After walking for a few hours, the mare led them to a cave similar to the one they’d used before except with a much bigger opening. It would mean less security but more comfort which was a mixed bag in everybody’s eyes.
Ava decided on not to dwell on it. A cave was still safer than being in the woods exposed on all sides and above or worse, up a tree.
The others were happy simply to get a chance to rest. Daichi
Ava and Hannah went out for a few minutes, for “girl needs” as they so eloquently stated.
When they came back to the group, Daichi took the opportunity and voiced out the order of the different night-watch shifts. He called for himself and the shorter mare, Kaden and the taller mare (at her behest) and Ava with Hannah.
Daichi didn’t trust the mare 100% but he didn’t trust anyone 100%. He now knew enough about the mare’s intentions to believe they wouldn’t try to kill him while he slept. It wouldn’t be beneficial to them at this point.
In fact, Daichi realized he would never trust them. Not unless he was notably stronger than them. Daichi realized he could never trust someone who could kill him with ease if he was caught unaware.
Hannah gave Kaden a glance and noticed how tired he looked, so much so that he was already falling asleep. Not able to simply ignore that, Hannah voiced her thoughts.
“Someone isn’t telling me something. Daichi what are you hiding.” Hannah said as she looked at Daichi and then glanced back over at Kaden.
Kaden was suspiciously tired, and if that were it perhaps she could let it go, but the mare had just joined them yesterday and Daichi being his suspicious self. Would have immediately jumped at the opportunity and assumed it was them.
The fact that he was playing it off as if Kaden’s exhaustion was normal made her think that he knew something he wasn’t telling her. He wasn’t acting like himself by ignoring something so obviously out of place.
Daichi looked at Hannah and sighed. It had barely been two days and she had already basically figured out something was up. Taking a good look at this red head, she really wasn’t like her brother. She was exceptional perceptive.
Daichi considered his options, but after the day they had. He decided to be honest. The others should know their circumstances. Knowing that they had basically become food as a necessity to survive would motivate them.
Moreover, Daichi was already feeling like he’d gotten off lucky. He’d been expecting at least one of them to complain about his “plan” regarding their battle with the trolls. Instead, everyone had seemed to be so contemplative that no one said a word of complaint.
Daichi shifted his gaze over to Kaden and spoke up “Let’s get everything out into the open.”
Daichi and Kaden proceeded to explain that the mare needed mana to survive. Unfortunately for them, only taking in the natural mana was barely enough for them to survive. It was a akin to being in a perpetual state of starvation.
Telling her up to this point, Kaden glossed over a few details and told her about how the mare had taken some of his mana. Daichi had noticed and stopped it. Then they had discussed all of this and come to an arrangement that he himself proposed. Kaden admitted he had agreed to give them mana in exchange for their assistance while in the forest. It was a mutually beneficial agreement for all involved.
Hannah took everything in. She let Kaden speak, she focused on his words and let her gaze drift as he spoke.
As Kaden spoke she glanced back over at him and noticing the parlor of his expression. Hannah came to the realization that the mare were not to be trusted. She would find the right opportunity, and she would kill them.
Hannah knew as Kaden defended them, by speaking to the merits of how useful they had been and could be that she couldn’t let her intent show. Still staring at Kaden and hearing the events of two nights ago. Hannah was not the slightest bit surprised that Daichi had chosen to do nothing at all.
He was using them as much as he wanted to use the mare. This was completely within Hannah’s own set of expectations of him. Even as Hannah heard that Daichi had saved Kaden’s life it meant nothing to her. He did that for himself, not for Kaden or for me.
Hannah calculated that Daichi was as strong if not stronger than the mare. Stronger she concluded. If that is the case, Hannah further realized how careful she would have to be in order to kill the mare.
“That’s ridiculous! There’s no way we can trust them after that! What the hell is wrong with you Kaden!?” Ava shouted at him.
“If you’re going to just feed them like this, what the hell does that make us! We’re not cattle!” Ava shouted indignant about the entire situation.
“We are cattle. Everything is cattle to something stronger or smarter.” Daichi said nonchalantly while staring at Hannah.
“Hannah… Are you going to say something?” Kaden asked, afraid of what she was going to say.
“I have nothing to say. I am very upset. This is your choice though, if you are okay with this then I can’t stop you…” Hannah said while slowly turning to look at the mare.
“But… If something happens to you. If they have lied about anything. I will make you two wish for death. Death is easy, it’s quick. I won’t be so lenient.” Hannah spoke in a chilly tone.
The entire atmosphere was wracked with tension.
Glancing over at the mare, Daichi asked them if they could take a walk for a few minutes.
Responding with a nod and nothing else the two mare walked out of the cave with nonchalant expressions. They realized instantly that the only reason to have them leave would be to discuss their continued alliance.
“These group talks are becoming a daily thing hah. Let’s put things on the metaphorical table.” Daichi spoke as his gaze swept over everyone in the group.
