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Is this it? Is this finally the end of the brief life of Kain Lucius Lomax – me? Oh, man….
Kain’s face flickered grimly as his body flew in the air, yanked by the damnable vines. The stupid things had wrapped him too tightly and didn’t even give him an inch of space. Actually, that was for the better: the path he was on snaked downwards in a huge spiral, occasionally scything past stunningly massive pillars that seemingly propped up the spindly Tetamus Mountain itself. If he wasn’t secured tightly in the grip, then he no doubt would have flailed about, which could have resulted in him slamming into those massive pillars. That wouldn’t be too pleasant for him to experience, obviously.
He didn’t feel angry, though. No, he wasn’t completely not angry, but at least it was no more than a simmer, not a full-on, boil-your-noodles kind of anger. The grim expression was simply due to the cramping of his stomach muscles.
The reason was pretty simple, really. After going through one tough situation after another, he came to realize the fact that…. no matter how much his spirits were willing, his flesh just couldn’t keep up. He wasn’t some sort of a superhero from a Saturday morning cartoon who could power up in the moments of deadly crisis, and then overcome the said crisis like a champ.
Oh no, nothing convenient like that existed for him. So, there was no point in getting all hot and peeved, he mused.
Instead, he’d save his energy and enjoy the scenery in the meantime. Just go with the flow, he told himself. Let the fate carry me, to wherever I’m supposed to go….
Every once in a while, Kain went through an open doorway, each with a pair of imposing black stone doors similar to the one with the depiction of an ancient battlefield.
He must have gone through a dozen of those doorways before emerging into a clearing. It was so bright in here, he momentarily thought he was outside again, only to confirm that he was still underground.
There were countless Lazulites shining lights all over the tall ceiling. There weren’t just the blue ones either, as he could spot the whole rainbow spectrum of colors above, these disparate beams merging into a single, bright, sun-like glow that enveloped the clearing.
The area turned out to be some sort of a secret garden/jungle combo, filled to the brim with exotic vegetation and flowers, littering the landscape with dazzling display of colors. Tall trees swayed against the invisible breezes, chirping of multiple insects buzzed in the air, and most of all, confusing mixture of scents wafted all around the garden.
This scent quickly overwhelmed his senses, causing him to experience the gamut of physical and emotional reactions, as the vines continued to yank him through the parts of the garden.
He felt blissful, even languid, then disgusted and irritated; he felt excited, then sad. He felt his appetite flaring, then felt like falling into a deep slumber. All these, coming from the potent cocktail of odors from the plant lifeforms below.
By the time he was pulled into the darkened passage beyond the garden, he was able to shake himself loose from the stupor.
What the hell was that? Hallucinogens? I think I saw weed back there. Holy cow, did I get just high?
Chuckling wryly, he began studying the new surroundings as he sped by. It seemed to him that this passageway was noticeably different from the previous one.
There were Lazulites here and there acting as lamps so he was able to see, and even he could tell this passage was not man-made. It resembled a cavern, more or less. Except, there were none of the stalactites and stalagmites to be found anywhere.
In their place, thousands upon thousands of vines completely covering the floor, and boring holes into the walls and the ceilings, like veins of blood. If they pulsed like real veins, then he’d think the whole mountain was actually a thriving, living thing.
Man, this place is weird. Besides, just how long do I have to go? I must have flown for…. hundreds of miles. Okay, maybe not true, but still. This whole vine pulling thing is getting really tiring by now.
Kain inwardly sighed, hoping this infernal ride to the very depths of the earth would end soon. Ever since he had accepted his fate, he felt calm about his current predicament. However, with such calmness, inevitably, boredom followed suit.
He was bored stiff with the scenery that changed little. If it weren’t for the sudden appearance of the secret garden, he’d have fallen asleep a long ago, figuratively speaking of course.
The passage continued to spiral downwards, but gradually, the slope was leveling out. Even the passageway expanded to double the original size.
Before he knew it, soft, pleasing scent gently filled the air. It was quite subtle, almost imperceptible even. Catching a whiff of it, Kain couldn’t help but experience a nostalgic feeling sweep over him like a gentlest stroke of a master painter’s brush. It was a warm and comfortable sensation.
In the distance, he saw a light, much, much brighter than what the numerous Lazulites could serve up. It was like, as if he was leaving the cavern and emerging outside into the daylight.
