Year 1402 in Manegia
“Damn it, how did it come to this…” Van va Kirash, king of the Kirash Kingdom, sighed as he slumped into his chair, nursing his head with a frown.
It was dead in the night inside his office with only a few candlelights lighting the room as it was a new moon. Van couldn’t sleep as a result of his growing stress of managing the kingdom.
The kingdom he barely held onto by a thread.
Ever since the greater water spirit Aquarius denounced him four years ago, going so far as to split her land into two with the great sea as the people had begun to call it, Van’s days as the king had been nothing but a struggle to keep his power.
“It was nothing short of a miracle all of those nobles are still under my control,” Van muttered, watching his twiddling hand. “Even then they are starting to slip from my hands.”
That and because Van was the only heir to the throne left after his father passed away shortly after the great sea’s creation and since he killed his brother, Albert, along with his only supporter, the Illyer duchy.
“…for so long I have sat idly by to everything against my blessed and I am frankly tired of it…”
“Damn her…” Van cursed in blasphemy.
The greater water spirit had always batted an eye to whatever happened to the Illyers, the family she supposedly blessed, because of her impartiality. Van had believed it’ll be no different when he eliminated them.
As it turned out, greater spirits were not so different than humans after all.
Just like that, Van’s reputation plummeted. His coronation was not greeted with cheer but with scorn knowing what he did to secure the throne and fear of the greater water spirit’s wrath and abandonment for letting him be king. Even his subordinates who were indebted to him were casting doubts.
And that’s not even going over how the water spirits treated the royal family nowadays.
“Hah…” Van sighed, leaning his upper body downward. “It will only get worse here…”
“Maybe not, your majesty,” came from behind.
“Who said that!?” Van exclaimed, practically jumping from his seat, reaching his hand for a blade.
“No need to be so alarmed, your majesty,” he said. “I wish you no harm.”
Under the hidden moon was a hunchbacked figure, garbed in an old, decrepit cloak that covered his entire being. Van couldn’t see his features due to the dim light but he was sure this figure was an old man judging by his voice.
“Greetings, your majesty,” the old man gave a bow. “This one is called Typhon and I have come bearing a proposal for you.”
Van was skeptical of this Typhon. Not only did he manage to get past all the guards and infiltrate his office, he even had the gall to act like a suspicious man trying to trick a child into accepting his invitation.! There was no reason to trust this old man.
Regardless, Van gave him the formality. “And just what is this proposal of yours, Typhon?” he nearly spat.
“The greater spirits have wronged you, have they not?” Typhon stated, half sneering at two particular words and half chuckling.
He refers to all of the greater spirits, strange, Van thought. Regardless, with a verbal tick, he truthfully admitted, “Yes, she did.”
“Then I believe my offer will interest you,” Typhon chuckled, no doubt he was smiling ear to ear under that hood of his. “Once upon a time, I too have been denied of my birthright by the so-called greater spirits. Now, I live solely to wrest them of their thrones and I have just the means to do it.”
Knowing what he implied, Van gave the old man a scoff of doubt. “And just what do you think you have that can go against the greater spirits?” he sneered. “And why need my help?”
Typhon merely snickered. “How about I let you see it for yourself?” he said and opened his cloak, pulling out something underneath it.
“W-What is this!?” Van widened his eyes.
It was a small cage, housing a purple… entity growling and thrashing about. It was clearly malevolent, an anomaly in the world, a complete abomination to everything good in Spiri Raia. It unnerved the young king, he wanted to lurch out his dinner at the sight of it.
“This, your majesty,” Typhon presented. “Is the key to secure your power and exact revenge upon the greater spirits.”
In every fiber of his being, Van knew this was wrong. He was treading dangerous grounds here and one false step could lead to disaster. By all means, he should have called the guards to arrest this man or better yet, slay him then and there, and yet…
“Tell me more,” Van deviously smiled.
