Published at 29th of December 2018 09:39:29 AM
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Chapter 42

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Lars walked through the streets neither quickly nor slowly, keeping his eyes and ears open and his purse close to his body, away from the pilfering hands of the "innocent" children running in the streets at play .

He himself had been trained to be a pick-pocket at the tender age of 6, and had been the best of those the same age and even comparable to the 7 year olds and some 8 year olds in his daily takings!

As such, though a number of young street urchins tried to accidentally bump into him, he merely slipped past them with ease, using his own hands to keep their prying hands off his body and away from his wallet .

Though, there was one little girl he took pity on; enough so that when she made a fumbling attempt to snatch his coins, he instead planted a silver coin in her pouch!

The girl sped past him clumsily, almost knocking into an elderly couple as she ran, drawing a fierce scolding from the two . Then she did something no thief should do - she checked her takings out in public before making sure she had gotten away .

He sighed as he quickly shuffled past the girl, ignoring the silly little child .

'She looks too much like Sara did when she was young . . . ' He shook his head in pity; it was impossible for him to help all of the kids, right . . . ? But at least he could give a bit of charity to others who came from the same background as he .

Regardless of the fact that he had decided to move on and get over the married woman, he still held a bit of sentimentality towards his long-time friend and companion . He shrugged to himself . Well, it was okay to be willful and impulsive sometimes, wasn't it . . . ? He was finally free to make his own decisions for once; could it be that he could not use that free will to do something he felt like doing once in a while . . . ?

Anyway, it was just a silver, not much more than what a resourceful child could make in a day; a few coppers here, another couple of coppers there . . . And they'd have 10-odd coppers!

He continued his journey, keeping a steady, limping pace as he strolled onwards through the streets that smelled of fresh produce and not-so-fresh meat . Just round the corner from where he had bumped into the girl, the scenery changed as he moved from the warehouse and workmens' area of town towards the market and administrative district .

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Then just before he could walk past the fountain which seemed to serve as the discrete border between the sectors, he felt a tugging on his cloak .

' . . . ?' He hadn't sensed any trouble or threats approaching . . . ?

He turned around with a sharp look in his eyes and a scowl on his face, only to see the same little girl he had helped .

She was startled by his fierce look, but then she furrowed her brows in determination and stuttered out the words she had came to say, "T-Thank you . . . M-Mr . . . !" She held out a small hand, a sole silver coin lay within the centre of her frail palm .

Despite the dirt and grime, she had beautiful skin and a teardrop shaped face . Her watery blue eyes were shaped like perfect ovals with long lashes . And her raven-black hair only added to the diminutive child's beauty . She couldn't be more than 8-years old, but Lars wondered how she could have survived the streets with such beauty and such idiocy .

Who came back to thank their mark after stealing from them?!? Only an absolute fool and idiot who didn't want to survive more than a week in the streets!!!

Exasperated at her silliness, Lars just shook his head . But he couldn't help the compassion mixed with pity in his heart from showing on his face as he asked her, "Kid . . . You . . . How can you . . . Don't you know . . . " He sputtered out the scathing scolding words, but everytime he was about to speak, he saw the adorable girl cower back in fear and couldn't bear to do it .

Then he sighed, crestfallen and face-palming at how senseless this was . He didn't even know her! And no matter how much he tried to help, with her clumsiness, weakness and trusting attitude, she was as good as a goner in the hard street life!

So he didn't understand himself at all as he swallowed his irritation and asked in a gentle voice: "Kid . . . What's your name . . . ?"

The waif-like girl was quiet for awhile, trembling with trepidation at the scary scarred man before her . Yet despite her fears, she worked up the courage to timidly answer, "I-Ilya . . . Mr . . . "

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He knelt down before the girl, then couldn't help but to pat her on the head affectionately . "Look . . . You . . . You can't be so trusting and silly, okay? You've gotta be tough, like me . You've gotta be fast, sharp, strong, never giving up, never giving in! And sometimes, you've gotta use your smarts and looks to get your way . Even when . . . You don't understand anything I say, do you . . . ?"

