A cloudy and chilly morning with nary any sunlight.
In the thick fog, a coach was moving through the 11th ward streets and making its way toward the center of the ward.
Although a familiar event had just occurred not too long ago, the whole Paltos family was returning to the Varath residence where another celebration was to be held.
“Good morning.” Two guards greeted them as they arrived at their destination.
“Morning Hal. Morning Ruvis.” Troyle cordially replied, helping his wife and daughter out of the carriage. “How many guards?” He inquired, turning around to face the two.
“The ones we called from the outskirts arrived last night. Twenty-two altogether.”
“Perfect. Let’s hope it doesn’t get out of hand this time.” Troyle grinned.
“Hahaha. Don’t count on it. Nobles and wine don’t mix very well.”
“Father,” Kaidus called out from the carriage, cutting into their morning chatter. “I’m heading off. I will be back around noon.”
“Alright. Just make sure you don’t miss the celebration.” Troyle replied, giving his son a curt nod.
“I won’t.” Turning from his family, “To the academy please.” He instructed, and the coach began moving again.
“Bye Kai!” Anise cheerfully shouted, waving her brother off.
Alone in the carriage, he was headed elsewhere.
In his possession was a letter from Zorin Academy’s headmaster Nylen Gvius Das Jozion. It was delivered by one of the old man’s assistant a couple of days prior, stating that they needed to discuss something important.
Not far from the Varath residence, the silver ring in his pocket began glowing and exuding a weak mana signature.
With a thought, he poured mana into the ring and the glow vanished. “Yes?”
“Hehehe. Sylvie asked about you.” Anise’s voice whispered.
“Is that so?” He smiled, hearing the cheerful girl.
“Kai. Are you going to give Sylvie something?” She questioned.
“Hmm… I don’t know. What do you think? Should I?”
“Uh-huh! And something for me too!”
“You too? But it’s not yet your birthday.”
“But you’re leaving before that…” A soft and sullen voice argued back.
“How about the ring? I just gave you that.”
“No. That’s fo– Uh-oh, momma is calling me.” She lowered her voice.
“Then I’ll see you later. Go and stay with mother and Lance.”
“Kay. Bye Kai, I love you.” A giggle came through as the ring went silent.
Ever since he gave Anise the ring, her mood had brightened up exponentially. She had also forgiven him for planning to leave, under the condition that she could contact him whenever she missed him.
Without a choice he accepted, but told her to keep the ring a secret.
By infusing his mana and the magical residue from the mirror shard into two identical rings, then binding them together as one with a powerful sealing spell, he was able to recreate the communication rings used by Tal’hrus.
The moment his eyes fell upon the reflective shard and felt its magical power, he already had an idea of what it was.
Nyzacus Mirrors as they were called, were ancient artifacts created by powerful mages and spirits before the two worlds separated, or so the legends said. The mirrors were known to be able to bend time and space, and worked in pairs as portals for mages to travel the vast world instantaneously. Though they were merely magical objects, the mirrors were also known to have wills of their own and could be bound by those of great power.
During his war, the only mirrors left in existence belonged to the now: Unotus, Darsus, and Rovtoss region. For one of them to have survived all this time, it was incredible.
He had spent a large amount of time over the past few years trying to breach the shard’s protective enchantment, but all his attempts had ended in failure. The only other way to reveal its secrets, was to kill whoever it was bound to.
Though that was the case, and he was unable to enter the shard like Zavon claimed, he was able to extract its essences for his own purpose.
Thoughts about making another two sets of rings were there, but his parents were neither mages nor had one of his spirits with them. Knowing Vishan, Zion, and Feziel, if he were to leave any of them behind, the three spirits would undoubtedly cause problems if given any excuse to do so.
It was best to leave everything to Hasen, and let the faithful spirit continue protecting his family from the shadows.
“We have arrived, young master.” A man’s voice called out to him as the horse drawn carriage came to a stop.
Getting off the carriage, he stood in front of a familiar gate. “Would you mind waiting? I won’t be gone long.”
“Understood. I shall await your return then.” The driver replied and moved the carriage to the side of the paved road.
Walking up to Zorin’s gates, he infused mana into the letter from the headmaster. The paper began glowing with a blue light before dissolving as a familiar sensation and a symbol appeared on the back of his right hand.
With the enchantment of passage, he pushed open the gates and entered.
Unlike his first time there, the Gate seer Zeeke sprang toward him.
