Khalid turned his attention back to the fighting men. It was such an odd sight -- where did the warrior got his armour, anyway? It didn't look modern -- too medieval, in fact. As the short man endured the relentless beating, Khalid clenched his jaw. He wanted so much to help, or if he couldn't, to get away from this horrible sight. The short man was spouting blood now, yelling pain here and there.
What was worse than the thought of him dead was his determination to continue. Every time the warrior knocked him to the ground, the short man stood up. He didn't show any sign of retreating or of defeat. Instead, he took all the hits, his gaze never leaving the warrior. When Khalid thought the warrior was about to land the final attack, he stopped. The battle was paused, with short man still standing, albeit breathing heavily.
'You aren't worth my time,' the warrior hissed. 'You can take them all you want.' With that said, he left.
Khalid's eyes followed the short man as the latter walked slowly to a tree. Under it was food, drinks and clothes, scattered from a blanket that seemed to be those resources before they became like this.
'All those bruises - just for those?' Khalid said, unable to speak anything more. It was just so ridiculous, considering the short man was nearly dying. It didn't seem to worth the pain.
Instead of echoing Khalid's sentiment, the old man chuckled. 'Ah, Khalid. There is more than what you see. But it doesn't matter. Continue going to my house, please.'
'What about the short man?' Khalid asked, frowning. 'How did you know my name, anyway?'
'Just go pass him. He can't see us. You'll see.'
Gulping, Khalid passed the short man, praying for the old man to be right and still wondering how he knew his name. Oddly, the short man continued to take care of his prizes instead of looking at him. It was weird. He had the thought of saying something to the short man, but for some reason, his tongue was numb. Very, very weird.
After a few minutes, Khalid could see the outline of a house from where he stood. It was hidden by tall trees, only the roof could be seen. As he was about to make another step, he heard a giggle. He turned back, trying to find the source of the sound. Maybe he should just ignore it...?
'See where it comes from,' the old man, insisting. He said it like he knew what was in Khalid's mind.
Khalid rolled his eyes. Urgh, what have I gotten into? he thought, walking back to get nearer to the giggling.
He met a tall bush, and as he worked through it, he saw two young women sitting at the bank of a river. He didn't recall seeing a river before. Huh. He remembered about the old man and glanced at his shoulder.
'Are you okay there, old man?' he asked.
The old man waved his hand. 'I'm alright. Don't worry. Look at them.'
Khalid sighed and turned his attention back to the women. One of them wore a red kebaya, a blouse of cotton, silk, lace and brocade. The central opening of it was fastened by a central brooch were the flaps of the blouse met.She was inspecting something on the ground, and as Khalid squinted, he gaslped. They weren't just something. They were faces -- female faces, and just that. He felt like throwing up seeing them -- what was wrong with the woman? How could she get these faces, and for why?
The woman took one. She checked it before wearing it. It was a mask. No wonder the face wasn't tainted with blood, but it still didn't make sense. As she finished wearing, Khalid could see her face completely changed. She didn't seem like wearing a mask -- indeed, what was before a canvas of small eyes and noses and lips had changed to something different. The eyes were bigger and rounder; the nose was sharp; the lips were deliciously red. It was beauty that the woman wore, but her smile, not quite reaching her ear, looked sinister.
The other woman, on the other hand, stared at the river while sitting on a rock. Her mouth curled downward, her eyes half-closed. Contrary to the pretty woman, her face was average. She didn't have skin as fair as the pretty woman, and her build was slightly bigger than the pretty woman's curvaceous one. The only similarity they both had was their long, black hair.
'Poor, poor Teratai,' the pretty woman said, her tone indicating anything but pity. 'It's a shame Galang didn't choose you, but then again, it was obvious who was more beautiful between us.'
Teratai looked up and shoot the pretty woman a glare. 'Stop it, Mawar. I know what you have done to Galang -- I'm sure if I tell him the truth about you, he'd never spare you a glance.'
A sharp laugh erupted from Mawar. She shook her head, clutching her stomach. 'Teratai, Teratai. Do you really think he would listen to you? You, whose talent and beauty were nothing? You, who lacked grace and charm? Aren't you aware how delusional you sound right now?'
Mawar folded her arm. 'Not to mention, I've done a lot -- sacrificed a lot -- to get his attention. I will never let you get in my way,' she said, her voice low.
A staring contest started between both of them, before Teratai stood. ‘This isn’t over, Mawar. Remember that.’ With that, she left.
What can she do, really? Khalid thought. This man Galang has already decided, hasn’t he?
A contented smile replaced Mawar’s scowling expression. She tilted her head and quickly hid the face masks under her bundle of clothes. She took one of the clothes and pretended to wash it, making sure the action look graceful. Soon, a man arrived wearing baju Melayu, a Malay’s traditional garment for man. His sky blue shirt was long-sleeved, and had a raised stiff collar. His trouser matched his shirt.
‘Mawar,’ he said, raising his eyebrows. ‘I didn’t expect you to be here. Do you need some privacy?’
Mawar raised her hand on her mouth and giggled in a feminine way. ‘Oh, Galang. Don’t be ridiculous. I appreciate some company while doing all of this.’
‘Well, then, I guess I’m at your service,’ Galang said, smiling.