Chapter 8:

Somewhere different from here

The Journey

One step after another, they walked together with the mob. It had already been some days without the wind blowing, so there was a strong smell of sweat in the air thanks to the high concentration of people. Not only that but, positioned at the middle of the column, which had been walking through a path narrower than usual, at the bottom of a canyon, even now that he was 13 instead of 11, Nico couldn’t see very well beyond the shoulders of so many people. Bookmark here

With the absence of the wind and its usual noises, the sound of feet meeting the ground and of the words said by the crowd was predominant. Besides them, somewhere at the distance, he could also hear someone coughing. Bookmark here

Thanks to the cliff walls, which blocked a good portion of the weak light which existed in this world, it was dark there at the bottom. Bookmark here

A dark, crowded and small place, instead of a vast empty land. It was a weird feeling, as if they had discovered some unknown land.Bookmark here

“Urgh, this smell…”Bookmark here

Nico heard Gray’s voice. He couldn’t see his face very well because of the dark, but he could imagine him waving his hand in front of his nose, as if this would achieve anything.Bookmark here

“Is it annoying you?”Bookmark here

“This place is just terrible.”Bookmark here

“I don’t really mind it that much.“Bookmark here

“It’s not only the smell.”Bookmark here

“So what is it-”Bookmark here

Before he could complete what he was saying, Nico nearly tripped over someone else.Bookmark here

“See?” Gray gave a light chuckle.Bookmark here

“Ok, it can be a little uncomfortable. But it’s not that bad.”Bookmark here

“Are you really saying that just after nearly falling into the ground?”Bookmark here

“I am.”Bookmark here

Gray sighed, without saying anything.Bookmark here

“I just found it… how can I put it… enthralling I guess? Like… it’s a completely different experience from the usual. I don’t want to only be in an open, windy and empty place for my entire life.”Bookmark here

“…But the usual is more comfortable. Here it is dark, smelly, humid, crowded…” rebutted Gray.Bookmark here

As they talked, suddenly a light appeared. It was coming from a nearby lamp that was lit by someone, probably so he could walk more safely. With this light, Nico now could see that Gray had cracked a smile on his face. Bookmark here

Since he started to change his attitude, he would always start smiling at the weirdest moments when chatting with Nico. It might be weird, but it also was probably part of the reason Nico could just talk like this now.Bookmark here

“Maybe I just like having something a little different from the usual,” Nico giggled. “So-’Bookmark here

Cough coughBookmark here

Suddenly, Nico was interrupted by Gray, who started coughing violently. He hunched slightly, and put his hand over his mouth.Bookmark here

“Gray?” Nico called as he hesitantly approached Gray, not knowing exactly what to do. “Are you okay?”Bookmark here

Cough “Y-yeah, I’m oka-” Bookmark here

Cough CoughBookmark here

“Take this” said Nico as he handed over to him a canteen full of water he was carrying in his pocket.Bookmark here

“Thanks,” replied Gray with a hoarse voice. Next, he started to drink from it, and soon he took it out of his mouth and gave it back to Nico. Bookmark here

It was still half-full, and the canteen was pretty small. Bookmark here

“You could have drunk more, you know?”Bookmark here

“It’s already enough,” Gray said and took a moment to breathe once again, “you don’t need to worry.”Bookmark here

“Huh...” murmured Nico as he glanced at Gray.Bookmark here

“That’s what happens when you’re in a dirty place like this, see?” Gray said jokingly.Bookmark here

Nico didn’t say anything in return. Instead, he just sent him a worried look and continued walking.Bookmark here

Gray was the one who took care of him and helped him to lead a happy life. And even though he wouldn’t say “it is like he’s a new father to me” or anything of the type, they had nonetheless grown a lot closer over the years and there was one thing he could safely say:Bookmark here

He was one of, if not the, most important person to him now.Bookmark here

But, anyways, they continued walking, always paying close attention to what was near them in order to avoid stumbling into someone amidst all these people. At least, thanks to whoever had lit that lamp before, they could at least see decently well their surroundings now. Bookmark here

Most people were concentrating on talking or not stepping on someone else’s feet, but, once in a while Nico always would notice someone staring at him. A lot of times, this “someone” was Natta, but that didn’t mean she was the only one.Bookmark here

It had already been 2 years, which seemed like a long period of time to Nico, since that day, but, alas, people still remembered his “blasphemous words”. Bookmark here

