"Back! Away! Foul creature!"
Gwen watched as the pony-sized Caliban bowled over her father and pressed against the wall of the bulkhead. Its claws scrabbled across the galvanised metal like nails on a chalkboard, causing her audience to wince.
"Gwen! Tell this thing to back off! Else I will banish it!" Morye warned, feeling multiple tongues lashing his armour of crystallised Salt.
Caliban cooed and informed Gwen empathically that her father was delicious and delightful.
"Caliban, enough!" Gwen commanded both verbally and mentally. "To me!"
Ariel took the opportunity to leap onto Caliban as it skittered back, looking gallant as it balanced itself upon Caliban's carapace.
Glancing at the marten enviously, Gwen wondered if she could also ride on Caliban, making her visage a real horror show. For now, however, she still needed time to figure out how his polymorphy worked, and the island seemed as good a spot as any.
The two pets returned to their Master, the ten-legged arachnid Scorpiones skittering to and fro while the marten did laps around her ankles.
Her father began the process of scraping goo from his armour but then stopped when the effort proved futile.
Salt cascaded from his body, collapsing onto the floor in great big chunks, like a knight stepping from a plate mail with the cords cut loose. Meanwhile, Jonas, Taj and Paul finally recovered from their initial state of shock.
"Sorry, I was told it was a snake…" Paul accused Gwen with a face full of hurt and betrayal. "I don't mind spiders, but that thing is something else."
"I once saw a carrion crawler eat a man alive," Jonas muttered. "I had thought that was disturbing, but that thing takes the cake. My God, you were going to take that into a public tournament? You're going to cause a riot."
Caliban wasn't a spider-demon back then, Gwen thought to her self, but it was too complicated to explain her life story to those not in the know.
"Sorry," Taj apologised self-depreciatively. "I've seen some shit, but that thing terrifies me."
"Caliban, heel," Gwen commanded the fiendish creature gently. Caliban wagged its pointed tail and stopped by her side.
"So, what are its abilities?" Jonas asked.
Gwen looked at Morye. Morye's looked away in case his daughter thought he'd make a good demonstration.
"Void-charged physical attacks that penetrate most shields and armour," Gwen spoke. "What else can you do, Caliban?"
Caliban raised its body and launched a pair of fleshy tongues with barbed daggers for tips.
"Flesh hooks?" Gwen turned to the group and shrugged, watching their lively faces.
Caliban's tongues retracted into its second jaw.
"God, imagine fighting that thing!" Jonas pulled a face, patting his pockets and wondering why he ever quit smoking. "Give me Mermen Wavestriders any day of the week, but not that!"
To Gwen's surprise, Morye produced Winfield Blues packet from his pocket and pointed the yellow tips towards the men. They each took one.
"How good's your elemental control?" Morye asked. "Can you light us up? A little Chain Lightning perhaps?"
"I'd prefer you to keep all your faces. And no, I can't do that yet." Gwen reddened. She was a long way away from learning that particular whopper. Instead, Gwen produced a piece of enchanted tinder used for outdoor survival, and dutifully lit their cigarettes. It was the least she could do after what they'd experienced.
Watching the men passive smoke with glazed over eyes, she retracted both her familiars and told them that she'd be outside, watching the ship's departure from Darwin.
When Gwen's clanging footfalls fell away, the men turned their attention towards one another.
"Sorry for the bother, fellers. Gwen is a real handful." Morye looked at each of the men in the eyes as he spoke, taking the opportunity to break some ice.
"Don't be," Jonas replied. "We usually work with Alesia de Botton."
"The Crimson Sorceress?"
"The one and only," Paul pipped in. "The shit we have to deal with, you wouldn't begin to believe."
"Does it include netherworld spiders that try to fuck your face?" Morye quipped with a jocular tone.
The group chuckled with unbidden synchronisation.
Morye extended a hand and let fall from his grasp a sprinkle of Salt. The other three men watched as it grew into a crystal cylinder, its uppermost tip expanding until it formed an elegant looking ashtray.
Morye tapped his cigarette, and the others followed suit.
"I guess there's no avoiding it," he coughed to clear this throat. "Morye Song, Transmuter Tier 6 Major, Abjurer Tier 4 Minor, Salt Element."
"Good to know you." Jonas reached out and shook his hand. "Jonas Durn, Evocation-Conjuration, Healer Tier 5, Positive Element."
