Sean, Lester, Marina and Terrie reappeared in the vast clearing immediately outside the walls of Negav. Lester stretched like he had just woken up as he took a deep breath of the sweet, morning jungle breeze. "Ahh, glad to see that big ass wall again."
Terrie looked at the wall in question and nearly dropped her jaw on the floor. "Waaaaahh!?"
Before her stood the biggest wall she had ever seen in her life, a massive metal monument towering hundreds of feet tall. On its sides were numerous towers, perhaps some kind of defense for the wall, each topped with either a strange round structure with long tubes protruding out of their side, or a tall crystal-tipped spire. Terrie looked higher up and saw gleaming towers reaching out for the clouds, getting progressively taller the further they stood from the wall. The tallest one, the one set squarely in the center of the village, was a humongous spiraling tower carved from glistening marble, standing so tall it scraped the very sky itself! Terrie's eyes were then drawn to the unbelievably gargantuan stream flowing around the gigantic village, so enormous she could not see the bottom. None of the streams she came across in Sunfall Thicket were a quarter as big!
"It's... it's HUGE!" Terrie turned to Marina and her friends. "Th-this is where you're from!?"
Marina nodded. "Mhm. Breathtaking, isn't it?"
"It's... it's even bigger than I imagined. I-I thought it was only going to be a little bigger than Kortiki Town." Suddenly, the ground rumbled beneath their feet. Terrie frantically looked around as the quakes grew in intensity. Then, she saw a giant creature with an enormous brownish green shell on its back coming toward them. "U-U-UWAAAHH!" The young phantom elf jumped away from the giant monster and hid behind Marina. "Wh-wh-what is that?!"
Marina, Sean and Lester turned to the giant tortoise as it slowly lumbered past them. "That's a noghdong." answered Marina.
"Mhm. Noghdongs are tortoises that live in the jungle around Negav. Merchants that come to Negav often tame them to carry heavy loads. See? It has all sorts of wares attached to its shell."
"S-so... it won't eat me...?"
"No, it won't. Noghdongs feed on plants and are harmless to people."
Terrie pressed her hand against her beating chest and breathed a sigh of relief. "I'm glad..."
"Heh heh, noghdong." Lester snickered.
Sean just shook his head. "And here I was worried that my little brother was starting to become a mature adult." He then lowered his hand and looked at the rest of his companions. "Anyway, let's not waste any more time and escort Marina back to her home."
A sly grin spread all over Lester's lips. "Escort Marina, huh? In that case, you should carry her in your arms like a knight carrying his princess back to her castle."
"That's a fantastic idea!" Marina turned to Sean. "Come on, Sean, pick me up and carry me home!"
Sean jumped back seeing how brightly the glint in her eyes shone. "What? No! I'm carrying enough junk as it is, including some of your stuff!"
Marina clasped her hands together and put on her best baby-doll eyes. "Pleeeaaase... Sean. Do it for me..."
Sean frowned and grit his teeth despite getting all red in the face. "N-no! Your legs work just fine!"
Marina folded her arms and then looked away, pouting. "Hmph. You're no fun."
Lester laughed out loud as Sean let out a long sigh. Terrie couldn't hold back a giggle either. She was a little scared to enter such a big village, but now she could breathe a little easier.
The four then stepped on Asianas Bridge and made their way toward the city. Terrie couldn't stop marveling how massive it was and how the huge noghdong could safely walk on it alongside other humans despite its immense girth. She remembered hearing a few times about a giant bridge connecting Sunfall Thicket with the outside world called Tasenya Bridge. She had never seen it with her own eyes, but if it truly existed, it probably would be as big as this one.
Once at the other end of the ascending bridge, the four crossed Victory Gate and then entered the city. Terrie was in complete awe the moment she took her very first step in Negav. The already gigantic village was even more unbelievably huge when seen from within its walls! The nearby houses were so much bigger than the ones from Kortiki Town, and literally countless humans were walking around, either in and out of the innumerable houses, some of the bridges connecting them, or just passing by her and her friends, not paying them any mind! The ceaseless sound of of footsteps, shouts, and the buzzing of thousands of conversations filled the entire streets, making it near impossible for her to listen to even her own thoughts.
Terrie quivered at the sight of so many strangers and plugged her ears to stop them from ringing from all the noise. "There... there are s-so many people...!"
Lester chuckled. "Heh heh heh, that's what every first timer here says."
Sean noticed how Terrie was trembling and covering her ears. "Let's hurry and head to the Middle Tier and take a portal to your district. Terrie, stay close to us so you don't get lost in the crowd."
