Novel An Angel’s Thesis

Discussion in 'Community Fictions' started by Gandire Alea, Sep 1, 2021.

  1. Gandire Alea

    Gandire Alea [Wicked Awesome Translator]

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    Shana the whips her left arm to the side. As her wrist flicks around, her ring and middle fingers instinctively move to press down on her palm, triggering a spell through muscle memory. A stream of jet black flames launch from the underside of her wrist, billowing against cacus leaping out of the pit trap she had set around the hut.


    The cacus cries out from shock as the black flames of death flare up against his chest. Less than a second later, before the giant can feel any pain, he is dead and falling back into the pit. That short moment was all those flames needed to incinerate anything they came into contact with. While they didn’t spread, not a trace remains of anything those flames directly touched. Had the cover of night not made witnessing what happened impossible, everyone would have seen Shana’s flames devour a gaping hole out of the giant’s body.


    Shana herself pays no more mind to the dead giant and performs a series of kuji-kiri hand seals. Her attacks being shrugged off by the cyclopes the other day are still fresh in her mind. She recalls everything she attempted back then as she completes her spell by clapping her hands together. Nine blue flames manifest around her like a halo, starting from above her head and running down along her sides.


    Those blue flames zip out and hit 9 different cacus in the head, making light explosions on impact. They don’t hurt the cacus, they don’t even leave any signs of having scorched them, but all 9 drop to their knees at an unfathomable and excruciating pain. Other warriors jump at that opportunity to strike down the distracted cacus. Two are killed, after much struggle. The rest get away, either by going berserk and rampaging or by getting rescued by their brethren.


    With a click of her tongue, she once more goes through the series of hand seals. Then, upon clapping her hands together, she generates another round of spirit fire. As those 9 fireballs set off and explode against another set of giants, three of them then grip their heads between their massive palms. Screaming out in pain, they squeeze and cave in their own skulls.


    Shana glances to Thea who stands just behind her. She heard her “blood-sister” chanting some sort of mantra, but never would have imagined such a result. “That was… gruesome.”


    Thea is also surprised by the result. She needs a moment to realize Shana was speaking to her. While giving her a bitter smile, she says, “Your attacking their souls made them much more… susceptible. At best, my magic just confuses and gives headaches.”


    The back of the hut collapses as a cacus smashes his way through the stone. His deafening roar coupled with the shaking from the impact knocks Shana and Thea off balance, but while the later falls to the ground, the former is springing forward towards the giant. Shana reaches for her side as she leaps, braces her feet against air, and draws her zweihander from out nowhere in order to behead the cacus. She then kicks off the giant’s collapsing body, sending both herself back to Thea’s side and it out of the hut.


    Yet, before the body is fully out of sight, it stops falling and is flung aside. Two sets of hands then grab the opposite ends of the gap in the wall, and as they rip away even more of the hut, a third cacus appears, climbing out of the pit trap.


    Thea pales and shouts out. She instinctively grabs Shana’s arm and says, “They’ve found us!”


    Shana flings her zweihander. It flies straight and gouges itself into the bridge of center cacus’ face. That cacus gasps as his strength fades from his body. Slowly, he falls back and topples down into the pit.


    The two remaining cacus are enraged at seeing a comrade killed before their eyes and roar out. The giants lunge for the black haired girls as they barrel their way into the stone hut. That 10 identical girls with long black hair appeared while they were distracted give them no pause. Instead, their blood boils from the excitement of having more bodies to rip open and eat. The 10 girls, however, rush out the door before they can even get close.


    Shana holds Thea in her arms as she presses her back against the bath room’s wall. The whole room trembles as the cacus howl in frustration and burst out the stone hut in their chase after the illusions. Only once the shaking subsides does Shana return her attention to Thea.


    “Any ideas?”
    “If we flee, they should follow us.”
    “I meant on how to defeat them.”
    “You want to fight?”
    “Whatever we don’t take down now, will just be more to take on later. Besides, right now we’ve got a numbers advantage.”


    At that moment, multiple explosions begin going off one after the other. They aren’t loud, but their quick succession makes them very noticeable. After the tenth explosion, Shana glances towards the battle taking place past the bath room’s walls and speaks up.


