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Two Years Later.
“She has the talent for Invocation. A great one, as a matter of fact.”
A middle aged man sporting a graying, bushy but well kept beard spoke in an excited manner to Damien and Lizbeth. To emphasize his point, he made expanding balloon gestures with both his hands. As he waved them about, several shiny rings on those thick fingers reflected the sunlight coming through the open windows. Even to Kain, those looked kind of extravagant, not something a man who wanted to remain anonymous might wear.
He was big – pot bellied, but wide of the shoulders like a retired linebacker. And as tall as the ceiling too, easily seven feet plus. If it weren’t for the wizard-like dark burgundy quilted robe he wore, one would have thought this dude lived a life of thuggery. What added to the unfavorable impression was a cherry-red nose that seemed to have been broken years before and then set back in place incorrectly. And no, he did not, emphatically, resemble another famous bike riding British wizard. Not at all.
The Lomax family and this man were sitting in the living room. The whole family had gathered here, including the two maidservants – both parents, Kaleena, and Kain plus Delilah and Rosy. The heads of the family sat on a wide couch opposite the guest, with the young girl sitting on her own on a chair next to her mother, while the son was on her lap. The two helpers remained in the background, silent. Since the meeting time was well past lunch, only tea and some simple snacks were laid out on the wooden table in the middle.
This meeting was a second one to be held between the burly bearded dude and the Lomaxes. The first one was just over a week ago. Both meetings were no doubt important, since Damien was here. Nowadays, he was more hands-on than ever at running the village efficiently so it was not easy for him to make time but he did these last two occasions. That’s how important these meetings were.
The burly guy in question was named Ahres. Kain didn’t get a chance to learn whether that was his first name or not. It wasn’t a big loss not knowing so he didn’t bother digging in. But what he did for a living, now that was lots more interesting. He was a genuine Invoker, just like Lizbeth was, but ranked higher. Apparently, he was in Riverfield for some kind of research, but he was also certified to carry out Aeterna aptitude tests. That’s why he was in the house currently, to deliver the test results.
A pair of a broad smile lit up on Lizbeth’s and Damien’s lips. They sure looked happy; held in her arms, Kain was close enough to tell that the joy displayed by both of them were real.
“Master Ahres, how favorable was the assessment?” Damien asked. He didn’t even try to disguise the rising excitement in his voice.
“My lord, your daughter is indeed blessed. Her reaction to the flow of Aeterna is off the charts, and she enjoys Affinities with four different Elements as well. She will surely have a bright future as an Invoker!!” While nodding, the gray bearded Ahres reached into the opening of the robe. Kain half expected him to pull out a stash of…. an illegal substance, but instead he held a rolled up red scroll with a large coat of arms on the back.
He handed it over to Damien, and Lizbeth leaned in closer to read the contents together. Kain could see it if he cranked his neck, so he did. The neatly written words confirmed what Ahres was talking about, but in a more officious manner.
Obviously, Kaleena was interested in the contents of the scroll as well, but as she was a well behaved little lady, she remained in her seats per proper manners dictates and patiently waited for her turn. Her facial expression wasn’t too composed however, slightest hint of anxiety visible inside her clear eyes.
Well, she was still a kid who was still too young to understand what was happening here, but since her name was mentioned, and her parents were in an excited/agitated state, the atmosphere would have affected her anyhow. If she didn’t tense up, now that would have been strange.
“Master Ahres, were there any irregularities with the readings? If there were none, then this…. this result, it is truly amazing. Incredible.”
Damien spoke excitedly, his gaze glued to the open scroll. His hands trembled faintly. Lizbeth too looked happy and relieved, covering a huge grin on her face with her right hand.
“Please, my lord. I’m not a Master yet. Rather, simply refer me as an Expert; if my superiors hear you call me anything else, they might throw a fit and assign me to some unenviable location far away from civilization!!”
Ahres laughed heartily at his own joke. Kain’s parents didn’t get it though, and accordingly didn’t reply. Their attentions were solely fixed on the scroll and its contents, nothing else.
