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My Perfect Warrior

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Citra lazed around on soft grass, dipping her fingers into a small pond. One of her handmaidens held a huge leaf to block the sun out of her eyes, while the other fanned her face. The Rakyat Queen wore different attire for this occasion, a simple see through velvet dress, and adorned herself with exotic jewelry, large golden anklets and emeralds that displayed nicely on her chest. She laid waiting idly, while the Witch Doctor sitting next to her prepared a concoction for the baby in her belly. Her boredom was relieved when she spotted the man she sent for. 

"You asked for me?" Yalung said, always the one to get straight to the point. It was all business with the man. Did he ever relax? Or a more interesting question, did he ever take that mask off?

Citra took her sweet time in answering him, withdrawing her hand from the water and grabbing a soft pear to bite into. She examined him while chewing on the juicy fruit, and without warning threw it at him. Yalung caught it instantly, and tossed the pear back to her. 

"You're mind is sharp, even at this hour when the birds sing morning praises to the gods." She let the fruit roll from her hand.

"Is there something you want?" He asked, and she suspected impatience in his voice.

"What? Can't relax and talk with a friend for a while." She inquired. Damn that mask, she couldn't tell what he was feeling or thinking, and he stood rock still, leaving nothing to study of his body movement. "I have a thought." She continued, "Say you are without any weapons and are defenseless, while the enemy has spears and knives. How would you survive?"

"Disappear and use unawareness to your advantage." Yalung answered. 

"And if there aren't any places to hide? If you are out in the open, not a single bush or tree in sight. You have no choice but to confront the enemy. Then, what do you do?"

"Anything, and everything can be a weapon." He said. "A pair of fists can do as much damage as a knife can if used properly."

Citra smirked. "It is easy to fight back, especially with skilled knowledge. But what if the enemy daggers are dripping with poison? You cannot allow one mistake, not even a tiny scratch."

Yalung swooped low, barely dodging a throwing knife that zipped through the air right where his neck should have been. From the shadows emerged five Rakyat warriors, and they wasted no time in advancing on the single man. He was a blur of movement, so spectacular was he, his body twisting like a serpent, avoiding sharp knives and spears alike. She's never seen such skill, such precision. Each hit Yalung struck was calculated, made to be a finishing blow and in one moment he kicked off one of the warrior's chest and propelled himself into the air only to bring his fist down hard on the warrior opposite of them; whipping the native's head to the side with the force of the blow, blood spraying everywhere. A powerful kick sent another Rakyat warrior flying through the air, landing in the pond with a splash. 

In a matter of seconds, Yalung was the only one left standing, flexing his knuckles, her warriors sprawled out on the ground, groaning in pain and clutching their wounds. 

Citra laughed and applauded him, "An impressive feat. Weaponless, outnumbered, and yet you bested some of my most skillful of warriors with only your bare hands, all without getting hit."

"I don't fight for others pleasure." He said, and ooh did she detect a hint of anger in his tone?

"I was just curious to see.." She bit her lip, looking the man up and down, ".. what the demon of Kyrat had to offer."

"You saw what you wanted." He growled, turning on his heels to leave.

"Wait!" She called, and surprisingly he halted. "I did mean it when I said I wanted to have a talk. Sit."

The warriors he defeated limped away, and Yalung sat down across the pond from her. He was so very serious in everything he did, much to her amusement. 

"Relax." She smiled, "You look like someone is going to attack you at any moment." The irony was not lost to him, and she wished she could see if he was smiling under that mask or if he was frowning. She wondered how old Yalung exactly was. He moved with such skill, he must have had years of experience, but he wasn't old, his body seemed to be in perfect shape. So perhaps at the prime of his life? What color eyes did he have?

"I found the hidden radio tower." He began, "You were right. It was on one of the smaller islands."

"Mmh." She hummed disinterestedly. "That's interesting but I thought we could talk about matters of a more, casual topic. Some of your fellows soldiers know not a lot of you, but they do like to talk about you. They even called you, what was it? Yuma's lapdog."

"It matters not what they call me. I hear they call you the tiger warrior." He said, moving the attention away from him and onto her.

Citra raised a brow. Seems like she wasn't the only one doing some investigation. 