But that wasn’t possible, since he was clearly deep underground.
Kain’s heart grew nervous once more, the nostalgic scent unable to do anything to calm it. The concentration of Aeterna had reached a ridiculous amount and he felt the immense pressure trying to squeeze him.
Oh boy, something big’s at the end of this road, isn’t it?
He thought he was at peace with whatever the fate had in store for him. But now, he was genuinely feeling apprehensive.
It was his preternatural pseudo-ability to sense the troublesome flags kicking in. The thick foreboding sensation warned him that, the moment he reached his destination, which wasn’t too far now, he would find himself in a heap of totally unnecessary complications.
Oh crap. What are the odds that I’ll be proved right?!
If he didn’t know better, it’d be too damn high.
Soon, he was enveloped in that blinding brightness as the vines successfully pulled him into an area that defied all common sense.
When his eyes adjusted to the light, he was left speechless at the sight waiting for him.
He was now in a dome-like space that seemed to stretch for thousands of miles in every direction – left, right, front, back, the ceiling, wherever.
Speaking of the ceiling, Lazulites, numbers easily surpassing millions, shone brightly. But their impressive light show paled in comparison to that of the crazily overflowing Aeterna and what this mysterious substance was doing.
The source of all that indescribable amount of Aeterna, as well as of the countless vines, was a humongous tree that sorta resembled a Baobab, standing tall and proud smack dab in the middle of the space. Its bark was smooth like flowing water, the color flickering between pale green and gray. It looked old and sacred. Touching it might constitute a grave offense to some long forgotten religion considering how holy it felt to him.
Instinctively, without being told by anyone Kain knew exactly what this tree was supposed to be.
The World Tree.
The supposed source of all Aeterna flowing in the world.
The vines rudely deposited him right in front of the trunk. He landed on his butt, and let out a painful groan as he rolled on the ground.
Veins bulging, he shot up to let out some choice words, but he saw that the vines have retreated far from him. At this point, it seemed like a waste of energy just to speak ill of them.
Sighing dejectedly, he turned to look at the tree behind him, shuddering at the nonsensical scale of the thing.
Actually, everything he had experienced so far in this dead city, this forest, the mountain range itself, bothered on total lunacy. His modern day logic was having a hard time trying to support his slightly-overworked brain.
Kain was better prepared than most folks in his readiness to accept the absurd occurrences happening in front of him, although barely. He was thoroughly trained in boundless imaginations of web novels and all those anime shows, so this much wasn’t…. uh, much.
But even then…. he had his limits, and if he wasn’t careful, he might end up breaching it in not too distant future.
The World Tree in front of him emitted the kind of ancientness that easily surpassed all the others he had felt before in the dead city up above. If the city existed for ten thousand years, then this tree, probably for billions of years. The trunk was so wide, from where he stood, he couldn’t even see the edges, never mind trying to walk around it to satisfy his curiosity.
As for the branches, there were so many of them he couldn’t count at all. But weirdly, there weren’t many leaves, making the tree look a bit barren and lifeless.
The thick roots extended outwards to all directions. The vines seemed to sprout from them, like tiny root hairs. Except in this case, they weren’t tiny at all. Or, in relation to the roots themselves, maybe they should be considered tiny.
The root Kain was standing on was thick enough to park an ocean liner on top with room to spare. And there were hundreds of similar roots, none of them smaller and some of them even thicker and bigger. What a truly absurd scale, especially considering that everything was still underground.
All around him, streams of Aeterna oozed out from the tree’s surface like mist. There were so much here, now they no longer looked like thin fog but actual, flowing river. As a matter of fact, because of this stunningly high concentration, the normally-formless substance often swirled into various illusory shapes depicting countless lifeforms – fireflies, birds, lizards, monkeys, what have you, right in front of him, glowing in beautiful and dazzling light shows. All these shapes were no bigger than his palm but, they were still beautiful to look at.
Suddenly, a ferocious, palm-sized Aeterna tiger formed a few inches away from him. Its body flickering in a rainbow of colors, it roared soundlessly. When it did, Kain’s body shook from the resonance.
He panted, his mind reeling. His somewhat unstable Aeterna Pool seemed to stabilize, then expand like crazy. Then without warning, it condensed into one fifth of its original depth, causing a massive, back breaking pain to whip him mercilessly.
