“She’s gone over to the other side, hasn’t she?” he asked sorrowfully.
Ianari stood behind him, at the top of the riverbank, staring off into the distance with him.
“She left not too long after she arrived. Said that she didn’t want to stay here and watch you grieve.”
“I suppose it’s for the best. She wouldn’t approve of what I did.”
Ianari sat down next to him, her nine tails curled behind her back. “She would understand, but I don’t think she would approve, no.”
He turned to face her. “Am I a bad person?”
She smiled. “Good and bad are subjective. You messed with powers you should never mess with, but like I said, you did the wrong things for the right reasons. Does that make it bad? I don’t think so.”
“Thanks.” He stared off into the distance again. “I hope she can forgive me.” He let out a deep sigh. “There are so many things I wanted to say to her.”
“Sometimes we don’t get what we want. You of all people should know that by now.”
A pained smile formed on his old face. “Has anyone told you that you can be a tad harsh?”
“This line of work does that to a person, I’m sure you’ll manage.”
The two of them sat on the riverbank for a while longer, watching the small boats depart one by one, disappearing into the star-filled darkness. It was hypnotizing in a way, and quite beautiful.
Eventually Ianari stood up again and wiped the grass and dew from her clothes. “Shall we get another drink then?”
“Let’s,” the old man said, as he took her outstretched hand and stood up. The two walked back through the town that was forever at dusk and to the comfortable Foxire Inn.
Four days passed before Liari and Charlotte ended up going back to the tower. The morning after their first visit was filled with particularly harsh weather and it didn’t really let up much during the three days after that. But on the fourth morning the wind had let down and the snow had stopped completely. The two had made their way back to the tower. The trek there took them twice as long as it took Liari during the summer, since the path was completely covered in snow, but they managed to get there eventually. Liari had the key attached to the necklace that Fesquera had given her the day he left the library for the last time. This time around they didn’t go up the stairs to the now tidy and almost empty office on the first floor. The basement was new terrain even for Liari, who was vaguely aware that there was another door there, but always just assumed it was a storage.
“You do the honors,” Charlotte said.
Liari carefully put the key in the lock and it opened without issue. The door swung open and revealed a steep spiral staircase carved out of rock. There were alcoves in the wall with sconces in them, although there were no torches in them at the moment, and the path down was awfully dark. Luckily, they had come prepared and Charlotte pulled out a torch and used a tinderbox to light it. With the torchlight behind her, Liari carefully made her way down the stairs. The steps were quite small and she had to take one step at a time to make sure she didn’t slip and fall.
“So you had no idea that this place existed?” Charlotte asked Liari.
Liari shook her head. “I knew there was a door, but I thought it led to some sort of storage closet. I had no idea there was a basement.”
They continued to descend the stairs and eventually reached the bottom. In front of them was a fairly large room carved out of stone. The walls had several sconces with torches hanging in them and Charlotte went around and lit enough of them for the room to become well lit. Now that they were able to see properly, the room looked to be a secondary study. There was a large desk in the center, made out of stone. The far wall had a large mural painted on it and there were a few things lying on the table. Besides that the room was empty, but Charlotte remarked that there must have been stuff here until recently, since some parts of the floor were a lot dustier than other parts.
The first thing Liari looked at was the mural. It was a painting of a beautiful elven woman with a fox tail and fox ears.
“Is that a painting of you?” Charlotte asked.
The painting did look a lot like Liari, but upon closer inspection there were some differences. Her hair was a slightly different shade from Liari’s and she seemed to be a little bit taller. Liari was quite short. The woman also looked older than Liari was now, so it didn’t make a lot of sense for it to be her. Unsure what to think of it, the two turned their attention to what was on the desk. Everything was put down so neatly that it almost seemed like it couldn’t be Fesquera’s stuff. He was always chaotic and every room he walked into was a mess, as if done by magic. But there were four items on this desk. There was an ornate looking wooden chest with a lock hanging from it. Next to the wooden chest was another box, this one looking plain and made from thinner wood. In front of the two items was a rolled up piece of parchment with a key lying next to it.
“Let’s start with this then,” Liari said as she grabbed the parchment and rolled it out on the table. Charlotte read the letter with her.
