Edgard was more than just a little bit relieved to feel his eyes open again. So I have at least one more try, he thought, feeling lighter than a feather in the wind. His whole body almost floated as the relief washed over him. That means I have one more try to save the town and save Cedric too. He didn’t get out of bed right away. Today was potentially the last chance he would get. The rune was complete, and, for all the talking the Father did before Edgard’s death, he didn’t mention at all what would happen if Edgard died again. In fact, he hadn’t been helpful at all. I could ask him about the rune today, what it was intended for. He might say more if I press the subject harder this time, he thought, but then discarded the idea. No, deviations in the plan could spell disaster. What if he makes sure I don’t get a chance to escape this time after I save the town? Having to pick between safety and knowledge wasn’t a good choice, especially when his curiosity was gnawing away at him.
“No, this time, I can’t chase anything but success.” He let the words slide off his tongue and cement his will. No matter how much he needed to know, he couldn’t risk a repeat of yesterday. He couldn’t risk one of the townspeople dying because of his need to know who or what he was.
As he walked outside, prompting the annoying neighbor to pop out with his usual smug attitude, he found himself, oddly enough, not wanting to punch him. “Hey! How are you today?” he called out to him before the guy could even get a chance to start his usual rant.
“What?” The man was completely shocked by the unexpectedly confident and warm greeting. His flabbergasted expression was almost sweeter than any punch Edgard could have delivered.
“I said: How are you? It’s a very nice day outside, isn’t it?” Edgard pressed on with an amicable tone as he walked past the man, heading to Hilda’s house.
“Yeah, it reall– Hey, don’t you have to drop off the dirty laundry? Why are you holding a blanket? Where are you going?” he called out after Edgard as he continued to stroll towards Hilda’s place.
When Edgard arrived at Hilda’s, he actually knocked before she got a chance to come up on him admiring the painting through the door. “Hilda, it’s me, Edgard,” he called to her before the door even creaked open.
“Just a moment! I’ll be right there!” she returned cheerfully. Her voice was peppier and less tentative than it was when she had come upon him in front of the painting. “Wait . . .” She said, a bit falteringly. As soon as he noted the change in tone, the old uneasy one returned. “You’re umm . . . You’re not, umm . . .”
“Here because of your brother? No. I just wanted to take a walk with you . . . if you don’t mind.” He thought for a second. Well, maybe I am? He scratched his head. I mean, if he didn’t sleep with Mae, would I actually be so eager to keep showing up at your door, wanting you to run away with me? He absent-mindedly filled his cheeks with air as he pondered the thought.
“Okay.” Hilda popped out from the door. “A walk, yeah, I can do that,” she said, smiling. “I mean, I’m ready to go now if you want.”
He looked at her and then the painting and then back at her. It’s hard to tell if she’s the angel or the one clearing the path with a face like that, he thought to himself with a smile. Somehow, both Hilda and the painting seemed to be a little bit more beautiful with each viewing, as if every day compounded their beauties and halved their faults. “After you.” He extended his arm and feigned being the gentleman. He really didn’t have that type of manners, but today was likely the last day he would see her.
Unlike yesterday, where he was carefully repeating a test trial that worked, a line of dialogue that would culminate with the two of them agreeing to date later, this time, he was just trying to enjoy a final conversation. After all, unlike yesterday, he didn’t plan to take her with him. It was a decision he had made as he walked to the house. The choice came about because he knew that he couldn’t take her with him to the massacre and that, if he did, there was a chance she might make a mistake and die if that happened, and he had no more retries left. That was an unacceptable outcome. If he took her with him and everything went smoothly, then she’d definitely be scarred from having to watch so many people die. Lastly, if he didn’t take her with him, if he went back to get her later, there was a good chance that she’d end up just like Cedric, dead. There wasn’t a scenario he could think of where things would go smoothly, and he could end up with her, without seriously risking her life.
