You are a series of mistakes that had to happen for you to find you
"Shit, shit, shit!" complained a helmeted man on a dirt road, clad in a black motorcycle jacket, jeans, gloves, and boots. The engine that had been roaring just moments before, like a growling beast had suddenly fallen into fragmented chortles, and then stopped moving altogether. The motorcyclist flicked out the stand with his heel and hopped off the bike, taking his helmet off to look at his only means of travel from a front-view. It was none other than Leon, and with an exasperated sigh, began ruffling the back of his head. "Really? So much for getting there early..."
After becoming Percy Dagger's assistant, Leon had to commute from Neutral Grounds to Rose Garden as often as he needed to work. The two towns were on opposite sides of the entire mountains, so the trip seemed impossibly long for most people, but Leon didn't have the luxury of flexibility in his life right now. He had to make it work, and while the pay was more than enough to cover his rent and his motorcycle was more than enough to get around, the commute was beginning to be too long and unpredictable for his liking. He had been avoiding it all this time, but maybe it was time to start looking at moving closer to Rose Garden, if not to the town itself. It'd undoubtedly make his life easier, and rent seemed cheaper everywhere else other than Neutral Grounds, but then he'd have to deal with all the magic... well, he'd cross that bridge when he came to it. For now, what he needed to worry about was his motorbike and how he'd get to Rose Garden if the thing really decided to give out on him in the middle of nowhere.
Leon threw his head back in another exaggerated sigh, letting the sunlight cover his scarred and rugged face. It was such a nice day, so why did something this inconvenient had to happen now? But it wasn't as bad as the initial frustration convinced him. He could see the familiar fork in the road just ahead—where one path led to River Village and then Rose Garden, and another led to a different village just down the way. The other village was closer, so maybe he could push...
"Who's there?" Leon suddenly perked up, turning around to face the deep woods that surrounded either side of the dirt road. If you listened closely, you could hear the distant chirping of cicadas or the elusive crows of birds hidden in the thick, green groves. But it wasn't just any ordinary sound of nature that he heard, but something much more human. He could only see the shadow of a figure snake in between bushes, the darkness encompassing the forest and all within its depths. Over and over again, the voice called out for its Mama, rustling around in a patch of bushes without revealing itself. Cautiously, Leon slid his hand into his beige duffel bag that rested on the rear of his motorbike, pulling out an arm gauntlet that adjusted itself to his arm perfectly. It looked incredibly sophisticated and yet felt completely snug on his body. It was another one of Percy's inventions and another idea for Leon to try, though right now he was relying on it for mostly self-protection.
Guarded, Leon began slowly walking away from his motorbike and over to the rustling bushes that were on the very outskirts of the deep and dark woods ahead. The movements were too big to be just any old critter, and yet, too small for him to not wonder what could be making all this noise. 'Mama?' to moaned out. 'Mama!' it called in a trembling voice. Leon held out his gauntleted hand, the palm glowing with an indiscreet, mechanical light. He felt his heart begin to race, and yet it was his heavy and quick breaths that he could hear. He got closer and closer until the rustling and his beating heart was all that he could hear. He walked up to it, reached out his hand to push the leaves and branches away, revealing a head of short black hair with twigs sticking out at odd angles. It turned around, looking up at Leon and his cautiously outstretched gauntlet with their bright, wide green eyes. It was a little girl in a ripped, floral dress.
. . . . . . . . .
"Thank you for bringing little Irina back to us. If it were anyone else that found her, I'm afraid to think about what might've happened..."
"It's no problem, really... I'm glad I found her, too."
Sitting around a large campfire was an old woman whose face was so wrinkled and worn that her eyelids seemed to sag over her actual eyes—like her skin was hanging off her face. Her silver, curly hair was tied up into a bun, and everyone seemed to be dressed in the skins and furs of animals they've hunted. This was the Hunting Village down the way, and after finding Irina in the bushes earlier, Leon had brought her home to this village. It was a small village, nothing particularly showy or "out there", but they took care of themselves. And although they wore the skins and furs of animals they've slain, they still had a modern look to him. It seemed that everyone wore gear fit for modern-day hunters, and the furs were there for aesthetic—scarfs, belts, and whatnot.
"Don't worry about your bike. As thanks for your good deed, we'll fix all of the damages. While you wait, please make yourself at home." the old woman smiled, bowing her head in a gesture of gratitude as a tea kettle boiled over the campfire.
