Chapter 55: Laughing Voices
“…They’re laughing at you”.
A voice was heard among the crowd of people. It resembled that of a rat.
At the backside of the crowd, stood Wood, whose thick lips quivered faintly. His sister Sereal grabbed her brother’s left hand because it was quivering as well.
At night the Poor People’s cave was extremely dark. The sky was pitch black. The only place that was bustling with light was from the walls of the city-state of Garoua Maria that one could see from the distance.
Usually, most people would’ve been asleep at this time… Except those privileged people beyond the walls. Sometimes, we could hear loud cheers reverberating from the city-state.
But, today was different. There was a square in front of the old tavern, where a giant tree stood as a ritualizing symbol. A huge fire pit was lit in the middle of the square to illuminate the surroundings.
The scorching sparks from the fire illuminated every single figure in the dark.
「Now what we have here. Where did you say you’re from? Actually, we don’t understand much what you’re implying, though I admit you have a little bit of courage to speak up.」
There was one particular man that stood in front of the whole crowd. The light of the fire pit showed his peculiar silhouette. He moved his shoulders slightly as if he tried to relax amidst the tension of this situation.
The man with green clothes was known as Lugis.
He was a unique man who in spite of his young age and youthful appearance, sometimes showed some oldness, and sometimes, simple naivety. This man was the one who made a contract with Wood and his sister Sereal.
Wood knew what this man aimed for. The results of this talk could change the entire foundation of the Poor People’s cave. He said that we could “paint the walls with a different color”.
That was the reason why so many people were gathered here today. As far as Wood was concerned, there were men and women alike among the crowd, from the young to the old.
Wood had been an inhabitant of the Poor People’s cave for a long time now. He always moved freely in this area even though his reality was the opposite of his ideal life. However, in this precise moment, he felt as if his body was petrified. He couldn’t move at all. This was the first time that someone brought signs of hope. A hope that was too good to be true.
Yet, the results were clear.
The faces of the people gathered at the square were somewhat stoic. They were not interested.
They didn’t come to hear the story. They were as insects gathered in bright places. That meant that they just came here because there was a fire pit lightened up, and because they were told to come. There was no other meaning in being here. Wood understood it well.
Wood held his sister’s hand tight. Sereal shook her body for a moment, and Wood wondered if he hurt his sister with his strong grip. Yet, actually, Sereal just moved her body to ask her brother if he was okay. Wood narrowed his eyes with a slight grin on his face to reassure his sister.
Expectation and disappointment were mixed. For Wood, Lugis was his sister’s lifesaver. He felt that he wanted to do something in order to help Lugis.
But, nothing would change even if he tried to help.
How could one word change everything? Wood’s cowardice clouded his mind like a thick fog. His sister swallowed dry because of the ongoing tension. She knew that everything wasn’t unfolding the way he wanted it to be.
Still, there wasn’t such a thing called hope. It won’t happen. Wood’s eyes lowered down and he almost closed his eyelids. Wood diverged his eyes away from Lugis.
「…I understood what you said. You’re talking about “taking down” those walls. 」
An old man spoke with a thin and trembling voice.
Everyone called him an Elder. In this place, it was rare for someone to live until old age. This place had a harsh reality. Most of these people didn’t even know if they could live tomorrow much less until old age.
Lugis nodded slowly upon hearing the Elder’s words.
「Unfortunately, we can’t agree with that idea…Those walls have been intact since I’ve came here as a child. You must know that those walls are ancient walls that nobody dared to destroy. Besides that, what can we do about it as lowly people?」
That thin and trembling voice echoed through the quietness of the dark.
Wood’s ears moved slightly when he heard the Elder’s response. Ah, he was right. What could we do as lowly people? All of the inhabitants of the Poor People’s cave would be trampled on, and most probably killed for rebelling against the institution.
Yeah, it was the harsh reality of their world. Wood gritted his teeth. Still, that scenario, yes the scenario of that possible hope, crossed Wood’s mind several times at night that he couldn’t even sleep at times.
