As small strand of light made its way into the dark room. Boxes, all made of wood, were stacked around the two prisoners who had been chained up against a wall. Although the light didn't illuminate much, it bounced off an open box of weapons, the polished steel of an axe shining the light directly into one of the captives’ eyes. He groaned, his senses feeling weak. The boy recalled his training, a time long ago in the past when he was often placed in rooms filled with sleep bombs. The goal was always simple, reach the end of the room, but no matter what method you used to get across there was some sort of trap waiting for the young assassin.
Nafare groaned as his eyes darted around the room, finally able to pick out individual objects. He hated the way that everything would seem like a blur, the mixture of shapes and colours always made him feel sick. Amongst the crates to his left were open boxes, some features Axes, Sword and Spears. Another box features helmets and body armour, the dark green colours were hard to make out in the room but Nafare's eyes had long adjusted for similar situations. Turning to the right he saw a banner draped over a larger box, the insignia on the banner appeared old but he couldn't recognise it. Amongst a light green field a rather simple sword pointed upwards in gold, on top of it a small crown was situated, its three points were all different colours.
A small noise made Nafare gasp, he turned to see Elizabeth roll her head, her arms bound behind her and her feet chained together. He moved to help her before realising he too was in the same position.
“Hey,” he said quietly, “Elizabeth!”
She didn't respond initially and when he considered calling again he realised that she must be experiencing a similar feeling to him as she woke up, though it brought him to question just how she had recovered so quickly. A few moments passed as Elizabeth opened her eyes, the realisation that she wasn't in a familiar location scared her but upon seeing Nafare she calmed down. Nafare was surprised to suddenly see her eyes narrow in such a serious way.
“Where are we?” she asked, slowly trying to shift her arms.
Nafare looked away, scanning around the room again. He didn't see anything that gave away their position but recalled the feeling of being carried.
“Underground, some sort of storage room.” he replied in a low voice, wary of any other person that might be in the room.
Alice seemed to have caught on as she lowered her voice.
“Give me a moment and I'll get us out,” she spoke, her worlds slurred slightly due to the effects of the sleep drug.
Nafare watched quietly as her body shifted. He noticed that her breathing seemed to slow down and her eyes faintly glowed, something that he didn't pick up last time she used her power.
“Delaci menth tholi”
The words were hardly audible yet Nafare heard them clearly, his face flushed slightly as he felt a drop in temperature. The chains that held both Nafare and Elizabeth were protected by a weak magical barrier and refused to drop.
“Delaci menth tholi” she tried again, grimacing when her spell still didn't work.
“Delaci tante tholi!”
This time her voice seemed to warp, the words piercing Nafare's ears. Before he knew it there was a numb sensation coming from his hands. He looked at his feet and noticed a small but faint trail of water vapour coming from the shackles which were completely covered in ice.
“That's very cold,” he said, trying to hold back the need to scowl.
“Sicate menth tholi” she spoke again, her words back to a whisper.
As her magic went to work Nafare noticed that Elizabeth's eyes would briefly change, flashing from a light blue to light red. He had never seen a magic user up close before and found it intriguing how mystical her words sounded. His eyes found their way to her hair which seemed to glow even in the dark, a warm light that enchanted his vision.
“What is it?” Elizabeth suddenly asked, “Are they falling off?”
Nafare caught himself and straightened his back in surprise. The chains around his arms and ankles shattered without much effort, the lack of resistance was enough to make him stumble slightly.
“Are you okay?” she asked, already moving to help him out.
“I'm fine,” Nafare stammered.
As he tried to look away from the girl he still felt a numb sensation in his hands. Upon drawing back the sleeves of his cloak he noticed that his hands were still freezing. In an attempt to hide it from Elizabeth he quickly withdrew his hands and looked elsewhere, however the red-haired girl simply sighed with exhaustion.
“If I don't treat that your hands might come off...” her voice quietened slightly as she spoke, “And…….I guess I'm sorry for freezing you like that.”
“What? No, it's not your fault-” Nafare tried to say before Elizabeth interrupted.
