The walls had gone dark again for a stretch of time, without the small balls of light Alice conjured she wouldn't have known which way to go. Faro insisted he could see perfectly fine in the dark but Alice wasn't listening, she continually declared that no normal person could see in this darkness and made more light balls as the old ones died.
Alice and Faro had spent a considerable amount of time questioning Detir. They found out enough information to leave him behind, tied loosely with Faro's bandages and blinded again for good measure. They'd agreed that killing him would not have benefitted them, both hiding the fact that they were uncomfortable with taking a person's life.
Detir was a member of The Brotherhood of Oltarim, a society that had been around since the construction of the inner city. They were responsible for keeping the royal family hidden from the new rulers as well as conspiring to one day take back what they claimed belonged to them. Detir mentioned that the high ranking members of the Brotherhood were descendants of the original royal family’s retainers and ministers.
Sir Danric Oltarim was the last descendant of the family, with no current spouse or child to carry on his legacy the Brotherhood were desperate to get him on the throne before his enemies had a chance to kill him. Detir had described him as a man of his word, treating all with the same level of respect he received, he went on to explain that in the past year the young man had changed.
The event that triggered this change was a subject Detir didn't feel comfortable describing, but with a few encouraging pokes from Faro's blade he told them everything.
During a raid from the Mitsu Kai, one of the agents from the secret police murdered Sir Danric's wife. He showed Alice and Faro the scar he had received during that battle, a long thin line that wrapped around his right bicep. According to him, the man had changed since then, talking more carelessly and quick to start an argument.
There wasn't much more Alice and Faro could get out of him. He explained how to get to their base of operation, a large hollow bunker underneath the untouched parts of the inner city. He also pointed out that their friends may have been kept in one of the many storage deposits they built under the city, including one that was allegedly in close proximity to the Mitsu Kai headquarters.
Faro was pleased with his interrogation. Deep down he was relieved he didn't need to resort to violence, but when he had asked about Oliha he received news that gave him hope, confirmation that he had seen a girl with brown hair and blue tips. He explained that the girl had joined them not too long ago, they had dyed her hair to help her blend in with the crowds but she insisted the tips of her hair remain blue.
Faro couldn't contain his excitement as he walked, a small but happy smirk as he trekked with Alice. He noticed that she had also calmed down, both glad that an opportunity to reunite with friends new and old was approaching.
“Where do we check first?” Faro asked, walking behind Alice who used her light to illuminate the path ahead.
“One of those storage rooms would be our best bet, I doubt they'll be guarded as heavily as the main headquarters.”
“That's true” Faro agreed, staring blankly at the road ahead.
The silence resumed as the two walked. A thought came to Faro as he opened his mouth to speak but stopped, considering if this was the right time or place. He looked at the girl in front of him who walked proudly as if she had been meant to walk this road.
“What made you leave home?” Faro asked, deciding that now was as good a time as ever.
Alice almost lost her concentration on her light ball when she heard his question. She frowned, wishing he hadn't asked but sighed, knowing she had no real reason to hide most parts of her past. The ball of light changed colour, turning from the pale white colour to a light yellow.
“We ran away,” She simply stated, continually looking forward as she moved, “We were indeed brought up in a protected environment, or so I thought.”
Faro listened carefully, suddenly feeling as if he'd asked the wrong question.
“I'm currently the eldest child of the Thernbite family. We once had an elder brother however he died fighting in a battle I choose not to remember.”
“Sorry....” Faro unconsciously muttered.
“It's nothing to be sorry about. He was foolish, leaving to die in a battle that was lost to begin with, leaving me to take all his responsibilities and uphold the family name,” As Alice spoke her light changed again to an almost pink shade, “When he died people began to look at our family in doubt. Before we used to be respected, with heavily influence amongst the upper nobles but in recent years we have been hardly acknowledged, simply because there is no male child to take over the family name.”
Faro listened carefully, he knew that the aristocrats had a complicated life, full of social policies that he could never understand. He never imagined though that someone could be of a higher standing yet treated as he had been.
“My family came from a long line of wizards who were adept in natural magic, able to control the elements with ease. My brother was like my sister in that regard, so when my parents found out about my abilities they pushed me harder than I'd expected. I was the first Thernbite and perhaps human to ever exhibit light magic. It started sometime after my brother's death and gave hope to my parents. They thought that it would bring back some of the respect they'd lost, having a child who was proficient in a magic that is still considered rare.”
