The Brewing of a Storm
A handsome long-haired blonde youth stepped through the entrance of a cathedral. This particular cathedral of the Sacred Light's Wish stood within the City of Melindor, the capital of the Empire of Hocke.
The clergymen weren't alarmed at the second prince's arrival. They merely greeted him politely before resuming their prayers or work. Second Prince Alissanda wore a humble smile. He nodded to each who greeted him. After passing through the prayer hall, he found himself in a house within a courtyard garden.
Inside the house sat a bald dark-skinned man. The average-looking man seemed indifferent to the arrival of the empire's second prince. He looked at Alissanda complacently for a moment before putting his book down.
"Is it time to leave?" asked the man without greeting.
He didn't even bother to look him in the eye. On the contrary, Alissanda, a member of the imperial family, actually greeted the nondescript-looking middle-aged man as one would one's teacher. The man was indeed Alissanda's teacher, the only paladin to enter the saint realm: Paladin Kevin Eino.
"Yes, we'll leave Melindor for Locksin province. I have come to bid you farewell, teacher," replied Alissanda respectfully.
Kevin raised his head to look at his disciple. The young man in front of him was the disciple of which he was most proud.
"Go," Kevin sighed, "Just go. You've already matured under my tutelage. It's about time you went adventuring on your own."
Alissanda suddenly felt it was rather inappropriate to leave his teacher like this after having learned so much from him. He stammered as if he had something to say but couldn't quite find the right words.
"Alright, Alissanda. I don't mean to blame you for this. You don't have to say anything. I consider it a fortune to be able to teach such an outstanding student. I am proud to be your teacher, you know," said Kevin, smiling with understanding of his disciple's sentiments.
"I'm still far from your level, teacher. You're a saint-order expert while I'm only a paladin of the 13th stratum..." said the youth, a soft tinge of red creeping onto his face.
"Are you not satisfied with the 13th stratum at the age of 16?" Kevin laughed, "Your training speed is so fast that it awes even me. But that's not why I am proud of you, Alissanda. Do you know the true reason for my pride?"
"Your ignorant student doesn't."
"It's your character. You've always been a marvel at manipulating holy light, your talent is extraordinary. Even without my tutelage, you would easily have become another expert whom could roam the continent unhindered. But this isn't why I accepted you as my disciple. I accepted you because of your unwavering courage and your sense of justice. It's always been far more important to me than your talent. I've spent a lot of effort these years educating and guiding you, all for the sake of making sure you maintain these precious attributes. Now, at the end of our time together, you have managed to do just that. As your teacher, I cannot help but be proud."
"You've already learned most of what I have to teach," he continued, stroking his mooning head, "The rest is up to you to explore. The Stokians have made moves in recent years that the emperor cannot continue to tolerate. Something major will happen in the coming months. Be careful and mindful when you go south."
Just as Alissanda nodded, a loud and excited bellow echoed outside the house.
"Black Baldy! I've come to see you! Ahahahaha!"
"Teacher, did you invite Mister Marolyt over today?" asked Alissanda with an odd expression.
Kevin's already dark face seemed to turn purple when he heard the bellowing outside. Black Baldy was the nickname the person approaching had given him, courtesy of his dark, ebony skin and his shiny bald head. He shook his head helplessly.
"How could I have known that old thug would come over today…"
Alissanda turned to the door. He saw there a man with snow-white hair entering. It gleamed with an edge of silver, cropped shortly, and combed as neatly as the word could describe. He had, edged on his aged face, two swords for eyebrows. Honestly, he cut quite a valorous figure; his eyes beamed with energy and his greyish-silver irises glinted with intelligence. Even the mustache perched above his upper lip and beneath his nose was trimmed to neat perfection. The aged man also wore a long, off-white robe of astounding color and design.
He gave the impression of a dashing and elegant nobleman. In his younger days, his looks would probably charm thousands of girls in an instant just like Alissanda's own in the near future. It was a pity his crude mannerisms shattered the impression his looks made. As Kevin had mentioned, he behaved like a complete ruffian.
"Oh, Black Baldy, my old friend, wanna come with me to check out Second Paradise for two days? I heard they managed to get their hands on a female dark elf slave. You should know how difficult those black underground pearls are to catch, given how powerful they are! Oh heavens, just thinking about it is stirring me up!" said the old man as he tried to give Kevin a bear hug with a lewd expression on his face.
Kevin took out a handkerchief, wiped the spittle on his face, before doing the same for the old man's face. The floor must not be stained with his bodily fluids.
"I'm not interested in those kinds of places. Also, if you really wanted to go for dark elves..." Kevin said coldly, glaring at the man disdainfully, "I'm afraid that even if your old bones don't get their vitality sucked dry in no time, you most likely wouldn't have enough energy to head home the next day."
The old ruffian raged hearing the paladin's words. His tirade started with the unhygienity of rubbing the handkerchief all over his face, moved on to a bragging session about his bedtime exploits, and ended with how he had made sure to keep himself in peak condition over the years -- naturally, a few dozen bouts of lovemaking in rapid succession was but child's play.
The old man's ramblings sent yet another wave of saliva all over, much to Kevin and his disciple's annoyance.
In the end, Alissanda couldn't resist it any longer and interjected to greet the ruffian, "Good day, Mister Marolyt."
Marolyt turned to Alissanda, as if he had only just discovered his presence. A trace of shock fleeted over his intelligent eyes. He quickly dispelled his roguish aura and bowed elegantly.
