Chapter 1 – Focus
Morning came. The light of the rising sun crept through the sky. It struck the ground between the structures that were barely considered buildings, with the color of red like blood.
As his eyes fluttered open, Franswift rose from the leathers he laid upon. As usual, hunger gnawed at his stomach, but he wasn't fazed. This predicament was the usual for him and the other residents, all living in this godforsaken place. Most of the people who lived here were no strangers to hunger.
He crouched inside of what could benevolently be called the bare minimum of a roof over his head – a simple small tent made of grey cloth. It was held up from the middle by a crudely cut beam of wood, and its ends were hammered down to the ground by wooden stakes. The inside of the tent was littered with junk that he had thrown around himself and some of his hunting tools. He knew from experience that if food or tools were left out in the open overnight, he wouldn't find them the next morning. The thieves might even try to kill him to prevent the trouble of him looking for them.
He rummaged through the small tent, pushing aside the tools and junk. After he found the spot he wanted, he cleared the junk around, then dug through the dirt with his hands. When his fingers hit a hard surface, he cleared the remaining dirt, then lifted out a box. Inside it was some food he had buried.
After taking out a small piece of bread and meat from the box, he brought them to his mouth. He nibbled his food, afraid he would drop a single bite. Then he followed with small sips of water from a leathered flask.
It was common knowledge to ration food to be able to work. By rationing, the hunger would remain unfulfilled, but you would be able to survive. The foolish who immediately ate all their food either died of starvation or were too weak to do any kind of work.
When Franswift stepped out of the tent, he was greeted by the familiar warming stench intensified by the heat of the sun. He stood in his place, looking at the usual scenery outside his tent. He was surrounded by chaotically scattered "houses" mostly made of metal scraps and cracked stones. Or, like his case, the worst kind, the shabbily made tents. What filled this scenery with more hopelessness were the ragged people that either sat down or slowly came and went.
The twelve-year-old Franswift was Just as dirty and ragged as the others. He was lean with a fair complexion, and dark rough hair dangled in front of his youthful face. His hair color matched his dark black eyes. His skin was filled with calluses, and some parts of his body were riddled with scars. Yet, his eyes were filled with patience and strong-willed determination, ever watchful for an opportunity.
Life in the slums was always hard, but what it entailed differed from one person to another. Some survived by going through scrap heaps. Others by hunting outside the city. And a few lived by selling their bodies. The lucky few were the ones able to get labor jobs, who, after accumulating some money, left the slums.
Franswift walked towards the north as he passed through more similar scenery. Filth and trash covering the uneven streets, traces of blood smeared on most of the surfaces. Haggard people with lifeless eyes. Starved children were lying on the ground as they waited for death. If one scanned the area, they would even notice corpses littered around some corners.
His senses screamed in disgust, assaulted by the familiar stench of piss mixed with the smell of decaying corpses and blood, which was accompanied by the frequent sounds of groaning, begging, and faint echoing screams. Every time he walked these streets, his resolve to leave this abomination intensified.
Ignoring the "casual" conditions, Franswift continued until he arrived at the northern gate. When he reached it, he made sure the blade in his pocket was hidden and not within sight. He felt it was rather stupid that the guards stopped those with visible weapons. Everyone knew that no one ever re-checked after them. He had once thought to ask them about it, but he had neither the time nor the curiosity to go with it. He knew curiosity always killed the cat, especially in a place like this.
As he passed through the - 10 meters long and 5 meters wide - gates and passed by the guards. Franswift had not one indication; he was hiding a weapon. His face masked by an indifferent cold expression, sending deep chills to who might see it.
When Fransift stepped outside the city, what awaited was not some flowery field. But a similar, if not more depressing scenery. As far as the normal eye could see, a vast barren brown land, with not a strand of civilization to behold. The only signs of life were the ragged beggars walking around the wall and the few hunters who walked in straight directions.
As Franswift kept Walking further north, fewer people appeared, and traces of greenery began to emerge.
Following the traces of greenery north, a mesmerizing verdant lush forest appeared. It was seated at the horizon, with no sightable end neither left nor right.
After he left the desolate land behind and stepped into the forest, Franswift breathed in the smell of green earth as it washed over his body. Whatever the stench that had lingered in his nose was now gone.
Franswift always perceived the forest even more boundless from the inside. Towering trees concealed the smaller ones, and all types of plants intertwined together; they made the woods seem like a great web made of greenery. But that was the extent of its peacefulness. The vibrant colors of the forest on top of the fresh air were the perfect cover for the ferocious beast.
Franswift knew how deadly this forest could be just from the sheer number of lives lost in it. Hence, he never hunted or collected anything beyond the outer perimeter.
Before he advanced beyond the periphery of the forest, Franswift started preparing. He collected some grass and squeezed some liquid from it. He then mixed the liquid with dirt from the ground and smeared himself with the mix.
Masked his scent and reassured no beast would pick up his smell, he went into the forest. As he followed the trail he had marked for himself before, he made sure to trod to avoid causing any noise.
