Kill the Past
"Everyday is an opportunity to right a wrong," said a young woman with long auburn hair as she stared into the mirror. She looked firmly into her reflection's amber eyes, unblinking. "As a soldier of the empire, I am sworn to fight against all evil, no matter what shape it takes. That's the promise I made to my father, my captain, and my country. And I, Seryu Ubiquitous, will vanquish the wicked, wherever they rear their heads." The soldier's monologue was interrupted by a loud bark. Seryu looked down to see a petite white dog with black ears standing on its hind legs. "Yes Koro, I know it's time to go out on patrol," said the girl to her pet. As the duo made their way towards the door of their room, Seryu passed by a small picture frame standing on her dresser. "Just one second, okay boy?" she said before kneeling before the photo. The picture showed a middle aged man with brown hair and short whiskers holding a small girl with shoulder length auburn hair. Grief tugged at Seryu's heart as she gazed at the photo. It always did. "Hi Dad, I'm going out again," she whispered, "I don't know where you are, or if you're looking down on me or not, but I hope you're proud of me."
"A new partner?" asked Seryu, not trying to hide the surprise in her voice.
"That's right. I had your last one discharged after I found contraband hidden under her bed," replied the gruff voice of Captain Ogre.
"Oh, well if that's the case, she reaped what she had sown."
"Indeed. Her replacement should be arriving shortly. He's a fresh faced young man, I think he came from your village, so you might know him. Name's Noda Donner."
Seryu's eyes widened at the mention of that name. It had been many years since she had heard it. Memories immediately flooded the soldier's head. Memories of a large village in the countryside. . .
"Hey, give it back!" shouted a ten year old boy.
"Just come grab it, then," taunted a much taller boy, as he held up a coin purse
"Please just stop, mom gave that money to buy food!"
"Aw, how sweet," taunted a second bully, who was little more than the first's sidekick, "Little Noda's buying groceries for his mommy."
The first bully sneered, "Come on Noda, you want your money back, you just gotta reach it."
Noda tried to jump up to where the bully held the stolen bag, but his efforts were in vain. Bully's toadie couldn't help but laugh at the spectacle, but his laughter turned into a shriek as he felt a foot collide with his most sensitive parts. As the second punk fell grabbing his crotch, he looked up at his attacker, wondering if Noda had finally grown a spine. Instead of a short boy with unkempt raven hair, he saw a tall girl with shoulder-length auburn hair.
"You jerks have gotten away with your misdeeds for too long! Prepare to face justice!" the girl shouted.
While the toadie's face went white, the first bully just laughed. "Wow, Noda. You such a pussy you need a girl to fight your battles for you? That is so like you."
"You don't wanna fight her, man," warned the boy with the sore groin, "Her dad's in the guard, and she's pretty scary."
The bully just snorted at his sidekick's warning. "Am I the only real man here? Alright, Girly, you want your boyfriend's money, come take it!"
Seryu charged at the boy as he placed the stolen purse in his pocket. The bully threw a strong right hook, but Seryu dodged it effortlessly. She followed with a jab to the gut, followed by an uppercut that knocked the bully on his rear. The bully looked over to see that his friend had already fled the scene. He looked back to Seryu, who was cracking her knuckles as she glared down at him.
"You know what, this isn't worth it," he said, throwing the money at Seryu's feet. "Just take the chump change and leave me alone."
"Not good enough," replied Seryu coldly, shocking Noda and the bully. "Your evil needs to be punished."
Without another word, Seryu brought her foot down on the bully's face, breaking his nose wetly.
"Ow! What the hell is your deal! I gave you the money back!" screamed the bully as he clutched his bleeding nose. "You're nuts! You're more like a gorilla than a girl!"
"Oh am I?" asked Seryu as she stomped on the bully's testicles, eliciting another scream. She prepared to pounce on him with the fury of a lioness when Noda grabbed her hand.
"Stop, Seryu, he's had enough," Noda said, trying with all his might to prevent his friend from killing the boy.
"No he hasn't!" cried Seryu, spinning around to face Noda. "You can't show mercy to evil! Evil must be punished to the max!" After pulling free from Noda's grip (something that wasn't hard for her), she turned to see that the bully had long fled. "Look what you did, Noda! You let the bad guy get away!"
