The sound of crows could be heard in the distance.
I could see them circling above a forest clearing near the stream that is flowing into the city below: The impregnable city of Tawouest.
Though this is making a slight detour in my mission, I could not leave my little companion behind.
Walking towards the forest clearing, I began to whistle. Normally, that would be its signal to return to me but this time round, it remained, circling above with the rest of its species.
????: [Damn bird, stop getting distracted by every little thing that shines. GLASS, WE ARE GOING! NOW!]
My little companion, the crow I named Glass, refused to deviate from its flight. If anything, it flew lower and lower towards the centre of the place that they were circling.
Perhaps I should leave after all. Damn bird could easily find me back in the city.
So I said, yet I continued venturing to the spot the crows were circling.
And there I saw, the very being that would eventually upturn everything that this world had to offer.
Lying face flat on the muddy floor in a pool of blood was a humanoid figure cloaked in black. No, the black is from its clothing, not the figure.
Quickly, I removed my hooded cloak and rushed to the injured figure, brushing away the crows that were trying to dig their beaks into it. One of them flew off but landed not too far away. It turned its eye towards me and tilted its head in a curious direction.
????: [Damn bird, you see the trouble you are bringing me? No more lunch for you until you have reflected on your actions.]
Glass completely ignored my statements and landed onto a branch of a nearby tree and began to groom its feathers. I sighed, knowing that there was no way that the damn bird could have understood me.
I was not merely talking idly either during that one-sided exchange. When the exchange ended, I had already disrobed the injured figure, that being its black coat, but left its base clothing on. I had also removed its possessions to precisely determine the extent of its injury, though there were only two items removed: A peculiar mask with no features and a strange metallic object.
Judging by the wounds this injured figure received, one could see the intensity of the battle it was participating in. A crushed left eye, a diced up throat, broken calves upon broken shins and several, if not all ribcages broken. The blood loss is only natural with the number of lacerations that covered nearly every surface of its being that made it hard to even see where its base clothing ends and where its skin begins, let alone its species or gender at a glance. Though it is strange that the black coat is completely free from cuts, unlike its base clothes.
That is no injured figure, that is a corpse.
Yet I cannot conclude that in my good conscience. The figure lives, evident from the miraculous beating of its heartbeat and the heaving of its chest.
I removed the heavy backpack I was carrying and took out a rope, rolls of cloth and a scroll. One out of the three magic scrolls I had in possession, this one in particular is engraved with the magic circuits for healing wounds.
Pouring mana through the circuits on the magic scroll, the wounds of the injured figure began to gradually heal up. I have prioritised the more life-threatening ones, mainly the eye and the throat injury with the scroll and worked on stopping the bleeding from the body with the rolls of cloth. The rest can be easily healed up by other professionals in the city.
????: [Can’t have me running out of mana here when the mission is still ongoing.]
The end product of the injured figure now resembled the featureless mannequins displayed in front of shops which is a big step forward compared to being a corpse waiting to rot.
Satisfied, I packed the figure’s belongings into my backpack and secured the figure onto my backpack. Putting my hooded cloak back on, I prepared to move off, now with a heavier weight but a higher chance of succeeding in the mission.
Just before I do, however, I find myself accidentally kicking something solid and metallic. It was the strange metallic object that was retrieved from the injured figure’s coat pocket.
????: [Quite the carelessness of mine, almost forgot to pack you in.]
Picking up the object, I now got a closer look at it. Both sides were different with one side containing parts that seemed to be moving on their own. With every movement came a rhythmic sound that is calming to the ear, at least for me.
On the top of it was a small contraption that hinted at the possibility of being pushed. Before I do carelessly and tactlessly engage the device, I had the mental capacity to take out my second magic scroll, one engraved with magic circuits of detection used to identify the presence of any and all other magic circuits.
