Reneste was a small village with a population of a little over a hundred. Most of the houses were made of sun-baked mud bricks with a few wooden houses sprinkled in between. As we walked towards the village, the tall wooden fence that encircled the village greeted us, as did the trench that followed the fence’s exterior. There was only one entrance to the village; a large passage of dirt and stone that filled the trench on one side of the village and cut through an opening in the fence.
Two men wearing worn and rusty armor stood on the far side of the passage. The guards noticed us as we got closer.
“Halt!” said one of the guards, “State your business.” The guard’s fingers twitched around the pommel of his sheathed sword.
“Uncle Eric? Sassui?” Clare said as we stopped on the other side of the passage.
“Is that…Clare?” said the middle-aged guard I assumed was Uncle Eric.
“Clare! You’re back!” said the teenage guard while smiling, but he quickly began to frown. “Is the guy behind you from the shrine? And what’s with the weird cat?”
“Yes, wel-” Clare responded, but was interrupted by Uncle Eric.
“Before that! Get in here quickly Clare, the bandits have surrounded the village. It’s a miracle you managed to get here in the first place!” he said, beckoning us over as we walked across the passage.
As we crossed the passage, we saw a well in the center of the village which had been hidden by the tall wooden fence. Next to the well stood the largest wooden house in the village.
“I know the fire goddess’ shrine hasn’t let us down yet, but I don’t see how one guy’s gonna deal with the Black Dog Bandits,” Sassui whispered to Uncle Eric under his breath.
“Shush! The goddess has always protected our village, believe in her,” whispered Uncle Eric.
As we reached the other side, Clare jumped and hugged Uncle Eric.
“Woah Clare! We’re both too old for this, don’t you think?” said Uncle Eric as he struggled to lift the little girl dangling from his neck.
“Oh, what’s going on here?”
“The brat’s back!”
“Welcome back Clare!”
The villagers noticed Clare and came over to greet her as she let go of Uncle Eric. Some of the villagers looked at me warily but kept a respectful distance.
“Wah! Kitty!” said a little brown haired boy as he noticed Waon.
“So cute!” said a little girl as she hugged Waon.
“So smooth!” Waon was surrounded by a group of kids stroking its fur, pinching its cheeks and fighting to hug it.
“Wa-Waon!” Waon struggled, letting out a pitiful cry. Waon looked at me with its big eyes, begging for help, but I let out a soft chuckle and looked away as Waon drowned in a sea of children.
“Are the others still praying at the shrine, Clare? Your parents sure are pious, aren’t they?”
Clare made a pained expression as one of the villagers mentioned her parents. She stared at the ground with a blank look in her eyes. However, she almost immediately raised her head and her grief-stricken expression vanished as if it had never been there in the first place. But just as she was about to say something…
“Clare!” shouted someone, their voice carrying all the way from the center of the village. Outside the door to the large wooden house, stood a middle aged woman with long black hair and a face that resembled Clare’s.
“Aunt May!” Clare exclaimed.
The middle-aged woman rushed over and embraced Clare. “Oh child, I am so sorry. I should have never let you go. We should have tried to fight them together. We could have- I’m so sorry…” She sobbed, holding Clare to her chest.
Clare was startled at first but her expression changed as she suddenly realized something. A shadow quickly passed over her eyes as she gave the middle-aged woman a sad smile. “It’s okay Aunt May, we had no choice. It was the right thing to do.”
Confused by their exchange, the villagers asked: “Chief, you don’t mean…”
The Village Chief, Aunt May, slowly nodded her head, which wiped the smiles off the villagers’ faces and created a somber atmosphere. Waon took the opportunity to escape the clutches of the children and hid behind me.
However, what caught my attention was that the woman knew what had happened to Clare’s parents. Confused, I Observed her status.
Mayer Skye. Level 8. Title: Reneste Village Chief. Ability: Mother Bird. I see, her ability allows her to sense the condition of her loved ones. But still, what’s with this shitty naming sense?
“Oh right!” said Aunt May, stirring me from my thoughts, “Are you injured? Come inside Clare, I will tend to your wounds. And as for our guest.” She met my gaze. “Please forgive us for ignoring you, we were all very worried about Clare. It must have been a long journey; would you like to join us for some tea?”
“I don’t mind, but should you really let a stranger into your house so easily?” I asked, surprised by her sudden hospitality.
“It is all right, I can tell that you mean no harm and harbor no evil intentions towards us. Besides, I must thank you for protecting Clare,” said Aunt May with a gentle smile.
I see. Her ability lets her determine if her loved ones are in danger. I must not be triggering it.
I smiled and agreed to her proposal as we made our way towards the Village Chief’s house, which was the large house next to the well.
“Huk, Huk! Looks like someone got away from tha boss. Huk, the boss’ll be real mad if he finds out we let em through! Guess we’ll just haveta burn this village to the ground after all!” said an annoying voice from beyond the village entrance.
