BEFORE IT ALL BEGAN (III)
Lyro’s and Joy’s group all burst into cheers as they finally left the damnable forest, finding their way onto the downhill pathway that led toward an open valley where a small, cozy-looking town appeared in their vision. It had been a long journey, but they had made it at last; nearly a whole month of blaring through the woods was more than enough for most to begin hating trees and flowers.
Rather than heading toward the small town immediately, they instead chose to sit at the forest’s edge and rest for a little while while going over their goods once more; after all, as a traveling merchant group, their livelihood depended on selling their goods. Ensuring that nothing was damaged or missing was just one of the few basic steps they did as a routine every few days, especially so before entering a major trading center.
Although Bridge Village couldn’t really be classified as a mass-transit sort of a town where a lot of trading went on, it was one of their most important costumers -- for years now they’d traded wheat and cloth for various ores at extremely beneficial exchange ratio. They couldn’t even count just how much profit they’ve amassed by reselling the ore to the stone-deprived places.
As they finished their communal dinner, they realized that sun had set behind the mountains as the night descended. Seeing as there was really no rush, they set up their tents quickly to spend the night over and embark on the last trek rested and relaxed in the chirpy morning.
Full moon hung above them, surrounded by a sky void of clouds, starlit and beautiful to behold. They noted the world here was much different than their homeland, where seeing clear sky was as rare as seeing a Dragon; its vast expanse was almost perpetually covered in thick, black smoke billowing out in droves. One of the reasons the group departed in the first place was to escape it, to escape the hell that would undoubtedly fall upon them.
Hardly a man or a woman lived past the age of 60, and even if they did, most wished they didn’t as the only thing the late years gave them was long, humdrum and painful death as they watched their loved ones perish one after another. It was a fairly damnable way to die, and by the time Lyro and Joy left, most others were planning on doing the same.
Though they didn’t know the exact situation as they didn’t have any contacts inside the city, they hoped and prayed everyone made it out okay; after all, the local rulers weren’t exactly known to be amiable and kind. Otherwise, the city wouldn’t have fallen as far down as it did in the end.
Midway through the night, almost all fell asleep; save for Lyro who was reading under the candle’s faint flames, no other soul was awake. It was a habit he developed quite a few years ago, hording any and all books he could find on merchandise, learning tricks of the trade, items, materials and their prices across the world in hopes of making the most profit.
Murmuring silently something, he looked up from the book for a moment as his brows scrounged up into a frown; outside was eerily silent, not even a chirp of the birds to be heard. Yet, he could faintly feel beneath him the earth’s tremors; everyone here was extremely good at detecting the shifts in earth as they had to learn from the early childhoods -- if the earth began to shake, it would mean another excavation had begun, which meant that it was best if they didn’t leave their homes for a long while.
However, as everyone was fast asleep and hardly alert, no one woke so Lyro went outside himself to inspect it; if it was something like an earthquake, he could just let it be, but if it was a stampede of some animals, he’d have to go around and wake everyone up.
Walking outside and glancing around casually, he hadn’t spotted anything unusual -- yet, he could still feel the faint tremors... and worse, they were growing stronger, however little by little. A worried expression crossed his face; although he never heard reports of any large underground animals around the Umbra Kingdom, that wasn’t to say that they couldn’t exist.
The most annoying thing about them was the fact that they could spend decades in hibernation, long enough to be entirely forgotten by the newer generations; more than a few towns back home had been completely wiped out because of something similar happening. Still, he was almost certain it wasn’t an underground animal, as the tremors they caused were rather distinct; these, on the other hand, Lyro had never experienced before.
A cold shiver suddenly ran through his spine as he turned around; welcoming him was a hooded face, laced with shadows and clear, black eyes void of any emotion. Before he even had a chance to utter a sound, he felt the voice inside his lungs stagger as the pain assailed his mind and blood gushed out of his throat.
A feeling of weakness overwhelmed him as he collapsed onto his knees, unable to even cry out to alarm the others; he could only helplessly stare around and watch as one hooded figure after another entered the tents and emerged with bloodied knives in their hands. Tears quickly streamed down Lyro’s cheeks as, despite the pain, he began crawling toward Joy’s tent.
