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Hot vapors wafted from the surface of a light, green colored tea in a brown clay mug. Alaina1AlainaWow's sat there, contemplating. Every few moments, she brought the cup to her lips. She blew a few bouts of cool air before taking a quick sip. The sip warmed her, the bitter taste of ginger and turmeric filling her mouth, and burning, slightly, the back of her throat.
She blocked out the sounds and rancor of those around her. The men and women cheered and laughed, telling jokes and chugging drinks. But she sat there quietly at a table bench, being the only one there at the moment, with her tea.
It’s been two days, Alaina sighed. I can’t waste any more time. They know I will be gone long, but I sure am pushing it. I was supposed to be back yesterday by the plan. And though they know what to do, I can’t help but worry… No, they’ll be fine. Since I didn’t come home yesterday, they would have followed procedure.
Suddenly, the door to the restaurant opened; and all the heat that seemed to fill the air drafted out.
Alaina reached for her cloak and pulled it tighter over her shoulders. She could hear the grumbling and complaints from some of the other customers. They always did that when a new person came in. It happened so much, it just melded into the background.
And just when she was about to take another sip of her tea, a figure appeared and sat on the bench in front of her.
Alaina frowned. She looked up, and then looked to her left, seeing the rest of the vacant bench and other tables nearby, and looked back at the figure. He had dark, curly hair that was brushed back, and his eyes were like dark pools that seemed to drown her.
Alaina shivered. “… It’s you.” She breathed. There were few with eyes like that; and though she could not recognize the rest of the boy, she clearly recognized the eyes. “You don’t stink…”
The boy coughed, looking like he choked on his spit. He thumped his chest, cleared his throat, and said, “What? Is that stench of mine ingrained into my soul? Of course, I don’t stink anymore. I’ve been here for two days. I obviously would take a bath. Not doing so would get me noticed.”
Alaina nodded. She knew that of course and said that because she was shocked. He looks so clean. And the clothes he’s wearing… “I don’t even want to know where you got those,” she said, her eyes shifting towards Navari’s outwear.
“No. Maybe not… Shall we get started?”
“Wait a moment. We’ll leave in an hour or so.”
“Weren’t you in a rush?” Navari prompted.
So, he’s noticed. Alaina looked down. I don’t have time anymore. I’m on a short leash. Deadlines popping up here and there. Subconsciously, Alaina reached back and started rubbing the cloaked object at her side. There was a small rope that was tied to her belt. She put nothing to chance. Especially now that they entered the town, and soon, the cities. A man riding a Babinaur Beast – a large and powerful four-legged creature – could have it stolen from under him and he wouldn’t notice until an hour later when his butt was bleeding from it dragging on the course pavement. The thieves in the city were that good.
But she did not say that to Navari. It was not his business to know. Just as it was not his business to know why she dyed her hair green. She looked up at him, noticing his glances towards her hair. He never asked, and she never said anything. She had her reasons. Dying her hair was a smart thing if it was a more common color, thwarting those who searched fervently. They may not look too hard, but if someone saw her with green hair, it was a bit over the top. There were only a few races that had green hair, and there weren’t many in these cities.
But I need to be green for now, so don’t ask me why.
“Won’t it look suspicious if we leave just after you’ve come here?” She replied instead. “Though it’s not a suspicious thing for people to meet with each other, we’re in the city’s borders now. Those who are in groups are watched more. Everyone wants information on another, even if it’s the smallest thing, especially if it’s of foreign entities. That way they can be prepared. And right now, we don’t look so common.”
After half an hour passed, a waiter came by. He handed Alaina the bill, turned to Navari, and asked, “Sir, is there anything you need today?”
Navari shook his head, and the waiter left.
Alaina opened the black leather bound book containing the bill. There were a few pieces of paper rolled in it. She unfurled it. The first one was her bill, she took a glance, put some money in it, but quickly slipped her finger to the second and third pieces of paper and slipped it up her sleeve.
It was done so stealthily, even Navari, who was right in front of her seemed to take no notice.
Alaina closed the book and placed it on the table.