"That's... thank you. But..." Leon looked over to Irina with a look of concern and curiosity. Even now, she loomed over the window of the small cottage building, staring in the distance of where they came. She may have been here, but it felt like if you looked away for even a moment, she'd find herself wandering into the woods once again. It took calling her name more than once just to get her attention, and when you did, she'd quickly find herself lost in thought again and was easily distracted. But unlike most kids, who had the attention span of a goldfish, it seemed like only one single thing distracted her time and time again—the forest. Leon looked back at the old woman, "...when I found her, she was calling out for her Mama. I looked around for a while, but... sorry, I know this isn't any of my business."
"That's quite alright, Leon. I figured that you'd ask sooner or later," the old woman smiled, chuckling quietly and slowly, but then the amusement seemed to disappear almost instantly as she sat on her words. Suddenly, an air of solemnity filled the room, and Leon could feel the atmosphere change to something far more melancholy. "You see, Iris—Irina's mother—has been missing for a few days now. When we found Irina, all she could tell us was that her mother had told her to hide and never returned. Some young hunters went looking for her a couple of days ago, but they haven't returned either... we're beginning to fear the worst. The Lycan Woods is a dangerous place, especially for many of the young, inexperienced hunters like some of the ones who have offered to go looking for them, but..."
"I'll go," Leon stood up suddenly, looking at the old woman with a quiet conviction and determination in his frowning face. He had always considered himself to be a selfish person, especially under the circumstances he had now—someone who had to look out for himself because no one else would. But who was he kidding? He could never turn a blind eye to people so clearly in need. The old woman looked surprised for a moment and then smiled.
"Thank you, Leon, but you bringing Irina back home safe and sound is enough. There's no need for you to go that far for us and our own problems. It'll only burden you," the old woman shook her head, caressing the stoneware cup in her old, wrinkly hands.
"It's not a burden!" Leon protested in a rising voice, his hands clenched and eyes looking down at the campfire. The two of them stood there in silence for a moment as Leon struggled to remain collected until he took a quick and deep breath and started again, "I... know it's not my problem, but there's no way I could leave now without doing anything to help... is what I'm trying to say."
Irina was still staring off into the distance from the cottage window, and the old woman who watched this intense, young man spill his heart out to her, could only smile. How could she not? There was a certain passion that you'd find only in youth, after all. She took a sip of her hot tea and set it aside.
"You have a kind soul, Leon. Truly. If you really must go, then listen closely. The Lycan Woods, as small as they are, are nothing to scoff at...."
With his motorbike being tended to and the day not even reaching noon yet, Leon approached the Lycan Woods through the village entryway. There were guards on watchtowers and posted up against the walls separating them from the woods and the beasts within. They were equipped with typical hunter garbs, guns, and blades that could cut through bone like a hot knife through butter. But unlike them, Leon didn't have anything other than his gauntlet. He stepped past the village gates as they closed behind him and stared deep into the forest, where the only light were rays of sunshine that broke through the thick groves above. Without hesitation, he ventured inside.
. . . . . . . . . .
It felt like hours since he first stepped into the Lycan Woods, but the sun hadn't even reached its noon position yet. For a long time, Leon had only been faced with large, thick roots that had almost tripped him and spiderwebs that he'd sometimes collide with, but nothing more. There wasn't a sign of any hunters being around, let alone Iris, but Leon continued to wander anyway. He'd trudge through the twigs and bushes, and push away vines that dangled from the green ceiling until he approached a small clearing ahead. It was an open space surrounded by the rest of the woods, but in the patch of tall grass between were five bodies littered across it, their dry blood splattered against the bark of oak and the blades of grass. His eyes wide, Leon paused.
"They're... hey!" he called out to them, breaking into an urgent dash as he pushed through bushes and weaved through trees to get to them. When he made it over to the small clearing, he came to a running stop and knelt down next to one of the bodies. The combat boots, the knives, and a gun sheathe across their fur belts... sure enough, they were the hunters. This man, in particular, was lying on his side, his face turned away from him. But when Leon eagerly turned him over to lay on his back, something gruesome came to light. A mouth-sized chunk was missing from his waist, leaving a bloody, gaping hole where his flesh and bone would've been. His brown eyes were open, chapped lips parted, but there was no life in this man. Not anymore.
