They crossed what she assumed to be the border and entered into the main part of the city. Alessandra looked around, mesmerized. People were bustling all about, talking with friends and neighbors, merchants trying to sell goods to them. Little children were running around, playing with each other. There were shops and large buildings all around.
Seph caught Alessandra's hand. "Come," he said, "I will show you where you can stay." He dragged her along through the crowds, somehow knowing exactly how to weave in and out of them without hitting anyone or losing Alessandra. Sometimes she stumbled, tripping over a foot, but he caught each time without much effort, keeping her from falling.
As he pulled her through the city, people would call out to him. She could never hear what was said after, but Seph seemed to be able to for he responded back to each, "Later." Soon the crowd thinned, then disappeared altogether as they left the busiest parts of the city for the more quiet ones. "That was..." Alessandra tried explaining what she felt to Seph, but she couldn't find words that could exactly fit.
Seph smiled. "Let me guess," he stated matter–of–factly, "you have never been in a city before."
Alessandra shook her head. "No, I haven't," she answered. She looked over her shoulder at the bustling crowds, then up to the mountains. For a second she tried to find Krystel's castle, but it was too well hidden. She turned back to Seph. "My caretaker was not someone who enjoyed being around people. We lived up on the mountainside, far away from any city."
Seph nodded, understanding. "Your caretaker sounds much more like a prison warder. Are you sure she did not chain you to a wall?" he asked jokingly.
Alessandra smiled. "Very." She looked around again. The last of the shops had been passed by as well. Alessandra saw lines of cottages and homes, and people going about their daily chores. "Where are we going, exactly?" she asked.
"To my home to tell my mother that I am not dead––" Seph would have continued if Alessandra had not given him a look of pure shock. "No, no, do not worry," he tried brushing it to the side. "I was not planning on doing something incredibly stupid right before I met you. My mother just enjoys worrying about us."
"You realize I am not convinced."
"I figured as much, but really, she just worries more than is healthy. It is fine." Alessandra let it go. "Anyway, we have a spare room in our cottage," Seph explained. "It's generally used for when my grandparents come to visit, but that rarely happens and they just left. You can stay however long you wish."
"Are you sure?" Alessandra asked, unsure. She hadn't met anyone but Seph, and she didn't want to impose on anyone.
Seph nodded with a smile. "I am quite positive that my mother will be just as charmed by you as I was." Alessandra blushed. "Ah! Here we are." He looked at Alessandra excitedly, then back ahead.
They were headed towards a large brown cottage. Even from just looking at the outside Alessandra could tell that it had many rooms to it, or perhaps a few very large rooms. There was a little baby girl playing in the front of the house, and a woman hanging clothes out to dry a few feet away from her. "Mother!" Seph called to her. She turned, a wet shirt in her hands. Alessandra had expected her to smile at him, but instead she yelled back angrily, "Sephiroth!" She threw the shirt down into the basket of wet clothes and stormed over.
Alessandra's pace slowed out of fear the closer Seph's mother got. "Where exactly have you been?" she demanded of her son. "And what sort of explanation do you have for disappearing on me like that?" Though angry, her voice was filled with relief. As she approached, Alessandra could see that Seph was much taller than his mother.
"I told you I was not going to do anything stupid," Seph said, putting Alessandra's bag down and hugging his mother. It seemed for a moment that he had forgotten about Alessandra. "Besides, I met someone new." Or maybe he didn't.
"And what have I told you about talking to strangers?" she released him, putting her hands on her hips and looked at him sternly.
Seph rolled his eyes, but smiled, and stepped to the side so his mother could see Alessandra fully. She blushed. "Mother, this is Aless. She needed some help, so I offered mine." Aless smiled sweetly, and gave a little wave.
"Hello," she said quietly.
Seph's mother smiled at her. "Hello, Aless," she said sweetly. "I am Seraphim, Sephiroth's mother, though you may call me Sera. Please, if my son has cause you any trouble––" she said pointedly at Seph. He rolled his eyes.
