Meeting Jaehart Again
"Phew, we're finally almost out of here," said Leguna with a relieved sigh when he saw the edges of Nightsong Forest in front of him.
They had been walking through the wild flatlands for three whole days. They had managed to escape Balor's ambush three days prior thanks to Marolyt's help. They rushed for a half a day and didn't rest until they were certain Balor had stopped pursuing them.
Ever since she had regained consciousness, Vera had been an unmoving log. Her gaze lacked the usual spirit. She just followed the group wordlessly. She only reacted when they cremated Ferd's body as they stopped to rest. At first, she stared at her father's corpse blankly. As she watched the man she knew turn into ashes, she couldn't resist the urge and started wailing. Within a few short days, the woman had reclaimed her lost paradise and fallen back into hell. The worst part was that the one who had killed her father was her brother.
She was extremely vexed. Should she feel remorse for what she had done to her brother? Or should she hate him for killing their father? There was an issue with the latter, though: Balor had become what he now was largely because of what she had done to him. Almost right away, she placed all the blame on herself. She started to hate how weak and cowardly she had been back then. She knelt before the box with Ferd's ashes as she switched between crying and laughing, slapping her face all the while. Nether Kurdak nor Annelotte could convince her to stop. In the end, Leguna acted.
He slapped her no-holds-barred.
"Ley!" Kurdak had wanted to stop the kid, but he merely signaled them to keep quiet.
Vera rubbed her face, dumbfounded.
"Ley, do you think I'm a despicable person too?"
"Of course you are," Leguna said coldly, "Because you're a coward."
"That's right. If I hadn't abandoned Balor, this would never have happened."
"That's not it. I hate that you've been wallowing in your pain and regret for so many years. It's like you're addicted to it. You're not just not in a hurry to climb out of your pit, you keep huddling on your own and crying in a corner. Your self-pity is abhorrent."
Vera didn't respond.
"If you hate how you were in the past but never change, then you will hate yourself as you are not as well. You're a coward. You were a coward, still are one, and will always be one. You're so cowardly people can't help but despise you!
"You abandoned your brother and ran because you were afraid of death. What are you doing now? You've seen your brother is going down the wrong road, but what are you doing about it? You just drown in your tears and slap yourself! Are you just going to let Balor, your last family, destroy himself? You abandoned him once already. Are you going to do it again?"
Leguna put both his hands on her shoulders.
"Stand up bravely, Sis. We're all on your side. I am here, Annie is here, Boss is here, too. Don't be afraid and don't drown in your sorrow and regret. That's completely meaningless. If you don't want this to go on, you have to stand up and walk out of your pit! You can only hate your old self if you do and give yourself a slap in the face! Only then can you face Uncle Ferd's ashes!"
Vera repeated Leguna's words in her mind in a daze. In the end, clarity returned to her eyes.
"Thanks, Ley, thanks all of you," Vera said as she wiped off her tears, "Ley's right. I've always been a coward. It's about damn time I stopped chickening out. Now that the little bastard has become like this, I should go teach him a lesson!"
"That's my girl," snapped Kurdak as he embraced Vera.
"Where did you learn that?" asked Annelotte softly as she walked to Leguna's side.
"Well, a girl I knew from the slums taught me something along those lines. She's called Eirinn," replied Leguna.
Sigh, it's already been two years. Is Moonshadow still incapable of finding out anything about Eirinn?
Annelotte shot Leguna a glance with puckered lips.
When night fell, the group had made it to the middle of Nightsong Forest.
"Alright, we shouldn't be any danger," said Kurdak. relieved.
Given the recent human activity in the north over the past two years, Nightsong Forest had basically become a human territory. Naturally, the ancient and mysterious elves of the settlement in the forest would never acknowledge it. But, since the humans didn't cause too much damage, they hadn't attacked them either.
"Let's not take it for granted. Better keep our guard up." Vera had returned to normal, but everyone could feel she had changed. At the very least, Kurdak had noticed she had been practicing her archery every night until her arms ached.