"Good day, Your Highness," he greeted with his magnetic voice, "I was a little too excited to see an old friend. Please forgive me for not noticing your presence."
"It's no big deal," said Alissanda with an odd look.
He had met the old man a number of times before, but he still couldn't comprehend how he could instantly change from the lowest of ruffians into an accomplished old noble in a mere moment.
"Has your stay at Melindor been a pleasant one?" asked Alissanda, trying to find something to talk about.
"Why of course. I am incredibly grateful for the hospitality His Imperial Majesty has shown me. My days at Melindor have filled me with the most joyous memories," Marolyt went on, "But two days ago, a petty thief made his way into my courtyard. Well, it was probably the rarest of occurrences. I've never doubted Melindor's security, you see."
What?! What kind of thief would actually deign to steal from the Galestorm Swordsaint?! thought both Kevin and Alissanda at the same time.
"The thief was but a youth, no older than 15, so I didn't bother to punish him myself and sent him straight to the security department," continued Marolyt.
"Well, it's hardly uncommon for youths to make mistakes. I only hope the people at the security department will be light with the punishment."
Even though Alissanda was birthed of the imperial family, he had heard some rumors about the inner-workings of the security department before.
While Melindor was a rather prosperous city, there were still a good number of hungry and helpless orphans living in the slums. The youths would be arrested and locked up for any number of reasons. It was also said that some youths who were 'rehabilitated' by the security department paled at the very mention of the security department. They must have suffered quite a bit from the jailers who didn't quite have much to do on usual days. The second prince had no way of knowing that that very same youth of whom he had just heard was someone destined to cross his path countless times in the years to come.
"I will pay a visit to the security department myself later as per your will, Your Highness," said Marolyt as he bowed once more.
"It's already late and I have to be on my way," Alissanda nodded and said, looking up at the sky, "Teacher, Mister Marolyt, I shall take my leave here. I hope the two of you take care during your stay in the imperial capital."
"Be on your way. Make sure to be cautious when you arrive in the south. Think carefully before you act, always. I trust you won't let me down, my disciple," said Kevin as he patted on Alissanda's shoulder.
Alissanda bowed once more as a student would to a teacher before turning to depart.
Seeing the youth's silhouette in the distance, Marolyt asked, "He's a rather good kid, isn't he?"
"No matter how good he is, he's my disciple and has nothing to do with you," retorted Kevin, looking pleased.
"Hmph, just you wait. Don't think you can live carefree now that you have a disciple. I have just prepared a gift for that guy in the east. Just you wait, you'll definitely be so pissed off by that fellow when the time comes."
"Hah, what kind of 'gift' can a poor saint like you prepare? You're so broke you go around collecting protection money!" Kevin knew how impoverished the rich-looking man before him actually was.
"You'll find out when the time is right," Marolyt said with an air of mystery, "That fella really lucked out this time! No matter how you spin it, I was the one who gave him that gift. Haha, in a few more years, I'll be able to knock on his door and start asking favors of him! Hehe, messing with a rich tycoon like him feels refreshing as ever!"
"Hey, the tycoon you mentioned is that guy in the east, not me! Don't go fumbling through my house!"
Kevin's face, naturally dark as it was, darkened even further as Marolyt approached the bookcase, eyeing the third drawer on the left greedily.
"Oh, this truly is the prized treasure of Ruso Manor! I see you've been making it big as a paladin," said Marolyt as he opened the drawer and looked at the item with a ravenous glare.
Seeing Marolyt feel the bottle of wine up like he would a lover, Kevin knew that there was nothing he could do to save it for another day.
"Please leave me some, alright? This is something Alissanda gave me yesterday," he said, sighing.
"Are you kidding? Good things taste better when shared! Do I look like the kind of person who would keep it all for myself?" said Marolyt magnanimously.
"I really don't know what's with you... How in the world did you smell the scent of alcohol? I fear for the livelihoods of the search dogs at the security department."
No matter how well-mannered Kevin usually was, he could only hold back so much when he was in Marolyt's company. He often had to resort to the vilest of insults. It was all he could do, he had no confidence in an actual confrontation with the man.
Marolyt, on the other hand, didn't care about the insults thrown his way and busied himself looking for a crystal glass while cradling the bottle in his chest.
Oh Sacred Light above, how did a ruffian like him manage to break through to the saint realm? thought Kevin exasperatedly before he went to take out the crystal glass.
Ten days later, Emperor Larwin issued an official notice that condemned the Stokians for intentionally brewing conflict at the borders of the two nations and announced the deployment of reinforcements to the south due to dire circumstances. If Stok did not provide a reasonable explanation for the incidents they caused at the border, the empire would consider war. Currently, the empire had already entered the second level of readiness. They stood ready for battle at a moment's notice.
Just as people began reacting to the announcement, a ship -- filled with slaves -- docked at Port Keder. The slaves were destined for the Continent of Lance. They were to be used to build the foundations of Hocke's influence there.
"Ooh! Is this the sea? And is this a ship? Can this thing really bring us across the endless seas?" mused Leguna as he looked at the busy port.
Bam! A slap splatted over the back of his head, causing his monkey-thin frame to wobble about as stars filled his vision.
"Get into your queue and board the ship! You'll be worked hard during the journey!" barked the imperial sailor in charge of the slaves, spewing saliva all over as he did so.
Leguna glared at the man hatefully, but seeing the well-defined muscles on his arms, he had no choice but to board the ship obediently with the rest.