The plump man and I ran and ran and ran. At first, he was in front of me, grabbing me by my forearm as he tried to drag me and lead me to somewhere but as we began to cover more and more distance, he started to lag behind to the extent that our initial roles were reversed and I had to be the one to drag him along.
Seeing that he was really at his limits with his whole face red and panting to the point of wheezing, I decided to stop for a breather for the both of us. He seemed reluctant at first and tried to continue to run but gradually stopped when he began to stumble in his steps as if his whole body was beginning to fail him.
He might not be doing so well in terms of physical fitness. Unfortunately, I was not any better either. We both have a long way to go in terms of our stamina while running.
To help him to have an easier time catching his breath, I proceed to take the small oil lantern off his hands. Before we went into the mess hall, the sky was still bright like the day. Yet when we were leaving, it was already pitch black outside.
The starless nights of Umbra in this world were unlike any night back on Earth. Even with a lantern in hand, we could not see past what is beyond a radius of mere three meters. It is likely due to the lack of light reflected onto the land. Nights on Earth even during ancient times were probably brighter thanks to sunlight bouncing off the moon.
At the same time, the vast expanse of unlit training fields in between buildings meant that the place is hardly illuminated apart from the buildings that were few and far in between. It was a miracle that the man kneeling down beside me in an “orz” position to catch his breath was able to navigate his way around the place in a seemingly purposeful direction.
I didn’t notice it beforehand but once I stood close to the plump man, the faint scent of basil could be smelled, quite like the meal we just had in fact.
Out of curiosity, I took out the pocket watch that was still somehow secured to my pockets without any indications of falling out. The time was a little past seven.
Once the both of us got our rest, we began to make our way to wherever it was that Basil (That’s what I am calling him by) was trying to lead me to. We both came to a consensus without speaking a single word that we will no longer sprint the whole way there but take a nice slow jog that our physical prowess allowed.
It wasn’t until we reach the destination that I finally realized the route we had taken wasn’t new. We were back at the cottage/ barn house place that also served as our living quarters for Basil and I and the six others. I could even see the six of them lining up in a straight line in front of the door right now.
Really goes to show that even familiar roads that you walked for a long time become completely unrecognizable under the veil of darkness.
Wait, no, there were more than six men in front of the cottage/ barn house place.
One was Aniki, his bulky build tells all.
Two was Bones whose skinniness was amplified when stood next to Aniki.
Three was Mono, holding on to his lone crutch to support the weight of his right side.
I could see that Hood had still kept his hood on even when it was night.
The one with short stature must be Patches.
The last guy in the line must be the average-looking guy. I could barely see his face, not that I could even recognize his face. I guess I will nickname him “Futsu”.
Those were the six that I saw earlier in the day. Yet there was a seventh figure pacing in front of them while they stood as still as possible in the line.
Basil quickly made his way over and joined the line. I guess that means I need to be doing that too…
From whatever little light available, I could see that the clothes that the strange man was wearing were completely different from the plain ones that we were wearing. Instead, his were more dignified and seemed to be made out of a higher quality material, as if to highlight the difference in hierarchy between us.
Once all eight of us were in the line, he finally stopped pacing in front of us.
Strange man: [*****?]
Instead, he asked a question, though no one in the line answered him.
Strange man: [*********!?]
Not able to elicit a response from us, he began to put even more pressure into his voice. I would have answered if I knew the question but I guess that is too bad. I was definitely not shaking in my shoes and prayed that someone else would answer and save us from this interrogation.
Aniki: [*****, *! ***********, *!]
It was Aniki that broke the silence with his decisive words shouted with little hesitation. I had never been more grateful for someone like I am to Aniki for a long time. Even if I did not know if that was the answer that the strange man wanted to hear but I could only hope that was the end.
Strange man: [********.]
Instead, the strange man walked right up to Aniki, so close that their faces were essentially a breath away. The two of them had the same body type and build, though I’m not sure if that observation was of any use now. He spoke something in a rather passive-aggressive voice before making his way to Basil.
Strange man: [**!]
Basil’s whole body visibly shook when the strange man began to shout at him. He was standing beside me so I could tell. Even when he was trembling, he tried to squeeze out a reply to the best of his abilities.
Though he tried to shout, there was no force behind his voice, the complete opposite of the strange man. Is he going to be chewed out too? Our times may be short but having run together till we almost dropped, I’d say we share a bond that is more than acquaintances.
All of a sudden, I could no longer feel my fear towards the strange man. Instead, a new sensation, one of burning fire gushes through my veins.
If he thinks he is going to go around scolding the kind folks here like they were trash, then he is going to get another thing coming!
Strange man: [****. *******. **************? ********************, *******.]
