Chapter 5: Last name
Many days have passed since they embarked on their journey, and it sadly hasn't gotten colder.
"I messed this up," Alice complains to her companions as she lays on the rough rocky sand-filled ground, that barely had any traces of grass on them. Overrun from the heat, she couldn't help but feel that she became an omelet.
"Cheer up Miss! Once we arrive at the Fire Empire's capital, it won't be as hot anymore! A new organization made in the Air Empire has invented an incredible system that cools off the entire city!" Nexu explained while eating a sandwich.
"Huh? Did they come up with some a new magic spell?"
"That's the thing, it's not magical in the slightest!"
"Excuse me what?!"
"You see after the shizen powers vanished, multiple workplaces whose business relied heavily on the powers, have crumbled and were even on the brink of bankruptcy. A few years later, the Air Emperor himself had given those workplaces strange metallic gadgets for them to use instead which he invented himself. Only men who work at his company "Rising breeze" knows how to make, operate, and use them which is why a lot of his workers are station over the entire empire."
Her curiosity got her up quickly, "How come only they know?"
"Because in the words of the Air Emperor himself, their devices could be used in many evil deeds if they come to the wrong hands."
"Hey, can you two lend me a hand?" William asked as he moved away from his tent.
As they tried to help him, Alice didn't know much about tents and how they function. Zuri then appeared jumping around her father, "Hey dad, let's play!"
"Sorry sweetie, I'm cleaning up our stuff now and it's going to take a while."
"I can play with her Mister Rootwill," Alice suggested that to them.
"Huh? You wouldn't mind that?"
"Of course not! Besides, I know a lot more about playing than I do with building down tents, a whole lot more!" she responded with bits of awkwardness in her eyes from that last bit.
The father grew concerned, but just looking at his daughter, he made his decision, "Fine, just don't go too far away or do anything that could hurt you two."
"No problem! Do you want to play tag Zuri?"
"Yeah! I'm a champion at tag!"
"Well…be ready to lose your the title then."
As the two girls happily went ahead and played, William just stares at them with a panicking look looming onto his face.
"Is something the matter?" Nexu asked.
"Huh! What? Oh! Well-It's nothing. It's just that…I have a bit of a bad habit of worrying too much when Zuri leaves out somewhere."
"I wouldn't call it a bad habit. Every parent, at least the good ones, are worried about their children like that, especially when they are young. By the way, how old is she?"
"And what about you?"
"Huh! You had her at such a young age!"
"Quit talking as if you're older than me."
"You don't think sixteen is a bigger number than twenty-seven?"
He glared at the knight with confusion, "I mean, yes?"
Their conversation ended in awkward silence.
Meanwhile, Alice and Zuri had been playing tag as they stumble upon a tropical forest nearby that had a small pond amidst its trees.
Alice happily lays under the trees, "Finally! Some shade. Also, don't you dare think that this means I'll remain it!"
"Hee-hee. If you say so." Zuri happily expressed, "You know, there's been a few questions I wanted to ask you."
"Why did you do that caused you to go to jail?"
"Dad told me that people who go to jail are really bad, but you don't seem bad, and yet you still went to jail, why is that?
"Well, the full story could be traumatizing for her…I better keep it kid-friendly as possible." she thought before answering her question, "Well…my village was attacked, and a scary general with dark magic made everyone unconscious and I was kidnapped and locked up there for a few years."
Zuri was caught in surprise by all, "What?!"
"Did I go in too extreme?"
"Heh. My bad." Alice tried to play it off cool and failed miserably.
"I guess she never acted like a bad person, and she has been through a lot too, but all of this is too suspicious." The little girl thought before continuing the conversation, "Anyway. Why would anyone do something like that to you?
Her expression got grim, "Heh…I ask that every single day."
"Did a family member of yours do something terrible to the attackers or what?"
"I doubt it"- she was interrupted by a loud and weird rustling deeper inside of the forest. No wind could have caused this, nor did she see any animals around either, so she got suspicious, "…let's get back to Nexu and your dad for now. They could use our help." So, they did just that.
William had a huge face of relief once he saw his daughter back. He then gave everyone different luggage to carry and they went on ahead. Nexu took care of the map and gave everyone directions, "Good news! Next will be heading into a forest and if we keep going through a stony pathway, there we'll arrive at the capital tomorrow!"
"A forest? Alice and I have just been to one."
"Yes. It was right over there."
"That's exactly where we need to go! Good job Miss Alice and Miss Zuri."
