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*Gallop, Gallop*    

The dusk was approaching. It had been a full day since Sofia, and the assigned companion have been galloping towards their respective destinations. Sofia attempted to slow down; not hearing the rhythmed galloping that the masked rider was accustomed to, he looked back to check on the woman.

"What is wrong ma'am?" he asked, without giving any expression whatsoever. 

"Nothing. It's just getting dark, and I need to feed my baby soon" she replied.

"Understood. In that case, let us camp out for the night. I shall set up a defensive perimeter and take watch" said the rider with a firm and a subtle tone. 

Sofia thanked the man, to which the rider simply gave a slight nod. She was thankful for finally having an ability to lay down and rest. While Alviona was consistently fed, she had never gotten the luxury to recover, and as a result, she was exhausted both physically and mentally from the developments of the last four days. 

"Good sir, may I inquire of your name?" asked Sofia in a gentle and low voice. She had not paid attention earlier when his commander addressed him.

The guard shook his head. 

"No, you may not," he replied politely. "I am on a mission of the utmost importance. I am a spy. I understand that you harbor no ill intentions and that my commander would not tell me to accompany you on this short journey of ours for no reason. That said, however, I have no intentions of revealing my identity even if you are an ally," he continued. The unknown rider dismounted from his steed and gently patted it on the head; he then removed the backpack from his back and opened it. The man took out an apple from the bag and unsheathed a small dagger from his belt; after which he cut the apple in half and further sliced it into smaller pieces. He gave the small sliced apples to his steed, which gently accepted it. The other half was given to Sofia.

"Please eat it. I do not want it to rot". Seeing that Sofia accepted it, the man went forward to set up a small camp for the night. It was a rather cold night, but neither party members were surprised, for it was the middle of November. As the man finished setting up the camp, he took out a warm blanket and gave it to Sofia. "By the way, for the time being, you may call me Vix" he mumbled.

"Thank you for your kindness, Vix. Would you be able to help me dismount?"

The man nodded and did as was asked.

"Thank you again" chuckled Sofia, slightly blushing. 

"You are most welcome" replied the rider. He looked at her and then at the child. Out of pure curiosity, he asked her as to what she was going to feed her daughter.

"Oh... well, mostly I breastfeed her. She is 1-year old now and should be growing out of it, so as a rule I also feed her some minced oats and sometimes, half of the hard-boiled egg" said Sofia with a gentle tone. She patted Alviona on her head. It was a rather exciting sight, for the little one had been asleep for the entire day. She gently landed a kiss on her head and woke her up.

*Tock, tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock*

Ahh! What a pleasant sensation. It must be my mommy waking me up.

*Tock, tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock*

The last time I was awake, my mother carried me towards a city. She kept making me a promise that everything would be all right. However, I cannot quite comprehend what the meaning behind the words was; after all, everything, as is right now, is all right! So warm, so comforting. 

"Well, that is rather interesting to hear. I apologize for asking this, but I was curious since I will have a newborn coming soon as well. My wife is already at her 3rd month" told Vix to Sofia.

For Alviona, this voice was new. She was now 1-year old so she could actually move her head, turn her body and lightly crawl. With curiosity overflowing her, she looked towards the direction of the unfamiliar voice and saw a masked man. The second she witnessed his build, posture and the various weapons and belts she was unaccustomed to, she began weeping loudly.

This person is scary! Mommy, you must be careful! Danger! I need to let her known of the threat, thought Alviona as her cry intensified. 

*Tock, tock, tock, tock, tock, tock, tock, tock*

Vix got confused. The child just stared at him, and she started crying. Am I this scary? He thought to himself, but thinking about his attire, he shrugged. As Sofia saw this, she burst out into loud laughter.

"Now, now Alviona. He is not that scary. Calm down my darling. See? Mommy is here. Everything is ok" as she said this, Sofia turned Alviona around and patted her on her head. With her index finger, she lightly touched her nose and started tickling her daughter. Not even a second after her actions, the child immediately seized her cry and instead, started grinning at her mother and making funny noises. 

Well, I have seen many children in my entire life, but this one does not resemble any of them thought Vix. The truth was that he had never heard of children so little being this obedient. Typically they were loud and hard to take care of. At least that is what he thought and had heard from his many friends; and this caused him to worry, considering he would soon be a father. Seeing this couple, however, his mind began to ease up a little.

"All right," said Vix. "It is time for you ladies to go to sleep. I shall take a watch. If anything happens, I will wake you up". As he finished his sentence, he removed a curved bow from the steed and dug out a lantern frame from his backpack. He then chanted something, and a small fire appeared in his hand, which he moved inside the lantern and then closed it. "This ought to be enough light, without giving ourselves out." With bow and lantern in his hands, he moved to a nearby rock and sat down. 

