As they make their way back to town, the Purger pair learn that Anza has the speed and stamina to keep up with them. Whether it’s leaping from branch to branch of trees in the dense woods, or a straight race across the plains, Anza, while racing on all fours, is always by their side. If anything, he even looks like he’s enjoying himself.
“We probably need to get you some clothes later,” Shu says, leaping off a hill. “Something to hide your tail and ears too…”
“And the fur on your arms and legs,” Song adds.
“Is it that big of a deal if the townsfolk see me?” Anza asks.
“Yeah,” Shu says. “I don’t know what it’s like in the Crimson Void, but we only have humans in this world. You’re gonna stand out way too much.”
It’s agreed among the three that they’ll travel to Hong Yu, the closest town to Zhu Zhen. After buying clothes for Anza, they’ll find an inn for him to stay in for the time being.
“So Anza, what’re you gonna do after this?” Shu asks. “Go home?”
He doesn’t answer him. Song is sure that he heard him though. He peers over to check on his expression. The boy looks a little gloomy for some reason, his eyes constantly tracing the dirt track ahead of him as he continues running.
“Anza?” Song prompts.
“Don’t call me that,” the wolf boy says softly. “Please don’t call me that.”
“That name… I don’t like it,” he says. “I mentioned that I came from a royal family, right? From the place you guys called the Crimson Void. Well, truth is, I actually ran away from home.”
“And then you got kidnapped by the Mevolians,” Shu finishes the story for him. “Where were you hoping to run to anyway? You can’t seriously believe that the humans would readily accept you with open arms.”
“I don’t know,” he mutters. “Anywhere is better than home.”
“Why do you hate your home so much anyway?” Song asks. “Don’t like your family?”
The three stop by a massive Kakan tree to catch their breaths. Song is the only one who doesn’t look tired. He glances up and notices the bright, purple tear-shaped fruits hanging by the branches. With a powerful leap, he soars towards the first branch, grabs hold of it and swings up to the next one above. Like a circus acrobat dancing on platforms, he plucks several of the Kakan fruits off the branches through cartwheels and flips before coming back down.
“Thanks,” Shu says, taking the first bite of the fruit with a noisy crack.
“Thank you!” the wolf boy says, much more cheerfully than Shu before munching down on his own fruit. “It’s sweet!”
As Song takes his first bite, he begins wondering about what Anza said so far.
“What made you hate your family so much?” Song asks.
Anza puts his fruit down and slumps his back against the tree.
“There’s a lot you don’t understand about my world. You call it the Crimson Void, but we call it ‘Zhuntor’. The realm is ruled by the Ten Cursed Kings, each a master of his own kingdom. My family, the Fenrea, is one of them.
For centuries, there has always been a power struggle between the Ten Cursed Kings, but given the size of our nations, it’s quite impossible to end the war quickly. In my family, there were five sons and three daughters, and I’m heir to the throne.”
“Sounds fun,” Song remarks casually.
“It isn’t.” Anza pierces him with a glare. “Tradition dictates that the ruler of our nation must be power-hungry, practically to the point of insanity, and ruthless, among many other things. These traits are believed to be necessary in order to rule a nation of billions of living beings. I mean, I can stand hours and hours of training and studying but the part about being ruthless…” Anza shudders, recalling dark memories. “One of the things I had to go through was to kill an innocent civilian in something we called a ‘show trial’. As its name suggests, it was more of a court hearing for show, to sentence him to death. The civilian didn’t do anything wrong. The poor soul was just dragged to court as a sacrifice for me to kill, a practice to erase all traces of compassion within me so that I could be a ‘proper heir’ to the Fenrea family.”
By now, both Shu and Song are silent, solemnly digesting the story.
“I’m guessing you didn’t cope very well,” Shu says.
