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Guiding Star

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Guiding Star

CHAPTER XVI: The Shadow of War


By the next day, Damian’s worries had escaped his mind and Anya found out, through his thoughts, that he had had a quick talk with Watkins who had agreed not to tell anyone at the academy, nor his family. Until Winter break. After that, he would be less hesitant to comply, but Damian had decided to talk to his family by then.


As for Anya, her fears had not lessened. If anything, it had made her parents even more suspicious as she didn’t have any appetite the previous day at dinner. She tired of lies, of pretending. She wanted to be honest with everyone she cared about, but the very idea of telling anything to Damian froze her insides in fear. If he found out, if he rejected her…


“Have you talked to your parents yet?” Becky asked during lunch break, as if knowing what was going through Anya’s mind.


She tightened her lips, looking down at her omurice.


“…No. I can’t bring myself to. I just know my father will want to meet Damian and threaten him to turn his organs into liquid or something… and my mother will overthink everything.”


“Mmm… but they will accept it, right?” Becky asked, “I can’t imagine Mr and Mrs Forger rejecting their daughter’s happiness. As long as you’re happy with him, it’s all that matters, right?”


Anya blinked, staring at her best friend.


“Y-yes, I guess…”


“Then it’s settled! You have nothing to worry about! You won’t have to lie to your parents about anything!”


Becky smiled.


Anya would have agreed with her, but for one small detail in her life…


That evening, when Damian discreetly asked her to study in the library with him, she turned him down, to his great surprise. He immediately assumed the worst, that he had done something wrong, that he was taking too much of her time, that she was tiring of him already…


Anya peeked around the mostly empty hall. She gave him a quick kiss on the lips, which effectively shut down his thoughts.


“I- um, I…” he stammered.


“I’ll see you tomorrow morning. At the gazebo, okay? I just need to… take care of something.”


He must have noticed that it was serious because he nodded.


“Alright. Be careful.”


Will she tell me about it tomorrow? I hope her parents aren’t suspecting something. What if she gets in trouble because of me? Maybe I should call tonight, but then the professors will know…


“Don’t worry about me, okay?” Anya said before turning her heels.


It was the day she was supposed to train with the Handler. She made her way to the bakery hideout, slowly, dreading the conversation to come.


When she arrived in WISE headquarters, she greeted everyone she knew with her usual smile, before finding Sylvia.


“You’re late,” she said, looking up at the young girl from under her glasses.


“I’m sorry. We need to talk.” Anya said in a hurry.


If Sylvia was surprised in any way, she didn’t show it. She waved towards the seat across her where Anya sat down. She twirled her fingers nervously.


“What is it? Spit it out.”


“I… uh… I think… I… I want to stop.” Anya let out, gulping down nervously.


“Stop what? Be clear.”


“I want to stop training to be a spy,” Anya finally said, looking up at Sylvia.


She stared down at her, expression unreadable.


“After so many years training, why would you want to stop?”


Anya tried to read her thoughts, but Sylvia had always been particularly careful around her, keeping her mind as clear as possible.


Why would she change her mind so suddenly? Why? She’s so stubborn, why?


Anya thought back on her parents, and the thoughts she had read from them. They were suspecting she was hiding something, they were worried, but they wanted to trust her. Because they had promised. No more secrets, no more lies. Not among the Forger. Honesty was key. And she had been hiding her training for years. She couldn’t do this anymore, the guilt was gnawing at her too much.


“I made a promise with my parents. No more lie. Never again. I don’t want to keep lying to them for this training. It’ll break their hearts to find out I trained as a spy… even if you never intended on ever letting me become one.”


Sylvia’s shoulders trembled a little. Then an uneasy smile appeared on her face.


“So… you knew.” She said simply.


“I can read minds. You’re good at hiding your thoughts around me, but not that good…” Anya answered with a smile.


“Very well. You’re right. I never intended to let you become a spy, from the very beginning.”


“Then why train me at all?”


Sylvia stared at her, then tilted her head on the side.


“Do you not remember what you told me all those years ago? After your family found out the truth about one another, after the failure of Mission Strix, and after the war was avoided… You came to me.”


