Shower rains were falling on the carriage top, rains that were heavily sound as hundreds of drops fell like drums playing in a band. Alice stuck out her closed hand from inside the carriage . She opened it slowly to release a stone that flew up and kept itself hovering at our pace as the horses trudge along the wet muddy road. It then glowed brightly, lighting up the road in front of us now that the day grew darker and darker.
“How convenient,” Lilia commented. “Sometimes I think you have magic for every occasion.”
“I wish,” replied Alice from within the carriage. “Besides, making a magic stone takes a considerable amount of time. For example, a good healing stone would take me a week to make.”
“Yet it sells like the purest gold found in this world,” said Lilia.
“I don’t sell them,” said Alice, “there are far too many greedy people who wish to study elvan stones but they fail to realize the secret lies within their own understanding.”
“But there is a difference,” I interrupted.
“Yes,” said Alice. “That they are more potent in terms of a quicker heal, or longer lasting stone.. but that’s only because I take longer time to prepare and even longer to pour magic into a stone. We just dabble in magic stones longer than others, but in the end, even a Talician who studies magic stones will eventually reach that level of an elv.”
“People don’t trust an elv’s words,” said Lilia, “and I apologize on their behalf.”
“No need,” said Alice, yawning after staying awake since morning, not even a small nap as she kept an eye on Lehvie, who was still sleeping.
“What I don’t understand is why elvs can’t use magic in the conventional way,” said Lilia. “You have to rely more heavily on pouring your magic into a stone, and then hoping that stone somehow fits your situation.”
“It’s a vein,” said Alice, “we don’t have one like normal magic users do. Instead, elvs are like a magic stone themselves, able to let the natural magic of this world pour itself into us, and we thus pour that magic into stones.”
“Oh,” I said, “I remember the first time I discovered I could use magic.”
“Most Talician children,” said Lilia, “are usually checked for the vein behind their neck by the time they turn five years old. Lehvie, however, we didn’t need to check because she had already showed some affinity with fire when we noticed it tried swaying in her direction whenever she walked past a lit candle.”
“It’s a shame that Princess Nes cannot use magic,” I said. “When I found out about mines, I was so excited that I fainted from the energy drained out of me after using my first spells.”
“That’s normal,” said Lilia. “As for Princess Nes, she has said herself that she was more interest in learning the sword from before she even found out what magic was.”
Alice began laughing mildly.
“I’ll protect them!” said Alice. “That’s something Nes would often say when she started learning the sword in all seriousness a while after Liel was born.”
“And her sword?” I asked.
“A gift from the former Queen, Glinn’s mother,” said Alice, “’to whomever lacked the vein to wield magic, a sword of fire be bestowed on the royal born without the power.’ Those were her words.”
“It’s a rare occurrence within he royal house,” said Lilia. “But, enough about that.”
I looked ahead of us, a light very far in the distance, deep within the horizon. That must be Aria.
“We should rent a room at an Inn,” said Alice. “We can start searching in the morning once we’ve come up with a plan.”
We are to search for the Prince of Talica. A young child that had gone missing for three years after the incident at his castle. The one problem being is that I can’t picture his face, as I have never seen him before.
“I’ve only seen him once,” said Lilia. “While he slept and not once more after that.”
“I know your concern,” said Alice, “even after three years, even I might have a problem recognizing him.”
One of the horses suddenly neighed loudly. Then I noticed a small dim light not far from us. Another carriage but pulled by one horse could be seen in front of us. Next to it, interestingly, there was a large wolf walking beside it. One large enough to be about my height at standing length. I looked to Lilia, the person steering our carriage. There was only one rode in this path, so we were to eventually pass by them.
“It won’t hurt to exchange words with them,” said Lilia.
“Is there someone ahead of us?” asked Alice, a reminder that she could not see from within the carriage, especially with the covers making sure no rain entered as the young princess Lehvie slept inside. The rain didn’t seem to want to die down.
“Yes,” said Lilia, “another horse carriage accompanied by a domesticated wolf.”
“And Princess Nes?” asked Alice. We looked up at the sky and saw a faint light flashing off and on, Nes signaled that the carriage ahead of us proved no hostility.
“She said its fine,” said Lilia.
“Then do as you like,” said Alice.
* * *
Moments later and we had just caught up a few feet behind their carriage. Their wolf also, like us, took a curiosity and came closer. The magic stone hovering above us could let us see it with ease, and it was indeed a tall beast, beautiful fur and for some reason smelled of fish. It seemed friendly, but also protective of the carriage we now rode beside. Then finally, we caught up to the persons riding at the front that steered what seemed to be a lone dark scaled horse at the front. They were covered by what looked like a partial tent coming from within their carriage.
