“You’re a Worldwalker!? The ones spoken of in Hyperion’s myths and legends!?”
Kaede’s eyes were as wide as saucers as her body froze. She stared unblinkingly at the woman she met two nights ago — the ‘local herbalist’ who introduced herself as Gwen. Kaede had surmised back then that Gwen might be a Ceredigion noblewoman. She could never have guessed that Gwen… wasn’t even mortal.
“I certainly hope that I haven’t become just a myth.” The Worldwalker spun around as she pressed a finger against her cheek and replied with a teasing smile. “I contributed quite a bit to the birth of this country you know.” She added with an almost pout as she continued to walk backwards through the snow in the wintry forest.
“Sorry, that’s not what I meant…” Kaede’s wispy voice fell to barely audible as her expression turned sheepish. “Yes, you’re in all the history books. But everyone thought you passed away, not… ‘left to travel to other worlds.'”
The Samaran shivered as she felt a biting cold wind blow across her body. She scurried forward in her small boots over the thin snow, only to notice that the woman she followed left no footprints. Nevertheless, as she caught up, she felt the radiant warmth of a phoenix’s aura envelop her once more. The soothing glow came from the burning-blue feathers of the phoenix Courtain, who was perched upon Gwendolen’s left shoulder.
“See, that’s one of the problems with the Worldwalkers’ Treaty — it forces us to drop out of history too abruptly.” Gwendolen frowned as her playful smile vanished into a crestfallen sigh. “The only complete stories with proper endings are those of the first worldwalkers, who transcended mortality thousands of years ago. And of course those tales have all passed into the realm of ‘myths and legends’. Even the remnants of their lives — artifacts that have endured through the ages — have largely become attributed to their worshippers instead.”
“The story of Hyperion the Dragonlord still survives.” Kaede pointed out.
“Hyperion also isn’t a Worldwalker. He’s dragonkind, and that means certain rules do not apply to him.” Gwendolen elucidated. “Better examples would be the tales of the Hyperboreans’ Stormlord, the Druids’ Raven Queen, or the Khanates’ Sunslayer, all of them were heroes of the Dragon-Demon Wars. Nevertheless, several thousand years have transformed even those figures into religious icons. And they were the lucky ones, compared to latecomers like me who never even had a say in the Treaty, yet must follow its tenets anyway — which included abruptly cutting off all contact with my family, friends, and acquaintances.”
Kaede scowled as she felt similarities with her own experience. Pascal’s summoning — which had brought her to Hyperion — had imposed the same tragedy upon her life.
“The only reason I can talk freely to you now is because I’m still within my twenty-four hour intervention period.” Gwendolen added with a wry smile. “And you are one of the five people I’ve chosen to reveal myself to.”
“I’m guessing you’ve already spoken to Her Highness then?” The Samaran girl inquired. After all, it had been Princess Sylviane who asked her to meet ‘an important someone’ in the snowy forest, around a kilopace away from the Lotharin army camp.
“Sylviane, Elspeth, and Vivienne,” Gwendolen nodded. “I’m afraid they’re the only ones you’ll be able to talk to about my actions over the past day, including our current meeting. The Worldwalker’s Treaty contains a powerful sorcery — conceptual spellcraft of the highest order, which is beyond even my ability to weave…”
Beyond even you, Kaede’s eyes widened in amazement as she stared back in awe.
It suddenly seemed no longer surprising that many of the Worldwalkers were deified. After all, if they were so powerful that their actions defied mortal understanding and could only be explained as ‘miracles’, then what else could one call them but ‘gods’?
“The ‘Treaty Spell’, as we like to call it, will have an effect on both your memories and your actions,” Gwendolen wore an uncharacteristically serious look as she explained. “You will have trouble even remembering the details of this conversation, at least whenever you’re aware that you’re within potential earshot of someone not in the exclusive club. Nor can you record anything I tell you down in a manner understandable to others. Because of this, you’ll need to act carefully when making use of any knowledge I tell you. Otherwise you can really mess up your own memories due to the spell’s interference.” She finished with a warning.