Terrie moved very close behind Marina and then followed her friends up the gentle hill to this Middle Tier Sean mentioned. Along the way, she glanced at the humans absentmindedly walking by. She saw a fair-skinned man with very short brown hair wearing gold earrings and a long coat like Lester, though his was black and made of soft leather. She saw a woman with very dark skin and shoulder-length ebony hair, clad in metal armor like Sean, though hers was a little shinier and not as heavy-looking, and carrying a big battle axe across her shoulder and a short sword at her hip. She saw a man with waist-long silver hair and wearing a robe like Marina, though his was bright red and sleeveless, with all sorts of esoteric markings painted on his face and along the entire length of his arms. She saw literally hundreds of people, and no two remotely resembled each other or carried similar types of gear.
"Everyone here looks so unique..."
"Negav's a magnet for all kinds of adventurers." answered Lester. "Some of 'em are handsome dashing rogues lookin' for fame and glory, like yours truly, but others are out for personal gains and will do anything to get it. It's a little scary for newcomers, but it's part of the city's charm."
Sean glanced at his little brother from the corner of his eyes. "Don't you mean pint-sized egomaniacs looking for women to ogle and unsuccessfully flirt with?"
Lester fired a sideways glare up at his big brother, to which Marina giggled. Terrie, however, just tilted her head, confused by what Marina apparently found funny.
Then all of a sudden, she spotted something in the crowd. A creature that resembled a human, but sported large triangle-shaped ears on top of its head, a long, slender furry tail above its buttocks, slit pupils and claws at the end of its fingers. "Uwaaah!"
Sean stopped and turned to her. "Terrie, what's wrong!?"
"Th-th-there's something over there!" Terrie trembled and pointed at the creature.
Sean, Marina and Lester looked at where she pointed, but didn't see anything out of the ordinary. "I don't see anything." said Lester.
"I-I saw something with big ears and claws and a tail!"
The three double checked the crowd until eventually they spotted the creature that Terrie had seen. "Oh, wow! I didn't even notice that neko until now." said Marina.
"Mhm. Nekos are a race of catfolks that live among us here. You have no reason to fear them, just like us."
"Oh..." Terrie breathed a sigh of relief. "I'm glad..."
Sean grumbled at how this was nothing but a false alarm. "Anyway, let's get back on track."
Following a fairly lengthy walk along the Avenue of Heroes, the four then arrived at another huge wall, just like the one outside. "A-another wall!?" exclaimed Terrie.
"That's right." answered Lester. "Negav's split into three tiers, each based on how high they are on the hill. The Middle Tier's where most Negavians live, while the Lower Tier's where most of the adventurers hang out at."
"So... beyond there is where you live?"
"This is the tier where Marina lives. Me and Sean live in the Lower Tier because we work at a shop down there."
After crossing the wall separating the two tiers, Terrie wasted no time looking at all the sights on the other side. There were just as many people walking and chatting on the streets, though almost all of them wore simple clothes over robes, armors and cloaks, and with much more consistent designs among them than the people of the Lower Tier. Their skin tone, hair style, and hair and eye color didn't vary quite as wildly as them either. Many of the houses, however, stood much taller than the ones from before and their architecture varied a lot more! Was it even right to call them houses?
After a little while, they arrived at an eight or ten foot tall structure shaped like a perfect ring. Through the hole in the middle, she could see a completely different part of the big village. "...What is this?"
"It's a portal." answered Lester. "The city's too big for us to go from district to district on-foot, and the streets are always crowded, so vehicles are outta the question. So we instead use a network of portals to go from district to district."
"I see..." The four then stepped through the portal and reappeared in the district seen on the other side, just like they had stepped through a door. "Wh-whoa!"
"Amazing, isn't it?" asked Marina.
"It's... it's incredible! I...I had no idea something like that existed!"
"It's just one of the many wonders of Negav. You'll see plenty more during your stay." said Lester with a big grin.
The four continued their march through the quiet residential district. Much fewer people frequented the streets and the noise was a lot more bearable. The houses stood a tad lower than the ones from before they all looked rather... simplistic by comparison. Interestingly, some of them had bridges connecting one another.
Then, at the end of their hike, they stood before one particular house. Marina looked longingly at the home she had left three long years ago and quietly breathed a nostalgic sigh. "It's good to be back." Marina and her friends climbed the small flight of steps and then opened the door. Inside, her parents perked up hearing the door open without a knock and immediately rushed to the entrance. The married coupled gasped upon seeing who was standing before them. "I'm home!"
"Marina!" Henry and Ashly hugged their daughter in a warm embrace, with Ashley hardly able to hold her tears back. "Marina! Oh, Marina, I missed you so much!"
"I missed you, too, Mom, Dad." Even Marina could barely suppress the urge to cry.
