Li ch 5 the old man

The air lay stagnant between the trees.  In a forest of few sounds.  A dissonance would set in within them causing unease, a feeling which only increased the deeper one went within the sea of trees…

***

A man stood at the edge of a cliff. Blood and gore had dyed the area in red with the remains of the what had attacked him. His left shoulder was only slightly injured.

He was largely unharmed.

“…”

He felt an unusual presence. The forest was not like it was before.  Unease settled over him.

He could not take this feeling lightly. His intuition had always been something he could never ignore.

The beast he had slayed had little presence, even under the masking effect of the forest was off…

until the very last moment, he had not known it was there…

 

But stranger still was that the beast itself…

“Can ‘they’ be related?”

He thought back to that night…

It was like the forest itself was angry.

He stood firm with his body upright towards the cliff and glanced the forest below.

“…”

He thought back to the man who he had failed to save. But he felt that he shouldn’t have died from the fall.

However he might if he remained in the water.

Not even that ring could save him if he got swept to sea.

But now…

There was no point in continuing on this line of thought.

“…”

“…I’m sorry.”

He descended along a rocky path down the cliff…

***

As he fell, he could hear his own wailing mixed in the wind that mercilessly pounded on his ear drums.

a loud splash signaled his meet with the river’s surface.

He felt pain that cause him to momentarily black out.

But the water that entered into his windpipe forced him awake.

It drove him to frantically claw at the liquid.

The current was strong, too strong as it forced him repeatedly under the river surface.

His vision began to lapse.

He became weak after trying to fight the current.

After a lapse, he found himself clutching onto something buoyant.

At some point in time, the sky’s blue had dimmed and now showed a red tint.

Though the current had slow significantly, Li’s mind was on the verge of failing.

As the river flow Li approached one of the many meanders.

Soon he had realised that he had beached himself onto the inner bank.

“Come…On…”

He forced himself from the shore and leaned onto a tree trunk. His body sagged down to the ground, and Li lay slumped face towards the ground.

“…”

Panting heavily, he struggled to keep conscious and fought against the loaming darkness. But such actions were futile.

The last bits of light had faded.

“…Night”

 

***

*Gasp!*

His eyes were greeted with an unusual looking ceiling. He stared at the surface, unable to make out its fine features due to its distance and the lack of sufficient light.

The room was hardly lit and had a faint musty smell.

Li felt a firmness underneath him.

*Growl…*

Even in this place he felt strong pangs of hunger.

Li dragged his hand over his face and softy breathed a sigh of relief. But unease soon fell on him.

How did he get there?

As he sat to pondering these questions his eyes soon fell on a nearby bookshelf were it was filled with strange eight by six inch ‘books’.

The ‘bookshelf’ was of crude construction. The shelves made of irregular planks of wood in a manner which suggested that the owner only cared for practicality.

Maybe the information within them could help him.

he reached out to grab one of the books.

Would these give him some clues to where this place was?

But then again would he be able to understand them?

With no windows, only a dim light source kept the darkness at bay of a mere six or so feet.

He needed to occupy himself a bit…

He looked at the cover of the book.

“”NOTE vol 1″”

These were the only words on its surface.

He opened the cover.

The entire paper was cover with neat scribbles. It was a book after all… Li stared at the them in disbelief.

He was able to understand them could read them!

His understanding was not complete but…

“…there no point in questioning how.”

“…I might as well use it.”

While the first page appeared to be a table of contents, many of the terms were foreign to him…

He tried to read what he could:

“””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””

The purpose of this book

World map

The Black Zones

“”””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””

These immediately stood out for some reason.

“…The most pressing issue now is to find out where I am.”

He thought back to the events earlier.

His pulse rose and his breath quickened.

He tried to calm himself as he looked at his trembling hands.

“This crazy place…”

He wanted bearings and a directional sense. As he turned the page, a map came into view.

Was this the shape of the world or just some small part of it?

As the time pass slowly his thoughts drifted from the map to the book and their existance itself.

“Hmm…”

But as he turned the page, something moved in the darkness!

“-?!”

Li dropped the book in haste and raised his fists.

Not that they were worth much…

“…Come out!”

I heard my voice raspier than I had imagined it.

“My…”

A voice left the darkness.

“So the stranger has an interest in this old ones musings…”

I was startled at the sudden appearance of the gruff voice, which made my hand freeze in mid-air. I rigidly turned to the source but saw no one yet.

