8/18, Mon, late night

It was a late night, the winds were blowing something fierce today. The road was dangerous to travel in the dark like this, so I decided to just take a rest in an area where I had a good view of my surroundings. Why was I out in the wilderness without anyone besides myself? I left the camp after I was provoked. To be honest, I'm fine with it, that just means I can just rough it out by myself without anyone to restrict me, yeah this is gonna be sweet!

"Yeah, this is gonna be great! I'll be able to do what I want to do!" The excitement was getting to me, though, I think my stomach might not be all that hyped as it rumbled. I think it might just be time for some hunting. I turned on my bike once more and began to drive on the eerily dark road. The stillness alongside the silence made driving through the night unsettling, it almost made me feel as though someone or something was gonna spring out at me. However, I was the one doing the popping when I went head first off my bike. I was able to break my lunge forward by covering my head and curled up in a ball. I suffered little to no damage nor did my bike. Bandits came out from hiding with weapons in tow. There was one that had a spear, headband that waves in the air, and a jacket with flames on it who seemed to be the head honcho

"Well, well, look what we have here boys, it's the brat from a few days ago. Do you remember me?" This guy is… He's…

"Nah dude, who are you?" "How dare you forget me!? And don't pick your nose in front of me!" "Sorry." "Anyway, I am a Flame Wraith, the very same that you dare lay a hand on! I am the great 10th captain, Eadwald!" "Oh, I remember, I smashed your balls in, right?" "H-how dare you!? I'll have you know that it took many nights for me to rehabilitate from that attack." "Right, right, sorry." "Anyway, it is time to duel, draw your blade!" "Kay."

I went over to my bike and took my sword out. "Alright let's get this started." They didn't waste time trading insults, they went for the kill. Of course, countering them was a simple matter altogether. I just moved out of their way and just whacked them all over the head.

"You defeated them already!?" "Yeah, now it's your turn." "Well, if that's the case… I will… RUN AWAY!" He began to run away from me into the wilderness. "Hey, get back here you bastard!"

I gave chase, disregarding any concern for danger. He was pretty fast on his feet for a guy wearing a cape, but I was still hot on his ass. By the end of the trail, I was greeted with more bandits than the ones that ambushed me.

"Kyahaha! What do you think of my ultimate tactic, the double wave of human shields!" Did he just openly admit that? "Sounds and looks disappointing." "Y-you won't be thinking that for very long! Kill him!" They began to charge me like a buffalo herd. "Come on then…!"

I charged at them with no intention to fight them all but to jump on one of their heads, then the next, then the one after that. All in order to drop on top of the spear guy.

"Fool, take this!" He thrust his spear while I was in the air. I kicked the spear aside. "What!?" My fist found its mark, I crushed his head between my fist and the ground. I turned my whole body towards the thugs behind me and shouted, "Bring it on!"

"*pant* *pant*" Fighting these batch of bandits was a bit taxing but I was able to pull it off. Yeah, I was able to do it, all by myself.

"I AM THE BEST!" I proclaimed towards the heavens. I was able to do it, I knew I could. Taking out bandits by myself was nothing, nothing at all, yeah…!

"..." After the adrenaline came and gone, a feeling began to dawn on me, a feeling I was kind of all too familiar with, a feeling that hasn't surfaced in a while. I can't say what it is for certain, but I think it's dissatisfaction…

"..." I sat on the ground with my head in my lap. My spirits were at an all-time low, I couldn't tell why I was so sad, but I was dissatisfied. What the hell, I thought I would feel much better after beating this many opponents. So why am I feeling terrible…?

"Damn it, this sucks." I wanted to prove Marie wrong, but how the hell am I gonna do that? I know I got Richard hurt, I know I messed up big time, but I'm trying my best to make up for it, that's why I want to fight as much as I can. I need to improve my skills. If I don't, then I can't take us home…

"...Damn it." This totally sucks, this really sucks." I just sat for a while, sitting as if there weren't bandits In front of me. Something came out of the small forest trees, it was Road Burner.

"Came to pick my sorry ass up? Sorry to keep you waiting then." Now even my bike was pitying me, this is so lame. That was enough sulking then, time to get a move on. I got on Road Burner and drove off back onto the main road. My destination was clear to me, I decided to go somewhere that I could safely spend the night. I can't go back, not at this rate, so that's why I'm just gonna go somewhere else…

High tree-top camp, late night

I parked my bike right under the platform. My eyes scanned the area around the edge of the platform, there was nobody near so far. That was until I felt cold steel pressed against my forehead.

