Chapter 12:

Be Still, My Heart (Part 3)

The Curious Case of Clemsey

“In the face of a hopeless situation, to be saved or to save someone, you have to be truly present right at that moment. Look at every little thing and element around you. Even the most trivial of matter, can sometimes, be your saving grace,” I can hear Mom’s determined voice in my head.

I am awake now, though I haven’t opened my eyes yet. The last I remembered was that warm, strangely familiar smile. Beautiful yet mysterious, like the vision of the full moon that captivated me, the night I left Alcione. I figured, I must have passed out afterwards. Lying here now, struggling to calm my mind, felt like I was reliving Uncle Gionne’s daily challenges. Now that I think about it, I should’ve taken all those training to heart. “Get a feel of your surrounding,” as he would always say.

I can feel the soft cushion against my skin. Half of my body is wrapped in a thin blanket. My spectacles are still covering my eyes. I can hear clanking of metals and gentle foot steps. There’s something boiling at a corner. Soup perhaps? It smells divine. Somewhere in front of me, there’s a sound of flipping papers. Somewhere on my right side, the whispering sound of trees. I reckon, I am near a window. I might be in someone else’s home…, a chair scratched the floor. Someone let out a deep sigh.

“This is frustrating Blanca. Even Bisca can’t wrap his head around this series of strange events.

“I know… and him, borrowing all these books from libraries. This is turning into a curious case isn’t it? Lowen, check this out.”

A curious case? Who are they referring to?

“Argh, my brain’s dry from overthinking,” said a man whom I assume is Lowen. “What do you plan to do now Van?”

“Van…” I muttered, my eyes opening at the same time.

“Oh, I see you’re awake now.” I motioned my head to the direction of the voice while slowly getting up from the comforts of the cushion. By my right, is a man leaning at a column. With his arms cross, he is looking straight at me, as if he can see through my dark tinted spectacles.

“The kind inn keeper offered her home to us. I just prepared the soup as well, you must fill that empty stomach of yours, Miss,” he said in a gentle manner.

My eyes wondered around the home I found myself in, the same way my soul does in the presence of the people who just saved me.

Abruptly, I stood up and offered a deep and sincere bow. “Thank you very very much for saving me. I owe all of you. I shall never forget this kindness.”

“Hmm, I never pegged you to be such a formal person,” said a short-haired, slender and beautiful being named Blanca.

“Apparently, I share the same sentiment Miss Clemsey Akisa,” Van said, followed by a soft laughter. Though my eyes were filtered in monochrome, the radiance and charm he emits is too strong and vibrant.

“Uhm… I wonder, how did you know who I am?

“Ashke Mashima,” Van replied.

“Ashke described you from head to toe,” Blanca said, pointing at me from head to toe. “He said, the two of you are the only ones who have that pair of spectacles and that, you’ll definitely arrive here in Stussa, looking like lost child and acting somewhat sketchy.”

“When we saw you passed by the diner, the three of us immediately assumed you’re the person he was talking about,” said a strong-built and serious man, who’s stature is quite intimidating. I am particularly wary of the exquisitely crafted sword he, and the man standing in front of me is carrying underneath their long cloaks.

“My apologies Miss Clemsey, I haven’t introduced myself. My name is Van, it is very nice to meet you,” gracefully said by the man whose presence is causing such strange disturbances in my mind.

“Good Sir, you can just call me, Clemsey,” I said, sounding a bit awkward.

“Then, you can drop the formalities as well,” Van replied. “Also, meet Lowen and Blanca, we are from the Royal Court of Stussa.”

The Royal Court is where the E. Stussa Depository is located. I should be on my way there now, if not for unexpected series of happenstance. That said, I can’t help being curious about this odd twist of fate. Something in the situation doesn’t sit right with me, like the burning sensation in my tongue from a bowl of boiling soup.

“Fate is such a mysterious fellow, isn’t it? We never thought we would actually meet you here” Van muttered.

“It’s a surprise—“ I said, unsure whether asking a simple query could unravel a larger mystery. “I mean, meeting all of you here, half way to Clauden… Are you perhaps on some sort of a business related travel?” A nervous atmosphere all of a sudden, formed in the air.

“Say Clemsey, when was the last time you spoke with Ashke?” Van asked.

“Oh, I received a letter from him about a week ago. He informed me about a long vacated position at the Royal Court. I am on my way to the capital to convey my interest.”

“In that case, since the two of you are close friends, I believe you have the right to know this—“ Van said, taking a deep breath, then continued. “Ashke Mashima left. It has been almost a month now. We are searching for him.”

I saw Blanca flinched with the sound of something metallic that fell on the wooden floor. It was my cutlery. And it was due to my sheer disbelief of the matter at hand. Missing— oh, how I loathe the weight of that word. As I am still in the process of comprehending what I just heard, Blanca pointed to the pile of books in a corner table. “Those books were the only trail we have of his whereabouts. Apparently, he borrowed from libraries in different towns under the name, Ash Mashima, which in turn, led us here.”

