Nypre and Deren trudged through the night finding it quite difficult to keep up with Ryan. They were both very tired. Nypre’s discomfort grew as it become more difficult to distinguish the Night Land from the normal land in the darkness. For all he knew they were wandering through it. Ryan insisted that they were still a good distance away from the Night Land whenever Nypre pestered him. But how would he know? Deren’s usual upbeat nature was toned down significantly as he struggled to stay awake. He was incapable of comprehending a conversation at this point. Whenever Nypre would try talking to him he would only respond with confused grunts.
They had exited the woods hours ago, and the incline was getting steeper as they neared the base of the mountain. The ground slowly converged into a single path, which led upwards. It would still be half a day’s travel uphill to reach Lumin, which drained all motivation from Nypre. He was already exhausted. He couldn’t even imagine the pain he’d feel in trying to reach Lumin. Ryan had mentioned that there was a town about half way up the mountain road. It was the only thing that kept Nypre going.
“We’re almost there Deren,” Nypre attempted to raise the hopes of his brother.
“Huh?” Deren grumbled incomprehensibly.
“Deren seems to have entered a zombie mode,” Ryan said with a laugh.
“What’s a zombie?” Nypre asked, confused.
“Oh never mind,” Ryan sighed.
As the three continued up the path Nypre kept Deren away from the cliff on their left. The mountain wall was on their right, and while the path was wide enough, Nypre still didn’t feel safe with Deren going near the edge in fear of him falling off in his tired state.
“So Ryan, where are you from?” Nypre asked looking to him, trying to make conversation to make the trip more bearable.
“I’m from a very distant land. I’m actually one of the few of my kind who live in these lands,” Ryan explained “I can’t really say more about it.”
“Wait, are you from the tenth land? I know the people from there can’t talk about it.” Nypre was curious now.
“No,” Ryan replied quickly. It was the kind of no that indicated it was time to change the subject.
“So, what are your plans when we get to Lumin?”
“I plan to do some research. They have a grand library there. An old friend who lives there recently contacted me with some new information that interests me. I’ll be meeting with him when we arrive.” Ryan didn’t mind explaining this.
“What kind of information?” Nypre was beginning to feel like an annoyance with his questions.
“Information on the Phoenix amulet, have you heard of it?” Ryan asked. Nypre shook his head. “It is a gift from Ana given to the humans. There are many rumors about it. One rumor suggests the ability to control fire or make the wearer become impervious to flames. Others suggest it has the ability to heal all wounds and illnesses. It’s kept in the main temple of Ana in Lumin.”
Nypre was fascinated with all this information. He almost regretted the sight of a town up ahead.
“Looks like we’re here. Wake up Deren,” Nypre prodded Deren.
“No,” Deren grunted defiantly. Ryan laughed at the response. As the three got closer to the town Nypre saw that it was still under construction. There were many wooden foundations throughout the town. Only were few structures were fully built. On the mountain wall there was a large dark cave entrance. Stationed at the cave entrance and spread throughout the town were men in pure white steel plate armor holding spears, with some astride horses. It was impossible to see their faces. Ryan cast a warning glance downwards at Nypre, and Nypre knew what he meant. These were Lumin soldiers. Using any sort of magic in their presence would be dangerous. They were trained against mages of all the elements. One of the soldiers approached the three and Nypre felt a chill crawl down his spine.
“Welcome travelers. What brings you here this late at night?” the soldier asked in a friendly tone. His voice echoed within his helmet. Deren found this very amusing and tried not to laugh.
“Greetings,” Ryan answered. “Forgive our intrusion this late at night. I’m a researcher. I’ve come to do some research in the grand library of Lumin. These two boys are escorts I’ve paid to accompany and protect me.”
“Yes. It’s dangerous times we live in. The amount of thieves in Falkner’s territory has increased. You aren’t the first to arrive with paid protection. Regardless, you are safe here. Your escorts look absolutely exhausted,” he nodded at Deren. “You may rest in one of the way stations we have set up for that purpose. It’s normally used for suppliers who stay the night.” The guard pointed to one of the large completed buildings. “Oh, and stay away from the cave. We’ve been having some issues with the local creatures that dwell within it.”
