We received twenty gold as payment for the capture of the red jeweled monster. It was early in the morning and I was holding the gold. In total, we carried well over a hundred gold that didn’t include our own money, but nevertheless, the extra coins placed a big smile on my face, even Colins, who I had observed spending his personal funds on rarities to send home, smirked at the thought that this would be shared evenly—however, that decision fell on the captain. She took the payment from my hands.
“These aren’t for your personal use,” said Zeyl. Both Colins and I groaned and I could hear Ovid and even the Guild Master Rein laugh mildly at our disappointment.
We said our goodbyes and finally headed off for the next town to the north, and soon Talica. Since we had extra funds, Zeyl made everyone carry a few extra supplies, this included sugar and spices, a few potions and higher quality magic stones for emergencies. We followed the road for a few hours until we reached a point where we could no longer see the peak of the city’s castle.
For the time being I was left with Ovid and Colins, while Captain Zeyl was scouting ahead. She left markings on trees so that we wouldn’t lose her trail, or even if we did, Ovid could find her scent right away. And if something happened, she would make a slight change to the markings.
“The Captain is about one kilometer away,” said Ovid, he was looking at a marking on a tree and we continued on for hours while the only thing to fill the gaps of silence were the sounds of distant animals or insects humming.
“Do you know why they named that country Talica?” Ovid took out his notebook and jotted something down.
“What of it?” I asked. Colins pushed ahead of us.
“It was after an old and now dead language,” he said, and showed me the name underlined, “Ta is translated to ‘of’”
“Then what is Lica?”
“Licia,” he said, “It was pronounced and written as Ta’Licia.”
“Of Licia,” I said.
“Correct. Talica is named after the first city established in the north.,” he said. “And to the south, Dalrhamn, the way it used to be written was ‘De el Rhamn,’ which translated to ‘Of the Rhamn.’”
“But then who was the city of Licia named after?”
“Licia was named after King Oliver’s cherished wife,” he said, and moved his eyes up, as if thinking, “…but there is no record of such a person ever existing. Supposedly, he married someone who died giving birth to Ellenor Lehvine Lician, the first born princess of the country.” Colins groaned.
“Ugh, no one cares!” he picked up speed and we followed.
“No need to get grumpy,” I tapped him on the shoulder. “Should we catch up to the captain? It’s going to get dark soon.”
“I agree,” said Ovid. We spread out so that we couldn’t see each other, but close enough so that we could offer assistance in an emergency. We jogged and eventually reached Captain Zeyl and saw that she was walking to a river. She wasn’t being followed nor was she acting strangely so Ovid and Colins showed themselves to her.
I climbed on the branches of a tree and brought out my bow. I aimed an arrow and shot it into the river. The surface rippled and I could see a fish struggling to get free despite my arrow lodged inside and into the riverbed.
I jumped down made my way to the river. The fish struggled more and more until it was able to dislodge the arrow from the riverbed and swim away.
“Fishy!” I yelled, and followed it down the river. It swam inside a deeper part of the river where I could no longer see it. “Come back!” My stomach grumbled. Ovid stood by the river and dug his staff to ground. Before long a cloud of smoke spread everywhere, masking our scent. I took a deep breath.
“Smells like the river,” I said, there was another smell mixed in. “And fish.”
“The lizard tail fish are common in the area,” said Ovid. “The smell should be identical to the real thing.” Colins laid back on a tree and closed his eyes. We still had about an hour of daylight, so relaxing for a bit should be okay. Just as I was about to sit—
“No lazing around,” said Zeyl. My shoulders dropped.
Colins picked himself up and stretched. Zeyl ordered us to collect firewood and set up camp. In the mean-time, she went off by herself while Ovid stayed by the river and continued masking our scents with his magic. A few meters out I started collecting whatever wood I could find. By the time I finished, I had collected a mountain of it. I returned to camp and found the tents were already made just as Colins finished setting up, and Zeyl returned with skewered fish all lined up on her sword.
We sat around by a warm campfire.
