Chapter 1: Taken
Something sharp pokes my neck as I start to wake up. I try and swat at it, but find my arms unable to move. Slowly, I begin to panic and open my eyes to find a bright light pointed right at me. Squinting my eyes closed again, I slowly open them to adjust to the light. What I find once I can see chills me to the bone. A man, in a mask, is pointing a dagger right at my throat.
“Aaahh!” I shriek.
“Don’t move!” He orders gruffly. “Don’t move and you won’t get hurt!”
I try to scoot away, but find my arms still unable to move. Casting my eyes down, I see that they’re tied to my body with what looks like strips of my sheets. Thankfully, I’m all dressed and still in my house. Unfortunately, I’m at the complete mercy of this stranger who is pointing an extremely sharp dagger to my throat. “What do you want?” I ask, slightly above a whisper.
“What have you done with her?” The man asks. “And I’ll know if you lie; if you lie, I’ll slit your throat. So, answer honestly.”
“Who are you talking about?” I ask in confusion. “I haven’t taken anyone!”
“Lies!” The man bellows angrily. “You took her and now we can’t find her!”
“Hey! You said that you’d know if I’m lying; if I was lying, you’d be able to tell! There’s a couple of things wrong with your statement there. First is: who is this ‘her’ that you’re talking about? Second is: I haven’t been able to leave my house for two months, so how could I have taken anybody?!” I say sternly, glaring at him.
He pauses and studies me carefully. “You’re right. You’re not lying,” he murmurs before scooping me up in his arms and throwing me over his shoulder.
“Hey! What are you doing?!”
“You’re not lying, but now that you’ve seen me, I have to take you so you can’t tell anybody of our existence. Don’t worry, I’ll be a good husband and take care of you,” he says, walking to my window.
What the naka is he talking about? Isn’t he from Ganra? “Take me away? Husband? What the naka are you going on about?!” I demand angrily. “I haven’t consented to any proposal! I can’t leave the house! Let me go!”
“This is General Ryoin; I’m coming back to the ship. No, I haven’t found her yet, but I have to bring along a girl that I questioned. She didn’t know anything and didn’t lie, so I couldn’t kill her. I’m making her my wife so she’ll be safe. Maybe she’ll be able to lead us to Princess Tachibana.” The man speaks into a communication device as he forces my window open and crouches on the sill.
“Let me go!” I grunt, wiggling around best I could since I’m still tied up. “I can’t leave the house! What part of that don’t you understand?!”
“Quiet down while we’re leaving. We don’t want to alert anyone that I’m taking you!” The man hisses with so much venom that I’m rendered speechless in surprise.
“B-but I really can’t leave the house,” I whisper, almost inaudibly; all my previous confidence gone.
“Don’t worry, I’ll take care of you,” he murmurs before jumping out of the window.
It takes everything in me not to scream as we fly through the air from my third story window to the ground. I resort to clenching my teeth and fists. When we hit the ground, the man’s shoulder jabs me really hard in the stomach; so hard, in fact, that I find myself unable to breath for a few seconds. Unfortunately for me, he doesn’t stop for long and takes off at a jog. I continue to bounce on his shoulder for what seems like forever. I’m extremely thankful when we suddenly come to a stop and I breathe a sigh of relief.
“Can I get down?” I wheeze quietly. “I’m having a tough time breathing with your shoulder digging into my gut.”
“Of course, but only if you promise not to run away or alert anyone that could be nearby,” he replies.
“I promise,” I deadpan. Once I’m set on my feet, he unties me before I sink to a sitting position and lean back on my elbows. “Phew! I can breathe!” Closing my eyes, I take a deep breath in through my nose and out through my mouth. “Hey, what’s your name?”I peek one eye open and look up at him.
“General Tadashi Ryoin,” he replies, looking out across the landscape. “Yours?”
“Oh, I’m Zaylia Jin. I’d say that it’s nice to meet you, but you kidnapped me and won’t let me go home, so it’s not nice to meet you,” I return sassily, closing my eyes again.
He chuckles. “I wish we could’ve met in different circumstances,” he murmurs. Hearing rustling, I open my eyes and find him sitting down next to me. “But, it’s good to know the name of my soon-to-be-wife, even if your last name won’t be Jin for much longer.”
I glare at him. “Excuse you, but I don’t know who you think you are to be deciding if I’m going to marry you or not! You can’t just kidnap a girl from her home and say that you’re going to marry her!”
“Would you rather be unclaimed and used as stress relief for all the young soldiers at base?” Tadashi asks dryly. “Because that can be arranged.”
Gulping, I look away from him and stare out over the field that we’re sitting in. “No, but if you’d like to know the truth, I’d rather be safe at home,” I whisper.
“You can’t now that you’ve seen me,” Tadashi coughs uncomfortably. “I really wish I could’ve left you at home, but since you saw me and I couldn’t kill you, I had to bring you with me.”
I sigh and sit up before running a hand down my face. “Whatever. I guess I can’t change anything now.” Though, my chances of survival are dwindling now that I’m out of my room. But…Tadashi doesn’t need to know this. If I die, then I’ll be free from whatever torture he has planned. “Wait! Why do you have to be so secretive that you kidnap or kill anyone who’s seen you?Aren’t you apart of the Ganra military?!”
