Chapter Seventeen – Trust Issues

“So these strange symbols are a language in your world? Why would they use completely different symbols?”
“That’s just how things developed. It’s quite cool actually, that different people approached written language from such a different angle. We all came to the conclusion that a written language is needed, but how we went about it was so different.”
“So you can’t read it at all?”
Mana shook her head. “I’ve seen some of the symbols, so I recognize where they’re from, but it’s so completely different from my own language.” SHe paused for a moment. “Your script is the same as ours, can you read and write that?”
Cassandra nodded. “I’m not very good at writing, but whenever dad was gone to the nearby village or he was ill I’d have to take over in the shop and sometimes write on the cards and what not. So I know the basics, but don’t give me any difficult things to read.”
“So that means that your attempt at understanding these symbols is as good as mine.”
“So it’s pointless?”
Mana nodded. “Best to just forget about it and see if we can find someone who does know.” She turned to Cobal. “That does have me thinking though, are there other languages on this continent?”
Cobal nodded.  “I do think so.” he thought for a moment, the little bit of wind that was making its way through the canopy feeling nice on his skin. The morning air was refreshing and it was chilly in a good way right now. “There are a few clans that live on the edge of the Feral Wildlands that speak different languages. They don’t really use written language though, so I don’t know if their script would look all that different from ours.” He paused. “I’m not an expert though, so there might very well be different scripts out there that I just haven’t heard of.”
“I have a question that might be a bit strange and rude,” Kimi said.
“What do you want to ask?” Cobal responded.
“I understand there’s a large cultural difference between humans and spirits, so if this is rude I apologize. But why have you guys summoned another hero?”
“I’m not sure I understand the question?”
“Might was a fantastic person, but at the end of the day he just fought some people your country didn’t like and was used as a threat against possible invaders, only for him to one day just vanish. Then your people did nothing with his legacy.” Kimi had a difficult expression on her face. “I just never felt like the Blueyerd Kingdom really cared about their constituents. They were just worried that their lavish lifestyle would be tarnished.” She must have seen something in Cobal’s eyes because the volume of her voice trailed off at the end and she stopped talking.
Cobal looked around at his party. Mana had a strange look in her eyes too, but he’d come to understand she knew something he didn’t. Cassandra was just interested to hear what was going on, she was an open book most of the time. He thought for a little while.
“Leading a country is a very complicated task. Only those who studied their entire life can pull it off. There’s many things you need to take into account in order to keep your people happy. I think it’s easy to underestimate how much work it is.”
“I understand that, that’s why I said it might be a cultural difference or something. When we need to decide something among us, we gather the oldest spirits and discuss our options before putting it to a vote. To have one family lead a country without question seems risky. What if the person isn’t actually up to the job or doesn’t have the country’s best interests in mind? You then can’t just come together and vote for someone else to take over the job.” She looked at Mana. “Does what I’m saying make any sense?”
Mana nodded. “To an extent, for sure. Back in my world, they had something called democracy, which was similar to what you’re describing the spirits to do. They would allow all adults to vote on people to lead them. At least where I was from. In some places women couldn’t vote, or certain groups of people weren’t allowed to vote. A long time ago only the rich could vote and even longer ago they would vote with a small group of smart people. But there were also countries where there was no democracy and they just had a king of sorts. It’s hard to say what was better, but having a royal family opens up to a lot of risk. The benefit is that a crown prince will generally be prepared to lead the country from a young age, so they’ll likely be up to the task, but what if the crown prince is someone with questionable morals? It makes for a tricky balance. Having said that, democracy also had its issues in my world. Everyone was allowed to vote but not everyone, and I feel a bit mean for saying this, knew enough about what was going on. Some people would be tricked into voting for someone they didn’t actually agree with, just because the person they voted for was charismatic. And it also divided the people. One ruler that’s not questioned can be a great way to unite the people. But that only works if the ruler is a fair and good ruler.”
“You seem to know a lot about this, were you involved in this democracy thing?” Kimi asked.
“I voted, as did most people, but that’s about it. I always found it important to know what the different candidates promised. Not that they would keep their word often. Like I said, it had its issues.” She looked at Cobal. “As for the Blueyerd Kingdom, I didn’t spend any time with the king and only spoke to the crown prince once. He seemed like a nice person, but that’s not much to go by. Cobal has been kind to me though, and he’s made me feel at ease. I don’t feel like I have to treat him like a noble and that has made this journey more pleasant than I expected.”
Cobal blushed. “I’m happy to hear you say that, I thought you hated me.”
“Why would you think that?”
“Well, we summoned you from your other life, and then I was assigned to be your guard wherever you went. I figured you wouldn’t be happy about that.”
“You’re right, initially I wasn’t. And I’m still very much wrestling with the idea that I’ll never see my parents again, or my cat. But I’m here now, and all the anxiety in the world isn’t going to bring me back home.” She added quietly, “trust me, I would be back already if it did.”
“Then why do you seem so distant sometimes?” He looked around the group. “If we’re being open and putting our cards on the table, then I might as well ask my questions too.”
“What do you mean?” Mana asked.
“There’s something in your eyes whenever something pertaining to Might happens. It’s as if you don’t trust me anywhere near that conversation. And it makes me feel like you have a reason not to trust me, that I don’t understand.” He saw the same look in Mana’s face again. “See! You’re doing it again.” His frustration was audible. “Why do you look at me like that?”
Mana recoiled a little bit. “I’m sorry.” She seemed to consider something for a moment.
“Maybe when we’ve found Dionil and talked to him I feel more confident to share what I know.”
“And what if we don’t find him? What if this is some elaborate mission to just send us away somewhere?” He started to feel his voice raise. He realized he was being unreasonable but he couldn’t help it. Mana seemed to shrink in front of him and it made him feel even angrier. He’d done nothing but be nice and understanding to her, why was she so distrusting of him.
“I can’t just explain it, I’m sorry,” Mana said. She took two steps back.
Cobal felt the anger well up more, but suppressed it. He didn’t know what to say or do. They’d been wandering the forest for days on end. He was starting to get frustrated by being here, and by somehow feeling like an outsider in this group. Things were fine for a while, but now that more people were traveling with them, it seemed like Mana was distancing herself from him more and more. As if she was scared of him. Getting angry with her wouldn’t help, he thought to himself, but he struggled to stay calm. He was about to say something when the atmosphere changed completely.

