As always don't forget to rate and comment. And thanks to whoever commented on the last chapter that this was better than defiance. That made Mishikail insufferable and nearly impossible to deal with haha. No, but really, you made her whole year so far (even thought we're a couple of weeks into it).
Retribution and Engagement
Over the course of the next four weeks things went pretty smoothly, as smoothly as they could considering everything. Richard was used to all of his classes by this point and had even made a small leap forward in Advance Arcane Magic. It wasn't that big that he had caught up with everyone else but it was enough that he could actively participate in the activities they did each day. He mostly had Daiya to thank for this little victory as she spent most of her time in class helping him get used to using incantations properly and separate the arcane power from his Light Magic. They were actually becoming pretty decent friends and he was happy for that.
Lisbeth had been suspended from classes for three weeks for what she had tried to do and Richard was glad to hear about that. The next time he spoke to her, which wasn't really much of a conversation because she was even more skittish around him now, he learned that she had cut herself off from her family and was going to focus on being her own person now. Her father had actually tried coming to the academy to forcibly drag her back home for disobeying his orders but the student council refused him entry and he was sent packing without so much as a hello.
Richard was still followed by packs of girls, each one trying to gain his favor, but he did his best to ignore them and relied on either Aura and Daiya to help ward them off. He found that whenever he was with one of these powerful women the girls would back off for a while and he could finally breath. There were large periods of the day where both of the women would be busy and he was left to fend for himself. During those times he would go for a walk down near the river, hide in the library, or stay in his room to avoid being caught alone out in the open by one of these packs.
He had never dealt with anything like this before and he was sure that not many men actually had. The thing was is that he didn't feel flattered by all of the attention he was receiving, not at all. In fact he loathed it quite a bit because he knew the real reason why he had become so popular with the ladies lately, and that was that all they cared about was him supposedly being a royal and being the second ranked mage in the school. They weren't after him, they were after his status and power. It had already been made pretty clear to him that if he were to conceive a child with anyone of the female mages here that child would be pretty powerful.
Richard didn't want anything to do with women who were only after him for their own gain. This thought actually surprised him one night as he lie in bed as he seemed to have forgotten that none of this should actually matter to him. He had been getting so used to his daily life now, a full month being there at the school, that he almost forgot that he didn't plan on being stuck in that world forever. It didn't matter who he got engaged to because he had four years before he really had to start worrying, since there were no pregnancies or marriages allowed while at the school. By the time any of those subjects came up he should be long gone. He hoped at least.
The first snowfall of the year came on the Monday that marked the start of his fifth week at the academy and Richard was surprised to wake up and find three inches of it had collected on the ground already. The cold weather had come on so fast and hard that the staff of the school didn't have any time to come out and clear the walkways before the first classes of the day started, and most of the students had to trudge through the cold snow on their way to their classes. It wasn't a pleasant experience but one Richard was used to. Back home his neighborhood was one of the last places to get plowed out during the winter and he often had to slog through snow and puddles of slush on his way to school.
As he walked through the halls of the first year tower he found that all people could seem to talk about was the winter tournament that was coming up in another two months. The first snow fall had made the event feel closer and the new students who had never participated in it before were very excited at the prospect. Richard couldn't understand that feeling though. Most of the students he heard talking about it had probably never been in a duel before and didn't know how hard and painful they actually were. He did though, and he honestly didn't want to go through it again if he could help it.
The problem with that was that the event was mandatory to all students at the academy and he would be forced to participate. Aura told him that all fighters were randomly drawn through lots so you could either be placed against someone in your year or the years ahead of you. That meant most of the first years probably wouldn't make it out of the first or second round. If they did get through, like he was expected to, they had to fight and fight and fight each and every day until the finals were decided. With the amount of students that attended the academy you were looking at fighting in a total of ten matches through the course of a three day event just to get to the finals. On the other side of the coin was the fact that the second and first place finishers from the event last year were given a bye directly into the semi-finals and would only have to win two matches to win the title. Didn't seem exactly fair if you asked him or any other student.
While the morning classes remained unchanged in the curriculum, the afternoon classes suddenly became more combat oriented to help prepare the students for the looming tournament. Aura taught the Advanced Arcane Magic class spells that were exclusively for attacking and confusing your enemy, while Magical Theory taught how to use your focus to deflect incoming spells and create a defense against them as well. It was all pretty interesting stuff but none of it effected Richard in any way. His strength in arcane was dismal and anything related to creating a defense against an attack with his element was redundant as he already knew how to do that.
Most days after his final class he would find somewhere warm and study or head out to a safe and secluded place where he could work on controlling his Light Magic to the best of his ability, which wasn't very efficient. He had asked Daiya and Aura for any tips they might be able to give him but found that Aura needed to study his magic more and Daiya outright refused to help him out. She, like her father, was expecting to see him in the finals of the event for some reason and she didn't want to give him an edge by helping him while also not wanting to gain any insight by seeing him practice in person. She said it wouldn't be fair for either of them. Richard didn't think it would matter though as he didn't expect to get past the first day in all honesty.
Lythia was working pretty hard herself and Richard was mildly impressed. Whenever he came up to the room they were still sharing he found her usually with her nose buried in a book and her meals untouched. She had been taking private lessons with her sister Aura and was focused more on her arcane powers over her Earth Magic. With two months before the first duel started Richard was sure that Lythia could get proficient enough to make everyone surprised and he was sure that she would actually make it further than him in the standings. She was just working so hard and she did come from a very long line of powerful mage's. All she needed was a little confidence and she should do just fine.
The two roommates rarely spoke and for the first week or so it was a pretty awkward and chilly atmosphere. As they both became accustomed to each other things settled down a little bit and they found they could tolerate one another's presence just long enough to sleep and eat breakfast before leaving for their classes. Any longer than that though would usually result in an argument that were often started and ended by Lythia. Whenever Richard asked Aura about how much longer this arrangement would last she would just tell him that the list of his potential fiancés was dwindling and to just be patient. That was easier said than done when you had to be locked up with the spawn of the devil all the times.
Always being away from his room and his private floor on the top level of the first/second year dorms, Richard had come to know a few of the other men who occupied the few levels below him that were exclusively for them. One of them in particular, a young man by the name of Karo Justice had actually offered him an invitation to use the common area on the floor he lived on to his heart's desire when he didn't want to be in his room. Richard took him up on that offer and the two of them got to know each other and Karo was probably the only male friend he had at the academy.
Most mages were discovered to have magical powers before their fifth birthdays and so the males were often treated like precious treasures from a very early age. This made most of them snobbish and entitled assholes that didn't seem to get along with very many people. While Karo had been treated the same growing up as the others he had a pretty laid back attitude and didn't seem to consider himself as anything other than just another normal student. So he and Richard were able to get a long pretty well and they often spent most nights in the common room studying together and discussing various things.
Like every other male mage at the school besides Richard, Karo already had a fiancé whom he would marry the moment he graduated. Richard had learned that Karo had become engaged when he was six years old and only met the girl he was being forced to marry when he came to the school a month ago. She was a fairly pretty girl in the third year but the two of them barely spoke and only occasionally saw one another. Apparently this was a pretty common occurrence for these kinds of couples and Richard couldn't help but get mad about it. It was one thing to be forced into marrying someone you didn't know but it was another thing entirely to live in close proximity to the person and not make some kind attempt at getting to know them better.
On a few occasions Richard had tried to convince Karo to go and speak with her on the weekends or between classes, but nothing came of it. Karo would just tell him that it wouldn't matter in the long run as they had no choice but to get married and it wouldn't happen until he graduated. Richard could think of a lot of reasons why it would matter but he kept his mouth shut as best he could and let his friend live his life the way he chose. The biggest reason for doing that though was the fact that Richard would be in a similar situation any day now and he didn't know how he was going to end up handling it. Would he take his own advice and make an attempt at getting to know the woman, or would he not bother with it and live his life how he had been up until that point? At least when it came time to find out he had a friend who was going through the same thing and would understand. Still, it kind of sucked.
