Every direction seemed like an endless path of crystallized snow as the remnants of the sunset’s rays slipped through the openings between the pine wood trees. Cyril walked patiently behind Neclaytia who was silent ever since they left the mountain side and entered the forest. He was still cautious, of course, but as much as he rejected the idea of being a pawn of someone, he had to follow her lead for the time being. It’s clear she means no harm, but instinctively, he believed there was a deeper connection between himself and her.
But what is it…?
The thought wavered in his mind as his boots crunched against the ground. Everything was a mystery, and even his own identity was just as mysterious. He sighed as silent as a whisper and stared at his right palm that he held in front of him as he walked. When he did so, there was a vague ripple in his vision, bending from reality into another. It shocked him as he saw his wrist in rusted chains and visualized crimson blood practically caked on his palm. As if that separate reality was a day dream, he blinked and it was gone forever—lost beyond his reach.
Suddenly, Neclaytia stopped moving forward and surveyed the area coolly, and in response, Cyril abruptly stopped to her unexpected action. Questioning, he mimicked her, but saw nothing out of the ordinary but snow, trees, the receding sunset, and hints of habitation from local animals in sight.
“Is there a problem?” he asked.
His words broke her out of her odd trance, “It’s…nothing.”
She brushed off the situation quickly and continued walking. Cyril scratched the back of his head and simply piled up more of his confusion more than he should have about her, but in just a split second he heard a distant sound. He stopped and surveyed the land again, but there was nothing; however, that same sound was there in the distance. He closed his eyes and listened closely as he tried to break down the true meaning behind the sound, and suddenly, it became part of reality as it pierced his ears.
Without sorting his emotions or even understanding them, his body jolted off down a separate path. It was then that Neclaytia fully turned around and managed to see a sliver of Cyril he dashed down an opposite path, “Cyril?! Where are you going?!”
“Someone’s in danger!” he shouted back before sliding underneath an elevated log between two boulders.
As he spoke the words, he gained control of his body and embraced the adrenaline coursing through him. It was all strange to him; from his movements to the furious burn in his lungs along with the unexcused puff clouds coming out his mouth with each breath, and how his skin accepted the icy air. It was as if he was living inside a shell that wasn’t his own, but his speculation of himself ended when the scream suddenly disappeared. He stopped, panted, and then started up again. He was about to jog over to a tree to his right, but before he could, a shadow jumped on him after shouting, “Get down!”
Cyril watched as the tree next to him was torn away from its initial position, flying above and past his head and the person who saved his life. A rumbling thump came soon after, indicating the tree had found a new position among the many destroyed ones due to its toppling force. The individual on top of him eased up on his body, “Are you okay?”
Cyril stared up at a boy’s face, jumping his eyes from his sharp chin, shaggy blonde hair, and coolly aquamarine eyes. Despite his pale skin, his grip on Cyril’s wrist was unexpectedly warm and guarding. Cyril furrowed his brows, “What—”
The boy and Cyril turned their heads towards Neclaytia charging towards them with her right hand firmly wrapped around her katana’s grip. Before she could come closer, the ground shook underneath them and the two parties were separated by a living beast. Neclaytia slid to a stop, glaring up at the tall, menacing, and odorous figure that held an enormous spiked mace in one of its crimson hands.
“Wait, Bullock!” the boy pleaded, releasing his grip on Cyril to stand and face it.
The beast stood on its bare feet with charcoal nails that varied in length, and its ripped body pulsating with veins flexed as its horned nostrils flared at the boy that called it by name. It had a human-like face, but it was distorted hideously and the ears of the beast pointed, but chips of its skin were gone from the tips. It was thoroughly disgusted when Cyril noticed its sapphire eyes squint at the boy and suddenly enrage—chaining into a bloody red. Wildly, it screeched and its scream shook the entire forest, making it known that the beast deemed as Bullock was its reigning King. In response, miniature versions of Bullock appeared from behind snow piles along the outside of the pathway and from behind wide trees. Cyril, Neclaytia, and the boy were surrounded within moments by enemies holding spiked maces, clubs, and even bow guns from afar.
The boy backed down slightly from the odds pressed against them, but he gritted his teeth and said, “I come bearing a question! I don’t wish to fight!”
Bullock looked over his shoulder at the boy and ignored his words, “Human! This is not your forest! Leave or be struck down!”
“Please, answer!” the boy urged.
In a single movement, Bullock clutched his right hand stringently around his spiked mace’s grip and swung behind him, hoping to knock the soul and life out of the boy who stood up to him. However, just as Bullock swung, the boy raised his right hand and intercepted the spiked mace. A maddening gust was created from the swift collision that slightly pushed away everyone in the area except for the two conducting the action.
