“And do you think I can do all of that with just this much?! Do you take me for the King Of Bandits or something?!” → Alexander
I slightly smiled at him then continued.
“For the first two or three groups, I will try to help you while wearing a disguise at times, or something like that. What I need the most is for your group to become stronger. The money is for arming up and preparing for battle. Your group is roughly composed of around 100 bandits of ages around 17 and 35 years, right?” → Shen
“Tsk, you got some eyes there.” → Alexander
He couldn’t help but click his tongue at the accuracy I had on discerning the age of everyone present. He then scratched his head and explained:
“However much I’d wish to do it, that would mean to leave my base unguarded. Right?” → Alexander
“Is there something of value inside your base?” → Shen
“Haha~! I can say that is the reason why I began this kind of trashy lifestyle in the first place! Everyone here as well! With some exceptions, we’re all bound by the goods inside the base.” → Alexander
I examined his gaze and observed a glint of warmth, something extremely unbefitting his image of a bandit-leader.
I thought for a while then said simply:
“Let’s go. You’re already under my protection, and so must be your goods. I first must see what you’re holding so dear to you then find a better solution so you will be able to work body and soul.” → Shen
“… Is this a form to threaten me on completely working for you?” → Alexander
I glanced at him and, even though he was smiling, his eyes were sharp while a little blood-lust was shining through them.
“First of all; look once more like that at me and you might activate the curse from the blood inside. Second; I thought I made myself clear when I said that, I won’t use you as a slave nor will I misuse you. From now on you’re one of my own, while your goods will be for me as precious as they are for you. Simple as that.” → Shen
I then rushed him to show me the way to his base as I hurriedly hid my face with a muffin and put on my hoodie, then we reached a little village, the exact same village I saw when I was still flying in the skies, gazing on the ground. I felt like it was a little bit too hidden by the trees around, but never thought it was actually a bandit-hideout.
The village wasn’t built like a normal one, with little huts here and there while having stables for different animals beside them; but everyone actually lived inside the trees’ crowns or on tree-houses, while the stables were also built atop the great branches of the trees. Suspended bridges of rope and wooden planks united branches after branches, tree after tree, creating an entire suspended village where little children, old people or single women resided, trying to survive day by day as they all seemed sick and skinny.
“Just what the hell…” → Shen
Even though the village was beautifully created, I was rather surprised by the huge amount of dark miasma that covered the entire place, showing sickness and hopelessness from the villagers. Also, at the base of the huge trees, there were rotting corpses from which thick black miasma was still emanating in the air.
“These are the ones marginalized. The ones born in slums like me, either forced to exile, killed for no reason, or forced to do some other detestable things. “ → Alexander
“… Why are they so sick? I can see you guys have cattle as a resource for food while you are enough for hunting as well. Right? Why even turn into bandits?” → Shen
Alexander nodded his head while walking toward some stairs made from planks nailed on the trees and started climbing slowly.
“Yeah. You could say we got plenty. But don’t forget that we’re right beside the Danger Zone, Eihwaz. The deadly miasma from those places is simply too much for the weak, and because the slavery is banned, they’re unable to at least sell themselves into slavery to have a secure future source of food. Like so, they’re simply just sitting ducks for beasts or other bandits.” → Alexander
“Sell themselves as slaves? Why would you do so?” → Shen
I levitated by his side while he was climbing the stairs toward the first bridge of the tree, where he then calmly walked toward a little hut built on top of a thick branch. The other bandits each climbed their own tree to visit their own goods while some formed groups to go toward a little tavern that was, in truth, the deposit of alcohol for the bandits. Alexander’s eyes were heavy as his expression neutral.
“When hunger takes over you and death is staring at you from the corner, you would sell even your freedom for some bread. The nobles think that by disbanding slavery, they actually made us a good, but the ones from the slums have nothing but their freedom to sell for food. Now being unable to give at least that much, what else can they sell? Nobles think that pride and honor are more valuable than life, but I never saw a noble eat pride or drink honor to stay alive. Thinking that by abolishing slavery they made everyone a good, they forgot to also lessen the taxes and rigid order for the lower classes, giving us no other solution but to beg, for our women to become prostitutes, while for the rest to turn into bandits.” → Alexander
“What about the cattle? I can see you guys got quite some-…” → Shen
I frowned as I observed the eyes of some of the sheep turning bright red as a demonic air surrounded them.
