The Origin Stones

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Chapter 27 - Sound Convincing

Midori draped herself in bulky clothing, much to her disdain. She normally wore her sleeveless legless attire for a reason: so she wouldn’t sweat quite so much. But alas, she would just have to suffer through it if she wanted to survive another day.

Fifteen minutes walking under the sun almost broke her, though. She was uncomfortable all over. She felt her skin gasping for air due to how muffled it was from the heat stored under her garments. Her ears were over her breasts and not quite enjoying being constricted. She could almost feel a thin layer of wetness under her soles. Her eyes were drying up and she could smell the salt of sweat.

This is torture…

She did her best to hold it together, afraid being discovered might get her killed. Along she walked, following the rest of the brave souls who dared venture outside so freshly out of Faircloth’s take over.

The sun was rising fast, as it normally did, and those few souls walked the streets like clouds in a desert.

She noticed no one was talking either, they were mainly looking around, expectantly, wondering if it was really okay to pick up normal life where they had left it. That made her realize just how tired she actually was. The only sleep she’d gotten had been those couple of hours before Breem had shown up. Before the escape and the fighting.

On cue with that memory, she looked to the aristocrat’s towers to see how some of them had crumbled, and a couple had been brought down so low they weren’t even visible over the buildings, while before, they all towered unmistakably high.

Do all the towers still standing belong to Faircloth’s allies…or to those that weren’t able to put up a fight?

Looking around to try and remember the way to the market, she noticed there were still signs of fire here and there. She looked down in a sad way when a patrol of soldiers appeared, but to her surprise, they were running to put out a fire.

As she walked, she noticed other government officials supervising repairs to shops and homes. And yet, fear still gripped the eyes of everyone she saw.

As usual, games of power are played at the expense of the rest of us. Why is it the ones who fight the hardest for power, never do it for other people’s sake?

Still, none of it really mattered. These grand schemes and historical battles came and went, and while, for the people so invested in them, they might be the event of their lives, for an adventurer, they were just one more. A Tuesday. Maybe a week.

Tyrants and conquerors, and those who stood against them, all simply employers in a vast line of them.

Thinking about it, however, she wasn’t really sure what day of the week she was on. Being stuck on Breem’s hidden room had made her lose track of the calendar.

The day I went after the librarian was…

As she continued to exercise her chaotic thought process, she soon found out the market wasn’t one anymore. Some sort of battle had taken place, most of the stands were destroyed, some bodies were still being carried out, and blood was being washed off the floors.

She quickly stepped away, heading instead towards the other market with hopes that one would have what she needed.

Midori walked on, ever wandering in her continuous thoughts, instead of all the fresh memories she had made, and the future ones she highly feared to make.

Especially if she was caught. She tried not to think about those.

Half-way there, she started to get the distinct feeling she was being tailed. She didn’t actually see any guards after her, and the few dozen people in the vicinity were, like her, looking for a functional market. Or so she assumed, at least.

It was just a feeling, though. That sixth sense a girl has that tells her when she’s being watched. She saw no indication of anyone giving off any kind of strange vibe so she pawned it off to being paranoid.

Even if I’m right, it’s probably just someone asking themselves why someone would go around dressed like this. Not that there aren’t like four other people with this much clothing on top of them. What can they be thinking?!

It occurred to her then they might very well be thinking the same as her. It occurred to her they might be revolutionaries trying to get their own supplies. Still, she couldn’t risk exposing herself, so if that were the case, it would just be something to laugh about later.

If Jeen didn’t die.

Turning a corner, she saw the smaller market had been left untouched. As such, some of the quiosks and rugs and all the things merchants used as selling platforms were present and open for business. The merchants didn’t seem all that happy, though, but actually nervous and skittish.

It was hard to tell why people would try to trade this soon after Faircloth takeing over, but Midori supposed they all feared things would only get worse when night came and what was left of Faircloth’s opposition made their move. This was a time of pause and rest, and these brave people were taking advantage of it to stock up on supplies.

Because you never know… just how the wind will blow.

“Good morning,” Midori greeted the old lady Jun behind a table filled with herbs and fungus and a large cloth hung above to protect the stand from the sun. Behind her stood the wall to a building just one floor high.

“Heh, how optimistic of you to think so, dear. Are you feeling well? You look a tad pale,” the woman said with concern.

“Oh, no, yes. I’m actually a Lan, hahaha, my fur’s just white.”

“Oh my. Fur? Why are you wearing that much clothing then, child?”

