When the middle-aged man returned, Ian had only finished checking out a few of the items in the smithy. Not much time had passed, right? Without a doubt, this old guy was beyond fast.
“I’m back. Thanks for waiting,” the man said. In his right hand, he held a piece of yellowish paper.
“No problem,” Ian replied, his hazel-colored eyes shimmering, “I wasn’t even close to looking at everything.”
After all, weapons were awesome. If he had to choose between playing with a sword and eating a good steak, he would, ten times out of ten, play with the sword in one hand while eating the steak with the other.
“Oh, I see,” the man said somewhat disinterestedly. “You’ll be making better stuff than this in time. These are all failures. I only sell my quality stuff by direct order.”
“Hmm? Wait, does this mean you are taking me in?!” Ian questioned with evident astonishment leaking from his voice.
“Yeah. I figured you would have realized it when I asked you to wait.”
“Oh, true. Should have thought of that,” Ian muttered.
“Anyway,” the blacksmith said, “you can use Dark Matter, or, at least, will be able to. So, I have no choice but to teach you about it before you end up hurting yourself or others.”
Ian’s excitement instantly died. Were those black particles actually dangerous or something? Why didn’t anyone mention anything about this?
“By the way,” the man continued, “my name is Gaelan Marlow, but just call me Gaelan. No need for stuffy titles like ‘master’ or anything.”
“Oh,” Ian spoke, still worrying about the danger of the dark particles, “I’m Ian Hayes. Thanks for the opportunity.”
“No problem. However, this is a first for me, so it may be difficult at first,” Gaelan explained.
“I’ll do my best,” Ian replied. Then, he politely asked, “Would it be alright if I set up my tent on the lawn outside?” After all, finding a place to stay without worries was at the top of his priority list.
“No need for that, either,” Gaelan answered. “My home has several guest rooms that hardly ever get used except when Aria comes over. I’ll ask my wife to get one ready for you.”
Doing celebratory fist pumps within his mind, Ian smiled and said, “Thank you very much.” He would have done the fist pumps for real if his sense of shame had not kicked in first. Most assuredly, this moment could be considered his happiest since arriving in this world.
“Come,” Gaelan said, leading Ian outside. On the way to the house, he mentioned, “Also, one rule: don’t lay your hands on my daughter.” The man’s purple eyes blared with over-protectiveness.
“Don’t worry, you don’t need to be concerned about it,” Ian replied in an attempt to assuage the man’s worries. In fact, the man reminded Ian of his uncle at this moment in time. Although Ian spoke with sincerity, Gaelan most likely did not believe his words. Of course, Ian liked women, but his past experiences scarred him emotionally. As a result, emotional readiness for any type of relationship lay far in the future.
When they stepped through the back door, Ian found himself in an entranceway connected to a quaint living room. Everything looked far cleaner than he expected. In fact, the room practically sparkled. A calming fire burned within a fireplace to the right. In front of it, an ornately carved wooden table rested on a bear rug. Further past it, a leather couch sat in silence waiting to be sat upon. It was the first couch Ian had seen in this world, so the sight of it briefly shocked him. Next to it, there was a wooden rocking chair. Opposite the fireplace, shelves were bolted to the walls, mostly filled with books and novels. On either side of the shelves were end tables decorated with white candles standing on decorative metal frames.
Breaking Ian’s observations, Gaelan called out, “Aella?! Can you come here for a minute?!”
“I’ll be there in a moment, dear!” a woman called out from another room.
Noticing that Gaelan had already removed his shoes, Ian set his backpack down, breathing a sigh of relief as he did so. Afterward, he set about removing his own pair of boots, which happened to catch Gaelan’s attention along with the backpack.
“Nice craftsmanship on your gear,” the man mentioned.
“A dwarf I met yesterday told me the same thing,” Ian replied, slipping off his left boot. Another sigh of relief.
“Only two days in town and you already met Dwarves, eh?”
“Yeah. A nice old Merchant named Rogar, along with his friends.”
“You met Rogar?!”
“You know him?” Ian asked, stopping with his right boot half-removed.
“Aye, I do,” Gaelan replied, adopting a noticeable amount of the Dwarven accent. “He supplies me with metals from Mount Bolcanus.”
“Small world…” Ian muttered as he finished removing his other boot.
A moment later, a woman entered through a doorway across the room. Her appearance was stunningly beautiful. Compared to most of the women Ian had seen in the city, she was a little shorter, perhaps 160 centimeters tall or so. Curly white-blond hair hung gracefully over her shoulders to her bountiful chest. Her eyes were sky blue and her skin was fair. She also had a petite nose and thin lips which curved into a gentle smile. Contrary to her comely visage, her day dress looked rather plain as though used for housework.
“You wanted me, dear?” the woman asked, her soothing voice seemingly able to melt the hardest of hearts. “Oh, a visitor. How unusual.”
