Still early in the day, Sana approached the door of Lord Kelopak's private study. She was starting to have second thoughts about talking with him. No, she shook her head, she needed to do it, so she approached the guards in front of the doors. "I wish to speak with Lord Kelopak, the earlier the better since I will not be in the city for long," she ordered in a firm voice. Surprisingly the guard to her left simply nodded and started to open the door.
"What, just like that?" she mumbled but the other guard must have heard her since he replied. "Lord Kelopak made it clear that you or Lady Aria are always welcome and we should immediately let you through." Despite trying to hide it he sounded a tad exasperated by his lord's orders. He was after all responsible for guarding him.
Sana gathered herself and strode through the open door. The inside looked somewhat like an artefact collection with many shelves along the walls and display tables arranged close to the sides of the room. There were scrolls, clay jars, stone weapons and tablets and even strange glowing plants in glass containers. Opposite her were the only two paintings in the room, unsurprisingly of her parents. Her father stood bare chested in a shallow river, gripping a wooden spear while her mother stood, with a broken spear shaft in her hand, blood-soaked surrounded by corpses. The dichotomy of the two scenes almost made her stumble. Under the paintings, on a small pedestal, lay a black and white tablet with black writing on it's upper half.
Kelopak himself stood off to the left inspecting white canvas on a table. Hearing the door opening he looked up and his face lit up seeing her enter. He started to rush towards her but caught himself and stopped when he saw her flinch back. He simply stepped aside and invited her inside. "Lady Sana, it is so good for you to visit me. I was just choosing the right canvas for your portrait," he said pointing towards the table. "Please, look around, tell me if you like something. I will gladly give everything I own to you."
"Thank you, Lord Kelopak," she replied and moved further into the room. He turned around to continue examining the canvases, occasionally discarding one. Sana carefully approached a stone knife on a nearby display table and picked it up, looking more like a short sword compared to her small frame. She was surprised how light it was, it felt more like she was holding a bamboo stick. At first she thought the knife was almost crumbling from age but, after examining it closely, noted it was in perfect condition. The colour, a combination of several shades of grey with veins of black throughout, simply made it look decayed.
After putting down the knife and checking on Kelopak, she moved on from one object to the next, though never touching the scrolls. After all she had enough reading to do at home. Throughout her slow examination the black and white tablet in the back called to her until she couldn't suppress herself anymore. She approached and could see that the tablet was primarily white with black writing and a picture below. She couldn't make out the strange characters but her gaze was drawn to the figure below. It pictured a silhouette off a human's upper body spreading it's arms to it's sides. The only distinctive thing of the figure was it's pure white, almost glowing, eyes. Sana's gaze was drawn to them, focusing on them and slowly tuning out her surroundings.
She was badly startled by a hand on her shoulder, making her jump two steps away. Looking up she saw Kelopak looking between the tablet and her with a small smirk. She evened out her breathing and asked, "What is with that tablet, it seems... weird." She didn't know how to describe the pressing feeling inside of her. It was almost like a fight for life and death but instead of reacting she knew that anything she could do would be useless. She learned that she really didn't like that feeling.
"I found that tablet in a temple for the Path of Darkness shortly before meeting your parents for the first time. I keep it as a memento, so that whenever I look at it, I remember the day I found my path in life. It would pain me to part from it, but if you want it I would also be overjoyed to gift it to you," he said with a reminiscing tone that turned into a grin at the end.
Sana quickly shook her head. She definitely didn't want that tablet anywhere near her. He frowned and opened his mouth but she quickly interrupted, "What does it say. I can't read the words at the top."
He blinked in surprise but replied soon after, "The inscription is made in what is called the Immortal Script. The script dates back as long as there are records to be found. It is mostly used by immortals to communicate with other immortals but is also used in various religious ceremonies as the language of the gods." He continued turning towards the tablet, "Specifically here it says "Soon the light will die and you will see it was nothing but blinding". At least according to my own translation efforts."
She frowned in thought and then confusedly asked," The Path of Darkness? I only ever heard of the Path of Light from Lumin. Are they connected? I mean, they sound like opposites."
Kelopak smiled and replied, "They are indeed connected, though the followers of Light would never admit that the Path of Darkness even exists anymore. Over the centuries it was apparently wiped out again and again but never completely. Personally I think they have just temporarily gone underground. The tablet encompasses the main difference in beliefs, which leads me to think it was an important religious artefact. That and of course the fact it remained unblemished inside the crumbling temple."
After a long time of contemplative silence Sana reluctantly started, "I actually have another question. The main reason I came her in the first place." He cocked his head, inviting her to continue. "My mother said you don't see the world like other people and... well I just wanted to ask how you came to that realization. You also said something about finding your own path," she finished with a frown on her face, turned away from him, so as to not give anything away.
When she looked back she could see him staring intently at her, trying to look into her very being, making her incredibly uncomfortable. Eventually he replied with a soft smirk, "My entire childhood I heard and was told how I should feel or what I should think, so of course I complied even though I never understood the reason. When I turned 12 I gained the opportunity to travel around, to finally understand other people so that they could never reject me." He continued with a sigh, "And I did start understanding people. How far they are willing to go to protect what they love. How much they are willing to do to destroy what they hate. And the everchanging line between those extremes. Still I just didn't feel satisfied and eventually almost died on one of my adventures."
