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Have We Returned?
When they opened their eyes, they saw a familiar scenery that was stored far, far away in their mind. The air was fresher and nostalgic. The sky wasn’t of weird colour. The plants around them had regular forms and weren’t as odd as the plants they had grown accustomed to seeing for the past ten years.
“This, this is…”
Everything happened so fast that it was hard for them to process. They felt a surge of different emotions that was hard to describe. Happiness because they realized that they were home. Fear because they were too afraid that it was merely a dream or illusion. Anxiety because they didn’t know for sure if they had returned to their timeline or far from their timeline. Excitement because at least, it seemed like they no longer had to live in fear and uncertainty of their livelihood in that dangerous other world.
Everyone was at loss for words as they looked everywhere around them, and at one another.
“Where is this…?! What is going on?”
What broke their daze was the youngest one’s voice, trembling with fear.
Little Sen was very anxious that he clung to his mother and father’s arms without letting go. Tears were welling up in his eyes, threatening to fall down at any moment.
It was then that everyone snapped out of their silent daze and started to react. Some started analyzing their current situation, some talked to one another about what they were supposed to do after this.
Although confused, both Fideline and Osamu had realized that they needed to comfort Sen and explain things to him. Though Sen had known about their history so far and about the ‘home’ they had been talking about, he had no idea about this world at all and about what just happened. Suddenly being transported into an unfamiliar area, of course he’d be frightened.
They had always talked to Sen about their history and their home world because they wanted to prepare Sen for this exact scenario. It was just that they hadn’t expected it would happen this fast.
Both Nagare and Oriel snapped out of it and started commanding their people on what to do.
First, they scouted the area and started to look for more information about their situation.
Based on their knowledge about their original world, they managed to come to a conclusion that they hadn’t returned to the last place where they were located at before getting engulfed in the dimensional distortion.
They were in the middle of a rainforest, and since there were not many rainforests known, they could narrow the candidates very quickly and eventually concluded that they were in the biggest rainforest that was located in the most southern part of the neural area.
“Are you sure we’re really in our original world?” One of them asked out of anxiety, though their hearts knew they were home.
“It’s very highly likely,” Another added and nodded.
“And we’re actually in the neutral area? Now, that’s good!” Yet another one of them blurted out after they sighed in relief.
“Out of all places we could end up in, we actually ended up in the best place, huh?”
“But the question is, what year is it now?”
“Are there even any people here?”
“Oh, damn. You are right. Neutral area means it’s not under any of the three countries, right? Will there even be anyone living here?”
“Tsk, tsk. You are very lacking in knowledge. Being a neutral area located in the middle of the human country of Riviera, the elven kingdom of Cielle, and the Oni empire of Naraka, obviously there would be people who inhabited this area. You know who?”
“No, I don’t. I thought nobody would be living here…?”
“Obviously the outcast of the three countries will choose to live here!”
“What?! But living not under any of the rules… Will they survive?”
“Beggars can’t be choosers. Not all refugees are welcomed in the other countries. Not all outcast want to live in another country where they might receive the same fate, if not worse. There’s gotta be some people here!”
“Oh, I know! I remember that although this area has little to no development, there should be a small village somewhere…”
“And that will be our only chance of finding out where exactly we are, or more precisely, when exactly is this timeline we end up in?”
After quite a heated discussion with one another, they finally agreed that they’d try to find this so-called small village or any of the outcast or the few people living in this neutral area.
“What if we’re actually stranded in an era where there’s nobody here yet…?” Yasha suddenly became anxious and asked.
“There’s only one way to find out. Let’s try to go towards where the small village should be located at,” General Nagare said.
“Do you know where the small village might be at?” Oriel asked.
“Hmm… We have no knowledge of it,” Osamu chimed in.
“……,” Fideline was deep in her thought, and little Sen was hugging her very closely.
“Actually… I think I have an idea,” Fideline decided to speak after a moment of hesitation.
“Tell us, Fideline,” Oriel said.
“I think I know the village’s location. Oh, I came to know about the village’s location when… when my family planned on escaping. We didn’t get to run away, as you might have known already, but I still remember the village’s location, though I have never verified it. It should be quite accurate…”
“…Fideline,” Oriel’s expression turned sour.
“It’s alright. I have already accepted it. It’s been a long time. Now, my knowledge can be useful here. What an irony,” Fideline bitterly smiled.
“Alright. Let’s try it out,” Osamu held Fideline’s hand and quickly ended the topic.
“Right,” Nagare nodded before he briefed the others on their next step.
Fideline guided all of them towards the rumored location of the small village in the neutral area. Coincidentally, the location wasn’t that far away from their starting point. It was as if the goddess of fate and luck had given them her biggest blessing.
The moment they saw the village, they rejoiced.
“Wait,” Oriel suddenly remembered something and stopped their whole alliance from proceeding.
“I think it’s better for some of us to go first and see the situation. If all of us were to enter the village like this, they might mistake it for a raid and things might go south,” Oriel said.
“That’s a good idea,” Osamu responded.
Nagare also nodded.
With that, they quickly selected some of the people who would come to the village.
It was a given that Oriel and Nagare would be going.
Yasha and Faro volunteered to go with them.
Fideline and Osamu wanted to accompany their leaders as they were the remaining right hands of both leaders, but they hesitated because of Sen.
In the unlikely event that danger would come to them when visiting the village, they couldn’t involve Sen in it.
