For character designs and other fun extras, check out our insta @landxsky !
Early morning was kind to the City of Reshingham. It was a large city, the third largest in fact, located in the centre of the country of Southern Varea. It was also known all over the world as a great home of magic, history, and culture. Great architecture, pieces of art, and sights to see all around, surrounded by green fields, hills, and forests. People would come from all over to explore and learn from what was available only here.
Clear skies, warm sun, and light breezes made it a wonderful day to visit the markets at the centre of the city, located just outside of a large church. A teen with messy, blonde hair and bright blue eyes browsed a stall filled with charms and jewellery, his expression filled with excitement as he focused on a small, silver double-winged pendant hanging from a thin, rope necklace. He felt it would go perfectly with his outfit; a brown, faux-fur collared pilots jacket with the sleeves rolled up over a black shirt, grey jeans, and red canvas shoes.
"Ya have a good eye!"
The voice came from the stall's owner, a girl with wavy silver hair and bright violet eyes wearing a purple denim jacket, white shirt, and a long, yellow scarf. She looked to be similar in age to her potential customer, and she could tell this fact may work to her advantage for a sale.
"This here will protect ya from the effects of foul weather! Never have ta worry about catching a cold or sickness from the cold damp days with this!"
The boy was far too busy being distracted by the freckles on the cute girls' face to notice his twin sister calling over for him from a few feet away. After the third attempt she gave up and grabbed him by one of his ear, dragging him away to the seller’s dismay. She stopped a little ways down a quiet alley-way, somewhere her brother couldn’t be easily distracted.
“Lex’! Why’d you do that?!” He rubbed at his ear, it was red from the lobe all the way up to its pointed helix; a sign they weren’t full human.
"We need money to buy things, Xander. There’s no point in even looking right now."
Lexi was a little shorter than her brother, but only a couple of inches, and held a more serious expression versus his own carefree look. her light-brown, short-sleeved jacket and black vest both stopped a few inches above her belly button, leaving bare skin between where they ended and her black jeans began. She shifted her canvas messenger bag and crossed her arms over her chest, one of her black boots tapping the ground impatiently.
"Don't remind me," He sighed.
"Who was it that spent our week's Sterling on a magical pineapple that was, in fact, just a pineapple?"
"They told me it granted wishes!" He exclaimed.
Lexi groaned, rubbing her temples.
"I wish you'd been born with a brain."
Meanwhile, in a tavern not too far from the squabbling twins, something was afoot.
"So this is definitely it?" A blonde-haired Elven woman with thick-rimmed, circular glasses over bright blue eyes sat at a table looking over a rather old looking scroll with markings and circles drawn upon it. She reached into the pocket of her long white coat and pulled out a small magnifying glass to help her inspection of the item at hand.
"Yeah, we acquired it from a man travelling from Desia. They had all sorts of black market items, this being one of particular interest."
The voice came from a rather rotund, balding man. The look of pride could only be matched by that of a pig having found its very own mudpuddle to wallow in.
"Something seems to be off.." the woman spoke, causing a look of concern for the man and the two thuggish-looking 'muscle' he had with him. Likely the duo who actually put the effort into convincing the traveller to part ways with his wares.
"This doesn't match any of the Relic Rune Scrolls I've seen before. I believe this fellow had been deceived.."
"What?! But the treasures—"
"Will not be reached with such attempts of forgery as this." She rolled the scroll up and shook her head before holding it out to him. "I wish you better luck next time."
As the woman made her way out of the tavern, the trio looked at each other with dismay. He placed the scroll down on the table and groaned. There was a pause, as the balding fellow's mind seemed to make a realisation. He went to open the scroll up to discover it was merely leaves! She had swapped it out somehow. But... if this wasn't the scroll, where had it gone..?
"That bitch swapped it! Go get her!" He pointed at the door angrily and the hired muscle ran outside. As they stepped out into the daylight they grabbed a woman who was standing nearby.
"You! Have you seen a blonde with round glasses?" The elf woman, black haired with green eyes mostly hidden under dark sunglasses, looked at the two of them in silence for a moment before responding.
“Y-yes! She went around the market towards the Chaplace."
Before another word could be said, the men rushed off leaving her behind.
"Ijits." She muttered to herself, pulling the thick-rimmed spectacles out of her pocket and tossed them into the alleyway nearby before walking down it, "If you can't spot a glamour up close then it's your own fault, really."
She’d rushed to remove her disguise as soon as she’d made her escape, fortunately the white coat had done a wonderful job of hiding her usual outfit underneath; black ankle boots and shorts, a leather sports-bra style top that zipped up at the front, and a brown leather pouch affixed to her waist. As she made her way down the alleyway, she picked up the red vest-jacket she’d stashed away slipped it on. Once she felt she was in a place where nobody could see her, the woman pulled the scroll out of a her pouch that now seemed like must've been far bigger on the inside than out. She looked it over for a few moments, sighing. Hmm... might need a few extra bodies to help me with this. She thought to herself.
Siarra stood there, trying to think herself the quickest and easiest ways of recruiting someone to lend a hand, but found her train of thought being ruined by two people not too far away in a rather heated discussion, blonde teens who seemed to be talking about being in need of money. She grinned broadly, What perfect timing.
"Excuse me!" She called over as she walked towards the duo, "I couldn't help but overhear your predicament, and I think we could be of use to each other."
Xander looked to the woman and smiled sheepishly. Lexi rolled her eyes before speaking on his behalf.
"How do you mean?"
The woman held out her hand, smiling warmly.
"Siarra. Great relic hunter for Reshingham's Architectural Society. I have a scroll that leads to a ruin containing various artefacts and scrolls. I couldn’t help but hear your predicament and, well… I was just on my way back to the society headquarters to grab a few members for a job. If you're willing to help me out, the society will happily pay you for all your hard work."
"What's the ca-"
Lexi was interrupted by an overly excited Xander reaching out for her hand to shake.
"Fantastic!" She exclaimed, "My car is parked outside the city gates. We can get to the nearest Rune Circle pretty quickly from here that way. Oh, excuse my manners. Who are you both, by the way?"
"I'm Xander, and this is my sister Lexi. We're from Hemport!" He grinned broadly.
"Pleasure to meet you. Let's hope for a successful venture." Siarra pointed the way towards the city gates and let the two take lead. She smirked to herself, A couple of kids from some outback fishing town. This'll be the easiest con yet.
It wasn't far at all by car, the trio arrived at the stone circle within no time. Siarra parked not too far from the ancient looking circle of giant stones. These places were revered, and sticking a car right inside them would probably invoke the wrath of some god or other. At the northern part of the circle, two tall stones held up another which formed a sort of doorway, and at the centre was a much smaller, flat-topped stone next to another smaller, rounded stone with engravings on it. Siarra lead the twins to the centre, placing her hand on the rounded stone first. She stood in silence for a few moments before returning her focus to the task at hand.
"Here we are." She looked over the stone in front of them before handing the scroll over to Xander, "Here. Hold it open so I can copy the runes from the parchment."
He took it and let the scroll unfurl, holding it steady for Siarra to copy down. She pulled out a small knife from her pocket and etched the markings perfectly onto the stone, "There. This should open the gate. Just one more thing needed.."
The knife slide across Siarra's palm, allowing her life force to start pouring out, much to Xander's dismay.
"Wh-what're you doing?!"
He yelled, dropping the scroll. Siarra ignored him as she placed the bloodied hand onto the stone before them. The markings and runes seemed to absorb the blood as it poured out, beginning to glow. Lexi watched in amazement. After all, this was new to the twins. Nothing like this ever happened back in Hemport. Siarra pulled her hand back and turned her attention to the stone 'doorway' as it began to glow in response. Soon enough a pale blue portal began to open in the space, tall and narrow. It was wide enough for two of them to venture through simultaneously at most.
Siarra spoke with a smile before heading on through. Xander and Lexi looked at each other for a moment before following.
It felt like soft silk sliding across their skin, somehow cool and warm at the same time. The feeling lasted only a few moments and they were through. Lexi stepped through first, gazing up at the room before them. It looked old and abandoned, easily for hundreds of years. Moss and weeds had grown through the walls and carpets, and there was no other signs of life anywhere. Xander appeared shortly after, almost bumping into a distracted Lexi.
"It should be at the centre of the ruin, the vault of relics." Siarra started to walk forward.
"One sec!" Xander called before rushing over. He reached down to the bottom of his shirt and tore a thin strip off from the front before handing it to her, "For your hand."
She took it and looked to the tear in the boy's shirt, noticing an interesting mark just above his left hip.
She raised a brow, wrapping the cloth around her cut palm. To be honest, it had already stopped bleeding. She decided she’d at least act the part of a grateful partner. Xander looked down sheepishly. It was a black circle, with a curved section cut out of it on the right side.
"It's a family birthmark. Lexi has one too."
His sister nodded, tapping the space just below her neck.
“Right. Anyway. Let's move on." Siarra ventured up a decrepit staircase to their right, “Oh, and mind your step. These ruins are aptly named."
The second floor was in just as much disarray as the room they entered into. No signs of life up here, either.
The three stopped at a partially open doorway. Unfortunately, the ceiling had long since collapsed and blocked it. It didn't look safe enough to climb, and far too many large stones to try and move without more people. Siarra frowned, trying to think.
"Don't worry, I’ve got this." Xander chimed in, stepping forward. He walked over to the side of the rubble and took a deep breath. He clasped his hands together and chanted something under his breath. It wasn't long before his skin began to lightly glow. He loosed his clasp and grinned before placing each hand on parts of the rubble. Another deep breath was taken before he started to push the stones out of the way as if they were lighter than air. Once he'd moved enough to allow passage through the doorway he nodded to himself and the glowing faded, “There we go!”
"Physical enhancement magic. That was unexpected." Siarra canted her head to the side as she watched Xander, "nice work."
He beamed at her and bowed dramatically. Lexi simply rolled her eyes at him.
"You know, I think this place is so decrepit that any of the trials may not even be active anymore."
Siarra seemed to give a sigh of relief as she spoke. After all, the less work you have to do the better.
"However..." she stopped, overlooking a large expanse. On either side were two rather rotten wooden poles in the ground, pieces of rope and plank hanging down from either end, "A lack of bridge is always problematic."
Siarra tutted under her breath, before looking to Xander.
"I don't suppose you have some spell to fix this issue, too?"
Xander shook his head, but thumbed in the direction of his sister.
"She may, though."
Lexi frowned a little, being offered up without even a request first.
"I can try something."
The girl made her way to the expanse and held her hands out, palms facing the depths below. She closed her eyes and focused, chanting quietly like her brother had previously, as her fingertips began to glow. Deep within The expanse, unknown how far down, a green glow shone before a strong gust of wind flew up. Along with it came planks, rocks, and other pieces of debris.
“Air magic. Huh." Siarra was definitely impressed. She thought she'd just roped in a couple of hicks who'd be good decoys, but they could actually pull their own weight. Using her magical ability to control the wind around the better looking debris, Lexi formed a sort've makeshift bridge over the gap, “You both are full of surprises.”
"We're just lucky there were enough pieces that aren't too decrepit. Brother, go test it out."
Xander stepped forward and started to hop between the planks and rocks, safe in the knowledge his sister could catch him with her element of choice if there were a problem. Fortunately, he made it across. Siarra followed soon after, and Lexi hopped across gently before cancelling her spell.
"You've got some talent there for sure," Siarra nodded to her, "but I have to ask.."
Lexi tilted her head, awaiting the question.
"If you could lift and control all those pieces, why didn't you just float the three of us over."
Lexi just stared in silence at Siarra, before her cheeks flushed a bright red. Xander simply laughed.
"My sister is really smart, but she has no common sense."
"Shut your face."
Lexi grumbled as she walked past the duo through the doorway ahead of them. Siarra tried not to laugh at their interactions, managing to contain herself before following suit.
"We should almost be there now. The room we’re after will be just up ahead."
True enough, down the last winding hallway the found a large closed doorway. It was immaculate compared to the rest of the ruin, and a large gem shone brightly above the archway. Across the door itself was a glowing rune, somewhat similar to an 'e' with a strike through it.
"Magic seal. That's easy enough."
Siarra nodded to herself, it was her time to shine. Out of her pouch, she retrieved a piece of parchment and a pen. On it she drew a series of small runes and slapped it onto the door, then used her knife to pierce a fingertip before wiping the blood over the runed paper. It shone brightly and absorbed the large sealing rune before the paper disintegrated into nothingness.
"Would you do the honours?"
She turned to Xander who made swift use of his strength enhancing magic to push the large stone doors open with ease. He stepped aside to let her through before following with his sister.
Inside, there were jewels and chests all around. It seemed to be a treasury just as much as a storehouse for relics and scrolls. In the back of the room, a little to the right and on a wide pedestal were three scrolls.
"There they are! These are ancient magics and texts that have been long since forgotten. They'll be worth a fortune..." Siarra caught herself as she spoke "in historical knowledge, of course."
Lexi raised a brow at the pause, but Xander didn't seem to think anything of it. Siarra turned to the two, tucking two of the three parchments under her arm, handing one to Xander.
"Great work. Hold onto this one for me. Let's get out of here and we'll get you your payment as thanks as soon as we’re back at the Society building."
She pulled a blue ribbon out of her waist-pouch and placed it on the pedestal where the scrolls had been previously. Another quick use of her knife to let a little of her blood drip onto the ribbon and it began to glow. Siarra stepped back and a gateway similar to the one they'd used to arrive formed.
"See you on the other side!"
She saluted the two before hopping on through. Xander grinned and nodded to his sister before they both took the portal back out.
Outside, the twins found themselves back at the stone circle. The gateway was now gone, but so was Siarra and her car.
"Where'd she go?"
Xander looked around confused.
He turned to his sister who was pointing towards the scroll in his hand. He glanced down, noticing it had changed form. Now it was a rolled up piece of paper. Xander unfurled it, looked it over, and read the note out loud.
Thanks for all your hard work!
As you can see, this isn't a scroll and there is no such society.
You were a great help, though.
I hope you don't mind, but I imbued a spell on the parchment so you may soon realise you've been standing there for about an hour, can't have you chasing after me.
No hard feelings,
"We... Did all that for nothing..." Xander sat down upon the ground and let out an exasperated sigh, "I can't believe it."
"Well..." Lexi spoke up, a sly grin on her lips, "I'd not say for nothing."
She reached into her messenger bag and pulled out several of the jewels that had been scattered around the final room.
"Who has no common sense, brother?"
Xander beamed up at her, "Have I told you that I love you lately, sis~"
He laughed and hopped up onto his feet.
It took them close to an hour to get back to Reshingham by foot, but they were still back in good enough time to trade their newly acquired riches in at the City Market’s Guild Hall for a pleasant sum of Stirling. With it they managed to buy fresh food, a new shirt for Xander, some supplies including items known as Endless Pouches (these were very similar to the one Siarra had affixed at her waist to store all her items), and a few nights at the local inn. Oh, and of course Xander was sure to return to the cute merchant's stall and purchase the charm he'd been eyeing just that morning. Lexi treated herself to some small, stud earrings that were meant to enhance wind affinity.
Evening had set in. In their room they had been on a call back home to their elder sister, Maria, telling her all about the adventures they'd had on that day. Her voice rang through a purple flip-phone set to loudspeaker on the room’s desk.
"Well, I'm glad you made it there safely and are already making new friends."
"I'm not sure if I'd say friends.. But Xander was definitely taken."
Lexi smirked and eyed her brother.
"Anyway!" Xander spoke up, "It's getting late so we should call it a night. Tell Nia we said hi!"
"I will. Rest well and hope to hear from you soon."
"Definitely, love ya!"
The call ended with a beep. Lexi closed the flip-phone and slipped it back into her messenger bag on the table. Xander threw his torn shirt and jeans onto the floor, then dove into his bed. Lexi, far less recklessly, swapped her clothes out for her pyjamas before tucking into her own.
"I wonder if this was what it was like for dad..."
Xander spoke softly, he was more-so thinking aloud than making conversation. That did not, however, stop his sister from responding.
"Leaving his children to take care of themselves for ten years to chase women and treasure, without thinking about the consequences? Probably."
She responded dryly, it was obvious that he was not a topic she enjoyed discussing.
"I'll never forgive him for that, but it makes you wonder..."
Lexi rolled into her side, refusing to comment.
"Sorry. Night, sis." Xander rolled the opposite way and closed his eyes, “See you in the morning.”
She snapped her fingers and the lights began to dim until they were out, leaving only traces of light peeking through the curtains.
The twins stood outside of the Great Library, home to hundreds of thousands of books and texts covering the history of the country, it’s magic, as well as various other manuscripts all relating to the magical world and its culture. It was a relatively short walk north of the city’s centre, through a woodland park, and a short ways uphill.
“I’m bored already.”
Xander whined, and Lexi simply rolled her eyes.
“Shut up. We’re not even inside.”
“But I can feel my soul slipping awaaay!”
“Wait outside, then.”
Lexi walked on in through the Library’s large wooden doors. Xander frowned, not getting the response he’d hoped for, and looked up at the giant library’s structure. He sighed before walking in after his sister.
The Library was as vast and intricate as one would expect in a city such as Reshingham. Xander thought to himself that if he weren’t carefully, he’d get lost and never be found. A little ways from the entrance, left of the reception desk, Xander sat himself defiantly at a table. He leaned back on his chair, looking exceedingly bored, as an excited Lexi sat down beside him with several large books that she’d deemed to be of interest and began to skim through a couple, placing them to the side if they didn’t instantly garner her interest. After three or four failed attempts, she finally stared contently at a book titled ‘ Beginnings of Wonder: The Great Land of Resh’ . Lexi began reading through it, stopping at a two page spread of picture-based history. She stared at it for a few moments before summarising aloud to her brother.
“Reshingham was founded around five-hundred years ago by travellers from the Holy Land of Dovara. It came in a dream to the elder of their tribe. In it, she claimed that a fae-like familiar would guide them to a land so imbued with Aether it would bring great prosperity to all who’d reside there. The world would be benefitted by the city they’d create in that spot.”
In the book there was Map of the continent of Vaerana. Lexi traced along an embossed dotted line showing the route they took with her fingertips.
“By foot, it took several months... But once they’d crossed the mountains that lead them to the South Varean border, it wasn’t long before the familiar of their Elder’s dream appeared. The travellers followed it for several days and nights without rest until it stopped here.” Her fingers stopped in the location where Reshingham now resided, tapping on it a couple of times, “The fae disappeared soon after and the foundations of Reshingham, then known as The Great Land of Prosperity - Resh, began.”
Lexi smiled, closing the book and looked over to her brother. The smile faded and her expression turned to that of annoyance as she saw him, arms crossed on the table being used as a pillow for his head. He had fallen asleep.
Lexi stood, gathering up the books in her arms and set off to return them to their sections. Once she was out of sight Xander opened an eye, sitting up with a smirk.
“If you want something that’s really of interest to you..”
Xander didn’t recognise the voice behind him, he turned around to see an elderly, bearded man.
“Try the legends section within the City Hall next door. I’m sure there’s something you’ll want to read.”
“Books aren’t really my thin-“
He was cut off by a familiar voice, sounding rather confused.
“Who’re you talking to?”
Xander turned back to face Lexi before returning his attention to the old man... Who had somehow disappeared in the few moments he had been distracted. Xander paused in silence for a moment before speaking.
“Mmm… let’s.. check the city hall next. I heard they have more books there.”
The City Hall was a few minutes walk from the Great Library. Both were situated atop beautiful green hills, with views all around that could move even the hardest of soul.
Inside, the twins walked through the visitors section. Paintings and busts of historical figures and previous leaders were lined up either side of the marble walkway.
“Why would they keep the books here and not in the library?”
“That’s because The Great Library is a sacred place, only to be filled with the truth of our culture, not to be filled with myths and fallacy.”
The twins turned to see an older Elven lady in a dress suit with a badge with the word ‘Curator’ on her lapel. She smiled warmly.
“Good morning. My name is Alice, I’m the curator of the Hall.”
“Morning. My name is Lexi, and this is my brother Xander.”
“So all the books here are made up stories?”
Her brother questioned the curator, Lexi raised a brow. It wasn’t often that he’d even consider discussing books.
“Well, they are tales of history that have no evidence or other texts to back their claims. So, they reside here. If you’ll follow me, I’ll take you to the room of legendary texts.”
She began walking down the statue lined pathway, several feet further down she motioned to a door on their left before walking through. Xander followed first, looking at several cabinets filled with many books and scrolls.
“They could be true then?”
“Well,” Alice Looked over at the cabinets as she spoke, “There is a lot about our history that we are discovering and better understanding every day. One day the most laughable book here could be discovered as truth, and then it would appear within The Great Library.”
Xander nodded, this was absolutely the sort of thing that interested him. Myths and legends were always more exciting than history.
He turned to his sister, raising a brow as he saw the concern on her face.
“Hey. You okay?”
She didn’t speak, instead opting to point in the direction of a book amongst several others in a cabinet beside her. He walked over to look, and surprise became visible on his visage.
“Is there a problem?” Alice questioned the twins, glancing to the book they had focused on, “Ah. That’s the Legend of The Particala, one of the creation myths.”
Lexi spoke under her breath. The book was small, leather bound and embossed with good thread. A language unknown to the twins was printed on the cover, circling a symbol at the centre. The very same the duo had marked upon their forms.
Xander turned to the Curator.
“What’s the story about?”
Alice moved close to the glass cabinet, opening the lid. She held her palm over the small book and chanted quietly under her breath. Her hand began to glow faintly, as did the pages of the closed book. Xander slid up beside Lexi, whispering to her.
“What’s she doing?”
“ Libarius, I think.” Lexi watched as she continued to hover her palm over the book, “It lets you gather all the information in a scroll or book instantly.”
Xander continued watching, the pages and Alice’s hand stopped glowing and she returned her attention to the twins.
“Before the world we reside in came into creation, there was another. This other world was filled with people, but none had affinity for magic. The arts, familiars, relics; none of them existed there. It was a world filled with war, disease, and darkness that has never been known to us. There is no information on how or why this previous world came to exist, be it gods, or something else. Perhaps it simply was always there.
In this world there was a man, The Creator. He and his disciples wished to create the universe anew. Some claimed it was for peace, The Creator wanted for a world without all the suffering of the one he currently existed within. Others claimed it was to rule over all and be a true deity. He and his disciples were the ones to create the first Sacred Relic: The Particala. A magical item that could recreate the very laws of the stars themselves if its user deemed fit.
Together with the faith and support of his followers, The Creator recreated the world. Only he and his disciples were left of the old world with their knowledge intact. It was decided all the rest of creation would be fresh, a new beginning.
Once the world was finished to their desires, they split The Particala into several pieces and placed an unbreakable seal over it’s parts so none could make use of it, even if all the pieces were reunited. They rejoiced and infused themselves with a sacred mark that would allow only those who became chosen to wield the mark to access it. It is said any who would come to be born with this marking are descendants of The Creator and his disciples, and one day our world may be rebuilt once more.”
“Wait, so anyone with the mark on that book is one of these chosen?”
Lexi questioned Alice after having heard the story, she’d never heard anything like this before.
“So they say.”
The twins went silent, raising a curiosity within the curator.
“Is something wrong?”
They looked at each other before nodding in agreement. Lexi turned around and loosed the jacket from her shoulders, letting it slide down just far enough to show the marking around the back of her neck. Xander lifted his shirt as well, both revealing that they bore the mark on the book. Alice’s eyes widened.
“Are these real?”
“Yeah. We’ve always had them.”
Xander responded as he lowered his shirt.
“Our whole family does.” Lexi adder, turning back around and returning the jacket to its comfortable place, “At least, on our Father’s side from what we know.”
The curator thought for a moment, Could it be real? They had never been here before to her knowledge, and this was the only copy of the book. They couldn’t have just known about the mark, could they ?
“I think you should meet the Mayor. She would be interested in this… If that’s okay with you both?”
“I’m okay with it. You, Lex’?”