Sure, he could leave with her right now, not take Derian, just try to get the two of them out of town. If they left from the other gate, and if he talked her into climbing a mountain or something, he could have his happily ever after. He could be with Hilda, but the price was too steep. Even if he really wanted that type of dream-like future, it wasn’t meant to be. Edgard just couldn’t swallow the idea of letting hundreds of people die just so that he could have a good life with a pretty girl.
“Edgard?” Hilda’s voice pierced his contemplation. “You still with me?”
“Yeah, I was just thinking about a few things,” he answered with a shrug.
“Just that I really care about you, and I hope things turn out well for you in the future.” He kept his eyes on the road ahead of him, not turning to see her reaction.
“Huh? Why do you say it like you won’t be here for it?” Hilda was always good at reading between the lines.
“Well, you never know. The life of a scribe is a very dangerous one these days.” He meant it as a joke, but it was kind of true. If it weren’t for his special rune, he’d already have been dead eight times over.
“That’s silly. Us hunters have it really tough. I mean, let me tell you a story about a boy who just officially joined the working force of the guild recently . . .” She started to tell the unfortunate story of the kid trapped in the wrong bathroom. Even though he had heard it before, Edgard couldn’t help but laugh at all the best parts. It wouldn’t even have mattered if the jokes weren’t that funny. The way Hilda, adorable as she was, got so excited at the awful, raunchy story was enough to amuse Edgard.
After the story was over, the two talked about several different things. Rather, Hilda talked on a myriad of different subjects, and Edgard listened attentively, prodding and poking the conversation where appropriate with his own input just so that it didn’t stop. By the time they got to the church, Edgard was paying attention to Hilda so single-mindedly that he didn’t even notice the door as his feet, as if with a will of their own, stubbed right against it, saving his face from the embarrassment.
“Watch yourself there,” Hilda said, laughing at his mistake.
“Ah, sorry. Well, it’s been fun.” Edgard scratched the back of his head sheepishly.
“It has. See you tomorrow maybe?”
“Maybe.” The word felt like a knife in Edgard’s gut as he turned and entered the church, except the actual blades that had pierced him didn’t leave such a lingering pain.
Or just, you know, never get to see you again. He closed his eyes and tried to etch her face into his mind. Now I need to find Derian and go down to the basement with him to avoi– No. I need Kenway. I need Kenway because he knows the outside world better than anyone. He might be one twisted, psychotic killer, but he has prepared for leaving this town for a while. Yeah, I need Kenway, he admitted to himself with a sigh. He hated Kenway, but part of the reason he was leaving the town was because he couldn’t return without risking someone dying at the hands of the Father’s henchmen again. The other half was because he needed to find her, his mother, out there in the world.
While he couldn’t risk asking the Father what his rune meant, everything in his gut told him that his mother likely knew far more than she had let on the last time he had talked to her. He knew what the rune was without me even having to describe its effect. He knew that, if I died, it reset everything, and he talked about a ‘her.’ That has to be my mother, he thought to himself. Why couldn’t they have been honest with me? Did she abandon me because she thought I was a failure? His heart hurt a little more–as if the dagger from having to part ways with Hilda was still there and had just been twisted an inch.
Time for another goodbye. He frowned as he pushed open the door to Derian’s sermon room. “I need to talk to Derian for a minute,” he announced, once more interrupting as soon as he opened the door.
“Can it wait?” Derian asked, his face already reflecting how happy he was to have an excuse to end the sermon early even if his words didn’t. “I am busy. I’m about to tell these wonderful gentlemen about one of God’s runes.”
“I’ll be busy for the rest of the day. Do you ‘gentlemen’” –Edgard said the word with as little sarcasm as possible, but it was still difficult to avoid it entirely– “mind if I chat with Derian for a bit? I’m sure Derian would be more than happy to vouch that you listened to his entire sermon if asked.”