Pouring mana through the scroll, I now could see clearly that the strange device is devoid of any magic circuits, which is a relief as one could never be too careful when dealing with magic items. Lux knows whether the device is actually engraved with highly concentrated magic circuits for explosions that could wipe out the whole clearing we are standing on.
I looked around and whistled but my small companion was nowhere to be seen. Damn bird probably flew off to find something shiny again. Perhaps it was initially trying to point my attention to this metallic object as well?
Now knowing it was safe, I pushed down on the small contraption on the top of the small device. A side of the outer metal plate popped open, revealing a closer look at the rhythmic movements within. But that was the last thing on my mind.
It was at that very same moment that my ears became flooded with voices. Voices that were loud, voices that were soft, voices that spoke meaning and voices that expressed none.
????: […The fruits at the top of the tree are delicious…]
????: […FOR THE QUEEN, FOR THE QUEEN…]
????: […Where did those little critters go…]
????: […Breadgiver, what are you still doing down there]
????: [… DEEPER DEEPER DEEPR…]
????: [… Don’t you think the water is slightly…]
????: […AHHHHH, I DON’T WANT TO DIE YET…]
????: […Get up, breadgiver, don’t we have somewhere we have to go…]
????: [… The meal of this lux is served, HAHAHA…]
????: […the mission, the mission, the mission…]
????: […Be sure to never run off too far, you don’t want to be…]
????: [… RUN…]
????: […the mission, the…]
It was like billions of living beings were speaking all at once in a grand ballroom and I at the very centre of it all, forced to take in each and every piece of information. I could no longer even hear my own voice in this cacophony.
????: [JYN, HOW LONG ARE YOU GOING TO HUNCH OVER ALL PATHETIC LIKE?]
All of a sudden, a voice broke through all of the cacophony like the chiming of church bells in a bustling bazaar.
There it was, in front of me. A figure in black, staring at me with its head tilted in a curious direction. Its beaked moved, but what comes out is not the usual cawing that I am accustomed to, but…
Glass: [The heck you doing, breadgiver. We got places to be. Chop chop.]
Glass hopped around with its little feet before flying over to grab a hooded cloak on the floor and drop it on my person.
In the short time frame right after I have activated the strange device, I had threw off everything on my person, including my backpack and cloak and was squatting on the floor, desperately clawing at my ears.
Jyn: […Glass, is that you? I could understand you!]
I turned around to find my little companion but it was no longer here.
The cacophony remained but my mind had cleared up, though just a little. Making full use of this brief moment of clarity, I immediately dig up the pieces of cloth in my backpack and stuff them into my ears.
The sounds subsided and became muffled enough that it sounded like manageable background noise you would hear in a busy tavern.
Jyn: [That detour took too long, I had to hurry…]
Ignoring the shaking of my hands from the shock of the sudden twist of events, I once again put on all of my belongings and began to descend the mountain, heading towards the city of Tawouest.
I did not see Glass on my way down yet I knew it would return the moment I needed it to. I had tamed it for a long time after all.
The way down was not the most tiring, even with the presence of the heavy load I was carrying. I had taken on treks that were worse. So much so that I had the leeway to analyze the strange turn of events that occurred just now.
Jyn: [Was it a psychological attack?]
Glancing back at the bandaged-up figure I was carrying, I could not help but think to myself.
I fished out the metallic device from my clothes pocket and inspected it once again, paying even more attention yet nothing had change visibly on the device. Though with the cacophony in the background, it became more difficult to enjoy the rhythmic sounds coming out of the device.
One thing was for sure, the device had granted me an interesting ability. Judging from my interaction with Glass, it would appear that I can now understand it, or perhaps even other species and can engage in conversation. That is definitely advantageous for my mission.
Before long, I had reached the entrance to the city of Tawouest, specifically the Sagar Gate. Strangely enough, I heard the place before I could see it since the closer I get to the city, the louder the cacophony gets.
I joined the short queue that was gathering in front of the entrance and waited for the sole guard in front of the gate to reach me.
