PROLOGUE: INTO THE FOG
Black butterflies were lingering in every corner of the city. Everyone knew what they were after for—death. As Khalid walked on the dark alley filled with beggars forcefully sleeping on the freezing floor, his eyes widened. He covered his nose with the scarf on his neck and stood still, in front of one of the homeless laying on the ground. Why was he laid there? Anyone would have known the reason.
Pole lights powered by cores illuminated, guiding people who walked there at night. The alley was usually crowded even during nightfall. However, the night was awfully silent. It had never happened before.
He kneeled and lifted the cloak covering the body. He saw a hole on the man's chest. This wasn’t something new. He had seen many corpses like this before—heart pierced and body dried. It was like a wood, or a branch of a tree. Blood sucked dry and almost withering.
I knew it—he thought. Khalid clenched the cloak. "I'm sorry. If only I arrived sooner." He stood straight, frowning, wrinkles on his forehead. "I have to enter the fog." He began to walk again, leaving the body behind. He walked with his fists clenched, trembling.
The night was silent as if a heavy storm were about to come. The camp had never been this silent before. This was making Paru feel uneasy. She was standing on the top of the wall and kept glancing at the gate of the camp. Many of the tents inside the camp were dimmed, cores off.
"This silence is troubling. Why are they silent?" She stood six feet tall, wearing black cloak as if hiding in the night. Eyes dark as coal, searching for someone.
"When will he arrive? It's getting pretty late." She walked back and forth on the top of the brick wall, arms crossed, biting her thumb.
"Maybe something happened?" She jumped off the wall, and before she landed, she whistled. As if she were caressing something in the air, she gently stroked her hand down. The wind whirled around her body, making her fall slowly upon reaching the ground.
"Worried about me again?" A broken voice of a man spoke as she landed. He was walking toward her, wearing the same cloak similar to what she wore.
"It's not like that," she replied.
The man stood taller than her. He had a red scarf, covering the half of his face. He wore a black tight shirt, trousers, and boots reaching his knees. Paru couldn’t see the man’s face but she knew it was him, the Deathman.
"Where have you been?" Paru asked. Eyes glancing the man's clenching fists.
"The graveyard." The man's blue eyes were deep as the night.
"Are you really...." She lifted her head, looking the man. He was staring at the night sky.
"It's awfully silent." He continued glancing up, seeing the translucent glass-like barrier blocking the sky. "I have to enter it, Paru." He looked at her.
"But... can't I really go, Khalid? I could help you! You know I am one of them!" Her eyes began to tear up.
"You can't go with me. It's dangerous. You have something else to do, right?" He pulled his scarf down, revealing a nonchalant smile. "I should do this," he took his scarf off his neck and held Paru's hands, handing it to her, "Alone."
Paru clung to the scarf and shed tears.
"Let's walk inside. I have to meet the Commander," Khalid said, walking toward the massive iron gate. The door on the gate opened and the guards bowed their head as Khalid entered. Paru walked beside him, wiping her tears with the scarf he gave.
They entered the largest tent at the center of the camp. The tent was spacious enough for twenty people to gather inside but there was only one person—a man wearing gray vest tucked in black trousers. He was holding a quill with an ink beside him.
"You're late again, Khalid." He glanced them. "I see that you were doing something else." He looked at Paru's scarf.
Khalid eyed him. He walked and sat on the chair in front of the table. "I've decided, Jermel."
Jermel looked at him, hand stopped writing. He glanced him for a moment, looking at his eyes—directly—and continued what he was writing. "Alone?"
Khalid stood up and bent his body, bowing with his head. "Please allow me to enter the fog."
Jermel flinched. Not because of Khalid's words, but because of him bowing down. What did he do to make Khalid respect him so much? What happened in the past?
"You can lift your head now, Khalid. Why are you being like this? Didn't I tell you before that I couldn't care less about the social standing?" Jermel stood up and put down the quill.
Khalid stood straight, looking at him intensely. "I know this is very unreasonable. But I feel something. Something is in the fog and I have to know what it is. Please allow me, Commander. I have to know it."
"You have to, or you want to? You know I can read people, Khalid.”
"I—" Khalid stammered. "I want to. I want to know what's in there!"
"Then, just go." Jermel sat back and continued writing. "Just make sure you come back, Khalid. You're a valuable Captain. You know that 'day' is getting near." The quill snapped on his hand.
"I understand. I promise I will come back."
Khalid walked out the tent and went to his own. Paru remained silent as she followed his back.
Paru cringed. "I know." She looked down, seeing the solid earth. "I have to take care of the Squad, right?"
"As long as you understand. I'll take my leave now." Khalid entered his own tent and Paru vanished in the Wind like a black smoke fading, not leaving remnants of her presence.
Khalid took an Orb out the bag inside his tent. The orb was darker than black but it was illuminating a strange white light. He pressed it on his chest and a translucent black armor formed and surrounded his whole body. He felt a surge of heat through his veins. His heart throbbed and started beating fast. His eyes became darker. He went outside the tent and prepared to jump. He bent his body downward and jumped high, reaching the peak of the wall. Paru flinched. She never knew Khalid could jump higher than her using the Orb armor and Winding. She was surprised and worried. She wanted to follow him but she chose not to. She had things to do.
Khalid continued running on the wall, reaching the edge of the barrier. He whistled again. Visible white Wind whirled around his body as if playing with him. It gathered at his back, pushing him and making him fast. Khalid didn’t hesitate and ran, passing the translucent barriers dividing the towns.
Heat constantly surged through his veins. But all he could think of was the urge to run faster and enter the fog. He felt something inside him. A feeling of paranoia. The feeling of getting anxious for unknown reasons. He wanted to know.