Chapter 5:

The tribunal

The Journey

As Nico helped dismantle the tent, he looked towards the front of the column. Soon, he would leave this comfortable tent and have to return to Gray and Natta.Bookmark here

He didn’t want to go there, but he knew it was his only option. At least Gray would give him food and shelter. That said, he wished to at least postpone returning as much as he can. Maybe coming back when they are sleeping would be a good idea.Bookmark here

But he knew Rocco’s parents, Gian and Marta, probably would insist to him to go back as soon as possible. He had to leave them and go towards Gray and Natta now.Bookmark here

“Bye. Thanks for having me here.”Bookmark here

“Bye Nico.“ Said both Gian and Rocco.Bookmark here

That said, this didn’t mean he couldn’t spend as much time as he wanted on his way there.Bookmark here

He started walking towards the front of the column, where Gray and Natta should be located. But when he noticed Rocco and his family couldn’t see him anymore, he started to walk at the same pace as everyone, planning to show up only later… or maybe not show up at all.Bookmark here

As he walked, he didn’t really do anything, instead going back to his own mind and his own thoughts. Bookmark here

The time he had together with Rocco and his dad was really nice and refreshing. Just the nice reminder that, sometimes, he’ll still be able to have fun like he always had, already helped a lot with dealing with all of this. That said, this didn’t mean he was totally fine now, in fact, not even near that. The very idea of meeting Natta made him fear, and Gray…Bookmark here

Well, Gray was a strange person, Nico still couldn’t understand well what type of man he was.Bookmark here

At first, Gray seemed like a respectable and gentle man, then he started to act like he didn’t know what to do and started talking about his dad, after that he looked like a decisive person who would stand up for himself and what was important to him, and now he looked like he didn’t have the slightest idea of what to do, was always passive to his daughters insults and never could properly talk with either her or Nico. Yet, somehow, all of this didn’t really feel like they truly contradict one another, he still felt like he was somewhat the same person all the way, like there was something that held all of this together.Bookmark here

Nico wondered what this thing was.Bookmark here

But either way, he didn’t like being with Gray, or at least with him acting the way he was now. It was not like he thought he was a bad person or disliked him, instead, he purely disliked being with him. He always acted in a gloomy way and like there was something heavy in his conscience, like there was something holding him back, so being with him was always a little depressing. Not only that, but he always finds a way of mentioning his dad.Bookmark here

For a moment, Nico wondered about why he had even chosen to stay with Gray instead of the old man, Marcoc, at all. But as soon as he started imagining what it would be like with him, he knew the answer. Based on his attitude, Marco seemed like the type of person who would surely male his life together with him hell. Bookmark here

But what hurt the most was that, if his dad was here, he wouldn’t have to choose between them, nor ever feel lonely. And if his dad wasn’t here, at least the man from that day would already be enough.Bookmark here

But neither of them were with him now. One was dead, and the other…Bookmark here

The other…Bookmark here

After all, did that man exist or not? Or at least, did he believe in his existence or not?Bookmark here

The day before, this question was enough to drive him crazy, but now, he seemed a little more secure about it. He still wasn’t really sure if this was the truth, and the fear of the consequences of thinking like this still didn’t go away, but at least for now, Nico thought he could stand to believe in the mysterious man's existence.Bookmark here

After wandering in his mind for some time, Nico realized some of the stares placed upon him. People were trying to maintain a certain distance from him while looking with these scornful eyes. It was like he had some mortal contagious disease or something. Bookmark here

Well, maybe you could call it one, but then it would be an illness of the mind, and that illness was what made him, him.Bookmark here

Suggesting that there might be someone outside of the Flock… that was questioning reality and the gods themselves. The people of the Flock always have been the only beings in this world, and saying that this wasn’t true really was blasphemy of the highest order. He was lucky that, thanks to being Theo and Hilda’s son, he wasn’t punished. Well, at least not officially. The next time he does something like this though… he might even be banished from the Flock. Bookmark here

After all, his dad would never say something like that.Bookmark here

————————————————————“Bookmark here

As a middle aged man and a woman in their twenties walked, one could hear their conversation:Bookmark here

“See, the kid ran away.”Bookmark here

“…Maybe he didn’t.”Bookmark here

“‘Maybe he didn’t’? Soon it’s lunch time and he still hasn't come back. Are you dumb?Bookmark here

“Maybe I really was dumb all along.”Bookmark here

“Huh? All of a sudden are you going to say this? Did you change your mind or something? Better you know that this won’t pay the price for what you did, you-“Bookmark here

“But I’ll continue to take care of him.”Bookmark here

“Why? This doesn’t make any sense! What’s your problem?”Bookmark here

“Doing this is important for me.”Bookmark here

“So a random kid is more important to you than my husband was. I see.“ As she said that, the woman turned his face directly towards the man on her right. Her eyes were hateful, and her fist was clenched.Bookmark here

The man stayed silent for a moment. His face was turned to the other side. He didn’t want to talk about this.Bookmark here

