20.0 Grayscale_Chapter 4: Silver

I threw away my brown robes and wrapped a gray cloak over my clothes. I jumped off the window into the alley and walked into the crowd of pedestrians on the street. I’d made sure to lock the door to my room at the inn before leaving and told everyone that I was going to take a nap, so they shouldn’t notice my absence for a while.

Another wonderful escape by the Master Thief Lily Grayscale!

I laughed because I felt relieved. I’d finally gotten away from those guys! I mean seriously, I’d barely managed to stay calm over the past few days. I couldn’t see any of their statuses and they could all obviously see mine. Although Kai said something about some ring that hid his status, I didn’t believe him for a second!

I’d lived on the streets for my entire life, and let me tell you, the streets beat the naivete out of you pretty quickly. I always questioned what people said and always stayed on guard. And I’d learned another lesson too, on my last day on Earth: never trust anyone.

So I went along with their plans, acted like a good little hero and even helped Kai make his unbelievable tasty dishes. But I planned to run away as soon as we reached the city.

Sure I’d decided to find a way back home, but I sure as hell wasn’t gonna follow some creepy stalker with an even creepier smile. If it wasn’t for Amy and Kai, I would’ve given him the slip ages ago.

It would’ve been easy too. After all, he was really smart in some ways but just as dumb in others. Did he really think I wouldn’t find it weird that he chose to go to the Fire goddess’ shrine rather than the Light goddess’ shrine, even though it was closer? Sure it wasn’t open to the public, but I was the hero, it would open for me.

Giving Amy the slip was a lot harder though, since she kept sticking to me all the time. I had to work really hard to get closer to her so she wouldn’t expect me to run away as.

I didn’t know how to deal with Kai, but luckily, he didn’t seem all that interested in me, or in anything else really, so he shouldn’t miss me either. Especially because he’d wandered off to buy food and sightsee.

So now I could leave Fohil and head to the other side of continent. I still wanted to ask a goddess for a way back to Earth, but I couldn’t go to the Light goddess since that stupid king would try to rope me into doing hero stuff again and I couldn’t go to the Fire goddess because that creepy stalker was planning to go there.

And so I decided to go to the Water goddess’ shrine. I’d already planned my route and I still had enough supplies in my Inventory to last me until I reached the next town.

Shit!

A crowd of people approached the fountain. Standing there while facing the fountain with a stupid smile on his face was Kai!

At first I was nervous, mostly because I didn’t know if he had some weird skill that would let him notice me or something, but then I calmed down. I knew exactly how to fade into a crowd. I knew how to hide, and hiding in plain sight was my specialty.

I calmed my breathing and matched my gait with that of the crowd. I made sure that my hood was properly covering my face and that my cloak covered the Holy Armour I wore underneath. I walked right past him.

I really am awesome, aren’t I?

I walked towards the Eastern gate of the city, which was in the seedier part of town. I didn’t mind the atmosphere at all, since it reminded me of home. I saw the cruel underbelly of the city, which was just like any I’d seen on Earth. Even though children were laughing and playing just a few blocks away, the children here had lifeless eyes, some of whom lay on the ground, dead or dying.

The fountain with water flowing down those stupid patterns, was at odds with the smelly gutters and sewage canals running beside the street. There the old lady was throwing breadcrumbs to pigeons, while the people here looked like they hadn’t eaten in days.

Did it bother me? Of course it did. It made me angry every time I saw it, regardless of which world I was in. It reminded me of the mayor that stole money from the orphanage or the many other rich entitled fucks who lived their high-flying lives while leaving the rest of us to scrounge for their leftovers.

But I’d lived on the streets long enough to know that there was nothing you could do about stuff like this. It was just the way things worked and you couldn’t change that no matter how hard you tried. I reached the gate and left the city just as the sun started going down, casting an orange light across the sky.

The light made me hesitate for a bit as I thought back to that night around the campfire. The night when Kai told us one of his stories.

He never told us any other stories and for some reason, we didn’t ask for more either. It felt like there had to be a proper mood for one of his stories and you couldn’t force it to come any sooner.

I endured the slight regret in my heart as I left the city.

It’s a little boring without them though, I thought, as I kicked another pebble off the road.

