Chapter 33:

Chapter 28. Ideological warfare.

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"What!," May says clearly astounded, "you got confessed to?"

"Yeah. . ." I reply softly. I do not know what to say either. May is the only person I could actually tell these kind of stuff about. "She just blurted it out all of a sudden, I don't know how to react."

"So, what did you say?" She asks. 

"Well. . . I thanked her," I say.

"Thanked her?! What are you? A girl who got confessed to by a boy she doesn't like?" Well, she isn't far off with what she just said though. "What did she say?"

"She said along the lines of 'tell me when you made up your mind.'"

"Well, yeah. She's Liliana Nolan, right?"

"Yes, that's her."

May shakes her head in disapproval, "I knew you were 'like that', but I actually never knew you'd blow it up."

"Blow it up?," I ask unknowingly by what she meant.

"Yeah! You would be noble if you accept her hand. You do realize that she's serious." I never knew about that. She's correct, but I don't know about all these things; affection, love, et cetera. Love is so mysterious and scary, after all. I hate it. Love hurts.

"I don't want to fall in love."

"You don't what?," May seems to be taken aback by my statement. "I see. . ."

A few silent moments go by. "I always think that falling in love hurts. It hurts to fall; therefore it must hurt to love."

"You're partly correct and partly wrong there, Aura." She looks me in the eye. "It only hurts when the person you fell for doesn't catch you."Bookmark here

I don't have any more words to say after that. Is she correct? Does love only hurt when no one loves you back? What if they love you back and it still hurts? Is that even love still? I have so many questions about it. I sit there on the chair in front of May. Section one tent is bigger than Section three tent. They have two tables instead of one, which we have. May even has a desk all to herself. Haila sits with us. Anyway, I think she's correct. Love only hurts when the one you fall in love with doesn't love you back. Love only hurts when the one you love doesn't love you back anymore. If it still hurts, then there's something wrong. I think that that's love. If you feel something hurting, that's love. Love is both happiness and sadness. Knowing something is wrong and wanting to fix it is love. Love is so many things. So many, in fact, that one cannot possibly explain it. Not me. But I begin to understand what it is. I have been so oblivious. I have been tainted not by love.  That was selfishness. That was sinister. That was evil. This is love. 

But do I want this love? I don't know.

"That aside, for now. . ." I say. "Do you know about what happened with Olen and Ilya? They're dead. . ."

The look on her eyes shifted. She doesn't look exceptionally sad or anything but her expression explains that she already knows, but surprised that I also know. "How'd you know?" she asks, finally.

"I stopped by and checked out Orma."Bookmark here

"I see. I should've expected that. I don't know if you noticed, but I gave our house away. I thought it would be good. Another family would have precious memories in that house. Even probably make more use of it than us."

"What about Olen's house?" I insist. She's trying to avoid answering me again. But I can't let her slip this time.

"Their house is also given away. Although, as you said, it wasn't to their own volition to do so. . ." Her eyes saddens, "the bandits came back for them before anything else."

"I see. The bandits did that. How did they know where he lives?"

"Aura. The bandits are no near stupid. Why'd you thought we're here for? They have lots of affiliations. Who knows? Probably one of the teachers here is a bandit?"

That last remark has given me goose bumps. These bandits are not merely to be underestimated. To think there could be one roaming within our ranks.Bookmark here

"I heard about your reconnaissance from Haila. Good job. How are you feeling?"

I do not know what to answer, am I feeling fine? Not really, but I guess I can make something up along the lines. "I feel weird about it. I just killed people. These people have families and things they cherish. I took that away from them. . ."

"It's part of it."

"Part of it?," I am taken aback by what she said. What does she mean? Is it part of it that they should die? It doesn't make sense. I have nothing but guilt dredging through my veins.

"It's part of a battlefield for people to die. People die for different reasons. People die on this battlefield because of money, ideology, and power. And I don't see this battlefield ending any sooner."

"So, we're staying here for long?"

