Chapter 11:

Sweet poisonous delusions

The Journey

Curled up under a blanket, inside the cart, was Gray. He was curled up, lying on various boxes and a lot of other stuff piled up inside the cart. Half asleep, half awake, his face wasn’t contorted in pain anymore. It seemed like he thankfully was a little better for now.Bookmark here

“Gray,” Nico said as he approached him, getting on the cart. “Do you think you’re able to get up?”Bookmark here

Gray murmured something and slowly turned his face in Nico’s direction. He properly opened his eyes and then replied “Yeah… I think so” as he tried to use his arm as support to stand up, but in the end he faltered and he fell into the cart again.Bookmark here

“Ouch…” he yelled, and then said to Nico “maybe, at least.”Bookmark here

“Here, let me help you,” Nico offered one of his hands as he used the other to support Gray’s back.Bookmark here

They managed to do it, and Nico helped him to step down into the ground. Bookmark here

“T-thanks. I can continue from there,” Gray shook Nico off and staggered towards the brazier, and sat with difficulty on the ground around it.Bookmark here

Nico quickly followed suit, and sat near him. He was tired, and sweat ran down his skin. The heat coming from the brazier only collaborated in making it even more unpleasant. Bookmark here

And all of this was to help this man.Bookmark here

The one who helped him, who gave him a new home.Bookmark here

Every single thing he did today, he would do again, at this exact moment, if it was needed to help Gray.Bookmark here

“…Sorry” he murmured softly, but loud enough so Gray could hear it.Bookmark here

“For what? You don’t need to be sorry.”Bookmark here

“I let you get this ill, and didn’t do anything. You would be better right now if I was more responsible…”Bookmark here

“What could you have done? I was the one refusing to accept that I was sick and telling you so. You simply believed in me. You don’t have anything to regret,” Gray said with a tired and weak voice that only made it harder to accept things.Bookmark here

“I could have called someone or something like that. I could have told Gian and he might have tried to help us get help for someone else. There weren’t a lot of options, but I could have done something. It wasn’t difficult to see something was wrong, and I still belie- no, I still clung to what you said.”Bookmark here

“You’re being too harsh on yourself,” Gray affirmed as he difficulty and slowly spoke, in a way that was breaking Nico’s heart. “As I said, if you didn’t do anything, it was because I couldn’t face the problem myself... I’m the one supposed to take care of you, not the contrary... You don’t have this responsibility.”Bookmark here

Gray stopped for a moment, having to try to recover his breath after only this much talking.Bookmark here

“ ...Besides that, you already helped me much more than you think,” he said and then murmured: “And much more than I deserved.”Bookmark here

Helped him? Much more than he deserved? Nico couldn’t understand this.Bookmark here

Gray was the one who took care of him when he had no one else, while he didn’t ever give him something in exchange.Bookmark here

Gray was the one who allowed him to dream, and what he did in return?Bookmark here

“I don’t want you to be sad over what is my responsibility, my lies… My mistakes.”Bookmark here

“You were only trying to not make me sad, and I’m grateful for that. It was a benevolent lie, not something to be ashamed of.”Bookmark here

As he heard that, Gray stopped facing Nico. Instead, his eyes were directed in front of him. There, he could see many things: great pillars far away from there, the landscape of hills and cliffs in the distance, tents, already nearer them, the brazier. Not only all of that, but Natta too, who was looking at Nico dead silent. Bookmark here

But what caught his attention was something else.Bookmark here

Something very small, which most people wouldn’t even care about, as they would all look towards the fire of the brazier, which greated outshined the mere reflex of his face on an old, rusty pan. Bookmark here

“...It looks like I still haven’t learned...” he sighed. “Lies only lead to regrets… don’t forget this, Nico.”Bookmark here

———————————————————Bookmark here

After some time resting, Nico, under the guidance of Gray, made a simple soup so they could eat. It wasn’t very good, but Natta, under the justification that she’s way too exhausted after pulling the cart together with Gray, had refused to cook, and Gray wasn’t in a state to do that himself, so they had to go with it. After this, they, who were all tired, went to sleep.Bookmark here

Inside the tent it was dark, as the faint light from outside failed to penetrate inside it, and he couldn’t see Gray well. He couldn’t see what happened to Gray, only contributing to his worries.Bookmark here

What might happen?Bookmark here

Would he notice it soon?Bookmark here

Oh, this was no good. He had to sleep so he could give his all again tomorrow.Bookmark here

He closed his eyes, and tried to not think until he would manage to sleep, but he couldn’t.Bookmark here

The thoughts, the worries, they wouldn’t stop coming to him. Bookmark here

What if he had done something? Would this have been avoided?Bookmark here

Well, first, what exactly could he have done to help? He had said he could ask people for help, but this was very vague. Would he tell the Shepherd that Gray was ill? Go around asking people for help? Would any of this really help?Bookmark here

Well, the latter might not do anything for him, but the first idea maybe would bring some results. The Shepherd knows of the best health techniques, from herbs to spiritual rituals.Bookmark here

Although he didn’t want to see the Shepherd ever again, he could very well have done that. Bookmark here

But he didn’t.Bookmark here

Was the Shepherd’s mere denying of the mysterious man from that day more important than Gray?
Most definitely not.Bookmark here

