Amber stared up at the dead white trees in wonder, her mouth slightly ajar as she examined them curiously. She had only seen palm trees before by the oasis and pine trees up the mountains that surrounded the desert. She had never seen dead oak, yew or sycamore trees in her life. Even though they were dead because of the lack of nutrients they got due to the Nightmare Blanket denying them rain, they looked absolutely beautifully. Amber barely remembered palm trees by the oasis. She would always check on them every day during the season that they would bear fruit to see if they were bearing coconuts yet. She was always the first to climb up them in the morning and grab the first bunch of coconuts to sell and feed her family. It was fun to compete and race other children to grab coconuts. She had been planning to teach Jasper on how to climb palm trees…
Amber clung onto the heavy cloak with the meat from the Croft’s Raven as Saphira carried Xeann in her feral wolf form. She could just hear Saphira muttering darkly about helping a vampire but ignored it, rolling her eyes silently. This was going to be one tough journey if those two wouldn’t push aside their rivalry and focus on working together. She never understood rivalry between categories, she never had any problems with people in the sorcery group back at her village. Although her father was very picky with her friends but she never really questioned it… Amber took one glance at the large blue werewolf. Saphira had grown to about six foot tall on her hind legs, Xeann draped over her shoulder as they walked through the forest. Her tattered shreds had stretched somewhat to accommodate her size. Amber wondered if werewolves often grew into feral form while they were still wearing clothes or if they had certain clothes to wear when they did.
‘So, vampire, exactly how much longer do we have to go for until we reach this Magia Town?’ Saphira suddenly rumbled moodily to Xeann ‘This forest seems to be taking for ages.’
‘Just keep on going straight and be patient,’ Xeann replied with a sigh ‘This forest was a paradise for sorcerers and sorceresses once upon a time. Before the Nightmare Blanket took over Ethylias, this forest was full of life, exotic plants, vibrantly coloured flowers and all sorts of magical properties. Those in the sorcery category would practice their spells here and illusions filled the forest from their spells. Because of that, this forest is permanently the home of illusions to make travellers disorientated and lost. The trick is to always go straight, we’ll find an exit eventually. You just need to find a way to be patient or perhaps talking like this could speed things up a bit?’ Saphira grumbled softly to herself and shifted her grip on Xeann.
‘We’ve been doing this for about an hour, I’m tired and I’m losing my power,’ she complained.
‘You told us that you’d be able to maintain this form for days,’ Xeann raised an unimpressed eyebrow.
‘Have you ever heard of exaggeration?’ Saphira asked with a glare.
‘Guys, stop it,’ Amber cut in curtly. Both vampire and wolf gave each other a short glare before turning away from each other grumpily. Amber rolled her eyes and shifted her grip on the bundle of meat. Her ears suddenly pricked up as she heard what sounded like a karate yell. Saphira’s ears perked up as well, indicating that she had heard it too. They both stopped and looked around suspiciously. Xeann lifted her head as more karate yells were heard in the distance. Amber’s eyes scanned their surroundings guardedly as she placed her bundle of meat down and pulled her fists up to get ready for a fight if needed. She had enough strength to fight, now she was properly healed. Well, sort of properly heal, she was still feeling a little dizzy and weak from the six day coma and the other forced sleep that she was put into by Cody. Saphira stuck her nose up in the air and sniffed.
‘Can you smell that?’ she asked. Amber stuck her nose up in the air and mimicked her actions. She smelt…flowers? Amber blinked in bewilderment. She hadn’t smelt flowers in over four months and thought that they’d gone extinct in this world. Plus these flowers smelt…odd in a way. Like they were too sweet to be real… She jumped back when something came flying from between the trees. It crashed into Saphira, toppling both her and Xeann over and onto the ground. Saphira turned into her human form and grabbed the person who had crashed into her. It was a very skinny woman, you could see her ribcage, with nothing but a white tank top and white shorts to cover her body. She had short pink hair in a ponytail and bright golden eyes. She looked like she was about eighteen years old. She stared into Saphira’s blue eyes with a surprised look.
‘Uh…hi,’ she said with a soft smile ‘My name’s Sarah, what’s yours?’ Saphira growled irritably.
‘Sarah!’ Amber looked up and saw another young woman around the same age, maybe younger, come towards them. She had long silver hair to her ankles, tied up in a plat, and sky blue eyes. She wore a simple plain blue dress with matching tattered slippers for her footwear. She spotted Amber first and stilled fearfully, like a lost child. Her eyes trailed over to Saphira and Sarah before spotting Xeann. She covered her mouth in horror when she spotted Xeann’s injured leg. ‘I apologize for my sister’s abrupt appearance,’ she said as she pulled Sarah out from underneath Saphira.
‘Who are you two?’ Saphira demanded as she stood up and stood next to Amber.
‘My name is Sheela,’ Sheela said as she gestured to herself ‘Sarah is my triplet sister…’
‘There’s another one of you?!’ Saphira jumped back and scanned the area in alert. Sheela placed a hand over her mouth to cover a small titter.
‘He’s at home,’ she reassured the wary werewolf ‘Looking after our family.’
