A dark little tale following the "Sad Ending." PG-13 for language.
Thanks go to Gutterfiend for her transcription of the Game. The Characters and Story of Shadow Hearts belongs to Sacnoth and Midway. I have borrowed freely from sources for World War I, placing real people and real events throughout; however, any errors are mine. To learn more about World War I, The War To End All Wars, please refer to the following addresses: and .
Chapter One: Continuation
"Somebody told me that after a loved one's death, all we have is memories ... And these we maintain in eternal bond with the dead." - Koudelka
The train pulled into the station and, in a cloud of steam, the passengers debarked. One was a strikingly beautiful blonde-haired woman, her hair pulled back in a chignon, a few strands falling loosely around her face; she had full lips and bright hazel eyes that hinted at humor. Her dress was flamboyant, a short blue skirt, bustier in black, topped off by a faded blue coat and black fishnet stockings and black boots. She checked her one small case and ran down the station platform. She had a taxi cabriolet to catch and champagne to drink!
Later that day Margarete Zelle was sitting by the pool at the hotel. She had changed into a scandalously brief bikini and was enjoying her champagne when the concierge approached with a telegram and a newspaper. Margarete eyed the handsome young man as he presented the yellow envelope on the silver tray, and then retreated into the hotel lobby. Then she opened the letter.
Malkovich new assignment stop will follow with details for transportation tomorrow stop personal message received from Zurich stop Alice Elliot dead her assailant-jailed end.
"What? Alice dead?" Margarete dropped the champagne glass and re-read the telegram. The first sentences and her new assignment were nothing. It was the death of her friend, a mere week after they parted at Rouen, that brought her breath in short gasps and a fist clenched to her breast. "No," she whispered, tears tracing a path down her cheeks.
The newspaper lay forgotten on the lounge, the headlines blaring in bold black letters: August 4, 1914: It is War! Britain declares war on Germany.
War broke out between France and Germany and, even before France could mobilize her troops, the Germans had invaded Belgium and were sending their army across the border from Lorraine, the former French province. France found itself with a frontal zone extending from Belgium in the north to Switzerland in the south. Heavy artillery was used against the forts of Liege in Belgium with their 35,000 troops; the great guns, including the massive Big Bertha, plowing under anything they hit, and they hit a lot. Civilians, soldiers, it did not matter. In Dinant, the French advance prevented the Germans from crossing the bridge into the Belgian town. But two days later those German forces over-ran the French platoon defending the bridge, gathered the local residents and, lining them up against the church wall, shot all 612 of them, including a three week old baby. Down the valley in Seilles, fifty villagers were shot and, at the mining town of Tamines, 384 civilians were collected and met a similar fate. Through all of Belgium and the border towns of France were told similar stories. The body count was rising and it was only the first month of hostilities.
Margarete slammed closed the back door of the ambulance. She had checked the inventory of medical supplies, including the extremely hard-to-get penicillin, and now walked around toward the driver's door. Catching sight of herself in the mirror, she paused, tugging at the white uniform with its red-cross armband. A frown creased her brow at her dowdy reflection.
'Not the attire I would prefer,' she thought, 'but it will get me to my next assignment, and we DO need the supplies at the front.'
"All set Margie?" a deep voice said from the front of the truck.
Margarete looked up to see Michele closing the bonnet. The tall Frenchman was her fellow nurse and headed for the front as well. "Yes. All set. I'm driving," and she pulled open the ambulance door and got in. "Next stop, the Front, and God help any Bosch in my way." Michele looked askance as Margie but said nothing as he climbed in beside her. Margarete started the ambulance and pulled out onto the roadway.
After hours of driving Margarete turned off the main roadway toward Reims. Michele had attempted limited conversation the first hour, but soon found Margie's taciturn attitude more than he could handle and remained silent. It was just as well. The road was little more than a dirt track, ruts from the hard wheels of the vehicles had dug deep and Margarete had difficulty keeping the ambulance centered. A couple of deep ruts nearly tipped the top-heavy truck onto its side, but she managed to right it with a hard sharp turn of the wheel. She was on the way to Reims, and not at all happy. Heavy fighting had turned eastern France into one long battlefield, with the German and French lines facing off at Mons just this week. The carnage was continuing even as she drove with the fresh supplies and mentally raking herself for a way to get through the lines and to Switzerland. Desertion was not an option, but she had to get to Zurich. She must! Nevertheless, for right now, the call of her country kept her heading east on this pit of a road.
