It took the young priestess quite some time to gather all the supplies she needed. Partly because she had some trouble finding her way through the narrow streets of Fys Kharia. Built more like a military outpost than a normal village, it was made of several tall and sturdy buildings, divided by a maze of tortuous alleys. It reminded her of Fys Espyr more than any other settlement, but without the grace and the beauty of the capital.
The last thing she was missing were herbs. She was told that she could find them at a small house, near the border. Liryl headed there somewhat melancholically, because she knew this would be her last act before leaving Espyria forever. Besides, her mood was certainly not helped by the cold and distant attitude displayed by the other nymphs whenever they noticed the rune on her forehead. It was like she had already crossed the border of her homeland.
Liryl reached out to pick one of the herbs, placed on a shelf taller than her head. But in the effort she lost her grip on the bag with the other supplies, which fell down and poured out its content. Cursing to herself, the girl started frantically collecting everything she had scattered on the ground when, to her surprise, another person kneeled down to help her. Intrigued, the girl looked up, and met two golden eyes, as surprised as her own.
“My lady, I did not expect to meet you again,” Valhias said, hesitantly. “Not so soon, at least.”
“… Me neither,” Liryl replied, staring at the ambassador with an astonished face. After a few seconds of embarrassing silent, the girl resumed collecting her things. The ath’ar too stood still for a few moments, before hurrying to help the girl. As soon as her bag was finally full again – including the herbs she had been looking for – Liryl turned towards the ambassador once more.
“Thanks for helping me, before. But, if I can ask,” she wondered, intrigued, “what’re you doing here? I thought you returned to your land.”
“I am headed there, indeed,” he confirmed. “I came here yesterday, and I took the opportunity to trade some supplies with the villagers. Even though it has not been easy.”
Liryl smiled bitterly. “I know a bit about that myself.”
“Rather, for what reason are you here, my lady?” Valhias asked, as well. “I thought you were on a journey.”
The girl looked down. “… I am, actually.”
The ath’ar looked around. “I have not seen your friend, though. Are you travelling on your own?”
Liryl winced, as Valhias’s words reached deep inside her, there where something lay which she had forcibly buried. Something which those words had now shattered in pieces.
Without uttering a single word, the girl ran away from the house, down a windy and foreign alley.
Liryl ended her flight in a small empty square. A modest fountain was in the middle of it, adorned by the statue of a fish gushing water from its mouth. The girl sat on the edge of the fountain and hid her face in her hands.
Only a few hours had passed since she left Eris, and the loneliness was already starting to feel unbearable. Will every day be like this, from now on? Will I wander from a country to another, stranger among strangers, until I grow tired of living? Liryl’s sob echoed in the empty square. I’m already tired of this life.
A hand unexpectedly laid on her shoulder, startling her. Valhias, too, gasped briefly, scared by the girl’s reaction.
“I beg your pardon, my lady, I did not intend to trouble you again,” he apologized in an embarrassed tone. “But I believe you have forgotten this, when you fled.”
Liryl stared slack-jawed in astonishment. It was her priestess’s staff. She had obtained it a few hours before, the last bond she still had with her past, and she had already risked losing it.
“… Thanks,” she murmured hesitantly.
Valhias bowed courteously, then turned to leave, but Liryl called him back. “Wait!”
The ath’ar looked at her, confused.
“Could you … could you keep me company for a moment, Valhias?” the young priestess asked, timidly.
Valhias seemed surprised by the girl’s request, but nodded and sat next to her on the fountain’s edge.
A few seconds passed in a painful silence, during which Liryl blamed herself for asking the ath’ar to stay, without the slightest idea of why.
Maybe, it’s just a way to escape solitude.
“You addressed me in an unusually formal manner before,” the ath’ar noted, suddenly.
“W-what?” the girl blurted, with a confused face.
“When you asked me if I could stay here for longer,” Valhias explained, “you addressed me unlike usual.”
“Ah …” the girl exclaimed quietly. A few moments passed. “I think it’s … because I felt guilty about asking you to stay,” she finally answered, staring at the cobblestones beneath her feet.
“You have nothing to apologize for,” he reassured her. “If anything … I should be the one to ask for your forgiveness, for the question I asked you a moment ago. I do not know your language quite well, and so, sometimes, I end up saying something offensive without realizing it …”
Liryl could not hold back a laugh. It did not sound especially cheerful, but it was the first genuine laugh she had let out in a long time.
