Chapter 6: Escape Plan
"Bite on this piece of wood tightly and you will feel better. Sorry, I… I can only think of this solution."
Thales furrowed his brows and kneeled in front of Ryan.
The crippled child beggar was half-lying on the floor with his upper body against the wall. Holding up his broken, badly injured, and almost torn off right hand that was steadily bleeding out, he stared blankly at Thales who was sharpening a dagger against a blunt piece of stone. He let Thales insert the piece of wood into his mouth.
Behind Thales, the little girl Coria sat on the stairs between the house and the yard with a blank expression. The area on the left side of her face which was burned by the silver coin was already treated with medicine and covered with a piece of cloth.
She held the charred silver coin tightly in her hand.
The little girl opened her eyes wide and looked at her surroundings, even rising her head to look at the moon after a moment before she let out a nervous chuckle.
Behind her, Quide's wide-eyed corpse leaned against the broken wall.
Thales felt nauseous.
That sensation... that of thrusting metal into flesh and blood, kept returning. It would occasionally appear in Thales' sword arm.
Thales sighed, suppressing the strange discomfort that came with killing someone for the first time. The burn on his chest was still aching, taking away a lot of his attention from that matter.
He had to kill Quide—Thales did not regret it at all.
The moment he thrusted the dagger into Quide's neck and watched him fall with all his unwillingness to admit defeat, Thales had even felt a surge of satisfaction rush into his heart.
That was the pleasure of revenge.
At that moment, it was as though all his grievances and hatred were soothed and released.
Simple yet brutal, effective and straightforward.
"However," Thales closed his eyes, and said to himself repeatedly, 'I must not fall in love with this feeling.'
After all, he took away a life.
He might have killed a fellow human because he had no choice. However, no matter the circumstances, it was not something to be proud of.
He definitely did not kill Quide so that he can become scum like him.
'More importantly…' Thales turned and looked at Coria. He sped up his sharpening of the dagger.
'What these children just experienced was most likely the most crucial point in their lives.'
Another vision from his past life bloomed in front of his eyes. The light from the projector and the words on the slides appeared like crashing waves.
"For the thesis I will be talking about in this lecture, its literature review mainly focuses on the field of psychology. From the perspective of developmental psychology, one's childhood and teenage years are the most vital in shaping his or her mind and personality. According to Bloom's longitudinal studies, the environment, interactions, and behaviors one experiences at those stages are strongly correlated to their future character and psychological development. Plenty of theoretical studies also suggest that this influence might even last through their whole lives…"
Thales shook his head and kept the newfound memory deep inside his heart.
The psychological health of the child beggars was only secondary—the problem at hand was survival.
Thales suppressed the nausea inside his heart and shifted his focus to the dagger in his hand.
This dagger was shorter than an adult's forearm. It had a single cutting edge, the tip curving slightly to the side. A black leather belt was wrapped around the wooden handle to prevent slippage while both sides of the blade were smooth…'Hmm?'
Thales suddenly discovered that, after being soaked in fresh blood, two engraved alphabets appeared on one side of the blade.
Thales' gaze shifted slightly and his heart jolted.
'Haha, no matter how many more tricks I have up my sleeves, how many more plans I concoct, or how much more intelligent I am,' thought Thales, 'none are as useful as this dagger called JC.'
Thales' gaze turned icy. In one moment he was sharpening the knife edge, but in the next he appeared beside Ryan's broken hand.
Thales cut without hesitation.
The blade severed what little skin and flesh was left between Ryan's palm and wrist.
"Hmm! Hmm… hmph hmph!"
Ryan's whole body started convulsing vigorously like a Mariahilf river prawn that has just been dropped into boiling water.
He bit hard on the piece of wood, letting out a horrifying sound from his throat. His eyes were shut tightly from pain and his face was distorted in an over the top manner.
Tears and snot flowed ceaselessly.
Thales immediately took the piece of cloth that had been applied with medicine, though it was just some Urth Dragon Leaves, and wrapped it around Ryan's severed wrist. He made a tight knot on it.
'Hopefully this will help in stopping the bleeding and prevent infection, or else…' Thales looked towards the fire and shook his head.
Ryan was still convulsing in pain. Thales pressed down on his severed wrist with one hand and embraced him with the other.
"Hang on, Ryan, it will be over soon. Hang on!" Thales shut his eyes and softly comforted Ryan. Ryan's hair brushed over the burn wound on his chest, causing another fit of unbearable pain.
Thales looked to the other side. Kellet, Ned and Ursula were lying quietly under the moonlight.
It was as if they were asleep.
