Nephilim: New Dawn

Chapter 4: Revelation

For a few heartbeats, Loi felt like as if his heart and mind were going to explode, overwhelmed by what he’s seeing and those searing amber eyes and the fear that came with it. The thing standing in the middle of the clearing was like nothing he has seen before, more beast than human. It has the upper body of a man, slim and fit yet packed with muscles under its short-sleeved leather shirt. Strange tattoos covered its pale arms, running from its wrists to its shoulders under the short, tattered sleeves. Its lower body was that of a raptor, long, slender doubled jointed legs end with four-digit feet covered in plated scales, each toe tipped with a curved, talon-like claw.

– Keto-s…! – As Haru was standing up and about to call out, he felt Loi’s hand wrapping around his mouth and nose forcefully while the larger boy pressed his brother down to keep him from making any more sound.

– Shhh! – The tanned boy hissed and whispered with a cautious tone as he saw the creature’s long pointed ears twitching. – It’ll hear us!

– I can hear and see you just fine. – The creature said in an almost nonchalant tone, its amber eyes flickered under its bang of silvery white hair as it looks at the boys. It pointed at them with one clawed finger, gesturing them to get into the light. – Get over here, you two look ridiculous.

Again, Loi was baffled and terrified, it talked again to let them know that it could see them clearly as if to mock their pathetic attempt to hide from such monster. The creature wagged the tip of its tail impatiently, its eyes narrowed to mere slit as it stared deep into Loi’s. Gods, those eyes, those fiendish amber eyes were cold and sharp, cutting into the tanned boy’s mind as if trying to control him. He felt his limbs turned cold and numbed as he fell onto his knees, his mouth hung open with only the sounds of shivering breaths escaping his from his lips.

The world around them was silenced of every sound, even when they’re inside the Forbidden Forest, this silence felt unnatural and different from before. It was cold and dark, shackling Loi’s mind with dark tendrils of fear. He tried to flee, yet found his entire body frozen in place, unresponsive of any of his mind’s commands, with only his eyes still able to taking the images of the beast slowly standing up and walked toward them. He started to panic, wordless sounds escaped his shaking teeth, sweats poured down from every part of his face, his entire body shivered in fear as the beast was mere footsteps away from him. The tanned boy closed his eyes shut and clenched his teeth, hoping that it would end soon.

– Rai! Rai!

– What?! – Loi flinched and yelped as he heard his brother’s voice and felt Haru’s hands shaking his shoulders. He turned to look at the smaller boy, somehow his brother was unaffected by whatever it is that he’s felt when he sees…

– Oi, kid. You alright? – The creature was crouching in front of him, raising one of its eyebrows in an almost humanlike fashion.

– Get away from us! – The tanned boy lashed out, unsheathing his dagger and swung it at the creature while dragging his brother backward.

– Rai! Calm down! – Haru pleaded desperately, trying to calm his brother, pulling at his cloak weakly to break from Loi’s grip. – He’s not going to harm us!

– That’s not entire true. – Quetz growled, licking the small cut on his cheek before leaping forward.

He landed on one foot next to Loi head while the other wrapped around the boy’s neck, pressing him down onto the forest floor before bending down and forcefully removing the dagger from his hand. Having neutralized the boy, the white haired male swiftly rotated his entire body, using his momentum to throw his prey into the clearing and released his brother from his grip at the same time.

Loi landed on his back with a large thud before rolling a few more time on the forest floor, his ears rang with the sounds of a thousand chimes. He tried to pull himself up, tripping and falling from the slippery ground soaked with blood. Panic set in as the tanned boy could barely comprehend his surrounding, he flailed his limbs around, tossing up earth and mosses, scratching his hands in the process. Everything around him was blurred, shifting shapes and colors assaulted his senses, making him loose his balance and footings. In the swirling madness, there were only the footsteps and growling of the approaching beast. Loi could hear it, even with his senses dulled, he could still hear the splayed out clawed toes, the hissing coming out of the maw full of teeth, the sounds of the creature’s jaws, cracking as it unhinged them to devour him.

– No! Stop! Don’t hurt him!

Haru’s arms wrapping around his waists gave Quetz pause, he looks down with glowing amber eyes, clawed hands raised and readied to strike. Yet as he did, his gaze locked with the boy’s watery violet eyes, the terrified look in those beautiful orbs couldn’t hide the bravery and determination lied just below. It was tensed, not just for the boy who was fearing for both his life and his brother’s, but for the older male as well. Just as Quetz has feared, those eyes belonged to the runt of an infant he left in his friend’s care long ago, still retaining all the determination and bravery masked by the frail body and timid personality, all the traits that he hates the most about human. All the traits he hated the most about his former self.

Haru let out a distressed yelp as he felt Quetz’s hand on his back, he tightened his grip, trying to hold on, knowing full well that the older male would try to tear him off. But instead of doing that, the white haired man’s hand gently moved upward, stroking the back of his head and lowered his entire body. Much to Haru’s surprise, Quetz was more patient than his fearsome appearance has suggested. Even his tail, which is usually the reflection of its owner’s emotions, was calm, slowly swaying from side to side while the white haired man continued to caress Haru’s head.

The motions were steady and gentle, so out of place compared to his temperaments previously yet it seemed like Quetz was familiar with it and strangely, so was Haru. The white haired boy felt his eyelids became heavy, hypnotized by the gentleness of the stroking, something he has never felt when Mitsuki does it. Pressing his ear against the man’s side, he somehow instinctively knew to listen for his heartbeats while his hands reached up to hold the Quetz’s chest. The soothing sensation was somehow…familiar, calling the white haired boy from the deepest corners of his mind, from the most faint and haunting of his occasional fever dreams. It was always the same, Haru saw himself as a baby, crying and reaching for a large shadow, begging whoever it was not to leave him. The shadow would looks back at him with sad amber eyes, a clawed hand then reached out, clasping around his small wrist before pulling away, leaving behind a burning sensation and Haru waking up in tears and unexplained sadness and sorrows.

