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Day 48 of The National Service Journal features the arrival of National Service chairperson Isaiah Luciole at Camp Point-Neuf. During the latter half of the day, Aimée Duchemin and her friends infiltrate Alpha Company's cloister with the permission of Seniors Akatsuki and Ref.
Are we truly happy?Edit
Today, the National Service Department chairman, Isaiah Luciole, will be paying a visit to the camp. But for now, we don’t even care. The weather weakens us to a great extent: it’s extremely cold in the morning, extremely hot in the afternoon and extremely cold in the evening. More and more trainees are pleading sick, and quite a few have been sent home already. And not to mention that quite a few trainees have already been killed by Ankoù… I feel like going home. Getting out of this foolish game. Getting out of everything and continuing with life in Lumine. Juliette and Leah would definitely agree with me. And I’m pretty sure that all trainees who hail from Lumine feel the same way. And again, today, breakfast sucks. It’s something that I really can’t finish. Something horribly soupy and bland.
I’m pretty sure that when the cameras are turned on the students, we’d all be sitting up straight under Naufal’s orders, we’d all be “listening attentively”, or at least, our eyes will be fixed on Luciole; we’d be smiling and standing up to shake hands with him at the end of it all. This is all show. And I’m fed up of it. And as I said yesterday, Leah and her class are going to have their moment in the limelight today. The entire Sauveterre is going to watch their performance live. This entire thing is pointless, and I doubt we’re ever going to have the same zeal as we have now. That is, if we ever do have zeal.
I need a few moments in solitude.
The entire morning went well enough. It went especially well for Alpha 1 & 2, who got their moment in the limelight with their sketch. I observed them as they were in full dress. It seemed that they had added one part at the last minute – probably Senior Akatsuki had instructed them to add it in late last night. But the theme of today’s play was no different than that of yesterday’s play. It was bland, with practically nothing to reflect on, and even though the play had a happy ending, it didn’t appeal to my mind, or my heart. Fine, call me a spoilsport if you have to, but there’s more to a country’s survival than just a “happily-ever-after” ending. Did no one mention that after our independence, there were several uprisings? Did no one ever think of the difficulties people faced in staying united, and the efforts taken to overcome them? Has no one addressed the ills of yesterday and/or today?
But no – I’m not going to dismiss it entirely. Theirs is the only play where the people were singing towards the end. Or wait – that part was only added by Senior Akatsuki last night.
Ugh. I’m disgusted. Right now as I’m writing, the people from Alpha 1 & 2 are happily posing for photographs with Luciole, and I still can’t stomach the fact that we didn’t get anything after all our efforts. I’m going to see to Bravo’s victory for all the remaining competitions, and speaking of which, I’m pretty sure that the previous batches had chorale nights. Given the discipline level here, it’d be difficult to start a choir, but if we ever do, I might as well lay down a set of rules:
- If you’re fed up with other companies winning and you want to be champions for a change, then DO IT! Because we want to have a taste of victory once again!
- If you can’t cooperate, then get out of the team.
- This is a CHOIR, not a solo work. I can’t have you getting all confused when A sings a higher note and B sings a lower note. Together, you have to blend well.
- Dive into the music. This is not something which you can just sing and forget the next moment. If done well, a chorus can move listeners.
- We’re most likely going to sing something patriotic. So don’t play, don’t even chuckle – and don’t try to cause trouble. If you know what I mean, that is.
- Don’t come late for training, and don’t skip training.
- Don’t shout if it isn’t necessary.
- Don’t reveal the details of our team to other people, even if you happen to be speaking to your best friend from another company.
- Don’t summon rain and thunder from the sky unless you’re singing on the real day of the competition.
- Don’t fight, don’t quibble. There have been too many such fights in camp and I don’t want anymore.
- Don’t humiliate your company mate – we’re here to make ourselves win.
- If you happen to see other choirs performing or training, do not hesitate to spill the beans, but in secret.
13 rules. One goal. If this competition ever materialises, then let’s do it! Next month isn’t very far away, and we’ll have to start quickly.
In the middle of nowhereEdit
For the first time ever, the trainees from Alpha and Bravo set foot into the Bequenou forest. Charlie, Delta and Echo had gone in earlier this afternoon, so it was our turn to go. I wasn’t comfortable (who would be?). There was a sort of “classroom” set up not far off from the entrance of the forest: there were planks for benches, supported by logs. There was a table in front of us, whittled from tree wood (it obviously didn’t look like it had come out of a factory). There were animal traps and tents here and there. We were right under a canopy of leafy branches.
