Emyria thought about everything that she had learned from Aystaria while Reina, and Lyis read over the book Emyria had given them. Feldia read over a small book that she always carried with her in her pocket. The carriage ride to Athelas was silent until Feldia closed her book.
“What do you plan to do when you meet with Aystaria?”
“Was that not obvious? I’m going to become a Shadow Taker,” Emyria said with a smile.
“Just wanted to hear you say it.”
Feldia looked over to Reina, and Lyis.
“And you two?”
“Our job is to always be by Emyria’s side. So, her path is ours.”
“Is that what you two tell yourselves? Oh well, to each their own,” Feldia said as she looked out the window.
Before long, the city of Athelas came into view. The carriage stopped just outside a small building where many different carriages could be seen parked side by side.
“Okay, here we are ladies. The city of Athelas,” the carriage driver called out.
Emyria, and the others exited the carriage as Feldia tossed a gold coin to the driver.
“I thought as a teacher you didn’t make that much,” Emyria said.
“Oh, I don’t. I’m actually broke at the moment.”
“Then how did you…”
Emyria took a second to pat herself down before realizing that her coin pouch as not on her person. Feldia smiled as she held up the coin pouch carrying six gold coins, as well as a fair amount of silver.
“Should learn to take note of what you have on your person.”
Feldia smiled as she turned in the direction of the nearest inn. Emyria followed behind as she took in the sights of the city once again.
“Here’s a question for you, Feldia. What are the other Shadow Takers like?”
“An odd bunch. They all come from different backgrounds. Some are criminals, others nobles, no one in the Shadow Takers cares about your status. Results are the only thing that matters.”
“Well, there went my image of a proud group of soldiers that work well together.”
Continuing down the street, four of them turned the corner until they reached a large building that everyone but Feldia questioned as a choice of an inn. No one spoke for a moment as they let the atmosphere sink in.
“You said inn, right?”
“This is an inn, yes. What’s with the three of you?”
Emyria, Reina, and Lyis looked flustered as they stared at Feldia who appeared not to show any shame in the fact that the inn was actually a well-established brothel that dealt with many different services.
“You do realize they have… other services here, right?” Emyria asked.
“I’m fully aware.”
“Can we go somewhere else?” Emyria asked blushing heavily.
“I’d rather not have interactions with… any one else… like that…”
Feldia smiled as she made her way over to Emyria.
“Oh? So, you only want Aystaria?”
“What! N-No… It’s not like that at all. I…”
Feldia waved a hand as she walked past Emyria, and down the street to look for an actual inn for them to sleep at.
“I’ll just take your two maids, the girl, and the boy for a night then.”
Feldia looked out the window as the sun began to peak over the horizon. She took a sip of the creamy liquid that filled the mug in front of her. The soft sounds of Reina’s breath echoed throughout the room as she struggled to catch her breath. Lyis remained motionless under the covers, sound asleep from the rest of the world around him.
“I’m actually surprised you’re still awake,” Feldia said as she sat down at one of the nearby chairs.
“After Aystaria you were… okay, maybe not, they still hurt, and my body feels drained to the bone.”
“You should know I went easier on you for a reason.”
“That would explain why my brother is out cold. Why did you go easy on me though?”
“Just figured we could talk afterwards.”
“More like, I’m forced to listen,” Reina said with a smile.
Feldia took another sip of her mug.
“I can drain you dry if you like.”
“That’s up to you. After all, I am your hostage at the moment.”
“That is true. Maybe I’ll do it in a bit.”
“Is this a technique you Shadow Takers use or something on your own kind?”
“Technically, it is a form of punishment we use, yes. Of course, there are ways to make it enjoyable. We calling Draining but no matter what, we Shadow Takers do it for many reasons.”
“What should we expect when finally reach the Shadow Fort?”
“Chaos. Anything can happen there. Even if you, and your brother are skilled, the two of you would easily be killed by a single one of us.”
Reina tried to force herself out of the bed as Feldia watched her closely. Her legs continued to shake as she held the bed for support. She made her way over to the table slowly, and sat down in the chair beside Feldia. Looking to Feldia with desire in her eyes, she begged as her voice cracked slightly.
“How can I become strong, like you, and Aystaria?”
“I guess she didn’t explain the process.”
“Shadow Takers take in the blood of the Ryiza, and it is this ritual that gives us a part of our strength over humans. The other is nothing more than training.”
Feldia removed a black metal coin from her coin pouch. Holding out the coin in the palm of her hand, she looked to Reina with a smile.
“Try to take this coin.”
Reina gripped the coin with her fingers only to find she couldn’t lift it even a single millimeter into the air.
“Try all you like but you’ll never be able to lift this coin.”
“This coin, like I’ve told Emyria, is equivalent to that of a thousand bricks… or a hundred, I forget which number I said but not important.”
“So, you’re telling me you’re lifting a hundred bricks in your hand.”
“More like nine-hundred.”
Feldia pulled out eight more coins, and placed them in the palm of her hand as if they were just regular coins.
“These coins are, by some strange degree, a measure of a Shadow Taker’s strength.”
