Tessa felt her body shake in the darkness of her mind, followed by one large bump. Her hearing began to fade in next. A muffled clip, clip, clip, clop accompanied by a wooden creeeeak every now and then. Forcing her eyes open, the morning sun flooded her vision with a bright, white glare. It was blinding, but just as soon as it had come it faded away. Revealing a brown room around her and something red underneath her. It was all blurred, but blinking a few times slowly put everything back in focus. Putting things together bit by bit, it looked like she was in a carriage. A cushioned, red seat made with some kind of leather. The cabin was made of plain looking wood with an open window on the door.
Gently raising her head and sitting up, she saw Hei and Torgrak on the otherside of the cabin. The dwarf had his gun out and a cloth, cleaning it all over and inspecting it closely. Pulling out an occasional tool for when he needed to clean somewhere his thick fingers couldn’t accurately reach. The half-elf, on the other hand, was staring out the window with a far-off gaze. One hand holding up his head at the chin, the other on top of a closed book in his lap.
Tessa stretched her arms over head, letting out a yawn at the same time as she began to wake up. Hei’s eyes turned their attention to Tessa, letting the hand at his chin rest as he faced her.
“Well, glad to see you’re finally awake~.”
She scratched the side of her head, slumping forward a bit before using her hands on her back to stretch it a bit. The joints popping a bit before letting herself rest with her back to the cabin.
“Get enough rest~? Today will probably be the hardest you’ll have ever worked when it’s over~.”
“I think I did. Weird dreams keep happening whenever I try to get some sleep.”
“Have some kind of nightmare about being late for class or something~? Or was it something more like you were some big hero with a cheering audience, only to remember you forgot to wear underwear the entire time~?”
Torgrak paused for a moment, giving Hei a weird look for that oddly specific description. His hands were frozen, but one eye’s brow was cocked much higher than usual out of concern for that oddly specific question.
Hei quickly dismissed Torgrak’s look, “Decided to mess with a Hero on the day he was to be ‘rewarded’~. Stole every last pair of briefs he had the night before and watched him struggle being commando in his metal armor all day~.”
Torgrak scoffed, imagining a Hero having to struggle in such a way. Finding the image funny before returning to his gun.Tessa shook her head, getting back to the topic of her dreams.
“No, it wasn’t anything like that. There were...figures. One had a black and shadowy silhouette, while the others all had a chaotic, red glow to them. The dark one did something the red ones didn’t like and was leaving. The red ones didn’t like that and tried to keep him from leaving, but couldn’t.”
She closed her eyes, trying to remember what she saw. Everything was clear to her when she was asleep, but dredging it back up was difficult. The words she heard so clearly were now just a garbled mess of fuzzy sounds.
“That’s...that’s all I can remember.”
Hei and Torgrak looked at each other again while Tessa tried to remember more. Not wearing their usual smiles or smirks this time before putting their attention back on Tessa.
“Have you had these kinds of visions before? As in, while you were growing up?”
Tessa opened her eyes, slightly caught off-guard with how Hei wasn’t mocking her for this. Clearing her throat quickly and sitting up straight before responding.
“Y-yes, but they were very rare. Maybe once every few months or once a year at most.”
“I see. What you’ve been seeing are called ‘memory fragments’.”
“Okay, that’s good to know. But what is a ‘memory fragment’?”
“To keep it short, a memory fragment is a moment in time that was documented by the ‘Weave of Fate’.”
“What’s the ‘Weave of Fate’? This all sounds incredibly esoteric.”
“It is! And I would explain things in more depth, but that will have to wait for later. Regardless, you’re basically seeing an event that has either already happened or will happen.”
“Is it rare for people to be able to see memory fragments?”
“Relatively. Out of all living people, depending on your definition, one-in-four will experience a memory fragment at some point in their life. Of those, three-out-of-four will see a future event while the remainder will see a past event.”
Learning that she had a fairly unique ability caused Tessa to glow, her face emanating an intense happiness as she now had something that personally put her in a category not everyone else is. It may not be the rarest of traits, or the most powerful, but it was something she now knew was special about herself for certain.
“Is it possible to see into both the past and future?”
