A War Fought In The Past, Yet Waged Now And Tomorrow
Lan remembered his father's face, brave and kindly even as the world was burning around them. Many years had made his father thin and almost bony, yet even so he smiled with all the energy of a youth less than half his age. But this time the grin was pained and forced, even a child such as Lan knew that much; an attempt to comfort his son amidst the chaos and death that came with war.
"It'll be alright, Lan," He mumbled out, a father's hands clutching his son's, his voice worn and heavy. "It'll be alright..."
"Father..." Lan croaked out, squeezing his hand in return, a relieve to the burning pains the seared through his body. Even now, the burns on his left leg and the many gashes across his body threatened to overwhelm him with pain, yet it was his father's presence that kept him going. Pushing through the agony of their home collapsing onto him, the horror of his mother buried under rubble.
The boy's consciousness ebbed and flowed, hearing only the sound of his father's gentle words, even as they faded over time, and eventually ceased altogether. "It'll be...alright...Lan..."
All he could remember after the silence was the sound of metallic steps, and the crackling sound of flames approaching his body, threatening to drag the boy into a sleep he would never wake from.
Lan opened his eyes and immediately bolted upwards, hitting his head on the low wooden ceiling in the process. The pain was enough for him to put a hand on his forehead, and the lingering effects of his nightmare were enough to keep it there.
"Another nightmare...?" A voice asked, and he turned to see the other man in what was an extremely cramp carriage, one which slowly undulated as it was being moved slowly towards their destination. The man did nothing to try and ease him, his arms crossed and eyes closed as he sat on the opposite end.
"The same one, actually..." Lan said sarcastically before sitting up, concluding that trying to sleep inside a place like this was a horrid idea. "How much longer, Uncle Macsh?"
"An hour, maybe two..." Macsh responded evenly, and finally handed out a bag containing some dried nuts. Even as Lan accepted it, he could still feel the disappointment coming from the carpenter, which had been radiating from him ever since they began their journey. "Too late to turn back now, at any rate."
Lan felt the sting of his reprimand, and looked away shyly while tossing several of the nuts into his mouth, serving as his breakfast. They were bitter and cold, but it was better than nothing. "I'm sorry, I really am."
"If you really were, we wouldn't be here," Macsh retorted, letting out a sigh before his voice quieted. "...Was the life I gave you really that unsatisfying? I know I'm not your father, but I've always tried to treat you as my son. I've cleaned your clothes, I've paid for your meals, I've even made sure to look after you while you were stricken with sickness."
"I know..." The boy replied in agreement, looking into the dark brown eyes of his caretaker, his face a dispassionate mask in contrast to the cheerful and boisterous man he usually was. For a year and a half they've been together, slowly coming to treat each other as the family that they've lost, though it wasn't quite the same. They were as close as family, but weren't one in truth "I was happy with you, please don't think otherwise. But...I can't. There's just something I missing, something I feel I need to do..."
"And you think enlisting in that Academy is what you need to do," Macsh said, not bothering to phrase it as a question. "As soon as that brother of mine gave the idea in your head, you thought that it's what you need to do."
Lan couldn't entirely deny it, as the idea of heading for Miserati wasn't something he came to on his own, but rather a suggestion that Macsh's brother Cipre brought up in one of his many visits. Being an assigned proctor at the Academy, he offered him the chance to join, as he had reached the age eligible to do so.
"If he had brought it to me first, I'd strangle him before he had the chance," Macsh cursed before looking downwards, a solemn atmosphere filling the carriage. "...But if you've made up your mind, I won't stop you. It's your life to do with as you will, and I've always known that."
Lan could feel a tear pooling in his eyes, and rubbed it away before reaching over to embrace the man that had healed his mended heart, once which the old man returned fiercely. "Just stay safe, Lan. Please promise me that."
"I will..." The boy assured him, though they both knew that is was a false one. Even so, it was what Macsh wanted to hear, and he did not want to say otherwise. "I love you, Uncle Macsh."
"I love you too, lad."
An hour passed by without the two talking about much, simply spending their last moments together in silence as they reached the town of Miserati, which was established to fulfill the needs of the academies. Lan knew that it wasn't the most impressive town in Osvir, yet couldn't help but marvel as the sight once he poked his head out the carriage window. The street they were on featured a long and orderly array of buildings, with a cobblestone path able to have three carriages travel side by side. Some of the homes was made of white stone, which reflected the orange light of dawn to make it look as if it were shining.