I have what I need.
Navari squinted but eventually nodded.
Alaina saw that but did not say anything. She felt he was thinking of her, maybe seeing her actions as suspicious, but since he did not say speak either, she was content.
It was late morning when they reached the second wall. Alaina had her cap on, and a rich grey cloak wrapped around her to ward off the cold. But it wasn’t as bad as it was in the forest. It’s getting warmer. It seems winter is almost over.
Looming over them, a wall made of grey-blue stone stood before them. But unlike the first wall, this one was cloaked in blue runic symbols that shimmered here and there, and the wall seemed more of steel and pipes than of stone. The wall was obviously thicker, and the entrance was like a long dark tunnel.
“Let’s get in line,” Alaina said, and then sighed. If the group that tried to get rid of her before survived… If anyone of them truly got back, Dekaros especially, they would have mentioned that it was not just her alone. The few that survived that altercation with those creatures would not for sure figure out exactly who survived but would know roughly of who didn’t die out there. Like that boy from before. They might put Navari as him, and that would make it much more difficult for me to cross.
The problem was, she did not know anything about the boy from before. Other than that night, they had not spoken a word to each other. She did not even remember his name. But if they figured Navari to be him, then who knows what would happen. If it was her alone and they found her out, they would still be unable to act out on her in the open. As she had a clean record. But that did not mean the boy had a clean record. And with the premise that Navari was that same boy, they could use that as an excuse.
Alaina was worried, but she said nothing. She couldn’t wait for another plan, and she and Navari could not split, or else, how would be allowed in without any papers. To be admitted to the city, you needed to apply for a visa, or be sponsored by a native to get registered. To be registered without a sponsor was more invasive than to do so with, and Alaina did not think it would go so well with Navari for that to happen. More like, he probably didn’t have information on himself of where he came from and was not willing to say. If that was the case, they would cast him out quickly enough.
But as Alaina thought along these lines, the line to the small, one-story building situated at the right side area of the second wall grew short, and they entered.
Alaina and Navari walked up to the desk, and Alaina put on a fake smile.
“And how can I help you today.” Said a lazy, grumbling voice. Leaning back in his seat was a sloppy looking desk attendant. He had an orange stain on his white silk blouse and has his feet propped up, his black boots caked with a smattering of white from dried snow. The attendant then licked his finger, flipping a page of the thin book in his hand.
Alaina’s smile stiffened. He didn’t even look up. Her eyes then glanced at the title,.. ‘Women in Paradise’… How can he just sit there and read pervy books? Is this really an attendant of the wall? Although it was not rare for men to read such things, it was impossibly rare for someone to do so on duty of the guard. But she said nothing. The two were in a precarious situation. If the guy was lazy and uncaring, then registering Navari would be easy!
“I’ve come to register this guy here, and I as his sponsor.”
The attendant just flicked a finger towards the thick tome to the left on top of the desk. “Fill out your name, his name, description, and whatever the rest of the instructions say, and tell me when you’re done.”
Alaina nodded. She flipped open the tome to the first unwritten page and filled it out following the instructions provided to her.
“Done.” She said. The attendant grumbled, took out a thin, black card. He hovered over the page, and a light glow illuminated the page from the card. Quickly, the light disappeared, and the attendant threw it on the desk towards Navari. “Don’t lose that card. You have free reign in…” And the attendant began telling Navari the limitations of where he could and could not go. “Now, go.” He said, and shooed the two off, all the while, not looking up from his book, flipping to the next page.
“Well, that was easy,” Navari said.
Alaina nodded. “You think it a trap? Is that what your ‘instincts’ are saying?”
“No. I think we just got lucky.”
And Alaina smiled. She did not believe for a second that is was an instinct which kept the Navari going. The way he moved to get them out of the forest… You’re hiding something. Something you just don’t want for me to know about. But then again, I’m hiding stuff from you too. So I won’t ask for now. But in return, you better not ask me about mine.
