It took them less than a minute to reach the common room. It was a lavish chamber with a single oval ebony table. A decapitated head of a prized forest deer hung atop the warm and cosy fireplace, giving some light to this dark and gloomy night. Glistening goblets of silver were placed on each seat, and dark purple wine was prepared in a completely transparent glass decanter. There was even an adjacent jug that held sweetened orange juice. It truly was an inn for the rich, Natalie thought. Though her mind didn’t wander that far off. There was one man seated in the middle of the oval table, his face pale as winter and his cheeks retracted like a gaunt vagrant. When the heavy oak doors squeaked open, Shin raised his head, breaking away from his train of thought.
He spoke: “Latina.” No one prompted him to stand up, but he did anyway. Shin took one step, and Latina visibly flinched. Understanding his place, the youth halted.
‘She’s wearing the same face… The same face she did earlier today...’ The young man sighed inwardly. He knew that it was a tall task to get the girl to forgive him, so he wasn’t going to try. Shin at least hoped that Latina would calm down a little to look at things from his perspective. Alas, life wasn’t that easy.
“Latina, thank you for meeting me.”
The young girl had no intention of speaking. She took a seat at the furthest chair possible and looked down on the wooden grains of the table. Latina agreed to the meeting because of their precarious situation. Otherwise, she would rather stare into a bottomless abyss than to spend another second with her father’s killer.
“Mister Shin, please get to the point.” Natalie abruptly interrupted. “It’s late, and Latina needs to get some rest. I hope that this won’t take long.”
“I see...” Shin took a deep breath in and alternated his gaze between the two ladies. They had been so clingy before. Their eyes were typically filled with so much respect and reverence. Now… There was nothing but emptiness.
“Alright, I’ll just cut to the chase...” Shin stood up. Both the ladies heightened their nerve as their self-defence systems went into red alert. If Shin wanted to kill them to silence them, there was virtually nothing that they could do. Though Natalie would be the first to stand in front of the blade, hoping to save Latina’s life. Shin’s nostrils opened up while heaving out a deep breath. He knew that this action of theirs was warranted. He just wasn’t accustomed to getting this much distrust, especially from a former friend of his.
Actions spoke louder than words. So, Shin ignored the tension in the room and broke it all down by bending his waist ninety degrees, giving the two ladies a solemn bow. Taken aback, Latina and Natalie’s minds short circuited, forcing them to come to a complete standstill.
There was nothing else that Shin could do to make amends. The pain that he had caused Latina by taking her father away from her could never be sent away. He could give her all the gold in the world, all the resources that he had, all the connections he obtained, but it still wouldn’t erase the fact that Shin killed Latina’s father.
“I know that you will never forgive me. I know that you might hate me forever. I know that you might want to seek vengeance on me in the future. And… I know that there’s nothing that I can do. Still, for my own selfishness, I want you to know that I’m truly sorry.” Shin wiped out any excuse that he had and just gave a sincere, remorseful apology.
“...” Latina remained silent. So did Natalie. Shin was the one that murdered Star Face, but from the short time that they spent together on the road in the Estrella Region, the pair knew that Shin was coming from a genuine place.
“I understand if you don’t want to stay in the Himmel Empire anymore, and I won’t force you to. If you want to move back to the Kori Federation, please let me cover your expenses. If you still want to learn from the best, please inform anyone of the Alliance members. I’ll make sure that they’ll accommodate you. If you want to remain in the Capital, I’ll make sure that I’ll never appear in your sights again. I won’t ask for your forgiveness… I wouldn’t dare. But at least give me the chance to make some reparations...”
That was all that Shin asked for. Star Face was complicit in the Black Masks’ schemes, there was no doubt about that. Even if Shin weren’t there, the man would probably have been hunted down, and Latina would have to be on the run for life. Nonetheless, that didn’t matter in the victim’s eyes. Shin robbed Latina of her father… The least he could do was give some support to ease her future life.
The girl looked down on the wood grain table. Her expression hidden from view. Natalie looked down at Latina and could sense that something was wrong. Her shoulders were shuddering, and her two hands rubbed against her arms as if she was in the shivering cold.
“Why...” A feeble voice broke the silence. There was a tinge of wetness in her tone and a nasal sound to back it up. “Why did it have to be you?” Latina looked up, her face drenched with salty tears that stained her entire cheeks. When Shin saw the girl’s crying face, he could feel his heart being shattered in two. It was highly reminiscent to that of Shin’s own state when Ariel passed on right before his eyes.
“There are so many people in the Alliance… So many stronger warriors… So many talented geniuses… So why? WHY DID IT HAVE TO BE YOU?” Latina slammed her palms on the table and rose up from her seat. The splat that sounded out was no softer than the thunder roars outside of the luxurious inn, bringing out a little bit of worry for Shin and Natalie. But Latina didn’t care. She didn’t even feel the pain of the slam.
“If it wasn’t you, I could hate the man with all of my heart! If it wasn’t you, I could freely curse and swear at my father’s killer! If it wasn’t you… If… If it wasn’t you...” Latina’s heart was heavy. So heavy in fact that she felt her chest contract and her breathing hindered.
