REYNOLDS LEYWIN'S POV:
As I absentmindedly took a sip from my cup of coffee, a scalding sensation startled me out of my daze. Vince and I were seated around the small table on the outside patio as we discussed some business plans on the Helstea Auction House. The topic had shifted towards the security parameters and how we were currently approaching the stages where it was necessary to completely restructure and enhance the guard teams.
Alongside capable nonmage adventurers, we had recently managed to recruit a few long range augmenters, making up an extremely powerful addition to the security. While it was still widely prevalent for augmenters to go the melee route due to functionality and ease, ranged augmenters, like archers and crossbowmen, continued to be a much more powerful asset in defensive settings. Vince poked at me a few times whether conjurers should be employed for the upcoming event.
"Hmmm…I know how beneficial it'd be to have conjurers that could set up barriers and help support the augmenters, but I'm against it." I took another, more careful sip from my cup.
"You mind elaborating? You just said how helpful it'd be to have them," he rebutted as he rhythmically stirred his tea.
Setting down my cup, I replied, "If we're just talking about firepower, I'd be all for it, but you know it's not as simple as that, Vince. It would affect team morale having even a few conjurers in a team of augmenters. You know yourself how snobby most conjurers can get. I swear they think they're angel incarnates; most of them think of augmenters as some sort of primitive beasts for using their hands to fight. Even if we do manage to find a few that aren't so rotten, the team would start thinking we're hiring conjurers because I don't trust them."
Vince's gaze was focused blankly on a stained smudge on the table; it was obvious what he was thinking. "You have a point. I left you completely in charge of the security aspects, so we'll go with what you say, but we need to be absolutely sure the 10th Anniversary Helstea Auction goes well. Even the Royal Family will be there this time. We can't let any commotions get too big."
I simply nodded in agreement, giving my friend an appreciative smile.
"Oh right! We need to take your son with us to the Tenth Anniversary Auction. He had mentioned he wanted a sword, right? I didn't know you had taught him how to use the sword. I expected the boy to take after you on the infighting style you're so good at with your gauntlets."
"Sigh. I never taught him how to use the sword, Vince. He's already had a grasp of sword fighting since he was four years old," I let out, disbelieving the words that came out of my own mouth.
"You can't be serious… Lilia was still scared to go down the stairs by herself when she was four," a bewildered Vince sputtered.
I continued, "He apparently learned by watching me train and reading books on swords. Vince, that's not even the part I care about. It's when we spar, though. His gaze when we practice, his reactions and fighting style. I don't feel like I'm sparring with my eight-year-old son. It feels like I'm fighting some veteran sword master. The only reason I can handle him right now is because his body is still immature, but the way he reacts to my moves…it's something that only comes with decades of experience in life-or-death fighting."
"Mmm…I can't say I don't know what you're talking about. I sometimes find myself wondering if your son is actually only eight. Are you scared of him, Rey?" he asked seriously.
"No. That's one thing I've become more and more sure of. No matter what, he's still my son. I know he cares deeply about his family, too and that's all I could ask for as his father."
ARTHUR LEYWIN'S POV:
During these past two months, it was evident that there had been progress in Lilia's and my sister's mana manipulation. It was no longer necessary to infuse my mana into them anymore, so they were able to train by themselves now. Of course, it would still take a few years for them to form a mana core—especially Ellie and her short attention span—but I did drill into the both of them the importance of keeping their training a secret.
I didn't need to remind my parents and the Helstea family that keeping this a secret was important, but it was blatantly obvious that the four of them were excited for the day Lilia and Ellie would awaken.
Sylvie had been sleeping much more these past two months, but there were changes that became noticeable. For one, her intelligence was rapidly increasing. Her thoughts to me were more intricate and contained complicated emotions that went past just 'hungry' or 'sleepy.' In the few short months after she was born, it felt like she had gained years of emotional intelligence.
One major change had happened recently; she learned how to transform.
Okay, it wasn't really something as drastic as transformation, but she was able to manipulate her body a little. It felt like it happened so suddenly. I had been pondering how to hide her appearance in the days to come when she grows larger. She had been beside me when she started whining and scratching herself as if uncomfortable. The next thing I knew, her red spikes began retracting while her horns got smaller. It was a mind-blowing surprise. Now, most of the time, Sylvie just kept her spikes and horns retracted, making her look more like a cute, black scaled fox with little horns.