“That I can’t tell you,” Tadashi replies sharply, making me turn my head to look at him. “So don’t ask again. If my superiors allow it, I’ll tell you; but that will only happen once you’re my wife, if even then.”
“Urgh! I hate secrets! I’m going to be so bugged by this!” I groan to myself.“Geez! What a buzz kill!”
“What I can tell you is that my troop is anxiously awaiting our arrival, so we’re going to have to get moving,” he grunts as he stands up. “Are you ready?” He extends his hand towards me.
“Only if you promise not to carry me over your shoulder anymore; I think I’m going to have a bruise by tomorrow,” I say, staring at his gigantic hand warily.
“Deal,” Tadashi replies, smiling at me.
Sighing, I take his hand and allow him to pull me up. “Okay, let’s go then.” Once I’m standing, Tadashi swoops me up in his arms bridal style. “Whoa!”
“Is that better than before?” He asks in concern.
“Much.” I’m sure I have a bright blush on my face, but thankfully it’s dark out so Tadashi can’t tell. I can’t begin to measure the amount of embarrassment I’m feeling right now.
“Here we go,” he states before taking off at a run again.
I’m super grateful that I’m not bouncing over his shoulder, but it’s kind of awkward with me being carried like a bride on her wedding day. I’m super aware of his pectoral and abdominal muscles as the squeeze and flex as Tadashi runs. This alone makes me shiver, not to mention the cool night air.
“Are you cold, my dear?” Tadashi asks, raising his voice over the wind as he runs.
“Slightly,” I answer, ignoring the term of endearment he used.
“Well, we’re almost at the pickup point. When we get there, though, I’m going to have to blindfold you so that you don’t see where we go from there,” he tells me, almost apologetically.
I roll my eyes. “I’m not surprised.”
“Sorry, it’s standard procedure for when we bring in new people,” Tadashi murmurs.
“Right.” I know I sound like a total jerk right now, but I really don’t care. I’m allowed to act like a jerk since he kidnapped me from my home.
Tadashi runs for a little bit more before slowing to a stop and setting me on my feet. “Okay,” he huffs, out of breath. “We’re just a little ways away. I need to blindfold you before our ride will show.”
“Please don’t be mad, my dear. I wish I didn’t have to do this, but I have to,” he says sympathetically.
“Just get this over with. I’m tired and cold; I want to go to sleep,” I mutter as another shiver wracks my body. Though, I’m not shivering because I’m cold or scared…“And stop calling me ‘my dear!’ It’s annoying and you sound like a creepy old man!”
“All right,” he grunts, setting me on the ground. “I’m going to use this handkerchief to blindfold you.” Tadashi moves behind me and I soon feel something soft press against my eyes, making me flinch back in surprise. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten you.”
I don’t say anything as he ties the blindfold securely around my head. This is ridiculous! Why all the secrets? Who are they looking for? Why did they think I knew where this person is? Why did he have to take me? I wouldn’t have said anything if he had just asked! Why does he feel the need to marry me? Why can’t I just be put in isolation or something? That’s where I am most of the time anyways…A sudden thought has me gasping. “Oh no!”
“What’s wrong?” Tadashi asks worriedly as he scoops me up in his arms. “The blindfold isn’t too tight, is it?”
“It’s nothing,” I mutter, not wanting to share with him. “Just something popped in my mind is all.”
“It sounded like a bad something. Care to share?”
“No, I don’t care to share.” My answer is very blunt as I’m kind of getting ticked off at him. “Just go already!”
“All right, all right! I’m going, I’m going!” Tadashi begins to walk again, picking his way over the uneven ground of the field we’re crossing. “Man, this field is hard to maneuver in the dark.”
“Not really,” I respond automatically. “I used to do it all the time before…”Nuntz, what the naka am I doing? Why am I talking to him like he’s my friend?!He kidnapped me for goodness sake!
“Before what?” He asks innocently.
“Before I stopped having time to just cross the field at night. Once school started, I couldn’t just do late night trips to the lake,” I reply, hoping that he buys my lie.
“Oh. I guess that makes sense.” Tadashi doesn’t say anything else, sensing that I don’t really want to talk. The rest of the way is silent with the only sounds coming from the bugs chirping in the tall grass surrounding us. “We’re coming to the pickup point. Please do not speak until I tell you that you can. If the sensors hear your voice, you’ll be killed on spot, whether I have claimed you for my wife or not.”
“I understand,” I murmur, feeling myself nodding off.I slap my cheeks to wake me up. “Do you know how long it will be until I can talk and take this blindfold off?”
“It will probably be a good ten to twenty hongas before you can speak and I can take the blindfold off. The pilots will want to make sure we can get away from the surface without you signaling for help or backup,” he explains.
“Help and backup are the same thing, but whatever. I’ll probably fall asleep,” I inform him.
“Do you want me to wake you up when you can speak again?” He inquires.