We looked to each other for a brief moment. I was closest to them and began the greeting.
“Hello,” I said. “Is your group heading to Aria?”
I started with an obvious question to start things off. Anything to come off as polite, given the situation where it was dark and raining quite heavily. We meant no harm to them.
“Yes,” said the girl. Her arms covered by long sleeves but at the end of it, her hands, she held on to reins that clearly steered the horse carefully through the road. She was undoubtedly young for her age and likely in her mid-teens. “We’ve just come from vacation at Crator Lake. My name is Aril.”
“I’m Pauline,” I said, and then pointed to the person next to me. “This is Lilia.”
There was still one other person yet to introduce themselves, a young child beside her covered by that same tent. Then I noticed the girl staring intently at something on my clothes. I looked down and noted that the only thing of interest was the house emblem belonging to Prince Liel. Lilia had one time on her chest, too, a marking that symbolizes our servitude to the young prince—a phoenix bird with open wings and a sword on its talon.
“A Talician child,” said Lilia. I looked at the child on the other carriage and just barely realized he had that distinct coloring of red and purple, but still, unless we shed our light at him, his hair may as well be a jet black as night. “Do you serve a Talician household in Aria?”
“Yes,” said Aril, almost hurriedly. Then Lilia began poking questions.
“…A sola peak arrow head bird,” said Aril. “Closed wings.”
“I’m also Talician,” said Lilia, pointing at her colored hair and eyes. “I didn’t mean to sound so intrusive on a first meeting.”
“It’s not a problem,” said Aril.
“Is the child okay?” asked Lilia, though I didn’t understand her question or even the need to ask it.
“Yes,” said Aril. “Healthy as can be.”
The child poked his head out from the tent covers and looked at us. Eyes that come natural to Talicians and the look of a youth experienced with having a thirst for curiosity. Like Aril, this child also looked at our insignia. Perhaps a curiosity of seeing an opened winged emblem? Then I noticed it was a boy, aged around seven, but the chances of him being that same prince we were looking for didn’t seem likely. If I remember correctly, a sola peak arrow head family emblem does, in fact, reside in Aria. Many Talicians, families who migrated after the first war, lost their status as open winged birds. They are a small percentage, and only high noble class families are allowed to have one. Which, given exclusively by the Queen herself, recognizes their status as being part of Talica. Closed wings doesn’t have any negative connotations, except for the fact that they no longer had real obligation bide by Talician rule. However, there is one exception to this.
“…” I could feel Lilia wanted to speak her words and use that rule to request more information. Nevertheless, she stopped herself from uttering another word but I could perhaps also feel that she wanted to ask upfront, ‘are you the prince?’ Something like that.
“Do you not carry your emblem with you?” asked Lilia. There was an irritation in her voice for the lack of subtle hints this other group kept giving off.
“We are in Sharia,” said Aril. “Not exactly a region so pleasing to accommodate Talicians. Especially when Dahramn is this region’s neighbor.”
“Is your group coming to Aria for business?” asked Aril.
“Yes,” I said, Lilia sped up the horses pace and I gathered the meaning behind it,“but we should be going. We need to rent an Inn once we get there.”
“Goodbye,” said Aril, and I waved back to her. Lilia just kept on staring at the child without letting her eyes wonder until their carriage had passed our field of view.
* * *
It was still dark out. When I looked back at the other group’s carriage, I saw their faint light go off. Strange..
“You don’t think that was him?” I asked. Lilia now kept her eyes on the road, as too busy wondering thoughts calculating in her brain, she didn’t answer my question. Then finally, she spoke.
“Tradition states that a Talician should introduce themselves, and then their servants should they wish so,” said Lilia.
“He was just a child,” I said. “And the way you were coming off as might have frightened him from uttering a word.” Lilia sighed, perhaps knowing full well of how she handled the short meeting.
“You might be right,” said Lilia. “I don’t think I’ll be able to help but wonder if every Talician child we come across may or may not be him.”
“Alice?” said Lilia. That woman in the carriage kept quiet all along. She could have just stuck her head out and seen the child for herself.
“There is no need to hurry,” said Alice. “It’s night out and they are headed in the same direction. Besides, I’m sure Lilia will keep us from forcing him home if that is indeed not his wish.”
I looked to Lilia, she didn’t react at all to the words spoken. She’s loyal to a fault, especially when that loyalty lies within a child yet unable to make his own decisions. Whether or not I will stand be her side… is a different matter altogether.
