-Ferrent. 11th ward-
Sylvia watched with envy as Naleen moved and spun around with the blunt metal sword, falling into different sways as if dancing in the middle of the spacious room. The peculiar sound of metal slicing through the air came every so often, along with what sounded like low whispers.
She had seen what her friend could do during the arms competition, and even though the older girl had awoken to her magic, Naleen was still diligently practicing her swordsmanship as usual.
With an abrupt dash and an upward thrust into the air, Naleen muttered something, and the sword burst into flames, “Kyah!” She screamed and dropped the weapon.
“Naleen! Are you okay?!” Sylvia cried out in surprise.
“Kuh- why?” Talking to herself, Naleen quickly ran over to her desk and took out a note. “It is Renass enferas Fremas… get it right already, Naleen.” She voiced out loud in frustration.
“Sorry. That WAS supposed to be an enchantment to imbue the sword with fire, but as you can see…” Naleen replied with a disappointed frown, gesturing to the sword on the stone floor.
“Enchantment? You can do that already?”
“Father taught me a little, but it is harder than I thought. I keep getting the last few lines mixed up, and I can’t seem to control my mana correctly. If only I… no, never mind.”
“Your lord father taught you? Does that mean you are not going to the academy?”
“I don’t know.” Putting away the piece of paper with the written incantation, Naleen moved to the sword on the ground. Lightly touching it to make sure it was no longer burning, she picked it up. “Since they’re both spellblades, I want to stay here and learn from Father and Grandfather, but I’m not sure what they’ll say after I finish my basic training.”
“Oh.” Sylvia replied in understanding.
She had never seen either of Naleen’s father or grandfather fight, but she had heard many stories about their accomplishments. There was no denying that if Naleen wanted to become a spellblade, it would be best to study under them. “Are you done with practice now?” She questioned, seeing the older girl walking towards the box of practice swords at the foot of the bed.
“I am.” Naleen replied. “You said your mother sent Jill to the Murilons?”
“Yes. To formally accept the invitation to their celebration dinner.”
“Is that so? I bet she just wanted to show Jill off to the young lord of the Murilons. I must admit, your mother is quite amazing in that regard.”
“Amazing is… I don’t know if that’s the right word. I’d say more along the lines of meddlesome.”
“What’s wrong with that?” There was a smile on Naleen’s face as she sat down on the bed.
“All this matchmaking, Jill should have a say in choosing her own partner, plus … Why are you smiling at me like that?” Sylvia quickly asked, seeing the grin on the older girl’s face.
“Well, that’s because I don’t ever hear you complaining about the match your parents made for you.”
“Match? T-that- That’s not true!” She hastily refuted the statement, upon realizing what Naleen was implying. “M-mother never made any such matches for me. I’m still too young, a-and that- that was just a…” A young man’s face suddenly appeared in her mind, and she could feel herself heating up. “A misunderstanding…”
“Oh really?” Naleen’s smile widened. “Is that why you’re so defensive?”
“Wha-?! That’s because you-!”
With a joyous giggle, Naleen grabbed onto her. “I was just kidding. You’re so cute when you get like that.”
“…” She dared not make a sound in case the older girl teased her again. Although she had made her decision to become more honest and forthright with her feelings, it was still quite flustering when faced with such a situation.
“Sorry, I’ll stop. Let me go freshen up then we can go.” Naleen got up and promptly took off her training outfit, leaving nothing but her underclothes. “How about joining me in the bath?” She invited with a bright smile.
“No, I’ll wait for you here.” Intimidated by the shapely figure before her, Sylvia politely declined.
“Alright. I’ll be right back then.” With a bathing robe on, Naleen left the room.
Alone by herself, Sylvia sheepishly looked down at her own bust and frowned. She had learned from her mother that it would be one of her greatest weapon. Yet compared to Naleen and her sister, she still had a long way to go.
Located near the center of the 11th ward, the large plaza that separated the residential mansions and the market district were filled with people by the time they arrived. Instead of moving through the throngs of people blocking them, the two of them opted to stand back and watch from a distance while they waited for Jillian.
