Chapter 7: A Journey of a Thousand Miles…
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Chapter 7: A Journey of a Thousand Miles…

Mark yawned as he watched the morning sun slowly peak over the trees outside of the cave entrance. Two days and two nights had passed since Merry had awoken. Today would be the third day, and with the girl’s strength returning enough for her to walk on her own, it would be the day they finally left this small cave. They would have left the day before but a sudden rain had prevented them from transporting the rest of the cargo back to the Carriage.

They could have simply left it all in the cave, but given the situation Mark, Alex, and Tsutsuji, agreed that it would be best to bring it along and sell off what they could in Whitewood, as Merry’s parents had attended; the resulting funds would be used as traveling funds and other expenses for Merry, where even she ended up. Mark had been hesitant at first but according to Alex, strict laws and regulations in regards to the inheritance of orphans would at least minimize the risk of the small girl becoming a victim.

Merry herself had steadily improved over that time; though her eyes still seemed dull most of the time and he’d yet to hear her speak, every so often he’d catch a small spark still burning, refusing to give into the hand life had dealt her. Even now as she slowly walked back and forth from one wall to the other, Tsutsuji gently guiding her along the way, she did not seem to mind or even notice the scuffed knees and blood mixed mud on her legs from her falls.

Mark watched silently out of the corner of his eyes as he packed up the remaining supplies into his Inventory and stood, turning towards Alex who’d just walked in from checking on the carriage, before speaking,

“That’s the rest of it. How’s the carriage?”

“There’s some damage, but it should at least make it to Whitewood. I’m more worried about the Horses.”

They’d found the Horses on the second morning; Alex’s own had been long gone, but thankfully the still attached harnesses had prevented the two horses pulling the carriage from going far. The stress from the attack and then spending a day and night harnessed together in an unknown forest had not left them in great shape, however. Alex had spent most of the following day on the road hoping that they might be able to catch someone heading to Whitewood for assistance, but to no luck. For now, the plan was to take it slow and hope that they either were able to make it or met someone on the way.

Mark turned to the young girls and spoke as he waited by the exit,

“It’s time to go.”

Tsutsuji and Merry turned to look at him, before finishing their lap. Merry bent down and reached towards a large leather book resting on a cloth near the wall. She gently warped the book in the cloth and threw the bundle over her should with a heavy grunt, before moving slowly towards the exit. Merry was short of breath by the time she reached where Mark and Alex stood; either the book was heavier than it looked or the girl was pushing herself. Mark did not care which, but with a sigh, he reached down to pluck the bundle from her shoulder. Merry clung to the bundle with all her strength, however, giving panicked grunts as she struggled to move away from Mark’s grasp.

Mark furrowed his brow and frowned before releasing his grip and walked out of the cave, heading down the path. Merry gave a light squeak as she stumbled back a few feet after losing the resistance holding her. She stopped for a moment to catch her breath before walking down the path herself. The four walked on towards the carriage with Mark taking the lead; Alex followed a bit farther back stopping to look over his shoulder worriedly every so often, and Tsutsuji hovered close to Merry as she trailed far behind.

They would stop every so often to allow Merry to catch her breath, and when the walk that should have taken five minutes began to run ten without even hitting the half way point, Alex heard a deep, frustrated grumbling from ahead.

Mark turned around and walked back towards the small girl, a storm-cloud brewing on his face as he reached down and lifted Merry into his arm, ignoring her cries of protest, before continuing down the path at a brisk pace. Tsutsuji for her part could not help but point and laugh as she watched the man being continually whacked in the head by the small girl with her bundle the whole way.

They arrived at the carriage a few moments later, Mark a little worse for wear but otherwise silent as he set Merry into her prepare space in the back of the carriage. Merry, not abandoning her assault till Mark was out of range, looked around the familiar carriage with sad, tired eyes before burying her face in her bundle and slowly laying down. Tsutsuji, who has flown after them, immediately flew to the top of the carriage and sat down. Alex was the last to arrive and began preparing the horses as Mark added the last of the Cargo to the back, before jumping into the driver’s box.

Alex jumped up and sat beside Mark, before nervously grabbing the reins and speaking,

“Hehe, I-it’s been a few years since I’ve done this. Are you sure you don’t know how to drive?”

Mark simply raise an eyebrow before leaning back against the seat, folding his arms and closing his eyes. With Tsutsuji taking the first watch, he decided to take this opportunity to get a little rest; lucky the subskill “Rough Living” ensured he could rest properly even on the constantly moving and shaking seat. Thus they set off towards Whitewood.

