Exiled West

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The Curse of Velorian

Chapter 2: The Curse

Jackson and I stood around with our arms high up in the air while the group of men with their guns aimed them at our heads. I was able to tell from the looks in their eyes that they were prepared to pull those triggers as soon as we give them a reason to fire. I also saw other folks unarmed staying back behind cover in safety watching in anticipation wondering and prepared for what would transpire. A few moments passed and one of them walked towards us while signaling the others to watch his back. That man wore a white dress shirt styled in some black floral coloring around the shoulders. It didn’t look clean but not dirty either with clear signs of wear and tear.

“State your names… you first.” The man demanded while nodding his head up towards Jackson to let him know he was first to speak.

“Jackson Reed.”

“And you?” The man asked me next.

“Levi Carter,” I answered.

“Jackson Reed and Levi Carter…” The man spoke our names and took a moment to savor them while also getting a good look at us. “Do you have any weapons I should be aware of?”

“… Yes.” Jackson answered not risking lying about it even though it was a broken gun.

At that moment, the man aimed his gun at Jackson making both of us flinch a bit about to start running but he didn’t pull the trigger.

“Take it out slowly with one of your hands and place it on the ground.” He demanded from Jackson.

Jackson does what he was told and revealed the broken gun holding it by the tip and placed it on the ground. From there two other men walk over to us aiming their guns and one of them picked up the broken gun. The other began to check us cautiously ready to react if we tried any unusual movement. We went through the motions letting them check us thoroughly to make them trust us enough to let us inside into their town and get some proper food and water.

“That’s all, they have nothing else on them.”

“Should we let them in? I don’t trust em.”

“Don’t worry, John will be able to tell if they’re good or not.”

They talked amongst each other away from us but it was still loud enough for me and Jackson to hear them. What caught my attention at the time was how one of them mentioned a man named John who would be able to tell if we would be good people or bad. It made me question exactly just how would someone be capable of assuming such a thing from a person? Was he someone good at telling whether or not someone was lying or not? Back then I couldn’t think of anything logical that would give an accurate result that wouldn’t be biased unless this John either convinced them that his word is always true or he had some form of unnatural method to see it.

“Alright, come on. Follow me and don’t try anything or you’ll be shot!” One of the men told us while the other two walked behind us to keep a close eye behind to make sure we tried nothing from behind our backs.

Things were going well and for the most part, it didn’t seem like the folk in the town were evil or insane as we walked through the town seeing normal women and men working and building up the town with a sign that named the town Vornil. Children were also present running around playing and stopping once they saw us getting escorted to this John person that would determine if we were fully welcomed or get killed or worse. But everything took a big turn as someone walked in the front stopping us from continuing.

“That man!” It was Pithra who arrived at the town first before us. “He’s a murderer!” She yelled out while pointing her finger directly at me.

Once Pithra screamed that out the man in front immediately turned around lifting his gun and I could also hear the two from the back lift theirs to aim at me. Knowing things were turning out bad I immediately got on my knees with my arms stretched out as high in the air as possible.

“WAIT! PLEASE!” I desperately yelled out which stopped them from pulling their trigger right away.

“You got it all wrong!” Jackson also did the same not trying to act or look hostile.

“They’re both criminals! They killed an officer!” Pithra kept screaming out only making things worse for us.

“It’s not true! Well…. It is true but there’s good reason!” Jackson quickly yelled out trying to explain.

“He tried killing me first! I only defended myself! Please believe me!” I screamed out desperately since I could feel at any moment the men with the guns could pull the trigger. “I’m begging you!”

“He admitted it to me! That he killed the officer and he didn’t even care about it! They’re both heartless killers!” Pithra continued to make it worse for our case.

This would be the third time in my life where I truly felt like I would die at that moment which was something I only ever experienced in the recent year at that time. I eventually get accustomed to starring death in the face and my journey in Velorian would continue as someone else came forward having heard the commotion.

“Enough! Stand down, Austin, Hank, and James!” Someone ordered the three to not act and to stop aiming their weapons.

I looked over in the direction of the voice with authority over the three men. It was the man named John who wore a blue buttoned shirt and brown vest with black jeans. From my first time seeing him he seemed younger than me but in terms of experiencing and living through death, John seemed to be someone with much more maturity than me. I saw it in his eyes and judging from the scars on his face it would make any person guess John wasn’t someone who lived a simple life.

“John, these guys are- “

“Criminals, I know,” John said disregarding their warning when he casually walked forward not even having his hand close to his holster. “Names?” He asked us.

