Moving on past the Volume 1 and first story arc is basically like Bilbo screaming “I’m going on an adventure!” ’cause that’s what this feels like to me. Let’s see how long it’s gonna take me before I get bored of the next story arc as well! Probably not too long…
CHAPTER XI – HARROWED SIGNS
“A man wishes to die honorable death, but never stops to wonder whether he lived honorable life.” – Unknown
AT THE BORDER OF KINGDOM OF LOST
Two shadows moved swiftly through the night, crossing the sky high mountain as if they were running across the empty valley. Even if one were to focus on the two, they probably wouldn’t be able to notice them. Both wore fully black clothes and were cloaked from heads to toes, blending in with the night as if they were its children. Neither spoke as they vaulted over the mountain’s peak and began descending even faster.
They were at the bottom in less than an hour and they finally stopped, both panting as they leaned their hands against the knees. One of them removed a cloak from his head and inhaled deeply; he had stark, crimson red hair that was neatly tied into a ponytail, with bangs reaching his eyebrows. He had narrow and slanted eyes, colored emerald green, and rather small nose and lips. His right cheek was harrowed by a deep scar, which still ached when it rained, and he had a slender build.
The girl beside him quickly followed, taking off her cloak, streams of sweat falling down the sides of her face. She had similar hair, slightly longer and even deeper red, with sky blue eyes and pouted lips. She held her hands against her sides, exposing rather slender and curved figure; even underneath dark clothes, the lines of her breasts were still visible.
“So close,” she finally spoke. “Father ordered us to kill him? The man’s finally gone insane.”
“Tell me about it,” the man replied, smiling. “If he caught us, we’d be skinned like animals within a blink.”
“The priest lied?”
“Maybe he didn’t know,” the man shook his head. “After all, he just mentioned that the village harbors a Fallen.”
“None of the others we encountered were that strong,” the woman said in disbelief. “What’s so unique about him?”
“Will even our entire force be enough to take him down?” the man pondered.
“Let’s report first,” the woman sighed, lowering her head. “If the word gets out that the Noble family of Ashtar slaughtered an entire village for one man, it won’t be pretty.”
“Elders will know what to do.”
“Ugh. They’ll probably tell us to whisk our asses back and kill him by any means necessary.”
“Don’t remind me…”
The two quickly put their hoods back on and raced forward, briefly glancing back and sighing.
FIFTY KILOMETERS AWAY FROM DAWNFAE, THE ROAD OF HARROWING
Lyon and Lye led the way forward for the past three days, resting only when night came in deep, and waking up with the breach of the dawn. Conversations were scarce between the two, as they still played the night in their minds, over and over again. Lyon managed to secure a place for everyone within a day’s work, and joined the three before they departed away from Dawnfae. They were on their way to Bler, third largest city within the Kingdom. For the past three days, neither had heard Clay utter a word; yet, however worried they were, they said nothing. Elain constantly walked next to him, and they didn’t dare butt in in-between the two.
As it was the case for the entirety of their journey, Elain matched Eon’s pace as they walked forward. The surroundings were rather plain as they moved northward, whereas lush forests turned into vast tundras and mountains. Although she wouldn’t let it show on her face, she was feeling rather pissed off. Whenever she’d try to talk to Eon, he’d simply blankly look at her and occasionally nod, as if to merely acknowledge her existence, without saying anything. She understood he had a lot of things to process, but it should have its limits.
“Plan on uttering a sound anytime soon?” she asked with a smile.
“Of course not,” smiled disappeared, followed by a sigh. “Why would you? You’re fed and watered. You may as well be a damn horse we can’t ride.” Eon raised his hand and pointed towards his throat. “What?! We just ate you pig!” I don’t want to eat, my fucking vocal cords are damaged you dumb brute! Eon thought inwardly, sighing.
The reason why he didn’t talk wasn’t because he was feeling overwhelmingly depressed. In truth, he had mostly managed to move past what he had done. However cruel it may have been and however deviant, it has happened nonetheless, and crying over it won’t change the history. He promised himself never to forget, but he managed to not lose himself into it. He had already learned what demons one has to face when he gives into the regret of his actions, and Eon didn’t wish to go back there.
