CW: mention of death


“Excuse me.” 


The tent flap was lifted open, and the three occupants squinted up simultaneously at the sudden light.


“Do you know where the princess is?”


The boy who asked was young, clear-eyed, and overall unremarkable. He stood at the entrance of the tent rather awkwardly as he waited for a response, nervously shifting his weight from foot to foot. Just another fresh-faced kid making his rounds in hopes of meeting someone important.


Gunner took a look at him and laughed. “What,” he grinned, a crooked gold tooth jutting out of his lower lip, “looking to take ya chances?”


“She ain’t gonna like you, kid.” Snake drawled from his corner, a frayed straw hat pulled low over his eyes. “Got a penchant for older men, that one. And you ain’t be looking too old yet, ay?”


Scorpion looked up from polishing her collection of blades. She took pity on the boy. “She won’t be back for another hour, kid. On a hunting trip, I hear.”


“Oh.” He looked quite dejected. “Uh, do you guys mind if I…?” He shuffled his feet.


They waited.


“…If I wait with you for a little bit?”


Gunner guffawed. “Why not, eh?”


The boy stepped tentatively into the tent. He treaded carefully, softly, making no sound, as if he was afraid of waking up some monster in the dark.


Scorpion took pity on him again. “Just sit by that wall.”


The collar of his threadbare shirt shifted as he lowered himself to the ground, and they caught a glimpse of dark ink just below his collarbone.


The brim of Snake’s hat lifted ever so slightly. “What’s that you got on your neck, kid?”


The boy instantly jerked up a hand to lift his shirt back into place. “Just a tattoo.”


“Of what?” Scorpion asked. 


“Nothing important.”


“Ay, why don’t ya show us?” Gunner said. 


“Well, uh,” the boy looked around. First at Gunner: his array of guns clicking neatly in their holsters around his large tree-trunk of a waist. Then at Snake, lounging like his namesake in his corner, eyes still hidden beneath the straw hat. And lastly at Scorpion, who had gone back to polishing her knives, the soft swishing of cloth over metal ringing through the space like a dangerous melody. 


“I suppose it wouldn’t matter if I showed you.” He finished rather timidly, and pulled down the collar of his shirt.


Gunner whistled as the ink was revealed. “That a skull?”


“A neat job, that one.” Scorpion said approvingly.


Even Snake leaned a bit closer for a look. “What’s it for, kid?”


“Nothing important.” The boy said. Then, seemingly emboldened by their curiosity, he asked, “do you guys have any?”


“Ay, Snake got a huge one on ‘is back.” Gunner said. His gold tooth glinted. “None o’ them painkillers, either. Just needle and ink.” Look at us, he seemed to be saying. So tough. So intimidating. It’s not often that they got young easily-impressed visitors with innocence still in their eyes, and Gunner was ready to bleed the opportunity dry.


And the boy did look very impressed. “Where did you get it?”


“Boundary of the country, when I was still young.”


The boy’s eyes widened. “You were a military man?”


Snake shrugged. “Still is.”


“Wicked with them bows and arrows.” Gunner said, with relish. “And Scorp here, you ain’t findin’ a better knife-fighter anywhere in miles.”




“Ay, you see—”


Drums interrupted him. Then the marching of footsteps, pounding against the ground so hard the entire earth seemed to shake with them.


“She’s back.” Scorpion said. She turned to the boy. “You wanna—”


He was already gone. 


Scorpion frowned. “Did you see him leave?”


Both Gunner and Snake shook their heads.


Seconds later, the drums stopped abruptly. And then the marching. All hell broke loose. The sound of screaming pierced through the thin fabric of their tent. Distant cries of ‘find him!’ sliced through the air. The three sat motionless in their tent, brains whirring to keep up with the chaos that must have been happening outside.


“For your peace of mind,” the boy popped his head back through the open tent flap, and if not for the tattooed skull on his chest, none of them would have recognised him, for his sure-fire composure was of a completely different man. “I didn’t have painkillers when I had mine done, either.” 


Then he was gone, a faint whiff of blood trailing in his wake.


Right on his tail were military men, clad in red and shiny black boots, looking shaken and grave, their faces pale with misery. “Have any of you seen a boy? He’s around this height— yes? Yes, yes, which way did he go? You didn’t see? How could you not have seen— why? Why? Well, he just murdered the princess in broad daylight with nothing but a throwing knife, that’s why. We believe he’s been on our trail for several weeks now, that cold-blooded murderer…”


Writer – Amy Zuo
Editor – Robbie Ge
Artist – Amelia Hu

–May 2024–

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