The winter winds were cold and a fog had spread over the sea like a soft whisper.
Alaina1AlainaWow's walked down the snow-covered hill, her feet leaving deep tracks as she trudged through the downward slope. She looked back at the boy behind her and saw the emotionless yet solemn look on his face.
“We are almost there…” She uttered, her voice silky to the ear.
The boy said nothing.
Alaina turned back, facing the bridge only meters away. Her breath was slow and easy, and her mind was calm.
“I don’t know why you want to come to the Free Cities.” She continued. “I don’t even know where you come from, or how you got here. As far as anyone knows, there is only forests and beasts so far out… You saved my life and kept my sword in repayment. You led me out of the forest, and I will bring you into the city. In all intents and purposes, we are even. But I can feel a danger from you. One that scares me more than the masters and officials behind that wall.” Alaina’s eyes glanced at the far side of the bridge, but that calmness on her face was gone, replaced by a stern and cold look. “I have people precious to me there. People whom I will die for… If you ever do anything to harm them, even by accident or in casualty, no matter what gratitude I have for the help you have given me I… will kill you.”
And with that said, Alaina continued on.
The two remained silent on the entire way. No one said a word. No one even glanced at each other. There seemed to be a weight in the atmosphere, wherein the beginning was just awkwardness between two unknown people, it had become something stifling and oppressive. That is how, at least, Alaina felt. She did not know how Navari felt of what she had said, but she was not going to be the one to break the silence. I’ve said my piece. I need to make it known on how I feel.
Soon, they came to the bridge. The path was wide and long. And it had cracks; the years rooted on the seabed showed vestiges of moss growth and the wearing down of rock even to that that was exposed to air. Far ahead, A large dark shadow in the fog loomed over them. It was all-encompassing; consuming; intimidating. The wall. Oh, the wall. Same as ever, I see.
Alaina could not see anything else, but she could still hear the lapping waves of the sea around her. She could smell the salt in the air, and feel the occasional breeze grow stronger as they grew farther and farther out. She sighed. I didn’t earn anything. I had promised them, and I’ve failed. Her hand clenched into a fist. They grew tighter and tighter until she finally took another breath of cool air, and slowly expelled it.
Her hands unclenched, and she proceeded deep into the bridge, Navari at her heels.
After an hour of walking, the fog waned, and large structure loomed over them. The wall was made of thick light blue bricks. These blue bricks shimmered in the morning light. Choppy lines, like veins, covered them, and they were so thin that if there were not in the many, they would be imperceptible to the human eye.
It was at that moment, that things came into full view.
Before the wall, hundreds of people camped. Some were just getting up; most were still asleep. Tents and blankets were spread out. And the crackling embers of a worn out fire could be seen here and there.
The bridge itself was made out of harrock. Harrock was a grey and course, special type of stone that would increase the freezing point of materials, like salt, but in a more pronounced fashion. That way snow wouldn’t accumulate on the bridge, and would just melt as soon as it touched it. This made it easier for those who had camped there.
“Who are they?” Navari asked.
Alaina turned her head. She could feel the apprehension in the boy’s voice as he looked toward the group. Its seems he’s not the trusting type. That’s good. You can’t trust anyone in these cities… Not even me.
“Don’t worry. They are just camping out. The entrance to the cities remains locked at certain times, especially at night. Most of the more pressing existences that pose danger to the free cities are nocturnal, or simply prefer the night. So this way, it’s much safer.
“The people here are just those that have missed the timing and have been left out. So there is usually nothing to worry about… Usually.”
Alaina began to walk towards the camp. The entrance was about to open, and there was something she had to do before then.
“Then where’s the gate? Where is the entrance?” Navari’s voice was low, but Alaina could still hear him. She looked upon the wall. There indeed was no gate, drawbridge, door, or anything that marked an opening that they would be traveling through. Just the wall itself. But, it was difficult for her to explain, so she only shook her head. “You will see in due time.”
Navari grew quiet. Cautious and patient. He may just survive.
In midst of utter darkness, a small light sparked in the distance. It grew larger and larger as time went on. There was no sound. No feel of movement. Not even smell or the taste of spit. It was as if the world was isolated. As if this was the beginning of time, before the age of man. It was like this for a while. A long while. The nothingness; the stagnate space. But then things changed.
