(Please note, not edited/checked/PR-ed. You may run into a questionable grammar or two. If you spot them, please let me know in the comments. Thanks!!)
The subjugation of the invading Red Dingo pack was a great success. It took a couple days of hard work, but in the end two dozen of voracious and wild, oversized canines were driven away from the village’s boundaries. The militia group, led ably by Damien, managed to kill six of the beasts and wound many more.
The resulting loot – felt, meat, bones – were evenly split and distributed to those involved in the operation.
And no, no worrisome events unfolded during that time. There were some injuries, one or two quite considerable, but with Lizbeth making sure no one perished with her healing Invocations, no great calamity fell on Riverfield and its residents.
Damien was pleased with the way it all went down, and decided to hold a small celebration full of liquor and merry making a week later. No one argued against that, which made him even more pleased.
But he didn’t count on things going ever so slightly out of hand. In his head, he thought the gathering could be held in his backyard, with just the members of militia involved in the subjugation.
The villagers had other ideas however, and by the time the promised evening came, the venue had to be changed to the village square, beneath the hundred-year old Yellowwood tree’s all-encompassing shade.
Almost everyone pitched up. The word of mouth going around in a small village indeed possessed a frightening rate of infection, and before the end of the day everyone knew of the party.
Damien and Lizbeth left a bit early in order to sort the chaos out, and it was left to Rosy and Delilah to bring along Kaleena and Kain. By the time they arrived at the venue, the sunset was an hour or so away. The preparation was in full swing, with lamps being hung on a wire crisscrossing the expanses between houses, and several large roasting pits being set up to cook the Dingo meat. Countless barrels of alcohol were carted out from the storage too, and all the men present, as well as some women, eyed them quite eagerly, like a pack of hungry hyenas drooling over a juicy prey.
Kain caught a whiff of a delicious scent coming from the freshly baked bread, whetting his own appetite greatly. Kaleena was really excited too, looking forward to enjoying an evening of fun.
The Lomax household didn’t have to provide everything for the feast. The villagers had brought their own cutlery, for instance – as well as various side dishes, vegetables, tables, chairs, musical instruments and plenty of laughter. The normally sleepy little Riverfield transformed quickly into a lively carnival of food and people.
Almost everyone with able bodies attended the feast and it became rowdy pretty fast. But not in a bad way. Just lots of vibrant laughter tinged with strong wine and mead, loud choruses of “Cheers!!” sounding out here and there, as well as the joyfully exuberant wobbling of a violin-like instrument all bunching up and creating one monster of a festive atmosphere.
The main attraction of the evening was the Dingo meat, roasted whole on the open pit. Kain was understandably reluctant to eat that, since it was technically a dog meat. Other people around him didn’t hold such a preconceived notion, and they all dug in quite happily.
Up close, he was able to see just how big these Dingoes were. Each one was a size larger than what he had imagined previously, which was a bit of a shock. To think, a small group of people was able to kill something so large without suffering catastrophically horrible injuries – he acutely felt this very day how badly the rules of the fantasy world was not in tune with his own sensibilities.
Since they were so large, six of them proved to be plenty enough to fill the bellies of the villagers present. Kain forced himself to at least give the meat a taste, and to his surprise, it wasn’t as bad as he feared. Still didn’t eat a lot though. Every time he did, an image of Lassie popped up in his mind and he lost what little appetite he had. Bread it was, then.
Sitting next to his parents, he encountered many new faces as they came up to greet Damien the Baron and his wife Lizbeth for their generosity. The Lomax pair had their hands full shaking each and every one offered, and had barely any time to enjoy themselves.
What surprised him the most, was the range of diversity the professions of the villagers possessed. There was a blacksmith who was a former Adventurer, a butcher who could use cooling Invocations to keep his stock freshly preserved, hunters tasked with providing game, fishermen wrangling out on the calm waters of the river Anders that ran next to the village, and a leathersmith that mended everything from shoes to a leather armor.
