Chapter 243: On the Surface
I looked back at the softly-lit corridor stretching back into the darkness before my gaze lowered to the white medallion in my hand.
“Sorry, Grandpa,” I muttered under my breath, clutching tightly onto the artifact. “I swear I’ll return this.”
I turned my back to the path I had come from and faced the ancient gate in front of me. Letting out a deep sigh, I prepared for whatever would happen once I crossed.
I was being rash and emotional. I knew that.
Even after what happened at my last battle in Elshire Forest, where General Aya had to rescue me, I still chose to do this. Even after how much I had berated myself—hated myself—I couldn’t sit still like this.
Grandpa had already killed off Mother and Father in his mind. No matter what he said, I knew that look he always had when I mentioned them. I knew what that look meant. To him, my parents were no longer family, but traitors.
Grandma Rinia wasn’t as bad, but I knew that she had given up on trying to save my parents. Just from overhearing the plans she and Virion made together with General Bairon on who to save, I knew that my parents were nowhere on that list.
But they didn’t know. They weren’t there like I was. They didn’t know how hard Mother’s hands trembled as she held onto my hand and pulled me away. They weren’t there to see Father with tears rolling down his face as we stepped through the portal.
Pulling the hood over my head, I steeled myself. Whatever anyone thought of my actions now, it didn’t matter. My parents deserved a chance, and if their own daughter won’t give that to them, who would?
My mind wandered and I thought of Arthur. I had been tempted to ask him to help me, but that was too selfish. I knew the dangers that this mission entailed and if anything happened to him because of me…
I’m dispensable, he isn’t.
Holding the medallion out in front of me, I walked through the glowing gate in front of me. The soft purple light undulated at the medallion’s touch and I felt a slight pull. Rather than resist the foreign sensation, I accepted it and stepped further into the gate until my entire body became immersed in soft purple.
Immediately, my body was pulled across a whirling funnel of light. It felt different from the normal teleportation gates, more… nauseating.
I stumbled out the other side on a paved ground, still a bit disoriented from the trip. It wasn’t long before someone yelled out, “Hey! Someone used the gate!”
Peeking up, I saw four Alacryans standing guard around the teleportation gate that I had crossed through.
“Get on your knees and take off your hood!” the guard to my right ordered, aiming a condensed sphere of wind in my direction. “Now!”
I dropped low and slammed my palm on the ground. Before the spells from the Alacryans could reach me, however, a thick gale of wind surged around me.
Keeping one hand on my head to keep the hood in place, I muttered another spell. I willed the protective barrier of wind to expand, pushing away the enemy mages caught off guard.
Using this brief window of opportunity, I dashed forward to the nearest alleyway a hundred feet north.
Orders were barked out to their allies further out, and soon another pair of Alacryans were coming at me from either side.
Keeping my hood down, I rushed towards the Alacryan to my left, shooting a blade of wind at him.
Almost immediately, an armor of ice enveloped his body, protecting his neck from the sharp crescent of wind that I had sent his way. My initial instinct was to be surprised and intimidated by the deviant mage before I reminded myself that the Alacryans used magic differently than we did. But a higher form of magic didn’t necessarily equate to a stronger mage in their case.
I focused on the opponent at hand. The ice-clad Alacryan had managed to defend my attack but the force of my wind blade managed to knock him off his feet. Before his companion could come to his aid while he stood back up, I sped up. The temptation to use my plant magic or beast will quickly grew—it would be so much easier to get away—but I resisted. Using deviant magic like that would be telling everyone that the former princess of Elenoir was here.
Conjuring a condensed surge of wind below my back foot, I propelled myself within arm’s length of the enemy. He brought up his longsword to block whatever attack he thought I would hit him with but instead, I grabbed his arm and used a classic overhead toss that my grandpa had taught me.
With the aid of wind magic, I tossed the Alacryan a few dozen feet in the air which opened up the path to the nearest alleyway.
“Don’t let him get away!” a voice screamed from afar.
Comforted by the fact that they thought I was a man, I sped forth and got away with another gust of wind aiding me.
I sped through the narrow passage. Buildings towered over me on either side, the road barely wide enough to allow two men to walk shoulder to shoulder. Despite how old the buildings and paved road were, not a single piece of trash sullied the alleyway.
Most of the human cities looked so similar to one another that it was hard to tell exactly where I was until I had a better view of the city as a whole, but I knew that I had at least arrived in one of the major cities of Sapin.
My eyes constantly scanned the road and even nearby rooftops in case an Alacryan was keeping track of my whereabouts from above. Taking a quick look at the sky confirmed that I hadn’t landed in Xyrus City. The clouds were well overhead and there was no translucent barrier that could be seen protecting the floating city.
After some time had passed and I carefully made my way towards one of the larger roads. I peeked out from the narrow passage I had wedged myself through to see that there were quite a lot of people still walking the streets.
Still, I kept out of sight and studied the pedestrians passing by just to make sure. While there were mostly adventurers and soldiers dressed in armor or protective leather, I spotted quite a bit of children and housewives that wore dirty aprons. Strangely, though, everyone seemed to be moving in the same direction.