She stared back at him with a confused, blank face, eyes starting to tear up again at his firm tone .

He sighed . This wasn't going to work . Without someone to take care of her in the streets . . .

Just in time, his thoughts were interrupted by a sharp cry and running footsteps .

"Get away from Ilya, you paedophile! Get him, guys!"

At that moment, he was pelted by countless rocks, sticks, dead rats, insects and even some dung . He let the former items hit him but avoided the filthy corpses and excrement deftly, then quickly turned to take flight from the group of young boys, perhaps around 10-12 years old .

'P-paedophile?!? Blasted kids!' Yet despite his inner voice, he caught himself smiling .

The group was led by a short but valiant and passionate boy with golden hair . Lars couldn't help but feel warmth in his heart . It looked like that was how the naive girl had survived in the streets .

She had a family of brothers and sisters who loved her and took care of her .

"Get lost you pervert!"

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"Yeah! No one is allowed to bully our Ilya but us!"

"Shhh! The last part isn't needed, Roy!"

"Yeah! No one is allowed to bully Ilya!"

He was relieved and felt a wave of nostalgia .

'Brothers . . . Sisters . . . Both from my past and present lives . . . I wonder how you are doing now . . . ? Beloved squad members, are you also returned to the world of the living like me . . . ? Trusted brotherhood of the streets, are you living well since we were separated . . . ?'

Despite his melancholic thoughts, he merely let out a heavy breath of air and returned to the streets to his destination .

* * * * *

Finally after about 25 minutes walk of brisk walking hindered by the floods of people, he arrived at the tourists' information centre . Lars maintained a friendly and cordial attitude as he asked around about Earth, the solar system and the Milky Way .

However, the workers there one after another apologised as they had not heart of the first and third before . And in the case of the second, they asked for clarification that he could not give - the name of the star, as practically every planetary system around orbiting a sun was called a solar system!

The last worker he spoke to was very helpful and generous with information, explaining how perhaps he could also go to the library to inquire for more information . For example, old and obscure star maps or cosmos charts . Apart from that, there was a chance that the travel centre would have greater knowledge of the goings-on in the world .

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Grateful for the information, Lars flipped a gold coin over to the thin and moustached man as a tip . The man was stunned, but recovered quickly to bow and thank him profusely for his generosity . The now-middle aged scarred man shrugged and thanked the counter worker instead for the advice .

In fact, Lars had plenty of money from the bandits' bodies, increasing his total wealth to 13 platinum and 147 gold coins . The increase came from money scavenged by the supply wagon men from the bandits and given to him . He had, of course, accepted whole-heartedly . Having more money would surely come in useful, like right now for example .

The grateful office worker then suggested Lars to look for his friend Mushana who worked at the travel centre . He said that though Mushana was a relatively high-ranked officer, they were best cousins who grew up together - all the boy had to do was to say Jazir sent him .

With that, Lars bid the man goodbye and left, winding through the streets following the directions given to him; per the man, it was a shortcut that should save him from going through the mid-day crowds . However, he also warned his generous customer to be careful on the way - the quieter back alleys and lanes were also more dangerous for a lone traveler .

But to Lars, what danger could there be? He was more than familiar with the ins and outs of the street children's life, being a former child of the back-alleys, an ex-Backstreet Boy . In fact, he looked forward to meeting some of the members of this city's organised crime . Forming a connection and underground information channel would prove useful in time to come .

Anyway, he felt no sense of threat . The ones who crossed paths with *him* were the ones who should be worried; *they* were the ones in danger if they should come up against him!

True enough, as he moved through one of the more seedy and deserted-looking alleys behind some dilapidated buildings, he heard some older teen voices yelling antagonistically while one teary, choked-up voice cried out in wordless pain and sorrow .

His heart skipped a beat .

It was Ilya's voice .

He ran towards the source of the noise .

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