Terrie, however, could not hold her tears back seeing a family happily reunited and began to sob. Marina's parents looked at the strange gray-skinned elf. "Who is this? Why is she crying?" asked Henry.
Marina glanced at Terrie and then let go of her parents. "This is Terrie, I met her when I was learning magic from Master Shae'la. She's crying because... she and her parents don't get along."
"Oh." Ashley turned to Terrie. "Nice to meet you, Terrie. I'm Ashley, Marina's mother. This is my husband, Henry."
Terrie wiped her tears, still sobbing a little, and turned to Marina's parents. "...N-nice to... m-m-meet you..."
"Please come in and have a seat." said Henry. "You too, Sean, Lester."
Lester and Terrie took a seat in the living room with Mr. and Ms. Sannon, while Marina and Sean headed upstairs in her room. After lightening his backpack a little, Sean joined back with Terrie and his brother downstairs while Marina changed into her normal clothes. Marina breathed yet another nostalgic sigh. Ahh, it's been so long since she has seen this room. Her bed still had its cushy mattress and fluffy pillow, her wardrobe still held all of her old clothes, and her dressing table was still full with most of her necessities. Everything was as tidy as she remembered and she didn't see a single speck of dust anywhere. Her mom and dad must have spent many of their days keeping everything here clean it everyday until her return. It really was good to be home.
Once she finished changing into her casual clothes and unpacking, she took the bag of sogram Shae'la had given her and then joined back with her friends and family in the living room downstairs. "Sorry to keep you waiting."
"It's okay, sweetie. Please, sit down." Henry replied.
"Here, this is a gift from Shae'la." Marina handed her father the bag of sogram. "It's sogram."
"Whoa, really?" Henry took the bag. "This is great! Now I feel bad for having been so hard on her."
Marina giggled and then sat down on the couch with her friends. She briefly glanced at Terrie and saw that she had calmed down.
"I know this is sudden," said Ashley, "but can you tell us how your stay with Shae'la was?"
Marina looked away from her parents, her eyes filled with shame. "I'm sorry, but I have a confession to make. I didn't learn how to cast magic from Shae'la; I joined a church here in Negav instead."
"What? Why?" asked Ashley.
"It's a long story. It all happened shortly after I left three years ago..."
Marina told her parents how Shae'la convinced her to join the Church of Saint Lathea so she could learn healing magic from some of the best healers out there and how she had been returning to Negav almost everyday to learn everything she needed to know about their religion. Afterward, Sean and Lester told them their side of the story, how they received an omen from a fortune teller saying that Marina would have died had she entered Sunfall Thicket accompanied only with her master as she had planned, and how the Church of Saint Lathea helped them enter the Fairy Kingdom to keep her safe in the haunted forest. Marina then told them how they met Terrie and her friend Sohl, and the circumstances that led her to leave her village and homeland. Words completely failed Ashley and Henry. They tried not to worry too much about their daughter's safety, and yet so many things happened to her without them ever knowing, and so recently, too.
Ashley and Henry tried to maintain her composure after having learned everything their daughter and her friends went through recently. "W-well, I can't say I'm happy to learn that you've been returning to Negav all this time and never told us."
Marina lowered her head in guilt. "I'm sorry, Dad. I shouldn't have made you worry like that."
Ashley simply smiled at her daughter. "It's fine. All that matters is that you're safe and happy."
Marina looked back at her mother as her smile came back to her lips. "Thank you, Mom."
Ashley then turned to Terrie. "I'm sorry things were so hard for you at home. You're welcome to stay with us here."
"We'll go and prepare a bed for you in Marina's room. Does that work for you?" asked Henry.
Lester then got up and grabbed his backpack. "Welp, I think it's time for us to head back home. Thanks for having us over."
"You're welcome, and thank you so much for keeping Marina safe out there." answered Ashley.
Lester tipped his hat with a cocky grin spread all over his face. "All in a day's work, ma'am."
Sean got up as well and put his helmet and backpack back on. "We'll see you again. Have a nice day."
Marina nodded. "I will. Thank you for escorting me."
Marina, her family, and Terrie then waved goodbye to the Orrick brothers as they headed back to their home.
"Ahh... home, sweet home." Lester said as he stretched. "Finally be able to work on my secret project again."
Sean removed his helmet and then headed to his own room so he could finally get out of his tin can. Along the way, he checked the calendar, only to notice the day tomorrow was circled. "Are you kidding me?"
"What is it?"
"Tomorrow is That Day."
"Are you serious!? Aww man, that was the last thing I wanted to think about right about now."
"It can't be helped, we'll have to plan out our day tomorrow around that."
Lester let out a sigh. "Well, at least we didn't return on That Day, so that's something."
A few hours later, Sean began working on today's dinner with Lester waiting at the table. At that moment, Rachilin returned to the apartment and entered the kitchen. "Oh, you're back."
