The bells of the academy chimed four times in total in the entirety of one day. The first bell signaled the commencement of classes while the second and third signified the beginning and end for recess, and the fourth chime brought a close all classes for the day.
The bell had just cried for the second time.
Samara walked the halls at a pace unusual to her character and unbefitting of her frame. Her breaths retained their cadence but be that as it may, she had accumulate much sweat in places she rather not say from her irregular gait. It was normally a huge concern for her but her mind was completely on the other matters at the moment.
“Where the fuck is he?” she cursed under her breath, an imprecation meant for Robert. As much as she as hated to admit it, she had look forward to their next meeting. The boy promised her a change to her current itinerary, one thing she had desire more than anything else. Yet, the boy who made such promise was no where to be found on the next day.
A part of her was angry that he skipped out on his words but another part of her exhibit her worries towards the many possibilities of misfortune that could have befallen onto him, especially given whose ire Robert raised just yesterday.
Samara shook her head to convince herself of the reasons for his absence to lean towards her former conjecture. She didn’t know precisely how strong Robert was but her short brawl with him had told her enough, he was a wolf, or even a lion, hiding in the shadow of a sheep.
With such a scowl hanging on her face, Samara quickened her pace and sharpened her eyes.
The passing students glanced curiously but briefly at the girl with ample meat to her bones as her eyes grazed each individual who entered her sight.
As she looked high and low for the one boy she couldn’t believe herself to be looking for, she came across a face all too familiar but also one she didn’t wish to meet. The person wasn’t obnoxious like Asten nor was it disquiet like Robert. Her desire to not cross path with this person was due to her own diffidence when being placed in the person’s shadow.
The person was a girl. She was more than a friend and almost family but could never be one. She was a beauty in her own right but her charm lay in the simplicity of her features. Bearing an impassive expression, she strode the passageway with the grace of a highborn but the humility in her eyes revealed her common status. She gave the most minimal greetings to whomever she passed, be it friends or mere acquaintances, even though who frowned at her was greeted with a lenient nod. It was an unbelievable sight but being a student of the Elite class, she had garner much respect and fame.
And Samara found herself standing in a shadow larger than before.
Samara turned in her steps, hoping to avoid a conversation with the girl. However—
“Sam?” the girl called out.
Samara turned her feet a little too late. Swallowing the anxiety brewing within, Samara turned back to face the girl. “Olivia,” she responded meekly.
Olivia Harix’s unassuming face lit up with a small but gentle smile. “It’s been awhile, Sam.” Her lips trembled at those words, her throbbing cheeks were holding back the tears that threatened to spill.
“It has, Olivia…” Samara muttered with her voice trailing off.
“You can just call me Livie like always.”
Samara said nothing in return.
Silent befell them. Samara wallowed in her own perils and the awkwardness but Olivia stared on. She grew up with Samara. She understood her more than anyone else and this was a sight all too common back in the orphanage. Their awkward encounter drew questioning glances and odd looks from the passersby. Olivia paid them no heed but Samara was touch with profound blushes on her cheek.
“You’re busy,” Olivia said.
“Yes,” Samara replied but her eyes did not met Olivia’s gaze.
“Something I can help with?”
And there was it again, her unconditional kindness. Welcomed by many but it hurts for people like Samara. Kindness was a poison for her and it wasn’t something she could rely upon. Although, for the sake of a change in herself, she responded, “I’m looking for someone.”
“A boy or a girl?” Olivia asked with a slant in her face.
“A boy…” Samara answered with reluctance as she knew what it would entail.
And her presumption was proven true when Olivia curled her lips deeper. “Well, I guess there is someone out there for everyone.”
Samara immediately shot up. “He and I are not what you think we are,” she retorted without her usual reserve.
“I’m no expert in such matters but I heard love can be difficult, especially if a love is true.”
“We’re barely even friends.”
“I see,” Olivia said, looking tenderly at Samara. “I’m sure the two of you will figure it out on your own.”
