This here was a story that began a long, long time ago. Even much longer than the boy could remember. A long-lost story, so everlasting he had black holes in his vague memory about them. It was a depressing, very sad story about losing what he loved the utmost in the world in the most common horrible way. It was the tale of a boy who lost his best friend. Or, in fact, he had, in truth, been losing her for a very long time before he realized when he was barely six years old.
The disease that was killing her was a creeping, cowardly thing, a sickness that ate away at her from the inside, slowly consuming the light within, so that her eyes grew a little less bright with each passing day, and her skin a little paler. And as she was stolen away from him, piece by piece, the boy became more and more afraid of finally losing her entirely. He wanted her to stay. He had no brothers and no sisters, and while he loved his father and mother being the perfect family they were in the apple orchard, it would be true to say that he loved his best friend more. He could not bear to think of a life without her.
The boy, whose name was ❅❅❅, did everything that he could to keep his best friend alive. He prayed. He prayed to Mashya every single day. He tried to be good so that she would not be punished for his mistakes. He padded around the house as quietly as he was able and kept his voice down when he was playing war games with his tin soldiers. He created a routine, and he tried to keep to that routine as closely as possible because he believed in part that his best friend's fate was linked to the actions he performed.
For example, let's say he would always get out of bed by putting his left foot on the floor first, then his right. He always counted up to twenty when he was brushing his teeth, and he always stopped when the count was completed. He always touched the faucets in the bathroom and the handles of the doors a certain number of times: odd numbers were bad, but even numbers were fine, with two, four, and eight being particularly favorable, although he didn’t care for six because six was twice three and three was the second part of thirteen, and thirteen was very bad indeed.
If he bumped his head against something, he would bump it a second time to keep the numbers even, and sometimes he would have to do it again and again because his head seemed to bounce against the wall, ruining his count, or his hair glanced against it when he didn’t want it to, until his skull ached from the effort and he felt giddy and sick.
For an entire year, during the worst of his best friend’s illness, he carried the same items from his bedroom to the kitchen first thing in the morning, and then back again the last thing at night: a small copy of —’s selected fairy tales, the book to be placed perfectly in the center up against the corner of the rug on his bedroom floor at night or on the seat of his favorite kitchen chair in the morning.
In these ways, ❅❅❅ made his contribution to his best friend’s survival.
After school each day, he would sit by her bedside, sometimes talking with her if she was feeling strong enough, but at other times merely watching her sleep, counting every labored, wheezing breath that emerged, willing her to remain with him.
Often he would bring a book with him to read, the one he carefully placed on the kitchen chair of his house each morning, and if his best friend was awake and her head did not hurt too much, she would ask him to read aloud to her. She had books of her own—romances and mysteries and thick, black-garbed novels with tiny letters—but she preferred him to read to her much older stories: myths and legends and fairy tales, stories of castles and quests.
"Could you please read me that story again? That one about that world in agony covered in the dusk that whispers to you."
❅❅❅ did not object.
❅ 3 Years Later ❅
"And now, we gladly present the graduates of Brothad Academy. We gladly hope these last three years have been an enriching experience for you as students since it has been a pleasure for us, as teachers, to nurture you with our roots of knowledge. Now go forward, and spread those wings towards our beautiful Kingdom of Saerda and show our beautiful magical craftmanship!"
A crowd of applauses spread around the golden decorated hallways, echoing in the walls as a lousy neverending reverb that permeated the ears of every attendee. It wasn't as smooth as a soft enriched butter made with goat milk being spread onto fresh hot bread, yet it was as if someone spread cold bricked cheese into charcoal.
Those were the thoughts of Nogal ar Veilbhit, age eighteen.
Squinting his gaze through his long uncut nougat colored fringe, his coral eyes barely made the imagery on the small, ridiculously tiny television placed on top of the shop he was eating some on the soup on the go. His travel clothes were tattered and battered, even the colors indistinguishable from all the places he had been in his long journey throughout the world.
Despite that, he was still poor and unable to find the answer to his problems.
Everything was supposed to go according to his marvelous plan three years ago if it wasn't for that tiny little mistake that day at the plaza. Hence why he stared at his cold noodles and sipped them as fast as he could, ready to do a hit and run without paying the bill as he usually does.
"Hey Noa-kun, you cannot do that! It would be the third time this month you'd be in jail and did you know how hard it is to take you out of there!?" a voice woke him up from his nonsensical thinking, scratching his head. "This Kingdom has a pretty high-security system, I am sure if they catch you this time you'd be a high wanted criminal."