“Oh, no, sure, that doesn’t seem like a problem at all,” one quickly responded. They were all standing and heading to the door before Edgard even finished his sentence. “You guys get whatever you need out of your system and have a nice day!” They left with a haste that would put even Hilda’s quick sprints to shame. So yelling at them to leave takes longer than asking. Duly noted. Edgard shook his head. He was still in the habit of mentally taking notes regarding the events of a day even though he was now confident beyond a doubt that this would be the final venture. Today will never come again.
“So . . . what did you need to talk to me about?”
“Well . . .” This is goodbye, he wanted to say. But it didn’t leave him. “I just wanted to say I forgive you.”
“Forgive me?” Derian backed up a bit.
“With Mae,” he clarified. “I know you weren’t the first one to do it, and I know you won’t be the last. I’m done with her.”
“You know?” Derian’s facial expression was priceless as it bounced between horrified and shocked that his friend had already found out. “I mean, um . . . How did you? That’s–” Derian started stumbling across his words, much like Hilda did when she wasn’t certain about what she wanted to say. “It’s just, umm . . . Look . . .” He cleared his throat. “I didn’t mean to. You know that, right? I was just drunk, and she was just there.”
“I’m sure that’s how most guys end up in bed with her.” Edgard was beyond caring. It still annoyed him to the ends of the earth that, for some reason, he had been the only guy in the entire town who hadn’t slept with Mae after dating her for so long, but there was nothing to be done about it. It wasn’t like he was entitled to her because he had put in the effort like a chump or that acting upset about it would change anything. It was just how things turned out not in his favor. That said, if he had been successful with her, it would have been that much harder to leave and that much harder to get to know Hilda at the end, so maybe it was a blessing after all.
“Yeah.” Derian looked at the ground. “Pretty much, I guess. Look, man, I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. I already said I don’t care. I just wanted you to know we’re cool, and . . .” Edgard began to see an opportunity appear. One where his absence wouldn’t be noticed as quickly by Derian, “. . . and she’s prolly gonna try to sneak in and see me today . . . so could you cover for me?”
“Cover for you?”
“Yeah, tell her I was sick or something. I don’t want to deal with her today, and she’s going to be pushing her way through to the work study in about an hour. I don’t know why. Maybe she wants to try to get me to lend her family some of the stones again. Just make up something, and I’m going to go keep myself busy in the storeroom.” Edgard felt a bit happy with his scheme. It wasn’t a fancy one, and it was for the most part entirely unnecessary, but at least it would stop the news from trickling out that much longer, and it was a plan. Edgard had somehow started to like the tiny plots he made.
“Alright, I can do that. But are you sure we’re cool? I mean, if I were you, I’d hit me.” He backed up as he said it.
“We’re fine, man. We’ll always be friends. We’ll always be brothers.” He made sure via his tone that the word ‘brother’ would not be confused with the occupation as he turned around and left, immediately heading toward the storeroom by himself.
He didn’t make it more than three steps down into the basement before he could hear the feet on the floor behind him. Kenway is earlier than last time, he noted as he started his descent. Wait, I need a book. Kenway said they were worth their weight in gold in the outside world. I need to bring one with me. He quickly scurried back up the stairs and into the study, grabbing the book he had been diligently working on for the last eighty plus pages and darting out before Derian could even get a word in. When he got back down, he could have sworn he heard Kenway’s footsteps behind him, but, when he turned around, expecting to see the mad cook trailing him, there was nothing. No, maybe I just didn’t notice him this time. In fact, Edgard almost had everything that he needed packed before Kenway made his way down the stairs. “Kenway, you’re late,” Edgard said as he tied the knot on his makeshift bag, not bothering to look up and confirm the approaching footsteps actually were the crazy cook’s.
“What are you talking about, boy,” he spat at Edgard.
Great, there is that nice ‘boy’ talk again. Edgard cringed. He hated to hear that word, and he hated to hear it even more in that derisive tone the chef was so fond of using. “I’m talking about leaving the farm.” Edgard grabbed his completed pack and stood up. “I have one chore to take care of, but then we need to get out of here.”