    “They got the last of my illusions. If they’re smart, they’ll realize we’re still in here, fast.”
    “They saw you, multiple you, run out of here. As far as they are aware, we’re no longer in here. This place won’t be considered unless someone runs in here to hide.”
    “Then I’ll just have to keep their attention away from this place.”


    Shana then leaps to the top of the wall. To avoid directly touching the wall and triggering the curse still within, she stands atop of a barrier. Then, after a quick glance at the various battles taking place, she springs forward.


    She reaches to her side, and as her arm nears her waist, it vanishes with space. Then, as she pulls her arm back out, it reappears from the empty space along with her bloodied zweihander. With one quick swing, she cuts her massive sword through the defenseless back of a cacus’ neck. The giant tumbles over from the impact, giving an opening for the others to deal with him.


    Shana clicks her tongue as she darts for someplace else. Her sense of reach is still off. She calculated her swing the same way she always would, but the cut was too shallow. Otherwise she’d have severed his spinal cord. She is going to have to be more mindful of it for the rest of the night.


    She then swings down her sword with both arms and lops off the outstretched wrist of a cacus. The giant, in the middle of crushing another person’s head, roars out. Blinded by rage and pain, he lunges for girl, intending to bite off her head. She whips out her left hand, and with a quick flick of her left wrist, incinerates the creature’s head with her black flames.


    She then twists to the side and holds out the flat, 7in wide, side of her sword. Her hair flutters and wraps around her face as she angles the sword to cover her body. Her free hand then snakes forward to brace the side facing her.


    At the same time she finishes, bright orange flames wash over her sword. The tongues of fire that slip past the zweihander’s lick at her skin, but anything that directly makes contact with her silver sword breaks down into mana and disperses. That reaction confirms that the fire breathed by the cacus are magical in nature.


    Being caught within an onslaught of said magical flames, however, leaves her very little recourse. Trying to do anything at that moment will only endanger the person she just rescued. She takes a quick glance over her shoulders and makes out that he is currently getting up.


    Shana returns her attention to the cacus and says, “Move, it’s not going to end with just fire!”


    The piercing clang of metal stabbing into metal rings out behind her. Geira stands mounted atop of Vor behind her. Her spear is held out at the face of the man Shana just rescued.


    “Shana just saved your life and is now protecting you from being roasted alive. Despite that, despite owing her your worthless life, your first thought is to cut her from behind?” Cold anger laces Geira’s words. Her tone grows harsher with each word. “Leave my sight.”


    “You’re defending her. This is all—”


    Geira thrusts her spear past the man’s face. The sharp whistle of wind being cut past his ear silences him. “I said get lost! Or I’ll personally ensure your soul forever slaves away in the frozen plains of Niflheim.”


    The man drops his sword at the threat and runs off in the opposite direction.


    Geira sighs as she turns to Shana. Her anger burns over and sharp fury laces her words. “Are you an idiot? What were you thinking, leaving yourself exposed like that?”


    Shana can’t help but smile upon hearing those words. She had not realized she was in danger, and wouldn’t have found out until after it was too late. But now that Geira is there, she finds that any sense of danger she would have felt has vanished.


    “Thanks for having my back.”


    Geira is left speechless at the simple phrase. Much to her frustration, the anger she felt at Shana’s carelessness also evaporated alongside her words. Scoffing, she vents by criticizing Shana on the first thing she can find.


    “How long do you plan on standing there!?”
    “Tell that to them! Another one showed up and joined the first one!”
    “So? Aren’t you a first rate magician? Doing something about this should be easy for you.”
    “Yeah, I’ve got a few spells. A lot of people will get caught up in them, though.”
    “Your magic is useless!”


    Geira pulls on Vor’s reins with those words and rides off to the side. Shana, no longer having to protect anyone, gets ready to charge through the torrent of flames, but holds back. Geira merely looped around and is now charging the two cacus from the side. Then, with the two off balance, Shana dashes forward and beheads one. That opening is all Geira needs to thrust her spear into the other one’s throat.


    Geira looks around while flicking the blood from her spear. It’s then she notices something off.
    “Shana, where’s—”


    “Safe, but stay close to the hut.”


    Geira fights off the temptation to look. Instead, she rides Vor towards a cacus throwing bodies at the hut’s walls.


