By the window of a small residence within the 3rd ward, a young girl was patiently reading a large book. The sun shone down on her, igniting her usually dark red hair into a fiery blaze.
Undeterred by the size of the tome, she was silently imitating her older brother, doing what he would be doing if he was home.
A small boy, barely able to crawl, was sitting across from her and happily gnawing on a wooden toy horse.
“Lance. No.” Anise scolded upon seeing what Lance was doing. Taking the toy away from his mouth, the pudgy boy began to cry. She placed the toy on the table in the living room and took out three wooden blocks from her small crate of toys. “Here. Play with these.” She put them before him and sat down to watch.
Instead of picking up the blocks, Lance got on all four and began shuffling straight for the toy horse on the table.
“Mommy! Lance is eating my toy!”
“Don’t let him! He could get splinters!” Their mother yelled back from upstairs.
“Mommy said no, Lance.” Anise scolded again, taking the toy before Lance could get to it. She dashed over to the wall and placed it on a bookshelf.
Lance burst into tears again.
Running back to him, she gently patted his head, trying to comfort him. Instead of quieting down, Lance cried even louder. “Mommy! Help!”
Adalina arrived downstairs to find Anise awkwardly holding Lance in her arms. “Ku-Hahaha.”
“Mommy!” Anise protested, seeing the grin on their mother’s face.
“I’m sorry.” Adalina stifled her laughter and quickly picked up Lance, gently comforting the boy to quell his cries. “You ready to go?” She questioned.
“Uhn! I’m ready!” Anise replied with a wide grin, standing up to show that she was all prepared.
“No you’re not.” Adalina smiled. “Go brush and tie your hair first. I still need to feed your brother. We’ll go after.”
Adalina walked slowly, keeping pace with her daughter’s short strides. She held onto Anise’s hand while Lance was strapped in a sling around her front, and was sleeping peacefully after gorging himself.
Their purpose was to do the day’s shopping along with a small errand.
“Adalina!” A woman called out as they strolled through the shopping district. It was the fish sales woman.
“Good afternoon, Mae. How are the sales going?”
“Hi Davin’s mommy!” Anise waved.
“Why hello, Anise. You’re looking very pretty today. Is that a new dress?” The woman smiled and waved back.
“Mommy made it for me.” Anise replied with a bright smile.
“Really? It’s gorgeous.” The woman replied before turning back to Adalina. “It’s been going quite well today. The irontails are already gone, and the turgias and rockbacks are also going fast.”
“Yes, but I knew you’d be coming around today, so I saved you one of each.”
“You’re a blessing, Mae. Thank you so much.”
“It’s the least I can do.” The woman grinned.
“I forgot to ask the other day, but did Onille say anything about silver-finned marags and when they’re to be expected?”
“A handful of people have asked me the same thing today.” The woman chuckled. “I believe we can expect the season’s first catch by the end of the turn. Or so Onille said.”
“Be sure to save me a few when you get them.”
“It’s good to see today’s been going well. How much do I owe you? I can pay for them now, but would you mind holding onto them a little longer? We still have something to do.” Adalina questioned, pulling out a small pouch.
“Don’t worry about it. It’s thanks for Troyle’s help with the construction the other day. Just come back for them when you’re done with your errands.”
“Really? Thank you Mae. We’ll be back in a while then.”
“Bye Mrs. Arralton!” Anise waved again as they departed.
They passed by a book store, the butcher, the vegetable stall, and a variety of other shops as they proceeded through the district.
“Mommy can we get some sweet cakes?” Anise questioned, looking over to the bakery as they walked by.
“When we come back.”
“Kay… Ooh! Mommy look!” Anise’s attention had already shifted to a small red foal that was currently the attention of a crowd of children.
“Looks like Mr. Egeron’s mare has finally given birth.”
“Can I go pet it? Please mommy?”
“Make sure you ask Mr. Egeron for permission first.” Before she could finish, Anise had already released her hand and was bounding towards the group of children.
With another two distractions, they eventually made it out of the busy district and arrived at the delivery hall. Unlike the congested shopping district, the street lacked the constant yelling and haggling going on between shopkeepers and shoppers.
After dropping off a letter addressed to her parents in Nultulk, they once again made their way back the way they came from. Lance had already woken up and was looking around, while Anise was hopping alongside her.
“Run woman! Get out of the way!!”
“Lady! Behind you!!”
Shouting came from around them, and Adalina turned around to see that a horse was charging in their direction. She grabbed Anise and tried to run to the side, but her body became heavy and she was unable to move. With little time for an escape, she pushed the confused Anise out of the way and turned, using her body as a shield to protect Lance.
Yet the horse did not send her flying. An otherworldly darkness had descended, and she could feel that her body’s heaviness had returned to normal. She quickly ran out of the way. “Anise!” She shouted frantically in the darkness.