"I am Paul Mckay," Paul likewise exchanged greetings with Morye. "Conjuration-Transmutation Tier 5 Major, Enchantment Minor Tier 3, I specialise in Translocation and Teleportation. I am sorry to say that my elemental Affinity is one, so I am not much for combat."
"Good to meet you, Paul."
"Trajan Smith Philips, but call me Taj." Taj offered his hand after the others had finished their greeting. "Abjurer Tier 5, Earth Element."
"So how do you guys know Gwen?" Morye enquired. "She and I don't talk much. We're not close."
"Ah." Paul's eyes had a twinkle in them. "If you're keen to know, I should probably start with Alesia. You sure we have the time? Cause it's going to be a long story."
"Well, we got seven days. As for Gwen's training, I'll have a chat with her, and we'll sort something out. That bloody spider-monster, huh? Why can't she get a pony or something like a normal girl? My God."
The group each thought of Gwen's eldritch horror.
"You know," Paul said quietly. "I am kinda looking forward to seeing Caliban mangle something."
The others tried to imagine it and nodded. They were military men, after all, conditioned by training and trauma to anticipate the rare beauty that was something becoming FUBAR.
Gwen stood on the gunwale railing, watching the shining city of Darwin disappear into the distance. Once they moved out from the deep harbour, the carrier quickly gained speed until the waters beneath its bow became a churning white froth. From above where the great chimney of the engine room sat, a plume of dark blue polluted the salty air, raining down upon the oceans unfiltered bits of unburnt mana crystals.
They were moving, but the atmosphere was hot and humid, moist and clammy against the exposed skin of her lower limbs, though the view was well worth the discomfort.
The men smoking below crossed Gwen's mind as she watched her streaming hair whipping wildly.
Gwen knew she owed them a debt that was difficult to repay.
Taj, Jonas and Paul had no obligations to come. They were here because of Alesia's command. They felt nothing for Elvia and Yue, or Whetu, and were risking their lives to please their mistress, a woman they respected and adored like a sister.
Her father likewise had no obligation. Gwen wasn't sure why he'd suddenly have a change of heart. Yet, whatever the reason, he was here for this time, and maybe that's worth something.
All these threads, all these connections— that was what separated the life she had now versus then. There, she had only her company, her Assistant and her employees. She had no close friends to visit her, just clients and associates; there was no family to bother her; she'd lost them somewhere in the past. Of course, she had her cats, Ariel and Caliban, but those guys were assholes, kind of like herself.
Gwen laughed, first a choked trill, then roaring laughter that floated upon the wind and out to sea.
Her hand fell upon the Kirin pendant.
Her Master and Gunther both said that this was a precious item. If so, why did her father give it up?
And on that topic, she was sure Morye was the pink salt guy.
It meant that her father was not a useless Abjurer, but a Salt Mage, a Magus dual-classing in Abjuration and Transmutation, an Alesia-tier combatant commanding a suit of Salt.
Gwen had to admit, that signature spell of Morye's with its tasselled plates and the embossed carapace with intricate scrollwork was very, very cool. Its visor was a stylised helmet with a T shaped slot for eyes and nose, flared with a pair of white crystalline wings. The interlocking plates too possessed the reactive ability to be discarded and re-grown. She especially liked the shoulder pauldron, with one side taller than the other, which gave the armour an asymmetrical charm.
An idea struck Gwen. Didn't she likewise possess Transmutation now? If the glow from the Sigil was anything to go by, her Affinity should already be tier 2.
She could be tapping into the ability enhancing spells unique to the school, like the ones Debora used to use.
Her mind once more wandered into unpleasant spaces.
Elvia, Yue, and Whetu.
Unbidden, her mood grew dark and heavy. The skyline of Darwin had lost its magic.
Her smoke break was over.
Supper was served by the ship's cook, a young fellow who'd just finished his traineeship and was enlisted by the Captain to replace their retiring chef. When the young man gave Gwen an extra helping of meatballs, a clamour went up throughout the mess. Amidst laughter and jests, the crew gave the poor lad a few well-aimed punches against his right arm.
Such was the madness of the sea and its effect on the lonely men of the long-haul. Ever since a wandering sailor saw Gwen, the conversation between the crew had consisted of little else but the lovely specimen of femininity that had descended upon them. As for Gwen, she didn't mind the sailors having a jovial go at her expense, though their crudeness did make her feel squeamish and uncomfortable.
