While waiting for all the guests to arrive, he occupied himself in the Varath Library.
“I figured you’d be here.”
Looking in the direction of the door, Larant was already moving toward him. “Sorry, just kind of made myself at home.” Kaidus gave a wry smile. “You just got back?”
“A little while ago. Had to freshen up first.” Larant moved to the center of the room, joining him in one of the four seats. “Tell me. What in the world were you thinking?”
“Ripping off a man’s arm, obviously. The whole academy is talking about it. There are even rumors that the issue will be brought to the king.”
“Ah… well, he was asking for it. I merely complied with his wishes.” Kaidus answered indifferently, returning his focus back to his book.
“No one simply asks for their arm to be torn off, Kaidus. Do you even know who it was that you attacked?” Larant replied with an anxious look.
“I do not.”
“That was Ralfus Vatenger, the youngest son of the Vatenger House. His grandmother was a member of the royal family. Their house still has very close relations with the royal court.”
“That explains a lot.”
“I’m being serious here.”
“So am I. I know it is a little extreme, but you would think that coming from such a distinguished family, he would know the importance of holding himself with dignity.” He quickly reasoned, staring back at Larant. “Tell me. Did you hear why I did it?”
“Something about vicious and false denigrations toward your mother?”
“What would have been my fate if I were the one voicing such a statement to him and not the other way around?”
“… Maybe your tongue, possibly a public display of discipline…” Larant hesitantly answered.
“And if it had been toward the king or a royal family member?”
“Death is a possibility…”
“And why is that?”
“… You know why…”
“Then I suggest that you don’t insult my intelligence by asking such rhetorical questions.”
“Yea, but while that may be the case in serious offences, wasn’t this done in friendly provocation?”
“Does the words ‘She must’ve seduced a wealthy lord. You commoners are all the same, spreading your legs to get further ahead’ and ‘Maybe next ryes I can borrow her’ sound like a friendly provocation to you?’ If so, by all means, please enlighten me about the inner ward’s humor and sense of friendliness.”
“I… I didn’t know…”
“Of course you didn’t.” Without looking at Larant, he turned back to his book.
“…” After a moment of silent deliberation, “Have you already consider the consequences? What are you going to do? What about your family? You must know that the Vatenger house will not let this go.”
“I’ve already discussed it with my father. He wasn’t too thrilled, but what’s done is done. I will accept and bear all responsibilities.”
“Hah…” Larant made a show of his sigh and stood up. “If you say so. Clearly, you’re not worried about your own situation. Makes me feel stupid to be the only one. I’m heading back downstairs, you coming?”
“I’ll be down in a bit.”
His outward appearance was calm, but his mind was conflicted.
Without thinking twice about the consequences, he had taken a nobleman’s arm as payment for besmirching Adalina’s virtue.
He wanted to take the tongue that had spouted such defamatory statements, but being a mage, the man would need his vulgar tongue for magic.
He thought about taking both legs, but the fool would burden others if he could not walk.
Thinking back on it, an arm still felt too little for such an offence.
It did not trouble him whether they insulted him or ridiculed him, but to involve his mother and drag her reputation through the dirt because of her status, it was a very different matter.
There will definitely be repercussions as Larant had stated, but what kind, he could only imagine.
The silver lining in everything was that there were also plenty of witnesses who heard the insults and could testify on his behalf.
If they wanted to charge him for any sort of crime, he was ready to defend his actions. Whether it be verbally, or if it came to it, through force.
After Larant left the library, he set his book down and took out something from his pocket. It was the seed he had received from Zeeke.
The strange seed had hardened and changed into a smooth metallic object by the time he got back to the Varath manor. Although metallic in appearance and texture, the item was warm to the touch and brimming with mana.
Curious to see if he could use the seed by fusing his own mana with it, he had poured mana into it on the way back, only to have his strength rapidly sucked up.
Twice he had attempted afterwards, but both results were very much the same, with the exception of the third time where the seed began to glow dimly before returning back to normal.
He had no idea as to why his mana simply vanished after being absorbed, or why it glowed. Even his spirits had no answer.
