Ruth sat in a white room. A plain room, white lights, white chair, white table— yes, even the signature lamp used during interrogations was in white.
Swinging her legs up and down, Ruth whistled.. or at least tried to.
How long had she been here? She didn't know. She knew something like this would happen ever since she felt that bad taste crawling in her stomach. At the same time, she knew she had to be calm, panicking would only make things worse.
Click. The sound of the heavy iron door creaking open.
From between the opening, "Miss," Harold called, "Follow me."
Harold apologized many times, informing Ruth that it had been a big misunderstanding.
Ruth didn't think too much about it. She was only relieved to no longer be holed inside that 'insanity' room.
Grand hall with marbled floors, large quad vertical beam structures extending to the high ceiling, open walkways, and numerous twisting stairs folded into perplexing spirals. Ruth was brought to the bell tower, a structure built in between the outer sect and intersect. Besides being one of Haital's signature landmarks, it was also one of the stations connecting the two sectors. Not to mention the tower itself being one of the two official government agencies that dealt with the social aspect of Haital.
Though night had certainly befallen, the place was as busy as ever.
Crawling plants and ferns; an assortment of lush greenery dangling from various hanging pots. In the centre stood the statue of the current king, King Sartus, back against his throne, surrounded by green hedges carved into the shape of knights. Mustard-white walls decorated with iridescent glass embellishments. It was an awe-sinpiring environment that Ruth couldn't enjoy.
They proceed up one of the many spiral stairways present.
The building itself wasn't built in the conventional floor by floor basis. A beehive would describe the structure more appropriately.
Ruth was led up to the second floor, skipping past the first floor. After that, she followed Harold up one of the stairs that didn't lead to the third floor, or was it the fifth?
After what seemed like walking in circles, they stopped in front of an office. Harold guided Ruth in. The sound of someone crying could be heard.
Ruth stood there, noticing the presence of another girl comforting Ellis. The girl was Matilda, but Ruth didn't know that. Seated across the two on the other sofa was a knight— Aldrich. Ruth knew knights were reputable symbols, but for her to meet the most prestigious royal knight? What was going on?
"Miss Ruth was it? Please take a seat," to Ruth, Aldrich had a tone that was deep, divine. It had to be because of some serious issue in hand...
'So, where is Curtis?'
Ruth wasn't insensitive, so she didn't question, thinking that it had to be related. A chill swirled inside her heart.
Whatever it was..
When Ruth came over with Ellis nestled close to her, Aldrich began the explanation. Matilda was asked to leave, it was late and she came rushing over wearing her pyjamas.
The conclusion Aldrich came to was that Curtis— had been captured by the Jesters.
He expected the ghastly reactions from the girls. Considering the circumstances, he needed to tell them this to acquire more information himself. Moreover, Ellis had already seen the truth unfold in front of her, he couldn't lie even if he wanted to.
Aldrich went on to explain the mark, a glowing symbol below the eyes was what separated normal people from these Jesters. The rumours regarding the Jesters had all a part of King Sartus' measures to prevent the public from knowing the truth.
With the information he knew, Aldrich could at least tell them something to calm their hearts. Which was the fact that Jesters, in truth, could not brainwash people. Not even King Sartus knew how such a bludgeoned rumour started.
Aldrich apologized for mistaking Curtis as a Jester. Now knowing that he was the individual who had played a crucial role in detaining many of the Zen members.
A wide-scale search would be carried out to cull the remainders of the organization that is-- after interrogating the suspects they had acquired. They must be on theirs toes after such a huge loss.
Realistically speaking, all this information besides the fact that Jester could not brainwash people only made Ellis and Ruth feel worse. Ellis had become a statue. Her eyes turned dull, as if lifeless. Ruth was the only one able to properly keep up with the flow of the conversation.
To the question as to why the Zen organization would target them? Ruth spoke candidly about the new pillar cluster, mentioning Curtis and Ellis as the founder.
While Aldrich was left dumbstruck, Harold who stood beside him had his eyes wide open. There wasn't a need for fact-checking; the string of coincidences had already proven it all.
Aldrich lamented their loss and will do everything in his power to bring Curtis back, he reassured.
The air units would be dispatched to question sky ships passing through the vicinity of Haital Kingdom. Security at immigration centres for other sub-regions would be tightened. Chances are, the Jester would have Curtis tell them the location of the new pillar cluster, whatever the reason. Aldrich concluded so. Though, extra precautionary measures should be taken in the off-chance that this speculation of his turns out to be wrong.
Rationalizing things, Ellis thought that there was still a chance. Even if the Jesters were to use mounts or ships, they would eventually have to make stops.
This helped Ellis, to an extent, pull herself together.
Incidentally, Ellis and Ruth took the chance to visit the department of the land ministry.
There they met Dio, who guided them in completing the official forms.
Harold, who was to escort them back to Croquel took the initiative to become one of the affidavits.
