“How long until we arrive?” asked Lehvie. We were riding on the phoenix owned by Princess Nes, traveling at quick speeds with calm winds, and we were now far enough to reach our destination in weeks instead of months from Talica’s Royal Capital.
“We can already see the forests of Sharia coming up right now,” said Princess Nes. We have made a few stops along the way, one being in Stanhal, a neutral island region in between Talica, Sharia and even Moradel that is to the far east. We made sure no one saw us rest in the territory, although I’m sure they’d understand if we just needed to rest a day or two, but we avoided residents of the region for obvious reason, one being that we were traveling with two members of the Royal Family of Talica.
“Pauline,” Lilia called to me, “Sharian forests are dangerous to foreigners, so I want you to be on alert at all times.” I had my arms wrapped around her waist so that I wouldn’t fall into the ocean below us. Alice rode behind Princess Lehvie and Nes rode at the far front, practically at the neck of the bird.
“Yes, ma’am,” I said.
From up high in the sky, the land was becoming more visible, and it almost seemed infinite with itself vanishing into the horizon and to the far west we could see a city, just barely, but I could tell that it was surrounded by high walls. That must be Aria, Sharia’s fastest growing city and also the newly established city capital in place of Mahgus Fort City that shouldn’t be too far from here. There were the roads the connect city to city, or towns and major areas of the region that started coming into view.
“We’re going to dive,” said Princess Nes, warning us to hold tight. Then the phoenix did as the Princess commanded and dove quickly to the next level of altitude that we could get used to before touching land. It was a indescribable moment where it felt as if we were falling without any resistance and I surely felt like death was waiting for us if we fell this height. After the short dive was over, everything became calm again. I then noticed Princess Lehvie checking on the seeker stone, usually bringing it up whenever she had the chance and made sure we were always going in the right direction.
After a while, we dove down again, becoming much closer to the forest that weren’t too far beneath us now. Then there was a lake to our side in the far distance. It’s Crater Lake, and it resembled the city of Aria because of the mountainous walls that surround the giant crater. A reminder that the walls of Aria had something to protect.
* * *
It was a short hour later and we could no longer see the ocean from behind us, or the lakes or roads, and instead, there was just forests in all directions. The farther south we flew, the denser the woods had started becoming, but in the sense that the large trees started coming together, as if reaching for an intimate closure with one another, digging their roots deep enough to take advantage of the soil and growing bigger and bigger. Soon there was long river stretching on for miles. If I remember correctly, it connects deep underground to the ocean, and even passes right through Crater Lake.
“Over here,” said Nes. We finally made our way to a small area where the phoenix could land in safely. It’s large wings spread open and flapped with enough force to bend the tips of trees around it as if being hit by a gust of strong wind. Once we touched ground, Alice and the young Princess were the first to get off. Then it was Lilia and I, and lastly Princess Nes after she petted her phoenix for a job well done. We then walked to the long river that stretched in from the ocean.
“In the river?” asked Alice, looking over the seeker stone that created and arrow from its core and pointed downwards to the river.
“H-he couldn’t have drowned..” said Lilia.
Alice walked to the river and released some large magic stones. Four of them flew out from her sleeves and rotated in unison until they reached a certain spot in the river. Quickly, the stones dove underneath the water and I saw fish quickly running away from the disturbance. I could see the young princess from behind as she stood at the very edge and she perhaps looked on deeply into the river.. I couldn’t see the expression she was making, and I wouldn’t know how she felt because I’ve never even met the prince. I don’t share that deep connection with him, or even the faithful and loyal attitude that Lilia has to him. Is it because I’m not a Talician? No, far from it..
And finally.. the four magic stones merged out from the river.. along with a fish large enough to have eaten a young child. Red scales, and big bulgy eyes… I couldn’t recognize this fish at all. Alice carefully pulled it over to land with her magic stones, and lett it pass the young Princess and she didn’t move from where she was, nor did she turn her head to look at it.
“Open it up,” said Alice, looking over to me and Lilia, but before we could make our way to the fish, Princess Nes had already marched her way to the now struggling fish that likely demanded water. She then stabbed its head with her sword, a sword specially made for a Princess that had no ability in magic, filled with magic stones from pummel to the sword’s long blade, and with the stab the fish quickly came to a halt, but it still twitched ever so often. Alice’s magic stones then returned to her, carefully entering her sleeves as she wrote in the air with her fingers a small sign.
I don’t know that much about Elvs, but I hear that they can’t use magic, instead, they rely on their natural ability to gather energy from the very soil we stand on and, really, anything with life force around her. To put that into stones so easily, I wish I could learn what she knows.
Princess Nes then opens up the fish with her sword, making sure that it carefully cuts through its belly. The other half of the seeker stone was fell from the fish’s innards, and it reacted to its other half, quickly pointing to the one that Princess Lehvie was holding in her hand and she drops it. Then the two swing towards each and making a mild sound of stones hitting each other, now becoming one stone.
We could see the young Princess from behind her, and her shadow that protected her was no longer there. I looked around, but could not find it and this made me uneasy. I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep unless I know where it is.
The day was growing dark and so we made camp. It’s hard to believe that it wasn’t just a few weeks ago that we were preparing at the castle to leave all the way to Sharia.
“Pauline,” said Lilia, she was attending to Princess Nes because after a long trip, I’m sure most of us felt sweaty, dirty.. and wanted clean ourselves.
