Chapter 62

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It was a gentle tap on the shoulder. Alex realized seconds later the girl was just trying to get his attention. By that point, his sword was already drawn and his shrill shriek of fear and rage had left her huddled behind a tree, quivering. Alex laid his sword down with quaking hands, stirring up a small dust cloud from his violent tremors.

"I'm sorry," he whimpered.

"It's alright," Hakana replied. She let out a weak, halfhearted laugh as she approached him.

Sophia, alongside six armed Dannic soldiers had sprinted over to the meadow in response to the noise.

"You okay kid?" Sophia asked.

"I'm fine I... just had a bit of a nightmare. Just..." Alex raised a hand to shield his eyes from the sun as it blazed orange on the horizon. When had it gotten so bright and blinding? "... I just want to be alone for a bit. Please."

"Alright alright," Sophia said. She sheathed her sword and took several steps back. "Just remember, we're right here." The armed women all scattered back toward the rubble pile that served as their improvised base of operations.

"I'm... really sorry," Hakana said. "I didn't realize..."

"You didn't do anything wrong," Alex snapped. "What could you have done? What could anyone?"

"Women can be self serving pigs I know," Hakana said. "We should be protecting you, not stepping on you for our own pleasure."

"What do you want?" The words came out louder than Alex had expected. "Sorry."

Hakana remained unphased, much to Alex's relief. "It's okay. You've been through a lot. I just thought you might be hungry. We're not exactly safe and you'll need your strength." She reached into the satchel draped over her right shoulder and pulled out an apple. She offered it to Alex with an inviting smile.

He forced himself to reciprocate, though it only came out as a crooked half grin. He bit into the fruit. It was tart, crisp, and cold, a welcome contrast to the dry graininess that had enveloped his tongue after so many hours around the dusty ruins of the Palace. "Thanks. But I don't think it's at all about women needing to be better to men... It doesn't matter who's taking advantage of who. Women, men, give any human power and they'll steal, humiliate, rape, do whatever they want to anyone weaker than them just because they can. It's what my people have been doing to yours. It's all any of us humans ever do. You'd probably know that even better than I do."

"Yes. But that doesn't mean there aren't good people. Like your mother. She freed me and has been teaching me how to use my abilities." Hakana held up a hand and clenched her fist. The ripple in the air was barely visible and the shift of heat in the air even more subtle. Nonetheless, the girl's exertion created a faint red sphere of energy around her tightened knuckles.

"My mother helped you because it would hurt her enemies," Alex said. "You accepted her aid because she would help you hurt yours. And now you're aligned with my aunt the Queen because she fights against the Institution that's caused you so much pain. You're only proving my point. Humans are only good at finding new ways of hurting and killing each other. I just want it all to end." Alex clenched his eyes shut and squeezed his temples with his palms. "It won't go away... her face, her hands..." He suddenly became keenly aware of his hips and groin. "Tell me, after you watched your mother die, did you ever manage to make it leave your mind? To make yourself not see it?" He looked up and realized the smile had faded from Hakana's face, replaced with a sorrowful sulk that threatened to break down into weeping.

"I make it leave. I remember the monster that killed her. She was... she wasn't even human. Between the fires and the crystals she had turned her skin into, she looked just like a demon straight from hell. I tell myself one day I'll find that monster and I'll rip her in half with my own hands. I make myself focus only on that. Focus on the woman that took your innocence, violated and hurt you in ways you did not even know you could feel. Then picture yourself ripping her limb from limb. Throw all your pain onto her, and sooner or later you will be able to fall asleep to peaceful dreams." Hakana bore her teeth as she spoke. The white, jagged canines running along either side of her widened mouth along with the darkened, muddy complexion of her unwashed face gave her a dangerous and feral look. Alex felt his heart skip at the sight.

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