Chapter 6: Things that were Lost…​
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Chapter 6: Things that were Lost…

Mark sat near the small fire, stirring a small iron pot filled with oatmeal and small chunks of dried fruit. He had never heard of these fruits before, but Examine insured him that they were edible. Tsutsuji hovered over the edge of the pot staring intently into its contents, a greedy grin spreading over her face. After several attempts on her part to steal a taste when she thought Mark was not looking, Tsutsuji was flicked away, giving a small cry as she tumbled through the air,

“Hey!”
“It’s not ready. Go play with some of the cave beetles”
“I’m not a Bug!”

Tears fell from Tsutsuji’s eyes as she raced to the far wall and began to sulk, repeatedly mumbling something Mark could not quite hear. Mark simply continued stirring the porridge, careful not to let it burn. As the mellow smell of the porridge began to fill the small cave he heard a small rustle behind him. He looked over to see Alex finally waking. Alex gave a long yawn as he stretched himself out and stood. Seeing Mark near the small fire, he drowsily walked over, speaking softly as he did so.

“Yo, I have the strangest dream, there was this little Bug and you were…..”
“I said I am not a Bug!”

Alex stopped mid-sentence as his eye’s landed on the small figure of Tsutsuji crouching in a corner of cave. Her tear marked face was a bright red as she turned her head to yell at Alex, a dark and gloomy air surrounding her. Alex’s eyes bulged as his heart began to pound, then yelled in panic,

“P-pixie! Quickly, kill it!”

The cloud of sleep lifted from Alex’s mind and with a practiced hand he drew his sword. Mark moved at the same time, standing and striking down on Alex’s sword hand with the wooden ladle, still covered in hot porridge. Alex gave a sharp yelp and dropped his sword, giving Mark a confused look before raising his hand and blowing on his slightly burnt wrist. Tsutsuji quickly stood from her corner and flew over to Alex, stopping just short of his nose before yelling at him, a vein bulging on her head,

“And I am not a Pixie either! I swear, do Human’s no longer know how to show any respect or reverence? I am a Guide. A GUIDE. G.U.I.D.E!”
“A-a Guide?”
“Yes, a Guide. Do you not know what that means?!”
“You mean, you’re a-a spirit?!"
“YES! Finally! Do get it now?”
“Y-yes? No, I mean why is there a Magi Spirit here? Why do you look like a-“
“DON’T YOU DARE SAY IT!”

Mark raised an eyebrow at the two’s banter before went back to stirring the Porridge. As he watched the two go back and forth, Mark wondered to himself what the “Pixie” Alex had mentioned before was. A small window suddenly popped into his vision, as if to answer his ponderings,

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Pixie
Index Entry
: Also called “Fallen One”, “Corrupted Spirit”, and “Devil Wisp”. While the name and shape vary between cultures, they all refer to the same creature. Pixies are Malignants birthed when a Magi Spirit is corrupted by miasma. While Magi Spirits are naturally able to cleanse miasma, if the Spirit is weakened or exposed to huge amounts, a Pixie may be born.
Pixies can take many forms, depending on their vessel when they were a Spirit, but every one of them is extremely dangerous and are considered to be at minimal a C-ranked threat.
Adventurers are advised to take caution and report any Pixie sightings to the authorities.
--------------------------------------------------

Mark raised an eyebrow in surprise at the sudden answer. He had not realized that the system could be used like this, as well. It would come in handy later. It took a moment to read through the information before he focused on another unknown word. The first window closed and a second opened in his vision.

--------------------------------------------------
Malignant
Index Entry
: Lifeforms infected by miasma. Miasma is a poison released when dead Magi are unable to be recycled back into the system. This poison can “change” the Magi in an area, causes them to become destructive and virulent. If the internal Magi of a Lifeform is corrupted, they will begin to change the host, destroying their mind and mutating them into a dangerous Malignant. Like a virus, Malignants only goal is to “spread” their sickness. To this end, they will attack any uninfected life forms without warning and without regard to their own safety.
--------------------------------------------------

Mark furrowed his brow at the screen in front of him, as a deep frown crossed his face. He did not understand fully what these things were, but he did recognize that they were dangerous. Where those things in the forest Malignants? Mark shook his head in response to his own question; no, the system said that Malignants where mindless but those ‘Forest Goblins’ were obviously intelligent, if not too bright.