Throughout this time, both Vincent and Tabitha had insisted on giving me more gifts as thanks. Even if I wasn't able to acquire the cloak or mask, I had been planning on training Lilia. After all, she's part of the family that helped my family, so as far as I was concerned, there was nothing to lose in helping them. After numerous refusals, we had finally settled on something they could get me: a sword.
My body had finally grown big enough to properly handle a small sword without awkwardly toppling over at the slightest mishap. It wouldn't be bigger than an adult-sized dagger, but it finally allowed me to train my swordsmanship with something other than a wooden stick. We had decided to make it a family event and have both my family and Vincent's family go visit the Tenth Anniversary Helstea Auction.
Waiting in the living room downstairs for my father and Vince to get ready, I heard an obnoxious knock from the front door.
Sheesh, knocking once is plenty.
I let out a slightly annoyed shout that I'd get it since I was close by, anyway. No need to trouble the maids when I was right next to door.
I was hit with the nostalgic sensation of getting smothered by a pair of foam pillows. A classic way of assassination, but shouldn't it be used while I'm sleeping?
"Oh my goodness! You were alive! Look how big you've gotten! I'm so sorry, Art! I wasn't able to protect you! I'm so glad!" the lady sniffled.
"Angela, I don't think he can breathe…" A comforting voice pointed out.
"Eep! S-Sorry!" Angela squealed.
Peeling my face away, I smiled at the sight of my companions. "It's so good seeing you guys again!"
My giant guardian angel, Durden, patted my head and I saw his narrow eyes getting watery, triggering a tear from me as well.
Adam smacked me on the butt. "Little brat! You know how devastated everyone was because of what happened? It's good to see you again, hehe."
"You've gotten better-looking, Arthur." I turned to see the charismatic Helen Shard with her signature bow still strapped to her back squat down in front of me. She lightly pinched my cheek and gave me a sympathetic smile before standing back up.
Suddenly, I'm embraced again, but this time, I was thoroughly surprised. "Sniff."
It was Jasmine. That cold, aloof Jasmine. She kept mute as she just tightened her arms around me, letting out soft sniffles.
I couldn't resist the urge to pet her head when she suddenly peeled herself away from me, her face scarlet. Quickly standing up and trying to regain composure, she shot me an embarrassed nod and turned away.
At this time, Sylvie woke up from her nap on the couch and trotted towards us.
"Woah! What is that?" Adam exclaimed. The rest of the Twin Horns had the same expression of surprise as even Jasmine turned back to look at the mysterious mana beast.
"She's my contracted beast, Sylvie," I announced while my bond hopped on top of my head.
"Holy crap! You already have a contracted beast? Do you know how valuable it is to have a bond? Oh man, I've been trying to look for a beast to tame these past few years but with no luck. The ones that they sell are way too expensive, too, lucky brat!" Adam was practically pulling his hair out in jealousy.
"Bonds," or "contracted beasts" for the official term, were highly sought after by both types of mages. It was a bit more advantageous for conjurers since, while the master prepared spells, the bond would be able to protect them. However, it was also very useful for augmenters as well, who often sought after beasts to contract them as mounts or a partner to have their back.
"What's with all the commotion down…Ah! You guys are here!" My father, wearing his uniform, leaped down the flight of stairs and rushed toward his ex-party members.
He was giving all of them a hug as my mother and sister came down soon after.
"Everyone! It's so good seeing you guys again!" my mother exclaimed. She didn't have the chance to say anything more as the girls all threw themselves at her and start drooling over my baby sister, both of whom were dressed very nicely for the event. My parents hadn't seen the Twin Horns for almost as long as me, so everyone was just as excited.
"Oh my goodness! Alice, Ellie looks just like you! She's going to grow up to be so pretty!"
"Rey is going to have his hands full soon with potential candidates kukuku. Can you tell me how old you are?"
The girls were a jumble of excitement and estrogen as they ogled Ellie.
