Once upon a time there was a man and a woman. They knew each other since they were children, and fell in love. Together they had a baby girl, and they lived in a grand, rich city full of others like them. They were happy.
One day, war reached them in their peaceful home. Unable to bear to watch those they had come to love as friends die, or the home they'd grown fond of be torn apart, they bid farewell to their little girl and left to fight. They fought bravely; the thought of a peaceful world that their little girl could grow up in was the thing that made them the strongest.
Sadly, they never returned home to their little girl. She was saddened by this, and cried. A woman came to her and brought her to a different city to live, saying that she would be her mother now. This woman was different from her, but loved the little girl all the more as if she were the same. The little girl's memory of her parents grew dim, but she thought nothing of it.
The little girl grew up in a comfortable life, never knowing hardship or war. She was not allowed to go past the safe walls of the city she lived in, as her new mother said all she ever needed would be right there. The little girl became friends with the many different kinds of people in the city, and would bring food and snacks to them while they worked. As she grew older though, she became restless, and found that her mind wandered towards venturing beyond the city walls….
"Are you writing smut again?" a voice came from behind Narlafayn. Startled, she froze and a shiver went through her from toe to head.
"Ju~ri! You startled me! What are you doing back?" she asked, turning to look at her orange-haired friend.
"Can't a girl come home after an adventure?" Juri asked, taking Narlafayn's journal and reading what she had written. She made a sour face at it. "What is this, a kid's book submission?" Narlafayn sighed and leaned forward to grab her lunch basket as she stood. She had seated herself on the edge of a large fountain in the middle of the marketplace to write.
"No…it's a history for mother. I'm joining the ranks and I know she won't understand otherwise." Narlafayn sighed again. Juri was silent for a moment before dropping Narlafayn's journal and grabbing her hands.
"You…you're really…" she said in a breathless voice, her eyes sparkling. Narlafayn blinked a few times in surprise at Juris reaction.
"Uh…yeah…I'm just really antsy anymore…" she began uncertainly.
"Let's go get you registered!" Juri suddenly exclaimed, pulling Narlafayn. She stumbled after her, her long, cream-colored dress getting tangled up around her legs.
"Now? But I haven't told mo-"
"No time to waste, the world is waiting!" Juri interrupted, dragging her along.
Narlafayn stared blankly as they passed through the city, trying to think of how she could break the news easily to her mother. She had been taken into the city of Bastok as a young child after her parents were killed in the Crystal War 20 years ago. Bastok was a mining city, built up around a mine called the Zehrun mine, and surrounded by ocean. A great tall cliff provided the city with shelter from invaders, and the only way to pass through to the outside was through mined out tunnels. She was originally from the neighboring city of San D'Oria, a well-known, rich city full of history and a race called the Elvaan.
Narlafayn herself was of this race, as was her friend Juri. They stood out in the primarily Hume-dominated Bastok. Other than Juri there were only a few other Elvaan that lived there. Many passed through, but Narlafayn never had a chance to speak with them to get to know her people better. Elvaans were tall, and had long, pointed ears and tan skin. Juri herself was short for her race, but still stood almost a foot over the tallest Hume. In contrast to Juri's short, pigtailed orange hair, Narlafayn's was bright silver that layered about her face and fell to her waist. She had violet eyes that were always given a double take when talking with strangers.
"Here we are." Juri stated, releasing Narlafayn and putting her hands on her hips. Narlafayn blinked a few times and stared, dumbfounded, at the stairway leading into the round, stone building that made up the Consulate of Bastok. She hadn't even noticed Juri taking her through the Metalworks to get there. Sighing when Narlafayn didn't move, Juri grabbed her by her wrist and led her into the Consulate. She led her over to a large book, just inside the door. "Ok, here's where you start. From this listing, pick out what you want to start learning, Black Magic, White Magic, Red Magic, Sword fighting, melee fighting or daggers. I personally wouldn't recommend the daggers, as most people who go that route become Thieves, and then you got everyone on your tail trying to turn you in for cash." Juri recited, inspecting her fingernails. Narlafayn scanned the book for a moment, and then looked at Juri with shining eyes.
"Can I learn all of them?" she asked in an awed voice. Juri crossed her arms in front of her chest in an 'x' shape and made a buzzing noise.
"As motivated as you may be, just pick something to start off with right now. We Elvaans are best suited for sword wielding you know, why don't you work with that?" Juri said, shifting her weight from one foot to the other impatiently.
"But there's so many…I want to learn them all." Narlafayn said, putting a hand to her mouth in thought.
"Masterrr them all?" a purring voice said behind her haughtily. "Listen to that newbie. What a joke." Narlafayn looked over her shoulder to find a small woman with curly brown hair and cat ears poking through it at the top of her head, watching her smugly. She was a Mithra, a feline race. Next to her stood a gray-furred, tall hulking creature known as a Galka, who grinned at her comment and put a hand on her shoulder. Narlafayn stared at them, a hurt look slowly crossing her face.
"Ignore the out-of-proportion couple, Narla. I can imagine their relationship is very unsatisfying, which could be the cause for bitterness." Juri said in a deadpan voice. Narlafayn resisted the urge to giggle, as Galka were a genderless race, even though they resembled male creatures.
"Arrrrogent wench!" the Mithra spat, shoving her face close to Juri's and baring fangs. "Ourrrr rrrrelationship is verrrry satisfying!"
"Really." Juri stated, grinning at her smugly. "How's the sex then?" The Mithra shut her mouth quickly, her teeth clicking. "That's what I thought." Juri turned away from her and back towards Narlafayn. "Did you pick something yet?" she asked, noticing the sealed parcel Narlafayn now held.
"Yes…but…is it really ok for you to do that?" Narlafayn asked, looking at the fuming cat-girl and her equally angry lover.
"Do what? It's just Krazybone and his chick. All hot air, they are." Juri pushed Narlafayn towards a small changing closet. "Hurry up and go change already!" she urged.
"But don't you want to know what I…" Narlafayn attempted to say as Juri shoved her.
"I'll see in a few minutes when I meet you outside, now hurry up!" Juri grinned, closing the door to the changing room.
Several minutes later Narlafayn stood outside in a blue, skintight sleeveless shirt and pants. A square had been cut away at the midsection, revealing her stomach from sternum to bellybutton. A richly decorated belt sat around her hips. She held one arm over her chest and smiled nervously at the catcalls a passing Hume guard gave her.
"Well, well. A warrior, eh?" Juri stated, nodding in approval. "I think it'll be good for you. You're strong enough." She said with a tight-lipped smile. "Come with me, let's get you started." Narlafayn followed after her curiously as they trekked back through the Metalworks. Strong enough? What did that mean?
Several hours later, Narlafayn slowly walked back towards her home at the far side of the Markets. She lived in a spacious round house near the Goldsmith guild with her adopted mother, Zeal. Her adopted father had died nearly ten years prior, while mining in the Palborough mines. A turtle race, called the Quadav, had killed him mercilessly as they took control of the tunnels. The incident, unfortunately, had caused her mother to put a tighter leash upon her, and she was unsure of how today's events would affect her.
