Faro woke up to the sound of a horse sniffing his face. He slowly sat up, groaning as the pain in his back flared up. Sensing that the boy was in pain, the horse backed away, giving him some space. A clump of dust that had been sitting in the back of his throat made him cough roughly, skittering the creature away from the boy slightly.
“Ugh, what happened?” Faro looked at the horse who was eyeing him suspiciously.
The horse neighed softly and stroked Faro’s hand with his head. Faro chuckled slightly, still feeling confused by what happened. He stroked the horse nervously and attempted to stand up, fighting through all the pain.
Behind him, the ruins of the village’s armoury stood, weakened by an onslaught of fire and trashing. Faro glanced at his hands and noticed that he was not holding the two swords that he had picked up earlier. He turned around quickly, too fast for his head to handle and almost threw up if it were not for the sound of his shadow talking, a feat that seemed to always shock Faro.
“Can you not move so quickly? I get dizzy too!” the shadow spoke, his words reverberating in his partners head.
Faro only listened as he still found it hard to speak.
“Anyway, those swords of yours are on your back, I put them there as we teleported. And another thing, what’s with the blacking out? I had to teleport us out before the ceiling collapsed on you and killed us!”
Faro had swallowed hard when he heard of his near death account.
“Oh....I guess I should thank you for saving me then,”
“Never mind that, If it weren’t the ceiling then it would have been the soldiers that came down there and found you. It was fortunate that I had regained most of my strength. Which reminds me, since we’ve been introduced I’ve done nothing but teleport for you, learn to take care of yourself Faro!”
The shadow sighed, a yawn creeping on the edge of the shadows words.
“I’m tired again, I think I could sleep for a decade.”
“You’ve earned the rest, you can go to sleep now Shadic.”
“Shadic, that’s your name for me? I like it.”
“I thought you would, now sleep.”
After making sure Shadic wasn’t going to start scaring him again, Faro used the chance to enter the ruined building, rummaging through the armoury.
Most of the decent items had been stolen or burned in the fire making them unusable. It didn’t take too long however for Faro to find a useable pair of leather gauntlets as well as a sand coloured tunic to wear over the last undamaged chain mail the place had to offer. He sighed in relief as he found a pair of boots, perfectly usable and capable of protecting his feet.
Faro exited the ruins of the armoury looking for the horse that he had woken to earlier. The sun had already started setting and Faro did not want to spend the night searching for a horse.
Listening carefully for the sound of neighing or footsteps, Faro searched until the sky went light purple, following a trail near the outskirts of the small village where he found the horse drinking water from the edge of a small lake. The trenches around the lake were constructed as a method of defence for the village, separating the farmlands and the large forest that lead to what Faro thought was open land and other villages that may not have been attacked yet.
“It’s not on fire....” Faro mumbled to himself.
Faro approached the horse, thankful that the saddle was still in place. He put one hand on the horse’s back, grateful that the beast recognized him and did not attack in fear.
“Hey there girl, I know we barely know each other but I have no choice but to take you with me. I promise to look after you for as long as I can.”
Not knowing if the horse would understand him, Faro vaulted on top of the horse, letting it adjust to his weight. He stroked the horse’s mane and urged it to turn away from the pond and start walking. To his surprise the horse gave little resistance and started moving slowly. Sighing in relief, Faro guided the horse towards another forest that he knew to the east of the ruined town. By the time he reached the entrance to the forest the sky had darkened further. He looked back, knowing his former home was across the town and that he would never sleep there again.
“Goodbye, I guess...”
Faro chuckled at his lack of sentiment towards the place and thought about where he would go next.
He spurred the horse forwards and made his way into the darkness of the forest. A cold sensation started slowly taking over his body, the feeling of hundreds of people looking at him, following him into the darkness. A sensation that made him shiver relentlessly.
Faro wrapped a cloak that he had found around his body and kept on moving forwards.
Slowly coming to the realization that he wasn’t safe Faro urged his new horse to move faster. It wasn’t until at least 2 hours of journeying that Faro noticed he couldn’t see the sky anymore, the leaves and branches from the trees were too thick and close together for much light to get through.
However it was already night and a faint fog had settled, further shortening Faro’s sight.
The boy sighed, pulling his cloak tighter around his body and slowing his horse down.
“I should give you a name...shouldn’t I?” Faro said quietly to the horse trying to calm his nerves.
“Her name is Ifra!”
An arrow struck through the air, just narrowly missing anything important and whistling past the side of Faro’s head. Thanking whoever was looking out for him in the stars, Faro looked around for his attacker.
