Journey's Dawn

Journey's Dawn

Mina is a renowned traveler whose journals are widely read by the Aurorians of Astra. In one of her travel logs, Mina describes a regret she has held in her heart ever since she was a young girl. When she was growing up in a village along the banks of the Gold River, she formed a deep friendship with a knight from Lumopolis named Sheriozha, but, in the end, they had to go their separate ways. In this story entitled Journey's Dawn, the veils on both the Lumo Knights and Luminatics will be lifted one by one.

For Mina, those days confined to the banks of Gold River as a teenager are unforgettable. Back then, her life lacked both excitement and meaning, leaving her to endure the most basic of existences. But all this changed when the caravan appeared.

Many times have I sat on the banks of the Gold River, watching the sun move slowly across the sky.

The frigid water lapped my calves, and I felt my stomach twitch. Sif's father was out in the river fishing with his net. He would often look back and smile at us, his hand behind his back, but I knew that his palm was covered in brown scabs.

Sif was barefoot, running back and forth along the riverbank. She deposited the mussels she collected in a big pile next to me, then had me pry them open with my knife and scoop out the meat while she waded in to wash the cuts the gravel had made on her feet.

The sun shone brilliantly on us.

There was nothing quite so difficult as going to Sif's house to eat. I had to try very hard to eat at exactly the same pace as her because I always felt horribly impolite whether I finished before or after her.

Sif's mother was kind enough to give me dried fish and bacon to take home to my drunken father.

"Things would be much better if only your mother was still alive," she said.

Sif's mother liked to comb my messy hair back with her fingers. When she did so, her eyes were always tired, and she appeared to be looking across a long distance at someone else entirely.

She and my mother were good friends, just like Sif and me.

When my mother died, my father and I lived off the good will she had generated.

Father was afraid I would catch him drinking. He always stood far away from me when I returned home, but the smell of alcohol was too strong to hide. He would order me to put the food on the wobbly wooden table, then have me go wash my clothes. After he fell asleep, I would go looking for his hidden liquor bottles.

They were everywhere. Under the bed, in piles of clothes, in the ashes of the stove...

I would always rinse them out in the river and tie a fishing net rope around their necks, tying them into strings of ten. There were two nails pounded into each side of the bedroom windows, and I hung the bottles there. A shining little sun reflected off each bottle, and they made crisp clinking sounds as they knocked against each other.

Until that day, this was my only form of entertainment.

(to be continued)

For Mina, those days confined to the banks of Gold River as a teenager are unforgettable. Back then, her life lacked both excitement and meaning, leaving her to endure the most basic of existences. But all this changed when the caravan appeared.

I remember it was a gloomy day. The wind blew leaves and dust spiralling around in the air.

Horse bells could be heard in the distance, and the children pressed their ears to the ground to hear the hoofbeats. It was a caravan! They had stopped in an empty field outside the town, unfolded their great white tent, and arrayed their goods inside.

Hearing the commotion, many villagers rushed to the field to have a look. Sif and I squeezed through the crowd. She gripped my hand tightly, and I felt nervousness and excitement spread along with my bones and skin and into my heart.

The air was filled with the stench of horse dung, but despite the long journey, the caravaners' clothes were glossy, and their faces were clean and full of vigor. At the time, I did not know that this was the work of Luminatics.

The news quickly spread that the caravaners would take grain, wool, and horn for fine clothes and beer. Some merchants went to the village and stayed at inns that had not seen business in half a year. Before long, the odor of cooked peas wafted out of the windows.

The clothing merchants barked out their wares, draping the material across their arms and unfolding it to display to the onlookers. There was snow-white, peacock green, sapphire blue, sunset red... It was the first time I had ever seen such vibrant colors.

Sif told me she wanted to trade the wolf pelts she caught last winter for a white dress. That was when I thought of the glass bottles hanging outside my window.

"I have to try at least," I said to myself.

After the caravan declined Mina's request to trade goods with them, she stood embarrassed in its shade, at a loss. It was then that a man in white armor saved her from her plight. Mina then learned his name—it was Sheriozha.

When Sif and I returned home, she took the wolf pelts, rolled them tightly into a bundle, and put them under her arm. As I walked along, the string of bottles in my hands clinked a merry tune. These simple objects were our treasures.

Sif was so excited. She almost seemed to be leaping in the direction of the caravan, but the bottles were heavy and fragile, so I followed slowly behind. I felt as though everyone was looking our way. I had never been the center of attention before in my life, and felt very happy for a moment.