"That is an old title I haven't heard in years." She muttered, gazing at nothing. The memory of fighting the animal was faint, but the disappointment she felt when she realized Vaas was not there to witness her success still stings in her heart. "Tell me demon, what kind of man hides his face, his identity, from the world?"

"The kind of man who has made a lot of enemies over his lifetime." He answered.

"To protect his family?" She inquired curiously.

"I have no family." 

"Not even a mother? A father?"

"The pirates here, what became of their leader?" Yalung asked, and she frowned. He seemed to change the subject when things got too personal. 

"Vaas?" She said, taken by surprise. "He's dead. Why? Did you.. know him?"

"It's nothing of importance." Yalung dismissed. She felt a tinge of annoyance with all the secrecy surrounding him. She just wanted to rip off that mask, and cast her eyes on the person underneath. 

"Walk with me." She said, standing up abruptly. Side by side, they strolled out of the garden, no particular destination in mind, the handmaidens trailing behind wordlessly. She absentmindedly placed a hand over her stomach, secretly dreading the day it will swell to a size that'll incapacitate her from battle. She never truly understood why it was such a necessity for women to procure a child, like it was her, a woman's, sole purpose in life and nothing more. It makes her sick just thinking about it. If only she were born a boy... Tane never saw her as a girl.

When her father and brother were away enduring the trials of The Chinu, Tane took her under his arms as if she were his own child. She recalls he treated her differently, always have. While the girls stayed in doing whatever their mothers taught them, Tane took her with him out into the jungle and hunted, coming back with boars, deer, monkeys. He taught her some English, a privilege only for boys to learn, and he was the one who taught her how to suckle the poison out of a snake to use as a weapon.

He was always... he is.. he is gone.

He never truly loved her. None of them did! None of them understood! It was always Vaas! Vaas, Vaas, Vaas! It's always him and no one else!

It eases her heart to know Vaas is with her now. No longer separated, and this child will be the symbol of their unity. Of their dying, unconditional, love, and all the struggles they had to go through, the suffering they had to endure, to be together again. It was not in vain.

"You're pregnant." Yalung noted.

"A blessing from the gods." She blinked, removing her hand from her belly, a grimace gracing her face which didn't go unnoticed by the man.

"Or a burden." He added. Citra paused in her step and glared at him.

"This child is the future of my people. Watch your tongue demon or I will have it removed." She warned, resuming their casual walk through the temple grounds without him.

"Apologies, I spoke without thought." He said, joining her shortly, taking easy strides alongside her angry ones. "A mother's love is an unrivaled force of nature.. for some."

Citra didn't vocalize it, but agreed with him silently. What is a child to a mother, if not her entire world. She wished the same could be said for her own mother. Did the woman whose womb she was nurtured in ever loved her? Did she, that mysterious woman, gaze upon her daughters face and felt only unconditional love. Did she love her when she held her own daughter underneath the stream. Did she love her even then... 

"Not every child is lucky enough to be graced with such love." Citra whispered, feeling tired all of a sudden.

"I know." Yalung said, gazing at the scenery. 

Curiosity burned at her, making her want to press for more, for him to reveal more but she held back. Everyone has a past they wish not to revisit, especially herself.

"Come, let us not talk of the past but of future glory." She said with a strained smile. "I have assembled a group of men to join us onto the southern island. Five trained in stealth."

"Five is too many. We need a smaller group." He said, "I already have three soldiers joining us, including Hurk, Dennis, and I. It will be eleven of us."

"Twelve." She added, giving him a look.

"You plan to come with us?"

"I am coming with you. Dennis will stay here and take charge while I'm away, and your men can stay too. It'll be for the best anyways. The warriors that are coming knew the land before Hoyt took it from us. They can help."

"So it will be eight." He stated.

"Seven, not counting what the buffoon can offer us." She frowned, truly wondering why Hurk is joining them. Walking past crumbling pillars they came upon the courtyard and slowed to a stop to watch the spectacle playing on the grounds.

"Those are the men I have chosen." She spoke, nodding towards the line of five natives practicing with bows, a collection of dead bodies strewn on the ground. She walked towards them, watching with approving eyes as each native shot their fleeing target on point.

"Why don't we have a try." She said, holding out her hand as two of the natives gave their bows to them. Yalung examined the wooden bow and plucked the string to test its strength.