He wondered if that hope was once the goal of his life. Yes, a goal at the end of his youth. Once upon a time, Wood gathered the young people of the Poor People’s cave, and pretended to be a strong figure with leadership skills. Eventually, he thought himself that he could “destroy those walls with his own hands”. Wood really thought that he could do it.
But, the reality was different. His sister was taken hostage. His fellow comrades betrayed him, and his body suffered tremendous pain when the guardsmen beat him. The goal of his life, yes the rebellion he planned for so long, was smashed in a blink of an eye.
Wood thought that it would’ve been better if he had died back then. Because if he died, at least he would have died with a brave heart. Even so, that didn’t happen. His robust body didn’t succumb to the beatings. There was nothing else he could do but to live on.
All that remained was the coward Wood. He couldn’t even save his sister without a voice. All he did was run away and hide from the problems.
「That’s right. You’re absolutely correct. I agree with what you said. This proposal is too risky and vague, and there’s no guarantee that we’re going to succeed.」
Lugis spoke to the Elder with gently words instead of thorns.
It didn’t sound like a speech, or words of someone trying to change people’s minds. His talk was very mediocre, and his tone was light.
「So, how are you, old man? Your life must be full of suffering. I’m sure that you think that it’s a blessing to be alive at least.」
The topic wasn’t that serious. It sounded like an extension of a small talk. The Elder looked at Lugis with suspicion.
「Yeah, just living another day. Even if mine and everybody’s lives aren’t favorable, I can still live here. Yeah, I have this place, a place where I can exist. That’s why we can’t accept your proposal.」
The Elder said everything he wanted to say with his words. Not only him. He spoke for every inhabitant of the Poor People’s cave. They didn’t hope for a better life. They just wanted to live. They didn’t want to suffer. They weren’t willing to sacrifice the only thing they had, their lives. Yes, they were poor, but they were still alive.
If they just wanted to be miserable, and live perilous lives, then it was fine. No matter how unjust, how untenable, how absurd, these people valued their lives because they were grateful to be at least alive given their terrible circumstances.
The silence of the crowd agreed with the Elder’s opinion. The darkness was quiet and frightening. No one wanted to listen anymore.
「…Yeah, I understand. I fully understand your feelings Elder. There’s nothing left on your hearts, no dignity, and no fighting spirit. Every aspect of your lives was trampled on. Ever since, you remember, I believe.」
Strangely, this man’s words were spoken with a sense of reality. Then, Lugis stopped speaking. Was this the end? Ah, of course. It was all over now. The results would’ve been the same even if the speech were short or long. Then, it would be better to finish it early.
Then, Wood took a step backwards to leave, but…
「That’s right. At best, the last thing you’ll have is… 」
「…No matter how much I think about it, it’s impossible. How could one “turn the heavens upside down”? I have no power at all, so I need your help.」
I spoke the words that were been engraved in my heart. I exhaled a deep sigh.
Ann and Filaret heard my frustrations. I asked them to prepare things up in advance. It was a small gesture, but it was better than nothing.
But, before that, I had to prepare myself with the greatest weapon known to man. One’s tongue. Still, I wasn’t that optimistic about this. If words worked like miracles, nobody would have any hardships in the world, and I was sure that everybody would live more comfortably.
But, I was a man who knew otherwise. I lived a life full of hardships. A life without miracles.
Therefore, I thought that I could speak about my hardships to the whole world. But, it would be hard to sway a person’s heart. It would be almost impossible to bring tears to someone else’s eyes with just words and not actions. This task was one of the most difficult tasks I had to undertake.
This was Ariene’s specialty. She inspired the audience to speak and share their opinions. She managed to bring everyone to the same line of thought.
What she did was indeed very impressive during our time in the Journey of Salvation. But, I wasn’t that interested on that matter back then. I should have looked at it more carefully, and now my regrets were overshadowing my brain.
They were the same inhabitants of the Poor People’s cave they used to be. They were weak, sluggish, and didn’t have the power to resist. There was no way I was going to convince them.
That’s right, I saw my old self in them.
Suddenly there was a shadow in my head. It kind of clouded my whole head.
“…If I was talking about the impossible all the time, then why was I here?”
