Chapter 5: Vigour
"How much longer 'til she wakes up?" said a young, seemingly innocent voice.
Those were the first bunch of words Aela heard once she regained her consciousness. She tried to recall exactly what had happened or where she was because the last thing she remembered was entering the run-down cottage-and even that was still ambiguous.
She opened her eyes.
A bright, white light glared at her as she tried to protect her eyes from its beaming rays.
Suddenly, a curious-looking, little face peered at her, blocking her view of the luminous. He was just a kid-probably eight to nine years old.
"Finally! After a million years!" said the same high-pitched voice which came from the face that now looked down at her.
"Gunner, it has only been half an hour. Half an hour isn't even near a million years," said another voice.
The familiar, cold, and calm voice made her stomach lurch. If it had all been a dream, Victor's voice had definitely pulled her down and back to reality.
"Sheesh, Victor!" said Gunner. "It was just an expression!"
Apparently, they were both ignoring her now.
"Never mind that," said Victor as he adopted a more business-like, serious tone (as if his seriousness level wasn't enough). "Go get Vigour. I sent him up the cottage to clean up after her mess."
"No problem," said Gunner. "I feel like tapping my feet out this boring tunnel anyway."
"Start tapping then," said Victor. "And don't stay up there too long. The last time you did, you ended up like her."
But Gunner had already skipped out of the huge room, whistling to a beat he had picked up from his broad imagination.
"Let me get this straight," Aela said as she sat up from the single bunk-bed she lay on. "I fainted because-."
"You lost a lot of blood from your wound," completed Victor. "You should've seen the splinters of wood that was removed from it. Why didn't you tell me?
For a second there his voice showed concern. But as soon as it came, it went.
"I thought you knew. Wasn't it obvious? Wait a minute..." She turned away from him as she examined her leg, which wasn't needed, for he too turned around. "Why isn't my wound here anymore?" she questioned. "I can't see it nor feel it. And besides, there aren't any stitches."
"That's why I sent for Vigour. I think it would be proper if he were here while I explain things to you."
"And why would you need him here? And if he was here, why would you be the one to explain and not him?"
"Because he is a lot more. He's important."
"You do know you're not making any sense right?"
Victor ignored her. Again.
Silence filled the room as Aela sat on the bunk-bed and Victor on the bunk across her. And the amusing thing about it all was that they were both looking down, lost in deep concentration.
Aela thought about the possible explanations for her leg and came up with only two: Either she was just hallucinating and really lost it or someone came up with the perfect herb to cure wounds in less than half an hour.
"You know, this room has no difference with that of the one in prison," said Aela as she looked around the room, breaking the deafening silence.
"And why is that?" Victor asked as he snapped back into reality. At least he wasn't ignoring her this time.
"Must be the feel-the feeling of imprisonment and slavery. Not to mention the same gray color," Aela said with more than just one drop of sarcasm. "I'm thankful though that it doesn't have the same smell."
"You must feel right at home, then."
"At least this isn't my home."
He only glared at her in return.
"Anyhow," she said, changing the subject. "Where are these infamous comrades you speak of? How many does it take to steal whatever you have in mind?"
"They're coming. No need to worry," he said as he reached in his pocket and took out a chained gold pocket watch. "As for the number, it's large enough to steal the most valuable object in this world."
"I'm not worried, believe me. It's just one small thing called curiosity," she said. "Speaking of curiosity, what exactly is it you want to steal? Is it something that belongs to the Queen?"
"No, not the Queen. I will further discuss this when we are complete."
"Great. I still have a lot of questions though," she said as she eyed the watch-not because she wanted to steal it but because it was...different. Its design-a series of lines that carefully played around the watch-was so intricate it was strange.
But that was all she saw-a series of lines-for Victor quickly put it back in his pocket as he gave her an inquisitive look. He must have seen her eyeing it.
"Who's Gunner?" she asked, acting as if she hadn't been looking at it in the first place. "Your servant boy? Because if he is, I'll have to give you a full speech on child labor."
Victor did a gesture that could pass for eye rolling. "Gunner, my dear, is your comrade. And I wouldn't think you'd know enough words to come up with a speech."
"A little boy?" Again, she decided to leave his useless last comments out of the discussion.
"Yes. Do not underestimate him though. He can do a lot in a second."
"How about giving me a straight answer for once?" she asked.
"Fine," he said as he stood from the chair. "Gunner, can use any weapon ranging from bows and arrows, to bombs, and fire-blasting rifles. There's not one weapon that he doesn't know how to use."
With every word he said, Aela's eyes grew larger and larger. For a while she was speechless. She saw Victor's evil grin as he seemed to enjoy her lack of words and her abundant expression. Clearly, he knew this would happen and clearly, she wouldn't let him have all the smiles.
"Who...or what...is Vig-?"
"Vigour is...complicated," he said, cutting in.
"Like Gunner?" she asked.