– Haru! Haru! – Loi called out to his brother from the other side of the clearing.

– Shhh… – Quetz raised a finger onto his lips, signally the tanned boy to keep silence before standing up, pulling the white haired boy onto his feet in the process.

– H-huh? – Haru’s eyes blinked open, his mind quickly caught up to what his body has been doing, causing him to leaped backward, face blushing bright red from his embarrassing actions. – I-I’m sorry Keto-san! I d-don’t know wh-what came over me! I-I…

– Don’t apologize to him! – Loi rushed toward his brother, wrapping his arms around the smaller boy and glared at the monster in front of them who was casually picking up the cloak Haru’s dropped on the ground. – This…this thing…couldn’t be who…what we’re looking for! Right?!

– He is! – Haru protested, face still red from what he’s done, he stared at the ground, unable to look at Quetz due to embarrassment. – I-I told you…h-he’s…different.

– Bu-but… – Loi was speechless, he’s thought that his brother’s description of the man was just highly symbolic, not a mockery of nature, a literal monster who moments ago was readied to tear him apart.

– Ahem. – The white haired man cleared his throat, eyes narrowed annoyingly at the bickering children as he put on his cloak. – It would be much better for all of us if you two stop arguing, we have urgent matters to attend to.

– W-we?! – Loi yelped. – What “we”?! You’re not suggesting we go with you are you?!

– At a matter of fact, I am. – Quetz snarled and put on the hood before reached out his hand toward Haru. – Come Runty, I’m taking both of you back to the village.

– M-me? – Haru confusedly pointed at himself, not sure why the man called him by that name.

– Yes, you. – Quetz nodded as patiently as possible. – Or do you want to stay here?

– N-no! – Haru rushed toward the man, pulling his brother with him with new found strength and tucked at the man’s hand. – Don’t leave us here!

– Haru! Be careful! – The tanned boy yanked at his brother, trying to keep distance from the stranger.

– If you don’t want him to hold my hand, suit yourself. – Quetz raised one eyebrow. – But it’d be wise to hold onto me if you want any hope of getting out of here. The dryads are not very fond of outsiders. – He glanced at the boys with a mischievous grin before striding into the forest. – A dryad dragged you here didn’t she?

– Dryad? – Loi asked as he holds onto his brother’s hand and grabs the man’s cloak and followed him into the darkness. – You meant the tree monster.

– Yes, Timon told me that she used…extreme measure to get Haru here. – Quetz chuckled, through the rays of light piercing through the canopies, the boys could he his shoulders shaking. – It’s best if you stay quiet until we’re out of here, the tree spirits don’t like to be disturbed, and they’re not as gentle as they used to be.

Loi and Haru kept their mouths shut as they follows Quetz through the darkness, turning and snaking their ways on unseen path, dodging hidden obstacles with such ease that they might as well be walking in daylight. Whispers and low rumbling noises were heard, the sensation of being watched washed over the boys, yet the intentions of those unseen eyes were different now, more curious than malicious. Even the air was different, where once it was staled and wreaked of death and decay, now light breezes flowed between tree trunks, refreshing their lungs and hastening the progress.

It wasn’t long until the canopies become thin enough for more light to pierce through, the whisperings and rumblings were now but distanced memories, so too were the unseen eyes that have followed each of their footsteps. Yet something was not right as Loi looked around, the familiar ruins and landmarks indicate that they’ve reached one of the game trails near the Walker’s Forest. It couldn’t have been, the tanned boy thought, it took them two days to reach the Forbidden Forest, and now they were hours, if not less from the village.

– What have you done?! – Loi let go of Quetz’s cloak, staring at the man in front of him.

– What? We don’t have time for this. – The older male turned around with an annoyed expression partially hidden under his hood.

– We walked for two days to reach the Forbidden Forest, why are we back here so soon? – Loi narrowed his eyes, pushing his brother behind him. – What sorcery did you use?

– I didn’t do anything. – Quetz tilted his head, as if to mock the boy’s cautiousness. – I simply took the quickest path that the trees offered.

– R-Rai…please… – Haru pleaded quietly, gripping onto his brother’s chest from behind. – D-don’t fight him…

– Listen to Runty, it would be unwise for you to fight me. – Quetz said and walked toward them, giving Haru a gentle head rub, much to Loi’s disgust, before turning around. – We don’t have much time, let’s go.

Loi exchanged a suspicious looked with Haru, hoping that his brother would see his reasoning, yet those pleading violet eyes were too much for him. The tanned boy let out a sigh and continued to follow Quetz, hand holding his brother’s to find what little comfort he could offer. He’s never noticed it, but Haru’s hands were small and soft, warm to the touch, the likes of which that make Loi never want to let go of his dear little brother. He wrapped his arm around Haru’s shoulder and pulled him close, not willing to let him stray too far, not when that monster was still near.

Almost instinctively, Haru leaned against his brother, one of the few people who’d tolerate him, causing the bigger boy to flinch. His brother’s pale skin was soft and warm, pressing against Loi’s shoulder causing warmth to rush from there to his face. Loi rubbed his face, trying to dismiss such feeling, he’s always see the white haired boy as a little brother whom he loved and cared for deeply, but now…he doesn’t know anymore.