The other male students Richard had to deal with on a daily basis weren't so nice to him however. Both of them were in his magic classes and one of them was actually the twin brother of Agnes, so there was no chance of them getting along even if they wanted to. Dawkins either pretended he didn't exist or would flash him dirty looks every once in a while. They had actually been paired up on a class project in Advanced Arcane Magic and neither of them did the work that was required because they couldn't get along. They both failed and Richard got a pretty stern talking to by Aura.
Nothing could be done about it though. Agnes was still extremely upset that she had lost to him in a duel and it seemed like Dawkins was nothing but a pet to his sister, someone who did whatever she said and hated whoever she hated. Richard didn't let it bother him though. He really didn't care if he got along with them or not and it seemed like he wasn't the only one. A lot of students didn't like Agnes and after that stunning defeat a month ago her credibility had dropped pretty badly. If he had the misfortune of drawing her name in the tournament coming up he was sure to be in a world of hurt as she was probably formulating a plan just to fight against him.
One cold afternoon Richard and Karo found themselves outside the academy walls by a now snowy river as wet and heavy snow fell around them. Neither of them wanted to be out there but it was forbidden to use magic in the dorms. Karo had said he would help Richard get better at using his arcane powers and figured it would be good practice for both of them. Karo was fairly weak compared to Richard and they mostly just dabbled in protective spells, taking it easy as much as possible so no one was hurt. That was the last thing they needed as what they were doing was also against school rules. To hold a mock duel you needed the supervision of a teacher and the consent of the student council. It also had to take place in the arena and neither of them wanted an audience for something as mundane as this.
After forty minutes of deflecting weak attacks away with their focuses they decided to stop as the sun was starting to go down and took shelter from the cold snow under a large tree near the edge of the river as they caught their breaths. Even though Karo was weaker in a sense, Richard found that he was just as tired as his friend because it still took a lot for him to separate his powers from one another.
'Geez, how cold does it usually get around here?' Richard asked and pulled his heavy cloak around his body.
'I have no idea,' Karo admitted, 'I'm from the south of the country where it's usually warm. This is brutal though, isn't it?'
'Yeah, no kidding. There hasn't even been snow on the ground for three days and it already feels like the middle of winter. I can't imagine what kind of conditions we'll have to fight in during the tournament.'
'I heard some people saying that it is one of the hardest things you'll have to do at this school, especially if you come across a water/ice mage. Apparently a student last year was frozen solid in a block of ice for half an hour and had to miss classes for a month afterwards.'
Richard groaned at the prospect of having the same thing done to him. He leaned gently against the body of the tree and tried not to shift too much in the cold, just in case he knocked the snow off the branches and it fell on them. Karo huddled closer to Richard than he normally would and it looked like his lips were starting to turn a faint blue as they talked. He really couldn't handle the cold at all.
'You wanna get back to the dorms and warm up by a fire?' he asked his friend and Karo nodded violently.
They hadn't taken more than a dozen steps back towards the school grounds when they saw three shadows moving through the heavy falling snow, long cloaks billowing in the frigid wind. At first Richard thought nothing of them, thinking they were just a couple of students out for a brisk walk before dinner. But as they neared he realized exactly who two of the students were and he suddenly stopped in his tracks. Dawkins and two other male students appeared out of the obscured gloom wearing stupid grins like they were up to no good.
'Ah, there you are peon,' Dawkins drawled and stopped ten feet away from where Richard and Karo stood. 'I was hoping I wouldn't have to walk too far to find you.'
'What's going on?' Karo asked.
'Was I talking to you, moron?' Dawkins snarled and his two friends guffawed like apes. 'This doesn't concern you, so why don't you run on back to your room!'
Karo looked towards Richard, an expression on his face that asked what this guys problem was. 'You two friends?'
'Hardly,' Richard answered through a tight throat.
'I thought I told you to leave!' Dawkins yelled and grabbed Karo's attention once more. 'Get out of here or we'll deal with you as well!'
'Go on, Karo,' Richard nodded, 'I've dealt with bullies like this before so I'll be fine.'
'I'm not going to leave you alone!'
'It's alright. I'll talk to you tomorrow, okay?'
Karo stood rooted where he was for a moment, looking at Richard with a hard expression. When he glanced back at the three men that had begun to spread out and block his exit he seemed to take into account that they were all fourth year students. He sighed loudly and then began to leave, giving Dawkins and his goons a wide berth in case they tried anything funny. In only a few moments the first year had disappeared into the heavy snow and Dawkins smiled triumphantly at Richard.
'What do you want?' he asked.
'To make a friendly offer,' the man sneered and Richard felt a little anger bubble up in him.
'What would that be? If you can't tell, it's pretty cold out today so I'd like to get back to my dorm soon.'
'Leave the academy,' Dawkins said bluntly and his sneer never left his face. 'You don't belong here. You know it. I know it. Everyone knows it. So why don't you just go back to whatever dirt farm you call home and live as the commoner you really are!'
'I'd watch who you're calling a commoner,' Richard remarked and took a step forward, 'as far as I know you have no title. You're just a noble with little power over others.'
'What did you just say?' Dawkins roared and whipped out a crooked wand and held it towards him. 'I suggest you take the offer and leave now! It's not like anyone will miss the abandoned son of a professor!'
More anger swelled up inside him at the low blow Dawkins had just dealt out. He moved to take another step forward but suddenly he found two more wands pointed directly at his face and he had to force himself not to raise his own focus. It wouldn't be good to start a fight he wasn't sure he could win without killing someone. But could he really just let this asshole bad mouth Aura?
'That's a good dog,' his tormentor laughed and his friends laughed as well, 'now why don't you roll over or play dead?'
'If your sister couldn't beat me then what makes you think you can?'
'Oh don't get so full of yourself. It's not like you beat her because you are stronger than her, she was just caught off guard when you suddenly pulled a tiny bit of magic from your ass. You don't have a chance of beating her in a fair duel, but you don't know what a fair duel is do you?'
'And what do you mean by that?' Richard growled and his left hand twitched slightly as he began to gather some of his magic into the bracer, just in case.
'I think you know exactly what I mean! I'm talking about that travesty of a duel with Princess Daiya! It's so easy to tell that it was staged. There's no way someone like you could ever stand toe to toe against her and live to tell about it! I've seen you two talking in and out of class like good friends and if I had to guess, I would say she helped make you look good!'
'I think you're forgetting about the other four people I fought in that same duel!'
'Am I?' Dawkins mused and brought the tip of his gnarled wand to touch his chin in a thoughtful pose. 'Then let me ask you something: was it just coincidence that all four of those other mages were her subordinates in the disciplinary committee? You're nothing but a fake and I don't think you can take even one of us on by yourself! You see, I've also figured out the secret to your magic!'
'What's that?' the larger of his friends asked and his voice sounded like nails on a chalk board. He had a large rock like face with short cropped hair and very large ears.
'Like my Earth Magic, he can't create something out of nothing. It manipulates the light around him and uses that as its power, just like how Earth Magic manipulates the ground beneath our feet. Take away the light and he's powerless! How about we test my theory? What do you say?'
Before Richard could even lift his bracer to form some kind of attack or defense he felt the ground suddenly lurch under him and he lost his balance as large rocks burst up. In less than two seconds the ground had risen up around him and formed thick walls of pure rock, closing in over top of him to create a makeshift prison cell. All light was cut out and Richard found himself plunged into absolute darkness. He couldn't even see his hand right in front of his face.
'I didn't accidentally knick you, did I?' he heard Dawkins yell from the other side of the rock wall. 'Because that would be a horrible shame.'
Richards anger flared up like a roaring fire now and he reached down deep to gather as much magic power as he could. He couldn't find any though. It wasn't that his magic was gone, it just felt so weak that every time he mentally tried to grab hold of it he found that it was like a billow of vapor rather than a raging torrent like it normally was. Even his arcane power felt weaker and all he could manage was to get a flicker to appear for a fraction of a second.
