Wynonna grit her teeth in resilience and trudged onwards despite the burning sensation spreading throughout her muscles.
“Miss Grimm, we can stop if-”
“No!” she snapped at him in irritation with sweat dripping down the side of her neck. “Keep talking. If I’m going to have to live here from now on, then we need to get through this crash course fast so that I don’t get blindsided by whatever else this shithole ends up throwing at me.”
The party composed of her abductors, had long since resumed its journey and as such Wynonna was once again being dragged around by a mammoth of a scaly beast. Despite the biting cold, after long hours of trekking through the barren forest, Wynonna was sweating like a pig on a midsummer’s day. It was during this time that Wynonna took the opportunity to bombard the reaper with as many questions as she could think of on the spot, regarding Aethera. Absorbing every bit of information by engraving every detail he could provide her with into her memory, Wynonna was able to somewhat distract herself from the overwhelming fatigue that was plaguing both her mind and body.
“Ha,” she breathed out a cloud of smoke into the cold wintry air, “Okay so quick recap, there are a total of seven continents on Aethera and out of those seven continents we are currently within the eastern continent of... Heiuor?”
“Yes,” he confirmed before adding, “and within Heiuor, itself, there exist four different countries,”
“Ah wait... I think I remember this. Alright, so if I remember correctly it should be... Fourn, Aieyûrz, Urthoe, and... Rhymioera- which is the empire that we’re in right now?” she rolled the tension out of her shoulders as she hazarded a guess.
“Rymioera,” he corrected her, “It’s pronounced Rymioera, not Rhymioera.”
“I mean I still got it right, so does it really matter?” she arched an eyebrow.
“It does if you plan on learning the language,” he was quick to point out. Sixteen Forty-nine figured he might as well start someone if he was going to have any chance at teaching her how to speak the language properly.
“Touché,” she breathed out in resignation.
Feeling the rope jerk her forward once more as an indication that her pace had slowed down a bit too much, Wynonna took a second to study her captors. It was as clear as day that many of these men were soldiers based on their mannerisms alone. There were a few females amongst the troop but not a substantial amount, just a handful of women at most.
“Say... these people are all fae right?” she was merely making assumptions at that point but based on their physical aspects alone, it was most certainly safe to say that these people sure as hell weren’t human at the very least.
“You’re correct in your deduction. They are in fact capable of manipulating aether; thus, they are fae. But can you take a guess at the species?” he tested slyly, trying to prompt her into making her own conjectures from now on, only for it backfire when she responded with a flat look.
“And how the hell do you expect me to guess that, if I don’t even know the names of a third of the species that exist on this planet?” she grunted in aggravation.
“Miss Grimm, even though Aethera and Earth are two worlds apart, how do you suppose it is that humans became aware of the existence of fae?”
“I don’t know... but I wouldn’t exactly say that we were aware of them. To us they’re just myths. An old wives’ tale at most,” she shrugged in response.
“Yes, but how is it that those myths came to be in the first place?” he smiled at her knowingly.
“Oh, for the love of― would you just get to the point already!” she snapped at him in displeasure. He was clearly toying with her and having fun at her expense. Considering her current condition, Wynonna was not appreciating the patronizing attitude.
Sixteen Forty-nine chuckled in amusement and he crossed his arms over his chest, “Miss Grimm, the gates have existed since the dawn of time. No one really remembers how it is that they came to be in the first place. Although they are now hidden from the eyes of both human and fae alike, there was once a time when fae became aware of their existence. As a result, it was not uncommon for fae to slip past the gates and into the human realm.”
“You mean fae once walked on Earth?” she scrunched up her nose as she pondered over the prospect.
“Well... how do you suppose it is that tales of dragons came to be?” his lips widened as he nodded at the Triouken she was tied to.
“Wait. You’re telling me that’s a dragon?” her eyes nearly popping out of her head as they widened in disbelief.
“Not necessarily. But they are in fact, closely related to the ‘dragons’ that you humans came to know of many thousands of years ago,” he admitted.
“So, if that’s a dragon...” she threw a glance at the Triouken before nodding at the human-like nonhumans, “Then what the hell are they?”
The reaper’s eyes twinkled mischievously for a brief second before answering, “Elves.”
“No way in hell. I call bull!” she shook her head incredulously, “Now you’re just messing with me.”
“I kid you not,” he chuckled, “They really are of the elven race.”
“But aren’t elves supposed to be... little?” she inquired, feeling a bit stupid afterwards for having said something like that aloud.
“Common misconception,” he clarified.
“Hah,” she released a gust of air, “I really wasn’t expecting that.”
“I wouldn’t blame you. Just as humans are now nothing but a myth to fae, most fae species are conversely nothing but fictitious legends to humanity. And over time those legends ended up becoming more and more warped.”
“So fae think that humans are just a myth also?” she narrowed her brows in confusion. Though it somehow strangely made sense, it was definitely news to her.