Nypre soon found himself within one of the many rooms of the way station. The place looked like it had been hastily constructed. It had a single main hallway with many small unadorned rooms on either side, bare except for the beds inside. It was difficult for them to find an empty room as most were already occupied. Fortunately, in the end of the hall they finally came to several rooms that were empty. Nypre lay upon the small bed and closed his eyes. The bed had appeared to be much less comfortable than the one in Dustin, but after laying in it for a few moments, he found that looks can be deceiving. He was asleep within seconds.
“Nypre! Wake up!” It was Deren’s voice. Nypre opened his eyes slowly. It felt like he had been asleep for only a few seconds. “Come on, we’re heading out to Lumin!” Deren said excitedly. Nypre struggled to get out of bed, but with the help of Deren he was soon on his feet.
“How long did we sleep for?” Nypre asked.
“Not long, it’s still early morning. The sun is just rising,” Deren replied. “I know, I’m still tired too.”
“Tired is an understatement, why can’t we sleep in?” Nypre grumbled.
“Ryan woke me up and told me to get you. He says there’s someone in town offering to let us ride in his cart up to Lumin so we won’t have to walk,” Deren explained. Feeling encouraged by the thought of riding a cart up the mountain Nypre hopped out of bed. The two were quickly outside.
“Good morning!” Ryan called to them. “I was talking to a man named Elijah who was bringing some food down from Lumin to help feed the builders. He offered to let us ride in his cart back up the mountain.”
Almost on cue, a tall man wearing a white robe with thread of gold embroidery appeared and greeted them with a friendly smile. The man and Ryan talked about their arrangements, but despite Nypre trying to listen in, he just couldn’t find the conversation between Elijah and Ryan important enough to care about. Instead he found himself bantering with Deren excitedly about the trip ahead of them. It felt like a long time since he had chatted like this with Deren. It had really only been a day or two, but ever since they had left home with Ryan, he and Deren hadn’t talked at all without Ryan within earshot.
Ryan and Elijah soon led the twins to the cart, which was much larger than Nypre had imagined it would be. The cart had a seat in the front where Ryan and Elijah could sit. Nypre and Deren settled for sitting in the cart itself, but the walls of the cart were high enough that there was no risk of them falling out. The cart was pulled by two very large draft horses.
They spent half the day riding in the cart. Ryan and Elijah were engaging in friendly conversation about unimportant things, but Deren brought up a much more interesting topic that captured Nypre’s interest.
“Lumin Priestesses are said to be the most pure and beautiful maidens throughout the land,” Deren explained. “They devote their lives to Ana and never leave Lumin, making them a very rare sight.”
“Definitely worth checking out!” Nypre exclaimed.
“Yes, but there’s a strict ‘look, don’t touch’ rule. We have to visit the main temple where the priestesses all live, and possibly bathe, together. Each priestess has her own personal guard to protect them against visitors like us. Priestesses must remain pure, so they’re not allowed to be alone with a man, if you understand what I mean.”
“Where did you learn all of this stuff anyway, Deren?”
“The books on Lumin mom gave us, of course. Don’t tell me you only looked up stuff about the soldiers of Lumin,” Deren laughed.
“You would have too if you were me.” Nypre was careful about what he said here. Deren understood what he meant and the word magic was never uttered. “I’ll have learn more about the priestesses when we finally arrive in Lumin, I guess.” Nypre added.
It was midday when they finally arrived atop the mountain. The sun was high in the sky and cast its rays down upon the mountain top which was covered in snow. Nypre and Deren looked around in awe. It was the first time they had ever seen snow. They crossed a large stone bridge into the town. The buildings and roads here were made of carved marble that blended perfectly with the snow to make everything beautiful. Despite the snow on the ground, Lumin was unnaturally warm, making it the perfect temperature, cool but not cold. The air felt just like back in Tawarln’s territory, only with far less wind. Among the buildings there were two which clearly stood out. In the exact center of town was a large, extravagant building which Nypre and Deren immediately recognized as the temple of Ana. Next to it was the library which Ryan had mentioned to Nypre the previous night.
