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Chapter 2 ~ Two Strangers

M a y a

He’s late.

The day is quickly passing by, but the market is still thriving with customers ready to buy. I should know, I’ve been stood waiting and watching as the hours go by.

The longer I wait, the more people stare and the more I begin to think I’m in the wrong spot.

I can feel my situation dawning on me and the restlessness kicks in once more, only this time I can’t take it and decide to search through the crowd until I find him.

My eyes scan my current surroundings from under my hood as I pick up my pace. All around me impure and demons alike, push past me not caring whether they hurt me or not. Though this doesn’t phase me in the slightest, it does frustrate me and make my mission to find Kian all the more urgent.

I delve deeper into the crowd, my eyes wild, almost frantic as I search for him.

Something is wrong, I can feel it. The sensation is running through my veins screaming at me, warning me.

This isn’t right. I should see him or sense him near, but it’s blank and there is no sign of him anywhere. Not even a glimpse.

I’m trying to be strong and act as though everything is fine, almost as though this were a simple errand instead of an escape plan, but I can feel the panic start to grow within the pit of my stomach making it hard to focus on my surroundings.

He should be here, he should be waiting for me like he promised, but somehow and for some reason he’s not.

“Kian where are you?” I whisper to myself.

I continue to make my way through the crowd, when I suddenly spot the Queen’s soldiers. My heart stops in my chest and the fear and panic I feel in my gut double in strength. Thoughts and questions flying around in my head merge together into one great big puzzle as I watch the soldiers from afar.

They never search the market place unless they were after someone.

I feel my eyes widen as realisation dawns on my face.

Of course they’re searching the market place, they are after someone. Kian.

I begin to feel slightly giddy as I realise the mess I’m in.

They’d found out about our plans, I’d always known it was only a matter of time until they would. The Queen has eyes everywhere after all.

I see the soldiers turn in my direction and before I can help myself, I turn and run.

I wait for the shouts, for the soldiers to start after me, for the ravens to swoop down on me. But nothing happens, though this only makes me run faster.

I dodge in and out of people, under wagons and over stalls as I make my get away. My mind is in a blur and I have no idea where I’m headed, all that matters for now is that I get as far away from the market place as possible.

I wonder where Kian is, whether he managed to escape the Queen’s soldiers or be held captive by them, awaiting his fate.

I quickly shake the images of Kian locked up in shackles from my head and try to focus on running, but I come to an immediate stop when I realise where I am.

My heart freezes in my chest as I look ahead to see Kian’s home in flames. My eyes widen in horror as I stand there, frozen in time.

Though I feel sick to my stomach by the sight, I know deep down that he isn’t inside enveloped in flames like his beloved books. That would be a blessing in comparison to the punishments the demon Queen preferred to use.

As I stand there I feel arms grab me roughly and I wince in pain.

Then the shock from witnessing Kian’s home in flames wears off and my eyes shoot up to the person gripping me tightly.

My blood runs cold as my eyes come into contact with the deep black, soulless eyes of a Demonata soldier.

I can’t move and I can’t breathe.

This is it, the end of the sliver of freedom I ever had.

It was hopeless to ever believe that I could get away from this place without being caught and now I’ll have to pay the price.

I can feel myself trembling as he glares down at me with disgust, the hatred pouring from his eyes.

“Where’s the boy?” he hisses at me.

It doesn’t take me long to figure out he’s talking about Kian. I try to open my mouth and speak, but I find myself frozen with fear.

“Speak impure scum!” he spits at me.

“I don’t know,” I whisper, tears forming in my fearful eyes.

“You’re lying,” he growls as his black eyes scrutinise me.

“I’m telling you the truth,” I reply in a chocked voice.

The soldier’s hand suddenly darts out and fastens itself around my neck with a python grip, cutting off my air supply and lifting me a couple of centimetres off the ground.

“I don’t believe you,” he spits, bringing his face close to mine.

I grasp feebly at his hand, but I can feel the lack of oxygen finally making me slowly give in to the darkness.

But just as I’m about to pass out, he throw me across the street, my body hitting the ground hard as I gasp in mouthfuls of air.

