Chapter 9: Tripa village
"This is awkward." I thought, facing the road. I tried to look anywhere but at him. I could feel my face getting hot and my hands starting to shake. I knew I had to say something, but I just couldn't find the right words.
Ax was sitting on the couch in the living room. He played Aiden's baseball not paying attention to me. After I explained to him why I'm looking for the man in the picture, he is also searching for him to train him to be stronger. Afterward, he accompanied me and we both ventured out to look for him.
So, now here we are: alone, inside an RV...It's so awkward. We sat in silence, neither knowing what to do next. I finally managed to look him in the eyes and clear my throat.
"Hey, um, you like music?" I said my voice barely above a whisper.
After bouncing the ball for a while, he stopped it and looked at me without saying a word.
I smiled weakly. "I have some enjoyable songs. I bet you'll love to hear. How about I play with them now?"
Without thinking I started playing the song on the RV's radio.
"Let's boogie! (Boogie out!)"
"Let's boogie! -
My face turned red when I realized I had accidentally put Mom and Dad's music on. I quickly switched to another song and laughed it off.
"Sorry, The songs were my parents'" I laughed nervously. "They just wouldn't let it pass listening to their old music back when they were young."
"It's fine. I understand." Ax nodded. "It's funny to hear music from a different generation."
"Yeah, I know! It's like a time capsule. Does your family listen to their old music?"
Ax made a face. Realizing what I had said, I covered my mouth. "OH MY GOD, I'm so sorry I didn't mean to."
"Didn't mean what?" he asked, raising an eyebrow. I could feel my cheeks heating up. I had to fight the urge to look away.
"I...I didn't mean to insult you," I stammered. "It must have been heartbreaking to lose your parents."
"Lost my parents? What you think they're dead or something?"
I paused, not knowing what to say.
He looked at me, his face a mix of confusion and anger. "No, they're not dead. They just were taken away as I said before."
"Taken by who? The same guy who gives you that scar?"
He sighed, his expression becoming resigned. "Yes. He's the one."
He paused, then added in a quiet voice, "He's powerful. We can't fight him unless I become stronger. That's why I'm looking for the man in the picture."
"But why can't you hire a guardian to fight your enemy FOR YOU? Did you not hear what Mr. Ocus said at the dinner table?"
"I DID hear the old dwarf, but despite this, no way any guardian can help me. Even if I can afford it, they won't help me fight my enemy. I have to do it myself." He sighed heavily.
"That's the stupidest excuse I have heard! Why would a guardian refuse to help you? Are guardians supposed to do their job and help people in need?"
He looked away. "Why am I telling you all this? I must be stupid. Listen, Miller, it's better if you don't know about me."
"What the hell are you saying? You make no sense! Why can't guardians help you?"
He snaps at me, "AND WHY ARE YOU TRAVELING ALONE, UN-SLAVED HUMAN?".
I was taken aback and couldn't answer immediately. I just stood there, speechless.
"I COULD ASK YOU THE SAME THING, I'M AMAZED THAT THE DWARVES JUST LET YOU PASS THROUGH WITHOUT YOUR MASTER'S CONSENT! SO TELL ME MILLER, WHO ARE YOU? AND WHERE ARE YOU FROM?"
I looked at him, taken aback by his sudden outburst. I didn't respond because I was too scared.
"Li-mie said I must not tell anyone I'm from another world but would it be alright if I told another human?" I thought. "But why am I hesitating? Why am I too scared to talk?"
"You see? You can't tell me, Jack." Ax said slouching back into his seat. "It would be best if you didn't ask so many questions about us. We need to keep our own affairs in order. There are things we would rather not talk about ourselves"
I wanted to tell him, but I was terrified of what he might do. I couldn't bring myself to say the words out loud. I knew I had to keep this secret.
I nodded in agreement then turned to face the road again. I glanced at him out of the corner of my eye, trying to read his expression. He seemed relieved and I could almost feel the tension in the air dissipate.
"Anyway, do you know where we are right now?" I said, looking around.
Ax pulls out his map and reads. "We're still in Tripa village, just 3 minutes away and we'll be in the town square."
Ax folds the map until it's small enough to fit in his left pocket. "How come you don't know the way? Do you have a map? Do you even know where you are going?"
"No, I don't," I answered. "I usually just follow my intuition and it's never led me astray."
"WHAT?" Ax looked at me incredulously. "You should really plan out your decisions more. It's not always smart to trust your gut."
"I'm sorry, I've never been here before!" I looked away. "Besides, it happened so fast. Li-Mei screamed at me and kicked me out without explaining why. I was scared. So, I ran to the RV, turned on the engine, and drove off."