“It is, but requires significantly more training than what you’ve already undergone and will be doing with us, so don’t think you can go off and become an ‘oracle’ now.”
“Yes, that’s what people who can do that are called.”
“So if I’m able to see and experience memory fragments, why do I have trouble recalling or expressing them?”
“Memory fragments will be more or less ‘clear’ depending on the age of the fragment. Fragments from the past begin to degrade around twenty years and will be more difficult to not only observe but also retain the information from as they get older. As for fragments from the future, they tend to be difficult translating from the Weave of Fate into any known language spoken or not. Unless you’ve lived under a rock, I’m guessing you’ve heard a ‘prophecy’ or two before?”
“I have, mostly in stories about Heroes though. I’m guessing those are fragments translated from the future?”
“Are they supposed to be cryptic and difficult to understand?”
“Unfortunately. Anyone who receives a prophecy will only be able to express it in that cryptic way without exception. Also, prophecies will always happen without exception.”
Torgrak can’t help but chuckle to himself for a moment. Hei rolls his eyes, but continues.
“I didn’t describe what I saw in a cryptic way, does that mean it was a fragment from the past?”
“More than likely, and probably older than the twenty-year-limit. The more details a viewer can retain, the younger the past-fragment.”
“What about the present? Is it possible to receive visions about something going on right now?”
“. . .W-why?”
“To avoid some really weird theories people have come up with over the years about why or why it isn’t possible, the easiest-to-understand reason is that it’s more convenient to just ask someone what’s going on to learn what’s currently happening. Other similar methods would be things like long-range telepathy or messaging magic, scrying magic, a pair of binoculars, a newspaper, and so on.”
“That’s fair enough, I guess. Do you have any idea as to what the fragment I witnessed means by the way?”
“Can’t say really. It could be anything from a warning to insight. Just like I could claim a flying pig to mean good luck, someone else might interpret it to be the end of the world. You’ll have to decide for yourself what the fragment meant.”
An awkward silence slowly filled the air as the topic of memory fragments died. Tessa was still curious about what she saw in her dream, but right now didn’t seem to be the best time. Maybe she’d bring up the other things she saw with Hei later, but there was an elephant in the room she needed to address.
“So...I’ve been meaning to ask for a little while now, but why are we in a carriage?”
“Hm? Oh, right. We’re on our way to Crimsonvale right now.”
“Why? Weren’t we going to practice combat training or something today?”
Hei’s words echoed around in Tessa’s head for a little while. She was trying to make sense of what he just said. Seconds passed by and then it hit her, but why were they going to Crimsonvale for it?
“Okay...is there something specific to Crimsonvale that will make my training easier?”
“Yes actually~. A cult seems to have taken over the city, and we’re going to take the opportunity to use them as your own personal punching bags~. We got tasked with ‘handling’ them, so why not hit two birds with one stone~?”
“I-I knew you two would bring me out on missions and such, b-but isn’t this really sudden?! I-I’m still only able to maintain what you taught me yesterday to the half-way point!”
Hei started to smirk, and Tessa had slowly been learning that his smiles and smirks were always a bad sign. Hei was probably going to be up to something again.
“You’re right, you have only just started your training~. But it’s also too late to turn back now and this carriage is a one-way trip~. You also don’t have any supplies on you to safely make it back to Faethun on foot, so it looks like you’re stuck with us~!”
Hei shrugged, still smirking the entire time. At the same time that Hei was relaxed and carefree, Tessa was starting to panic. She didn’t want to have another bandit-murder-spree happen in front of her again. One was more than enough already. If she got caught by the aforementioned cultists, it would probably be much more of a problem than with the bandits. Hei and Torgrak are custodians, so this is probably one of their “special” missions. And if it’s a mission specifically assigned to them, this really can’t be good news for her.
“B-but I’ll only be in the way! Sure I have some spells to defend myself with, but I could barely do anything when I was cornered by the bandits! Please! I’m not ready for any kind of fighting!”
Torgrak lifted his gun, letting the metal along the barrel shine brightly for a moment as he closely inspected it.
“Yer right. Yer not ready ta fight at all.”
Tessa’s face began to turn hopeful, “Th-then you’ll-”
“But there's no place better ta learn than on a battlefield.”