'How are you doing in there?' Dawkins called out once more and Richard could hear everyone laughing at him. 'I'm going to guess that I was right, since you haven't shattered your little cage yet! So here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to let you think over the offer I made you in peace, let you get your head on right, and then come back in the morning to check up on you. Until then try and stay warm would you?'
Dawkins voice faded out and silence rushed in on him as Richard realized the bully had done just as he had threatened; he had left Richard trapped there all alone. In a fit of pure panic and rage he began to slam his fists against the solid rock walls surrounding him, trying to smash them down as hard as he could. The only thing this action accomplished was hurting his hands badly and winding him. It was like he was trapped in a hollow rock and nothing he did could break him free from his hell.
Richard lost all sense of time as he knelt down in his prison and bundled up against the cold that was permeating through the rock walls. He still couldn't grasp at his Light Magic and his Arcane Magic wasn't strong enough to do anything at all. He tried to keep his mind clear and calm himself down but even that wasn't working. It felt like he was suffocating and he had to force himself to breath normally so he didn't hyperventilate. For as long as he could remember he had always been afraid of tight spaces and had avoided them at all costs. Being trapped in that rock was the worst possible thing he could imagine and he couldn't stop himself from crying.
He had dealt with thousands of bullies in his life but Dawkins was by far the worse. His type were always the worst ones though. They considered themselves king shits and if the attention wasn't on them they bullied the person who did have it. They were relentless and sadistic. Richard had a theory that most of them grew up to be either losers or serial killers, and he figured Dawkins would fall into the latter category. It wouldn't shock him at all if that happened. They were nothing but pricks and everyone of them deserved to have the shit kicked out of them. And if Richard got out of there he would be the one to do it. He would stand up to his tormentor for the first time in his life and make Dawkins pay for the horror he had put him through.
To keep himself sane Richard began to count, keeping track of how much time he had been in there. Seconds turned to minutes and minutes to hours, and by the time he got sick of counting he had figured that dinner had already been served and most of the students had already gone to sleep in their warm and comfortable beds. Richard knelt there in his slice of hell, unable to lie down and his stomach growling furiously. He had never felt this miserable in his entire life, not even when May had moaned another guys name during sex. This was honestly the worst moment of his life and was not something he would just forget.
A few more hours passed before anything changed. He knelt there, his legs cramping, and drenched in sweat even though he was so cold. Each breath he took just fueled the anger burning him up from the inside and all he could think about was hurting Dawkins as much as he possibly could. Suddenly the rock prison shook violently and a second later an opening the size of a door crumbled open and bluish white moonlight flooded into the dark interior.
Blinking at the sudden brightness, Richard stood up and stepped out, squinting to see who had released him. Standing ankle deep in the snow he found Lythia in front of him, dressed in her white nightgown and covered in a heavy winter cloak. Her wand that had been raised a moment ago was lowering to her side.
'You look like you've slept in the gutter,' she remarked coldly.
'How did you know I was stuck here?' he asked and his voice quivered a little bit.
'You didn't come back to the room so I looked for Karo, thinking that you'd be with him studying. He said you ran into some fourth years though and told me where you two had been.'
Richard took a deep breath and turned back to look at the rock that had been jail cell for most of the night. A few inches of snow had settled on and around it and was a testament to just how long he had been there. Just looking at the thing made him angry and in a fit of rage he raised his left hand towards it and shot a ball of light at it, disintegrating the object in an instant. He turned back to Lythia and the direction of the school, only one thing on his mind.
'Where are you going?' Lythia asked him as he angrily stalked past her and back towards the school.
'Going to get some payback,' he growled but suddenly felt a small hand around his wrist, stopping him where he was.
'Just what do you plan on doing? Attacking them while they sleep? You'll get expelled for that and how do you think that'll reflect on Aura?'
'I don't care!' he roared and ripped his arm roughly away from the smaller girl.
'I don't believe that and neither do you! Would you just stop and listen for one second! Just let it go for right now! Going after him will only get you in trouble!'
'You expect me to just let this go?! That bastard needs to pay for what he did to me!'
'You're right, he does need to pay for it! If he thinks he can just go and attack a member of our family and get away with it then he is dead wrong! But you have to know the right time and place to get your revenge! Don't just attack him like some thug! Do it where everyone is watching and where he will feel the most shame!'
'And where is that huh?'
'The tournament! The entire kingdom follows what happens there and they will all know when you kick his ass! When he loses to you there you will hurt him a whole lot more than if you did it in some random fight that no one sees!'
'Yeah, and what are the odds that I'll even see him in the tournament? If you haven't noticed, there are a lot of students that go to this stupid school!'
Lythia sighed and put her wand back into a pocket on her cloak, looking at him like he was some kind of idiot child who just wouldn't listen. It was a pretty strange feeling considering it resembled the look he usually gave her when she was in one of her moods.
'Men are treated differently when it comes to the matches. They get pitted against one another until only a few remain and then they are brought into the female bracket. Dawkins has been the strongest male at this school for the last four years so you will have plenty of opportunities to fight him one on one. What you need to do now is focus on getting stronger so when you do meet him in the tournament you can humiliate him, badly.'
Richard stared at Lythia for a long while, his anger slowly seeping away until all he felt was cold. 'You actually make a lot of sense right now,' he admitted.
'I am your aunt, remember?' she smirked slightly and they both chuckled at her statement. 'Now get back to the dorms before I report you to Coni for being out after the curfew.'
The next day during his magical portion of classes he sat down in his usual seat between Daiya and Coni, wondering where he would end up sitting after the tournament. He and Coni were on fairly decent terms now that she had forgotten how they had first met and she had accepted that they were family (even if they actually weren't), and he and Daiya were getting on well too. He would probably be at the very front of the class in two months time and he would rarely get any time to talk with the super busy number one student. The class was filled with some of the strongest students that attended and he didn't figure he was quite on their level yet.
Daiya came into class a little later than she normally did and took her seat quietly, looking at Richard like there was something stuck on his face. He looked at her expecting to find the usual smile she gave him each day but found her lips were in a hard line across her beautiful face, a cold edge around her eyes as she stared at him intently.
'Is something wrong?' he asked in a whisper so only she could hear.
'Do you want to tell me what happened last night?' she asked. Her voice was just as hard as her appearance and she folded her hands neatly on the desk, looking more like a professor than a student in that moment.
'What do you mean?' he asked and tried to sound innocent.
'I know you were attacked last night by a few other students.'
'Ugh, did Lythia tell you or something?' he groaned and once again wished the little nuisance in his room would just disappear.
'No, but it doesn't surprise me to hear that she was involved. I overheard one of them bragging about it over breakfast, how they caught you outside of the school walls and used their magic against you. Hearing idle chatter like that isn't enough to go after them, so just tell me what happened and I will make sure something is done about the ones who attacked you.'
'Don't worry about it,' he answered quickly and turned back to the front of the class, waiting for Aura to arrive. She was usually there by now so it was a little strange.
'And why exactly shouldn't I worry about it? I am the head of the disciplinary committee and your friend!'
'You don't have to worry because I have it under control. I'm not going to talk about what happened because I don't want him to get into trouble.'
As if he had super hearing, Dawkins turned in his seat and peered up at him with a wide and stupid smile. He winked at Richard briefly and then turned back around. Daiya seemed to have seen what happened because she started to get to her feet but Richard placed a hand on her wrist gently and shook his head.
'Why don't you want them to get into trouble? It's against the rules to use your magic on another student unless it's in a duel! You could have been hurt!' she glowered at him but he just smiled up at her. He had spent most of the previous night going over what he wanted to do to Dawkins in his mind so he was pretty calm about what had happened now.
'I don't want him to get into trouble because I want to meet him in the tournament,' he answered smoothly and suddenly Daiya looked at him differently. She sat back down in her chair and peered at him thoughtfully for a few minutes. 'I know it's your job to keep peace in the school and that you're also just trying to help me, but I can honestly handle this on my own. He'll pay for what he did but he'll do it on a large stage in front of everyone. You probably think that's stupid huh?'