"Where have you been?" Zeal asked from the kitchen as Narlafayn entered the house slowly. She winced with every step, her muscles on fire from the fighting she'd done. Juri had assisted her for a while, until she got the hang of swinging her sword. Most people had to train under a sword master before being able to leave town, but Narlafayn had found sword fighting came naturally. She wondered if it was a natural trait amongst Elvaan, as Juri didn't seem to notice it. Zeal's eyes widened as she took in the adventurer's outfit that Narlafayn wore, and the sword that hung at her side. "Would you mind explaining to me why you're wearing that outfit and carrying that weapon?" she asked in a hushed voice.
Narlafayn averted her eyes from her mother's penetrating glare. Not wanting to talk about anything until after she'd had a hot bath, she turned away from her and slowly walked towards her room. "Just stuff…" she answered, praying that it would be enough.
"It's not 'just stuff'!" Zeal cried, dropping her ladle she'd been holding and rushing to Narlafayn's side. She stood in front of her and put her hands on her shoulders. "Please, for the love of Altana, tell me that you didn't…you didn't join up to become an Adventurer. Please, Narlafayn." She pleaded, tears springing up into her eyes. Again Narlafayn averted her gaze and didn't respond. This seemed to answer Zeal's question, and she stepped aside to let Narlafayn enter her room.
The rest of the night was spent in silence; Zeal didn't bother talking to Narlafayn about her decision, or even question her as to why she had done it. Some part of Narlafayn couldn't understand why it was such a sin for her to want to venture out into the world. Sometime during the night, she heard the door to her room open. She shut her eyes quickly, pretending to be asleep, as her mother sat down on the edge of her bed.
"Narlafayn…" Zeal began, testing to see if she were awake or asleep. Narlafayn didn't answer, and kept her eyes firmly shut. Zeal took a breath and looked down at her hands. "Honey, I just want you to know…whatever you discover out there, wherever you go, you will always be my daughter." She put a hand on Narlafayn's shoulder and began stroking it with her thumb. "There are many things I wish I could tell you but…." She paused and swallowed, as if trying to keep herself from crying. "Become strong, darling. That's all I can give you, in the end. Your parents would be proud to know you've taken up the sword." She sat for another moment before standing and making her way back towards the door.
"Who were my parents?" Narlafayn found herself asking, sitting up. Zeal looked at her in surprise, as she had never asked about them before. "My memories of them anymore are so faint…" she put a hand to her head, frowning, "I know how much you hate the outside world, but I want to know who I am." The reason why she yearned to travel past the walls was right there, and she couldn't even see it. She didn't know anything about her parents, or her past. Everyone around her could trace their history back generations, they could find themselves by knowing their family, but she had nothing. Noticing the shocked look Zeal was giving her, Narlafayn asked, "Did you know them?"
"It is late, I must sleep." Zeal said, rushing from her room. Kicking off her covers in a hurry, Narlafayn jumped from bed and ran after her.
"Mother, what is it? Why are you acting so strange?" she asked, alarmed. Zeal looked at her with large eyes, her skin pale. Although tall for a Hume woman Zeal suddenly seemed to be very feeble and tiny.
"There are things that we cannot speak of." She said in a hushed voice. "Please do not ask me any more. Grow strong and return to San D'Oria, the answers you seek will be there." Zeal shut her eyes and composed herself before placing her hands on Narlafayn's cheeks and gently pulling her head down to kiss her forehead. She turned away and retreated into her own room silently, leaving Narlafayn to stare after her in worry.
Months passed quickly. Narlafayn found the process of training to be a long and tedious journey. When she first started out, the prospect of killing the Quadav that roamed freely around Gustaberg, the land outside of Bastok, to be frightening. The large turtle-men caused fear to surge through her every muscle, and she ran in fear from them multiple times. It was slowly getting easier though, the more time she spent out in the rocky, barren lands, the braver she found herself becoming.
Gustaberg had been stripped of almost all plant life. Patches of trees and grass still grew on and around the craggy hills dotted around the landscape. Narlafayn found herself homesick for green forests, even though she held no memory of them. Many other new adventurers ran around the countryside, slaying Quadav and Rock Lizards, but none ever spoke with her. She wondered if she intimidated them, as most were shorter Humes or Mithra.
She stood after killing a Rock Lizard and took a breath, wiping the sweat from her temples. She'd exchanged her blue adventurer clothes for a more useful set of gray, black and white leather armor, and felt very distinguished. She blinked and paused mid-wipe, as a Hume wearing white armor stood on a boulder behind her and watched her with a slightly tilted head. He was wearing a helmet that hid his entire head from view, so she couldn't read his expression. Giving him a skeptical look, she turned and made her way towards bulb-like plant monster called a Walking Sapling and began hacking away at it. The Hume jumped off of the boulder to move around her. He sat down this time, and it was clear to Narlafayn that he was watching her.
"Can I help you?" she asked roughly, standing after thoroughly killing the Sapling. He stood without hesitation and approached her, removing his helmet. Narlafayn's eyes widened as a young man smiled at her. His brown hair was cut short at the temples to frame his face, but the rest was long and pulled back into a ponytail.
"Are you in a linkshell?" he asked brightly. Narlafayn frowned and raised an eyebrow, trying to remember what a linkshell was.
"Uhm…no?" she said uncertainly, scratching the side of her nose. The young man reached into his armor and pulled out a small bag. He dumped a tiny black pearl into Narlafayn's hand, and then smiled at her again.
"There ya go. Welcome to the linkshell. My name's Eclipses, hope to hear from you again soon." He stated cheerfully. With that he put his helmet back on and took off over the hills, his armor clinking as he ran. Narlafayn stared at his fast departing figure, her outstretched hand still holding the pearl. She looked at it, and then held it up between her fingers to inspect it with one eye squinted shut.
"You put it in your ear." Narlafayn glanced to the side to find another Hume sitting on the boulder Eclipses had vacated. He smiled at her, and Narlafayn felt her heart pitter-patter. He was attractive, more so than Eclipses, with light brown hair cut short at his jaw. His face was slender and youthful. "Go on, try it." He urged. Not taking her eyes off of him, she put the pearl in her ear. It fit snugly in her ear canal, and she blinked at him, waiting for something to happen.
"Welcome to the linkshell." The Hume said, grinning at her. Narlafayn jumped, as she heard his voice not only next to her, but coming from the tiny pearl as well.
"What? We have someone new?" an accented girl's voice came.
"Yeah, your boy is flirting again, Oona." The Hume said, winking at her. Narlafayn blushed and looked away from him as Oona began to whine at Eclipses. "Go on, introduce yourself." He urged again, nodding.
"Um…hi…my name is Narlafayn," she said woodenly, feeling very silly talking to the air. There was silence for a moment, and then suddenly Oona burst out with a string of words in another language.
"You WERE flirting with a girl!" she exclaimed. Narlafayn could hear Eclipses stuttering somewhere underneath Oona's shouting. The Hume chuckled and removed the pearl from his ear, and Narlafayn gratefully did the same.
