Author’s Notes: Edited by Amu Fairwheather; Sponsored by Zain Zabidi — My first sponsor!! Because of that, I will release another chapter in 7-10 hours.
Ice water splashed, drenching Navari’s boot as he dashed by a stagnating puddle. At this point, his breath was ragged. His clothes were soaked in sweat and mist, and his eyes were wide as adrenaline pumped through his veins.
“Where is it? Where is it?”
The load of the girl over his shoulder grew heavier and heavier. He slapped her leg. “Come on Alaina1AlainaWow's! Don’t lose consciousness on me now! How do I get there from here?” But in the end, for all his questioning, only a slight groan came in response.
Navari hefted the girl further up his shoulder. She was heavy, and she was slipping. He wiped the sweat off and dashed through a nearby alley. The sky was dark, and the alley was black, but he ran in anyway. As he came out, a soft yellow glow illuminated a small space of the road from the lantern posts set along the way.
The streets were eerily empty, and the shops and houses seemed devoid of life.
Navari looked back. He could feel the presences of several figures moving in on him.
“How did they find us?” The words passed through his lips, but he did not stick around to ponder. Turning north of the road, Navari ran down, searching for the one thing that could save their lives.
8 hours earlier.
“We’ve made it. Even if they chase, they wouldn’t openly attack. Unlike the wall, the surrounding city is overseen by the central government.” Alaina spoke. Her breath was a bit harsh from all that running, but she still put on a smile. A sense of relief washed over her now that they seemed to escape danger, albeit momentary. “If we were kidnapped or killed, and one person saw, it wouldn’t be much of a big deal. But if we were attacked in the open in front of hundreds, and the culprits were not found? It would only add unnecessary political pressure. The government doesn’t want their people believing they are unsafe or that the government is incompetent.”
Navari looked at her. “We cannot let our guards down.”
“Of course we can’t. Silently killing us in a crowd, and in a way that doesn’t grab too much attention, is highly possible. Even if they found us dead later on, as long as the public doesn’t pay too much heed, then there would not be too much stress. But that’s for later. We must choose and stick to a location that balances the number of people and our safety.”
Alaina saw Navari nod at her response. He then looked back and seemed lost in his gaze.
Can he sense them? Just how does he do it? But of course, she did not ask. She had her secrets too, and she had no intention of revealing hers. That was just Alaina’s motto. “If I don’t ask about your business, don’t ask about mine.”
The two walked into the town. The town was built off the bridge itself, so roads and alleyways were just the large and long spaces designated by the gaps between rows of homes and shops.
The town was bustling. The wall that they had come from was expansive, and there were actually several areas for entering and exiting. Each entrance served a particular purpose and served as a shortcut to a specific route. The entrance they had come from was the general entrance. But the one connected to the far side of the town was particular for trade and supplies, which was why the area Alaina and Navari entered was packed with shops and businesses who were sporting their goods and hawking their wares.
Like this, the two spent half the day roaming about. In the end, they chose not to split up. Navari said he felt it was safer together. For some reason, he felt the people who had followed them were too capable to be misled any further, and Alaina agreed.
“Do you sense them now?” She asked as the sky dimmed, and the sun began to sink.
Alaina sighed. It’s getting late. When it gets dark, we will be at a complete disadvantage. Now that they have spotted us, we can be easily trapped here and taken out.”
“They’ve spotted us hours ago,” Navari said, his voice light and cool.
“What?” Alaina hissed. She kept her anger in check and stopped herself from yelling out loud in case their stalkers would realize they knew they were there. “Why didn’t you say so earlier?”
“I thought you knew.”
“How would I have known? I am not like you. I don’t sense things from the invisible antennae coming out of my ass!”
Navari frowned. “Well, now you know.”
“We must hurry then. If they spotted us, they likely have us cornered. You said there were five or six of them behind us.”
“Yes, and I have been keeping track of them. The same people have been following us. We can still deal with them.”
“Oh? Can you figure what they have been up to all this time?”
Navari’s frown deepened. “No.”
“Then you don’t know if they’ve summoned more. Especially with so many people here. I doubt you would even notice. Let me guess. You noticed those five because they were watching us in a place that wouldn’t have people watching and following. But in this town, knowing their potential background, there are probably another fifteen or more in the surroundings that have been summoned, keeping track of our movements. Even they aren’t going to take physical action against us; that still puts us at a huge loss just from tracing our tracks alone.”
Alaina stared into Navari’s deep, dark eyes. She felt a shiver at the unbridled fierceness within them, but she had a fierceness of her own. She would not back down. “Don’t assume anything again. Tell me. The only way this partnership works well is if we are both kept in the loop. You do not know this city like I do.”
“We both hold too many secrets for that.” Navari finally spoke.
“In part, you are right. But not about this. This information didn’t reveal your secrets. At least, not the ones I don’t already know. So stop arguing, and let’s go.” And with that, Alaina walked off. She kept her cool, heading towards the wall and further to the edge of the bridge with a smooth, but swift, gait.