Lexi thought a moment longer, unlike her brother she was prone to actually contemplating before making a decision.
The curator smiled warmly
“Wonderful. The Mayor is currently at the Great Chaplace overseeing a special Familiar Summoning. It’s the large building within the city’s centre. Shall we?”
The twins nodded and Alice left to arrange a car to drive them down. It wasn’t that far of a walk, but this was an urgent case. Lexi looked to her brother, he was strangely silent.
“What do you think?”
“I mean.. I just thought it was some family mark the old man made up and stuck on us. But this does seem more interesting.”
He grinned, this had the smell of excitement and adventure. Lexi sighed.
“I suppose it would be good to know. He never did tell us about our grandparents, or any other relatives for that matter.”
She frowned a little, thinking on the fact.
It wasn’t long before Alice returned to the two.
“The car is ready. Shall we?”
They nodded and followed her out of the city hall, to where a silver car awaited them. The doors slowly swung open by themselves and the three got inside.
The Grand Chaplace was the main attraction of Reshingham. It was a holy place, filled with statues in a large circle surrounding what appeared to be a place of worship and communion. They all appeared to be depictions of great conjurers from times gone by, and were beautifully illuminated by stained glass windows featuring artwork telling various stories that neither of the twins knew. At the very centre, near the back of the Chaplace, was a very large wooden doorway with a sign stating No Entry without permission.
“What’s in there?”
Xander questioned Alice, pointing at the door as they made their way further inside.
“The Sacred Hall of Summoning is behind that doorway. It’s a place where only those authorised can enter to seek a blessing from the Rama.”
“A special type of person who can call upon familiars and other creatures to this plane.” Lexi responded, annoyed at her brother for never paying attention in classes, “There’s a lot of stories about them in the books back home.”
Alice nodded, pleased by Lexi’s knowledge.
“Precisely. While it’s getting to become somewhat common these days to have a familiar, you still need to be granted permission from the council of Rama here… And even then, as the Familiar chooses you not everyone receives the blessing. The Mayor is there as we speak, witnessing a special summoning.”
“I…” Xander spoke softly under his breath, “wan’ one..”
The curator took the twins around the interior Chaplace, showing all of the details and architecture, giving brief history and explaining some of the stories displayed within the windows.
A short time passed and one of the large wooden doors opened with a loud creaking groan. The twins turned to see who would show up from the room inside. Out of it stepped a young man, maybe just a bit older than the twins. He had a dark complexion, with tied back, curly, navy coloured hair that was all but completely shaved on the sides, ears that extended back a little, rounded at the tips, and vibrant red eyes. Lexi couldn’t help but stare at them, she’d never seen an eye colour that shade outside of the Zeren race, and even then it was only from picture books she owned. What was the most interesting, however, was the creature upon his shoulder. It appeared to be like a yellow feathered lizard, just large enough to need two hands to hold, with small, pointed, white wings on its back. He didn’t seem to notice the three as he made his way out, perhaps too distracted with the new Familiar in his possession.
A few moments passed and a well dressed woman stepped out, closing the door behind her. She looked to be around middle age, had brown hair and eyes, and seemed to just ooze authority. She glanced over to Alice and the twins, smiling before making her way over.
“I see it went well, ma’am.”
Alice spoke respectfully to the other woman, they looked to be similar in age.
“Yes, he’s certainly pleased. Hopefully it won’t just be a phase like his other wants and desires.” She sighed, resting a finger on her temple for a moment before turning to the twins, “My name is Lana Hartstrong, Mayor of Reshingham.”
“This is Xander and Lexi, from Hemport” Alice spoke on their behalf, “They have something I believe you’ll find very interesting.”
“Yes, but perhaps somewhere private.”
Mayor Hartstrong nodded, motioning to a private room off to the left-hand corner at the back. Inside, the Curator updated her on the details and the twins showed their markings.
“And you’ve always had these?”
“Yeah, the whole family does. Except our mother, that is.”
Xander responded. The Mayor looked at them for a moment, as though there were a familiarity she was trying to figure out.
“What is your family name, if I may ask?”
Lexi spoke up on their behalf. It was as if the mayor had been reminded of a particularly bad meal, her face showed it all.
“I knew a Hawking. Terrible man, always flirting and drinking the night away with anyone who’d have him. Dependable on a few rare occasions, but overall a pain in my a—“ She stopped and took a deep breather, waiting a moment longer until she was certain she’d composed herself, “Apologies.”
The twins both shared a look of disdain on their faces.
“Sounds like him, alright…” Lexi groaned, “I think that might be our father.”
“We’ve not seen him in ten years.”
The Mayor frowned, she felt more than a little sympathy.
“Useless man...” another quick composure and she spoke again, “As for these markings.. would you please hold out a hand each?”
The twins looked to each other then nodded, doing as requested. Mayor Hartstrong took each hand in her own and chanted quietly. They glowed for a few moments before fading. Seemingly satisfied, she let go and placed them on her lap.
“They’re being honest about the markings. How remarkable.” She spoke, looking to Alice, “Perhaps there’s more to the legend than stories, after all.”
“What do you think, Ma’am?”
Lana thought for a moment before returning her attention to the twins.
“Could I perhaps ask you both to do me a favour? I know it may be stranger, us having just met. However, this is a special occasion. I have… A quest of sorts, one of which you’ll be paid for the time and effort.”
“What’s the quest?”
Lexi asked, quickly reaching over to place a hand directly onto Xander’s mouth. He wouldn’t be signing them up without any details again.
“Far south of here is the country of Metis, there is a village there that has always claimed that the legends, especially that of The Particala was true. The village of Amanori. I’d like you to go there, and speak with the people. See if there’s anything they might share with those who have The Mark that others may never learn.”
Xander looked at Lexi, excitement sparkling brightly in his eyes.
“Alright. But we’re still relatively new to travelling and using our own skills outside of basic lessons and practices from school.” Lexi nodded, “Will it be dangerous?”
The Mayor smiled warmly at the teen’s mature honesty.
“I can’t guarantee it one way or the other, but it shouldn’t be too bad. I’ll arrange to have some escorts with you though, just in case.”
Lexi smiled a little hearing the response.
“Thank you, ma’am.”
“Also…” The Mayor pondered a moment, “Perhaps we should take you to receive blessing from the Rama as well.”
Xander jumped up to his feet, unable to control the excitement. A familiar! He was going to get one! Both Alice and Mayor Hartstrong laughed, these were an interesting pair for sure.
As they entered the back room, Alice spoke to the two.
“This is a very special event, and while you’re not required to do much yourselves there are some simple rules.” She motioned to a large circle in the centre of the room, inside it were patterns and designs, and surrounding it were ancient runes, “You’ll stand in the most central part of the circle and be still. Keep your eyes closed and try to clear your mind. The Rama will do the conjuring, and a Familiar will choose you if you’re deemed worthy. Once the pact has formed they’ll enter our realm and you’ll benefit each other’s strengths and weaknesses.”
In the room other than themselves, there were several figures, their identities hidden in rich green cloaks with gold trimming covered in runes. Their faces and forms were fully obscured, all that could be seen were their hands. These were the Rama. Lexi was the first to be called forth, she wandered to the centre of the circle and stood still, closing her eyes. She took a deep breath and calmed herself; while she may not have shown it as blatantly as her brother she, too, was excited.
The seven cloaked conjurers surrounded the circle. Two at the bottom, two just above the centre, and one at the top, most central point. They began chanting in unison, and it wasn’t long before the lines and markings began to glow a vibrant sky blue in colour. This lasted for a few minutes before a small yellow puddle of light formed on the ground almost directly in front of Lexi. Xander watched excitedly as something small began to crawl out of it. The puddle closed directly behind it. The chanting ceased, and the glowing lines faded, leaving nothing behind but the small creature that had appeared. It had soft red fur, with white patches around its small black eyes, and black paws. There were small lizard-like spines atop its head that ran down its spine, all the way to the tip of its long tail. As it stood up on its hind legs, a dark brown, leathery tummy became visible. It took everything within Xander to not dive down into the circle and start rubbing it.
“What is it?”
He asked quietly, worried he might anger the Rama if he were too loud.
“A Red Pandaragon” Alice responded, “They’re warm hearted familiars with a playful side.”
Lexi opened her eyes and lowered them to the small creature. She smiled warmly, trying her hardest to not squeal at how cute she found it. She had a cool headed reputation to keep, after all. The girl crouched down and gave a little wave.
Her new Familiar squeaked and waddled over, still on it’s hind legs, before climbing up to rest in her arms. Lexi stood and walked over to her brother.
“What’ll you name him?”
Alice asked her, grabbing the girl’s attention just long enough for a response.
“Oh, I’m allowed to?”
Lexi’s question was met with a confirming nod, “Mmm… How does Enna sound?”
She looked to her new companion, who gave a contented squeep.
“Welcome then, Enna.” The Mayor smiled before turning to Xander, “Your turn.”
He excitedly ran to the centre, quickly being scolded by his sister for doing so.
Xander tried his best to settle and closed his eyes. As the summoning began, he remained as still as he possibly could, a big smile on his face the whole time. The puddle appeared just like before, and out of it leaped a creature that held both the features of a medium-sized cat and a wolf. It’s fur was sort of soft, and a dark greyish-blue in colour. It looked more a fierce and serious creature than the previous that had appeared.
The Mayor spoke quietly.
Lexi questioned, watching the familiar as the chanting and glowing ceased. Xander sat down cross-legged in the circle and held out a hand to the creature.
“A wolfcat. Normally a serious and dependable Familiar, likely coming to bring balance to your brother’s energetic nature. Your father’s Familiar is also a Wolfcat.”
Lexi nodded, not even having considered her dad having one. She’d not have deemed him worthy, at least. It would make sense, though. Their sister had one after all. It was the last trip they’d done together before he left.
The Wolfcat sniffed Xander’s hand before brushing its head against it as approval.
“I’m gonna call you.. Styler.”
Xander beamed brightly, Styler giving a silent nod in approval. He got to his feet and they made their way back over to the others. Lexi smiled at her brother’s lack of ability to hide how happy he was.
“Well, now this is done let’s get the rest of the group for your quest.” Mayor Hartstrong spoke to the two, then turned to Alice, “Take them to my office. I have one more thing to do here beforehand, and then I’ll be right over.”
The curator nodded and led the twins and their new partners out. The Mayor watched them leave before turning to the Rama, heading towards the two who had been at the bottom of the circle.
“Could I have a moment? I have a request of you both.”
The two walked towards her and lowered their hoods. They both looked to be in their early teens; a girl with almost her-black, shoulder length hair and another with bright red hair, and light freckles across her face. The former had a bright, pale blue left eye while the right was Hazel in colour with an almost golden ring around the pupil. The red haired girl had the same left eye, and her right was blue. Almost the same as her left, but far less vibrant, also containing the golden ring like the other girl.
“Yes Miss Mayor?”
The redhead spoke with a soft, polite tone.
“I’d like for you both to report the new pacts made to the council on Legahn Island.”
“Of course, we will leave straight away ma’am.”
The other girl spoke.
"That's not necessary, I'll arrange for a car tomorrow morning for you both. Oh, and another thing. One that you cannot speak to anyone other than the leader herself.” The Mayor’s tone was serious, glancing around with a look of worry. The two were motioned closer before she spoke softly, “There have been reports of a small group of Rama who’ve been using their skills to summon beasts and monstrous creatures for no reason other than causing chaos. I’d like for her to look into this.”
The two girls looked at each other, their faces showing how serious of an offense this was for their people. They nodded to the Mayor.
“Leave it to us, ma’am.”
The dark haired girl spoke and bowed politely before making her way to the back of the chamber to return her cloak. The other remained for a moment, a look of deep thought upon her face.
“Something the matter, Lan?”
The Mayor asked warmly, having a feeling she already knew the answer.
“Yes, I noticed that too. He’s likely related to his, too. They had almost identical markings. It’s rare but not uncommon.” Lan nodded in response to the Mayor’s comment, “Best be off now, or you may get left behind.”
The girl bowed and turned around, calling to her friend as respectfully as one could before chasing after her.
“Emery, wait up!”
Back at the City Hall the twins and Alice sat patiently. Well, as patiently as Xander could. It wasn’t long before the Mayor returned, however.
“Forgive me, Let’s get started.” She sat down in her chair behind the large desk and turned to the twins, “I’ve arranged transport and two guides I trust to get you there and back safely. They should be here momentarily.”
Alice spoke up, next.
“We’ve also arranged a vehicle and free passage between Khoport and Goelle. They have a large boat that travels back and forth pretty regularly that can take you there and back. Once you reach Goelle, you’ll need to head southwest, around mountains and across the desert. The village is close to the border of Dovara. You’ll have to figure your own way to get in with the leader of the village but I imagine your marks would suffice.”
Not long after she finished speaking, there was a knock at the door. Mayor Hartstrong stood up, turning her attention to it.
“Ah, they’re here. Come on in.”
Two faces familiar to the twins entered the office. First, to Xander’s pleasant surprise, entered a girl similar to their own age with silvery hair and violet eyes. Right behind her came a tall man, appearing to be a little older than the other three, with navy-coloured hair and vibrant red eyes. On his shoulder was the lizard-like Familiar from earlier. Those same eyes that had gotten Lexi’s attention earlier that day were now making contact with her own before turning them to the Mayor.
“I’d like you to meet your guides for this endeavour. This young lady is Sienna, she is proficient in crafting charms, potions, and has a wonderful knack with alchemy.”
The girl bowed with a grin, before directing her attention to Xander.
“Nice ta see ya again!”
“And this is Valentyn, my son. Like you both, he received his Familiar today.”
The boy nodded politely, motioning to his Familiar.
“And this is Ketzy.”
Mayor Hartstrong nodded, directing them to the twins.
“And this is Xander, Lexi, and their familiars; Enna and Styler.”
Lexi smiled and gave a small wave while her brother grinned broadly and gave a peace sign.
“I’ll have you all meet me at the city’s main gate first thing in the morning, so enjoy the rest of your day and rest well. You’ve a big adventure ahead of you all.” The Mayor stood, Alice following suit, “For now I must return to the Chaplace, please see yourselves out.”
She left the office, placing a hand on her son’s shoulder with a smile as she did.
The next day came sooner than they expected, and the four met outside the main gate. Xander noticed a large carrying case being wheeled along by Sienna. She grinned at him as she caught his eye.
“Me baby and important supplies.”
He nodded slowly, not quite sure what her baby was. Surely he’d find out sooner or later. Alice arrived shortly after in a large van-like vehicle. There was definitely enough room for them all and their belongings. The back seats were long and comfortable, with a long table in the middle. They seemed well suited for napping on during long journeys. Once everyone was inside, Valentyn started the engine, and their journey began. Alice returned inside through the gates, and shortly after a familiar car began to follow at a safe distance.
The road to Khoport was pretty smooth and straightforward, they’d be there within an hour or so. Xander, Sienna, and Styler were sat in the back while Lexi rode up front with a content Enna upon her lap, keeping Valentyn company as he drove. Ketzy was comfortably resting upon the dash, taking in the sunlight that shone through the windscreen. Lexi kept finding herself staring at those bright red eyes of his, not even realising that she was doing so.
“Is something wrong?”
He spoke up, turning his attention to her for just a moment before returning his focus to the road.
“O-oh.” She reddened, having been caught. Lexi looked down at her familiar in her lap instead. “Sorry, I’ve just never seen eyes like yours before outside of books. You’re Zeren, right?”
Valentyn nodded. Xander, having overheard the conversation begin, leaned over the seat between them to join in.
“But, I thought the mayor was your mother. She’s kind’ve human.”
“She is. I’m Half Zeren on my father’s side. The rest of me is human. It’s why my pupils are round, and ears are more human-like.”
“Same here!” Sienna beamed, grabbing Xander’s attention to flash those violet hues at him, “‘cept it’s me mam who’s Zeren.”
Xander tapped against his ears to direct her gaze to the tops, which were pointed instead of round. However, they were still far more human in size and shape than not.
“Our mom was Elven. Dad is human.”
Sienna questioned. Lexi spoke on behalf of the duo, petting Enna’s leathery stomach as she did.
“She died shortly after we were born.”
After what felt like far too long of an awkward silence, Valentyn decided to speak up.
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“It’s okay, we never really knew her.”
Xander offered Sienna a reassuring smile. She appreciated it.
Valentyn sighed as his eyes caught something in the road ahead of them. Lexi followed his weary gaze, wondering what the issue was. A little ways ahead, almost directly in the middle of the road and near a large rock, she could see a person. They were face down, clothed only in a torn up cloak that she found quite similar to that of the Rama they’d met in the Chaplace.
“We should stop to help them.”
Lexi commented, a look of concern covering her features, and Sienna simply laughed.
“Nah, you don’t wanna.”
“What? Why not? They look really roughed up!”
Xander added, peering over the seats to see.
“Wanna show them, Vale?”
He frowned, but nodded in response to Sienna, trying his best to avoid rolling his eyes at the obvious smirk he could hear through her words. They pulled over a few feet away and Vale sat there for a few moments before turning the engine off. He sighed, closing his eyes for a moment and rubbed his temples.
“Here we go…”
Lexi looked to Xander, confused. Was there something against helping people in need in Reshingham? Her brother simply shrugged, waiting to see what would happen. Vale opened the door and slipped out, walking over to the person in need. He sighed before speaking.
The man’s voice croaked, struggling to get the words out of his throat as his hand reached up to Vale weakly.
Vale looked very unsympathetic. As he waited for a response, four rather rough-looking men wielding daggers made their out from their hiding place behind the rock.
“I neeeeeed you to go ahead and give us your belongings.”
The ‘injured’ man got up onto his feet as his comrades reached his side. He grinned darkly, pulling a dagger out from beneath his torn garments. He seemed to be perfectly fine, even wearing filthy-yet-well kept clothing underneath.
“Look, I’m on a bit of a schedule. We only stopped to show our new companions what your game was. Can we just pretend we did and carry on?”
“Eh?” The man had pulled the cloak off while the other man was speaking, throwing it to the side of the road. Hearing the words, he raised a brow and held the dagger out at Vale, “I don’t think you get how this works, mate.”
“I do. I just really can’t be bothered.”
In the van, Sienna grinned broadly. She reached over to her carry-case, placing it up on the table and unlatched it. She lifted the lid on her little box of goodies and pulled out two metal polesticks. They were around ten inches in length, and gunmetal in colour. Sienna opened a window and called out to Vale before throwing them both over towards him.
“Hey, Vale! Have fun!”
He caught the two in one hand and gave a thumbs up to her. Xander looked at Sienna awkwardly, finally piecing it all together.
“You guys knew this was going to happen?”
She grinned at him, choosing to not comment. Vale held one pole in each hand and looked at the five men.
“I guess I have no choice, then.”
The leader scowled and ran at him, thrusting his dagger forward. Zeren, even half, were known to have heightened senses and reflexes; so it was no surprise when Vale easily sidestepped the oncoming attack and responded by swinging one of the poles against the back of the attacker's head. He went down. Hard. The other four looked shocked, then angry. Their precious leader had been taken out like he was nothing. They cursed at Vale before lunging at him, attacking in some semblance of unison. He quickly dove between them all, attacking similarly and swiftly as he had with their leader. Swift blows to the back of their heads, knocking them all unconscious. Standing now in the middle of five downed thugs, Vale slid the poles into his pocket and rubbed his temples. He didn’t like unnecessary things like this. The twins got out the van and walked over to him.
“You’re really tough.”
Xander beamed at him, unable to conceal how impressed he was. Lexi looked at the five men as she stopped beside her brother.
“What do we do about these guys?”
“Don’t worry! I got ya covered.”
Sienna grinned as she appeared behind them, holding a large bundle of rope. It seemed that her case little of goodies seemed to have everything. After securely tying the men to the very rock they’d used as a hiding place, and Sienna had taken a thick, black, likely-permanent marker pen to draw various doodles all over their unconscious faces, they set back off on their journey.
The group reached Khoport about an hour later. It was a small town with large open land along the coastline, filled with market stalls selling fresh produce from the southern countries, live acousting bands scattered along the walkways, and various performing acts. Brightly coloured party flags and flowers hung from street lamps, fences, and almost everywhere you looked. As Vale parked up, Xander didn’t hesitate to slide the side-door open and dash out into the street.
“Is there some sort of celebration going on?”
“Nah, it’s always like this.”
Sienna responded as she got out after him, followed shortly by Styler. The familiar made his way over to his partner’s side, receiving a head scratch once he did as greeting. Vale and Lexi exited the van last, Ketzy comfortable upon her companion’s right shoulder and Enna in Lexi’s arms, joining the others.
“We have a little time before the ship starts boarding, feel free to explore.”
Xander’s eyes lit up as Vale spoke, before dashing off to a small crowd watching a group of dancers.
“I’ll make sure he doesn’t get lost. Or eaten.”
Sienna grinned and followed after him. Vale waved them off before looking over to the dock where a large ship was situated.
“I need to go check in before boarding starts. Do you want to come with me or would you rather look around?”
“I think I’ll see what’s around.”
Vale nodded once more and set off, leaving Lexi to wander along the street, examining the nearby stalls selling fruits and vegetables. Perhaps she’d come here again in the future and bring some fresh goodies home to Maria and Nia. Meanwhile, Xander was farther on down the street watching the dancing group which had taken ownership of a vacant space. They were using acrobatics, mixed with impressive combinations of fire and air magic to put on a great show.
“Ya both seem really different fer twins.”
Sienna mused as she slid up beside him.
“Lex’ is really smart and tries to be mature, but she gets just as excited about all these things.” He turned his attention to her, “Me, I prefer to just show it all and not pretend.”
“Still. Must be nice, getting along like that.”
She smiled weakly for a moment before shaking her head, removing whatever she’d been thinking out of her head. She squee’d excitedly, pointing at a dancer backflipping through a flaming circle. Xander watched her for a moment, but decided to not question whatever it was that had bothered her.
Lexi had found herself by a line of market stalls selling various jewelry, clothing, and charms. It was similar to Reshinghams’s market, but still had its own unique charm. As she wandered along she stopped at a table covered in books, various in size and design, but all seeming to be guides on magic and spell casting.
“Is there anything that takes your fancy?”
A large, friendly-looking older woman peered at Lexi through rounded glasses.
“Hm, do you have anything on air casting that you’d recommend?”
Lexi smiled politely, looking over the books then to the woman. The woman thought for a moment before rummaging through a selection of books.
“There’s a great one for novices who specialise with air and wind magics. Let’s see… Aha!” She pulled up a medium sized hardback book with a green crystal design etched into the cover, “This is full of defensive spells, as well as a few offensive ones. It’s perfect for hunters, and would-be adventurers going out in the wild on their own.”
It would be helpful to have some skills like that, just in case we run into more like those thugs earlier. Lexi thought to herself before nodding to the seller, “That sounds perfect. I’ll take it.”
She reached into her bag and pulled out a coin pouch, taking out a few Sterling. She paid the amount owed and received the book gratefully, sliding it into her bag.
The woman bowed, and Lexi gave a small wave before carrying on alongside the stalls.
Back in Reshingham, Mayor Hartstrong and Curator Alice were at the gate to the city. As promised, she had arranged for the two Rama girls to be safely transported to the Island of Legahn. It wasn’t long before the two arrived, donning the same rich-green robes from the day before. The traditional garb of the Rama. They were not waiting long, fortunately, as a silver car pulled up to the city gates and parked nearby. An older man with a moustache climbed out of the driver’s seat and opened the back door for the girls. The mayor and curator watched patiently as Lan and Emery climbed inside, waving their goodbyes to the others as they got inside. The driver returned to his seat and car pulled off soon after.
“It’s a shame they have to go alone.”
Alice commented, feeling a little heavy hearted as though it were two of her own children taking flight.
“It is, but only Rama are allowed on Legahn. They’ll be alright, they’re strong kids.”
The curator smiled and nodded. She was right, of course. They waited until the car was completely out of sight, and made their way back into the city. Inside the car, the girls sat back comfortably, talking to each other, and occasionally the driver as he did his job. Soon they’d be on the main road northeast, which would take them all the way to the Legahn Island.