Recalling his relationship with Zeeke, it had been one of him giving and the spirit taking. To have received something in return was quite the surprise even if he had no clue why it was given to him in the first place, or how to use it.
Putting the seed back in his pocket, he got up to put away the book and vacated the library.
As if to contradict Troyle’s worries, the celebration progressed without a hitch.
Wearing one of Larant’s old outfit of black and blue, with his hair combed and slicked back, he seamlessly blended in with those around him.
The guests were all acquaintances of Lord Varath and included both commoners and those of the nobility.
Young children ran amok as the adults conversed and engaged in forming relations with the hopes of mutually benefiting each other through trade or favors. Business partners and merchants from out of Ferrent were also in attendance.
None paid any attention to him or his sister as they situated themselves by the wall of the dining hall.
“… and then Lance cried, and mommy almost dropped all of it.” Anise giggled.
“Really?” He chuckled.
His sister was regaling him about something that happened earlier that day while they were out shopping.
“Uh huh. I had to help carry some of it back.” She replied proudly as she grabbed a piece of fried treat and nibbled on it blissfully.
As they stood there, tidbits of gossip seeped into his ears from the various conversations happening in the hall.
Something about the royal ward and an assassination attempt that had been hushed, a lord’s frustration at having lost a cache of ores because of bandits, the latest fashion trend of the upper class and the royal court, and triumphant business transactions.
Observing the crowd, he spotted Larant mingling with a few of the more notable lords in place of his father. Jillian was also in the hall talking with a group of young ladies, and beside her was a familiar girl with long brown hair.
Taking another gander around the room, he quickly picked out lord Huin and lady Kellian amongst the guests, sitting together at one of the tables.
With Troyle managing security and Adalina putting Lance to sleep in one of the guest rooms, their parents were nowhere to be seen.
“I think you’ve had enough, Anise.” He told his sister as she reached for another treat.
“But I’ve only had six.” She countered, taking another.
“Only six huh?” He smiled and relented.
“Kai. Did you get Sylvie something?” Anise enquired curiously.
“Because then I’d have to get you something too.” He grinned.
“No fair.” She pouted, puffing out her cheeks.
“Hahahaha. Come on, let’s go find a place to sit down before it starts.”
Eventually, the hall went quiet and Sylvia entered alongside her parents, signaling the beginning of the festivities.
A man rushed through the dimly lit palace of the 13th ward. He was old and graying, but his pace and the strength of his strides showed purpose.
Livid and filled with vengeance, the man attempted to storm into the King’s chamber against his better judgement.
“Your majesty!” The man shouted, not caring about proper procedures as guards quickly stopped him. “Your majesty, please!!”
King Sarjace opened the door and glared at the man. “Lurus, what are you doing here? Can’t you tell that this is neither the time nor place to be shouting for an audience?”
“I know it is late, but please, I must have words!” The man shouted, quickly kneeling.
“Must it be now?” The king replied with a weary tone.
“It must! If not, I fear I may end up doing something unthinkable.”
The king stepped out of the room and closed the door behind him. Three guards stepped in between them. “Speak then. It is cold and I wish to return to bed as soon as possible.”
“Your majesty.” The man lowered his head. “It is my youngest son, Sire. Someone savagely attacked him and took his arm. Those dogs at the academy would not tell me who did it when they brought him back, but my boy claims it was done by a commoner. I beg you–”
“Who? Who did it?”
“A commoner boy by the name Kaidus, your majesty. If I am not mistaken, he is also the recent champion from this year’s arms competition. I beg you, please amend this injustice or I will be forced to take matters into my own hands.” The man pleaded with his head to the floor.
The king’s face distorted into one of wakefulness. “Are you sure?”
“… Go home Lurus. Speak no further of this, and try not to do anything stupid.” King Sarjace calmly replied.
“But sire! How can I just–”
“Lurus. Go home and see that you find out the truth from your son before you make any irrational decisions. I will have no hand in this.”
“The truth? What truth?! My son has been mutilated!” The man angrily shouted back.
“We are done here. Guards, escort Lord Vatenger to–”
“You can’t be serious! Your majesty, please!”
“If you have any complaints, see me after you’ve found out the truth. I’m sick of ruling on your behalf because of your children. Guards, get him out of here.” The king ordered before retreating back into the room.
