The scent of chalk lingered around the silent room. Pastel colors of white, blue, and pink were smeared across the dark-green blackboard. On the board was an illustration of a party popper with the words of ‘Farewell Party’ written in a bold and striking lettering.
On the ceiling, fluorescent tubes remained lighted. It shone over the neatly arranged pairs of wooden desks and chairs. Underneath the desks was a waxed cement floor streaked with a few black marks.
There was nothing out of the ordinary, but all the chairs were unoccupied.
Save for one.
Save for the chair I sat on.
It was the chair I used to immediately head to every time I arrived in the morning. The chair which I used to carry along with the desk, lining it beside my classmate’s desk during lunch. The desk which I used as a chair to chat with my friends.
It would belong to someone else. It would become another person’s home or base. It would be someone’s memory.
I placed my hands on the desk—the desk which I thought that was nothing but ordinary—and propped myself up. My chair rattled in response. It felt like the numerous rattle of chairs each time the bell rang in the afternoon.
“I guess it’s time to go.”
My lips curved into a nostalgic smile as I peered through the window, viewing a small oval. Along the pathway drawn in white, the school athletes ran while being timed by a coach.
My fingers brushed the side of my desk until it reached the edge. My hand then fell beside my hips covered in a long dark-blue skirt.
A step then another. I chuckled.
Images of me climbing up and down the wooden platform flashed. I also remembered the time when my classmates were forced to answer a question on the board due to them being caught asleep. But I recalled I was one of them. What a sad fate. It was the same for those who were in cleaning duty.
My leather shoe clattered a sound of steps. I then reached for the edge of the sliding door.
It felt foreign that I reached that place without a bag slung or hung on my back. I missed the weight of the strap that clamped on my white uniform. It reminded me of the books and notes stored in my bag.
My feet took me to the corridor. The setting sun’s light streaked through the windows on my right.
Not long before I started descending a flight of stairs after passing through the corridor, leading me to one of the building’s exit. Beyond the exit was the school gate. And in front of the school gates were a few familiar figures. They were my friends.
“Meiiiikooooo! Don’t forget to mail us! Let’s keep in touch!”
“Let’s set-up a reunion too.”
“Why don’t we visit Meiko during summer break?”
“Ahaha.” I chuckled. “That’d be fun.”
Each of my friends shared their opinion. They encouraged me that everything would be fine. That everything, our friendship, would stay the same—unbreakable, fun, and simple. Though our circle was small, it never felt lacking. More than anything, it felt almost everything to me. It felt more of my home rather than my real home.
At that time, phones were starting to boom in existence. In that regard, we, neither rich nor poor, had our own. We exchanged e-mails and promised to contact each other at least once a week. Though we haven’t gone our separate ways, we already started planning for a get-together.
In the end, “I will miss you guys,” I said, shedding a tear. Each of us hugged one another with a tight squeeze.
“Meiikooo! Don’t!” My friend tried to struggle, but it was futile. She could no longer escape from my grasp. “It will get squished! Don’t stunt its growth!”
“There’s nothing to squish,” I replied.
“Take that back! And look who’s talking! Yours aren’t even that big!”
“At least I have them.”
We shared a laugh. We shared a giggle. We teased one another, trying to urge each other to confess to our school crush. We exchanged banters like we used to. Charms and pairing key-chains were passed between us, serving as a remembrance of our friendship.
“Meiko, have a safe trip.”
“You guys too.”
And so we parted ways. Or at least, I parted with my friends.
It was inevitable.
I had to move with my Grandmother living in the province. My Father had to work overseas to earn a living for both me and my Grandmother. Although Father had apologized to me due to the lack of money, I never blamed him. I understood his situation. It was hard for a single father to raise a daughter. And so, even if it pained me, I had to move to the province and leave my school behind.
Aside from him, my Mother was alive. But… she was living under a different roof. She lived with a different family. A different husband, and different children. My Father and I were left alone. I never knew why, but I never dug deep into it. I just wanted to make my Father proud, and to reduce the burden that he was carrying. The thought of questioning her did not pass my mind because I grew up recognizing Father as my only parent.
I tried encouraging my father to look for a different wife, but he refused. He said that it was enough for him to have me as a family. He said that he would feel like he was betraying me if he did up and found a different wife. He was stubborn, but I understood. It was my Father.