Eventually, however, the noise level returned to its usual droning. The crew needed only to remind themselves that Gwen was a sorceress that summoned monsters with toothy tentacles and their blue balls quickly shrunk back into their bodies, shuddering and begging for warmth.
Time took on a strange dilation within the confines of the bulkhead, where indoor darkness and the Evocation staple Daylight made strange bedfellows.
Gwen sought out her father and asked him for instruction on using her Void magic. Her thinking was that they'd start with something less personal before moving onto sordid revelations. Though he'd been avoiding her, she'd expertly cornered him in his cabin so that his only escape was to bodily push past her.
"You want me to teach you Void Magic?" Morye regarded his daughter critically. "What makes you think I know Void Magic?"
"No, I mean like, how do I cast it without killing myself?" Gwen fluttered her long, weapon-grade lashes.
Her father looked down to see goosebumps all over his skin, then looked up.
"Don't do that." He made some distance between them. "If you mean how to conserve your vitality, I am afraid you're shit out of luck."
"How come?" Gwen replied, her voice full of disappointment. "If what I am hearing is true, you fought for hours! How can that be possible if you're not conserving your vitality?"
"Well, I am a Salt Mage for one," Morye placed both hands together and pulled them apart, forming a pillar of Salt. "Here. Use Detect Magic; tell me how much Negative energy is in this."
Gwen incanted the Divination spell and focused upon the rod of Salt - finding it to be principally a mass of elemental water, with trace volumes of negative energy.
"There's hardly any negative mana in there," Gwen answered her father, feeling an unkind suspicion that the answer wasn't going to be to her liking.
"Channel a cantrip's worth of Void mana, just a little, go on," her father instructed.
Gwen focused her mind and imagined the phenomenon in her mind. A tenebrous sphere, darker than black, hovered over her palm. The exertion was low, but still, it made her conduits tingle with iciness.
The negative energy that emanated from the ball was so dense as to form a dark cluster. There were traces of Elemental Air within, silvery and shimmering, but well hidden amongst the agitated, seething mass of malevolence.
"What do you sense?"
"Negative Energy, most of the Void— is Negative Energy."
"Good, let it go now."
Gwen snuffed out the void sphere.
"Give me your hand."
She complied and extended her right hand. Morye took it within his palm and placed a finger on her pulse. Gwen could feel her father's rough fingers, coarse and warm on the tender wrist where two blue veins were just visible.
"Surprisingly healthy," her father said after a moment. "What are you taking for supplements? Or is this Caliban's doing?"
"What do you mean?"
"Does he transfer life to you?"
"A bit." Gwen's voice was barely a whisper. "When he feeds on living prey."
"Do you feel sick when you use the Void? Like vertigo or disorientation?"
Gwen nodded. "When I incant high-tier spells, I feel dizzy. I've also fainted a few times. There was also a period when I was very weak, bodily I mean, skinny, always hungry, but nothing I ate seemed to help."
Morye took his finger from Gwen's wrist.
"Can't you refrain from using the Void element? After all, you have Lightning. That's a rare boon already."
Gwen shook her head. "I am special, Dad. There's no denying or ignoring that. One day, perhaps soon, certain people are going to know about my Void element. Before then, I need to become powerful, influential; I need strong allies and influential backers. Without these things, I am just going to be someone's puppet, or maybe worse."
Morye licked his drying lips thoughtfully.
"Probably worse," Morye's expression was unreadable. "There's no recourse?"
"Fine, so back on topic. You can't mitigate the effects of the Void because the Quasi-Elemental Plane of the Void is primarily Negative Energy, mixed with trace elements of Elemental Air."
"So I have to endure it then? I've been offsetting the negative drain by using Healers who provide me with positive mana."
Morye arched a critical brow and gave her a disapproving look full of scepticism.
"Doesn't help. The consumption of channelling Void is not Negative Drain from an Undead. It can be mitigated, yes, but reversing is much harder. Your body itself is channelling a power anathema to life. No force on earth can stop it from consuming your vitality. My advice is to use the Void as a killing blow, or use it only to empower Caliban, at least that thing will give you something back."
Gwen's face fell into a terrible disappointment.