"For what? Not paying my food?" the boy held his urge to spit while still scratching his hair. The broth tasted awful. "The cook at this place should be flattered I'm eating here!"
"Don't be so self-conceited!" the girl crossed her arms, pissed off.
"Who's fault do you think it is we are in this situation anyway!? I should be graduating right this instant!" Nogal pointed towards the television, a little bit of static showing up due to the bad broadcasting system and then aimed her spoon to the girl who started to fidget nervously.
Nogal ignored her and diverted his attention back to the simulcast once more.
It was quiet here beneath the palms, high up on the rocky spine of the island. The only sound from the sea was the occasional yammering of an air compressor or the faint shout of a sailor down at the pier. Nogal had grown fond of these clustered palms; almost every evening he had come here to survey his little empire. Or well, his little playhouse.
Nogal had this dream, you see.
This really, wacky dream he wanted to achieve at all costs.
Abruptly, the applauses were back on screen. A mile beyond who apparently was the director of the academy, a glamorous student with top grades had switched on his searchlights and was sweeping the dark waters of people rendering him on showers of unneeded and unwanted unnecessary attention. Nogal was genuinely surprised it wasn't a girl at all who graduated with top grades since the rumors he heard during his adventuring years were that there was a severe competition between two diligent students for the top spot. Nevertheless, it seems the boy ended up winning since Nogal could barely make the figure of a girl clenching her magician hat in frustration on one of the front rows.
In a second, the TV turned off and the locals started to leave. The sun had now vanished completely, and the swift tropical night was racing in from the east. Nogal wondered, a little sardonically if the carrier out in the pier expected to find Russ submarines so close to shore due to the outgoing war in the East and given the cloudy night it was prone to shower.
However, that was none of his concern.
The world would soon be his anyway.
"So, um, are you going to pay?"
"Noa-kun, I think he's talking to you." The girl was there again, trying to bring his attention back.
The cook turned around, his old and worn face plus spoiled apron reminded Nogal of tasting the first apple pie he made on Pommus Flos back in the day and then wanting to taste again that grayish-pink blob he skimmed from a spitting kettle of apple jam on top to make it look better.
I suppose I was about four. Apple pies aren't supposed to look or even taste that way.
"Oh yeah, I had totally forgotten about you. You hadn't even been described I had indeed forgotten you were a character in this story!" laughing about it, Nogal took out a small satchel of pennies from a dirty pocket. "Pleasure doing business with ya!"
Quickly running away, as if cunningly escaping essentially as a convicted criminal, Nogal made his way through the tropical avenues of the rustic island due to the sudden rain he casually predicted not too long ago.
Cursing under his breath not owning a rain cloth, he could hear from a distance the girl's slow panting trying to catch up with him until they reached a hidden passageway with nothing more than a soaked cat hidden under some...
"Barrels!" said the young lady cheerfully.
"I still don't understand why you scream when you see one..." he groaned.
"'Cuz it's fun!" she replied. "And don't distract me!"
"You distracted yourself!"
"Why did you run away like that!?" she protested angrily.
"Don't tell me..." she reached him, their noses almost touching. "The satchel was empty...?"
"Did you magically want me to make money appear out of nowhere to pay for those wet noodles? They were awful! Once I own this world that cook will be expelled to damnation."
"Seems this rain won't stop for a while. Why don't you sit down for a bit? I'm okay being on my two feet!" she smiled, but yet, such a bright smile couldn't bring the dark clouds away from Nogal's coral eyes.
"Suit yourself," crosslegged, he sat annoyed just looking up at her profile.
However, something wasn't quite right and he couldn't pinpoint it.
"Say, Noa-kun. Since when do you have this World Domination dream of yours? I don't remember this thing at all when we were younger," she confessed, tiptoeing over the puddles of water rather clumsily.
"What!?" coming as some sort of a shocker, he screamed his lungs off. "I've had it ever since I was a child! When I played with my tin soldiers and everything. All I could think about was owning this world! Making everyone my puppets! I was sick and tired of being my parent's perfect doll. And then you had to come along with me and ruin my opportunity to join the Brothad Academy!"
"You would have failed anyway Noa-kun, you have zero magic potential," she stated matter of factly. "Yet, that is not the point. We have traveled together for three years now and you still haven't..."
"I still have not what?" clearly pissed off, Nogal spat on the floor rather rudely.
"Nothing, it does not matter anymore." The girl sighed, looking at her surroundings.
Darkness is lurking in every corner inside the labyrinth of narrow passages and dead ends. Litter is dumped on the street and birds nest amongst the sprawling rot.
