The luminescent glow of the crystal spires in the mountain gave the inner city of Kéi Meóng an ethereal atmosphere. Shadows moved about under the pulsating glow that the clock system gave off. In the depths of this inner city, two parents with their young guest were seated in the warmth of their new home. They were looking at a large parchment which marked the full intricate design of the city.
A few days had passed since the Captain administered the trial and Jou had still been thinking of the events that transpired. He asked Oliha to explain in detail everything she knew, however there wasn’t much more she could add to her story. In the confusion when they first met, Oliha had forgotten to mention that Dei Kai had taken the amulet she had used to make her way into the city.
Any device able to use that kind of magic was rare, their existence thought of as nothing more than a myth to the commoners and uneducated. Such a thing would be valuable to whoever had possession of it, whether they use it for themselves or sell it. Jou came to the conclusion that explaining things to the Captain would be difficult after hearing the man had unexpectedly visited his home whilst his first trial occurred. He had delivered the package in time as was expected of him, learning that of the small group of people who had been there that morning, two had died and one had abandoned the task and fled.
Having received his armour afterwards, Jou was impressed by the craftsmanship of the old man. His new uniform was similar to that of his old one but more streamlined in various places.
A dark blue tunic served as the base for the uniform, over that a metallic chest plate was enough to protect Jou from many different types of blades and physical attacks. The black wide brimmed hat was also essential to the look, hiding Jou’s features from afar as well as shading him from the sun when outside the inner city. He was also given a matching set of gloves and boots that tightly griped his limbs, giving him excellent manoeuvrability and comfort.
The most notable feature of the armour set was the silver mask he was made to wear. Demia had described it as if looking at a water demon, which had been forced frozen in a state of despair for all eternity. The two had laughed about it when he brought his armour home.
On meeting the Captain after receiving his armour, Jou was told that he wouldn’t start work until he had memorised a map of the inner and outer city. At the time, he joked to himself that he was still training after everything that had happened. It was only when looking at a Map of Kéi Meóng that Jou and Oliha really appreciated the architectural genius of the city.
“I still can’t believe it’s a complete circle.” Oliha said, looking at Demia who had already seen a similar map before.
“Yes, the majority of the city surrounds the second largest mountain in the world. The inside was excavated long ago, a second mountain, made by the first royal family, was built to support the ceiling of the inner city. That’s why the city and royal family are called Kéi Meóng, after the mountain itself.” Demia explained, having seen similar maps in her childhood.
“Faro would have loved to see this.” Oliha said, her thoughts finding their way to her lips.
Jou glanced at Demia before speaking.
“Who’s Faro?” He asked curiously.
Oliha frowned as she realised what she said, the memory of the boy causing her to forget where she was.
“Oh, well he was my best or rather only proper friend. He’s the one person who really understood me back home.” As Oliha spoke, she trembled slightly.
“I think that I was older by a few months, you see Faro never really knew who his parents were or where he came from. Attempts to find out his past using magic came up with nothing, the village was only able to find out his approximate age.” By the last word she was shivering in regret.
Oliha had tried her hardest not to grieve his death until she could fully confirm that he had been killed, if there was even the smallest chance, she would hold onto it until the evidence said otherwise.
Unsure what to do, Jou moved to console the girl but was stopped by his wife who gave him a look telling him that she was more suited for the job. She silently ushered him out of the room to go and check on their child whilst telling Oliha to sit down.
The two sat for a while, nothing being said whilst Oliha thought to herself. After some time Demia decided it was the right time and spoke softly to the blue-haired girl, a faint smile on her face.
“Perhaps I should tell you a story that has been passed down my family for many generations.” She said quietly, passing a green handkerchief to the blue haired girl.
“Oh, alright then. But you don’t ne-”
“Nonsense, it’s something you should hear. I don’t fully understand it myself but I think it’s important you hear it anyway.”
“Alright, I’ll listen.”
“Good, do you know much about the Battle of Brothan?” Demia asked.
“Yes, I’ve learnt about the battle at the library in our school.”
“Do you know why the battle happened?” she further questioned.
Oliha paused for a second, quickly skimming through the book again in her mind.
“It was a final attempt to stop the armies of the north from invading the rest of the continent.”
“That’s good and why did this conquest happen in the first place?”
Oliha paused again, thinking again.
“I’m not sure…I don’t remember ever covering something like that.” She admitted.
“That’s alright, it’s a story that isn’t covered much in history books, however my family have documented such things their entire lives. So let me tell you about the events that led to the Battle of Brothan.”