The blacksmith, Erik Henderson, came over and engaged in various small talk with Damien, before jokingly asking about Kain’s measurements.
“It’s for the time when the young master Kain decides to take up arms like his father, of course! My lord, just give the word, and I’ll ready a proper set of armory for our little Master here in a jiffy. I swear, he’ll receive the best I can hammer out.”
A wide smile spread on this thin man’s lips, as he gestured with his hands animatedly. Rather coolly, Lizbeth put an end to the discussion quickly.
“My son’s a little too young for such items, don’t you think so, Mister Henderson? Perhaps we should wait longer. But thank you for the consideration.”
Awkwardly scratching his head, Erik slunk off somewhere else, and other people came over to resume the regular ‘programming’.
Before long, a man named Alex Sylvain brought his kids along for a meet & greet with the Lomaxes. He was a member of the militia, in charge of training the recruits and keeping them in tip-top shape. A former residence of Lafayette’s garrison, he moved home after his wife fell ill and passed away not too long ago. His reasoning was that, he wanted less hectic lifestyle for himself, and his children. Damien, naturally, offered him a job.
His two children that accompanied him were, by some miracle, the same sort of ages with Kaleena and Kain, meaning the respective parents saw fit to pair them up as friends. The oldest, Gwendoline, was a fierce raven-haired wild child, ready to kick anyone’s butt should they cross her the wrong way. She had a tendency of bullying in her, Kain thought inwardly to himself.
In her comparison, her younger brother, Gavin was rather timid. Timid in stature, manners and speech, it was not that hard to see how he became this way, living in an environment where brashness was rewarded and his type of shyness wasn’t. Physically, he was a little smaller than Kain was, and personally the young Lomax didn’t believe he was a stirring example of virile manhood anyway, so that was nothing to shout home about.
But he was still too young in that regard, with plenty of room left to grow, so that might change in the future.
Then again, he was often told he resembled Damien, who wasn’t the tallest, the bestest looking dude on the block, so to speak. Damien often countered that and said Kain looked more like his mother, which was kind of confusing really.
Honestly, he thought he looked kinda like neither of them, but then pursuing that line of questioning might lead to an awkward situation so, nope.
“Good evening, my lord, my lady,” Alex offered his greetings, and let the children mingle. Immediately there was a small competition between Kaleena and Gwendoline on who got the tastiest food and an argument started, but it was all harmless so the adults present didn’t mind at all.
Kain looked at Gavin, who looked tired at his sister’s antics. They both shrugged their shoulders in perfect harmony. If a bystander saw that, they could’ve been mistaken for a twin.
Not worrying about the kids’ conduct, Alex turned his attention back to Damien and spoke. “I’ve received report earlier today that the Highroad Knight Corp had encountered the remnants of the Red Dingoes and defeated them. Apologies, my lord, for the delay.”
“No, it’s quite alright. We both expected that to happen, didn’t we. It’s good that the matter has been resolved so quickly. Those Argos-employed mercenaries calling themselves Knights sure do like to act quickly.”
Damien chuckled softly, and offered a toast to Alex.
“Well, here’s to an all-round job well done. Cheers.”
Both men took a long swig of the wine and grinned in satisfaction.
They exchanged a few more words, this time unrelated to work, until Alex was called by some other villagers and had to leave Damien’s side.
No matter, as soon as the seat was vacated, another presence sidled up in a flash. It was a big presence too, a burly dude with height nearing seven feet, and sporting graying beard and a crooked nose.
“Good evening, my lord, my lady.”
Ahres vowed lightly, his cheeks clearly red from too much intake of alcohol. He also lightly smelled of the stuff too, coming from his robe and breath. Not to a point where it was overwhelming, but enough to be noticeable.
“Good evening to you, Expert Ahres,” Lizbeth somehow managed to break out a gentle smile, although her brows were cramping up. It was expected, that a drunkard might end up approaching them during inopportune moments. But she didn’t have to like it.
Still, she had to tolerate it, at least for a while.