What hope Tessa had quickly faded away, her face paling as there really is no way out of the situation she’s in. She didn’t want to fight. She knew all that awaited her was probably getting kidnapped or killed. Her fear quickly made her hands sweaty as Tessa didn’t want to be here. It was a bad idea after all to become their student, wasn’t it?
“Don’t worry too much about fighting. Think of this like a live demonstration with an element of participation~. Torgrak and I will be handling most of the fighting, and we’ll be telling you what to do when necessary. You’ll mostly be watching and learning about the three important things about combat: attacking, defending, and positioning.”
“Also, they're cultists. There’ll probably be some that can put up a fight, but most won't be much stronger than ye. Their numbers be what makes them problematic.”
“O-okay, but won’t I be helping you in killing people? Even if only indirectly, it’ll still be me who willingly helped end the lives of others.”
Tessa’s eyes closed for a moment, flashes of Hei’s and Torgrak’s callous smiles across their faces as they slaughtered the bandits. She knows it was an emergency situation, but it was still such a horrifying sight. Killing sometimes is unavoidable, but she wanted to keep that inevitability as far away from her as possible.
“I-I…! I don’t want to kill anyone! Not even by association! S-so promise me you won’t, okay?! Promise me you won’t kill anyone. Let the guards or whatever take them in.”
Tessa closed her eyes, waiting to hear her mentor decline her request. She knew this was unreasonable, but if she didn’t make it clear to her mentors now then they’d probably force her down a road caked in blood. Her goal was to be a Hero who didn’t kill just because it was convenient. There’s always another way, isn’t there?
It was quiet for a moment. The clipping and clopping of the horse’s hooves on the dirt was the only thing that could be heard. And then Hei let out a sigh, cocking his head at an angle and seemingly frustrated by her request.
“Hmm...that definitely makes things harder, but since you’re our precious student then I’ll make an exception this time.”
“Wait...really? You’re not going to kill anyone?!”
“Yes. We promise not to kill anyone today.”
“Oh...oh thank Aeon. No! Thank you Mist-, I mean Hei and Torgrak! Thank you!”
It seemed a bit too good to be true, but Hei wasn’t talking like how he normally did when messing with her. His words sounded honest and he maintained eye-contact the entire time. Normally Hei had a condescending, sing-songy way of talking. Only dropping it when speaking plainly with her. Right now, Hei’s face had an unusually kind smile on it filled to the brim with honesty. It felt too good to be true, but this was probably one of few times that she’d ever get Hei to actually promise something like this; if ever at all.
“Don’t get used to it now, there will be missions in the future where killing will be unavoidable.”
“Now, let’s make sure you understand what’s going on inside Crimsonvale.”
“From what the Adventurers’ Guild has shared with me and Torgrak, the cultists are followers of Nencog and have effectively taken over the city.”
“Agreed, so I believe that there’s someone at the head of the cult keeping them controlled. No idea who it could be, but it would be wise to not trust anyone outside me and Torgrak while you’re with us.”
“Why? There should be some rational civilians that haven’t joined the cult. Wouldn’t it be best to try and approach them first and figure out who is and who isn’t?”
“You’re right that there could be some civilians, but discerning someone who isn’t part of the cult from someone who is could be nearly impossible. And asking around at random would be akin to kicking a flame-ant hill. There could even be members of the cult in wait looking for non-members to attack or apprehend. So it would be best to keep to ourselves for a short while.”
Hei was right, unfortunately for her. They were walking into enemy territory, and it’d be easier to assume everyone around you could be an enemy rather than be brazenly optimistic in hopes you find one friendly face. Reluctantly, Tessa agreed. Nodding her head to her mentor. Yet, there was something that just clicked in her head.
“We’re going to be in Crimsonvale for battle training, right?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“And to do that, there needs to be a battle going on, right?”
“Yes, something the matter Tessa?”
“Well, how are you going to teach me how to fight if there won’t be a battle going on?”
“Oh, me and Torgrak will be kicking the proverbial ant hill for you. We do need their attention on us and not you after all.”