"Sup, Puck." "Why are you here," he irritatedly asked. "Well, that's kind of a long story, a story that I'm not too interested in telling, but I don't have much of an excuse to share." "Then why are you here?" "It's a long story, are you sure you want to hear it?" "Go ahead." He wasn't that in a friendly way of me just getting something off my chest. But nonetheless, I told him why I was here after we climbed up to the platform…

"...And that's how I ended up here." "I see, I feel somewhat sorry for you." "Don't pity me, I don't need it!" "Kay." "Damn it, stop accepting things so quickly!" "Kay!" Man, it was like my whole story meant nothing to him at all, and after all my efforts to go and spill the beans. It was enough to make a tough guy like me cry.

"Why don't you go back," Puck asked. "I can't." "Why not, they didn't kick you out, so you should be able to just go back there despite you leaving." "I just can't. I left on my own accord after being provoked." "That makes no sense." "You just wouldn't understand, you would if you had to leave this place." "I won't leave this place ever, I belong here. I wouldn't leave Cade's side no matter what, even if he himself told me to leave, I would stay with him because I belong by his side and nowhere else. You told me you had a friend over there? Why did you leave him there?" "Because I'm… I'm a loner, nothing more or less." "That's a lie. Loners don't have friends or anyone to care about, so the fact that you have one tangible friend means that you aren't one. So tell me, why did you?"

Wasn't even trying to say a cool line, I wanted to believe that. "Because I'm… Too weak! A monster attacked us while we were taking on a bounty that turned out to be a scam and he got hit with poison. The whole time I was so scared of losing him that I was cursing myself for how stupid I was. In the end, we did save him, but it still didn't get rid of the fact that I got him poisoned, it was all my fault that I wasn't strong enough to protect myself! So that's why I left him behind. I need to get stronger to defend myself and him, and I couldn't do that if I was stuck being restricted, so that's why I set out on my own."

But it just wasn't that, I wanted to prove to Marie that I had it in me to protect him and to prove her wrong about me, and yet I ended up dissatisfied with the result.

"Sounds like you're just running away," Puck said in a matter of fact way. "Me, running away? Hardly." "But you are. What if there's a situation where your friend is in danger and he needs your help?" "He doesn't leave camp too often, so…" "What if your camp got attacked and he got hurt because you weren't there to help him?" He wouldn't need me since he has Nunnalé there with him, but if that were to happen, then…

"Anything can happen, anyone out here in this world can be taken away from you in the blink of an eye, so that's why I'll always stay by Cade's side, even if I'm not adequate enough to protect him, I'll try my best. Do you know why?" "Why?" "Because I don't want to lose him to anyone, nor do I want to lose Wedge or anyone else ever again."

Again? "What do you mean again?" "The day when our village got destroyed, our parents were killed by the bandits. We would've been killed if Cade didn't help us out of there. After that day, we swore to take vengeance on any bandit that came in our way, and to kill the bandits that killed our parents." "Oh… How's that coming along?" "We found some that were familiar and dealt with them."

I don't know how to feel about that, I feel that it's justified, but I also feel the other side of me doesn't agree with it. But I raised no objections or support towards their decision, instead, I bring up something else

"Man, you must really like Cade, huh?" "What?" He blushed when I mentioned Cade. "What, why are you blushing?" "Nothing, just forget it." "Wait, don't tell... you have a crush on him!?" "What does it matter to you? Isn't it normal for a girl to have a crush!?" "I mean, yes it is, but it just so forbidden, and… What?" "Is it not normal for a girl to like a boy in your world?" "Huh? A girl… You're a...?" "A girl, I am. You didn't know?"

Of course, I didn't, you look like a boy, how in the hell was I supposed to tell!? "O-of course I did. A guy like me isn't deceived so easily." "It's okay, I know I don't look it, I guess I just don't really care to look like one."

Ah, sounds like someone I know, except she actually does despite her laziness. Puck shot up from the ground. "Don't tell Cade about any of this, understand me? I'll kill you if you do!" The fear factor was gone since she embarrassed about reveling her crush; it was kind of cute.

"Yeah, don't worry, it's our secret." She took a deep breath, trying to calm herself. "Thank you." "Your welcome, now come on, I'll lend you a spare tent for tonight. I'll make sure to tell Cade that you're here when he wakes up. Whether you stay or not is up to Cade." You act like he would say no to a guy like me. "Lead the way, Pucky." "Never call me that." "Gotcha."

High treetop camp, morning

It was the morning after I left camp, and today I'm staying here in Cade's place. Honestly, I didn't wanna part ways with everyone else (save Marie) in the camp, but I chose to leave and I need to stick by it.