The alleyway was quaint and cobbled. The houses on each side had walls that wobbled ever so slightly but was apparent in the strong morning light or at least to her inside her imagination since now it was the late night. It winds a little, arcing to the right and the heady scent of flowers drifts down from the many window boxes. The dark and stinky single block between the backs of the restaurants and the theatres would cut twenty minutes out of their escape route back to the field to make a campsite. The girl was sure Nogal would suggest that given they had no money to spend the night at an inn.
After a quick glance over her shoulder and one more to make sure, she believes her heart quickens. She feels as if the houses had been pushed closer together as if one day she'd come and find only the most narrow of paths to walk down, squat to the floor and be hardly noticeable amongst the strewn junk under Nogal's deep stare.
"Let's go, Noa-kun!" she extended her hand, waiting for him to grasp it. "It finally stopped raining!"
Just like she had said, the storm had passed away.
Stars filled the sky like pale corn into the freshly turned ground. It was the promise of life in the darkness, a sense of warmth springing from the cold. It was a vastness to bring humbleness and an eternal space to bring gratitude for the coziness of home. No matter the years that passed, Nogal saw each night sky as a fresh gift given anew. It was the moment anyone that knew him would see his eyes smile and his breathing deepens just a little even for a short while.
On the other hand, the night sky was such a welcome sight, appearing like magic at each sunset, promising to return as she faded in dawn's first light. There were times in the daytime, under skies of blue, that the young girl would think of those faraway stars and how they'd return after the shadows blended into the dark.
A sudden dusk embraced the beach village without prior warning. It was a natural phenomenon in this world. The "Dusking". It usually happened after natural disasters or hopefully filled situations. It could mean something terrible had happened or just the complete opposite. Despite that, Nogal could know what it was.
"It is the most beautiful art, alive within raw energy, a song for the eyes, isn't it? At times I felt as if I could feel it vibrating somehow, whispering in a way the ears cannot hear," he said, stretching back, tired of being crosslegged and refusing to hold the girl's hand. "I can hear those voices but I'm sick and tired of them, honestly. I am doing my best to clear out what they are conveying."
"But what if it's something happy? Something good? A good omen!" she stretched both arms excitedly, hurriedly escaping from their improvised hideout. "Hah! We are safe indeed! With that belly he had it was impossible for that cook to follow us this far. His stamina must be super low!"
"If you keep shouting we'll be busted!"
But before Nogal could keep protesting, the girl saw something. Something shining far across the distance. A thing that made her heart jump in joy and love, even excitement and amusement. She had seen something new, something amazing. She had to know what it was, at all costs, even if she had to drag that sack of dirty unwashed potatoes that went by the name of Nogal ar Veilbhit against his will.
"There! Let's go there!" she pointed towards a lit, crowded road. People were seemingly coming out of shelters, ready to resume what they were doing. "Right this instant!"
"We need to establish our camp! I'm not staying in this damn place one day longer!"
"I said let's go!"
And that's when Nogal knew he was doomed.
In a couple of seconds, he was somewhere else.
"Yes! Here we are!" The girl twirled around, overjoyed.
However, Nogal was not.
"What caught your attention was a fricking festival of all things?"
"A festival...?" she tilted her head, without understanding.
"A festival is always a place of unrestrained joy. The costumes lit up the summer's day, even if now it's winter time, a riot of color to rival any gardener's paradise. Music fills the air, festive beats lift the spirits and make the people want to move, jump and sing. It is a time to celebrate being alive, celebrate the wonders of creation and be one with the community." Nogal explained with both hands inside his ragged, holed pockets.
"For talking so much about World Domination, you are super sweet when it comes talking about humanity and their culture and stuff!" she said, holding a small laugh.
"I have to mind since I will be taking care of them y'know? Isn't that common sense? If not it'll be tyranny."
"Even if they are puppets?"
"Even if they are puppets," Nogal ended with a smirk.
The air tasted so heavenly with the chefs alongside the parade, every delicious thing ready to be shared with friends.
Apparently, it was the festival of lanterns.
Along the usually dark wintry lane shone hundreds of lamps; illuminating with their flickering candles. The light was cast every color by the tinted panes and the girl couldn't help but be reminded of candy. It was as if the lane was iced by the baker on the high-street, and Nogal found it even better than the soup he had during the evening. Everywhere there were folks in their winter garb even if it was a tropical island, thick woolen jackets, mitts, and scarfs. To add to the gaiety, most children carried a lamp of their own making, their gentle puffs of steaming breath made visible by the glow, only to disappear into the inkiness.