As the days passed, the issue at the academy simply disappeared as if nothing ever happened. No trial, no summon from the king, no request for an apology, nothing.
What did sprout from the incident, was something very peculiar.
Wherever he went, there were always eyes focused on him. Unknown faces that flickered in and out of the crowd, shadows from the side of buildings, and vague presences that watched him everywhere he went in Ferrent.
Though it was intrusive, after thinking about the lack of actions against him, he decided to put it out of his mind. As long as they didn’t make a move on him or his family, he had no reason to do anything.
As the day of his departure approached, each day was spent in the company of his family.
And like every year prior, his birthday was celebrated at home with just the five of them in their modest house within the 3rd ward.
Kaidus’ eyes jerked open and he quietly got out of bed.
In an instant, it was already Fulta and the fated day was upon him.
Beside his bed was a rucksack containing two sets of clothes, some paper along with writing utensils, a water skin, a knife, an extra pair of leather traveling boots, and his crude map of Malpaars. All packed the night before.
The two swords he received on his 9th birthday were not among them, and were instead leaning against his night table.
He quickly dressed and grabbed the pack before heading out of his room.
“Anise?” The young girl was standing outside of his door with a lonely expression.
“Kai. Do you have to go?”
He knelt down to eye level with her. “I have to. I need you to stay strong alright? Keep Hasen with you at all times.” He told her.
“Protect them for me Hasen.” He told the spirit.
‘By your will… Master… I shall await… your return…’ A raspy voice echoed back in his mind.
“Kai…” She embraced him, trying to hold back her tears.
“I’ve kept my promise. Now you need to keep yours.”
He placed his hand on her head and stroked her hair. “I won’t be gone long. I’ll be back before you know it.”
“… You always say that…”
“That’s because it’s true. Come on. Let’s go downstairs.”
A pudgy Lance was looking around curiously as Adalina him fed pieces of food she had chewed up. The boy had already teethed, and Adalina was trying to ween him.
While Lance was greedily swallowing whatever Adalina put in his mouth, Anise quietly and sullenly ate her food.
“… Steer clear of any dangerous individuals you hear? Even if you are a mage, you don’t know what they are thinking or might do. Don’t follow others without reason, try not to–”
“I got it father. You’ve told me twice already.”
“Really? Well, like they say. Once to know. Twice to see. Thrice to remember. At least now, you’ll recall my words if something happens. Oh, and watch out for–”
“Troyle.” Adalina interrupted. “Let him eat. You can give him all the advice you want after.”
Afterwards, breakfast went by as usual.
His parents had already accepted that he was going to leave, and neither attempted to persuade him otherwise.
In the living room.
As he was going over his items one last time before leaving the house, Troyle came down from the stairs and walked toward him.
“Not bringing your swords?”
“I thought about it, but decided not to. Don’t think I’ll need them.”
“A swordsman without a sword? No. We can’t have that. Here.” Without another word, Troyle handed him an elongated bundle.
“Take it. I had it sharpened two days ago.”
Taking the bundle off Troyle’s hand, he unfolded it.
Underneath was a beautiful silver blade. The sword was long, but it was not a longsword. It was slim, but not fragile. Forged specifically for the Formless Blade Style, it had no guards, only a little curvature in its design. It was sleek and graceful, and he had known it for most of his life.
“This… this is your sword…” He held the weapon sideways in his hand, unwilling to pick it up.
“It’s yours now. Take care of it.” Troyle replied.
“You’re going to need a weapon if you are thinking about traveling. I don’t care if you are a mage or have a spirit at your side. Take it and protect yourself.” Troyle reach out and brushed the side of the sword. “Do you remember when I had it forged?”
“… Eleven years ago. I remember, because it was exactly four turns before the annual arms competition that year.”
He could still vividly remember seeing the sword for the first time and thinking to himself about how beautiful it looked. It was also the only year that Troyle had participated in the Arms Competition.
“That’s right. Go ahead, pick it up and see how it feels.”
“I can’t. If I take this, what about you?”
“I’ve already ordered another sword to replace that one so don’t worry.” Troyle smiled.
