Chapter 7:

The City of Athelas (Part 2)

Six


Waking up bound, and gagged to a chair was not something Emyria had planned for. She took a moment to process where she was, but realized the room was too dark to get a good understanding as to where she was. A single candle alight on a nearby table only allowed Emyria to see a table drenched in a crimson red liquid, along with various tools, and knives. Where am I? What is this place, Emyria wondered as she tried to remain calm.Bookmark here

Emyria could see three figures sitting by the candle light. She looked down at the rope that held her wrist down to the wooden chair, and the bindings around her ankles. Her shoes had been removed leaving only her socks on to allow the rope to wrap around her ankles without restriction. As she struggled to free herself from the ropes, she heard the voice of a girl speaking a language she had never heard before.Bookmark here

“Hän on hereillä.”Bookmark here

The three figures stood up from the table, and made their way over to Emyria. As they crossed the room through the shadows, Emyria couldn’t help but wonder if she was seeing things as the three figures seemingly appeared to mend into the darkness. Appearing in front of Emyria as if coming out of her nowhere, she was greeted by the three figures who stared down at her with an almost murderous intent in their eyes. One of the figures Emyria remembered was the girl she had chased through the alleyways, and rooftops.Bookmark here

“Greetings. Welcome to my home. I’m Sixty-six, and to my left here is Silvia.”Bookmark here

Sixty-six leaned in closer to Emyria’s ear. As she did, Emyria could see the number sixty-six on the left side of the girl’s neck.Bookmark here

“Just so you know, she has a foot fetish,” Sixty-six said as she whispered in Emyria’s ear.Bookmark here

Silvia had long white hair that was tied up into a ponytail, held in place two needles. She was dressed in a forest green top that revealed her slender shoulders, and petite arms with a matching small skirt that accented her bare thighs, and legs. Unlike the others, she did not wear any shoes or socks to speak of.Bookmark here

“Mitä aiot tehdä hänen kanssaan, pomo?” the other girl spoke in a serious tone.Bookmark here

“Kolme, can you at least try to speak the common tongue? It’s rude for our guest as she can’t understand you.”Bookmark here

Kolme cleared her throat as she smiled cheerfully in a nonthreatening manner.Bookmark here

“You know I hate the common tongue,” Kolme said in child-like tone.Bookmark here

“The small petite beauty here is Kolme.”Bookmark here

Like the others, Kolme had beautiful white flowing hair that flowed down past her shoulders, unkempt in a way that made it appear as if she had just gotten out of bed. She wore a pair of square-rimmed glasses with a burgundy red sweater—each of the sleeves continued past the palms of her hands making it appear baggier on her. While the sweater completely covered the shorts she wore underneath, she could be seen wearing two different colored socks. One was a black sock that stopped at her thighs with a white ribbon at the top while the other stopped at her knee and was white with a black ribbon at the top.Bookmark here

“Anyways, what’s your name?” Sixty-six asked.Bookmark here

“Em… Em…”Bookmark here

“Oh right, I should remove the gag. That might help.”Bookmark here

Sixty-six removed the cloth that was tied around Emyria’s mouth, followed by the sock.Bookmark here

“Here’s your sock back, Silvia.”Bookmark here

Silvia shook her head.Bookmark here

“Right then, what was your name sweetie?” Sixty-six asked as she threw the sock across the room.Bookmark here

“E-Emyria… Maiola Hyteria…”Bookmark here

“Hyteria… Hyteria…”Bookmark here

Sixty-six paced back, and forth as she repeated the name over, and over again.Bookmark here

“Where have I heard that name before?”Bookmark here

“It’s the name of the noble family, you kusipää,” Kolme said with a crackling laughter.Bookmark here

“So, you’re a nobleman’s daughter? You’re very pretty.”Bookmark here

“W-What do you want with me? Gold? My father can pay you.”Bookmark here

“Gold is so boring in this world. No, I don’t want your money. I want your face,” Sixty-six said with a creepy grin.Bookmark here

“M-My face?”Bookmark here

“Yes. I’m going to slowly peel off your skin until I have that beautiful face of yours,” Sixty-six said as she carefully peeled away the skin on her face like removing a mask.Bookmark here

Emyria did everything she could to hold back the gag reflex. She wanted to throw up at the sight of seeing the bones of a walking human horror, but even though she was sick to her stomach, nothing came up. The smell, combine with the sight, turned Emyria’s stomach into knots as she continued to stare at the abomination leaning close to her face.Bookmark here

“I lost my face some time ago, and I never could find it. So, I killed girl in another city far from here, and well, I took her face,” Sixty-six said as she gently stroke Emyria’s cheek with her hand.Bookmark here

“You’re insane!”Bookmark here

“Actually, Kolme is insane. I’m bordering on psychopathic.”Bookmark here

“So, we going to take turns with this slut?” Kolme asked as her voice changed once again to sound like a royal.Bookmark here

“Fine, fine. Silvia, you can go first.”Bookmark here

Silvia nodded as Emyria started to fear what was going to happen to her.Bookmark here

#Bookmark here

The classroom was silence as Miss Feldia checked to see if all the students were present. She noticed that Emyria had yet to join them. It’s not like her to late, Miss Feldia thought as she looked out to the morning sunrise. Looking at the hourglass on her desk, Miss Feldia turned to Nolvet.Bookmark here

“Miss Faldur, have you heard from Miss Hyteria by chance?”Bookmark here

“No, Miss Feldia. She, and I haven’t spoken since yesterday when we had lunch together.”Bookmark here

“I see. Class, please study in silence. I need to go check on something.”Bookmark here

Without another word, Miss Feldia left the classroom. Maybe I’m wrong, but I need to see Aystaria, and confirm that Emyria is safe, Feldia thought as she walked the streets of the city. As she turned the corner, she felt something bump into her breast. Looking down, she noticed the white hair, and braid that was unmistakable.Bookmark here