Everyone was excited hearing that, everyone but Alice, who was still worried about the weird noise she heard over there. She knew that making everyone worry would only cause more trouble than necessary so she didn't mention it to anyone.
They appeared in the forest and found the rocky pathway mentioned in it. The trees in it were almost as tall as a castle and their leaves matched the clouds with their size. Small lizards were crawling on the rock way and monkeys could be heard from far away as well.
Alice was on the lookout which caught William's eye, "Is something the matter?"
"Huh, yes! I mean no. At least I hope so."
"Which is it?"
"I'm just a bit worried that a monster won't appear out of nowhere. This forest is thick and you can barely see the sun from above because of its leaves."
As she said that Zuri suddenly got scared and held to her father's leg. Alice then knew she messed up and tried to lessen her worries abruptly, "But if a monster attack were to happen, I'd defeat it no doubt! I'm going to be like "whoosh" and "bam" and it would go like "augh" and I'd be like "Ha-ha! This is what happens when you mess with the one and only Alice Zvezdoprah!"
Zuri laughed with her on her remarks while her father suddenly went speechless, "Your…your last name is what now?"
"Uh, it's Zvezdoprah. I thought Nexu told you that back at the inn, which is why I didn't bring it up. Why are you asking that?"
He suddenly got scared and then hid his daughter behind his back and moved several steps away from her.
"Miss Alice, Sir Rootwill." Nexu politely called them out, "Something, or rather someone, is blocking our path." He said as he pointed to a severely injured and unconscious person who wore protective desert clothing laying on the ground right in front of them.
While Nexu was unfazed by him, everyone else in the group panicked. "What's wrong everyone? Why are you all acting as if you just saw a dead body?" he asked still completely unfazed in this situation.
Alice was flabbergasted by that, "Oh I don't know, it's not as if we just did that."
"Tch-tch Miss! I checked and they aren't dead, and I can heal them as if it were nothing."
"That doesn't mean that you have to act as if their injuries are nothing."
Everyone then carefully carried them and tried to find a small plain to let them rest there. Zuri was able to find one and they made camp there. The Knight of Miracles then went off to heal him in his tent which went off for hours. "This should be enough. Let's wait till they have fully awoken."
After a while, Alice climbed up one of the trees and told everyone that it got dark. So, William started preparing dinner and Zuri waited outside the tent as Nexu kept working.
He then went out writing stuff down on a sheet of paper, "Let's see…dark-skinned…unknown cause of Injuries…his occupation is traveler probably…what else did I forget?"
"What are you doing Mister Knight?"
"Oh, Little Miss Zuri, I'm reporting to the fire capital's hospital in case, my healing spells didn't heal him completely."
"You think of every little detail, don't you Nexu?" Alice told him as she returned to the ground.
"It's part of my charm."
"Do the two of you know each other for a long time?"
"Not in particular. Why are you asking this Little Miss Zuri?"
"Because while Alice is the only person, I know of that refers to you with your name, which is even weirder considering the fact you constantly refer to her super formally and everything."
"She's got a point there. There was no need for you to address me with that constant "Miss" anyway, try something more casual"
"Alright then, What about ma'am?"
"Your elegant grace?"
"What about your majesty- "
"Miss is fine actually!"
"Oh, I almost forgot to tell you all, the unconscious person woke up."
Hearing that, everyone immediately went in to check on them. Despite being awake, the man still hasn't fully come back to their senses. He looks around and after a while noticed everyone looking at him outside of the tent. "Where am I?" he asked with a look on his face that had somewhat predicted a situation like this.
"Hello, fellow stranger! You're in a forest that leads to the capital of the Fire Empire where we're going to bring you to a hospital. Is that alright with you?" Nexu politely told him.
Hearing that, the man suddenly jumped out of the tent surprising everyone, he then walked around as if searching for someone. His bruises reacted to his sudden movements rather poorly which made him fall on his knees as he held his aching stomach.
William carried him again into the tent and made him lay on his back. He told him the story of how they found him and asked how he wound up in such an away.
The man then removed a part of his protective veil from his face to speak clearer, "Well, it's a bit of a long story. For years I had been traveling throughout the empire in a search of…something important frankly speaking. I had then traveled to the nearby desert for the very first time which honestly exhausted me. I then arrived in this forest to relax a bit and everything went all right. But, completely unexpectedly, by which I mean completely expectedly, I encountered Blood-Eye."
