He shrugged as if it didn’t pertain to him, but his expression said spoke a different story. “Knight Orders are different from the Royal Army.” He said before he stopped with a thoughtful look, probably in an attempt to find the best words. “Knight Orders are the government’s version of adventurers, put together entirely for the purpose of protecting the settlements.”
Agatha finally took a spot on the dirt by her husband with a handful of cooled roasted deer meat. “Enough talking dear, the kid needs to eat. He’s had a rough night and needs to rest.” She chastised her husband gently before she tied her long hair back with a piece of cloth. I had only glanced at her as she put her hair up, but I noticed her right ear was mutilated badly with scars trailing down her neck and under her armor. She was about to take a bite of her food when her eyes locked with mine. I quickly looked away to Healer who quickly avoided my gaze with a whistle.
“Curious about how I got these scars?” I heard her ask me and I turned back to her. “Y-Yeah.” Now I felt awkward in the sense I did want to know, but I didn’t want to nose my way through her life story. “Not if you don’t want to talk about it though.” I hastily added when I saw a dangerous gleam in her eye. “Goblins.” She answered with a cold smile. “They looked worst off than me when I was finished with them.”
After the meal, I came to the realization that the bodies of the men had already been moved. I never thought I’d be the one to forget there were several dead men lying around, but Healer told me that Hammer and Aeneas had already carried them a bit away. The afternoon sea breeze brought with it the smell of salt and fish. The combination managed to mask the soaked up dry blood that dotted the crash site from last night’s ambush. I honestly would have forgotten it had even happened if I had not noticed the abnormal dark spots on the ground by the hull.
I was just glad I had not been placed down in one of those spots.
I sat in the inward slope where the main body of the bird merged into the tail and watched the column of smoke rise from where Healer and Hammer had set the pile of collected bodies on fire. Anything of value had been left for me up here where Aeneas and his wife appraised them before they separated the items into different piles. I wanted to help them, but I could not since my body wasn’t restored – only mended.
Healer explained to me that what he used was a Lesser Healing spell which only mended muscles, bones and anything that was damaged. It, however, couldn’t alleviate the exhaustion and strain that my body had felt. My bones ached and my muscles protested with any attempt to use them. That was not to mention the swelling in my legs and around some of my rubs that Healer couldn’t help with unless he took me back to his home in the settlement. I told him I definitely wanted to get the swelling down as soon as possible, but they had to deal with the corpses before they turned into undead.
Hammer had helped me onto my little perch so I could lay my bare back against the warm metal hull as the cool sea breeze washed over me. It was a short downtime well earned, but it allowed my mind to finally process my current predicament and Lily had been abnormally silent for a while. The screen had that annoying loading symbol going and she didn’t answer my queries so I was only left with my own thoughts.
Thoughts that I wish I wasn’t left with.
The first to wash over me was the guilt that I had been the only one to survive. I didn’t see it as fate or my destiny but only sheer dumb fucking luck. I had been sat in the hardest to reach part of the cabin with its unusual setup, but it was a set up that held back those monsters in the rift long enough for me to reach this new world. But I felt survivor’s guilt nonetheless. Did the other helicopters in the wing get sucked into the rift as well or did they perish in the nuclear flames back home? It wasn’t an answer I could answer easily at the moment with my human limitations and the lack of Lily’s logistical back-end support.
When it came to the fight against to the goblins, I hadn’t felt a ping of regret, and in fact, now I felt a wave of pride fill me at the thought that I survived that ordeal. Then when it came to the ambush last night… Regret and self-loathing thoughts filled my hear. I could have avoided the loss of human life. I could have killed that man in his office when I had the chance. One life versus all those men that I had to kill because he ordered them to kill me. I shook their idiotic thoughts from my head.
If I had killed that man back in the office, Healer may not have become my ally and it was more than likely I would have had to fight my way out of that office against tens of adventurers and even the settlement’s knights. Those men that came last night may have been the best outcome if I wanted to minimize the unnecessary loss of human life. When I thought further… I felt disgusted with myself. I did not regret the loss of human life, but that I had been the one to kill them.
I tried to think further into it. Into why I had no regrets when I killed those soldiers back home, but instead, I felt regrets when I countered these thugs that came to kill me in my sleep. Maybe it was because there was a clear difference distinction on who actually held the upper hand. I had the ability to strike within a split second while they fumbled with their cold weapons. I held an unprecedented technological advantage over these people. My weapons denied them their dignity and honor.
In the end, I knew these were just childish thoughts. It was a kill or be killed situation, but I couldn’t help shake the whirl of emotions that swept through me. Just before the emo side turned me into Kylo Ren, I saw Hammer as he slowly picked his way up the slope towards me before he came to the foot of the tail. “Healer sent me to check on you.” He said before he heaved himself onto the tail with me. Hammer was a large teenager around my age “So, how you doing? Aside from lookin’ like you just been threshed by pigs.” His accent was comparable to a southern accent. My brows furrowed at his comment.