Year 1405 in Manegia
“Willow is… dead!?” Ronald widened his eyes.
“Yes,” Joshua sobbed as he looked downcast from the hospital waiting chair. In his hands was the flower brooch his late wife had always worn on her hair. His mother, Matilda, was beside him, comforting him. “The childbirth’s too much for her.”
“No…” Ronald palmed his head in frustration. “Two of my children didn’t make it and Alicia barely did. Now it’s her.”
“I shouldn’t have let her get pregnant,” Joshua lamented. “But she really wanted us to have a kid together.”
“Is this our punishment for rescuing the Illyers?” Ronald slumped to the opposite metal chair with an audible thud. “For violating the world order so much?”
“Is it really…?” Joshua contemplated.
“Now don’t you young men believe that,” Matilda scolded. “There is nothing wrong with saving others. This is none of your faults.”
“Thanks, mom,” Joshua smiled a bit.
“Right, misses Ruze,” Ronald nodded. Looking at Joshua, “then, what’s his name, Joshua?” he asked.
“…Owen,” Joshua answered. “Owen Willows Ruze. Honoring our friend… and my wife.”
“Yes,” Ronald agreed, just as he named his daughter Alicia Emilia Bell.
Just as they named what Emilia Willows left behind.
“You called, lady Bell?” Tia said as she entered the room.
“Ah,” Irene noticed while on her seat, turning to the young maid. “You are here, Tia. Come over.”
“Right,” Tia nodded, filing into the room.
“Eh, ye!” A giggling sound came from the crib that was beside Irene. Inside was a baby girl, all snuggled up in red wool. She has a vibrant red hair like fire, an irony given her mother’s background, and bright blue eyes like water adorning her round face.
Tia had to hold herself from cooing at the infant inside the crib, it would be very unrefined of her. “What is it that you wish for, my lady?” she asked.
To that end, Irene simply answered while caressing her daughter, “Well, your sister, Mia, had always accompanied me as I grow up.”
There was a pang within Tia’s heart hearing her dead sister’s name while knowing what the Bell matriarch was going to ask for. Putting those feelings aside, she soldiered on. “Very well, my lady. If that is your-”
“Wait,” Irene gently stopped her, making the maid blink. “Before you answer, allow me to explain. Sit there,” she said, pointing at the other chair in the room that was prepared for the maid who chose to stand instead.
“…” Tia silently sat as her lady commanded.
“When I was born,” Irene began, still caressing her child. “My parents knew because we were a ducal family, we would be almost untouchable. They were worried if I would grow up having no one with me other than my family.” Looking at Tia solemnly, “that is why they decided to hire your sister, not just as my personal maid, but also as a friend.”
“…Ah,” Tia muttered. It was a simple but earnest reason and that alone fully explained to her why Mia had to be separated from her when they were children, why Mia had to go with the duke to work as a maid-in-training. Sure, Mia visited her family from time to time, but the point still stood.
“So when Mia died to save me,” Irene continued, “I…” until she couldn’t. “I…”
“I-It’s alright, lady Bell,” Tia tried to hold back her sob, understanding what Irene was conveying. “It’s alright…”
“…I see. Thank you, Tia…” Irene wiped her tear. Looking back at her daughter, “so, when I see my daughter, I have a feeling that she may end up just like me, but worse. After all, she might be my only child.”
“…” Tia pursed her lips, knowing full well why Irene said so.
“While there is Maria, it is not like they will see each other every day and they are still cousins,” Irene continued. “And I am not confident of Willow’s child with sir Joshua.”
“I see,” Tia nodded in understanding.
“But, this is also for you,” Irene then said.
“…Huh?” the maid blinked.
“It is not like I did not notice how Mia’s passing affected you, Tia,” Irene smiled in melancholy.
“Ah,” Tia realized.
