Map of the World (Csidellon)
Chapter 21 ∞ Slips
There was a quaint restaurant that exhibited a minimalist feel with its clean and simple décor. The tables were, like in Venerya, low and were posh black. A porcelain vase was set on the center and within it sat a thin arrangement of salmon daffodils that added that much needed pop in color. If they stuck with that fifty shades of grey, I would have felt sorely dissatisfied.
My mistress and I sat on floor cushions which came with a head and the arms—save for the legs. Why would they need such an extra boost in height, anyhow, when the tables were so freaking low?
I shook my head.
Anyhow, it was a cultural thing. I’d gotten used to the low tables and no legs on chairs thing they got going on, because it was very similar to Asian culture. I had an exchange program with Kansai University in Japan in my previous life and I lived there close to a year. I also did tours around parts of China and Korea. Not like I could go to the north side of the latter now, could I?
They didn’t do chopsticks though, but they did like excessively round spoons and three-pronged forks. I didn’t know about the particulars, but it might have something to do with their soupy diets and rich seafood cuisine.
I’ve read up on Lovarda quite a bit, but I still picked up a guidebook on the country and the capital where we were currently in just so that I could familiarize myself with it better. I was happy as I was spending the money I earned off the perfumes. The guidebook didn’t cost more than ten bullions. It was a good price.
The capital, seaside city was called Anala. Lovarda was the neighboring country of Venerya which I considered my home. Venerya was considered the ‘Dragon’s Perch’ and the leading country under the Dragon Emperor who held the title of First Among Equals. With that, the city where I had grown up in, Kilahad, was considered the capital of the capitals.
Compared to Venerya, however, Lovarda was a country primarily ran by its strategic trading points. Its farthest lands reached out towards the West Continent, Vertvalden. Not to mention seafood! Fresh! Not as…fishy. Aside from its economy relying heavily on being a trading post, it also exported products pulled from the sea. Some of the best quality seafoods came from Lovarda. In fact, it said in the book that they supplied around fifty percent of sea products in Venerya.
However, with the trade with the West weakening due to the strife occurring on the other continent, things hadn’t been as productive in the relevant businesses as of late. Lovarda, subsequently, was also suffering. Right now, they were turning to other ventures to help make up for the weakening of trade with the West. There were news of overfishing and overharvesting of pearls from the sea which was never a good sign. I sincerely hoped they had not begun a trek to destroying nature for such greedy means.
Another interesting thing to note was that the people of Lovarda were stereotyped as romantic fishermen and tradesmen, people of the sea who sat under umbrellas before the setting sun and by the whispering waves, dining on spicy coconut and fish noodle soup. Their languages were heavily influenced by singing sailors and phrases that concerned voyaging through the oceans. In spite of how desperate the country was to turn to other professions, their love for the sea would never be triumphed. Even if their economy ceased to suffer as they turn their attention to do something else, their culture would still do.
“Evyionne, glory of the dragons, please get your nose out of that book,” my mistress Veronika said as the spicy coconut and fish noodle soup came to a boil before us. The low tables were equipped with a built in stove. We just had to dunk every ingredient inside and eat to our heart’s content.
“You know, the author actually does not have a boring voice. He just tends to drone. I think he could use some more practice to sharpen the narrative,” I commented as I snapped the book close. The only reason why I decided to read in front of the table was because we still had to cook the ingredients.
This country hadn’t been the subject of my interest until now. Now that my curiosity was whetted, I had an urge to nosedive into other related books.
I picked up the round and hollow spoon and the empty bowl in front of me and scooped a hefty serving for myself. Now I got why they liked the round and hollow spoon. It was very handy for meals like this.
“Enough with the commentaries, more eating,” my mistress said. She mirrored my actions and began pooling food into her bowl.
“Mistress,” I began. “When and how in the world did you end up here? How did you know those people back in the port?”
“The province where I come from, Lalenir…” She paused to inhale some soup.
“Ovanol,” I supported. The warrior country.
“Had very strict customs. They were very gender distinctive. Women are seen too fragile to hold a spear—because they are,” she told me. “Women of my people are hardly physically resilient. They only have enough energy to give birth to one or two children. Any more than that, they put their lives at risk.”
I nodded, listening diligently.
“I was a Conduit and I had a male’s resilience. Although that came with a lot of upsides, it also came with a lot of disadvantages. You can take a guess. What happened?” She quirked a brow. “As soon as I was able, I left the country and came here. Lovardi was much more open-minded. I figured I could make a living here and pursue what I want. For a while, I did. I met Papi and Musa. I sailed with them and traded, honed my craft. After that, I went to Venerya to try my luck. For a while, I succeeded, but it was short-lived. If it hadn’t been for Lamia, I probably would not be here.”
“Then what about my mother? She isn’t from the Lovaskan Ranges,” I said. “She doesn’t have my eyes. This couldn’t have come from my father if he was truly from the West…unless he was a halfling himself.”
