12 The Smell of Blood

Right now, that obstacle was looking down, avoiding Sunny's gaze. His hand was resting on the sword handle. As always, the young slave had no idea about what was going on inside Hero's perfectly shaped head.

The uncertainty was making him nervous.

Finally, after some time had passed, the soldier spoke:

"I have only one question."

Both Sunny and Scholar stared at him while holding their breaths.


"You said that one of us must be sacrificed to save the other two. Why him? From what I see, you are far closer to the grave."

'A great question! I was just about to ask it myself.'

Sunny turned to the older slave, trying very hard to suppress a mocking grin. But to his dismay, Scholar had an answer ready.

"Before the first attack, he was already bleeding because of your senior's whip. During the attack, he was drenched in the blood of a fellow slave. His cloak, too, was soaked in it when the previous owner died. The boy already reeks of blood. Keeping him alive will put us in danger. That's why he is the best choice."

The grin died before reaching Sunny's face.

'Curse you and your big brain!'

Scholar's reasoning was appallingly solid. Hero listened, his expression growing darker with each word. Finally, he looked at Sunny, a dangerous light shining in his eyes.

"That is true."

Sunny felt his mouth getting dry. Cold sweat was running down his spine. He tensed, ready to act…

But at that moment, Hero smiled.

"Your logic is almost unassailable," he said, unsheathing the sword. "However, you failed to account for one thing."

Scholar raised an eyebrow, trying to hide his own nervousness.

"What might that be?"

The young soldier turned to face him, the smile disappearing from his face. Now, he was radiating thick, practically palpable killing intent.

"It's that I know who you are, Your Grace. I also know what you've done, and how you ended up a slave. Just one of the revolting crimes you have committed would be enough to make me want to kill you. So if there is someone among us who deserves to be sacrificed… it's you."

Scholar's eyes widened.

"But… but the smell of blood!"

"Don't worry about it. I'll make you bleed enough to overpower whatever residual scent the boy carries."

It all happened so fast that Sunny barely had time to react. Hero lunged forward with a speed that seemed almost inhuman. A moment later, Scholar was shrieking on the ground, his leg broken with one strike from the flat side of the young soldier's sword. Not giving him an opportunity to recover, Hero stomped on his other leg, and a sickening sound of shattering bones could be clearly heard. The shriek turned into a sobbing howl.

Just like that, Scholar was done for.

The brutality of Hero's actions was in such stark contrast with his usually graceful demeanor that Sunny felt blood turning to ice in his veins. This was… scary.

The soldier gave him a calm look and said in a placid tone:

"Wait for me here."

Then he grabbed the older slave and dragged him down the path, soon disappearing behind a rock outcropping. After a few minutes, terrible screams could be heard echoing through the wind.

Sunny was left alone, trembling.

'Crap! This is… this is too much!'

He still couldn't believe how sudden Scholar's demise came to be. And how ruthless it was.

Some time later, Hero was back, acting as though nothing had happened. But it was exactly that normalcy that unnerved Sunny the most.

After sorting through the contents of Scholar's rucksack and throwing most of the firewood out, the young soldier put it over his shoulder and nonchalantly turned to the young slave:

"Let's go. We need to hurry."

Not knowing what to say, Sunny gave him a nod and headed forward.

Now there were only two of them left.

It was sort of stupid, but Sunny suddenly felt lonesome.

Walking on the stone path was much easier than scaling the mountain wall. He even had time for unnecessary thoughts. A strange feeling of melancholy descended on Sunny… somehow, he began to feel that the end of this nightmare, whatever it might be, was not far off now.

They walked in silence for some time before Hero spoke.

"Don't feel guilty about what happened. It's not your fault. The decision was mine, and mine alone."

The young soldier was a few steps ahead, so Sunny couldn't see his face.

"Besides, if you knew this man's sins… actually, it's better that you don't. Just trust me when I say that killing him was an act of justice."

'I wonder which one of us feels guilty.'

These people… always trying to rationalize their actions, always desperate to maintain an illusion of righteousness even while doing most foul things. Sunny hated the hypocrisy.

Not getting an answer, Hero chuckled.

"You don't like to talk, do you? Well, fair enough. Silence is gold."

They didn't speak again after that, each preoccupied with their own thoughts.

The sun was setting, painting the world into a million shades of crimson. This high up, the air was clean and crisp, pierced by streams of scarlet light. Below them, a sea of maroon clouds was slowly rolling past the mountain. The stars and the moon had begun to reveal themselves in the vermillion sky.

It was quite beautiful.

However, Sunny could only think about how cold it was going to be once the sun fully disappears.

Before that happened, Hero had found them a shelter. Not far from the path, hidden behind some tall rocks, was a narrow crevice that extended into the slope of the mountain. Happy to be safe from the piercing wind, they explored the crevice and ended up in a small, well-concealed cave.

Sunny made a move to unbundle some firewood, but Hero stopped him with a shake of his head.

"Today we will camp without making a fire. The beast is too close."

Camping without the warm flames to keep them company was not going to be pleasant, but at least they weren't going to freeze to death inside the cave. In any case, the alternative was too frightening.

Sunny sat down, putting his back against the cave's wall. Hero settled opposite of him, looking downcast and thoughtful.

He was obviously in a strange mood. If nothing else, it was apparent from the fact that today, for the first time, the young soldier had failed to care for his sword after making camp.

Soon, the sun was gone, and their small cave became completely dark. Sunny, of course, could still see perfectly well; Hero, on the other hand, was now completely blind.

In the darkness, his handsome face looked noble and, for some reason, sorrowful. Sunny studied it, not willing to fall asleep.

After a while, Hero suddenly spoke in a quiet voice:

"You know, it's strange. Usually, I can feel someone's presence even in absolute darkness. But with you, there's nothing. It's like you are just one of the shadows."

With only silence to answer him, he smiled.

"Are you asleep?"

The question echoed in the darkness. Sunny, who had never spoken with Hero unless there was an urgent need to, and even then only using a few words at best, felt like there was a strange intimacy between them now. That's why he decided to talk. Maybe the darkness gave him courage.

Besides, there was an occasion.

"Why? Are you waiting for me to fall asleep before you kill me? Or will you do it in the morning?"

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