"..ai..up.. Hey, Kai wake up."
"Mmm… Ahh…" I open my eyes slowly and find my partner, Leila, crouched beside me peeking through the bushes with a pair of binoculars. From this angle she looks quite nice…
The wind gently cascades her soft, delicate, golden hair in smooth waves along her shoulders, tapering down to her lower back. Still slightly groggy from sleep, a sweet smile slowly emerges on my face as my eyes adjust to take all of her in. I can get used to waking up like this every day. I slither around looking for a better angle while creating excessive amounts of rustling noises. What am I talking about… She looks good from any angle… Oh I see an opening…
"Leila~" I throw my arms around her stomach from behind and take a big whiff of her lovely scent. I rub the back of her shoulder with my face while continuing to sniff her. I realize that her shaking could be a sign that she's losing her patience.
"Hey. Stop messing around, he's here."
"Oh? Are you sure?"
"Yeah, have a look. Get off me already." Leila blushes as she struggles to shove me away with the binoculars. In the far distance, two horses lead a single wagon convoy escorted by over a dozen soldiers.
There are 15 in total, all equipped in armor surrounding the transport. An enormous man controls the reins of both horses leading the wagon. He has rough-looking brown hair, sideburns, a small beard, and a benevolent facial expression; his eyebrows are raised, and he wears a small smile while his armor is distinctly different from the others. The head of a lion baring its fangs is engraved in front of his breastplate; the national symbol of Xantho. The head is tinted in black while the fangs are tinted in red.
That aside, the state of their equipment is evident that they were in a recent battle. Their weapons and armor are chipped, in need of repair. Dark splotches of blood are smeared onto their armor while fresh blood drips from their weapons. Their mouths are open, always taking deep breaths. Their eyes and postures are drooped, and it looks like another encounter would spell the end of their lives.
"I see," I say. "With that big physique and that face, he matches the profile we received for this mission. 'Grizzly Bear' Dae is a befitting name for him."
I scowl and remember the moment my nap was interrupted last week by one of our messengers. Just because Dae ruined an important mission a while back that took many months of planning, the boss finally ordered us to kill him.
We went on a wild goose chase wandering from town to town in Xantho only to find out he was no longer there. Luckily, we found someone that had witnessed him leading a small group of men around a convoy toward the Kingdom of Elbar.
I waited for his return on the only trail leading from Elbar to Xantho knowing that any high ranked officer of Xantho was kept on a very short leash due to the internal conflict going on in their country.
Fifteen hours is long enough, you son of a bitch. What took you so long? I grimace before speaking up, "Let's get this done quick. I wanna continue my nap."
"We'll surprise them when they make the turn to Xantho. I'll use my magic to… Hey, what're you doing? Wait…" Ignoring Leila, I get up and toss the binoculars back to Leila, put on my white mask and walk to the trail in clear view in front of the convoy. I can already imagine Leila shaking her head behind me in disapproval. "Jeez, impatient as always…"
The wagon clatters in the distance while we wait for them to notice us. Dae pulls back the reins and says, "Stop, there's someone there."
The subordinates that were sluggishly marching alongside the wagon suddenly shuffle their way towards the front.
"What?! Is it more bandits? Those bastards are persistent."
"Oh, there are only two… Don't scare me like that."
"The Human's a dual-wielder, the Elf unarmed." I overhear Dae's subordinates making noise among themselves while they are forming a defensive line in front of us.
"An Elf? That's rare. I don't know who you people are, but there's nothing of value in this convoy if your goal is money. Even if there were, there's no way you're getting past me. Ahhh, what is it that people call me? 'Grizzly Bear?'" he says with a smile and laughs, but Leila and I stand our ground; we have no intention of leaving.
I stare into his eyes and release murderous intent. While the subordinates haven't noticed the change in atmosphere, Dae does and stops laughing and smiling.
"That’s right! General Dae won't lose to the likes of you! Leave!"
