Alessandra had actually made much distance in the course of one night. She traveled east, following where the sun would rise. The mountains were high and rugged, but she was determined to put as much distance between her and Krystel and Krystel's mysterious friend as she could. She learned very quickly to stay away from tall cliffs and open areas. Predators would wait on the edges of a midnight snack, and other animals were simply mean if one accidentally woke them up.
The sun started rising as she made it through the mountain passage. Alessandra was exhausted, but knew she had to continue. Everywhere that was outside the border of a town or city had every possible danger that she couldn't imagine. The sooner she could make it to the first city, the soon she could rest.
Time seemed to have a difficult time deciding how to pass. Sometimes, to Alessandra, time went on normally, and then is couldn't go by fast enough. Then there were the moments that would drag on and on. That was often when Alessandra felt the worst. She had forgotten to bring a container for water, and had very little food. Who knew how long it would be until she could find a city somewhere.
The sun was high in the cloudless sky, burning down on those beneath. Alessandra rested against a tree trunk, grateful for the shade. She stayed there for a while, trying to catch her breath. "Water," she said quietly between gasps. "How did I forget water?" She shook her head at her ridiculousness. She knew why; Alessandra had never been prepared to venture outside. Krystel had always kept her inside, away from the world. She had no idea how to survive on her own, or without magick.
Finally she pushed herself up and continued on her journey. Along the way, she created little tunes to hum. There was one in particular she grew fond of. It wasn't much at the start, but continued to grow until she had a full song. She hummed it to herself for a long time. Then, after a while, Alessandra noticed something a bit strange.
It had been a little bit since she'd had to avoid a falling rock, or had to catch herself from sliding down the mountain after stepping on an unstable piece of ground. In fact, the ground beneath her was very stable, and very flat. She looked ahead, and then behind. At some point, she had found a road that ran through the mountains. A road meant travel, and trade, which meant...
"A city," she said. "If I follow this road, eventually I'll find a city." She smiled, and with a new–found enthusiasm, picked up her pace and went on.
* * *
"What do you mean, you can't find her?" Krystel demanded at her reflection. "Part of you is in her!" She and Rose had been in a panic since they discovered Alessandra's escape and had had many screaming matches since, each girl blaming the other.
"But detached from me," Rose reminded her again, "which is still your fault. I have no control over it, or her––not until we can get her to die of a broken heart."
"We're still missing a key factor: her." Krystel turned away. She was shocked that Alessandra had left at all. Even if she had overheard Rose and Krystel talking, wouldn't she have come and talked to Krystel about it? She was reasonable enough for that.
"Look," Rose said, calling attention back to her, "I'm stuck in reflective surfaces. You're the one who can go out and find her, so go out and find her." She gestured to the door leading to the balcony. Krystel shook her head, taking the few steps to the doors. "We don't even know which way she went." She opened them and looked out. "Besides, the mountains are huge, and that's just assuming she didn't go through the forest. She could be anywhere." Krystel took a deep breath. Losing Alessandra once had been stressful enough. Going through it again was even more so.
"Well, she isn't dead," Rose said, calmer than before.
Krystel turned back to the mirror. "How do you know that?"
"Part of me is in her. If she was dead, I'd feel it. I haven't felt that yet, so she's still managed to keep herself alive, wherever she is."
"Okay." Krystel walked back inside. "So how do we find her? You can't track her, and I can't sense her."
Rose's head tilted to the side as she thought. "She must not be using magick."
"Or she's using just enough to clock herself," Krystel offered. She thought back to the night Alessandra had stumbled into her room. "That night... how much do you think she heard?"
Rose reasoned for a few seconds before answering. "Enough to know that we want her; at least the last parts how we can't let her leave."
"Something inside her must have told her that she was in danger here, from me," Krystel guessed. "That's why she just left. Alessandra's reasonable; she would have come to talk to me otherwise."
"She feels her trust in you has been betrayed."