    Shana, herself, leaps into the air to make herself more visible and springs towards a cacus tearing off a traveler’s arm with his teeth. She hold her zweihander ready when she gets yanked out of the air. Her hair and robe are whipped upwards as she’s swung around by a leg and slammed onto the ground.


    As the impact rebounds her body off the ground, it also sends her sword flying off somewhere. Then, before she can even make sense of what is happening, a kick to the stomach sends her crashing through some bushes. A groan escapes her as she tumbles to a stop. She is bleeding from all over and her robe is tattered with tears. Having been flung around like a rag-doll, her body aches and her eyes are blurry. However, nothing seems to have been broken.


    Shana hurries to roll over and begins to push herself back up only to be overcome by a wave of dizziness. She drops down onto the cool dirt. Her head is in her hand, and her bangs are drapped over her face. Then, after taking a few breaths, she claps her hands together.


    A bright violet light flashes around her and a stone spike spears out from beside her. Then, upon hearing a gurgled cry followed by a desperate flurry of movement, she raises her head. The cacus that kicked her ended up impaling himself into her spell. The silhouette created by the darkness of night makes it hard to see, but her attack seems to have pierced through his chest.


    She then begins to push herself off the ground when a heavy thump jolts the ground behind her. A cacus, having leapt to where she is, impacts the ground with so much momentum, the recoil knocks her arm and legs from underneath her. Then, as a bestial roar over flowing with triumph burst from over head, she is scooped away.


    A massive palm with fingers almost as thick as her arm wraps around her back, stomach, and chest. The grip is firm, keeping her arms bound tight. Even breathing is a bit difficult. That she is being waved around and shaken overhead like a trophy only makes it worse.


    Without a second thought, Shana augments her already inhuman strength by 10 fold and pushes back. That is far from being enough to overpower her captor, but the sudden burst in strength lets her create a gap for her left arm to snake out through. Then, with a flick of her wrist, she releases a torrent of black flames. The fire trails across the cacus’ body, devouring his head, shoulder, and upper arm along the way.


    With the cacus dead, Shana leaps off air and bursts out of his hand. Then, reorienting herself with a flip, she lands on her feet and looks up. All of the remaining cacus are focused solely on her, each of them looks ready to pounce. Anger burns in their eyes from having seen the horrific death to one of their own.


    She meets their piercing stares with a fearless grin. It didn’t happen anything like how she planned, but she is now the sole center of their attention. While beckoning them with a finger, she says, “Well, what are you all waiting for? An invitation? Catch me if you can!”


    Then, as the cacus roar out, she disappears into the forest. The ground trembles and thunder roars behind her under the feet of the charging cacus.


    ******


    Zachary fights off the urge to yawn as he enters Lucius’ private chambers. More than a month has passed since he and Arial were brought to the Holy Aelia Empire, but he still can’t get used to waking up before 7. On the days he needs to get up out of bed before 6, he considers forsaking everything and joined the forces of chaos. Although, today, he isn’t all that bothered by it.


    While suppressing a sigh, he draws his seat at the table and sits down. Lucius, their host while in the city of Ostia and the one who called that sudden meeting, is already at the table. His expression is stern. From it, Zachary has a good guess at what they will be talking about.


    Lucius glances at him and says, “I’m surprised. You’re the first one here.”


    Zachary shrugs. “It sounded important.”


    “Our discussion most certainly will be.” Faustina also enters the room. She take her seat at Zachary’s right and speaks to him. “I never imagined you would arrive before anyone else.”


    Arial and Antonius enter together soon after. They sit down at Zachary’s left and Faustina’s right respectively.


    Antonius is the first to break the silence. “So, why did you have us called here so early?”


    Lucius glance around the table to make sure he has everyone’s attention. With a heavy tone, he speaks what he was only told less than an hour ago. “I’m sure you all recall that… Daughter of the Dreaded One we encountered the other day? She left Ostia in the company of Valkyrie Geira along with a second Daughter of the Dreaded One.”


    Arial covers her face with a gasp. “A- a second one? Shouldn’t we stop them?”


    Antonius reassures her with a smile as he says, “If necessary, we will.”


    “Yeah, but is it necessary?” Zachary cuts in between the two. As he looks around the table, he sees black pits where everyone’s eyes are. Then, they overlap with the soldiers he saw pulled underwater. Each word comes out harder and anger laces his voice as he says, “Were they responsible for what happened?”