“Our next stop is a little over a week away,” said the captain. “We will be skipping a few towns to make up for the time we’ve lost.” Our next order of business was to cross the borders into Talica. The problem was how to go about doing it. “We’ll offer our services as mercenaries, guards for hire, while we accompany a traveling merchant.” She took out her fake guild identification, and pointed at the fake name on the card. “Remember your aliases. If somehow you forget,” her eyes were locked on me, “then don’t speak out a name at all.”
“What about backstories?” asked Colins.
“None,” said Zeyl. “If someone asks, just tell the truth. You’re from Dalhramn. We aren’t at war just yet, so it will only get worse if you arouse suspicion if and when a story you made up starts crumbling.”
“Then what do we need fake names if we aren’t going to lie about where we are from?” asked Colins.
“For your family’s protection,” said Ovid. We all knew the goal of our mission.
“Just one thing…” this time Zeyl made sure all eyes were on her. “It’s over if someone catches you.”
“After all,” I said. My words waned. After all, we were going to kidnap the child of one of the most dangerous people in this world. Someone who could erase you from existence just from standing in her presence. The Queen of Talica.
* * *
It was morning and everyone packed their things. It was the same thing for the next few days. Walking endlessly while one of us scouted ahead, then made camp before sundown. The first days were manageable since we still had a collection of herbs and spices from the city, and bathing wasn’t an issue because we could always create our own, or for the wealthy, magic stones were always an option. All of that changed when our supplies dried up. ‘Because we should also learn to manage without them,’ echoed the words of our glorious leader. If only she hadn’t meant it.
As practice, we were banned from water, using it only to drink or cook with, in other words we smelled—badly. We were also starved for a few days as to ‘mimic’ what it feels like to be in lands scarce with food and survived on only the bare minimums.
I stopped in front of the captain, her usual look went unfazed and I pinched the end of her cheeks to make a smile on her face to link the image I had of her in my head, where she was laughing at this torture.
At least, thanks to Ovid, the number of dangerous animals was low but at a cost.
“It’s really bad,” I said, the smell was unimaginable.
“It took me a long time to replicate the smell closest to the real thing,” said Ovid. “An alpha male of the feline variety.”
“It’s urine,” said Colins. He was the only one not bothered by the smell while everyone else had either pinched their noses closed or like myself, I used the only clean cloth I had that I used to clean my face with. Captain Zeyl pulled my hand and we pushed ahead where the smell couldn’t reach. I took a whiff of my clothing and noticed the smell had already made itself a home on me. I sighed.
When we were close enough to the town, it was decided we would continue well into the night and forgo making a camp. What awaited us were warm beds, warm food, and hot baths. It was worth it. Almost.
A strange shaped vine caught my foot and I went head first into the ground. I moaned in pain. My nose took most of the impact and Ovid helped me up.
“Are you okay?” Ovid held back a laugh. Behind him, Colins was laughing without restraint and except for Zeyl, she continued through the forest. We carried on. This time, however, I followed by jumping from tree to tree instead of below where the moonlight could not pierce through the many dense trees and branches.
“Oh,” I said. I could see the town from atop the trees. “We’re already here.” The view was better than I had words for. The town was situated near the ocean, and there were boats lined up near the shore. I moved to the next tree until I found one close enough to jump on the roof of a house. From there I could see everything and everyone below. It wasn’t like a city where people would walk around at night, shopping for whatever fit their needs. There were a few who seemed more like they belonged here and not out of place like Zeyl and the others who waltzed right in town looking dirty and dangerous.
Zeyl walked into an inn and after a while I saw the window on the second floor open and I jumped through.
“No one’s following,” I said. I took off for a bed, looked around and saw that only the captain was in the room. “Where are the guys?”
“They’re doing their own thing,” said Zeyl, she sat by the window. “Come.”
“Hmm?” I turned to face her. She was undressing and putting the thin metal plates of her armor on the floor. They were well hidden underneath some cloth and leather. I got up from the bed and moved a chair beside her. She showed me the stub where her right arm would have otherwise continued to her hand if she still had it. There was a small stain on the bandages just below.
