"And let none presume on his good fortune..." (Oedipus Rex)

"This is for you," the boy says, holding out a sheet of paper to the green-haired girl. Setting her burden down, she takes a look at the drawing of her, then sniffs and turns away.

"It's a lot uglier than I am," she says bluntly, and the boy's face falls. Before he can say anything, though, the portrait is snatched out of his hands. He looks up to see the girl carefully folding and tucking away the fragile piece of paper, and he can't help but grin.

"One day," he says thoughtfully, leaning back on the log he's sitting on, "one day, when we're free, I think I want to become an artist." He tilts his head up to peer through the trees at the sky, swinging his legs as comfortably as he can with the thick metal cuffs on them. He does his best to ignore the harsh jangling of the chain connecting them. "And I'd draw all the beautiful things in the world that we've never been able to see, for all the kids out there like us."

"One day…" the girl echoes sadly. She lifts her crate onto the top of a stack taller than she is, mechanically shuffling back to transport another. "We're just a bunch of orphans with no home, no names, no family other than these bandits. What is there in our future, other than to become bandits ourselves?"

"There is a way," the boy says firmly. "There has to be." He stands and walks over to the edge of the clearing. Through the leaves and branches, he can see, in the distance, the great, towering, white walls of the city.

"Look at that," he says. "This city's held up against the bandits for days now. Maybe this'll be the day that they're defeated, and we'll all-"

"Your pitiful self isn't being kept alive to laze around, you know." The boy jerks around, only to be sent sprawling to the ground with a kick to the stomach. He lies there, gasping for breath, as the fearsome face of Captain Axio enters his field of vision – scarred jaw, golden teeth, madly twitching eyes.

"That damned city won't be standing much longer," Axio sneers while the boy struggles to his feet. "It'll be gone by tonight, in fact. Our spy has already infiltrated the city."

The words are like a second blow to his stomach. It can't be true- this city can't fall-

Axio cackles madly at the boy's expression and begins to walk away. "None can escape from-"

Call it luck. Coincidence. Intervention from a god above. The stack of crates that the orphans had worked to build up suddenly trembles and collapses, burying the captain underneath.

"Captain! Are you alright?" the other bandits shout, scrambling over to help. The boy looks at them, then toward the city.

This city was the largest one they'd attacked yet. How many lives would be lost if he just stood by and watched the violent takeover…?

"Hey!" The sharp call breaks him out of his thoughts, and he looks over to see the green-haired girl and the other children all staring at him, work temporarily forgotten. "You're not thinking of trying to warn them, are you?" the girl says.

The boy clenches his fists. "The people in the city, they're good people," he says. "I don't want their kids to have to go through lives like ours, unable to do what they like, unable to even remember their own names!" With every word, his legs move faster, until he's half-running, half-galloping away. The chains on his ankles drag on the ground, the thick metal cuffs weighing him down even further, but he doesn't care, he has to get away. "If I make it," he calls over his shoulder, "I'll get them to save all you guys too!"

Behind him, he hears Axio's shout of "Get him!", the words only pushing him to run even faster. If he'd listened more closely, he might have heard the green-haired girl as well.

"Wait! I've tried before, too…"

It's right there. The city walls loom before him, one of the watchtowers straight ahead. The forest is thinning out. His legs are dying, his lungs are dying, he's dying, but his goal is right in front of him-

-and then there's a crack, a tree branch in front of him, no space or time to avoid it. He trips and crashes to the ground.

No, he's so close to saving so many. He can't stop now. He claws himself forward hand by hand, digging his fingers into the earth.

They're toying with him now, he knows it. He can feel Axio's presence right above him. "You want to be a hero?" he hears the captain scoff, and the next thing the boy knows, there's the snap of bone and searing pain in his left leg. He screams, but even that sound is pathetically weak. "Don't be stupid," Axio continues calmly, lifting a gun.

The sound of a gunshot splits the air, but the boy feels nothing. Twisting his head, he sees Axio stagger back, blood streaming down his shoulder, his gun nowhere in sight.

More gunfire. Squinting upward, the boy can see the soldiers stationed at the watchtower with their guns aimed at the bandits that had chased after him, driving them back into the forest with every shot. Meanwhile, the boy continues dragging himself forward, to the base of the watchtower. A rope is thrown down, and despite the screaming of his arms and fingers the boy holds on tight as he is hauled to the top.

"Spy," he gasps out as the soldiers in the tower help him up. "There's a spy for the bandits in the city…"

"You'll be all healed soon," says the doctor, gently applying some salve to the various scrapes on the boy's body. His leg is set and in a cast.

The boy opens and closes his mouth a few times. "…Did you find the spy?" he asks as soon as he finds his voice again.

"Don't worry, they will take care of it," the doctor reassures. "As for your friends, we will find some way to rescue them as well." He gestures toward the cuffs around the boy's ankles. "I'll find someone to help take these off for you. In any case, you should rest. You're free now." The doctor smiles kindly and exits the room.

"Thank you," the boy says, still in a daze, still in shock. He's alive.

He's free.

The thought takes a while to fully register in his haze-filled mind, but when it does, a wide grin spreads across his face. The city will stand, the citizens will live. How wonderful it feels, being able to help others. He can draw all he wants now…

Something vibrates in his pocket. Odd. He doesn't remember there being anything in there, other than his pencil and mini-sketchbook. Reaching in, he removes a rectangular device of some sort. As he lifts it, its screen flickers to life.

"Nice job," Axio says, mouth twisted into a smirk. "How daring of you. As expected of a child who grew up with us bandits."

"What do you want?" the boy shouts at the device in his hand. "I have nothing to do with you anymore! They'll find your spy before long, and you'll never take the city!"

Axio laughs. "In fact, I think we'll manage just fine. After all, who would expect a little kid that barely escaped from the evil bandits with his life to be their spy?"

It takes a second, but the boy's eyes widen in realization. "Me? The spy?" He scowls at the screen. "What are you talking about? I'm not helping you do anything!"

"Oh really?" The camera zooms out, allowing the boy to see the entire situation. The other children are huddled against a tree, surrounded by three bandits with their guns drawn. In Axio's grip, held by the back of the shirt, is the green-haired girl, a snarl on her face, looking anywhere but the camera.

The boy's blood goes cold. "No! You- Let them go! They had nothing to do with this!"

"In your ankle cuffs is a vial of sleeping gas," Axio says, tossing the green-haired girl to the side with the rest of the children and lifting his own gun. "You have twenty-three minutes to open the gates of this city. If you manage this, no one gets hurt. If you don't, well, the consequences are on you." Laughter, cold and harsh. "I wish you the best of luck!"

The screen goes black.

A/N: present tense, whee

Anyway, first thing I've written in a while, and the longest non-nano thing I've written since... a long time. I'm getting an odd feeling of excitement, going through the process of making a new story, even if it is meh... A review would be greatly appreciated!

I was originally going to just leave it like that but no. I will finish this. Consider it (part of) a belated gift, MO. :D I have no idea how long it'll be... 5k+, I'd imagine? I do plan to cover Milong's entire backstory (I'd originally planned to do it differently, though, so forgive any awkwardness of wording and such).