35.0 Grayscale_Chapter 10: Dove

“Hey, have you heard about the incident yet?”

“What?”“Someone robbed the Casso factory.”

“The Casso factory? But aren’t they-”

“Yep, they’re contractors for Breize labs.”

“Who would dare to steal from Breize labs? Are they crazy?”

“Ha ha, you haven’t heard the best part!”

“What is it?”

“They were absolutely shameless!”

“What do you mean?”

“They stripped the guards and the manager.”

“What for?”

“Don’t know, but they seemed to be really happy when they did it. Gotta be a pervert.”

“So they’re crazy and perverted? How many of them were there?”

“Just one.”

“One? Someone managed to get through a factory’s defenses all alone?”

“Yep. The guy was wearing a really weird mask too.”

“What kind of mask?”

“It had a smile on it. And he was wearing really tacky robes. Had a weird hat too.”

“Yeah, sounds like a pervert alright.”

“Old man Casso’s having a fit. He only lost a factory’s worth of slaves and equipment but offered 5000 Tel for the thief.”

“5000 Tel? Has the old man finally gone senile? The great scientist Casso, finally going off his rocker because of a pervert. That’s just sad.”

“I hear you. But can you blame him? His reputation went down the drain. Do you know what they’re calling the thief?”

“No.”

“The creep left a note calling himself The Trickster.”

“That doesn’t sound so bad?”

“Yeah well everybody calls him something else though…”

“What?”

“The Stripster!”

Laughter broke out on the table behind us. I stabbed the steak on my plate with a knife and twisted it.

“What’s the matter, trying to strip your steak?” said Runir with a smirk.

“Shut it.” I retorted through gritted teeth.

“Men, women, and chicken. At least the infamous Stripster doesn’t discriminate.” said Amy, nodding with a deadpan expression.

“Not you too Amy?” I cried.

“I wonder what that poor old man would think if he knew that his badly dressed thief stripped poultry too.” said Kai.

“And who’s the bastard who gave me that stupid costume?” I glared at him.

“I pulled off the mask perfectly back in the Fire Kingdom.” he replied. “And by the way, you can keep it. I’d rather not be mistaken as a crazy pervert.”

“Fuck you!” I flung my knife at him but he grabbed it between his fingers and started using it to cut his own steak.

I sighed and leaned back on my chair. “Whatever. Did you get the laborers to safety?”

“Yep, I called in a favor. They should be in good hands.” he said.

“And you still won’t tell us whose hands those are?” I asked, frowning.

“They like their privacy. But don’t worry, I trust them completely. Besides, it’s not like you can help the laborers much. What those people need now is food, shelter, and education. Most of them were born into a living hell, they don’t know how to live a life of freedom. In fact, it’s a miracle they followed us out of there.” he said, chewing a mouthful.

“What do you mean?” asked Runir.

“Isn’t it obvious? Those people don’t know any other kind of life so of course they would be afraid. Even if they’re being abused and tortured, people still yearn for the known over the unknown. Do you really think all of them appreciated being freed? Wouldn’t they assume you would treat them the same way the factory owners did?” He turned towards me. “Didn’t you realize that most of them didn’t follow you because of some inherent desire for freedom, but because they were scared of you?”

I stared at him blankly. It was true, I knew it. I’d never been able to trust somebody on the streets and even after I got taken in by the old lady, I couldn’t trust her for a long time. If you’ve lived a certain way all your life, you don’t expect it to change even when it already has.

“Which is why my friend will re-educate them and hopefully help them ease into a normal lifestyle. So you don’t have to worry about them. But I don’t think we can rescue every single laborer and deal with them the same way, so if you really want to do this, you’ll have to come up with a better plan. And of course, the biggest problem right now is…”

“Zoe.” I finished.

Kai sighed, Amy looked downcast, and Runir frowned.

“Her title…” I said, my words trailing.

The others looked troubled again as they recalled her title. It just wasn’t the kind of thing that you could forget, especially when the person in question was sleeping in your bed upstairs.

Title: Cursed in Two Worlds…Title given to one who is destined to be tortured to death after years of abuse before being reincarnated into a similar situation in another. The holder’s soul has been shredded into pieces and their mind deteriorated into insanity. The holder is struck by nightmares reliving the worst of their pains that end with a single moment of lucidity in which the holder is most likely to attempt to suicide in vain before falling into despair again.

It was so messed up I didn’t even know where to begin. It was like someone had specifically made it just to torture her.

Was there some sadistic god behind this? Or was she just goddamn unlucky? Whatever it was, this was probably the first break she’d ever gotten in either life.

“I know we offered to help her get back home, but does she even want to go there? Doesn’t sound like she had it any better on Earth.” I said.