“Nonsense, just give me your hands”
“Wait....I'm sure there's a potion or something nearby!” he pleaded, not realising that Elizabeth had already seized his hands and fixated her gaze on them.
Before he knew it a warm sensation had overcome him. The glow had returned to her eyes and hair as she began speaking, this time her worlds lost to him as he stared at their hand connected together. His mind started racing as she performed her magic, the sensation too friendly for his liking. He suddenly felt bad that he had called her a witch when they met, the term was often an insult saved for magic users that were on the run or exiled.
“What's wrong?” Elizabeth asked, one of her eyebrows raised.
She hadn't noticed that Nafare's cheeks were still flushed as he refused to look her in the eyes, his body seemed to shrink as if it wanted to remain unseen. Her hands were still holding onto his as she feared there was something else that could have been troubling him that he didn’t let her see.
“Are you going to tell me or do I need to get it out of you another way?” she asked again, this time her voice came off ever so slightly icy.
Nafare gasped and forced himself to look at Elizabeth who was still confused.
“Well.......you see this is the first time, or rather I've never.....held hands with a girl before,” he spoke trying to keep his voice as small and quiet as possible.
At first Elizabeth sighed in relief, she had thought that her powers had caused something to go wrong with the boy in front of her but as she looked back down to her hands which were interlocked with his she finally understood what he was saying. Her face quickly went redder than her hair as she pulled her hands away from the boy, stumbling backwards. Neither said anything for a few moments before Elizabeth chuckled slightly. The sound of her voice was enough to get Nafare going as he too started laughing, easing any tension between the two. The two shared a sigh as they thought about their childish reactions, not bothering to move from the positions they had taken beside each other.
“That ability of yours is amazing,” Nafare finally spoke, “I'm sorry about what I said before.”
Elizabeth looked at Nafare in surprise and found it hard not to smile at him, it was one of the only times that someone had complimented her powers and meant it. She tried to speak but found that no voice left her mouth, her cheeks flushing in embarrassment as Nafare continues to stare into the darkness of the room.
“Thanks,” she managed to say after a while, “That means a lot to hear.”
“You must have had a good teacher,” he said, positioning his back to comfortably sit against a wooden crate.
“I guess so....” she replied, her thoughts of the past suddenly entering her mind, “but it's not a special story-”
“That doesn't matter,” Nafare cut in, “plus I doubt it'd be safe for us to leave here and you seem too tired to move right now.”
For the second time Elizabeth was shocked.
“How did you know?” she asked him, wondering whether she should scoot towards or away from him.
“Just something I picked up on one of my missions I guess.”
“It's a long story...” he murmured, annoyed with himself that he let something like that slip.
Elizabeth turned to face Nafare again and thought to herself for a second, she gave a distant smile as an idea came to mind.
“You share your story and I'll share mine?”
Nafare paused, his shoulders tensing for a few moments.
“Fine.” he simply replied, flexing his arms before relaxing them again. “But don't say I didn't warn you when I said it was a long story.”
Nafare hated the change in temperature.
Whether it was the heat of the Desert Denatsu region to the north or the snowy mountains of the Stynar region to the south, the weather outside of Lunduos was always irritating. Wrapping the cloak around himself tightly, the young boy moved throughout the city of Leth without being seen. The sun had set hours ago and the majority of shops had closed for the day. Fragments of activity could be seen as the inns remained open, a last way for the people to forget their troubles as they lived their lives under the watch of the tyrants forces. Tonight the town was in seemingly good spirits, not only was there a festival happening the next day but due to troubles with the war the majority of the occupied forces had been ordered to go and help the frontlines. Nafare had been keeping tabs on his target for several weeks now, Lord Rentath and his family lived in a rather large household in the centre of the city. The man himself having been placed as the city's mayor, controlling funds, food supply and the distribution of arms without upsetting the local villagers and local aristocrats. Reports had been coming to Lord Gath that Rentath had been embezzling gold behind the backs of the army that had placed him in power, however there was no hard evidence and a direct confrontation could result in civil hostilities, a scenario that would waste more money and resources.