I can feel his eyes on me as I cough and splutter, my body still trembling from shock and fear.

“Take her to the Queen,” he tells the other soldiers as he waves a feeble hand at me.

As I hear this order and the men come towards me, the rain begins to fall, merging with my tears as their rough arms grab hold of me and drag me away.

R e n a

It seems as though my tag along has lost his voice.

I only hear the sound of his dragging feet behind me as we continue our way back to my campsite. Not that I mind the silence, in fact I prefer it.

Apart from his little outburst over introductions earlier, he hasn’t said a single word. Not even one complaint when it began to pour down, making our journey all the more difficult.

It isn’t the soft, sweet smelling rain at all. It’s the hard, metallic rain that soaks you to the skin in mere seconds and tastes like rust. I like the rain, it makes it easier to cover my tracks and harder for unwanted eyes to notice me.

The last thing I want is to be caught and be sent back to that god awful place.

We don’t arrive at my campsite until evening due to the heavy rain and Kian’s dragging feet. When we finally get there, a small smile of appreciation shapes on my face as I forget my irritation and slip under the shelter of my temporary home. Barnie joins me in only a matter of seconds.
I’m wringing out my sodden hair and cloak when I notice that Kian is still out in the rain, hovering around awkwardly, as if he were waiting for something. I watch him from under the shelter of my tent with a mixture of sympathy and irritation.

His hair is now plastered to his face, as is his clothes and he looks somehow lost. As if he doesn’t know what to do with himself. I realise at once what he is waiting for and I can’t help but grin to myself at his foolishness.
“Well, what are you waiting for?” I shout at him.

A ghost of a smile spreads onto his lips and he slips into the tent, seating himself only centimetres away from me.
I look at him for a moment and see the sharp colour in his eyes has dulled in colour and he looks paler than before.

I don’t have to assume anything, I’ve seen that look before.

He’s cold, hungry and by the looks of it exhausted. My eyes take in my bedraggled tag along and stop when I see the look in his eyes. I’ve seen that look before, a look of worry and fear. A look that tells me he’s in some sort of trouble and is clearly way out of his depths.

For the first time in a while I don’t know exactly where to place myself or what even to say. Like it or not I seem to be stuck with him, but he’s not like any others I’ve come across before. He seems so naïve and innocent, practically harmless.

As I continue to watch him studiously, I’m pulled out of my thoughts by a stomach growling. Only it isn’t mine, it’s his.
I sigh and slip my hand into my satchel. The fruit is damp and the bread a little soggy, but who’s complaining.I hand him one of the loaves and a small apple and as he takes them, he gives me a tired smile of appreciation and begins to eat hungrily.

Barnie hops over to my side and I begin to share my loaf of bread with him and before long we’ve all finished our small meal. I look over at Kian but he seems to be in a world of his own. Part of me wants nothing to do with him and hates the thought of him sticking around for wherever the road leads me, but a small part of me is curious about him and doesn’t hate the idea of having him around though I can’t exactly understand why.

As I look out at the grey mist of the rain, I realise my need to stay here is over, no matter what this feeling is I have to move on soon before the worst happens. Especially if the Queen’s soldiers really are looking for this boy. To stay here any longer would be dangerous and suicidal. So following my intuition yet again, I decide that tomorrow I leave.

K i a n

The guilt is practically overwhelming.

What was I even thinking running after this Rena girl?

It’s clear that she doesn’t exactly like the fact that I’m here and to be quite honest I shouldn’t be. I should be with Maya, slipping out of this place and seeing the world beyond Aldevia’s walls. I should be with her, not here on some rooftop with a completely stranger.

I stare out at the rain wondering if Maya is alright. Is she still waiting for me, has she given up on me, have the soldiers captured her, does she think I’ve betrayed her?

Do I go back for her or do I stay?

So many questions with no answers to satisfy them only the guilt set deep within me.

The fear within me is rooted there, yet guilt still hangs over my head. I have betrayed her and I should go back and find her and save her from a fate worse than death, but I’m terrified.

