The inner city of Kéi Méong was quieter than usual.
The air was light yet fresh, an uncommon quality that the people of the inner city could not appreciate. All because of the Observatory, an ancient building as old as the inner city itself that had been built near the peak of the mountain intended to study the stars. Those who worked their lived their lives isolated from the city, a selected group of families who would pass on their knowledge and roles as observers. Protected by an elite unit of guards situated in a ring of watchtowers, Kéi Méong could be watched from any and all angles, not one threat could reach the great walls of the city before an observer or guard had spotted it.
The guild of observers rarely communicated with those below, only requiring relayed signals from the watchtowers. Whenever new information was discovered by the observers they would leave small packages outside the main gates, where guards would collect the parcels and deliver them to the inner palace for safeguarding, in return the guards would deliver supplies and protect the building from those who got too close and too curious.
For many years this was all that occurred, where one of the observers would respond to the signals given and the guards would drop of their daily supplies. Rarely would there be any deviation in the daily practice, the standard checks that the observers routinely replied to. It was because of this that someone had misinterpreted one of the lesser known signals and mistakenly released the entire depository of water over the city.
The water that had been filtered through the crystal networks of the outer mountain had filled up considerably from little use and rained throughout the whole of the inner city, the pressure of the water too much for the mechanisms to handle. It became impossible to prevent the water from flowing but the inner city was fortunately spared from flooding by its unique design, ditches and natural underground ravines would drain the excess water, washing away the dirt that had accumulated since the last inner rainfall. Whilst the air was indeed surprisingly fresh, no one wanted to be outside, especially the three hooded figures who were dragging along a blonde girl, annoying her greatly.
“This is completely disrespectful!” Alice growled, attempting to undo the rope tied around her hands.
“It's no use,” the male voice spoke, “those knots are reinforced with magic.”
“It'll take more than a few hours before it wears off.” another voice spoke, this time female.
“Who would have thought that we'd bag us a couple of insiders?” a third voice rejoiced, his voice lined with a sinister tone.
“Insider? What do you mean by that?” Alice asked with a snarl, hiding the fact that she was genuinely curious.
“Don't try it, we'll know the truth soon enough.” the female replied.
Alice couldn't say what exactly had happened to her. One moment she had been looking for her sister in a thick blanket of smoke and the next she found herself underground. Within seconds her belongings had been take, the female guard to her right carrying them on her shoulder.
The blonde girl was being forced onwards by two people, a man and woman who were covered by thin black cloaks. Their apparent leader who was walking ahead of them was dressed similarly, holding a torch to light the path ahead. As he moved the sides of his cloak would often reveal a rapier, firmly sheathed in a leather scabbard.
“Where is my sister?” Alice asked, rolling her wrists in a futile attempt to loosen the rope.
“The other girl is fine, she will be brought in by one of the other groups.” the leader explained, turning his head slightly to look at Alice. “At any rate, you actually don't look like a native of our...fair city.”
“Of course I'm not-”
“However,” the leader interrupt, “you don't look like a refugee either.”
Alice remained silent, the frustrated expression of her face made the leader chuckle quietly.
“So I was right.” his mouth curling into a smirk, “You'll be treated like the other two, questioned by the council who will determine your fate. Although we do have to give you credit, giving us the opportunity to take out Methus Geridan so quickly, we've been tailing him for months, waiting for an opportunity.”
“So you're assassins?” Alice spat, saying the words as if it brought a bad taste to her mouth.
The Leader suddenly stopped, his shoulders tensing for a few moments. The path that the group were moving through was wide enough for a small group of people, but the two escorting Alice were forced to stop, taking a step backwards as precaution. Alice noticed that the man standing in front of them had placed one hand by the hilt of his sword, gripping it for a moment before relaxing his hand.
Alice's legs had been bound loosely, allowing her to stand upright and walk, also allowing her to judge their heights. The two people beside Alice were tall enough to tower over her, clearly adult like with their slightly intimidating size and getup.
The leader however was much shorter, almost the same height as Alice. If it weren't for his voice she would have assumed they were the same age.
“No, we are more than petty rouges.” the leader replied, turning to face Alice.
Although his hood covered his head, the glow from the purple stones clearly revealed his face, giving Alice a good look at a person who had taken her. He looked younger than he sounded, his face rough but quite feminine.
