Chapter 43 - Post Incident - Parting
We follow them to an inn near the edge of the city. We go into a room on the first floor. There’s no one in here other than a wounded man on a bed. Moria rushes over to the man with a green glow over his hands. The man’s armor is chipped and broken. Multiple gashes and punctures are visible. His blood oozing from them has stained the bed sheets.
“Why’d you come with us?” I ask while looking at Hina. “Don’t you have a job to do?
“We-well…” Her eyes point away. “I was curious.”
“Hmm…” I stare at her for a moment. I smile. “Slacking off to see your boyfriend I see. I never would’ve imagined Hina would slack off for such an impure motive…”
Her face flushes red. “Shu-shut up! It’s not impure!”
She turns around and storms out of the room.
“There is nothing more I can do for this man,” Moria says while standing up. “He should be out of the woods. There is no telling when he will wake up, though.”
“That’s great news!” the guard exclaims. “I will inform my superior right away! Thank you for your assistance!”
The guard dashes out the room. Moria sighs. There are dark circles under his eyes. “Well, I should be going back. We are going to do our best to bury everyone from the Academy by then, but the funeral will be held at 9 AM tomorrow regardless. I will see you then.”
“Okay. Hiro and Drugo are on the back of the wagon parked in front of the Academy,” I inform.
“I understand,” Moria answers and walks out of the room. Marin is staring intently at the unconscious man.
“We should get going too, Marin. Let the man rest,” I suggest. “He’s gonna wake up eventually and tell us what happened.”
“Okay…” Marin says, and then we head out. “What’re you going to do now?”
I think about it for a moment. Luna comes to mind, but I don’t want to deal with her right now. “I’m gonna see if Emdos is back.”
Marin suddenly grabs my hand and stands in place. I stop and turn around. She looks me in the eye and says, “That’s not good.”
I look away. “Stop finding excuses…to not see her, please.”
I squeeze her hand tight before replying, “Fine. Let’s go.”
I pull her along, still holding her hand. We walk in silence for two minutes.
I clear my throat and then ask, “So...when was the last time you saw your parents?”
“It was the day before they left on the expedition,” she answers. I open my mouth about to say something, but she smiles and continues. “We went out to eat at my favorite place close to home called, ‘The Monarch.’ I loved that place because they treated you like a king or queen no matter what.”
“That sounds nice… I wish I could eat at ‘The Green Boar’ with Emdos again. The last time I saw him was a month ago on an ordinary visit. He didn’t tell me he was gonna leave or anything…”
“I’m sure he’s fine,” Marin says with a smile. “I’m sure he wouldn’t leave or go anywhere dangerous without saying goodbye first…”
Marin loosens her grip on my hand. Her eyes are shaky. I tighten my grip on her hand and don’t say anything the rest of the way. Marin stands by the entrance of our inn and says, “I’ll wait here. I won’t let you leave until you’ve settled things with Luna.”
I nod and then walk inside slowly. Memories of Luna from when I first met her all the way to earlier today flood into my mind. Her smile. Her expressions. I go up the stairs while taking deep breaths. The second door on the left is closed. I knock on it.
Luna opens the door and greets me with a smile. “Kai!”
I look at her now and only see what she has done since killing Sitos. I grit my teeth and grimace. You’re not her…
“I went and waited here like you told me!” she exclaims and sits on her bed. The same bed she shared with an older man. I close the door behind me. She kicks her legs up and down. “I don’t mind on fulfilling our promise right now.”
I clench my fists. You’re an imposter wearing her skin.
I take another deep breath before saying, “Listen… I’m gonna be straight with you.”
I point my eyes away from her. Stop using her expressions…
“I can’t stand being around you. I don’t want to see your face. It makes me angry. Stop pretending to be her. Luna is like nothing of what you are…”
Tears flow down her face. “Kai… I don’t understand… You said...you said you would love me forever! No matter what happens…”
Stop using her memories… My eyes feel watery, but I hold the tears back. I bite my lip before answering, “No… I made that promise with Luna.”
She sniffles and then asks, “So...you hate me because I’m not Luna?”
