Faro woke up to the sound of a voice sniffling. The weight of the world was on his eyelids, prevented him from opening them. He decided to let his strength gather, whilst listening to the sounds in the room. The voice didn’t increase nor did it cease to stop whilst Faro listened, however he did hear shuffling and the odd sound of a chain hitting a wall.
“There is no need to worry boy. He’ll be alright.”
Faro thought he had recognized the voice of the woman, however he could not determine where from. He did notice however that her voice was somewhat different, instead of the rough confident composure that he had remembered hearing, the voice sounded as if she actually cared about his wellbeing. Faro didn’t know who she was talking to or why, but he wanted answers right away.
Believing that he had enough strength to move, Faro tried moving his arms to better position himself, but quickly found out that he was chained to his bed. The sound of the chain hitting the metal frame of the bed was loud enough for a gasp to emit from the two people in the room.
“You see, I told you he would be fine.” The woman said as her voice turned to face Faro, “I’d advise you to remain relaxed boy, your injuries are worse than you think.”
Not understanding the meaning of that statement, Faro let his mind wander back to the last events that he could remember. Nothing came to mind immediately.
Finding more strength to open his eyes, Faro found himself facing a sand coloured ceiling. He was on a bed, his arms chained to the posts, preventing him from getting up. Turning his head around, Faro saw his friend Nafare and another woman watching him from the other side of the small room.
He was in a prison cell of sorts which contained his bed, a bench and what looked like a rusted bucket in the corner of the room.
As memories of the woman slowly started coming back to Faro, he took the time to study her carefully. Her most prominent feature was her eyes, icy blue in colour and as sharp as a double-edged sword, they shone like a pair of diamonds in contrast to her tanned skin.
Her physique was well suited for the way she stood, sleek, agile and ready to move in an instant.
Before anything more could happen a man ran into the room and spoke to the woman.
“Miss Nuba! There is trouble around the outer perimeter!”
The two left without another word leaving Nafare who was chained against the other wall in a daze.
“I thought you were dead....” he whispered, blinking away whatever tears had formed in his eyes.
Faro didn’t know what to say, he hadn’t known the boy for that long, yet he was inclined to cheer him up.
“I don’t die that easily mate,” he coughed out, “But what exactly happened?”
Nafare paused in shock.
“You don’t remember?” he asked.
Faro thought again, trying to remember the last events he could think of. Remnants of entering a wooden structure were the last bits of information still in his mind.
“Never mind, forget I asked. I'm sure that it will come back soon enough, hopefully,” he said as he looked back at the ceiling.
He only then remembered that he had a partner who would know everything that had transpired. Thinking it wasn’t the ideal time or place to ask him, an idea quickly formed in his mind as he looked around the room for a second time.
“This room is lit by only one candle, it allows the shadows to give off a creepy form don’t you think? Almost as if they may jump out and start talking to you.” he said, mostly at a whisper hoping Shadic would hear.
“What?” Nafare replied, hearing everything Faro had said.
“Oh, nothing. I’m just rambling.” Faro quickly replied, laughing it off quietly.
A few minutes passed in silence, it seemed Nafare forgot about Faro’s words and was resting peacefully against the wall for the first time since he had been chained there. The sound of Shadic’s voice broke the silence although not alerting Nafare who couldn't hear him and wasn’t aware of the Shadow beings existence in the first place.
“So you called then?” Shadic asked not expecting a reply.
“I saw the whole thing and I must say you’re a terrible fighter, no wonder she went easy on you!” the shadow laughed bitterly.
“You got stabbed by that woman in the stomach or rather you jumped into it, luckily the wound wasn’t too deep but you still fainted from blood loss.”
The shadow was staring intensely with its dark eyes, figuring out how to deal with his lighter counterpart.
“I attempted to heal your wounds, but it seems I don’t have such abilities….oh well,” he said drifting off into a pause.
The silence had crept up again whilst everyone in the room waited for Miss Nuba to return. To their expectations, she did return, however there was a panicked look about her.
“Who are you exactly?” she demanded, not waiting for Faro to respond, she drew her sword and moved it under Nafare's neck.
“Tell me or I shall kill this so called former servant of Madrack.”
Faro froze up instantly. It seemed that she had got that information out of Nafare whilst he was unconscious. He looked at Nafare who was now quivering against the steel blade of Miss Nuba’s weapon. There didn’t seem to be any bruises or signs of physical torture on the boy, yet the woman knew his past. Faro sighed in defeat, not wanting to feel guilty if anything happened to Nafare. He began to explain most of his past, telling Miss Nuba how he had been working at the School of Hero’s and the attack on the village.
