Another Story [Hiatus]
We sit there, on the earthen floor, the floor that was beaten to expose the earth and then hardened. Our canvas tent isn't that big, at least not bigger than the tent where we just had our section briefing. Haila is standing and pulls out a map from her pouch. She joins our circle and spreads out the map, revealing a hand-drawn map of the surrounding area ー all in black and white and showing the mountains and the town of Urumia. Towards the west there is the sea and in the east are the depictions of the western highlands. The map is drawn in grids, each grid seemingly showing something similar to coordinates. I do not fully understand how to read the map, but I can see all the details of the surroundings. How each house in Urumia is drawn, how the streets are ー even the not-so-straight streets, carefully drawn, as well as the territories that the school controls and the territory of the bandits. Territories are colored.
Haila starts to point at a certain square out of the many on the map. I brace myself along with my group mates for what she will say, "I know that you are all tired, but I am sorry. We have to start early. This is where we are. I know that you can't really see it drawn on the map, but just put a dot to remember it." Liliana seems to note all this down in her small notebook. Haila then moves her finger to point to a point somewhere else, off on the upper side from where the campsite is, "For your current mission you will be doing some reconnaissance in this area. It will be a relatively easy mission; this is already in our current territory, so we just have to make sure that there are no enemy units there." Liliana continues to write everything down.
Liliana raises her hand as if asking a question, "So, what about the other groups? What are they doing?"
"The other groups will be doing an offensive, which is more dangerous and therefore more tiring. But nevertheless, your mission can also get dangerous, so watch out as well," she answered. Liliana and the rest of the group ー including me ー are nodding. "Your mission will start in around two quarters from now. I will call you when it starts. Don't worry about knowing the time of the clock."
"Oh okay, I was going to ask that," says Andri, "But will there be other groups joining us?"
"Well, not really physically with you," Haila tries to explain, "there will be three other groups with you. Two groups from section two, one from section one."
After a few moments pass, I notice that Haila is waiting for other questions. I try to divert the topic to something else, "Do you know where the boy is? What happened to him?"
"Boy?," Haila asks, but she realizes, "Oh yes, the one you guys caught! Well, I gave him to the second section maestro for interrogation, I'm sure he was able to make him talk. Don't worry, though. He hardly uses actual physical force."
"Second section maestro?," I ask.
"Yeah, you know him," Haila replies. The rest of my group looks at me with surprise on their faces, "Laero, the one that came with you to the prison."
"Oh. Yeah. Him," I say, trying to show that I actually know what she meant, but I didn't. Not until she said it. He was never someone I regarded as reliable, and now he's trying to make some random boy talk? How can I possibly process that inside my head? Kind of ironic, in my opinion. Well, I guess he can make miracles happen. Haila seems to trust him, anyway. Everybody is so mysterious, the more I get to know them. What the hell is with this world being so mysterious? I cannot possibly comprehend all of it.
Haila somehow manages to leave silently when she realizes that no one else is going to question anything anymore. Liliana quickly takes over her position as she wants to go through her own plans as well. She stands up and takes out the same map Haila used ー apparently given to her earlier when I was wandering in my own mind.
”Alright, I want you all to focus," Liliana says, despite the rest of us already focused. "I want to talk about our strategy, okay?" We all nod, "Good, so I want you," she points at Andri, "to be at the back," Andri nods. I can understand why she wants that, as Andri is a Fiaran manipulator, "Ono, be support for today. Also, Aura, you're a support as well. Aura, I'll rely on you a lot for mental defenses as well as weakening the enemies, so please, do your best." I nod my head. "Good."
We do not try to instigate any questions; she seems to have everything under control, and we trust her with that. A moment later, Maerten arrives with the cart carrying some stuff on it. Liliana goes outside the tent to check and the rest of us soon follow her. The stuff he has on the cart is in sacks of various sizes. Liliana greets him in her usual manner after which Maerten gets himself a good portion of stew and eats in silence.
Liliana then leads us near the cart and takes out various food and items, "I told you earlier that I sent Maerten for some errands, so, this is it."
"Oh?," Andri seems surprised.
"Since I don't want you all to actually die, or close to it, at least," Liliana says. Die? What's in the cart? "I bought some items for you all that would help with strengthening our group."
"Oh, no. You didn't have to do that!," Andri says, but Liliana insists anyway. Liliana takes out a seemingly small knife ー sort of similar to what I have, but less intricate, I guess.
"You don't have a weapon, right?," Liliana asks Andri.
"Well, I have some poison bombs?," he replies, but Liliana shakes her head in disagreement.
"That's not enough. Absolutely not enough. What if your opponent closes in on you and you don't have any more poison bombs to protect yourself with?," says Liliana, clearly laying out the reality. Andri doesn't reply further, "This knife is for you, just hold of it and hopefully you will never have to use it."