___________________________________

~~~ Sunset ~~~

Alex looked up at the setting sun in the distance, giving a deep sigh he stretched out on top of the large boulder they had parked the carriage against. They’d traveled all day, but between the still wet and muddy roads and the frequent stops to allow the horses to rest, he estimated it would still take 2-3 days before they reached Whitewood. It may have been different if they had met someone on the way, but strangely enough, they had not seen a single other people so far. Even given the distance, the highway was still a major trade route, linking Whitewood to the Great Sea of Trees and the Western Continent. Something was not right, but he wouldn’t be able to find out until they reached the town.

Looking over at their small camp area, Alex could see Mark stirring a pot of stew as it boiled over the fire. He was starting to question if stew and porridge were the only things the strange man could make. Not that road rations were much better, but he’d began to dream of a good hot meal from an inn the past few night. He feared he’d wake one morning to find he was missing some bedding if they didn’t reach town soon.

Tsutsuji snored lightly as she hung herself over a tree branch while Merry sat nearby. The young girl had her book open, engrossed in the words as she read by firelight, wiggling around every so often in an attempt to better catch the light. She inched closer to the fire, a small frown forming as she seemed unable to get the perfect angle. A small spark jumped from the fire as she neared a little to close, landing on the open pages and quickly igniting their edges. Merry gave a small squeak in panic but before she could respond, a large rough hand slammed down on the embers, smothering them before they could do much damage.

Mark looked down at the young girl with a frown and spoke in an apathetic voice,

“Don’t read in this light, you’ll hurt your eyes. Put the book away and get ready. Food is almost done”

Merry simply looked up at Mark with a scowl, but quickly averted her eyes and closed the book under Mark’s own unwavering gaze. She held the book close, retreating some ways away, before sitting down on the cool ground. As time passed, she would alternate between looking down at her book in longing and giving Mark a nasty scowl behind his back. She instantly looked away, however, when Marked looked over his shoulder as to check on her. He gave a deep hum of contemplation when he noticed the girl’s behavior, before giving a sigh and turning back to the pot.

Mark spoke out a few moments later to call them in for dinner. Alex slid from his perch and headed for the campfire. Tsutsuji gave a gasp as she was startled from her sleep, tumbling from the branch she lay on. She gave a squeal as she fell, but managed right herself in the air before she hit the ground. Merry simply frowned as she attempted to pretend she did not hear, though her rumbling stomach won in the end, as she slowly scooted forward. After the meal, Tsutsuji helped Alex change Merry’s bandages while Mark sat nearby looking into empty space, though his eye’s moved back and forth as if searching for something.

After a few moments, he seemed to find what he was looking for and pulled out a small metal rod from thin air. Mark pulled down a small lever attached to the side and began to wind it around and around. He pressed a small button on the side after a few moments, and a bright beam of light shot out of one of the ends. Mark pressed the button again and the light disappeared. He looked down at the small hand-cracked LED flashlight in thought. It had been one of the few items he had in his jacket pocket when he’d crossed over, along with an outdoor utility knife, a pen, and some spare change.

When he’d went off on his...excursions, he’d found the small flashlight convenient for whatever dark hole he found himself in. He gave a slight grunt as he stood and walked over to the young girl who was presently giving him an ugly look, as she leaned up against the tree Tsutsuji had been sleeping on. He clicked the flashlight on and simply tossed it at the girl’s feet, before walking away. Alex watched as he stopped near the boulder and leaned up against it, closing his eyes.

Alex turned around and looked back at Merry as she held the flashlight with curious eyes, blinking quickly as she turned her head away from the blinding beam that she waved past her face. Alex too was curious at the strange object he’d never seen before. He knew a few Artifacts could produce similar lights, but he’d never heard of one so bright or compact. Tsutsuji simply laughed as she watched the little girl fumble around with it, before flying down and plucking it from her hands. She flew over to a nearby hole in the tree and wedged the flashlight’s butt into it. Merry’s surroundings were suddenly bathed in light as she stared up in delight a rare smile forming on her face.

She quickly grabbed her book and nestled herself under the light, turning the pages to a slightly burnt page, before being lost in her own world. Alex found himself smiling warmly as he watched the sight. The little girl reminded him a lot of his own sister back home; maybe that is why he felt such a burning desire to help her. If it was ever possible, he wished in his heart that the two could meet some day, maybe become friends. As Alex day dreamed of Home and those who he’d left behind, the sunset quietly turned to a dark blue night sky.

Mark woke from his light sleep by a gentle rustling. Looking up into the night sky, he saw that the First Skyshard had almost reached its zenith and the Third just barely peeking over the Horizon. He looked around the camp to see Tsutsuji once more asleep on her tree limb and Merry sitting under the tree, still lost in the book. Alex sat facing away from the fire, staring out into the darkness as he kept watch.

<< (Author’s Notes: in case you forgot, The Skyshards are the three largest fragments of the shattered Moon, taking up a bit more than a third of the night sky. The Second Skyshard would be about the position of our present Moon in the night sky, with the First appearing before it, and the Third after.) >>

Mark’s attention was drawn to Merry as she fidgeted in her spot, a look of frustration furrowing her small face. Seeming to sense his gaze, she looked up and gave him a frown, before turning back to her book. He looked back up at Mark after a few more minutes of fidgeting, seeming to contemplate something. She paused briefly, then coming to a decision she stood and reached for the Flashlight wedged in the tree. Merry briskly walked over to Mark and lay the book in front of him, not bothering to say anything as she held the light to the page and pointed to a passage.

