Cold wind blows in the now naked trees. Their leaves scatter across the ground, swallowed in a whirlpool, and blown to unknown places. The scenery is both beautiful and depressing. Everything looks dead... Even the bushes appear slimmed down with dangerously pointed branches sticking out from withering foliage.
A chilly breeze passes me by, making me shiver in my jacket. I don’t like the cold, not at all. In times like these, I wish I were back in Yiondelienne, sipping on some juice while lying in the sun - now I can’t even do that without freezing to death.
Damn you winter.
Èvie’s nudge forces my attention back to her. She is waving a hand in front of my face, which I slap away.
“You looked a little bit lost there,” she giggles.
I squint my eyes at her. Kicking a stone in my path, I say, “I’m not used to the change yet. The cold, the bare trees - it’s all so strange”
“Yue, it’s not even that cold” she laughs.
“For me it is!”
“So, you have never been outside Yiondelienne before?” Allura slides into the conversation, stepping closer to us.
“Oh no, I have! Plenty of times actually-“Memories of exotic beaches and luxurious hotel rooms come to mind. We used to travel a lot before all the protests and attacks happened... Yue did not have such a fortunate childhood though. His parents are but simple farmers. “I- well, actually, my parents have some friends... outside of Yiondelienne. We sometimes visited”
Yet another lie...
Thankfully, they both nod and drop the conversation. We are walking on the road leading towards Brownpeak. It’s finally the end of the week. Which means that we have some free time to ourselves! There is excitement as well as a dash of nervousness in the air. The town is often bustling with people, mostly students from the academy looking for means of escaping their boredom.
I have not been in such a populated area in months! I try not to think of anxiety and just concentrate on having a good time with my friends. I run a hand through my hair, noticing it has grown quite a bit.
Wait – are my roots showing? Should I be concerned? If I dye the roots in a different shade, is it going to be noticeable? Probably yes... Crap, maybe I should pay Tori a visit; he must know what to do.
Before we can get off the small road, a large vehicle comes suddenly speeding down the road with dirt haphazardly thrown in its wake. The car beeps just in time for us to step (actually jump) out of the way.
Evie barely makes dodges before I pull her to the sides, almost tripping on our own legs and falling in the mud bellow. “Holy shit!”
“What the fuck was that?” Allura yells.
“He could have flattened us like pancakes!” Èvie shivers.
“W-what was that? Can vehicles even pass through here?” I dust myself off – Shit, there is dirt on my pants! These are my expensive pants! One of the very few I managed to sneak into my luggage...
Allura shakes her head while I desperately try to take the dirt off my clothes. “As far as I know this road is reserved for the academy. Only essential vehicles can pass through here - cars carrying food, supplies and such”
“That car wasn’t carrying any supplies though,” Èvie says, she sounds winded, trying to catch her breath. Allura arches a brow while I can only try. I sadly do not have as much control over my eyebrows as she does. “I think it was an E.G.C.U car”.
“A what?” I ask.
“Elfia Geological Containment Unit”
I stare at her like she has grown another head – “A what?”
She rolls her eyes. “They are in charge of all Blackstone mines in the area”
Blackstones? Really? I may not be the smartest person around but even I know Blackstone is not to be played around with. Blackstone is a very dangerous rock formation that does lasting damage to the land and fauna surrounding it. People say they grow naturally, but I tend to disagree. How can something as dangerous and detrimental as Blackstone exist in nature?
A better question is, why was that car passing through here?
“So that’s how Elfia controls the overgrowth?”
Allura nods. “How much do you know about them?”
“About Blackstones? Honestly not much, they are dangerous to us- to everything around them actually. You guys have a lot of it don’t you?”
A dramatic sigh escapes Èvie. When speaking, she runs a hand through her hair, as if it’s painful to talk about. “Nefastwald is filled with Blackstone caves, hence why it’s so damn dangerous. Nobody wants to come face to face with an infected animal”
“Last I heard those damned rocks have started spreading again. People say they saw an infected Elden deer in the forests,” Allura scowls.
Spooked, Èvie turns to stare at her. “W-what?” She trembles when speaking, “W-what if we find one of those deers around here?” Her eyes dart around the forest in pure panic.
“Hold on! Blackstone mutations are a real thing?” Allura turns to frown. She stares at me like I’ve said the stupidest thing ever.
“Of course - You really don’t know much about Blackstones, do you?”
“I thought they were a myth... tales for children to keep them away from Blackstone”
“I wish!” Èvie yells, suddenly speeding down the road. “Let’s hurry, I don’t want to stay out in the open for much longer”
Allura and I share a quick glance. She smirks, eliciting a chuckle out of me - “Let’s go before we actually get crushed by another car”
The town is already bustling with life. Shops line the streets, waiting for eager costumers. Terraces lay on each corner. Even in the chill, people love gathering at tables and drink the day away.
The center of town is naturally the busiest one, with people buzzing around the streets non-stop. For a small town like Brownpeak, they sure do have a lot of tourists. I can see them lining at souvenir stores and taking pictures of statues and buildings near the plaza.
Why come to Brownpeak out of all places?
Allura pulls at my hand when we enter a mass of people. “Where the hell are you taking us?” I yell over the crowd. She doesn’t answer, simply turning around to grin at me. We struggle through the crowd, squeezing through narrow streets and alleyways before ending up in front of a small building.
A sign rests at the entrance where stairs lead down towards double doors. The sing reads Hulgkan’s Tavern, a fitting name for the small shop. Entering the building, the smell of wood and pine invade my nostrils.