Nobles of all ages and commoners, who had been employed within the ward, lined the streets and buildings, moving and conversing excitedly about the upcoming occurrence with eagerness and anticipation.
The unusual event was due to the knowledge that many knights and members of the Mystiks guild were returning home.
After hearing of the exploits and problems happening in eastern Darsus, and about how the task force sent to the east had been able to keep everything under control, much of the ward’s populace had gathered to give the returning men and women of the 11th ward a hero’s welcome.
The sound of thunderous applause and shouting eventually swept through the audience, and a large number of people appeared, coming from the 12th ward gate and riding through the plaza, moving north towards the direction of the guild.
Dozens of mages wearing the black and red or white and red of the guild—all on horseback—moved in unison through the busy streets, greeting those who were there to welcome them. Lights and magic bloomed through the air as they passed, celebrating the successful return.
After the mages, knights followed behind gallantly, riding steeds of their own while wearing their plate armor and displaying the full splendor of the knights.
A man covered from head to toe in a full set of steel plate armor stood outside the Paltos house, holding onto the reigns of his horse. Although worn and battered, his armor looked stunning with all the dents and scratches upon it.
Beside the man was a young boy with an expressionless face, quietly staring down at his own feet.
“Good evening, sir.” The knight greeted as the door opened.
“Evening, my lord. Can I help you?” Troyle replied while holding onto a confused looking Lance who was glancing at him, then to the knight curiously.
“Might you perhaps be Troyle Paltos?” The knight questioned.
“Indeed. And you are?”
“Ah, please allow me to introduce myself.” The knight took off his helmet, revealing a man in his thirties underneath. “I am Thirn Devorshin, spellblade under Lord Ravon’s command. I’ve already had the pleasure of meeting your son, but I believe this is the first time we’ve met.”
“It’s my pleasure, Lord Devorshin. How may I help you today?” Troyle repeated, extending an arm out to shake the knight’s hand.
“Forgive me for the intrusion. I’m not sure if you knew, but our expedition have just returned from eastern Darsus.”
“Yes, of course. I’ve heard a bit about the devastation in the east, along with the knight’s contributions into the subjugation of the rogue mages and bandits. Thank you for your services.” He cordially replied, patting Lance’s back a little to calm him down. “And who might that young man be?” He gestured to the young boy who had been standing there silently. The boy looked to be around Anise’s age, but had none of her cheeriness or livelihood.
“Right.” Thirn turned to the young boy. “I’m not sure, as he himself does not seem to want to speak to us, but the others called him Axel. When we were trying to look for his relatives, the few women who knew him mentioned that his mother used to talk about a younger sister living in Ferrent, one by the name of Adalina. If I recall correctly, that’s your wife’s name is it not?”
“It is…” Troyle slowly answered, while staring at the boy. “But surely she is not the only person with that name in this city?”
“Apologies. I did not mean to intrude on you like this, but she was the only Adalina that I could recall.”
“Seeing as how they knew your wife’s name, we were hoping she or yourself might know this boy? Or perhaps give us some clues as to who his relatives are?”
“Hmmm… I cannot say as I do not know, but my wife might. Unfortunately, she’s not home right now, but if you’d like to come inside and wait, she should be back soon.” He opened the door and stepped aside to invite them in.
The boy sat upon the chair like a statue, quietly holding the cup given to him without drinking.
Thirn sat beside the boy, graciously downing a cup of wine while recounting what he knew and could divulge of the expedition in eastern Darsus.
“So he was already with the refugees then?” Troyle questioned, looking at the young boy carefully while Lance squirmed in his arm.
“Yes, unfortunately. From what I was told, their village was utterly destroyed. The group of guild mages that found them brought the remaining survivors back to Tirasaen, where we were already conducting extensive searches for any known relatives of those who survived such ordeals. Regrettably, we had no luck with the boy, and the only clue we could go on was the name of the younger sister given to us by a few of the other survivors.”
“You said they found him in Kerkhill?”