August 22, 1914. The British had arrived in France and, under the direction of General Horace Smith-Dorrien. Their first real battle began at Casteau, a small village a little outside of Mons. The Royal Irish Dragoon Guards spotted a group of German soldiers in their distinctive grey uniforms and opened fire. The Germans withdrew, but two hours later, a British reconnaissance flight over Mons and Soigniers was shot down by German artillery. Both pilots were killed. The Battle of Mons had begun. Throughout that day the French troops continued to advance against the Germans to the east of the British forces. In an attempt to drive the Germans from Neufchateau, five French battalions confronted nine German battalions; bayonet met bayonet, and machine-gun fire struck down the French officers.
Margarete Zelle abandoned her ambulance and nurse's whites in Reims and, taking up a change of uniform, borrowed a motorcycle, and headed east, crossing the River Meuse at Charleville. Her goal: the French advance postings at Onhaye just out of Dinant. She carried dispatches for General Mangin in command of a reserve brigade with infantry battalions and a cavalry regiment and had hopes, afterwards, of crossing the line into Lorraine.
By the end of August, the French and British forces were in retreat from Mons, the Germans hot on their heels. Margarete had delivered her dispatches to Onhaye in time for the rout. Deciding this was her best opportunity, she quickly ditched her French cycle and uniform, changing into a less-fitting uniform taken from a fallen German courier. She hoped that anyone looking at her would not notice the obvious female anatomy or think twice about the blond hair, which she braided and tucked inside the helmet. Kick starting the battered NSU motorcycle, Margarete headed southeast toward Luxembourg.
'Now for some down to wholesome spying!' she thought. 'And pray God I'm not too late for Zurich.'
It is early fall and the weather is just starting to turn chill. The long summer months with their greenery and flowers are giving way to the bright red, oranges and yellows of autumn. The sun still shines as bright, but the nights are colder. And in a prison cell in Zurich, Yuri Hyuga could feel the difference. Not that he cared. With cold unseeing eyes, he sat in his cell. Unmoving. Unfeeling. Numb to all inquiries made by guard and priest alike, he sat on the floor, his back to the wall, and stared into nothingness.
His outer clothing, his coat and belts, his weapons and recovery items were confiscated when he was arrested for the suspicious death of Alice Elliot. By rights, he should have been shivering in the chilled recesses of the prison, but he did not respond. His mind was lost in the darkness of his memories and the coldness of his cell meant nothing.
The fog that night had been low lying, hugging the ground like a second skin. It rose in coils above the rice fields and whispered around hillocks like a veil. Yuri had taken the girl from the train, as that damned voice had instructed him, fighting some thrice damned Englisher for the girl, and nearly dying in the process. Now the girl lay unconscious in his arms, a featherweight, smelling slightly of lilacs. He looked at her for a moment before placing her on the dirt by the railroad tracks, a small tuft of grass for her bed. He knelt by her, the sporadic moonlight spotting her briefly and setting his heart to pounding. She was beautiful! She had pale blond hair, lips like two flower petals gently touching; long eyelashes softly caressing her cheeks. He bent closer and inhaled her scent again. She smelled delicious! He reached out a tentative hand toward her very short skirt, wondering if he should follow his instincts and brave the wonders, but then thought better of it. That damned voice after all, had a way of knowing every move he made. Still ~
He rose instead and turned away, offering the recumbent lady a little privacy while he stood watch for danger. She would awaken soon enough, he hoped. And a few moments later the young woman did just that and, trying to ease her obvious discomfort he reached out to touch her, in jest, and sent her screaming into the night. A moment later, his head was splitting with the voice from hell telling him to protect.
"Arrgh! That hurts! Not that damn voice again!" he cursed as he fell to his knees in the dirt. "Stupid voices! Okay, I got it, I'm supposed to protect her, right?" he shook off the pain and mentally kicked himself. "Look but don't touch. Shit!"
Yuri followed the girl down the foggy path, reaching an impasse at the sluice, but then he heard her scream.
"Typical," he muttered. He took the right hand path and found the girl once face down on the ground. "Hey, what are you doin'? Were you attacked?" The girl did not move or speak so he moved closer, kneeling at her side. "Humph, looks like I'm the one who's getting all tingly inside," he said with a smirk. "Maybe I should ...?" Instead, he stood up and kicked the ground. "Hey! Hello?"