Long before the lands of Madrack came to be, two beings of great power lived amongst mortals. They travelled through the many kingdoms, either helping with their daily lives or creating problems for the people, purely for their own entertainment. They looked no different to the ordinary human, blending in amongst the masses of ordinary faces.
“My skill in battle is legendary!” The voice that boasted was cold and acute, reaching all ears in the upper hold of a merchant ship.
There was an unspoken yet practiced law among deities who were born in the land of mortals, unable to exert their power on lesser beings unless directly challenged.
“I’ll single-handedly defeat any warrior or assassin you can afford!” The man spoke to a rich jewel trader who tried to shift away in his seat.
The Merchant ship was travelling to the kingdom of Nethas and would reach the seaport within the day. Inside the merchant ship several men were seated, eating the food that was provided for them.
The Mess Deck was unusually clean with hardly a spot of dirt to be found, it was to the knowledge of the travellers that the cruiser was fairly new and it showed in the way the boat sailed across the waters smoothly.
Out of the eight men that were seated, four were merchants of considerable wealth, two were ambassadors for a duke in distant lands and one was a mercenary who hardly spoke a word.
The last person who had spoken was known as Uraz of the Night, he was powerful in the malevolent arts, being able to manipulate shadows to his will better than any man or beast known.
The man had a twin sister known as Luxis of the Day, a regal warrior who wielded a powerful sword imbued with the power of a falling star.
The two were sworn enemies since their first inception into the world, having fought whenever they met. Those who were nearby were always drawn into the conflict, brave men to protect the beautiful Luxis and barbaric mercenaries trying to earn coin by the hand of Uraz.
Having lost many a battle with his sister, Uraz had one day conjured a plan to take over the known world using King Nidain of the Jade Order as his pawn. The Jade Order was a council of brothers and sisters who wanted to live amongst their brethren in peace. All sired from one King in what was known as the Golden Age of Prosperity, the members of the Jade Order spread about the known world marrying into the monarchy of neighbouring kingdoms and eventually stabilising any thoughts of war.
King Nidain was known as one of the kindest rulers in his time, leading his people through peace and avoiding war with the neighbouring kingdoms.
However during the winter festivals, celebrated by all kingdoms, King Nidain found himself in the audience of Uraz who had requested he see the monarch with all haste. The king himself was a master of words, being able to talk his subjects out of any argument or disagreement with ease, however he found himself amazed when Uraz spoke, for it was rare to find someone with such outspoken abilities to rival his own. Bringing promises of peace with the idea to lead all regions under the banner of the Jade Order, Uraz offered his services as the new general of King Nidain’s army. Before then, the kingdom of Nethas had not needed a huge army, often made up of volunteers. The plan between Uraz and the King had been agreed on during the second day of the festival.
After the festival ended the King ordered an army be formed, funded mostly by the Lords of the Nethas Kingdom. At first there were protests both by the people and Lords who were unwillingly contributing their money. The King and his new general were able to persuade the country that is was in their interests to create this army and spread the ideal life of the Jade Order to the rest of the world. The formation of the army was slow at first, there were the loyal subjects of Nidain who quickly filled the high ranking hierarchy in the military system. But the core of the army, the infantry, was sparse and in need of troops.
Uraz suggested the idea that he travels the region looking for new recruits, however the king questioned whether the people would recognize Uraz as the official general he was. The general then came up with the idea of using specially craft medallions with the standard of the monarch, also enchanted with protective magic to signify that he was on a quest handed out by the King himself.
The idea was quickly accepted by the King’s advisors as they saw the potential and worth of such a device. Construction of the medallion took less than a week and its finished state was a marvel to look at. With the special medallion given from King Nidain, Uraz was given permission to strike wrong-doers in the name of the sovereign on his mission.
The man had disappeared for ten months, in that time news had travelled fast of the formation of the army, the neighbouring countries were nervous of the rising power and were only settled by the frequent visits from the King himself. Tensions heightened when spies returned, claiming they heard the formation of the grand army would be used to unite the world under the Jade Order. These rumours were of course true, but King Nidain wouldn’t deny or confirm the reports when asked by the other nations.
In the first two months after Uraz had left, emissaries from Western lands had started coming with small platoons of their elite warriors. These emissaries were all sent on behalf of their rulers, relatives of King Nidain who were also part of the Jade Order. The platoons that came quickly became the King’s new elite guard.
The sixth month after Uraz had left had been the hardest for King Nidain. The people were starting to fear their ruler’s actions, security around the kingdom had tightened and taxes were enforced with fewer leniencies for late payments. An outbreak of a plant disease had swept the land and almost destroyed the year’s harvest.
If it were not for the quick work of some Linrocks, a living species of plant-men who often travel the world, the disease would have crippled the capital city.
