The city was huge.
The intertwining streets and buildings were like a maze for Faro who had been used to the more spacious surroundings of his village. It was hard to say each structure was unique when they all shared a uniform look, dirty, broken and in need of repair. It was clear that the four were in a poorer area of the city, shops littered everywhere and buildings crammed in spaces that didn't look natural.
What used to be a paved ground was long covered by a compact layer of dirt and dust, the ground itself covered in old cracks like scars left on an ancient battleground.
After a half hour of riding, their horses had to be left at a security check point along the main road, Methus ensured that their belongings would be safe but Alice insisted the two boys carry their belongings.
People were everywhere, running, shouting and crying, it wasn't safe to just leave their things there, even if their guide had insisted they were at a secure location. The group were forced to walk on foot, in the direction of the large mountain surrounded by hundreds of people.
Methus lead the group, walking the streets as if he'd grew up in them. Nafare easily followed behind, alongside Alice and Elizabeth who stuck close to each other at all times. This meant that Faro was left to travel behind them.
He had a hard time moving past so many people, they seemed too close in around him, their fear and worry slowly filling up his personal space.
It wasn't long until Faro noticed his heart rate had jumped drastically high, his mind feeling faint and his vision quickly going out.
If it had not been for his other half, Faro suspected he would have woken up by a gutter somewhere. Twice he had lost the group, only for Shadic to direct him with ease. Hands brushed past everywhere, sometimes a little too close for comfort.
By the time Faro had caught up with the others, they had reached the base of the mountain, the sounds of panic had long subdued and he could breathe easily again.
Ahead of them was another checkpoint, this one was almost deserted save for the ten armed men who wore polished steel.
The checkpoint itself was clean, the archway made with white marble. It was then that Faro had the chance to take a good look at the surrounding area, he was stunned by the sheer difference between this area and the last. Comparable to some of the homes in his old village, the buildings in this area were quite nice, each one slightly different from the others but all clean as if their owners were competing to show their superiority.
"That arch over there is one of the entrances to the inner city," Methus explained, "but before we go further there is something I must say."
The man stopped walking and turned to face Faro.
"I do remember asking about Prince Daltadus, am I not right?" his eyes looked unforgiving, waiting for an answer.
Faro eyes widened slightly, having hoped that the man had forgotten about his question. The atmosphere around him was cold and Faro would have said anything to keep moving, but he was cut off before he could respond.
"So I ask again, when were you last in the audience of Prince Daltadus?" he stepped around Alice and Elizabeth, moving closer to Faro.
"Or perhaps you don't know him?" he raised his eyebrow waiting for an answer.
"Of course we do!" Nafare cut in before Faro could speak, looking back between Methus and Faro with a forced smile.
"I understand," the man responded, "so when did this meeting occur?"
Alice and Elizabeth looked at each other, one giving the other a slight nod. Faro having seen this opened his mouth to speak when he was blinded by a bright light.
"That wasn't me!" she quickly responded.
The light had quickly disappeared, replaced by a thick black smog.
"Who's doing this?" Nafare asked.
"I can't see-" Elizabeth's voice was quickly silenced.
"Ellie!" Alice shouted.
Amidst all the chaos, time slowed for Faro.
The first thing he could hear was the quick short breaths as Alice moved towards him, the black smog shaking with each breath. Faro could feel each wisp of the smog against his skin, conveying a silent message to his ears.
Then it all stopped, the way the black mist moved told Faro that her voice had been quickly silenced. He reached out, black tendrils becoming an extension of his arm yet failed to grab anything. As quickly as Alice's voice silenced an intense feeling overcame Faro.
It was so powerful that he lost let all feelings in his arm go, the extension he wielded before lost. He then noticed that the individual fragments of the mist started vibrating.
Questioning how the mist was able to carry this abnormal feeling, Faro felt a sense of fear emanating from the centre of the smoke.
Each ripple in the mist allowing him to confirm without his eyes telling that it was Methus who was shaking in his boots. This feeling was somewhat shared by Nafare who spread his own wave of fear, although it was less intense and sporadic. Emotions like these were not new to Faro, but it was all too familiar and brought about unwanted memories.
"Let go!" the sound of Shadic's voice pierced the darkness.
Faro wanted to ask what he meant by that but found the warmth returning to his body. The smog went away in a similar fashion, lifted away by a swift breeze.
The next few moments were horrible.
The scream came from Methus.
Faro tried to open his eyes, the sudden change in brightness almost too much for him. When he was finally able to see properly he couldn't help gasping. A blade, no bigger than a dagger was lodged firmly into the man's neck, a thick crimson liquid spurting out of the blades sides. The sight would have made Faro nauseous if we're not for the fact that his companions were missing. Not a trace of them remained, even the guards who must have witnessed everything from afar were only rushing towards the two now.
