Ch 7: If you wait by the river long enough…
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When I awoke, my entire body felt stiff. I was face down into a floor of dirt, and my limbs were pulsing with pain. Those burning chains really did a number on me. I didn’t want to move. My legs refused to stand me up, and my arms struggled to push me off the ground. My head feels cracked with a migraine, and my zapped eye feels off.

I hear a bird chirp, and then another. Soon I hear an entire symphony. Are they laughing at me, I wonder? Are they seeing my defeated form upon the dirt of the forest and giggling at my fate? Are they eagerly awaiting the ants to crawl upon my skin and pick at me? Perhaps they’re watching to see if I’ll decompose into the dirt and sprout plants for them to feast on.

There’s a peck peck peck at my head which only worsens my headache. Out of annoyance I lift my head to see a bird curiously eyeing me. I laugh despite the pain. A Moonbird. Of course. This wonderful moon goddess must be mocking me from her throne up there. It is simply because of this bird that I will myself to stand up and lean against the nearest tree. This damned goddess wants to mock me, huh? I won’t allow it.

I gingerly wipe dirt and leaves off myself before I start to move. Looking down at myself, I see that I have rips in my clothes, and scratches to pair with them. I have dirt all over my body, and parts of my attire are burnt away. My arms look unhealthy and red. My legs are similar.

Every step promotes a surge of pain. I try to lean against trees and step lightly. I take it slow. Yes. Slow. That’s what I need to be right now. I was too impatient the entire month I was in Castle Grawden. I was quick in conversation, quick in training, quick in learning. Looking back, I didn’t really enjoy myself. The environment and stakes didn’t really provide content for enjoyment, but perhaps I went about it all wrong. Maybe I should have bonded with Agnes more. Maybe I should have taken time to learn about the people of the Second Batch. Perhaps I should have had some leisurely teatime to destress at the end of each week.

But I didn’t really deserve that, did I?

My goals were selfish from the start. I needed to go home. I needed to escape from this fake war. I needed to get back into my original body. Was it perhaps this single-mindedness that caused my hastiness? If I cared more about the Elves or the Second Batch, would I have fallen? It’s like the sides of a cursed coin. On one side, I should deserve to go home and be myself. I did my time, I served the country, no matter how corrupt it may be. I was summoned so I should go home. I think that and I question on whether its okay to even ponder about such things. On the other side, maybe I’m here to correct my mistakes. I helped slaughter an innocent race, so this may be a chance to save another. I let my classmates get manipulated by the Church. But when I stimulate these thoughts, I wonder how one person can do such grand tasks.

What is my position? Why am I here? What does this goddess want with my soul? If they needed a soul to cleanse, they could have used some prisoner about to get executed. Why me? Was I just convenient?

There is so many questions I have racing through my head. For the first time in a while, I feel lost. I have no idea what my role is. I vowed to save the Elves and the Second Batch, but can a small, burnt, and traitorous girl really do that?

That’s another thing. I’m female, and it seems like I’m stuck like this. I’m… not sure how I feel about my situation. Ideally, I would end up back in my own body, but it seems like it’s more burned than my arms. I’ve housed inside this vessel for a month, and I’ve gotten more familiar with it, but I feel fundamentally wrong. Comparing nearly 20 years with 1 month, it is obvious to see which body I’m more familiar with.

As I struggle to move within the forest, this body becomes more apparent. Maybe it’s just my mind focusing on it, but I don’t like it. I hate it. This stupid silver hair which determined my fate and the smaller frame which upset my balance. When I first looked at this body, I thought it pretty. That was no longer the case.

I was a mimic. Simply a creation to mirror another being long gone. Xenomyr kept shouting at me “Lumie”. I was simply meant to impersonate her. Was it a reincarnation type of thing? Was this silver haired messenger from the moon goddess meant to bring prosperity for all of her followers? Was I to fill that role? I was disgusted that my form represented anything that was associated with the Church. It’s funny, my hatred spiked after the events of last night.

