Ferrent. 11th ward.
Sylvia tilted her head, gazing up to the second floor of the Ravon manor where her friend’s bedroom was located.
Unlike its usual setting, the two windows were closed shut and even the curtains inside had been pulled.
Turning to look at her sister, Jillian was also staring up at Naleen’s room. There was an irritated look on Jillian’s face, and she could almost feel the annoyance emanating from Jillian’s whole body in the way that Jillian stood–with both hands to her hips while impatiently shaking her right leg.
“Jill… you’re doing it again.” She said quietly, seeing that her sister was only a few breaths away from pacing back and forth.
“Haaa… let’s just go home. Naleen obviously doesn’t want to see us.” Consciously ceasing her shaking, Jillian coldly replied with a weary scowl.
“Just wait a little longer. We’re leaving tomorrow morning anyways. Who knows when we’ll see each other again.”
“She didn’t want to see us yesterday or the day before, what makes you think she’ll want to this time?” A sharp retort.
“It’s Naleen, Jill. Do you really want to just leave like this?” She questioned.
“I- argh! Why is she being so stubborn!? Don’t tell me she really believes those stupid rumors about father! GAH!” With an exasperated sigh, “Whatever. I’ve had enough! I’ll wait in the carriage.” Promptly dismissing herself, Jillian turned and headed back for the carriage behind them.
“Jill, wait.” Sylvia gingerly called out, stopping her sister. “Sir Sedram is here.” She supplemented, seeing a tall older gentleman opening the manor’s main door.
Older than even the new Ravon family head, the man had been serving the Ravon family since the previous generation and was someone who warranted both their attention.
Hastily brushing her dress, she brought both her feet together and straightened herself as Jillian hurried back to her side.
“Good afternoon, Sir Sedram.” She curtsied, addressing the old steward as the man hastened to stand before them.
“Afternoon, Lady Sylvia. Lady Jillian.” The gentleman nodded straightforwardly and admirably at them both, his impeccable presence befitting a dignified representative of the Ravon house.
Seeing a cordial smile on the old man, “Is Naleen still unwell?” She questioned, easily catching the downcast eyes that were being hidden by the grandfatherly smile.
“My utmost apologies once again.” Bowing, the man lowered his head deeply as if to show his sincerity. “The young lady is still feeling under the weather and does not wish to receive any guests at the moment. I hope you can both forgive her.”
“Naleen…” Taking a somber breath of concession, Jillian quietly turned around and slowly walked back to the carriage without another word.
“I am truly sorry for inconveniencing you both.” The steward apologized again, kindly addressing her as Jillian departed. “Perhaps you could allow me the honor of sending a letter to the Varath manor when Lady Naleen is feeling better?” And followed it with a polite proposal.
“Thank you, but that will not be necessary.” She too politely reciprocated with a thankful bow, knowing full well the offering was merely a formality. “Instead, would you be so kind as to deliver my message to her?” Calmly pulling out a small letter that had been folded into the shape of a bird from her left sleeve, she presented it forth with both hands.
“My, how thoughtful. I will personally make sure that the young lady gets it.” With a looking of understanding, the steward took the letter off her hands.
“Well then… goodbye, Sir Sedram. Please stay well.”
A sincere smile appeared upon his face, and, “You too, young one.” The elderly man nodded back.
Returning a curt and final bow, she took one last look at the large manor and made her way back to the carriage, to where Jillian and four of their family guards were waiting.
Peeking through the curtains of the grim room, Naleen quietly watched as the Varath carriage slowly rolled away.
Three times Sylvia and Jillian had come to see her, and three times she had sent them away.
“Are you really not going to see them off?” Her mother’s voice questioned from behind.
“What’s the point…” Naleen slovenly replied as her eyes glared down at her legs. Bound to a set of splints and a chair, all she could feel was pain and anger at herself.
