Darkness seeped like a river into the depths of the dark caves. In Gehenna, darkness was a part of life. Those who embrace it live to embrace it more and those who shun it die to become a part of it. In those tunnels which spanned miles of distance, danger lurked in everywhere, and thus, people never entered an unknown territory.
In one such tunnel, hidden by the apparent darkness but also by the presence of rock formations, Rigel walked down silently until he came across familiar markings on the stone walls. Directions were marked in many ways, but only one among them was the right one. This prevented an uninvited guest from reaching their desirable destination.
Moments later, Rigel stopped before an unassumingly ordinary stone wall and tapped on the rock before him, which unexpectedly made a hollow sound. An old hand moved the flat rock in response, only to present a large cave lit by light.
“You’re late kid.” An old voice barked in irritation.
“I wasn’t exactly in a comfortable position to complete your request without certain precautions.” Rigel, however, replied in a calm voice.
His eyes scanned the cave until they stopped before an old man who was dressed in a gray robe. He appeared a little sick and was skinny to the bone. His hair was white, and he only had his left eye. A leather patch covered the other.
Rigel sighed inside and sat down beside the old man. His cold expression eased a bit as he asked in a caring voice, “How are you, Frank? Has there been any trouble recently? I wasn’t gone for too long, only a week so you shouldn’t have had any problems with rations either.
Frank turned his head and gazed at Rigel. He then he shook his head saying that he was fine. However, deep in his eyes, he had a sad expression as he gazed at the boiling pot in front of him. With a weak voice, he asked, “Rigel, what would you do if I die?”
Rigel was in the midst of standing up, but he paused a second before he shook his shoulders and said in a smiling voice, “I hardly doubt that you will die anytime soon. You are as healthy as a horse for your age. Well, even if you die, I can now live without relying on others.”
Frank closed his eyes for a second, and the next second, he opened them and said in a loud voice, “Come, sit here. Today I will teach you how to refine the ‘Poison lady’. It is a poison with a very potent effect, but its unique property is that it won’t work if you have the Mindus extract on you.
You may be curious considering that the Mindus leaves are the main ingredient of this poison, but Rigel, the issue isn’t why, it is how? That is the difference between us, and the ones who die in our hands.”
Frank continued to explain to Rigel about the Mindus leaves while Rigel had a strange little smile on his lips. This lesson made him remember the very first time he met Frank.
Two years ago.
Ten days after the trial – Outside the Gehenna prison.
Gerald looked at Rigel for the last time and said, “I want to peel you layer by layer, but I have a better way to make you suffer. Rigel, the terrifying thing in this world isn’t death; it is the thought of being uncertain about anything. If you are confident in yourself, you can take your own life, but if you are uncertain, you can’t even draw a drop of your blood.
Your will, that confidence of yours… it’s endearing, but it is very, very disturbing thing. I admit that I can’t erase that smirk off your face, but this place can. It will first throw you into despair; then it will break your body, followed by your spirit, and finally your soul. It will shred you until you are nothing like your true self, or should I say, nothing like who you want you to be. You will be only Rigel, the slave who lost to me.”
As Gerald said this, Rigel was indeed a bit scared inside. For whatever reason he may have matured beyond his age, it didn’t change the fact that he was still a weak twelve-year-old kid.
Weak and unarmed, he ran and ran, dodging and hiding from others, but luck didn’t work for long in Gehenna. A week later, he was caught by slave traders who threw him into a small dark pit filled with forty-nine other slaves. Together, they made one complete batch of slaves.
Every day the pit was opened, and fifty small portions of food were thrown in and then everything returned to darkness. Rigel sat in a corner and watched the dropped food packets. It was followed by the fights between the slaves. The strong won and the weak became weaker as they lost their right to eat.
Rigel couldn’t help but smile inside as he saw this. Gehenna, Rhodium, places didn’t matter. They never did. He was a slave all his life and the fact that strong gained everything lit a fire in his heart.
The next day, he didn’t fight for the food, he waited until the fights were finished. He then selected a weak slave with a single portion of food. Like a snake, he struck on his head with all his strength. Hesitancy brings defeat and emotions bring hesitancy. Cruelty makes us savage but being sane and yet cruel upon necessity lets us live. Rigel lived that day for he decided that he couldn’t live unless he abandoned the little bit of hesitancy in his heart.