Sofia thanked the man. She was grateful to finally lay down and sleep for a bit. While not feeling fully secure, and being unsure of the future was frustrating for her, rest was still a necessity. She needed the stamina to take care of and to protect Alviona, so she accepted this moment of relief. Clutching Alviona tightly and kissing her once again, the two girls went to sleep.

*Tock, tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock*

I always keep hearing this sound.  Often, it does not bother me. I can guess where the sound is coming from, but I can never find it. I try to reach out for it, and yet... to no avail. I am so curious as to what it is. It is always going in rhythm. I love learning things! It is too much fun! I am always here, with mommy and she keeps teaching me things. Try to say "mom," she tells me, and I try to imitate her, but she keeps laughing at me. Some time ago, I learned how to crawl. It was entertaining! Oh, I am getting tired again. For some reason, I can sleep for an extended amount of time. My inner senses tell me that resting is important. Sleep is good. Eating is even better! I love food. Mommy keeps feeding me new things called "hardboiled eggs" and "crushed oats." It tastes good but is a little bit harder to swallow. Ah! Mommy tells me to go to sleep. I agree with her. I am exhausted. What an interesting day. I can tell that she is also tired. It is ok! Sleep mommy, for you, are the best of the best! 

*Tock, tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock*

 On the next morning, Sofia awoke feeling more energetic than ever before.  She looked at Alviona and giggled while checking whether or not she had soiled herself; but once again, she was clean. What an odd child she thought to herself. The fact was that her daughter never urinated and or produced excrements. Back at the monastery, the nuns had noticed it, and priestess Emma was called urgently. However, there was nothing they could do. The child merely devoured food and never showed any signs of needing to relieve herself. No matter how much Sofia got used to it, this was still very strange. Ah well, she must have an appetite and probably digests everything so she can grow or maybe it is related to her mana well? Then again, priestess Emma had said that Alviona did not have physical mana well, I suppose it is all right for now, she kept telling herself over and over. However, the fact was, that Alviona was not an ordinary child. 

"Oi, you are awake. Good. Did you sleep well?" asked Vix, who was preparing food. 

"Yes, I did. Thank you very much" replied Sofia.

"All good. Well then, would you like breakfast perhaps?" The man pointed at the kettle that started to release steam.

"Vix... may I ask where that kettle came from? I understand that magic pouches can store many items and all but... this is a bit too much" said Sofia, her voice filled with curiosity. 

"Well, I drink tea every day to keep my calm. It relieves stress from my muscles and lets me focus. On top of that, it helps with my mana flow. Since I am a spy, and I often use a skill called [Tracking], it is rather exhausting. It is my duty and an obligation to ensure that my body is at its best so that I can fulfill my duty," he replied, with a firm voice. "As for the kettle itself, I always carry a magical bag," he shrugged.

After having breakfast, Sofia fed Alviona; all the while Vix took down the camp. The rider helped Sofia with mounting and soon they set out for their second day of the journey; galloping with a [windrunner's blessing] which was still in effect.

The second and third day were no different from the first. Occasionally, they would stop to get Alviona fed, but that was all. The trip was disturbingly quiet. Too quiet. However, this was to be expected due to the war. They were moving away from the road; therefore most villages in-between the city and the forest were skipped. 

On the fourth day, the forest became visible. When Sofia looked around, she could not help but stare in awe. Tall, bulky trees that seemed to reach out to the sky, long branches with flower blossoms, blue mana butterflies flying around and colorful flowers scattered all over the landscape. This sight was rather breathtaking.

"It appears that the time has come for us to part our ways," said Vix, forcing Sofia to snap out of the moment and come back to reality.

"Thank you, Vix. However, I am uncertain as to what am I supposed to do here... Where do I seek the refuge?" asked Sofia was a concerned voice.

"Worry not madame" replied Vix. "Many healers visit that place throughout the entire year to acquire the Druid class. It is not easy to obtain, and I know from a colleague of mine that an Elf is living there who is both a witch and a druid. If I remember it right, she lives deep inside the forest and sells [Transformation] potions... Although, I am aware that she also charges a lot for them... In truth, I have heard that many nobles have been skinned down to the penny for those," said Vix with a slightly scared voice. Imagining wealthiest nobles going bankrupt for a few potions was indeed scary.

With waving a good-bye, the rider turned around and started galloping away. As for Sofia, she continued her journey towards the forest.

 

 

 

 

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Bio: "Afraid of Darkness that looms in my heart, while yours are completely hollow? How amusing!" - Alviona

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