“I—I just am.” Midori looked aside, trying not to be suspicious. “I need these items, please. Do you have any of them?”

Midori had written a small list of ingredients on her way to the first market. She stopped and wrote it on a wall because it had occurred to her it would be better than to voice them out, lest someone recognize what it was for.

“Hum hum…” the lady nodded, reading it over, “I have most of them, except for…yeah, just one I don’t have: kyrrn’s skin. That one’s hard to come by but I think Lirn over there has some.”

“Oh, great,” Midori said, relieved, “that’s great, thank you.”

The woman started picking the items into a bag, all while talking, “so, I assume this is all for a healing ointment, hm?”

“Hm?” Midori hummed, faking cluelessness.

“Well, after what happened last night, it’s only natural. You’re not the only one looking to make some ointments, since the hospitals are being so heavily patrolled.”

“Ah, I guess you caught me,” Midori smiled childishly, sticking her tongue out.

“Yes, dear…” the woman sadly said, “yes I did.”

Her heart spiked almost as brusquely as the voice behind her.

“Raise your hands and turn around!”

Midori shivered and glanced aside to see three individuals she had assumed were villagers, forming a perfect triangle around her. Two of them had bows with arrows knocked and prepped to shoot, aimed right at her. The third’s visage was concealed behind her.

She raised her hands, slowly, and turned around.

“What did I do? I’m just buy--”

“Shut up,” the leader said, approaching her. It was a short but muscular Pan, who carried a spear-looking dagger. He approached her while drawing it from his back and pointed it at her. It made a clicking noise, and it suddenly extended itself to the size of a normal spear.

She again shivered, startled, but the spear just pushed her hood back, showing them her face. Her ears were visibly going down inside the garments.

The Pan cracked a smile. He had short messy white hair and cunning gray eyes, and wore some dirty jerkins over his bare chest, and even dirtier pants loosely laced around his waist. He looked…homeless, feeble even, but stood and moved unflinchingly.

“Midori Hanna…the emperor is looking for you.”

“The-the emperor?”

“His great Highness and self-proclaimed ruler of the deserts… Gafaneus Faircloth. HAR!” He laughed as if it was a joke to him. Probably because it was.

As he stopped laughing, he brushed her strands of hair off her as he placed his spear against her neck. A few strands of hair unceremoniously fell, laying witness to the sharpness of the blade.

“We were hoping you hadn’t escaped during the messy night we just went through. Har. I’d suggest you come back with us to Faircloth’s palace, kid. And without a fight.”

Midori looked on, afraid. She glanced around to see if any of the other cloaked figures around them were paying attention, hoping they would really be concealed allies.

She didn’t notice anything particularly hopeful, no eyes looking towards her, so she looked back at the Pan.

She sighed.

“I…would rather take my chances with you three than with whatever count is at the palace. I assume it’s way more.”

“Har! That’s fine by me, girl,” he enjoyably pulled the spear back. He span it over his head while stepping back. He stopped it behind his back. “Survive the arrows and I’ll honor you with a fight.”

“Fight?” Midori cracked a nervous giggle.

She was pretty scared but it was remarkably humorous that he thought she meant to beat them in a fight instead of just running. She was so good at running.

“Ha.” She jumped back to the sound of arrow strings flinging. She felt the cloth of her cloak being pushed against her shorts and butt, by the merchant’s table, as both arrows crossed in front of her, dividing her vision into two perfect halves.

Embarrassingly, Midori pushed her butt against the table to get a small hop out of it and backflip over the lady Jun, who had already been frantically diving down to get out of the way. She removed her staff during the backflip and waved it at the table to lift it to her left side.

She landed with a wave of her staff to block the arrow that wouldn’t have a table to get through. The other one did hit the flipped table.

She spun and leaped further away, to get to the wall. The archer blocked by the table had to side-step before firing another so now their synchronicity was messed up. The arrow came from the right and she dodged it, then she looked to the left to dodge that one while getting close enough to the wall of the building.

She turned there and flipped, pushing the staff against the floor to vault into the rooftop. She spun while going up, just in case, and two more arrows were dodged on her way up.

“Nice moves,” Midori heard as she landed on the rooftop. The Pan was waiting for her there with a smirk on his face. He shoved the blunt end of the spear against her belly, and against her entire momentum, which knocked all the wind out of her.

She flew back and off the roof to land on the cloth ceiling the merchant had been using. The small poles holding it up collapsed due to her weight, and she found herself being clumsily wrapped in the cloth just before her back hit the ground.

