Chapter 8 can be read below the cut.
“Aren’t we almost out of ghosts by now?” Hakirin asked as they walked through the forest.
Tjara turned back to Hakirin. “There are about fifty million ghosts on the planet,” she said. “I doubt we’ll run out of ghosts for hundreds of years.
“Around here. In this area,” said Hakirin. Ze started gesturing with zer hands. “You know what I mean! How are there even this many ghosts around here? Isn’t that statistically unlikely?”
“I think this area used to be a large city before the Cataclysm,” said Nymue. She looked to Ariana expectantly. “Right?”
Ariana clearly hadn’t been paying attention, and turned back to Nymue with a blank look on her face. “Huh?” she said. “What? Why would I know what this area in particular used to be like?”
“Does that seem right?” asked Temurlin. “The big cities of Old Humanity had millions of people. A place that used to be a city must have thousands of ghosts, not a just a few hundred like we have around here.”
“There are more than a few hundred ghosts around here, Temurlin,” replied Tjara. “And a former city would have close to a million ghosts, not just thousands. But the closest of those cities is hundreds of kilometers away. We won’t be sending any expeditions out there any time soon.”
“That’s unfortunate,” said Nymue.
Ariana brightened up. “Who do I need to talk to about that?” she asked. “Local expeditions, I mean. Not the far-away ones.”
Tjara frowned, looking confused. “Did your mother never tell you about any of her coworkers?” she asked.
Ariana jogged up so that she was walking next to Tjara. “She’s tried her best to keep me from learning about these things,” she said.
“Has she now?” said Tjara with a grimace. “I’ll have to have a talk with her when we get back to Tivadshy.” She turned back to look at Nymue. “Ariana. Rozenbarr. If you two want to explore the Old World, you should talk to Daidlis Pevasha. He’s the head of the military’s expedition unit. He’s new to the role, and he doesn’t have much experience with leadership, but he knows what he’s talking about.”
“Daidlis? I haven’t heard of him,” said Ariana excitedly.
“I have,” said Nymue.
“What?” said Ariana. She looked startled.
Nymue raised an eyebrow. “I’ve been reading up on everything and everyone,” she said. “Since I’m new to Tivadshy and don’t really know anything about the city or anything in it.”
“Is that all you do in your free time, Nym?” Ariana questioned. “Is it?
“Not really,” said Nymue.
Their destination was a dilapidated building that looked like it might have been a house at some point. The major difference between it and the other buildings they’d visited was that this one was slightly less collapsed. There were just as many plants growing on and around it, but the windows and doors were still largely intact.
“Why is this house randomly less decayed than the others?” Brithan asked.
“Who knows?” said Tjara. “Maybe it was built by a different people, or in a different year or style.”
Tjara kicked the door. It broke off the hinges – Nymue supposed that the hinges had been barely functioning to begin with – and fell flat into the building with a loud thump that didn’t echo.
“Was that necessary?” said Hakirin.
“It did seem excessive,” said Temurlin. “Though I suppose it doesn’t matter if no one lives here.”
Tjara set one hand on the doorframe and looked back at them. “Come on in,” she said.
Inside the building, metal shelves lined the walls. Some of them were tipped over and some were partially collapsed. Most of the tiles on the floor were cracked, and plants grew everywhere. Tjara stood near a closed wooden door on the other side of the room.
“Where are the ghosts?” Ren asked. “In that other room?”
“Yes,” said Tjara.
Ren looked toward the shelves. “These were bookshelves! I haven’t seen these in the other places,” she said.
“That’s not especially rare, Fennel,” said Tjara. “Lots of old buildings have actually had bookshelves, but most of those shelves were wooden. These just happen to be metal.”
Brithan stepped forward and stumbled. “What’s this vine doing here?” he asked as he tried to untangle his foot. “It’s not one of our plants.”
“What do you mean by that?” asked Hakirin. “What are ‘our’ plants?”
Brithan pulled up the vine until it snapped. “Professor Kyvenna!” he said. “This isn’t one of our plants. It’s from Old Talassa.”
“I’m glad you noticed,” said Tjara.
Brithan walked over to Tjara, still holding the vine in his hand. The part of it still connected to the ground took some other plants with it. “Most of the plants in here are Old Talassa plants,” he said. “Where did they come from? I thought all the forests were planted by the first people who returned from Sairren.”
“I’ll explain,” said Tjara. “But first, put that vine down.” Once Brithan released the vine, she set her hand on the wooden door. “This building was marked as a place of interest by Professor Jukikynai a couple of months ago. She noticed the plants first.”
“The botany professor,” said Ren.
“Yes,” answered Tjara. “Behind this door is a seed vault. Unfortunately, it was breached at some point, so we couldn’t recover as many specimens as we’d have liked to.” She pushed the door open. “Come on in.”
The smell was what Nymue first noticed – the smell of mold and decaying plants – followed by the humidity. Most of the floor was covered in water, and there were even more plants in here than in the other room. Where the water had come from, she had no idea – there were no rivers or lakes nearby, and it hadn’t rained recently.
“Ugh!” said Hakirin. “That smells awful.”
“It’s just the smell of dead plants,” said Nymue.
“Gross,” Hakirin replied.
“Is that the only ghost?” Temurlin asked. Nymue turned around to see a ghost on the other side of the room, sitting on the ground with its knees drawn up to its chest. This one looked from side to side on occasion. That was rare – ghosts usually did not move that much.