Aldrich wasn't with them, busy arranging the forces in the kingdom.
Curtis had to be brought back alive.
It was Tia.
She had a big quarter-sized cookie in her hands. Chocolate chips pieces and various nuts mixed with it. Fortunately, she had kept these cookies under the cabinet, a place Ruth would least suspect. Having Ruth finish the rest of the potato chips were fine— but not the cookies.
Unfortunately, these crunchy circles were going to run out soon, 4 pieces left. This cookie jar needed replenishment, and fast. Next time Tia meets Ellis, she decided that she would announce another snack-making session.
While such thoughts were running through her mind, the kitchen in Sid's Forge was in high spirits, with Sid Raymond and his fellow forgers eating together. Tomorrow would be their off day, and they would have a feast every evening before that day. It was a way to celebrate a good work week. After all, their work schedule required them to work more than 10 hours each day.
This time around, it was a big take-away platter of grilled shrimps, potato fries, fish and chips, and two whole roast chicken, among other food items. Alcoholic beverages were also present; fizzy drinks for those who don't drink, or were forced not to drink, such as Tia.
With so many delicacies on the table. Nobody would think of stealing the cookie jar bound to Tia. Honestly, why would they?
The final crumbs were thrown into her mouth, the crunching sensation of nuts and milky explosion reminded her of something.
Nothing lasts forever.
Some things just had to change; it was down to a matter of choice. Something had to disappear, sacrifices had to be made.
'To follow or not to follow?'
If she did follow, she would have to leave home for months or possibly even years on end. However, it was also an opportunity of a lifetime.
To follow would mean she had a reason not to work as a guard or knight in Haital, else, she would most probably be forced upon the role. Many knights she knew had already asked her to join their liaison. Just that— Tia was the one who had turned down their invitations time and time again.
To follow would mean she had to face the fact that— she was currently the one carrying her mother's legacy. Tia's talents were truly monstrous, her mentors could attest that she was many times more superior than her mother. To Tia, hearing that she was better than her mother didn't sound like a compliment. Her mom had always been her idol, such flattery sounded like sour apples
It would be an honour to continue her legacy, but she couldn't.
Yes, there was something inside telling her that it was the correct path to break away from the legacy and start her own. She felt that if her mother were still alive to tell her something, it would be— 'trust in yourself'. In fact, with her talents, she could be part of something bigger.
But it was up to her.
The first time she met Darwin, he offered her this opportunity to go on adventurer together with his group. However, it wasn't as adventurers, but as individual co-conspirators. Darwin's party had the strength to help people, the community, or even an entire nation.
It was a secret group of ludicrous people that she believed in, but didn't know why.
And her talents were sought after by them.
At the same time, If she followed, she would have to leave, and her dad would be all alone, again.
The forgers were satisfied, at least half of them at the table were dead-drunk. One started to sing out loud. From the gist of the lyrics, Tia knew that her eardrums should be bleeding right about now. Something about the red-light district and prostitutes.
Becoming aware of the situation, Sid urged Tia to go wash up first. He would deal with the mess of cleaning up after this.
Of course, Tia didn't agree with her dad entirely, but she would still try to avoid hearing unnecessary things. For the sake of her mental health.
She could always come down to help with the clean-up once the other forgers had left.
After washing up in the bathroom, she came to her own room.
It was a normal, slightly cutely furnished room. With most things being light blue and purple. She wasn't picky over colour choices, her room was just how it was. She didn't even really think all that much about making it fancy.
What she did pay attention to, however, were the many weapons displayed in her room. Arranged on wooden stands, an assortment of knives, swords, daggers, and even a small buckle shield at the corner. Some weapons were miniature in scale, which made them look cute. Although, just because it looked cute didn't mean it didn't have the potential to kill.
All of these were the gifts Sid had crafted for Tia. Most of them for her birthday, and giving weapons as a birthday gift was— well, dangerous. It wasn't because Sid was a forger that he gifted Tia a full armament set as presents; he could have very well bought other items.
In actuality, it was because Tia was a weapons fanatic. Short Swords, greatswords, katanas, rapiers, daggers, claymores, knives, though— she did not like spear-typed weapons, an example would be a halberd. Tia could never master this niche of the weapon for some reason.
"While waiting.." as she didn't feel like doing anything, Tia jumped onto her bed and fell into the world of pillow and bolster. The noises below, in the kitchen, were still present. Tia would know when to appear once the sound stopped.
She thought it was wasteful to just daze around. An idea came to mind and she attempted to review the training she went through today, reflecting on points she could work on and visualizing herself repeating the sword techniques over and over again. Though, it would've been better if she wrote it out on paper.
At that moment, she felt a buzz at her cheek.
She usually wouldn't get any messages at this sort of time, or ever.
A glowing symbol appeared below Tia's eye.
"Tia, I don't believe you. That mage barely put up a fight! I won the bet thanks to you!"
Tia blinked a few times.
'Don't tell me they actually did what I think they did...'