The silence of the sleeping village was interrupted by the thunderous sound of shouts and horses' hooves. Through the winding streets, soldiers pursued the criminals relentlessly; they could not be allowed to escape with such a dangerous prize.
"Amelda, hurry! Or we'll not make it!" a voice called out from the front of the group, brown bangs falling over blue orbs. The owner, a young man, was trying desperately to hold onto their precious cargo and control his horse at the same time.
"There's no point in making it if you drop that, Varon! You do your job and he'll do his," a second man spoke, short blonde hair and dark icy eyes glaring slightly at the other before casting a glance back at the others following behind them. "He knows what he's doing."
Amidst the chase, though still coherent, the last member of the group seemed to be in a world of his own. While blue-grey eyes were clouded over in thought, he still was able to control the steed he was riding and keep up with his two comrades. He knew that the other men, Raphael and Varon, were counting on him to do his job so that their mission would be a success, but he couldn't seem to take his mind off the puzzling predicament swirling inside his head.
Just why was he a hired thief and mercenary?
That's right, he needed to live. So this was it? He would benefit and exist solely from destroying other people who had done no wrong to him? Where was the logic in that? Right now he couldn't help but feel disgusted with himself. He had never enjoyed this line of work, but apparently he was very good at it, which made him feel even worse.
While over the years he had grown to be a lot more accepting and passive about how he lived, he couldn't help but place himself as a hypocrite. He hated war; it had taken everything dear to him, and yet he was fuelling its continuation instead of trying to end it.
Yes, the endless battle between the Kingdom of the Magicians and the Kingdom of Dragons had been going on for as long as Amelda could remember. It had proceeded for so many centuries that no one was quite sure anymore what had started it in the first place. For most though, it seemed like it had always been the way things were, and always would be. Generation after generation had continued the war, and now two of the youngest rulers ever to fight, the Pharaoh of Magicians Atemu and the Dictator of the Dragons Seto, were locked in a bitter rivalry that would no doubt cause the end of both of them.
If he was honest with himself, if one had to win, letting victory go to the Pharaoh would probably be best. He would allow a much peaceful resolution and restoration of life. Of course Amelda could never voice this, especially since he was working for the opposition.
Dictator Seto was stern and arrogant, going to many methods to win. None of the group were that fond of him, but he paid them and that was all that mattered. It was hard for the others to understand why he went to such extremes and somewhat underhanded lengths for success. The Magicians took more care to be honourable in their battles and it seemed to work. At this point in the war, they were winning.
Many thought this would anger the dictator, but he seemed calm, almost smug about it. It no doubt had something to do with this great plot he was conceiving, which included the special artefacts that were kept in the Magician Kingdom. That was where Amelda, Varon and Raphael came in. It was their job to steal them and bring them back to Seto.
Of course, they had to escape first.
"Would you stop bloody daydreaming and do something?!" Varon screamed impatiently as the guards were now even closer than before.
Snapping out of his trance, the dim eyes of Amelda saw the Pharaoh's guards throwing spears from their horses, which the thieves barely managed to dodge. Another inch too close, and they all would have had the sharp wood piercing right through their bodies. The man knew what he had to do.
"Take the turn ahead, I'll finish with them," he called to his friends, who both nodded and sped up out of harm's way.
Each of the three members of the group all had their specialities. Raphael, being well built and strong, was a good fighter, and mainly handled close combat with anyone who got in the team's way. Varon, though rather overconfident at times, was not only fast and agile, but was cunning as well, especially with getting information out of people. Then of course, in case of a real emergency, the group needed someone who could think and plan a good escape, and was skilled enough to take on any number of problems for the sake of a mission.
That, was Amelda's job.
With quickness and precision, the man reached into his cloak and grabbed a small pouch, some thin thread, a hand-sized, metal weight and a small dagger. Carefully tying one end of the thread to the blade and the other to the weight, he knew he had to get the timing just right for the escape to work.
With a flick of his wrist, the pouch fell from his hand only to burst open on impact with the ground and release a choking purple powder into the air. The guards were coughing uncontrollably in the fog, unable to see anything else in the mist. While they were distracted, Amelda aimed the dagger and threw it towards a stone wall behind him. As planned, the weight made it dip downwards before embedding in the limestone, while the metal lump swung upwards and became caught between two tall wooden posts. Now, the thread was stretched all the way across the path of the soldiers.
When they finally escaped from the smog, confused and their horses out of control, they didn't see what was in their path. One by one, each large stallion tripped over the thread, crashing to the ground and bringing the riders with them.
While the commotion ensued, it was easy for Amelda to make a quick getaway, and rejoin his friends waiting on the outskirts of the city.
"Phew, could you have cut that any closer?" the cocky male panted, glaring lightly at Amelda when he finally caught up to them. "We almost got skewered there. Get your head the game please mate!"
"We're out now, so there's no need to get into a panic." The redhead shrugged, now not so tense, even smiling slightly at the sight of Varon's exasperated look.
"He's right, as long as we're out and we got it, that's what counts. It's still in one piece right?" Raphael asked, while the brunette unwrapped the treasure and let the cloth fall to reveal the golden prize. The awkward lump of metal had edges that twisted into curved shapes and gaps. Given a few more like it you could easily piece the flat slabs together, much like a jigsaw puzzle.
