Sunday, February 5, 2017

A Tale of Two Shadows Volume 2 Chapter 4

"Are you sure about this?" the man asked, sighing in contempt.
At the age of 22, Nazak was the youngest member of the intelligence unit within the resistance. Assigned with the task of interrogating the captives, the young man had cursed his bad luck. In the recent days Nazak had been busier than ever, sifting through documents, collecting information and questioning the scouts whenever they returned from their outings. The young man wanted to question why he was always so busy, but having already known the answer he could only blame himself.

He looked to the young girl that stood beside him, she had been assigned to work with him in an attempt to further assess her skills. In truth, Nazak was sceptical about bringing Oliha along, he didn't think it was safe or appropriate for such a young girl to be here, but whenever he looked at her he could only see his younger self looking back.
Young, talented and ambitious.
Those three words described Oliha perfectly, the way she conducted herself when dealing with the elder members of the society said leaps and bounds about her character. The members of the council had drawn parallels to Nazak when he was inducted into the secret group, having inherited his place from his late brother who had died in an accident many years ago. Perhaps he saw the same connection he had once shared with his brother in her, but for some reason he couldn't shake the feeling that nothing good would come from her entering the storage facility they were slowly approaching.
"Don't worry about me," Oliha had responded quietly, marvelling at the gauntlets she wore.
Made primarily out of a strong leather, the gauntlets were lined with strips of steel, giving the gloves a firm feeling against Oliha's arms. The centre of each arm was inlaid with a smooth channelling crystal, a milky-white stone that glowed with a faint warmth.
"Still admiring those gloves?"
"Of course," Oliha faced the young man, "I'm still amazed the council could just afford to give these to me,"
Nazak laughed, pleased by the humbled tone that came from his assistant for the day. He stopped several paces away from storage room, where two guards were stationed and turned back to face Oliha.
"Well they were gifts after all. The head counselor told me that your abilities could be better controlled with the gloves and that there was no one within our ranks that would have ever needed them, so really you're doing us a favour by taking it off our hands." he spoke in a low voice, careful not to mention the fact that she had abilities too loudly.
The Brotherhood of Oltarim was a rather large society, with well over 200 members. The skill set of the people within were quite varied, with weapons experts, warriors, assassins, talented magicians and brilliant strategists. Those made up over 40% of the force. The rest were descendants of Lords, Duke's and their children of which most were only interested in retaining their family's former wealth.
"Ah, I see!" Oliha spoke, her voice louder than she expected.
Nazak coughed, stifling a chuckle. He approached the two guards, who were already aware of their presence and held up a ring he was wearing. Although Nazak was quite well known throughout the society it was still standard procedure to show your ring, a small bit of silver jewellery embedded with several small stones which denoted one's rank. Nazak showed a ring with 4 stones, the second highest rank, whilst Oliha showed one with a single stone. The guards did a quick salute and allowed the two to pass, one of them opening the door of the storage room.
"Follow me," Nazak walked ahead, eyes cautiously looking around as he motioned for Oliha and two guards to follow with his right hand.
All four entered the building, walking down the lines of stacked containers. One of the guards picked up the pace, leading Nazak to the left where he knew the two captives were tied up.
"What!?" the guard spoke, taking a step backwards.
All four turned to see the remains of the captives’ metal restraints, the surrounding area had changed as well, signs of fire magic clearly evident to the four. Immediately the two guards and Nazak were on alert, circling around with their backs to Oliha in preparation for an attack.
"Careful, we don't know how dangerous they are," Nazak warned the girl.
Oliha said nothing but continued to look around carefully, it was a major oversight to leave the captives unguarded, something that she was sure Nazak would lecture the guards over later. As the three men slowly moved around a noise came from the darkness, startling everyone. A small ball shaped object flew through the air and hit one of the guards who stumbled back, surprised by the sudden attack. Before anyone could react the room was suddenly filled with gas. The two guards had quickly started panicking, one falling to the floor whilst the other held his short sword in one hand and covered his mouth with the other. Oliha couldn't see Nazak with all the smoke and carefully shuffled backwards towards the exit. For the first time since joining this secret society, she felt that the situation couldn't get any more absurd. In her mind it was impossible for someone to lock a captive in an unsecure location, unwatched and to top it all off surrounded by weapons. As she struggled to breathe Oliha questioned whether she had found the right people to help her.
