The rocky mountain was shrouded in darkness, protecting the inner city as well as supporting the shell that was the outer mountain.
The Captain had been pushing Jou to train harder, it wasn’t even a day into the intensive training and Jou was already tired, sweat dripping down his face faster than he could run.
The two, along with seven other men all older than Jou, had been travelling all morning, away from the central grounds, moving to higher terrain away from the luxuries of the city.
Jou had been mentally occupied, trying to understand how there could be one mountain inside of another one. The small group of men jogged around the lower regions of the mountain for what Jou assumed was the second time that morning, as they had passed the outpost for the second time.
As they reached the stone structure, the Captain ordered the group to stop as he pointed higher up the mountain, where the mist and darkness showed no path ahead.
“There is another outpost, higher up this mountain that contains eight packages. If you can deliver your package before midday to the palace doors then your training will end today.”
The men suddenly lost all sense of exhaustion and looked ready to go. One of the men, wearing green overalls, stepped forward to speak.
“And what is the time now?”
The Captain smirked at the question, knowing it was coming. He looked over towards the centre of the hollowed out mountain, where 12 crystals were lodged in a perfect circle.
One of the crystals shone red whilst the others had a faint green glow. Nearer to the red crystal, one of the green shards were glowing brighter than the others, indicating the hour of the day.
The red crystal acted as a pointer to the twelfth hour and the twenty fourth hour using the brightness as an indicator to which set you were counting.
“The time is 10, I guess that leaves you two hours to go.”
The men scrambled at the realization of how long they had until their deadline. Jou, trying to finally understand how to read the time crystals, became confused as he read the time himself.
By the time he faced the Captain, the other men had left, already far enough up the mountain that the fog obscured their forms.
He raised his eyebrow at the smirking Captain, even though he knew that he couldn’t see his face in the darkness and stepped forwards.
“But the time says that we have four hours instead of two?”
The Captain, not looking, realized that Jou had remained behind. He chuckled, impressed at the young man’s good judgment.
“In time of haste, people will make foolish mistakes to better their own goals. By the time the clock strikes 12, I do not expect all those men to return. Half of them will have broken bones from the dangerous falls and perhaps one or two will attempt to abandon their task and leave. You on the other hand will not rush, knowing you have enough time to walk up and down the mountain. This test becomes useless for you and for that I am disappointed. But do not see this as an excuse to take things easily. If you do not deliver your package, a token of loyalty, to the palace gates whilst they are still open, you will never be allowed to work in my guard whilst this monarch remains in power.”
Jou bowed in respect as he had been taught to and started a slow jog up the mountain. The short rest had recharged his body enough to endure the next few hours. Looking ahead of him, Jou tried to take the safest route up the mountain, slowly catching up with the other men who had rushed ahead.
Quite happy with the enthusiasm of his new troops, the Captain's mind had been split when he had sent the men up the mountain. He was intrigued by the sight of the blue haired girl that he'd seen the previous day.
He questioned whether Jou and that girl were really related and how exactly did she arrive in the inner city without anyone alerting him.
The man in uniform started walking towards the city, taking a route he knew the others would not notice for a few days. He enjoyed walking alone, embracing the silence and becoming one with the environment.
His thoughts lingered on some of the words his brother had said mere hours ago. The two had been in the presence of their mother, an event that usually occurred once every other month.
During the short bi-monthly reunion the two had conversed with the older woman, informing her of current events in the city and all important personal events that occurred between visits.
The Captain knew that her days as a living soul were numbered, although he couldn't quite put a name on the feeling that the information gave him.
The last time she had tried to speak for an extended period of time she coughed blood. His elder brother panicked as expected but as usual he was left to take charge of the situation and assured his elder brother that their mother wasn't going to pass away, at least not yet.
Looking at the face of the old woman he smiled warmly, one of the only times he ever showed his uncovered face to other people. He was genuinely appreciative of the things his mother had done to better his life and wanted his mothers last moments with him to be somewhat pleasant.
Although uninterested in the stories his elder brother had told, there was one thing the man had said that peaked his curiosity. He couldn't help but focus on the short tale his brother told about the strange girl.
It was those words that helped reinforced the idea that he should further investigate the girl.
The Captain smirked, glad that Jou was preoccupied with his current task.
A ceremony that had been accomplishment many times before by brave and smart men such as that of the Captain and his team. He chuckled to himself as he thought back to the day he had done the challenge. Thoughts of embracing the challenge and wanting to be the first person down to the palace gates flooded his mind.