Lester grinned and waved at her. "Hey Rach! Didja miss us?"
"Nah, not really." She then noticed that Sean was stirring something at the stove. "Sean's cooking?" She took at seat at the table, beaming to her ears. "So what are you making us?"
"A pot of chicken and fried rice. I'm not in the mood for something complicated."
"Sweet!" Rach turned to Lester. "So, where have you two morons been at?"
"Huh? Why are you asking us that? We told you we went to the Fairy Kingdom."
"As if! You two would have never made it there and back so fast, let alone come back alive."
Lester flashed a wide grin. "Oh yeah? Get a load of this!" He reached into his pocket and put the bag of sogram on the table.
Rach looked at the tiny bag and raised an eyebrow. "What is that?" She took it in her hand, at which moment, she caught of whiff of an unbelievably sweet aroma. "Wait... it can't be..."
"Yup, that's sogram. Given to us by the lovely Shae'la."
"No way!" Rachilin looked back at Lester, her eyes wide with disbelief. "How did you two make it to the Fairy Kingdom so fast? How did you not get eaten!?"
Lester leaned on the back of his chair and rested his head in his hands. "We're just that good."
"By that, he means someone transported us there, and we were lucky Marina's master was around to keep the pixies from munching on us." said Sean.
Rachilin continued to eye the proof of their admittedly impressive accomplishment for a few more moments before handing it back to Lester, visibly blushing. "A-a-anyway... how was it there?"
"Oh, you know, there was a lot of trees and we nearly got killed by ghosts about a hundred times. Nothing special."
Rach turned to Sean and raised an eyebrow. "Wait, ghosts?"
"There's this haunted forest called Sunfall Thicket there. We had to escort Marina through it because of some task she was assigned to by her goddess or something." answered Lester.
Rachilin turned to Lester in disbelief. "What? How did you make it out of THAT alive!? ...If you're not pulling my leg, that is."
"Shae'la again." answered Sean. "We couldn't do shit against the ghosts ourselves. All we were really good for was cutting down patches magic-eating flowers."
"What are you talking about? We kicked a ghost mage's ass without her help!" said Lester.
"That was only one ghost and we still nearly died to him. Sohl was the one who defeated him."
"But we're the ones who did most of the work and gave him the opening he needed to land the killing blow."
"That's amazing..." Rachilin murmured.
Lester turned back to Rach. "Heh heh heh, are you embarrassed that we proved you wrong, or are you dazzled by our feat?"
Rach slammed the table and violently stood up, sending her chair skidding backward before falling over. "Say one more word and I'll throw you out the fucking window!"
Sean let out a sigh. "Yep, I'm back home all right..."
Marina took Terrie to her room and gave her a little tour of the place. She sat on the side of her bed and watched as the young elf explored this new place she would call home. She couldn't help but smile and quite giggle as Terrie stared intently at each piece of furniture, inspecting almost every single inch of it before moving on to the next like a curious young child.
This was Marina's room? It wasn't quite as big as the second floor of her real home, but there was a lot more things around and it all belonged to her. Everything here was so different from how it was back home. Her bed for example had a MUCH bigger mattress than hers and was elevated about a foot off the ground via some sort of supporting metal frame. Its blanket and pillow were relatively the same as hers, though. Her drawer, or wardrobe as she called it, was so much bigger than hers or her father's, and held a lot more clothes, including the white robe she wore in Sunfall Thicket. They were all so bright and colorful, too. Compared to her, all she ever wore were the same dreary gray shirt and pants. She even had small... station called a dresser to help upkeep her appearance. All of the necessary items were neatly stored in its drawers and a handy mirror was hung right above the table so that Marina would have an idea of what she was doing. Maintaining one's appearance... she never really thought about something like that. As long as she cleaned herself everyday, she was fine, but perhaps things were different here. There was a small wood table close to her bed on which rested something Marina called a lamp. Its use was apparently to shed light when it gets dark outside, but since it was still bright, turning it on would be wasteful. Lastly, right by her window were sheets of cloth called curtains, meant to be closed when it was time to go to bed. Such a strange custom. If it was already dark outside, why would they need to close curtains to make their room darker? But she shouldn't criticize it; she was the stranger here after all.
"How do you like it here?"
"Huh?" Terrie turned back to Marina. "Oh, um, it's very, um... different."
"So do you like it?"
"Um, I... I suppose."
Marina smiled. "I'm glad you like it."
A knock at the door then resounded. Marina's father then entered the room, carrying in his arms some sort of big rolled up blanket. "Here, this should do the trick."