“Ahem. Yes, the assessment of young Lady Kaleena has been verified by my peers at Lafayette’s branch of SOIR, and they saw no issues. You can rest easy, your daughter’s talent is indeed real. Ah, and also, the highest authorities of the Society, back in Argos, are being notified as we speak. If my hunch is correct, then the Honorable Elders will approach you with the Official Offer for her enrollment into the Academy very shortly.” Realizing his humor didn’t penetrate, Ahres instead opted for more official tone with his next words.
That did the trick, and both the mother and the father hastily looked up at Ahres. Lizbeth spoke first. Her voice was cold.
“I have no desire to see Kaleena drawn away from her home.”
She then motioned for her daughter to come and join her. Obediently, Kaleena trotted over and plopped on her lap alongside her younger brother. Lizbeth gently hugged both and stroked the young girl’s light brown twin ponytails.
“I agree with my wife on this subject,” Damien said firmly. “I must apologize, Expert Ahres, but I’ll make this clear before the matter goes any further. We will decide when, where and from whom our daughter receives her education from. We’d rather Society not take charge in this matter.”
Ahres frowned hearing those words. He pondered for a moment to find the most diplomatic words he could think of, then hesitantly spoke them.
“My lord, my lady. I assure you, your concerns regarding the Society are unfounded. Without a doubt, we all want what’s the best for Lady Kaleena. Her outstanding talent ensures she’ll gather attention, well meant or not. The Society offers the best compromise, in my opinion. I’m not saying this merely because of my membership, but as a fellow Invoker.”
Lizbeth smiled thinly. “We are thankful for the consideration shown by the Society. However, we reserve the right for the final say on the future direction of our daughter. As her parents, it is our wonderful burden, and not for the others.”
Ahres could only nod. After all, he wasn’t going to force a mother, never mind a Baron’s wife, to hand over her child, regardless of how promising the talent was. It wasn’t morally right.
Raising his hands in defeat, Ahres spoke in a gentle, conciliatory tone. “I understand. Well, I make no promises, but I shall try my best to convey your wishes to Argos. As both you Lord Damien, and Lady Lizbeth, are highly regarded by my peers, I believe that if you are able to find a competent tutor quickly, then they could heed your request.”
“We shall,” Lizbeth nodded while holding Kaleena close.
Ahres left soon after, leaving behind the scroll. He had a minor trouble squeezing his giant frame past the doorway but somehow, he managed to escape unscathed.
Seeing him off, the family returned to the living room and sat on their respective seats silently. The overall mood was bit weird, somehow feeling like that of a bittersweet happiness, at least that’s how Kain interpreted it.
“Liz, don’t worry about the tutor. I shall take care of it,” said Damien with some confidence, as he gently squeezed her hand.
“You have a lot on your plate, my love. Will it be alright? I can also make inquiries in Lafayette,” Lizbeth replied. “But moreover…”
“Do not fret, love. If he agrees to it, finances shouldn’t be an issue.” Damien smiled, hiding a face that was a mixture of complex thoughts and emotions.
“Who do you have in mind? Could you be referring to…. Derrick, perhaps?” Lizbeth asked hesitantly.
“Please, don’t worry. It’ll be alright. He’s just one of the candidates that I’m thinking of. There are others too.” Damien shook his head quickly, as if he made a slip and was trying to cover it up. It didn’t work. Lizbeth was too sharp for that.
She gave him one of those looks that said, we’ll discuss this matter a little later, in private.
Kain saw Damien returning a wry smile at her and thought, matters of education are stressful no matter what the world’s setting is, eh.
The Academy Ahres mentioned was run by the folks at Society of Invocation Research, an organization that was run separately from the Imperial government. Unlike the Institute, which was a part of the Empire, SOIR acted independently, only answering to a circle of elders consisting of ten highest ranked Invokers on the continent.
Located in the capital metropolis of Argos, the Academy was created to nurture the talented up and coming Invokers. And unlike most schools, they had no age restrictions. In fact, the guidelines for admittance stated that it was far better for the developing children to enter the Academy as young as possible.