The people knew when Uraz returned, the dust clouds from the marching train were seen long before their figures could be made out. Leading them was a smirking Uraz, clad in polished silver armour. The King and his other generals were confused as to how Uraz managed to get a force of 12,000 men and their families into the country without prompting any attacks, however the man wouldn’t tell, instead he promised that there were over 80,000 more waiting in the desert regions to the far north.
The next few months were more peaceful than what anyone expected, the large force had all sworn allegiance to the country, which appeased King Nidain greatly. No battle had been fought that year or in the next one. Even when two of the neighbouring kingdoms had broken into conflict, Uraz had not attempted to use the event as an opportunity for convergence. The northern men were given lands to sleep and work on. Their skills were shown to be intuitive, producing harvests that were more bountiful than thought and selling them at a cheaper rate than that of the original people of the land.
However the new settlers didn’t sell their produce to compete with the people of Nethas, instead they created a community within themselves, thriving on the close lines of communication to ensure that no man or his family went hungry. At the end of every month drills were performed for four days before the men were released back to their families.
The constant assembly of the Nethian army scared a small independent kingdom by the name of Faric. In the 16th year of the King Nidain’s reign, the entire army of Faric gathered by the borders of Nethas.
Word of this gathering had reached the neighbouring kingdoms that became incredibly tense, waiting to hear of the outcome of the battle.
Dressed in the standard Faric blue, the warriors led by a general called Siah waited for three days before the Nethian army showed up. Even though they trained every month, no one had actually seen the Northern men fight before.
The battleground was serene, a valley of lush grass, between the two gathered armies, leaning with the wind. The voice of the breeze sang a sorrowful tune as the first line of the Nethian army started marching. Although at the time the Faric Army outnumbered the gathered Nethian forces by three, they were sacred. Amongst the ranks of Nethian, Uraz could be seen on atop wearing polished silver.
He was surrounded by what could only be described as the elite of the army, men who were handpicked to fight alongside their general when the time came.
Survivors of that battle would recount the expressionless faces of the Nethian infantry, the swift movement of the battalion as a whole and their song of death, a hymn, echoing from the mouths of the men as they marched forwards.
The battle had been extremely one sided, the proud warriors of Faric never being able to push back the opposing enemies even once.
When Siah called for a retreat, it was neither planned nor tactical, it was a desperate attempt at survival, intended for the men to fall back far enough so that the archers could provide cover for the wounded men.
A horn sounded and the Nethian soldiers also starting falling back, the sudden change in movement confusing Siah. The Nethian were rushing back, those that had tripped or fallen were left behind by their fellow men. At first it appeared that the men of Nethas were still humans, capable of fear and rushing away from the arrows of Siah’s archers. This false pretence was shattered as the most terrifying aspect of the battle occurred.
Coming out amidst the ranks of the Nethian infantry were these human like creatures clothed in pig skin, wielding crudely made spiked clubs. They had this wild look in their eyes that stiffened even the ranks of Nethian soldiers.
Finally understanding why the Nethian started retreating, Siah ordered his archers to focus fire on the new threat. The slope that was in between the Farician and the pig warriors was supposedly an advantage for those atop the hill, however with the way these warriors were knuckle-running up the hill, weaving past the volleys of flying arrows, the sight was almost too much for the defending archers.
The arrows that did embed themselves into the bodies of the pig warriors went unnoticed as they charged forwards, smashing into the first lines of the retreating soldiers. What came next was a slaughtering so profound the grass that grew there remained a reddish brown long after the events of the battle, the tragedy that day forever remembered by the ancestors of the Farician.
No one was really sure how the pig warriors were kept under control, however Uraz was able to keep them in check, even during the thick of battle.
The events after the battle were historical, the regions that were direct neighbours of Nethas immediately surrendered upon hearing of the battle and swore their allegiance to the Nethas and the Jade Order in fear of the infamous pig warriors.
Any force that was sent in opposition of the Nethian were met by these brutish warriors and repelled as quickly as they came. It wasn’t long until word of this rapid expansion reached the lower continent of Altidus, treaties formed between long rivalling nations and the fear of an impending doom swept their cities. At the forefront of this treaty of nations was Luxis.
Her words of wisdom and freedom gave courage to those whose thoughts betrayed them. Using her expansive knowledge she formulated a plan that would end the world of her brother. The middle nations, who found themselves between the Jade Order and the treaty of nations, were trapped in a position where they couldn’t support one faction without the fear of upsetting the other.