‘Then why aren’t you two at home?’ Amber asked curiously. Sheela raised an eyebrow and folded her arms.
‘Why aren’t you?’ she countered.
‘I’m looking for my father and the first stop is the Queen’s tower,’ Amber stuck her chin up and puffed her chest out proudly. Sheela nodded before looking at Saphira who snarled softly and sighed.
‘My cousin is in the Queen’s clutches too,’ she mumbled. Sarah looked at Xeann and blinked.
‘Uh…your friend is unconscious,’ she said pointing to her. Amber spun on her heel to see Xeann had been knocked aside and into the nearest tree when Sarah collided with Saphira. She knelt by her side to feel her pulse. Nothing, Amber began to panic slightly, there was no pulse to be felt whatsoever. She dropped her head to her chest and pressed her ear to where Xeann’s heart should be and took in a sharp breath when she didn’t hear a heartbeat.
‘She’s dead!’ she exclaimed and jumped to her feet in alarm.
‘Well of course she’s dead, she’s a vampire,’ Saphira rolled her eyes.
‘…Oh.’ Amber had never felt more stupid in her life. ‘So how do I know if she’s OK or not?’
‘There are a few ways to kill a vampire properly,’ Saphira explained ‘Silver poisoning is the most common and painful one. We don’t have any silver on us and this area is silver free or, being a werewolf, I would have been affected as well. A wooden stake to the heart is also another common way, especially among the top vampire hunters. Does she have a stake in her heart at the moment? No, I don’t think so. Baptism is very useful and effective but it is a very uncommon way to get rid of a vampire. Does anyone have any holy water on them to baptise her? No, because nothing is holy on this godforsaken planet anymore. Lack of blood is a pretty good way to kill a vampire. But come on, we’ve just feasted on a full grown Croft’s Raven, she surely can’t be starved. Any other ways to kill a vampire do not apply to this situation.’ Amber blinked and sighed with relief.
‘So she’s just exhausted,’ she concluded ‘Thank goodness…’
‘Anyway, what about you two?’ Saphira rounded on Sheela and Sarah suddenly ‘Why are you away from your home?’ Sarah looked at Sheela and Sheela sighed.
‘Two of our younger sisters have gotten kidnapped by the Queen’s henchmen,’ Sheela replied with a forlorn look ‘We’re travelling to the Queen’s tower to get them or at least find out where they are and what happened to them. They’re only fifteen years old which is why we’re so worried and they’re so far from home. We’ve come from Nubis Metropolis by Mt Sky, northwest from here. However, someone here got us lost through this forest despite my advice to go around it.’ Sheela gave Sarah an accusing look and Sarah grinned sheepishly with a shrug.
‘But I really thought I could get us through,’ she said softly. Sheela rolled her eyes and faced Saphira and Amber.
‘May we join you?’ she asked ‘We’ve been stuck in this forest for five days.’
‘It’s been five days? Really now? I thought it was three,’ Sarah frowned blankly and rubbed her head thoughtfully. Sheela rolled her eyes again as Amber smiled softly.
‘Sure thing,’ she said and bent down to pick up the bundle of meat ‘We kind of need extra help with Xeann…’ Her hands found nothing and when Amber looked around, she couldn’t find the bundle of meat she had placed down a moment ago. Jumping to her feet in alarm, Amber looked around again then stared at Saphira with wide eyes. ‘The meat from the Croft’s Raven is gone!’ Saphira’s eyes widened and looked around to check if Amber was just having sight problems.
‘Illusions,’ she muttered mostly to herself ‘This forest is full of them because of the countless experiments that were conducted here. Damn, I’ve always hated sorcerers and sorceresses. It must be here somewhere.’ Sheela folded her arms sternly with a disapproving frown at Saphira’s dislike towards her category. Saphira crouched down like a wolf and began sniffing around, circling the same spot and sighed. ‘I can’t smell it,’ she said ‘I’m sure the illusions only affect your sight…’
‘The illusions in this forest mask all of your senses,’ Sheela explained as she looked around the place, noticing that a few other changes had been made in the scenery ‘I’ll try and ward them off.’ She pushed the sleeves of her dress up and flexed her fingers, clicking them into place. She closed her eyes in concentration and focused all of her energy through the palms of her hands. Amber could feel energy pulsing through the area and through her body and mind. Sheela was swaying softly and Amber could feel the energy increasing and decreasing, realising that Sheela was quite unstable with her power. Amber could easily tell that Sheela was a sorceress, but she could be wrong. But still, the power that Amber felt flow through her as Sarah cast the spell, it was unimaginable. Sarah caught Sheela as the scenery eventually changed. Amber gasped as she saw the bundle of meat by her feet and grabbed it almost immediately. Sheela leaned on Sarah for support, her head spinning. Sarah stared at the bundle curiously.
‘What kind of meat have you got?’ she asked.
‘It’s from a Croft’s Raven,’ Saphira replied.
‘Ew, gross!’ Sarah pulled a face and stuck her tongue out.
‘Actually it’s quite nice,’ Amber mused ‘Even if you eat it raw, it’s really not that bad.’