Terrie looked at Marina's father as he unrolled it on the floor next to Marina's bed. It looked like a really big square blanket that had been folded in half, but with parts of it having been sewn together about halfway up to keep it in that shape. "Um... what's this?"
"It's a sleeping bag." said Henry as he put a pillow next to it. "It's like a padded blanket that you can open and close like a bag for you to sleep in. Sorry, this is the best we can offer you."
"It's... it's fine..."
"Alright. Dinner's gonna be ready soon."
Marina and Terrie followed Henry downstairs. Then, a sweet aroma tickled Marina's nostrils as soon as she reached the bottom of the stairs. This smell... this refreshingly sharp scent... she hasn't caught a whiff of it in years. Marina rushed to the kitchen, leaving Terrie wondering what came over her, and a gleam shone brightly in her eyes the moment she saw her mother straining some pasta.
Ashley looked at her daughter and giggled. "There's no better way to celebrate your return than with a big plate of spaghetti."
Marina took a seat as her mother put the pasta in the saucepan and stirred the two together. "Thank you so much, Mom!" Terrie and Henry took a seat alongside her as Ashley served each of them. Marina immediately grated some cheese onto her pasta and then took a big bite of her pasta. Her cheeks turned bright red in an instant and a tingling sensation coursed throughout her entire body. "Hmmm! It's been too long since I've eaten pasta this good!"
Ashley giggled. "Glad you like it." She sat down and served herself, but then noticed Terrie was just staring at her pasta and not even holding her fork. "Oh, I'm sorry, Terrie. I should have asked you if spaghetti was okay with you."
"Huh? Oh, um... n-no, it's... it's fine." Terrie grabbed her fork and then glanced at Marina and her father to get an idea of how to eat this kind of dish, and then followed their example. She bit her lips as she stared looked at the sauce of crushed tomatoes, chunks of ground meat, and cooked chopped vegetables coating the pasta, then braced herself and put it in her mouth. She chewed a few times and then relaxed as the sweet flavor of the tomato sauce coated her tongue and the vegetables melted in her mouth. "Thish ish good!" Terrie swallowed her bite and immediately reached out for another bite.
"I'm glad you like it. Would you like some cheese, too?"
"Oh, you don't know what cheese is?" Ashley cut a small slice of cheese then handed it to her. "Here, tell me how you like it."
"Um... th-thank you..." Terrie took the slice of cheese and tossed it in her mouth, but then cringed as soon as began chewing. Nonetheless, she forced herself to swallow.
"Oh, you don't like it?"
"Um... uhh..." She then lowered her head in shame. "S-sorry..."
"It's fine, not everyone likes cheese."
"Oh! I completely forgot!" Marina put down her fork, and then closed her eyes and clasped her hands together as she recited a prayer.
"What are you doing?" asked Henry.
Marina re-opened her eyes and turned to her father. "I'm giving my thanks to Saint Lathea for this meal." Suddenly, an idea popped in her head. "Oh, I know, why don't I show you the cathedral after dinner?"
"That's a good idea." Henry turned to Ashley. "What do you think, dear?"
"Hmm? Well... I wished we could spend more time here with Marina, but I am curious about this cathedral."
Marina turned to Terrie. "What about you, Terrie?"
"Do you want to see the cathedral?"
"Um... I-I guess."
"Then it's settled!"
After a filling meal, Marina, her family, and Terrie washed the dishes, then after a short rest, the four of them took to the ever congested streets.
"Where is the cathedral at?" asked Henry.
"It's..." Marina suddenly stopped dead in her track. "Um..."
"Oh, shoot! I don't actually know where the cathedral is from home since Shae'la always transports me directly there!"
"What do we do now?" asked Ashley.
Marina began racking her brain trying to think of a way to find where the cathedral was located. "...Wait, I remembered something. Every time we went to the Underground. If we head there, I should be able to remember where the cathedral is."
"You've been going to the Underground?"
Marina turned to her parents and nodded. "Yes, we go there every once in a while to heal the sick and wounded, though we stay out of The Pit. Hmm?" She then noticed how Terrie was shivering just as she did when she first stepped in the city. "Terrie, are you okay?"
"I... I'm f-f-fine..."
"If it's too uncomfortable for you, you can wait for us here if you want." said Ashley.
That was true. She could stay behind and not have to worry about a thing. But she already accepted their offer; she couldn't just change her mind just like that. What would they think of her? And if she chose to stay behind, she would have to look after the house all by herself. All alone.
"N-no, I... I-I'll be f-fine... I-I swear..."
"..." Marina walked up to Terrie and gave her her hand. "Here. Things will be less scary if you hold my hand."
Terrie stared at the hand that had been offered to her and then gazed at the bright smile shining on her friend's lips. Suddenly, she stopped quaking and took Marina's hand without thinking. "Th-thank you..."