“I’ve not been home in forever.”
Lan wiggled her legs excitedly, and Emery smiled warmly at her.
“I was there for a few days last year. It’s not changed too much.”
“I can’t wait to see mom.”
Lan smiled, thinking about her family back on the Island. She’d not been back to Legahn - sacred island of the Rama - since she was six. Nor had she seen her mother, or father for that matter, in all that time. Those chosen to reside in Reshingham did not often get time to return home as their time was heavily dedicated to study, and the rest of the time they participated in the calling rituals most days.
“I’m sure she’ll be glad to see you, too.”
Lan smiled a moment longer before her tone turned serious.
“I wonder, though.. Why Rama would have started breaking the rules..”
Emery looked down in thought. She had thought the same thing, this was something they’d never heard of before.
“I’m not sure. I’ve never heard of anything like it before. I’m sure the Elder will know what to do.”
Lan frowned, looking down in silence. It wouldn’t take them too long to get there.
In Khoport, the four finally met back up. It was nearly time to set sail, and Vale had already taken the van onto the boat’s parking level so all that was left to do was for them to board.
“There’s a lovely cafe onboard, we’ll not be arriving until late afternoon so it might be a good idea to get something to eat.”
Sienna’s eyes widened at Vale’s suggestion, diving forward so he had no choice but to direct his attention to her.
“I never turn down food!”
She grinned up at him. Lexi nodded, and the group made their way onboard, passing through ticket check, and set off directly towards the cafe. In the parking level, there were eight cars parked up. Their van took up just under two spaces, otherwise they likely could have fit one more vehicle onboard. A few spaces behind the van, the very same car that had followed them out from Reshingham was parked up. However, the driver was still inside. Once it was clear there was nobody else around, the driver door opened and an Elven woman stepped out. She wore a long, white coat; with auburn hair tied back and up into a bun, and hazel eyes hidden underneath rounded, thick-rimmed glasses. If anyone who knew her looked hard enough, they’d recognise Siarra almost immediately. She smiled to herself as she walked over to the parked van, slipping a runed piece of paper onto the underside. She nodded to herself before making her way up to the passenger area.
The cafe was well lit, with large windows on all sides so customers could take in the sights as the boat sailed toward its destination. There were several tables, many were taken by passengers already enjoying refreshments. A little to the left, near a window, the four companions and their familiars sat. Siarra entered, spotting them immediately, and made her way to the bar. She ordered a drink of something that looked bubbly and refreshing, and hovered just within earshot.
“... And then it’s just a little ways further south, they say it’s where the discovery of Ruin access originated.”
Vale mused as he drank some of his black coffee. Xander chimed in, putting down the remains of his cheese sandwich while he spoke.
“How long do you think it’ll take?”
“Three days, maybe more. There’s not really any time limit and it’s been a long time since I visited Metis. I’d not be opposed to taking the scenic route.”
Lexi smiled, she was certainly glad to hear him say that.
“We left Hemport to see what the rest of the world was like, so we’re happy to do that.”
Sienna grinned before returning to her plate of sandwiches. It was piled enough to easily feed two or more people. Xander was certainly impressed with her consumption skills. Lexi smiled at her before returning to the main topic.
“And when we finally get there..?”
“Well, the elder and my mother met a few times before I was born. I’m pretty sure we’ll be able to at least get a conversation. With your marks she’ll hopefully be willing to share any information we lack.”
“Maybe even get some rare items to bring back fer tha Mayor.”
Siarra grinned into her drink. She had noticed the twins with the curator yesterday, and decided to eavesdrop over their conversation with Mayor Hartstrong. She was certainly glad she had, rare items were always worth good Stirling, and she already had someone lined up for them.
Goelle was at the Northernmost point of Metis’ coast. A port town filled with inns, pubs, and shops. The typical tourist spot more than anything these days, but it was rumoured to be home to many a pirate when they weren’t out at sea. Metis was quite close to the equator, in fact the border between Dovara and itself was directly upon it. Even nearing the end of autumn it was still very warm, and as such attracted heat seekers from all over. The last of the cars had pulled off the ship, and a large number of passengers upon disembarkment walked straight over towards an off-white rock with ancient markings on it. There had been a similar one within the Grand Chaplace, centrally placed alongside the statues.
“What’re they doing?” Xander asked, peering out of the window at the gathering crowd.
“Sacred stones.” Sienna responded, “They’re all over the continent, but mostly in towns and at rune circles. They’re where people go to pray to the Gods.”
“They’re likely giving thanks for a safe journey.”
Vale added. Xander thought for a moment, speaking up as the car made its way on the main road out of Goelle.
“There’s one back home, too. But we never got crowds around it… Never got tourists much, either.”
“So. Where to?” Lexi questioned.
“A little ways south is a rune circle situated in the centre of a village called Malal. I’d like to visit there, if you’re all okay with that?”
“I’m in!” Sienna exclaimed.
“Yeah!” Xander responded similarly, while Lexi chose a more silent smile and nod.
“Well, then. Malal it is.”
Malal began as a settlement for a group of travelling Weiman, and ended up becoming home to many others who wished to follow their ways. Weiman were mostly human like in appearance, but every one was born with bronze-coloured skin, straight hair that had a colour like desert sands at sunset, and piercing, golden eyes. Most notably, however, was their complete lack of magical ability. There was never a Weiman in recorded history who could use magic. However, their natural physical strength seemed to more than make up for it. It was as if their muscle fibres were made of something several times stronger than any of the other races.
Vale pulled over, not wishing to drive over what the residents considered holy ground, and exited the van with the others.
“The people of Malal are very kind and welcoming, and they have some wonderful traditions.” Vale spoke fondly, leading the group into the village.
“You seem to really like this place already.” Lexi noted.
“Yeah, I’ve always loved history and how different cultures exist. I was lucky to have access to the Great Library most of my life and I’ve managed to visit many places so far.”
“Sounds lovely.” She smiled up at him.
“You into all that stuff, too?” Xander looked to Sienna as they walked side by side, carrying the case behind her. The two were taking the rear of the group, with Styler contently walking alongside his companion. Ketzy was lazily riding atop the wolfcat’s back.
“Nah. It’s neat ‘n all, but fer me? I like ta see rarities and try good food.” She grinned, the comment reminding Xander of that large plate she’d devoured on the ship.
They walked along the yellow stone path, past the sign of the town, and along the small houses towards the centre of the village to where the rune circle resided. There they discovered a crowd of people, Malal’s residents. One of which, Vale seemed to recognise immediately and made his way over.
“Wo ho tesen?”
The giant of a man turned towards the sound of the voice and smiled, seeing Vale.
“Me ho ye. Valentyn! It has been too long. Is your mother here?” He looked over towards the twins, Sienna and their familiars, unable to see the woman he was asking for.
“I’m afraid not. She is very busy in Reshingham at the moment.” He smiled warmly, “Though she wishes you well. Have we arrived during an aging trial?”
The man nodded.
“Yes. Two have entered for their trials.”
“Trials?” Lexi spoke up as the others walked closer to join Vale. He turned to them.
“The people of Malal have a tradition. When someone turns thirteen they enter the Ruins of Mal, and partake of its trials. At the end they take a red stone from the final chamber and return with it as a sign that they’re now adults.” The man raised his right arm, showing a red stone wrapped in a twine bracelet around his wrist, “Everyone in our village has partaken the trial.”
“Oh, forgive me. This is the leader of Malal, Andé. Andé, this is Xander, Lexi, Sienna, and our familiars; Ketzy, Styler, and Enna.” The group greeted Andé and he nodded to them.
“Akwaaba. Welcome to our home.”
“Akwaaba?” Xander canted his head to the side.
“It means Welcome. From Metis’ native tongue.” Vale nodded, Xander did too in response.
“I wish I had known, I would have brought gifts.” He returned to Andé.
“Your presences are gift enough! You’re welcomed to join the celebrations and feast tonight.” The leader looked to the others, “All of you are.”
Sienna’s eyes lit up, her favourite word was mentioned.
“Feast?” She wandered closer and leaned against Vale, grinning up at him.
“I have no problem with it. How about you?” Vale laughed lightly at his friends’ reaction, before turning to the twins.
“It sounds fun!” Xander gave a thumbs up.
“I’d like to see the celebrations.” Lexi smiled and nodded.
“That settles it, then. Feast!” Sienna jumped in excitement, causing Andé to laugh.
“Spirited companions you have, Valentyn!”
Unfortunately, their joy was short lived. The rune circle’s gateway opened and a young boy ran out of it. His face and arms were covered in cuts and bruises.
“Wofa! Wofa!” The boy looked around frantically, finally spotting Andé before rushing to him, “Wofa! Monsters! Monsters in the ruins!”
The crowd began to panic, their tones drastically changing from their jovial warmth moments ago. Andé crouched down to the boy’s level, speaking kindly.
“Yao? What has happened? What monsters?”
“Inside. Monsters appeared. They attacked us!” The boy’s panicked state and physical wounds proved his words to be truth, “Kofi is still inside. He sent me to come for help, but he is trapped by them.”
Tears began to form in the boy’s eyes as he spoke. Vale looked to Sienna, both of them seeming to have the same idea.
“We’ll help.” Vale turned back to Andé.
“It will be dangerous. This has never happened before, and we can not ask you to put yourselves in harm's way.”
“Don’t ya worry about us! We’ll be fine!” Sienna chimed in before turning to the other two, “Comin’?”
The twins looked to each other before nodding at her.
“Right. Let’s go then!”
“Yeah. Don’t worry, my friend. We’ll go deal with it.” Vale placed a hand on Andé’s shoulder before running towards the open gate, the others following quickly after him.
Inside, the ruins were similar to those the twins had entered a few days. This one, however, was far less run down. It seemed the people of Malal did their best to keep it in good condition for their aging trials. Vale looked around, taking in the room’s layout, before closing his eyes. He stood completely still, listening carefully, hoping his heightened Zeren senses would allow him to hear where the missing boy, or the monsters, would be.
“This way.” He dashed forward, through a doorway to the left of the room. The others kept up, Sienna still dragging her carry case with her. Through the door they found and followed a wide, winding corridor until it lead to another similarly styled room. He paused to listen again.
“This ruin is designed like a maze, it’d be easy to get lost... So stay close.”
Once again his heightened sense of hearing helped him find the right doorway and continued on. This walkway was a little longer but once they found themselves in a third room everyone could hear the commotion. There were three doors in the room, and it was the one to their right where the noise came from. Sounds of grunts and destruction. Vale looked to Sienna, and she nodded without either of them needing to speak a word. She placed the case down on the ground in front of her and opened it, pulling out those two polesticks. She looked up and threw them in Vales direction. He caught them and started walking towards the door.
“Be careful, it’s likely we’re going to have quite a fight on our hands. If you know any offensive skills, now’s the time to use them.”
Sienna seemed to be preoccupied with with something else in the case, but gave a thumbs up. Xander chanted under his breath and, like the previous occasion they had visited a Ruin, his skin began to glow ever so faintly. Lexi nodded to the others, it was time for her to test out some of the spells from her new book.
“Right. Let’s go.” Vale kicked the door open and ran inside, followed shortly by the twins and their familiars. Sienna waved them off, claiming she’d catch up.
Inside the room it was dark, lamps that were meant to illuminate the room were mostly destroyed and those still intact glowed a pale green. There, in the centre of the room, having paused their rampage when the door flung open, were several monstrous creatures none of the others had seen before outside of fairy tales and history books: Goblins . Ugly, grey-skinned, creatures with pot bellies and tattered hair. They all wielded some form of knife or club, and were beginning to change their attitudes from surprise to anger at Vale and the others for disturbing them.
Vale twirled the weapons in his hands before tapping them together in front of him. It was as though he’d activated something within their metallic forms, as the Aether within the air around them began to swirl and gather, getting pulled inside. The polesticks themselves began to glow white, before the ends took on a green blade-like shape. He changed his position to suit the new shape. He dashed fordward at one of the creatures, slashing with his now-formed magical daggers.
Xander looked at the monsters before picking one to charge at. His enhanced strength and physical toughness allowed him to easily shoulder-tackle a goblin straight into a wall, the bricks cracking behind it’s body from the blow. It was likely the brickwork wasn’t the only thing to crack under the pressure. He stepped back and watched as the Goblin slumped down to the ground, before turning to see Styler lunging at one of the goblins, fangs and teeth bared. The familiar latched onto its shoulder and started clawing away while the goblin cried out in pain. It swung it’s rusted blade, trying to swing itself free. It failed miserably. Xander grinned, proud of his companion for fighting without hesitation. Unfortunately his attention should’ve remained on his own target, as it had managed to regain it’s composure, focused, and dove towards the boy with its blade aimed outward.
“Xander!” Lexi yelled out, and he turned around just as it lunged up at him. Before it could hit its opponent, however, three pale green arrows shot through its body and the goblin fell to the ground, definitely unable to get up after this. Xander turned to his sister, and the direction the arrows had appeared from. She stood there with her hand held forward, still chanting. Air magic , turning the wind itself into physical arrows, created and designed to strike true every time.
Another goblin fell to the ground, charred and shocked after an assault from both Enna’s ability to breathe fire and impact from Ketzy’s lightning charged form at high speed. It seemed that Familiars were imbued with their own special abilities, which would definitely be helpful in the future.
The fighting waged on until all the goblins were downed. There some minor scrapes and bruises visible upon Vale and Xander, as they were the only ones who had been battling up close, but mostly everyone left unscathed. The group gathered together, all for Sienna who had still yet to appear.
“Now, let’s find Ko-..” Vale was interrupted as a loud groaning noise came from a doorway at the back of the room. Everyone turned to face it, preparing themselves for whatever was about to come through. Hunched over, and barely able to make its way through the door, came one extra-large and extra-ugly goblin. It must’ve been the leader of the others, wearing a chain of fanged teeth around its neck and wielding a very large wooden, spiked club.
“Shit, it’s huge!” Xander exclaimed, hoping his own physical enhancements would allow him to hold out against something so big. This was definitely going to be a tough one compared to the previous creatures. The large goblin looked at the group, then to its fallen comrades. An angry roar bellowed and echoed through the room before it charged at them, club raised.
“Get ready!” Vale yelled, and everyone prepared themselves for the next fight. Suddenly, preceded by a loud bang and whizzing sound, two thick, pale-pink beams of energy, surrounded by crackling blue lightning shot across from the back of the room and pierced directly through the giant creature’s chest. It fell back instantly, unable to react or defend. The ground shook as it hit the ground with a loud thud; Smoke and a smell of burned meat rising from the hole through its centre.
“What the hells was that?” Xander exclaimed, both amazed and afraid.
“Sorry I’m late!” They turned around to face Sienna, who wandered up to them waving with her free hand. In the other was a long, double-barrelled gun in a similar colour to Vale’s weapons, resting up against her shoulder. It had three clear gems adorned to its handle, and intricate detailing along the barrels.
“That... was you?” Lexi questioned, amazed at what she’d just witnessed, staring at the weapon.
“Yep! This here is me baby! I call her Cindy.” Sienna smiled proudly at her weapon, before returning her attention to the others, “She takes a bit ta set up, but always worth it in the end!”
“I… see.. How did it do that?” Lexi continued.
“Let’s find Kofi and get out of here, we can discuss other things later.” Vale looked to the doorway where the large Goblin had come from, still amazed it could even fit. He walked over, climbing up and over the creature, and entered through the passage.
“Kofi, are you here? It’s Valentyn.”
“Y-yes. I am here.” A boy, very shaken and badly bruised, peered out from behind a stone table where he’d been hiding. “Is it safe?”
“Yes, the monsters have been defeated.” Vale offered a warm smile as the boy slowly came out from his hiding place and walked over, “Do you have your stone? It would be a shame if you failed your trial after all of this.”
The boy slowly reached into his pocket and pulled out two stones, red and shining in the pale light.
“Good. You’ve worked hard.” Vale continued to offer a reassuring smile, “Let’s get out of here.”
Lexi smiled, watching how well he handled the situation. But, what could you expect from the son of a city’s mayor? Sienna grinned and lightly punched Xander in the arm.
“Ya both did pretty good, too!” He smiled sheepishly at her compliment.
“Si? I like it!” She beamed at him before walking back to the room where she’d left her case. Time to return Cindy to its resting place. The others followed, it was time to leave.
Outside, the villagers waited hopefully. When the gate reopened and everyone, Kofi included, walked out there was much rejoicing. Andé ran over and placed a hand on the boy’s head.
“I am so glad you’ve all returned! Did you do it, Kofi?” The boy smiled up at him, holding out his stone, and then the second one belonging to his friend. He friend ran over to Kofi’s side, taking it thankfully, and held out his own acquired gem. Andé nodded and turned to the others of the village.
“Today these children have not only completed the trial, but survived a great event. They have become adults, and earned it more than any of us!” The crowd cheered and rejoiced as Andé continued, “Let tonight’s celebration and feast be one that will be remembered for many generations!”
Sienna bounced with excitement as Andé held a hand out to each of the boys. They both took his hands and he led them, followed shortly by the others of the village, towards their largest building - the great hall. Sienna followed along excitedly, dragging Xander with her. Lexi smiled, watching the two before turning her attention to Enna who was tugging lightly at her leg. She crouched down and picked the Pandaragon up in her arms.
“You fought well, Enna.” She scratched the top of Enna’s head, receiving a pleased squeep in response.
“You did, too.” Vale noted, “That spell was from the book you were reading on the ship, right?”
“I don’t know many magics, I wanted to have something that could help people in times like this.”
“Well, it worked. You mastered it well.” Vale smiled, “Let’s go before they forget about us. There’ll be some healing vials in the hall that we can use for our injuries.”
She nodded and the duo, along with Enna and Ketzy, followed the rest.
That evening, the sky was filled with an orange glow from the large bonfire a short ways between the great hall and the rune circle. There was music, dancing, much celebration, and much to Sienna’s delight there were large tables filled with all sorts of food. She dug into a large leg of what Xander guessed to be a Turkuffalo as he watched her from his seated place beside the fire. Once she’d grabbed a plate full of goodies, leg still in hand, she wandered over and sat beside him.
“So, how ya finding the adventure so far?” She grinned, offering a piece of freshly baked bread from her plate to him. He took it gratefully.
“I’m not sure what I expected, but it’s all kinds of exciting and that’s what I wanted. So..” he grinned before taking a bit into the bread, “Oh… Oh wow, that’s good... Uh. Yeah. I’m glad we chose to do this for the Mayor”
“Good!” She gave an approving nod. With her free hand she reached over and began to pet Styler, “Yer companion is pretty tough, too.” Her compliment was met with a warm purr, she laughed as she continued petting him.
“What about you, though? That thing you did with your weapon. That was amazing!” Xander exclaimed.
“Thanks! Ya see, I’m not that great with magic and stuff, but I can make charms n’ use sneaky shadow skills. But with Cindy, I can use all sorts.”
“So it just.. Shoots out whatever you want?”
“Yeah. Ya see, she absorbs Aether from the air and ya can control what form it takes. Then ya just point…” She closed an eye, holding a hand out in the shape of a gun, “Aaand shoot! Me choice back in the ruin was fire and dark magic, really strong beam but takes a lot of aether so I can’t be using it quickly. Takes time ta charge up!”
He nodded, pondering over it. He recalled how Vale’s polesticks were motioned before taking the form of blades, yet the first time they were used they were just metal sticks.
“Are Vale’s weapons like that, too?”
“Sorta,” she took a moment to consume more of her food. It was priority, after all; “Y’see, they take in aether too but their form changes based on which element he picks, he can’t mix’em up like me. Does some sort’a motions, tap’s em together, then they do their thing. Air element makes them inta daggers like ya saw. Water makes them inta whips, and so on.”
“That’s really amazing. I can only really use earth enhancement magic, so being able to control multiple ones.. I’m jealous!” He laughed, quickly reaching over to grab another piece of bread from her plate.
“Oi! Mine!” She slapped his hand and tried to take it back, but it was in his mouth before she got the chance.
“Did they tell you what happened?” Outside the great hall, overlooking the bonfire, Vale and Lexi were stood by Andé. Enna and Ketzy were within sight, relaxing in the warm glow nearby.
“Kofi claims that someone in a red cloak, similar to those that the conjurers in your great hall wear, was inside of the ruin. When they retreiveed their stones and tried to leave, he... or she blocked the gate and called those monsters into existence before disappearing. After that they tried to escape. They are strong, as with all Weiman… But they have never known battle. Kofi distracted the monsters so Yao could escape and seek help…” Andé paused, looking to the ground, “I fear this will be the beginning of dark times.”
Vale placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder, wishing to reassure him.
“Don’t worry. You are a great leader and will be able to keep your people safe. If you ever need us, we will do our best to help out.” He smiled confidently, “Whether this is a one-off, or the start of something, we will fight and we will protect our own.”
“You will make a great leader of your own people some day, Valentyn.”
Lexi smiled, she agreed completely from what she’d seen today.
The night came to a close, and the group were given free stay at Andé’s home. The leader of the village understandably had the largest home in the village, with guest rooms to spare. The twins shared one room, while Vale and Sienna had one each to themselves.
“I wonder what Maria would say about all of this…” Lexi pondered out loud, hugging Enna close to her in the bed.
“She’d probably tell me off for dragging you into danger, but be proud of us either way.” Xander laughed, reaching down beside his own bed to scritch Styler’s head before getting himself comfortable.
“You’re not wrong, there.” Lexi smiled, “We’ll have to tell her when we get the chance.”
“Yeah. Let’s call her tomorrow.”
Lexi nodded, before yawning, and stretching.
The morning came, and the twins didn’t forget to call Maria to tell her all about what had happened. As they’d guessed, she both scolded and praised them in a way only she could do. Lexi felt sorry for Xander, he quite often had to suffer her polite wrath over the years. Once the call was over the team reunited, it was time to get back on the road.
“Please visit us again soon. You are all friends of Malal.” Andé smiled warmly as he walked with them towards the van.
“We will, for sure!” Xander exclaimed.
“I am pleased to hear it.”
As they started to get into the van, Kofi and Yao ran over to them.
“Ete sen?” Vale crouched down and smiled at them.
“Eye!” They replied in unison, holding up their right arms to show the stones, now wrapped within a copper-coloured twine bracelet around their wrists.
“We have a gift!” Kofi exclaimed cheerily, motioning to the basket in Yao’s left hand. The boy held it out to them, and Vale took it gratefully.
“Midaase.” He lifted the lid on basket to look inside and grinned, “Sienna. There’s several Turkuffalo legs and wings in here.”
“Oh!” The girl dove for the basket and ran into the back of van, slamming the door shut. A moment passed before she opened it again for a moment to yell out, “Thank you!” before closing it again. The group laughed and said their farewells before they got inside the van and drove off. It was time to head further south, to the city of Han’ma.
The silver car had been driving northeast for quite some time. Finally, they reached their destination. The car came to a stop near a rune circle situated beside a large wooden bridge that was blocked by a large, ornate gate lacking any visible way to open it. On the other side they could see the island of Legahn, but this was as far as the car could take them. The two girls got out of the car and gave thanks to the driver, then made their way to the rune circle. The driver himself was tasked with simply bringing them here to do their job, and then coming back in a few days to take them back. He was not Rama, and as such not allowed where the girls were headed. With nothing else to do, he felt perhaps a nap was in order before the drive back to Reshingham, and reclined his chair back. As with the other circles, there stood a Sacred Stone. The two made their way over to it, kneeling for a moment in prayer with closed eyes.
“Thank you for guiding us safely to this place, and bless those who watch over us.” Emery spoke softly on behalf of them both. They remained in respectful silence for a short while longer before standing, turning towards the large gate. This was a precaution so that only those chosen, The Rama, could enter Legahn. There was even some sort of barrier surrounding the island, stopping people trying to enter from above or the waters. As they got closer, a calling circle became visible, etched into the ground before the bridge. It was almost identical to the one in the Grand Chaplace, albeit many times smaller. A single person could stand inside of it, and no more.
