Her outward appearance was that of a calm and confident young lady, but her insides were in turmoil.
It has been half a year since she last saw the boy, and Sylvia was doing all she could to hide how nervous she really was. Everything she learnt this past year and a half was all for situations like this.
‘Right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot.’ She chanted in her mind, remembering her lessons. Catching the boy’s cool and calm gaze, she almost blushed but steeled herself and continued walking to stand behind her father alongside her older sister.
“You called, father?” Her sister Jillian asked.
“Yes. Come greet our guests. You too, Sylvia.”
“Good afternoon Mr. Paltos, thank you for visiting on your day off. Is this your son?” Jillian inquired pleasantly.
“Yes, Miss Jillian. This is Kaidus. I don’t believe you two have met.” The boy’s father replied with a grin.
“I am Jillian Varath. Nice to meet you Kaidus.” Her sister made a curt bow and greeted the boy.
“Kaidus Paltos. Sorry for the intrusion.” Kaidus replied warmly.
“Hello Mr. Paltos. Hello Kaidus.” Sylvia greeted the two after her sister, giving a practiced curtsy.
“Good afternoon Sylvia.”
“Hello, Sylvia.” The boy replied, staring at her as if peering right through her facade.
‘What do I do?’ She thought to herself.
Ever since the outing outside of Ferrent half a year ago, she had worked tirelessly and diligently. Yet, everything she’d learned in all her lessons were crumbling to the ground.
Learning was one thing, but putting it into practice was another altogether.
She was always a timid girl and in front of the boy, she couldn’t help but want to revert back to her old self and hide behind her mother.
Managing to not make a fool out of herself, Sylvia silently took a seat next to her mother.
“Sylvia, why don’t you give Kaidus a tour of the house?” As if sensing her internal discord, her mother threw her a lifeline before she situated herself.
“Ah, that’s a good idea. This is Kaidus’ first time visiting like this.” Her father added.
“Really? If that’s the case, I can show him around.” Her brother Larant volunteered with a teething grin.
“Someone closer to his age should do that. Let Sylvia do it.” Her father objected, smiling at her. “Why don’t you show him the grounds and the library?”
“Down that hall is the servants’ quarters,” Sylvia pointed down a corridor, “and through that door there is the kitchen and the storerooms.”
Adhering to her mother and father’s words, she was giving Kaidus a tour of the house. Although not her first time at the Varath manor, Anise also joined them. The three of them were walking side by side.
Standing next to him, seeing how he acted toward his younger sister, seeing his face up close, she was starting to see how he was amongst his family.
Besides the first time she locked eyes with him, she had actively avoided looking him in the eyes, opting to only sneak in glimpses here and there as they made their way around the manor.
Holding onto her brother’s hand, “Shylvia are we going outshide?” Anise questioned as they walked toward the back of the Manor.
She had shown them the great hall, the guestrooms, the four washrooms on the first floor, the guard house, the courtyard where the guards trained, and the various rooms where she and Jillian took lessons. Having toured most of the first floor already, all that was left was the second floor and the backyard.
“We’ve seen most of the first floor. Do you want to go see father’s library?” She asked, playing the dutiful host.
“Look Kai! Flowersh!” Anise exclaimed excitedly, looking outside through the back windows.
“Would it be alright if we go to the backyard?” The boy responded kindly, patting his sister’s head.
Seeing the excitement on the younger girl’s face. She could see that his answer was for Anise.
There was an air of warmth and care around him today unlike the other times she’d seen him. He made sure to slow down his pace and allowed Anise to lead him, he patiently walked beside Anise’s short strides allowing her to choose where to go. He was even smiling and his usual indifferent face was nowhere to be seen.
*Ba-bump*. A different emotion, one beyond the feelings of ‘I want him to notice me’ bloomed inside her. She recalled something from that evening after a day outside of Ferrent.
-The beginning of Hiso, 4 turns ago-
She was asking for her mother’s continued help in the lessons.
She apologized for her lackluster performance in her lessons, and explained that she would work hard on them from now on, promising to do her best.
“Something happened earlier didn’t it? Why didn’t you tell me at dinner?” Her mother asked. It was the night after they’d returned from outside of Ferrent.
“Promise you won’t laugh?”
“I promise.” Her mother caressed her cheeks tenderly, giving her an earnest smile.
“I… I think I know why you and father wanted me to m-marry K-Kaidus.” She answered sheepishly, trying to hide her embarrassment. Her mother’s smile widened at her words.
“Honey…” She was embraced. “I would never laugh at you for something like that.” Her mother told her.
