Lotian, City of Light
Franklin scrambles in the water of the canal for a bit before standing up, he looks around, assessing the scenery. In front of him, Dix also stands up from the water, she looks around and sees him, immediately she starts to walk away.
“Wait” Franklin calls for her.
“Get away from me.”
“I just want to talk to you.”
“Well, i don’t” she hurries her pace.
They make their way toward the edge, she feels the pains of the fall, which slows her down and Franklin shortens the distance.
“My name is Franklin, what’s your name?”
“None of your business.”
“Cmon, i just want to talk.”
He grabs Dix’s hand, she immediately turns around and delivers a punch to his face, starled, he releases. Her body started aching due to the sudden movement and she grabbed her hand while her face contorted with pain.
“What the hell are you made of?” She yells.
“Why did you do that? I just want to talk to you.”
“I exhausted my Jawduster on your face, used two bombs and blew you up with white powder. Just how are you still standing?”
“Listen,” Franklin says, reaching toward her “i’m not your en--”
He dodges a second punch from Dix.
“Don’t touch me.” She says, pointing a finger to Franklin’s face.
“As you wish.” He says while raising his hands to the level of his face and taking a step back. “But why didn’t you curse me?”
“What?” She asks, sounding baffled.
“You are a grey one, you can curse people with a touch, you had plenty of opportunities to do so. Why didn’t you do it?”
“You don’t even know what you are talking about.” She continues to walk out of the canal and he follows closely behind.
“Still not gonna tell me your name?”
They both walk around the streets of North Whisper, stone buildings instead of wood all around. To compensate for the increase in construction costs, the homes are made with the intention of housing multiple families, a necessary measure to withstand the constant storms.
“So… where are we?” Asks Franklin one more time.
Dix sighs, “North Whisper.”
“He sent me to another city under the jurisdiction of the wispshapers, maybe it is a local problem, does he want me to search for help here?” Franklin says to himself, absorbed in thought.
“You’ll follow me for how much longer?” Dix snaps at him.
“How about you tell me your name, then i’ll leave you alone.” Franklin jokingly suggests.
“Then you better get used to the sight of me following you.”
Dix grunts and resumes her walk through the city, Franklin follows close behind, taking in all the new sights presented to him. They continue for a while until they are suddenly interrupted by the sound of a beast breaking free of a cage, Dix’s stomach releases a growl. Shit, i spent all of my money on the mission equipment, she clutches her belly in an attempt to silence the beast inside, haven’t eaten anything in three days.
She turns quickly upon hearing the sound of a small paper bag being fluttered in her direction, seeing a portion of steaming fried small fish she can’t quite recognize waiting to be eaten.
“Where did you get this?” Dix asks.
“There.” Franklin points toward a food stall not far from where they stand.
Dix reaches for one of the fish, but she suddenly retracts her hand, as if breaking free from a powerful illusion.
“You can’t bribe me with food.” She shoots him an angry glare, and i shouldn’t have spent the rest of my money buying fake herbs.
“I’m not trying to bribe you, come, i’ll buy you another one.”
Conflicted between abandoning him and accepting a free meal, she chooses the only reasonable answer. Franklin is already several steps ahead of her, but with a quick jog she manages to catch up to him in time to see the scene unfold. The owner of the stall, an old lady, wearing an apron which by Dix’s estimates is as old as the one wearing it and a tissue that covers her red hair, looks at Franklin with a face that is a mix between absolute shock and surprise.
“Hey lady, can you give me another one of those?” He says to her.
By her expression, Dix can only imagine that her whole being is completely focused on making a single decision.
The old lady retrieves a small paper bag hidden under the stall’s counter and puts a generou portion of fish inside, almost twice as many as in the one in Franklin’s hand. She hands him his order, he picks it up and passes to Dix immediately, the old lady seeming like she is on the verge of relaxing.
“There it goes, keep the change of this one too.”
Dix’s mouth gapes, He can’t be serious, Franklin extends his hand, trying to hand a small square coin, snow white in color and small shifting dots of light that resemble the sky outside of Lotian, he is paying street food with a white divinity?
“There’s no need for this my boy.” Says the old lady to him with apologetic gestures.
“Why not? Just take it.”
Dix runs up and takes him by the arm.
“Hey, i haven't paid yet.” Franklin complains.
Dix stops and turns toward him, “are you out of your mind?” She points toward the white divinity in his hand, “You want to get yourself killed? Put that away.”
“What do you mean?” Franklin asks, confused.
“Why did you use that to pay for your food?”