He made sure to leave out any details that would provoke more questions and specifically avoided mentioning his living shadow whilst the woman listened intently. Miss Nuba sheathed her sword after listening to Faro.
“For some reason I believe that you’re telling the truth, or at least everything you’ve said actually happened. You're certainly hiding something but now is not the time for apologies or further questions.” She said bringing out a key that was tied around her neck.
She quickly unbound Nafare and Faro, pulling the boy up and resting him against her frame. Moving cautiously away from the woman and not wanting to seem too dependent on her, Faro tried moving alone, however he stumbled when taking a step.
Nafare moved quickly to support Faro and the three moved out of the small room.
The room that the two boys were staying in was part of a whole block of prison cells under the main complex. The fortress was huge, packed with refugees and armed men moving about the place.
“Just what is this place?” Faro asked, in slight awe.
“We call it the Crescent Palace, it’s a fortress that was once occupied by the Mei Kéi Meóng family a long time ago. When we found it, the place was abandoned and in need of some fixing up. We turned it into a safe house for refugees that are seeking shelter in Kéi Meóng, they stay here for the night then make their way to the city that’s down the valley.“
She paused to consider how Faro and Nafare were in the valley during their first encounter.
“We usually don’t find people taking the back entrance, so we were suspicious when the alarm got triggered.
The three weaved between many refugees and armed men, until they were at a quieter part of the complex. Miss Nuba stopped when they reached a single path that lead into a dark tunnel.
“This road leads back out into the canyon, closer to the city. We plan to use it for the first time as an evacuation route, so I’m giving you a head start before we lead the others down here.”
The woman whistled sharply and out of the shadows appeared the advisor that Faro and Nafare had seen in their first encounter. He was carrying some of the equipment that had been confiscated from the two.
“Here you go, you’ll need those where you’re going.” His tone of resentment was unnerving to the two boys, making Miss Nuba eye him cautiously.
Nafare took everything and helped Faro stand by himself.
“Your horses are being cared for at the end of the tunnel with the rest of your stuff. You’re lucky I didn’t order my people to keep your things, although I took those silver chalices as payment for the medical services I provided.” Miss Nuba explained with a smirk.
Nafare opened his mouth to speak out when Faro cut him off.
“Thank you for what you’ve done, we are sorry about the misunderstanding.” He said, slightly sincere about the whole event.
Ms Nuba smiled and reached for one final item from her pocket, he placed it directly into Faro’s palm, closing his hand and leaning close to his ear.
“Don’t lose this thing, you’ll need it in the future. I could have turned you into a great fighter but it seems you already have goals of your own.” She whispered before stepping back and motioning for Lindus to leave.
“I’d urge you to start moving now, we have little time for anything else,” she said already turning to follow Lindus back.
“But why are you helping us like this?” Faro shouted as she carried on walking.
“I told you, I already took payment, consider it part of the service!” She replied picking up her speed.
The two started moving in the other direction, silence between them. Drums could be heard in distance which frightened them. Drums were only used in times of war now, which meant that the Aginian’s were closing the gap between them.
“How,” Faro asked aloud, “I thought we made considerable distance away from them, how could they have reached us so quickly?”
“Faro....” Nafare said slowly. “We’ve been here for almost two weeks now.”
The boy paused, his body suddenly going cold as stone.
“I can confirm that, you were out for days” Shadic said in his raspy voice.
Not wanting to think about what he heard, Faro kept on moving forwards, the small light at the end of the tunnel gradually getting larger. He also noticed that the strength was returning to his legs at a faster pace than expected, he thought back to Miss Nuba’s words about the medical services.
“Did they give me any sort of medicine?”
“Yes,” both voices said at once, causing Faro to flinch slightly.
The shadow chuckled quietly whilst Nafare continued, “They gave you some potion of sorts, and it looked purple in colour, bubbling even whilst cold.”
“An Instant Wundus Potion?” asked Faro.
Nafare sniggered slightly at the name, the first time he had done so in days.
“I think so, although I’m sure I heard them call it a Wundian?”
“Oh right, it is. A friend of mine used to call it that, never mind me.”
The conversation died for a while as the two were closer to the light at the end of the tunnel, so close that they could hear the stamping of horses in the distance.
“You’ve never talked about any friends before…” Nafare said quietly.