Anya had a vague idea of what she referred to. It was just before Sylvia had enrolled her…


Once the threat of war had been over, WISE had taken some time to try to help Anya’s mind-reading abilities. There was no way to reverse the process that had given her such ability, but it wouldn’t threaten her life besides some headaches and nosebleeds. Of course… that was without the risk of attracting the wrong attention if anyone ever found out about her gift. Sylvia had mentioned that Anya could train at WISE.


Loid had refused. No spy training for his daughter, it would require too many sacrifices from her.


But just before leaving the facilities, a younger Anya, only eight-years old, caught up to Sylvia, grabbing her skirt.


“Let me help! Let me train! Let me become a spy! It’ll be my turn to keep mama and papa safe! I’ll be safe too and they will never have to worry about me!”


It was funny how Anya had almost completely forgotten that the reason why Sylvia reached out to her a few days later had been because she had begged for it first.


“Anya Forger. You could do great things for WISE, for world peace. I know your father is adamant that you keep on living as an innocent and carefree child… but you were never one, Anya. You have been through too much to be ignorant of the way of the world. And you have been through too much to not wish to help. Would you ignore people in need? Would you want to help the people you care about? Would you abandon orphans to suffer?”


Mama and papa won’t have to worry about me if I can train as a spy. They’ll stop worrying for my safety. I’ll be able to protect them, to protect everyone.


“…You always knew I would never want to become a spy, you just… wanted to train me so I could stay safe.” Anya concluded, looking up at Sylvia with renewed admiration.


The Handler smiled. She looked tired, but something twinkled in her eyes.


“Of course, I knew your parents would train you as well. But a little more training, and from me, wouldn’t hurt, right? Twilight had always been far too soft when it comes to children. You, especially. You are his star and life, he would never let anything happen to you.”


Anya stared at the woman who had been training her for years now. She jumped into her arms, hugging her tightly. Sylvia gasped, not knowing what to do, taken by surprise.


Thank you… You’re like a second mother to me. Your training has given me so much to focus on… You helped me so much when my mind-reading got worse… How could I ever thank you for looking after me, after my family?”


Sylvia finally put a hand against Anya’s back, tapping it gently.


“Now, now, don’t make me emotional, will you. I have a reputation to hold.”


Anya laughed, stepping away. Sylvia was smiling, light wrinkles around her mouth, but she was still a stunning woman.


“You can finally be honest with your parents.”


“That’s a relief, it was becoming so difficult to hide anything from them…!”


“What about your Little Desmond? Will you talk about him to your parents as well?”


Anya startled, blushing, but Sylvia’s smirk widened, becoming teasing.




“As promised, we kept an eye on Eden Academy following the strange death of your professor. We never found out anything about it, but we kept tabs on your story with Little Desmond. I won the bet.”


“You bet on us?!”


“Of course, it was quite refreshing, betting on a young couple rather than which politician will betray their allies first.”


Should I mention what we found out about the Desmond… Sylvia thought, forgoing her carefully trained mind from keeping walls up.


Anya froze, staring at her.


“What did you find out about the Desmond?” Anya asked in a voice colder than she intended.




Sylvia immediately endeavoured to smother her mind with useless thoughts, trying to push as far back as possible what she knew about the Desmond.


“What do you know about the Desmond?!” Anya exclaimed, standing up suddenly.


“Calm down. Do you really think we wouldn’t keep a close eye on the Desmond family even after Donovan’s death?” Sylvia mumbled.


Anya clenched her fists, glaring at the woman who kept so many secrets from everyone. Knowing she wouldn’t be able to escape without Anya finding out something, Sylvia sighed.


“Sit down, and I’ll tell you as much as I can. But you know that our investigations and its results are confidential. Do not go into my mind to know more.”


“You know something about my… my b-bo… Damian’s family! I need to know!” she continued, blushing furiously.


“We don’t have much, unfortunately. It’s an investigation that started years ago,” Sylvia said with an absentminded wave of her hand, “We were worried of the direction Demetrius Desmond would take, following into his father’s footsteps or not, so we kept a close eye. He eventually reached out to WISE.”