The party set up camp and prepared to take a rest.
As the campfire crackled, Kurdak took out the meat they got from the orcs. Though the gigantic beasts the orcs reared were huge and clumsy, their meat was impeccable. It was a great ingredient for roasting. The smell of roasted meat wafted through the forest. Ever since their excursion to Icepeak Mountain, Kurdak's meat roasting skills had improved considerably. Not only did it earn Leguna's non-stop praise, even Annelotte nodded after tasting some. Roasting meat had become Kurdak's unique skill.
"Boss's meat tastes the best," said Leguna with an oily mouth.
"Hey, I bet your meat tastes better. Your whole family must taste delicious," grumbled Kurdak.
Anyone would be sick of it after doing the same task for two years. Kurdak was quite sick of his perpetual roast duty.
"Hehe, at the very least, we all love your roast meat," praised Vera earnestly.
As everyone was chatting away, a noise rustled in the bushes behind Kurdak.
Kurdak rolled on the ground and raised his two-handed sword as he watched the bushes carefully. Vera also drew her enchanted bow; the nocked arrow glinted coldly in the moonlight. A slender figure walked out of the underbrush. It was unmistakably human. After ascertaining the newcomer was human, everyone relaxed slightly. However, when the person stepped into the moonlight, they were completely flabbergasted.
They recognized him. It was Jaehart, the kid that had tried to steal Vera's pouch and later served as their guide two years ago.
What's with the past two days? We've been reuniting with people we know again and again, thought Kurdak.
First was Ferd, then Balor, and now Jaehart.
"I didn't think it would be you," said Jaehart with a friendly smile.
"Oh, it's you, kid. What are you doing here all alone?" Leguna was also glad to see him.
Jaehart seemed far brighter now; he was no longer the cold, suspicious kid he used to be. Leguna took all credit for the change and couldn't help but feel proud of himself.
"Long time no see, Bro, Sis, Boss," greeted Jaehart as he stepped into the camp.
When he turned to Annelotte, he looked confused.
"Oh, she's Annelotte, a new member," introduced Leguna.
He wasn't the slightest bit surprised at the blank look Jaehart had. Anyone would be rendered speechless upon seeing Annelotte's unparalleled beauty.
"I see. My pleasure to make your acquaintance, Miss Annelotte," Jaehart nodded.
He turned to Leguna.
"Where's that quiet man? Cyranos, right?"
"...He passed away."
Leguna recounted the events that lead to Cyranos's death.
"I'm so sorry," said Jaehart with a lowered head.
"It's a thing of the past. What about you? What have you been up to? Did you become a mercenary?"
Leguna noticed how Jaehart was dressed. He was clad in hunter's leather garb and carried a longbow and longsword. Two daggers were sheathed on his thighs. He rather resembled a mercenary. Jaehart laughed.
"More or less. After I returned to town, I met a hunter and became his squire. I've been hunting with him ever since. I can only hunt normal animals and the lowest level fiends. I'm still a little too weak to be a real mercenary."
"Not bad. I see you've improved quite a bit; you're at the fifth stratum," Kurdak said, "Are you here on a hunting trip?"
Jaehart nodded. "Yes. I was hunting with my teacher. His campsite is not far off. I only set out for a walk cause I was bored and the smell of roast meat led me here. I didn't think it would actually be you guys. What do you think about setting up camp with us? We have quite a few people and it's bound to be merry."
Kurdak glanced at his companions. They didn't voice any objections, so he nodded.
"Alright. We're quite sick of seeing nothing but orc faces all the time. Mingling with fellow humans sounds like a good change of pace."
"Whoa! You guys headed into orcish territory?! You have to tell me about your adventures! There are quite a few young'uns in our troupe who want to try their luck!" said Jaehart with a face full of excitement.
"No problem. Big Bro here has enough material to write a whole novel," boasted Leguna as he nodded furiously.
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