[Navi: New skill (passive)- Aldora Holy Kingdom Language (lvl 1)!]
<<Finally!>> I mutter.
It seems like the skill does not require activation, being listed as “passive”. It should be always on , according to my gamer experience.
Although…the skill’s effect is a bit weird. It’s not some kind of immediate knowledge that allows me to perfectly speak the Aldora Language.
Instead, it looks like some kind of translation systems, conveying the meaning of words in my mind. I still need to give some effort to master this language, but this skill surely will be helpful with my learning process.
However, the most interesting effect concerns spoken language. It does not have any kind of effect when I speak, as I discovered when talking to soldiers.
It does not translate my native language to them, and, when I try to speak Aldoran I still don’t know the advanced grammar rules. Instead, the skill helps me understand when other people talk to me. Spoken language is translated and conveyed to me as visual information…kinda like subtitles in a movie.
It feels a bit weird, and I will need some time to effectively use it.
I almost spent the entire night trying to get used to it.
Still sleepy, having had only few hours of proper sleep, I exit my tent after hearing the ringing bell.
The camp around me is noisy, and the many conversations are being conveyed by the skill, clouding my vision and making me a bit dizzy. But thankfully I can erase the other input just by focusing on what I would like to hear. Just like that.
With a better grasp on this new, useful ability, I head out to meet Emilia for our morning study.
I greet her with a big smile, waving my hand.
As she helps me practice words and basic grammar all the morning, I notice the little slave girl from before. Alone, she looks straight at us. I wave at her, and she flees with a smile on her face.
Perhaps I found a little admirer here.
Another week passes by, and I am now able to have proper conversation with people. I still jumble some words though, and it’s not like this progress is due to my hard work.
It is simply the effect of my language skill. According to Navi, this kind of skill can be acquired only when you properly start learning and practicing the language, but, once you get the skill, the skill level rises quickly as long as you keep studying.
Apparently, whoever made this system want you to struggle a bit before achieving something.
Emilia is amazed by my progress. Commander Wolve also praised me, although he seemed a little wary about me. It must be my imagination, though.
As I have been able to properly talk, I spent more time with the commander. He has been kind to me, but still, it was not time spent by idle talk or pleasant chat. It was a proper and serious questioning.
He explained to me their point of view, and even apologized for the rough treatment that his subordinates showed me on our first meeting.
Still, he interrogated me.
About my story, about how I ended up alone in the Marsh.
And of course, I lied to him.
Just a small lie to protect myself, as during my time spent inside the Army fort, I learned one simple truth about them.
They discriminate against skill-holder and magicians. Just possessing a skill or magical powers is a crime to them, punishable by capital execution.
Demon Spawn, that’s how they call anyone that holds mystical power. I even had to see an execution here in the fort. One time, the recon patrol brought back a prisoner from the swamp.
A skill-holder. The commander himself led the execution. A trial by combat. Unarmed, Wolve stood against the prisoner. Perhaps to show superiority, I thought. But Rudy, sitting besides me, gave me a different explanation.
It was a ritual, to show how evil powers are nothing in front of true righteousness.
And so, the unarmed Wolve fought the prisoner and his skill.
The captive, perhaps underestimating his bare-handed opponent, used his skill right away. He summoned claws of fiery flame, engulfing himself in crimson fire as he lunged towards Wolve.
It was over in a single instant. One punch, that’s all that took Wolve to defeat his opponent.
Laying on the ground, coughing blood as he begged for mercy, the captive was instead given the final blow, as Wolve severed his head with a longsword .
<<You see…evil powers cannot do anything against our God’s Might. We are righteous in his Light, and it gives us strength. No magic, no demonic trick can subvert this simple truth. And yet, that kind of scum always think they can triumph against us, and they challenge us, resisting, plotting, thinking their power will let them walk unscathed through dangerous waters. But, in the end, they end up the same. Begging on the ground before judgment befalls them.>>
I shuddered as Rudy said those words to me. His eyes, coldly staring at me. There, I understood why he had been wary of me right from our first meeting.
He noticed that I had no wounds on me when we met in the swamp. A dangerous place like that would leave no man unscathed, much less a frail looking boy like me. Still, his were suspicions, as he had no proper proof of me using or having some kind of skill. I should praise his intuition, though.
And so, following those events, I chose to keep my circumstances a secret, and forge a story to tell them.
And now, I am telling this blatant lie to commander Wolve, and that makes me nervous. I chose a story that would hold, simple but plausible.
To him, I told that I was traveling with my family and got ambushed by bandits. That I had seen my parents die, right in front of me.
