Chapter 14

“Upon her father’s request, she will not know about the new proposal until she is safe at her home in Duldat.”

“Why not? She deserves to know!”

“Soldia doesn’t want her to cause a scene; please respect his wishes.”

Caleb clenched his fists. But a moment of clarity made him realize that getting upset now wouldn’t do much.

“You know I can’t lie to her.”

“Then don’t. I understand that you both have grown closer and closer. But remember your position in this family, what you represent as my son regardless of your origins.”

“Are we done then?”

“Not quite.” Valum motions Mei to approach with a case.

“What’s this?”

“This is our family tradition. Although it may be a bit earlier than I had hoped, our situation is about to change as we know it. Choose one that you feel closest to; the rest will be taken care of.”

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Mei opens the case to reveal four ore-like rocks, each with a distinctive look and color of minerals.

“I need to choose?”

“Correct, just pick the one that calls to you.”

Caleb blinks for a bit. With his right hand, he hovers around the rocks. A weird sensation hums throughout his hand as he approaches each rock. With the sudden reaction, he focuses on which one to choose. Closing his eyes, he centers himself on the one to which he feels stronger to.

A moment passes, and Valum worries that none of them calls to a son of Aris. However, with a quick response, Caleb grasps a grayish hue ore that has distinctive pieces of jagged edges and minerals that glow in the dark.

“That one-that is the one I feel is right.”

“Very well, Mei, take this to my contact in the mountains.”

“Yes, my Lord.” Mei exits just like her father, disappearing in the shadows.”

“Now that has been settled, you may return to your brother and young Tia.”

“Father, if I may.”

“Yes?”

“What if I have to use magic? What if there is no other way?”

Valum closes his eyes and sighs. Knowing that his son has been paranoid about his own abilities, he finally relents to him.

“Caleb, do you know what an artifact is?”

“Artifact? Isn’t that some special item that holds magical properties? I know a lot of church priests and healers carry them.”

“That’s because they don’t have abilities like Tia, but they hone their skill through artifacts to replicate the same magic. Of course, the natural power of someone born with this gift is far superior; they are indeed rare. I didn’t mean to keep this from you, but this was your mothers…” Valum reaches underneath his shirt and pulls out a unique pendant. The shape is in the form of a circle with symbols engraved into its onyx-like color.

“This was my mother’s?”

“This was the artifact that she gave to me. She wished me to remember her with this, but I held onto it for you when the time was right. Well, I guess it is the right time. This artifact will allow you to cast a barrier spell and deflect any attack as long as you can concentrate on it. It won’t be magic you have used, but if you are worried about having to resort to it, I want you to use this instead.”

Valum places the pendent around Caleb. A look of wonder surrounds the boy. He examines it closely, and a sense of connection burns within his chest.

“I can feel its power…”

“Good, that means you can properly use it. Just remember it will drain your stamina the more you use it.”

“Thank you, Father…”

“Thank your mother. She was the one who used it for you. And now it is yours.”

Valum allows his son to leave the room and gives him time with his new gift. A small tear runs down his cheek while looking at a small picture of Caleb’s mother.

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“Am I fulfilling your wish, Cassandra… Or am I failing to protect him from your curse… Please… Watch over him. Upon my honor as Valum Aris, I will ensure our son will live a better life than you did.”

The picture falls from his shaking hands. He falls to his knees and begins to cry. The heartbroken man who lost someone essential years ago still stabs him deeply.

“Cassandra Raiden… Give me the strength to protect my family…”

*

After leaving my father’s study, I found Dunick and Tia enjoying each other’s company. I figured it would end that way; it was my brother, after all.

“There is my brother, so father told you everything?”

“Just about and more. It seems you two are getting along.”

“Young Tia here is quite astute, just like you. So, it wasn’t tough to crack her open for a smile.”

Tia blushes and looks away from embarrassment. I laugh softly and poke my brother’s arm.

“What is it?”

“I just want to say thanks.”

“What for?”

“Just thanks.”

Dunick looks at me strangely before laughing. “You are a weird one, Caleb. But you are welcome. I’ve had a long day, so if you two will allow me, I will be going to bed.”

We part ways, leaving me and Tia alone for the moment. It is nearly my time to head out to the forest and practice my magic.

“So, what did you talk about with your father?”

“I-Uhh..” I stuttered. The guilt of knowing our engagement and postponed marriage would surely upset her. I couldn’t tell her, but I couldn’t lie and keep it from her. I take her hand and lead her away from prying ears. She followed me without question, but she was surely startled.

“C-Caleb? What is it?”

“I just-I need a second to think.”

“Okay?” Tia’s ears perk up and wiggle in the air. It was certainly cute, and my heart skipped a slight beat. I clear my throat and approach her.

“My father has put me in charge of Saiana Village. As you know, war is approaching from the Empire. So, to keep me from danger, I will live there and overlook it as a supply camp for the forward armies.”

“Really? Are you sure you want that?”

“I don’t know what I want at this point. I have so many new responsibilities placed on me that it’s driving me crazy!” I wave my hands like a madman. Tia laughs at my silliness. 

“I think you’ll be a great leader. I can tell you like to put much thought into your actions and decisions. It suits you.”

A slight blush washes over my cheeks, and I rub the back of my head, trying to keep it all inside, but a small chuckle escapes my lips. 

“But I know there is something else you want to tell me.”

“It’s- it’s something I can’t discuss.”

“Saying that means it is related to me. Caleb, no secrets, please. I thought we would be open about everything.”

“You’re right, just… I don’t know how to say it…”

“Just out with it, you dolt.” She chops my head softly. I don’t know what forces her to act weird like that, but it is a nice side of her when she is comfortable.

“It seems my father gave me this position so I could help with the war… Which means… It won’t be until I turn eighteen before I can see you in Duldat. I’m sorry.”

“That’s all?”

“I knew you would be upset, so I didn’t want to-…wait… Excuse me?” I look at her. She tilts her head to the side and giggles.

“Did you expect me to get upset? I mean, yeah, I feel a little upset, but I still have a lot to learn before getting married to someone. I am lucky enough to know it is you. I can wait longer for you.”

“Y-You’re taking this a lot better than I thought… So, excuse me for being a little frazzled.”

Tia laughs and pulls me into a hug. I blink as her slightly bigger body holds me.

“This past month, I have grown more than I thought I would, Caleb. I may still be a little girl as an elf… However, I am more mature than even my father can believe. We got time, so make sure you grow taller than me in those years.”

With a broad smile, the young elf pushes away from me, teases me with a pose, and leaves me there. Just standing there, I exit the manor toward the forest in secret. Pondering my encounter with her, I raise my fist in the air and yell out when no one is nearby.

“YES!!!!”

I may have let out a little more excitement than I thought, but I didn’t care. I was glad that I didn’t have to worry about it. And that Tia gives me the courage to wait nine more years…

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