Whilst many nations tried to survive, declaring their state independent like times of old, many groups of dissident warriors tried to form their own clans, withdrawing from their own homelands to protect their own interests. Amongst these independent nations, a rich man by the name of Lord Pyron had recently come of age. He inherited an ancient temple from his grandfather, built within the bowels of a small mountain range bordering his land. Within a few days of his inheritance he ordered people of that land known as the Kunatians to start building a prison in its place.
Under the guidance of a follower of Luxis, the conversion of the temple was completed in half a year. When its physical body was finished, a group of powerful Mages were tasked with creating an ether-realm barrier to prevent intrusion from all types of magic. This meant that no one could break in or out of the prison.
Whilst the prison was built in Kunatian territory, the people employed as its guards were not those of the surrounding lands. Rumours spread amongst the people that a legion from the under-realm were conscripted with that duty.
No one knew for sure as the doors to the prison remained closed to all outside, in fact no one had ever seen a single prisoner brought to the mysterious place.
Over the following years, many a battle was fought between the rising might of the Jade Order and the Independent Nations. During this time, the nations that had formed alliances with each other watched and bided their time until the right opportunity came.
“That’s only a part of the story though,” Demia finished, standing up.
The two had been seated for a long period of time, Jou had left the house to go on a stroll and the little one was sleeping. It was already late into the evening, the map that the two had been previously looking over was still spread over the dining table.
“I understood most of it, but there are many things that don’t make sense…” Oliha started before being silenced by Demia,
“As I said, I only told you apart of the story. With time most of your questions should be answered, but right now I need you to go and get my husband. Knowing him he shouldn’t be very far from here. Also could you also tell him to buy a bag of dried mulch, we ran out of it yesterday?” she continued, handing Oliha some silver pieces that she brought out from her pocket.
“Sure,” Oliha answered quickly.
Her mind pushed all details of the story and her thoughts before on hold and focused on the task at hand. She had an accurate mental image of the immediate areas surrounding the household and formulated what she thought was the most efficient path to look for Jou.
With a few more exchanged words, Oliha was quickly out of the house and had started walking into the dim streets of the inner city.
She had long changed her light blue tunic to attire customary for the people of the city. Dark blue in colour, the dress featured basic yet elegant designs along its arms, swirling around them in a symmetric fashion.
Her skirt was longer than usual, weighted around its rim and featuring similar designs to the dress. Not wanting to part with her belt, she wore it proudly across her chest as always.
Before leaving, Demia had encouraged the young girl to wear a black cloak, warning her that the streets were still dangerous and even Jou’s new position within the cities society could not protect her forever.
The full attire Oliha wore made her seem like a child of nobility, born into the lucky few families that lived in prosperous lands.
Thoughts of her two cousins came to mind who were lucky enough to be born into such wealthy families. They also studied arts similar to that of Oliha and the three had spent much time together in the past.
Those that claimed they knew the girls saw them as polite and of impeccable etiquette, however Oliha knew them for their adventurous outlook on life and rebellious ideas.
Thinking of her cousins also reminded Oliha of various students from her class which had belonged to rich families, never to see the light of day again. Most of them had died protecting the grounds of the school whilst another might have fled in the wake of defeat. The whole ordeal had started and ended very quickly.
“Oliha, you’re one to speak with Faro? Do you by any chance know where he could be?”
“I haven’t seen him sir,” Oliha answered.
“Strange…” the teacher mused to himself, almost forgetting that there were students watching him.
“Very well…..Darius get the Therma Ore and Dracoma Acid. Shelli, you help him and collect some….Unicross Scales and one of those black jars. I don’t have to remind you to be careful, you know what’ll happen if you drop them!”
“Yes sir!” the two students said in unison.
“Whilst those two carry the ingredients, can anyone tell me the difference between a Dracoma and Unicross?”
One student put his hand up and spoke immediately.
“The Dracoma is a dark version of the Unicross!” the young boy said.
“That’s almost correct and next time wait until you’re told to speak!” Mr Thash responded, making the boy tilt his head in embarrassment.
Another student raised their hand, only speaking when Mr Thash pointed in their direction.
“Well, the Dracoma is a variant of horse that is born with draconian skin, this is because one of their parents is a Dragon. The Unicross is water variant of the Dracoma where one of its parents is a water…umm…” the girl couldn’t remember the last word.
“Water wyvern.” the girl beside her whispered.
“Yea, a water wyvern!” the first girl spoke again, amusing Mr Thash slightly.
“That’s right. Today we will be looking at the creation of a chemical that can be used to change the original structure of metallic objects based on the ingredients used, in this case we will be using Therma ore to change a set of metal spoons into spheres. Can anyone tell me a practical use for this?”
“Instant juggling balls?” someone suggested.
“Paper weights?” another voice said, relaxed laughter filled the room.