Lan stepped towards the miniature calling circle and closed her eyes, holding out her hand towards it. She began to chant, a similar ritual to when the twins received their familiars, but different enough to know it was specific for this alone. After a few moments the lines and markings of the circle began to glow blue, and then yellow, as a small creature rose up out of it. The glowing and chanting came to an end and Lan opened her eyes, smiling at the summoned familiar. In front of them stood a small, chubby creature that somewhat resembled a fox kitten with large bat-like ears and a rabbit’s tail, standing on its hind legs. Over its shoulder was a very small, green messenger bag.
“Hello!” Lan spoke warmly to the familiar, “Please would you allow us access to Legahn?” She smiled, as did Emery as the Foxbat inspected the two for a moment. Finally it nodded and began to rummage inside it’s bag, searching until it finally retrieved a large, brass key. It was far too big to have been in there, but that didn’t seem surprising to the duo. The familiar turned and waddled on over towards the gate, placing the key into a slot that suddenly appeared at a perfect height for the being. There was a twist, a wiggle, and the gate unlocked. The gate creaked and slowly swung inwards, allowing them to enter.
“Thank you, friend!” Lan waved at the familiar as they walked past and onto the bridge. The foxbat gave a small wave and squeak as the gate closed behind them. The creature vanished shortly after, and the girls walked across the bridge, returning to its own realm until time came for the gate to be opened again.
Legahn was a small island, known by many but visited by only the few. The only way in or out was via the single bridge connecting it to the mainland, and only Rama could summon the gatekeeper familiar. They considered Legahn a sacred, holy land - not somewhere for just anyone to tread. At the very centre of the island was a church with a tall spire, looking as though it had been there for centuries, and honestly? It likely had been. Surrounding the church were cobbled paths leading in all directions, guiding residents to their homes, and fields filled with plots of vegetables and large fruit-bearing trees. Everything here was shared, and all on the island did their part to tend to the growth and harvest. The closest thing to shops were larger buildings with no wide open doors, which stored all the crops and harvests, but there wasn’t a price tag on anything within. You took what you needed, and you contributed in return.
Lan stepped forward first with a smile, taking in a deep breath to fill her lungs with an air that only smelled this sweet in Legahn. She had missed her hometown, very much so. The two made their way to the church, waving and greeting those they met along the way. The Rama in the village wore robes similar to those the Rama of Reshingham clothed themselves in, except theirs were a navy blue in colour with a plain, silver trim instead of the runed gold that accented the girl’s rich-green fabrics. There weren’t very many people there, and the village consisted mostly of adults and the elderly, but there were some children younger who appeared to be than the girls. One thing that everyone in the village had in common was that icy blue left eye, and the fact that their hair was either jet black like Emery’s or fiery red like Lan’s. Even the elderly still had hair in full colour, without a single strand of grey. The two finally reached the church and stepped in through the large, open doorway.
Inside, the building was lit by warm, yellow flames torches hanging from walls and pillars around the room. At the centre was a Sacred Stone, much larger than any those elsewhere on the mainland. The girls went to it first, kneeling and praying silently.
“Tala’s blessings, welcome home.” A voice from behind them spoke, the girls opened their eyes and stood to greet an elderly woman with long, black hair that stopped at her waist, and a white robe accented with blue trim.
“Elder San, Tala’s blessings. We are glad to be back.” Emery smiled warmly at the village’s leader, “We have been asked by the Mayor of Reshingham to bring you news.”
The woman smiled at the two, inviting them in for a warm hug. She was always happy when those who left for pilgrimages or callings made a return, even if it were only for a short while.
“Wonderful. Let us reside to my chamber for tea while we speak.”
The duo nodded and followed her to a room off in the back. It was moderately sized full of bookshelves filled with old, important looking tomes. A large stained glass window featuring a figure with two icy-blue eyes and black hair surrounded by stars and a halo of light lit the room. Elder San motioned towards several large, comfortable looking chairs that surrounded a fireplace.
“Make yourselves comfortable, and I shall get the tea.” Elder San made her way through a door to the left, the kitchen where the best teas and snacks were kept, if Lan recalled correctly, and the girls sat themselves down. The fireplace instinctively burst into life, giving a comfortable warmth to those around it. Lan pulled the sleeves of her robe back and held her hands out towards the fire, wriggling their fingertips as they welcomed the heat.
Moments passed and the woman returned carrying a small tray with three cups and a few biscuits on it. She handed a cup to each of the girls, both gratefully accepting, before sitting down with her own in a third chair beside them. She placed the tray on a small table between them all, allowing all three easy access to the biscuits.
“So, what news has Lady Lana asked you to bring?”
Emery began, discussing several pacts with familiars that has occurred over the last few weeks. It was custom, and respectful, for the leader of The Rama to be kept up to date. Other Rama from all over the continent would travel here just to tell of a single new pact made, to ensure all was known to her. Elder San had taken a small notebook out of her robe pocket, jotting down each one as they were mentioned all the way up to the most recent two for the twins.
“... And those last three were yesterday.” Emery nodded, finishing her list. Contented with the update, Elder San closed the book, placing it down next to the tray, and returned to her tea.
“Thank you for the wonderful news,” she smiled, “You’ve served Tala well.”
The girls smiled at the praise, but it faded quickly.
“Is something wrong, children?”
Lan chose to speak up this time. After all, it wasn’t fair to leave everything to Emery.
“Yes, Elder. We were also asked to bring worrying news… There has been word of Rama, or beings disguised as Rama, calling forth creatures to cause harm and chaos..” She looked down to her teacup as she finished. Elder San’s expression became serious, reaching over to place a hand on Lan’s shoulder.
“Yes. We’ve had word others from the Northern Land, as well as from Metis telling us the same.. I do not wish to believe it, but it seems to be related to several of our kind disappearing over the last few years.”
The girl looked up, visibly saddened by her response.
“So it’s true?”
“Unfortunately, it seems to be. I will send some members of our council out in search of more information. We will pass anything we discover to your town’s Mayor.” She offered a reassuring smile, “Tala will protect us, and bring us the answers we need.”
“Yes, Elder.” Emery spoke up. She looked to her friend, offering a reassuring smile in attempts to cheer her spirits a little.
“Well, you have both come such a long way, carrying such heavy news. I’m sure you would like to rest and perhaps reunite with people. You’ve both been away for some time.”
“I think that would be a great idea.” Lan smiled, her mood improving by the thought of visiting her mother. She shook the bad feelings out of her mind and looked to Emery, “Shall we?”
The other girl smiled warmly and nodded, placing her empty teacup onto the tray before turning to the leader and bowed her head.
“Thank you for taking time to listen, and thank you for the tea.”
Elder San slowly got up onto her feet and stepped forward, resting a hand on each of their shoulders.
“You are very welcome. May Tala bless you both.”
The girls stood, bowing before leaving the room. As soon as they were gone, Elder San’s smile quickly faded. She walked towards the stained glass window that lit the room, and looked up at the figure depicted in it for a few moments before closing her eyes, “And protect us all in what is to come..”
Outside, the girls started walking in the direction of their homes. They had been neighbours since birth, perhaps that's why they were so close. Emery stopped, looking down to the ground in thought. It was a few more steps before Lan noticed, stopping and turning to face her friend.
“I was just thinking…” She looked up to Lan, “The Mayor mentioned those twins were a special case, right? And then they were sent off on a mission of their own. Do you think it’s all related?”
Lan pursed her lips in thought, that Wolfcat’s appearance had taken her by surprise. She only knew of one other person who had one, after all.
“It’s possible. But, I don’t think The Mayor would have let them come close to us if they were bad people.”
“Yeah, you’re right.” She nodded in response, “Well, shall we go?”
Lan nodded, holding out her hand to Emery. She took it and they continued to their homes, ready to spend some well earned time with their families. Their homes, like all the others in Legahn, we small. They were designed to remind those who lived there that no one person was more important than the other, even the Elder kept herself involved in the day to day tasks shared between all Rama of Legahn. She just happened to have a few more important tasks on top of it all.
“I’ll see you later.” Lan waved to Emery as the parted ways, each going into their own houses. The redhead knocked on the door before stepping inside, “Mother, I’m home.”
“Lan! Is that you?” Inside the living room sat an elderly woman, with jet-black hair and one dark brown eye, while the other was the Rama’s trademark blue. She stood up slowly, opening her arms wide as she saw it was indeed little Lan.
“Yes, grandmother! It’s me!” She ran over to hug her tightly, enjoying the comforting warmth she’d not felt in many years.
“If we knew you were coming, we would have prepared something. How is Reshingham? Are you eating well? Have you been studying hard?”
Lan laughed, appreciating her grandmother’s concerns and questions.
“Yes, I have. Reshingham is wonderful, there is so much to learn and so many interesting people come to visit there.”
“Ah, yes. I was once a conjurer there, I do miss it sometimes. Come, sit with me.” She released her grandchild from the hug and sat down in a chair. Lan followed and sat beside her. The two talked for a little while, and soon after the front door opened again. The girl waved over as another woman entered, looking very much like a younger version of her grandmother.
“I’m home!” She spoke, closing the door behind her. It was then that she spotted her, “Oh! Lan! Welcome home!”
“Mother!” Lan jumped up, running over to hug her. The second best hug she’d received in a very long time.
“How long are you here for?”
“Just a few days. We came to visit the Elder and The Mayor said we could stay for a little while longer once we had finished our reason for visiting.”
“Well, we will have to make the most of it.” She smiled down at her daughter, it was visible she’d missed her very much, “Come, let’s sit.”
Lan nodded, taking her hand and leading her over to a chair where they sat together, all three, and started to catch up.
Meanwhile, within Emery’s house, the girl was sat at a table drinking hot tea from a mug without a handle. Her father, tall with vibrant red hair cut short and his the same eyes as his daughter, was over a stove cooking away. He was telling her about some event a few months back where a rabbit had snuck into Legahn with a visitor and had run rampant throughout one of the storehouses. She laughed, just imagining the event.
“It’s a shame I missed it!”
“The rabbit now lives in the southern field, doesn’t do much work but is a welcomed sight.”
“Oh wow,” Emery smiled, looking out the window to the southern field, “Lan and I will have to go and greet it.”
“Her name is Merri, and I’m sure she’d love to meet you both.”
“Merri. I love it.” She beamed. Suddenly she hopped up off of her chair and over to her father’s side, hugging him, “More importantly, though. How much longer until lunch is ready?”
He laughed, using his free hand to tousle her hair.
“Not long now, Em.”
She grinned. She’d absolutely have to go see Lan and visit Merri straight after lunch. It was a shame they were only there for a few days, but both girls knew they’d be able make the most of their little holiday back home.
Chapter 7: Chapter 7
Han’Ma, Mitas’ capital, was a large town full of history and culture. Surrounded by hot desert sands, it was filled with many places designed so that one could relax, regenerate, and be entertained. It was home to some of the richest, but also some of the poorest of people. If you wished to part with rare items, or sought them out, there was likely someone with expertise on whatever it was you had or desired.
Shortly after they’d arrived, Sienna claimed to have some business while they were in the city and took off, case in tow, even though it had not been part of the original plan. Vale didn’t seem to find it out of the ordinary, so he wished her well and didn’t question it. The twins and Vale made their way through the bustling market streets, Xander and Lexi letting their unofficial leader guide the way.
“I’ve only been here a handful of times in my life,” Vale began, “But it’s an important place for me.”
“Yeah? How come?” Xander questioned, only for Vale to smile and give no response. He frowned a little but chose not to press it.
“Have you ever had Jia Fruit?”
“Jia. Jee-yah. It only grows on the trees around here, and tends to not get exported as much these days.”
“I can’t say that we have.” Lexi shook her head, “is it good?”
“More than.” Vale took a right down an alleyway, the others followed shortly behind. Soon, they found themselves outside a shop with a red banner above the wide window-pane, writing that the twin’s couldn’t make out embossed upon it. It was hard to say what, if anything, the shop specialised in. Peering through the window, Lexi could see scrolls, carpets, vases, all sorts. Their leader pushed the door open, causing a bell to ring and alert their presence to the owner, and the three stepped inside.
“Hello~?” He called out, awaiting a reply. It was a few short moments before the elderly Weiman made his way out from the back room, accessible from behind the shop’s counter.
“Ah, Valentine! Ete sen?”
“E ye. It’s good to see you again.” He smiled warmly, greeting the owner warmly like an old friend.
“What can I do for you today?” The man peered past Vale towards the twins, “Oh, I’m sorry. I did not see you Oburoni there. My name is Yoofi, welcome to my shop.”
Lexi smiled and nodded to him, letting Xander speak for them.
“Thanks! I’m Xander, and this is Lexi.” She gave a little wave to the old man as her name was given.
“We are on our way to Amanori, and I couldn’t pass through without visiting.”
“Amanori! The Home of Origin!” The old man smiled, his golden eyes almost sparkling as he spoke the name. Vale laughed lightly.
“I thought you may be interested.” He turned to the twins, “Yoofi is a historian of sorts. He collects texts filled with stories and myths of creation, as well as tales of the great heroes. Many of the books in the City Hall were donated by Yoofi here.”
“Yes! I had so many, I wished to share!” He laughed joyfully.
“Do you still run this place all by yourself?”
“No. No no. At my age I don’t think I could! My great nephew helps me.” The old man waved his hand before turning towards a stairwell that lead up to a second level of the shop, “Wofaase! Come down here!”
There was a light crashing sound almost immediately in the direction he’d yelled toward. The twins looked at each other with concern, and Vale looked to Yoofi with a raised brow. A few moments passed before a voice called out. It was young, with an accent similar to the old man’s.
“Wofa, you scared me. What is it?” A young boy appeared at the bottom of the stairwell. He looked much younger than the others; with golden eyes, and medium-length, scruffy, desert-orange hair that had the left side shaved. He paused as he noticed the others in his shop.
“Are they causing trouble?”
“No, no. This is Valentyn. He is a friend of our family.” He smiled broadly, motioning for the boy to come closer. Hayden was small, and a little weedy, but his arms had toned definition; the natural visible strength of the Weiman people.
“Ete sen.” Vale held out a hand. The boy looked at it for a moment then shook it.
“And the Oburoni are his friends... Xander and Lexi, yes?”
“Yeah. Nice t’meet ya, kid.” Xander grinned and held his hand up in a wave.
“I am not a ‘kid’, I am a man!” Hayden frowned at him, holding up his right arm to show the red stone held in a copper-coloured twine bracelet around his wrist, “I am soon to be fourteen. Do not call me kid.”
“Ah.. sorry.” Xander placed a hand on the back of his head, sheepishly. Lexi stepped in on his behalf.
“I’m sorry for my brother, it is a pleasure to meet you.” She smiled and bowed a little, before motioning to the familiars by their side.
“These are our companions, Styler and Enna.” They both murr’d in greeting. Hayden’s eyes widened, rushing over to the two creatures and sat cross legged on the floor before them.
“I have never seen such wonderful beings, hello!” He held out a hand to each of them to inspect, seemingly having already forgotten Xander’s err. Enna sniffed the hand before placing a paw in it, Styler doing similar with a head bump as greeting. Hayden smiled broadly, this was visibly one of the best days of his life. He looked up to his great uncle, “Wofa! Come see my new friends!”
Yoofi grinned, placing a hand on Vale’s shoulder, scratching Ketzy under the chin as he passed.
“Blessings of Tala, you are all very lucky.”
“Tala?” Lexi tilted her head.
“Tala, the creator of the Rama.” Yoofi began, “The first of the Mora, her people, and the first to bring familiars to the world. She taught all Rama how to call on beings from their realm to join with those of us deemed worthy.”
“I’ve never heard of the Mora.” Xander commented.
“They disappeared a long time ago. Before the last Two-Blood moon, an event that happens once every three-hundred and twenty five years. There are many stories why and how they disappeared, but it is safe to say none have been seen since.”
“You really do have a lot of knowledge on the old stories.” Lexi smiled. Hayden lay back on the floor, resting his arms beneath his head like a pillow. Enna waddled over and lay on his chest with a squeep.
“Wofa, tell them the stories of Yaw! Those are the best!”
“Yaw?” Lexi shrugged as Xander turned to her, questioningly. Vale leaned back against the shop’s counter, leaving them to it. He’d heard all of these stories many times before.
“Back when Jin, the great creator, made the world...” Yoofi began, “He created the land for man to reside, and the sky for the flying creatures to live. However, there was only darkness. That is, unless he chose to visit his creation. He would bring light and all would praise him for it. Yaw, one of the first and strongest of all living beings, did not like that his people had to live in darkness for much of their lives. He decided to seek out light that they could all keep. Yaw was not only physically strong, but his magical strength was comparable to the gods themselves. Using his power, he flew up into the dark sky and punched a hole in it. The light that Jin kept for himself burst through and became the sun. He then poked smaller holes all through the sky to become the stars at night.
When the creator found out what had happened he became angry and punished Yaw. He was a jealous creator, and had lost one of the ways he got his creation to worship him. He took away Yaw’s magic, and cursed him and his descendants to never be able to use it again. As an eternal reminder of what Yaw had done, he and his descendants were given eyes the colour of the sun and hair like the barren desert. This is how the Weiman came to be.”
Xander beamed, these were the kind of stories he loved. Hayden, too, had gotten to his feet and stood beside him with equal excitement.
“Yaw is the greatest hero of all!” The boy exclaimed, “He gave us the sun! He gave us our strength!”
“There’s an entire collection of Yaw’s adventures in the City Hall.” Vale nodded to Xander, who couldn’t hide his excitement the moment he heard that.
“I’m gonna read them all!”
“After we visit Amanori.”
“Amanori?” Hayden turned his attention to Vale, “You’re going to The Home of Origin?”
“I am envious!”
“Hmm..” Yoofi looked towards his nephew, and then down in thought.
“Everything okay, old man?” Xander walked over to him.
“Perhaps, you could be willing to take my Hayden with you? I am far too old to journey to the Home of Origin, myself. I would like for him to go and learn new stories to bring back for me.”
“I don’t mind. Leader?” Xander looked to Vale, a small smirk appeared after calling his new title. Vale simply ignored it, though he wasn’t offended. Instead he directed his attention to Hayden, crouching down a little as he spoke.
“Well, what do you think? Would you care to join us on our journey south to Amanori?”
“Oh, Yes! I would like this! Oh- but Wofa!” He turned to his great uncle, “What about this shop? You need me to help.”
“I am sure I can manage for a few days, Wofaase.”
“Hmm.. If you are sure.” Hayden thought a moment before returning to Vale, “Yes. I would like to join you.”
“Then you shall.” He smiled at the boy, receiving the same in return, “We’re just waiting on another friend, she has business in the city, and then we are ready to leave.”
Sienna had been making her way through many of the side streets. She traversed them like they were second nature, the wheeled carry-case she held so dear being pulled closely behind. Han’Ma was dear to her heart, as were it’s people. At least, the ones on the lower levels. The taller buildings, and most anywhere that was above the third floor if it had one, belonged to the rich. Selfish, indulgent, materialistic men, women, and other; all looking out for themselves and their deep pockets. If you weren’t of the right family name, or didn’t have the right amount of Sterling, you were less than rodents. The silver-haired girl hated people like that. There was one place on the ground she loved most, though. It was an old building, but so very full of life. Inside, she could hear the sounds of children playing, fighting, and the adults scolding them as they did so.
Sienna stopped at the door and took a deep breath. Eyes fixated themselves on the knocker, and she simply stared at it for a short while. After what felt like an eternity, she gave in. The girl turned around and started to make her way back towards the main strip, and to where the others were currently waiting with a look of disappointment on her face.
Back at the shop, Hayden had run off to get ready for the trip.
“Say, Yoofi.” Vale spoke, suddenly remembering something.
“My friends here have never tried Jia Fruit.” The old man’s face looked shocked, as though a great sacrilege had just occurred.
“My! We must fix this! Wait here.” He hurried into the back room of the shop, Vale smiled.
“It must be really tasty, huh?” Lexi commented.
“It is. But it’s also an important fruit in Metis. You may have noticed how barren a lot of the country is. There was one point where nothing at all grew, except tall trees with Jia Fruit on them. When people from other lands discovered how delicious they were, it became Metis’ first export. This city likely wouldn’t have come to be, at least not as large as it is, if not for the Fruit.”
“Oh, wow.” Xander exclaimed, “So it’s something they’ve got to be proud of.”
“Ah, here.” The old man came back out of the back room, carrying a large bowl in his hands. He placed it down and smiled at them all, “Please, enjoy. But do not eat the skin. It is very bitter.”
Xander walked over and peered into the bowl. Jia Fruit were crescent shaped, lemon-yellow fruit. The skin was green and a little furry, but they had been sliced down the middle and flesh inside looked juicy and inviting. He picked one up and took a bite, trying to avoid the skin as advised.
“It’s delicious!” He exclaimed, surprised with how good it actually tasted, “Lex’ come try this!”
He picked another piece up, handing it over to his sister.
“Thank you.” She nodded to Yoofi before taking a bite. Her eyes widened, and the pleased noise escaping her nostrils could’ve been mistaken for something else.
“This really is wonderful.” Lexi tore out a small piece of the fruit, passing it down to Enna who also reacted favourably. Vale laughed at their reactions, taking some fruit for himself.
“Heyyyy! No fair, eating without me!” The voice followed a ringing bell as the shop door opened. Sienna slid inside, frowning at Vale.
“Don’t worry, there’s more than enough.”
“Good!” She placed the case to the side and ran over to the bowl, picking up a piece before digging in.
“Hey, Wofa!” She spoke to Yoofi, mouth full of Jia Fruit. The old man laughed.
“Little Sienna. You’ve grown so big.” He walked over to place a hand on top of her head.
“Yep!” She grinned up at him.
“You know each other, too?” Xander looked to Sienna, questioningly.
“Yes. Little Sienna was born here.” Yoofi answered on her behalf.
“Yeah. Moved up ta Reshingham eight years ago.”
“Huh. You don’t really seem like you’re from here.” Xander commented, looking her over a bit before digging into another piece of Jia Fruit.
“Why? ‘cause I don’t look or sound tha part?” She tilted her head, looking at the backs of her hands.
“Erk. No! I didn’t meant it like that!” He looked a little panicked. Sienna simply laughed.
“Well, I’m not Weiman. Me dad was human and from up north, and mam being Zeren too didn’t really add much to me complexion. They met down here and decided ta stay.” She snagged the fruit from Xander’s hand and took a bite, “People move here from all over, and Weiman? Well, they’re just tha majority as this is their homeland.”
“Huh. Learning something new every day.”
“Yep!” She grinned, punching his arm lightly to try and lighten his mood, “Don’t worry too much about it. Ya didn’t offend.”
He nodded, smiling. As they continued enjoying their fruit, the door swung open again as Hayden returned. He had changed out of what Xander presumed to have been his work clothes and now wore a long, white, sleeveless jacket over a forest green vest, black loose trousers, and brown, well-worn boots. Over his right shoulder was a satchel, presumably filled with things he felt necessary for the trip.
“I am ready!”
“Oh, hey Spark!” Sienna waved to the boy, his eyes lighting up as he saw her.
“Bunny!” Hayden dropped his bag and ran over to her, diving into a hug.
“Spark? Bunny?” Lexi questioned.
“Ya see, Spark here would get into trouble a lot when I still lived here. He would get caught causing all sorts’a mischief. He was like a little spark a flame. Always lighting things up.” She grinned.
“And Bunny. She always knew the best places to hide. Like a rabbit entering its burrow.” He nodded, it seemed like the two of them were quite the troublemakers when they were younger.
“You both caused this old man such worry.” Yoofi laughed, “but you’ve both grown so much, I am proud.” The two beamed at their Wofa.
“Well, I think it’s time we set off. Yoofi, it has been wonderful seeing you again.” Vale held out his hand. The old Weiman took it firmly and shook.
