The Beginning After The End - Chapter 161
Chapter 161: Why Are You Crying?
“Where to next, Nico?” I asked, cheerfully swinging the plastic bags filled with school supplies by my side.
“We still have to pick up our uniforms, right?” Cecilia answered, cradling a textbook in her arms as if it were a baby.
“It hasn’t been two hours yet since we got ourselves measured. We’ll make that our last stop,” Nico replied. He looked down at his little notepad. “We need to buy backpacks and calculators.”
The three of us strolled casually on the city sidewalk. The streets were old and crooked, with paving stones that wobbled and shifted out of place from the weight of passing pedestrians. Dull buildings towered over us, blending in with the murky gray sky. A recent rain shower covered the usually grimy stench of the area with a fresh earthy smell, while puddles had gathered in the dips and potholes of the neglected streets.
Arcastead was by no means a pleasant or appealing city. Yet, at this moment, everything around me was at least bearable. From the homeless people lurking behind the trash bins in back alleys to the scowling soldiers threatening to arrest any passerby that accidentally bumped into them, the usual sight that I hated so much about this place somehow seemed charming.
Nico let out a sigh, snapping me out of my daze. “Our uniforms might be the same as everyone else’s, but if we go in there with worn out backpacks it’ll be obvious that we’re orphans. I’d rather not have us be excluded by the other students.”
“Fine,” I relented, following Nico as he crossed the street.
The sun had fallen by the time we finished purchasing all of the necessary supplies to start our new lives as students. As we headed toward the outskirts of Arcastead, both the number of patrolling soldiers and street lights became more scarce, keeping us on our toes. Nico and I knew the area well enough to outrun any potential thieves or kidnappers, but having Cecilia with us made the walk back to the orphanage all the more tense.
“Are you excited to go to school, Cecilia?” Nico asked quietly, hoping to fill in the awkward silence.
Her brows furrowed in thought but she ultimately nodded with a smile that had become more frequent as of late. “I’m nervous and scared, but yes.”
As I was about to chime in, a faint rustle drew my attention. Pretending as though I was digging through the plastic bag of school supplies, I took a peek behind us to see a shadow flit behind an alleyway.
“—right, Grey?” Nico nudged my arm.
“Huh?” I whipped my head back forward.
“Sheesh, don’t space out on us,” Nico admonished. “I know we’ve been through this area hundreds of times but it’s still dangerous to be daydreaming like that.”
Scratching the back of my head, I let out a wry chuckle. “My bad.”
“And I was just saying to Cecilia that we would be there in case anything happened to her,” Nico sighed.
Cecilia, who was walking on the other side of Nico, let out a giggle when I heard another faint noise.
A shiver ran down my spine. I could feel my heart pound against my ribcage, trying to break free. Suddenly, I was all too conscious of my breathing. The shallow, ragged breathing I’d heard so many times in movies when the main character was scared.
I was scared. I didn’t know of what, but my body was telling me to run—to get out of here.
Out of the corner of my eye something fast twinkled against the flickering street light, and once again, the world seemed to slow down around me.
I lunged sideways, knocking both Nico and Cecilia into the grimy street.
“Run!” I roared as I heard the click of another projectile being loaded from the shadows.
Although startled and confused, Nico was able to gather his wits. Abandoning his bags, he pulled our disoriented friend into the nearby alleyway.
It felt as if someone else was taking control of my body as I instinctively dipped down and picked up Cecilia’s textbook. I raised the thick hardbound book up to my chest, just in time to feel the force of the projectile sending me staggering back.
I took a quick glance down to see a syringe-like object embedded into the textbook. A clear liquid oozed out of the buried end, dripping to the ground.
It wasn’t a bullet. I knew that for sure.
The memory of my trip to the zoo with Headmaster Wilbeck sprang to mind. It was one of those needles they shot at animals in order to make them fall asleep.
Yanking the needle out of the textbook, I followed after Nico and Cecilia into the narrow alleyway.
“After them! I don’t care what you do with the boys, just keep the girl alive,” a gruff voice barked out orders from behind me.
“Keep running!” My voice echoed off the worn stone walls as I ran, ducking under the rusted fire escape ladders and vaulting over trash bins.
It didn’t take long for me to catch up to my friends, which meant that it wouldn’t take much longer for the crooks behind us to reach us as well.
Nico was fine, but there was a trail of blood running down his legs and arms from scrapes and scratches while running. I knocked down metal trash cans and discarded boxes, throwing anything hard at the pursuers in a desperate attempt to slow them down.