Their reasoning was simple, really. A person’s ability to control the Flow of Aeterna was not fixed, and it could be improved if one trained hard. So, earlier the start of that training, the better it was, later in life.
Of course, there were prodigies like Kaleena, born with physique naturally suited to wield frightening amount from the get-go, but not everyone was like that.
Damien couldn’t wield Aeterna, neither could Rosy. Delilah was able to, to some extent, but her limit was very, very low, and it was better for her not to bother. By the way, her Affinity was with Earth Element. How Dwarf-like.
Kain wanted to know what his own Affinity was but he heard from his parents’ conversation that the aptitude test could only be taken at around five years of age. Meaning, he had to wait for at least two more years. Too bad.
Not that he was impatient or anything – he thought that as long as nothing crazy happens, there was no rush to get going. He was already used to the country life, the gentle pace of it all. No need to actively screw that up, he thought.
“But to think, our daughter has such a prodigious talent for Invocation. Four Elements? That is incredible. She’s even better than you, love.” Damien chuckled happily, as he hugged his wife. He was trying to lift the stifling air that was now uncomfortably silencing the room.
Lizbeth returned his smile with her own, much more dazzling one. “It’s the destiny of the children, to achieve greater acclaim than their parents have done.”
Kain shuddered slightly after hearing that. Her words seemed to hide some dangerous connotations within. If she harbored impossible expectations of him, now that would be troublesome as he wasn’t sure he’d be able to meet them. Well, he hadn’t yet tried so there was that.
“Until the tutor arrives, I shall educate Kaleena,” Lizbeth added. “I’m aware it’s not much, but I’ll do my utmost. She will be well versed in basics, if nothing else.”
Damien wanted to disagree but didn’t say anything. No, he wasn’t disagreeing with her teaching Kaleena, but rather, her own evaluation of herself.
He actually thought Lizbeth was selling herself short with those words. She was a Gold ranked Adventurer just like he was, so there was no need for her to be modest, after all. He contemplated silently while stroking his chin, as he suddenly remembered that since they both hadn’t been active for so long, their ranks probably have been lowered by now.
After a short while, he spoke. “It will get busier than before. We shall hire more help to cope around the house, then.”
“That won’t be necessary, love.” Lizbeth objected. “Both Rosy and Delilah are well equipped to handle the household chores and looking after Kain. And I’ll still be here to lend a hand as well. Let us not strain our finances any further than it is. Besides, as soon as the tutor arrives, I should become free once again.”
Damien was troubled by her words. His intention was to lessen the burden on his wife, as she had her hands full already. Teaching Kaleena was important, so it would have been better if she was able to concentrate on that full time. But it was not in her personality to neglect her duties as the healer, the mother of two kids, and as a wife of a Baron.
Their finances weren’t so tight that employing a new helper would end up breaking their backs but, it was true some prudence was needed to keep it in black consistently.
He didn’t want to be seen as disrespecting her wishes so, he reluctantly consented to her decision. If it was the old him, he might have gone out and hire someone behind her back, hoping to get her approval later, but he wasn’t like that now.
Sighing, Damien called out to the two helpers already in employment by the household. “Delilah, Rosy, you’ve no doubt heard of Kaleena’s talent from Expert Ahres’s words. From today onward, my wife, Lady Lizbeth will begin mentoring our daughter. Please give it your all, in aiding her at this endeavor.”
The two maidservants deeply vowed at his dignified voice, a tone that befitted his position as a Baron and the lord of this territory, however small it was. Nowadays, it wasn’t so rare to hear him speak like this.
Honestly, Delilah was happy to hear it, this dignified tone from her employer. Now it properly felt like she was serving a nobility. Her previous boss, Lady Valette, was also a bit lax in this regard too. Not that she disliked it, but it did feel a little too informal, not at all what she expected of a noble household.
Ever since Damien lost his right arm, he had grown into a fine lord, Delilah mused. Perhaps that incident was a blessing in disguise.
“We shall not betray your expectations, my lord.” She replied delightedly, a happy smile pasted deeply on her face.