“This sounds… dangerous,” Kaede frowned.
The Samaran girl had read enough on Earth to realize that the human mind was cursed by the saying ‘nature abhors a vacuum’. When individuals had trouble remembering an important event, the brain had a tendency to confabulate and invent details that it considered ‘reasonable’. The result was that the memories we hold dear often differed from the reality of what happened.
This was one of the reasons why testimonials were always challenged in a court of law. An individual could be lying and not even realize it, due to their memories being faulty in the first place.
“It’s a mixed blessing, that I won’t deny.” Gwendolen stated with a sympathetic expression. “But then, you of all people should know that knowledge has always been a double-edged sword.”
“True,” Kaede couldn’t help but exhale a sigh. Part of her couldn’t help but think that she’d be happier if she didn’t remember her life on Earth.
“However… I understand the Princess and her companions, but why me?” The Samaran girl asked next before she felt a painful squeeze in her chest. “It is because… of what I told Pascal?”
“Of course, the Heavens sent me all the way here just to lecture you about the dangers of transferring knowledge between worlds.” Gwendolen scoffed in a tongue-in-cheek manner with a disapproving tone. “Do I look like a meddling servant of the Holy Father to you?”
“S-sorry.” Kaede stammered. “I didn’t mean it like that.”
“It’s a shame the most evangelical of us is also the most egocentric.” Gwendolen sighed as an exasperated scowl spread across her countenance. “Peter even goes through the trouble of using his original name in each world he visits. Yet for all the teachings of his ‘Church’, his followers have not learned to think critically and for themselves. Like — why would their Holy Father, who is supposed to be magnanimous and not petty, care for the faults of lowly individuals scattered across countless worlds, when there are far greater problems to address?”
Though this is also why I treat the Church and its religion as separate entities, Kaede thought. Her favorite philosopher, Voltaire, even famously wrote that ‘God should not suffer for the stupidity of the priest.’
“Then… why do you wish to meet with me then?” The Samaran girl asked again. “When you’re limited to only a few people?”
“I’m doing it as a favor for a friend.” Gwendolen’s voice mellowed as an affable smile returned to her countenance. “Tara, the Protectress of Samara, has helped me a great deal over the centuries. And your… unusual circumstances, seems to have caught her attention.”
Kaede swallowed. If there was any truth to the stories of old in Earth mythology and folklore, it was rarely a good thing to receive attention from the divine. Religion was far more often an instrument of fear than one of blessing.
“Don’t worry. I’m not here to abduct you or anything.” Gwendolen chuckled as though she read the familiar’s mind. “I simply thought you might like a few answers to address your confusion, especially since I’ve actually traveled to the world of your previous life.”
“Previous life?” Kaede stopped moving again as her body suddenly felt like it froze. “You’re saying that I died then?”
“Honestly, I don’t know what happened to you exactly.” Gwendolen also stopped as she turned to face the Samaran girl. “However, the Samarans’ rebirth is called reincarnation, and not resurrection or transmogrification. Even Tara herself has told me that this cannot be altered. The transfer of memories may muddle one’s sense of self. But you are never the same ‘self’ as in your previous life.”
“Then I really am dead on Earth.” Kaede’s voice fell to a bleak whisper.
It felt as though all the colors of the world faded from her eyes while the very air grew stale and cold. Her mouth felt parched as she stared back at the other woman, who seemed to confirm a theory that she has outright rejected up until now.
At first, it was because Kaede was in denial about herself being stuck in this world. After that, it was due to her desire to maintain a sense of continuity in her life. Her only memories of the past — before the night she woke up in Pascal’s bed — were of a childhood spent growing up on Earth. If she truly had died on Earth and her existence in Hyperion was a wholly new life, then how would she rectify the lack of a formative adolescence in this world?
Furthermore, there was the lingering question of just how did she die?
“I must have… on the bus to the tournament.” The Samaran girl thought back to her last memory.