He fell on his knees, desperately enduring the pain. It took only a few breath of time for the excruciating pain to leave him, but it sure as heck felt like an eternity to him.
Other illusory shapes materialized and roared soundlessly, but they didn’t cause as violent a reaction as before, and gradually, all the pain went away.
His eyes bloodshot, Kain gingerly rolled on his back, gasping for breath.
“What the heck was that all about?!”
He shivered like a wet dog, before crawling into a fetal position.
As he continued to tremble, he heard an unhappy grunt not too far from where he was.
Alarmed, he quickly shot up, and searched for the source of the noise, only to have his common sense nearly reach that breaking point.
Before him, an old man stood. Wearing a white robe, his hair also white, his flowing beard white too – almost everything about him was white, except his race.
Kain muttered dazedly. Even though he already called out the very first name he thought of, after taking another look it’d be more correct to call this old man Master Pai Mei from that infamous movie about killing some man named Bill.
The Old Man raised an eyebrow, his expression clearly showing how annoyed he was.
“Who the frack is Gandalf? Anyways, you kept me waiting, kiddo. About damn time you showed up.”
Even the nostalgic scent couldn’t dispel the confusion in Kain’s heart, as he heard the Old Man speak in English. Because of his shaken mind, he nearly blurted out in English too, but he caught himself right before the blunder.
He quickly replied in Argos’s standard dialect instead.
“Uhm, who are you? Where am I?”
The Old Man gave him a bemused glance, then shook his head. “Look kid, I know you’re not from this world. So, give up the acting, alright? Let’s not waste time here.”
Kain persisted with the feint, because the longer he stood before this Old Man, the stronger that foreboding feeling grew. He knew he had to somehow weasel himself out of this place, or else something very troublesome might happen to him. He was so, so very sure of this now.
The aura coming from the Old Man was neither threatening nor friendly, but still there was something rather overbearing in it. Kain didn’t want to get involved here if he could help it. Especially if he asked the boy to do something totally impossible. Like, go fight me a dragon, or some such.
“I’m sorry but, I don’t understand?”
Kain tried his best innocent look, with the puppy dog eyes and all. This always worked on his mother and sister, not to mention his father so he was at least 60% sure of it working against the Old Man too.
With a snort, the Old Man gave him a fat smack in the back of his head. Kain’s brain rang loudly, and his vision swam for a brief moment.
When he came to, a vicious amount of pain assaulted him, so he squatted down and hurriedly rubbed his head.
“Ouch!! Hey, what’s the big idea?!”
Kain angrily shouted in English at the Old Man who simply returned a cold snort, then pointed at him. “Oh, now you feel like speaking properly, eh? I told you not to waste time. You got what you deserved, kiddo. Listen to your elders when they speak to you.”
“Okay fine. What do you want from me?”
Kain grumbled as he stood up. He cautiously gazed around, searching for an exit. If there was an opening, he’d make a break for it.
The Old Man’s eyes flickered, before he chuckled wryly.
“Oh my rotten luck. I knew you were a self-absorbed coward but to be this discourteous to your benefactor? Looks like I’ll need to discipline you properly from now on. Kids nowadays.”
Hearing this, fear sprang up in his heart. “Wait a second. You still haven’t told me what’s going on. Will you just tell me what the heck is happening here? Who the heck are you?!”
Kain slowly backed up until he tripped on a rough bit of a root. He regained his balance before falling butt first, which was a first. This little break helped him regain his composure a bit, however. That’s also when he noticed a little ball of flames lazily gliding in an arc from the exit.
Kain realized that it was the phoenix.
The fiery bird gracefully danced in the air before settling on the Old Man’s shoulder, and softly cooed like a bloody pigeon, its face full of affection towards the person lending his shoulder out. Suffice to say, Kain’s jaw hit the floor.
“Hmm, on top of being rude, he’s unexpectedly slow, isn’t he, Orion?”
The Old Man gently rubbed the head of the phoenix like it was his pet. What’s more, it looked happy to be stroked, which was in complete opposite to when Kain tried to touch it.
The boy blurted out. It wasn’t what he wanted to say at that moment, but somehow it came out first.