The only sound that could be heard was the steps of the horse that had just stopped and the wind as it gently shook the trees. However the voice of the attacker pierced the wind like the arrow he shot at Faro.
“Never show yourself to your target, that is the way of the assassin.” The voice giggled with the immaturity of a young child.
Faro should have felt slightly worried as the sound of the attacker bounced around the darkness, however he couldn't help but scoff at the voice, it sounded younger than he was and from the direction of the wind blowing, he had a hunch where he was shooting from.
Another arrow sailed past Faro as he got off the horse the young assassin had called Ifra. The boy thanked the stars his chainmail was faded and that he had not worn any reflective clothing. He slowly crept towards his target, carefully avoiding leaves and branches.
He made his way to a particularly shaded tree, hidden from the light of the moon and without giving much thought proceeded to shout with all his might at the boy who was attempting to hide on a branch above him.
The boy had been tracking his target by the sound of his horse, estimating where the rider would be and firing.
He was sure that he'd scared the young man off, but when he suddenly heard the horse stop, stamping about in place, he was left confused.
Releasing several arrows where the riders should have been sitting, the boy couldn't understand why he didn't hear any of his arrows hit their mark.
Mystified at this current situation, the boy was on continuous alert until his sudden lack of target screamed in his face.
The boy who had fallen of the branch and landed on the ground hard was suddenly facing a cloaked figure. His eyes widened in fear at the realization that he had failed his master.
“You know for an assassin you sure aren’t that good at hiding yourself or for that matter keeping quiet. Who are you and who are you working for?”
Faro expected the boy to remain quiet, he considered knocking him out and then setting off, a much safer idea than anything else he could think of.
“Please don’t kill me! My name....it's Nafare. I work for Lord Ghath, he sent me to kill any survivors from the village, this was my first assignment. Please....”
Faro looked at the whimpering boy in surprise, not being able to discern any features in the dark of the forest. Still contemplating what he should do, Faro wasn't confident that he was able to kill someone, even if they tried to kill him.
He picked up the bow and arrow that fallen from Nafare's grasp and proceeded to help him up.
“As weird as this is, I have to say I am impressed. It’s practically a void here in the woods and you managed to scrape my ear. You say this is your first assignment? I’m sure this Lord Ghath would not tolerate failure would he?”
Nafare shook his head nervously only able to mutter out a no. As the wind shifted, light from the moon briefly illuminated the darkness, but that fleeting moment was all Faro needed. He clearly saw that Nafare was terrified, a face that felt too familiar to him. He thought for a bit, the life a young boy resting in his hands.
All thoughts told him to abandon Nafare and leave, he was no better than the others from his village that deserved to die. Faro wanted to let his hatred influence his decisions, a prime chance to dish out punishment on this boy in front of him. However he found it hard to act, an unseen force holding him back. Faro sighed, giving in to his conscience.
“I suppose I could keep an eye on you, I don’t think you'd be as much of a threat if I hold on to your weapons. Plus I need more information on this Lord Gath and you would be most helpful if you simply answer my questions.”
Even if his face was hidden to the shadows, Faro saw a change in Nafare, the same way that all children do when dodging punishment. He had somehow produced several knives and daggers that he'd hidden within his pockets, offering them to Faro. Each blade glimmered in the darkness, the streaks of light calling out to Faro, itching to be used in an assassination.
“On second thoughts, maybe you should hold onto them, but if you even think about trying anything, I promise your death will come swiftly.”
Nafare could only look at Faro with respect. He had always seen slaves being killed for the simplest of mistakes let alone failing to kill a person. He wasn’t sure why he liked him, but he knew if it came down to it, he wouldn’t be able to kill him.
The young boy straightened up, under the mindful eye of his former target. He turned his head downwards and started muttering in a weird language to Faro’s ears.
“What are you doing!” he unsheathed one of the blades on his back and raised it above the Nafare’s shoulders.
Realizing his mistake, Nafare raised his hands in defence and took a step backwards.
“Wait...I’m sorry for the confusion. I was muttering the Nidanian ritual that my.....mother taught me when I was a child.”
“Why should I believe you? You haven't done anything to earn my trust yet.”
The boy seemed distraught at mentioning his mother and his arms dropped slightly.
“My mother and father used to own a large mining guild back in the lands I come from. However when the tyrants men, lead by Lord Gath, took over the kingdom we thought it would it would be the end of the business. However Lord Gath had decided to let us live as long as we paid increased taxes to him as well as his king. My parents quickly agreed to the terms and business continued as usual for months afterwards.”
