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>>after the lylat wars — chapter four::

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>>AFTER THE LYLAT WARS — CHAPTER FOUR::

Alankria

I will dance so freely. Holding onto no one. You can hold me only if you too will fall away from all these useless fears and chains.

Disclaimer: StarFox characters, places and concepts are copyright Nintendo. The songs lyrics featured are from one of Circe de Soleil's songs.

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Someone I am is waiting for my courage.

Who am I to question the divine will of God, if such being even exists. Peppy always used to tell me that God didn't so much determine your future — after all, His gift to us for free will — as show you the path. You had to take the path. I took one path, and here I am now. Some cruel twist of fate? I don't know. I'm not sure I care to think of such things, because there's so little that I know. Did God determine what will happen to me in the rest of this day? Did He determine that I would be here on Katina, present at a certain place and time so that certain events would unfold? I don't know. What I do know is the fight. So when I hear the familiar pitter-patter of machine-gun I am instantly alert.

"Shh," Katlana murmurs. "It go. Always go."

But my ears tell me different. I can hear a few screams, and the gunfire comes ever closer. And, after a few more seconds, I can identify the weapon. A Venomian weapon. This is no ordinary gunfight, played out between impoverished people who want only to have something that the other has. I remember hearing reports, before I came to this place, about small factions of surviving Venomians soldiers causing trouble wherever they could. Their preferred method? Shooting defenceless civilians.

I look around me. I don't see the scrawny den, the girl beside me. I see the holster I abandoned when I made myself comfortable in here. I reach over, check my weapon is safe and ready for use. Without thinking. Just acting on an instinct that I've had with me for so long.

I pause for just a moment. I came here because I hated the killing. And here I am, the second I hear more of it, alert and ready to join in. I might laugh from the cruel irony, or maybe I should cry, but I do neither because then I hear footfalls inside the building in which this den was built.

Before I can think about whether to shoot them or to pretend not to be here, they open fire. The next few seconds are a cacophony of noise and Katlana's single scream. I hit the floor the second I heard the first round fire, moving quick enough to avoid any damage more serious than a nicked ear. Katlana moved too slow. I roll over to her, see the stillness of her face and the blood leaking from her mouth, and feel an odd ache inside me.

"I won't forget you," I whisper, kissing her softly on one cheek and closing her dulled eyes.

The Venomians are talking. I had never learnt their language but I could probably guess that they're wondering if they'd got their targets. I wait. Eventually I hear the sound of them turning, and then I roll out from underneath the collapsed den and take them both down. It was unfair to shoot them in the back but it was unfair for them to kill Katlana, so I figure I'm even on the fairness meter.

I walk past the dead bodies, relieving one of them of his machine gun and both of them of their spare magazines. I holster my blaster, make safe the machine gun and grip it in both hands. Any films you see of guys with a machine gun in each hand are a load of bollocks: the recoil would send both guns shooting to the heavens after about three rounds unless the guy's arms were about as thick as my body. Besides, you don't really need two unless you're planning on firing in two directions. And if you're in that kind of situation it probably won't matter if you're shooting at the ceiling because there's a pretty good chance you'd be dead already.

I peer carefully around the corner to see how many men are in the street. Initially I see two. Unfortunately they see me. I duck back as they open fire, and the second they stop I'm shooting at them. We exchange fire a few times, seeming to gain no advantage on either side, until a shot comes out of nowhere and this hits me in the shoulder. Cussing, I look around me and see another man coming towards me from a different direction. He's left himself open, though, so I drop him easily and turn back to the other two, wincing at the pain in my shoulder. But now those two are joined by another two.

I'm starting to think that maybe I should have played dead earlier rather than shoot the men who had killed Katlana, and then yet another shot comes from apparently nowhere. Ducking down in case it was aimed at me, I initially miss the fact that it's taken down one of the enemy. When I notice this, I peer out, looking for the person who is apparently my ally. I see no one. But the effect on the Venomians is pronounced: they've run for cover.

The mystery shooter makes no more moves, and I start looking for another place to move to. Just as I'm about to make a move, one of the Venomians open fire, forcing me back into cover, and then as I look out cautiously I see the familiar shape of a grenade flying towards me.

I've always had incredible reflexes, ever since I was small and the bigger kids thought it'd be funny to throw basketballs at me and I managed to swat them away without a moment's thought. I was shooting that grenade before I even considered the idea. I fire off a quick burst, notice that someone else fired at the grenade too, and then duck away as the combined effort destroys it mid-air.

The blast knocks me back and possibly even knocks me out for a few moments. When I open my eyes I hear the tail-end of a machine-gun exchange, after which I hear footfalls outside approaching where I'm lying. I sit up, machine gun ready in case it's a Venomian wanting to check that I'm dead this time.

Nothing prepared me for the man who walked into the ruined building.

The one I want, the one I will become, will catch me.

I don't know what feelings are running through my mind now, only that there are a lot of them and they're all messed up.

Messed up like the kid sitting on the floor in front of me. A battered kid, clasping a machine gun in his arms, staring at me with wide eyes. Hauntingly beautiful eyes that I don't think I could ever forget.

"Hey, stranger," I say. Don't know what else to say. He can't think of anything, that much I can see from the confused look in his eyes. The machine gun is still pointed at me. "Hey, kid, how about you point that thing at someone else." No response. "Look, if I wanted you dead I would've done it while you were sleeping last night." His eyes widened further. "I'm not going to kill you but the Venomians still lurking around might. Between us I think we've got them all, but I think it's time to move." He nodded numbly, but said nothing. I glanced over at the little material den. "Is she…?"

"Yeah."

I nod as well, feeling a slight pang of pain at the thought of that sweet girl dead, and then walk over to Fox and give him a hand up.

"Why?" he says softly.

I don't quite know.

"Not now," I say.

He's able to walk, so we walk side-by-side through the now-deserted streets to the place that I have made my own in this ruined city. I take him upstairs to the small room I have slept in for… oh, I can't count the nights.

"Not much space, I'm afraid," I say as I show him the room. "Bit cold, too."

He sits on the floor, his knees tucked up to his chest, his arms wrapped around his legs and a closed expression on his face.

I sit on the bed, staring at him, all the things I want to say to him running through my mind in a jumbled mess of feeling.

"Why are you here?"

I look up and see him looking intently at me. It takes my brain a moment or two to register that he's asked me a question.

"Where else am I supposed to go? Venom? Don't wanna see the damned place again. Corneria would string me up soon as they laid eyes on me. This place was nothing by the end. No one looks in nothing."

"Yeah," he says softly.

"What about you? What brought you to this place?"

He scowls and I see a strange look in his eyes, something I can't quite interpret. "I don't belong anywhere," he says softly. "I hadn't stopped growing up when the war started. I went straight from being a kid to fighting a war. I don't know anything else. I don't have anything to do now."

I'm about to say something to the contrary when it hits me that he's telling the truth. When the war's over, when there's nothing of what he's always known, what is he meant to do? Fade away into the abyss, a memory some people might hold, a good memory but from a bad time.

"How old are you?"

"I'm twenty," I say, and just saying that makes me want to laugh. Twenty-year-olds go to university, or they're training to join the army, or they're starting a career somewhere.

"I'm eighteen."

And eighteen-year-olds? They've just finished high school. They've got an entire life ahead of them, still carefree but starting to think that there's more to life than passing tests and hanging at the bagel store.

"Look at us both," I say. "A pair of misfits. What the hell are we meant to do with ourselves?"

Fox just shook his head.

So let me fall, if I must fall.

Let me fall, if I fall.

Just let me fall.

End.