Rosy glanced at her senior maid, thinking, oh no, she’s going to work me to death, isn’t she….
A small, involuntary sigh ended up escaping from her lips.
“Successful casting of Invocation requires four parts,” Kaleena read aloud from a thick leather-bound book on her lap. It was the very same one Kain tried to read but then got thwarted by Damien a couple years ago.
On its worn out cover, the fading letters proudly proclaimed its purpose: Beginner’s Guide To Pain-Free Invocation Training, Volume One.
Maybe it was a blessing of sorts back then, when he still couldn’t read. If he did, then most likely he’d think this book and its contents were dodgy at best, mindlessly bad at worst.
Kaleena, frowned a little as she read the book. Some words in there were probably a bit on the difficult side for a child her age, but she was bravely soldiering on, which was good to see. However, she wasn’t trying to hide her expression of being annoyed even in front of her mother, who was right next to her while listening attentively.
The three of them were sitting outside the house, out in the walled backyard. Rosy and Delilah were putting up still-damp linens and other articles on the washing lines, while the Lomaxes were under the protective shade provided by a parasol, cooled by sipping on moderately sweet fruit juices. Not a speck of cloud in the sky, a distant chirping of an insect, a scent of late blooming flowers in the air.
It was like a scene straight out of a fat-free yogurt commercial replete with white linens fluttering against the wind, a red brick and wood colored double story house as a backdrop. Chuckling wryly at all the sarcastic comments he thought of, Kain went back to thumbing the pages of the bestiary.
He had read it through so many times it no longer proved to be helpful for him with idly passing time. It was a nice book, sure, but it had reached the limit of its usefulness after two years of repeated browsing.
The one book he was interested in was still out of reach for him, however, as Kaleena had dibs on it first. The disadvantages of being the second born, that’s what it was. The only way remaining for now was to eavesdrop while she read it out aloud. It was slightly painful listening to a five year old trying to read tough words but there was some odd charm in it too. It probably had something to do with the cuteness of her trying so valiantly not to fail, even though it was okay to do so.
Not that he subscribed to that kawaii/moe rubbish though. Definitely not.
Kain glanced at his share of fruit juice attracting a fly, and he shooed it away. The breeze must have spread the scent of the liquid around, calling forth the irritating little critters from who knows where.
He didn’t feel too bad about it however. Lizbeth made a wise decision to hold the Invocation lessons outdoors, which was a good idea, seeing that it wouldn’t have been a laughing matter if a wayward spell cast by a five year old caused a very bad mishap.
Kaleena frowned as she continued on to the next paragraph in the manual. “Firstly, the learner must memorize the Requisite Words to the desired Invocation spell. If you do not know the correct words, or make a mistake during the incantation, the spell will either not materialize, or backfire on the Invoker, causing harm.”
Kain already knew about the four rules of basic Invocation, and so did Kaleena. See, the thing was, today was not the beginning of the Invocation lessons – ever since the family discovered Kaleena’s talent at wielding Aeterna, Lizbeth had been slowly teaching her daughter the basics. Building the foundations and all that.
She even sang the Requisite Words as nursery rhymes so it would stick to Kaleena’s mind easier. It certainly worked on Kain, so it was effective enough.
Eavesdropping on lessons proved to be a sweet arrangement for him at the end of the day. Obviously, it’d have been ideal to actually do a physical practice but since that was not going to happen soon, this was the next best thing. Knowing the basic theory wasn’t going to hurt him in the slightest so, might as well.
There were many questions burning a hole in his head, but unfortunately he was still playing the role of an oblivious, two-and-a-bit year old kid; so he just couldn’t outright ask any one of them. Funny thing was, Kain couldn’t remember when he’d decided to act like this, although the reason for the subterfuge was clear enough.
He didn’t want to disappoint Damien and Lizbeth, if it turned out he was a trashy no-talent hack, utterly useless at Invocation and stuff. In this world, being an Invoker opened doors much smoothly than not being one.
It was obvious, if you thought about it: out of the entire populace, there were only a small portion of it capable of bending the mother nature to your will. Also, there was a small matter of genetics lottery at play: just because of your parents were Invokers that didn’t mean the offspring would be one.