“Yep. She’s called Orion. A Fire type Roc hatchling,” replied the Old Man. “I hear you’ve been trying to give her funny names.”
“I don’t think Firebird is a funny name, though… No wait, that’s not really important is it? Please just tell me what’s going on here… uh, sir. And…. you called me slow just now, didn’t you?!”
“Tsk, this kid. Alright, here’s the deal. You are currently standing in my domain. This whole mountain range is my home. I’ve been watching you with great interest ever since you accidentally entered via the river.”
The Old Man waved his hand dismissively.
“You’ve been watching me? If that is so, then…. why didn’t you help me when I nearly died? Why were you watching me? Are you…. *gasp* a perv….?”
“This little punk!? You looking to die?”
The Old Man flared up menacingly. Kain backtracked quickly but oddly, he didn’t feel all that threatened. Sure, he was still scared of undue violence erupting from this mysterious Old Man, but he felt that his life wasn’t in danger. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be pressing the wrong buttons deliberately like this.
For some reason, he just wanted to irritate this Old Man. It was like an itch that had to be scratched. There was something about this man, the way he carried himself, the first impression of him, that irked Kain so much.
The Old Man, sure enough, stopped short of pummeling him. Taking a deep breath, he continued with the explanation.
“At first, I thought about leaving you to your fate. But then…. I found out that you are not from here, from Noa. So, I sent my Familiar, Orion, to look after you whilst I decided on what to do with you.”
“Wha… how did you figure that I’m not from around here? It’s not like you can tell apart, you know. Or you can read minds?”
“When you were building your first shelter, you cursed out a particular word that starts with an F and ends with a K. And no, it’s not ‘funk’.” The Old Man chuckled as he stroked his beard leisurely. “Imagine my shock at the scene – a helpless, cute little boy blurting out like a sailor. Very amusing, it was.”
Kain remembered that. He wasn’t the type of a guy who swore a lot back in his previous life and that personality carried over to this one as well. So it took extraordinary circumstances for him to utter one.
To think, there was someone around to actually hear him say that. Felt like he got wronged here, somehow, just unsure why that was so.
“Judging by your appearance, you were born here still possessing all the memories of your past life. Am I right?”
Kain took a deep breath. His whole body shuddered from the shock.
“Surprised? Don’t be. You aren’t the only one who were brought to this world, The Fourth Realm, against their will.”
“Fourth Realm?” Kain mouthed the unfamiliar term slowly, until he vaguely remembered something about the Ten Realms and the World Tree. But more urgently though, “Wait, if there are, were, others like me out there, then…. is there a possibility for me to return?”
“Well, I wouldn’t say it’s impossible but it is, for you as you are. But besides that. Let’s not beat around the bush, eh? You piqued my interest. You have a certain knack for survival, and is blessed with a decent amount of luck. Heh, and perhaps most importantly, you’re young. A good combination of qualities, for what I have in mind for you.”
A deeply sinister light began to shine from the Old Man’s sneering eyes. The alarming chill Kain felt in that moment was indescribable. Instinctively, he began running, as fast as he could.
A cold laughter rang out like a bell, booming around the huge underground chamber and causing numbness to Kain’s sense of hearing.
“You are not going anywhere, now that I decided to take you.”
Like hell I’d let you!!
Kain gritted his teeth and cast a Body Enhancement Invocation down on his legs, instantly increasing his speed.
“I’m going to train you, I’m going to reform your fragile, weak-ass body into something much, much more suitable for the tasks that await you in the future.”
The Old Man continued to laugh as he talked. Bizarrely, no matter how fast or far Kain ran the voice seemed to come from mere inches away, right behind his ears. That was seriously terrifying.
“I’m going to teach you…. kung fu!!”
They were simple words on the surface, but carried unseen power which struck him like a category 5 hurricane. Kain reeled in shock, dazed from the sheer force of will transmitted in those seven words. Before he knew it, vines swept him up again, and he was brought to face the Old Man once more. Seeing that hateful, leering mug, suddenly Kain developed this incredible urge to knock that stupid, content smile off of his face at any cost.
Obviously, that would be very far in the future. Make that very, very far indeed.
As the dawn broke, Derrick’s sleeping figure stirred quietly.
It only took a millisecond before clarity returned to his eyes. As he sat up, he took a long look around the empty bedroom.