To Nafare the plan was simple. The family was set to leave their home late tonight in a bid to avoid any assassination attempts, no one would be left behind save for a guard or two and was when he was supposed to make his move. He had been tasked with stealing several documents that tied Lord Rentath to the Mrinthian army, he would then place a blood soaked dagger he had been given within the mayor's private chambers and leave promptly. In the morning when the cities controlled forces are made aware of an allegation against the mayor the man himself would be caught with the murder weapon and the occupancy would have the perfect reason to dispatch the mayor without any further inquiries or resistance. Nafare had almost fallen asleep on the job. While waiting long into the night, there was no movement for hours until suddenly the sound of a coach crawling across the stone paved streets woke the boy. He quickly ingested a berry that wards of drowsiness and started moving. Gaining entrance into the house was simple, with little to no guards about he climbed over the metal gating with ease, crouching against a row of shrubbery as he approached an window he knew wouldn't lock properly. From his cloak Nafare produced a thin metal tool that he used to pry the window open and slipped in unseen. Twice he stopped when he heard suspicious noises yet twice there was nothing to fear.
The house was furnished as well as he expected it to be, expensive carpets and clocks were littered all over the place, mounts of animals were placed at the oddest of locations and the faintest smell or flowers came from the kitchen where Nafare suspected herbs were used to preserve the meat in the storage rooms. Bored with the immediate area Nafare moved on, making his way towards Lord Rentath's office. He flexed his hand and reached into his pocket, toying with the key he was given. He didn't want to think how Lord Gath's other spies had acquired the key but he knew he couldn't afford to mess up this test. The office was on the first floor of the house, below the sleeping quarters and directly above the kitchens. As he approached the door to the office he froze, noticing that the door was slightly ajar and that a faint light could be seen inside. Slowly he attempted to enter the room, thanking the heavens that the door made no noise as he drew it back with relative ease. He could make out the form of a small child, most likely the daughter of the family. Nafare inwardly swore, having expected the child to be with her parents. He felt his hand touch the blade of a dagger he kept by his hip, contemplating whether he should kill her now or later.
Instead he waited. He watched as the girl went through the papers, studying them with the gusto of a professional. He noticed that she would often shake her head in disapproval, using a gilded quiver to make corrections to the documents in front of her. After some time Nafare decided to sit down and continue watching for longer, he wondered what exactly she was doing and how it affected his mission. The routine of the girl correcting and the boy watching continued for over an hour until she spoke.
“I know you're there.”
Nafare stood up immediately, his hand already grasping the dagger by his side.
“Don't worry, no one else knows, I swear.” she continued, her voice stifling a yawn.
Nafare wasn't sure what he should do, everything he had gone through before told him that killing the girl was the best thing for the mission. It was expected of him as one of Lord Gath's spies and assassin. If he didn't he would be failed, have to spend another year training and possibly punished for his mistake.
Yet he still relaxed.
“Why should I?” he quietly asked, surprised that his own voice seemed scared.
“My father has been committing crimes, I know. He's been teaching me for the past two years to regulate this city, hoping that I wouldn't notice the rather obvious errors in his accounting books.” she started, dropping the quill in her hand, “My actions to correct the documents have only taken me so far but I believe that I can change him, just give me a chance and I can protect the funds,”
Nafare listened intently, thinking of the implication of her words. His thoughts went to the past, thinking of the company his parents had once owned, the lessons in economics he was given under the political agenda of the Tyrants new order. She was right, he knew that if she did correct things then there would be no reason to change mayors. But he knew that he couldn't. His orders were simple and failure to complete them was considered unacceptable. With a heavy sigh he made his decision, removing the dagger from its sheath and approaching the young girl with the grace of a Pickenheart.
“Wait, so what happened next?” Elizabeth asked, shifting uncomfortably as she listened to Nafare's story.
Nafare sighed, looking around the room.
“I didn't kill her, I couldn't. I ended up knocking her out and taking her to one of the bedchambers.” he said, looking away slightly with a blush on his face.