Yes, ever since her sister’s death, Tia has become increasingly rigid, taking orders and doing her work like a lifeless doll. Even now she was going to accept Irene’s supposed request to be baby Alicia’s personal maid without a second thought! She knew what she was heading down to, but she can’t help it. She didn’t know what to do ever since Mia’s death.
“You would be in a larger age gap with Alicia compared to me and Mia, but that is fine,” Irene continued. “So…”
“…I want to personally ask you, miss Mia,” Allister said to the little girl. “Will you…”
“…be Alicia’s friend?” Irene smiled.
It’s just like when lord Illyer asked Mia, Tia gulped. Looking at Irene’s expression patiently waiting for an answer, she felt… conflicted.
Eventually, like always, she gave her answer. “…When lord Illyer came to our house all those years ago, it was very surprising for us. We would never think that the duke would visit our home, much less giving big sister a job proposal.”
“I suppose it would,” Irene chuckled. “Though I wonder why father chose Mia of all people? I never know why.”
“Oh, lord Illyer bluntly stated that big sister was just a bit older than you and was the first person chosen at pure random,” Tia deadpanned.
“I-Is that so?” Irene smiled wryly.
“Anyway,” Tia continued. “Lord Illyer told my big sister that she can quit the job whenever she wants, so she tried it. Well, as you know, she ended up staying.”
“Yes,” Irene muttered and she was thankful for that. Before Layla, before Elaine, there was Mia when she was alone. Irene couldn’t have made it without her.
“Every time she comes back to visit us, she mostly talks about you, my lady, and she always seems very happy about it,” Tia then said, earning a raised eyebrow from the lady. “That’s why I signed up to be duke Illyer’s maid. I wanted to know what is it that makes big sister want to continue to work in the Illyer mansion and it couldn’t be the money since daddy has always been providing us enough food for the table.
“But most importantly,” looking at Irene straight in her face, “I wanted to know what big sister sees in you, lady Bell.”
“…” Irene said nothing, just listening to Tia’s confession.
“But, looking at young mistress Bell, I’m beginning to understand why,” Tia then said, watching the infant falling asleep with twinkling eyes.
“Does that mean…!?” Irene beamed up, slowly standing from her seat.
“Yes,” Tia stood from her seat as well. “I would like to know how it’s like to be Alicia’s friend!” she smiled.
Year 1413 in Manegia
“So, how’s it going, Ronald?” Joshua greeted as he put his can beside him on the bench.
It was a quiet evening in the public park, so Ronald decided it would be a perfect time to have a private talk with Joshua about everything that has been going on for the past couple of years. With real-life catching up on both men, they hardly had an opportunity such as this.
“Yes, all things considered,” Ronald replied, sitting next to his tall friend. “Do you have another can?”
“Yeah, I bought another one so we can drink together.” Joshua pulled out another can from the plastic bag hanging onto the bench. “Here you go.”
“Thanks.” Ronald received the can and opened it with a CLICK and HISS. After gulping it, he said, “so, it’s been a while since we can talk alone like this, huh?”
“Yeah,” Joshua agreed, taking another sip of his canned drink. “We sure have been busy, haven’t we? Even though we barely show up in the Otherworldly Court nowadays.”
“Never mind how we swore to never talk about it in front of our kids either,” Ronald smiled wryly.
“Yeah,” Joshua smirked back. “And even then, a lot of things still happened over there.”
“True,” Ronald looked up at the evening sky. “We were recruited right at the end of our generation, after all.”
“Yeah, it really sucks seeing our Masters we know and love passing on one year to the next,” Joshua said in a somber tone. “Still, I don’t really get how we get to retire because of that. What if I was recruited one day before the next generation hits? I can immediately show up for work once a year after that?”
“That’s what happens when you deal with something really old, even though the Otherworldly Court only exists for over three hundred years,” Ronald chuckled, gulping his drink afterwards. “You always said that.”
“You got that right,” Joshua chuckled back, shoving his can near Ronald on reflex. “Still, who knew Aqua of all people would take Master Gertrude’s spot? She’s a water spirit, a water spirit!”
