Chapter 0: The Girl
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Underneath an old oak tree, a little girl was pouting, sitting beside a boy. She was constantly rocking back and forth, never still, just like her thoughts. She was one that would think pigs could fly if they try hard enough. The boy, on the other hand, was a cold one who does nothing all day but read books.
 
Currently, he holds in his hands a book titled "The Twins," a tragic story about brothers oppressed by the world.
 
For him, it was a masterpiece, so he felt inclined to share it with the girl. Maybe she, too, would be interested.
 
However, whilst he told the story, the girl...
 
"Who won?! Who won?!"
 
He was interrupted for one, two, three... he couldn't even use his fingers and toes combined to count it all.
 
Curtly, he closed the book with a sharp thud.
 
"I wasn't done." The boy knew that the girl knew this. He held himself back from pinching the girl's chubby cheeks in frustration.
 
"Are you... angry?" The girl's tears were brimming. For someone innocent, she was sharp. And for someone cold-
 
The boy was soft.
 
"... I'm not-"
 
"Y-you're angry! Waaa~" her tears fell like a dam. The boy did not know what to do.
 
He wasn't mad. Just... annoyed. Rightfully so, because why even ask him to tell the story if she won't let him continue properly?!—How he wished he could've yelled this, to express his pent-up feelings freely!
 
Maybe... maybe he's just a little angry after all...
 
But he couldn't shout at her, no. She had been with him for as long as he could remember. She is worth more than this book, worth more than any other book, and worth more than anything will ever be. He took a deep breath before he gave her head a pat.
 
"What a crybaby."
 
"Y-you'll never leave me, right?" the girl sniffled.
 
"Never."
 
"You promise?"
 
Promises; They never were something the boy looked forward to. He disliked the word itself, as he believed that 'promising' was a cruel act; An act that gave people false hope. Oaths like this were bound to be broken at some point, after all.
 
Yet... she was the only one he couldn't refuse. He had to be cold to her, to everyone, since this world is a cruel world. Nothing unusual happens here except war, but the world has always been at war, so is it really unusual?
 
Every single day, a man gets tortured.
 
Every single hour, a woman gets violated.
 
Every single minute, a person dies.
 
"War" and "suffering"—people use these words every day, speak without a change in expression. It was normal, a way of life even.
 
Birth, Battle, Death - The very cycle of life that went undisturbed for years, but by then, the boy had unfortunately departed. Meanwhile, the same girl that sat with him-
 
GASP!
 
Woke up with the bleak sunlight on her face and the cold ground at her back. Dried leaves clung all around her body while cold sweat slowly ran down her skin.
 
She's shaking, trembling. Who was that boy? The question wasn't exactly accurate- she knew who the boy was.
 
But... she couldn't remember his face.
 
She stared at the ground mindlessly. That dream she had was the worst. Any recollection of it vanished as soon as her eyes opened, though the horror she felt lingered. She could’ve sworn that she heard herself... scream?
 
And what is this stench?
 
"AAHHH!" the lady jumped off the ground in shock.
 
There's a lady lying beside her... rotting. Her face was nested by grotesque maggots wriggling on her pale pair of cheeks, her mouth vandalized by oddly large flies. Fungi sprouted from her spine, releasing... dust. There were other corpses in the same state close to it, not far.
 
"Ugh." she gagged before the sight. The only people that can stomach a sight like that were either warriors or murderers. Thankfully, she was neither, but what about them? The girl was curious of their identity, but not only were without any form of identification, they were rotten to the point where they no longer looked human.
 
Furthermore, staying around corpses is never a good idea. She immediately left and wandered about.
 
Where the hell am I? - She asked herself as she walked. Ominous trees surrounded her, dwarfed her even, as if to challenge her very existence. Questions rapidly spawned inside her mind—
 
Who were those corpses?
 
How did I get here?
 
Who... am I?
 
She held her head, confused by it all. Who is that, where is here, when was this, all these questions she asked, yet the only response she heard was...
 
Nothing.
 
Nothing but the eerie silence of the dreary forest and its eerie mist.
 
