Paris

A Broken Winter is a novelization of the webcomic, further exploring the characters and their world. It goes far beyond the events of the comic, introducing new characters and new settings.


Chapter 1

Freezing to death took longer than expected. Auryn hadn't moved in over an hour, lying in the snow, staring up at the stars. His toes burned and his bare fingers prickled painfully, flushed red from the cold. He'd considered a variety of other options, including shooting himself in the head, but feared screwing up and adding a traumatic brain injury to his list of grievances. He thought about hanging himself from a peach tree in Building A, but the fruit was being harvested and there were too many people around, even at night.


Forced to decide quickly, he hopped in a snowcrawler and sped off. He could've kept going, travelling beyond the oxygenated zone, opting for death by hypoxia, but he pulled over and picked a final resting place.


The radio in his earpiece crackled. The Special Activities Division were getting closer. It wouldn't be long before they reached their target, terrorist Reisen Kaneko. Auryn hadn't seen Reisen in over a decade, but his fondness for the man remained intact, uneroded by the passage of time. He'd hoped they'd be reunited one day, despite how impossible it was. No chance of that now. Abandoning his delusions meant being left with nothing, crippled under the weight of reality, longing for oblivion.


Countless stars illuminated the sky, radiant mothers to other worlds, a painful reminder of their own orphaned condition. His Holiness Emperor Haken swallowed planet Ankari's sun centuries ago - punishment for widespread civil disobedience, or so the story went. While Emperor Haken's fire-swallowing abilities were never questioned, it was whispered He may have simply taken credit for a dying sun's disappearance. This explanation made sense to Auryn, but Reisen loved tearing it apart.


"A sun like ours doesn't die the way most people expect it to. It burns bigger and brighter, swelling like an infected gash, incinerating planets nurtured from their inception. The final act of a deranged mother. Ankari is close enough to the sun that we'd all be burned alive instead of freezing our asses off. If the sun really did disappear, it wasn't due to natural causes."


The radio blared with activity. "Target location reached."


This was it. If he had any sense he'd turn the radio off, but he needed to be sure someone hadn't made a mistake.


"Entrance is clear. Living room clear. Kitchen clear. One room left."


His heart pounded, chest constricting painfully.


"Door's locked. We're going to break it down."


It wasn't supposed to end like this.


"There's someone in the bed."


Auryn closed his eyes, inhaling deeply. The cold air choked him, scratching his throat and lungs like tiny, frozen thorns.


"It's a fucking kid! We do not have Kaneko. Repeat. We do not have Kaneko."


He struggled into a seated position, limbs stiff and defiant, cloaked in lead.


"Kid says he's Kaneko's son. We're bringing him in for questioning."


He pulled his hat and gloves back on, fire raging beneath his skin. Reisen's son would be sent to the capital and interrogated, treated not like a human being, but as an opportunity for promotion.


Auryn extracted himself from the snowbank he'd intended to be his tomb. He knew where they'd send the boy when they were done with him. Exhibiting the motor skills of a two-year-old, he climbed into his snowcrawler and turned the machine around, heading back to the Farm.


#

This wasn't the way Keita Kaneko envisioned his first trip to the capital; in the back of a police cruiser, with a ring of light around his neck. An electric halo. One of the officers in front operated the controls, sweat soaking through her white uniform, leaving yellow rings around her armpits. She frequently turned her head around to look at him, glaring, furious with him for no reason. He sat quietly, eager to avoid another shock.


Tinted windows cast a shadow over streets lined with glass towers, drowning them in darkness. Keita pressed his nose against the cold glass, trying to catch a glimpse of the rising sun. He knew it was an illusion, but was curious to see what all the fuss was about. Grids of electrified mesh and high leather seats blocked his view. He craned his neck, trying to gaze out the front window. Metal cuffs gnawed his wrists, eroding layers of skin.


The officers exchanged worried glances, united in their terror of a seven-year-old boy. Keita knew he was in deep trouble. What he didn't know was why; why policemen armed with gas masks and guns stormed into his house in the middle of the night and stole him from his bed. At first, he thought they'dd broken into the wrong house and grabbed the wrong boy, but he saw how everyone shuddered when he told them his name. Someone made a mistake. He hadn't done anything wrong. He wasn't even allowed outside.