"Run you idiot!" Shadic's said, his tone somewhat worrisome.
Frozen in place Faro saw the guards drawing closer, some with their swords already drawn. The man who had questioned him not too long ago was now on the floor, the pool of his blood reaching Faro's boots.
"Hey you!" the nearest guard shouted, 15 paces away from Methus' body.
"Run!" Shadic repeated.
Faro wanted to move but he couldn't, too confused to even think.
His brain was still coming to terms with what had just happened. It was only then that Shadic lost his cool and slapped his physical half. To the guards it must have seemed like he moved his head rapidly but the shock was enough to get Faro moving.
The gaps between the houses were narrow, just wide enough for Faro to pass through with his belongings. Only thinking about keeping one foot in front of the other, Faro could hardly hear the shouting of the guards, his ears felt like they were burning intensely.
"Left" Shadic directed, somehow knowing that his partner would run into a wall if not directed.
Three times Faro fell over fences or ran into a wall, but the shouting from the guards was slowly fading away. Shadic carried on directing Faro, until they stopped behind a stone wall where the house built next to it cut off most of the light.
"Rest here" Shadic said calmly.
Faro didn't sit down straight away, only moving when his shadow pushed him towards the ground. Shadic looked at Faro for a few moments and sighed, he closed his eyes concentrating on his surroundings, but soon spoke again.
"We lost them, I can't see any guards in the immediate area."
"Wh...what about the others?" the words barely a whisper still reached Shadic's ears.
"I'm not sure, they may....ugh!"
Faro looked towards his partner, although his face hardly gave away any emotions he could tell that the Shadow was in pain.
"What is it?"
"N....n...nothing, don't worry about me." he said, "It's not like you've cared for me all these years."
"What? I didn't know you existed!"
"So, that never stopped you before."
Faro recalled a moment from his past, he was all alone in the shadows of an old church, it was raining heavily and he had a sprained ankle, an injury acquired from falling off of the church's walls.
"You remember don't you?" Shadic asked.
"Of course I do, I remember being challenged to steal something from that place. If I didn't those students would have tried to break my legs."
"Was it not me who kept you alive?" the shadow asked, his temper seemingly rising.
"Did I not guide you back home when the storm subsided?"
"I think so. "
"Have I not done enough all these years?"
"I guess. "
"What do you mean by that?"
"I don't know!" Faro shouted, his voice quivering slightly. "I never knew it was you who did all those things."
"Explain that." Shadic replied, his tone having calmed after hearing his partners outburst.
Faro looked at his surroundings once more, a flock of birds could be heard flying away having been spooked by Faro's sudden voice.
"I thought I was doing all those things, like I was subconsciously making the right choices."
"Fine....." Shadic sighed, stretching his forwards.
The two boys gasped when a loud screech came from the fence to the right of them.
"Damn feline." came the voice of a man, the sound of metal plating could be heard moving about.
"It must be a guard, let's go!" Shadic offering his hand to Faro.
"Wait, why are you walking anyway?" Faro asked, moving closely behind his shadow.
"It's easier to see this way, also the shadows are more helpful when I use my body."
"Um....it's hard to explain but I can see things better in the shadows, not just directly in front of us but things behind walls and buildings as long as they remain in the same shadow I stand in."
"I see, you should have told me this earlier" Faro complained, whilst looking behind to see if the guard was following.
"You never asked." Shadic replied.
"When did I even have the chance?" Faro argued.
"Are we really doing this again?" Shadic asked.
"Sorry..." Faro sighed, slightly annoyed by his darker half.
The two moved in between buildings silently, their surroundings getting darker and darker until they realised that they couldn't see the sun anymore.
"Are we inside something?" Faro asked.
The shadow didn't respond immediately, but Faro could hear him draw his breath as they walked on.
"This place is huge." Shadic spoke, his voice barely a whisper.
"Huge? All I see is a wall on my left and rock on the right." Faro complained.
In truth, the two were moving through a narrow passageway, not used by the people of the surrounding area.
"Remember, the way I see is different from you normal people."
"Normal. " Faro scoffed to himself, "I wish that were the case."
"Yea." Shadic said dismissively, "We're inside the mountain. It's hollow, really hollow."
He then stopped, forcing Faro to also stop walking.
"I can hear...no see someone, I think it might be Alice!"
"Are you sure?" Faro asked, his eyes brightening for the first time since they entered this city.
Upon asking the question Faro gasped as he realised he'd forgotten the true goal of this mission. Cursing himself for his own silliness Faro interrupted Shadic as he was about to reply.
"Forget her for a second, can you find Oliha?" Faro asked, forcing Shadic to turn around in shock.
Raising one of his eyebrows, as dark as they were, he looked at Faro distastefully.