"Release the pig!" She yelled and turned to him. "The first one is yours."

A pirate was pushed out into the field with only a poorly wrapped clothed to hide his nudity, and he jogged/stumbled to safety, passing his fallen comrades. He couldn't run, his feet slashed so many times the pain of putting pressure on it was excruciating, and his back bore the scars of bad blood. An agent of the giant.

Yalung raised the bow and pulled back the string, standing entirely still. The arrow shot through the air like a bullet and pierced the pirate's calf. The pig shrieked, staggered and fell, clutching the leg that had an arrow sticking out of it.

Citra clucked her tongue in disappointment. "I thought you good with a bow."

"I don't kill anyone as if they are an animal." He said, lowering the bow to his side. "Even men like him deserve a humane death." 

"Men like him?" Citra laughed in disbelief, "He is no man. He doesn't deserve to be called a man. And what of the deaths of my people. Men, women, children, did you think they got a fair death?" The pirate got up, and wobbled as best as he could with his injured leg. He didn't even make it five steps before Citra pulled back the string angrily and let loose an arrow, striking his head. "No they didn't." She breathed, clutching the bow until her knuckles turned white. "You know what they did? They set them on fire, little boys and girls, children. And they laughed as their small bodies turned black, as they screamed for their mothers embrace to make the pain go away. You say we treat them like animals but THEY are the animals! They string pregnant women up by their feet and leave them with their bellies cut, and make them watch as their unborn child growing inside them be eaten away by bugs and animals! They stick us in the dirt, leaving only our heads to gaze freedom as our body leaves us! Now WHO is the animal here!? We only exact vengeance for our loved ones. For the people who were ripped so cruelly away from us."

"And are you no better than them now? Is your actions justified; blood with more blood." Yalung said calmly.

"If I say it is then it is. You don't know our suffering. This is just the beginning of our retribution." 

"To what end." He asked.

"Until everyone who has wronged the Rakyat burn." She hissed, an inferno blazing inside her chest. They were locked in a staring contest, she boring her eyes into round eye holes covered by a smooth black material, but she knew he was staring straight back at her.

"Revenge is a fickle thing. I've seen many good men and women consumed by it, and ultimately, destroyed by it." He said and turned on his heels and left, handing the bow back to a native.

"And you?" She called, "A man who has seen many wars, does not come out unscathed. I am sure revenge follows you like a shadow, and you too seek vengeance."

The demon halted, and without turning around said, "I have long ago learned that revenge is pointless. There is no reason to anything. I simply.. exist." 

He left her with that, left her angry and, undeniably, conflicted.

"I've never met someone so, so, infuriating!" She said, cutting another piece of apple and shoving it through unwilling lips. Vaas grimaced and spat it out. Citra paid no mind, and attempted to feed him another slice to which he held his head away from.

"I'm tired of being hand-fucking-fed! I can fucking feed myself, I'm not some fucking ass vegetable." He growled. 

She looked at him in shock, and then with weariness, indecisiveness evident on her face. "I can't. You know why."

He chuckled and threw his head back, staring up at the ceiling. "Why? No, no I really don't think I know why."

She frowned. He was making things more complicated than it had to be. "Yes you do. I can't-"

"-Trust me? Is that it?" He interrupted her, and her silence was the answer. "You can't trust me. Wow, wooooow. And, and here I thought I was your brother, mh?"

"You are. I just.." Her voice trailed off, and she was struck with internal conflict. No doubt in her mind, she knew he would try to escape if she set him free from his bonds. But he was weak, he hasn't exercised in a month now. But Vaas was unpredictable, violent, and chaotic. She had no clue what he could do, even in this state.

"I trust you." She said slowly, and his brows raised. "But I won't lose you."

His face fell, and he clucked his tongue shaking his head. "You never even had me in the first place. No one fucking owns me. No one."

She bit her lip, and got off the bed, walking out of the room. She was gone minutes, and came back with shackles. Wordlessly she sat own on his chest, one to hold him down if he tries anything, and the second reason was because she wanted to. Carefully, she clasped the iron bounds around his wrist, and repeated it with the other wrist. She breathed out unsteadily. Here comes the part she dreaded doing. 

