The Wanderer lead me through the ash. There were both large and small mushrooms, some of them as big as trees. There were black vines and lots of bug creatures that seemed to pay us no mind. We were walking through a bunch of ruined building. Many of them had been closed up against the ash but others had been worn down and there were mushrooms growing inside them.
“This place is strangely beautiful.” I said as I looked upon the things while we walked.
“Beautiful?” Asked the Wanderer. He turned his head to looked where I was looking as if he could not see what I was seeing. “I would hardly call this ash overgrown land that. It is a harsh wilderness.”
“Many people consider places like that beautiful too. Other animals have taken to this strange landscape well. It might not be very hospitable to us but some of the most beautiful things are also the most dangerous.”
“I don’t think I have ever had the luxury to think of this place like that.” He paused while walking and then finally said, “It has been a source of inspiration for me. Many of the things that I had made would never have gotten built had it not been for this ashy landscape.”
“I saw some of those devices. Did you really build all of them yourself?”
“Yes. I have a lot of time on my hands and the books that I have explain all sorts of things. My constructions are all based off things that I learned in books. Necessity if the the mother of ingenuity they say and many of those devices were very necessary.”
“I also noticed that you still have electrical power. Do you keep that running yourself?” I asked.
“Yes, however that isn’t really as hard. I was taught to do that by the people that used to live here with me.”
“What happened to them. Nobody else seems to be here now.”
“They left, went to places with less Ash. Higher up where sunlight shines most of the time.”
“And you did not go with them?”
I couldn’t see his expression because of the covers and masks that we wore but it sounded like it was a painful experience. “They left me here. After all I was a crazy person who heard the voices of people that did not exist.”
It was a personal hurt that I could not say anything to comfort. Obviously his voices were real because I was here now but at the time he would not have been able to prove it. Being left behind by everybody but the voice could not have been easy for him.
That awkward silence continued for a while as we continued to walk through the ash. It was a while later when he raised his finger to his mouth to signal silence. The light of the Lantern instantly dimmed to a very low glow at my mental command. It was still very useful to see things with but people other than us would be less effected by it.
He knelt and unsoldered his rifle. He pointed off into the ash and I followed his hand. There was large snake, bigger than a large dog, slithering from behind one of the rocks. It was as black as the ash around it and I was surprised that the Wanderer had even spotted it, his experience of living in this world must have allowed him to notice it.
I quickly disabled the Dimensional Seal on Shīringuken and it appeared in my hand. I whispered to him so quiet I didn’t even know if he would hear, “Is it going to attack us?”
He nodded and whispered back, “Likely, the Stygian Python is a territorial animal. I didn’t know there was one lived this close to me, it must have moved here within the last couple of days. They have a great sense of smell and it must have noticed us as we walked and come to protect its territory. However having such a dangerous predator this close to me would be inconvenient.”
“Can we chase it off?”
“Maybe, but it would be unlikely to actually abandon the area. Stygian Pythons can be very patient when hunting its prey.”
“Then..” I began to slide Shīringuken out of my sheath.
“No, let me.” He aimed the rifle at the snake as it began slithering toward us. There was the loud sound of the gun going off and the snake collapsed and red blood began to pour over the ground and mix with the ash creating a muddy area.
I slid my sword back into the sheath and then straightened. The Wanderer walked toward the corpse of the animal. He checked to make sure it was actually dead and then he hefted the giant snake body onto his shoulders.
“What are you planning on doing with it?” I asked.
“Meat is rare and since I killed it then I should take advantage of it. Anything else would be wasteful.”
I nodded in understanding. Master had spoken like that, he had enjoyed his home away from other people. He had even gone hunting and took me along with him several times. I didn’t appreciate it like he or the Wanderer did but I understood the virtues of not wasting the kill.
I returned the Latern to the normal light and turned my head back down the street we had been walking on. “Should we head back with it then?” I asked.
“Yes, if I leave it here it will begin to fester or be eaten by scavengers. Meat goes bad extremely fast in the ash and spores so bringing it back as fast as possible is optimal.”
“Alright, you do that. I’m going to look around some more. Is that ok?” I asked.
“Do you think you will be good without me? You have already seen the Stygian Python. Things can be dangerous out here.”
