Chapter 27: Heaven’s Way (1)
“W-Who are you?”
The man stopped, noticing that the boy’s eyes were uncharacteristically fierce for his looks. He didn’t wish to cause any unnecessary misunderstandings.
“That’s what I want to ask.” He said. “I can’t believe a toddler like you is wandering around these mountains alone.”
Sweat dripped from the boy’s forehead all the way down to his chin. Or was it just water from his hair? In any case, it was clear that the boy was frightened and wary of the man.
“I guess you’re not going to answer so easily. I’m Mosla. As you can see, I’m a hunter. Is that good enough for you? Now, tell me your name. You do have one, don’t you?”
The boy’s purplish lips finally parted, letting in a breath of air. After a bit of hesitation, the boy finally answered. “I’m… Lucid.”
“An escaped slave?” Mosla asked his next question just as soon as he received his answer. He knew that he shouldn’t be so quick to judge, but the boy was obviously a peasant or an escaped slave.
He didn’t know whether to interpret this slight stutter as awkwardness or an admission of guilt. He would have to spend some more time with the boy to determine his answer. For now, there were more important things to take care of.
“Alright, I’ll listen to your story later. Let me see your wounds. I can tell there’s something wrong just by looking at you.”
Lucid couldn’t stop the hunter from approaching him. The man was right, after all. The boy had been suffering from the cold and hunger, and there truly was something wrong with his wounds. Moreover, Mosla was an adult, capable of easily overpowering the boy. At least it didn’t feel like the hunter wanted to hurt him. Perhaps it was because he knew the man’s occupation now, but the more he looked at him, the more he looked like a typical hunter, with sharp eyes and a bushy beard.
“Your shoulder is looking pretty bad.”
The hunter’s strong jaw seemed even more prominent now that he was closer and exposed to the light.
“You hurt your ribs, too.”
The hand reaching for Lucid’s side was so large that it gave the boy the impression that it could smash a boulder just as easily as cracking an egg, but the man inspected his body with a surprisingly gentle touch.
“You’re hurt all over. It looks like it’s been a while, too… I’m surprised you’re still standing. Other kids your age would have probably passed out from the pain, but here you are, building a fire and all…”
Lucid wasn’t sure whether the man was impressed or mocking him, but he decided to not say anything about how he had built the fire. He knew better than to tell a complete stranger that he was a sorcerer.
“We’ll need to find you a healer from the city. Is that okay with you?”
Lucid couldn’t help but be suspicious of the hunter, so ready to help him out.
“Why do you want to help me?”
He wasn’t a police officer, and he definitely wasn’t a teacher. He was just a hunter. He had no reason to help.
“Because I’m an adult. Helping out an injured child is my duty, even if you are an escaped slave.”
Lucid wasn’t so young as to accept all acts of kindness. Not to mention…
“I didn’t escape from anywhere.”
He didn’t want the hunter to make strange assumptions about him, especially since he had shown willingness to help, so he explained everything, from the disappearance of his family and townspeople to the dangerous adventure he had embarked on in order to find them. Still, he kept everything about the other world and Pincheno’s magic a secret.
“It’s hard to believe that people could disappear just like that.”
Mosla had taken a seat next to the fire to listen to Lucid’s story, and the heat permeating the surroundings seemed to appease the tense atmosphere a bit.
“I have to find my mother and my brother. There are so many people in the city, there’s bound to be at least rumors about what happened. That’s why I’m going.”
The hunter scratched his beard as he thought. “I’ve gone in and out the city quite a few times, even if it was just the outskirts, but I’ve never heard anything about this. If an entire town’s disappeared, there’s no way people wouldn’t have mentioned it.”
It was a reasonable enough explanation, but it still brought a tremendous sense of disappointment for Lucid. The conversation briefly stopped, and the only sounds interrupting the silence were of the coursing stream and the crackling of the fire. As the stream flowed, so did time, and as the fire burned red, so did the sky, the sunset adding a scarlet tinge to it.
“Come, we’ll go to my house before the sun fully sets. The fire alone won’t be enough to ward off the cold of the mountain, and I’m sure you’ll need shelter from the morning dew, especially in your condition.”
