Nox ZaiWin stared at the slender back in front of him.
He was practically only bones and skin, his ribs alarmingly protuberant. His skin was too pale, obviously due to the fact that he’d been kept in captivity most his life, the reddened zones marking the places where he’d been stabbed inside the box. He could count ten red spots, five on each side, and although what he had said was true, and the brat’s injuries looked practically healed, the ugly scabs completely gone, he still couldn’t help feeling angry at the thought of him locked inside that metal box, the sharp spikes slowly burrowing into his body. At least, unlike many of the scars he’d seen on his chest and arms, these ones looked like they’d be completely gone in a few more days, the white silvery lines of his daitai undisturbed.
Lightly tracing one of them, he couldn’t help marvel at the way it seemed to glisten as if it responded to his touch. They were truly beautiful, he thought, taking a good look at them. And it wasn’t as if this was the first time he saw a Celestial’s daitai. All together, the intricate lines formed a complex pattern that looked very much like a delicate pair of wings, the same wings that had glowed behind his back when he’d knelt down at his feet dooming them all.
The weight of that thought made him lower his hand and take a step back.
“Get dressed! We’re running late.”
Snow didn’t hesitate to comply with his command, quickly pulling his dry tunic over his head and then changing his pants. When he turned to follow him back to the camp the black monster was already several steps ahead of him, forcing him to hasten his pace in order to keep up with him.
“You! See that his clothes are properly dried,” the monster demanded, looking down at MenTar, who opened his mouth to protest but was immediately smacked over the head by his brother again.
“Shut it and do as you’re told, before I cut off that accursed tongue of yours!”
MenTar pouted but shut up, only smiling when he gently took the wet clothes from Snow’s arms.
It was with reluctance that Snow parted with them. But, then again, MenTar had been the one to provided them for him. How could he refuse to give them back?
Sighing, Snow sat quietly by the fire. And yet, instead of his mouth watering or his stomach rumbling from hunger at the scent of what they were cooking, like it had happened every time they brought him one of those amazing soups, the smell of the roasted meat only made him feel queasy and sick. And when they passed him a piece of meat his mouth watered in a very wrong way, and he almost threw up right there and then.
He remembered that, back when he was a child, he’d watched with curiosity, and even a little bit of jealousy, the rich plates that adorned the tables of those who at least had a real house to live in. Back then he’d wondered what most of those foods tasted like and, until recently, his experience with anything beyond boiled rice, moldy or hard bread, watery porridge and a few fruits and vegetables that had gone bad or rotten here and there, was truly null. And so, amongst other things, he’d always wondered how a mouthful of meat would taste. And yet, now that he finally had the opportunity to eat it, he could hardly stand its smell, much less the idea of putting it in his mouth.
Looking around, he knew that the problem was obviously and exclusively his, taking into account the happy faces of the others as they ate. But no matter how he tried to convince himself otherwise, the thing in his hands simply smelled fouler than any rotten food he’d ever ate. And the more he thought about it the sicker he felt.
On the other hand, the mere idea of wasting food was simply unbearable. And so he forced himself to take it to his lips, his hands shaking as if he were about to ingest a cup of deadly poison. Mouth opened and eyes closed, he tried to take a bite, but still couldn’t, his stomach turning, forcing him to lower the piece of meat in his hands and to distance it as much as possible from his mouth and nose.
“Are you feeling all right?” ZenTar asked and Snow realized that they were all looking at him, worried expressions all around.
He wanted to nod but, above all, he wanted to drop the piece of meat he still held on his hand. And then, suddenly, it was gone, the dark monster at his side swiftly stealing it away. A sense of relief the likes he’d rarely felt washed over him.
“You don’t look so good,” ZenTar went on and he simply shook his head, more than grateful for the fact that, apparently, no one was going to force him to swallow that thing.
He sat in silence throughout the rest of the meal, the smell of the meat still turning his stomach. But at least no one tried to offer it to him again.
After they ate they quickly packed their things and readied themselves to return to the road.
Feeling much better now that the fire had been put off and that the mortal remains of the rabbits had been disposed of, he stretched his aching back and readied himself for another long ride.
Without a single word, the same way he’d done the two previous times, the monster lifted him up by his waist and placed him on Black’s saddle. A few moments later he too mounted the horse, grabbing Black’s reins, and suddenly a green apple surrounded by darkness was right in front of his face.
“Eat it when you get hungry,” the voice echoing from behind him told him, and Snow accepted the apple, its sweet scent helping him settle his upturned stomach. “If you need to throw up let me know.” He simply nodded, happy with his green apple, with how fresh it looked and smelled, and they were soon back on the road.
Nox ZaiWin: Literally nox (night) and zai (blade) + win (chaos). Where Nox is the name of the Clan, also the name of a Province.
Daitai: Literally dai (light) + tai (mark), or Holly Markings, considered Heavenly Blessings. They’re the source of power.
MenTar: Literally men (lake) + tar (wind)
ZenTar: Literally zen (silent) + tar (wind).