"She'll be yelling for awhile, but she knows he'd never cheat on her." He grinned, pocketing the pearl. He began walking back towards town, and motioned for Narlafayn to follow. "My name's Rasta." He introduced, still smiling. Again, Narlafayn felt her cheeks grow hot with a blush.
"I'm N-Nar.." she began dumbly, and then paused, kicking herself mentally, as he had heard her introduction just moments before. Rasta chuckled at the look on her face.
"It's ok; Oona's shouting throws people off sometimes. Don't worry though, she won't hate you." He assured her. He paused for a moment before adding, "Eclipses gave you the linkpearl on my request, after all." Narlafayn stopped walking all together to stare at him with wide eyes.
"Why?" she asked dumbly. Again she mentally kicked herself; why couldn't she sound more intelligent?
"Well, you looked lonely." He said simply, pausing until she remembered how to use her legs. "Anyway, here's where I will leave you for today." He said, stopping by the tunnel leading back into town. "I'll see you again soon." He flashed her another smile before dashing past the tunnel and in the direction Eclipses had gone. Narlafayn watched him go for a moment before turning and walking into town at a brisk pace. She entered her home without a word and went straight into her room where she flopped onto her bed, still clad in armor.
"I don't look that lonely, do I?" she asked herself aloud, into her pillow. Sighing, she raised her head enough to stare at her outstretched hand that still held the linkpearl. She grinned at it to herself and rolled over, blushing again at the memory of Rasta.
A month went by. Narlafayn would wear the linkpearl to listen to the conversations others had with one another, but spoke rarely. She hadn't heard from Rasta at all, and began to wonder if she'd ever hear from him again. The silence was broken one day when she heard him call her name over the hum of conversation in the linkshell.
"Rasta?" she responded, blushing. She was seated against a rock wall, resting after fighting a Quadav. The conversation in the linkshell stopped, and her face turned red. Her voice had come out a little too eager.
"Have you ever been to Palborough before?" Rasta asked her. He sounded a bit breathless, as if he were running. Narlafayn was silent for a moment.
"Not since my father died there," she said carefully. The mines were located at the very northern tip of Gustaberg, several hours' travel from where she sat.
"Oh no, how'd he die?" Oona asked, her voice rich with sympathy.
"Quadav attacked him." She answered, rubbing the gooseflesh from her leg. It still gave her chills, remembering how they killed her father.
"How would you like to go and give them a little payback for what they did, then?" Rasta's voice came. It had a mischievous tone that made Narlafayn blush again.
"Oooh, Rasta's asking Narla on a date." Oona giggled, causing Narlafayn to blush a deeper crimson.
"Killing Quadav is a good thing." The deep voice of Thondorr, a Galka Narlafayn had met only once came. "It will be healing to your soul."
"I'm…really far away from Palborough though…" Narlafayn said hesitantly.
"That's fine. I'll wait for you." Rasta said in a good-natured tone. "Just start running now, you'll make it here in enough time."
"Rasta is flirting with Narla!" Oona giggled louder.
"I told you I wasn't the one flirting." Eclipses mumbled. Narlafayn smiled despite herself, and pushed herself to her feet.
"Shush Sugar. You know I like to tease you." Oona crooned. She heard the unmistakable groan of disgust from Messenger, a Hume she'd never met.
"Geez, you guys make out constantly when we're supposed to be hunting, and you whisper sweet nothings in the linkshell while apart. Why don't you guys get a private linkshell for your own personal love chat and leave the rest of us to enjoy our lunches where we like them; in our stomachs." He said bitterly. Narlafayn giggled as she ran, as Oona and Eclipses began making kissing noises in spite.
"I'm really disturbed." Thondorr stated.
Narlafayn arrived at the mouth of the mines a couple of hours later. A cold breeze blew from inside, chilling her.
"Well, I'm here, where are you?" she asked, scanning the wooden crates piled in stacks around the entrance. There were old pickaxes on the ground from where the miners had dropped them in their dash to escape the Quadav the day they seiged the tunnels.
"Come on inside, you'll see us." Rasta's voice came. Narlafayn's heart fell. Us meant there was someone else there. Someone else there meant she couldn't spend time with him alone. Swallowing her disappointment, she squared her shoulders and marched in.
The mines were deafeningly silent. There was a muted air noise, as if wind were blowing over the tunnels somewhere. The silence was so heavy that the crunch of gravel beneath her feet didn't echo. She entered the first mine cavern at the end of the entering tunnel to find Rasta and a blonde Hume boy sitting on old sandbags, resting. Two Quadav lay at their feet, dead.
"Ah good, you're here." Rasta said, smiling. He and the boy stood and stretched. "Now the fun can begin." The boy next to him pulled a large sword, taller than himself, from the ground and hefted it over his shoulder. "This here's Lane. I called him to help me with the payback." Rasta said, jerking his thumb towards the boy. He nodded at Narlafayn once, and walked towards a second tunnel, adjacent to where Narlafayn stood.
"Er…what do I do then?" Narlafayn asked curiously, taking a few steps into the cavern.
"Just stay there and watch." Rasta grinned, jogging into the next tunnel after Lane. She blinked at them as they disappeared into the darkness beyond the tunnel, then shrugged and sat down.
Minutes went by. Narlafayn tapped her fingers against the rock she sat on impatiently. Rasta would curse into the linkshell every so often, so she knew he was still alive.
"Ok Narla, stand back." She heard him finally say into the linkshell breathlessly. She lifted her head, her ears perking as the sound of rumbling met them. She pushed herself to her feet slowly, trying to identify the cause of the rumbling, as it grew louder. Rasta and Lane suddenly burst into the small cavern and ran to the side farthest away from her. Behind them came scores of Quadav, and Narlafayn's jaw dropped. There were hundreds of them. She backed up a few steps to get out of the way, her heart pounding at being faced with an entire army of Quadav. They didn't seem to notice her though, and went straight for Rasta and Lane. The two men began fighting the Quadav in a flurry of movement. She watched in awe as they methodically cut through the beast men without breaking a sweat. The line of them never seemed to end; it was as if they had managed to pull the entire Quadav settlement from the deepest recesses of the mines. Within minutes, a pile of Quadav lay on the floor of the cavern, and Rasta sat on the floor next to Lane, catching his breath. Narlafayn slowly entered the cavern, her eyes large.
"Revenge exacted." Rasta panted, grinning at her. "Now you have nothing more to be scared of." Narlafayn's lower lip quivered and she fell to her knees in front of him. She began to cry, leaning her hands on the ground to support herself as she bent over enough to hide her face from view. She had known Rasta for such a short time, and he knew so little about her, but those words were the single most relieving and inspiring things she'd ever heard in her life.
"You have a strange courtship ritual." Lane stated, giving Rasta an expressionless look. Narlafayn's face turned red and the urge to continue crying left her in an instant.