“Shush both of you,” Cassandra said. She was walking a little bit ahead of the other three, whose pace had slowed down while they were talking.
“What’s wrong?” Cobal said, his voice a lot quieter now.
“I see something over in the distance.”
They all looked in the direction she was pointing and they could see it too. Stairs wrapped around the trees with a few small lanterns lightning them up. Then higher up there were small houses built partially into the trees.
“Well, elves do have a reputation of liking trees, do you think they built their houses into them?” Cobal asked.
Cassandra shrugged. “I have no idea, but someone took that idea and rolled with it. And this looks like good craftsmanship, not something shabbily and hastily built.”
“Do you think this might be where Dionil is?” Mana asked.
A voice appeared behind them. “You have five archers with arrows trained on your back. Do not move a muscle.”
They all froze in place. They couldn’t see who was threatening them at all.
“I am an envoy from the royal house of Blueyerd, we’re here looking for the elves that live in this region.”
“We’ll be taking your weapons, do not move a muscle before we tell you to do so.”
Cobal’s mind was racing. If this person was telling the truth they would be toast if they moved now, but if he was lying they’d be giving them way too much power over them. He looked at the houses once more and gathered that with the size of this forest village it was not unlikely that there were multiple people guarding it. “Alright, we’ll do as you say. We don’t wish for any trouble.”
He heard some movement behind them before someone cut loose his belt and took his weapons. After a moment they were told to start walking towards the village.
“Now sit down.”
They all obeyed and sat down on the ground. Only now did the person who had been talking to them step into view.
A young looking person with tall pointed ears and dark green hair came into view. They had almost porcelain skin and piercing brown eyes. They wore simple leathers that looked well kept. They looked to be a little bit taller than Cobal and on the skinnier side.
“State your names and business here.” He said. Cobal could hear a bit of movement behind him, which gave more credibility to the claims that there were multiple people surrounding them.
“My name is Cobal Blueyerd, third prince of the Blueyerd Kingdom. These are my companions.”
“I’m sorry, do you speak for them?” Cobal couldn’t recognize from their voice if they were a man or a woman. It’s as if they were somehow in between. He’d never met an elf before although he knew that his father and older brother had met one once. “I didn’t mean to offend.” He said.
The elf nodded, then looked at the other three expectedly.
“My name is Kimi’thania, I’m a lesser spirit of music.”
“I’m Cassandra from Ravadier.”
Lastly the elf looked at Mana. “You, the one with blessing, who are you and where are you from?”
“My name is Mana, I was born in a different world before I was summoned here to be the hero of the Blueyerd Kingdom.” Cobal wondered why she gave up all that information immediately.
The elf nodded. “Welcome to Milinia, the elven enclave in the Liriath forest.” They heard the sound of bows loosening their string as the archers seemed to put away their weaponry.
“I’ll bring you to our leader, but your weapons will stay with us for now.” They smiled. “Follow me.”
They all got up and followed him up one of the spiral staircases towards the largest looking building in the trees.

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