The hunter’s house stood in the middle of the mountains, not to far from where they had been. Though it was just a hut used for quick shelter during his hunts, it was large enough to house them both. Lucid took his place atop a few furs and leathers and slept under a roof for the first time in a while, safe from the wind.
The next day, Lucid awoke to the sound of the hunter waking up, and after a few simple preparations, the pair headed to the city. Mosla had a few leftover furs on his back, while Lucid picked up an appropriately sized walking stick from the corner of the hut. Around noon, the two arrived at their destination, the city wall standing tall in front of them. It stood at around four stories tall, which may have been impressive for others, but Lucid simply shrugged it off. His elementary school had also been a four-story building, and there was another building right next to it that stood twenty stories tall. His only impression of it was that of acknowledgement towards an ancient structure.
However, just as he had expected, the city was much, much larger (though it couldn’t even come close to cities in the other world) than the peasant town. The roads were solidly built, and the buildings looked quite sturdy. The people were different, too. Lucid had never seen such a large gathering of people before, at least in this world, and he experienced a sort of culture shock as he came face to face with all kinds of clothing styles and facial structures. Coming to terms with this new experience, Lucid couldn’t help but feel that the complexity of this city was indeed simple unruliness, while the people’s clothing and living conditions were lacking and outdated.
On the other hand, the hunter completely misunderstood Lucid’s actions, interpreting his scrutiny of the surroundings as childish awe, and grinned as he tapped the boy on the back.
“First, we find a healer to get you fixed up. We can take a look around later, so stop acting like a country boy.”
The true country bumpkin consoled the fake country boy, and the fake country boy was left to imitate a true country bumpkin.
The healer seemed shocked at the extent of Lucid’s injuries but was quite relieved to hear that he had survived a wolf attack. “You were immensely lucky,” he had said, and Lucid didn’t feel the need to explain any further. Instead, he simply chose to smile awkwardly. The healer spread a specialty balm on Lucid’s shoulder, while applying a strange liquid to his side, explaining it as a secret recipe passed down through generations. After applying bandages, the treatment was over, which was quite the relief for Lucid. There hadn’t been any needles involved. Though the treatment had taken some time, the hunter had remained with the boy through it all. Lucid wondered whether it was because he was afraid that he’d run away, but Mosla didn’t seem to be on his guard at all. Completely unbeknownst to the boy, however, the hunter had simply been afraid that Lucid might cry if left alone.
The two made their way back to the crowded market street and went to the fur vendor to sell what Mosla had brought. He had managed to sell five pelts at the price of 299 cupers, and it was at this point that Lucid decided to ask how much his treatment had cost.
“Why?” Mosla asked. “Do you have money?”
“No, but I’ll pay you when I’m able to.”
“No need. It’s my duty as an adult to pay for you. Let’s go to my house now. It’s late, and we don’t want to deal with guards after dark.”
Did Mosla still think Lucid was a runaway slave? Though he wanted to ask, all Lucid could do was follow along the hunter, who had already begun walking towards their next destination. Having reached a rather worn-down house at the eastern outskirts of the city, the two partook in a late dinner. Though the boy had been half forced to come, he was still glad to be able to eat warm food again. The mushroom soup and roast rabbit thighs tasted rather gamey due to the lack of proper spices, but they were still quite the feast considering the last few days of starvation. Neither spoke much during the meal, but Lucid was so focused on eating that he hardly had the mind to feel awkward. After the meal, however, he felt a sense of shame (he had forgotten all about his table manners) and awkwardness (he had only met Mosla today, and he was already so indebted to him) rushing to him, so much so that all he could do was sit on the couch with his head hanging low. All he could see was the worn out wood floor and the thin layer of dust and dirt piled on top of it, and all he could hear was the creaking of the door as it opened and closed and the sound of dishes being washed.
“Oh,” he thought. “I should at least do the dishes…”
Though he didn’t look like it, Mosla was quite the diligent and clean person, preferring to wash dishes right after eating. Lucid began to panic, his eyes darting everywhere as he wondered whether he should rush back to the kitchen to help out.
That is how the two of them began to live together.