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Chapter 3 – After the Tacos Festival

The next morning, Alver opened his front door to grab the newspaper, which was still being delivered to his home. He bent over to pick it up, and as he straightened himself again, he came eye to eye with Cooper, Pearson’s older friend from the festival.

“Can I help you?” asked Alver.

“I assume your friend is with you. The girl,” he replied.

“Lana? She is, why do you ask?”

“Is she gonna be alright?”

“Maybe in a few days. She’s a very happy person in normal circumstances. I don’t think she’ll ever fully recover from what she had to live through, though.”

“Mhm, that would be unlikely,” he agreed. “Pearson told me all about it. Watching a loved one die, it’s a very traumatizing thing for anyone to witness.”

“I would imagine.”

“It’s a difficult task to watch over someone who’s in that state. Make sure you take good care of her.”

“I’m trying, but as you said, it’s not easy. I never know if I have to do or say something, or if I’m supposed to just let her heal.”

“Just try to be there for her, without overwhelming her with your presence.”

“I feel like that’s easier said than done.” Alver let out a nervous sigh. “But I’ll try.”

“I know you will. You seem like a good kid. If anything comes up, at any time, you can call me at this number.” He gave Alver a sticky note with a phone number written on it.

“Thanks,” said Alver, unsure of what else to respond to Cooper’s genuine care for he and his friends.

“I’ll be going back to Central soon, but Pearson will be in town a little longer. Don’t hesitate to call us if you need anything.”

Cooper waved Alver goodbye and made his way down the path back to town. Alver went back inside his abode and tossed the newspaper on his kitchen counter.

Lana still lay on the bed, her eyes dry and empty, fixated on the ceiling. If not for her chest moving from her slow breathing, one could mistake her for a corpse. Alver poured her a glass of water and put it on the bedside table.

“I’ll be going outside for a bit. I won’t be gone too long,” he said, receiving no answer.

He left his home, wondering if he was taking good enough care of Lana. He buried his hands in his pants’ pockets and walked off with no specific destination in mind.

It was a cloudy day, heavy gray clouds threatening to unleash a deafening downpour, ironically fitting weather after the events of the Tacos Festival. It was not just the sky ready to weep, the whole town appeared to be grieving.

Alver wandered along the town’s streets, eventually reaching another end of his small town. He followed a path which ran along hills extending far outside Saint-Tacos into the Eastern Country’s scenic grassy fields. The path connected to a picnic area at the foot of a hill, composed of a few picnic tables scattered about an open area.

Sitting at one of those tables was Jeffrey, who looked lost in thought. Alver noticed him and went to sit with his friend.

“What are you doing here?” asked Alver.

“Just chilling. It’s a cloudy day, so not many people came today. I like it here when it’s not bustling with toddlers. What about you?”

“I just wanted to walk.”

Jeffrey nodded. “Not much else to do right now, I suppose.”

“Yeah.”

“Is Lana alright?”

“As alright as you’d expect her to be, I guess.”

“On a scale from brick wall to dead rat being dissected in ninth grade science class, how responsive is she?”

“Not very.”

“Is she at least alive?”

“I’m pretty sure.”

“That’s good.”

“She’ll be up in a couple of days, I’d say. Muchatcho is there to comfort her.”

They spoke monotonously, often waiting after speaking to stare at noting and relax. Jeffrey stretched and let out a yawn; judging from the bags under his eyes, he must not have slept a lot last night.

“I’m gonna enter a fighting tournament in Woodburt. It starts in two weeks,” said Jeffrey.

“Oh?”

“I wanna try my hand at competitive fighting. It’s a bracket-based tournament. Anyone who’s eighteen and above can enter. Preliminary rounds determine the top thirty-two fighters who advance to the real tournament. It’s a pretty big event. I watched last year’s tournament on tv. The people there aren’t amateurs.”

“You are.”

“But I’m good.”

“Good enough for a real tournament?”

“That’s what I’ll find out. The preliminary rounds are in two weeks. If I walk there, it’ll take me ten days. I was planning on leaving tomorrow morning.”

“Why don’t you take the bus?”

“I wanna walk, is all. It’ll give me time to think about what I’m gonna do with my life. Makes for decent training on the way there, too.”

“Do you hope to win?”

“Everyone who participates hopes to win. The winner gets a million dollars.”