Cyril watched in awe as a small light barrier was erected between the boy’s hand and the spiked mace. Bullock’s eyes treaded lightly across the boy as he remained still, pressing his solemn gaze onto the towering beast.
“Child of Singing Lady—speak your question and leave us be.”
“What happened to Floris? As ruler of the forest, you would be the most knowledgeable about what happened to the people from the outside.” the boy asked.
“Invasion by one. One that took the lives of soldiers, but left without any reward. Foreign power—beyond that which Singing Lady could ever bestow upon her human children,” the brute answered. “This has been my territory for centuries. That foreign power…it could only be identical to those the Singing Lady goes to battle against, and you should know what I speak of, child of Singing Lady.”
“Could it be…a Number?” the boy said in thought.
Bullock withdrew his weapon from the boy’s space and returned it closely to his side. Neclaytia found this moment to maneuver around the beast and rush to Cyril. Cyril stood up and brushed himself off, and right after, Bullock stared down at them and said in a booming voice, “Now, leave us, children of Singing Lady.”
Upon his words, the miniature versions of Bullock retreated into the unknown, and Bullock himself slowly disappeared into the darkening shades of the forest that was lost to the rays of the dying sunset. Once all was still, Neclaytia grabbed Cyril’s arm, “What were you thinking?! You could have been killed!”
Cyril was absorbed by her strict gaze, and as much as he’d like to give a rebuttable answer, nothing came to mind. He acted on emotion, which was alien to him, but natural to his body. He could only nod in agreement, and she sighed irritatingly at his blank expression and said, “Don’t run off like that. You nearly gave me a heart attack.”
“I feel like I may have had a hand in it. He may have heard the commotion from afar and came to my aid.”
Neclaytia and Cyril faced the shaggy haired boy, wondering about his unknown identity. It was Neclaytia who continued the conversation, “You’ve been blessed by Goddess Loraine. That was a protection art you used earlier against that beast. A very potent one I must say, no matter how small it was. Who are you?”
“Oh, where are my manners,” the boy bowed respectfully. “My name is Aldrin. You can call me ‘Al’ for short. You are right about me being blessed by our Goddess Loraine. I am a Celestial.”
“Celestial?” Cyril stared.
“They are the people who oversee maintaining celestial barriers around towns, cities, and checkpoints when nightfall comes. A very important job,” Neclaytia briefly explained. “Judging from what I saw, there is still negotiation between Gromwells on this side of the world. I thought they’d be more aggressive to our kind.”
Aldrin laughed at her remark about their aggression, “Well, it’s still true more or less, but there’s an understanding between us and them here. They may be of a different race and culture, but we respect our territories and understand our limits. I believe that’s what keeps the peace.”
“Then what was that all about? You mentioned Floris—” Neclaytia wondered.
“As much as I’d like to discuss the situation, I don’t believe it would be wise to release information to strangers. You must understand,” Aldrin announced, and with his announcement, he grew suspicious of the two. “Tell me, what are you two doing so far into Gromwell territory?”
Neclaytia responded swiftly, “We’re foreign travelers. We come from a distant continent to the east of Lariat.”
“Foreigners, huh?” Aldrin speculated, darting between their eyes. “You certainly don’t have the eyes of Lariat’s people. That much I can fully trust.”
Neclaytia was silent, but Cyril asked, “Can you take us to Floris?”
“Yes, I can take you,” Aldrin nodded. “However, I’d only stay for the night. It isn’t as safe as it used to be now.”
“Of course. We will be on our way once we’ve rested from our travels for a spell. Thanks,” Cyril continued, reassuring Neclaytia that he will continue with the lie, but it also made him wonder why she would even hide their true goal and who they really were.
“Excellent,” Aldrin smiled faintly. “Then follow me.”
When he turned away from the couple, Neclaytia yanked Cyril’s coat sleeve and pressed herself against him—close enough to whisper in his ear, “I will explain everything later. Trust me.”
They both held eye-contact for a while, but she soon pulled away and walked after Aldrin. Cyril leaned his head at Neclaytia’s figure in question, but decided to let go of the heavy thinking and just follow orders. After all, she was planning to protect him back when Bullock was on a rampage, so he felt like he could trust her more.
Alright, I’ll trust you.
“We’ve arrived,” Aldrin announced to Cyril and Neclaytia. “Just in time too. The sunset has nearly disappeared.”
Cyril walked to the side of Aldrin to get a better look of the wide and towering wooden gate that was the entrance to the town called Floris. Beside the gate and stretching into the darkness of the forest was a fortified wall of stone. There wasn’t much to see, of course, but Cyril was still intrigued—not by the entrance, but by the utter silence despite there being a town in front of him. He looked over at Aldrin, who had a startled expression on his face. He was going to question it, but Neclaytia grabbed his shoulder while saying, “We’re not alone.”