So, the numbers-wise Invokers were a precious human resource, and an Invoker with several Affinities was even rarer still. Kaleena being one such meant she had the luck of the draw. Four Affinities, and a physique to wield more Aeterna than most people from the get-go that would only become even better as she grows older – she had it all.
“Secondly, the learner needs to wield the required amount of Aeterna, and the correct Element by either controlling the Flow, or by forcibly accessing the Pool of Aeterna. If the amount is insufficient, than the spell will not materialize. Not only that, there are real dangers of the learner experiencing severe physical exhaustion caused by the draining of Aeterna Pool.”
The very concept of Aeterna confused Kain initially, even after hearing an explanation on it from Lizbeth, in words that a five year old could understand.
According to her, this world was one of The Ten Spirit Realms. Within the deepest, lowest realm, which was called the Primordial Realm, there is something called a World Tree that spews out Aeterna. There are apparently other World Trees that are connected to the one in the Primordial Realm in all the other realms, multiple of them in fact, and through these trees Aeterna permeates pretty much every-freaking-where.
There were also some vague descriptions on deities with funny names but quite frankly it all sounded a bit random to Kain. Regardless of whether this Noa being a so-called parallel world or not, the basic structure of universe – or a multiverse, either way – shouldn’t have changed, scientifically speaking. So this story of World Trees and realms sounded kooky to a modern man steeped in an atheistic lifestyle. Of course, if he had studied, or at least paid attention to, the Norse mythology then he might have felt there was a bit of passing resemblance here.
Anyways, by applying that modern logic, he arrived at the simplest conclusion, that Aeterna was simply a fancy term for MP in an RPG. Since Invocation was just magic in a mouthier title, his deduction made sense. Want to fire off a spell? Then prepare X amount of MP. Or in this world, Aeterna.
The Pool of Aeterna was simply a term denoting a person’s own Aeterna reserve. Aeterna could be found on pretty much every object in this world, and that also meant people had Aeterna in them as well. So an Invoker can draw Aeterna required for a spell from his or her own Pool.
But, possessing a big Pool of Aeterna didn’t guarantee one’s future as an Invoker. Some with no talent could still end up with a fairly substantial Pool, or someone with an earth-shattering ability might have a shallow one instead. So an Invoker strove to wield Aeterna found in objects and atmosphere freely as much as possible, rather than relying on their own Pools. The best of the best Invokers could draw from both the environments around him and his own Pool though, so there was that.
The different Elements were sub-divisions of Aeterna. The idea was that every natural phenomena were tied to an Element or multiple Elements. Like say, a strong flame – it’s Fire Element at work. So if one wanted cast a Fire type Invocation, the Invoker needed to wield the corresponding Elemental Aeterna. Simple.
“Thirdly, you need to stay calm and composed, so you can clearly picture the process and the end results of your Invocation. If your mind is not calm and collected, in other words when you’re distracted while performing Invocation, the spell may fail to activate, or end up backfiring.”
This requirement sounded toughest thing to achieve so far. If an Invoker’s duty was to work in a safe environment, than concentrating wouldn’t be hard at all. But since this world was one full of monsters and hidden dangers, standing still while casting Invocation sounded a bit dumb thing to do.
Just like in those RPG games, it was natural to find Invokers journeying together with capable companions.
“And finally, the target, where the spell’s effect will take place, must be within your optical range.”
Kaleena read the last requirement and glanced over at her mother. She was trying to see if it was time to do actual, physical practice. Lizbeth insisted on drilling the basics into her so periodically she insisted on Kaleena read up on them.
Quite frankly that was boring. Throwing around real Invocations were much more fun. She couldn’t wait to get started. Only thing she needed now was the permission to do so.
“Do you know why you need to look at the target before casting a spell?” Lizbeth asked her daughter as she reached out for the manual. It had done its job for now, so she was going to hold onto it until it was required again later on.
The last condition didn’t make much sense to Kain. It sounded like as if he couldn’t see where the spell was going to take effect, then he might as well forget about it and not bother with casting at all.
