area now surrounded in flames. The trek to the Tia’s safe house should have been a safe one.
Rebel soldiers and Dannark soldiers alike broke away from their fights to attack the four of them. Apparently they were just too much of a prime target. It probably had something to do with the giant eight-foot-tall homunculus that ran beside them.
“Runa, can’t you make that thing go away?!” Beatrice yelled.
“Hasha is precious. You cannot make a scientific revolution simply ‘go away.’”
“I mean all these people are attacking us because of it!”
But, fortunately, the homunculus was attacking all of these people in return. It stopped running suddenly and plowed itself into the crowd, making its stand against, essentially, everything around it. There were far too many soldiers to keep it going. Nevertheless, it attacked them, swiping them to the floor and kicking one several feet into the air.
The homunculus was overpowered by the sheer number of attackers. But those attackers were no longer pursuing the four of them, and that would save their lives.
One of the soldiers sliced the beast in the gut. It screamed out and bashed the soldier to the ground. Its large, beady eyes shed tears at alarming volumes, and it wailed out like a child who scraped their knee.
“Hasha! No!” Runa screamed. “My creation!”
Sword still stuck in its stomach, the homunculus shoved away all the soldiers around it and ran off in a random direction.
With both the few remaining rebels and the newly arrived Dannark soldiers attacking it at once, the homunculus could not stand up to the struggle. It was going to go out fighting.
But the group didn’t look back to make sure. Even Runa kept her gaze forward. Beatrice could hear the sounds of wailing and slicing, but they grew fainter every moment.
In the frenzy of a sudden monster attack, the soldiers became too distracted to pursue them, and by now not a single soldier followed. They made their way safely for the rest of their journey.
The safe house was a featureless home in the middle of a residential neighborhood, where the fighting had not spread and the streets were desolate. As hot as the fires had made the city, specks of snow still dotted the roof here.
Inside was a furniture-less room with nothing but dry food, water, and roll-out mats. Underneath one rug, though, was a secret latch that opened up to reveal an underground bunker. They climbed down the ladder and met the others.
Beatrice suddenly wondered if her own parents were okay…They probably were. If the fighting had mostly been contained to the central parts of the city, then her apartment near Knoll Park was surely safe. Dannark soldiers tightly patrolled the riverways, so the rebels would never have attacked there… she hoped. She had enough to worry about today, so that’s what she was going to tell herself.
They reached the others, exchanged hugs and cried together, and finally sat down, laid down, huddled together. It was finally time to relax a little bit.
Runa was devastated, to a point she was holding her head in grief. “My homunculus… My research…”
“It served us very well,” Emi said. “Thank you.” She gave Runa a quick hug, and Runa’s face turned blood-red.
“What is your story, girl?” Tia asked.
Runa shot a sharp glance towards him. “What’s it to you?”
Beatrice realized this was the first time Tia and Runa had ever met. What a strange occurrence this was.
Beatrice sat down and Emi almost immediately collapsed, her head falling directly into her lap.
“Your hair’s getting long again,” Beatrice muttered.
Emi giggled. Then she let out the longest sigh ever recorded. Beatrice followed suit.
“Thank you for saving my family,” Emi said. “Tr–Beatrice…”
They sat like this in silence for a long time. There were ten people in this bunker: Emi, Beatrice, Emi’s parents, Ms. Khami, Pip, Touma, Runa, Tia, and Tia’s boyfriend whose name Beatrice hadn’t caught. And out of those ten people, not a soul had the energy to speak.
Beatrice ran her fingers through Emi’s hair. For some reason, it felt weird, even a little bit wrong. But it also felt great, so she didn’t stop.
The one thing that struck her most about this moment was the smell. That lingering scent of smoke and ash that clung to their clothes and hairs with a tight grip. Pungent like burnt cheese. She hated it. But, knowing that she smelled exactly the same way, she let it pass with only a crinkle of her nose.
The silence in the room was broken by, naturally, Pip, who squatted on the floor next to the girls. “You did good, you two,” she said. “I coulda taken them, but…”
“Everything’s going to change, isn’t it?” Beatrice wondered aloud.
“It was always going to,” said Emi, her head still in Beatrice’s lap. “That’s how it works with the… Will of the Gods and… harmony… and…”
She had drifted off to sleep. Poor thing really tired herself out with all of that… whatever it was she did. Magic? If it was magic, it was a level far beyond anything Beatrice had ever seen or read about, but she had no other word to describe it.
After everything they had gone through… They had saved the prisoners in the castle. They had fended off Ulric Statusian. They survived to see tomorrow.
What was going to happen? Neither of them really knew, but at this exact moment, they were safe. That was all that mattered.