Chapter 16 - Curiosity Kills
Acquiring entrance into Fairgrifen’s Academy had proven much more difficult than Midori had first assumed. Its tuition was very expensive so being inside the city did not really make that much of a difference if she didn’t have a considerably amount of income.
Since everything in the city was so overpriced, the wages were also great. Plus, when she took residence at Sanpu and Fuun’na’s house, she discovered it had been paid for the rest of the year. Say what you say about mercenaries, they weren’t known for having the same kind of money issues that adventurers had.
She didn’t think they did it for her, they had probably decided, on a whim, to stay on Fairgrifen for half a year. And then that whole business had taken them away. She wouldn’t be surprised if they forgot about the payment in the first place.
Regardless, she was thankful and took it as an opportunity. She had time to find a source of income and she wasn’t wasting any time!
She tried working as a cook but that turned out to be a catastrophe. As much as she could cook, not spilling food all over the floor was a skill beyond her mastering. It was slightly depressing, at times, being a klutz, but it didn’t bother her so much anymore. She had learned to live with that a long time ago.
Some difficulties, you just have to live with.
She found a job as a singer. Despite Fairgrifen’s economic pressure, the people were normally pretty amiable. Especially the Pans. They had these annual festivals which seemed to be a big deal, but even without them, they enjoyed fun and entertainment of the kind that didn’t get out of control.
So she sang at a tavern as a child sensation. That gave her the idea of hitting the street markets to street perform and that finally gave her the income she needed to enroll in the academy. Surprisingly.
That was the thing about Fairgriffen, everything was expensive but, on the other hand, everyone was wealthy.
She wasn’t making enough to pay for studying material, however. By her count, she would be scraping by as far as food was concerned. She could maybe have accumulated a fair amount but she didn’t have that kind of patience, it had already been a few days! And the new semester would start on the very next week.
She delivered the downpayment for the first month and officially enrolled into the academy!
As she prepared to enter a new semester, she began taking several trips to Fairgrifen’s library. Getting caught up on the curriculum and maybe even studying ahead, to impress the teachers.
On one of those trips, a thought that had been secretly nurturing in the back of her head decided to peak her curiosity, and nudge her to satisfy it.
It took her the better part of an hour to find a book that told the story of Fairgrifen. She was curious as to why the minister of justice would be so intent on getting that artifact.
The book was huge and dusty, but in its five page index, it had a reference to the “Griffen Stone”. She finally found it and, luckily, it wasn’t written in some dead language.
“Original texts wither and decay,” read the little note that came just before the title of that section. “We have run out of time. We have done our best to decipher the writings about the Stones of Origin. Unfortunately, they’re both incomprehensible and in a language long dead. We write down what we can.”
“Boy,” she frowned, “these things must really be old. Let’s see…”
She gave it a quick, diagonal read. She started reading properly once she caught sight of the drawing of the origin stone.
“Fairgrifen is losing its source of power, as have BellHall and Aellea before it. What was once thought to be an infinitely renewable source of magic now seems to be depleting. War wages on, however, we cannot stop using it.
“Originally, the rock formation was left alone to power our nation and people. It was the Jun who came up with the idea of tearing pieces off of it, so one could carry the pieces, and be empowered at a distance. And it worked. Every other race saw it worked and did the same. Possessing a stone, drawing upon its power, heavily enhances and influences one’s abilities and skills. From physical to mental, to magical, these stones raised the bar in the middle of a battle.”
“Wow,” she raised an eyebrow. “But tearing it apart has diminished it,” she continued, “the stones themselves are useful only temporarily. And they can’t be joined back with the rock: all geomancers who have tried, have violently failed. But they didn’t stop. No one stopped because nobody else stopped. And if all did not stop, whoever stopped would fall. And so it dealt into attrition…only SpellGate commits to defense alone. Aellea and Bellhall have lost all power and our city follows suit. SpellGate will remain. Gods only know what will happen from there.”
So they mined the rocks for stones, depleting them. And the stones themselves were only temporary…so…even if the legend about them is true, the stone will not longer possess any power. So why would there be any interest in--
“Ah, the origin stone.”
“Gah!” The interruption made Midori jolt, pretty startled.
She looked back to see it was the librarian, a Caucasian Pan with long black hair, orange dots on the forehead and slightly darker eyes. “Oh, sorry, you frightened me.”
“I’m so sorry, dear. I was just curious as to why you’d be reading about the origin stone?”
“Oh? I dunno, I heard about it and got curious, I guess.” Feeling some tension, she was compelled to close the book. “I like legends,” she added as an excuse.
“Yes, they are pretty interesting, aren’t they?” She smiled.
“Hum hum,” Midori nodded, awkwardly, “I think so, at least. It’s cool to imagine how and where and when stuff… began, ya know?”
“Yes, I understand. I myself am often enthralled by the tales of fiction that try to report on the beginning of society,” she giggled, heartwarmingly jesting with herself, “oh, what can I say, literature is a passion of mine. And imagination makes it ever so alive. Are you done with the book? I would like to re-read it myself.”