Slowly, she untied the rope bounds, left wrist, right wrist- 

She expected the violent reaction, she just couldn't stop it from happening. In a blink of an eye he had her pinned underneath him, his body twisted in an unnatural way because his ankles were still tied but his hands? They were free, not entirely, but free enough to maneuver. The chains connecting his wrists together was sprawled over her chest, his hands wrapped around her throat. 

He wants to squeeze. Can see it in his eyes but something's holding him back from putting pressure, from digging his nails into her skin and drawing blood. She didn't know how long they were in that position, seconds? Minutes? His lips twitched, his eyes unblinking in a glossy hazy stare. Those eyes could just unfold the layers of her skin, pierce right into her soul and she'd let him. 

He rubs a thumb over her bottom lip harshly, laughs, and pulls away. He doesn't lay back down but sits beside her, taking the apple and biting into it while rolling his shoulders and stretching his arms. Citra breathes out shakily and sat up with him, touching her neck gingerly. 

"You could have killed me." She said, phantom pains of hands clamping down, squeezing the life out of her. Losing air, losing air not the first time. 

"Could've, would've, should've." He shrugged. "But you wouldn't let that happen because you have that- little thing growing inside you. Citra 2.0 or sum shit." 

She glanced down at her belly and cupped it. She was really glad the bump was barely visible. She has more time to pretend there wasn't anything in there.

"You know I never took you for the mother type." Vaas said, tossing the now finished apple away, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. "Crazy, fucking delusional, goody-fucking two shoes, but a mother? Never."

"This child is ours. You are its father as much as I am its mother." She said, scooting closer to him and resting a hand on his arm. He visibly flinched, but didn't move away from her touch. 

"I remember you hated children. Swore to never have one because-"

"Because they hold you back and we were going to travel the world and we didn't have time to be parents. I know, but we were young then. Now we have responsibilities, duties to our tribe, to your people." She said. "This is a new beginning for the both of us. We are different people now." 

"Not so different. Some people never change." Vaas cracked his neck, letting out a relieved moan. "Some people keep doing the same things, over, and over again, expecting shit to be different, different this time, something so fucking different. But nothing changes, and it's.. it's really fucking crazy to think it will." He laughed, his index fingers making a circle formation in the air. "Round and around in a fucking circle, never ending." Short, hysterical giggles escaped his lips, and he started scratching the sides of his head.

"Never-ending, fuck fuck fuck me, never ending. IT'S a fucking circle and we're in it!" He grinned widely, his eyes big and bright. "I- I mean think about it, this is the fucking reality we're in! WE are stuck IN HERE and the funny thing is- the, the funny things is we CAN see it, and yet we still go in a circle until we shit our fucking organs out and fall over and die." His smile slowly disappeared when he saw her confused face, and he slammed his fist on the bed, alarming her. "WHY THE FUCK DON'T YOU GET IT!? WE'RE STUCK IN THIS FUCKING REALITY AND WE CAN'T GET OUT! IT'S RIGHT IN OUR FACES BUT WE we can't- we can't." He kept mumbling something, dragging his hands down his face.

"I think I need my happy pills." Vaas said, pointing at her stomach, "And you should be careful. It's gonna pop out of your chest and give the crew a heart attack."

She stared at him in disbelief as he started giggling. What did Hoyt do to him? What horrors did her brother endure. It made her furious to know he was hurt, and she wasn't there to help him, protect him. Vaas breathed in deeply and raised his hand.

"Mmmh I think it's OK now. OK, OK. Gone, see? No more." He raised his hands, as if showing her proof of something, but she didn't know what. He let himself fall down on the bed and stared off at nothing. She's seen this before, sometimes he would have short outbursts and then the next he was calm and docile. A chaotic pattern that she didn't mind being around as long as it was around her brother. 

"Yalung.. mentioned you. He said you two met before." She said, deciding to move on from whatever mood he was in. It was sometimes hard to tell. He was a ball of jumbled up emotions waiting to explode at any moment.

"Nope. No, no I don't remember a Yalung." He said, shaking his head.

"He wears a mask to conceal his face." She added, hoping to jog some memory in that beautiful brain of his.

"Lots of people wear masks to hide something. Jason had one... but I think that was just his ugly fucking face. Poor guy."