"Not necessarily. What I mean is that to render this battle done, it is not only that the enemy should surrender to us and change their ideology. But we should also find a compromise. To defeat an ideology is to make it irrelevant. They believe that their ideology is relevant, so that's why they fight for it. This fighting won't stop unless we find middle-ground."

"I understand. But what exactly is their ideology? I was never told about it. I thought they were only here because of greed for money and power, not about actual ideological warfare."

"They believe in the ancient god, Kronius. . ."

The rest of the sentence blurs out in my head. As soon as I heard the name 'Kronius', I cannot help but think about Julian. Is he part of this as well?

"They believe that the current church of the kingdom is antagonizing them. Which is partly true. I do not partake in any of this religious stuff, so I do not mind sharing my opinion with you. But. . ."

As soon as she started her next sentence, her section enters the tent. Section one. They all neatly come inside the tent. They must be coming from their lunch. It's about the second quarter of the afternoon, so I should've expected it, but their entrance gave me a shock. They all look so intimidating. They look at me with vicious glares. 

May got startled as well, she stands up and greets them, "Welcome section!" Her voice is more different than when speaking to me. Sounds a little bit more authoritative. I try not to talk but they all bowed towards May but also towards me. Don't they know that I am a student as well? It's a little bit startling, but I bowed back. "This is my son, Aura. He's from section three," May informs. They all nod in unison. I can now see why they're section one. They all have this certain discipline resonating. Something that my own section doesn't have. Although, we all focus when the time calls for it. I wonder what the environment is in section ten?
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After May sees me off and continues to talk with her section, I go back to my own tent. When I finally entered the place, I am greeted by Liliana with a smile. My face turns crimson thinking about what happened last night. She seems to keep cool about it, though. But what do I expect? She's Liliana. Her coolness is uncomparable.

"Aura! Where have you been?." Andri looks at me. He's sitting on his bed fiddling something inside his bag, "I want to go to the forest nearby and pick some herbs. Wanna join?"

"Ah, sure, what time?," I reply. I would want to learn more about herbs and stuff, but I think it's also nice to do something more light-hearted.

"I am planning to go sometime before dinner. Is that okay?," He asks.

"Yeah, should be fine," I reply.

"Can I come too?," Liliana asks. "I want to know more about herbs. Just in case, for survival."

"Oh yeah, why not? The more, the merrier, right?," Andri asks me. I nod. Well, I hope it won't be awkward. It's just that I don't know how to act with her around.

Ono tries to join in, but can't get the words out of his mouth, although, Liliana seems to get the gist of what he is trying to say. He is a very shy boy, despite his fast reactions during combat. "You want to join too?," Liliana asks Ono. He nods gently.

"Great, then we're the four of us. Now, there's nothing to worry about."

I nod. Andri's right. There should be nothing to worry about when we're all teamed up. I saw the potential we have yesterday. We defeated them in mere ticks. It's just as if we overpowered them. But what if we encounter a stronger set of people? That's another story, I guess. 

Liliana looks at me. Without thinking, I look away, trying to avoid eye contact. It's too embarrassing but she probably knows as well. "Aura," she says. Probably asking for my attention, I look back at her but I still feel uncomfortable. "I have been meaning to ask." What is it she has to ask me this time? My heart is pounding again. "Where did you go, earlier? You didn't tell us. You also didn't answer Andri's question about it."

"Oh, I was at Section one's tent. Talking to May a little," I quickly inform.

"I see," she says while looking me in the eyes. Now that I feel very conscious about her presence I can't help but notice all the small details about her. "Isn't she your mother?," she asks. 

"Yes, she is. Kind of. My adoptive mother. . ." I hope to not say my whole story for her. It's a little bit too much for me to tell everyone about. 

"Oh, how did she find you?," Andri asks enthusiastically. Ono nods as well in agreeance.

"U-uh, she found me. In the forest," after I said that, someone comes in our tent and, to my relief, cuts me off from explaining my life-story. It's Haila. She never 'knocks' when coming in our tent. She just walks in as if she owns it. Well, she might. I don't know.