I was pretty sure he wasn’t a halfling. He had blue eyes though, if I could remember correctly, paired with his honeyed red curls and deep, brown skin. I wasn’t sure if I read up on any blue eyed Westerns before, but if eye and hair color told such a significant story about origins, then my father was no exception.
It was a little cunning of me to play things this way. I already knew Hellenia wasn’t my birth mother. However, if I acted like I knew, they would start asking why. Of course, I could always come up with reasons that made sense but it was more troublesome than playing dumb.
I do remember how my birth mother looked like when I was born. Although it was twelve years ago, it was still fresh from my memory. She was exactly as Papi had described her to be—eyes the color of both fire and sky, the everlasting amaranth. Her hair was dark but vibrated violet, much like the rocks I had stuffed in my pocket earlier. I brought them out to compare and it served to freshen the memory I had.
She was from Lovaska—that was interesting to know. How did she end up in the West, even so? Why would she be so far away from where she came from?
“I’m not sure, Evy,” Mistress Veronika finally spoke. It was then that I realized that we’ve paused for so long, especially after I dropped that question. I almost thought she was answering the question I had playing around in my head. However, I rapidly realized how absurd that was. “This isn’t any of my business. It will be best if you speak to your mother directly.”
“I guess you’re right,” I muttered. “I can’t be adopted right?”
Veronika nearly choked.
My brows rose high. I didn’t expect her to be this obvious. “Are you alright, mistress?”
She made a grab for the cup of water beside her and nearly drowned herself as she emptied the contents into her mouth. I didn’t try pursuing the topic after that, but I had already laid the groundwork to make it seem as though I was finally questioning my origins. I was more curious about finding a way to get to the West, even so, and finding out about my birth parents. I might be able to piece things together if I had enough information, but I was not so eager to venture out into the world so it could wait a while.
“I need to use the restroom,” Veronika said, standing and leaving me eating by myself on the table.
For the mean time, I stuffed myself with the spicy coconut and fish noodle soup and set aside my other problems. It was the fault of fate to have picked the lazy, old me.
It was quite a savory dish. I was expecting it to be too spicy for my palate, but it wasn’t overwhelmingly so. The spicy note added just a bit of bite to the flavor that heightened the warmth of the soup. It traveled down my throat and carried with it a bit of fire, not enough to send me running for milk which, ironically, was already in the soup. The coconut milk served a good contrast to the spiciness and was perhaps responsible for restraining that particular flavor from going wild.
Coconut milk and chilis? I like it. Bring me more!
I was minding my own business. Thoughts ran around blankly in my head as I wondered what Mistress Veronika could be doing in the restroom. My guess was that she wasn’t only using the place for the purpose it served, rather, she must be making a call back to the House of Oblivion.
Of course, that was just a guess.
I slurped on my bowl of soup and stuck out my tongue when I realized I had bit into a small piece of chili flesh. As I made a grab for the cup of water beside me, someone slipped a piece of paper under my wrists. I caught a swing of dark brown coat on my peripheral vision. I lifted the cup and turned on my seat, but the person had already left before I could see who it was. All I saw was the brown coat and a flash of dark hair.
I looked at the slip of paper and frowned. “Who said I wanted your business card?” I muttered, tipping the cup of water into my lips.
I nearly threw out the piece of paper. However, curiosity got the best of me and I peeked. Unfamiliar letters greeted me. My mind geared to a start, a slight headache pounding on my temples. After a bit, the words got automatically translated in my brain and that familiar understanding appeared—as though I had known this language all along.
The Temple of the Gods.
That’s all it said. I shredded it to little pieces, crumpled it, and threw it under the table. Whatever that was about had managed to intrigue me. I doubted the consequences though and I wondered if that was some sort of message.
The Temple of the Gods, huh?
“I’m sorry I took a while,” Mistress Veronika said as she slipped back into her chair. “I don’t think the spiciness is agreeing with my stomach.”
“It’s alright,” I replied.
When we were done with dinner, night had arrived. I had stuffed myself with the food from the restaurant better than any Thanksgiving turkey. Food was fulfilling and my mouth had taken a trip around the country with the meal course we had practically inhaled. Some of the dishes originated from the many provinces, all which had their own quirks. I was a little disappointed my stomach did not have enough room to accommodate all of them.
“Let’s come back tomorrow,” Mistress Veronika suggested.
“Tomorrow?” I wiped my lip. “Aren’t we supposed to return tonight?”
“I’ve already contacted the House,” she told me. “We can go back tomorrow in the afternoon. I’m sure you’re already tired. We can go and seek out some lodgings for the night.”
“So we have some more time to go explore?”
“Mm.” She smiled. “Perhaps.”
“What about mama?” I asked. “Won’t she be angry and worried?”