“Well elves do tend to age slowly and have pretty long lifespans. On average they live up to eight hundred years, which in human years would basically be equivalent to ten times the lifespan of the average human being. Try telling one of them that there exists a species of mammals that not only resembles them but isn’t capable of manipulating aether and only lives up to less than an eighth of their lifespan? That’s like telling a human that there exists an anaerobic human being with a lifespan equivalent to that of a mosquito. Wouldn’t you find that a bit far-fetched as well?”
“I mean when you put it like that...” she hesitated.
“Miss Grimm, to the elven race, the manipulation of aether is something as natural as breathing air. Which is why the mere prospect of there existing an elven-like being with rounded ears that can’t do something as simple as that, to them, is nothing short than out of this world. Which ironically, you actually are,” he explained, in an attempt to make her understand why it is that elves had long forgotten the existence of humans.
“But wait, if fae can manipulate aether, shouldn’t they be capable of restoring the chains that bind their souls to their bodies on their own? How is it that they can still die?” Wynonna only just now realized something rather important that she’d overlooked.
“That’s because according to the laws of the universe, all living things must one day come to an end. The fae are no exception to this rule, as they are neither aware of the existence of these chains nor can they see them. Only grim reapers are capable of seeing the chains of the soul.”
Wynonna took a moment to process his words. Suddenly this world and its many wonders seemed rather intimidating. Though they were still capable of dying like any other living being, objectively speaking the fae were quite daunting.To live up to ten times the normal lifespan of an average human, with superior capabilities nonetheless... she couldn’t help but feel rather disheartened when likened to a mosquito in comparison to an elf.
“We’ll get out of this,” he attempted to reassure her once again, his face softening at the sight of her crestfallen expression.
The blood that seeped out of her chafed wrists had dried already but the constant rubbing of the rope against her skin stung painfully. It was only then that she noticed the forest had finally come to its end. A soft breeze blew strands of Wynonna’s hair out of her face as they emerged from the cluster of trees. With it a strong scent of smoke and other earthy traces, of which she could not discern, caught Wynonna’s nose.
A sizable village could be made out from their current elevated position. As the troop descended from the rocky slope, the loud grinding sound of foot soles and heavy claws against rubble could be heard from a distance, alerting the residents of the village that the Silver Guardsmen had arrived.
The curious villagers began to emerge from their homes to see what all the commotion was about. A few of the younger ones were even brave enough to go up to the guards to greet them.
Surprisingly enough, none of the members of the common folk were taken aback at the sight of a female prisoner tied to a Triouken like a common dog. It was as if Wynonna wasn’t even there to begin with when they all greeted the guardsmen with normalcy.
As they continued making their way into the village, Wynonna took note of the unfavorable living conditions of the townspeople. Passing by a woman making her way to the village well, Wynonna realized that these people had no clean water. Not only that but many of the people donned outerwear that looked to be rather old and worn, if not in tatters.
“Hey kid,” she whispered at Sixteen Forty-nine while they passed by a beggar on the street, “This place, why does it look so...”
“Poverty stricken?” he offered, reading the question spread on her face, “Keep in mind Miss Grimm, that although the human realm happens to be quite adept within the technological field, the same cannot be said for Aethera. Aetherans have never had a strong need for much technological advancement as they’ve mostly relied on aether for thousands of years. Believe it or not but this town is comparably a lot better off than other villages within this region.
“And as of right now, we are currently within the Bythalni territory. Which just so happens to be one of the more prosperous dukedoms within the five regions of Rymioera.”
“Bythalni?” she tested out the name hesitantly, practicing the many new names and words that she had learned in just that one day.
“That’s right. And right now, you happen to currently be in the custody of the firstborn son and heir to the Bythalni dukedom. Which is that guy over there,” he nodded towards the hooded figure of the man that had previously grabbed Wynonna’s chin, who was now leading the troop through the village.
“Raeuikyn Val Givre-Bythalni, son of Duke Fiayrel Val Roristun-Bythalni, and captain of the Silver Guardsmen. And from what I’ve gathered so far, the man beside him is his current right hand. I’m not sure of his identity as of yet but the other guards seem to address him with a lot of deference as well, so I imagine his position isn’t low either,” he added, whilst pointing out the man beside the duke’s son to indicate which one it was that he was referring to.
“Say... if I’m currently in the custody of duke’s son and being suspected of being a part of some secret organization on top of that, then doesn’t that mean that I’m pretty much thoroughly fucked?” Wynonna grimaced mournfully.
The clashing sound of metal against metal could be heard coming from the nearby blacksmith’s shop. Sixteen Forty-nine swerved as sparks nearly landed on him, before resuming walking alongside his human companion through the narrow street of cobblestones.