“It’s okay mommy. Hasen will protect us.” Anise’s voice replied, unafraid of the event happening before them.
It had felt their master’s anger and thirst for justice.
Through their connection, it had glimpsed their master’s strength. Felt the power that had once brought the world to its knees, and it longed to be beside its master. To fight alongside its siblings. To keep safe, the one they had all sworn their undying loyalty to.
A small part of it regretted being left behind, but it knew it had an important job to do. It was in charge of protecting its master’s family, and even though such a task was beneath one the likes of itself, it would do so with utmost vigilance.
The spirit had watched over the family as they went about their days. It listened, going along with them and never straying far while its shadows combed for anyone suspicious. Abiding by their master’s will, it had always worked from the shadows, never revealing itself to those around them. Unfortunately, the situation at hand was calling for immediate intervention.
From the ring strung around the young girl’s neck, it burst forth, catching the girl—as she was pushed out of the way—before turning its attention towards the charging stallion. It flexed its incredible power, and darkness instantly fell upon the area, obstructing the views of onlookers and those running in to help. Screams of confusion came through along with cries of terror as day turned into night.
It headed straight for the horse, covering the animal and binding the beast to the shadows. After stopping it in its tracks, instead of dissipating after the ordeal, Hasen expanded the darkness and quickly covered the length of the street. Through the veil of darkness, it grabbed onto two men who were watching and dragged them into an alley.
“Ellit! What’s going on!?” One of the men cried out as they were pulled out of the unnatural night.
“I don’t know but I can’t move my legs! Do something!” The other screamed, desperately trying to figure out what was happening.
“Asiran! VeaTus Gra- AAAGHHHHH!” With a deathly scream, the man looked down at his left hand only to find that it was missing from the elbow down. Blood was spurting out profusely, and the agonizing pain had interrupted his incantation. “Si- Sidd…” A frightened voice came from his partner, and the man looked up with a face filled with pain. His eyes widened as he spotted the cloud hovering in front of him. “W-what in–”
“AAAAHHHH!!!!” The second man screamed as the cloud split into a multitude of segments and tore through his partner, vanishing into the wall behind them. “Somebody help!! We’re bein- GUAAHHHHH!!!” He began screaming at the top of his lungs as he fell to the ground. Both his legs had been cleanly severed at the knees. Looking up, his partner was gone, and a shadowy form stood in the man’s place. “Help me! Somebo–” Before he could finish his words, a spectral arm extended from the shadowy figure and dragged him into the shadows of the wall.
Having quickly dealt with the two men amongst the chaos, Hasen made its way back to the young girl and quickly dispersed the darkness that was still covering the area.
It had felt the malevolent magic on the horse causing it to run rampant. It had felt the magic binding the woman. There was intent to harm, even kill, and it would not stand by without administering proper punishment.
It had been given permission to do as it saw fit, and for anyone that would dare to harm those in its protection, death was the only option.
“I’m so sorry! Are you okay?!” With a frightened face, Adalina was embracing Anise with one arm while holding Lance in the other.
“I’m okay mommy.”
Not listening, “I didn’t know what else to do. Please forgive me.” Adalina replied, remembering how she had pushed her daughter aside. She kissed the girl’s forehead before stepping back to make sure everything was fine.
“I told you mommy. Hasen will protect us.” Anise reiterated.
“Are you both alright?!” A well-dressed young man ran over to them. His voice as terrified as theirs.
“Y-yes. It was quite a fright, but it looks like we’re fine.”
“I’m so sorry Madam. My horse started bucking all of a sudden and threw me off. I don’t know what happened to the cursed thing. I’m so glad you’re both alright. Please, if there’s anything I can do-”
“It’s alright. Please lift your head. Nothing happened, and your horse seems to have stopped. Please excuse us.” Adalina quickly replied, taking Anise’s hand and walking away. A crowd was already gathering.
“What just happened?” Confused onlookers were staring around, trying to see what changed.
“Was someone using magic?” Others questioned.
“It was her. I saw it. The darkness came from that little girl.” Those who saw what happened were beginning to whisper amongst themselves, while others were coming out to investigate.
With haste, they returned for the three fishes and Anise’s sweet cakes, then quickly finished their shopping.
‘Hasen will protect us.’ Anise’s words were stuck in her mind, and as soon as they got home, Adalina questioned the girl about it. “Hasen. Is it… Is it your brother’s-”
“Uh huh.” Anise answered, confused about her mother’s worries, but took another bite out of her sweet cake.
“His familiar is with you? It’s what helped us back there?”
Reaching into her shirt, Anise pulled out the translucent necklace with the small black ring on it. “Kai said to always keep it with me. He promised me Hasen would protect us.” She explained with a wide grin.
