Although Artemius had referred to them as the village elders, the three individuals sat upon the spheres did not look much older than him! But, this was not uncommon seeing as how the Trephasia was a long-lived race. Even the children running around playing outside had already lived for 20-40 years.
Artemius bowed respectfully as he said, "Elders, this is the guest that I informed you about, Luna."
Artemius did even bother introducing Izroth, Azalea, and Mirage! It was as if their very existence was being ignored.
After seeing their attitude towards Luna, Izroth was glad that he asked her to accompany him. Who knew how complicated things would have been if Luna was not with them? Most likely, they would have had to fight their way through while making sure not to kill any of the Trephasia mistakenly. It would have been a colossal headache! Even though there was a certain level of arrogance and superiority, the Trephasia seemed to feel towards humans, at the very least, they had not tried to chase them away.
"Luna? An unusual name." The woman Trephasia on the right sphere spoke. Like the other village elders, she wore pure white robes with no external decorations. She possessed a pair of emerald eyes with long and flowing blonde hair. As for her beauty, it was to the point that even other women could only sigh in envy. This was the Third Elder of the Trephasia village, Nainia.
"Third Elder, as you know, much has been lost about the High-Born to the passage of time. Perhaps such a name is not as unusual as we think it to be." The male Trephasia on the left sphere stated. He had black hair that stopped at his lower back, which was accompanied by eyes the color of fern. He was the village's Second Elder, Drowmius.
Nainia nodded as she looked towards Luna and said, "Tell us, are there other High-Borns like yourself outside of the oasis? Has a Nature Lord been born into the world? Did you journey from the Tree of Provenance that dwells within the Mother of All Forests?"
Nature Lord? Tree of Provenance? Mother of All Forests? All these were terms that Luna was unfamiliar with! She had no idea how to answer those questions without potentially exposing her false identity.
"Come now; Luna is our guest of honor. Do retain your curiosity, Second Elder, Third Elder. First, we must prepare a grand celebration. After more than a thousand years, a High-Born has finally appeared in our village." The man who sat atop the middle sphere said. This man bore a striking resemblance to the Second Elder Drowmius. No, it was more than that. He looked exactly like the Second Elder! His name was Examius, and he was the First Elder of the Trephasia village. He was also the firstborn twin of the younger brother Second Elder Drowmius.
Luna breathed an inward sigh of relief after Examius spoke. It would seem that she did not have to explain herself—at least, not for now. But, the curiosity of the Trephasia elders was apparent. She did not know how long she would be able to avoid their inquiries.
Luna shook her head and replied, "A celebration is not necessary. I only wish to explore your beautiful oasis with my companions."
Examius frowned, "So it is true what young Artemius said. Do you truly see these humans as your companions? Are they trustworthy?" He questioned.
To be honest, Luna barely knew Azalea and had just met Mirage for the first time today. But, what she did know was that Izroth would not bring along untrustworthy people. Therefore, if Izroth trusted them enough to bring them with him to this place, then they could not be bad people at heart.
"I do, and they are. I ask that the elders permit us to roam freely in the oasis. We will not cause any trouble for you or your village—this I can promise." Luna said calmly.
Examius carefully examined Luna before turning his attention to those at his side.
"Second Elder, Third Elder—what do you think?" Examius asked.
"It is not Luna that I worry about, but rather those in her company. Humans are well known for being experts in deceiving others—a trait not easily lost among the members of their race. However, if a High-Born has given their word, who am I to go against it?" Drowmius replied.
Nainia gave a nod of agreement as she added, "Although I am curious to learn more about the High-Born, it is not a matter that can be forced. Since Luna has made a promise not to cause the village any trouble, I see no problem allowing her to explore with her... Companions."
"I am in agreement with the two elders," Examius said as she directed his attention to Luna.
He then continued, "You have permission to explore our oasis, under two conditions. Even if you are a High-Born, I am afraid that I must insist for the sake of my village. I hope you do not find this out of line."
"I am a guest in your home. Naturally, I will agree to any reasonable conditions." Luna replied.
Examius held up one finger as he said, "The first condition is that you must stay near your companions at all times. Otherwise, their safety inside the oasis cannot be guaranteed."