On the way to Fohil, I’d started to enjoy getting under Runir’s skin. Even though he had a creepy smile, he was pretty normal once you broke his poker face. Amy had been fun too, like an obsessive older sister. I’d always wanted a sister.

My stomach grumbled. Now I was missing Kai’s cooking too. The sun had gone down anyway so I decided to make camp in a clearing a little way off the road. Didn’t want someone stumbling upon me while I was asleep, after all.

I made a fire, cooked a small stew, and ate while looking at the sky. There were a lot of clouds up there that night, making it hard to see the stars but the silver moonlight drew up the edges of the clouds, drawing a silvery painting in the sky.

I lay down in my sleeping bag and fell asleep,

I woke up suddenly. I’d heard a rustle in the forest and being the shallow sleeper that I was, I couldn’t help but open my eyes. The sky was dark, the moon hidden by the clouds. The only light in my surroundings was the pale orange glow coming from the smoldering remains of the fire.

I heard a soft rustle, quieter than last time but easier to catch because I was awake now. I regulated my breathing to make it seem like I was sleeping and waited.

Sure enough, a bunch of leaves rustled as something jumped at me from behind. I rolled forward in my sleeping bag and cast the spell I had been preparing.

Fireball!

A sizzling, red ball of fire burst out of my hands and flew towards the shadowy figure that had attacked me. My quick reaction surprised the figure, but it easily managed to evade my spell. I used the opportunity to get out of my sleeping bag and fire another fireball at the figure. It dodged that one too but as it passed by the figure’s dark robes, I managed to see the face underneath the hood.

It looked like a little boy’s face, with bone-white skin and white eyes without any irises. Looking at him sent shivers down my spine, especially because his body was absolutely not a child’s body. He was seven feet tall!

In his hands, he clutched a white needle dripping with a bright yellow fluid. I narrowed my eyes and took out my knife. I cast Holy Shield, a defensive magic, and Noble Faith, a mental buff to help me concentrate in battle.

The child-faced man didn’t care about my preparations. He rushed straight at me while holding his needle across his body, ready to bring it down, straight into my skull. Noble Faith prevented me from panicking as I cast Light Wall in front of me to block his attack, and aimed a level four offensive spell at him.

He effortlessly crashed through my Light Wall and leaped in front of me just as I fired my magic.

Laser!

A white beam of energy flew out of my hands, hitting the child-faced man straight in the chest and blasting him away to the other side of the clearing. There were sizzling sounds around me as the laser cut through the foliage, as well as a few crashing sounds as trees fell onto the ground.

I didn’t stop to make sure he was dead because that would be stupid. When you’ve barely managed to defend yourself from an attack, why the fuck would you stick around and wait for more trouble to show up?

Just as I tried to make a break for it, something whistled past my ear and an intense pain bloomed in my head. Strangely, the pain in my head seemed detached and unreal. Like a dream.

I tumbled to the ground, my head tilting towards the tunnel of seared trees and dirt created by my attack. The child-faced man stumbled out of the tunnel, clutching his left arm and favoring his right leg. There were nasty gashes and burn marks on his chest, which lay bare because the upper part of his robes had been incinerated.

I noticed two things that filled me with trepidation.

First, even though he was so bloody, bruised and battered, his face didn’t display any emotions at all, which seriously freaked me out.

Second, he wasn’t holding the white needle anymore.

He walked closer just as the pain in my head intensified and the detached feeling become stronger. He walked past me, grabbed the needle, and raised it above his head.

Surprisingly, I didn’t feel anything at all. Maybe it was because of the detached feeling in my head or an effect of Noble Faith, or maybe it was because I’d been in a bunch of similar situations before.

A powerful person holding a weapon above my head, waiting to bring it down and crack open my skull. Yeah, nothing new there.

As I resigned myself to death, the child-faced man stopped and turned around. He emitted a cough and a gurgling sound, and then something hit the floor. The child-faced man was dead.

“Wonderful weather again tonight, isn’t it Ms.Hero?”

A wave of relief washed over me as I closed my eyes and blacked out.

I woke up in a different part of the forest. I was curled up inside my sleeping bag, with something warm behind and in front of me.