“… I don’t recall having any relatives in Kerkhill, but maybe my wife might.” Setting Lance on the floor so that the baby could shuffle around, Troyle moved to the young boy. “Son.” The boy stared emptily at the ground. “What is your name?” Silence. “Do you remember your mother’s name? Or your father’s?” Again, the boy blankly stared at the ground without answering.
“Good evening.” Adalina greeted the guests upon her return.
Anise followed behind her mother, carrying a small bag of vegetables. “Who are you?” She inquired upon seeing the unknown boy and the man in their home.
“Anise, that’s not how you greet our guests. Greet them properly.” Adalina quickly admonished.
“Hello. I’m Anise.” With a smile and her hands to the side of her dress, she curtsied like how Sylvia had shown her. Lifting her head afterward, “Who are you?” She questioned again.
“Young lady, fix your words.” Adalina scolded once more.
“Kuhuhahaha! It’s fine. How are you doing Anise? I’m Thirn Devorshin, and this here is Axel.”
“Axel?” Anise stepped up to the boy and took a closer look at him.
“Lord Devorshin? It’s been a long time.” Adalina lowered her head, recalling the man who had visited them with the Lord Knight Commander from years ago. “Hello there, Axel.” She greeted the young boy, but like her daughter, received no reply.
“Please, there is no need for formalities. I am not here on official business or anything. Just something of an errand.” Thirn replied pleasantly, standing up to give a respectful bow of his own.
“Adalina.” Troyle spoke after they had finished their exchanges. “Does one of your sisters live in Kerkhill?”
“Kerkhill?” She paused and thought for a moment, then it dawned on her. “Are you talking about sister Galivia?”
The boy immediately looked up at the mention of the name. Troyle and Thirn turned to each other.
“Galivia? She’s still living in Kerkhill?” A shadow quickly fell over Troyle’s expression.
“Of course. Is something wrong?” Adalina looked to the two men, and saw the trouble in their eyes. The young boy was now tearing up. “Troyle? What happened?”
“I don’t know how to say this, but… Kerkhill is no more.”
Upon Troyle’s words, the silent boy burst into tears.
“Yes. Don’t worry, we will take care of him.” Troyle reassured as Thirn stepped out of the door. “We owe Galivia a lot. My wife and I will look after the boy as if he is our own.”
“I see… then I bid you farewell, and thank you for doing this.”
“Won’t you at least stay for dinner?” Adalina pleaded from beside Troyle.
“Thank you, but I must regretfully decline. My task here is done, and the others are probably wondering what’s taking me so long. I must report back at once with the good news.” Thirn made an apologetic smile. “Thank you both again.”
“No, thank you.” Troyle replied.
Without donning his helmet, Thirn untied his steed and left, riding for the 11th ward through the darkening street.
After recounting bits and pieces of what he could remember during the attack on Kerkhill, the boy had cried himself to sleep, and was now resting in Kaidus’ room.
Through muddled sobs, they had learned his name and that of his parents. His full name was Axel Eronhart, the only son of Galivia Rosaye and Edar Eronhart. His mother had been slain while trying to protect him during the attack, and his father, executed shortly after they were all captured. He alone survived with some of the other women and children.
With Anise in the bath and Lance also asleep, Adalina sat down on one of the living room chairs and allowed her tears to flow. She had remained stouthearted to not worry her daughter when the boy was crying, but she could no longer hold it in.
The boy’s mother, Galivia Rosaye, had been more than a friend to her. She was an older sister, someone who taught and watched over her during her years with the Droxxon mercenaries. Even before getting to know many of the others, Galivia was always there, making sure she had enough to eat and watching over her like a sister. They had talked about plans for their futures, shared secrets, hopes, and dreams. To have learned that someone so dear and bright had been taken from the world, not because of some dangerous job, but while living happily with a family, Adalina was heartbroken.
“Those sick bastards…” Troyle voiced angrily, wrapping his arms gently around his sobbing wife.
Having lived a life chasing scumbags and murderers, he had a pretty clear idea of why women and children were the ones to survive. The thoughts sickened him, and he wanted to find those who had done such a thing. Just picturing his wife and kids in the same situation angered him to no end.