My dearest daughter,
I hope this letter finds you in good health. I assume it does, but you never know. I will also assume that you have chosen to follow in my footsteps, which makes me very happy. Let me start by saying that this will be the last letter I’m leaving in my trail. As much as I appreciate you following my footsteps, I don’t want to make it easy and boring for you. Life has many challenges and it would be unnatural to take those away, would it not? Either way, I have prepared three gifts for you, to make your journey just a little bit better. First off, the ornate chest I gave you is a very valuable magic tool. It has served me greatly throughout the years and I hope it does the same for you. It allows you to retrieve any item you have stored in a chest at some point. What I used to do was have a room full of chests, in which I would put stuff that I might need on my travels, and then if the occasion came, I would retrieve it from this magical chest. Just thinking about the amount of magical expertise that was needed to craft this chest makes me marvel at it once more. Unfortunately, we were never able to figure out how to make it work both ways, so any items you put into the chest will physically stay there. Which does turn into a situation where you suddenly have more stuff than you can carry, so do take heed of that.
Inside the chest you will find your mother’s old armor. I realize I haven’t told you anything about her. Your mother was the love of my life and you resemble her so much it amazed me. She passed long before I did, but I know she would be extremely proud of you. This leather armor is a gift from her to you. The last gift is nothing magical, but it is a family heirloom. Please treat it with the respect it deserves and it will serve you well.
Now I suppose I should at least drop a hint on where you should start your search, shouldn’t I? If you want a good place to start, I recommend the Astrianara Academy that is located on the Arcane Archipelago just west of the coast of the Fyrston Empire. Whoever named that place had a sense for poetry, didn’t they? It is probably best to not mention my name when you visit the place, at least not to the wrong people. I have done some… things that not everyone there appreciated.
Writing this final letter really serves as closure for me, I have lived a long and eventful life, and the thought of it coming to an end in a couple of days is still strange. Do not mourn me too much though, I brought this upon myself after all. Now then, I hope you become a talented arcanist. I have no doubt you will succeed if you try hard enough.
“I knew he was someone of importance, but reading something like this makes it really dawn on me just how much I didn’t know about him.” Charlotte walked around the table and looked at the mural again.
“I guess this is a painting of your mother then?” she asked.
Liari looked at it again. “I would assume so, if she looked like me.” She walked up to the mural and touched it, moving her hand across it. The paint had dried a long time ago and the wall was cold to the touch. Yet she still got a warm feeling in her chest, as if there was some sort of connection there. Then she turned around and faced the table. “I suppose that decides it then, we’re leaving for the Astrianara Academy as soon as spring comes around.” She looked at Charlotte. “I say that, but you have to make the decision for yourself.”
Charlotte smiled. “I think we both know I already made that decision.”
“I’m glad to hear it.” She walked up to the table and picked up the chest and the box. “Should we go back to the library and open them there? I want to show Miranda as well.”
Charlotte nodded. “They’re yours now, you can decide what you want to do with them.” She looked around the room. “We should first make sure there is nothing that we’re missing.”
The two women spent a few minutes looking at every corner of the room. When they were satisfied with the idea that there was nothing else, they made their way back to the library. It had started snowing again and the trek back was a bit difficult, but their new goal had given them some renewed energy and they walked with conviction. Both of them were ready to start a new chapter of their life.
They informed Miranda about what they found and then put the items on the table in the kitchen. Rimah was also sitting on a chair near the hearth and watched as the three women crowded around the gifts.
Liari first opened up the small box. Inside were two simple but well-made daggers. The sheath was made of fine wood and the blade itself looked very sharp. She handed one to Charlotte.
“Are you sure?”
Liari nodded. “I think one knife is more than enough for a person.”
Charlotte carefully put the knife away. “Thank you.”
Miranda carefully inspected the knife. “This looks valuable, make sure you take good care of it.”
Liari then opened up the ornate chest. She reached inside and pulled out simple-looking armor. She looked it up and down a few times, but it didn’t look special. “I can wear this when we depart for the Astrianara Academy, I suppose.” She looked at Charlotte. “Is it common for people to walk around wearing armor?”
“It depends on the person and the place, but many travelers who are well off wear armor when they leave the major cities. Guards and mercenaries wear it all the time, but lots of travelers also walk around without armor. It honestly depends on your preference and work, but no one will look at you strangely if you walk around in some leathers. Maybe if you wear ornate plate armor they will, but I doubt you were planning to do so.”
Liari laughed. “Well, I’ll put this aside for now then,” as she put both the armor and the knife into the chest. “I will test out this chest though, and perhaps put some books in chests as preparation, if it really works.”
Miranda stood up and grabbed a small wooden chest from next to the fireplace. “Try it out, I’m curious as well.”