Despite the early hour, townsfolk were already emerging from their homes, to set up stalls and to head towards the farmlands that surrounding the town, to work the fields and provide the food necessary to sustain both the settlement and the academy that was the purpose of its existence.
And behind it all was the Academy. Large and imposing even from a distance, looking as if a large manmade mountain of refined stone and glass, roofed with alternating slates of grey and goldish-yellow. Large pillars stretched out to the sky, and white banners proudly hung from it. To Lan, it was nothing short of a marvelous sight to behold.
"Don't fall off, lad." Macsh said in a sarcastic tone from within the carriage, not wanting to indulge in the sights as he did.
The boy ignored him and continued to look around, finding the environment so new and unfamiliar to his quaint hometown of Mri, whose buildings look far more dirtied and disorderly. Even the people seemed so different to him, dressed in clothes of many different colors in contrast to the usually brown attires of Mri, whose population consisted mostly of hardy craftsmen and smiths. Though another distinction stood out to him, subtle in some ways yet obvious in others.
"It doesn't look like the war touched this place..." Lan muttered to himself, though Macsh heard it and opted not to say anything. The boy couldn't see a single sign of damage, whereas Mri still bore the scars of battle. Parts of the town's surrounding walls were still crumbling where catapults had launched stones on, and several houses were very noticeably or ruined, including the place he once knew as his home.
His nightmare returned, though as a thought rather than a vivid recollection. For two years he had struggled, more often than not waking up in the middle of the night after reliving that haunting memory, the last one he had of his father. Of his mother, all he could think of was the ruins of the home, which he did his best to avoid even after her corpse was removed from it and given a proper burial.
Lan tried to banish the thought from his mind as the carriage reached a central plaza, with similarly wide streets going in each cardinal direction. It was there that the horse grew to a sudden stop, and the reason why was plain to see as he looked forward towards where the street they needed to pass by. There were two other carriages blocking the path, their occupants hurling insults at one another from their windows. The first was a simple wooden carriage, not too dissimilar from the one he and Macsh hired to take them here, though one of its wheels had been split in two. A man in brown leathers was attempting to replace it, rolling a new one before attempting to remove broken one from its bearings.
The second one was opulent and gaudy. Gold lined many parts of its blue exterior, and it was shining to the point of being blinding, and hanging from its sides were silken banners. There was no doubt in the boy's mind that it was a carriage carrying a noble, and the people around the plaza took notice, as some had looks of either support or anger. The person who stuck out was a man with finely trimmed golden hair, wearing a flawless white suit studded with pearls, and his expression was wroth incarnate.
"Faster, you filth! I thought your kind would be proficient at making such repairs!" The noble bellowed out, murmurs starting to be heard from the crowd gathering around the carriages. Lan felt something pulling onto his arm, dragging him down onto his seat to face Macsh, who then promptly shut the window immediately.
"Best keep our heads in here, else we might get caught up in this mess." He said with urgency, to which the boy nodded in agreement.
"Don't insult my husband, you pig! It's your damn fault for crashing into us!" Lan could hear coming from outside, though the voice was muted. It sounded like a woman, though he couldn't be certain. All he knew is that their argument was not much of a surprise, merely highlighting the fact that while the war had ceased, the old hatreds that started it still burned brightly.
"Watch your tone," The noble said, his voice growing softer yet more menacing. "This may be a safe zone for your dogs, but that doesn't mean some of us have the power to take that safety away..."
The murmurs now became open discussion, and even argument as the crowd now voiced their opinions out loud, though there were too many voices for Lan to discern anything in particular. It began to grow in volume before being immediately followed by the sound of metal on metal, a synchronized clashing of many things at once, which rang aloud for all to hear. Even the carriages' arguments slowly began to soften.
Against what Macsh would have wished, Lan couldn't help but poke his head out to see who or what made that sound, and saw a column of men in grey armor approaching the carriages. Armed with metal spears and long rectangular shields, they continued to beat their equipment against each other in unison, the sound continuing to radiate across the plaza until it was the only thing that could be heard.
The crowd quickly dispersed into every direction, some of them looking extremely fearful as they ran away from the scene, and only a few lingered on. The noble that was so full of anger quickly realized the situation and hide back inside his carriage, while the guards quickly assisted in replacing the wheel of the broken one, with their owners giving thanks to them. Soon enough, the two went their separate directions and the guards retreated the way they came, allowing Lan's own carriage to continue moving along.