"Yes," he said. "Like Gunner." The tone he used was a tone of an adult talking to a child. Mockery.
"Then how about "uncomplicating" him and explaining him to me?"
"Look," he said. "I already told you about Gunner. I only want you to find out about Vigour on your own."
"Because it's much more interesting that way."
He brought his hand to his pocket and pulled out a clean pair of white gloves.
"I'll just ask him then," she said haughtily.
"You can try. No one's stopping you." He held on to the gloves. "But I cannot guarantee you satisfaction for your impending curiosity."
"Is that supposed to mean something?"
"Obviously. It could mean anything. Interpret it as you wish. And if it didn't mean anything, I wouldn't have bothered saying it at all."
She helplessly watched him slip his gloves on. Maybe he was of noble blood after all, considering the gloves. That time, gloves were worn for respect and not just for fashion. In an era where skin touching skin is already a sinful, hurtful offense, gloves were important. Of course she didn't have a pair of those, but then again, she was just a peasant.
She still had a lot of questions and most of them were just left unanswered. It was, as she realized, useless to bombard him with all the questions she could think of. He just wouldn't budge. Wherever Gunner was, he had better hurry back with Vigour before she decided to beat all the answers out of Victor, however "unlady-like" it may seem. Of course, the beating would be done out of uncontrollable madness. Victor possessed that kind of side-effect. In fact, it wouldn't surprise her if she found out right this very second that Victor had been the cause of all the madness unleashed in the world. It was just too highly possible.
Her head ached, exploding with a multitude of inquiries. She just couldn't wait. She needed to know the answers now or else she would later be uneasy just thinking about it. By the end of the day, she would have had about a hundred theories on what was really going on.
To take her mind away from the questions, she observed her surroundings. The room was amazingly bright, the walls were white, and there were no windows. Their only sources of air were tubes sticking from almost all sides of the room. Those tubes probably stuck out of the tunnel they were in.
"So that's why people say they see lights turn on and off at night," she said as an epiphany took over her. "You go up and down the Colossal Descend with an oil lamp and do whatever it is you do-what do you do anyway?"
All the while she talked, a smile had planted itself on Victor's face. The wickedness of his smile didn't bother her as much as before. She was getting used to it-and that's what scared her.
"I'm glad you finally figured it out," he said. "It took you long enough. And as for what I do, I go out for a walk. There's not enough oxygen down here for me to think. Of course, I pass the back door which as you know, faces the forest and nothing else. But since you broke it, it'll be difficult now, won't it?"
"So, it cheers you that everyone thinks this place is haunted?" she asked. "Actually... forget about answering that question."
She continued to glance around.
The furniture consisted of a study table, a cabinet, and a basin. Aside from these, there was a huge wooden table at the middle of the room with three chairs neatly pushed inside it, and three single bunk-beds lined side by side. She was sitting on the first one, Victor on the second. There was too much of a pattern in this seemingly quaint portrait. Everything seemed to be tripled. Suddenly, it dawned to her that all things in the room were constant in number: Three chairs, three bunks-it was as if she were Goldilocks in the house of the three bears, except the furniture had the appropriate sizes.
"No..." she said as she came to a sudden realization, hoping that what she was thinking was false.
"You're three. Only three."
For a second there, Victor looked quizzical. But the next second, he was reserved again, with his pride held up as high as always.
Before he could say another word, they both heard approaching footsteps followed by a young voice.
"Hey Vigour, you know what? With this girl on our side, we can steal what we were hired to steal," said the cheery, unmistakable voice belonging to Gunner. "And did you know that she stole from the Queen herself? I'm sure that's why Victor picked her of all the other profiles the Boss gave him."
Aela quickly turned to Victor upon hearing Gunner's last sentence. "You work for someone? You never mentioned that."
"I never said I didn't." His voice was stern. He was apparently cross at Gunner for having talked so loud.
At the doorway emerged two figures. One was Gunner with his angelic face and baby blue eyes. It was hard to face the fact that he knew how to handle weapons. She didn't even know how to handle a simple gun. Knives, on the other hand, were something else. After doing chores such as cooking, specialties on knives could be found possessed by all women.
The other one, on the other hand, was presumptively Vigour. He had rough features and kind brown eyes. But that wasn't all. He was of the black race. He was most likely brought to England as a domestic servant by returning sea-captains, colonial administrators or plantation owners. For the English aristocracy and the newly rich, a Black page or handmaiden was an asset to be shown off as evidence of exotic wealth; therefore, there were a lot of them in England.
"You must be Vigour," Aela said as she jumped out of the bunk to meet him. She shook his hands. Thankfully, he was wearing gloves and thankfully, he wasn't like Victor. He had a smile on his face. And it wasn't evil. It was a gentle, calm, cheery smile. He looked like he was in his late twenties. "It's nice to finally meet you."
Normally, normal people would look back at the person and say, "It's nice to meet you too," but all Vigour did was to remain silent and look towards Victor as if he relied on him to do the talking.