“We have no idea where we are. We have have no idea where we’re going. This forest is filled with monsters, the weak ones apparently stronger than you, the strong ones I can’t even begin to guess at. We’re lucky if that’s all there is, but there could be more for all we know.” Daichi stared at each of them for a few seconds at a time as he drove the nail in.
“We need them. We can’t trust them, you’re right. How could we trust anyone who could kill us? But we need them, without them we’re lost, with no aim and just waiting to be picked off by something at some point. Just look at today. My skill told me those trolls were all lesser beings. How did that go?” Daichi said.
Ava wanted to say something, but couldn’t find the words.
Kaden looked at Hannah and then looked down. He best understood exactly the situation they were in. As much as he liked the idea of having two new beauties join their ranks, he’d been trying to find a way for them to survive since they left their town. Kaden just wanted to keep them safe, to save Hannah and to find an alternative to Daichi’s kill-kill-kill mentality.
Even so, at every turn Kaden found himself loathing the reality he was surrounded by. Daichi’s method seemed to be the only method.
Kaden looked at Hannah,. He knew she wanted to protect him. She was thinking about how to deal with their problems without the mare, but there wasn’t any solution. Not right now.
Making eye-contact with Daichi, Hannah finally spoke “I will teach Kaden my form of meditation. I think from now on we should take every opportunity to hunt. I think we should avoid looking for the shortest method out of this forest. The shortest method isn’t short anyways, and once we get out, we still don’t know what we’ll find.”
Gazing back at Hannah, Daichi felt like her intensions were obvious. She wanted to become strong enough to kill the mare without anyone here being able to stop her.
Daichi thought about it, and decided that if that’s the motivation she needed, then whatever.
“Great. We’re settled.” Daichi said as he got back up and walked in the direction the mare had left to bring them back.
After finding them, they all sat in silence for a while before they started their shifts.
Everyone was feeling uncomfortable, and were avoiding looking at the mare. Everyone but Daichi.
Hannah sat next to Kaden and tried to teach him a bit about meditation. She knew that her form of meditation was not the most effective and it required a lot of concentration and erasing one’s mind.
Kaden’s inability to stop himself from thinking about girls, had always made her refrain from even bothering to try and teach him. Now that she had no choice, she hoped that he would pick it up fast.
If he didn’t, she would have to kill the mare.
Kaden listened and understood what Hannah was trying to teach him, but he couldn’t keep his mind focused on nothing or clearing it with so much going through his mind after today.
Kaden had killed two more creatures today. They weren’t human, but they had slaughtered these creatures. It was effective and no one he cared for was harmed, but Kaden still had a hard time struggling with the feeling of the unfairness of how it was done.
Realizing this was only the beginning, Kaden decided to be resolute in his actions. Hannah, Daichi and even Ava were doing what they needed too in order for all of them to survive. He would not allow himself to hinter them now that they had chosen a path.
Thinking this far, Kaden also decide their path didn’t need to be his.
I can’t do it. I can’t kill and feel nothing. I can’t kill and think it’s okay, that I’m not taking something away, something irreversible.
I can’t ignore that it has to be done, not if I want to protect Hannah and the people I care about.
If I have to choose between protecting my ideals and Hannah. Then I will choose Hannah, I will always choose the people who matter most to me.
I will kill. I will each and every opponent before me, and I will not hesitate. I will get Hannah to safety, and then I will atone. I will atone for every life I’ve taken and for every ounce of pain I’ve caused in this world.
This will my penance. This is how I will protect my ideals.
Feeling resolute in his decision. Kaden finally reached the point of no return the others had. He had become resolute in his choice for moving forward.
Now feeling less burdened by his feelings and morality, Kaden was free to interpret the situation a bit more objectively.
I have to kill. That is done.
That doesn’t mean that I have to kill indiscriminately. That does not mean I have to allow the others to kill unnecessarily.
Those that have to die will die, but those that I can save. The ones that can work with us, that could become our allies. I will stake my life to get their help.
We didn’t kill the mare and now they are our allies. There’s no reason we can’t make more allies in order to reach our goals!
Feeling clear and at ease. Kaden finally drifted off to sleep. Feeling a sense of peace he hadn’t felt before.
Ava was feeling angry at herself. She felt like she had been trying to adjust, trying to keep up with everyone since they had left their home.
Now she felt herself needing to change even more. Now the group was in a position where they needed to trust random monsters who meant them some degree of harm and possibly more. Instead of being able to do something about it, they had to endure.
Ava was torn. Torn at her inability to do any of the things she’d been taught to do.
Ava was getting angry at her parents. Angry that what they had taught her was wrong. She had grown up believing something that had suddenly become so useless to her at every situation she found herself in with these people.
Today she had almost died. She was an inch away from having her face bitten off. Seeing those trolls in agony, after experiencing that. This was the first time the pain felt so real. The pain she was doing to others.
The blood, the gore and the disgust she felt earlier. Ava came to the realization that she would do that to anyone. As many times as it was necessary if it meant it wouldn’t be done to her.
Using her anger to motivate herself, Ava concluded that if everyone else was going to become stronger, than she would become stronger than all of them.
Ava decided to become the strongest, and assume the position of leadership she deserved.