-Four days prior to the competition. 32nd of Zali-
Amongst others there for the same reason, a group from the Droxxon Mercenaries rode into Ferrent through the 3rd ward gate.
Their trip was quite eventful, but it was nothing seventeen trained mercenaries couldn’t handle.
Kaidus was riding at the front of the wagon alongside York who was driving. Another wagon followed them, carrying the other half of their group.
He was silently taking in the familiar atmosphere of the bustling 3rd ward. He smiled, seeing the many people who were out and about, moving through their day.
Their group caught the eyes of a few pedestrians, but many paid no heed to them. It was that time of the year again. A time when people came from all over Darsus to compete in the Arms Competition, for glory and a chance at wealth.
The group slowly made their way through the busy streets, moving toward their destination.
“I’ll be getting off here. Thanks for everything, York.” Stopping at the 3rd ward market district, Kaidus got off, taking a single bag of luggage with him.
The inns for the hired helps were in the opposite direction of where he is heading, so he chose this spot to part with them.
“No need. We’re the ones who should be thanking you. Say hi to your parents for me alright? It’s going to be busy, but I’ll try and drop by whenever I can. If not before, then after the competition.” York replied.
“Alright.” He waved them off.
““See ya Kaidus!”” Many of mercenaries called out as the wagons moved away.
His time with the mercenaries was over after three long years. Having already said his goodbyes, there was nothing else that needed to be said. Picking up his luggage, he made his way through the market district, moving ever closer to home.
Familiar people looked at him curiously. An instance of recognition here and there, but he could see that many were wondering who he is to have traveled with a band of what looked to be thugs.
He smiled, wondering if he had really changed that much after three years.
*Knock Knock* Kaidus stood in front of his house, waiting for the door to open. *Knock knock* He knocked once more, uncertain if his mother and sister were home.
He heard a girl’s voice shouting from inside the house and footsteps moving down the stairs. He sensed the familiarity of Hasen approaching along with someone he missed dearly.
“Can I help you?”
Opening the door was a young girl wearing a frilly hand sewn dress. Her usual dull red hair was flaring up into a fiery red color—illuminated by the afternoon sun—complementing the blue dress nicely. Her puffy cheeks were still there, and two dark eyes looked at him curiously. She was tiny for her age, even smaller than he was when he first entered the academy at seven.
“You’ve grown a lot.” He spoke, smiling at his sister.
Upon realizing who he is, a smile bloomed on her face. “Kai! Your back!” She jumped onto him, shouting his name happily.
“Did you miss me?” He asked, hugging her and gently patting her head.
“Uhn.” Anise nodded, suppressing her tears.
“You going to let me into the house?”
With a grin, she took his hand and led him inside.
The house was practically empty as usual. Troyle was undoubtedly at Lord Varath’s, but Adalina was nowhere to be seen.
“Where is mother?”
“Upstairs.” Anise replied with wide a teething grin.
“Let’s go tell her that I’m home.” He suggested, walking toward the stairs.
Holding tightly onto his hand, scared that he would disappear again if she let go, Anise promptly followed.
“Mother?” He called out, knocking on the door to his parent’s bedroom.
“Kaidus, is that you?” A reply came from inside.
Opening the door, he saw his mother sitting in a chair, holding a bundle gently to her chest.
“Mother- is that?” Joy and surprise surged through him.
“Welcome back honey. Come meet your baby brother.” She beckoned him with a welcoming smile.
‘I have a younger brother.’
Picking up Anise, “We have a little brother, Anise. Why didn’t you tell me?” He exclaimed joyously, hugging her.
“Hehehe! Mommy said to not tell you. She said it was a surprise.” Anise replied, laughing at suddenly being picked up and hugged.
“What’s his name?” He asked his mother, carrying Anise closer to get a better view of the sleeping baby.
An opening in the bundle revealed a small face sleeping peacefully in Adalina’s arms.
Like Anise before him, the baby had two big puffy cheeks. Tufts of dark red hair could be seen poking out of the shawl covering the baby’s head.
“His name is Lance. Lance Zakrus Paltos. Zakrus from the Gveril word meaning mighty.” Adalina answered with a sheepish grin.
“It’s a great name, mom.” Setting Anise down, “How come you never mentioned I was getting a brother in your letters?”
“We didn’t know if it was going to be a boy or a girl, and we wanted to surprise you.” Adalina answered with a warm smile.
Grinning, “Anise. He looks just like you when you were a baby.” Kaidus patted his sister’s head. He moved closer to the sleeping baby and softly touched the puffy cheeks. “How old is he?”