At the stroke of eight on the old town clock would come the first wave of songs, songs of thanks to echoing into the homes. Tonight the windows of the hospitals would even be open despite the cold, the doctors believed the multitude of voices from young and old alike to have a stronger effect on their patients than any medicine they had to offer. Children would reach up to hold their hands and their smiles shone through their elaborate face paints.
"Ohh, look at this board, Noa-kun! It has lots of notices!" the girl got distracted, gracefully evading every passerby while Nogal just crashed into everyone grumbling under his breath.
"Sooo many little notes and papers!"
"It's called a Bulletin Board..." Nogal yawned, unamused. "People put some requests up and others take them for rewards. Sometimes it's money or items. They also have a ranking system and guilds for that."
"Didn't you just say money?"
"Yes, I did?"
"And why didn't your eyes lit up with fire?"
You see, Nogal ar Veilbhit, age eighteen, had this particular quirk of being obsessed with money even if he was penniless and poor at this current point of his life. That is why he decided to do the easiest things he could at life to acquire some cash at this rate, such as lifting or just like minutes ago, eating without paying.
"Because those are a huge hassle! You have to be registered or be part of or form a legal Guild! I am not up at all for that back pain of going back and forth between ministries and registry papers and looking for members to make one!"
"But you have me! We can make a Guild of two!"
"Listen here..." Nogal held his forehead, clearly stressed, his coral eye losing their light. "You don't even own a weapon and this weird magic of yours was the fault of why I didn't make it into the Academy, thus it is forbidden to use, got it clear?! Hence, I need to look for a member and I don't want to do that."
"Then let's join one! You just told me that people..."
"As I said before...! I swear we don't speak the same language! To join one I would need to get a heck-ton of certificates back from our hometown and get them approved by different ministries!"
"Seems like joining Guilds isn't as easy as it sounds, huh...?" the girl kept looking around the papers, reading some aloud. "Strange monster was seen in Leac Oighir Valley. I wish to obtain three pieces of furs of said beast, please. Reward: 1,000 pingin. That doesn't look too bad. Shame we do not have any weapons."
"It's still a pretty crappy reward for a strange monster if so they claim," replied Nogal. "Also, I have my trusted Rusty Sword with me."
"Yes, a rusty sword as you said."
"No. A Rusty Sword."
"That's just what I..." the girl was perplexed.
"You didn't capitalize the words."
"How did you... That doesn't even make sense?" she puffed her cheeks, knowing she would be unable to win against him anyway. She continues looking but everything was similar. From monster hunting to item scavenging or medicine gathering... until she saw a solitary paper no one seemed to be minding nor paying attention to, "Hm? What is that? It's even shining. Could it be a special ranked request?"
"Well yes, requests are usually ranked but it's via stamps not by glowing glue... or whatever that sparkly thing is."
Nogal approached towards it, touching it with his fingertips. He could feel the memo pad was dry and warm, in comparison to the previous ones that were damp due to the rain. He found it intriguing but tried not to pry too much about it. Once he snatched it from the bulletin board, its glow diminished.
Squinting his eyes, he could barely make out the written letters in the small squared paper with black ink. The handwriting seemed to be from a child. Notwithstanding that, he could be mistaken and just making silly assumptions.
"I lost something very important to me. Please, I need help getting it back. I have lots of money so the reward is the least of my concerns. Please, help me. This request also has no ranking. I truly need help." Read the girl out loud, her expression transforming into one full of concern. "Hey, Noa-kun, why do you think no one has taken this request given the reward it...?"
But alas, she had lost him to the words I have lots of money.
"Let's do this request!" he screamed from the bottom from his lungs, not minding the mood of the festival at all.
"Didn't you just say that making or being part of a Guild is a hassle?" she questioned him.
"This request clearly states it has no ranking system so clearly A-N-Y-O-N-E can do it!"
"You are such a contradictive person..." she sighed, following him to who knows where. "So, what's your flawless plan now?"
"Get an upgrade for Rusty Sword."
"How are you even going to manage that if...?"
However, she got interrupted once they reached a stand at the festival that had many things to offer in their gallery as shooting prizes.
The girl got lost in the surrounding atmosphere while Nogal started to sweet talk with the vendor.
The hustle and bustle of chatter, cheers of celebration; the tantalizing smell of warm stew, fried meat, caramel desserts waft through the air. The village emits a golden glow. Tonight, a few hours, people can experience the joy that exists beyond the boundaries of winter. The joy, the warmth, appreciating the warmth of the sun and it's blessing's of heat; subsistence in the midst of the icy overcast.