Samara rolled her eyes, something she had never done in front Olivia. Biting her lips, Samara force the conversation back on track. “Plain face, black hair, short, ring any bells?”
“Short? As in his hair or height?“
Sucking in her lips, Olivia pondered. “That boy?” she thought out loud.
“You know him?”
“Well, he had been watching me for some time now. And whenever we passed directly or just across passages, I feel that his gaze was always appraising me.”
“Robert… you really are a creep.”
“Do you think he fancies me?” Oliva asked earnestly but her quivering cheeks betrayed any attempts of hiding her humor.
Samara snorted right after dropping her jaws at Olivia. “Even if he does, it would not be in the way you thought. But have you seen him?”
“No, I haven’t. I don’t think he came today.”
Samara eyed her dubiously. “You sound so sure.”
“I did not get pierced by his gaze today like yesterday or the day of the opening ceremony. He looked at me a lot, through windows or simply from the higher floors, I could always feel his eyes on me whenever I came into his view.”
Samara sighed. “Thank you for your time.” Just as she turned to leave—
“Wait!” Olivia called out, her unrestrained voice drew a lot of eyes and attention.
Samara hesitated to turn back but ultimately, she did so after a few seconds of steeling her nerves.
“We’re family, Sam,” Olivia said, her low voice tinged with a hint of sorrow. “We can spare the courtesies and the distance.”
“I disagree,” Samara replied without so much as a glimpse to her eyes.
Samara stayed her tongue. She didn’t like Olivia’s company but she respected her character. Samara could not answer for she knew, it would hurt Olivia greatly.
“Come home, Sam,” Olivia implored. “My parents would be glad to see you.”
“But I wouldn’t be glad to see them,” these words never left her heart. Her parents were just like her, kind and gentle, just another poison and drug Samara wished so desperately to avoid.
Before Olivia could stop her again, Samara dashed off and disappeared down the hall.
Olivia sighed, her hands curling into fists. “You idiot…” she muttered, as quiet as she could but a drop of tear spilled in the corner of her eye.
A string of knocks rang into the lavishly decorated room with its bookshelves aligned perfectly to the walls, separated only by the door leading to the halls and the door leading to the balcony.
“Come in,” said a cold, unyielding, yet soft voice.
Lucan Devetra peered into the room through the agape door, “you wish to speak to me, father?” he asked.
His father, Ludrien Devetra, nodded and gestured Lucan to sit. Ludrien eyes stayed on the bundle of document in his and spared not a single glance to his son.
Knowing his father, Lucan summoned all the courage he had before taking a step into his father’s private parlor.
None of them said a word until Lucan settled down on the couch across from his father, who sat on an equally opulent couch.
“You what the city is coming to?” Ludrien asked, a question which bordered on the tone of a statement.
“How can I not know? Hunters are leaving the valley, more and more each day. The Dark Zone has already lost the inner layers to the anomaly and most of the middle layer too.”
“And the crops?”
“It’s doable, but that’s only counting the numbers within this week.”
“And the Aeryeon Faith?”
His eyebrows raised but his pupils narrowed. “What of them?” Lucan asked.
Content with his son’s response, Ludrien set aside the papers in his hand and looked straight at his Lucan. “Clan Giren, Clan Uero, Clan Larwud, and Clan Riean. You know who they are?”
Lucan nodded. How could he not know? They were the vassal clans the Talrons. They were known to be predisposed to all the whims of the Talrons, even if it involves throwing their own family into the mud. The one rumor surrounding them which garnered the most attention was that Clan Riean presented their daughters to the Talrons just to appease their masters’ desire. The rumor stretched further on with the daughters now being sold to the red light district’s brothels after the Talrons were bored with them.
“But do you know the heir of each of these four clans, are missing?” Ludrien hardened his gaze.
Lucan gulped. “I have heard the whispers,” he replied cautiously. He didn’t a hand in their disappearance but he knew where this exchange was heading towards to.
