chapter nine | a few glances | waterfall

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"Dear Clement Guild,
I have written to you once again to inform you that my traveler friend has detected four keys buried in the town of Winter Park. The four keys are Darkness, Fire, Ice, and Metal.
It is strange that all four keys are in the same location. This may be a trap, so be wary. I wish all of you best of luck.
Warmest regards,
Queen Malika."

Sienna finished reading the Queen's envelope and looked up to us.

"Well, at least it'll take less time to get the keys," said Kiran, shrugging.

"Excuse me, but I heard that you all need to head to Winter Park?" A red-haired woman approached us. I didn't know we were so loud.

"Yes..." replied Sienna.

"Our hotel offers carriages. Since Winter Park isn't that far away, you wouldn't need to pay much to get there." Oh, so she was a clerk.

"Really? That's convenient," Grim remarked.

"Yes. Let me show you the way." The clerk beckoned us to follow her as she made her way to the carriage stand. We took a left, another left, a right, and continued to walk straight.

"We hope you had an enjoyable time here. Please come again soon," the clerk bowed down. Smiling in response, we boarded the carriage.

"Let's go, fellows!" exclaimed the coachman. Without even slapping the horses with the reins, the horses pulling the carriage started up willingly. As the horses picked up their pace, the hotel seemed to become smaller and smaller.

The one thing was that throughout the walk there, out of the corner of my eye, I caught the red-haired clerk, staring at Lyra and me, barely even blinking.

Realising she was, in turn, being watched herself, she turned back around and walked back hastily into the hotel.

~

The horses neighed as I felt something brush against my shoulder. In an impulsive move, I looked back to see what did it.

A snowflake?

"It's snowing!" cried out Kaito, thrusting his arms out as if to embrace the snowy weather.

"Shh! Don't disturb the people here. Most of them are sleeping..." Hikari whisper-shouted to Kaito, lightly slapping him on the shoulder.

"Y-" Akuma prepared to squeal in excitement but was interrupted when I quickly placed my hand over her mouth. I was barely able to contain my own excitement since I've rarely ever seen snow before.

Looking around, I saw quite a few cozy little cottages arranged in rows surrounding the area, snow layered on the roofs. Street lamps lit the way for us. A fountain was placed in between the rows of cottages, the water in it frozen. The crunch of snow on the ground could be heard whenever the horses took another step. The sudden change of surrounding had to be due to magic.

It felt peaceful, yet lonely. Everyone on the carriage turned silent, admiring the scenery.

The silence was broken by the coachman as the carriage came to a slow stop. "We've arrived at Winter Park," he announced. All eleven of us got off the carriage. Making sure no one was left inside, the coachman ordered the horses to move once again.

After watching the carriage disappear as it went further and further away, we turned around. "Sense the keys?" I asked.

Lana nodded. "It feels like they're just in front of us..." Following her directions, we continued to walk straight, passing by the fountain and finding a small cave opening almost entirely covered by snow.

"There," said Lana. She inched her way into the cave's opening, the rest of us following suit.

It was pitch black inside. "Illuminate." A small fire sparked to life in Sienna's hand, lighting the cave up. Its warmth served as a contrast to the icy cold of the quiet village.

"Hey! Who's there?!" A small voice demanded.

"Ahh! Who are you?!" Lyra squeaked.

"Oh my-" I murmured, as I looked down and spotted a boy who seemed around seven or eight years old. He was holding a dirty piece of paper with a blue crayon in his hand, sitting in a corner of the cave.

"How did you find my secret hiding spot?! Who are you people?" He cowered into the corner.

"Relax. We're not here to hurt you, I promise. We're just here to look for something in this cave," explained Sienna in her most soothing voice, in hopes of calming the boy down.

"...W-well... make it fast then..." said the child, crossing his arms. "I'm not supposed to talk to strangers."

"Of course," Sienna said, my guild members and I walking further into the cave as discreetly as possible, Sienna's small fire lighting up the passage. I glanced back at the boy, who also seemed to observe our every move, like the clerk at the hotel earlier on.

Turning back, I shivered as we continued to wander into the cave.

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