Segenam straightened his posture when he stood next to his father while the other lords conversed amongst each other. The morning light shined through the tall glass paned windows as maids were walking left and right, serving the nobles their treats and beverages. None let out a single peep of complaint and Dickus smiled, knowing the institution always gave the best of what was needed. Most wandered around the room, seeing what the Academy’s achieved over the course of its history: findings of extraordinary weapons, rare materials not found through normal means, and trophies of monsters. While the others were enjoying themselves, a thought lingered through Segenam’s mind.
Nobles are responsible for certain regions within the kingdom, but there are individuals who have the most influence and land out of all the houses: High Lords. There are only six High Lords of Damore and all are sitting within this very room. The reality of this made Segenam shiver. Through history lessons and gossip, this was the information he was able to gather about every family:
[I kinda need to add this though unnecessary. This is just lore exposition stuff and you can skip it if you like.]
“The Leonidas family was known to be the first vassal appointed by the descendants of the King’s heritage and were loyal no matter the conflict. Gregor Leonidas is currently the General Army and was one of the Grand Marshalls during the offense against the Dracon Empire. Compared to all the Lords here, he was the most knowledgeable when it came down to leading armies and the oldest.
The Lightbringers are a special case: they are not normal human beings. Legends say their ancestors were angelic beings and because of such, they possess power beyond human comprehension. They were neutral during the 1000 Year War but sided with the Damorians a few years ago. Though joined recently, the King trusts them enough to have them lead his armies to battle. Dyrus Lightbringer came on the behalf of his brother and is a respected commander in the frontlines. His word was his brother’s word.
Like the Leonidas, the Benoics are an ancient family who followed the King’s ancestors. They once served as guardians but now hold their own influence and lands. Sir Lancelot, the youngest High Lord, is the current head of his house and a childhood friend to King Arthur.
The Swift family were enemies of Damore but switched sides ever since their country had betrayed them. One of King Arthur’s ancestors accepted them into the kingdom and though suspicious at first, the family proved to be close allies with the King. Argus Swift is the current head and despite his brash behavior, he cares a lot about the king and his fellow comrades.
His family, the Hawkwood, were once prestigious hunters of the wicked and are now serving under the leadership of the king after the Dracon army destroyed their home. Like the Lightbringers, the family had enough respect and reputation to have them at a higher political standing than most nobles and the commoners trust them the most. Though Dickus Hawkwood was the head of the house, he is usually accompanied by his brother Morrison since he was known to make very irrational decisions at times.
Then there is the Eadburt family, who were once a normal, rich merchant family but through a divine decree of the Gods, they obtained royal blood. They have the most influence in the entire continent and having them be vassals of Damore was an economic boom to the kingdom. With their money and reputation, they were able to trade with any place regardless of the king declaring war on any country. Harley Eadburt took the title Head of House since his father had died recently.”
Each household is strong and respected, though one High Lord had yet to prove his loyalty: Lord Eadburt.
Segenam traveled across many villages and towns while journeying through the lands killing monsters, and during his stay in many taverns, rumors spring out and about. Some were particularly about Lord Eadburt and though most were gossip, this is what he heard: “A ruthless and brutal lord”, “Spares no expense to weakness”, “Will do anything to achieve his goal”.
Those are already warning signs of a traitor, but nothing said had concrete evidence. Being here was the perfect opportunity to see the truth for himself.
Dickus’ face darkened when one of the maids came in to tell of Eadburt’s arrival. The vibe of the room went from positive to gloomy silent. It was strange that men of such caliber be called upon about his sister’s arranged marriage but Segenam shrugged off the assessment as a shadow loomed near the double doors. A tall, brown-haired young man revealed himself from the corner of the entrance. Everyone stood and saluted.
“High Lord Eadburt,” All the noblemen greeted.
Lord Eadburt smiled, greeting the lords accordingly. “Sir Gregor Leonidas, Sir Dyrus Lightbringer, Sir Argus Swift, Sir Lancelot Benoic, and… Sir Dickus and Morrison Hawkwood.”
The young man shrugged and arrogantly walked his way to them. “I thank you for coming all of this way just to discuss something so meager. Your loyalty does not have any bounds, I see.”
