City of the Thousand Lights -- the capital city of the Asill Kingdom, situated west of the Arid Expanse, north of the Temple of the High Lords, across the Kab Plains, east of the High Shores and just south of the exit from the Vivallac Valley, a sole entry point from the Western Shores into the heart of the Holy Continent.
The city was named thus due to its exceptionally beautiful skyline consisting of high spires from which thin ropes vaulted over the air, off of which lanterns hung, shining perpetually like the stars. Buildings were shaped and fashioned out of thick, gray clay exclusive to the local mines deep in the hillsides adjacent to the city itself. Streets were paved with either cobblestone in the poorer areas or limestone in the richer, with the height of the buildings following the similar pattern, creating a strange sort of a scene where, from south toward west, buildings rose higher and higher through layers, all the way to the Central Palace which stood at nearly six hundred meters, looming over the rest of the city.
The city appeared homogeneous on the surface, with most people having slight, yellow tint to their pale skins, long noses, high eyebrows and slightly slanted eyes. One distinction between the locals and those visiting were their skulls, as the former had elongated heads, seemingly terraced in layers. Most women wore tightly-woven robes and massive, golden rings pierced into their ears, noses, chins and the top of their skulls.
Despite the fact that the nightfall had descended quite a few hours ago, the city was as lively as it was during the day due to the hanging lanterns which lit up every inch of the city even better than the lacking sun ever could. Music blasted off from several corners, with seemingly each small part of the city having their own plaza stacked with variety of street performers trying to impress and earn.
Restaurants, inns, pubs and taverns were all situated on the corners, massive signs carved into wood hanging over them. Inside one of them, on the fourth floor and inside a corner room, two figures sat by the window, one sipping tea with the other drinking strange, thick, black liquid. Lucky had a relaxed expression on her face as she observed the strange world down below; when Alison first dragged her here, she had received quite a shock. After all, for most of her stay on the Holy Continent, she either stuck to the northern cities or those on the Western Shores.
She could have had hardly imagined just slightly dipping into the south would mean such a shift in cultures. However, having stayed here for three days already, she was getting used to it somewhat; though she still found men and women with skulls as large as half a meter in some cases, and with golden rings hanging from seemingly every inch of their bodies somewhat strange, she no longer had to hold back from laughing each time she met a local.
“You never told me where you disappeared off to,” Alison said, putting down the cup of tea gently. “I was worried, you know?”
“I went back home,” Lucky replied, glancing at her and smiling faintly. “Sorry I failed to mention that, Lady Bearer.”
“Ugh,” Alison frowned, pouting angrily. “I told you not to call me that! It’s awkward enough that everyone in the Sect calls me that, I don’t need my friends outside of it doing the same.”
“But it’s fun getting to see you so angry over it.” Lucky grinned.
“Well I’m glad you’re having fun,” Alison said. “I just wish you didn’t have to do it at my expense...”
“What have you been up to?” Lucky asked, changing the subject.
“... ah, I’m stuck at one of the Trials,” Alison replied, slumping in her chair in defeat. “I’ve tried it eight times by now, yet I still have no clue how to pass it.”
“What’s the trial?” Lucky quizzed.
“It’s Trial of the Heart,” she said. “It’s supposed to mould my Heart into the triage of Mind, Heart and Soul, hence strengthening my Will.”
“So... what’s the problem? You don’t seem the weak-hearted sort.”
“... eeh,” Alison laughed awkwardly, scratching her nose. “I-I’m a bit restless... but, that’s not really the issue.”
“... what is?” Lucky asked.
“Each time during the Trial, at one point or another, an unknown boy shows up,” Alison said, her eyebrows furrowing. “Most of the time he just stands there, in front of me, blocking my path. And no matter what I do, I can never get past him. Twice he even spoke out, though I was unable to understand him. One time, he was standing in the snow, covered in frost from head to toe, shivering. And each time I’d try to help him, he’d encase himself back in ice and escape my grasp. I’ve asked my Master and Teacher, but both of them just mumbled something under their breaths and left...”
“... if it’s a boy, is it maybe someone from your childhood?” Lucky probed, somewhat interest.
“... I don’t know. Maybe?” Alison shrugged. “I don’t remember much of my childhood, to be honest. It’s mostly a blur, and a random image or two here and there that make no sense on their own.”