"Alright, you have three chances, boy." He said, the girl quickly realizing how did Nogal manage to pay for the shooting game while having no money.
"Noa-kun, not again! No more hit and running! And this time is literal!" she screamed.
"Shut up! You'll break my concentration!" the coral eyed boy pulled back looking at her to then return to his original position and try to focus on the toy pistol he held on his right hand and the trigger on his left finger. "And if I hit the jackpot I won't have to pay anyway!"
"Is everything okay, boy? Getting nervous?" the vendor arched his brows suspiciously giving the girl a suspicion that maybe the game was rigged.
"A noisy fly was annoying me so I told it to shut up."
This time, the girl opted to stay quiet. She didn't want to argue forever, after all. That is why she decided to focus this time on the prizes the exhibit had. It was your common target shop attraction, nothing out of the ordinary. However, for her everything was new, even the classic old teddy bear prizes or the consolation prices like towels and hats. Nevertheless, there were two prices that stood above all of the others placed highly in a stall.
One of them seemed to be a dagger. The dagger was small and somewhat unassuming with its plain wooden handle. For all it's bland looks it was the sharpest knife money could buy, an excellent weapon for close quarter fighting. Assuming how Nogal looked at it, the girl assumed it had been forged by the best blacksmith in the whole World. She could almost imagine him weighing the dagger in his diminutive hands with a wry grin as if it were no more than gold colored plastic or fake jewelry. Despite that, the young woman could tell the details on the dagger were clearly real and not fake. If anyone had ever picked it up and felt it's weight they would have known that to be a lie. The handle was solid gold and the gems encrusted upon it were real. The blade was cold grey steel and still was as sharp as the day it was fashioned.
Nevertheless, another item drew her attention even more.
A set of dual pistols. They were wheel locks, apparently sixteenth-century from the South Kingdom; they were a good two feet in overall length, with ball-pommels the size of oranges, and long steel belt-hooks. The stocks were so covered with an ivory inlay that the wood showed only in tiny interstices; the metal-work was lavishly engraved and gold-inlaid with pink pezzottaite and heart-shaped diamonds.
"I WANT THAT SOOOO BADLY!!"
Now that she thought more rationally about her actions, she pondered: both seem really cool though, which one is the jackpot?
"WHAT HAVE YOU DONE!?" Nogal screamed, letting go of the trigger at slow motion.
His aim was flawless, the bullet pierced the plaque where it was supposed to go as he expected until the girl's shout ruined his perfect mathematical calculation on his head minutes prior while she gazed upon both items.
He hadn’t heard the shot of the cork bullet due to him being disappointed about not upgrading his sword into a fancier dagger, so he did not know he had hit yet the dual pistols and the vendors face had transformed like if an angry fist-like slug tore through him on its one way path through his abdomen.
He heard something now, though every cell in his body reeled in shock at the immediate assault and he could do little save fall forward from the energy hammer that had just passed through his body. His sight grayed to a pinpoint and as he struggled to live: he had to hit and run now, again.
"Noa-kun?" the girl whispered. "Are you okay?"
"OF COURSE I'M NOT! I-"
"We... have a winner..." with low energy left, the sketchy vendor unpackaged the dual pistols from the stall and placed them slowly on the desk with white gloves, treating it carefully with his life.
"Wait... I... won?" Nogal recomposed himself, so he and the girl approached him astounded.
"Unfortunately... I mean, amazingly, yes, you won the jackpot: The Flaitheas Croí. It's an old relic so take good care of it, young boy. Although, it is a bit too girly for you. Won't you reconsider and..."
Nogal thought deeply about it. He didn't need pistols, he didn't know how to handle them being double. Even the girl couldn't. Heck, he could sell them for so much money being a relic! Despite that, he looked and she seemed pretty keen on wanting to have them. He bit his lower lip, even if he knew that wasn't the best option at all.
"Did you just assume my gender just because I let you call you me a boy?" he mumbled angrily, clearly upset at that remark.
"Um no sir, I mean, miss, I mean..."
"Just give me the prize and I'll get out of here."
"A set of dual pistols coming right up!"
The following day, Nogal and the girl had arrived at the location the mysterious note had as a landmark: Còmhnaidh Sneachda.
Even if it was indeed a tropical island, the winters at this place were harsh and cruel. However, the scenery was breathtaking.
The landscape glowed orange under the burnt sky. It was a series of lakes with hilly crowns, like the hoof prints of some celestial horse. Each was fathoms deep and icy, Nogal shuddered to think of what lay within them, in these days of strange beasts you could never tell. Yesterday's fantasy was today's reality. But he did need water, food and basic necessities after being homeless for three years, and so he edged forwards and slowly sank his canteen beneath the rippling surface of a nearby creek. Only when he removed it from the water did he exhale, prematurely as things turned out.