But what if he wanted to, say, cast a curse on some poor a-hole from a far away? Not that he’d want to do that but, surely, there will be people mad enough to do something as extreme out in this vast world. So how can one do that, if the target of the scorn was too far to see with the naked eyes?
There must be some kind exceptions which Kain wasn’t aware of yet. One more thing to find out later on, then.
After pondering for a bit, Kaleena answered sheepishly. “So…. I can hit the target and not miss it?”
“That is partly correct. Remember Kaleena, that a spell isn’t a simple, mindless entity that blindly follows the Invoker’s will. Just like having a clear image of the spell is important, knowing where and how the spell will be used is also very important. That is why you need to see where the spell will land.”
“But mom, what if the target hides behind a table?”
Kaleena asked while tilting her head a little. If a large question mark floated above her, it would have been perfect, Kain thought inwardly.
“Well, usually, you can wait until the target comes out from behind the table,” Lizbeth smiled softly and answered.
“But what if it doesn’t?”
“In that case, you can go around the table yourself, to see the target. Or, learn the spell that’ll go around the table itself.”
Kaleena perked her head up quickly. “Will you teach me such spells, mom?”
“All in a good time, dear. When you can memorize the chants of the spells in full like I asked you to, then we can move on to the next ones.”
Kaleena’s shoulders drooped a little. “But mom, all the chants?”
“Yes, my dear. You must recite the Requisite Words in full, until you become used to casting them. That’s the only way to succeed for now.”
“What about shouting out the Words every time?”
“No, that isn’t necessary. The chanting is for the Elements so they can hear your intentions and move according to your will. So, as long as you have become good at casting, then you can just whisper it so no one other than Aeterna will hear you.”
Kaleena seemed satisfied, and dissatisfied at the same time, with her lips curling slightly and brows frowning deeply.
Kain thought that memorizing countless number of chants was not a difficult challenge to overcome. Simply jotting down the spell incantations on a memo pad and then carrying it around so he could access them quickly when needed, sounded very sensible to him. Oh how he wished for a PDA or something similar. An iPad, maybe, that’d be great.
Kaleena thought up of another question to ask but she got interrupted when Damien walked out of the house’s backdoor, and waved his hands at the family.
She smiled happily and ran right into his outstretched arm. Laughing, he caught Kaleena easily and lifted her up.
Rosy and Delilah offered their greetings as Damien walked over, carrying the girl on his hip.
“Hey you. Studying hard?” He laughingly asked the impishly smiling girl.
“Yes, I am. I studied lots.”
He put her down and playfully rubbed her hair, disarranging it into a mess. Her mouth pouted but her eyes were arced in a smile, showing how happy she was inside.
“Damien? You’re home early,” Lizbeth dusted herself off and greeted her husband with a little peck on the cheek.
Shaking his head, he smiled and this time lifted Kain and hugged him. “It’s nothing serious, love. There’s been a sighting of a Red Dingo Pack by the Southern Woods. I just came to get my gear. Some of the men and I will be heading there to investigate.”
“Red Dingoes? I see. Who will accompany you?”
“The usual guys. We are to meet by the South Gate before the sun sets.”
Damien tried to pull a funny face so he could get a reaction from Kain, but all he got was the boy’s irked expression instead. That disheartened him big time. He’d swear, sometimes his cute little boy didn’t act his age.
What were the chances of having two monsters being born under the same roof, he wondered inwardly. That should be really amusing if it were so, especially considering his position in the Lucius branch of Lomax family.
“You’ll be staying out all night?” Lizbeth asked as she smoothed over Kaleena’s ruffled hair.
“Sorry, love. It does look that way.”
Damien apologized by kissing Lizbeth on the forehead, then he followed that up with another peck on Kaleena’s. He ended the kissing session with one more on Kain’s. The faint stubble on his chin tickled the boy’s sensitive skin, causing him to giggle aloud.
Seeing this, Damien felt like he achieved a great victory today and his face loosened like an idiot’s.