“That’s a lot of money, especially for an eighteen-year-old who lives with his parents.”

“I know it is.”

“Don’t get too excited. I’m sure everyone there will want to win it as much as you.”

“Whatever, I don’t really care about money. I just want something to do.”

“Carefree as always, I see.”

“I have enough to care for as it is,” semi-jokingly said Jeffrey.

“True,” agreed Alver. “Thanks for protecting Lana yesterday. She’s alive because of you.”

“Nah, thank the guy with the big chin. He’s the one who saved us.”

“I’ll thank him when I see him, then. But you were still there when it mattered most. I wish I could have done something.”

“Don’t beat yourself up. That masked guy was crazy strong and fast, unnaturally so. He had a hidden weapon of sorts, too, one that could electrocute, like a taser. I thought it was over for me, honestly.”

“I’m glad it ended differently than what you thought.”

“Me too,” laughed Jeffrey. “Dying isn’t something I had planned on doing anytime soon.”

Another silence passed.

“I just remembered, did the old guy come to see you?” asked Jeffrey to his friend.

“Yeah, how’d you know?”

“I bumped into him earlier. He asked me if I knew where Lana was, so I directed him to your place. He then told me to call him if I ever needed something.”

“Yeah, he told me the same. He’s a nice man.”

“Too nice if you ask me. Why would he bother to care for us so much?”

“Because we just went through something traumatic? Especially you and Lana.”

“So what? It’s none of his business. We’re strangers to him.”

“Some people just want to do good, I guess.”

“Some people are stupid.”

“That’s rude.”

“Whatever.”

The two friends reached another silence. The clouds had grown heavier during their conversation, now looming ominously close to them. Still, they stayed in the empty field and waited for nothing in particular to happen, seemingly too tired or lost in thought to move.

***

Somewhere in a forested area some kilometers outside of Saint-Tacos, the masked man continued his forced retreat. He limped as fast as he could away from the scene of the crime he had committed. He had removed the tie binding his wrists together and taken off his mask somewhere along the way.

His face was that of a young man, no older than twenty-five. His eyes were a deep blue and his hair bright blonde, wild wicks floating over his forehead.

After going as far as he could, he dropped on the ground and leaned against a tree. He pulled his right pant leg up to reveal two bullet wounds near each other in his thigh. His leg was pale from the blood still slowly pouring from the holes left by the bullets.

When the realization he had failed his mission hit him, the man began breathing erratically. He repeatedly smashed his fists against the ground and screamed. He was so entranced in his anger that he failed to notice someone approach him.

It was a middle-aged man with a surprisingly young face. He had a solemn, calm expression, and blue eyes that had seen so much horror they had turned pale and emotionless. His clothing was formal, covered by an old coat, one that he had most likely owned for most of his life.

“You’re hurt,” he said monotonously.

The man sitting in pain on the ground jumped and knocked his head on the tree behind him, startled by the other man’s sudden appearance. “Why are you here, Delzad?” he grunted as if he did not want to see him.

“I take it you couldn’t secure the wind orb?”

The man wanted to plead for himself, to explain his failure, but no words could come out of his mouth that would not sound like an excuse. He looked aside in shame, wishing he could go back in time and start over.

“And the others that were with you, where are they?” asked Delzad.

“I don’t know, I think they were caught by the police when they went off on their own before the mission. I went in there on my own.”

“It was your task to keep them in line. Your inability to control your team might ultimately leak information about us. Our secrecy is compromised because of you, Rey.”

“You don’t have to scold me like I’m a child!” exclaimed Rey angrily.

“You are a child. You were intrusted with an important mission, and you failed miserably. It seems we were wrong to trust you for something of this magnitude. Let this be a lesson to us all.”

“Why don’t you do it, then! You’re always lecturing me like you know everything, but you never actually do anything!”

Delzad’s eyes did not change, but their gaze became stabbing, like an eternal dagger piercing directly into Rey’s mind. “I have nothing to prove to you, Rey. Now, come, we must get back to headquarters before local authorities find us.”

“Whatever…”

Delzad placed his hand on Rey’s shoulder and closed his eyes. A second later, they vanished into thin air, leaving behind only Rey’s blood and mask as traces they had been there.

They reappeared in a large hospital room filled with rows of beds and various medical equipment. Few beds were occupied by injured or sick people, but most were empty. Rey took off his overcoat and sat on one of the uncomfortable beds lined up before him.