“Create a field around us,” said Lilia, “keep the bugs and anything poisonous away from the camp.”
I took out my staff and began thinking of the right spell. Bright blue hues and some green to create cyan. Then the area around us started fogging up in that color as I walked to and from one end of the camp to the other, and quickly it clears away signaling that the spell has finished. I then take my seat by Lilia, who had already finished attending to Princess Nes.
“How’s the young Princess?” I asked Lilia. Our Princess was off with Alice near the river.
“She’s fine,” said Lilia, and I glanced over at Alice, and I couldn’t help feel uneasy about her.
“Do you ever notice the way you look at others?” asked Lilia.
“What do you mean?”
“You look to Alice as if with contempt,” said Lilia.
I could not help it. Elvs have never proven to be trusted, as interesting as they are or how useful their magic is, Alice was not an exception since the Prince went missing under her watch. A failure on her part.
“It wasn’t her fault,” said Princess Nes as she came walking to us. We bowed and made a seat for her near us. “You’ll learn eventually, so I don’t see a problem with telling you now that we’re far from the capital.”
“Ma’am, what’s wrong?” I asked.
“There’s something odd going in this world, and we believe its the same thing that took the Liel away.”
“… Should we be worried?” asked Lilia.
“I don’t know, but things are going to start getting hectic soon,” said Princess Nes.
“War,” said Lilia.
“Yes,” said Princess Nes, “there is going to be a struggle to understand what’s going on, but before then, countries are going to try and wipe each other out for a power grab before this strange phenomenon manages to single-handedly obliterate cities from thin air, replacing them with foreign mountains or deserts..”
We went to sleep after that, though I had some difficulty.. and there were still many things I wanted to ask, but I guess this is all.
* * *
The next morning arrived and the group, all except for Lehvie who was far from the conversation that was taking place, and we needed to come to a decision.. where to look for next?
“Would he have gone to Etlan City far south?”
“No, if he did,” said Princess Nes, “his chances of survival diminish the farther south he travels.”
“He wouldn’t know not to travel south,” said Lilia, “not unless he was traveling with someone.”
“You don’t think he was captured?” I asked.
“No one knows that the Talician Royal Family has born itself a Prince,” said Lilia, “if they took him in for ransom, then it’s likely because of his Talician blood, then they probably headed to the nearest city here,” she pointed on the map, “where they believe his parents to live in.”
“Then Aria..” said Princess Nes, Lilia was pointing at Aria, a city we passed yesterday.
“That’s under the assumption that he was captured,” said Alice, “we should first search the area around here and find further evidence to support your theory.” Alice glanced at me and looked back at the map.
“Alrigh,” said Princess Nes, “we’ll look around until we find more proof, we’ll spread out into two groups to cover more ground.”
“Why not three,” I suggested. Nes could ride with her Phoenix, but one of us would need to go with Princess Lehvie, someone strong.
“No,” said Princess Nes. “We don’t know the region very well, and even if we split in three groups of two, I would have to be the one to pair with Lehvie.”
“Polly..” said Princess Nes, suddenly coming up with a nickname for me, and it’s not like I can refuse it if it’s coming from her, nor do I mind.
“What are your skills with the Lance staff you brought?” she asked, looking over to me, and I know Lilia uses the same kind of staff shaped lance for combat purposes, although hers has many more magic stones embedded for emergencies. We brought whatever we thought would be useful for the trip and most of our items are being carried by the Phoenix.
“I’ve been in one military campaign,” I said. “I believe I’m fairly well off with my lance.”
“Then the groups will be Alice, my sister, Lili, and Pauline,” said Princess Nes. “I’ll hover over the area and see if I can spot anything of interest. Alice, if you run into trouble, you know what to do.”
“Very well,” said Alice.
We split into the groups she ordered us into, and we headed off into different directions. It was completely random on part to look for anything of interest, and so this part of the search might be the longest.
After sometime, we found ashes of an old camp fire much further down along the river. Any trace of foot prints are long gone now, though…
* * *
* * *
“They are heading south along the river,” I told my group. My magic allowed me to see in far distances, but mostly thanks to the upgrades we had received from selling the magic stones we got a hold of.
Then I looked back, and their bodies were standing up from and exposing themselves to the daylight and far from the shadows of the trees or bushes.
“Lis, is anyone carrying valuables?” asked our group leader, Marth.
“Not sure, but they are carrying staffs and there are four of them…” I said, “three adults and a young girl.”
They were walking naively into the southern woods of Sharia. I know Etlan is much farther south, but it would be safest to travel by road if that was their destination. No matter what region you were from, roads are paid to be maintained and free from beasts. It was a job we used to be involved in, but I won’t deny that that picking people that trusted those routes and taking their belongings was much easier to do. This was in place than risking our lives to kill wild beast that could not be reasoned with. It was the same reasoning that lead us here.
“We’ll keep a closer eye on them,” said Marth.
“Derril,” I said. “Do you have any pets that can follow them closely?”
The man I looked at, Derril, he was covered in dirt and couldn’t be considered clean by any sense of the word. I never understood if he wanted to be a part of nature, or if he was just plain dirty. Well, at least he only smelled of concentrated plants mashed into one weird blob.
“I’ll send something,” he said.
“Don’t lose them,” said Marth. “For now we will keep observing.”