“That’s the price she said, and it was also the only coin i had.”
“Listen here, people in this part of the city probably only heard about this coin, it only takes the wrong set of eyes to look at that thing in your hand for you to get stabbed in an alley.”
“Got it, still...” Franklin extends the fish bag toward her, which she quickly takes from his hand, “now that we are getting along better, where to?”
“I’m going home, you? Well, it doesn't really matter to me.” Dix says as she turns around to leave, “thanks for the food anyway.”
“Wait!” Franklin reaches for her hand.
I warned you, Dix turns around and punches him directly in the face, Franklin falls backward unconscious, now is the time you decided to black out?
Franklin wakes up and immediately springs to his feet, throwing the ragged blanket aside and assessing his surroundings. This action frightens a small boy that was sitting in a chair next to the door, looking at himself, he notices that his clothes are gone, leaving him with only his underwear, at the very least i did not get stabbed in an alley.
The boy runs off screaming “he woke up, he woke up”, i’m not tied up, probably safe to assume i’m no captive. Franklin begins a search for any clothing he could find and if he was lucky, also a weapon he could use just in case he was wrong. Not long after the boy left, a tall, wide and muscular man, with a face full of scars and a mean look in his eyes appears, he measures Franklin from head to toe.
“Good as fresh food cording to me eyes.” Says he.
A smaller man, approaching his older years comes from the same direction the first one came, “Dix said your name was Franklin, is it true?” Franklin nods, “good, my name is Sige and this one is Lipa.”
“What happened to my clothes?” Franklin asks.
“Took’em as an early reward for our hospitality.”
“Worth lot o’ money Cyne said.” Said the larger man.
Dix appears from behind the two men, upon seeing Franklin, she blushes and looks away, “you could have left him with his pants, at least.”
“There's a pair inside the chest under the bed, he can take it.” said the smaller man.
Franklin reaches for it and puts a pair of dark grey pants he finds there.
“Y’hungry boy?” The bigger man asks Franklin.
The two guide Franklin through small corridors of stone, Dix follows close behind, paying attention to him.
“Hey boy,” the smaller man calls Franklin’s “can you imagine our surprise when we saw Dix bring a man home?”
“Almost made meself cry Y’know?” Said Lipa as he brought a finger to his eyes, wiping away fake tears.
“What are you talking about?” Dix says in an annoyed tone.
They both share a guttural laughter and proceed to guide Franklin through the claustrophobic stone corridors until they arrive into a spacious square room, where a table with four seats sits in the middle.
“Sit’awn boy, lunch is coming soon.” Lipa said pointing toward one of the tables.
Franklin sits at the indicated place, accompanied by Sige and Dix as they wait for the food.
“Where are we?”
“Underground, but still in North Whis--”
“Hey, what are you all doing?” Dix cuts him off, “you can’t tell him that.”
“Dix, you brought him here yourself, and you did not tell us to tie him up, so he must be trustworthy.”
Franklin laughs “Thanks, i guess.”
At the same time, Lipa opens a door and brings a plate covered to hide the contents and a newspaper under his arm. It has a familiar smell. The larger man removes the cover, a small paper bag with fried fish inside is shown, that’s…
“Go ahead, have sum.” Says Lipa, picking up a piece.
“Yes.” Dix cuts Franklin off while also picking a piece for herself.
“I think i’ll pass, thank you.”
“Picky eaters don grow, d’you know that? Like our Dix here” Lipa reprimands Franklin.
“Shut up Lipa”
“It’s just that, i’m not that hungry.”
“You sure boy?” Sige asks for confirmation.
“Yeah, you three can have it.”
“Thank you, anyway, when Cyne returns with the money from selling your clothes we will be able to buy more food.”The three of them attack the fish bag, quickly ending it’s contents.
After the quick lunch, Lipa lays back in the chair and begins reading the news, Franklin turns to Sige.
“Who is this Cyne guy?”
“He is the one that sits where you are right now, and he is also our leader.”
“Big head is he, bigger than the four o’us together.” Observes Lipa.
“And what do you do here?”
“Odd jobs”, Sige winks at Franklin, “if you catch my meaning.”
“Sige.” Dix says with an angry tone.
“You three are assassins?”
“What? No, no, we don’t do that type of work here, listen boy, being a freelance assassin is bad for your health, the employer will always try to get rid of you in the end. Can’t leave loose ends you know.”
“Got it.” Franklin nods in a sign of understanding then turning toward Dix, “then, what were you doing in South whisper?”
“Doesn’t concern you.”
“C’mon Dix, don’t be like that to your man.” Sige says.