“Oh….I know!” a voice spoke out.
The person speaking was rather lean boy, who was usually only active for practical lessons. He had a look on his face that made Mr Thash cautious, however he still allowed him to speak.
“You could tie a bag full of the stuff to an arrow and fire it into the ranks of enemy soldiers. Then with another arrow you could piece the bag and watch as the helmets of the enemy turn to spheres, squashing the heads inside during the process!”
The collective cries of disgust were enough to make the boy raise an eyebrow in doubt as if he wasn’t aware that he’d said anything unsettling. Mr Thash rolled his eyes before speaking, knowing he shouldn’t have let the boy speak.
“Yes, I suppose that could be used in battle for such a purpose. But please refrain from telling the class your more imaginative ideas, I fear someone will try it once and the town will have my head for it.”
Sighing to himself, Mr Thash looked at the ingredients laid out on his desk, his mind wandering back to the events that transpired earlier in the classroom. Reaching towards the black jar on his table, Mr Thash looked again to the position where Faro usually sat. He tried to determine what reason he had for not being here, but couldn’t think of one.
The boy was usually early and paid more attention to the class than the majority of his students.
Mr Thash fell over.
It wasn’t just him, most of the students had toppled over and the classroom was in disarray. Something violently loud had caused the room to shake, knocking over the ingredients on the table and creating a dark brown puddle on the floor.
Luckily most of the furniture as well as the floor were made from a quality wood. However at the back of the classroom where many types of supplies were kept a small fire had erupted.
“Everyone get out!” Mr Thash shouted, “To the evacuation point, remember to keep your weapons in close proximity, this may not be a drill!”
His last words had stung to say, knowing the true meaning behind them. He watched as the class quickly evacuated the room, a loud bell ringing in the distance. It was a bell used to warn the town in case of an attack, but it quickly stopped. Whoever was attacking was making quick work of the guards at the outpost.
Almost all the students had left the classroom except for two, the lean boy named Altos and Oliha were at the windows. Without thinking to ask them why, Mr Thash ran to the window to try and understand why they were still there. What he saw terrified him.
The town was on fire.
“Oh no…” Mr Thash whispered.
His predictions had occurred much sooner than he thought.
Whilst the teacher knew an attack would happen, he had estimated that it would take a week before any force would reach the village, giving plenty of time to evacuate.
A group of older students had already started making their way towards the city only to be ambushed by a group of men. Due to the distinct yellow helmets they wore and the banner which featured a horse against an Amber field, Mr Thash recognised the soldiers as Aginian immediately.
The four students who had left the safety of the school were in their finals years, they fought admirably however they were clearly outmatched. One fell almost immediately as he was stabbed in the back, the man giving no consideration to the boy who drew arms against him. A few arrows seemed to come from other parts of the school’s building, most likely members of the archery society, but they did little to help.
The four died before even two Aginian’s were struck down.
“No…” Altos said, his voice almost quivering.
A horn sounded, coming from within the school. It was the call to barricade the doors, telling all students to prepare for a breach. Having heard the signal, Altos withdrew from his position at the window and quickly left the classroom, picking up the long sword that was by his desk. Tears were streaking down his face, leaving Mr Thash to question why. It was only then that he realised the boy had witnessed his older brother being killed in battle.
Oliha had also left her position at the window and looked towards her teacher. Her face seemed distraught and panicked, but her eyes were surprisingly calm.
“We’re not going to survive this are we?” she asked.
Mr Thash could not answer immediately, he instead motioned for Oliha to follow him. The two ran through the narrow corridors, passing teachers and students rapidly arming themselves. They ran against the flow of the masses and crossed a courtyard that was surprisingly quiet. Not staying for long, the two entered a part of the school that was usually forbidden for students to enter without supervision.
“We’re almost there!” Mr Thash spoke, slightly out of breath.
“Where are we going?” She asked, but a reply didn’t come.
The two quickly delved deeper into the school, taking a turn down an old corridor to descend a stone staircase that seemed ancient. Oliha recognised the smell of the area as the storage room where ancient weapons were kept for display. She had been here several times, once with her teacher during a formal trip and the other times with Faro, when they accidentally found a second entrance to the place.
“Why here?” she whispered.
The two stopped once they were in the middle of the room. The chamber itself was bigger than expected, the smallest sound echoing off the stone walls. Several large pillars supported the ceiling, acting as the true foundation for the school. The room was perfect in shape, a semi-sphere where its walls blended with the floor. The lack of true lighting made it hard to see, however the glow from each weapons stand gave the place an unsettling feel.