“Aystaria?”Bookmark here

Aystaria looked up from her position as she rested her chin against Feldia’s breast.Bookmark here

“Yeah?”Bookmark here

“What are you doing out, and about?”Bookmark here

“I could ask you the same.”Bookmark here

“Is Emyria sick?”Bookmark here

“No, she headed to school.”Bookmark here

Feldia had a worried expression on her face as she looked to Aystaria.Bookmark here

“Vestigium!” the two of them said in unison.Bookmark here

The two of them quickly followed the tracks that lead to the school. It took Aystaria a few moment to isolate the various tracks, but she quickly kept her eyes on them as she ran down the city street with haste—Feldia following behind her without missing a step. As Aystaria turned the corner she noticed Emyria’s tracks heading a nearby alleyway.Bookmark here

“Feldia?”Bookmark here

“Already on it.”Bookmark here

Speeding ahead of Aystaria by a bit, Feldia turned to face Aystaria, and cupped her hands together. Aystaria continued running until she planted her foot firmly onto Feldia’s hands. With the strength of one thousand men, Feldia launched Aystaria to the rooftop in one easy clearing. Aystaria landed onto the rooftop, and continued the momutum as she scanned for Emyria’s tracks. After finding them, she continued to follow the tracks until she came to a rooftop where not only Emyria’s tracks ended, but also the person that she was chasing.Bookmark here

Aystaria looked around as she tried to pinpoint where Emyria could have gone, or rather who had taken her. As Aystaria continued to search the area, Feldia had finally made it to the location. Where the hell is she, Aystaria thought as her expression started to worry increasingly worried.Bookmark here

“Aystaria, where’s your hair clip?”Bookmark here

“Right, I can use that to track her position.”Bookmark here

“Tracking footprints, and trying to find a small object in a large city is two different things.”Bookmark here

“I’m aware, Feldia. I have to try though.”Bookmark here

Aystaria closed her eyes.Bookmark here

“Semita decorarat atque auxerat.”Bookmark here

Aystaria looked over the city ensuring that she scanned everywhere carefully. After a few minutes, she had manage to spot a small golden spec off in the distance. While it was hard for Aystaria to make out exactly where, she knew that there was an old abandon tower that had not been used since the The Dark Year. I need to enhance this magic so I can see better, Aystaria thought.Bookmark here

“Augendae.”Bookmark here

“Et voi parantaa kohdetta, joka on epätarkka.”Bookmark here

“Sulje se,” Aystaria shouted.Bookmark here

“Tyhmä,” Feldia said under breath.Bookmark here

“Kusipää.”Bookmark here

“Samaa sinulle.”Bookmark here

“All right, enough playful banter. We need to get there with due haste.”Bookmark here

#Bookmark here

Emyria could feel the sweat running down her legs as Silvia smiled seductively. Tears flowed down her cheeks as she felt violated in more way then one. Her body shook as she was unable to stop what Silvia had forced out of her against her will. Silvia stood to her feet as she licked her lips clean.Bookmark here

“If you’re done, can we get on with the fun part?” Sixty-six asked as she grabbed her dagger, and skipped over to Emyria.Bookmark here

Dancing around Emyria like a happy pixie, Sixty-six stopped behind Emyria, and held the blade just below her ear. A foul smell filled the air as Sixty-six paused to breathe in the odor.Bookmark here

“What is that smell?”Bookmark here

“Minä en tiedä,” Kolme said in a playful voice.Bookmark here

Sixty-six lifted up Emyria’s skirt as she giggled aloud.Bookmark here

“Oh, that’s you.”Bookmark here

“Näyttää siltä, että hän vihasi itseään,” Kolme said as she began laughing uncontrollably like an insane person.Bookmark here

“Right then, no more delay girls.”Bookmark here

Before Sixty-six could react, the agonising pain of a thousand needles shot throughout her eye socket as she fell to the floor screaming. While Sixty-six continued to cry out in pain, Silvia, and Kolme drew their weapons as they turned to the door. Two shadowy figures stood in the doorway, their red eye glaring with intent to kill. Emyria watched as Feldia, and Aystaria emerged from the shadows as silent as a graveyard.Bookmark here

“Aystaria? Miss Feldia? How did you two find me?”Bookmark here

Aystaria smiled cheerfully as she as she tried to hide her anger.Bookmark here

“Don’t worry, Emyria. Just calm down, okay?”Bookmark here

Sixty-six pulled the dagger from her eye as she looked stared back at the spherical white orb stuck to the tip.Bookmark here

“That’s going to leave a mark,” Aystaria joked.Bookmark here

Standing to her feet, Sixty-six threw the dagger back to Aystaria.Bookmark here

“Aystaria the Prideful, and Feldia the Formidable. Today must be my lucky day.”Bookmark here

“Long time no see, Sia,” Aystaria said with a cheerful expression.Bookmark here

“Otan kaksi ruuvipalloa,” Feldia said to Aystaria as she cracked her knuckles.Bookmark here

“Sain sen.”Bookmark here

Aystaria squared off against Sia as Feldia carefully made her way over to Silvia, and Kolme. The room stood silent as Aystaria, and Sia watched each other closely, planning out the attacks, and counterattacks that each of them would take. Emyria’s safety is the proity here. Sia will likely go for her first. I have to time this right otherwise Emyria won’t live long, Aystaria thought as she noticed Emyria trying to undo the rope on her right wrist.Bookmark here

Emyria moved her hand for only a second before hearing the sound of metal hitting against metal, echoing throughout her ear. Shifting her eyes downward, she could see Sia’s dagger pressing down onto Aystaria’s sword, stopping the dagger from piercing her hand.Bookmark here

“Emyria, how about we not move around, okay,” Aystaria said as she smiled cheerfully.Bookmark here