Leon glared down at the man with pursed lips, his fierce eyes trembling and countenance contorted with grief and anger, his hands curling up into fists as he held the stranger in his arms. These bodies couldn't have been more than a day old—some of the blood was still fresh—and Leon couldn't have felt angrier with himself. If he had come just a little sooner, could this have been prevented? This needless death? Leon held his head low as he bit his lips, staring at the man and his fallen comrades that were sprawled across the clearing. The scene was messy and surely an animal's doing.
"...here... hoogh! Uggghh..."
Leon flinched when he heard some man's voice break the mournful silence, the sound of phlegmatic coughs and wheezing coming from behind him. When he looked, there was a man lying against the bloody trunk of a tree, both of his hands pressed against a bloody gash on his leg. His chest was covered in claw marks, but nothing nearly as immobilizing as the one on his leg. When he realized that he was looking at a survivor, Leon carefully put the corpse down and rushed over to him in a panic.
"Come on, let's get you out of here," Leon insisted, his face serious and full of concern. At least one of them survived, and that was better than all lives being lost. If anything, he had to make sure that at least this man made it home safely. "Can you walk?" But there was no answer, he was awake and breathing, but his eyes were fixed on the woods behind Leon. He squinted into its depths and slowly raised his trembling hand, pointing.
"Still... here..." he managed to wheeze out in a strained, dry voice as his finger continued to point. Leon wore a puzzled and eager glare on his face.
"They're... still... here...!"
If only by the injured man's words of warning, Leon looked behind him to find not one, but three large werewolves watching them from the darkness, their predatory silhouettes towering over any other living thing surrounding them. There was no mistake—these were the beasts that the man was warning him about, and there wasn't a moment to gather his bearings before the inevitable encounter was about to unfold.
With a wicked and slobbery snarl, the middle werewolf came dashing out of the darkness in a sprint, throwing its entire body at Leon and the hunter with its fangs bared and muscular arms outstretched. Its speed was insane. It was across the clearing just a moment ago, but with a minimal running start, it was flying towards them in just milliseconds with its teeth ready to tear and claws ready to kill the second they'd collide. There was no time to think, and like the instinct that drove these werewolves, Leon's body moved on its own. He pulled the hunter into a protective hug and rolled over just enough so that they'd barely dodge the werewolf's attack. They had barely avoided the deadly embrace as the werewolf roughly landed against the trunk of the tree, shaking its head from the unforeseen impact and looking at Leon and the hunter with a carnivorous glare and their slobbering snouts. Leon returned the glare before immediately releasing the hunter from his grasp, briskly ripping the knife from their belt and holding it out cautiously. With his gauntlet and a hunter's knife, he'd have to make do with them against three beasts that easily towered over him.
The werewolves were as black as midnight, and their brown eyes almost seemed to glow against their dark fur. All three of them stood up on their two legs, looking down at Leon like some small rabbit that they'd have to divvy up. They didn't say anything to him, but Leon could tell that that's what they were thinking. But who could blame them? How was he supposed to deal with these giants?
"Alright, alright..." Leon held his hands up to shoulder-level, the knife pointed away from him and his gauntleted palm faced outward, "Come on!"
The werewolf snarled and twitched violently, and instead of throwing itself like last time, it lunged at Leon with one heavy swipe. Its arms were long and lanky, but he could feel the wind whip against his face as came down onto him like some thick, lethal whip. Although the animal was larger and by all means physically stronger than him, Leon wasn't completely helpless. All he could do was use what he had to his advantage, and sometimes being the smaller opponent wasn't a bad thing. The swipe came lunging down from his left, so Leon pivoted forward and moved in from the left as well. He was able to quickly step between the gap between the werewolf's long, lanky arm and its body just as he began to swipe and stopped when he was right behind it, stabbing the knife into its ribs. It snarled from the sharp pain, realizing that it had missed its attack yet again. The beast would swipe again, but couldn't keep its eyes fixed on Leon for long before the dark-haired man swiftly maneuvered around its body once again. His movements were light and instinctive, and yet every move he made was reactive. He felt like he was in the ring again—even his form was like that of a boxer's—but instead of drowning out his head, he waited for openings and then let his body do the rest.
This dangerous dance between the werewolf and Leon continued for quite some time until the beast was beginning to become covered in stab wounds. It looked and seemed gruesome at face-value, but who was it kidding? This beast was a werewolf, and no mere knife was going to bring it down. Not to mention that there were two other werewolves circling around them, impatiently looking for an opening as their large figures were the only thing keeping them from pouncing Leon altogether.