“Clemsey, Ashke is a friend of ours, as well. Right now, we are trying to get any possible help we can,” Van said.

Immediately, I stood up from my sit and walked over to corner table where answers to a perturbing question might come into surface. Or it might not. However, this is Ashke Mashima we’re talking about— the brilliant mechanic, a mind with constantly moving gears. He’s a man who can puzzle solutions out of every disorder, obstacle or complication. “Anything that shuts down entirely, or went into a complete disarray, or falls short to what it was originally built for, bring it to my table. I can learn from those things. Clemsey, someday, I’ll build something that can change lives…,” were his words, back when we were young and aiming to expand our horizons.

“This is classic Ashke, these are all books on mechanical theories,” I said to my very curious companions. Their brows furrowed, forming into question marks that made my close-fitting neckline feel tighter than it usually is. I inhaled and let out a deep breath. Think, I thought to myself, think and look and be truly present.

As a gushed of wind brushed my face and moved pages of opened books to random chapters, I found my mind visiting a random page of my memory as well, back when my eye sight wasn’t developed yet, and my days were filled with Uncle Gionne’s unwavering patience in training a confused child. Aboard the Hajione, he handed me a squishy and slimy object for the nth time, trying to get an answer out me.

“Dear, if you can’t give me an answer even after looking at that thing for hours, maybe it was because it wasn’t there in the first place. Now, that I think about it, you have a tendency to stay on a one way track of mind,” he said. Those words stayed with me until I learned that the squishy and slimy thing was actually a failed form of the Luminare gem stone my parents were busy creating that time. The answer was written in the atmosphere around me. I looked at the problem, but failed to see the circumstances.

“Ash…,” I muttered, with my finger brushing the borrower’s record at the back cover of a book. Since when did he call himself by this name, I pondered. With my deep thoughts, I looked up to the ceiling and noticed a few missing pieces of wood, forming patches of black holes. Missing… “Oh!” I unintentionally blurted out loud. Van, Lowen and Blanca exhibited a look of confusion with my sudden burst of enlightenment. I took the letter Ashke sent me at my back pocket and looked at it closely.

“Clemsey, is there a problem?” Van asked.

Yes, something is wrong, I answered with my mind. My friend wouldn’t call himself as “Ash” or me as “Clemse” without a purpose behind it. “Intentional mistake” was a decoding game young Ashke devised, when he wanted to convey a matter to me which he wouldn’t want the adults to know. He would leave out letters from several words that would spell out the message. So, it’s “Ashke” without the “K” and the “E” , as well as, “Clemsey” without the “Y”.

“KEY—“ I said. My companions, in that instant, looked at me with unreadable countenance. “I mean, I wonder… if a “key” is somehow related with the matter at hand,” I continued, unsure whether I said something ridiculous or relevant.

“It is relevant, all right,” Van answered with a driven look in his face. “Blanca, please fetch Bisca at the town library. Lowen, we shall prepare to depart. We are going back to Clauden.”

“Wait uhm—“ I said, looking bewildered. “I think for now, Ashke is safe, given that he managed to still send me a letter. But I think, I also have an idea as to where he is and I’m not thinking of the capital.”

“The highlands, is what you have in mind. Am I right?” Van curiously asked.

“Uhm, yes, he said in the letter—The view of autumn Cypressias are a sight to behold! Cypressia trees are native at the highlands of Stussa. I can’t be sure though, it’s just an assumption I made from his words.”

“And the “key” is a statement which conveys two things: that you might be right and that it is pertinent for us to go back. Ashke just gave a clue to be solved, something which only you could possibly figure out, after all. Guess, he trusts you enough to actually lead you all the way to Stussa. He has a really strong faith in you,” he said while collecting the books from the corner table. “And oh, you don’t have to worry. As we have an inkling to that idea being the case, I already sent a trusted friend up on the highlands to check things out beforehand.”

I let out a deep sigh of relief. As Van walked towards the direction of the entranceway, I found myself taking a step backwards from my very own existence. Moving further and further back, step after step away from the full picture, like I’m piece of puzzle set to find the right spot to fit in.

Ashke, I am not sure as to what my role is, in this narrative. But, I will help figure this out, so, please be safe.

“Ashke is so eager about recommending you for the job. If you’re still up to the task, the Assistant Archivist position is open to those who have the heart for it,” Van said with a warm, gentle smile in his face.

“Clemsey, are you still coming to Clauden?”

Half way there, I thought, I have to get passed this halfway point to find everything and everyone that has gone missing.

Slowly, I looked ahead. Every step I take is fueled by the choices I made— both the right and the wrong ones. Yes, I shall continue my journey towards the place they call the E. Stussa Depository.