Emyria could only nod as she tried to move an inch of her body.Bookmark here

“Just close your eyes, and relax. This won’t take long.”Bookmark here

“You think you can beat me that easily?”Bookmark here

“No, I know I can,” Aystaria giggled.Bookmark here

“Narttu!” Sia yelled in anger.Bookmark here

“Kiitos,” Aystaria said with a smile.Bookmark here

The sound of two blades rang out as Emyria continued to sit as still as she could. She felt her body tensing up with each sound that echo just a few inches from her ears. Each gust of wind was another heart-wrenching moment as she could almost feel the blades just cross her skin. Even though she couldn’t see what was happening in the battle, she could understand one thing that she never realized about Aystaria. She wasn’t human.Bookmark here

As the fight continued on, Emyria was barely able to make out some of the attacks as Sia, and Aystaria appeared to pop in, and out of existence from the shadows. Emyria continued to try, and follow the movements before realizing that it was hopeless. Come on Aystaria, win, Emyria thought as she continued to control her breathing. In the blink of an eye, Emyria felt her heart tense up from the sight she was seeing. The horror of Sia’s face, and dagger aiming to pierce her heart was what she believed would be her final thoughts. Closing her eyes from the fear of death, Emyria waited for her end.Bookmark here

Moments passed before Emyria opened her eyes again to the sight that would haunt her dreams. Standing beside her was Aystaria who continued to smile as she looked over to Emyria.Bookmark here

“See? I won.”Bookmark here

Looking down at her heart, Emyria could see that Aystaria had used her left hand to stop the impact of the blade. With the tip of the dagger sticking through the palm of Aystaria’s hand, Emyria found herself unable to move or even say anything. Blood had splattered onto her chest as a grim reminder that she could have died.Bookmark here

“Fu—”Bookmark here

With a clean slice, Aystaria rendered Sia’s head from her shoulders. Like a limb doll, Sia’s body fell to the ground as Aystaria pulled out the dagger from her hand as if she was simply pulling out a needle.Bookmark here

“Took you long enough to kill her,” Feldia said as she wiped the blood off her gloves.Bookmark here

“Pretty sure I finished before you.”Bookmark here

Aystaria smirked as she cleaned the blood off her blade, and sheathed her weapon.Bookmark here

“You have it on you, right?” Aystaria asked as she looked to Feldia.Bookmark here

“Of course,” Feldia said as she pulled out a small bottle with a red liquid in it.Bookmark here

After tossing it over to Aystaria, she poured the whole thing over her hand. While she could feel the burning of the alcohol killing the bacterium from the wound, she continued to smile as she looked over to Emyria. Untying the bindings, Aystaria felt the warm embrace of Emyria wrapping her arms tightly around her neck. This was a traumatic event for her, Aystaria thought as she placed her hand on Emyria’s head.Bookmark here

“You’re okay.”Bookmark here

“They were—”Bookmark here

“Shh. No need to talk about it.”Bookmark here

Aystaria could feel Emyria shaking as she held her in her arms.Bookmark here

“Let’s go home, okay?” Aystaria spoke in a calm, soft tone.Bookmark here

Emyria nodded as Aystaria picked her up in her arms, and carried her home. For some time, Emyria was silent as rested her head against Aystaria’s chest. She thought about everything that had happened, and could only wish that it had all been just a nightmare that she would wake up from. Before long, they had made it to the Hyteria manor. Making her way to Emyria’s room, Aystaria looked to Emyria who had appeared to calm down.Bookmark here

“We should get you cleaned up, okay?”Bookmark here

With a simple nod, Aystaria placed Emyria on her bed, and started to walk away. Before Aystaria could head for the door, she felt Emyria gripping her arm.Bookmark here

“P-Please don’t leave me alone… please…”Bookmark here

Aystaria smiled as she held Emyria’s hand gently.Bookmark here

“I won’t. But would you mind letting me get Reina, and Lyis in here.”Bookmark here

“Please…”Bookmark here

Sensing the fear in Emyria’s voice, Aystaria gently stroked Emyria’s hair, and smiled gently.Bookmark here

“Guess I can’t leave your side. Think you can stand, and walk on your own?”Bookmark here

“Yeah. I can.”Bookmark here

With a calm expression on her face, Aystaria helped Emyria to her feet, and held onto her hand. She lead her out into the hallway, and down to the bathing chambers, as she took note of the two maids heading down the hall.Bookmark here

“Excuse me, can you two do me a favor?”Bookmark here

“Whatever you wish, Miss Pynn.”Bookmark here

“Emyria needs clean clothes, same for me, and the lantern from my room with a candle in it. Oh, and if you see them, tell Reina, and Lyis to meet us at the bathing chamber.”Bookmark here

“As you wish, Miss Pynn.”Bookmark here

Entering into the bathing chamber, Aystaria looked over Emyria’s body.Bookmark here

“So do you want to take your clothes off or do I need to do that too?” Aystaria said with a nonthreatening smile.Bookmark here

“I can at least do that,” Emyria said as she pouted in a cute way.Bookmark here

Unbuttoning her shirt one at a time, Emyria stripped down to her underwear, before finally stand in front Aystaria as bare as the day she was born. Her face was flustered a cherry red as Aystaria smirked like a snickering schoolgirl—covering her mouth to try, and hold back her giggling.Bookmark here

“W-What’s so funny?”Bookmark here

“You just look cute.”Bookmark here

Emyria couldn’t help but cover her chest as she turned her gaze away from Aystaria’s eyes.Bookmark here

“L-Lewd…”Bookmark here

“Says the girl with the books under—”Bookmark here

“I told you to stop going through all those!”Bookmark here

Aystaria smiled as she maneuvered behind Emyria with haste, and wrapped her arms gently around Emyria’s waist. In that moment, Emyria began to feel light headed as her breathing increased.Bookmark here

“Emyria?”Bookmark here

Oh no, she’s experiencing the traumatic stress what happened to her, Aystaria thought as she pulled away quickly. Moving to face her dead on, Aystaria gently placed her hands on Emyria’s shoulders, and whispered in a calmly soothing voice.Bookmark here

