Another Story [Hiatus]
Walking to the forest isn't actually that hard. When we finally arrive, we are greeted by a canopy of various trees and Liliana telling us to quiet down our footsteps. We have been walking in open areas for about thirty ticks. The grass on the valley was almost up to my knees, so I felt somewhat uncomfortable walking through the dense bushes. One can never know what's lurking in bushes. Well, especially when Andri said that there are poisonous animals that may be in the bushes waiting to strike their prey. Snakes. Insects. And other creepy-crawlies. The forest, to my relief, isn't grounded by a dense set of bushes but rather low grass, some small trees, and puddles of water. It is much more comfortable walking knowing that I can see the forest floor. The bigger trees, though, are towering, making somewhat of a ceiling and the leaves are just dense enough to filter the sun beautifully through it, lighting the forest floor. I can only imagine that there'd be an abundance of mushrooms growing in this area. I try to quiet down my steps, as Liliana said. Despite the tranquility of the area, one cannot possibly know the concealed danger that hides within the beauties of the forest. We try to walk silently through the forest, scanning the area around us, but also trying to keep ourselves awake. Everyone looks tired and sluggish. Andri's eyes have dark circles from the lack of sleep we had. Ono seems fine, but I guess he could be hiding his struggles from us. Liliana, as always, is leading us. One can only assume that she must be tired as well.
"Shhh," Liliana says to Andri. She then points at his feet signaling that his footsteps are getting louder. He obeys and tries walking at a more subdued pace. He lightens his footsteps, making them almost completely silent. Liliana gives him a thumbs up.
We continue walking, and I am admiring the trees. Some of them are big and some are also small. The smaller ones seem flimsy and weak. Despite this, though, the trees all show a very healthy hue of green on the leaves. The birch trees show their flammable bark as if untouched. Needles of pine trees neatly stack at the bottom of the tree. It is the middle of summer, the heat is intense, but inside this little paradise, the cold and moisture from last winter seem to be preserved, somehow . For this very reason, we all brought our capes which reflect our body heat back to us. It really helps. Well, it was Liliana who said we would need it. She was right. She is always right, it seems. No wonder people trust her judgment. I notice some boulders lying around, off to the west from our position. There’s a cliff to the south. The sounds of water seem to be coming from the north. I feel something strange coming from the area of the cliff. I signal this to Liliana with my fingers pointing to the direction. She nods and leads the group towards it. The closer we get to it, the more strange the presence gets. The presence is that of people. I sensed their Yttrancian flow. There is more than one of them. Probably four or five at most.
I know now. "There's four," I whisper to the group. We all squat behind a fallen tree, except for Andri who sits gently and safely behind us. They understand what I meant by my previous statement and they nod. We all try to keep ourselves quiet. Making as little noise as possible. My heart is pounding. Pounding. Pounding. Pounding non-stop. My heartbeat seems to be so noisy that I fear that the people we are spying on would be able to hear it. Liliana, as if reading my mind, puts her hand gently on to my shoulder. She nods, giving me the relief to breathe in and out. I look from our cover and see four men sitting on logs. They appear to be talking but I cannot quite hear. I try to focus my ears. Trying hard to listen. Their mouths opening and closing. Unintelligible at first, but they all seems to form something.
"Y'all talk about your families all the time!," one man says very clearly. He’s a red-haired man with his sword in his hand, swinging it around to emphasize his point. He seems pissed off. "We're here to plunder! TO STEAL! Not to be weak!"
"Well, don't you have someone to feed?," another man replies. His hair is dirty. But I can see the blonde hidden behind the dirt. He somehow has a small body.
"Apart from me own mouth, nah," he replies, "I'm gon' be rich!"
"I have four mouths to feed, that's why I took this job!," another man joins in their conversation, "It's sickening to see y'all who took this job for thrills."
"What'd ya say!"
"Stop it, you three!," the final man who sat quietly cuts them off. His braided blonde hair and beard seem to only emphasize the muscles of his well-toned body. "We all have certain goals in life. But we all have something in common, we're poor. Those nobles are taking everything from us. Dirty scum!"
"Yeah! Let's kill them! Come on! Let's continue walking."
The same man who broke off the three, hushes them all, "SHH! There's someone here."
At this moment, we all know what to do. Ono reveals himself. Takes out the lump of metal. Speaks an incantation. The metal's form changed into a spear. He then quickly hands this to Liliana who already revealed herself and threw the spear through the skull of the one with the sword in his arms. His body weakly drops to the forest floor. The others unsheathe their blades and one grabs his blade that was resting on a tree. I quickly help Liliana enchant a mental defense, "Kilian Kur," I say. 'Strong Mind'. She quickly smiles at me while I concentrate on her Yttrancian flow. She draws her bow in an instant and fires an arrow at the man getting his sword. The arrow pierces through the unprotected head of the man, making the blood gush from the other side.