Afraid she’d been pierced by arrows, she tried rolling out of the fall but that just made the cloth wrap around her worse.

“Dang--” she jumped wildly, not to say completely blind, too concerned the arrows would shoot her to consider how rediculous she looked. From above her, though, in mid-air, she heard the Pan again. Laughing.

“Har har har! Well ain’t that convenient?!”

And then she received a hard hit to the head. An acute pain which she felt for only half a second.

Next thing she knew, a strange voice was wrestling her away from sleep. A dreamless sleep that made it seem no time at all had passed between the ambush and whenever she was then.

“…nap out of it!”

She felt something against her cheek.

“I said wake up!”

She realized it was a slap when it hit her again.

“Gah!”

It was so sudden that her senses immediately reawakened into a state of emergency, making her aware of her surroundings. She was tied to a chair in some small room. A pale and young bald Pan was in front of her. She also noticed all her garments had been removed and she was now in her usual legless and sleeveless attire she had been wearing under them.

Finally, she was hurting all over. Mainly in her head.

He must’ve knocked me out there…stupid sheet.

“She’s up, your highness.”

Standing out of the way, she saw Faircloth standing by the door. He was already wearing a crown, a thing of gold filled with shiny jewels, and had an embroidered vest that, frankly, looked intimidating on him. It was bright, the color of sand under the shade, with golden and silvered patterns around it.

He sure looked like the emperor.

“You’re lucky that Aellea and Bellhall have thrown their lot in with your friends,” he stated, making use of an impatiently ruthless tone of voice. “They’re leaving someone with each of the governments, with which they can contact. You…are their contact with me.”

For some reason, that reminded her of Jeen. With her being captured, he was most likely already dead. Her eyes reacted on their own, showing disdain for Faircloth. So did her mouth.

“You’re not the government,” she spat.

“Oh I know what I am, girl,” he opened the door, “it’s you who doesn’t know who you are. An adventurer…or a rebel? Stay here and think it over, I’ll be back regularly to check if there’s any report from your friends…and you better not lie to me.”

“Oh no, please do,” the Pan to her side said, leaning his head to the left and looking at her hungrily. “His Highness will let me work on you if you lie.”

The honesty inherent in that soulless gaze rocked her deep inside, in the core of her instinct. Midori bowed her head in defeat, all resistance dissipating away from her own gaze just as it turned away.

“I never wanted a part in this,” Midori helplessly mumbled.

“Well. Stay out of Fairgrifen’s business and report what your friends tell you.” Faircloth turned around and left, adding, “and you won’t have to have a part in this.”

He left.

The Pan sighed and shook his head, truly disappointed.

“You should be like the others and resist,” he suggested, heartfelt, as he stepped forward to untie her. “I mean, I hardly get to have any fun as it is.”

He stepped away from her and smiled sincerely. “Well, I’ll be locking the door so don’t think about escaping, ok?” He pulled her away, forcing her to stand up, so he could grab the chair.

Any sudden movement he did made her skip a heart-beat, there was something…off about him. Dangerous. He walked out with the chair in hand.

“Or do,” he added, pulling the door slowly behind him. “I get to give you special treatment then.” Giggling, tapping his fingers on the chair he was carrying out, he closed the door.

Her breathing relaxed and waned when she heard the door lock. She sighed, bringing her hands to her face to check for wounds inflicted during her unconsciousness.

Again, she was under house arrest. Only this time, it was a smaller room. And it had no windows or closets, just a bucket for her bodily needs and a bed.

And then she realized it wasn’t house arrest at all. Approaching the door, she touched it and verifying that it was iron, but painted to look like wood.

I’m in jail… She let herself drop on her butt, her legs weak in disbelief. I’m…I’ve never been in jail. Midori felt the moist of a tear running down her cheek with even more disbelief.

She tugged at it with her fluffy hand to wipe it out.

“No, it’s ok. They’re going to get those stones and this will all blow over.” Midori nodded at herself and got up. She’d lie down on the bed, that’s all she had, she was going to use it. “I’m not suffering…no,” she told herself, looking at the bland beige ceiling.

“I’m just bored…”

She sighed a smile, feeling a tempest of emotions raging within. Some that she wanted, some that she made, some that she didn’t want, and some she was actually having. She focused on continuing to breathe. On keeping herself calmed and trying to relax.

“Nothing’s gonna happen to me.” She nodded. “Just gonna be really bored for a couple of days…that’s all.”

She was really trying to sound convincing.

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