Realizing that he was alone in the entire house, he let out a lonely sigh, before pulling himself up.
With Damien and Lizbeth leaving only yesterday, taking the kids with them the house was eerily silent, devoid of life. Actually that was not completely true – there were odd creaks and groans coming from the aged wooden floors and the roof. But other than that….
Rosy had to accompany them too. Delilah commuted from her own home. Derrick was indeed all alone.
Shoving the doubt rising in his heart, he dressed and went downstairs. The sun was about to break past the horizon. The early morning air was refreshingly crisp, none of the daytime’s stifling heat remaining in it. A good time to get some daily exercise done.
After sweating, his mind was clearer. Much helpful, as the day beckoned. Today, was the beginning of the work as a proxy for a lord.
He failed to become one, yet here he was, still able to act out as one. He wondered briefly if that qualified as ironic development or not.
He took a long cold shower to wipe away the built up sweat. Since there weren’t the modern type of shower, he simply filled a bucket with fresh water from the house’s well, and poured it over his head. Normally a noble of a fine birth would never dream of doing such a crude thing, but now that he’d been doing it for the last two and a half years, he got used to it.
“How rustic,” Derrick commented softly, as he ruminated on his own cultural retardation. Or maybe it was a liberation. He couldn’t tell just yet. But one thing was for sure, if his peers back in Argos saw him like this, they might scoff and throw ceaseless ridicule at him.
He looked down at the towel in his hands, wet from the water on his body. It was cheap and crudely made. A kind of cloth that not even a middle class commoner would use back in Argos.
And now, he was using it, out of necessity.
“Maybe I should…. sell one or two of the items in my possession.”
Derrick murmured, gripping the rough and unsophisticated fabric hard.
When Damien was around, he didn’t dare to show off things he brought with him. Not because he was afraid of getting ripped off, no, but out of consideration for his cousin.
Damien worked his ass off just make the ends meet, even though ostensibly he carried the title of the lord. He barely collected tax from his subjects, only just enough to keep his family going, and instead choosing to encourage the farmers under his care to cultivate the land more. He earned a lot of praise because of that, but that meant he never really had much wiggle room for himself when a time of need rose.
Still, the man never complained – much – about it. Rather, he didn’t even really treat as a problem. His main focus laid with his family’s upbringing, and that of taking care of his people. That was it. Nothing complicated nor sinister.
Derrick couldn’t just wave around his wealth in front of such a man. That would be unwise, and could also be the one of the fastest ways to buy irreconcilable enmity. He didn’t need that, nor did he want it.
Entering the kitchen, he saw the breakfast readied for him by Delilah the night before. She hadn’t come in yet.
Sitting alone in the dining room, he slowly chewed the bread. It was tasty, even if it was not freshly baked. The goat cheese was very good too. Sliced ham went well, accompanied with a mug of goat milk. He didn’t know how to warm it though, so he drank it cold. That was probably for the better. He recalled how much Kain enjoyed it however, and wondered slightly if it tasted nicer that way.
He looked around blankly at all the empty spots around the dining table. Usually, there would be his family members chowing together. Katrina would yawn in an unladylike manner, earning a simple rebuke from Lizbeth; Kaleena would be busy trying to feed Kain her share of vegetables she hated eating.
Damien would be frowning at some documents in his hand, not really noticing the food entering his mouth, until he ended up stabbing himself with a fork.
Now, all gone.
Derrick sighed, and not for the first time this morning, wondered whether he made a right decision to stay behind. Maybe he could have gone with his family. Surely, the village would survive without him acting as a proxy. There were elders who could take care of things just fine.
Taking the last swig of the cold milk, he stood up and headed for the study, trying to dispel useless thoughts from his mind once more. The decision has been made already. It was too late to go back at this juncture. As the old proverb said, it was too late to un-spill the blood that’s already been spilled.
He sat behind the old Oak desk, and began reorganizing the chaotic environment of the office. It was pretty hard to understand how Damien got any work done in such a messy place. Derrick liked things orderly and neat, so the very first thing he’d do as a proxy was to make everything all organized.
He spent the next hour or so sorting out the mess. Before he knew it, Delilah came in and reported for her duty.
She brought him much needed tea, which he appreciated.
Time went by quickly, and it became afternoon. The office was more or less cleaned up, organized and orderly enough for him to easily find the documents or materials he needed.
