Where have I been taken? When I tried to pull my sword from that machine, there was a bright flash and suddenly I was in this desolate place. Whatever that device was, I must have broken it.
Nerva’s corpse travelled with me, blood still seeping from the wound I left in his chest. Despite what he’s done, part of me thinks that I should bury him. He was a tyrant, but he still died a warrior’s death.
For now, I will bandage the wound on my face and rest. It is night here, and it will be safer to explore in the light of day.
I was fortunate today. The sun was rising as I finished bandaging my wounds, and had I not glanced at it, I would never have seen Nerva’s body. It was three hundred paces away, right where I left it, and it was smoldering. The sunlight was burning it.I remembered a cave that I had spotted earlier, and ran for it as fast as I could. My legs ached and smoke was rising from my armor by the time I arrived, yet I was still alive.So now the sun was trying to kill me. Perhaps I was delirious, but I laughed at the notion. Monsters and armies have failed, so let the sun have its chance. I will defeat it too.
Yesterday, I realized that I could rest no longer. I had no more spare cloth for bandages and had eaten nearly all the moss nearby. Rather than risk the heat of the sun on the surface, I ventured deeper into the caverns.
It was a treacherous descent, but I am glad I went. This cave is larger than I could have imagined. In fact, it is hardly a cave at all. A great forest flourishes down here. It is as if this whole land is backwards.
However, there is one thing that is familiar to me. The air is thick with the sound and smell of wild beasts. I must remain on my guard.
The light down here does not burn like the light on the surface, even the light that comes from the ceiling. I do not understand why, but I am glad for it.I was attacked by a pack of small monsters with spines on their backs. In another life, they would have terrified me, but now I fear no beast. I slew many of them, but more kept appearing. Even after killing the largest of them, they did not hesitate. Only when I neared a strange, glowing pillar did they retreat. They seem to fear the unusual light it emits. I should use that weakness against them.
吾終 去 面 之 繃 帶。雖無 感 染，然已留 痕。吾不以為然，吾之新 伴 亦不介 懷。
吾初去繃 帶時，始 見其貌。彼於大樹之枝上，以好奇之目視吾。吾回視之，亦好奇：此乃何物？其有幼鹿之體，多彩之毛，通體異光。念 麒 麟 之畫，然其甚小矣。
無論其為何 物，彼近吾 身 貌 善，吾怎可留其與荒 蕪之地？故名其為“曉”，乃吾暗夜之光。
Navigating the forest has been easier with Xiao at my side. His light has both guided and protected me. The small, spined monsters that I fought before returned in numbers, but they cowered and fled before Xiao’s light, as they did from the glowing pillar. So long as Xiao is with me, I need not fear them.Yet Xiao’s power is not an endless well. If he does not periodically extinguish his light to rest, it will fade with time on its own. I must be careful when wandering into the darkest parts of this forest, lest Xiao’s light go out and we are both put at risk.
The other night, I heard many howls in the distance. When I investigated, I found a pack of strange beasts that looked like hairless wolves. They are ugly, vicious creatures but they are the perfect size for riding.
For now, I shall stalk the pack. When one of the wolves is separated from the others, then I will knock it out with my arrows, and claim it for my own.
I have named my wolf Shi, for he is so black that he seems to swallow all the light around him. No beast can replace Wuzhui, but Shi is swift and fierce. Upon his back, I can travel across the forest with ease.
Yet I know that Shi alone is not enough. In these lands, the strong will dominate the weak, and they will try to destroy those who do not submit. I am reminded of this every time my scar aches. To survive I must grow stronger. It is time to rebuild my army.
Yesterday, I stalked a giant shelled beast, with large claws that it could use like hands. Though slow, it seemed strong. I decided it would be a good addition to my army, but before I could attempt to bring it down, something swooped down from the sky to attack it.
It was a great lizard, but not one like the ones I had seen before. No, this beast was a true dragon, long of body with a feathery mane. It used the feathers on its arms to ride the wind and tore its prey’s shell asunder with iron claws. When it was finished with its meal, it scaled the cavern wall and became one with the shadows, vanishing entirely from my sight.
I have found my new prey. Soon, I shall command the might of a dragon.
The dragon was even more formidable than I expected. At first, Shi was able to dance around the beast while I riddled it with arrows, but I underestimated how far its feathered arms could take it. Its sudden leap left Shi’s leg wounded and I was flung from the saddle.
The crippled wolf did not last long after that, and I only survived myself by taking to the trees. By the time the dragon succumbed to my knockout poison, its hide was full of arrows.
I buried Shi where he fell. Though he did not serve me long, he did so loyally. Thanks to him, I possess the strength of a dragon. I am the Beast Queen once more.
Travelling through the cave is easy thanks to my dragon, who I have named Ao Yue. I have discovered that the cave is even larger than I imagined. Beyond the forest, there are tunnels that lead further down into the earth, to a land of glistening water and plants that glow like Xiao does.