In front of me were the warm ashes of a fire and behind me was a red-haired girl, hugging me so hard I couldn’t get up.

“Oh, so you’re awake now. Welcome back Lily, did you have a nice trip?” asked a voice from behind me.

Amy hugged me even tighter, pushing the wind out of my lungs.

“A-Amy-please-let-go-” I managed to squeak out a reply.

The pressure around my chest lessened but it didn’t vanish completely. She probably thought I would run away again.

“Ah, Ms.Hero is awake. Perfect,” said another voice behind me.

I tried turning around to face them but couldn’t. Amy wouldn’t let me move at all.

“So Lily, isn’t there something you’d like to say to Runir?” said Kai

I didn’t respond.

“It’s fine. I didn’t do it for her gratitude,” said Runir.

“Then why did you do it?” I said, my mind going into overdrive.

I know you want to use me. I know you saved me because you needed my help. But you’ll never admit it. Fucks like you like to manipulate people, makes you feel powerful, gets you off maybe? Fuck. Just admit it you-

“I did it because I need you to help me achieve my objective.”

I hesitated.

He admitted it. That’s a first…

“And what objective is that?” I asked.

“Going home.”

Like hell I’d believe that!

I thought for a while, then sighed.

“You can let go now Amy, I won’t run away.”

She hesitated before drawing her hands away and releasing me from her crushing grip. I was sure there would be a mark on my skin and it would hurt like hell.

“And why should I help you?” I replied, calmly turning to face them.

“Because he saved your life,” Kai said, sipping a cup of tea.

“I didn’t ask him to,” I retorted.

“True. But that doesn’t change the fact that you would have died if he hadn’t killed that assassin and brought you back to me in time. Luckily, I have a skill to remove most poisons, although the one you’d been hit with was a particularly nasty one,” Kai replied.

I looked at Runir, who sat on a short earthen stool and gave me one of his creepy smiles. I didn’t like feeling indebted to him.

“After we realized that you ran away, we split up and began searching immediately. Perhaps you didn’t know but there are a lot of hidden spies and assassins in the Light kingdom and they almost certainly know that the hero ran away from the palace, so they should all be looking for you,” he said.

“Assassins?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.

“From the Dark kingdom. Now that the Demon lord is dead, they’ll desperately try to kill you before you grow too strong. Quite a few heroes have fallen prematurely because of assassins and poison. You were fortunate that I reached you in time,” he said, smirking at me.

I gritted my teeth and looked at Amy, hoping for some support. Of course, it was the wrong place to look.

“Lily, do you know how foolish your actions were? How much danger you were in? Even if you don’t trust these two ruffians you should at least trust me and take me with you!” she chastised.

“Oh? And what if I don’t trust you either,” I said, turning my back on all of them. “Did you really think I’d just let you push me around? To let you use me however you fucking want to? Do you think I care about you or this world or whatever my duties are? Do you think I care about being the hero?” I said, forcing myself to stay calm.

“That’s okay. You don’t have to trust us. In fact, I don’t trust anyone else here either,” said Runir.

“I trust Lily, but not these two ruffians,” said Amy, pointing at Kai and Runir. “Too suspicious.”

“Would you believe me if I said that I trust all of you?” said Kai.

I was about to say no but then I hesitated.

“…Maybe,” I said.

Kai put down his teacup with a clink. “That’s good enough for me. And Runir is right, we don’t have to trust each other. We all have our own aims and objectives. Our own destinations. But our paths seem to be coinciding, at least for a little while. So maybe we can walk together for a little while? It’s more fun that way, isn’t it?” he said.

I turned around and looked at them.

A creepy stalker who’d followed me twice and had a smile that could freak out the devil. A crazy strong, obsessive older sister type who loved to hug me for some reason. And a really weird guy who tells stories and makes great curry.

I nodded, a slight warmth growing inside my chest.

I’m stuck with a bunch of stupidly strong people I can’t trust nor understand, and I’m being chased by baby faced assassins. This might look pretty bad at first glance but…

I smiled as I looked at the sky above. The sun wasn’t out yet so the moon still hung up high in the sky. A single cloud drifted over it, the moonlight lighting up its edges.

…there’s always a silver lining.

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