“Yeah.” Luna lowers her head while continuing to cry. A tear escapes me. Even though she’s only an empty shell compared to what she used to be, I can’t help but associate her with Luna.
“Okay, I understand Kai… Starting tomorrow, I won’t be Luna anymore… I’ll become Ruby…and you won’t recognize me… So please don’t hate me or abandon me…”
I turn my back to her, open the door, and then close it. I stand there in place with my eyes closed. All my memories of Luna flash before my eyes. Bawls resound behind me. I can’t hold back my tears anymore and let them out. I try not to make a sound. I wipe my eyes and calm down. One final image of her smile fades out. Goodbye, Luna…
I go down the stairs. Outside, Marin is nowhere to be found. I look around the inn but don’t find her. Five minutes pass and still nothing. Hmm… That’s weird… I guess I’ll go see Emdos.
I do just that and arrive at his place. The front door is still open as I left it. I rush inside. “Emdos, are you here?!”
No one answers. I grit my teeth and squeeze my eyes shut. Emdos… Where’d you go…? You wouldn’t leave without saying goodbye...would you?
I think back to the events that unfolded yesterday. I shake my head. No… Emdos wouldn’t lose to any of them.
I raise my eyebrows as something comes to mind. I open a nearby drawer, finding a key inside. I stare at it for a while. Emdos...you really…
I take the key and then leave the house. I lock the door with the key. With no idea where I’m heading next, I start to walk in a random direction.
“I can’t believe one monster was responsible for killing all of the other expedition members. A weapon that sucks up our magic? Unbelievable,” a man says nearby. I stop and knit my eyebrows.
“I know right?” another man asks. “Like such a convenient weapon exists in our world… He’s makin’ that shit up. Takin’ advantage of the dead.”
He…? They can’t possibly be talking about… I approach the men. “What man are you talking about?”
“Huh? What other man would I be talkin’ ’bout right now? The survivor from the expedition. Haven’t ya heard the news?”
I widen my eyes. Marin…!
I run without knowing where I’m going. I think back to what she told me. I run up to a random person. “Excuse me, I’m looking for a restaurant called, ‘The Monarch.’
“‘The Monarch?’ Yer lookin’ in the wrong street. It’s in that direction,” the man informs while pointing north. I thank him and run that way. After asking several more people, I arrive at the establishment. Panting, I look around for stationary people. I walk up to a group of three.
“Excuse me, I’m looking for a girl. She has red hair. She’s wearing a short-sleeved blue blouse and a white skirt. Have you seen her?”
“Sorry, bud. Can’t say I have,” a man responds. The other two shake their heads too. I repeat this process nearly a dozen times around the area.
“Hey, kid,” a lady calls out to me on my right. I turn toward her. A woman sitting on a porch is smoking out of a pipe. She has long blue hair tied in a ponytail and wears glasses. “I overheard ya. Why are ya lookin’ for a girl like that?”
I look down while thinking for a moment. “She’s an important friend of mine who was there during my worst… I want to be there for her too and…”
I stop mid-sentence, finding the woman is pointing her thumb behind her. She takes a hit from her pipe and then blows out the smoke. “She’s in there.”
I gulp while going up the steps. I turn the handle on the door, discovering it’s unlocked. I go inside. Quiet sobs resound. I slowly walk up the creaking stairs, the cries growing in volume. Marin… You were willing to be Luna’s replacement… But now…
I arrive at a door not shut all the way. I gently push the door open. Marin is lying face down on a bed crying.
“Sheila, I told you to—“ Marin raises her head up. “Kai…why’re you…”
She sits up and rubs her eyes with her fingers. I walk over to her. “How’d you find—“
I hug her. Several seconds pass, and she continues to cry, wrapping her arms around me in the process. She lightly presses me away with her hands only to look me in the eyes. I slide my hand down her cheek onto her neck. I gaze down at her slightly parted lips. She closes her eyes. I close mine too as our lips meet.
I want to soothe her sadness like she has done the same for me. We repeat yesterday night, but this time I only think of her. With hopes she forgets about the sorrow if only for a moment.
I open my eyes slowly, finding Marin rubbing my cheek with her hand. She’s smiling. “Your sleeping face is cute.”