“Ah, you observed? Even though we have some meat on us, most of it is already contaminated by miasma. We only keep them for leather and wool. The demonic meat can’t be consumed by us of the races while the miasma is also slowly corrupting some of us. Well, we were able to combat the miasma with some medicinal plants found around these places, but lately, we’re slowly running out of them. We might need to migrate again before we get wiped out.” → Alexander
I listened intently until we finally reached the little hut where Alexander opened the door and entered without even knocking.
“Aye! Daddy’s home!- Guh!”
Suddenly, a wooden bowl of porridge welcomed him in the face then the voice of a young boy resounded in an irritated tone.
“Damn Ben! What do you mean-… Dad?”
Inside the little hut, there were only two wooden beds covered with animal fur and in the middle of it a clumsily crafter wooden table with three wooden chairs. The windows were covered with lairs of thin leather while the place for the fire was right outside the hut, behind it, where they would cook their food or grill the meat. At the moment, at the table there stood a young boy with fit muscles all over his body, scars visible on his arms while having as clothes only some fur with leather, looking like a barbarian from the mountains with red hair and brown eyes. Beside him, at the table, a young girl, smaller than the boy, with brown hair and green eyes, was completely covered in fur while trembling from the cold. One would be able to see some kind of bandages covering her left arm from the elbow to her fingers. While the boy seemed strong and fit, the girl seemed worryingly tinny and thin. At the moment she was eating a bowl of porridge made from raw legumes, some boiled medicinal plants, with some pieces of over-grilled meat, exactly like what Alexander was forced to taste after having it splashed all over his face.
Alexander wiped the porridge from his face and smiled terrifyingly at the boy.
“Brat. It seems you’re still misbehaving. Should I discipline you again?” → Alexander
Seeing his father’s sinister smile, the boy trembled for a moment then hastily came with an argument.
“W-wait! It’s not my fault that you suddenly came in like that! Lately, that f***** Ben would come in unannounced to tease Amalia for being weak and skinny! And he’s also talking crap about how she might turn into a zombie like the others!”
“Brother! Don’t call me skinny… Cough!”
“B-but you are skinny…”
The girl reprimanded him with a pout while he scratched his head with a wry smile. I gazed at the girl while using Devil’s Eyes and saw a dark miasma covering her aura in the chest-area and some more around her limbs, especially around her left arm which was completely covered in black smoke.
…Hmm… I can guess that if she’s not quickly treated then she’ll die of tuberculosis. Even though the virus is yet to be activated, the cold she caught is slowly waking up a future cause of a slow and painful death… As for “turning into a zombie”… that might happen even faster. → Shen
As Alexander ruffled the young boy’s hair as revenge for having porridge thrown in his face, he once again remembered about me who was still waiting for his introduction, right beside the entrance. The girl also observed me and asked with a confused face.
“Father? Who is he?”
She pointed at me naively and this made me stare at Alexander like at an incapable father that was unable to raise his children right. Alexander misunderstood my irritation and announced with a proud face as if trying to please me.
“Oh right, I forgot to introduce you lot to my boss.” → Alexander
Both of them looked at me in a daze, unable to understand how someone of a Grandmaster rank got subdued by a young man like myself. Then I bowed my head lightly and introduced myself but keeping the muffin on together with the hood, not letting the two of them see my face.
“The name is Johan Hanover. Now can I hear your names?” → Shen
The two kids stared at me then the young boy said somewhat plainly.
“Dad, are you sure he’s your boss? He looks so skinny- Ouch!”
“You brat! If you wish to keep your tongue then you better not spout crap!” → Alexander
Alexander punched the boy’s head and scolded him, and then the little girl stepped forward and while staring at me with big eyes as she introduced herself.
“M-my name is Amalia, the daughter of my father, Alexander.” → Amalia
“Nice to meet you, Miss Amalia.” → Shen
“M-Miss?!” → Amalia
She reddened and hid her face in the thick fur of her clothes, stealing glances my way.