“It has been a long trip,” I said. “Do you want me to re-apply new bandages?”
“No,” she said. I could see the green tint of her eyes looking to where her arm was missing. “I’ve been hesitant for a while.” Zeyl took out a small box and opened it to reveal a very transparent magic crystal. Its core shined a white light and she handed it to me. She removed the bandages and I saw magic stones embedded into her skin. Just above them was a small plate of metal with a slot that could easily fit the stone she handed me. I placed inside and the light of its core vanished. Now the stones in her skin glowed dim.
“What is that?” I asked. An arm was forming from the stones, eventually becoming complete and it was hard to tell it from a real arm except that was an abnormally pale white. Zeyl stretched out her new arm and made a fist. “How does it feel?”
“Feels real,” she said. I went ahead and touched it. It looked real but touching it was a different matter.
“It’s cold…” I said. Zeyl stood and unsheathe her sword. She wielded it like she was prepared to strike. Then in an instant, she cut through the open air.
“Feels like I never lost my arm in the first place.”
Both Ovid and Colins returned after some time, wrapped in only towels. I blushed and closed my eyes. I dragged the captain out of the room and we headed for the bathing room. When we returned to our room the guys were dressed in normal wear. I kicked them out.
“Why so mean?” said Colins on his way to the door, Ovid followed right behind.
When we finished dressing we regrouped at the dining hall and had dinner. It was food, real food. Meat, vegetables, soup, bread, mashed potatoes and gravy. I stuffed myself until I could eat no more.
“That must have cost a fortune,” said Ovid, he eyed the captains new arm.
“It was gifted from the king,” she said. “Because I would be useless without one, were his words.”
“It’s kinda creepy,” said Colins, I shoved my elbow on him.
“That’s rude,” I said. “I actually think it looks charming.”
“Well I think she should wear some sleeves,” he said. This time it was both Ovid and I that shoved an elbow at Colins.
“I need someone to spar with,” said Zeyl. We were silent. “If not I’ll put all of you one after the other.” Ovid and I shared a gaze, we looked to Colins and non-verbally agreed on the sheep to make our escape. I raised Colins’ hand and Ovid hid behind him to make a voice.
“Me, captain,” said Ovid as he mimicked Colins’ voice.
“Good,” said Zeyl. “We’ll spar sometime in the morning.”
“Wai—what?” Colins looked on with a confused stare.
We paid for our meal and headed back to our room, everyone had settled in nicely. But before bed Colins pulled out of the room.
“Don’t tell me you’re chickening out,” I said.
“No,” he said, “I need a favor for tomorrow’s match.” I agreed to help and returned to bed only to spring back on my feet and walk to Zeyl’s bed.
“Go back to your bed,” she said. We had our backs to each other.
“It smells like my dirty clothing and that animal smell.”
We went to sleep.
* * *
The next morning, we made off to a local smith in the town to collect a special order that Colins made far in advance.
“This is it,” Colins picked up a shield about half his size. The bottom end was pointed. I excused myself from the group as they headed to have a match between Colins and captain Zeyl. I followed them from a distance and once in the forest, I climb a tree and followed them until we reached a secluded spot. Both Colins and Zeyl lined up opposite to each other at about ten meters apart, just the two of them while Ovid operated as referee.
From the beginning, Colins was the only one forced to leave his things. Unlike my bow or Ovid’s staff that seemed more like they were bought from a normal supplier, or even Zeyl’s black steel sword that she brought from Aria, almost everything Colins had was stitched with our military insignia. He had to buy a new set of weapons and armor, and carrying a heavy shield for months would get tiring very quickly.
It was sword against sword as Colins decided opt out from using his shield—for now. The match began with Ovid shot an ice spell at the sky and soon an icicle landed in the middle of the field. They sped towards the other.
I saw Colins had no intention of stopping and instead prepared for a head on collision, but just before they could make contact, Zeyl leapt over him and swung her sword to his back.