“Mars will be coming to treat your wounds shortly,” said Delzad with little empathy.

Rey snickered in discontent, laying his injured leg on the stiff mattress, and his back against the metal frame of the bed.

“I’ll inform the rest of the council about your failure, but feel free to come explain things yourself once you feel capable to do so.”

Rey wanted to retort to every sentence Delzad spoke so condescendingly, but any attempt to do so would have no effect on the emotionless man. Instead, he let him walk away, despite his bottled-up anger growing.

Moments later, a tall, lanky man arrived. His back was hunched forward slightly, and his arms were thin and long, scrawny fingers with long, sharp nails attached to them dangling on the side of his body. His eyes were dry and rarely blinked, which gave him a creepy air.

“Dear Rey, what has happened to you?” he said sarcastically with a twisted smile.

“Stop being a creepy bastard and do your job, you psycho,” barked back Rey.

“Now, now, is this really the proper manner to treat your doctor?”

“Doctors don’t normally molest corpses, so I’d say it’s justified.”

“I wonder where you got that unfathomable idea from.”

Mars sat on a stool and tied his thin hair into a short ponytail. He put on a pair of medical gloves and picked up a pair of long tweezers.

Rey jumped a bit. “Woah! Aren’t you gonna administer some anesthetic first?”

“We barely have time for that. I’m a very busy man, as you know.”

“Bullshit! You’re probably just torturing someone in your dungeon again!”

“My hobbies are none of your concern. Now, sit still, or this will hurt even more.”

Rey continued to oppose Mars’ unprofessional conduct, but the doctor ignored his pleas and plunged the tweezers directly into Rey’s bullet wound. He pushed them deeper, scraping the walls of flesh around while doing so. He twirled the instrument in Rey’s leg for a short while, almost as if he enjoyed watching him agonise and scream, before finally pulling out the bullet. Before Rey could catch his breath, Mars repeated the procedure for the second bullet, this one lodged even deeper than the first. He then gave his hurting patient the necessary care for his wounds to heal, but only after having done the procedure raw.

“There, don’t you feel better now?” asked Mars, content with himself.

“You fucker. I’d rather have kept the bullets inside me,” said Rey, still sweating from the pain.

“Really? I can put them back inside if you want.”

“Fuck off.”

Mars obliged Rey’s request with a satisfied smile, leaving him alone to ponder his eventual visit to the council. It took little time for that moment to arrive. About an hour after Delzad had left Rey in the hospital room, he went back to escort him to a different room.

This one was much smaller, yet somehow felt grander, more imposing. Stone pillars were placed at two-meter intervals along the room’s rugged walls, giving it an antique look. A large stone and marble oval table sat in the middle of the room, a dozen tall chairs surrounding it. And sitting in some of those chairs like wise old folk ready to dispense their wisdom were seven people, ranging from middle-aged to elderly.

One particularly old man sporting a long and clean white beard, which curled slightly at the tip, sat at the end of the table, elevated by one step from the rest of his peers. He looked a hundred years old, yet still healthy enough to be a leader capable of commanding respect.

Delzad went to take a seat at the table, leaving Rey alone in front of eight members of the council, all staring directly at him, waiting for him to speak.

However, it was the old man who spoke first. “Delzad has informed us of your mission’s results.” His voice was bleak.

Rey took a moment before answering. “Then why am I here?”

“Your attitude suggests you don’t believe you deserve to be here.”

“Are you all just gonna tell me how much I suck? I’ve heard that enough today. So, if that’s all you wanted to tell me, I’ll do us all a favor and save us some time by leaving.”

“You are being rash yet again, Rey, as is in your nature. You haven’t even let me talk to you, yet you’ve decided the outcome of the conversation. Please, calm down.”

“That’s easy for you to say. The council, the most powerful people in the world, giving me a critical mission with two shit partners. How was I supposed to meet your expectations, exactly? Why didn’t one of you go to secure the wind orb? Other members of the council were sent for the other orbs, after all.”

“I will concede that the others allocated to the retrieval of the wind orb have had their abilities far overestimated. Had you been given more capable partners, perhaps the mission would have gone differently.”

“It would have been nice of you to realize that beforehand.”

“Nevertheless, Rey, this is not the first time you fail an assignment we have personally given you.”