Marina, her family, and her friend then headed to the Sanctum of the Shining Star. Terrie couldn't help looking at all the people on the streets along the way, and although the majority walked absentmindedly by her and her friend, a lot were unable to ignore this strange red-eyed and gray-skinned elf. Terrie immediately averted her eyes, as if to make herself disappear from view, and held on to Marina's hand more tightly.
She then looked at all the huge houses, believing that if she didn't pay attention to other people, they wouldn't pay attention to her. They all add a very boxy form to them, with very little curves to them save for for a few roofs or balconies, unlike the houses of Kortiki Town or the ones from her village. They stood extremely close together, almost touching each other even. Suddenly, she began sweating as a sensation of claustrophobia crept over her as she looked all the houses, each with a nearly uniform shape, each standing so close to each other as to leave only a single road for people to navigate on. Why was everything here so big? Why was everything so close together? Terrie closed her eyes shut and looked away and held on to Marina's hand even more tightly. Marina winced from the sudden jolt of pain, but paid it no mind. If it helped her feel a little more comfortable, she could endure it.
Eventually, they arrived at another portal and used it to access a different district. Terrie raised her head upon seeing how different it looked. For one thing, the houses weren't as big as the ones before and sported a different look to them, even if they still shared the same overall square shape. Moreover, many of these houses had items displayed right by their front door, which for some reason, attracted a crowd of people. Sometimes one of those people took one of the items after giving something to the person standing behind the item selection. Other houses had items inside of them, visible through a window, which also attracted a crowd of people.
"Um, Marina... what are those houses?"
"Hmm?" Marina looked at the shops Terrie was pointing at. "Oh, those aren't houses, they're shops."
"Not all buildings are houses, some instead provide services to people. For example, shops like these are here for people to buy goods."
"Oh." Terrie took another look at the shops. "...This is a strange village."
"Negav isn't a village, it's a city."
Terrie looked back at Marina. "Um... what's a city?"
Marina pressed her hand on her cheek and went into deep thought. "Hmm... how can I explain it... When a village becomes very big, we refer to it as a town. For example, Kortiki Town is too big for us to refer to it as a village."
"When a town becomes too big for us to refer to it as a town anymore, we call it a city."
"... You're confused, aren't you?"
Terrie's head sank low. "...A little..." She then let out a long sigh. "...I don't think I'll ever get used to life here..."
Marina put her hand on her shoulder. "Don't say that, you'll definitely get used to it. Just give it time."
Terrie looked back at her friend. "You... you think so?"
Marina nodded and smiled. "I'm sure of it."
Terrie stayed quiet for a moment, then nodded back. "O-okay... if you say so."
Henry and Ashley couldn't help but smile and chuckle as they watched their daughter and her new friend interact. For a moment, they thought Terrie was her shy little sister, even if she was probably much older than Marina.
The family eventually arrived at a small, ancient temple, the Sanctum of the Shining Star. Upon arrival, Terrie didn't pay attention to the small structure and instead stared in awe at the massive hanged gardens and the luxuriant vegetation growing all around. "Wow!" Terrie let go of Marina and stepped inside this vibrant garden, taking in the soft grass growing underneath her feet and the fragrance of the beautiful flowers, not even noticing the Negavians taking a stroll through the gently shaded alleys. "It's so pretty!" She then noticed how the garden seemed to be trailing from somewhere next to the sanctum, leading to a much bigger garden where even more people were coming and going. "Um... what's that over there?"
"It's the Otanac Square." answered Marina. "It's a very popular spot for people to come and relax."
"Anyway, now that we're here, do you remember anything, Marina?" asked Henry.
"Yes, I do. We'll find the cathedral if we keep walking along the wall a little longer."
"Wall?" Terrie turned around and then noticed the humongous wall standing behind the Sanctum of the Shining Star. "Th-there's another wall here?!"
Marina turned back to Terrie. "Did you forget? Negav is divided into three tiers."
"O-oh, th-that's right... Lester did say something like that."
Terrie looked back at the gardens of the sanctum as she followed Marina and her family. Were there more places like that in Negav? Full of plants and greenery? Without any tree or flower, everything here looked so... so... unnatural.
Then, after a little while, the cathedral came into view. "There it is, the Holy Mother's Cathedral!"
Ashley, Henry and Terrie looked straight ahead at the immense building Marina was pointing at. Terrie couldn't help but gawk at the huge and imposing building standing before her. Ashley and Henry, on the other hand, simply raised a brow. "An abbey?" asked Ashley.
Marina turned to her parents. "It looks like an abbey, but I assure you it's really a cathedral. Come on, let me show you inside." Marina led her parents to the main entrance, but then noticed something was amiss. She turned around and saw Terrie still admiring the cathedral, or rather the courtyard. "Terrie!"
