Chapter 13:


The Journey

The voice of a mother waking her children up, the sound of fire being lit.Bookmark here

The chatter of a family.Bookmark here

A mother’s embrace and it’s heat.Bookmark here

All of them were so comfy, they helped Nico feel more at ease.Bookmark here

A sense of safety. A strong hand over his shoulder. Bookmark here

The face of a brave and capable man. The face of a sturdy and brownish man. The face of an old and gentle man.Bookmark here

These things were all so nice, but they gradually faded away.Bookmark here

Slowly, he opened his eyes, got out of the blanket and stood up.Bookmark here

The dark inside of the tent was very faintly illuminated by a shaft of light, barely enough to make what was there somewhat visible. This feeble ray of luminosity gave everything there a bluish appearance, and the only two persons who laid there, each on their own bedroll, were barely moving at all.Bookmark here

Even their chest didn’t seem to go up and down, as if they weren’t even breathing.Bookmark here

Static, not moving, they looked without life.Bookmark here

It was like this was but a cold, heartless painting. Bookmark here

It was a very unsettling feeling.Bookmark here

Nico left the tent, and a cold wind blew through him.Bookmark here

In front of him, the monochrome land extended to infinity. There wasn’t anybody, or anything there. Only the never ending gray.Bookmark here

He couldn’t help but stand there, looking at it for some time. Bookmark here

Not ever changing, eternal, static.Bookmark here

It gave him the same feeling from before. It was as if he was seeing the world through a lens, which filtered life out from whatever he observed.Bookmark here

At some point, he started to move again, circling around his tent. At its rear, there was Gian’s and Rocco’s tent.Bookmark here

There, Gian and his wife had just got up, and they were outside packing their stuff before they would wake up the children.Bookmark here

Gian’s household also skipped breakfast.Bookmark here

Nico woke up Natta and together with her, helped Gray to get to his place in the cart. Bookmark here

Today, he was weaker than normal, and they had to basically carry him on their shoulders all the way through.Bookmark here

Nonetheless, soon they were all walking.Bookmark here

“Hey, Nico” Rocco, who was at his side, called.Bookmark here

“What is it?” Bookmark here

“Do you want help?”Bookmark here

“…Yes, please.”Bookmark here

With his head, Nico indicated to Rocco to go in the middle, between the two shafts of wood coming from the cart.Bookmark here

“So, it seems like Gray is sick, right?”Bookmark here

For a moment, Nico’s pace vacillated. It was a sudden comment, and not very considerate at all, but in the end, that was somewhat expected from him.Bookmark here

“…Yeah” Nico answered under his breath. “He’s pretty bad right now.”Bookmark here

“Where’s he?”Bookmark here

“He’s laid on the cart.”Bookmark here

“So that’s why you’re struggling to pull it…” Rocco muttered. “Well, don’t worry too much. I’m sure he will be better!”Bookmark here

When Rocco said this, Nico expected to get upset. How could someone say this when Gray was only getting worse? How could they lie on his face like that? He couldn’t feed himself illusions like that anymore, he had to accept reality, and if things end up for the better, then lucky for him. But, that said, it ended up different.Bookmark here

Maybe it was Rocco’s wide smile facing him, maybe it was his innocent, upbeat tone, but it made him, even if only a little bit, happier.Bookmark here

“It would be good if that actually happens,” said Nico. “Thanks.”Bookmark here

For the first time today, Nico actually turned and said something face to face with Rocco. The words he used might have been simple and common, but the feeling was genuine. And so, for the first time in quite some time, he had a, even if small, smile on his face.Bookmark here

“Well if you’re better now I can stop pulling this, right?” joked Rocco.Bookmark here

“What? No! Do you know how exhausting this is?”Bookmark here

“Hey, why do you think I want to stop huh?”Bookmark here

“Just get your lazy ass moving and continue helping me. Okay?”Bookmark here

“Not okay.”Bookmark here

“Listen here you…”Bookmark here

“Doing this is too boring,” Rocco teased him. “Wait… are you maybe too weak to do this without my help?”Bookmark here

“Like hell I can’t do this without you!”Bookmark here

“So show me, if you really can, hehe” he retorted with a smug face.Bookmark here

“Oh shut up! You can go away if you aren’t going to help me!”Bookmark here

“Well, I can help you if you really need…”Bookmark here

That guy… Today he was seriously annoying. Bookmark here

And so, for the rest of the day, they kept walking. Side by side, step after step, sweat running down their body. It was still tiring as always, but by the end of it, at least Nico exhibited a timid smile on his face.Bookmark here

He knew though, that this was but a fleeting happiness.Bookmark here

———————————————————Bookmark here

At the end of the day, they had dinner. Today, Rocco’s mother was teaching him how to make a few basic dishes.Bookmark here

Actually, at first, Nico, not wanting to bother her, had asked Natta to do this instead, but she refused.Bookmark here

“Haven’t you asked them for help for a reason?” she said.Bookmark here

And so, despite his qualms with doing this, he was forced to ask Rocco’s mother anyway. But she was very kind and promptly accepted doing this.Bookmark here

She was very patient with him and helped in the best way she could, always accepting whatever mistakes he made. Bookmark here

But, at the very start of this, she asked Nico to bring some ingredients. Bookmark here