* * *
We reached Aria. Though it was night out, people were walking the streets in large numbers. Most adventurers are likely coming from monster dungeon in hopes of finding rarities, weapons, armors, anything left by ill-fated individuals who failed to return alive. Others might seek treasure, a collection by monsters inside the dungeon that hordes the best items. That might just be my imagination, some of these people could just be coming from a long journey as they protect trade routes and the like.
“Aria is a trade capital,” said Lilia. “It’s bustling and booming with merchants everywhere. We should find and Inn soon.”
The horse drawn carriage that Lilia steered, carefully moved through the traffic of people. The rain had stopped hitting us as we passed the giant stone gates that lead into Aria. Magic created transparent ceilings in the sky above, puddles of the water scattered above us and some even streamed toward a general direction where water fell from small pockets in the magic and into wells.
“I wonder when Princess Nes will join us,” I said.
“She’ll probably find a spot to let her phoenix rest on,” said Lilia, “likely making a nest on a high tree by now.”
We then found a place to keep the carriage. A man led the horses into a spot filled with merchant wagons and other horses as we continued in this spot, opened with nothing but high fences all around.
“How long?” asked a man who approached us.
“One week,” said Lilia, and the man then demanded some silver for us to keep the carriage and horse in storage, some of the money which will go into caring for the horses and feeding them periodically from the looks of it as I see the same thing happening to other horses.
Lilia hands him the silver and we stop the carriage on a certain spot by the corner of the area. We then get off our seats and onto the ground.
“Let’s go,” said Lilia.
“To the house of Sola Peak..”
* * *
“Master Lee, was that okay?” asked Aril.
I went inside the carriage and proceeded to wake up both Kahl and Sophie, both of whom were still sleeping.
“You know,” said Aril, “my heart wouldn’t calm down when I saw their emblem.” She got off the carriage and headed towards the back to unpack our things. I, on the other hand, began to sit myself down by Sophie. She didn’t want to wake up and shrugged me off. Kahl was already up and began helping Aril.
Aril paused for a moment, hands stopped reaching for a box where we kept our spices to cook with and finally pulled it towards her.
“They will find you,” said Aril. “Soon.”
* * *
I knocked on the door. Lilia stood behind looking at our surroundings and we waited for someone to answer the door. By then, a woman answered the door.
“May I help–” her eyes carefully moved to the emblem on my chest and immediately bowed.
“No need for formalities,” said Lilia. “This isn’t Talica.”
“Yes, ma’am,” said the young woman, a Talician servant by the looks of it. “Please, come in.”
We entered the home as welcomed guests and were led to a small waiting room where we sat on very comfortable seats, stuffed with what was likely lili bird feathers. Very expensive.
“The master of the house will be with you shortly,” said the servant, leaving soon after.
“Hey, Lilia,” I called for her attention.
“What is it?”
“Look at the paintings,” I said, pointing at one in particular. Many of them covered the large walls inside the room. However, the paintings had images of what was likely the master of the house, most of which were him with a woman, likely his wife. None of them have a child.
“We should leave,” said Lilia. She got up and I followed with the same action. Before we reached the door there was a voice that began speaking from behind us.
“I heard my servant describe your emblem,” said the voice. It was a woman, middle aged but still had that clear characteristic of Talician features. The hair, the eyes, both were the right shade of purple-red.
“The paintings,” said Lilia.
“Me and my husband,” said the woman, “he passed away a few years ago. I go by the name Leland.”’ Then Lilia and I introduced ourselves in return.
“We are sorry for your loss,” I said.
“I have mourned enough,” she said. “In the years since, I’ve not had any interesting guests such as yourselves. To whom might I feel so honored for a visit from a royal?”
“The person in question is not with us,” said Lilia.
“Oh?” she said, walking closer to us and inspecting our emblem with careful eyes. “Open wings… phoenix, and a sword? Justice?” Referring to Liel’s house emblem, a phoenix bird with open wings, handling a sword on its talon. It represents justice, and thus a royal can be referred to by such a name that links to their house emblem, though only often used by real nobles of Talica.
“Yes,” said Lilia.
“It’s been a long time,” she said. “I had not been made aware that a new member had joined the royal house. What is her name?”
“It’s a boy, madam,” said Lilia, beginning to release secret information, too trusting of a Talician noble but all likely to find the prince that much sooner. “Liel Olivar Charles Windser.”
Leland began laughing at what she perhaps believed to be a joke. Lilia and I didn’t join her short enjoyment as she then calmed it quickly, and she took notice that we had no reacted the same..