“Jackson Reed.”

“Levi Carter.”

Both of us answered at the same time quickly.

“Hmm, interesting names,” John said as he primarily focused his stare at me. “I’ll take it from here, keep watching the area for others possibly showing up.” He ordered his men.

“Understood,” The three men agreed to leave it all to John without a single worry if either I or Jackson would do something with fewer people keeping watch on us.

“Let’s go,” John told us and walked ahead but gets stopped by Pithra again.

“Are you just going to allow them to get away with murder?” Pithra asked John.

“Oh, that’s right,” John said having forgotten about that, and turned towards me. “Mind explaining to us in more detail about this murder you committed?” He asked me casually like he already knew there was a good reason and mostly asked for Pithra.

“… As I said earlier, the man named Kyle was an officer. He tried to kill me first and would have succeeded if luck hadn’t been by my side to have his gun broken.”

“Why did he try killing you?” John asked wanting further details.

“Because he asked me why I was exiled here to Velorian and when I gave him my answer, he felt threatened.”

“And this answer was?” John kept inquiring further.

“… Murder.” I told him and focused intently on his expression but he wasn’t fazed by the answer like he already knew.

“See! He’s a murderer!” Pithra shouted not wanting to live in the same area as a criminal like me.

“You’re being too paranoid, Ms. Pithra. He may be a murderer but he’s not one to kill in cold blood or for his selfish gain or entertainment. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have intervened and made my men stop.’ John explained to Pithra.

At that time, I had no clue what John was going on about being able to know what type of murderer I was but whatever this method was it saved me from getting killed on the spot. Pithra still felt dissatisfied about it all and simply walked off somewhere. The expressions of the other folk around watching and listening also didn’t take too kindly on the fact that I was a murderer that had not been killed yet to atone for the crimes I committed. In their minds, they thought I was just some scumbag murderer who thinks they avoided execution by picking exile where I could keep living freely without atoning for my crimes.

“Sorry, everyone here isn’t too willing to accept murderers here. We’ve already had some complications with criminals in the past.” John said and continued to walk. “Follow me,” He told us.

“Tell me, how do you know for certain I’m not like… other murderers?” I asked being curious about his judgment.

“Save your questions till we arrive at a more proper place to talk,” John said as he led us to his own home which was nearby that also acted as his office.

It all looked quite basic without any color and the buildings were done without much form of proper planning by an architect. But it was something to be expected considering it was mostly the poor and criminals that take a one-way trip to Velorian. Not just from my country either but from others as well but I would come to learn everything about this cursed land from John. Or at least everything he’d know about Velorian and Logan Campbell.

“Go on, have a seat,” John told me and Jackson with two wooden chairs present that did not look like they would hold Jackson’s weight.

Jackson took it slowly preparing for a fall as he heard numerous cracking sounds but luckily the chair was capable to withstand his weight. In the meantime, John went to grab three mugs from a cabinet and a glass bottle that looked used and old. He poured the mugs with water and was slightly hesitant to drink it but figured there was no reason for John to tamper it in some way especially since he poured himself a cup.

“Go on, drink,” John told us as he took a sip and sat down.

“Thanks, brother.” Jackson didn’t hesitate and grabbed the mug from the desk.

“Thanks,” I simply replied with small doubts still lingering. The water did not taste pleasant being a bit warm but wasn’t awful to the point I’d spit it out.

“So… what’s next?” Jackson asked wondering when the answers will come in.

“… What did you do?” John asked Jackson wanting to know why he was exiled to Velorian.

“Stealing… a lot. They eventually had enough of my fat ass and just gave me the option to free my head from my body or exile.” Jackson explained.

“A thief and a murderer, though you two seem different from your typical thieves and murderers.”

“Different?” I asked.

“I’ve had many thieves and murderers come by here after getting exiled. Normally, I could see either guilt, selfishness, or pleasure from their actions, at times a mix of the three. Yet, I don’t sense much of that from you two.”

“Well, I just gave up trying to make the big bucks legally. Spent years working hard only to get nowhere and instead getting fucked over making all my hard work pointless. Asked myself what’s the point anymore? And just did whatever the hell I wanted no matter the consequences.” Jackson explained not having regrets in stealing or choosing exile.

“Yet you never turned to murder in this do whatever you want decision?”

“There was never really an opportunity but I can tell you right now if it does present itself then I won’t think twice. So long there’s a good reason for it, of course.”

“And what did you intend coming to Velorian?”