“If you must know I am Sir Danric of Oltarim.” he spoke, puffing his chest with pride.
“Oltarim?” Alice sounded the name carefully, “Isn't that the name this city used to be called?”
“Indeed it is,” Danric replied, raising his eyebrow, “And how might you know this?”
Alice bit her lip and thought for a second, although her situation seemed dire to most, there had been moments in the last few months where Alice and Elizabeth had got out of tighter situations. Thinking of her sister wasn't helping, only making her angrier.
“And why should I tell you?” she replied in a snobbish tone, grinning when she saw Danric sneer.
“I thought all women of proper upbringing would recognise when they are not in a position anger their captors” he growled, closing his hand into a fist and raising it.
“If you’re going to hit me, do it now before your precious council stops you!” she retorted, readying herself for an impact that never came.
The two went quiet for a moment as Danric looked at the girl in front of him, analysing her features in great detail.
His eyes met Alice who had closed them earlier when Danric raised his fist. As the rain continued to fall they both stared at each other, challenging the other person’s authority. Neither wanted to back down until one of the others coughed.
“Um, sir. We need to continue,” the female spoke.
“Huh?” Danric said in a moment of ignorance, realising that he was embarrassing himself in front of the others.
With cheeks slightly flushed, Danric turned away and started walking oddly. Taking such long strides that the others had to double their pace to catch up.
“He’s doing it again,” the female whispered over Alice’s head.
“I know,” the other replied, “What do we do?”
“I suggest we let him go, we’ll be back at the base soon enough.”
“But when we get back he’s going to start complaining again and you know what will happen to us?”
Alice had been quiet as the two spoke, she had heard stories of kidnappings happening, they were common place is some towns their cousin Oliha had told them about. What she couldn’t understand was the almost comical nature that these three had been displaying. Danric was certainly the most respected out of the three, from the way the other two had been speaking about him Alice suspected he wasn’t lying about his name or heritage.
It was true that the Oltarim family were the last rulers of this city, their castle built atop the mountainside but long destroyed and replaced by the observatory. Even today there were small structures that could be seen from the base of the mountain, guard houses that served as perfect locations to watch the walls of the city or the people within them.
This Alice knew well, but what confused her was the fact that the Oltarim family were said to have all died fleeing their castle. In a siege that lasted several days, the people of the city had long grown tired of their current rulers who saw fit to raise their taxes every other day. When a female claiming ties to the throne appeared with a small force of 1000 men, the people quickly supported her with promises that their lives would improve. The city defenders didn’t want to kill their own countrymen, especially when their own families were within the mass mobs that protested every day.
When it became time to remove the current monarch, the palace barricaded themselves in, using the servants and remaining guards as a last attempt at holding out. For two days the mobs couldn’t get it, the doors and windows of the palace barred with strips of iron. On the third day a mage appeared, his ability to conjure intense streams of fire created an entrance for the angry mobs.
When they did storm the castle they found out that it had been empty before the siege even began. The royal family had used a network of secret tunnels in an attempt to leave the city. It would have worked if a lieutenant to the royal guard hadn’t betrayed them and given the invaders the exact route the royals had taken. Needless to say the angry mob were ruthless, hacking away and killing all those that ran away from their blades. In their anger they killed the servants, secretaries of state and every member of the royal family they could find.
No one was proud of what they did, in fact the bodies of the dead were buried where they died in an attempt to distance themselves away from that moment of frenzy. That night the palace burned, a beacon into the night signalling the end of an era and the start of something new, where the people wouldn’t live in poverty or fear.
“Bunch of idiots….” Alice thought to herself.
It didn’t take a scholar to see how drastically the city had changed since that woman had been crowned queen. Before the change in monarchy the city was open to all, there was nothing separating the city from the outside world. Trade was fairly good, exotic materials would find their way into the city whilst jewellers would sell the rare and unique gems that could only be found inside the mountain.
When the new queen took over things changed rapidly. A legion of Nethil, a race of beast tamers, were tasked to hollow out the mountain and create the foundation for a new city. Great walls were built around the mountain city, allowing city guards to check each and every person who attempted to pass through the many gates. At first the people were concerned that things were going to get worse, but their worries were dissipated when the Queen’s ministers explained it was for their own protection.