“Oh.....” Elizabeth said quietly, “what happened to you then?”
“It was just what I expected, I got shamed and punished, even beaten once.” he spoke slowly, looking into the darkness, “Lord Gath even said I got off lightly since I'd been so loyal to him.”
Elizabeth listened as Nafare scoffed, obviously still angry about the way he had been treated.
“Well at least you helped that girl, right?” she asked hopefully, before noticing that Nafare had stiffened.
The boy had subconsciously gripped his knees, his head attempting to bury itself from Elizabeth's wandering gaze. No one spoke for a few moments before Nafare sighed and looked back at Elizabeth.
“She died, or at least that's what Lord Gath told me. He said that by sparing her she would suffer a fate far worse than simply death....” his voice trailed off, waiting for Elizabeth to understand the meaning behind his words.
“That's horrible,” she said quietly, “I miss my sister.”
Nafare gritted his teeth, reprimanding himself for telling that story.
“Sorry, I didn't meant to upset you.” he quickly said, “What about your story? What happened with you?”
Nafare turned and looked towards Elizabeth. Although she clearly looked upset he could tell that she was relieved he hadn't killed the girl. For a moment Nafare too found solace in that thought, thankful that Elizabeth was a much nicer person than he originally thought. He gazed at her as she stared off herself, thinking of something to say herself before she turned back towards Nafare, making him turn away awkwardly.
“Your story had nothing to do with you knowing I was tired,” she said, a hint of confusion in her voice, “But I guess I'll let you off this time, my story is certainly going to be longer.”
She giggled slightly as the boy squirmed, finding pleasure that her teasing gestures even worked.
“Now, where to begin...” she finally spoke after a few moments of silence.
Dantha, the capital city of Regeva, was not known for much. It's people were rather plain, not specially courageous or barbaric. The country itself didn't export any unique produce but rather livestock and naturally grown food. However the people of Regeva, and Dantha especially, were very proud of the flowers that bloomed every year. It came under common consensus that such a beauty couldn't be sold or given away without special reason. The people loved their flowers so much that the aristocratic families started getting competitive over their gardens, those who had skills with plants were quickly employed and those who fought well just as quickly became guards. Life was rather plain yet peaceful for the people here. That made it easy for Alice and Elizabeth to escape.
The two had left late in the night, that very day had been another of the cities garden competitions where a local aristocrat had won a small sum of gold and the right to showboat their latest creation for the remainder of that lunar cycle. There was a dinner party that the two girls had been invited to, their parents were absent which meant the eldest had to be there as the family representative. Elizabeth came only to relieve her sister of complete boredom. Although the two did find the event quite unexciting, they did agree that it provided the perfect opportunity to leave. The two had planned their escape for weeks, packing clothing, food and enough money to get them to the their intended destination. With nothing else keeping them the two had made excuses to the hosts of the party and left hastily, no guards stopping them as they quietly made their way to the outskirts of the city. With luck on their side, the two had managed to stow away on a travelling merchants carriage, staying in the shadows and out if sight until their transport would reach the borders of Regeva, where the merchant would head towards Trade City, the biggest hub of marketable goods known to mankind.
The plan was to get off at the borders of Regeva and travel until they reached Crium where they would ask Oliha to house them until they could earn for themselves either as battle mages or teachers. Their cousin was the only other family member they had grown close to apart from their late brother and they were certain she'd be able to help them. In the girls minds the plan was perfect. Of course neither of them had taken into account that if they overslept they would find themselves at the heart of Trade City.
Alice was the first to wake up, the air around Trade city was hotter than most countries and had irritated the girl enough to wake her. She quickly wiped the brow of her forehead, wanting to remove the cloak around her body but pinned down by Elizabeth who was still asleep. She looked out of a small hole in the carriage and swore when she saw all the stalls and people that were walking about.
“Elizabeth, wake up” she whispered, “We overslept”
“Wha?” the red-haired girl murmured, snuggling further into Alice.
