Hello readers, it's the 7th chapter :) and this correlates to Episode 7 too. It's really hard trying to put down EVERYTHING that happens in episodes on story form so I've been trying to add some extra things too. You'll know what the new things are because they revolve around Jia but... yeah TT_TT Anyway, they aren't that nice to Jia in this chapter too lol.
Tsume heard the sound of a gun cocking and immediately sprang awake, bolting upright in his spot with caution. He was greeted with the sight of the human female, who was loading her gun with the shells she had brought with her. She heard him wake up too, and threw a quick glance to him across the cave. At her feet, the runt of the pack was still curled up and fast asleep, with a little smile on his face. Porky was still snoring away. Kiba was nowhere to be seen.
She stared at him for a long time, expectantly.
"What the hell are you looking at?" He growled out, and finally, the blasted smelly human turned away to face her gun.
"...You were whining," She said flatly, "In your sleep."
He had the urge to rip her lips off her face. "Tch." He grunted, but he ultimately found that he had nothing to retort back.
"So," She began, and he glowered at her silently for he had no desire to carry a conversation with her, "You're a wolf."
There was a silence. Since Kiba had already told her, he figured there would be no point in denying it. "Yeah, so?"
She glanced down, at her gun, which she had now placed gingerly across her lap. She took a deep breath, then sighed, "I didn't think I'd be actually talking to one. It's kind of refreshing."
"Good for you." He remarked with a sneer, before he got up to stand. He sauntered out of the cave to see Kiba sitting outside, staring at the bleak landscape that lay ahead of them, waiting to be tackled. "What the hell was going through your mind when you allowed her to stay with us?"
Kiba looked up at the dark gray wolf, then settled his gaze on the horizon once again. "She's heading to Black City, she's not staying with us."
"What do you call that in there then?" Tsume barked at him furiously, pointing to the inside of cave.
And from the cave, they could her shouting back, "I can hear you, you know!"
There was a loud snort before Hige rolled back to sit up, scratching at the back of his ear with his leg, "Urhh...what's with all the yelling? I was having such a good dream too." He moaned blearily, having woken up from the loud shouting that was taking place. Toboe was beginning to stir too, and with a loud yawn, the little one got up, rubbing at his eyes.
"Let's go." Kiba announced, and the two newly-awoken wolves blinked at him in shock.
"We just woke up!" Hige snorted, "Gimme a break, Kiba! I haven't even eaten anything yet."
Kiba shook his head in disapproval, "We can't afford to waste any time." He stood up abruptly and began to leave the cave entrance, all the while Tsume, Hige, Toboe and Jia stared at his retreating back from inside.
"Is he serious?" Hige demanded, before he got up to stretch. "Fine...come on, let's go. There's no use defying that guy."
Tsume was already moving, too. Toboe nodded and began to leave the cave, trailing after Hige rather tiredly. Jia immediately gathered her bag and followed the group out of the cave; she threw a quick glance over her shoulder to the cave then back towards the front. She wondered when the next opportunity to come across shelter like that would pass by. She didn't even know why they were all listening to Kiba, but all in all, she figured he was the leader. Her slow pace was also worrying her a little. Kiba was already very far ahead. Tsume was only a little behind. Even Toboe was further away from than she had imagined. "Jia, c'mon! Let's go." Toboe called to her, and she nodded in response, then jogged up to reach them.
Roughly three hours later, they left the desolate land and up ahead loomed a fine forest, with thick trees and deep, dark shrubbery. They made their way towards the forest and as usual, Kiba was at the very front, while Tsume was a little behind him. Hige was also closest to the two, while Toboe and Jia were last. The journey was silent. Nobody was really talking to each other.
Although Toboe was with her, she knew he could move a lot quicker, but he was only going slowly because she couldn't keep up. Her feet were beginning to hurt; the flat heels of her boots were killing her with each step, sending shooting pains through her feet. They'd been travelling for a long time. She didn't think she could do this for any longer. She'd eaten a small portion of her dry rations but her growling stomach was forcing her to want more of her limited food. And with no thanks to Hige, half of her water was gone and there was no way in hell they would miraculously find water here. It didn't feel like a good place to make camp though, not that she believed Kiba would allow any more pitstops anyway. Her shotgun and hunting knife were in an easily accessible position should they encounter anything hostile, but seeing how calm Kiba and the others were, she probably didn't have anything to fear.