"What a hassle...at least the guards here seem to be able to keep the peace," Macsh complained as they passed by where the two carriages were, Lan now retreating his head back inside. "Try not to get involved with things like that, you hear me? Keep quiet and don't try and cause anything that might get anyone's attention on you. "
Lan nodded, having no intentions of heading to Miserati to gain anything resembling glory or adulation. "Do you think...it'll be like that in the Academy?" He asked meekly, to which Masch nodded without a moment's hesitation. "...Always?"
"Can't say for sure. Never been there myself, so I only know what my brother knows," Masch admitted, looked more tired and haggard as they grew closer to their destination, and their departure. "Fights break out, sometimes they find students in...well, let's just say that there's a reason we talk about these things while you're asleep. Still, can't say I always hear those sorts of things from him whenever he stops by, and he said there isn't anyone going so far as to murder someone just for being on the opposite side..."
He was trying to put it in gentle terms, though the disapproval in his tone was as clear as blue sky outside. Much like anyone in Osvir, the carpenter had a side that he's thrown his lot with, though not with the zeal of some others that took up arms. He saw the men and women of Roduchy as people on the opposing end, just as they saw a man of Piranthy as the same.
Lan wasn't sure what to think of the civil war that rocked through the country, no doubt the seminal event of both his and Masch's generations. He was born too young to truly take up the cause of where he lived, though that did not mean that he didn't held some misgivings about Roduchy either, as they were the source of his status as an orphan. They were the cause of his seemingly unending nightmares.
But who truly was to blame for the loss of his parents? Was it Roduchy? The men who ransacked his hometown? The general commanding them? Should he place the blame simply on the man who fired the catapult that crashed a boulder into his old home, or the people associated with that enigmatic figure in his mind? How far should it go?
It wasn't a question he ever thought of much, yet as he was reminded of the world beyond Mri, Lan couldn't help but wonder.
The carriage made its final stop just outside the gates of the Academy, with Masch and Lan quickly exiting to unload both their luggage and pay the rider for both this long journey, and the ride home. Before that though, Lan simply watched in awe as he stepped onto the stone floor, marveling at the building that was memorable from a distance but was now nothing short of breathtaking.
Surrounded by walls of grey bricks three stories high, the main building itself was a titanic thing that dwarfed the others that were scattered within the compound, its large pillars dwarfing the towers like a tree standing tall beside a sapling. The glass windows that he saw from the town was now shown in more detail, stained in many different colors and depicting two prominent symbols: the hawk and sword of Roduchy, and the fish and axe of Piranthy. Though the most obvious symbol came from the white banners that hung from the roof, longer than any tapestry he's known and displaying the symbol of Osvir and the Academy itself: that of a grey dove spreading its wings wide, a black sword on one end of its wing and a white tome on the other end.
It was the most glorious sight that Lan had ever seen, gazing up at the structure that seemed as if it touched the sky. Only after Masch grunted loudly did he remember what he was supposed to be doing, and he went and helped him unload the wooden trunk that contained the things he would be staying here with him. Even so, the boy simply couldn't help but continue to look at the academy building, scarcely believing that such a thing was even possible.
"Ah, you arrived right on time," A voice called out from the direction of the gate, and the two turned to see a tall man waving at them, one they knew well. "I see the journey was a rather unproblematic one."
It had been several months since Lan had seen Cipre, Masch's younger brother and his initial caretaker, and he bore his usual inviting smile. That was the only part of him the boy recognized however, as every other aspect felt as if they belong to a different person entirely. His light hazelnut hair that was usually loosed wildly down to his shoulders was now tied into a knot, with the front carefully groomed with only a few strands covering his face. His outfit was not the plain brown cloak he so often wore during his visits to Mri, but a buttoned teal shirt with a singular leather pauldron around his left shoulder, along with long black pants that ended with pristinely shined boots. The maroon cape moving as he did, fluttering in the wind.
What drew Lan's attention most was the long piece of leather that was attached to his hip, a sheathe that no doubt contained a sword underneath. He had never seen Cipre fight before, and the times where they sparred either playfully or seriously always felt more of a indulgence on his end, putting up a challenge suitable to a person of indescribably lower skill.
