Synopsis: A fast-paced story about a youngster who loses everything and everyone he holds dear. Through the only family that still remains with him, his uncle, he gets to choose to dedicate his focus and attention to blacksmithing rather than to fall into depression and street life...
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Daiden tapped the back of his spatial ring and equipped a clean, heavy iron sword. He tapped it again and switched to Takshaka, then back. He had attempted the process many times over the months and had become accustomed to switching between weapons within the margin of a second. The pace of his improvement had slowed with time, but he worked on the activity consistently, to ensure even the smallest of gains. He settled with the iron sword and swung it to warm the motion of his arms.
With a nod, Daiden planted the sword on the ground and stretched to test the durability of his armour. He checked the guards around his shoulders, his gaiters, boots, and everything else. Daiden nodded again and gazed through the vicinity in a circle. He slowly noticed a crowd form around him in the training grounds, from the rumours of his bout against another High Ranker. His eyes searched through the other trainees and stopped at Kir and a few other blacksmiths from Mutuba Smithy. He waved at them with a smile and returned to stretching his limbs.
“Well met, you monster!” said Rollo, sneaking up from behind Daiden. He patted his shoulders from the back and swerved to the front in a hurry. “Hey, I need you to know that today is important. It’s the last day for all ranked battles, and you know what comes next!”
“You sound more like my mentor and less like a fellow trainee,” joked Daiden, with a smile. “And yes, yes, I know that we have the trainee quests to look forward to for our last two months in training. I know that’s also the reason Laella chose today to challenge for the first rank.”
“Good, I taught you well!” said Rollo, proudly. “Laella is a talented Elementalist. This should be a good match for you.”
Daiden paused a moment and eyed his friend. He took a deep breath, then one more, to muster the courage for a question. “Rollo, you know I adore you. But…I do think you’re more deserving of the first rank than I. Why did you never challenge me for it?”
“I’ll tell you if you tell me why you want to become a soldier,” offered Rollo, simply. “And none of that ‘I want to solve the Nilheim problem’ b*******.”
Daiden scratched the back of his head and shrugged, “That’s an oversimplification, but…wait, actually, I don’t quite know how to respond to that.”
“Well, forget about it for now,” said Rollo. “We have an important milestone to achieve here. And I know, I know it’s your seventh battle of the month. Laella does as well. It’s why she wagered a hundred bloodstones for it. Perks of the wealthy!”
“I’m not sure, Rollo,” said Daiden, uncertainly. “She’s a strong opponent…”
“I’ll cover for you if you lose,” said Rollo, waving the concern aside. “Make a good impression. She’s a High Noble from the Amell Family…I need you to leave with a connection, at least, if not a win.”
Rollo quickly raised his hand to stop Daiden from responding. He scratched his chin in thought, and then smiled, his eyes in half-moons and with a weird expression on his face. “Well, now that I think about it. I would prefer if you won this matchup!”
Daiden shrugged, opened his mouth, but paused without words. He shook his head and turned away, choosing to relent to Rollo’s recommendation.
Mioverold recognized the Godvildian Empire as a realm-altering presence. Despite the necessity of war, they, along with the Noxun and Relictan Empires had always managed to maintain strong territory. At a time with several smaller kingdoms and factions, with the soil nourished from the blood of war and decay, the Three Great Races persisted. Historians and scholars attributed this success to key individuals, the nobility and their descendants.
The Amell Family ranked as such within the ecosystem of combat. They practiced the search of strength and power, marrying outside the family often, simply to force the emergence of a gene sequence that breathed the stench of war. But the poems and songs spoke more of their quality and control with aeter, a glow that shimmered with the purity of gold. In the Fortified City of Uriel, twenty kilometres north-east of Mutuba Village, Laella Amell represented this ideal, as an only child and heiress to the city’s Amells.
“Did he accept?” asked Laella, suspiciously.
“Yes, yes,” said Rollo, with a light expression. “You’re both so alike, always worrying without any cause for concern. It’s bothersome.”
Rollo feigned disappointment in that moment. He clicked his tongue for attention and lied for the benefit of his friend. “I begged Daiden to raise the stakes of the wager given your situation. But what do you know? He’s a better man than I.”
Laella raised an eyebrow at the comment. She held her breath from an immediate response and retreated into thought. The reaction sparked a glimmer in Rollo. He masked it with a straight face and shrugged instead.
“It’ll sting to take his rank,” said Laella, slowly. “But I’ll be sure to thank him for this gesture. And gratitude to you as well, Rollo, for letting me know.”
“You know me, Laella,” said Rollo. “I thank you every day for not choosing to take my rank. Consider it a small favour.”
Laella folded her arms and smirked, twitching around her temples. She rested her gaze upon Rollo, with an air of dignity, and pierced through the falsehoods. Her aeter swelled to the surface, taking the shape of an untethered aura, crimson and wild. With a scoff, she diverted a small portion of her aeter to her fingertips. Her eyes focused on Rollo through the process. She smiled still, and then laughed.
“Very good, very good,” said Laella, dispersing her aeter into nothingness. She clicked her tongue and frowned, at the sight of an unchanging face. It bothered her a little. “You’re strange, Rollo…and I’ve often enjoyed observing your obsession with Daiden. I may have respected you even, especially after your performance against the Karsman, Moran.
“But you disappoint me. I know those eyes. I grew up with them around me. Talents under the assumption that they’re more deserving of the Amell influence and wealth…how disgusting! All that pride, for someone who doesn’t even have the gall to challenge for the first rank.”
Rollo absorbed the tirade, cocked his head, and responded with an innocent expression. “Whatever do you mean? I never once thought of you that way. You’re mistaken, I guess?”
“Huh?” blurted Laella, taken aback by Rollo’s response.
“I’m serious, I’m serious,” stressed Rollo, patting Laella’s shoulder without inhibition. “I’m genuinely grateful that you chose to trouble Daiden over me on our last day for ranked battles.”
Rollo placed his arms on his hips and added, “By Ehedus, I just can’t talk to a proud person without rubbing them the wrong way.”
Laella spat an exasperated sigh, confused still. “What?”
“Anyway, I never once saw you as anything more than a fellow trainee,” said Rollo. “I think the top three is pretty well set in stone. Does it matter where we rank?”
“I suppose…not?” said Laella, a question almost, uncertainly.
“Oh, and one other thing,” said Rollo. “Ser Valaris is unavailable to officiate for the day due to arrangements that require his attention, trainee quests and whatnot. He’s asked me to step in for him.
“And yes, my weird obsession with Daiden aside, rest assured that I’ll be objective and nothing more.”
“I’m sorry?” apologized Laella, half-heartedly. “I don’t know what to say.”
Rollo waved the apology aside and simply walked away.