chapter 5

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One of the few things preventing major damage to Pendi is the existence of their special defense committee. This is composed of futuretell programmers, a special type of programmer developed in the region over the generations after the separation from Selatan.

Marceau had a reputation to keep, if she wanted to be an official member of the special defense committee. It was an honorable position for any futuretell programmer, and it paid a salary to keep her happy with clothes and shoes. If accepted, she would be the youngest futuretell in the committee.

The elders thought she was too young, and gave her probationary status instead. That just meant the elder futuretell programmers ordered her around, gave her complicated errands to complete. Like this errand she was doing.

She was tasked to help find the most feasible major defense strategy. Her part was to find the apprentice of the recently-deceased Crimson Master. But finding the Crimson Master’s apprentice, fire programmer Melancho, meant that she had to find heal programmer Beika, even cooperate with her. Anyone who started training along with them knew this. Wherever Beika was, the firespark was probably there too. She did not like that girl, even back in basic programming classes. Beika was too cheerful, too noisy. The firespark Melancho was too silent, too morose. She did not like him either.

But Beika had left the capital to search for the firespark herself. She had to find Beika. Beika headed to the outskirts of Pendi through small paths. That meant: no inns, no decent baths, no shops, no new clothes! Open skies, bugs, now caves! Complete misery to poor Marceau. When they found the loner firespark, he refused to budge. Worse, Beika planned to wait for him to budge. The two were just irritating! She could no longer stand it!

Marceau stomped off away from the cave, just to get away from them.

She walked in a straight line, straight into the woods. She did not know where she was going, but she was never going to admit that, never! She was one of the best futuretell programmers to graduate! She was more than good at what she did! She did not need help!

She had left her satchel back at the cave, so she did not have her map with her. She forgot to carry a torch with her, thinking she would not plunge deep into the trees and could be sufficiently led by the light of the night sky. She wanted to knock her head onto a tree, to make herself physically feel how stupid she was. She patted her waist and felt the dagger’s sheath and handle. At least that was there.

She had been taught the basics of woodland survival. Listen for water, make a fire unless you were being hunted down, pay attention to tracks left by forest creatures. Oh, she knew all of that in her head — she passed those tests with near-perfect scores, did she not? But what use was all that knowledge when she could not see two arm-lengths in front of her, when she kept knocking into trees and bushes, when she could no longer think straight?

She hated woodland survival! She made sure she had the highest scores so she would not have to take it again! But she stayed up all night memorizing all those stupid animal tracks and those trees and shrubs. She promptly removed all that knowledge from her head as soon as they were no longer needed. After all, she was going to stay in the capital from then on, moving on to be a member of the defense committee. She would have no practical use for woodland survival.

She regretted all that at the moment.

She stopped, tried her best to regain her bearings. But the trees in front of her looked the same as those behind her. More trees and bushes were to the left and right of her. The cave and its light was already out of sight. It was a half-moon out that evening, not enough to give more light than usual. Thankfully she saw stars beside it, not real clouds, which would make the night darker.

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