Alexander and the little boy stopped fighting and glared daggers at me for some reasons. But I simply ignored them as I reached out and patted her ruffled and long-haired head.
I already told Alexander I’ll treasure his belongings as my own. If she’s his daughter then is my job to heal her. → Shen
I absorbed the dark miasma from inside her aura and filled the emptied space with pure energy so she won’t be in a weakened state in this infested environment. Moreover, she might actually even heal up completely if she were to train from now on.
The little girl felt how a weight she wasn’t aware of, was suddenly lifted from her chest and limbs, toward her head, and then inside my palm as her before cold heart, warmed and a feeling of relaxation and wellbeing enveloped her entire body. She didn’t feel like coughing, nor was she feeling cold anymore now. With wide-open eyes, she stared at her own hands and felt how the amount of animal fur on her made for sweat to appear because of the insupportable heat.
“Ooh! It’s too hot!”
She took off fur after fur, until she remained with only enough to cover her body, the limbs being free and visible, except for the left arm that was still covered by the bandages.
“W-wait! Amalia?! What are you doing!? Your cold won’t heal like that!”
The young boy rushed toward her and threw all that fur back on her in a hurry.
“Wait! Stop! Stupid brother! I don’t need them anymore! Look! I’m healed!”
She threw the fur down again then opened her arms in front of her brother as if presenting herself to him. The young boy didn’t trust her as he continued to cover her with the fur. As the two siblings continued playing around, Alexander walked toward me and asked surprised.
“So you can do such things as well?” → Alexander
“It’s something that a Soul Seer should be able to do as well.” → Shen
“A Soul Seer, huh… They are damn rare and only the nobles can get their assistance for good money. Are you a Soul Seer?” → Alexander
“I can be whatever I wish.” → Shen
“What?” → Alexander
Alexander looked dazed at me then I changed the subject and asked.
“So? Who are these two? Are they really your kids?” → Shen
“Tsk. You’re damn sharp. The girl is Amalia, while the boy is Owen, both orphan idiots that call me father for a reason or another. But what gave me away?” → Alexander
“These kids don’t look like you at all.” → Shen
“Yeah. It seems I’m too handsome after all.” → Alexander
“It’s quite the opposite.” → Shen
“Shut up.” → Alexander
He laughed merrily as we both looked at the two children, Owen trying to dress her while Amalia trying to dodge his every attempt.
“So yeah, these two aren’t my brats, but some orphans whose father died after a failed attempt to steal from a noble, while their mother turned into a zombie one year ago. I made sure to make her rest while they were away, and simply told them that she died after searching for medicinal plants in the woods, the monsters taking her life away in combat…” → Alexander
He plainly explained in a hushed tone, but I was more than able to see a deep feeling of guilt as he felt his hands smeared with the blood of their mother.
“… Sometimes a lie can also do good, not only bad. While the most ruthless actions can be the most effective. Dying in battle is more honourable than turning into a zombie. Let them honour her image in their minds… And so? You thought of taking them under your wings after their true family was no more?” → Shen
“At first I simply wanted to have them as something like servants… But this and that happened and I ended up as their adoptive father. Oh well, life has its twists and turns.” → Alexander
I felt like laughing at his complicated expression, being able to see that in truth he just wished to raise them like a true father. Before I could ask anything else, Amalia hid behind me as Owen stepped in front of me with authority.
“Hey, you! Boss Johan! Get outta the way!”
Alexander, rather than stop Owen from doing anything funny, he thought of stepping back and see how I was handling things, not afraid that I might actually harm him.
I glanced then at Owen and with a mocking smile, I asked amused.
“You think you can order me? Don’t you know? In this world, only the strong can give out orders, while the weak will obey.” → Shen
“Then I’ll make you obey me!”
He shot out towards me, faked a punch at my face then dashed to the right and with quick moves, he let out a roundhouse kick at my groins.
What dirty tricks. → Shen
I grabbed his leg then threw him outside the little hut.