“You keep sending me on impossible quests, what am I supposed to do? I’m not like you guys…” His voice became sad, but his expression remained irritated.

“No, but we believe you can become like us.”

Rey’s face shot up, confused to what he was hearing. “Are you serious?”

“As you know, we are not immortal. One day, sooner than later, our time will be over. When that time arrives, new members of the council must be appointed. We have collectively decided on choosing you as a future candidate. While you have many shortcomings, you are strong and always willing to accept any request that is asked of you. Your ability is also one of the strongest we have seen in a long time. That is why we sent you on so many missions lately, and why we trusted you to retrieve the wind orb.”

“But I didn’t retrieve it.”

“No, you did not. Once Delzad told us of your failure, we held a vote to determine whether we should continue to try to make you a future member of the council. Every member voted, including those away on missions. Six voted for you, six voted against.”

“So, now what?”

“The deciding vote came down to me, ultimately. I voted to give you one last chance. The wind orb will soon be secured by Delzad once he returns to Saint-Tacos. We have reason to believe we now know its location. Meanwhile, you will be sent to Woodburt City to participate in a fighting tournament which will take place in fourteen days. You will have to make it to the final round, and then lose.”

“Why? Why would you want me to lose?” interrupted Rey.

“I would ask that you please let me finish, Rey. The prize for the runner-up of the competition is one of the eight orbs, the moon orb. The city of Woodburt has made this announcement public recently, giving us one of the orbs’ location without us having to do any work.”

“They must not know what it truly is.”

“Most likely not. Otherwise, they would not give it away. How the orb came to be in their possession and whether they know of its true powers or not is irrelevant. All that matters is that we now know where another orb is located.”

“Why don’t we just steal it? Why do we have to partake in this tournament?”

“We must do all that is in our power to attract as little attention to ourselves. Luckily for you, Delzad found you before the police. Other than that slip up, we have done a good job of staying in the shadows, and it must remain that way, at least until our goal comes to fruition.”

“I see. I’ll do my best.”

“It would be in everyone’s best interest that your best be good enough. This is your last chance.”

Rey nodded in agreement, despise still harbouring resentment inside himself, and walked away, ready to prove his worth one final time.

***

The day passed quickly. The clouds looming over Saint-Tacos never unleashed rain down below, and instead moved quietly toward the west.

Alver and Jeffrey walked back to Alver’s home to go check up on Lana, but when they opened the door, they found she had left without a trace.

“Where did she go?” asked Alver, growing increasingly worried.

“How should I know,” responded Jeffrey. “I’m not the one she was living with.”

“We have to find her.”

“Relax, she’s probably fine.”

The two friends ran to the big tree, the first place they thought Lana would have gone to, but when they arrived, she was nowhere to be seen. They then hurried to her home across town. They opened the unlocked front door, indicating someone was inside, and walked in the mansion-sized house.

“Lana!” shouted Alver.

Lana failed to manifest her presence. They listened carefully while searching the many rooms of her home when they heard a faint noise from the basement. They followed the sound, walking past the grim spots of the initial attack in the kitchen. A certain angst filled them as they walked through the now empty house. They were eventually led to the archive room in the basement, where Lana, sitting directly on the old wooden floor, flipped through the pages of large, dusty books.

“Lana?” said Alver.

Startled, she almost dropped the book she was reading on her foot. “What are you doing here?”

“Looking for you. Are you okay?”

“Wanna leave town tomorrow morning?” asked Jeffrey in the bluntest manner imaginable.

Lana’s response was a simple, slightly confused, “What.”

“There’s a tournament I wanna enter in Woodburt City, and I plan on going by foot. I’d appreciate the company if you’re willing to come along. If you don’t feel well enough, I won’t hold it against you.”

“Oh, uh, ok. It’s a little sudden, but I’ll have a backpack of stuff ready.”

“Cool!” said Alver. “What’re you reading?”

She used her hand as a bookmark and flipped the book closed so the title page would be visible. “It’s about my family. It has a portrait of my ancestors and all their deeds and what they’re known for written down. I had no clue my family was this important.”

“Neither did I.”

“Why are you reading this all of a sudden?” asked Jeffrey.