“Perhaps?” Gwendolen remarked as her easygoing voice did its best to keep the atmosphere light. “Remember that memory is a fickle thing. Even without rebirth, our minds can forget and confabulate. The Samarans’ ability to accrue wisdom across lifetimes is by no means perfect. It is possible that you only remembered up to a certain point in your life.”
“Up to a certain point?” The familiar puzzled before she remembered her conversation with the Samaran Captain Marko. “Do you mean I forgot everything else due to regrets that were associated with them?”
“That, I cannot say.” Gwendolen shrugged. “Anything on my part would be pure speculation. And I for one do not enjoy giving empty condolences. I can only tell you that your concerns are not uncommon among Samarans.”
A sad smile entered the Worldwalker’s expression as she looked upon the snowy-haired girl with a motherly smile:
“There are downsides to retaining memories of a distant past, especially those of loved ones who are no longer a part of our present lives. It is why the first step in one’s journey — for both Samarans and Worldwalkers — is to, well, let go.”
The Samaran girl did not reply. She only looked to the ground before closing her eyes and taking a long, deep breath. Then, after holding it in and counting to four in a standard ‘box breathing’ pattern, she slowly deflated her lungs over an equally long exhale.
Nevertheless, Kaede’s attempt at clearing her turbulent thoughts only left it as a clean slate to be filled by longing memories. A bellowing laugh from his father Konstantin as he left for work. A final hug from his mother Honoka before she boarded an airplane bound for Vladivostok. The cheerful smiles of his older sister Elizaveta and his grandmother Raisa during their last summer together in Russian Siberia. The encouraging shoulder pat from his best friend Daichi before they parted at the bus stop…
Kaede would never have a chance to say goodbye… to any of them.
“Letting go is so much easier said than done.” The Samaran girl replied mournfully as she reopened her wet gaze. Her expression struggled to not cry as tears brimmed in the corner of her eyes.
Yet, as she refocused her gaze to look upon her elder, the familiar saw the same nostalgic longing in the eyes of the middle-aged lady.
“Isn’t it always?” Gwendolen replied with a bittersweet smile.
It was a reminder that just like Kaede, Gwendolen also never had a chance to bid all her loved ones farewell.
“You’ve been to Earth?” Kaede asked some time later, as the two began to head back in the direction of the Lotharin camp. Meanwhile, she raised the furry waterskin in her hands and took a long sip of its still-warm tea.
The herbal drink contained a mix of lavender and chamomile which was sweetened with honey. It was a combination that the healer Perceval recommended to Kaede to help with her menstrual period. Though Kaede left out the fennel this time, as her next period was still a week away and she wasn’t having stomach cramps. Nevertheless, the lavender-chamomile had a surprisingly potent, calming effect on her. And she certainly needed it after the previous conversation about her life and death on Earth.
I need to ask Perceval if it’s possible to get addicted to this, Kaede thought as she relaxed with a smile.
“Third orbital of Sol? Sure.” Gwendolen nodded. “It was the first realm I visited after I became a Worldwalker.”
Her bittersweet smile returned as she looked towards the early morning sky. The sun was now completely above the horizon. Though it was still partially blocked by the giant, indigo planetoid.
“I had just become a Worldwalker back then, and all I could think about were regrets of what I could’ve, should’ve done beforehand.” Gwendolen began to explain. “It became simply too painful to stay in the same world as my old friends and wartime comrades, to watch them slowly grow old and die when I wasn’t even allowed to meet them before their death. So I left this world, and decided to find another to spend time in. I wanted to forget the past and find a new purpose, a new eternity — a life that didn’t revolve around the policies of Ceredigion and Rhin-Lotharingie.”
Being forced to ‘let go’ must have felt extra painful when one is a committed nationalist, Kaede thought. It would be like ripping the very purpose of her existence out from her core identity.