How far down does it go? If I keep going, will I find the end of the world? I do not know, but I will press on. I cannot return home, or even to the island I came from. My enemy lies dead far behind me, and I have found no friends or allies. I have no aim beyond simply surviving. So for now, all I can do is move forward.
The beasts of this land grow stranger the deeper I go. Yesterday I was attacked by a swarm of flying demons with writhing tentacles in place of heads. I think they were after Xiao. Where some monsters feared his light, these ones hungered for it.
However, they were no match for Ao Yue’s fangs and my blade together. Still, I will keep Xiao close and have him extinguish his light for now. I could not bear it if he came to harm. Of everyone I have met in these lands, only Xiao has stayed by my side of his own will. Even Wuzhui had to be laid low first.
I suppose there was that woman from the island too, but she is gone. Besides, I struck her. I doubt we were friends
I am not alone in these caves after all. The footprints I found today belonged to no beast, that much is certain.Yet if humans left those footprints, they move like no one I have ever seen. They are deep, as though their feet hit the ground with great force, and they often have huge gaps between them. No man can leap that far, yet there are no beast tracks that accompany them.Perhaps if I move carefully, I can track and observe them. Whether they are friend or foe, I should learn more about them before I act.
Where did I make my mistake? I moved in silence and never once left the shadows, but somehow they saw me. I mounted Ao Yue in an instant, but somehow they still caught up to me.
Had we fought, the battle may have been difficult. There were only four of them and I had Ao Yue, but their weapons and armor glowed like moonlight and their movements were swift.
I was about to strike first when one of them raised her hands and took off her helmet, revealing a human face and hair the color of sunset. She convinced her friends to lower their weapons, but even as I write, I keep one hand on mine. We may share a camp tonight, but I dare not sleep.
The armored ones had many questions when they awoke. They were surprised that I had raised Ao Yue myself, and even more surprised that I came from a different land of monsters. That seemed important to them.
I asked questions too. They say it is their armor that lets them see at night and move with such speed. I did not believe it until the orange haired woman let me wear her helmet. With it I could see through darkness as though it were bathed in green light, or see the red shadows of distant creatures. It was like magic.
They asked if I wanted to stay in their village for a time. I doubt I will stay long…but I want to see more of this magic.
This village is as strange as the armor its residents wear. They use tools containing light and sleep in glowing metal cases. They offered one to me, but I refused. I have slept outside with Ao Yue and Xiao instead. I have no desire to sleep in something that looks like a coffin.
They claim that their tools are not magic, but machines. I do not understand how that is possible. On the island, there were many weapons and tools that were new to me, but they were made of real things. How does one touch light, much less shape it?
It is wondrous and beautiful, but I wish I understood it. I will have to try harder.
I have tried to earn my keep by helping with chores and other tasks, but I usually get in the way or slow things down. Compared to the others, I am like a child, and they treat me as such.
This was a mistake. I belong in the forest with the beasts, not among these people in their glowing metal halls. I will ask them for supplies and depart within the week.
I asked the woman with orange hair if I could take some supplies when I left, but she refused to do so for free. She said if I wanted the supplies, I had to try to use their armor first. It seemed like a trick, but I wanted to try the armor anyway, so I accepted.If I have been tricked, then I have never been so glad to be fooled. When I am in that armor, my blood dances in my veins and I can feel the world around me. It is as if I was asleep for my whole life, and I only awoke when I put the armor on.I cannot leave after feeling that, not until I at least master the armor. Perhaps then, but not now.
Discretion is the key to the armor. When I started, I would leap further than I intended, turn too sharply or grip objects too tightly. Now I am in complete control. I could scale a mountain while carrying an egg and never break it, but also smash stone or fight a beast bare handed.Once I got used to the armor, my experience as a warrior helped me learn quickly. I can already outpace Juzi in a race and beat her in the sparring ring. I try to go easy on her now. She helped me a lot so I do not wish to shame her.I should call her by her proper name too, but Diana sounds too serious for a woman that laughs so much. Juzi fits her better. She doesn’t mind it, but I don’t think she knows I’ve named her after an orange.
Three days ago, I was asked to help the villagers obtain a clutch of dragon eggs. Only then did it occur to me that they did not have many creatures at their command. They relied far more on their tools. Perhaps this is why they were so impressed with Ao Yue.
The hunt went well. I had to do much of the work and explain many things, but the others were grateful. It also let me test the limits of my armor. By now, using it is no different to me than wielding a sword, and I welcomed the challenge.
After the hunt, no one treats me like a child anymore, even when their tools confuse me. I suppose we all have different things that we excel at.