But Sen wouldn’t want to be separated from his parents in this current situation, and both Fideline and Osamu were reluctant in not accompanying Oriel and Nagare.
“Excuse me, if I may have a word?” Yasha suddenly interrupted in the middle of their dilemma.
“You may speak, Yasha,” Oriel was the one to issue a command. If it was back then, Yasha might not have listened to her. However, after years of being in this alliance, she was used to seeing Oriel as Nagare’s equal, so she obeyed.
“Why don’t we just bring Sen with us? I mean, Princess and Great General are the strongest among us. Fideline and Osamu are also strong. I think all of us together can protect Sen. If any, we can all escape,” The female Oni, Yasha suggested.
“Right. I think there’s no greater danger than what we’ve always encountered back in that other world. I’m confident we can leave unscathed if it’s in our original world. Besides, there shouldn’t be any weird monster or even a strong army in the village,” The male elf, Faro said.
Eventually, all of them agreed it’d be best to bring Sen with the party who would go first to the village.
Oriel, Nagare, Osamu, Fideline, Sen, Yasha, and Faro departed as the rest were on stand by there.
Sure enough, the moment the seven of them arrived in front of the village, they were spotted by the guards.
There were two guards who were idly spending their time at their post near the gate of the village.
The two of them had similar tiger ears, one being an older woman, while the other was a young man who looked like he just came of age.
The younger guard immediately shouted to get the head chief, while the older guard kept them from really entering.
Not long after, an elder woman escorted by a young child appeared together with the guard who ran inside while calling out for the head chief.
“Well, well. It is I, Lady Baba, the Head Chief of this nameless village. It’s rare for us to get guests. Let me guess. You lot are part Onis and part elves who wanted to seek refugees here?” The elder woman spoke.
“Greetings, Head Chief,” The group respectfully greeted the village chief first.
“Actually, we are full-blooded Onis and elves. Our situation is a bit complicated, you see…,” Oriel got straight to the point.
Fideline and Osamu quickly took over the task of explaining the things that had happened.
“And so, we’d like to seek your help in figuring out our situation as well as your permission in living here…or even in an area nearby, until we can figure out our next step,” Oriel closed the explanation by stating their request.
Lady Baba originally had narrow eyes, but as she listened to their explanation, her eyes gradually turned wider and wider. The same goes for the guards and the Head Chief’s escort.
“Your story is too bizarre… We… We… Don’t know if we believe in you or not,” Lady Baba stuttered for a bit before finally able to finish her words with dignity.
The seven representatives looked at one another in confusion, clearly not prepared on what to do for this kind of situation.
Unexpectedly, the youngest of the lot, Sen, suddenly raised his hand and said with his childish voice, “Granny, I am the proof of their alliance.”
Little Sen had always known the significance of his existence, thus he chimed in like so.
But his interference was unexpected by all of them that they were stunned.
Lady Baba widened her eyes again and slowly walked to Sen.
Sen let go of Fideline and walked to Lady Baba.
Their surrounding was so nervous.
Lady Baba scanned Sen and trembled as she said in marvel, “This… A half-blood Oni and elf…?! How can this be…!!”
Fideline was uncomfortable seeing her son be approached by the stranger, so she quickly walked forward and pulled Sen closer to her.
Osamu also walked forward and put on a friendly smile as he asked, “So, do you believe us, Lady Baba?”
Lady Baba stuttered, “Yes, but…”
The great general and the princess were perceptive enough to hand two small items to Lady Baba.
“Here is our proof of identity,” Nagare said.
Lady Baba took the small tokens the two had offered and observed them.
“…Very well. As bizarre things may seem, it looks like you’re telling us the truth. You may enter the village and bring the rest of yours to rest around here,” Lady Baba returned the tokens back and gestured to the guards.
“Have someone tell the rest of you lot to come here. Meanwhile, you guys come here to discuss things further,” Lady Baba said as she continued to walk.
Oriel and Nagare saved their tokens back, looked at each other, nodded, and commanded Faro and Yasha to go fetch the rest.
The older guard went alongside Faro and Yasha to accomodate things for the rest of them.
Meanwhile, Oriel, Nagare, Fideline, Osamu, and Sen went into Lady Baba’s home to exchange information.
“Well, what do you think of this village so far?”
It was Lady Baba’s first question to them after they had taken a seat each inside Lady Baba’s place.
During their way from the gate until there, they had seen the condition of the village in a glimpse.
All of them turned to look at one another before they started speaking one by one.
“Considering that it’s a village built without the interference or help of any government, it is quite good,” Osamu spoke.
“But I noticed that there are only a few people, or are most of them away right now?” Fideline asked.
“Yes. Most of the people we have seen are the children or the elder. Is something going on?” Oriel asked.
“It’s exactly as you’ve witnessed,” Lady Baba began explaining about the situation of their village, “This nameless village is the largest establishment in the neutral area due to the nature of the location. Being under no jurisdiction of any country means being under the protection of none and whenever war happens, this neutral area is highly likely to be involved. Not many want to live here.”
All of them nodded in understanding as they came to a good conclusion that they had arrived in an era where the great war had ended and that the three countries had formed. But at what point in the timeline they were taken into?
Would they be able to reunite with their beloved ones, or were they doomed to never meet again in this lifetime?
Would their ordeal of returning home finally be over with this, or would they have to continue their ordeal?