They wanted to prevent the nearby nations from attempting to interfere, claiming that they had no right to stop the first true royal family from taking what was rightfully theirs.
A small smile crept onto Alice’s lips. She was glad that she could recount such a tale, her time with various tutors hadn’t been wasted at all. Her thoughts of the past were quickly pushed aside when she looked to her side and realised the hooded female had disappeared.
“Where did grunt number one go?” Alice asked, confident that the man would reply as he tightened the grip around her left arm.
“Quiet! It’s your fault that Sir Danric stormed off,” he growled, shaking Alice as he spoke, “I don't know why he thinks you lot are so important anyway.”
Alice smirked, turning her hands into a fist and moving them in slow circles. Although her arms were bound together the captors had made the fatal mistake of giving her room to move her hands.
The man who had been pushing Alice along was mumbling to himself, somewhat annoyed that he had been left alone to transport this girl. He walked onwards, unaware of the words his prisoner was mumbling or the shadow moving behind him.
A stone flew by the hooded man's head, skittering on the ground ahead.
In a state of shock the man let go of Alice's arm and spun around, just in time to get rammed in the gut by Faro. Unfortunately for the two, Alice had just finished chanting her spell and released it before realising who had attempted to rescue her. The light that came from her hands flashed like lightning, bright enough to illuminate the immediate area for a few moments.
As quick as it came, the light faded away, taking away all vision from the two males. The first stumbled about, cursing loudly that he could not see. His hands waved about in the air as he tripped over a rock and stumbled into the wall. Faro was quieter, his face contorted in pain.
Alice flexed her arms. The ropes that had been used to bind her were much less restraining, not protected by magic anymore. Alice had been practicing more complex spells for years, often called a prodigy by her tutors. This meant that even a simple spell learnt at a young age could be cast at a high level, able to counteract the weaker magic and dispel it completely with ease.
“Faro, stay still!” Alice spoke quickly, moving her arms towards one of the swords in his hands.
“Why would you do that?” Faro groaned, his arm clutching his stomach.
“I didn't know you were there,” she replied looking at the bandages around his abdomen that were slowly getting soaked in blood, “Keep your arm still, I'll use your sword to cut these ropes.”
Faro nodded silently and pointed his blade downwards, waiting for Alice to give him the go ahead. He pulled once he could feel Alice's strength pulling the blade away from him. The rope came off easily, but Faro could hardly stand. Without knowing he had fallen on the ground, Alice's words seem to blur as he seemed to lose consciousness.
Things couldn't get much worse as Alice looked around, her thoughts melding together. Faro wasn't getting up, his figure slumped against rocky walls. She doubted that she could carry him and turned her attention to the other man who had tripped into the wall. Fortunately he hasn't injured himself too greatly, merely knocking himself out cold. Alice looked at the rope now cut in half on the ground, wishing she had decided to untied herself.
She quickly moved to the unconscious man, scanning his body for anything that could be useful. Alice was surprised to see that the unconscious man was lightly dressed, wearing no armour or protective clothing, he was however wearing some light robes which she assumed gave him increased manoeuvrability.
After a few moments of turning the man over, Alice frowned when she couldn't find anything that could help her. She turned towards Faro as he groaned in his unconscious state, a low yet faint sound that Alice couldn't help cringing at. It was then that she noticed a pouch behind the slack form of the teenage boy.
The area was fairly dark, the faint glow of the purple gemstones providing little light compared to her earlier outburst. Alice mentally scolded herself before staring at the bag in confusion, she was sure that the pouch hadn't been there before but couldn't waste time to contemplate things. Quickly moving back to Faro, Alice opened the pouch and quickly rummaged through it, finding a small bottle filled with a purple liquid. The glass bottle was cold, even against her leather gloves Alice felt a chill as she held the bottle in hand.
The Wundian Potion bubbled as usual, the perfect blend of magical and non magical ingredients which sped up the healing process of humans. Quickly pulling off the wooden cork and lifting the bottle to Faro's lips, the boy reacted to the potions smell and shifted his head. Whilst possessing great healing powers, the potion was notorious for having a terrible taste and smell.
“Stay still,” Alice ordered in a frustrated tone.