I have turned into something of a stable master. The others are still unused to the presence of so many beasts, and have to be taught how to care for them. It is a lot of work, but I do not mind. It has been comforting to be around so many beasts again.I have also taught them some lessons in close quarters combat. While their weapons are powerful, most of these people are not warriors. They have not tasted war. Juzi claims she was a soldier, but that she fought by flying metal ships through the clouds. She says she will show me how if we ever escape these caves. I doubt it, but it is nice to imagine.
Juzi has finally convinced me to start sleeping in the metal pods the others use. I must admit, I slept more soundly, though perhaps that was because I knew she could no longer pester me about it.I do many things like the other villagers now. I eat like them, I dress like them, and I work with them. I still struggle with their tools and I know that I can never truly be one of them, but that was true during the Yellow Turban Rebellion too. Those who I fought beside were my comrades, but I could never be a true soldier like they were. If that is my place in this village, then I do not mind staying for a while longer. It is not so bad.
I must move quickly. The tribe sent a party into the depths of the caverns, where rivers of violet fire flow freely and nothing grows. They sought something important, something that could help the whole village, but they have not returned.
There is no response when we call for them through our messenger boxes. The other villagers fear them lost to the terrible demons that lurk there. I refuse to believe that. Juzi is with them.
I have equipped Ao Yue with armor and weapons like my own, and donned armor that will protect me from the violet fire. Whatever beasts or demons lie in our path, we will destroy them utterly, and bring Juzi’s team back.
This is a place of death. The ground is scarred and barren, and there is no light or movement save that of the violet fire. Even Ao Yue does not seem to like it. The living should not tread here.
Why would Juzi come here? What was so important that she would risk this place, and why would she not tell me? Whatever the reason, it has already cost some of her teammates their lives. I found their bodies earlier today, mangled and partially devoured beside the remains of their beasts. Thankfully Juzi was not among them.
Great towers of crystal loom ahead, where the violet fire has frozen solid. Perhaps she has found shelter there.
With my weapon’s enhanced sight, I spotted two survivors running from a huge monster, but a crystal formation stood in my way. Rather than go around it, I sent Ao Yue ahead and fired through it. My aim was true, and the demon reeled. By the time it recovered, Ao Yue was upon it, and we finished it together.
I knew one of the survivors was Juzi when she ran up to hug me. I am unused to such gestures, but I think she understood how grateful I was for her safety. Her teammate is wounded, but alive. With rest, he will survive.
Even now, I cannot convince Juzi to leave. I even tried using her real name, Diana, to show her I was serious, but she will not hear it. She says the plans she was looking for are too important, but what could be worth what happened to her teammate?
It was disgusting. He started spasming in the middle of the night, and then a smaller version of the monster that was attacking them burst from his chest and tore out his heart. Blood and bone sprayed everywhere, and I was too stunned to act until it leaped at me. Fortunately I was able to hold it off until Juzi could shoot it.
Whatever we are seeking, I fear we will face even worse dangers to obtain it.
Juzi said that the item she sought was in some ruins not far from where we were camped. However, when she called them ruins, I had not expected to see buildings like the ones in our own village. It was puzzling, to see buildings that looked at once ancient and new.
I had little time to dwell on the ruins, for we were quickly set upon by more of the great demons. They rushed us, slobbering and gnashing as Juzi scrambled to find what she was looking for. I was able to hold them off with Ao Yue’s cannons, but by the time Juzi found her prize, we were being overrun.
To my shame, I had to leave Ao Yue behind to hold the demons off while we escaped. It pained me to hear his roars as we fled, but his sacrifice saved our lives. Forgive me, my loyal friend.
Without Ao Yue, we had to move cautiously. Another battle with the demons could prove fatal, but we managed to avoid their sight. All that was left was the climb.
With no mount, we had to use climbing picks to slowly make our way upwards. It was a long and treacherous ascent, and we both nearly fell several times. Fortunately, we were there to catch and support each other, and through our combined strength, we safely reached the caverns above.
After the climb, we lay there for a long time. I cannot remember if we laughed or cried. Perhaps both. Juzi says that the item she found could help the entire village, but I do not care. I am just so glad we are both still alive.
We received a hero’s welcome when we limped back to the village. The others say that Juzi’s treasure will help complete a magic door that can take us out of this place. They speak of escape and of returning home.
That should excite me more. I used to long for those things, yet what comforts me most is that when they speak of their future, they include me in it. I am finally one of them, not as a mercenary or out of desperation, but because I am wanted.
I owe it to Juzi, I think. No, to Diana. She trusted me before anyone else. I will not forget that.
I have been thinking of home lately. It is so far away now. I think that perhaps, it is out of reach. Even if the others can complete their magic door, I do not think I will ever see it again.
I can accept that now. I can move past it. I have a new home now, I think, and while I am still not used to its oddities, I feel as though it is mine. Each day I grow more adept with the tools here, and more used to my routine. It has become normal to me.
And now that this place is my home, I swear that no harm will come to it. I shall protect it with my life.