Chapter 20 - Lamia
A few hours after the start of the punishment, only debris remained where once stood the capital of the West Dukedom of the Valdian Kingdom.
A mix of ashes and blood turned the ground muddy. Scavenger animals and beasts ate the little remaining meat of the charred corpses while humans hunted for treasures. The many merchants and other visitors who had come to the city looked in shock at the sight before them.
No one in the flying ships, each departing to its own mission, seemed to care.
The night had been a sleepless one, all of it spent thinking about magic. When morning came, Aaron still waited for a few hours before stopping his musings.
He sat, seeing the remains of the firepit. Mark was standing with his back to a tree and Sara was cooking.
"Good morning," Aaron said. "Let's talk about how to face our journey to the Three Towers."
Both people looked at him with interest.
He continued. "One of the truths of the Old Ways is that the way you face everything in life matters. Let's say a mighty beast is attacking you; whether you face it as certain death or as a challenge to overcome can determine the very result of the encounter. It can be the difference between life and death.
"We've already found people with ill intentions towards us twice in this trip and we'll certainly find more. Traps, betrayal, and even death can happen to us at any time, expected or not. However, if you allow these dangers to get to your head, they will change you for the worse. You'll become paranoid, shut yourself from anything good that might happen to you, and harm those who don't deserve it.
"That's why I beseech you: have a positive attitude. Be prepared for anything and protect yourself, yes, but don't let fear control you."
While speaking, he had looked deeply into Mark's and Sara's eyes.
Mark frowned and looked down to think about Aaron's words, obviously not expecting someone to tell a warrior to have a positive attitude in life. Sara nodded and went back to her cooking.
Aaron was slightly expectant of what they would make of his lesson. Would any of them become an idiot and die for not paying attention to their surroundings? Or would they get too worried about becoming paranoiac and make this talk useless?
His purpose was for them to get the mindset of an explorer who both look for the unknown and is cautious of it at the same time, for such was the perfect mindset for a mage. But how could he simply state something so important? He had to steer them towards this mindset little by little, as to make the realization theirs and thus make the change last longer.
About one hour later, they left the forest to join the long queue leading to Lamia's gates.
Few were aware of Lamia being the Immortal Stronghold — the regional headquarters of the Immortal Crusade — of the Valdian Kingdom.
The Seven Flowers of the West were part of the select few privy to that information. As members of the Temple of Time, the most powerful organization in the Fire Continent after the Immortal Crusade, they naturally knew many secrets that others would rather they didn't.
The seven girls, ranging from fourteen to twenty years old, visited Lamia once a week to be tested for possession by the Crusade since no one wanted a Prophetess on the demons' side. They rode elevated golden palanquins covered by thick white curtains, each carried by four Five Stars Warriors. The seven palanquins were surrounded by nothing less than twenty Champion Mages, five Eminences, and an Ascender.
Around a hundred people were in queue outside the closed city doors. Most of them were klutzes or weak warriors, clustering the doors with their carriages, bringing products from the nearby farms and distant lands alike to sell in the city. Despite mages being capable of raising plants and livestock almost instantly using magic, most of them believed such work to be beneath them and thus it was delegated to the weak.
As soon as the flag of the Temple of Time appeared at the distance, an orange unicursal hexagram on a white background, every single person made way much before the palanquins could even approach. Such was the respect given to the Prophetesses.
Helina was sitting in one of the palanquins. She was the Oldest Youngest, a contradiction of names but one that defined her position well.
Every Local Temple in the world had been erected after being Envisioned by many Prophetesses throughout the ages. Each of them would select a thirteen-year-old girl every year to learn the mysteries of Time.
The seven last girls to be selected were called the Youngest, and the oldest of them was called the Oldest. It wasn't just a denomination of time served though, for it carried a heavy meaning with it.
The very same day a new Youngest was selected, the Oldest was to become a Guide. History revealed that after the initial seven years as a Prophetess, it was incredibly rare to be Chosen.
And the day to select a new Youngest was today.
Helina didn't see becoming a Guide as a noble task full of authority like she had been taught, but as the end of her hopes instead. Guides might hold a power in the Temple of Time that a Youngest didn't, but what use was it? They were still nothing more than nameless people, forgotten by all no matter how much good they did to her sisters in the Temple of Time.
She, however, wanted her name to be known by all for all ages to come!
She sighed. She had always thought that she would become someone great, she had even been confident of that belief being a premonition sent by Time itself.
In the end though, it had just been a juvenile's dream.
What hurt the most was that the Temple of Western Valdia, which she was from, was seen as a mistake. Since its foundation, eight hundred years ago, at the very same day that a man declared his public surname to be Valdian, a Prophetess had Envisioned a new Temple to be built in there.
That Prophetess had been a Guide and Visions received by Guides were heavily investigated. However, due to the political currents of the time, the Temple of Western Valdia had been created without further scrutiny and ever since its creation, no Prophetess from that temple had received a single Vision! Now, she would be confirmed as another failure created by a temple that shouldn't exist.
Desiring to distract herself from such depressing thoughts, she opened the curtain of her palanquin a bit and looked outside.