Navari sighed. Just how did they find us so quickly though? He had wondered this as they walked around all day. When the two entered the city, they had disguised themselves as they traveled. Their clothes were not the same, and any revealing characteristics were covered.
And yet, they still found us.
Such speed was even faster than Navari’s capabilities. A small part of him felt fear. Have they really advanced so far? He could not help but wonder if those that chased them housed abilities similar to his own. Abilities that were supposed to be long lost as the empire had tumbled to ash, and was slowly being forgotten.
Navari snapped out of his thoughts. He could see Alaina casually glance at him every few minutes, making sure he was keeping up.
The two briskly headed back towards the wall, but on the side of the town. As they did, the houses and shops waned, and they came upon an area devoid of people. The bridge beneath their feet was cracked and scorched black. Runic symbols that were clustered, and spread across forming various arrays that should have been vibrant with color, were now a dull grey. Buildings were burned to ruins, and smoot still stained the hollowed, broken down walls.
“What is this place?” Navari couldn’t help but ask. As his eyes glanced and locked onto each symbol, his inner self-shook. His sense of self-felt off, and he felt cut off from the world itself.
But Alaina said nothing.
Just what have these people been up to?
They passed several more collapsed and burned out buildings then came to one building at the very center. It was remote, and Alaina stopped a few feet away from a large solitary house. The front half of it was missing, but a door stood perfectly in what would have been the middle of the house. At first, Navari did not recognize the peculiarity. But, coming so close, he did.
The door was dark in color. More than half of it was scorched black. The blackened bronze seemed to chafe in with a slight wind.
He waited for a while, and so did Alaina. She said nothing, and so, he did the same.
The entire time, as the sun dipped even lower, enough where the sky was no longer blue, and the lights of the nearby town began to turn off one by one, Navari kept checking the surroundings. He tried to remain calm as he felt the presence around him. It took him a while, but he finally noticed something. They’re no longer following. At first, Navari couldn’t be sure. He thought they probably didn’t want to reveal themselves out in the open. But then again, this was a prime location to target them and kill them, and he had wanted to mention this to Alaina but stopped himself. She clearly knows what she’s doing. There is probably something about this location where the others would not dare to follow. But what is this place?
Suddenly, the door creaked open, and Navari jumped. The door was slow, and the creak long and dreadful. And as the door opened, there was only blackness. It seemed as if the space in the door opened to and the world around it was not the same. It was like a rectangular dark pit in the middle of nothing.
They have something like this? Navari was shocked. He was but a small child when the empire fell, so his knowledge on certain things was highly limited.
“Why have you come here?” A deep voice resonated out.
“I need passage, Jarnice.”
A sneer echoed out, and what stepped out of the dark void was a man half the height of Alaina. He had stubble on his face, and his hair was near black.
“Alaina. You know better than to come here. Use the other entrance.” The man named Jarnice said.
Alaina sighed and shook her head. “It could not be helped. I can’t go to the general area. Let me through.”
The man named Jarnice became quiet and then nodded. He stepped aside, and Navari and Alaina walked in. But as they passed through, and the darkness swallowed them, Jarnice’s voice resonated within their ears
“Every choice has a price.”
It was pretty quiet that night. Serric sat, leaning on the bar with a drink in his hand. The ice shifted as it melted into the cool alky liquid.
He took a sip, and then another sip. The intoxicating, bitter taste filled his mouth. He winced slightly as it burned his throat. “I’m really not used to this.” He mumbled.
“Then why drink?” Yillis asked beside him.
She seemed like a normal young woman at his side. Her hair draped down her shoulders, and she took a sip of her drink.
Serric could not help but sigh. She really is a beautiful woman. If I was ten years younger… But Serric shook his head. Even if he was ten years younger, and she was interested in him, he would never. Her background was probably filled with thorns and brambles, and once he was sucked into her world, he would never get out. Damn nobles.
Suddenly the bar entrance door banged open. A man in uniform ran in, his breath ragged
“Sir-… Sir” He breathed.
Serric put his drink down and got up. “What is it? What happened?”
The officer in uniform took another breath. “That girl. The one you put up in the house for the night-” The officer gasped again.
And Serric could not help but fear. When he left and spoke to the girl within the police vehicle, she did not speak. She seemed void of life, her black hair was dull and her eyes dark.
At the time, the girl had just lost her parents and it was to be expected that she would be shocked and mute. Her whole family just gone in one night. Did she kill herself? Can she even think of suicide? She’s only seven! He had put her up in one of the standard institutions for kids that had psychological problems for the night just in case. He felt they would have taken care of her better than he could. But this? Just what were those idiots doing?
Serric was supposed to deliver the girl to the people in Volaris, but now? She’ll have grounds to get rid of me even faster. And there goes my retirement.. Damn it! I had five more years. Why is all of this happening to me now?
“Officer. Take a breath, and tell us what happened. Yillis reiterated at Serric’s side.
The officer took a breath and finally gained his breath before saying something that put the two of them at a loss.
“Sir. Mam. The girl. The institution. They lost her.”