Chapter 59 a firstĀ 

Following the girl’s directions they came upon a small town that was placed by the mountain path. No one in the town knew exactly when the next set of caravans would pass but it would be a few days at most. Castor and Anneli stayed in a small inn and for the first time Anneli slept in a bed. It was the most blissful experience of his life and he slept for 15 hours straight. While Anneli slept Castor visited a small cafe and drank the worst coffee of his entire life. However there he met Dominic who was also traveling to Cumulus and was waiting for the caravans. Dominic had lived deep within the country to the northeast and it was his dream to travel to the west to far away foreign land. He had travelled by foot, by horse, by boat and cart. He had stopped at the mountain range to worship at a grand cathedral to bless him on his travels. During the blessing he gained the courage to leave his country for the first time and to travel across the sea. 

“I had to learn to forgive and accept my own selfishness. I knew that I was letting my family down but I knew that I would never be happy unless I travelled like I had always dreamed all my life.”

It seemed odd at first why Dominic felt this way about travel but Castor had to remind himself that most people lacked the means and freedoms he had grown a custom to. That night whe  Anneli had woke  up Castor took him with him and Dominic as they sat in the garden of the one tavern of the town and drank wine and spirit. Anneli spoke very little but listened enthusiastically to the conversation. Dominic mostly ignored Anneli but did not treat him with the same fear and hatred he was used to so Anneli was happy. 

The next day the caravans arrived at the town and Castor paid the fee for him and Anneli and soon they were off along the winding mountain path. 

chapter 58 is about the past

Pyropolis or city of fire was in the passed a grand temple built by the old empire and bore the name Seref. The people of the old empire were long gone and eventually the people of the desert came and buildt a new city in its place. The limestone that made the up the temple was removed and used to make roads, citadels and houses. The central temple was kept but became the castle of the small principality. Many years had passed since Pyropolis was first established and it had grown into a small port and time passed effortlessly until the great war. There were great losses and few as great as the ruling family which during the war lost every male heir. The eldest princess who had been spared by the sexism that bound her was determined to not let the control fall to the generals or foreign rule forcefully took the throne by poisoning, threatening or assassinating anyone who showed any intent to steal the throne from her. The blood queen, the terrible one, the cobra queen; all names she was called by but she did not care, she was queen in the end. Despite everyone’s displeasure at her harsh ruling and her gender in general she ruled for over thirty years. She built many temples, tamed the river and expanded the city far beyond anyone would have thought. In her thirty years Pyropolis became well known across the continent, the port became busy and trade trived. When her son Cynortas became king little changed and little developed. When her grandson Oebalus became king he became intent on erasing the blood queen from history. Every temple, building, canal and ship she built was renamed as his and all her accomplishments were split between him and his father. He was known asa great king and the blood queen was mostly forgotten. Helen however knew of her great great grandmother. She idolized the blood queen and huntedevery last remaining fact and truth about her. And it was the greatest heartbreak when she was told as a child that she would never be queen of Pyropolis. Because she was not the first born she was told but she knew in her heart that it was mostly because she was a woman. This lit a fire deep within her soul and she did everything in her power to learn more, to be stronger to be more than her older brothers. She was aggressive, intelligent, innovative but she would never be quee  of Pyropolis. Helen grew into a beautiful young woman. The most beautiful woman in all of the continent said some, the most beautiful in the whole world said others. She was proposed to many times by many kings, princes and diplomats but she would never be queen of Pyropolis, she would never have any power in her country or even over her own life if she were to marry. 
When she was sixteen Helen ran away to the desert. 

Chapter 57 the only kind welcome

As the girl had said there was a rest stop which was just a simple wooden roofed bench and table. The wood had more names and words carved into it. Castor and Anneli did not stop and continued up the path. The sun was shining warmly as it would soon be noon, despite that there was frost on the ground which seemed to get thicker as they walked higher up the mountain. At the top of the mountain was a flat plateau. Castor and Anneli sat near the edge and looked far into the distance. The view was breath taking with rivers and rolling hills stretching to beyond on one side and grand white peaked mountains on the other side. Today the sky was clear and the warm wind from the out of sight sea carried with it the scents of spring. The walk back down the mountain was much quicker and within an hour and a half they reached the village and easily found the house with the blue windows. The girl answered the door with a smile on her lips and a small child at her hip. Castor and Anneli were given warmed bread with oil and vinegar to dip in. The oil had a sweet floral scent. “It is rose oil,” explained the girl, “In a few weeks when spring truly begin and the roses bloom near the mountain peak this side of the mountain turns white like winter has returned. Most of the flowers are sold at the nearby market but we often preserve some in oil or jam.”

