“So the Blueyerd Kingdom included roughly half of this forest?”
“And you’re of the royal family of the Blueyerd Kingdom?”
“So it would be fairly safe to assume that you know your kingdom?”
Cassandra nodded. “So we’ve now established that this is part of your lands and that you should be aware of the things that are going on in your lands. Now could you please explain to me why we are lost?” Cassandra was just about done with being lost in a forest.
They’d set up camp near the roots of a large tree after three days of traveling without proper direction. Initially they were having a good time, traveling vaguely towards the center of the forest, but as time went on, they struggled more and more to get their bearings until they finally had to admit that they were completely lost.
“Look, I don’t know every corner of the kingdom by heart. I’m the third prince, not the ruling king. And even then, can you really expect me to know the borders of my country, when it’s so far away from the capital and regularly disputed.”
“Well I don’t know, but this is pointless.” She let herself fall backwards onto her bedroll. Kimi and Mana sat off to the side, eating in silence.
“If you have so many complaints, why don’t you lead the way then?” Cobal said, frustrated. He was tired, riddled with insect bites and just all around miserable.
“If I knew where to go, I would have said something by now.” She looked at Kimi. “Can’t you ask the animals here or something by playing them a song?” There was a strong hint of sarcasm in Cassandra’s voice.
Kimi shook her head. “It’s not that simple. I can give off a feeling of sorts that will help calm them down, but I can’t communicate with them openly. Even if I could, I wouldn’t be able to understand their answers.”
Mana stood up. “We’re looking for someone who chose to live deep in the forest, away from humans. The fact that we can’t find them easily shouldn’t come as a big surprise. I suggest we keep going for another few days. Worst case scenario we end up leaving the forest at some point and then we’ll just find a place to restock and try again.”
Cobal shook his head. “I wish it was that simple, but it’s really not. For starters, it’s really hard to go in a straight line, and although watching the stars will give us some idea of where we should head, if we go off track during the day we might end up walking in circles regardless. And even if we are going in a straight line, this forest does border on the Feral Wildlands on one side, and we’d best avoid accidentally walking in there. That’s a death sentence with how little preparation we’ve done.”
They all sat in silence for a little while until Cassandra yelled out. “Ah, screw it all. We’ll keep marching until we find something.” She picked up her bag and the rest followed her example. “Let’s keep going.” Cobal said, agreeing with her.
The forest had gotten a lot denser since they first entered it, and due to the canopy being a lot more compact this deep in, it also got darker. Even during the day it was sometimes hard to see where they were going, which really slowed down their pace. Eventually a light source in the distance gave them a bit of hope. They kept walking towards it, hacking at the plants and branches in their way, until they reached what seemed to be a clearing. The clearing led into what looked to be a small rock face with a cave in it. The trees were more sparse here so the sunlight made it all the way down here.
“I wonder if a wild bear or something lives there.”
“It could also be a treasure cave,” Cassandra said.
Everyone else looked at Cassandra.
“What, it’s good to be optimistic,” she said, shrugging.
Mana smiled. “Either way, I think we should try and have a look. Just be careful.
“I got this,” Cassandra said, pulling her sword from its sheath. Cobal lit up a torch. “We’ll be right behind you.”
Ideally he would be up front as he had by far the most combat experience were something dangerous lurking in there, but he figured Cassandra would have to gain some experience at some point, and in this kind of scenario they could be close behind her. With Mana’s wind magic that had been steadily improving and Kimi as support, they should be able to handle most wild animals. But as luck would have it, or not, there were no wild animals in this cave. As a matter of fact, there seemed to be no sign of life. It wasn’t a deep cave, and after about a minute of walking they reached the back wall of it. The walls were mainly dirt at first, but turned into hard stone after a little while. “Well that was disappointing,” Cassandra said.
“Or not?” Mana added. She pointed at something near the ceiling. “Hold the light closer to that.”
Cobal moved the light towards where she was pointing at, until he saw strange writing. “What’s that?”
“I think that’s a script from my home planet, but I’m not sure I recognize which one.”
“I thought your script was the same as ours?” Cassandra asked.
Mana nodded. “Where I’m from it was, but where Might was from, for example, they have a completely different language and script. There are a few places on my planet that have different scripts.”
“That sounds complicated,” Cassandra said.
“You’re not wrong. For a large part of our history we didn’t have to interact with people from far away, since travel and communication weren’t well developed enough yet. In the modern day, we have apps that can translate language for you.”
