The sandy streets of the shabby town heat in the afternoon is no different from the desert. There are friendly waves from the passersby and bystanders as he pulls the loaded wagon in his aged waiter suit. He has been gaining attention in these past weeks, more than he wanted because he has a deep secret and doesn't want to be found out anytime soon. BUT... Being popular really never gets old~!" is what the scruffy old human was thinking as he was waving back like a teenager who won a popularity contest and the wagon is his trophy. But this little bliss will end short soon.
The wagon loaded with glass bottled wine, ingredients, bags of vegetable, fruit and dried meat. Collecting everything he was asked for, Hiroshi heads back to the bar where Aurora awaits but he does not rush. Rushing would spill the supply and might cause an accident in the streets that barely fit a wagon. So, he takes his time and carefully pulls the wagon.
Finally, he is in the view of the bar but something was obviously different. Aurora and her usual greet were nowhere to be seen. Instead, there was a crowd of people outside. 'Were they waiting to go in? It's not normally this crowded during this time of the day. But what else could it be?' Thinking that Hiroshi tried to continue on and decided to ask when he went inside until someone calls out to him. The one who greeted Hiroshi was Thios but she looked distressed. "Is something wrong?" Hiroshi asks slightly worried, hoping it's nothing serious but Thios expression did not relax. She gestures him to follow her and Hiroshi follows.
The few dozens of crowds in front of the entrance makes way after noticing Hiroshi. On his way in, he could smell the smoke Hacsu puffs when she is stressed or worried but there was nobody behind the counter. Where he finds Hacsu was sitting beside the lobby table with three of her workers sitting on a chair and Chocho on the ground against the counter. They were all making a similar gesture and holding a wet cloth on their head. Taillions were beside them cooling the cloth in the bucket of water and replacing the ones the injured were using, while the others were standing around worried.
"What happened?" Hiroshi asks and then notices someone is missing. "Where is Aurora...?" Hiroshi says trying to remain calm but in an obviously worried tone. Hacsu sighs then put down the wet cloth and brings up the smoke pipe and takes in the smoke.
"I need you to remain calm," Hacsu said but it made it obvious, something did happen to Aurora.
"Answer me..." Hiroshi said it in an unforgettable tone. The last time Hacsu and others have heard this tone was when they saw Hiroshi angry for the first time. Ironically, soon, Hiroshi will realize it will be the same reason he is enraged yet again. Hacsu exhales the smoke and reaches for a piece of paper that was on the lobby table and hands it to Hiroshi. Hiroshi takes a glance at the paper and saw writing on it but without even taking it he responds immediately, "I can't read that." Hacsu retracts and decides on translating the content disregarding the bump on her head and the headache that came along with it.
"It says to... meet him at the Mountain Cracks-" before Hacsu could continue further Hiroshi stops her with a question.
"'Him?'" Hacsu pauses and then looks straight into Hiroshi's eyes.
"The red beef ball you crippled," Hacsu said and gestured her hand a cross x mark on her chest and continued, "the man with a cross on his chest." It was obvious when she explained someone Hiroshi crippled but the cross scar confirmed it. Hiroshi tightly clenches his fist, even more furious than what the others have witnessed before.
"Where is the Mountain Cracks?" Hiroshi asks still sounding coherent.
"I, it's up in the mountain," Ningnao, a Fanglion who was aiding the injured stutters trying to quickly answer him, as if they are working with an explosive and need to act quickly or else something bad will happen.
"If you follow the pipe up the mountain then you should see cracks on the floor." Graksha, a fit red skinned Reptilion who was also not injured immediately continued for Ningnao.
"The cracks are big enough to fit dozens of people, you can't miss it," Shusca, the talkative blue-skinned Reptilion quickly continued again.
"When do I meet him?" Hiroshi asks calmly but immediately as if he was in sync with the three girls.
"Tonight," not like the other girls, Hacsu takes her time and answers calmly looking at the piece of paper, "it says when the moon is full and that should be tonight." Hiroshi turns to the exit and the crowd makes way again. "What are you going to do?" Hacsu asks.
"I'll wait for them," Hiroshi answers stopping at the door. "Unless anyone knows where he is...?" Hiroshi asks a rhetorical as he turns to the crowd.
"I... I know where they hang out but... I don't think they will be there..." The one who answered hesitantly was the first customer to befriend Hiroshi, Rok, a tanned Clawlion man.
"Exactly," Hiroshi responded turning to leave again, "It'll take me a week to flip this town upside down. It'll be faster to do as he says." He thinks out loud sounding logical.
"What are you going to do when you see him?" Hacsu asks puffing another smoke.
