Nathalie and Kyo went to the huge shack in the middle of the island to talk about ‘stuff’ that, according to them, we don’t need to know. Kiyoko went to the prison with Lionel to transfer the captives they just tortured. ‘Too much noise.’ My eyes drifted to the guy who came with Nathalie. Looking at him felt strange. He looked like Vince but with less evident expressions on his face. “You probably should not stay here,” I said and he looked at me. “Seems like you have the same ability as Nathalie.” “What do you mean?” I remembered that time Nathalie almost lost her mind. That was the first time I saw someone greatly affected by the thoughts and inner voices of people despite our capability to block them. “You can hear inner voices despite their closed minds, right?” He nodded. “You sure you can handle the agony and pain of the tortured? The heinous and brutal thoughts of the prisoners? The radical ways and thoughts of the executioners?” He winced before he could answer my questions. I knew it. Those voices must be causing a discomfort and pain on his mind. “I can,” he said. I stared at him for a few seconds. I wasn’t sure if he was confident or just foolish. Amid the silence, I could hear faint voices, screams of agony and desperation from the prisoners. I remembered Kyo’s words a while ago and might as well use this time to see what this guy could do. Within a splitsecond, I drew my sword and swung it to his direction. Shock and confusion came into his face, and he leapt back, avoiding a serious cut on his neck. I pulled back my sword and looked at him. “Seems like your flight instincts have been honed,” I remarked as blood trickled from his neck. “But, kiddo, Jikkos are known for fighting, not evading. I guess you aren’t ready to inherit that name yet.” My words seemed to struck a chord and the look on his eyes instantly changed. I was caught off-guard for a second because he looked exactly like Vince when he’s pissed. “Kiddo? You seem like just a few years older than me,” he commented. “I call everyone weaker than me a kiddo,” I retorted, and somehow it felt good. I didn’t know taunting someone who could talk back would be this entertaining since Jett and Cliff would always give up before I could enjoy the conversation. Before his hand could reach for something behind him, I lunged at him and gripped his arm. However, he used his other hand to get the gun tucked on his back. I felt its tip on the back of my head but he grunted and lost his balance when I headbutted him. I snatched his gun as he fell on his back and pointed it at him. I fired two bullets on each side of his head, just a few inches from his ears. Fortunately, that gun geek taught me how to intimidate someone by shooting accurately at those spots. “What? Did you life flash right before your eyes?” I taunted. “Oh, poor guy. A gun won’t work against someone who lives in this island. Shoot them, and they will smile instead. As long as they are standing, as long as they still have remaining strength, they will continue fighting.” A smile escaped my lips as I remembered how they described Vince’s death. “They’d rather die than lose.” “What are you doing?” I felt an intense pressure behind us and when I turned around, Kyo and Nathalie was already walking toward our direction. I threw the gun on the guy’s body and slightly bowed at Kyo. “Just testing his skills,” I said. “Heh. And what’s your assessment?” I glanced at the guy who just got up and kept glaring at me. “He’d lose to Karim,” I replied. “Too slow. Too weak. Too emotional. Too self-centered. If I’m an Executioner, I won’t offer my trust and loyalty to someone who can’t even defend himself.” Kyo bellowed in laughter while Nathalie looked conflicted. That kid’s presence was overwhelming, maybe the most intense among the Executioners besides Kyo, but that wouldn’t mean anything if his body couldn’t keep up. “No filters and sugarcoating, huh? I like that,” Kyo commented. I scoffed. “I don’t like toning down my words. A weak must know he’s weak, otherwise, he’d be complacent.” “Naia . . .” Nathalie called, a look of worry flashed on her face. “I’m sorry, Nathalie. I’m just saying the truth. Well then, I need to rest.” I started walking away from them. Kyo was still chuckling but the two remained silent. My words might be harsh but this place is harsher. His naivety would just cause more harm. If it was the other Executioners that challenged him, he’d be dead by now. He should have prepared himself before setting foot here. I was on my way to my cabin when I saw Aristus standing near it. “Aristus!” I called as I ran toward his direction. He smiled upon seeing me. “Naia.” He still looked the same—his shaggy hair that looked like a bird’s nest, his eyeglasses that constantly slid down his nose bridge, the dirty white mantle he kept on wearing, the ragged book that he was always holding, and the kindest eyes in this island. “I just learned that you’re here,” he softly said. “And also Nathalie . . . and his son.” “I arrived yesterday and you just heard it today?” I noted as I squinted my eyes. “How many days did you spend inside your cave this time?” He chuckled nervously. “Uh, a week, I think?” “Geek,” I muttered. “Learning and writing our history is fun. You should try it,” he remarked as his eyes twinkled in excitement. His enthusiasm about it made me retch. Aristus is the weakest here in terms of physical abilities, but the Executioners respect his vast knowledge about our race. Although his obsession in history sometimes drain them that they choose to avoid him if he’s around. “Ah. By the way, have they extracted information from the Nox members?” I asked. Aristus smirked and glanced at the isolated part of the island, which was called blood chamber, because of the red-dyed ground due to the volcano and keimusho. “You know how Lionel works,” he said. “Of course, he already did.” “Still as persuasive as ever, huh?” Aristus accompanied me to the blood chamber, which was a two-hour walk from the cabin. Despite closing my mind, I could still hear voices inside my head as we got nearer. Nathalie and Hiro would probably lose their minds the moment they stepped into this chamber. The temperature in this place took up a notch and I started sweating profusely. I already took off my coat and tied my hair but Aristus seemed unaffected. How could he still look comfortable with that mantle covering his body? Damn monster. After an excruciating walk, we finally arrived at keimusho. The guards opened the gate when they saw Aristus and when we stepped inside, a wave of nausea hit me. The pungent smell and the vicious voices echoing throughout this confinement made me feel disoriented. “You sure you can handle this?” Aristus asked. I breathed deeply and willed myself to stay calm. “Yeah. It’s just . . . it’s been a while since I last went here.” “I could see that.” We navigated the narrow hallway until we arrived at a lift. Since the prisons are underground, we had to use it to reach the zero/rei level, where convicted Erityians were placed. It became hotter as we descended and it felt like my skin and bones would just melt. I could also hear the screams and cries of the prisoners and it made my head throb in pain. The lift stopped and when the door opened, Lionel immediately came into view. Blood was splattered across his face and his blonde hair was dyed with scarlet hues. His green eyes gleamed in the dimly lit space and my skin crawled when he smiled at us. “Ah. I just finished questioning this one,” he said as he lifted the guy by grabbing his hair. “That’s good,” Aristus commented. “I need more information.” Lionel hurled the body, which was already unconscious, and walked toward our direction. “I already know where that Custos is,” Lionel said, smirking. “Ah. I wonder what kind of punishment I should give him.” I shuddered upon hearing his words. Dale was an elusive target, even for us, yet he was already thinking of how he could make his life miserable. This guy . . . he might be more frightening than Kyo. And those two are the current main force of the Jikko clan. I wonder if that kid could hold a candle to them.