Faro didn’t respond at first, he already explained his mission to the boy before but never mentioned the fact that Oliha was his only friend.
“It’s fine, I think I understa...” Nafare paused when he saw two girls tending to their horses, both were around the same height as Nafare and most likely of similar age too.
“Aww who’s a good girl, eh?” said the blonde haired girl, stoking the mane of Faro’s horse.
She hadn’t noticed the two newcomers as they approached slowly, the other girls, with bright red hair smiled awkwardly at the two boys as she quickly nudged the other girl and motioned towards the approaching boys. The girl with blonde hair had such a charming smile that the two boys almost forgot what they were doing, the other girl shifted uncomfortably before speaking out.
“Are these your horses? Um…sorry, we just couldn’t resist. We don’t get many horses around here anymore. It’s because of the heat, it’s usually too much for them.”
“Yea, we heard your story from the others, who would have thought that two boys could have made it this far alone, eh?” the other girl sniggered.
Faro eyed the two carefully, they looked no different from those other students who had attended the School of Heroes.
He just wanted to be on his way.
“Don’t worry, we won’t tease you that much…” the red haired girl turned her back and fed Nafare’s horse a large berry she was holding, “In case you were wondering, my name is Alice and this Elisabeth.”
“Or rather she’s Lizzy and I’m Alice.”
“Don’t call me Lizzy, its Elisabeth…” the red haired girl frowned playfully.
“Wait who’s who?” Nafare asked.
“Lizzy….” Alice said pointing at the red head.
“Alice….” Elizabeth followed up, pointing to the other girl.
“We’re sisters!” They said energetically.
“That makes sense…I guess,” Faro muttered, “We need to be on our way through,” he told them, causing them to frown in disappointment.
The two girls, moved out of the way, allowing Nafare and Faro to get atop their horses. Nafare was taking his time with his equipment, slowly irritating Faro who was being watched by the two girls. The scene would have made Faro laugh any other day if it were not for the war drums that were still sounding in the distance, the tinny sounds of the instruments bouncing off the canyon’s high walls.
“Are you ready yet?” Faro asked Nafare, he sighed impatiently making Elizabeth giggle slightly.
“Almost, just give me a minu--”
“We don’t have a minute Nafare, we need to be on our way now!” he snapped, turning to face away from the boy.
“Ahh…okay, I’m ready!”
Faro was about to thank the girls for looking after their horses when Alice stepped out in front of the two, a serious look fixated on her face.
“We…..um, heard that you were looking for a girl named Oliha, something about a quest….” She looked away deciding whether she should continue talking, Faro raised his eyebrow in anticipation.
“Could it be that you are looking for Miss Teleinu?”
Nafare having not heard that name before looked back at Faro and was surprised to see the boy with such a surprised face.
“I didn’t mention her last name before,” he said, wanted to edge away from the blonde girl.
“So it is her….” Elizabeth whispered to herself, her face becoming sombre.
For a few moments the only sound that could be heard was the constant drumming in the distance. With a blush slowly forming on her face, Alice looked up at Faro directly and spoke aloud.
“Can we travel with you?”
“I mean it, Oliha is like an elder sister to us, and if she’s in trouble we need to help her!”
Faro didn't know it this was true. He couldn't remember Oliha ever mentioning these two by name, although he inwardly admitted that there were many things Oliha had said that he forgot about. He looked again at the two girls before him, finding it hard not to see the similarities between them and the other students of academy that had always treated Faro badly.
“No! It’s absolutely not happening!” He said defensively, not wanting to have to travel with two more young companions.
“You don’t have to worry about us…” Elizabeth said, “We trained in the same kind of magic that our cousin does and we’re quite good at it!”
“So you’re witches then?”
The two girls almost hissed at those words, even Faro found he flinched at Nafare’s name for them. He was used to hearing Oliha being called that and was always attempting to defend her from the other members of that once grand school.
“Don’t say that Nafare,”
“Just don’t,” he turned to look back at the two girls who had the most insistent look on their faces.
He tried to look away but found he couldn’t resist their gazes, by thinking of the way Oliha had been called a witch countless times he knew that he had lost this battle.
“Fine….” He sighed, “But the first sign of trouble and I’m dropping you off at the next village we pass.”
The two girls brightened as they heard Faro say those words, Alice gracefully hopping behind Faro whilst Elizabeth did the same with Nafare, much to the boys’ disapproval.
“I guess I owe you an apology…” Nafare said hesitantly, shuffling forwards trying to move away from the girl that had now wrapped her arms around his waist.
