V. A Changing World: Saying Goodbye

23rd of Autumn, ’72

Dad gave me this journal the day before he left, but I haven’t really had anything to write in it so far. I might as well start now. I’ve been trying to fall asleep for hours but I can’t stop thinking, and there isn’t much else for me to do before sunrise anyway. Where do I even begin…

Matti woke me up screaming and crying right as I fell asleep. Ms. Agnethe next door probably heard him, he was so loud. I thought he was just having a nightmare or something, but I could hear mom down the hall and she sounded really freaked out. I was gonna go and make sure everything was okay, but then I saw it: outside my window, the sky was… breaking? I don’t know how to describe it. It looked like something was cutting through the stars, no matter where I looked. I guess I got out of bed too fast, I almost fell. I was so disoriented. I’ve never felt like that before.

Mom came rushing into my room with Matti. He was still crying and she was so pale I thought she was about to faint. When I looked back out the window, everything was red. It was all getting worse: the huge black cut in the sky, the throbbing in my head, that weird feeling. The lake looked like it was on fire. I thought maybe I was the one having a nightmare. I could hardly stand up straight. Mom came over to the window and hugged me, and Matti held onto my leg so tight it started going numb. I think the house was shaking, but maybe that was just us? There was a huge noise, like a hundred thunder strikes one after another after another. My head was pounding, I couldn’t see straight, I thought I was gonna puke.

And then it just stopped. It took a second, but that weird feeling went away. My ears were ringing like crazy, but I could hear mom again, making sure Matti was okay. Poor guy practically passed out on the spot. The sky was normal again, too. Like nothing ever happened.

It feels like I dreamt the whole thing, but it was way too real. Mom seemed really upset, kinda panicky, and kept saying that something awful was happening. I dunno, though. I guess it was pretty crazy (maybe a bit scary), but everything is back to normal. Some people from up the street were going door to door making sure everyone was alright and they seemed pretty calm, said no one had been hurt or anything. I think we’ll be fine.

32nd of Autumn, ’72

I am exhausted. Just got back home and it’s practically dark out. What a waste of another day.

A lot has happened in the last week or so, I haven’t had time to sit down and write in this thing again. After that weird night, a lot of people were really on edge. Even old Ms. Agnethe seems worried — mom made me go help her pack up some things, but she was just pacing around, mumbling… she asked me if I could feel “how different the mana is” or something, but I don’t really get that stuff. Apparently one of the ascended tried to ask the gods about what happened, but there was no response. Now the whole town’s going crazy. So what if they didn’t respond? It’s not like they ever pay that much attention to us.

Anyway, the elders declared an emergency and said we all have to pack up essential supplies and leave the area. Everyone keeps saying that it’s getting dangerous here, but no one’s explaining what that means. The town seems fine to me. Because dad’s off in that village, I got volunteered to help out with community supplies in his place. Three days in a row now, that’s all I’ve done: wake up, tidy up around here, help out Ms. Agnethe, and then head down to the town center to be bossed around all day long.

I hope dad’s able to come back home by the time we return… I am not looking forward to unpacking everything.

40th of Autumn, ’72

Our group left home on the 36th, but we just got to the village late this evening. It’s nice to be able to sit and relax for a bit, but it’s definitely not the same as home. The trees here make the whole place so dark, even in the daytime. It’s better than being on the road, though, that’s for sure.

I think I understand what the elders were talking about now. Things do seem a bit different. I’ve only been out this way once before (I think I was about Matti’s age, so I don’t remember it very well), but I’ve never heard of a trip running into so many issues. There were a couple spots along the river where we had to divert off course ’cause our horses were going berserk for no reason. Once we entered the woods, half the place looked dead, but some of it was so overgrown that our wheels kept getting tangled up. The markers left by the groups before us were useless, but of course I still had to help put down new ones. I don’t know what’s happening, but something’s definitely not right.