Her stomach twisted at the mention of Jason. No one brings him up anymore, maybe Dennis once or twice but really, it's like he never even existed. The only thing holding the memory of him was Riley, and Riley, that small bird, wherever he is, gone , gone.

"He carries a gun. A.. 'deagel'. Purple. Chrome." She said, recalling what Hurk said about the gun. "It... has an engraving of a Jackal."

"The Jackal?" He piped up, and by the look on his face she knew she had his full attention.

"You know him?" She inquired curiously, noting in the back of her head that Vaas went to this, Africa, place. Where else did he go? What else did he get to see out there?

"Tough sonofabitch that's what he is. Makes Hoyt look like a child dipping his fingers in the smuggling business." 

"Could he be Yalung?" Citra asked, more to herself than to him. 

"No." He answered her. "No but I knew Mayura. And what the fucking coincidence, he wore a mask too."

Mayura, she thought. Could this person be Yalung? Now that she's gathering her memories, Yalung did mention gaining his name, like a title. Mayura could be his real name.

"How did you know him?" She asked.

"Why the fuck do you care." He said back lazily. "What? Lil' sis have a crush on pendejos? Never thought your standards were so low. Well, you fucked Jason so that is pretty low actually."

"Who is Mayura?" She pushed, ignoring his harsh comments. 

"I dunno. The guy's uptight, all fucking secretive and shit like he's part of the fucking C.I.A. All I did was trading with him, I sell workers, he buys them. Boom, transaction done and all before bedtime. Hey, what's he doing here anyways."

"He's helping us gain back the southern island.. and he has offered us a way to pay back the debts we owe." She said. Vaas frowned, and looked at her critically. He chuckled, rubbing his eyes.

"They really don't give a fuck who runs the operation. We're expendable, interfuckingchangeable... I never thought you would agree." He said, and in such a way that made Citra feel like she let him down. As if he was disappointed in her. And she hated this feeling.

"I'm doing what's best for the Rakyat. For you." She said. 

"You think you're doing what's best but in the end, you're no better than Hoyt and I."

"Hoyt was a monster. I am doing this for your people, this is a righteous cause." She said, her hands balling in to fists.

"So taking up where Hoyt left off is righteous? Enslaving people, selling them. That's... good to you?" He questioned. "You're just like him."

Her hand twitched to strike him, wanted so badly to hit him yet she couldn't. She wouldn't dare. Vaas' eyes flickered to her hand and he smiled, making her blood boil to know that he takes this just like some.. joke.

"I am nothing like him." She growled, barely holding back her temper. "And you, you're nothing like him either."

He shook his head, "No.. no maybe you're right. I am, the bad guy. And you need bad guys like me, to make people like you look like the good guys. I mean, I think that's what Jason saw. But the bad guys are gone now, and people realize there never was any good guys. Never existed." He pointed at his head, jabbing an index finger to his skull. "We're all doing the same thing. Mankind is a.. broken record on a loop. Rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat." 

He sat hunched over pressing his hands to his face. 

"We're all just.. insane." He sounded broken, his voice raw and vulnerable. "We keep doing the same thing over and over again.. thinking this time, something will be different. Something will of changed because it had too. Because by the will of fucking mind and thought something had to of changed and when it didn't we still try." 

Citra touched his shoulder and he didn't flinch, didn't even move. She took that as an invitation to scoot closer until she was pressed up next to him, resting her head on his shoulder. She looked up when she felt his head move, and he's looking at her with wide eyes. 

"I get it now. You and I. The stage changes but the roles don't. We just fill them, and when they dim the lights they'll forget the actors who played them."

The night air was filled with smokey wisps of orange and herbs. She sat among shamans, witch doctors, and priests all praying for good fortunes for the liberation journey to come. Seven virgins were slathered in oil and pigs blood, an exquisite and ripe offering to the gods, which they would be taken by the chosen warriors to accompany her on liberating the southern island. It was a ritual for good luck, to earn the favor of the Great Warrior to descend from the heavens and embody the soul of each and every brave Rakyat. Hurk was unaware of the ceremony, something she made sure of. The only problem presented to her was not from the man-child but actually Yalung.