“The Old Humans who built this vault had surprising foresight,” said Tjara. “It’s too bad that their efforts weren’t successful.”
Temurlin walked up in front of the ghost and crouched down so that he was at eye level with it. “It’s sort of sad, I guess,” he said.
“Really?” said Hakirin, raising an eyebrow. Temurlin gave zem a shocked look, and ze continued, “What? It chose to do that to itself. Just because it’s a person doesn’t mean it deserves pity or compassion.”
Temurlin looks back down at the ghost. “I think that’s a poor attitude for someone who wants to become a doctor,” he said. Hakirin responded with an insult, and Temurlin responded in turn with a smirk.
Their tasks continued into the late afternoon. After dinner, they were free to do whatever they wanted. There was still light in the evening in this time of year, so most of them stayed outside. Temurlin, wanting some time to himself, stepped into one of the cabins.
Veitlen grabbed the door before he could close it. “No, hold up, I’m coming in, too,” he said. He made a face at Temurlin’s quizzical look. “What? Don’t look at me like that.” He stepped past Temurlin and immediately flopped down on his sleeping bag. “So how’d things go today?”
Temurlin sat down on his own sleeping bag. “What did you even come in here to do?” he asked. He pulled off his hair tie and combed his fingers through his hair.
“I just wanted to lie down for a while. I’m tired,” said Veitlen. “Are you gonna answer my question?”
“We did the same thing today that we did all the previous days. Rejoined a bunch of ghosts,” answered Temurlin.
Veitlen looked grumpy. “I wish I could have watched one of you do that,” he said.
“You could just watch a video,” Temurlin suggested.
“I doubt it’s the same,” said Veitlen.
Temurlin looked up at the ceiling. “Well, we did go to a seed vault built by the Old Humans today. That was different and interesting.”
Veitlen sat up. “Couldn’t you have just said that in the beginning?” he said. “Okay, I admit it. I’m jealous.”
Temurlin glanced at Veitlen. “So what have you three been doing this whole time?” he asked.
Veitlen grinned. “Well! It wasn’t as fun as what you were doing, but we weren’t bored at all. We made targets out of the dark magic and used them for target practice!”
Temurlin frowned. “Seriously?”
Veitlen continued looking pleased with himself. “Come on, don’t look at me like that. We all managed to improve our target shooting skills.”
“But did you manage to improve your magic control skills?” asked Temurlin. “I clearly recall you having trouble with that.”
Veitlen looked irritated. “No.”
“Again,” said Temurlin, “seriously?”
“Yes, seriously!” said Veitlen. “I have no idea what’s wrong with me, but it always turns out a lot…” His expression changed, like he didn’t know how to explain it. “It turns out to be too much.”
“So what’s actually happening?” Temurlin asked. “Is it like when you manipulate magic in class and it just stabs toward you for no reason?”
Veitlen rubbed the back of his neck. “Yeah. I always have control until the last second. Then it starts feeling like I reached too far and it gets overwhelming. It’s like I don’t get a choice in whether it happens or not. I lose all the control I had and it ends up so much worse than I intended.” He looked at Temurlin. “Is that a good enough explanation?”
“I think so,” said Temurlin. “Uh, yes,” he added upon seeing Veitlen’s eyes widen.
Veitlen looked mildly embarrassed. “Really?” he said. “I didn’t talk too much? I know I can ramble sometimes – that’s not what I was doing, was I?”
“No, you didn’t say that much at all,” said Temurlin.
Veitlen sighed in relief. “Actually,” said Temurlin, and Veitlen looked startled again, “I wanted to ask you about something. You said it felt like you ‘reached too far’. What do you mean by that?”
Veitlen stared at him blankly. “You know how it feels when you reach for your spirit weapon? And when you try to manipulate magic? It starts off exactly like that, but then I reach too far. Like when you lean too far back in a chair.”
Temurlin frowned. “That doesn’t sound familiar at all,” he said. I know the feeling of summoning my spirit weapon, but I don’t think it feels like that. Especially not when I’m manipulating magic.”
The door opened, and Ren and Kallinu walked in right as Veitlen was about to respond. He immediately looked up to them. “You two were gone for quite a while,” he said.
“We were talking to Professor Kyvenna,” said Ren.
“About what?” Veitlen asked.
“Our schedule for tomorrow,” said Ren. “I wanted to know what time we’re leaving.”
Kallinu flops down on zer sleeping bag exaggeratedly. “Pah!” ze said. The movement and nose was unexpected enough to startle Veitlen.
“I totally forgot to ask about that,” said Temurlin.
“Eight. We’re leaving at eight,” Ren responded.
“That’s good to know,” said Temurlin. He looked over at Veitlen and Kallinu. “Did you two hear that?”
“Sure,” said Kallinu.
“Yeah,” said Veitlen.
Temurlin doubted he’d get any more out of Veitlen tonight, especially with Kallinu and Ren now here. It was a bit of a pity – he had been wanting to hear what Veitlen had been about to say. Maybe he would elaborate on it sometime else.
“Old Humanity” is the name given to the residents of the planet Talassa who lived before the Cataclysm. The world is covered in the ruins of their cities and achievements.
Old Humanity is extinct. Those that did not perish in the Cataclysm became ghosts and demons. While still people, those two groups are no longer human.
All humans currently living are Selenians (Rennukat: Rennuryhpa). Most of them belong to the majority Selenian culture. A small number of people, such as the Miryani and the Ciniáne, have managed to preserve their Old World languages and cultures.