Was it even last night? I had no way of knowing if I had slept for more than a few hours. The silver sky told me it was a cloudy early morning, but I had no concrete evidence on the date.

As if on cue, my stomach grumbled. Whatever day it was, I needed some food. Ideally, I would find a river. It would provide food and a way for me to clean myself. Looking at the surrounding trees and fauna, I tried to pinpoint my location. It was very likely that I had been in this forest before, but my mind was so fuzzy that I couldn’t process information efficiently enough. So, I just continued to wander.

--

It was midday, and I found myself leaning against a tree. I contemplated sitting down, but I feared that if I did so, I would be unable to get up. I hadn’t found any food besides some fruit I couldn’t pick, for it was up in the high branches of the trees surrounding me. I couldn’t tell if I had made significant progress travelling through this forest, or if I had barely moved. Each step seemed like a mile.

I was sweating, tired, and in pain. Basically, I wasn’t in the best state. While resting, I decided to think about my next plan of action. The way I was now, I wouldn’t get anything done. I needed to spend time recovering. The problem is that I essentially had nowhere to go. Most places in Entrendei were associated with the Church. If anyone caught sight of my silver hair, my chances of freedom would probably evaporate. I couldn’t trust anyone, so where should I go? Should I stay in the outskirts of towns? Take unconditional travel routes? It was pretty obvious to decipher that the Church would go after me, so where would I go to escape them? Which location had little Church influence?

The first thing that came to mind was Hasavanef. The border towns of Hasavanef that were near Entrendei were notably influenced by the Church. But if I were to go further in that country, then I would probably escape the reach of the Church. There was one major problem though. Hasavanef was South, while the Elves were almost directly West. Should I travel Southwest in hopes to compromise? From what I’ve heard, the Elven forest took up a majority of the west side of the continent, so if I enter their territory through Hasavanef, things shouldn’t be too bad, right?

The only other option I could consider at this moment was heading North in order to go meet my certain blacksmith. Of course, he wouldn’t recognize me, but I’m sure he would recognize this attire, even if some of it was burnt. I did need some new gear after all.

After much pondering, I decided I would get some supplementary gear in the first town I arrived at in Hasavanef and resolved to head that way.

--

After many hours of the day, I finally heard the sound of running water. I immediately perked up. Yes! This is exactly what I craved. I quickly walked over to the direction of the noise, stumbling over myself in the process. There it was. A river, calmly rushing over the rocks in its path, with a number of little shrubs and flowers growing at its sides.

I immediately made my way over, making sure to pick up a large branch along the way. At the riverbank, I picked up a rock and sharpened the end of the branch to make it into an unprofessional spear. I’ve never really handled a spear, but if its for fishing, it shouldn’t be too hard right?

I scanned the water, waiting for glimmers of movement… there! I thrusted the spear into the water and winced in the process. Bringing the tip closer, I find nothing. Sighing to myself and being driven by hunger, I attempt a few more times. Eventually, I snag a decent sized fish. I’ll just have to hope it doesn’t cause any problems. Gathering some wood, I start a fire with some mana and begin to cook it. It has a pretty blank taste, but it serves the job. I drink the river water to quench my thirst.

Next, albeit reluctantly, I start to undress in order to wash myself off. I have dried blood and damaged skin, so hopefully the water will help me a bit. I wiggle my foot in to test it out. It’s cold. I don’t hesitate. I walk myself in and sit myself down so that the water covers every part of me but my face. The briskness makes me seethe as I feel it tickling my burns. I take time to stare at my reflection. …There’s something off. One of my irises has changed into a golden color. It just so happens that it is the same eye that got zapped at the cathedral. Wonderful. I have the mark of this stupid moon goddess not only in my hair but in my eye too. I fail to comprehend how this could even be a blessing at all. I sighed as I look at my face. I have marks where Xenomyr dug his nails into me, my hair is messed up, and I have scratches from running through the forest. If someone were to stumble upon me in this state, I don’t know what I would say to them.

