Lia’s mentioning of the Ard’Rein family had sent a jolt down Shen’s spine. He had attempted to hide his feelings towards his family name, but Lia was now certain there was some connection. She wasn’t afraid of this connection, though, because she could feel the anger he felt towards them even though he tried to hide it.
“They are one of the older families within the kingdom, but they weren’t very powerful until about thirty years ago. One of the sons of the current family head invented Magitab technology and with this technology, they have now become one of the most powerful Wizard families on this continent. Not only had it brought them extreme wealth and has revolutionized Magitech, but what’s more, Magitabs has caused our civilization, during the past thirty years, to undergo rapid advancement.”
“You mentioned that object before, Magitabs.. But, what exactly is a Magitab?” Shen asked inquisitively.
“You…. Ah, right. I keep forgetting… Well, as I said before, Magitabs are devices which have been enchanted with magical constructs known as Genies. I am not aware of the specifics, but I believe that to function they require a physical device called a tablet and that Mana needs to be infused into it. Magitabs have many functions. They can store immense amounts of data and information, much more than a book can. They can also calculate, record videos and even take pictures. They are truly an amazing device! Their usage has accelerated all kinds of research and the latest versions are even used by many citizens and merchants to facilitate their everyday lives. Certain Magitabs also have different functionalities, in the castle one was recently installed that allowed long distance communication to other countries.”
Lia seemed to be very fond of Magitabs and continued rambling on about their greatness for a bit longer. From Shen’s perspective, it was almost as if she had forgotten where she was. He did however enjoy her innocent curiosity and enthusiasm, it was somewhat refreshing for him. Although, in spite her long exposé on the subject, he still thought she was a naive and ignorant princess.
“A Magitab….. wait. Come with me, there’s something I need you to see.”
Shen started to turn,beckoning Lia to follow him. He brought her to the stasis room, the very same room he had spent the last 400 years asleep in. The door to the stasis room slid open and as he entered the lights lit up automatically.
Lia followed closely behind him, her head constantly whipping back and forth as she quietly stared at all of the devices and Magitech within the facility in awe. She was still angry at some of the things Shen had said, and by his arrogant and aloof demeanor, but she felt respect and a bit of gratitude towards him. This was something she was unwilling to admit to him.
“What do you make of this? Does this remind you of anything?”
Lia looked where Shen was pointing and saw a large mirror. She looked at it, confused, wondering what exactly she was suppose to see.
“Uh.. a mirror?”
“Tch… Mariam!” Shen said frustrated.
“Yes Master.” A voice replied from the mirror and the mirror began to swirl and what appeared on its surface surprised Lia.
Light began flowing slowly like water from the extremities of the mirror, as they converged, the figure of a mature and shapely woman could be made out. To Lia, it appeared as if she were looking at a ghost and she shrunk back in surprise.
“What… is this?” Lia asked.
“When you were explaining to me what a Magitab was, it sounded strangely familiar to me. This device here functions in a similar fashion to those Magitabs.”
Lia walked closer to the device she thought was a mirror and walked around it.
“I have never seen a Magitab that looked like this before. They do differ in size, but most are relatively small, this however is huge… but I guess if you just consider the crystal screen that covers the front here, it does sort of seem like a very large Magitab, providing it can do what you say.”
“I can’t believe this….” Shen muttered.
Those bastards… Not only did they disown me.. But to think that they had the audacity to steal my creation as well.. No, it can’t have been them, perhaps one of my sister’s descendants uncovered my work. Regardless this is still infuriating. How dare they use my creation, one that they so gladly mocked me for, to elevate their position. At least it is somewhat ironic that they chose to do so.
“I’ve never seen a Genie like this before..” Lia said while approaching the device which looked much like a mirror.
She ran her fingers along the surface and checked both the back and the front.
“I would appreciate it if you stopped touching me.” A voice chimed from the mirror.
It was Mariam’s voice, but it was strangely filled with emotion. The strangely Human-like voice shocked Lia, but what shocked her even more was the fact that it had so directly responded to her actions.
“How….” Lia wasn’t sure what to make of it and backed away from the mirror.
“She doesn’t like to be touched by anyone but me.”
Shen realized how that sounded after he said it and chuckled inwardly.