After the hug, she was examined closely. There was a glimmer in her mother’s sharp eyes, and she knew her mother saw her secret. “Did my little girl already fall in love?” Her mother asked with a playful grin.
“Fall in Love?”
“Yes darling, with the Paltos boy?” The grin broadened.
She was unsure what it meant. “Like I love you, and father, sister Jillian, brother Larant, and everyone who lives here with us?” She replied quizzically.
“That is different. That’s familial love.”
Her mother thought for a moment, then spoke up. “Do you like Kaidus?”
“I…” Sylvia lowered her head in shame.
“Do you like Kaidus a lot?”
The boy’s name and face ran through her mind and her face lit up like a torch.
“Hehehe.” Reanne giggled, seeing the adorable reaction.
“You said you wouldn’t laugh…” She sulkily rebuked her mother.
“Sorry dear. I laughed because of how cute you are right now, not because you like someone.” Her mother’s warm smile returned. “It’s okay, you don’t need to know what love is right now. One day you’ll understand.”
“Sylvia?” Kaidus was looking at her.
“Y-yes?” she quickly replied, trying to remember what was happening before she relapsed into her memories.
“Can we go to the backyard?” Kaidus asked, still holding onto Anise.
“Oh, sorry. Yes, we can.” She quickly walked toward the backdoor to conceal her embarrassment. Her mother’s words replayed in her mind, and she could feel her strong front being whittled away little by little.
He could see the discomfort in Sylvia.
Her confidence from earlier was waning, and he noticed that she kept glancing in his direction whenever she believed he was not looking.
Pretending not to notice and holding Anise’s hand, they followed Sylvia to the backyard.
A wall of metal rods ran around and fenced off a portion of the backyard.
A flower garden with beautiful floras filled the right side of the enclosed area. Two moderately sized Valune trees were shining with golden leaves and already showing deep violet buds that will undoubtedly bloom as soon as Fulta comes around. A patio fit with table and chairs sat between the two trees, overlooking the garden. On the left side of the enclosure was the beginnings of a vegetable garden with tiny green and yellow sprouts.
A stone footpath connected everything together.
“Kai. Flowersh.” Anise pointed to the garden excitedly and they walked toward the flower garden.
Seeing the variety of different flowers, he went straight to a very recognizable one. “I didn’t think I’d ever see any of these inside Ferrent.”
A cluster of pure white Danach flowers with golden streaks bloomed beautifully together, indicating their lavish consumption of sunlight and water.
Danachs were common enough outside of Ferrent, but their coloration was dependent on the amount of sunlight and nutrients they get prior to the opening of the flower bud. Pure white Danachs like these meant that someone had worked extremely hard growing and caring for them. As if in comparison, another cluster of light yellow Danachs sprouted just a short distance away.
“Cerulean Vacadils, violet Gerinnis, white Dafilins, even the coveted silver and red Tasiens… this is remarkable.” He complimented the different varieties.
Flowers he’d only read about in books were here in tight communities, blooming sporadically together.
“Mrs. Hulens, our gardener planted and grew all these.” Sylvia spoke, moving to stand next to him.
“She has quite the gift, being able to cultivate such a stunning collection.”
“Y-yes she does.”
“Kai, look! Thish ish my flower.” Anise came over and touched a Vacadil flower on the edge of the garden.
“Your flower? You planted that?” He asked.
“Uhn! I ashk Shylvia, and she let me.” Anise grinned happily.
“Have you and mother been coming here?” He knew they’d visited the Varath house a few times, but he didn’t know it was a regular occurrence.
“We come with daddy shometime.” She replied happily.
He could see the sense of accomplishment in his little sister. “Good job.” Kaidus smiled and complimented the endearing little girl. “So, this is why you wanted to come outside.” He smiled, understanding why she was so excited to come out here.
“Uh huh! And look, thish ish Shylvia’sh flowersh.” Anise pointed at the light yellow Danachs.
“Sylvia’s flowers? You grew these?” He turned and asked the girl beside him.
“U-uhn…” Sylvia gave an embarrassed nod. “I was unable to get them to turn out like Mrs. Hulens’ though.” She replied, sounding disappointed and turned to look at the pure white danachs.
“You did great. From their coloration, you just barely missed it. It looks like you took very good care of them all the way up to when they bloomed.”
“With all these different types, why did you pick danach flowers? They’re easy to grow, but quite hard to cultivate if you’re trying to get them to blossom with white petals.” Kaidus inquired.
“A-Adalina said you like danach flowers.” Sylvia replied, fidgeting with her fingers and turning her head to look at something else.