Guard: [State your name and purpose.]
Jyn: [Jyn. Traveller]
Guard: [I was just joking! Here in Sagar Biquadant, we knew everyone and there is no need to be so formal, though it is true that your face is rather new…]
The guard took a long look at me from top to bottom.
Guard: [Could I ask you to take off your hood? Can’t see your face clearly with it on and all…]
I took off my hood, though with just the slightest of hesitation.
Guard: [Ah, that really is a new face. Hmm… Normally, we would have to register you and all, but you seem like a nice lady…I will let you pass!]
Jyn: [Thank you very much.]
I began to move through the enormous gate that is the Sagar Gate.
I halted on the spot and slowly turn my head to him.
Jyn: [Yes…? How may I be of assistance to you, kind sir?]
Guard: [Nothing much, I notice that your ears and the area around your ears are bleeding slightly. And the friend that you are carrying, she, or is it a he, is no mannequin, is it not? Quite the injury sustained too…]
Nodding my head slowly, I acknowledged him.
Jyn: [Indeed. We were attacked by Inhumans during our journey. My brother here protected me and now it is my duty to bring him into Tawouest and heal him up.]
Hearing that, tears welled up in the guard’s eyes.
Guard: [What noble sacrifice! What familial bond! The Church! You must bring him to the Church of Lux at once. The priests there would be more than willing to heal both of you up, no compensations asked. It is the tall white building, you will know exactly what I am talking about once you are in!]
Jyn: [Much appreciated, kind sir.]
Guard: [Don’t sweat it! If you need anything, just approach me or any of us when you see us on the street!]
Once again I began to make my move… but stopped short, again.
Jyn: […There is another thing I would like to ask, if it is alright with you.]
Guard: [Go ahead, I will be stationed here for quite some time. In fact, I have all the time in the world since nothing exciting ever happens here at the Sagar Biquadrant.]
Jyn: […Right. Would you point me in the direction of the barber?]
Pausing only for a single moment, the guard immediately knew the answer.
Guard: […The barber… Ah, the Granharts, right? Follow the main street down, they are right in the middle of the Sagar Biquadrant. Now go! Go get yourselves healed up, don’t let a random guard like me delay you any further!]
With that, I finally entered the city of Tawouest, specifically the Sagar Biquadrant.
The guard was correct, in that the Church of Lux could not be missed. With its pristine walls free of any stains standing tall and proud above most of the buildings in the Sagar Biquadrant, it could almost be regarded as one of the symbols of the city
Yet, that is not where I am at right now. Instead, I stood in front of a two-storey building that is not any different from the others in the biquadrant.
From the display window, I could see rows of mannequin heads arranged neatly, each displaying a hairstyle that is different and full of style.
Jyn: [No doubt about it, this is the barber.]
Taking a deep breath, I turned the doorknob and opened the door to the barber.
????: [Welcome, hun! Here for a haircut? Just put your stuff down somewhere at the entrance and come to the chair here.]
In front of the barber was a middle-aged lady with golden hair. Though she may be older than most in the Sagar Biquadrant, she did not seem to lose any of her charms. On the apron she was wearing hanged scissors of different sizes.
Barely squeezing through the small door with my backpack and company, I put down my belongings and made my way over to her.
????: [Your hair is lovely, hun. Smooth and silky that even I would envy. How would you like to look in this lovely lux?]
Glancing down at my hair that is reaching my shoulder due to months of leaving it unkempt, I requested:
Jyn: [If possible, would you kindly cut it a little short? Around neck length would…]
????: [ABSOLUTELY NOT, hun. Your hair is gorgeous and cutting it short would ruin it. Here, how about I…]
She began making quick work of my hair, trimming just so slightly at the excesses that seemed to be growing out of place. When she was done, the me that was reflecting from the mirror barely resembled the me I knew. I could even say that I looked…
????: [Mrs Granhart, I believe that is not what the customer desired.]