I slide my hand over her body toward her flower. She lets out a soft squeal and her body twitches. Her face flushes red. I smile and say, “Your face is cute too.”
She grabs my hand and pulls it up. “That’s cheating…”
“If you want you can do the same thing to—“
“How’d it go with Luna?”
I stop smiling and then sigh. I let go of her and then lie on my back. “I told her that I hate her because she’s not Luna and I can’t stand being around her.”
“Ho-how’d she respond…?”
“She said that starting tomorrow she won’t be Luna anymore.”
Marin cuddles next to me and smiles. “I see.”
Suddenly, she slides her hand down my chest toward my sleeping friend. She wakes him up. It sends chills up my body. My heart pounds as my eyes are locked onto hers. I move in for the kiss.
“Dinner’s ready!” someone exclaims. I stop moving as does Marin.
I knit my eyebrows and ask, “Who’s that?”
“Sheila,” Marin answers quietly as she starts to put on clothes. I get dressed too. We go down the stairs together and then into the kitchen. The woman that was sitting on the porch is seated at a table.
“I made yer favorite, Kai,” Sheila informs. I walk over to a seat with a bowl in front of it. It’s some kind of meaty soup. My stomach growls and my mouth generates a lot of saliva. I sit down and then start chowing down the food. Marin sits down next to me.
“How’d you know my name?” I ask and then continue chowing down the soup. Sheila smiles.
“Marin’s told me about ya. Yer favorite food is soup, yer favorite—“
“Sheila!” Marin exclaims and blushes. “Don’t tell him that! It’s embarrassing…”
“Why would that be embarrassin’ but not—”
“Wait… I’ve never told you his name…”
Sheila laughs and then says, “Yeah ya have… Ya were practically screamin’ his name over and over again. At least have the courtesy to close the door. The whole city heard it.”
Marin’s face flushes completely red. She covers her face with both hands. A wave of heat spreads across my face with droplets of sweat forming on my forehead. I tilt my head down just enjoying the soup. Oops…
“So, how many times have ya done it with Marin?”
Please, no… Stop asking me these questions! I look up, finding Sheila grinning. It looks like she’s trying hard not to laugh. She’s enjoying this. “Uhh… I prefer not to die later.”
She laughs before answering, “Well, alright. I’ll leave ya two rabbits alone. I thought Marin would never graduate, but I won’t have to worry about that anymore.”
With that, she walks away. The sound of a door opening and closing resounds. Marin looks at me with a frown and narrowed eyebrows. She doesn’t say anything and simply eats her meal. Soon enough, we both finish and retire to the same room. Marin closes and locks the door and then looks at me with the same expression as earlier. “Now you’ll get your punishment.”
“Wait—“ Marin pushes me down onto the bed. I learn about the other side of her that night.
The next morning, we wake up, eat breakfast, and then head to our inn. Marin lets go of my hand as we go inside. We go upstairs, stopping in front of Luna’s door. I knock.
The door opens, and I widen my eyes. With a smile, Luna greets us, “Good mornin’, Kai and Marin!”
Her hair is completely red. It reminds me of the scene where she was painted red. Marin points at her and exclaims, “Lu-Luna! What’d you do to your hair?”
Luna cocks an eyebrow, looks behind her, and then back. “Who’s Luna? I’m Ruby.”
I think back to the questionable actions she’s taken in the past two days. That’s right… All those times, it was Ruby. It wasn’t Luna. It was Ruby. It was Ruby. It was Ruby.
I rewrite what I saw, trying to keep my vision of Luna pure. I focus back on the girl in front of me again. I only see Ruby, a girl I met two days ago. I smile before saying, “Ruby, we’re going need to arrive at the Academy by 9 AM for the funeral. Can you get ready and wait downstairs?”
“Okay!” she exclaims with a grin. I head toward my room. It’s still a mess with my stuff everywhere. I close the door behind me and sigh. I reorganize everything before taking a shower. I put on some black clothing and then head downstairs. Ruby and Marin are already waiting. We head for the Academy.
