Hunt 9: Gifts and Hexes
As I grow up, it became harder for me to recall my memories before I turned five. This is called infantile amnesia, it happens to everyone though there may be some rare exceptions. Because of this, I have little memory left about the time when both of my parents were still alive. I can barely remember their appearance. My mother was a normal grade school teacher, an ubliss. She had the same blonde hair as mine and her iris were lime green with a very gentle expression in them. She took good care of me when papa was on his job. I can still vaguely remember the times she took me to the school where she worked. My father was a historian and a licensed rune adventurer, a mage. He has shiny black hair and black irises which were dimly covered by his thick eyeglasses. Because of his job, papa was always away exploring and researching ruins around the world.
I have very few memories of him but they are all good ones. The one I can never forget is the night he told me about my name.
Papa was sitting next to me before I go to sleep. The room was lit faintly by the lamp on the drawer beside.
He smiled at me. “Aren’t you sleepy yet, my little angel?” He asked with his low toned calming voice. “I’ll be leaving for my next trip tomorrow. I want to watch you sleep tonight. Ah- how about I tell you something interesting?”
I nodded while looking at him concealing my excitement.
“Did you know that mama and papa carefully picked your name to show you how much of a gift you are to us?” He stated in a soothing tone. The dimly lit room made it hard for me to see the exact expression his made. It gave me a vague feeling of uneasiness. “Azalea, in the language of flowers, it means ‘take care of yourself, for me.’ That’s why, you must always take care of yourself, so that mama and papa won’t be worried and sad when we are not there for you.”
I did not understand the expression his smile was showing back then. “I will.” I responded enthusiastically with naivety. “I’m going to be strong like you, and protect mama.”
He patted my head and let out a laugh. “We just want you to be happy… Because you are…” Then he kissed my forehead before whispering. “Our miracle.”
This memory is something I will never forget. It is something I must not forget, ever.
It was a week before my sixth birthday when my sleep was disturbed by my mama’s voice downstairs. It sounded like she was arguing with another man. I could not clearly hear their conversation so I went down to take a peek. By the time I was able to see the entrance, mama already pushed the man out of the door. She quickly closed the door; almost slamming it. When she saw me peeking at the side of the stairs, she ran to me. She hugged me. I can feel her arms shaking.
“Azalea,” her voice cracked. “Get your bag. Just pack your most valued things.”
I was very confused but mama’s expression looked so sad. I was unable to say anything. I was only able to nod and follow what she told me.
Before the sun rose that day, we left the city. Since then we have been continuously moving from place to place. The only thing mama told me was that we were going to see grandpa, mama’s father. He lives outside the city, in a far off village. When I asked about papa, her only response was that “he cannot come home anymore.” She had a very sad look again, just like that night.
I only had an ambiguous understanding of what actually happened to him. Being a rune adventurer is not a safe job. I did not ever dare to ask her again.
There were times when we stopped by a city and live there for a while; sometimes a few days, few weeks, but never more than three months. We were always moving. For two years, it felt like mama was taking me in an endless trip. I was never told where grandpa’s village was. I never met any of my grandpa’s either.
Something was obviously not right but I chose to look away from it.
When papa disappeared, I did not cry. I did not let mama learn how sad I was because I do not want to trouble her. I know she felt the same. There was no need for me to add more to her burden.
I always told myself that it will be alright soon. Throughout that time we kept moving, mama always smiled at me. It was reassuring. But sometimes it was also like a fog, hiding the whole picture of what was about to come ahead.
One day, I just woke up and found myself admitted in the hospital. We got into a traffic accident. I did not know the details; two months had already passed by the time I regained consciousness. I did not get to see mama. The doctors only told me that she died after being in coma for nearly a month. I did not know where to put my surreal feelings. Everything felt like a dream. It was like a long slumber, where I did not even realized that I was already thrown into a completely different world with no way of returning. I was forced to adapt.
I got passed around four orphanages until I got into YAHO. All those children I met, we were all suffering in different ways, I dare not to compare.
The Young Angel’s Hope Orphanage (YAHO) became my home since mama passed away. For the past four years, I lived in this small two-story house on top of a hill located in the eastern part of Cappleasyo City. I have grown accustomed to this life. The old caretakers that watch over us and our needs were good people. They started this orphanage as a charity, but there are very few supporters. We get most of our funding from growing mangoes and taking care of chickens around the hill area. This small hill belongs to YAHO. The few children that were sent here help harvest the product and then the old couple sold it to the market. It was a simple way of living, even though there were times that I feel lacking, I had grown to like that peaceful lifestyle.
I always thought that I am going to spend my days in YAHO until I reach the age of eighteen. Then when I get a job, I can help YAHO. The old couple and the kids were already like family to me.
It would have been fine living my life like that; with little knowledge about magic, without attracting much attention. Unfortunately, that cursed day came.