Quetz’s arrival didn’t help either, if anything, Loi saw the man as a threat not only to himself, but also to his bond with Haru. It took years of growing up together for the white haired boy to build up enough trust between them to let them touch him, and yet the beastly man in front of them easily calmed him down with just his head stroking. The tanned boy bit his lower lip and glared at the older male, towering over them as he led them through the Walker’s Forest. As he did, he felt fear slowly seeping into his mind, fear that made him occasionally glance at Haru and sigh in relief when the smaller boy smiles back.

Yet that fear lingered on, if anything, it seemed to be growing with each step they took, writhing like maggots from a carcass, filling Loi’s mind with visions of Haru leaving him for that man. He didn’t want to let Haru go, he wanted to keep his brother for himself, a selfish and dark desire, fueled by the most tainted and forbidden of emotions. The tanned boy stopped dead in his track, tightening his grip around Haru’s slender hand while the smaller boy looks at him with concerned eyes.

– R-Rai? – Haru called out softly, rubbing his thumb against the bigger boy’s hand.

– Please don’t leave me!

Confusion washed over the other boy’s face, his shocked expression made the tanned boy’s heart wrench in agony. Was he shocked because it took this long for Loi to confess? Or didn’t realize the tanned boy’s feeling for him until that moment? Has he never considered the possibility that Loi cares for him more than just a brother? It pained that tanned boy greatly, knowing that the white haired boy only sees him as just a brother. He bit his lips, trying to hold in the screams of frustration while tears leak out of his tightly shut eyes, if only Haru would understand his feelings…

– Rai? – The white haired boy held both of his brother’s hands. – I’m not leaving you. – His voice was angelic, the voice that made Loi hate himself for loving it.

– Please… – The bigger boy pleaded and looked up with tears-drowned eyes. – Please…I love you… – He pulled onto his brother’s hands. – I-I love you more than any brother should, I k-know I shouldn’t have these feelings b-but…

Shock, confusion and fear were clearly visible in those beautiful purple orbs that were Haru’s eyes and on the expressions of his face, and Loi hated them. Why? Why them? Why those feeling? Where are the joys, the relief, the happiness of knowing that he was loved in this way? Loi didn’t understand, he has spent every waking hours trying to protect the boy in front of him, and this his how he repays that kindness…all because of some illusions that Quetz, that monster, has feelings for him too.

– R-Rai… – Haru opened his mouth to speak again, cautiously choosing his words. – I-I l-love you too…as a brot…

– That’s not enough! – The tanned boy shrieked and clawed his fingers into his black messy hair. – Why won’t you understand! I love you! I love you Haru! I want to be with you forever! I…I… – He stuttered as he sees into those violet eyes, the self disgust and doubts Loi has for himself were transformed. They mixed with the fear already presented in those almost transparent eyes, before being hurled back into the bigger boy’s minds and heart.

Hatred. Haru hates him, he must be, he hates Loi for having these feelings, he hates Loi for trying to stop him from his “happiness”. The spiteful boy turned his gaze toward the man in front of him, who has been silently followed the boys’ conversation from a safe distance. A repulsive sight, how he stood so stilled, his tail held high, swaying calmly as if it was none of his concern. How Loi wanted to bury his dagger deep into that monster’s skull, yet he knew full well that if he so wanted, Quetz could easily kill him without breaking sweats. Another emotion roiled within Loi, his desires for Haru’s affections turned to craving for the older male’s raw strength, the roost of Haru’s aspirations toward him.

– Something’s wrong. – Quetz said quietly, tilting his head to listen for any sign of danger.

– Keto-san? – Haru tore his attention off his brother and took a step forward. – What’s wrong?

– Don’t go close to him! – Loi yelled and clamped his paws onto his brother’s shoulders.

– Rai! What’s wrong with you!? – Haru sounded confused, terrified and even angry, his violet eyes dashing through Loi’s face to search for an answer.

– Just…don’t… – Loi said quietly, holding in the tears and screams.

– Look out!

An arrowed pierced through the air toward Haru, stopping just inches away from his eyes. Blood dripping from the metallic tip, trickling onto the ground, causing both of the boys to leaped back while the older male stood motionless in front of them, seemingly unaffected by his injury. Quetz raised his right arm, biting on the feathery end of the arrow and pulled it off his wrists. A large gasp caught the white haired man’s attention, with a swift flick of his other hand, he send his dagger flying toward the sounds of rustling leaves.

– Augh!

Haru flinched as a man fell down from the branches of a nearby tree, clutching as his leg where the handle of Quetz’s knife was sticking out. He felt his legs shaking as the older male made his way toward the struggling man, a person whom he recognized was one of the hunters. The white haired man grabbed the handle of his dagger and pulled out swiftly, causing the hunter to scream in pain before swinging it in a beautiful arch, sending the blood flying off the black blade.

– Stop it! – Once again, Haru found himself speaking up against Quetz. – You’re hurting him!

– He aimed that arrow at you. – Quetz snarled, wrapping his raptorial toes around the man’s throat and started squeezing.

– B-but… – The white haired boy gripped his chest, the urge to save the man clashed against the fear he has for his older companion.

Next to him, Loi was both horrified and overjoyed, Quetz’s sheer tenacity and willingness to kill human gave him an open window to impress his brother. To him the beast in front of them was just that, a beast, with little to no regard for human life save for the ones that would potentially benefit him. The tanned boy slowly reached for his dagger, if he could just surprise that beast.

– P-please… – The man pleaded with choking breaths. – The c-cursed ch-child…brought them…

– Who? – The white haired man relinquished his grip, allowing his prey to explain, hand gesturing for Haru to come nearer.