    Faustina slides her hand into Zachary’s. The table hides how she moves it from her lap onto his where she then squeezes his palm. The swift movement is done without any break in expression or posture.


    Zachary, remembering himself at her warm touch, breathes out. “Sorry, I got a bit carried away.”


    Lucius dismisses the outburst with a wave his hand. “No, you are one of our Apostles. That outburst is a testament to how serious you take your role. You do my noble blood proud.”


    “What happened to those Daughters of the Dreaded One?” Antonius brings the conversation back to topic. As soon as everyone is refocused, he adds, “I believe it safe to assume this revolves around them, yes?”


    Lucius nods. “That trio decided to set camp at a spring not far from here. It is a well trafficked spot where many people gather every night. Then, a few hours ago, a troop of cacus swarmed down on all the travelers resting at that spring.”


    Arial gasps as she covers her mouth. “They called them?”


    “No, according to the naiad of the spring, one rushed forward with a massive sword to help cut them down. Apparently, that same Daughter lead the cacus away from the spring where she proceeded to eliminate them.”


    Arial frowns as her expression fills with doubt. “Wait… why? Aren’t they all on the same side? Why would something like that help other people?”


    Antonius makes a wry smile at Arial’s rash assumption. “You seem to have misunderstood. Daughters of the Dreaded One are dangerous. Each of them carries the potential for resurrecting their father, the Dreaded One, but that isn’t what makes them dangerous. As… living creatures, those lupa are no different from common rabble.”


    “What makes those moecha putida dangerous is their blood.” Faustina continues the explanation. Her tone is harsh and critical of them. “As Daughters of the Dreaded One, they are walking nexuses of his primordial energies. Wherever they go, trouble is drawn them.” Her anger then flares up as she finishes, “But more than that, they’re all alway, always, conniving to make our glorious holy empire a cesspool of pandemonium and debauchery. It’s as if they have nothing else to live for.”


    Zachary, still holding Faustina’s hand, squeezes it back. As he gives her a light smile, he then says, “By the way, if this just happened, how did you hear about it so fast?”


    Lucius laughs out. “A fair question, Iasis was here with me when it happened. Once the naiad of the spring felt she was safe, she conveyed what transpired to her, and she to me.”


    “Who’s Iasis?”


    Lucius once more laughs out. “Oh, forgive me for this discourtesy. I had planned to introduce you to her the day before, but it unfortunately slipped my mind with everything that happened. Iasis is the naiad of Ostia. Long ago, the Tiberis river that flows through our very holy capital once passed through here, but due to an ancient conflict, the terrain was changed and its course altered forever. We were doomed to wither away without its life granting water, but Lord Jupiter, in all his mercy and wisdom, granted us Iasis so that we might continue to prosper and protect our nation.”


    ******


    Shana hugs her pillow to her face as she opens her eyes. Despite having washed herself for over an hour the previous night, her still smells of blood. Getting up, she shoves her bedding into her dimensional storage and proceeds to the bath room she made.


    After unbuttoning her Hawaiian shirt, she undresses and uses alchemy to fill the empty tub with hot water. She then takes a bucket of that water, pours it over herself, and then begins to scrub herself with soap and a bath scrub from her dimensional storage.


    “Need help with your hair?”


    Shana’s head whips around as she turns at the sudden offer. Clumps of her damp hair wraps around her face, flicking droplets of water as they come to a stop. Her hair then, a few locks at a time, flows down her face and comes to a rest over her shoulder.


    Geira looks Shana’s body over. With smile playing at her lips, she says, “You had a rough night. Just relax and I’ll cleanse every last nook of your body.”


    Shana, her expression flat, claps her hands together and a wall shoots up past Geira’s face. Had the valkyrie been half a step closer, she would have been clipped underneath the chin.


    Geira taps the stone wall and confirms it’s made of solid rock. The breeze that brushed past her face when it formed makes her grateful Shana had no intention of harming her. Despite her reluctant sigh at the clear rejection, her tone is cheerful as she calls out to the girl beyond the divider. “Thea and I will get breakfast ready in a bit, so just take your time. But we’re going to want to hear everything.”