“He is not my--”
She gets interrupted by Franklin reaching out across the table toward the newspaper Lipa is reading, and takes it from his hand.
“That’s what he was talking about.” Franklin says.
“What are you talking about?” Dix says confused, while the two men observe with equally confused looks on their faces.
“Ardyn, remember what he said before he sent us here? It was all a ploy.”
“I remember that, but what are you talking about?”
He points toward one of the headlines in the newspaper that reads BROWNSTONE KEEP DESTROYED BY GRAVITY SPIRIT, LORD DAWNLIGHT IS THE PRIME SUSPECT. “That’s what i’m talking about.”
“Sure,” Dix says in a still confused tone “he is a big shot, but does that have to do with you?”
“He is my father...”
Franklin waits for the three to recompose themselves, they sit with wide eyes and gaped mouths, looking at him. Sige and Lipa stand up and approach him, starting to pat his shoulders in a sign removing some dust from them.
“Allow us to apologise to you lordling, we beg of you to have some more patience while we wait for Cyne to arrive, and we will be sure to get you the best food.” Said Sige
“There’s no need to--” Franklin tries to dismiss their unwanted attention.
“Let us get sum fine clothes for our little lordling to cover himself.” Lipa continues before Franklin has any chance to continue his protest.
The two men continue with their incessant proposals until Franklin’s voice gets more and more muffled by theirs, but before he could drown, Dix comes to his rescue.
“Get off of him!” She says, pushing the two men away.
“Alright, alright, no need to get angry over this.”
“Possessive isn’t she?” Lipa says.
“She found herself a good man, no wonder she wants to keep him close.”
“You two better cease this joke... now.” She says in a threatening tone. “You,” she points a finger toward Franklin, “explain yourself.”
“Someone is trying to get my family to take the blame for this.” Franklin says, holding the newspaper with one hand and the specific news pointed in their direction.
“Pardon my rude question, master Dawnlight, but how do you know your father wasn’t the one to do this?” Sige inquiries.
How quickly can you turn into an ass kisser? Dix thinks to herself.
“What? My father would never do something like this.”
“Never know, nobles hav sum weird tastes.”
“My father doesn’t have weird tastes.”
“Just saying, maybe he didn’t show’d you.”
“That’s not the same, he is a holder of one of the gravity spirits, it is a holy task given to our family by the gods themselves, he wouldn’t use his power to do something like this. You need to help me prove his innocence.”
“Young master, do you have any definite proof of what you are claiming?” Asks Sige.
Think, think, there must be something that i can use to prove, some inconsistency that i can point out.
“Do you have any?” Dix reinforces the question.
C’mon, think, there has to be something i can use.
“Boy?” Lipa asks.
“Give me some time to think.”
...TIME, that's it.
“Lipa, how many taks did the glass marked when you bought this?”
“Nine thousand… mor o’less.”
“There it is. Dix,” Franklin turns to face her, “Did you see me arrive in North Whisper?” She nods, “How many taks was at that time?”
She shrugs, he continues.
“More than ten thousand, and i came from brownstone keep, i passed in front of it. If news of it’s destruction came só early, it means that it was a planned attack, someone is trying to deal a blow to my father.” He says, with wide gestures, trying to compliment the seriousness of what he just said.
“Sure, but what do you want us to do?” Asks Dix, “It isn’t like we are some kind of powerful shadow organization you could rely on.”
“You do odd jobs don’t you? Ardyn must have foreseen this situation, and he sent me here.”
“Now hold on boy, you aren’t going to ask us to go against your noble friends will you? Because that will only end up with us getting killed.”
“Give me a moment.”
Franklin sits down on Cyne’s chair and starts to carefully read the news, the two men await anxiously, Dix moves toward one of the doors.
“I’ll be leaving, explain to me what you find out when i’m back.”
“Wait, where are you going?” Franklin asks, but she leaves the room without looking back.
“She went to see a man, boy.”
“Lipa, don’t talk like that, you’ll make him jealous. She went to see our latest employer, probably report that she failed to accomplish her mission.”
After a few taks, Franklin finishes his reading, Lipa looks at him with inquisitive eyes and Sige enters the room with a stack of clothes. A new, in the loosest sense of the word, grey shirt, a lighter shade than his trousers, a pair of navy blue boots and a long coat that reached his knees in the same color and an improvised belt made with a long piece of rope he found. Franklin clears his throat and begins.