Ryan's breath started to calm. However, Coria started crying softly again.
"Thales… *sniffs* I'm so scared. Coria really doesn't have typhoid, Coria has already recovered…"
Thales let go of Ryan and turned to embrace Coria in his arms, taking care to avoid the burn wound on her face as he patted her gently.
"It's okay now, Coria. Everything is okay now."
'I couldn't protect all of you.'
Thales opened his eyes and saw Sinti, who was gasping as he ran. He calmly asked, "How is the situation outside?"
Sinti sustained the fewest injuries out of all the children in the sixth house. Life as a child beggar allowed them to pick up plenty of first aid skills such as the setting of bones, or even the breaking of bones, and after Thales fixed his dislocated leg, he sent him out to gather information. He also asked him to gather information and spread news to warn the other members of the Brotherhood who might come.
"No one from above is coming. Not Rick, not the thugs either. There's no one from the Brotherhood. It seems like no one from outside the Abandoned Houses knows about this."
Sinti was the eldest among them and had worked with Thales for quite some time, he immediately answered Thales' biggest concern.
"It seems like Quide went to quite a number of houses, some of the children managed to escape. But, excluding our house and the seventeenth house, at least six or seven houses show no movement inside at all."
Thales' gaze dimmed. The sixth house was not the nearest Abandoned House to the front gate. He could already sort of guess the fate of the child beggars in those houses.
"Right now, all the child beggars already know what happened. They are spreading rumors among themselves that the Brotherhood is planning to kill us all. Some of them are hiding in the houses, too afraid to come out, but most of them ran out to the streets, and some even want to escape."
Thales' eyes lit up, "Wait, you mentioned that all the thugs are not around anymore?"
Sinti knew what Thales was thinking. He shook his head and bitterly spoke, "It's no use, the front gate is locked from the outside. Karak and the people from his house are shouting in front of the gate, but no one came. There's no way for us to escape unless we can cross through the moat and the thorns inside."
"Do we..." Ryan struggled to stand up while hugging his right hand, his face was pale as he asked, "Do we have to escape? We can stay here and wait till the morning, and when Rick and the others come, we can tell them that Quide went crazy himself…"
"No!" Thales firmly cut Ryan off, "Quide died in our house. If they manage to find the culprit, we will surely die. Even if they can't find the culprit, they will still blame it on us. Moreover, Quide's father is one of the elders in the Brotherhood, they won't let this go easily."
"Plus," Thales looked at Ryan coldly, "Do you want to wait for them to send the next Quide over? Even if the next ringleader is not someone like Quide, when he knows that his predecessor died under the hands of child beggars, do you expect him to feed and serve you well, then kneel down and beg you not to kill him?"
Ryan, Coria and even Sinti could not quite understand what Thales just said. The three of them blinked in confusion.
Thales looked at them and lowered his head in exasperation. He sighed and said, "Ha… to put it simply: we must escape."
The three children nodded their heads in unison.
Thales shook his head helplessly.
Another scene suddenly appeared in front of his eyes.
Snow was falling on the almost empty streets. A graceful figure was skipping in front while he kept talking.
"…Therefore, in his book, based on his observation along with historical data, which is the origination of capitalism in Europe, Weber mocked Marx's theory that the economic base determines the superstructure…"
"Although I don't understand what you are talking about, it all sounds very intellectual."
"Ha… in short, it means that Weber is looking down on Marx."
"Oh, I see. Let's go for hotpot then!"
"You were the one who asked me about my class today, can you not change the topic so quickly? And why is it that you can do it so naturally?"
"It's decided then, Korean barbeque! Strike Freedom, attack!"
"Weren't you talking about hotpot just now- Hey don't push me- And what is Strike Freedom- I told you not to push me-"
Thales shut his eyes tight and chased away the illusionary memory that surged back from the void.
Lately, his memories had been surging back towards him more frequently, "past incidents" came back to his mind one by one.
But please let it not be now.
It cannot be now.
There were more important things to do right now.
Thales opened his eyes and realized that the three children were waiting for his decision.
He stood up quietly and pulled Ryan up with him while taking a deep breath.
"First of all, we must remove Quide from the sixth house while there is no one outside. Although he is super heavy, we can't let anyone know that his death is related to us within the next few hours."
"After that, Sinti, start spreading word to everyone, discreetly. You must not let anyone know that you are deliberately spreading it. Tell everyone that, at the bottom of the moat on the left side of the fourth house, five of the thorns are lose. Remove them and use a slab of stone or something to press the remaining two thorns down. That way, we can escape from the houses."