“Well, whatever it is,” Lucky said. “Matters of Heart are the most difficult to decipher. Don’t push yourself too hard, alright? Just take your time.”
“I can’t! Everyone’s already gone onto the seventh and up Trial! If I take too long, I’ll become the laughing stock of the Sect!”
“... yeah, I very much doubt anyone would dare make fun of the great Lady Bearer.”
“... you are.” Alison said, pouting again.
“Yeah, but then again, I’m not in your Sect.” Lucky grinned.
“... why don’t you join?” Alison suddenly asked, startling Lucky.
“Say what now?”
“I’m serious,” Alison leaned over the table, her piercing, blue eyes causing Lucky to freeze in her spot. “You’re a complete mystery, even to me. I can practically read nothing about you, which either means you’re a completely ordinary mortal, or someone really talented. Besides, with me around, I could grease some wheels and give you stuff. A lot of stuff.”
“... y-yeah, that’s, uh, that’s not gonna work...” Lucky awkwardly mumbled, taking a sip of the bitter, black liquid from her cup.
“Eh? Why not? Don’t worry -- if I recommend you, you don’t even have to take the entrance exam!”
“N-no, that’s not it... it’s, uh, I, khm, yeah, I said some really bad stuff about Holy Grounds...”
“Eh? That’s it? Meh, who hasn’t?” Alison shrugged. “I mean, I know I’m supposed to stand by my Brothers and Sisters, but a lot of them can be rather arrogant and condescending, and they tend to anger a lot of people. If Holy Grounds only ever took people who spoke nicely of them, they’d run out of Disciples.”
“Eeeehh...” Lucky sat awkwardly, her mind spinning as quickly as it ever has trying to come up with a good answer. “S-sorry... I, uh, I already kind of, sort of belong to a Sect-like... uh... institution. I’m sworn by a vow and an oath and such.”
“Which one is it?! Huh?!” Alison exclaimed angrily. “I’ll march over there myself and demand they release you! You belong with us, you know?”
“... in what way...?” Lucky sighed bitterly.
“I like you! That’s more than enough to tell me you belong with us!”
“... yeah, I don’t think that’s much of a measurement.” Lucky fired back.
“What? Are you doubting my judgment?!” Alison asked with a frown. Yes! Very much so woman, god yes!! You’re trying to recruit someone who’d die for your biggest enemy!! “I’ll have you know that my judgment is immaculate!” It’s really not!! “You’re a good person, Lucky. Rather, I should thank my lucky stars for meeting you. He he.”
“... you like me, huh?” hearing her name used as a pun again triggered something inside Lucky who suddenly smiled devilishly, getting up and walking over toward Alison who fell back into her chair, somewhat fearful.
“... I---I do...” Alison replied meekly.
“Well, I gotta say, I like you too,” Lucky crouched, meeting Alison’s eyes squarely. “So, why don’t we take our liking to the sheets?”
“... what?” Alison asked, confused.
“... why don’t we roll the dice together?”
“... again... what?”
“... why don’t we flood the chambers?”
“... ah, fuck this. You’re too innocent for this shit,” Lucky chuckled, getting up and walking back to her chair. “Your assessment of me is flattering, but I’m not nearly as good of a person as you think I am Ally. And sorry... I really can’t join your Sect.”
“... that’s a shame,” Alison said, sighing lightly. “You would have really liked it.”
“I would have?”
“Yeah, it’s beautiful,” Alison suddenly smiled freely, surprising Lucky; this was the first time she’d seen the young girl -- though Lucky was just a couple of years older, due to Alison’s general nature, Lucky still saw her as a young girl -- smile so freely and innocently. “Rivers cutting through the beautiful gardens, trees as tall as that palace looming over the group of beautiful lakes, all sorts of birds singing... and we even have our own species of cats called Night Claw. Their eyes shine like red rubies during the night... and they have tendency of biting you if you hiss at them. They’re really adorable... he he... and then we have these fireflies, but instead of orange, they shine in this really beautiful blue... and we have these massive snakes some of which are like forty meters long. Though they look terrifying, they’re actually harmless and very docile... he he, I have one of my own, I’ve named her Lateena, and she has these adorable red specks over her white skin and...” as Lucky listened on as Alison described every little wonder of her home, she couldn’t help but compare her to another monologue-lover, though while she found Lino’s attempts at monologues soul-exhausting, Alison’s... wasn’t as bad.