The horse moved to a canter, perhaps a little slower than before. The girl held herself tight around my waist, it felt as if she wasn't entirely comfortable doing so. She had little choice, sitting on the back of the horse meant you had to hold on well. It would be another few kilometers until we'd reach the town. I knew that the House wouldn't like me bringing her with me. Especially if she was a Dark user. Where did she come from, anyway? There were a lot more questions going through my head but it was she, who, after several minutes of silence, spoke first.
She spoke hesitantly. "You never told me your name?"
Now, before I continue, something needs to be explained.
Magic exists. All beings in nature use it to a greater or lesser extent, divided in two: Light and Dark. The first is constructive or strengthening, the other is destructive or weakening. Most creatures are inherently bound to one type. For example, boars are Light as they depend on their strength to win. Snakes, with their poison, are Dark as they weaken others. Man was one of the few beings that could be born with either type, without a choice in the matter. Born as either Light or Dark with no clear cause or predictability. Some magi say it has all to do with the position of the stars and the purity of your soul, but no one has a clear answer. It is also more of a talent than a skill, some people are born with more or less. It was seen as a sort of trade, like carpenters. And just like a trade, not everyone was equal of skill. Wielding either Light or Dark required a lot of concentration and knowledge of the elements, the body, nature, beasts and much more.
Considering the nature of Light and Dark, it was confused with good and evil for the longest time. With large wars fought between men of Light and men of Dark. The Light thought the Dark was evil and should be killed, the Dark thought the Light misjudged them and should be killed. The result had been devastating. Ghost towns, no more than ash and coal, were sober reminders of the past. It had taken years... many years, before man realized he was wrong.
Both sides can be used for good and evil. Take fire, for example. With Light you can make it stronger, burn hotter and consume. With Dark you can weaken it, making it easier to douse. With wood, Light could make it stronger, more resistant to fire or less prone to rot. Dark could weaken it, causing a structure to collapse. These were the examples I was given as a child. Obvious proof that good and evil lies not in the magic, but in the user. Things calmed down a lot, most cities now have Houses of both types and, by law of the kingdom, town councils must consist of both types equally. Places to study either Light or Dark had become more numerous as well. It was a new age.
The Age of Twilight.
Light and Dark are extremes, they don't blend or combine. But, there is one exception: some people, called abominations, can use both. They can't use it at the same time, but they can alternate between Light and Dark magic. Though most of them are not very strong, they are still feared, ridiculed and often banished from towns and cities. However, it is said that there is a cult who welcomes them with open arms. Few people have seen them but rumors tell of them visiting the castles of Light and Dark in secret to speak to their Masters. Of course, no one knows how much of this is true, but it makes for a good story..
This should make things more clear.
I answered her. "I'm Taran."
She stayed silent for a couple of seconds before she asked: "Are you Light?"
So she was Dark after all. That explained a lot about her hesitation. Because even though the wars were over, many people were still not comfortable with the two sides of magic. Either side was often aggressive or at the very least unfriendly to the other. Some things took a long time to change.
"Yes, and you're Dark." I tried to make my voice as kind as possible.
Her grip loosened for a moment, almost as if she wanted to jump off the horse. She held me tighter again within two steps of the horse. It took a couple of breaths before she responded again. Even then however, her voice was a little less open.
"You noticed and you still helped me?"
I nodded. "Why not? I've never wanted to pick a side." We appeared to be getting along a little better now. This was as good a time as any to ask. "So why are you in the forest?"
"I..." She sounded like she bit her lip in doubt. "I'll tell you later, if we're somewhere more safe."
"Do you have anywhere to stay?" I had to ask, even though I could guess the answer.
It took a moment. "Not really."
I sighed. My mind was already trying to think things through. They hadn't arranged for me to stay at the House of Light, but it shouldn't be too hard to get a room at the inn. It would raise a brow or two if the girl came with me, but if she didn't use her magic, she should be safe. After that, we'd just have to wait and see.
"You can stay with me at the inn tonight. I can get you clothes, but I don't have the coin for anything fancy." Should I tell her? "I need to visit the House of Light, though. They might have a problem with you, unless you keep quiet and hide your magic."
Another few seconds before she answered. "I can do that." She hesitated. "But, eh, why are you helping me?"
"I've been helped many times, it would be bad not to return the favor to the world. Wouldn't it?"
Even though the answer had come softly, she felt more at ease, now that most of her cares had been taken away for now. This all made me very curious about what happened and what stories she would tell. Not to mention I didn't mind the company at all. She sounded intelligent, if a bit shy, and looked quite nice. Not that it had been that long since I'd seen a girl or anything. Though women doing a trade was still mostly unheard of, using magic required little physical effort and as such had been an option for some. Of course it usually still meant that only the daughters of wealthy or highborn people would actually be taught.
She didn't feel like one of them, though.
Far in the distance, but finally visible, I could see the sunlight marking the town of Bleakfield. It would take us another few minutes to reach it, but at least it was in sight. I hoped it would lift her spirits somewhat. Then again, it might bring her more down.
"We're almost there."