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24 Part II

 "You're awfully quiet these days"

The edge of Orion's lip twisted as his eyes stayed on the fire that separated them that night "There's nothing to say."

It was quite clear that his distance from Anna was taking a bad toll on him. 'Maybe he's not too used to emotional pain, but greater amount of physical' Artemis thought as she drank from her gourd.

"You told me that you hated the concept of love between a Beastman and a human...but you fell in love with a woman of my kind. Right? Or do you just hate love in general because I just don't understand your situation."

Orion's neutral face switched to a scowl in seconds and Artemis rubbed the back of her head, letting out a nervous laugh.

"I was wrong. That word That word love...well, its sentiment is pleasant. When I was your age, my sister had a child with a human. I was disappointed because I didn't expect such from her. I That word love...well, its sentiment is pleasant. A my sister, but I couldn't stand by her side after what she'd done. Our family was disgraced. Our title was ripped from us after a thousand years of successorship. The peace of my family shattered shortly after my sister was battered to death, her baby was drowned, and her husband was tied to a post and burned."

Artemis heart throbbed, her brows narrowed as her gaze directed to her hands that balled into a fist.

"That's terrible! How could they do that to them?

Orion's lips pushed out and one side of his mouth dropped "It was the law, the prosecutors followed it" he traced the soil with his long fingers "When I was with Anna, a lot crossed my mind. I questioned what would happen to us if we continued? Where would we go? What do I have to offer her? What if we're caught? I'll get her killed" A brief memory unexpectedly cut through his mind.

When he was a toddler, he caught a butterfly once. That moment he saw those petal-wings, the manner in which it swam into the warm air, letting it vortex underneath her wings, and curling in the sweetest of swirls, Orion couldn't let it pass by. He wanted it, and he caught it effortlessly.

He ran with the feeble insect flapping in his hands to his sister's resting spot, the pond of their home.

"Sister!" She turned her attention to the boy with ruddy cheeks and a grin so wide it could've touched his ears.

"What brings you here my sweet brother?"

"I caught a butterfly! Can I keep it?" She could sense his excitement but the energetic look on his face, and the tone of his voice.

"Well, you can, but..."

His mood went blue, unsteadily swinging between his fading excitement, and sadness "But what?"

"What if you killed it? What if your hands are a web, and you're the spider attacking it?"

He went silent because he didn't think of it that way.

"Your feelings now might be the same when the beautiful butterfly dies under your care."

He slightly opened his hands and the butterfly's crunched wings straightened again and it went towards his sister.

The butterfly sat upon her finger with wings of black, canary yellow, and white polka dots.

"You see, butterflies are like flowers of the air. Butterflies are meant to be free, and if you keep them just like collectors, it deprives them of the delight of dancing in patterns and searching for sweet nectar on every serenade of blooms it can find. That wouldn't make them happy."

"But, I can take care of it...I promise to feed it, and take it for walks...and...and..."

"Little Orion, what do you have to offer? You know nothing about fragile insects like this" The butterfly vacillated away, and Orion's happiness crashed into a ditch. He ran into his sister's arms, and she pat his head.

"Before making decisions about something or someone Orion, question yourself first. Never be quick to decide. You wanted it, but letting it go and giving it freedom it deserves Is enough. Sacrifices are made for what's good. Never forget that."

"If you love something, you have to let it go" he repeated the words he was taught by his grandpa a couple of years after his death.

"Hey Orion!" Artemis snapped her fingers and Orion raised his brows, blinking a few times before realising how far he had travelled to his past.

"I'm tired." He turned into his fox form and situated himself to sleep. Artemis did the same after placing a mat on the floor, and turning to her side. Their night fire died down subsequently.

***

"She's been inside the sack all day, I think we should let her out because we need her alive. I don't think those small holes by the sides are enough" Talwen suggested.

"I bet you're only saying that because you want to screw her!" Foslight slapped the back of the lizard, and they burst into laughter "As long as we can take turns then that's all good."

Vikckson's eyes narrowed as he turned to look at the pair that interrupted his meditation with their racket.

They didn't care about the expression that crossed his face. Just because they put him in charge of navigation didn't mean he was their leader. They could take him on, whenever and wherever. The lizard man and wolf didn't plan to part the money after all.

Vikckson proceeded to untie the sack backed up against a tree. It was still. He was sure she wasn't dead. He concluded that she just fell asleep after hopelessly trying to get out of the sack all day.

"Wake up" He pat her cheeks and her puffy eyes struggled to open as if it had been glued. She flinched at the ropes that delved into her fragile skin, and tears framed at her ducts again.

Vikckson's wide smile pushed up his cheeks as the skin gathered under his hooded eyes "You must be thirsty right?" He showed the semiconscious girl his bottle, but it was filled with booze.

"What do you want from me?" She croaked from a dry throat that desperately needed water.

"Seems like your not thirsty. I don't have water anyway" he chuckled in a way Anna found disturbing. She began to struggle with the ropes again, but it was no use.

"Please let me go" She pleaded, lips trembling and  Vikckson started to sob, clearly deriding her words.

"But~" his lips quivered just like hers, and he put on a sad face "but I can't. With you I can stop Orion from running away. Please understand."

He wiped her tears and rubbed the salty liquid down his eyes, and stopped at his chin "you're making me sad too."

Anna gave up. She wasn't expecting him to release her easily, but she wore an armour of hope, but his insanity severely damaged it more than she expected.

"So tell me, what's your relationship with my friend?" He was done with his act. The time had come to get the information he needed.

Anna didn't answer and it caused a slight change to his relaxed face. He was constraining his anger. If he was to hurt her, she'd die, and he needed her alive.

"I'm free to assume it's sexual" he titled his head slightly to the side and raised a corner of his mouth "I promise you it'll all be over soon."