Metal rods suddenly erupted from the ground and a soft breeze swirled about his vicinity.
“GRRRR!!” The nature spirit hastily jumped backward and growled, transforming itself into a large cat with long flowing steel-grass manes, a body of dark green Iron bark, and three long tails of razor vines. It snarled and lowered its body, prepared for battle.
“Stop!” Kaidus shouted, halting all three spirits. “You too Vishan. Any actions without my consent, and none of you will be leaving your rings again unless I expressly permit it.” He warned the three spirits.
The metal rods and swelling wind instantly vanished, along with any signs of confrontation.
“GRRRAR!” The nature spirit snarled and observed him cautiously.
“You too Zeeke, please.”
The large cat watched him warily before reverting back to its smaller slender feline form. After staring at each other for the span of ten breaths, the spirit made small cautious movements over to him once more.
“How are you doing Zeeke?”
“Rarr!! Gararrrr Raararrrrar!!!” It made the usual noises and started sniffing him.
“Sorry. I did not bring anything for you today.” Upon his apology, the beast gave an inquisitive frown and Kaidus smiled at the disappointed look. “How about I buy you something from the shops when I’m done here?”
“RRRRRar!” It voiced happily as it sat up straight.
“I’ll see you later then.” Having greeted the spirit, he continued toward his destination.
The school year had already begun, and he could see students coming from the eastern facilities. Being midmorning, the first class had probably just finished.
As he made his way toward the northern grounds, four students spotted him and began walking in his direction. One watched him curiously while the other three were smirking.
“Who are you, and what are you doing in Zorin?” One of them queried.
“I have to ask. Which house are you from, and did your parents have to sell all their assets to send you here?” Another young man not yet in the 20’s sneered as if such questions were normal.
“Forgive me. I have urgent business with the headmaster.”
Without paying attention to the provocation, Kaidus kept walking past the four.
It was understandable. He was wearing commoner clothing and the students probably enrolled after he withdrew from the school.
“Now now my lord, how about we–”
“Sorry to bother you.” A different voice interrupted.
Turning to the side, the young man who was inspecting him earlier held onto the other’s mouth.
“What the heck, Croeld.”
“I apologize. Sorry for my friend’s rude behavior. Please excuse us.” The young man gave an apologetic bow and stopped his friends.
“Don’t worry about it.” Kaidus replied, walking away from the four boys.
“Hmm… this one… and this… A Strusaend… Ah, that’s right.”
Headmaster Nylen recalled a prodigious young man years ago who was the first chair of the Academy’s Small Council. “She’ll be fine.” He smiled, looking at the profile of a young woman of the same family name. With a quick incantation, his mana flowed into the paper along with two others, marking them as candidates for the Council.
“Headmaster. Someone’s here to see you.” A voice called through the door.
“Huh? Who is it?”
“A young boy. Said his name is Kaidus. Should I tell him to wait?”
Nylen looked up from the papers in front of him. “Bring him at once.” He ordered.
Not long after, a young man came through the door into his room.
The young boy from their first encounter all those years ago had nearly doubled in size. A single glance at the unassuming young man, and his marble arm quivered under his robe as if remembering the fear the child had induced.
“Headmaster.” The boy gave a respectful bow.
“Thank you for coming to see me. Please,” Nylen calmly gestured to one of the chairs across from him. “How have you been these past few years?” He questioned as the boy sat down.
“Enough of the pleasantries, headmaster. Your letter sounded quite ominous. Mind elaborating?”
He sighed. He regretted ever testing the boy so crudely all those years ago. “Ahem. Then I’ll get straight to the point: Tal’hrus, the organization that attempted to recruit you has returned to Darsus. Do you know what that means?” He scrutinized the young man, making sure not to miss anything that might answer the nagging feelings of doubts in him.
“What do you mean by returned? Did they leave?”
‘Hm…’ He could not discern anything from the boy’s answer. The reply sounded honest enough and even had a hint of surprise.
“Ah, that’s right. That information was never made public,” he calmly replied as if mistaken. “It was shortly before you left the academy that we started getting words of Tal’hrus agents fleeing Darsus. From what we gathered, something or someone had destroyed their base. The scene looked like a large scale battle had taken place, and to this day, the guild still has no idea who or what did it.” He explained, notifying the young man of the past events. He had emphasized ‘someone’ to see if he could get any reaction out of the boy, but there was not so much as the raising of an eyebrow. “It was only recently that we got words of Tal’hrus’ return. Since then, they have gone right back to doing whatever they were doing with even greater fervor. Within the short time of their resurgence, this new group has already devastated two small villages and taken the lives of over a hundred victims.”