It was almost like the strange man refused to be predictable. Just when I thought he was about to give Basil an earful, he instead chose to point his finger to the starless night and spoke in a dejected tone that was completely absent in his earlier dialogues.
“Dejected” may not be the most suitable word. His expressions were something more complex, like a mix of multiple negative emotions violently clashing together and spiralling out of control. His hands began to unconsciously reach out to cover his face, as if trying to avert his eyes from whatever his mind just conjured out.
It was a rare moment of weakness but it was gone as quickly as it came. He immediately turned away to adjust his collar before finally walking up to Patches.
Patches was nowhere near as tall as Aniki and the strange man. As a matter of fact, he was someone closer to my height than anything else. Hence, there was no way he could see eye-to-eye with the strange man. Instead, the strange man decided to lower his body almost to the extent of kneeling down just to be able to talk to him, like a parent would to his child.
Strange man: [**, *********************, ********. *****, **************. ***************. ************, ************. *****************?]
He went on for quite some time, only rivalling the old man that was interrogating me earlier today. Wait a minute, this, along with the fact that this strange man seemed to change his tone so rapidly. Could he be…?
Before I could continue that thought process I could feel their eyes turning to me when they were talking. Were they talking about me?
Could it be?
Were these guys getting scolded because of something I did?
I couldn’t shake that uneasy feeling off me no matter how much I racked my brains over it but I do know that there was something I needed to do at the moment of time.
Patches seemed uncomfortable listening to what the strange man had to say, so I decided to insert myself in between them and at the very least shield him from what malicious words (I think) the strange man might have to offer.
Staring down the strange man was no easy feat. Though he wasn’t as physically menancing as when I first met Aniki who had a similar build, his eyes were something that no normal person should look at for prolonged periods of time.
It is like looking into the eyes of a dead fish.
No longer bothered with the life of his or the lives of others.
Only longed for the soul to break free from his material meat prison.
All I would say is that it is really uncomfortable even looking at him. I am starting to respect the seven others here who seemed to have tolerated treatments like this more than once.
This was helpful, right?
I turned my head to Patches with those thoughts in mind but the face he was making was less than bright. It wasn’t exactly sad either even though he seemed to be desperately trying his hardest to bite back his tears.
That was the closest word I could think of to relate to his countenance but what was there for him to be guilty of?
If anything, I should be the one to be guilty!
I’m pretty sure I caused this!
This was my fault!
In any case, I should be the one to be scolded, if anything.
I turned my head to face the strange man again, this time putting up the most aggressive face I could muster.
Yang: [Come at me if you have something to say]
I was very sure that he heard me but at the end of the day, hearing and understanding are two completely different things. I would know since that had been my life ever since I was in Tawouest.
Even if he did not understand my words, he seemed to have gotten my point and backed off to my delight.
To end off the ordeal, he went and spoke to Aniki before leaving into the darkness with his lantern in hand. The eight of us continued to stand still at our spots until the light created by his lantern was but only a small speck in the distance.
When he finally left the vicinity, we heaved a collective sigh of relief. Nobody but Basil was able to keep a smile on their faces. To be honest, I am rather jealous of his optimism.
We made our way back into the cottage/ barn house place that seemed to be our place of lodgings. Previously, it was illuminated by various oil lanterns spread around the building but Bones and Mono were making their way around to extinguish their flames.
I guessed it was already bedtime.
Navigating around in the dark of a starless and moonless night would be quite impossible for no natural lighting would be present. Thankfully, each of the seven residents here had on them a personal oil lantern that had been with them even when they were standing in line outside.
All except me, of course. I even distinctively remembered seeing a lamp in my wardrobe.
In my defence, there was no way I could ever know…
Seriously, enough with this lazy excuse of a reason!
I might never be able to fully understand the language of Tawouest.
Jyn, my Rosetta Stone to this world is no longer beside me to translate.
But, so what!
I still have my eyes to see and that is more than enough!
I would just need to monkey see, monkey do and copy whatever it is that they were doing.
At the very least, that would be less likely to get them into trouble like this time though I still never did figure out what went wrong just now.
Everyone was getting ready to tuck themselves in bed. As Patches was climbing to the top bunk of our bed, I tried to talk to him and perhaps even cheer him up a little but he would not even look at me.
Once everyone was in bed, the oil lanterns were dimmed and eventually extinguished. The room itself was more than darkened, however.
Instead, it was in a state of pitch black that not even night adaptation of the eyes could allow me to see. As far as I know, even though I knew I was stretching out my arms straight while lying on my bed, I couldn’t see any part of my hand at all.
Yet strangely enough, that darkness of the abyss failed to bother me as much.
One would be because I think I have seen it somewhere before. I wasn’t sure where but this was not my first time.
Secondly, I only had room for one thought right now:
I will wake up tomorrow morning being less of a burden for the other seven.