And then, it happened.
As if attracted by a magnet, her eyes instantly fixed at a young boy about fifteen years old, blonde, with blue eyes.
He seemed to notice her at the same time she saw him and the moment their eyes locked, she felt lost.
It was as if his eyes contained an ocean of lights in them, an infinite universe of shining stars, of profound and boundless mysteries.
He smiled slightly and as soon as he did, the ocean in his eyes became red, made of the blood of countless beings, human and otherwise.
The lights in it became the tears of widows and mothers wailing in despair.
The infinite universe became grief and sorrow; the shining stars, fiery storms of everlasting rage.
And the profound and boundless mysteries... They became an endless void with a single thing in it, the boy himself, albeit with a different appearance. His hair was white, his eyes, red, and he looked to be twelve years old.
However, he had the same smirk as before.
He also had an aura of majesty that made the world tremble and all existences within it kneel. He was the undisputed Emperor of all that was, the Destroyer of all that had been, the Conqueror of all that would come.
He opened his mouth and commanded her.
"Helina," a genderless and timeless voice came out of his mouth. It came from everywhere around her and made her very soul almost dissipate from the sheer power it emanated. "You've been Chosen. Protect the child no matter what."
Ice rushed into her veins and she found herself back inside the palanquin with curtains closed as if nothing had happened. She wasn't even sure if she had imagined everything or if she had really had a Vision!
Before she could think better about it, the World's Writ appeared before her.
WARNING! CORE INSTABILITY!
SUPPRESSING CORE. ADAPTING ERROR TO LOCAL CULTURE...
She was still reading it when the content in the World's Writ changed.
You've received a False Vision!
Demons have plotted against the Temple of Time and corrupted your Vision.
Disregard whatever you might've seen in your False Vision.
She was dumbfounded. Had she just witnessed what she thought she had?
Had she seen the World's Writ err?
Her whole body trembled.
Something like that had happened before to the very First Prophetess four thousand years ago. She had just established the First Temple when she claimed to have received a Vision so great that even the World's Writ couldn't withstand it and had given her an error message.
The strangest thing was how adamant the First Prophetess had been about divulging it. No one believed her and yet the Timeless Rules stated that all Youngest had to learn of the Vision she had received at the time and of the World's Writ error that followed it as soon as they were selected, and that it had to be repeated to them every year, even after they became Guides or were Chosen. The reason behind it was one of the unsolved mysteries of the Temple of Time.
Now that Helina found herself in such a situation, the meaning behind those actions became clear. The First Prophetess had disregarded the error message and False Vision message that followed, choosing instead to turn that Vision into one of the fundamental reasons of existence of the Temple of Time!
By divulging the information, she hoped that if any other Prophetess ever went through the same thing, that they might choose to do the same as her: trust the Vision instead of the False Vision message.
Helina's breathe hastened.
She had received a Vision, she had been Chosen.
However, now she had to decide if she would trust the First Prophetess or the World's Writ. Never before had she ever considered disbelieving any of them!
Her heart beat so fast she had to use a spell to calm herself and think about her future.
Aaron saw a palanquin's curtain open and looked with curiosity at it. To his surprise, he saw a young woman looking straight at him, and a moment after their eyes met each other, he felt something that he hadn't felt since he came to this world, a disturbance caused by Origin Energy!
It only took an instant and she closed the curtain right after. The episode intrigued him, especially due to her being from the Temple of Time. Unfortunately, now was not the time to investigate, for he had other priorities.
The coming of the Prophetesses was the event he would use to enter the city unnoticed. The gates opened as soon as the Seven Flowers of the West approached. On the other side, two rows of warriors with the colors of the City Lord, blue and silver, were already bowing and waiting for the Flowers to go through.
The esteemed group quickly disappeared into the city. The people on the queue followed suit, under a very loose check by the guards who were discussing an important event that should happen today.
He entered without any issue, no warrior paying him special attention thanks to his disguise.
Using plants from the forest, he had dyed his white hair blond and made use of a makeshift makeup to appear older. A thin vegetal membrane — perfectly cut using a spell — covered his red irises, making them look black instead.
In front of him, Lamia looked like a standard magical medieval city. It was excessively clean, had magical illumination provided by light poles with magic crystals, and its streets were large.
Mark, Sara, and he had decided to enter the city separately. Mark approached Aaron a few minutes later but they would only regroup with Sara at an inn much later in the day.
It was a logical way of moving. The enemy knew he was traveling with a thirty-year-old Four Stars Warrior and a Champion Mage. But Mark was now a One Star Warrior and was also disguised, looking a fifty years old man with different hair and eye color.
He had considered walking alone but a lone child would attract much more attention than a kid walking with a family's servant by his side.
"I'm here, Master," Mark said as soon as he got close.
"Good. Let's buy my insurance!" Aaron said excitedly.
That was the last step of his plan. After he bought what he needed to better protect himself, he would feel much safer even if tens of Eminences attacked him!
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I'm Ed, a writer of GameLit. So far I have released only two books, but I'm working on increasing this number by tens! No, by hundreds! Maybe thousands! xP
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