"Sooo..." Hige drawled, as he suddenly reduced his pace to match Jia's. He dug his hands into his pockets as he waddled beside her, taking one stride at a time at a leisurely pace, "I don't think I introduced myself properly. I'm Hige."
"Jia." She replied.
"I remember you from Freeze City."
"Yeah, I remember you too."
"It's funny, huh? Like how I saw you, and you saw us and now we're walking together."
"You're heading to Black City, right?"
Hige watched her for a few more seconds until he pointed out, "Geez, you're not very talkative, are you? Lighten up."
Lighten up? She didn't really have any reason to, and she turned to him fully. At first, she had wanted to say something cheeky in respond to that, but when she contemplated Hige's words again, she realised he was just trying to get to know her. "...I..." She began, before she threw her gaze to the floor, "Things are a bit complicated right now, Hige."
Hige grinned weakly at her in response, "Well, yeah, I mean, you're bunking with us. How come you're not...I dunno, freaking out?"
Jia's expression dulled and she shrugged her shoulder up to stop her bag from falling off, "I guess nothing really surprises me anymore. It's just as Kiba said, nothing is impossible."
"Nothing that guy says really makes a lotta sense, ya know."
"But you're all following him."
"Eh, don't remind me."
"By the way...what kind of wolf are you?"
Hige's grin widened, "Me? I dunno, I'm a wolf. I'm brown and furry."
Jia assumed the wolves wouldn't exactly know the scientific name humans had given to determine the different type of species of wolf. "What about Toboe?"
"He's the kind of wolf that's small, brown and furry."
"He's a white wolf."
Jia then asked, "And what about Tsume?"
"He's a dark gray-ish color. It suits him."
She laughed, and suddenly, she halted in her tracks. "Wait!" She said loudly and the wolves stopped and turned to her, much to her surprise, because she didn't think they would. She blinked at each of them wordlessly and they responded to her with an equal blank stare, although Tsume was glaring at her (no surprises there). "I...um..." She was beginning to wiggle and hop around on one foot. "I-I need the bathroom. W-will you guys wait for me?" She fumbled with her words, her cheeks were reddening.
"Bathroom?" Hige and Toboe asked in unison, before Tsume sighed impatiently.
"You gotta be kidding me." He grunted under his breath, before he barked, "You just decided that you 'needed the bathroom' now?!"
Jia frowned at him in return, "No, I'd been holding it in for some time but now I really need to go! It's not my fault! D-don't worry, I'll be two seconds."
Kiba narrowed his eyes at her, "We can't afford to – "
"Two seconds!" She begged, "Please?"
But Kiba was dissuaded, "...If you can't keep up, then don't come along." Without another word, he turned away and continued. Tsume followed, and before long, Hige hurried after them too, shrugging.
Jia watched them miserably until she noticed Toboe hadn't moved from her side yet. "Toboe, you should go. Don't get left behind because of me. I'll catch up with you guys later."
He looked astonished she'd said that, and he squeaked out, "...Will you be okay?"
"Yeah, I'll be fine. I got my gun, my knife...I'll be fine. You should go."
She smiled, before she ruffled her hand through his hair, making him chuckle. "Will do. See you in a couple of seconds."
"Come on, runt! Get a move on or we'll leave ya behind!" Hige yelled, and Toboe quickened his pace, throwing a concerned glance over his shoulder to where Jia was. She rapidly made her way to the bushes and soon disappeared from view.
As soon as he arrived at Hige's side, he said, "Hey...doesn't this forest seem kinda strange to you? There aren't any animals around."
"Tell me sumthin'...you do know that you're a wolf, right?" Hige said derisively, "Think about it, genius, they probably ran off when they saw us coming."
"This is the problem with taking city kids to the woods."
"I was thinking...I haven't smelled the flower at all since we left that cave. I wonder if this is really the right way..."
His question sparked an interesting query and the rest of the wolves began to ponder. However, Kiba did not turn to them as expected, to give them some kind of indication that they were going the right way, and Tsume, on the behalf of almost everyone, said, "You wanna give us a clue here?"
"Sure." was Kiba's one-word reply.
"Where exactly are we headed?"
"And just what in the hell is guiding you there?"
"I'm going on instinct."