It made me think what type of relationship Xenomyr and Lumie had. If a father sees his daughter brought back to life, then they would usually embrace and cry over her return, right? Why was Xenomyr so comfortable in manhandling a body that was supposed to look like his daughter? Did he not spend great efforts to craft it? Was Lumie willing to sacrifice herself or was she forced to die by her own father’s hand? If Lumie lived that sort of life, I wonder what her thoughts would be about this situation…

Shaking pointless questions away, I inch further into the river and dip my head under the water for a bit. The coolness of the river envelops my body and my mind. It’s so calm. There’s a fish or two swimming by, and a river plant fluttering in the light current, but there’s nobody around. I’m just here in this nice environment, with no troubles around me. No stress.

I let my mind drain from its thoughts and I close my eyes. I make sure to feel nothing. I curl up and I lay down under the water, and I’m still. My wounds sting but they become a dull pain as I hold my breath. And then, after a bit, I resurface. It’s done. I reset myself. I cleansed my thoughts and worries and refocused myself on the objective.

I’m now standing in the middle of the river, completely nude. It’s amazing how I can look at this body now and not turn my eyes away. The rate of adaptation that humans go through is staggering. Though I doubt many people have gone through a thing such as this. My wet hair drapes across my back, reminding me yet again of its presence. Grabbing its messy form, I start to stroke it a bit with my hands. I should really cut some of this off, especially if people are going to hound me because of its color. The respects I had to this body are long gone, so I don’t mind altering its appearance now.

After I’m completely dry, I reach for my shortsword along the riverbank and fix my hair.  To cut it I carefully make a slice, so my hair is about shoulder length. It’s definitely uneven and messy, but I don’t really care. This should make it easier to hide under a hood. I don’t have any bag, so I just awkwardly stuffed the cut hair into my pockets. I figured people would buy silver hair for a decent price.

Sitting down to rest my body, I spend the rest of the day at the river.

--

After 2 days following the river in the forest, I finally exit it. From which side, I am unsure, but I spot a covered wagon in the distance. It seems like I’ve exited onto a plain in which the river runs through, so I decide to make my way towards the trail.

My wounds have healed quicker than I thought they would. They haven’t fully recovered, but I can walk without any problems. Running is a different story. My arms are functional, but I can’t swing my sword the way I want to. I wonder if this “goddess’ blessing” of mine had something to do with it? Or is river water just that healing?

Whatever the case, I am grateful for the quick fix. It means I can move farther away from whatever pursuit the Church might send after me. I was a bit sloppy with my escape from Castle Grawden, and I didn’t bother to cover my tracks at all. I made sure to do that in the forest. If I manage to snag a ride on that covered wagon, then I’ll be able to move even faster.

As I move, I see the river curve away to what seems to be a town. It appears as a tiny, tiny speck on the horizon. Eventually I reach the wagon and I address the owner, trying not to sound shady despite my unkept appearance.

“Hello th-there. Is it okay if I catch a r-ride with you until the next town?”

The owner is a rotund man with a long beard that has many, many crumbs in it. I bet an ant colony could feast from his beard. His head contrasts his chin, being completely bald, and he’s donning some beige clothing, with a red vest. I hoped my ever-present shaky voice didn’t deter him from my request. The man stops his horses and scans me up and down.

“Girl, where did you come from?”

“The forest. I e-escaped there after some bandits a-attacked me. B-but they managed to take most of my st-stuff.”

I lied to make myself look better. After all, I can’t tell him I mauled the pope, can I?

The man eyed me suspiciously.

“What’s your name, girl?”

“M-My name? Well, my m-mother named me Perry Momo, b-but my friends just call me Perry.”

I came up with that on the spot. It just seemed like a fitting name that made a little bit of sense. The man’s defenses seem to have weakened. Was my shaky voice actually helping me play the part of an innocent?

“Perry Momo? That’s an interesting name. Where are you from, exactly?”

“My m-mom and I live in Hasavanef.”

