Many grey clouds filled the sky. The winds felt unsettling. It seemed as if a storm was approaching.
Towards the south of the Pedlar Continent, close to the borders of The Land of Demons, there was a young black-haired boy. The boy wandered around miserably, his clothes tattered and worn as he traversed the dark forest.
Every step he took appeared to be a struggle. His legs continued to limp while he gasped for breath heavily. And his eyes were tired and struggling to keep open. However, if one were to look within his dark brown eyes, they would notice an aggressive restlessness.
"I have to . . . go on . . . I must not die . . . I have to . . ."
All that accompanied him were the sound of rustling wind and the occasional cries of beasts echoing around him. The black shadows cast by the woodland appeared to dance and follow him, engulfing his silhouette in the darkness.
Eventually, his endless walk was halted to a stop. He saw a young girl, who appeared to be roughly around twelve years of age, running towards his direction. Seeing this girl brought some clarity to his exhausted body. He began to move at a slightly faster pace to approach this female figure.
The young girl was startled when she saw the boy. Her full attention was focused elsewhere. Gazing at her turned posture, the boy deduced that she must have been cautious of what was behind her. Perhaps she was running away from something?
The girl raised a battle-like posture, and her eyes began to turn a little fierce. Though it appeared she was like some kind of experienced fighter: to the boy, it looked as if she were a feeble kitten scared by its owner.
"Are you one of them as well?" the girl slowly asked.
Her voice was slightly shaky. It seemed she was indeed, afraid.
"Them? . . ." the boy replied.
The girl was silent for a bit as she muttered to herself.
The boy attempted to focus his hearing on listening in. With his condition, he only managed to grasp a few words from the girl: 'same age’, ‘can't be’, ‘underestimate’. The boy was able to understand the general idea of what she was thinking about.
"Forget it," the young girl said. She slipped passed him and began to continue running again. Before she could leave, her arm was grabbed by a small hand that was unwilling to let go.
"Ah? You dare to touch this princess?" she exclaimed.
"Princess . . ." the boy mumbled. Her words only agitated his grip to become even tighter and firm.
"Off me!" She slapped the debilitated hand off with her strength and fired a stream of small flames at the boy.
Due to the sudden appearance of the flames, the boy was caught in the flames. Normally, the flames would continue to blaze and burn its target; however, to the young girl's shock, the boy was left unscathed without any scorch remaining on his delicate body.
Could he be immune to flames?
"Wa . . . how . . . impossible. Could you be a body consolidator? How can someone of your age be able to completely resist my flames?!"
" . . . “Flames”? What “flames”?"
It seemed the boy had no clue as to what she was talking about.
The young girl was stupefied.
"Ah! Whatever! Whatever!" the girl squealed, stamping her feet a couple of times before leaving.
Though she was allowed to leave—it did not last very long.
"Why are you following me?!" the girl lamented, feeling indignant. She was unable to understand why he was following her.
The boy did not reply. He believed that if he voiced his true thoughts, he would only end up angering this child.
" . . . "
Since the girl was ignored, she grunted and continued to look straight ahead. No longer bothering to argue.
A period of time later.
"If you continue to follow me . . . You will die, you know?" the girl simply stated.
The girl stopped walking and slowly faced herself towards the boy. Her whole demeanour came across being very different. The vibe of the location appeared to magnify her presence. It felt unexpectedly a little pressuring and somewhat cold to the boy—it seemed to be very familiar to him.
Despite her age, with one look from her eyes, anybody could tell that it was a serious declaration.
" . . . You must really be a princess . . . Your parents have groomed you well," the boy said in a somewhat sincere manner.
For the most part, his impressions were more or less a lie. There were many faults within her bearing and much to improve. On the other hand, she had strangely exuded a unique flair of liberty. It caused him to greatly envy her and feel more respect than she should deserve.
In any case, he was simply trying to curry favour. He needed to.
The girl's brow twitched a little, revealing an amused expression. It seemed she didn't expect to hear that answer.
"Stupid . . . stupid . . . " the girl replied.
She turned her back against him and, once again, continued to walk. The weather and lack of light in the forest made it difficult to notice, but there were, in fact, small red marks that had appeared across her tiny cheeks. She was happy with the out of the blue compliment in spite of its peculiarity.