Ax looked confused. "Why did she kick you out?"
I shook my head. "I don't know. I just wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible." I glanced back at the staff lying in a passenger's seat. "Maybe it's because of this?"
"The stupid staff?" He said. "Listen, I meet a lot of witches and wizards but if you look at the perspective, they are pretty weak. All you have to do is just break their wands and they are completely helpless."
"But I could understand why she was scared of the staff. It was so powerful. I nearly die from touching the yellow stone."
Ax's face turned pale. "What? Do you mean the stone attached to the staff?... That's impossible. No wand ever had that kind of power."
"Oh it's possible and I don't know how wizards or witches use it but it's real," I said but I could feel his eyes fixed on the staff.
"How do you think it is possible? How does your staff have so much power?"
"Well, look at you asking ME so many questions," I smirk. "As you said before, we need to keep our own affairs in order."
I can tell he's taken aback by my response. He stared at me for a few moments, trying to process what I had just said. He turned back to play baseball without saying another word.
I wanted to tell him about the staff it actually belongs to the Lord, but I just can't not when I told Li-mei. After telling her about the staff, she kicked me out without explanation.
I didn't want to cause any trouble, so I just left without saying anything. Li-mei's reaction worried me, and I started to think about what could have happened if Ax had known about the staff. I knew it was better to keep the truth to myself and stay away from the situation.
"Alright, that must be the town square." Ax pointed in the direction in front of us. "Miller let's park there."
I nodded in agreement and followed Ax. We parked the car I grabbed my stuff and got out. Ax led me towards the square and we explored the area.
The town looks to be in a state of beautiful, with the buildings looking like traditional German architecture. We could see a clock tower in the center of the square. People were bustling around, enjoying the day. The cobblestone streets painted a picturesque scene.
The sun was shining brightly and children's laughter could be heard in the distance. The smell of fresh bread and pastries wafted through the air. It was a truly idyllic place.
Most people on the streets wear unusual clothing. The fashion sense appears to be in the 1940s except they wore bright colors and intricate patterns, with some wearing masks and hats. Many of them had tattoos and piercings, and some even had feathers and beads in their hair.
People were also in all shapes and sizes, even their wearing animal costumes: some of them wore animal ears and tails, one of them had a horn on their head, others had wings stuck on their backs and others are just walking lizards. It's an amazing effort because their costumes look almost realistic.
It was a unique and vibrant scene, unlike anything I had ever seen before. I was mesmerized by the creativity and energy of the people on the street. It was a sight to behold.
"WOW THIS IS AMAZING, IS IT A COSTUME PARTY OR A FESTIVAL?" I ask Ax.
Ax looked dazed. "What are you talking about, Miller?"
"I'm talking about the amazing costumes and decorations here," I said, pointing around us. Ax was about to respond when I heard a familiar voice behind me.
"Odette? Is that you?"
I turn around to find Mr. Ocus wearing a chef's hat and an apron holding up a basket of cupcakes and mini cakes.
"Oh, it's you, Mr. Ocus!" I cheered. "Oh my gosh! You look so small than before! I hardly recognize you!"
He smiled looking at himself, "Uh? Did I get smaller? Did a witch cast a spell on me?"
He laughed. "It's been a while since I've seen you. What brings you here?"
I smiled, "I'm here to find the Adventurers Guild course! But also to find someone."
I pull out the old photo from my right pocket and show it to the small man. "Have you seen this man?"
The man stared at the photo closely. "He looks familiar to me. Like, I've met him before."
He pointed down the street. "I can't get the finger out of my head, but you might try the Adventurers Guild. They may be able to help you."
"Oh! Uh, okay! Thanks for the tip!"
As I turned to walk away, he stopped me. "Wait hold on for a sec! You have been traveling for a while and need a break. Why don't you come by and eat the same cake in my bakery?"
Before I could respond, Ax came behind me. "You can eat whatever your stomach can take. I got no time for this!"
He almost snagged my photo but I managed to dodge his hand. "What the hell? Li-Mei gave me this photo, jerk! I'm not giving it to you!"
Ax scowled and stepped away. I could tell he was angry but I couldn't help but laugh. He was usually so serious but this was a rare moment of comedy.
"Looks to me like you took my advice and let him tag along on your journey." Mr. Ocus smiled. "Now you two are starting your first party together."
We looked at the small man and then blushed.
"Yes, sir," I replied, embarrassed. "But we're just looking for one person that's all."
He nodded in approval and walked to Ax. "And you young man, take my advice and look after the girl."
Ax's cheeks reddened. "Tch! Whatever."
He grabbed my hand and walked away, still flushed. The old man chuckled and shook his head. "Ah, that boy is really something."