Daiya was silent for a minute and Richard grimaced at her, expecting that he had made her mad by not going through the proper steps when something against the rules happened. 'No,' she answered after a minute and her smile was back, 'I don't think it's stupid. I think it's admirable actually. Sometimes you have to stand up for yourself and do what needs to be done and I'm glad you see it that way too. Besides, from what I overheard they, were pretty nasty to you. Don't hold back on him like you did me though. The protective barrier can handle anything you throw at it so crush him.'
Richard looked at her in puzzlement. This was someone who was supposed to stand for justice and morals, yet here she was telling him to lay a beat down on another student. Even if it was in a duel it was still a pretty strange stance for her to take. 'I never expected you to say that.'
'He's an entitled little prick,' she answered with a smile, 'and has never once shown proper respect to people above his station. I think it's about time someone taught him a lesson, so destroy him for everyone he's looked down on.'
Richard smiled at his friend and nodded, glad that the powerful Princess Daiya was in his corner and not against him. Then again, if she was against his plan there wasn't much she could do about it. The student council and disciplinary committee had been told that any matters regarding him were to be handled by the faculty instead of them, because some members from both sides were his potential fiancé's and the professors thought that would influence matters pertaining to him. So the best she could do was tell one of the teachers and hope something was done with no evidence.
The class continued to wait for their teacher in relative silence, but as the bell toll that signaled the start of class rang through the grounds Aura still hadn't shown up. It was a full five minutes after that when the door opened and an unfamiliar professor walked into the room. She looked a little older than Aura did and had shoulder length black hair with thick glasses covering her eyes. She walked up to Aura's desk on the bottom level and placed her bag on top of it before turning to the class.
'Professor Proud was called to the capital at the last minute and will be unable to teach this class today. I am Professor Middles and I will fill in for her. Because this was so sudden I haven't had the chance to find out what you are all working on at the moment so instead we will go over some review. If you have any questions then please don't hesitate to ask.'
'Did you know anything about this?' Coni leaned in and asked.
'No, I haven't seen her since yesterday. I wonder if the Queen asked to see her or something,' he answered and saw the same baffled expression in the older girls face that was sure to be on his.
'Before we begin I was asked to pass on a message to a few students. When classes are finished for the day, Lady Proud and Princess Daiya are asked to report to the headmaster immediately. Now, let's begin by going over the transference properties of a channeled arcane spell. Can anyone tell me what this means?'
Richard tuned out the professors questions and instead turned back and forth to look at both Daiya and Coni. Each of them were looking at one another, quizzical looks on their faces as they didn't seem to know why they were being called out by the headmaster as well. They were both part of the student government so maybe it had to do with something like that. But still, for them to be called out by name was a little strange as the student government was a separate entity and ran under their own power.
When classes ended for him Richard returned to his room to rest a while before Lythia got back from her last class of the day. This was the only time he got his room all to himself and he cherished it. Being able to change without warning anyone, slouch all he wanted, and take care of whatever other needs his body had made him feel more human and he didn't have to worry about someone looking at him like he was strange. Sadly it didn't last nearly as long as he would have liked it to, but at least he got some alone time. A little was better than none at all.
When Lythia did arrive back at the room he planned on going to the library or maybe down to the dining hall so he could get a light snack before dinner, but it seemed his 'aunt' had other ideas. She tossed her bag on the floor near the door and told him they were going out for a bit and to dress warmly. At first he refused to go anywhere with her but once she started getting bitchy he gave in and did whatever she wanted, just so she would shut the hell up. He really didn't want to deal with that crap right now.
Ten minutes later they found themselves in a small clearing just inside the forest outside of school grounds and both Karo and Lisbeth were standing there waiting for them. They were both huddled behind a tree trying to stay out of the freezing wind and Karo's lips were already a nasty shade of blue. Richard didn't think he would last much longer, even if he was wearing two heavy cloaks.
'What's going on here?' he asked and it was Lythia who answered.
'Practice,' she answered and moved further into the clearing and pulled out her wand. 'We're all going to practice for the tournament together. We can get used to actual combat and the cold at the same time.'
'Seriously?' he asked and looked at the small blonde girl skeptically. 'You just decided out of the goodness of your heart to hold a training session for us for no other reason than helping out?'
'Not at all. I thought this would be good for me to practice some new things I have been working on. It also doesn't hurt that the rest of you get some experience too. There's only so much you can read, the rest you need to figure out in a real situation.'
'Umm... isn't this against the rules?' Lisbeth asked and shook from head to toe in the cold.
'Nah, don't worry about it. Richard and I have done this a few times and have never been caught,' Karo smiled but his teeth were chattering so badly that Richard could hear it from a few feet away.
'Alright, we'll break into two groups and practice parrying spells. Lisbeth and Karo will be one pair and Richard and I will be the other,' Lythia explained and for a moment she almost sounded like her older sister Aura. 'Use the weakest attack spells you know. If someone gets hurt we'll all get in trouble.'
They broke into their assigned pairs and began to hurl weak spells back and forth. Richard stuck with using his arcane magic for attacks, sending a small ball of energy at Lythia while she flicked it away over and over again. Whenever it was her turn to attack him he simply pulled up a shield and defended against it easily. He hadn't quite mastered the ability to use his focus to deflect the attack and it was counter intuitive to him, as his focus was attached directly to his arm and he was always afraid of missing the attack and getting hit in the face.
They continued to do this for an hour before they took their first break and Karo was even nice enough to use his Fire Magic to light them a toasty fire they could huddle by. It was a strange experience for most of the members standing there in such a close proximity, mostly so for Richard. To one side he had Lythia whom he hardly got along with and was usually the bane of his existence. On the other side was Lisbeth who had once tried to take his seed forcefully when her parents ordered her to. They had both moved on from that time and got along decently in class but she never came around after school hours to see him anymore. Even now she looked like she would rather be somewhere else, far away from him, and he couldn't blame her. At least they weren't alone; those were the most awkward times.
After their short rest they decided to get back to their training and continued with the same stuff they were doing before, working on their defending. Another twenty minutes later they heard the crunching of snow under someone's shoes and Coni appeared at the edge of the clearing a second later, her face red from the cold and a relieved look in her eyes. The moment they saw the student council president they immediately stopped what they were doing and didn't even bother trying to hide the fact they had been caught red handed.
'How about this, four students breaking the school rules,' she said and smirked happily, 'you do realize that illegal duels will get you a suspension, and one more for the first year girl will get her expelled because she's still on probation.'
'Coni! Look, you can let this go just once, can't you?' Lythia asked in concern and put her wand away, rushing over to her older sister. 'We're just trying to get ready for the tournament.'
'Don't worry, that's not why I'm here. I've been looking all over for you and Richard for the last half hour.'
Now it was Richard's turn to move closer to Coni as he fell into confusion. It wasn't like Coni to go out of her way to track him or Lythia down like that, so something must be going on. First Aura gets called away and then Coni and Daiya are asked to meet with the headmaster, and now this.
'What's up?' he asked not really sure he wanted to know the answer.
'You're excused from all classes tomorrow,' she said to him and then turned to her sister, 'and you will get your afternoon classes off.'
'To give you enough time to get prepared for the party that's being held at the palace. Richard is getting the whole day off so a tailor can come in and make him look presentable enough, which I'm not sure is possible.'
'Party? Why is this the first time I am hearing about it? Is that why Aura disappeared so suddenly?'
'Look, it's freezing out here and I want to get back to my room before dinner is served. But yes, there is a party and yes that is why our sister left school early today. If you want to know more come find me in my room and ask. Oh, bring your little friends if you want as well.'
Not wanting to be out in the cold anymore, Coni turned and went back the way she had come, leaving four very bewildered people behind. Before Richard could stop her, Lythia ran off after her sister and abandoned the practice session she had actually set up. All Richard and the others could do was shrug and head back together as they fought against the cold.
'Did we seriously just get invited to a royal party?' Karo asked as they approached the first/second year dorms.