“It’s okay….” Elizabeth said in a sweet voice, “We’ll just get our revenge later.”
Faro and his shadow chuckled as Nafare gulped, all laughter ceased however when a loud crash disrupted the peaceful scene. A scream could be heard, then a deep pounding came from the tunnel, the sound of rushing footsteps and swords clashing. It was made worse by the smell of ash and death that approached the small group, causing the horses to stamp about nervously.
Thinking to himself that this was for the best, the group quickly departed without a moment’s notice, leaving the outer encampment as an image on the horizon in minutes. Faro knew that he would have felt guilty leaving them behind, even if they acted as cruel and ignorant as some of Oliha's classmates. Knowing that he would of been partly responsible for their deaths was a feeling Faro wasn't ready to handle.
In the time it took to get away from the chaos, Faro found out that the two girls had been caught trying to steal from Miss Nuba, who then later on spared their lives and recruited them.
“She was kind to us, like how a mother should be.” Elizabeth said aloud.
Nafare couldn't help but feel sceptical of those words mostly due to the impression that Miss Nuba left after she almost killed Faro.
“How far away is this city again?” Faro asked Alice who was sitting behind him.
“Half a day at most, I’ve never made the journey myself.”
“We don’t have time to stop, the enemy will carry on marching until they reach Kéi Meóng.”
“Ah!” Nafare shouted frustrated, he spat out a fly that entered his mouth, Elizabeth giggling behind him.
“Why is this place so big and barren?” he moaned.
“It’s a canyon, so it’s obviously going to be big.” Elizabeth replied with a small grin on her face.
“Well there is a story behind the Canyon and what it used to be, but it’s a rather long one,” Alice started saying “Maybe I’ll tell it you guys later when we make ca-”
Alice started coughing as she inhaled some sand, quickly taking Faro’s canteen and rinsing her mouth, all while Elizabeth was finding the whole scene hilarious.
Alice started coughing as she inhaled some sand, quickly taking Faro’s canteen and rinsing her mouth, all while Elizabeth was finding the whole scene hilarious.
“Wait! Did you just use my water?” Faro asked hastily.
“Yes! It was an emergency! Don’t you know it's proper etiquette to give a Lady whatever she desires in her time of need?” she said, using her hand to protect her mouth from any future attacks from the sand.
“Ladies, you don’t seem like ladies to me?” Nafare responded with a snort of laughter.
Elizabeth pinched Nafare in the back causing him to jump in his seat.
“How dare you?” Elizabeth said angrily. “First you call us witches then you say we’re not ladies? What’s next? Perhaps you will tell us that we are inferior to you boys, eh?”
Nafare started stammering about with his worlds not able to string together a comprehensible sentence, before the situation got worse Faro spoke out to the two.
“Elizabeth calm down! Nafare thinks you’re being serious.”
Alice raised her eyebrow at Faro’s words.
“How did you know she was joking, I thought she put on a rather convincing act?”
“With age comes more experience with these things…” Faro said dismissively, whilst Nafare remained quiet.
Although he wouldn't freely admit it, he had seen this comedic routine enough to tell when someone was either joking or acting seriously.
“Why don’t you explain what makes you two ladies then?” Faro asked before discussion went south again.
“Maybe I should, perhaps I’ll tell you later but look, there’s a town ahead!” Alice said as she pointing in front of Faro at the horizon where a set of building were starting to peek over the landscape.
“Great,” Faro said to himself, “perhaps I can find someone more mature to talk to,”
Faro brought Ifra down to a canter, the horses had been working hard for the last hour and needed to slow down.
“We’ll get a refill here, some canteens for Alice and Lizzy, before moving out again, okay?”
“Sure,” Nafare managed to say.
“My name is Elizabeth!” She said playfully.
“Fine, but your horse needs her rest too, you can’t be too hard on it!” Alice warned.
“That's not possible, but we’ll stay here a bit longer, only if we get a chance to alert the outpost as soon as we get there.”
Faro heard a metallic sigh in his left ear.
“These kids are too much, I almost prefer that uptight school.” Shadic told Faro.
Faro laughed inwardly, he was starting to agree with his shadow on more things than he expected.
As the group pushed onwards, traversing through the rocky canyon, foliage and trees started to show up around them. It wasn’t long until a stream came into view, jutting out from a chute in the rocky walls of the canyon. Its water was pure and untouched, gleaming against the rays of the sun.