“Nothing really, as I said. I’m just living my life right now till my time comes to die. Wouldn’t mind making this… Vornil Town my new home. But I won’t be mad if you don’t welcome me, it will all be good so long you give me a bit of food and water for my journey on wherever the wind takes me.”

“Don’t worry, I’ve already made up my mind to give you a choice to stay or not. But you’ll have to put in your share of work every day.”

“No problem, brother.”

Jackson didn’t seem excited that John was willing to have him live in Vornil but he wasn’t disappointed either. A man who is truly just settling for whatever he finds in life and would move on if it’s something unsatisfactory for him.

“Now then, let’s get onto your case, Levi.” John looked directly at my eyes being more curious about me than Jackson.

“I’m quite curious about you too,” Jackson added also wanting to know my reason for coming to Velorian.

“John, you said you could… see I’m… we’re different from other criminals. But how could you tell?” I asked.

“Hmm, a complicated question to answer towards someone new who has come to Velorian. Pithra couldn’t believe it herself when I explained it all to her… about what it truly means to live in this cursed land of Velorian.”

“Don’t worry, I’ve already figured there’s something very unnatural happening in this land.”

“Yeah, during the night especially. We kept hearing voices and it always seemed like there was someone there.” Jackson said.

“Oh? I’m surprised you managed to survive a night; most don’t make it throughout their first out there with no prior knowledge.”

“Could you tell us about what exactly those things are? The voices and this… sensation like someone is constantly there looking and touching us? And why is it not happening at all ever since we entered this town?” I asked away wanting answers.

“It’s the Dead Realm.” John simply answered those questions with that.

“Dead realm?” I wondered not understanding what John meant.

John poured himself more water and drank a bit before continuing.

“Ever heard of ghost stories back in our home country?” John asked me and Jackson.

“Well, yeah. I’d hear poor folk and whatnot go on about seeing ghosts or things falling off shelves by themselves.” Jackson said who gave a few examples.

“Same here but… I’d say not as often nor did I ever believe those stories or rumors at the time.” I said.

“Let’s say all those stories and rumors and tales… whatever you want to call them. They’re all real but the only difference is that here in Velorian, it’s much more obvious and clearer.” John explained.

“I already knew that the moment I awoke ashore into this land. But why is it… more obvious as you say?” I asked.

“Because of the fifty-year-old war between countries far from here that attempted to conquer Velorian. So much unimaginable human suffering and murder happened in this very soil. Many souls couldn’t move on to the afterlife and they weren’t exactly innocent souls either. Filled with anger, sorrow, and pain… so many souls and so much miasma eventually became too big that it now leaks and intertwines with the realm of the living.”

Those from the Dead Realm cling to the Living Realm transparently interacting with the living a whole lot more often in Velorian compared to other lands which is not a good thing. The dead crave for pure fresh souls that can only be found from those in the living with a beating heart and the only way to notice your soul being eaten away is from the unusual cold. Just like the one I had felt when I awoke ashore, that strange cold of death breathing onto me. I was lucky to have reacted by running away fast and finding the camp with fire because that’s one way to prevent your soul from getting eaten by being around heat and light. However, it also depends on how strong the heat and light source is since something weak could only slow down the consumption of the soul and not stop it entirely. During the day when the sun is out fully, it normally stops it but that’s as long as one doesn’t go somewhere dark and cold where the heat and light of the sun cannot reach as much.

There are other methods to prevent your soul from getting consumed from the Dead Realm and not end up like the bodies Jackson and I had come across. But that’s only one problem a person needs to worry about when living in the lands of Velorian.

“I appreciate the warnings about the dangers in this land. But it still doesn’t explain why you know Jackson or I am not a threat to your town?” I still wondered about that but had an assumption it had something to do with the Dead Realm.

“Here in Velorian, those who have been living here for some time consider people like us a High Roller,” John said.

“High Roller? Isn’t that something where you gamble a lot of money?” Jackson asked having heard the term before in his days of gambling.

“Yup, but instead of gambling lots of money. We High Rollers gamble half our soul to be able to fully interact with the Dead Realm.”

“Interact with the Dead Realm? Does that mean you can see the dead?”

“Not just see them… but I hear their voices much more clearly and could feel the miasma like it was my suffering and sorrow. I could barely sleep and the chances of dying from getting the other half of my soul eaten becomes higher. Thus, the name High Roller. Other places in Velorian they call it differently.” John explained.

“But… why choose to become a High Roller? If what you say is real why do such a thing?” I couldn’t understand the reason behind living with such risks.