Charlotte nodded in agreement as well.
Liari took the knife out of the ornate chest and closed it, then put the knife in the regular chest. She then closed that chest, and opened the ornate chest. All three of them looked into the chest, but saw nothing besides the armor that she had put in there. “It’s not working,” Liari said.
“Try thinking about the knife,” Miranda suggested.
Liari thought about the knife and to her surprise it was suddenly lying on top of the armor. “That is very cool,” she said.
“Very cool?” Charlotte’s mouth was wide open in shock. “Do you know how valuable such a thing is?”
Liari stared at her blankly. “No, we don’t really use money here.”
Charlotte sighed. “Something like this would make you one of the richest people on the continent no doubt. The ability to transport large amounts of things over a long distance that easily? The possibilities are endless.”
Liari thought about this as she picked up the knife, held it for a moment and put it back, closing the chest again. “This will be very useful, I can’t believe he gave me such a special gift.” Her expression changed and she looked at Miranda with a sad look in her eyes. “Is he really gone or is he just playing a trick on us? I’ve read stories where important people disappear only to appear again in the future.”
Miranda sighed. “I obviously don’t know for sure, but this is something he seemed very certain about. It’s possible that he didn’t actually die, but just had to disappear and cut all ties with the people he knew, but I doubt it. And the stories you read, my dear, are generally the ones with perfectly happy endings. That’s not how the real world works. People die.”
Liari sighed. “I guess that’s that then. We’ll stay here until spring and then go and find whatever trail he left us.”
“I see you’ve decided to leave then.” Miranda sighed. “I’m going to need a new helper around here, I’ve gotten used to it.” She looked at Rimah who was peeking in on the conversation.
“Don’t ask me, I’m not planning to stay here for much longer.” She put down her book. “I could ask around in the village though.”
“That would be much appreciated.” Miranda smiled. “I should get back to work, there’s many books left to sort.”
Liari followed out of the kitchen, bringing her newly received magical objects to her room for safekeeping. She then went to lie down and rather quickly fell asleep for an afternoon nap.
Several weeks passed them by as the seasons slowly changed until it was early spring. Unfortunately, the weather hadn’t quite gotten good yet and rain was plaguing the area. This was great news for the crops they were growing out back, but less good news for Liari and Charlotte, who were planning to head towards Larania soon.
“You’re leaving tomorrow, right?” Miroc said, sitting down next to Liari. Liari liked reading outside, and there was enough cover from the rain when you sat near the library wall. She’d put a chair outside and a little table next to her with a cup of tea and two books. She wasn’t reading now though; instead she was looking out at the forest, taking in the view.
“Yes, we’re leaving early in the morning and hopefully we can make it all the way to Larania in three days.”
“I hope the weather clears up a bit by then, but it doesn’t look like it.”
The rain had persisted for at least a week now, and looking at the grey clouds that wasn’t changing. Liari sighed. “This is not how I expected my first ever adventure to start off. Then again, I didn’t really think about ever leaving this place to begin with.” She stood up. “I should get all my stuff ready for tomorrow.”
“Good luck, I’ll talk to you later.” Miroc stayed outside watching the rain while Liari made her way back inside. Charlotte was in her guestroom, preparing a few books she’d picked up. She wasn’t the biggest fan of reading and studying, as she had spent most of her youth learning how to behave like a princess, but being stuck in a library for the entirety of winter had left her with little choice. She’d mostly picked up books on politics and the history of this continent. One of the more interesting books she’d read was one that Liari had recommended to her. It was called The rise and fall of empires, a tragedy or an inevitability? The book was written by a scholar several centuries ago. The elven man had lived for a long time and during his life he’d seen several empires and kingdoms collapse. He wrote about the good and bad things he found in each one and why he thought it was inevitable for dynasties to end. Nothing was made to last forever and although it would hurt for the people directly involved, the common folk generally moved on pretty quickly. It gave Charlotte a strange comfort to know that the citizens of her empire would probably be alright.
Liari went into her room and put the chest that Fesquera had given her on her bed. She’d tested it out multiple times and had a few chests under her bed that had books, some rations and some clothes in them – stuff she thought she might need on her journey, but not quite immediately. There was also a pouch of gold in the chest; she figured it would be safe to have her money stored away. Worst case scenario, if she lost the chest somehow, the money would still be safe in her room. She closed the chest, which she had filled with clothes she would need during the start of their journey, as well as a waterskin, a cup and two books. The armor was lying next to the bed. She hadn’t tried it on yet, she was weirdly hesitant about it. She didn’t know anything about her mother and the thought that this was hers was still kind of weird. She finally decided to put it on. It took her a while, since she wasn’t used to the way the straps connected, but once she got the hang of it everything fit into place perfectly.