With those words he smiled and looked at the paintings of her parents. "When I saw her killing beast after beast and him protecting her back, occasionally smiling at each other and laughing with each other afterwards I knew what I was missing. Happiness. True joy, of life, of me being alive. I didn't feel unsatisfied with my life. How could I? I've been born and raised without hardship and saw plenty of people much worse off than me. Other people found happiness in their families or friends or religion or service to something greater than themselves.
"The only real joy I ever found was in my paintings or admiring the beauty of nature and man but... did I not have an obligation towards my family, towards my city? How could I be so selfish? Ignoring the world to immerse myself in my own. But looking at your parents I realized that they too were completely selfish. Yes, they cared about and protected each other but ultimately they did it to protect the happiness they found being around each other, spending the rest of their lives together. And if they are, so is everyone else. So why should I not indulge in my own obsessions. The only thing that is important to consider isn't morality or loyalty but the consequences of my own actions, and if I can live with them why should I care? Why should anyone?" he finished with a pointed look in her direction.
She quickly looked away, cursing internally. She excused herself and quickly fled from the room to her own. She couldn't get his words out of her mind and continued being distracted through breakfast and most of her and her mother's walk through the city. After a while staring at the surroundings, too distracted to really admire them, she started observing the people going about their day. The guards patrolling the streets proudly with their heads held high. Mothers and Fathers either smiling or scowling at their children playing in the streets. The market and store tenders selling their wares with broad smiles, whether real or fake. So many people, all being at peace with who they were.
But, maybe they aren't or at least weren't sure who they are. Does everyone have these questions? She didn't know but at least she felt more at peace than ever in these last few days. Maybe she was born wrong or maybe Kelopak was right and she should embrace her own obsession. She didn't have any answers and maybe even that was fine. The only thing she was sure he was right about was that she needed to live with the consequences her actions have, both on her and her family. Feeling a little lighter she could finally push her contemplations from her mind and start enjoying her first time in a completely foreign city.
Sana sat on her mothers lap under the shade of a tree. They were reading a book, her mother turning the page when she was ready. She would have enjoyed it normally if it weren't for the crazy man standing a while away, painting them with a disturbing smile on his face, occasionally giggling. Her eyebrow started twitching.
"Just ignore him honey," her mother began, stroking her hair. "He will do what he wants anyways and if he gets too overbearing I can just throw him over the wall." Sana was sure her mother was actually serious about throwing him out. When she and her mother returned to find Kelopak waiting with an easel in their courtyard, her mother almost glared him to death. Of course her mother noticed her strange mood throughout the day and, after being notified of her visit to him, immediately blamed him. The only things stopping her from beating him up where her lack of proof and the fact they currently resided in his families home.
After that confrontation he simply said to continue their day normally, he will find an appropriate scene to paint. So, after the expedition into the city, they continued her training in martial arts with the benefit of real experience fighting a human opponent. Her mother taught her how to spot obvious and more subtle tells where an enemy may strike, like pulling back to charge up a swing or the point his eyes locked and even twitches in muscles. After an exhausting training they retreated to rest and read under a tree.
Sana sometimes nervously looked up at Kelopak to see if he would say anything about their conversation but he seemed to be completely absorbed in his work. Despite her realization earlier she still wanted to find out herself, before her parents would notice anything amiss, in case Kelopak turned out to be wrong.
"Ah, I think it is finished," he suddenly exclaimed, "you should come see yourself." He beckoned them over. They stood up and walked around the easel to look at the painting. Expecting to see them sitting under the tree she was surprised that the painting showed her and her mother sparring. They had their weapons locked, her mother blocking a downward swing with the shaft of her spear. In the painting Aria looked down at her daughter with a gentle smile and soft eyes whereas she herself had a broad grin and fire burning in her eyes. Both of their training clothes where fluttering due to the speed they were moving at.
She couldn't look away from her own expression. It brought up what she felt when she was fighting the wolves and the bandits and she couldn't help but lift up the corners of her lips.
"It will fit perfectly to the others. Now I just need a painting of Andus and Lady Sana and another of all of you together to complete my collection," he said with the most serious voice she ever heard on him. "In any case, it has been an honour being able to paint someone like you Lady Sana. And of course you as always Lady Aria. I will now leave you alone to rest for your exhausting journey back to Cloud City." With that he picked up the painting very carefully and slowly walked into the house. Quickly a pair of maids entered and took with them the easel and the rest of the painting supply.
"Well, he certainly is as spontaneous as ever," her mother said, shaking her head. "But he is right, we need to be at the gate early tomorrow. We won't have a lot of time for a proper farewell. So, despite your excitement we should retire now. You will later always have a chance to return here again." She laid a hand on her shoulder and led her to her room, saying goodbye and retiring herself. Sana laid awake in her bed a while later thinking about herself but eventually fell asleep.
The next day they were led out by Kelopak and Lady Pokok again. Lady Pokok simply nodded and said her farewells, quickly returning into the house. Surprisingly, Kelopak had a gift for her, to take back. She opened the wooden box to see the black and white tablet laying on a cushion. Startled she looked up and saw him grinning down at her. "I think that this would be better of in your possession. You seemed taken by it and I thought it fitting since it allowed me to meet your parents and through them you. Anyway, safe travels and know that you are always welcome in my home." With that he tuned around and followed Lady Pokok back into the palace.
Her mother looked curiously over her shoulder but said nothing as she closed the box again. They arrived at the gate to see the caravan already forming and the caravan leader beckoning them over to discuss their travel back to Cloud City. They left Kayu City shortly after and, with a backwards glance Sana began her journey back home with a some answers but even more questions about who she really is.