The reason why he didn’t talk was because he still hasn’t fully healed. Even walking was exhausting beyond belief, and each patch of food felt as if he was swallowing dozens of blades. All three expected him to heal faster than usual because he’s Fallen, but in truth Fallen didn’t have any inherit regenerative abilities. And considering how wounded he was, it was a miracle he survived. If three days were enough to recover from knocking at death’s doors, then most men wouldn’t fear getting injured in the battle. The worst part was that he can’t even explain it, as he doesn’t know how to write in whichever language he’s speaking. He knows how to read, but not how to write – he even tried it, figuring the knowledge would trigger as he tried to use it, but he ended up writing two sentences in English language before Elain smacked him because she thought he was being depressed.
“When you finally decide you’re ready to talk,” she continued. “You’re gonna kowtow before me five thousand times before I forgive you.”
“….” Go away! Please just join the other, smart pair!
“Look at those idiots,” she pointed at Lye and Lyon. “Out of three of us, I’m the only one taking care of you.” We’re too terrified to try! Lye and Lyon heard her complaint and thought inwardly, briefly giving into anger. “They just walk and eat like empty mules, not unlike yourself mind you, and ignore you as if you were a fly. Me, on the other hand, is constantly trying to help you. You better remember to kowtow until the bones of your knees spill out.”
“….” Forget woman, are you even a human being?
The night had swallowed the sky and the four decided to camp on a small cliff, overlooking the rocky alley in front of them which lead to a passage in-between two, tall mountains. Lye set up fire while Lyon began cooking a deer they managed to catch. Eon sat in silence next to Elain who’d often glance angrily at him, ‘hmph-ing’ more than twice a minute. Eon did his best to not look her way, but he could feel each one of her glances as if they were swords aimed at his throat. Subconsciously, he’d even graze his throat from time to time, just to ensure there wasn’t a gaping hole in it. Besides deer, Lyon scooped out two ewers from out of nowhere and a few wooden cups, filling them up. He also handed Eon another drink, colored grass-green, saying it’ll lessen the pain.
Eon took it without hesitation and slowly drank it alongside eating roasted meat. The cocktail Lyon prepared had a rather chilling effect on his throat, and he felt as if the canals were slowly starting to open up again. The coldness interchanged with sourness and saltiness, and in the end deep warmth. He finally felt as if he could muster up sounds, although he was still uncertain about words.
“Yarrn should be back soon, right?” Elain asked with mouthful.
“Yeah,” Lye replied. “He said a day or two.”
“I don’t like that guy.” Elain said grimly.
“You don’t like whoever is friendly with Clay,” Lyon said out if instinct, forgetting to filter himself. As soon as Lye heard first half of the sentence, he moved away from the young man without a hint of hesitation. “You’re afraid they’re gonna take him away or something. After all—” as if finally realizing that he was saying it out loud, he slowly looked up and met Elain’s gaze. Although her face was red with anger and she looked ready to kill, her eyes gleamed differently. Wait, she really is?! Lyon thought. However, his thoughts were quickly shortened as Elain threw an empty wooden cup straight at his face, knocking him over on his back.
“Is it true?” Eon suddenly joined in, surprising the trio; his voice was rather coarse, but he was finally able to speak. “You wish to monopolize me? That’s so cute!” he drew the most innocent smile he could, and still held it as another flying cup came flying at his face. He quickly ducked to evade it; Elain’s angry face mellowed and her eyes got teary.
“You talked…” she muttered as if it was another world’s wonder.
“I’d have talked ages ago,” Eon said. “But I literally couldn’t.”
“Hmm?” Elain asked, surprised.
“As in, my throat wouldn’t allow me. Not my mind.” Eon explained. “But forget about that. What is that I hear about you fearing someone will t–”
“Shut up!” Elain interrupted him. “For all I care, you can leave right now and never come back! I don’t like Yarrn because he looks so sleazy.”
“I do?” Yarrn joined them from aback; he surprised everyone except Eon, who had sensed him long ago. “That’s rather mean.”
