The city of Darene was amongst the major hubs down south. While not as acclaimed as the holy city Rabona, Darene was far more populous, and was a central market for more prosperous merchants and traders, who often passed through the city in order to ensure a realm-wide distribution of their goods. One could not do big business without having established connections in Darene.
It was a bright day; albeit slightly cloudy, when the bustling but peaceful city would change forever in a mere heartbeat.
As the towering gates boomed shut behind them, nine women and one girl made their way towards the city square, where the mingling crowds would render their presence less conspicuous. One could never be too cautious. One of them was dressed in the garb of a holy Sister, while the other nine had black cloaks draped around the ebony leather and cloth that hugged their bodies. The leader, known by name as Miria, turned to the holy Sister and said, "No disrespect intended, Galatea, but you should change into something more… common. If you have a cloak, it would be the best option."
A younger looking woman, whose eyes were expressive of a soft and kind heart, spoke up. "We should go to a tailor; to have him fit garments for Galatea."
"Why don't you go with her, Cynthia. You've been quite the comrade to Galatea these past few days," she added, noticing Cynthia's blank look. To Miria's right, the veteran warrior Helen smirked, and a younger contemporary, Tabitha, turned away, silent. Cynthia's blank expression remained, although it felt strained. Miria blinked in realization, although she already had a nagging inkling of what was transpiring, despite it being merely intuition.
I should have been able to detect this faint discomfort between those two.
"Al.. alright," said Cynthia uncertainly, breaking the momentary silence. "Galatea?" she managed, playing with the tails of her hair unconsciously. "Let's – "
"I heard the lady," came the senior warrior's sarcastic voice. She had closed her blind eyes, as if shutting away all other voices save Cynthia's. "Take me where you will."
As the former Number Fourteen and Number Three made their way into the bustling side streets, Helen turned to Miria. "You know, I saw something funny this morning. D'you want to know?"
"We've got bigger things to worry about now," said Miria. "Clare. Don't you sense something about this city?"
"Yeah. The Organization has been here. And…" Clare's eyes narrowed. "Awakened Ones have been here." She glanced at Miria. "How long will we be here? We're yet to catch any from the Organization, and we haven't found Isley and Priscilla yet."
"We'll be staying here awhile. How long, I don't know." Miria raised her face to the gray sky. "Make yourselves comfortable. I hope to organize a search party soon to – "
"Search party? You never told us about this," interrupted Helen, surprised.
"This is in relation to what Clare asked." Miria's eyes glimmered. "Dante, Dauf, and Riful. Isley and Priscilla. And finally, the Organization and its stubborn persistence of the war against the Descendants of the Dragons. These three parties are our enemies, for the time being. It's no easy task to take them all down; even when they all have conflicting interests. That's why we need to approach this with the utmost caution."
"Let us in on your plan, Miria," said Clare.
"Yeah… Awakened One or weak old man, no one will stand in our way!" declared Helen, hitting her palm with her fist.
"Alright, then." Miria beckoned Deneve, Yuma, Tabitha, Clarice and Miata to join Clare and Helen.
"Now, listen up, everyone…"
In the corner of a nearby street, Cynthia sighed in relief as she and the slightly taller woman entered a tailor, pushing open the wooden door. "You handled it really well, Galatea. I didn't know how to reply to Miria back there."
"I'm always on my feet. Unlike you," added Galatea, smiling at the bashful Yoki of her new lover. "I have to wait on you all the time, don't I?"
"What is milady looking to wear today?" came an old man's voice. Cynthia and Galatea turned to the source of the voice. The elder took one glance at Galatea's garb and bowed. "A Bride of God! You honour my humble abode with your sacred presence."
"Well, I'm going to look a lot less holy in a few minutes," replied the nun. "I'd like a black dress, preferably something that does not reveal too much of me. And give me a black hosiery set while you're measuring me up."
"You'd look gorgeous, Galatea," gushed Cynthia, after the old man scurried away. "I've never seen you in the clothes of a noblewoman before."
"A noblewoman's garments that do not scream for attention," said Galatea. "I like that. I'm sure that will suffice for now," she added, smiling at Cynthia.
Then, as suddenly, her expression changed. Her unseeing eyes narrowed, and her hand touched Cynthia's briefly, as if to ensure that she was physically close enough to protect her.
Cynthia felt troubled. She shuffled closer to Galatea. "What… what's wrong?"
The reply that followed was worrisome. "I sense… a very powerful being with a tremendous amount of Yoki headed in the direction of this city."
Deep within a cave, a man's boots tapped silently on the cold, hard ground. He slowly walked into a dank chamber, facing a young girl in a pink dress.
It felt good to be home.
He brushed aside his black hair and placed one knee on the dungeon floor. "I have returned with my report, milady."
"Lord Dante," replied the other happily. "Welcome back. Tell me everything."
The other's face was impassive, although an inferno raged behind his eyes. "Lady Riful. The hunters of the warriors we hoped to convert have begun to move."