Faro didn't know why felt angry but tried not to show it, the ball of light that had been leading them had gone a light purple and was slowly turning blue.
His thoughts went to Oliha who he knew had an ability that was considered rarer. He never tried to speak about it with her but he had learnt from his old master that Shadow Magic was an art that many thought to have been lost. There were always a few wizards capable of Light Magic that kept to themselves, however none were human, belonging to the Star People who isolated their clans in the mountains to the Far East, a cold and harsh environment that normal humans wouldn't be able to survive in. There were other races such as the Lyrarus which had a natural affinity to Earth Magic and the Pickenhearts with their expansive knowledge of Wind Magic.
“I think I understand where you're coming from,” Faro finally spoke, following closely behind Alice, “But why did you two leave?”
“It doesn't matter!” Alice suddenly shouted.
She paused, causing Faro to almost walk into her. She looked down at the ground, her light flashing from dark blue to a crimson red colour. A small gasp escaped her mouth as she thought to correct her outburst.
“What I mean is that my parents never cared much for us as their actual children, we were just tools to build bridges.” Alice explained.
“Like arranged marriages?” Faro asked, immediately seeing the light grow darker.
“Forget I asked.” He quickly said, wondering if he was probing too far into her personal life.
“Something like that...” Alice muttered as she walked on.
“There's more to it, isn't there?” Faro asked, “You aren't exactly fond of your parents are you?”
Alice turned to face Faro, the glistening in her eyes told him all he needed to know.
“Enough about that,” Alice spoke, blinking back several tears, “tell me about you and Nafare. How long did you know each other for?”
Faro sighed to himself and spoke, explaining how the two had met mere days before reaching the Crescent Palace. His tale about Nafare's failed assassination made Alice smile, enough to brighten her mood and have her nod along as he gave her a brief overview of his story.
“I wonder how good of a shot he really is.” Alice said aloud as the two walked past a turn in the road.
The area around them had quickly become cold, the ceiling reached higher at times and the faint sound of rain could be heard. The tunnels were clearly made in sections, some parts of it were exposed to the light above whilst others were covered and darker than night itself. There were times when Faro saw a set of crystals so high that he was unsure if there were stars or not. Alice was always quick to remind him that even with the open tunnels they were still underground.
She lectured Faro about the history of the mountain, something Faro himself found entertaining. He sighed whilst thinking to himself, knowing that if the circumstances were different he would have enjoyed this trip. When the two had finally reached an open spot they rested, taking in the site before them. Without realising it they had walked upwards, climbing up another mountain itself and reaching as high as one could without falling off.
They both looked at the city below, the palace itself seemed to glow, a presence within the dark calming effect that the streets held. Every house had its own identity, lined with torches that illuminated everything in a beautiful way. Alice sighed, knowing that her sister would have liked this view. It had been continually raining whilst the two stood on mountain pillar, using their cloaks to keep themselves dry. It was quiet, even with the rain the silence was unnerving.
Alice had dispelled her light magic, worried that someone would spot an unfamiliar source of light. Faro did agree but pondered things as he watched the scene in front of him. As she turned to leave Faro lightly tapped Alice's shoulders, quickly gaining her attention.
“Is your light magic tied to your emotions?” Faro asked.
“What do you mean?” Alice replied, raising an eyebrow at Faro.
“When you were talking, your light ball was changing colour. I though it may have been tied to your emotions.” Faro explained as he looked at a clueless Alice.
“I have no idea what you're talking about, my light has always just been white, never anything else.”
“Oh, I see.” Faro muttered, wondering if Alice was telling the truth.
“She is...” Shadic suddenly spoke, keeping his voice low in an attempt to not scare Faro.
It didn't work.
“What's wrong?” Alice asked, wondering why Faro suddenly jumped in place.
“Nothing....” Faro muttered, looking away sheepishly.
“I thought you'd have got over that,” Shadic laughed, “I wonder what else I could get away with.”
Faro grimaced and stretched his arms, turning away from Alice who was still looking at him quizzically. Wondering why his shadow chose to speak then, Faro closed his eyes and focused his thoughts on a particular question, wondering if Shadic would hear him. Alice shrugged to herself and looked back at the city, mentally going over the plan the two had come up with.
“It's not easy communicating this way, drains too much of my energy to maintain a connection.” Shadic spoke.
