The Chronicles of Estiah

Chapter 6: Hostage

Nikkum put his hand in the bag, picked out some pieces of gold and threw them at the girl: "Go and bury your brother."

Elissa shook her head and didn't try to catch the falling shiny pieces that her brother bet his life on.

"So get lost."

Nikkum always hated children. Weak, demanding, capricious, they were just annoyance and trouble to him. And to be honest, he didn't know at all how to handle them. Usually his monster-like body and bloody odor would be enough to chase them away, be it child or anyone. But this was not working on Elissa, her eyes showed so much hatred and vengeance that even Nikkum had to look away.

He continued on his path, without paying any attention to the little girl. She might have wanted to avenge her brother's death, but what could a twelve-year-old kid do to a mighty fighter such as himself? She would probably stop following him after she got tired or sleepy, and once she got home her parents would hear the worst news in their lives- that their son died in a match against a barbarian. Then they would cry together and get hungry, they might start to think more about the next day instead of mourning some dead body forever.

This was what Nikkum thought, what he expected. Nikkum never felt guilt, even less so worry. He just didn't like the surprised look of travelers seeing a man soaked in blood with a little girl following him. He needed to find a place to get rid of his stinking clothes, as for the first time in many days he felt the need to clean himself up. He was very used to the reek of blood, but today's loser's blood smelt much worse than usual. The more he thought about the filthy odor, the more it became unbearable. His senses were giving up, as well as his mind. He wandered in the city for quite a while, the usually greedy and clinging innkeepers seemed to vaporize altogether from this world, no one would come and beg him to stay for a night when he needed that. Rage was slowly building up inside of him; the next unlucky guy to bother him would probably lose his life without knowing why. His steps were speeding up as he grew irritated.

Unexpectedly, he spotted a small and broken-down hostel in the corner of the street. As he rushed in, the old clerk almost had a heart attack thinking Nikkum was some thug: "Please don't... hurt us, sir... We're just running a small business..."

"Shut up, I just want to stay for a night." Nikkum had already lost his patience.

"Oh... a room.... of course..." the old clerk was still trembling in fear, forgetting the job he had been doing since his youth. Shortly after he understood Nikkum was not going to smash his head against the wall, he asked humbly, "and is this young lady with you too, sir?"

Nikkum had completely forgotten about the girl. She was still at his back, obviously quite fatigued from all the running earlier. She appeared ready to collapse at any moment, but something in her eyes were telling Nikkum that she was not going to give up.

Nikkum didn't answer the question; he started to move up the stairs, without asking for the clerk to lead the way. The poor old keeper was in quite a panic and unsure if Nikkum had said something. After pondering over the situation that could cost him his head, he made the most daring bet in his whole pitiful life; he took Nikkum's action as a yes.

"This way please, my young lady." the clerk preferred addressing the little girl since even a slight glance at the monster over there might shorten his life by ten years.

Probably in his panic, the clerk failed to notice that the room he took Nikkum and Elissa to had only one bed in it. And to make his mistake worse, he ran off without delay after the shortest "good night" in his life. Nikkum didn't have time to check the room either; his main concern was to be relieved by changing into some less smelly clothes. By the time that he was done and wanting to rest, he discovered the only bed in the room had been taken by the little girl. Elissa's sleeping face was quiet and innocent, just like any ordinary child of her age. Nikkum could hardly believe he had seen her furious and hostile eyes at the exit of the coliseum. She likely hadn't eaten anything the whole day, and her brother's death must have also been a great shock to her young and weak mind, especially after witnessing Nikkum's brutal and cruel way of killing.

He tried to stop thinking about what had happened, but the girl was here, right in front of him. The dying brother's face was glaring at him in his mind. He never remembered the face of all the "losers" that he had killed before, but this one was probably going to stay with him for some time. His head began to hurt, he had to stop thinking. He was standing next to the bed, but still he could smell blood. With his clothes changed, his hands washed, he still could smell blood. His look fell on his hands. They were crimson, soaked in a slightly viscous liquid. Slowly, he raised his look toward little girl in the bed which was completely covered in red, motionless, lifeless.

"Sorry... Sir... Excuse-me, I forgot to ask you if you wish anything to eat." an anxious voice brought Nikkum back to reality.

There was no blood on Elissa, she was only sleeping.

Nikkum gave a murderous look to the old man, as though the poor thing was not only trying to offer some service. The clerk let out a scream and tried to run off again.

