Xorsis : Invasion\Lost
Chapter 21: "Bravery"
Apparently, according to a map Aez had copied from the old man’s book, there was a nation that was very progressive in science, though it was situated thousands of miles away from the coastal town. Journeying there would take time. They took necessary preparations - taking food, and also stocking up on their ammo, and then set off.
The scariest part was that the Tokreians were still following them. So many times, they had narrowly escaped from their ambushes. It was getting more difficult to continue.
They hid in trees, or bushes, sometimes in caves. Anywhere. But how long could they go on?
The Tokreians didn’t do anything without a plan. And Aez was scared, thinking of the many different ways they could catch them.
On one such day, they were progressing stealthily. Hiding from bush to bushes. Sitting on trees.
Ahead, there was only grass and farmlands, where villagers were working. And far away, the big grey walls of a city could be seen.
Aez was sure that it was Tokrei.
But if they escaped from the bushes now, Tokreians could spot them very fast.
Aez was frustrated. How do we go now?
Mersoy was looking around.
“Found it,” Mersoy said, suddenly, “I have an idea, follow me.”
There was a dilapidated building some distance away. Aez had noticed that the Tokreians walked around it, but seeing no one, they left.
They reached the building and went inside.
From the looks of it, it had been abandoned for centuries. The iron door was open, but it was rusty. The insides had collapsed in many places. In the darkness, there was almost nothing that could be seen. Mersoy closed the door.
They felt their way across the room and sat down next to a wall, finally relieved.
Mersoy was still staying alert, her eyes at the door. But Aez thought they were pretty safe now. He sat back, leaning against the wall when suddenly he realised - behind his head - the wall was missing.
Surprised, he turned his head. Nothing could be seen.. He put his hand on what seemed to be a wall - and felt his way around it. He expected rough edges of the broken wall - but it was smooth.
It’s not a wall?
He moved his hand around, until suddenly, he grabbed something which seemed like a... feet.
Aez jumped up.
Without any more words, he opened his bag and pulled out the torch. The light flashed to the structure, and revealed two feet on a pedestal.
Nia and Mersoy were surprised, and they stood up.
Aez moved his torch, and the light fell on what seemed to be an old statue.
The statue was of a female deity he didn’t know; it was carved in whitestone. The deity had two hands holding a spear bravely. What seemed like two dragons surrounded her, and Aez could recognise one of them vividly resembling the water spirit. The deity almost looked like a normal human - except the skin had scales in many places, and there were sharp fangs, and the ears were large and angular.
Beneath the pedestal, there were words carved in an ancient language he didn’t know. But he guessed which one it could be, and looked at Mersoy.
“Aura.” Mersoy read out the Estoycan letters.
“Aura,” Aez whispered, “The forest spirit,” he quickly brought out his pocket diary and shuffled through the pages. “They fought side by side… to drive out demons.”
“That other dragon is definitely the forest spirit then,” Nia whispered, “I feel bad for her. To become such an ugly monster from such a beautiful being. No wonder she couldn’t accept it.”
“I thought that the demons Aura fought were not Tokreians,” Aez said, thoughtfully, “Well. This building is near Tokrei. I don’t get it. Why would the Tokreians fight the fiends?”
“I don’t even understand why the Tokreians fight at all,” Nia shrugged. “Well. Guess I’ll find out eventually.”
“But, it’s interesting,” Aez said, looking up at the deity, “Why would something that belongs to the fiends be here, out of all places? If anything - something could be at Cridelford, that’s the reasonable place, isn’t it? But why is it here?”
He paced around, murmuring to himself, “Could it be… an old temple? Here? But why?”
Nia was walking around too, then suddenly, there was a strange sound on the floor, and instantly, Aez looked at her. Nia was staring at the floor, squinching her eyes at something. Aez walked to her.
They nodded at each other, and Nia brought out the tools from Aez’s bag. There was only one lock, and Nia couldn’t pick it. Mersoy tried, but strangely, she was unsuccessful. Finally, Nia decided to break the lock. She pressed the wrench and broke it; then she swung open the door.
A staircase had gone down.
They looked at each other, and without any more words, they went down one by one.
The staircase was very short, and as they reached a landing, a foul smell reached their noses. Aez covered his nose with one hand and shone the torchlight with the other. The light revealed prison cells inside.
“Well. Definitely not a temple,” Nia commented.
The place was as filthy as it could be. There were many things lying around - Aez bowed down, examining them - scraps of rusted metals, old test tubes and beakers, books with torn spines, bottles of chemicals, and even there were ‘scales’ like the ones they saw at the body of the female deity - and also - brownish stains on the ground.
Could it be… blood? But why? Aez couldn’t make the connection. What was this place?
Mersoy took the torchlight from Aez and shone it over the walls in the prison cells. They were almost empty - until they noticed one cell at the far end of the prison. There was a mural on the wall. Surprised, they walked to it.
The mural told a story through art - that started from the bottom and continued to the top.
“Images of people, but not in black dresses like the Tokreians we see.” Nia said, “I’d say they aren’t them.”
Aez nodded, agreeing. “There are things like bottles and books - like the scrapes down here,” he said, glancing at the floor again, “And above that all, it looks like there was an… explosion? Unless it is something else entirely.”
Smoke was depicted in the artwork.
Then, Mersoy said darkly, “Pure fiends.”
Above the smoke, there were artworks of the same creatures that Aez had seen in the mythology books of Nia. He frowned.
“Fiends…” Nia started.
And then, Aez realised.
Who could those people be, if not, scientists?