"Uncle Cipre," Lan said excitedly as the proctor closed the distance between the two, with the boy dropping the trunk he was holding to properly turn towards him. "I'm so glad to see you again, you look..."
"Different?" Cipre replied with a laugh, putting a hand on his lips as if he wanted Lan to keep quiet about the fact. "Best get used to it. As a proctor, I have an image to uphold here, unlike in Mri. Ah, good day to you as well, brother."
"You're going to help us carry this?" Masch complained as he let go of the trunk as well, falling with a slight thud as it hit the floor.
"I'll have someone carry it over to his room," Cipre promised as he walked up to his older brother, his smile fading to show something more serious. "...You still oppose this, I assume?"
"Bah, since when did you start caring about what I think?" Masch retorted, grabbing Cipre's shoulders firmly. "Watch over him, you hear? It's bad enough you decided to commit yourself to this malarkey, but to drag Lan as well..."
"I'll keep him safe. You know he means as much to me as he does to you," Cipre reminded, completely unperturbed by his threats. "And besides, I believe he's at the age where he could learn to fend for himself. If nothing else, this Academy excels in that regard."
Masch remained unconvinced, but simply lets go and turns to Lan, a vulnerable look on his face as he knelt down in front of him. "Best get our goodbyes over with, eh? You've got a lot to learn about this place, and I've already been away from my shop for too long. I'm losing enough customers as it is."
Despite his gruff tone, the sniffle that emerged told Lan all he needed to know, and the boy pulled him into a tight hug. Arms wrapped around him, he whispered while trying to hold back a tear. "I'll see you again, Uncle Masch. I promise."
"Aye, you'd best do so, or there'll be hell to pay," Masch responded, and the two stayed in an embrace for a few moments more before parting, the carpenter standing up and heading for the carriage.
"No heartfelt goodbye for your younger brother?" Cipre added, sounding mildly offended but mostly amused.
"You can piss off..." were the last words Masch said before entering the carriage, which took off in the direction it came and leaving the two outside the Academy's gates, the official start to Lan's new life.
"Now then, how about a quick tour of the area before you settle in to your new home? Just a quick round before you get settled into your new living space." Cipre offered just as two others were walking towards them, wearing buttoned shirts as well, though theirs was grey rather than teal. They did not bear pauldrons nor capes, and looked rather resentful as they stopped just in front of them. "Ah, perfect timing. Take the chest to the River Lodgings' main hall. The caretaker will know what to do with it."
The two looked to each other, their faces turning from annoyance to outright scorn, though they said nothing and simply bowed their heads before taking the chest with little difficulty. As the pair walked away, Cipre couldn't help but let out a slight chuckle once they were out of earshot.
"W-Who were they?" Lan asked, both curious and cautious.
"Fellow students of yours, though ones I wouldn't recommend getting to know," Cipre responded before walking towards the Academy. "Best not dally any longer. Your classes start the very next morning, and I've a lot to show you."
Lan simply nodded and lagged behind him, the two passing by the Academy's massive gates, made of hardwood and carved to display a mage wielding a staff one on side and a warrior holding a sword on the other. The walls were long enough that it took them quite a few steps in order to pass through it, the otherwise dark corridor being illuminated by torches emitting a bright white flame, one that drew the boy's attention.
"Ah, mind flashing back to when I performed that particular trick?" Cipre noted without slowing his space. "Though admittedly those torches are much more potent than the mere candlelight I mustered."
"Magefire..." Lan mumbled out, the word sounding foreign on his lips as he had only ever heard it spoken a handful of times, all of them originating from the man he was walking with.
The first and only time he had seen it up until now was during Progenitor's Day, where a slightly inebriated Cipre decided to impress Lan with a trick of magic, conjuring a small white flame that fluttered in between his thumb and index finger. He proceeded to scare Lan by flicking it towards him, earning a scream from the boy and a thorough reprimand by Masch.
Once the shock died down though, curiosity soon overtook Lan and he asked how Cipre had done it. Magic wasn't something that was seen in Mri, with some settlements seeming to be defined by the art while others avoided in entirely. Much to his disappointment, Cipre simply told him that he couldn't teach him in Mri, the wording of it carrying a hint of his desire to arrive here now that Lan thought about it now.
"I suppose now you can finally learn how to manifest it...provided you have the talent for it," Cipre commented as they neared the end of the corridor, as if reading Lan's thoughts. "Students are sometimes tasked with aiding in maintenance, so you might just be lighting these torches yourself, if the future decides to swim up that river."