Andri puts the knife in its sheath and puts it in the pouch fastened around his waist. Liliana then takes a weird lump of metal that shines really oddly to which Ono reacts in awe. Liliana gives this lump of metal to Ono without any hesitation. Ono jumps in complete surprise to this.
"Uh, a-a-are you sure?," he says, stuttering a little. "This is expensive."
"What is that?," I ask.
"T-t-this is called Fiaran metal. It is a very easily moldable metal that hardens really quickly after molding it. It's very expensive and used a lot in combat by more experienced Fiaran manipulators," he explains.
"That's yours to keep, my family owns a house nearby and that's from our family blacksmith that maintains the house. He owes me a favor, you see," says Liliana. I did not realize that her family is really that rich. I guess nobles are really amazing. They have lots of connections.
"Thank you so much, I owe you," Ono says and bows his head very politely.
"Don't worry about it. You don't owe me," She replies. Finally, Liliana takes out a bejeweled bracelet from inside her pocket and gives it to me. I am surprised by her actions, so I stand there not knowing what to say, "Here, this is yours. Your mind attacks are amazing but your defense sucks, honestly speaking. This bracelet is embedded by a magic circuit and enhanced with amethyst gems to strengthen the initial incantation. It will help you with defense but also makes you more capable of supporting us during combat. If you're safe, we're safe." She's right. My safety also means their safety. I am the main support for the group and if I don't do my job well, our team will fall apart. How did she know that my mental offense is strong, though? Maybe she heard it from Andri. I don't know.
"Thank you so much," I say simply and bow my head.
"No problem," she replies, but then she moves her hand, holds my head, and lifts it up. "Don't die out there," she says straight to my face. Her eyes looking at me, reflecting my empty face. Now that I have a closer look, her face is really smooth and undamaged, a rare thing to have when you are a front liner. But I just nod my head to say yes. She smiles.
Other than the items she bestowed upon us; she seems to have brought more food for us to eat. Grapes! Oh, how I want to try and taste the fresh grapes of the western land. During our trip to the camp, Andri was talking about them endlessly and when he caught sight of the grapes on the cart, he jumps and celebrates. It's as if someone gave him an early birthday present or something similar. We continue our time like this, finally eating the grapes and walking around the campsite. The grapes are juicy and sweet. Despite its green color, its taste represents much more a colorful tinge. It's as if I am eating a rainbow. The acidity of the grapes seemingly complements the sweetness as well. The texture feels as if it is a sort of bubble ready to burst with one small prick, which felt like it when I put it in my mouth. Each bite seemingly piercing through its thin skin releasing the rainbow of flavors unto my tongue. And what surprises me is that the seeds are so small that one cannot even notice them. The mystery of food unfolding itself is a feeling I would want to try once more. I now have a lingering feeling of traveling and tasting lots of food. Oh God, I think I have become one of Jayde's disciples. His passion is contagious.
The campsite is not that big, but it has a barracks for the royal guards escorting us during this mission. Another feature is the different sizes of canvas tents for all of us. Too many for me to actually keep track of. There are lots of bonfires spread across the area, people grouping around them. Some of these bonfires are lit and some are not. Some have stews boiling on top and some are barbecuing some meat.
Walking around, I see Jayde sitting alone by a fire with a chopping board on top of his lap and a diverse set of ingredients on top of it. I quickly take some grapes from my bonfire and go to him as to let him taste it, "Jayde! What are you doing?," I ask.
"Oh, Aura! Hey!," he seems to be surprised to see me. "What do you have there?"
"That should be my question, what are you making?," I ask, "Here, I have some local grapes. Taste it! It's a bite of heaven on earth."
"Oh, I know! I know!," he seems to be laughing. He probably has tasted these grapes already. "Eat it yourself! I am trying out a new recipe before going out on my mission. Wanna try?"
"No, it's fine. I already stuffed myself with grapes. If I eat more, food will probably go out the wrong side."
He laughs at my remark, "Alright. Good luck on your mission!"
"You too!," I leave him from his fire and continue my walk around the campsite.
But my search for her is still without any result. I have been looking around, but she is nowhere to be seen. May. Maybe she is busy with her section. I cannot blame her. I just have some questions, though. Important questions. I wonder if she knows. Maybe. Maybe not. Or maybe she does, after all, but keeps it a secret. What is in people's minds? That question has been in my head the whole day. I have to vent these thoughts out before going out on the mission. Probably I am just tired because of the lack of sleep. Well, anyhow, I just want my questions to be answered. I do not want to be left in the shadows. I need to know. Or else, I will never be able to move on.