The air was dry as two Pickenhearts flew over the great canyon below them, searching for some place to find food in the harsh deserted land. Both were weak, having not stopped in any one place for too long since coming from their home city. They were barely able to fly straight, using the up draughts of the wind to keep soaring until one of the birds had lost all its strength and dropped out of the sky, landing on the ground, not too far from two boys on horses.
The other bird, noticing his partner had fallen, didn’t stop as he saw the two boys he presumed to be a Denatsu spies nearby. They appeared to not have seen his fallen partner but the bird couldn't afford to stop now, not when he was so close to his goal. The bird had been part of a convoy of seventeen, attacked by a flock of tame Slithoks, a savage bird often used by the Mrinthian military. Only two had escaped, one injured from protecting the other. The journey had taken a toll on both their bodies but the injured Pickenheart couldn’t fly much longer, with a few words of luck to his Prince the guard fell, dead before he even hit the ground.
The Prince silently prayed for the safety of his friend as he continued to glide, heading towards a mountain in the distance.
The duo on their horses had made their way into the canyon. The grass and rich dirt had given way to sandy rock that had slowed the horses down drastically. They were not used to these conditions and had to make numerous stops throughout the day.
Barely finding water, the two stopped at a shady outpost, abandoned by all forms of life.
“Why is it so hot out here?” Nafare asked for the third time that hour.
Faro sighed, getting off his horse. He wiped the sweat that had accumulated onto his head and looked at the sun still high in the sky. Not a cloud had shown up since the two left the forest and Nafare had been complaining ever since.
“As I’ve said before, I don’t know Nafare.”
The two tied their horses to one of spokes from the fence, eyeing the wooden structure in front of them. Having been deserted, the small fortress like structure looked like it had been home to several animals, before they too abandoned the place.
The entire building, made up of two rectangular towers surrounded by a large wooden fence, cut into the rocky side of the canyon. The whole compound was overshadowed by a large rock jutting out of the rocky walls. The wood looked as if it had been there for years since it had been built.
“This is so cool!” Nafare said, finally not complaining about the sun.
“I guess it is.” Faro agreed, looking at the gates of the compound.
Nafare noticed Faro’s line of sight and ran over to the gates. They were at least twice the height of the boy. Nafare pushed open the gate with relative ease and stepped inside the complex. He looked around expecting someone to pop out and greet them but no one except the dry wind passed by.
“So...do you want to explore?” Nafare asked, already walking inside.
“Wait a second!” Faro shouted making sure the horses were secure before moving off after the younger boy.
The two looked at the towers, both of them reaching half way up the canyon wall.
“Remind me why we came down the canyon, instead of going around like all sane people would?”
Faro chuckled slightly, Nafare’s comment reminding him of someone from the village who most of the time acted in a way others would call insane.
“I thought it would be obvious why we came this way, as you said, no one sane would come this way. So why would they look for us or more specifically you this way.”
Nafare made a noise, seemingly understanding Faro’s logic.
“I see, but I hate this heat. It’s killing me.”
The two entered one of the wooden towers, its shade providing no difference in temperature to the heat that was outside.
“I don’t know. I like the heat, it reminds me of.....something.”
“What something?” Nafare asked confused.
“Oh...I’m not too sure.”
Inside the building there was no furniture, the place had either been cleared out or it had always been that way. The two looked around the bottom floor, not finding anything of interest or value so the two decided to search the higher floors. As the two reached the door leading to the upper floors, Nafare in his haste ran up the set of stairs and tripped on a thin wire.
A loud clang echoed from the tower.
“And what was that?” Faro asked, glaring at the boy.
“Oops...” Nafare chuckled slightly.
The two stayed silent for a few moments, both boys hoping that the trap had been set a very long time ago and that no one was nearby to react to it. The two calmed down after a few more seconds, not giving the noise a second thought.
“I guess it was an old trap, meant to warn those a long time ago.” Faro concluded, tuning towards the front door.
He suddenly wanted to leave the building. Without warning, Nafare put his hand against Faro’s mouth and whimpered.
“Shh...I hear footsteps from someone outside!”
Faro was slightly confused. He couldn’t hear a thing.
“I can confirm what he is saying” Shadic announced to Faro.
Faro was about to reply to his shadow when Nafare dragged him outside.
“They are coming from those dead bushes, between that building and the canyon wall.” Nafare pointed at a location where he thought the sound was coming.
Faro tried to look into the shadows, but saw nothing but a lack of light.
“You know it’s rude to point at people....boy!”
The voice came from atop one of the towers. Both boys were confused at first, but Nafare spotted the source first. It was a masked figure, wearing several layers of clothing that covered the person's face. The speaker was wearing light green armour atop their clothing.
Faro noticed that the person was holding a metal object in their hand. They made a motion with their other hand and the object released a metal claw that latched onto the roof of the tower they were on.
With a hint of showmanship, the masked figure leapt off the tower and swung their way down, using the chain with a dark pulsating glow to land a couple of feet in front of Faro and Nafare. The figure somehow managed to retract the chain and started eyeing the two boys carefully.
It was while this happened, that the two never noticed the other figures that slowly made their way out of the bushes. The others were wearing similar clothing to the one that had spoken, slowly making their way towards them.
It was clear that they were trying to hide the fact that they were concealing knives underneath their clothing.
“It’s been awhile since the alarm has been set off....”
The two men, physically much bigger than their leader, looked at Faro menacingly whilst bringing out their weapons, signalling for more people to come out of the shadows.
Faro and Nafare soon found themselves surrounded by a small group of armed warriors.
