“The kindness you have shown to me that day, I will share as much as I can.”
That was the promise she kept holding on. It was the only thing that kept her sane.
Would things have changed for the better if it was not me who found her that day? Until now I cannot fathom why-… Was my decision right?
Twenty-second day of Triini’xahr, 4040 Age of Tranquility (AOT).
Cappleasyo City, Westar
It is supposed to be another calm day. The sun is shining brightly; illuminating the azure blue sky while a mass of cumulus clouds floats freely along with the gentle blows of wind. Calm, was what I first thought as I gaze upon the empty road ahead. After three days of traveling from Lynhon City, I finally reached yet another city, or that is how it is supposed to be. Due to certain incident, I cannot stay long here.
I am a merchant; I travel, sell, buy, trade and provide different things to people in need. I am taking a trip through this long and wide highway that passes through the middle of a forest, home to different kinds of animals and monsters. Big roads like this are protected by magic circles that deter strong monsters from getting close to it. It has the same magic barrier structure as the big cities. Places like these are referred to as “safe zones.” However, there are some exceptions. Demons can bypass this barrier and wreak havoc if not stopped early on. Among these demons, there are a select few that are extremely unpredictable. The results of their actions are always catastrophic.
This once giant city called Capplaesyo is the most fitting example that explains how much of a catastrophe a single demon could become. It was a city known for having great engineers and mechanics. Business should be great here, if only… If only it was not attacked by that terrifying demon. It was a disaster… probably the largest disaster which occurred in this decade. More than half of the city had been destroyed; hundreds of thousands of lives had been forfeited and millions of people are grieving over the loss that they may never get a hold off again.
“I can’t do business here.” That is the only sentence that I keep on repeating in my mind when I entered the city. I watch over the destruction the buildings went through along with the immense anguish of the people. And those words, I kept playing them in my head like a broken record.
In my caravan, there is only me and my ten year old son whom I told not to take a peek outside until I give him permission. A traveling merchant’s caravan is often composed by the head van, the cargo truck, and the house trailer. The head van automatically controls and monitors the state of all of the other vehicles that follows. The cargo truck may include one or more trucks carrying the items that will be sold or traded. The merchandises that traveling merchants carry are loots that were first sold or traded to us by the hunters. In my case, having limited personnel, one cargo truck is all I can manage. The house trailer is the residential vehicle. Just as it sounds, it has all the functions of a normal house, though I rarely use it when traveling like this.
Sometimes, we, traveling merchants would hire hunters or mercenaries to protect us and our goods from being attacked by monsters or bandits when passing through treacherous roads and territories. This time, the road is protected by a strong magic barrier so I did not need to hire any added protection.
I must have been very lucky not to be here four days earlier.
As I go deeper into the residential area of the city, the situation looked even more terrifying. There are spilled bloods on the streets that are probably from those who were rescued and taken to the hospitals. But the most horrible sights are the lying corpses of dead people and animals on the sides which nobody cared about anymore. Moreover, the disgusting pungent smell of rotting flesh around the area makes me want to puke everything that I ate this morning. There are not enough people helping, and with the damage that demon brought to few more cities besides this one, it seems that outside help will also take its time to get here. Furthermore, there is also that news about ICA receiving an unexpected damage that puts them in a bind for now. How unfortunate. More than half of this city’s population is either dead or dying. I do not want these things to be seen by my son who is in the residential van following behind. Hopefully, he is still reading the book I bought him in the previous city.
I continued passing through with my merchant caravan. Quietly. Reluctantly. Apathetically. That is when the communication link rang. I jolted from surprise.
“This is like a horror movie.” I thought as I press the answer button.
“Hello, papa?” My son called, maybe he is bored. “Are we passing by the market area? Can you buy me a new book?”
“Sorry, we won’t be having any stop over this time.” My voice almost cracked due to the dryness of my throat. “We’ll be out of this city by tomorrow morning.” I keep my eyes on the road, carefully, straight ahead.