"So much for the element of surprise…" Rasta said lightly, feigning a pout. He then grinned at Narlafayn as she stared at him with large eyes. She looked down again as she pushed herself upright, wiping her nose on her hand.
"Thank you." She mumbled, hoping he couldn't see her blush.
She began traveling into the mines with him after that day. She studied white magic enough to be useful as a healer for him, as her strength didn't match up to his yet. She got to know him well, and despite her crush on him, was proud to say she had become his friend. Oona constantly teased the two about spending so much time together, alone in the mines. Much to Narlafayn's embarrassment, Rasta would feed into it.
"Hey, Narla." Rasta asked one day while they sat in a tunnel, resting from battle. Narlafayn raised her head to look at him, her eyebrows raised in interest. "Do you like spending time in here with me?" He didn't look at her as he asked, one hand rubbing the back of his neck. She tilted her head, was he feeling awkward for some reason?
"Of course I do, why wouldn't I?" she responded, smiling.
"Well…most guys take the girls they like on dates to someplace nice, like a garden. Not spend hours in cold dark tunnels killing Quadav." He said quickly, his face turning red. Narlafayn's own cheeks responded in blushing and she stared at him in surprise. Did she just hear him admit that he liked her?
"It's ok, I'm not really sure I could handle an outright romantic situation properly." She said, her own voice wavering in nervousness. Rasta grinned at her and stood, holding a hand out to help her up.
"So if you don't mind dates being in here, shall we continue?" he asked as she stood. Grateful for the break in awkwardness, Narlafayn nodded enthusiastically. He leaned forward and pecked her cheek before walking briskly through the tunnel to the next cavern. Narlafayn watched him for a moment, one hand to her cheek before grinning to herself and walking after him.
After another set of defeated Quadav (she was surprised there were still so many after he and Lane had killed hundreds.), they sat next to each other. He put his arm around her and leaned back against the rock wall. They sat in silence, and Narlafayn looked at her hands that rested upon her knees. Her heart pounded in her chest from nervousness, and she was sure her cheeks were permanently stuck blushing.
"Thank you again, for what you did before." She said quietly, smiling at him softly. "For killing all those Quadav." She added to his questioning look.
"Think nothing of it." He said with a smug grin. "I had originally intended just to take a few from the neighboring tunnels, but when you told me that they killed your father, I called Lane to help me take on more." Narlafayn stared at him speechlessly. "I'd watched you for a few days out in the Fumaroles and noticed you never once fought a Quadav unless you really had to. I wanted you to be able to face anything bravely, as you were meant to." he finished with a smile, his ears turning red from embarrassment. Narlafayn smiled, tears welling in her eyes, before leaning into his chest.
The air around them suddenly changed, and Narlafayn glanced up to find Rasta staring down at her with a strange expression. He lifted his hand and brought it around to rest on the cheek farthest from him. Her breath caught in her throat as he slowly guided her head to turn and face him for a moment before he leaned down and kissed her. She leaned into it, trying to control her eagerness, and lifted her own hand to place her fingers against his jawbone. They remained like this for a few minutes until Narlafayn tilted her head. Rasta took this as an invitation to deepen the kiss, and Narlafayn leaned back as he did, her back gently lying upon the cold rock.
Discarded clothes were used as a makeshift bed upon which Narlafayn and Rasta laid upon. They laced the fingers of one hand together, holding onto one another tightly. Rasta raised himself up enough to stare down at her gently and kiss her jaw. She tilted her head back and sighed as feelings she never thought she'd ever feel washed over her, and reveled in the warmth from his body. It was over before she knew it, even though enough time had passed to make the people in the linkshell question their silence. Rasta chuckled as Oona teased them, and put his arm around Narlafayn as they lay on the ground, their clothes still spread out beneath them.
"Are you ok?" he asked, raising his head to look over at her. She lay with her head on the spot between his shoulder and chest, and played with the ends of his hair, her own silvery hair splayed out over his arm like a blanket.
"Yeah, just thinking." She sighed, twirling his hair.
"Where I go from here." She answered, shutting her eyes for a moment. Rasta stirred and pulled his arm from underneath her to sit up. She tilted her head at him as he began to dress himself. "Did I say something wrong?" she asked, worried.
"Nah, you didn't." he replied, his voice muffled as he pulled his tunic over his head. "I just think it's not a good idea to lay around naked in this place for very long." He grinned mischievously at her and said, "Although I am enjoying what I see." Narlafayn blushed a deep red and grabbed her own clothes, hurriedly putting them on. "But to answer your thought, how about going to San D'Oria? You're strong enough now." He offered as she dressed.
"But San D'Oria is past Valkurm Dunes. I'm not nearly strong enough to even hope to venture through there." She responded, belting her robes. Valkurm Dunes was the desert that resided just past the Konschtat Highlands, a green place to the west of Gustaberg. It took a day to travel the distance between Bastok and Valkurm, and another day to travel through Valkurm to San D'Oria. Trying to travel that far on foot as an inexperienced adventurer was suicide.
"I'll walk you there." Rasta said, helping her to her feet.
"Deal." She said quickly, grinning at him. Giving her a cocky grin, Rasta moved forward to kiss her, but halted as the sound of rumbling met their ears. They both turned towards it, trying to identify the source. "What's that?" she asked. Rasta was silent for a moment before gathering up his hand-to-hand weapons and taking Narlafayn by the wrist to lead her at a quick walk down the tunnel.
"It seems our friendly Quadav have finally realized I'm in the tunnels and have come to exact revenge." He murmured grimly, all mirth lost from his expression. Narlafayn's heart leapt into her throat at the tone of his voice. He didn't sound confident, as he usually did, and it worried her. As they rounded into a cavern, Narlafayn paused to look over her shoulder. Behind her, a large group of Quadav pressed into the tunnels and stampeded towards them. One gave out a strange growling squawk as they saw her, and began running faster. "Keep running." Rasta urged, pulling her after him. Narlafayn glanced over her shoulder again as she ran, her eyes widening in shock at the mass amount of Quadav that followed them. Rasta pulled her around a corner and into a paved mine area. A Tarutaru stood in the paved hallway sorting through ore that he'd mined, and stared at them with large eyes as they passed by. He stood up and down the tunnel to see the approaching Quadav before calling for their attention and motioning.
"This way, don't go that way." He said in a tiny voice, pointing down a different tunnel. Rasta halted and made a quick turn, jerking Narlafayn along roughly. He followed the Tarutaru down the tunnel, and Narlafayn's ears picked up the sound of running water. As they burst into the next cavern, its source was found. An old river that was once used to transport mined ore back to Bastok flowed past the small dock she found herself standing upon, an old but useable raft locked to the side.
"Thank you." Rasta murmured before dragging Narlafayn to the raft and pushing her on. She stumbled to her knees and sat there numbly as Rasta wrestled with the lever that would release the them. The Quadav came running into the room a moment later, and the tiny Tarutaru began fighting them off, distracting them so that she and Rasta could escape. Rasta finally managed to shove the lever, and the raft was released just as a Quadav took a swing at him. Both of them were knocked onto their bottoms from the sudden movement of the raft upon water, and sat watching dumbly as the Tarutaru continued to take on the Quadav.