Gregor furrowed his brows and growled. “There are many things to discuss here, Lord Eadburt, but what you consider meager is costing us lives. Your decision to keep your army out of this war for something so trivial is—”
“In due respect, Sir Gregor, I would like it if you stop spilling out the bad. Plus, I am providing support financially: that’s enough to please the king and your generals. Such incompetence, most of you here are unreliable after all.”
“Lives are being spent while you lollygag in your own estate!” Argus scowled. “And you dare speak like that to your elders?!”
High Lord Swift summoned his weapon and the room started to tremble. Lightning flashed outside, and heavy rain suddenly poured down. Before Argus made any moves on Harley, Dickus raised his hand and cleared his throat.
“Lord Argus, please put down your weapon. You will get quite a lecture from the king himself if you cause a stir here,” Dickus pointed out. Argus sucked his teeth, making his weapon disappear and sat back down on the couch with folded arms. Dickus ordered the maids to get Harley a chair, but the young man refused and stood in front of his fellow royalty.
The rain continued, and the students hurried inside, surprised to see so much downpour within mere moments.
“Lord Eadburt, all of us would like it if you would cut the chit-chat and proceed with the meeting? We have… other matters to attend to,” Dickus urged.
Harley grunted. “So be it. I shall respect your wishes, future father-in-law.”
Lord Eadburt scoffed and turned his back on them. “I still stand with my proposal: a marriage with Layette Hawkwood. Simple, yes? But dear Father-In-Law is saying no and it saddens me why such was said.”
Morrison grunted. “Yes, because my brother does not trust someone who quickly rose to power after his father’s death. There have been rumors about you and we wonder if they are true.”
Harley turned around, blinking twice and sighed. “Since when this has turned into an interrogation against me? However, if it will put ease for my fellow High Lords, then I would gladly cooperate.”
Lord Dyrus stood up and cleared his throat. “So, let’s start with one: your father’s death. Supposedly there’s a housemaid running about claiming that you poisoned your father to take the Head of House.”
Harley gritted his teeth and made a fist. “How dare they make that claim! Do you think I would kill my father to rise to such a position? My mother loved my father and doing so would sadden her… if she were alive today. I only have a brother left and I would do anything to keep my family together. You should know this too, Sir Dyrus.”
“I mean no offense, of course. It pains me to bring it up considering your family is still grieving. I… No, we are all sorry for your loss,” Dyrus said and sat back down.
Morrison stood up. “What about that witch? The people say she currently affiliated with those damned cultists and is trying to summon a demon lord. What do you say?”
Harley chuckled. “Speakings of commoners do not worry me. Besides, how can they prove she’s trying to summon a bloody demon?! Do you read reports of people dying left and right on the streets? Of course not! She’s trying to make the cultists better our cause and if she dares to try to do anything suspicious, I would have her struck down.”
Gregor leaned forward and frowned. “That be true, but how about those caravans filled with people in them: you sent them to your mansion so you can sacrifice others without us noticing.”
“Those are prisoners of war, Sir Gregor. And it will be too risky to send them to Dominus to be punished properly. The scouts reported raids on the roads recently and we cannot take risk of them escaping. Once they run, the lives of our men would be for nothing and we must start all over again. They are safely at my basement and the best men watching them. You can come to my estate and happily take them from me if you want because I certainly do not enjoy their stay.”
The lords became silent and Segenam held his chin. For someone so cocky and arrogant, he had good claims to back up his actions: he was already two steps ahead. The other high lords were disgruntled but had to believe Lord Eadburt’s words. Distrust among them might cause unnecessary strife and will have dire consequences.
Harley shrugged with a smirk on his face. “So, any other objections? None? Alright then, so I guess we agree with my proposal? Right then, so let us hasten this marriage so I can immediately enter the fray and with our combined strength, we will end this civil war.”
Without any more claims to find a hint of injustice, the High Lords eventually nodded, and the focus was turned to Dickus. The clown man leaned forward with folded arms and hands near his face. He had no more excuses to delay this any further.
This is bad for father. I wonder how he’s going to get out of this, Segenam thought.
After some time, Dickus closed his eyes and sighed. “Ah, I remember the reason why. I’m afraid you can’t.”
“Lord Dickus!” Argus exclaimed. “How can you be so—”
“Because there’s already a suitor for her… I’m so sorry,” the clown lord finished with a smile on his face.
Everybody gazed at each other with a dumbfounded look on their faces.