He rolled to ameliorate the impact then got back up on his legs, staring dumbfounded at me. I was also a bit surprised seeing how fast he reacted.
“You got some skills, kid.” → Shen
“But of course, I’ve trained him until he was bleeding.” → Alexander
“… Is this how a father should be?” → Shen
“Life is tough and I can’t pamper him when I can barely pamper myself.” → Alexander
Alexander shrugged his shoulders as if it had nothing to do with him. While I was looking at Alexander, Owen suddenly rushed towards me again, this time with a rock in his hand.
“So he’s used to fight against the strong, huh? But what will he do when his opponent is simply too strong?” → Shen
Owen suddenly threw the rock at my face then got down and tried to trip me. At this, I didn’t even move. The rock simply bounced off my head as if it hit a wall, while Owen struck my legs as if he just hit an iron pole.
He got up and grabbed at his leg while jumping on the other. I smiled amused while he stared at me irritated. He then pointed at me and shouted out:
“YOU! My father is Grandmaster rank while I am a Great Fighter! What is YOUR rank?!”
“Oh, that’s a good question.” → Shen
Alexander nodded as well. Being unable to feel my aura, he always thought that I was with at least two whole ranks above him. However, right now my aura was oscillating way too much, making for nobody to pinpoint my power-rank accurately. Being so, I released the actual level of power which was the lowest and said.
“It seems I’m a Core Warrior at the moment. Still stronger than you, kid.” → Shen
Both Owen and Alexander stared at me dumbfounded for a moment then I shook my head and asked something else.
“Anyway, what are these children’s age? They seem to be quite young.” → Shen
“I-I’m 14!” → Amalia
“And I’m 15! Do you have a problem with that? Huh?!” → Owen
Amalia said from behind me while Owen stared at me annoyed.
“Hm~ and you? What’s your rank?” → Shen
I asked Amalia after I finally remembered about her presence behind me.
“I’m still Disciple of the last stage…” → Amalia
“She was sick for a while now. Because she was unable to eat or train, her rank has been behind the other brats around these places.” → Alexander
Alexander explained while patting her head. She left him pat her and she even grabbed his hand from atop her head, as if trying not to let him retract his protective palm.
After this little incident, Alexander, his brats and I, walked around the village as I looked around for other sick people and tried to heal them all back to full health. Just like Amalia’s arm, some of them already had decomposing body-parts because of the sickness, looking as if the plague has struck them. After sucking out the dark energy from inside them, the decomposition stopped and the skin-tissues started to slowly fall then recover and heal, making for a complete recovery in around two months or so.
While strolling around I heard from Alexander that with the money they get from stealing and robbing, they buy edible food, new weapons and sometimes clothes and healthy cattle from the neighboring villages. Their group has been called the Last Cause because this is the only and last option Alexander came up with so this little village can continue existing, also the only reason why this group of bandits exists in the first place.
“The village hasn’t been built that long ago because of the continuous migrations, but the entire villagers have been gathered together quite a few years ago by an idiotic group of brats from the slums who didn’t wish to be like their fathers: rapists, drunkards, or murderers. From that group, I was the most idiotic of ‘em all, the leader. My boys and I tried to get real jobs to become craftsmen or at least a craftsman’s disciple. But ain’t nobody would take bastards like us under their wings, ye? Because we had different ideals, our group was hunted down by other brats our age or even by some thugs from the same slums as us. We lived day by day simply eating from trash or by begging for some money and food. We tried our best not to steal and do nothing wrong, but nobody would ever put us in their eyes. Even the churches were against us, trying to make an example of us all, saying s*** like:
This is what happens to the abandoned children! So if you don’t wish for your child to be the same, take good care of them!
We were just another example of how NOT to and this only made us revolt even more. No one accepted us while the place from where we left tried to hunt us down, also the reason why I almost lost an eye. Then! A thought struck me: How am I supposed to change? How am I supposed to build a future for myself and for my future family, when my starting point is rotten when my road has been damned since the beginning and nobody gives us at least a chance because of our appearance and background? At that moment I understood that my destiny has been s*** from the moment I was born in the slums, so I thought that the best way would be to create a place for the future generations that wish to change and have a change in the future.” → Alexander
“And so you decided to dirty your hands for someone else’s future, right?” → Shen
Alexander narrated to me while holding hands with Amalia and then I asked with a neutral face while looking forward, Owen leading us all in front as we walked from a tree to another around the village.