"Is he going to be ok?" Narlafayn asked, her voice hushed. They were now traveling in complete darkness, and she hadn't heard him speak for a long while. She wished she could move towards him, but was too afraid the raft would tip from the movement.
"I'm sure he'll be fine." Rasta said, his voice hoarse. Narlafayn reached blindly out into the darkness, hoping to touch him, but found nothing but air. He sounded shaken, and she wanted to comfort him. They were silent for the remainder of the trip, until the raft came to a stop inside of a lit cavern. Narlafayn shielded her eyes, the dim light hurting them after being in darkness for so long. Rasta stood and pulled a lever near where the raft had stopped, locking it to the little wooden dock. He then turned and helped her off, not looking at her. She followed him to the gates locking the tiny harbor away from the main tunnel, a worried look on her face.
"How'd you get in there?" the Galka guarding the gate on the other side asked, puzzled.
"Will you let us out please?" Rasta asked in a quiet voice. The Galka shrugged and opened the gate for them. As Narlafayn crossed into the next tunnel she discovered she was back in the Zehrun mines inside of Bastok.
"Rasta…are you going to be ok?" Narlafayn asked, walking next to him. He had his head down, his hair hiding his face from view.
"I need to be alone for awhile." He said, his voice still low. Narlafayn halted, stung by the cold tone his voice held. He walked ahead of her and exited the mines, leaving her with a tight feeling in her chest. When she exited after him a few moments later, he was no longer in sight.
She wandered to her home, filled with confusion. It seemed that what had happened between them had been a dream, how it was so easily pushed aside. The closeness she thought she had gained with Rasta had suddenly grown back into a large rift, and it hurt her. Was he just acting on boyish impulse and didn't really care for her at all? Tears stinging her eyes, she rushed the rest of the way into her home and into her room, her mother giving her a confused look as she dashed by.
The next day she awoke early and dressed in plated, rust-colored armor. She cast one last glance to the mage robes she had worn while hunting with Rasta, and exited her room. Tiptoeing through the house, she left a note on the kitchen counter for her mother, grabbed some provisions, and left the house quietly. She hated leaving without a word, but she didn't want her mother to make that face again, that she had the night Narlafayn had asked about her parents. Taking one last look at the house, Narlafayn let out a wistful sigh, suddenly feeling as if she would never see that house again. Swallowing against the lump that suddenly appeared in her throat, she shut the door quietly, and walked briskly towards the city gates. She paused as she passed through the gate, taking a breath of crisp morning air, and then began walking.
Some part of her wondered if she should try to wait for Rasta, but she had not heard from him again the rest of the day, nor seen him in town. The feminine side of her wanted to stay in town and wait for him to call for her, but the urge to go to San D'Oria was too great.
Gustaberg's barren landscape gave way to the green grassy meadows of the Konschtat Highlands, and Narlafayn paused to eat lunch near the Crag of Dem. The Crag was a massive white structure of a strange shape, with strange platforms located on each side of it that pointed in a cardinal direction. Upon each platform spun a purple crystal, a few of which had been broken in two. The Quadav and Goblins that wandered about the Highlands didn't seem to notice her presence, and left her alone. Once she was done eating, she pushed herself to her feet and then continued her journey across the Highlands. By evening the grasslands faded away into sand, and Narlafayn found herself at the mouth of the desert. A sandstorm began just as the sun set, and she huddled inside of a tent put up by the Bastokian guard on duty with other adventurers, waiting for morning.
"So where are you headed?" a Tarutaru asked, plopping down next to her. "I'm headed for Mhuara myself." Narlafayn stared at him in surprise, as it was strange for someone to approach her.
"Uh…San D'Oria." She answered hesitantly. The Tarutaru tilted his head at her, as if contemplating.
"Wow, wouldn't it be easier to just travel by Chocobo?" he asked, referring to the large yellow birds that were a major source of transportation in the world. "You don't look that strong yet, you on a suicide run or something? Your boyfriend break up with you or something?" he prodded. Narlafayn's face darkened and she stared hard at the ground, steeling her jaw. "Ah-hah! I should've known" The Tarutaru proclaimed, noticing her expression. He scooted closer to her and put a tiny hand over hers. "That's ok, you can be my girlfriend then." He said, beaming up at her. Narlafayn's eyes popped open and she stared at the Tarutaru in disbelief. Standing, he didn't even come up to her knees, and his head was as round as a melon. Her eye twitched as she suddenly got the irresistible urge to kick him as hard as she could to see how far he'd fly.
"That's ok, really…" she managed to say, choking back her laughter. The Tarutaru frowned and crossed his arms over his chest. His head wobbled on his shoulders as he moved, as if it were only balanced there and would fall off with any strange motion.
"Nope, you're definitely-wetly going to be my girlfriend from now on." He decided firmly, nodding to himself. "My name is Curaga, what's yours?"
"Narlafayn…um, isn't Curaga the name of a spell?" she asked curiously. Curaga frowned and glared at her for a moment before huffing.
"So what, I've seen Mithras named Kittylitter, doesn't mean anything." He grumbled, digging his foot into the sand. "You should be nicer to my feelings now that you're my girlfriend!" he exclaimed, sticking his tongue out at her.
"Alright, I'm sorry." Narlafayn apologized, chuckling. It didn't matter what he insisted tonight, she probably wouldn't see him again after that. Night fell, and the storm finally let up. Some travelers left the safe confines of the tent to brave the desert at night, but Narlafayn curled up against the rock wall the tent had been erected against to sleep. Curaga cuddled close to her, and although uncomfortable at being so close to a stranger, she was grateful for the extra bit of heat, as the desert was cold at night.
She woke early the next day, hoping to sneak out of the tent before Curaga woke and latched onto her, but there was no such luck. He had been up moments before she roused, and was waiting for her with an eager face.
"Let's hold hands, girlfriend." He stated cheerfully, holding out his tiny hand. Narlafayn glanced at him skeptically and chuckled.
"That will make travel a little hard, considering our size difference." She stated, amused.
"Well then, carry me!" he demanded, stamping his little foot into the sand. Narlafayn stopped and put her hands on her hips to look down at him.
"Now that's not very fair. What if we're attacked by a Goblin while I'm carrying you? I wouldn't be able to fight it properly." She said in a stern voice. Curaga pursed his lips and lifted an eyebrow as he folded his arms across his chest.
"If we get attacked by a Goblin, we'll both be dead before you draw a sword, so I don't see how it makes a difference." He stated sarcastically, and then held his arms up. "Hold me-wee girlfriend!" he said in the babyish tone that most Tarutaru used while speaking. Defeated, Narlafayn sighed and lifted the Tarutaru up. Not trusting him to behave himself while being held in her arms, she plopped him on her shoulders and began walking. "Heyyy! This is what it's like to be tall!" he stated excitedly, bouncing. His ride lasted until Narlafayn saw her first Goblin. Needing to move quickly, she put him on the ground and dashed behind a boulder to hide from it. He followed close behind her as they dashed to another boulder, surprisingly fast for such a small being. Waiting until the after the next monster passed, they dashed as fast as they could towards the natural rock tunnel leading further into the desert.