"Huh?" Terrie returned to reality and noticed Marina and her family by the entrance of the cathedral. "Ah! W-wait for me!"
The three couldn't hold back a hearty chuckle and then entered once the young elf had caught up to them. Once inside, Ashley and Henry walked through the nave, taking in how austere and modest the decor was compared to some of the more ostentatious temples in the city. Terrie, on the other hand, was in utter awe. The luster and soft texture of the marble floor was almost mesmerizing to her and the ivory stone pillars looked so tall and heavy. The young elf marveled at the stoup hanging on the wall near the entrance, especially the amazingly crafted statuette resting on top, as well as the rows of benches.
"Are you enjoying how it looks, Terrie?" asked Ashley.
"Huh? Oh, um... y-yes. It's... um... very pretty here."
Marina then took them to the presbytery and showed the stained glass window behind the altar. Terrie was enthralled by the beautiful art of the woman in white and blue. "...It's so pretty."
"This is Lathea, the Goddess of Life, also known as the Holy Mother." said Marina.
"Wow, she's very beautiful." said Henry.
Ashley turned to her husband. "Henry."
"I-I'm not looking anywhere I'm not supposed to, I swear!"
Marina giggled and then looked back at the illustrations. "According to texts and scriptures, Saint Lathea was a simple abbess who gave shelter to outcasts and victims of persecution. After her death, a small cult began to worship her, and over time, that cult grew until it became the Church of Saint Lathea."
"She was a human?" said Henry. "How did she become a goddess?"
"It all happened in another world named Rezius. A long, long time ago, people there discovered magic, and a war for supremacy between the magic-wielding nations. It became known as The Great Magus War. In the end, the Rennok Alliance lost to the Empire of Jorgaincen. After the war ended, it was declared that magic was too dangerous and only a select few were allowed to wield it. Those who practiced magic without consent were killed and persecuted, and thus was beginning of the bloody Witch Hunts. During that time, Saint Lathea offered shelter to victims of the Witch Hunts. She offered them food, a safe haven, and a place to begin a peaceful life anew. Saint Lathea often preached her ideology that all life was equal and to be cherished, and that the life of an enemy should be respected. Alas, one day her abbey and her activities discovered. The Jorgaincen army attacked and burned down the abbey, and brutally slaughtered anyone who tried to escape. Saint Lathea herself was captured and then publicly executed under the charge of heresy and treason. Her last words was a message to the people, a message to respect and treat all life as equal, even the lives of her enemy. The survivors of the burning of the abbey rallied together and formed a cult. They believed that Saint Lathea was a goddess in disguise, her goodness too pure during one of the most bleak period of Rezius' history. As her cult expanded and its influence grew, her spirit ascended to a higher state of being, and the ruins of the old abbey have been converted into her temple, where it is now considered holy ground. Today it is one of Rezius' major religions."
"Wow..." Terrie looked at Marina. "Um... how did you learn about all that?"
Marina giggled and smiled. "I learned all about it during catechesis here. Although, now that you say it, I did talk to Saint Lathea a little about it when I first learned about it."
Terrie jumped back and both Ashley and Henry looked stunned at their daughter. "Y-you can really talk with Saint Lathea herself?!"
Marina nodded. "Yep! When I pray to her, I sometimes wake up in her domain and talk a little with her."
"That's... that's incredible."
"Anyway, let me show you the rest of the cathedral."
Marina then took her family and Terrie on a small tour of the cathedral. Upon walking by the cloister the first time, Terrie became ecstatic to see some more greenery and immediately ran up to the three trees. The trees were so healthy and the grass so soft, just like the Sanctum of the Shining Star. Sadly, it was nowhere near as big. With that short distraction done and over with, Marina took them to the dormitories on in the East and West Range, to the refectory and the kitchen, to the infirmary and the nearby guest dorm, to the library, and finally to the sacristy. Unfortunately, guests were not allowed to enter the sacristy, but at least she was able to show them where it was. Along the way, she encountered and greeted some of her fellow clerics who were all busy at work preparing food and scribing a few scrolls. Marina then took them to the chapter house. As they arrived, the doors opened and Elliadrin walked out.
"Ah, Mother Elliadrin!" Marina went up and met the lovely priestess.
Elliadrin turned to the young cleric. "Oh, Sister Marina, you've returned. How are you?"
"I'm fine, thank you Mother Elliadrin, and yes, I am back. I was giving my parents and my friend a tour of the cathedral. I was also looking for a priest."
"Oh, sorry about that, we were all meeting with Father Ardel." She then turned to Ashley and Henry. "You must be her parents, I presume."