“I hope you will have a safe journey, and keep my Wofaasa out of trouble.”
“We’ll do our best!” Sienna exclaimed. She picked up a few more pieces of fruit before walking over to her case. The others followed after her shortly, waving and giving thanks as they left. Hayden was the last to leave, he gave his great uncle a hug before rushing after the others. Yoofi nodded to himself before picking up the bowl, and returned to the back room.
Back at the outskirts of the city, Sienna loaded her case into the van before stepping back. The others climbed inside, all but Hayden who wanted to give his home one last look. ‘Bunny’ walked over, placing a hand on his shoulder.
“Yer gonna be back in no time, don’t worry.” She smiled.
“Yes. You are right.” He looked at her, returning the smile. The two of them climbed into the van and Vale set off.
“Next stop, Amanori.”
Chapter 8: Chapter 8
The village of Amanori was close to the border separating Metis and Dovara. When the sun was at its highest point, the word ‘hot’ felt like quite the understatement.
It had been over a day since the group had left Han’Ma; the roads had ended not too long after leaving the city, leaving uneven, barren ground and wide open deserts for them to traverse. This, for the most part, wasn’t a problem for local travellers. However, a wheeled vehicle would likely struggle. To their dismay, this was indeed the case. Uncomfortable bouncing and struggled swerving over sandy dunes were more than enough cause for frustration. It didn’t get any better, either. It must’ve been halfway between Han’Ma and their next destination when the worst happened.
“No… Nonono…!” Vale exclaimed as the van began struggling and swerving even more than it had been.
“What’s going on?” Xander dove from the back to lean over the the space between Vale and Lexi for a better look. The van’s wheels spun and spun, making screeching sounds a vehicle definitely shouldn’t make, before everything stopped following a loud bang. Vale groaned, praying to the gods as he twisted at the key in the ignition, unfortunately receiving no results. Soon after, steam and Aether started seeping out from behind the bonnet. He crossed his arms and rest them upon the wheel, laying his forehead on them with a heavy sigh.
“I don’t think we’re going any further in this...”
“What do you mean?” Lexi questioned, staring at the greenish-yellow mist rising up in front of the windscreen.
“She’s dead.” Vale punched the wheel, then opened the door and walked around to the front of the van. He opened the bonnet to take a look, jumping back to avoid the hot steam from hitting him. He let out a stream of words in a language the twins didn’t understand, but they were both certain they were profanities. Everyone else got out of the van, making their way around to the front to do the same. Vale rubbed his temples in thought. He pointed at a large, pale greenish-yellow crystal at the centre of the engine. To be more specific, pointing at the large crack through it.
“This powers everything. The drive, air flow, lights. All of it. The heat and strain must have been too much.”
“Wait. So even the cold air..?” Xander trailed off, wiping the sweat that was already forming from his brow. He gazed up towards the sun, wearily, “We’re gonna die.”
“It is not that bad, Xander.” Hayden spoke, smiling politely. “At least it is not the warm season.”
“That’s easy for you to say. You’re used to the heat.” He sighed, “Wait. This is the cool season?”
“Yes. The heat is still a month away.”
“Urgh.. That’s great. This place is impossible.”
“I guess we should try to get help.” Lexi spoke, removing her messenger bag and jacket as the warmth started to take its effect already.
“Hayden, do you know where the nearest village is?” Vale turned to the him. Hayden shook his head in response.
“No. I have never been south before.”
“Great..” Xander whined, following his sister in her lead, and threw his jacket into back the van.
“Guess I’ll just have ta save tha day, huh?” Sienna spoke up.
“What? How?” She grinned at Xander’s questioning.
“I’ll just go find someone.” She took off her scarf and jacket, then sat down on the ground before tugging away at her boots.
“Do you know your way around?” Lexi questioned.
“Nope!” She smiled up in response, dropping her boots and socks to the side as she took them off.
“Don’t worry. She’ll be fine.” Vale nodded, “I’m guessing you’re gonna use it?”
“ It?” Xander tilted his head to the side.
“You’ll see, don’t worry.” Sienna spoke up, more focused on undoing the zips above the knees of her grey cargo’s, removing the lower half of them.
“Shorts!” She grinned at him before she jumped up to her feet. He nodded slowly, a tad confused.
“Hmm..” Sienna walked barefoot over to Lexi, inspecting her for a moment. The girl stepped back, a concerned look on her face, she wasn’t used to people getting so close to her.
Sienna grinned and took her hand, “Come with me!”
She took the Lexi by the arm, dragging her along into the back of the van and slid the door shut. Xander looked at Vale with confusion, sighing when he realised he’d be getting no answers. Hayden, meanwhile, was sat on the ground giving Enna tummy rubs, nearby a very happy Ketzy who wriggled around in the sand. All three of them were obviously fans of the heat, so the situation didn’t seem to concern them all that much.
“H-hey!” Lexi exclaimed from inside the van. Xander toyed with going over to check but something inside his gut said it was wise to leave them to it.
“Ain’t nothin’ I ain’t seen before, don’t be a baby!”
“That’s not the poi-- Ah!”
Suddenly it went quiet, a few moments longer passed before the door slid back open and the girls came back out. Sienna jumped out, giving a thumbs up to Vale. She had dragged Lexi somewhere private to swap her white vest-top with Lexi’s crop. It seemed the girl wanted as little as possible to help her keep the heat away while she did… whatever it was she was going to do. Poor Lexi was left red faced and feeling quite violated, though she knew she’d get over it pretty quick.
He hasn’t noticed it until now, likely because of how covered up she had been prior, but Xander couldn’t help but take note of how toned and defined Sienna’s arms and abs were. He scratched his cheek, looking away for a distraction before she caught him staring.
“Like the view?” She smirked, too late. Xander reddened a little. Though, it likely wasn’t too noticeable due to the hot sun already taking its toll.
Sienna laughed lightly before lifting up a small vial she’d brought out of the van with her. It was a small, clear glass bottle containing a violet-coloured liquid within.
“What is that?” Hayden looked up, curiously. She smiled down at him, resting a hand on the top of his head before answering.
“Somethin’ ta help me do me searchin’” Sienna took the small, corked lid off of the vial and drank all of the contents before throwing it on top of her clothing pile.
“Okay!” It was almost instant, no time passed before the others could see the effects starting taking place. The first thing to noticeably change were her eyes. That violet colour began to become even more vibrant, and those circular pupils began to dilate and stretch until they became the predator-like slits that Zeren were best known for. Next, Xander swore that he noticed her canines begin to extend, looking more like small fangs accentuating her toothy smile. Finally, as though she had frozen time and used it to begin some extreme workout regime, her muscle mass appeared to improve all on its own. Legs, arms, stomach; everything became that much more defined and certainly stronger along with it. Once her transformation appeared to have finished, she started to do some stretches.
“W-wow…” Xander, amazed at what he’d just seen, couldn’t really say much more than that. Also, this was the moment he realised something important about himself: Strong girls were apparently his type. Sienna grinned at him, giving him an overly-dramatic bow.
“Special concoction ta enhance me Zeren traits. Better sniffer and hearing, as well as speed n’ stamina, so I can find people ta help us out quicker!” She finished her stretches and celebrated her achievement by flipping backwards into a handstand. She hopped back onto her fee and bounced in place. Another thing seeming to have enhanced was her energy; Obvious from the fact she suddenly couldn’t just stand still. Lexi turned to Vale.
“Does it work for you, too?” He shook his head.
“I don’t think so. It was made just for her. I think it’s attuned to her specifically, but if one was made with me in mind I assume it’d have a similar effect.”
“Not tried it?” Xander chimed in.
“There’s not many of them. It’d be a waste if it did nothing.”
“Right! This don’t last all day so I’m off. See ya soon!” Sienna saluted to them before dashing off, still barefoot, in a southern direction. Xander watched her leave, smiling with a rather silly look on his face, before the distraction fanished and he was left to turn his attention back to the sun, groaning.
“How long until the sun goes away..?”
“I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but…” Vale offered a weak smile, “It’s not even at its highest point yet. It’s going to keep getting warmer.”
“Are you serious?!”
“I’m afraid so.”
Xander turned to his sister, pleading.
“Can you do anything?”
She thought for a moment, trying to ignore the gross feeling of sweat dripping down her face.
“Maybe…” She returned to the van, beckoning the others to join her. Hayden and the sun-loving familiars chose to remain outside.
“I wondered where you’d gotten to.” Xander smiled at Styler, who was sprawled out inside the van under the table, trying to remain within the shade. The Wolfcat murr’d in response, “Yeah. Don’t blame you.”
Vale was last to get inside, putting Sienna’s items down out of the way next to everyone else’s removed items. Lexi sat on top of the table, trying to not disturb Styler. She closed her eyes and began chanting under her breath while the others sat down on the seats either side. In moments, her spell began and a small, visible ball of air began to swirl within her hands.
“Ah, I see what you’re doing. Very smart!” Vale smiled, watching the magic as it started. Soon that little ball grew in size and swirled around the interior of the van, bringing a wonderfully cool breeze within it. Xander lay back along the connected seats, closing his eyes.
“Now you’ve just gotta keep this going until Si returns.”
“I… don’t know how long I can do this for, but I’ll try my best.”
“I believe in you!”
Lexi frowned, her brother’s praise not doing much other than showing how little he realised the effort she was putting in for this already.
“Sorry, I’m afraid I don’t have an affinity for wind or I’d offer to assist.” Vale spoke sympathetically. She smiled warmly at him.
“It’s alright. The thought is appreciated.”
Meanwhile, outside of the van Hayden and Enna were playing a game of chase. Ketzy had found her way atop the van and was taking a nice nap. Hayden ran up to the vehicle, peering in through the window at the others. It hadn’t been too long since Sienna had left, but he could see how those inside were struggling with the heat. It was so strange to him, having always lived in such a hot climate, that people wouldn’t simply enjoy it out here. He rapped lightly on the glass and waved to them. Lexi was too focused on her task at hand to respond, but the others waved back to him. He grinned before returning to playing with the Pandaragon.
“I wish I could take this heat as well as he can…” Lexi sighed, closing her eyes and trying to focus on her work.
“You can’t even handle a bath if it’s too warm.”
Xander rolled onto his side, looking to Vale, “She can stand outside in the middle of winter, wearing shorts and a shirt. No problem. Anything warmer than how it was in Reshingham’s and she’s a puddle.”
“Shhhhut.” She repeated, flicking an extra powerful gust of wind into his face.
“I know you were trying to teach me a lesson there but that felt great.” Xander grinned, laying on his back once more.
“You two are really something.” Vale smiled.
“Do you have any siblings?” The girl directed her attention away from her brother, who also seemed interested in the question.
“I don’t. Just me and my parents.”
“You and Si seem close, though.”
“We are. Being the only two like us that we knew; We ended up becoming close pretty quick. She’s sort’ve like a little sister to me, so I suppose I do have one.”
“She’s pretty tough, doing all of this on her own.” Xander nodded. Lexi smirked a little, looking at him with a raised brow. She didn’t need to say a word, he knew . The teen’s face reddened a little, and he rolled onto his side so his back was facing them.
The weather was much kinder in Legahn. There were light, fluffy clouds in the sky and a soft breeze made its way throughout the village. While the girls had opted to stay for a couple of days when given the chance, it was now time to return to their duties.
“It sounds bad, but I don’t want to go back..” Lan whined, walking along the bridge, Emery by her side. They were making their way back towards the large gate that secluded the island from those unwanted.
“I know. It’s nice being back here... Just spending time with people, especially Merri, but you know you’d miss your duties sooner than you think.”
“Ughhhh, Merri was so cute! But you’re right… I guess…” She pouted, but couldn’t argue. It was true, after all. There was a feeling of accomplishment, a warmth inside gained from helping people form pacts with beings from another realm that would remain by their side through thick and thin. As they reached the gate, they agreed it was Emery’s turn to call on the little foxbat gatekeeper. It appeared just like before, with a little squeep of greeting, and opened the gate to let them out. They thanked it for doing it’s task and continued on. It squeeped once more and closed the gay behind them as the girls passed through.
“Where’s the car?” Emery raised a brow, looking around. There was nothing but empty field in the space where they’d been dropped off the other day.
“Mmmm… I’m not sure. But The Mayor knew we’d be leaving around this time.” Lan scouted the area, a little concerned. She gazed around the stones, taking a few moments to spot it before pointing so Emery would find it as well, “There! Behind the rune circle.”
Instead of being where they’d been dropped off a few days ago, there was a car parked on the other side of the stones. The girls made their way around the circle, not wishing to walk through disrespectfully without reason, and stopped as they got close.
“That’s not the same car.” Emery spoke first, but Lan had been thinking the same thing.
“Yeah.. Maybe the other driver was busy?”
The driver door opened and their assumption was correct, the person getting out was definitely someone else, too.
“Hey.” The man gave a small wave. He was short, though taller than the girls, with a stocky build. He was bald, and smiled warmly through his neat, black beard at them, “I’m your new driver. You’ve got another job before you head on back to Reshingham.”
The girls stepped back, more than a little uncertain about all of this.
“Oh, right.” He rummaged around in his pocket, pulling out a red flip-phone with a blue Crystal in the top of the case. He opened it, dialling a number before holding it to his ear.
“Hey boss, the kids are here.” A pause while whoever it was on the other end spoke, “Yeah. No worries.”
He held the phone out to the girls, “Whichever one of you is Lan, it’s for you.”
The girls looked at each other, before the redhead cautiously made her way over to take it.
“... Hello?” A pause, “W-wait. What?!” Emery looked over, frowning a little. What was going on?
“Are you sure she’s okay with this? We have duties! … Yeah, I guess… I mean… Yeah… It’d be good to see you, too… Okay… Yeah… Bye.” She clasped the phone closed, handing it to the man before turning to Emery.
“Is everything okay…?”
“Sort of… I guess we’ve got another task to do before we head back to the Chaplace.” Emery frowned, her friend didn’t seem to happy. She walked over and placed a hand on Lan’s shoulder.
“Whatever’s going on, I’ll be here with you.” She smiled, it was appreciated. The two turned their attention to their new driver, who had left them to get the car ready. He’d moved his seat forward for them to get in, and they did so. Once they were settled he pushed the chair back in place and climbed in himself, starting the engine.
“Next stop, Capita.”
Sienna had been gone for a few hours now. The sun had reached its highest point a little while back and they could feel the searing heat of the van’s metal body through Levi’s magical air-con.
“I… think I need a break soon…” she sighed, trying her best to keep her magic going. Xander, who had by this point tossed his shoes, socks, and shirt onto the clothes pile frowned.
“You’ve got this. She won’t be long.” He turned his head to Vale, “... Right?”
He shrugged lightly, “She’s definitely doing her best, I know that. It’s just… How far away the nearest town is, that’s the issue.” Ketzy crawled down from the van’s roof and in through a cracked window. The lizard scuttled down and up onto her companion’s shoulder, “Bored of the heat?”
She wiggled as a sort’ve gesture of confirmation. The van door swung open as the Hayden and Enna entered, too, shutting it behind them.
“I am thirsty.” Xander reached under his seat, pulling out a bottle and gave it to him. It wasn’t cold, but it was wet and hopefully refreshing.
“Thank you.” Hayden twisted off the lid and took several large swigs before placing it atop the table in front of Lexi. He watched her for a moment before speaking, “Are you okay? You do not look very well.”
She didn’t respond, Xander turned his attention to his sister who had gone pale, was sweating more profusely than earlier, and looking as though she’d soon pass out. She really did need to take a break!
“Lex’?!” He sat upright, placing a hand on her shoulder.
“She’s overextending herself. There’s only so long you can continuously cast any spell before it drains everything you have.” Vale frowned, “Lexi, you have to stop.”
“I don’t care. You’re going to pass out, or worse. Stop casting.”
Reluctantly she conceded, lowering her hands and ended the air flow within the van. Xander shot up to grab her as Lexi fell backwards, almost off of the table she’d been sitting on.
“Jeez, Lex’...” He smiled weakly, placing her down on the seats he’d been laying upon before. He knew she’d only continued because he’d begged, and he was doing everything he could to not visibly show how angry he was at himself. To make things worse, it wasn’t long at all before the heat started to invade from every side, essentially making the van a four-wheeled oven in minutes. Everyone rushed to open the doors and windows, hoping to let what negligible breeze there was to enter. Even Hayden was showing his distaste for the heat inside of the van, stepping back outside. Vale removed his shirt and added it to the pile, turning his attention to Lexi.
“Your sister really gave her all.”
Xander patted his tummy, trying to not show signs of envy when he saw how toned Vale was. He tried to convince himself it was the Zeren genes, not his fault he couldn’t compare. Or perhaps he was trying to distract himself. He shook his head, focusing before speaking.
“Yeah. She may act reluctant or disinterested sometimes, but she really wants to help people. She just doesn’t know when to stop.”
“Though, you seem to dive into things as well.”
“Yeah, but she likes to know all the details first.” They both looked at the girl as she rested as much as the heat allowed, breathing softly with a pained look on her face.
A short while passed, perhaps another hour at most. It felt like an eternity to those inside of the van, either way. Suddenly they could hear commotion outside, just before Hayden dove in to join them.
“There are people!”
“What?!” Xander jumped to his feet and ran outside to look. In the distance he could start to make them out. It wasn’t a mirage, this was it.
Several wooden caravans came into view, being pulled by creatures looking like horses with large eagle-like beaks instead of faces. He squinted, but couldn’t make out any other details of who was behind the reigns.
“Heyyyyyy!” A voice he recognised. There, sat atop one of the caravans was a silver haired girl with very tanned skin and the same attire Sienna had left with hours before, a large Turkuffalo leg in her waving hand. Xander waved them over, and it wasn’t long before all five of the caravans came to a stop several feet away. The girl stood, jumping down from the lead caravan and ran up to Xander. She tossed the minimal remains of her snack, and have a little wave to him.
“Sorry I took so long!” She grinned.
“Who… Are you?” He tilted his head to the side, trying to act as though he didn’t recognise her. She smirked and punched his arm. Her enhanced form had returned to normal, the only difference to before was her increased pigmentation.
“Yer funny. Don’t worry, I still got some pale bits…” she winked at him as she walked past towards the van, “If yer a good boy I’ll show ya later.”
Xander did his best to not react to that, it was obviously the heat causing the redness on his face after all.
“Hey Vale-- Oof, is she okay?” Sienna turned her attention to Lexi instantly, frowning.
“She worked hard to keep us cool, over exerted herself.” He smiled fondly at the sleeping girl, still looking no better than when she first passed out.
“Don’t worry! We got caravans and they have wind crystals active inside ta keep them cool!”
Vale looked out the window to see the wooden carriages, as well as several Weiman and humans in clothing similar to that of those worn in Malal.
“Which village are they from?”
“Amanori.” She beamed. Vale stood up, slouching so he wouldn’t headbutt the roof of the van, and walked over to gently lift Lexi up in his arms.
“Let’s get her into one of the caravans.”
Xander was tasked with ensuring everyone’s clothing made it into one of the caravans; Sienna loaded everything else she felt they’d need from the van, which wasn’t much more than her carry case to be honest. They gathered together and boarded the caravans, the lead carriage starting to move on, heading south. Xander made sure he was in the caravan with his sister, sitting on the floor beside the bench she was resting upon, and refused to leave her side until they arrived. Styler and Enna sat with them, all wishing her a swift recovery.
“We weren’t that far ta be honest. These guys were travelling to get supplies from another town and spotted me. Told ‘em where we were headed and what happened, ‘n they said they’d lend a hand.” Sienna spoke, sitting inside the lead caravan where she travelled with Vale and Hayden. Ketzy had chosen to sit atop the caravan roof, the wind crystals making it a little too cold for her liking.
“Well, we’re almost there. Thanks to you.” He smiled.
“Aww, so sweet.” She smirked. At the rate the caravans were moving, they’d be at the village before sunset. Soon they’d reach Amanori Village.
The sound of voices and some obscure combination of squawking-neighs were more than enough to rouse Lexi from her slumber. The rumbling beneath her slowed to a stop, and the voices outside increased in number. She sat up slowly, rubbing some sleep out of her right eye. Still half-asleep, Lexi glanced around to try and gauge her surroundings. It certainly wasn’t the van, nor anywhere she recognised. Also, from the small opening at the back of the carriage she could tell it was night time. The only light seemed to be from flickering flames within the vicinity. Her little investigation was disturbed by a small, tired squeeping sound to her right. She glanced down to see Enna beside her, checking in.
“Hey, you.” Lexi smiled warmly at her familiar, reaching down to rest a hand atop the Pandaragon’s head. It was then that she noticed him, curled up right beside where Enna was standing. He was almost adorable, wrapped up around Styler, fast asleep on the floor of the caravan as close to where she’d been resting as he could get.
“Thanks for keeping an eye on me.” She spoke softly, not wishing to wake him. The air all around them felt thick and heavy, but not uncomfortable. Like a sort of humidity, but not as destructive to her hair. Perhaps it was her imagination, a residual effect of her fatigue from overdoing it earlier in the day. Enna crawled up onto the bench before climbing into her lap.
“I hope I didn’t worry you too much.” The Familiar squeeped once more, and pressed a squishy paw lightly up against her chin. She returned the favour by pressing her fingertips against Enna’s nose. Part of her wanted to get up, to climb out of the carriage and figure out where she was. Unfortunately, that part was overpowered by her desire to remain exactly where she was a little while longer. However, it wasn’t long before she’d find out anyway.
“Helloooo~” Sienna popped her head in through the back of the carriage, “Welcome to Amanori! How’re ya feelin’?”
“Drained…” Lexi sighed, hugging Enna close, “But I’m glad we’re here now. How… How long was I out?” She stared at Sienna; perhaps it was the fatigue but something definitely seemed different about her.
“Ya were out when I got back ta the van. Been a few hours since then.” She smiled, “Sorry I took so long. They told me how ya helped everyone out.”
“I didn’t do much, but I’m glad it worked.”
“Yer too modest. Anyway, wanna wake yer brother and come take a look around?”
Lexi nodded, glancing down to her sleeping sibling.
“Yeah. We’ll be with you guys in a minute.”
Sienna gave a thumbs up, waving to Enna before wandering off. Lexi smiled, she was quite fond how how cheery the other girl always seemed to be. Enna slipped off of her lap, leaving her to focus on her brother. She poked at Xander’s cheek a few times, refusing to stop until he began stirring.
“W-huh?” He slowly uncurled, sitting upright. Sleepily, he rubbed at his right eye before looking up to his sister, “Oh, hey. You’re awake.”
“You are, too. We made it to Amanori.”
Xander stretched with a yawn. It took a few moments to for her words to sink in, but the moment he did he almost flew up onto his feet. They’d made it! Styler awoke letting out a displeased growl, extremely unappreciative of his companion disturbing him.
“Amanori!” He dashed to be back of the carriage, peeking through the opening before he swung the half-door open. He jumped out to take in the sight, breathing deep as soon as he was out there. The air was indeed a little heavier than he was used to, but it smelled so good.
Amanori was indeed a small village; tall trees scattered around between the many little wooden houses with clay rooftops, and a prayer stone at the centre of it all, positioned directly in front of an eight foot tall statue that the teen couldn’t really figure out. It looked like a tall, gunmetal obelisk on a pedestal. There seemed to be markings and engravings all over it, but nothing to specify what any of it meant. He observed it a little while longer, before taking in the rest of the village. It consisted of dirt roads, and what appeared to be an outdoor bar; filled with the owners of the caravans drinking from glass bottles as they laughed and joked with each other. Everywhere was lit by flame candles and torches scattered around outside the homes and roads. It was very different to any of the cities or villages they’d been to so far, it seemed a little primitive by most standards.
“Amanori, huh?” Lexi muttered as she slowly dragged herself out of the carriage. She glanced around, taking note of everything that her brother had moments before, “I guess they keep to themselves so there’s very little technology…”
“That’s true, but…” Vale walked over to them, he had been inspecting the centrepiece of the village up close. That was, until he spotted the twins finally making an appearance, “You can feel it, can’t you? There’s a strong Aetherial presence in the air. It’s everywhere.”