He ducked into the attacks and counterattacked with those sharp jabs of his own, but it didn't work forever. When the werewolf threw its claws at him again, Leon ducked as he had before, but before he could ram the blade into the beast's ribs yet again, it had caught his wrist just before impact, squeezing it with its rough grip. With a grip like that, Leon could feel that bones were only moments away from being crushed by brute strength alone, so when he felt his body begin to lift, he knew that he was in trouble. Without a moment of hesitation, the werewolf threw Leon across the clearing, his body flying into another tree. His head nearly whiplashed from the impact, a small gush of blood flying out of his mouth and red running down his forehead as he felt a wound open somewhere on his head. Leon felt lost in a painful daze for a moment, but there was hardly a moment to recover as the werewolf came storming after him, except this time there wasn't a chance for human reflexes to move him out of the way like last time.
Its canine paw grabbed Leon by the head, and he could feel its claws dig into the flesh of his neck. It nearly lifted Leon up off the ground by his head, pulling back its other arm as if to prepare the finishing blow for this bleeding man in its grasp. It was just then that, suddenly, Leon latched his gauntleted hand onto its forearm, and the sound of something charging up could be heard.
"Fuck... off already!"
Spwoosh! After only a second of concentrating its mechanical power, the palm of the gauntlet released a small but powerful blast right onto the werewolf's forearm, cleanly separating half of it from the rest of its body and dropping Leon back onto the trunk he was slumped against. The beast wailed in agony, holding the other half of his forearm with his other hand. During its ear-shattering howls is when Leon suddenly lunged up from the tree, taking the knife and ramming it right into its chest where its heart would be. He pushed and pushed, pulling all of his body strength into a blade designed to kill regular animals. Leon pushed it so deep into that werewolf's chest that the hilt was beginning to sink into its flesh as well, and he didn't stop until the beast stopped moving altogether. It tried to pull Leon off, but despite the scratches, it made across his back, the human didn't relent. He pushed until the werewolf had no choice but to physically relent—and relent it did. It fell back onto its backside, the light lost in its eyes as life passed away from it.
There was a brief moment of victory that came over Leon, who stood over the corpse of the beast he had just slew, blood running down his back and forehead, nearly out of breath as he wrestled the life out of a creature twice his size. He was only human, and one without magic while he was at it—he didn't stand a good chance, to begin with. But with two more werewolves inching toward him, Leon realized that he didn't have the luxury to blame what might happen on the obvious. It was going to happen whether he wanted it to or not, and it wasn't a matter of if he could make it. He just had to.
Leon turned around, wiping the blood running down from his sweat-drenched hair off of his mouth with his wrist, smudging it across his face. If there was anyone that looked as vicious and glaring as the werewolves that filled this forest, it was Leon. He panted and held his gauntleted arm out, the palm sparking with that dangerous blue light that cleanly blew off their leader's arm just moments before. His clothes ripped and flesh scratched, Leon felt his entire body ache, but he wanted nothing more than to end this. It was probably nothing more than a tussle to the werewolves, who looked at him as nothing more than a meal or maybe just a pest encroaching on their territory, but for Leon, it was life or death. He wasn't nearly as equipped as some of these hunters, and his only defense was his iron will and Percy's gauntlet. He didn't have any sort of sorcery or magical items to put him on a level playing field—he just didn't want to die.
"Ha... hmhf... haa..." Leon panted laboriously, glaring at the approaching werewolves. He turned around to face them, returning to his familiar stance he often took when sparring, the palm of the gauntlet glowing and ready to combust anything it touched yet again. "Alright... come on!"
. . . . . . . . .
"Hey, you alright? Take it easy," Leon insisted in his deep, gruff voice as he helped the injured hunter onto a tree stump, limping with each step he took. They stepped over the corpses of the two remaining werewolves, both with relatively large holes in their chests. A product of his gauntlet's work, but Leon had a few nasty cuts and bruises as well.
"Nah, nah... that's okay, kid..." the survivor chuckled through dry coughs and wheezes, letting himself sit onto the tree stump with a cool and reckless smirk on his face. "You came lookin' for Iris, right? Well, a werewolf with white fur came through just a few hours before, and it had this..." He handed him something shiny and broken.