The existence of someone outside of the Flock… Despite all this pressure, he still believed in it, even if he hadn’t talked about it with anyone since the day he met the Shepherd. As long as he had Rocco and Gray near him, he could still stand by his words.Bookmark here

The idea of someone who comes from outside the Flock wasn’t one he had before meeting that man, that said, it wasn’t the first time he believed in something that went against common sense. Bookmark here

When he was younger, his imagination was populated with images of lands different from his own. Beyond the boundaries of this world, somewhere after the Sky, somewhere under the ground, somewhere across the end of the world.Bookmark here

These beliefs might sound crazy even to him now, but if he one day believed in them, maybe he always was bound to one day come to the conclusion that there are people who aren’t part of the Flock. Bookmark here

But he was still to find someone who believed in the same thing.Bookmark here

He could see a hunchback old man, and he was sure he didn’t believe in this. He could see a muscular young man, and he was sure he didn’t believe in this. He could see a mother with her daughter, and he was sure they didn’t believe in this. Bookmark here

A blond boy around the same age as him bumped into him as he strode forward, and he was sure the boy also didn’t believe in this. Bookmark here

“Sorr- Wait, Nico?”Bookmark here

But it was alright, for the boy was his friend.Bookmark here

“Rocco?”Bookmark here

“It’s you!” Rocco exclaimed and immediately went for a hug.Bookmark here

“Y-yeah, it’s me, dumbass.”Bookmark here

Since the Flock entered this canyon, it was the first time the two met, as it was hard to find someone in a dark and crowded space like this. Bookmark here

“Oh, Rocco?” said Gray, noticing the boy.Bookmark here

“Hi Gray” greeted Rocco, looking at Gray for only a moment as he let off Nico. Bookmark here

“You seemed in a hurry. What were you doing?” asked Nico.Bookmark here

“Oh, er… I was going to fill our canteens with water” answered Rocco, showing three empty canteens he was carrying. “I’ve heard that going forward there’s a place with a great pond.”Bookmark here

“Hm, it might be a good idea to fill ours too…”Bookmark here

“Do you want me to do it for us?” Nico asked Gray.Bookmark here

“Go for it.”Bookmark here

“Alright” Nico said and took the canteens Gray had with him “let’s go.”Bookmark here

And so, Nico and Rocco started walking their way through the column. And as they did this, frequently they would bump into someone, and sometimes someone would step on their feet. Orienting yourself was also difficult, since they couldn’t see very well, especially with so many people around them. They only had a general direction to go, and nothing else.Bookmark here

“…Hey Nico,” murmured Rocco.Bookmark here

“What?”Bookmark here

“What if we get lost here?”Bookmark here

“Oh, so you are scared?” teased Nico.Bookmark here

“N-no, of course not…” Rocco stuttered.Bookmark here

“If we get lost…” Nico said and paused, glancing at Rocco, who was behind him and whose eyes darted from one direction to another. “If we get lost… we will be left here, in the dark, and no one, absolutely no one, will find us…”Bookmark here

“…A-and what will happen after that?”Bookmark here

“Oh, what happens next? …We will stay here in the dark, alone, without knowing where to go, and starve to death” answered Nico in a grave tone.Bookmark here

“T-that would be pretty bad…”Bookmark here

“Indeed.”Bookmark here

“If we don’t know what will happen in a dark place like this… shouldn’t we be somewhere safer?”Bookmark here

“Hey Rocco, do you have a fear of the dark?” Bookmark here

“N-no! I don’t! Obviously not!” Bookmark here

“Then why are you shivering?”Bookmark here

Turning his upper body slightly towards his back as he walked, Nico pointed towards Rocco’s arm, which was trembling uncontrollably.Bookmark here

“I-I’m not shivering!” Rocco shouted and made a face at Nico.Bookmark here

“Ok, ok, you aren't,” chuckled Nico.Bookmark here

“Yeah, I’m not,” asserted Rocco with his arms crossed. “Anyways, look over there, we’re reaching it.”Bookmark here

Rocco pointed towards an area illuminated by three lamps. Surrounding it, there was a crowd. Bookmark here

“Why are there so many people?” Nico asked.Bookmark here

“Probably because of the same reason we’re here.”Bookmark here

The two of them approached the place, joining the crowd.Bookmark here

In front of them, located half inside a small hole, like it was a cave, in the wall, there was a pond larger than any Nico saw in his life, although that wasn’t much to go by. Bookmark here

