Chapter 112: A Dying Resolution
A night and a day passed. By the end of the second day, the moon hovered just over the sky filled horizon. Soft lunar light leaked into the convenience store, cascading the room with faint luminescence.
In a small corner of the room, in an inconspicuous spot where the invading light could not reach, I lay hidden underneath a pile of blankets and sleeping bags. The quiet sound of rustling sheets flitted to my ears as I tossed and turned. My eye lids were forcibly held shut, but my brow was creased in consternation. A slight feeling of restlessness, the vague sensation that I needed to do something. I couldn’t get any sleep.
This wasn’t the first time that I’ve felt like this. In fact, lately it feels as if I’ve been getting less and less sleep. Tracing everything back, this change happened around the same time I recovered from my fight with the Manticore. I had a faint feeling that this was all related to my Vitality stat. Ever since my Vitality stat evolved, both the amount and frequency of rest that I needed drastically decreased, yet at the same time, I’ve felt just as energized if not more so than ever before. I was experiencing twice the results in half the time, and while from a survival standpoint, this new change was appreciated, a certain part of me missed the long, quiet nights of inactivity and dream like solace.
After some time passed, the slowly bubbling tension in my heart finally broke. I sat up right, my back leaning against the cold surface of the convenience store counter as I rubbed the irritation away from my face, and surveyed the room before me.
The hair matted heads that poked out from underneath the sheets, the quiet sound of shallow breathing and chirping crickets, the resplendent light that illuminated the dark shadows, all these little features and many more came together to form a sort of otherworldly calm. It was an odd, peaceful scene that almost made me forget that the world had long since gone to hell.
My droopy, slightly vexed gaze slowly wandered across the room before they stopped at the window to my right.
I could see the moon hanging above the sky like a brilliantly shinning dot on a white sprayed black canvas. It only took me a moment, before I felt the sudden urge and stood up. I silently left the room and stepped outside, where the whistling wind and the smell of greased oil greeted me.
I felt the rough concrete press against my bare feet, while the air which contained faint traces of the sea tickled my nose. It was a liberating sort of experience, and coupled with the brilliant backdrop of celestial bodies that hung above my head, I couldn’t help but feel listless.
A certain type of silence, the silence that only existed during a quiet night like this, entered my ears. I walked across the concrete, my feet aimlessly wandering. Past the roof that hung above the gas pumps, and beyond the parked Humvee, I walked to the road, feeling the slight change from concrete to asphalt with every step forward.
Standing on the black beaten asphalt, with the seemingly endless field by my side, I could not help but recall my time with Cielle just a few nights back. She had helped me back then, supported me even through all my stupid decisions. But just before I could reminisce, I caught sight of a lone silhouette, standing a few dozens of meters away from me.
My heart unknowingly tightened, before I recalled that someone was currently on watch duty. Remembering who it was, my creased brows eased.
She should be the one…
I sighed lightly, the breath disappearing with the passing wind, before I took the initiative and approached the lone silhouette.
A head of glistening blonde hair that seemed as if it absorbed moonlight. A figure that looked almost indiscernible amidst the shadows, yet revealed just enough to be rightfully labeled as mesmerizing. With her back turned away from me, the owner of the silhouette still hadn’t noticed my approach.
I briefly played with the thought of sneaking up on her. Imagining her surprised expression brought a slight smile to my face, but ultimately, I decided against it. After all, I don’t want to accidentally get hit by a stray fireball or something similarly dangerous.
With a shout that just barely won out against the billowing wind, I called out to her. “Hina.”
“Hide?” She turned around, and slightly widened her eyes. “What are you doing out here?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “Couldn’t sleep. No big deal.”
She nodded her head, and hesitated, before turning back around to look up at the sky. Almost subconsciously, I followed her gaze and tilted my head up towards the sky. The shimmering constellations, as well as the river of stars that formed the milky way seemed infinitely large. It was a sight you’d never see in the city, and looking up at it, I felt small and insignificant. All the struggles that I went through, all the dangers that I experienced, all the people that died, all of it, at this very moment, they all seemed meaningless. Just a tiny spec within a vast, infinitely expanding universe.
“Did any monsters pop up?” I casually asked.
“No. The night’s been pretty uneventful.”
“Why are you out on the road?”
“I thought I saw something moving in the fields.” She said, “Turns out it was just the wind.”
“Is that so?”
Our conversation naturally drifted into a long and silent lull. It wasn’t the same sort of comforting silence that I sometimes shared with Cielle, but at the same time, I could not say it was an uncomfortable feeling. It was just something new, a different sort of silence, something that I wanted to take my time getting familiar with.
I don’t know how much time passed, before I heard Hina’s faint voice drift towards my ears. Her words, were soft and even. Again, they were different from her sister’s yet the faint resemblance was clear.
“What’s on your mind?” She asked. “Did something happen?”
I instinctively wanted to respond with a firm, “No,” but hesitated. Taking into consideration all my preparations for our encounter with Kagetaka port, and all my worries regarding Narise, a simple no would just be an outright lie.