When he turned his back to retreat to the trees a great bubble broke the surface, and then another, until the lake appeared to boil. Nogal stopped, turned around, then fled. This wasn't something he wanted to stick around for.
"We just arrived at this place and there are problems already!" he whined.
"I did a little bit of research and it seems this area is far more dangerous than all the others, maybe that's why it was unranked and all alone last night!" the girl ran as well, terrified. Despite that, she could make out some sort of shelter made out of rocks out of some worn out naked palm trees, "Noa-kun, quick let's hide here!"
And so they did, the thing that emerged out of the lake passing by at supersonic speed being a dark blob they couldn't quite make up what it was. Nevertheless, at the moment that was the least of Nogal's concerns, they were safe and someway or another they would make it to their client. They had no time to know what was the thing that suddenly attacked them.
"That thing was super scary!"
"It has nothing to do with us anyway..." Nogal sighed, resting his back on the rocky cave.
"Aw, I wanted to use my brand new dual pistols..."
"Now that you mention them, why did that old man have a relic like that as a prize?" he crossed both arms, deep in thought. "That is quite sketchy."
"I wonder that too. That dagger seemed valuable as well but it seemed that wasn't the jackpot at all." She went outside, just to be surprised. "Noa-kun! Noa-kun! It's snowing!"
Breath pale against the numbing air, she blinked thoughtfully as the frost patiently kissed her face, captivated by the soft, dusty illusions of light that sat heavy on her eyelashes. She adored the snow, more so when it was falling.
"That means we must quicken up our pace then, I don't want to freeze to death nor make our client wait. Since this quest is informal I'm worried we might have been beaten!" That's why Nogal ran from the way they came from.
"But what if the monster went back to the lake!?" the girl ran as well, extremely worried.
"If they did, they should be underwater again or we would have seen them, dummy!"
While both ran, silvery flakes drifted down, glittering in the bright light of the sun. The blackbirds swooped down to their nests. The thick blanket of snow was now even more visible. The walnut brown trees swayed in the cold winter wind. Icicles on the trees dropped with a smash. Like glass cracking and shattering. The weather was frosty and the snow was glittering. As white sequins laying all over the floor. A chilled squirrel hopped from tree to tree, carefully trotting on branches. The ghostly wind broke the peaceful sound of silence. The snow was damp, every step felt like walking in mud.
The snow now reflected the sky. Large flakes fell as if angels in heaven were having a pillow fight, though the snow was beautiful it was cold and sharp. Crisp, white, pristine, shining covering that transformed the landscape. Where is this fairy-like place that has crisp, white and pristine coverings transforming it into a magical land full of wonder and undiscovered mysteries?
"Is anyone out there? Please help me!"
Nogal and the young woman came to a halt when they heard the cries of a little girl once they made it out of the forest into a clearing, the snowfall now almost gone. Everything was whine and they could barely make their surroundings. However, his companion suddenly made out a hand buried under the snow. Both young adults nodded at each other, understanding how grave the situation was. They didn't know for how long that person had been buried under the snow. They could be sick, almost dying and suffering from hypothermia.
Even if Nogal wanted money for World Domination, he couldn't let any precious life of his future puppets perish in front of his eyes if he could prevent it.
Once they made it, he noticed the girl's hand was faintly glowing, that faint light diminishing with each passing second. The world seemed to lie barren and lifeless before him as if Mashya themselves had put the little girl to sleep, her cries of help unhearable anymore.
Nogal held her hand while his friend tried to help in some way or another.
A hundred pounds of human vs a hundred tonnes of snow wasn't a fair fight. Before a cry of despair could escape his lungs, the little girl was encased, packed in tight. Her body heat fled into the snow barely melting a crystal and their hearts slowed. After a time the pain stopped.
That's why he started to dig as fast as he could. It was as if his own life depended on it. Under the brilliant sun, it was almost hard to believe the emergency under his boots, and no-one wanted to either. But a few seconds either way meant the recovery of slipping away. The snow flew in shimmering arcs and the hole grew larger at their feet.
Once he grasped her whole body, he felt bliss. One’s life is sacred. It is lived as a secret and told as a lie. Sure, we share bits and pieces of what happens throughout our days, or within our nights, but that’s all. That’s all that is shared. This being a simple act of human nature. That is why it felt strange how she was still breathing while he body was still cold as ice while the glowing returned to her body, bringing color back to her white pale face.