“Naleen…” Her mother calmly voiced and walked over to stand beside her. “You know… it’s fine if you wish to continue mourning your grandfather, but don’t you think you should consider those around you a little?” Taking hold of her left hand, “Should you miss this chance, who can say when you will see them again. Are you really willing to discard the bonds that you have created over the years just like that?”
“I… Gu- I want to see them… I want to say goodbye.” She relented as tears slowly filled her eyes. “But I-… how can I face them like this? How do I smile before them, when I can’t even be myself anymore?” She cried out, unable to contain the anger, sadness, or frustrations within herself.
“You don’t. If you want to cry, then cry in front of them. If you want to scream, then scream in front of them. I’m sure they will understand.”
“But- Ugu- nhnnn!” Clenching her jaw at her mother’s words, the memory of her grandfather’s worried face as he dug her out from under her horse flashed within her mind. Trying to push it away, the fear within his eyes as they were ambushed by the winged man instantly took its place, “Haagguuuu!” And she groaned, painfully curling forward to hide away from it.
“Looking at them both, they have already understood what is to come.” Her mother quietly voiced as she continued to hide within herself, “The three of you may not be sisters and your familiarity may only be a byproduct of our connections, but you did all grow up together… with that said, from this point forth, your path and theirs will only diverge further and further from one another.”
“Aaauuue…” Wailing to rid herself of the agony within, it did nothing but seize at her chest.
“Expel that shame from your mind and go see them off as a proper lady of the Ravon House. Wish them well, so that this does not become another source of regret for you.” There was a firmness to her mother’s words, “After that, you may mourn and grieve all you want. I know that you loved your grandfather more than anything, so take all the time you need. “The words softened, and she could feel her mother’s arms embracing her tenderly, “But once you are done grieving… promise me that you will continue to devote yourself to the path you have chosen. Promise me that you will not allow the brilliance you have obtained from following in your grandfather’s footsteps to simply fade away like this.”
Her chest tightened and, “I… ahguuu!” She wept, knowing full well that had she not selfishly followed along with him, things might have turned out differently. “UggaAaaaahhh!!” And she screamed, knowing that she would never be able hear her venerable grandfather’s praises or show him her sword forms ever again.
11th ward. Lithius Manor.
Leaping out of the carriage before it could come to a stop, Prim hurried toward the entrance of the large manor. Face warped with worry and confusion, without even acknowledging the servants who had spotted her, she swiftly made her way through the foyer, running up the stairs and toward her sister’s bedroom.
Having arrived back into the city from their exhaustive expedition in eastern Darsus, a bout of gossip had caught her ears and she needed to verify it.
“Evelyn!” She shouted upon reaching her sister’s chamber. “Evelyn are you in there?!” And hearing nothing but silence, she proceeded to bang on the door.
“Prim?” A raspy voice eventually came from within amidst her ruckus.
“I heard you were dismissed from your position as a court mage! Is it true?!” She yelled, hearing her own frantic voice echoing through the hallway.
The sound of reluctant footsteps slowly began shuffling from within the room and were quickly followed by the clicking of locks unbolting, before the door finally and slowly crept ajar.
Prim quickly froze.
A gaunt, almost starved looking face covered by clumps of disheveled green hair was now staring out at her from within. Her sister’s beautiful pale complexion was nowhere to be seen, and Evelyn’s two emerald green eyes, the defining trait of the Lithius line, had lost all their light. Her sister’s always lush green hair as well, were now matted and uncombed.
“E-Evelyn?” She stuttered, unable to believe that the woman before her was the proud and capable woman that she had been idolizing.
“Prim…” A gentle, but weak smile surfaced upon Evelyn’s face, “Y-you’re back.” Her voice was raspy and shaking, almost like she was sick.
Looking at her sister, the memories of a terrified Lisin talking to her through the cracks of a door slowly crept into her thoughts. “I-…” Swallowing her initial curiosity, “How did this- w-what happened to you?” She managed to ask, seeing the state of her beloved sister.
“I…” With a quick downward glance at herself, “I must look hideous, don’t I?” Evelyn replied, forcing another smile.