“What do you mean she doesn’t like to be touched? Genie’s don’t have a will of their own, they are just magical constructs.”
Shen could only shake his head at her ignorance, but he knew it wasn’t her fault.
“That may be the case, but Mariam is not a Genie; She is a soul that has been enchanted into this device.” He tried to explain to her in layman’s terms but he could already see it was a concept that was going to be difficult to accept.
“A soul? What do you mean a soul?”
He could see that her interest grew to new heights. This was an admirable trait in Shen’s eyes, but he felt it would be too tiring to explain.
“Let’s leave that for another time, there are more pressing concerns. Lia, for now, it is best if you forget about returning to your kingdom. Infact for the foreseeable future, you will remain here with me.”
“What are you saying….”
His words were intended to be sincere, but they were easily misconstrued by his matter of fact tone. To Shen, this was logical, but Lia was somewhat scared. For a young woman like her to be trapped in a mysterious mountain facility with a strange young man, she was wary of his intentions. She was aware that there was nothing she could do in this situation, but she couldn’t help but feel uneasy.
“It seems that you don’t understand your predicament. If you leave this facility, you will die. Even if you somehow survive and make it back to your kingdom, your half-brother will find you just like he did before and will probably make you regret not ending your life by your own terms. But let’s say that you still want to return to your country, without me accompanying you there, you will never make it through these lands alive. And before you ask, I’m not yet ready to leave this place. Hence why I said that It would be in your interest to stay here, at least until I regain some of my strength. What’s more, the longer you spend removed from society, the greater their certainty that you are dead will be. With that said, what will you do? Will you leave, or will you stay?”
It wasn’t necessarily kindness that Shen was acting on. In his own way, there was a certain sense of loneliness that he felt, as well as a bit of humanity, but these were secondary. Shen knew little of the world that he had woken to, and even if this woman before him was a princess, there were many things he could learn from her. He needed to prepare himself if he was going to once again return to civilization.
It was also quite possible that she could be of use to him in other ways. Lia was hesitant to respond to Shen’s question, but in the end she said, “I will stay.”
The Grand City of Caelum had been the capital of the Kingdom of Cal’An since it’s founding in the year 255 A.E. It was once the westernmost citadel of the vast and powerful Aur’Mare Empire. Originally it was built on the border between the two great empires, at the edge of a mountainous valley. Now while parts of the valley on the eastern side remained, the city stood alone, like a lighthouse, at the border of the ‘Outlands’ as a symbol of a once prosperous and ancient civilization.
It was one of the largest of the Grand Cities on the continent and boasted a population in the millions. The city itself was divided into various districts, which were under the influence of powerful families, or clans. The power of these groups came from their established ‘Order’ and no clan would be able to grow to any sort of prominence within the city without the power of an ‘Order’ at their disposal. An ‘Order’ is a sub-organization of combatants within a clan, and they are their main military might. They are utilized to enforce the will of the clan and are completely subordinated to it.
Every ‘Order’ trains in, or develops, their own martial or magic arts which utilize various meditation techniques in order to cultivate. The clans which possess the greatest power are those with the most talented professionals, experts, and exemplaries among their established ‘Order’. The pool for new talent is somewhat limited, and so there is fierce competition between the clans to show their prowess in order to acquire the best talents.
While their rivalry did occasionally lead to small skirmishes, clans are important to the economy and stability of the city. They provide training, jobs, missions, quests, and can be commissioned to seek out rare materials. Without the clans, it would be difficult to keep the lands outside the cities safe from the monsters known as ‘Defiled’.
Although it was the job of the city’s military to keep the cities themselves safe, as well as protect the nation from foreign attacks, clans were more than willing to take on many subterfuge missions that the most of the military preferred not getting involved with. This meant providing protection to notorious individuals, assassinations, information gathering, and other acts of deception, but these activities were fringe at best. Most of the time, clans were responsible for protecting merchant trade wagons from bandits, hunting the ‘Defiled’ for their materials, and collecting herbs for pills and medical ointments.
The royal family themselves were originally a large and powerful clan which required the backing of other clans to retain their power. Because of their power and influence, these clans were heavily embroiled in the conflict of succession.