"He'll live," Hiroshi answers stopping in his track, "but if he did anything to Aurora..." Hiroshi turns and can see his eyes from the side and they are afraid. His eyes were not only filled with fury but more of madness, "I'll make sure he can't even crawl." Hiroshi turns back and walks down the street. Everyone was frozen in their place, except for one. Shusca calls out and chases after Hiroshi.
"I'll take you to the gate," Shesca said calmly with a determined expression, "With Iscasa Hacsu's name they should let you through without trouble." Shusca turns to Hacsu to see her approval. In response, Hacsu waves away with her free hand, not even looking their way while her other hand was holding a wet cloth on her forehead. Receiving their cue Hiroshi and Shusca leaves.
. . . . . .
They arrive at the gate of the chain-link fence that goes around the mountain and the pipe. There were four men guarding the gate with each holding a spear in their hands. A beefy red Reptilion and buff Clawlion were watching up the mountain and another red Reptilion and a blue-skinned Reptilion were watching the gate. The guards watching the gate notice Hiroshi and Shuaca approaching then the blue-skinned Reptilion blocks their way before they even arrived.
"Shusca? What are you doing here?" The fit blue-skinned guard asks in their language, Icsumikaian.
"Our fountain is not working properly. Lady Hacsu asked Hiroshi to go up and see if he could fix the problem." Shusca lied in Icsumikaian.
"Hiroshi? The head fur?" the blue skin asks, measuring Hiroshi up, "Bare handed?"
"Ah- yeah! Hiroshi is very... skilled with his hand!" Shuaca said losing the composure she had, causing a misunderstanding. The guard looks at the two visitors suspiciously then walks up to Hiroshi. Shusca remains silent trying to look calm. The blue-skinned guard stand straight and strong making him look bigger than he really is. Then he speaks, almost whispering.
"Are you the human who broke Eirgor?" the guard asks in English while looking into Hiroshi's eyes and Hiroshi looks back into his, remaining silent.
"Yes, he is the rumored human," Shusca answers in Icsumikaian for Hiroshi. The two men look at each other in silence then the guard turns around.
"Let the human pass," the blue-skinned Reptilion says loudly in English for the rest of the three guards to hear.
"Hey! what are we going to say to Iscek Zorar's?" The red Reptilion with one massive arm guarding the gate asks in English, grumbling irritatingly.
"It's Iscasa Hacsu we're talking about. Zorar will be fine," the blue guard responds. Still irritated the red-skinned guard growls.
"Then you talk to him..." The big guard orders the blue guard grumbling. The blue-skinned guard walks up to the gate and takes out a key and unlocks the lock and opens the gate. The blue guard says something but Hiroshi ignores and continues on. Shuaca talks to him instead.
Hiroshi climbs the mountain in the thick forest following the pipe. It is so much cooler than it was in the slum. The air is much cleaner but time to time the rusted metal pipe and wet mud from leaking pipes could be smelled. The sound of Hiroshi stepping on dead leaves and broken branches aren't all that can be heard, there are small to large critters minding their own business and so does Hiroshi. Hiroshi continues, too focused to realize the pleasant surroundings. Deeper and deeper he goes. Sometimes up, sometimes straight, sometimes down and finally he saw a crack in the ground. He looks up and sees there are much lesser trees and greens around and there are several dozens of deep cracks that could fit several people in the mountain ground and the water pipe continues around the cracked ground. Hiroshi has arrived.
Hiroshi then sits in front of the single tree out in the open that is before the cracks and he waits.
. . . . . .
Past dusk, the moon is full and high, brightening enough to see the surrounding but not enough to see in the thick forest until several small orbs of orange light sways. The serene forest is breached by many steps and the crackling of the fire torches. The time has come.
Hiroshi stands and waits for them to come out of the thickness. One by one, they emerge out of the darkness but the two he waited for is yet to be seen. After seventeen men the two he was waiting for came out into vision. The worst-case scenario Hiroshi did not hope for has come true. Aurora was gagged, her hands tied behind her back, and the Clawlion man behind readied his knife against her neck. If this was all, Hiroshi wouldn't be so ready to explode. There were nearly perfect linear and parallel cuts going down Aurora's arms and legs and her face covered in bruises having her right eye swollen. They tortured Aurora, a child. She was barely walking, barely conscious. The worst case has come true, now the question is 'why?' Just for the sake of venting or something else?
"I'm sorry, she just wasn't being helpful," the red-skinned Reptilion, Eirgor emerges from the dark with a hysterical smile furthest back with a cloth slinging on his right arm. Hiroshi readies his hand to choke the life out of the atrocious leader and takes a step.
"No, no, no..." Eirgor walks up to Aurora, still threatened by the knife, and lifts her drooping head by the chin. "She's still alive," says the madman written on his face. Hiroshi stops and takes a step back clenching his fist and teeth. Hiroshi knows he can kill the madman easily but with what cost? He cannot take losing someone he cares about, not anymore. It will haunt him, for forever. Seeing the opportunity, the cowardly leader bravely walks forward, towards Hiroshi.