'Sounds like it,' Richard answered with a shrug. Going to some big fancy party wasn't what he would call a fun evening, but then again it did get him out of all his classes tomorrow.
'This is a big deal,' Lisbeth added and there was no mistaking the excitement in her voice. She had been raised in a tiny village as the daughter of a poor farmer and his wife, so getting to see and go inside the palace would be a big deal for her. 'I need to go pick out something to wear!'
With that the eighteen year old girl rushed into the tower and disappeared up the stairs before Richard and Karo had even entered the front door. The warmth swaddled them and they both released a long and loud sigh, letting the heat warm their cold bodies.
'Want to eat dinner in front of the fire?' Karo asked and Richard nodded quickly.
'You read my mind!'
Richard and Karo spent most of the night in front of the fire in an attempt to warm them up enough so they would stop shivering. The temperature had plummeted outside and a chill air permeated the marble tower that even the roaring fires in every room on every floor had trouble fighting against. By the time they both decided to call it a night there was a heavy layer of frost on the outside of the windows and the torches that hung on the walls had a noticeably smaller flame than they usually did.
One good thing about the school and his title was that when he climbed into his bed that night he found that it had already been warmed for him and a few logs thrown onto the fire. Throughout the night the fire would be tended to so he never had to worry about it going out at any point nor did he have to get up and build it up himself. The staff were so good and so quiet that he never even heard them when they entered the room. The only way he knew they were doing their job was when he woke up and found the fire as large as it had been when he had gone to sleep.
When he did wake up that morning the sun was shining through the portion of a window that wasn't split in half by the heavy red curtain that separated Lythia's half of the room from his. The room was still cold but nothing he couldn't handle and he spent a few minutes in front of the fire just trying to warm his clothes up after putting them on. To him there was just nothing worse than wearing cold clothes right after he woke up. It was always such a shock to his system that he shivered for at least twenty minutes after doing it.
His breakfast had been brought up to him as usual and Richard was confused when there was only one tray instead of the usual two; there were two people living in that room after all. His confusion was answered quickly when he went over to Lythia's portion of the room to wake her up and found that she wasn't there and her bed looked like it hadn't been slept in. Then again he didn't remember seeing her come back to the room last night. Maybe she had spent the night with her sister, but even that was strange. The whole reason she was living in his room was because Aura said it was necessary just in case another person tried to sneak in on him in the middle of the night.
Out of habit Richard began to get ready for his first class of the day only to remember after he was finished that he had been excused from them. He was basically getting a three day weekend which was very nice. He could use some time to wind down and recharge. He was quickly reminded about the fact that he was going to be attending some big royal shindig when there was a loud knock on his door and a whole team of people let themselves in. Most of them were well dressed men with frilly facial hair but a few women also brought in material for clothing and sewing, turning his room into a virtual sweat shop in a matter of seconds.
'What' going on?' Richard asked a more well dressed man he pegged as the leader of the group.
'We're here to make your dress suit for this evening,' he answered matter-of-factly and before Richard could say anything else he was swept up in a whirlwind of motion and fabrics.
For the better part of the next six hours he was measured, re-measured, pricked by pins and needles, measured some more, told to stand for unbearable amounts of time, pricked some more, told his posture was horrible, and measured and pricked some more. The men and women around him made him an elegant and expensive looking dinner suit out of thin air and everything was done on sight. It was amazing to watch them work actually and before then Richard had no idea how much work and effort went into making a high class tailored suit.
Sometime after lunch, which was eaten standing up, Karo came up to his room and watched in interest as Richard was repeatedly turned into a pin cushion, a big grin on his face the whole time. His friend already had a suit so he didn't need to go through this, which was kind of a bummer. It wouldn't have been so bad if Richard knew he wasn't the only one going through all this torment for some stupid party he couldn't care less about. By the time the suit was finished and he did the final fitting it felt like he was more holes than anything else and his body ached horribly.
The suit and labor had already been paid for so once they were done the tailors quickly packed up and bowed to him before leaving. Richard thought he was going to get some time to relax then and was keen to get to dinner which would be served in a few hours time, but according to Karo who, suddenly seemed to know more than him, the party was soon and they would have to go down and get in a carriage before dinner was served. This did not sit well with him as his lunch had been nothing more than a bread roll and some vegetables that wouldn't stain if he dropped them onto his suit. He was starving and now he was staring down a long journey to the capital with no chance of getting any food.
Lythia, Coni, and Lisbeth had already left the school grounds ten minutes ahead of them so Richard and Karo had a large and very luxurious carriage all to themselves. Even though it was a lavish carriage the ride was still miserable as the large and thin wheels travelled over the snow and ice covered roads that led to the capital. If Richard hadn't been injured enough having his suit made then the trip made up for that and only half an hour into it he felt more bruised then he ever had before. Even Karo seemed to have problems with the journey as he braced himself as best he could against the wall to stop himself from bouncing up and down. Over a rather large bump he actually ended up hitting his head on the ornate roof of the carriage and swore loudly.
They arrived at the palace an hour later than the trip would normally take and the sun had already hidden behind the horizon, swathing the capital city in inky darkness that was blotted out by torch fire everywhere you looked. The carriage door was opened by regal looking guards at the palace's entrance and Richard and Karo disembarked quickly and shook out their legs that had grown sore from no use in over two hours.
'Wow,' Karo breathed as he looked upon the palace for the first time and Richard wondered if he had sounded that surprised when he had first seen the academy.
'Wait until you see the inside,' he laughed gently and the two men walked up the white marble steps to the massive double doors.
Once inside they were quickly greeted by a man dressed in butler attire and lead to a small room deep inside the palace where they would be able to get a small snack and something to drink. Richard had expected to find the girls there waiting for them to arrive but he found the room empty save for a few maids who moved back and forth between a few tables with food. In fact, it seemed pretty strange that for a royal party they were the only people who seemed to have arrived so far. They couldn't be early, could they?
'Where is everyone?' Karo asked as he seemed to have noticed the same thing.
'I have no idea. It's kind of creepy...'
They both stood there and waited for a few minutes, but when no one came into the room they decided to at least get something to eat and began to peruse through the spread that had been put out. There were quite a few items that Richard had never seen before and he tried a few, but nothing seemed to sit right with him. The longer they were in that room alone the more it seemed to him that it was for a reason. It almost felt like they had been separated from the rest of the party.
This was confirmed when Aura entered the room ten minutes later and closed the doors tightly behind her, a small smile on her face and dressed in a long powder blue dress that hung and clung to her body perfectly. Her hair was done up in a very elegant style he could never hope to understand, he only knew that it looked amazing and she was the picture of beauty.
'How was the trip?' she asked happily and moved into the room, pulling him into a quick hug before greeting Karo with a nod of the head. 'Your suit looks good. The Queen picked the perfect tailors it seems.'
'What's going on here?' Richard asked as his curiosity was getting the better of him. 'Where is everyone else? Lythia, Coni, Lisbeth? Hell, where is Reiea, I never would have expected to make a trip to the palace and not have her trying to tackle hug me.'
'You'll see them soon enough,' Aura assured him and then looked towards Karo, 'we should get this young man to the party first though.'
'Aura...' he began to say but then remembered the company around him, 'mother, what is this all about? Why am I being kept away from everyone else?'
'I think this is a Presentation Party,' Karo mused, 'where you'll be presented to the royal court and nobles officially.'
Aura sighed and took a step away from Richard, her smile faltering for a second. 'Not quite. This is an engagement party. Queen Lystia wanted to keep this a secret until we brought you out for some reason, but I guess it's alright you know now. The final decision on who you will marry was made and this is the party to celebrate when you two first meet as an engaged couple.'
'W... who is it?' Richard asked and his voice cracked slightly. He knew this day was coming but it appeared he wasn't quite prepared for it. The most pressing question on his mind was that he wondered if he knew who the girl was. He had met quite a few interesting women at the academy but he had never been given any of the names that were on the list. Well, besides Lisbeth who had been cut on the first day.