"What do you want to trade these for?" the puzzled merchant said as we walked up to him.

I didn't understand what he meant. I just craned my neck eagerly to glance at the cornucopia of goods arrayed behind him, over and again.

"We don't accept wine bottles," he stated plainly. Finally, he asked, "Are those just ordinary wine bottles?"

At that moment, I felt a sudden ringing in my ears, and my embarrassment froze me to the spot. The sun above my head seemed to be pounding like a drum. Even the sound of my bottles clattering against each other became unbearable.

The bottles were too heavy, and my hand began to tremble under the weight of the rope tying them together. Sweat began to drip down the back of my neck and ears, but I still couldn't force my feet to move.

Suddenly, I heard a low voice to the right of me,

"Girl, what do you want to trade these bottles for?"

(to be continued)

After the caravan declined Mina's request to trade goods with them, she stood embarrassed in its shade, at a loss. It was then that a man in white armor saved her from her plight. Mina then learned his name—it was Sheriozha.

That was the first time I met Sheriozha. The sun flashed blindingly off his silver armor.

At the time, Sheriozha was thirty-something and had been hired to guard the caravan. He removed his helmet, revealing sweaty brown bangs and a thick, prickly beard, and he smiled at me with a set of pearly white teeth.

He wanted my bottles and gave me a sort of white bread called a "Lumopolis Ration Biscuit" in exchange. He told me that these were made especially for Lumopolis soldiers, and I wrapped them in the corner of my skirt.

I had gotten something truly amazing! My embarrassment melted away.

Sheriozha took a bottle off the rope and held it in his hand. Shimmering waves of heat raised from the hand holding the bottle, which contracted and twisted.

"Do you like puppies? I did when I was little," he said.

Sheriozha opened his hand to reveal a little glass puppy sitting inside. But even more than that, I was curious about the waves of heat that rose into the air. Sheriozha noticed my excitement and grinned.

"That's Luminatics. Do you want to learn?"

The caravan stayed for three days, and it was like the whole village came back to life. The chimneys smelled of smoking meats, children ran barefoot through the streets, old men got their canes and hobbled out of their dark houses, and even the waters of the Gold River seemed less cold. Sheriozha sat on the village stage and tried to teach me Luminatics. Sif sat beside me, following along or sometimes dozing off against me.

Sheriozha liked strolling through the village after dinner, and Sif and I followed. He almost never removed his armor or the sword and shield he had strapped on. Once, I sprinted forward, tapped on the engraved shield, and asked what it was.

"That's a tower shield," he told me. "A symbol of the Lumo Knights."

After three days, the caravan departed, and Sheriozha bid farewell to us.

A month after that, I could finally produce a fist-sized ball of water in my hand.

I had acquired a new destiny.

After Sheriozha left the village, he sent letters to Mina regularly. Mina fantasized infinitely about the outside world, and to this end, she eventually fled the village to explore its many mysteries.

Three months after Sheriozha left, someone knocked on my window.

"Excuse me, does Mina live here?"

Two rosy cheeks and a pair of white-blond pigtails were pressed up against the window. She saw me, blinked her olive-green eyes, and looked back into her backpack. She then pulled out a small leather-bound booklet. Two emerald-green wings protruded from her back, their glossy feathers shining in the sun, and her fingers tapped at the emblem attached to the booklet.

"Courier Union," she read it slow and clear.

After confirming that I was the right person, she handed me a package wrapped in waterproof paper, took two steps back, and unfolded her wings. Dust kicked up as she spun in a circle, then she waved to me, and the next thing I knew, she was gone.

I tore open the package, and inside was a letter and a gift from Sheriozha. The letter was short, and only later, after I learned to read and write, I knew that the letter was full of mistakes. The gift was a dandelion, slender stem supporting a white ball of fluff. Much later, I learned that the flower was from far-off Eraveil.

Sheriozha continued to send packages with various gifts: Northland sausages, wood figurines of Queen Bethlehem, bullets carved with Illumina's double star insignia, candies that you could blow like a whistle, odd-tasting crunchy munchy crunch, and once, even an Eclipsite's eye.

A different courier brought each letter, but they all had some sort of demi-human characteristics, like wings, horns, tusks, or spots. After getting used to these messengers, I tried to talk to them more. Eventually, I even asked them for help reading my letters.

Whatever they looked like, they were always the highlight of my day.