It was then that someone bumped into her. Oliha let a small gasp as she stumbled backwards, quickly turning to face her adversary. For a few moments she couldn’t believe that a familiar red-headed girl was standing in front of her next to a boy she didn’t recognise but the recognition in her cousin’s eyes was more than enough to confirm that both were surprised by this sudden turn of events.
“Elizabeth?” She asked, her mind still attempting to work out what was happening.
The younger girl however had abandoned all thoughts of running away and leapt towards her cousin, embracing her with the biggest smile she had shown all day. As her mind finally came to terms with the scene she quickly returned the hug her younger cousin gave her and let a small smile escape. She quickly turned her head and looked back into the room full of smoke, unable to see anyone but hearing the sound of Nazak mumbling to himself.
“Nazak, stop!” she shouted, thankful that the noise in the room wasn’t loud enough to mask her voice.
“Wha- what happened?” he asked, moving towards the sound of her voice.
Oliha looked back to her cousin who was still clutching on to her. The boy who had been nearby earlier was nowhere to be seen which troubled her for a moment before she realised that he was still somewhere in the room. Turning her attention back to Elizabeth she noticed that the girl was shaking terribly. Patting her head lightly Oliha sighed.
“Everything is fine, I know who they are.” Oliha told a half-truth, “You can relax.”
At this moment she activated an ability she had been practicing for several days. Elizabeth froze as she sensed the sudden change in the room, it wasn’t uncommon for practised users of magic to feel when others tapped into the elements, though Oliha’s abilities were of a variant that reminded her of Alice.
“There you are….” Oliha whispered, before turning to face Nazak.
Nazak had stepped out of the smoke with a red face, he looked wildly about the room as he attempted to breathe the little clean air that was trickling through the door.
“So, what happened then?” he asked, his voice disguising the anger clearly evident on his face.
“You caught my cousin,” Oliha simply replied.
Nazak raised an eyebrow, of all the explanations he thought he would hear this was one of the lesser likely ones to occur. He eyed the small girl that had her head buried in Oliha’s shoulder, her clothing was much richer than the initial reports claimed, and the air around her seemed charged as if a spell would be cast at any moment. Nazak shifted about uncomfortably, the only countermeasure he had against magic was currently consoling the potential threat.
“And where is the other?” he managed to cut himself off before he could say prisoner.
“Oh, in the shadows over there.” Oliha pointed behind her where a small voice gasped in surprise.
“How did you know?” the voice asked, letting his frustration cloud his judgment.
“Um, well….with my abilities.” Oliha murmured, not one to boast about her shadow manipulation magic.
“Oliha is amazing!” Elizabeth spoke, stepping away from Oliha long enough to realise that Nazak’s had come here with Oliha. “W-where is my Sister?”
“Alice is here too?” Oliha asked.
“Yes, we were separated and then Nafare and I woke up here….” She mumbled, her eyes suddenly brightening as she realised what Oliha’s presence meant, “Can you find her for us?”
Oliha looked at the girl for a second before giving her a soft smile, it seemed that she had missed quite a bit in the time she had last seen them. Her eyes were not as innocent as before, something had happened, though oddly enough it made her smile that much brighter. Oliha could also sense that she’d grown in power, the remnants of the spell she cast earlier still picked up by her other senses, proof that whatever she had casted was more powerful than the simple tricks she had seen from them several years ago.
“Sure, though it seems like a lot has happened.”
“Hold on,” Nazak coughed, “How can we be sure they are who they say they are? From what I’ve heard they were travelling with one of our targets.”
“You mean that man you killed?” Nafare asked, unwilling to step out of the shadows.
“Yes, though I suppose it was fortunate that he was heading back towards the inner city, targeting people outside is surprisingly more challenging during these times.”
“So…. where is Alice?” Oliha asked, giving Nazak an irritated look.