“Leave the darker skinned one, he’s clearly poor.”
Their leader spoke out, removing the mask on their head to reveal the fact that she was a woman. She eyed Nafare with more interest.
“I think this one is carrying much more bountiful goods, looking at his armour he may be even with the Denatsu Lords!” she said pointing her metallic device at Nafare.
The men cheered, taking steps towards the two when Faro brought out his dual swords.
“We are not men of the Denatsu Lords, an insult like that should be punished and no one gets away with calling me poor so easily!” Faro shouted, hiding that he was scared out of his mind.
“Hmm.....the poor one thinks he can take me on.” The leader spoke with a patronizing attitude.
She looked around, thinking for a few moments before putting away the metallic device in her hand and drawing out a broadsword that was sheathed on her back.
“I’ll take care of this one. Stay back and watch. If it’s a fight he wants, it’s a fight he’ll get.” Without any other word, several things happened at once.
The men formed a ring around their leader and Faro, quickly moving Nafare out of the way despite his rebellious movements towards the bandits. Faro realized he had no clue what he was doing and the bandit leader was already in the air about to swipe Faro’s head off.
With a roll to the side, Faro dodged the swipe and created space between the two of them.
He tried to gauge what the female was about to do next, but her movements were too erratic to judge. She was fast, looked strong and flexible with her attacks, already disarming one of Faro’s swords with a few forward movements.
Faro didn’t see this as a disadvantage as he knew he preferred to fight with only one sword. He was able to counter some of the leader’s swipes and even managed to kick back the woman whilst they had locked blades.
“Not bad for a beginner, I can see you’ve had no real training though. It’s a shame we can’t utilize those skills.”
The woman suddenly moved with a speed unknown to Faro’s eyes. She disappeared from Faro’s vision and the next thing he knew he had dropped his sword and was on the floor groaning in pain. His sword arm was stinging, cut badly in several places but not fatally injuring him.
“Now tell me which Lords you work under...boy” the woman asked knowing that she had won the battle with little effort.
“I told you, I work for no one!”
In his haste, Faro moved his tunic dropping a coin he never knew he was carrying. The men eyed the coin with greedy eyes, not having seen gold in quite a while, however the woman eyed the coin as if she had seen death, embedded in the gold engravings of the large coin.
“Miss Nuba! I do suppose we, I mean you should take that coin as the spoils of battle.”
The others were jeering with a selfish pride, happily celebrating their leader’s success.
The men fell silent.
The man who had spoken earlier eyed Faro with unease, shuffling closer to Miss Nuba. He was clearly not suited for fighting and looked more like an advisor. In fact as Faro looked more closely at the men, he now saw that there were in fact women amongst them and not all were as tough looking as his mind thought they were.
Miss Nuba’s face had now turned into a snarl, she had seen something she didn’t like and now she was clearly angry. Walking towards Faro, the woman scooped up the medallion from the floor and pocketed the item, holding it as if it was an object of disgust.
“Who are you?” she asked as if the question wasn’t already in the minds of everyone standing there.
Faro however stayed silent, he didn’t know what was going on and he didn’t want to make the woman even angrier, especially when he was disarmed.
“I’ll say it again, who are you?” the woman screamed at Faro, almost slapping him across the face.
Faro was visibly shaking, not wanting to talk, even more so to the fact that his Shadow was telling him to remain quiet. Nafare was in no cheery condition either, still being held by two men, Miss Nuba motioned for him to be brought forward either.
“You won’t get a word out of me!” he mumbled, silently hoping they wouldn’t kill him for saying that.
The woman was starting to get stressed, she didn’t like other people seeing her that way and decided to deal with the new turn of events later.
“Take these two to the holding room and confiscate their stuff. If either of them tries to escape, kill them instantly.”
Faro growled in desperation, getting up and leaping at the woman. She turned around, her sword still in her hands pointed forwards as Faro came into the blade.
Miss Nuba gasped in shock, stepping backwards as she hadn’t expected that boy to move so quickly. She looked at the tip of her blade which was now stained with blood then back to the boy who had fallen, a puddle of his blood slowly forming around his abdomen.
Nafare could only look as his newfound friend was on the ground, he stopped moving as the men started taking him away.
Miss Nuba kissed her teeth in annoyance and looked towards her advisor.
“Lindus, get this boy medical attention and then chain him in the same room as the other one. I’ll deal with them later.”
With that the woman left to go console her worries in private as the men dragged Faro and Nafare underground, revealing that they had been watching from the canyon walls all this time.
Miss Nuba looked at her sword, paling slightly at the sight of the boys blood. She never intended this to happen, confused as to why the boy would rush forwards without thinking. Her thoughts then turned to the medallion she had taken, the designs on the pocket made her shiver and look at her own hands a colour that wasn't too different from that boy.
All around her the others were busy with various tasks, moving items, carrying stretchers or handling the other boy who was now screaming in anger. She pressed her hand against her forehead and sighed, standing in front of a stone doorway that had been built into the canyon wall.
"Are you okay?" the voice of a small girl asked.
Miss Nuba looked at the girl, she was roughly dressed and appeared to be unclean but was otherwise healthy. The woman quickly sheathed her sword and knelt down before the child could look at it.
"Don't worry, everything is going to be fine. Just run along to your family and I promise this will be over soon."
With a half-hearted smile, Miss Nuba was thankful she could reassure the girl her troubles would be over. She carried on walking, unsure herself whether she was speaking the truth or not. If the medallion in her pocket was real then she had a good reason to be fearful, but for now there were other things that mattered more.
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