His only solace was knowing that the task force was able to stop such depravity before it could spread throughout Darsus.
“I’m fine now.” Adalina’s voice came from under his embrace.
“You sure?” He looked at her, and could see that tears were still coming out of her beautiful eyes, rolling down her lovely cheeks.
“I am.” Adalina replied, wiping the tears away. “I just can’t sit around like this. Anise will be out soon, and I’ve still got dinner to prepare.” She looked up at Troyle. “You’ve also got to prepare for your departure tomorrow, don’t you?”
“I do.” Pulling Adalina up, Troyle tightly embraced her one more time and allowed her to go.
She was right. Come the morrow, he would be riding for Gravas with Lord Varath and the others. To have learned of such horrible events, it was certainly an untimely and devastating blow to his peaceful life thus far. Yet, he could not allow it to hinder his life or that of his family.
Although Galivia was no more, her son was still alive. As he had stated earlier, he would look after the boy like his own.
-Two days later-
As per her morning routine while her mother cleaned up after breakfast, Anise sat by the window with a small story book. Lance had fallen asleep after being fed, and it was a peaceful cloudy morning with a cool draft coming through the small window opening.
Though she had barely started on the book, she found herself distracted by the boy sitting in the living room.
The boy had spent the previous day in her brother’s room without coming out, and even after her mother got him to join them for breakfast earlier, he never spoke a single word. The only time she had heard him talking was the other night when he was crying. Yet, sitting there by himself, there was a sad look on his face as if he was about to resume crying at any moment.
Uncertain about what to do, Anise stood up and walked over to her crate of wooden toys by the wall. Taking out a horse and wolf, she stared at them for a moment, then brought them over to the boy. “Do you want to play with them?” She held them out toward him, smiling proudly.
The boy remained silent, and didn’t even look at her.
Placing the two toys on the table, she scurried over to retrieve her book. “Do you want to read?” She queried, presenting the book before him.
Still, the boy remained motionless like a statue.
“Hmmm…” Furrowing her brow in puzzlement, she moved beside the boy and began stroking his head gently. “There, there. It’s okay.” She repeated words that her mother had used to comfort her. Her eyes beamed with excitement as the boy finally turned to look at her. The excitement was short lived, as he then began sniffling.
Her face quickly distorted. “M-mommy!” Anise cried out, running away into the kitchen.
“Why are you screaming?” Adalina questioned, seeing the girl rushing over to her as she was washing the utensils.
“Umm… I- I didn’t mean to make him-”
“What did you do?”
There was soft cries from the living room. Looking over, Axel was crying, and she quickly rushed over to the boy. “It’s okay. You’re safe here. Everything is alright.” She reassured, pulling him to her breast. Turning to Anise, “You should know better than to bully others, young lady.”
“But mommy, I didn’t!”
“Then why is Axel crying?”
“That- be- because… I don’t know.” Anise answered, trying to hold back her tears. “I just… I just wanted him to-”
Seeing the book and two toys lain out on the living room table, “I’m so sorry, honey.” Adalina quickly apologized, extending one arm out to stroke the girl’s head. With the recent news about Galivia’s passing and Troyle leaving the previous day, there was a lot on her mind, and she had failed to consider what her daughter was doing. “I know you were only trying to help.” She added, pulling the girl in for an embrace.
“Mommy.” Anise wrapped her arms around her mother’s side and cried.
“Mommy, is he okay?”
“He’s fine. He’s just tired.” Adalina replied with a warm smile as they closed the door to Kaidus’ room. The boy had cried himself to sleep again.
“He cried because he was sad right?”
“Why is he sad?” Anise questioned innocently.
“You’ll understand when you grow up.” Adalina answered with a wry smile and knelt down to eye level with her daughter. “Anise.” Two beady eyes stared back at her. “He’s going to be staying with us from now on, so be nice to him alright?”
“Axel is staying with us?”
“Uhn.” Nodding, Anise replied with a bright smile.