“And what whispers have you heard?”
“Their creditors abducted their sons as compensation for their clan’s long over-dues.”
The balding Devetra pursed his lips. “What about the whispers among the higher nobles?”
Sourly, Lucan’s face twisted slightly. “I heard,” he answered.
“Then I’m sure you already know why we are having this conversation?”
“Conversations? Is that what you called this?”
“Be grateful that this is not a verdict, my son.”
Defiance and rage filled his eyes as Lucan roared, “the Dragon Knights have nothing to do with this!”
Ludrien’s gaze remained firm. “May I know where you draw such confidence from for your words?”
Lucan had only one answer to that question but it was an answer that was nothing but partial.
“I allowed this Union because of the benefits and respect they would bring us but just very recently, I’m beginning to have doubts regarding it.”
“The Dragon Knights are honorable. They would not sank as low as the Talrons. If they struck someone, that person would see them coming from a mile away. They have nothing do with the children’s disappearance.”
“Are those the words of your mind or your heart?”
Hearing the condemning words his father spatted, he let his grimace shown.
“You know the temperament of those four sons,” Ludrien eyed his son, who showed him a zeal he never knew resided in his son. “They would not even bow before the Priests in temples and they sure won’t even lower their gaze before a Dragon Knight who roams the street brazenly and boldly. And you know your betrothed the best.”
“I do. Which is why I know she isn’t the culprit, neither are her companions. If these four children truly had disrespected her faith, she will bring them before the steps of their temple and have them kneel until they admitted their wrongs sincerely.”
Ludrien sighed in an express of displeasure. “Lady Azaela is a knight. She is also a woman and a person of a powerful faith, long before she is your betrothed. Just because she has fed you honey, it doesn’t mean she isn’t capable of feeding you poison.”
“Azaela is no such person,” Lucan snarled. “I’m disappointed in you, father. I took you for a lot of things but presumptuous was never one of them.”
“You think they’re honorable and incapable of dastardly schemes because of their vows and decree?” Ludrien leaned forward. “Grow up. Many countries, faiths, groups, cults have vows you have heard until your ears scream in boredom, but how many do you reckon have actually adhere truthfully to their pledges?”
“Father, you are seeing enemies in everyone. The unrest of the city has begun to affect you, for you to even accuse the betrothed of your son with just assumptions instead of evidence.”
“Your heart has blinded your mind.”
“Your fear has disheveled your mind!” Lucan shouted back at an impulse.
Their gazes clashed. There were no words but the billowing of Lucan’s wrathful fumes.
“Look what she had done to you, my son,” Ludrien said. “Your deference, your patience, she took all of those from you.”
“My deference? I am your son, not your servant nor your slave.”
“Precisely,” Ludrien hissed. “You learned so much in your childhood because you have deference. The older you get, the shallower your deference became, and the harder it is for you to learn anything.”
Lucan stared, his mind whirled at the unfathomable words he just heard from his father. He knew his father was strict and uncompromising, and he always knew his father was something more. However, it was only recently he began to see his father for what he truly always had been.
“You’re not even the heir and you’re not even close to the starting line of being a leader. Yet, you already wish to discard your deference? Perhaps I placed my fate and trust in the wrong child.”
At his father’s words, Lucan felt his spirit and heart crushed but he allowed none of his sorrows to show, not in front of his father. Without breaking their gaze, Lucan bolted upright from the couch.
“I know what you want to ask from me,” Lucan said. “Don’t bother. I won’t do it and don’t you dare ask Iora to do it.” And he left the room with furious steps that asserted his fury.
Without any second thoughts to his son who stormed out of the room, Ludrien’s eyes went back into combing through the numerous documents pertaining various incidents in the city.
“I believed the bridge was suppose to be intact,” said Azaela as she gazed upon the bridge which lost all of its intents and purposes.
“It was, Captain,” Gerald responded. “This is only my guess, Captain. Dame Yoni’s struggle with her opponent must have caused this.”
