Episode 126 – Son of the Village Chief
While writing a letter to her fiance, Nelaira thinks about the events that led to her current predicament. She remembers how her squad of ten found a hidden entrance to a long staircase climbing through the mountain, first discovered by Zor Arite. There they find a green valley filled with wildlife and ruins of a village. Nelaira uses her day off to explore the ruins and finds a diary hidden inside a pillar. While picking herbs Luki finds a patch of land where a large quantity of ash is buried under the soil. He finds it suspicious but his comrades disagree. Nelaira stumbles onto a hidden cellar in the ruins of the village that contains food.
* * *
Quickly, she backtracked towards the pots and jars and stared at their contents in wonder.
If this village was destroyed in the Great Mage Wars, it would mean that all this food was more than fourteen hundred years old!
How come that the dried fruit was still quite recognizable? It looked a bit old, but still edible?
How come the cheese looked like…cheese? A bit dry and hard, but still very…cheesy?
Nelaira grabbed the nearest jar of dried plums.
As soon as she opened the lid a familiar scent of prunes assaulted her nostrils.
With shaking hands, Nelaira returned the jar back to the shelf and took out a single prune out, holding it between her fingers so stiffly one would think she was worried she would get burned.
Then she reached into her pocket to pull out her agometer, a strange looking pocket watch. Like a normal clock, it had three hands of different lengths. However, the numbers on the dial didn’t go up to 12 or even 60 – they went from 0 to 99.
She placed the plum underneath the agometer, where there was a small hole, and pressed the button located on the top of the agometer.
From the small hole extended a small, dim ray of light and the hands of the watch started to spin.
No, that’s wrong.
The hands didn’t start to spin.
Only a single hand, the shortest one, spun, quickly stopping on the number 16.
Nelaira almost dropped the expensive apparatus, half from the shaking of her hands, half from the sudden weakness in her limbs.
* * *
The sky was painted in the red hues by the time Nelaira made it back to their campsite, a deep frown etched on her pale face.
Unlike her, the rest of her comrades were in a rather good mood. Those that weren’t holding a piece of meat in their hands were holding a piece of paper, reading.
Nelaira slumped down and grabbed the nearest meat skewer, digging into the meat with the ferocity of a rabid lupax.
Luki, who was about to address her, changed mind and put back the glass vial he had almost pulled out of his robes. He concluded it was better to wait with his request until she was in a better mood.
Unlike him, the redhead wasn’t as perceptive to Nelaira’s foul mood. Although Laica was Nelaira’s best friend, the redhead’s emotional intelligence was not high, to put it mildly.
As loud and spirited as ever, she sat down next to Nelaira and shoved a piece of paper into her face. “Look, look! It’s the translation of the diary you found.”
Instead of snapping at her, Nelaira showed just how coolheaded and patient she was by simply sighing and taking the piece of paper from Laica’s hand.
“It’s only the first part of the diary. There is plenty more to translate.” The middle-aged man with the monocle elaborated.
“Good work.” Nelaira mumbled between bites, her black eyes reluctantly settling on the writing. This might be exactly what I need to get my mind off things…
* * *
Hammer asked me to go out drinking with him tonight. He said he’d “borrow” an old bottle of wine his father was saving for special occasions.
Does he think I’m stupid? We’ve never really gotten along, the only reason why he is trying to butter up to me is because he has a thing for my sister.
What a retard. As if my sister would like someone like him.
I’m tempted to go just to see the look on his face when his father beats him senseless for wasting a bottle of a priceless wine on a pointless endeavor. But then again, I’d need something stronger than wine to make it through the night without murdering him.
Cammy has been feeling down recently, no doubt tired of Hammer’s endless pestering. I wanted to beat him up on multiple occasions, but she stopped me. She is really too kind for her own good.
To cheer her up, I promised to take her to the Valley of Eternal Snow. Lupaxes have been attacking meep and porklings recently, so father is too busy trying to solve the issue, as a commendable village chief he always portrays himself to be, to notice our absence. I wish he’d be too busy to pester me more often.
Every second sentence he says to me nowadays is how I should find a mate and marry, otherwise he’d die of old age before getting any grandchildren. He had figured out that he shouldn’t expect any grandchildren from my sister due to her gift, so all his hopes are resting on me.
It’s not like I don’t want to find a significant other, it’s just that there is really no one to choose from. I’m not even that picky, it’s the offered choices that are limited. The artificer’s daughter is too power hungry, the baker’s daughter is too fat, the healer’s daughter is too young…
Cammy and I spent the day playing in the snow like we used to when we were kids. I wish I knew how to produce such soft and white snow with temperature manipulation. Then I could turn one room of the mansion into the land of snow so that Cammy can go there whenever she likes. Perhaps I could bring back enough snow from the Valley of Eternal Snow to fill one room? It shouldn’t melt if I keep it cold enough?
Speaking of Camellia, she finally cheered up somewhat. Unfortunately, when we came back, we got another lecture on how dangerous it is to leave the valley. Father was furious, saying how everyone else is obedient and doesn’t leave the valley without his permission, yet me, his own son, the next village chief meant to succeed him, is arrogant enough to ignore the rules.
I told the old fart that that particular rule is stupid. Everyone should be able to leave whenever they want and go wherever they want. If they get themselves killed or Tainted, that’s their problem. We just wouldn’t let them back into the valley.
Unsurprisingly, that did nothing to placate him, on the contrary, he got so much spit on my face that it took considerable effort to keep clear headed enough to try a different approach. I reminded him that we didn’t go deep in, we never do. And there aren’t any Tainted on the outskirts of the Valley of Eternal Snow. But he just doesn’t listen, always treating me as if I was still a snot nosed brat.