    “Yeah, chill. I said I’ll tell you, so I will.” She then finishes washing and submerges herself within the bath tub. When that lock of hair drapes down over her right eye, she goes to brush it back over her head only to have her fingers get stuck in the tangled mess that is her hair. Thus, despite her annoyance of having to do so, she takes out the brush Geira bought her.


    Not long later, Shana emerges joins Geira and Thea by a small fire.


    Geira looks at Shana’s hips and says, “Did you remember to put on some underwear?”


    “Oh, shut up. With everything that happened last night, it’s not that surprising the knots came loose.”


    Geira nods while saying, “Sure, sure, I’m positive whoever finds it will conclude there was a fervent and wild exchange in the dead of night.”


    Shana is at a lose over how to answer. That is exactly what happened, but Geira’s teasing tone makes her hesitate. “It’s probably covered in sweat, blood, and dirt. Whoever finds it is just going to burn it.”

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  2. Gandire Alea

    Gandire Alea [Wicked Awesome Translator]

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    Thea watches the two argue and sighs. Despite her exhaustion, she cuts in between them and says, “We should eat before the food gets cold.”


    “She’s right, here.” As Shana accepts the place from Geira, her hair slides down and brushes against the valkyrie’s arm. The way it moves is much smoother than usual, leaving the other girl staring. Before Shana can question her, she scoffs and says, “You don’t know the first thing about proper hair maintenance!”


    Shana’s expression twists with annoyance. “The heck are you even going on about?”


    “Your hair! You brushed it while in the bath, didn’t you?”
    “Yeah, so?”
    “In the bath and right after are the worst times to brush you hair. You’ll end up with split ends, or worse, snap the strands.”
    “What are you… Didn’t you forcefully brush my hair right after a bath?”
    “Yes, with my brush. A brush that has been blessed by Lady Bastet herself.”


    Shana shakes her head and gives an exasperated, “Well, no one cares about this.”


    “Actually…” Thea speaks up despite her reservations. Hesitation fills her expression and she struggles to find the courage to clearly speak her desire, yet she latches onto the rare opportunity. “My mother… I’ve always wanted… I never…”


    While Shana’s expression falls at the revelation of her “blood-sister’s” interest in hair treatment, Geira’s expression brightens. Glee fills her voice as she says, “I’ll teach you everything you need to know. Then you can help me properly educate that shameful mess of a beauty over there.”


    Shana clicks her tongue at the jab. “Grow out your own hair and maintain that if this is so important to you.”


    “I am!” Geira’s out burst catches both Shana and Thea off guard. Shana’s remark is all the reason her growing frustration needs to erupt. While clutching her hair, she continues, “It used to be so much longer than this, but then it caught fire! Your hair was short when we first met. Make mine long, too!”


    Shana leers at her as she says, “Can’t, sorry. Targeting spells so that they affect another person’s body like that isn’t my area of expertise. I could teach you the spell itself, but you’re not a magician.”








    Chapter


    Shana rides Vor, side saddle, behind Geira. Despite how they are soaring high above the tree tops, she wears a sour and irritated expression. While she did agree to ride atop him, the sole reason was because of their emergency. If not because they want to quickly distance themselves from where they were, she’d never even consider touching his fur. That’s when she notices Vor is descending.


    “Vor is starting to tire.” At the same time, Giera leans around Thea to pat Vor’s neck and says, “Forcing him this hard with three people may have been a bit too much for him.”


    With the gleeful words, “Say no more,” Shana slides off Vor’s back.


    “Shana!?” Geira loops Vor around dive down after the girl, but slows him to a glide. Shana doesn’t need any rescuing. Before she can gain too much momentum, she kicks off air, slows her descent, and continues to drop. She is literally hopping her way down.


    Shana helps Thea off Vor once he lands. As she lowers her “blood-sister” to the ground, she asks, “So, how far did your horse get us?”


    “Shana,” Thea, still separating from her arms, makes a tired smile. “Vor is a pegasus, not a horse.”


    Shana tucks the hair from her face behind an ear while saying, she “He has wings, big deal.”


    Geira sighs, but she doesn’t pursue the issue. Instead, she climbs off Vor and begins guiding everyone along. At the same time, she says, “We cut out a few days of walking with that. As long as nothing happens, we should be able to reach Aquileia by nightfall.”


    Not long later, Geira says, “So, you mind telling us how you dealt with all those cacus already?”


    “You’re the one who said not to talk while riding that horse of yours.”