“Emyria, it’s okay.”Bookmark here

“A-Aystaria… I—”Bookmark here

“Shh. Just listen to my voice. You’re okay. She can’t hurt you.”Bookmark here

“They… They—”Bookmark here

“Stop talking. Just relax, there is no need to say anything.”Bookmark here

After managing to calm Emyria down, Aystaria noticed Reina, and Lyis entering the chamber. In her hands, Reina was carrying two sets of spare clothes, while Lyis held a lantern in his hand.Bookmark here

“Emyria, are you okay with being with Reina while I step outside for a second?”Bookmark here

“Promise you’ll come back?”Bookmark here

“I promise I will.”Bookmark here

Making her way over to the twins, Aystaria took the lantern, and tied a small string to the handle before placing it around her neck. After grabbing the clothes, she looked to Reina.Bookmark here

“Don’t leave her alone, or stand behind her. I’ll explain it to your brother, okay?”Bookmark here

“Right.”Bookmark here

Aystaria turned to Lyis.Bookmark here

“Let’s go.”Bookmark here

Lyis nodded as he followed Aystaria out into the hallway. Aystaria explained everything that had happened as Lyis processed everything.Bookmark here

“Do you think she will be okay?”Bookmark here

“Based on my experience, she’ll likely have that fear in the back of her mind from now on. She will mostly likely need someone by her side when she goes out.”Bookmark here

“Yeah, we can do that. We should have done a better job watching out for her.”Bookmark here

“Don’t blame yourself. Even if you had, Sia, and her group were highly trained. You would have lost in a few minutes.”Bookmark here

“Exactly how many are out there, aside from you, and Feldia?”Bookmark here

“That is one thing even I don’t know.”Bookmark here

“Was Sia the exception?”Bookmark here

“She, and her group were. They were likely struggling to adjust after what happened, and turned to a life of crime just to survive.”Bookmark here

“That is sad.”Bookmark here

“It’s just how life is.”Bookmark here

“How are you holding up though?”Bookmark here

Aystaria leaned against the wall as she crossed her arms over her chest.Bookmark here

“Not the first time I’ve had to kill someone.”Bookmark here

“Right…”Bookmark here

“Anyways, I’ll try to help Emyria through the trauma as best I can. Just watch over her when I can’t, okay?”Bookmark here

Lyis nodded.Bookmark here

#Bookmark here

The day of the exams had finally arrived. Emyria had managed to make up for the lost time by studying extra hard. Her daily routine didn’t vary much until it was time for her to make her way to school. She found it impossible to leave the safety of the manor without an escort. Aystaria walked with Emyria, and kept her company until they reached the school gates.Bookmark here

“You’ll be okay with Feldia, right?” Aystaria asked with a smile.Bookmark here

“Yeah, I think I just don’t like the idea of walking the streets of the city alone.”Bookmark here

“It’s okay. I’ll help you get through. For now, focus on your exams, okay?”Bookmark here

Emyria nodded as she headed off for her classroom. After ensuring that Emyria was inside the school building, she noticed a looming shadow at her feet.Bookmark here

“Good to see you too, Feldia.”Bookmark here

“She still needs you to escort her I see.”Bookmark here

“Who can blame her.”Bookmark here

“Why don’t you job the school. I could easily get a school uniform for you.”Bookmark here

Aystaria twirled on the ball of her foot, spinning in a half-circle as she smiled, and posed in a cute way that looked as if she was relaxed, and calm. She smiled her usual cheerful, and happy expression.Bookmark here

“You just want me to be your dress up doll.”Bookmark here

“No, I’d never ask you to do that. I’d force you to,” Feldia said in a joking tone.Bookmark here

“Tyhmä,” Aystaria giggled as she played with the tip of her braid.Bookmark here

“Really though, if you change your mind, let me know.”Bookmark here

Maybe I’ll wear one just to mess with her. Perhaps, Emyria would like it too, Aystaria thought as she took note of where the sun was at. Before she could make her way back to the manor, she notice Wyiss walking along the street.Bookmark here

“Wyiss, hey!” Aystaria called out as she rushed over to her.Bookmark here

“Oh, Aystaria. I didn’t expect to see you here.”Bookmark here

“Ah. Yeah, that’s a long story.”Bookmark here

“I have plenty of time to kill.”Bookmark here

“Sure. Do you like tea by chance?”Bookmark here

“I think I know the perfect place.”Bookmark here

A few blocks down from the school was small cafe that served tea, and other small light snacks. The two of them were greeted by a girl dressed in a maid outfit. Her long blond hair was tied back into a ponytail held in place by a navy blue ribbon that matched her eye color. She smiled as she bowed politely.Bookmark here

“Welcome home, princesses. How may I serve you today?” the girl asked in a cute tone.Bookmark here

“We would like a cup of your Jasmine tea, and one slice of cake,” Wyiss said.Bookmark here

“I’ll actually just take the tea. I already ate,” Aystaria said with a smile.Bookmark here

“So two cups of Jasmine tea, and a slice of cake. Got it, let me show you to your table.”Bookmark here

The girl made her way over to one of the empty tables by the window. While the place was small in size it had an anachronistic feeling about it that felt calming. Before either of them could sit down, the girl pulled out one of the chairs.Bookmark here

“Here you are, princess.”Bookmark here

Wyiss started to sit down as the girl pushed the chair forward. Afterwards, she moved to the other chair, and held it out for Aystaria with a smile on her face.Bookmark here

“Right, I so used to doing things myself,” Aystaria said with nervous smile as she sat down.Bookmark here

“I’ll be back with your orders in one moment.”Bookmark here

As the girl headed for the kitchen, Aystaria couldn’t help but watch the girl as she walked away.Bookmark here

“So, you’re into boys, are you?” Wyiss asked with a smug expression.Bookmark here