Two weeks later, the slave traders opened the pit to show their slaves to a buyer. Instead of a whole batch, they found a single boy who’d become stronger and forty-nine rotting corpses. They would have killed Rigel, but the one who came to buy a slave was Frank. Rigel watched Frank knowing that he was the only one who could save him, and Frank watched Rigel seeing through his intentions.
Ten minutes later, they both sat staring at each other. Rigel continued to watch as he was unable to ascertain what Frank wanted. Being a slave, Rigel learned about the darkness of the human hearts much earlier than the rare kindness, and thus he had unusually keen intuition when he came upon similar darkness. But Frank lacked that, thus throwing him into confusion.
Finally, Frank set his cup of tea on the table and asked in a clear, wise voice, “Why have you come to Gehenna brat?”
“Rigel” Rigel answered the unasked question.
Frank smiled lightly and said, “So why are you here Rigel, or should I ask, for what for are you in for?”
Rigel narrowed his eyes and looked at Frank’s for one whole minute Finally; he withdrew his gaze unable to find anything. People don’t like to be stared in the eyes. Eyes are easy to read; they give secrets away, and thus people avoid them. However, if someone lets you stare into the eyes, it means that the person has nothing to hide from you, or he has enough wisdom to hide his true self.
With a small voice, Rigel answered, “I killed people.”
“Why?” Frank asked immediately.
Rigel sighed loudly. He was beginning to think that he was like an open book in front of Frank, who was like a complete mystery to him. Sighing in his heart, he answered in a low “Because they killed someone I love.”
Frank smiled lightly and said in a knowing voice, “Ah! Love, is it? The perfect emotion which will ruin you. I assume you are regretting your decision now. I can get you out of this slave camp, but you will never leave the Gehenna. No one ever has and no one ever will. I know that you may have loved that someone dearly, but you still ruined your life for that someone. I guess, you now regret your decision and maybe even hate him/her.”
Rigel lifted his head and said in a cold voice, “I don’t. Even if I face this trial a hundred times, my decision would be the same, and I won’t ever regret my decision.”
Frank laughed loudly and said, “Haha…. Foolish words. When you are as old as me and saw life through the eyes of an adult, dare say those words. Your life is drenched in blood and darkness. Live this way, and you will soon seize to be human.”
Rigel narrowed his eyes and said, “I killed once to get my vengeance. I will kill once more if I can kill the one who escaped. I killed the slaves because it was a cruel twist of fate. I can’t die unless I complete what I have started, and not until I get my vengeance. I will do anything I have to if that keeps me alive.
“Vengeance will ruin you. It will destroy you.” Frank said in a serious voice.
“I know, and I don’t care.”
“What will you do if you do get your revenge?”
“I don’t know,” Rigel answered in a surprised voice.
Frank burst out laughing. With a loud thud, he got up from his seat and shouted, “I will buy this brat.” Looking at Rigel, he said, “You now belong to me. Revenge and shit! You talk big words for a kid. The way you are, forget about revenge, you won’t even lose your virginity.”
Rigel face instantly became red upon being called a virgin. Even if he was a boy, he still felt humiliated upon being called a virgin. With a snort, he said, “Why should I follow you? I can kill you anytime. I doubt your weak body can take an attack from me.”
Frank only laughed harder and said,” Haha….. Don’t be so stiff. I will teach you my trade, and then I will give you a task. If you can complete it, then you are free to go. However, you are still nothing but a noisy kid who does n’t know anything about life so shut up and follow me, kid.”
That day Rigel followed Frank and reached the very cave he now sat in. For two years, he learned much from Frank. He thought that Frank would be disappointed upon finding that his dantian was shattered, but instead, he was surprised. Rigel might have imagined it, but that day he saw a bitter smile on Frank’s face.
Two years later, like any other day, Frank explained about a new poison, and both of them slept after dinner. However, at midnight, Frank slowly crawled out of his bed and touched his disabled eye. With a sad voice, he murmured, “My time is almost up. They will come for me.”
Rigel slept peacefully after staying out for a long time. He could never sleep peacefully outside, but in there, he could. He didn’t doubt Frank in the slightest. He was as carefree as a newborn and thus was as open as a dead man.
Frank walked towards Rigel slowly and sat beside him. His hand grabbed a knife as he stared at Rigel for a moment. He lifted the knife and said in a sad voice, “Forgive me, Rigel.”