Chapter 4:

A friend

The Journey

“What am I supposed to do with him?”Bookmark here

“Don’t ask me, you’re old enough to think for yourself, dumbass.”Bookmark here

“Letting my daughter insult me like this doesn’t do well for my image…”Bookmark here

“I don’t think welcoming a retarded kid by your families side does either. Not to mention having an unmarried daughter in her late twenties.”Bookmark here

These were the words exchanged by a worried middle aged man and his angry daughter. The subject of this short conversation, assuming it’s even long enough to be called one, was a kid. A silent kid, who looked at his hand, his eyes lost on a beautiful golden ring on his index finger.Bookmark here

This ring was a special one. It’s intricate ornaments, complex patterns, strange symbols… To Nico, it was really unique and captivating. Bookmark here

But there was one other thing that caught Nico’s attention on this ring.Bookmark here

It was very reflective, extremely so. You could perfectly see the reflection of the faint light of the crystals adding a bluish shade over the gray color of the rocks, or the yellow and orange from a lamp someone lit. It was almost like a mirror. And this mirror was showing the Sky.Bookmark here

Since he was younger, in one of these fantasies of our childhood, Nico looked at the Sky. Bookmark here

He remembered saying one day that there was something after this roof that goes from one end of this world to the other. After all, the wind has to come from somewhere right? Or so was what he thought at the time. Looking back on it, he wasn’t so sure of this anymore.Bookmark here

A land full of red mushrooms… it was surely something he wanted to see one day. But would he ever see it? Probably not, he thought.Bookmark here

Maybe he couldn’t believe in his own dreams anymore.Bookmark here

“Hey Nico, don’t you wanna go play with the kids?“ His train of thought was suddenly interrupted.Bookmark here

Nico didn’t see Gray’s face when he asked this. But now, he raised his face, looking towards Gray, and at the same time he did this, the man’s gaze descended to the boy’s right hand. More specifically, on the ring on it’s index finger.Bookmark here

“Having some fun with your friends… it helps you to distract yourself, don’t you think? Go there and play until you fall into the ground!“ As he said this, Gray had a confident smile on his face, but he was not a good liar, for this smile was easily betrayed by his worrying eyes.Bookmark here

“…Okay.”Bookmark here

As Nico answered, he wasn’t happy nor said, in fact, he was feeling something else. He was in fear, fear of having his refuge shattered. But he didn’t want to stay there doing nothing either, for when he stayed put his mind spiraled down into more and more doubts at each second.Bookmark here

And so he started to run, in search of other kids. Maybe it was because he thought that if he ran, all of this would be left behind. Bookmark here

Soon enough, he found a boy and called him. He was going to answer, maybe positively, maybe not, but he was suddenly taken by his hand before he could do anything. Bookmark here

The one who did this was his mum.Bookmark here

She said something to him, and sent Nico a disapproving look before turning away with his son.Bookmark here

This got Nico worried, but he continued. It would only be a one time occurrence, right?Bookmark here

After some time, he found another one and called for him. Bookmark here

At first, the boy seemed excited, but then, as he turned his head towards Nico and saw who was calling him, this expression was substituted by one of disappointment, and he also turned back. Bookmark here

This wasn’t a good sign, but this wouldn’t happen again, right? Thought Nico.Bookmark here

And then it happened again.Bookmark here

And again.Bookmark here

And again.Bookmark here

And again. Again. Again. Again.Bookmark here

Turns out he reached the surroundings of where the Shepherd usually was, and he was still alone. Bookmark here

He was mostly alone since that day anyways, what did he expect?Bookmark here

At this point, he decided continuing his search was useless and sat down at some random rock. He would wait until Gray sees him and he would return to his and Nattas' side. He knew Gray wouldn’t have the courage to do much to him again anyways.Bookmark here

As he feared, not even the kids he played with wanted to see him. He was alone.Bookmark here

Seated there, Nico looked at the people passing by him. Some of them were looking at him, which is understandable, for what he was doing was something very unusual. On the other hand, others seemed to not even notice his presence at all.Bookmark here

They all were having their lives as normal. Now, on the other hand, there he was, without knowing what to do. Completely paralyzed by a single doubt. It was all the fault of what he said, he thought. Maybe If he hadn’t said that, someone would be by his side now.Bookmark here