    Vor neighs in discontent. Geira strokes his neck to sooth him, regret she chose to not rebuke the girl a few moments earlier. She thus gives a cross, “Vor is a pegasus.”
    “Right, cause he has wings.”


    Thea glances at Shana. She has been waiting to hear how she overcame something she considered an impossible situation since returning to them the previous night.


    Shana, completely oblivious the Thea’s curiosity, takes a breath and says, “Dealing with them honestly wasn’t that hard. Once I got them away from everyone, I separated them and picked them off one by one. Helps that they were stupid.”


    Geira raises an eyebrow at the assessment. “And how’d you come to that conclusion?”


    “Thea gave me the idea, but they pretty much confirmed it themselves. Hell, the one waved me around like a trophy after catching me.”


    Thea is stunned and moved by Shana’s admittance. Her mind blanks as realizes Shana based her actions against the cacus off of her words. Never before has anyone ever placed such confidence in her.

    “So what exactly did you do? We heard a lot explosions during our escape.”
    “I had them chase more illusions, set mines in the middle of clusters with alchemy, and cut down the strays with my sword.”
    “All while going commando.”


    Shana clicks her tongue at Geira’s nudging.


    Geira laughs and says, “Wait, I saw your sword go flying. How’d you get it back?”


    “A spell of mine. It lets me pull forth whatever it is I want most when I use it.”
    “That’s convenient.”
    “Not really. What I think I want usually isn’t what I actually want.”


    Shana’s hand then flies to her mouth. Too late does she realize she let a guarded secret slip. Miffed, she says, “I really am becoming too chatty.”


    Geira laughs and slaps Shana across the back. “It just means you trust us.”


    “I just met you the other day…”
    “Well, you’re a good judge of character.”


    Hours later, they emerge from the forest. Towering walls span the horizon. The projected illusion isn’t as massive as Ostia’s, only about half as high. Regardless, they are an imposing sight. They completely block out the crimson sky dyed by the setting sun.


    Thea, seeing the long line waiting to pass through the gates of Aquileia, reaches for her hood. She grasps at empty air behind her head a few times before realizing she no longer has one.


    Geira takes her hand and guides it back down. Then, as she sets to the girl’s side, she wraps her other arm around her back and says, “Don’t worry. I am here. No matter what happens, I won’t let anything happen to you, either of you. I’ve already given my word.”


    Thea breathes out in relief upon being reminded.


    Shana continues past them while saying, “Right, we’ll be counting on you when the time comes.”


    “You have no sense of delicacy.” With that chide, Geira takes the lead.


    The sun finishes setting by the time they reach the line of wagons waiting to enter the city. Or some reason, illumination has been set up for convenience. Geira ignores it all and continues straight for the gate.


    Shana watches the groups they pass as they proceed. One group of men are wearing angarkhi and cummerbund. Most peculiar is their deep marine blue hair. They are the third such group she has seen. Her eyes linger on them for a few moments as she says, “Are they also like that guy from the other day?”


    Geira and Thea both frown with confusion as they follow Shana’s gaze. As they turn to her, Geira asks the question they are both thinking. “What are you talking about?”


    “You remember that guy who helped me fight those guards?”


    Thea gasps and shoots back in a hushed voice. “You fought the guards at Ostia?”


    “Yeah, don’t worry too much. Nothing came of it. More importantly, there was a guy helped me out. I actually ended up carrying him in my arms for a bit, too. Anyway, he had dark blue hair, and now I’m seeing a lot of people with the same hair color. Weren’t impossible hair colors supposed to be special?”


    Geira frowns. She stares at Shana, hard, but the girl’s expression doesn’t belay any any reason for distrust. Instead, she slides her hair away from her face. In the end, Geira sighs and says, “I’m quite curious to the kind of place Ponamu is…”


    Thea, already shocked by Shana’s revelation of having fought the city guard, finds herself at a loss. In the end, she chooses to talk about what she knows. “Shana, there is nothing strange about that hair color. It is a normal color for those people to have.”


    Shana gives a dubious look and says, “Blue pigment is a very difficult color for nature to produce. It, in any shade, is not a normal hair color.”


    “You’re right,” Geira interrupts before anything more can be said. “What I’m going to say isn’t well known, but it isn’t exactly a secret either. It’s just knowledge that has been lost to time.”


