Saturday afternoon on Herenstraat, inside a big hospital, a muscular man was walking down the busy corridor. He was wearing a brown leather jacket over his black t-shirt, and a pair of ripped denim pants. His hair was covered by a cap that he was wearing. His brown eyes were looking straight ahead, ignoring the stare of people around him. His manner of walking was confident and somewhat arrogant, showing that he was a man who was the head of a group.
Jacco van Wert stopped in front of a hospital room with the number 5-624 on the door. He reached out to the doorknob and twisted it gently. He opened the door softly without making a lot of noise and then closed it behind him.
The strong scent of disinfectant penetrated his nose. The white hospital room was very clean, indicating that it had been recently cleaned. There were chairs, sofas, and a table there, on which some fruit and snacks were placed. Those were not meant for the patient, as they were not allowed to eat food from outside, but rather, for visitors. The fact that they were still uneaten meant that the patient in that room didn't get a lot of visitors. Even the television on the wall opposite the patient was left off, although the patient was alone in the room.
"Acco you've come!"
There was a voice coming from the other end of the room near the window. There, there was a girl with a shaved head about sixteen or seventeen years old sitting on the white bed. Covering her body was the fluffy white sheet that she hugged closely. Her expression was joyful the moment she saw who the person visiting was.
"Dada, you shouldn't be sitting like that," said Jacco with a concerned voice.
The teenage girl looked at the man with playful eyes. Although her face was pale, her smile radiated happiness and strength. She didn't budge from her position and kept on sitting on the bed with her back leaning against the wall with a pillow between.
"I'm strong enough now, you don't need to worry," she said with a wide smile. Her voice, although sounded faint, was still showing the little strength she had. "Besides, I can see you better like this..."
Jacco dragged a chair and placed it next to the bed. He didn't try to argue anymore with the teenage girl, but instead, changed the topic.
"How are you feeling right now?" he asked.
The girl's pale blue eyes were glimmering dimly.
"I'm feeling much better now. This room is also much nicer than the one before. I can rest in silence here because I'm all alone," she explained enthusiastically, and then her expression became concerned, "But is it really okay? This room must be very expensive. Not to mention my treatment that must cost hundreds,"
Jacco held the girl's left hand tightly.
"Dada, I've found a side job, so you don't have to worry about money anymore," he said convincingly.
The girl turned away from Jacco and stared at the window longingly.
"I wish I was healthy so I wouldn't burden you, Acco. I wish Mama and Papa were still here as well," the brightness in her tone disappeared and was replaced by wistfulness.
Jacco's grip on her hand grew tighter but still gentle. He waited for her to turn her face back to him and spoke kindly.
"You don't have to worry about your big brother. Just focus on getting better. When you're healthy again, I promise to take you to other cities," Jacco's deep voice sounded much gentler than usual. Gone was the Jacco that was vulgar and always cursed.
"You've promised, so you have to keep it!" she replied. The smile came back to her pale and tired face.
Jacco took off the cap that he was wearing and put it on the girl's hairless head. His hair, which had been covered by the cap, was now weirdly pressed down.
"Here, I bought this for you. Now you don't have to worry about looking like an alien," he said jokingly.
The girl laughed a little and took off the cap slowly. She ran her fingers on the cap and observed the black object. Although it was just a common cap, it meant a lot to her because it was given by her only remaining family member.
"Thanks, big brother!" she smiled widely.
"It's just a cap," replied Jacco. "Since I'm making more money now, do you have anything you want?" he said.
The girl tilted her head a little, thinking.
"I want more books, please. It's boring here. And if I get out, I don't want to be stupid," she said honestly.
"Okay. I'll get you so many books that you will not be able to read them all," he smiled.
"Thanks, Acco. You are the best brother that I have,"
Jacco smiled awkwardly and scratched the back of his head.
The late afternoon sun penetrated the window and landed on the girl's pale skin. She turned her face to the sun and felt the pleasant warmth with all her being. A happy smile surfaced on her face once again. She was reminded that being alive felt good. After a while, she turned around and looked at her brother.
"Acco, I will get better and after that, I will get out of here and we can travel to all places!" she spoke in a determined voice. Her eyes looked resolute.
"Yes. Once you are discharged, we will start our journey!" replied Jacco.
The two people were smiling inside the white hospital room. The warm sun was still shining into the room through the windows. Suddenly, he heard the sound of knocking at the door. The knocking was uniform without sounds of urgency. There was a glass panel from which they should be able to see the person outside but from that angle, they couldn't see anyone.
"Who is that?" asked the girl.
"I don't know. That can't be the nurse or doctor; they don't need to knock. I'll go check." he said.
Jacco got up from the chair and approached the door. He now could see the figure of the person knocking and he knew right away who it was. He pushed the door and greeted the person that he wasn't expecting to see there in the hospital.
It was a man wearing a long overcoat and a trilby on his head. When he moved, his coat rattled a little. There must be a lot of stuff inside the man's pockets.
"Hymes? How did you find me here?"
Graham took out a lighter and showed it to Jacco.
"With this," he said meaningfully.