Upon reflex I had turned toward the bookshelf.

“Hmm… You are interesting, young man”

As I turned back towards the darkness, the appearance of an old man slowly materialized.

He casually walked toward me while Li remained unable to move. He only stopped when a few feet from him. while his facial features were not too clear in this lighting, the deep wrinkles on it was obvious.  He wore a white robe which was on the verge of turning into rags. However, apart from this was nothing too different form a regular old man.

He was a full head shorted than Li was so the old man had to looked up to his face.

Li could sense the casualness in his demeanor and a general lack of fear.

And why should he?

Li could feel an unpleasantness in his gut.

The Air around this old man was “sharp”.

The silence spoke out between the two…

Li was unnerved but he tried not to show it.

“I wouldn’t have guessed that anyone would take interest in these old records…”

‘He wrote this? He thoughts remained in his heart.

“Sorry about reading them without consent.”

He had gathered his will but found his voice more broken than he intended.

The old man had stopped a meter or so away.

“…It’s fine.”

The old man continued unhurriedly:

“I placed you here because this area was the safest place for you to recover.”

He was clear and articulate, his words were easily to understand though he appeared to drag his words for whatever reason.

But Li was surprised at the fact that he could understand him.

Just maybe…

That thought crossed his mind.

“Old one, where is this?”

The old displeasure was clear.

“Humph!-”

“I’m sorry, I don’t know why, but for some reason I talk like this… I really can’t help it…”

“…”

While I did not like the fact that he appeared unmoved, there was little else I could do but continue.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t know how I should to call you…”

The man’s face seemed to going into on of thought. His tension appeared to drop at Li explanation.

While Li was thankful for being able to communicate he wondered what had changed.

“…I see. That is indeed the case. Still, rude one …”

Li could tell that he pointed sharp glint to his face on which Li had donned an apologetic face. But he couldn’t hide all of the fear that he felt.

“I’ll ignore it.”

“Old Wolf, call me that.”

***

Old wolf spoke with a bit of haughtiness.

Li controlled his breathing.

he could see no reason as to why he may have rescued him.

Then again so did that man.

He already had two near death encounters…

Now he questioned just how dangerous this place was.

The world seemed to be thrusting more uncertainty to him.

He couldn’t even reason why he was able to understand this man’s words.

But who could he complain to?

If he wanted to just kill him he would have never woken up.

However, kindness is never free.

Maybe he was wrong but he felt that he would have to pay up sooner or later.

The old man smiled and for a moment he was worried whether if he saw see past his facade.

Li cringed silently.

The old man did not say anything else then but only turned to look at the bookshelf.

In a swift but causal motion, he reached up, taking them off the shelf and into a pile that grew with each volume.

But he removed the first of the book retrieved and to my surprise tossed it toward him.

After a short while, He had removed three books in total, including the one that Li currently held.

He glanced upward, taking a passing glance at Li’s face before uttering the words “Come…”

After he spoke, Li watched his body move with awkwardness that some of his age may have.

Whatever the reason, the man strolled into the darkness.

After a slight hesitation, Li followed after him.

****

Surprisingly, beyond the darkness were eventually a table with a few chairs. However, surrounding these were vast set of books lined on numerous shelf of around his height.

The lighting here was greater than that of the earlier room, such that it was enough to see without issue.

Curious to its source, Li looked upward to the ceiling to find luminous objects transparent like that of crystal attached.

Li unwittingly gasped at the unexpectedness of the entire scene; the tranquility of the surrounding made this place appear to be an ideal reading space.

“Wow…”

“…”

The old man remained silent, but now wore a slight grin together with a faint glint in his once sleepy eyes.

‘I guess no matter where, people want the things they like to be praised…’

Seeing the lack of windows and the crystal like lights made him wonder whether this place was underground.

Strangely, while the air was still cool as before, it no longer held the dampness from earlier…

“Am I still in the forest?”

Those words left his mouth without thought.

As he spoke, the old man turned to him.

“So you understand…”

There was a slight pause before he pointed to a chair.

“Well it’s not that it matters. Anyway, sit. ”

His words contained a mild fervor, and for some reason it felt familiar to him.

It reminded him of when one would feign disinterest as to hide their pride.

‘Maybe he is more interested in me than me lets on…’

Soon, Li found himself at a rectangular table with rounded edges on a seat that felt firm but not unpleasant.