RUSTLE!
 
The girl quickly turned to the direction of the noise. She could've sworn she saw a dark figure in the corner of her eye.
 
Am I safe? She began to ask that question as well.
 
"Is... Is anyone there?" she yelled, but the only response she received was even more rustles.
 
Anywhere they came, her eyes followed; On her left, to the right, to the left again, on her back, then right again. She begged for them to stop, but the forest has no sympathy. Rather than her plea, they grew faster and more erratic over time.
 
It came to the point that even when the girl had yet to turn to which direction the rustles came, she could no longer see the dark figure. Anywhere she turned, there was only pale greenery.
 
"Who is it? Show yourself!" her speech was more distraught, word per word shook more than the last, and little by little, the girl realized; The forest is the one that asks questions, not her. And when it does—
 
Rumble~
 
It infects.
 
Inside of the girl's head, a parasite was infecting her brain, leeching at it, writhing like filthy little worms. She felt its symptoms throughout her body.
 
Her breathing became rapid, her throat felt as dry as her skin, her vision fading to black; Most importantly, her legs were rattling, even though she wasn't that tired.
 
The girl saw a silhouette in the far distance. It's becoming bigger and bigger, approaching her as it shook the ground while doing so.
 
At that moment, the girl remembered the corpses earlier. It told her everything she needed to know.
 
There was no time to waste.
 
Thud.
 
It's here.
 
Thud.
 
It was close, but she was able to hide behind one of the trees.
 
Thud.
 
What should I do? - she bit her nails anxiously. The symptoms are getting worse.
 
Thud.
 
S-should I peek?
 
THUD.
 
It's getting closer.
 
THUD!
 
I'm scared.
 
Stop.
 
"...?"
 
Is it gone?
 
The girl peeked behind the tree.
 
A mistake that would cost her.
 
Cluck!
 
"H-how stupid!" she grumbled in both frustration and shame when she automatically fell to the ground. Gigantic though they were, one rarely ever gets worked up over some wild chickens. But, why are they running away-
 
SNAP!
 
A SHARP PAIN HIT THE BACK OF HER NECK!
 
Two massive interlocking jaws formed a strong, paralyzing grip that pinned her down on the ground. She felt as if she's being pressed down by a mountain. She can't move properly!
 
Using its massive tail as a spring, it lunges itself at high speeds, attaching to the neck or a limb of the victim. In the girl's case, the neck, or specifically its back.
 
"Get off of me!" the girl, in sheer desperation, attempted grabbing the large reptile that lunged itself at her nape.
 
That, however, was a fool's errand.
 
The snapper is a master of disarming, and thus will prevent any attempt of the prey from moving. It cannot open its mouth when it has already bitten its prey because of a "lock" fixed on both sides of its mandibles, but it does not need to.
 
First, they tuck their legs, a preparation if you will. Then, the spring-like tail acts as a leverage for a devastating technique. In only a matter of split-seconds, perhaps even faster than that, the reptile rotates with such force that whatever it attached itself to becomes ground meat.
 
The Death Roll. Other crocodilians have this, but the snappers made this their signature move.
 
Of course, the girl did not know any of that. It's not like she remembers everything, but she at least remembers general knowledge. Animals were not one of them.
 
Due to the rate at which the events happened, the girl had no time to think for herself. The snapper rolled like a furious tornado, rotating in a horrifying frenzy.
 
But somehow... the girl's alive? How could this be?
 
As if this wasn't a miracle enough, the girl and the creature tumbled their way towards the river where another miracle happened. Just as they were about to hit the waters, she managed to grab the pair of jaws that strangled her neck by mere coincidence. But what now? Snappers have their unusual jaw contraption. Compared to that, she's just a young gi—
 
"GRAAAAAH!"
 
CRACK!
 
It was nothing short of unheard.
 
With nothing but sheer strength, the girl killed the snapper with her bare hands.
 
Huffing and puffing, the girl fell to her knees. It was finally over, and the pain numbed earlier was starting to catch up to her. Furthermore, the wounds were getting itchy.
 