Water dripped down from the Sky to the ground through the pillars, and usually accumulated on the lowest points possible, so the presence of such a large pond there was nothing more than logical. That said, this didn’t mean it wasn’t something impressive for Nico’s young eyes. Bookmark here

Thanks to the lamps, the pond was receiving light, and the two of them could see their reflections on the water as they filled the canteens. Bookmark here

“Look, it’s like a mirror,” Rocco pointed towards his reflection.Bookmark here

“Must be a broken mirror then, it’s so weird I’m looking ugly in it” joked Nico.Bookmark here

“No, no, if you’re looking ugly then it’s probably perfect.”Bookmark here

“What are you talking about? I’m the most beautiful man alive.”Bookmark here

“Let’s go back, you look better where there’s zero light.”Bookmark here

“Oh fuck off.”Bookmark here

After the two finished filling their canteens, they went back, passing amidst the crowd. Bookmark here

Rocco and Gray might not be too fond of this place, but he really was. He might not believe that something like other worlds exist, but he surely desired that suddenly, here in the dark he would find the entrance to another, different place. Bookmark here

But alas, this is the world he lives in, this is the world he has to accept.Bookmark here

———————————————————Bookmark here

The brazier was lit and the fire started to illuminate all of them. Recently it was only in hours like these that he had the opportunity to see everyone well. Bookmark here

And so, on one hand he could properly see Gray as he complained about how hot it was thanks to the many braziers in such a claustrophobic space, which, well, was true. Bookmark here

But on the other hand, it reminded him that Natta was there, seated at the side with her hands on her knees, leaning on the cliff wall.Bookmark here

Nico liked to act as if she didn’t exist since they had entered this huge canyon, using the darkness as a way to forget about her. But when she was there, in full view of him, he couldn’t do this. It was as if the gods were reminding him that life won’t just always go his way. Bookmark here

Not that he needed to be reminded of that.Bookmark here

At one point, he noticed that Natta was staring back at him.Bookmark here

Her eyes were pitch black, and her gaze was completely fixated on his face. As she continued doing this, she blinked not even once. Bookmark here

She would always do this, staring at him as if she was marking his soul with hot steel, and he would always be the first to break eye contact, turning his head to some other direction.Bookmark here

And once again that was what he did.Bookmark here

He could feel her stare burning at his back for some time, but soon, it stopped. After a quick check, he confirmed she was back at looking down towards the ground.Bookmark here

In front of a firmer posture from Gray, she had stopped openly insulting them, or at least, in Gray’s presence, but this death stare of hers just wouldn’t ever go away. It was like this was her daily reminder for him that his happiness made someone else miserable. Bookmark here

He didn’t know why she did this, after all, he hadn’t ever done something to her, but no matter what he did, he couldn’t free himself from it. Maybe she had a specific reason to hate him, maybe she hated him just for being alive. There wasn’t anything he could do to know, nor a way for him to stop it. Bookmark here

But as long as he had Gray and Rocco he could just continue living just like normal. And that was why he simply tried to ignore her.Bookmark here

“Natta…”Bookmark here

And so, the one who called her wasn’t him, but Gray.Bookmark here

“…do you want something special for dinner?”Bookmark here

She slowly raised her head again and looked at Gray.Bookmark here

“…No. Why?”Bookmark here

Gray opened his mouth, as if he was going to say something, but nothing came out. Instead, he diverted his gaze from her and slowly closed his mouth. Bookmark here

Not having received an answer, Natta started lowering her head again.Bookmark here

But she was interrupted.Bookmark here

“…You’ve been seeming a little down recently…” Gray started to say hesitantly, “I wanted to cheer you up a little-”Bookmark here

“I don’t need your worry, '' she said immediately and recluded herself again, shutting down any conversation. Bookmark here

After hearing this, Nico could see Gray’s shoulders lowering a little. It didn’t seem like he was relieved, instead, it seemed more like he was disappointed and frustrated. He took some ingredients and started to sluggishly prepare them, without looking at either Nico or Natta.Bookmark here

“…I see,” he murmured.Bookmark here

And so, silently, Gray immersed himself in cooking and his own thoughts as the two watched.Bookmark here

If she just disappeared, this wouldn’t happen… But it wasn’t because Nico wished it to be this way that this would happen. Bookmark here

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Author Note: Probably I won’t post next week because of school tests, but soon I’ll go back to work, so don’t worry.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.