[center:doinlaje]Town of Sin[/center:doinlaje]

Across the valley rode a motorbike and its rider, they sped towards the horizon, which gradually disappeared as they grew closer and closer towards a cluster of mountains in the north. The rider wore a long brown coat, the hem of which was rolled up to her thighs. Upon her head there sat a hat with two ear-flaps which were securely fastened around her chin. Her eyes were partially concealed behind a pair of worn glasses, and she wore an intrepid expression across her face.

'How much longer?' said a child-like voice beneath the rider.

'I told you, we're not stopping until we find somewhere to stay,' replied the rider, impatiently.

The voice belonged to the bike. It had no mouth; nevertheless it was able to talk.

After a while, a small town appeared in the distance, it was protected by a wooden wall, which hid its contents from the eyes of onlookers. The bike suddenly spoke, in an excited voice.

'Look, there. It's a village. Can we stop now Kino?'

'Why do you want to stop so badly anyway?' asked Kino, who kept her concentration ahead.

'I'm running low on gas and it's been a while since my last check-up. There might not be another town for miles.'

'All right, Hermes. But we won't stay for long. I want to see what it’s like further north.’

Kino eventually came to the main gates of the town, before she was abruptly stopped by a tall, middle-aged man. He wore a dark green uniform, and carried himself in a strict, disciplined manner.

‘Excuse me, lady. Might you be a traveller?’

Kino nodded, turning Hermes’ engine off in the process.

The man remained silent for several seconds, and made an expression as though he was thinking deeply. Then, he said:

‘How long do you plan on staying?’

‘A few days. Long enough to get some maintenance done on my bike at least. I won’t be staying long.’

‘Good, in that case you can stay.’

‘Excuse me,’ said Kino politely, ‘is there any reason why I shouldn’t stay any longer?’

‘No, not at all,’ said the man dismissively. ‘The town is just busy right now – there’s no reason to worry.’

The man led Kino into a small office which was situated just on the outside of the gate; it allowed passage to the other side. He handed her a form. Kino scribbled down a signature, and handed it back to him.


‘Yes, this will do. Go right through that door. I’ll be here, come find me if you need everything.’

Kino walked through a small door that led her into the town. The streets were densely populated and Kino had to dodge in-between the crowds. Soon she came to a section of the town which was not as busy. The buildings looked slightly aged, and it was not as well-kept as the rest of the area. She leaned Hermes against a nearby bench, and sat down. Kino stared into the sky, trying to make various patterns out of the clouds; she hoped that perhaps the town would become quieter in the evening, so she could find a place to stay. Suddenly, she felt something tap her shoulder.

‘Uh, Miss…’ A young voice spoke from behind her, ‘might you be needing a place to stay?’
The voice in question belonged to a young girl. She was a few years younger than Kino and looked around fourteen. She wore a plaid dress, and her long, blonde hair was tied with a neat, dark red bow. Her face was fair and slim, and she had an innocent quality to her.

‘That’s right,’ replied Kino, who studied the girl.

‘My family owns a nearby inn, would you stay there?’

‘I think I might. It’s getting dark now and I don’t feel like searching for another inn anyway.’

The girl perked up even more, and flashed a broad smile. ‘This way,’ she exclaimed, running into a nearby alley. Kino followed her, and soon enough they came to a small, yet modest building. Kino followed the girl indoors, before standing Hermes up nearby. It was warm inside; a nearby fireplace illuminated the room with a soft, orange glow. Several paintings were hung up on the walls, though most pictured mundane things such as streets or old buildings. Behind the counter stood an old man, who idly wiped a set of glasses. He had thick white hair and deep-set eyes, though he had a kind, warm smile.

‘That’s right; I didn’t get your name. I’m Elena,’ said the girl.

‘Kino,’ replied Kino, who still studied her surroundings.

Kino took a nearby seat. Slightly flustered from the heat, she removed her coat.

‘Father! I brought a customer,’ Elena exclaimed with a passion so fierce that it seemed as though she was about to leap joyously into the air.