Indeed, these thoughts of mine resonated through my brain.
Even with all the impossible and improbabilities, I stood here. Don’t tell me that the words of that shadow, the one who sent me to the past, really inspired me?
The words I’ve exchanged with that shadow gradually crossed through my mind.
Yet, none of this seemed to work. It was strange indeed, and there was that weird atmosphere that attracted me to his talk. But, why? Why did I want to grab his hand so much?
I didn’t find a solution even though I wanted to change my past. I tried to recall every event that happened, but I didn’t understand why I was chosen to come to the past. I was a nobody. There wasn’t anything special about myself. I didn’t understand anything at all even if I asked my former self about a possible solution to this problem.
『You don’t have to worry that much, you know? 』
On this precise moment, the shadow appeared on my brain once again. The silhouette was pitch black.
It was as if the shadow that once spoke to me was reproduced inside my brain. Yet, it was strange that I suddenly remembered that shadow here and now. I was extremely impressed with my imagination.
If it came out of the darkish corner, this shadow would be great enough to persuade the inhabitants of the Poor People’s cave.
『Ohhh, you mustn’t rely on me. My words are mine. And your words belong to you. It’s something that can’t be borrowed.』
I reflected on how this shadow could be so visible on my brain. Then, the shadow whispered as if it saw through my thoughts.
Yeah, of course. I wouldn’t have to worry about anything if I solved everything with my own words.
Involuntarily, a dry and sarcastic smile crossed through my own mind. How ironic it was.
『Besides, it’s not good for us, as mere imperishability beings, to lend our help to humans like you. So, there’s only one thing I can say…If you were inspired by my words, why don’t you stand up on your own here and now?』
The shadow spoke to me with high spirits as usual. It floated through my brain as if it were dancing happily. What an exaggeration of my imagination.
However, that shadow may know it. After all, he was the one who brought me here. He even inspired me to change the course of my life. To agree about travelling to the past.
Please, let me know. Even if the shadow of my imagination was fake, I didn’t care. Anything he said was fine with me. I just wanted a little bit of guidance. But, perhaps, I won’t get anything since it was my brain that created the current appearance of the shadow. Or so I thought.
Even though it kept appearing on my head, I reduced my breathing so that I didn’t hear any mysterious voices again.
『That’s it, yeah, keep pushing yourself on your own… 』
「That’s right. At best, the last thing you’ll have is…a little bit of hatred, isn’t that so?」
After a brief silence, a strong voice erupted from that young man. His gentler voice was gone, and he spoke with a rough tone. The lightening sparks of the fire pit illuminated his face, yes; his look had a fierce complexion to his face.
The Elder looked at Lugis with a stunned expression. Neither Wood nor Sereal understood the meaning of his last words.
Hatred. Yes, hatred he said. Why would he speak of such a thing now?
The flame burnt continuously and sparks flew in the air because of the light wind. Lugis’ silhouette distorted with the movement of the light from the fire pit.
「But, it’s all right, Elder. If you want to be a good person, that’s fine. Even if you are attacked by one of your own neighbors, such as Garoua Maria, and even if you are trampled by others feet, if you can live without having any kind of hatred, then it’s splendid for you. You’re a great holy person.」
I could hear a shivering sound throughout my spine.
The hairs of my arms stood up as if I had chicken skin, and my throat swallowed the saliva involuntarily. The Elder, and of course, the gathered people, were looking with astonishing eyes at the rat that spoke without hesitation.
Ah, stop it. Don’t tell us the future. I didn’t want to hear it. The eyes of the gathering people also agreed with this thought. No one wanted to hear about it either.
「I heard that you had a beautiful fishing village nearby. They caught fish in the morning, and drank alcohol in the evening. They weren’t rich, but they weren’t poor. They lived a fulfilled life. Well, those were good days that didn’t last long…It seems that the village was destroyed alongside with its people to build a port for trade. So, tell me Elder. This was totally fine because it was God’s will, wasn’t it?」
It felt as if his words were like nails that pierced the bottom of our chest painfully. No one wanted to touch that topic. No one wanted to remember. Our memories were covered with dark curtains. And yet, Lugis’ words began to lift the edge of the dark curtains.