“He was born the 3rd of Zali, so almost a turn old. Do you want to hold him?”
“No, it’s okay. He’s sleeping so serenely, I fear I’d just wake him up.”
Adalina smiled. She got up and moved to the bedside. “Have you eaten yet? You must be hungry.” She asked, setting the baby down on the bed.
“I had a snack while we waited for permission to enter Ferrent, but nothing substantial.”
Adalina walked over to him and gave him a heartwarming hug. “Since Lance is sleeping, how about I heat up the leftovers from this morning and we have an early lunch?”
Adalina’s cooking. He was home. “Sounds perfect.” Kaidus replied with a smile.
“…about you for the past two turns after I told her that you’d be coming back.”
“Momma, no! Don’t tell Kai!” An embarrassed Anise ran to her mother, trying stop the stories.
They were in the living room talking about their time apart.
He’d already spent a good deal of the afternoon telling them about his three years: about his training with the Captain and the various other mercs, the minor jobs he’d assisted with, what he’d learned about survival from many of them, and about learning archery from the mercenary rangers.
He also shared how his healing abilities benefited the mercenaries greatly, and about his many sparring sessions with the others, especially Dalzak and the Captain.
Although the members of the Droxxon Mercenaries have seen him using magic for various occasions, he’d hidden the bulk of his powers, using only what was required. Never anything extravagant, and nothing that would link him to the mage that the Captain and some of the others met in that forest years ago. He stuck mostly to healing the injured; keeping his overwhelming strength and Zion in check.
Currently, Adalina was telling him about Anise’s excitement upon hearing that he would be returning home.
She’d already told him about how Anise was using his name as a threat to those whom she deemed were causing trouble—whenever they were out shopping.
How Anise would yell at the other kids who were playing ‘knights’, breaking up their games because she thought they were hurting each other.
About sometimes catching her just talking to the ring that is Hasen, and many other childish moments.
He couldn’t help but laugh at the plentiful stories of his adorable little sister.
Three long years, and their only form of communication was through letters. It was refreshing to hear his mother and sister’s cheerful voices again, just talking about mundane everyday happenings.
“She’s also been reading your books, trying to start a collection of her own.” Adalina added with a smile. Turning to Anise. “Don’t you want to show Kaidus what you’ve been reading?”
“I wanted to tell Kaidus that, mommy!” Anise pouted. “!” Her pouting face instantly vanished and she quickly left the living room, rushing upstairs.
“Ever since she heard about the baby, she’s been reading a lot. Sometimes I’d come into the living room and she’d be sitting by the window in that same spot you’d always use, silently reading.” Adalina explained with a smile. “She’s trying to copy you, you know? She wants to be a good big sister for Lance as you were with her.”
Kaidus smiled and looked at the window. At the spot where he’d spent a good portion of his days lazily flipping through the pages, absorbing the contents of his books whether they were interesting or not.
“I just realized something. She’s no longer talking in third person.” He chuckled.
“She stopped the year after we left you with the mercenaries. I kept pestering her about it, and she eventually grew out of it.” Adalina giggled.
As quickly as she disappeared upstairs, Anise was back. Carrying a few books in her arms, she laid them out onto the table.
“What’s this?” Kaidus asked, picking them up and reading the titles.
‘The Princess’ Song’, ‘Wandering Phraes of Lizur Woods’, ‘The Woeful Blade’.
The books were geared toward older kids.
He didn’t know what the ‘The Princess’ Song’ was about, but the second book was a story about the haunted Lizur woods of Southern Unotus, and a knight’s adventure to retrieve a lost treasure from its depths. The third book was a cook’s tale about coming across a crying sword that was separated from its creator, begging him to return it.
“Are you reading these Anise?” He asked his sister.
“Uh huh. These are my books that mommy bought for me.” Anise replied cheerfully.
“Did you like them?” Kaidus asked.
“Yea! I like the Princess book. I like it when she beat up the bad mage with her singing.” Anise grinned. “I’m reading this one right now,” She pointed to ‘The Woeful Blade’. “And I don’t like this one. Spirits are nice. They wouldn’t do that to the knight.” She answered, patting her chest.
It took Kaidus a moment to realize she was patting Hasen. “I haven’t read it yet, but what happens in that book?” He pointed to The Princess’ Song.
Anise began regaling it excitedly.