The stands themselves were made of white marble, each weapon encased in a glass dome, the stands were placed in equal intervals around the edges, forming a ring of weapons. As you went closer to the centre, another ring of weapons were displayed. This happened three more times completing the set of five rings. The centre was empty, the floor there made of a singular black tile.
The room looked like a fortified bunker, ready to withstand any attack.
“Can you hear that?” Mr Thash spoke, keeping his voice down.
The two listened carefully, heavy thuds could be heard from above.
“That’s the sound of the walls collapsing, it won’t be long before they make their way here. Thankfully the weapons in this room are protected against unauthorised use.”
“Why couldn’t the school have been protected?”
“Unfortunately that kind of power is lost to us. Perhaps if we were in a different time…” the teacher mused aloud before another thud brought him to his sense, “We need to hurry, look at this.”
Mr Thash brought out an octagonal pendant. Its back was plain gold, some simple words were engraved on it. The other side was an array of diamonds surrounding a sapphire gem, intricate designs weaved in and out of the gem stones.
“This device is magically amplified, it can move the user from one location to another. However once it’s used the gems will dull in colour, only after a certain amount of time will it be useful again.”
“Okay, but what has this got to do with me?”
“Think about it. No other student has ever had your kind of record for academics from such a young age, even the physical assessments are somewhat acceptable. Those qualities alone make you perfect for this mission.” Mr Thash spoke quickly, although his eyes shifted to the entrance of the room, his voice sounded proud, something that was considered a rarity amongst the students.
“You want me to warn the capital?” Oliha realised.
A loud crash echoed through the corridors of the underground chamber, Mr Thash panicked and spoke quickly.
“No, this nation is already doomed. I need you to travel to one of the major nearby nations and tell them what happened. It was rather fortunate I was teaching your class when this happened or else things might have been worse." his eyes bore the same level of seriousness as his voice, "I'm giving this you, it was intended as a prize for a competition but at least it's getting some proper use,”
Mr Thash produced a second device from his pocket, the same one Oliha was currently holding.
"As soon as you get there I'll follow behind, though there is one thing I need to take care of first."
Oliha nodded, understanding what she had been told to do. The nearest city to this school was that of Kéi Méong, its position was within the allied nations but it did not support either side in the war, remaining a neutral haven for refugees.
“Feldi tajio du Cara anteru”
His words echoed around Oliha as her vision started to fade, an array of stars in many different shades of blue swirled around her position. Her last image of her teacher was the determination on his face as he wielded an axe that Oliha hadn’t noticed. She tried to determine where it came from but the cold sensation of the magic at work took over.
The hand came from behind her. Oliha almost yelped in shock as the hand touched her shoulder but held it in as she turned around. The familiar silver mask of the Leidou Watch greeted her, the person was out of breath.
“What are you doing here?” the voice asked.
Oliha recognised it as Jou. As she glanced at his uniform, she finally understood why it had such a unique design. In the dimness of the inner city, it was hard to make out his figure.
“I was looking for you,” Oliha replied, “But why are you in uniform?”
Jou’s breathing quieted for a second, he looked around him and produced the device Oliha had used to teleport to the city. The glow had returned to the gems, signifying its capabilities for use again.
“How did you manage this?” Oliha asked.
“I took it back,” Jou replied proud of himself. “The Captain wasn’t joking when he mentioned that there would be many new things I’d learn.”
Oliha took the amulet and examined it, a wave of relief washed over her as another question came to mind.
“What if he comes and accuses you of theft?”
“I doubt it,” Jou thought aloud, “Although it would be wise to hide the amulet and keep this between us.”
Oliha nodded, pocketing the amulet that was no bigger than a baby apple. The act of taking back the amulet had reminded her of things Faro had done in the past, the two were always picked on when not together, so naturally they tried to stay near each other whenever possible.
“Thank you,” Oliha started, “I appre--“
Several loud screams cut her sentence short.
Behind Jou a great plume of smoke was growing in the distance, there was hardly any movement in the area but the two had noticed several people, clothed similar to Jou on the rooftops of the stone houses around them. They moved from rooftop to rooftop with the grace and style that only an experienced agent of the inner city could muster.
“Should we follow?” Oliha asked.
Joe smirked behind his mask, surprised by the bold nature in the girl's’ eyes. He looked towards the smoke and nodded, “I’ll go ahead. Hopefully it’ll be over quickly.”
Even before he finished his words, his form was already halfway up the nearest wall.
“So that’s how he robbed him…” Oliha realised, chuckling slightly.
She followed, making her way slowly towards the rising smoke. As time went on, people started coming out of their homes to see what had happened. A few screams of shock could still be heard near the area where the fire was.