“Evelyn… what happened? The last time I saw you, you were still… you were still you! How did this happen?!” She groaned, barely able to look at the shell of the woman before her.
“Prim please… I don’t want to talk about it.” A defeated reply, it was one very much unlike that of her sister.
“Evelyn?!” Hastily pressing a foot against the door as Evelyn tried to close it, “Talk to me!” She exclaimed angrily.
“Please, Prim…” There was a heaviness to Evelyn’s voice, “Just let it go.”
“No! Not until you tell me what happened!” She shouted in return, feeling a sense of hopelessness enveloping her sister.
“I’m sorry, Prim. I- I lost my-…” Tears began welling upon Evelyn’s eyes, and her sister quickly stepped away from the door, retreating back into the depths of the room.
“You lost your…?” Don’t say it. Don’t say it. Don’t say it. The words repeated themselves in her mind, but she could not look away from Evelyn. The Evelyn, who was now trembling, shaking, as if terrified of something.
Situating herself on the edge of her bed, Evelyn looked down at her hands, “I know how much you’ve been wanting to surpass me… I’m sorry.” Keeping her gaze down, “I-… I’ve lost my ma- magic…”
The terrifying touch of dread that she had been feeling in the back of her mind instantly infused itself into her bones, and her whole body shuddered. “No… that’s impossible.” She thoughtlessly spouted as Evelyn’s words continued ringing in her ears.
“It- it’s not impossible.” Evelyn quietly rebutted, voice pounding with excruciating calm.
“How?!” She bellowed back, having never heard of someone in the ranks of a Malgin simply just losing their magic. Stepping into the room, “How does one-?!” She stopped. Inside, parts of the bedroom had been charred and a handful of Evelyn’s dresses and robes were strewn across the room, dirty and singed as if someone had lost control while trying to invoke a fire spell.
“I- I can’t feel them anymore, Prim.” Bringing her hands closer to her face, Evelyn began sobbing. “The incantations… the magic… they- they will not listen to me anymore, no matter how many times I try.”
“There- there must be a reason for this.” Rushing to her sister’s side, “There must-”
“R-reason?” Evelyn’s two hollow green eyes caught her by surprise. Within them, there was nothing but terror. “A spirit…” Evelyn shakenly stated, “F-far stronger than any I have ever felt before.” Tears began to slowly trickle forth from her Evelyn’s eyes, “The moment it touched me and devoured my mana, I saw it, Prim… I felt its strength.” Evelyn continued, trembling as she spoke, “Limitless and horrible… like an endless void. I was… I- I was NOTHING to it. Our titles, our feeble strength… they were nothing! It- it was ready and willing to- no… it was eager to kill those of us who were there. It would have done so, had it not been for that man… Ughukkk-” Burying her face into her hands, Evelyn began sobbing inconsolably.
Seeing her sister’s terror-stricken state, the face of a young man whom she had not seen for the past few years began piecing themselves together in her mind.
Jerking his gaze sideways, Ralfus turned his full attention toward that of his bedroom door.
From the hallway outside, the clanking of hardened metal footsteps against cold stone had begun to reverberate, echoing loudly into the stillness of his chamber like that of furious thunderclaps.
Taking a nervous sip of the wine in his hand, he listened as the silence that had persisted for the better part of the afternoon slowly disappeared, mutilated and estranged by a cacophony of veritable sounds.
Quietly listening, a wave of anxiety ripped into his chest and tore at his thoughts, proliferating his dread further. “S-stay away.” He murmured as his body recoiled upon hearing the footsteps drawing closer. “Don’t come here. Go away.” He commanded in silence as his eyes darted between the large dresser in the corner of the room, then back to the door. “Just… leave me be.” He begged, watching the darkness flickering.
The resounding footsteps continued their march through the hallway and as they drew near his room, he hurried to standing up on alert and held his breath, only to hear them passing by without a care or mention.