“This is my trial, and he’s the judge. If he doesn’t come back I don’t have the right to go after him.”Bookmark here

“Stop trying to avoid talking about this whenever I mention it, for fucks sake! And if you’re going to do so, at least don’t speak in riddles.”Bookmark here

“…You shouldn’t think too much about a middle aged man's silly words.“ As he said it, the man turned his eyes towards the Sky with a melancholic look on his face.Bookmark here

“I give up.“ Said the woman after letting out a frustrated sigh.Bookmark here

These two were Gray and Natta, and as soon as they stopped talking, everyone started to stop walking. It was time for lunch.Bookmark here

Gray released the cart and started to unload it, taking the brazier out of the cart and assembling it. All the while, Natta got the food and together they started to prepare the meal.Bookmark here

“You said that you won’t go after him if he doesn't come, right?”Bookmark here

“…Yeah.”Bookmark here

“So how much time does he have?”Bookmark here

“What do you mean?”Bookmark here

“You will keep waiting for how much time until you recognize that he ran away and won’t come back and finally give up on him?”Bookmark here

After hesitating for a moment, Gray answered her:Bookmark here

“…Until we finish lunch and start walking again.”Bookmark here

“It’s decided then.”Bookmark here

As Natta said this, a scary smile took form in her face, and her pressuring gaze sent chills into Gray’s spine. He knew he couldn’t go back on his word now.Bookmark here

Now he only had to wait. The control of his future wasn’t in his hands, again.Bookmark here

As he waited, he also cooked. As always, they would eat soup, but considering he had received large donations during the funeral, he would also boil some meat for them to eat.Bookmark here

Using the food which should pertence to Nico… It didn’t sit right with him.Bookmark here

But he would definitely come, so that wasn’t a problem, right?Bookmark here

Bookmark here

But would he really?Bookmark here

Near the brazier where he was cooking, it was hot and he started sweating. …But he wasn’t really sure if the heat was the real reason for this.Bookmark here

He repeatedly took a look around him, and Nico wasn’t there.Bookmark here

Second by second, the time passed, and still, Nico wasn’t there.Bookmark here

He finished cooking and both he and Natta started to serve themselves. Natta had a stare permanently directed at him, her gaze fixated on his face and eyes. Bookmark here

He couldn’t help but feel pressed more and more each time he saw her eyes. In their darkness, they looked like an abyss, and on the bottom of this abyss, deep within, there wasn’t anything but, as the only source of light, the glowing flames of hatred. One could say that, if the eyes really are a mirror of the soul, then her eyes surely got the job done.Bookmark here

He imagined how she would react if Nico showed up. It didn’t take long and he was already picturing in his mind her turning her back at both of them but still keeping her gaze directed to them while she throwed the most varied insults. Bookmark here

He really knew her all too well, but that was only natural, for the fault for all her hate and misery was his.Bookmark here

But the real question was what he would do if he didn’t come. Bookmark here

Would one last chance be granted to him? A chance to at least try to correct his mistakes, from which he always had dealt in the most cowardly of ways? If not, then all the hope was lost for him.Bookmark here

With spoons, they both started eating the soup. Each spoonful marked the passage of time, like it was a clock. Tic tac, his time was coming to an end, tic tac.Bookmark here

Tic tac.Bookmark here

He was starting to imagine a court. On the side of the witnesses was his daughter, as witness of his many failures and errors. By his side was Theo, who had already pointed out his errors way too many times, but always incentivizing him to improve, and who silently stared at him with a look of expectation.Bookmark here

He didn’t want to betray this look again, but he feared he couldn’t help it. Bookmark here

But most importantly, as someone in the corner held the clock, it’s ticks determined how much time was left for Nico, who was in the place of the Shepherd, across the fire and opposite to Gray, to voice his opinion.Bookmark here

Tic tac.Bookmark here

The Shepherd, as the judge, then slammed the staff on the ground, announcing he would soon reveal his decision.Bookmark here

But he was interrupted.Bookmark here

“I- I’m back…”Bookmark here

As he heard these words, the light of hope appeared again in Gray's heart.Bookmark here

Behind him, there was Nico.Bookmark here

“Welcome back, Nico.”Bookmark here

When Gray said that, he could see Nico’s eyebrows going up slightly. He seemed a little surprised.Bookmark here

The reason for that was that, instead of a gloomy expression, in Gray’s face there was a wide and genuine smile.Bookmark here

Just after that though, Nico’s gaze was again directed to the ground.Bookmark here

“I- I’m hungry.”Bookmark here

And that’s why I returned. He thought.Bookmark here

“I made enough food for three. You’re free to serve yourself.”Bookmark here

Nico did as ordered, and started to eat the soup. It was really nice and helped satiate his hunger, for he felt like what he ate at Rocco’s wasn’t really enough, and there wasn’t anything left for him to eat there.Bookmark here

Anyways, as he ate, Natta finally spoke after being silent since he appeared:Bookmark here