The demon was different, that was a fact. But no matter how he presented himself to be, he was still a man with basic needs. And yet she finds him sitting beside her uninterested in the offerings presented. Bored, even. 

"If you require privacy then a room can be arranged." She offered, thinking that had to be it. The demon won't eat or drink if it meant taking off his mask, no less stripping naked to lay with the virgin. 

"Gratitude, but I hold no interest." He said dismissively. 

"Oh." She said in slight surprise, "I didn't know. I will have a boy to suit your needs."

"No, that's not what I meant." 

Citra frowned, "You don't enjoy the pleasures of sex? Or... not with just anyone?" He looked at her and she smiled. "I know the soul when it's found another. I hold someone in my heart, too."

"I think you misunderstand simple disinterest with love." He said, impassive as ever. Loud moans interrupted their conversation; in the middle of the spacious smoke filled room, a virgin tangled up in the sweaty mass of an orgy threw her head back and gasped as an orgasm consumed her. Visions of that night with Jason flooded her mind, the pain, it had hurt and he was overwhelming her and then- and then he was gone, dead like the rest and, and maybe that shouldn't of happened to him, he didn't deserve- 

"Are you OK?" Yalung said. 

She blinked, and realized she was sweating and wiped it away from her forehead. Her voice was shaky when she spoke again, her stomach queasy.

"Tell me Demon. Are deeds done for love justified?" She needed to know, needed to know his answer. She didn't know if it'll calm her, didn't even know what she was searching for. 

"Everyone has a purpose for doing the things they have done. Hatred, revenge, justice, love... love especially. It's one of the most powerful driving force behind mankind's actions, but decisions done out of love is entirely up to the person who's done it. I cannot tell you what you've done was justified, that is for only you to decide." 

She smiled weakly. That was the problem. She didn't know. She didn't even know why she was feeling this way. Tane's life didn't matter to her, it didn't. Jason should be no different.

then why is Riley still alive?

"Jason?" She whispered, eyes widening as something big and fleshy towered over her. Horror froze her, the only thing she could do was stare at the monstrous person, the skin on its face peeled off, revealing gaping round eyeballs, and drooling decaying teeth.

"You killed me!" It roared, crawling onto the seat, trapping her under it, its mouth hung open letting clumpy chunks of blood splat onto her.

"No." She whispered, horrified, staring at two familiar green eyeballs. "No! NO!" She flung herself away, desperate to get away, away from that thing! A gasp tore form her lips as she knocked into something and felt herself falling. 

"Citra!" Someone screamed. 

She tensed her body for impact, but it never came. A hand pressed against her back, and she snapped her eyes open to see Yalung crouched over her. 

"Citra!" Dennis came into view, and Yalung drew back, removing his hand from her back, the other from her stomach. The world stopped spinning gradually, leaving her with a faint headache, but she could still see that- that face. 

"Dennis?" She mumbled, disoriented. "I thought you already asleep." 

"I couldn't go to sleep." She started to sway in place and he grabbed her arm gently steadying her. "I came to see if you were OK, and it was a good thing I did."

"I'm fine." She said, brushing his hand off. "I just need rest. Stay here, see the ceremony through."

"I will help you back." He offered and she shook her head.

"Stay here, and do as I say. Yalung." She reached out for him and he came to her silently. She used his arm to steady herself as they slowly made their exit. Outside she sucked in fresh air greedily, clearing her dizzying head, the chill in the air cooling the sweat on her skin. He walked slow for her, allowing her to catch her bearings. It was dark out, the only light source was from the burning sticks, and empty, everyone already asleep or getting ready to. She did notice her handmaidens following them, but with a discreet wave she sent them away. 

"Thank you." She said, breaking the silence. Yalung responded with a slight nod of the head. In the dark she noticed he blended in well, as if she were walking arm in arm with a shadow rather than a tangible person. She wondered if he wanted to, he could just make himself disappear.

"Is Dennis the Father?" Yalung asked. 

"No. No... Jason is." She corrected him. Ghastly flashbacks of that, hideous, rotting face made her cringe, her grip on his arm tightening. "Tell me a story. Any, it doesn't matter." 