"What?" everyone asked in unison as their faces went pale.
"It's true, I was able to hold them off for a bit but then they threw me a punch which made me faint. I then woke up and I was both surprise and not surprised to be in a place like this. Now let me quickly check if you people are on their side or not."
"Excuse me?!" Alice responded to his question quite offended, however, he interrupted her by looking at her directly into her eyes. "Nope. You're not," he said as he let go of her face. He continues doing so with everyone else as well saying the same thing.
"What was that all about?" Zuri asked to which he answered, "This isn't my first time getting attacked by Blood-Eye so I know some stuff about them. For example, everyone who worked under them had either red or purple eyes, always."
Nexu was curious about that, "Oh, it isn't your first time encountering them? Weird. People who usually meet are either dead…or dead."
"Call me a lucky exception I guess."
"It's even weirder how they never actually tried making a killer blow. The most damage they caused was making me faint once in a while."
"Once in a while? You're telling me this isn't the first time this happened to you?" Zuri wondered.
"Nope. And getting help like this too? It's a 50/50 chance of the people who have found me either being associates with Blood Eye or not, thankfully it's the latter this time."
William became concerned, "You're…too casual about this."
"Huh? I guess I got used to this."
"You can't! You mustn't!" Alice furiously yelled, "They are a murderer, an unredeemable monster. You can't treat them like…like that."
Everyone was caught off guard by her sudden outburst.
"Don't get the wrong idea. I hate them as much as the next person, I just think they are doing sloppy lately is all."
"Sorry to interrupt you two, but isn't it impolite not to introduce each other." Nexu pointed out.
Alice then awkwardly did so, "I'm Alice. This is William and hid daughter Zuri and the white-haired one is Nexu."
"Nice to meet all of you! You can all call me…Daniel"
William then went out and made everyone dinner. He happily finished the meal and everyone ate it until nothing was left of it."
As they all went to sleep, Alice fully awake walked around their camping area. She did so quietly and slowly not to awaken everyone else.
"You know, not getting any sort of sleep won't be healthy for you." She heard William say right behind her.
"I did try getting some sleep, but just couldn't you know. Guess it's that type of night-."
"Is it because of Blood Eye? Or is it because of your kidnapping?"
"Zuri told me about it."
She silently looked to the ground. She tried avoiding making conversation with him, but she already knew it was too late for that, so she let out a deep sigh and tells him everything. William was quite shocked at those turn of events.
"I'm…I'm so sorry to hear all that. I didn't want to push you into telling me all that."
"It's fine. Besides, I would have told you all that sooner or later."
"You know at the jail, I met dozens of different awful people, some who prided on their treachery, some who said it was an act of justice or a necessary and garbage like that. I was purely disgusted by them, for saying that happenings like the attack could have been justified, for saying that'll stay and rt there forever, for saying that mom could have possibly died- "
"Alice." He said as he put his hand on her shoulder.
"You've proven yourself to be a strong fighter and a kind person as well, I now I know how much you have been through. Being able to still stand up and keep on fighting is a feat not even the strongest of warriors can accomplish. And if your mother is the reason you became this strong-willed, then she's probably better off than either one of us."
With his words, her grim expression turned happy and hopeful.
"Let's just hope she isn't the one who gave you your "making sudden restaurant fights" genes."
"Pfft. Fortunately, I got those by myself."
They both a good laugh out of this.
"Thank you, Mister Rootwill, I needed to hear that."
"Heh, it's not as if I said anything original or groundbreaking, but I'm glad it helped."
She then joyfully returned to rest. As she walked away, William's face turned from happy to concerned, "How could such a girl, who hates those who bring upon death more anything, have the same last name as…?" he thought as he wondered if he misplaced his trust or not.
As they both fell asleep, and their campfire dispersed, a stranger walked into their camping area. They wore dark clothes that covered their entire body with only their bright red eyes being shown. They stood before Alice, who was laid onto a tree and was sleeping on it. From their sleeves, they took out a small knife and held it against the sleeping girl's neck. Before they were able to wound her, someone suddenly grabbed their hand.
"Switching targets huh? Honestly thought you'd do better than that…Blood-Eye." Daniel said as he pushed them away from her.
Blood eye was able to free themself from his grip and then they jumped into a huge backflip and as they landed on to the ground, they prepared a bow and arrow to shoot at him.
Daniel chuckled, "Did you by any chance bring me to these people while I was unconscious so you could kill all of us at once? Pretty lazy if I say so myself."