With her free hand she moved a few of the bandages and eyed the wound carefully. One thing she knew was that if a person consumed too much of the Wundian Potion they would randomly combust into a random natural element. Giving humans the correct amount of potion was the first thing trained when you learnt to handle such potions, this was decided after the creator of the potion himself, Deznar Wundan tragically died during a demonstration of his invention.
Alice frowned at the wound as it healed slowly, thin streams of purple particles danced around the openings of the wound, pouring its magic into Faro's body. She eyed the bottle as its contents slowly depleted, quickly reaching the normal limit a human could take in one sitting. The bottle itself had a thin groove around the middle of the container, signifying the as Faro consumed half of the potion Alice tried to tilt the bottle away but an unseen force kept her arm in place.
“Why's this happening?” She whispered quietly, biting her lip in annoyance.
Using more strength, Alice pulled backwards as the unseen force gripped her arm, holding the bottle in place. Her eyes darted back and forth between the bottle, her arm and the wound on Faro's body as she continually tried to pull back. The bleeding stopped and the wounds steadily healed as the last remnants of the potion slid down his throat. As the force that gripped her arm disappeared Alice stumbled back in surprise, looking at her arm in confusion.
Taking a further two steps back, Alice looked towards Faro with concern. She was sure that Faro would start reacting to potion at any moment, a wave of fear washed over her as she looked at the empty bottle in her hands. Not only was she the one that blinded her, but now she feared she would be the one to kill him.
The first thing Alice noticed was that his breathing had increased, the sweat on his face and the smell of the potion had started to radiate from his body. Without giving it much thought she removed her right glove and moved towards Faro's forehead, hoping to confirm whether her suspiciousness were correct. As soon as she touched his skin she instantly regretted it, forced to quickly withdraw her hand as his darker skin was far too hot to touch.
Alice looked at her fingers that were bright red, the burning sensation was horrible. Tears escaped her eyes unwillingly as she quickly blew on her fingers, trying to cool them. Her eyes darted around the room again, looking for something useful. She closed her eyes for a half second, casting the simplest of spells she knew.
A light very faint grew from her right hand and danced around the room, following her eyesight. It illuminated everything nearby, including the slump form of the guard and Faro who had started shivering.
The ball of light skittered about, circling the pouch that Faro had been carrying. It was then that Alice remembered the flask within it that still contained some water. She quickly put the glove on, ignoring the pain in her hand and went back to the pouch. Picking up the container, she shook it lightly, thankful that there was enough water from it. A quick sip, confirmed that the water was cold, perfect to treat Faro's current condition. Trying to decide whether to pour the water over Faro or give it to him as a drink, Alice wondered how Faro was alive for so long but dismissed the thought as she brought the flask to Faro's lips ignoring the warm sensation that was slowly passing through her gloves.
The effect was almost instant. As Faro cooled down his eyes flickered open, his body started relaxing and Alice sighed in relief.
“Are you okay?” she asked, looking at the wound which had healed completely.
Faro took a moment to respond, but nodded silently. He looked at his right and left hands, almost transfixed by thoughts he couldn’t bear to speak about. Raising his head to face Alice, he could see she was concerned yet something else bothered her. He tried looking her in the eyes but her gaze never met his, always looking away and focusing on something else.
It was obvious that she was keeping herself busy.
Looking at the small ball of light that danced around the walls, Faro felt oddly uncomfortable. The light didn’t make him feel as weak as Alice’s surprise attack did but he still felt nervous around it, like an open book exposed to the elements. In an attempt to contact his other half Faro looked at the ground where the light from the walls would make his natural shadow.
He didn’t speak.
Faro wanted to panic, he knew that the light had done more damage to Shadic then himself, but somehow knew he was okay. Thinking of his Shadow reminded him that Alice must have been going through the same thing, he didn’t know either her or Elizabeth well but there was a certain air around them whenever they were near each other. Alice was completely different when separated from her sister, she looked older, her eyes constantly analysed her surroundings and she felt cold, enough to make Faro wary.
“Can you get up?” Alice asked, looking back at Faro.
“I’m fine,” Faro replied, using his right arm to prop himself up.
Finding it hard to stand up, Faro almost fell over, having to rely on the wall to support himself. He looked at Alice who had now moved to the other man who was still unconscious. She motioned for Faro to come closer, pointing at the Sword on the ground. As he moved to pick up the blade he realised he felt light, just as good as he was before getting injured. Faro scoffed to himself, grateful for healing properties of the Wundian potion.