Lana held the words in her throat. She was researching her family history to find anything about Jonathan Arky. Her father’s last words to her echoed in her mind. She did not want to betray his confidence, even if he did not get the chance to tell her his secret. She would figure it out on her own. She shook her head. “I can’t tell you…”

“Why not?” insisted Jeffrey.

“I just can’t, ok…”

Jeffrey sighed in annoyance. “Whatever, keep your secret. Not to be a buzzkill, but I don’t wanna be tired for tomorrow and it’s already quite late, so I’ll go say goodbye to my bed.”

Lana put the book back in the dusty shelf and waved her friend goodbye.

“Wanna sleep over at my place again?” asked Alver.

Lana agreed in a swift bowing motion. She put a change of clothes in her backpack, along with a few other pieces of clothing, a flashlight, some money, and a handful of miscellaneous items.

Day had gone and night had come, the streets now scarcely illuminated by the old lampposts Henry had never gotten around to changing. Alver and Lana walked back to the cabin at the edge of the woods.

After a mostly silent walk, Lana asked a question that had been gnawing at her mind. “Is this what it feels like?”

“Hm?” was all that Alver responded in the moment. “What are you talking about?”

“You know, not having a family... Being alone.”

Alver did not respond automatically, instead thinking for a few seconds. “I don’t know how you’re feeling exactly.”

“What do you mean? You’ve never had a family, so I thought maybe you’d know…”

“That’s why I don’t know. I didn’t lose anybody. I never had parents. You never had a mother, but you had a father, a loving father. Although I mourn his death, he wasn’t my father, so I can’t understand all the suffering it’s causing you. I don’t really know what it’s like to lose someone like that. I can only imagine the pain in your heart.”

A long silence ensued. Tears rolled down Lana’s face for the first time since she thought to have cried them all.

“I never had parents,” repeated Alver, “nor did I ever have siblings, or a biological family, but I’ve never been alone. You and your father took care of me when I was found at your door seventeen years ago, crying for someone to hold me in the cold of night. We grew up together, we became friends. I found Muchatcho, then I met Jeffrey. So long as you have us and we have you, none of us will ever be alone.”

Lana rubbed her eyes and tried to chase her tears by smiling. “That was the corniest thing you’ve ever said.”

He smiled back at her. “Well, as long as it cheers you up.”

“Yeah, thanks,” she smiled. “So, what are you planning to do this summer, besides accompanying Jeffrey to his tournament?”

“I don’t really know. I think I’d like to find a way to remove the bag from my head.”

It was a perfectly reasonable thing to want, yet it took Lana by surprise. It made Lana realise how silly she had been all her life, not thinking much of the bag. To her, it had become such an integral part of Alver’s appearance that it no longer felt like something covering his face, but rather like his face itself. Every day until now, she had not thought twice about it, maybe because of her easygoing and forgetful nature.

“Didn’t you try everything already?” asked Lana in as polite a manner as she could.

“Scissors, knives, a chainsaw, water, fire, everything I could think of, yeah. But there simply has to be a way. If it got there, it can also be removed, don’t you think?”

“I guess, but do you have any ideas? Any new ideas, that is.”

“Are you familiar with old legends of Trivinartria?”

“Not particularly.”

“In many of them, there’s mention of magic or some other supernatural force. It may be a bit farfetched, but maybe one of those forces could have a role in all this.”

“Magic, huh.”

“Crazy, I know.”

“I mean, at this point, it’s not that big of a stretch. The bag does seem to have unnatural properties, like how it grows along with you. I think you may be onto something. But do you know where to begin looking?”

“On our way to Woodburt, we’ll be passing through Central, which has the second largest library in the world. I’ve heard they have many old documents that can’t be found on the internet. Maybe they have something on magic there.”

“I guess it’s a plan, then. We’ll go look at every book in that library!”

“You’re gonna help?”

“It’s like you said, we’re each other only family now. I go where you go.”

Alver laughed briefly. “Who’s corny now?”

The two friends continued talking alone in the streets of the grieving town, when a voice interjected into their conversation. “Yo,” it said.

The voice sounded familiar, so both friends directed their attention toward it and were met with Pearson, who wore his sunglasses on top of his hat, uncovering his eyes for the first time since they had met him, which created an unexpected feeling of unease in the friends, who had not pictured them to be almost red in colour.

Pearson noticed their stare. “Behold, the devil’s eyes!” he joked.

“Sorry!” The word spurted out of Lana’s mouth, as if she had been caught doing something she was not supposed to.