The group had planned on visiting the town quickly, but as they grew closer an enormous bulk of land started peaking in the distance. The main city was much closer now and its famous mountain was clearly visible from where the group was situated.
As they approached a stream of water they noticed a trio of desert deer drinking as much water as they could before skittering back into the shadows.
An old woman was sat beside the stream with a basket of clothes beside her. The group stopped a short distance away, whilst Nafare immediately got down and started walking towards the old woman, somehow she hadn’t noticed their presence yet. Faro tried to call out to Nafare whilst he got off his horse, but he didn’t want to risk shouting too loud and scaring the woman.
“Hello there Ma-“Nafare started when he reached what he thought was a suitable range.
The response from the woman was loud and shocked Nafare. She screamed, moving away from the boy as she knocked her basket into the stream. Elizabeth and Alice rushed in to calm the aging woman. Whilst one grabbed the clothes out of the shallow stream, the other gave a warm smile to the old woman and told her to calm down.
“Forgive my foolish friend, we mean no harm.” Alice told the woman, “We’re on our way to the city and was hoping we could refill on water and gain some supplies.”
The woman still had a slightly shocked look on her face, but she had noticeably calmed down looking to her clothes that were all soaked. Elizabeth was covered in water from the waist downwards, she didn’t seem to mind however as she stepped onto the bank, closing her eyes as she opened her mouth.
“Sicate deliu tholec” her words a whisper as she spoke in an almost trance like state.
The group watched in anticipation as her words seemed to echo, resonating against the elements of nature around her. At first nothing happened, but an invisible pressure seemed to build up around her, the heat paling in comparison to the landscape around them. All sounds had become quiet around her, the soft wind, the trickle of water and even the very breaths of the others had gone still in this passing of moments. Faro, who had started walking towards her, against the warning of Alice, found he started sweating rapidly against the heat.
In the instance that the moment had been created, reality came back them. Elizabeth opened her eyes to see the group watching her in amazement, the whole process occurring in no more than a few seconds.
“How did you do that?” Nafare asked, his face was beaming with excitement.
“Huh? Oh, the heat? That was nothing, just a simple spell.” She said with a childish smile.
Alice rolled her eyes as she walked up to her sister and took the basket of clothes from her, turning back to the old woman whilst Elizabeth continued speaking.
“I have limited control over natural elements, including fire and all the properties it comes with. So I just concentrated on making the area around myself really hot and poof it happened!”
“You are like her…” Faro said, amazed that he had found someone else with a similar skill to his childhood friend.
He broke free of his thoughts and turned his attention to the older woman.
“Is there anywhere we could restock on supplies in the village ahead of us?”
“Ahh, yes boy.....the town has two…..um, guar- men who may be able to help you out. We’re only a small town, but I think we can afford to help a group of such nice travellers.” She slowly spoke, turning her head to smile in the direction of Elizabeth, “Thank you young lady, you have a rare ability, one I haven’t seen in years. I appreciate the help.”
“That’s quite alright,” Elizabeth replied with a little bow, “At any rate, we should be heading to the town now, would you like us to give you a lift?”
“Oh no, I couldn’t possibly impose anymore since it was my fault the clothes got wet. Also I don’t think those poor horses would appreciate the extra weight. ”
“Well actually it was Nafare’s fault and we insist.” Alice countered. “In fact Nafare will happily give up his position and walk as you would expect of the wrongdoer.”
“I will-“Nafare started until Faro interrupted him by hitting him in the side, “I mean, yes I will. It’s the least I could do for the trouble I caused,” he chuckled sheepishly.
The woman seemed uneasy as she was helped onto Nafare’s horse and the group moved off slowly, as Nafare walked alongside them, basket in hand. The town slowly came into full sight, not long after setting off. The town was much smaller than expected, consisting of four medium sized buildings in which only one could even be called a structure.
The town sat at the base of the great canyon, a small circular area of land had been paved with smooth stone long eroded by the elements. The people that lived there were old and frail, in fact only two men who claimed they were the village guards were under the age of 50.
“Do you expect us to believe that?” one of the men asked, looking down on Faro.
He had a very lean face and a dirty beard, covered with bits of old food. The other man laughed, taking another swig of his ale. The two were sat by a wooden watchtower, nursing down large mugs of the reddish brown drink, certainly not their first for the day.
“I say we roughin 'em up a bit. Teach 'em not to lie about things like that!” he said between gulps.