– That child… – The other man coughed and gagged for air as he speaks. He stared at Haru hiding behind Quetz with hateful eyes. – They came…not long after we realized…that he and Loi were gone… He brought them to the village! The witch! The demon!

– Enough of your nonsense. – Quetz pressed his foot onto the man’s chest, the curved, razor-sharp talon of one of his toes inches away from the human’s throat. The white haired man’s expression became grim, he frowned with distaste as he continues his interrogation, fanged teeth bearing menacingly. – One more word about the boy and I’ll strangle you with your intestines…wait. – He suddenly stopped and bent down, relinquishing his foot from the man’s throat, standing on all four and sniffed at the air around his trembling preys.

– K-Keto-san? – Haru peeked out from behind his brother’s back, curious to what their companion was doing. – Wh-what’s wrong

There was no response, at least not the kind that the boy was expecting. The growling that escaped Quetz’s unhinging jaws chilled the smaller boy to the core, his head filled with dreadful images of his companion’s fanged teeth. It was not as terrifying as when he first saw them, but Haru couldn’t help but shiver when he thinks about how easy it was for the white haired man to bite the lizard in half. He closed his eyes shut, sweats tickling his face as he holds his brother’s hand tightly to shoo away the haunting images that clawed at his mind, gnawing at his every thought, urging him to flee and…

The sound of fangs sinking into flesh was loud and clear, followed by the weakening struggles of limbs pushing against the forest floor and the gurgling of the hunter choking on his own blood. Haru clung at his brother tightly, wet violet eyes shot open from shock and fear, taking in the image of Quetz clamping his jaws around the poor man’s throat. For a split second, the white haired boy felt like as if his heart has stopped, before beating uncontrollably as his instinct screams for him to flee. Yet something stayed his limbs, not that he wasn’t afraid of what he’s seeing, no, it’s the complete opposite. It was dark, cold and primal, shackling his mind and trapping his entire body in its black tendrils.

Haru was confused, scared and most importantly, betrayed, not in the usual sense, but in such a way that it made him feel like everything he knew about Quetz was wrong. The gentle, calm and patient man that he met days ago was gone, replaced by a hateful, wild and bloodthirsty animal that revels in blood. The boy shivered as Quetz stands up slowly, ears twitching and jaws biting down the now motionless man’s throat, it was then that the white haired boy noticed them. On his older companion’s left ear was a small, golden earing, next to it on both side were v-shaped rips, all were somewhat at the same position at the earing, as if many were once there and were forcefully removed. On the other ear, the same scars were seen, with one going deeper than others, any deeper and half of his ear would fall off. Are they scars of brutal battles for survival in the wild? Or are they reminders of human’s greed and cruelty? Quetz’s words rang in Haru’s mind, about how his home and everything he knew were destroyed by human, drowning his fragile mind in more questions than answers.

– Monster… – Next to Haru, Loi too was horrified, yet he seemed to be more affected by the killing. His eyes were wide opened, sweat trickling down his face while short and fast breaths were occasionally interrupted by the violent shivering. – Y-you’re…a monster…

In response, Quetz slightly turned around, growling while still holding his kill in his jaws, causing the blood to bubble out of the wound. With almost no effort, the white haired man shook his head once and tossed the bloodied corpse into the shrubbery. Before either of his companions could react, Quetz tilted his head backward and let out an inhuman roar that forced the boys to cover their ears. The sky suddenly grew dark, where once it was dominated by gentle blue and white, now grey clouds gathered and gloomed menacingly, as if the sky itself was stirred by the man’s roiling anger and hatred.

A bellowing roared echoed in return, followed by the thunderous footsteps of a massive bonefrill as it charges out from the tree lines. The enormous animal was almost as large as a mammoth bull, two long horns sprouted from the vibrant frill of red and yellow just above its intelligence brown eyes. Standing above the pile of packages strapped to the larger dinosaur’s back, the black feathered raptor looked down at them and jerked its head upward, signaling them to climb on the rope ladder hanging down from its companion’s fur-covered side.

– Climb on, we don’t have much time to waste. – Quetz commanded and leaped onto the bonefrill’s back.

– No! – Loi screamed and pulled Haru further away from the monstrosities in front of them.

– We don’t have time for this. – The white haired man bared his fanged teeth. – If you value your lives, you will go with me. – He glances around and sniffed the salty winds that blew in from the sea before wiping his lips. – Just pray to whatever god you worship that they can hold out until we get there.

Haru and Loi exchanged look for a second before reluctantly climbing onto the rope ladder and sit down, holding onto the ropes that were holding the packages together. With a swing of his tail, Quetz signaled the bonefrill to run at full speed through the forest, carefully adjusting its direction with his feet. The beast obeyed its master’s silence commands, mighty limbs pushed its massive bulk forward with frightening speed, so fast that the two small passengers has to held onto the ropes for dear life. Yet even in such speed, Haru noticed that not a single tree branch has hit them even once despite the dinosaur’s colossal form, as if the trees themselves were aiding them.

The whisperings started again, assaulting the back of the white haired boy with the chill of winter’s coldest gusts and drowning him in the blackest of nights. They sounded so close, to the point that Haru thought that they were right behind him, clapping their ethereal hands on his ears to block out all other sounds, save for the whispering. Yet he did not feel fear, a strange sensation overtook his mind, entrancing him, compelling him to turn around, to lay his hand onto a small leather satchel and ever so gently open it. The thing inside has the voice of a thousand screeching rats, sounds overlapping sounds, creating a chaotic symphony of damnation, urging the boy to release it from its prison of rune-scribed metal plates and broken fangs. Blue fire surrounded the rattling chain of plates and teeth, yet Haru did not feel the heat, quite the contrary, he felt cold, colder than everything he’s ever felt, like the flame were sucking the heat and life from him.

