Gray chimney blew out thick, even grayer smoke, swayed furiously in the galloping wind. The sky-dome above was clad in pure blue, unblemished with clouds, while sun’s rays washed over the thick, rundown roofs of the nearby buildings. Passing feet kicked up clouds of dust on the nearby dirt pavements while the wooden fence hung crooked over itself, long past its prime. Several kids were sitting in a circle near the front door of the orphanage, drawing something on the ground, their skin sickly white, constitution barren. Outside the yard, standing in front of the half-collapsed doors of the fence, stood a young girl, not older than seventeen. She stood out spectacularly from her surroundings, and hardly anyone could look away without glancing back once again. She wore leather, white coat and dust-free white boots, reaching up to her knees, with a scabbard strapped tightly to her metal belt. On her shoulders rested two metallic pieces shaped like drakes’ maws, down-facing, while her breastplate shimmered in thick silver beneath the sun. In her arm she held a two-horned, metallic helmet with a feathered fabric flying freely in the wind. Her expression was placid, sky-blue eyes void of emotions, cheeks pale and concave. The golden hair flew freely down her back, wound in locks, with bangs covering the whole of her forehead, occasional lock falling over her eyes. She had sharp, rising eyebrows that seemed to haven’t been moved in years. She was on the taller side, but her slender body hardly gave an imposing image. Yet, all the same, she had oppressive, almost frigid air about her, barring anyone from approaching her. She had been standing there for nearly an hour, yet not a single person dared even pass next to her, let alone strike up a conversation. Her eyes remained focused on the orphanage, seemingly lost in their own little world independent of the real one.
She suddenly moved her head sideways slightly, looking toward the backyard of the orphanage, focusing on the long-cut oak tree of which only a small trunk remained. Though no one noticed, her lips trembled for a moment, yet felt keenly unnatural. She took a step forward while the half-closed doors opened seemingly of their own will, letting her in. She didn’t even glance at the kids who looked up and stared at her and instead passed directly into the orphanage. Inside reflected an image she had remaining in her mind; walls filled with cracks, narrow hallways that hadn’t been cleaned in years, stench reminiscent of corpse’s, broken windows, dirty rugs, stomped stairs, rundown doors. It had remained exactly the same as the day she left this place. She stopped in the hallway for a moment, taking a deep look at everything. She hadn’t stayed here for too long; yet, the years she had spent here had turned into concrete memories that remained as clear as what she did yesterday.
She took a right turn at the end of the hallway, following her memory, and quickly found herself in front of a relatively newer doors and cleaner part of the orphanage, as it always had been. Much like the fence’s doors outside, these ones too opened seemingly of their own volition, as though bowing before an entity larger than life. The room appeared to have been ripped out of a different world entirely when compared to the rest of the orphanage. Walls were freshly painted over in light cyan, floor settled and laminated, chairs, tables and shelves clean of dust and age. Other end of the wall had a row of awning windows pointing at an elevated angle, letting the sun’s shine illuminate the whole room. Currently sitting on a chair surrounding the squared table directly in a center was a middle-aged woman with graying hair and slightly loose expression. She wore a stain-clean blue dress and was barefoot, resting them over another chair. She seemed to have not noticed the doors open and the girl staring at her, as though lost in her own little world.
“I love what you’ve done with the place.” the girl spoke in an even, emotionless, disconnecting voice. Her eyes wandered around as the woman leaped off the chair, startled, her gaze landing onto the girl standing in front the doors.
“... Alison?” it took her a moment to recognize the girl, yet she could hardly ever not recognize her.
“Hello, sister Roa.” the girl said as she took a step inside, not even taking a glance at the woman, still examining the room. “Not much has changed since I’ve left, huh?”
“Ah, no,” the woman said, slightly flustered. “You should have let me know you were coming. I would have prepared better to welcome you.”
“I was in a hurry,” Alison said, finally looking at sister Roa with eyes as cold as void itself. “Didn’t have time for the pleasantries.”
“Ah... I... I see. W-would you like something to drink?”
“No.” she said. “I’ve come for him.” she added after a short silence. “Where is he?”
“... he?” sister Roa looked at her oddly, slightly confused.
“You mean Lino?”
“...” an uncomfortable expression suddenly overcame her face as she seemed to struggle with words and thoughts.
“Where is he?” Alison asked yet again.
“He... uh... he left.”
“... he turned fifteen, so... you know...” sister Roa said, avoiding Alison’s gaze which suddenly hardened, her brows tightening into a deep frown.
“Wasn’t it eighteen?!” she asked, the tone of her voice slightly raised.
“... it’s, uh... our funding got cut when you left so, uh... we had to lower it to fifteen...”
“... what happened to him?” Alison asked.
“I--I don’t know---”
“What happened to him?!” she asked again, interrupting and infusing her voice with a hint of fury.