Although the previous instructor had used the same trick he had quickly figured it out, similar to Jou.
"That man has some potential" he thought aloud, chuckling at the thought of Jou somehow surpassing him.
Dismissing his short reminisce about the past, the Captain pulled a gold object from his breast pocket.
The medallion fit nicely in his hand, it was inlaid with a red background that gave a field for a black star. The star itself was made out of a special material known as Crindion Ore. The Captain stared at the star, entranced by the faint glowing that it emanated.
Demia was cleaning her new house, pleased with all the space that she didn’t have access to before. She couldn't think of a better or quieter location to raise a proper family, within the safety of the mountainous inner city.
Not long after she had finished arranging all the furniture and getting rid of the dust that had settled, Oliha had woken up and had come to greet the woman.
“Good morning ma’am. Thank you again for allowing me to sleep in your home.” she spoke whilst stifling a yawn.
Demia smiled, delighted by how polite the young girl was.
“Never mind that dear, you are always welcome here. And please, call me Demia.”
Oliha smiled in response and nodded. She started to walk away then paused, turning back to let Demia know of her plans.
“If I may, can I go about the city for a walk? It’s just that I’ve never been to a place like this before and I didn’t really have the chance to appreciate my surroundings yesterday.” The girl turned fully to face the woman, all signs of yesterday’s grief had left and she looked as innocent as ever.
Demia thought carefully as she too hadn’t seen the city herself. She wanted to go along with her, but she remembered that there were other things that needed attention like her son.
The two year old boy who was still asleep in his new room and would need feeding soon.
“Go ahead Oliha, just be sure to be back here by midday. I should have prepared lunch by then.”
The girl nodded in appreciation and ran off, leaving the house to go explore.
Demia found herself busy for the next few hours taking care of her son and preparing a stew for lunch. She had finished adding all the ingredients she had deemed necessary for today and left the pot to simmer atop of a small fire.
A knock at the door startled the woman as she briefly checked on her child, now playing with a set of wooden blocks.
She smiled at her child and quickly walked towards the door where she greeted a man who she knew to fit the description of the Captain, as Jou had described the night before.
“Welcome Captain, would you like to come in?”
The man paused for a second, if only to consider his options.
“Yes, thank you.” He said as he stepped into the household, noticing the young child as he walked into the main room of the house.
“Is there anything I can get you?” Demia asked, wondering why this man was in her house.
“No, this visit will be very brief.”
“Oh....so what can I help you with?”
“I’m led to believe that you have a visitor in your home, a small girl that is of relation to you.”
“Relation.....? Oh, you mean Oliha. Yes, she is my aunt’s granddaughter from Regeva.”
The Captain smiled behind his mask, taking note of the woman’s words. It was at this time that he also felt a strange resonating pulse from the medallion he had hidden in his pocket.
The vibration was something that he thought he wouldn’t feel as he knew the war would prevent those with medallions travelling this far.
“And where is the girl, can I speak with her please?”
Demia paused, doubtful about the Captain's intentions. She had known enough about the history of the medallions to know why this man was interested in Oliha. However it was best to play innocent around people like him, which is why it was easy for her to do so as she spoke truthfully.
“Oliha has left, she went out on a walk and will be back around midday.”
The Captain swore under his breath, still feeling the resonating medallion on his body.
“I suppose it’s fine, I’ll be sure to come back another time when it is more appropriate.” He said, turning to face the door.
Before Demia could reply the Captain had started leaving and was out the door before she knew it. Immediately she ran to Oliha’s room to check if the object she had in mind was still there. The medallion which Oliha must have been carrying when she left, was nowhere to be found.
Demia left the guest room, her thoughts travelling back to her childhood when she first learnt about these special medallions. She remembered being told how the medallions were once forged in order to seek out one another, alerting the carrier whenever another ally or enemy was nearby.
The magic used to create them was rumoured to only be available to those of royalty, making it easy to determine whether a medallion was fake or not. No matter how carefully you forged the metal or how frequently you placed expensive gems, the counterfeit medallion would never react to others in the same way a real one would.
She had been taught to respect the power given to holders of the medallion and told never to meddle with their affairs. It was told that those that attempted to steal or prevent a quest given to a medallion holder quickly met their demise. Before the recent developments in the war it was common for medallion holders to duel for the other parties respect, this often included entitlement to their riches and the very medallions that would draw them to each other. Demia sighed, knowing that Oliha was in danger. She wanted to help the girl but looked at her two year old on the floor and knew it would be impossible without sacrificing his well being.