On top of all that, I’ve had a killer headache since we left. I swear it’s taken me an hour to write this. Hopefully I can actually get some sleep tonight, maybe that’ll help. I don’t think I’m the only one, though — Matti hasn’t been feeling well since we left, and I know a couple others have been really road sick too. There was a woman (I think she works at the mail office? I know I’ve seen her around before) who was really ill the whole way, but then yesterday she was getting violent with the others in her carriage. Mom said they sent her back to town last night to be checked out, but I didn’t notice anybody else missing. Maybe I counted wrong? There’s no way they sent her back home alone.

I guess the plan is to stay here for the night and see if anyone comes back with news about the journey up ahead. If we don’t hear anything, then we’ll move forward, though I get the feeling that even our leaders don’t have a clue where we’re supposed to be going. This is all so stupid. I wish we could just go back home, and no one’s giving me a straight answer about what’s going on. I’m being treated like a kid and then relied on like I’m my dad. It’s not fair.

I wonder where he is now. He was assigned here to help out with the village’s defence force, but I haven’t seen him around. Maybe he went on ahead with one of the other groups to help out.

41st of Autumn, ’72

A few of the people that came to the village with dad are still here helping to keep this place safe for us and the village folk. Ms. Agnethe’s daughter recognized me, actually, but she didn’t know where dad is. Just said that him and some of the others from town aren’t here anymore. She seemed kind of upset about it, though I guess it is pretty bleak out here.

People have started talking more about that night a couple weeks ago. The defence force say that whatever happened was a blessing because all the fighting has stopped. (Come to think of it, I haven’t heard about any of the gods fighting since around then, either.) Some old man said that the humans aren’t a problem anymore and that they just disappeared, but that’s ridiculous. People don’t just disappear. He must be sick or something, not thinking straight. One of the villagers was insistent that the world had been cursed that night, and that we were left behind to suffer while the gods and the humans had run off to safety. It sounds insane, but there were others that seemed to agree. There’s gotta be a better explanation… maybe we just aren’t seeing the full picture yet.

We’re heading out early tomorrow morning. Hopefully we don’t run into any more problems on the way.

50th of Autumn, ’72

I can’t believe what I’m seeing. This has to be a dream, there’s no other way. I’m in a stranger’s house in a ghost town — a human ghost town — and it’s the safest I’ve felt in days. Nothing makes sense anymore.

We left the village and went farther east, and things keep getting weirder. It’s been raining non-stop, hailing sometimes, and we keep running into problems. Some beasts were trailing us in the forest at one point until our leader finally bothered to scare them away. I’ve heard weird heard noises at night, too. When it isn’t raining, there’s this dense fog we keep running into — mom said it’s raw mana and that it’s too toxic to travel through. I’ve never heard of anything like that before. The horses aren’t cooperating at all, half of our group seems to be sick, I’m soaked to the bone and covered in mud every damn day, everything is taking longer than expected…

The weirdest thing by far is this town, though. Humans lived here, but all of them are gone (good riddance). But not just “packed up and left” gone, I mean like “they were here and then they weren’t” gone. We’re staying in someone’s house for the night and all of their stuff is still here. There was food rotting on the table when we got in, no sign of preparations or struggle or anything. They’re just gone. I volunteered to search the town to look for supplies (it’s not like dad’s around to do it), and the whole place is completely abandoned. I found a bit of food that’s probably still good, some rope and torches, some dry clothes… it isn’t much, but I don’t give a shit. My head hurts too much to look for more.

Our group leader tried communing with the gods tonight and there was no answer again. I don’t know why everyone’s so surprised. They hated us. They abandoned us. This stupid ghost town proves it. They left us here alone to suffer. Mom is clearly upset, but she’s putting on a brave face for Matti. She keeps saying that dad will be able to come back to us soon if the wars are over, but I know that’s a lie. If he wanted to be with us then he would have just waited at the village. He wouldn’t have Whatever. Forget him.

I’m so tired I can’t sleep. If the whole world is fucked up, then why did we even have to leave?