“Point one to the captain,” Ovid raised his right hand. It didn’t hit, but it was still in her favor. After all, they weren’t out here to kill each other.
“You should train more without your shield,” said the captain. “If you lose it while confronted by the enemy, you won’t last long.”
They continued for another round. This time Colins had his shield. There was a reason the captain picked him to join us. Again, Ovid shot an ice spell and waited for it to land.
There was no movement, Colins circled around the captain with his shield up and not a moment went by where he wasn’t observing the captain. On the other hand, Captain Zeyl seemed calm and collected, in fact she walked over to him and swung her sword at his shield but he didn’t budge. He was like a rock that would not yield to anyone.
Zeyl swung at his shield repeatedly, and only because she knew Colins, she didn’t seem to worry about defending. Zeyl stepped back, then circled to his right and left, but no matter what, Colins always had his shield pointed to her.
“Good,” said the captain.
It was Colins’ turn. He stepped around the captain and forced her to move where he wanted, he closed in and forced her to back away but made sure of one thing, the captain was always facing him and away from me. Her back was open and I aimed an arrow to her. I shot the arrow and it bounced right off her back without leaving even a scratch. Just as intended
“One point to Colins,” said Ovid, and with that I completed the favor. I dropped down and stood beside Ovid.
“It’s a tie,” said Colins. He had a smug look on his face. The next round started and this time the captain ran towards Colins, she jumped and he put his shield to her. Zeyl landed on the shield and as Colins tried pushing her away and at the same time thrusting his sword, the captain kicked the blade away and landed on him. Her sword was on his kneck.
“Captain Zeyl is the victor,” said Ovid.
“That was quick.”
* * *
We roamed the streets in search of the merchant whose cargo we had received orders to protect. Ovid was the one leading us, seeing as how he was the one who accepted the job on our behalf. Before that, we had replenished our supplies, our equipment was cleaned and I felt like I could take on anything.
“There’s one problem with the assignment,” said Ovid. “If we had gotten to town early we would have been hired, just the four of us.”
“So, we’re tagging along with someone else?” I asked.
“Since we are near Talica’s borders…” he said. We turned a corner and saw the carriage waiting. There stood the merchant packing his things and three others.
Three Talicians. Red hair, red eyes—oh, god.
“Hi,” said Ovid. He greeted the merchant and the rest of us gave a short vow to our employer. The three red haired, red eyed walked up to us and offered a hand shake. By the look of it, they were soldiers and they wore an emblem of a phoenix with open wings, it had a shield, too. The Captain was blunt about her choice of words.
“I’ve never seen that emblem before,” she said, and shook hands with them as they introduced themselves one after the other. Their group was made up of two males and one female. Two long blades, a shield, and a staff. If things turned bad, taking out the girl first before she uses any magic would be optimal. Zeyl and Colins can take on the other two while Ovid provides support—and after… I. I felt someone pat my back. Ovid excused us, and left Colins and the captain with the others.
We entered an alley.
“You’re doing it again,” said Ovid. “We aren’t fighting them, so calm yourself.” I took a deep breath. In… and out.
“I’m fine,” I said. When we returned I saw the carriage was ready to leave. Inside I could see the captain making conversation with everyone, an odd sight. Everyone sat in the back and had plenty of space. There were only two boxes and a few other things stacked inside. This was made awkward by the fact that our group sat one side, and the reds sat on the other, we were all facing each other. The carriage started moving.
Ovid nudged my shoulder and he took the lead.
“We didn’t introduce ourselves earlier,” he said. “My name’s Ovid.”
“Ah, like the poet?” One of the guys in their group extended a hand.
“Yes, like the poet.”
“Gale,” I said and shook hands with them.
The entire time I averted my eyes with them and let my eyes wonder outside as the carriage moved and instead opted to enjoy the scenery, luckily the road was near the shore and the waves of the ocean moved along with a strong wind. This made the ride at least a little more enjoyable.