Pearson shrugged it off politely. “You mustn’t be feeling your best, right now,” he told Lana. “Are you gonna be alright?”

With a head gesture, she let him know she would be.

“What happened that night, I want to thank you for it,” said Alver to Pearson. “If you hadn’t been there, who knows what would have become of Lana and Jeffrey.”

“Don’t sweat it, kid, I just wish I could have gotten there sooner.”

“You did more than anyone could have asked of you,” reassured him Lana.

“Well, thanks for the kind words. But I was actually wondering if I could ask you something.”

“Sure, what’s up?” asked Alver.

“The mausoleum you found the other day, do you know where it is? Cooper and I tried looking for it, but we couldn’t find it. If we didn’t know any better, we’d assume it never existed.”

“That’s strange. It wasn’t that far from here.”

“It was in a sort of depression past the large tree, yeah?”

“That’s right.”

“Would you mind coming with me to verify?”

“Sure, I guess. Lana, you coming?”

She nodded and followed Alver. The three of them took a fifteen-minute walk behind Alver’s home, and into the woods, past the big tree. Soon after, they arrived at the mausoleum. It was in the same state they had left it in three days ago when they had partially dug it up.

Pearson had an equally surprised and ashamed expression. “I could have sworn we came exactly here.”

“Well, you mustn’t have,” giggled Lana.

“Guess not,” he laughed. “I’m just gonna take a couple pictures of it.”

He walked around the half-buried mausoleum, occasionally snapping pictures of it on his cellphone, before crawling inside and doing the same thing there. Once he felt he had enough data, he came back out.

“Alright, thanks for your help, you two,” he said. “I’d stay longer, but I really have to get going. ‘Till we meet again.”

They exchanged a final goodbye and went their separate ways.

“They’re nice people, he and Cooper,” said Alver.

“Yeah…”

Alver and Lana went back to the cabin at the edge of the woods, where Muchatcho awaited them ecstatically on the other side of the door, meowing and wriggling his twisted body. Lana picked him up and lay down on the couch.

“Are you sure you don’t want the bed?” asked Alver.

“No, you can have it,” she responded. “It’s yours after all, and you’re already doing a lot for me.”

“If you say so.”

They went to bed soon after their arrival, having only a few hours of sleep left to profit from before the longest walk of their young lives.

Lana woke up in the middle of the night thanks to the couch’s broken springs digging into her back. She sat up, her gaze drifting outside the window, toward the Saint-Tacos Woods.

The forest was a dark and scary place at night, but compelling to explore, like it became an entirely different place as soon as darkness shrouded it. It called her in a strange way.

She tiptoed out of the house with her flashlight and wandered into the woods. She followed the path to the big tree. From there, she made her way to the mausoleum they had dug up, or so she thought. She backtracked a couple of times, making sure to take exactly the right path, but she could not find it, almost as if it had disappeared. Confused, tired, and the pressure emanating from the darkness starting to weigh a lot, she decided to go back to Alver’s. But when she turned around to head back, the mausoleum stood undisturbed in front of her.

Lana froze. She could have sworn she had looked at that spot many times, and each time found nothing. She chalked it up to the darkness and her current state of mind and got closer to it.

It seemed no one else had stumbled upon it. She felt the urge to climb inside and ultimately gave in. She walked carefully to the tomb, step by step, like the corpse of her ancestor was going to jump out and latch on to her at any moment.

The tomb was a simple stone coffin on a larger marble step, although the marble now looked like any other stone part of the mausoleum due to its poor condition.

Driven by another gut feeling, Lana pushed the lid of the coffin with all her might. After a battle of strength with it, she came out victorious. It fell over on the floor, making the whole tomb tremble, dirt seeping in through the cracks of the weakened walls. Lana shone her light inside and grimaced.

As expected, a skeleton, bare of any skin and clothing, lay in the stone rest bed. Its hands were crossed over where its heart used to be, clutching something.

“Sorry to defile your grave like that,” said Lana. “I’m your grand-grand…grand…uh… I don’t know how many generations are between us, but I’m your descendant. You’re not the most famous Arky, you know that? No one seems to know you even exist. I don’t know why, and it bothers me. I made it my secret mission to find out who you really are.”