“Over a hundred…” The young boy silently muttered.
“The Mystiks guild have been doing all they can, but they’re already stretched thin as things are.”
“… Headmaster. Did you call for me because you believe I will be targeted since they approached me before?”
“Yes. I figure you should know about it, seeing how it concerns both you and your family.”
“I thank you for your consideration, but couldn’t you have written everything in the letter? Was there really a need for me to come to the academy?” The boy stared back with an intrusive and sharp gaze.
“I wanted to talk to you and see if you’ve noticed anything suspicious lately. That, and to ask something of you.” Nylen quickly explained.
“Nothing that I know of. Everything is rather uneventful actually. Just the way I like it.” The boy gave a curt reply.
Looking at the young man, his assumption that the boy might have been the cause of Tal’hrus’ dispersion was beginning to collapse. “Hmmm… I see…” He took a moment to sort through his thoughts. “I also wanted to ask. Would you like to return to Zorin? Or maybe reconsider joining the Mystiks guild? They can certainly use you.” He spoke with a solemn voice and stared into the boy’s eyes.
A swift answer and exactly what he had expected. “I see… It was worth a try.” He gave a defeated smile.
The boy would be a powerful asset, but it seems his mind was already made up.
“Headmaster. If that is all, I have an appointment to keep.”
“Yes, of course. Sorry for making you come all the way here for such a pointless thing.”
“Then I will take my leave.” The boy stood up.
“Oh, wait Kaidus. Remember what I told you? Tal’hrus will go for your family if they cannot get to you. Remember that. It’s how they control their targets. It may be just unwarranted fear since our latest reports stated Tal’hrus were moving towards Eastern Darsus, but be on your guard even inside the walls of Ferrent.” He quickly added.
“Thank you for the warning headmaster. I will be careful.” The boy bowed and left the room.
“Hmmm…” He still wasn’t sure about what to think.
Judging by the boy’s words or lack of words and reactions, the only thing that stuck out was that the boy was too calm.
There was never any need to call the boy there to the academy. His reason for doing so was to see the boy’s reaction to the news, and to give away hints about the threat.
If his instincts were correct and the young man was the one who had disrupted Tal’hrus, then leaking the information about their general location would bring about a similar result.
His thoughts kept cycling back to the time between the boy’s first contact with Tal’hrus and the organization’s extermination. The timeframe was too close together and too much of a coincidence.
Having waited until he was sure the boy left the building, he rang a bell on his table and an assistant quickly arrived. Nylen took out an already sealed letter from under his desk. “Bring this to the Mystiks Guild.”
The seeds have been sown. All that that was left, was to see if they bear fruit.
The headmaster definitely had an ulterior motive and he knew it.
The way the old man was studying him, watching him carefully ever since he entered the room. The way the old man notified him of Tal’hrus’ deeds and nonchalantly pointed out their general location. Even throwing in a casual invitation back to the academy and the Mystiks Guild to distract him.
It couldn’t have been any more obvious. ‘Really do have to watch myself around him.’ Kaidus chuckled as he thought about it.
Although the meeting was mostly a sham, it wasn’t completely pointless.
He was not surprised to learn that Tal’hrus had actually fled after his encounter with them, seeing the inactivity around him and his family. What he was surprised about, was finding out that they had returned and were causing havoc again.
A part of him burned with anger, having heard what happened to the countless helpless people. It was something he would have to take care of. Eventually.
Remembering his promise to Zeeke, he made his way toward the western grounds where the student shops were located.
“Ciscut leaves? Uncooked?” A male Gveril student working the shop looked at him with confusion.
“Yes please. Four kuis worth if you may.”
“I… I can give you the cuttings if you want. They’ll be thrown out but they’re still good. Free of charge of course.” The student gave him a look filled with compassion.
He couldn’t help but graciously accept. Seeing how he looked with his plain clothes and asking for raw leaves, the student probably thought him to be too poor to afford lunch.
With a small handful of ciscut cuttings, he made his way to the southern gate where Zeeke and his ride were waiting.
Three familiar young men saw him and began running over to him. The one who stopped them earlier was not with them. ““Hey! Kaidus!”” They shouted his name.
