Intentions and Stories
I grinned as my suspicions were confirmed. I decided to continue my line of questioning, just to see if I had correctly guessed the underlying reason for her curiosity.
“Why do you want to know about me?”
“But why are you interested, is what I’m asking. What part of me caught your interest? I would understand if you’d said my inability to speak Gam or my inability to use magic was what caught your attention. But back when you saved me, at the well, you didn’t know either of those facts. So why?”
Rosalind remained silent for a good while. Then she answered in a seemingly tangential manner.
“You know, I really like stories.”
I raised an eyebrow at what sounded like a deflection, but I held my tongue and let her go on.
“Since I was young, I’ve loved stories. Whether they be stories contained within the pages of a book, or stories passed on by word of mouth through generations. Of course, the stories in books are all well and good, and I love them – more than I can describe – but reading a story in a book isn’t the same as hearing the story in person. Hearing it from the mouth of a person, especially if it’s a first-hand account, has a certain charm, a certain magic to it, that the stories in books can never capture. I’ve grown up hearing my share of stories. I told you before, didn’t I? My parents were adventurers-turned-mercenaries, fighters who were hired to fight the Holy War more than two decades ago in the Demon Continent. They told me plenty of stories, of their days adventuring in the various dungeons around the world, and then of their struggles after that, when the Adventurer’s Guild dissolved. Oh, how I loved when they would tell me about…”
As Rosalind began to descend into a recount of how her parents had regaled her as a little girl with tales of monsters and adventure, I recollected what I knew about adventurers, based on what I had learned from my reading. Initially, many major cities in the world had fifteen years ago had housed Dungeons, home to monsters and treasure, holding materials and lost treasures that promised a fortune to those brave enough to seek them out. However, shortly after the failed Holy War, the entrances to these Dungeons had all been sealed shut at the same time, with nobody able to enter the Dungeons. Those who had been within the dungeon at the time of the sealing found themselves unceremoniously ejected, landing at the entrance. Nobody knew why exactly the dungeons had closed off, though several scholars had proferred theories ranging from plausible to delusional. My personal favorite was one particular conspiracy theory that suggested that governments had magically sealed the labyrinths in order to drive up the pricing of goods made using monster materials, establishing a collusive monopoly on the trade. It was utterly ridiculous to think that every government in the world would unilaterally perform such an action at the same time, especially considering the potential loss to be incurred should one party decide to re-open their dungeon and attract vast numbers of adventurers and treasure seekers.
Whatever the reason, the sealing of the dungeons had left Adventurers out of a job. The Adventurer’s Guild had initially been established to provide logistical support and job sourcing for would-be adventurers who were willing to brave the depths of the dungeons. The sudden removal of the organisation’s purpose, as well as the hit to its credibility it had taken after it elected to support a failed war, had caused the organisation to rapidly collapse, with the top officials resigning from their positions and branch offices around the world rapidly closing down. Those adventurers who had lost their livelihoods were thus left to fend for themselves. According to the journals and papers I had read, some of them received support from the state – at least in welfare states. A good number found work in other professions, such as milling, farming, or business. However, a large number turned to banditry and thievery. As expected, the increase in banditry sparked a boom in demand for mercenaries and guards, and hence the majority of ex-Adventurers were currently in the mercenary business. Rosalind’s parents were a member of this last group, who had taken up mercenary work.
“…Hey, are you listening?”
I shook my head clear of my thoughts and refocused on our conversation. It seemed that Rosalind had noticed me spacing out. I frowned inwardly. Evidently, my ability to pretend I was listening was rusty.
“Sorry, what was that?”
Rosalind looked like she wanted to say something, but then sighed.
“No, it’s fine. It’s my fault for going on a tangent. I was talking about how much I loved stories, especially stories told by mouth, in person. That’s why I opened a tavern when my parents passed away. When they passed, two years ago, I felt so lonely, so pained. The stories in my books weren’t enough to deal with it. I longed to hear stories from people’s mouths – and a tavern is the best place for that. That’s why I used the money they’d left me to set this place up. When I hear stories from people who stop by, people who travel all over the land, it’s like… it’s like they’re telling me about their adventures again. It’s like I’m hearing my mother resting my head on her lap, telling me about how she tore apart a golem with her bare hands. Hearing stories lets me feel their presence, and that’s why I love stories. The more exotic the tale, the more exciting the tale, the more my heart pumps, the more I enjoy myself. I’ve given away a night’s worth of drinks in exchange for a single tale before. And that’s why I wanted to hear yours.”
Rosalind turned her gaze and settled it on my ruqun, folded neatly on the wooden platform beneath the clothesrack, next to the door.
“You appeared in the middle of town, with black hair – a rare colour – and a dress the likes of which I have never before seen in my life. You dragged yourself to the well and tried to drink, but did not know it was empty. You arrived on a road that few travel, a road that leads only to the garrison by the wall and nowhere else. Even when you lay by the old well, only a few meters from me, I could not sense any magic in you. You were battered and bruised, your skin burned from the ravages of the sun. To any who saw you, you were like a living corpse. But even so, in such a state where I believed anyone else would have long since given up on life, you fought and crawled to live. It was inspiring, it was sad… and it was also intriguing.
What was it that drove you, that allowed you to keep pushing forth? What was it that gave you strength? Where did you come from? How did you end up here? All these questions blazed in my mind when I saw you. You had a story, an exciting, exotic one. One completely new. A story the likes of which I had never before heard, and would likely never again hear. I knew you had a tale, unique to you, that could regale me as my parents’ did. That’s why I saved you. I simply had to know your story. Nothing else would be able to satisfy the curiosity that had awakened within me.”
Though she had been sitting upright on the bed this whole time, Rosalind now lay back on the bed, next to me, turning to face me, that spark of curiosity burning in her eyes.
“Well then. I told you my reasons for wanting to hear stories, and in particular, my reasons for wanting to hear your story. I’ve put all my cards on the table, I have no more hidden motives or intentions. So will you indulge me? Will you tell me your story?”
This time, it was my turn to sit up. I sat cross-legged on the bed, getting comfortable. This was going to be a long story, and it would not do if I were to fall asleep while telling it. Rosalind quickly mirrored my seating posture, facing me. I would do as she asked. There was no harm in telling her what had already passed, and after all she had done to help me, it was the least I could do to tell her an otherworldly, engaging story. There were some parts I could not remember, such as my reason for fighting in the War of the Six, and there were numerous social events that I could not seem to recall the details of, despite remembering very clearly that I had attended. Still, I remembered enough to give a glossing summary of my experience, and Rosalind would have to settle for that; if she wanted to know any more, she would have to ask me again at a later date, when I had retrieved my stolen memories.
“I’ll start with an unbelievable statement. I swear it’s true, but I don’t think you’ll believe me. Still, I can’t start my story without first clarifying this, and I think it’ll answer a lot of your questions. It’s up to you if you choose to accept this statement, but I’ll continue my tale under the assumption that you do. Because it’s the undeniable truth. Ready?”
Rosalind nodded. I took a deep breath.
“Okay. So. Here goes: I’m not from this world.”