* * *
Reading about the mundane life of the previous owner of the diary was a welcome change to Nelaira. It helped clear her mind and decide whether she should tell her comrades about her findings.
Finding sixteen-year-old food inside the cellar had serious implications. And she didn’t want to cause a commotion.
Before she could think about it further, Luki noticed she was in a far better mood than when she arrived. Thus, he couldn’t contain himself anymore, and he reached into his robes, pulling out a vial filled with gray dust. “Lieutenant, could you lend me your agometer for a second?”
Nelaira’s face turned black at the mention of the agometer.
“Would you drop it already?” The archeologist of the group snapped at the pink haired menace.
Nelaira took hold of the small glass vial and frowned. She could barely hear the bickering of her comrades in the background.
She turned the vial upside down and let the ash slide out into the palm of her hand.
She stared at the gray substance for several moments, noticing some small grayish and yellowish flakes within. She waved her forefinger, making the air shuffle the ash around to have a better look at the flakes. However, she wasn’t quite gentle enough, because the flakes ended up crumbling into ash.
She hesitated before taking out her agometer, whose all three hands were currently pointing to zero. She placed it on top of the ash and pressed the top button. When the shortest hand stopped at the number 16, she wasn’t surprised.
“See, I knew it was made in the last 20 years.” Luki beamed.
“We never questioned its age, Luki.” The blond and black-haired man sighed, his red eyes showing utter helplessness.
“Right, we just questioned your sanity.” A female comrade grinned teasingly.
“My sanity is quite fine, thank you. In fact, I’ll have you know I’m much more perceptive then the lot of you. Perks of being a healer.” Luki waved his hand dismissively, before revealing a self satisfied smirk. “Did you guys notice a problem in the diary?”
“What problem?” The archeologist snapped, ready to defend his translation to the death if necessary.
Luki gave everyone a significant look, deliberately speaking slowly to rise tension. “The writer mentions the Tainted. Since the Wars were halted due to the appearance of Ink, it means that the diary was written post Mage Wars.”
“So?” The redhead yawned, resisting the urge to rub her eyes.
“So… if the wars didn’t destroy this village…what did?”
The deathly silence that spread through the camp lasted for several long seconds, before Nelaira’s solemn voice cut through it like a knife.
“Actually, in my exploration, I stumbled onto a hidden cellar…”
Luki was right. The man might have an overactive imagination, but he was no fool. Becoming one of the best healers of the Eryey family wasn’t something a fool could achieve.
Sharing her findings with him, and the rest of her squad, might shed some light onto the matter.
* * *
After Nelaira summarized her findings to her comrades, the camp fell into silence once again.
The archeologist was the first to break the silence: “Why would anyone hide a cellar that has just food stored within?”
Luki chuckled at the question, and Nelaira could already feel a headache coming on.
Yet, surprisingly, what came out of his mouth was not an another ridiculous theory: “You don’t have children do you? If I had a lot of dried fruits and cheese, I’d make a secret cellar too. Otherwise, there would be nothing left of it when I return back home.”
The statement made everyone pause in shock, and then the tense atmosphere was broken by a fit of laughter.
“That said,” Luki chuckled, “There really are survivors in the forbidden zone!”
“Don’t get ahead of yourself.” A female comrade snapped. “Sixteen years ago was exactly when Zor Arite reached this place. Instead of there being survivors…”
Luki erupted in giggles before she could finish her sentence. “Are you suggesting that Zor and his squad made cheese and wine during their brief stay here?”
The image of Zor’s elite squad of Purgers making cheese made the redhead snort out a loud giggle before she could stifle it. However, other than her and Luki, no one else laughed.
Nostrils of the archeologist flared, and he glared at Luki derisively. “It’s possible that one of their members that was missing in action didn’t end up dying, but instead settled here waiting for the next expedition to pick him up and take him back home.”
Nelaira’s quiet calm voice cut through the clearing. “Plums are harvested in summer. Zor’s expedition arrived here in October.”
“The survivor must have lived here for at least a year…” The archeologist spoke up.
“If the survivor waited for the next summer to harvest them, the age of the dried plums would be 15, not 16. Thus, these plums were harvested before Zor’s expedition found this place, ergo, there really are survivors.” Luki rolled his eyes.
“We can’t confirm that. Maybe plums mature late in this place.” The archeologist argued.
“What I want to know is, how come Zor’s expedition didn’t run into survivors here?” The redhead spoke up.
“What if they did?” Luki’s green eyes gleamed mysteriously.
“Are you saying that the higher ups kept it a secret from the public?” Redhead’s husband joined the conversation.
“That does sound plausible.” Nelaira frowned.
“Indeed, that is something Arites would choose to do… but, you’re forgetting an important point.” Luki smiled eerily. “Why is it that this food stash hadn’t been visited for years? What happened to the survivors? In fact, how come we didn’t find any living quarters? Where did they eat and sleep? How was this village destroyed in the first place?”
“Here it comes…” Nelaira sighed helplessly.
“What if these ruins…” Luki’s voice lowered mysteriously. “Aren’t as ancient as we thought?”
Coming up in the next episode:
“In fact, what if this village was destroyed…sixteen years ago? What if Zor Arite was pursued by a herd of Tainted and unwittingly brought them here? What if the Tainted were the ones to destroy this village?”
Her fiance told Nelaira the story about this flower a few years back. He said that Zor learned of a fable regarding the flower on his expedition. Supposedly, it was some kind of a tragic love story about a goddess who got separated from her lover in this valley.
Not many have ever seen this flower though. Supposedly it reveals itself only to those that it finds worthy.
It was one quiet, tranquil night, when everything changed.
Cammy heard them coming.