“I feel like shit, obviously.” I grimaced at the question. “Yeah, I know, but I still had to ask or Healer gonna get mad if I don’t ask you anyway.” He laid down next to me. “Healer also wanted to know if you wanted to come back with us into the village.” He said with a somewhat annoying nonchalance as he wrapped his arms behind his head and crossed his legs to get comfortable. “Yeah, I’ll head back with you guys. I need a good wash.” I grumbled and a smirk appeared on his face like he knew I was going to say that too.
. . . . . .
What was also annoyed me was the fact that my legs apparently needed a lot more rest Healer originally thought. I hadn’t gotten halfway down the ridge when my legs began to shake. Even before that, I had needed to take breaks every few minutes to the point that Hammer had lost that smirk he had before. “Pick him up.” Healer told Hammer. Even Aeneas and Agatha were slowly losing their patience at the slow pace. It was a nearly half-hour walk from the crash site to the village when you took into considerate the natural obstacles such as thicket, trees, and large rocks.
There were already several beaten paths that snaked through the forest and Healer decided, of the only two entrances, we were to use the southern gate to avoid any trouble with Arnold. Aeneas had filled me in on the fact most of the knights here hated the man with an almost undying hatred, but like any group, there were people who could be bought. At the mention, I felt my hair prickle at the fact I hadn’t even considered that the people who helped me were secretly against me. I had just taken their help at face value.
I made a note to be more cautious in the future about just blindly trusting any person. I spared a look at Healer and wondered what his motivations were about helping me these past few days. I braced myself for the moment he was would ask for me to return the favor. I also told myself that as long as what he asked of me didn’t feel wrong, I would try and repay the favor.
“What’s on your mind?” Hammer asked. I had been so wrapped up in my thoughts that I had almost forgotten I was currently being princess carried by this man. “Nothing, why?” Of course, there was plenty wrong with this situation! Don’t mind what I was thinking, how could you just do this so naturally?!
I screamed at him in my heart while outwardly I shrugged his question off. “I’ve noticed you got a pretty interesting thinking face.” I felt my expression cramp up as my dead brown eyes gazed up into his green ones. “That’s -” I was about to say gay, but he beat me to the punch.” I am not into men!” He huffed and I could see the blush roll across his cheeks. While I was only going to give him a half friendly-half hostile jab, he seemed pretty offended that I’d even insinuate that he was remotely homosexual. The thought of knowing what tick this man off brought an evil thought to mind that made me smile.
“You’re creepin’ me out.” He said as he avoided my gaze that was still locked on him but now with a smile. “You’re the one that’s been watching me, how am I creepy?” His jaw fell as his brows furrowed. I could tell he wanted to retort, but I had stumped him with the truth. Even if it was slightly twisted around to make him look bad. “Hahah! Seems like the troublemaker has met his match!” Aeneas hollered.
A few minutes later of banter, we broke through the treeline on the eastern edge of the village and its palisades rose from the packed earth at their base. A wide expanse of nearly fifteen meters separated the forest from the village’s defensive wall. It hadn’t been that apparent at the northern gate that they were clearing the forest around them as the trees encroached close to the northern gate without a hint that they weren’t soon for the forest in the sky. We navigated across tens of cut wooden stumps that protruded dangerously from the churned dirt floor. Thick needles of wood from where the trunks were ripped from the stump when they were felled.
It took a while to make it safely across the hazardous clearing, but Aeneas was adamant that it was safer than if they had crossed paths with one of Arnold’s lackies by the northern gate. With how insistent he was, I could only keep my complaints to myself. We eventually reached the wall where a footpath skirted the wooden wall in either direction and Aeneas took the lead along with his wife.
When we reached the southern entrance, I was greeted by well-kept grass that spanned across the open field where tree stumps sat behind them. The was a wide road with four beaten lines that ran in and out of the entrance and into the forest. A horse-drawn carriage was parked in front of the gateway as six knights went over it quickly before they waved the wagon on through and the driver ushered the horse forward with a shake of the reigns.
We crossed through the gate with Aeneas leading the pack. What confused me was that the difference between the northern entrance from the southern entrance. The northern entrance had well-packed dirt roads and the buildings were well build. The main street that ran from the north gate was uneven and riddled with small dips here and there. The buildings looked hastily built.
The buildings weren’t made from a combination of mud and logs to come together into a solid building. Rather, the stores and workshop appeared to have been cut hastily before they were just shoved together. The wood planks were cut unevenly and there were odd gaps between them. Most of them did not even have windows. All of the buildings were topped with thatched roofs. Most of the buildings leaned slightly, but whether it was the product of their poor construction or the dirt, I didn’t know.
We ventured off the main road and stepped onto a narrow road, barely large enough for a horse to pass by, and made our way down its winding path. I was happy that the path here was in a better condition, but the shack-like homes that rimmed the road made me claustrophobic. Their walls bent out slightly towards the top with the straw roofs hanging off by a few inches, further strangling the sunlight that peeked into the road. The houses were the same as the previous buildings, with their poor quality, and a mold-like smell pervaded the area. This caused my nose to crumble in disgust.