‘That’s great,’ replied her father, who grinned back.

‘How much will it be?’ asked Kino, who reached for a small drawstring bag.

‘That won’t be necessary.’

Kino responded with a confused expression across her face.

‘Don’t worry. I don’t need any money.’

‘Bu—’

‘I insist.’

Kino didn’t like to take things for free. She always believed in equal trade, and she certainly didn’t want to become indebted to someone else. However, she was in no position to say no. She took a deep sigh, then put the bag away.

‘Now,’ said the father, ‘I’d be delighted if you’d have dinner with us. I’m sure you must be hungry.’

Kino gratefully accepted their offer. The meal was basic, though to Kino, it was delicious. She stuffed a chunk of bread covered in melted cheese into her mouth, welcoming the change from the meals she had to cook while travelling. When she had finished, she handed the plate over, and bowed politely.

‘Thank you for the meal, but I should get some sleep now. If I may ask, is there anywhere where I can leave my bike? I don’t want to leave it outside.’

‘I’ll bring it to your room. Don’t worry; there’ll be plenty of space. Elena can show you the way while I move him.’

Elena grabbed Kino’s hand unexpectedly, and dashed up the flight of stairs. Eventually they came to a room on the far right. Elena pulled out a key from her pocket, and opened the door. Inside was spacious, just as the owner said. Though it was somewhat plain; there stood a bed and a few cabinets, but it was sparsely decorated. Kino thanked Elena, before retiring. Soon after she became settled, she heard three sharp knocks on the door. The owner walked through, carrying Hermes in his arms.

‘Put me down gently, that’s it. Careful,’ commanded Hermes.

The man placed the bike in the corner of the room, albeit after a short struggle. Soon thereafter, he left.

‘What do you think?’ asked Hermes as Kino began to make her bed.

‘The people here seem friendly, and the town looks quaint enough. I don’t want to stay too long though.’

‘Is it too ordinary for you?’

Kino laughed, ‘perhaps that might be it. I’m not used to peace and quiet.’

When Kino had finished, she pulled a revolver from her bag, despite its weight she moved it with ease. She placed it on a nearby table, and took out a small set of cleaning tools. Piece by piece she took apart the revolver, not missing a single inch with her brush. When she was satisfied, she reassembled the weapon, and placed it back.

‘Night,’ Kino said, moving to turn off the light switch.

‘Night Kino.’

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The next day.

Kino woke up at dawn as usual. After getting dressed she freshened herself up using a nearby wash basin, then retrieved her revolver. She placed it in a holder tied around her waist, then drew it, aiming towards the window. She repeated this several times, when she was satisfied that her daily ritual was complete; she holstered it and slipped on her coat.

‘Hermes. Wake up.’ She said whilst roughly tapping his side.

‘When will you stop waking me like that? There are nicer ways than hitting someone,’ moaned the bike.

Kino eventually managed to struggle Hermes downstairs, where the room was filled with the thick scent of freshly baked bread.

‘Ah, you’re just in time,’ said the owner of the inn, who was half-way through slicing a loaf.

Kino sat at a nearby table, and pulled up a chair.

‘It looks delicious,’ she said courteously.

Kino thanked the owner when she had finished, but insisted there were still many places to go and she didn’t have much time left. Upon hearing this Elena jumped at the chance to guide Kino around the town, and so she accepted.

‘Is it usually this crowded during the day?’ asked Kino as they dodged through the crowds.

‘No, um, uh… just recently…’

‘Why? What happened recently?’ asked the inquisitive Kino.

‘Um… you see—’

Elena was suddenly cut off as a large man sporting a large, rough beard approached them. Behind all the hair, however, he revealed a warm smile.

‘Dear Elena! How have you been?’

‘Rauher! I didn’t expect to see you here. I thought you retired your job as curator of the museum.’

‘Well, you know… Recently… I wanted to do it one last time.’

‘Of course, I understand.’

‘Anyway, never mind that. This must be the traveller, am I correct?’

‘Yes. I’m Kino. Pleased to meet you.’