The cart came to a stop outside one of the stone houses. Nypre and Deren jumped out excitedly, looking at all of the sights. They didn’t even hear as Elijah bid them farewell and continued on his way. Ryan tapped each of them on their shoulders to snap them out of their enthrallment.
“I believe this is where we say goodbye,” Ryan said.
“Yeah, I guess it is,” Deren replied plainly. There was an awkward silence as neither of the two knew what to say.
“Thanks for taking us this far,” Nypre broke the silence with a nervous voice. “It has been an amazing trip.”
“It was a lot shorter than I thought it would be,” Deren sighed at the thought of returning home so soon.
“It’s a small world we live in,” Ryan repeated words he had said in the past.
“I guess that explains why the territories are often at war with each other over land,” Nypre murmured to himself.
“I recommend you stay in Lumin for at least a day. You two have earned some time off from your mother,” Ryan suggested. The two nodded.
“Yeah, there’s a lot to see here. I want to check out the temple for sure!” Deren cheered.
“You two should go to the temple right now. I have a feeling you may find something interesting there,” Ryan smiled. Deren and Nypre shrugged at each other, wondering at the meaning behind those words. “As for me, I’ll be heading to the library. Goodbye, you two. It was a pleasure meeting you both. May our paths cross in the future.”
“Goodbye.” Nypre and Deren said at the same time. They watched as Ryan crossed the road and entered the library. It felt very strange for both of them. For the first time, they could do whatever they wanted, and they were completely unsupervised.
“Let’s head to the temple!” Deren nearly shouted in excitement. Nypre was right behind him as the two ran down the road to the entrance of the temple.
It wasn’t long before they stood in front of the temple. The building was two stories high. The front wall had no windows, just very large wooden doors that were already open. Through the doors led to a large open room full of tables. People of all kinds sat at the tables, some in deep discussion while others were praying in silence. It was much different than Nypre expected a temple to be. At each table sat a priestess and her personal guard, mixed in with other varying types of people. There were also a large amount of soldiers spread out throughout the rooms, patrolling and keeping an eye on the visitors. One of them approached Nypre and Deren.
“Please leave your weapons here and have a seat. A priestess will be with you shortly to discuss your problems,” he spoke with a stern voice. Nypre and Deren weren’t exactly sure what this meant, but decided just to go with it.
“Thank you,” Nypre thanked him as genuinely as possible. The two of them placed their sheathed swords on a small rack meant for that purpose and then wandered through the room to one of the corner tables. Deren’s eyes jumped from one priestess to another as they walked. Finally they sat down.
“So, this is a bit strange for a temple. I expected to see the priestesses praying and possibly bathing,” Deren looked to Nypre.
“What is with you and wanting to see them bathe?” Nypre asked.
“What is with you and ‘not’ wanting to see them bathe?” Deren countered quickly. Both of them shut up quickly as one of the priestesses walked over to them. Nypre took a quick glance at her and couldn’t look away. She had beautiful flowing auburn hair which matched her large, brown eyes well. She wore a silken robe whiter than the snow outside, which seemed to shine beneath the beauty of her smile. She was only slightly shorter than Nypre, and looked to be about his age.
“Hello,” her voice was soft with a nervous tone. Deren nudged Nypre out of his trance and pointed to the man who walked with her. He looked like any other soldier, only much larger. All of them were intimidating, yet this particular soldier felt extra frightening to Nypre. He held a large spear which was almost as big as Nypre.
“I am Lina,” the priestess continued speaking. “Please state the nature of your problem. We would love to assist you,” She talked as nervously as Nypre felt. With a grunt from the guard she quickly took a seat and giggled shyly. Nypre looked to his twin, unsure what to say. It was Deren who spoke first.
“We’re new around here. When we came to the temple we weren’t expecting this,” Deren admitted.