    Shana and Thea give Geira their full attention. Only then, despite her reservations, does she continue. “Back when our creators first peopled our world, black hair was a normal sight. If anything, black hair was the most common hair color among the various ethnicities. But then came the Dreaded One. To keep their people from being confused with those he claimed as his own, the gods, with all their wisdom and mercy, intervened. Those from Bharat, like Viren-Prabhu, have a marine color while those of the Tang Dynasty have a crimson color. Still, black hair was a part of their culture, so the gods made the new colors deep, close to black but not.”


    Thea glances towards from Geira. The valkyrie is too preoccupied with her own thoughts to say anything more. She then glances towards Shana. Whenever Geira asks her a question, she tends to answer them regardless of how blatantly rude they are. In regards to herself, Shana always treats her warmly. In fact, she refers to her as her own, “blood-sister.”


    Thea keeps all of that in mind and takes a breath. She isn’t sure if she should continue the conversation, but she asks about something that stood out to her. “Shana… when you said blue is difficult for nature to produce… what did you mean?”


    Shana is surprised by the question, but still says, “Just that. Most of the blue we see in the world isn’t actually natural blue. It’s either reflecting blue or it’s shaped in a way that it captures blue wavelength.”


    “What nonsense are you spouting now?”


    Shana scoffs at Geira’s dismissal. She then leans closer to Thea and adds, “Don’t listen to that brute. As a first rate magician, I’m well studied in the hard sciences too.”


    After a bit of silence, Thea finds the courage to ask another question that is on her mind. She takes a breath, looks to Shana, and says with a soft voice, “Who is… Viren?”


    “He’s that guy who helped me fight the guards.”


    Geira slaps her forehead at the sloppy response. “Viren-Prabhu is the Pramodan Lotus of Bharat.” Then, at Shana’s lack of a reaction, she groans. “You don’t even care, do you?”


    “I’ve already had my fill of fancy titles and arbitrary social status.”
    “Arbitrary!? No, you were carrying him in your arms!”


    Thea’s jaw drops as the other two begin to bicker. As the details of what happened are revealed before her, she isn’t sure if she should consider her “blood-sister” fortunate or unfortunate. She only wishes she could pray that nothing bad will come of it.


    They soon reach the gate. It, to the surprise of all three of them, is still open. Geira says, “I was going to try and use my status to get them to let us in through a side door…” Likewise, they enter the city with little difficultly. The guards stare Shana and Thea down, but make no moves against them.


    Once beyond the walls, they see many people coming and going. They carry planks of wood, crates, ropes, or bundles of cloth as they rush around, almost as if hurrying to finish some upcoming preparation.


    “The Transvectio Equitum.” Geira is taken aback for a moment before adding, “It slipped my mind.”


    Shana turns to her and gives a flat, “The what?”


    Geira gives a brief explanation as she begins showing the way through the city. “The Transvectio Equitum. It’s a celebration honoring an ancient battle. I’ll tell you more about it later. For now, stay alert and stay close.”


    Thea’s expression tenses and she takes hold of Shana’s hand with both of her own.


    ***


    Geira enters the dinning room to find Shana and Thea at a table eating breakfast. From their outfits and attitude, they are clearly ready to resume the journey after resupplying the day prior. That neither of them understood the situation is demeaning to the gods.


    While doing her best to keep from snapping at them, she says, “We’re going to be staying here for a few days.”


    Thea says, “Because of the Transvectio Equitum? Is your presence required?”


    Shana, at Geira’s confirmation, makes a face. She guesses it might have something to do with her status as a valkyrie, but is more bothered by something else. “And you couldn’t have said something about it yesterday?”


    “It should have been obvious. Look, I’m needed at the senatorial building.” Geira then turns away while adding, “We can talk more about this later.”


    While Geira is still leaving the room, Shana says in a loud voice, “Let’s just ditch her.”


    Thea does’t understand what Shana means by ditch. Confused, she looks to Geira, but the valkyrie shakes her head. From Shana’s crossed expression, she understands it isn’t something positive. She is certain, however, that what she is imagining isn’t what Shana has in mind. Hesitantly, she asks, “You want to… throw her… into a ditch?”


    “What!? No, I’m saying let’s continue without her.”