“Y-yeah, so?” Elain replied, quickly recovering.
“You three really had it rough,” Yarrn said, sitting down and taking his part in the meal. “Anyway, moving away from the-annoying-side-of-tsundere,” Eon chuckled while the other three blankly glanced at him. “I’ve arranged a few men that owed me favors to help us out once we’re in Bler. We’ll have free housing and food, but that’s about it. We’re gonna have to figure out the rest on our own.”
“Is it strange that we haven’t encountered any monsters for the last three days?” Eon asked him.
“Not really,” Yarrn replied. “Nearly all main roads within the Kingdom have been thoroughly cleaned up for safe travel. The valley in front of us, for instance, houses mostly mountain beasts, but unless you go to the far edges of the valley, you’ll never find one.”
“I should be fully recovered in a day or two,” Eon said, sighing. “After that we can safely begin hunting. Elain still needs to advance, and all of us could use some more strength.”
“At our current pace, Bler is about a week away,” Lyon said, taking out the rugged map out of his pocket. “If we stick to the same road, in four days we’ll be in the Harrowed Pass. Here,” he moved his finger slightly west from the main road. “I’ve heard that besides few High Beasts, there are also some Ancients, and apparently even Eon-Aged ones.”
“Eon-Aged ones?” Eon asked, curious.
“They’re beasts that have lived for over ten thousand years,” Lyon explained. “The only reason why most scholars believe that there are ranks above Amnesty, is because Eon-Aged beasts are generally beyond Amnesty realm.”
“So stay clear of them?” Eon added.
“Not necessarily,” Lyon explained. “Although they are indeed extremely powerful, most of them, at least from what I’ve heard, are also extremely slow and telegraphed. But, to be on the safe side, we may as well just hunt High Beasts.”
“I don’t think we can afford to play it safe,” Yarrn said, sighing. “Clay is a different story, but the three of you are far too weak. You’ll need to grow big and grow big fast.”
“All three of us could still beat you senseless though.” Elain didn’t take it well, having been insulted by a Magus – and Black Magus at that.
“She really doesn’t like me,” Yarrn smiled as he turned towards Eon, who merely shook his head, as if to say ‘Don’t involve me into whatever this is’. Defeated, Yarrn sighed and looked at Elain. “Yes, you can. But, at the same time, if you give me two minutes of preparations, I can kill all three of you with merely moving my fingers. The point is that all three of you have stunned your growth. I’ve been actively going through ranks for only a year, yet I’ve already reached ‘Four Diamond Stars’. Do you see my point?” the three nodded after a brief pause. The deer was already gone, and most were just slowly drinking water, enjoying the warmth of the campfire.
“We’ll just power level them,” Eon said. “That works, no?”
“Yeah.” Yarrn replied. “You also need more levels, if for nothing else but to max out your grip and get to higher classes.”
“What’s the level 35 advancement about?” Eon asked; the other three knew that whenever Yarrn and Eon began using strange language, they should just mind their own business since neither bothered explaining them a thing.
“It’s not really advancement,” Yarrn replied. “In game, it was about deciding on your main Divination, while here it’s basically just choosing which God you want to serve, receiving benefits based on God’s type. From what I know though, Fallen can’t serve anyone, so you’ll probably just pass through as if just leveling up.”
Shortly after they’ve eaten, all five lied down in silence and gave into the sleepiness. For the past three days, Eon had recurring dream about his only ever friend from modern world – Jackson. They met as rookies on the first cross-sea tour and Jackson took initiative to befriend him. They were thrown into the heart of Euro-Asia conflict, and mere four months in, Jackson died during one of the night raids. Eon would often dream about that night, as dead silence was replaced by the hums of death within a length of a breath. Five thousand, three hundred and eleven people were killed within seven minutes; he was among fifty-six remaining lucky ones to get out alive. It wasn’t a pleasant memory, but Eon used it as a reminder that death looms over each shoulder every day of every month of every year. And that no matter the friendship and loyalty, in the grand scheme of the world, none in particular truly matter.