Yet as his finger tip was inches away from the strange objects, Haru felt Quetz’s hand around his. The heat from the older male was sudden and intense, yanking the boy from his trance, causing him to jumped backward and look up at the worried and angered amber eyes. He was so entranced, the voices were so loud and the darkness so black that the world around him seemed to have faded out for a moment. Yet in that moment, so much has transpired, the rumbling motions and thunderous footsteps of the charging dinosaur have stopped, replaced by the wailing of the wounded, the mourning and the dying, penetrated by the crackling of fire.

– What is happening!? – Haru clasped his hands onto his ears, trying to escape the sounds of what seemed to be a slaughter field right in front of them. Next to him, Loi sat motionless, eyes widened in horror as he tries to comprehend the tragedy that have besieged the village’s gate.

– You fools. You damned, bloody fools. – Quetz mumbled to himself, cursing as he surveys the field of broken bodies laying motionless, oozing with black slimes that sizzle as soon as they touch the fire surrounding them. – You two, stay here! – Barking out a command, he pulled Haru aside, his other hand reached down and grabbed the rattling strings of metal plates and bones.

For a moment, Haru thought he saw the blue flame again, burning brighter as Quetz reached down, before being snuffed out completely when the older male tightens his grip around the chain. The runes and cracks on the teeth and plates began to glow ominously instead, blue light coursed into the white haired man’s fingers before disappearing, absorbed into his skin, much to Haru’s bewilderment. A quick glance from Quetz made the boy turns his gaze away, frightened and worried that he’s done something extremely stupid.

Picking up what looked to be the leather-bound handle of a long machete, the older male pulled out a long and slender blade unlike anything Haru has ever seen. The single-edged blade was at least twice the length of the machetes used in his village, yet elegantly thin and straight, smoky and dark, rippling with countless folds, shining eerily blue even against the brilliant red and orange of the raging fire ahead. Two oval sapphires were embedded into both sides of the elongated hexagonal chappe, bluer than the deep sea, glistening like the eyes of a great beast of the depth.

Quetz leapt off the distressed bonefrill, blade in hand, pointing at the mangled corpses nearby one by one, as if searching for any sign of life. Cold metal plunged into the gnarled bark of a tree monster, not unlike the one Haru saw in the Forbidden Forest, but this one seemed…strange, it was different. Black slime boiled and fizzled out of the creature charred hide, washing away the remnants of life once covered its body, now withered and rotten, corrupted and twisted by whatever it was that have driven it insane, into attacking the village. The slime mixed with the blood pouring out from a human corpse, the pain and fear forever frozen on her dead face while her severed hand still clutching at the axe, arrows protruding from her back. There were dozens more like them, both human and monsters, scattered across the battlefield amidst the burning clumps of vegetation and makeshift fences, set ablaze by volleys of fiery arrows.

– Halt! Who goes there?! – A voice rang out from the smoke as silhouettes appear, black shadows dancing eerily in front of the fire making Haru clutch at his still frozen brother’s arm.

– We mean you no harm! – Quetz called out loudly, putting on his hood as the human approach.

Loi jolted and leaned forward after hearing the rumbling voice, his deep brown eyes filled with hope as he recognized them. Walking out from the smoke was the chieftain, flanked by two veteran hunters on each of his sides, their faces grimed and hardened, readied for battle with weapons in hands. Each step they took made the bloodied and smoky armors of bones and metal plates rattle, fresh blood and black slime still stubbornly cling onto them, mixing together and clotting up into hideous flowers. But something was wrong, the tanned boy could see it in the chief’s eyes and feel it around the hunters, they reeked of fear, uncertainty and confusion, whatever has happened here has shook them to the very core of their being.

– You have a lot of nerve, – The chieftain spoke out with a shaky yet calm voice, much to the confusion of the other hunters and the boys. – coming this close to the village in daylight.

– You have a lot of nerve to be alive. – Quetz hissed in response, plunging the tip of his blade into the ground, tail sweeping from side to side under the cloak, not in ager, but in amusement. – I thought you must have perished in the attack, considering your age, you’d make a fine corpse.

– You and your sick sense of humor. – Chieftain Quang scoffed and turned around, not giving any heed to his hunter’s confusion. – Come, you have much explaining to do.

– As do you. – Quetz’s voice sounded almost like disappointment, an idea reinforced by him lifting up his blade and patting his tail on the ground. The white haired man removed his hood, making the other hunter gasp and utter prayers before walking toward the chieftain, quietly hissing into his ear: – You make for a terrible guardian.

The two boys and the hunters looked in disbelief as the chief simply nodded and turned to the gate, not speaking out against the stranger’s remarks or disrespectfulness toward him. A strange silence befell them as they made their ways into the village, passing the piles of corpses and pyres that were hastily built to send the fallen to the ancestors. There were no word spoken between them, only the footsteps along with the wailing of the survivors mourning their lost ones and the sounds of woods being piled up, using both the fallen trees and the broken body of the monsters. “They left nothing go to waste.” Quetz thought as he stops to inspect a pyre, broken branches and invaders’ flesh bound together to form a elevated platform on which they have stacked as many corpses as possible, a good way to save resources when they can’t…

– It burns! It burns! Help me! Help me!