The shimmering flames gave the shadows of the people in the dark an eerie atmosphere in the square.
「…Ah, everyone. Just think deeply about it. If you let that predicament be forgotten, then you’ll live your entire lives with humiliation and hidden hatred.」
Again, his voice changed colors.
His voice was different. The tone changed dramatically unlike his previous voice. It wasn’t a voice with cruelty, nor did it sound as if he tried to force these people into doing something they didn’t want to do. Rather, it was a different voice. Nor gentle nor cruel, but something different. His speech was also neat and well organized.
Lugis’ eyes spotted Wood hiding behind a large tree in the corner of the square. Wood was hiding behind the tree because of his cowardice and fear. But, Lugis’ eyes saw him. And on this moment, both of their eyes saw one another. Wood felt so nervous that this excruciating feeling ran throughout his spine. It was as if he heart stopped for a second.
「Correct, just think about what happened so far. Who took away your dignity, stripped you of your right to live under the glow of the sun? Who made you live in a wasteland so that they could grow fat and wealthy?…Those who took everything away from you are living their best lives inside of those walls.」
Lugis spread out his arms and moved his face to point to the walls.
His voice wasn’t loud. And yet, it was a voice that creeped out from the bottom of this earth. We felt one unmistakable emotion. Hatred. Yes, the colors of his words were undoubtedly painted with strong strokes of hatred.
The audience looked at the walls behind them. Every single one of them stared fixedly as if they were a flock of tiny rats controlled by the bigger rat Lugis, who stood still with his arms open.
They separated our community and their citizens. It was something that we couldn’t overcome. Yes, that omnipotent object that distinguished the poor people from the rich people. The great walls of Garoua Maria, the symbol of glory.
「Yeah, they took everything away. From me, from you. I can’t promise you that you’ll get them back. There’s only one thing that I can say to you. Only one thing.」
It seemed as if the flames blazed violently on the fire pit as we reached a crucial point. Yes, Lugis’ momentum with his speech for the inhabitants of the Poor People’s cave had arrived.
The flames spread little by little, and the sparks flew in the air. Everybody was eager to know what the only one thing was. The eyes of the crowd of people were widely open.
「…Let’s bring everything to ashes. Let’s take away from them as much as they took away from us. If they talk about their great holy religion that wants equality for everybody’s souls, then we’ll drag them to the ground and burn them all.」
It wasn’t persuasive words. Likewise, it wasn’t words that demanded understanding. It was rather words full of raw emotion.
He had a heart full of hatred. A determination of an endless revenge. His words blended well with the darkness of the night.
Wood’s eyes were widely open and they barely moved. His throat was feeling strangely thirsty. While holding her brother’s hand, Sereal noticed the fountain of sweat that fell from his forehead.
There was no power on his words. There was no way that those words would have the power to shake the hearts of the inhabitants of the Poor People’s cave. It was just the talk of a young man. All I could feel was one emotion of his entire speech.
「…But…What can we do as weak people… 」
Before long, the Elder professed his own words. The old man leaked a sound from his throat as if it were crushing the pressured air.
「Yeah, right. Just listen carefully. 」
The voice spoke for itself. Lugis approached the Elder and touched his shoulder.
「…They’re laughing at you. 」
Amidst the darkness of the night, everyone remained silent and concentrated everything on their ears.
I didn’t want to hear it. I didn’t want to concentrate my ears on anything. Until now, I’ve been pretending not to see. I pretended not to listen. I thought it was fine. Yes, everything was the same for those tiny rats, for Wood and for Sereal.
The inside of the walls were bright day and night. It was the proof of a trading city. During the day, the merchants went around in the city to sell. And at night, the rich people played with the goods they bought during the day. That’s why the influx of money was high. The money circulated within the city with great power.
The men’s voices, the women’s voices, the youth voices, and even the elderly voices. Their laughter crawled out of the walls. They celebrated the prosperity of their city-state. Their joyous life was so grand that they wanted to tell the whole world how happy they were.
Things are starting to heat up!!
Thank you to the Patrons for the continued support!