'That I cannot tell you. Now come, Karo, I'll take you to join the rest of the party.'
Karo looked at his friend for a moment and then followed Aura towards the door, their steps echoing off the marble floors. 'Wait!' Richard called out when they had reached the doors leading back to the main hall, 'Can... can Karo stay? I could use someone my age around while we wait.'
Aura looked at him thoughtfully for a moment but then nodded, a small smile creeping back on to her beautiful face once more. 'Very well. As long as he agrees to enter a few minutes ahead of us. You and I are the meant to be one of the last two groups to enter, the other being your fiancé.'
'I can manage that,' the dirty blonde noble beamed and then went back to picking at the spread of food that had now been confirmed to have been put out just for them.
'Thanks, mother. Anyways, why can't I know who it is? Aren't I going to meet her in a few minutes anyways? Is this how things are normally done?'
'Pretty much,' Karo answered before Aura could, 'I didn't even know the name of my fiancé until three years ago and I didn't meet her until I went to the academy.'
'One thing you must keep in mind, Richard, is that you are from a royal family and as such things will be a little different from now on. There are rules and traditions that must be observed and this is one of them. You won't get to see who your fiancé is until the ceremony has begun.'
'Ceremony?! I thought this was just an engagement party!' Richard shrieked before he could stop himself and take a moment to think things over.
'Not a marriage ceremony, you're both still at the academy after all,' Aura laughed and Karo guffawed through a mouth full of food. For someone who was a noble and had been for his entire life, Karo sure could act like an idiot. 'The ceremony is just to officially announce the intent of both families involved and seal the pact. There is nothing to worry about.'
Richard sighed heavily and pressed up against a table full of strange looking foods. He tried to calm his racing heart and get control of his warring emotions as everything was being thrown on top of him all at once. It would have been nice if he could have learned about the real reason behind this party before hand, but it seemed the Queen was up to her usual antics. He was a little glad that he wasn't actually related to her by blood. That would be just too much for him to handle.
He had been starving before but now that he had all this food in front of him he couldn't bring himself to eat any of it. He had lost his appetite. All he could do was busy himself with a drink of some cool mint flavored juice that helped to cool down his overheating body. Aura had found a seat at a couch and was resting comfortably while the two younger men stood there in silence, this big weight hanging over the room.
Feeling that his legs would give out any moment and wanting to talk with Aura for a minute in quiet, Richard walked over and sat down next to her, close enough so that if he whispered she would be able to hear him. He opened his mouth to say something but his words were lost as he was overcome with a small fit of panic. Thankfully Aura spoke up.
'Is it odd that I feel like a real nervous mother?' she asked in a low voice and Richard couldn't help but chuckle softly.
'Well at least you won't have to fake it,' he replied with a tentative smile.
'We may not be related by blood but I have come to think of you as a member of my family, Richard. So I just want you to know that I will be with you every step of the way when we get to the ballroom, right at your side. I'm proud of you.'
'Thanks... I think. I still can't help but feel this is mean to the girl. I mean what if I get sent home next week?'
'You let me and Lystia worry about that, okay? All you have to do is keep holding your head high and having fun at the academy. Everything else will be taken care of for you. I promise.'
Richard smiled at the woman and hugged her gently for a moment. He almost let himself imagine that she really was his mother and the feeling of pleasure he got from sharing a hug with a mother figure was something he had never experienced before. His real mother hated his guts and the only time she would ever touch him was when she hit him in anger. Aura was right though, they may not be related by blood but it felt like they were family and he liked that.
'Okay,' Aura said after the hug ended and she stood up and smoothed out her gorgeous dress, 'It's time. Just take a deep breath and follow my lead. You'll do fine.'
Realizing this was his cue to leave ahead of them, Karo came over and patted Richard on the shoulder for a second before saying: 'I'll see you out there. And once you see how beautiful I am sure she will be we'll celebrate your engagement with a glass of wine.'
With that his friend moved to the door and left, leaving it open for them. Richard took as deep of a breath as he could and then began to walk towards the open door. Aura walked to his side and thread her arm with his, giving him both support and pulling him along as he was walking slower than was normal. He couldn't believe he was getting so worked up about all of this. It's not like he would actually be marrying this woman, so what was the big deal?
The long walk through the sparkling white halls of the palace was quiet and lonely. Just Richard and Aura walked the halls and they didn't see so much as a maid or attendant. It was an eerie feeling and one Richard wasn't comfortable with. He was led through a maze of similar halls, his dress shoes and her heels clacking noisily off the smooth hard floor that shined in the brilliant torch light. After what felt like an hour they came to a corridor that lead to a set of large doors at the very end, chandeliers hanging from the ceiling high above them.
As they approached the massive gilded double doors opened inwards, seemingly on their own. As soon as it cracked open even slightly the sound of soft live music being played on stringed instruments filled the hall and a dazzling light crept out, almost blinding Richard who had to hold a hand over his eyes just to see where he was walking. Aura simply smiled at him and nudged him forward until they were walking through the still opening doors.
'Presenting, Daughter of Arcane and Honorable Professor at the Majou Academy for Magic, Lady Aura Proud!' a loud voice called out as someone banged a heavy stick into the hard floor. 'Presenting, Wielder of Light Magic and First Year Student at the Majou Academy, Lord Richard Proud!'
There was a round of applause as he and Aura stepped into the large and well lit room. Well dressed men and women stood as far as the eye could see and Richard could see his friends Karo and Lisbeth standing off to one side with Coni and Lythia. Both of his 'aunts' looked absolutely stunning but that was something he would never say out loud in front of them. There were a few other faces he recognized from the school but most of them were fourth years and from his two magic classes. Standing off to one corner and away from most of the party were two people he hadn't wanted to see; Agnes and her twin brother Dawkins.
'Just tell me it's not Agnes,' he whispered under his breath when their eyes met. Aura just chuckled silently and continued to lead him further into the room as people began to crowd in around them with smiling faces.
Richard thought they were going to mingle with the guests for a little bit but Aura continued to keep him moving as the crowd parted in front of them. When they came to the other end of the room Richard found a raised dais gilded in gold with an older man standing on top of it. He was dressed in long flowing white robes trimmed in gold and held a large golden staff with a star on top of it. Richard assumed he was the head of this worlds church and he seemed to ooze power and confidence. Standing in front of the man in a frilly red dress was a small girl with her back to him, her long cinnamon brown hair flowing down her small back. For a moment Richard thought it was Princess Reiea but this girl looked too young to be her. That's when a sickening thought struck him.
'Oh god!' he hissed into Aura's ear harshly, 'She is way too young!'
'That's her younger sister!' she hissed back but there was a soft laugh on her lips. 'But I'm glad that you reacted that way to a nine year old girl. Remember, deep breaths.'
They stepped onto the platform and Aura retrieved her arm from Richard, holding it out and bowing slightly as she greeted the religious looking man who smiled pleasantly at her. He took her hand and placed a quick kiss on the back of her palm before bowing his head in respect. 'It's good to see you again, Lady Proud.'
'And you, Arch-Bishop. How was your meditation period?' Aura responded and took a small step back.
'Enlightening. The whispers of the world are so refreshing when you take a moment to listen.'
'I'm looking forward to hearing all about it later this evening. I'd like to formally introduce you to my son, Richard. Richard, this is Arch-Bishop Ragno. He's the head of the Alysian Church and will be overseeing your engagement.'
'It's an honor to meet you,' Richard said politely and bent at the waist a bit.
'No my child, the honor is all mine. If anyone should be bowing it is me,' Arch-Bishop Ragno said joyfully and his face was cracked by a wide and almost giddy smile. 'To think I would live to see one who can control the light. Did you know, it is written in our holiest book that the wielder of light would come one day when we had the greatest need for him. That he is called the right hand of God, the spear that protects and attacks.'
'I... I just manipulate light around me,' Richard answered sheepishly. He was by no means a religious person and the fact that this was a religion he knew nothing about made it harder for him to buy into what this man was saying. 'If there's no light then I have no power. Not exactly a great weapon, is it?'