“I can actually go either way. Totally thought he was a girl from appearances alone.”Bookmark here

“Nope. He’s a cross-dresser. Noryika fled the city of Garalda when he was able to, and came here.”Bookmark here

“Right, because they don’t believe men should dress like girls.”Bookmark here

“Men work outside, and women stay in the kitchen,” Aystaria said as she looked out the nearby window.Bookmark here

“And we women suck while the men f—”Bookmark here

A cute cough could be heard from Noryika as he served the girls two cups of tea, and a slice of cake.Bookmark here

“Here’s your order, princesses,” Noryika said as he smiled.Bookmark here

“Thank you,” Aystaria said, returning a warm smile.Bookmark here

“If you need anything else feel free to call me over.”Bookmark here

As Noryika returned to front entrance, Aystaira took a sip of her tea.Bookmark here

“This is good.”Bookmark here

“I agree. This is why I always come here. Their tea, and cake is to die for.”Bookmark here

The sounds of birds chirping from a nearby rooftop could be heard, along with the various sounds of horse hoofs clacking against the cobblestone.Bookmark here

“Anyways, what brings you out, and about?” Wyiss asked as she cut off a small slice of cake.Bookmark here

“I was escorting our nobleman’s daughter to school,” Aystaria said with a smile as she looked at the cake Wyiss was eating.Bookmark here

“Was there some reason? Let me guess, you got bored.”Bookmark here

Aystaria giggled as she played with tip of her braid as she smirked playfully.Bookmark here

“Maybe.”Bookmark here

“Well, we can always see each other. I escort Nolvet from time to time. That manor can be… suffocating.”Bookmark here

“Oh I’m completely aware. I just didn’t say anything. It’s as clear as the rising sun what goes on in that place.”Bookmark here

“I am unable to say anything. I was hired to simply teach Nolvet, not ask questions.”Bookmark here

“I know. Also, I’m starting to wish I had ordered a slice of that cake.”Bookmark here

“You want a slice?”Bookmark here

Aystaria’s eyes lit up with excitement.Bookmark here

“Mhm,” she said as she nodded vigorously.Bookmark here

Grabbing a small bite with the eating utensil, Wyiss held out the cake on the end of her fork. With a happy expression, Aystaria swallowed the fork in her mouth, and ate the cake in one bite. Her face turned to one of delight as she looked like a girl happy that her crush had finally said a single word to her.Bookmark here

“This cake is exquisite!”Bookmark here

“You act… just like a kid.”Bookmark here

“Hey, don’t judge me,” Aystaria said as she pouted.Bookmark here

“No judgment, just stating the facts. Anyways, that school trip will be a week from now. You got any plans once we are there?”Bookmark here

“I didn’t actually think that far ahead,” Aystaria said as she rested her chin on the palm of her hands while resting her elbows on the table.Bookmark here

“Same. Maybe we should enter the arena, and try to aim for the prize money.”Bookmark here

“Pretty sure that’s cheating.”Bookmark here

“Please, it’s not cheating. It’s just two friends teaming up to fight.”Bookmark here

“And you know it’s completely one-sided because I’ll beat the group before you even get a chance to attack,” Aystaria said with a smug expression.Bookmark here

“Where do you get all that confidence?”Bookmark here

Aystaria giggled as she played with her braid.Bookmark here

“If you’re not confident in yourself, then why would anyone be confident you? Believe in yourself, and what you can do, because the world will always try to break you.”Bookmark here

“I somehow found that inspiring.”Bookmark here

“Really?” Aystaria asked with an upbeat tone.Bookmark here

“No.”Bookmark here

Like a candle who’s flame had been snuffed out, Aystaria’s expression changed to one of annoyance.Bookmark here

“Don’t be mean, Wyiss.”Bookmark here

“Sorry, I just can’t help it. You just remind me of my little brother.”Bookmark here

“Oh? You have a brother?”Bookmark here

“I do. He’s still living with my mother in Athelas.”Bookmark here

“Guess we need to stop by your mother’s place, and say hello.”Bookmark here

“Um… When did I say that we would go?”Bookmark here

“Oh, you don’t want me to meet your mother? I thought we were taking our relationship to the next level,” Aystaria said with a cute, and innocent tone.Bookmark here

Wyiss found herself blushing as he stared back into the innocent face that Aystaria was making. She was like a sad stray dog that was lost on the streets.Bookmark here

“R-Relationship? We’re not dating.”Bookmark here

“But you were on top of me… at the beach, remember?”Bookmark here

“Oh my,” Noryika chimed in.Bookmark here

“It’s not what you think, Noryika! We were fighting and—”Bookmark here

“She rolled on top of me, pinning me down into the sand.”Bookmark here

“Aystaria!”Bookmark here

Aystaria placed her hand over her mouth as her expression changed to one of a bashful child.Bookmark here

“She even kissed my feet.”Bookmark here

“I didn’t peg you as having a foot fetish, Wyiss.”Bookmark here

“This is a misunderstanding!” Wyiss yelled as she slammed her fist down onto the table.Bookmark here

“A misunderstanding that turned into love at first sight, teehee,” Aystaria continued to tease as she playfully stuck her tongue out the corner of her mouth.Bookmark here

Wyiss stood up from the table with her face a bright red.Bookmark here

“Aystaria!”Bookmark here

“Hehe, yes, my love?”Bookmark here

“Marry me.”Bookmark here

The room fell silent. Aystaria head tilted to the side in confusion. She had trained to deal with many things, but this had completely taken her by surprise. In a mere moment, Aystaria’s face became flustered as she felt her braid started to—as if by some compiling force—stand curl upwards.Bookmark here

“I… Uh… Hold on… M-Marry you?”Bookmark here

“So it is possible to get under your skin,” Wyiss said as she sat back down, and sipped her tea.Bookmark here

“And here I thought you were serious,” Aystaria said pouting with her arms crossed.Bookmark here