“In summary, someone imploded the whole keep, including the people inside using a gravity spirit. They questioned every single holder of a spirit and they all had alibis, except for my father of course. And since i’m currently missing as well as our spirit, my father was arrested on suspicion of sending me to destroy brownstone keep.”
“Can’t you just appear and say it wasn’t you?” Proposes Sige.
“If this is all a plot to destroy us, they are prepared for this course of action. I need your help to find the one responsible for this and proof of his actions.”
“But as we already told you, there’s not much we can do, we’re just a small gang.”
“We can figure something out,” Franklin said, not ready to give up yet, “the mission Dix was supposed to carry out in the wispshapers headquarters.”
“What bout’it?” Lipa questions.
“The timing is too perfect to be a coincidence.” Franklin explains, “What was she after?”
“She was supposed to steal something, don’t know what exactly.”
To steal, not to kill huh… but then, why was she carrying an assassin's dagger? Did she lie about her mission?
“D’you have an idea what could be?” Lipa asks.
Let me be sure.
“Did any of you two met this employer?”
Lipa shakes his head, Franklin lowers his, trying to figure out the best way to explain the possibility that Dix is either a traitor or an assassin.
“Me neither, Dix said he is a tall man with blonde hair. He also was carrying a broad sword.” Sige clarifies.
Franklin raises his head, a spark of hope in his eyes.
“Did she mention any other details about him? How he was dressed or the color of his eyes? Maybe he had a scar, anything.”
Sige hums while in deep thought, “Yes, she said that he was dressed in all black, even the weird earring he was wearing on the left ear had a black gemstone.”
Franklin jumps from his chair with a panicked expression on his face.
“Dix went to see this man?”
“I think so." Sige answers.
“I don’t suppose you have a sword i could borrow.”
“Cyne might have one in his room, but why? Is Dix in danger?”
“Remember what you said about assassins?”
Dix enters the alley that marked their meeting spot, same as the first time, he was late, probably watching her from a distance. She waits a few taks before hearing the sound of heavy booted steps turning around the corner of the alley, four men with light brown armor representing no one with crossbows strapped to their backs and clubs to their belts. Behind them, comes her employer, pitch black clothes with a military officer but without any emblems, the broad sword on his waist being the only variation in color, grey on grey on grey, not much variety, but enough to create a contrast.
“Lady Dix,” says he upon getting closer “i trust you have the item i requested, currently in your possession.”
“Straight to the point, aren’t you?” Dix replies.
“Such dealings must be kept as brief as possible, now if you excuse my rudeness, show me what i hired you to get me, my patience thins by the tak.”
The other four men stand silent on both sides of her and the man in black.
“I… I don’t have it on me right now.”
He remains with an unfazed expression.
“Help me refresh my memory, but didn’t i tell you to bring the box to this specific location at this precise time?” A silent fury starts to rise behind his icy gaze, coming here was a mistake.
“It’s just that...” Shit shit, “I...” visions of the five men killing her in every possible way flooded her mind, and she froze.
“Miss Dix, what did i told you about my patience?”
“I… it’s just that...” By the gods, say something coherent. "Insurance."
“And what could that mean?”
The visions continue, but she manages to recover some clarity of mind, i might be able to survive this.
“I had to be sure i wasn’t going to get killed after you got what you wanted. Curren--”
She suddenly stops, shivers running through her body, the four men in brown disappear from her visions, this man in front of her takes over their space. Crushed, stabbed, sliced and ripped, her mind quickly runs through all the horrible things he can do to her.
“You seem to be having a terrible misconception, you are but a filthy thief, you are in no position to make demands.” He approaches her, “now, you will take the five of us to the place where you hid the box.”
She closes her eyes as he stretches his hand towards her, the visions intensify, becoming worse.
“I failed.” His hand stopped. “Complications happened during the operation and i was forced to leave without the item. If you give me another chance i will get it for you.”
“Not only did you fail me, but you also lied about it, such a disappointment. And here i thought that i had a good eye for people.” He turns around to leave the alley, “get rid of her, leave the body, and send someone to retrieve it later.”
“Wait, i’ll do it for free, just give me another chance.”
The man in black stops, “It seems you were under the impression that you were going to get paid. Listen miss, you wouldn’t leave this alley alive even if you had succeeded.”
The four men in brown unsheath their clubs and take slow steps towards her, visions of her getting beaten to death intensifies, she holds her arms, closes her eyes and hunches over, reading herself for what’s to come.
She feels them above, ready to strike her down. But before they have the chance to do so, she hears the sound of running water. Dix opens her eyes to see the four men getting frozen, turning around, a figure drops down from one of the buildings in the back of the alley.