Krystel shook her head, trying to clear it, to think straight. She sat down, finally having exerted all her tense energy. She didn't know what to do, and for once the all–mighty ancient power didn't know either. Krystel sat and thought. There must be some way to get her back.
* * *
Alessandra had found what she was looking for. The road did indeed lead to a city. As she approached the gate, she became confused. She had thought that cities would have grand boarders around them. That's what she had read in her studies of the land, at least. This gate was short––only coming up to her waist––and long, and made of wood. It was old, rotting away. Plants had overgrown and tangled around the thick posts. Alessandra approached it slowly, and put one hand on it, then pulled away immediately. It felt as though it would fall apart at the slightest pressure. She looked around for another entrance.
"Would you like help?"
Alessandra turned, startled. A boy was standing on the other side of the gate. He looked about her age, though very tall. He was wearing plain clothes and carried a large walking stick. "Um, yes," she answered carefully. "Who are you, if I may ask?"
He smiled widely, revealing a row of white teeth. "Name is Sephiroth, though most shorten it to Seph. And who might you be?"
"Aless––" she cut herself off. Giving her real name would possibly lead to Krystel finding her sooner. "My name is... Aless."
"Well, it is a pleasure to meet you, Aless," Seph said to her kindly. "Now, if I may ask, what exactly are you doing on the other side of this fence?"
"It's a fence?" she asked, her head tilting. She looked side to side, then back to Seph, very confused.
His smile turned into a smirk. "You must be very new here," he teased.
Alessandra bit her lip. "Well, you see, I'm not quite sure where..." she trailed off, trying to decide if he could be trusted. Krystel couldn't have caught up to me this quickly, she thought. "I, uh, ran away," she said, looking down.
"Ran away?" Seph asked, thoroughly interested. "From where?"
"Home," Alessandra answered quietly.
After a moment, Seph prodded her. "And where is that?"
Alessandra looked up at him, a sad smile on her face. "I don't know. I traveled through the mountains for a long time. I thought I had gotten lost, then I found this road. I didn't know what else to do, so I followed it and it led me here to this..." she looked at the wood posts with a slightly disgusted expression. "Fence." She looked back to Seph. "And then I met you, and now we're having this conversation..."
Seph nodded quickly. "Yes, I do believe we are caught up now." He smiled again. "And to answer your question from earlier––and do forgive me for delaying it––yes, this is a fence," he said, gesturing to the wood separating them. "Or, at least, this part of it still is."
"Why is it here?"
"The road you found used to be the way to Beaudale, a city on the shore of Aritia," Seph explained. "Thousands of years ago, the entire city erupted in flames. Everything burned to the ground. The roads to Beaudale were fenced off shortly after. Although, having been around for hundreds of years, the thing has mostly fallen apart."
"Beaudale," Alessandra mumbled. "I've heard that name before." She thought back to her studies of the lands, remembered Krystel telling her of it and its tragic end. There had been an odd look in her eyes that Alessandra couldn't name. She shook her head, returning her attention to Seph. "Does it have an endpoint close to here, which I may get around? I should like to find some lodging here in..." she trailed off, then asked, "Where am I, exactly?"
"You are on the outskirts of Tredon. About a mile in is where the city truly starts." He came to the edge of the fence. Alessandra dared to go that close. "And, if you like, I can get you over right here." Alessandra raised her eyebrows at the suggestion. "Hand me your bag." He held his hand out.
Alessandra looked at him for a moment. Blue eyes bore into blue. She looked him down, then back to his eyes. She licked her lips, then swung her bag off her shoulder and into his waiting hand. He caught hold of it, then set it on the ground next to him. "Now, the wood is too rotten for you to climb over; you will hurt yourself if you try to. I'll pick you up and lift you over. Turn sideways."
"Okay," Alessandra obeyed, feeling a bit awkward. The first person she's ever met other than Krystel, and he picks her up. She didn't know if that was a good way to meet someone new or not. Seph put his arm around her back, just below her shoulders, and wrapped his hand around her upper arm.