Latina knew Shin. She adored him. She knew that the young hero was a good guy. She knew that he would do anything to get rid of the Black Masks. Latina and Natalie were indebted to Shin. When the Vaishya tried to burn Huuring City to the ground and kill every single one of the Moon Mercenaries, Shin was the one who saved them. When Winfred turned on Natalie and even threatened to rape Latina, Shin single-handedly decimated them. When Junius first attacked the group at the Merry Waterfall, Shin stayed back to allow the rest of them to escape.
Not to mention, he had even supported them to lead a better life, away from the constant mercenary strife of Huuring City. Shin gave them lodgings, gave Natalie a new job, allowed Latina to use his connections to get into a good school… And that was without knowing about Latina’s parentage. In any normal circumstance, the girl would be grovelling at the man’s feet, praising his name daily, which she did at first. Latina gave Shin an adulation that she wouldn’t even have given her father or any religious god.
So… Why? Shin was supposed to be her knight in shining armour. The man that would rid her from her suffering? So why was he the one that’s causing her to suffer the most now?
Shin pursed his lips and squeezed his fists. Trying to hold back his tears, the man replied: “Latina… I’m sorry.”
There was nothing else that Shin could say. He could apologise once, twice, even a million times, but the past could never be rewritten. The most Shin could do was to make Latina’s future as bright as he possibly could. Taking out the briefcase that he had brought over from his home, Shin clicked opened the seals, revealing all of its shiny contents. Over a hundred gold ingots, each one shone spectacularly as if they were fresh out from the bank, blinded the two ladies that sat directly opposite of him.
“This is the most that I could cough up. I’m not trying to say that Senior Garland Mull’s life is only valued at this much, but this is everything that I have.” Shin was afraid that it would look like he was trying to make amends by directly paying them off, so he had to make it clear from the get-go. “You may not forgive me, and that’s fine. However, take this money and start life anew. It could be in the Himmel Empire, it could be elsewhere. I won’t inquire. Just… Live on...”
Shin truly wished for Latina and Natalie to find happiness, wherever it may be. If it meant that he was to go bankrupt because of that, so be it. Alas… Latina didn’t look at it that way.
“I… Can’t accept your money.”
“I’m sorry...” The girl continued to cry. “I just can’t accept the gold. You saved us many times before, and have been providing for us ever since. If I also take the money… Would that mean that my father’s life could be traded for some benefits?” Latina was already indebted to Shin. If she continued to just take everything that he offered, Latina didn’t know how she was going to answer to her deceased father. “Please… Just send us to the Kori Federation. Let Aunt Natalie have a job there. We’ll survive.”
“...” The two stared at each other. One wanted to make amends while the other didn’t want to have anything to do with him. They were both broken down and wrecked to pieces emotionally, and perhaps neither of them were thinking clearly. Nonetheless, they had to get over this hurdle.
Shin was the first to cave. “Alright… I’ll let you do that.” He locked the briefcase slowly and walked closer towards the pair, who visibly backed away with caution. Natalie unconsciously moved in front of Latina, like she was mother hen protecting her child. Shin sighed. He could tell that the duo was highly guarded against him and they couldn’t be at ease as long as he remained in the room.
“Someone will be in touch with you. Tell them all of your demands, and they’ll do their best to fulfil them.” Shin dropped his shoulders as he passed Latina. The girl was still sobbing, and her face was filled with drool and mucus. Shin wanted to offer a handkerchief, but his hand couldn’t reach into his pocket. Would they even accept his good graces anymore?
Taking one final look at Latina, Shin cried out for the last time, his voice being strained by the thick node that compressed his throat:
“I’m sorry… And take care.”
That would be Shin’s final words to Latina. After he left, they would probably never meet again. Shin would move to the Lantis Republic while Latina would likely follow Natalie to a secluded region in the Kori Federation to hide from the flames of war. The world was vast. If Latina really wanted to hide from Shin, it would take a tremendous amount of resources for the man to figure out where she would go. So, Shin didn’t care.
The moment he stepped out of the fancy inn, Shin was greeted by howling torrential winds. Raindrops continued to fall in massive sheets, splashing water all around. Kanari stood under the portico of the building, holding on to a folded bamboo umbrella. Shin smiled. Finally, with Latina and Natalie out of sight, the man could release his poker face. Large beads of sweat dripped down his face, and his knees got weak as he collapsed under the pressure of his own weight. Kanari moved to catch him, supporting the weakened man with her narrow shoulders.
Shin was in no shape to move about actively. Even earlier this morning, he was wheelchair-bound and needed external help. Still, against everyone’s protest, he wanted to meet Latina as soon as possible to right the wrong he committed.
“Partially...” The fragile youth replied. “She’s willing to let us help her relocate, she rejected the gold though.” Shin handed the briefcase over to Kanari, allowing her to feel its weight. “It doesn’t matter now… Financial matters don’t matter as long as we give them a comfortable place to live.”
“That’s good.” Kanari opened her umbrella and brought Shin closer to her body so that they were both covered. It was a three-metre walk towards their carriage, and Kanari didn’t want Shin to get further damaged.
Shin glanced over his shoulder and watched the entrance of the inn. For the first time in his entire life, he was the bad guy in someone else’s story. It was painful… But it was a pain that would help him learn and eventually…