When Oliha reached the area, she saw a site that wasn’t uncommon for villages and town.
A large group of people were watching from a safe distance, most of them were families that lived in the nearby areas. One or two were clothed in really expensive clothing, surrounded by bodyguards. The men who formed the elite squads of the inner city were busy dealing with the fire, every few minutes an agent would run out of the front door carrying a small child, they would use their cloaks to shield the child from the fire.
“What happened?” Oliha murmured.
“It was a man.” the small voice spoke.
Oliha turned to find a small boy looking at her, he was dressed in cheap clothing and slightly covered in soot.
Shaking somewhat, Oliha pitied the boy assuming that he must have been caught in the building when the whole event started.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“It was one of them…” the boy spoke softly, he looked around nervously. “I think he must have be-“
“What do we have here?” the voice interjected.
It was the Captain, the man in charge of Jou’s unit and a highly respected figure of the inner city. When the boy saw the Captain he backed away, a look of fear in his eyes.
Both Oliha and the boy didn’t speak and instead waited for the older man to act first. To Oliha’s relief, all the children had been evacuated and Jou was already searching for her.
“I see your uncle has been busy working off-hours, not something I would approve of, yet still respectable.” He said with a hint of annoyance evident in his voice.
“Sir,” Jou said, recognising his superior, “We’ve evacuated all the children, a message has already been sent to the Observatory to release the water reserves in this area.”
“Using the Observatory?” Although Oliha had read about it, she did not have the chance to see such a structure since coming here.
Everyone turned to look at her, even the boy who was scared moments earlier looked confused at Oliha’s question.
“It refers to the outer mountain, or more specifically its upper regions. An observatory was built there to watch the stars.” The Captain explained.
“It also serves another purpose as a system that collects rainwater, usually it’s filtered through the natural crystalline networks along the mountainside, but if ever needed a mechanism was built to allow water to reach the inner city.” Jou added.
“Exactly,” the Captain spoke.
He put his hands behind his back and turned his full body to face Oliha.
“But shouldn’t you have seen it when first arriving into the city? Even if you didn’t, people from the surrounding kingdoms know of the gateway to the stars.” he stepped forwards, his eyes boring down on the girl.
“I do know what the Observatory is, but I never knew it could be used to redirect water.” She answered truthfully, hoping that the man would stop questioning her.
“I suppose that's possible, however I’ve been meaning to speak to you. Something has always been coming up, preventing such a meeting to occur, but who would have thought that a fire and the death of that woman would bring us together.”
“What woman?” Jou asked, carefully stepping in front of Oliha in an attempt to shield her from him.
The boy who had not spoken suddenly gasped, realising who the Captain spoke of.
“Do you mean Miss Liao? She was still inside?” he asked, looking towards the building.
The fire was still going on, but the two people were keeping the flames at bay using water magic. The richly dressed duo were performing a spell that produced small amounts of water, enough to keep it at bay but not to enough to put it out.
“How could you!” the boy shouted, raising his fist to hit the Captain, although a quick look from the officer’s face deterred the boy.
“I didn’t,” he simply replied, “I heard reports that the woman was the one who started the fire, it seems grief had taken over and she decided the only way out was to take her own life.”
“No!” the boy cried in disgust, “Miss Liao would never do that, she always looked after us, making sure we were warm and fed!”
“How did such a report reach you sir?” Jou asked suspiciously.
It was at that moment that two more agents from the Leidou watch appeared behind the Captain. Oliha couldn’t deduce when they arrived and came to the conclusion that they had always been with the Captain, she simply didn’t realise it.
“Oh, I see,” Jou spoke.
Oliha felt a terrible chill, even with the warmth of the fire she had a bad feeling about the whole setup. Having heard about the incident with Miss Liao before, she knew of the relationship between the old woman and the Captain.
“May I be dismissed?” Jou continued, “I….um, need to be heading home.”
It was in fact quite late, an hour had passed since the Jou had spotted Oliha and he was yearning to get some rest.
“There is just one problem with that request.” He said, his tone suddenly growing sinister.
“I have a warrant to arrest this girl on the charges of illegal enty into the capital and theft.” The Captain then moved forwards, taking a step around Jou.
Both of the agents with their commander had also moved to prevent Jou from protesting.
“What do you mean illegal entry?” Jou exclaimed, his face going pale behind his mask.
The Captain moved his arm, shoving Jou out of the way. One of the Leidou agents grabbed Jou and quickly placed a pair of binders around his arms.
“Don’t try and fool me girl,” the Captain said as he walked towards Oliha, “I’ve checked the city records myself and there is no entry for your supposed visit. Then there is the matter of the stolen jewellery that I believe is in your possession.”