“It does have benefits, living like a High Roller. I could sense the intent of those who aren’t High Rollers and believe it or not you become stronger physically. Not a lot but you’ll notice a difference when smashing someone’s face in who isn’t a High Roller. Whether the pros outweigh the cons is up to you, personally I don’t recommend anybody becoming a High Roller. Another reason is that you’re taking a fifty-fifty coin flip whether you could become one or not.”

“What happens if you can’t become one?” Jackson wondered being curious about becoming a High Roller for the thrill of wanting to see what it’s like among the dead.

“You can die or… follow me,” John said and suddenly stood up preferring to show the other consequence instead of explaining it.

Jackson and I followed John outside and walked two buildings over from home and office reaching a poorly made two-floor home. John knocked at the door and we waited until whoever lived in that home mostly made of wood answer.

“John…” It was a mature-looking woman who wore an old brown dress named Catherine and she felt uneasy when she saw us.

“Catherine,” John said and did a short bow with his head. “Don’t worry, these guys won’t do anything.” He told her but she didn’t look convinced. “It’s alright, Catherine. I’ll put a bullet in their brains the moment they have thoughts about doing something stupid.”

“… Why did you bring them here?” Catherine asked.

“Just showing them what happens to those who fail in becoming a High Roller.”

“Why would you tell them such a thing!?” Catherine in her mind felt that was something that shouldn’t be told to anyone because of the dangers one could bring onto oneself if they fail or the danger one can become should they succeed.

“No point keeping it from them, they would come to learn it from someone else either way. It’s best for anyone who intends to live here to know about them.”

“Live here? A murderer? What are you thinking- “

“I’m a murderer too, Catherine,” John told her making her go silent upon hearing that. “Now, Catherine, could you please?” He asked nicely again.

Catherine sighed and fully opened the door letting us inside.

“Thank you,” John said and entered.

We followed behind but Catherine stopped us by moving her right arm in front of us.

“Don’t touch anything,” Catherine warned us and sounded very serious like whatever we touched will immediately bring misfortune.

“I understand.”

“Yes, mam.”

Jackson and I replied respecting her rules and continued to follow John up the creaking stairs. The house seemed like it would easily break if one used the slightest amount of force like punching or stomping. We moved carefully to make sure nothing would happen and even though Catherine said not to touch anything there wasn’t much in the house aside from the wall and floor. We then came across one of two rooms that were present on the second floor and I faintly heard someone moving and making odd noises.

“Uhnnn… uuuooouu…” A man was making weird moaning sounds behind the door like he had a hard time speaking.

John then opened the door without knocking showing us the person inside making those strange sounds. Jackson and I then saw a man who had near-identical skin to the dead bodies we had come across in the forest yet he was still alive. However, the man seemed utterly clueless and it looked like he was already dead but barely living with little to no thoughts.

“Uh… Uuuhh… Uuuhhoo.” The man uttered unable to speak.

He couldn’t properly move almost as if he was acting like a mere clueless baby or someone with a serious mental disability. It was very sad to watch a grown man in such a lifeless state simply facing the wall doing such a pointless action over and over like he was trying to climb or open the wall.

“This… is another possibility of what can happen if you fail to become a High Roller. His name is Nathan.” John told us.

“What exactly happened to him?” I asked.

“The soul from the Dead Realm Nathan tried giving half of his soul to took more than half but not all of it. What remains of his soul is merely just the will to live but the memories of his past or those of being human is no longer residing inside his body.”

“Why not kill him? Isn’t he just suffering like this?” Jackson wondered thinking in his mind he’d rather die than be left alive without any purpose or memories.

“Not yet, there’s still a chance for him to remember something. It has happened in the past and we here in Vornil would at least want to send someone off with a strong memory. I feel that’s the least every person living in this world deserves, to remember a fraction of who they were before dying.”

“How do you know they’ll remember something?” I asked.

“Well, whether it’s a good or bad memory. They’ll either cry in utter grief or joy, when that happens, we’ll send Nathan off.”

John left the room letting us stay for a bit longer to see Nathan if we wanted but Jackson didn’t want to see him anymore and seemed like he regretted planning in becoming a High Roller. I stayed for a few more seconds looking at Nathan and wondered myself what I would do if I found Logan Campbell in that state? What if he’s out there somewhere not even knowing he’s a human being that’s still barely alive acting like some giant worm that could make noises? These thoughts flowed through my mind but eventually realized it was pointless thinking such things. I had already made up my mind to roam Velorian to find Logan Campbell till my last breath.

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