The boy sat down on a rock and shivered slightly. Faro was interested in the story and motioned for the boy to go on.
“For a while everything was fine, but things got worse when he kept on demanding more gold every week. He was driving my parents to their last odds and ends. My father than snapped one day and attacked Lord Gath, he was declared a traitor and killed instantly. My mother couldn’t get over the pain and plotted against the lord herself. I tried to talk her out of it, but at such a young age I couldn't help at all. One night during the winter season, my mother invited the lord to dinner and attempted to poison his drink. I’m not sure how he knew about it but he was informed of the plan and proceeded to arrest her.”
Faro could see the faint reflection of tears, slowly streaming down Nafare's face. He was finding it hard to talk, struggling to keep calm, but he forced himself to finish the story.
“Knowing what he was capable of, I begged that he take me instead of my mother. I had no idea that the next few years of my life would be so hard, learning to kill or be killed. I haven’t seen my mother since, I'm not even sure if she's still alive. Today was supposed to be the day I earn my ranks amongst Lord Gath’s men.”
Faro just watched as the boy silently fidgeted his fingers.
“How old were you when this happened?” he asked quietly.
“I was seven. It all started five years ago.”
Faro found it hard to not believe the story. Even before Nafare had finished his tale he decided that he wanted to help the young child. As a sign of peace between the two, Faro took off his cloak and wrapped it around the young boy. Nafare looked upwards and gasped slightly.
“You’re no adult!” he exclaimed loudly, before realizing his outburst, looking around in suspicion.
Faro chuckled slightly.
“No...I’m only 15 and I never told you I was an adult, you just assumed. But does that really change anything?”
Nafare thought for a bit and smiled as he came to a conclusion.
“We shall be good friends!”
“Friends don’t require rituals, no matter where they are.”
“Oh.....I guess you’re right, sorry.” The boy whimpered looking up at his new found friend.
Faro inwardly groaned. He looked around, remembering it was the middle of the night and he could barely see the stars past the branches of the trees.
“Do you have a horse?”
“Yes! Wait a minute!”
Nafare jumped up and ran off, Faro moved towards his own horse and said a silent thank you that Ifra hadn’t run off. He mounted the horse and waited patiently. After about five minutes, Faro suspected that Nafare had simply run off so he urged his horse to move slowly.
“I’m here...sir!” Nafare came to a stop atop a black charger. The horse, slightly taller than his own sniffed the air suspiciously and stamped its feet nervously.
“Please don’t call me that again....my name is Faro.”
“Ahh...ok then, Faro!” He smiled in a way only someone so young could do. Faro sighed and spurred his horse forward, Nafare following closely behind.
For hours the two silently travelled through the forest, occasionally stopping to mask their route. Apart from the occasional cough and complaint about the cold, the two enjoyed the silent company. It wasn’t until morning that the two stopped to let their horses rest.
“We must have travelled around four or so miles, there is no way that we could have been followed.” Nafare said, stifling a yawn.
“Its fine, we’ll stop here and set up camp for two hours. Tie the horses and gather some wood while I forage for some food.” Faro without another word vaulted off his horse and stalked off into the woods with the bow and arrow he borrowed from Nafare.
Silently walking through the woods, Faro let the nature around him consume his senses. He gave in to the smell of his surroundings and closed his eyes. Listening intensely to the sound of footsteps, the faint noise gave away the animal's location as Faro fired. Opening his eyes, Faro pouted when he noticed that he had missed his mark.
He also suspected that as a consequence all game in the near vicinity had fled. Walking towards the tree his arrow was slightly embedded in, Faro noticed a bush with green berries below the tree.
Having not seen berries of that colour before, Faro took caution not to bruise a berry he plucked one, carefully examining it. As he opened the fruit in his palm, a sweet smell released from the fruit.
“I don’t trust that boy.”
Faro dropped the fruit and turned around very quickly, only to realize it was Shadic who was speaking to him.
“Oh....it’s you. Why is that?”
“I don’t know...call it my paranoid nature. I didn’t trust Oliha until about two years ago.”
Faro scoffed as soon as he heard that, surprised that his shadow could say that so casually.
“Really? And I thought I was untrusting...” Faro murmured as he looked back at the berries he'd found.
Gathering as many berries as he could, Faro carefully placed them all in his pouch and made his way back to the temporary camp site Nafare had made, showing the boy his findings.
