Chapter 27 [Journey]
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The sun greeted them from above like a mother greeted their son early in the morning; obnoxiously bright, but with a lovely warmth. Yemen swung his arm happily while he strode with a kebab in his other hand. Kenn and Victor walked beside him, trying to avoid the trickle of sauce dripping off that meat. They would occasionally lean away as the meat swung closer to them.

"Bloody hell… I would pick the nape," mumbled Yemen as he bit the meat.

Kenn raised his eyebrow at The Pirate. "Nape?"

"I didn't stutter, didn't I? I said ‘Nape’. The back of a person's neck: Nape. Got it?"

"Ankle," chimed Victor as he slid his bandaged arms inside his sleeves.

"Wait, what?" Kenn recoiled his sight at Victor.

"I find ankles attractive and a bit…" Victor shrugged his shoulders while pretending to cough.

"Erotic. Oh boy, good choice, mate."

"You both are disgusting."

"Don't be like that. We don't shame people here. Besides, you owe us an answer. Am I right, Yemen?"

"You're damn right, Victor. Come on, tell us. Are you chicky, Kenn? Kenn, The Little Chicky?" taunted Yemen.

"Okay, okay, it’s earlobe,” squeaked Kenn with a pouted lips and red cheeks.

"Earlobe? You do know I was kidding about the ankles thing?"

"Bloody hell, it's always the quiet one.”

“W-What? You lying son of--” Kenn shut his lips before he could curse out and raised his fist.

“Nevertheless, I admired your choice, mate. Hmm… earlobes, I think I can see it."

Kenn elbowed Victor right in the stomach as he started laughing. In response, Victor raises his hands as he asks for forgiveness, so Kenn would ease on the assault. A half frown appeared on Kenn’s face, he looked away sighing then came back with a smile. They kept walking until they spotted a crashed carriage on the side of the road.

When they got closer, one of the wheels under the crashed carriage was off to the side. However, there was something else waiting for them. A terrible odor plagued the area, the smell of rotten eggs, and moldy meat. It was the smell of death that lingered. Kenn bared his short katana and examined the foliage for any sign of an ambush. Yemen took out his bow and a couple of quivers. Victor couldn’t do much because of his injuries but he was prepared for anything.

Kenn walked to the back of the carriage and flung the curtains open. It was a horrendous sight, four dead bodies were found laying on the deck with their throat cut clean. A load of material in the carriage, possibly trader, but there was a small cage fit for an animal. The cage was empty of course.

“Black Market Traders. They were probably transporting something dangerous, be on your toe.”

Yemen crouched on the ground, he dips his finger against the dirt and tastes it. “Its blood. Something went that way. It’s a day old track, but it’s moving slow. I think we can catch up to it. So what’s your call, mate?”

“I think we should move along and not get involved,” said Victor.

“And leave that dangerous animal roamed free? No way. You both should track it down and put it down while I dug graves for the bodies.”

“Graves?” Victor raised an eyebrow.

“Absolutely. They were human like us. At least, they deserved a proper burial.”

“Come on, mate. We got no time to lose,” Yemen entered the forest carefully, following the track he found. Victor sighed and forced himself to follow The Pirate deeper into the forest.

As they were tracking the dangerous wild animal, time went by in the blink of an eye. The sun had passed the high point. Yemen suddenly scooted down near some bushes, he examined the leaf and started to taste it. A couple of inquisitive weird noises escaped his lips, Yemen tasted it again, and Victor raised his left eyebrows at the man.

“How come you’re so good at tracking stuff?”

“Simple, mate. My uncle taught me. He was a sort of a hunter.”

“Sort of?”

“It’s complicated.”

“Ah. alright then.” They kept on moving until Victor suddenly stopped. He began breathing heavily and felt sudden jitters around his hands. There was pain, shocking ones, but at least it’s quick. He had gotten used to it, this striking pain comes and goes because of his injuries, but he endured it all the same. Besides all that remained afterward was a numbing ache.

“It’s close. Keep down, mate, and follow me.”

“Don’t worry, you go on ahead. I’ll just stay here.”

“Are you sure, mate?”

“Yeah. Sure as the sun. Besides, I’m only slowing you down.”

