Chapter 10: The Changeling and the Skeleton

Six months have passed since I learned of her circumstances, and my routine has become clockwork. I help pick wild plants depending on the season, and gather firewood before winter. It helps I have no nerves.

On a side note, the world of Garea has 4 seasons, 12 months and 365 days in a year like on Earth. The climate appears to be similar to the Earth’s northern hemisphere.

The hares have changed their coats to white. Soon enough, snow lightly blankets the entire forest. I trudge through the snow, wearing the shoes that Helena had gifted me. At first I was a bit shaky, but now I can walk just as well as without it. My cloak always cover my feet, but I had completely forgotten about my footprints. I hope she hasn’t paid too much attention to the ground.

I reach the cabin, and gaze at her lonely figure, sweeping the doorstep. I recall her life’s story from the day after <Project Voice> evolved. At the time, I couldn’t translate everything, but I had understood enough to imagine her past.

Since coming of age, Helena had developed a weak constitution. She was gifted in magic in the sense that no one else could learn it. As a result, the villagers accused her of being a changeling, an imposter switched by the fairies as an infant, and doomed to die at a young age. The only fairy I know of is Si, and she would never have to the heart to do something so cruel. Come to think of it, I should really pay her a visit.

Anyway, due to her father’s standing in the village, she was banished to this cabin in the woods. The children who visit are actually sneaking in, but their parents are probably aware and refuse to raise a ruckus. The woodsman is actually her brother, though he still keeps his distance.

These accusations greatly aggravate me, but it’s to be expected of medieval logic. On second thought, can I actually apply this reasoning given the existence of healing magic? Basically, her genetics led to a weaker immune system, but all the villagers can do is blame it on fairies. Actually, that makes me twice as annoyed!

I walk up to her gate and give a light greeting. I hear her soothing voice beckon me inside. It appears she hasn’t caught a cold, thank goodness. I brush the snow from my body and we both enter.

Unfortunately, she still has snow on her soles. After a few steps she almost slips, reaching out for me to hold her. Naturally, I react to help, but withdraw my arms at the last moment. As a result, she falls on her side then gives me a disappointed glare.

 

“I’m so sorry, Helena. I was… erm…”

“Sigh, do not worry about it Enbos. Can you at least help me up?”

 

I extended my padded gloves and pull her up. I really am sorry Helena, but you’re the last person I want to touch my body.

I recall the season before when a pair of hunters spotted me practising tongue twisters in the dead of night. They fled, screaming something about, “the ghosts are real!” I had to vacate that area for several weeks. Luckily, the incident didn’t occur near the cabin, but I was deprived of my favourite rabbit burrow.

Anyway, I digress. The important thing were their reactions. I stare at her back while she prepares a kettle. I like to think we’re close associates, so I can’t imagine her having the same reaction. But what I dread most is the fact that something will change.

Will her warm voice turn bitter? Will she look away in revulsion? I do not know, but I want to maintain our status quo.

My thoughts are interrupted by the sound of boiling water. A while later, she prepares two cups of herbal tea. We both know I won’t drink my serving, but it’s a show of consideration. I stare at the swirling tea leaves and ponder our relationship.

She was willing to tell me about herself. It wasn’t easy, so she broke it up over several days. I also offered to talk, yet she rejected it with a thoughtful smile. That consideration wounds me… despite the fact I had just said things are fine as they are.

Do I want something to change after all?

I unconsciously grab the cup as I slip back into my old ways. Helena freezes on the spot, watching in anticipation. I realise my folly and let go, releasing the tension in the air.

I silently hope our relationship could last, as my cup of tea turns cold.


 

My lesson for today ends. It’s just general knowledge and the history of Aren from the point of view of the Reinsol Kingdom. Lately, she has been sharing current news she heard from the children. It’s less of a learning experience and more of a friendly conversation.

 

“So a new crop was introduced from the New Frontier. Instead of eating the leaves, they say you eat the deformed tubers that grow underground. Apparently, it’s poisonous if the tubers are exposed to sunlight, but some of the farmers have been willing to cultivate this bizarre plant.”

 

Wait, isn’t that a potato? I heard the countries of Aren are in a race to colonise the “New Frontier”, but isn’t it this world’s equivalent of the new world, America? Territorial disputes or maybe even a civil war could break out.

 

“Eh, there was such a plant in this world?”

“Surprising, isn’t it?”

“I guess there are still many strange things in Garea that defy common sense.”

 

Helena appears amused at my words. Did I mispronounce something?

 

“Enbos, your literacy is already as good as mine in only eight months.”

 

Eh? Didn’t I just make a mistake? Are you being sarcastic?

 

“I’ve already taught you everything I know about Aren. Wouldn’t you agree it’s time you should start experiencing it for yourself?”

 

Why are saying such a thing? Have I finally overstayed my welcome, or… are you worried you’re binding me to this place?

 

“I’m not going anywhere without you, Helena. If I’m going to travel, you will have to come with me.”

 

Huh, what the hell am I saying!? It almost sounds like a… look, she’s even blushing a little! I would cover my face in shame, but it’s already hidden behind a smooth, simple mask. I’m getting better at making these.

 

“You know I can’t, Enbos. My body is not as “enduring” as yours.”

“Who knows? Maybe travelling will do wonders for you.”

“I-it’s impossible. Also, if people discover my condition, we’ll be chased out. Sometimes, I feel I’m not really human…”

“Please don’t say those things to me!”

 

I unexpectedly lash out, stirring Helena from her self-pity. It’s a feeling I know all too well, and compared to my undead form, she is indubitably human.

Seemingly in understanding, she casts down her eyes and asks, “Forgive me, Tyler.”

It’s the first time she has used my actual name.

 

“Don’t sweat it.”

“You know, you use the strangest phrases. I hope I don’t copy you and start teaching Anna, Kyle and Joel the same thing.”

 

I laugh at her joke as the mood considerably lightens. It’s getting late, and now is the best moment to leave. But before I could get up and fetch my sword, she places her hand atop my own.

 

“Enbos, before you go, I have a sma~ll request…”

“… Why do I have a bad feeling?”


 

 

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