"Fuck." she whispered reflexively, yet only a whisper. Her wits were quick to save her life. If she had shouted, she knew that more of those things would come.
 
Hesitantly, she stared at the river water. She shakily scooped a portion with her palms, gently pouring it at her nape. Though somewhat soothing, the itch did not go away. There was something stuck inside.
 
Upon touching her it once more, the girl discovered several objects buried inside. One by one, she pulled them.
 
Pulling them was easy, enduring the pain was not.
 
"Teeth?" she held them shakily, then threw them far away with great strength. She can't remain calm after that. No one can.
 
Any normal person would've been torn to a hundred pieces by the reptile. Anything it attaches itself to, may it be a bone or flesh, once it rolls, it is far too late- your corpse will be just as ugly as any other carcass found in the wild.
 
The girl was lucky to have a ridiculously firm body, though it begs the question; How did she?
 
She at least knows what she is, and no human is this strong.
 
Still, her newfound strength, no matter how potent, did not make her immune to danger.
 
Danger was not something so easily deflected in this world. It takes more than "strength" to survive. The warm tears that flowed from her eyes then dripped into the cold ground of the humid forest were proof that she did not belong in a place like this; A place where only the most capable survive.
 
"Why is this happening to me?" She wept bitterly. Helplessness felt worse than the ache in her neck. She doesn't know what to do nor where to go, she doesn't know anything even.
 
Fortunately, the girl spotted from the far distance a herd of walking... fur?
 
Bjorns are creatures reminiscent of oxen, yet with a more wild and humongous build. They look at peace with their gentle-looking eyes and fluffy fur as they sipped the river water.
 
She stared at their rather peaceful appearance and fluffy build with grateful eyes. At least she discovered a part of herself. Small though it is, the discovery gave her a sense of comfort.
 
However, the forest is not a place for solace.
 
Despite their tame appearance, beneath all the fur are muscles so dense that getting caught up in a stampede would cause an unfortunate but immediate death. It is also because of these muscles that very few animals would dare hunt this titan.
 
Still, "very few" does not mean nothing does.
 
"!!!"
 
The girl was surprised when a bask of snappers threw themselves towards the huge prey. It was almost as if she was watching a group of spears lunge themselves into the Bjorn, only that those spears didn't drill through but rather tore the flesh like sheets of paper through rotation. As they threw themselves, the girl was mesmerized by the group's ability to perfectly synchronize with each other. It's almost as if they were born to...
 
"Team up." The girl's eyes widened in realization.
 
When she turned around, it was too late. Multiple pairs of yellow eyes were lurking above the surface, all pointing in her direction.
 
That... was the very last image she saw aloft.
 
SNAP!
 
The crocodilians attacked the girl once more, dragging her towards the deepest part of the river where even her tall physique would be useless. They plunged their teeth in her flesh, locked their jaws at her limbs, disabled her already restricted mobility underwater; She was completely overwhelmed. She realized that these creatures tend to target blind-spots and work together to subdue their target. Realizing, however, was the limit of what she could do.
 
"HELP!" she cried repeatedly for the longest of time, yet no one gave a response. It was a desperate attempt to cling onto life, a pitiful one at that. Still, she still yelled her heart out, hoping that something, or someone, would hear her pleas.
 
Whoever it is, he or she is too slow.
 
The creatures had begun tucking their legs.
 
I mustn't let them rotate! — she thought quickly before tensing her entire body.
 
It was effective; Her body proved itself tough enough to withstand the technique.
 
The girl's thrashing around made it so that she could reach shallow waters, and before she knew it, her back placed itself against a wall. This was no longer a hunt; thus, the snappers made a quick retreat below the water surface, watching her every move with malicious intent.
 
Strange. Why is it no longer a hunt?
 
Setting aside that the snappers had quantity, these are intelligent creatures known for their ability to wear out Bjorns by hunting them for extensive periods of time.
 
As mentioned earlier, the ox creature has dense muscles. So, they often drag them to the deep waters since they're heavy enough to sink. If they can drag even a Bjorn underwater, then what prevents them from doing the same to her?
 