    Thea tenses at the suggestion. The truth is more horrifying than her mental image of them tossing Geira into a muddy dyke alongside the road. In quick panic, she says, “No, no, no, we can’t leave on our own. She already promised to escort us.”


    “Yeah, so?”


    Geira, speechless at how easy Shana is disregarding her, spins around to tell the girl off. Shana is glaring at her. Her expression is filled with resentment and anger. Seeing her, Geira starts to think maybe she could have explained the situation better. The two are clearly strangers when it comes to the customs of the region.


    Geira takes a deep breath and releases her anger with a heavy sigh. With her fingers pressed across her forehead, she says, “Alright, alright, I am in the wrong here. I’m sorry for not being more clear. When we first came here, after everything that had happened, I had completely forgotten about it. But now that I am here, please understand that I have to fulfill my duty.”


    Shana turns away. Her voice is crisp while her tone is laced with bitterness as she says, “Fine, we can stay here for a few days.”


    With an exasperated, “Thank you,” Geira turns around and leaves.


    Shana, with Geira gone, is overwhelmed by a sense of confusion. Geira is not her best friend. She is not someone she grew up with, nor is she is not someone she has dragged into various misadventures. Geira is a random person she met a few days. When they met, she even questioned the valkyrie if she was trying to steal her organs.


    She should not be getting so distraught up over what just happened. Geira merely didn’t tell her something that is common knowledge. Nothing happened that could be considered a breach of trust, yet she feels betrayed. Even though it’s nothing compared to how her friend essentially stabbed her with a smile on her face, she is more furious now than back then.


    Thea was relieved when she heard Shana agree to stay in the city. Now a different worry is assailing her. She normally picks up on the emotions of others through their tone, gestures, minute facial expressions, and intuition. None of that is necessary for Shana. She freely wears her emotions on her face for all to see.


    She doesn't like seeing someone who treats her warmly so upset. Yet, her life has always been one on the run. Never has she every been in a position to help others. Now that she has the opportunity, she is clueless over what to do. Desperate, all that comes to mind is to distract the other girl from her thoughts. Clenching her teeth, she says, “Shana! Let’s… let’s… let’s go for a walk! This… this temple is too stuffy. I want to get some air.”


    Shana is taken aback by the outburst. Thea always does what she can to avoid being in the public eye. That she would willingly choose to go out is baffling, but she agrees that going out is probably for the best. Pleased that her “blood-sister” is inviting her out, a smile eases itself across her face as she says, “Alright, let’s go.”


    The city is bustling with people and wagons. Between the massive ten-story buildings, crates of various goods such as food, cloth, and construction materials are being carried to and forth. Perhaps due to the upcoming event, but the streets are much more crowded than Ostia’s. Yet despite the all the sound from various people talking, wagons rolling over the road, and crying animals, hammers can be heard pounding away in the background.


    Shana and Thea walk through the crowds, each firmly holding the other’s hand. The act reminds Shana of when she was younger. She and her sister would often hold hands just like that to keep from being separated. Her “blood-sister,” however, unlike her actual sister, is doing all she can to be small and insignificant.


    Shana herself holds her head high as she looks around here and there. Then, upon spotting some dancers on the side of the road, she says, “I’m honestly surprised by our timing, walking into a city as they are preparing for a celebration? Should we consider ourself lucky or the opposite?”


    “It isn’t that strange. The Holy Aelia Empire has many festivals and celebrations, most of them specific to specific cities or regions. Entering a place mid preparation isn’t that uncomm—”


    The rest of Thea’s words get cut off as she is pulled towards a window. Shana’s attention, having been caught by the ruby neckless on display, is pressing her face against the store window for a better look without a single bit of hesitation.


    Those running the store do not take kindly to a pair of black haired girls loitering outside. As the manager goes to remove them, Thea calls out to Shana. Her voice grows more worried and panicked as the manager approaches, and she even tries shaking Shana, but the girl is too lost in her amazement to notice. As the manager reaches the door, Thea yanks Shana by the arm only for the recoil to pull her back.


    It’s then she recalls Shana’s monstrous strength. No matter what she does, she will not be able to force Shana to move. At least, not while she is rooted in place. Desperate, and hoping that as so called “blood-sisters” they share more than just their appearances, she pinches Shana’s sides.

    something unrelated~