-Grand City of Caelum, Flower District-
A tall and sturdy young man gripped the hilt of his sword in frustration, but did not unsheathe it. He wore his clan’s blue traditional Martial Art outfit decorated with metal buttons, and two snake-like dragon designs coiled down the sides of the outfit.
Anger was clearly visible on his face as he turned towards another, older man. His dark brown pupils intensely gazed at the man and his long black hair whipped to the side as he turned his head.
“Father, it is not safe here, you must escape now.”
The older man, upon seeing his son, said angrily, “Where is the princess? You were supposed to be protecting her!”
After hearing the anger in his father’s voice, he hung his head low. His failure was eating at him.
“We were ambushed, it was if they knew everything about our escape plans father. As I tried to lead her outside the city, they surrounded us and forced us towards the western gate. I stayed back in order to hold off our pursuers and urged her to escape with the rest of my men into the ‘Outlands’. There was nowhere else to go! I was somehow able to force most of the pursuers to retreat, but I regret that this may be because they had achieved their goal. I don’t know what happened to the princess and her escort, not where they went or if they were able to get away safely. I returned here as soon as I could, but It took me a couple of days to get here as the pursuers have been following me through the slums and sewers. One of them called out my name despite the disguises. Please, father, we must escape now before they send assassins.”
A slap across the young man’s face startled him. His father had hit him, causing his cheek to sting.
“You dare! Your job was to keep the princess safe. How dare you abandon your mission in order to return here ! You know how dangerous the ‘Outlands’ are, how could you let this happen!? Everything we worked for is forsaken!”
“Father, I’m sorry… “
His father raised his hand to slap him a second time, but stopped himself.
“Jamys, my son, I’m sorry. This is all my fault. The only way they could have known our plans is if there is a spy in our clan. I have been careless!”
“That can’t be! A spy in our clan? Who?”
Jamys was shocked by his father’s words. He never imagined that any among their clan would betray them. He thought of everyone in his clan as family and every member involved in the mission was carefully chosen for their loyalty.
“I don’t know, but there isn’t any other explanation. We were very careful in our preparations and yet we were still found out.”
Jamys’s father came closer to his son and placed his left on hand on his son’s shoulder.
“Jamys, you must….” He began to say but was soon interrupted by loud yelling.
“Master!! Master!! We are under attack!”
The shouts of the servants were accompanied by the sound of steel on steel from somewhere further within.
“It looks like they’re here…” Jamy’s father said while looking at his son for what he knew would be the last time.
“Jamys, here, take my sword.”
Jamys’s father unloosened his blade which was still in its sheathe and held it sideways so that his son would take it.
“No, father, I can’t take your Seven Star Sword! It is your most precious sword!”
“It is true that this is my most precious sword, but it is you my son, that is most precious to me. Take my sword and leave this place. Find the princess, keep her safe, that is your duty. Hurry!”
The old man shoved his sword into his son’s chest and pushed him to the side, urging him to run. Jamys hesitated, but only for a moment. He gritted his teeth and ran, he couldn’t even shed a single tear or dare look back.
“How touching.” A voice called out from the shadows.
“So, this is the end…”
Recognizing the voice, the old man steeled himself for death, but he had no intentions on going down without a fight. He unsheathed his second sword, which was nowhere near as powerful as the Seven Star Sword but still outshone most blades. He had given his favorite sword to his son in order to protect him, but also so that it would not fall into his enemy’s hands.
“It looks like you have prepared yourself for death. I wonder if your son has too, after all it won’t be longer before he joins you in the afterlife. That said, while I would enjoy a fight against you, for old time’s sake, if you surrender peacefully, i’ll make your end, and that of your family as swift as possible. You could all stand together holding hand on the gallows, as I release you from this world. How does that sound?”
The voice from the shadows was wicked and cruel, and his laughter reminded the old man of a demon. This was no demon though, he was flesh and blood just like him.
Mana circulated throughout the old man’s body rapidly, flowing smoothly through his vessels and invigorating them. As he channeled the Mana within him, slowly the blade was also encased in the silvery light of his powerful energy.
“Show yourself.” His voice was calm as he spoke, but the Mana that exuded from his body was raging as if it bore all his anger.