"Hi, students!," Haila says enthusiastically. "Good job on your reconnaissance yesterday." She looks at us while she said that. Her eyes stared at me for a while, though. "You too, Aura. It was your first combat experience, after all. I heard about your supporting role." She says that but she probably doesn't know how I feel. The burning corpse still engrained into my brain. The scent that permeated throughout the forest. The fatty smell of human flesh burning. It stinks like no other meat. Disgusting smell.

Why is she here? A new mission? "I am here for a new mission you will do. Don't worry, it's for tomorrow. More than enough time to prepare, right?," She says while we all try to digest. It's a bit tiring to know that we'll have missions one after the other. Not to mention that all these missions are life-threatening. "This one is more dangerous." More dangerous, this time, even. "You'll have to go to the front lines tomorrow. Well, not really. The front lines are for sections one and two. Our role is to flank the enemy. So you'll be assigned in the flanks and will support the main unit by attacking them at the side. Don't worry, it's not the most dangerous job. The most dangerous is being at the front line, you see."

"Why is it that sections one and two are in the front lines and not us?," Liliana asks. I know she would want to be in the front lines. Her strength alone would be more than enough to win her a spot in section two. "We are strong too!," She insists. Liliana is getting frustrated. She really wants to show her skills upfront. 

"We know, but it's not me that decides. We're just three sections here. Being the lowest section, we have our own things to look out for. We have to help sections one and two as well. Do not forget that they won't be able to advance without us. We flank them at the side so that the enemy is weakened," Haila tries to soothe her frustration. Haila does make sense. Without us, the front line won't be able to make their advances. It's a little bit frustrating, indeed, to think that we would be the ones responsible for it, but it's a very crucial job I won't just pass on. Liliana finally gives up and lowers her head. The rest also seem to just go ahead with the mission. "Anyway, I have an update for you. About that boy you all brought."Bookmark here

Our eyes sparked curiosity. It has been a day since we've arrived, it's about time to know. Did they manage to make him speak? Is he okay? Without a single hesitation or thought, Liliana said: "So, do we know who he is and where he is from?"Bookmark here

A good question. Haila looks at her and at us. She pulls her head down a bit as if it were bad news. "That, my dear students, is something we can't answer."

"What do you mean," I ask.  Is it controversial?

"Are you hiding it from us?" Andri asks.

"No, that's not what I mean. What I mean is that he's dead."

Liliana seems to be taken aback and said: "Dead?" Her voice has a tinge of disbelief and shock. I feel the same. How could that happen?Bookmark here

"The boy. He tried escaping and apparently the interrogator had no choice. I do not know the details myself, but all I know is that we cannot know any more than what we see on the corpse, and apparently all he had on him was a knife."Bookmark here

"I see. . ." I said.  "Who was the interrogator?," If it's who I think it is, then. . .

"It was Laero, you know him." Haila said quite casually, "Anyway, we have to focus on the mission for now. Forget about the boy. He's now buried nearby." Haila finally ends this conversation. Bookmark here

After Haila informs us about the smaller details about the mission, she leaves peacefully. Andri cancels his plans on going to the forest and instead just be preparing food outside by the bonfire. We should prepare ourselves for the mission, instead. Haila said it herself: It's a more dangerous mission than our last one. But it's not the most dangerous mission out there, right? So we'll be fine. I try to calm myself down. I already told myself that my hands would be soaked in blood, but the image of it in my mind is just horrifying to see. I have already killed a person. And it wasn't even a peaceful death. It's one of the slowest and painful death one can bring upon another.Bookmark here

Moreover, I need to keep my thoughts about the boy outside my head. He's dead. Gone. He wanted to kill me, so it kind of serves him right that he's now dead, I guess. 

"Aura," Liliana tries to get my attention again. I notice that the rest of my group left for the bonfire outside and set the fire. It's just the two of us left. I feel a little bit nervous, "can I talk to you for a little?"Bookmark here

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