Nafare gasped with delight when he glimpsed the hairy green outer shell of the fruit in Faro’s pouch.
“You found Tan Bou Berries! That’s amazing,”
“Tan what?” Faro asked whilst eyeing the berries, unable to see anything special about them.
“They are called Tan Bou Berries, named after the deity Tan Bou, goddess of enlightenment. They are considered a delicacy where I come from, as they are rare and hard to come by.”
Without warning Nafare took a handful of the fruit and began preparing them. He scraped off the outer layer and placed several berries in a small wooden bowl the boy produced from his knapsack. He then proceeded to mash them with a pestle.
Faro watched with interest as the boy produced two cups of what he could only assume to be some sort of drink. Nafare noticed the confused expression on Faro’s face and chuckled slightly.
“This is how we usually prepare berries, we turn it into a drink, most of the time mixing it with water and using a hint of honey, but with Tan Bou Berries you just need to mash them.”
Faro nodded and sat down, watching the young boy carefully. After another few minutes of crushing more berries, Nafare poured the contents of the bowl into two goblets that shone with a silver sheen. Faro eyed the cups in disbelief.
“Hey, I worked for a Lord. It comes with its own benefits.....not to mention sometimes you need to get by with things like these.” The second part of that sentence a mumble, a hint of shame in his voice.
Nafare also brought out a small loaf of bread, giving half of it to Faro. The two ate in silence as Faro savoured the sweet taste of the drink. He vaguely remembered tasting a similar beverage before when he had stolen a bottle and given it to Oliha. The memory of his friend provoked something in Faro that he didn’t wish to explore. Instead he gulped down the drink and pushed the memory out of his head, deciding to ask something he had been wondering for a while.
“You haven’t mentioned where you come from yet. I mean, you’ve talked about the place, but have never named it. Why is that?”
Nafare sighed, as if he was mentally preparing for this confrontation.
“My people are known as Lundonians from the land of Lunduos. In recent revival of the war we were one of the first kingdoms converted by the new tyrant and we had always carried a dark history with the people of that country, one that I’m not too proud of myself.”
“I told you we couldn’t trust him...”
Faro had to use all his will power not to respond to his shadows comment and in turn ignored him. Faro chuckled lightly, looking up at the sky where the clouds were slowly drifting by.
“You’ll learn quickly that I don’t judge a person by the land he hails from but rather by their own character. Something I wish others would do for me...”
“Huh? What do you mean by that?” Nafare asked with a low voice.
Faro looked down at the ground, just realising what he had said. After a few seconds he got up and dusted himself off.
“Never mind, I was talking to myself. We should pack up and move on, we’ve been here for too long now.”
Nafare grunted lightly in response and got up, packing up his things and preparing his horse. Before leaving, the two did their best to leave the campsite as they found it in case they were being followed, Nafare suggested that soon enough a someone would come looking for him.
“You never told me where we’re going.” Nafare asked, once he had mounted his horse.
Faro spurred his horse forward past a clearing in the trees and looked into the distance. A dirt road was in front of them, stretching out up a hill and beyond their sight. Nafare came up close behind Faro as he answered his question.
“From the maps I've seen back home, this forest is supposed to guide us to the edge of the south east desert territories. The path in front of us leads to the great canyon known as the Tethki Psidun or Endless Divide. All we need to do is follow it to the start of what used to be a great river.”
Nafare nodded and started to follow the path with Faro by his side, the road became slightly steep as the two travelled uphill but once they reached the top, Nafare realized that Faro’s estimates were more accurate than he expected for in front of them was the entrance to the canyon. For miles ahead, all Nafare could see was dirt, sand and rock. The grass around them was pale, the harsh sunlight beating down mercilessly. In the far distance Nafare could see a city, the mountain top was white and a structure could faintly be seen near the top of it. The boy had a vague idea of what that particular building was but the sight still amazed him.
Around the tall structure were smaller towers, each one placed around the larger tower as if they were guarding it. Around these towers stood a wall as white as the mountain top. Another wall could also vaguely be seen at the base of the mountain, it’s size seemingly small but Nafare tried to imagine just how big it would be close up if they could see if from here. He looked at himself then back at Faro, both of them were armed, on horses and seemingly ready for the path ahead. The atmosphere was so striking to the boy that he couldn’t help smirking, for the first time since he was a child he was going on a real adventure.
Faro who had not witnessed Nafare’s excitement motioned his horse forward with a determined look on his face. The two trudged on forwards hoping to reach a safe point before nightfall.