“So, how are your wounds?” Alice spoke quietly, looking at the bandages that were stained with dried blood.
“Better than ever,” Faro replied, sheathing the blade and removing the bandages to reveal no wound whatsoever, “Thanks, but how did you know about the potion?”
Alice looked away as Faro removed the bandages, blushing ever so slightly as she quickly peeked at his abdomen. The skin underneath was clean, the only sign of the wound was a faint scar that was hardly visible in the low light. Faro scowled as he covered himself properly, he hated the fact that his chainmail was removed and he was now vulnerable to simple attacks.
“I’m not sure to be honest, your pouch was poking behind your back and I searched it. Th-”
“What?” Faro asked, wondering why Alice cut herself off.
“Nothing, don’t worry about it. What do we do about this guy?”
Suspecting that Faro would freak out if he found out she’d overdosed him she looked away, turning back to the hooded man. She didn’t want to mention the invisible force that had grabbed her, unsure herself if it had really happened. Part of her mind thought it had been her own hand that gave Faro the whole bottle but something deep down said otherwise.
A groan escaped the hooded man as he slowly came about. Within seconds Faro moved in front of him with his sword in hand, Alice also to her place kneeling next to him with her small ball of light above the his head. They both waited until the hooded figure started moving, Faro pointed his blade straight at his face and spoke in a low voice.
“I've been waiting for a chance to use this blade,” Faro threatened, “I hope you give me a chance to use it.”
The man responded with silence, giving Faro a cold stare. Alice mentally rolled her eyes and smirked for a second before moving her light ball closer to his head.
“Look grunt number two, you can start by giving us a name.” she spoke quickly, a sense of excitement threatened to escape her voice.
Her words were met with silence, both Alice and Faro waited for a few moments before he spoke, his mouth moving slowly as he sounded out his name.
“Well met, Mr Detir” Alice spoke in a sarcastic tone.
“What do you want with me?” Detir snarled, getting tired of his predicament, “The others will come back for me,”
“I doubt that'll happen any time soon,” Alice replied, getting a sense of enjoyment from her interrogation tactics.
“Where are the others?” Faro asked.
As he spoke, Alice's face hardened. Her gaze emitted an aura that scared both Faro and Detir, making them shifty slightly away from her.
“Answer the question!” She growled, eyeing the blade in Faro's hands as if she had found the answer to her problems.
Detir saw this and gulped. He looked back between the two, wanting to massage his head which ached terribly. He came to the conclusion that he must have hit it when he fell.
The darkness didn't help the situation. With the poor lighting from the purple stones and the light magic that Alice had conjured, the girl and her partner looked like demons. He tried to recall where he last saw the face of the boy, his eyes were darker than anything he'd seen before as if they could read his very soul.
Suddenly feeling very uncomfortable, Detir shivered in place and sighed.
“They are probably by headquarters now,” he spoke knowing that they would ask more questions.
“What do you mean by that?” Alice probed, gazing at Detir with piercing eyes.
“We have a base, located at one of the exits to this maze and that's where our main operations lay.”
“What maze?” Faro asked, moving his blade an inch closer.
Detir gulped as the dull metal faintly reflected light from Alice's magic. Its sides looked sharp enough to cleave through the obsidian skin of the Lyrarus.
“The inner city, it's built on a foundation of underground tunnels. They lead everywhere from the King's palace to the outside city, even some tunnels lead to the observatory up above.” He spoke confidently, showing his knowledge of the city.
“Take us there.” Alice demanded.
Faro raised his eyebrows and turned to face Alice whilst keeping an eye on his detainee. He quickly considered what she was ordering and knew that it was a bad idea.
“What exactly do you expect us to do?” he asked, hoping she had a plan.
“I don't know!” She spoke aggressively, “But we need to save Elizabeth.....and Nafare.”
“I know,” Faro replied, “But we're also not in the best position to do that. We need to know more first.”
“I guess, but what do we do then?”
“I wish I knew,” he sighed, his grip tightened around the blade as Detir shifted slightly.
“Should we continue questioning him?” Alice suggested.
“Perhaps, I think we can learn more from him.” They both went silent for a few moments and looked at Detir.
The captured man sighed, knowing that his interrogation was far from over.