“The farm? How much do you know, boy?” The oaf’s head turned to the hidden door. “What farm are you talking about, boy?”
“Enough with the ‘boy’ talk, old man.” Edgard walked up to the cook, pausing an inch away from him, so close he could feel the grizzled man’s foul breath as much as smell it. “We both know what farm I’m talking about–this one–and I’m leaving. You coming or not?”
“Ha ha! Ha ha ha! You surprise me, Edgard.” The cook put extra emphasis on Edgard’s name, more stress than he put on every other word in the sentence combined. “Alright, give me a moment to get my things.”
“Take your time. I’ve got something to set up at the entrance to town, the one near Leofstan’s farm. Meet me out there. I’ll be near the only rock big enough to hide a man behind,” Edgard said, patting Kenway on the shoulder as he walked past. He was tempted to stay for just a minute longer to see the psycho’s shocked expression as Edgard nonchalantly ruined his big reveal, but he did have a schedule to keep.
“Ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha!” Kenway’s laughter continued, ringing in Edgard’s head long after the stairs had been ascended and the church exited. He knew that there was no way for the laughter to reach him, but the haunting nature of it echoed in his head the entire walk toward the entrance to town.
Instinctively, he looked over in the direction that Cedric usually came from as he left the church. Well, I guess that’s one person I won’t be able to say goodbye to, he lamented, hauling his tools and book to the bomb site. The memory of Cedric dying was still fresh in his brain, one image he hoped to never have to see again.
Edgard arrived at the spot and began digging. Once he had the shallow hole made, he set the converter in place and dug a small trench from the converter all the way to the behind the rock. He laid all the tubes connected with flame cells into the trench and covered them over with dirt. The trap was nearly set.
“What are you doing, boy?” Kenway asked as he came upon Edgard connecting the last wire to the bomb.
“I’m building presents for our new neighbors,” Edgard joked.
“Presents? Neighbors? We’re leaving, boy. What neighbors will we have?” Kenway, holding a blood-covered cleaver, scratched his head with the back of the blade as if he didn’t have a care in the world for the red stains it left in his hair. “You’re weird, boy.”
Edgard really wanted to point out the hypocrisy of the comment, but he felt it might be in his best interest not to. The vibe Kenway gave off made it clear that any retort on Edgard’s part about a pot calling a kettle black, much like most of the conversations and actions he had experienced over the past nine days, would be as fruitless as if it had never happened at all. That thick lug probably wouldn’t even remember it. His scowl deepened.
“Not going to say anything, boy? Come on. What are we doing here?” Kenway rested against the rock as Edgard made his way around.
“If you must know, we’re going to kill a lot of people,” Edgard answered, risking telling him more than he did the last time, hoping it would sate the beast a little. “Just relax. If you stay quiet right there, when the time comes, there will be some fresh meat for you to chop.”
“Ha ha! HA HA HA!” The laugh was even louder than usual. “You? You’re going to kill people?”
“Yes, and if you wait patiently, you can have some fun too. Just don’t kill anyone today unless I tell you to, okay?” Edgard did his best to look stern at the man, but the oafish loon was like a giant compared to him, and it felt like he was a child staring down a drunk adult.
“Fine, boy. Today we’ll play by your rules,” he reluctantly agreed. “Just let me know when Wilbruh and I can have some fun.
You named your cleaver?! Edgard’s nose scrunched up and his eyes squeezed shut with frustration. He was starting to regret his hasty decision to bring the cook. No, no, it’s necessary. He might be crazy, but at least he’s done his research about the outside world. Edgard shook his head. Sometimes, as far as Edgard was concerned, life presented options with no right choices. “Just stay quiet. It’s best they don’t know we’re here.”
“Mum’s the word, boy,” he said and chuckled silently, his cheeks bouncing and his teeth shining as he suppressed his laugh. “Mum’s the word.”