"Look, there's a reason why there are no Void Mages, alright? It's not an ability meant for people who yearn to stay alive. I don't even know why you have two elements, Gwen, but that's winning the God damned lottery, alright? Whatever fate you think might await you, is it worth dying? Even if you end up marrying someone for a political reason, or 'Gwen' forbid it, to continue a bloodline - is it worse than death? If you die, nothing else matters, you know? Your friends, your mentors, Alesia, and Gunther and the girls we are trying to rescue - none of it would matter."
Gwen did her best to digest her father's thoughts, though the truth stung nonetheless.
"Are you listening to me?"
She was listening, but her father's words did not appeal to her in the slightest. Her father was right, but not entirely. Gwen had seen for herself that a being existed on Terra capable of undoing the damage caused by the Void. She had received it thrice— first when she fought Edgar, then again when Gwen had sung the Serpent, and finally when she drew Almudj's essence from the pendant.
Not only that, didn't Elizabeth Sobel overcome the limits of the Void Element, even if she had to consume the lives of others to do so? If the Void Magister could find an unethical way— then she would find an ethical path. Almudj had already shown her she could; now she just had to replicate it.
Gwen produced the pendant from under her blouse.
"What can you tell me about this?"
Morye's eyes looked away from the mutely glowing jade.
"You'll have a safe delivery for sure if you wear it."
Gwen pinched her father's thigh, causing him to yelp.
"I am serious!"
"You're guaranteed to have twins."
She pinched him again.
"Alright, alright! Hey! Hey! I am ticklish! Sheesh." Morye blocked Gwen's arms with both his hands, parrying them expertly. Then with a sudden thrust, he pinned them to her sides. The swiftness of the execution caught Gwen flat-footed, and for a moment she thought she saw a Morye that she'd never seen before. Morye held his vexatious daughter before him and looked her in the eyes with a seriousness that made her shiver.
"Are you sure you want to know?"
Gwen swallowed nervously.
"Alright, stand up, and stand to the side." Morye freed her arms and pointed to the side of the cabin.
Gwen obediently stood by the bedside.
"Right." Morye pulled out a cigarette and hung it by his mouth. He lingered by the door for a moment dramatically, no longer impeded by his daughter's blockade. "I need a smoke. Wait here. I'll tell you everything."
Morye turned and left, disappearing into the corridors.
It took five minutes before Gwen realised that her father was gone for good.
With her father eluding her, Gwen passed the time with the other men.
Her CQC training had begun in earnest, sparring with Paul and Taj as they taught her basic body techniques for using touch spells, as well as how to dodge, parry and retaliate enemies that venture too close to her for a Shield to manifest.
"So your average constrictor type is likely going to go for a grapple," Taj explained as the conversation turned from fighting humans to creatures. "You should know that encountering giant constrictors is preferable encountering smaller, poisonous ones, whose bite has all kinds of nasty surprises."
"What do we do if we do get bitten?"
"Hope Jonas is nearby, I supposed. Remember, there are universal antidote injectors in your ring. I'll be running a tutorial when we get closer to Singapore so that you know how to differentiate between normal snakes and poisonous ones."
"Okay, you ready to go again?" Taj cracked his neck. "I'll be trying to pin you; your job is to dodge and get enough distance for a Shocking Grasp, okay?"
Gwen pulled back her loosened hair until it was taut against her head, collecting at the base of her skull in a thick bun. "Alright, let's do it."
For the first few days, Gwen had gone out on the gunwale to check out the scene, but after three days of monotony, she'd given up going her tours of the deck, instead choosing to spend her time in meditation, harassing her father, and training with the others.
"God! You're just like your mother!" her father accused her with exaggerated exasperation. "I don't mean that nicely, either. Give a man some peace and space. You're giving me cabin fever."
Conversely, the Captain was a friendly man who'd delighted in talking about his wife and daughter.
"You ever being to Asia, Dad?" she remained persistent, and finally her father relented.
"A long time ago."
"Did you live in Shanghai?"
"None of your business."
"What's the city like?" Gwen inquired, mindful of her small-town provincial origins.
"Larger than you can begin to imagine." Her father said with a sigh. "Imagine going down the Yellow River, and on both sides, for as far as the eye can see, are buildings glowing with illuminators, adverts, and posters of the latest magic items, fashions and trends."