"They're there!," the man who broke the fight earlier yelled. He takes out his bow and shoots his arrows in quick concession. CHUCK! the arrow lands on the log we are using as cover. CHUCK! another one lands slightly on top of the other. Liliana counters this by sending off another arrow, but he dodges this. They both move in unison away from each other. The last man is tending to the wounds of his fallen comrades. He is the Fiaran manipulator of their group. To my surprise, Andri steps out and throws a vial with a green murky liquid inside.
"Aura!," he yells, trying to grab my attention. I turn to him quickly, waiting for what he wants to tell me. "Slow them!"
The vial hits the man with the bow, while Liliana keeps him busy. They fire arrow after arrow at each other. It seems that they have an unlimited supply of them. Finally, the man reacts to the vial, grunting in pain, "ARGH!"
"Aura! DO IT!," Andri repeats. The man stops moving. His hands holding bow tightly, not moving it.
"Yggnasia!," I chant towards the bow of the man, setting it on fire. The bow burns in his hand as he continues to hold it tight. His living friend quickly runs to him and splashes a potion on him. His friend then glares at us for the last time as Liliana drives her last arrow between his eyes. His dead body drops on top of the burning corpse.
We all look at each other, not knowing what to say. We just killed four men in a matter of ticks. Moreover, I just killed someone. I killed someone. The thought lingers in my head. I killed someone with a family. I killed a person with goals. What does that make me? I am a murderer. Same as my father, the nightcrawler. I cry. Not knowing what to do now. I feel guilt. A family won't be able to see their father go home. They won't be able to eat. They won't be able to enjoy what it feels like to have a father. The same as I didn't get to savor what it feels to have a mother in my previous life. God, forgive me.
Andri puts his hands on my shoulder, "Are you okay?," he asks.
"I don't know," I answer. I actually really don't know. Am I okay?
Liliana notices my conflicting emotions as well, "It'll be fine."
Will it really be fine? I can only think about the fallen men. I put myself in their shoes thinking what drove them to do this. I guess they didn't have a choice. Some people are born rich. Some are born poor. The latter have less choices than the first. Opportunities are taken away for the sake of the rich. An unspoken hierarchy in the shape of a triangle. The rich on top and the poor below them. Where am I in that triangle? Surely, I am privileged. I swear to use my opportunities to open more opportunities to the less fortunate. May God forgive me for what I have done today. I'll remember them. It may be for my selfish needs, but I need it to keep myself sane. My hands are drenched in blood. And I expect them to be soaking at the end.
We finish the reconnaissance in silence. We encounter nothing, not even animals. Just the sounds of the birds chirping and the air flowing. As if nature knew what happened and let it all sink into our heads. To reflect.
It is dark, the moon up. We are now back at the campsite. The rest of my group heads to Haila's tent to report. I sit at a campfire just outside our group's tent. The fire is well lit and burns furiously. I cannot stop it from conjuring up image of the man burning. The man I killed. The flames on his bow spread to his clothes and then his body. We didn't go take a closer look at their bodies, aware that there might be more of them nearby, but I can only imagine how horrible they all look.
The moon is in full tonight. Its blue lunar light reflects on the canvas tent. The blue sky seems to only be a contradiction of the bloody-red day it has been. I am so tired.
The rest of my group comes back, and they also sit in silence. Andri starts cooking some random food, I am not really interested anymore. Ono seems to keep his quiet demeanor. He has his lump of metal back, at least. He floated it back to himself and rinsed the blood in a puddle. The puddle turned more and more crimson with every rinse.
Liliana sits next to me, probably worried about my mental health. "How are you feeling now?," she asks.
"I am fine," I reply, "Just thinking." But it's more than just thinking. I think I am stuck inside my own head again. My usual overthinking self. I feel so empty and unknowing. Life has so much to offer but so little to show. And much less to explain. There are lots of things in my mind and I cannot help but notice that it only keeps stacking up. One cannot possibly organize such a mess inside their head. Well, except for Liliana, I am sure. I admire her.
"I see," she replies. It's getting awkward again. The fire seems to make its blazing sound. It keeps getting louder until Liliana disrupts it again, "I have something to tell you."
I do not know what it is. Her usual hard exterior seems to shift to an unusual softness. Her eyes are reflecting both the lunar light and the fire. It's just like that. Two polar opposites in one body. The fire inside her and the calmness she has now. I do not know what she is trying to say, but I brace myself. A couple ticks pass. Another. Until she breaks it at just the right time, where the logs under the campfire crack and gives that usual crackling sound, "I like you."
- END OF VOLUME 1-
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