“I wandered for some time, before settling down at a beautiful lake on a forested island where it rained a lot.” Gwendolen continued on as her smile grew more pleasant. “But it seems that once you’re a queen, you stand out no matter where you go. I attracted a lot of attention from the locals, to the point I had to move my home to an extradimensional pocket I created in the middle of the lake. Yet even then, stories about me would continue to spread among the folks. And before long I came to the attention of a local prince in search of help.”
“I take it you turned him down, treaty and all?” Kaede mused as she took another drink.
“The Treaty… does have a lot of loopholes.” Gwendolen continued their conversation with a mischievous grin. “It’s what happens when you force a complex group together to draft a compromise, when all each of them could think about was their individual political interest. From what I’ve heard, the wartime unity of the 1st Generation Worldwalkers had already fractured by the time they created the Treaty. And too few of them came from administrative and legal backgrounds to appreciate good law-making in the first place.”
So, far worse than a day at the United Nations, Kaede thoughtfully nodded.
The Samaran girl always found it odd that popular history and literary culture romanticized wars and conflict. The reality, however, was that destruction was easy and — in her opinion, boring — compared to what came afterwards. To establish a new administration that would be satisfactory to everyone involved was exponentially more difficult. As a result, overthrowing an existing power structure without an alternative prepared often led to an even worse system of governance.
It was a mistake made time and again in the history of Earth.
Perhaps it was no surprise that the end of the Dragon-Demon Wars and the departure of the Dragonlords from Hyperion resulted in the Chaos Age. This was a period of twelve hundred years during which this world was torn by continuous conflicts, as kings and lords fought over the power vacuum left behind by the dragonlords.
She also learned from Gwendolen that it was during the beginning of this era when the Worldwalker’s Treaty was signed. It happened after one of the 1st Generation Worldwalkers deleted an entire country overnight with a single spell.
“So you ended up helping that prince after all then?” Kaede spoke as she pulled her thoughts back to their present conversation. Her bubbling curiosity couldn’t help wondering just who Gwendolen’s beneficiary on Earth might have been.
“Not at first,” the Lady shook her head. “At the beginning I didn’t want anything to do with him. However, he was persistent, and righteous — kind, earnest, passionate, and not just handsome but cute as well.” The woman closed her smiling eyes as though enjoying a pleasant dream once more.
“So, I tiptoed around the treaty a teeeny bit. Worldwalkers aren’t allowed to hand out artifacts or leave behind any equipment ‘foreign to the standards of the realm’, to use the official phrase. However, we are allowed to discard locally made tools that we just happened to temporarily bless for our own use. Like… you know, animating objects to do the household chores since we can’t bring any servants from world to world, other than our familiars.” Gwendolen finished as she turned to Courtain and brushed the phoenix’s glowing-blue feathers.
Meanwhile, Kaede couldn’t help but chuckle, as the image of a queen who achieved immortality yet struggled with her own dirty dishes drifted across her mind.
“Assuming the blessing is finite and the spell isn’t archmage tier or above, nobody really cares. Therefore, I temporarily blessed two swords — both for my own use, of course.” Gwendolen grinned with a wink. “It’s not my fault I only needed them for a minute each and my magic lingered for decades. I even tried to prevent mortals from using them by shoving one into a rock and throwing the other into a lake! Because you know,” her sarcastic tone now saturated her voice, “that worked great with the others.”
Kaede almost snorted the tea that she had been sipping on out of her nose.
No wonder why we have so many tales of finding random magical swords! Rocks and lakes are not effective means of weapons disposal! At least throw them into an active volcano!
However, Gwen’s gentle laughter slowly faltered into a faint grimace.
“That story didn’t end happily.” She added after a long sigh. “It taught me a lesson as well.”
“That can’t be right,” Kaede objected with a puzzled frown. “You said you’ve only been ‘Worldwalking’ for a few centuries. No mythical swords have been pulled out of rocks on Earth for well over a thousand years!”
“Time, is a fickle spirit when you journey between worlds.” Gwendolen raised a finger as she noted in a playful voice.
It only made Kaede’s eyebrows furrow more, as the much-younger girl paused to think.
