Curious eyes fell upon him as he followed a man through the palace. Unlike the fine garments worn by the lords and ladies of the royal court, he was wearing unfashionable commoner clothing.
A long gray tunic that went down to his knees with an open front, fastened down the middle with strings. The opening exposed a plain black shirt underneath along with dull brown pants, and on his feet were leather walking shoes. The clothes had been purchased for this very occasion, but it was still quite far from the standards of the aristocracy.
Leading him was an older man wearing a black robe that covered his whole body. The only other color that was on the robe were two blue lines that looked to be patterns, flowing from the front of the robe over the shoulder to the back. Although already graying, the older man held his head high and walked with graceful steps, befitting a person of the royal palace. The man had introduced himself as the king’s royal attendant.
Many gorgeous pieces of arts decorated their path as if a testament to the wealth of the Royal family. Pictures of family members hung on the walls, stone statues of predatory beasts imbued with magic that they looked as if they would leap forth any moment line the halls, and exquisite furnishings that stood as sturdy as the day they were constructed exuded lustrous glows and faint traces of mana.
He ambled behind the man, keeping pace and making sure not to let his eyes wander too much.
Being here and everything was very sudden. It was only two days ago that he received an invitation he couldn’t refuse. A summon from the King.
A Royal Knight personally delivered the invitation, notifying him that refusal was not an option. He was told when and where he would be expected, and to be ready for it. This very morning, an extravagant carriage of pure black metal with silver plating and a golden crown emblazoned on its side had picked him up.
The reasons in the invitation was for a formal audience with the king for becoming this year’s champion.
On the ride here, although he’s heard much about it, he saw for himself how different the 13th ward was. As soon as they entered the Royal ward, everything changed; the scenery, the buildings, the atmosphere, even the roads.
A grass field—blanketed with the night’s frost—lined the outskirts of the 13th ward all the way from the gates to the royal Palace at the center. The royal ward was so spacious that it felt like a completely different world. There were no gray buildings huddled together, no people walking the roads, not even the sound of kids playing. It also lacked the livelihood of his 3rd ward, and its coziness.
While riding in the carriage, he saw patches of trees in the distance far from the pristine roads, and blotches of brown on the grassy plain where flower gardens had bloomed earlier in the year. Undoubtedly, come Alivai, the field of grass would be plastered with colors of all variation.
Closing in on the Palace, he also spotted the fallen knight monument marking the hero’s cemetery—a place for the exemplary few that have perished in Ferrent’s service. He saw the Royal crypt, the famed Halas garden that was recently constructed two hundred years ago by King Kalsin J. Halas Dalzon for his deceased wife, the water gardens commissioned by King Lucius, and the colossal statue commemorating the mage King Nieto that stood magnificently to the side of the palace, as if guarding it.
“We are here.” The attendant stopped in front of a large wooden double door guarded by two men with swords to their side. “Wait here. Once the doors open for you, walk to the king and I shall announce you. Acknowledge his Majesty and kneel.”
“When you’re kneeling, keep your left hand to your right shoulder. Your right knee should be touching the floor along with your right knuckles. Keep your left knee pointed towards the front and bow low. Do not lift your head until his majesty says otherwise.” The attendant reminded him one last time before opening one of the doors and leaving him to stand alone with the guards. They each gave him a quick glance before turning away to focus on whatever they were doing.
‘Well, the grandiose formalities of the royals certainly didn’t change much.’ Kaidus mused to himself, awaiting his turn.
Shortly after, both doors opened and he stepped in.
A large hall opened up before him. Six huge pillars supported the room. Alongside them, he could see several members of the nobility. None that he knew at a glimpse, but everyone was dressed in lush vibrant colors. They all eyeballed him as soon as he entered.
In front of him, sunlight rained down through an opening in the ceiling, creating a path to the throne. He saw that the room was rectangular and stretched a good distance from the entrance. In the corner of his eyes, he caught additional passages that exited the hall through the sides. There were windows, but the placements were too high, giving it a more decorative touch than a practical one.
Without stalling, he walked towards the throne.