“Ha! Aginian’s, those cowards wouldn’t dare try marching through the canyon, nothing survives that journey!” the first man picked up his glass and threw it towards an elderly woman who was standing nearby.
“Get me another!” he said, his worlds starting to slur.
The two stunk of urine and moulded food, causing Faro’s companions to keep their distance whilst he did all the talking.
The lean faced man was rather tall, easily standing over the teenage boy, however the other was a stout man, his girth exceeding that of a prize pig.
“I’m telling you the truth, they are perhaps half a day away, by the crescent palace!” Faro tried to explain.
“What Crescent Palace? Have you heard of that Dhirk?” the tall man asked.
“Nope, it’s one of ‘em made up tales, told by con…con…con-t-artists.” Dhirk said, belching out whilst an avalanche of flakes fell of his body.
Faro shivered in disgust, however the man in front of him noticed.
“What you shivering at? It’s hot today! Why I don’t trust this one…” the man told his partner.
“I say skin ‘em alive and feed the remains to the pigs out back, bound to fatten ‘em up real good.” He said, already salivating at the thought of the fattened meat.
“This was a bad idea, coming here...” Shadic told his human half, “these idiots won’t listen and we’re putting ourselves in more danger than necessary, I say we move before anyone does anything stupid.”
“Okay, look we didn’t mean anything by it and we’ll just be on our way now.” Faro said to the two as he backed up slowly.
“Where do ya thing you’re going?” the tall man asked, reaching to grab Faro’s shoulder, instead slipping and falling onto the stone floor.
Faro jumped back as the man got up, coughing and scowling.
“You’re going to pay for that, boy!” he said a wild look fathoming in his eyes.
“I didn’t do anything!” Faro said, putting his hands up.
“You’re disrespected a senior officer!” Dhirk said, barely able to stand up and take the sword that was lying by his side.
“That’s punishable by death!”
Faro was fairly capable of fighting drunks, they usually telegraphed their moves and were sloppy. However he never fought drunken knights who were armed with short swords. The two were now walking in disorientated lines towards Faro, each attempting to swing their weapons with greed in their eyes.
With a near miss to the face, Faro found himself dodging swings at a pace he was comfortable with but couldn’t keep forever.
He tried reasoning again and even contemplated bringing out his own blades, but the wounds from Miss Nuba was still restricting excessive movement. The others having sensed this, acted quickly.
To try and avert the danger Alice sent Elizabeth to go and get the horses which were nearby, Nafare brought out his bow and two arrows, quickly taking aim at the Knight nearest Faro.
“Faro, Nafare, close your eyes!” Alice shouted all of a sudden.
Not knowing what to do, both boys complied and shut their eyes only to feel an intense light against their faces, a flash so bright it felt as if their faces would burn.
When Faro opened his eyes, the two knights were on the floor feeling the ground for their swords in an almost comical nature.
“What just happened?” Faro asked confused.
“No time for explanations, get on!” Elizabeth shouted, already on Nafare’s horse.
Faro climbed on Ifra with the assistance of Nafare, before the group set off towards the main city.
“Where are ya?” the voice of the tall man bellowed at them.
“I can’t see a thing, she must be a witch!” Dhirk growled, picking up his sword. He then proceeded to stand up, stumbling towards the sound of the horses getting away only to trip over his chair.
“Ah! I’ll kill those brats!” he cursed.
The group had hardly made it out of the village when the old woman they had met earlier stopped them. Her face was paler than before, eyes darting around as if she were being watched by vultures. When her attention drew back to the group, she took off a small satchel that was hanging around her waist and offered it to Alice.
“I managed to find a few containers, I want you to take them.”
“We could-“Alice started to say before the old woman interrupted her, “If what you say is true, then my time on this land runs short. You children seem like good souls so I wish you luck on your journey.”
A smile formed on her face, although her eyes seemed distant, watching for the dust cloud that would surely appear on the horizon.
A smile formed on her face, although her eyes seemed distant, watching for the dust cloud that would surely appear on the horizon.
Taken back by the courageous words of the old woman, Alice took the pouch carefully and placed it between Faro and herself.
They made sure to thank the woman, offering to take her to the city, even if they knew she would refuse.
The journey onwards was in silence, no one really wanted to talk after what they had seen back there, not that they had been there for long in the first place.
The weight of the war was a phrase used to describe the mentality of men who knew that they were going to be called to battle long ago, now it was used on children and the elderly who waited for the onslaught of the enemy as they lay siege to their homelands.