Seniors Hayden, Denver and Saint-Jean were there to show us how to make them. We were also given a lowdown on what forest plants are edible… (damn it, we have to eat leaves? I must stock up twelve packs of instant noodles and a tumbler of hot water, if this is going to be the case!) From what I heard, we’ve gotta spend four days and four nights there. This worries me. I’m easily tired; I’m scared of not being able to work together with my company mates to survive. Dear Lord, for the love of Bravo, please help us!
Entry into Alpha's cloisterEdit
Senior Ref apparently told Senior Yolanda about what had happened the other day in Charlie’s cloister. That night, Sybil, Mira, Tatienne, Leah and I were summoned to her quarters. All of us came in, with our heads hung low. I expected her to be furious, but she actually wasn’t.
“I was expecting to go into the cloisters myself and search for answers. Nevertheless, I’m glad you all made it out safely. Did you find any answers?”
I was quite surprised that she didn’t scold us. I raised my head to look at her, and said,
“All we ever found was this slab with ancient text. I’m not even sure what it means.”
“Is the door still sealed?”
“No, the seal was drained of all its energy. So I believe you can go in at your own volition.”
“I’ll try and see if I can study the text.”
“Will you be returning to your quarters tonight?”
“No, we still have another four more cloisters to explore.”
“Five more, you mean.”
Her words caught me off guard.
“What do you mean five?”
Senior Yolanda looked at me with concern in her eyes and said,
“I’ve learnt about the underground passageways, and there is one special one, somewhere in this camp, that houses the pit where Ankoù was once sealed.”
“WHAT??” all of us yelled in unison.
So what Senior Ref said the other day was true, indeed. There was an underground passageway where Ankoù was sealed, and someone had to break that seal for him to be released. I still needed to clear the air over this matter.
“We’re thinking of going into Alpha’s cloister today. Are we allowed…?”
“Sure. The Cloisters hold the key to defeating Ankoù, somehow. I see your willingness to join in the fight, so I can’t really restrain you from exploring the depths of this place.”
I began to suspect Dolores more than ever.
That night, the night patrol was ordered to allow us to move about freely in the quarters, so we had no qualms about walking out in the open air when they were passing by. We waited for the lights to be turned off, and then the five of us slipped out of bed. We moved towards the Alpha quarters – the closest to the entrance – but we were quite shocked to be greeted by Naufal, Sylvain, Térence, Didier and Raoul.
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
“We need to tell you this,” Naufal replied. “Senior Ref told Seniors Simon and Brieg about your exploits in the Charlie quarters, and he told us. Now, we’re not going to enter in from here, because these are the girls’ dorms, but there are entrances to the cloisters from our side. Tell us where you’re going, and we’ll join you from there.”
“We’re going into Alpha’s cloister,” Sybil told him.
Térence pulled out a chain with a pendant that looked like half of a heart. It was glowing red. He threw it at Sybil, who caught it. Then he pulled out another similar pendant.
“There. With these we should be able to enter,” said Térence. “Keep it well. We’ll meet you beyond the Trials.”
“Alright,” Sybil replied.
We found a trapdoor near 4A, the block nearest to the gate. On Leah’s cue, all of us went in.
This particular area had no staircase, so since I was the first to jump in, I fell onto the floor with a huge PLONK! sound. And soon after, everyone else was falling on my back – Leah, Tatienne, Mira and Sybil. I was squashed flat. My poor back ached!
We all weren’t in the mood to move back there, and we were already weary. Leah got the ball rolling.
“So we’re finally in my company cloister. I think I should be able to guide you around.”
“Yeah,” replied an excited Mira. “I’m all for it.”
“But first,” I replied. Then I breathed deeply and yelled, “CAN YOU PLEASE GET OFF MY BACK?!”
“Oh. Sorry,” Leah replied with a sheepish grin.