Sinti was surprised. "You... you found the secret passage in the moat?"
"Secret passage?" Ryan and Coria also looked as if they were shocked.
Thales did not reply but tapped Sinti's shoulder instead and said, "Go."
The secret passage was not dug by some senior child beggar with great abilities.
This so-called secret passage was dug by Thales twice per week while he went off to beg at the Western City Gate, which always allowed him to return late. Using a dagger, tree vines, linen, and a corrosive agent from the pharmacy, he dug secretly for four years.
It was totally like "The Shawshank Redemption" in Errol.
As for that myth, it was just sheer illusion.
There was never any savior, was there?
Thales patted Sinti's shoulder again, and the latter nodded his head. As he was about to turn, he scratched his head like he suddenly thought of something, then with a voice filled with doubt, he asked,
"Why do we have to tell everyone? Can't we just escape by ourselves? If there's a lot of people, everyone will be fighting to get ahead and that will slow us down."
'No,' Thales thought. 'The Brotherhood are not stupid. Every single street and corner in all three lower districts are full of their spies. Even the outskirt area outside the Western City Gates is full of their lackeys. For a few child beggars who are not even ten, even if we manage to escape, it's very difficult to escape the Brotherhood.'
Thales' original escape plan was due to be carried out in half a year. Within that time, he would have been able to completely gauge the pattern and rhythm of the Brotherhood's spies that were placed between the third lower district and Red Street Market. He would have also obtained materials from Sunset Pub and Grove Pharmacy, greatly increasing their chances of escape.
As long as they can reach the Red Street Market.
But right now… right now, it was not the best opportunity at all.
However, for survival, they must escape immediately. Disasters always strike unexpectedly, did they not?
That was why he must turn the sixth house's private escape plan into a collective commotion of all the child beggars.
If the children in the sixth house were the only ones missing, it would be too obvious, and the Brotherhood would swiftly track them down. With more people, although their escape would be slow, it was safer and more discreet.
However, if he were to explain these reasons one by one…
Thales raised his head and looked at Sinti. His piercing gaze made the latter a little uncomfortable.
"Sinti, do you remember the pact that we made four years ago?"
Sinti was momentarily stunned before he lowered his head in thought.
When he looked up again, his gaze spoke of determination.
"Of course." Sinti looked at Thales, whose height only reached his shoulders, and said slowly, "You do all the thinking, and my job is to carry them out."
Thales nodded solemnly.
"Let's escape together!"
Jala Charleton idly watched the last customer exit Sunset Pub, then she rose lazily to clear his glass.
There were few customers today, especially members of the Brotherhood. most of them were dispatched to become part of that "big operation". Even the cook, Edmund, had left with a chopper. Apparently, he was going to return a debt of gratitude.
The old man had not returned for a long time, either.
Jala glanced at the wall clock, it was half-past three in the morning—still a little early.
But then again, the clock was a little slow.
'That clock is super old,' thought Jala, 'even the rear compartment that holds the Eternal Oil is rusty. Carelessly mixing Eternal Oil with rust drastically reduces its efficiency.'
She had to think of a way to convince the old man to spend some money and get a new clock.
Although Sunset Pub had plenty of businesses, no tax officers from the town council ever came to collect any tax.
("For the sake of the king, I will give the tax collector two of my middle fingers!"–Jala)
There were no clueless idiots who came to collect protection fees either.
("Each of you pay a hundred coppers, and I will protect your fingers from being chopped off by me. What do you think?"–Jala)
Even their stocks were obtained at a discounted price through Black Street Brotherhood's internal sources.
("Nayer Rick, as the person in charge of accounts, quickly tell our brothers lying on the floor and this knife of mine what price you will be offering us for the stock. Hmm?"–Jala)
Surely, they can afford to spend some money on a new clock?
That stingy old man.
Jala shut the front door and finished up work at the bar counter. She then set down her apron and wash cloth, tightened her leather pants, blew out the Everlasting Light on the front counter (such an ironic name) and walked into the kitchen. It was still a little early today. Based on practice, after finishing up her training, there would still be…
The next moment, Jala's countenance turned cold and harsh.
She immediately lowered her body and bent her knees into a position where she can exert energy easily. The Wolf Limb Blade on her thigh was in her left hand in the blink of an eye.
The tip of the knife flew forward like lightning.
The Wolf Limb Blade had savagely hit a beer barrel!
Only a small part of the blade stood out of the barrel, the handle still shaking.
"Ah!" A little girl screamed in alarm.