"So, this building is the Adventurers Guild?" I asked Ax, looking at the building in front of me.
The building looked in good condition, but the windows were shuttered and the place seemed strangely quiet.
He nodded. "This is the place," he said. "Let's go in and look."
We walk inside and I'm immediately in awe of the building's grandeur.
The walls were lined with portraits of past owners, and the furniture was draped in fine fabrics. Every corner was filled with antiques and artifacts. The air was heavy with a wood and leather smell. But there were also people there - people of all ages, dressed in old-fashioned clothes and animal costumes receiving gold from the receptionists (most of them female).
"Wow, this is an adventurer's guild?" I asked again.
"You repeated that question twice." Ax rolled his eyes. "Come on let's ask some people."
We walked to the bar and saw a group of people gathered around a table. We approached and they welcomed us to join them. Ax took the photo and show it to them.
"Hey, have you seen this guy?" Ax asked.
They said they had never seen the person in the photo before. Ax thanked them and we left the bar. We asked another person at the table, but they say they haven't. We asked everyone else in the Guild but no one recognized the person in the photo.
Eventually, we found ourselves sitting on a bench, staring at the photo. We had exhausted all possibilities and had no leads.
"I'm dead tired," Ax said lying his head on a cold wall.
"I don't understand. Why are we getting nowhere? I could have sworn that at least one person knew who this guy was!"
I stare at the old photo. I'm thinking this is a fool's errand. I take a deep breath and turn to the redhead. "I'm planning to talk to one of the receptionists but if we don't get our answer we'll take a break. Maybe a fresh perspective will help."
The redhead nodded in agreement. I prepare myself and approach the receptionist. I'm ready to ask difficult questions.
The young blonde receptionist finished her client and turned to me smiling. She had dog ears popping out of her head and a cute dog snout. Her costume looks like a dog-human hybrid. I was taken aback but was also quite charmed by her. I couldn't help but smile back.
"Good afternoon, young ma'am. Are you interested in joining the Adventure Guild?"
I shook my head. "No, I'm just here to ask you some questions."
She smiled warmly. "Please ask me anything."
"Oh my god she's so cute," I thought taking the photo out of my pocket and placing it on the wooden table.
"Can you please tell me if you know this person?"
The girl took her time to analyze the picture, her hands trembling as she touched it. "Yes, I know him."
My ears twitched as I stared at her in amazement, finally. Someone who knows! "Oh my gosh! Do you know who this guy is? Please tell me! I've been looking for him!"
She smiled and said, "I think I do. I rarely see him that much. When I was younger, he used to be my old neighbor. He rarely talked to people or went outside, but I always found him to be generous and kindhearted. He always helped me out when I needed it. One time he taught me how to swordfight and gave me advice on how to protect myself."
She continued. "But that was a long time ago, he moved out of my old village and then moved here near the town in the deep forest. I rarely see him anymore, but his memories still make me smile. I'm glad I got to know him and learned from his wisdom. He was an exceptional teacher and friend."
Her dog's twitching ears caught my attention. I glanced at the dog's ears mesmerized by how it twitched. "My god, how are you pulling this off?"
"Excuse me? Pull what off?"
"YOU'RE EARS OF COURSE!" I yelled, pointing at her dog's ears. "Like seriously? Where did you get the budget to look like this real? It's amazing how they look like real ears. I've never seen such realistic dog ears before-"
I let out my hand and pulled the ears off her head but to my surprise, it didn't. My heart sinks in shock as I suddenly realize the ears are real. As I pull again, the girl screams in pain, forcing me to stop.
"Ow! What the hell is wrong with you? "Don't you know it's not polite to pull a demi-girl's ears?" She snaps, clutching her dog's ears in her hands.
Stepping back, I stepped on Wolfman's tail, which caused him to scream in pain.
"HEY, WATCH WHERE YOU ARE STEPPING!" The wolfman yelled at me.
"Y-you're a dog," I stumbled. "You're a walking, talking dog."
The wolfman glared. "I'm more than a dog, I'm a werewolf. And I'm gonna bite your whole head off if you don't get out of my space!" He snarled and pushed me to the ground.
I scrambled to my feet and soon saw everyone looking at me. Taking second looks, they were not humans, they were real lizard men drinking beer in the bar. They were also small girls with butterfly wings flying around the room. A giant centaur played the piano in the corner.
They are all monsters.
I was terrified, standing in the middle of the room, not knowing what to do. Suddenly, I felt a hand on my shoulder and a deep voice saying, "Miller, are you okay?"
I turn to see Ax looking worried. That's when I noticed his pupils again: Emerald green and vertical eyes.
Then it hit me. He was one of them.