“Thank you, for your assistance with the subjugation effort. Without your expertise, injuries suffered by the villagers would have been far more severe.”
“Speak nothing of it, my lady. Riverfield is my home, however temporary that may be. I carry a desire to see the village prosper in my heart after all.” Ahres showed off a million dollar smile as he laughed heartily. “Besides, it was nice to stretch my legs for a bit there.”
Then he glanced over at Kain. His gaze startled the boy just a wee bit.
It was difficult to fathom the intentions of the gaze but Kain’s intuition screamed out loudly: look out, this guy definitely wants something.
“So, my lady, my lord. How is little master Kain doing? Has he shown any aptitude in the ways of wielding Aeterna?”
Damien looked at his wife for a reply. He wasn’t home during daytime and didn’t really get to observe Kain’s behavior, so it was up to Lizbeth, or the two maids to help him in this regard.
“Well, Kain is…. he hasn’t yet shown any indication.” She said slowly, while patting her son’s head. “I’m sure, just as is with the others his age, he is terribly interested in Invocation but don’t know how to express his desires completely.”
“We should test in him, when he turns five. See how deep his Aeterna Pool is.” Ahres sounded happy when he said that. Must’ve been the alcohol. “He is an offspring of strong bloodlines coming together. Just like his older sister, the fates should be kind to the boy. I’m eagerly looking forward to what the little master will grow up to be.”
Those words stayed with Kain, well after the end of the party itself.
The children were sent off to bed earlier than their adult counterparts, and understandably so. With exception of Kain all of the affected kids complained, but none of them could reverse the decision made by their parents, so that was the end of the argument.
Taken home by also-upset Rosy, who clearly wanted to stay and gorge on the Dingo meat, Kain and Kaleena were swiftly put to bed after taking a relaxing bath.
Lying on the mattress in the darkened nursery, Kain couldn’t really fall asleep, though he was physically fatigued.
He was thinking about his future in this world, his imagination spurred on by the drunken words uttered by Ahres earlier in the evening.
What should I be doing, when this body of mine reaches maturity?
Kain pondered soundlessly.
If he knew what he was capable of, then deciding what to do in life would become a lot easier, but since his cheat abilities hadn’t manifested yet, there was a growing disquiet in his head.
He had confirmed that no Status windows or some abnormal skills were embedded inside of him. Nor would they appear at his calling. Basically, he didn’t seem to possess anything at all.
The final avenue left for him to explore, was the Invocation. Since he could see the Flow of Aeterna with his naked eyes, he had to assume that’s where his talents should be at. This thought process was backed up by the knowledge that no one in the history of this continent claimed to see the same things as Kain had done.
Meaning, he was the only one who could see Aeterna like as if it’s the living, breathing entity.
That must mean something, right?
He had to frown, thinking deeper about the matter.
Because only a few nights ago, when Damien was out hunting Dingoes, Kain tried to cast an Invocation spell, and failed to do so.
He knew the four basics – the Requisite Words, the Aeterna required, the clear image of the spell in his head, and the target in front. Yet nothing happened.
No, that was incorrect – something did happen. He blacked out.
That was caused by all of his Aeterna reserve suddenly being drained. It also confirmed that he had a tiny Pool, unlike his sister. That was slightly concerning. But, he also knew the size of the Aeterna reserve wasn’t be all and end all of the ways of Invocation.
But what’s concerning to him, was his failure to launch the spell itself. It was a very simple spell of invoking wind, Breeze, the easiest of all rudimentary spells out there, existing only to help the rookies polish the basics.
Yet he failed.
Could it be, that he had no talent? Or could it be that his Affinity with Wind Elemental was bad? He couldn’t figure it out, from that single experiment.
When he recovered from the blackout, it was morning already and he couldn’t try Invocation again, for the fear of being discovered. And since then, he had been trying over and over again to invoke Breeze. So far, no cigar.
It was frustrating, really. He had half a mind to visit the small religious shrine at the mouth of the village to give an offering to whichever god was worshiped there. This being a fantasy world and all, it didn’t seem so far fetched to think a god or two did exist and occasionally listened to their followers’ request now and then.