They all have such lifeless expressions, I thought to myself, my chest knotting in guilt. It was stupid to feel responsible for everything happening, but a part of me still thought that maybe it was largely my fault for how the war turned out.
I shook my head, snapping myself out of the hole that I would dig myself into if I started this train of thought.
After wrapping the cloak tightly around me and making sure that most of my conspicuous hair color couldn’t be seen, I jumped out of the alleyway. Blending in with a horse-drawn carriage that passed close by, I walked in sync until a rather clustered group of pedestrians offered me a more natural veil to hide amongst.
A few gave me passing glances but because of my smaller physique, no one seemed to take too much notice.
“Do we really have to go?” a middle-aged woman a few feet ahead of me whispered to what looked like her husband.
The plump man answered in a hushed tone. “Those damn Alacryans are already beginning to chase people out of their homes. If we don’t go now, it’ll only make things worse.”
The woman looked at her husband as if she was about to say something but looked down. I could see her shoulders droop while she held tightly onto the hand of her daughter.
Confused, I continued following everyone until I spotted a few stands on the side of the street. Most were almost finished wrapping up their goods and putting down the tarps that hung over their stands, but I managed to find a clothing stand that had yet to be completely packed up.
In one quick motion I swiped a long leather cap and a matching mantle and pant set hanging on a rack.
“Hey! That’s…” the shopkeeper’s voice trailed off. Taking a quick peek back, I could see her looking wide-eyed at the few silver coins I had left on the table.
Sliding into another nearby side alley between an abandoned bakery and butcher shop with broken windows, I hurriedly changed my clothes with the ones I had just bought.
I tied up my hair and tucked it into the leather cap that ran down past my neck, making sure most of my silver hair couldn’t be seen. After putting on the mantle and pair of pants, I ran my fingers on the dirt ground and slid it messily across my face.
“This should be enough,” I muttered under my breath. I thought about maybe taking out the practice bow I had borrowed from Ellie to complete the adventurer’s ensemble, but I decided otherwise after noticing that no one was carrying their weapon.
I blended in with the tides of people all walking solemnly in the same direction. Despite how much more crowded it had become, there was still an eerie silence lingering.
“Excuse me. What is going on?” I deepened my voice and avoided eye contact with the man I had just asked.
The man ignored me and sped up.
I tried again, this time to an elderly woman, but was met with the same response until finally, a younger lady—just a bit older than me—finally responded.
“I-It’s over,” she choked back a sob. “Those invaders told us to move to Etistin centre if we didn’t want to be hunted down.”
“Hunted down?” I said quietly. “What about the Dicathen army stationed in Etistin?”
The woman’s pace quickened as she looked back nervously.
I followed after her, matching her pace, and asked again before answering in an even quieter voice. “They… left.”
“Left?” I said a bit louder than I had intended.
The woman’s eyes bulged like a startled stray and she zipped off, clutching tightly onto the drawstring bag in her arms.
I let out a deep breath as I tried to repress the frustration and anxiety building up inside me. Talking to that woman left me with more questions than answers and it seemed like everyone was too scared to talk.
Adjusting my leather cap, I walked on. The only way I’d get some answers was by going to Etistin. Judging by the fact that we were moving away from the Grand Mountains, we were going west.
I must’ve crossed through the eastern gate of Etistin, which makes sense seeing that it’s the least used teleportation gate and the furthest one from the castle. Elder Rinia must’ve set it to come to this one in order to smuggle some of the key figures she had written down on that list.
The more I continued walking, the denser the crowd around me became. It got to the point where we all had to shuffle forward, our shoulders pressed against each other. The cries of children could be heard over the nervous shushing made from their parents.
The tall ornate buildings making up the inner portions of the capital city of Etistin blocked the view of the city centre, but it was just before then that I spotted Alacyans.
They weren’t any different from the humans of Sapin, but they all wore the same gray and black uniformed streaked with blood-red. They were also the only ones with weapons and they used them to herd the people up ahead into the pathway leading into the city centre.
That’s when I heard it. The first scream.
That was only the beginning—that first scream triggered more as the crowd in front reached the open area of the city’s square.
I pushed ahead through the crowd, trying to squeeze my way toward the front. I was in the middle of the dense line of people squeezing into the open area that was once the hub of commerce and trade.
As I got closer, I noticed the change in the air—from fear and worry to despair.
I could make out the more subtle reactions now alongside the screams that resounded. I could make out the gasps and groans and even the quiet sobs from the people up ahead.
As I got even closer, I could see the people: a broad man pointing a trembling finger to my right; a woman with both hands covering her mouth, eyes wide and tears flowing freely; another man with a hardened fixed expression, looking the other way.
That’s when I reached the front.
I turned my head to face the sight that everyone was reacting so strongly towards, not caring about the Alacryans nearby.
And I finally saw it. My gut clenched and a lump in my throat threatened to suffocate me as I saw the four figures.
Two men, two women, with black spikes pierced through their bodies high up in the air for all to see.
Two were the leaders of this kingdom, and the other two were… my parents.