As Kiba continued, the trio stopped, and Hige lowered his head; with a sigh, he said, "Here we go again...I just wish it felt like we were getting closer...not that I'm complainin' or anything." However, Kiba did not respond, and instead, he hesitated, his attention now fixated at the sky. There was a bizarre ringing noise emitting that was now echoing around the forest. The noise made them all look up at the greying sky, but they could not see anything.
"That noise..." Tsume began.
"It's an airship." Hige replied, "It must be one of the Nobles."
"Urgh, I hate that sound..." said Toboe, clutching at his ears.
Suddenly, there was a rustle from one of the trees beside Toboe and out popped Jia. "I'm back!" She exclaimed; however, she was met with silence. "What'd I miss?" Jia blinked numbly at the wolves as they were now engrossed in staring upwards. "...What is it? What's everyone looking at?" In seconds, there was a loud explosion that made the ground rock and up ahead, was an array of bright, multicoloured lights that undoubtedly belonged to an airship. The explosion was enough to make everyone tumble; Jia's weakened feet lurched forwards and she found herself about to topple over until she accidentally bumped into Tsume who in return glared at her as soon as she came into contact with him. With a gasp, she peeled away from him as quickly as possible.
"Watch it." He grunted, while Toboe was clutching onto Hige for support.
"Arghh! What's going on?" The younger wolf yelped.
"Man, they're really going at it."
Kiba was the only one unaffected from the explosion that almost knocked everyone off their balance. "...She's there." He uttered, as though in a trance and he began to make his way towards the explosion.
Tsume was the first to respond to his action, "Hold it. It's nothing to do with us. Stay out of it."
But Kiba was still moving forwards, "I can feel it."
"I'm not sure...but it's so familiar..." Kiba murmured, before he turned to the rest of the group, clearly a little frustrated at their lack of reaction, "Come on, don't you guys feel anything at all?"
"Kiba!" Tsume yelled after him as he took off, but he was ignored.
Hmm, doesn't seem like they're very friendly with each other after all. Jia thought to herself, as Toboe meekly asked Hige if he could feel anything. All Hige responded was with a 'that guy is hopeless...'. However, the trio of wolves followed after him, and Jia was left alone. "Wait, where are you guys all going? Why are you going towards the explosion? It's not safe. We should be going around it, to avoid the Nobles. Guys...?" She was ignored, too. Honestly, she had been feeling invisible and ignored for a long time, but there was little she could do, since they were all wolves and she was the only human in the group.
She hurried after them, but the distance between the explosion and where they were right now was further than she expected. Breathless, and on the verge of throwing up, she felt her legs about to give way and she came to a skidding halt, having to hold onto a tree trunk for support. She felt her stomach curl into a tight knot, and turning to the side, she was about to vomit but forced herself to hold it in, to keep it together. Her feet felt like they were on fire now. So did her chest, her lungs, her stomach. Another step and she might actually fall apart. Looking up, she realised Toboe and Hige were too far away to notice the lack of a human member.
Jia watched helplessly as the rest of the wolves sprinted through the forest. There was no way in hell she could keep up. What was she thinking? She should've just taken the risk of public transport instead of having to slave away, having to put up with hours of walking and no rest. This was worst in almost every possible way. Before she reached Black City, surely she'd die here...
No, she didn't want to die, not here, not now!
Jia pushed herself off the tree and pressed onwards to see the faint outline of Toboe's back despite the fact that her feet felt like they were burning. She really didn't want to think this, but good for Toboe, for always being the last one...it meant she would at least be able to find them... Finally, she arrived at the foot of a mountain and joined the rest of the group.
"Jia, there you are!" Toboe exclaimed, "I was worried."
Although she wasn't really, she said "I'm fine," through wheezes and heavy, noisy gasps. This journey would really be the death of her, and she'd only just begun. This wasn't good at all. "Where are you guys going next?"
The answer came when Kiba leapt off and up, landing on a rock high, high above the ground. "Come on!" He said, and the rest of the wolves began to follow in his tracks, scaling the mountain through well-timed jumps.