I paused for a moment, before I quietly chuckled.
“You can tell?”
Hina slightly nodded her head. She craned her neck slightly towards me, “I’m not as good a judge of character as my sister, but I can still tell that something’s been bothering you lately…”
Cielle’s a good judge of character?
I don’t know whether this statement was true or not, but I guess lately, I’ve been counting on her a lot more, if that means anything.
“And also…” Hina continued with slight hesitation. “The Gila’s new… um… look… it’s difficult to ignore.”
I briefly recalled Narise’s little pet. After the incident that night, the Gila’s neck had a very distinct scar around its neck, which was oddly more noticeable than the fact that its neck was the only part of its body without the usual white carapace.
“So, that’s what gave it away, huh?” I sighed lightly.
“Like I thought, you did that?”
“Yeah.” I nodded my head. There was no point denying it.
“…Was it punishment for what Narise did back then with the Manticore egg?”
“Well, something like that.” I vaguely responded.
“…” Hina did not speak for a while, her head tilting back to face the sky, before she said, “… I’m not going to tell you how to handle the others, but, just, I hope you don’t…”
“Don’t kill anyone?” I spoke with a slightly inquiring tone.
“Well, yeah.” She nodded.
“Why? Did you grow attached to them?” I asked noncommittally.
“… There’s that too, but… I don’t… Killing someone is…” Her voice abruptly cut off as she lowered her gaze to stare at the floor.
I also quieted down as my mind entered into a state of reflection. I thought about a certain event a long time ago, back when we were still in the dungeon. I had only heard second hand accounts of it from the others, but something important had happened that affected the whole group back then. It was something of which the repercussions still lingered to this day, and something that I’ve failed to address out in the open.
After what felt like an eternity, I finally said, “Is it that you don’t want me to kill people, or that you don’t want to see people die?”
Hina turned towards me, her face warped into an expression of confusion. With her brow scrunched up and her mouth slightly agape, she spoke, “That… aren’t they essentially the same thing? Or rather, I don’t want to see both.”
I paused for a moment, tilting my head to the side, before I said, “Then, let me restate my question; can you kill a person, Hina?”
“…” Her shoulders jerked up, her expression blanked. “Why are you…? I, of-of course I can…”
“Back then… at the dungeon, with Satou’s group, I heard what happened back then…”
“Even if I blamed you for what happened, there’d be no point…” I said with a light sigh. “It’s just that, if something similar were to happen again… This time, can you do the right thing?”
“The right thing?” After a painfully long amount of time, Hina parroted with a slight laugh, her tone was low and contained a hint of self-deprecation. “In that context, is killing people the right thing?”
“Yeah, it is.” I answered.
The world had changed. That was clear as day, and along with it, humanity too, changed. The days where things like the law and basic human morals held everyone back was no more. It was now survival of the fittest, there was only one simple rule and it applied to everyone and everything. It was kill or be killed, devour or be devoured, in a lawless, loveless world like this, only the strong held the privilege of life. The rest had to climb a painstakingly cruel ladder up the hierarchy, in hopes of surviving. If one wasn’t prepared to climb that ladder… if one wasn’t prepared to kill, then the inevitable outcome was falling.
Of course, even though these were my honest thoughts, I felt slightly hypocritical about them.
I knew that something inside me was also holding me back. Back then, I hadn’t immediately killed Kido the moment I thought something was wrong with him, and even now, I still haven’t killed Narise. In a sense, I could sympathize with Hina, but by no means did I think her lackadaisical attitude was good.
I slightly turned my head and glanced at Hina from the corner of my eye.
Her head was drooped low, facing the ground, while her hands were clenched into tight fists that were as white as paper.
I hesitated, before eventually saying, “When we go to the Port, I hope you can do what’s right. I know you’re hesitant about it, but… the world’s change, and we just have to adapt to it.”
“Adapting to this sort of world…” Hina’s low whisper sliced through the whistling wind like an old rusted sword, entering my ears like grating sand paper. As if my words were the final straw that held her back, she exploded like an over filled water balloon.
“I don’t want to.” She said.
“I don’t like killing.” She said.
“I just want to go home.” She said.
“I want to whine and complain, and just curl up into a ball where no one can find me. Where none of this matter, where everything just stops, where all of my friends are still alive, where I can see my parents again, where I don’t have to be used to the smell of blood or the sound of a monster screaming at me.” Hina’s words spewed out like a broken damn, rushing out in the form of hurried, almost desperate babbling. It seemed as if all the thoughts, all the bottled up and suppressed emotions she had been burying inside her, just spewed out uncontrollably. She fell to the floor, her legs giving out and her arms dropping to her sides like a puppet with its strings cut loose.
“I know I have to get used to it, I don’t want Cher— I don’t want someone else to get hurt because of me, but sometimes it’s too much. Killing monsters is one thing, but when I have to do the same thing to actual people too… I…
“Even if you tell me to just do it, even when I tell myself to just do it… I just… I can’t. Isn’t there a better way than this?” She asked with her voice cracking and with tears in her eyes.