While the two books Flow held was placed on his right, Li took the book given to him into his hands.

It had no title and the binding appeared to be made of a substance reminiscent of crystal. The cup from before flashed through his mind.

But as interesting as it was, his attention couldn’t stray away from the old man who sat only a few feet away.

Li returned the book to the table.

The old man had appeared ready to speak.

“First, do not deceive me or else…”

“Even the veterans are cautious to venture the forest at night without the using the paths…”

“In this forest, for the weak such as you…”

“you will not last a few minutes there…”

These words were met with a silence which underscored his seriousness. He had already grasped that Li was a foreigner to these parts from the little time that he knew him.

Li recalled that howl…

But should he produce the truth?

he nervously scratched his scalp.

would he believe him if told the truth?

Li held none of the common sense of the world.

The silence was broken as the old man leisurely continued.

“Now I’ll ask…”

Old wolf eyes showed a tranquil look contraction to the severity of the threat.

His eyes were cold as he maintained his gaze on him.

They belonged to a person who had seen many ‘things’ in his life, maybe too much.

But the man also spotted a slight smirk.

The feeling of dissonance had hit Li hard.

Li looked towards the table’s surface I had cast my eyes away, unable to bare that look any longer.

Only a few moments passed before he made his decision.

“…”

“hmm?”

Old Wolf’s gaze lessened.

“…”

I raised my head. I looked at Flow. I wondered if this was wise choice. My tongue felt somewhat heavy from my hesitation and my mind drifted to the beads of sweat that crept down my brows.

“Well…”

“…”

“I am not from here”

“…Are you taking me for a fool?”

As if sarcastically showing that Li was stating the obvious, he raised his brow while still maintaining eye contact.

But apart for this, he sat with general disinterest, maybe even disappointment. Or what I saw might have been something else.

But he had remained silent. Li took that as a sign to continue.

“I…”

“I don’t know how I came here…”

“…”

“I… All I remember is entering an alley.”

“I was just heading back to my office and then I…”

Somehow I felt it would be best not to mention what I found in the alley.

“After that I found myself being attacked by some strange freaks!”

“Then something caused me to fall of a cliff and into a river where I nearly drowned…”

“Come on… what is wrong with this place?!”

“Even a half naked guy that looks like some thug had more piety that a man in religion wares.”

 

“next thing I know I was somehow caught between a fight”

“… and I still don’t know where I am!”

Li felt better after he had vented out his complaints.

But the same fact made his heart beat in a rhythm sounded by a mixture of fear and vexation.

He hadn’t changed his facial expression.

No, there was a slight change in his eyes.

The old man eyes, which was first lazy then force had returned to its original lazy look. However mixed in was a sharpness that Li could somewhat recognize.

“?!”

Li suddenly felt a strange indescribable sensation that he instinctively responded.

He jerked upward due to his surprise.

It had felt a bit disgusting for whatever reason.

“…Interesting”

He sounded genuinely interested in my story. But Li had expected him to be of the more impatient folk.  Or was it something else?

“Well, whatever…”

Li held back his thoughts.

‘Or was he enjoying my displeasure?’

Something didn’t add up. Li was getting more unsettled.

A cold feeling began to setting at the nape of his neck.

 

“Right… Sorry.”

he stopped momentary and scratched his check, embarrassed about such an oversight.

“My name is Li”

“… I see”

There was a period were nothing was said by either of them.

Under the gentle light from the crystal which illuminated us, this surreal space felt even more empty and spacious than it was. For this quiescence, Li became lost in the quietness, even if it was a strangely inappropriate time to do so.

However, his mouth moved to break this stillness, even without his knowledge…

“I only remember me leaving work to go drop off data to one of our partners at an office and then got lead around…”

“a paper?”

He remembered a white paper that had lead him to an alley

“What am I saying-?”

At that moment he experienced a crippling headache.

But his memory which was clouded seemed to have cleared up a bit.

He remembered a metal slab with etched marking and a big white dog…

No, it was more like a wolf.

A white wolf…

His face changed as Li tried to remember more.

“Right… There were flashing strange ‘lights’, but when I came too I was smack in the middle of a fight between two set of people.”

“There is nothing else I can say that you would want to know”

It may not be able to lie but I now thought that it was probably not a good decision to divulge everything.

“hmm…”

For the first time, the old man stroked his chin…

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