Then, why?Bookmark here

Why didn't he do this?Bookmark here

There was no reason at all-Bookmark here

Bookmark here

No… no, no matter how much he wished to hide this, he knew.Bookmark here

Sweet poisonous delusions. That might be the best way to put it.Bookmark here

Stubborn hopes that only led to misery. Bookmark here

Should man really dream?Bookmark here

Or should he accept the cold hard reality?Bookmark here

“What do you think?”Bookmark here

He turned to his back, only to notice he wasn’t in the tent anymore, but somewhere else. It was a white, blank place.Bookmark here

And in this blank space, was him, the shadow boy.Bookmark here

His silhouette had changed. It was as if he had also grown up, just like Nico, still having the appearance of someone of the same age as him, even after the two years since they last met.Bookmark here

“Will you dream? Or will you see things like what they really are?” the boy, with his voice, which seemed to come from all directions, even from inside Nico himself, asked him.Bookmark here

“...It happened once, but there won’t be a second time.”Bookmark here

“Good. Then, I have another question.”Bookmark here

The boy didn’t elaborate further. Bookmark here

“What question?”Bookmark here

“Come on, you already know it.”Bookmark here

“...”Bookmark here

“What about your other foolish hopes?”Bookmark here

“...I don’t have any.” Bookmark here

“Did you forget what the guy said earlier? ‘Lies only lead to regrets’, so tell me the truth.”Bookmark here

Nico stayed silent, but stayed looking directly at the boy, without backing off.Bookmark here

“What about your dreams of one day seeing places that don’t exist, your hopes of one day escaping from this world? Your idiotic self delusion about the existence of a mysterious man who took care of you?” the boy sighed and questioned.Bookmark here

“...What is foolish about them?”Bookmark here

“Do I really have to say it? They are all false.”Bookmark here

“The man from that day is real,” interjected Nico.
The boy sighed again, and soon replied:
“I could argue about this, but I’m trying to get something else out of you today,” he said. “So, as I said, these other things are all false.”Bookmark here

“...Is having a dream, a wishful thinking about your ideal world, bad if you don’t mix it with reality?”Bookmark here

As he said this, their surroundings changed into a weird place Nico hadn’t ever seen.Bookmark here

At least not in the real world.Bookmark here

It was a vast plain. There, some mysterious small green things were growing from the ground, covering all of it, together with weird and large sticks of wood with thousands of leaves attached to them.Bookmark here

“This place is beautiful,” affirmed Nico as he looked around him, observing the sight. “Much more beautiful than anything you’ll ever see.”Bookmark here

“That’s not true,” the shadow interjected.
“Why?”Bookmark here

“Because it is a lie.”Bookmark here

“Aren’t you a lie yourself?”Bookmark here

“H-how so?” asked the boy, seeming to have been caught off guard for the first time.Bookmark here

“There can’t exist someone who doesn't dream. Someone who doesn't have hopes and dreams is nobody.”Bookmark here

“...That’s not true, it only happens that you still don't know one yet,” the shadow said hesitantly. “After all, what is the value in escaping from reality anyways? Aren’t you only increasing your frustration with the world by doing this?”Bookmark here

At the very moment the boy said this, Nico turned towards it again, his fist clenched and his eyes full of indignation, looking directly at the boy.Bookmark here

He opened his mouth and tried to say something, but nothing came out.Bookmark here

Nothing.Bookmark here

He lowered his gaze, looking towards the ground in front of him, and his grip loosened. Bookmark here

“See? You got mad, and now are sad because you can’t give me an answer.”Bookmark here

Once the boy said this, the green and beautiful landscape went away, and in its place, below them was the gray, barren wasteland he had seen way too many times. There, he could see a tiny, small line of people walking. They did not come from anywhere in particular, and didn’t have any destination at all. Why were they partaking in this long, never ending journey? Would they get anything out of it? Did it have any meaning at all?Bookmark here

“Someone put them there,” said the shadow.Bookmark here

“The gods, right?”Bookmark here

“Yes.”Bookmark here

“Why?”Bookmark here

“I don't, and can’t possibly know. But if the gods gifted them with such an exclusive right as to exist, that most definitely means these people are special.”Bookmark here

Nico took another look at this world. The few people who together walked in a long line were the only ones he could see. Even from his advantaged position up near the Sky, he could not see not even a single living being besides them, no matter how far he looked.Bookmark here

They were all alone.Bookmark here

If they were the only ones, then they probably really were special.Bookmark here

But what if there were people besides them? What if this overwhelming solitude was nothing but an illusion? After all, this is what he believed.Bookmark here

Would that mean they weren’t special?Bookmark here

…He did not want to think about the implications of something like this.Bookmark here

Instead he turned to the shadow boy and asked him something.Bookmark here

“Aren’t you a god? Aren’t you Mitra himself, the patron and creator of humanity, of the Flock? Shouldn’t you be exactly the one who knows this?”
“You are right, I’m Mitra, but as I said, I’m the one who has long given up on his hopes and dreams ...and just like that, I don’t know why I did this,” he explained. “If there’s someone who knows, it would be the other me.” Bookmark here

Nico took a glance at the vast world, and then took out the ring in his index finger and held it in front of him.Bookmark here

It’s golden surface was glowing, like a beacon of light.Bookmark here

Could it guide him to understanding this?Bookmark here

Or would it only leave him with more questions?Bookmark here

He feared the second case might be true. He hoped the first was correct.Bookmark here

Wanting to know something, and not being able to search for an answer…Bookmark here

Being confined to conformity with what you don’t understand...Bookmark here

This unsolvable mystery…Bookmark here

It was deeply unsettling. Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.