Blood-Eye didn't say or do anything.
"Look here, we share a bit of history from all those times you tried to finish me off, so don't be surprised by the fact that I can read you quite well."
They remained silent and still.
"Always the silent one heh? It doesn't matter to me, anyway." His expression suddenly turned serious "Remember this…there is no god that will be merciful towards you."
He then took upon a fighting position. He then went to give them a full-on punch which they avoided. They shot an arrow at him but he grabbed it and then jumped high to the sky and threw it back to them.
Blood eye was able to dodge, but then Daniel got down there again and kicked them in the face. After the kick, they threw a bunch of small knives at him. Some of them were able to hit him but he didn't mind it.
Daniel then noticed that because of the sandy ground, that his legs have were injured from falling onto their knees while Blood-Eye didn't have any scratches despite them also falling hard to the ground just like him.
He tried to think of a plan, but then, Blood-Eye arrived right in front of him in a blink of an eye and punched him to the ground.
That punch caused his wounds to react again and he wasn't able to get up. Blood eye took out a tooth looking knife and then attempted an assassination.
"Daniel!" they heard a scream as blue fires appeared between them. They look to their left Alice was shooting blue fire from her hands.
"It can't be...pura lux?" Daniel said in shock as he sees her.
Alice then walked towards Blood-eye with calm anger on her face. "So, it's you." She said before she floated to them and summoned a bunch of flames at them.
Blood eye usual calm eyes began to worry. It was then that William and Nexu took a strike with their swords on them.
The two of them were barely able to injure them. William stood beside Alice while Nexu hurryingly tried to heal Daniel.
Seeing how any minute Daniel would be on his feet again, Blood eye threw a small spherical object at everyone that exploded into smokes. Everyone was blinded by it, once the smoke has lifted, Blood-eye disappeared from the scene.
"Is everyone alright?" Zuri asked with deep fear in her voice.
"We will be, don't worry." Her father reassured her, "So, Alice, you are a pura lux mage."
"I prefer the term fighter, but yeah."
"I can't believe this!" Daniel said as he got up from the ground after the Knight of Miracles healed him, "I thought everyone who was able to use those flames died during a genocide attack by the Emperor of Anguish."
She was confused, "Excuse me, What?"
"What's a wrong miss?"
"I-what do you mean "everyone" who knows pura lux has been killed?"
"You don't know about that? The sole cause and the start of the war?"
She was in a state of complete confusion as hears all that. She had to walk away from everyone for a minute to comprehend everything she just witnessed. However, the exhaustion from using her pura lux flames finally caught up to her and she fainted because of it again.
While Nexu just casually walked up to her, everyone else got genuinely worried over her.
"Don't worry, she'll wake up in approximately four hours! It isn't the first time it happened either."
"Quit being unfazed by these things, please," William said with concern.
Nexu chuckles at that but then got serious, "At least, she can't hear us like this.". he took out his sword from the scabbard and pointed it to William.
William remained calm at this action while everyone else wondered what just happened.
"So, you found out, didn't you?"
"Found out what?"
"Don't act as if you don't know. She did tell her last name very clearly at that time."
William wasn't sure what to say, "Since when did you know?"
"I knew it from the very beginning. I am the Knight of Miracles after all."
Daniel blinked in surprise by that, "So it is you."
Daniel was stumped by that and he then joined the conversation, "What exactly is it that you two know about her."
"Funnily enough, it's among the very first things I had been thoughts as a knight," Nexu explained, "Alice Zvezdoprah, daughter of Nicholas Zvezdoprah, or his more well-known name, The Emperor of Anguish."
The air suddenly became thick and everyone was speechless.
"Is that why she was attacked and imprisoned."
"Surprisingly not, I only found out about her imprisonment when I had to perform an elemental ritual back where she was held. I was originally going to search for her myself after the ritual, but this event certainly made that unnecessary."
"Then why did you free her?"
"…She did tell you about the Dark General, right?"
"Whoever that person was, he will pose a threat to the Empire. And she is the only link I have to that person, so until I find him and I bring him to his place, I need to stay by her side."
"So basically, you're using her."
"You can call it cruelty; I call it the true way for everyone's happiness and safety in the Empire."
He remained serious and calm during the entire ordeal and no one said anything back to him.
"You do what you believe is right," Daniel commented, "Just remember this, some risks are too high to take."
"Believe me, I know that better than anyone else." The Knight of Miracles quietly said which ended the conversation.