Sheriozha's final package was sent from Lumopolis. When I opened it, a drawing fell out. It was of him, standing on a spacious balcony with the wide-open sky behind him. I quickly guessed that the location was Lumopolis. He had told me that the city was built on the floating island of Azurite, where the Aurorians lived. That was the last package I received from Sheriozha.

(to be continued)

After Sheriozha left the village, he sent letters to Mina regularly. Mina fantasized infinitely about the outside world, and to this end, she eventually fled the village to explore its many mysteries.

Six months later, while my father was in one of his drunken stupors, I took my knapsack and left home. Inside was only a small bit of food. The rest of the space was taken up by Sheriozha's letters and gifts. Following the directions given to me by the couriers, I soon arrived at the Courier Union post.

A few of the couriers recognized me. I explained my father's degeneracy with some exaggeration for good measure, and they agreed to take me in, in exchange for my help sorting mails and other chores. During this time, I learned to read and write. I read Sheriozha's letters over and over, and although his writing was messy, I could still make out what he meant. He rarely described his travels but often wrote of his youth. Although born in Lumopolis, he was poor like me, and I sensed that he was trying to comfort me. After all, he was a Lumo Knight, and all his hardships had only made him stronger. Eventually, I started to write him back. I sent the letters to the address in his last letter, but I received no reply.

Sif and her mother ran into me when they went into town.

She grabbed my arm and did not let go, crying and wailing about her worries for me. Looking at her tear-stained face, I couldn't help but feel guilty. I couldn't speak, even to apologize, and just wiped the tears from her face.

Finally, Sif wiped away the snot with her sleeve and sobbed one word:

"Look."

She closed her eyes, and blinding lightning flashed around her, piercing through the air.

Mina applied to join the Courier Union, but her application was declined. As she waited for Sheriozha's next letter, she began to lose all hope, and finally decided to leave the land where she had reinvented herself to see the outside world with her own eyes. Her first stop was Lumopolis.

I had tried to join the Courier Union, but I was rejected.

"Mina, you're too young."

"You're not fast enough. It's not your fault. It's just... you can only run with your feet."

"It's too dangerous. One slip up, and you'll hurt yourself."

"Have you ever encountered an Eclipsite? I have."

"The pay isn't great anyway."

"Yeah, that's the main thing."

Even though they complained that the job had all these problems, they would deliver their letters with a big smile every day.

The couriers would not relent, so I had to drop the issue and go back to sorting letters, hoping that I would run across a letter from Sheriozha. But that was not successful, either.

After Sif learned Luminatics, her parents allowed her to go into the city alone. We would sit with the couriers under the oak tree in front of the post, and acorns would fall on our heads. I loved to ask the couriers about Lumopolis, especially the knights, but I didn't get long answers.

"The knights are powerful, especially their Luminatics."

"I once made a delivery to a Lumo Knight. She was the epitome of elegance, even when opening a letter."

"Do you know anything else?" they asked one another.

"I haven't met too many of them, to be honest."

Sif sat back with her hands propping her up, the sunlight filtering through the leaves and dancing on her upturned face. "I'd like to see them myself."

I don't know whether this was the deciding moment, but I had decided. I would see everywhere with my own eyes: Lumopolis, Eraveil, Illumina Undercity, the Rediesel Desert, Umbraton, and even the Secret Territory.

(to be continued)

Mina applied to join the Courier Union, but her application was declined. As she waited for Sheriozha's next letter, she began to lose all hope, and finally decided to leave the land where she had reinvented herself to see the outside world with her own eyes. Her first stop was Lumopolis.

Perhaps there was more to it than just wanting to cast off the shackles of the land my curiosity had outgrown. My departure held a deeper meaning to me—it was a chance to reach out and touch the very purpose of life itself. Like Sheriozha, I was not born to endure a life of monotony and unfulfilled dreams.

When I turned seventeen, Sif and I finally hit the road together. I had proposed that our first destination should be Lumopolis, and Sif agreed.

We journeyed up the Gold River in a rickety wooden boat, crashing to and fro upon its current for half a month before reaching the bend nearest Lumopolis.

"Azurite!"

Sif raised her arm and pointed into the sky. I put my hand to my brow looked in the direction she was pointing. That's when I saw it—a floating island, like a round hat with a conical top, floating above the eastern wastelands, majestically illuminated by the blinding sun.

The closer we get to it, the more apparent its grandeur and authority became to us. As we entered its shadow, a wave of frigid air enveloped us. Shadows are too cold for Aurorians.

