Episode 129 – A. O.
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 that is 16 years old. Nelaira gives their archaeologist the diary to translate. The writer of the diary is the village chief’s son and he talks about his life. It seems the diary was written after the mage wars, which makes everyone wonder what destroyed the village if not the wars.
Nelaira wanted to investigate the possibility of survivors but her superiors ordered her to proceed towards the Valley of Eternal Snow. The diary speaks of outsiders that came to the village one day from a utopia without Ink. The outsiders were capable, beautiful people who were welcomed with opened hands by the natives. Both the writer of the diary and his sister set their sights on an outsider.
One day, Nelaira had been ordered by her superiors to stop translating the diary and to destroy it.
Episode 129 – A. O.
The diary was returned to Nelaira’s possession, and now she had to find a way to translate it without anyone finding out about it. She did study the subject of ancient runes in Muni so she could understand them somewhat. However, she doubted it would be enough to translate the diary.
Thus, she came up with a plan. She started to volunteer for night guard duty often, so she could translate the diary when everyone else was sleeping. And so she could secretly sneak a peek at the ancient rune dictionary carried by their archaeologist when he was asleep.
It took her considerably more time and effort to translate the remaining diary entries than it would have taken their archaeologist, but it helped that there wasn’t much left of the diary to translate. After about a week worth of sleepless nights she was confident that her translation wasn’t far off.
* * *
When they offered to help us move into their blessed land, many villagers wanted to go, yet soon after, a rumor started spreading.The word on the street was that the outsiders were descendants of the madman that doomed us all.Now many villagers are vehemently opposed to leaving and are even proposing we kick them out of the village.
I thought that someone was intentionally spreading false rumors, but Cammy confirmed that the outsiders were indeed the descendants of that man. But she claims that they are good people with good intentions that shouldn’t be condemned due to the sins of their predecessors.
I’m worried that even Cammy can’t see into their deepest, truest self. I fear that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree…
Cammy took her boyfriend to the Lands of Eternal Snow.
I feel happy for her, but also, kind of bitter. She used to only go there with me. I used to be the only one to admire her snow sculptures.
And now…gods only know what the two are doing there… alone… together…
Gods, I hope morphing snow is all they are doing…
The outsiders received new orders from their superiors. They split into two groups. My goddess, her man, and my sister’s new boyfriend were ordered to move north towards the Valley of Eternal Snow, while the fourth one was ordered to help us move to their land.
They claim that they can teleport us there, without us being in any danger from the Tainted. I volunteered to come with the group going towards the Valley of Eternal Snow because I am familiar with the place.
They told me to stay close to them and avoid spreading my mind so as to not come into contact with Ink. What kind of instructions are those? If I don’t spread my mind, I’d be effectively blind to mana and magic.
Are they so afraid of Ink they’d rather run around blind? Apparently so. They are more afraid of Ink than the prospect of being ambushed by an undying monster. They seem to think that even a little contact with Ink would taint them and doom them to a miserable fate of turning into a monster. How did they survive all this while if they don’t even know how to purify Ink?
Surprisingly, father didn’t veto my decision to lead the outsiders through the Valley of Eternal Snow. Probably because even if I didn’t volunteer, Cammy would have begged him to let her come.
Usually, he would vehemently refuse to let her go anywhere even remotely dangerous, but I suppose he felt assured that her new boyfriend would protect her from any potential harm. And also, the fact that Cammy could hear the trouble coming from a mile away surely helped with his final decision.
I was supposed to go with Cammy and their group towards the Valley of Eternal Snow, but the other group expressed their desire to reunite with Cammy’s group of outsiders after they finish teleporting us to their land. Apparently, not all of them were needed for the teleportation.
Some of them would have already left with the other group, but they had to supervise the transport.
Thus, instead of going along with Cammy’s group, my departure would be delayed for several days until the other group was done with their business. Then I would lead them towards the Valley of Eternal Snow and reunite with Cammy.
Cammy left towards the Valley of Eternal Snow today.
I didn’t see her off. I hate goodbyes, and we would see each other soon anyway.
Also, I didn’t want her to notice what was bothering me.
I didn’t want her to feel my irritation, annoyance that I had to stay behind.
It might be irrational and unfounded, but it felt as if… as if she was leaving me behind. As if my place in her life was taken by someone else. As if she had replaced me…
* * *
Nelaira finally reached the last untranslated entry in the diary, still unsure of why her superiors wanted the diary destroyed. She doubted that perhaps purifying Ink had something to do with it. If there really was a way to purify Ink they wouldn’t be so helpless against it nor would the forbidden zone be so… well… forbidden.
But how would her superiors even know that the diary spoke of such a thing? It had never been mentioned before in the translated entries she had sent their way.
Another possibility entered Nelaira’s mind. Perhaps it was the lines about a madman who doomed them all? If these outsiders were indeed from the Lands under the Shield, then the mentioned madman would probably be Aegis Arite who had created the Shield of Aegis?
But why would they refer to him as such? Could it be that the portrayal of the history books that glorified him as their savior wasn’t as accurate as everyone thought? Could it be that he could have saved much more people than he chose to save? Could it be that he intentionally left some to rot outside the Shield? Only saving those that chose to submit or those that were the closest to him?