Most importantly, why is there a wall in the MIDDLE of a RIVER?
 
It turned out that it was no wall after all.
 
The "wall" behind her moved sluggishly, not swiftly, for it was big. Every move was accompanied by rumbles. From behind the girl, black hills rose from the depth, hills that carried dark scales. It extended itself to the sky.
 
Like an infant disturbed from its rest, it wailed.
 
One snapper stared at her dead in the eyes, and for a moment it seemed like it was smirking. Perhaps it was.
 
Perhaps the sight of a girl about to die is entertaining.
 
The "shallow waters" were indeed shallow, but it was not land she was stepping on...
 
It was an eye. 
 
The girl didn't breathe, or more like she couldn't. The parasite was preventing her. She knew the name of the parasite, but she refused to acknowledge its existence. Denial, however, can only take you so far.
 
Fear begets denial, because denial is made out of fear in the first place.
 
And so, the very moment that she turned around—
 
Darkness swallowed her.
 
She could not see.
 
She could not breathe.
 
She could not move.
 
She was about to die.
 
As she was surrounded by this crushing void, the girl would remember...
 
The Boy underneath the Oak Tree.
 
He is the love of her life, her very own storyteller. The boy was her opposite: smart, mature, and albeit he spoke strange sentences and words all the time, he promised to never leave her side with the warmest of smiles.
 
And yet, the boy died without even reaching marriageable age.
 
A group of unidentified people brutally killed him right before his 16th birthday, dismembered him in a way that the only method of identification was a crude ring, the childish proof of their sincere love. The condition in which his corpse was in... was worse than that of the ones she saw earlier. At least they had faces, because he didn't.
 
Those who tried to investigate on their own had their guts hanged on tall poles, a warning to those who would try to proceed further. She was completely useless then, so what can a little girl like her possibly do now?
 
That is when she realized: she came to this mountain to die, in the same way as her lover.
 
Her remains will be scattered inside this creature's stomach, slowly digested, then absorbed by the trees as nothing more than foul waste. She will be forgotten by... who cares at this point?
 
She will never remember her past.
 
She will never know what the boy in her dreams looks like.
 
She will die not knowing anything, and anyone not knowing about her.
 
A pitiful existence brought to a pitiful end—A thought most tragic for most people.
 
But she didn't mind. She only looked beyond death, the nothingness that follows after it. The "No more".
 
No more struggling.
 
No more fighting.
 
No more suffering.
 
No more pain.
 
The girl was tired of it all. The darkness... was rather warm for her. She liked it there; it wasn't bad.
 
Could she stay?
 
THUD!
 
The creature groaned loudly. Something, someone, was attacking the creature.
 
SQUELCH!
 
She could feel chunks of its flesh flying off of its body. Who is it?
 
It was an old man donning a lizard mask.
 
He lifted his hammer into the sky. There was nothing special about this hammer, it was rather old even. The hand that held it, however, had a different story altogether. With his tempered grip, he brought the hammer down on the massive creature's obvious bulge. The humongous snake had no choice but to regurgitate the various creatures it swallowed, then flee upstream.
 
At last, the masked man brought the girl out of the darkness. He was a few inches shorter than her, but it's not that he was short, she was just tall. However, she was on the ground at his feet, and from the girl's perspective, he looked humongous as he stared at her with his crimson eyes.
 
But soon, her sight would fade to black.
 
She could hear him speaking, yet she couldn't tell what he was saying because of the ringing. She could only tell that his tone was cold, that his voice was coarse and deep, like the ashen trenches of Izan. The colors of his eyes were reflected in the lens of the goggles he wore- A crimson red tint.
 
"Who are you?" the stranger asked. It was an order, not a request.
 
But again, the girl couldn't hear what he said. Even if she did hear, speaking was a luxury at this point.
 
"Speak, girl." the man pointed a blade at her throat, yet she couldn't care less about it. He's spouting gibberish that she doesn't know, anyway. She was about to die in the darkness, what difference could dying in the light make?
 
"... Then die."
 