About how I woke up inside the bandit’s camp, and managed to sneak away during a monster’s attack and subsequently walked by myself in the marsh, lost and shocked, until I met Emilia’s group. He patiently listens to my story, with a sorrowful expression. Perhaps out of sympathy, or even pity, he offers me to stay in the camp.
<<We aim to build a proper settlement here. You could help us, work with us as a civilian>> he says.
His offer is tempting, but staying here puts me at risk. I would not want to be exposed and executed for having a Skill.
Aside from the danger towards myself, I cannot comply with their world view, exploiting slavery and all that religious nonsense against Skill-holders and magicians.
And so, I kindly refuse.
<<I want to reach the nearest city, Sendria. I have still a relative there>> again, I tell another lie. I knew the name of the city thanks to Emilia’s lessons, of course.
And so, I have been able to forge a proper story. Although I feel a bit bad, for blatantly saying nothing but false things to a man that has been kind to me. But again, this is just for my well being.
He looks a bit disappointed at my refusal. Still, he offers to help me further, even willing to give some provisions and directions, as the trip to Sendria is dangerous.
This time, I take on his offer. Provisions will be helpful, but, more than that, I need directions.
<< Take your time, however. You’re welcome to stay here as long as you want, boy>> says Wolve, before dismissing me.
Later that day, I learn that the Commander recently lost his son, a young boy roughly the same age as me. Perhaps that’s the reason that compelled him to help me.
I explain my decision to Emilia. She looks a bit disappointed, but in the end she understands.
<<Still, I will stay here one more week. So, we could continue our lessons>> I say to her.
She smiles. Her smile looks so different now, sincere, heartwarming. There is no trace left of her initial cold attitude towards me.
Of course, it’s not like she has some kind of romantic interest towards me, although that would be really thrilling…and I myself did nothing to push in that direction, simply limiting myself to enjoy the time spent with her and become her friend.
<<Gladly>> she answers. A single, simple word.
We spent some time together, just chatting and being silly, as most teenagers do. It’s good to be this young again.
Still, she parts ways with me, heading out with her group.
<<We will be out, scouting new paths in the Marsh and clearing some critters>> she said, like it was the most normal thing to do for a 15 years old girl.
As Emilia strolls away, I feel a small hand pulling lightly my shirt. When I turn around, I see the small slave girl.
It seems this time she mustered her courage to talk to me.
I give her my best smile, and, careful to not being seen, I take some food from my Inventory and hand it to her.
<<Eat, quickly>> I say. Thankfully we are not in the open, so it’s unlikely that someone could spot us. She will be in trouble if someone found out she got food from me.
A wide smile pops up on her freckled face, as she gulps down the sliced apples that I gave her.
<<Thank you Roshal>> she says.
My face pales.
<<Can…can you repeat?>>I tell her, holding her small shoulders.
<<Thank you Roshal>> she calmly repeats.
A sentence in my native language.
My thoughts are racing. How could she know my name? And even speak…perhaps…she could like me, or a reincarnated person.
<<Can…can you speak my language?>> I ask, using words from my original world.
She looks at me with a perplexed expression.
I sigh. Perhaps I overreacted. Or maybe…someone taught her that. As I am about to ask her more information, her sudden words leave me confused.
<<The Funny Guy said to tell you those words… he wants to meet you!>> she says in Aldoran, her words clumsy as you would expect from a four year old brat.
<<Yes, he’s my friend-she answers, nodding her head- he said that this place is bad for you. And he does not like that girl>>
Her words make laugh a bit. It’s funny to see how the imagination of a child works.
<<So, this Funny Guy said it. But you see,that girl, Emilia, is my friend.>>
The little girl’s face looks unhappy.
<<No, she is one of the bad guys! Shhh now, the Funny Guy saw someone coming this way>> she hushed me with her finger raised under her nose. As she ends her sentence, she quickly hides in the shadows, behind some crates and barrels near us.
And,right as she disappears, two soldiers come this way.
Patrol duty, it seems. They stride through the recreative area, taking few glances at me before disappearing from view as they turn the corner.
The little girl comes out of her hiding place, shaking some dirt off her ragged clothes.
<<See? He’s a good guy. And, he’s so funny, he’s a-l-w-a-y-s laughing.>> Her triumphant expression should look comical in a normal situation. But I am still shaken by what she said earlier. Who is this Funny Guy? He should be near, since he did see those soldiers. I have a bad feeling…
<<Tell me…is your friend here? Near us?>> I ask the girl, holding her small shoulders with my two hands.
<<No, silly…he’s still on his way- she pauses, for a moment-hmm, he just said he’ll be here tomorrow night>>
My hands shake. Out of suspicion, I use Inquisitive Eye on the surrounding. Nothing, the only signal around me is from the little girl, Julia.
What is happening here?