And so I began living in the province with my Grandmother.
Two years flew. Each year, at least twice or thrice in every six months, I traveled back to the main city and met with my old friends. At times, they visited me and took a few days of vacation in the province I lived in. Sometimes, I think it’s because they still had not found themselves a boyfriend that they have enough free time to hang out with me. No, I was pretty sure of it, because we usually avoid places where couples publicly displayed their affection to each other. Damned normies.
I was happy. I was satisfied.
My interest shifted into tea ceremony. It was the influence of the limited channels that I was able to watch on the television.
My Grandmother, who used to prepare tea in the traditional way, had begun teaching me the ropes. In addition, she granted me the kimono she used to wear during the ceremony. For some reason, the kimono was a perfect fit.
But on a sudden occasion, I found the world different from the last time I blinked.
“Welcome, O’ Heroes.” A sweet voice echoed.
I tried blinking a few more times, hoping that it was just a dream. But nothing happened. Nothing changed. The same flickering torches illuminated the dim room that seemed to be made by large slabs of stone.
I searched my mind in hopes of understanding the unfamiliar situation. Heat started to rise within my chest. My breathing became erratic.
When? Where? I still have my kimono on, so perhaps something happened before, during, or maybe after the tea making? But why? What did I do? No, this must be a dream. This can’t be real.
My mind was a little hazy, but my panicking forced me to think. I pinched my thighs with my nails. But despite the pain, the figure of the white haired-girl dressed in a thick white gown remained.
The same was true for what seemed to be knights standing beside the girl. They wore simple plates of armor. Same for the robed men standing around the circumference of a large circular inscription glowing beneath my feet. No, our feet. It glowed in a solemn white.
What’s happening? Where am I? Who are these people? And the people beside me?
I shifted my sight while my lips remained parted. There I saw two boys and one girl. One of the boys had a similar black hair and black eyes like me. The remaining two had platinum blonde hair. But the difference is that the girl had green eyes while the boy had blue. And just like me, it seemed that they were trying to comprehend the situation.
Again, the sweet voice of the white-haired girl resounded. “I know you have a lot of questions, but please bear those questions for a while longer. There is someone else more fitting to answer them.” She had a gentle smile plastered on her porcelain-white skin.
As the girl ended her speech, the black-haired boy flicked his hand in the air. Then a wide smile erupted on his face.
Similarly, the other two copied the boy in a somewhat different fashion. The boy snapped his fingers. The girl darted her eyes. And in the end, they both sighed and flashed a satisfied smile. Since I found their expressions far calm than before, I tried copying the gestures they used.
I flicked my fingers, nothing happened.
I snapped, still, nothing happened.
I darted my eyes from one corner then to the center, then finally, nothing happened.
Nothing changed. Nothing appeared. And so I fell into a deeper series of questions.
What are they doing? What’s going on? Please tell me. It’s not fair if I’m the only one here who doesn’t know anything!
The moment I finished rumbling with my thoughts, they turned to the white-haired girl.
“It’s a standard, right? Please take us to the King.” The blonde-haired boy flashed a cheeky smile.
“Are you a Princess?” the black-haired boy asked. He showed an obvious interest in the girl.
“...” Likewise, the blonde-haired girl remained silent. She observed how the other two acted. But unlike me, she was somewhat relaxed and a tad serious.
In response to the questions, the girl curtsied. “Yes, I am Madeleine de La Montagne, second daughter of Libet’s current King from the house of Montagne.” Her movements were elegant and refined. It felt like she was a character from fairy tales.
However, things were beyond me. I balled my right hand into a fist and raised it into my chest. “Uhm… I don’t think I understand any of this...”
“Do not worry, your questions will be answered in time. Perhaps later, perhaps tomorrow. But rest assured your questions will not remain a question forever. But in the meantime, His Majesty would like to meet you. In that regard, please follow closely behind. I’d like to give you a simple tour around the capital’s castle.”
With nothing else to do, and with nothing in mind, we followed. We followed behind Madeleine as we passed through a series of hallways lit by similar torches fitted on the sides. The hallways were old, rustic, and dark. And as we turned from one hallway to another, it started to get confusing. Somewhere inside me thought that we were going in circles. But not long before we reached a large door fitted with iron locks.