"Wait!" Nikkum's voice stunned the clerk at the door. He appeared to be petrified, not daring to turn back and meet his doom.

"Bring me some food."

"Ye...s, yes, Sir!" This announcement was definitely the best relief the clerk ever had in his life, exceeding even the time when his wife told him she loved him too. The monster only wanted some ordinary food, not his flesh and bone. "Right away, sir!"

Before the ghostly face could come back to haunt Nikkum, the clerk had already prepared the food. A small hostel had little to offer, but the food Nikkum was offered could even be called luxurious. After Nikkum handed over some pieces of gold, the old clerk retreated from the room, in what was probably the happiest moment of his life.

The food was way too much even for a man like Nikkum. As his bed was taken by Elissa, Nikkum sat in a corner of the room, and dozed off.

The night in the city was quiet. Despite the early irritation and nervousness, Nikkum hadn't had such a quiet night for a long while.

Suddenly, Nikkum felt that someone with malicious intent stood before him. His warrior's instincts told him he was in great danger and he jumped up. Many times he was assaulted during his rest, so he unconsciously always stayed alert and ready. But this time he failed to sense the enemy's approach, his wildly thumping heart was telling him he might meet his demise for real. On the impulse, he pushed out in front of him, as he could not back off at the corner.

But he touched someone small. That was Elissa. She was projected several meters back and fell on her behind.

"It's only you." Nikkum quickly regained control of his sense, and was relieved to see no other than Elissa. Embarrassed by his overreaction, he threatened the poor girl with some harsh words "Do that again and I tear you apart."

Elissa stared at the man who pushed her away out of the blue. Maybe thanks to her childish appearance, Nikkum had absolutely no idea what she was thinking or what she was going to do. Then he noticed a small purple gem on the ground, from the shape of the rune he could tell that was a Charm holding a dagger in it. Since he never used the "pitiful weapons" as he called them, the gem must belong to the girl. Nikkum leaned toward the gem, but Elissa threw herself on it before he could pick it up. Her eyes in tears, she looked at Nikkum with a sad and miserable face.

"That's why I can't stand kids." Nikkum shrugged, "This junk must be a precious memory of your dear brother, I presume?"

Elissa nodded slightly, ignoring Nikkum's ironic tone.

It was already daytime; Nikkum had to resume his journey, or more precisely, his wandering. He was wrong about the girl giving up at the first day, but he was confident that she could never keep up with the perilous journey in Estiah. He began to gather his belongings at his normal pace, he was not in a hurry, and the girl was no danger to him. She sure had her reasons to hate him, she sure held onto some "weapon" Charm, but as long as the Charm's owner was unable to release the contents, it was as useless as any ordinary shiny stone. He saw the girl pack up some leftover food on the table. Better bring it along than waste it, poor people always cling on to food, Nikkum told himself.

As the bizarre pair stepped out of the hostel, the old clerk finally relaxed all of his muscles, especially the ones that kept up the brightest smile when he sent them off. That past night would be one of the most extraordinary adventures he would be able to tell to his grandchildren.

Nikkum headed out of the city with the little girl following him tightly. Since he put on some clean clothes last night, he drew less attention to himself. Still a few people gave the pair a despising glance on the road, the spectacular way Nikkum finished his opponent being probably common news in this small city after all. He walked as he did usually, not slowing down to match Elissa's pace nor speeding up to get rid of her. A fearless warrior didn't have to run away from a little girl, did he? And the girl didn't say a single word on the road. Had he not looked back occasionally, he would have probably forgotten someone was still following him.

Half a day passed, nothing happened. Nikkum found himself taking more rests than usual, but definitely not because of the girl, he told himself. The road became less and less visible as they moved away from the city. The surroundings started giving off an eerie feeling, and the sky was dominated by gloominess too. Nikkum didn't like this; the little girl probably hated it more. However, they were still walking, one before, the other behind.

"Leave all your gold!" A man with an unpleasantly acute voice yelled at Nikkum, "If you want your girl to see tomorrow's sun!"

Nikkum turned around slowly to see that three strong men had caught Elissa. They wore a lot of Charms on them, probably stolen through the same trick. The weak girl was shivering in fear like a wounded pet beside these men. She would have called for help in a usual situation, but here and now, the only man available to help was her worst enemy.

"Leave your gold!" the bandits' order fell onto Nikkum's deaf ears, "we won't repeat it a third..."

"Go ahead and kill her." Nikkum turned his back to these men and resumed his walk.