The little child mesmerised with Anneli’s tail played with it and tried to show off his toys. The monster taken aback by the child’s innocence quietly nodded as it told Anneli about fairytales they had been told before bed.

“Where are you from?” asked the girl as she watched the kettle that was starting to boil.

“Far away,” replied Castor, “I’m from Pyropolis, it is just an over grown port city near the desert.”

“Are you both from there?” she asked indicating Anneli.

“Well, not exactly but he is returning with me. By the way what the quickest way to get to the port?”

“Um.. I am not sure but if you want to go to Cumulus you can usual hire a ride with the caravans. The caravans pass through the villages along the mountain path every few days.”

Favorite screenshots

You know, how you just see something like a line in a story, or a comment on a video and you just love it so much that you want to save it? I do! All the time! Here are some of my favorite screen shots from manga I read or comments on videos or something random like that. These are all completely out of context and may not even be funny with context to anyone other than me.

I saves it because I wanted to use this myself one day

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I just related to this answer so much

Screenshot (6)

I wanted to send this to someone one day

Screenshot (24)

I just thought this comment was so true and so hilarious

Screenshot (77)

As you can tell I read a lot of porn. Haha

 

Chapter 56 on track

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The girl warmed up to them as they continued to talk. She even tried to talk with Anneli but Anneli was too cautious to speak freely. Eventually they came to a sign that stood on the side of the path. The sign had ribbon tied around it as well as names and phrases carved into the wood. There were in different languages and different alphabets and some had been worn out from rain or vandalized over.

“I’m going to go back to the village, if you stay on the path you will reach the next rest stop after awhile and the top of the mountain is another couple hour’s climb.”

Anneli and Castor thanked her and she turned and walked down the mountain with her goats hopping around her.

“I’m sorry that we got so side tracked.”

“No,” said Anneli, “it is actually nice. I have not been to the top of the mountain in a long time.”

HEY!

The girl, now several yards away from they yelled back at Anneli and Castor.

“COME TO MY PLACE WHEN YOU COME DOWN IF YOU LIKE! MY HOUSE IS THE ONE WITH THE BLUE WINDOWS!”

Castor waved and the girl soon disappeared down the path. With the branch in hand and with Anneli by his side Castor climbed the mountain. Despite it being a waste of time and far off track he had already come this far so he was feeling a bit motivated to finish it.

“Have you ever wondered what sort of people actually take part in this pilgrimage?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, they must have some religious or cultural reason or ritual or something. Maybe they worship the god of the mountain or something.”

 

Chapter 55 help from unexpected people

Ding-a-ling-a-lingĀ 

Having successfully stolen a rose branch, Castor had to now somehow get it back to his country. A task that seemed more difficult by the minute. It was much brighter and warmer despite the cold wind near the top of the mountain.

Ding-a-ling-a-ling

The sound of the bells grew louder. “What are you doing?”

Castor and Anneli turned to face a short freckled girl in a long brown skirt and holding a long stick in her hand. Two goats nearby bleated and baaed some distance away munching on thorny bushes. Castor stood up quickly with the rose branch in his hands.

“We were just leaving, weren’t we?” replied Castor and nudged Anneli to quickly leave. The girl suddenly swung the stick in the air and hit it on the ground with a crack. Anneli jumped and hid behind Castor.

“Are you two on a pilgrimage? The only strangers who come here are pilgrims.”

“Er… well yes but-”

“Usually they climb the mountain during summer.”

“We were trying to avoid the crowds.”

“Is the plant also part of your pilgrimage?”

“Y-yes.”

“You are a bit off the trail,” said the girl. One of the goats walked up to her and she patted it on the back.

“Is it?” laughed Castor awkwardly, “it is our first time.” The goat walked up to Anneli and bleated loudly at him.

“He wants you to pet him,” instructed the girl, pointing at the goat with her stick.

“Oh- ok.” Anneli cautiously patted the goat on the heat. The goat baaed again, “scratch me behind the ear as well,” said the goat. Anneli obliged and the goat, who seemed very pleased hopped away to chew on some grass.