Dickus chuckled. “You can’t see him right now, however. His name is…”
Layette was met by a butler who claimed to be the servant of Lord Dyrus while she was on her way to her destination. He was tasked to find and escort her to the room where all the High Lords were staying. Though she was quite capable of walking there herself, she did not reject the offer and the butler guided her. The students around her were whispering behind her back while Layette was promenading past them, saying she looked quite stunning. She smiled back at them and thanked them like how a princess should, but deep down inside, she fist-pumped and wanted to jump up screaming.
Haha, people saying that I look great! Suck it Aren, your opinion doesn’t matter, she thought.
Layette frowned and stopped for a moment. Damn Aren, he does not know how long it took for me to dress up like this. The fact that I’m not good at it shows that I am more competent than I look! I can do anything as long I—
“Is there something wrong, milady?” the butler asked. “We are nearing the room.”
“N-No, it’s nothing,” she replied.
“Perhaps milady is nervous. After all, the High Lords gathered to have a discussion upon your marriage with Lord Eadburt.”
Layette grimaced. “Uh, right.”
“Mind if I ask how milady feels about the situation?”
“I don’t mind but I… just don’t know.”
The young valet chuckled. “If I were to put my own opinion into the matter, I’d say you need not answer now. It’s just concerning that the rebellion lingers on for the sake of love. Sir Dyrus does respect such but at current circumstances, I believe it’s a bane. Oh, forgive me, we must move on.”
The butler bowed and proceed to move forward. She continued to linger into her subconscious; fighting monsters, doing paperwork, and training newbies were the only things that were essential in her life. Layette never thought being a classy, young maiden would get her suitors in the long run, though she always suspected Harley was trying to go for her ever since they met as children. With political power at his disposal, it was bound to happen.
“Is that the reason why he stopped visiting the villa a few years ago: so, he can get enough influence to make me his wife?” she mumbled to herself.
The steward stopped and pointed at a large, red door. He gestured Layette to go inside and stepped aside, watching her go inside. A cold sensation breezed across the back of her neck the moment she put her hand on the handle: the feeling of misfortune. Despite the instinctive warning, she pushed on and formally entered in.
“ARE YOU JOKING?” Harley yelled.
Dickus nodded. “Does it look like I’m joking? Like I said, he’s been—”
The room went silent and Layette glanced at everyone with a raised brow. “H-Hello… Um, here I am dear father.”
Dickus stood up quickly and placed both of his hands on her shoulders. “A-Ah yes, Layette, my beautiful daughter! Glad you can join us!” He leaned close to her ear, whispering. “Help me. Just follow my lead, alright?”
Layette responded with a concerning look on her face but was dragged along regardless. She went around, greeting each lord before sitting next to her father. Her brother, Segenam, stood to her left and expressed a strange look when gazing at her, so she nudged him while the other lords were conversing with each other.
“Oh, sorry. It’s just you look stunning today,” he said.
“You always say that stupid. But thanks anyway,” she whispered. “What’s going on here?”
“Sis… I didn’t know you were being courted, let alone being a suitor to one,” Segenam said. “I-If you let me, I would’ve stepped in for myself and stopped them!”
She tilted her head. “By Harley? No, I would never!”
“I find that mildly pleasing to hear, but no, not him. The ‘other’ suitor?”
Layette tilted her head again. “Who?”
“Stop playing games Layette! We are trying to save the kingdom here and you are avoiding the conversation!”
“W-What?! I’m serious! I do not know—”
“Layette,” Harley called out, “How can you do such a thing without telling anyone? Are you trying to disrespect me?”
She looked at her father, who eyed her to come up with something. “N-No, it’s j-just I… was considering it?” she fretted.
“My word! I must meet the man myself and challenge him to a duel!” Harley announced. “Let’s see how far we would go for Ms. Hawkwood’s favor!”
Layette expressed a dumbfounded look. “Heh?”
Segenam stepped forward. “I too, do not know the man myself, but he does not have that right to fight you. You have the challenger, right here!”
“Oh, so you dare to challenge me instead?”
“I’d take that as a threat, Sir Eadburt!”
“Yes, yes! We shall duel to claim the lady’s heart! However, there are other important matters to discuss!” Harley exclaimed. He clapped twice, and his servants came in with golden cards, handing one each to every High Lord. “Though my mother is not here, it would be nice if you all came to the ball to celebrate her birthday. It’s… been tough to deal with loss, so it’s a necessity for a morale boost! The ball will be next week, and I expect all of you to be there!”