That explains why it felt so heavy when I woke up, Lexi thought to herself.
“Reshingham is similar, but nowhere near as concentrated as this.”
“So does that mean magic would work better here?” Xander turned to Vale.
“That’s an understatement, but yes.” He nodded, pointing at the torches scattered around, “I’d imagine that these are all self sufficient magical flames, just feeding off of the aether in the air and never needing to be relit.”
“That’s pretty amazing.” Lexi spoke, walking closer towards the statue to inspect it as her fatigue began to fade a little, “What’s this meant to represent?”
“It is the Particala.” A voice she didn’t recognise spoke up. Behind her, one of the carriage drivers had wandered over from the bar. He bowed towards it before resting a hand on the prayer stone to it’s left, giving thanks for a safe journey.
“This is the Particala!?” Xander sounded surprised.
“It is a statue that we can revere in place of the creators.” He nodded, before turning his attention to Vale.
“The Elder has agreed to see you all this evening.”
“Wonderful. Well then, shall we?” Vale looked around. Hayden and Sienna had disappeared off to the bar to spend time with the village members. He called over to the two, and they made their way over.
“Time ta see tha leader?”
“Yeah. Let’s go.”
The home of Amanori’s Elder was larger than the other houses in the village, as one would expect, but unlike the previous places they’d visited it wasn’t that much more extravagant. It seemed the community tried its best to keep everyone as equal and as humble as possible. One thing of interest that Vale found pretty interesting was the fact that there was no door. Instead, beads hung from the top of the opening frame, allowing easy entry at all times for anyone who needed to speak to the Elder but it could also keep any unwanted critters out. Vale was the first to step inside, the others following suit.
“Me ma wo adwo.” The voice came from an Elven woman sat in a wicker armchair near the middle of the room. She looked to be of middle age, was plump, with short, black hair, and a warm smile. She looked at each of them as they entered before speaking again, “I am Awesi, welcome to our home.”
“Yaa ena. My name is Vale, my mother is Lana Hartstrong. I’ve come from Reshingham with my friends to meet you.” He bowed lightly. She held her arms open, happy to hear her old friend’s name.
“Ah, Lana! It has been many years, I hope she is well.”
“She is, she is now the Mayor of Reshingham.”
“These are my companions; Sienna, Hayden, Xander, and Lexi. We wished to talk to you about your village’s stories.”
“Oh? Which stories? We have many to share.” She spoke through a bright smile, it was obvious she was well accustomed to giving warm welcomes at any hour.
“Well, we’d like to hear the Particala creation story.” He motioned to the entrance, “I hear the statue outside represents it, and we have heard one story from our books in South Varea. My mother wanted us to travel here to hopefully learn more, perhaps find some answers.”
“Answers?” She leaned forward, “Answers to what, exactly, if I may ask?”
Vale turned to Xander. He nodded and stepped forward, attempting to bow like he’d witnessed a few moments ago. Awesi tilted her head to the side, but smiled at him anyway. She wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but her eyes widened once Xander lifted his shirt up; it was just enough to show the emblem on his skin. She jumped up onto her feet and hurried over to the boy, crouching down to stare at it. “You have the mark, you were born with it?”
“Yes. Our whole family were.” Lexi spoke up as she walked forward. The elder woman’s eyes widened as she saw the other twin, having been a little obscured in the dim light until now.
“Lacie? No, no.” She paused and composed herself, “I never thought I would meet Children of Lacie.”
“Who’s that?” Xander raised a brow, watching how focused the woman was on his sister.
“Oh, I am sorry. You will have to forgive me, I got too excited.” She returned to her seat and closed her eyes, “In our history, we call people born with this marking the Children of Lacie. Descendants of the mortal goddess.”
“Sorry, yer gonna have ta explain this.” Sienna chimed in, hand raised politely. Awesi returned to her seat and closed her eyes, taking a deep breath before starting her tale.
“In the beginning before the world came to be; Before Yaw brought light to his people, before Tala gave birth to the Rama, and before Jacob became the great deceiver. The eight gods existed in harmony, and were all close friends. Jin, the creator, was the only god with power to begin with. He wished to share it, and blessed all of his friends to be his equals. He also wanted to build a world they could live in together, somewhere they could all enjoy their designs. Over a long period of time they forged this world exactly how they wished it to be. The streams, the forests, the mountains, and all creatures from the smallest insect to the largest beast. All exactly how they wished for them to be. Together, they resided within their new world alongside all the races and creatures that were within it.
All of the gods were endless, never to age or be visited by the spirit of ending. All except for the goddess Lacie. She chose to keep her mortality when The Creator blessed them all with unending life.
The goddess was kind, loved by all of creation that met her. Like them, she too was not endless and perhaps they felt connection to her more-so because of it. Before time took her to become one with the Aether, The goddess Lacie brought two children into the world, one son and one daughter; both born with the mark and a fraction of the power given to her by Jin. Over many generations, her descendants became known as The Children of Lacie.
Jin, a powerful and jealous god, held distaste for mortal beings wielding so much magical power within them. He did not want there to be any that could compare or compete with his own strength, other than those who he gave it to personally. He spoke in private with his closest friend, Jacob. They both agreed that the descendants of Lacie were something neither of them could not allow, and destroyed them all… Or, so the stories were told.” Awesi looked at the twins, smiling warmly at them both as though she was meeting an old friend after many years, “It seems the descendants of the goddess survived.”
Lexi and, more surprisingly, Xander were silent. They weren’t entirely sure how to react to a tale stating their ancestor was goddess. It was a lot to take in, myth or otherwise. Vale decided to chime in, breaking the silence.
“And this is part of the stories involving The Particala?”
She nodded, “Yes. The Particala was a sacred item created by Jin, it allowed him to bless and empower the other gods. It even allowed them to create the new world that we call our own. Over time, the other gods began to fear Jin and his power. He went from being a kind and gentle being, to bitter and filled with resentment to the people he created. Perhaps being eternal lost it’s charm after a while, or perhaps he saw things that made him lose his way. The others feared what he might do if he ever became bored, or became filled with an uncontrollable anger towards them or the world they’d made.
One day, while he slept, several of the gods separated The Particala into four pieces and hid them all over the world in hopes that he’d never be able to find them all and use it again. When he awoke he was so enraged he went in search of those who’d betrayed him, but the gods had all but disappeared. Those that remained were Tala, who loved him deeply, though later fled out of fear of his wrath, and the trickster Jacob.
It is said that over time the gods all went into a deep sleep as they were no longer needed in this world, but may one day return if they’re ever needed.”
“Hmm.. So there were eight gods, not just the one.” Vale looked to Hayden, who had fallen asleep sat beside the doorway. It was a shame, he’d likely have gotten to hear some new stories about Yaw if he were awake to ask.
“Thank you for sharing your stories with us.” he bowed to Awesi, “If I may ask, would it be acceptable for us to stay here the night before we begin our return to Reshingham?”
“You may stay as long as you like.” She responded warmly, “There is always place for Children of Lacie, their friends, and especially the son of an old friend. In fact, I wish to speak with you both tomorrow morning if you are willing.” She directed her attention to the twins as she spoke the last part.
“Y-yeah. That’s fine.” Xander nodded, still a bit taken aback by the story. Lexi nodded in agreement.
“There is extra room here for you all, it is not much but it is yours for the night.” Awesi stood, bowing to them all before turning and making her way to her room, “May your rest fulfill you all.”
“Well, guess we should get some sleep.” Sienna nodded to herself, walking over to grab Lexi’s hand, “C’mon, Lex’. Ya can have yer top back n’ all.” The blonde nodded, silent from a combination of still being drained but also trying to comprehend the tale she’d just been told.
That’s all it is, a story… right? She thought to herself. Perhaps sleep would help her to think more logically on the matter in the morning.
“I guess it’s you and me, then.” Vale rested a hand on Xander’s shoulder, “You gonna be okay?”
“Huh?” He looked up to Vale, “Oh. Yeah. It’s just a story, after all.”
“Don’t think it’s true?”
“I mean… I think all stories have got to come from somewhere, but being the descendants of a mortal goddess? Probably not.” He grinned, “Though, it would be pretty cool.”
Xander looked around the room for Styler, finally spotting the familiar who was being used as a pillow by Hayden. Enna rested comfortably atop the boy like a tiny, fluffy blanket. He smiled to himself, May as well leave them to it .
In their room, Sienna pulled off the top she’d borrowed from the Lexi earlier in the day, poking at the defined line between where her tan and lack thereof met. She grinned down at herself, easily amused by such things.
“Ya gonna be alright?” She looked over to Lexi before throwing the top over to it’s rightful owner. She took it too the face, not alert enough to be playing catch.
“I think so. I just need to get some more sleep, hopefully.” She placed the top down on the floor with her other items that had been brought in from the caravan. Lexi began to rummage around inside of her messenger bag for her pyjamas. Sienna had opened her carry case to get her own and already begun changing.
“This whole trip has just been kind’ve… surreal? And it’s ending on such a strange tale.”
“What? That yer a Demi-Demi-Demi-Demi-Demi goddess?” She laughed, “I’m sure there’s people out there with stranger claims fer themselves.”
“I guess so.” They’d both finished changing into their pyjamas and climbed into the large double bed, there was only one but it had more than enough room for them to sleep comfortably.
“Well, hopefully ya can wake up all refreshed tomorrow and ask her whatever ya want. Since she wants ta see ya anyway, may as well make the most of it.”
Lexi simply nodded in response, already halfway to her sleeping world. Sienna smiled and rolled onto her side, taking a moment to sniff her arm for that wonderful scent of sunshine that had engraved itself into her skin before closing her eyes and trying to sleep as well.
“Yes, and sorry again for the late call…Mhm, speak to you tomorrow. Love you.” Vale finished up the call to his mother, closing the red flip-phone and placed it on the ground with his jacket and shirt. He pulled his hair tie free and ran fingers through his hair to untangle it before climbing into bed. He looked down to Xander, who had opted to lay on the floor using his own jacket as a pillow.
“Are… you sure you’re okay sleeping down there?”
Xander gave a big thumbs up, “Yup! Sorry, but I’m not very good at being the little spoon.”
Vale grinned at the comment before settling down, “Your loss. Night, then.”
“Yeah, Nini.” Xander lay there, staring up at the ceiling. He’d always wanted more. To have more; to be more than just a mundane life in a fishing town and nothing else… However, this was a bit much. Even if it was just a story, this was far beyond anything he’d imagined for himself.
It was nearing midnight, and back in Reshingham’s City Hall Mayor Hartstrong was finally about to settle herself into her bed after a long day of meetings and duties within the Chaplace. She pulled the covers up over her body and closed her eyes, letting out a soft yawn. Then, as though the gods were mocking her, the phone rang once more. She groaned, hiding her head under the covers. Perhaps if she ignored the phone, it’d go away. Unfortunately, it refused to relent. After several rings that seemed even louder than they normally did, she threw the covers off, getting up to walk over to the desk and picked it up. She stared at the name as it appeared on the screen for a few moments, frowning before flipping the phone open and speaking.
“... You’re aware of the time, right? … Yes, I know you don’t. Well, some of us do sleep like normal people. What do you want?” There was silence as the person on the other end spoke, and a look of frustration formed on her features very quickly. She clasped the phone at her ear more tightly, wishing she could climb through it and throttle whoever it was.
“You self-centred son of a bitch. You can’t just take them without asking first. I don’t care what she is to you, we’ve been her guardians all this time. You can’t just come out of nowhere and take her whenever you want something! I-“ She was cut off once more. The pause lasted a little longer and the anger seemed to fade a little, but her annoyance remained, “Look. If anything happens to either of them I’ll find you, cut them off, and feed them to you on a silver plate personally, do you understand me? Yes. Good night.” She closed the phone and threw it across the room, it was a miracle the phone didn’t shatter from the force.
“Ugh! I can’t stand that man!”
Lana returned to her bed, fell forward into it face first, then rolled herself up tightly within the blanket. She’d had a long day and it was time to get some sleep.
Trouble. That’s all he is. Trouble.
“Michael Alexander Hawking, you get your arse back here!” The man, looking to be in his thirties, yelled over at the young boy as he rode away on his little bicycle. He couldn’t have been more than five or six years old, but exhibited such a strong rebellious aura as he laughed and kept fleeing down along the riverbank they’d all been sitting upon quite peacefully up until that point.
“You know,” the teen girl to his right spoke, watching the scene wearily, “if you were around more he might actually listen to you.”
“That’s not fair, Maria. You know I have to work.”
“I do… Just about . He doesn’t. Lexi doesn’t, either.” She offered him a polite smile, but her tone told him that she wasn’t letting him get away with an excuse like that. The man sighed, rubbing the back of his neck and adjusted the tie in his ponytail.
“I guess he is still pretty young…” He looked at the second girl to his left, smiling warmly. “You know daddy loves you, right?”
The child just stared at him for a few moments, showing no sign of sympathy… Or emotion at all, for that matter. She simply returned to the book she was reading, a fairytale filled with pictures of monsters and various heroes fighting to protect those in need.
“Can you try? Please?” Maria rolled her eyes and stood, yelling over at her younger brother in a stern, no-nonsense tone.
“Xander. Here. Now.” The boy couldn’t have gripped the brakes harder if he’d tried. He stopped in his tracks, slowly turning around as if he’d been struck with the fear by the gods themselves. Reluctantly, he shuffled the bike around and returned to the others. Little Xander placed it down with the other three and sat by his Elder sister and began pouting.
“We’re almost finished with this project anyway, and then I’ll be home a lotmore.”
“Hmmm..” Maria shrugged, “I’m sure you’ll find somewhere else to be before long.”
Their father decided it was best not to press the matter, remaining silent. He’d been defeated by his own child.
“Leeeeeeex~!” The voice came from elsewhere, it echoed within her head like it had been placed there from another world. The child looked up from her book trying to find the source of the voice, frowning when she was unable to.
“C’mon, it’s time to go.”
Lexi closed her eyes, leaving herself within the darkness for a few moments longer. Once they opened she was back in the room within Amanori, Xander hovering over her bed impatiently. It was daylight, she’d slept all the way through the night but she still felt no less fatigued.
“Nnnh… I was dreaming.” She sat upright, rubbing her eyes.
“Yeah, Sorry. The Elder’s ready to see us. It seems important.”
“Give me ten minutes to freshen up, I’ll be out there with you.”
Xander nodded and left the room. Lexi sat up and just remained there, staring off into nothingness. She was still groggy and more than a little annoyed at her dream. It wasn’t good to dwell on the past, some things were better of left there. That man was nothing to her, he was never around to become anything. So why was it she’d dreamt of him?
Xander stood outside the room, arms crossed over his chest as he stared at the ground in thought. He may not have shown it but he was still really worried about his sister, and felt pretty guilty to top it all off. After all, he was the one encouraging her to keep going when she said she needed to stop. It took a punch to the arm to pull him out of his spiraling daze.
“I said I’m ready.”
“Huh?” He looked up, returning to reality and turned to see Lexi frowning at him. She still looked really tired. He shook it off, smiling broadly.
“Yeah. Right. Let’s go!”
It was warm and bright inside the Elder’s house. Thankfully, the excessive heat of the land was kept out by the house’s design, and the large round windows let in just enough light and warm air to be comfortable.
“Morning.” Lexi spoke lazily, waving to the others who were already up. Vale was sat cross-legged on the floor near the doorway with Enna perched upon his lap and Ketzy curled around his shoulders as though she were a very small scarf. Styler was close beside them, resting contently directly in a circle of light that flowed in from outside. Vale smiled up at her, and Enna spent no time getting up the moment she heard Lexi’s voice. She ran on over and immediately began tugging at her leg. She lifted her companion up onto a hug, receiving a pleasant squeep as thanks.
“How are you feeling?”
“Much better, but still a little tired.” Xander frowned, but quickly stopped and tried to let it go unnoticed.
“I spoke to Awesi a little while ago. There is someone in the village who may be able to help with that once you’re done here. Though, I’m sure she’ll tell you more herself.”
Lexi nodded, still mostly focused on her familiar.
“That sounds nice. Yeah, I’m up for it.”
“Good. Well,” Vale got up onto his feet and dusted himself off, “the others are outside doing a little exploring, I have a few things to do but I’ll come find you all when I’m finished. Or come find me, whichever works best.”
“Will do! Seeya soon!” Xander gave a thumbs up and waved his friend off as he passed through the beaded entryway. Styler yawned and stretched, opening his eyes as he heard his companion’s voice. Soon he was up his feet and lazily strolled on over.
“Well, you ready sis?”
The four ventured through the house and entered the back room. There, Awesi sat on a large wicker chair on a raised platform.
“Maakye. Did you rest well?” She beckoned them closer as she spoke.
“Yeah. Thanks for letting us stay.” Xander smiled, “Though I think Lexi is still a little drained.” She frowned at him for outing her fatigue.
“Well, when we have finished you should go visit the Seer’s home. He is very attuned to the aether of our land. He receives blessings and visions of things to come, but he can also help with recovery from many ailments.”
“Vale also mentioned him. We shall, thank you.” Lexi responded warmly. Awesi nodded.
“The reason I wanted to see you this morning is because I wished to test something. If you are willing I would like you to join me, to see if your marks are as I expect.”
“S’okay with me.” Xander, as usual, agreed. Lexi nodded, she was too tired to argue even if she hadn’t of wanted to.
“Wonderful.” The Elder lifted her hand with her palm open towards a wall on her left, looking at it intently. A moment passed and she closed her hand, though still leaving index finger extended. Awesi moved it as though she were writing out an invisible message that only she could see. She poked the air and finally lowered it into her lap, satisfied. The wall began to glow and a portal opened; it was identical to the gateways that formed in Ruin Circles. However, this defied the rules they’d come to know so far for accessing a Ruin.
“Whoa...” Xander stepped forward, “How’d you do that?”
“Ancient arts passed down to all Elders of our village.”
Disappointed with the answer, he concluded it would likely not be something he’d get to learn. Xander turned to his sister and offered her a reassuring smile.
“Shall we?” Lexi nodded, staring at the portal before turning towards the chair where Awesi had been only a moment ago. In that moment she’d been distracted the Elder had somehow vanished. Confused, she frowned again. She was there just a second ago, wasn’t she?
“Where did she go?”
“Inside, I guess. C’mon, Lex’.”
It was a feeling that was slowly becoming a comfort to her, the portals seemed to be more welcoming each time she ventured through.
“This is… different.” The room they’d entered was in the shape of a semicircle. Large, stone blocks covered in various images of what Lexi assumed to be monsters and other animals rose fifty or sixty foot towards a blackened stone ceiling. There was one large double door made from some type of old looking wood at the back of the room, and the entire floor was covered with a soft, wine-red carpet that had definitely been well maintained; everything was a drastic change to the first ruin they’d visited. Other than that, the room was vast and empty; the twins and their familiars the only signs of life.
“Huh…” Xander was the first to reach the large door, followed shortly by Enna and Styler. He stared up at the giant emblem etched into the centrepiece of the wood’s design. There was no mistaking it, it was their family mark.
If you have any power of Lacie within you, you should be able to open the door. I will be awaiting on the other side. Awesi’s voice resounded within their minds, answering their earlier query as to her whereabouts.
Lexi was the first one to notice that on either side of the doors dividing line there were rectangular glass panels. It was around a quarter of the way up and could be reached simply by extending her arm forward. It couldn’t have simply been there for aesthetics, could it?
“Maybe if we just push here?” Lexi placed a hand on the left panel, pushing gently. Nothing happened. She tried with the right panel. Again, nothing. Perhaps if I put a bit more force into it? She placed a hand on each panel, pressing firmly, and hoped for the best. The moment she did, they both began to glow white.
“Whoa, Lex’ check it out!”
A line, glowing the same vibrant while, shot up from each panel towards the marking above them. It lit up and began to fill as though glowing water were being to flow upwards into its channels. However, it stopped halfway, and no matter how hard she pushed it refused to budge. Frowning, Lexi stepped back and stared down at her hands.
“Maybe you’re still too drained. Let me try.” Xander stepped forward, copying his sister’s action. As with before, both panels began to glow and the marking started to fill up with light. Yet again, it only reached around the halfway point before refusing to go any further. The boy stepped back and turned to his sister, the same look of disappointment as her upon his visage.
“I guess it’s not just you, then. What do you think?”
“Not just me..?” She thought for a moment, reluctant to admit it was taking a little longer than normal for the cogs to spin within her mind. Finally everything fit into place and she nodded to herself, stepping forward once more to place a hand back on the left panel. She stared at it confidently before speaking, “You touch the other one.”
He nodded and did as she said. They both stared up at the marking and waited, hopeful. Nothing at all. It was just like when Lexi had attempted the first time.
“No way…” Xander pouted, closing his eyes. They opened a second later as he felt Lexi’s free hand take his own. Suddenly both of the panels lit up, the lines started flowing upwards, and the marking began to fill.
“I guess the connection needs to be all the way around.”
Xander stared excitedly at the marking’s glow as it continued to rise. More and more, it filled to the halfway line and kept on going. It continued all the way until at last the whole design was bright white in colour. The door groaned and creaked as it began to slowly open inwards without any assistance. Xander took her hand in his own and lifted them up in the air as though they’d just won a grand tournament and smiled brightly at her.
“Great thinking!” She smiled, thankful her mind worked enough to figure it out.
Hand in hand the twins walked through the doorway, finding themselves in another room. Similar to before it was semicircle in shape with the same red carpeting. However, this room was filled with tables, chairs, and an armoury cupboard that stretched from one side of the room all the way to the other, openly displaying everything it contained. If he were to hazard a guess, Xander figured that this was some sort of meeting place for a group at one point. In the middle of the room stood Awesi, smiling broadly as her theory came to be proven.
“Welcome.” She smiled warmly.
“What… is this place?” Lexi loosed her hand from Xander’s and motioned Enna over. The familiar hopped up into her companions arms and together they walked towards the Elder.
“Many many suns have passed since this place was last used. It was created to store artefacts and weapons for those blessed with the mark you both share. A gathering place for companions to spend time together as well as prepare for battles. I believe our meeting was not just chance, perhaps you both were meant to come at this time. If you were able to enter this room, you deserve to take from what is here.”
“Free… stuff?” Xander’s eyes all but sparkled with excitement.
“Please. Go ahead and search the armoury and I am certain you will know what you should choose.”
Lexi placed Enna back down, to the familiar’s displeasure, and walked over towards the back of the room. Xander had already dashed over, inspecting everything as he walked alongside the armoury. Full suits of armour, pendants, bracelets, swords, spears; everything you could imagine for battle and protection was there. For him, it was akin to a small child visiting a large shop filled with the most wonderful of sweets and toys from all around the world. How could they even start to narrow down something they’d want?
“Gauhh!” Lexi turned to Enna, watching the Pandaragon who had started pawing at something within the armoury several feet away. She wandered over, crouching down beside her.
“What is it, hm?” The Pandaragon looked up at her, then returned to pawing at what Lexi made out to be a bracelet. It was a thick, platinum-white, metallic chain with two vibrant green crystals cast into it on opposing sides. Lexi stared at it for a little while, then smiled at Enna.
“You want me to pick this? Alright.” She reached out and picked it up, before standing once more. Meanwhile, Xander was struggling. What did he want, or should it have been more what did he need ? Armour, daggers, swords… None of these were really his sort of thing, he’d leave those to the protagonists of the stories he read as a kid.
“Not decided on anything yet?” Lexi spoke, making her way on over to him.
“I don’t knowww...” He whined, “There’s far too much to choose from!”
“Enna found mine. Why not ask Styler?”
“Mmmm…” Xander turned to the familiar at his side, “What do you think, buddy?”