“Azalea.” A familiar voice called. “Hurry up. Mrs. Rado had prepared something special for today.” Her smile was very kind. She grabbed my arm and pulled me towards the porch where the other two boys were waiting while laughing and grinning mischievously. “They just returned from the central market and they brought a lot of treats.” Samie was like an older sister to me.
“If the girls don’t hurry, we’ll eat your share for you!” The taller boy shouted. Eric liked to tease, he found it fun to make fun of others but he never went overboard.
“Stop, dilly-dallying.” Another older guy hit Eric’s head. “Eric! Nathan! Go inside and help madam prepare the table.” Zaza was the oldest; he was in charge of keeping the order in this house.
Nathan, the younger of the two boys, looked startled. He was a timid one and he was quite close to Eric. He followed him around and I think he was starting to pick up the little jester’s habits. After getting scolded, the two nodded and ran inside.
“Sorry, you have to deal with those unruly kids, Zaza. Azalea’s supposed to be the one looking after them.” Samie let out a big sigh.
“Let them be the boys that they should be at their age.”
Zaza laugh aloud. “That’s a good point but don’t forget to teach them good manners as they grow up.” He patted my head, like I am a spoiled younger sister. “It’s my responsibility as the eldest to teach my younger siblings. I guess I should start with you.”
“Let’s go inside. Neither of you is a good influence.” Samie frowned.
The interior of the house was simple and minimalistic in design. The walls are painted white and decorated by landscape or animal paintings. The living room was spacious because it was the space where the little kids spent most of their time playing. The dining hall was a little cramped for eleven children and two full grown adults.
As soon as everyone was inside the house, a thundering roar shook the whole city. When I turned to the nearest window, I got a glimpse of it. The shadow of that horrifying existence was floating on the sky. In a blink of an eye, everything was gone.
The next thing I know, our house had already collapsed flat on the ground. A part of the ceiling that had fallen above me was being held onto place by a broken chair beside. I was fortunate not to be crushed by that. But then again blood was still pouring from my head. I felt severe pain around my left arm and stomach.
“Azalea! Samie!” A voice called out. It was Zaza. “Nathan! Eric! Where are you?! Please answer me if you can hear my voice!”
“Za.. Zaza.” I tried to call out but I feel too weak to speak.
He continued on calling every kid’s name.
When I tried moving, that’s when I noticed, my left arm got crushed by a heavy wooden divider. And my stomach, there I found a piece of wooden debris buried deep in it.
“Aaaargh--!!” I screamed while I tried to pull my left arm.
“AZALEA!!!” Zaza called worriedly from the other side. “Azalea! Are you there? I’m coming to help you, stay put.”
“No!” I disagreed strongly. “Go find the others first! I’m fine!” I was able to pull my arm out but it seems that the bones got crushed roughly.
I can hear the noise of debris being moved from Zaza’s side. “What are you talking about?!” He raised his voice.
“Please!” I plead with all my might. “Find them first… Zaza, I’m begging you, help them first.” The throbbing pain was eating my consciousness away.
There was a long pause before he answered. “Okay, I’ll be back soon.” Then I heard running footsteps fading away.
Those magic circles appeared again, sparking a sudden glow as it slowly dim away, one after another. I used all of the strength left on my able right arm to pull the wooden piece out of my stomach. I kept my voice in. A lot of blood gushed out.
I felt sick.
I felt like I was dying… again…
I curled up in pain as I gradually lose consciousness on the cold cracked floor soaking on my own pool of blood.
What will I see once I wake up?
When I came to, I was already lying in the run-down shelter not far from the house. The roof is disheveled badly because of the earthquake.
Was it really an earthquake? It was not.
On my left side onward were Samie, Eric and Nathan, sleeping peacefully while covered in bandages. I tried to stand up and look around but I was barely able to because of my own injuries. I got no bandages. My wounds healed on their own, at least on the surface. I saw Zaza walking back hanging his head low.
“Zaza!!!” I called out.
“Azalea, how are you feeling?” He ran towards me.
“I’m okay. I didn’t get many injuries.” I lied. Nobody here fully understands the meaning of magic circles glowing around me.
He put his hands on my shoulders. “I was so worried when I saw you lying unconscious on a pool of blood. Since you don’t have any injuries, I was just thankful it wasn’t yours.”
I rubbed my head and let out a laugh in monotone. “Ha, Ha… Yeah, I’m thankful too. Where are the others? I’ll help carry them here.” I know he was having doubts but digging into my case was not the priority at that time.
“I’m sorry.” He rested his head on my right shoulder, as if he was so exhausted. “You four are all that I can save… Mr. and Mrs. Rado and the rest of the children are…”
Tears fell from those supposed to be very strong eyes. I wrapped my arms around his shaking body at that time tears started to rain down my eyes as if washing away the blood from my face.
“Big sis…” Nathan cried.
Zaza and I turned our attention to him.
“Nathan, how are you feeling?” He asked.
“It hurts… Big brother Zaza, it hurts…” He frowned, crying bitterly.
