Far Below the Starry Sky
Long ago, life flourished on the land. Trees grew into magnificent forests, beasts roamed freely, and many races starting with the Emnetwyte found their own ways of life. That prosperity was suddenly broken by what would later be called the ‘17 Beasts’. They appeared out of who knows where and simply ravaged any and all forms of life upon the land. The Emnetwyte fell, along with the Dragons, Moleians, and Elves. Only the few who managed to escape to the sky barely kept their lives.
Since then, over five hundred years have passed. The only world left to the survivors, Regul Aire, has yet to sink. With the crystallizations of hope left behind by the Emnetwyte, the Kaliyons, they continue to desperately fend off repeated invasions from the Beasts, throwing away the ephemeral lives of young girls each time.
The endless rumbling of the burning spell reactor continually shook the lower quarters of the airship. This is definitely bad for my health, Noft thought as she stepped away from the window. Beyond the glass lay only pure darkness and the reflection of a child staring back with a grumpy expression. Such a staring contest provided little entertainment.
“Ahh damn it! I’m bored! I’m booored!!”
She threw her back onto her spartan bed and flailed her legs about in the air. Of course, she knew that throwing a fit wouldn’t change anything, but her body longed to move.
The airship she rode upon, the land survey airship Saxifraga, hovered at an altitude of about fifty malumel above the surface. Their height was enough to safeguard against attacks from the Beasts, who cannot fly on their own. But sometimes, safety can lead to boredom.
“I thought the land was supposed to be overflowing with romance and adventure! Where are the Falcon princesses surrounded by a hundred Beasts waiting for a prince to come save them!? Why don’t I find loads of treasure when I dig up this stupid gray sand!? Where are all the ghosts of the dead bandit kings!? Where are the Beasts!?”
“Noft, shut up.” A quiet voice scolded her.
Turning her head, Noft spotted Lantolq sitting on the bed next to hers, reading some kind of book.
“What is that?”
“It was dug up yesterday. I thought it might be useful for killing time, so I secretly borrowed it from the storage room.”
Lantolq always sounded slightly pissed off. On top of that, she used not so nice words sometimes. As a result, she was feared and hated by all the little ones in the warehouse, but… well, if you spent some time with her she wasn’t all that bad. Noft wouldn’t go so far as to say she was a good person, but then again Lantolq probably thought the same of Noft.
“So it’s an ancient book. Can you read that stuff?”
Noft wrapped her arms around Lantolq from behind and peeked over her shoulder. As expected, it was a book. The color had faded a bit, but the form was still mostly intact. It showed no signs of falling apart. It must have been in some lucky condition to be preserved so well. As for the content, of course all Noft could see were meaningless symbols lined up across the pages.
“Mm… I only understand a few of the words,” Lantolq replied as she grabbed a biscuit. “Not well enough to accurately understand the actual content though. I just try to piece together the words and use my imagination to take a guess at the meaning. It’s like a puzzle to pass the time.” She looked a little more irked than usual at the heavy object leaning on her back.
“Ooh. What’s it about?”
“I told you I’m just guessing.”
“Okay, then tell me your guess. Spreading your wings of imagination and deciphering ancient records has a sort of adventurous feel to it.”
Lantolq sighed and made a face that Noft knew well. It was the fact that meant she would patiently go along with Noft’s selfishness despite complaining about it.
“The Emnetwyte should not have come into existence. Their creation was the first and greatest mistake of the Visitors.”
“I told you, that’s just my guess after looking at this. Based on the introduction, the first part is probably something about that.”
“Hm, so if that book was found in Emnetwyte ruins, it means some of them recognized that they were evil?”
“Yes, but apparently this belief was treated as taboo and dangerous among the Emnetwyte at the time. To compare with current day Regul Aire, it might have been something like the ascension belief.”
The ascension belief. Noft had heard of it before. Its proponents believe that Regul Aire is no more than a transit point, and that life must one day separate even further from the defiled land and ascend into the stars above… or something like that. Of course, just believing in it does no harm to anyone, but some radicals have stolen or illegally modified airships, so on many floating islands the belief is frowned upon.
