Attempting to decode the cipher was proving impossible. Nobody knew where to start, Matayal included. Yet she still had an itching feeling of vague familiarity. Perhaps it was simply that it was recognizable as a language. Matayal had the intention to ask Yustina. Hailing from the far side of the world, she might recognize something from before the overall homogenization of language. The ubiquitous travel of cultivators had mostly narrowed language to one thing, but it wasn’t complete and total.
If it wasn’t that, then they needed to capture someone who could decode it. Most likely, a person would be unhelpful- documents would be better. The Brandle clan still intended to intercept more messages where they were able, but Matayal herself couldn’t afford to spend so much time on it. She still had other duties as the sect head to perform, and while this was likely important work she also had to make sure everything else was managed properly. Tirto was learning some of the management, but he wouldn’t take over for some time. Five years, maybe a decade or two. It all depended on what made sense… and though she was eager to be free to spend more time with her husband, it would not come at detriment to her clan.
Speaking of which, though their schedule of exchanging the triplets between the clans was no longer in effect, it was about time to have Tirto see his sisters. Especially after Melanthina’s engagement, meeting in person would be valuable. If for nothing else than seeing her darkness attributed daughter squirm in discomfort, the trip would be worth it.
Being around her husband was one place she was allowed to grumble and complain without weakening her image as clan head. They kept nothing from each other, or at least nothing important. Obviously they couldn’t possible relay every interaction they had while apart in full detail, or it would take at least as long and probably longer than the actual time involved.
“You should have seen her blush,” said Fortkran. John, in private. A strange man, but strange in a pleasant way infinitely preferable to the previous inhabitant of that body. “And then she shouted yes. You should see the two of them together. Just standing next to each other, as if the world would explode if they so much as touch. Even though they definitely had more control than that years ago.”
“Endearing. And better than the alternative where they are too physically affectionate. Certain consequences would reflect poorly on the clan.”
John nodded, “They do seem to be strongly implying they would prefer a sooner ceremony. It’s not really a good time but…” he shrugged, “We can’t count on there ever being perfect timing. So, how were things in the Shimmering Islands?”
“The Sky Islands continue their suspicious activity, with the Molten Sea edging in on the area. We did manage to capture an encoded missive.”
“Oh? Anything interesting?”
“Hard to say, as it hasn’t been decoded yet. The strange glyphs and the sensitive nature of its retrieval meant we were hesitant to make copies.”
“Strange glyphs?” John asked.
“Yes, they don’t use the common language. It might be constructed, or something older. Though the Brandle clan didn’t have records of these.”
“Perhaps we could look into it here,” John said.
“When we are away from prying eyes,” she agreed. They could block the sounds from around them, but concealing their visual forms or surreptitiously looking at a page might cause trouble if there were any spies in the clan. As far as they were aware the staff and clan members were clean, but it was better to be cautious.
“See?” Matayal said. “Strange glyphs. I thought to show them to Yustina in case they were more common around Aglor and such.”
John took the unfurled scroll, and his eyes widened. “Oh.”
“Well, it’s… it’s not encoded. You were right about it being archaic language, even.”
“You recognize it? I didn’t know you studied languages.”
“I know almost exactly two languages,” John said pointedly.
“Two? But then- oh.”
“So… can you read it? How archaic?”
“Some centuries, I think?” John shook his head. “I’m not a scholar on the topic. But it’s basically readable, so it can’t be too much more than that.”
“What does it say?”
He looked at the text carefully.
‘Miſsiue regarding þe beaſt in þe depþs, as proſcribed. Reaching þe beast itſelf continues to be a matter of greate difficulty, but its vast ſize implies trubbl with its retrieval. Þyne personal vysytation might be required for þe intended perufal. Work wil contynu in the present.”
Using both ſ (and at least one that looked more like an f) and s in the middle of words as well as the thorns (þ) hurt John’s brain, and some things were clearly just misspelled. But it also meant that someone had transmigrated hundreds of years ago. Also speaking English. Why English? Surely he should have run across someone speaking something else by now. It wasn’t so ubiquitous on Earth, especially then.
“It’s not signed, but they seem to be asking for someone important to come join them. And yes, they’re interested in the leviathan. Because it’s English, we can only assume the Sky Islands had a transmigrator a few centuries ago. I think they kept it around as a sort of code language.”
“How many centuries?”
“… Threeish? I’m pretty sure whoever wrote the missive learned their best but doesn’t actually speak it well.”
“They could have still learned from the original source. Which, might be the person in question. Does it say who this is directed towards?”
John shook his head. “Perhaps it would be assumed as a personal letter. I don’t see any other indications. Perhaps the seal?”
“It might be the messenger birds,” Matayal said. “We ultimately disposed of the one we captured, but there could have been more.”
“Well,” John said. “We learned a little… and that I can translate these. Steve can probably do it as well, in a pinch. I’ll write a proper translation but unless there’s another layer of obscurement, it doesn’t actually say much.” John scrunched his nose, “You were implying this individual might be the actual transmigrator?”
