Note: I do not own Sony Computer Entertainment America or any of its affiliates. Consider this a disclaimer to the ideas/characters presented in this story.
This'll be my last update for God knows how long. I'm so sorry! This year I will be swamped with the evils and pains of Student Teaching. I will not let this project die, however, I promises. It'll just take me a long time to update it.
Chapter Nine: The Forgotten
The weather had gotten progressively colder the further north they went. As night fell, it became so cold that Cecilia had taken to holding her arms and picking up her pace in order to stop shivering. Eventually Jack took off his cloak and draped it over her shoulders. The cloak was so big and she so short that the ends nearly dragged across the ground.
"Are you sure we're going in the right direction?" he asked her with a tinge of annoyance. Half of the sky was pitch black, while the other was washed in a hazy blue with orange and pink. He was worried that it would become pitch black before they could find their way to a safe place for the night.
Cecilia still clutched the three stone tablets in her hand with determination. "I'm sure."
Jack hadn't felt this agitated since someone had tried to cheat him his money on a job near Rosetta. The memories he had been forced to remember in the Guardian Temple were sharper than he thought they used to be; in a way, he was grateful for it, for it reminded him of the revenge he was so desperate to obtain from the Demons. His two young companions didn't know of his past, and he preferred it that way. Although Hanpan knew the rough sketch of what happened, Jack knew the wind mouse wouldn't approach him about what they had seen. He did not want to talk about what happened, for it meant admitting all over again how he had failed.
"I see it," Rudy said after a long silence.
Cecilia and Jack scanned the horizon in the direction Rudy was pointing. They could see insignificant lights blazing on the otherwise black horizon. What looked like small pyramids were silhouetted against the night.
"That must be it." Cecilia picked up her pace and marched ahead of Rudy.
"Better than nothing," Jack said dully, motioning to Rudy to pick up speed.
Before night had completely fallen, the three of them reached the outskirts of the village. There were men there waiting for them, holding long spears against the ground, bracing the strangers from the settlement.
"Hey," Jack said roughly, "you might be expecting us, our Guardian friends sent us over—"
One of the men with spears brandished the weapon at Jack as he stepped closer. He shouted something sharply in a foreign language.
"Whoa, now," Jack said, holding his hands out and backing away.
The man shouted again, and the other sentries closed in on the three of them.
"Jack!" Hanpan called quietly from inside his jacket. "Jack! He's telling you to surrender!"
"What? How do you know?" Jack asked inconspicuously, whispering under his breath while holding his hands higher in the air.
"They're speaking a language I recognize. I think we're in Baskar."
The men in front of Jack continued to brandish their weapons and talk in their tongue. Cecilia stood behind Jack, using him as a surrogate shield. "Do you know what's going on, Hanpan?"
"They're discussing us," Hanpan replied. "I think they suspect us of something..."
Jack reached for his sword in order to draw it and lay it on the ground. As soon as his hand touched the handle, however, all three men were upon him, yelling more fervently and rashly than before.
"Okay, okay, sorry," Jack said, raising his hands back in the air. He opted instead for lowering himself onto his knees. "Is this surrender enough for them, Hanpan?" Jack asked acidly.
"They might get the message."
Cecilia and Rudy mimicked Jack's actions. The three men seemed to calm down to an extent. They muttered amongst each other, still holding their weapons at the ready to attack the strangers should they make any rash moves.
"Hanpan, can't you just talk to them?" Jack whispered under his breath.
"I don't know what kind of a stir that'd cause, so no. I'd rather stay safe in here, if that's okay with you."
"Oh, thanks. Thanks for leaving us high and dry."
Cecilia lifted her hand in the air and waved it, drawing the attention of the men. One of them hissed something to her that did not sound friendly, but she knew it didn't matter once she showed them what she held.
"C., what're you doing?" Jack asked accusingly.
Cecilia held out her hand towards the other men, then opened it to show them the three small tablets she held.
The man in front circled around them to Cecilia. He grabbed her hand rather roughly, peering down at her hand through the dark. He called over the other man who had a torch handy, then used the light to inspect the tablets further. She watched their faces slowly turn to stone.
"C., what are you doing?" Jack asked, barely daring to look over his shoulder at her to see what was going on.
The first man suddenly stepped in front of Jack, pointing the spear head in his face and shouting something abrasive.
"What'd he say?" Jack asked.
"He wants you to follow him."
Jack slowly got up onto his knees, and Rudy and Cecilia followed. The other two men moved in behind them, each training their weapons on the newcomers to urge them forward. It was pitch black out, but by the firelight just inside the village, the three of them could see groups of people, dressed in thick animal hides, huddled together, watching them.