“All the way down there, geez, why’d ya travel that far?”

“I-I had to visit my u-uncle, mister. He was s-sick.”

He’s asking way too many questions. Will this be even worth it? I can’t keep coming up with enough lies for this!

“…Alright then. Get on then, Perry. Just sit still and don’t say anything. Don’t touch anything. And maybe take a nap? You look like ya need it.”

“Th-thanks so much, mister! … Hey, what’s your name?”

“You can call me Berib. I’m a merchant that travels on this road from time to time. Now no more questions, get on, c’mon.”

I hoisted myself into his wagon. I could see various wares. Most of them were trinkets, but there was some produce strewn about. As I tucked myself into a corner, I pretended to sleep. I kept my eyes slightly open and steadied my breathing. I would often play this tactic when I was with the First Heroes to trick some of them, and then sneak away at night after everyone else fell to sleep.

No way was I going to trust this guy. He thought I was the one asking questions? It seemed like he was never going to stop with his. To be fair, looking like this and tugging on my hood seemed pretty suspicious, but I figured he might have heard the news about my Church attack. Maybe he was looking for a way to make a quick buck? He is a merchant after all. Profits are everything to them. Perry Momo wasn’t about to fall for some random merchant’s tricks, no she wasn’t.

As I faked my slumber, I could feel occasional glances from Berib. What the heck was he looking at me for? I made sure to keep my sword in my hands, even if my damaged arms could do little with it. I was extra careful to keep my face covered. Ultimately, I was taking a chance. I could find myself in chains and being sold in an auction or have what little I had left stolen. Berib didn’t really seem too bad of a person, but I was keen on being careful. Trust is just meant to be betrayed. I’m sure I would never see him again after our interactions; however they may go.

--

“Hey, Perry, I realized you’re a bit roughed up, but do ya know how to fight?”

Berib distracted me from my cycle of thoughts a while later with a harsh whisper.

“F-Fight, mister Berib?”

“Answer the question girl, do ya?”

“A l-little bit, y-yes.”

“Then I’m gonna need you to fight those goons right there.”

I get up and sneakily peek around Berib to see two guys with dagger in a fair distance from the front of the cart. Ah. Bandits.

“Do y-you have a cl-club or blunt object m-mister Berib?”

“I do in the back, why?”

“I’ll use it t-to strike them.”

“What are ya gonna do?”

“I can sneak u-up behind them. I’ll leave the cart through th-the back. Act n-normally.”

“Ok. Good luck.”

I find and grab the club he mentioned and proceed to use [Cat’s Paws] and [Illusionary Presence]. Having masked my visual and audio cues from the bandits I make my way behind them. Berib has them distracted with some merchant speech while acting as if he were begging them to not rob them. The two bandits differ in size. One is lanky and thin, while the other one is bigger and rounder. They look like a wacky duo from a cartoon. When I’m right behind them, I debate whether to hit the lanky one or the big one first.

In the end I bring the club over the lanky one’s head. BAM! I figured he would be able to doge any incoming club attacks faster than the big one could. The lanky bandit is out cold on the ground, and I take advantage of the big one’s confusion to whack him as well. BONG! He grabs his head in pain, and I whack him a second time to finally knock him out. With the bandits defeated, I deactivate my skills.

“Wow, that marvelous! Didn’t think you had it in ya, girl.”

Berib expressed his joy and started clapping. Again, I play the innocent.

“Th-they threatened someone who helped me. I c-can’t forgive that.”

“You make me proud, Perry. C’mon, let’s get moving.”

Once again, I snuggle into the corner of Berib’s wagon. I was a bit uncomfortable with the situation that just transpired. Hitting those two like that and leaving them there to fend for themselves seems a bit rude. I get they were trying to attack us and all, but what if the beasts of the night get to them? It’s weird. Before, I wouldn’t have had these thoughts. I hadn’t fought anyone since my time fighting the Demons. Sure, I stabbed Xenomyr, but I wouldn’t feel any remorse for him. Those two seemed different. Were those bandits just jerks looking for loot, or were they stooping that low because they had nowhere else to turn to? Either way, I shouldn’t entertain myself with such thoughts. If I feel remorse for everyone, I’ll never get anywhere.