Quetz’s eyes shot open when he heard the scream, amber orbs immediately flickered as they reflected the fire slowly spreading on the pyre. Black slimes oozed out of the tree monster’s hide, boiling as the flame embraces it into oblivion with its searing arms. As it did, the monster shed its protective hide, bits by bits, the cracked and charred bark fell off, releasing the trapped spirit inside. Pale skin and lustrous green hair tainted with black slimes caught fire, causing the maiden to wail and thrash around in agony, sending burning wood chips flying. As the fire envelops her completely, her thrashing became more violent, desperately trying to free herself from her bondages to the pyre. Yet even in her madness, the maiden still seemed to recognize Quetz, with slimes now flowed like liquid fire out of her burning eye sockets, she reached her free arm out, causing him to took two steps backward, hand clutching the leather-bound handle of his blade, fangs bearing with pain and terrors. Raising his weapon high above his head, the white haired man let out a painful roar before bearing it down with all of his hatred and anger to end the burning spirit’s suffering.


The old chieftain threw a lodge into the fire pit, making it flaring up for a second before dimming down again, illuminating the emotionless face of the white haired man sitting on the opposite side. Staring into the dancing fire, he mumbled an inaudible mantra, tapping the tip of his black dagger onto the wooden floor, tail coiling around the sheath and hilt of his “sword”. A small cough caught his attention, causing him to avert his gaze upward, toward the white haired boy sitting slightly behind the chieftain, his purple eyes glued to his delicate fingers gripping at his loose pants.

Gulping down the nervousness that plagued his mind, Haru slowly raised his head, only to dart down as he caught a glimpse of Quetz’s amber eyes. The older male scoffed, adverting his attention to the chieftain’s worried face, openly showing off his utter disappointment and displease for him. It was strange, Haru thought to himself as he sneakily looks at chief Quang’s face, gone was the ever serious frown, now replaced by sheer unease with the slightest hint of fear of what to come, as if he knew what the white haired man was capable of. As if he has knew Quetz for a long time. The boy looked around, usually there would be elders flanking each side of the chieftain’s seat, yet today there were none. He shook slightly, normally he’d overjoyed just with the absence of one elder, but now, Haru wished that all of them were here, supporting them mentally when they’re facing…him.

– Well? – The white haired man scoffed, looking up from the fire to meet the chieftain’s brown eyes with his blazing amber orbs. – Explain, now.

– So… – The chieftain started, keeping his gaze fixed on the spot where the dagger was tapping. – Quetz, I…

– You promised me. – Quetz buried the knife deep into the wooden floor, causing Haru to flinch and shake violently. Standing up to his full height, the man unsheathed his sword, metallic blade warped the fire’s reflection into a gloomy grey: – You promised me he will have a normal life! You promised me you’d take good care of him until the time is right! You promised me you will protect him!

– I did my best as a chieftain! – Chief Quang roared in protest, standing up to meet the new comer deep in the eyes. – I gave him the best chance to grow up as a normal child like you asked but…

– But what?! – Quetz snarled, bearing his fangs at the old chieftain.

– I… I tried to fine him a suitable family. – Quang exclaimed. – Most of the villagers…they didn’t want anything to do with him…y-you have to understand that it was a harsh year, and you gave Haru to me in the middle of a harsh winter. Lots of…lots of people…died after that…

– Wa-wait, – Haru called out, confused by the conversation as he looks from one man to the other. – ch-chief…what are you…

– And instead of taking care of him yourself, you decided to give him to an outcast family?! – Quetz hissed, swinging his sword in a wide arch and sending burning embers across the house.

A deafening silence befell the room, broken only by the white haired man’s heavy panting and the beating of his tail on the wooden floor. Sheathing his sword into the scabbard, he knelt down onto one leg to catch his breaths before lifting his head, just to meet Haru’s terrified and confused eyes. The boy was shivering violently, with one hand behind his back readied to flee and other half raised to shield himself from Quetz. The older male let out a frustrated sigh and sat down completely, rubbing his temple with his knuckles and closing his eyes to compose himself.

– Haru. – The chieftain sat down next to Haru, making him jump a bit.

– Y-yes chief? – The white haired boy looked up, still shaken by Quetz’s tantrum.

A gentle nudge to the back of his head toward Quetz made the white haired boy’s jump a bit, followed by a confused squeak when he saw the chieftain’s eyes looking at the white haired man. A brief moment of hesitation passed as Haru simply sat there, not knowing why his chieftain just asked him to get close to the one who a few minutes ago was almost willing to kill him. Looking at the brooding man, he could barely believe that it was the same person who’s showed him genuine kindness, he looks the same, yet the way he acted when rage took him… The boy shivered when he recalls those flaring eyes, gone was the gentle, collective and calm shade of freshly formed amber, replaced with burning crimson, reflecting the lifeblood of his unfortunate victim as he sinks his teeth in.

Yet there was something familiar about those eyes, both gentle amber and fierce crimson, something…endearing, giving Haru a strange certainty that Quetz would protect him no matter what. Gulping down his fear, the white haired boy stood up, clenching his shirt when the older male opens one of his eyes slightly, just to sigh in relief as he closes it, making it a bit easier for him to continue. First step, his fear returned, freezing him in place and urging Haru to turn around and flee for his life, less he be torn apart by fearsome fangs and claws, he pressed on. Second step, hope bloomed in his heart, the way they talked about him, could it be possible that Quetz actually knows something about his origin? The slightest chance that it is the truth urged Haru to take another step, he wanted to ask him, he wanted to know, he has to. Third step, doubt plagued Haru’s mind. What if he doesn’t? What if Quetz was mistaking him for another stronger, more normal boy? What if the white haired man sent him here just to fatten him up for the harvesting? The thoughts and sensations of Quetz’s claws and fangs digging into his skin were almost too real, the white haired boy once again found himself rooted in place by the overwhelming presence of anxiousness and fear. It teasingly gripped his heart, toying with his mind by filling it with flashing images of when Quetz’s jaws were biting down on the hunter’s throat, when he sliced the lizard in two with a single bite and…

Fourth step, the white haired man was right in front of Haru, all the boy needs to do was to sit down. He blinked twice before letting out a small yelp and recoiled, scared and confused to why his body suddenly acted against his will. He didn’t understand, he couldn’t, the only thing he knew that when that last flash of image rushes to his mind, something stirred. A strange familiarity took him, made him took another step toward Quetz, his…protector.