“Then he exists outside of the Flock!”Bookmark here

A half of him was now starting to hate these words. But another half clung into them as if it’s existence depended on this belief. What half was correct? Did he really believe in it or not? What half was truly him?Bookmark here

After some time, he looked up. There was the Sky.Bookmark here

His dreams from long ago… In one way or another, he still carried them to this day. These beliefs of when he was even younger and the belief in these words from a few days ago… They were somewhat the same.Bookmark here

Maybe if he was firm on his convictions, he wouldn’t need to be so afraid. Not being sure on what to believe made him restless.Bookmark here

But as all of these thoughts crossed his mind, something blocked his vision.Bookmark here

“Hey!”Bookmark here

It seemed like Rocco’s voice.Bookmark here

He wondered if it was really him, after all, everyone left him alone. First his parents, then the mysterious man from that day, and then the other kids too. Not only that, being with Gray was basically the same as being alone at this point.Bookmark here

But if it was Rocco… He had to know it.Bookmark here

And so he took the hands blocking his vision out of his eyes. Now that there wasn’t anything blocking his sight, he could see it.Bookmark here

The blond hair, the aquiline nose, the large and innocent smile…Bookmark here

It really was RoccoBookmark here

Maybe there was someone who would stay by his side. Someone who wouldn’t go away, or at least he hoped so. To be someone like this… you really had to be special. He wondered what it felt like to, by only being there, be able to change someone’s day for the better. After all, it seemed like his own presence had the contrary effect to most people now.Bookmark here

It’s so good to have a friend.Bookmark here

“Hey Nico… are you sad?”Bookmark here

“N- no… at least not anymore.“ He tried to say and give a reassuring smile, but there was something wrong…Bookmark here

“Then what are those tears?”Bookmark here

Now he noticed the wet sensation on his face, coming down his cheeks. He was crying.Bookmark here

At this moment, he jumped towards Rocco and embraced him with his arms.Bookmark here

This warm sensation between his arms… it was comfortably reassuring. And so, he was hugging him with all his strength, for he didn’t want him to ever go away.Bookmark here

What Nico said really was true. Because these tears were not of sadness, but of happiness and utmost relief.Bookmark here

Rocco didn’t have a good tact to other people’s feelings, not only that, but sometimes he was somewhat stubborn. Usually this was annoying, but at moments like these, it was strangely refreshing.Bookmark here

After some time spent like this, he let Rocco go free of his arms and cleaned his tears with his hands and clothes.Bookmark here

Right next, he noticed that there was someone else there. It wasn’t a kid, but an adult. A short man around his thirties.Bookmark here

It was Rocco’s dad, and although he was near the two, he was embarrassingly looking away, his hands in his pockets, acting like he hadn’t seen the scene that just played out in front of him. Bookmark here

But he couldn’t hide the smile he had on his face.Bookmark here

“Gian!“ Called Nico.Bookmark here

“Hm? Woah, Nico! I didn’t see you there! Hahahaha“ He said, obviously faking surprise and then nervously laughed.Bookmark here

Gian was one of the very few people close to his parents that Nico knew personally. A good part of the reason for this was the fact that frequently he played together with his son and, consequently, Nico too. Very attentive to his son and his three years old daughter, by all metrics, you could say he was a good dad.Bookmark here

But before they could talk much, they were interrupted. Bookmark here

“Hey dad! Come here!“ Said Rocco as he ran“ Look at this cliff!Bookmark here

“Right, right.“ Said Gian as he went towards his son.Bookmark here

Near the edge of the cliff, they could see just how high it was. The light of the crystals couldn’t make it to the bottom, where not even a single shed of light was to be seen. Bookmark here

This sight was nauseating to Nico. He hadn’t felt fear of heights before, but now, it was terrorizing. He didn’t know why exactly, but he had some sort of gut feeling. Maybe it was because it reminded him.Bookmark here

Anyways, next to Nico, just a moment ago Rocco seemed very comfortable, glowing with excitement. But now, nearer the edge, looking at the dark bottom of the cliff, he seemed a little insecure and turned away.Bookmark here

His dad looked at him, a little curious.Bookmark here

“What’s the matter son?”Bookmark here

“I can’t see what’s on the bottom… I don’t like looking at what I don’t know.”Bookmark here

“Huh“ His father murmured, narrowing his eyes for a moment, seeming a little worried.Bookmark here