The realization that the familiar was something far beyond what they had first assumed finally sunk into Adalina. She didn’t know what it was, only that Kaidus had called it his familiar when he first showed it to them. Unversed in magic, she had thought it was some sort of pet and nothing more, for it was only a hazy cloud at the time. ‘Master’ She recalled what the familiar had called her son.
Her eyes fell upon the small black ring in Anise’s hand. Even while away, her son was thinking about them. Protecting them in his own ways.
“Is… Is Kaidus going to be okay without Hasen there?” She managed to question, trying to hold down her surprise and her overflowing emotions.
“It’s okay mommy. Kai has three more with him.” Anise grinned before stuffing her mouth with the cake.
Kaidus strolled through the streets of Panelle.
With a supply of spice and salt in his rucksack, he was wasting his evening looking around the town to see if there were anything interesting.
Zion and Vishan were already back with him, and all that was left, was to wait for Feziel.
Their group had arrived in town the previous evening, and he had spent the night with Jeor and his family before setting off to explore earlier that afternoon.
Panelle was at least half the size of one of Ferrent’s wards, and had large wooden walls with a north and south gate. From what Jeor had told him, it also had its own militia, and was jointly governed by three elders. There was also a mage who resided in the western part of town and would assist whenever they needed her, and a mercenary bar situated near the center of town for travelers who were willing to pay for their services.
The news of what happened in Kerkhill had reached Panelle, but from the looks of the bustling street, it didn’t seem to have much of an impact upon the town’s liveliness. People and adventurers went about freely, and merchants displayed their wares openly without worry.
As he was about to enter a bookstore, the ring on his finger began to glow. Instead of entering the shop, he ran around towards the back to where he could get some privacy.
“Kai! Guess what!” Anise questioned as soon as he infused his mana into the ring.
“Keep your voice down. There are people nearby.”
“Kai, guess what.” She repeated in a whisper.
“Did mom buy you more sweet cakes?”
“Uh huh, but that’s not it.”
“You got a new book?”
“Lance spoke?” He joked, recalling the chubby little boy.
“Noooo Kai. It’s something else.”
“I give up then. It’s too hard.” He spoke with a defeated tone.
“It’s a horsey! I got to pet a horsey today! It was small, and it was red like my hair!” She exclaimed excitedly.
Hearing her voice picking up, he quickly erected a barrier around himself, isolating their voices. “A horse huh?”
“Uh huh! And Mrs. Arralton gave mommy three big fishies, and I got to hand over mommy’s letter to the man at the desk, and I read to Lance, and then, and-”
“Looks like you had a fun day.”
“Yep!” She happily affirmed.
“Anise. Who’re you talking to?” Adalina’s muffled voice came through the ring.
“No one mommy. I was just telling Hasen my day.”
“Come down then. Your dad will be home soon.” Their mother’s voice began trailing off.
“And then…” Anise began to report her day until Adalina called for her a second time. As she stopped, “Master…” Hasen’s raspy voice came through. “Two… dead…” The words resounded in his ears as the connection faded.
“… Such pointless deaths.” Kaidus gritted his teeth. It sounded like his warning had not been heeded. The guardian spirit had reported scaring off a spy only three days prior, and now, two people were dead. He had thought Lord Vatenger to be more conservative, but unfortunately like his son, the man lacked foresight and proper judgement.
His heart ached to return to Ferrent. To drive his point into the man’s skull if only to clarify his words, yet such actions would only cause more problems.
The sound barrier around him shattered, and he walked back to the bookstore. To find something to calm his agitation.
As the sun began to set, he left the shop empty handed. Kaidus made his way back to the residence of the family that had generously helped him, and courteously thanked them for their hospitality before heading towards the town’s south gate.
A large commotion was occurring as he approached, and he saw three beat up carts laying broken outside of an inn. In front of the establishment, people were pushing each other, trying to get a look inside.
“Scram all of you! There is nothing for you to see here!” An older man with light brown hair and a short stubble burst out, shouting at the gawkers.
“Please sir! I had family in Kerkhill!” A woman was shouting, fighting her way to the front.
“Me too! Tell us!” Another man was screaming from the back.
“Silence! We will be conducting a thorough investigation tomorrow. Until then, no one will be seeing the children! It’s been a rough journey, and they need to rest.” The man screamed angrily before turning around and shutting the doors.
The man was wearing a dirty brown cloak, but Kaidus immediately recognized the colors upon his back. A red fist, encased in an unknown white shape, upon a black diamond. The man was a member of the Mystiks Guild. He didn’t know which order, but not wanting to stick around, he quickly slipped out of town.
Dashing along the road, he entered the first patch of trees he could find. Having ran quite a distance, he stopped and quietly waited. After a while, the ground burst from under him, and a small black serpent bore through the earth. Wordlessly, he held out his hand and the serpent turned back into a dark liquid before entering the metal ring on his finger.
Without a need for confirmation about the completion of the task, he soared into the sky, heading west.