"Is there something wrong?" she asked.
"Wrong?" Victor said. "There's nothing wrong. I believe you meant, "What's happening?" He seemed to be amused, as usual.
"Since you already know what I meant, why don't you go straight to the point and answer the question?"
"Very well," He said. "You see, Vigour here is a mute. That's why I have to be the one to explain things to you. I wanted to explain...him in his presence."
There was a pause as Aela tried to put the puzzle pieces in place.
"So he's the one who came up with an herb that can cure in less than an hour?"
Gunner looked at Victor, Vigour looked at Gunner, and Victor glanced at Vigour. Then the three all turned their heads to look and gape at her in amusement. Gunner laughed, Vigour smiled, and Victor...he didn't have emotion to begin with, anyway.
Victor sighed, and he made sure she had heard it. "Vigour is very special, just like you."
She was taken aback. "Special in what way? Is he a thief?"
"No, he is not a thief. He just possesses abilities that are...out of the ordinary."
"He knows sorcery?" Her shock was increasing by the minute.
"Why don't you just tell her, Victor?" asked Gunner.
"Yes, Victor. Why can't you just tell me?"
"I want it to last. It's amusing from where I stand-knowing everything. Knowing things that you don't know. It gives me power. It gives me advantage."
"You're a really sick man, you know that?"
"Yes, I do. Now how about telling me something I haven't heard before? Anyway, Vigour here can heal with his hands. He doesn't need herbs or any special medicine. He can heal any kind of wound, as long as the person he is healing is still alive."
Aela remained silent. She wasn't sure if what she heard was correct. Though that would explain the vanishing wound in her leg, she still wasn't ready to believe such a thing. It's natural-having the evidence right in front of you yet still not believing a thing. It was recessive even from the beginning of time.
An idea struck her.
"Can you heal my family?"
"I'm afraid he cannot do that. Vigour can only heal open exterior wounds. He cannot heal anything beyond that. It's beyond his power."
"But how does this help our mission?"
"This is a dangerous mission. And with you on our side, soldiers will be on our tails. And if you continue to be as clumsy as you were previously, there is no doubt that we will need him again. If you may, we would all prefer to be without flaw. A wound decreases our speed, and we have a schedule to follow. Besides, he is well acquainted with martial arts. He can teach you if you'd like."
"Hmm, I don't know. And how was I supposed to know that the floor was going to... disappear? You know, you could've warned me..."
"But where's the fun in that? I wanted to see if you have the ability to figure it all out."
She rolled her eyes. "When do we leave?"
"First thing tomorrow morning!" exclaimed Gunner. He had been following their discussion all along, amazed at how Aela talked back to Victor. The first time he did that, he just got a long silent stare. Maybe he should start counting the number of times each had induced a speechless effect on the other.
"But we can stop by your home first," added Victor. "I'll give them the money they need for their illness."
"Yes, thank you. But I need the medicine, not the money," she stopped as she saw the change in his expression. "And I do realize that I need the money in order to acquire the medicine. What I meant is that what I have to give them isn't money, but the money in the form of medicine already. Do I make sense?"
"Oh, I forgot that they live in the countryside. How about I send someone over there with the medicine?"
"Alright. Just make sure that it gets to them. If I find out that I'm doing this all for nothing..."
"You aren't. Believe me. What we are after isn't mere gold or treasure. If retrieved, it could change the world."
"Retrieved? So it belonged to someone else? So were stealing stolen property?"
"No, we're simply taking back what was stolen from us."
She sighed. "Fine." She was too tired and overwhelmed for any further arguments. She knew it was wrong to steal and that what she was doing was wrong. But she was stuck...trapped. If she didn't do it, she'd go back to jail. If she did do it, she'd still end up in jail. Though the second option would help her get the money she needed. Either way, the final effect would be imprisonment.
"You should all get some rest. It will be a long day tomorrow. We'll be traveling from dawn to dusk. We have a schedule to follow..." He paused as he gave a piercing look at Gunner who was trying to humor Aela by purposely yawning at Victor's words. "I'll try finding someone who can provide medicine at this late hour. You'll have to let me know the exact medicine you want, though."
After giving him the exact medicine needed, she slept as soon as her head touched the pillow. The bunk was uncomfortable, but then again, nothing could beat the stiff bunks of the human-rotting prison. There was a homey feeling to that place underneath the cottage. She didn't know if it was either because she was near actual humans, or if it was because Vigour was silently watching her and Gunner after Victor took off to get the medicine needed to help her family. She didn't know what to think of Victor. He was frustrating at times, causing her to want to stab him just to have Vigour heal him, but at other times he was an actual intelligent human being. And not much of those existed in the world.
She was confused. She didn't usually accept things without knowing the full plan. It gave her a disadvantage. But here she was, accepting the unexpected with open arms. What had gotten to her?