‘The entire town’s excited about having you. If I may, can I show you around my museum?’

‘I’d like that.’

Rauher led Kino through the museum; there she saw a collection of items. At first she didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary; it contained what she would expect from a museum: old weapons, sculptures, art, and stands full of antiques. However, one painting stood out. It depicted a battlefield, and unlike the other paintings, it appeared to be more recent. There stood a group of soldiers, firing at a group of women and children. One woman was kneeling – as if begging for her life, over her stood a man, with a twisted grin on his face.

‘What’s this painting about?’ asked Kino, pointing at the picture.

‘Oh that…’ said Rauher hesitantly, ‘that painting has quite a long story. I don’t have time to tell you everything but I can tell you this. It’s based on a war between two villages. One village, that is, the soldiers on the left, began slaughtering innocent women and children. That painting is quite important to us.’

Kino nodded, she wanted more information but she didn’t want to press Rauher too much, and so they carried on.

When the tour had finally finished, the sun had begun to set, and a dark, black veil was cast over the land.

‘Well, it was a pleasure meeting you Kino. I enjoyed showing you around.’

‘Me too. Thank you.’

And with that, Rauher left, Hermes and Elena still stood by her side.

‘Should we get going?’ asked Elena, a cheerful grin on her face.

Kino nodded, and followed Elena. It didn’t take long, and soon they were in the warm comfort of the inn. At the table stood an assortment of plates full of food, it looked freshly cooked.

‘Welcome back,’ exclaimed Elena’s father, who was busy pouring some tea into a set of expensive looking cups.

They ate their meal, Kino and Elena recounted the day’s events, and the inn keeper listened intently. When she had finished, Kino bid the pair goodnight, and retreated to her room.

‘Did you have fun?’ asked Hermes.

‘It was interesting. I have a strange feeling about that painting though.’

‘Why is that?’

‘I can’t exactly say. It doesn’t matter anyway – goodnight Hermes.’

‘Night.’

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The next day, that is, the morning of the second day since Kino had entered the village.

Kino made her way downstairs, again having to struggle with the heavy Hermes. To her surprise, she could not smell any food.

‘You’ll have to excuse me, Miss traveller. I’m afraid I have something quite urgent to attend to today. I won’t be able to prepare breakfast. I heard Elena mention that you needed to do some repairs on your bike? There’s a mechanic nearby, she’ll show you where it is.’

Kino thanked the man, soon Elena was ready, and led her out into the streets.

They stopped at a small building. Elena knocked on the door several times, before it suddenly swung open. A middle-aged man stepped out; he had scruffy grey hair and stubble around his mouth. He took off a pair of goggles and inspected Kino.

‘What might you be doing here?’

‘Repairs,’ replied Kino, who tapped Hermes lightly.

‘Ah, I see. In that case come right in.’

Kino entered. The room was surprisingly spacious and devoid of luxuries. There stood a workbench in the far right, and in the centre of the room there lay a large blanket, which was covered in an assortment of work tools.

‘Let’s have a look. Place it in the centre of the room.’

Kino pushed Hermes over to the centre of the room. The man begun to inspect him whilst muttering:

‘Hmm. Yes. I see now. If I just adjust that… and maybe this too…’

Kino and Elena sat down in the corner of the room whilst the man worked, soon he was done.

‘The sprocket was loose, the handlebars needed adjusting and the tires were flat. Just when did you last give it a check-up?’

‘It’s been a while,’ admitted Kino.

‘It should be fine now. I’ve also filled it with gas.’

‘Thanks. How much do I owe you?’

The mechanic cracked a smile, ‘why, nothing of course.’

Kino thanked the man, and left the building. Elena was still talking to the mechanic, so she waited until she was sure no-one could hear her, then turned to Hermes.

‘That’s strange. First the innkeeper, and now the mechanic. Why didn’t they want any money?’

‘Maybe they were just being kind?’

‘No. That’s not it. It’s something else…’

Before Kino had time to continue Elena stepped out, interrupting her.’

‘Well Kino. You’ve got what you needed. It’s unfortunate but I think you should be leaving now.’