I searched for the owner of the voice. A hooded man stood outside the village as a dozen or so figures emerged from the trees around him. All of them wore the mark of the Black Dog Bandits – a black silhouette of a snarling dog. The voice belonged to the sneering, dark-haired man walking over the passage.
“Halt, you ugly scoundrel!” shouted Uncle Eric, while drawing a rusty sword and pointing it at the man.
The man scowled, but Uncle Eric was right, as he got closer and people saw his face under the hood, they realized that this guy was ugly. His face was twisted into spirals in two different directions on both sides. His nose was ridiculously large and covered with pustules of pus and blood. Large, red scars ran all over his face and his teeth were chipped and yellow. Some of the villagers cringed at his appearance and a few kids were so frightened that they hid behind their parents.
The ugly man walked to the center of the passage, followed by his lackeys. “Huk, let’s see if ya can still bark like that afta I cut out ya tongue.” He snickered.
Clare trembled as she stared at the men, but suddenly recovered as if nothing had happened. I was once again impressed by her toughness, but for now, I Observed the bandits on the other side.
The ugly one’s name is Beer Wolf. Formerly named Terry Oval. Level 11. Title: Black Dog Bandit sub-leader. Ability: Ripening. His strength increases as he grows up but so does his ugliness. What a mixed bag, his strength is definitely higher than it should be at his level, almost comparable to Odog’s.
I continued analyzing the approaching bandits and although none of the others were worth noting, a sense of discomfort rose in my stomach as I looked at them.
“I told you to stop!” Uncle Eric shouted while scowling. But then he started smiling. “Now Sassui! Let it fall!”
As he said that, the dirt below the passage started trembling as it fell off the sides, revealing a wooden pillar that seemed to be supporting the “passage” above.
A bridge hidden by dirt and rocks? They must be planning to collapse the bridge and trap them in the trench, I thought.
But the bandits’ grins grew wider, which gave me a sinking feeling.
“Guhk!” Uncle Eric spat out blood as a sword pierced his chest. I couldn’t see the person who wielded the sword but judging by the direction of the sword, it wasn’t hard to guess.
“Sa…Sassui? Why?” Uncle Eric stammered as he fell to the ground, blood pooling around his body.
The villagers showed expressions of disbelief and anger but the bandits strode to the village entrance with confidence. The villagers stepped back, most of them moved to the side. The ugly one laughed and put a hand on Sassui’s shoulder.
“Good job kid! Welcome to tha Black Dog Bandits!”
Sassui nodded, but avoided the eyes of the other villagers.
“As fer tha rest of ya, get down on ya knees and get yer hands in the air so we can tie ya up. And don’t try ta fight or ya won’t just be sold ta tha slave traders,” Beer said as the bandits entered the village.
Clare stared wide eyed at Uncle Eric’s corpse. Her lips trembled and her eyes were on the verge of overflowing with tears. This whole mess made me furious. I knew I had to do something so I decided to confront the bandits but –
“How dare you! We will not submit to spineless cowards like you! I was wondering why you didn’t just attack us directly, but I never suspected that you would resort to such cowardly tactics,” said Aunt May, as she made her way to the front of the crowd. “You were afraid of getting hurt on the bridge, but do not think that you can avoid the punishment for your sins. You were foolish to come here without the rest of your vile group.”
“Huk, we would’ve burnt this place to tha ground a long time ago if tha boss wasn’t worried about tha ones that snuck out. He thought they’d bring help so he went to finish em off first.” The bandits walked towards the village chief. “He said ta not cross over till he was back but he also said ta get rid of any runaways. The boys were drinkin and someone got ‘cross so I’ll just haveta explain to tha boss later. Now get on yer knees ya whore.” He rushed over to the village chief and reached for her head. The level 8 village chief couldn’t hope to match his speed so all she could do was widen her eyes.
“I think that’s enough for now, don’t you?” I said, appearing in front of Aunt May and grabbing the bandit’s arm.
“Huk? Who are ya? Let go of ma hand!” He tried to wrench his hand away but it didn’t budge from my grip.
I looked at him and the other bandits and felt an uncomfortable feeling in my chest again. I recalled Odog’s face and the uncomfortable feeling intensified. I sighed.
Guess I’ll just capture them and let the villagers decide.
Beer Wolfe’s life had always been a mixed bag.
When the orphanage found him on their steps they thought he looked as beautiful a baby as any they had ever seen, and took him in. But after seeing his status, they realized why he had been abandoned.
By the time he was five years old, he had an average face. He was the strongest kid in the orphanage, but he never bullied anyone and got into many fights against the neighborhood children who were picking on his friends. He always helped at the orphanage and even the other villagers loved him too. He tried very hard to earn their love because he wanted them to love him even after he grew up. He especially wanted her to still love him when he grew up. He was with her and the rest of his gang all day, as they helped at the orphanage, beat up the other gangs and played together on the village streets.
