Chapter 15:


The Journey

A heavy, fatigued breath echoed in Nico’s ears, as if he was watching someone run an entire marathon, while he sat beside the lying figure, both only illuminated inside the dark tent by the small candle he held in his hand.Bookmark here

He touched the small piece of wet cloth on Gray’s forehead, it was already warm. Maybe it was already time to switch to the other one.Bookmark here

“Oh, so it’s already time,” Gray murmured, as Nico took the cloth from his forehead, soaked another one in water and put it in its place.Bookmark here

Besides nodding discreetly, Nico didn’t say anything in return, only continuing what he was doing.Bookmark here

His eyes didn’t leave Gray for a split second, but his mind was wandering through far away thoughts.Bookmark here

This had been the norm for some days now. He would do everything in his new routine in a way that at the same time seemed like his mind was paying attention to something else, and seemed to have extreme care put into it.Bookmark here

But for a moment, this changed. Bookmark here

His eyes changed, seeming more vivid, and he assumed a posture that seemed like he had something to do. It was as if he had found a solution to a difficult problem. Bookmark here

In any way though, did he have a happy expression. Bookmark here

“Hey Gray“ he called softly.Bookmark here

“…Huh?”Bookmark here

“Tell me… How my father was?”Bookmark here

This question caught Gray off guard, and his, even if lethargic, body, soon showed an expression of surprise in its face.Bookmark here

“…What do you mean?” he asked slowly. “You lived for 11 years with him… Cough cough …how am I supposed to answer this?” he said with his rough and weak voice.Bookmark here

“Just ignore this fact and tell me.”Bookmark here

Gray’s marked and exhausted eyes, which seemed to belong to someone 10 years older than his actual age, sent Nico a weird look. Bookmark here

But he answered anyway.Bookmark here

“Theo… how can I begin to describe him?” he muttered. “He was very kind, brave, and he would do what no one else would. If something needed to be done, he would be the first to step in…”Bookmark here

As he spoke about Theo, his voice seemed to gain some vigour again. It was as if this topic opened the way for some kind of remaining strength hidden within him.Bookmark here

“He wouldn’t ever let someone who was passing through difficult times alone, and would always do his best to help them, no matter who they were or what they had done to him. He would do everything that was in his reach, and even what was beyond it sometimes, so everyone could lead a better life… He was very selfless, and also humble, he followed the same rules as everyone and listened to other people’s opinions, even if he probably was much more important than them…” he said and was interrupted by his own coughs. Bookmark here

“…Water” he said, as he extended his trembling hand to Nico.Bookmark here

“Here” Nico said and gave him a canteen full of water, which he immediately brought to his mouth and drank from.Bookmark here

Gray thanked him and continued.Bookmark here

“Well… He also was some sort of leader. People would always follow him, and ask him for guidance… He didn’t like this very much, and would always say we should ‘make our own decisions and do what we think is right’, but nonetheless, he would tell us what he thought we should do… he would never draw a line where we would have to do things by ourselves, he was too kind to do this… In the end, to us the truth was what he said it was, we would blindly follow him. Although to be fair, nearly he really was correct…”Bookmark here

Gradually, Gray’s voice became quieter and quieter, and his face, which previously expressed passion and admiration, now had a hint of guilt in it.Bookmark here

“Maybe you could say the one problem he had was being too forgiving… No matter how much one disappointed him, he would never give up on them, always giving a second chance. It’s almost like he was some sort of a kind, all forgiving god.”Bookmark here

Before finishing, he left out one last murmur.Bookmark here

“…Not that this did anything bad for him, but it might have caused some trouble for others.”Bookmark here

And so, Gray finally went silent.Bookmark here

“Someone who always did what needed to be done, huh…”Bookmark here

In other words, someone who wouldn’t let himself be too caught up in his dreams to do anything.Bookmark here

“Who listened to other people and followed the same rules as them…”Bookmark here

So, someone who wouldn’t ever commit blasphemy.Bookmark here

“And who was very selfless…”Bookmark here

That is, someone very different from him.Bookmark here

“I see… Thanks for the answer.”Bookmark here

Gray didn’t look at him, only nodding in return.Bookmark here

———————————————————Bookmark here

One, two, three… and four.Bookmark here

Three weeks after the announcement of the Shepherd, this was the number of sick people Nico could count in his sight. Ones were better than others, while some might be soon on the verge of death. All had someone helping, taking care of them, be it only one person, or a full family of 4.Bookmark here

Just like the Shepherd had said, more and more people were getting ill, and the word plague was on everyone’s mouths. Bookmark here

Everyone acted slow, lethargic under the invisible weights of their unanswered questions upon their shoulders. Adding to this, several of them were skinnier than ever, be it because they were ill and weak, be it because putting food on the table was harder than ever when you also have to take care of someone, or when this someone was responsible for the sustenance of the family.Bookmark here

Gradually though, something brung the people out of this weird, desperate lethargy, and they started to turn and look at one same direction.Bookmark here

From where he was, Nico couldn’t see what they were looking at, but this didn’t stop him from hearing it.Bookmark here

It was loud and daring, there was no way it could not bring attention upon itself. Provocative, but also giving voice to what some thought needed to be said. Noisy, but also giving an opportunity to what many thought needed to be heard.Bookmark here