Wicked laughter and a dense Mana betrayed the man’s location and he soon stepped out into the light. He was a relatively tall man at around 183cm and was garbed in a black traditional martial art outfit, with a bold silver outlining the sides of the outfit. There was a symbol of grasping thorny vines with a blue rose at its head running down each side. His hazel eyes and dark hair soon became visible once he stepped into the light shining from the moon through the window.
“Corlan Ard’Rein… you came here yourself to offer such a deal to an old man?”
“Haha, I think you belittle yourself too much, Grand Master Graham Lacus. You are a Grand Master after all, and renown for your skill with a sword, and your clan’s meditation technique is nothing to scoff at either! It really is a shame that you gave up your sword. I was looking forward to facing your ‘Shooting Star’ technique.Although, even with it you couldn’t hope to defeat a Grand Archmagus, especially one as powerful as me.”
Mana began to swell outwards from the body of Corlan and a shimmering layer of Mana covered his body, much like the layer on Graham.
“Hmph … You were a fool to come and face me here alone! Even you should know that you cannot defeat me in such close quarters.”
Lacus’s Mana infused body exploded outwards and he flew towards Corlan at an incredible speed, his blade sweeping in a wide arc. Corlan remained motionless as if he were expecting the old man to strike in such a manner.
Graham’s blade swung closer, aching to taste the blood of its nemesis, but instead of finding flesh, it instead met steel.
A hair’s breath from its target, the blade was stopped by another.
“Haha, and why would you think I would face you alone! I see time has been cruel to your mind old man.”
Corlan jumped back away from the two men who were now blade locked and pointed his hand towards Graham.
An intense beam of fire shot out of Corlan’s hand, piercing through Graham’s shoulder. Corlan’s subordinate acted immediately after the magic strike and swung his blade, slicing Graham across the chest. It could have been a fatal strike, but Graham was a powerful Grand Master and had evaded without suffering a fatal blow.
However, now that he was facing both a Grand Archmagus and a Grand Master, Graham knowing that he was at a huge disadvantage, decided to go all out . Without his legendary blade, and having been injured, it was only a matter of time before his life was taken.
“You Ard’Rein are nothing more than lowly scum! Even if I die here, my son will avenge me!”
Throwing away all caution, Graham poured more Mana into his blade. He was prepared to sacrifice his very life to at least take out one of his enemies. Graham held his sword in both hands and raised it, facing the edge of the blade towards his enemies.
His battle aura spread out, and the aura of the two Grand Master Swordsmen clashed as the two prepared their attacks. Corlan didn’t remain silent as he cast spells to buff the power of his subordinate, increasing his chances of survival. Even though his subordinate had the same rank as Graham, there was a huge difference in their ability as Graham was a peak Grand Master. The buffs would give him a much higher chance of survival.
The aura of a Grand Master was similar to a dangerous and vicious wind that could tear apart those of weaker stature and the two aura’s violently lashed out at the surroundings, turning the very air into a veritable frenzy of power.
This will be my last strike, I only hope my son can escape, these were Graham’s last thoughts as he prepared for his last moments. He knew that there was no way he could come out of this situation alive, but he felt no regrets.
Graham resolved himself and made his move. His aura having filled him with immense power, he burst forth at an incredible speed, bearing down on his opponent. The Grand Master who was Corlan’s subordinate attempted to block the mighty attack with his own power while Corlan prepared one of his most lethal spells.
Graham had given up his life for one last attack and his mighty blow cleaved his opponent in two, this attack while lethal left the user exposed and Corlan seized this opportunity. He unleashed an intense beam of fire that tore through Graham’s chest, blowing a hole in his center. But the attack did not finish him instantly and while grunting, Graham continued to push his body forward.
He raised his blade and swung with the last of his Mana, sending a rippling arc of light towards Corlan. If it had connected, then Corlan too would have lost his life but he was able to conjure up a powerful shield which just barely saved him, not without injury though.
“What a fearsome man….” Corlan said while breathing heavily and holding the bloody wound in his side shut with his hands.
“Ah! And Toren died.. Dammit, what a waste! Kirin, get over here now!”
A third swordsman stepped forward from somewhere down the darkened hallway. He kneeled behind Corlan, “I am here master.”
“Defiled forsake me, Toren is dead. Finish off the rest of the clan and hunt down Jamys! He must not be allowed to escape! Do you understand me?”