“And then…” Lantolq’s slender fingers glided across the pages. “The humans… no… the Beasts were released and the gray truth… filled the world?”
“Ooh.” Noft leaned forward in excitement, which also meant putting more weight on Lantolq’s back.
“Noft, you’re heavy.”
“It’s talking about how the land was destroyed by the Beasts, right? Cool, it’s like a prophecy.”
“Hm, I wonder. The book looks like it was mass produced, and seems to be a children’s book or textbook or something of that nature. So maybe the Beasts were made afterwards to fit the contents of this book.”
Noft grabbed one of the biscuits Lantolq was holding. As simple army rations, they could definitely not be called delicious, but they were enough to satisfy a lonely stomach.
“There’s more… the sixteen fragments sing of the reenvisioning of the true world and the salvation of the end… ocean and mother, fear, dependence, complete heart… opening… dawn?”
Noft looked thoroughly confused. Lantolq seemed to be listing random words which didn’t even seem to be related, much less form a complete sentence. “What happened to that imagination of yours?”
“It’s really just a string of separate words. There’s nothing to interpret or imagine–”
A knock sounded at the door.
Frowning, Noft got off of Lantolq and walked over.
They were special guests on this airship. Everyone on board knew that. No one tried to talk to them or even come near them, and of course, no one ever paid their room a visit. An exception most likely meant there was some kind of extreme danger only they could deal with. However, it seemed too calm on the ship for that. Noft listened closely, but she heard no screams or artillery, only the humming of the spell reactor.
“Come in, it’s not locked,” she said cautiously to the visitor beyond the door.
The knob turned.
“Is this the standby room of the escort?” A Borgle man appeared in the doorway. He clearly favored durability and practicality over fashion in his apparel. He wasn’t a soldier, based on his lack of uniform, but he didn’t look like a merchant either. “I want to talk to the escort sent to protect us from the Beasts… is it just you young ladies here?”
“I don’t know who you are, but please leave,” Lantolq said in a cold voice. “Members of the expedition are forbidden to interact with us. You should not have been able to even come near this room. What were the guards doing?”
“Ah, their debt to me from card games has piled up over the years. I just asked them and they looked the other way,” the Borgle said with a smile as he stepped further into the room. “Oh, I forgot to introduce myself. I’m Grick. I’m just a regular salvager, but I was hired by Orlandri to act as an advisor on this expedition. I’ve never really done this kinda thing before, but I just go with the flow… so what are your names?”
“Did you think we’d tell you? Also, we never asked for yours.” Noft waved the man away.
“If you’ve just been hired for this mission, then all the more reason to not break the company’s rules.” Lantolq followed Noft’s gesture.
“I mean, I just wanted to at least greet the people I’m about to entrust my life to.”
“What are you talking about old man?” Noft eyed him suspiciously. “The only ones living here are us two. As you can see, we’re a couple of markless little girls. Do we look like warriors capable of defending this ship from the terrifying Beasts?”
“Well, to be honest I still don’t fully believe it, and I don’t really want to believe it, but…” The Borgle pointed to the wrapped up bundle leaning against the wall. “I’ve heard about young ladies wielding Dug Weapons. Leprechauns, was it?”
“How do you know that much?”
“Just happened to hear it from a friend the other day… also, by the way I’m not at the age to be called an old man yet…”
“Well you sure are a lot older than us.”
Grick still didn’t seem convinced. “Anyways, I brought you guys a little something. I figured you haven’t eaten properly for a while, being on the land and all. Here, it’s a meat pie I bought from a cart in the harbor of the 31st Island right before departure.”
He placed a small package on the table. Noft’s gaze was unwillingly drawn to it; her mouth began to water and her stomach rumbled loudly. The old man was right. Ever since they left Regul Aire a little over a month ago to protect this expedition, they had only eaten rations like dried meat or biscuits, stuff that kept well, didn’t take up a lot of space, and also had absolutely no flavor. Noft longed for a properly cooked meal.