Although the voice came from his shadow, Faro heard it within his mind with uninhibited clarity. He spared a glance at Alice who was deep in thought, no doubt thinking about her sister.
“What happened?” he asked quietly, sure that Alice wouldn't hear him.
“Nothing for you to worry about,” Shadic spoke dismissively, “I still can't see the others,”
“Hmm,” Faro sighed to himself, kicking a stone he saw by his boot.
“That girl was telling the truth, she can't see a difference in her light.”
“I'm not sure....”
“Story of your life, eh? Shadic asked with a chuckle.
Faro scowled, pulling back his hood and looking at the ceiling. Out of the 12 large shapes that made the clock the crystal directly opposite the red one was brightest.
“It's six,” Alice confirmed, looking at the crystals herself.
“Should we go?”
“Yeah,” Alice nodded, quickly reciting the spell to create her ball of light.
“Why do you need to recite the spell again?” Faro asked, eyeing the ball with caution.
“Do you want the long explanation or the short one?” Alice replied, already on the path down the hill.
“Short, I don't think I could stand to hear your voice for that much long,”
“Ha ha, very funny. I'll be sure to give you every single little detail.”
The two laughed, a carefree sound that Faro hadn't made in years. As they let their voices echo into the darkness, the rain started receding, eventually fading away. Up in the higher areas of the inner mountain the air had gone cold, enough to make Faro shiver.
“Let's hurry up and head down,”
“Sure,” Alice agreed.
The ball of light she conjured was as he'd first seen it, white in colour and supposedly quite calming. Faro sighed to himself, if it weren't for the anxiousness that grew in his stomach every time he saw the light he'd feel better around it. Dark thoughts crossed his mind, images of shadow people that had no voice or face reached out to him. Somehow Faro sensed that his shadow was also seeing these images, a strange feeling that started growing between the two, only subsiding when Alice turned her gaze to face him. He quickly grimaced as the light ball danced around his face, only moving when Alice mentally focused it away from him.
“I forgot that you're one with the darkness, but we should be coming up to one of the locations soon.” she joked, not knowing that Faro was wary of her words.
Faro nodded and looked at himself quickly, with no form of real protection any physical attack could injure him greatly. The swords at his side would do the real work, but they couldn’t protect him from everything. Faro frowned slightly as he thought about his bout with Miss Nuba. The battle had only lasted a short amount of time but he felt like she was toying with him, letting off steam on someone that seemed insignificant.
He made a mental note to find someone to train him, perhaps even asking Shadic to spar with him.
“This is the first time I’ve been apart from my Sister,” Alice spoke, her voice as light as her magic.
“Really?” Faro asked, wondering what prompted her to start speaking again.
“It’s true, ever since we were children we were bound by the hip, going everywhere together.” Alice spoke with a small smile on her face, that was now above her head had turned light green. “I took it upon myself to look after her. Although I’m only two years older than Ellie, I sometimes act like her mother.”
Faro was sure this wasn’t true. Ever since he had met the two, both Alice and Elizabeth had acted as if they were the best of friends. He had never seen two people who got along with each other so perfectly. Faro wanted to scoff but thought it’d be best if he ask why she thought that.
“Something tells me that’s a dangerous topic,” Shadic warned, his voice coming as quickly as it left.
Faro asked anyway.
“Why do you think that?” he said in his best neutral tone, looking at the light in front of her as a lifeline of sorts.
Her light indeed changed colour, moving from the light green it had been to a rich red colour that was slowly getting darker. Faro also sensed a change in her mood as her shoulders tensed slightly and she almost stopped walking. He knew this must have been a sensitive subject but thought that it would be better to talk it out. Somehow Faro felt as if this would also help himself, filling a role that he never knew he wanted, yet finding pleasure from helping someone else. He waited for her to speak patiently as he followed behind, travelling down the mountain using a path that twisted too often and had many sharp declines. As a few moments passed Faro noticed that her light ball slowly changed to a light orange.
“I already told you that our parents didn’t care for us. Well at least our father pretended to enjoy our company, showing up at some of our functions. Our mother on the other hand…” Alice paused, her voice unable to continue.
“Don’t worry,” Faro then responded, “You don’t need to tell me, I’ll trust that you didn’t murder them and run off on a rampage with your Dailfok smiting magic.”