“The more coins you can carry, the stronger you are?”
“Exactly. Aystaria, and myself can carry nine which is considered the highest at the moment.”
“Then what the highest anyone has carried?”
“Twelve, which was carried by Aystaria’s old commander, Yiania.”
“She was that strong?”
“Aystaria could never beat her. Even together Aystaria, and I lost against her. But behind that cheerful smile was a sadist who showed no mercy.”
“What did she do?”
A soft yawn from the direction of the bed forced Feldia’s eyes to shift over to the bed. Lyis had managed to sit up as he rubbed his eyes.
“Let’s save that for when the child isn’t around.”
“What are you two talking about?” Lyis asked in a sleepy tone.
“Just discussing what we would do today,” Feldia said with a smile.
Feldia downed the rest of the liquid in her mug, and stood to her feet.
“Right then, let’s get this day started.”
“Actually, my body feels tired, can I sleep for a bit?” Reina asked.
“That’s fine, I’ll just take the cute one with me.”
As Feldia looked over to Lyis with a devilish smile, his cheeks turned a bright shade of red. Something told him that the day was going to be long, and hard.
Lyis followed behind Feldia like a pet dog on a leash. He was nervous as to what Feldia was going to do to him. Feldia could sense the fear in him as they continued down the street into the market district. Turning to face him, Feldia bent slightly to meet him as eye level.
“There is no need to be scared around me, okay,” Feldia said with a smile.
Feldia placed her hand on Lyis’s head, and stroked his hair gently. Lyis could only blush as he looked in Feldia’s benevolent eyes.
Looking around the market district, Feldia noticed a large three story building that sold various types of clothes, and accessories. Grabbing Lyis gently by the hand, Feldia lead him through the crowd like a flowing river, until they reached the entrance. Inside, the shop was decorated with aisles of cute clothes on the different shelves. Lyis couldn’t help but be awestruck by all the girly clothes in the shop.
“So cute,” Lyis said with a smile on his face.
“Pick out any outfit you like. Just make sure it’s something you can move comfortably in.”
Lyis nodded as he made his way down the aisles of clothes. As he looked over the diverse outfits, he noticed one that caught his eyes. A simple white sleeveless top with a short pink skirt, and other small accessories nearby to add to the outfit held him in place as he gazed upon it without breaking eye contact.
“Why don’t you try it on,” Feldia whispered in Lyis’s ear.
“Y-You want me to try it on?”
“Of course. Can’t have you staring at it all day.”
With a nod, Lyis grabbed the clothes from the shelf, and headed for one of the changing rooms nearby. Reemerging from the room, Lyis stood there blushing as he felt Feldia’s gaze upon him.
“H-How do I look?” Lyis asked in a shy voice.
“Beautiful is the most tame word I can think of at the moment.”
Lyis could feel his face getting redder as he turned away from Feldia’s gaze. Grabbing a pair of white open-toed heels, Lyis slid his petite foot into one of the heels, and tied the single strap around his ankle that kept the shoe in place. Standing around like a shy girl caused many of the girls in the shop to stare, and whisper at how cute he was.
“I believe we found the perfect outfit for you.”
After paying for the outfit, Lyis stepped outside of the shop only to be met with the stares of what felt like the whole city street. Holding his skirt down in a cute way, Lyis avoided the gaze of the crowd as he looked at the ground. He couldn’t hold back his flustered red cheeks as he whispered softly to Feldia.
“E-Everyone is staring…”
“Lyis, you want to become a Shadow Taker, correct?”
“Y-Yes. Emyria is set on this path, my sister, and I only wish to support her.”
“You’re avoiding the question. Do you, as in, is it your sole desire to become a Shadow Taker?”
“I always wanted to do something for the good of the people without drawing attention to myself. So, to answer your question, yes, it is my desire to be one. This all just happened to line up, that’s all,” Lyis said with a smile.
“Then hold your head up. Shadow Takers are confident in who they are.”
Lyis looked up to Feldia to she never once lowered her head as the on-lookers continued to gawk.
“Be confident in who you are, and your skills.”
The words resonated throughout Lyis’s ears as he looked out to the crowd.
“Now, let’s be off. We have a three day trip to stock up for. After that, we head for The Pit.”
Emyria couldn’t help but be amazed by the large size of the wall that surrounded The Pit. While she continued to gaze at it from the window of the carriage, Feldia gently pushed Emyria back into her seat.
“Let me do the talking. Are we clear?”
As the carriage stopped, a guard approached the window. Feldia pushed up her sleeve revealing a brand on her left wrist. The guard looked to Feldia before sighing.
“A girl came by with a mark like that some time ago. I’m not about to ask questions. Just do whatever it is you do. I don’t get paid enough to ask questions.”
Without another word, the carriage passed through the gate as Feldia leaned back into her seat.
“Something on your mind, Emyria?”
“Will I have to get a mark like that?”
“All Shadow Takers bear this mark. It’s a unifying symbol like our hair color, and the one red eye we all share.”
“Is there anything I should know about the Shadow Takers?”
“Never let your guard down there.”