Although he hadn't seen a single beast the past few days he came through this path, he would rather be overcautious than regret not doing so. He stopped when he recognized the 10-minute marker. He got down to the ground and began to crawl the remaining 10 minutes to avoid falling in the sight of any beast. The target he had been eyeing for a week now was a valuable healing herb. Sometimes as it neared its bloom, some creatures would come to either claim it for when they needed it, or they were already injured and needed to consume it.
When Franswift laid eyes on his target, he stopped moving forward. He looked around for other beasts that may have come earlier but found none. He then hid in the cover he had always used, a tall green bush at the periphery of the herb.
His target, a red flower on top of a small rock, bloomed as it opened its petals one by one while flickers of sunlight shone upon it. The flower was the blood-red lily. Franswift supposed the naming was because most of those who used it raw were always injured. The information he knew about the powerful healing herb was the flower could be consumed in two ways. One was to swallow it whole while enduring immense pain as the injuries healed. The other was to process the flower and have the pain nullified.
While Franswift watched the flower bloom, sudden rustles came from nearby. He turned his head and saw an injured beast appearing in the vicinity of the flower. He suppressed his breathing to the bare minimum and kept his body still while he got ready. He had expected such a situation and had a plan prepared.
I really wished to get it free of trouble.
As Franswift was observing the beast, he noticed several details. The beast, a brown-haired wolf, had a size similar to that of a bear and eyes as blue as the sky. It also had some bloody scrapes on its flank and neck. Most importantly, the left rear leg looked injured, which would severely hamper its mobility. This was his chance.
At top speed, it would require him 3-4 seconds to reach the flower and 4-5 minutes to get out of the forest.
When the last petal bloomed, Franswift bolted into action. He grabbed the flower and shoved it into his pouch as he ran to get out of the forest.
The beast, witnessing what occurred, growled and chased after Franswift.
Damn it. Franswift cursed his luck. The injured beast chasing after him was a brown hound wolf, a tenacious beast that most hunters would like to avoid. He took a glimpse back to confirm, and he could see the wolf dashing after him. But he also noticed earlier that luckily, one of its legs was lightly injured, concluding that he could lure it to the trap he had arranged a few days back.
Both the human and the beast dashed through the forest as they avoided the trees in their way. While Franswift was running, he grabbed a few stones and flung one at the wolf every 10-15 seconds to provoke the beast.
After throwing roughly 6-7 stones to make sure he kept the wolf at the calculated distance. Franswift reached his trap. He took out the knife from his pocket and slashed a vine rope attached to a nearby tree. Seconds after Franswift left, another vine rose from beneath the dirt. The wolf running behind did not notice the trap hidden over by the greenery, and as a result, it tripped and stumbled to the ground. And starting another mechanism when the vine was pulled, a few logs dropped on the downed beast.
The forest's exit was within Franswift's sight when he perceived a faint sound coming from behind, coming at a certain rhythm, getting clearer as it got closer.
Franswift looked back and saw the wolf running towards him at a faster speed, even with its hind leg more injured than it was previously. Blood was running down its head, and frenzy seemed to have confused its eyes. It gave a long furious howl the instant it saw Franswift.
Apprehending that there was no escaping from the wolf at this point, Franswift turned around and faced it. A thought of regret flashed through his mind for not finishing the beast when it was still strangled. But he quickly discarded it as he got into a fighting stance.
He bent his knees and leaned forward, putting all of his weight on his toes.
I should have known it would continue to chase me since it's a brown hound wolf. Damn it! I should have faced it in the trap when it was still stunned.
When the wolf got close enough for it to jump, it pounced right away and opened its mouth wide open in an attempt to bite his head whole. Franswift sprung his knees open as he directly went under its body. He got ahold of its injured leg and attempted to twist it and break it completely. But before he could, the wolf turned its body midair and tried to bite him once more. Franswift abandoned his initial attack, and in succession, loosened his grip and dodged backward.
Franswift would repeatedly try to attack the injured leg but to no avail. The wolf was made sure to defend it, so it attacked without attempting to jump again. Fortunately, Franswift's smaller physique, coupled with the wolf's rigid large body, made it easier for Franswift to avoid the attacks. That didn't mean Franswift could prevail, his moves got slower by the minute, and he began panting from exhaustion. Seeing Franswift gasp for breath, the wolf was not about to let a weakened opponent go. It took a small leap and aimed to take one final bite that would end Franswift.
As it went for the bite without jumping high as he planned, Franswift mouth curled up and eventually turned into a grin.
Franswift's eyes contracted as he saw everything around him move slowly and felt as if a viscous liquid had enveloped his body. He sensed his body move gradually but with extreme precision.
While the wolf's mouth had gotten closer to him, both of his hands had been raised, and each proceeded to pierce one of the wolf's eyes, steadily and slowly. He then followed by moving backward.
As blood came out of its eyes, the wolf howled in pain and rampaged on the ground. To escape safely, Franswift hurled a stone to the side. When the wolf detected its fall and pounced towards the sound, Franswift dashed towards the exit of the forest.
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