"Proxy, can you heading out with me," Cade asked as he came up to me with two cups in hand. "Huh, you guys are going somewhere?" I took one from his hand, the juice was pretty strong tasting, but it was good none the less. "Yeah, I decided to head out to your camp." "Why?" "Cause I've been thinking about something that could help turn the tide of the battle with the bandits: siding with the anti-bandit army." "Seriously? How do you know about them?" "Didn't you tell Puck about them last night?" Oh right, I forgot I did while telling my sob story.

"Anyway, if we merge our forces together, then we'll be a lot stronger for it. Do you think the leader would go for it?" "Maybe, Alex is an open book, wears his heart on his sleeves, type of guy, so he might go for it." "Great, then we should try to show them some hospitality." "How are you going to do that?" "By giving them something, like a weapon from a flame Wraith, and I have the perfect one in mind. Gotta go fetch one from my tent."

Cade ran off after chugging down his drink. I was amazed by how proactive he was to find new opportunities to fight the bandits. Pretty admirable.

"So, you're staying with us for a while Proxy!?" That loud voice belonged to Wedge - whose voice boomed throughout the camp as if it was against a microphone. "I'll be here for a good while. Don't worry, I won't get in the way of things here." "Great, it's good to have another comrade in combat! We shall sweep the battlefield!" "Yeah, yeah… Can you lower your voice by a notch." "Haha, sorry, I'm just so excited! We get to fight tougher and tougher battles with more allies!"

The dial that was supposed to go down but was jacked up by 100, but I don't really mind it all that much (any higher than there would be a problem). Though, what does that mean for me? Working with the others again would be pretty awkward, especially since I left them. Hell, I wonder what Alex would think about working someone that joined up with another group?

"Alright, I'm ready!" Cade came back from his tent with a shroud covering a long in length weapon. "What's that?" "A gift, I'm sure the leader will like it."

Cade whistled, a group of teens came together. "All right, we're going to be heading out, make sure to guard the place. Puck and Wedge are in charge, listen to them until I get back. Proxy and I are going to go out and talk to the anti-bandit army's leader to join up in their efforts to eliminate the bandits. By the time we come back, we'll be a lot stronger and one step closer to destroying the bandits for good!"

The kids nearby howled out in applause. Cade gave a quick bow for his people. He looked over to me. "Proxy, you wanna take one bike?" "Yeah, I'll drive ." "Alright then, let's go."

We went off to the bikes below us. Truth be told, I felt butterflies in my gut. I wasn't good at awkward situations, and going back to the camp would be pretty damn awkward. But nonetheless, I'll have to suck it up… This is not gonna be a great housecall.

Anti-bandit camp, morning

We were parked outside of the camp, Cade was ready to go as I was just trying to think about how I was gonna go into this. I was feeling a bit tense about having to visit this place. I said I didn't care what anyone thought but that was because I was in the heat of the moment. Oh man, this is too uncharacteristic of me!

"Proxy, let's go," Cade called me over. "Sure…" Damnit, I guess it's time to do this. Just suck it, man! As I kept chanting this in my head we got farther and farther into the camp, and in the blink of an eye, I was back in the camp. Someone in the camp pointed out that we were standing in the middle of the entranceway. Attention was coming onto me like a moth to a flame, I've never been this embarrassed over attention before. I was trying to find Marie in the crowd, but she was nowhere to be seen.

"Proxy, who's the leader?" "Hm, hang on." I tried to see where Alex was… I could see him sitting at the round stone table all the way in the back. "There, in the back." "Cool, I'll go introduce myself. I'll give you time to greet your friends." "Hey wait, don't leave me behind!" Cade casually strolled with his gift leaning on his shoulder.

"Hey, Proxy." Chip came up to me… "..." "..." The both of us didn't speak to the other, he just silently stared at me. He took something out from a little pouch he had on him.

"Want some of these chips, I got too many." "Are ya serious?" "Yeah, eat em." I grabbed the bag and opened it to taste the chips. I immediately gagged on them and spat them out. The taste was truly bitter and saltier than salt its self.

"It's salt flavor." "You bastard, it tastes nasty!" "Really, taste fine to me." "THAT'S BECAUSE YOUR TASTE IS SHIT!" How in the hell can he eat this stuff? "I also heard you left the group." "I did, I'm sorry, but I needed to." "It's cool, not like you betrayed us or anything, so it's cool."