The first condition was much better than Luna predicted. She figured that the elders would want to attach someone like Arteminus to watch over their every move. She never knew that the Trephasia were so trusting and open with their own kind. It was a refreshing experience compared to the average interaction.
"I understand." Luna stated.
"Good, this will allow my consciousness to rest easy." Examius said with a smile.
He then held up a second finger as his facial expression turned serious and continued, "The second condition is that you never set foot in the forbidden area where nothing grows. If you do, then even a High-Born like yourself may be affected by the 'curse'. As long as you abide by these two conditions, then you have our permission to explore the oasis as you please."
"I do not find these conditions to be unreasonable. I agree." Luna stated. While she did not know about this curse Examius spoke of, it should not interfere with the purpose of their quest. After all, they came here in search of a Trephasia with royal bloodline!
After some small talk and finally convincing Luna to accept the grand celebration that would be thrown tomorrow night, the elders entrusted Artemius with the arrangements for the duration of their stay in the village as Izroth's party took their leave from the building of the elders.
"I don't like this place." Mirage stated with a sigh. Everyone was so polite and welcoming when it came to Luna, but so unfriendly to the rest of them. Also, nothing interested Mirage about the oasis beside the fact that it was hidden so well within the Pzenium desert. The only thing that caught her attention was the forbidden area that the elders talked about.
"Once we deliver the Empress Brooch to its rightful owner, it is likely that our journey may take us elsewhere. Until then, we must be patient." Izroth said with a carefree expression.
'Those elders should not be capable of using such powerful spatial magic to hide this place. Is there a hidden legendary figure hiding in this place? Or, has the spatial magic around this place survived for hundreds or thousands of years?'
Izroth, however, found the later to be unlikely. From his understanding of spatial magic in RML, the power required to cast a spatial magic spell strong enough to last for a millennium was something that not even the Wiseman of Everpeak Kryxelsia could pull off. A being with that much power would have to be on the same level as the Netherworld Monarch—maybe even higher!
With his current strength, Izroth understood that he was not a match against someone like the Netherworld Envoy, let alone the Netherworld Monarch. Therefore, if there was an individual in this place with that kind of strength, it was best to avoid creating unnecessary chaos.
'My strength is still too weak. I can't slack off when it comes to increasing my power. I also have to find a way to break through the bottleneck on my Soul Essence; otherwise, even with my Perfect Source Compatability, I will be unable to have any future achievements.'
After spending the night in the village, the next morning, Izroth's party headed out early to explore the oasis. The elders planned on throwing a grand celebration today in honor of Luna. The whole village would be there!
Of course, Luna was against the idea, but she accepted after the elders' constant pushing, as well as doing so at Izroth's request.
'It would be too suspicious if we were to go around checking every Trephasia one by one. However, a celebration where all the villagers are gathered in one spot will make things easier. Until then, it won't hurt to have a look around. Not to mention, there is also "that" matter...'
The matter Izroth referred to had to do with his interest in the Damaged Treasure Map of the Mysterious Lost Kingdom he examined on the third floor of the Sky Palace's treasure room. That floor contained things like S-ranked and SS-ranked skills. So, how could something useless be placed there as a potential reward? Izroth believed that this treasure map was not simple, and the clues to unlocking its secret lay somewhere within this very oasis!
As Izroth and his group traveled through the forested area of the oasis, the first thing they noticed was the natural and untainted atmosphere. If one had to put it into words, it was as if they were going through a large garden that contained numerous different plant species. The plants, trees, grass—everything looked so neat and pure as if it had been carefully tended to for countless years!
"I have never seen such a pretty forest. The weather here also feels perfect—not too hot, nor too cold." Mirage commented with a hint of awe in her voice.
"The Trephasia are well known for tending to the forest areas around the place they call home. They are born with a close connection to the world and nature itself. There is an old legend as to why this is." Izroth explained.
"Old legend? How does it go?" Mirage inquired. Despite the way the Trephasias of that village treated humans, her curiosity as an explorer was not dimmed.
Luna and Azalea also seemed interested to hear what Izroth had to say.
"For the Trephasia... It all starts with the Tree of Provenance." Izroth began.