"Are there lots of Magitech shops?"
"Naturally, the largest shopping street for Mages, Nanking Road, extends five kilometres from the Bund down to the Jing-An Temple. Hawkers, crafters, renowned Enchanters, all have shops here, plying their wares. Whatever magic items you desire, no matter how high-spec or rare, can be found here, assuming you have the HDMs and the CCs."
"Lots of food as well?"
"Every style and taste." Her father's tone grew strangely nostalgic. "At the top of each arcade are the restaurants. There, the most incredible and rare samples of Wildland's greatest gifts kept in stasis. Some have rare cuts, cured and put on display, others are more blatant with their offering, displaying their stasis frozen carcasses behind large windows. The greatest of these establishments even have especially designed pens that keep these creatures alive, so that its peerless clientele can enjoy the freshest, most mana-infused delicacies power and money could afford."
"It sounds incredible," Gwen marvelled with genuine anticipation as she sipped her water.
"Maybe you'll go there one day with your new friends."
"I hope so," Gwen said. "I mean, certainly not now. After we finish our mission in Singapore, we'll be heading back to Sydney."
"Mmm..." Morye lit up.
Gwen fled the cabin, unable to stomach the pollutant spewing from her father's lips.
As the final part of her training, the party went over survival scenarios.
"But of course, if we're talking tropical weather, the most dangerous thing is hardly going to be giant lizards or snakes. It's the little buggers that get ya," Paul explained a few days into the trip. "Swarms of poisonous flies, ants, parasitic worms, you name it."
Gwen felt her skin crawl at the thought.
"We'll be using repellents, of course, but in the case that you do get swarmed, or we have to bypass a swarm, here's the basic method to protect yourself."
With his limited Affinity in Air, Paul preferred the primary manifestation, which hardened one's skin and gave it a rough, bark-like texture.
"I can cast it on you as well, but in case we get separated, it is best if you can do it."
"I don't know the spell." Gwen shook her head. "Both of my elements are woefully weak in defence."
"You won't be using it for defence against slashing or bludgeoning weapons, just lots of little nasties." Paul pointed out. "I was discussing your condition with Taj the other day, and we were wondering how your Void interacted with defensive spells."
"Terribly." Gwen grimaced. "It drains my vitality so that I am losing health before I've even been hit."
"Erh..." Paul pursed his lips. "How's Lightning?"
"An offensive shield, but unlike fire, I've got terrible coverage. Not all parts of my shield are electrified—"
"Has your Evocation reached Tier 4?"
Gwen shook her head.
Unless she runs into some evil Evokers begging Caliban for a good meal, Gwen thought morbidly to herself. In which case, she's probably a few carcasses away. Ever since the Elizabeth incident, Gwen had felt herself undergoing episodic, hypothetical temptations of whether or not herself should take ruthless advantage of Caliban's ability. Naturally, even entertaining the thought of cannibalism made her physically ill. Even if she should begin with the best of intentions, empowering herself at the expense of her enemies, she would one day become a thrill-seeking glutton who would challenge others with rare abilities and to consume them when they inevitably fall underneath her heels.
Besides, she desired to hunt Sobel, not become her Master's wife.
"Alright." Paul made a mental note. "We'll work on Bark Skin up. It's a pretty easy spell to learn, kind of like Shield and Magic Missile."
"Great." Gwen pushed herself from the cold iron floor. "Let's get started."
On the sixth day, their ship skirted close enough to the Indonesian Archipelago to see land.
The Captain alerted them through the loudhailer that they were about to pass the Bangka Selatan peninsular, informing them that if they were interested in seeing some unusual fauna, now was the time to be on deck.
The military men passed on the opportunity, but Gwen and her father keenly made for the starboard gunwales.
When the duo exited past the sealed bulkhead, they came vis-a-vis with giant albatrosses, each almost six-meters across from wingtip to wingtip, taking advantage of the updraft created by the ship's passing. Drifting through the air and keeping up with the freighter without apparent effort, they had a comical look about them whereby their necks retracted into their torso to reduce drag.
The sight was inspiring enough that Gwen felt the impulse of uttering an old favourite from the world she left behind.
"A good south wind sprung up behind; the Albatross did follow, and every day, for food or play, came to the mariner's hollo!" she mused to herself, hoping that someone wouldn't be stupid enough to shoot a Magic Missile at the majestic birds.
