Her mother leapt in front of the her, screaming as she charged the marine. She held one of the mining drills in her hands and smashed it into the side of the man’s head. With a horrible whine it punctured the helmet, and then his temple with a spray of blood.
Her mother plucked the man’s gun from his hands and ran at the other marine’s screaming “You won’t take me! You won’t take me back! You can’t have her! He can’t have her!”
The other marines turned and cut her down in a hail of bullets. She did the same horrid dance that Bert had done, but for much longer.
Sho screamed too, and dropped the mug. The scent of hot chocolate washed over her, and she began to rush forwards to her mother when strong arms grabbed her from behind and pulled her back.
“Hush girl! Quiet now, or they;ll get you too!” Rathum said as he pulled her out of the doorway and behind a crate that had fallen in the blast. Sho tried to twist away from his grip.
“Come here girl” he grunted, trying to pull her in despite her slapping and kicking “Come here! There is nothing you can do for her!”
They had taken her mother. They had taken her away. And somehow in Sho’s mind it was all Rathum’s fault. That was how her mind saw it.
Lian watched from the shadows, tears running down her cheeks. Behind them the decorations burned, the party burned, everything burned.
“Come here!” Rathum snarled, grabbing her with both hands and pulling her back into the shadows with one mighty tug “You’re going to get yourself killed!”
Sho looked at this man who had hurt her mother, who had made her mother unhappy. She saw again her mother falling, shot by the soldiers. She saw it all. She saw the leer in Rathum’s eyes when he looked at her mother, heard again those horrible sounds. All this in a moment as Rathum pulled her into the shadows and held her against his chest.
“You can’t go out there, you won’t go out there even if I have to hold you here all night” he said, the words muffled by his thick coat.
She screamed as loud as she could. She would not leave her mother behind. She would stop them. She would kill them all! She felt something digging into her stomach. Reaching down with one hand she felt the cold cold handle of Rathum’s knife.
Rathum was still saying that he would not let her go throw her life away. He needed to shut up.
She felt warmth leaking down her hand, trickling as Rathum’s voice cut off.
He let go, his arms going limp and she stepped away, looking up at him. There was shock the eyes that slowly looked down to the hilt of his knife. It stood out from his chest like a strange growth as blood leaked out around it.
Sho looked past Rathum to see Lian, tears streaking the dust on her face, her dress tattered from the blast. Lian looked at her with terror, horror in her eyes. In those same eyes Sho could see herself reflected, a figure backlit by fire and smoke, death, blood trickling down her hands. She did not look eight anymore. She looked far older.
“What have you done? What have you done?” she repeated again and again, a soft sobbing litany.
Sho looked back to Rathum. The big man looked down at her and shook his head slowly.
“I’m…I’m…so-sor-sorry girl. So-so-sorry”
He shook his head once more before falling forwards. As he fell Sho leapt up and grabbed the knife from his chest, spinning past him as she did so. As he landed with a meaty thump she alighted behind him, poised to do further violence.
Something had broken in her. Something had broken that could never be fixed. She did not grieve for her mother anymore. She knew that she could try and avenge her death now, but then she would never again get to experience the heady rush of taking another’s life. So she stcuk the knife in her belt and stepped away from the fires.
“If you want to live Lian, then you will follow”
“You were right Sho. If I had stayed there I would be dead. I don’t know why you saved me; it was me they were looking for. Your mother died because of us. But you did, and so I am still thankful for that. But you need to leave”
The artist looked up at Lian from the handle of the knife, worn smooth now by years of use. It was still sharp she mused as she looked at the blade. Still so wickedly sharp. That handle was always cold, no matter how long she held it. That cold cold handle would haunt her forever it seemed. Her first kill should have been more artistic than that.
“I am not Sho. How many times must I tell you that?”
“You know how I stand on this Sho. So long as you continue to use a moniker, a nickname, a title rather than a real name then you are not human. By calling you by your own name I do my little bit to bring back the little girl who dropped her hot chocolate, the little girl who saved me with her bravery. The little girl who was afraid to talk to people because she was afraid of what was inside of her, because she did not want to let the artist” she spits the word “take control and slip free. That is why I call you by your name Sho”
The artist stared at Lian.