Demetrius Desmond? He asked WISE’s help? But… doesn’t he know that WISE participated in his father’s death?”


“He knows as much of the truth as we could tell him. You know what happened that night. So does he. But yes, as surprising as it was, about a year ago, not long before he graduated from university, he reached out to WISE and asked us to do a thorough investigation to find out the truth behind his father’s old dealings, and the family’s current ones.”


Sylvia paused, diving her gaze into Anya’s.


“As you might know, for over a year now, Demetrius Desmond has yet to pledge his allegiance to any political party, as he was not allowed to until his graduation, but tensions have been rising. Our spies close to him have found out that he has made a decision, but they couldn’t find out what party he will support. The Desmond family is wealthy, old and influential, it could determine the future of our country. Of peace.”


Anya felt her face go pale.


“A-are you saying that Demetrius Desmond will… go back to war?”


She knew from what she had overheard during the last conversation between the two brothers, at the Imperial Scholars’ gala, that Demetrius wanted to discuss something important with Damian. Something to discuss face-to-face.


“We don’t know yet. But be ready for anything. I will… soon send a message to our former agents as well, so they can be ready, in case of another war.”


Memories of bombs and terrifying moments spent underground filled Anya’s head. She shook it, burying all those awful thoughts and feelings deep. She couldn’t go back there. She wouldn’t let it happen.


“I can’t reveal to you what our agent found out during their year of investigation but… it pushed Demetrius to make a decision. He will announce it during the renowned Desmond Christmas Gala.”


Two weeks. Two weeks and Demetrius Desmond will make an announcement that could decide the next decade of this country.


War or peace.


“Damian–” Anya exclaimed, standing up again.


“Will inevitably become a target. Regardless of the direction his brother takes. The last eight years, the Desmond brothers have been a neutral force on the political stage. It will no longer be the case.”


“No! You have to stop it!”


“We can’t stop Demetrius Desmond when he hasn’t made a move yet. He could very well do the right choice. I doubt it considering where he comes from. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, after all.”


“What is that supposed to mean?” Anya hissed, tightening her fists once more.


Sylvia looked up at her, lips tight.


“Children follow into their parents’ footsteps, more often than not. We haven’t found out what Demetrius Desmond intends to do next, but all his father’s allies and friends, all important members of the National Unity Party of Ostania, have been invited to the Christmas Gala.”


“That’s not–”


Her voice broke. She knew nothing about Demetrius Desmond. Other than he was a cold and arrogant older brother who never cared enough about Damian. That Demetrius was known for being as calculating and ruthless as Donovan Desmond. That for an entire year, people didn’t debate whether he’d join the National Unity Party of Ostania, but when.


Anya swallowed hard, suddenly feeling dizzy and lost.


“It’s not possible… We can’t have another war…”


Sylvia watched her, eyes full of compassion.


“War always comes back. No matter how hard we fight for peace, no matter how chilling the horrors of war become… it always comes back. We never learn of our mistakes. This is the very reason why WISE exists… to keep war from coming back, if we can…”


Anya had believed in peace more than anything. She had believed it’d last forever. Her parents had fought and bled for this peace to come back and to last. How could such horrors be brought back? How could anyone wish for innocents to die? For parents to lose their reasons to live, for children to become orphans?




She startled. Sylvia had only ever called her ‘Anya Forger’ once. When she had enrolled her all those years ago. She had always been Agent Starlight for the Handler.


Sylvia stood up and took a step toward the young woman, putting a hand on her shoulder.


“I am aware that you care deeply for the Little Desmond, and so does he. But before you make life-changing choices for him, make sure you know what you are getting yourself into. If it comes to it, who would he choose? You, or his family?”


Fear, a vicious snake, wrapped around Anya’s throat, leaving her incapable to talk.


I can’t let this girl get disillusioned by love. This boy has spent his whole life caring about his family name and making the Desmond lineage proud. If his brother follows their father’s footsteps, this Damian will only follow more eagerly.


Anya stepped away and gathered her arms around her trembling body.