“Alright!” said the girl, “I’ll take you back to the trail, you are only half way up the moutain.”

Due to awkwardness and getting too tangled up in their own lie followed the girl. They were ‘pilgrims’ right now anyway. The girl and the two goats lead Castor and Anneli through a small village and back onto the winding path that twisted around the mountain. A few curious villagers stared at Castor and Anneli as they passed but left them alone besides that. Anneli was surprised by how calm the girl was. He was sure she had seen his fur and claws so must know he was not human.

“Thank you for helping up,” said Castor politely. The girl looked at him, expressionless and shrugged her shoulder, “it’s fine. The pilgrims have been coming every year for a few years now and it is really nice to see strangers from far away. And I haven’t seen a half in a long time.”

“Half?” asked Castor.

“You know, him.” Th girl pointed at Anneli, but did not seem to be trying to be rude. Castor did not quite understand what she meant but was relived that she did not panic like the villagers on the hill did when they saw Anneli. As they continued along the path they passed more bushes, trees and shrubs covered in ribbon.

“I’m sorry, we did not think you people would come so early in the year we have not prepared ribbon like usual. I know it is important for your ritual.”

“It’s fine, ” replied Castor. He was beginning to feel guilty for accepting the girl’s hospitality under false pretenses. “I’m surprised, I did not think there would be a village to high up the mountain.”

“It is actually not bad. The soil is good for growing vegetables and warm.”

“Really? I thought it might be too cold.”

The girl laughed to Castor’s surprise. “No, the earth her is old volcanic ash it is actually good enough to grow enough for the village and a bit extra to sell as well. I don’t know if you saw it but at the base of the mountain there are some hot springs. It is quite nice since climbing the mountain is tiring.”

“You are really selling it.” The girl laughed again, “well the pilgrims are always very profitable. But you should be careful, the further away from the mountain you go the less accepting people are of foreigners.”

“Oh, we know. We got into a bit of a kerfuffle a few days ago.”

“Yeah, it happens. Especially if it somewhere that is not usually along the pilgrimage route.”

Chapter 54 poor planning

Anneli suddenly grabbed Castor by the wrist and pulled him to shrub at the base of an old dying tree. “Here is it,” said Anneli. “Here what is?” asked Castor. “The rose plant, the rose plant.” Castor looked down at the humble looking shrub. It was about two feet tall with waxy leaves and thorny stems and small unassuming white buds.

“Are you sure?” asked Castor, still not quite convinced.

“Yes, absolutely,” replied Anneli crouching by the shrub and staring at its thorns. “It is still like this because it is only just spring. When it gets warmed its will bloom properly.”

Castor sighed, maybe it is just what wild roses are like he thought, trying to convince himself the past few days of travel were for something, “alright, but we have reached our second problem.”

“What is the second problem?”

“How are we going to take this with us? I need to take it back to my country and that will take a couple weeks at least.”

“You can put it into one of those things.” Anneli cupped his hands to described the mysterious item that he had seen people use before.

“A pot!” exclaimed Castor, “ah! I am so stupid, I should have prepared more.” Castor laughed in frustration and Anneli patiently watched him. Castor unpacked his bag to find some miscellaneous items to use instead. A piece of thick leather that had previously been used to wrap food and other important items was laid on the ground. Using his blunt but ornamental knife, Castor cut the a branch with small white buds. Anneli felt sorry for the plant which cried in pain as the branch was roughly cut. The branch will grow back, it will be alight thought Anneli to himself. He helped Castor dig up some soil that was looser by the dying tree and placed on the piece of leather. One end of the cut branch was placed in the soil and the leather was wrapped around it like a make-shift bag.

“Hopefully it will survive,” said Castor but Anneli doubted it would survive the next few days.

Chapter 53 despite first impressions

As the sun rose in the distance the sky turned from black to creamy orange. The streams of clouds twirled in the sky as the cold wind cut through Castor’s thin clothing giving him a chill. The colder the air got as they climbed up the mountain the harder it was for Castor to breath, every breath was icy and painful which hurt his nose and burned his lungs.

“Are you alright?” asked Anneli who had noticed Castor pressing his hand against his aching chest.

“I’m fine, I’m just a bit cold.”

“Here,” said Anneli taking off his cape, “wear this, I still have my winter fur, I’ll be fine.”

Ding-a-ling-a-ling. The sound of a bell from a distance away was heard.