I don’t want to go back, there’s nothing left for me there with the Demonata after me I’d be captured and be killed or worse, punished for my crimes.

I glance over at Rena, who is also staring out at the rain. She looks like she’s in a world of her own and I can’t help but wonder what she is thinking about.

To distract me from my own problems, I begin to wonder about her story. I haven’t ever seen her around these parts before and she isn’t like any other girl I know of.

I do know one thing though, from the look of that rustic mark on her forearm, she’s an impure one.

The question is what is she doing camping out on a rooftop with an owl as her sole company? Barnie his name is from what I’ve gathered. But that isn’t the point. It just doesn’t make any sense. Impure ones have guardians until they are wanted elsewhere or sold. I’ve never heard of an impure one living alone. It’s simply unheard of.

So the question still stands. Who is Rena really and what is she hiding?I’m so busy guessing about her, that I don’t notice she is now staring directly at me.
I blink a few times and realise that I’ve been staring straight at her for the past few minutes.

“What are you doing?” I hear her ask, her eyes scrutinising me.

“Oh, nothing” I say, quickly shifting my gaze back to the rain.

For a moment, neither of us speak, letting the rain fill the void of silence. It’s uncomfortable and my curiosity eventually gets the better of me.

“Who are after you?” I suddenly ask.

For a few seconds Rena doesn’t reply. “No one important” she says finally.

I’m puzzled at this. “What’s your story then?” I dare to ask.

“Does it matter?” she replies brusquely.

Sighing I don’t answer, realising I’ve reached a dead end.
Out of instinct I pull my satchel onto my lap and pull out the book I brought along, checking to see if the rain has damaged it in any way, though thankfully it’s all in one piece.

Suddenly as I realise what I’ve done I flinch and mentally curse myself.

Without even realising it I’ve just put myself into an extremely dangerous position by accidentally showing this girl the one thing I really shouldn’t have. I don’t even know whether or not I can trust her and now she has the upper hand.I just hope to the Gods, she doesn’t hand me over to the Demonata.

M a y a

My body sways from side to side as the cart moves on forwards, the wheels constantly falling victim to potholes in the path.

My hands hang up above my head, the metal shackles cutting into my wrists and drawing blood. I feel the droplets as they land on the crown of my head, blurring into my red spirals of hair.

My face is smeared with dirt and tears, but I don’t complain. I stay completely mute, too afraid to utter a sound.

My mind drifts as I sway in the dark, I try my best not to think of my oncoming fate as I stand before the demon Queen and try to focus my attention on that of Kian. I wonder where he is, is he safe. No matter how things have turned out I pray he got away.

I lift my head to stare at the back of my moving prison, imagining the path home in my mind and knowing I’ll never lay eyes on it again. My heart sinks as I seep further into despair.

“Kian,” I whisper to no one, letting my head drop back down to stare at the blood stained floor now mingled with my tears.

R e n a

I stare at Kian in absolute shock.

Now it all makes sense; the reason the soldiers were after him, the reason he’s so afraid. Whoever put this boy in charge of the object in his lap clearly didn’t think things through.
“Where did you get that?” I ask urgently, a tone of graveness in my voice.

I had heard of books, but I’ve never actually seen one. It was said that they no longer existed. Its clear to me now this is a simple lie as what I’m looking at is a book with pages and words and it makes me wonder what other secrets the demon scum have kept hidden from us.

Kian shakes his head. “It doesn’t matter. Just please, swear you won’t tell anyone”.

“I can’t even if I wanted to,” I reply.

He doesn’t seem to be satisfied with my answer and stares at me pleadingly, but I simply arch my eyebrow at his comment.

He continues to watch me warily as though I’m about to steal the book from him and run off.

“You don’t get it do you?” I say.

When he continues to look at me with a blank, yet wary look on his face I sigh and curse almost incoherently under my breath.

Does this boy not have a brain or something?

“I get seen, I’m dead. I get caught, I’m dead especially now I’m caught up in all this.” I tell him bluntly as I wave my hands at the book.

“So you won’t tell anyone?” he asks tentatively.