‘Well I was hoping to stay a little longer.’

Unexpectedly, the man she had met when she first entered the town – whom she assumed to be a guard of some sort, appeared behind her.

‘Now now, Miss. You promised that you would stay only a couple of days.’

‘I understand. I left some supplies back at the inn. I would like to retrieve them.’

‘Very well, I’ll have to accompany you though.’

They soon came to the inn, and Kino rushed upstairs to grab her belongings. When she picked up her bag, something fell from it. It appeared to be a letter; it came with a small note. The note read:

Dear Kino. I thank you for staying at my inn. Elena has enjoyed your company very much. But you must be leaving. Please do not open the letter until you have left.

Kino put the letter and note back into her pack, then made her way outside, where the guard waited. Elena was no-where to be seen.

‘I take it you're ready now?’

Kino nodded, and the man led her to the gate. After a short farewell, she started up Hermes and raced away from the town.

Kino carried on north; she made good progress throughout the day. Soon however it became night, and she was forced to set up camp. She made a campfire near an oak tree and set out a worn sleeping bag. Her meal consisted of clay-like portable rations; she missed the warm food she was offered at the inn.

During the night, Kino was awoken by an odd rumbling sound. She shot up, then suddenly fell back down. In front of her stood a tank, it was at least ten metres long, and towered over her menacingly. From its position she guessed that it came from the north. Walking beside the tank marched a small group of soldiers.

‘Who’s there!’ shouted one soldier, who noticed Kino’s presence. Immediately, all the other soldiers drew their weapons and aimed at her.

‘Stand down. She’s not from that country, she must be a traveller.’ The voice came from a man who stood out from the rest; he wore a beret which featured an assortment of medals.

‘Sorry that you have to see this Miss.’

The commander suddenly made a signal, and the tank sprung back into life. Without warning, a deafening sound cracked through the air, and a ball of fire was sent flying towards the town. It ignited in a burst of flames; it took only a few moments for it to burn down completely. Screams filled the air and Kino was forced to cover her ears. Then came the stench, the smell of hundreds of bodies being burned alive filled the air.

‘What’s the meaning of this!’ screamed Kino at the commander.

The commander took off his beret, looked at Kino, and simply said, ‘Revenge.’

‘That’s it men,’ he shouted, ‘it’s over now.’

Surprisingly, the men did not cheer. Instead they solemnly nodded. After exchanging a few words, they split up, and started walking in separate ways. The commander threw his beret onto the ground, then deactivated the tank. When he was done, he returned to Kino.

‘Well then Miss. Goodbye.’

And with that, he left.

Kino’s face was wet; she wiped away the tears using her sleeves, then knelt on the ground, remaining still for several moments. Then she suddenly remembered the letter, she quickly grabbed her bag, took it out and opened it.

By now you should be a safe distance from the town. I’m sure that you’ve already seen its destruction. Don’t cry, Miss.

Rauher told me that you asked about that painting. Well now is a good time to tell you. You see, those soldiers, they were ours. It happened just a few years ago, we were at war with a country to the north. Then, the military leaders did something terrible. They ordered us to wipe out the civilians – you see, I was a soldier as well.

We’ve known about their plans for a while I’m sure you’re guessing right now why we didn’t do anything. Well, perhaps this was our redemption. None of us wanted to live after what happened. Since then we discarded our military, we won’t fight back, even if it’s out of defence.

You may think it selfish of me to get my daughter involved. But this is our home – and we’re the ones who have to bear the town’s sins.

I'm glad that you gave my daughter happiness during her final moments. I truly thank you.

[center:doinlaje]Farewell traveller.
[/center:doinlaje]

Enclosed was a dark red bow, she immediately recognised it. Elena had worn it all the time. Kino clutched onto it, silently mourning for what seemed like several hours. When she had finished, she carefully placed the items back in her bag, and mounted Hermes.

She rode on, though not north. Instead she took a different route.

‘I thought you wanted to see what was further north,’ said the bike.

‘I already know,’ said Kino simply, as they carried on.