Jala slowly straightened herself, sheathed the other Wolf Limb Blade in her right hand back into her boot, then lit the Everlasting Lamp beside her.
The light flooded the dim kitchen and revealed a few small figures.
"Jala, er…" Thales, who was scared stiff by the thrown Wolf Limb Blade, forced a smile and raised his quivering right hand before he waved unnaturally. "Hi… it's me."
Jala glared coldly at him, still silent.
Her gaze was both piercing and frightening. Coria moved her body closer to Thales in fear.
Jala suddenly walked towards them.
Thales could feel the three child beggars behind him take a step back.
"I know," Jala said coolly, "otherwise, I would have aimed at something else other than the beer barrel."
Jala went in front of Thales and yanked the Wolf Limb Blade, which was two inches away from Thales' left ear, out of the beer barrel. As if demonstrating her power, she flourished the blade around before putting it back in her boot.
"And, you brat…"
Thales rolled his eyes inwardly and raised up his hand in reflex to protect his forehead.
But a slim finger was already poking firmly on it.
"You must call me big sister Jala!"
"I didn't see Edmund when I came in through the back door, so I decided to check out the kitchen…"
They were now at Sunset Pub's cellar. The three other child beggars were leaning against huge sacks filled with food. Although they seemed restless, they did their best to dig into the pieces of white bread in their hands. It had been a long time since they had good food like this.
Further away from them, Thales sat on a beer barrel that was twice his height. He was on eye level with Jala Charleton, who crossed her arms and had a leg against the wall. She was languid, but still exuded her signature confidence.
If he were still in his past life, Thales would have slowly admired her from top to bottom. He would then raise his head to look at the sky while savoring the memory and marveling at the world's beauty.
Heh, you were wondering about what Thales would be doing after that? Bullshit. Of course, he would return home alone and do whatever he needed to do.
As for now? Sorry, but his body was still too young for that.
"Get straight to the point. Why did you come to me?" Jala's countenance was still cold, and she immediately went straight to the point.
Thales was used to that. He first met Jala four years ago at the rubbish heap behind Sunset Pub. This "big sister", who was only about eighteen or nineteen at that time, was already talking and acting that way.
He knew that this was just who she was.
"Quide went crazy and killed almost half the child beggars in the Abandoned Houses."
Thales spoke solemnly while clenching his fists.
'God. Damn. It.'
Ever since Jala saw that these child beggars were covered in wounds, she already had her suspicions regarding what happened earlier.
Without batting an eye, she started cursing Rick inwardly. 'This accountant, I knew that nothing good would come out of you forcing Chaca Wine into Quide's mouth.
'Why did I agree to it, all for ten gold coins?
'Half the child beggars.
'Ten gold coins?'
Jala's expression dimmed.
Besides… this incident will definitely anger the Brotherhood.
"No one came to stop him, nor did anyone rescue us. We had no choice but to escape by ourselves," Thales said gravely, the incident from a few hours ago replaying in his mind.
Jala said nothing and looked at him glumly.
In the end, Jala closed her eyes and sighed.
"I get it, you guys can hide here for a day. Don't worry, with me around, that gorilla wouldn't dare to come here. If he comes, I will cut off his d*ck- I mean, hand."
Jala glanced at the other three child beggars and frowned. She could tell the new injuries apart from the old ones, especially the child whose right hand was wrapped in a piece of cloth.
"When Edmund returns, I will ask him to find Rick and the others from above. Having done something like this, Quide won't be able to escape—this bastard, why did he not die earlier?"
Jala suddenly felt dispirited. She lowered her leg to the floor and stood up.
Thales' gaze darkened. He looked at the three child beggars and took a deep breath, then looked towards Jala.
"There's some big operation going on in the Brotherhood today. I guess that's why the defences and patrol systems are lax. To be able to escape, you guys must have… Ah, forget about it. I'll go get some medicine, and if you guys need a doctor- wait, brat, are you okay?"
While Jala was busy talking to herself, she suddenly realized that Thales, who was standing in front of her, did not look right. His body was also full of injuries. His clothes were torn to pieces, and his right sleeve had fresh blood on it.
This brat's gaze…
Looked a little off.
Jala went in front of Thales and dragged him off the beer barrel. She then kneeled and held Thales' shoulder while looking straight into his eyes.
Jala's gaze suddenly turned somber and urgent.
"Brat, you… What happened to you?"
Thales was a little afraid to look at Jala's eyes. However, in a mere few seconds, he managed to compose himself and firmly raised his head.
Thales could hear his own voice. It was calm as usual—without a tremble.
"Jala, Quide is dead…
"I killed him."