“Why ya’ making that face?” Hammer asked as he glanced down at me before looking back up. “It smells around here,” I answered without a thought as I glanced around. I played a few fantasy games and I had always thought how nice it’d be to live in such a beautiful world – but it stank badly. “You’re one to talk, you look like a wilding!” Hammer snorted, not taking well to my gripe. “What’s a wilding?” I answer as my eyes flicked over to him with a curiosity that burned brightly in them. “Wives Tales. They say unwanted children who are thrown into the forest will turn into wildlings. Dirty monsters that feast on the blood of newborns.” Healer said as he smacked the side of Hammer’s head.
“Oi! I was just messin’ with him!” The teen said with a grievance. I laughed softly, a genuine laugh, for the first time in a while. It felt good…
Eventually, I found myself inside Healer’s home-part-clinic that rested on the western end of the town where the Mayor’s office and the Knight’s barracks were. I was curious about how this town’s layout became so… weird, but I made a mental note that I would ask about it at a more appropriate time. I figured it would be rude of me to ask at the moment. The differences between Healer’s home and the previously passed shacks was as clear as night and day. His large, standing at two floors tall, it was placed on the edge of the settlement. Its walls were made from fired brick and mortar.
We entered the house and what greeted me was a dark interior that lasted for a few moments until Aeneas opened the shutters and light poured in. “Hammer, help him wash up.” Healer said as more shutters were pulled open. The interior was honestly quite beautiful and well made. The floorboards were worn and dusty while several shelves lined with books and curios populated the walls, here and there. The room was like a large living room. There was an unlit hearth against the far wall and the kitchen set aside in the corner of the same wall.
A large worn fur rug lay in the middle of the room where several chairs rest around. Before I could get a better look, Hammer swung me around and took me off into a dark corner of the room, past a set of stairs. Just when I thought he was going to smother me against a well, which was one of those in-the-moment stupid thoughts, we disappeared into the darkness with Agatha in tow. I bounced up and down several times while withholding almost involuntary yelp that got caught in my throat. This was accompanied by the sound of Hammer’s heavy feet on wooden steps.
Agatha took the lead and opened the few shutters in the room so it could be graced by the warm afternoon sunlight. “Need help?” She asked when she opened the last pair of shutters. “Nah, your husband will kill me if I let you wash another man.” Hammer chuckled to himself as if the thought was funny. “Eh, true.” She said with a shrug before disappearing the way we came and I heard the sound of a heavy door being shut.
“This is the washroom. You’re gonna have ta’ clean up before anything.” He said and sat me down on a chair to a wooden contain that was large enough to fit a man slightly bigger than Hammer. If I sat in it, it would have gone all the way up to my chin. “Undress and get into the tub, I’ll get the water.” He said as he opened a door and more light poured in. I could now saw the floor was made from cut stone and it was definitely a washroom with the side of the room where the door rested was lined with thin towels.
I was already shirtless, but that just left me with pants, boots, Lily, and my headset. Something Hammer had complained about at first, but I wasn’t going to take it off if I could help it. “Lily, you there?” I hailed her with a whisper. “Yes.” A curt response. “You’ve been quiet all day, are you okay?” The loading symbol, which had been turning all day long, finally turned off. Silence fell between us and I felt something was definitely off as I took off my clothes. “I’m okay. I just had a lot to process today…” Her voice trailed off as I took off the headset and placed everything on the table next to me, I also took my tact-link off.
I pulled the chair over to the tub and rested the tact-link on the seat with the screen up.
The tub was placed against the wall with a closed set of shudders just above its lip. I sat in the tub nude just as Hammer came in with two large buckets of water. “Damn, you’re pretty strong!” I gasped. Those bails were half his size! “Yup!” he placed them by the tub and poured them in one by one. “Shit!” I cursed and stiffened up as icy cold water filled halfway. Hammer snickered at my reaction as he sat the large bucket of water down and began to pour the next one. Steam rose from the bucket as hot water cut through the cold. A comfortable warmth pervaded the cold and the shivers that racked me calmed down.
Hammer that pulled off a green jar off a nearby shelf along with something that looked like a bar of soap. “This is for your hair.” he placed the jar on the chair. “This is for your body.” He placed the bar of soap on the chair. I nodded with a “hmm” as my eyes glistened with happiness as the sight of soap. “The cork on the side facing the wall is the drain plug. Pull it when you’re done.”
. . . . .
Hammer disappeared for a while as I went about destroying every single inch of filth. It wasn’t long until my clean mid-neck long hair plastered against me. My skin was spotless and I had not felt this good in such a long time. The water became grimy so I drained the tub. I found there was still water in both the buckets so I combined them and dumped it over me to rise myself. I stepped out of the tub and my muscles didn’t cry out so much now that they had been messaged by the lovely warmth of the bath. Water dripped off my slim body and I could see most of the swelling around my chest had gone down. I felt relief.
I looked out the window by the tub. Outside was a large garden of herbs with a well that hugged the palisades. The garden was hugged with two other brick buildings on either side. I heard the door scrape open from the living room and I turned to see Hammer strut in with my vest. “Hey, what are-” His voice trailed off when he looked at me as I leaned over the tub’s lip to get another look at the nice garden. We both locked eyes and a faint blush came over Hammer’s face with the look of confusion.