– Sit down. – Quetz said softly without even opening his eyes, tail beating slowly.

– I…I… – The white haired boy mumbled confusedly, terrified by the older male though he knew Quetz wouldn’t harm him, somehow.

The fear was gone, replaced by a strange awkwardness, amplified by the white haired man’s tail beating on the wooden floor and Haru’s own whimpering as he struggled to say something. A simple “thank you” would do, he thought, after all he hasn’t properly show Quetz any gesture of gratitude yet. But looking into the anticipating amber eye of his companion, the white haired boy couldn’t help but wonder would it be enough, for both the older male and himself. He wanted to ask him so much, about his origin, where he came from, why did he call him by the name “Runty”, yet every time the boy tried to open his mouth and speak, something held him back. He felt its claws dug into his mind, black tendrils of fear and paranoia wrapping around his throat and mouth like the tentacle of a giant cone-shelled squid.

A sharp pain shook Haru from the paw of his hand, making him flinch and pulled up, revealing a small piece of splinter stuck in his hand. Only now did the white haired boy realize that in his anxiousness, he has gripped at his loose pants too hard, pushing the fabric inward and pressed the splinter deeper. It must have come from the tree monster when he was trying to break free, Haru thought and silently inspect his minuscule wound, not wanting to alert his companion. The boy’s face shriveled up a bit as he touches it, trying to dislodge the stubborn wood chip from his skin. The splinter moved, but not in the way he’s wanted, in his nervousness, the white haired boy’s shaky finger has accidentally pushed it in further, causing him to hiss silently.

– It’s stuck. – The teasing tone, along with the amused wagging of the older male’s long white tail made Haru blushed a bit. The man reached his hand out and caught the boy’s shaking wrist gently, amber eyes scanning the paw with surgical keenest. – You know, for someone who has such delicate fingers, you sure are clumsy.

Quetz chuckled, the tip of the claws on his thump and index finger clamped down on the tiny piece of wood and gently pulled it out. He’s been monitoring him, he must have been, why else would he be smiling like that? Watching him awkwardly trying to get rid of the tiny piece of wood that got stuck in his hand must have amused the man greatly. Embarrassed, Haru cover his face with his other hand, just imagining himself clumsily trying to get rid of the splinter made his face redder and redder. The fact that Quetz’s hands felt warmth against his didn’t help as all. They were so warm and gentle, despite being hardened and scarred by holding weapons too tightly, with claws sharp enough to rip through flesh. Swift and slender fingers stroked Haru’s, caressing them carefully as if their owner knew exactly what to do, as if he knew better than using his force too much, less he damages the delicate digits. The white haired boy gasped in embarrassment as his companion lowered his head and held the boy’s hand with one of his own, the other moving further onto the thin, bruised wrist marked with five long scars.

Within a split second, Haru found himself grapping Quetz’s wrist with his other shaking hand. It can’t be, the boy thought to himself as he looked down on his wrist with widened eyes, those scars of his matched perfectly with the older male’s claws. Haru felt his heart beat loudly in his chest as his delicate fingers slowly, shakily wrapped around Quetz’s, pulling them closer to where the scars start. Sweats rolled down from the boy’s face, mixed with tears pouring out from his eyes unknowingly as the older male gently pulled back, running his claws along the scars, exactly like in his dreams.

With a loud yelp, Haru yanked his hands away and leapt backward, scratching himself against Quetz’s claws. Red fluid trickled from the shallow scratches on his hands, spreading on the fabric of his shirt above his heart where he’s gripping tightly. It can’t be, the same statement echoed again in the boy’s head while his heart drummed with shock, anger, happiness, sorrow and more. A mess of entangling emotions gripped at his small heart, causing it to ache every time Haru looks at Quetz, his ears buzzed with whispers and echoes of forgotten conversation, with the white haired man’s voice ringing by far the loudest.

– So, you do remember after all. – In Quetz’s calm and collective voice, there was a hint of both surprise and relief. The older male licked the blood off his claws, eyes glued at his small companion with anxiety and anticipation.

– Wh-what? – Haru whimpered, a single question was all he could utter. It was him, Quetz is that shadow, the person in his dreams, the one who have left him here. – Why? – The boy asked another question, voice choked with both anger and sadness, shivering with each difficult breath he took.

– Runty. – Quetz’s voice echoed in the boy’s ears, that name, the name he was given when he was just a baby rang in his mind, flooding Haru’s with flashing memory shards. – Haru.

– Stop it! – The white haired boy cried out, clapping his hands on his ears and closed his eyes shut to drown out the echoing voices and images, but they kept going, calling him by his name. – Stop it! Don’t say my name! Don’t say it!