Her gray hair tied in two asymmetrical braids were slowly melting the ice with their glow, while in all that time her ice-green eyes blinked in astonishment how she was coming to her senses, overall being held by a stranger's arms who seemed to be a vagabond due to his clothing. Nogal smiled, while the girl replenished her energies rather quickly even if she was on the brink of death a few seconds ago.
Or rather, according to Nogal's friend and traveling company, might have even died. But she tried not mention that and smiled as well, pretending ignorance.
She was wearing a short beige colored dress that stopped on top of her chest with a white cotton cloth decorated with cute childish jewelry. She had a small pink cape as well with crochet flowers on its borders, coming all the way down to her waist. Her belt, however, was too big for her body that she kept fixing it while her white snow boots seemed a bit small for her feet but secure enough to walk. Her glow was back as well, shining vigorously and with superb energy.
"Thank you very much for saving me, mister! I thought no one would hear me screaming."
"Who wouldn't? It was really high and it pierced my ears!"
"Aw, you're so contradicting, Noa-kun," the older girl laughed, "You were scared to death!"
"A-Anyway!" he cleared his throat, while the little girl tilted her face in confusion, "What are you doing out here in the cold?"
"Ah well, you see, mister... I lost something very important and I'm looking for it!" she said, preparing herself to look out for it again.
"All alone?" Nogal's companion wondered until it hit her, "Wait, Noa-kun... could it be...!?"
"I have to keep on searching because no one takes my request on the bulletin board... I wonder why...?" she kicked some snow with a sad face, ready to leave, just to be stopped by a somewhat grinning and scaring Nogal, "Um, mister?"
YES, SHE IS RIGHT, SHE MIGHT BE THE ONE WHO...!
"I TOOK YOUR REQUEST, YOUR SAVIOR IS HERE!" Nogal clenched desperately, not wanting to let go. The unknown girl was terrified, not knowing what to do. "WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR I WILL FIND IT SWIFTLY!"
Meanwhile, during Nogal's authentic out of this world experience with the unknown new character, the young girl could sense something approaching their way at an unusually high speed. She knew it wasn't that monster from before.
Unease blossomed from within her; as brilliantly as the dual pistols she now held within her quivering thighs. She would describe dread as a slowly approaching train. As time runs out your feet become heavier until they are set in concrete on the tracks. And then all you can do is wait to be destroyed, wait to be nothing more than blood and bone fragments. That was exactly what was going to happen if they didn't move right that instant.
She could feel the cage closing in, sealing off any viable exit even if they were out in an open field. If every door closes, every window concealed, she cannot complete the mission she had embarked upon herself all those three years she had been traveling with Nogal. The fear is a weight on her ribs and a dull ache in her eyes, an unwillingness for her mouth to lift past neutral. She could double down on her efforts for a victory or sit back and be a prey.
That is why she gave her utmost force upon her frail body to cover them both, while the attack came down onto them like a sickening brute force.
The pillar of fiery smoke and dust, still boiling up from where the bombs had gone off where they were standing, was being violently agitated. A series of new flashes broke out, lifting and spreading the incandescent lights, and then a great gush of flame rose. A column of pure hydrogen must have rushed up into the vacuum created by the explosion; the next blast of flame, in a lateral sheet, came at nearly ten thousand feet above the ground, and great rags of fire, changing from red to violet and back through the spectrum to red again, went soaring away to dissipate in the upper atmosphere.
Out of this shock, Nogal felt himself issuing amid a mass of terrible sensations: the fearful blow of the explosion, the noise of glass, the hoarse howl of the little girl and his friend, the rushing of adrenaline, the sudden gulf, the awful engulfing whirlpool of snow and whiteness that enveloped everything but most of all, seeing how that woman that was always a bother for him was standing up, protecting them, immersed in flames with her arms up forming a force field.
"Fluorite, fall in love with me and don't attack me, your master ★! As they all say, the thief always comes back to the scene of the crime ♥! Seems I wasn't mistaken, ufufu. Good thing I took precautions so my client would be safe!"
"What is... going on...?"
Though Nogal's eyes were open he couldn't think of why or what was happening; his heart was pounding, his mind was empty. It was as if a hypodermic of adrenaline had been emptied into his carotid. He tried his best not to strain again into the utter darkness, his breathing rate beginning to steady while he protected the little gray-haired girl who trembled in fear.
"I... will... protect... Noa-kun..." he heard his friend whisper.