"It appears that you have some kind of grudge against me," Dae says as he knits his eyebrows and supports his chin with a hand. "Now that I think about it, those masks have been bothering me for a while. Where have I seen those same masks before…and that snake symbol as well…"
Bullshit, I won't let you forget! After all, I wouldn't have to be here if it weren’t for the shit you pulled. Why'd you have to change your stupid patrol route for that day? That was my precious nap time.
I don't think Xantho's government would be stupid enough to leave a general absent, especially in the critical time their country is facing right now. Assuming that he's telling the truth about having nothing of value, he must be escorting someone important who is crucial for solving their crisis. It doesn’t matter to me, though.
"Oh, I do recall that I found a suspicious wagon eight months ago with all sorts of illegal goods. I was attacked by a couple of hooligans, so I killed them. They also wore those masks you're wearing now."
"No...no way…" one of Dae's subordinates mutters as he points to us as if he sees a ghost. "I remember now… that snake symbol belongs to Cascabel… "
"Cascabel? The one responsible for the incident three years ago?"
"Yeah, that atrocious one."
"Wait a minute…these two…they match the descriptions of the 'Phantom Swordsman' and 'The Witch…'"
I smile and chuckle. The defensive formation starts to drift apart as they chatter among themselves and, shortly after, they begin dropping their battle stances while backing away slowly, their weapons lowered.
"What do you think you're doing! Are you abandoning your mission to your country?!" Dae barks. His subordinates don't move a muscle and remain silent.
"We…We don't want to die." I snicker.
"It's just as they say, 'Grizzly Bear,'" I say. "I'll tell you this much, we only need your head. We weren’t ordered to kill anyone else. Of course, if your subordinates don't fight us, we have no reason to kill them."
"That is right, it is in our interest to prevent any unnecessary blood from being spilt," my partner adds to emphasize our only intention to take Dae's head.
"Unnecessary bloodshed you say?" Dae bursts out as he contorts his face. "How dare you hypocrites even speak of unnecessary bloodshed when your whole organization kills innocents and civilians day after day!"
Suddenly, something creaks from the wagon. A door on the side opens and someone in a quiet voice says, "What's going on? Why've we stopped for so long?"
I widen my eyes and mouth after a young girl emerges from the wagon. As she steps out, a gust of wind sweeps her long brown hair off of her back. She holds down her dress with both arms so that it doesn’t flip over. She has fair, smooth, white skin and looked about 16 years old. A wave of nostalgia suddenly hits me when I lay my eyes upon her face, resembling innocence and purity. She reminds me so much of her...
Dae turns toward the girl. "Miss, do not come out yet, it is dangerous. Please, go back inside."
"What danger, Mr. Dae? Is it more monsters?" the girl asks as she starts walking forward. I give her a friendly wave in response to her eye contact, but she frowns and backs off. She scampers back into the wagon and then closes the door.
I wipe off the drool seeping through my mask with my arm and pretend nothing happened. I can feel Leila's icy cold glare behind me, though.
"All this effort…all for a single, young, and defenseless girl… Who is she I wonder? She's kinda cute actually, but what should I do?" I ask playfully and lick my lips intending to taunt Dae. His eyes are narrowed, squinted, and his jaws seem clenched.
"You…you bastard... Don't worry about who she is. Because, even if you find out, you will both die right now." Dae jumps off the wagon and grabs his battle axe on his back with his right arm while using his left arm to support the weight.
I sense that the aura around him is completely different compared to a few moments ago, and he directs his bloodlust at me as he enters his battle stance. However, he is focused a bit too much on me. So this is a general ranked officer of Xantho… I'm a little disappointed to be honest.
I look towards Leila and she gives me the nod which means that her end was successful. I sigh before I say, "Sorry, I don't have anything against you, but this battle is over."
"What're you talking about?! I'm no longer waiting for you to draw your weapon! Prepare yourself!" Dae charges towards us while his battle cry rips through his throat with his battle axe raised high in the air along his right side.
I merely continue to stand in place without drawing my weapon. I invariably look down and sigh.
Dae reaches a range in which he can finally strike me. "Die!"
A split second afterward, I hear a trigger word behind me from Leila. "Sprout!"