56th of Autumn, ’72

I finally get it. I can feel it now — actually, I can’t feel it now, but that’s the point. It’s like… realizing you’re freezing to death only once you’ve gone back inside. Like only noticing something once it’s no longer around.

We pushed on and found some of the other groups from back home. They’re building a new city here. We’re calling it a “safe zone” — safe from the mana that was attacking us this whole time. It’s not just us though. There’s hundreds of other elves around, some of them from far away, all working together to try to build a new home. It’s hard to put into words, but I can actually sense it now: the mana here feels calm, comforting even. I’ve never been able to sense it before. It’s amazing. I didn’t realize just how dangerous it was on the roads until we got here.

We lost a lot along the way. A couple people were left behind at the village, and more stayed back at that ghost town. Mom says they’re staying there because they’re sick or to help protect the area for the remaining travellers, but I can tell she’s choosing her words carefully. Even as a kid, I heard stories about people that went crazy or became lifeless from wandering into strong mana… those people aren’t sick, they’re dying. We just left them there. How could we just leave them to die like that?

The three of us are okay, though our carriage got swallowed up by a huge pit of mud a few days back. We lost almost everything we owned, though we’re not the only ones. A couple horses ran off one night, and another one died suddenly the next day. One of the men who helped cleared the way of vines and branches for the group must have been pricked by something poisonous… he’s been out ever since. I’ve overheard a lot of stories from people I don’t know, and it sounds like everyone’s been through the same. Some of them had even worse luck.

Some man I don’t know recognized me as dad’s son earlier today. He said he worked with dad at the village and that I look just like him. He kept praising him like some kind of hero and said that my dad would be proud to know I’d helped everyone get here safely. I don’t even want to think about him right now. I need to get some sleep tonight. There’s a lot to do tomorrow.

68th of Autumn, ’72

Dear dad,

I finally talked to mom about everything. We talked about how I’ve been so angry lately — angry at the world and everything that’s been changing, angry at our leaders, at her, at myself. Angry at you. We talked about what we’re gonna do now, how to go forward from here. We talked about mana and that crazy night. And we talked about the lies she’s been using to protect me and Matti…

I didn’t want to admit it to myself (maybe I couldn’t), but I’ve known about what happened to you for weeks. The night before we left the village, I heard mom get out of bed and go outside. I couldn’t sleep either, so I got up to talk to her, but she was quickly walking away. I followed her to a house on the other side of the village and watched as a man from back home — one of your friends from the force, I think — invited her in. I should have just gone back to bed, but I couldn’t. Everything was a confusing mess, I thought maybe this was my opportunity to finally get some answers.

I sat outside a window and listened as they talked about you. He sounded so… empty, like he had nothing left in him. No emotion, no life, no hope. Mom was crying. He said that after the night the sky turned red, a couple people from the force and several villagers came down with a sickness that couldn’t be cured. It was like hearing that every dumb ghost story I’d ever been told wasn’t just true, but that reality was much worse. He talked about people who were alive but entirely vacant, someone who completely lost their mind, and a few that became aggressive, almost feral, like they lost what made them a person. Mom had to stop him from going into more detail.

You got sick, too. I don’t know how you went — I don’t think I want to know — but you were gone before the first group from town arrived. I guess there was nothing they could do. He offered to show mom to where you were buried as I ran back to my bed.

I know you would have waited for us if you could have. I should never have doubted that, but I wasn’t ready to say goodbye, so it was easier to pretend, to lie to myself and say that you abandoned us. At least that made sense. It gave me something to be angry at that felt real when nothing else did. I’m sorry.

I’m still not ready to say goodbye. When you gave me this journal, you asked me to keep track of everything that happened while you were gone. You couldn’t bear the thought of not being there. At the time, I thought it was stupid, a chore. It’s all I have left of you now. This whole time I’ve wanted to go back home and pretend none of this was happening, but I don’t think I could ever go back now.

Everything’s changing so fast, but I’ll try my best to keep you up to date from here on out. For now, know that mom and Matti and I are together and safe, starting a new life and building a new home. It won’t be the same without you.  

I hope I make you proud.

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