"This is..." Leon stood over the man, holding the item he had given him. It was a gold charm bracelet, just like the one the old woman had described. It was a little broken, but still holding together. There was a little, barely noticeable button on the side of the charm, and when he pressed it, it flicked open to reveal a small picture of Irina and a green-eyed woman holding her, long white hair running down her shoulders. It must've been Iris, and by somehow seeing this complete stranger frozen in an image, Leon's already worn and bloody face suddenly hardened into a look of determination, his eyes sharp with intense conviction. "I need to go. Once I find her, I'll come back for you." Leon clenched the charm within his hand, pocketing it as he began to turn around and walk away.
"Kid, I hate to break it to ya', but Iris is 'bout as good as dead right now. That woman wasn't nearly as built for the forest like the rest of us—hell, we don't even know why she was out here to begin with. You'd be wasting your breath," the hunter leaned back and stared at Leon with this grim look on his face, looking down at his maimed leg and his fallen, anguished comrades that had been carefully lined up by Leon moments before, "I think we've lost enough as is, don't'cha think? You don't have to play hero—"
"—I'm not trying to play anything!" Leon snapped in a fit of rising anger, his hands trembling as he looked down at the charm he had just pocketed. "I just... if there's even a chance that she's alive, then wouldn't you want someone looking for you, too? I don't know. I don't have to explain myself to you, you know." Leon glared back at him, a nasty look on that vicious face of his. The man smiled and shrugged.
"Yeah, yeah, guess you really don't have'ta. Thanks, I owe you one, kid," he snickered, coughing and wheezing after every amused sound, "Don't die."
Leon didn't say anything after that, just nodding and walking away into the depths of the forest again. Beyond the clearing, there were claw marks on the bark of trees, creating a dangerous path for his marigold eyes to follow. There were human footsteps printed in the mud, and the ripped fabric of a floral dress entangled in the bushes as he passed by. He was getting close to her, but whether she was dead or alive was the uncertainty he feared most.
. . . . . . . . .
He was in the center of the forest now, another clearing where all of the trees parted to reveal the noon sky and the sun in its center, shining down onto the forest and the mobs within. Leon had followed the trail to this same clearing, but instead of finding Iris or her corpse, he found the corpses of hunters and werewolves alike littered across the area, torn and bloody like the ones from earlier, except it wasn't by Leon's aching hands. No—screaming and wailing in the center of the clearing was a large werewolf with fur white as snow and eyes green like emeralds. It thrashed around, confused and angry as it tore apart everything that came within its grasp. It was just as dangerous as the other werewolves, but unlike them and their desire to grab a quick meal or protect their territory, this one seemed... pained. Its eyes were glossy and wet with tears, and it hadn't touched the corpses it created afterward. It was like a bloody tantrum.
"...Iris?" Leon mumbled out, standing there in awe as he took out the gold charm bracelet, opening it to look upon the photo once again. In the picture, her hair was as white as snow and her eyes shined like emeralds. It was a superficial association, but his gut had told him that this beast was none other than Iris, a werewolf. He looked at the picture and then the rampaging werewolf, his face overcome with shock, "You're Iris, aren't you—?!!"
A werewolf like the ones he had faced earlier came charging at Leon. The dark-haired man X-ed his arms over his face defensively, bracing for impact, but the impact never came. The werewolf ran right past Leon, and it was then that he had realized that it was running away from Iris, and for a moment, it felt like just as much of a rabbit as Leon did earlier. But unlike Leon, it wouldn't have gotten away. Iris noticed its attempt to flee and launched herself from the center of the clearing right over to the black werewolf, catching its face in her white grasp and crushing it into the ground. It didn't die, trembling in place as it pressed into the soil. Again and again, she'd slam it's face into the ground, blood splattering over her gorgeous white body and Leon's, who was standing right next to her with a wide-eyed, shocked look on his face. Over and over again she did this, and she kept doing it until the werewolf's face was completely misshapen and broken, and it'd die.
She'd howl a victorious but mournful howl, but there was nothing victorious about that. That was a gruesome death, and Leon stood right next to her to witness it. It was like he wasn't even there. He wasn't until he exhaled a trembling, wavering breath. Slowly, her green eyes fixed onto Leon's face. It wasn't terror that came over his features, but shock and an acute sense of danger. He didn't breathe—he couldn't. All his body let him do was hold up the charm bracelet to her face, the bloody maw that was two arms' length away from ripping him apart. There was a pause between them.