"If you do anything to me, she dies..." Eirgor says as continues to walk. "And~ if you don't do as I say..." then Eirgor points at Aurora behind him without looking. The Fanglion man who was holding Aurora hostage, without hesitation takes the knife and gives her a new cut on her upper arm. Aurora gives a muffling scream in response.
"Stop!" Hiroshi yells, "What the fuck do you want?!" Seeing the desperate Hiroshi, the sadistic Reptilion laughs hysterically. Then groans and curls up from the pain of his crippled right arm but as if it was more humorous than painful he continues to laugh.
"What was it..? What the humans call in this situation?" Eirgor gets back up and looks at Hiroshi. "Irony? Right?" Hiroshi thought this red skinned Reptilion would be too traumatized to do anything anymore but here he is, cornering Hiroshi. Was this man mad to begin with or has he gone mad but for certain, his eyes were filled with nothing coherent.
"What do you want..?" Hiroshi slowly says gritting his teeth, holding himself back from choking the reckless evil reincarnate. Then Eirgor points at the tree behind Hiroshi, the tree Hiroshi was resting against.
"Put your hand up high as you can on the tree," Eirgor says still smiling unnervingly. Hiroshi takes a glance at weak Aurora, who was watching the whole time and without hesitation does exactly the madman ordered. "Higher!" The only way for Hiroshi to get any higher was to get on his toes which he does. Hiroshi's back turned, Aurora started to scream a muffled scream. Hiroshi tried to turn and see but to stay in the uncomfortable position as the oppressor ordered, he could not. Then suddenly, the sleeve on his right arm started to stick like it was wet but opposite from the cool air of the mountain, something warm was dripping down his arm. He looks up at the source and what he saw was a knife stabbing through his right hand to the tree. Then the pain rushed through his spine. He is no stranger to pain but he can never get use to it.
Hiroshi's scream, Aurora's muffled scream, and Eirgor's hysterical laughter could be heard throughout the mountain. The goons watch uncomfortably in silence as Hiroshi struggle, practically hanging by the knife stuck in his hand. Trying to calm down Hiroshi takes rapid breaths then steadily to a calm breath. Still worried Aurora continue to scream. Then suddenly...
"You know, I'm actually very thankful to you," Eirgor grumbles as he speaks and gets uncomfortably close. "I've never been so desperate in my life," he then grabs the stabbed knife and moves it up and down. Hiroshi was finally getting used to the pain but the slightest movement of the knife sent jolts through his body making him grunt. Concerned Aurora screams with a muffled 'stop' but there was no sign of Eirgor stopping.
"You broke my arm so bad, nobody... Nobody in this rotten town- No, this world~ could fix it... fix THIS... PAIN... except for one..." Eirgor monologues in an almost rumbling voice, "The city of light..." Then he finally let's go of the knife and withdraws from Hiroshi. "The city... of... humans...!" He yells at everyone to hear and laughs at the irony, "I get crippled by the human and only the humans can fix it. THIS PAIN!" He rumbles and grumbles at the end but calms himself with steadying his breath. "Do you know how much it takes to get in there?" Eirgor asks going in Hiroshi's view from left and the questioner answers, "a... lot... this whole town can't even afford it." Finally, in the light of the moon, Hiroshi could see the dark under the monologuing man's dilated eye. "You think what I did to her were cruel... I am desperate, I can't even sleep, but thanks to that... I found something..." The disturbing Reptilion gets uncomfortable close again and whispered, "How does it feel to be immortal?"
"What?" Hiroshi responded without thinking. Then the Reptilion distance himself and try to contain his laugh but bursts out.
"So, it's true!" Eirgor said in high spirit as if his assumptions came true and start walking around Hiroshi again. "The humans are paying big for a immortal human! A man who can't die. A man who don't age and a wound like this can be fixed in a day, right?" Eirgor, again on Hiroshi's right, lifts his unnaturally dangling right arm to Hiroshi's face. "Oh... You look nothing like in the poster but it said the human is incredibly strong... and I have met humans... and they are not strong... Not like you..." It's becoming more indistinguishable if Eirgor is monologuing to Hiroshi or everybody or even to himself, spontaneous lowering and raising his voice. "And... There is a rumor... If you drink his blood..." Hiroshi's eye widens and few of the goons give a disturbed look, some even looking away by the idea. Eirgor gets close to Hiroshi's face again and whispers, "you will become immortal too..."
"That's a lie!" Hiroshi yells and before he could explain or give an excuse, Eirgor spoke.
"Let's see about that," then he reaches behind him and swings his arm. Aurora screams and then followed by Hiroshi's screaming a disturbing screech. Eirgor swung a dirty old machete cutting half way through Hiroshi's stuck arm revealing the bone within. Eirgor stumps his feet in frustration.