Franklin, wearing the same navy blue coat, but with a curved sword tied to his back and three water orbs floating behind him, he runs toward a confused looking Dix, tears beginning to form at the edge of her eyes.
“Sorry for being late, Lipa’s map didn’t help much in finding this place.”
Carrying her on his shoulders, he runs toward the man in black, guarding the exit, using the remaining orbs, he raises a ramp to block the man’s vision and uses it to jump over it.
As the two leave the alley, the ice holding the four men begins to break down and Dix sees the man in black reaching for his weapon.
“He’s unsheathing the sword.”
“A bluff, he can’t use it in such a crowded space.”
They mix in with the people on the streets, quickly shoving them aside to make their way forward.
“What now?” Dix asks.
“We run for our lives and hope he doesn’t catch us.”
“Can’t you just use that thing that lets you move really fast?”
“I’m not experienced enough to carry someone with me to the soul realm. I also can’t beat that guy in a fight.”
The strong wispshaper body allows Franklin to quickly get away from that alley and they both agree to return to the hideout.
They try their best to not be spotted by any patrol of wispshapers on their way, hiding in the shadows of back alleys and using less crowded areas.
“Who is he?” Dix asks Franklin while they wait for the patrol to go away.
“Wisym, he is a paladin from the zeroth division.”
“Not an official division, he is from the ninth actually, but only on paper, he is tasked to do dirty jobs for some nobles.”
“Your family included?”
“But there are two holders of gravity spirits that i know of that have commanding rights over him.”
The patrol passes and they proceed to the hideout’s entrance, Franklin raises the manhole cover and Dix slips in, followed by him. They climb down the stairs, útil they reach the depth where one of the steps is missing, opposite to that there’s a small hole on the wall where Dix pulls a lever that opens a secret passage, which she uses to enter the gang's hiding place.
The two of them proceed through a narrow passage, impossible to traverse while standing.
“Did you really carry me all this way?” Franklin asks her.
“No, i left you on the surface and had Lipa carry you here.”
They reach a dead end on the dark hallway, the last barrier, pushing a switch in the ceiling they open a trap door and climb onto the hideout. The metallic smell of fresh blood reaches them as soon as they get their heads inside, Dix runs toward the door that leads to the dining room, Franklin follows.
Dix runs on the floor covered in blood and almost slips on her way toward Sige, covered in wounds front to back.
“Sige, wake up, wake up, wake up.” She says, looking down all the while.
“Dix...he is alread--”
“Shut up… we need to take him to a physician.”
“I told you to shut up, stop talking and… and help me.”
Her cheeks glistened by tears in the dim light of the hideout, her eyes the reflection of pure horror, she touched the lifeless body of Sige with frantic movements, unsure of what to do.
“Dix...” Franklin touches her shoulder, ready to take the punch, but she doesn’t move.
“This is... your… all of this… your fault.” she says between sobs.
“You can blame me, scream at me, or punch me all you want, but do it later, now we need to get out of here.”
A cough coming in the direction of the kitchen interrupts them, Dix dashes towards the half open door to find Lipa sitting against the sink with a kitchen knife piercing his chest. He coughs some more, Dix kneels beside him.
“It’s fine Lipa, we’re going to fix you.” She says to him, voice sounding more like trembling whispers.
“Dix”...He coughs…”Little girl”
“Stop talking.” She rips a piece of the loose cloths in her attire, unsure of what to do with the improvised bandage, “You going to just stand there?” Dix says to Franklin.
“He wants to talk to you, hear him.” He responds.
She turns her head to face Lipa again, blurry vision due to tears, foggy thoughts due to the shock.
“Cyne...” Lipa gets interrupted by more coughs, his mouth dripping blood, clothes stained red.
“Is he al--” she stops herself from saying, alive.
“That… he… he… that snake.”
“We need to take you to a physician” she begins to spring back to action, but Lipa grabs her by the arm in a sudden burst of energy.
“He betray’d us.”
“What do you mean?” She asks, confused.
“Boy, tay care o our little girl.”
“Lipa, what do you mean?”
Franklin nods silently, Lipa puts his hand on Dix’s chin, making their eyes meet. His face begins to twist with pain, she averts her eyes to look at the ground.
“Lipa! Why did you do this?”
“Just takin sum of yo burden with meself. Take care both’o you.”
His expression continues to shift and distort with pain as his life slowly slips away. Franklin puts a hand on Dix's shoulder, “let’s go, they’ll probably come back once they know what happened in the alley.” She nods, stands up and they both get out of the hideout.
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