The party watched as men clad in silver armor and armed with sharpened longswords appeared from the darkness of the forest outside the path, and quickly they filled the path and blocked every direction—leaving their backs to the gate. Cyril looked at Aldrin for assistance with the situation, but the boy was utterly shocked. Neclaytia drew her katana in a swift manner, letting her silver blade gleam momentarily before attending a proper stance with her right foot forward and her left foot slightly behind—positioning her blade strongly in front with focused eyes.
The soldiers around them rustled in their armor, adjusting every now and then with their stances, but the battle that would have took place was stopped due to the voice of a man coming down the path, “Hold!”
Aldrin immediately realized who the voice belonged to, “What’s the meaning of this, Dogma?!”
“I’ve found you, Aldrin,” the man said while coming into the small opening in front of the gate that showered a dying light above them. “You saved me the trouble of hunting you down. Although, it’s pretty idiotic to come back to the same place you committed a crime.”
“What crime do you speak of? I’ve done nothing!” Aldrin denied.
“Don’t try to fool me, Celestial! I saw you that night. You let down the barrier and allowed not only a wild killer inside the town, but also remnants of daemons my men had to take care of. You were the cause of the incident and have been deemed as an accomplice of the intruder who murdered the soldiers of this town in cold blood.”
“That’s—” Aldrin stepped forward.
“Stay where you are,” Neclaytia swung her blade at his neck and slyly she stopped the long blade before his neck. “What’s the meaning of this? Don’t get us roped into your problems.”
Aldrin’s heart dropped as he looked at her fierce eyes, and for a moment, a glimpse of sympathy crossed his eyes. She considered his sudden expression and was about to pull away her katana, but Dogma, the burly umber man who commanded the band of soldiers in a full suit of armor spoke out, “You two will be pulled in for questioning. I expect clear answers or you shall receive punishment just like this murderer. Resist, and you will be killed here and now.”
Cyril grabbed Neclaytia’s sword arm to get her attention, and when she looked up at him, he shook his head to warn her of the consequences. She furrowed her brows at him and clicked her teeth before dropping her katana on the ground. Aldrin looked at Cyril to gaze at his expressionless face and wondered what was going through his mind.
Dogma pointed at them, “Tie them up and throw them in separate cells, men.”
“Yes, sir!” the soldiers responded.
Aldrin looked at the ground, “I apologize. It seems I’ve gotten you into something I can’t control.”
Neclaytia refused to speak. She turned her head away as a nearby soldier roughly grabbed her arm, “C’mon! Move it!”
He pushed her forward and she stumbled a little, but maintain her composure as she made way for the gate. Cyril and Aldrin got the same treatment. As they stood before the gate separately, Cyril could see the fear that took over Aldrin’s face, and as time passed, it got worse. The soldier standing behind him held him firmly by the back of his black furred coat that covered his body and fell to the forest floor. The boy who had seemed so calm earlier was struck with fear and it changed Cyril in a way—emotionally.
Cyril smiled instinctively and said, “Don’t worry. I know you didn’t do it.”
Aldrin stared at Cyril in surprise, and as much as Neclaytia wanted to, she couldn’t in her current position, but his words ringed in her ears. The soldier behind Cyril barked, “Keep your mouth shut!”
Cyril looked over his shoulder, but suddenly everything faded for him. The soldier had hit him with the butt of his longsword in the face, and the boy immediately fell to the ground. Neclaytia’s body tensed up as she dared herself to look back and go to his rescue, but the soldier behind her restrained her carefully and tested her stupidity by holding his longsword at her throat. She swallowed hard and gritted her teeth, glaring in irritation at the gate. Cyril rubbed his left cheek and jawline before spitting out blood.
Dogma approached him while he was kneeled down, “Disobedient? I can fix that.”
Cyril looked up at the man, his vision shifting from reality to a much foggier one, and in a single movement, Dogma raised his booted foot and slammed it into Cyril’s face. The force of the kick knocked him up against the stone wall of the town and almost instantly, he blacked out. Dogma scoffed, “Weak.”
He then faced the gate and yelled, “Open the gate!”
Aldrin bit his lip, running around in his thoughts to escape his predicament, and to escape the sacrifice Cyril made to reassure him.
This is all my fault…
- United States
Bio: I've drifted from place to place, and each time I've gotten better at writing stories. I've been writing for at least six years now and I'm hoping to write books as either a main career or side career alongside filming. Always happy to support other authors, learn from them, and get their support as well.