I smiled beneath my mask but he wouldn’t have been able to see that. “I’ll be fine. I’m a lot more capable than I look. Plus,” I held up my hand and when I focuses I could make my Tools glow on the back of my hand even through the thick gloves, “I have my Tools which will protect me.”
“Alright, but I’ll leave the light outside my house on. Try not to go anywhere that you can not find your way back from. I would hate to lose you in the ash.”
“Getting lost will be practically impossible.” I said.
He shook his head and began walking way, “You will really need to explain to me how your Tools work.”
If only they were something so easily explained. Once the Wanderer left I activated the Timekeeper. It could be dangerous to activate around other especially after the change in my tools. For its name it didn’t really alter time, more like accelerated my perception of the world, it messed with other peoples perceptions as well and tended to make those around me nauseous.
It also mucked with my internal biology a little allowing me to push my body without causing long term consequences. There were some short term consequences in the form of fatigue and other similar ailments but Master had trained me well so the effects were less noticeable. However why the item took the form of a pocket watch was always weird to me. Master had said that the items outward forms represented their outward power but that their true nature was for me to discover.
Mainly I discovered that the Timekeeper doesn’t too anything related to time. With it active I ran off into the ash to discover all the strange wonders that this world held.
When the Wanderer returned to his home he found that Valarie had awakened. He was pulling off his think extra clothing when he said, “You managed to wake up. Are you alright?”
Valarie nodded, “Yes, I’m fine. A little tired that is all. I hadn’t actually controlled my magic like that before. Previously I had just let it out to do whatever it did. However I wanted to avoid destroying yours and Esta’s home.” Valarie looked around the room full of scattered books, “Although it still looks like I can do a better job.”
“It is not a problem. This room can be rearranged again once you have left. However next time might I suggest not opening the portal into my study?”
“Ah, yes, I’ll do that next time.” Valarie looked around near the Wanderer. “Is Yiskah with you? Esta told me that she left with you to go look around.” Esta, who was still in the room, nodded to show that it was indeed true.
“We encountered a Stygian Python nearby. Because of their territorial nature I had to kill it. I decided to return with the carcass while she went off to explore by herself. I placed the snake in the smokehouse before coming back here. Before I left Yiskah she said that she would be fine out there by herself.”
Valarie nodded, “Then she probably will be.”
“Also do you think you are well enough to open another portal? It is probably time that Esta goes back home. Her parents might return and worry about her.”
“Ahh, I don’t want to go back. Besides my parents probably won’t even be home tonight and even if they were then they wouldn’t care where I am.” Said Esta who took on a pouty face.
Valarie held up a hand and said, “If there is an option I would still like to rest a little bit. If I try opening a portal in my current state I might cause even more damage then I did on the way here.
I think I had found my answer, one that I been seeking since I first left my world. The voice had called me the Maiden of Order but I hadn’t understood what it had meant. Yet as I ran through this beautiful tainted land and thought about how I might fix it I came upon a strange conundrum. I did not know how to save this world like the Wanderer had asked of us. Even more so I did not know if I had the right to change this world.
With Valarie’s power we might be able to change this world, maybe even stop the ash from falling and bring the world back to what it previously was but was that what we should do? Was that even saving this world?
Truly I had no right to do that. If there was anybody who could make that decision it was the Wanderer himself. This was his world and he had walked on both sides, both trying to coexist and to restore the world. Yet even if he asked me to change this world for him I do not think that would be right.
My tools gave me power to enact change upon the world but nothing on the scale that Valarie was capable of doing. She opened the portal into the world and she could potentially rewrite how the world functioned, just was the power of the Maiden of Destruction… the Maiden of Chaos. That would indeed bring chaos to the world.
Me I just had my nine tools. Each powerful and versatile, but I could not change a world with them. I remember long ago asking my Master why there wasn’t a tenth Tool. The writings that explained the tools and what they were mentioned ten tools. My Master had told me that the Essence Knife was the tenth tool. The question is where is the first tool?
The story he told me was the that First Tool was the one that created the other nine tools. It was the Forge of Beginning capable of forming existence into the Tools that I had. However after the Essence Knife was created the Forge of Beginning was destroyed so that no evil might have access to its power.