It was about a princess who lost her voice because of an evil sorceress, and was on a quest to find it. The evil sorceress was using the princess’ beautiful voice to lure and trick forest animals and travelers to do her biddings. Another mage teamed up with the princess thinking she was just a regular girl to help her out. They eventually unsealed her voice; which was then used to defeat and undo the spells of the evil sorceress.
As soon as she finished the exhilarating tale, she started taking deep breaths, having been too excited.
“Look at you. Soon you’ll have a whole shelf of your own books.” He gave her a big grin, seeing how enthusiastic she was about the book.
It reminded him of his younger self, excitedly talking about the contents of his books with Adalina. Although his books were more informative and theoretical, involving various philosophies about the natural world instead of mere story books, the excitement was the same. He couldn’t help but cheer on his little sister.
“Kai, can we read this together?” Anise picked up the book ‘The Woeful Blade’.
Anise got up. Holding the book, she struggled to move her chair next to his. Kaidus got up to help her.
“I’ll go get dinner started. Your father should be home soon.” Adalina told them and left for the kitchen, leaving them with a loving smile.
A short while after, the door opened and a man walked in.
“Daddy!” Anise jumped up and merrily ran over to welcome Troyle home.
“What’s this? You’re in a good- oh.” Troyle smiled, seeing the reason. “Did you just get back?” He called out to Kaidus, picking up Anise and walking towards the living room.
“We arrived this afternoon. Busy as usual?” Kaidus asked, knowing that this time of the year was usually quite hectic. With the arms competition and the lord’s attendance, guarding him amongst thousands of strangers was always something that had to be carefully planned and coordinated.
“A little. We’ve doubled the guards, so I’ve been busy teaching the new additions to stand in formations and be on alert.”
“Double the guards?”
“Only until after the day of the competition. The whole Varath family is attending the event this year so we’ve had to increase the security.” Troyle replied with a tired smile.
“Really?” He was surprised. He’d never seen Sylvia or Jillian at the competition with Lord Varath.
“Where’s your mother?”
“Lance was crying. She just went upstairs to check on him.” Kaidus replied as Anise came back to sit beside him.
“I see, so you’ve met your little brother.” Troyle gave a delighted grin.
“Well? What do you think of his name?”
“I like it. It sounds sharp and strong.”
“Daddy picked it.” Anise interjected happily.
“That I did.” Troyle confirmed with a proud grin. “Were you surprised when you saw him?”
“I was. You guys never mentioned a baby in the letters.”
“We wanted you to find out for yourself.” Troyle gave a mischievous smile, taking a seat across from them. “How about you? Let’s hear all about the last three years.”
The sound of footsteps came down the stairs.
“If you two are going to talk, how about holding Lance while I set the table?” Adalina called out from the stairs with Lance in her arms.
“Well then, bring me my son.” Troyle ushered. A wide smile on his face.
With Anise and Adalina both in the kitchen setting up the table and Troyle listening attentively—with lance in his arms.
Kaidus began recapping his three years.
Her eyes were wide open. She couldn’t sleep.
Today was one of the happiest days of her life. Her amazing older brother whom she adored was finally back, and he was still the same person who left them three years ago. His warm smile was the same, his ever-calming voice had changed a bit, but it soothed her as it always had. Just having him pat her head filled her with glee.
She sat up and got out of her bed, moving to the door. She was unable to go to sleep, afraid that when she woke up, her brother would be gone again.
Silently leaving her room, she moved to the door across from hers.
*Knock* *Knock* without waiting for an answer, she opened the door. “Kai? Are you in here?” She meekly asked, scared that he was gone already.
“Anise?” A little glowing orb manifested, lighting up the dark room.
“Ca-Can I sleep with you tonight?” She pleaded.
“Is everything alright?” Her brother asked, sitting up on his bed.
“Uhn, but I…” She fiddled with her hands, rubbing them back and forth afraid he would refuse.
“You wanna sleep together?” Her brother questioned.
“Please?” She asked again, pleading with her eyes.
She saw his kind smile. “Alright. Come here.” He lifted up his blanket and moved to the side of the bed to make room for her.
Without delay, she quickly jumped in. With a big smile, she grabbed onto his arm and hugged it as she closed her eyes.
Lying next to her beloved brother, sleep soon overtook her.
“Hah…” He sighed. “Why did this happen?” Kaidus asked himself, walking up onto the stage. His name had just been called.
It was the day of the arms competition.
Troyle, Anise, Lord Varath, and Lady Reanne—along with eight guards—were all standing behind him, waving him off with smiles and cheers. Adalina was staying home to look after Lance, saying it was too loud of an environment for the baby.