"Now, jump!" Alessandra did, though mostly from being startled. Her legs swung up. Seph's free arm caught them both, and wrapped tightly around her knees. Instinctively, her arms wrapped around his neck, trying to keep herself from falling. Seph lifted her over the fence easily. "Over the fence," he said happily, "just like that."
Alessandra looked at him for a minute. She was breathing a little heavily from the event. Seph smiled kindly at her. She returned it, her face starting to turn red. He looked down, and then cleared his throat. He lowered himself to place Alessandra on the ground. She released her hold on him as well, stepping back.
She dusted imaginary dust off her clothes. "Well," she said, trying to break the silence, "that was very kind of you. Thank you."
"My pleasure." Seph picked her bag up from the ground and swung it over his shoulder. "Allow me to carry this for you. I am sure you have traveled a long distance with it, have you not?"
Alessandra nodded, happy to be free of the load. Seph began walking down the road, and she followed. The two fell into silence as they walked. She took this time to observe her surroundings. They were still travelling through the forest, but it had a more survivable appearance. It was obvious people lived close by. Every few paces there would be another large tree stump from where someone had cut it down. There weren't nearly as many deadly animals either.
"So, Aless," Seph started, "tell me about yourself."
Alessandra looked at him in shock. This was a question she hadn't thought about needing to answer. What could she say that wouldn't give anything away? Even way out here, Krystel could still have friends, people who were helping her look. Alessandra couldn't truly be safe anywhere. "Something wrong?" Seph asked while she thought. "What, have you never been asked that before?"
"No, not really," she replied, grateful for the chance to think a little longer. Seph had different ideas.
"Well, what do you enjoy doing?"
Alessandra gave a small smile. This one was easy enough to answer. "Oh, well, I enjoy writing."
"Really? What do you write?"
"Poetry, mostly," she looked at the ground, blushing. "It really isn't that well–written; just things that would pass through my mind throughout the day."
"Can I hear one?" Seph asked excitedly. Alessandra's head snapped up and began furiously shaking.
"Oh no," she said quickly. "It's... it's just... no." She took a deep breath, trying to steady herself. "Really, they're not that good."
"Okay, so not now," Seph tried amending, "but later on sometime? I would still like to hear one, and I have the feeling you will be staying in Tredon for a while," he added with a smile.
"Possibly," Alessandra said, just to get him off the subject of her. She quickly changed it. "Alright, tell me about yourself. What do you enjoy doing?"
Seph thought for a moment. "Well, I enjoy watching sporting matches, and oddly enough I enjoy working."
"Really? You're a hard worker?"
"Oh yes. My parents think themselves lucky to have such 'well–behaved children'." He looked at Alessandra with curiosity and concern on his face. "Aless, why did you run away?" he asked carefully. "Did your parents not treat you right, or was there something else?"
Alessandra looked away. She wasn't quite sure why she had done it. Quietly, she answered. "She––my caretaker––she lied to me about something. I'm not sure what, but I do believe that I may be in danger from her. So, I ran."
Seph nodded slowly, taking in the information. "Well," he said, "I am not sure how well Tredon will do in protecting you. If you found this road, then you must have lived somewhat close to it, and it would probably be the first road she will find as well."
Alessandra took a deep breath. This thought had crossed her mind several times as she had walked down it. If Krystel did find it, it would only be a matter of time before she caught up with Alessandra. It only made her more determined to get away faster, though did instill a new level of fear and paranoia in her as well.
"On the bright side," Seph said cheerily, "we are almost to Tredon. I think you will like it here." He gave her a half–smile. She returned a small one.
Alessandra heard the sounds of a river, and beyond that a sound she had never before experienced in her life: people. The forest around them started to disappear, and the road lead to a small bridge over the river. The bridge was just as rotted as the fence had been, but surprisingly held their weight. "Aless," Seph said, a large smile across his face, "welcome to Tredon."