Chapter 3: Linestone City
The caravan passed through the city gates without any trouble or inspection. No one was there to welcome them either. Interestingly enough, the caravan didn’t cause a commotion since the townsfolk thought it was yet another merchant caravan. Rikku raised an eyebrow, they must have planned their entourage to be as low-key as possible. This city looked and felt almost medieval, with broad paved roads, red brick houses and buildings, and ironworks. Along the street, people walked busily while merchants and peddlers sold their wares loudly. Although the people weren’t that well-off, there wasn’t any visible sign of poverty either. The road was busy with a constant flow of carriages and merchants going to and fro. On their way, they even passed by several rich carriages – a perfect picture of a bustling provincial town with a thriving economy.
Ran gazed outside absentmindedly, a sour feeling lingered in her heart as she travelled through town. Nothing she saw seemed to reflect in her eyes. She would have preferred to stay this way a bit longer had she not noticed some strange movement in the crowd. Groups of guards gathered around some sculptures along the road while some mages also stood there looking grimly at the crumbled figures. Their carriage drove past a couple of groups like this. Ran pursed her lips and glanced at the other person in the carriage. When she saw Rikku looking outside with a blank expression on his face, the question she’d been meaning to ask him died.
The procession finally arrived in front of a castle. Ran and the others exited from their carriages and were ushered in. Inside the castle, the decorations were scarce and rather crude. The hallway was flanked with big windows which lit the passage brightly. Outside, was a view of a well-maintained garden that could cause one’s envy. Grey and dull carpets lined the floor and a slight smell of dust floated in the air. A strange light flashed through Ran’s eyes as she lowered her head to hide her sneer. This is a countryside castle indeed. Too bad, they weren’t so thorough in setting this place up. They’ve forgotten to take down the silken and embroidered curtains, while parts of the floors still had dust-free spots where pieces of furniture used to be. This place had been obviously cleared in haste, a rookie mistake. However, Dorian, Nora, and the others were too self-absorbed to notice these little details.
“I can’t believe we have to stay in this shithole,” Nora exclaimed in disgust.
“Hmph! This is the countryside, what did you expect?” Dorian chimed. He wasn’t happy about the situation. Doubts have started to form in his mind. This whole thing was beginning to be a bit shady.
The two kept silent as they listened to everyone’s complaints. Rikku’s eyes carefully scanned the surroundings. His expression had not changed much since they arrived in this new world, and whatever thoughts he harbored were buried under his cold expressionless face. When his eyes reached Ran, he found her in her usual manner, with shoulders pointing to the ground and head bowed, while playing with her fingers. She had a weak frame and a meek face, while her dazed eyes hinted at a dejected spirit within.
The girl raised her head and looked at him, her long eyelashes fluttered and chased away the gloominess in her eyes. She was biting at her lower lip as if she was trying hard to control herself. Seeing her this way, Rikku felt a tingling sensation at the back of his neck. He felt as if there was a pinch in his heart. Something flashed through his eyes. He wondered what these feelings meant. How come he felt uneasy around her?
“Don’t worry too much,” Rikku said in a flat voice.
As he patted her shoulder, he felt a jolt of electricity and hurriedly retracted his hand. Ran was stunned and it took her several seconds to snap out of her daze. A complicated look appeared on her face before she managed to squeeze a small smile and nodded back at him. Afterwards, she lowered her head again. Deep in her heart, some memories were stirred. Rikku reminded her of the people she so didn’t want to recall.