By the time he crawled into the tent, he was welcomed by a scene that entirely shattered his heart; Joy still lay in her bed, and seemed entirely the same as he remembered... save for the massive gash around her neck and her still chest. Quickly glancing around, he found Lyonel -- in the hands of a man who seemed to be rather gentle with the baby.
Angrily gnashing his teeth, Lyro crawled forth and grabbed at the man’s ankle, trying to do something -- anything -- to alleviate the hell he was feeling inside.
The man glanced down and exclaimed softly in surprise seeing that the man was still alive, despite having his throat slit. Crouching down while holding the baby, he met Lyro’s eyes and sighed in defeat.
“Forgive us,” the man mumbled faintly as he pressed his thumb against Lyro’s forehead. “Rest knowing, however, that nothing will happen to your boy. By the grace of chaos, farewell.”
Rather than focusing on the man, Lyro instead chose to focus on the sleeping baby in the man’s arms; knowing he would die, he decided for his last sight to be his son -- and his last thoughts to be all the things he imagined teaching the boy as he grew up. There was an indescribable feeling stuck inside his chest, like a ball stuck inside his throat that he was unable to spit, like fire burning inside that he was unable to vent. Frustration, unwillingness, pain... he suddenly found himself understanding those old, wrinkled souls back home as they buried their sons and daughters one after another, still somehow living to see another dawn.
There was nothing worse, Lyro realized, than having stayed alive for so long; he regretted not dying when his throat was slit. At the very least, then, he wouldn’t have had to seen the sight of the love of his life lying cradled in blood, and his own son being taken away while he could only helplessly glare at the perpetrator. Lyro’s last moments were full of bitter and angry thoughts, and if such thing as ghosts existed, there was no doubt he would have been reborn as one.
The man, on the other hand, after ending Lyro’s life, sighed once more and stood up, walking out of the tent with the baby inside his arms. The rest of the people quickly gathered, roughly ten in total, and after confirming that the entire entourage was dead, the man chose to proceed with the plan.
“Twenty, you stay with Nineteen and clean everything up,” he said to the group. “The rest of us will regroup with One. After you’re done... you know what to do.”
“Yes.” the two called out quickly stepped away and went about cleaning the spot of the massacre while the rest slowly trekked downhill toward the town.
No one uttered a word as they reached the small village, skillfully navigating its streets and reaching a small, inconspicuous looking shack at the town’s southern edge. Walking inside, they were welcomed by a single figure -- a woman seemingly in her early thirties, a would-be-perfect-beauty if not for a scar crossing over one of her eyes.
“... it’s done?” she mumbled as she saw the baby, walking over to the man.
“It is done.” the man nodded heavily.
“...” the woman picked the boy from the man’s arms and smiled warmly, caressing his head gently for a moment before shifting her gaze toward the others, her smile vanishing. “Let’s go Fourteen,” she said. “The rest of you... you know what to do.”
“Come back to us...” the woman mumbled.
“As all shall...” the rest replied, bowing slightly and vanishing.
The man and the woman went out into the nightly streets in silence, the former walking slightly behind the latter with an expression full of mixed emotions. They soon reached one of the larger buildings and courtyards inside the town and stopped in front of its gates. The woman sighed as she turned toward man, her eyes briefly flickering with a distant emotion.
“I wish it didn’t have to end this way...” she mumbled, smiling painfully.
“All things come to an end,” the man replied with a smile. “I am only grateful mine came in the service of the Lord.”
“... we shan’t be long, my love,” the woman said, walking up to the man and caressing his cheek with her free arm. “As all things, we shall be reunited inside the pandemonium of souls. Wait for me.”
“Always.” the man closed his eyes and kissed the woman’s hand softly before vanishing as well.
The woman bit her lower lip and stifled a soft cry, opening the gates and walking up to the front doors of the building. Withdrawing a small cradle from seemingly nowhere, she placed the boy inside and whipped out a piece of parchment upon which she wrote ‘Lyonel’, placing it on the baby’s chest. Then, as though she was never there, she too vanished in thin air, leaving behind only silence and a story that the world would never come to know.