As we make it on the ramp to the Academy, I see other groups of people heading there as well dressed in similar clothing. We make our way to the back of the Academy using the same path as last time. We stand silently in place next to the large mound of dirt as the crowd grows. Eventually, Moria moves to the center of the mound.
“We are all here gathered today to mourn the loss and say our goodbyes to the students and instructors who were caught in an awful tragedy two days ago. It was a day like any other. In the middle of teaching the first-years, a loud noise resounded and shook the entire room violently. I instructed the students to evacuate, but that is when screams resounded in the hallways. Armed masked villains came from all directions and slaughtered everyone in an instant.
“I did my best to fend off the attackers, but it was futile. They were organized, and there were a lot of them. The exits were blocked, and many were trapped. Some put up a good fight, but the enemies were too skilled for them. Outnumbered, we were forced to flee using the back exit. A large band of the senior students managed to barricade themselves in the dormitory. We were prepared to fight until the bitter end. It was not long before they simultaneously retreated. We thought we had won, but…a powerful wind erupted from inside the dormitory that collapsed the entire building.
“I would like to apologize for the behalf of all the instructors here,” Moria says, his voice cracking. Tears flow down his eyes. “As an instructor, one of my many duties is to protect the students…but I was not able to accomplish that. I was not able to protect a single one. I ask myself, why. Why am I still alive, despite that not one of my 597 students was able to make it. I am ashamed of this fact, and I am deeply sorry. I regret I was not able to trade this old life for any of the growing buds for our next generation.”
“Please, take all the time you need to part with your loved one. In the very least, know that none of them had to suffer in their last moments. They were merciful on that end.”
Chatter erupts around us as Moria walks away. I think back to the good times with Hiro and smile. “Hiro annoyed me sometimes, like the time he splattered bird guts all over me. But reflecting back, his light-heartedness and dimness brought a nice flavor to our group.”
Marin giggles and then adds, “I had a similar experience with Hiro. He splattered worm juices all over me… I admired his straightforwardness. He was never afraid of speaking his mind. I was jealous of his endless confidence. But I have to apologize to you now Hiro… I was the one who dropped that rock on you in the sewers.”
Marin and I look toward Ruby who is smiling, but she doesn’t say anything. Several seconds later I face forward and continue, “I fulfilled my promise to you, Hiro. You’re home.”
A few tears escape me. I close my eyes and bring my palms together in front of me. “Rest in peace.”
I open my eyes, finding Marin making the same gesture with a smile. “Goodbye, Hiro. Sleep well.”
I think back to the good memories of Drugo and smile. “Drugo was a nice guy. I don’t think anyone could hate him. He could always break up a fight between us the fastest way possible. He’s the kind of guy that would try to understand rather than hate for being stabbed in the back.”
Marin continues, “He had a sense of responsibility… Something I wish Kai had more of…”
I frown at her smile. “He always took the job no one wanted to do like buying team supplies. It was nice to have someone run errands for me when the person on duty was taking a nap.”
I cough and then glance over to Ruby again. Still standing with the same expression. “Drugo, I hope you’re allowed to eat as much as you want wherever you are. Say hi to Hiro for me.”
I close my eyes and bring my palms together in front of me. Marin says, “Keep Hiro out of trouble, Drugo.”
I open my eyes, focusing on Moria. He’s walking toward the back entrance of the Academy. There are two people barely visible from inside. All three disappear from my sight when Moria goes in. It piques my curiosity.
“Kai, what’s wrong?” Marin asks.
“Nothing… I’m just looking for Moria. I want to ask him something.”
“Want to look for him together?”
“No, stay here with Ruby. It’ll complicate things if she comes too. I’ll be right back,” I say and then head toward the back entrance. I hear small mumblings as I approach. They’re just around the corner from the back entrance. I move my head the closest I can without getting caught. There are blood stains smeared everywhere in the parts visible from here. They are to my right.
“We cannot call for more backup right now. It would cause a panic,” Moria says.
“It’s better than letting another tragedy occur right before our eyes,” a man says. “They could be planning their next move as we speak.”
“We can’t afford to wait any longer. They know we know,” another man says. My palms sweat.
They? I think of the masked invaders. I clench my fists. I reveal myself and ask, “They’re still here?”