“Wait… I wasn’t completely joking. I also wasn’t not joking,” Wyiss said as she turned away from Aystaria’s gaze.Bookmark here

“Relax, I know you’re joking.”Bookmark here

“So you weren’t fooled by any of that?”Bookmark here

“Nope,” Aystaria said with a smile.Bookmark here

“Wait, so you two aren’t getting married?” Noryika asked.Bookmark here

“No,” Aystaria, and Wyiss said in unison.Bookmark here

“Oh, that’s a shame. I think you two would make a cute couple,” Noryika said as he started heading back for the kitchen.Bookmark here

“Now that we’re off of that tangent, what was I going to say?”Bookmark here

“Something about the school trip?”Bookmark here

“No, there was something else. I got sidetracked though.”Bookmark here

“Probably wasn’t important,” Aystaria said as she finished off the last of her tea.Bookmark here

“If I remember, I’ll be sure to ask when we meet.”Bookmark here

#Bookmark here

Aystaria looked over all the things she had packed for the trip into the city of Athelas. She ensured that she had twelve candles, a large lantern for her room, a small portable one, and a single change of clothes. All right, that’s everything I need. I hope Emyria is packed, and ready to leave in the morning, Aystaria thought as she looked out her window. The sun was just starting to set as she lit the candle in the lantern on her nightstand. She recalled her fight with Sia as the flood of memories returned like a raging river. I was only able to keep my mental state in check because I was so focused on the life or death struggle. Why can’t I go back there? It is something I can do, something I’m good at. Without it, my mind stagnates in this peace to the point it makes me paranoid, and remember all these things that I just want to forget, Aystaria thought as she grabbed the lantern, and made her way out into the halls.Bookmark here

Knocking on Emyria’s door, Aystaria entered as she took note of the fact that Emyria was still packing various items into the large leather bag. Inside, was a mound of books, and various other items that were of little to no use. Aystaria placed her lantern on the nightstand, and stood beside Emyria as she looked over all the things she had packed.Bookmark here

“Any reason why you’re packing so much?”Bookmark here

“Always good to be prepared, right?”Bookmark here

“I mean, this is just a school trip. Travel light, take only what you need. Clothes, and a few books should be fine.”Bookmark here

Emyria looked over the items she had placed in the bag.Bookmark here

“Yeah, you’re right. This is too much.”Bookmark here

“I know I’m right,” Aystaria said with a smile.Bookmark here

A few hours passed as Aystaria helped Emyria pack the essential items in her bag. Once they were finished, Emyria laid down on her bed as Aystaria sat down in the chair over by the desk.Bookmark here

“Thanks for helping me. I feel tired after that.”Bookmark here

“Why don’t you come outside, and watch the stars with me?” Aystaria asked.Bookmark here

“Sure, why not.”Bookmark here

Like a cat scaling a wall, Aystaria exited through the window, and onto the roof in a single fluid motion. Soon after, Emyria followed suit as she made her way onto the rooftop, and leaned against slanted section of the gable roof. Aystaria stared up at the night sky as she looked at all the stars that lit up the darkness.Bookmark here

“It’s really beautiful.”Bookmark here

“Do you know which star is the north star?” Aystaria asked as she looked over to Emyria.Bookmark here

“Pretty sure it’s that one,” Emyria said pointing at one of the stars.Bookmark here

“Move your finger to the left by two stars.”Bookmark here

“Oh, wait… Yeah, that one does look brighter.”Bookmark here

“You excited for the school trip tomorrow?”Bookmark here

“Yeah, it’ll be nice to see a new city for the first time.”Bookmark here

“You’ve never left Maiola?”Bookmark here

“No, I’ve never even been outside the city gates.”Bookmark here

“Well, that all changes tomorrow,” Aystaria said with a smile.Bookmark here

“What should we do when we get there though? I’ve read a lot about the city. I know there is the arena, some unique shops, and they have tons of exotic food.”Bookmark here

“They have quite a lot there. Just be sure to always stay with Nolvet, and the others. Do not go off alone, understand me?”Bookmark here

“Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere without you.”Bookmark here

“I may not always be around, you know,” Aystaria said as she looked back up at the night sky.Bookmark here

“You make it sound as if you’re going to die.”Bookmark here

“Pretty sure death can’t stop me,” Aystaria said in a playful tone.Bookmark here

#Bookmark here

The Grand City of Athelas was a hub for trade, and various goods that were sold throughout the city. It had been a three day travel to the city, but it was a sight for Emyria as she stared in awe at the grand structures before her eyes. While the city of Maiola was lively with people walking the city streets, Athelas held a higher population density. Swarms of people went about their lives to the various jobs they had.Bookmark here

“This city is far more larger than Maiola,” Emyria said as she continued to look out the window of the carriage.Bookmark here

“What do you think we should do when we stop?” Nolvet asked.Bookmark here

“First, we check into the Grand Mysteria. Then I assign all of you your rooms,” Miss Feldia said as she calmly read a book with one leg crossed over the other.Bookmark here

The sight of a grandiose building stood out from the rest of the city streets in terms of the size, both in area, and the massive size of the structure. Made of paved brick, and mortar that had been laid by a craftsman of professional skill, the building was strong, tall, and stood firm, showing no weakness in its foundation. Among the other buildings that populated the city square, the Grand Mysteria stood out from it with its dark matte bricks, accented by the embellished golden bricks that scaled in a single column at the various corners of the building.Bookmark here

“How much does it cost to stay a night here?” Nolvet asked as she looked to Miss Feldia.Bookmark here

“A lot more than you make.”Bookmark here

As the carriage made its way into the inner grounds, it stopped in front of the entrance where six maids were lined up to greet the students. After the driver of the carriage opened the door, Emyria, and the others disembarked as the other six carriages pulled up behind them.Bookmark here