The elder sister grimaced, gently pushing away her sister and pinching her nose in an attempt to wake her up. The noise from outside was quieter than expected, the heavy cloth that covered the carriage was blocking out most of the sounds and the slow but rhythmic movement of the carriage was quite soothing for the sleeping Elizabeth.
“Get up,” Alice hissed, squeezing her sister's nose harder.
“Ouch!” her sister moaned, finally waking up.
As Elizabeth glared at Alice the elder sister placed her finger against her lips and reached for her bag, motioning for younger sibling to do the same. Elizabeth blinked a few times before realising the situation they were in and followed suit. The two waited till the carriage stopped and peeked out of the back of the vehicle, jumping out when no one was looking in their general direction.
Trade City was bigger than they imagined. The buildings were completely different, nothing like the houses and towns in their home city. Here everything seemed to be covered in a thin layer of sand, giving the place a far more exotic feeling than they anticipated.
“It seems we had overslept,” Elizabeth murmured, taking in her surroundings.
“Indeed we have,” Alice replied shielding her eyes from the intense glare of the sun, “Who would have thought the neighbouring territories were this hot?”
The two were thankful that no one seemed to have noticed them, the people moving about were busy procuring goods from the market stalls that had opened not too long ago. Although it was still fairly early in the morning, the area was buzzing with activity, no second devoid of a traders call or the sound of many a person haggling for a fair price on the goods they sought out.
“Let's go,” Alice grabbed her sisters hand and started moving down the street.
The two travelled silently, stopping several times to refill the canteens they continually drained. By the time the two had reached a quieter area of the city, the sun had long past its highest point and had slowly been in decline. Taking in her surroundings once more, Alice paid attention to a particular man that she could see from the corner of her eye. He had a rough body, his attire suggested that he was a mercenary but something about him gave her chills. The feeling of dread almost overcame the girl as she grabbed her sister's hand and started walking again.
“What's wrong?” Elizabeth asked, using her free hand to wipe the sweat forming under a hat she purchased.
“I have a feeling that we're being followed.” she quickly spoke, her face skilfully giving away no information to those that passed by. “I need you to trust me with this, so when we reach the next corner we run, ok?”
Elizabeth's face froze for a few seconds, she mentally tried to picture what kind of person would follow them but nothing came to mind.
“Sure, but is there nothing else we can do?” she asked, tilting her head in a way that allowed her to peek backwards.
“I can't think of anything yet,” Alice answered. “Stop doing that.”
Elizabeth pouted, her eyes signing to her sister that she was ready to start running at any time. As the two reached the corner of the road a figure stepped out in front of them, blocking their path forwards. Alice noted that the person was similarly dressed to the man who had been following them.
“How about it? Two pretty little flowers wandering into the Dinons territory.” the man spoke with a grin brimming with greed.
Alice cursed to herself, tightening her grip on Elizabeth's hand.
“Who are you people?” she demanded, trying her best to put on a brave face.
“Didn't ya hear you whelp, we're part of Dinons crew. Nobody goes about their business around here without the boss's permission.”
“What should we do with them?” asked another man who walked up to the group, he looked as roughly dressed as the others.
“Well that's obvious, we'll give them to the boss. But of course we'll need to test the merchandise out first.” the man in front bit his lower lip in anticipation whilst the others chuckled.
“What is he saying?” Elizabeth asked in a voice low enough that only Alice could hear.
“Don't worry about that, I need you to count to ten and then close your eyes. When I say run we'll head past that man and try to seek help.” Alice replied, having already formulated a plan in her mind.
As the three men started closing in, Alice looked around in fake desperation, using that as a chance to survey the area once more. She noticed that there were less people about then before and the ones that were still here watched from the safety of their homes or behind fences. Mentally swearing, Alice knew they were on their own. She glanced to Elizabeth who had just closed her eyes and then raised her right hand as spoke.
“Eth Gefa Fir Tholec Tante!”
Although the three men were familiar with the spells of fire and water, they had never come across light magic and weren't prepared for Alice's attack. The men were blinded as three waves of light attacked their senses, causing two of the men to stumble about and the third to curse out loud.