Noda shrunk, not wanting Seryu to be mad at him. "But you already got my money back, and after that beating you gave him, I don't think he'll bother me again."
"That's not the point!" said Seryu, followed by a frustrated groan. "Let's just go home."
As the children walked down the village street, Noda couldn't help but chuckle at the realization he had just made.
"You know, that guy had a point. You're not like most girls."
Seryu gasped. "You mean you think I'm like a gorilla!" Seryu began to raise her fist.
"No, no no!" cried Noda, raising his hands to protect his face. "I just mean you're not a normal girl. For example, you never wear dresses."
"That's because I can't fight in dresses!"
"There's another, you like to fight."
"I like to fight evil," Seryu corrected.
"I'm just saying, it wouldn't be hard for someone to mistake you for a, HEY!" cried Noda as Seryu put him in a headlock.
Seryu roughly gave Noda a noogie while yelling, "Say I'm a girl! Say it!"
"Alright, alright, you're a girl! Just stop it!" whined Noda.
Seryu let Noda go and laughed. "You know, for a boy you're awfully wimpy."
"Whatever. Let's just go."
Soon, the kids came to the fork in the road where their paths diverged.
"See you tomorrow," Seryu said, waving goodbye.
"Yeah, see you," called Noda, before he made a horrified face. "Oh no, I forgot the reason I came out here! I was supposed to buy food!" Noda turned to run back to the marketplace, praying that the vendors hadn't gone home yet. It wasn't long before he noticed the sound of someone running behind him. He turned his head just as Seryu had caught up with him. "What are you doing?"
"I'm coming with you, incase you run into another bully."
"You don't have to do that. Besides, won't your dad worry about you?"
"He'll still be finishing up his patrol, besides, it would be irresponsible of me to let my younger friend wander the market alone."
"You're only a year older!"
"Still makes me your elder!"
"Fine, Seryu, you win. Let's make this quick."
With that, the tomboy and the introvert took off.
"Hey, Seryu, snap out of it," said Captain Ogre.
Seryu blinked as she came back to the present. "Oh, sorry, what is it?"
"He's here," the captain replied, pointing behind her.
Seryu turned around, her eyes widening as she looked at her old friend, all grown up. He still had the same innocent face, dark hair, and dark eyes, but that was all that had remained the same. Noda had gotten a lot taller, and now stood a head higher than her. He had clearly been working out, as Noda's firm muscles marked a stark contrast from the noodle like limbs he once possessed. Noda had also acquired a slight tan since they last met. Seryu could hardly believe this was the same boy she used to protect from bullies.
"Private Noda Donner, reporting for duty," he said, saluting the captain.
"At ease," replied the captain.
Noda relaxed his shoulders before turning to Seryu. "Hey there, Seryu, it's been a while. Your hair has really grown over the years."
"My hair? What about you? Your everything has gotten bigger!"
Noda blushed at the awkward wording, even Ogre snickered at the innuendo. Realizing the hidden meaning of what she just said, Seryu's face turned as red as an apple.
"That's not what I meant, cut it out!" Seryu shouted, punching Noda in the arm.
Noda rubbed his arm and laughed, "You still have a mean punch."
"Alright, you two have fun catching up," said Ogre as he turned to leave. "Seryu, one more thing. The eggheads want you to return to base a little early, around 1800, near the end of your patrol. Something about extra tests with that imperial arms of yours. Noda can handle the rest."
With Ogre gone, the two imperial guards began their route, exchanging stories about their time in the guard. Seryu mostly talked about Koro, much to the dog's pleasure. Noda explained that after joining the guard, he had been posted in the other end of the capitol city, explaining why they were only now running into each other. Their conversation was interrupted by the sounds of a struggle as they passed a tight alley. Moving in to investigate, they saw a man with a led pipe mugging an older man.
"Give me everything in your pockets before I break your kneecaps," growled the mugger.
"Please, I have a family to feed! This is all I have!"
"Wrong answer," said the criminal, raising his weapon.