It wouldn’t be surprising if that was the case. After all, it’s the victors that write history. It would explain why her superiors were afraid of writings left by the survivors. Any such writings could potentially reveal that they had been discarded by the Arites and left to die.
They certainly wouldn’t be willing for their virtuous and saintly image to take such a serious blow.
Perhaps she was thinking too much into the matter. Perhaps she will never know the real reason behind it. There wasn’t much left in the diary, and she doubted those last few words could explain the matter. After all, the last remaining untranslated entry in the diary was short and hastily written, which made it more difficult to identify the runes used to write it.
* * *
They are burning down everything. Houses, people, books, parchments.Their superiors ordered them to wipe out our entire village, leaving not a single building standing, not a single person alive.
Nelaira stood under the full moon with a pale face and shaking hands, staring at the piece of paper with the translation of the last diary entry she had just finished.
Her grip onto the paper momentarily loosened and as if it was a moth attracted by the light, it floated towards the campfire.
Nelaira made a weak attempt at snatching it back that only ended up pushing it further towards the fire.
It took only an instant for the flames to devour it.
Leaving only ashes and small paper flakes behind.
Yellow and gray paper flakes.
And for what? All because they wish to keep their citizens chained under their rule! Unaware that pure mana should be everyone’s birthright! Unaware that Ink is not as deadly as they think!
The last lines in the diary reverberated inside Nelaira’s head like an endless chorus of buzzing bees.
I can feel Cammy running back frantically. Yet, I fear it is too late.
Chills racked Nelaira’s hunched up form as her mind connected all the clues.
She suddenly regretted her decision to postpone the execution of her orders. This knowledge wasn’t something she could just ignore. It was something that flipped her world views upside down. Something that could easily endanger her life if anyone found out.
Yet, she couldn’t think about her own predicament, for her mind was still captured by the final line of the writing.
This might be the greatest calamity we have faced after the outbreak.
After the outbreak…
Nelaira’s heart pounded hard against her ribcage.
The realization hit Nelaira like a hammer, leaving her gasping for breath.
These villagers…! They measured time from the outbreak of Ink!
But the Ink…!
The Ink appeared the same year the wars were halted!
A.O. was no different from their own A.W.
The year 1430 A.O. on the diary entries…
…was 16 years ago!
As she sat there, under the bright moonlight, covered in cold sweat, Nelaira was too absorbed in her horror to notice the moonlight reflecting on a monocle in her peripheral vision.
A moment of weakness she would eternally regret.
For had her vigilance not dropped that night, perhaps the fates of her squad and her would have been different.
* * *
Ashar, Thursday, 30th of August, 1449 A.W.
As Kiel waited for Elaru’s practical exam to start and then finish, he attempted to replicate some of the spells in his book on spell replication, however, his mind was simply not in it.
No matter how he tried to concentrate, to not let his mind wander, it was a futile effort.
Sometimes he would think about the opponents he had faced, other times, he would think how mysterious and unfathomable the Replica Dungeon was.
Sometimes he would find his mind echoing with words of Zor Arite, other times, the words echoing inside his mind would be of Arion Urwin and Elaru Wayvin.
Sometimes, his body would shiver as if he could feel the excruciating pain of electricity coursing through his muscles, other times, a flash of Elaru’s aura would make comfortable warmth spread through his limbs.
In the end, he stopped his studying and instead started meditating.
Slowly, his worries and thoughts faded away one by one.
He forgot about the pain of being burned and electrocuted, both of which he had experienced before. After all, he used to be Rhur’s favorite practice dummy for his lightning magic.
He put his curiosity towards the Replica Dungeon, gods and divine artifacts to the back of his mind. He would have plenty of opportunities to investigate them in the future.
He stopped thinking about Zor Arite, for the life and death of that person had no relation to him.
In the end, all that was left occupying his thoughts was Elaru.
And she wouldn’t go away.
It didn’t help that she was sitting next to him for the majority of the time.
And when he finally rejoiced her leaving to take her practical exam, the girl was back before he could do anything about his problem.
“What the… ? Why are you back already? Did you remember your time slot wrongly?”
A single question blurted out incredulously, and the result was…
“…and then I just knocked them out easily.” Elaru finally finished her self-satisfied narration of how she passed her practical exam and turned to face Kiel’s unamused deadpan expression.
It wasn’t that he found her retelling boring, no, on the contrary, it was rather humorous. But he couldn’t quite laugh when he compared it to his own 30 minutes of torture.
And also, the story had disturbing implications…
“Why is it that you are familiar with a crew of pirates?” Kiel unceremoniously homed in on the issue Elaru glossed over, giving her a penetrating look.
Coming up in the next episode:
“Papa, Wade and I…we’ve spent last 18 years searching for something.”
“As for what I enjoy doing the most or hope to become in life…I don’t know.” She admitted. “I’ve never thought about the future. I’ve always been concentrating on the present.”
“And you think you might be able to find what you are looking for here in Muni?” Kiel probed.
As soon as his thoughts entered that dangerous territory, Kiel shook his head and diverted his attention to another tangential thought: “What about your mother? What happened to her?”
But then, why was it that Elaru seemed to revere her father if the man used her ability when he needed it and left her to other people to take care of when he didn’t?
It really was a common occurrence in the noble families. Most of them married for benefits instead of love.