‘Mother…’ He could see it in his head. A scenario where his mother was telling Sylvia about him.
Seeing her fidgeting, with their close proximity, he noticed that Sylvia’s fingers were marred with scratches and cuts.
“Are your hands okay?”
“Huh? Y-yes! They’re fine.” Self-conscious about where Kaidus was looking, Sylvia quickly hid her hands behind her back.
“Look Kai, red flowersh like Anish hair.” Anise happily called out, pointing to a cluster of low rising red flowers.
He looked and gave Anise a smile, seeing the little girl putting her hair down to compare with the flower. He turned around to face Sylvia with a more solemn face. “I know quite well your parents still have something planned for us, but if it means forcing you to hurt yourself for my sake then you-”
“It’s not that!” Sylvia cried out with a red face. Anise looked toward them quizzically. “I-I wanted to do this… mother and father are not forcing me to…” As if realizing what she just said, Sylvia quickly turned around to face the opposite direction from him.
“I see… that’s very admirable.” He paused, thinking of something easier to talk about. “Are you also planting vegetables over there on the other side?” He asked, indicating the other garden while trying not to undermine her previous words and her effort.
“Y-yes… Jill and I both, with help from-.”
“You three!” A different voice came from behind. Walking toward them was the older sister Jillian in a different and less formal dress from before. “I came to call you all for lunch. Table’s already being set up.”
“You changed out of your dress?” Sylvia was the first one to respond.
“I’m not the one being displayed. I shouldn’t have worn one in the first place.” Jillian replied with a smile.
“Jill!” Sylvia shouted back. Her face was flushed.
“What? It’s the truth.” Jillian replied. “Mother said if you don’t want to keep wearing that, you can change it before lunch. Go ahead and do so. I’ll show Kaidus and Anise back.”
Sylvia turned and made a curt bow to Kaidus. “I will be going ahead. Sorry.” And promptly rushed back into the manor.
“Come on Anise, we’re going back inside.” Kaidus beckoned his sister and she ran back to him, grasping his hand.
Making their way back to the great hall where they would be lunching, Jillian walked beside him.
“Kaidus, do you know Naleen from the Ravon house?” Jillian questioned.
“I’ve met her once. Why?”
“Did you know that Sylvia and I are very close with Naleen?”
He looked up at the older girl who was staring down at him. A glint of something could be seen in her aqua blue eyes. “I did not.” He answered back with a hint of intrigue.
“I talked to her a few turns ago about you.” The older girl’s mouth curved into a smirk.
“I see no reason why two ladies such as yourselves would be nattering about someone like me.” He responded affably.
“My parents think too much of you, my sister is enamored, and my brother is too frivolous to care. I needed to make sure.” The older girl replied.
“Make sure of what?”
“The kind of person you are. It may not look like it, but I am very protective of my sister.”
“I see.” He gave an understanding reply.
“Frankly, I don’t trust you. I can’t put my finger on it, but there’s something off about you from what I’ve seen and heard. I’ll be watching, so behave yourself.” She warned him.
“Your words are duly noted, and I apologize if I may have offended you in some way.” He replied indifferently to the older girl.
“See?! That’s what I mean! You’re just a brat, act more like one. At least then it’ll be more believable.” Jillian exclaimed, pointing at his conduct. “Trying to get close to my family. Just what exactly are you planning?”
“I am not planning anything, and it was not me or my parents who brought up the idea of marriage into yours. As for my conduct, this is who I am. I implore that you don’t misconstrue my behavior for anything nefarious.” He replied, seeing the fact of her objections.
“What is your aim?” She inquired again. Her eyes were just like her parents: very sharp and looking to pick out any subtle nuances belying the truths.
“Kai ish Anish’sh big brother!” Anise cried out from beside them, stepping in between to defend him. He could see that she had no idea what Jillian was talking about, only that it was unpleasant.
“I can assure you that I have no ulterior motives.” He took a step forward and walked ahead, moving to the great hall. “Come on Anise, mother and father are waiting.”
A large table was brought into the great hall, and an exquisite feast laid out on it.
Lord Varath stood up from his seat, holding his earthen cup filled with wine.
“Four years. That’s how long we’ve known each other now,” Lord Varath spoke loudly and eloquently. “And yet this is the first time both our families have all gathered together for a meal. I wish to thank you for everything you’ve done Troyle, and propose a toast to our continued friendship, and that of our children.”
The lord held up his cup to Troyle, and Troyle held up his. They each took a long drink.
“There isn’t much, but everyone please help yourselves to lunch.” Lord Varath added before sitting back down.