– Haru. – Quetz called out again, but Haru ignored him, curling up into a ball to avoid him. He didn’t want to look at the man’s face, he didn’t want to hear his voice, the white haired boy wanted to run away from him, away from the things that have plagued his mind and haunted him in his nightmares. He wanted to run away from the sadness, the sorrow, the tears that he spent crying over the unknown reasons why he was left behind. Yet for those same reasons, Haru found himself rooted in place, unable to run, unable to hide from those memories and the motions that came with them, forced to relive every heart wrenching moments of him waking up in tears. – Haru. – Again, the older male’s voice pierced through his defenses, ringing in his ears and mind like a thousand chimes all singing in unison. His hands were warm, pressing on Haru’s trembling owns in an attempt to calm him down but only succeeded in making him flinch and curl up even more, not willing to listen to any of Quetz’s excuses as he heard Quetz’s calm, collected, almost emotionless voice: – Forgive me.

There was something about the way he said it, a request too simple for an offense too severe. How? How Quetz be so casual with that statement? How could his voice be so calm, so collected, so…cold? Was he expecting Haru to forgive him so easily? For abandoning him here with nothing but fleeting memories that haunt his fever dreams to remember? Abandoning him to the beating, mocking and harassing? How could he do this? The boy trembled and lowered his head, but this time it was not because of sadness or sorrow. His fists tightened and shaking violently, his teeth clenched together, barely holding in the shriek of outrage that have been building deep inside him. He squeezed his eyes shut, forcing the tears of anger to streamed out uncontrollably, unable to look at Quetz, the one person that might have the slightest chance of being his blood relative without…


The scream was by far the loudest sound Haru’s ever made, echoing through the room, carrying with it all of the frustration, pain, sadness and anger that have been culminated and suppressed through all those years of being bullied and harassed. The painful cried was followed by a the sound of his hand hitting against Quetz’s face with all the might his anger toward the older male could offer, yet even then it wasn’t enough.

Another slap.

Then another.

And another.

And another.

The slaps kept on coming and coming, from both Haru’s small, delicate and frail hands, against both sides of Quetz’s face. There was no protest, no menacing glare, no hiss of pain, nothing to stop the white haired boy from hitting the older male’s face again and again. He just sat there, receiving each and every single one of his small companion’s slaps with just the twitching of his eyes to acknowledge his beating. The slapping began to slow as Haru’s anguish cries were replaced by painful grunts, his hand ached, swollen and reddened from colliding with Quetz’s skin, with a small droplet of blood trickled down from one of his slender fingers. No, it wasn’t enough, he hasn’t punished Quetz enough, Haru wanted to hit the man more, but his hands wouldn’t allow it.

With blood still boiling in his ears, the white haired boy tilted his head backward to let out another painful scream before lunging toward the older male, sinking his teeth into the pale skin of his neck. Salty tears mixed with bitter blood, filling Haru’s mouth with that awful taste, his tongue wanted him to let go, but his mind kept telling him to hold on. And so he did, the white haired boy grunted and dug his nails into the Quetz’s chest, holding on and biting down harder to show him all the pain he has went through. And yet, the older male did nothing.

– Say something… – Haru mumbled as he relinquished himself from Quetz’s neck. A moment ago he didn’t even want to hear anything from the man, now he wanted him to speak, to acknowledge the pain Haru’s showed him. – Oi…say something… – He repeated, landing a fist onto the man’s chest, his voice shaken from rage and exhaustion. – Why won’t you say anything? Why won’t you defend yourself?! – The boy cried out, landing his fists onto Quetz’s chest repeatedly. – Say something, damn you! Say you’re hurt! Say you’re in pain! Damn you! Damn you!

In response, one of Quetz’s hands pressed against the back of Haru’s head, his other arm wrapped around the boy’s small frame, pulling him into his chest. The white haired man bent down, burying his face into the boy’s snowy white hair, hands caressing the fragile body.

– I’m sorry. – He whispered, though it was calm, this time Quetz’s voice was choked with regrets, sadness but mixed amongst them was the unmistakable hint of happiness. – I’m sorry. – Quetz repeated, nudging his head against Haru’s while stroking the boy’s hair gently. – I’m sorry for leaving you here. Please…forgive me.

The white haired boy didn’t want to hear what Quetz had to say, he didn’t want to look at the man who has abandoned him, yet his leg didn’t obey. Haru found himself frozen in place, hands gripping at the older male’s chest, head pressing against his shoulder. This isn’t right, the boy thought, the anger has disappeared, the culmination of years of suppressed emotions and pain, gone without a trait, replaced by something else. It was faint as first, but the longer the white haired boy listens, the clearer it became. Heartbeats, Quetz’s heartbeats, beating against Haru’s as the man was holding him close to his heart. It was strong, it was familiar, it was warm. Quetz was warm. For the first time in years, the white haired boy felt…at peace, as he knew instinctively the older male would protect him. Basking in his warmth, Haru felt a strange yet familiar sense of serenity and safety, things that he’s never experienced in his waking hours. He’s gotten used to being set on edge by everything the villagers do regarding him no matter how insignificant the action was, that this peacefulness he’s experiencing scared him.

– Ke…to… – Haru whimpered weakly, his strength was sapped and drained from lashing out, so much so that he could barely keep his eyes open, much less talk, and he has so much to ask from Quetz.

Letting out a large yawn, Haru pulled himself upward to put his face against Quetz’s neck despite of his wound. Strangely, he could not feel it anywhere, the wetness and stench of blood were still there, but they’ve already soaked into the fabric of the man shirt, leaving behind little more than faint impressions of where Haru’s teeth have sunk into. It was getting harder for the white haired boy to keep his eyes open, before long he found himself drifting in the darkness bordering between reality and his dreamland. Letting out one last yawn, Haru nuzzled his face into Quetz’s neck, feeling the older male’s comforting warmth as he drifts further into the darkness.

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