The mugging victim closed his eyes, awaiting the blow. Instead he heard his attacker grunt and the thud of a body hitting the ground. The old man looked up and saw two guards standing over the mugger.
"When did you learn how to punch?" Seryu asked with a smile.
"I guess watching you all those times as kids really paid off," Noda teased.
"Thank you both! You saved me!" cried the grateful man.
"No problem, we are simply serving justice and the good people of this city!" Seryu stated, beaming.
"Alright, now to take this petty crook downtown," Noda said, reaching for handcuffs.
"He's not going to jail," Seryu said darkly, eliciting a "What?" from Noda and the old man. "Evil people like this must be taken off the streets. Koro, punish!"
At his master's command, the living teigu grew until he was towering above the others present. He approached the unconscious robber, swallowing him whole as Seryu made her infamous demented grin. The old man ran away in terror and Noda looked mortified.
"Why'd you do that! That man was already beaten, all we had to do was arrest him!" cried a shocked Noda.
"He was evil. Justice demanded he be prevented from hurting anyone else," Seryu calmly explained, as if the answer was obvious.
"I see you're still a total zealot," replied Noda with a frown.
"And you're still too soft," Seryu fired back, crossing her arms.
Noda sighed and said, "Forget it. What's done is done. Let's just get back to work."
The duo resumed their patrol, this time without saying a word to each other. The awkward silence was broken when they noticed a homeless man begging on the side of the road. With the economy being as it was, homelessness had become a major issue. In response, Emperor Makoto had passed (at the insistence of Prime Minister Honest) a new law making it illegal to beg outside of churches, where aid was often present. Upon seeing the beggar, Noda could tell Seryu wanted to say something. Putting his arm in front of his partner, Noda sternly said, "How about I take this one?"
Approaching the homeless man, Noda said, "Excuse me Sir, but it is illegal to squat here. Your presence is obstructing the flow of traffic. I must respectfully insist that you relocate to the nearest chapel."
The man snorted indignantly. "Of course, the people of this city don't notice their fellows in need until we inconvenience them. Am I just too much of an eye sore for the rich snob who pays your salary? Well guess what, things are so rough even the churches and their congregations have no money to spare. If I went, I'd be an 'obstruction' there as well."
Noda paused for a moment, looking the man over. "If you really have no options left, there is one place I can recommend. Are you familiar with Exotic Bites, the restaurant in the Cloud District?"
"The richest district in the city? Home to all the country's business elites? Do I look like someone who gets to the Cloud DIstrict very often?"
Ignoring the man's snark, Noda continued, "The owner of the restaurant has a part of his home set aside to provide a bed and food for those with no place to go. I can take you there if you like."
The beggar's expression softened considerably. "You'd do that for me? I'd be very grateful for the help."
Noda helped the man to his feet and walked him through the city, with Seryu and Koro trailing them. As the group approached the Cloud District, the change of scenery became as clear as night and day. The buildings were larger, better kept, and had more space between them than the dwellings in the poorer districts. Even a complete stranger to the capital would know where its residents stood on the economic spectrum. Eventually, the group made it to a fancy looking establishment with a large sign saying, "Exotic Bites: Butcher and Restaurant."
No sooner had they entered the building then a loud, "Hey, Mr. Donner, what strays have you brought me today?" Seryu turned towards the deep booming voice, and saw a short, stout man with thinning grey hair and grey eyes approaching them.
"Seryu, this is Tantalus. He owns this fine business. Tantalus, this is my partner, Seryu, and this man here is one of the city's poor in need of your charity," explained Noda.
Seryu watched as the plump butcher looked at the beggar. Tantalus gave his body a once over, as if he was evaluating the beggar somehow. Then he enthusiastically shook the poor man's hand, much to the latter's surprise. "Down on our luck, are we? Well, I'll be happy to take care of you for as long as you need."
The beggar's jaw dropped. As grateful tears fell formed in his eyes, he struggled to speak. Such kindness towards a complete stranger, and from a wealthy capital citizen, was almost unheard of. "Thank you! Thank you so much!"
"It's no trouble," replied the chef before turning to Noda. "I'll get this man settled down. Why don't you and your partner take a seat and I'll get you something."