“Eeh~ why?” I can hear the disappointment in his young voice.
I fixed my glasses that was falling a little off my nose bridge. “Just stay there. Our supplies have been fully replenished, there shouldn’t be any problem. I’ll get you more books next time.”
“Okay.” There is a short pause before his reply. I can almost hear him sigh “Drive safely, papa.” At least he listened to me without making more fuss.
“We’ll have to put up with this for now. I want to leave this ravaged place as soon as possible. I don’t even care if I’ll have to drive throughout the night.” I made myself determined.
Afternoon came by and I am still driving, nonstop. The sky had been painted by scarlet light as the sun slowly disappears from my sight. I need to at least eat something; I can feel my stomach rumble. We passed by a church, there seems to be a lot of people flocking there. Right after that is a cemetery. The air smells normal here. Probably because most of the dead are still on the street or had been collected elsewhere. Nobody died here, because they were already dead when they were brought and buried here. I do not sound funny here anymore.
“Maybe I could rest for a few minutes while eating some snacks.” I talk to myself while decelerating and looking for a parking space.
I went out of my van, went around the back, opened the stock of food, and took a box of biscuits and a bottle of water. I took a deep breath while opening the box of cookies. I don’t want to waste too much time here so I ate quickly.
“Will this city ever recover?” I ask myself casually while yawning.
I’m about to open the door of my van and continue on driving when a young girl walking out of the gate of the cemetery ahead catches my attention. I take off my round glasses and wipe it using my shirt. I fix it back on my eyes. I look carefully again, making sure that my long and tiring travel did not affect my sight. There she is still, the little girl just passed by the gates.
She is wearing some dirty rugged shirt and shorts. She is carrying a small package wrapped in a dirty cloth. I am more or less ten meters away from her, I could not see clearly but I am sure she is not some walking dead.
“I should probably ignore her like what I was doing to everyone else this morning.”
The girl sits by the gate. Looking at her slumped figure, it is easy to tell. She probably lost someone dear to her, too.
“She is probably close to my son’s age.”
I watch for a few minutes; observing what she might do next. She is not moving.
“I should go.” I tell myself. “It’s a common story I encounter every now and then.”
I go inside to continue driving. My van is passing by the girl. I again catch a glimpse of her. She is sitting curled up by the gate of the cemetery as if waiting for something. I subconsciously stopped, staring on the road upfront in a daze.
“I’m a merchant, neither a grim reaper nor some charitable institution.”
Even so, I walk out of my van to get closer to that little girl.
“She’s not a zombie, is she? It feels like her spirit had been removed from her body.”
I stand in front of her. She is staying curled up, as if she does not notice me come. The wind blows at her messy blond hair. No movements. She is not even making a sound.
“Hello,” I greet loudly to make sure she can hear me. She is not responding but I continued asking the obvious. “Are you alone? Where do you live?”
Silently, she moves her head and looked up to me. For a moment, I felt like she is reminding me of someone. Her eyes looks devoid of light, but more than that what caught my attention is that rare pigment. Light purple crystalline eyes.
“My home had been destroyed, four days ago.” She answers with her hoarse quivering voice.
That was the time when that demon resurfaced. It destroyed this city and then went on to destroy two more cities before disappearing once again.
I gulped. What am I expecting? “Sorry. Where are your parents?” I am hoping that at least one of them is alive.
“They died a long time ago.” She answers as she revert her gaze back to the ground.
I can only stare in silence. Even I do not understand myself anymore. Her shirt looks so dirty. Dirt that could either be mud or dried blood. She is not even wearing a pair of shoes or slippers.
“How about your relatives?” Some of them should be alive, right?
“I have no idea.”
What a casual answer. Is there any reason for her not to know anything about her relatives? Ah, but before that, I should at least do something about this uncomfortable situation.
“Do you have some friends you trust? Some people who would definitely help you in times of trouble.”
At last I’m hearing something positive.