“I don’t know.” After several silent seconds, I replied honestly. “I’m not all that clever, I can only do so much after all. Finding a way to live in this world without killing people… with my current ability, I can’t make those types of promises. Only… just adapt to what’s in front of you. And if you can’t do that, then… just find a place to curl up in and hide and hope nobody with bad intentions stumbles across you.”
An answer that wasn’t really an answer. Hina looked up at me with a desolate expression. The answer she wanted to hear did not come out of my lips, and the longer she stared, the darker her expression turned. Accompanied by a series of hiccups that grated against her throat, a soft, broken laughter escaped from Hina’s cracked lips.
“Sometimes I feel like you’ve adapted to well to this environment, Hide.” She said.
I could not respond to her statement, because I felt the same. Sometimes, I even felt as if I’ve lived this way my whole life. As if the seventeen odd years that I’ve experienced were nothing more than just a dream, and my real life only started within these last few months.
“It’s scary.” She continued. “It’s really scary, but not because I’m afraid of you, Hide, but because it feels as if you’ve… given up.”
“That’s a weird way of putting it.” I spoke with scrunched up eyebrows, not fully understanding what she meant.
“Changing to match this new world, it’s like you’re playing by their rules, like you’ve completely accepted everything that they throw at you as if it were normal. In the grand scheme of things, you lost.”
“I don’t know anything about winning or losing. I’m just doing what I have to survive.” I solemnly responded.
“Well, I don’t want to just survive…” Hina’s voice was almost indiscernible through the buffeting wind.
After a slight pause, she said, “You know, Hide, when I first read that poster, when I first found out about Kagetaka Port, I was excited, but I wasn’t excited because of the fact that there were more people that survived. I was excited for a completely selfish reason…
“This might sound a bit stupid and suicidal to you, but I want to save someone. When I first left the Dungeon, and saw all those abandoned houses, I wondered whether there was anybody left to save… but, that poster was something that gave me hope, something that allowed my stupid dream to live on.
I don’t know since when I’ve had this desire, but as the days grow longer, that feeling only gets stronger. In a world like this where killing is slowly becoming the norm, being able to do something that contradicts with that common sense… I want to experience that feeling. That way, I feel like, I can still live without losing just yet.”
“That really is a selfish reason.” I quietly spoke. A small part of me was amazed, but an even smaller part of me was envious of Hina. Someone like me who’s struggling just to stay afloat, and struggling to barely maintain this group, those sorts of whimsical desires were too far out of my reach.
Without knowing the thoughts that I harbored inside me, Hina continued unperturbed. “No matter if the sky falls, and no matter how bloody the world gets, I don’t want to lose this one thing… This, this sort of emotion, if you can call it that… It’s not just about not killing someone, it’s something more, something bigger, I think. Something more important.”
Her lips opened and closed as she struggled to form the proper words that could properly convey the gushing emotion she felt within her heart. “It feels like the faint flame of a flickering candle, something so meager, yet all the same, something unimaginably important. It’s something that I have to vigilantly protect and endlessly fan, because I have a sickening feeling that the moment I drop my guard, it will just up and vanish… And when it’s gone, at that time… I probably won’t be me anymore.”
Hina looked up, a forlorn expression plainly written on her face. “Is any of what I’m saying making sense to you?”
I paused for a moment, before I spoke lightly, “No, not at all.”
In truth, I realized something. I realized that I had a misconception about Hina.
Hina wasn’t weak.
She was just someone who stubbornly clung to a set of morals which went against the current way the world worked. It was something that she forcibly dragged over from the past, and still refused to throw away. While these morals make up the core of her conviction, and in some ways, gave her strength, at the same time, they became her weakness.
It’s not that Hina’s weak, but rather, she just has a glaring weakness. In simpler terms, it’s like Superman and Kryptonite.
But no matter how strong those morals made her, in a world where everything was composed of Kryptonite, harboring such a thing was akin to seeking out your own death.
In the future, I have a strong feeling that something will happen. Something will happen to Hina that will break her to the very core, something that will utterly destroy those morals of hers, and something that very likely traumatize her.
I wanted to stop that possibility even before it happened. In a sense, I wanted to save her, but I did not know how.
What could I possibly do that can convince Hina to let go?
Continually nag her that killing people is okay? Repeatedly tell her that the longer she clings to those morals, the more danger it’ll bring to her and the others? She knows this better than anyone else. She knows exactly why it’s dangerous, and that’s why she’s so torn up about it.
Simulate a situation where she needs to kill someone? Force her to kill? Let her get a taste of the consequences before she actually experiences it? She’s already gone through this. Even after the incident with Cher, she’s still like this. Forcing it anymore would just be useless, and even if I explicitly order her to kill someone, who’s to say she’ll listen?
I don’t know. I simply don’t know what to do.
Why was she stubborn? Why couldn’t she do what I could do? Why wasn’t she like her sister?
Even if I ask all these questions, in the quiet of the night, no answer came.