“By your will master, it shall be done.”
“What of my sister?” A young looking man dressed in luxurious clothing decorated with golden frills asked another man behind him.
He didn’t turn to look at his subordinate, but instead looked off into the distance as he stood on a balcony overlooking a vast city. Long blonde hair flowed down his back and flittered in the evening breeze. Being so high up, it was impossible to see the faces of people moving throughout the city below, but the many lights shining brightly showed that the city was very much alive even at this late time.
“Your highness, it has been a few days now and she has not returned from the ‘Outlands’. We have people stationed along the outskirts, if she is alive, then we will find her.”
Lia’s half-brother who had been successful in his coup against the former king, his father, turned around and looked down on the subordinate who was kneeling with his head downcast. His normally bright blue eyes were dim in the moonlight and a slight crease in his near perfect skin showed his frustration.
“That is not good enough, you will continue to search for her until a body is found, whether she be dead.. or alive. Do you understand me? I want her found!!”
While he had no particular love for his sister, she was the last remaining relative who shared his blood. If possible, he wanted her alive so that he could make use of her, but he would not shed any tears if she were dead.
“I will see it done your majesty!” His subordinate replied, his voice shaking in fear.
The man stood and bowed to his king before leaving in haste to complete his duties. Lia’s brother watched him leave and returned to watching the city below. In his youth, he could look up at the castle in yearning, now he looked down on where he once stood. Though a bastard son, he hoped to one day meet his father, but that had been impossible. At least, until the day he killed him with his own hands.
His thoughts were soon disturbed by one of his servants.
“Your highness, Corlan Ard’Rein is waiting in the audience chamber to see you.”
“Bring me to him.”
He followed the servant who guided him towards the audience chamber. The Ard’Rein family had been a powerful backer which had substantially aided him in achieving his ambition, but deep in his heart, he despised them. He knew that unless he could acquire a strong power base of his own, the Ard’Rein Clan would attempt to manipulate him. Until he was strong enough to stand on his own, he would need to move carefully. He could not afford to insult Corlan and so he had to show him respect.
“I must first develop my own clan further and slowly gain control over the military. As much as I hate it, it is important to show face to the Ard’Rein clan.”
When he arrived at the audience chamber, Corlan was waiting for him and gave him a respectful bow, but he knew there was a bit of contempt mixed in there. He could only grin and bear it for now.
“Corlan! It is good to see you. I hope you have good news for me?”
“Hahaha, Your Highness Arcturius, Graham Lacus is no more, along with rest of his clan. One of the four great clans has been destroyed, the others will undoubtedly follow suit soon enough.”
Arcturius watched Corlan carefully as he spoke and noticed that Corlan was somewhat struggling. He was trying to hide it, but Arcturius could see that things did not go as well as Corlan hoped. It was clear he had been injured by Graham.
“Hmm.. this is excellent news.. But I heard something disturbing.”
“And what might that be Your Majesty?” Corlan snickered as an evil glint momentarily appeared in his eye.
“It seems that Jamys escaped.”
Arcturius sat down and sipped some tea which had been prepared as he spoke. His eyes never left Corlan and he observed Corlan’s reaction carefully.
Corlan smiled wickedly and shrugged dismissively.
“You are well informed. I wonder which little bird told you that? No matter, Jamys is… irrelevant. I already have my men looking for him, he won’t elude us for long. No need to worry about the young heir, he no longer has anything to inherit. And I seem to recall that it was your responsibility to capture the princess… I suppose you and I have some things in common.” Corlan said smugly.
Arcturius flinched in frustration at his own failure, “Indeed. While unfortunate, what’s done is done. My sister is most likely already dead, and I doubt Jamys will last long on the run. There are other matters to attend to. There are many rebels who have gone into hiding, we must root them out and kill all of them. I can trust you to take care of this?”
“Of course.” Replied Corlan while bowing his head slightly and then continued, “Do not forget what you promised us, my sister is looking forward to seeing you again.”
“I haven’t forgotten. I will take your sister as my wife and the territory that was under the Lacus clan from this day forth now belongs to you.”
“Your generosity knows no bounds, Your Highness. I take my leave.”