“Hah… hahaha…” A lukewarm, almost anxious laughter escaped his mouth as his own foolish thoughts returned. “Not today. It- it is not today either…” He reassured himself, his fears quickly alleviated by the fact that it was merely paranoia and not the guild or the knights coming for him.
Sitting back down onto his chair, the dark interior of his room came settling into his vision like that of the unending night and he breathed a quiet sigh of relief.
With hands that were still trembling, he carefully took hold of the pitcher atop the table beside him and quickly poured himself another cup of wine.
*Knock! Knock! Knock!”
Three loud knocks shattered the fleeting silence once again, causing him to almost spill the wine.
“Milord, are you awake!?” A woman’s voice called out for him, followed by another set of louder knocking. “I brought you your dinner! If you are awake, please open up!” The voice shouted.
Recognizing the maidservant’s voice, “V-Valarie? Is that you?” He responded back.
“It is, milord. Please open up. This tray is quite heavy.” The voice urged.
Not wanting to rise, he kept his eyes locked onto the door. “Leave it out there. I’ll bring it in myself.”
“I can’t do that today, milord. The master wishes to confirm that you are still eating. If I do not at least make sure that you finish your meal today, I will be in trouble. So please…”
Hearing her troublesome words, he reluctantly set his cup back onto the table.
Though in no mood to eat, without the desire to make more enemies out of those around him, he slowly made the trek across the room, undoing the two locks on the door before opening it.
“Who are-” Instead of Valarie, someone else was standing before his door. Another maid, but one he did not recognize. Before he could finish his question, the stranger’s hand had already shot forth at him and covered his mouth. With a simple push, the woman easily forced him back into his room as the door closed behind them both.
With dark braided hair and ruby-like eyes that were smiling in contrast to the gloom of his room, the woman flashed a sheepish and seductive grin before pushing him back a few steps away from her. “It is a pleasure to finally meet you, master Vatenger.” A tone of coyness wafted through the air between them, pelting his ears with what felt like a gaseous draft.
Taking a moment to get a better look at her, the woman was almost a head shorter than himself and her slim body easily suggested that he could probably overpower her should he so desired. Yet, the force of her push and how she had manipulated her voice to trick him was saying otherwise.
“Wh- who are you? Where’s Valarie?” Ralfus quickly queried, trying to keep himself composed and from falling over.
“Who I am or where your maidservant is, is not important.” The woman answered, eyeing the dark room with curious intrigue.
“Then- w- what are you doing here? What do you want?” Failing to appear undaunted, he continued questioning the purpose of her intrusion instead.
“I have come to deliver a message from a mutual benefactor.” The woman stopped gawking around the room and turned back to face him.
“Fu-” The fear that had been strangling him suddenly returned, knotting and rampaging within the pit of his stomach like a vicious beast. “Le- leave.”
“He’s been worried, you know?” Tilting her head playfully, the woman gazed up at him. “Asking whether you’ve been healthy or not, and wondering this and that.”
“I… I will not alert the guards, so leave while you still can. As for Urixx, tell him that we are done. I want nothing more to do with him.” Spitting the words out, he proceeded to saunter across the room back to his chair.
“But it’s not over yet, milord. Especially with such an opportunity before us.”
Picking up the cup of wine that he had set on the table prior, he shakenly took a swig. “What more could he possibly want from me!?”
“For you to see this through to the end.”
Gripping the cup tightly, “Hhhua!” Ralfus launched the cup past her and across the room, “Look around you! Does this look like I still want to continue?! I’m done, you hear me?!” Screaming loudly as the fear in his body was overtaken by anger, he could almost feel his stump arm throbbing incorrigibly as if it had just been torn off.
“Lord Varath and by proxy his guard, along with the guard’s family will be leaving the city tomorrow.” The woman calmly recited like she was simply giving a report, “Their caravan will consist of a dozen families and a few dozen guards who have decided to follow the lord. Half a dozen highly skilled mercenaries have also been hired to escort the group, but their numbers are negligible. Th-”
“Are you deaf?! Fuck off!” Screaming at the woman, he grabbed the pitcher of wine and sat back down.