“They would be quite old… but if they reached Ascending Soul Phase, it would be possible to live several centuries. But that’s also assuming the same flow of time between our worlds.”
“Uh, based on Steve it… should be close,” John said. “But with just two of us, that’s a pretty limited number of samples.”
“You look concerned.”
“I liked having all of the transmigrators be on our side.”
“You don’t think we can get along with the Sky Islands?”
“I definitely don’t like how they’re going about things,” John said. “Or the interactions we had in the Prismatic Chambers. They don’t seem to care how we’re living here and think they can just come and take whatever they want.” Which might be true, and it would support the idea of this person being a transmigrator, if it weren’t far too common of an attitude among cultivators. “But if we can match them against the Molten Sea, whether we’d like them or not they’d be quite useful.”
“As long as they don’t try to fight it out by moving through the Stone Conglomerate.”
“Right,” John nodded. “Though they’d face more than just a modicum of resistance if they try. Renato has been doing well with the negotiations, and we could actually stand united. At least for this one thing.”
“… So, the language for their secret messages is the same as yours. Could you fake something?”
John frowned. “Maybe. It’s… old and weird. My handwriting and style wouldn’t fit. I’d need more samples, and for these things I think are mistakes to actually be that and not some sort of code. If they recognize specific handwriting, I’d be a dead giveaway.”
“We’ll look into it,” Matayal said. “It’s good that we at least discovered this. I feel much more relaxed.” Matayal grinned widely, “Want to do something else now?”
Given the circumstances, Nik was now a permanent fixture of the Tenebach clan. He was familiar with many of the clan members by now, including the current clan head. It was intimidating to be around someone of such power, but he’d been nothing but encouraging of the relationship.
One individual he was less acquainted with was Ursel, Melanthina’s sister. She was around frequently, but she was an earth cultivator and more often found training with the Order of the Amber Heart. The two of them had little reason to speak to each other in the past, though ultimately he’d found Melanthina’s siblings friendly even when she had been… less so.
It was still weird to find her seeking him out though. “Oh hey, what a coincidence to find you here,” she said with the subtlety of a boulder as she dragged him off into a corner. She certainly had a grip on her, didn’t she? Did she… actually think this was subtle?
“A pleasure to see you as well,” Nik nodded. She hadn’t actually said anything of the sort, but he might as well maximize politeness.
“Yeah. So, you’re marrying my sister.”
“Yes. Everyone knows that.”
“Because you proposed in public!” Ursel said, slapping him on the shoulder. He was fairly certain it was supposed to be friendly, even if it was… bone-creaking.
“It saved her the trouble of figuring out how to announce it.”
“And made it harder to refuse.”
“If she truly did not want to, she would have made that known.” Nik frowned, “Did she say something?” He knew it was what he wanted, and as far as he could tell it was the same with her… but could she have been deceiving him? Not to harm him, he thought, but the opposite.
“Haah. She never says anything intelligible about you. She’s definitely smitten though. I’m just wondering if you’re prepared for what this entails.”
“I am,” Nik nodded.
“Oh yeah? And if you had to fight me to marry her?”
Nik frowned. “I don’t see how that would be beneficial to anybody. It seems likely to just make her sad.”
“But would you? You fought that Ebon Crest guy.”
“That was because it was a good opportunity. It was easier for me to do it than for her.”
“And you used the opportunity to propose.”
“Also easier for me. What do I have to lose?”
“I dunno. Your dignity?”
Nik smiled. “Only if there was a real chance of her saying no. You should have seen her blushing.”
“You’re right. I should have. How come you didn’t invite me, huh?”
“Uh, well,” Nik held up his hands defensively, “If I did, she would have known something was going on. I considered it, but you were away and Viljar…” Nik shook his head.
Ursel rolled her eyes, somehow making Nik feel like he was the shorter of the pair as she glared at him. “Fine. Just remember to treat her well, or you won’t have to answer to just our parents.”
Ursel was replaced with Tirto not terribly long later. “I see,” Nik nodded, “One of you is keeping Melanthina occupied, huh?”
Tirto shrugged, “You found us out. We just want to make sure our sister is going to be treated well.”
“Of course. You’ve all been watching me for years now. You know better.”
“I’m surprised,” Tirto admitted, turning back and forth. “Ursel said you were hardly even intimidated.”
“I’m not afraid of being crushed. Just of a knife in the back.”
“Shouldn’t you be afraid of Melanthina then?”
“Not anymore,” Nik shrugged. “And if I do something to deserve it, at least I can presume it will be over quickly. Oh, if something comes up I’d prefer you run it by her first. I’d rather not die to a misunderstanding.”
“I wouldn’t knife you in the back.”
“I’d have an unfortunate swimming accident or something, then?” Nik grinned.
“Well, I don’t want to give anything away,” Tirto grinned back. “But it could involve you getting lost on a deep sea excursion.”
Of the triplets, Tirto was definitely the ‘nicest’. But while Nik was certain both siblings would fight for their sister, they really needn’t have any worries. Melanthina could take care of most of her problems herself. Though perhaps that was the issue, avoiding relying on others. He hoped he could be one more option for her to consider.