But, soon after, they both were back to normal, and Rocco was running with the same energy and excitement as always. As he did this, behind him was his father, who took him by his waist and raised him in the air, putting him on his shoulders.Bookmark here

“Hehe, how does it feel up there son?”Bookmark here

“Woah! I can see so much! Wait, who are these guys talking with mum?”Bookmark here

“What? …Oh, they’re papa’s friends, don’t worry.“ He seemed surprised and concerned for a moment, but soon answered his son. As soon as he said this, he turned himself, and Rocco together with him, towards another direction.Bookmark here

Rocco then turned his head to below him, looking to his father, although he couldn’t see his face up there.Bookmark here

“Hey father, can you see these hills over there?lBookmark here

“Which ones?”Bookmark here

“These ones.“ He said as he pointed towards a group of distant hills“ Do you recognize them?Bookmark here

“Oh yeah, I can recognize them… as hills which I’ve already seen a thousand like them.“ Gian said jokingly.Bookmark here

“They’re the ones we passed by three days ago!“ As he said that, Rocco seemed proud of himself, with a huge smile of self satisfaction.Bookmark here

“It’s impressive how much you know about our surroundings…“ Gian then looked up, seeing the face of his son, who was slightly bent over in the direction of the hills, before adding with a smile“ I’m sure you’ll be someone important and well respected in the future!Bookmark here

“Yes!”Bookmark here

All the while, Nico was at some distance from them, observing both. Looking at them reminded him of his father, even if Rocco and Gian were a lot more close than them.Bookmark here

As always, thinking of his father made him a little sad.Bookmark here

But he could stand this much. After all, when he was around Rocco, he wished to do everything to be free from all of this. Bookmark here

It was his time to join the fun.Bookmark here

“Hey, look! The pillar!“ He shouted while he ran towards them.Bookmark here

“Woah, it’s so near!”Bookmark here

“Hehe, which of you will be the first to be able to climb it?”Bookmark here

“Me!“ Both Nico and Rocco said, in unison, and the three started laughing.Bookmark here

And so they continued to talk, laugh and play for as long as they could. Someone who looked at them would say that they seemed free of any worries and fears whatsoever, and although that wasn’t exactly true…Bookmark here

Nico had so much fun he wished this could last forever.Bookmark here

————————————————————“Bookmark here

Although there wasn’t a sun nor a moon, day nor night in this uninhabitable land, they knew it was time for dinner, for everyone was starting to stop and prepare their tents.Bookmark here

As they played, luckily they also walked in the same direction as the column, so they didn’t have to worry much about catching up with everyone else now.Bookmark here

“Well, we’re heading to dinner now“ said. “Bye”Bookmark here

“Bye Nico!”Bookmark here

As both Rocco and Gian walked towards where they’ll stay for the day. Nico stayed there, staring at their backs.Bookmark here

It was time for him to go back to Gray and Natta… It was the end of his fun for today.Bookmark here

He imagined what it would be like there…Bookmark here

They would all eat silently. He wouldn’t look at any of them on the face, while Natta would look at both him and Gray with their scornful eyes… maybe she would throw them some insults too, so it wouldn’t be totally silent. All the while, Gray would stay non confrontational, and wouldn’t really do anything, being passive until the end. Why was he like this anyways? He didn’t seem like this type of guy when they met for the first time. Bookmark here

Nico didn't want to be somewhere like that.Bookmark here

He knew that if he wasn’t there, Gray would reprehend him for it, but he also wouldn’t go too far with it. He didn’t have to worry much about him. On the other hand, Natta would definitely be angry at him, besides insulting him, maybe she could even hit him. But… wasn’t she always like this though? Maybe it would be only a matter of time until she finds an excuse to attack him physically. Also, to do that she would need Gray to stay away, so maybe she wasn’t a reason to stop him, at least in this aspect… Bookmark here

“Can I stay with you for today?“ He said quietly, with a reluctant voice. Bookmark here

Gian turned his head back, looking at him a little confused.Bookmark here

“Did you say something? I couldn’t hear it well.”Bookmark here

“Can I…“ Nico hesitated for a moment before completing“ Can I stay with you for today? Bookmark here

Upon hearing this, Rocco suddenly turned himself, glowing with excitement as usual.Bookmark here