'My, he's humble almost to a fault,' he said with a wide smile and looked towards Aura, 'You have a fine son my dear. God smiles upon you and your family.'
'Thank you, your grace. We have been blessed.'
Arch-Bishop Ragno smiled softly and then looked back towards Richard who was fidgeting where he stood, a nervous look in his eyes. The elderly man reached out a hand and gently placed it on his shoulder, squeezing it softly with a knowing smile.
'Do not be nervous, child,' he said in a low whisper, 'it's just a small little ceremony to announce everyone's intentions. A little talking, a bit of magic and then it's over. Just consider this a taste of the real event. A little walk through if you would.'
Richard knew the man was just trying to help him clam down but his words didn't help one bit. Many different thoughts were running through his head and it was hard to stop fidgeting long enough to even smile in return. What if he didn't get to go home and he was stuck in this world for the rest of his life? Would he be able to marry someone he might not even like? What if he did get to go home but it wasn't for a few years and he did marry her? Would he be allowed to then? What if he didn't want to go back home? What would his life be like here? Being Aura's fake son he was considered to be third in line for the throne if Daiya didn't have a child. Would they actually expect him to take the throne? No, that couldn't actually happen. Could it? Did he want it to happen?
As all these thoughts ravaged Richard's mind when the announcer by the door slammed his heavy metal stick into the ground three times and yelled out; 'Presenting, Her Royal Majesty of Alysia, Queen Lystia and the Crown Princess Reiea!'
The doors swung open slowly and the Queen and Princess walked slowly into the room, each wearing large billowing dresses with twinkling tiara's on their heads. Both women looked beautiful and the air that surrounded them was almost palpable. Richard knew they were royal but they never gave off that impression until that moment. Their heads were held high, their backs straight, and every step they took looked like it had been choreographed. It was an almost magical experience seeing them walk into the room.
'Here we go,' Aura whispered into his ear with a slight grin in her voice. A moment later the announcer at the door banged his staff into the ground three more times to gather everyone's attention as the Queen and Princess had stopped a few feet in front of the door.
'Presenting Queen Lystia's honored guests, King Dycoz of Elothia, and Daughter of Fire, Number One Ranked Student at the Majou Academy for Magic, Crown Princess Daiya of Elothia!'
Richard's world shattered under his feet and his legs threatened to dump him on the floor. For a brief moment he wondered if Daiya and her father were here just as the Queen's guests and actually had nothing to do with what was going on, but the way the crowd reacted and the wink he was getting from Karo told Richard that he was wrong. A mix of emotions ran though his heart and mind in that moment and he was surprised to find that most of them weren't good emotions. He felt like he had been lied to and misled. But that was exactly the case here.
A moment after they were introduced Richard caught sight of a towering man moving into the room behind the Queen, his white topknot adorned with colorful feathers and a serious look on his scarred face. Daiya appeared behind Reiea and Richard knew she was a stunning sight to behold, with her long cinnamon hair flowing over her tanned and toned shoulders and a light smattering of makeup over her gorgeous face that looked nervous. She was wearing a long white gown that glimmered in the dazzling light of the room and swept across the floor, hiding her feet from view. Richard knew she was beautiful be couldn't see her in that way right now. He felt betrayed just looking at her.
The royal procession began once again and all four royals began to walk through the parted crowd as people bowed to them. Richard thought his walk through the crowd had taken forever but it was nothing compared to how long it seemed to take them. He could feel his knees shaking with each step they took towards him and he was having a hard time keeping his face neutral. All he wanted to do in that moment was run from the room and never see any of these people again. He didn't blame Aura, she had already told him the final decision was the Queens. So it was Queen Lystia and Daiya he was upset with right now. How could the Queen have done something so idiotic?
After what felt like an entire night the Queen and Reiea were standing in front of him. While the Queen smiled at him and Aura happily, Richard noticed that Reiea looked put out and she was looking away from everyone else, a sour look on her face. As he was noticing these things he felt a hand on his back and looked over to find Aura bowing low to them, admonishing him for not doing the same. So he quickly bent stiffly at the hips and showed the respect that was expected, even if he didn't feel like it.
Queen Lystia nodded briefly and then stepped onto the dais with her daughter hot on her heels, moving to stand next to the Arch-Bishop who also bowed his head towards them. King Dycoz and Princess Daiya moved forward now and once more Richard and Aura had to bow in their presence, something he wasn't used to doing with his classmate. He followed through with it but averted his gaze from Daiya the entire time, knowing that if he looked at her face right now he would only get more mad. This was honestly a waking nightmare for him.
Daiya and her father stepped onto the platform and turned to face Richard and Aura. The crowd that gathered in the ballroom quietly moved closer to the dais and Richard could feel all their eyes on them, misplaced smiles filling almost every face present. He did his best to shrug them off but he could still feel the weight of the moment on his shoulders. He was starting to sweat a bit in his dress suit and if he didn't get some fresh air soon he might just throw up all over the Dark Elf King and Princess.
'We have congregated her this day to witness the Proud family and the ruling Monarch of Elothia announce their intentions regarding the marriage rights of Lord Proud and Princess Daiya,' the Arch-Bishop announced and his voice was surprisingly loud. 'Both families have agreed to this arrangement and wish to publicly announce this decision here tonight. If you would, Lady Proud.'
Aura took a step forward so she was a few inches ahead of Richard, her head high and an air of power surrounding her as she had been raised in this environment her entire life. 'I, Lady Aura Proud, give my only son as an offering between two noble families and two great nations. As the head of my family I consent to the marriage of my own blood, Lord Richard Proud to Princess Daiya.'
With her little speech finished she stepped back to stand shoulder to shoulder with Richard and nudge him gently with a soft smile that was totally lost on him. Arch-Bishop raised the hand closest to him and Aura and it began to glow purple, like he was gathering Arcane Magic into it. A second later King Dycoz stepped forward and looked Richard dead in the eyes, his powerful presence threatening to crush him where he stood.
'I, King Dycoz of Elothia, give my eldest daughter and successor to my throne as an offering between two noble families and two great nations. As the head of my family I consent to the marriage of my own blood, Princess Daiya to Lord Proud.'
As the imposing king stepped back to stand beside his daughter the Arch-Bishop raised his other hand and it also began to glow with purple light. Richard had no idea what was going on anymore but he had heard the holy man mention something about magic being involved, so this must have been what he was talking about.
'The heads of both families have consented to the joining of their bloodlines!' the man called out and held both of his glowing hands over his head. 'With their declaration we must now seal their promise in the flesh of their children. Princess Daiya, Lord Proud, please turn to face me and take a step closer. Lord Proud please hold out your left hand and Princess Daiya hold out your right.'
Taking a very deep breath and forcing his body to move, Richard turned to face the old man in white and held out the hand he had been asked for as Daiya did the same. When both hands were held out towards the Arch-Bishop he reached out with his glowing hands and gripped them both by the wrist. A jolt of magical power ran through Richard's body and he let out a low gasp that only a few people probably heard.
'The left hand represents the mind, while the right represents the heart. With the joining of these two the promise that has been made here will be cemented in your flesh until it has been fulfilled!' the man announced and brought the two students hands together until they were touching, Richards over the Princess'.
The moment their hands touched the purple glowing light that surrounded the Arch-Bishops own hands exploded in a ball of gold light that blinded Richard. The power he had felt being pushed into his body suddenly gathered on the back of his hand and a prickle of annoying pain burst through from that location and into his mind. When the golden light faded he looked at his hand over top of Daiya's and saw that a small insignia that glinted almost translucently had been drawn under the layers of his skin. It was a small golden crown with a dragon wrapping its tail around it, a puff of fire coming from its open maw. Richard had seen this mark before, a few times. It was the Elothian Royal Seal.
'In front of all these witnesses, God has accepted this pledge and the pact has been sealed in the children's flesh! These two families will be joined together by their children when both participants are eligible. May God watch over and guide you both in your quest of life!'