Much to Narlafayn's dismay, she heard a guttural growl of a Goblin as it noticed them. Looking over her shoulder once, she saw the creature double over, as if in pain, strange lights rising up around it. Her heart began to pound and she lifted Curaga up to carry under her arm like a ball, recognizing the beginnings of a spell being cast. A stone spell hit her, rocks breaking out from underneath her feet and pummeling her body. She dropped Curaga and slammed into the side of the tunnel, the wind knocked out of her. Curaga screamed as the Goblin approached quickly and continued screaming as he tore down the tunnel, leaving Narlafayn behind. Still wincing in pain, she drew her sword, one arm holding her stomach as pain ripped through it with her movement. She swung blindly, her blade bouncing off of the thick leather the Goblins wore as armor, and gasped as the Goblin stabbed her once with his dagger. He broke through her armor as easily as if it were paper, stabbing her deep in her stomach. Her eyes wide in shock, she dropped her sword and fell to her side, fingers twitching from the pain. The Goblin stared down at her for a moment before slowly walking away.
"I got it!" a male voice came a moment later. There were the sounds of battle, and then the groan of the Goblin as it was dispatched. Narlafayn stared up as the familiar face of Eclipses came into view and stared at her in shock. "Wow, you got beaten." He stated before turning. "Hey Oona, Narlafayn's here, I think she needs some healing." He called. A short Hume with brown hair pulled back into a ponytail came racing into the tunnel, her eyes large.
"Oh no, Narla! Are you ok?" she asked, holding her hands out as she cast a healing spell. Warmth surrounded Narlafayn and her wounds healed up instantly. Eclipses grabbed her by her arm and helped her stand up, supporting her until she regained her balance.
"What are you doing running through the desert alone, anyway?" Eclipses asked, lifting an eyebrow.
"I was trying to go to San D'Oria…" Narlafayn mumbled, fingering her damaged armor.
"San D'Oria? Alone?" Oona asked, shocked. "Where's Rasta? Why didn't he take you there?" Narlafayn looked away, clamping her mouth shut, not wishing to answer her.
"He must still be angsting over what happened in Palborough yesterday." Eclipses mumbled to Oona. She gasped and stared at him for a moment before stomping a foot down.
"That bastard! How dare he sit and feel sorry for himself after making a promise to a girl!" she fumed. Narlafayn blinked in surprise, then remembered that Rasta hadn't removed his linkpearl at all while they were in the tunnels. Her face turned red; how much had they overheard? "Come Narla, we will take you there." Oona said, smiling. She linked arms with Narlafayn and they began walking the rest of the length down the tunnel. On Oona's other side, Narlafayn caught Eclipses grinning wickedly at her. Her eyes widened for a moment, and he nodded at her, his grin broadening. She looked away quickly, her face a deep crimson.
As they exited the tunnel, Narlafayn found Curaga sitting on a boulder, crying into an oversized handkerchief. He perked up as they approached, and jumped off the boulder to run and latch onto Narlafayn's leg.
"Girlfriend! You're alive-wide!" he exclaimed, beaming up at her. Narlafayn's temper perked, as she looked down at him, angry that he had left her to die. She opened her mouth to say something, but was interrupted as Eclipses foot suddenly whooshed by her leg, punting Curaga into the air. He sailed several feet before landing face first in a dune.
"I've always wanted to do that to him." Eclipses stated, as if punting the tiny person was a great relief.
"Sugar, shame on you." Oona scolded, putting her hands on her hips. "Although I can't blame you, it is Curaga after all." She re-linked arms with Narlafayn and began walking again. Narlafayn stared at her in surprise as they passed the dune where Curaga had landed, his feet waving rapidly in the air as he tried to pull himself out.
"Uh…will he be all right?" she asked, looking over her shoulder at his still waving legs.
"Yeah, it's Curaga. He's harder to kill than a Quadav shell bug." Eclipses stated, stretching his arms over his head.
"He used to be in our linkshell some time ago, but we broke his pearl as he was always latching onto girls despite their protests and claiming they were his girlfriend." Oona explained. "He becomes extremely overprotective and violent when the girl even walks by another boy." She shook her head, as if in pity. "In any case, let's get you to San D'Oria already. I'm dying to visit the castle there; I've heard it's grand!"
Oona and Eclipses stayed with Narlafayn the rest of the trip to San D'Oria. After going through a pass, the desert became a craggy plateau, which eventually became a dense forest. She stared in awe at the trees, her heart full of excitement and joy at the lush greenery. She pulled away from Oona to walk ahead a bit and stare up into the branches. Happy tears fell from her eyes and she shut them, basking in the filtered sunlight. She opened them a moment later as, even though the feeling of being underneath the trees was fulfilling, she felt as if something were not quite right. The forest she yearned for was not this one, but another one that she could not place in memory.
She approached the high city walls slowly, dim memories flashing to life of looking at them as Zeal led her away to live in Bastok. She paused outside the gates and stared up to the symbol representing San D'Oria carved into the archway, trying to recall the past.
"We're going inside now, so we'll see you later, ok Narla?" Oona said, squeezing her arm.
"Uh, yeah. Thanks for the help." Narlafayn stated, still staring at the symbol. There was something she felt like she wanted to remember, but her brain was having trouble recalling it.
"Is there a problem?" one of the guards asked, watching her with a frown.
"Huh?" she managed out; looking at him as if she'd never noticed his presence before. It dawned on her then that she was still standing in the middle of the gateway, and smiled nervously. "No, just passing through…" she said, laughing lightly to hide her embarrassment. "Going in now!"
She passed through the gates with her shoulders hunched, ashamed at how dumb she must've looked to everyone who passed by her. As she walked past the second wall that shielded the city, familiarity suddenly surged through her. As she gazed around the rich stone city, memories of her life before Bastok rushed forth, overwhelming her. She found herself running instinctively through the town square and towards a residential area. She slowed as she walked past the rich-looking stone homes built against the inner wall, remembering a time when she raced down the very street she walked upon, chasing bubbles that somebody had been blowing. She paused in front of a familiar house, her heart pounding hard, before grabbing the handle and opening the door.
"Did you wash your hands, honey?" a white-haired Elvaan woman said, her back facing Narlafayn. Narlafayn blinked hard, and the woman faded into an elderly Elvaan woman who stared at her in disbelief.
"What are you doing in here? Get out!" she stated shrilly, backing against the wall. Narlafayn stared at her in confusion for a moment, and rubbed her eyes. She gazed up the flight of stairs directly in front of her, feeling a strange tugging inside.
"I'm sorry, I'll just be a moment…" she murmured, walking into the house and ascending the stairway.
"I'm going to fetch the guards!" the old woman warned as Narlafayn reached the landing. "This is trespassing!" she said louder, as Narlafayn slowly walked into the bedroom upstairs.