Delilah commented that it was truly nice to see the place so thoroughly tidied up, a small glint of tear visible in her eyes.
That’s how the first day as an acting lord went. Pretty much eventless, as Damien predicted before leaving for Argos, and for his old hometown.
But the next day came, and things changed.
Derrick sat on the chair, pensively reading a report written by someone clearly not well acquainted with penmanship. Just gazing at the error-strewn document alone gave him a sense of hopelessness at the task before him, and a swelling respect for his cousin who endured nearly a decade of this sort of things.
His outstretched senses picked up approaching presences in the distance. Wondering who could they be, Derrick stood up from the chair and headed for the window.
His sharp eyes made out the silhouettes of three riders. It seemed like they were not in a hurry, their gallops relaxed and gentle, almost like as if they were on a stroll.
Which was strange, seeing that not too many people living in this village would go on a stroll riding a horse. That would be seen as a waste of precious resources.
“Outsiders,” Derrick murmured. “Most likely nobles.”
Derrick wasn’t sure why, but he felt somewhat apprehensive about this unusual occurrence. Not once nobles came to Riverfield for a picnic nor a holiday while he stayed here. This village was for farming, not leisure. There were other areas around Lafayette that better facilitated such activities.
Gradually, the riders’ profiles became clearer. As he suspected, two of them seemed like nobility, the way they held the reins. It was unmistakable. Even Derrick himself rode like that.
The odd one out was the local village guardsman. Probably here to escort the nobles to the village lord’s residence.
“A courtesy call, maybe?”
It wouldn’t be too surprising an etiquette to pay respect to the governing lord of the area.
Both riders were males. Both carried an aura of knights. Both were formidable men, as far as Derrick could make out.
Eventually, they were close enough for him to recognize at least one. The other rider, he wasn’t too sure.
They too, seemed to have sensed Derrick’s eyes on them, as the person he recognized began waving his hand in a friendly manner.
“That’s…. Sir Alistair Patrona Warburton, from the Western Reaches. What is he doing here?”
Derrick muttered under his breath. Alistair was a prominent member of the Western Reaches Knights Division, a prodigious band of warriors based out of the Norwood province to the West. Well known for his fiery temper and a capable sword arm which he deftly advertised back a few years ago when he helped to quell a minor rebellion, he was not really known for traversing the countryside for a leisurely stroll. Derrick remembered seeing his face proudly beaming at the award ceremony held at the Imperial Palace.
“The person next to Alistair can’t be of a simple identity, then.”
Derrick frowned. Why would two men like that come here, he mused.
Soon enough, he got the chance to find out for himself as they sat in the office face to face.
“It’s a pleasure finally making an acquaintance, Sir Derrick. Please allow me to formally introduce myself and my associate. I am Sir Alistair Patrona Warburton and this is Sir William Fordham Wincaster.”
Derrick observed both men deeply, quickly affirming the impression he formed earlier on. Alistair was bronzed, well-built, broad shouldered and roguish but quite handsome. He’d be quite popular with songstresses of the nights.
On the other hand, William was a pensive man, hardly showing an expression on his cold, detached face. He was thin and tall, his bleached blonde hair swept back and tied firmly. So much so, it looked like his scalp might rip if he frowned a little.
“Welcome to Riverfield, gentlemen. I am Sir Derrick Septima Lomax. I’m currently in charge of administration of this village. How may I of your assistance?”
Derrick consciously avoided calling himself an acting lord, lest it bring forth a moment of derision from the guests. It was not really necessary a caution, but he wanted to avoid dealing with that kind of stress if possible. Besides, they probably figured it themselves. No point in telling them, then.
“We came specifically to speak to you, good sir,” Alistair smiled deeply, as William pulled out a large navy blue scroll from his bag of holding.
The wax seal on top was unfamiliar to him, a mountain with a pair of new moons on either side.
“That is the in-depth proposal for a cooperation between the farmers of Riverfield, and that of the Young Entrepreneurs’ Association I represent, Sir Derrick. In it, you’ll find terms favorable to both the people you represent, as well as to the people I represent.”
Alistair laughed genially and handed the scroll over.
Even though he had lived in the village for the last two and a bit years, Derrick wasn’t well versed in the trials and tribulations of farming. When he cracked the seal and started reading the scroll, he didn’t understand half of what was written in there, all the technical terms he was unfamiliar with flying over his head.