The two children walked together alone in this forest. Whether they were lost or not is a question that was unknown. The two were unfamiliar with one another. It was negligible to even deem them as acquaintances.
Yet, their short encounter and idle interactions brought rise to a strange sensation. Unknowingly, a sense of bonding was established between a peculiar boy and a self-proclaimed princess. It had a pleasing sense of comfort, lifting the dark and gloomy atmosphere of the forest.
"Ugh . . . "
The boy started to cough and moan in pain.
He seemed to be reaching his limit. He leaned one arm on the bark of a tree to retain his balance; however, to no avail. The boy collapsed, his back against the tree.
The girl noticed this. She briefly stopped moving, slightly hesitating to check up on him. In the end, she meekly rushed towards him. Slowly, she sat next to him with care.
It appeared the barrier between them had somewhat diminished.
"Um . . . have you been walking all this time while being . . . sick?" the girl asked, somewhat guilty. Her facial expressions tried to cover up her concern for the boy.
"Yes," he blatantly said.
"Ah!" she let out a gasp of concern.
Indeed, she was still just a child. Oblivious to the world.
Slightly tilting her head up, the girl moved a finger towards her chin. She appeared to be in thought.
Suddenly, the girl's body then suddenly shuddered as if being jolted awake. She quickly turned her head across all directions, back and forth, surveying the surroundings.
The forest became eerily silent.
The girl silently breathed in and out quietly. Swiftly, she looked over towards the boy.
To her surprise, he appeared to have noticed the irregularity of the situation. A cautious outlook could be seen through his countenance. The girl was impressed that he could keep his cool even with his haggard condition. She complimented him inwardly.
The two stared at the eyes of one another. As if understanding each other, they maintained watch of the situation in silence. Waiting for the inevitable occurrence.
Three minutes have passed.
Five minutes have passed.
Nothing had occurred.
Could it be just a misunderstanding?
The girl's posture seemed to slightly relax. She turned herself away from the surroundings to speak to the boy.
"Is the coast clear?" the girl whispered to him.
Amidst the suspense, a cheery rhythmic voice could be heard. Each passing second ticked the hands of the clock. Slowly, but steadily, the volume of the eerie voice ever grew ever so louder.
"Ta, ta, ta, ta ta ta ta taa . . . ta, ta, ta, ta ta ta ta . . . "
Unknowingly, the once dark forest was now filled with hundreds of gleaming lights. It was glaringly apparent that these lights are not just for show.
No, perhaps this was a show?
Revealed under the spotlight of the show were the boy and the girl. It was not the hundreds of lights that caused the two of them to freeze in place, but rather the identity of the lights. If one looked closely behind the shining lights, they could see sharp, steel reflections shimmering.
They were weapons for slaughtering:
Knives, daggers, swords, axes, spears, lances, tridents.
And the list goes on . . .
"Ah . . . Ah . . . "
The girl struggled to keep her legs calm. But, her body and mind were shuddering at this inconceivable scene. At this point in time, she was ready to throw in the towel and beg for mercy.
"Gate of Baby**n? No, these are blasphemy compared to what I have seen. Alas, these numbers . . ." the boy lamented. He shook his head dismally.
Hundreds of whistle sounds erupted at once. Levitating mass weapons of slaughter flew straight towards the two of them. The attacker clearly showed their intention to kill.
Act of mercy?
There was never such an option.
The boy acted swiftly, embracing the girl into his arms. He used one arm to tuck her head in deep into his chest and the other arm to hold her waist.
A second before the weapons reached their target, a small dark vortex appeared out of thin air. Its size was small albeit sufficient enough for the two children to enter in.
In the end, all that remained was a cluster of weaponry impaled in the ground. The two children were nowhere to be seen.
The girl's eyes were deeply shut since the moment her head was tucked into his chest. She knew that there was no hope for the two of them. She could feel the sharp edges of weaponry stabbed into her body as the warm liquid ran across various parts of her body. The girl's consciousness was beginning to fade, and her body began to feel cold.
(Ah . . . this is it . . . isn't it . . . I should've listened to mama and papa . . . I'm so sorry . . . I promise to be more obedient . . .)