Oliha backed away, looking at the three men ready to grab her if she made any sudden movements. Her gaze moved towards Jou who was shaking slightly, thoughts of the man’s wife and child surfaced and Oliha felt guilty she had dragged the family into her problems.
“But wait!” Oliha said, making everyone stop to look at her, “I came here for a very important reason, this city will be attacked b-“
“Enough!” the Captain shouted, cutting her off. “I have no reason to believe the lies from a spy. For all we know you could have been sent here to assassinate our beloved ruler.”
At the mention of the King, the two men with the Captain tensed, they gave off an aura of resolve aimed directly at Oliha. She knew that they wouldn’t listen to another word she said. A dark power entered her mind, she tried to will it to form a wall between herself and the three men, however nothing would happen.
Cursing to herself that she was still weak in her specialist area, she looked for a means to escape when Jou suddenly rammed the Captain and gave enough space for Oliha to start moving. The boy jumped backwards and also used the opportunity to run, scared of everything he just heard.
Oliha turned and ran. She made her way to the nearest open building, which happened to be the one on fire, entering it without a seconds thought. The whole conversation between the four people and the two agents had gone unseen by the public, happening in the shadows of a bakery, so when she started running past people into the building several screams and gasps were heard.
The Captain, ignoring the cries of the people immediately gave chase and leapt into the building as beams of wood fell, covering the only exit on the ground floor. Oliha had trouble moving around the building, the smoke was blinding and the heat was unbearable. She coughed rapidly, regretting her decision to enter the building.
Accidently tripping over a table that had been knocked over, Oliha saw a door that led downwards, the room seemed to be made of stone compared to the wood around her. Deciding to follow that route, she quickly hopped down the stairs, three steps at a time and immediately felt better for it.
There was less smoke in the basement so breathing was much easier, the heat upstairs still made its way down, but was much more bearable. There was hardly any light down here, something Oliha felt better about.
Stopping to examine her surroundings, the sound of another crash brought the girl to her senses. She brought the medallion from her pocket and looked at it, trying to remember the words her teacher had spoken before.
“Where are you?” the voice of the captain louder than the flames.
Oliha heard footsteps coming down the stairs as she went deeper into the room, furthering her distance from the foot of the staircase. She mouthed the words her teacher had said before, preparing to say the spell when her back touched the wall behind her and she fell through it.
The Captain reached the room seconds later and scanned it quickly, he walked to the last spot he had heard the girl and raised an eyebrow. He could have sworn that he saw movement, yet there was no other presence, he studied the walls quickly and saw nothing out of the ordinary. He placed his hand on his chest, feeling the medallion that he’d been given a long time ago, only to find out it had gone cold.
“She’s not here,” he said, moving back towards the stairs.
He sighed in frustration and made his way back up, hoping he would get out of the building before the water from above soaked his uniform.
Jou had been watching the building from the ground, both agents had been holding him against his will. When the Captain walked out, his heart raced for a moment before relief set it.
The man walked towards the three, his face was calm yet the frustration in his eyes was frightening. The crowds parted for him and didn’t spare a look in his direction, Jou connected this action with the first time he’d entered the city.
The people seemed respectful yet never tried to gain eye contact with him, even his own brother was cautious when dealing with the Captain.
The shadow cast by the man walking away from the fire gave reason for Jou to shiver, he understood why the locals were afraid of this man and only wished he could have still kept his old job.
“I wasn’t even fired yet…” he told himself, realising he made a rash decision when he followed the Captain for the first time.
“I don’t know where she went or how she disappeared, but I’ll find her and I'll make sure you tell me everything you know about her.” the Captain threatened when he reached the three, his eyes looked down on Jou as one of the agents raised his head. "Or your family will pay the price.”
Jou wanted to scream at the man, throwing curses at him but knew that the Captain was hoping he’d do that, just so that he’d have more of a reason to humiliate and punish him.
He let them drag him off, hoping that his complying behaviour would benefit his family, he regret deciding to follow the Captain and taking this job. However he decided that he didn't regret helping out Oliha.
Everything he had heard about the war scared him, he didn't want to admit it at first but the people in the city were sheltered from outside news.
It was common knowledge that this city was independent from the allied nations but no one really knew why or what was going on out there.
Training as a city guard taught him that outsiders were often screened before entering the city. At first he didn't realise why, but over time he came to understand that news of affairs outside the city were kept within the military and away from the public.
During the moments that the Captain has been speaking to him something clicked in his head, an elixir of fear and malice changed his thought process, hatred taking over his senses.
The only thing he could associate with his hatred of the situation came in the form of the Captain standing smugly above him.