"Look there!" Morye pointed, his sight far keener than his daughter's wide-eyed wonderment.
A pod of sea creatures followed the ship's flank, leaping from the waters and spreading their scintillating fins into a semblance of insect wings. With each sinuous twist, the serpentine fish, which must be about two to three meters in length, launched itself from the water's surface to dance across it, leaving behind a milky shoal of foaming water.
"Flying Rainbow Fish." Her father grinned. "Delicious whether grilled, baked, or steamed. Whoa!"
There was an explosion of water, then a Plesiosaur burst from the waters and bore down upon the flying fish. The scintillating creatures scattered in all directions, but the sinuous neck of the plesiosaur snapped through the air and snagged one of the fish before it could land.
"Pseudo-Dragons from the ancient times are common where the waters are deep," her father said. "Beautiful creatures."
With a slash that churned the waters white and blue, the primordial creature sank, disappearing into the sea.
In the distance, the duo saw a dark blur upon the bright horizon.
"That's Kapulauan Riau, known locally as Abang—" Morye said to her, watching her face snap back to the collected cynicism of late adolescence. "Your eventual destination."
"We pass it?" Gwen asked her father. "Can we just disembark as we pass?"
Her father snorted.
"That's suicide." He chuckled at her inexperience. "Remember the plan, what Captain Durn had briefed. We need to get to Singapore first and find a local ship willing to take us to the island. What good would it do us if we save your friends, but have no ship to return to the mainland?"
Thinking of Evee and Yue, Gwen felt the bright burn of impatience melting a hole in the thin veneer of her patience.
"How long do you supposed it'll take?" Gwen asked urgently. "To find a ship, I mean."
"With the HDMs in that pouch of yours? Probably a few hours, if you're willing to burn it."
Gwen nodded and felt her storage ring, making sure that the pouch, as well as her cache of crystals, remained within.
Along the way, the duo watched the isle of Bangka Selatan approach. At one point, they skirted so close to its landmass that it had felt almost within reach, though that was merely a trick of scale and perspective.
Roving masses of seabirds, some as small as finches, others as extensive as the albatrosses they had seen earlier, roved across the island from coast to coast. Where they convened, the sky became darkened by a black, spotted haze.
"The shit on that cliff must be waist-deep," Morye joked, dispelling the romanticism.
Gwen shot her father a displeased look and turned again toward the birds, marvelling at the scale and variety of animals on a planet where men had not utterly decimated the biosphere.
"Dad," Gwen suddenly spoke to her father in a tone that was both serious and sincere. "Can you tell me about your past, about the pendant, and mum? I want to know. I need to know."
Her father stayed silent, listening to the cacophony of birds on the distant shore.
"I think I have a right to know the circumstances of my birth, don't you think, father? Please?"
"It'll make your life so much more complicated," her father spoke not toward herself, but instead into the ocean. "But that's your choice to make, not mine, I suppose."
"So, you'll tell me?"
"I will, but promise me one thing."
"What is it?"
"When all of this is said and done, don't pull me into your world again."
Gwen bit her lower lip. She knew now the cardinal truth behind the old aphorism, "You can put makeup on a gnoll, but it'll still eat shit," and "A Rakshasa can't right its paws."
"Fine," She said coldly. "I promise you'll have your privacy."
"Don't be like that," Morye replied cooly. "You're still my daughter; I just want you to know that each of us has their own lives and aspirations, there's no use trying to drag me into yours, our Paths are not the same."
"What is your path then, Pink Salt Saviour?" Gwen sceptically demanded of her father.
"Well." Morye ignored her snideness. "Think of me as an esoteric monk, knowing no conflict with the world. I am the cultivator seeking no attachment, not to things, not to people, not to a higher power. I walk the way of freedom, of untethered chains and open spaces, the Path of the Sensate."
Gwen smirked. "The path of Eros more like it. When can we talk? Now?"
"No," her father shook his head. "I need some time to gather my thoughts. I'll talk to you after supper."
Her father then turned away, no longer looking at her, focusing instead on the seabirds. Below them, the ship's wake left ten-thousands of gleaming, coruscating shards to catch the light.
Satisfied, Gwen ventured below deck to rest.
"The truth," he said to no one, watching his daughter go. "I hope I still remember the truth."