"I'll be learning magic...?" Lan commented as they were under sunlight once more, seeing what lay inside the gates, which as it turned out was a massive maze of buildings, roads, gardens that serves as a general courtyard. The entrance to the main building at the center caught his attention, three sets of stairs leading up to a large metallic door that was currently shut.
"The theory and application of it, certainly," Cipre said chipperly as they walked towards the direction of the main building, though they soon took a turn away from it. "Though as I have said, you'll need to have a talent for magic in order to do all the fun things. Not everyone has it, sad to say."
"I see..." Lan tried to keep his expectations tempered, knowing that there was no prior indication that he had the capacity to perform magic, as far as he was aware. "What other classes will I be attending?"
"History, mathematics, literature," Cipre said with a sigh of boredom, then added with far more enthusiasm. "Weapon's training, mock battles, duels."
There was people who were present on the courtyard, from young men and women wearing the same uniforms as the two earlier boys, to older ones wearing capes of all different colors. Students, teachers, proctors...Lan wondered if anyone he saw was someone he would soon be acquainted with in the near future, though for the moment that remained strangers that did not pay the two any mind, save for some affirming nods towards Cipre.
"Uncle Cipre?" Lan asked, eyeing the passing figures with significant interest.
"This'll be the last day you can call be that," Cipre warned playfully. "Tomorrow on, it'll be Proctor Cipre. I need to seem unbiased...or perhaps it's more accurate to say I need to be deniably biased."
"I can't tell which ones are from Piranthy, or which ones are from Roduchy..." The boy said as he observed each pocket of students, trying to find anything that would distinguish themselves as either one of the two countries, and to his surprise was unable to do so. Neither from the way they dress to their demeanor.
"You will, soon enough," Cipre assured him, and for the first time today, sounded serious and even slightly ominous. The difference was enough for Lan to even stop momentarily, though he soon caught up as the proctor did not slow down. "Today's a day of relative calm. But rest assured, that calm only lasts until classes resume and the students resume the roles their benefactors have set for them. When that time comes, you'll know for certain regarding which side they belong to."
The usually jolly uncle of Lan grew silent and somber, before adding in a softer voice. "It's only a matter of time."
After they spent most of the afternoon getting Lan accustomed to the many facilities offered by the Academy, they soon neared a large building that was on the southern end of the area, though it was still miniscule compared to the gigantic one that laid at the heart of compound. It was a wide structure of dull blue brick and mortar that stood three stories tall, running across a significant length of the wall that it didn't quite rest against. Vines and moss covered it, and he could see several of the windows were cracked, and even some bricks noticeably missing.
"This is where you'll be staying," Cipre commented as they neared it. "It's a rather quaint place, and the meals they serve there will warm your heart along with your stomach."
Lan merely nodded, finding his head filled with all manner of information to the point of bursting. In the span of a few hours he was introduced to the stables, the faculty quarters, and a temple of Aiergard, along with a slew of other facilities that felt almost overwhelming yet interesting as he would have access to most of it. They briefly stopped by a bakery to get some sustenance in the from of soft loaves of bread with a thin layer of butter brushed on them, which they tore into like animals.
The blacksmith in particular managed to draw his attention, not only due to his existing skills with the craft, but also the fact that he managed to spot yet more magic as the smiths worked. Bellowing flames flowed from their forges and onto unfinished arms and armor, almost as if they had a life of their own and were dancing around it.
"The Roduchy lodgings are two buildings..." Lan noted as he the sky began to show tinges of orange, an indicator that noon had began to gave way to evening. The boy managed to see more details of the building, as if it were slowly revealing its true self to him, from slanted blue roofs to a metal archway near the door that showed a fish swimming through a tumultuous river.
"Well, we Piranthy folk are much more practical with how we live," Cipre said with a disapproving snort. "They need separate buildings for their male and female students, and they all have their individual rooms instead of sleeping in groups of two or four, not to mention a completely separate hall to have breakfast in. Oh the inefficiency..."
"Wait, doesn't that mean I'm sharing my room with someone?" Lan pointed out, realizing what he meant.
"Oh, did I not tell you?" Cipre asked, and Lan was unsure if he was being sarcastic or not, though he shook his head nonetheless. "I suppose I must have forgotten. Busy schedule and all that, but yes you'll be staying with one of your seniors."