--

We reached the town by evening. Berib made a big deal out of it, as if he was advertising a product of his.

“Welcome to Charronne! This town’s known for its sparkling river and unique fish. Its entire lifeline is built from the river. It was named after the very first mayor of this town, when he led his family and friends to this nice place to settle down.”

To play the part I assigned myself, I acted once more.

“Woah! M-mister, this town is r-really pretty!”

That wasn’t really a lie. It was appealing to the eyes.

Looking at this town, there were buildings made from wood and stone, and the river traveled through the city. I could see a few taller, more notable buildings scattered about, and there were walls surrounding the perimeter of the town. It was bigger than most of the towns I had visited while on my previous journey.

As the evening painted the sky orange, I could see kids running home for dinner and men coming back from repairing the walls. There were adventurers returning from quests and a group of women chatting about some bread. Overall, it gave this real homey feel to the entire place. It was soothing. I wasn’t home, but this made me feel like it. A nostalgia that spawned from nothing. It was a strange feeling. If I had lived in this world, I probably would have settled down in a place like this.

Berib stopped the wagon in a plaza near the center of the town.

“Well, Perry, this is it. But here’s a little reward, for dealing with those goons earlier.”

Berib handed me a sack of coins.

“Wow! Thanks, Mister Berib!”

“Run along now. Ya got places to be right? Don’t get yourself killed.”

“Bye-bye!”

I pretended to eagerly wave as I ran off into the streets of the town. As soon a I left his sight, I changed my expression and got to business. What’s my situation?

Checking the money I received from Berib, it was enough to stay at a regular inn for about a week. Dang. That was more generous than I thought. It seems I didn’t give the man enough credit. I silently thanked him for his kindness. Even though I had such funds, I wouldn’t have the luxury of staying at an inn. Leaving such an obvious path to track is stupid. The innkeeper or any other attendee could rat me out in seconds. I had already planned to sleep on the roofs or in the alleyways. It may be dangerous, but luckily, I have a skill just for this.

When I was back in Castle Grawden, I made sure to search for a skill that would allow me to detect life around me. My search ended with me learning [Detect Movement {Rouse from Sleep}]. Anything living that moved within a spherical distance of 10ft would cause me to sense it, waking me up. If I activated it just before going to sleep, then it would last until I naturally woke up. Of course, the problem with this skill was that it detected all life. If a mouse ran by or tree leaves blew in the wind, then I would wake up instantly. This skill only worked in places with nothing around it. So yes, this was a pretty flawed backup, but at least it was something.

Of course, this was a subset of the skill [Detect Movement], which did the exact same thing, but while the user was awake. It would cause them to look in the direction of the detection. I fear if I ever used that skill, I would get a severe case of whiplash. These skills had other, specialized forms, but they consumed mana way too fast. My unskilled self would pass out from using them. Plus, they had really stupid names. Who wants to say they know a skill called [Advanced Detect Movement {Rouse from Sleep} {Multi-cast (Party)}, Human Specialized]?! What does that even mean?! Who named these skills?!

The sun was gone now, leaving the moon to shine on the town. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to see the moon the same way again. I’ll only see it a cruel beauty.

I found an alleyway to hide in, making sure to stay out of the moonlight, and activated [Detect Movement {Rouse from Sleep}]. I was finally drifting off into slumber when my eyes shot wide open and I felt as awake as I did 4 hours ago. I looked around only to see a fly land on my hand.

…I wasn’t going to sleep tonight, was I?

Hello! After a bunch of bonus chapters (which I will definitely be limiting in future arcs) we finally get the start of Arc 2! Perry Momo, ah I mean Ren, arrives at Charronne! There's not much else to talk about though... Well, more will come soon!

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