"Oh, no, ma'am," Aless said quickly. "He has been very kind."
"Well," Sera breathed, placated. "I suppose that will do."
"Anyway," Seph said, trying to move things along. "Mother, I was wondering if Aless could stay with us?" he asked nervously.
Sera looked at her son with wide eyes. "Seph!"
"Mother, please?" Seph looked around, then stepped towards his mother, his head lowered. He looked at Aless, making sure it was okay to tell her. "Aless ran away from home."
Sera looked at Aless with concern. "Child, is everything––"
"She could potentially be in danger," Seph interrupted her. "And I doubt she had any money to stay at the inn."
Sera sighed. Aless was a darling girl, but she was also a stranger. Sera did not know if she could be trusted, especially around little Malenda. And she was not happy that Seph had just offered their home up without thinking about these things.
Aless could sense Sera's hesitation, and understood where it was coming from. She had met Seph an hour beforehand, and had no experience interacting with other people. Staying anywhere was to be terrifying for her. Still, better with someone she had known for an hour than another complete stranger. She took a deep breath.
"Please, ma'am," she said. "I'll earn my keep. I can cook and clean––" she thought back to Krystel's library, and added with a smile, "and organize. I won't be much of a bother, truly."
Sera took a deep breath of her own. "You can stay for a little bit," she finally decided. "We will see how things go. If all goes smoothly, you may stay for a while."
Seph smiled widely. "Yes! Thank you mother!" He hugged her tightly.
"Alright," Sear said, "I have got to get back to work. Seph, show Aless around the house, and to our spare room." She gave him the mother's look. "Stay out of trouble," she warned him.
'Of course, Mother." Seph picked Aless's bag up from the ground. "Come on, Aless."
Aless gave one last smile to Sera. "Thank you. I promise everything will be perfect." She hurried after Seph.
"Sephi!" the little girl called as he walked past. She smiled and reached up for him. "Come play!"
"Hi Malenda," he smiled down at her. "I will come play with you in a little bit, okay? I need to help Aless settle in first."
"A–lis," Malenda said as Aless walked past. She smiled.
"How old is she?" she asked Seph.
"Four," he answered. "She has a bit of a speaking issue, so that is most likely how she will pronounce your name while your here."
"Is that the same with Sephi?" Aless teased.
Seph rolled his eyes. "We have tried teaching her to just call me Seph, but she wants to use my full name and she cannot say it." Aless giggled. They climbed the few step to the front door. Seph held it open for her. "Go on in."
Once they were inside the cottage, Sera called for Malenda. The four–year–old happily went to her mother. "Darling, can you go call on the Seer for me?"
Malenda nodded. "Sir!" she said. Sera pointed her in the direction of the city, and sent her on her way. The child happily ran along.
"Just to make sure," Sera said, looking back to her home with the stranger inside.
Aless looked around the entryway. It was so unlike what she had seen with Krystel's castle. Everything seemed so much smaller than what she was used to. She followed Seph around as he pointed out the various rooms. Dining room, kitchen, family room, bedrooms. He led her down a hallway and stopped outside a door. "My room," he said, then directed her across the hallway to another door. "And yours." He pushed the door open.
It was a quarter the size of her room at Krystel's, but much brighter. Aless stepped inside, looking around. There was a closet, and small desk in the corner, and a bed that could easily hold two people. The window was large and let the sunlight in the way no room in the castle ever had.
"Do you like it?" Seph asked, leaning against the doorway, her bag still slung on his shoulder.
Aless smiled. "Yes. I do." It will take some getting used to, she thought, but it should be just fine for what I'll need.
"That is a relief," Seph said, walking in. "The way you were looking at everything, I could not tell if you were impressed or upset." He placed her bag on the bed. "My room is right across the hallway, so if you need anything, do not hesitate to come and ask." He smiled at her.
Aless nodded. "Thank you so much," she said. "Truly."
Seph shrugged. "You can make it up to me by sharing one of those poems of yours." His smile turned into a smirk.
Aless rolled her eyes. "We'll see."