They’d had the misfortune of running into the Varath couple earlier that morning. After some talks between lord Varath and his father, it ended up with his name being entered as a contestant. He had an inkling the “coincidental meeting” as Lord Varath put it, had nothing to do with coincidences.
Troyle reasoned with the desire to see how far he’d come after three years, and the Varath’s instantly latched onto it. Even Anise enthusiastically begged him to participate after Troyle and the Varath couple managed to coerce her to their side.
With his arms tied and his name already entered, he unwillingly agreed to it.
“A tyke like ya dares ta cross blades with Arbaile, titan of Katilik?!” His opponent roared as they stood face to face with each other.
The man was quite tall—almost twice his own height—and wielded a wooden twin headed battle-axe. Although his opponent was not all that muscular, the way the man was easily handling the axe showed that he knew how to use it.
“Best ya giv’up before yer hurting all over, boy.” The man warned.
Kaidus bowed as a sign of respect to his opponent before taking a step back and lowering his stance.
He stretched out his left leg and his right bent low like a spring, taking a low aggressive posture. He bent his upper body forward and dropped his left sword onto the stage, bringing his left hand up to his face. His right sword was pointed up towards the sky, resting along his right arm behind his back in a reverse grip.
Kaidus calmly watched the man in front of him.
“Shoulda stayed home, boy.” The man smiled, warning him once more.
“Begin!” The stage 2 announcer called out after seeing their readiness.
The instant the call came, the tall man was blown sideways. Moaning and groaning, the man was holding his side, gasping for air and unable to get up. The wooden axe was dropped onto the stage. The announcer stood between them and announced the winner.
Kaidus picked up his sword. He made a curt bow toward the man once more before turning to walk away as the crowd went up into a storm of cheers and applauses.
The instant the signal was given, his right leg had sprung into action, kicking his body into motion and propelling him forward. Twisting his body with the backhand swing, his sword went straight into the man’s left side.
His speed had caught the unsuspecting man off guard. The power in his swing smashed into the man’s ribs, pushing the man off balance and onto the floor. He made sure the attack was non-lethal, but there were undoubtedly a few broken ribs along with a shattered pride.
Kaidus walked off the stage, moving to where his father and sister—along with Lord and Lady Varath—were waiting for him.
Although an unwilling participant, he was still a participant. Especially because his father and sister were watching, there was no other choice but to go for the win.
“Well done,” Troyle spoke as he approached. “A single strike with a single sword huh? The captain’s taught you well.” Troyle stated with a wide grin.
“Kai!” Anise called out cheerfully, latching onto his arm as he joined them.
“Nothing less from Troyle’s son,” Lord Varath added with grin. “Magic and sword huh? I fear for the man who dares to incur your wrath.”
An embarrassed smile crept on his face at the compliments, but catching the Lord’s festive eyes, Kaidus could see that Lord Varath was already plotting something.
“Way to go, boy!” People shouted around them.
Surrounded by the eight guards, none dared approach them but he could feel the excited eyes of the audience looking their way.
“Mother?” A voice called out from behind them, breaking through the guards.
Turning to the newcomer, “Sylvia?” Lady Reanne answered.
Turning around, Kaidus saw a young lady with long dark blue hair wearing a plain beige dress. The girl had beautiful light blue eyes and fair skin that seemed to sparkle in the light, contrasting her dark blue hair. A wiry frame could be gauged through the plain dress and her long hair was tied to the side in a stylish manner.
“Sylvia, why’d you run off?” Someone else questioned, breaking through the guards.
“Mother? Father?” Followed by another.
Two older girls.
One with light brown hair tied into a tail. The girl was not wearing a dress, but light leather armor and what looked to be traveling pants, boots, and a long-sleeved shirt underneath.
The other was a beauty much like her mother—Lady Reanne. She had long dark blue hair and wore a cerulean outing dress.
Jillian was as beautiful as ever, but Sylvia was slowly growing into a beauty of her own.
He knew at once who the two dark haired girls were, but was uncertain about the other.
“What are you girls doing here?” Lady Reanne inquired.
“Sylvia took off on her own. We were just following her.” The girl with brown hair answered, looking around and watching him cautiously.
“Is that so?” Lady Reanne’s lip curved into a smile.
“K-Kaidus?” Sylvia stuttered, gazing at him.
“Wha-?” The brown-haired girl’s face contorted with surprise.
“…” Jillian was silently looking at him. Her face was calm, but he could see the surprise in her eyes.
“Hi Sylvia.” He smiled back. Still clutching his arm, Anise’s face was beaming with delight.