“They’re… going to… catch up,” Nico wheezed, running out of breath.
“Why are they after us?” Cecilia panted as she exerted all of her energy and focus into not tripping over something on the ground.
I shook my head, ignorant as well aside from what the man had said. “Nico, do you still have that glove on you?”
“I should—wait, you’re not seriously thinking of—”
“Can you think of any other way?” I cut him off, my voice laced with impatience.
At Nico’s signal, we veered left into a narrow alley. Our pursuers’ footfalls were growing louder as they gained in on us.
Grudgingly, Nico dug through his jacket pockets. After finding it, he stretched his arm out to give it to me when Cecilia snatched it away from his hand.
“Cecilia?” Nico exclaimed.
“I-I’ll do it,” Cecilia stammered, putting on the fuzzy black glove.
Dumbfounded by the girl’s sudden courage, I nearly tripped over a pile of discarded clothes. “It’s too dangerous. And you still can’t control your ki!”
“Nico and I both heard what that man yelled earlier,” Cecilia huffed. “They aren’t allowed to kill me, right?”
I looked to Nico for assistance, but he couldn’t come up with an argument either. Cursing under my breath, I tightened my grip around the syringe in my hand.
“Fine. Nico, got a plan?”
My friend’s eyes narrowed the way it did when he was thinking. “We make a right over there,” he ordered softly.
I looked back over my shoulder to see two pursuers dressed in black less than twenty feet feet away from us.
We turned sharply into a wide back-alley behind an old restaurant. I had expected us to keep running but Nico pulled me back by my sleeve.
“Cecilia, fall on your belly like you just tripped over something. Grey, with me,” Nico hissed, dragging me behind a cluster of metal trash cans.
My heart thrummed like a drum, loud enough for me to worry that our pursuers might hear.
It only took a couple seconds for the two men in black to skid to a stop around the corner.
The one on the right spoke into his wrist. “Sir, we have the girl in our sights.”
“The girl tripped and it looks like the boys have abandoned her. Permission to proceed?” the pursuer on the left asked.
Unlike the crooks that’d tried to mug Nico and I a few months back, it was obvious that these two were professionals. They stepped toward Cecilia with caution but to our surprise, our timid and quiet friend began bawling.
“Guys! Don’t leave me!” she wailed as she began crawling away. “Please!”
The man on the right let out a faint scoff as he shook his head. He walked forward, stepping down on Cecilia’s leg.
I gnashed my teeth as Cecilia let out a cry, but for once, Nico looked more angry than me. His eyes were fierce in a way that made even me fearful.
While the man that asked for permission to proceed remained a few feet away, the pursuer on the right stretched down and snagged Cecilia up by the back of her coat.
He brought up the communication device on his other wrist and spoke. “We have her.”
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Cecilia took full advantage of that opportunity to lash around and plant her gloved hand on the pursuer’s face.
A shrill scream tore out of Cecilia’s throat. Like all the times she had gone out of control, a blast of ki erupted out of her. However, some of her rampant ki had flowed down her arm and to her hand. A current of electricity flashed out the black glove, lighting the dingy alleyway.
The pursuer that had grabbed ahold of Cecilia wasn’t even able to scream as his body spasmed.
A puddle formed on the ground between the victim’s legs as Cecilia pried herself free from his grasp.
Nico squeezed my arm and we rushed into action. Nico dived for the uninjured pursuer’s legs while I went for his sternum.
I’d thought the flash of light would’ve disoriented him enough for us to end the fight quickly, but he had recovered fast enough to react to our attack.
Sidestepping out of Nico’s reach, he kicked my friend away while he swung down his right arm.
I back-stepped away from his strike and closed in to strike his exposed throat, throwing him by surprise.
Confident that I would be able to land my attack I stepped into reach, only for him to dip his head and stretch his left hand toward my neck at frightening speed.
I gagged as the man’s cold hand gripped around my throat and lifted me off the ground.
“You have potential, kid,” he sneered, bringing me close to him. “A waste you’ll have to die here.”
With less than an arm’s length distance between us, I was able to see the man’s face for the first time. His nose and mouth were covered by a mask, but it didn’t matter. With his scarred left eye being brown and right eye green, I would be able to spot him from a mile away.
My vision was darkening and I could feel the strength leave my body, but despite the situation, I shot the two-colored man a smirk.
Praying to whichever higher being could help me, I drove the point of the syringe into the man’s neck.
“What—” he gasped, letting go of me as he fell to the ground.
With no time to waste, I hurriedly woke up the unconscious Nico and helped Cecilia back to her feet.