“Miss Grimm, I have something to ask of you. I know this request might be a bit hard to uphold because it’s not like you’ll always be in control of whatever the situation you find yourself in, but if possible, could you please keep your ears hidden?” he ignored her previous statement as he became more preoccupied with the events that were soon to take place. If he didn’t manage to figure out a way to get her out before she was interrogated, then he needed to make sure that he could at least keep her safe. And the elven race finding out about the existence of humans sure as hell didn’t fall into line with his plans.
Furthermore, there was also the matter of Wynonna not being able to speak the language. When her capturers uncover this fact, things would certainly not fare well for the human. Not only would she be further suspected of espionage, but it was quite possible that they could condemn her for having illegally crossed into the Rymioeran empire, should they suspect her to be of a foreign kingdom. Overall, from the way things were standing, if Wynonna was put on trial and found guilty, the end result would be one of two things:
Death by hanging or the guillotine.
Wynonna winced in pain as her bindings were undone none too gently. Rubbing at her sore wrists, she squinted in the dim lighting. She’d been brought to what looked like an Aetheran version of a stable for the domesticated Trioukens. Her arm was wrenched forward as she was dragged to god knows where.
Sixteen Forty-nine had disappeared not long ago stating that he would head out to canvas the area. Though she was unsure of what use that would do when she gazed ruefully at the reinforced sky-high black granite walls that surrounded the estate of the Bythalni Manor and the iron gate guarded by armed men. The place was built like a stronghold. It was so secure that she doubted that even a mere rat could escape unnoticed.
It was without a doubt nearly impossible to escape the Bythalni household grounds and for a human such as herself, escape didn’t even exist in the realm of possibility.
As she was led into the stable by one of the Guardsmen, the winter air had once again begun to raise goosebumps on Wynonna’s arms. She had long since removed Sixteen Forty-nine’s cloak so as to not bring any unnecessary attention onto herself and now regretted having ever taken it off.
Stepping into the barn, low snarling sounds could be heard as they passed by various stalls. A putrid stench invaded her senses causing her to gag in disgust. Swallowing the bile back down, she forced herself into a rhythm of taking deep breaths from her mouth rather than her nose. Shivering slightly, Wynonna only increased her pace to match that of the man that was currently latched onto her arm.
As they reached the end of the row, the man’s speed slowly decreased until he finally came to a stop before the first empty stall that they chanced upon. Whilst maintaining a firm grip on her arm, he drew the metal gate open and shoved Wynonna inside before proceeding to slam the gate shut. A loud clanking could be heard as he wound a chain around the bars and bolted the gate closed. His footsteps faded away whilst Wynonna sat in the center of the stall in stupefaction.
She sat there in wonder, still slightly muddled over having been dumped inside a stable and locked up like an animal. Slowly coming back to her senses, she raised herself up off the ground and made her way to the far end wall, where a small wooden chair was propped up.
The chair creaked as she planted herself down on it. Sapped of energy she slumped down on the chair and slowly leaned back as far as she could until the front legs of the chair had raised up off the ground. Wynonna sat like that for hours awaiting for Sixteen Forty-nine’s return, deliberating over the circumstances of her current situation.
In the beginning, she hadn’t realized that something so simple as agreeing to leave her home, would end up getting so complicated. Even now Wynonna still hadn’t fully grasped everything that had occured. There was just too much she didn’t know and too little that she understood. She hadn’t even had time to fully settle into her new home before it was snatched away without a warning.
It felt like an eternity had passed before Sixteen Forty-nine had finally deigned to appear once more. At that time Wynonna had already begun to doze off, on the verge of losing consciousness as she was fighting against sleep.
“Miss Grimm,” he whispered to her through the metal bars, startling Wynonna out of her daze and causing her to nearly fall out of her seat.
“Fuck,” she mumbled, grabbing onto the edges of the chair and steadying herself back up. Glaring up at the reaper who’d nearly frightened her to death, she ran her fingers through her hair and huffed in annoyance.
“Miss Grimm, this is urgent, so snap out of it! Lord Raeuikyn and the man I spoke to you of earlier, are on their way,” he delivered quickly.
“What? Have you even figured out a way to get me out of here?” she straightened up immediately, fully awake now― her mood having done a complete one eighty within a span of a nanosecond.
“Not yet, the security of this place seems pretty up to par, and the gate is locked so I can’t get you out,” he shook the metal bars of the gate to make his point, “Even if I could get you out of here, escaping from the manor would be pretty difficult. There’re guards just about everywhere around here. It’s not like I can just whisk you away.”
Brisk footsteps could be heard nearing the stall. Dread and uneasiness clouded Wynonna’s mind, as she looked up at Sixteen Forty-nine with panic-stricken eyes.
“No matter what happens, don’t say a word. Just keep quiet. I’ll be right here the whole time,” he hissed at her one last time, before stepping away from the entrance.
Wynonna’s nerves shot up to the roof, as a dark sense of foreboding clenched at her heart. She swallowed dryly, holding her breath in anticipation as a dark shadow loomed before the metal gate.