Corlan gave Arcturius a halfhearted bow and left the room. After a minute, Arcturius grabbed the cup he had been drinking tea from and threw it violently against the wall, smashing the cup.
“That fucking bastard… how dare he treat me in such a way. You will soon get what is coming to you….”
A few days had passed since Lia had taken shelter in Shen’s sanctuary and she had slowly acclimated herself to her new surroundings. Shen was still a mystery to her, and his words and actions were strange over the past few days. At times he seemed to act his age, and then, at others, he reminded her of an old man. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but the more she became acquainted with Shen, the more mysterious he seemed.
Lia watched Shen carefully through the window of what he called a stasis chamber. There were many strange things in the facility that she didn’t fully understand. What shen called a stasis chamber, just looked like a bare white room to her. There wasn’t much in it, other than a bed, the mirror and some other things.
What was even more confusing to her were Shen’s actions. He was sitting cross legged on the bed shirtless, with only white pants on. He appeared to be meditating, but what was strange, was a floating triangular crystal that hummed and vibrated as he meditated. She had never seen anything like it. She was familiar with cultivating techniques and the need to meditate of course, but the way in which Shen meditated was strange to her.
She did not possess ‘Mana Sight’ and therefore she couldn’t see how much power Shen possessed. She also did not have the ability to feel Aura, unless a powerful Aura was materialised. Lia could feel nothing from him currently and so decided to simply observe him mostly out of curiosity.
His body was much more muscular and well toned than she first thought. It was surprising to see how extremely well defined his body was. It was if he had trained it diligently over many years. Whenever she looked at him for a long time, it caused her cheeks to flush She would normally be rather embarrassed by this, but since no one else was watching her, she couldn’t stop herself from looking .
Lia could only hope that Shen wasn’t aware of her lingering gaze, as she thought he might find her strange. However, there wasn’t much else she could do in this place since Shen had forbidden her from touching anything. She had already wandered around in the areas Shen allowed her to, and seen everything there was to see. The only interesting thing left for her to do was to watch him. For someone with such curiosity, her current state of affairs were a complete bore.
As she watched Shen meditate, an idea came to her. I wonder if Shen would be willing to teach me how to use magic? If I am to seek revenge for the death of my parents and overthrow my half brother, I will need more power. Also, will he help me? I would feel much more at ease if he would.
Even though it had been years since her parents had been killed, she still felt their loss strongly in her heart. After her parent’s death, she had escaped from the palace with the help of her loyal retainers and had sought refuge from her own clan members and allies who helped her fight against her half brother. While they were able to keep her hidden from those who wished her harm, in the end her location was compromised and she was forced to flee the capital.
Her thoughts momentarily drifted towards her father’s good friend, Graham Lacus. His clan had supported her and helped her in the resistance against her half brother. They had lost many of their warriors and wizards in the fighting which had caused their power to weaken considerably. She tried not to think about it, much with how the events of her escape played out, she could only imagine that, by now, Graham had most likely been killed and she felt regret in her heart. To Lia, Graham was like an uncle, and his son Jamys, was her close companion and friend.
While she was deep in her thoughts, she heard the sound of a sliding door and realized that Shen had finished his meditation and was approaching her. Lia quickly moved away from the window and settled her nerves. It was important for her to dig deep for the courage to ask Shen for his aid in teaching her. He had already done much for her, by letting her stay in his sanctuary and she felt a pang of guilt at the thought of asking him for more.
Gathering her courage, she walked over to Shen with determination in her step.
Shen eyed her suspiciously and wiped his upper body with a towel. Cultivating was a strenuous activity which was a huge strain on the body since Mana would be constantly circulated throughout.
“Shen… Please, teach me how to use Mana. I want… No, I need to grow stronger.” Lia bravely asked Shen as he cautiously observed her.
Shen thought over her words as he quietly wiped the sweat off his body. The silence made Lia nervous, but she waited patiently. In Shen’s mind, he was weighing the benefits of Lia’s request.
“Hmm.. if I train her it would be easier for me if she can protect herself while traversing the ‘Outlands’, after all she could be of more use to me once we reach civilization. If I leave most of the guidance to Mariam then it shouldn’t impede my own cultivation and training….” Shen considered her request and came to a decision.
“Fine, I will train you, but I hope you are prepared for it.”