“If they need an example of the worst, then I’ll give them the best example.” → Alexander
“And such, you ended up being labeled as an evil man.” → Shen
“Evil… I already tried to be good, but they kicked me out. Now, what other choice do I have? Listen here, Johan: the man is not evil by the moment he’s born, but what makes him evil is the society he lives in and what has been taught to him along with his life. Now for a person who has been given the image since the birth of How NOT to be all his life, In what else was I supposed to change if not into this? I wanted peace, but they gave me hatred. I wanted work, they almost locked me up for no reason. They made us into bandits by condemning us since our births. We never choose this lifestyle, it was imposed on us.” → Alexander
Alexander said with an indifferent and a matter-of-fact face on. Even though he tried to seem as nonchalant and have a calm expression, I was still able to read indignation and hate in his eyes, his fist also being clenched hard. Even Amalia felt something wasn’t right as she felt Alexander’s hand tremble. He clenched only one fist, but the other still showed his inner emotions.
“… I understand your words. And now I also understand your actions. But if you’re doing so for someone else’s good, then nobody has the right to speak of evil in your name.” → Shen
“… I know, right?” → Alexander
I felt like someone needed to tell him this, seeing how he suddenly froze in place then resumed his walk after a few moments, a beaming smile on his face as the darkness in his heart diminished exponentially.
After we finally finished healing everyone, the night came and we returned to the little hut. Alexander made the two children go to sleep while he and I stood outside on top of another branch and continued talking. He told me about how he first thought of creating the village after seeing more and more children dying from hunger and women forced into prostitution for having no food. The village has been built in less than a few months and the villagers are only people from the slums who wished to live in a place where they and their families won’t need to worry every night over the possibility of waking up with a stranger inside their little homes. Everyone decided to follow Alexander while he, with a selected group of strong men, choose to dirty their hands for more money so they all could survive. Even so, he never expected that everything might actually be for naught as they were unable to live in peace even at the borders. Their only option left was the border with Eihwaz, but the miasma was simply too much for them, need to migrate from a place to another after 3 months because of the lack of medicinal herbs that could combat the miasma found around the great trees. Although he said nothing about it and didn’t let it show, I was able to read a lot of frustration and indignation at the failures he had suffered along the years in his eyes, feeling the failures of his past attempts to live a peaceful life with his group of people, now heavily pressuring him like a great burden on his shoulders. Although always smiling and laidback, God knows just how much stress and frustration he had accumulated along the years, having his men die because of the choices he made, needing to kill his people that turned into zombies from the miasma and moving from one place to another, continuously weakening his group.
Now I understand just how he became this strong… Once receiving such burdens, a man has only two options: either to die, or grow stronger to be able to carry them. For a simple bandit who lived in the slums, with nobody backing him up or sustaining him, to be able to reach such heights in power on his own… I can say that Alexander is a godly being in his own way to awaken like this, with a character of a true Hero. → Shen
While listening to his narration and thinking for myself, I suddenly said while staring at the huge blue moon.
“Alexander, bring your people to my kingdom.” → Shen
“Yeah, and-… what?” → Alexander
He stared baffled at me, as if he just heard something wrong, then I continued with a serious expression on.
“I need you to work with your best. If your mind would wander all the time and worry about this village’s wellbeing then I won’t be able to use you at anything.” → Shen
Alexander frowned and asked with a deep voice.
“Are you saying you’ll keep my people as hostages? Or what.” → Alexander
As always, his questions were direct and crude, but this was also a reason why I had some respect for him.
“I already told you, didn’t I? I promised I’ll take care of what’s yours like is my own. They won’t be treated as hostages, but as residents of the kingdom. This, I can guarantee it to you.” → Shen
“Just who are you?” → Alexander
Hearing all of this, a deeper gaze stared at me in curiosity, becoming more and more curious of just who in the world was his new boss.