“Alice, huh? I can’t be sure, but from what I’ve heard the other group was delayed when bringing their captives in, one might have gotten away too…” his voice drifted off when he saw the look on Oliha’s face, “What?”
“There was someone else?” Oliha asked in shock.
Elizabeth looked at her older cousin who questioned the man with the most serious expression she’d ever seen on her face. It took several moments for her to realise that he must have been talking about Faro, his presence unknown to the girl questioning Nazak. Before she even realised it Oliha had grabbed Elizabeth’s shoulders and was looking squarely in her eyes with fierce determination.
“Who else was with you?” she asked.
“A friend of yours, Faro.”
Elizabeth didn’t quite realise just how much that news had affected Oliha as she remained frozen in place for a few seconds before slumping to the ground, her face a mixture of pain, relief and exhaustion.
“So…he’s alive.”
“Of course, though if you ask me he’s a tough one. The amount of times he’s almost got killed….” Nafare started saying before silencing himself again.
Oliha laughed.  
It was a sound that brought a smile to Elizabeth’s face who was suddenly made to reminisce about the times in the past that the girl had visited them back home, where they would play in the gardens without a care in the world, many years before their brother had died. After several moments Oliha stood up, her eyes filled with both resolve and energy as she regarded Elizabeth with a smile.
“I don’t know about your friend but you need to listen to me, I can keep you safe as long as you listen, okay?”
Elizabeth nodded quietly, satisfied with her answer Oliha turned once more to face Nazak who suddenly shuffled about awkwardly.
“If you’re to have my help in the future I’d like my friends to be released, I’d think that’s a suitable form of compensation considering these are but a gift?” Oliha asked, holding up one of her arms to show off the gloves she wore.
“Of course,” Nazak replied taking the time to consider his answer, “But they’ll still need to be screened by the council.”
Oliha nodded, also fine with that answer though she couldn’t help but think of the moment she had fallen into the clutches of these people, quite literally too.
*
Beyond the wall in the basement of the orphanage was a tunnel, one that even the owner of the building had no knowledge of. It connected to a serious of manmade hiding spots, used by those that were disillusioned to the workings of the inner city, those that sought the reestablishment of the sovereign that wasn’t quite as bad as they had remembered.
The moment Oliha had fallen through the wall she knew that she’d be safe. It wasn’t that she felt secure by her surroundings or that she had run into someone familiar but rather the feeling of using her abilities, whether it was accidental or not, always had this soothing side effect on her mind.
The floor she fell onto was poorly maintained, but smooth enough to slip on. It reflected light emanating from small stones in the walls, the hallway itself was quite narrow, enough to nauseate most people but the lack of light was what Oliha found most comforting. When she would study with Faro’s help after school the two would find someplace in the shade and quietly work until night. In fact, the duo was always most active when most were heading home after the afternoon activities.
“Who goes there!”
The voice was young, coming from a male that quite obviously wasn’t in sight, yet that wasn’t what worried Oliha as she focused herself. Behind her was the wall which she had come through, a simple touch told her that travel back through it would be impossible right now. Whilst she should have been more worried that her escape was blocked, the unwavering feeling of confidence filled her heart as a figure came out of the shadows.
“I said who goes there?”
Without saying anything Oliha closed her eyes and focused, the face of a young and immature lord scowling filled her visions as he contemplated unsheathing the blade by his side.
“Can’t you see, the person there is using magic.”
The new voice was much older, from the way the tunnels carried their voice they must have been quite far away so it impressed Oliha that such an old person could speak so clearly and with no hesitance in their voice.
“It seems we have a new guest. Instead of drawing that weapon of yours and losing a potential ally, realise the situation you are putting them in and approach slowly without inciting battle.”
Listening to the voice of reason, the young man sheathed his blade and tried to hide the embarrassed look on his face. Oliha, who had been silently observing chuckled as she gazed upon the look the old man was giving his younger companion.
“Ahh so it’s a young girl after all, from what we heard above you’ve created quite the commotion.”
“Huh? No, that wasn’t me...” Oliha started speaking before realising that her words were giving away more than she intended.
