“That is how you will survive my dear, not through gentle smiles and warm words. With murder and desecration.”
Even though it was spring, the night was cold. Anyone alive who left their coat before venturing out into the Taiga would develop hypothermia. Anyone alive.
“Sure,” she said, slipping out of her thick wool coat and wedging it between two branches.
“Sweater also. You may keep scarf and boots.”
Megs looked over at Ilya, but his face was impassive. He wasn’t even looking at her. Instead he was kneeling beside one of the dogs and muttering something to it. Megs unzipped her sweater, stripping it off and wincing at the icy wind that cut across her skin. She hated being Cold, but there wasn’t enough blood to bother with the blush these nights. Now she was not only Cold, but frigid.
After a moment of consideration, Megs peeled off the scarf and tied it around a branch. At this point it was not helping, and depending what Ilya had in mind, it might just get in the way. Left in only a thin tee and pants, she waited.
“Come,” he said, and started off down the trail. The dogs bounded happily ahead, seeking out game trails and trees to piss on.
As always, they walked for a while down the main path before Ilya decided to break the silence. Until then, Megs tried to ignore the bone-deep cold… and Aleksandr’s voice in her head.
“You are not American,” Ilya said eventually. It caught her off guard. Normally when he did talk, it was to offer help on trying to harden her skin.
“No. I’m not, I’m Canadian,” Megs said, looking over at him. Ilya’s eyes were focused on the forest around them. “Why?” she asked. Shadow’s curiosity bubbling up.
“You do not complain. I am surprised.” Megs mentally replaced ‘surprised’ with ‘impressed’, and felt a little better about things.
“Well, I’m here to learn,” she said after a moment. “And I’ve been through training before. You can’t learn if you’re complaining.”
Ilya’s eyes flicked to her, before focusing back down the path.
“Da. Some do not understand what it is to be a soldier. They think that it is enough to yell and kill things. Murderers yell and kill things. Soldiers fight for their comrades, their families back home. Not for themselves.” Ilya stopped walking and turned to look down at her.
“Who do you fight for?” He asked.
“I fight to protect the Academy,” she said, meeting his eyes. “I fight to keep those I care about safe. And sometimes I fight because no one else has the balls to stand up to the ones that yell and kill things.”
Ilya said nothing, and turned to keep walking. Unsure if she had said something wrong, she followed.
“I fought in the second Great War,” he said after a moment. “I saw and I killed many of Hitler’s men. I fought for my family back home, who would be killed if that man had his way. That is worthwhile. Protect those you care about. Protect the Academy. It is the only way we may find a cure for this curse.”
“Aleksandr said that we’re just evolved from what humanity was,” she said. “I believe that he’s right, but I also think that we’re able to change.”
“Da, we are. And I would not listen too close to what Alek says. He is good with guns, but there are many things that he is not good about. Instead, you should talk to Evgeny.” Ilya stopped, and gestured down a small path.
“He is in the building down there. Old bunker. And he wants to meet you.”