The girl shook her head slowly and looked around, confused, before rising to her feet.
"Hey, girlie, I bust my hump savin' you and you take one look at me and run off. What is your problem? You got no manners, y'know? Shit! If I didn't have to protect you..."
"Yeah, someone or something is damn insistent that I look after you," Yuri said. He rubbed the back of his neck. "Painfully insistent."
They spent the next few hours waiting for a sluice to clear the pathway beyond the rice fields. Little did he know what lie in store for him the next few days.
Once the sluice had cleared, they crossed the rice field and headed south. It was nearly midnight and the fog had lifted a little, only to be replaced by intermittent clouds and a deepening chill. Yuri, walking ahead, could almost hear the chatter of the girl's teeth. He stopped for a moment, turning to check on her progress. She was actually keeping up with him, her head down as she placed one foot in front of the other until she collided with him.
"Hey, girlie, watch it," he said with a lopsided grin. "You okay? Cold maybe?"
Alice stepped back a comfortable distance and surveyed the darkness. "I-I'm all right. Where are we going, anyway? You never said."
Yuri shrugged and grunted his disgust at such a stupid question. "Fengtian. It's the nearest large town and will get us just about anywhere else in China."
Alice made a moue and then bit her tongue. 'Fengtian? Where the Japanese were taking me?'
"Is that all right with you, Alice? I mean," he turned and scanned the darkness. "We might be able to find a village around here for the night. And some food. I'm kinda hungry."
"That would be nice, Yuri," Alice said softly. "Whatever you want is fine."
Yuri looked down at the little blond. 'Such a mouse,' he thought. 'How can she be the one opening the Door to Darkness?' Yuri shrugged and turned down the road, mentally shuddering at the memory of his nightmare; he had fallen asleep at the fire while they waited for the water to recede. At least he hoped it was a nightmare. His nemesis had arrived at the fire, his father, wearing a carnival mask from Yuri's youth. His father - the God of Death, in Yuri's mind. He confronted Yuri and beat him down like a child. Yuri awoke with the realization of his own cursed existence and the clock ticking down rapidly to his death.
Time passed slowly and the Zurich magistrate finally rendered judgement on the death of Alice Elliot. Although they found her death suspicious, there were no mitigating circumstances pending to continue to hold her alleged assailant. However, that same man was paperless in a country now surrounded by warring hostiles. Moreover, that man also showed evidence of insanity. It was a more sensible course to send him to prison for the duration of the war, unless or until some more reasonable course could be taken. Thus, the next morning guards arrived at Yuri Hyuga's cell to place binders on him and take him away. He remained apathetic and quiescent.
The transport cart trundled along the side road to the prison a few miles outside of Zurich, its narrow wheels catching in the ruts and threatening to crash onto its side. It had begun to rain which added to the difficulty for the driver. Inside, several prisoners were holding on for dear life to the chains that held them securely to rings below the seats, all except one who stared into nothing. Yuri Hyuga was unaware of the rocking cart, the chains that bound him arm and leg to the ring. What played in his mind was his only reality, his eternal bond with the dead.
The train from Paris left in the early afternoon, giving Yuri and Alice time to explore and enjoy the morning before departure. Once aboard, a playful Yuri offered his lap for Alice's seat, a not quite lecherous grin playing across his lips.
"Ah, c'mon Alice. I promise I won't bite. Much."
Alice eyed the offered temptation with a shy twinkle in her eyes, but then turned it down with a giggle.
"Ah, I'll just sit here," she said and took the space next to him.
Yuri grinned affably and scooted closer, pinning her to the seat, one arm coming around to hold her as he bent his head down and kissed her.
"Yuri!" Alice exclaimed, but Yuri was undaunted.
"Just a little kissie, Alice," he said with a light beginning to glow in his almond shaped eyes. "Just a little one, pleeease," he wheedled, then pressed his lips once more to her soft mouth. Alice did not protest, instead her free hand grabbed his coat lapel and pulled, bringing him closer.
When he pulled back for air, he laughed breathily. "Ya' see, I told ya' you'd like it."
Alice chuckled softly. "You are incorrigible, Yuri. But I love you."
"Ah, well, that is fine then. We have kids, yes? Lots of kids ..."
Alice laughed, gently touching one finger to Yuri's nose. "You are getting ahead of yourself, Harmonixer."