‘So, out of curiosity,’ Sarah pointed a finger to Amber ‘Which category are you in?’
‘Enhanced,’ Amber replied.
‘Oh my gosh, really?! No way, that’s the same here with me!’ Sarah squealed in a high pitch that made Saphira wince, as she abruptly dropped Sheela and hugged Amber so tightly, Amber gasped for air, picking her up off the ground then spinning her around gleefully ‘We could probably even be something like long lost spiritual sisters or blood related cousins or something cool like that! That’s like so super cool!’ Saphira winced as Sheela made solid impact with the ground without her sister for support, making a loud echoing thud. Sarah heard her sister fall and gasped, dropping poor Amber just as abruptly as she had dropped poor Sheela. Amber grunted painfully as she landed on her behind harshly and rubbed it tenderly with a wary look at Sarah. ‘Oh my gosh, I’m sorry, Sheela!’ Sarah turned and roughly pulled Sheela up to support her again. ‘Are you OK there, sis?’ Saphira gently helped Amber up and dusted her down. Sheela rubbed her temple with a moan.
‘I’m fine, sort of,’ she grumbled.
‘So which category are you in?’ Amber asked tilting her head to the side.
‘Sorcery,’ Sheela rubbed her temples gently as she replied ‘Advanced but I need to control how much power I use. My energy drains easily…’
‘Shall we go then?’ Saphira suggested as she helped Xeann up ‘You look like you need some medical attention too.’ Everyone nodded in agreement and Amber bit her lip.
‘Which direction do we go in though?’ she asked.
‘Straight on, no turning.’ The abrupt answer from Xeann was entirely unexpected and most of the girls jumped in fright, Saphira nearly dropping the vampire. Xeann grunted irritably when she nearly fell and furrowed her eyebrows in annoyance when Saphira adjusted her to a more comfortable position. Sarah bit her lip sheepishly and hid behind Sheela. They all looked at the vampire as she pointed in a direction while keeping her eyes closed. ‘Straight on down that way, now move it. And don’t you dare turn in any direction or we’ll get hopelessly lost. Walk through trees if you must, just walk straight on without stopping.’
‘Yes, ma’am,’ Saphira grunted as they began going down the random direction Xeann had pointed them in. Sarah stayed behind Sheela as she eyed Xeann warily.
‘Sheela, she’s scary,’ she whispered softly but not so discretely to her sister.
‘I can hear you, you know,’ Xeann said without opening her eyes. Sarah yelped and fell over on a tree root when she was caught off guard. Amber winced and helped her up.
‘Don’t worry,’ she assured Sarah ‘You’ll get used to her eventually.’
‘But she’s scarier than any other vampire I’ve met before…’ Sarah whined as they continued walking through the forest.
‘And exactly how many vampires have you met before?’ Xeann asked abruptly with furrowing brows. Sarah yelped again then tripped over on another tree root. Amber jumped back slightly, startled as Sarah moaned in pain.
‘Uh…one?’ she said lifting her head to look at Xeann. Xeann scowled, making Sarah wince in embarrassment.
‘Never mind,’ the vampire sighed ‘You’d better hurry up or we’ll leave you behind.’
‘No, don’t do that!’ Sarah shouted as she jumped to her feet and ran after them.
‘Hey, wait for me!’ Amber called as she scurried after them behind her. A small smile appeared on Xeann’s face as she heard Amber’s little footsteps near them.
‘You must have travelled far to be here if you’re from Nubis Metropolis,’ she commented to Sheela who walked alongside her ‘Nubis Metropolis is pretty hard to reach and get out of because of the harsh conditions in the mountains that it’s built on, am I correct?’ Sheela smiled and shrugged.
‘We’re quite used to it because we often go on hikes up and down the mountains,’ Sheela smiled ‘Every time school isn’t on, we go out on family outings to anywhere we want to go. We’ve been here before the illusions started up in Magia Forest.’
‘Oh? It was thirteen years ago since the illusions began happening,’ Xeann raised an eyebrow ‘I suppose you were about…five years of age?’ Sheela giggled and nodded.
‘Sarah doesn’t remember much about it though,’ she said sadly ‘She never seems to live in the past or reflect on the actions she does. She just carries on without a care in the world.’ She sighed and turned around when Sarah fell over another tree root and Amber scrambled to pick her up. ‘She doesn’t learn much about how to avoid accidents.’ Xeann lifted her head when she heard Sarah crash into a tree.
‘I gathered that,’ she said with a smile.
‘Hey, don’t mind me asking, why are you keeping your eyes closed?’ Saphira asked with a raised eyebrow. Xeann opened her blood red eyes and turned over to the werewolf.
‘Closing my eyes helps me preserve energy,’ she said ‘The less light I see, the more efficient I work. That applies to all Dark creatures, including you.’ Saphira snorted as she turned to face forward.
‘Well don’t expect me to do that,’ she said ‘Unless you want me to crash.’
‘It would help pass the time but I would appreciate it if you kept your eyes open,’ Xeann smirked as she closed her eyes again. Saphira snorted as she kept on heaving Xeann over through the forest while Sarah constantly kept on tripped up by tree roots.