Just like that, the old man turned his back towards girl and started walking away. That was the last thing that the girl ever saw...
 
Before waking up to an unfamiliar ceiling.
 
The room she's kept had a lamp that barely illuminated the entire vicinity. Her body felt comfortable lying on the bed. Her limbs? Not so much as they were bound by chains. However, she also noticed that they—her limbs—were covered with bandages.
 
Her chest, too, was covered tight. They were compact enough to hide her ample chest. Was it discomfort? Because there was a strange feeling she felt inside, a conflicting one. She didn't know if it made her feel lighter or heavier. One thing was for sure-
 
It was strange.
 
DING!
 
A bell connected to the chains rang the very moment she moved. It chimed a few more times before it completely stopped. As soon as it did, approaching footsteps from above followed afterwards — Each step going down, then right behind the door in front of her. It felt as if God himself descended, finally about to collect her. Oh, how she wished it was God. Maybe her suffering would end with a nice jug of beer and the sight of a jolly old man drinking with her. Maybe not an old man, any-jolly-one would do.
 
Such luxuries, however, were unfortunately out of reach. The world was not jolly, not anymore.
 
The world is trying to kill her-
 
Click! Creak~
 
-And maybe this old man will too.
 
"Hrm." the gruff elder grunted, then grabbed the wooden chair she barely saw in the corner.
 
He was tall, yet also skinny. He had no shortage of wrinkles on his face; The same goes for scars. His long, curly, gray hair bounced in the air like springs, and his eyes were as red as she surmised. In his waist dangled a hammer, and he reeked of coal.
 
He is a blacksmith. - she thought.
 
The old man brought with him loaves of gingerbread and a jug of water, both of which he offered politely to the wary girl. Politeness, however, did not make the atmosphere any less awkward.
 
"How do you feel?" his words were sympathetic, yet his voice was in monotone.
 
The girl looked at her limbs—which again were bound by chains—then looked backed at the old man.
 
"Fantastic." she said unenthusiastically, almost as if mimicking the old man. Perhaps the old man didn't hear, so she spoke again in the same tone. "I feel fantastic, old man."
 
It wasn't because the old man couldn't hear, but because he wouldn't reply. He was observing the girl's body.
 
"Ah, so this is why you saved me, to become your little toy in your little basement. Aren't you and your little pet a little too old for toys, little old man?"
 
"Silence."
 
So suddenly, the old man took off the bandages in her arms. They were the only "clothes" covering her body.
 
"Hey, at least do it while I'm asleep or something. Well, not that it matters-"
 
"Can you not shut up for a single second, girl?" the blacksmith clasped her shoulders.
 
His grip was monstrous. It felt even stronger than the jaws of those snappers. A little more and her shoulders that he held so tightly would've popped out of their positions.
 
"What are you doing, anyway?" she asked.
 
"I'm checking your wounds." he lets go of her. "I can't concentrate if you speak."
 
"Then why am I bound?"
 
"For fuck's sake, girl."
 
"Hehehe. Not that it matters anyway."
 
"... You are bound because I do not trust you."
 
"Ah yes, the unconscious girl riddled with injuries." She chuckled before flailing her arms sluggishly into the air. "Fear her, she came for blood!"
 
"Cease this tomfoolery! You killed a snapper with your bare hands."
 
"Ah, right. I don't know how I did that, to be honest. Not that it matters... Did you just watch me?" she chuckled. She remembered the snappers that smirked at her. "It must've been quite the entertainment for you."
 
"No, but I saw the corpse of that snapper you killed."
 
"Oh, so you were watching BEFORE that! Ah, this world is truly fucked."
 
"Retard. I saw it after I picked you up. No stab wounds, no bruises, not a single external injury. You killed it by snapping its jaw. You are strong, girl. I am wary of you, especially because you are outside the barrier."
 
Barriers. All cities in Germania have them, even remote villages.
 
Anomalies come in various shapes and forms. The crocodilian earlier was not an anomaly, it was just another animal like the Bjorn. The real anomalies have unique abilities that rely solely on mana, or are influenced by it. They are mortal-kind's greatest threat.
 