Moria turns around. “Kai…?”
“Teacher Moria, if those masked guys are still here, let me help!”
Moria glances at the other two men before facing me again. He quietly says, “I will fill you in, but no one can know about this.”
A drop of sweat slides down the side of his face. “I understand.”
“We discovered very disturbing scenes throughout the Academy yesterday. We had thought all the students were killed immediately, but we were wrong. The fortunate ones died instantly, but the less fortunate ones, we discovered in secluded rooms and places around the Academy,” Moria informs and then clenches his fists. Tears flow out of his eyes.
“They were tortured… They were raped and abused… Just children as young as 11… Some of them were still alive and could have have been saved, but I thought it was too late. I could not bring myself to tell the truth to everyone.
“We discovered one of them in the act. He fled to the Underground area where we suspect the rest of them are. His victim was already dead and cold,” Moria informs and then pauses for a moment before continuing. “We are standing guard here in the meantime. I do not wish to call for reinforcements because it would cause a panic. I want these parents to have their peace.”
“I can help! I’ll bring my equipment later. Let me avenge Drugo and Sitos. There could be more survivors.”
“No, it’s too dangerous. We can’t allow more casualties,” one of the men says.
“Kai is one of the most talented students to have ever graduated from the Academy,” Moria says.
“Yeah, I can—“
“But, you are still too inexperienced. I do not want to put you in this situation. These men are dangerous,” Moria continues. “Do not worry too much about it. We will do something about it. Remember, do not tell anyone about this.”
I sigh and then answer, “I understand, but there’s still one thing on my mind. It’s about…Hiro.”
“Yes, I heard from Marin that a monster killed him.”
I think back to my fight with the monster. “Yeah… It was really strong. Its red eyes gave me a creepy feeling.”
Moria drops his jaws and widens his eyes. He grabs me by the shoulders. “Red eyes? Are you sure?”
I gulp and then answer, “Yeah. Do you know something?”
Moria lets go of me and sighs. “Indeed… I have read about them in the past in tall tales. I have never seen them myself but know many seasoned Adventurers who have fallen to them. They are called Anomalies. Exceedingly rare and powerful. There is no account of anyone defeating one. You are very lucky to have survived an encounter with it.”
“They’re that big of a deal?” I ask and then look down, reflecting on my experience. Why’d it run…?
“Okay, I’m gonna get going now. See ya, Teacher Moria!” I exclaim and then head back outside.
“Take care. Do not forget about our discussion.”
Marin and Ruby are not where they were before. An ear-piercing bawl resounds that I distinguish among other cries. I run toward it, finding Marin and Ruby standing next to Hina’s group. Hina has her face buried in her arms on the ground.
“What’s going on?” I ask.
“We lost two yesterday,” the larger-built guy answers. I widen my eyes.
“No way… Hina told me they sustained only minor injuries…”
He continues, “Yeah… We don’t know what happened. Hina was checking up on Lucius and discovered his mouth foaming. He wasn’t responding. Angela was found in the same condition.”
I frown while looking at the sky. “Everyone’s going far away…”
“Are y’all gonna find replacements and continue adventurin’?” another boy asks.
“No…” I reply and glance over to Marin and Ruby. “I’m not sure what we’re gonna do.”
“Why not join the army? That’s what we’re gonna do. They’re recruitin’ outside the castle at 3 PM today. Pay’s not as good, but it’s enough.”
“We want to pay them back for the hole they tore in us,” the larger-built guy explains.
Revenge… I wanna find who’s responsible. I clench my fists and look over to Marin and Ruby. “What do you guys think?”
“I’ll follow wherever ya go, Kai!” Ruby exclaims.
“I’m the same,” Marin answers with a smile.
“Then it’s settled,” I say. “We’ll see ya guys later.”
We say our goodbyes and then head back to the inn. We clean up Drugo’s, Hiro’s, and Sitos’ room and then decide to preserve them. I hide the key to Emdos’ house in a drawer in Hiro’s room. Presenting roughly four gold coins to the receptionist, we pay upfront the cost of board for the next six months. We gather our equipment and then head toward the castle.