“D-Damian would never… he hates war… I know it! He has nightmares about it! He would never let it happen, he would never let his brother do such a thing…!”


“Sometimes, we try so hard to prevent fate, that our actions lead to its unfolding. As much as he hates war, he could grow to find it the only solution for long-term peace… even if it meant sacrificing the lives and safety of millions. Would he stop his brother from joining the National Unity Party? That’s where the Desmond are the most powerful, after all.”


And that… that, Anya had no idea. Damian wanted to become a politician, like his brother, like his father. The father who had aimed to cause a war and whose death almost triggered it. They didn’t study politics at Eden, besides the basics, because the academy aimed to remain neutral, especially with the many powerful families attending there, but… what did Damian truly think of people? Of peace?


What if his idea of peace was as heart wrenching as his father’s had been?


“Be careful in your choices and in the next few weeks. Don’t be hasty in anything, Anya. But…”


Sylvia put a hand on her shoulder once more.


“Just be careful, okay? And if you ever need anything… WISE will help. Even if Agent Starlight is retired… we always look out for our owns.”


Anya nodded, but she had lost all joy and fierceness. The fear of war, or worse, of Damian betraying her for his beliefs, for his family, left her cold and shaking.




Anya went home slowly, her feet dragging on the floor. She had found out too much she had not been ready to know.


How could she face her little sister and her parents who had fought for this peace, knowing war might tear apart this country again?


Night had fallen already, so early. She had missed twilight, stuck in the underground base of WISE. They were probably worrying, she had to hurry up, but she couldn’t find the strength in her legs to go any faster.


She shivered from the cold and dived her hands in her pockets. She met something unexpected and pulled out two warm leather gloves, far too luxurious for her clumsy self, far too big for her petite hands. She clenched them between her fingers, bringing them to her face in the hope that the slightest bit of Damian’s smell might have remained.


How could she face Damian with so many secrets of her own in her heart? How could she face him, not knowing him as well as she had always thought?


She looked up as bright colours and smothered sounds attracted her attention. She stopped in front of the window of an electronics store that displayed their latest and most modern TV.


A couple of men were watching the news as it started.


“The latest news from the frontier with Westalis.” The news host started with a serious look on her face, “Skirmishes have started at the frontier, between two independent groups of soldiers. According to the reports from the Major-General Watkins they acted without any order and their actions were in no way encouraged by the Ostanian government. The group of Ostanian soldiers have been arrested and will soon be judged by the military court.”


Anya felt a shiver run down her spine. She had no idea such battles had started again. Hatred had been eradicated. Peace had won. Right?


Snowflakes slowly started falling, but they melted the moment they met the ground.


“Eeeeh, these bastards of Westalian, they did it again,” one of the men muttered.


“I hope they’ll get what they deserve.”


“–These events follow the announcement from Demetrius Desmond, of the eminent Desmond family, that he would soon announce his next steps in his political career. Everyone’s attention is on the young man who inherited his father’s political influence and wealth and could be a deciding force in the next few months. But let’s let our political advisor, Mr Carl Gott, enlighten us on the situation.”


“Thank you, Emilia. I believe it’s quite obvious that Demetrius Desmond will help the National Unity Party, it is as much a family business as their many medical complexes that generates their fortune, after all!”


Anya couldn’t hear anymore, she ran off. The snow was colder and angrier now, sticking to the ground. But it was nothing against the ice that ran through her veins.


When she arrived home, the door slammed against the wall. She ran into her bedroom, vaguely aware of her parents’ shouts and her little sister’s sudden cries.


She slammed her door shut, dropping on the floor. The bombs were whistling and flying again. She covered her ears with her hands but the noise in her head was too loud. People screamed. The smell of dust, blood and death hung in the air.


She was breathing heavily, like she did back then, curled up like a small child in a corner.




Someone shook her shoulders. She cried out, flinging her arms around but her father caught her wrists.


“Anya, calm down! It’s alright! It’s me!”


Yor was still calming down Rosaura in the living-room, but Loid was right here, repeating the same words again and again until it reached her.