A figure dressed in a maid outfit spoke elegantly from behind. Through the mirror, I could see her long pointed ears poking out of her silver hair, showing that she is an Elf.
Mrs Granhart: [Ah, Anna dear, you are here! What do you mean by that? Our customer looked even more beautiful with this haircut. Wouldn’t you agree, hun?]
Looking at me with eyes filled with excitement, she asked eagerly. It was hard. Really hard, but I had to say it.
Jyn: [My apologies, ma`am. Cutting it short would be just fine. I really do not wish to stand out… ]
Seeing her face turned from one beaming with excitement to one that is completely dejected was gut-wrenching. It felt like I had just robbed her of an opportunity to express her craft.
Mrs Granhart: [Really? Is that what you really want, hun?]
She looked at me with sad puppy dog eyes that made it really hard to reject her, but…
Jyn: […I’m sorry ma`am, but yes, that would be what I hoped for. Thank you, ma`am!]
Sighing, she began to cut short my hair, undoing all of her precious work.
Mrs Granhart: [How unfortunate. Now the injuries around your ears would be all the more visible. Would you be alright, hun?]
Just before she completed, she commented on the injuries around my ears, the second person to do so this lux.
Why does everybody seem to notice it? Is it that obvious?
Mrs Granhart: [Here, all done, hun! Not my proudest but it is my best to keep you beautiful the way you would have wanted it.]
She sat down on the barber chair beside me and turned it towards me.
Mrs Granhart: [So? What is your next plan, hun? I would assume it would be going to the church to get yourself and your friend all wrapped up over there healed up?]
She was almost spot on, but as a traveller, there is something else I must settle first.
Jyn: [Yes, ma`am. Thank you for your concern. But before that, I would like to settle our lodgings first before Umbra comes. I believe there are a few taverns in the Sagar Biquadrant that would be suitable.]
Anna: [The Phantom Cat would be most advised. It is the least costly and had the best food in the Sagar Biquadrant.]
Jyn: [Thank you for your suggestion, Ms Anna, perhaps I will…]
Before I could finish my sentence, Mrs Granhart interjected.
Mrs Granhart: [No, hun, that would take up too much time, you might miss the church just before they close their services. Plus, it is your first time around here and you are unfamiliar with the place. It would be difficult for you to navigate around.]
Jyn: [But I did not…]
Mrs Granhart: [Your backpack tells all, hun. Not a lot of people in the Sagar Biquadrant would carry so many things. Also, everyone in the Sagar Biquadrant basically knew each and every one. New faces like you are oddities we could pick up on rather easily.]
She tilted her head up and crossed her arms, feeling proud of her familiarity and knowledge of the place she lived in.
Jyn: [That is quite true, ma`am. Thank you for your concern. What would you suggest?]
Mrs Granhart: [No problem, hun. Mrs Granhart got you covered. You see the room above?]
She pointed to the second storey and diverted our attention there.
Mrs Granhart: [My son is barely home but his room had been kept in its best conditions for his return from the Matha Biquadrant. Sometimes I even feel sorry for Anna dear who had to go through the trouble of cleaning it every lux. Frankly, it would be of more use to you now than my son.]
Jyn: [Ma`am, that is very kind of you but I…]
Mrs Granhart: [No “buts”, hun. May I have your name?]
Leaving no room for rejection, she continued.
Jyn: [Jyn, my name is Jyn, just Jyn would do. Thank you very…]
Mrs Granhart: [Well, Jyn hun, I welcome you to the Granharts! Anna dear, could you help her up to Elyza’s room?]
Anna: [Most obliged, Mrs Granhart.]
Mrs Granhart would not even give me the time to thank her before setting up everything that was needed for me to move into her son’s room.
By the time everything had settled, Umbra had arrived and the church was no longer in service. I had done what little I can to clean up my injuries and the wounds of the injured figure in the meantime.
Though just by a little, I think I am beginning to get used to the cacophony.