“I buried them all yesterday.”
Maybe I really should have just passed by and left. Is there anything I can do here? I am considering taking a step back when I notice something different about her. There are several small magic circles appearing and disappearing simultaneously near her back.
“Can she use magic? She would be fine. My meddling is not needed here.”
This is the first time in a long time that what I’m thinking and what I’m feeling do not line up. I am confused. I kneel down to her eye level to look into her cold grieving eyes.
“What can I do to save her shattering soul?..”
“I am a simple merchant. Not a hero. I cannot perform such miracles. Saving a person is not something I could do. Everything is all about business and establishing connections. If I lend her a hand now, what can this young frail girl do in return? I am not a charitable institution; I am not going to be one.” This is the policy I keep in mind for the past few years.
Whatever’s going in my mind right now, it does not feel right. A feeling of guilt and helplessness I have not felt in a long time.
“I am a merchant. I am business minded. I have a lot of connections.” I said in a calm tone trying to sound cool, or so. “Little girl, are you interested in Demon Hunting?”
I caught a glimpse of spark in her eyes. “D…demon..?” Her eyes are finally meeting mine as if this is the first time she is noticing my presence.
“Yes. They hunt and slay demons. If you are interested, then I can introduce you to a person who can teach you everything you need to know to become a great Demon Hunter.”
I am bluffing a bit here. She is listening attentively. I reach out my hand opening my palm in front of her. She stares at my palm as if she is thinking deeply. Moments later, her soiled right hand is finally moving to take mine. I stand up along with her. She walks barefooted as I guide her into my van. I let her sit beside in front beside the driver’s seat.
“I will open this opportunity for you.” I tell her as I turn the key to start the van. “If you have nowhere else to go, you have to create a place for yourself.”
I am not going to help people who do not want to save themselves. But maybe I can still try. This may not be the best option, and yet I am going to bet on it. I want to hope that something good will come out of my impulsive action. I am trying so hard to justify my action because a part of me knows that it does not make sense at all. I might be picking up something troublesome just to vindicate my self-imposed kindness; and in one way or another, I am simply troubling others for my own sense of gratification. Because looking at her cold eyes, I am reminded of something I should have given up on. I am, right now, involving someone completely unrelated in this that matter.
There was a time when I meet someone I wanted to help. A dear friend I wanted to save. Just as how I was saved before. I wanted to pass that kindness, but there was nothing I could do. I have become fully aware that I am not the one she needs. I gave up… And for a long time I have forgotten this feeling.
We continued traveling towards the lands beyond that devastated city. She said nothing, done nothing, like the air that is just there. She only keeps on staring at the seemingly endless road ahead.
I cough to clear my throat. “I just sort of save your life, didn’t I?” I mumble. I know this is where everything starts again. “So, you’ll have to repay me in the future.”
She spares me no glance. “What do you want?”
“Grow up and become a good person.”
She suddenly turns her head towards me, looking so stunned as if she just heard the words which would never have come into her mind. “I will… t-thank you… very much…” She mumbles those almost inaudible words with her cracked voice as a drop of tear flowed down from her left eye.
“What is your name?” I ask while reaching out to pat her messy head.
“Az… lea…” She croaks as her tears continue to fall. It’s as though her empty vessel is being filled and is now overflowing. “My name is Azalea A. Blakewood.”
This young girl, who looks like a corpse, is now crying like a new born child.
That night she continued to shed tears until she had exhausted herself and fell asleep.
I must admit, that time, I did not even know who it was I am saving… or if I was saving anyone at all. Was I trying to prove something to myself? Cursing my helplessness, the “me” who decided that there was nothing else I can do. I just wanted to take another chance at saving that person, and hope that maybe she can save this young girl as well. However, my actions did not eliminate the possibility that I might just be bringing an unnecessary painful experience to these people… and myself.
Whether I took a cure or a poison, only the future can tell.
Map of Nai Dunya
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The Bewitched Demon Hunter
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