“Hold up, you’re going way too fast,” Cassandra complained. “What’s an app?”
“So on your phone,” Mana paused, before laughing. “How the hell am I supposed to explain this? There’s this thing called a computer, it’s like a rock we tricked into thinking. Don’t question that part. Think of it as a really big book that has all the information you can think of. If I speak one language, and you speak another language, I will write what I want to say in this app, and then the app will translate it to another language for me. That’s the most basic way we get around language barriers nowadays.”
Cassandra’s eyes narrowed. “You’re messing with us. There’s no way you tricked a rock into thinking. You’ve said many times there was no magic in your world.”
Mana thought for a second. “I honestly thought that was a pretty good way of explaining it. It’s a lot more complicated than that, as with many things.” She paused. “It’s really hard to explain things when you know that they work, but you have no idea how to work. It’s like if I were to ask Cobal to explain how wind magic works. He knows it exists, he’s seen me use it, but I doubt he could tell me exactly how it works.”
Cassandra nodded, but Cobal could see in her eyes that she still wasn’t convinced.
“So you know that this is a language from your world, but without your thinking rock you can’t tell us what it means?”
Mana nodded. “Correct.”
“So it’s useless then?” Cobal said.
“To an extent, but it does tell us something. It tells us that either Might, or someone who was taught this language by Might, was here at some point.”
Cobal nodded. “You’re right, that’s a good sign.”
“Why?” Cassandra asked.
“Because it really ups the chance of Dionil or someone else related to Might being somewhere around here. At the very least at some point in the past.”
Cassandra thought about this for a moment. “I suppose you’re right, that’s better than having no clue at all.”
Mana took out a piece of parchment and a pen. “Let’s write this down for starters. Perhaps it’s useless to us, perhaps we’ll find someone who does speak the language. Or at least someone who knows the meaning of these symbols.”
Cobal nodded. “Seems like a good plan to me.”
They walked back out of the cave and looked at the sky that was turning darker. “Let’s set up camp here and start exploring the nearby area tomorrow,” Cobal suggested.
They all agreed. They could use a bit of rest after several harrowing days of tough traveling and the thought that their destination might be nearer than they were worried about definitely revitalized them a bit.
After setting up camp, Kimi turned her flute into a small piano.
“Does your focus have a name?” Mana asked.
“Do you name things in your world?” Kimi replied.
“Sometimes. I had a friend who named all of her plants. I’m told many people did that. Some people name things more as a joke though.”
Kimi thought about this for a while. “Well I’ve never considered naming it, I’ve always just called it a focus.”
“I name some of my inventions,” Cassandra chimed in.
Cobal laughed. “Somehow that doesn’t surprise me at all.”
Cassandra grinned sheepishly. “Am I that predictable?”
“In a good way,” Cobal said.
They ate their rations for the day and watched as the sun slowly went down, listening to Kimi play a beautiful song. None of the three had ever heard the song before.
“You’re very good at this,” Mana remarked.
“I’ve had a lot of time to practice, although I’m a little bit rusty. While I was locked in the gate I couldn’t practice at all.” A sad look came over her.
“Well, you definitely don’t seem to have lost your touch,” Cobal said, comfortingly.
Dusk was followed by darkness quickly and with a belly full of food and music on the brain they all went to sleep one by one, leaving Cobal to sit there for the first watch.
When he was sure everyone was asleep he stood up and let out a deep sigh. He paced around the camp, something he’d do from time to time. He was always better at sorting out his thoughts when he was moving about. Doing sword practices would likely wake his companions up, so he stuck to pacing for now. Many things came to mind. As much as he realized Cassandra’s comments about him not knowing the forest came from a place of frustration, there was some truth to what she said. He’d spent almost all of his life in the capital, and ever since he started traveling with Mana he realized how little he actually knew about the kingdom he was supposed to be a protector of. He wondered if his father and older brother were more knowledgeable about these things, but deep down he knew they weren’t. It bothered him and after a while of pondering it he woke up Mana for her watch. He went to lie down, but he couldn’t find sleep for a little while. The thoughts kept circling his mind. Why was he a royal? What did he owe to the people? Was he a bad person for living a life of luxury in the capital? He’d never asked anyone for these things, they were just given to him. And besides, he had to do a lot of studying and behave properly, it’s not like it was a life of leisure. Yet being out here for all these weeks, traveling with normal people, relatively speaking, he felt like he’d been doing something wrong up until now. Not coming to a proper answer at all, he finally fell asleep.