Mark raised an eyebrow, before turning his eyes to the page. He suddenly found himself in shock at what he saw. He was not sure what he was expecting, as he’d never bothered to peak at the book’s content, but this was a surprise none the less. Though a relatively large page, it was packed tight with small and neatly organized words. Reading the passage that the little girl had been pointing at, he found it to be a detail explanation about the workings of a complex clockwork device found in some ruins, the small diagram beside it marking each piece.

Inferring what Merry was requesting, Mark gave a sigh and read the passage out loud, explaining the part where she seemed to have gotten stuck. Merry simply frowned down at the book in thought, before nodding her head and picking it up, quickly returning to her spot beneath the tree. Mark followed the small girl with his eyes, then shook his head and gave a small laugh. He closed his eyes once more and leaned his head up against the cool stone, but it was not 10 minutes later when a small poke roused him from his almost-sleep.

Opening an eye, Mark saw the figure of the small girl, once more standing beside him as she pointed at another passage. He gave a sigh before looking down at the passage and again read it for the girl before she retreated once more to her tree. This repeated several more times in the next hour before Mark finally gave an aggravated growl and grabbed the girl by the collar before she could retreat. Plopping the girl down beside him, he grumbled out between half closed eyes,

“Sit.”

Merry, giving a small sequel in fright, complied, though a few moments later she was tugging on Mark’s sleeve while pointing to yet another passage. Thus Mark sat there as the night waned on, answering the questions the little girl ask. He had to admit, while the Book was written in the form of a personal journal, the Author had a way with words and he found himself silently reading along. Most of it was a record of the Unnamed Author’s experiences as he traveled the world, though it was sprinkled with some pretty advanced terminology and detailed descriptions of such-and-such ruin, or some uncovered Artifact. Mark soon found himself engrossed in the book as he explained to the little girl what a certain word meant or why something was read this or that way.

Mark eventually stumbled across a passage that instantly drew his eye. He slowly read the Author’s words as he contemplated their meaning;

---“In my journeys, I have observed nearly every culture, creed and belief system the world and while I would hesitate in calling myself even fluent in my understanding, a peculiar similarity in all of them have come to my attention. In all of the myths I have come across, there are key points which all of seem to agree upon. While I doubt one could call this the ‘truth’ in its entirety, I have come to the conclusion that each of these accounts is a retelling of the same event, even if with their own bias twist. An event that may lead to the understanding of one of the greatest mysteries of this World. The Origin of the Skyshards, the Sentinel Tower, and the Magi. I advise you to take the following with a grain of salt, however, this may very well be the foundation of our very world.

In the Beginning, the Lord/High God/King of the gods, formed the ‘people’ (the people here varying from culture to culture) from the clay of the earth, breathing into them the breath of Life. He then set them in the center of the world, commanding them to go and spread far and wide, learn and grow.

And so the ‘people’ did. They spread outwards from the center of their new world, working the land and creating marvelous things. However, as the years waned on, the oldest of them grew tired and weary of their life. They had seen all there was to see in the world, been to every corner and tasted every fruit.

Not content with what they had been given, the Elders turned their eyes to the shining Throne of God/Godstone/The Lesser King high in the skies above. Banning the ‘people’ together, the Elders constructed a massive tower in the center of the world. The plan was for them to build all the way to the great celestial body from which their God watched over them, and make their plea directly to their Maker.

And so the eons passed, till finally, the great Tower was complete and the ‘people’ stepped foot on the Godstone for the first time. Only to find….Nothing. The Great Throne they believed to be the home of their Maker, lay empty and barren. Believing themselves to have been abandoned, the ‘people’ raged with all of their might, and in their anger, the Great Throne shattered.

With a mighty roaring, the force of the Shattering caused the Tower to crumble underneath them. For 3 days and 3 nights, great Stars and pieces of the Tower rained on the land, bringing destruction and death in their wake. Even when the Falling had ceased, the World was thrown into chaos. Great storms the like of which had never been seen raged across the world. The very land heaved and twisted underneath their feet, before spewing out seas of hot molten rock. The dead festered where they lay, bringing sickness and death to the few survivors.

When all seemed lost, the Lord/High God/King of the gods felt pity for those small people, shedding a single tear which fell on the land. And with that tear fell also the Divine Lights, the Magi. With their strange power, the Magi quelled the storms and soothed the earth, bringing order back from chaos. And the world…was silent”.---

Mark was silent for a long time, as he thought the words written in the book, and about his own experiences the past few day. He was about to turn the page when the flashlight suddenly began to dim and lose power. It was then that the sound of gentle snoring reached his ears. He looked over to his side to see the young girl fast asleep, her head resting up against his arm.

Mark gave a sigh before standing slowly, careful not to wake the sleeping girl. He then carried her to the prepared bedding and lay her softly down. Merry gave a small whimper as he did, groping for something in her sleep. Mark lay the large book in her arms as he stood and walked back to the boulder. The last thing he saw before he sat down and closed his eyes, was the young girl clinging tightly to the large book, a small smile on her lips.

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