Alice chuckled a bit. Faro noticed that her light was slowly turning white, although he failed to see the single tear that escaped from her eyes. The two had reached a section of the mountain that faced away from the main city. The light from the crystalline clock system couldn’t reach them, the tiny lights that were embedded into the walls appeared like stars in the light, visible but too far to illuminate the area where the two stood.
As they walked onwards Alice used her light to guide them. The area consisted of many sharp declines, forcing the two to hug the walls as they walked. Whenever they reached a big enough area Alice would recast her spell, never making it too bright or dark. This process occurred for quite some until the two felt that the temperature had dropped. Just ahead of them the two could make out the faint outline of a chasm, its depth unknown to the two as they planned to skirt around it.
“It's unfortunate that the road is narrow here, we have to be careful” Alice warned, casting her light towards their feet.
The two continued to travel in silence, stopping whenever a sudden gust of wind threatened to destabilise them. Every step they took became one that was planned ahead, every rock that protruded itself from the earthen walls was a challenge to be defeated. With this mindset the two tackled the chasm and made it passed without any accidents.
“So where to now?” Faro asked, looking at the fork in the road ahead.
“I'm not sure honestly, we were told it was in this direction but what if he lied?” Alice pondered.
“There's no point in questioning that now, let's continue down the path to the right, the other one looks like it heads to the city and I doubt we'd be welcomed there.”
“Fair point,” Alice agreed moving without reserve to the road on the right. “Let's just hope we find them soon.”
Faro sighed in agreement and walked off after her, only stopping slightly when he heard the voice of his shadow partner.
“I can sense something,” Shadic spoke, “there are people in the distance, some with good souls and others that are not....”
“You read souls' now?” Faro whispered his question incredulously.
“Not in that way,” he replied “all living beings have light and darkness within them, as a being of darkness I can sense how dark their hearts are.”
“Ahh, so it's not exactly the soul but rather their aura.” Faro confirmed, understanding his shadows words.
Faro knew this concept quite well, every person was made up of their physical half and spiritual half. The physical half, as the name suggest, is the body. The spiritual half of a person is a lot more complex. There is the Soul, known as Nun in the ancient language. This part of a person contained the memories of a person, their life, will and desires. The soul is what gave life to the idle bodies of living beings when being birthed, that was what all were taught from a young age. However there was also the aura or Nil. This was the bridge between the soul and body, the stronger someone's aura was the more likely they would be able to cast magic. Although still used in places of schooling, it had quickly become known as ones affinity to magic.
“So, how many good ones do you see?” Faro asked.
“Hmm......perhaps 5 or 6. Neither of them seem familiar to those other children but one bares traces of Oliha.”
“Really?” Faro gasped aloud.
Alice, who had been walking several paces ahead of Faro stopped and turned back.
“What is it?”
“Oh, nothing....” Faro murmured, cursing himself for getting over excited, “I was just thinking to myself that this place is much bigger than I imagined.”
“Oh?” Alice looked unimpressed. “If that's all let's continue, I want to find my sister as soon as possible.”
Faro sighed, unaffected by Alice's sudden change in mood. He understood why she was worried. In his mind the two were similar, both wanting to protect someone else. Questions upon questions came to mind as he thought of Oliha. He wanted to know why she joined these people and what she intended on doing. There was also the fact that the not long ago the advancing army of Aginians had reached the outer walls of the city. Under normal circumstances it would take a long time to break through the walls, such a campaign would last for weeks perhaps even months before the wall would give way. But the sound he had heard wasn't normal. If the Aginians had come into possession of a weapon that would defy the walls of Kéi Meóng they wouldn't hesitate to bring destruction to a city that hardly ever contributed to the war effort.
“There are people up ahead.” Alice stated quietly.
“I kn-- where?”
“Just down the path, I saw some moving torches.”
“I see,” Faro thanked the stars that Alice didn't notice his slip up.
“So what's the plan?” she asked, eyeing the swords strapped to Faro's back.
Faro thought for a few moments, thinking of what he could do. His swordsmanship could really use work and he had no talent for magic. If Alice could blind them he could use raw force to subdue anyone, but his injuries prevented him from exerting himself too much. As he thought of all these factors an idea came to mind, one that was certain to work.
“Hmm......just leave it to me,” Faro whispered, moving into a low position and moving forwards quietly.
Alice nodded and followed suit, staying a fair distance back as they made their way closer to the first storage depository.