The shuttle hub is the only place you can get in and out of Lumopolis, and if you wish to access it, you have to go by airship. But Sif and I didn't even have the credentials required to board the airship, so we were asked to leave Lumopolis:

"All travelers need to apply for approval from the Foreign Affairs Department to enter Lumopolis!"

Sif asked, "How long does it take to get approval?"

"Half a month to a month."

Obviously, we didn't have enough savings to stay there that long. Even the airship fare was more than we could afford. Left with no other choice, we turned around and left.

As we threw around a few suggestions for our next destination, Sif said angrily, "Wherever you want to go, just make sure it's somewhere that doesn't need any kind of approval to enter!"

So, we decided that our next destination was to be Northland.

But on our way to Northland, fate offered us a chance to enter Lumopolis for free.

Although she was turned away upon trying to enter Lumopolis, Mina was lucky enough to be given another chance to enter, and a free chance at that. After successfully making her way into the city, Mina inquired about Sheriozha's residence, but was met with nothing but unreliable information.

After leaving the port of Lumopolis, we headed to the north, and the road seemed endless. That was when we came across a wounded courier who had encountered an Eclipsite on her way to Lumopolis. After the Darkover Crisis, Eclipsites can often be found venturing inland. She was slumped over the back of a reindeer, her wings and lower leg stained with bright red blood dripping down the reindeer's fur.

Sif and I took her to the nearby post, where the other couriers healed her wounds with Luminatics. To show her gratitude, she suggested that we rest at the post for a couple of days. Eventually, the matter of our failed attempt to enter Lumopolis came up.

"There are tight restrictions on all cargo and travelers entering Lumopolis," she looked at us with a smile, "but the Courier Union doesn't transport cargo, and we're not travelers."

"We have special permission to enter and exit Lumopolis. All we need to do is show proof of identification to the guards."

She took something out from her pocket—a notebook that I had seen countless times at the post near my hometown. Couriers used it to record their travels. It was affixed with two badges, engraved with the image of a flowing feather quill.

She removed the badges and pinned them to our chests. "With these, you'll be able to travel in and out of Lumopolis unimpeded. I can lend them to you only temporarily, and you must not tell a soul."

Sif and I followed the courier to Lumopolis and boarded an airship reserved exclusively for union personnel.

As we took off, my hand fell upon a rolled-up piece of paper in my pocket. It was the last thing Sheriozha had sent me.

(to be continued)

Although she was turned away upon trying to enter Lumopolis, Mina was lucky enough to be given another chance to enter, and a free chance at that. After successfully making her way into the city, Mina inquired about Sheriozha's residence, but was met with nothing but unreliable information.

The shuttle hub leads to Umbraton. People describe it as the most chaotic, noisy, and dangerous area of the noble Lumopolis, but I knew they had used the wrong adjectives the first time I saw it. It was clearly the most lively, exciting, and vibrant area of Lumopolis.

As soon as we reached the shuttle hub, we were greeted by all kinds of pubs, cafés, and jewelry shops. The air was filled with the fragrance of spices, beer, and cocoa beans. Sif even sneezed in the middle of the street, her senses apparently overwhelmed by this sudden olfactory assault. The Aurorians walked hand in hand through the street, and their heels knocked against the paving stones, composing a continuous and crisp melody. The shop assistants standing in front of their stores were well-dressed and equally well-behaved, calmly holding handkerchiefs between their fingers that seemed to coat unsuspecting pedestrians with an array of strong fragrances.

This was Sheriozha's hometown.

While Sif pressed her nose against a shop window and stared at a beautifully regal necklace hanging from a mannequin's bust, I asked an Aurorian sitting on the steps drinking a beer for the address Sheriozha had left me.

"That's in the slums," he said. He was a little drunk, and his mustache was covered in white foam. He raised his eyes and looked at me, "What are you heading there for, little girl?"

I told him that I was looking for a knight.

"A knight?" he shook his head and smiled, "What kind of knight would live in that place?"

I felt my expression stiffed for a moment, but I tried to hide my uneasiness. I argued, "He has a tower shield granted only to a knight!"

"A tower shield?" As he swirled the words around his mouth for a moment, I was afraid he was preparing to spit out some form of distasteful criticism, but he said, "That is indeed an item carried only by a knight. Where did you meet him, girl?"