“Kaidus, please take it. Don’t worry about your father. He will be fine.” Adalina who had been silently watching pleaded.
He hesitantly grabbed the sword and held it in front of him. The sword was quite light, and comparing it to his steel swords, it was about the same weight even though the blade itself was the length of one of his smaller swords.
As he fell into blade form with it to test his control, the sword began to flicker with a green light from catching the sunlight coming through the window. It was something he had seen many years ago while Troyle was fighting in the ring.
“That light is because of the xeberite.” Troyle spoke, seeing his surprise. “The sword was forged from rare minerals found in petrified xeralbas trees. It is stronger and lighter than traditional metal, but very costly. How does it feel?”
“Almost perfect…” He made a weak smile, unable to confess that it felt like it was made for him.
“Here. This is also yours.” Troyle took something else out of his pocket.
Looking at it, he could see that it was a dark piece of metal with something engraved onto it.
Taking a closer look, the engravings were that of a hat.
“Mine?” He questioned, confused at his father’s words.
“Yes. The league of the Feathered Hats. I’m sure you’ve heard of them from the Captain. This was a gift of gratitude for saving one of their leaders. It was through connections made by using this token that I was able to procure the rare xeberite ores, used in forging that sword.”
“…” He was speechless.
He had heard a lot about the league of the Feathered Hats during his stay with the mercenaries and knew what they were capable of. He knew that with the token, roads that would previously be closed to him could be pried open.
“From the day I commissioned it, that sword has always been yours. Along with this token.”
Without hesitation, he accepted the obsidian token from Troyle.
“Now then. What about money? Do you have enough?” His father questioned as he was putting the gift away.
“I’ll be fine. If I need more, I’ll find some way to work for it.”
Also inside his rucksack, was a small pouch containing eight hundred and thirty-seven erns. It wasn’t nearly enough to sustain anyone for two to three years, but if he used it sparingly and sold the animals he hunted or plants he gathered, he could make do. There were also plenty of people who would pay handsomely for the services of a mage.
With a new sword and everything accounted for, the family was outside the house, giving their last goodbyes. A carriage was ready to take him to the 1st ward gates where a caravan heading west was waiting.
His plan was to go as far as he needed to with the caravan before heading off on his own, as there was still unfinished business in Darsus.
“Kai. Come back okay?” Anise spoke, trying her best to see him off with a smile.
“I will.” He knelt and kissed her forehead. “Remember what I told you?”
“Good.” He got up and stepped over to Adalina. “Mother. Than-”
Having already given Lance to Troyle, Adalina embraced him. “We’ll be here, so please be safe and come back.”
“I will. Thank you for everything.”
She released the embrace and looked at him. “Are you sure you don’t want to say goodbye to the others in the market? Mr. Genum and Mr. Larson are going to be sad not seeing you again for such a long time.”
“It’ll be fine. I’ve troubled them enough as it is.”
“Have you already told Larant where you’re going? Did you see if anyone wanted to come with you?”
“No, but I’ll be fine by myself. Please don’t worry.”
“Kaidus,” Troyle spoke, moving over to them. “When you get to Port Aristolk, head to the One-eyed Ducas Inn. I’ve made preparations and there’s something I want you to pick up before your voyage.”
“Preparation? What kind of preparation?” He questioned.
“You’ll find out when you get there.” Troyle replied, staring at him stoically.
“Understood, sir.” He grinned.
“S-Sir?” Troyle’s façade shattered.
“You were being so serious that I couldn’t help it.”
“Gah… Get on with it, you brat. Go and don’t come back until you’re done with whatever it is you are after. Don’t worry about us.”
“Got it. You be a good boy alright Lance?” He grinned, pinching his brother’s cheek before picking up his bag. “I’ll write when I get to Malpaars and see if I can find someone to get it back here.”
“We’ll be waiting.” Troyle answered him with a smile.
With heavy steps, he began moving toward the carriage.
“Kai!” Anise cried out.
He stopped and turned around. His sister looked as if she was about to cry. With a big smile on his face, “Don’t worry. I’ll bring you something good when I come back.”
A smile crept onto Anise’s face, and she ran over to him, giving him one last hug before letting him go.