"You're kidding me, right? You guys are crazy!" Jia squawked, before she rolled her sleeves hastily and grabbed onto a jutting slab of rock of the mountain. "...Okay, I can do this. I can do this. I-I can do this!" She hoisted one leg up to gain some footing and let her foot on one hold, and kicked at it a little. It was secure. She then lifted her other leg up so both her feet were now on the hold. Good, she hadn't fallen or hurt herself yet. Good...without further delay, she then proceeded to climb the mountain, albeit at an extremely slow pace. "Don't look down...don't look down..." She chanted to herself quietly. Jia managed to climb up to a considerable height before she decided to take a quick breather, clutching with shaking hands at a piece of the cliff. "Okay, whatever you do, Jia, don't look down." She murmured to herself, before she looked down.
She was very high up.
"Uwaaaghhh! Why did I just do that?! I'm an idiot! I'm an idiot!" She wailed, and she whimpered loudly before meekly glancing up; she still had a very long way until she reached the top...Toboe and Hige and the others were already so far ahead. "Okay, okay, calm down...you're almost there...-gulp-"
She lifted her foot to what she thought was a secure rock until it suddenly crumbled under her and gave way, and immediately, she lost her grip and began to fall backwards. She screamed as she plummeted, but her grappling fingers managed to claw at a rock and she abruptly came to a grinding halt, dangling in mid-air. She yelped, and almost immediately, she could see a blurry figure coming to her aid.
"Whatever you do, don't let go." It was Tsume, who landed shortly on a stiff rock and held his hand out; he reached over to grab her by the shoulder; however, a searing sharp pain ripped through her.
"Aa..aaarrrghh!" came her scrambled cry. She bit down on her lip as he lifted her up and on the rock beside him; once she was back on her feet she was swaying slightly. Although she previously saw that he had been scaling the mountain at a pace that matched Kiba's, and that he should have been a far greater distance than she was...he had returned to save her? And in seconds, nonetheless? Suddenly, she could feel something wet and warm crawling down her shoulder (from where he had grabbed) and a dark red stain appeared on one side of her army-green parka. Blood. She was bleeding. She didn't understand; she'd seen him seize her but where his hand should've been it felt as though knives had sunk into her flesh. She pulled at the collar and at her shirt down to an extent to reveal little marks that formed a semi-circle on her flesh which looked a lot like bite marks. Tsume watched her with a slight frown, and she finally tore her eyes away from the wound, and looked up at him.
"Is this...is this what happened to Gehl?" She asked quietly.
"...You should try to stop the bleeding." He merely said. She nodded meekly, then went into her rucksack to bring out her scarf, which she'd used to wrap around the wound. Once she was done, Jia stared at Tsume expectantly before a voice called to them.
"Hey, what's going on down there? What's the hold up?" Hige was yelling.
"We're coming." Tsume snapped at him, before he turned to her. "Let's go."
Again, she nodded wordlessly.
"Hold on." He grumbled, as though saving her had been a burden on his behalf. He said that to her before, too. When she wasn't holding on as he asked, he gritted his teeth, "What part of 'hold on' do you not understand?!"
Abruptly she clung onto the back of his leather jacket in silent obedience. Her fingers still hurt before from her that fall which would've killed her, but she said nothing about it.
"You gotta hold on a lot more than that or else you'll fall and die."
Thanks for the reality check, she thought, before she gave him a funny look. "What are you doing anyway?"
"You want to be left behind?"
"Then be quiet and do as I say."
"But why are you – "
"Don't get comfortable. I'm not gonna be doing this all the time." He replied, "Now are you holding on to me or what? Hurry up!"
"O-okay!" She hastily wrapped her arms around him. It felt weird. Out of all the people, no, wolves, Tsume was perhaps the last one she thought would save her as well as offer to lend her a hand. She squeaked as he leapt up from rock to rock and finally landed on a flat surface, now on par with Kiba, Toboe and Hige, although seeing the girl hanging on his back made everyone stare at him in stunned silence.
"Shut up." Tsume began, but Hige merely grinned at him while Toboe was looking at the two, clearly astounded (but also a little relieved).
"Hey, I wasn't going to say anything." Hige replied, and his grin stretched even wider.
Tsume turned away and grabbed hold of one of edges of a rock, before he hoisted himself up. Jia was holding onto him tightly. Maybe a little too tightly. He threw a quick glance over his shoulder to see that she had now squeezed her eyes shut. She was scared again. He rather liked it when she was scared because she was less annoying. Her weight didn't bother him much at all, either.
They continued climbing until Hige sniffed the air, "The scent is faint, but it's up there."
"Why the hell are you so worked up?" Tsume growled at Kiba, who was climbing the fastest to reach the top.