"Is it someone you're familiar with?" Lan inquired.
"You'll know in due time," Cipre responded as they passed the archway, and stopped just outside the door. "I'm afraid this is where we part ways for now. I have arrangements made this evening, and I'd be loathe to shirk them. You can handle the rest on your own."
"Alright," Lan felt disappointed that his uncle had to leave, but also understood that he had his own life within the Academy, and that he needed to make his own way. "I'll see you another time then...Proctor Cipre."
"Until next we meet again, may Aier guide your currents." Cipre gave him a short bow before turning to walk away, eventually leaving Lan alone for the first time this day, and the boy knew that loneliness might me something that he would need to adjust to. His uncles won't be around to dictate his actions any longer, nor will they be able to assist him should a problem arise.
He looked on at Cipre, his form getting smaller until he was finally out of sight, and only then did he enter the lodging house for the first time.
The smell of salt immediately filled his nose as the door closed behind him, and he saw a rather small room with wooden walls, albeit one that was clearly a transition between other locations. Three sets of stairs stood side by side on the opposite end of where he's standing, diverging into multiple different directions, while to his left and right were hallways leading into other parts of the buildings.
Apart from that, the only thing of note was a large square hole in the wall beside the left hallway, where someone's head emerged from below, startling Lan slightly. The person was an elderly woman with long and disheveled silver hair, countless wrinkle marking her face with age, and a horrid scar running from her forehead down to just above her lip.
"You're the new one, right?" The woman asked in a voice that sounded not entirely cognizant, and the eerie laugh that followed did not help disabuse Lan of that notion. "Or are you the old one and I've just forgotten?"
"I'm the new one...I think," Lan answered with awkward along with just a slight bit of terror. "My name is Lan, and this is my first day here. Cipr-
"Oho! You're the one that coot was talking," She shouted at the top of her lungs, causing Lan to jump back once again. "Ahhh...I had a feeling you were him. Said you were quite the cute lad, he did."
"Um, thanks..." Lan said, his voice trailing off.
"My name's Aira, dearie," The woman said, her voice quieting down to something resembling normalcy. "And I'm the owner of the River Lodgings, where you'll be staying. Now then, I'll need you to listen very carefully while I explain the rules. It'd be wise for you to not break any of them."
Lan nodded slowly, at which point Aira continued, brushing back a strand of her hair. "Now then, you can come in and out of this place whenever you please during the day, even if it's to skip class. However, the doors close after midnight, and I will not tolerate anyone trying to sneak in or out for whatever reason."
"The staircases go to different sections for students to live, and while I would like to say each of them are sorted by age or grades or something like that, the truth is I just place you kiddos where I feel like."
"Got it," Lan as he saw the staircases once more, which looked slightly in disrepair, and he could hear the distant sounds of wood creaking. "What about the hallways?"
"Ah, right right, good question," Aira answered, as if she just remembered to explain where those went. "The hallway to your left leads to the common room where you can relax, and then the dining hall where you'll be provided your meals. The one on your right goes to the latrines, because there certainly any near where you'll be sleeping."
"I see," Lan didn't exactly feel any particular interest to explore the building, at least not until he saw where he'll be staying. "And can you please tell me where my room is? I'd like to head there now."
"Oh, sure, sure..." Aira pulled out a rather large book and began flipping through its pages. "Your room...your room...you're Lan, right? And a man?"
"I am." He responded while suppressing the urge to look at her like she's crazy, which he was starting to wonder if she was.
"Ah, there it is. Your room is the one at the end of the right side of the hall, once you take the staircase in the middle. The one with three scratch marks on it," Aira said, snapping the book shut with a puff of dust. "You'll be staying with Orson, a senior of yours. Quite the lad, he is."
With all the information he needed for now, Lan simply bowed to her. "Thank you, Lady Aira."
"Oh come now, there'll be none of that," Once again, the old woman managed to surprise Lan, though this time it was because her voice took on an almost motherly tone rather than the cackling glee he was used too. "We're not Roduchians, with our useless titles. Just Aira is fine...or the cause of your bodily pain, if I happen to catch you breaking any of the rules."
"Alright, La...Aira." Lan said before making his way up the stairs, each step causing the wood to give way slightly, which gave him a quiet sense of dread as he feared that it would shatter and cause him to fall through.