The car stopped. Keita's stomach churned, pressure rising in his chest. The officers marched him toward the police station. He scanned the horizon, hoping for some indication of the coming light, but there was only blackness.


Inside the station he was escorted to a stall with concrete walls and a drain. A guard with thick leather gloves removed Keita's clothing, maintaining as much distance between them as possible. The cold floor stung his feet. He stood with one foot on top of the other, shivering in a corner of the stall. A masked priestess in white robes rubbed his bare skin with coarse sea salt and turned a strong hose on him, blasting his body with holy water. The force of it rubbed his skin raw, like liquid sandpaper. Guards stuffed him into scratchy clothes without drying him, took him to another room, and shoved him onto a metal chair.


Florescent overhead lights shone uncomfortably bright, filling his vision with colourful dots. Two men in black suits stood in front of him, wearing glasses with dark lenses. "There's been a mistake," said Keita, rubbing his burning eyes.


"You are Keita Kaneko, son of Dr. Reisen Kaneko, yes?"


"Yes, but -"


"Shut up and listen. When's the last time you saw your father?"


A few days ago, he'd been playing in the basement of his house and entered his dad's laboratory without permission. He accidentally knocked over a beaker of inkworm, the black slime responsible for killing his mother, scattering broken glass and dark puddles. Tendrils of sludge shot across the tile, creeping away, but he didn't let it escape. He stomped on the slime over and over, cutting his bare feet on the glass, until the inky goo stopped moving. He expected his dad to be furious, but the man hugged him and gently extracted the glass, healing his wounds with a swirl of luminous energy; a spiral galaxy of slowly spinning stars. His dad left shortly afterward, and Keita hadn't seen him since, which wasn't unusual. Dr. Kaneko worked with sick people; rarely sleeping, rarely eating, pausing only to stand by the window and light a cigarette, blowing smoke into the cool, endless winter air. Keita's dad often went away for days at a time, helping those who needed it.


"Did something happen to him?" asked Keita, voice rising in panic. He couldn't survive without his dad. There'd be no one to protect him from monsters. No one to bring him food or play games with him.


"Take a look." One of the men pushed a button on the table, displaying a photograph on its surface, a lady with part of her head missing, insides leaking outside. Keita's eyes hurt so badly he couldn't see straight. He felt dizzy and disoriented. Deep rusty reds and violent purples blurred together in a sea of human debris.


Keita bit his lip, swallowing the warm, sour fluid rising in his throat. "It looks like a monster got her."


"Your father is the monster."


"He's not!" Keita closed his eyes, head reeling. "You don't know what you're talking about."


"Your father has blown up more buildings than most demolition crews, kid. We have witnesses and security footage."


"My dad doesn't kill people. He heals them."


"Does this look like the work of a healer to you?" Another photograph. An elderly woman, torn in half. We're afraid he's very sick. Healthy people don't blow up old ladies." Keita saw himself reflected in the man's glasses, wet and annoyed. Shaggy blond hair stuck to his head in matted clumps. Blue eyes full of invisible stinging sand. "We're not going to hurt him. We're going to help him. You want your father to get better, don't you?"


"My dad isn't sick!" Keita didn't like losing his temper, but he was tired, angry, and in a lot of pain. These idiots weren't listening to him, resistant to the truth. He's a doctor, I told you! He wouldn't hurt anybody!"


"We can't do our job if you deny the truth, Keita."


The use of his name threw him off, a human gesture from someone who otherwise failed to act the part. They were a bunch of fakers. It was a trick to make him feel like they were on the same side, and he wasn't falling for it. "You wouldn't know the truth if it bit you in the ass."


"Listen to me." The officer grabbed him by the shoulders, shaking him. "You can either cooperate or face the consequences of being a stubborn little shit." He gripped Keita's arm, twisting it. "Choose wisely."


Keita had nothing more to say.