“Welcome to the Grand Mysteria, honored guest. Please enjoy your stay here as we show you to your rooms,” one of the maids said with a smile.Bookmark here

Emyria was taken aback for a second as she looked at the maid that had spoken. She was eerily similar to Aystaria in every possible way—the only differences being her golden strawberry hair, and the glasses that complimented her beautiful ocean blue eyes.Bookmark here

“Wait a minute… Aystaria, you work here?” Emyria asked as she looked surprised by what she was seeing.Bookmark here

“Uh, Emyria…”Bookmark here

A tap on her shoulder made Emyria turn around to see both Aystaria, and Wyiss dressed in the school uniform.Bookmark here

“Do you have a twin or something?”Bookmark here

“No, I’m an only child,” Aystaria said with a puzzled expression.Bookmark here

“But you both look so similar!”Bookmark here

Aystaria looked over the maid carefully as she tried to understand what Emyria saw that made the two of them similar.Bookmark here

“I mean… Still, I don’t have a sibling.”Bookmark here

“That would be my little brother,” Wyiss said calmly.Bookmark here

“Brother?”Bookmark here

“Nice to meet you. My name is Lystaria Wynn.”Bookmark here

“You see, Emyria. Two completely different people.”Bookmark here

“But you both literally look the same!”Bookmark here

“I mean, I’m not seeing it,” Aystaria said as she looked Lystaria over from head to toe.Bookmark here

“Likewise.”Bookmark here

“Both you… You know what, never mind.”Bookmark here

After settling the events that had transpired at the front entrance, Emyria followed Lystaria inside the building as she took in the sights around her. Off to the side, she noticed a large glass shaped cube that appeared built into the wall. The pale blue water was crystal clear, and showcased the varieties of aquatic animals inside. What stood out though was the odd cactus that sat at the bottom of the sand, with a small jellyfish wrapped around it like some bizarre mating ritual.Bookmark here

Deciding to ignore the oddity before her, Emyria followed Lystaria up a nearby stairwell, and began the ascent up to the sixth floor. The hallway, like the rest of the building was elegant in its layout, and design. A simple red velvet carpet covered the hallway, with each door falling in a symmetrical order of six on one side of the hallway, and six on the other. Even though Emyria didn’t understand craftsmanship or what went into creating a structure, she could see that each of the doors were made from a solid thick black wood that was decorated with a small gold accent lining around the trim of the door. In the center of each door at what felt to be the golden proportional ratio from the top of the doorway, sat a gold plated ornament that had the engravings of the room number on them.Bookmark here

Miss Feldia quickly assigned the room numbers with each student getting four members assigned to a room. Once all the students were assigned rooms, Miss Feldia turned back to Emyria, Nolvet, Aystaria, and Wyiss.Bookmark here

“Looks like I forgot to assign you four to a room,” Miss Feldia said with a smirk.Bookmark here

“Mhm. Sure you did. I think you just got the four of us together on purpose,” Aystaria said with a smile.Bookmark here

“Well, enjoy room six, I’m going to go find the nearest tavern,” Feldia said as she headed for the stairs.Bookmark here

“Allow me to get the door for you,” Lystaria said with a smile as he held open the door to the room.Bookmark here

Inside, the room just as grand as the outside of the building. Two beds faced the south wall, both lined with soft black linen sheets that followed the same theme as the building itself. Opposite to the beds was a doorway that lead out onto the balcony. East of the beds was an open area that held a small counter space with a table, beyond that a washroom.Bookmark here

“This looks fancy,” Emyria said as she looked around the room.Bookmark here

“This feels far too small,” Nolvet remarked.Bookmark here

“Be nice you two. You have yet to see the whole building,” Aystaria said with a smile.Bookmark here

“These are just the rooms, but we have a hot springs on the ground floor, a reading room filled with books, a training room, and many others that I completely forget we have,” Wyiss said as she laid back on the bed closest to the door.Bookmark here

“Sis, could you not put your dirty boots on the nice bed?” Lystaria asked with a smile.Bookmark here

“Oh bite me. I own this place just as much as other mother.”Bookmark here

“I see. So what you’re saying is I should go fetch her so you can tell her this wonderful information.”Bookmark here

Wyiss quickly removed her boots, and threw them at her brother as hard as she could, nailing him in the face. Even after being hit in the face, Lystaria continued to smile cheerfully.Bookmark here

“Wyiss, that was mean,” Nolvet said as she looked over to her.Bookmark here

“Don’t worry, he enjoys it.”Bookmark here

“You shouldn’t make it sound like I’m a pervert, sis,” Lystaria said as he blushed slightly.Bookmark here

“Just go.”Bookmark here

“Very well, if you need anything, please don’t hesitate to call.”Bookmark here

Lystaria smiled, and bowed politely before leaving the room.Bookmark here

“I love my little brother, but he is strange sometimes.”Bookmark here

“I still think that was mean.”Bookmark here

“Like I said, he loves it. How do you think I found out?”Bookmark here

“Oh I see where this is going,” Aystaria said as she removed her boots.Bookmark here

After placing her lantern, and candles on the nightstand, Aystaria laid down on the bed beside Wyiss, and closed her eyes.Bookmark here

“The two of us were kids at the time. I was being a bully, and pinned him down. Needless to say, I felt something that day.”Bookmark here

“What was it?” Nolvet asked innocently.Bookmark here

All eyes turned to Nolvet.Bookmark here

“You… actually need me to spell it out?” Wyiss asked.Bookmark here

“Oh? Oh… Oh! OH!”Bookmark here

“Now you get it,” Wyiss said as she closed her eyes.Bookmark here

“So you’re into your little brother. Guess that means the three of us are taking our relationship to the next level,” Aystaria giggled.Bookmark here

“Shut it, Aystaria.”Bookmark here

“I don’t think I want to know. So, what do you two plan to do?” Emyria asked.Bookmark here

“Sleep,” Aystaria, and Wyiss said in unison as they both cuddled each other.Bookmark here