She looked down at its hands. Repulsed, but listening to her conscience, she separated the skeleton’s hands. When they did, she almost thought to have broken them. A small round item rolled out of its hands and on the floor of the coffin. She reached out to it and grabbed it.

It was a marble, transparent and opaque, of a green color. It didn’t feel like a regular marble. This one carried a significance unknown to her. It felt mystical as she held it. Maybe it was her imagination making the mundane something unbelievable, or maybe there truly was a deeper meaning to the otherwise normal marble.

“I’m not stealing this, ok?” said Lana, speaking directly to the skeleton. “I’m just borrowing it. I’ll give it back, I swear. But my inside voice tells me I’m gonna need this… for something.”

She crawled outside and burrowed the mysterious marble into her pocket. She began hurrying back to Alver’s place, when she saw a silhouette close by, only a few meters in front of her. She stopped, her heart sinking as the silhouette got closer, until it became visible, standing directly before her.

It was Delzad, walking toward the mausoleum, his hands in his coat’s pockets, a fatigued look on his face.

He noticed Lana, who stood frightened and unmoving. “My apologies, I didn’t mean to scare you,” he said.

“W-what are you doing here? W-who are you?” asked Lana, her voice trembling.

Delzad could see Lana’s fear. “I mean you no harm, girl. I was only taking a walk.”

“W-why here and in the middle of the night?”

“There’s no need to be so wary. Have you not realised you’re doing the same thing as I?”

An awkward silence ensued.

Delzad spoke again after having observed Lana. “Something heavy is weighing on your conscience. Are you grieving, girl?”

“H-how did you know…”

“Your eyes, I know those eyes, that look. I’ve lost many good people myself.”

“I’m sorry…” Lana was afraid of the mysterious man, but having recently lost her father, she could only feel sympathy toward his genuine expression of sorrow, however emotionless it may have come out.

“Was it the mayor? I’ve heard he passed away yesterday.”

Lana nodded sadly.

“Were you two close?”

“He was my dad…”

Delzad sat on the forest floor. “So, you’re an Arky. I used to know an Arky. He was a kind man. Very loving to those around him.”

“Really?”

“Yes. Though I can’t quite remember his name; it was a long time ago. One of the few truly good people I’ve met in my life.”

“There aren’t many of those.”

“No, you’re right, there aren’t. Tell me girl, if you were given the power to change the world for the better, but with the possibility of being corrupted by that power, would you make use of it?”

Lana was surprised by the man’s sudden philosophical question but felt compelled to answer. “I… I don’t know. I think I would.”

“Why?”

“Because, well, I wanna make the world a better place, I guess. Is that too cliché?”

“Not at all. It’s quite admirable, in fact. But you would do it, even if it could turn you into a monster and consequently worsen the state of the world?”

“Yes.”

“You must trust yourself quite a lot.”

“I have friends whom I know would never let me become corrupt. I trust them.”

“I see. Sorry to have held you up this late at night. You must be tired.”

Delzad got up and walked off farther into the forest, leaving Lana alone without a goodbye.

Lana walked back to Alver’s and snuck back on the couch, pretending to have never left at all. She felt confused and intrigued by the man in the woods and by his inquiry, and by the marble she found in her ancestor’s tomb. Her father’s last words to her echoed in her head. Maybe this was all connected somehow. She thought about Alver’s bag and about magic, about Jeffrey’s tournament, and about what she would do with her life. Her many questions overwhelmed her and soon tears streamed down from her eyes. She needed some sleep, so she shut her eyes and tried to empty her mind, a task which proved to be impossible.

Tomorrow would be the start of a new era for her friends and her, the dawn of an adventure.


Submitted: February 11, 2022

© Copyright 2022 Thomas Vlasblom. All rights reserved.

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euehfgh

Dare I ask what inspired this story?

Sat, March 5th, 2022 6:38pm

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There are quite a few things (characters, places, certain events, etc.) that my friends and I created back in high school for fun.
I wrote a silly story back then combining some of these elements and I ended up liking it enough to develop it further over the years.
This is the latest version of the story:)

Sat, March 5th, 2022 12:11pm

euehfgh

Oh, so it's not just inspired by any one thing. It's a product of the imaginations of at least several people, and probably at least a few years of development if not more. No wonder it's unlike anything I've heard before. I suppose all good works of art are like that. It's rather good too.

Sun, March 6th, 2022 7:53am

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