The girl who was sitting on the bed stuck out her head so she could see the guest from there. She could only see the man's hat but not his face because Jacco was blocking her view.
"Who is that, Acco? Your friend?" she asked curiously.
"Just a business partner. I'll be back quickly. Be good, okay!" he said from the door.
The girl nodded and Jacco gestured at Graham to follow him to the corridor. He closed the door gently behind him and sat on one of the rows of chairs there.
"Who was that?" asked Graham.
Jacco hesitated for a moment. He looked down, thinking.
"That's my sister, Ada," he said finally, and then asked back, "So why the hell have you come all the way here?"
"I have a job for you. The pay is forty guilders per person, but it's going to be dangerous," he said.
Jacco's eyes widened at the mention of the amount of money. Although that amount wasn't much for Graham whose needs for enchanted items kept increasing, it was a lot for Jacco, who was only concerned about paying his sister's medical bills and his basic needs. The fact that the mission might be dangerous went past him.
"What do I have to do?" he asked eagerly.
"We need to go back to the cave in the north. This time, our target is somewhere much deeper there, so I'm sure there will be more creatures that we will encounter. There will be the four of us; our employer will come along," he explained.
Jacco knew that his role was as a support, so he was technically the safest among them. However, remembering how it went last time, he couldn't consider that a walk in the park either.
"I'll do it. What about the loots?" he asked curiously.
"The employer is not interested in them, so we can sell them and split the money among us three. The money we get in total will be more than forty guilders," said Graham.
"That sounds good. When are we going? It's not today, I presume?"
Graham crossed his leg and fixed his coat. The things that he was carrying in his pockets were dangling down uncomfortable under his coat.
"No. We'll go tomorrow morning, so get ready. We'll meet in front of my apartment building because Luuk and I are already there," he explained.
Jacco nodded, and then remembered something.
"Speaking of Luuk, do you think his magic powder can cure my sister's condition?" he asked solemnly.
Graham looked at Jacco. The latter's eyes were hopeful.
"I... don't think so. Otherwise, there wouldn't be any sick people, would there?" he said with regret.
Jacco's expression sunk. Although he had expected the answer, it was still disappointing to know that such a thing was impossible, even with supernatural powers. He put his hands on his face.
"She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer six months ago. We were lucky she could get treatment early," he said with a sad tone.
Graham put his hand on Jacco's shoulder.
"Maybe when we get stronger, curing the sick won't be impossible anymore," he said, giving Jacco hope.
Although he didn't know for sure, seeing how the stronger someone was, the more rule-bending their abilities were, surely there would be something that could cure severe illnesses.
Hearing Graham's words, Jacco's mind went racing. He had been wondering if he should stay as he was since he could still earn money by providing his support. Advancing was something not on his priority list. He would just take it as it went and advance if the chance presented itself in front of him. However, now he had a change of mind. Graham was probably correct, so he needed to get stronger.
"So I should advance, shouldn't I? I guess that's the only option. Or I could just leave it to the doctors, but they said her chance of survival is under sixty percent," he said finally.
"Then I can help you find the location of the scroll," he said.
"But which Deity should I choose for my next one?" asked Jacco, unsure.
Graham put his hand under his chin and stroked it. He recalled the ancient book-entry regarding Earl Rank Deities and scanned the information in his brain. There were eleven of Them, and there are several ones that were suitable for Jacco. However, he also had to think of the team's composition so their abilities wouldn't overlap.
"I think it would be best for us if you chose the Deity of Reconciliation. I know it's a total contrast with your current Deity, but usually contrasted abilities provide great synchronization," he said.
Jacco didn't know what the Deity of Reconciliation's power was, so he could only ask Graham.
"What abilities will I get if I form a contract with Him? And why is it suitable for me?"
"Since your role is already a support, this Deity will provide you with even more options. The main ability is, from what I've seen, to create a zone where nobody can attack," he said, recalling the fight between the mafia members and the black beast.
"With your War Drum attracting enemies' attention all the time, I think this ability will be very useful for your survival. This Deity should also help make you friendlier, so you don't swear all the time,"
"Fuck you," replied Jacco shortly.
"You've pleased the Deity of War, haven't you? So it's best if you advance tonight, before our mission tomorrow," said Graham.
"But I don't know where to get the scroll..." the muscular man replied.
Graham smiled meaningfully.
"Didn't I say I'd help you locate the scroll? But if we need to kill someone for that, you need to deal the killing blow yourself. Have you ever killed anyone?" asked Graham seriously.
Jacco went quiet for a second. He then looked up to the ceiling and spoke with conviction.
"I've never killed anyone, but if it's for my sister's sake, I don't care who I have to kill,"
"Then it is settled. Come to the abandoned chapel tonight at eight. After that, we'll go hunt the owner of the scroll," said Graham, and then he muttered quietly, "Val, why do I feel like a criminal mastermind..."
"Okay. Is there anything else? If not, I'll go back to my sister. I've been gone for too long, she must be worried," said Jacco.
"Then we shall meet again tonight. Send my regards to your sister," said Graham.
The two men got up from the chair and went their separate ways.