Vincent came down soon after with Tabitha and Lilia. The mother and father duo were matching in a black suit and dress while Lilia was sporting a flowery dress under a warm cloak. After everyone introduced each other, it was decided that the Twin Horns would come with us to the Helstea Auction House for the Tenth Anniversary event. On the way there, I filled them in on what had happened after the fall. My dad explained to them the basics in his letter, but they were dying to know the details. They were quite shocked when they learned I was in the Kingdom of Elenoir for over four years.
The ride was pretty short, so I wasn't able to finish telling them everything before we got off.
The first thought that had come to mind upon arrival was that Vincent really put in a lot of work into this. The Helstea Auction House was breathtaking. It was rather misleading to even call it a house as it towered high above any of the other buildings nearby. I've been to many national and historical monuments that were created by the most famous architects, but this was on a different level. I suspected that they had a lot of help from Conjurers from how large it was. The Auction House was a magnificent theatre with intricate designs all over. The main doors were over 4 meters in height and were made from petrified wood with carved designs on it. Compared to the naturalistic and elegant designs that I saw in the Elf Kingdom, this was more complicated and grand. It was in the shape of a half-cylinder with detailed stone sculptures of different weapons as supports.
We arrived early, so only the workers and guards were present, preparing for the event. The inside was equally, if not more stunning. The front door opened to a path that stretched out to a stage on the other end. To our left and right, there were rows of escalating seats made from a rather luxurious burgundy leather that could fit over ten thousand people comfortably. Upon looking up, I noticed that there were incased booths at the very top of the rows of seats and even higher, there was a single room attached to the ceiling and back wall with glass surrounding it, giving a clear view of the stage. It was easy to guess that those booths, as well as the single room, was for the VIP.
Turns out, that VIP room on the ceiling was the room we'd be seated in. Father and the Twin Horns, who had decided to help my father and the guards to prepare for any unwanted commotions or outbreaks, were the first to separate from us. Vincent separated from us after as he barked out orders at the workers and readied the hosts to greet the more important guests.
Tabitha led us to the room, making us comfortable inside the carefully-designed and furnished area that was meant for only the most distinguished and wealthy guests. There was a wine rack and a few reclining seats and tables with closer seats by the window. I made myself comfortable on a seat closest to the window.
The auction house was soon a panorama of cheerful and excited noise, as more and more people, who were no doubt people of some sort of influence, began filling the lower seats. There were some groups that seemed more distinguished than the rest who were personally escorted by the hosts to their booths. No doubt, they were some of the more affluent nobles in the Kingdom.
Growing bored of the hordes of overdressed nobles chatting eagerly amongst themselves, I shifted my attention to Lilia as she was teaching some sort of clapping game to Ellie. I couldn't help but smile myself as the both of them broke into a fit of giggles when either of them messed up and were flicked gently in the ear as punishment.
Time passed by rather slowly until Vincent came back, leading a group of unfamiliar people inside.
The first to come in behind Vincent was an elderly man with long, deep-red hair that was aged with streaks of grey. His back was ramrod straight with broad shoulders that took off years in his appearance. The man's eyes were stern with harsh, sword-shaped eyebrows, giving him an undeniably eye-catching presence. He was wearing a red robe lined with white fur around the collar and had a cane that shined brighter than any silver I had previously seen. Trailing closely behind him was a lady that looked a few years older than my mother. While my mother had a lovely, sweet, friendly ambience, this lady's facial features reminded me of an ice sculpture; refined, elegant, noble and of no flaws, but also cold and devoid of emotion. She was wearing a shimmering silvery-white dress that complimented her dark blue hair that draped over her shoulders like a well-kept tapestry.
Behind the lady of whom I assumed was the man's wife were two younger kids that could only be their kin. The older child, a boy that looked to be about the age of thirteen or so, took more after his father. With his serious brown eyes, straight brows, and his short mahogany hair that had a shiny luster just like his father's, it was apparent as to what he would look like a few decades down the road. Despite his fierce looks, however, there was a sort of unrefined charisma that was different from his father's. It was the sort of charisma that would make him the center of any group.
The younger one, a girl that looked to be about my age, surveyed the room carefully before locking eyes with me.
