Chapter 22 – It’s the Smile

Short Chapter today.

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Death is the easy part. It is the life that comes after that brings despair.

*

Alaina1AlainaWow's’s eyes snapped open. She could feel underneath her shudder on occasion. It was rhythmic, in a sense. But for such a soothing feeling, it just brought her on edge. Suddenly, an ache hit her like blown tire leading a ninety mile per hour truck right into a wall; and that wall was her head. She winced, touching the right side when pain shot through her chest.

All of what happened the night before re-surged in her mind. Alaina twirled to the side, trying to quickly gauge her surrounding, only to glance at the rising sun over the horizon through a small window. She winced again at the pain, her heart beating wildly, but bore through. The imagery of her being stabbed through the chest flashed through her mind. She hadn’t even seen it when it happened. The attack was too sudden, but the vivid feel of the jagged edge piercing her flesh, made her imagination seem all too real.

She pressed her hand against the area. She could feel some sort of padding underneath her clothes. I’ve been bandaged?

‘What’s so special about you, girl? Hmm? To want you alive?’ he had asked.

And like that, she recalled how they wanted her alive.

Sensing something, she looked back up. Staring at her were two dark eyes. Dark pools that seemed to have been stagnating for years, unperturbed, yet unclouded. Even so, when she saw those eyes, relief flooded her.

‘Unless he was captured too,’ the thought flitted across her mind, and her jaw clenched. She looked around, more and more, but other than the other passengers nearby, there was no one else.

“We’re safe, don’t worry,” the other’s voice came.

“Navari…” She croaked. “How?”

“You don’t remember? We were lucky. Managed to get to the platform and leave.”

“But that-” her brow crinkled; she said no more though. Navari was obviously skipping over details…He had saved her…again.

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Alaina’s hand gripped into a fist. She let someone save her? And again? How can she be so weak? These thoughts rummaged through her mind. Why did she have to rely on someone else to survive? In this world where relying on someone meant losing oneself, how could I let that happen?

No, this venture was so that I wouldn’t have to let me be reliant. So that I can protect those that rely on me! After this, I can…

And then it dawned on her. The crossbow! She reached around, despite the pain, to feel the cloth bundle by her side. She sighed in relief.

Navari looked as if he wanted to say something when someone called out.

“Train to VanHer will be arriving at Eastern City in fifteen minutes!” The voice came from an attendant. He wore a white uniform with a golden thread stitched into the lining. Half his face looked human. The other half had skin with a color mix between green and onyx. On the more human looking face, the pupil of his eye had a slight red glow, and on the other, less human looking side, it was a soft green.

Alaina couldn’t see any changes on Navari’s face, but for some reason, she got the impression that he was uncomfortable.

He’s not accustomed to half-men?

Either case, she felt relieved knowing he didn’t say what he seemed he wished to; or ask what he was going to ask. Alaina had a feeling of what it was going to be about. She had no wish to talk about it. She, herself, did not know what it all meant.

The man that stabbed her was clearly after her capture and not the crossbow. Some larger play was at hand. Something she had no knowledge or depth and something like that was more dangerous than what she had thought they faced. It meant she couldn’t be entirely sure that she’d be able to stay alive or uncaptured in Eastern City. To disappear among the chaos that is ensued there.

There were definitely people with an agenda that would not only affect her but possibly those that she cared for. Before, she could always toss the crossbow and escape if the danger reached an unprecedented level. Why would they continue to chase her then? They had what they wanted. But now, it seemed what they wanted all along was her.

Unless…Unless it has already affected the ones I cared for? If they had been after her and not the crossbow, it could quite mean that they would get those close to her involvement.

She had no worries about that being done before because people were not stupid. Love was not a reliable thing in the Free Cities, and Alaina kept herself well hidden in that regard. But if they were after more than just the object, they would probably want to uproot her life. Get to know their ‘prey’ or had already known much about her somehow. That meant…

Alaina began to straighten up her things. Besides the satchel and bundle, she did not have much. But she had to keep her hands busy. She kept tightening the metal clasp on the bundle. Kept counting the items in the bag. What else could she do? The train would not move any faster than as it was already. She wanted it to, but her wants were not going to turn into more speed. She tried to keep her mind off of it, but it still tore at her.

“Damn it!” She cursed under her breath, jumping up.

The train was wide. It had several private compartments, but most bench-like seats were not private. There were rows of benches, two facing each other, on either side. Alaina and Navari took a bench, each, for themselves as there were not that many people on board.

Alaina went into the aisle and began pacing back and forth, the sound of the attendant calling out his notice as he went to the next train car a distant noise.

The floor was soft. She looked down at the blue wafting grass lighting up at her every step. She just watched the light as she walked, the indignation pervading her thoughts.

She sighed.

Why wasn’t I born a blade of grass? I would be worry-free. Well, except for being stepped on.

“Can you imagine being a blade of grass?”

Alaina turned. She hadn’t realized that she had walked down to the end of the car and right near a small wooden bar that held rum and ale for quick sale. Under City’s trains have always been of a high standard even though their inhabitants were not to par.

As she turned, she found a woman, around her height, standing there with a quirk on her lips.

Alaina cleared her throat. She tossed a piece of steinz on the wooden surface, and the barkeep passed her a jug.

Taking a quick swig, she slammed the jug on the bar and glared at the woman.

She had been aiming for Ale, but given the barkeep seemed to give her only water. Apparently, he was one of ‘those’. The ones with a moral compass that would refuse to pass alcohol to anyone, not of age.

But she did not let the disappointment of not feeling the burning liquid slide down her throat.

“What?”

“I asked if you could imagine being a blade of grass? Are you deaf?”

Alaina frowned. The woman had dirty blond hair, more blond than brown, and a bright smile. Her eyes were a chestnut brown, and her skin was smooth.

But for some reason, Alaina felt odd, and that kept her on guard.

It was after a short moment that she realized what it was.

It’s the smile. No one smiles like that going to Eastern City!

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