“I have never been here..., “I say while taking a seat on a strangely comfortable sofa with cushions spread on the fabric. I take one in my arms as Èvie and Allura flop beside me.
Allura snorts. “Of course you haven’t, you never come to town”
“I wouldn’t blame you though,” Èvie adds. “The tavern is pretty hidden, not many people know about it”
The shop is quite cozy. The walls are made out of dark wood with small wooden decorations hanging on the ceiling. A petite fire pit lays on the side; it’s lit, although I doubt such a small fire could warm up the entire room. There is warmth though, so much so that even with a thin blouse I can feel myself sweating.
A server comes to our table. I barely have time to register him approaching before he lays three menus in front of us. “Call for me when you’re ready to order”
Hold on a second, that voice sounds strangely familiar. Bringing my eyes up to his muscular form (I promise I’m not checking him out) I land on a familiar face.
I know this guy... I think. No, I have definitely seen him somewhere. I must have stared too long for his eyes suddenly meet mine. He does not say a word before turning back behind the counter.
Who is he... He’s a Boulnae, he has a chiseled jaw, curly black hair, and brown eyes. God, he even sounds familiar! Wait a second... Oh, shit! It’s that guy from Kinesis class! I think his name was Danhy, the guy who iced the water first try.
He left quite an impression, I don’t he recognized me though.
“Oh god, there is so much alcohol!” Èvie’s voice brings me back to reality. She is skimming through the menu with a look a panic edged on her face.
I smirk, “not a big fan of alcohol?”
Her neck snaps towards me. “I have never tried it before”
“What do you mean why? I-it’s illegal!” she sputters, “I’m only sixteen!”
Allura cannot seem to help herself as she burst into laughter. “Seriously? You have never tried alcohol. Not even a sip?” Èvie shakes her head. “Oh come one, I’m sure even Yue has tried some before”
Why does that feel like a burn? Probably because it is... Opening my own menu, I find that Èvie was right. There are pages upon pages filled with listings of alcoholic drinks; ranging from cocktails to pure vodka. How can people even drink vodka! How come it doesn’t burn a hole through their stomachs?
Oh, my Lords! They have hot chocolate! In a menu filled with alcohol finding hot chocolate feels like winning the jackpot. Only moments after does Danhy come by again, wearing the same bored expression as before. He really enjoys his work, doesn’t he?
“What can I get you?” he asks.
Allura orders coffee while Èvie orders a simple lemonade and I end up taking the hot chocolate. “Alright... Got it,” he mumbles, tapping on the Link in his grasp. Before leaving, he turns to stare at me once more. “Nice seeing you again, Yue”
The day passed us by in an instant, once we were out of the tavern it was already dusk. The night seems to be taking over, no longer are the days of long sunlight, even though I only got to experience a few while at the academy.
It feels weird, almost too weird. It’s incredible how something so simple and regular like winter can be so fascinating to some. There’s this constant chill in the air, something my skin isn’t prepared for.
It makes one burry themselves inside their home and hibernate for the rest of the season. If only it was that simple.
Talking about hibernation, taking Èvie back to her dorm proved to be a serious hassle since she kept insisting we take her back. The talk about Blackstones earlier had caused her more fright than Allura and I anticipated.
She kept saying she did not want to be eaten by a mutant deer. Fair point, I would not want to be eaten by one either. The walk back to my dorm was even harder, though. Today I had so much fun, just talking with my friends and chilling in a warm shop.
Now, though I’m reminded of the fact that it won’t last. Going out with my friends, expecting combat classes the next day, or even waiting for my roommates to come back from their busy schedule. I’m going to miss them. All of them.
Lying in bed, Jordynn turns the pages of a book he’s been long reading. His gaze travels to me when the silence becomes too much. He lays the book down. “What’s up?” It takes me a few seconds to realize he is speaking to me.
“Huh? What’s what?”
He squints his eyes. “You have been suspiciously quiet tonight”
With so much on my mind, no wonder. “By now you would have plastered me with questions about... well, everything”
A blush creeps up my face. “I’m just curious”
The Blackstone conversation suddenly pops to mind. I turn to Jordynn, who is now facing me on his bed, before asking. “What do you know about Blackstones?”
Taken aback, he stutters. “Uh – um, Blackstones? Wow, really?”
“Well let’s see” he places a hand on his chin. “I know they are dangerous and plentiful around here... they can spread pretty easily, which is a problem. But I think the Elfian government has it all under control”
“Doesn’t Boulnae help?”
Jordynn shrugs. “Not really. I know there have been some campaigns to help Elfia keep the Blackstones in check, but they haven’t taken any drastic measures”
A frown settles on my brows. If Nefastwald really is filled to the brim with Blackstones, why doesn’t Boulnae contribute to their containment? I thought they were supposed to share the land.
“To be honest, we don’t have that many problems with Blackstones. They don’t seem to spread much in our direction,” Jordynn adds, which somehow makes the situation even stranger.
With a sudden jerk, I get out of bed with Jordynn staring at me with widened eyes. “W-what are you-”
“Is the library open tonight?” I grab my backpack.
Jordynn nods, slowly before getting up from his bed and following me to the door. “What are you doing?” I ask, shoving my Link and a notebook in the backpack.
“What does it look like I’m doing? I’m coming with you”
Well, well - more worldbuilding, don't we all love it.
Blackstone doesn't seem like something you'd want to mess around with, especially when hearing about the infection, or mutation.
Yuidan ended up remembering Danhy, and vice versa, even though they barely met. Will they meet again? What can Danhy bring to the table? Hmm, we shall see.
Thank you again for reading, and I'll see you in the next chapter!