Well, if he had no cheat abilities, then wouldn’t that make things a bit more simpler, was what Kain arrived at. If he had no powers, no skills, no great blessings from a goddess, then he wouldn’t be embroiled in deadly battles against…. some evil lords and demonic kings.
Usually, if a person got summoned to another world in one of those web novels, the protagonists had to fight the Big Bad, no matter the roads they chose. But they all had some sort of amazing plot devices to keep them going, in the form of way-too-powerful abilities. Be that a level of 311 plus, or exp growth cheat, whatever, they all had that.
But if Kain had no abilities, then….
Then, wouldn’t he be free to not pursue the heroic journey to his demise? Wouldn’t he be free to live his life unconcerned with the larger world at play, and enjoy this quiet country lifestyle?
Turning to his side, his gaze fell upon the numerous stars adorning the darkened sky. Just like countless strangers living on this earth, they were far away and yet seemingly so close. If he reached out, maybe he could touch one, maybe grab a hold of it and never let go.
As to why he should do such a tiresome thing, he didn’t know. He didn’t want to put his neck on the line for some blank-faced Mister Nobody from Nowheresville, Nowhere Province. He knew best, that he had not a single shred of that Do-Gooder mentality in him, to sacrifice his well being for a cause he may not believe in.
He snorted, realizing that most likely those people wouldn’t even remember his name after a good night’s sleep. Not that he wanted fame and fortune, but still. Who didn’t crave even for a simple nod, a simple gesture of gratitude, a sign that his hard work was appreciated?
He turned again, unable to settle down. He wondered if he could ever go back, back to the previous world. There would be no point going back if he kicked the bucket on the other side, that was for sure. Kain chuckled as he briefly imagined him walking around the streets of San Diego as a zombie, scaring the living daylights out of passersby.
If he couldn’t go back, then what other options were available for him?
Become the next lord of Riverfield, inheriting it from Damien? He didn’t know how the peerage was passed on, so he couldn’t be sure of that. Besides, if his parents had a choice, then surely Kaleena might be a better fit, depending on how everything turns out.
Become a traveling merchant, wearing a ridiculous mask and communicate using only the messages? Well, the message and the mask part were a bit unreasonable so that’s a no. Still, a merchant? That sounded rather too dangerous, if he had to move between villages and towns to procure stock.
Become a healer, and settle down somewhere? Also depending on his aptitude in Invocation, so no promises there.
Maybe, just maybe, he could build and pilot a huge robot. After all, he did major on coding, and possessed some cursory knowledge on how mechanical things operated. And, didn’t he build that model airplane perfectly, back in junior high? And a working volcano? And a model of a Second World War battleship? Maybe he could create a robot, and conquer the whole world. Then build a harem full of busty, animal eared girls!!
….Or not. Let’s be realistic here.
Kain sighed, and picked his nose absentmindedly.
Flicking the resulting stuff off of his finger, he wondered if it was possible to get on a ship, and start sailing around the oceans while searching for a mythical treasure at the end of The Line, where the four Blues meet.
He’d certainly have to eat a strange fruit for that but, since it sounded like too much hard work, way more than being a merchant, so he quickly gave up on that idea.
And when he turned over again, the sun was breaking the dawn’s darkness. A new day was beckoning, and he hadn’t a wink of sleep.
He just knew that today was going to be rather rough. Lack of sleep tended to do that to a person, really.
And he was right.
Since Alex got a killer hangover, he just had to foist his kids in Lomaxes’ care. And that meant, Kain and Kaleena had to spend the time with Gwendoline and Gavin.
What a pain, Kain grimaced, holding his aching head in one hand, while trying to fend off Gwen who was trying to hold him like she would a teddy bear.
Kids always seems to have boundless energy, no matter what, no matter when, no matter where, and it was no different with Alex’s. Meanwhile, both Lizbeth and Damien were sleeping in, trying to shake off their own alcohol-induced sick feelings. Delilah wasn’t too perturbed, saying things like “such little wine doesn’t faze me.”