Those who heard turned to look in their direction. “Him?” “You can’t be serious. That plain kid?” “But it fits. Don’t you think?” Whispers were already going around.
“May I ask how you know my name?” He questioned curiously.
“So you really are him. Hmm… Not what I was expecting.”
“If you’ve no business with me, please excuse me.”
“Ah, wait.” Another of the young man quickly blocked him. “We’ve heard a lot about you. How you were a former student and a talented one at that. Would you entertain us with a couple of matches?” The young man quickly replied.
“My apologies, but I do not have time for this.” Kaidus stepped aside and began walking away.
“There’s a rumor that you couldn’t handle your classes so you left during your second year. That you were nothing but a fake who spread the rumors about being in the advance classes yourself.” Another of three shouted.
Kaidus stopped and turned to look at them.
“Croeld may be scared of you but now that I think about it, what’s there to be afraid of?”
“Certainly. There is nothing to be afraid of. It is as you said.” He replied with a smile then turned back and began walking again.
“I told you guys. Croeld was obviously mistaken. Coward even admitted it himself.” One of them sneered. “I wonder how you even got into Zorin. Ah wait, I know. It must’ve been your mother, huh? She must’ve seduced a wealthy lord. You commoners are all the same, spreading your legs to get further ahead. Maybe next ryes I can borrow her?”
The young man started laughing.
In the blink of an eye, the student was on the ground. The back of the young man’s head was buried in the dirt, and Kaidus knelt upon his chest, his right hand firmly grasping onto the student’s face.
“Say whatever you want about me, but you are sorely mistaken if you think I will allow such a comment to slide.” His casual and unassuming tone had vanished, replaced by a commanding and unforgiving one.
The woman who raised him with love and care. She who had accepted him while the world shunned her for doing so. His mother was being slandered, and her honor tainted. It was inexcusable.
He tightened his grip.
“AHHHHHH!!!!” The student under him screamed out and those around them started shouting but he didn’t care. The boy’s two friends quickly ran in to help, but they were instantly swallowed by the earth up to their chest. “Wealth and status have made you ignorant and proud. Allow me to teach you some manners.” With a thought, the boy’s right arm began twisting until it ripped right off the boy’s shoulder and blood began gushing out.
“GUYAAAAH!!! M-MY ARM!” The young man screamed.
Immediately, the wound closed and the bleeding stopped. “Your arm is a small price to pay for your offence. Be grateful.” He angrily spat out the words as he got up. Looking around, a wall of students had already encircled them.
“Move! What is going on here?!” A man’s voice came through and one of the masters broke into the circle. “What in the world?!!!” The master gasped, seeing the screaming student, the blood and severed arm, and two students bound in the earth.
But what stood out to him the most, was the young man in the middle of everything.
“Master Zaele.” Kaidus curtly lowered his head to the man who joined them.
“K-Kaidus? What did you do?”
“I merely reciprocated the slanderous insult upon my mother’s good name.”
“I-insult?” The master voiced incredulously.
“An unforgivable one.” His tone made sure the master knew that he wasn’t playing around.
Without looking at the disrespectful young man on the ground, he released the other two out of their earth prison and walked away.
The students surrounding them shuffled about and tightened the wall, as if to stop him.
“Let him go! All of you!” The master quickly shouted before the students could do anything stupid. “Get him to Master Borus! Bring his arm with him and see if the master can do anything about it!”
“Here Zeeke.” Kaidus handed the handful of ciscut cuttings to the spirit.
“Gaaararr!!” It yelped happily as tendrils erupted from its back and grabbed at the cuttings. The spirit quickly ran back to its shack before coming back out again.
“Gaaarr!! Garaaararar!” It voiced happily as it leaped onto his shoulder.
“This may be the last time I see you for a very long time. Stay safe alright?”
“Rar??” The cat tilted its head as if asking why.
“I don’t belong here.” Kaidus replied with a wry smile, remembering what he just did.
“GAAR!” Zeeke let out a sharp cry and jumped off, running back to its shack.
His task over, Kaidus made his way toward the exit.
“GRRAR!” Zeeke cried out as he neared the gates. The spirit quickly ran over to him and regurgitated a seed the size of his thumb in front of him. “Raar!” It motioned for him to pick it up.
From within the seed, he could feel an enormous amount of mana. Mysteriously, it felt very similar to Zeeke’s own presence.