Seph accepted this. "I will leave you alone to... settle," he said awkwardly. He looked at her one last time, then left, closing the door.
Aless sighed, and fell onto the bed, looking up at the ceiling. She had traveled so much in the last day, she was absolutely exhausted, and surprised she had made it as far as she did. She took a deep breath, and then rolled over, happy to let sleep overtake her.
* * *
Sofea was the Seer that lived in Tredon. She was a very old woman, and everyone wondered when her time would be up. She couldn't walk well anymore, and her eyesight was going. Her voice sounded like two pieces of knotted wood being rubbed against each other. Her hair was long and white, often braided.
Most people wondered how she got anything done, and done right. The answer was simple: Sofea was a Seer. Seers had a very special magick in them that helped them fulfill their duties, especially when they got old. Sofea couldn't remember how long she had lived; she just knew it was a long time.
Though her eyesight was getting worse, her Second Sight had always been powerful. She didn't need to see someone's exact face to recognize them; she simply looked at their soul's colors and it became clear.
She lived above her shop in the middle of Tredon, where it was easy for people to reach her if needed. She was in her room, making another blanket––a hobby of hers ever since she was a child––when the bell attached to her shop door rang. Someone was here.
"Sir!" called the little voice. Sofea smiled, knowing who it was.
"I will be down in a minute, dear," she yelled downwards. She pushed herself up from her chair, found her cane, and slowly started down the stairs into the shop.
"Sir!" Malenda jumped up and down in happiness as she watched Sofea come down.
"Hello little Malenda," Sofea said. She reached the last step, and Malenda ran up to her, hugging her leg. "What is it I can do for you?"
Malenda pulled away. "Momma axed if you cud come ofer," she explained.
"Oh?" Sofea asked. "And why is that?"
Malenda thought for a moment. Her mother had not said why; she had just asked Malenda to do it. She shrugged. "I dohn no," she said. She thought a bit harder, then remembered the new girl. "Sephi's noo friend A–lis!" she exclaimed, proud of herself for figuring it out.
"A–lis, hmm?" Sofea mused. "Your mother is probably worried about her."
"Mm–hmm," Malenda nodded. Sofea smiled.
"Well, then we had best get back to your home. Would you mind leading the way?" Malenda smiled and nodded again. She grabbed onto Sofea's hand, and helped lead her back to her home.
* * *
Aless woke up to someone knocking on her door. She yawned and stretched, then rolled over and opened her eyes. The sun was setting, and she was not looking up at her green ceiling. Someone knocked on her door again. "Aless!"
It was Seph. Aless sat up, remembering what had happened. She ran away. Traveled through the mountains and forests. Found a road. Met Seph.
Seph, who was currently knocking on her door, trying to get her attention. She climbed off the bed, and clumsily walked to the door. She opened it, rubbing her eyes.
"Good morning," Seph teased.
Aless stuck her tongue out at him, "How long have I been asleep?" she asked, yawning again.
"Only a few hours," Seph answered. "It would have been more if I had not come to get you." He leaned against the door frame, hands in his pockets. "Supper is ready, if you would like some."
Aless nodded. Some food would be the exact thing she needed to wake up fully. Seph pushed himself off the frame and started walking down the hall. Aless followed, keep one hand on the wall so she didn't fall over. Seph looked over his shoulder and chuckled. "Remind me to never wake you up again. You look sort of helpless half asleep."
Aless rolled her eyes. The movement was helping her. She could smell supper, and it was delicious. That helped her too. Seph led her into the dining room. Aless saw a few new faces, and stopped right after entering.
"Everyone, this is Aless," Seph announced, gesturing to her. She smiled nervously. "Aless, these are my brothers––" he gestured to two boys who looked roughly the same age, fighting with each other over something–– "and my father."
Aless took a deep breath. He looked a lot like Seph, or perhaps that went the other way around. Aless tried to look confident, but was worried that she still looked asleep. Seph smirked. "Please forgive her appearance. I just woke her up from her nap."
"A–lis!" Malenda yelled from her spot next to Sera.