Leila's left arm is raised in front of her. I skeptically smile when I remember when she used the same thing on me. I frown and shiver. I didn't wanna remember that now…
Dae's armor is broken with his axe lodged inside him, inflicting a deep back wound. He screams in pain, now letting go of the axe that is lodged in his back and he falls down right in front of me, blood oozing out of his wound. His subordinates gape and quiver in shock.
"What...what did you do?" he asks in a raspy voice. His eyebrows are knit close together as if lost in thought. His face twitches in agony. Several moments later, his eyes and mouth widen. He raises his head from the dirt and looks toward Leila. "I see… So it was the Elf… I was careless... What're you going to do now?"
"Who knows… It won't matter since even if you find out, you will die right here," I answer and smirk.
As if resigning to his fate, he closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. "Do it."
I smile. Even though he's my enemy right now… I admire true warriors who don't beg for their lives. I'll make it painless for him.
I unsheathe one of my swords with my right arm and make a swift slash to his neck. It cleanly lobs off leaving blood rapidly spouting out of his neck. I pick up his head by the hair and walk towards the convoy. The head continues to drip blood on the trail.
"Ahh… The Witch has done it again. General Dae has been killed," one of Dae's subordinates mutters before falling backward, probably from fear and shock.
"Hey—" I barely get a word out before 14 of the former General Dae's subordinates retreat from the convoy in fear. I recognize the paralyzed one on the ground; it's the subordinate who was kind enough to inform everyone about us. I wasn't even gonna do anything… I'm hurt.
"Hey you, what can you tell me about that girl in the convoy?" I ask the hopeless guy on the ground. He opens and closes his mouth repeatedly as if trying to speak, but unable to. I am unsure if he heard my question.
"Stay… Stay…" he mutters some words I'm unable to understand.
"Stay? Is that her name?" I walk closer to the man and he can't keep composure. A pale, yellow liquid leaks from his armor. I stare at him with a blank expression, unsure of what to do in this situation. Now that I think about it, I'm still carrying the head of his former superior and maybe I do look menacing carrying the sword in my other hand…
I sheathe my sword and toss aside Dae's head for now. I crouch down, careful not to soak my shoes in the growing puddle around him. I take off my mask and smile.
"Hey, listen... I'm not gonna kill you. You can run off wherever you want, I'm not stopping you. What I wanna know is, who's the young girl being transported in the convoy?" I ask again in the most affable voice I can summon while smiling, but I receive no response even after ten seconds have passed. I frown and can feel veins popping out of my head. My face probably shows just how fast I'm losing my patience and now all of a sudden the guy starts screaming for no reason.
Leila sighs behind me. "I have no idea how you can be so awful at gathering information."
I turn my head towards her and notice that she's looking at me like I'm completely hopeless. "Shut up. He's not cooperating."
She shakes her head, walks to the guy while taking off her mask revealing her beauty, kneels down, and smiles. "Hey mister~ Do you know who the girl is in the convoy?"
The man opens his mouth as if to finally say something, only to let out a loud lingering fart. Leila is still smiling. I laugh hard inside and accidentally let out a giggle.
"Let's kill him."
"Sure," I respond as an evil smile stretches across my face. We reach a mutual understanding as we decide to put him down. We drag him into the woods and welcome the opportunity to try our hand at a little creative rearrangement.
After completing our work of art, Leila and I get up and head back to the convoy area.
"I need to cast a few spells to clean up the rest of Dae's body."
"Right. In the meantime, I'll talk to the girl and find out who she is," I say to Leila as I walk over and then open the convoy door. There, I find the mysterious girl had fallen asleep on the seat. I can't believe any sane person would be able to sleep through what just happened.
How should I wake her up? She's sleeping so peacefully. I smirk as I flare my nostrils furiously all while breathing hard through them. I slowly approach her, then grab both of her breasts. I massage them in a circular motion and witness her cute, soft moans as her face turns beet red, only to open her eyes shrieking.
"What... What do you think you're doing?!" she asks while I'm still shamelessly grinning. She slaps me in the face with one hand while guarding her melons with the other.