It would still be a couple of years until she started maturing, but needless to say, the potential was there. I couldn't help comparing her to Tess. They would both grow to be captivating to the men around them, but in very different ways. Tess was the lovely girl next door, with her comforting almond-shaped eyes that glowed a bright teal. Her peaches and cream complexion and rosy cheeks. Her unique, gunmetal hair complimented her eyes, giving her a mysterious, yet approachable aura.
No, this girl was the complete opposite. Her porcelain white complexion was a canvas for her meticulously carved facial features. Her penetratingly sharp eyes that seemed much too mature for her age was a dark brown shade that appeared larger because of her long, thick lashes. Her hair was a glaring black, which she got from her mother. Compared to her dark hair and eyes, however, her small lips were covered in a soft pink shade that gave life to her doll-like appearance.
It was hard not to wonder how they would grow up to be; whether mother nature would make them bloom or wither.
Peeling my eyes off of the girl in front of me, I focused on the three guards that followed after the picturesque family.
"I didn't know we would be in here with guests, Vincent," the man said, neither harshly nor kindly.
"I apologize, Your Majesty! I assumed you wouldn't mind having a few other people with you. You remember my wife, Tabitha, right? Well, these are our close family friends," he introduced, waving his arm in our direction.
After regarding us for a moment, his lips curled up into a smile. "If they are your friends, Vincent, then they are mine as well."
"It's a pleasure to meet you. At least we'll have some company besides these guards," the lady giggled.
I raised an eyebrow in surprise at the sharp contrast in the woman's personality to her appearance. She seemed much more welcoming, despite her intimidating looks, than her husband.
"Everyone, as you all may know, I'd like you all to meet the King and Queen of Sapin. Introduce yourselves to King Blaine Glayder and Queen Priscilla Glayder and their children, Curtis and Kathyln."
At this, my mother—who was holding my sister—Tabitha, and even Lilia, dropped down, genuflecting. I caught on and lowered myself a moment later as well.
Giving us a nod, the King gestured for us to stand. "No more of this, now. No need to be stiff, we're just here for the auction, after all."
As I got back up, Sylvie peeked her head out from under my robe where she was sleeping, surveying curiously the new faces.
"Kuu?" she chirped, tilting her head.
I thought I heard a gasp from one of the guards in the rear, but I wasn't able to tell since their faces were covered.
"Oh my! What a cute little mana beast!" Queen Priscilla's face brightened up at the sight as she made her way towards me.
The King and the two children's eyes looked towards my direction as well.
The guards took a step forward as well, making sure they were close enough to react in case something happened to the Queen.
"She just hatched a few months ago. Her name is Sylvie. Come out and say hello," I responded.
"Kyu~!" she cooed while hopping out of my robe and stretching her body like a cat.
"I assume this little mana beast is your bond, young man?" The King came closer, kneeling down to get a closer view of Sylvie.
I just gave a wordless nod. It should be fine with Sylv's appearance the way it is. "How fortunate you are to have a mana beast. Even infant ones are not easy to tame, yet she looks to be very obedient."
"Well we're able to communicate mentally, so it's more like a mutual agreement rather than obedience," I simply shrugged.
"What? You mean to say that you are under an Equals Contract?"
We all turned our heads to face the source of the voice. It was one of the hooded guards behind the children.
Damn, did I say something I wasn't supposed to?
"Umm, I'm not sure what that is, but she was the one that initiated the contract, so I think so?" I shrugged, hoping to switch topic.
Was it that big of a deal who formed the contract?
"Let me take a closer look at your bond!" the hooded guard exclaimed, creeping closer to us.
Before I could decline, the King stepped in.
"This isn't the time nor place to study someone else's pet. You're being rude, Sebastian." His gaze turned harsh as he rebuked him.
"My apologies…" he said, hoping I'd complete the sentence.
"Arthur. Arthur Leywin," I finished, giving a curt bow. As he and his wife gave me a small smile, we took our seats in time to hear the clear voice declaring that the auction would start soon.
A cold shiver made me turn back just to see Sebastian, who had taken off his hood, staring intently at Sylvie, who was nestled on my lap.