“Are you going to stay with us!? Dad, can he? Can he?”Bookmark here

Different from his son though, Gian didn’t seem so sure on accepting the request.Bookmark here

He turned his face away, without facing either his son or Nico. His fist was closed and his fingers fidgeting. He seemed somewhat anxious and worried.Bookmark here

“Did you talk to Gray about this?”Bookmark here

“Oh he won’t mind, you don’t have to worry about this.“ As he said that, Nico let an unwanted nervous laugh come out. He was lying, but he didn’t want to give up now.Bookmark here

Gian then left a small, inaudible sigh and finally gave his answer:Bookmark here

“…Ok. “Bookmark here

“Yey!!!! Let’s go Nico!“ Rocco said as he started to run.Bookmark here

As he saw the back of his son and Nico running together, side by side, a smile started to form on his face, complementing his melancholic eyes, and he started to walk again. All the while, in a inaudible way, he muttered:Bookmark here

“I hope there’s enough for him.”Bookmark here

As they approached their tent, they could feel a nice smell of food entering their noses. It was Rocco’s mother cooking. Besides her, there was a small kid, around three years old. She was Rocco’s younger sister, Maria.Bookmark here

“Hi mum!”Bookmark here

“Hm? Ah, hi Rocco. Hi Gian“ She was going to return to her cooking when she realized there was someone else there“ Oh, hi Nico.Bookmark here

She didn’t look exactly pleased to see him, but she didn’t seem to not like his presence either. Instead, it was more like it made her worried.Bookmark here

“Hi dear.“ Greeted Gian, while giving her an understanding look, which passed unnoticed by the kids.Bookmark here

“Hello Marta.”Bookmark here

After everyone greeted one another, Rocco and Nico imediatamente started to play with Rocco’s small daughter.Bookmark here

“Maria!“ Said Rocco as he bent down on his knees and gave his sister a hug“ Look who just came back!Bookmark here

“Occo!”Bookmark here

“Hey, your sister doesn’t know how to say your name!“ Said Nico giggling, poking his friend’s shoulder.Bookmark here

“Oh come on! She’s still a toddler!”Bookmark here

“Oooh, you’re mad because she doesn’t know your name.“ Nico said in a provoking manner.Bookmark here

“I bet she doesn’t know your name either!”Bookmark here

“I wouldn’t be so sure about that if I were you. Look.“ Nico then turned his face towards the toddler “Maria! What’s my name?”Bookmark here

At first she didn’t say anything, trying to remember the answer, but then she finally said:Bookmark here

“Nico!”Bookmark here

“Hah! I’ve won! Didn’t I tell you? Now, what’s my prize?“ He said in an arrogant manner.Bookmark here

“Why do you think you’ll get a prize?!”Bookmark here

“Well, you bet that she didn’t know my name, but she did, so now you have to give me a prize.“ He said with his arms crossed in an even more arrogant, but jokingly way, before faking impatience by adding: “Now, be faster, I’m waiting for my prize.”Bookmark here

“Certainly, oh king Nico! You’ll get your prize, do not worry” he said a little ironically and then turned around, apparently searching for something, but couldn’t find it. “Hey dad, where’s that climber action figure?”Bookmark here

Gian tried looking around a little bit, but couldn’t find anything. He then noticed his spouse looking at him. Her eyes certainly were saying something, for it made him stop the search.Bookmark here

“Oh, I just remembered it, I lent it to a friend of mine. Haha, sorry” he answered with a nervous smile.Bookmark here

“Why would an adult want it?“ to Rocco, all of this seemed a little strange.Bookmark here

“It’s for his son.”Bookmark here

“I see… Is he one of the guys who came here today?”Bookmark here

“…Yeah.”Bookmark here

They’ve been here a lot, and I still don’t know who they are.Bookmark here

I don’t like this.Bookmark here

“I see.“ Said Rocco, seemingly losing his interest and coming back to act like normal “No prize for you, fake king!”Bookmark here

“Well, enough of this for today. Dinner is ready!”Bookmark here

And so, they all started their meal. There wasn’t much food, just like when he was with Gray before they received donations, but in compensation, it was delicious. Bookmark here

After they finished, they all went to sleep. There weren’t enough bedrolls for them all, so Rocco and Nico slept together. Bookmark here

Since that day, this was the first time Nico had a peaceful and nice sleep.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.