"Of course, you have already met Lenda." Seph winked at the girl, then took an empty spot next to his brothers. Aless sat down next to him.
"It is nice to meet you, Aless," his father said to her with a gentle smile. "Seph tells me you will be staying with us for a while?"
Aless nodded. "Yes sir," she answered politely.
"Well, I will look forward to getting to know you." He then took a bite of his food.
She looked around. Even the table was smaller than the one she had used with Krystel, or perhaps it seemed that way since there were so many people sitting around it. Seph, his brothers, his father, Sera, and Malenda. There was someone else. Aless was about to ask, but Seph introduced her.
"That is Sofea," he explained to her quietly, "the Seer of Tredon. Apparently Mother invited her to supper tonight and did not tell anyone."
"I told Malenda," Sera responded, not looking at him.
"Because Malenda went to get her," Seph retorted.
Sera looked at him. "Eat," she said firmly. Seph ate a bite, annoyed.
Aless looked at the Seer. She had remembered Krystel teaching her about them, but said that they were evil and annoying. Sofea looked old, like she would drop dead any second, but not evil. She wondered if that was part of the bias Krystel had since she was... Aless still didn't want to think about it.
Sofea was staring at her. Aless could see a tiny glimpse of fear in her old eyes. She cleared her throat. "Um, hello," she said to the Seer, trying to get her attention.
Sofea nodded. "Hello," she replied quietly. "You are Aless, correct?"
"Yes," Aless answered, feeling very uncomfortable. She looked away, down at the food in front of her. She had never seen it before, but she was hungry and tired of eating bread and cheese, so she took a bite and observed what was going on around the table.
Sera was trying to help Malenda eat without making a mess. Seph's brothers were eating and playing at the same time, and Sera was yelling at them to stop. Seph's father ate peacefully, occasionally telling the boys to eat. Seph was eating like his father, very quietly. The Seer hadn't touched her plate yet; instead was just staring at her. Aless put all her attention into the plate of food, as if it were the most fascinating thing she had ever seen.
The meal wasn't as bad as Aless thought it was. It was robust, and could easily provide strength for several hours. She wondered if that's why they were eating it. It was rather good, even if it was simple.
"So, Aless," Seph's father started, "where are you from?"
She swallowed her current bite and answered the same way she had when Seph asked her. "I'm not quite sure. I lived up on the mountains near here with one other person."
"You have only lived with one person?" one of Seph's brothers asked her. "What was it like?"
"Was it a lot quieter?" the other asked.
"Was is easier to get along with them?"
"Boys," Sera scolded. "Do not bombard her with questions."
Aless smiled. "No, they're alright. It was a lot quieter," she answered them. "We didn't see each other much, so we got along just fine." Until I heard her, she thought sadly.
"Why did you leave?" Sera asked. Her attention was fully on Aless.
"Um, well," Aless started. She didn't want to scare or give ideas to the younger children, but she didn't want to flat out lie to them either.
"Mother," Seph intervened, "I told you earlier why."
"I need to know more if she is to stay here with us," Sera defended.
"Then can you––"
"No," Aless interrupted him, "it's fine." She looked at Sera. "I left because the person I was living with had kept some dangerous secrets from me. I felt like I was in danger, so I left."
"What kind of danger?" a brother asked.
"Was she a witch?"
"Was she the Witch?"
"Boys!" Seph's father yelled. "Settle down."
Aless's eyes went wide at the last question. She didn't know what to say. Luckily, Seph spoke for her again.
"Ignore them. They just like to bother people. Besides," he looked at them, "the Witch is just a legend. She is not real."
If only, Aless sighed. She had never learned of the Witch until she had read about the true burning of Beaudale. She wished the question hadn't been brought up.
Through all of this, the Seer had continued to just stare at Aless. She was trying to figure out exactly what was going on inside her, exactly what was wrong with her soul. It did not make any sense to her. But Sofea could tell, as Aless spoke, she was telling the truth. Nothing was wrong with the way she had acted. That was the most puzzling to Sofea. Nothing was wrong, yet everything seemed to be.