The light grew so much that it became blinding. Suddenly a pungent vapor shocked his nose. Jolts of energy launched in his system and his mind became alert. A humming sound entered his ears and the occasional thumping as the entire area shook felt to his core.
“Shhh.” Said a voice. Braen jolted, his body pushing against something that felt like leather, his heart racing. I don’t recognize him. He thought to himself. What’s happening? Where am I?
It was now that the brightness began to dull, and his vision became more solid. He looked around and could see he was in the backseat of a moving, small armored truck. It was a day, and the snowy hills were passing by as they drove.
The entire interior was black. Black ceiling. Black leather seats. Black carpeting. Black rails. But the person who sat across him, who wore a light and warm smile, was all in white.
“You’re- You’re-.” Braen’s throat clenched. He saw the white pants and belted tunic of the man before him. His hair was long and like blue silver, and it was intertwined into a ponytail. And his eyes were the same as his hair, a light blue silver, but with a contrasting dark pupil that made his eyes even more pronounced, even more penetrating.
Braen shivered. He did not know exactly who this man was, but he could tell from the clothes he wore that he was from a high and noble family. Such families were barely ever seen by people like himself. In fact, if not for the rumor, he would not have known anything at all.
“You should not worry about such matters. Rest. You have been through a large ordeal.” The man said. He looked young. Around mid-twenties or so, and he had a gaze that made Braen feel as if all of him was exposed. But as the man’s gaze glanced to his left side, Braen unconsciously glanced that way as well.
And he screamed.
His arm was gone. Cut from the mid-bicep down. It was all gone. All that remained were bandages.
Braen touched the area. He could not believe it. He felt no physical pain, it was numb, but a pain in his heart sparked.
“My arm!!” He yelled. Tears welled up in his eyes. He was young after all. There was so much to do in life, and now he was a cripple. But even as the lost pleasures that could have happened flashed in Braen’s mind, a more daunting realization came. A question that echoed in his mind over and over again. One that was paramount and would usually be the first for those who grew up in the bottom rung of the free cities… Just how will I survive?
“I know you must be dazed. Your arm has been numbed. We found you on the road. Took you in… The wound was festering with some kind of plague, but we removed it. Nothing a bit of Ionulk root can’t handle…” The man sighed. “But the numbing is only temporary. It won’t last, and we cannot give you more. Considering when we applied it, the effects will wane soon.
After a long while, Braen seemed to come out of his shock. He looked at the man sitting before him deeply. “You saved my life. For that, I am grateful.”
“Its nothing at all. We are all humans. We should look out for each other.” The man said with his light smile growing wider. That smile put Braen in a daze. He had lost his arm. He almost died. He would surely die soon as he had no means to survive on his own anymore, and this guy was smiling? Though Braen knew better, his emotions were flaring.
“… Who are you?” The words slipped from Braen’s mouth. “Ah.” He did not mean for it to come out like that. And to his savior, as the words sounded rude. But that was how he was the environment he was raised in. It was hard holding back such bad habits.
But the blue silvered hair man did not seem to mind. “If you truly want to know, you can call me Valik. And what’s your name?”
Braen hesitated. He did not want to divulge his name. What if he seeks repayment? I’m not rich. I can’t repay him this debt. It was not unfounded for the rich or more noble houses to exploit the poor after providing them with a bit of assistance. Usually, this would make those people bound to their houses as indentured servants. And how they served was something that no one who had his freedom would do with a sane mind.
Braen was free, and he wanted to stay that way. But he also knew it would do him no good to lie. These noble houses could find any information they wanted to. All they would need was to release his physical appearance alongside a reward, and even his closest friends would give him up in a heartbeat.
“My name is– Ah. AAh” Suddenly a sharp pain dug into Braen’s left arm. It grew larger and large until it felt as if it encompassed his entire left side of his body. His breath seethed, and he gave a throaty scream. It switched between a scream and a wail as the pain undulated and his arm throbbed.
Braen’s vision swarmed. His eyesight dimmed and became blurry, but not before he saw the mouth of the blue, silver-haired man. The same light smile was on the man’s face. He sighed. “It seems the Ionulk root wore off. You should rest. We’ll speak when you wake up again.
And like that, blackness took hold of him again.