“... he... he tried to get a job as a blacksmith apprentice,” sister Roa said, taking a step back. However, realizing that she’d began showing her weakness for no reason, she hardened her heart and stance, taking a step forward and straightening herself. “But, as I always told you, he was useless so everyone kicked him out. Since then, there has been no news of him.”
“... what do you mean?”
“I mean that he’s most-likely dead,” sister Roa said calmly. “A talentless hack who can’t even obey orders... what else can you expect? You should forget about him.”
“... dead?” Alison mumbled, her vision suddenly growing blurry. “He can’t be dead.” though sister Roa said something else, Alison had completely tuned her out. Her gaze lost its focus, mind derailed beyond the capacity to think. She only felt her blood go cold and her heart convulse for a moment before seemingly stopping entirely. Her arm loosened and helmet fell onto the floor, its crash waking her up from the stupor. What welcomed her was sister Roa’s angry and flushed face and her finger pointing at Alison.
“Are you even listening?! Why are you acting so disrespectful? I had thought you had already learned proper manners, but I was clearly wrong. Humph, what is your new family doing, letting you off to come here and look for that failure?”
“...” there was a soft whizzing sound that echoed out in the room before there was a sharp reflection of the blade pressing against sister Roa’s neck. It was cold and frightening, and the latter immediately felt her entire body stiffen as the words got stuck in her throat. The blue eyes that were once full of innocence and naivety now stared cold, emboldened by looming anger, hatred, regret and pain. Alison’s arm was shaking, her lower lip trembling, eyes growing misty. “Failure? Why is it that every single one of you marked him as a failure from the get-go, without ever giving him a chance to prove himself?! Why is it that whenever a family would come to adopt one of us, you would stuff him in the attic and pretend he doesn’t even exist?!! Why is it that the very first thing you’d tell to new kids was to avoid him at all cost or they won’t get any food?!! He was just a kid!!!” the floor beneath snapped as floorboards flew out like bullets, piercing the walls. Cracks began spreading through the windows while the earth itself seemed to have began shaking.
“--c-calm down, Ally--”
“You not only killed him,” she mumbled out in a voice barely audible. “But you’ve turned what few years he had lived into hell. Do you even know anything about him, huh? Do you know that half the reason he’d sneak out was to go to old field and pluck some plums and apples for kids you refused to feed because you wanted to refurnish your room?! Do you know that he’s the reason half the kids in this goddamn hellhole ever learned to read or write?! No... of course you don’t.” Alison chuckled lightly as she withdrew her sword and looked out the window into the seemingly empty sky. “You don’t know anything. No, you never wanted to know anything.”
“I-I’m sorry, I’ll look for information about--”
“No you won’t,” Alison said, her voice turning back to frigid yet again. “Because today is your last day.”
“Huh? What do you me--” halfway through, her voice got cut off as blood spurred out like geyser, detached head flying off into the air and falling onto the floor with a loud thud as crimson began flying like river.
Without even glancing at the corpse, Alison slowly turned around and walked out. Her footsteps were all but flat, gracious and even, and she’d nearly fallen over more than once on her way out of the orphanage. Her thoughts were chaotic, mind ruled over by entropy. Everything stopped making sense; every decision, every choice she’d ever made in her life were brought into question at that very moment. She’d left to settle out and to come back for him eventually. She’d left because she knew there was no other way to help him. She left thinking he was strong enough to endure until she returns. But, she hardly anticipated the sort of the family she’d be adopted into. She couldn’t even leave her small courtyard, let alone return here as per her plans. She’d gotten enough strength to save him years and years ago, yet, no matter how much she begged and pleaded, she was never allowed to leave. And now that she has, it turned out to have been too late.
“...” she stepped out of the courtyard and lowered her head, fighting back the tears. He had saved her life more than once, yet she was unable to return the favor even once. She couldn’t help but wonder how his last days were spent, shunned away by everyone, hiding away in the dark alleys, cold, thirsty and starving. What were his last thoughts? Did he suffer? Did he think of her? And if he did, in what light did he remember her? She could hardly imagine; no, she would rather not imagine. She glanced back at the orphanage once before taking a step forward. Suddenly, twenty or so kids heaved up in air as though held up by invisible hands, some screaming out in fear, some in joy. Another step forward and flame suddenly sprung out of flat earth, devouring the whole of the orphanage. Another step forward and they rose upward of fifty meters, while agonizing screams of pain bellowed out from inside. Another step forward and all kids found themselves gently put just outside the orphanage, staring at the flames, utterly gobsmacked. Another step forward and flames raged on even harder while screams grew even more shrill. As her expression turned placid yet again, she remained walking, not even glancing back at the inferno behind her. Rather than ignoring them, she found herself enjoying the agonizing screams. Though hardly worth much, she still felt it a poetic sort of revenge for him, however little it matters at this point. Perhaps, wherever he is, he’s watching and enjoying the scene too, she imagined. Another step forward... and she was gone, as though she was never there. No man, woman or child noticed her, and no one would come to remember her until their dying days.