Whatever they were, Mark knew he did not want to meet either again though. He finally finished the porridge after a few moments and looked up at the two figures of Tsutsuji and Alex, still going back and forth before saying with a grin,

“Tsutsuji, are you sure you are not a Pixie? Stop picking on Alex and get ready to eat. Food’s done.”

Tsutsuji’s head snapped to the side as she gave Mark a fiery look but she still hovered over quickly to receive her share, eagerness replacing the rage as she stared at the hot porridge. Alex, still in shock, ambled over with glazed eyes and sat down across from Mark. Tsutsuji began to hum to herself as Mark passed her a small dish filled with porridge.

Mark had found the small bowl in the supplies stored in the Spatial Stone, along with a few other items that had most likely been prepared for Tsutsuji by her Master. Despite it still being a relatively large dish for her size she was still asking for seconds by the time Mark has filled Alex’s and his own bowl.

Tsutsuji gave a satisfied sigh after her third bowl and fell to her back. She lay there for a moment, before springing to the air and began to fly, slow and low, to the bedding near where Merry lay, speaking in a cheerful voice,

“Well, that was nice. I’m going to take a Nap.”
“Hey! Don’t just leave your mess for others!”

Mark cried out to the retreating Tsutsuji, but she simply floated away, humming as though she had not heard him. Mark gave a heavy sigh and shook his head. Alex, who had been mindlessly eating like a robot, gave a slight jump and stared at Mark as if he was seeing him for the first time. He spoke in a confused voice, though coming out of a daze,

“W-wait, this is not right. Someone explain what is going on here! Mark, why is there a Spirit here? Why is she just sitting down and eating with us like it’s normal?!”
“Why? What’s wrong with it?”
“What’s wrong with it?! What’s not wrong? This is a Spirit we are talking about, a Magi Spirit; a manifestation of Nature and you are talking about her like she’s some Stray that wandered in during the night!?”
“See! HE gets it!” came a small voice from across the cave.

Mark simply shrugged his shoulders as though he did not understand and said in a calm voice, scooping more porridge into his bowl.

“Well, you’re not wrong, in a way. As for why she’s here, I’m not sure how m-“
“MARK!”

Tsutsuji interrupted Mark suddenly, shouting in a panicked voice from across the room. Both Men quickly stood and looked her way, weapons half drawn.