After a bit of climbing, he managed to reach a long hallway lit by more magefire, and a wide array of doors that were not evenly apart. The walls were a dull yellow with a touch of mold in a few places, and the smell of sea salt gave way to a faint stench that wasn't overtly revolting, but enough for Lan to briskly walk to the right in order to reach his room.
Soon enough he managed to reach the end, where a large window overlooked the rest of the Academy area. Glancing at the last door, he noticed that there were indeed scratch marks on it, and extremely large ones at that. Ones that could only be scratched with a weapon such as a sword. It made him wonder what was the cause of them, along with the hope that it wasn't the person that'll be residing with him.
Opening the door, he found a single room with no additional attachments, though it was fairly spacious for what it was. There were two beds on opposite ends, and windows on the walls beside them, though one was cracked. As opposed to the disorderly feeling of the rest of the building the room felt extremely symmetrical, with cupboards behind the bed and a fireplace near the center with a rod above it.
There wasn't anyone else inside, which meant that his bunkmate is somewhere else, which Lan did like. With Masch first, then Cipre and Aira taking up the all of his time, he wanted some privacy for once in what felt like a long while.
With the door closed, he looked around for his chest, and saw it tightly placed between a bed and a cupboard. He frowned slightly on the placement, though he figured that it was an easy way to determine which side of the room belonged to him. Pulling it out towards the center, he quickly opened it and began to unpack his things.
Opening the chest, which was mostly filled with his clothes, books and a pouch containing some coins for him to use, Lan found several objects that he did not expect. The first was a letter that he picked up, the seal already broken as he took the paper within and read it.
I figured I might as well write this so that I can properly say what I'm thinking. It's taken me many days to finally figure out the words I want to use. I know that I didn't approve of you coming to Miserati with my brother, and that while I we've never really fought over it, there was a distance between you and I now. It's probably going to grow stronger once we leave, and perhaps...perhaps I'm afraid that I won't matter to you as time goes on, or that you might not matter to me. I wouldn't know which would be worse. Time heals all wounds, isn't that what they say? Wouldn't it erase good things as well if that's the case, like love?
Still, I want you to know that you have and always will my blessing, if not my approval. I never said it to you aloud, but you've saved me after that dreadful war was over with. Kept me going along with Cipre, damn him. It pains me that you two are gone now, but...I suppose that's the path you two decided to walk upon. Try to keep and eye on him, and if you see him do anything foolhardy, give him a good kick to the arse and tell him it's what I want.
I've stashed a couple of things in your chest. Gifts that I figured might help you. Make sure you keep them in good condition, you won't be getting another from me.
Well, I suppose that's all I have to say. It feels as if I had more, but I suppose you can only write so much before you begin to feel like you're circling around to things you've already written down. So, stay safe and do well.
Lan couldn't help but clutch the letter tightly, seeing the hard penmanship of his uncle, parts of the paper clearly written over or at different times. He couldn't imagine how difficult it must have been for him to do such a thing, and felt guilty that he did not do the same. Tucking the paper back into the letter, he placed it down onto a neatly folded stack of clothes, intent on keeping it in as good of a state as he could. He had the feeling that it was something he'd read again, to seek strength and comfort in.
The second of the items was carefully hidden beneath everything else, and as Lan took it out he could see why that was the case, as it was none other than a sheathed sword that was almost as long as the chest itself. The handle was wooden wrapped with dark green cloth, and the hilt was short and curvy like a wave. When he pulled the sheathe out, he saw that the blade was much thinner than the practice swords he was used to. Despite that, it somehow felt heavier as he held it carefully, and with no one around did several swings to test its balance.
A slash upwards, and then downwards, a practice that he had done numerous times already. With each movement he could feel some of the weight leaving his hands, as if they never existed in the first place, and the air made a slight whipping sound as it cut through the air.
Despite the relatively simple design, it was definitely extremely well crafted. Lan couldn't help but wonder how much it must have cost Masch to commission something like this from old Brune in Mri, even if he was a friend of his. Regardless, the boy clearly treasured it as he sheathed the blade, holding it as if it were a babe in need of protection. He quickly hid the weapon back into the chest, and rummaged through it to see if there was anything else he had missed.
The last item turned out to be a simple chain bangle, the links made of a shiny blue metal that clearly wasn't iron or steel, and ended in a cage whose metal tubes were inserted into a black stone. Eyeing the rock further, Lan thought he saw light being pulled into it, as if it were consuming it. He blinked his eyes to make sure that was what he was seeing, and was unable to confirm it was the details he perceived were too minute for him to be sure.