Memories flashed through her mind of everything she had done up to this point. There were many good times to the point she couldn't recall anything bad. Inevitably though, regrets began to fill her mind. It was a strange phenomenon to her. She believed that she had an endless sparkling future ahead of her.
It all felt unreal.
Yet, amidst the unreal reality filled with pain and regret, she had a sudden epiphany.
It wasn't too bad?
The reason stemmed from the sense of comfort that she was feeling. She wasn't alone in the impending death. She had someone by her side; a boy she had just met today. A boy around her age had tried to be a shining knight before their demise. It was funny to her. She couldn't help but leak out a smile.
"You're not bad . . . but not good enough for this Princess. Mama and papa wouldn't approve of you," she softly said.
"Little Princess. Do not have yourself resigned to death. I shall be needing you for a while."
"Indeed, you heard correctly."
The girl with all possible haste opened her eyes. She tilted her head up to see the boy's head. He had a cheeky grin on his face. She felt that there was something off about that face, but the streams of blood trickling down distracted her from his facade. Confused, she quickly surveyed herself.
The girl discovered herself facedown, her head on top of the boy's chest. He was laid on his back, on the ground. Blood could be seen profusely bleeding out by the second, forming a puddle, and dyeing the scattered weapons blood red.
His firm hands slowly lost their grip on the girl, slipping downwards just before the sides of her back. It seemed he had lost his energy to hold her.
The escape was successful. The surrounding area had changed to a clearing of a forest. But, their bodies were drenched with blood. For the boy, the discrepancy could not be compared.
"We . . . we're . . . alive?" she couldn't help but gasp those words.
"Yeah, that's right . . . " *cough* *cough* *cough* as those words were said, the boy coughed out some fresh blood.
"Ah . . . you . . . "
"It's fine . . . I can't die here anyways . . . " the boy struggled to reply.
" . . . "
There was only silence in the next few minutes. The girl may be naive, but she was clever. She knew what was going to happen next. She felt anguished at herself. She hated herself for being useless. Even though she knew this was bound to happen, the very fact that he saved her, a stranger, made everything seem so ridiculous to her.
All she could do was give the boy some sense of relief rather than subject him to the cold, crude floor. She carefully got off him and held him in her arms, tightly embracing him. She looked at him, and he looked back at her. Their eyes remained lingered on one another.
If anyone saw this scene, they would assume this was a pair of lovers sharing love with one another before their final moments.
However, in truth, the boy had his mind drifted elsewhere. His crumbling gaze was just inadvertently drawn to the girl.
"Hey . . . I never managed to get your name . . . how silly am I . . . What is your name?"
The boy did not seem to hear her. Blood was not the sole liquid that trickled down. Unwilling tears flowed down the river track. As the tears mixed with the blood, they desperately fought to overturn the red tide: a reflection of the boy's desire to live.
Unfortunately, no matter how many tears were spent, it could not reverse his fate. The liquid continued. Continued to dye blood red.
Not hearing a response, the girl's awareness jolted into shape. Brimmed with tears, she noticed through her glossy eyes that the boy was finally shedding, akin to herself. As soon as she saw him, her heart felt immense pain.
(He looks so . . . so . . . so . . . horrible. Cheeky face? No, that face is nothing remotely like that.)
It was not a face that can be scrutinised. At most, one would only be able to derive the agonising and vigorous emotions exuded to the world. It was a blend of great derision, utter regret, and beggarly guilt.
Despite the girl being centimetres away from him, she was unable to catch his words, spoken so low, that were murmured under his remaining breaths.
"My name . . . "
"—Ahh?? Yes! " She leaned her ear, touching his soft lips. It was a miracle that she managed to discern his words.
" . . . "
" . . . The name . . . yes, hmmm it is . . . Dalis."
"I see . . . My name is . . . "
But before the girl could tell her name, the light in his eyes faded, leaving behind the despair. At the very least, it was eased a little, just a little from the girl's presence.
At a particular place.
At a particular time.
At a particular moment.
A girl's cries could be heard weeping for a long time.
At times there were screams of hate towards a particular someone.
At other times it was lamented towards the person she was screaming for.
Screams of self-degradation.
After a long period of time had passed.
The cries were no longer heard.
"I hate myself for doing this . . . but this will serve as a memento to me."
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