Faro had never thought too hard about the war, it was a battle being fought across the continent in places he couldn’t even imagine, but the recent events had caught up with him. Whilst Alice and Elizabeth hadn’t talked much of their past and upbringing, he could sense that they were doing their best to hold it together.
Nafare was the exception, being the second youngest in the group, he seemed unfazed by the atmosphere, hints of boredom starting to show up in his expression. Seemingly annoyed by that fact, Faro was about to speak out when he got interrupted by his shadow.
“That witch….” He said, his voice sounded strained as if an old man was speaking. “That female is dangerous, we should kill her as soon as possible or she’ll be the death of us.”
“Huh…?” Faro whispered to himself in confusion, he tried to think back to any events that would cause Shadic to speak like that, not knowing which girl he was talking about Faro remained silent.
“Hmm, I’m speaking of Alice, that ability of hers is disgusting. It should be outlawed!”
Memories of a bright intense light instantly surfaced in Faro’s mind. Whilst unsure of what exactly she did, he assumed that her ability to control some sort of light would be useful to them.
It was only after a few moments that he realized what exactly his other half was, a shadow being would naturally fear the light. In the eyes of Shadic, she was the enemy.
“Yet you trust Oliha?” Faro whispered again.
“Did you say something?” Alice spoke, sitting behind Faro.
“Ah, nothing, just mumbling to myself,” Faro rapidly replied.
“Okay,” she answered, becoming quiet for a moment before speaking up again. “When do you think they’ll attack the village then?”
“I can’t be too su--“
“They are most likely there now,” Nafare said.
“What makes you think that?” Alice asked.
Nafare frowned, looking at the road ahead of them, the formation of a large wall was slowly rising in the distance, and it meant they were at most an hour away from the city.
“The Aginian’s horses are very fast, bred like that by their people. I’ve seen them in action before, quite scary to be honest.” He slowly spoke out.
A loud rumble in the sky caused Elizabeth to quietly whimper.
“What was that?” she asked.
“Perhaps one of the special weapons that the tyrant designed himself?” Nafare mused aloud.
“Or perhaps it’s just the weather?” Alice said in a forced tone, eyeing Elizabeth who was slowly shaking.
“You may be right,” Faro spoke looking to the skies.
The clear skies had disappeared without any of the four noticing, replaced by an endless sea of clouds, slowly becoming thicker and darker.
“It’s most likely a storm that’s coming. It will slow them down, we should hurry and reach shelter before the rain starts falling, then perhaps we can find a place to sleep the night.”
“Sleep,” Elizabeth said yawning quietly “Sounds wonderful!”
“If we are lucky we should be able to find an inn for a cheap price,” Nafare added “I’ve still got some goods we can sell off if we need the money, I don’t think that lady knew where I hid my really precious stuff.”
As he finished talking with a wide grin on his face Elizabeth pondered in confusion for a few moments before her face brightened slightly. Sensing what was coming Alice held back her laughter.
“Do you mean the golden coins that were hidden in one of your pouches?” Elizabeth asked with an innocent tone.
As soon as he heard Elizabeth, Nafare went pale, enough to make Faro scoff and look away with a small smirk.
“I took them whilst taking care of your horses, at the time I thought you wouldn’t need them anymore. Also Miss Nuba did say we could keep anything we thought you shouldn’t have. But since we’re travelling companions I’ll give them back to you.” Although Nafare couldn’t see her, Elizabeth had a sincere looking smile on her face.
“Uh….thanks,” Nafare spoke, his face redder than Elizabeth’s hair.
At this point Alice couldn’t hold her laughter and let go. The sound of her laugh was infectious and Faro soon joined in. By the time they reached a great wall the four were either drying their eyes from laughter or embarrassment.
The wall itself seemed to have been made from a white stone but was now coloured like the canyon from many years of harsh winds and sandstorms. It towered over the group like the mountain that was still ahead of them. Both to their left and right there was no sign of an entrance, yet the four could feel a presence watching them. Unsure which direction to go, Faro was about to ask for suggestions when the ground started shaking.
The horse’s skittered immediately, balancing themselves as a small dust cloud started forming at the bottom of a section from the wall.
What the group had not noticed was that a rectangular door had been built embedded into the wall to appear invisible to those unaware of its existence.
The door rose slowly, shaking the area around them as out of the dust appeared two men on horses. These were different to the two that Faro and Nafare owned, being a light blue in colour and having shorter, stubbier legs.