I don’t quite like the color of it, it’s a bit boring. As she thought that to herself, the color shifted from a muddy brown to a vibrant green. “Wow.” She said out loud.
The then thought about how it would be nice to have a hood for the rain, and as she thought about it, the fabric started weaving an extension on its own, until there was a dark blue hood covering up her hair and ears. “This is amazing.” She said under her breath. “I have to show Charlotte.” She ran over to Charlotte’s room and knocked on the door.
“Come on in,” Charlotte replied.
Charlotte was packing as well; she had most of her stuff in a small bag. On her way here Charlotte wasn’t well prepared, so when she got to Larania with pretty much nothing on her person, the village chief had given her a bag with some supplies. They were planning to stop by on the way back to give their thanks to him.
“The armor that my mother left me is magical.”
Charlotte smiled, seeing the excitement in Liari’s eyes. “I figured as much.”
Liari looked shocked. “Why didn’t you say something then?”
“I don’t think I would have gotten as good a reaction out of you if I had.”
Liari pouted. “I agree with that, but that doesn’t mean I like it.” They both started laughing.
“All packed up?” Charlotte asked.
“As good as,” Liari replied. “There are a few more things I need to store and there’s a book I need to finish reading tonight, but besides that I’m good to go.”
Charlotte put a final book in her bag and closed it. “Looks like we’re both ready.” She looked out of the small window in her room. “It’s not been a long visit, but I will miss this place. There’s something beautiful about living your life in a place as serene as this, away from politics and all the other miserable stuff.” She saw the worried look on Liari’s face. “Don’t worry, it’s not all bad, it’s just that this was a nice change of pace. You’ll like the trip there, I’m sure. You’ve never even seen the ocean, I’m sure the sight of it will stay with you for a long time.”
Liari perked up after hearing that. “I’ve read about it, but I never imagined I would actually go and see it. And I want to see mountains, they’re not in the direction we’re traveling, but perhaps eventually we’ll come across them. Oh, and I want to see the capital, as well as other cities. I want to go to a pub, I want to walk through a market. I want to visit other continents. I want to go north of Fyrston and then further north of Zanian.”
Charlotte started laughing and Liari’s face went red. “We’ll get to see a lot of those things, don’t you worry.”
Liari’s smile slowly turned sad. “I’ll miss the library.”
“I’m sure you will, but you can always return.”
Liari nodded. She’d already decided for herself that she would come back to the library as soon as she could. She let out a deep sigh. “Well then, good night to you, and I’ll see you in the morning.” She wasn’t quite sure what else to say.
Charlotte smiled. “Good night to you as well, Liari, I’m looking forward to our journey.”
Morning dawned on the library and the weather cleared up quite a bit from the previous days. The rain was a thing of the past and the sun came peeking from behind the clouds now and then to raise the temperature to a more agreeable one. Everyone had gathered at the entrance to the library to wave goodbye to Liari and Charlotte.
“Are you sure you packed everything, dear?” Miranda asked for the tenth time.
“Don’t worry so much, I’ll be fine.” She had her chest in her backpack and was wearing her mother’s armor. She’d willed it to look like a simple light green traveler’s cloak, hiding some of her more personal features. The hood covered her ears quite well and the cloak was quite wide so that her tail was barely noticeable underneath it.
Charlotte didn’t have much on her, as she had come here in a rush, but she did have a bag with some rations, a bit of money and some books that Miranda gave them.
“Now then, be off you two, and come back when you see an opportunity.”
“We will, Miranda, don’t you worry.” Liari said.
Charlotte also gave a nod. “Thank you for your hospitality.”
Miroc stepped forward and handed Charlotte a folded piece of fabric. “It’s a cloak we use in our tribe when the weather is particularly miserable. With this weather it’ll come in handy, I reckon.”
Charlotte took the cloak. “Thank you so much.” She started tearing up. “You’ve all been nothing but nice to me ever since I arrived. I won’t forget this.”
Miroc smiled. “Safe travels to you both.”
Miranda, Miroc and Rimah waved them goodbye as they disappeared into the shrubbery, starting the first leg of their journey.