As for Rosy, she didn’t get to drink and eat a lot, at least not as much as she wanted to, so she was fine.
Under the pair’s watchful gazes, the children played around under the summer sun. Even Kaleena forgot about the Invocation training, and was competing with Gwendoline on who can successfully catch Kain and hug him like a doll.
Left with no choice, he had to run away, but since he was yet to reach three, his strides weren’t so wide and in the end, the girls jumped on him at the same time.
Now normally, a child as young as him might start bawling after getting flattened like that, but since Kain was an adult inside, he managed not to. He was just irritated at his weak body not being able to get away.
“I got him first!!”
“No, I did!”
Two girls were fighting on the side, while firmly holding onto him. Kain’s face cramped, and he looked over at Gavin for help but the Sylvain boy just returned the plea with a blank expression.
Just what do they find so fun in hunting me down like this? Gahh, will you just release me already?!
He was pushed so far by the bickering girls, he was about to lash out and make his displeasure known, but then he suddenly felt a weird sensation from a distance.
He instinctively looked northward, towards the disturbance and saw a mass of swirling, nearly translucent Aeterna up in the air, not too far from the house. And the mass was huge.
But that wasn’t what shocked him numb.
The mass of Aeterna was surrounding an even bigger airborne object.
The ground began to shake as the object drew near. The sound of whirring got louder as well, and the frightened birds began to evacuate from the tree branches in a hurry.
By this time, all who were in the backyard, also have noticed the incoming object in the air, and stood around dumbfounded.
“What… is that?” Rosy gasped out first.
“I… I’ll go call on Lord Damien and Lady Lizbeth. Rosy, mind the children, I shall be quick.” Delilah said hurriedly, and dashed inside the house.
Already, Gavin started crying fearfully, but both Kaleena and Gwendoline was staring at the object with their mouths open, their eyes shining in curiosity.
Even Kain was like that too, although he had more than an inkling of what that flying thing was.
After all, it’s shape resembled a mere Zeppelin. A flying ship, that was.
“Wow. So that’s it then.”
Kain ruefully smiled. As if he needed another confirmation that he was indeed living in a fantasy world, now there was a new evidence right in front of his face.
Judging by the surprised looks on the people alongside him, Kain thought that this flying ship must have been something new, something foreign and unexpected. Well, today was the first time he saw it too, so probably not many people in this region have seen it before either.
Using the meadows and wheat fields below it, he was able to roughly gauge how big the ship was, and it was at least the length of an airplane. Its speed was also considerable, as only minutes ago it was a small speck in the sky, but now, it was looming large over the land like a black cloud.
“What’s going on?”
Damien emerged from the house, followed by Lizbeth behind him. He turned his head to where everyone else was looking at, and saw the huge ship himself.
He was totally taken back at the sight.
“No way. That can’t be.”
“What is it, Damien? You know what that is?” Lizbeth noticed her husband’s expression, and asked.
“Yeah. That is a Sky Ark. I can’t believe that thing’s finally complete, and is actually flying.”
Sky Ark? Kain tilted his head a little, and started eavesdropping. It’s a skill he developed all by himself, and so he was proud of it.
No, not really.
“It was way back when, when I was still working under that old fart Phillips. He was gifted a plan of a flying vessel, by some shady folks calling themselves The Visitors. Phillips could never make it work, simply because Aeterna required to move that thing was too much, but I can see he has succeeded in the end.”
“I see. If it’s Marquis, then is it safe to assume that’s for the military purposes?” Lizbeth continued with the next question.
“No. At the time, he wanted it as a civilian transport solution, to cover great distances in shortest time possible. He may look like a muscle head, but that man is a firm believer of economic subjugation rather than that of a brute force. He’d rather use the allure of easy, profitable trade between regions to decrease the antagonism towards the Empire. Crafty old fox.” Damien grumbled wryly.