“We only told her that so she’d know we’re from Earth too. But judging from the way she attacked you, she probably doesn’t want to go to the Air Goddess’s shrine so I don’t get why she stayed after finding out that we wanted to go home.” said Runir.

“She may have used her ability.” said Kai.

“What do you mean?” asked Runir.

“Do you remember it?” said Kai, gesturing to all of us.

Ability: Sacrifice…Change anything one wants by sacrificing something one possesses that is of equivalent value.

“Yeah, but what about it?” I asked.

“Her Ability says that she should have gone crazy. But in fact, she seems surprisingly sane for someone who has suffered so much.” he replied.

“So you think she sacrificed something to earn her sanity?” asked Runir.

“Yes, but I don’t know what.” said Kai, tapping his fingers on the table.

“Freedom.” said Amy.

“What do you mean?” asked Runir.

“She listened to you.” she replied.

“So? Oh! Damn, that’s messed up.” he said, shaking his head.

Kai sighed and shook his head too which made me feel annoyed at being the only one who didn’t get it.

“Stop being a dick and tell me already.” I said.

“You really are a hopeless hero aren’t you. You’re lucky you have such smart friends.” he said, nodding his head seriously.

“Shut it.” I said through gritted teeth.

“Oh? Didn’t you want me to tell you? Up to you I guess.” He smirked.

“Damn it Runir, tell me or I’ll-”

“Strip you?” He started laughing.

“That’s it! Laser-”

“Wait.” said Kai, interrupting my spell. “Don’t use a light spell here!”

“Oh right.” I said, glaring at Runir.

“That reminds me, we can’t tell her you’re the Hero. She is a citizen of the Dusk Alliance, so she’ll be compelled to work against you.” said Kai.

“Then what do we do? Should we tell her that Runir is the Demon Lord or something?” I said. “He’s enough of an asshole to be one.”

“No, we can’t do that either.” said Runir, calmly. “The Demon Lord is dead and everyone knows it, so she won’t believe us. Even if she did, it brings no benefit to us at all.”

“It’ll make her listen to us.” I said.

“That won’t be a problem.” he said.

“Why?” I asked.

“She can’t disobey anyone.” said Kai.

“What? What is that supposed to mean?” I said, frowning.

“When Kai told her to stop pretending to be asleep, she did. I told her to stop being violent, and she did. She sacrificed her ability to resist in exchange for her sanity.” said Runir.

I frowned. “Wait, that doesn’t sound right. I told her to get off my hand last night but she didn’t.”

“Odd, my Ability is telling me that this is the right answer. Maybe there are some limits or conditions?” he said.

“So until we know exactly what those are, we should tell her that you’re the Demon Lord. She’ll have to do what you say then, wouldn’t she?” I said.

“Fine, fine. Do whatever you want.” said Runir dismissively.

We finished up our meal and walked upstairs with some food for Zoe.

“We need to decide what to do now.” I said.

“We’re going to the Air Goddess’s shrine. I thought we’d already decided that?” said Runir.

“No, I mean about the bonded laborers. We can’t let this go on. We’re strong enough to do something about it so we have to.” I continued.

“Just because we’re powerful, doesn’t mean we have to go fix every problem in the world.” he said.

“But if we don’t do it, who will?”

“That’s not the point. This is the king’s job, or the governments job. If they aren’t doing it properly it doesn’t mean that we have to go do it for them instead. Besides, this is the Air Kingdom and we’re the Hero’s party. These people are our enemies, why should we help them?” Runir met my gaze confidently.

“But it’s not right! You’ve seen how these people are treated. You’ve seen how Zoe was treated. Can you really ignore all of that for your own selfish reasons?” I said.

“And what do you plan to do? Break into every factory in the kingdom and walk out with the laborers? Or will you try to buy them all with your stolen money? Hell, why don’t we start a fucking revolution and topple the government?” he ranted.

“Wait, what did you say?” I asked, blinking.

“I said, what do you plan to do?” he replied.

“No, no, after that. A revolution! Topple the government! Bring those bastards down! That’s perfect!” I said, barely managing to keep my voice down.

The others stared at me blankly.

“Um, Lily. We can’t just go around toppling governments…” said Runir.

“Why not? If this is how they treat their people, they don’t deserve to be kings or nobles anymore.” I said, as I opened the door to my room.

“We can’t decide that for them.” asserted Runir as he walked into the room.

“Why no- Zoe!” I shouted, rushing forward.

She was lying on the ground, whimpering and shivering uncontrollably. She turned, revealing purple bruises all over her neck. Her skin under her clothes was covered in scars; some old, some new, but all vicious. She was soaked in sweat which made her clothes cling to her body, showing how thin and skinny she was.

“…please…no…let me go…not again…I already died…free…I was…free…it’s unfair…why…why…why…” she mumbled.

Kai walked over to her and waved his hand. She instantly stopped.

“She’s asleep now.” he said.

