No longer broken like an old toy, I was finally able to go and see if I could find Vera. She was honestly the only one I care about, but if I did happen to find the others as well, then I would mostly smile and nod and go along with it. I knew that whatever was causing these disappearances was in the forest, but the downside is that after asking the people in town, now a little less than fifty people, I learned that it was larger than 43.1 hectares. I don’t know what that means exactly, but I presume it’s pretty large.
It was late in the afternoon when I finally readied myself and walked outside and toward the bushes I found the shovel so I could find the trail again. When I parted the brambles, I was surprised to see that it was gone without a single trace of it left behind. I then looked around and saw absolutely no trail whatsoever. I started to wander, hoping I was just at the wrong bush, and soon, I resorted to looking in every bush I came across. I kept moving deeper and deeper into the forest before stumbling across the river again. However, the dam was rebuilt, but much stronger now. I looked back at the now brook and realized that an algae bloom hadn’t formed yet. The water was clear as could be, and as I poked my head underwater, I unknowingly slammed my head into Kai’s as he rose up. I brought my now wet face back up, holding both my still fragile nose and my forehead that I could feel had a bruise forming.
I looked down at the water and saw him floating just underneath the surface of the water. I’m not sure what it was, but looking at how his long black hair floated around him in the water, and his pale blue skin seemed to glow seemed awfully familiar to me. I only then realized that without the algae, he couldn’t make a covering and come out to speak to me. He then looked over at one of the rocks casting a shadow on the water, and something seemed to click. He floated over and popped up in the shaded part of the water.
“Where have you been?” He asked me in as calm a voice as usual, and yet, it seemed almost distressed at the same time. I shrugged and said, “I’ve been busy trying to find whose causing the disappearances. Recently, a friend of mine went missing, and I’ve been hoping to find her.” He only stared at me before asking if I was speaking to her a lot. “Well, yeah…” I responded. “She’s been my friend since before I disguised myself as a man.” “Does she know who you really are?” He asked. “Um… Well, no, but–” “Then how do you know you can trust her?” He asked, tilting his head. “Because I knew her as a woman, and I know she wouldn’t hurt a fly.” “Yes, but her husband is gone. Maybe she is no better than other women in the town.” I paused for a moment before asking, “How did you know that her family was gone?” “You told me.” He said, shrugging slightly.
I thought as deeply as I could, trying to remember all of our conversations, but I didn’t remember once that I told him. “You sure?” “Positive.” He responded, nodding, and I looked into the water. It looked so deep that the water gradually turned black as it descended, so I couldn’t even see the bottom. “Well, if you say so…” I replied. “But I think the person may be in the forest. Have you seen anything weird around here?” “Well, yes…” He responded, fiddling with his fingers. “I saw an elderly man walking out here late at night. He has short grey hair, round glass around his eyes, and has very loose skin. He walks past here a lot, usually with people…” I raised a brow as he added, “The odd thing is that he never comes back with them…” I frowned and asked if he was sure. He nodded and said, “I can see well in the dark, so I could not have mistaken them for anyone else.” “Well, that is very helpful…” I said, knowing exactly who he was speaking about, as much as it pained me. He nodded and asked what happened to my nose. “The same old man smashed my face in with a shovel when I tried to save my friend last night.” He gave a worried look as he apologized, claiming that it must’ve been painful. I nodded and said, “And yet, he helped me heal…” He then frowned and said that he must be a liar.
Nodding, I claimed that he probably just didn’t want to be found out. “I suppose.” He said. The sun was now set enough for the lake to be completely shrouded in shadow. He floated over to me now and asked how things were in the village. “Quiet…” I claimed. “Very quiet… I guess my only real friends are you and my dog Loki.” “The hairy one?” I gave a little laugh. “Yes, the hairy one.” I then crossed my legs and said, “Everyone I dislike was taken away, but so were the people I cared about.” “Well, why did you not go after them like you did with Vera?” He asked. “W-well… We usually had an argument before, and I always thought they wouldn’t want to see me.” I explained, a bit nervously as he stared up at me. “Then what makes you think they’ll want to see you now?” He asked in a curious tone. I stared down at him and asked what he meant. “I suppose if they had an argument, they may still be sore. Maybe they think you indirectly caused them to go missing?” He suggested, and I asked him what I could have done that would have caused that. He shrugged and responded, “Being too perfect?” I smirked and rolled my eyes, although the odd thing was that his voice never seemed to change. It was always monotonous, even when he seemed to be joking.
I felt bad by asking him, “Can you smile?” He then responded, “I often do not understand why it would be required of humans…” “Well, it shows others how you feel.” “Why would people care how I feel?” “Because they want to know if you’re sad or angry… Expression is almost like a form of survival…” “How so?” I then sat up and responded, “Well, smiling and being happy can bring others towards you, and you can have friends to help you… Being mad can keep others away, and being sad and crying can tell others you need help or support.” “Then why do you never look sad?” He asked, tilting his head. “Umm…” I mumbled. “Because I don’t feel sad around you…?” “Yes you do. When we met, you were sad, and yet, you did not express it.” He insisted as he popped his arms out of the water and onto the grass. His hand and fingers were slim and webbed, like a spider web had formed a nest between each of his pale blue, clawed fingers. I laid onto my stomach to get to his level and mumbled, “Well, I’ve never told anyone, but…” I cleared my throat as I pulled off my helmet and claimed, “I don’t think I can really cry…” He gave me an odd look; “but didn’t you just tell me it’s like a way of surviving?” I nodded and insisted, “It’s just like… I was taught as a kid to not cry, but to just smile and bear through it.” He then frowned and awkwardly brought his hand up and ran his fingers through my hair.