"Darling, you need to settle down, it's time for sleep!" a black-haired Elvaan man chuckled, smiling at her. He reached his arms out, as if to embrace her. "Come on now, I'll tell you a story before you sleep." He smiled as she approached him, but disappeared a second later, leaving her staring at a bookshelf. She looked around curiously, not understanding for a moment, where he had gone. The old woman had followed her upstairs, and now stared at her with a strange, shocked expression.
"It's you…" she said breathlessly, putting a hand to her chest. "I never thought I'd see you again…but…here you are." She walked to the bed where she sat heavily on the side.
"You know me?" Narlafayn asked, rushing to the old woman's side and kneeling. The old woman stared at her for a long time before smiling, the skin wrinkling around her eyes.
"Yes, I know you. Who could forget those strange, beautiful eyes of yours?" she said fondly, putting a gnarled hand on Narlafayn's cheek. "How beautiful you grew up to be. I'm surprised your skin actually tanned like a normal Elvaan."
"Please." Narlafayn pleaded, taking the old woman's hand and holding it gently, "I remember so little about my life here, please tell me about it. About my parents." She stared into the old woman's eyes intensely, trying to convey her yearning to know about her past with all of her might. The old woman's eyes lighted with fear for a moment before she shut them and sighed.
"Very well, I shall tell you. My life has been full, I have no reason to keep anything else hidden." She said with a smile, scooting back on her bed and laying down upon it. She situated herself comfortably before patting the side, inviting Narlafayn to sit. Confused by what her cryptic words meant, Narlafayn sat obediently. "Your parents were good people. They tried to help others where they could, even at the expense of their own comfort. When I lost my home and husband to a fire during the Crystal War, they were the first ones there to help me, and gave me this, their home, to live in."
"If you lived here, then why was I sent away to live in Bastok?" Narlafayn asked, hurt.
"Silly little child, you don't realize how unwanted you are yet, do you?" the old woman stated seriously, her face without expression. Narlafayn stared at her in disbelief, a cold feeling spreading throughout her limbs. She attempted to withdraw her hand from the woman's grasp, but her grip was firm.
"If you are going to insult me, then I'd rather find someone else to talk to." She said sullenly, looking down at the quilted blanket covering the bed.
"You won't find anyone else who will willingly speak of your parents as I will, child." The woman stated. "As painful as it may be, what I speak is the truth. Now listen carefully." She shifted slightly, laying an arm over her stomach and taking a composing breath. "Your parents were not born in San D'Oria. In fact, no one knows where they came from. They just appeared here one day, frightened and huddling next to one another like they'd just seen the most horrific thing in their entire lives. They were just teenagers then, barely old enough to live on their own. With their being outsiders of course, we Elvaan left them to their own devices. After all, despite having long ears like us, these two newcomers were shorter, and their skin was as milky as a Hume's." She raised her eyebrows slightly at Narlafayn's shocked expression. "Why the strange face? Your skin was just as pale when you were born, which is why I was so shocked to see you so tan now. I wouldn't have been able to distinguish you from any other of our race if it hadn't been for those eyes of yours."
"I was unwanted, just because they…we looked different?" Narlafayn asked in disbelief. She couldn't believe how proud and racist this woman was! How any of them were! These were the people she had yearned so long to return to?
"Not only that but…" the woman took another breath, and Narlafayn noticed she had begun to shake slightly. "Any of us, who became close to you or your family, were visited by…by someone very powerful. He would warn of dangers to befall us if we became too close to you. He told us what you and your parents really were, and where you had come from." Tears escaped the corners of her eyes, and she held Narlafayn's hand tightly.
"Who am I really then? Tell me, please!" Narlafayn pleaded desperately. "Who was it that told you bad things would happen? Please, I must know." The old woman's eyes had become glassy, and she gazed into the air, staring at nothing.
"I'm sure he's visited all that you've become close to, even now." She said, her voice fading. She suddenly tensed up as if seizuring, her eyes wide. "Oh..Promathia…forgive me." She whispered. She drew in a gasping breath and fell backwards on the bed, her eyes still open and staring.
"Hey…Hey, wake up." Narlafayn said, shaking the woman lightly, her voice thick with welling tears. "I'm sorry I urged you so much, please, wake up." She released her hand slowly, choking back a sob. She pushed herself to her feet and dashed down the stairs and out the door. "Please help!" she begged, grabbing the first person she saw. The Elvaan man stared her in disgust and pulled away, trying to step out of her grip. "The old woman, she's…." The man shook free from her and walked away, casting an annoyed glance over his shoulder. A guard walked by in the other direction, and Narlafayn latched onto his arm. "Sir please, the old woman…" she began, trying to pull the guard towards the house. He stood still, and stared at her coldly.
A scream suddenly erupted from the upstairs of the house she had just exited, and another Elvaan woman burst from the upstairs door and onto the balcony. "MURDER!" she shouted, her face white. "Yana is dead! She's been murdered!" People emerged from their homes with the shouting, and Narlafayn released the guard's arm as his stare turned colder.
"She entered Yana's house forcefully, I saw her!" another woman said, pointing towards Narlafayn, who looked at her in horror.
"I think you should come with me to the Consulate. What city are you from?" the guard asked, reaching for her arm.
"No, I didn't do anything…" Narlafayn whimpered, backing out of the guard's reach. "I used to live there…I was just talking to her about my parents…" She looked desperately around at the faces of the people who gathered around curiously. There was a unanimous gasp from those who lived in the town, and several people retreated into their houses quickly.
"It is her! Look at her eyes!" a woman whispered to another. "So she did kill Yana, just as he warned us would happen!" Narlafayn stared at them with large eyes, not understanding what was going on. The guard grabbed her arm roughly and began pulling her through town. The crowd milling about the square parted as the guard pushed through, staring and whispering behind raised hands while pointing at Narlafayn. The guard dragged her to the gates and shoved her past them so hard she fell onto her side.
"Get out, and never set foot in here again, or we will execute you on the spot." The guard said in a low voice. The two guards on duty outside the gate looked between each other in confusion. "This girl is not allowed to enter here again, understood?" he told them, giving them each an authoritive glare. The guards stood at attention and saluted him.
Narlafayn slowly pushed herself to her feet, not bothering to hold back the tears that wished to fall, and walked slowly into the forest. A dust storm began to blow as night fell, and Narlafayn huddled behind a stone wall far away from the city. Orcs grunted and snorted as they walked past her, but didn't seem to notice her presence.
After her sniffles calmed, she reached into her pocket for the linkpearl and put it in her ear, desperate for some sort of comfort. The shell was alive with voices as she listened, and tears threatened to fall again as she realized they were gossiping about her.
"They say she killed someone, can you believe that?" a haughty voice she didn't recognize said. "How awful of a person is she? People don't even kill each other during Ballista, let alone a helpless old woman who couldn't possibly fight back!"
"Are they offering a reward for her yet? I know a few people who could find her and leave her conveniently in the middle of Yagudo territory…"
"That's not what happened, I didn't kill her." Narlafayn said sullenly. The linkshell suddenly went silent.