“I wouldn’t overthink it, dear.” The former Queen then added in a motherly voice. She reached her hand over and rubbed the snowy-white hair of the Samaran girl. “The universe must keep some secrets to itself.”
Earth’s astrophysicists might scream heresy at that, Kaede thought.
“Does that mean…” The familiar then added in her wispy voice before she gulped down a breath of courage. “Even if — and I say if — you could communicate with people from Earth, there is no guarantee that it would be from the time that I… my previous self lived?”
A moment of silence passed as Gwendolen looked sternly at the younger woman before replying with an almost laugh:
“No. I am not passing any messages for you.”
Not even the slightest room for negotiation!
The Samaran familiar wasn’t even sure what she would say if she was given one last chance to talk to her family. But it was always better to learn about her options first and decide later. Except of course — this road was closed to her from the start.
“That really hurts, Grandma.”
She had meant to say Obaasan, an appropriately respectable way to address the elderly in Japanese. But some terms simply didn’t translate.
“Grandma? Now who’s the hurtful one!?” Gwendolen was still smiling even as her voice feigned outrage.
“But,” Kaede paused for a brief moment before deciding to tag along. “You’re over several centuries old!”
“–And my heart is still romantic and young!”
“…Plus you have great-great-grandchildren!”
The Worldwalker’s meadow-green gaze did darken this time. It sent a chill up Kaede’s spine in an instant.
“Don’t remind me, after how idiotic one of them turned out to be,” Gwendolen replied. The finality in her tone immediately put an end to the conversation.
It reminded Kaede that a true queen would always remain a queen, no matter how many centuries passed by or how playful her personality could become at times.
“But… why can’t you establish the equivalent of a Farspeak call to Earth?” Kaede returned to her original question. “Is it because of the timeline fluctuation?”
“The time issue isn’t insurmountable, just… complicated.” Gwendolen brushed aside the topic as though it were obnoxious legal code. “The simple answer is that it’s against the rules.”
“The Worldwalker’s Treaty? Even though you’re within your intervention period?”
“Yes,” the older lady nodded. “Just like intervention in mortal affairs, cross-pollination of individuals between worlds is forbidden. We’re allowed to spread ideas ourselves through conventional means. Otherwise it becomes a gag order on all interactions with locals, which no Worldwalker wants. However, it stops at that — no propaganda spells, no evangelical armies, no interdimensional cults. The Treaty was meant to create an equal footing between us all on each new world we step into.”
“Then… isn’t the Samarans’ inheritance of previous lives’ memories a form of cross-pollination between worlds?” Kaede asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Except Samarans existed even before the first Worldwalker,” Gwendolen pointed out. “Otherwise Tara — the ‘Protectress of Samara’ and one of the 1st Generation Worldwalkers — could not be a Samaran. Though the nature of the Samarans’ memories does open a potential hole in the rules of the Treaty.”
“What do you mean?” Kaede tilted her head as she asked with a puzzled stare.
“I mean by the fact that because of the Samarans’ reincarnation, your kind offers one of the few legal ways for cross-pollination between worlds.” Gwendolen explained seriously this time. “This is actually one of the more contentious issues between Worldwalkers, with Peter’s camp often crying unfair about it. It hasn’t helped that Tara made excellent use of it during her famous intervention in the Great Northern War.”
“Wait, the Great Northern War of Hyperion.” The Samaran girl frowned. “That’s the war that gave birth to the Grand Republic of Samara. Then… did Tara’s actions help found one of the great powers of Hyperion?”
“Indirectly, yes, which is why it’s so contentious.” The older lady stated with a conflicted look. “Though it would be more precise to say that the individual whom she aided is the one who helped to create the Grand Republic. Have you ever heard of the title ‘Grand Marshal of the Federation’?”
“Yes,” Kaede nodded. “I’ve heard the Grand Republic reserved that title for a single Samaran commander, and it is always him and his reincarnations who succeed the name. The Samarans call him the ‘Soul of Martial Virtue’. And it is claimed that he is the general who defeated the Great Khanate during the Great Northern War.”