"Ara, ara ★! We have a lovely criminal boy here! He has even apprehended a child! It seems the most precious thing was this kidnapped girly! Come here with big sis over here, sweetie! I will protect you from this vile being while my fluorite stone does it magic, it won't attack us since he is enchanted!" the shadowy figure made their way towards them, and given their mannerisms it seemed to be a girl. Despite that, Nogal couldn't quite make her identity quite clear due to the fog caused by the explosion.
"Fluorite... stone...?" the small girl cowardly asked, cuddling in Nogal's arms, protecting herself out of instinct.
"Why yes! The Rainbow Keeper as it is also called," she explained enthusiastically. "It is an excellent healing tool for its overall cleansing and purifying effects, as well as a stone that gives an order to chaos. Like, it can be used as a power source that magnifies everything around it! That is why I can use it with my other alchemy items to magnify their power an, in this case, use it to charm people so I can avoid battles and end up unscratched ♥ !"
"Well that thing brings more chaos than order in my opinion!" finally recovering his senses, Noah clumsily stood up, protecting the girl.
"Ara, how come you aren't charmed by me?!" still unable to make out her appearance, the supposed self-proclaimed alchemist did some seductive poses that didn't work at all. "My fluorite is supposed to charm any opponent!"
"Noa-kun won't fall in love with anyone."
Black clouds sprawl across the sky, billowing in from the west. Their brassy glare drains color from the snow and trees and burnished the mountains, leaving forests tinted bronze in the faltering light. The air grows heavy and the humidity presses down, suffocating. The scent of rain is dark and heady. A stillness falls over the landscape, and in the silence comes a low crackle of thunder, rolling across to the pattering of tiny raindrops made of snow. For a moment, everything stops. Even the wind holds its breath. A streak of hot silver splits the sky, and the downpour begins.
"What is going on?" asked the alchemist with no concern at all.
"Mister..." the little girl clenched strongly to Nogal's pants, terrified.
The sky became dark and low with ominous black clouds and the wind picked up, howling, crying, warning, baying like a wolf into the night. The first crack of lightning rent the air and within seconds the rolling boom of the thunder reverberated overhead. The snowrain fell, slow to start, splattering haphazardly. Then it fell as if from buckets, cascading like a waterfall from the heavens. It pounded as if it were demanding entrance.
Nogal could see how a dark aura enveloped his friend, fearing for the worse after hearing those words escaping from her lips seconds before: Noa-kun won't fall in love with anyone. Despite that, what followed, he deeply knew that it was the just the start of the worst to come.
"In my heart's eye, I saw the ends of a forgotten world. Upon the path of darkness, I heard a voice calling just to me. If the journey of sorrow will begin when we transcend time... Then even this life shall fly, fly high... In the name of love, guided only by love I now walk towards the battlefield, so that the flowers of miracles bloom!"
Nogal's head hurt. It hurt so, so much. It hurt to remember.
Darkness is a strange substance, like ice it has three states solid, liquid, and gas, but with a twist. Since it is a sort of mystical material, it doesn't fall under the laws of science, only able to change states by the user. In solid form, it is almost completely black aside from a very tiny shade of red at its center, like a candle in the dark, when a non-user touches it is like getting winded, if hit by a sharp point it will penetrate and quickly infect. As a liquid its thick; sticky, and has a pungent smell of ink, it can act like quicksand or just plain coat and suffocate people. As a gas its quite strange it is able to pass through a solid material with ease, suffocate, and eat away like acid. As a whole Darkness is an odd thing.
That was what Nogal remembered.
And so, he screamed for the first time, after more than twelve years, her name.
Yet, Mirto, his best friend from childhood, was gone in a flash, just to be replaced by an odd figure he had not seen for a very, very long time. It was so frightening, he regretted getting those dual pistols at the festival for her.
He could clearly make out Mirto's profile and appearance now. Her name was also again back in his brain. That uneasiness feeling was gone as well. Still, he knew this new woman wasn't the Mirto he was looking forward to remembering.
"My, my. It has been a while, hasn't it, Nogal-chan? You remembered Mirto-san's name in such an impeccable timing, commendable! Now, it is my duty to get rid of this pest that is trying to interrupt this love of ours! Because I, Áine the goddess of love, fertility, and sovereignty has arrived into this world once again, tee-hee ♥ "
Nogal sank to his knees, taking in a sight that his brain refused to comprehend. Reality had beaten down without mercy on his head. He then sat motionless, unaware of the time that passed, just staring into the mess that was about to unfold between the unnamed alchemist who seemed still unaware, and the little girl who gulped, possibly knowing what was going on.
No thoughts came to Nogal except that their fates were sealed.