“Were you born under a rock? Don’t you understand what I’m trying to say?” I snap at him, irritated with his questions.

I don’t let him reply and simply sigh as I shake my head. “No, I’m not going to tell anyone about your precious little book”.

His smile is filled with a mixture of relief and gratefulness, before then turning his gaze away from me and to the book in his lap.

Suddenly he turns to me uncertainty as if he’s realised that I too am regarding the book with certain curiosity.

He bites the inside of his lip as though he’s unsure and watches me for a couple of minutes, clearly deciding whether or not to trust me.

But finally, after a few minutes, he speaks up.
“It’s called The Chronicle of Territories. Do you want to read it?” he asks me.

I can see he is careful of showing his emotions. He’s on his toes, ready to expect anything. This book must be very precious to him. But then I guess it would be to anyone who knew its worth.My face begins to burn, but I’m not sure whether it’s from embarrassment or sudden anger that he’s caught me out. I hate admitting my weaknesses and though I know Kian doesn’t mean anything by the question, it doesn’t make any difference to my pride.

“I can’t read” I say through gritted teeth, whilst looking away.

Out of the corner of my eye I see Kian’s eyes widen in surprise and his shoulders slump in what I can only presume to be some sort of relief, though he’s quick to hide it.

He suddenly turns away. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know”

Despite everything, I glance at the book. To my surprise I find that I can actually recognise a few of the squiggles on the cover. I recognise them straight away as the runes of the old era.
Kian suddenly pulls me out of my daze. “Do you want me to teach you?” he asks.

He looks sincere, but I still find myself insulted.I pull a face of irritation and turn my back to him. He doesn’t say a word, which is probably best at this moment. My stubbornness probably lasts only a few long minutes before I give in, turn back around and sit myself closer to him.

I don’t bother looking at his face, purely because I find that I can’t and clearly my pride is to blame. So instead I focus my concentration on the book in his lap.
There is something about this boy that I can’t put my finger on. I know I can trust him to a degree and he looks pretty hopeless when it comes to fighting. He seems friendly enough, though he is rather nosey. The problem is his odd effect on me confuses me beyond comprehension. By the Gods what the hell has come over me, Since when have I cared about anyone other than Barnie and myself since how long?

I’m not sure I like this part of myself he is bringing out in me. I don’t exactly trust this side of me and her motives seem unclear. All because of this Kian boy.I feel his smile rather than see it as I’m pulled from my thoughts and soon after he begins my lesson, while the rain continues to pour around us, singing its lullaby as its falls.

K i a n

It’s late and the rain has finally died down.

I’ve taught Rena some of the basic runes and she seems to be catching on quickly, she seems quite interested in reading. It’s funny how she recognised and was able to read a few of the most complicated runes, some of which I didn’t even know how to read myself and it makes me wonder how she came to know of them. But I know she’ll never tell me, no matter how many times I ask her.

But for now all I can think about is Maya. What if she’s being punished, or what if she’s out there somewhere looking for me?These and a thousand other questions are rushing around in my head trying to find answers I can’t give, try as I might.
I’m pretty sure that my frustration and exhaustion is clear on my face, but Rena doesn’t say anything nor do I expect her to. From what I gather and have seen for myself she keeps herself to herself.

Whilst slowly teaching her how to read, I told her my story. It sort of slipped really, but once I started I couldn’t bring myself to stop. Besides after my carelessness with the book, I think I can trust her. She’s not really a people person and so I’m pretty sure my secret will be safe with her. She never said a word through the whole thing though there really isn’t much to tell. She still hasn’t said anything yet.

Barnie had been on Rena’s shoulder throughout her lesson, but now he’s found a cosy spot in a corner of their shelter and has settled down to sleep. Funny, I’ve never heard of an owl that sleeps during the night.
I glance over at Rena. My curiosity at the moment seems to know no boundaries and I decide to attempt once again at her story.

“What about you then?” I say, breaking the silence.

“What do you mean?” she asks.

“Why are you out here all alone? You must be running from something,” I probe.

She rolls her eyes and lies down.

“Oh come on! I told you mine,” I protest.