As soon as the Arch-Bishop finished speaking applause broke out in the crowd and Richard found himself being turned to face them by both Aura and Daiya. He and the Princess still held hands and she lifted them into the air, probably signifying the conclusion of the ceremony. All Richard wanted to do in that moment was let go of her hand and leave, but he doubted he would ever have that choice anymore.
They remained like this for a few moments and then finally their hands moved apart and came back to their sides as people began to climb up onto the platform and offer their congratulations. Over the next hour or so, Richard was pulled through the crowd by Aura as she had him thank important people personally for coming out to see the ceremony. He tried his best to sound and look upbeat but he was just wishing the day would end all ready. It wasn't until they came to Aura's sisters and his friends was he allowed to take a short and much needed break.
'No one can ever doubt how strong and lucky you are now that you are engaged to Princess Daiya,' Karo beamed at him. Richard didn't return the smile and only sighed in frustration. 'You don't look very happy for someone who was just bound to the strongest and most beautiful girl at school.'
'I just feel a little blindsided,' Richard admitted, 'I just wish someone had let me know what was going on before hand.'
'You'll get over the shock, sweetie,' Aura smiled at him, 'it will just take some time. Let me go get everyone a glass of wine. Coni, would you mind helping me?'
'But Richard isn't old enough for one,' the middle sister pointed out but was quickly corrected.
'Your nephew is a Lord and the future Prince of Elothia,' Aura explained, 'so I don't think anyone is going to mind if he has one glass tonight. Come on now.'
Coni groaned at being bossed around by her sister but went with her anyways, leaving Richard, Karo, Lythia, and Lisbeth standing there alone. Lythia seemed like she wasn't interested in anything that had happened and Richard was pretty sure she had known about this night before hand. Unlike her, Lisbeth was all smiles as she scanned the massive marble room around her and saw the people who ran the country. At least she seemed to be enjoying her night as she had sounded the most excited about coming here. Like Karo, this was also her first time at the palace and it must be even more of a shock to her than him. She came from a family with nothing and now she was rubbing elbows with some of the richest and most powerful families from two different nations.
'So what's the protocol here? Do I have to stay by her side all night long or something? Or can I just do whatever I want?' Richard asked after a few moments of stiff silence. A band had struck up a flowing and peaceful song somewhere off on the other side of the room and the party was in full swing now. Then again it was a party mostly full of stuffy old men and women so there was just a lot of talking going on and little else.
'It's not like you're married, Richard,' Karo answered, 'just engaged. Just look at me and my fiancé. We never see one another. But why would you want to be away from the Princess? I think that's the real question.'
'I just need some fresh air to clear my head. If my mother asks just tell her I'm on the balcony.'
Without another word Richard walked away from his two friends and the annoying fly in his life and made his way through the crowd of nobles towards the ornate doors that led outside into the cold air. The minute he was out of the increasingly stuffy room he felt instantly refreshed and he heaved a sigh of relief as the cold winter air surrounded him entirely. His brain was assaulted by a billion different thoughts and he found it nearly impossible to sort through all of them. The one that always kept coming back and haunting him was 'what the hell is going on here?'
He hadn't been alone more than a few minutes when he heard the door open behind him and the sound of music rang in his ears. It was quickly shut out a moment later as the door closed and he turned around expecting to find Aura standing there with her usual smile and words of encouragement on her lips. Instead he found the one person he didn't want to see in that moment, Daiya.
'What are you doing out here?' she asked him and Richard noticed that her voice didn't have that hard edge it normally had. It was almost the same voice she had used when they had first met and he thought he had offended her in some way.
'Thinking,' he answered briskly and turned back to gaze out over the snowy garden below him. It was almost the same view he had when he had been staying here before, only in a different wing of the palace.
Daiya remained silent for a bit and then walked up to him, coming to a stop as she leaned gently against the white stone railing that kept people from falling off. Richard could smell the faint hint of perfume coming from her skin and the heat she was radiating as the cold air tried to steal it. He still found that he couldn't forgive her though.
'What's on your mind? You seem upset,' she asked him. Richard glanced at her from the corner of his eye but he was drawn down to her right hand that was twinkling softly in the moonlight, the Proud family emblem barely visible. At the sight of that he couldn't stop himself from speaking, even though he knew he should.
'I thought we were friends, and yet you were hiding this from me. You were the only woman in the entire school who I thought was genuinely interested in being my friend because you could, not because you were pursing my damn marriage rights! Of course I'm upset! You would be too if you learned someone you thought was your friend was going around behind your back and just getting close to you because they had to!'
'Richard...' the Princess said softly but he brushed off her strange attitude. This wasn't the Daiya that everyone feared and respected at the academy.
'Please, just leave me alone for a little while. I need time to sort things out and I don't think I can get over being betrayed so easily. I'm sorry... I just...'
'I understand,' she interrupted and took a step away from the railing. 'I'll be with the guests if you want to talk.'
With one last look Daiya turned and left, going back through the door to once more join the party. Even the way she just left like that without saying a word was so unlike her that it almost seemed like she was a different person. Where was the woman who chided him for not following her instructions in class when she was trying to help him out on something that he didn't understand? Where was the head of the disciplinary committee that kept students in line at the school with just a glance? Where was the first ranked mage and the Daughter of Fire? Wherever she was, Richard hoped she reappeared soon.
'Richard,' a soft voice came from the other end of the terrace, a small body hidden in the shadows. Reiea walked out a moment later and came to stand in front of him, an odd look on her face and her hands fidgeting with her dress.
'How long have you been there?' he asked quickly as he realized he had thought he had been alone.
'Longer than you,' she answered softly and met his eyes. 'I overheard your argument with Daiya. You're not happy with this engagement either, are you?'
'No, but I don't have a choice,' he admitted bitterly and turned back to look out over the hidden garden below.
'Yes, you do. There is always a choice, you just have to see the best route for yourself.'
Without realizing how close the sixteen year old princess was getting Richard was suddenly surprised when he felt her soft small hand on top of his. Her body pressed into the side of his and she almost purred at the contact. In a flash Richard stepped away from her and looked her directly in the eyes.
'What are you doing, Reiea?'
'Showing you your other path,' she breathed and before he could stop her she stepped into him and kissed him, standing on the tips of her toes to reach his lips. It lasted for less than a second and he forcibly pushed her off and held her at arm's length in case she tried that again.
'You can't do that! What's gotten into you!'
'Run away with me,' she said and totally ignored his question. 'We can go, just the two of us, and get away from everything our parents are putting on us! Neither of us chose this life, so why do we have to do what we are told? We can go and live somewhere that no one will find us and we can grow old together!'
'Please, just say yes, Richard!' the girl cried and a few tears trickled from her eyes and rolled gently down her pale cheeks.
'Why not? I love you!'
At those words Richard snapped and his voice grew louder as he lectured the stuck up child who wailed before him. 'Get a hold of yourself! You barely know me and the only reason you think that you are in love with me is because you believe I saved your life and I just happen to be the one man you can actually touch without freaking out! Would you listen to how you sound right now? You are a Princess and you will be the Queen one day, so start acting like it! Stop being a spoiled little girl who cries when she doesn't get her way! You don't even know what love is and how do you expect me to love you back when all you do is cling to me like there was no tomorrow? Just leave me alone from now on!'
Richard turned and walked away, leaving the sobbing girl alone on the cold terrace as he entered the palace through a door that didn't lead back to the ballroom where everyone was gathered. He stalked through the empty halls, anger and regret swelling up in his mind. He shouldn't have blown up at Reiea like that; she didn't deserve it. Everything was just getting so out of control that he was losing his grip on reality and he felt lost. Now more than ever he wished he was back on his own world where none of this mattered. He didn't want to fight in the stupid tournament. He didn't want to be engaged to someone who had just become his friend to get his marriage rights. He didn't want to deal with the babyish Reiea and her crazy mother who was playing some kind of game with his life. He didn't want any of this anymore!
He walked out the main entrance and grabbed the nearest carriage, telling the driver to take him back to the academy. He never wanted to see that palace again.