“I should kill you”
“I know you won’t”
“Because you need my help”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because here you are. You have come to see me three times since we parted ways. The first time you wanted my help with a particularly hard kill. Because the man deserved killing I helped you. The second time you found me you had been almost lethally injured and your implants were not working right. I saved you, nursed you back to health. You hate me as well. You wouldn't just come find me to chat about old times. So you need my help. Simple as that”
The artist looked at Lian. The woman. The hateful woman who reminded her of her past. Yes, she was right. Yes she did need help. Yes she did hate Lian. But there was nobody else to help her, nobody else she trusted. Lian owed her a debt that could never be repaid, and they both knew that. It was time to shave a little bit more off of that debt.
“You are right. I am being followed, hunted, by a man. He is an agent of the Arcernment. But I am better than he is. I can kill him”
“Then why do you need me?”
“Because I was hurt. He tricked me, hurt me, and it got infected. It has not healed”
“And so you want me to protect you while you get better”
Lian leaned back and looked at her for a moment.
“Why should I? The last two times were different; they didn’t place me directly in the line of fire of any of the Governments. But now? If the Arcernment captures me they’ll turn me over to the Old Earth Council, try and curry favour. So, why should I help you? Sell it to me”
“I will kill you if you don’t”
“I’ll die someday anyways. Do better”
“I’ll kill the people in this cafe if you don’t”
“I never liked them anyways, and you don’t want to draw attention to yourself. A cafe full of death? Sounds like a bright light for the Arc-moths”
The artist gritted her teeth. Lian never made it easy.
“Because you owe me”
“For saving your life time and time again”
“What else for?”
“For protecting you from the demons from your past”
“Same as saving my life”
The artist glared at her, her hatred growing. Why did she do this everytime?
“Because you made my mother die. You are responsible for her death”
“And why is that a debt that I owe you?”
“Because it hurt. It hurt me so much to see her die. If you had not been there she would not have died”
“But it doesn’t hurt you anymore? If you have gotten over it I see no need for me to pay off any debt. I see no debt”
“It still hurts. It hurts so very much everytime I think of it. You saw how I crushed the mug”
“I thought that was anger at realizing I was here”
“It was pain. Anger and pain at her death and at the Governments. As you know”
“Just wanted to hear it” Lian sipped her hot chocolate “The day that you lose that scrap of humanity is the day I turn you over regardless of what it would mean for me. Because on that day you will have truly become a monster Sho, no better than the ones who killed your mother. You still make sure that the ones you kill have little family left don’t you?
The artist looked away, something like shame in her. This was why she hated Lian. Lian brought back too many things that she had left behind.
“Damn you Sho. Damn you. You are no better than them. In fact I think you are worse. You are worse because you don’t even do it for any reason. You just kill and kill and kill. They at least killed our parents for a reason, however bad of one it was. You are a monster. I won’t help you, debt or no debt”
Lian drained the mug and got up to go.
“Lian, wait. Stay. I’ll, I’ll change. I vow it. I’ll go back to how I was. I’ll never hurt a family again”
Lian sat back down, anger on her face “How can I trust that? How can I trust the word of a monster?”
The artist sat, the shame coursing through her now. She had done to other children what had been done to her. That was not right. That was entirely wrong. She felt so ashamed.
“Because this time you will come with me when I am done. Maybe not in person, but I will bring you with me. I will call you, talk to you each day. If I don’t then tell them where I last was. I will not hold it against you”
Why had she said that? Lian was getting to her. But Lian was sitting down again.
“If you swear that, then yes, I will help you. But only then”
“Yes, I swear”
“Good. Lets get you to my apartment then” She stood and began to walk to the ‘employees only’ door at the back of the cafe.
“What are you doing Lian? That is not where you live. You live across the street” the artist said as she hurried to catch up.
Lian just smiled at her “You think I’d be stupid enough to let them know my real address? No. I own this cafe. I bought it with what I had left from the family fortune. And now I live in the subbasement. Its not ideal, but it lets me keep tabs on those who come to watch my building. Now lets get you settled”