Yuri grinned toothily. "Not far enough, Exorcist."
The kissing did not stop until the train was well underway. By then the couple had cuddled close to catch a few hours sleep before the train began its long climb into the Alps.
When Yuri awoke a few hours later, he found Alice leaning against his shoulder much as she had when they fell asleep looking into each other's eyes. However, when he gently shook her to bring her awake, his heart froze in his chest. She was gone. Dead. His beautiful fiancé had left him in the night, leaving him alone with his empty promise to protect her. As tears formed in his eyes, he caressed her cheek with his rough hand, pressing his mouth against her chilling lips, refusing to let her go until he had tasted every inch of her pale, luminous face.
When the concierge of the car found him, with Alice pulled onto his lap, his face buried on her shoulder, her hair unpinned and Yuri's hands where they should not be, he immediately placed him under arrest. The man was obviously a murderer and a perverted necrophiliac.
Margarete Zelle was not only tired she was pissed. Her course through Lorraine, then Alsace had been one of avoidance. Avoid the active troop movements, but get enough information to pass on to headquarters, the size and number of troops, armament, equipment, whatever would help the cause. This was accomplished easily since her courier disguise seemed to be working. What she had not expected was the time involved in crossing into Switzerland. Nearly a month had passed and she felt an overwhelming sense of urgency.
'What if something has happened to him? What if he was executed? No!' she thought as she gunned the German motorcycle up the last stretch of road out of Winterthur. Just a little further to Zurich. 'No, they wouldn't do that. He did not kill Alice. However, they might imprison him; too many hostiles around to leave one more running around the streets of Zurich, especially Yuri. The kiddo has a tendency to act on his emotions. I will probably find him in jail. Please God, let him be in jail.'
However, when Margarete arrived in Zurich and checked with the Magistrate she met bad news.
"I am sorry, Miss Malkovich. That man was transported to prison three weeks ago. However, the cart had an accident enroute and he escaped. We have no idea of his whereabouts."
'Shit!' Margarete mentally cursed. "Where is the prison?"
"It's on the road to Aarau, you cannot miss it."
"Fine. I'll take his personals."
"May I ask why a member of the French government is after this man?" the magistrate said as he looked again at Margarete's documentation.
"Let us just say, he's a very wanted man in Paris. It's my job to bring him back."
Once Margarete left the court, Yuri's small satchel in hand, she headed for the telegraph office.
'Where are you, Yuri? Damn it to hell, why didn't you wait? What the hell is your problem?!'
The road to Aarau: backwoods came to mind. Margarete struggled to keep the thin-wheeled motorcycle from hitting any of the narrow tracks dug deep into the dirt road. It had rained the night before and the sides of the road had become a quagmire of mud that invited Margarete in for a swim. She did not intend to put herself into the sticky goo. At twenty kilometers from town, she found the remains of the cart, still on its side but pushed off the road. She came to a stop just beyond the wreck and went back for a look.
It was a standard prison transport cart with steel rings in the floorboards beneath the bench seats, its side panels merely reinforced wood. Margarete checked the interior and found one ring literally yanked from the floor, the shreds of wood evidence of great strength used against it. Margarete fingered the wet sawdust before checking the exterior. That showed no signs of distress other than the usual for such a vehicle. After the accident, it was pushed off the road, so Margarete followed the trail out onto the muddy road. There was a deep gouge in the roadway where the cart had overturned, and the faded remains of heavy boot-prints around that; the prisoner's were smudged with the chains bound to their feet, but another set of prints showed distinct from the rest. These were huge footprints, no shoe or boot could leave these marks. It looked more like an animal's foot, large with five toes ending in sharp claws; the toe claws leaving punctures in the dirt when the creature walked. Margarete shuddered.
"Good God," she breathed. "Could he have fused?" She followed the trail of clawed footprints to the edge of the road and the smashed-down grasses at the verge. Beyond the edge of the road was the beginning of a valley leading north. With a sigh, Margarete stepped off the road and slid down the embankment to the bottom of a slight gully. Just beyond a small copse of gorse and shrub, she made out a trail of broken branches. Whatever it was had headed this way.
Margarete climbed back to the roadway and the motorcycle. She took the extra coat from the saddlebag, also grabbing her cache of supplies and Yuri's small satchel. Then she turned back and plunged into the gully hot on the trail of – she hoped, Yuri!
End chapter 1