I had the feeling that I should end the conversation here. Still, I couldn't stand his arrogant attitude, so I described how Sheriozha dressed, how he escorted the caravan, and about his Luminatics.

"He escorts a caravan?" he scoffed suddenly, "No Knight would ever deign to escort a caravan!"

As Mina tried to ascertain Sheriozha's address, she was struck by a barrage of incredible information. In the end, she still managed to find her idol Sheriozha, but things were not as she had expected.

I don't exactly know how I left the shuttle hub. When I recovered from my stupor, I realized that Sif was patting me on the hand as I gripped her arm too tightly. She shouted my name with clenched teeth, "Mina! You're hurting me!"

"Sorry," I said as I quickly let go of her.

Sif rubbed her arm and raised her eyes to gaze upon the rows of white-walled houses on the mountain. She asked me, "Are you sure we're going to the right place?"

I saw a road sign a few steps away, so I went forward to look at it and verified that this was indeed the address Sheriozha had written on the envelope.

After walking into a lane scattered with small houses, we lost our bearings. The outer wall of the house beside the road was covered in footprints and graffiti. The road beneath our feet was no longer formed of uniform slate paving but was now a crude muddy path. Strange, suspicious eyes darted, looking at us in the shadow. Sif grabbed my arm and asked me, "Why don't you ask someone for the specific address?"

My former uneasiness still lingered in my mind, and I was afraid I would reveal all of my heart's secrets as soon as I opened my mouth to anyone there.

But Sif didn't care. She saw a full-figured woman passing by. She stepped forward and asked her if she knew Sheriozha.

"What could you possibly want with that waste of space?" Her face formed a grimace that filled every fine line on her face with contempt. "Maybe if you can pay what he owes me, I'll tell you where he is."

Sif didn't understand what the woman was saying. "Is there someone else called Sheriozha who lives around here?" she said, then eagerly described Sheriozha to the woman.

"Girl, you missed one detail," a vagrant sitting in a corner said as he raised a dirty finger at Sif and grinned at us with a mouth half-full of yellow teeth, "You should also mention that he has a crippled left leg."

I pulled Sif toward me and left.

After walking forward for a moment, I asked some other Aurorians by the side of the road about Sheriozha. Still, their reactions were almost identical—Sheriozha had incurred significant gambling debts, resold equipment belonging to the Lumo Knights, then was caught by the public security force and ended up with a crippled leg after fighting with the soldiers...

"One time, when he was drunk, he boasted to me that he had picked up a huge bargain. Know what it was? It was a Lumo Knight tower shield and plate armor! It was like he's asking for trouble!"

"When he was young, he wanted to join the knights, but how could he ever hold such a noble position!?"

...

"Go down the hill. There is a pub at the end of the road. You can usually find him there."

Finally, someone had told us where we could find Sheriozha.

(to be continued)

As Mina tried to ascertain Sheriozha's address, she was struck by a barrage of incredible information. In the end, she still managed to find her idol Sheriozha, but things were not as she had expected.

Sif asked me, "Do you want to take a look?"

I nodded, and with a straight face, replied, "I'm not sure. They must be mistaken."

We went down the hill and finally saw the dilapidated pub. Several men of different heights were leaning against the outer wall with various tools hung from their waists. Their sleeves were rolled up to their elbows, and they held wooden beer mugs in their hands as they talked loudly.

Sitting cross-legged against the wall was a disheveled man with curly brown hair and a beard, covering most of his face. The man put his hands on the ground, leaned forward, and smiled at the others as he said, "Hey, Will, give me a sip, would you?"

A strong-looking man with black hair kicked him and laughed, "The cripple wants a drink?"

The brown-haired man whimpered strangely and moved his lame leg with his hand, then sat back against the wall, but the smile on his dirty face remained. He stretched out his tongue and licked his chapped lips, staring at the mugs in the hands of the other men.

Sif asked me, "Can you see Sheriozha? I can't even remember what he looks like anymore."

I had recognized him.

But I couldn't speak.

The sun was high above my head, and that drumming sound rose once again. I felt like my body was being filled with the murky waters of the Gold River—crashing and rising, past my mouth and nose, and submerging my eyes.

"No," I heard myself say, "maybe we should come back some other time..." This empty promise almost asphyxiated me. It was a lie. But Sif knew I was giving up the search, and she was happy. She took my hand and turned back, recounting the strange things she had seen at the shuttle hub.

We left Lumopolis that very day.

Since then, I have seldom returned to that city floating in the sky.