<<Why are you looking me like this? You’re weird.>>
Cheeky little brat. As I am about to retort, another woman comes running towards her.
<<Julia! There you are!>> she mutters. She’s one of the slaves of this camp.
<<Sorry, sorry…don’t mind her, she’s just a brat with a wild mouth and too much imagination>>. The woman embraces Julia, distancing her from me.
<<Mommy!>> shouts the child.
Her mother hushes her with a gesture.
<<Please…don’t tell anything to the guards…they will punish us is they found out we went out of the slave camp>> the woman begs to me.
<<I…won’t say anything, I promise. Say…do you know her friend? The Funny Guy she speaks about?>>
Hearing those words, Julia’s mother pales.
<<She bothered even you with that story-she mutters- I’m…I’m sorry, she’s a special girl, and has a wild fantasy. This…friend she speaks of…is only inside her mind>>. She answers me, and then starts reprimanding her child.
<<Oh, she didn’t bother me for sure. Take this, before you go>> as I say so, I hand her a piece of bread and some fruit from my Inventory.
<<I…thank you>> taking the food, she strolls away with Julia. The little girl waves at me, and I wave back.
<<She’s a special girl, indeed>> I mutter to myself, recalling the information displayed by Inquisitive Eye about Julia.
Unique Skill- Mind Whisper. Some sort of telepathy-related ability, according to Navi’s records.
This gives me some serious thoughts. Who the hell is this Funny Guy? Is he even a person? And more than anything…how could he know my world’s language?
And just when I thought to be at ease, something problematic rises again. I cannot shake this bad feeling from me. Perhaps I should hasten my departure from here?
Absorbed in my thoughts, I walk towards the tent area. All around me the fort’s construction is almost complete, only some minor works still going on inside the wooden walls.
In the recent days, they started building outside the walls, perhaps accommodation for citizens or other soldiers. I recall Wolve claiming that they should receive reinforcements and new settlers to advance their colonization of the swamp.
While I walk, I eavesdrop on the conversation between two soldiers. Not by my intention, I just happened to be near them as they conversed.
It seems some of the latest patrols have been missing. Six soldiers in total. This is a bad situation, and search parties are being raised and sent out.
My heart skips a beat. Emilia’s group was out on scouting duty today. For a moment, I thought about heading out and searching for her.
But I realize how stupid that thought is. First, I am probably over-reacting, since she and her companions are more than capable.
And, even if I head out…what could I do, without having any knowledge about the territory, nor the strength to even defend myself against high level monsters, should they appear. And so, I listen to reason, and simply decide to wait.
Time goes, and nightfall comes. Under the twin moons, still no sign of Emilia’s group. Or the other scouting groups, for what matters.
Now unrest is spread in the camp, and the remaining soldiers all wear the same worried, tense expression. Dinner is consumed without anyone uttering a single word.
I retire myself inside my tent, trying to get some sleep. But my night is restless, and nightmares about a tall man laughing madly taint my sleep.
The new day dawns with dire news. One of the search parties found the remains of some soldiers, half eaten by Marsh Worms. Still, judging from the wounds on their body, something else killed them.
Now…I shudder about what could attack and maim six experienced soldiers, lying in wait under the shallow water of the swamp.
Luckily, and much to my relief, I recognize no one among the dead.
The day went by like that, tension brimming in the air.
As sunlight wanes, and the sky takes the color of life flowing away, unrest grows in the animals around the base. Horses and cattle relentlessly try to escape their bindings, and birds perched on the trees nearby fly away and frantically sing. For a moment.
And then, silence, as the Twin Moons rise high in the sky, tinted in red and partially hidden in their weird cycle, looking like two red eyes staring with malice at the world beneath them.
In the air, a sound is ringing from a distance. It is weak, at first, but it grows every moment, like the tide, like a storm.
Shadows dance all around the fort, cast by torches and campfires whose warmth cannot be felt now.
Everyone, all around, stopped their activity, be either job or rest. Children cry and hide behind their mother’s gowns, or grasp their father’s trousers with their tiny hands, looking for some comfort in their parent’s eyes.
But there, they find only fear.
As the sound grows, light fades.
Something is moving, outside of the sturdy wooden walls. And yet, they seem feeble now, almost like a single whiff of wind would take them apart.
Strong men are trembling like leaves, tears being held back in their eyes.
And the growing sound is now so near, and it speaks of madness so tainted that it shakes your very soul.
The truest meaning of fear, something primeval, carved inside the mind, telling you only one, simple, word: run.
The fort’s walls are being torn by some kind of invisible hand. Splinters and shattered wood, teared down by unspeakable strength.
Someone is sounding the alarm, but it feels distant, far away. Because the air is brimming with another kind of sound.
A mad, tainted laughter.