It felt just as odd as he obviously felt, and yet, it felt nice that he was trying to comfort me. I laughed slightly when his claw got stuck in my tangled hair. I brought my own hand up and freed it. His skin felt similar to that of a frog’s, and yet, it was almost as soft as Loki’s. I ran my thumb along the webbing of his hand and inspected it. I could faintly see my own hand through the webbing, but it appeared cloudy and blurry. He then felt the skin on my wrist and said simply, “Humans feel odd. And yet…” He then looked over at me and said, “Sometimes, I wish I were one.” I smiled faintly, then remembered what I had come here in the first place for. I shot up, nearly snapping my spine as I excused myself. I pulled the helmet back on and began to run back to town.
I slowed my pace as I came across the hut, barely lit by the moonlight. I walked up to the door and entered as quietly as I could. The store was empty, only lit by a candle on the counter, and I walked down one of the two aisles. I looked over through some empty bottles to see the old man walking out and standing at the counter with a bloody rag. I was instantly hit with the scent of rotting meat, and I watched as he unfolded the cloth to reveal something dark red on the counter. He lifted up the meat and sniffed at it before wincing as well. I narrowed my eyes as I watched him wrap the meat up again and start towards the door. I hid behind some barrels and listened as the door opened, then slammed closed. I peered slightly out the window and looked out into the night to see the man walking. I exited the hut and followed him from a relatively far distance so that he was only a distinct black figure. I kept thinking to myself, “The second he does something weird, I’m shooting him.”
However, he only kept going until he turned into the forest through a path I rarely went through, so I followed him carefully and quietly. There were occasional sticks and rocks I stepped over to avoid sound, although when I had accidentally slipped on a pile of wet leaves, he didn’t seem to notice. “His hearing must be going…” I thought as I picked myself up off the ground. He kept going until he eventually turned off towards the brook. I became worried as he eventually stopped in front of the brook and unfolded his cloth of meat. I gagged at the smell as he called out in a whispered voice, “Come on, you little freak…” I narrowed my eyes as I pulled out my bow. He held up a piece of meat and said in a calming voice, “Just your friendly neighborhood old man…” I drew an arrow and aimed at his head as he dipped the meat into the water, bloodying it. “I know you’re just as blood thirsty as that witch, Vera…” I wanted to just end it quickly, but in the end, I moved over to him and whipped him around to face me.
He quickly gave a look of shock as he made eye contact with me. “What have you done to her?!” I snapped, and he shouted in a terrified voice, “I don’t know what you’re talking about!” I frowned deeply as I claimed that I wasn’t playing. “N-Neither am I!” He shouted. “I don’t even know–” “Don’t try to LIE to me!” I shrieked, aiming the arrow right against his head, and he pleaded, “I DON’T KNOW WHERE YOUR FRIEND IS!!!” “You mean the blood thirsty witch?” “Wha–” I then shot the arrow, and it pierced him. It went much less as well as I had expected as the arrow only stuck halfway through him. He began to stumble away from me, holding his wound. I readied another arrow, and right before I released the bow, he was gone just as soon as he had begun screaming for help. I walked over and peered down the hole into the cave as I heard a splashing. I raised my brow before spitting into the hole with as much malice as I could muster.
I walked down over to the brook and called out, “Kai? You alright?” He then poked his head out of the water and nodded. “Thank you…” He mumbled as I sat down by the water. I pulled my bow off of my back and asked if he had acted like this before. He shook his head and said, “I didn’t even know he knew I existed…” I frowned and held out my arms. He only blinked before claiming he didn’t know what I was doing. I sighed and bent down to wrap my arms around him. He let out a literal hiss as I lifted him partially out of the water and hugged him tightly. “I’m sorry that happened.” I said as he seemed to melt into the hug naturally. “It is not your fault…” He responded in his calming voice as his hair seemed to fall around me like a veil of darkness and humidity. His eyes glowed faintly as he said, “Regardless, it’s over.” I nodded, and he finally slipped out of my grip. I laid into the grass with hands partially bloodied. I dipped my hands into the water, and I thought about what may had been at the bottom of the brook.
“Just weeds and rocks…” Kai responded as he then dove underwater and swam around so that my hands were brushing through his long hair that stretched out like a squid that had just sprayed ink to escape. I used my thumbs to feel his cheeks, and I smiled as he seemed to almost purr like a cat– or rather cat fish, if I dare to say it. And I do not. And now I feel terrible for making that joke. He then poked up from under the surface so that my arms were now draped over his shoulders. “You claim everyone you care for is… no longer around…” I nodded, and he seemed to beam brightly without changing his expression. “Well, why not stay here? You could be in the cave, and–” I then stopped him and said, “I want to see the world, remember?” “Yes, but you were hoping to leave in the winter…” He claimed. “Just… indulge me, I suppose. Until winter comes…” I then gave a weak smile and responded, “I would like to, but I feel I would get too attached to you… In fact, I may already be…” I then began to think about what it would be like to leave him behind. I took my arms off from his shoulders and sat up.