“Everyone!” he shouted.Bookmark here

“The times are rough,” he affirmed.Bookmark here

“But, this is exactly why we need to pay attention to this, why this shall not continue, why this is more important than ever,” he claimed.Bookmark here

Powerful as a thunder, the imposing voice of a man rang across the whole area, echoing in everyone’s ears, and accompanying it, was the sound of dozens of steps. It was from the crowd who followed him, and occasionally shouted together with him.Bookmark here

“With each day that passes, more and more people fall victim to their wrongdoings. With each day that passes, the gods' image of us is tarnished. With each day that passes, the wicked bring disgrace upon us! Their sinful acts, blasphemous beliefs, their nefarious minds, bring both the ire of the gods and the curses they beset upon us!”Bookmark here

Accompanying this short speech, a loud, collective “Hooray!” could be heard, and as the mob approached, Nico’s trembling hands quickly closed the door of the tent, locking himself inside it.Bookmark here

He took a deep breath, and looked at what was in front of him. A dark, illuminated only by a single candle at the corner, inside of a tent. At the more illuminated corner, was Gray, who laid asleep on top of his bedroll, and at the opposite one, was Natta, who sat with her knees up holding in her hand an empty bottle of alcohol.Bookmark here

He avoided continuing to look at her, and directed his gaze at the ground in front of him.Bookmark here

“Did you hear this?” he asked.Bookmark here

As far as he could remember, this was the first time he ever tried to initiate an actual conversation with her.Bookmark here

“Yeah, I did.”Bookmark here

“Do you think they will do something?”Bookmark here

She raised her head and looked at him. Her eyes, dark as always, mixed with the shadows, barely visible to an observer, and her dark hair almost disappeared within the badly illuminated corner.Bookmark here

“…Maybe, I don’t know.”Bookmark here

“Huh… Well, Natta, do you think that when we do something bad, something bad happens to us in return? As if there was some sort of cosmic force determining that stuff.”Bookmark here

Before answering, she made a pause.Bookmark here

“Some time ago I would certainly have said yes, but now I don’t know very well… though the answer still is probably the same. But I never thought about it in the same sense as these guys.” Bookmark here

Nico turned his head and finally looked directly at her. For a moment, he had his mouth slightly agape, but soon he let out a small, short sigh and closed it.Bookmark here

“You know, I didn’t expect you to answer me, at least not seriously or without trying to insult me somehow.”Bookmark here

“…Uhum” she murmured, as if she was nodding for some reason.Bookmark here

“So…” he said as he stood up and opened the door slightly ajar, checking if the mob had walked away, “you approach it in a more personal way? Instead of something that affects the collective, like these guys think?”Bookmark here

“…I guess you could say so.” Bookmark here

“Then… does this have anything to do with why you hate me?”Bookmark here

“…Maybe,” she answered, without bothering to continue staring at him now that he wasn’t looking. Bookmark here

“This didn’t sound very convincing, but I guess it’s enough.” Bookmark here

“Stop complaining. I just don’t know if you did anything especially bad before knowing me, ok? Or do just plain, direct cause and consequence work too?” she yelled in retort. Bookmark here

Not before, but after.Bookmark here

He didn’t reply, and just changed topics to something else.Bookmark here

“You know, we might have to sell your liquor, or reduce our meals significantly, unless you don’t want to eat anything for a few days.”Bookmark here

“Well, unfortunately for you I already drank it all.”Bookmark here

“…Really?” Nico sighed.Bookmark here

“Yeah. Got a problem?”Bookmark here

“Do I really need to say?” Bookmark here

“I don’t give a fuck though, reduce our meals or whatever, I don’t care.”Bookmark here

“Honestly, you’re such a bother…”Bookmark here

“If you’re so stressed with this, then why don’t you just give up?”Bookmark here

“Give up on what?”Bookmark here

“On taking care of this family, just let us starve to death or whatever. It would also be great if you joined us in this too.”Bookmark here

Now, this was too much.Bookmark here

This, this was something he wouldn’t permit to happen, or to even be considered.Bookmark here

After all, it was his responsibility, his duty, his fault.Bookmark here

Not only this, in fact, all of this situation.Bookmark here

All of it.Bookmark here

“You-”Bookmark here

“You’re reminding me of things I would rather forget. So, stop.”Bookmark here

After saying this, she went totally silent, shutting him down completely.Bookmark here

He was left there, staring at her, but also without saying a word anymore.Bookmark here

Looking at her, her dark eyes, which seemed like life was being taken out of them, her dark hair which faded seamlessly into the background, and her cramped posture, it now seemed like she could just disappear at any moment, and no one would take notice. Bookmark here

So, she thought that it did happen, but didn’t think that it had much to do with this plague.Bookmark here

She was half right, and half wrong.Bookmark here

He still wasn’t sure which half was which though, but it seemed like at each moment, he was getting closer to a conclusion.Bookmark here

Funnily enough, not even now he would be the only one punished. He was pretty sure he was basically the only one who fitted their description, so he knew they would also come after many unrelated people for the most menial reasons.Bookmark here

What would his father do in his place?Bookmark here

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He didn’t know, he was not him.Bookmark here

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