Aless had tried her best to ignore the Seer seated next to her. She pretended that it was Krystel, and they were just having another quiet supper. It helped ease the stress placed on her as questions came flying.
When supper had been declared over, the boys ran off to play. Sera wiped Malenda's face, then released her. Seph's father went into another room, she wasn't sure which. Seph started gathering dishes, and Aless helped. At first he tried to stop her, but she reminded him that she had to help clean in order to stay here. The Seer continued to sit and watch Aless.
"Are you planning on cleaning the dishes as well?" Seph asked. Aless nodded, and he led her out through the back door. She looked over her shoulder at the Seer, who was finally starting to move. Aless had just made it out the door when she heard her name called quietly, in a very scratchy voice. "Aless." She turned fully, looking at the Seer.
Aless did not want to interact with her again, but she felt it rude to purposely avoid her. She swallowed. "Yes?"
"Dear, may we speak privately?"
Aless looked at Seph for permission, Please say no, she thought to him as hard as she could, as if he could hear her thoughts. Please say that you need help with something, anything. Seph did not pick up on her vibe, so he nodded. "Go ahead. I will leave some for you to do," he teased. Aless held back a groan and handed him the dishes she had been carrying.
She went to the Seer's side, offering her arm for support. "We can go to the room I'm staying in, if that's alright."
"Oh, that should be just fine," Sofea responded. Aless took slow, careful steps, making sure the Seer was okay. It seemed like an eternity before they reached her new room. Aless helped her sit on the bed, then she leaned against the wall in front of her.
"Is there something wrong?" Aless asked, worried and annoyed.
Sofea rested her cane on her lap. "Oh, very wrong indeed, child," she said. "Might I ask what you have done throughout your life?"
Aless was taken aback from the question. She was not expecting this. "Um, clean, read" she listed, "study, write. Normal things that a child would do. Why does it matter?"
"Hmm," Sofea hummed. "In your studies, were you ever taught of Seers, or of souls?"
"Occasionally. I was taught that souls are white at birth and turn black throughout someone's life, and that Seers have a special kind of magick." Aless was annoyed now. "Can you please explain why you've been staring at me since we've met?"
Sofea smiled. "Seers do have a special type of magick." Aless looked away. "We are called Seers because of this magick. We have the ability to see the colors of souls."
Aless was shocked. "You... you can see..." she trailed off, trying to find the right words. She sighed. "My soul is half black," she stated, remembering Krystel's friend having explained that.
"Yes, it is," the Seer said quickly. "But it does not make any sense. I listened as you talked about your life, during supper and just now. You have been telling the truth the entire time. You have lived a good life, Aless, if a sheltered one. There is no proper explanation as to why someone as pure as you has a soul that is half black."
Aless slid down the wall. Part of it had something to do with Krystel and her friend, she knew that. But how much she could tell the Seer was unclear. Aless had already shared a fair amount of information with them all, vague as it might have been.
"Who are you running away from, Aless?"
Aless looked up at her. She took a deep breath and quietly said, "I'm afraid I can't tell you that. I'm sorry."
Sofea nodded. "You are in danger, Aless," the Seer spoke. "You have made the right choice to run, but I do not know how long you can before you get caught."
"Will I get caught?"
"It is hard to say." Sofea shook her head. "Sometimes Seers can predict things in the future of someone's life, but yours..." she trailed off. Aless understood.
"Sera called me here because she was worried about letting a stranger say with her family," Sofea explained. She started pushing herself off the bed. "I will tell her there is nothing to worry about, that you are an outstanding young woman," she smiled. "Which you are."
Aless stood and helped the Seer. "Thank you," she said. They walked in silence down the hall, to the front door.
"One last thing, dear," the Seer said to Aless. "Try not to use your magick. It may lead her to you." Aless nodded.
Sera and her husband came out of their room to see the Seer safely home. Sofea told Sera exactly what she had told Aless she was going to. Sera's fears were calmed, and she could now fully welcome Aless into their home.