"I could have... I could have cut that arm off... If I still had my good arm... I really could have!" Eirgor whimpering his language and picked himself up, "Well, it'll all be over soon." Eirgor pulls the machete off of Hiroshi's arm and was about to lick the blooded broad knife.
"Don't! You have no idea what you're doing!" Hiroshi in pain, out of breath, yet he orders Eirgor but he gives a curious look at Hiroshi.
"And miss this chance to be immortal? You must be insane," and finally, he brings the machete to his mouth and licks the blood and swallow. One lick was enough, that one lick showed an immediate reaction.
"I can feel it... I can feel it...!" Eirgor loosens the cloth slinging his right arm and lifts to see and it twists and turns without him intending to like it has a mind of its own. "I don't feel pain anymore!" Eirgor looks up at the moon and starts to laugh hysterically, being free from the distorted dislocation and extremely fractured arm but at what cost?
Is Eirgor's arm getting healed? Is it getting fixed? But what's for certain is that it's increasing in size. His arm wasn't the only thing expanding. His body started to make disturbing, painful sounds of bones cracking, dislocating, muscles tearing, tissues tearing and it literally was. His body expands, protrude, and distort as if each bones and muscles had a mind of its own until his largest organ could not take it. His skin rips and shed like an actual reptile but not to a new skin. He comes out of his skin in bare muscles bleeding blood so dark it was black. After coming out of his skin, his bare muscles would heal very quickly to a new skin but darker than before, and this phenomenon cycles over and over again slowly becoming quicker every shedding.
Everyone watched with disturbed awe expression from seeing something so grotesque and monstrous and Eirgor, who continued to laugh this whole time was not helping.
"Aurora!" Hiroshi screamed loud as he could while trying to pull the knife out his right hand. Fortunately, he got her attention within the chaotic noises. "Remember, stay still and quiet!" Hiroshi reminds her. "Now RUN! EVERYONE RUN!" Hiroshi yelled for everyone to hear.
Aurora checks behind her with her only good left eye. The Fanglion man who was holding Aurora hostage was too busy watching the disturbing imagery, completely lowering his knife on her throat but she and the Fanglion captor moved much farther forward than she thought. There are more men behind her. Aurora's option dwindled to run forward into the cracks ahead. Some of the goons see and gives chase despite Hiroshi's warning. Some did not even hear Hiroshi and just stood there astounded. Four goons seeing the chaos stumbled back and ran into the forest. Luckily, Aurora's cuts are not deep and despite being bound she jumps over the collection of mountain fissure without trouble but so does the chasers.
Hiroshi sees Aurora is still in trouble and wants to get out but pulling out the knife in his non-dominant hand and an uncomfortable position was not possible, even for him. He needs to act fast. So, he takes a rapid breath and readies himself. He climbs on to the tree and tries to pull hard as he can but he severs his right hand in half. He falls on his back. He wished he could scream for his tattered arm but he grits his teeth.
Hiroshi sees Eirgor is now twice the size than his original was and is still growing and is silenced. Hiroshi sees he still has a chance. He turns over and sees the machete next to him on the ground. He grabs it and darts toward where Aurora ran. Some of the goons that were frozen in place notice Hiroshi and chases after him and Eirgor notices the chasers.
Eirgor, now a beast, stopped shedding and growing. He is now nearly as big as the tree next to him and his skin is now a deep dark black. The giant beast falls forward on top of the last chaser into the beast's mouth and eats him. The black beast was now a four-legged concoction of a creature and chases after the runners, leaving the frozen in fear alone.
. . . . . .
Sometime after, Aurora continues to run and jump over cracks with ease. She was no stranger to run from oppressor after all but she was getting overconfident. One of the fissures were much further than she anticipated and only her upper body makes to the cliff but her hands are tied behind her back. The chasers sees but there is no sign of them stopping. Five of them jump and four make it to the other side, even jumping over Aurora, except for one. The last chaser was overconfident as well but he came short, even shorter then Aurora.
The last chaser, a blue-skinned Reptilion, lands on Aurora's back and drags her down into the crack. Aurora lands on top of the blue skin safely while blue skin lands on his head, giving him a concussion. Not yet realizing this, the other chasers that made it to the other side laughs at the last chaser's incompetence. Aurora shakes herself off from the haze of falling and then gets confused why the chaser that dragged her down is no longer doing anything but she takes this chance. She bolts down the crack. The chasers finally realize something is wrong. The three jumps down and the fourth was about to jump but he arrived.
Hiroshi jumps over the fissure and knees the last chaser on the face, knocking him out. Hiroshi checks if he was conscious then jumps down the cliff and goes after Aurora.
To be continued