“To his majesty King Sarjace J. Roulus Dalzon the twelfth, I present the champion of this year’s arms competition, and your very own subject residing in the 3rd ward, Kaidus Paltos.” The royal attendant announced him as he approached the throne.
“Him?” A stout man in his mid-forties, sitting lazily—with a palm supporting his head—upon the throne inquired.
The man had clear blue eyes, short curly brown hair, prominent cheekbones that complimented his oval face nicely, and a clean-shaven look. The King was wearing a red fur cloak and a black outfit with silver patterns and a golden crown on his chest. Even if he did not look dignified, his attire more than made up for it.
The nobles standing around began to whisper to each other.
“Your majesty.” Kaidus got down and kneeled as he had been instructed, conforming to formalities.
“Days of pestering me to hold an audience, and this is it? I was told I’d be welcoming a master of magic, one the likes we’ve not seen since my great ancestors. All I see before me is a boy who doesn’t even have hair on his cock.” The king’s dissatisfied voice resounded through the room hushing the whispers.
‘It is they who should be groveling before you, Master!’ A voice thundered in his head.
‘That is enough. It matters not who kneels.’ Kaidus thought back, quelling the voice.
“Do not let his appearance fool you, my king. Everything I’ve told you is the truth,” A deep and familiar voice answered from the side. “I’ve already talked with Headmaster Nylen. He stands with me on this.”
“To the four gods with what you and that old man thinks! I’ll believe it when I see it for myself. Boy! Stand up and let me take a better look at you.” The king issued, and Kaidus stood up. The King circled him, evaluating him closely.
The king held up his arm and felt along them before moving to his callused palms. Leaving his arms, the man moved to his shoulders before patting his chest.
“A little scrawny for being the champion, don’t you think?” The King turned to scoff at Lord Ravon before turning back to him. “Is it true you defeated the Knight Representative?”
“It is.” Kaidus replied, undeterred at being scrutinized and doubted.
“Hmmm… My Royal knight commander tells me you’re a person of many talents. Is he telling the truth and what do you have to say about that?”
“I cannot answer for I do not know what he has told you, but he speaks too highly of me.” Kaidus replied, staring back at the King.
“Keep your head forward, boy. I did not tell you to look around, especially at me.” The King reprimanded.
“My apologies, – your majesty. You will address me as such, and you will not speak unless questioned. Do you understand?” The King added.
‘Master-.’ The voice echoed once again.
“My apologies, your majesty.” He repeated, consciously restraining the voice once more.
“You’re a mage?”
“Yes, your majesty.”
“Hmph.” The king returned to his throne and sat down. “Lorhan, send for Torgo. I want to test the boy.”
“Torgo has already left for the 12th ward on official business, your majesty. He won’t be back until evening.” The attendant replied.
“Your majesty, why not let the boy demonstrate?” Lord Ravon interjected.
“You and that old sack claimed him a peerless mage, Gelrin. How am I supposed to ascertain such things if he just demonstrates? No. I will have one of my mages verify.” The king retorted. “What about Evelyn, Lorhan? Is she here?” The king enquired of the attendant once more.
‘Evelyn?’ Kaidus wondered. The name sounded very familiar to him.
“She is, your majesty. She should be with the prince right now.”
“Send for her.”
“Yes, your majesty.” The attendant promptly left the audience hall.
‘I will not stand for this, master. They move to put you on display like a common decoration!’ The voice once again thundered in this mind.
‘Masssterrrr, my brother issss correct. Thissssss farcccce hassss gone long enoughhhh. Allow me, to open their eyessss.’ Another voice hissed.
‘That is enough, both of you. I will NOT repeat myself.’ Kaidus Roared back in his mind, instantly silencing both entities, binding them shut with an iron will.
“Are you alright? Your face seems to be discolored.” The King sneered at him.
“I’m fine, your majesty.”
“Tell me. You’re from the 3rd ward right? How long have you lived in Ferrent?”
“All my life, your majesty. We settled here when I was one.”
“That so? Any thoughts on the city?”
“It is a splendid city befitting the heart of Darsus. Truly a prosperous center of freedom and well-being.” Kaidus replied, lowering his head as a show of respect to the one who lords over it.