After recovering from the recoil of her attack, I notice her face is still flushed so I reset my facial expressions. "Oh, I was trying to wake you up."
She relaxes and loosens up her guard as if grabbing her breasts to wake her up was the truth. Is this girl an idiot?
I shake my head before asking, "So, who are you?"
"Isn't it proper to introduce yourself first?"
I click my tongue and frown. A small, exasperated huff escapes me before I sit down next to her.
"I'm Kai. And you are?"
"Irene... Kai, is there a reason you have your hand on my thigh?"
I feel a burning fury closing in on me from her glare as it seems to pierce through me with immense murderous intent. I gulp and look down towards her thigh, realizing that my hand is indeed on it. I lift up my hand and then let it rest on my thigh. Crap, I touched her unconsciously… I need to control myself. No matter how similar they are, she isn't the same person.
I cough and clear my voice. "Where were you headed to?"
"I'm not sure… Mister Dae told me that I had to come with him and leave the village. He said I had to go see Daddy."
I tilt my head slightly as my eyebrows furrow, lost deep in thought. This might have something to do with the internal conflict going on in Xantho right now. "What's your daddy's name?"
I close my eyes and think of the name Velyn. Velyn… Isn't that the name of the king? Which means this girl is a result of him and a mistress in Elbar. If that's the case, then that would mean she has royal blood in her veins. This explains why a general went through the trouble of seeing this through. Does Velyn wanna make her his successor to the throne? But, no matter how I look at it, Irene doesn't look like she's ready to be a queen of all the citizens in Xantho…especially considering she was raised in a village…
"Where's Mister Dae?"
"Ah... Well, it's complicated, wait here."
Irene tilts her head sideways, scrunches her eyebrows together, and lets out a small sound of confusion. I smile and chuckle as I leave and walk towards Leila.
"What're you so happy about…? Well whatever, I'm almost done here, did you find out anything from the girl?"
"Yeah, I'll give you the rundown when you're ready." I waltz back over to pick up Dae's head I had tossed aside earlier and catch Leila cocking an eyebrow at me. I ignore her as I turn around and walk to the convoy.
Feeling particularly maniacal, I present the severed head to Irene. "Here he is!"
I toss the head onto her lap so that it faces upwards when it lands all while splashing some blood onto her legs in the process. She stares at the object on her lap with a smile only to twitch her face into one of true horror and disgust as she screams upon recognition. I grin and laugh like a child who played the biggest prank ever to only quickly die down as I let loose a lewd grin when I realize she is wide open.
"What's going on?!"
I quickly hide my grin and my lewd intentions as I turn around to face Leila, but it's too late. Leila sees the head on Irene's lap and needs no explanation. I can see her right fist already closing towards my face and I merely panic and close my eyes as I resign to my fate. After a few seconds pass with realizing I am still alive, I slowly inch open my eyes only to realize her fist has stopped an inch from my face as she sighs and slowly relaxes her arm. She retrieves the head from her lap while expecting the rundown now that she seems ready.
"Seriously, I can't take my eyes off of you for even a split second without you going off doing the most stupid things." She takes out an Alrath from her backpack and stores Dae's head in it. She cleans the blood off Irene afterward.
"Okay… I won't do it again, I promise." I reflect a little on my actions, but I probably won't care if another opportunity arises. "In any case, we need to go to Xantho to report our mission anyway, so let's just deliver the girl at the capital along the way."
"I'll sit in the convoy with the girl. Can you take the reins?"
Heh… I can enjoy more time with Irene… If she's unconscious she can't say no... It won't be harassment.
Leila glares at me. "Can I trust you…?"
I can practically see the murderous intent seeping through her penetrating glare. I smile lightly. "Don't worry, I won't do anything… I just need a nap, I'm tired."
"Well, okay then."
She's watching me… I'd better not mess around for a while. I get in the convoy and almost fall over when the wagon suddenly starts moving. Ahhh… I'm so tired… It's been a long day…
I lie down across the large, long seat opposite of Irene and close my eyes. My mind wanders to memories of my childhood where I reflect on all the events that had led to today's adventure as my eyes slowly drift into a hazy slumber.