“If you’re gonna be on the ground for a while, you gotta pay attention to your food. Common sense for us salvagers. Looks like whoever planned this expedition didn’t understand that though. Oh, I had the cook put some strong herbs in the pie to help it keep fresh, but it would be best to eat it soon.”
Noft could feel the excitement in her throat. But, she could not give into her desires. Gathering all her mental strength, she tore her eyes away from the package and glared at the Borgle.
“You’re funny. You actually think such a simple bribe will–”
“Well then, let’s eat.”
“Lan!?” Noft turned her half teary and now bewildered eyes to her friend. “What are you doing? We can’t take it!”
“It smells delicious and all we’ve eaten for the past month is biscuits. This is a temptation I cannot resist.”
“I know I know but still!!”
“Borgles’ tastes differ quite a lot from ours, so if we don’t eat it it’ll just go to waste.” Lantolq smiled. “Besides, we don’t have much to do at the moment, so a little conversation can’t hurt, right?”
Noft gave up. No matter what she said now, it wouldn’t make a difference. Once Lantolq showed that evil villain smile, nothing could change her mind. About half a year ago, she even outlasted that stubborn Kutori in an argument.
A name Noft didn’t want to think about very much popped into her head. Some part inside of her began to hurt. Kutori was her comrade, her annoying senior, someone she could always have a playful fight with, and finally, a family member she would never see again.
While Noft and Lantolq had been lounging around on land, the foretold date had passed. An especially large Teimerre had attacked the floating islands, Kutori went off to battle, and then killed it in exchange for her own life. All according to plan. That was their job as Leprechauns. There was nothing to fear or mourn. It just made Noft feel a little lonely, knowing that when they were done with this expedition and returned home, that noisy, annoying blue haired girl would no longer be there.
“Noft? Something wrong?”
“… nothing. If you want to eat it, then go ahead.” Noft once again laid down on her bed. She turned away from the other two in the room, not wanting to show her current expression.
“I’m eating it…”
“Leave half for me.”
“Fiine. So anyways, Grick, was it? You were called in as an advisor, so I assume you’ve been a salvager for quite some time now?”
“That’s right. I believe I’m relatively experienced compared to most.”
“So have you ever encountered a Beast?”
Noft felt a shiver in her spine at the mention of that word.
“Let’s see…” Grick pressed his fingers against his forehead as he dug back into his memory. “I’ve been attacked by a 2nd, 3rd, and 6th. I’ve also seen the 5th and the 11th, but only at a distance.”
“That many!?” Noft jolted up and exclaimed in disbelief. Her tears had somehow dried up and gone away. “We’ve only ever fought the 6th, the Teimerre!”
“Well it’s not like I’m fighting them head on like you young ladies. I just run and barely escape with my life.”
“But still, it’s fair to say that you know much more about the Beasts than we do.” Lantolq took back over after Noft’s brief interruption.
“I wouldn’t say I know that much. You got something to ask about the Beasts?”
As she peeled off the wrapper surrounding the meat pie, Lantolq began her question in a quiet voice. “I always found it strange. It’s been five hundred years since we were driven out of the land. Ever since then, we’ve lived in fear of the 17 Beasts. The history of Regul Aire is essentially the record of how we’ve somehow continued to avoid the fangs of the Beasts. Despite that, we hardly know anything about them.”
Here she goes again, Noft thought. Lantolq was smart, or at least smarter than Noft. Which meant she was more used to the act of thinking and was better at finding suitable things to think about. It also meant that sometimes she couldn’t help but investigate questions until she found a satisfying answer. In Noft’s opinion, it was best to simply not think about questions that don’t have obtainable answers.
“… what exactly are the Beasts? I want to hear your thoughts on the matter.”
Lantolq always thought about things she didn’t need to think about and wanted to know things she didn’t need to know. With her curiosity fully ablaze, she stared straight into Grick’s amber eyes.