“Go to sleep Kian,” she says in a warning tone.

I sigh in frustration, yet again another dead end. “Please?”

Now she is just ignoring me purposefully and so with another sigh of frustration, I give up. Maybe I’ll get some answers to my questions another time because I’m certainly not giving up just yet. I will get answers from her eventually.

After a few minutes, I too settle down to sleep, dreaming of Maya, Asgard and strangely my odd new friend Rena.

I wake up to the sound of rustling and so I sit up, rubbing the sleep from my eyes whilst wondering where I am.

Suddenly it all comes rushing back. Rena, Maya, the soldiers. It all happened; it wasn’t just a dream or my imagination. I’m sleeping on a rooftop with Rena whilst Maya is still out there waiting for me. The thought revives the guilt I’d been feeling the night before.
“What’s going on?” I ask.

I don’t get an answer, nor do I need one because in the next few seconds I open my eyes to find Rena packing up her things.

“What are doing?” I ask her, suddenly alarmed.

Rena looks up from what she’s doing and stares at me blankly for a moment. “I’m just stretching my legs. What does it look like I’m doing moron?”

I ignore her sarcasm and scramble to my feet. “Where are you going?” I ask.
“I’m leaving” she says simply.

“You’re leaving?!” I cry in dismay.

She raises her eyebrow at me and nods. “Yeah…leaving”.

“But why?” I reply.

She shrugs. “Not like it’s any of your business but I never stay in the same place for more than a few days, safer that way”
“Safer that way?! How will we find Maya?” I reply, my voice raised.

Rena’s silver eyes suddenly become angry and malicious. “You can go look for her, she isn’t my problem and neither are you for that matter, besides I don’t expect someone like you to understand ”.

“Where are you going to go” I ask, now strangely desperate.

She sighs and doesn’t answer for a moment. “I’m headed due south” she finally tells me.

At this new information, my eyes light up and my mind begins to calculate rapidly.

“Let me come with you.” I say suddenly.

The hardness re-enters her eyes. “No”.
“I get the feeling that you don’t like me much” I say.

“Well then you’d be right” she retaliates.

At this I grin. “Fine, but you know I’ll only follow you”.

Her eyes close to slits. “You wouldn’t dare”.

This makes me grin even more. “Try me”.

At my reply she stops what she’s doing. “Don’t you have anything better to do?”

“You said it yourself, if the Demonata catch me I’m dead” I say with a shrug.

Rena looks at me before she responds “What about this Maya girl?”

My heart catches in my throat, “I can’t save her on my own”.

“That’s if she’s still alive” Rena retorts.

“I’m coming with you no matter what you say,” I reply defiantly.

She watches me as I say this and curses. My heart hammers in my chest as a result of angering her, but I keep my calm. We both know how this will end and knowing this suddenly makes me feel a lot calmer about my situation. I have her right where I want her and she knows it.
“Then I’ll kill you” she says, a dark and menacing look on her face.

“If you had wanted to kill me, you would’ve done it already” I reply, outsmarting her once more.

She scowls, hesitates and then walks straight up to me until she is inches away from my face. “You’d better keep up with my pace, because if you so happen as slow me down, I’ll hand you over to the Demonata myself”.

“Thanks for the heads up,” I reply, a fake smile plastered on my face.

She walks away and I quickly grab my few belongings. I feel the excitement fill me as I realise my adventure has finally begun. And for those few short moments Maya doesn’t even creep back into my thoughts.

R e n a

Something must be seriously wrong with me, because Kian is seriously getting to me and I don’t like it. Not one little bit.
I wish I had an excuse to get rid of him, but what annoys me the most is that he is actually keeping up.By the Gods I really hate this boy. He’s going to get me into a lot of trouble I can just feel it.
And to top it off, Barnie is getting along famously with our new friend. Even my supposedly faithful bird has bloody gone and betrayed me, just perfect. So I have made it quite obvious that I am not in a good mood.

I suppose the only good that’s come of this is that I have less to carry. The thing is Kian has now focused his curiosity on my past, which is not good.