This had all the hallmarks of turning into an extremely embarrassing situation if not handled right.
Coughing lightly to clear his throat, Derrick spoke. “This is not a matter that I can decide on my own. I must discuss it in detail with the village elders first, as it would affect them the most.”
“Of course, of course. We expected that,” Alistair kept that genial smile as he nodded in understanding.
Derrick found it difficult to get a proper bearing on the man. Whether the smile was faked or not, whether he was sincere in this proposal or not – he just couldn’t get a reading.
Perhaps, making him talk more might help.
Derrick nodded softly.
“The decision shouldn’t take too long to make, but still, it might take a couple of days at least. In the meantime, will you two gentlemen be staying in the village? I can provide with accommodation if you so wish.”
Alistair gazed at William for a few moments, before resuming his smile. “We shall kindly take you up on that, Sir Derrick. Besides, it serves another of our agenda if we were to stay a little while longer in the village.”
“Oh? And what’ll be that agenda you speak of, Sir Alistair?”
William then produced another rolled up scroll, amber in color and sealed in golden wax. This one had no emblem on it.
“We’re also members of a youth organization calling ourselves The Children of The Amber. We haven’t been active on the scene for long, but, our ambitions mean it’s only a matter of time before we reach the stars.”
Alistair handed the scroll over to Derrick, urging him to open it. Feeling skeptical, he broke the wax seal and unrolled it.
The contents were simple. It was hand written by a high ranking member of the organization who wished to have Derrick join them.
Of course, it wasn’t the first time such an organization, or even guilds, tried to recruit him in the past. With his station being as it was, he refused them all. Although there was this one group that Derrick was advised to join as soon as possible back then, an advice given to him from Hurst von Himmelmann.
But his arrest, and subsequent prosecution as well as the fallout of that, meant he was instead refused entry to the group. It was one of those things that left him shaken badly. He’d gotten over it, though. Or, at least he thought he had.
But now, when he saw the name on the scroll, the name of the person who wanted him, his mind shook. Suddenly, he thought a shining path have opened up for him.
Of course, he wasn’t a naive and impulsive young man anymore. If someone wanted him, obviously there was a condition or two attached. Or even some other agenda.
However, it was hard to deny the attraction of this group. If Derrick were to acquire the help of these people, then maybe he could locate culprits responsible for Kain’s demise….
“I see. So your organization wants me to join. Well, it’s an honor to be considered like this.”
Derrick replied, trying his best to keep a still face, not wanting to give anything away.
Alistair chuckled. “No need to make a hasty decision, Sir Derrick. I already made plans to stay in the village for a few days and convince you of the benefits of our little group. As you can see, we’re backed by that individual. We’re not lacking in power nor in finances. Plus, since we’re quite picky when it comes to who joins us. Meaning, there aren’t any wastrels poisoning our air.”
Derrick nodded coolly, before turning his attention back to the scroll.
He began to salivate. He felt a certain dormant excitement surge inside.
Is this the chance I’ve been looking for? The chance to… redeem myself?
….That’s funny. I thought I was done with all that. But now…. I….
Should I accept?
Many, many hours prior, the Sky Ark carrying the Lomaxes was entering the capital city’s airspace.
Both eyes of Kaleena sparkled like a pair of diamonds as she excitedly pressed her face against the crystal screen acting as a window. Below her, the vast metropolis of Argos spread in all directions, the quietly setting Sun casting a soft orange haze over the city like a hazy blanket.
She greedily took in the sight of the biggest humanoid settlement in the entire continent. Flying on a Sky Ark was an indelible experience in itself but being able to see such a majestic city up so high was an amazing stimulus as well.
Next to her, Katrina was acting cool and lofty. She had seen the cityscape from the Sky Ark before, so she felt slightly less awed this time round. Instead, after sensing the arrival of a golden opportunity, she was doing her best to clearly assert her superiority over her country bumpkin cousin.
Suffice to say, Kaleena was too busy being awestruck to care at the moment, the pain of leaving behind her friends in Riverfield all long forgotten, never mind the pain of losing her little brother.
A new adventure was waiting for her down there in this new and foreign city, and she was literally chomping at the bits to get cracking.