I picked her up and put her on the bed. The boys went out as I changed her clothes and Amy wiped her sweat off with a moist cloth.

Zoe’s body was an absolute mess. Cuts, scars, bruises, burn marks, holes, and bones sticking to her thin skin.

Amy clenched her fists as she gently ran the cloth over Zoe’s bruises and burns, trying to avoid giving her pain.

I on the other hand, couldn’t bear to look any longer as I felt my lunch rising up my throat. I’d seen a lot of shit on the streets but this…

We left the room after making sure that Zoe was sleeping.

“…I’ll give her a ring to help keep her nightmares under control but I don’t know how effective it will be…” I heard Kai say from behind the door as I opened it.

“…It’s fine, at least it’s something-oh, Lily, you’re here.” said Runir, turning to face me.

I didn’t respond. Instead, I walked up to him and stared into his eyes.

He met my gaze and sighed.

“…thousands of soldiers.” he said.

“Beat them up.”

“Hundreds of magicians.”

“Light em up.”

“The nobles.”

“Whack them.”

“The king.”

“Sacred sword up his ass.”

“You’re delaying our journey home.”

“Just a side-quest.”

“What if they find out that you’re the hero?”

“I’m the Trickster, I’ll think of something.”

“What if you have to fight the Goddess?”

I paused.

“I’ll fuck her up. She deserves it.”

Runir broke our gaze and nodded.

“Why?” asked Amy, suddenly.

“What do you mean?” I asked, confused.

“Why does she deserve it? The Goddess. How is it her fault?” she asked.

“She’s the most powerful person in this country, isn’t she? She could have done something but she didn’t. Besides, everyone listens to her. One word from her and all this shit could get cleaned up but she doesn’t do anything about it. By not fixing the problem, she’s helping the bastards behind this.” I said.

Amy nodded slowly before looking away.

What’s up with her? I thought.

“It’s not as simple as that, I’m afraid.” said Runir.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Most of the factories are contractors for different labs. In the Air Kingdom, these labs possess a lot of power and influence- enough to make them a more important political actor than the nobility. And the largest and most powerful lab is the Breize Lab, which has its headquarters at the Air Shrine.” he said.

“At the shrine? But then-”

“Yep, they’re backed by the Air Goddess. She doesn’t just passively condone the cruelty in the factories, she pays for it.” he finished.

“So we really will have to go against a Goddess after all?” I asked.

“Yes, but don’t worry. She can’t fight us directly. We’re the Hero’s party so the Goddesses can’t interfere with our plans.” he said

“But I can totally beat her up for all this, can’t I?” I said, smiling.

“Yep.” he said, smirking.

“Perfect.”

“Damn it, stop pushing.” I said, annoyed.

“Can’t help it. Keep getting pushed myself. Way too many people here.” said Runir, as he was jostled by the crowd.

“Kai, do it already.” said Amy, fighting off an old man trying to cut in front of her.

Kai sighed and smiled. “You’re getting too used to this.”

He walked out of the line and went straight to the front.

“Hey, no cutting in line!” shouted a frowning teenage boy.

“Oi, get back here kid.” said an angry middle aged lady.

“Hey!”

Kai turned to face the voice.

An armed guard in a gray uniform strode up to him. “What do you think you’re doing? Cutting lines can get you banned from the-”

Kai pulled something out of his robes and showed it to the guard.

“S-sir! It is an honor to meet you in such a lowly place. I deeply apologize for my earlier behavior, I did not know that someone of your esteemed status would be gracing us today. I will accept any punishment.” he said, getting down on one knee.

“It’s okay, just help my friends through too please.” said Kai.

“Of course!” exclaimed the guard.

And so we made our way to the front of the line, ignoring the curious and -more often- angry looks from the crowd.

We stepped into glass building at the end of the line and waited. Soon, the platform beneath us started to rise and the ground became more distant.

“So this is the Sky Tunnel. It’s beautiful.” said Runir.

“Yep.” I said.

“Agreed.” Amy nodded.

“What do you think Zoe?” asked Kai.

“…it’s okay.” she mumbled, but her glittering eyes betrayed her real thoughts.

“Look, there it is!” said Runir, pointing ahead of us.

A small dot appeared in the distance. It slowly became larger and larger until it began to tower over everything else.

Jagged rocks floating in the sky, waterfalls cascading over the edges, and trees and boulders leaning over the sides. A floating island unlike anything else on Erath.

“It’s amazing. I can see why it’s such a popular tourist destination. Everybody wants to come to the island floating high in the sky.” said Runir.

I looked at the floating island and saw Zoe in the corner of my eye. Even though she’d lived in this country for her entire second life, she had never seen the island yet.

Yeah, some people love feeling like they’re above everyone else. But now I’m gonna bring those assholes back down to the ground.

Hard.

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