The atmosphere grew tense.
“If what you say is true… you must have some sort of objective in this city, one so far from our motherland?”
Leland showed us back to the waiting room, her servant entered soon after with a full tea set.
“I don’t suppose there is some trouble with the Queen?”
“I’m afraid we cannot discuss matters concerning the Queen,” said Lilia.
“Then what of Unity and Chaos?”
“Princess Lehvie and Princess Nes are with us in Aria,” said Lilia.
Lehvie’s house emblem is, like all royals, a phoenix, except hers handles a shield and it represents unity. The house emblem belonging to Nes–her phoenix handles a meteor; it represents chaos.
“Then I take it you’ve come to me seeking someone,” said Leland, “am I to assume that is incorrect?”
“What do you mean?” asked Lilia.
“Anyone who lives in Aria would know that I like to keep track of all Talicians in the city,” said Leland. There was an expression on Lilia’s face that told all, and even I felt surprised that the girl we met before might have given us a hint to finding the prince. “Someone must have pointed you to me, and by the look on your faces–it seems I am correct.”
“The prince had gone missing and we’ve tracked him down to being in Sharia,” said Lilia, putting trust into Leland again and sharing some information about our objective, “this city being closest to where he is believed to have last been seen.”
“A different name,” Leland cut into Lilia’s words. “I would know if there was a child by that name the instant he entered this city.”
“Then,” said Lilia thinking of a name he might use. “Lee.”
“Yes, yes,” said Leland. Her servant brought in a thick book and opened it up to the more recent pages. “Lee… ah, yes, the young child appeared here about a month ago.” She looked closer at her text. “Seems he was with a young woman, a Koinsol Vatastragi… a Dahramn soldier at that, she accompanied the young boy and left weeks ago. I was following this case in particular because of the pairing.”
“Do you know where he is?” asked Lilia.
“He lives about a ten minute’s walk from this very house,” said Leland, “however, the exact address is something I will not release so easily. Though you may find him on your own time, I will warn him of your coming.”
Lilia grew tense, she no longer kept a expression of composure and seemed as if she wanted to yell at Leland as she then stood for the sudden turn around of behavior.
“Do not misunderstand my intentions,” said Leland, “over the time he has been here, he has done nothing but be a helpful young child. I would not believe to have seen the day when I would even witness myself such an act of kindness, twice, in fact, in the same day.”
Lilia regained her composure and took back her seat.
“Please,” said Lilia, “explain.”
“The streets of Aria are very busy,” said Leland, “while I was on my way to meet the child, seeing as he had nowhere to go… I wanted to offer him a room to stay at my estate. Then I find the child to have used his own coin to save a girl from becoming just another gal at a brothel, not to mention just a while before that, he went and took in two slave children, both of which were older than himself.”
“…” Leland’s book had closed and began speaking from memory. We listened closely.
“Of course,” said Leland, “I merely saw this as a naive act of feeling sympathetic towards the less fortunate. No, I was wrong to believe so. I witnessed myself that he took care of them, fed them, housed them, taught them things, made them happy, and genuinely seemed to care.”
“I still do not understand why you won’t tell us,” said Lilia, and I agreed, in fact, it almost seemed like the ramblings of an aging woman.
“…I would voice my opinion,” said Leland, “do not take offense when I say that I believe one should choose their own path, unlike our Queen, she likes to meddle in the affairs of others. I never offered the boy help from what I mentioned before, because I saw that he needed none of it, not from me, and I believe very well not from the Queen herself… you two are no exception.”
“However,” said Leland, “if you are so truly devoted to the house emblem of Justice, to the boy, Lee, then show me that of which the old text proclaim to be true loyalty in the blood of your master.”
“How would we go about doing so?” I asked, Lilia glared at me.
“It is but a simple short verbal answer that I seek,” said Leland, “but I will not have you two do so at the same time. If one of you should fail, however, then I will not reveal his location.”
“We accept the conditions,” said Lilia.
Leland’s servant showed me out of the room momentarily, as Lilia was the first to go up.
* * *
The servant returned to me moments later, I passed by Lilia who was showed to a different room. I now stood in front of Leland and she began speaking.
“To become a guard, a servant of the house you pledged to protect,” said Leland, “a sword that represents the justices of this world. In the old texts, the first king is said to have wrote about justice, and in it he described that we must… what?”
* * *
A short time had passed and both Lilia and I had given our answer to the question. We were now together with Leland again. She began speaking.
“Unfortunately,” said Leland, becoming annoyed by our presence. “Both answers given were failures. I’ll now have you both escorted out. Leave.”