Yemen nodded his head before trekking up the hill. When Yemen was out of sight, Victor sighed and almost fell to his knee. He raised his hands and grimaced at the second electrifying attack his body gave him. Trying to open and close his hands took an absurd amount of work and it’s not even properly close. He let out a sigh before trying to lean against a tree beside him, but there was no tree. Victor rolled over to the other side of the bushes with a surprised yelp.

After following the trail, Yemen was dumbfounded to find a dead body at the end of it. However, that means he had tracked the wrong trail. Still, it wasn’t worthless because he found a second trail that leads back to where he was. A terrifying slither of thought appeared: Victor could be closer to that dangerous animal than he is. Realizing that his friend might be in danger, Yemen rushed back as fast as he could.

Meanwhile, Victor raised his eyebrow at the trail of blood in front of his nose. He raised his chin and noticed the trail led to that small hole under the tree stump. With a groan, Victor raised himself and walked to the edge of a steep hill to keep his back clear of threats.

“Papa?” A creepy child’s voice echoed out from under the tree stump.

“No?” answered Victor.

A tremendous bloodlust suddenly fell on Victor, his fight or flight instinct was overwhelmed causing him to be indecisive. It led to him being frozen, unable to make a move. A shadowy figure emerged, launching herself toward Victor with a needle-like thin dagger in her hands. Dark skin, thick eyebrow, and big brown eyes darkened by an inner demon. Victor had to force himself to take a step to the right at the last moment before she could impale him with it.

However as Victor turned his head, he gritted his teeth when the small girl passed by him and was about to stumble down the steep hill. The girl widened her eyes in fear, but before she could fall down the rough hill, Victor leaped away from the edge and caught her. He wrapped his arms around her and as they rolled down the hill, he protected her. Every sharp rock and hard root hit against his body, Victor kept on gritting his teeth until they stopped at the bottom of the hill.

The girl remained wide-eyed and shocked.

Dried leaves rain on them, a large spot of red can be seen on his bandage. His wounds had opened up once more and blood was escaping out of it. However, despite being in pain, Victor remained calm as the breeze that swept the leaves away. He even began laughing.

“Are you crazy? At least be aware of your own surroundings before trying to attack. You could have got yourself killed.”

She didn’t say anything, but the grip on his clothing showed that she was somewhat relieved and confused. Victor removed his arms but the girl stayed on top of him after letting go of the dagger. This little girl was about his age when he was exiled out and judging by the scars: she must have had a hard life.

“Scolding my own attacker. That’s the first.”

Victor tried to raise his head but found his long hair was intertwined with the thorny bushes above him. He tried to pull away, but couldn’t. He reached for the dagger and showed it to the little girl laid on top of his chest.

“Do you mind cutting my hair? I think I got myself stuck.”

She grabbed the dagger and asked again, “Papa?”

“I’m not your papa.”

“Papa?” She asked again.

“No.”

“Papa?!” shouted the little girl, but this time she was on the borderline of a mental breakdown. Her body was shaking and the dagger was getting close to Victor’s neck.

However, despite the threat and confusion of the situation, Victor remained calm and answered: “No.”

The little girl gritted her teeth and moved her jittery dagger away from his throat. She cut his hair, freeing Victor, and tossed the dagger away. The little girl with her eyes closed removed herself off Victor and took a seat away from the man. Victor pulled the end of his hair in front of his face and nodded.

“Not the worst haircut I had, but I’m not one to care about my own look that much. Thanks by the way.”

She remained quiet as she sat on the ground with her arms wrapped around her legs. Victor raised his eyebrow at her and was about to leave, but he groaned as he stretched his back.

“Care to do me a favor again?”

The girl swirled her head to the side.

“I’m not... I can't do this alone. Would you mind helping me find my way? This way we both can get out of this jungle. Hopefully unscathed.”

She didn’t reply; only turned her head away. Victor pressed his arm against his stomach and coughed loudly. The girl’s head popped up when she heard that, she looked away and closed her eyes before standing up. She slid herself between Victor’s arm and side, helping him so he could stand. A half-smile appeared on Victor’s face, he started walking and the girl helped.