I expected him to not be all that mad about me leaving, but the way he said it caught me. Besides that, I went around trying to find Richard. He was near the tent that he sleeps in.

"Proxy," Richard called. "Hey, buddy." "We were worried about you," "We were indeed," Nunnalé said with the least amount of emotion. Betting Richard told her to say that.

"Richard, Nunnalé, how are you guys doing?" "We are fine." "Proxy, listen, you should come back to camp," Richard pleaded. "No can do, I already made my decision." "But Marie is sorry about last night, plus it's getting dangerous out there." "I know, I got attacked last night." "Seriously!?" "But it's cool, I beat them all without a single problem." "Why are you treating it as if it's no big deal, you could've been killed." "Well, I wasn't, so yeah…" "Your behavior is truly foolish," Nunnalé scolded.

"I know what I'm doing, I'm not playing around here, I need to get better, I need to hone my skills through combat." "Why, why do you have to? Isn't it bad enough that we nearly died because of how recklessly you act? So why do you need to go and pick random fights!?"

Richard wasn't holding back anymore, I guess he was getting sick of me at this point. But since he was laying it on thick I should as well.

"It's because you saved me," I told him. "What?" "You took a bad blow to the chest for me, a blow that I should've dealt with, and it nearly killed you. If I was better than I was then, I could've made sure nobody had to get hurt, so that's why

I'm throwing myself into fight after fight; so I can become stronger, not just to have fun anymore."

I tucked my hands into my pocket and walked off towards Cade and Alex who were still in conversation.

"Somebody told me that I should try my best to protect the people I care about, but as it stands right now, I'm not at my best yet, so that's why I left and didn't take you with me, because I need to do this on my own…"

I left Richard to go back to Alex and Cade, the both of them were still talking things over.

...

"But Proxy… We're friends, of course, I would help you…"

Cade and Alex seemed to have been in the middle of discussion.

"You wish to merge your group with our," Alex asked. "That's right, is it a problem," Cade inquired. "Not at all, but I must ask: why do you wish to fight the bandits, you mind me asking? I'd just like to know who we're fighting alongside, is all." "It's because we swore to fight them, so we'll do it until they are driven out." "I see… Okay, then sure, let's join up," Alex easily accepted. "Just like that," Cade and I said in sync with our jaws gaping open.

"Is there a problem?" "N-no, not at all. I'm just surprised you accepted so quickly." "I can tell when someone is genuine in their causes or not, call it a talent of mine." "One hell of a talent," Cade complimented. "You think?" "I think so, and to congratulate that skill and our partnership, here you are."

He placed the shrouded weapon on the table. "Open it, you'll like it." Alex opened it as if it was a Christmas gift. The reveal was a weird pole shaped weapon. The blade was like a Kitchen knife.

"It's a lance from a Flame Wraith. The point is considerably weird, however, that's because its unique function is this."

Cade took it up and pointed it to the ground. "Watch this." He seemed to have clicked something on the spear. It shot at the ground and stuck itself inside.

"Whoa, that's amazing." "That's not all, it can also separate, like this." He pressed another button it separated with a chain linking them together. "That is awesome," I shouted. "I know, so, I'm offering it up as a gift." He places it back on the table. Some else came up and picked it up. Marie was examining it. She backed away from the table and started to spin it around show off her skills with a spear. She wasn't bad either, she moved with a nibble grace, but didn't move rigidly. Least to say, she was pretty damn good.

"..." Cade was staring intensely with a hand on his head while she went on showing her skills. "What's wrong Cade," I asked him. "Nothing, her moves are just…familiar." "How so?" "Don't know, I think I've seen those moves before." Did he meet Marie somewhere before, or does someone use the same moves as her? Marie finished her display with spinning the spear, then standing it straight and herself as well.

"Alex, what's going on," is the first thing she asked. "We have a surprise visit, this is Cade, he proposed a union between his group and ours." "...Did he agree immediately," Marie inquired as a guess. "Yep," Cade answered. "Ugh, seriously, Alex, you need to look a bit deeper into these things." "Sorry, sorry, but I believe that his convictions are real, and besides, Proxy walked in with him." Marie looked over at me, I averted contact from her.

"...Um, is something wrong," Cade, who was puzzled by the situation asked. "Nothing is wrong," I replied. "Wow, the air is truly heavy today, what is up with this weather?" That was a lame attempt on trying to change the subject.

"Good spear, can I keep it, Alexander," Marie requested. "May she," Alex asked Cade. "As long as you accept, she can use it to cut wood or catch fish for all I care." "Then I accept this, in commemoration of our unison."