“Oh,” Lina seemed relieved. “There’s a lot of trouble in the world. People have been requesting the temple to help them. With war and strife all over the world, we have been able to save people by sending food and medicine to the towns that are affected. We never intervene directly in wars of course, unless magic is involved.”
“I can understand that. But we really weren’t expecting something like this. It feels almost like an inn or pub,” Nypre looked around to all the people at the different tables.
“Oh, right.” Lina glanced up at the guard who stood beside her. “Before, people would feel too intimidated to ask us for help, so we decided to change the way we do things. I mean, most of these people live here in Lumin and come here regularly to pray with the priestesses. I think it’s a great way for us to meet the people of the world on a more personal level. It’s the reason I chose to become a priestess, actually,” Lina smiled. The guard grunted and her smile quickly turned into a more nervous looking gaze.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Nypre quickly said before Deren had a chance to speak. He could see a small amount of relief flood over Lina. “I’m Nypre by the way. This is my brother Deren.” He reached over and patted Deren on the back, his eyes never leaving Lina’s.
“I’m Lina,” Lina repeated, forgetting she had already said her name. “And this is my personal guard Norris.” She nodded to the soldier, who said nothing.
“We come from the Tawarln territory. We were actually just helping to escort a traveler here, and decided to check out the temple and pray before our journey back,” Deren was mostly truthful.
“That’s amazing,” Lina seemed impressed. “Tawarln is one of the four territories from which we don’t get many visitors. It’s because a guardian lives there. Have you seen the wind guardian? We have been trying to find out her exact location to better prepare for a disaster should one strike,” Lina asked. Nypre and Deren looked at each other nervously, not expecting to be questioned about their mother. Lina saw their reactions and quickly spoke again. “Forgive me, I shouldn’t ask such an intruding question. To be honest I’m still new at this.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Deren smiled comforting her. “We don’t really know very much about the wind guardian, is all,” Deren lied.
“Oh, her name is Wonik. She has given the Lumin military many issues in the past, more so than any of the other guardians. I hope you understand why I was asking about her. It’s very unsettling to most of the people in Lumin not knowing where she is, despite her not having any activity since an incident fifteen years ago.”
“Incident fifteen years ago?” Nypre asked. The guard grunted again, which Nypre had already figured out was her cue to change the subject.
“I don’t know much about it. Just that there were some deaths caused by some of her followers while she escaped. We are still unsure why she did not battle us directly. That is what worries us the most,” Lina explained despite the grunt. “Anyway, you came here to pray, correct? We should pray,” Lina quickly added with a fearful look in her eyes as she glanced at Norris. The three closed their eyes, placing their elbows on the table and joining hands. Lina lead the prayer.
“Ana, may you grant these two travelers safety as they return back to their homes. May the darkness of Letum not block their passage.”
It was a short prayer, but it held a lot of meaning to both of the boys.
“Thank you.” Deren said with a smile.
“You are welcome to come back anytime, just ask for me. Goodbye Nypre and Deren, I hope we meet again in the future.” Lina stood up from the table, and she and Norris walked off to another. Nypre and Deren left the temple after watching her walk off, both of them feeling a warmth in their hearts that they could not describe. They made sure not to forget the weapons they had previously discarded.
“Well, that was the temple,” Deren stated plainly to Nypre as they stood in the snow covered roads. “What now?”
“Did you hear what she said, about mom?” Nypre looked around. There was no one in earshot. “She has given the Lumin military many issues in the past. It makes me think they are looking for revenge, why else would they want to find out her location?”
“You heard her. They just want to prepare for a disaster.” Deren replied optimistically.
“Don’t be so naïve Deren. I’m worried about mom. We should check out the library and see what information they have about her,” Nypre disagreed.
“You’re probably right, but you know how much I hate books that don’t involve priestesses. I’ll tell you what. I’ll take a look around town while you do all the work,” Deren suggested. “I actually want to see what kind of training the Lumin soldiers have to go through. They’re supposed to the finest in the world after all.”
“That’s not a bad idea,” Nypre admitted. “So, we’ll meet back here at sunset and find an inn?”
“Sounds like a plan.”