This is Gaelan’s wife?! Ian thought, taken aback. She looks no more than twenty-five…
“Well,” Gaelan answered, “to be honest, I decided to take this kid in as an apprentice. Would you be so kind as to get a room prepared for him?”
The woman, Aella, looked extremely surprised by the statement. However, she replied, “I suppose I can get one ready.” Then, looking at Ian with gentle eyes, she asked, “What is your name, young man?”
Young man? I’m twenty-six… How old is she? Ian wondered. For a moment he forgot to answer, but shook himself out of his surprise and replied, “My name is Ian, ma’am. It’s nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet a young man with good manners,” Aella said. “I pray you find our home a welcome place, even if my husband ends up nagging you from time to time.”
“Hey…” Gaelan tried to say something but gave up upon receiving a sharp glance from his wife. Some sort of invisible communication existed there but Ian totally missed it.
Once the short exchange ended, Aella curtsied slightly and wandered off to get Ian’s room ready. Honestly, he didn’t really care how nice the room looked as long as there was a roof over his head. Cleanliness would simply be an added bonus.
“Well, you met my wife,” Gaelan said, his face beaming with pride. “So, how about you and I have a little chat in the meantime?”
Without waiting for Ian, Gaelan trudged over to the couch and plopped down. Then, he looked back and slapped the other cushion a few times as a gesture for Ian to sit. Although the butterflies of visiting another’s house for the first time flitted within his stomach, he wasted no time in taking the seat next to Gaelan, which turned out to be even softer than he imagined.
“Alright,” Gaelan said, adopting a serious tone, “before we do anything else, I need to explain a few things to you.”
“Okay,” Ian affirmed. At this point, he felt more afraid of fainting from exhaustion than anything Gaelan might say, considering whatever the man said would probably be important to stay awake for.
Rubbing his chin, Gaelan said, “First, I’ll need to explain why I decided to take you in. The reason is because of something called Dark Matter, which you didn’t seem to be familiar with. To explain it, I’ll need to tell you about a friend of mine, since he studied magic more than anyone else I knew. Anyway, he discovered there are two types of magic, and he called them Dark Matter and Light Matter; ‘two sides of the same coin’ as he phrased it. Oh, he was actually the one who invented the Search Box you saw Aria use before.”
“Oh, yeah, that stupid thing…” Ian muttered, nodding in remembrance.
“Unfortunately, he died during the last war.”
“War with the Daemonkin. Do you not even know about that?”
“Only from Rogar mentioning it briefly last night…”
Gaelan sighed. “I guess I’ll have to explain quite a bit to you, then…” For a moment, the man remained silent with eyebrows furrowed in thought. Then, he said, “You aren’t from Regnoras, or rather, this world, are you?”
“Huh?” Ian responded, perplexed by the sudden question. However, Gaelan asked in complete seriousness. Although hesitant to say he came from Earth, Ian answered, “Uh, yeah. I just got here yesterday morning. How’d you know?”
“I see…” Gaelan muttered, ignoring Ian’s question. Then, he folded his hands together on the back of his head, looked at the ceiling, and said, “The friend I mentioned wasn’t from this world either.”
“So there are others from Earth in this world…” Ian muttered. Of course, the thought had briefly crossed his mind before, but he did not spend much time thinking about it. How many people from Earth lived in this world?
“Maybe, but the only ones I’ve ever knowingly met are you and Dustin.”
“Dustin?” Ian asked.
“Ah, yes, the friend I mentioned. His name was Dustin Crawford.”
“Dustin Crawford?!” Ian exclaimed, nearly jumping off the couch.
Looking confusedly at Ian, Gaelan asked, “Did you know him?”
“Well, kinda,” Ian replied. “He worked for my dad a long time ago but went missing when I was six. I guess he ended up here…” Although he had been young at the time, he could still recall the moment his father found out Dustin had gone missing. No other time did his father lose his marbles so badly. Looking back on it now, Dustin must have been in charge of something important.
Man… remembering my parents ruined my mood… Ian mused.
“Hoh~, how interesting,” Gaelan said, nodding. “Anyway, back to the subject of Dark Matter. My friend, Dustin, studied in the Daemonkin country since more of them use Dark Matter than any other race. Unfortunately, he got accused of being a spy and was executed…” Gaelan fell silent for a few seconds, likely recalling his friend. He sighed, then continued, “Before his death, he discovered a few important things you should know. One, there are the two types of magic, Light and Dark Matter. Two, although difficult, it is possible to switch from being able to use Light Matter as a base, to using Dark as a base.” Furrowing his brows, Gaelan asked, “Now that I think about it, you said you just got here yesterday, so does that mean you started with Dark Matter?”