Some of the many anomalies come in the form of fungus and trees, which release paralytic spores and harmful gases. Therefore, a barrier must be deployed in each city in order to keep these hazards out of the people's living space.
 
The only people brave enough to venture outside the barrier are 3 people:
 
A Purger; Someone who purges Anomalies, A Merchant; Someone who provides supplies for a sum, or an Exiled; A criminal who's dubious enough to get kicked out of the city.
 
"You can't possibly be a purger, since you don't have this tattoo—"
 
The old man pulled his sleeves down to reveal an emblem encircled by a dragon. It was rather familiar to her, but again, she did not have the emblem.
 
"You're not a Merchant either, since those fools do not know how to handle a sword. They hire guardians for that. Are you a guardian?"
 
Guardians. If Purgers are the kingdom's external defenders who regulate anomalies, Guardians are those who deal with internal conflicts. From local thieves to the most wanted criminals, they safeguard a kingdom and ensure its security. Merchants often hire Guardians by commissioning them through the kingdom's noble. It can also be that the merchant is a noble himself.
 
"I... don't know. I don't even know what my name is. If you have nothing for me, you can just... let me go. I'll leave and... Where am I anyway? I don't know. Not that it matters-"
 
GRAB!
 
The old man has had enough. If she won't speak, he will make her.
 
"Look over there, girl."
 
The girl's head unenthusiastically followed.
 
He mumbled something, then so suddenly, the dead lamps burst aflame. The spacious basement was lit up by extension, revealing the terrifying wooden shelves from afar that had once been concealed in the shadows.
 
They were full of skulls, all impaled by daggers. Each dagger was as bizarre as the skulls they sheathed in. Some skulls had canines, some had strange ears, and some had many other complexities. They were demi-humans, but not all. There were more "normal" skulls.
 
Humans, to be precise.
 
"Those people once said those words you uttered, right before they tried to stab me in the back with those daggers you see on each of their heads. They are all Exiled."
 
The Exiled are people who are banned from the kingdom. Simply said, they are all dangerous criminals that threatened the livelihood of the kingdom's civilians enough to be exiled by the noble that governed the city.
 
"Now, do you understand the significance of your restraints, girl?"
 
The old man stared at the girl's eyes. They were dead, like a fish's. She has been like this since they first spoke. It wasn't an exaggeration to say that she looked just like the skulls he kept- hollow and static. Not a hint of fear nor any emotion, just a vast emptiness.
 
Maybe there wasn't any point in suspecting her anymore. But, the old man felt... annoyed?
 
"Then why save me?" She whispered, further inciting the itch inside the old man. "You know, it was... comfortable in there, right before you took me out. It felt like I was supposed to be in there, you know?"
 
"... The river leviathan has a fang that I can use to create more weapons of mine. You were merely lucky enough that-"
 
"Then why did you not just leave me there?" she interrupted.
 
Indeed, why did the old man save the girl? It's not like he had "morals". You can't live in this world bearing those. The skulls on his shelves were testaments to this.
 
The truth of the matter is: the old man, too, doesn't exactly know why.
 
But... he saw something in her. Something that made him... conflicted. Something that made him shudder.
 
"You... crawled." he said.
 
"... What?"
 
"You crawled towards me. With all your strength left. You clung to my feet, even though I was dragging you along the ground."
 
"B-because of that, you decided to save me? Just because of that?" the girl's tone was spiteful, but also confused. Again, the "feeling" in her chest continued to throb. "Surely, you met other people that did the same thing I did. Stop lying, old man. Either kill me or let me go."
 
The old man paused. This is true.
 
Everyday, he goes out into the woods to see people either dead, dying, or being chased around by the beasts. Most die suffering, some die excruciatingly, few are "lucky". But no matter who they are or what they're fighting against, as long as they're outside the barriers, or even inside for that matter, they all die in the end. Everyone does.
 
She is just one of many who fell victim to the cruel world. What made him stray from his routine?
 
The old man stood up from his seat, approaching the shelves as he spoke. The girl didn't care before, but the clothes he wore in the forest were hanging on the wall right beside the shelves, along with a number of tools. 
 