Hige added, "Aw man...it's got the stink of a Noble mixed in there, too."
Meanwhile, Toboe yelled out, "Hey, Kiba! ...I got this fluttery feeling in my chest. Is that what you meant?"
The leader nodded. "Let's go."
Eventually, after a brief climb (although to Jia it felt like forever), they arrived at the summit of the mountain to find themselves in another forest, although the trees in this dense woodland were a little different, maybe it was because they bore no leaves and looked positively dead. The air was also a little tighter and harder to breathe; Jia believed this was because they were too far up. Before Tsume could tell her to, Jia let go of him once they arrived on flat, safe ground. "Thank you." She murmured, as she checked her shoulder again. The bleeding had stopped. Thankfully the bite was not a deep bite and was just a graze on the skin. It wouldn't get infected at this rate, and it would heal soon, too. Meanwhile, Kiba began to move forwards again. He really was relentless. Tsume merely returned her thanks with an emotionless gaze before turning away to follow the alpha.
As they continued their walk, Toboe's cheeks were reddening, "...I don't know why...but my heart is pounding, and I feel all warm and tingly inside." He uttered.
Hige was also affected too, although his cheeks weren't as red as Toboe's, but he did have a dreamy sort-of look on his face. "Haaah, this is that cool feeling you get before pouncing on a pretty girl."
Tsume gazed at him with a tight-lipped frown while Jia thought, with an eyebrow raised, What the heck goes through that guy's mind?
"Don't let your guard down." Tsume then said, "...But there's a shiver up my spine too."
Jia glanced at Tsume next. She hadn't thought someone like him would say something like that.
She held in a snigger, and snorted.
Immediately, Tsume whipped round to her sharpish. "You got something to say?"
Finally, their walk concluded when a large, seemingly man-made lake loomed into view. Toboe gasped, and the rest of the wolves stopped. In front of them, was a long stretch of grassland covered in white flowers. Jia stared wide-eyed in awe, as she had never seen flowers such as these before, nor had she seen so many flowers bloom in one place before either. The sight was enough to bring a tear to her eye. She had never seen anything so beautiful before in her entire life...
However, Hige brought her to reality when he croaked out, "...It's her...it's really her..."
Jia squinted her eyes and further ahead, she saw a lone figure in the middle of the lake with their toes dipping in the clear water, perched on one of the rocks. A girl. It was a girl. A girl with short pink hair, adorned in a...well, in a very strange outfit...but that was not it. The girl looked up, and the first thing Jia noticed were the girl's eerie red eyes.
"My heart just skipped a beat..." Toboe murmured, while Jia gawped on helplessly.
"Who is that?" She then said, and at the same time, Tsume had said the exact same words as she did. They shot each other a repulsed look before turning away from each other just as Kiba began walking forwards.
"Hold on." Tsume said, but Kiba did not listen. They watched Kiba move closer and closer to the girl in the lake. She was just standing there...waiting, just waiting... as though she had anticipated their arrival.
Kiba's mouth moved. "Cheza." He said softly. In response, the girl smiled, and she reached out for him. He closed his eyes, as he felt her touch on him, her hands brushing through his fur. His long search had finally came to an end. The Flower Maiden was here, and they had found her. She went on her knees, and they embraced.
"We meet at last."
Hige, Toboe, Tsume and Jia watched the spectacle in silent awe. Then, Jia rubbed at her eyes, as for a split second, she thought she had seen a brilliant white wolf. But when she finished rubbing her eyes, she could just see Kiba. And she didn't see Tsume giving a sideways glance to her from the corner of his eyes.
Immediately, there was a hubbub of voices. "Aww...I wanna be held like that..." Toboe said dreamily, as he watched the pair in the lake.
"Don't worry, Toboe, you'll meet a girl too one day." Jia said, which earned her a dirty look from Tsume. She noticed and swerved her eyes over towards his direction. "What?"
"Stop filling his head with crap." He retorted.
"It's not crap; it's the truth. One day, you will all meet nice girls."
"This is stupid. You're stupid."
"Just stop it, both of you; you're really ruining the moment." Hige snapped at them, before he turned away to face Kiba and the girl again to watch them with a wistful smile.
"Who is she?"
"Can that really be...?"
"Yeah...that's her." Hige said cheerfully, "That's the Flower Maiden."