Alex extended his hand, Cade took it and the both of them shook.

"That being said, when would you like to plan an attack," Alex asked. "Down to the point? All right, how about tomorrow?" "Sounds perfect, we should be able to do that." "Great then. As for trade between our groups, I believe you should be the one to set the terms on it, after all, I am the requesting party," Cade explained. "Okay, we can discuss it now, if you don't mind." "Nah, not at all." "Hm…" "What, what happened?" "That accent, do you come from the west," Alex asked out of the blue. "Born and raised. What about you?" "I was raised near the kingdom." "Didn't the bandits get rid of those villages years ago?" "Indeed, they did, I am the lone survivor… Along with my sister Marie." "You have a sister?" "Yes, she's the one who spun the spear around." "I see." "Anyways, let us talk about trade and coordinate a plan of attack for the camp tomorrow," Alex brought up. "Sure. Proxy, you wanna join," Cade offered. "No thanks, my brain sucks for battle tactics. I'll be heading out. It was nice seeing you Alex, sorry I left." "It's all right, Proxy, but I do have to say one thing: please settle things with Marie. It might not seem it, but she is sorry for what she did the night before." Neither Marie nor I said a word in response, she just looked down at the ground and I looked forward.

"I'm gonna go, see ya when I do." "Okay, take care," Alex happily sent me off. It made me feel even guiltier than it would if he was mad at me. As for Marie… I can't face her after what happened last night, it's too much. In front of me however was Gilhart, whose's easy-going presence was still radiating off of him even now.

"Proxy." "Yeah?" "Come by and spar with me some time, it has been a while and I wanted to have a fun fight with you.." "..." I walked off without accepting his offer.

"Damn it!" Everyone here, they all… They're all… "Why is nobody pissed at me!? I just don't get it…"

Anti-bandit camp, afternoon

By myself, I sat alone on the couch with the spear that we got from that Cade fellow. Seeing Proxy again was pretty awkward, we didn't even try to look at the other, let alone talk to the other.

"Marie, you should've said what you felt earlier." Alex came out of nowhere behind me. "That idiot wouldn't listen, so why should I waste my breath? He listens to nobody at all, not a shred of him even cares to listen. All he cares for is getting in trouble, and fighting to his heart's content…" "But?" "But… despite that… He really doesn't mean any harm to any of us. I should've known that all this time when he went to get a cure for the poison that hit Richard. He didn't mean for his friend to get hurt and felt awful about it ever since, and I just ended up rubbing salt in that wound. No wonder he got angry… But I just hate the way he acts with reckless abandon."

Alexander sat down next to me. "Marie, the best way to explain it to you is this: he's a person with an undying will." "Huh?" "No matter the obstacle, he'll keep pushing on at it, even if it might get him gravely injured, even killed." "But why?" "Because he stakes everything into one thing. He might seem like he doesn't care about anything or take anything seriously, but he does. When he came to break me out, he was willing to risk his own safety for our escape; he even risked it to save Gilhart when he was about to fall out of the gondola during our escape." "I know, he talked about it the night we broke you out." "Doesn't that speak something about him? Even when he came back with the cure to free Richard of his poison, he was gravely injured with a severe head wound and several broken bones. In the end, he risked his own body to save his friends, but even then, he's still being hard on himself. Whenever he goes into battle now, he's serious about winning and doesn't waste time entertaining himself in a fight anymore as I've seen so far… Well, this is my guess, but even so, I still believe this is the case. That's why he left, so he can get stronger. But, I don't believe he needs to go out on his own in order to grow stronger, I just wish he would realize that."

Alexander got up from the couch. "Well, I'm going to go run drills, care to join?" "No, sorry, not up to it." "Weird, didn't you say you needed to exercise so you can lose weight?" How in the hell did he know about that!? I grabbed him and put him in a headlock.

"Ow, ow, ow!" "Funny, you said something funny, can you repeat the joke again, funny man?" "Ow, ow, I only said what you said!" "What was it?" "That you need to lose weight?" My grip on him grew even stronger. "OWW!"

Alexander was a bit tackless at times, however, he was right about Proxy. When he was talking to Richard, I heard what he had to say. Proxy was taking on a heavy burden and I didn't understand that. But even so, he shouldn't act so carelessly. I wanted to say that, but I knew he wouldn't listen to someone like me, especially since I sent him off into the hell Mine the day after I met him? Honestly, this was perplexing.

"Marie, please, stop, I beg you, I concede." "But giving up isn't your style, Alexander, you need to tough this out like a man." "I may not be strong enough…!"