Dyrus stood up, waving the card. “Us Lightbringers accept your invitation. Surely the other lords should follow suit. After all, the Eadburt are hosting the feast. What’s so bad about free food and drinks while spending time with comrades?”
Argus grumbled and let out a sigh. “I suppose so. Who else will join rather than us here?”
The other lords continued to converse with each other, leaving Layette speechless about the entire situation. She slowly turned her head to her brother, who was scratching his head and smiled nervously.
“Why the hell would you take my place to fight him?!” she exclaimed.
“D-Don’t take it the wrong way, it’s just unsightly to see my sister fight her potential husband,” Segenam explained.
“So, you think I’m going to lose, that’s it?!”
“N-No… You are quite competent but I do have my doubts. It would be best for a realist to fight against someone like him.”
“Gah, just you watch, I’ll—!” A shining blue light sparkled at the corner of her eye and when she turned to see what it was, it was a small blue bird perching on a branch near an open window. It glanced at her then suddenly a dark shadow loomed over it, making the bird disappear as if it were never there.
Strange… It was if someone was watching us the entire time, she thought.
Aren sneezed as the nurse inspected his face. After a few minutes of waiting, she did not find anything wrong with him. Doctor Stein came in and the assistant was astonished to find second-degree burns completely healed within a matter of seconds. Stein dismissed her and dragged a chair to sit. The white-haired boy glanced over, checking on Merlin.
“Jeezus, Merlin really took a beating this time. Is he alright?” he asked.
“He’s stable, but I doubt he’d wake any time. He sure took a beating more than his body can handle. I’m surprised that he even stood before he collapsed,” Stein replied.
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Aren scratched his head and sighed. “Damn kid, he fought someone leagues above him and despite knowing that, he stood his ground. Must be daringly brave or stupidly bold.”
“He did say he wanted to be a hero. Head Maester was telling everyone how cute it was to see him prancing around the halls with a cape, saying ‘Oh look, I am the Greatest Hero!’, something like that.”
Aren chuckled. “He dreams big and… I admire him for that. You know, it’s not always being the most courageous or being the kindest. The most important thing to have, as a hero, are dreams. You can’t be a hero without em’.”
“Villains also have dreams too, you know.”
“That’s true, though they choose to become what they are through twisted logic.”
“Sounds like someone is talking through experience…”
The two became silent and Aren lowered his face. Stein raised his brow, asking what was wrong. “He kinda reminds me of… well, me,” the white-haired boy answered.
“No one would go that far unless… Never mind.” Aren sighed. “Anyway, he has to work harder than anyone here because he is the weakest of the bunch.”
Stein popped a rock candy into his mouth. “You consider yourself weak? Hell, look at you are regenerating faster than the eye can see.”
Aren shook his head. “Not everyone had a pleasant start: not even the legendary heroes many of you guys care about when you were children.”
They heard the birds chirping in the distance, the rays of the sun slowly crawled its way into the room. In the distance, a blue dot was becoming larger within Stein’s line of sight. He fixed his glasses and squinted, seeing a bluebird zooming to them. With the window open, it could easily go through but unfortunately, the wind blew hard enough to push the glass panels of the casement windows inwards. It screamed in peril and it slammed its body. An awkward silence ensued the room.
“Um… Can you open the window for me?” Aren asked.
Stein blinked twice, sighing as he made his way to the window. He pushed the casement panels open and the bird flopped on the floor. It flew to Aren and perched on his arm. Though it wasn’t happy about the incident, it chirped happily and nodded.
“So, what do you have in store for me?” Aren whispered. He closed his eye, feeling the energies between them synergize with each other. When the process was finished, the bird exploded into feathers and none of it was left.
Stein’s mouth dropped. “WHAT THE F**K WAS THAT?! ThE birD eXpLOdeD!”
“Relax, it was just a familiar. If I did make a bird explode, it wouldn’t just be feathers coming out of it,” Aren explained. He grunted and sucked his teeth. “Looks like my plans have changed.”
Stein raised his brow. “Changed? What plans?”
Aren looked at the doctor with a sinister smirk. “Looks like I’m going to pay the Eadburt family a visit.”
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