There in the dim light of the cave, they could see Tsutsuji keening near Merry’s head as she lay on the bedding, the young girl’s good eye slowly blinking as she stared at the three.
___________________________________________
~~~ 2 hours later ~~~

Mark scooped some of the still warm porridge into a small bowl, before thinning it out a bit with the prepared water. Careful not to spill any, he slowly walked over to the wall where Merry sat and placed the bowl in front of the silent girl before walking away. Merry had panicked when she had first woken up, though her injuries prevented her from moving much.

Alex was still nursing the mark on his hand from when he had rushed over foolishly to check on her. Surrounded by strangers and the fear from last night still fresh in her mind, the little girl had lashed out, biting hard enough to draw blood before he managed to escape.

Slowly, the memories of the prior night seemed to come back to her as her eyes went wide and she began to frantically look around the cave as if searching for something. She seemed not to find what she was looking for, however, as tears quickly weld up in her eyes and she began to wail; the sound of a deep grief unbefitting of such a small girl filled the cave. Merry had cried for close to 20 minutes before seeming to run out of energy and falling asleep once more.

When she awoke an hour later, her eyes were dead and cold, glazed over with a look Mark knew all too well. Alex hesitated for a moment, the memory of a child’s sharp teeth still fresh in his mind, then moving slowly towards her, he carefully propping the small girl up before checking her wounds and changing her bandages. Merry had simply sat there in silence, not seeming to have the energy to resist, her eyes staring into nothing.

And there she had sat since. Tsutsuji had sat on the girl’s shoulder since she’d woken the second time gently stroking the small girl’s hair as she whispered words of comfort into her ear, worry and sadness marring the tiny Guide's face. Yet even that did not seem to invoke a response in the little girl.

Mark sat down next to Alex with a sigh, both staring at the two girls across from them, deep in thought. Alex spoke after a moment of silence, his voice low

“So. What now?”
“Still too weak to be moved. She’ll need 1-2 more days to be up and walking. That’s if she wants to”
“No, I mean where do we go from here? I remember helping take care of my sister, but that was a few years ago….”
“What do you mean ‘where’? You said the girl’s parents were headed to Whitewood. We bring her there and leave her with the authorities. I’m sure someone there can find any family or friends.”
“So you are just going to abandon her?! With what she’s been through, we can’t ju-“
“Do we have any other choice?! I’m no nurturer, and what about you; don’t you have some journey or another? You gonna lug around some kid you barely know?!”

Mark countered in a loud whisper tinged with anger, but Alex could see in his eyes sparks of frustration and something else. Mark cooled down after a moment, then looking back to find Tsutsuji staring at him frowning at his volume, he spoke in a cold resolved voice,

“We’ve done what we can for her. What she needs now are support and stability, and that’s not something we can give her….”

Alex opened his mouth to give a rebuttal but went silent, unable to refute Mark’s words. His own journey was far too dangerous; there is no way he would force a young girl not even old enough for her baptism, to follow after him. As for Mark, he was even less involved than he was, just a stranger passing by. It would not be unreasonable to say Mark had already done more than most people would have, to ask anything else would unfair.

Yet Alex couldn’t help but look at the small girl across from him; eyes that should be bright and smiling with the light of youth, were instead clouded and dead to the world. Alex could feel his hands begin to tremble in grief and rage. It was his fault. If he’d paid more attention. If he’d insisted on continuing. If he’d not been tied down. If….

If only he’d….been stronger.

He spoke after a moment, his voice trembling slightly, but his eyes burning with a strong desire,

“I-I’ll think of something”

Mark simply glanced at the young man out of the corner of his eye, before giving a sound between a laugh and humph and standing up. He gave Alex a pat on the shoulder and walked towards the back of the cave. He spoke, not bothering to turn back around.

“Don’t try and be a hero, Kid. You’ll only get yourself hurt. I’m going to sleep, wake me for night-watch.”
___________________________________________________________________

~~~ Later that Night ~~~

Mark shot up from his bedding gasping for breath. His eyes were wide in fear and his body was soaked in sweat. He slowly covered face with both his hand, massaging his eyes and temples as he tried to calm his racing heart.

“Bad Dream?”

A voice sounded from near the cave entrance. Mark looked over to see Alex sitting on a large rock near the cave entrance, the dim moonlight barely outlining his figure. Mark didn’t answer and simply stood from his bedding and stretched out, before walking over to the dead ashes of the nearby firepit. Alex called out again,

“It’s still a bit before its time to switch. Get some more rest.”

Mark, still ignoring the young man started to work on getting the fire pit lit again. He’d only had breakfast and some scraps earlier in the day and planned on making a light meal. Alex simply sighed and slid off the rock, giving a light yawn as he walked towards his own bedding. As Alex prepared to lay down, Mark asked in a quiet voice,

“How is she?”

Alex looked first over his shoulder at Mark, then turned his eyes to Merry, now sleeping soundlessly on her side. Tsutsuji lay nearby in an unladylike position as she snored softly. Near the young girl lay a cold untouched bowl of porridge. He frowned slightly before turning back to his bed,

“Tsutsuji tried. But she just sat there all night before falling asleep.”

Mark gave a sigh before putting the small pot on top of the now burning small fire. Alex turned back around and said in a tired voice,

“Wake me up early and I’ll make breakfast while you rest. We’ll start to get the Carriage ready for travel in the afternoon.”

