“The last journey,” Eugene repeated Alber’s words slowly. “I’ve heard of that.” She remembered how Aldrit had spoken of it. For some reason, the words had stuck with her. “I thought it was just something the gypsies did. I didn’t know it went further back.”
“I heard about it a lot when I was younger,” Alber said. “It must have come from long ago.”
The younger woman nodded somberly. “Did the monster mean ‘the last journey’ as death?”
“But that makes a lot of sense, does it?” Eugene asked. “Did it want to die? Why would it want that if it had always wanted to be a part of this world?”
“The ‘last journey’ isn’t just a simple death,” Alber explained. “It means much more than that.”
“I know,” Eugene said said. “Aldrit told me about it.”
The older woman didn’t know how to feel about that. Now that she understood what the gypsies had gone through, she knew that the meanings of their old sayings had probably changed already. Perhaps their understanding of the last journey was different too.
“We are guests that live in this world,” she said. “We’re all travelers. We start our lives with an invitation to this world. If the world doesn’t call you, you cannot be born. In that way, life is a blessing.”
She remembered the story that her grandmother had told her. It was about how beautiful the lives of the tribe’s children were, and she always found it touching. She remembered how she used to imagine herself being a grandmother one day and telling the story to her own grandchildren.
“For a new traveler, everything is unfamiliar,” Alber said. “There are those who follow the right path and there are those who get lost. When the journey ends, there is always a sense of longing left. Everyone thinks about the mistakes they made, all their regrets. Then, the world gives them another chance, a chance to end the journey beautifully. We travel the same path multiple times until we get to our last journey. After that, you are no longer a guest, you are a part of this world.”
Eugene didn’t even realize that her eyes had started to well as she listened. The way Alber had explained it was different from how Aldrit had done it. Her understanding of the last journey was beautiful and full of hope. It consoled Eugene in a way she didn’t even think she needed to be.
“The monster wants that,” Alber told her. “But you see… Larks are strange.”
Larks were creatures from another realm summoned by the ancient tribe’s magic. No one knew their original form. No matter how much the tribe had tried to learn about them, they could never seem to get the full picture.
Alber tried her best to explain what she knew to Eugene. She explained how the Larks could change themselves into other creatures, just not humans. They could only change into creatures that existed in the world and nothing else. They also couldn’t transform into creatures that weren’t land creatures like birds or fishes.
They always attacked their own kind before they attacked humans, which was why, when they woke up from the seed, a horrifying war broke loose. The larger larks would eat the smaller ones, and the even bigger ones would eat those that had once been predators. Their strength increased with every other lark that they ate.
Eugene didn’t know how to process everything she was hearing. But I know all this.
A vague memory of her writing a novel flashed through her mind. She had completely forgotten about it, but now that she thought about it, it all seemed to make sense.
I wrote a novel?
It was like the memory had just entered her consciousness in that moment, like someone had pressed the idea into her brain and, suddenly, she remembered everything she needed to. She had no idea where it came from.
Thinking that Eugene’s expression was just one of shock and not bewilderment, Alber continued. “Our tribe observed the larks and recorded everything we knew about them, but there was only so much we could learn,” she explained. “But because we met the monster…”
She considered continuing the thought. It was strange to think that the monster, regardless of what it had done, had actually helped them learn valuable information.
“We found out something new,” she said. “We learned that larks had only one fear: a king.”
Eugene’s eyes grew wide as she urged the older woman to continue.
“When a king’s praz destroys the core of a lark, it is annihilated—it ceases to exist in the world.”
“What happens if a human kills a lark?”
“It only spreads, like a spore. So, if a king destroys a lark, it ceases to exist. If a human destroys it, it multiplies.”
Eugene leaned back and frowned. “Then only a king should hunt larks.”
“If only they could.”
That made sense. It was impossible for a king to kill all the larks, especially with just how many they were.