They were led through the dark to the tallest building in the settlement. It looked as if more care and precision went into its construction, and it also appeared to be the hub of the village. There were stacks of wood piled up around the walls, along with barrels and sacks filled with food and water. Two of the guards moved to flank the door, and one of them knocked on it. They stood there in the cold for a moment before someone moved to open the door. There was a fire from inside the immediate room, and a small person was silhouetted in the doorway. The shadow shrunk away, and the guard from behind ushered them forward.
The building they were in was composed of one expansive room. It looked as if it were a barracks or a shelter for multiple people. In the corner where the fire was, a tired looking man sat on the ground next to a large, white fluffy dog that looked to be the same size as him.
The guards herded the trio towards the fire by the man. When they stopped, one of the guards motioned to Jack and said something.
"What?" Jack asked.
"He wants you to sit down," Hanpan said indignantly.
The three of them sat at the fire, each looking around nervously. The guard then turned to the tired looking man and said something long and lengthy. He motioned to Cecilia once, then paused and spoke slowly. The tired man looked to Cecilia, then slowly nodded and muttered something to the guard. The guards then left the room, and a small man—likely the one who had been the shadow in the doorway when they first arrived—closed the door behind them.
Rudy, Jack and Cecilia had turned their heads towards the door where the guards had disappeared. The tired man said something quietly, and all three of them turned back to him.
"He said he assumes you can understand him, since you seemed to understand the guards," Hanpan whispered.
"Oh," Jack muttered, then shook his head to the tired man. Both of them just sat there, staring at each other.
"He's probably not going to understand what you mean by shaking your head," Hanpan offered after a pause.
"Well, what do you want me to do?" Jack said, turning his head down to his pocket. "We can't exactly communicate, especially if you're not gonna come out and translate."
"Oh—fine!" Hanpan squeaked angrily. He jumped out of Jack's pocket and onto his shoulder, facing the tired man. Everything was still for a second until he bowed his head toward Hanpan and muttered something else.
"He's showing respect for a Child of Zephyr," Hanpan translated.
"'Child of Zephyr'?" Cecilia repeated. "Is that what you are, Hanpan?"
"To them I am, I guess," he replied. Then he continued to speak to the tired man in a comical interpretation of the foreign language; his voice was so squeaky and high pitched that Jack was certain the tired man wouldn't be able to take Hanpan seriously.
"I just told him how we got here," Hanpan told the others. They watched as the tired man's face seemed to become more fatigued; he swayed backwards slightly, then leaned forward on his elbows. He motioned for the small man to come to his side, and the latter brought a jug of water for the tired man. He splashed his face a few times, then motioned for the small man to put the jug down for the dog to drink.
Then the tired man began a long monologue to Hanpan, and Hanpan translated as he spoke.
"I've known of this day since I was young, back when I had a name. We knew the Guardians would send for three warriors, and we also knew it meant that the Mother's threat loomed over our home again. If you are here, Brave Ones, then this is a very critical time.
"Our people have lived in isolation from the world for so long that we have little to give but what was made with our own hands. It has been our knowledge for years that it would be our duty to assist the Innocent One when she arrived, but I'm afraid our resources are limited in comparison to what has already been given to you. However, what I can offer is knowledge, although I do not pretend to hold more knowledge than you, Child of Zephyr."
After Hanpan finished translating to them, he replied back to the tired man in his language. "I told him any help would be appreciated, considering we don't know where to go or what to do."
"Would he know about what the Guardians told us?" Cecilia asked. "About what's to the north?"
"He seemed to understand what I was talking about."
The tired man started to talk again, moving his hands vigorously (or as vigorously as a tired looking man could). He finished by pointing a finger to the wall, looking grave.
"Well?" Jack asked, "what did he say?"
"The Guardians sealed a piece of Mother's 'Heart' here a thousand years ago, and its kept at the top of Mount Zenom," Hanpan answered. "If we can get to that seal and keep the Demons from getting at it first, then we can prevent Mother from being revived."
"We just... destroy it before they can, or something?" Jack asked.
"That's optimal," Hanpan replied.
"We need to hurry then," Cecilia said urgently. "They're likely already there!"
Jack rested his chin on his hand. "We can't go there by night; we'll get lost in the dark."
Cecilia made a noise of protest and stood up abruptly, pacing around the room. The tired man muttered something, and Hanpan relayed: "Keep calm, Cecilia. We'll do what we can with what we've got."
The tired man then said something to the smaller man in the room. He came around to the elder's side and listened to what he had to say. The small man then stood and addressed Hanpan.
"He said we should eat and sleep here tonight, and in the morning three of their strongest will take us to Mount Zenom."
"I guess we've gotta accept," Jack said.
It turned out that their arrival caused quite a stir in the village; everyone was just preparing for sleep when they came out of the darkness. Most of the inhabitants had gathered around the large building where the three of them rested and muttered incessantly amongst each other. Hanpan told his friends that it was suggested through their conversations that their arrival was part of a prophecy that was hundreds of years old, but some others gave light on their appearance was an unavoidable omen.
