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14 Part II

 "Maybe I was a little too harsh on her" he peeped his head through the velvet-draped window in search of any signs of Artemis, but she was gone.

He turned his attention back to the uncomfortably small room. It was too expensive for what it had to offer. It was dull. Only one candle was available to enlighten the gloomy room.

The rustic chair seemed to have lopsided legs. The bed was as hard as a rock and faded paintings were hung on the wall.

The room condition wasn't the top priority as at that time. Artemis's whereabout was troubling him. He admitted that he was too cruel to the child. He felt bad for not pitying the girl by blessing her with a floor she could sleep on. At least she'd be warm indoors and not outside in the cold night.

Before Artemis left, she spotted the beggar she gave money to passing by. He was pulling an old cart loaded with tin cans when he saw the shuddering young girl sitting at the entryway of an inn he could only dream to step in.

"You're the-" he was certain she was the angel that helped him out earlier. He wondered what she was doing out so late at night.

"Hello Sir" Artemis greeted with a forced smile.

"Do you not have a place to stay? You gave me two gold pieces. That should be enough to spend a night in this motel" His cracky voice nearly made it difficult for the girl to understand what he was trying to say.

"My wicked partner refused to let me sleep inside after working hard for the both of us today."

The Man understood it as a slave and master type of scenario. All his life, that's all he knew. He didn't know what it was like to be treated kindly until he met the girl in front of him.

He thought that he might as well return the favour by giving her a place to sleep even though it might not be the best alternative for her. She had the decision to exit freely.

You can spend the night with us" He suggested. Artemis didn't really have a choice. She had to find somewhere to sleep the night.

She followed the man to an abandoned tunnel sinking into the abyss of a hill. The stone guarding the entrance was spiked and unevenly orchestrated in a manner that would make it hard for interlopers to spot.

He put all the tin cans he carried in a sack then held Artemis by his left hand before leading her into the infinite dark, walking a path he had gotten so used to, he didn't require light to direct him.

With time, they could see a glimmering orange light radiating from corners and once they drew nearer, Artemis' eyes widened. It was a city populated by the most desperate lowlifes.

The fire was bright enough to highlight the faces of the people taking asylum in the tunnel. They were poorly dressed. Some were lucky enough to find enough clothes to cover the necessary parts, some of the children were left with just their underwear in such a place. They managed to gather enough wood to start a fire to heat up the chilly tunnel.

She thought about what might befall them and their quiet world when the rain pressure increments. She hoped they had an alternative or were planning for one at least because the worst scenarios would take place and severe casualties would be recorded if they're not careful.

Artemis was led to the man's personal corner. He invited her to sit down with him on a woven mat made with dried grass. She did so because she had no choice. It was better than lying on the ground with loose stones and litters all over the place.

"Uncle Kent!!!" A group of children somewhat her age ran to meet the old man then they titled their heads in question once they spotted the stranger sitting beside him.

The man smiled as he opened up his sack, handing them the tin cans he'd managed to find. He made sure he washed them spotless because he'd picked them all from dumpsters and dirt piles.

"Hey Uncle, who is she?" They were thinking she was an abandoned child just like all of them, but she wasn't. Artemis didn't know her current state. Her father was dead, yes, but she never considered her mother. The thought crept her mind only when she got to the cave.

"She's just a visitor for this night" He handed a can to Artemis, and she bowed her appreciation even though she didn't know what it was for.

The kids didn't see any reason to play with her since she was leaving the following morning. They didn't want to get attached to someone that would end up leaving. Doing that caused them a lot of pain in the past.

It started with three street kids by nicknames, Tin, Seed, and Gecko. While growing up, they made companions, lots and lots of friends that didn't have parents, money, food and a place to live just like them.

Circumstances became too hard for the homeless kids. Those that couldn't cope breathe their last, and the survivors would take it as a responsibility to bury their deceased allies.

It was sad. Making friends, getting attached too quickly just to watch them die when you least expect it.

Fortunately for them, they met Kent, and he acquainted them with the universe of the tunnel. It wasn't the best spot to stay, however, it caused them to feel like they had a home. Living in the cavern made them know what it's like to have what they could call a family.

The children waved farewell before rushing to get servings of curry soup. They didn't have enough money to purchase plates and bowls. A few had spoons and the rest utilized their hands.

"Are you hungry dear?"

The girl shook her head then put the can back in the man's grain sack.

"What is your name?"

"My name is...uh..." Artemis couldn't reveal her identity. It was risky and taking too long to answer would only draw more suspicion.

"Don't tell me you don't have a name?"

"I do. It's just that my wicked master doesn't call me by the name and I'm just not used to it" She lied.

"But you can call me Dawn" the end of her lips curled and the man returned a wrinkled smile as well.

"That is a pretty name. You're welcome to our sanctuary. We night not look it, however we're serene and decent" He was talking based on how people viewed them In the past. They were called monsters, sewer rats, trash, and mistakes. He was grateful at least that the child wasn't nauseated by the environment she might've not been used to.

"What village are you from Dawn?"

"I don't really recall. My master is a nomad. I was taken at a young age. My parents were killed in the process" She was painting a totally different image of Orion. He seemed capable of doing such after all.

"That's okay. You stole didn't you?"

Artemis nodded. The gold coins she gave out weren't hers and the only money she's ever had were given to her occasionally by Noah.

"I won't blame you, most of the kids did the same thing and some had to pay the price." She knew what that 'price' implied. Amongst the children that surrounded Kent earlier, she could count two that were missing a hand and some, their fingers.

"A year ago things were a bit easier for us until that first tournament day" She quickly grasped an idea of what he was referring to. It was what contestant 99 did that affected humanity so much.