I suffered to get back on my two feet. When I finally did, I dusted my clothes and gazed at the area. The walls were made of brick, like those of the Charlie cloister, but they were illuminated by reddish-orange lanterns, with black tassels at the bottom of each lantern. I could feel a sense of warmth in this place. While we were admiring the light and everything in the entrance, a package came tumbling down the entrance. It was wrapped in brown paper and the box was quite heavy. What joy we felt when we opened the box – we saw our phones in it! We were allowed to use them! There was also a note from Senior Akatsuki, which read:
I’m aware that you’re exploring the Alpha company cloister today – I got the news from Seniors Ref and Yolanda. So I thought I’d send these through the trapdoor – you’ll need them.
I’m sure you are aware that Senior Brieg has enlisted Térence and company to go down into the Cloisters at the same time. You’ll need your phones to communicate with Térence and his friends. Learn their every move; for both of you to enter the chamber after the trials, you have to have the same move set, and it must be correct. Make one mistake, and you’ll have to start the puzzle all over again.
I’m counting on you!
“Leah, you lead,” I said after reading the letter.
“I thought you said you’d lead? After all, you’re the only person from Alpha over here. Térence is leading the boys. Now, I want you to ping Térence and lead us. Tell us the exact coordinates, what you will be doing, what we should do, because if either side makes one mistake, we have to start the thing all over again.”
“Got it. Are you ready?”
“I’m ready when you are.”
The other girls replied likewise. Leah pushed the door open.
Smoke billowed out of the door, and we were taken to a hall with several mirrors fixed at certain points on the floor. The room was hot. The stifling conditions made it difficult for me to breathe.
“I hope it doesn’t get any hotter than this,” I said through incessant gasps.
“Any hotter and it’d be an oven,” Tatienne retorted.
Meanwhile, Leah was trying to get Térence on the other side. After a short while, he picked up the phone. Leah put the speakers on for all of us to hear, and he did likewise.
“Térence? Térence! This is me, Leah! Is everyone okay on the other side?”
“Yes. Tell us, what do you see on your side?”
I took a look at the room, and tried my best to breathe in the stifling heat. There were three candles, and several mirrors around them. It was then that I knew that we had to spin the mirrors in the right direction for the light to be reflected to the entrance to the next chamber.
“Three candles and a lot of mirrors. One is at the front, and two are at the rear sides. The same for you too?”
“Yes. Now, on the count of three, I’ll hand you directions. You and I have to do the same thing together. Got it?”
“Alright then, one, two, three—”
I let Leah do all the walking while I sat by the doorway. I was exhausted by the heat, and I needed water. I brought a flask full of water with me, but I started to feel that this flask wasn’t enough. I was too dizzy to even watch what was going on. I thought of Ankoù, and began to realise that the heat from his body is as strong as this – perhaps even stronger. I was thinking hard of a way to take him out; yet, I’m among the most vulnerable to fire. I thought of what Father Augustine said to me about the first time he saw his friend Pryce taking on the monstrous form of Ankoù. His body began to absorb flames even back then. But before I could truly reflect on what Father Augustine would have done, the heat began to get to me, and I was in too uncomfortable a situation to think.
Then some five minutes later, I heard Térence screaming at the top of his lungs,
To my horror, I discovered that Leah had to start the whole trial again… Sylvain was leaning on a mirror and it turned, breaking the whole chain of events and because of him, Leah had to start the entire sequence with Térence… and I had to suffer and die in that place.
I don’t know how much time I spent at the doorway. The room was too hot. I had unbuttoned the upper half of my shirt and rolled up my sleeves, but it just wasn’t enough. I don’t know how long I suffered before I saw the door in front of me open. There was an ominous, bright orange light coming out of the door, and all the candles in the hall were extinguished. The temperature dropped.
Phew! The temperature dropped! I gave myself ten minutes to cool myself down before proceeding. I could already picture what was going to happen next: Térence’s party and our party were going to meet, we’d be confronted by some other guardian beast, and since this is the cloister of fire, I bet we’d probably be boiled or scorched to death. I reckoned, at that moment, that I’d be the first to die.
When I was ready, I signalled to Leah and we all went ahead to meet Térence and his friends. By the time we entered, the room was quite dark; the orange light which glowed earlier was not there. Sybil and Térence embraced each other. Indeed, I was glad that we made it here safe and sound, but apart from that, I couldn’t care less. The heat from the hall had turned me into a weary, battered piece of earth. Naufal lifted up his head and called my name. The ominous orange glow came back again, this time from the ceiling, but it was faint. I knew what to expect.