“It’s got nothing to do with your knowledge of my language, Valhias,” she replied, ruefully. “It’s just that … I’m on a journey, because I must leave here.”
“Why must you leave?” the ath’ar asked.
Liryl tried to ignore the lump forming in her throat.
“Because I did something unforgivable, and for this I’ve been exiled.” The girl shook her head. “I wouldn’t even deserve to be comforted.”
A long silence fell between the two. Then, Valhias spoke.
“I do not know what you did, my lady, and I apologize if what I am about to say will offend you in some way, but …” The ath’ar hesitated, thinking about how to phrase what he was going to say. “I believe that there is no crime so serious as to be unforgivable, and that everybody deserves to be comforted …” the ambassador turned towards the nymph. “Or, at least, to be allowed to express one’s own sorrow.”
The girl slowly moved her gaze away from the ground, until she met Valhias’s eyes, but her efforts to hold back eventually failed. Her lips trembled, as the first tears started streaming down her azure cheeks. Then, Liryl could not take it anymore. All the despair, the sorrow, the anger, the fear, the regret she had piled up and hidden over the last days burst at once, and the girl threw herself in the ath’ar’s arms, weeping with abandon until her chest started aching from her sobbing. Behind her, the gushes of water ticked softly on the bottom of the fountain.
The young priestess eventually recovered enough to regain her voice, but something still burdened her, a load which her tears could not free her from.
“Would you have the time,” the nymph asked, staring into the eyes of the ambassador, “to hear … a story?”
It was the most absurd of many absurd questions she had been asking over the last few days. Why should anybody care – least of all him? But, to her surprise, Valhias nodded. He did not talk, he did not move closer to her, he did not show any expression. He just nodded with a serious face.
Liryl, then, started telling. About how her journey started, about how she happened to meet the ath’ar, about what occurred after that, all the way until the tragic outcome and her exile. She talked for what felt to her like an infinite time, until her voice died out. Valhias listened to her carefully, without interrupting her even once, until she had finished her tale.
“What shall you do, now?” he asked her, after a few seconds of silence.
“I don’t know,” she admitted. “I think I’ll get past the Great Barrier, and then … I’ll try to survive. To find the will to keep on living.”
“But where shall you go stay?” Valhias asked. “Do you have any idea of what is out there, beyond the Great Barrier?”
The girl replied with a sad smile. “Nothing more than what you told me, actually.”
The ath’ar pondered for a few moments.
“I could travel with you until Yolara then, my lady,” he thus proposed. “It is the largest city of all Limira. I am sure you could find a way to make a living there, if that is what you are looking for.”
“And you would do such a thing, for me?” Liryl asked, puzzled by the ath’ar’s offer. “Wouldn’t I be a burden, to you?”
“Judging from what you told me, I do not believe so, my lady,” Valhias replied confidently. “After all, you told me yourself that you managed to survive for four days on Mount Esper.”
Hearing him praising her for the same action which got her exiled left Liryl bewildered. But, after all, it was but one of the many contradictions of her new situation.
Liryl stared in silence at the deep chasm. A rivulet streamed at its bottom, over a hundred feet below where the young priestess was standing. Meanwhile, A group of nymphs was working hard to lower a wooden bridge, held by ropes.
Once I cross that chasm, I will officially cross Espyria’s border.
During the past days, Liryl had been imagining this moment over and over, wondering how it would have felt like to her. Perhaps, she would have cried. Maybe she would have tried to flee, or she would have jumped down out of despair. Instead, she watched the bridge lowering in silence, with nothing in her heart but a mute sense of anticipation.
“You do not look sad now, my lady,” Valhias noted.
“I’m not, indeed,” she replied, with a serene expression. “What about you? Are you sad, maybe?”
“No,” he answered, shaking his head. “I was being honest when I told you that I hoped our paths would cross again someday, my lady.”
A giggle came out from the young priestess’s lips.
“What is amusing you, now?” Valhias asked, puzzled by the girl’s reaction.
“Nothing, I too hoped that our paths would cross again, ‘my lord'” Liryl replied with a smile, mocking the clumsy accent of her interlocutor. Smiling, and looking forward.