Regardless, he placed the bangle back onto the chest and closed it shut, and just as he did the door opened up behind him. Turning his head, he saw someone enter and immediately laid down on the bed opposite him, not even caring to address him.
"Um, hello..." Lan said awkwardly as he got up, looking at the person in question. His hair was a light blonde, his eyes a dark black, his face was angular and looked as if it were chiseled from stone, though his expression was soft. He wore the same buttoned shirt as Cipre and the two others that carried his chest, though it was a dark blue rather than teal or grey, and soot covered a large portion of his sleeves. His lower attire were entirely different however, consisting of banded leather pants ending in red leather boots, both showing signs of age and frequent use.
And on his left hand happened to be a dagger, a very regular one save for the guard around the grip. He was casually throwing it up in the air and catching it before it landed, all while looking at Lan with utter disinterest.
"New one, right?" He said, his voice carrying a certain gravely quality. "Orson. Living here with you."
"Yes, I'm Lan. It's a pleasure to meet you," The boy responded, unable to keep his eyes off the knife that was being tossed so casually. "You're my senior, yes? I'm looking forward to learning from you, if possible."
"Learn?" Orson raised his eyebrow at that, and looked away to face the window. "I'm still learning. Not sure if I can teach. Some stuff I can, others not."
"Oh..." Lan wasn't exactly unused to this sort of terse talk, as it reminded him of how Masch and he used to be, as well as certain other men from Mri who often had very little to say. "Well, I hope to be able to know you more, seeing as how we'll be living together. If there's anything you'd like to know about me, do go ahead and ask."
When he got no reply, Lan simply sighed and sat on his own bed, looking out the window. It was cracked and didn't seem to open, but he could still see the wall that was dictated the border of the compound, and the town surrounding it. Beyond that were roads and some farmlands, and the sun that had mostly completed its descent down the mountains on the horizon, with only the faintest bit of its light remaining.
Letting out a sigh that made him realize just how tired he was, Lan mirrored Orson and laid on his bed. Every so often he would move and turn his body, as if there were something that continually caused him discomfort. He knew that it was not the fault of the bed itself, as it was of relatively comparable quality to the one he slept back in Mri, but the mere fact that it wasn't his bed made him almost unwilling to rest in it.
After a losing battle to adjust to his new environment, he decided to explore more of the building, in hopes that further fatigue would allow him to better rest. He had dinner in the dining hall, a large warm room that carried the scent of food on the boil, and helped himself to a bowl containing a simple stew of meat, potatoes, and spices that made him sweat. He sat alone at one of the many tables, what few students there were giving passing introductions, but nothing more than that.
With his meal done, he went to the common room next, where it was more populated and had a rather homely atmosphere, with students chatting amongst themselves. Some sat on chairs and read books of various topics, while others were at tables playing games of chance with dice and cards. Once more they showed enough interest in Lan to briefly talk to him, but otherwise they left him alone and he felt like he did not belong, despite their lack of hostility or condescension.
Lan finished his day by simply visiting the other areas where the students resided, which had very differences to his own, and after that simply walked back to his own room feeling a bit uncertain. It had always been present when it came to his decision to come here, but actually being in this place only brought it to bear. He had chosen this, and it was too late to walk away from it.
He didn't know how late it was when he returned, only that Orson seemed to be asleep, the knife next to his pillow with the sheets covering his body. Lan laid back down on his bed without making a sound, looked one last time at the scenery beyond his window, and closed his eyes.
"What do you think of Roduchy?"
The question came as a surprise to Lan, who immediately turned to the person who asked it. All he saw was the back of Orson's head, and Lan wasn't even sure if his eyes were opened. Nevertheless, he did hear his question quite clearly, and thought of an answer as he closed his eyes again.
"I...don't know. I guess I hate some of them," He admitted, reminded of the nightmare he had just this morning, and hoping he would not experience it again tonight. "And I'm sure some of them hate us, whether some or all. But other than that...I can't be sure."
It was an honest answer, though Orson didn't give any thoughts on it as nothing but silence followed, causing Lan to try and sleep once more. It came more easily than he thought, whether through fatigue or acclimation, though the rest he received was free of nightmares.
His last day as a mere village boy had ended, and the first day as a student, a soldier, a pawn and a piece had begun.