“Then thank heaven for lazy people.” Alaina finally said. And the two went into another, but a shorter line. This one was for the wall entrance. They did not wait long. It was only about fifteen minutes at most when a gruff voice resounded in her ears. “Next in line.” Alaina’s heart shook. She was nervous and was just about to take out her black card, the one every citizen who had ever left the city, would have, and give it to him when she felt the air vibrate a bit. The sound of an engine rumbled in her ears. She looked back and saw a massive truck, the size she had never seen. It was thick metal, painted black and white. But what was more startling was the shimmering, blue crystal floating on its front end. The crystal was famous, and even Alaina, who lived in the backwater streets of East City, also known unofficially as Slum City, could tell who owned that truck.
“The knight of winters.” She breathed.
“Hurry up, girl. I don’t have time.” The guard barked. Alaina’s heart fluttered. Her breath caught, and her tongue stuck in her throat. She quickly handed the guard her card, but unexpectedly, the guard just glanced at it and gave it back.
Navari went through the same, and they quickly passed all the checkpoints. The whole ordeal was so simple, so easy, it had them feel off balance.
All this cautiousness…. Did we even need to be cautious? Were we ever being watched? Damn it! Could I have left two days ago? Did I even need to give up my favor to that guy? Could I have just taken the boat? No. That’s not it… The guard, he was rushing. None of the normal checks they usually did was done. And Navari said that he saw them watching him carefully before. He could be wrong, or maybe we just slipped notice and got by easily… What was most likely the situation was they want to make sure the Knight of Winters got by without a hitch. How lucky we are!
Alaina smiled. The guards of the second and first wall fell under the Knight of Winters. And if they moved on her with him right there, that could be with them slapping him right in the face. After all, there was no way he would have ordered it. And she was not a criminal. It would mean that someone was behind this. And to move then, would be the guards subverting his authority! In fact, to move at all against her unwarranted was a subversion of his authority. But if he or any of the other upright supervisors were not watching, Alaina could not put her faith in the system. There were just too big of a shadow world within the city.
But that was done. She got passed the guards. Now, all she needed to do was to get into her city. There were several cities passed the wall. High City, Drifting City, and Eastern City were of the largest that was freely accessible. There were a few more, but they were either not so inhabited, or for the richest of the rich, and noblest of the noblest. And Alaina herself lived in Eastern City.
Alaina smiled again and walked off into the tunnel-like entrance.
Navari looked out in front of him, and he could not help but go into a daze.
It’s been so long since I’ve seen something like this.
The bridge had stopped shortly after they came from the tunnel, and before him was a large and expansive platform, a level down – lower than him by dozens of feet. We must have been quite elevated where we entered. To his right and to his left were several hundred more buildings. Homes; businesses; public entertainments. And there were much more developed than the town in between the wall. It seemed no one was willing to develop the other town even though it was a primary route between the city and the outside. They could earn much money in doing so, but they didn’t. They knew what would happen if the wall went under lockdown. It was set to trap their enemies, and I don’t doubt they would have burned it all down to kill them.
But that was not what Navari was in a daze about. What got him was the platform and after. The large platform had railways that traveled across the sky, over the vast ocean beneath. The bridge had ended and from then on these railways traveled to different land masses off to the distance. In this, the fog had lifted much, and he could see the cities bustling far away; the grand towers of the several landmasses; and even the flying ships and railways traveling about. Some of the lands even floated off above the water. It seems like a natural one too. No indication of them using array systems. Navari was shocked. It seemed some of these cities were richer in natural resources than his previous home. No, they just haven’t used up those resources.
“Stop wasting time and follow. The next train to Eastern City will be leaving in a few. So let’s hurry up!” Alaina called out from ahead.
Navari shook his head. He followed after her heading towards the far end of the platform. There were a several hundred buildings and shops in that area as people waited for the train. The other town was not as developed, but the platform was. Navari followed Alaina to the very edge of the bridge. There was a sharp cliff, with a few ladders going down meters towards the platform. Alaina climbed over and began her descent. And it was just when Navari began his when he sensed something. He could feel a pair of eyes on him. Two, three.. No. Five!
We’re being followed.