“Wow, you two…”Bookmark here

“…are boring,” Nolvet said as she finished Emyria’s sentence.Bookmark here

“That’s fine but…”Bookmark here

“…we’re tired so…”Bookmark here

“…have fun exploring.”Bookmark here

Emyria looked over to Nolvet.Bookmark here

“Let’s go check out the rest of this place.”Bookmark here

“Yeah, sounds fun.”Bookmark here

Without another word, Emyria, and Nolvet left the room as they closed the door behind them.Bookmark here

“Aystaria, you’re hands are on my breast.”Bookmark here

“Too tired to move them. You can do it.”Bookmark here

“Don’t feed me that lie.”Bookmark here

“And yet, you still haven’t moved them.”Bookmark here

“I’m just too tired.”Bookmark here

“We stay like this then, agreed?”Bookmark here

“Agreed.”Bookmark here

Aystaria, and Wyiss soon fell into a deep sleep as they had dreams that were of questionable taste.Bookmark here

#Bookmark here

Emyria, and Nolvet wandered around the lobby floor as they looked over the various different rooms. Some were rooms behind closed doors such as they library that held a vast amount of books, and art. Others were more open such as the bar that sat against a wall which served many different types of alcoholic beverages—from fine ales to elegant wines.Bookmark here

Entering into the hot springs area, the room felt as if it was a separate part of the building itself. The springs itself appeared as if it was naturally formed from the ground with exuberant green foliage that matched well with the various rocks of man-made design. Even thought the rocks themselves were of nature, they had appeared crafted through the use of trimming, and polishing.Bookmark here

“I see you two decided to check out the hot springs,” Lystaria said with a smiled as she approached the girls.Bookmark here

“Yeah, I’m actually surprised that no one else is here,” Emyria said as she looked around the area.Bookmark here

“Most guest tend to come at night because it’s relaxing to look out of the candlelit window.”Bookmark here

“You don’t say. Well, guess we’ll come back when it gets dark. Do you know of anything else that we could do? Like around the city?” Emyria asked.Bookmark here

“Hmm. Well, you could try the central market. They have loads of shops there.”Bookmark here

“Cool. Hey Nolvet, you want to go shopping?”Bookmark here

“Nah, I want to actually see what they have in the library.”Bookmark here

“Nerd.”Bookmark here

“Mock me all you like, but I’m still smarter than you.”Bookmark here

“Pretty sure I scored higher than you.”Bookmark here

“By one point! Quit bragging,” Nolvet pouted.Bookmark here

Emyria giggled as she placed her hand on Nolvet’s head.Bookmark here

“There there. We can meet up here at the hot springs, okay?”Bookmark here

“Sure.”Bookmark here

Emyria made her way back to the room only to hear strange sounds from beyond the door.Bookmark here

“A-Aystaria… h-harder… do it harder… p-please!”Bookmark here

Without thinking, Emyria opened the door, surprised at what she was seeing.Bookmark here

“Oh, hey Emyria,” Aystaria said with a smile.Bookmark here

“What…”Bookmark here

“You thought something dirty was going on, didn’t you?” Aystaria asked with playfully smirk.Bookmark here

Emyria’s face lit up like a cherry.Bookmark here

“N-No… I was just going to ask… if you wanted to go shopping with me.”Bookmark here

“That sounds fun,” Aystaria said as she got off of Wyiss.Bookmark here

After getting on her boots, Aystaria looked over to Wyiss.Bookmark here

“You want to join us?”Bookmark here

“No thanks, you two can go. We can meet up though at the Tower’s Watch for food.”Bookmark here

“Sounds good.”Bookmark here

Aystaria smiled as she looked to Emyria.Bookmark here

“Okay, let’s go!”Bookmark here

#Bookmark here

The Tower’s Watch was known for two things, it’s elegant five-star meals, and the large tower where food was prepared before being thrown down to the customer’s plate. No one knew the nameless chef that was able to cook these wondrous meals or even how they were able to serve food without ever leaving the tower at the top floor. What continued to remain a mystery however was the true gender of the cook.Bookmark here

Aystaria stared up at the tower as she smiled. At least she is still doing well I see, she thought as she took a sip of her tea. Leaning against the terrace railing, Aystaria stared out at the eight bright lights that shined out in the distance.Bookmark here

“So, down that long road is The Pit?” Nolvet asked as she pointed to the road leading to the lights.Bookmark here

Wyiss leaned on the railing as she rested her cheek against the palm of her hand.Bookmark here

“That is The Pit, yes. A dark cruel place where only the brave go. The giant wall around The Pit is always guarded by the Light Bearers who ensure those eight towers are always shining bright during the night hours. They keep the monsters there at bay.”Bookmark here

Pulling up the sleeve on her left arm, revealed a tattoo on Wyiss’ left wrist that had an emblem of a lit torch with a number six in the flame. Aystaria knew the mark well, as she held onto her own wrist.Bookmark here

“This symbol identifies us as Light Bearers, and it is our job to ensure we keep the people of this world safe.”Bookmark here

“But what’s exactly down there in The Pit?” Emyria asked.Bookmark here

Aystaria continued to stare off into the distance as she began to recall all the memories she had.Bookmark here

“I don’t know what’s exactly down there. I didn’t go very far, but… whatever is down there isn’t human or friendly, that’s for sure.”Bookmark here

Wyiss looked over to Aystaria who appeared as if she was in her own little world. I think I remember that question I wanted to ask her now, Wyiss thought as she looked back out at the lights gleaming from the towers.Bookmark here

“Hey Aystaria, are you okay?” Emyria asked.Bookmark here

As if being pulled back into reality, Aystaria blinked for a second, and then turned to Emyria.Bookmark here

“Don’t worry, I’m fine,” Aystaria said with a cheerful smile.Bookmark here

Ana Fowl
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TearDrops
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Bookmarked
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