"I don't know who that girl is but I'll never forgive her. The punishment of the beastmen made the cost of living increase. We couldn't afford what we used to because of the immediate price changes following the rules change. People like us were the ones suffering the most. The rich weren't really affected, but as for us the poor, we faced hell."

Artemis was strolling down a lengthy, difficult experience of remorseful fit. She felt awful for what she'd done, but she couldn't show how his words were affecting her.

"We tried getting jobs but most of us were turned down because not everyone wanted to pay salaries. Even the few that got are earning bronze that could only sum up to five gold coins. That's not enough to take care of the children here."

Artemis was sad "What if contestant 99 is working hard to fix everything she's done?"

"Fix everything? That sounds impossible. She only gave the beastmen more reason to punish us. She should've just stayed home with her parents. In fact, they were supposed to be watching her..."

Artemis yawed loudly wanting to put an end to his rant "I'm sleepy"

"so soon?" He watched her lie on her side then he put an old fleece cover over her.

"I've been through a lot, Uncle Kent. I just need to close my eyes for a while" It was just to make him stop and nothing else. She wasn't feeling a bit sleepy, but if it's a must, she was willing to force herself to sleep.

***

Artemis's eyes snapped open, and she could see herself in the arena again. Everything was the same, the screaming, the earth shaking laughter and the angry face of Grazob.

"Not this time. Not again" She didn't want history to repeat itself and the best option for her was to run nonstop.

Dread crept down her spine as soon as she realized there was no escape. Her feet were glued to the ground, and she was unable to move them.

The ground shook with each step the frightening Orc took "You made a fool out of me!" Grazob's voice thundered as he lifted his sword to strike but before he got the opportunity to exact revenge, every single thing paused. The birds flying high in the blood-red sky, the mocking spectators, the demigod and Grazob as well.

A bright beam in the shape of a door appeared out of nowhere and the child saw it as a good sign. "That must be the way out!" She said to herself. Now she could move. She successfully broke free from the invisible force that stopped her from moving the first time.

Without wasting any more time, she sprinted to the gate. There wasn't a surface to continue running, so, the next thing that happens is that she falls endlessly into a pitch black void.

She closed her eyes and screamed afraid of where she was heading to. She didn't have the foggiest idea whether she was going to stop or not.

On the chance that she does stop, she wonders how many bones would break, the agony she'd feel when her skull splits from impact or if she'll defy the odds and land perfectly on her feet like a cat.

Her last thought was ruled out as tears began to form at her ducts "I'm going to die" It wasn't too long before they started pouring down her cheeks. She thought she could avoid the pain she experienced from fighting, but it seemed inevitable.

"Artemis why are you crying?" Her father hunkered to look under the main bed in the room, and he spotted her at the far back all balled up on her side.

"You said there are monsters under your bed and you're here playing with them" He held his hand out and a two-year-old kid slithered out of her hiding spot to hug her beloved father.

"Papa!!!" He lifted her up and placed a kiss on her forehead.  She cried into his chest, hands gripping unto his coat "Father don't go!!!"

She wanted her life to be the same it was with her father alive, her home still standing, and her village not detesting her.

"Artemis I can't always be around" In the blink of an eye, the scenes changed and Artemis was no longer in a cabin. She appeared at a meadow with her father.

"But you said you would come back to me!" She declared and a grin crawled on the man's face.

"I did Artemis but you weren't home" Her red-rimmed eyes were fixed at her father who had gloated the distance she could never see.

Her entire face was washed with dull red including the end of her nose. She embraced her dad's legs imploring him not to leave her again.

"Just like the village you hate me right?" She thought of herself as a disappointment since she let down the town that wouldn't have had the smallest confidence in her. She wanted to surprise them, but not the in way she ended up doing.

"I don't hate you Artemis. I never will."

"This is a dream. You're not here with me...this is all a lie." She wondered if this was the Olth's doing again but Ryu wasn't with her. It was sleeping comfortable in the almost empty food sack.

"You're imagining that I'm here, therefore I am." Their hair waved in response to the sudden wind blowing the grass and old rooted trees away.

The wind didn't affect them though. They remained in their spot untouched, and watched the fields get sucked into a black hole. Seconds later they were left floating in an empty white area.

"Do you at times wonder how I felt hearing you'd gone to contend?"

She nodded. Her brain is constantly haunted with that question and the responses to the inquiry weren't going to comfort her psyche.

"It's a shame no one can answer that but your real father."

"You are my father," She shouted at the top of her lungs, her hands tightening around him "I'm sorry. Please forgive me. I'll be a good girl, I'll eat all the porridge you bring me and I won't whine."

A small smile played on his lips as he pats the girl "You are right Artemis. I am your father, but not in flesh and blood. I'm just a pigment of your imaginations for the meantime."

He began to fade "Do your father one thing. Prove to him and everyone that you'll be the human demi god they've been waiting for. Try not to cry any longer my dear. You have a great opportunity to be strong inside and out," he wished he could wipe her tears away but his hands had obscured.

"I have faith in you. All that is left to do is for you to have confidence in yourself as well. It doesn't matter how many times you train, how many times you try, or how long it will take. You'll always have my support whether I'm dead or alive. "

***

"Oi you finally came back" That was Orion's greeting for the approaching child that bright morning. For some reason, she had a happy expression that was so unusual ever since he met her.

Orion didn't like it. He wondered where she'd been, if she got hit by a falling tree branch or if she found a secret treasure. Something or someone must've put the emotionally distressed girl in a wonderful mood.

"Foxman" She grinned proudly "I'm ready to train!"