The cooing of roosters woke Ian just before sunrise. Although he knew about them before, today was the first time the noisy creatures actually woke him up. Considering he lived in the city his whole life, the boisterous animals surprised him.
Forcing himself to sit up, he groaned due to his sore muscles. The previous night, while waiting for his bath, Gaelan told him about his Gifts, including High Physical Affinity. Considering how much manual labor he carried out yesterday, it seemed to have increased his endurance by some margin. Even so, the resulting tiredness caused him to crave freshly brewed coffee. Perhaps bringing some to this world would be a good idea.
After putting on some clean clothes that Aella had been so kind to wash for him, Ian left the room and headed downstairs, yawning a few times along the way. A few stretches made him realize that his t-shirt felt slightly tighter than before. There was no way his muscles grew that fast, right?
Deciding not to worry about such a thing, he shrugged it off and descended the stairway to the kitchen. Surprisingly, Bianca was already awake and making breakfast. Somehow she avoided spilling anything on her dress the entire time. Recalling his own attempts at cooking, Ian wondered how she accomplished such a thing.
Yawning again, Ian casually greeted, “Good morning, Bianca.”
“Oh, um, good morning, Mister Ian,” she replied, only briefly glancing at him before returning to cutting something that looked like red celery.
Seeing her reach over the counter that had obviously not been constructed with short, er, vertically challenged people in mind put a smile on Ian’s face. Honestly, he couldn’t help thinking it looked cute in a way. Then, noticing the vegetable beneath her knife, Ian curiously asked, “Is that rhubarb?”
“Um, I don’t know what rhubarb is, but this is redstick,” Bianca replied, still focused on chopping the thing.
Redstick… how uncreative… Ian mused. Considering he never tried rhubarb before, he hoped rhubarb and redstick were synonymous. After all, food was one of the few things he could find enjoyment in, so finding new things basically served as a hobby.
“Mind if I try some?” Ian asked.
“I suppose it’s okay,” Bianca answered, finally looking up at him. She blinked upon seeing the young man practically drooling over the vegetable. Realizing how close he stood, she nearly dropped the knife. Although his height unnerved her, she inwardly told herself she only needed to grow accustomed to him over time. However, she did not know how long it might take, especially when considering the fact that seeing his thoughts or intentions remained impossible.
After a sigh of relief at not losing her grip on the knife handle, she grabbed a piece of redstick and handed it to Ian, who gratefully accepted it. The look in his eye reminded her of an overexcited dog for some reason.
As his teeth sank into the sinews of the vegetable, sweet and sour juices dribbled onto his tongue. It tasted exactly how he expected rhubarb to taste. Most likely, the two things simply ended up with different names in different worlds. Nibbling on it, he savored the sour taste. Sour was one of his favorite flavors, right behind salty, sweet, savory… okay, all flavors were good. How could he choose between them when they had different good points?
“Thanks, Bianca. It’s really tasty,” Ian said while shoving the remainder of the stick into his mouth.
“Oh, um… Y- You’re welcome,” she sheepishly replied, returning to her cutting board.
While chewing, Ian curiously inquired, “May I ask what you’re making?”
“Um… a surprise?”
If Ian didn’t know any better, he would have thought she simply made it up as she went along based on the way she said that. Perhaps it could be considered an attempt at friendly banter?
“Well, alright. Need any help?” he asked. “Since I’m practically freeloading, it’s the least I can do.”
In reply, Bianca shook her head back and forth, causing her curly golden hair to flutter along with the motion. Then, she said, “Thanks for the offer, but it’s okay if you wait elsewhere.”
Shrugging, Ian said, “Okay, then. I’ll go wait on the couch, I guess.”
* * * * *
Bianca eyed Ian as he ambled toward the living room. Even though she told him she did not need help, it honestly would have taken a load off her shoulders. The only problem was that she did not think she could focus on cooking if he stayed any longer. Even having her dad mull around the kitchen proved enough of a distraction to make major mistakes, so someone unfamiliar would probably cause a disastrous result. At least, she imagined pulling out a living loaf of bread from the oven, complete with beady red eyes and sharp needle-like teeth. The only three people she ever felt comfortable cooking with were her own mother, Aria, and Aria’s younger sister.
Staring at the chopped redsticks, she sighed. Getting used to Ian as quickly as possible would be good even if only to receive help in the kitchen. Even so, waiting could be good too, since he would probably wear out from his studies and training.
Wondering if she could have handled their conversation better, she picked up one of the redsticks and turned just enough to face the spot where Ian stood a few seconds earlier.