He got fractures around his body. I was unable tell the full detail of their injuries. The only thing that was clear to me was that they were most likely suffering the same pain as I did back there. All I can do was hold that tiny hand.
“We need to get help.” Zaza clenched his fist. “When will the rescuers come? We can’t just wait here like this.”
“I’ll go!” I said with determination. “I’ll go into the city’s center and ask for help.”
“Okay, but be careful. I’ll stay here to look after them.” He said with a kind smile.
I thought it was kind of weird that he let me go just like that. He would normally stop me and insist that he should go instead or insist that he must at least accompany me. If we were not going to argue about something trivial then I better not waste time here. We needed help as soon as possible I did not bother to overthink those that I thought as trifling concerns.
A lot of the trees have fallen. They looked like a very strong wind hit them. Can earthquakes do that? The chickens that we were taking care off as livestock were spread all over the place. Some of them might as well have run away too far. The only path nearest to the center of the city had been blocked by fallen trees so the rescue team would probably take longer to come. Furthermore, there was also the possibility that they still have not noticed us. I can hear the noise of the choppers far away. I do not know the extent of the damage that this incident had inflicted to the whole city so I had to see it for myself.
In about an hour of walk, I saw a lot of building and houses that crumbled to the ground. It smelt like dust mixed with some metal, it reminded me of an old repair shop I visited way back. The people were crying in pain, calling for their loved ones, begging for help and grieving for all that they had lost.
Upon reaching the nearest hospital, I looked around get an idea of the situation. All staff seems busy, there were injured people who seeks urgent medical attention all over the place. I, who only have tattered clothes and dried blood all over, was looked down with both pity and disgust.
But who cares.
“Sir! Sir!” I called to the staff in the front desk. “There are three severely injured children in the Young Angel’s Hope Orphanage. Could you send some help?”
“Sorry, that’s not part of our job.” He answered.
“Can’t you send a rescue team?”
He looked anxious; sweating heavily. He scratched his head while the lady beside him looked at me with pity. “Maybe you should try another hospital. We’re very full right now.”
I got it. It did not seem like they were willing to lend us a hand. I cannot waste my time here. So I walked away quietly and I moved on to the next hospital.
“Hey kid. Are you injured?”
“Not really, but could you help my friends in YAHO.”
“Is that so… But all our rescue teams are out helping the survivors.” He said as he curved his eyebrows upward. “Would you like to file a report on the help desk?”
I already did. “No. I’ll look for someone else willing to help.”
Just when I went out I saw a team of rescuers bring in an injured old man and then get immediately carried into the hospital as doctors paid close attention to him. I had seen that man before. He was the mayor’s uncle.
Little by little I was starting to feel the exhaustion.
On the third hospital, after asking for help, the front desk staff gave me a stunned look.
“Umm… You will have to file a report first before we could act on it. There are certain processes for everything.”
I do not know what will happen if I leave them in that state any longer. “I have filed a report a while ago, how long should we wait? We need your help now. Please, could you at least send one of your doctors to see their condition?”
“Err… We can’t decide on that.” She replied.
“I heard the doctors are busy looking after the injured family members of the noble house in the city.” The person who had also been waiting to get his son treated muttered.
“Their injuries weren’t even life-threatening.” A middle aged woman added while holding a man covered in blood. He was breathing heavily.
“Well… they are nobles.”
“What’s going on here?” At last a doctor came by. “Hey kid, please sit over there and wait for your turn. Oh, you seem fine.” He looked at me with such cold eyes.
“Please help my friends!” I insisted.
“As you can see, we can’t attend to each and every one of these people’s requests, that’s why we keep things in order.”
“We need your help now! Won’t you even spare just a little time for us--”
I felt a throbbing pain in my chest. It seems like being agitated was worsening my condition, after all I was not fully healed yet.
“P-please… I’m begging you.” My voice became hoarse as I forced myself to talk.
“I’m sorry, we are very busy.”
What did he just say? What?..
“Y-you…” I clenched my fists and grit my teeth before I started to walk away. “They don’t even care.”
I went ahead to look for the next hospital. I was staggering, trying to suppress the anger burning deep inside me. The painful throb in my chest was not disappearing.
“I will not give up on seeking help no matter how little it may be.” I resolved myself.
Unfortunately, my body was giving up on me, taking my balance away forcing me to fall leaning on the wall by the side walk. My firm will to continue pushed the last of my strength to use the wall as support and move on.
But that was not enough.
My hand slipped and I fell on the ground. My vision got blurry and I started to lose all of my remaining strength.
I do not care even if I have to crawl.
Zaza probably permitted me go here because he thought I was fine.
Just a bit more time. Just give me a little more time, just until I could get help for them. Can you not grant me that?
Everything turned black.
This is not the time to rest…
The location of the country of Westar. The marker shows the location of Cappleasyo City.
Map of Nai Dunya
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The Bewitched Demon Hunter
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