The men themselves were wearing thick armour hiding any sight of human flesh. The two were holding iron lances, almost gleaming against the sunlight if it weren’t for the soot that covered the weapons.
“Hey!” Nafare shouted to the two, “There’s a huge army heading this wa--“
“Halt!” one of the men shouted.
His voice seemed as aggressive as Dhirk, the drunkard they had met earlier, but the wavering in his voice gave away his nervousness as he shifted uncomfortably in the saddle of his horse.
“Who are you people?” the second asked his voice much calmer than his partner.
Faro motioned for his horse to move forwards when the first man raised his weapon.
“Don’t move,” he warned, “we have archers, ready to strike you down at a moment’s notice.”
“She scares me…” the voice came out of nowhere.
Faro’s eyes widened for a second, it was Shadic that had spoken.
“I thought about what you said. I didn’t trust her because her powers scared me. I felt at the mercy of her every whim when she used them. I just…didn’t like being manipulated like that. Even though that woman would be cryptic in the way she spoke, at least our patron was direct when she would ask for something.”
Faro tried to listen to what his shadow was saying as the guards eyed him suspiciously.
“Perhaps I do trust her now, but I fear she knows of my presence, if even for a second she may have seen it using that art of hers.”
“With her it’s art then?” Faro whispered sarcastically, forgetting where he was.
“Excuse me?!” the second guard said aloud.
“Oh um…” Faro fumbled about in his pocket for a few moments before bringing out his golden medallion.
The very sight of the golden object made the two guards step back in surprise, “we were sent here on an important mission, please let us pass!” he put as much charm into those words as he could muster.
“Where did you ge--“the first guard started when his partner held his hand up to stop him.
“That’s a sacred object, we have to honour it Mars.”
“Bu-“Mars tried to argue.
“No buts! You need to go with me on this, they can’t be part of the army that was spotted up ahead!”
“What will Methus say?” Mars asked desperately.
“Who is the commanding officer here?” he replied in his calm yet annoyed tone.
“Uh…” Mars stuttered.
“You are….sir,” Mars reluctantly answered.
“As I thought. Lead them to the nearest militant station and question them. They may be lucky enough to gain a presence with the king.” he ordered, his tone harsh yet understanding of the other man's hesitation.
Faro was reluctant to just walk in with the two guards, however it was much safer than waiting for the Aginian horsemen, who would likely attack this position in the next day or two.
“Let’s go then.” Faro urged his horse onwards, closely followed by Nafare and Elizabeth.
The group was ushered in through the stone door, the eyes of a squadron watching them on the other side. Their eyes gave away everything that had gone on.
Word of the rapidly advancing war had already reached the city and they were preparing, the immediate area of this gate was turned into a camp for the troops, most likely taken from stations in the nearby area.
“This is the Western Garrison, we pride ourselves with our sense of brotherhood and skills in combat,” Mars spoke aloud, “Any army that dares to try and breach our walls will face our might!”
The men in the surrounding area cheered upon hearing this, it was clear that morale was high amongst the men and women present.
“This is not the main entrance to the city, but still an important one.” A man said this whilst riding up to the group.
You could tell he wasn’t part of the main fighting force. It wasn’t the dark blue armour that he was wearing or the way he spoke, it was the way all the men shifted uncomfortably in his presence. They were not fearful, yet acknowledged him in a different regard to the commander with them.
“I am Methus, a member of the city council,” his face not showing any expression, “It’s surprising to still see new people in these troublesome times.”
Faro was unsure how to approach the man, instead he held the medallion in the air for all to see. The collective gasps and sighs of recognition, spoke bounds about the worth of the object. Methus simply shifted his eyes from Faro to the others and back.
“When were you last in audience of Prince Daltadus?” Methus asked, eyeing the black symbols engraved on the coin.
Faro had only a slight idea who Prince Daltadus was, but when he started to reply a large crashing sound came from behind him. The ground shook and the people around tried to stabilize themselves quickly, looking for the nearest weapon stand and taking a spear to compliment the swords they were already carrying.
"What was that about a secret weapon?" Faro asked, looking at Nafare.
The boy simply shrugged, looking as surprised as the others around him. Dust and dirt dropped from the very top of the walls, where sentries were relaying messages as fast as they could. The chaos around them was almost too much for the young group as Methus rushed towards them.
“Leave the battle to the men, we must move inwards now!” he urgently said, his features hardly changing.
As the group, escorted by Methus, travelled deeper into the city another explosion occurred. The four tried not to look as they travelled closer to the mountain at the city's centre.