Kaidus weaved his body, swerving and evading the flurry of slashes coming his way. Noticing an opening, he twisted his upper body to the side and extended his right arm, returning a thrust while simultaneously dodging a diagonal downward strike.
Instead of dodging the thrust, Troyle parried it with the practice sword in his left hand. He quickly launched a left kick into his son’s right side, seeing that it was unprotected. Like an acrobat, his son flipped backward, evading the kick and delivering a quick strike at his leg while in the air.
“You’re getting slow, father.” Kaidus grinned, landing gracefully into a defensive stance.
“It’s the price one pays for growing old.” Troyle replied with a smirk while striking at his son once again, paying no attention to the stinging sensation in his leg.
“The Captain’s twice your age.” Deflecting the tip of Troyle’s sword that was going for his left shoulder, Kaidus retorted.
“The captain has-” Troyle quickly switched his right hand into a reverse grip, barely catching a counter from Kaidus’ right sword. “As I was saying, the captain has the benefits of magic.”
“He doesn’t use magic-” With his sword sliding downward, Kaidus quickly shoved it into the sandy ground. “-much.” using it to support himself, he leapt forward with his whole body, dodging an incoming slash.
“Cheeky litt–Whoa!” Troyle spun his body to the side as a kick followed by a slash came straight down in front of him. Dodging the boy’s aerial attacks, he kicked at the sword that was shoved into the ground—throwing his son off balance. Before the boy could recover, he spun his left sword into a reverse grip.
*Clack!* *Thwack!!* *Clack!* Three consecutive strikes.
Rubbing his left arm where he failed to block his father’s second attack, Kaidus quickly retreated a distance.
“Not too slow, I hope.” Troyle sneered.
“Just a light graze.” Kaidus grinned, seeing that everything was a ploy to get him to lower his guard.
It was their first sparring session ever since his return to Ferrent. As always, they were sparring in the courtyard of the Varath house as their own house lacked a backyard and was too small. They had arrived in the early morning, and have been fighting for quite some time already. An audience of guards and servants had gathered, watching silently from the sides.
“Father wait. I want to test out something.” Kaidus stopped the session and took a simple stance.
“You’re a year too early to be testing out techniques, boy. Just come at me.” Troyle replied with a wry smile.
He had seen the boy’s skills, having been at the front of the competition. But now, going head to head against the boy, it brought him a whole different level of understanding. After only three years, his son had grown into a formidable opponent and he was already struggling to keep up.
The boy was flawlessly incorporating single sword maneuvers into the Formless Blade Style, and from their exchanges, he could feel faint traces of Dalzak’s ‘Severing Fang’ Style. Even his son’s heavy strikes were reminiscent of Captain Zikale’s flawless techniques that brought out the full power of each swing. It was like fighting a combination of himself, Dalzak, and the captain at the same time.
A year was an exaggeration, a balm for his ego than anything. There was no telling how easily his son would be able to defeat him soon. The boy’s attacks were reaching further than before. They were much faster and stronger with each successive hit, and not to mention the boy’s incredible speed that will easily surpass his own quite soon.
As a father, he felt nothing but pride along with a sense of vicarious fulfillment, seeing his son’s growth.
“Here I come.”
Troyle lowered his stance and brought forth his swords, ready to engage. He saw as the boy closed in on him, and then a sudden flash of movement. The wooden practice sword’s tip was against his chest before he could even counter. “You…” He was shocked. It was the draw technique he’d seen Kaidus avoiding in one of the matches during the competition.
“I still haven’t gotten it right yet. It looks slow compared to the original.” The boy replied.
“Slow?” Troyle chuckled. It’s been barely six days since the competition. He couldn’t help but laugh and be amazed. “What’s it called?” he inquired curiously.
“Don’t know. Never got a chance to ask,” Kaidus pulled back to reset his position. “What do you think?”
“Terrifying. If this was a real fight, I’d be on the ground right now.” Troyle answered as a chill ran down his back. “Come. Show it to me again.”
“We’re already in the 11th ward. Are you really not going to visit any of them?” Troyle asked.
Having finished their sparring session, they were leaving the courtyard so that the guards could resume their morning training.
“I’ve thought about it, but I see no reason to right now.” Kaidus replied, walking into the manor. The subject was about the various invitations he had received over the past couple of days.
“Money, status, lord’s daughters. I see three very good reasons.” Troyle grinned back at him.
“Was the latter why you entered the competition all those years ago?” Kaidus interrogated with a smile, feigning ignorance.
“What? No. We needed money. You know that.” Troyle quickly defended himself.
“I know.” Kaidus replied with a wicked smile.
“Gah… Anyways, winning the competition and being a mage, such options are within your grasp.”
“But I’m not interested in those options.” Kaidus replied, walking beside his father.