“Really?” The king’s contemptuous smile turned into a pleasant one.
The double doors to the audience hall opened, and a woman entered. Following behind her was the royal attendant and a boy around Anise’s age.
“You called for me your highness?” The woman made a low bow.
Long green hair with two radiant emerald eyes on a beautiful pearly face.
At a glance, he remembered. ‘Evelyn Luciere Lithius.’ He recalled the name in his mind.
He’s heard quite a bit about the woman. She is Prim’s elder sister and the eldest child of the Lithius house. She is a member of the Mystiks guild and is known as the Iridescent Flames for her mastery of Fire magic. Hailing from the prestigious Lithius house, she also works directly for the royal court and is the young Prince’s teacher and guard.
Upon seeing him, the young boy following behind Evelyn suddenly darted over to where he was standing.
“It’s really you!” A face beaming with admiration and two large blue eyes looked up at him.
“Excuse me?” He couldn’t help but be surprised at the prince’s sudden exclamation.
“Jalux, you know that boy?” The king sitting upon his throne questioned.
“Know him? He’s the reason why I’ve been trying to learn the sword, father.”
“Don’t tell me you sneaked out to watch the competition again this year.”
“I heard about it from…”
“You’re a terrible liar. Come over here.” The king shot a glare at the prince. “Looks like I’ll have to talk with you again about your habits.”
“Ugh.” The boy lowered his head, walking to stand beside his father.
“Evelyn. Find out if that boy really knows magic.” A simple command came out of the King’s mouth.
The woman invoked an incantation and the room’s temperature rose. A large wall of flame ignited between him and Evelyn, shooting up into the ceiling.
“It’s a simple test. All you have to do is extinguish my flames with magic.” The woman spoke.
As soon as she finished her sentence, a fierce wind tore the wall of fire asunder in an instant.
“What…” The other nobles looked on with confusion.
“…” Lord Ravon watched silently, unsurprised at the display before him.
“…” The king was sitting up on his throne. “What happened?”
“It’s voiceless incantation, your majesty. I’ve told you.” Lord Ravon answered.
“You mean, all that drivel was true?” The King’s eyes lit up. “Evelyn. One more time. This time, control your flames.” The king commanded.
With another incantation from Evelyn, a pillar of fire erupted in the middle of the room, undulating from side to side.
“Show me what you’re worth, boy.” The King stated.
Like before, a fierce storm whipped around the room and ripped the fiery pillar to shreds. Unlike the previous display though, parts of the flame that were still standing instantly reformed back into a flaming pillar.
He willed his mana into a tempest once again, attacking Evelyn’s magic. Simultaneously, he tried to sever the woman’s connection to her flames. There was a slight resistance pushing back at him. Looking forward, she saw him looking at her and her lips curve into a smile. The woman knew who he was and what he was trying to do.
‘She’s good.’ He thought to himself.
A smile surfaced on his face. It was like facing off against prim again in one of their little competition. ‘But not good enough.’ Imposing his domineering will onto hers, he shattered her mana flow and quickly vaporized the flames in a single breath.
Evelyn fell to her knees, exhausted from the continuous strain of sustaining her magic and trying to fight back his.
“Incredible… I had pegged Gelrin for being senile, but it seems I was wrong.” The King was no longer just sitting up, but was sitting in a composed and dignified manner, exuding an aura of authority. “Very well, Gelrin. I consent with your proposal.” The King spoke.
Whispers and questions flew around the room once more, addressing the even that had just occurred.
Lord Ravon stepped forth and all eyes fell on him.
“As all of you have witnessed here today, for having proven his abilities equal to that of High Malgin Evelyn Lithius, his Majesty has acquiesced to bestow upon Kaidus of House Paltos, the title of High Malgin. Secondly, he and his family will be elevated into the nobility, provided he swears fealty to his majesty King Sarjace, and vows to protect and to serve the prosperity of Darsus.” Lord Ravon spoke loudly and eloquently so that everyone heard him clearly before stepping back.
“What is your answer young man? It should be an honor for you and your family.” The king leaned forward with a smile. “Swear your loyalty to me. Pledge your strength to mine. Together, we can work to bring about a greater Darsus.”