"A story?" Yalung echoed. He was quiet for a moment, she waiting desperately patient for something to distract herself with. "There was once long ago a great warrior named Kalinag." He began. "And one day he was tasked by the King in search of a place where time stood still, and where the water was the color of blood and flowed backwards; a place called Shangri-La."

"Did he find this place?" Citra asked.

"He did, but the land of peace was corrupted. An evil force called the Rakshasa infected the very heart of Shangri-La, chaining its bells down never to ring once more, and removing its habitats forever. A place of serenity was now a land of chaos and evil. Kalinag knew he had to purify the land, and with the help of its protector, a Sky Tiger, they freed all the bells, and they're ringing repelled the forces of evil away." He said.

"And what became of this hero? Did he return to the King?"

"Yes. The tale of his journey through Shangri-La was drawn down, but when the King asked how to find the land, Kalinag refused to say. He understood, that a place like Shangri-La should not be tainted by humanity's evil nature, so he kept the way a secret until he drew his final breath. They say when his soul approached infinity, the Sky Tiger came to him and guided him back to Shangri-La, where to this day he stands vigilant guarding the holy land against evil, listening to the ringing of the bells forever." 

"He is a noble warrior." She mused, "Most men want rest after death. Do you think such a place exist?" A land of peace sounded surreal to her. How can there be such a place without violence? She grew up around it, thrived in it. Violence is in her blood, the heat of the Rakyat.

He didn't answer, and she looked at him quizzically.

"Perhaps." He said. "Even if there was such a place, it is gone now, and the people who go looking for it will find nothing but rocks."

They stopped in the middle of the grassy courtyard, in front of the inner temple. She stepped away from him, glancing at the pale moon. 

"Tell me another one. Tomorrow is a day of uncertainty, and I wish to hear your stories when I have the chance." She sat, he sitting across from her. She found it fascinating. She felt like a kid again, listening to legends of heroes, and mythical wondrous journeys.

"OK." He said. "A long time ago in the heart of a desert, was an Oasis.There the lakes sparkled like diamonds, and plants filled with juicy fruit flourished. Animals lived in harmony, and among them was a Jackal and a Peacock. The two made sure there was order and balance among the animals... until a great plague engulfed their paradise, bringing an illness that rotted the inside of their bodies, leaving only an empty shell in its wake. The ones who weren't yet infected fled, taking precious water and food enough to last them through the long journey across the desert, but when they reached the borders of the Oasis, they found it blocked by a Lion who demanded to have all the food and water for himself."

"The Jackal is a clever animal by nature, so he thought quick, and told the Lion that he stashed more food and water in a secret place, back in the heart of the Oasis. But the Lion was no fool, and demanded the Jackal come with him and lead him there. The Peacock, knowing there was no secret stash, offered to lead the lion back with flight, since it was more faster. The Lion agreed, but the night before they were supposed to go back, the Jackal told the Lion the Peacock would fly and fly, and leave the Lion behind. So while the Peacock was asleep, they slipped away, and by morning they were gone."

"The animals were free to pass without the Lion present, and left the Oasis, unaware of the sacrifice made. The Peacock never saw the Jackal again, and yet she knew he had tricked the Lion and escaped the sickness. So the Peacock flies throughout the desert, never to rest until she finds the Jackal."

"That is sad." Citra commented, standing up. "The Peacock knows the Jackal is dead, why search for someone who is not there? Why continue on with pointless hope."

"Wouldn't you do the same for the person you love?" Yalung said. 

Citra paused, and surprised herself by agreeing. She would. Even when Jason came back victorious, she knew, or hoped, deep down that Vaas was still alive. And he was because she didn't stop searching for him.

"Maybe... the Jackal isn't dead. Maybe he is still out there, somewhere." She said. "He just needs to be found." 

 Vaas' heartbeat was a slow, steady rhythm. 

She traced his scars lightly with the tips of her fingers, marveling at how he survived such wounds. If she didn't send out her men to search for Vaas, he would surely have died. Gods just the thought of Vaas leaving her alone in this world crushed her very soul. She could never survive without him.

She didn't know if the feeling was vice-versa. She really didn't care. 

He was hers now. All hers like it was supposed to be. Like it was meant to be. 

As Citra fell asleep to the sound of his heartbeat, she tried to ignore the monstrous being standing in the corner, staring at her with dead green eyes.