“Nah. Just let me sleep, I guess,” I answer honestly, shrugging my shoulders.
“I can do that. You don’t sleep talk, do you?”
“No, so you won’t have to worry about that,” I state.
The sound of a muted engine running catches my attention as Tadashi shushes me. “That’s good. All right, we’re here, so keep quiet.”
I nod mutely to show him that I understand before resting my head on his shoulder and sagging into him.
He chuckles.“Wow. You must really be tired.”
“General Ryoin, glad to see you back safely. Is this the girl you spoke of over the radio?” A woman’s voice asks, causing me to jump slightly.
“Yes, Major Nanase; this is her,” Tadashi replies.
“Would you like me to do a pat down?”
I freeze up at the thought of someone, other than Tadashi, touching me. Feeling this, Tadashi replies, “No. I patted her down when I tied her up. She’s clear.”
“Yes, Sir!” Major Nanase’s voice is loud and strong and I can almost imagine her saluting Tadashi.
“Let’s get going,” he says after a minute of silence. “We’ve got a long journey home.”
“Yes, Sir!” This time, it’s a bunch of voices from all around us.
Tadashi begins moving again as silence envelopes us, only broken by the sound of people shuffling and moving things about. The silence somewhat unnerves me and I press myself further into Tadashi’s arms, now feeling too uncomfortable to fall asleep.“We’ll be getting moving soon,” Tadashi whispers. Once we’re on our way, everyone will start conversing and it won’t be this quiet for long.”
I nod into his neck and play with my fingers to keep my nerves down. I grip his shirt in surprise when I feel him bend over and lower into a seat.
“Sorry, Zaylia.” The whisper is quiet as he situates himself and leans back, cradling me to his chest. “All ready?” He asks his crew.
“Yes, Sir!” A man’s voice exclaims from a little ways away.
“Close the hatch and let’s get out of here before the authorities catch wind of us!” Tadashi orders.
Footsteps scramble around before a large bang fills the air, signaling that the door has been shut. More footsteps rush around as the engine starts up. The ship begins to vibrate as it starts to move to catch speed before taking off. I can hear multiple conversations coming from people all around us, which makes some of the unease that I’m feeling go away since I know that not everyone is paying attention to me.
“See? They’re talking amongst themselves now. Settle back and go to sleep,” Tadashi murmurs before pressing a kissing my forehead.
“She sure is a beauty, isn’t she, General?” A male voice quietly asks.
“That she is, Captain Voltere. How was your scouting mission?” Tadashi asks quietly, adjusting me slightly.
“Pretty boring. There were barely any troops there,” Captain Voltere replies, sighing heavily. “I could definitely tell that this town is on the outskirts of the main city.”
“Well, that’s good. That means that there won’t be many troops there to investigate her disappearance; and if they do happen to check it out, it will be a while before the investigation troops arrive in the town. We picked a good town to scout,” Major Nanase chimes in.
I cringe at this and bite my lip as tears come to my eyes. I can only imagine how much Mama and Papa are freaking out right now. They might not be my real parents, but they’re closer to the real thing than my biological parents. Pressing my face into Tadashi’s neck, I sniff and squeeze my eyes closed even tighter.
“Let’s not talk about this right now. We can’t talk about sensitive information around her since she hasn’t been cleared by the higher-ups,” Tadashi cautions, rubbing my back in a soothing pattern.
“Right. Sorry, General.” Major Nanase and Captain Voltere say in tandem before falling into a conversation between the two of them.
“I’m sorry, Zaylia. If I had known they would say something like that, I wouldn’t have asked the question,” he whispers in my ear. “Just go to sleep.”
I nod and take a deep breath to calm myself down before snuggling into Tadashi’s hold once more. Okay, Zaylia. All you have to do is keep calm and fall asleep. Then, you can forget your worries.
“What’s her name, General?” Captain Voltere asks quietly.
“Zaylia Jin,” Tadashi replies. “Her name is Zaylia Jin.”
“That’s a beautiful name,” Major Nanase murmurs.
“Beautiful name for a beautiful girl,” Tadashi whispers, smoothing some hair off my forehead. I turn bright red.
“He’s smitten,” Major Nanase snickers.
“Oh, yeah. Totally smitten,” Captain Voltere replies.
The general groans. “Guys, enough with that!”
“Sorry, General,” Major Nanase says, not sounding sorry at all. “We’re just excited that our feared leader, General Tadashi Ryoin, finally has found a woman worth his attention. Maybe she can break your cold exterior and let us all see the gentle giant who we know lives inside.”
“That’s enough, Major. Zaylia is trying to sleep.” Tadashi sounds extremely agitated.
“Right. Sorry, General; sorry, Zaylia,” Major Nanase mutters before going back to her quiet conversation with Captain Voltere.
The sounds of quiet murmurings and the dull drone of the plane’s engine lulls me into a state of oblivion where I’m vaguely aware of Tadashi telling me that I can talk now. Instead of replying with a nod, I just sigh and snuggle deeper into his embrace, relishing his warmth, and allow myself to finally succumb to sleep.
 Word that means the Ganran underworld; used like hell; Ganran word