Maybe it has been that long, but the feeling of another flesh without any intention of hurting her was an odd feeling. Because all she could remember back then was her arms and back were pushed to the ground. In front of her was an unknown man, he was also forced down as well by a group of heavily armored men.

A man squatted down beside her and grabbed the girl’s cheek, “Do you know what they called you?”

A couple of audible groans can be heard as she twirled her body around to get out of the holds.

“A failure.”

She screamed her fury at the man but was immediately punched in the face. She bobs her head, disoriented from the hit. The man stood up again and spat at the ground.

“However, a failure is nothing more than an unfinished work. So, we are going to do a bit of re-education, what do you think? Good?” The man tossed the dagger in front of her face and his men immediately pointed their arrows at her.

“Ask him: Papa?”

“Ner-no!”

The man nodded his head at the man behind her. A sudden crack of a whip tore a cut on her back. She screamed her pain out and again she was whipped, leaving another cut behind.

“Ask him,” hissed him.

“Papa?”

“Good, now you?” He turned to the man.

“No…”

“Good lad.”

He turned to the little girl, “Now, it’s your cue. Kill him.”

“What? No.” Another crack of whip ran against her back, she screamed, but no one cared except for the stranger in front of her.

“Don’t. Please. You promise me,” pleaded the stranger toward the sadistic man with all his heart.

“I had no choice. She won't do it. How am I supposed to do my job, if she won’t do what I said?”

“Wait, you don't need to hurt her. I’ll convince her.”

“Go ahead then.”

The stranger turned his gaze at the little girl, “You need to survive. Do what you must, but you need to live. No matter how terrifying it is, you need to survive. So take that dagger and end me. I won't blame you.”

“Are you crazy? I don't even know you and you’re offering your life to me?”

“You are running out of time.” The sadistic man kept tapping his sole against the floor impatiently.

“I won't kill him!”

“Take that damn dagger and DO IT!” Shouted the stranger, tears dripped down his swollen cheeks as he gritted his bloody teeth.

The little girl slid her hand underneath the dagger. It was familiar to her, she had been trained to use it before, but not like this. She never had guessed that her life would turn out like this. Her grip was visibly shaken as she made her way closer to the stranger.

Suddenly the stranger grabbed hold of her and pulled her closer into a hug. The dagger easily went through his stomach, but he didn’t let go, no matter how much pain he felt. The stranger wasn't trying to hurt her. He was only seeking comfort.

The embrace wasn't bad at all, but why does she felt as if she had made the greatest mistake of her life. Warm liquid ran down her arms and her heart was beating loudly. She returned his hug to calm her stormy heart and leaned her head against his chest. She doesn't know why she leaned her head against him, but it felt right, it felt like home.

“Who are...you?”

“Blame me. Blame me. Blame me, but no matter what you do, never blame yourself. I love you no matter what. Even...even if you were the dirtiest thing in the whole world. I would still love you.”

“Why are you saying that?”

Her question was unanswered when the stranger’s body had gone limp. His warmth was slowly escaping him. This man had left this world. This stranger. The little girl doesn't know him, but something about him tells her that she should have. Her mind tried to search for any recollection of this man, but there wasn't any. Tears flushed out, an open mouth, but there wasn't any scream or voice, but she was definitely screaming.

A terrible memory from a bad past, the little girl was pulled back to her time when the man leaned against her stopped. She looked up, confused as Victor looked at the two paths before him. One that led to where he was, and another that led to somewhere unknown. The obvious choice was the route back to where he was from. Yet, this man was hesitating.

“Are you scared?” asked the little girl.

Victor was surprised to hear her voice. He looked down at the girl’s face, and let out a half-smile, “Yes, I am.”

“Bad people?”

“No, actually. Good people. Great people.”

“Then why? Is it me?”

“No. They would love you. It’s me. I’m...terrified.” It was so hard for Victor to admit that he had to hiss it through his gritted teeth.

“I don't understand.”

“I wish you didn't have to. No, I’m glad you don't have to.”

A rustle in the foliages interrupted them, a tusked boar as tall as Victor emerged with an enraged mad glare. Both of them didn't have any weapons to defend themselves, and with both of Victor’s arms injured, he couldn't fight against the beast.

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