“Uh, yeah, sure,” Midori gestured to hand her the book and she snatched it off her hands, oddly anxious.
“Thank you so much, my dear. Please, do enjoy the rest of this section, there are copious amounts of dreams to read about,” she laughed and winked at Midori before leaving.
Midori stood, looking at her leave with the book firmly in her arms. Thoughts and impressions nagged at her as her mind went over the interaction she had just had.
The book was way dusty, there’s no way anybody’s opened it in years…
She squinted her eyes in suspicion and shuffled her nose in thought.
When nightfall descended upon Fairgrifen, the librarian closed up to leave for home. But she was carrying the book, and unlike what she thought, she was not on her own.
Stealth was a special skill of Midori.
In opposition to her clumsy nature, something came alive within her whenever she was in the middle of stalking. Either tailing someone or staying hidden, she kept constant focus and concentration. It was part of being a night songstress, after all.
She followed the librarian up to the Aristocrats’s palace. This pretty much clawed and gnashed at Midori’s suspicion. Even more so when she went directly into a tower instead of going to the center building. She followed from outside for as long as she could but the time eventually came for her to need climb up the wall of the tower.
Cautiously aware of the guards patrolling, and the position of the moon, and hence the shadows it created, she followed the librarian from across windows and balconies.
She jumped around, climbed ledges, and tried not to think about how high she was getting or how much the wind was pushing her around.
She was forced to think about it when her foot slipped and she almost fell.
Well then, the lesser evil just changed.
She decided it would be safer to continue stalking inside the tower. It was harder to keep stealthy but it was also much harder to fall to her doom.
She followed the librarian for three more floors. Finally, the librarian entered a room, that was being guarded by two armored pans.
She watched her going in and remarked how the armors were official. Those guards were protecting one of the ministers.
She really shouldn’t be doing that but curiosity was the one motivation Midori had no control over. It had been her downfall so many times, and yet, she was still a slave to it.
She soundlessly removed her Xenia from its straps on her back, and held on to it, concentrating. She closed her eyes and slowly started whispering a lullaby song. It was beautiful and emotional, it was meaningful. It was from the heart.
Gradually, she raised the volume. Her staff slightly glowed with a cyan hue, her mouth gradually curved into a loving smile. She had to feel the song, and hence the spell, otherwise her listeners wouldn’t.
After two serene minutes, she stopped. Midori edged out to give the hall a glance and found the two guards sleeping soundly against the wall.
She silently walked to them with a yearning smile. That showed they enjoyed her singing so she felt a bit bad she was screwing them over.
“I’m sorry, I hope you have sweet dreams.”
Standing in-between them, she raised her ear up and put her face against the door, cupping her ear-hole. She could hear inside perfectly.
“Stop being vague, Lanna, out with it?” It was indeed Faircloth.
“I found a Lan today in the library. She was looking into the stone.”
“Oh…a Lan, you say? What did he look like?”
“She, sir. And she had big bunny ears, and I mean long.”
Hey! Midori frowned.
“White fur and hair too, and even tail. Had a blue sleeveless dress.”
“Hum, I think I know who she is…she’s one of the adventurers we set after the bull.”
“Well, she didn’t go, apparently.”
“I’m not sure why. I received a report they had left.”
“Do you think they know about your intentions?”
The shushing was so violent Midori shivered and looked around in a fright. She saw no one, though, so, relieved, she turned her attention back to the room.
“No one knows. And rest assured that not even you know their full extent. But this does warrant… concern. If they suspected anything, if they’re investigating me--!!”
Midori heard a ruckus inside, followed by furious steps towards the door. Her heart raced; she hopped over the right guard and ran the hall’s length.
She turned a corner, hearing the door open, and stopped there. If she wasn’t spotted, she could maybe just return once he did.
“What the,” she heard him say, “WAKE UP! GUARDS!!! GUAAARRDS!!”
Duh, the guards were sleeping, of course he’ll know! She ran for it.
She could hear the minister barking out orders as she made for the stairs, strapping back her Xenia. But not too tightly that she wouldn’t be able to quickly take it out again.
She ran down the flight of stairs but just as she reached them, she glanced and saw a couple of guards making their way to them. She gulped and raced back up.
Reaching the top, however, she saw the feet of guards making for the stairs. Clenching her teeth, she dove and flipped out the window, grabbing onto its ledge with her hands.
With the guards needing but a few seconds to be able to see her hands, Midori looked down at another ledge. I can’t make it.
She rocked her body and tried all the same.
The wind rushed through her lungs and her vision curved as the speed of her fall increased. She threw her hands out and grabbed for her life. She felt her palms colliding, a nail breaking, her body ricocheting… and her fingers hopping out of reach.
“No--” A fleeting whisper, a silent whimper, was all she could muster as her hands slipped.
Her body dropped back and sideways, pushed by the heavy winds. Gravity swallowed her up and made her lose track of her surroundings. Her consciousness wavered as her vision went dark and her perception dead.
All she could process was the air she was cutting through: the strong wind that blew louder and louder until it sounded like an explosion.And then there was nothing.