But by the time he was ten, his nose was a little askew and he had a scar or two. The other kids didn’t mind, since it made him look a little tougher. He still played with his friends and got closer to the other villagers but some of the adults occasionally gave him looks filled with pity.
By the time he was twelve, his friends had learned the appraisal skill so he avoided them for as long as he could. Eventually, she caught him and saw his ability. She hugged him and told him to be strong and that she would never stop being his friend. His heart was filled with warmth. His other friends gave him the same look that the adults did for a while but they laughed it off as they continued to play together.
By the time he was fifteen, the scars covered his cheeks and his skin started to get a little twisted. Most of his friends grew uncomfortable and drifted away but she beat up anyone that called him ugly.
By the time he was eighteen, only she stood with him. But he knew she was disturbed by his appearance and the thought hurt him.
By the time he was twenty, he found out that she was going out with someone else but he didn’t care, because she was still his friend. He did feel a little pain in his heart but he ignored it.
By the time he was twenty two, she stopped smiling as much and came to see him less often.
By the time he was twenty five, she married another man. She invited him to the wedding but he refused, thinking that his presence would disgust her husband’s family.
By the time he was twenty seven, she barely came anymore. But he didn’t mind, he knew she had just had a baby and needed her time.
One day, she did come and showed him her baby but the baby started crying as soon as it saw him and she had to leave to calm it down.
By the time he was thirty, the villagers only looked at him with hate and disgust. He hid his face with a mask and only did the worst jobs that nobody else was willing to do, but the neighborhood children still threw trash and stones at him, and their parents didn’t stop them.
By the time he was thirty two, while the children were throwing stones at him, he saw her in the distance, talking to her husband and laughing. Not even noticing his plight, let alone stopping the children from hitting him.
He fled the village and joined the Black Dog Bandits. He was always drinking, trying to forget everything that had happened to him. The bandits were cruel and made fun of his appearance too, but they didn’t look down on him. After all, he was a good fighter. He knew they wouldn’t come save him either, just like her, but that was just the way things were in a bandit group so for some reason, he didn’t feel like they would ever betray him, since there were no expectations to betray in the first place.
Since he was always drunk and his actions were as vicious as his face, they started calling him Beer Wolf.
By the time he was thirty nine, he was back in his old village of Reneste. He couldn’t see her or her husband but he could still see some of the people who had tormented him for all those years.
He held back because of Odog, who didn’t want him to hog all the spoils, but he couldn’t stop himself any longer.
Besides, although he couldn’t see her, she could still see her kid. The kid never threw anything at him, presumably because she was too afraid to look at him, but her face made him angry since it reminded him of her.
I threw the ugly one back at the other bandits, who were stunned by my sudden appearance and strength. Despite being surprised, the bandits managed to spread out and draw their weapons.
“Put down your weapons and surrender, I promise that you’ll have a fair trial for your crimes,” I said. Odog and the other bandits I’d killed still prickled my conscience, because I knew they all must have had their reasons, their own stories. But their actions at the time had made me recall my own past so I’d killed them in my rage. But I was a lot calmer right now. They were murderers and thugs but they still deserved justice. I thought this way because my moral compass was shaped on Earth, after all.
“Huk! Get im!” shouted Beer, raising himself from the ground. I hadn’t thrown him very hard because I’d hoped to convince them to surrender.
I sighed as the bandits rushed at me. I put a little strength into my legs and appeared behind one of them, then knocked him out with a light chop to the neck. I appeared behind another bandit and knocked her out in a similar fashion. Beer Wolf rushed at me but I swatted him to the side.
“Ready to give up yet? You know you can’t beat me.” I said as I glared at the other bandits.
Beer groaned. He was lying on his side, a sharp pain in his arm and his vision blurry.
He saw the villagers standing on the sides. Some of them were shocked by the purple robed boy’s strength, while others were happy at the Black Dog Bandits’ situation. And some were looking at him with eyes of ridicule.
His anger surged.
You! Why? Unfair, why is it all so unfair? Why is my life so unfair?
Tears welled up in his eyes. The villagers shot him looks of hate and disgust, the same looks they had given him for thirty-two years. He looked warily at the purple robed boy who had his back towards him. He carefully reached into his own robes and tried to draw something out.
He boiled with anger. Anger at the boy who had stopped his revenge. Anger at the leader who had vanished to goddess knows where. Anger at the villagers who had tormented him for so long. And anger at her for betraying him and breaking her promise.
He raised his crossbow.
I knocked out another bandit. The others were frightened but none of them surrendered. They looked at me with fearful gazes and got closer together.
Going to rush at me all at once? All right, guess it’s time to end this-
A woman screamed, something fell to the ground. I turned and saw Clare on the ground, blood soaking the ground around her. I didn’t need to check her status to know what the arrow in her forehead gave away; she was dead.