"Not even a scratch, we're good to go." Varon grinned cockily, finally placing the object in his saddlebag. "We best move, before the great master of ego gets impatient," he huffed dramatically, making the other two friends smile slightly.
As they galloped off toward the Temple of the Dragons, Amelda cast a glance back at the shifting sands of the other kingdom he had just left. The grains never stopped moving, never seemed to stay and settle in one place. He couldn't help but think that the Kingdoms too would never find rest, and that he himself, would always be moving, and never find a reason to make him content and stay.
Meanwhile, the Kingdom of Magicians was in an uproar. The report from the soldiers was, of course, not favorable. Not only had they been unable to capture the bandits, but they had crossed the border into the Kingdom of Dragons. The precious object that the Magicians had so dearly protected was now being delivered directly into the hands of the enemy, the cold-blooded Seto himself.
Around the palace grounds, the Pharaoh's servants murmured to each other, the drone of whispers tinged with worry. Rumors grew by the day about what kind of devious plans the Dictator had in store for the war.
The Pharaoh Atemu had taken the news of the theft calmly and with poise befitting a true king. Though it did much to assuage his subjects of their fears, there was still disquiet throughout the kingdom.
But it didn't seem to affect one magician that much.
A young woman by the society's standards, she had short brown hair and eyes of aquamarine, which sparkled with playful mirth on the best of days. But on this day, those eyes were clouded over, her tanned face dominated by a trancelike expression that commonly plagued daydreamers. She saw a flock of birds flying overhead before they landed on the palace walls, the walls that separated her from freedom. 'I wonder how it feels to fly…'
The familiar and stern voice brought her fanciful thoughts back down to earth.
She sighed and turned, then gasped and jumped in surprise, barely dodging a violet energy orb of electricity. "Master Mahaado!"
"Had you been paying attention, my tiresome apprentice, you would have learnt the spell for shielding." The man who spoke was tall, much taller than the girl, with long, dark hair and a composed face. He wore the golden and white robes of an advisor, one of the closest people to the Pharaoh. Folding his arms and fixing his student with one more severe expression, he added, "I suggest that you learn that spell quickly, lest you wish to be fried by dragon's breath."
"Sorry, sorry, sorry!" Mana hurried to move back into position on the training field. Since the war outside made it too dangerous for mages to practice their crafts elsewhere, a large area was set aside within the palace complex.
She had grown up there ever since she was a little girl. Her parents… No one knew quite what happened. Nevertheless, ever since she was a child, magic had been recognized within her. Like most of the adolescent mages, she had yet to see true battle, but she was fast approaching the completion of her training, and it was the one thing she was not enthusiastic about. It meant that she had less time than usual to herself, and very, very few friends.
"Do you remember the incantation?" Mahaado asked, also moving into position across the field a few yards away. He was exceedingly patient with her sometimes, and it was only because he knew that she had true potential to become a great magician…if only she could keep her focus long enough to develop her skills.
"Yup!" Mana held out her hands, palms facing outward. "I'm ready!"
Her teacher nodded, murmuring his own incantation as she murmured hers. Then he threw out his right hand, sending out another ball of energy just in time to meet Mana's spell.
Which was not the correct spell. Instead of a shield, she summoned a little puffball Scapegoat, which Mahaado's spell easily destroyed. Though the magic was greatly lessened, the leftover particles still hit Mana and sent her flying backwards.
"Mana!" Mahaado raced over towards the fallen girl. "Are you all right?" But he realized that his concern had been a touch too reactive when he saw that Mana was curled up on the ground in a fit of the giggles. Her amusement was lost on him. "Mana."
"Isn't that funny how switching a few words in a spell can make such a silly mistake?" Mana sat up, a playful smile still shining on her face. "Who knew that the shielding spell is so close to the spell for summoning a Scapegoat? That's so…" Her laughter ceased when she saw a bit of anger cross Mahaado's face. As patient as he could be, Mana had the habit of wearing it thin.
"Silly is not the word I had in my mind. Do you know the word I am thinking?"
Oh, no. Mana knew that she had really crossed the line this time. "…Careless?"
"Exactly." Mahaado kneeled down next to her, while Mana adverted her eyes as a sign of respect to her master. "Mana, we live in a time of constant war. Our kingdom has known very little peace. We have only been able to survive because of the strength of our people and our magic." He placed a hand on her shoulder. "Do you understand? There can be none of these silly, careless mistakes in battle. You must be serious."
Mana pouted, fighting hard not to be sad about his words. "I'm tired of the fighting! I wanna be free to do what I want without having to worry about the Dragon Kingdom anymore!"
"In order to continue to remain free, you must join the fight." There was no real heart in his words at the moment. This had been the oldest argument between them. Each knew the other's lines so well, yet still they talked.
"I wanna make friends and see the Kingdom and have an adventure!"
As usual, this was the part where Mahaado would cease the debate and order her to do more studying. This time, however, he simply helped Mana stand up and said only, "You have much to learn."
"That's what you always say!" she whined as he turned away.
Waving dismissively, he said, "I'll allow you this break for once, so do not waste it, Mana."
She grinned and began jumping up and down, her mood changing as quickly as a mirage. "Yay!" Then she ran off, in search for her own little piece of adventure, even if she couldn't quite fly beyond the palace walls to find it yet.