“Let's go!” Alice shouted, pulling her sister past the man that was stumbling about trying to regain his sight.
“Wait, what happened next?” Nafare asked, absorbed into the story that Elizabeth had been telling him.
“Well we ran and managed to avoid being seen for quite some time, what we didn't know at the time was that those bandits had friends nearby who had similar.....interest to the ones Alice saved us from. Every time we were cornered Alice would use her light magic to either blind them or I would scare them back with my fire. It seems in our defiance we angered the leader who they Dinon as he ordered his men to chase us for several days, out of their territory and even into the outer districts.”
“That is horrible, so how did you finally escape them?” as Nafare asked, he noticed that Elizabeth was slowly tightening her hands.
“I burned one of them, badly.”
“It was late, we had our guard down and two of them had grabbed Alice. By then the thugs were familiar with our tricks and managed to cover her mouth before she could chant.” Elizabeth sighed before continuing, “So in a panic I chanted one of my more lethal spells, one that could easily kill if used properly.”
“No.” Elizabeth quickly cut him off, “fortunately for him I missed and only hit his legs but the fire was intense enough for it to spread over his clothes and in fear the other man ran off. We didn't seen another member since that day.
“I see,” Nafare nodded to himself, “they probably feared getting burned again or this Dinon person realised that he was losing more than he could possibly gain.”
Nafare would still say he was young, but in his training he was taught about the ruthlessness of bandits and how they operated. He tried not to imagine what would have happened if Elizabeth and her sister had been caught, grimacing at the images that came to mind.
The two were silent for a while, thinking of the stories they had just been told.
“Wait a minute, your story had nothing to do with how you learnt magic?” Nafare finally realised.
“Neither did yours tell me how you knew I was tired out,” Elizabeth countered with a sly grin.
The two stared at each other before bursting out into laughter again.
“Shh!” Elizabeth said in-between fits of giggling, “someone might hear us!”
“Sure, but I still want to know why you're so good with fire,” Nafare nodded as he calmed down.
Elizabeth was silent for a while, staring blankly into space. After a few minutes she spoke.
“I was trained in magic the same way most aristocrats are, our parents hired a teacher for us and evaluated what we could and couldn't do. At the time Alice had still not shown her affinity for light magic and our brother was still around the estate. I'm not entirely sure why but whenever I cast Fire Magic I feel more.....at home with myself. That's a weird thing to say right?” Elizabeth chuckled awkwardly, peering at Nafare who was still in thought.
“Not really,” he responded, I've heard that some magicians are more skilled in the element they are more comfortable with. Fire isn't that bad of a choice, at the very least you can say that it produces a wonderful colour.”
“You like red?” Elizabeth blushed slightly.
“I suppose so,” he replied without looking towards Elizabeth, “the colour itself isn't bad, it's just a shame that Mrinthuania is associated with it.”
The two sighed, Elizabeth flexed her right arm as she felt the strength in her body come back to her.
“I think I'm good to go,” she said, standing and stretching quietly.
Elizabeth paused, looking at Nafare who had just spoken. She could see that he had a serious look on his face yet couldn't think of why he spoke those words. Before she could ask him why he apologised Nafare continued speaking.
“When we first met I shouldn't have spoken to you in such a way,” he looked at the floor as he spoke, “you're nothing like that at all, I was just being immature.”
Gasping slightly, the red-haired girl realised what he was talking about. An overwhelming sense of happiness washed over her as she approached Nafare and hugged him, the boy having stiffened at first before relaxing.
“There's no need to apologise,” she said whilst embracing him, “I'm not dim-witted you know? I forgave you before we even reached this city.....but thanks.”
The two stayed like that for a moment before Elizabeth pulled away, hiding the fact that she wanted to wipe away a tear that she had fought to hold back. Nafare's face had gone a deep shade of red but he was relieved that he had managed to speak the words that were on his mind.
“I know for sure that we'll meet up with the others,” he said, “but if anything happens you can rely on me!”
He stood up with a newfound confidence, already coming up with an idea for a daring escape.
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