Being affiliated with the Varath and Ravon house was already enough for him. To actively seek and involve himself with those of the nobility was not something he wanted to do.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re interested or not. I’m just saying you should go and get to know some of them. Make some connections with those of the inner wards. You don’t want to be like me who could barely support his family because all he could do is swing his sword around. You’re smarter than that.” Troyle rebutted solemnly.
“Ah, but look at where that has taken you.” Someone spoke from behind. “Was it not your sword that landed you in my employ? Was it not your sword that has protected me all these years?” The lord was right behind them.
Wearing a thick gray robe made of fur over a white attire, he looked quite dashing. Almost majestic.
“My lord, it’s beneath you to eavesdrop.” Troyle reprimanded.
“Nonsense. It’s exactly like me to do such a thing,” the lord grinned. “Especially when you’re trying to persuade Kaidus about such matters like involvement with the nobles. I believe I should also have a say, as I–.”
“I’ll just talk to him later then,” Troyle quickly replied, cutting off the lord. “What are you doing here though? I thought you were waiting for me in your study?”
“I was, but I decided to come see what was going on after hearing that Kaidus also came with you. That was quite the show you two put on.”
“Just a little morning exercise. Can’t very well spar like that at home.” Troyle returned a smile.
“I’m not complaining. It looked like it was helping to motivate the men.”
“Really?” Troyle’s face twisted into a surprised smile.
“Someone who’s getting beaten by his own son. The men looked to be quite enthusiastic, training so that such a thing would not happen to them.” Lord Varath snickered.
“What are you really doing here?” Troyle reiterated, ignoring what the lord just said. His smile was gone and his face, an impassive mask.
Laughing and not paying any attention to Troyle, Lord Varath turned to Kaidus. “I acquired quite a few books these past three years. How about taking a gander at them? We can discuss about them later if you decide to stay, or some other time.”
“I was actually thinking about going to the library to see if you got any new additions.” Kaidus replied, chuckling at the lord’s joke and returning a smile.
A devilish grin appeared on the lord’s face. “Perfect. You remember Artroloxsi Velantrius? The compendium by Hinnegin R. Rucin? Cost quite a bit, but I managed to track down and procured a copy of it two years ago. You should definitely take a look at it if you’re interested in the mages of old.”
“I’ll do that. Thank you.”
“You know where the library is. I’m sure you’ll be delighted. Now, your father and I must talk about today’s agenda.” Putting his arm over Troyle’s shoulders, the lord ushered them away.
“Hmmmm~ hmm hm hmmmmm… Hmmmm~ Hm hmm hmmmm~”
In a circular room decorated with thousands of books, a young girl was walking along a raised platform, humming as she worked diligently. Picking up a handful of books from a stack on the ground, she began placing them into the shelves.
‘Verunis Insepaton’ Sylvia read the name and placed it onto the book shelf.
‘Varnagh the Shadow’s Siege’ Like the last, she placed it into the shelf for V.
A while ago, her father had mentioned that he had left a stack of books in the library and wanted her to help return them to the shelves. It was an unusual request since there were many servants around, but it didn’t matter to her as she was no stranger to menial tasks. She was already quite capable despite her age. She ran errands for her parents, she knew how to shop for grocery, how to cook, how to clean, even gardening was part of her skillsets. She didn’t know when, but such activities had become a norm to her.
She especially loved cooking for her parents and seeing the joy it brought them. To cook for those she loves and seeing them enjoy it, there were few things more rewarding in her opinion.
“Hm~ m mm hmmm~” She continued to hum as she placed the books in their respective sections.
‘Zarak Caverns’ Wonders’
With the last book back on the shelf, she followed the platform around to where the stairs were, blissfully humming and engrossed with a sense of accomplishment.
The large double doors were still wide open like how she left them. Pulling one side to a close, she spotted someone sitting in the middle of the room smiling back at her.
“K-Kaidus!?” Sylvia blurted out, startled to see the boy.
“Good morning, Sylvia.” He greeted, waving to her.
“G-Good morning.” She managed a reply as she tensed up. ‘No. no. please don’t do this!’ She told herself, feeling her nerves leaving. “H-how long have…” Her face became flushed before she could even finish the question, realizing what she’d been doing.
“Did you h-hear?” She asked, trying to look calm. Deep inside, she was ready to dash out of the room and lock herself away.
“I apologize. It was a very beautiful tune and I could not help but listen.” Kaidus stood up and lowered his head.
“S-sorry!” She quickly apologized for accidently slamming the door that she was pulling.
It was too much. She had not expected to see him again so soon after the competition and in such a situation.
“Are you alright?” Kaidus asked, looking at her curiously.
“Y-yes. Sorry…” Her left leg was outside of the room, and she was contemplating about whether she should run or hide from her embarrassment.
“Do you know where your father keeps the newer books?” Kaidus questioned, taking a few steps around the room.
“Newer books?.. I think they’re over there by the bottom shelf to your right.” Her voice carried a nervous muffled tone, and she could hear it. She quietly prayed for him not to notice.