"Do you... recognize this?" Leon held it out to her, the charm dangling open and revealing the picture of her and her daughter sitting on a wood chair, posing for a camera he'd never see. He didn't tremble, although he was afraid, and he didn't stutter, although his words felt choked. All he could do was hold it out to her. "I don't know you... but do you know this girl? You're looking for her, right? But do you even... can you even recognize her?"
There was another pause between him and the snarling, growling Iris, slobbering with bloody saliva. Her eyes fixed on the charm bracelet for a moment and dilated. It seemed like, for a second, there was hope. Like she'd come to any moment now. She unlatched her bloodied, black claws from the furry corpse she had just created and slowly reached out for the charm, but just when it looked like she'd take her charm, she slammed her clenched paw into Leon's ribs, sending him flying across the clearing and tumbling onto the ground before slamming into a boulder at the very center.
Leon's head whipped back, a gush of blood spurting out of his mouth as the stone against his body shook every bone he had. If he hadn't broken something before this, he certainly had now. He sent out an agonized gasp as he pressed against the rock, his mouth hanging open but no sound coming out. It felt like his skull had cracked as badly as his ribs had.
"Aggghhh!! I'll take that as a goddamn fucking no! Fuck! Hnngh... kssshhh...!" Leon groaned sharply as he hugged his sides, slumping down from the rock and rolling onto his side that didn't feel broken. Though, honestly, his entire body gave him sharp, tender pains no matter which way he moved. He rolled over to see Iris walking over to him through his red gaze, snarling and all. He could hardly see her clearly through his blurred, bloodied vision, but he didn't need a clean picture to tell him that if he hadn't done something, he really was going to die right here. Leon sharply inhaled as he forced himself to a stumbling stand, and it quickly became clear which bones were broken and which ones just hurt like hell. "Alright, you big piece of shit! Ugh! Come on! Come on!"
It was mostly adrenaline that kept Leon standing relatively upright, but it wouldn't be that way for much longer. Without hesitation, Iris threw herself onto him again, and there was no way Leon could wrestle such immense weight! He instinctively held out his gauntleted hand, but that couldn't have been a greater invitation for the confused and anguished werewolf in front of him. Iris opened her bloodied maw and bit right down on Leon's arm, the gauntlet fitting right between her teeth as blood gushed out from the wound, running down his arm and spilling onto his own face. Seriously, it hurt like hell! It hurt so bad that it briefly overpowered all of the other kinds of pain he was feeling right now! It felt like at any second, if Iris had moved any which way, his arm would've came clean off. He had to make his move now, and with no other weapons at his disposal, he had no other choice.
"Aghhhhokay! Hngh...!" Leon groaned again, his words slurring together as pain shot through his throat. His arm began to vibrate, much more than it had all day, and the inside of Iris's mouth began to glow that dangerous mechanical light. The gauntlet had served him well so far, and using only about half of its firepower had slain three werewolves that severely outmatched him. But Iris wasn't like the others. He needed more. He didn't know how much more he needed, but he needed enough to save his arm and then his life! He charged up the blast, enough that would surely kill Iris, but would most certainly hurt himself as well at this distance. But Leon didn't have a choice. He had to. "Just... fuck... off!"
The sound of the gauntlet reaching its peak had come to an end, and without warning, a large hole was blasted on the back of Iris's skull, part of her mouth being combusted open as well. Instantly, the light had escaped her eyes, and life had fled from her body the moment the hole had been blast open. Her corpse lingered for a moment before falling backward, becoming a white centerpiece for the massacre she had left in this forest clearing. Next to her, Leon laid there with his hand outstretched towards the sky. The gauntlet had been blasted to a dozen different pieces, some of them scattered across the corpses, lodged in her open skull, or was still attached to his arm, although some of the metal had lodged itself into his skin through the combustion. Leon laid there, staring at his arm, and the metal lodged into it. He had half expected to barely call it an arm after making it explode like that, but what he was looking at wasn't anything nearly as gruesome. It was covered in second-degree burns, but the most notable wound was the blood teeth marks coiling around his upper forearm. That was it, plus some broken ribs for sure, but... that was it.
Slowly, Leon let his trembling hand descend onto his chest, feeling his heart race within his burnt palm. His lips broke into a small smile, closing his eyes for a moment. Just for a moment.
"H... Haha... pffthaha!..." Leon's smile widened as strained laughter fell from his lips, "I blew it to pieces... and the most I get are some burns? Honestly, that guy... I wonder if he planned for events like these... pftha—ow, fuck! Agh..."