“What if someone sees you?”

“No one comes down this path this early in the morning, even if they do I can just hide until they pass.”

Castor knew he should not but at heart he as a selfish person so he graciously accepted Anneli’s offer and wore the cape. Soon they reached the midpoint of the mountain, the land had been levelled off and a settlement had been built. Small huts that were near the path were currently empty but Castor could see a stream of smoke some distance off. A stubborn few must have carved an existence on this steep and rocky mountain, where nothing much in terms of grain or vegetable could be grown here thought Castor. Yet he recalled how his own people once travelled the desert for decades and survived off its meagre resources stubbornly as well so he was in no place to judge. As Anneli lead him in to a small mountain thicket Castor observed the sturdy rough looking plants with thick trunks and thorny leaves and wondered if a flower as delicate as a rose could survive here. In the ticket, against the side of the mountain and small but deep cave had been dug many centuries previous. As they passes Anneli pointed to it and said in passing, “that is where I was born.” Castor was surprised, “Did you family live in the mountains as well?” asked Castor intrigued. “Probably,” replied Anneli, “but I don’t remember them anyway.”

Chapter 52 despite the expectations

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The climb up the mountain was surprisingly uneventful. Castor and Anneli started to climb early in the morning while it was still dark and the stars were out. Anneli said climbing when it is colder is easier but Castor knew it was because he did not want to run into anyone on the way. As they ascended the steps that were roughly cut in the side of the mountain Castor began to notice ribbons and cloth that were tied to bushes and branches on either side of th path.

“What are those for?” asked Castor pointing at a shrub covered in red, yellow and white ribbons. Anneli stopped and looked at the shrub. He shrugged and replied, “I don’t know it is just something people do.” Anneli seemed uninterested in the strange tradition as if it were some pointless idiosyncratic behavior.

“Many people climb the mountain in late summer when most of the snow near the top has melted,” continued Anneli, “they come in herds to scale the mountain and leave those ribbons along their path as they do. I thought for awhile that it was to mark their path so they do not get lost but there is only one path up the mountain so that can’t be right. I thought maybe it is to know where the edge of the path is in the dark but the days are long in summer and it takes less than half a day to reach the top. ”

“There must be a reason,” said Castor.

“probably but I doubt it is for any sort of practicality.”

Chapter 51 describes turmoil

Despite their doubts and frustrations the traders and their cargo safely arrived at the oasis a few days late. ‘We had trouble gathering supplies’ ‘we got lost along the way’ ‘our horses got sick’ claimed the traders trying to justify their lateness. Fortunately the leader of the scouts had other things on their mind and only replied to the excuses with an icy glared. Once everything had been settled Helen began to pack her things and ready a camel for the trek across the desert. The chief of the oasis met Helen as she was giving detailed instructions to the stable hand on how to correctly care for her horse. She was surprised to see him as the chief despised the scorching afternoon sun and preferred to stay in the tents until evening. As he approached her she saw the crumbs on his beard and smelled the thick smoke that clung to his clothing but made no acknowledgement of him nor his appearance.

“when are you leaving Helen?”

“Soon, I should at least go back for my brother’s funeral.”

“Before you go, there is something I need to tell you.”

“well what is it?” demanded Helen. She was always very abrupt with everyone and was often very rude to people she liked and trusted and to people she disliked.

“I know you do not want to involve yourself in the politics of your kingdom but I would advice you to tell your father and the court to keep your brother’s death a secret for as long as possible. Any weakness and instability will make your kingdom a target.”

“And why is that?”

“The kingdoms surrounding the desert are rather volatile at the moment. In the Habi to the south the aging king has yet to choose an heir from his sons and they are all itching to spread their country borders or to start a war to prove themselves. The sunken city just north of pyropolis has always been eyeing the port and has been expanding their military. Not just for your kingdom but for us as well, any war will put a halt to trading. I have no intention of picking sides or making enemies. As long as you can maintain the facade of a strong leadership Habi and the sunken city will not risk starting a war soon. But a war is imminent, maybe not now but in a year or two surely.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“This oasis cannot handle another war. We need more time and unfortunately it was Castor that was the likable, trusted diplomat, if he is gone your proud brother and stubborn father will not hesitate to jump into battle.”

“I have no intention of taking my brother’s place.”

“Please Helen. You are the only one who can stop it now. The people of the oasis need you, I need you.”