“So now that we’ve identified who you are can you tell us how you managed to end up where you are now?”
Unsure how to answer such a question Oliha mumbled to herself before coming up with an answer that would hopefully satisfy those nearby.
“There’s a hidden doorway here, though it may need to be activated by magic.”
“Oh, is that so?”
The way the old man smiled whilst questioning Oliha was enough to tell her that he had already seen through any form of deception she could conjure.
“How do you know?”
For a few brief moments the old man chuckled, his voice filled with delight yet still somewhat cautious.
“There’s nothing to be wary of. These old eyes can see more than you realise, though such things are a secret best kept until you reach such an age yourself.”
“Elder! There’s no ne-”
“Hush, I’m not senile nor am I giving away too much information. Now that we’re here perhaps we should take the young lady back with us, from what I’ve heard she had a rather important message.”
Upon hearing such words, the young lady considered her options and decided that with no other alternative she could only rely on the slight kindness she was just shown.
*
With a small grimace, her recount of the less than perfect meeting replayed in her mind.
The journey to the main headquarters was swift, the two guards who were stationed to guard Elizabeth and Nafare had come along, much to the irritation of the young assassin in-training. Without a doubt he refused to be convinced that following these men was anything but a good idea, but a few heartfelt words from Elizabeth were enough to weaken the meagre defences he had put up.
“Just because I’m going doesn’t mean I want to be here.”
Elizabeth chuckled at the words her friend had muttered, refusing to release her cousin's arm as they walked onwards.
“So just what are you people doing anyway? I don’t understand why you’d want to live underground anyway?”
This must have struck a nerve with Nazak who had been doing his best to keep calm despite the twists and turns that the day had given him.
“Do you think we choose to day down here!?” his half shout must have surprised the two guards who have likely never heard the man shout before.
“He does have a point though.”
Oliha was surprised to hear those words come from Elizabeth however she too could understand their confusion, after all it wasn’t long since she was in their situation.
“These people are after the restoration of their Kingdom. I’ve learnt quite a lot just by watching them and reading about their past. I doubt they meant you harm.”
“B-but Oliha, they separated me from Alice!”
“I know.” Oliha grimaced as she looked briefly towards Nazak. “I’m sure you’ll see her again in the near future.”
With those words of wisdom Oliha took a moment to consider things before continuing.
“This country is being led by a puppet leader. A family only in charge when it comes to the public image. After all, just look at the structure of this city, though you may not have seen much I can attest to the oddity of having an entire city within the mountains.”
As she spoke some of the guards chuckled, attesting the grim truth behind their circumstances. Nethas too inwardly sighed as he massaged his temple.
“Whilst that’s true there are some troubling things that have been occurring lately. The different guilds and factions are plotting something behind the scenes, taxes are slowly rising….”
“What about the attack from the Aginian army?”
“What do you mean?”
“That’s the reason why we came here in a rush!” Elizabeth spoke, thankful that her words had some truth to it. “The Aginian army was right on our tails...we’ve already lost so many.”
“What!? How long ago was this?”
“We don’t know. How much time has passed since you kidnapped us?” Nafare interjected in a bitter tone.
“U-oh well it must have been no less than 2 hours since then.”
Oliha could only listen to this exchange as she started formulating a plan. At this rate it would be next to impossible to topple the current regime and restore order before an attack happened, especially if the enemy was right at their doorstep. It was further troubling that there was no inclination as to why the Aginian army would even attack, though thinking of that day in school brought about feelings she didn’t want to acknowledge right now.
“If that’s the case then I suggest we abandon the plan of takings things slowly and do it all tonight.”
“Tonight? That’s absurd!”
“Do you have any better ideas?”
“With the chaos from the war most forces will be spent outside or securing important locations. This is a battle where one can’t be reserved with what they withhold.”
Oliha’s words resonated with Nazak’s thoughts as he considered things.
“Alright, I’ll pass on your suggestions to the council as soon as we return. In the meantime, perhaps you can convince your…. friends to at least cease hostilities until this is all done.”
“I can agree with that.” Oliha nodded, trying to hide the fact that she was gritting her teeth.

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