"If you do kill him, what will happen to me?"

He looked around before moving forward to whisper "they'd like you to be their bed slave...if you know what that means."

"No please" A vindictive smile appeared on Vikckson's face as he looked down at the girl, before sliding his hand under her top.

"Stop...stop!!!"

"Quiet~ I'm observing. You don't want the other's to see us now do you?"

Anna shook her head, and the tears at her ducts rolled down. She was uncomfortable with the way his hand traversed her chest. What could he be searching for? What did he want?

"I asked him what he preferred the most in a lady, he said... " Vikckson cleared his throat trying to imitate Orion "The bosom of a woman is the death of me...or something like that" his deep voice fell into his normal tone at the end of his statement "I'm not so sure if that's how he said it. It's been twenty years since we had a beer together. We stopped meeting afterwards."

He withdrew his hand "Your size seems okay, but if I was interested in women, I don't think I'll be moved by your pillows. I wonder what caught his attention..." He bit the end of his nail pondering and Anna's nose wrinkled in disgust at the man's odd behavior. She started to wonder the type of friends Orion kept.

"Goodbye darling" He waved "Tomorrow is another day, Tomorrow you will see him again and you will hold his head for me." That was an assurance.

***

"So, is that all to your story?" Artemis casually asked as Orion packed up, making sure no signs of their campsite were left behind.

"What more would you like to know?"

"Well, you mentioned something about successorship. You're the son of a super rich family right?" She spoke moving her hands, and Orion wondered if she thought he was deaf or something.

"Correction, I was. I don't answer my family name anymore. I don't know about them, they don't know anything about me. My sister was the only responsible one, my brothers should have kits all over the place, as for my parents, they're long gone." He got up his horse and Artemis straddled hers.

They were perfectly disguised. He'd changed his hair colour to raven black, left facial hairs and a mole at the corner of his nose. His aura wouldn't be suspected unless the enemy is close. So, they were good to go.

While galloping through the woodland, under the shade of trees, Orion was sure something wasn't right. It was daytime, however he was unable to perceive what was really hiding. He could hear the snapping of twigs, the brush of grass, and the crushing of leaves under foot.

He wondered if it was all an illusion to make him think they were actually closing in. He doubted the possibility, he shook his head countlessly, trying to keep his cool. Maybe it was an animal, that was the substitute for the assassins. He couldn't sense energy flow, so there was no way...unless their magic was concealed.

"Hey?" Artemis's high pitched voice snapped him back to reality; His thoughts had made him stop moving. She looked mildly concerned.

"What's wrong?" she thought he had noticed something that made him stop; and at that moment, he did. His ears picked up a sound right in front of them.

"GET DOWN!" he screamed.

They hit the ground moments before blades flew right at their horses causing them to flee in panic.

An ambush; they had waltzed right into it. He got back up and examined the region for their assailants.

Two beastmen were pacing towards them from the front, and Orion got a full picture of a lizardman and a wolf. Following at moderate pace was a familiar face that he never would've expected.

"What a pleasant surprise. This feels like a family reunion. Don't you think so?" Vikckson said with a wide grin.

"Vikckson Seryin, it's been a while." Orion smirked "It's funny how you're still obsessed with me after so many years. I thought you'd have settled by now."

Vikckson snickered, cleaning the little tears at his ducts "T-that was a good one. You're the one I've always dreamt of marrying don't you know" He winked at his fellow foxman, and Orion grimaced "We're most likely not intended to be... "

Foslight and Talwen were tired of their talk. They wanted some action and they needed it fast.

"WHAT'S THE HOLD UP?!" Talwen couldn't hold back anymore.

Vickson rubbed the back of his head "Don't worry, there'll be enough Orion to go round." He turned his attention back to his foe, as he finally dropped the sack that was on his shoulder.

"Before we start fighting, I present to you" he untied the sack and in seconds, "Ta-da!!" Anna was revealed.

Half of her face was covered with a dirty rag, but Orion would know those beautiful emerald eyes anywhere. Speaking of eyes, they were red from tears and he noticed the bruise on her head and how feeble she looked; she was hurt in more ways than one.

"This was what I meant by family reunion" He dropped in heavy pats on her head and it popped a vein in Orion's neck.

"Why did you have to bring her into this?" Seeing her like that threw Orion into a blind rage and his fist balled. He couldn't wait to do what he should've done years ago.

"Oh, and one more thing" He pulled out a small creature from the bag around his waist.

"Ryu!!!"  Artemis exclaimed once she recognized the Olth.

"This Olth finally led us to you. We didn't even need to torture it. It's distance from it's owner was painful enough. A parasite can't live without an owner for long after all."

He squeezed the Olth that now looked as tiny as a fish bone, and fragile like glass. In seconds it turned to dust and Vikckson wiped his hands on Anna's dress.

Orion clicked his tongue. He knew keeping the Olth would backfire, but Artemis thought otherwise. She blamed herself for what happened to Ryu. If she wasn't mean to it in the first place, it wouldn't have left. Ryu's demise was her trigger to fight. She'd avenge her Olth, anyway she could.

"Orion I want to fight!" Artemis was sure she would be able to do something but Orion wasn't convinced. She'd make the mistake she did a year ago and it would yield the same result, except from the fact she'd surely die with no other chances.

"Run away Artemis. Use your magic metre as your boost to get out of here. I would've asked you to run away with Anna, but it's too risky and we didn't have enough time to plan. So go! I'll be fine."

"How will i find you again?"

"Run to the nearest village. I'll join you soon." Artemis nodded before sprinting away, and Orion was free of the burden of having her around.

The fox turned his attention back to the three Beastmen who'd already started charging towards him. He felt a chill run down his spine. There was a possibility the fight might not turn out in his favour.