“It’s okay, you’re safe! Anya, you’re safe, you’re with me! You’re safe!”


Her breathing calmed down just a little. Her father’s voice smothered the memory of the bombs and gunshots. She still felt her chest closing down on itself, her throat was tight. Burning tears were running down her cheeks, helplessly.


She stopped fighting. Loid hesitated a short moment before letting go of her wrists. When Anya remained there, sniffing and trembling, he surrounded her by her shoulders and drew her against him.


“You’re okay, you’re safe…” he murmured against the top of her head.


Anya closed her eyes, breathing more easily. She relaxed against her father.


“The war… the war is coming…” she said in a raspy voice.


Yor, now standing in the doorway, shared a look with her husband. They stared at each other, dread settling down in the pit of their stomachs.


They had known war, grew up in it. Everything they had done in their lives, the good and the bad, had been so that the people they cared about and innocent children could grow up with a smile on their faces, rather than fear in their eyes. Everything they had done had been to spare their daughter to ever feel this way… but in that aspect, Mission Strix had been an absolute failure. War might not have broken out, but it had left invisible scars on the most important person they had had during that time.


It wasn’t the first time the memories became too much for Anya, but she had only ever had a breakdown because of a nightmare. Never in wakefulness. It was so much worse.


Yor, holding a sniffing and slightly panicked Rosaura against her chest, walked into the bedroom. Bond also followed, he had been too spooked by all the crying and screaming to come earlier. She knelt next to her husband who kept his arms wrapped around Anya. Bond put down his chin on her legs.


Anya opened her eyes and instead of a warzone, she only saw her loving family.


Her heart tightened. More tears filled her eyes. They smiled, even though their eyes shone, full of sadness and guilt.


Everything they had ever done had been to spare Anya such pain, but


I failed her, Yor and Loid both thought in the same time.


“Y-you didn’t, never…!” Anya murmured, straightening up.




“Y-you never failed me, never! You’re the b-best parents in the whole universe…! I’m sorry, I’m sorry–…!”


She hiccupped, her panic attack gripping her once more. But this time, her father was massaging her back.


“You’re safe, don’t apologise for anything, do not apologise for feeling this way, Anya, ever. Don’t apologise, you’re safe and sound with us…”


She calmed down.


“Is it… the news?” Yor asked in a soft voice.


Anya nodded, incapable of explaining that she was such a mess because she had seen the Handler who had revealed to her too many things about the Desmond. And yet, not enough because what she truly wanted to know… it remained a secret buried deep in Damian’s heart.


“It’s okay, you’re safe with us,” Loid repeated.


Their thoughts were dark, from their pasts, from memories, and out of absolute terror that war might come again and that this time, they would have two daughters to keep safe and sound.


Papa… is a liar… Anya thought, but she kept them for herself.




The Handler was going through a report that her brightest agent had just given her. She frowned.


“Are you sure about this?” The Handler asked, frowning.


“Yes, I caught the discussion on our bugs. It was only half an hour ago.” Nightfall, also known as Fiona Frost, said.


“…With the battle that broke out at the frontier this afternoon, this could prove to be worse than I had initially thought.”


Nightfall tightened her lips, staring at the Handler. She put down the report on the desk, looking far more worried than she usually showed.


“…Keep your eye on Desmond. I don’t like any of that. It looks too good to be true. I’ll have another agent follow the Little Desmond as well, although he unknowingly already has a fierce protector…” Sylvia added to herself.


“What do you mean?” Fiona asked, not showing any emotion on her face despite the curiosity rising in her.


“Nevermind that. Don’t change anything. Send me reports as often as possible.”


“I will.”


Nightfall bowed respectfully to her boss, then left the compound of WISE headquarters.


Sylvia read the report again. She didn’t trust these Desmond. They were from the same blood as Donovan. It didn’t matter how cute the Little Desmond was acting around Agent Starlight, he was as dangerous as his brother. Perhaps more, considering he had no idea of the power he could have after graduating.


She wouldn’t ignore the report’s latest results, but she also couldn’t ignore the shadow of war when it was looming so close.