Before laying down on his bedding. Mark simply gave a grunt as a reply, before turning his attention back to the small pot of stew that was slowing taking form.

As time passed, the thin stew began to boil; the stock, dried meat and small amount of vegetables rolling around in the pot. The smell of stew slowly filling the cave. Tasting it every few minutes and making adjustments accordingly, the stew was finally finished.

Mark scooped a few ladles full into a bowl and brought it close to his nose, giving a satisfied smile as he deeply inhaled the aroma. Mark raised an eyebrow as he heard a slight growling sound from across the cave. He looked over his shoulder and saw the outline of a small girl in the firelight. Merry simply sat there on her bedding, not looking at anything in particular. She did not even seem to notice when her stomach gave another low rumble.

Mark looked over at the girl in silence for a moment, before letting out a sigh and grabbing another small bowl. Pouring a small amount of broth into the bowl, he gave it a light swirl to cool it before standing and walking over to where the young girl sat.

He sat the small bowl down in front of her without saying a word before turning around and walking back to the firepit. Merry slowly looked down at the bowl of broth before returning her gaze back to nothing, not bothering to even reach for it.

The night passed in silence, only broken by the light growls of the young girl’s stomach every few minutes. Mark simply stared out the cave entrance as if he could not hear. After a time, the dwindling light of the fire reflected off of something in the corner of the cave. Mark, catching the glitter out of the corner of his eye, saw something he’d forgotten about. There on a small cargo box sat a large leather bound book, and a small letter sitting on its cover.

Mark stood silently and walked over to the book, staring down at it for a moment as the words of the one called Elaos echoed in his head,

“…the book was meant to be a gift from her Father, Thomas. I’d ask that you hand it and the letter to her once she’s recovered….”

He held the book in his hands and gently brushed away the dust from the old brown leather cover. Though they were foreign to him, he found that he could still make out the meaning of the characters pressed with gold leaf, ‘Journal of the Traveler’; it seemed the System’s translation function even worked for the written language.

Mark finally seemed to come to some conclusion and turned around, a low growl sounding in his chest. He walked slowly towards the still motionless girl, the items firmly in his hand, before laying them down on her lap and walking away.

He walked back over to the firepit and pretended to slowly stir the stew, not caring what she did with them, though he glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. In the dim firelight, Merry simply looked at the two items on her lap apathetically, though a small spark of curiosity lit in her dull eyes as she tilted her head.

She slowly reached out her hand and grabbed the small letter attached to the books cover. Mark was not sure if she could read, but he figured there would be no point in delivering it if she could not, so it should have been fine. The small girl slowly unfolded the letter as her eyes fell on the words written on it.

A few moments passed in silence before a change could be seen. Slowly but surely tears began to leak from the corner of eyes, as her small nose crinkled and her hands began to shake. As the first tears began to fall onto the small letter, Mark could hear a soft sobbing fill the cave. It was still filled with deep grief and sorrow, but it was no longer the loud wailing of despair from before. Merry slowly lowered the tear marked letter and gently stroked the large book in front of her before pulling it into a heavy embrace, her face buried in its leather cover as the dam broke and her body shook with heavy sobs.

Mark simply sat in silence, watching the cave entrance and gently poking the fire every so often with a stick. After some time, the sobbing stopped. Mark looked over his shoulder stealthily, to see the young girl still sitting there hugging the large book, though her shoulders had stopped shaking. Mark simply gave a sigh and stood from the fire, head out the cave entrance to answer nature’s call.

Returning a few moment later, Mark looked over to see Merry laying down once more, eyes closed but refusing to let go of the book in her grasp. Mark walked slowly and emotionlessly back to the firepit, returning his eyes to the cave entrance as he kept watch. However, he didn’t miss the small empty bowl laying near the girls bedding.

As Mark looked out into the dark night, unseen by him; two figures in the cave, one a tiny girl with wings and the other a young man laying across the way, exchanged a small smile.

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