“W-We did it,” Cecilia whispered as she leaned on me for support. Her legs were shaking, not from the cold but out of fear, and her cheeks were lined with tears.
“Good job, you two,” Nico muttered weakly as he put Cecilia’s other arm over his shoulder for support.
“Yeah, we did it.” I nodded. “Now, come on. We need to get out of here before more of them come.
“You’d best kill us and run far away, brats.”
I whipped my head over my shoulder to see the guy with the brown and green eyes squirming on the ground.
“You have nowhere to go,” he mumbled, his voice slurring from the effects of the clear liquid. “I made sure of that.”
“Let’s go, Grey,” Nico urged, tightening his arm around Cecilia to keep her steady.
None of us talked as we made our way to the orphanage. Even the streets were quiet except for the sirens that screamed in the distance. It was as if we didn’t want to accept what had happened to us—that we were almost killed for no reason. I wanted to look forward. I wanted to, instead, think about the fact that we were going to attend a school in a new city soon. We would have to buy new supplies, but that’d be okay. Everything would be okay once we got to the orphanage and Headmaster Wilbeck got us out of Arcastead.
Cecilia was able to walk on her own after about a few blocks, which was a vast improvement from when she would be knocked out cold for hours after one of her ki outbursts.
“Thanks for the help,” Cecilia muttered, breaking the silence as she shyly handed what was left of the black glove back to Nico. The shock glove that my friend made had been reduced to a clump of wool from the overload of ki from Cecilia. “Sorry about your glove.”
“Don’t worry about it.” Nico stuffed the remains of his glove into his tattered jacket and looked at me with a smirk. “At least I was able to see what it was capable of thanks to you. Grey wasn’t useful at all.”
“Make fun of me all you want; I was the one that saved you guys today,” I gloated, sticking my tongue out at Nico.
Unexpectedly, Nico responded seriously. “You’re right. I wasn’t any help in that fight.”
“H-Hey, I was just kidding,” I stammered, a pang of guilt ringing in my chest.
“Nico, it was thanks to your glove that we were able to escape them,” Cecilia consoled.
“Yeah!” I quickly agreed, walking ahead of them. “And I bet you can learn to make a lot more better tools and weapons after going to school!”
Nico’s sullen expression brightened at our words. Taking out the remains of the shock glove, he gripped it tightly with a newfound fervor in his eyes. “We’ll need to get new supplies first. Headmaster Wilbeck is going to blow a fuse!”
Cecilia let out a giggle. “She might even make us go back tomorrow morning to find it!”
I let the two enjoy their moment behind me as the two of them burst into a fit of laughter. The summer nights were usually warm but it felt different than usual. The air was dry with a smell of smoke that was only getting stronger getting stronger…why?
I turned the corner into the street our orphanage was on, and I found my answer.
Nico and Cecilia grew closer behind me but their footsteps seemed to echo and their voices were muffled from the sound of blood pounding in my ears.
Suddenly, the words of the man with the brown and green eyes rang in my head: “You have no home to go to.”
I stopped dead in my tracks as my gaze locked onto the sight of the orphanage burning to the ground. Police cars, firetrucks and ambulances were clustered in front of our home.
And then I saw her.
Being carried on a stretcher. A paramedic had just put a tarp over her, covering her face, but I saw her. I saw Headmaster Wilbeck.
I ran, leaving behind Nico and Cecilia. I evaded the policemen securing the perimeter and pushed aside the paramedics.
People shouted around me but I couldn’t hear what they were saying. All I could hear was my blood pounding in my ears.
I tore off the tarp covering Headmaster Wilbeck.
Blood—too much of it. Her eyes were closed.
Why are they closed?
I shook her. She needed to wake up.
Nico, Cecilia and I were attacked by bad people but we got away. Everything was supposed to be okay now.
I shook her too hard. Her arm fell limply off the edge of the stretcher. Her eyes were still closed.
The man’s words sounded in my head once more like a hot iron rod against my skull. “You have nowhere to go.”
My eyes shot open as tears continued to stream down my face.
Everything was still blurry but I could tell I was in my room now inside the castle. My breathing was still short and erratic as my left hand gripped onto something soft and warm.
“Arthur,” the familiar, soothing voice called out to me again.
I turned my head, blinking away the tears still forming in my eyes.
Next to me, holding my hand, was Tessia. Her eyes were red and there were tears welling up in her eyes as well.
“Tessia?” My voice came out dry and raspy. “Why are you crying?”
“Dummy.” She choked back a laugh, smiling as her tears rolled down her cheek. “I could ask you the same thing.”