Her eyes then snapped wide as she stared at the Worldwalker in astonishment: “are you saying that he wasn’t actually the one who defeated the Khan’s armies? That it was actually a Worldwalker’s intervention?”
“It’s… complicated,” Gwendolen sighed. “The Marshal did defeat the Khan’s armies. However, he did so after Tara intervened and gave him back all of his memories from his first life — memories which he would not have kept otherwise.”
“Because they were regrets?” Kaede asked.
“Very much,” Gwendolen nodded with a sad smile. “Tara once commented that the Marshal had some similarities to my own life. He’s also apparently from the same world as you.” She added as her expression turned to tease.
“From Earth!?” Kaede looked amazed. Her eyes were almost glittering as her curiosity instantly spiked to astronomical heights. “Do you know his original name then?”
“No.” Gwendolen responded in an almost playful tone. Then, more seriously: “as a general rule, I don’t like to pry into others’ pasts. Since we all have secrets that we’d like to keep.”
Yet, as the lady glanced down and saw the look of utter disappointment from the younger girl, she offered some additional information as a consolation.
“All I’ve heard is that he partook in one of the greatest wars of your world’s history, and that he was never defeated during his lifetime, not even once. However, he also committed one of the greatest sins of man. It left his soul deeply scarred. And it is due to his desire to atone for this that he became a Samaran.”
Kaede did remember from Captain Marko that the Samaran Marshal was ‘averse to warfare’ due to something that happened in his first life.
Undefeated yet traumatized, the familiar scratched her head as she struggled to come up with a name. There can’t be that many ‘undefeated generals’ in Earth history.
Kaede’s first thought was the great Russian General Alexander Suvorov, who fought in the French Revolutionary Wars but died of old age before he could face Napoleon. However, Suvorov’s lifelong career as a soldier was untarnished. Meanwhile his namesake — the illustrious Alexander the Great of Macedon — was too egotistical of a man to be bothered by his own conscience. It was a fact made obvious when he force-marched his own comrades through the Gedrosian Desert and lost over 12,000 men, all because he wished to punish them for their mutiny in India when they refused further pursuits of glory and demanded to return home.
“Speaking of which, the Marshal also supposedly remembers all of his memories from his first life,” Gwendolen remarked thoughtfully. “It was Tara’s gift, or perhaps more of a curse, to him.”
Just like me then, or at least, what I believe to be all of my previous life, Kaede thought.
“Are you saying his case and mine are similar?” The familiar thought to confirm her own suspicions.
“I cannot deny that both of you are anomalies to the standard Samaran experience of reincarnation.” Gwendolen concluded with a pensive look. “It is very possible that your master’s summoning spell did something that he did not anticipate. Experimental magic has always been dangerous due to its chances of unintended side-effects. And your master is, frankly, too brilliant for his own good. His inexperience combined with a lack of precautions is, in my opinion, just plain reckless.” The Worldwalker finished with a stern frown.
That’s certainly true, Kaede sighed as she reflected upon Pascal’s recent actions in creating a magical nuclear blast.
“I think… I hope that Pascal will learn a lesson from what happened this time,” the familiar defended her master. “He might be brash. But he always learns from his mistakes. And he only did what he did this time out of desperation.”
“I certainly hope so,” Gwendolen declared. “I would hate to see my country laid to waste by some foolish idea of his. It would not be the first time when experimental magic escaped the control of its creators and destroyed an entire region.”
Kaede nodded. She had not forgotten the story of how the Dead Mountains south of Weichsel came to be, as the murderous mists which filled its air were anything but ‘natural’.
“But to return to the topic — I would even suggest you pay the Samaran Grand Marshal a visit and discuss your experience with him personally, once you have a chance.” Gwendolen stated. “The problem is that the Marshal lives all the way in the principality of Samara, which is deep within the Grand Republic, several thousand kilopaces away to the east.”
In other words — not anytime soon, Kaede exhaled a long sigh.Author's Comment
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