“I… I couldn’t do it.” Anza hugs the Kakan close to him. “I’ve killed things before, no lie. I protected my sister from beasts before, led a company of soldiers to raid a bandit camp by the age of twelve, even killed a court wizard who’d been secretly brainwashing one of my servants and I…” The wolf boy swallows, shutting his eyes. “I couldn’t kill him, the young man, in that show trial. He was so weak, like fresh meat before the court, before me. And I still couldn’t bring myself to hurt him.
He died anyway, killed by my father when I refused to do it myself. I couldn’t do anything to protect him. After that, I was punished by my family. Couldn’t eat for a week, chained in the dungeons, whipped for hours each day. But I didn’t care about that. Tell me, both of you, how can a ruler not have compassion for his people? That show trial was wrong! Our values are wrong! Killing that poor man was wrong! Everything was just…”
Anza huddles his knees to his chest and buries his face in them. Song regrets the casual remark he tossed in his way before. He didn’t know, couldn’t have known, what Anza had been through, but that was hardly an excuse. He moves over to hold the wolf boy in his arms. Shu sighs and looks up into the milky blue skies.
“We’re not so different, maybe,” Song murmurs.
“Doing things we don’t want to and not liking our families, I mean. Well, I wouldn’t call those guys my family anyway.” Song sighs. “Whatever. So what should we call you anyway, if you don’t like your name?”
The silver-haired boy eventually releases Anza from his embrace. The wolf boy peers at him for a moment, as if reluctant to be free from his arms, but quickly looks back down on his half-bitten fruit again to avoid eye-contact.
“I don’t know.”
“You can’t say that,” Song returns. “Or we’ll just call you Anza forever.”
“Why don’t we give him a name instead?” Shu prompts, taking another bite out of his Kakan, the juice dripping from his chin. “Something to call him while－”
“Pie!” Song bursts out.
“I wasn’t even done talking…”
“What kind of name is that? It’s horrible!” Anza shrieks.
“I’m pretty sure he was only thinking about food,” Shu mutters. “Anyway, he’s not a pet so―”
“You’re thinking about kebabs this time!”
Shu clasps his hands together in a praying gesture and presses his forehead against it. “Qhelios give me strength.”
Anza watches as Shu continues to shoot down Song’s silly food-inspired suggestions, looking as if he’s already given up on the two.
“Ah, shut up, idiot!” Shu rubs his temple with both hands. “Let me come up with something for once.”
Song crosses his arms and puffs his cheeks sulkily, silently wishing that Shu accepted ‘Lambo’ at the very least. It has a nice ring to him.
“Rei,” Shu finally says.
At that, the wolf boy’s ears perk up. “Rei…”
“Our names are derived from a language of a civilisation from another dimension,” Shu explains. “Song’s one supposedly came from the name of a reigning nation, while mine means virtuous and kind-hearted.”
“Which is bullshit,” Song says, only to be smacked on the head by his partner.
“Anyway, Rei is also one such word. It means lightning. I figured a one-syllable word would be easy to say and uh…”
“You thought you came up with a pretty cool name, huh?” Song makes a snorting noise as he tries to suppress his laughter.
“Can you stop being so annoying?” Shu retorts, blushing hard.
“Rei…” The wolf boy purses his lips as he considers it. “I like it. I like it a lot.”
“Seriously?” Song makes a grimace. “You two have bad tastes.”
After finishing their fruits, the trio resume their journey. Song wonders why the leaders of Zhuntor were called the Cursed Kings. Were they really cursed, or is it just a title? And if they really are cursed, does this mean Rei, or Anza, is fated to carry this curse as well? Honestly, Song doesn’t really believe in curses or gods or any of those superstitious stuff, but one thing is for certain: Rei belongs to the Fenrea family, and one day they’ll come for him. There’s still much he doesn’t know about the denizens of Zhuntor, but something about what Rei said reminds him a lot about his leader. And if his father is anything like Kiin…
“Whatever,” Song mutters to himself. “Curses, kings or gods, whatever gets in our way, I’ll just beat them with my fists.”