"Thanks, but we really don't have time to, ow!" yelped Seryu as Noda elbowed her side.
"We'd love to stay for some of your great cooking, Tantalus," said Noda as the Tantalus led the beggar away.
"Noda! We're still on patrol! We don't have time for this!" cried a frustrated Seryu.
"Calm down. We were almost done with our route anyways. Haven't you taken a detour before?"
"Of course not!"
"Well every other soldier in the Empire has. That includes Captain Ogre. Lighten up, Tantalus's cuts are to die for."
"Fine. But only because we're already here."
The two guards sat down and checked out the menu. Seryu raised an eyebrow upon seeing the prices, but Noda assured her that there were more affordable options, and even the cheaper meals were delicious. Before long, Tantalus returned to take their orders. By the time their food was ready, they were deep in conversation.
"I can't believe you never told me you were moving to the capital. Why didn't you write?" asked Seryu.
"How was I supposed to find your address? It's a big city."
Seryu shrugged and handed a piece of meat to Koro, who devoured it in one bite. "You know, your mom and dad always insisted city life would never be for them. What made your family decide to move?"
Noda frowned and looked down. Seryu bit her lip, realizing she had hit a sore spot.
"Hey, you don't have to tell me if something bad happened," she said.
"No, no, it's fine. I don't mind. As you know, the economy has been bad for many years. The high taxes the Emperor has placed on villages hasn't been helping things. One day, dad gambled everything on an investment that didn't pay off. We lost the store, all our money, we even had to sell the house and most of our possessions."
"That's horrible," Seryu said quietly.
"Oh it gets better. We decided to follow the trend of moving to the capital, where rumors said opportunity was plentiful. Only we were forced to leave during winter, and a snow storm caused us to get lost." Recalling these memories caused Noda to tear up, and Seryu hung on every word. Noda's family had been close to hers, and she couldn't believe such misfortune had befallen them. "Mom and Dad gave all their food rations to me. They said older people didn't need as much food, and they'd be fine. I knew they were lying, but I was so hungry, I couldn't turn it down. When the food ran out we ate our horse, but that ran out too and we were still lost. My folks eventually became too weak from starvation and were killed by the elements. For days I wandered alone, praying that something would save me."
"How did you survive?"
"By pure luck. A guard patrol found me and saved me. They brought me to the capital where an officer made me his ward. He taught me about being a soldier, and basically set me on the path to joining the Imperial Guard. Even if my career wasn't picked for me, I would have chosen it anyways. In a way I see it as honoring the men who saved and raised me."
"My lord, Noda, I didn't know. I'm sorry you had to suffer so much."
"Appreciated. You know, it feels good to say all this. Especially to someone important to me."
"You know I always have your back, Noda. Ever since. . ." Seryu was then interrupted by Koro, who was tugging on his leash and jerking his head to the side. "Koro! What are you doing?" she asked, trying to find what her pet was gesturing towards. Her eyes made their way to the wall, where a clock showed the time being 6:00 PM, or 1800 military time.
"Oh no! The tests! Koro and I were supposed to be back by now! We haven't even payed for dinner yet!"
"Seryu, calm down. If you run back now, you'll only be a few minutes late. I don't mind paying for both of us."
"You would do that? Thank you, Noda, I'll pay you back for this."
"Don't sweat it. Think of it as payback for all those times you saved my butt as kids, and for listening to me ramble about my life."
"Still," said Seryu as she got up, "It is only just that I find a way to return your kindness."
For a moment, Noda looked bashful, but then he looked Seryu in the eye. "If you insist on rewarding me, I'll just take this as payment," Noda said before giving Seryu a peck on the cheek.
Seryu's eyes widened and her face turned a bright shade of crimson. "Noda. . ." she started.
"Hurry! You don't want to be any more late!"
Noda's reminder, along with Koro's tugging, snapped Seryu out of her trance and she bolted out the door. As she ran for the barracks, Seryu thought about the kiss and what it meant. Does Noda. . . no, it was just him teasing me. We've been close friends since we were babies. Just friends. He must have been teasing.