“Here,” she quietly said while recalling the short exchange, “I bet you’ll like it… No, that doesn’t sound right. Hmm… Maybe, after he asked if he could try it, I could have said, no, but maybe if you help in the future. No… that sounds a little rude and stuck up… Oh, I should have smiled. Then, I could have said, trying it is fine, so do your best today…”
Setting the redstick back on the cutting board, she closed her eyes and sighed again.
“I guess I should get back to making… whatever it was I was making…” she mumbled.
* * * * *
Both Gaelan and Aella came downstairs shortly before Bianca finished baking some sort of breakfast pie. Apparently, everyone eating breakfast together did not happen often in the Marlow household since the parents tended to sleep later than their daughter. As a result, Gaelan proclaimed that they would all need to eat together, which likely would have transpired anyway whether or not he said anything.
Shortly after the statement, Aria waltzed through the back door like she owned the place. The expression on her face showed surprise and she made a snarky comment to Gaelan about always sleeping in. However, she dropped any further conversation with him in order to help Bianca set the table. Once again, Bianca worried whether or not they had enough food for everyone. One look revealed such a worry to be baseless. Aria assured the girl there would be plenty to go around.
During the mostly quiet meal, Ian said, “Hey, Gaelan. I need to go back to my wo- home soon. Would it be a problem?”
He almost said ‘world’ but decided to replace it with home since he did not know if telling the other three people about his origin would be advisable.
In response to the dubiously vague question, the others’ faces lit up with surprise. Even Bianca stopped with a fork halfway to her mouth. Sounding out their worries, Gaelan asked, “Why? You just started and now you want to go back?”
“Ah, sorry. It would only be a few days at most,” Ian clarified. “I have a few things I need to take care of and possibly a few things to bring back here.”
To Ian’s surprise, Aria, Aella, and Gaelan all looked relieved for some reason, though their expressions displayed various background thoughts. The most obvious one was Aria due to the promise of money. Besides those three, Bianca briefly released a sigh. Of course, Ian understood Gaelan’s concern, or maybe even Aria, but Bianca and Aella, too? Honestly, he found himself at a loss on what to think of the reactions of these people he only met a few days prior.
In contrast, he recalled the moment he told his parents he would be moving out, and their reaction basically consisted of, ‘Don’t let the door hit you on the way out’. Compared to that, these people that could barely be called acquaintances treated him far better, like he was an actual human with feelings. If he could spend the rest of his life around people that cared about him and he could care about in return, how wonderful would that be?
Breaking Ian’s train of thought, Gaelan replied, “Good. I feared I had taken you on as an apprentice for nothing.”
Ian’s cheerful feelings fluttered out the window.
Scrunching his brow and rubbing his beard, Gaelan asked, “Are you actually able to go back? That seems strange to me…”
Apparently Gaelan possessed experience in keeping his mouth shut. He did not even come close to mentioning Earth.
“Do you live across the sea?!” Aria chimed in interestedly.
“No, but I suppose it’s not much different,” Ian answered. Supposedly, from something Gaelan mentioned previously, the mountain where the portal existed stood just north of the Catankra Sea, which spread out from the south coast a few kilometers away. So, in a way, his home could be considered close to the sea.
“So, do you have a way there and back?” Gaelan asked with justified curiosity.
“Yeah, I think so,” Ian replied.
“I see… Mind if I go with you?” Gaelan inquired with one brow raised.
Ian blinked in surprise. Aella dropped her fork. Aria looked at him like he’d finally lost his mind. Bianca simply gazed worriedly toward her father.
“Are you sure about that, Sweetie?” Aella worriedly asked.
“Yes, of course,” Gaelan replied as though it his statement was the most obvious course of action.
“Um, dad, what about the orders for the shop?” Bianca asked.
“They can wait. If the customers come by, tell them I left to gather some special materials or something. It’s not exactly a lie,” Gaelan calmly answered.
What are you planning on stealing from Earth?! Ian exclaimed within his mind.
After a pause, Ian said, “It probably won’t be a problem.”
Well, it could be awkward if anyone saw Gaelan walk out of his apartment after a few days of inactivity, but it would probably be fine.
“Then it’s settled,” Gaelan said, clapping his hands together while smiling excitedly. “When do you plan on going?”
Honestly, who wouldn’t be excited about the prospect of visiting a mysterious place for the first time? However, Gaelan’s expression worried Ian.