She thought she’d grown accustomed to him with the time they spent together, but that was not the case. Like the sun, he was too dazzling. Ever since the competition, she couldn’t help but revert to her old self, seeing how much more amazing he’d become. Those words of thanks when they went for snacks had smitten her completely. She had to avoid him afterwards, afraid that he would start to dislike her.
“Thank you.” Kaidus turned around and bent down to look through the shelf. “That song you were humming. It’s Lady by the bay isn’t it?” He asked without turning to look at her.
“Y-yes. Adalina was humming it and I liked it, so I asked her to teach me…” She gave an uneasy reply.
“She used to hum it all the time when I was younger. It is one of my favorites, it was why I couldn’t interrupt you. Sorry.”
Sylvia’s eyes lit up. “Really?” A piece of her mind calmed down at his words.
“Yes.” Kaidus stood up and there were two books in his hands. “So please, don’t be embarrassed. Like I said, it was a very beautiful tune.”
“Thank you…” Her desire to flee began to slowly recede, and she took a step back into the library.
In front of her was the young man whom she had worked tirelessly for. ‘Where would I end up if all I did was run?’ She asked herself. She had already made her decision all those years ago. The only thing that was left, was to try her best and see where the future leads.
“It is not that good, but I can hum it for you again if you want…” She offered with every ounce of courage in her, taking another step into the room.
“Please do. I would love to hear it again.” Kaidus pleaded, taking a seat.
With a bright smile on Kaidus’ face, she couldn’t help but comply.
With the setting sun and darkness’ descent, the Port burst into life for a second time. Sailors, dockhands, street-wenches, travelers, all matters of unsavory individuals were out and about, looking for relief from their dreary lives. The taverns along the streets echoed with laughter and shouts, promiscuous moaning could be heard coming through the dark alleys, and drunkards walked the streets regaling tales of days long past.
A shabby man haggardly made his way through the busy portside street, blending in seamlessly as a beggar. His previously tidy and pale yellow hair was now long and a dirty brown color. His face was rife with dirt and grime, and an unkempt beard occupied his face. The man held his right arm to his chest in a sling and walked with a limp. No one paid any attention to him, trying their hardest not to notice lest they made eye contact. Making his way through the streets, the man made a turn into an alley, moving away from the lights and people.
In the darkness, his limp disappeared and he quickly navigated his way through the twists and turns of the alleyways, arriving in front of a dilapidated building far away from the hustle and bustle of the Port’s night life.
*knock, knock, knock*
Three quick knocks.
Two delayed knocks.
*Knock… Knock, knock.*
A delayed knock followed by two quick ones.
Soon after, the door opened and two people silently came out. One was an old bald man supporting himself with a cane while the other was a young boy of no more than seven. The old man wore nightclothes and looked ready to retire for the night, but the young boy was wearing a dark traveling cloak.
“Is everything prepared?” The old man whispered.
“Yes. They’re sailing tonight.” The man answered. “Come. We don’t have much time.” He held out his hand to the young boy. The young boy took his hand and moved to stand beside him.
“Thank you for everything you’ve done, Eralus.” The man made a gracious bow before walking away.
“Biran.” The old man stopped him. “We may not be related by blood, but know that you’ll always be my son. Come back and visit again.”
“…Thank you for everything, father. Goodbye.” Without looking back, he vanished into the darkness with the young boy.
They meticulously made their way through the alleys and toward the docks, careful not to be spotted by anyone.
“Almost there. Just a little bit further.” He encouraged the young boy.
“Biran the sea isn’t safe at this time of the year.”
“I know, but all the roads are guarded and we’re too far from the capital to get there safely on foot. If we can avoid the pirates and get to Port Novierre, it’ll only be four day’s ride from there to Karathas. It is our best option.”
“… You don’t really think–”
“I don’t know, but my priority is to get you back to Karathas safely. You remember what I told you?”
“Uh huh.” The young boy replied in affirmation.
“Good. Come on.” He picked up the child and ran.
Stealthily making their way behind a warehouse, “The silver god descends in all his glory, furious and enraged by the wisdom of men.” The man named Biran whispered into the darkness.
“For death was his gift, and suffering, his will.” Someone answered from the shadows.
“I am Gabban, the one who seeks.”
“And I am Narlok, the one who shows.” A lanky man stepped out of the dark and ushered them inside the building through a false wall.
Inside, they followed the man through the different storage rooms until they reached the back of a room filled with crates of fruits. Moving some of the crates, the lanky man revealed a hidden passage leading down into the ground. “This passage leads to a channel that empties into the sea,” the man opened it up. “Your ship has already left the docks in case something happens. After descending, keep to the left and stick to the walls. The path will lead you to Arelai. She will take you to the ship.” The man explained.
Surely enough, waiting for them at the end of the channel was a young woman on a rowboat. Without words, they silently got on the boat and the young woman rowed them out to sea.
To the ship that would take them one step closer to home. One step closer to the truth.