Azaela murmured as she cerebrated.
Judging from the damages done, it had not been a tame fight. Azaela could still feel the traces of the battle and the remnants of Magic.
“Sir Deyro, do you have her presence within your senses?” Azaela directed her question to a Dragon Knight who sported long unkempt dark brownish hair which covered half of his face.
Peering through his messy strands of hair, “no,” he answered. “She’s alive but since I can no longer feel her presence within my strained and extended senses, her battle must have taken her somewhere more than a day away from this city.”
Azaela nodded her silent thanks and cast her gaze away from the sloven knight who was sitting inelegantly on a chunk of a debris which probably once belonged to some statue.
Azaela drew her eyes to the bottom of the chasm. The sun cast a perfect shadow over the gorge, making it impossible for one’s eyes to perceive beyond the darkness. However, Azaela could see it clearly with her deep amberish eyes. There was nothing but busy waters. It was faint but she could also hear the haste of the rivers down below.
A broken bridge and a rushing river below, she was able to easily deduce the event that had transpired on the night before.
“Abyss Waters, the locals called it,” said Gerald as he too cast his gaze to the bottom of the chasm. “Apparently, some even claimed the waters were dwellings of Mordreo’s Kin.”
“If this could be called an abyss, I would love to see what they would call an actual battlefield,” Deyro chimed in casually. “Never took Yoni to be a fool to fight in such an unfavorable and inconsistent field.”
Gerald squinted his eyes at the sloven knight. “She could have been lured here, Sir Deyro,”
“Don’t make her any less of a fool.”
“Says the one who never won against the fool in a spar.”
“It’s a spar, Gerald.” Deyro sighed. “In a real battle, you would not always have firm ground below your feet.”
“Are tricks the only way to victory for you?”
“It is the most reliable and the safest. And before you speak another word, honors be damned.”
“Enough, you two.” Azaela shot them both with glances that could easily suffocate any men or women foreign to violence. “You can have your squabbles over your meals later.”
“Of course.” Gerald bowed. “My apologies, Captain.”
Deyro murmured, which incurred a glare from Gerald.
“Sir Deyro,” Azaeala called out, “what else have you caught with your senses?”
After some brief nonsensical mutters, Deyro responded with his eyes closed for a short moment, “there are three individuals involved, including Yoni.”
Azaela prompted Deyro to continue with a nudge of her head.
“One of them left the scene in a hurry while the other seem to have fallen along with Yoni to the bottom of this chasm. Whether that one lived or didn’t, I do not know. That’s all I have.”
“That’s all?” Gerald questioned. “I thought you can at least tell their genders or their Magic level.”
“I can but these two were very… careful. They hid their scent and markings well, too well.”
“Then, that will be enough,” said Azaela.
Gerald arched his brows. “It will?” he asked.
“Whoever they are, they know how to hide their presence and scent well. The fought against a Dragon Knight to this degree and one of them have certainly survived. I’m sure you both can agree that Dame Qyoni is not an easy opponent, so that speaks volume of our unknown assailants’ abilities.”
“Not an easy opponent? That’s an understatement, Captain. She bends space as easily as the belly dancers from Areez bend their limbs. She—”
“Another senseless word from you, Sir Deyro, you can bid your meals goodbye for the day.”
In an instance, Deyro shut his lips as tight as a drum.
“What’s the next course of action, Captain?” Gerald stepped forward with a sensible question while struggling to hide a smirk at the sullen Deyro.
“Gather your best soldiers, Sir Gerald.” She turned to match his eyes. “You are going to follow this river and you are going to find Dame Qyoni, understood?”
“And you, Sir Deyro,” Azaela lowered her gaze to meet his, “you are going to find out if our two assailants are merely vagrants or are they limbs of a structure.”
“What about you, Captain?” Gerald asked.
After a short silent, Azaela spoke, “it’s high time that I dip more than just my toes into the darkness. I’ll definitely find that great grandfather of yours.”