Styler looked up at his companion for a moment, then turned his attention towards the long armoury. His eyes closed and waited patiently. As though he were sensing for something. Xander watched intently, trying to remain still so as to not disturb the wolfcat. Soon, he opened his eyes and began to wander along the left side of the wall, eyeing everything as he passed by. Finally, he stopped several feet from the end. His companion chased after him and started to browse the area where Styler had stopped. He got up onto his hind legs and reached his paws out to stop on either side of two rings. He sniffed at them, then looked to Xander intently. They were some sort of crystal-like material, rigid, and a yellowish brown in colour. Xander could feel these were definitely it. He reached out and took them, using his free hand to scritch the top of Styler’s head.
“Great work!” He grinned, sliding a ring onto each of his index fingers. They were a perfect fit, surprisingly. Maybe this was what she meant when she said they’d know. He waved over to his sister, and the four all reconvened at the centre of the room where Awesi awaited.
“You have chosen something?” The twins held out their items to her, “Ah, yes. Good. Let us go, then.”
The elder smiled and began to enact another hand-gesture ritual as she’d done previously to allow them entry. A portal opened up to their side and she walked through, followed shortly by the others.
Back in the Elder’s room, Awesi sat in her chair. Lexi looked at her bracelet, slipping it onto her right wrist before holding her arm out to inspect it.
“The crystals are imbued with aether.” She motioned the two closer. Once they were within reach her hands pressed out and made small motions as before. Looking at each of their chosen items she focused and nodded to herself.
“Do you both have an element you focus on using?”
“Yeah. Most of my spells are Earth based.”
“Mine are air.”
She nodded, smiling. Awesi looked at Styler and Enna, giving them an affirming nod.
“Then your little companions chose well for you.”
“How so?” Awesi turned her attention back to Lexi before responding.
“This bracelet is called a Sky Bangle. It has two crystals that enhance magic focusing on air. And as for you,” her focus turned to Xander, “These rings are called Land Fists. They similarly will help you with magic of the Earth element. I’m certain they can also do more with training, but I am afraid can not say what or how. You will have to discover that ”
Xander turned his attention to Styler, the familiar feeling his companion’s feelings as though they’d been screamed from the top of his lungs; You’re the best!
“Now…” She returned her attention to Lexi, “You have drained your mana, yes?”
“We must help with this. Outside, you will find a house to the east of the village with a red door. Our Seer lives there. He will be able to help.”
Awesi smiled warmly, “You never need to thank any of us in this village. You are always welcome.”
As they made their way outside, Xander noticed Sienna sat on the ground, leaning back against a wall beside the Elder’s house. She was eating something that looked to be squishy, soft bread. Vale and Hayden were nowhere to be seen.
“Heya!” She waved over to them as they came into view, “How’d it go?”
“It was good. We got some free things!” He held his hands up to show her the two rings.
“Yeah! Where are the others?”
“Some of tha villagers went out and got our van this mornin’, they’re off doin’ repairs. ‘Cause Aether is so strong here sometimes it crystallizes on it’s own. They can just swap tha dead one from tha engine with a nice new one.”
“I guess that means we’re sorted to get back?”
“Will be when tha van is fixed up.”
While the two talked, Lexi looked around for the house Awesi mentioned. Sure enough, a little ways away was a smaller building with a red door.
“I think I’m going to talk to the Seer.” The others turned to her and nodded.
“Want us ta come with ya?”
“No, it’s okay. Just come find me when everyone’s back here?”
“You sure?” Lexi smiled at her brother, nodding.
“Don’t worry, I’ll be fine.”
“Alright. Well... We’ll head on over as soon as the others get back.”
She waved and made her way towards the Seer’s home. Xander frowned, looking to the ground. Sienna placed a hand on his shoulder, leaning over so she was in his sights and smiled warmly.
“Don’t beat yerself up over things that can’t be changed.”
The door was ajar, Lexi pushed it open a little and peered inside before entering.
The room was small and circular in design. It was well lit by the same magical flames that brought light to the village at night. She stepped through the door and closed it behind her.
“Maakye.” The voice came from a doorway at the back of the room. Soon the owner of the voice appeared; a middle-aged man with a bald head stepped into the room, “You are the child of Lacie, yes?”
She nodded, stepping further into the room feeling a little more comfortable knowing she’d been expected.
“Ah, yes. Yes. I have been asked to help your mana. What is your element?”
He nodded and wandered over to a cupboard to the left of the room. Once open, the Seer reached into it and pulled out various items. He gathered them all together in his arms and moved over to her and sat on the floor in the centre of the room, laying everything out in front of him.
Lexi sat down cross-legged before him, and Enna quickly climbed into her lap. She sat in silence, looking over the items as he started to work. The Seer placed a granite mortar in the space between them, resting the matching pestle to its side. With those ready to use, he started on the ingredients. Firstly, he picked up a large, bright blue flower with greenish-gold leaves on either side. He inspected the leaves and then tore them off. The flower was dropped to the side, unwanted for whatever it was he was going to make, and tore up the leaves into small shreds before placing them into the mortar. Next, he picked up a long orange pepper and a small knife. Slicing it in half, he accessed the hollow, seed-filled innards and scraped a few of the seeds into the bowl. The pestle was picked up and he began to mix and grind the items together into a paste. Two small, green crystals were added into a separate bowl and thoroughly smashed into a powder before being poured out to be mixed in with the paste. Lexi watched intently as he worked, wanting to ask so many questions but not wishing to disturb the process. Finally, he took a jar that looked to be filled with rich, dark honey. It was almost solid, and didn’t seem sticky at all. He took a small amount out of the jar with his fingertips and dropped it down into the mixture. All the ingredients were pressed together and stirred for a few minutes; not long after he was done. He held the bowl out to her before speaking.
She took it, using her hand to take the mixture which had taken a sort of hardened, jelly-like form. It was easy to hold without making much mess, thankfully. The first bite was the hardest, unsure as to how it would taste or feel within her mouth. Surprisingly, it was sweet with a hint of spice. Five or six bites and it was consumed, then she waited. That ‘hint’ of spice increased more and more as she ate.
“How will I know when it has wor—…” Lexi trailed off as she began to feel it’s effects. Her body started to sway a little, and her eyes began to lose focus. Within her mind, it felt like a sort’ve floating feeling, and she could swear her spirit had become unaligned from her body. She wiggled her fingers in front of her; they no longer felt like her own. It was all so strange, yet good at the same time. She couldn’t help but giggle a little. Lexi looked towards the Seer who simply smiled at her, his face seeming to double before it began to swirl and spin around her.
A few moments passed, she had absolutely no idea how long, and she decided it was time to lay down on her side, curling up around Enna like a soft toy. The Seer stood up, taking the leftover items with him into the back room. There was nothing more for him to do.
“How’s it coming along?” Xander waved at Vale as he and Hayden made their way over. Their hands, arms, and faces were covered in oil and dirt, but their clothes remained remarkably spotless. Ketzy was sat atop Hayden’s head, and neither of them seemed to mind.
“We’re pretty much done. We can go whenever.”
“Yer our saviours!” Sienna grinned, Hayden ran up to her happily accepting the praise. She placed a hand on his shoulder and bowed.
“Where is Lexi?” The boy looked around, unable to see her.
“She went to the seer for this recovery thing.”
“Whatever it is. The thing to help her restore her energy.” Vale raised a brow.
“Your way with words is amazing.”
“Of course! I’m a great conjurer of speech, after all!” The two grinned at each other, and Sienna shook her head at the two of them.
“Well, shall we go check on her?” Xander nodded. He poked at Styler who’d been resting beside them, alerting him that it was time to go, and lead the way.
Inside, Lexi was still curled up on the floor. She was breathing deeply, and Enna was still tangled up within her arms. The Seer was sat in a chair watching over her, just in case.
“Is… Is she okay?” Xander spoke as they entered, seeing her laying on the ground. The Seer nodded.
“Yes, she is just recovering.”
He walked over to his sister and crouched down beside her.
“Hey, how’re you feeling?” Lexi murr’d, opening her eyes to look up at him. She stared at him for a moment before reaching out to press her index finger into his cheek, frowning deeply.
“You haf m’ face. Gif it back.”
“... What.” Xander’s expression was deadpan, staring at her.
“Gimme m’face back…” she continued to frown, still poking at his cheek. Xander looked to the others confused, before turning his attention to the Seer as he re entered the room.
“Do not worry. The medicine to help her recover has such side effects. She will be okay in a few hours.” He nodded, turning his attention back to his sister with a devilish grin.
“Sorry, Lex’, this is my face now.”
“Nnnooo..! Mine!” She reached out, grabbing at air as her brother jumped up to his feet and took a step back.
“You’ll have to be the no face girl from now on!”
“Nnnnoh…” Lexi whined, curling back up.
“That’s adorable.” Sienna smirked, “I wanna keep her.”
“You’ll have to water and feed her, take her for daily walks, get her treats…” Vale playfully rambled on, only stopping after she lightly punched him in the arm. He turned his attention to the Seer.
“We’re thankful for all you’ve done for our friend.”
The man focused on Vale,shaking his head, “There is no need for thanks. We are blessed to have Children of Lacie and their companions.”
Sienna walked over to Lexi, sitting down right beside her and began to poke her cheek playfully.
“Tha actual No Face Girl, a real celebrity~!”
She grinned, looking up to Xander, “I think we’re gonna have ta carry her t’tha van.”
“Yeahhh…” He crouched back down, sliding both hands under her frame, pulling her loose from Enna and into his arms bridal style.
“Lemmeh go, face thief.” She wriggled and struggled at first, only settling down when Sienna stood and started to pet her hair.
“It’s okay. You have your face back now. I magicked it back to you. Just rest up.”
“... Mmmh… M’face…”
“Thanks again!” He turned his attention to the Seer before making his way for the door, Enna and Styler tagging close behind. Hayden bowed, catching Ketzy as he started to fall from the boy’s lowered head and ran out of the house. Lastly, Sienna and Vale followed suit.
The Seer pushed the door closed after they’d all left, and turned to make his way to the back room. He didn’t even make it halfway before he fell to his knees, placing a hand on his forehead as it began. Awesi had mentioned him being a man who received visions, and it was true. Unfortunately he had no control over their occurrences.
He closed his eyes for only a moment, and once they opened again he was no longer in his home. He stepped forward inside of the fuzzy darkness as it formed around him within this other place. Try as he might, he could not make out much at all. Sometimes, these visions came to him this way. No clarity, leaving him to wander through the nothingness until something stood out. He stopped dead in his tracks as he saw a tall figure wearing a fox-like mask clothed all black. His entire being oozed malice.
Beside him hovered a tall, black, smoke-like creature with what appeared to be one large and one small eye, both many colours like the feathers of a peacock. It had two long, red, arm-like appendages and it appeared that something, someone was pierced through the chest by one of them. There were several other figures he couldn’t make out, battling hard against each other. He had no clue as to the meaning, but he could feel they all seemed to be filled with despair. The masked figure looked directly at him, as though he knew the Seer were there. He began to reach out, but before he had chance the vision began to fade.
By the time he returned to reality, his entire form was covered in a cold sweat. The Seer fell back and sprawled out on the floor, breathing heavily like he’d just run a marathon without stopping. He needed to tell the Elder as soon as possible, but for now all he could do was lie there. Was this linked to those he’d just seen off? One of them? All? He couldn’t tell, but he prayed to the gods for their protection.
The van seemed good as new, it had a shiny new crystal within the engine, and sounded healthy as the engine growled quietly. Finally they’d be able to drive again, and have cool airflow. So long as nothing unexpected happened, it would easily get them back home.
“So, what now?”
“Hm?” Vale started to drive, taking it slow to start with. He didn’t want to jinx it by treating the van without a little care.
“Well, we did what we came for. What’s next?”
He thought for a moment before responding.
“I suppose it’s best we get Hayden home before anything else. Then? I guess we can take it from there. I’ll call my mother once we reach Han’Ma, and see if anything else of interest comes up.”
Xander nodded. Lexi was laid across one of the benches in the back, using her brother’s lap as a pillow. Hayden and the familiars were on the opposite side, all asleep. It seemed everyone was tired from all of the adventuring over the last few days.
“How’s she doin’?” Sienna leaned over the front passenger seat, checking in on the duo.
“Passed out. But she seems better.”
“That’s good! She’ll be back ta normal in no time!”
Awesi had returned to the ruins, the warning of the vision from Amanori’s Seer had unsettled her. She would come here to think regularly, especially when something like this was brought to her attention. The elder walked along the entry room, observing each of the designs and images on the walls, almost as though she was checking to be sure they were still there. Once she seemed satisfied Awesi ventured through into the armoury. Something felt off, was it just concern over the vision? Was there more afoot? Her heart sank as she noticed it, staring at the armoury wall before her. There were items missing. They’d been there only a few hours prior when she and the twins had been here. Something had happened between then and now, and there were definitely several weapons missing from their resting places. She scoured the room, trying to find anything that could explain what had happened. In the end, the only clue she found was a blue ribbon on the ground.
“My, it sounds like quite the adventure. Just be safe.”
“Yeah, we will.” Xander laughed nervously as he held the flip phone a little farther away from his ear, knowing that if Maria could have reached through the speaker to throttle him she likely would have.
“Good. Nia and I miss you, and neither of us want you back missing pieces. Understand?”
“Yeah… Anyway, here’s Lex’!” He quickly handed the phone to his sister on the seat opposite him and scurried to lean over the front passenger seat, “She’s scary when she’s mad.”
“Yeah? I’m sure it’s just cause she’s worried about ya.” Sienna offered a reassuring smile.
“I know, it’s just. Ughhhh… We’re gonna be fine.”
“Of course. Ya got Lexi to keep ya out’ve trouble.” She grinned, receiving a deadpan stare in return, “Don’t pretend that’s not tha case”
“Still doesn’t feel good hearing it…”
Lexi, meanwhile, was more than happy to speak to her sister.
“Yeah, it’s been wonderful. There’s a lot of really friendly people in Metis.”
“Just try to avoid overdoing it again, okay?”
“Good. Keep enjoying yourself and we can’t wait to hear what else you get up to. I’m going to go make lunch for Nia now, love you both.”
“Love you too, speak to you later.”
Lexi closed the phone and put it into her messenger bag.
“We could always pay your sister a visit on the way back to Reshingham if you both wanted.” Vale spoke up, having been content to stay silent while they were on call. Xander looked around to his sister, she nodded.
“Yeah. Sounds good to us!”
As they reached Han’Ma, something seemed off. It was a lot quieter, the streets almost empty. Sienna frowned, looking to Vale. He turned to her and nodded, they both could feel it. Something wasn’t right.
“Hayden, we’re here.” The boy sat up. He’d been dozing on the floor in the back, using Styler as a pillow and Enna as a blanket. The three seemed to get along quite well. He rubbed his eyes and crawled up to peek out of one of the windows. His reaction was similar to Sienna’s.
“Where is everyone?”
“Dunno. Let’s just go find yer uncle and worry about tha rest later.”
The van parked up in a small, open area near the markets and everyone got out. Hayden started to run towards the direction of his Uncle’s shop, and Sienna chased after him with her case in tow. She stopped just long enough to reach inside and grab Vale’s metal polesticks, tossing them over to him.
“You guys look around! Find out what’s up and meet us when yer all done!”
“On it!” Vale called over, now holding one in each hand before he turned his attention to the twins.
“I take it Han’Ma shouldn’t be this quiet.”
“Never.” The remaining crew started walking towards the city’s centre, perhaps on the way they could find some answers.
“Wofa! Are you here?!” The bell on the door rang loudly as Hayden pushed his way in at full throttle. He ran to the counter, looking around. He was followed shortly by Sienna, who stopped to notice the place looked like a bull had been let loose both inside and out, definite signs of some sort of scuffle. There was a moment of silence before a familiar voice filled the two with relief.
“My, my. Why are you being so noisy, Wofaase?” The old man walked out from the back room, stopped in his tracks as his great nephew dove in to hug him.
“It’s too quiet outside. We thought something might’a happened, and ya might have got caught up in whatever it was.” Yoofi smiled at Sienna, he was happy they’d both returned safely.
“This old man would not suffer trouble that easily. But you are right, a lot has happened since you visited.”
“What’s gone on?”
“Men came to my shop, three of them in red cloaks. They wanted to see some books and scrolls. I was happy to share, but then they tried to steal them. Friends from the market outside heard what was happening and came to help. Then, these men,” he frowned, pausing a moment, “they were Rama of Tala. They called monsters here, without need of a calling circle. The men fled with some of my texts and left us to deal with their summoned creatures.”
“Sounds like something we dealt with up in Malal.”
“Yes. We heard of the stranger in the ruins. These were the same from what we were told. Though, they summoned more monsters outside. Many of our people fought and won, but there was one we couldn’t match against. It was too much, and we could not hurt it. Everyone went inside for safety, and have not come out since yesterday.”
“Mmm… Wait. It’s still out there?” He nodded, the boy still wrapped around his Uncle looked to Sienna. He could see the worry on her face.
“They are strong, it will be okay.” She nodded, torn between staying here in the shop just incase and going to meet up with the others.
“Let’s… tidy up tha shop before everyone else gets here. Yeah?” The boy nodded then turned his attention back to Yoofi.
“Yes. We will help tidy up for you, Wofa.”
The others had been walking along the streets of Han’Ma, unable to find anyone. It looked as though a number of fights has broken out all over, though. Stalls, tables, brickwork, all manner of damaged goods scattered all over.
“I don’t like this…” Xander frowned.
“Me, either.” Vale shook his head, looking as though he were about to continue speaking. Instead, however, he stopped in place, looking to Ketzy who had suddenly become very upset.
“What’s wrong, Ketz?” The lizard hissed and stomped its tiny feet on his shoulder, staring off in the direction of the city’s centre. Styler and Enna seemed to notice whatever was getting Ketzy’s attention, too. The wolfcat began to growl and took on an aggressive stance, and the Pandaragon wriggled out of Lexi’s arms and waddled over to her fellow familiar. Ketzy leaped from Vale’s shoulder and glided swiftly onto Styler’s back. The three set off towards their destination.
“H-hey! Wait up!” Xander yelled, chasing after them.
“Let’s go.” Lexi nodded to Vale, following suit. It took a minute, but Xander finally caught up to them. They’d stopped several feet away from a large bronze statue of a very buff man.
“What’s gotten into you gu—“ he stopped when he spotted it. On the opposite side of the statue it sat, almost identical in size except far more rotund. Hearing the commotion it growled deeply before rising up onto its feet.
“Brother, did you find out what they were chasi—“ Lexi stopped directly beside him, Vale doing similar a little ways behind the twins. They all stared up at the large beast. It’s body was reminiscent of a body builder who’d ‘let himself go’ as it were, wearing nothing but a sweat-stained vest and baggy, brown trousers that ended a little ways above its clawed feet. In its left hand was a large, spiked mace. All these things were shadowed by the part that caught everyone’s attention the most. It’s face, reminiscent of a drooling vampire bat, stared at them all with large black eyes all the while letting out a low, rumbling growl.
“I guess we found out why everyone’s hiding…” Vale laughed weakly, tightening the grip on his polesticks.
“I guess we’re gonna try taking it on?” Lexi spoke softly, not wanting the beast to hear her if at all possible.
“May as well. We’re here, and our companions all seem to be itching for a fight.” He nodded, tilting his head in the direction of the three familiars.
“Guess we just happened to be in the wrong place at the right time… or however that goes.” Xander grinned weakly, cracking his knuckles. He began to chant under his breath, readying his physical enhancement magics. They’d definitely be needed from the looks of things. As he was preparing himself, Vale tapped his polesticks against his waist in a rhythmic fashion before holding them out and hitting them against each other two times. The Aether visibly began to wrap around them and masses of rock and clay solidified to give them the shape of two large clubs. Lexi chose to chant forth several wind arrows, she thought it best to avoid trying anything to draining for a while, and with that they were all ready.
Moments passed, but it was obvious to them all that the beast could feel their aggressive stance and it seemed to elate in the fact.
“Gorawwww!” It bellowed before charging at them.
“Go!” Vale yelled. Lexi sent several of the arrows at the beast, before running to the side. The creature looked unphased as they pierced a shoulder. It simply kept charging, raising its arm high before throwing the mace down as hard and as fast as it could, right into the ground where they’d been standing.
Xander swiftly jumped to the side and slammed a fist into its leg, it pressed in like he had lightly pushed a finger into something firm, yet squishy, and he felt himself being repelled back right away. The repulsion forced him to slide back, barely managing to keep himself upright.
“The hell? I couldn’t do a thing to it!”
“Just keep trying!” Vale yelled. Ketzy leaped from Styler’s back and landed on the mace while it was still halfway in the ground. It let out a high pitched scream as electricity began to form all over its small, feathery body. One Ketz’ had gathered enough, the charge was swiftly sent into the metallic mace, and through conduction into the beast’s hand. It roared in pain and let go of its weapon, stumbling back.
“There! Try again!” Vale dove at one leg, swinging his clubs as hard as he could. Xander leapt at the other, slamming both fist ls into it l, trying once more. Both of them were repelled with the same force they’d dished out, Xander flew into a pile of debris that at one point had likely been several chairs and a table. Vale, luckily, barely missed being thrown back into the large statue. Instead, he wound up sliding along his back across the dusty ground behind it, and the creature didn’t even seem to notice that either of them had even attempted to strike. It shook its head, somewhat dazed still form the current that had shot through him, and started to reach for its mace again. Enna squeaped angrily, bounding over and climbed up onto the weapon before breathing a large stream of orange and yellow flames at its arm. The beast cried out in pain, grabbing at its now-charred appendage with the remaining undamaged hand. It kicked at Enna, but the Pandaragon rolled off of the mace and swiftly, yet playfully, waddled over to her companion with Ketzy holding firm to her back, having leaped off the weapon moments before.
The mace itself took the brunt of the kick, and flew off into a wall near Xander. He couldn’t have gotten onto his feet and run any faster if the gods themselves lent a hand. Lexi, meanwhile had begun firing those air arrows at the monster once more, hoping that they’d at least incapacitate it a little. A few were indeed pierced into its skin, but they didn’t seem to bother it much at all.
Styler, for some reason, hadn’t attacked once. She could sense a form of frustration coming from the Wolfcat. That was when her mind started to go to work.
“Guys! I think it can’t be hurt by physical attacks!”
“What?! But that’s not fair!” Xander yelled, wincing and reaching for his right arm. Blood trickled down from beneath the rolled up sleeve of his jacket. Even with his body enhanced, it didn’t help dull much of the pain caused from being thrown that hard and fast into a pile of wooden planks and metal bars moments before.
“It makes sense, though…” Vale replied bitterly, slowly getting back up onto his feet, “Most people here are Weiman, they have nothing but physical strength. That’s why it’s still standing and they’re in hiding.”
“The people that summoned it knew what they were doing, huh?” Xander smiled, weakly.
“Seems so. I guess we’ll just have to change our tactics.” Vale shook his polesticks, the aether dissipated pretty quickly and allowed them to return to their original form. He began to rotate them in a circular motion, figures of eight, and then tapped the two together. Once more, magical energy surrounded them, but this time took the form of long, watery whips.
Xander was more than a little envious that he could just switch things up like that. He tried to think, most everything he’d practiced was self enhancement. He’d always found other spells a little to hard to get right, to be honest. There was, however, one thing he could do. He began chanting under his breath, and held his hands out towards the ground where the creature’s feet stood. Suddenly, the ground around them began to wobble and swirl as it softened. It began to pull down around the large, clawed feet above it, not letting up even a little. Quicksand. The beast roared angrily as it struggled, trying to escape in time, but it was too late. The more it fought, the worst it got. It was now knee deep in the pit that had formed, unable to pull itself out.
“Nice job! Lexi shouted over, moving closer now she felt it was much safer to do so. Vale launched forward, swinging his whips at the creature. He struck at it several times, fully aware that the physical hits themselves would not cause any harm. That said, it was becoming wet. More and more he swung and struck at it as it growled and struggled to break free, until most of its upper body was saturated.
“Ketzy, now!” The lizard hopped up from Enna’s back, flying forward, upwards to land on the monster’s shoulder. Once again it let out a tiny skreeee! As it’s body charged up, before letting it flow through the now superconductive frame of the beast. It cried out in pain, body suddenly paralysed from the strong current flowing through it.