“You’re not getting any younger, love. Please, why not hire a group of Adventurers to take care of this, as is the norm with other towns?” Lizbeth sighed, letting her unhappiness leak out just a little.
Damien lowered Kain down, and stroked the frowning woman’s cheek gently. “I know it bothers you. But you know the situation we are in. Besides, my mobility has recovered completely now. No worries, I’ll be fine. We’ll be fine.”
“You’re a lord of this village. A Baron, no less. You should think about the image of your house, at least even in passing.” Lizbeth admonished her husband, but there were no venom in her words. Rather, she had conceded already.
Kain recalled from the bestiary that the Red Dingoes were not native of this area. Riverfield was located in the southeasterly region of the Empire Argos, right next to the provincial capital city of Lafayette. The critters in question supposedly roamed the plains of northeast, making them somewhat unusual sights around these parts.
But they did occasionally appear in regions with no strong Fiends presence. No one had yet to find out how these ravenous creatures knew where to go, but since they were devastatingly cunning hunters in a group, it was a serious matter in a farming community like this village, full of livestock and grain.
The village relied heavily on cattle and chicken farming, as well as other smaller livestock rearing for much of its income so the news of Red Dingo pack appearing nearby was definitely something to take up arms for.
Just like most predators, they hunted in packs exclusively, and were nocturnal, mostly striking during dusk. To ensure the safety of the villagers and the livestock, Damien were to lead the militiamen and exterminate the creatures. An all-nighter was beckoning him, a prospect he wasn’t looking forward to, really.
Bending down to Kaleena’s eye level, he patted her head and spoke.
“Now sweetie, daddy’s going to take care of the mean Dingoes for the rest of the day. Do you promise, to behave until I get back?”
Kaleena nodded, standing with hands on her hips in a superhero pose. “Yes!! Count on me, daddy!”
“Attagirl,” Damien laughed and ruffled her hair once more.
He then leaned over and pinched Kain’s cheeks.
Ouch, that hurts, you brute, Kain groaned unhappily.
Chuckling to himself, Damien straightened back up, and said, “Kain’s growing up really fast as well. Who does he take after, I wonder?”
“Hopefully both of us,” answered Lizbeth. “I’ll help with getting the provisions ready. Rosy, please assist us.”
The two of them, accompanied by Rosy entered the house, leaving behind Delilah to look after the children.
Having nothing to do, Kain sat back down on the chair and began snacking on the home baked cookies and the fruit juice that lost a lot of its coldness. It was still delicious though, so it was all good.
The summer was approaching fast, and the temperature nowadays were getting toasty in a hurry. Kain didn’t believe this world suffered Global Warming, but he couldn’t help but think it was hotter than the same period last year. Could be his imagination. Or not.
Kaleena turned her attention back to Invocation training, and started reading the manual again. She knitted her eyebrows, concentrating on the difficult words written down on the browning pages.
After finishing his drink, Kain flipped the pages of the bestiary and searched for more info on those Red Dingoes. Dingoes, back in his previous world, were small and cunning wild dogs found in The Land Down Under, but this world’s version seemed to be lot bigger, and meaner to boot. Thankfully it wasn’t the scariest creature out there, so he felt confident of Damien kicking its ass nice and easy.
Underestimating any living thing in this world was not a good habit, to be honest, but there was a reason for his belief in the one armed Baron, his father.
After losing his right arm, Damien would train himself fiercely every morning, like a man possessed. He trained before becoming disabled, true, but the level of intensity were on a totally different scale altogether. Kain could still recall the meaty whoosh made by Damien’s sheathed saber slicing the air repeatedly.
Come rain or shine, he trained, and trained, until there arrived a point where Kain was reminded of those training montages from the old straight-to-video martial art movies littering the shelves of any good VHS rental stores. Only thing lacking in that delusion was the cheesy, wailing solo driven hair rock as the background music.
Taking into account such a consistently remorseless training regime, there was just no way Damien would lose to a bunch of glorified feral dogs, fantasy world logic or not.