“Mommy I want that, and that.” Anise was pointed to some of the dishes.
Pacing a plate of food in front of Anise, “Remember to use your fork. You’re going to get Sylvia’s dress all dirty if you don’t.” Adalina cautioned her daughter.
Anise did not want to take off the pretty red dress even after seeing that Jillian and Sylvia had changed out of theirs.
“Don’t worry about it Adalina. That dress no longer fits Sylvia anyways. If Anise likes it, she can have it.” Reanne spoke up from the other side of the table.
“I can’t allow something like that.” Adalina replied.
“And why not?”
“I wouldn’t know how to wash such costly fabrics if she got it dirty.” Adalina’s mouth twisted into a mischievous smile.
“I’m sure you’ll figure it out,” Reanne returned a grin. “It would just sit in the dresser anyways. Please let her keep it.”
“Well, if you insist.”
“You hear that Anise? Say thank you for the wonderful dress.” Adalina told her daughter.
Anise lurched off her chair and quickly ran around the table.
“Thank You!” She gave Reanne and Sylvia each a hug before returning to her seat while avoiding Jillian. Her face was beaming with joy.
“Don’t get your dress dirty, you hear me?” Adalina cautioned once more.
“Uhn!” The little girl took a fork and began eating properly, making sure not to drip anything onto her new dress.
“So? What did you think of my book collection?” Lord Varath spoke up after the little display, looking at Kaidus.
“Sorry father, we did not get to the Library.” Sylvia answered from two seats beside her father.
“Oh. Well, that’s fine. There is plenty of time left. You can take a look at it before you and Larant head back to the Academy.”
“Thank you for the privilege.” Kaidus replied graciously.
The lunch went by extremely well. The topic he dreaded never came up, and conversations revolved around Troyle and Lord Varath reminiscing about the past couple years, working together or just telling stories.
With lunch over with, Larant showed him to the Varath manor library.
“We saw the courtyard earlier. A few of the guards were training, do you join them from time to time?” Kaidus asked Larant.
“Not really…” Larant gave a shifty answer.
“Is it because of school?”
“No. I’m ashamed to say this, but I’ve been holing myself in my room just tinkering around, trying to build contraptions.”
“Is it for artificing class?”
“Yea. Well some of them are. Others are- Oh, here we are. This is the library where father’s books are stored.”
Opening a large wooden double-sided door, the majesty of the interior came into full view.
It was a high circular room lined with books from top to bottom with four comfortable looking reading chairs in the center of the room.
“This really is a library…” He gaped at the thousands of books within the room.
To the right of the entrance were stairs that led up to a platform which circled the library, allowing for easy access to the books in the top shelves.
“This room is the cumulative collection of my father, his father, and his forefathers. Four generations of Varath household heads have gathered all these.” Larant proudly stated his ancestors’ undertakings.
“That is quite the collection. I’m guessing there are a few ancient tomes in there?” He joked.
“Not likely. Most are just stories, recordings of past events, or informational books.”
“Would it be alright if I went through some of them?” Kaidus asked.
“Help yourself. I’ll go get us something to snack on.” Larant said before leaving the library.
Kaidus walked about the room, just taking his time and looking at the different books. They ranged from small pocket ledgers to extensive tomes spanning upwards of 20 volumes. He was already familiar with many of the books, but an even greater number of them were fresh to him. There were many foreign books written in different languages that he couldn’t read, ciphers jot down with ticks and scratches that were mysteries to him, even notebooks that recorded earnings and expenses.
Many of the books were quite unique, but as he circled the room, a small book on one of the upper shelves stood out to him.
The book was emitting a very weak mana signature.
With a thought, the small book flew out of its place in the shelf and into his hand.
“Guides to an Intrinsic Lifestyle, written by L.F.” He read the title out loud. The author did not write their name, opting for initials instead.
Opening the book, the pages were discolored with age. It looked to be an original hand written book.
He skimmed through the pages. It was literally a guide on how to live one’s life naturally, and with the elements. The book looked to have been written at least three hundred years ago, seeing the odd suggestions and the condition of the book.
‘There must be something hidden in here.’ He thought to himself.
Kaidus touched the book, channeling a bit of his mana into it. A sharp pain assaulted where his fingers touched the page. There was an enchantment on the book, concealing its true essence.
He poured more mana into the book. With a thought, he broke the enchantment.
The words on the page began distorting, changing into something else. The pages changed their hues and discoloration, reverting back to being almost new.
“Malpaars’ Forgotten Subterranean City, written by Lize D. Fotbusen.”
Even the title had changed.