The entire wait went by quietly without the cook even saying a single ‘is it time yet?’ It should have been a pleasant relief, but the lull in conversation allowed for depression to sneak into Edgard’s mind as he thought of leaving. The fact that he wouldn’t see any of the people he had known for years left Edgard with a hollow pit in his stomach that the silence only made worse.
“You’re not dying, boy, so stop making a face like you are,” the cook said, finally interrupting Edgard’s morose mood.
“Huh?” Edgard didn’t realize he was moping so visibly. “Oh, sure.”
“You sure about these bodies sho– Well, speak of the devil.” The sound of the group approaching was evident even from where Edgard and Kenway hid. Edgard turned around, looking at the approaching foes. “Boom boom time, old man, and, when the booms go off, make sure they’re all dead. But!” Edgard remembered the two girls who got caught in the crossfire because of Kenway’s noisy voice drawing them into the fray. “Ignore the women who show up after.”
“The women who show up after?” Kenway bunched his brow. “We’re getting extra girls on top of the killing, boy? Ha ha!”
“Shhh.” Edgard, who had been whispering, grew a bit nervous that Kenway might have been too loud. “We don’t want them to hear us. Just wait for my signal.” He did his best to hush the mad dog before he barked anymore.
“You’re the boss, boy.” The cook was almost inaudible, but even the lip motions of the word ‘boy’ were grating.
As soon as they stepped on the right spot, Edgard connected the wires and began counting down. Seven . . . Six . . . Even though he had only done it a few times, it was so certain to him that he didn’t even bother looking behind or consider the possibility that it hadn’t been set off perfectly. Two . . . One . . . The familiar explosion sounded in his ears. He grinned. No matter how sad the idea of leaving had left him, the sound of the explosion was still rather pleasant to his ears. “That’s the signal,” Edgard said to his cook. “Go do your work. Make sure everybody is dead.”
“BOY! You know just how to brighten my day!” Kilbruh and her crazy owner made their way to the field of splayed-out bodies covered in dirt.
Edgard, however, went towards the town. Obviously, the girls had witnessed him yesterday. They got themselves killed the day before, and, if he didn’t do something, that fate might befall them again. When he got further towards the town he spotted them. It was hard to remember exactly what they looked like, given that, the last time he saw them, one of them had a giant meat cleaver obstructing his view of her face, and the other was too busy screaming to look normal, but it was definitely them, and they were heading towards Kenway and the butchering grounds.
“Hey!” he called out to them as he placed his body between them and the far-off field of corpses and corpses-to-be. “Don’t go that way. It’s not safe!”
“But? I heard a–” the girl who had been killed first started to shift around Edgard, trying to see past him and look farther on down the road.
“I said it’s not safe! Don’t go that way! It’s not safe! People have died!” Edgard pressed again. “Go get help, now. Go tell the Father!” he urged, knowing that a round trip would take way longer than needed for Kenway to finish cleaning up.
“But . . . um, are you . . .?” She tried to ask something sensible, but it was merely gibberish exiting her mouth as she continued to try to peer past Edgard.
“GO!” he shouted at the dense woman. People like you are why the town fell so quickly. Why do you have to all be so dense? He felt a creeping urge to just knock the woman out and avoid the risks altogether. This time, though, she and her friend turned around and went towards the church, allowing Edgard to let out a breath he didn’t know he had been holding.
Kenway met Edgard as he started heading back out of town. Edgard knew that it was over. He was free. Hilda, Derian, Cedric–they were gone from his life, but at least they were alive, and he was free. It’s for the best. He closed his eyes and steadied himself. This is what needed to happen. This was my purpose, he told himself. Even if he wasn’t entirely sure what to think of the religion made for the sake of printing magic scrolls and farming power gems, he was at least positive that the rune had been given to him for a purpose, and he had served it well. That fact, that feeling and thinking, gave him a sort of solace that his unpious contemplations couldn’t as he left the town with Kenway, neither of the two saying a word to each other as they walked.
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