The Consequence of Saving the World
By the time we got back to camp, Anita had already tucked her daughter in for the night. Thankfully, the darkness worked in my favour. Even though the campfire was still alight, it was hard to see each other, so I doubt she could see my crying mess of a face. One simple greeting and a quick exchange of words later, and we already retired to our tents.
What wasn’t quick was falling asleep. My bedroll wasn’t exactly comfortable, but I’ve slept on worse.
Instead of drifting off to sleep, my mind wandered back to the sea of negativity. Every time self-blame or guilt found its way in, I had to cast them back out. This constant back on forth in my head was reflected through the tossing and turning of my body. With a mind this annoyingly active, it was impossible to get any rest. Worse, I hope I didn’t wake Sereya up with all the rustling I was making.
As that concern slipped into the tug-of-war in my head, I heard a sudden snort from the sleeping Hero. What followed next was another side of her that I wouldn’t have believed existed—she snored!
It sounded like someone was dragging furniture across the floor. It was distracting, but not loud enough that made me want to elbow her face. Just when I thought that she stopped snoring, the inhuman noise resumed. The image of an indecisive homeowner constantly rearranging his shelf or cabinet came to mind.
Mental exhaustion, meet physical exhaustion!
I gave up the idea of getting any sleep at all. The next day of our journey was going to be a nightmare. Hopefully, nobody would mind me being too grumpy.
My gaze darted around the plain sheets from the inside of the tent. I figured I could at least keep my eyes busy rather than closing them and letting my thoughts grow louder. As my sight fell on Sereya sleeping beside me, she turned to her side facing my direction.
Her snoring finally halted. It was a false alarm as the inhuman noise continued. The sound of dragging furniture matched the rhythmic movement of her chest as she breathed. How tired must she be to snore like that?
Strangely enough, the more I looked at her snoring, the more I felt relieved. Seeing her sleep this soundly filled me with an inexplicable sense of comfort. Perhaps it’s due to my feelings for her, but knowing that someone you love got to sleep peacefully was something that I didn’t know I needed.
"What was that little head of hers dreaming about?" I wondered.
I’ve already lost mum. I never want to lose Sereya, ever. Deep down, I prayed that in all my flaws and imperfections, I’d be able to keep her sleeping like this for years to come.
As I realised this, her snoring started to sound more and more pleasant to me. It was still the same, loud and mildly pretentious noise, but it felt ‘right’ somehow, as if it was the most natural thing in the world. Slowly, her snoring turned to a lullaby, one that finally set my troubled mind to rest.
I was shocked that I was somehow able to fall asleep. My eyes rolled around in their sockets, adjusting to the change in time. At the same time, I was finally able to determine what exactly awakened me from my slumber—weeping?
What was wrong with everyone? Was there like a shift duty for crying that everyone had to be a part of?
As my senses returned to normal and away from the land of the sleeping, I realised that the crying came from inside my tent. There in the opposite corner was Ain who somehow snuck inside my tent just to sit curled up and crying. Sereya was nowhere to be seen.
“What happened?” I wasn’t expecting my voice to sound this hoarse as I asked.
“Sereya helped mum make breakfast!” she complained.
“So, what’s the problem?”
Maybe my mind was still warming up for the day, but I failed to see why she would cry over something like that.
“I’m starving,” a weak, pained answer was all that she could muster.
“NO!” she raised her voice, “If I ate it, that would mean that I forgave her. I don’t want to forgive her!”
I resisted the urge to laugh. Oh, how I wished I could cry over something like that. How I missed being a child and not a legendary Hero that people thought I was.”
“Tell me Ain, what did they make for breakfast?”
“Some kind of soup.”
“And what did the ingredients of the soup do to be mistreated by you?”
I’ve successfully confused the crying child.
“Don’t you know, Ain?” I continued, “The food we eat has feelings, too. Even if you hate Sereya, at least think about how the soup feels.”
“Uncle, I’m twelve. Stop trying to treat me like some little kid.”
Damn, I wasn’t expecting her to snap back at me like that. It worked on Eveline last time. Children these days were built different.
“Sorry Ain. Since you’re not a little kid, I’m sure you can gather food yourself.”
“B-But—” her mouth didn’t say it, but her eyes were begging for me to feed her.
“Alright listen up,” I shifted closer to where she sat, “Only a kid would be so naive to think that eating the food of your enemy meant you forgave them. Is your hatred so weak that a bowl of soup is all it took for you to soften up?”
“That’s right. Now head out there and gobble down that soup and show her that her breakfast won’t change your feelings at all!”
Excellent, child. Let your hatred flow as you enjoy the meal prepared by your enemy!
And just like that, she rushed out of my tent. Say what she may, but she’s still a kid in my eyes if she was that gullible.
A few minutes later, I left my tent as well after getting ready and keeping my bedroll. Lo and behold, Ain was scarfing down breakfast, her eyes locked on Sereya’s with unflinching vehemence. Understandably, my partner was confused, and so too was Anita.
“Oh Uncle! How could I ever thank you?” Realising that I had stepped outside, Ain’s mother thanked me. To my horror, she appeared several years older than how she looked yesterday. Wrinkles riddled her face while dark rings ran circles around her eyes.
As she approached me, I gathered the courage to ask, “Err, I don’t mean to be rude, but what happened?”
Gesturing for me to lean in closer, she whispered, “Sereya’s always been a snorer. I couldn’t sleep, but it seemed that both you and my daughter could. Are you a heavy sleeper too?”
“Not really, maybe I was just tired.”
My condolences to Anita. Even the distance of being in another tent wasn’t enough for her to escape Snoreya.
“I see. But what did you say to Ain? She was like a mule, stubbornly refusing to eat just because Sereya helped out with breakfast. Then she went in your tent and I didn’t want to wake you up and oh—please forgive me,” she bowed, Please don’t tell me she woke you up.”
“No it’s fine, really.”
“That’s a relief. How did you turn that demon into an angel who’s eating so obediently?”
I wouldn’t call that obedience, though. Those eyes were full of rage. What’s even more amusing was observing Sereya’s puzzled expression. She must be so lost as to why someone who hated her was devouring the breakfast she prepared with such intent.
“She said she wasn’t a little kid anymore, so I just told her to stop acting like one.”
There was no need for the girl’s mother to learn that I fanned the flames of her hatred. I was pretty sure that that had to be against the teachings of Evanism.
Anita sighed, “That sounds exactly like what my husband would say. I’d love for you to meet him once we arrive.”
“I’m honoured, but I’m afraid that might have to wait. I have some urgent business to attend to in Breven.”
Before she could reply, Ain declared, “Seconds please!”
“Hey, leave some for me!”
The hungry little gremlin that I created was turning into competition for me. After a hearty breakfast, the four of us broke camp and embarked on our horse cart once more. Reenergised and raring to go, Zephyr led us on the road to Breven at an even faster pace than yesterday.
The further we left the demesne of Allantheim, the bumpier the path became. Our journey was still near its dawn, yet I’ve already experienced a whirlwind of emotions. The rocky, unsteady road reflected my psyche—enjoying and suffering the sweet and bitter moments along the way.
I’ve already learned the hard way during my wannabe Hero tenure to be prepared for things to take a turn for the worst. The next few days of our journey was quiet without any incident of note. On the fourth day, already halfway through our travels, we finally bumped into other humans for once.
Needless to say, experience has taught me to keep my guard up at times like these. It’s a lesson that would prove invaluable in the next chapter of our journey.