Hei threw his head back laughing, finding his own forgetfulness hilarious and silly. At the same time, Torgrak turned his face out of view. His hand over his mouth while Hei’s face beamed with charm and light. Tessa panicked for a moment, but found herself being oddly calmed by Hei’s charisma. Something about him was easing her worry about the plan of attack. There was something in the back of her mind, gnawing away at her, but Tessa ignored it for the time being. Taken in by Hei’s confidence.
Abruptly, the carriage came to a stop as the driver called to everyone in the cabin.
“I’ve stopped behind a treeline near the city, this is as far as I can take you.”
Torgrak opened the door, hopping out first, followed by Hei and then Tessa. Each of them landing with varying levels of clank from their armor. Hei’s being the loudest but Torgrak’s being the heaviest.
With those words, the driver took off with a whip of the reins. The horse and carriage took off, leaving the three to their own devices on however it is they’ll handle the cultists. Tessa was a little confused as to why they were left here while Torgrak took out a pair of binoculars from his bag, walking to the edge of the treeline and taking a look at the wall surrounding Crimsonvale.
“Why did we get out here? Wouldn’t it be better to be dropped off within the city?”
“If not for the cultists having as much control over Crimsonvale as they do, you’d be right. We can’t say for certain how the cultists would react to us appearing at their doorstop, so best to learn what we can from a distance first. See anything Torgrak?”
“They're lettin’ people in through tha main gate, but most o' tha guards have strange necklaces on. Probably identification between members o' tha cult. That or Crimsonvale's military developed a thing for asphyxiation.”
“Is it just the guards or do the people entering the city have them too?”
“Takin’ a closer look.” Torgrak adjusted the binoculars quickly. “Tha ones wi'out tha identifier seem ta be taken ta a side room, but those with ‘em pass on through.”
“Is recreating the necklaces possible?”
“Unless ye want ta delay things a few days, no. They're too detailed, likely made with magix.”
“What about a drawing of what the necklace looks like?”
“Aye, that I can do.”
Putting his binoculars away, Torgrak pulls out some paper, ink, a quill, and a smooth wooden board and starts drawing the necklace’s design. Soon after, he hands the sketch over to Hei and Tessa can’t help but peer over his shoulder.
“This should be easy enough.”
“What will be?”
With a quick flick of his wrist, shadows dance around Hei’s neck into the general form of the necklace Torgrak drew. In the darkness under his chin, it seems real enough to fool just about anybody.
“Is that a good idea? Wouldn’t it be easier to sneak in via a waterway or something?”
“So long as no one touches it, it should be fine.”
“But won’t each of us need one to also pass through the gate?”
“You will, so I will need you to stand in my shadow the entire time we’re at the gate.”
“If my shadow was suddenly seen lurching out into the light, it would be hard to explain, wouldn’t it?”
“Oh. Ooooooohhhhh. So, if I stand in your shadow,” Tessa walked over to where her shadow was overlapped by Hei’s, “you should be able to conjure the same thing on me, right?”
“Yes, and the same will happen for Torgrak when he’s standing on yours. So long as we stay connected, things should go smoothly.”
“That’s...really cool, honestly. I didn’t know you could do that with darkness magic.”
Tessa looked at Hei with sparkles in her eyes, ecstatic to have learned a use for something she never knew about. At the same time, Hei pulls out a dark cloak from his bag and holds it out for Tessa.
“Umm, what’s this for?”
“You’re a cleric, right?”
“So you have the symbol of your god on you, right?”
“And we’re walking into a den of cultists, who oppose your god, right?”
Tessa looked at Hei, then at the dark cloak, and then her own clothing. Seeing the symbols of Aeon on her torso, sleeves, and shoulders. Her mind was blank for a moment, awaiting for a connection to click. Seconds passed and then it hit her, and Tessa put the dark cloak on.
“Alright, with that taken care of we should be good to go now. All good on your end Torgrak?”
“Locked and loaded.”
A last minute fear came to mind for Tessa, “If the illusion doesn’t work, and we are pulled into the sideroom, what’s the plan then?”
“Should that happen, close your eyes tightly and plug your ears. Alright?”
Hei was smiling, but it felt much more intimidating than normal.
“You understand, don’t you?”