“Bring it on,” I said through clenched teeth.
At the moment I said this, Naufal was busy rounding up the necessary party members.
Lo and behold, ten orange spotlights were turned on all at the same time, and they were illuminating the centre of the room where we were standing. Mirrors emerged from the floor and began to encircle us. The thing glowing orange on the ceiling turned out to be a huge fox with fiery hair. Flames emerged behind the mirrors. It was so hot; I swear that if it got any hotter than this, it would’ve been a crematory. I was about to pass out when Mira threw me a Cure potion.
So how did the battle go, you ask? It was very complicated. For starters, since I’m the weakest to Fire, I lost my energy rather quickly and I seemed to be much of a burden to my friends, who had to heal me on a regular basis. That fox was quick and slick; it could run round us in a split second and encircle us with flames. My friends were doing much of the fighting. All I was trying to do was keep myself alive throughout the fight. And I did just that. The rest of them – except for Naufal – were doing everything they could to break down the wall of mirrors.
I had enough energy to witness Naufal finish off the fox. He leapt on Raoul’s shoulder, landed on a pillar and leapt off it, somersaulted at a height I wouldn’t dare to be at – and rained pistol shots on the fox.
We ended up in a similar room to the Charlie cloister – there were glowing balls of red light all around us, which we could play with.
Tales tell of a castle deep in the night
Awakened by the twinkling of a star,
Where children dream in shrouds of soft moonlight.
It lies across a world of snowy white -
The traverse is yet very, very far
To the castle so deep within the night.
It lies beyond a vale bathed in twilight
In fields and forests where miracles are,
Where children dream in shrouds of soft moonlight.
It lies upon a lake, clean and polite,
As though it poured from out a crystal jar -
This castle sleeping deep within the night.
The bridge is down, as though it would invite
All those who have travelled so very far
To sleep within the shrouds of soft moonlight.
Upon its walls grow roses, pure and white
Awakened by the twinkling of a star.
Tales tell of a castle deep in the night
Where children dream in shrouds of soft moonlight.
Immediately after we had finished reading the message on the stone slab we were greeted by a young woman in a white coat, with red hair, sharp features and glasses.
“I believe you have all come here to find out about Pryce – I mean, Ankoù,” she spoke.
“We know who Ankoù is,” I replied. “Father Augustine told us.”
“I see. So you all know Augustine. How intriguing… My name is Theodora.”
Amidst the glowing balls of orange-red light I heard faint howls and sighs. I admired the way she remained calm and composed through it all. This place really gave me the creeps. Theodora spoke again,
“You must know, too, then, that Pryce and Augustine were childhood friends.”
“Yes, I am aware.”
“I must reveal to you, then, what has become of Pryce.”
“He said that he had placed Pryce under the care of three people… and we saw him being locked in some kind of enclosure,” Leah replied.
“Why, yes, the enclosure.”
All ten of us had our eyes fixed on Theodora.
“Augustine asked help from a man named Martin to bind Pryce and bring him to the laboratory of a certain Dr. Woodhouse.”
Just like the other day, we saw scenes flashing in front of us. We saw a big burly man throwing Pryce, who was covered in flames, into the centre of the laboratory, with his bare hands. Within seconds Pryce was enclosed in a wall through which nothing could enter in or come out, except for air. That was the enclosure we saw the other day.
“Dr. Woodhouse worked with a colleague of hers to diagnose him. But when they did diagnose him, they found that he had dangerously high levels of dragon’s blood in his body, and that it was starting to consume him.”
A scream and an eerie flash of white cut to the next scene. We saw a person in a white coat and auburn hair tied into a ponytail, running to the heart of the computer system, which was in that laboratory room itself. She was looking into the container containing Pryce. We then saw the screen. She was searching for something – “How to cure contamination by dragon’s blood” – and the only response she could ever find was a story dating several centuries ago – a story about a man who was poisoned by dragon’s blood and purified by phoenix fire. We saw the look on the young girl’s face when she came across the article – she was evidently bewildered.
“It was the only search result that ever existed, and she believed that the only way to cure him was to purify him with phoenix fire. She attempted to do so one day, but to no avail…”
“Would the phoenix fire work today, if it were used?” I asked.
“No one knows…” she said as she shook her head sadly.