Ignoring him is extremely difficult and yelling at him doesn’t work either, so I have resulted in blocking out his noise with a simple rune because in the mood I’m in, that is exactly what it is; irritating noise.

It looks like it’s working, but not as well as I’d hoped because sadly I can still hear the buzzing of his voice. I don’t know what’s worse; the buzzing or the constant flow of questions. Either way I regret ever helping him out in the first place.

Why he is so interested in my past is entirely beyond me and his curiosity and persistence to retrieve this information is slowly causing me to lose my patience.The past is the past and it should stay that way, mine especially should be kept locked away in the shadows of secrecy.
It isn’t the best choice of topic and yet he persists, just like his decision to join me in my travels, yet another bad choice on his part. He really has no idea what he is getting himself into.

Though by the sound of it he seems to be in a whole world of trouble all his own.

It’s late now and I’m just about to tell Kian we’ll camp up ahead, when I notice the burnt looking mark on his neck. The demon’s mark.

My heart stops in my chest and the adrenalin kicks in. He is a Halfling, child of an impure one and a demon. This changes everything, he is the enemy. I can’t believe how naïve I was, assuming he was an impure, like me.

In seconds I’m on top of him, pulling out my dagger.I’m about to slit his throat open, when I hesitate.
In this small hesitation, I look into his eyes only to find pure bewilderment and his innocence. This completely fazes me and I back away, not able to ignore the tiny voice in my head. He scuffles from under me, holding a hand to his throat as he breaths heavily.

“By the Gods…” he trails off and looks at me in shock. “You tried to kill me!”

“You lied to me” I growl, recovering quickly.

“Lied to you?” he replies in bewilderment.

My arm shoots out and I point toward his neck. “You’re one of them, a Halfling”.

Kian stares at me disbelief. “Well, by the Gods, what did you think I was?!” he says finally, after a few moments.

“You’re a spy aren’t you!” I hiss, pointing the dagger at him.

“No I’m not,” he responds, his eyes wide.

“The Queen she sent you didn’t she? She hired you to capture me, to send me back,” I spit, my voice rising with each word.

“No you’re wrong, it isn’t like that!” he replies, fearful tears welling in his eyes.

I look away, angry at myself for how childish and naïve I have been recently. He’s right, what did I think he was. Did I really think he was safe to have around?

If I’d have kept my distance none of this would have ever happened.
“Wait. One of them? What do you mean?” he asks.

My eyes shoot back to meet his. “Why are you here Kian?” I demand.

“W-what?” he frowns at me in confusion, lowering his hand from his neck.
“You heard me. Why are you here? Why do you want to come with me?” I repeat, my voice raised.

He stands his ground for a moment before sighing and relaxing slightly. “I need to get to the south gate and you’re the only way I can get there in one piece,” he admits.

I frown, not expecting this to be his answer. “Why?”

“I told you before, I’m getting out of here. I’m going to look for lost city of Asgard,” he says.

I scrutinise him for a long moment. “So you’re not a spy?”

He looks away before he answers. “No!, Look, there’s no way I can make it there alone”.

“That’s it? There aren’t any other reasons? You weren’t sent to capture me?” I ask, still staring him down.

He frowns at me. “Do I look like someone anyone would send on a mission like that?”

I give him a once over. He has a point. I’ve never met someone so utterly defenceless in my entire being.

I stand up and begin to walk away, ignoring him. The anger and adrenaline is burning within me and coursing rapidly through my veins.
“Rena, wait! What was that all about?” he asks as he catches up to me.

“I don’t trust people for good reason and if what you say is true then I need to know that I can trust you” I tell him through gritted teeth.

“You can, I swear,” he replies in a rush.

My eyes bore into his, sizing him up. I don’t say a word, only nodding my head once in reply before I turn away from him. Too many thoughts are rushing around my head and I don’t know what to make of the situation I’ve found myself in.

The most important question I should be asking myself is whether or not I can trust him. The problem is for the first time in years I’m not exactly sure of my next move and this worries me.
“Rena-” Kian begins.

“We camp here tonight” I say, interrupting him before he realises he’s ruffled me.

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