Enna pounced up into Lexi’s arms and she wrapped them around her instinctively. The Pandaragon looked up at her as if trying to convey something. They stared at each other for what felt like an eternity, everything around them seemed to go silent… But it was then that she heard it. Enna’s voice resounded within her mind. Lexi nodded and looked at the monster.
“Okay. Let’s give it a try.” Enna wiggled loose and bounded over to stop a few feet away from Vale. It took in a deep breath before letting out a long stream of flames towards the monster. Ketzy jumped free in good time, flying to land comfortably upon Vales shoulder. Lexi began to chant under her breath, the air beginning to whirl and wiggle round the space in front of her. She held her hand forward and directed the small twister that took form towards the flames as they attacked their prey. Suddenly, the two elements intertwined and exploded into a flame tornado that thrashed and flung it’s way around the beast without mercy.
It wasn’t long before the creatures roars and cries faded into silence, and not long after so too did the flames. All that remained was the charred husk of what was once a large monster. It began to crumble and fade until there was nothing but a pile of ashes on the ground.
“Lex’! That was amazing!” Xander rushed over to her, adrenaline and excitement concealing any pain he’d felt prior, a look of amazement on his face as she breathed a sigh of relief. She offered him a smile, pretty amazed with how well it worked herself.
“Thanks. It was Enna’s plan, though.”
“Kinda? I don’t really know how to explain it…” she smiled warmly towards her familiar, “but her voice came into my mind and suggested the plan.”
“And it worked! Good job, Enna!” He beamed over to the familiar, giving the familIe a thumbs up as she toddled back over to her companion. Suddenly he winced once more, maybe moving that arm wasn’t such a good idea.
“Are you okay?” She looked him over, worried.
“I will be. It’s just a bit of a scratch, I’ll be fine in no time.” He smiled reassuringly. Lexi crouched and picked Enna up, hugging her close, before pointing Xander in the direction of Styler who was still standing there at a safe distance with drooped ears. He nodded, walking over to the Wolfcat and sat down, cross-legged, beside him.
“Don’t worry about it. We’ll make up for it next time, yeah?” He offered the familiar a warm smile, reaching over to scritch him behind the ears. Styler let a soft mewl out, disheartened, but still nuzzled up to his companions affection. Xander continued to pet the Wolfcat, looking over to Vale.
“How about you? How’re you holding up?”
“I’m okay. More winded than anything. We should get to the shop, though.” He shook the polesticks, removing the aether from their form, and slid them into his vest pocket.
Slowly, but surely, people started to poke their heads through windows and doors. As soon as they realised the monster was gone, they started to make their ways outside.
“Thank you!” An elderly Elven man called over to the group, followed by praise and thanks from several other residence of the city. Numerous people came over to pat them on the back, shake their hands, and a couple who were skilled in healing magic tended to Xander and Vale’s injuries. Once everyone had settled down a bit more and began to pick up the pieces, the trio and their familiars made their way on over to Yoofi’s shop to meet up with the others.
Hayden and Sienna had been hard at work, returning toppled bookshelves to their upright positions and doing their best to put the books back in place.
“Thank you for working so hard.” Yoofi spoke, a little envious of their youth and ability to still do all of this without his assistance.
“Don’t ya worry about it.” Sienna beamed, “More than happy ta help!” Hayden nodded in agreement, reordering a few books that she’d placed wrong.
The shop door opened and the bell dropped off from its position, almost hitting Vale on the head. He lightly kicked it to the side and made his way on over to the counter, taking in the remaining me that had yet to be organised.
“Was there much for ya ta deal with?”
“Just one really big, really ugly guy.” Xander beamed, “But it’s gone now. Everyone came on out right after so I’m guessing it was the only one.”
“Aw, I missed out on the fun!” She pouted.
“I’m sure you’ll get to fight some more big nasties soon enough.” Vale chimed in, “How’re things here?”
“These two have been very helpful.” Yoofi spoke up, “I’m sure the shop will be back to normal in no time.”
“Glad to hear it. If it’s alright, we’ll stay the night and ensure everything is alright before we continue on our way.”
“You’re always welcome to stay as long as you like.” Vale nodded. He noticed Sienna shuffling a little as they’d been talking, something seemed to be bothering her.
“I think I’m gonna stay here fer awhile.” Sienna spoke up, “Make sure there’s no more surprises, y’know?”
“I had a feeling.” He smiled, “Don’t worry, just let us know when you’re ready to meet back up and we’ll figure something out.”
She grinned warmly at her friend’s response.
“Well, for now let’s get this place fixed up some more.” Xander joined the conversation, looking around at all of the shop still needing a lot of sorting out.
“My, how responsible of you.” Lexi smirked.
“Shhh. I just don’t like how bad this place ended up.”
“Well then,” Vale stepped forward, rolling up his sleeves, “Let’s get to work.”
Several hours passed, and by the time they’d finished they’d not only helped restore Yoofi’s shop as best they could, but they’d also been roped into helping with damage out in the main streets. It wasn’t how it was before, but far better than when they’d arrived. Xander especially had felt happy to help. His physical enhancement magic having been useless in the earlier battle left him feeling more than a little disheartened. This was definitely making up for it.
By sunset they were finished. Three rooms at one of the inns nearest to the shop were offered up as thanks, and everyone began to settle down for the night. All that is, except for Hayden, who had understandably gone back to his own home nearby.
The twins were in a room together, and the others had single rooms on either side. Lexi had already changed into her pyjamas and settled into bed, Enna resting comfortably on her stomach. Xander, meanwhile, was half changed and standing by the window, looking down at the street.
“I like it here. The people are really nice.”
“Yeah, though… Everyone’s been friendly for the most part.”
“So, why would anyone want to cause them so much trouble?”
“I dunno. All we can do is hope they don’t come back.”
“Yeah…” Xander frowned, finally making his way to his bed to finish up. Styler was already curled up right in the middle of it, leaving him with the dilemma of whether to figure out how to get in without disturbing him, be a terrible person and budge the Wolfcat, or find somewhere else to sleep. Lexi simply smiled, seeing the situation. She reached down and pet Enna gently.
“Nnngh… Night.” He stared a little while longer before choosing the most sinful route, siding into the bed and pushing Styler over. The familiar let out a disapproving growl, but settled down pretty quickly once more. Xander clapped his hands and the lights dimmed until they were out.
Morning came, and it was time to part ways.
“Are you sure you’re gonna be okay?” Lexi asked, hugging Sienna.
“Yeah. Don’t ya worry about me. I know this place like the back’a me hand, and I got Wofa and Spark ta keep me company if I get lonely.” She grinned. Vale was next in line to hug his friend.
“Keep me updated. If you need us we’ll be back as soon as we can.” Sienna laughed, waving him off.
“I can handle meself. Ya got yer own kids ta look after!” She motioned to the twins.
“I suppose you’re right. Still, I’ll miss you too much if you don’t keep in touch.”
“Fiiiine~” She grinned. Vale and Lexi moved on to say goodbye to Hayden and Yoofi, the two also wishing to see off their new friends. Xander offered Sienna a smile and opened his arms for a hug, awkwardly. He got a bit weird about this sort of thing, it seemed. Her smile changed into a smirk as she accepted the hug.
“Don’t ya go havin’ too much fun without me.”
“I’ll try my best.”
“Good. And ya better tell me all about what ya all get up ta.”
“I’ll make sure to memorise it all for you.” He nodded.
“That’s what I like ta hear!” She lightly punched his arm and then stepped back, pulling a piece of folded up paper out of her pocket before holding it out to him. Xander took it, staring at the paper with a slight look of confusion before looking at her.
“Open it, ya loser.” He returned his attention to the folded paper and opened it, reading the scrawl on it a few times before speaking once more.
“It’s a number.”
“A phone number?”
“...” he paused a moment, squinting at the numbers on the paper. she did her best to keep a straight face when she saw the realisation appear on his face, “Oh. OH!”
“There ya go!” She laughed, unable to keep it hidden any longer.
“Y-Yeah.” He smiled sheepishly.
“Don’t forget to tell me everything I’m missing!”
“Right! I will!”
“Uh uh. Now, best be off before they leave ya.”
“Eh?” He turned as she motioned towards the Van. Everyone else was inside, waiting on him. Flustered, he turned back to her, waving his farewells at Hayden and then to the others who’d come to see them off before running to the van and clambered into the back.
“What was that about?” Lexi looked over from the passenger seat to her still flustered brother who was residing in the back still staring at the blessed gift.
“Nothing! Let’s go!” He whined, obviously not used to this sort of thing. Lexi turned to Vale, confused. He simply smiled at her before setting off.
Sienna and Hayden waved at the van until it disappeared from site, then turned to each other. Sienna grinned at her partner in crime of days gone by. He looked up at her, knowingly.
“Fancy a little mischief?”
“Yes!” Yoofi could only smile and shake his head as the duo ran off towards the marketplace, which was busy as always. It would take more than a giant monster to stop business in Han’Ma for more than a day. The old man turned around and made his way back to the shop, there was much so do, and much to hear of Hayden’s little adventure… Whenever he returned from whatever trouble he was off causing, that is.
Chapter 12: Chapter 12
Three days had passed since departing Han’Ma. Having returned to their own country of South Varea, Vale suggested to the others that going somewhere to unwind, especially after recent events, might be a good idea. Perhaps a change of pace before continuing on to meet up with the Twins’ sister in Hemport. It did sound nice, especially after the final few days in Metis. As such, everyone was in agreement.
“What’s Elyscester like?” Lexi was sat in the front passenger seat, reading through her book of spells intently. Due to everything that had happened, she’d not been able to really sit down and read any of it. Fortunately, the medicine she’d taken in Amanori had returned her back to full strength, and she wasn’t one to waste a potential moment of study now she was able to get on with it.
“It’s different to Reshingham. They’ve got a lot of big businesses, academies, and lots of huge boutiques. People who want to make it big, but can’t afford to move to Desia usually end up here. Oh, and at night? It’s like another world. The city never sleeps.” Vale thought a little before continuing, “It’s also got a pretty big live music scene. I’ve been there quite a few times to see bands play.”
“Bands?!” Xander leapt up to the front, leaning over the seat between the two. His excitement almost caused Vale to veer off the road, much to everyone’s irritation, “What kind of bands?”
“Please try to avoid killing us, brother.” Lexi frowned, still trying to read through the sudden mayhem.
“All sorts. Acoustic, more poppy, and then the heavier, louder styles. I like the heavier stuff, personally, so those are the venues I’d go to. There tends to be at least two or three venues for whatever you could desire.”
“We should go to one when we get there. What do you think, Lex’?” The girl closed her book and shook her head with a heavy sigh, it looked like self-study would have to occur later. She looked to Vale, and then over to her overly excited brother, “I don’t mind. I’d like to check out the boutiques, too.”
“Yeah. Hey, do you think there’ll be anywhere that sells phones?”
“Several, Elycester’s far more tech oriented than in Reshingham.”
“Brother,” Lexi reached into her messenger bag, pulling out the purple flip phone they’d been using all this time, “we already have one.”
“I need my own, though.” He frowned.
“R-reasons.” Xander looked away, scratching his cheek. It was his tell, and she knew it far too well. Lexi raised a brow, choosing to avoid dragging the discussion out.
“As long as you don’t spend any of my Sterling, I guess.” He grinned, pleased with the response.
“Here we are.” Vale spoke, pointing towards the large cityscape as it came into view.
Elycester was huge, filled with tall buildings as far as the eye could see, and large, flying balloons covered in promotions and advertisements hovered above them. Soon they passed a large, sky-blue sign with Welcome To Elycseter printed upon it in white, bold lettering.
“Wait. Why’s it spelt like that?” Xander frowned, staring at the city’s name. Vale shrugged, not taking his eyes off the road.
“There’s many places in Varea that sound different to how they’re written.”
“Yeah, but that’s just an overuse of letters. If it’s pronounced El-Stuh, why spell it like that?”
“You’ll have to take it up with the founder of the city. Are you any good at seances?” He grinned.
“Those things are just for show… Aren’t they?” The colour faded from Xander’s face as he thought about the concept of ghosts being real.
Vale drove around the busy streets of the city, seeming to be looking for somewhere in particular. There seemed to be almost as many cars as there were people, far different to the numbers seen in Reshingham where most people seemed to prefer walking on foot. One thing that took Lexi’s interest were the people zipping around between the cars and narrow side-streets with ease on what Vale called motorbikes. She’d never seen one before, but they definitely looked like they’d be enjoyable to ride. The van took a left down a long narrow street before turning into onto a large ramp leading underneath a building. Vale drove around between many lines of parked cars until he found a spot big enough for the van and pulled into it. They all got out and started to follow him towards a stairwell several feet away.
“An underground car park. Above us is the Stone Centre, it has lots of boutiques and restaurants. Probably a good place for you to get yourself a new phone.”
“You’re my favourite.” Xander grinned before diving out of the van and running towards the doorway signed This Way Up.
As they reached the top of the stairwell, the twins were amazed by the sight they saw. It must have been at least a mile long, hundreds of different shops and boutiques all lined up along either side of the large open hallway. Everywhere they could see was filled with people going about their daily shopping routines, dining, or just hanging out. To make it even more impressive, it had two more floors that were accessible from the large stairwells placed centrally all throughout the walkway. Honestly, it was a little overwhelming for the twins. Hemport had a few shops, and not a single one of them could compare to anything they were seeing.
“This place is ridiculous…” Xander explained, “I don’t even know where to begin!”
“This is the largest shopping centre in South Varea, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t exist if you can’t get it here.” Vale placed a hand on Xander’s shoulder before pointing to a large, ornate fountain not too far away from the trio and their familiars, “I’m going to go see what bands are around tonight, let’s meet back up at that fountain in… Say, an hour. Just don’t get lost.”
Xander grinned at his last comment, giving a thumbs up.
“Don’t worry, I’ll make sure he doesn’t.” Lexi chimed in, lessening her brother’s attempt to be cool.
“I’m counting on you.” Vale winked before setting off past the fountain and into the crowd.
“Well, I guess we should go get your phone first?”
“Sounds like a plan.” Xander took the lead, followed by Styler and then the others. The twins made their way down the line of shops to their right, inspecting each one as they passed. There were so many brands and styles of clothing they’d never even heard of, and were worlds apart from the general attire of those back home. The price tags from what they could make out were also a lot higher than what they were used to. They had been walking for a few minutes, and Xander suddenly stopped; watching a group of people as they walked by.
“Did you see that?” She turned to follow his gaze, curious about whatever had distracted him. Soon she spotted them; five or six people, wearing a fashion style neither of them had seen before but were definitely suited to the things they’d seen in the shop windows so far. That, however, wasn’t the interesting part. They all had traits that were either respective to different races, or no race at all. One, a human girl with bright purple eyes, but no other Zeren traits. In fact, she even had a black, cat-like tail! Another appeared to be Weiman, his hair was accentuated with Fox-like ears poking up through it. They twitched and wiggled as though they were real. The group must have felt the twins’ eyes upon them as a third member of the group, a short, slightly rotund girl with bright pink hair and bat-wings of the same colour waved over to them.
“Ya okay over there?” She called over. Xander nudged Lexi forward, a little hesitant to talk to potential mutant monsters. She cursed him in her mind before smiling and speaking up.
“Yeah. Sorry for staring. We’ve never seen… Uh,” She motioned towards the girls hair and wings, “Traits like that before.”
The girl grinned, puffing her chest out proudly as she and the rest of her friends moved closer.
“They ain’t traits, that’s why! They’re fashion glamours!”
“Fashion glamours?” Xander spoke up from behind his sister, the concern they may attempt to eat him was fading fast.
“Yep! Ya never seen ‘em before?”
“We’re not from around here.” Lexi shook her head.
“Gotcha! Well, ya see. There’s this big shop called GLAM . Ya can go in there fer most anythin’ ya can imagine. Only thing they don’t offa’ is race changin’!”
“That’s pretty neat.” Xander chimed in.
“Ya! Glams are pretty popular round here. Yer gonna find way more like us.” Her friends smiled at the twins. They were definitely friendly, though neither of the twins had any desire to partake in such drastic appearance changes themselves, “In fact, while yer here ya should check out the Summerwing Bridge. It’s full’a Glams, especially at night when tha bands are playin’.”
“We’ll try to visit there before we leave.” Lexi smiled, nodding to the girl, “Thank you.”
“Yer welcome! See ya round!” The girl waved, dragging her friends off down through the shopping centre towards a large restaurant filled with others covered in different glamours.
“She sounded kinda like Sienna, don’t you think?”
“Maybe. The accent was thicker, though.” Lexi thought on it, wondering if her parents were from Elycester.
“Anyway, phone time!” Xander started heading off towards a shop he’d spotted. It had a large sign with various images of phones on them. If that weren’t the right place, he’d eat his jacket.
While the twins were off exploring, Vale had made his way out into the city. There was a music venue he was particularly fond of, and right next to it was a bar he felt he should visit. He stopped outside of it, staring up at the large neon blue sign. Even in broad daylight it still shone brightly for all to see. Jay’s Ladder . It was a relatively small bar, compared to most of the others in Elycester. However, it had a distinct charm, and a design unique to itself.
Vale stepped in through the wooden, saloon doors and looked around. Same as always, he thought to himself. There were photos of bands, and posters on the walls promoting music events as well as recommending various ales and spirits that were served there. There weren’t many patrons, but it was early afternoon. Most wound up here much later in the day. He made his way to the long, wooden bar and sat down on the third stool from the right.
“Well, look who it is!” The voice was warm and welcoming, Vale smiled as the bartender made his way over.
“Jay, it’s been a while. How’s business?”
“Oh, you know.” His accent was drastically different to the other residents of Elycester, different to anywhere in South Varea in fact. Jay had once told Vale that, before starting business here, he’d lived in Zercia. It was a country across the ocean to the West. He’d wanted a change of pace, packed everything up and began travelling, which somehow ended up with him setting up a bar here in Elycester, “What’ll you be having?”
“I’ll have a Hellfire.”
“Comin’ up.” Jay went to one of the pumps and started pouring out the chosen drink into a tall, handled glass. Once he’d finished he handed it over.
“Cheers.” Vale took a few Sterling from his wallet, some paying for the drink and the rest dropping into the tip jar in front of him. It was a custom of Zercia, so he had been told.
Hellfire was a sparkling, amber-coloured drink with strong hints of ginger and cinnamon to it. The name itself came from the fact that this drink was very spicy. It’s heat was definitely something not everyone could handle, but those who were able swore by it as a refreshing and unique beverage. It was a concoction Jay himself had created, and it wasn’t available anywhere else. Vale took a swig of his drink, smiling contently.
“Ah, I’ve missed that.”
“I’m sure it missed you, too.” Jay grinned, scratching his neatly trimmed, black goatee before continuing, “So. Why else are you here?”
“That see through, eh?” He smirked, taking another swig, “Well, I was wondering if you had some information.”
“Oh? What do you want to know?”
“My friends and I were recently travelling around Metis. We encountered creatures that nobody had seen before, summoned by a group of rogue Rama according to witnesses. I thought if anyone could find something out about them, it’d be you.”
“Hmm..” Jay looked up in thought, silently mulling it over in his mind, “Tell you what. I’ll see what I can find out, come back tomorrow and I’ll let you know if I’ve got anything.”
“That’s what I like to hear.” Vale grinned, “Gives me an excuse to stay for a few bands and Hellfires.”
“I’ll even do you a deal. Two for the price of two, how about it? Even through in something for your little friend there.” Jay pointed to Ketzy on his shoulder as he spoke. Vale laughed at Jay’s offer, raising his glass with a nod.
“Sounds good to me!”
It had almost been an hour since they’d parted ways. Xander was busy fiddling with his new phone by the fountain they’d agreed to meet up at. Styler lay lazily across his lap, while Lexi and Enna were inside a shop nearby that boasted being South Varea’s Number One Alternative Fashion Retailer. Xander was far too busy with his personal mission to want to check anywhere else.
He looked his new toy with pride; a matt-black flip phone with a large blue crystal on the top. He flipped it open and started rummaging within his pocket for the paper he’d been given a few days earlier. Once it had been retrieved he started to key the number in that was written on it and pressed the call button. It rang a few times before a familiar voice on the other end answered.
“Si? It’s Xander.”
“And here I thought ya might’a gone and lost me number! Heya!”
“Noooo, I just needed to get a phone of my own first. I felt bad using Lex’s.”
“Well, I suppose I can let it slide then. How’s yer adventure?”
“We’re in Elycester right now.”
“Ah! Me mam’s from there!”
“I thought the accents were similar!” Sienna laughed down the phone at his statement.
“Yeah. Was too strong ta not pick up. How long ya staying there fer?”
“Vale wants to see some bands tonight, so I’m guessing at least until tomorrow some time.”
“Ah, I’m jealous! I want ta see them, too!”
“Well, how about when you’re back in Varea we go together?” Xander made an awkward squeak before continuing, “I mean. Like. All of us. Hanging out.”
“Sounds like a plan,” She spoke through a smile so broad he could almost see it, “Though just tha two of us is okay too ya know.”
“Oh. Then. Yeah. Let’s go. Just us two, then.” Xander’s was glad she couldn’t see the awkward face he was pulling at his own responses right now.
“Great!” He grinned like a toddler being given his favourite toy, “How are things over there?”
“They’re good! Nobody’s heard or seen anythin’ of them Rama since we turned up. I think it’s safe ta say they ain’t gonna be back.”
“I’m glad to hear that. Are the old man and Hayden okay?”
“Yep! I don’t think Hayden’s gonna want ta leave his side fer a while, though.”
“I can imagine. Tell them I said hey, yeah?”
“So, uh. Will you be heading back over soon, then?”
“I think so. Few more days then I’ll start makin’ me way back.”
“Great! Uh, I mean. It’ll be good to see you again, yeah. But I’ve got to get going for now,” he waved to Lexi as she came into view, making her way over with a bag in her hand, “I’ll talk to you later?”
“‘Yep! See ya later! Tell tha others I said hi!”
“Will do, bye!” He closed the phone, sliding it into his pocket, still sat there with the largest, dumbest grin on his face.
“Are… you okay?” Lexi stared at him, brow raised.
“Yeah! I’m fine! What about you?” He stood up, shaking his head a few times before slapping his cheeks to focus himself. She continued to stare at him, certain it was better to not ask. Instead she smiled and turned her head to one side, followed by the other, showing off her new accessories. In her right lobe were two new silver-studs, as well as one more added to her left.
“Rebelling now Maria can’t stop you, eh?” He grinned at her.
“Shut. I just thought they’d look good. And they do.”
“They’re pretty cool, yeah.” She smiled to herself, happy with the extra sparkle within her ears.
“What’s in the bag?”
“Something for Nia.”
“Can I see?”
“Later.” Xander frowned, he wasn’t one to patiently wait.
“Are you two arguing again?” He turned to see Vale, waving over to them as he reached the fountain.
“Nah, he’s just being impatient.”
“Am not!” Vale laughed, reaching onto his shoulder to pet Ketzy.
“Well, if it takes your mind off of it for a while, I got us some tickets for a band tonight.” Xander’s attention diverted to Vale instantly, filled with new excitement.
“Great! Who are they?”
“They’re pretty new, but I’ve heard good things. They’re called MFA .” He nodded, pulling the three tickets from his vest pocket, “The venue isn’t too far from the hotel I booked us into.”
“You’ve got everything all planned out, as usual.” Lexi smiled, always appreciative of people who came prepared.
“Of course.” He grinned, “Is there anything else you want to do before we check in?”
“Hmm…” she thought, “I’d not mind getting something new to wear, since the fashion here is really different to anything I’ve seen before.”
“Actually, yeah. I wanna do that too.” Xander looked down at his attire, heavily aware it was quite dull in comparison to everyone else around him.
“In that case,” Vale thought for a moment, “I know a great place.”