Sighing at her husband’s impulsiveness, Aella muttered, “What an interesting breakfast this turned out to be…”
Recalling his initial journey toward the city, Ian worriedly asked, “Do werewolves show up often outside the city?”
“No, of course not. Why do you ask?” Gaelan asked, chuckling at the strange question. However, Ian noticed that Bianca twitched slightly at the mention of werewolves. Perhaps she feared them or something.
“Since I ran into one on the way to the city, I just thought I should ask,” Ian explained. “Are there any other dangerous creatures I would need to watch out for?”
When Ian mentioned he actually ran into one, Aella gasped, Gaelan raised a brow in bewilderment, Bianca looked at the floor, and Aria suddenly exclaimed, “Whaaat?! You ran into that thing? And you lived without even knowing about Gifts?!”
Ian shrugged. “I got lucky since some heavily armed group showed up right after I crossed paths with it.” While he spoke, Ian noticed Bianca fidget a little. Maybe she despised werewolves as much as he despised needles.
“My goodness. You certainly are quite lucky,” Aria said, shaking her head.
“Indeed, considering that monster killed over twenty people last week,” Aella added while staring at Ian with a concerned look in her eye.
Not the greatest mealtime conversation… Liam thought.
Meanwhile, Gaelan glanced at his daughter and raised a brow. Even he thought her reaction strange. Well, perhaps not too strange, since he quickly shifted his attention to Ian and said, “Normally, the more dangerous creatures shy away from civilization, so you don’t have to worry about anything, especially since I’m going with you.”
Ian almost forgot about that fact due to the easygoing interactions. During their first meeting, Gaelan zoomed past him in a single second. Recalling that instant assured Ian of safety. Honestly, he felt thankful he agreed to let the guy come along.
“Also,” Gaelan continued, “werewolves are strong compared to most of the people here, but you should be able to handle one on your own after some training. Actually, let’s add combat practice to your apprenticeship. How’s that sound?”
The suggestion sounded like a good idea to Ian, if not for his mentor’s lips curving into a sinister grin. What exactly was the man planning?
“I guess that would be helpful…” Ian hesitantly answered. However, he had a feeling he may end up regretting the decision, although getting stronger would certainly become necessary in this world.
“So, may I ask when you plan on leaving, Ian?” Aella inquired. By the looks of it, she had gotten over her husband’s hasty decision and settled for going along with it.
“Probably tomorrow, if it’s not a hindrance,” Ian answered.
“It’s fine,” Gaelan interjected with a dismissive wave. “Men don’t need time to prepare.”
Aella pinched her husband’s forearm, causing him to grit his teeth.
* * * * *
After breakfast, Ian began his lesson with Aria, during which she created a list of the 128 characters used in the Common alphabet. Basically, she told him to memorize it within the week, though it felt like a threat the way she phrased it. When they finished the lesson a couple hours later, Aria mentioned she would be going to the market with Bianca since she had the day off. For some reason, Ian considered Bianca reclusive, but apparently, his assumption missed the mark.
During the rest of the afternoon, Ian learned a new technique from Gaelan called drawing out. In theory, he could accomplish it by hitting a piece of heated metal on four sides, drawing it out into a longer piece. His assignment for the day involved making nails by using the new technique. Compared to the chisel, Ian found the nails far easier to fabricate.
Satisfied with the work Ian accomplished in only two days, Gaelan ended early in order to save energy for the next day’s trip to Earth.
That evening, the meal melted on Ian’s taste buds. Bianca even cooked fresh steaks made from the meat a domestic beast unique to Regnoras. Although Ian did not know of the creature, he loved it almost as much as the sirloins from his favorite restaurant back on Earth. Following the meal, Aria bid them farewell and returned home while the others prepared for bed.
The next morning, Ian and Gaelan left for the Southern Gate, complete with travel packs and supplies.
“I could have made it here in a few minutes if I didn’t have to slow down for you, Your Slowness,” Gaelan said with a sly grin and light bow once they reached the gate. Several people ambled to an fro, creating a steady flow of traffic in and out of the city.
“Ah, yeah, right. You would have known exactly how to get there, too, I’m sure,” Ian replied, only slightly salty.
“Oho~ Well, are we going or not, my foolhardy apprentice?” Gaelan asked.
“Haaaah… We’re already walking…” Ian dryly muttered.
Synopsis: Somewhere in the universe, there was an altar. On it, laid a bloody eye as big as the sun itself. It burst with light and bathed the entire star system in red.
"The aura of an ancestral artifact!" Someone's voice rose in surprise.
The Great Galactic Era had begun.