Speaking of fantasy world, the lungs of the animal pecking order Red Dingoes occupied as an individual creature was on the lower side. According to the bestiary, the general consensus was to classify all of the wildlife in the continent of Noa into three tiers.
The first tier was reserved for those ‘normal’ creatures, like cows, horses, the aforementioned Red Dingoes, and similar animals. In other words, regular living things found all over, whether it was in this world, or the previous one.
The second tier however, were categories for animals that had evolved to the point where they could use limited type of Invocations, usually tied to a single Element. Such beasts were often called the Awakened, and they were considered to be very valuable form of resource.
The bones, skin, internal organs, what have you – all of it were used in various medicines and weapons crafting. Of course, the Awakened beasts were rare and hard to capture, making their value even greater. The Strife Wolf Damien faced many years ago, belonged to this category.
And then, the third tier: Fiends. Pretty much self explanatory, really.
This tier was further split into two categories. Regular Fiends were just that, regular, simple minded and easy to provoke. They were hard to kill, unless you had professional help, and most were smart enough to evade traps.
And then there were the irregulars. Now, Fiends that fall into this particular category was especially hated upon by all the humanoid races. These monsters actively sought out confrontation with other living creatures, finding pleasure in devastation left behind their wake.
The most well known species of these Fiends were the genre-staple Goblins. They invaded villages and towns to rape, pillage and destroy like there’s no tomorrow, or something.
There were of course lots more ferocious and dangerous Fiends out there, but the bestiary didn’t go into specifics, which was unfortunate for Kain. The author wrote on the footnote, urging the reader to purchase an authorized copy of Fiend Bestiary instead for a more comprehensive disclosure.
What Kain understood from all this, was to never, ever become an Adventurer. It was apparently the most important job of Adventurers to fight Fiends and control their outbreak whenever that happens. It sounded very dangerous, just thinking about it.
Since he wasn’t suicidal, he was going to pass.
What he was feeling when he browsed through the bestiary, was this weirdness occupying his mind at the realization, of almost all the animals being similar in appearance and characteristics, between the two worlds.
Damien and Lizbeth owned five horses, kept in a barn by the well in the backyard. They looked exactly like what horses should look like. That wasn’t all; chickens, sparrows, cows, crickets, snakes, beetles – all same, as far as Kain could see. There were some differences, sure, but it was too small and insignificant in most cases, larger Dingoes not withstanding.
The rough map of the continent Noa, drawn at the front page of the bestiary had a vague outline of continental Europe, making him think the possibility of this world being a parallel one pretty robust. Surrounded by plenty enough evidence to back his claim up, he was almost convinced of it.
The map could be inaccurate, of course. Didn’t really matter, as it stood it didn’t help Kain much anyways.
A whiff of horse manure drifted into his nostrils. He had gotten used to it already so it was fine, but what a reminder it was, of how underdeveloped this world was compared to his previous one.
Horses were an essential part of life here. There were no public transport system in this world, obviously, so if one didn’t own the overtly fidgety and behooved mounts, you weren’t going anywhere fast. From the morsels of knowledge he gathered, there seemed to be stagecoaches traveling between cities and towns but since Riverfield had too low a population, those hardly ever came here.
The city of Lafayette might have been close by, but other than Riverfield’s produce heading there, this village was non-existent for those city folks. Which was sad, considering Kain could see the blur of the city’s ramparts from the nursery window on a cloudless, clear sunny day.
After a while, Damien emerged from the house, all geared up and ready to depart. Tan leather armor worn on the shoulders, chest, thighs and shins. Thick boots with toes covered in iron. On his hip, the trusty sheathed saber, its handguard sparkling clean and polished like new. A wooden buckler strapped to his left arm, and a rucksack slung over his shoulder completing the look.
He bent over and kissed both of his kids and his wife.
“Well then, I’m off. Cheer for me, would you?”
Kain frowned at that. Those words sounded like the event flags being raised. No way something bad would happen, like the last time Damien went out for a period of time, or so he mused.
There was just no way. He thought that his life here wasn’t that eventful. Then he sighed weakly, realizing it was now him raising a flag instead.
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.