Test tubes. Chemical bottles. Metals. Books.
“I get it.” Aez said darkly. “Fiends… they were part of their… experiments.”
“Ah. So that’s what we’ve been all along, haven’t we?” Mersoy said. Her eyes had no tears, there was no rage either. There was a blankness in them. “We were… nothing…”
“That’s not true at all,” Nia protested, “You were still people, you had wills, you had lives you lived, didn’t you?”
“At this point, I wonder,” Mersoy said. Her voice was stiff, “I wonder. Were any of the things we wished for - were those our wishes? Or were they too - given to us in some ways - and there was nothing… nothing… that we could call ‘ours’...”
“Mersoy, your eyes.” Aez said suddenly.
“What about them?” Mersoy snapped.
“Your blue eyes. You said they weren’t yours, did you?”
“I’ve told you before,” she said, turning away her face, “She gave me these eyes. Dying in my place.”
Her voice cracked.
“I've always wondered, you know,” Aez continued, “How could, in those ancient times, someone could transfer their eyes to you, unless…”
“Unless they knew things they weren’t supposed to know back then,” Nia completed his words, “Unless they had advanced knowledge. Maybe, to fit in, they didn’t express all of them in the Estoyca you lived in.”
Aez looked at the mural again, following his eyes upwards.
“Aura,” Aez said, whispering, “No. I don’t think she was only a warrior like it’s depicted in your folklore. She was… it’s only a speculation, but maybe… she was the first scientist of Estoyca.”
Nia gasped, “A scientist?”
“Think about it, Nia,” Aez said, “Who could have taught the ancient fiends advanced medicine and operations? Who could have found ways to defeat the Tokreians? I don’t think brute force could work all the time.”
“But if this is the place they were created,” Nia said, “Then, whoever created them, were here, weren’t they? Why would any of them try to forge a temple here?”
“I don’t know,” he said, “there are still things we can’t understand.” He brought out his notebook from his pocket, and started taking notes.
“Something happened here after that,” Nia said.
“The only place the answer could be at,” he replied, his tone serious, “Tokrei. But I still don’t understand. Even if Tokrei had high intellects, how could they progress this far in such a short amount of time? That’s impossible! I’m pretty sure all evolutions happened at the same time. What’s the goddamn connection here?”
“I’ll leave for Tokrei today,” Mersoy murmured, “You two could stay back.”
“You know we wouldn’t,” Nia answered, “No. We’ve been through lives and deaths already. At this point, we won’t leave you alone.”
“I don’t understand what you feel Mersoy,” Aez spoke in a low voice, “It must be terrible. But we… We are your friends, Mersoy. We wouldn’t leave you alone. Not after all this time. We’ve promised to see this through, together.”
Later at night, the three of them walked out of the building again. Strangely enough, as soon as they left the place, the door closed automatically. They all were surprised, and looked back. But even though Nia or Aez stood in front of the door, it didn’t open. Mersoy walked to it slowly, trying to see what the matter was. And then, the door opened.
“It recognises you,” Aez said, “Maybe, because of your blood?”
“And how is that possible?” asked Nia.
Aez shrugged. “What’s impossible at this point?”
They parted their ways. They’d individually reach near the front gate, as they planned. Nia went through the village path. All the houses were closed and all the lights were extinguished. There would be no one in the middle of the night. Nia was relieved, but she still put her guard up. As she walked however, a voice reached her ears. The crying voice of a child. She turned around, and after a few moments, located the place.
A kid was sitting outside a house, crying to himself.
Nia wanted to walk away. But...
This could be my last mission, Nia thought, I… don’t want to be left with any regrets.
No one should cry like that.
“It’s a terrible idea,” her headmate, Nes, protested.
Well, Nes, we got into trouble before because of you. But, I think… There's nothing wrong with this.
He’s only a child, after all.
So, she moved to him and bowed down to lower her face to his level.
“Hiya,” she said.
The kid stopped crying and looked at her. The tears were still there.
“Why are you crying?” Nia asked hesitantly.
“I’m hungry,” the boy croaked, “I haven’t eaten... in days…”
A memory flashed in Nia’s mind.
When they travelled through the ship, they almost didn’t have any supplies left. Nia had given all her food to Aez. He was weak, and just had woken up from being unconscious.
He didn’t want to eat, but Nia lied, saying that she had already eaten. Seeing Aez happy made her feel satisfied. But it felt terrible for not eating half a day.
“This stranger might have something for you!” she said excitedly at the boy, grabbing his attention.
He stared at her in awe, as she brought out the bread she had packed. Aez would have some with him too, maybe he could share with her later. For now, it didn’t matter to her if she could make the little one smile.
She didn’t remember the last time she had talked to a little kid. Memories from the old times were coming back to her.
But no, not today, she wouldn’t remember them today. There was a mission waiting for her, after all.
Taking the bread, the boy still stared at her in awe. Nia smiled sweetly, and bent down and ruffled the hair of the boy, like she had seen Aaron do that to Aez many times back then.
“See you later,” Nia said, and started walking.
“Kind stranger, what is your name?” the boy asked. “Where are you going?”
“Hmm, how about that remains a secret between us?” Nia asked, whispering.
“But I’ll remember you,” he said, “Give me your name!”
Nia paused to think.
Would it be okay?
“No!” Nes protested.
Smiling, she said, “My name… is Naa.”
The same name you called me when we were children, Aez. You could forget, but that was something special to me.
Nia smiled, “Yes!”
And then, she departed. The boy stared at her, until the silhouette of that kind stranger faded into the dark night.