"Narla! Are you ok?" she heard Oona exclaim. "Where are you now? Eclipses and I will come to you!"
"Go get yourself killed you bitch!" another voice sneered. "We don't want you here, someone break her linkpearl already!"
Silly child, you don't realize how unwanted you are yet, do you?
"Shut up!" Oona commanded firmly. "Narla, please, tell us where you're at!" Narlafayn winced and buried her face against her bent knees, wishing she could curl up and disappear.
"She's alright Oona, I'm with her." Rasta's voice came. Narlafayn lifted her head quickly to find a solemn-faced Rasta standing next to her. He sat down near her and pulled the linkpearl from his ear. Narlafayn did the same, then moved forward and latched onto him in a hug, sobbing. It took her a moment before she realized he hadn't moved to hug her back, or even show her any form of comfort. She let go of him and looked into his face, searching him for any type of emotion.
"Where did you go yesterday? I was worried…" she began, wiping her cheeks. Rasta sighed and bent one leg to rest his elbow upon.
"I had some things to think over." He said in a low voice. He looked down at the grass by his feet, averting her eyes.
"Things?" Narlafayn asked in a small voice. The cold feeling returned to her limbs, and her heart began pounding. "You mean…you regret…?"
"Yes and no." he answered quickly. He paused for a moment and glanced at her before looking back at the grass. "I was visited by a strange man a few days after I had given you the linkpearl. He told me things that…. I can't even bear to think about. But he also told me that if I got close to you, bad things would begin to happen to those around me." He looked up at her then, staring into her eyes seriously. "That Tarutaru who helped us…. He was found dead by someone later." Narlafayn gasped, covering her mouth to mute it.
"That was just a coincidence, right?" she asked, her voice taking a desperate edge. "We didn't know those Quadav were going to come after us, it was an accident!" Tears once again sprang into her eyes and began falling down her cheeks. Rasta clenched a hand tightly, then quickly reached over to her and placed his hands on either side of her face and drew her close, crushing his lips against hers. He kissed her desperately, tears falling from his own eyes, before parting to breathe. He leaned his forehead against hers, his hands stroking her cheeks.
"I do care for you, Narla," he said in a choked voice, "I thought I was brave, strong enough to handle this. In the end, I'm just like every other weak creature on this planet. I can't go against the word of a god." Narlafayn drew away from him slowly, staring at him in shock. He stared directly into her eyes solemnly and nodded. There was a strange vacuum sound behind Rasta, and Narlafayn jumped to her feet, pulling her sword out. A bearded man wearing richly decorated robes stared at the two with a cold gaze. Rasta stood and met his gaze defiantly. "Yeah, that's right Promathia, I told her." He said in his usual cocky tone of voice. "Are you going to kill me now?"
Narlafayn stared at the bearded man in disbelief. This was the god of darkness, the brother of their cardinal goddess Altana? "Why are you doing this?" she demanded, stepping out from behind Rasta. "Why are you killing people who know about me?" Promathia glared at her for a moment before shutting his eyes.
"Curse that woman. She couldn't handle the creations of her daughter, so she sent them to us." He said in a deep, rumbling voice. He opened his eyes slowly, and they shone with otherworldly light. A strange black-rimmed light formed around his hand as he lifted it, his palm facing Rasta. It discharged quickly, flying at the Hume who watched it bravely.
"NO!" Narlafayn shouted, pushing Rasta away. He slammed into the rock wall as the strange light hit Narlafayn in the side. It pinned her to the air, and she screamed, feeling as though her insides were melting. Promathia lowered his hand and smiled darkly as she fell to the grass.
"Perfect." He growled before disappearing.
"Narla!" Rasta exclaimed, crawling over to her and lifting her up. "Narla, open your eyes!" He shook her lightly, as if to wake her from sleeping. When she didn't stir, or move to breathe, Rasta slowly lowered his head to bury it against her neck and sobbed loudly, not caring who heard him cry.
"You poor thing…" a gentle voice came. Narlafayn felt as if she were lying across someone's lap, but couldn't open her eyes to see whom. "It isn't fair for you to be treated like this, you had no control over any of it." A warm hand accompanied the voice, and stroked the hair away from her forehead. "I wish I could have protected you better, but my evil brother saw to it that your life was miserable. I am ashamed." There was a pause, and Narlafayn felt as if she were being lifted and carried like a baby. "I shall send you to the place where you can fight that which has been given to you. It is the only gift I can give." She felt someone kiss her forehead as she was placed in what felt like warm bath water. "Be strong, precious one." The voice murmured gently.
There was a sensation of floating before Narlafayn felt as if she were dropping quickly through the air. She began to panic; unable to open her eyes to see where she was falling, or move to prevent herself from getting hurt. She sat up quickly as she felt hard ground meet her body, gasping for air. Taking in deep calming breaths, she sat and stared into nothing for a few minutes, until a cool summer breeze caressed her skin. She blinked rapidly and stood up, finding that she were inside a strange, white stone gazebo. It almost seemed to be carved from marble, and was pleasantly cool to her skin. There was a faint, wind chime-like tinkling from somewhere in the distance, and she could hear the sound of a waterfall.
She stepped cautiously out of the gazebo, finding her legs to be weak and wobbly. A shallow pond surrounded the structure, which was placed next to a great tall tree. Lights similar to fireflies fell from the leaves and disappeared before they reached the water. Narlafayn slowly walked through the pond, hugging herself as she looked up to the tree. She gasped lightly as a gentle looking, human-like woman smiled down at her from the bark. She seemed to be made of it, as her arms and waist disappeared into the ridged wood.
"You look as if you've never seen the Mother Tree before." A strange raspy voice hissed. Narlafayn cried out, startled, as she noticed a black and red skinned woman-creature with a spider-like face and six arms standing next to her. The woman-spider walked to the tree and put one of her claw-like arms upon it, and gazed up at the face in the trunk. "She is dying, you know, the curse of the forbidden magic used by you foolish Elves years ago has been slowly affecting her."
"I'm an Elvaan…" Narlafayn found herself correcting the woman-spider. She shrunk down under the creature's gaze as she turned to stare at her.
"You look like every other pale-skinned tree elf to me." The spider responded. Narlafayn blinked a few times and lifted her hands. Sure enough, her skin was as white as snow. She also discovered during this time that she was naked, and covered her chest with her arms and squatted down.
"What's happening to me?" she asked aloud, staring at the rippling water in shock. She began to shiver, trying to remember what had happened up until then. "I was in San D'Oria…I was there to find out about my parents when the old woman died and then Ras…" she winced as pain shot through her chest. She began to rock slightly and whimpered, remembering the feel of Promathia's attack.
The water rippled as someone stepped into the pond and made their way slowly towards Narlafayn. She lifted her head slowly as a pair of brown boots met her vision, to find the gentle face of a blonde elf smiling down at her.
"Hello Narlafayn." The elf said in a soft voice, holding a hand out to her. "My name is Glarawen. I've been waiting for you."