In Pursuit of Knowledge

“You’re still reading, Ely?”

Rosalind’s voice broke through the silence that reigned over my room. I looked up from the open book on my desk and saw my host standing by the door, a look of disbelief on her face. She wore a white nightgown, and her normally tied-up hair was allowed to flow freely around her neck. Based on her tired expression and lax attire, she seemed about to retire to bed. How late was it? I had been reading all day, and had lit the lamp when it started to get dark, but I had not been keeping track of the time as I did. I glanced down at the book I was currently reading, taking note of how many pages there were left. It would probably take me another half hour to finish it up. I turned to Rosalind again.

“I was going to stop after this book. What time is it?”

“About three hours past midnight.” She rubbed at her eyes and smiled a little. “Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone else who reads this much – well, apart from myself. What are you reading?”

“A History of Continents – ah, watch your step.”

Rosalind, who had began moving closer – presumably to take a look at the book – stopped where she was and looked down, surprised. She had narrowly avoided walking into a stack of books. She stepped over them and walked to my side, shaking her head.

“And to think just three weeks ago you didn’t speak a word of our language.”

I laughed.

“I’m a fast learner.”

It was true – though not because of my own merits. The day after we had exchanged greetings, Rosalind had begun the endeavour of teaching me her language. However, I was an exceptionally fast learner. Within three days, I was able to keep up with her in rudimentary conversation. Within five, I was speaking fluently. Within a week, I was able to converse, read and write in the language as well as if I’d grown up speaking it. Even my vocabulary filled itself, seemingly without assistance. If I ever needed to find a word in this new language to express an idea, it would rise naturally to my mind. Languages were one of those things that I picked up inhumanly fast – likely because of the “Armsmaster” gift that Yingquan had bestowed upon me.

Armsmaster – one of the six gifts bestowed to the six champions in that bloody War of the Six. Six nations, representing six deities, summoning six heroes from my original world to fight their war for them. Each of us was granted a gift by the deity who had summoned us. The goddess who had summoned me was Yingquan. The gift she gave me was the ability to instantly learn and master any weapon. There were only two requirements – first, that I had a teacher to impart the basics to me. Second, that the art I chose to learn was something I could picture myself using to hurt others. If these conditions were fulfilled, I could instantly learn any feasible art I wanted, and I could become a master with a week of study. With a month of constant study, I could be a peerless expert of that art. After I had won the war, after I returned to my own world, I had retained this gift.

During the ten years I had spent fighting in the War, I had mastered a countless number of weapons, but it was only after I returned that I realised the gift extended to more than conventional weaponry. It extended to other fields I could use to harm people, such as verbal manipulation, or psychology. I used this gift to great effect, quickly rising to stand among the greatest in the world of advertising. However, it was particularly useful for learning new languages – few weapons were as sharp as a barbed tongue.

It was this gift that had allowed me to pick up the language – called Gam – so quickly. And so I had quickly set to reading the many books in the house – those on the shelf in my guestroom, as well as a couple from Rosalind’s own collection that she deigned to lend me. I had made it my temporary goal to learn as much as I could about this world as possible. Interestingly enough, it seemed the people of this world spoke only one language – Gam. So picking it up first was probably a good idea. Over the course of the last two weeks, I had been educating myself about the world. I was currently reading the history of the world, starting with the continent I was on – Nilfrinth. What I had did not paint a pretty picture.

Nilfrinth was a continent divided into three completely unlike landscapes – a third of the land was covered in meadows and fields – this region was known as Mercynth. A third of the land was a large, dense forest flanked by mountains – these forests were the Runi Wilds. The last third of the land was an arid desert – this was the Lley Desert. Separating these regions was a large tract of scorched land in a Y-shape. The village we presently resided in was part of Mercynth, under the rule of the Mercynth Empire. The road upon which I had found myself when first arriving in this world led to the border wall, a wall which ran the length of the Mercynthian border, ending at the edge of the scorched land.

Based on what I had read, the wall was meant to keep citizens from wandering out, as well as to keep inhuman races from the Wilds and the Desert from trespassing. None of the books actually elaborated on what exactly lay in these regions – “inhuman creatures” was as specific as they got. From what I could piece together based on obvious gaps in information, whatever lived in those regions had at one point been at war with the humans of Mercynth, and the scorched land was established as some sort of neutral zone. None of the books really dealt with the border and the other regions of Nilfrinth, mostly concerned with events that occurred internally within Mercynth. I didn’t like it. The hand of media control by authority was very clearly at work here.

Frustrated with the omission of information I wished to know, I had turned to a different field of study – that of the world as a whole. Open in front of me was a world map, showing five main land masses, four of them named Nilfrinth, Gemaris, Sankthold, Jin-Asalys. The last was unnamed, to the East. It was this map that Rosalind currently stooped over to see. I shifted to the side a little to make space and pointed at one of the continents, an unnatural-looking continent shaped like a vertical eye.

“I find this one interesting. Jin-Asalys. The book said that it’s a continent of learning, with a University City – a giant school. That sounds like a really unique place – where I come from, there aren’t any schools that are big enough to be considered cities.”

I carefully watched Rosalind’s face as I spoke. The instant I mentioned coming from somewhere else, I saw a brief twinkle of curiosity in her eyes, one that briefly vanished. This happened every time I referenced my homeland, or even just the fact that I came from somewhere other than this country. I was beginning to formulate a hypothesis as to why she had put in so much effort to help me, but I decided to keep it to myself until she chose to broach the subject. Nonetheless, I was surprised to see her bite her lip when I mentioned Jin-Asalys. She laughed and scratched her head.

“Well, I guess we’ll never find out whether it really was like that. That map’s outdated. About thirty years ago, that continent was invaded and overrun by demons. The humans were chased out. Some of them even escaped here. About twenty three or twenty four years ago, there was a large army sent to fight them, but they were defeated by the Demon King. Then he chased them all off and closed the borders. Nobody’s had any contact with them since. We call it the Demon Continent now. Nobody dares go near, for fear of angering the Demon King.

The ex-soldiers who survived will tell you all sorts of stories about the Demon King – he seems like a terrible man. One customer I had told me that he tore off the heads of soldiers and started devouring them while fighting. It’s pretty scary to think about – but also kind of exhilarating, no?”

I burst out laughing. Eating heads on a battlefield? No matter how savage one might be, that was just impractical – and therefore unlikely. War stories had a habit of becoming distorted over time, even when told by eyewitnesses. I had first-hand experience of this – some of my enemies during the War of the Six were apparently convinced that I had eight arms and rode a giant bat into battle. One of our prisoners even hallucinated that I had eight arms when he met me in person. It was an understandable urge. The more powerful you made your enemy seem, the more vicious you portrayed them, the more valorous and skilled you would seem for surviving. Many war stories were not to be taken at face value, and so I highly doubted that this Demon King, no matter how evil he may be, would take the time to enjoy a snack while fighting.

Rosalind glared at me, seemingly offended that I had started laughing, but then her expression softened and she giggled lightly. She pointed at another continent on the map.

“Enough about the Demon Continent. It’s bad news, all in all, even if the war stories are false. This here is Gemaris; my parents were born here…”

The rest of the night passed in this way, with Rosalind sitting on the bed, detailing the history and finer points of Gemaris (as told by her parents; she had never been there) to me as I sat and listened. As the night faded and turned to day, I noted to myself how lucky I was to have found such a kind host in this foreign land.