"What?" Faro questioned, taking a step backwards in surprise.
"As much as I despise that blond girl, what you said is horrible." he explained, "I never thought I'd hear you dismiss someone who's been trying to help find your blue haired friend."
"Her name's Oliha and I swore I'd find her, if the others are in trouble that's their problem. I've suffered enough to care about some rich kids, especially those who think they've experienced life because they know what the colour of blood is!"
"So because you've had a shitty life, you think you can judge others in such a way?" Shadic spoke, almost laughing. "Not to mention that you're barely 16 years old! Hardly in a position to claim you know better than others."
"That's not what I meant...." Faro growled through his teeth.
"So what did you mean?" Shadic asked, stepping towards his partner.
"I mean tha..." Faro stopped, looking at Shadic's eyes which were oddly glazed, the anger dripping from his words.
"No! You didn't mean anything by it because you're nothing but an ignorant child!" the shadow spoke, clenching his fists tightly. "People have been looking out for you all your life and you fail to recognise that!"
Faro wanted to respond but Shadic continued talking.
"Don't tell me you don't feel an inkling of remorse about their disappearance, especially with the way you were acting outside!"
Faro scoffed before looking Shadic in the eye.
"What do you know about feelings, you're nothing but a shadow? Heck, why should I even listen to you, I didn't ask to be partnered with such an annoying eyesore!"
"Oh....so this is the true face of Faro Hounding, with skin unusually tanned and a heart blacker than his very shadow."
Shadic spoke, much softer than before. "Never mind me, apparently I'm not needed."
"What do you mean by that?"
Shadic's eyes looked down towards the ground, he clenched his fists tighter finding it hard to keep his solid form anymore.
"I'm off," he said, slinking away into the shadows, "find me when you've grown up......or better yet don't!"
The last part of that sentence echoed around the room, drifting away into the darkness of the dirt stone walls. As the last remnants of the echo faded away, time stopped around Faro. The silence never gave way to sound, the walls absorbed all light and colour from the world, even the smell of the surrounding area had lost all traces of life.
Only Faro's memories remained, the moment he saw the village on fire, the image of the mysterious deity, even his companions disappearance where all he had left to hang onto.
Images of his companions took hold of his mind, their images ingrained into head just as clear as Oliha.
There was Nafare, the assassin in training who treated everything like a game. Faro had no doubt in mind that he was using that happy nature of his as a way to forget his past.
From the moment he first saw him in daylight Faro could tell his story about Lord Gath was true. Nafare looked like the most well dressed assassin he'd ever seen.
His armour was that of Madrian design, made with thin layers of Therma metal and lined with simple but elegant gold trimming.
The metal itself was relatively weak, designed to block light and fast attacks from arrows yet allowed for swift movement.
At first glance Faro had wondered why the gold didn't give away his position during their first encounter but the boy had explained that he was wearing a special coat that night.
The coat itself was the most unique things Nafare had, although the boy himself hardly ever acknowledged the fact.
It's initial appearance was bland, a coat that any person would buy for a few silver pieces. However upon closer inspection the coat bore many compartments and straps used to conceal weapons.
A single coat of arms was stamped on the inside, if anyone had found the coat they would not dare keep it. Anything with the mark of Madrack was as good as cursed. The mark of the elder dragon, originated since ancient times yet was only used by a single nation today.
Everything Nafare wore made him look like nobility. Perhaps not as entitled as actual heirs to a throne but still powerful. It reminded him of Alice and Elizabeth. He knew they were close, they had said so many times since they met at the Crescent Palace. During their journey to that city, Faro had found out that the two girls were related to Oliha, cousins that had met many times in the past.
Faro had wanted to dismiss the thought at first but after taking another look at the two he could see the resemblance. Although coming from much richer parents, the girls had a similar dress sense to Oliha.
Alice had worn a mixture of white and yellow. The tunic was expensive, Faro didn't need to be told that.
White in colour and made with a fine white material, it's designs and patterns were too symmetrical for an ordinary seamstress to have made.
Miss Nuba had provided a yellow leather Brigandine to protect her body with matching armour for her arms and legs.
Alice had explained that the stronghold had contained a full armoury, they had plenty of equipment to spare. Faro initially scowled in annoyance as he certainly could have used some better armour, especially after receiving those injuries from Miss Nuba's blade.
Elizabeth wasn't too different, although a year younger and slightly shorter. She wore a tunic just as elegant as her sister, made from a light green material that glistened in the sun. The embroidery was all in gold as expected of such a tunic but the red trimmings was what really made it stand out. To Faro she could have claimed to be the queen of nature itself and he would have agreed. Although not wearing any armour, she wore a cloak made from a thick material, a shade of dark green that seemed alive whenever it moved in the wind.