As the door sounded an eerie clacking, light filtered from the other side. It took us a few seconds before our eyes adjusted. But once it did, a flight of stairs welcomed us. Promptly, we climbed the stairs and reached a vastly different scenery from before.
Stone archways lined the long and curved open corridor. On the left side, beyond the archways, a series of balconies made of stone and marble flaunted itself. Further beyond were extensive structures laid out. They were made from stones and wood, but primarily of gray stones.
A sparse number of spires reached out to the sky. They neatly lined in-between the outer wall that protected the city, and the inner wall that protected the castle. Thin bridges extended from the inner wall and passed through the spires until it reached the watchtowers and the ramparts of the outer wall.
“Wow...” I muttered. Although I have seen modern structures in my life, the sight of an older type of architecture gave a strong impression.
The other three were in a similar state as me. They held their breath as they took in the grand scenery.
“This is some top-class graphics. The amount of details is pretty damn impressive.”
I could not remember which of the boys said those words, but I was sure that the other two agreed in unison.
Graphics? Do they mean a game?
Though I knew games, the point of applying the term graphics was far too removed from the scenery. And because of that, more questions piled inside my mind. But in the end, their mutter did not give me even the slightest of hints.
Giving up trying to search for the answer on my own, I heaved a sigh. I then gazed beyond the city, where a silhouette of a mountain range was topped with ice caps.
Another moment passed peacefully. It went on while Madeleine explained to us a few details on what we were able to see. But in summary, all she talked about was Libet and their belief in a single God. That belief sourced from the Angels which served as the human God’s messengers. And all throughout Libet, that belief was the only religion. It was called Liberian Faith.
In the end, we reached the throne room. Libet’s King sat on the throne decorated with gold. Gems were encrusted at the head of the throne. Beside the King, to the left, was the Queen. Both the King and the Queen bore white hair. On the other hand, Madeleine remained standing beside us.
To the right of the King was a man in a priestly white robe. He stood with his plump body and observed our faces. To the sides of the throne room, in-between twisted pillars, men, and some women sat on lavishly painted chairs. They seemed to be the Noble’s summoned to the King’s presence.
“Your Majesty, I have brought the Heroes.” Flashing a gentle smile, Madeleine curtsied.
In response, the King nodded. Briefly, he glanced at the man on his right and stood.
“Greetings Heroes.” His voice was low yet powerful. He spoke again after he struck the marble floor laden by a red carpet. “I believe you are exhausted and puzzled of your situation, but rest assured. We of Libet are on your side. We will support your endeavors as you live in my kingdom.”
“Oh, it’s one of those long and boring speeches,” the blonde-haired boy muttered.
“To be precise, you Heroes were summoned into this world. You are the chosen ones handpicked by God. The chosen ones to save humanity. To save humanity from extinction. To fight against our enemy—the hateful and deceitful demons.”
Summoned Heroes? Save humanity? Fight demons? What the hell is going on?!
Maybe because of the unfamiliar situation or maybe due my mind overloaded by unanswered questions, I was not able to have a deep impression of the King’s presence.
“For saving humanity, and for protecting us, you Heroes would be rewarded. I will give you my permission to take my son’s or daughter’s hand in marriage. You can even become the King yourself. Other than that, I can give you wealth, honor, and fame. I will give you land. I will give you a status befitting of your name. Everything, anything you ask for—as long as it is within me and my kingdom’s capabilities—I will grant it. I will give it. It is the reward for saving us. The people. Our race.”
After he finished his speech, he returned to his throne and urged the priestly man.
In that moment, I and the other three tried to raise a question, but the priestly man proceeded by himself.
“You will be led to your quarters. There, you will be given time to contemplate and to sink in your duties as Heroes. Any further questions will be answered on the day after tomorrow. However, a servant would be visiting to try to answer your questions beforehand. So in the meantime, please have some rest. The servants would also be pleased to serve you, Heroes, so please order them as you will.”
Shortly after, we left the throne room. We were then led to our quarters. But I didn’t expect that each of us would be given a different room. At that time, I thought they were just giving us some time alone, but I guessed wrong.