“She will probably be,” Mistress Veronika said. “But she’s going to have to wait until tomorrow.”
I grinned widely and picked up the box that contained the bow. It wasn’t that heavy if I was to carry it for a few minutes, so I resolved to do the job for the meanwhile as my mistress gathered her things. Afterwards, I passed it to her and we stepped out to await the service of a public carriage.
We didn’t have to wait long. We were picked up and speedily dropped off to an auberge in the center of the city. I knew we weren’t short on money, but this still looked out of budget. My mistress was merciless, it seemed, that I had to scratch my head. She really wasn’t the thrifty type. If she had money, she was willing to spend it. Was it unreasonable? I didn’t handle the money in the household, so how I was to judge?
The moment we stepped through the lavish doors, we were greeted by a very accommodating group of attendants dressed in very trim uniforms. After telling them what we needed, Mistress Veronika moved towards the receptionist and were then led to adjoined rooms shortly after. The mistress guided me to my room and had me get ready for bed.
“There should be comfortable clothes in the wardrobe,” she told me. “Clean up and sleep. We wake up early tomorrow, alright?”
I nodded. She was about to pull the door connecting our rooms shut when I said, “Mistress.”
She paused and looked at me. “What is it?”
“I want to know what the Temple of the Gods is?”
“What made you so interested in it all of a sudden?” she inquired.
I held up the handbook I had bought just a few hours ago. “This.”
“Do you want to go visit tomorrow, then?”
“Sure.” I shrugged.
“Then go to sleep. We’ll talk about it tomorrow. I feel quite exhausted after all that’s happened today. Make sure to sleep. Your mother might call, so be sure to answer her.” Mistress Veronika then closed the door and left me in the silence of my room.
I opened the wardrobe and saw some comfortable pajamas hanging on the corner. I reached for it and my communicator began ringing. A voice very silently informed me that it was my mother calling.
“Mama?” I said, confirming the request for the connection.
“Hello,” I told her. “Mistress and I are staying over for the night.”
“I know, she told me.”
“I hope you’re not too mad.”
“It’s alright. Veronika will be able to protect you. I have no worries. You’re a very capable girl yourself, my daughter. You’re not so much a child anymore. I apologize for treating you like one,” she stated. Her voice was bent with sadness and worry. “Was there anything that happened today?”
“A lot of things.” I sank on the corner of the low bed, bending my legs to the side as I pressed the communicator closer to my ear. “We met a man today and he said some weird things…Mama, you aren’t from the Lovaskan Ranges, are you?”
I heard a sigh from the other side. “We’ll talk about that when you return, okay?”
I felt bad for not confessing what I knew. It seemed to me as though I was putting my adoptive mother through needless torture. She was obviously finding it hard to tell me the truth—a truth I already knew. Guilt was eating away at my stomach as I tapped on my earpiece. For a few seconds, I debated telling everything I knew, but then I carefully weighed the consequences of my would-be actions.
I was not underestimating the open-mindedness of my mistresses, however…my knowledge of the afterlife concerned things that have already badly affected this world. The less I opened my mouth, the less the chances were for other people to find out. People were already suffering enough as it was in the other continent. What I had seen to day back there, what I had heard—that was enough testament.
It made me wonder how my birth parents were.
If others were to find out I knew something I shouldn’t, I could only imagine how bad things could spiral into. I was sure that, even now, my mistresses were already hard at work trying to contain the stuff I’d gotten in trouble with. First off, my domain concerned Kaliya, the dragon of the moonless night who ruled over the domain of death. Second, I saved the life of a guy whose not-so-simple origins risked angering a prince. I was pretty sure there were a couple more things they weren’t telling me.
“Evy, are you still there?” my adoptive mother softly inquired.
“Yes,” I said. “I’m sorry for zoning out. I’m really tired. Thank you for calling and I’m sorry if I couldn’t.”
“It’s alright, dear,” she said. “I knew you were busy this entire time. I’m just glad you’re okay in there. Make sure to come back tomorrow, alright?”
“Alright.” I nodded and found myself forcing a smile. “Good night, mama.”
“Good night, my Evy. Sleep well.”
I could only hope I would. As soon as the call was cut, I let myself fall back, head bouncing on the mattress. It was built quite thin, so I felt the frame on the back of my skull for a second. It didn’t hurt though, and I sort of wished it did. It might appease some of the guilt I was feeling.
My grip on the pajamas loosened and I lost all interest in donning them.
Why couldn’t I have been reborn as any other child?
Right. It must be because I refused to reincarnate in the first place. Me and my stupid, unreasonable stubbornness. Why was I so immature back then? Why couldn’t I have just accepted my fate and moved the hell on?
However, if I didn’t act the way I did back then, I probably would have never met the mistresses. I might still be with my birth parents and I could be living an uncomplicated life.
I had the feeling, even so, that all would still be the same even if I accepted my reincarnation willingly.