He then, of course, looked for them in the cart. But no matter how much he searched, he found barely anything. By the end, he could gather enough for their dinner, but there wasn’t much remaining for the next few days.Bookmark here

After all of this though, before eating his own food, he had to feed Gray, who had gotten even worse with the passing of the day.Bookmark here

When they stopped for lunch, he couldn’t stop groaning in pain, and only after Nico prepared and gave him the medicines the Shepherd had instructed him to, did Gray get better. As a side effect though, he was very slow and sleepy, and at least for the moment, needed help to be fed.Bookmark here

So, spoon by spoon, Nico fed him soup. Slowly and carefully, as if he was a baby.Bookmark here

Today, the soup had a higher amount of water than usual, thanks both to Gray’s difficulty to digest things and the scarcity of their supplies at the moment.Bookmark here

But as Nico fed him, his mind couldn’t help but think about this. Bookmark here

What was he going to do? Bookmark here

Soon, they were going to run out of food, and although this wasn’t a problem per se, usually one or two days before this happened, they would reach one of the pillars and Gray would gather food there, but now though, he was too sick to do this. Bookmark here

To be fair, there still were the donations the Shepherd distributed to the elderly or those who are under serious problems, but they, alone, usually barely covered half of their needs until the next time the Flock reached a pillar.Bookmark here

What would happen with Gray once this happens? He was already in bad health, and if he didn’t eat a decent amount of food, he would be even worse. Bookmark here

At this moment, thanks to the medicine Gray wasn’t that bad, but even then, Nico couldn’t take the sounds of his groans earlier out of his mind. His weak voice, the visible pain.Bookmark here

For a moment, he pictured Gian, and his progressively skinnier body in his mind,Bookmark here

He didn’t want to see Gray like that.Bookmark here

But what could he do? Bookmark here

“N-Nico…” he heard a voice that remembered him of Gray mutter. Bookmark here

It was at that moment that he noticed he had been holding the spoon in the same place, in front of Gray, for a good time already.Bookmark here

The soup on it had already dropped onto the ground, and it now laid empty in front of Gray’s pale face.Bookmark here

“A-ah, sorry…”Bookmark here

He started to give him the soup once more, this time making sure this wouldn’t happen again.Bookmark here

Yes, he had to make sure this couldn’t ever happen again.Bookmark here

To make sure he wouldn’t ever commit such an error again.Bookmark here

Look at what did it cost.Bookmark here

He could have avoided this, but he didn’t. Bookmark here

This was all his fault.Bookmark here

At that moment, he reminded in his mind the words said by the Shepherd the day before.Bookmark here

‘Devious ideas only bring misfortune.”Bookmark here

He let out a sigh.Bookmark here

———————————————————Bookmark here

That day was supposed to be his 14th birthday.Bookmark here

This was what he realized as he had dinner four days after it.Bookmark here

Usually, on special days like that, Gray would commemorate by making large, delicious meals. They would have plenty of meat, and everything would be prepared with extra care and ability.Bookmark here

But now, none of this could be done.Bookmark here

They didn’t have food to waste, and neither did Nico have the ability to cook something like that.Bookmark here

But, even more important than that, he didn’t think he was in the mood to celebrate something four days late, nor did he think that he was in the mood at the right moment, four days ago.Bookmark here

Maybe this was why the soup he was eating tasted so dull. Bookmark here

He raised his head for a moment. Gray didn’t seem very happy either.Bookmark here

“Soon I will be able to take our portion of the Shepherd’s donation,” commented Nico.Bookmark here

He wasn’t talking to anyone when he said this. Instead, it was more like he was affirming this as a fact for himself, maybe as a way of confirming he was at least going to do something. Bookmark here

“You shouldn’t worry too much about this.”Bookmark here

The one who said this was Gray.Bookmark here

Without a single warning that he had already finished his soup, he said this.Bookmark here

“What do you mean ‘I shouldn’t worry too much about this’? I can’t let us starve to death.”Bookmark here

“No, no” Gray sighed. “What I’m saying is: you shouldn’t be the one worrying about this.”Bookmark here

“Yes I should.”Bookmark here

“You’re still young, you’re still a kid. You’re supposed to enjoy your time, not get worked up about how will you find a way to feed yourself and two other people that are way older than you.”Bookmark here

Gray finally raised his head. He now looked directly at Nico’s eyes.Bookmark here

Today, Gray was better than normal. At least good enough to eat, stand, talk and even walk, although not for too long, by himself, even if he still felt uncomfortable. Bookmark here

“I will do this for you, you don’t have to worry about this, Nico. Tomorrow, I will go there and climb these pillars like nobody, you won’t even be able to notice I was still ill the day before.”Bookmark here

“Just because you are a little better today, this doesn’t mean you’re already going to be cured. Not to mention that even if that was true, you won’t recover so fast, and you still are an old man, and…”Bookmark here

And...Bookmark here

“And?”Bookmark here

“And that’s all thanks to me.”Bookmark here

Once he finished saying this, having already eaten all of his soup too, he stood up, and walked away.Bookmark here

Before he could get far though, he heard a soft, distressed mutter.Bookmark here

“Say, when did you turn into a pessimist?”Bookmark here

That wasn’t true.Bookmark here

He wasn’t a pessimist, he only wouldn’t allow himself to grow unreal hopes again.Bookmark here

And so, without answering Gray, he walked away, pretending he didn’t hear him.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.