"I was once a purger before I became a blacksmith. In all my years in that job, I've seen many people die: Comrades and strangers alike. Each of them had shown many faces before and during the process of death. Confusion, despair, anger, and many more. Hell, some were even happy. But right at the very end, at the very tip of the hurdle, they all have this one look-"
 
The old man wore the gloves from the wall before he grabbed a skull from the old cabinet, removing the dagger that impaled it before continuing.
 
"Acceptance. They all accepted their deaths. Perhaps they lived a good life, perhaps they had no choice, or... perhaps they were tired of it all. Understandable, since this world is one full of constant suffering and pain. Whichever it was, they never really fought death-"
 
Slowly, the girl watched the old man come back to his seat. He sat there, looking at the skulls with the same eyes she had.
 
"You wake up, you witness people suffer, you sleep to forget. You wake up, you watch your wife get raped, you sleep to forget. You wake up, you see your children die, you sleep to forget. If sleeping was an escape, then death was freedom. Why fight freedom?"
 
Afterwards, he slashed away each chain that bound the girl, freeing her as he spoke. The girl listened intently.
 
"You... fought that very freedom. You were a first. Many desperately crawled to my feet, but... they all let go at the end. You didn't. You crawled towards me, even though you couldn't open your eyes. You crawled, even though your legs wouldn't budge. I saw you trying, but trying is never enough. Girl, you possess something more than just "trying". I saw it personally through your shaky hands that gripped my feet. I don't know what it was, but it gave me... shivers."
 
After the grand speech that seemed to go on forever, the lamps turned off. The old man simply left without speaking another world. The girl was left alone, alone in the dark.
 
Silence. Darkness.
 
Nothing to be heard.
 
Nothing to be seen.
 
Nothing to feel.
 
She was left in the same place she was before- the comforting darkness.
 
But then... this feeling in her chest again. This liberating feeling... but also frustrating.
 
Tears fell down her face, seeped into the ground which absorbed it without a moment's doubt. Is she confused? No, she knew exactly what she was feeling. She just couldn't accept it, like the paralytic fear she felt before. Only this time, it wasn't fear... it was...
 
Relief.
 
The girl looked around in the darkness. There was nothing for her here. And so, she tried to stand up-
 
"Argh!" her right leg gave up. The snappers really did a number on her. She tried again, only to fall yet again.
 
Desperately, she repeated this countless of times.
 
How many times has she tried to stand up? She had lost count, not that she was counting or anything. Her wandering about eventually crashed her towards the wall, knocking off several of the old man's tools. As she tried standing again, her hand touched something lengthy and tough.
 
A cane.
 
With it, slowly but surely, she made progress. Lift the left leg first, then using the cane as support, lift the right one. Finally, she stood up. She looked around her once more.
 
Silence.
 
Darkness.
 
Nothing to be heard.
 
Nothing to be seen.
 
Nothing to be felt.
 
But... not far from the girl, there was a door. It had little light illuminating it.
 
Yet it was enough.
 
She approached the door in the distance with all her strength. One could hear nothing except her sluggish footsteps and occasional grunts. She walked as if bearing the weight of the world behind her back- Jittery, yet she wasn't feeling anxious. It was only her movement, nothing else.
 
Tak~
 
The first step towards the door.
 
Tak~
 
Second step- The darkness is lulling her, convincing her to stay.
 
Tak~
 
Third step- she hesitates to take the fourth. Didn't she come to the forest to die?
 
Tak~
 
Fourth step- After all that hubris about dying, she dares feel relief?
 
Tak~
 
Fifth step- what a fucking joke.
 
Tak~ Stop.
 
Finally, she reached her last step. She turned around to the darkness, the very same darkness that comforted her. She paused, but only a pause. Nothing more, nothing less. As much as she liked the dark, there was nothing for her there. Perhaps it was the very fact that there was nothing there that she was comforted, but she knew. She felt.
 
She understood, and she accepted.
 
Creak~
 
She couldn't stay.
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