Compared to the girls who attended the School of Heroes Faro could confidently say that Alice and Elizabeth, whom he'd travelled with for less than a day, were more engaging and pleasant to be around. Even if they had annoyed him at times, they seemed to be always sincere with their words and had never given him reason to doubt them. More than once he wondered why they ran away from home in the first place.
From the brief description Alice had given, the two had perfect lives, living in the lap of luxury and away from the warring kingdoms. Faro couldn't make sense of it but wondered if they could really handle a world they weren't used to.
Whilst his thoughts distracted him as he walked, Faro eyes widened when he realised that he had been worrying about his companions ever since he met them.
These were three people he could barely say he knew let alone trusted, yet it had taken him much longer to even start talking to Oliha when they first met.
Without realising it Faro had collapsed, resting his head against a smooth part of the stone wall. As hard as he tried, his already limited vision was becoming blurry. Knowing that if he blacked out he would not wake up alive, Faro picked himself up and started staggering down the path he had been using a moment ago.
The darkness did little to help, the feeling of an ever enclosing blanket made Faro shiver in regret.
The boy realised that he had been crying when a spider web swept past his face, the tears had been blurring his vision ever since he realised how foolish he'd been.
"I'm an idiot." he whispered to himself, following the pathway that was slowly descending.
For what felt like an hour, Faro travelled in the darkness with one hand to the wall and the other placed in front of him. As the pathway had started descending, small gemstones had also started appearing along the sides of the wall.
They glowed with a faint purple pulse, casting shadows against the rocky walls.
As the path descended, the amount of crystals in the wall increased. Faro noticed that whilst the walls did feel jagged, there was a pattern in the way the bumps were distributed.
Every other step has a corresponding set of grooves in the walls.
Each set had a different number of these spires, counting down between each gemstone. As the consistency of the gemstones increased, the number of grooves decreased. This continued until Faro could clearly see where he was walking.
With the change in lighting, the scenery had suddenly changed to a much calmer atmosphere. Faro couldn't help himself and looked around at the scene almost mesmerised by the beauty of such a place.
Whilst the path itself was narrow and the walls barely allowed one to travel comfortably, the ceiling was hard to make out.
If not for the stones that were glowing in the distance, the ceiling itself would have been too far up to be seen from Faro's position.
The light from the gemstones faded into the darkness like miniature stars in the sky. It's light guided Faro further into the depths of the mountain, where the path slowly started widening.
Although he hadn't noticed, the air itself had become much easier to breathe and Faro found himself moving faster than before.
"Ahh....." the sound escaped Faro's mouth by accident.
For a few moments Faro walked onwards as if he were on a different plane of existence, each point of light another world to be visited.
His footsteps echoing into the darkness, creating an odd ripple that soothed his nerves.
He looked around and listened carefully, thinking he had heard something but nothing could be seen. What interested him was the shadow that was created by the purple light, he stared at it for a while and was taken by surprise when he heard a familiar voice.
"What?" Faro asked, annoyed yet unable to hold back the smirk that had crept onto his face.
"Who knew I couldn't actually leave you!" Shadic's voice complained, "Sure, the patron said that we would be inseparable, but I didn't think she meant it in a literal way."
"So...you never left then?" Faro asked, a chuckle escaping his mouth.
"Just shut it!" Shadic replied, remaining featureless within the shadow of his other half.
Faro couldn't help but laugh for a moment, a newfound strength had returned to his legs and he felt lighter than before.
"Sorry," he said after a while, "I didn't mean what I said."
"Oh really?" Shadic asked.
"Of course, I mean look where we are and what we're doing. Heck our situation isn't exactly normal...to others at least." Faro trailed off, "I was...no am quite stressed right now, so don't hold back on the harsh words if I go crazy again."
"Hold back," the shadow chuckled, "as if I know the meaning of the word."
"So, what now?" Faro asked, sighing to himself.
"Luckily for you, I've been keeping an eye on your friends. Alice isn't too far ahead of us. She doesn't seem to be hurt much, but the others aren't with her. For some reason I can't see much further than that I'm afraid, so no news on your blue haired friend."
Faro groaned in response and carried on moving forwards.
"We'll rescue Alice and the others, but I want to know what was up with that smoke."
"Y-yea..." Shadic choked out.
"Hmm, you ok there?" Faro asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Get of my case...."
"You didn't answer my question though" Faro murmured.
Shadic ignored his partner for a few moments and smirked, looking at the road in front of him. He could see Alice and feel the anger building up within her. He couldn't help but imagine what she'd be like without that specific ability.
Perhaps she's wouldn't be that bad.
"I'll answer your question another time," he finally replied, looking at Faro.
"If you say so." The boy sighed as he walked down the path with his shadow close behind.
The road ahead was dark, menacing and bleak but the two walked on, past the shadows and guided by the glow of the purple stones.