“Well, as you said, the Mother Souls work in mysterious ways,” Ronald remarked cryptically. “Quite a surprise in the new year after your son was born.”
“Yeah,” Joshua sighed, taking another round. “…Hey Ronald, was it a good idea that we don’t tell our kids anything about this at all?”
“…Hm,” Ronald looked away. “I still believe so. It’s better they are spared through all of the trouble we went through. Let them lead a normal life.”
“Sure,” Joshua said, leaning forward. “But I don’t think that’s gonna last forever.”
“Hm?” Ronald turned his head to Joshua.
“Remember,” Joshua explained. “Even if we never tell our kids about the Otherworldly Court, our existence alone means they’ll eventually-”
“”…!”” Ronald and Joshua both heard an awful sound right behind the bench they sat upon.
“Rupture!” Joshua exclaimed, shooting up from the bench, dropping his can of drink to the bench. Ronald followed suit.
Both men looked behind their backs as they retreated, seeing the unnatural crack in reality just behind the bench. It seeped out an array of colors, before settling on black like the polluted sky.
The crack exploded into a wormhole and it began to draw in everything in its wake. The only witnesses to this dreadful phenomenon gritted their teeth.
The bench bolted to the ground was ripped apart, being tossed into an unknown world along with the drinks on it. Soon, Ronald and Joshua would join it as they had nothing to prevent them from-
“What the!?” Ronald exclaimed as he felt a cold sensation below him. Looking down, he found from his feet to knees encased in layers upon layers of ice maneg, firmly implanting him to the asphalt ground. Knowing the creator of this Order, he immediately turned to him. “Joshua!” he then screamed, reaching his hand out.
Unfortunately, Joshua was off the ground and the rupture spared him no more time to improvise a new Order. Not even continuously ordering [Eject] can let him outrun its pull – many Court Wizards had tried this before and failed. All he could do was to catch the hand of his junior he saved first. “Ronald!” he exclaimed, swinging his hand to Ronald’s.
“No!” Ronald screamed, leaning forward as much as he could, desperately reaching his partner’s hand.
“Damn…” Joshua, on the other hand, sighed in resignation. “Take care of Owen for me,” he smiled before the vortex consumed him.
The vortex collapsed, its force blowing Ronald away as the [Ice Layer] disintegrated with the loss of its Court Wizard.
“Joshua…” was all Ronald could say as he weakly lifted his body to see what remained of his long-life partner and friend.
That was eight years ago.
Azhure: So… while I was writing the last part of this Chapter, when I checked the timeline on my WordPress version, I saw that Joshua was lost to the Rupture at 1413 Manegian calendar which is 8 years ago from 1421, not 5. Owen got recruited in 1416, 5 years ago.
Azhure: Yeah… Obviously, I can’t change the title so I just improvised the description instead, changing ‘Five years ago, Owen lost his father to the unknown’ to ‘Five years ago, Owen became a Court Wizard in search of his father who was lost to the unknown three years prior’ in the first paragraph. You should have already seen the changes before this Chapter’s publishing.
Anyway, this is the last Chapter in Ronald’s Collection, conveniently just before my exams. I’ll be taking a break after this and after that, I’m planning to do an Interlude on how Aqua became a Guardian, a one-shot of a different story which I’ll publish here altogether that I’ll eventually make an entire series of, and a bunch of lore dumps on my WordPress site. Then, I’ll move on to Owen’s Collection which will take place right after book Alicia.
Voice: See you next time! But…
Voice: Why do you have to do that to Owen’s dad…?
Azhure: …not even his nickname?
Orders[Order Abort] An Order which Court Wizards can use to stop all ongoing Orders. Useful to stop a misfired Order or similar. The Court Wizard only needs to order ‘Abort all Order,’ ‘Stop all ongoing Order,’ ‘End all active Order,’ or anything similar to that effect.
Azhure: A little bonus.