“But what is it doing out here, of all places? Is it going to Lafayette?”
Lizbeth shielded her eyes from the sun’s glare and concentrated on the Sky Ark. It certainly looked like it was heading towards Lafayette, and its speed was slowing down too as it neared the great city.
“Who knows,” Damien shrugged his shoulders. “I’m sure we’ll find out sooner or later.”
Kain nodded softly. He didn’t know who this Phillips fella was, but if he was Damien’s benefactor back when, he couldn’t have been bad, that’s what he thought. And if he was in a position to build something so epic, then obviously he was a very, very important man in this Empire.
The shape of the Ark had more than a passing resemblance to the ill-fated Zeppelin, especially from the front. But towards the back, it looked more like a whale, maybe a shark. The dark surface seemed rough and unfinished, its tail ‘fin’ swaying from left to right in a lazy motion as if it was underwater. Numerous propellers spun on its sides and made that whirring noise he was hearing. The vibrations of the ground seemed to have emanated from them as well.
Below the concave shape, the shape was more conventional, that of a ship, albeit a large one. An ark, in other words. That’s where the passengers must be.
Narrowing his eyes, Kain noticed something else flying around the Sky Ark itself. Several objects, in fact. At this distance, it was not easy to see what exactly, but they certainly weren’t birds.
Maybe because it was a clear, cloudless day, maybe it was a miracle, but he finally saw the identity of it soon enough. It was still too far but, he was able to roughly make out its shape, and he was right about it not being a bird.
It had a head of an eagle, a pair of very large wings, but a body of a four-legged animal. And to cap off the whole fantasy look complete, he was sure there was a man riding on its back.
“Oh, look!! Griffon Rider Squadron!! Amazing!!”
Rosy shouted out in a high voice. As a Pantherikin, she had keener eyes than humans or dwarves, so she was able to discern the flying creatures far more easily.
“They are probably here to escort and protect the Sky Ark,” Damien said. “That thing should be a great source of pride for the Empire. Phillips won’t spare any expense safeguarding it from Fiends and other undesirables.”
Kain nodded again, thinking that makes sense. If the Ark had no way of defending itself then it would definitely need protection.
“Does the Sky Ark use Invocation too?” Kaleena excitedly shouted out her question.
“Yep. Pretty advanced one too.” Damien replied while standing hand on hip. “But as to what kind, I don’t know. It was many years ago, and things change. Probably it’s got some kind of Invocation Tools I’ve not yet heard of.”
“Only the Specialist can manufacture an Invocation Tool, isn’t that right, my lady?” Not wanting to lose, Gwendoline chimed in her question this time, while raising her hand.
“That’s correct, Gwen.” Lizbeth smiled at the enthusiastic girl.
Gwen glanced over at Kaleena triumphantly, eliciting a “Hmph!!” from the young Lomax girl.
“Roy, my eldest, wants to travel to the capital and become a Specialist.” Delilah spoke, her voice full of wonder. “You all know how he’s handy with normal tools, yes? I’m sure after seeing that Ark fly, he must be packing his bags right now!!”
She covered her mouth and chuckled gently. But her expression was somewhat clouded.
“Well, if that Ark indeed uses Invocation Tools, then the demand for skilled Specialists will only increase moving forward. The Empire will more than likely, seek to build more Arks, after all. Perhaps, heading North isn’t such a bad idea for an enterprising young man.”
Damien said, hoping to be helpful at easing Delilah’s worries.
He couldn’t alleviate the heaviness in the atmosphere that suddenly had descended. The kids didn’t notice, save for Kain, and they busily chatted among themselves, pointing at the impressive sight of the Ark humming his way towards the ramparts of Lafayette, and its Griffon Riders that were too far away to see properly.
The angle of the sunlight caught its side, and Kain saw the glistening coat of arms on the dark surface, previously hidden from view by the shade.
A winged shieldmaiden with a golden spear, the symbol of the Argos Empire. Oddly, it looked like as if it was painted on only yesterday, the way it shone so vividly.