The small man had to fight his way through the crowd of people who had gathered at the front of the building in order to get a look at the strangely dressed strangers with skin the colour of bones. When he came back, he gave them bread and meat, along with oddly shaped sacks with elongated mouth pieces on top. It took them a conscious effort to learn that there was water in the pouches and an even bigger effort to learn how to drink from them. Hanpan shared Jack's plate, laughing at the man every time water dribbled down his chin.
After they were finished, they watched the small man help the tired man to a bed across the room. The tired man didn't look that old, but he certainly moved like he was. Even the dog walked across the room with him for support.
"He's somethin', isn't he?" Jack muttered. "Doesn't even know his name."
"The people of Baskar don't keep one name their entire life," Hanpan said. "It changes as they change. They also aren't as important to them to remember as it is for you or me."
"Hanpan... how do you know all that? I mean, their language, religion, whatever?" Jack asked.
"I've been around," Hanpan said simply.
The small man came back to them and offered a little bow before he spoke. His voice was high-pitched and watery, as if he were extremely nervous.
"He said we should call it a night now. The sun'll be up before we can get enough rest."
"I can't sleep," Cecilia said shortly. The small man shrunk away timidly, settling on a bed near the tired man's.
"There's nothing we can do about it now," Jack said, lying down on his bed and fluffing up the head of the tic where a pillow should have been. "Just get some shut eye and we can give 'em hell tomorrow."
Rudy moved over to her bed and put a hand on her shoulder. "Don't worry about it, Cecilia. It's fine, it's okay."
Cecilia slowly started to unwind; she relaxed her shoulders and closed her eyes before nodding slightly. Rudy went back to his bed once he was sure she had calmed down, then started to get ready for sleep.
"Good. Tomorrow we can get up as soon as the sun rises and head out for the mountain, if it makes you feel better." Jack looked over his shoulder at Cecilia.
She nodded. "It would."
Jack and Rudy seemed to fall asleep instantly after that, but Cecilia stayed awake and watched the fire slowly die down, her mind racing with too many unpleasant thoughts. If they had already failed in protecting the seal, then she would have failed everyone—the Guardians, the world, and even her father.
"I will," she muttered quietly to herself. Her chin quivered and her eyes burned, but she closed her eyes and willed herself to sleep before the tears could find a chance to fall.
She was in the place between waking and sleeping; the room was pitch black, save for a bit of firelight that was spilling into the room from the outside. Cecilia was aware of the thin ribbon of smoke that coiled up from the embers of the dead fire in the corner of the room, slowly floating up to the sky through the hole in the roof...
Something soft and gentle touched her arm, and it took her an eternity to turn her head and see what it was. The tired man was standing at her bedside; she thought she could see him smiling in the dim light.
"Father?" she muttered. No, he's not my father. Why did I say that?
"Hush, Innocent One, you'll wake yourself up," the tired man replied.
She frowned in confusion, staring at him groggily as her tired man tried to process what she was witnessing at a painfully slow pace. "You can speak my language?" she asked. She suddenly realized that she hadn't spoken out loud.
"No, this isn't tongues we're speaking in. This is how souls speak to each other; there are no words, only feelings to read."
Cecilia decided that this was a dream. And if this was a dream, this was herself she was talking to. And to herself she could confide in.
"I always wanted a normal life," she admitted to the tired man. "And for a while I had a taste of it, when I could pretend I wasn't me. That I wasn't the princess. But then I became something else that I couldn't escape from."
"It is only natural that you feel guilt for what has happened," the tired man said to her. It dawned on her that he wasn't moving his lips when she only saw his smile broaden as he spoke to her. "But you must realize that without a conflict, there would be no need for battles. Without conflict, there would be no need for an Innocent One. You were blessed with your destiny by the hands of those who wish to destroy us."
"Why?" Cecilia asked, her heart welling with sorrow. "Why me? Why us?"
"There's is not a happy tale, either" the tired man said, bowing his head. "The Demons are like any soul, trying to hang on to life. But life is not earned by want alone. We all have to fight for it. And when the Demons first came to this land and gave us a reason to fight for our life, our world banded together. Three different races shared bonds and pacts in order to smite the Demons in their path of destruction. And one thousand years ago, the Guardians shared a pact with the queen of one of the human kingdoms. The pact has never been broken."
Cecilia didn't move or speak. The tired man only smiled down at her again. "That is why this has happened to us. And to you."
She thought about how selfish she must have been, only concerned with her misfortunes. The tired man shook his head. "It is not selfish, Innocent One. One cannot always see the path that lay before them if there is no one there to hold the light."
He let go of her arm and seemed to glide away from the bed back towards his own. She strained her eyes to see him in the dark, but she fell asleep almost as soon as he disappeared from view.