[Later That Day]
Leon had returned to the village with the injured hunter leaning on him for support, but from the look of them both, it seemed like they were both leaning on one another for support. Leon, despite his rather gnarly and injured appearance, had the same stiff and wolfish look on his face from before and the gold charm bracelet in hand. Waiting at the gates was Irina and the old woman, along with other villages rushing to their sides to help them finish the walk back into the village. Even as they offered their shoulders to lean on, as they approached the old woman and Irina, Leon rejected all of their offers. He came here to do one thing.
"Here," Leon knelt down and handed Irina the gold charm bracelet, a solemn look of melancholy on his face, "Listen, what I did... I..."
"Mama's not sad anymore?" Irina, for the first time since he found her, finally spoke, looking at the charm bracelet and then Leon, who handed it to her. Leon was taken aback at first, his eyes widening when prompted with the unusual question. Everyone looked at her, and it seemed like as young as she was, she seemed to understand what had happened. "She won't have to hide anymore?"
Leon paused for a moment. He didn't really know what to say to comfort her, but judging by the look on her face, she didn't need to be comforted right now. She eagerly awaited Leon's response with those big green eyes of hers. It seemed as if, more than anything else, she wanted to know that her mother was finally at peace. He didn't know what sort of life they had led up until now, but that was the closure this young child wanted more than anything right now.
"Yeah," Leon nodded, still feeling a little guilty for what he had done, "not anymore."
Irina smiled, satisfied with that answer before taking her gold charm bracelet and running off. Some of the other villagers ran after her in a panic, unsure of what the "troubled" child would do now that she had found her closure. She ran, leaving Leon with the old woman who was smiling up at him.
"Thank you, Leon. For everything that you've done today. You truly have a blessed soul... a beautiful, kind soul," the old woman took his hand in her own, squeezing it, "We can have proper burials for our hunters since you found them. We couldn't be more grateful."
"Hey there, kid," the injured hunter from earlier limped up from behind Leon, placing a hand on his shoulder. His leg was wrapped in bandages now, and there was chewing tobacco lodged between his teeth—Leon could smell it, "I'm glad that'cha didn't die on me. Name's Guss."
"Uh, hey, Guss... I'm sorry that I couldn't—"
"Uh-uh! What could you have possibly done, kid? It was too late for them by the time you came, but I'm only alive because you showed up at all!" Guss slapped his shoulder, "Those jackasses woulda' wanted to be buried at home instead of... decomposin' in them woods out there. We're all glad that you found us. Don't beat yourself up... I mean, you already look like shit! Ha!"
"Gee, thanks for that," Leon clicked his tongue, shoving his shoulder away from Guss's grasp. Though, honestly, that hurt too. "I should be going, miss."
"So soon? What about your injuries, do you want them healed? Our healers may have some older, more traditional magics, but I assure you that you'll be as good as new in no time."
"It's fine. I said I'd be somewhere today, so... I'm gonna be there," Leon looked away, rubbing the back of his sweat-drenched hair. Although it was true that he had a job to fulfill, he really just didn't feel comfortable with creating another debt for him to repay before he left for Bellum. Besides, Percy probably had some sort of medicine at his lab anyway.
"Is that right? Well, your motorcycle is as good as new. We even refilled the tank for you," the old woman smiled and released his hand. She paused for a moment, looking up at him and the wounds that covered his body, "I'm glad."
"What?" Leon perked up, looking at her with a strained confusion.
"Scars tell stories, do they not? Here in our Hunting Village, we have a saying—'the strongest hearts have the most scars'. So I'm glad that you've decided to keep them. But once they've healed, Leon, please remember what you've done for us today. They're trophies."
. . . . . . . . .
So, Leon returned to that fork in the road that he had seen so often now, riding down the other path that would lead to the River Village, and then Rose Garden to where Percy's lab was at. The only thing keeping him from falling over at all was the lingering adrenaline, but that was sure to wear off soon. He'd make it to the lab before then, and hopefully, the semi-redhead Percy would be able to relieve him of some of his pain. Hell, he might even appreciate the destruction of his gauntlet. Maybe not. He didn't know.
Well, strong or not, it still hurt like hell.
Well, strong or not, it still hurt like hell.
|| Word Count: 6710 || Thread WC: 6710 || WC Needed 6500 || Job Approval ||