In response, Ian thought back to the painful memory of seeing the black particles for the first time. If Light and Dark Matter made up the magic of this world, then he had seen both. Nodding, Ian confessed, “It was a fairly painful experience…”
“Painful?” Gaelan asked, brows furrowed in contemplation. “Dustin never experienced pain when he got magic for the first time or when he transitioned…”
“Actually, I’m pretty sure the Light Matter is what made it so painful,” Ian said. “It wasn’t til the dark particles showed up that the pain went away. It was kinda strange, but the dark particles felt like they were supposed to be a part of me or something…”
“Weird. Are you sure you’re human?” Gaelan joked, grinning from ear to ear.
“Quite sure. Been one for as long as I can remember,” Ian retorted.
“Umm… Dad?” a sweet yet reserved voice spoke from the doorway opposite the entrance. Both Gaelan and Ian craned their heads to see the girl shyly leaning around the door jam.
“Yes, pumpkin?” Gaelan asked, darting over to the girl who Ian presumed to be the man’s daughter.
When Ian looked at her, his first impression, uncharacteristically, was: Big… Of course, he was not thinking about her stature, since her height could only be considered petite at best. However, her modest day dress curved around her ample bosom. Hoping not to earn the ire of his newly acquired mentor, Ian averted his eyes to the girl’s face. She looked almost identical to her mother save for purple eyes, the same as Gaelan, and golden-blond hair a shade darker than her mother’s. It curled illustriously down to her shoulders. If he had to guess her age, he would have to say twenty at best.
Ian breathed a sigh of relief that the girl’s attractiveness trended less to the sensual and more to the ‘I want to make sure this girl never gets hurt’. Well, it wasn’t much better, but it was something. After all, he needed to keep in mind the warning his mentor gave him only minutes earlier.
“Umm, I didn’t know you had a visitor,” the girl said, apparently disappointed. “So, I’m not sure there is enough food…”
“Don’t worry, my beautiful girl,” Gaelan said in an attempt to soothe her worries while he bent over to hug her and rub his cheek against hers.
Meanwhile, Ian amused himself by thinking, Daughter-con spotted! Well, Gaelan’s daughter looked rather embarrassed, considering she sent a worried glance toward Ian before quickly averting her eyes. Compared to everyone else he had met in this world, Gaelan’s daughter definitely won the award for most shy.
“Oh,” Gaelan spoke, temporarily returning his attention to Ian, “this is my wonderful daughter, Bianca. Since you’re basically my servant now, you need to help me keep the boys away from her.”
That’s a little different than what he said earlier, but whatever… Outside his mind, Ian only shrugged.
On the other hand, Bianca complained, “Dad, stop. Your beard tickles. Also, mom is going to get mad again if you keep scaring people away.”
In response, Gaelan froze. A second later, he stood straight and exclaimed, “Alright, let’s go eat dinner! Come, Ian!”
At Gaelan’s behest, Ian followed him into the next room which Bianca just came from. It turned out to be the dining room. Another brick fireplace, though unlit, was built into the wall on the right as they entered. In the center of the room was a large rectangular dining table, fully set with an array of delicious-looking casseroles and soups that smelled just as delicious. Six chairs surrounded the table.
Of course, Ian got the jitters from not knowing which chair to use. He waited as Gaelan took the seat at the head of the table and the two women took seats to his right. Afterward, Gaelan gestured for Ian to take the seat directly on his left. Before eating, Gaelan said a short prayer of sorts.
“We thank thee, o’ Lightbringer, for what you have provided. May you continue to provide for years to come as you have in years past. May your light fill the land.”
In unison, Aella and Bianca muttered, “May your light fill the land.”
Although Ian did not participate, the others did not appear to have any qualms about it.
Although slightly uncomfortable from eating at their table for the first time, he felt extremely happy inside. During the meal itself, he struggled to stifle a tear. After all, how many years had it been since he last ate a meal with other people? Two? Three? The last instance he could recall was with his friend who disappeared from his apartment complex a few years prior.
After the meal, Aella, with candle in hand, showed Ian to the room she had prepared for him. From the dining room, through the kitchen, up a flight of stairs, and at the end of the hall, he found his room. A bed, a nightstand, a dresser, and even a wardrobe furnished it. A thin candle on the nightstand lit the room surprisingly well.
“It might be on the small side, but I hope you don’t mind,” Aella said.
“No, this is more than good enough,” Ian replied happily. “I was honestly expecting to sleep on the ground outside until a couple hours ago, so this is fantastic.”
Aella smiled and said, “Sleep well, then, Ian.”
“You too, uh… Mrs. Marlow?”
“Aella is fine.”
“Then good night, Aella,” Ian said, bowing slightly, displaying his ignorance of etiquette within this world.
Nodding, Aella retreated to her own bedroom near the stairs. With that, Ian stepped into his new room and took a deep breath. Grinning, he dropped his backpack next to the bed and collapsed onto the mattress. Although a bit rough compared to his bed back home, it certainly beat sleeping on the ground. He blew out the candle and darkness swept in. Only the dim light of stars filtered through the blinds covering the nearby window. Not even a minute later, he fell fast asleep.
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.