“It must be really nice to make us waste food and now be able to eat as much as you want like everything is alright. Disappearing and now coming back… You really only can ever think of yourself huh? If you were going to do this you could at least never come back. If not, then just don’t even go to begin with.”Bookmark here

As she said all of this, Natta seemed more hateful than ever. Her eyes were locked on Nico like she was just going to kill him. Bookmark here

“Natta.“ Gray suddenly said in a grave voice, he seemed irritated by her attitude.Bookmark here

“What?”Bookmark here

At the moment she looked back at his eyes though, he seemed to hesitate. He still had difficulty confronting her, after all, trying to improve now wouldn’t make him less guilty of all of the terrible mistakes he committed. Bookmark here

“You should stop.”Bookmark here

As she heard this, she didn’t seem fearful nor obliging, but simply surprised.Bookmark here

“So you’re trying to man up?“ She said with a tone of mockery.Bookmark here

After this, Gray didn’t answer her, instead continuing silent. Seeing his reaction, she started to simply laugh at him.Bookmark here

“Sure, sure. I’ll shut up for now then.”Bookmark here

————————————————————Bookmark here

Until after dinner, not much happened. Natta stayed quiet for once, and Gray tried to have some chats with Nico once and twice, but never managed to find anything interesting to keep the conversation going. That said, at least he didn’t mention Theo or Hilda, so it was already some improvement. Overall, the day had been a lot nicer than any other Nico had since that incident, maybe except the one just before this.Bookmark here

Now, as he was in his bedroll, he looked silently at Natta. She hadn’t done anything since that moment earlier in the day, during lunch, and this made Nico curious. Even now, while Gray was outside of the tent, she was just there, doing nothing. Bookmark here

Because of the dark inside the tent, he couldn’t see her face properly, so he wondered what expression she was making. After all, the only time he saw her show anything but hatred and disgust was when they first met. It was like she couldn’t experience anything else anymore at all. Bookmark here

But at one point, she noticed his gaze.Bookmark here

“Hey kid.”Bookmark here

She was always like this, never calling him by his name… it was always “kid” or it’s variations, like “retarded kid” for example. Bookmark here

“Why are you staring at me?“ she seemed irritated.Bookmark here

Having been called out, Nico turned himself to the other side and stayed silent. Trying to fake sleeping.Bookmark here

“You know that only because I moderated myself today doesn’t mean I hate you even a bit less. For all I care, you could be dead by now. Then at least the treatment both of you received would be equal.”Bookmark here

Both of you?Bookmark here

Of whom was she talking about?Bookmark here

“After all, I can’t do anything besides hate someone and feel depressed since a long time ago anyways. Maybe I should be thankful that your miserable presence helps me occupy my mind with something.”Bookmark here

As she said that, she let out a weird, nervous laugh. Only hearing it already made Nico scared, the mixture of despair, hatred and sadness in the sounds she made sent chills down his spine.Bookmark here

“Oh, and I know you’re not sleeping.“ She said, probably staring right at him.Bookmark here

He stayed silent.Bookmark here

She sighed.Bookmark here

“Fine then.”Bookmark here

————————————————————Bookmark here

Seated at the ground, with his back on the canvas of the tent, Gray looked at the Sky.Bookmark here

Or better, his eyes were directed towards the Sky, for his look was to the inside. Bookmark here

The wind was blowing through him, giving a chilly sensation to his skin. As everyone was sleeping, or at least inside the tents, he was the only one there, at the open. It felt a little lonely, but he was grateful for that, for it helped him to think.Bookmark here

“ …Poor kid… I’m sorry, I couldn’t properly help you until now. But I’ll do my best in order to not fail now.”Bookmark here

Tic tac, he heard in his mind.Bookmark here

“…The judge still hasn't announced his decision after all.”Bookmark here

After saying that, he stayed silent for a moment. On the Sky, he could see the form of the rocks, barely delineated by the faint light of the crystals, in a way that together, they made something resembling a man.Bookmark here

“Hey Theo… Can you forgive me? I’ve always left my decisions to you, never taking responsibility for myself, and then, when I needed to make my own choice, I chose the worst possible answer.”Bookmark here

Nothing. There wasn’t a single answer.Bookmark here

The man then turned his head towards the ground, his gaze directed to somewhere between his two legs. Bookmark here

“In the end, maybe it would be better if I could just forget about him. For me, Natta and Nico.”Bookmark here

He said, acknowledging that he was alone after all.Bookmark here

————————————————————Bookmark here

He was there again, engulfed in smoke.Bookmark here

In front of him, there was the shadow of a kid.Bookmark here

“Looks like I’ve lost my bet…”Bookmark here

Nico stayed silent, looking at him. He couldn’t see his eyes, for they were, just like the rest of his body, all darkness.Bookmark here

“So you’ve chosen the other guy, the me with hopes and dreams.”Bookmark here

Nico tried to speak, but before he could say anything, he was interrupted, and as the shadow spoke, he couldn’t open his own mouth.Bookmark here

“But if I’m here, there's still a chance you’ll choose me.”Bookmark here

At the moment the kid finished saying this, everything disappeared.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.