"Yes, we are." answered Henry. "Thank you for looking after Marina for those three years."
"Oh, but I hardly did anything. Brother Harlos is the one who taught her everything she knows now. Although, I'm in charge of the choir, and I must say, your daughter has an amazing singing voice. You should definitely come during service and hear her chant."
"I know, she inherited her grandmother's voice," said Ashley, "and yes, we'd love to come and hear her chant with the choir."
Elliadrin then turned to Terrie. "Hello."
The young elf jumped and immediately avoided the priestess' gaze. "U-um, h-hello..."
"You must be Marina's friend."
"What's your name?"
Elliadrin giggled. "Don't be so shy, I'm not going to hurt you." But Terrie remained quiet and continued to look away.
"Anyway, Mother Elliadrin, I have something to tell you."
Elliadrin looked back at Marina. "What is it, Sister?"
"Now that I finished my training with Master Shae'la, I'll be back to my normal life and I won't be coming here as often."
"I see. I will relay your message to Father Ardel and the others, but don't worry, you're be welcome to help us here whenever you please."
"Thank you, Mother Elliadrin. Have a good day."
"You too, Sister Marina."
Marina politely bowed to the priestess, then she and her family took their leave and returned home.
After eating a filling supper, another plate of spaghetti, which Marina happily devoured, and once late evening began setting over Negav, Terrie followed Marina to the bathroom. There, Marina grabbed a tiny brush, placed it under running for a moment, and then grabbed a tube and squeezed an oddly-colored paste with a strangely pleasant odor to it.
"Um... what is this?"
"It's toothpaste. We use it to take care of our teeth before going to bed. You used something like that back in your home too, right?"
"Um... yes, but... we did it by chewing special leaves."
"Ah. Anyway, your brush it right there." Marina pointed her the fourth brush in the little plastic glass.
Terrie grabbed the brush and did the same thing Marina did with hers. She put it under running water for a moment and then squeezed some of the toothpaste on it. Such an oddly sweet scent. She brought closer to her nostrils for a quick little whiff. It actually smelled a lot like the leaved she chewed back home. Terrie then glanced at Marina, who had put the brush in her mouth and was, well, brushing her teeth with it. She looked back at her brush and put it in her mouth. The young elf jolted as soon as she did. It even tasted a little like the leaves home! Did leaves like those grow around here? Terrie brushed her teeth just like Marina did, but then after a little while, her mouth became full with foam, so much so that it trickled a bit from the corner of her mouth. As such, Terrie pulled out her tooth brush and swallowed it all, only to clutch her throat and have a coughing fit.
Marina pressed her hand against her mouth as to not spit water all over the place. She spat it all safely in the sink and then giggled. "Terrie, we don't swallow toothpaste! We spit it and then rinse out mouth with water." Marina then refilled her glass and handed it to Terrie. "Here."
"Th-thank you..." Terrie rinsed her mouth with some of the water and then drank the rest to wash away the toothpaste in her throat. She breathed a sigh once the strong flavor started to fade a little. "S-sorry..."
"It's fine, everybody make that mistake."
With that little incident behind them, the two then went to Marina's room and got ready for tonight by changing out of their clothes. However, as Marina was putting on her nightgown, she noticed that once Terrie stripped out of her clothes, she simply folded them and set them aside next to her sleeping bed. "T-Terrie, what are you doing?!"
Terrie looked down at herself, and indeed, she wasn't wearing any piece of clothing anywhere on her body. "Yes, I am." She looked back at Marina and then blushed a bit. "Um, did I do something wrong?"
"Well, it's just that I didn't expect you to be so... nonchalant about it since you're usually so shy."
"But... everyone does it back home."
"Maybe, but here in Negav, nudity in public is taboo."
"Oh." Terrie sank her head low. "I'm sorry..."
"It's alright, but we'll have to buy you a nightgown before long."
"Okay." Terrie then walked over to the window and gazed at the moon and the stars outside. "...I wonder what Sohl and Father are doing..."
"Do you miss them already?"
"Yes, but..." Terrie looked down yet again, "...they probably don't miss me..."
"Don't say that, I'm sure everyone in Sunfall Thicket are worried about you."
"...I know Father isn't..."
Marina bit her lip. She should have known that Terrie would bring up her father for something. She remained quiet for a bit, then she walked up to Terrie and placed her hand on her shoulder. "I'll you show around town tomorrow, so you should get some sleep."
Terrie looked at Marina and nodded. "Okay."
Terrie walked over to her sleeping bag as Marina closed the curtains, and slipped under the blanket. Marina shut off the lamp and then slipped under her own blankets. "Goodnight, Terrie."
"Goodnight..." The young phantom elf closed her eyes and fell asleep for the first time in her new home Negav City.