“As I was saying, the necessary arrangements have been made, and a sizable force is already being amassed. I am here to offer you his chance to finish what you started.”
“You don’t listen, do you?” Ralfus snarled back, “Tell Urixx that he can go fuck himself. And you too, while you’re at it.”
“These arrangements were not made on Urixx’s command…” The woman sternly stated as if to remind him of his position, “You do understand what that means, don’t you?”
His eyes widened, finally realizing that she had not been talking about the detestable liaison. Setting the pitcher back onto the table, he quickly wiped his mouth with his sleeve before eyeing her again, “You mean…”
“Yes.” A seriously reply. “His majesty himself is offering you this golden opportunity.”
Heart sinking at her words, something else finally clicked within himself. “It… it was never about helping me, was it?” He fought to spit the words out like throwing up bile.
And as if to ridicule him for his naive assumptions, a knowing grin erupted across the woman’s lips.
“Haha… hahaha!” Slumping in his chair, he could not help but throw his head back and laugh. “I see… so that’s how it is! I was just another dog!”
“Amusing, isn’t it? His majesty needed a dagger that would not be traced back to him, and you needed the approval and assistance of someone beyond your station.” Straightening her posture, she glared down at him, “Now milord… will you join in on this effort, or will this be the end of your vengeance?”
Narrowing his eyes, he could feel his anger at having been used boiling over. “What… what happens if I decline this offer?”
“The arrow is already in flight, milord. It matters not which choice you make.” A simple, but clear answer. “The only difference, is where you will stand at the end of the day. By his majesty’s side, or in this prison of your own making.”
He clenched his fist, “Do- do you take me for a fool!?” He harshly snarled back, knowing that there was only one option.
“That remains to be seen. Now… your answer, master Vatenger.”
“I… I will-”
An image of hundreds of black spikes, forking and surging through the air like lightning.
The overpowering sensation of cold liquid steel gripping at his neck.
Like a horrific nightmare, he could still remember them vividly.
‘When the time comes, and make no mistake for it will, you will own up to the consequences and save this family from any more indignity.’
Alongside the memories, his father’s words meticulously entered his ears, reminding him of his mistakes and his new purpose. Whispering of the reason why he had imprisoned himself in his room.
“KUh!” Gritting his teeth, Ralfus slowly took a deep breath. “I, Ralfus Zoladas Vatenger, accept his majesty’s generosity and shall pledge myself in this endeavor…” Forcing the words out of his mouth, he cautiously watched as the woman’s grin broadened.
Calmly approaching him, “Then kneel, and swear it.” The woman instructed, stopping a good step away.
“Kneel? To you?” He grumbled in return, seeing the patronizing look upon her face like she was looking down at a beaten animal.
“I carry the will of his majesty. You do not wish to kneel before his will?”
An incantation for a binding spell instantly flickered into his mind, but he immediately thought against it. “Ku-…” Unable to refute and unwilling to assault her while in such a state, he sluggishly stood up and then lowered himself before the woman. On one knee and keeping his head down, “I, Ralfus Zoladas Vatenger, hereby swe- UhRK?!” Something extremely sharp had dug itself into the side of his neck, and he could feel his throat clenching.
Agonizingly tilting his head to look upward, two eyes bereft of emotions were staring down into his own as the knife was dragged across his neck. Grabbing at her arms in futility, he saw that the woman’s grin had also disappeared along with the joy in her eyes.
“On second thought, your participation will no longer be required.”
The words resounded in his ears as the beginnings of a fire incantation wrapped itself around him.
Merry Christmas, everyone!
I hope you all enjoyed the two chapters.
And Ralfus… yep. He’s dead. What does it mean? Find out on the next episode of Dragon Ball Z. (not really)
As always, thank you all for reading and please leave any error or corrections in the comments!
Thank you all, and see you next year!