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The Basil Tundra
New markups on an old dusty map with its edges frayed and brittle made Alba realize that the telescope was more than a spying device. Her uncle used it to survey new towns, old kingdoms swallowed by forests and wasteland, new rivers and dried ones, and ever-changing seas and oceans.
Daryn explained that most towns were situated south while the northern region was tundra or wasteland—cold and barren from the destruction of the Great Science War. It also happened to be the quickest route to the Dragonback Mountain. Where the Eastern Sand Drift met with the wasteland, an outpost at Basil Tundra would have ships to sail over the Great Mermaid Sea
“Couldn’t we go east of this forest?” Alba asked.
“Beyond this forest is the uncharted Ocean Divide. I’ve never seen a ship sail back from that direction. I think it’ll be safer journeying north and then west. In my days, there was an underpass from the Great Mermaid Sea that could lead you into the heart of the mountain. You just need a mermaid coin.
Kai interrupted. “I have mermaid coins. My parents gave them for me before I died.”
He showed coins the size of his palms with words Alba could not read.
Daryn eyed Kai more carefully, taking in his black hair, pale skin, and almond eyes, and quietly said, “people have secrets but none more than the mermaid people.”
“But there’s no such things as half mana—half fish!” Alba protested in Kai’s defense.
Taking his eyes off Kai, Daryn turned to Alba, clearly admonished. “I never said anything about fish and man. Well, anyways, thank you, Kai, for offering to help.” He reached for the coins and started to admire them, claiming it had been generations since he had last seen one.
After another day’s rest and packing, the four began their journey.
While they all easily exited the secret door, Daryn was blocked by branches and thorns.
“Uncle, don’t back out. Remember that your journey is to heal Aunt Evelina’s broken heart,” Alba called out to him.
He took a deep breath before pulling a vial out of his pocket, releasing a drop on the thorns and branches. Miraculously, the forest sighed before lifting up with a swoosh, letting him pass.
“Is that the healing potion?” Alba asked as he approached.
“Yes and now I know it works because the spell casted were also casted on the forest, making them heartbroken too.”
Alba grew excited at the thought of reuniting and having a remedy for her aunt.
The journey began in the valley of the Woodland before they headed north following twin moons dangling in the sky like embracing lovers. They walked several days until reaching a clearing with less trees. The ground was littered with cones and dried berries instead of twigs and dead leaves. Even the trees were more needle-like.
When they saw an outpost with khees and cattle roaming freely, they could see a long stretch of flat empty land reaching the distant shadows of the mountains on the horizon. They did a quick reload of supplies and food, resting one night at an inn. Locals eyed them curiously but for the most part, they were left alone. No one ever showed too much interest in strangers these days to avoid disputes.
The next day, a chill gripped in the morning air. Kai helped Alba to wear a fur-lined coat, closing it around her face as he told her a story once told to him.
“Before the Great Science War, a magnificent city of metal and glass grew out of the ground and towered toward the heaven. But they arrogance and conceit brought a horrible disease and war ravaged the land. A storm of salt and sand from the Eastern Sand Drift came and destroyed crops and any fertile ground. but it was the war that destroyed the cities. No town north of here survived the war. No building, no roads, no landmarks were left. Sometimes, you have to remember that nature always win.”
Daryn also added, “Science and technology created a chance to save our race. But it turned to greed and arrogance. They thought they were gods but no god is perfect in the hand of mortals. So a world once rich with culture and science reverted back to nothing. It’s the cycle of civilization.”