“Sorry, Haru...Because of my foolish actions, I won't be able to visit you for a while…” Clover mumbled as he looked at his feet in embarrassment.
“Oh, that's fine…” Haru mumbled as she turned to face the window, but not before everyone in the room noticed the solemn look in her azure eyes. Nutmeg, who was sitting on her shoulder, took one look at her sullen master and glared at Clover.
Ah! I'm sorry Haru! I didn’t mean to upset you!
Clover shouted in his head as he saw the cute girl in front of him become morose. Just as he was about to comfort her, Maria spoke up.
“Haru, is it?” Her calm and comforting voice smoothed the air like honey, bringing Haru’s attention to her.
“I'm thrilled that you have become friends with my son. But because of his behavior, I had no choice to punish him. You understand that, right?”
“Of course…” Haru whispered as the tall blonde beauty comforted her.
“Good. In any case, don’t blame Clover for not being able to visit you. Okay?” Maria shot her a gentle smile as the young girl lifted her eyes off the floor and shot Clover a quick glance, her cheeks containing a slight red tinge.
“Well, in any case. You two can still write each other letters in the meantime…”
Haru’s previously clouded eyes became brighter as she heard this, and she proceeded to walk over to Clover. Her small feet tapped on the stone floor until she stood a few feet away from him. She nervously twiddled her thumbs as she tried to find the right words. But before she could say anything, Nutmeg flew off her shoulder and faced Clover. His snout only an inch or two from Clover's nose as he spoke up.
“Alright kid, you know where to send the letters too. Just don’t tell anyone who you're writing too since it will make things unnecessarily complicated for all of us if someone finds out. Okay?”
“Of course!” Clover asserted. Other than his parents, no one else could be allowed to find out Haru’s identity. Even he did not know why there was so much secrecy behind her name. He just assumed that she was from some noble background.
“Good!” Nutmeg snorted. “Now then...Haru, do you have anything you want to say to him?”
“Y-yes!” She stammered. “Umm...Make sure to write to me every day!” Haru began, before becoming even more jittery. “I-I mean! Only if you feel like it! I wouldn’t want to force you into it...Umm...But at least once a week would be nice…”
“Once a day is fine!” Clover blurted out in order to calm the adorable stuttering girl in front of him. In fact, he was grateful that she had brought it up first, as he was already planning on writing to her every day.
“Okay! Nutmeg can pick up and deliver the letters, that way we won’t have to bother anyone!” Haru smiled as she proclaimed this.
“Great, more work for me…” Nutmeg mumbled as he floated back to his master’s shoulder.
“Perfect! Not that that's settled, we have to return back to the Guild. It was nice to meet you, Miss Haru.” Bastille’s resounded before he left the comfy alcove with Maria in tow.
“I’ll write to you soon!” Clover grinned as he waved Haru goodbye.
“Bye!” Haru beamed back at him while Nutmeg, who was laying on Haru’s shoulder with his eyes close, blasély waved one of his small orange paws at him.
“Clover! You little player, you!” Bastille’s loud jovial voice boomed, frightening those that were nearby as they walked along the street towards the guild. “While the two of us were frightened out of our minds and worried that our little boy may never wake up, you were busy putting the moves on a cute girl!” Bastille guffawed aloud as even more pedestrians looked in their direction and stared at the large boisterous man.
“Honestly, Clover...If you did all this just to impress your girlfriend, you could’ve told us! We would have understood…” Maria grinned.
“She's not my girlfriend!” Clover blushed a bright scarlet. “Today is the first day I’ve ever met her!”
“Clover, you don’t need to lie to us!” Bastille continued. “We understand how it feels to be your age. You’re a growing boy, and your body is changing in different ways as well as experiencing emotions you’ve never felt before!”
“Your father is right, Clover. Puberty is rough for a young boy! I can understand why you would do dumb things for such a charming girl!” Maria chimed in, hardly able to contain her giggles as she smiled at him.
“Dad! Mom! I’m fourteen, I’ve been going through puberty for a couple of years now!” Clover bellowed. But as he yelled out loud, Clover noticed a group of girls around his age who were walking past, giggling and glancing at him as they heard his previous declaration. This caused him to blush brighter and glare at the ground in embarrassment.
“Haha!” Bastille laughed as he wrapped his arm around Clover and messed up his hair, causing it to stick out unevenly in places. “Expect more of this, son! This is the least you deserve after what you put your mother and I through!”
Maria beamed a pleasant smile as she gazed at the two men who occupy her life. Their jovial antics were like honey, smothering any traces of fear and concern she had let plague her heart in the past week.
The three of them continued joking around like this as they meandered their way through the crowded streets of Vanden, eventually reaching the large gates of the Seeker’s Guild.
Upon reaching the entrance, the three of them were stopped multiple times by the greetings of young Seeker’s who were either leaving or arriving from their missions. Their jubilant faces glowed with excitement as they talked with their friends and partners, enjoying their youth to the fullest.
“Clover!” A loud shout rang from the guild doors, causing Clover and his parents to turn away from their conversation with a group of Seekers.
“Sven!” Clover shouted as he ran toward his Elf-friend, the two of them colliding with one another in a large embrace.
“Are you okay?!” Sven shouted. “You gave everyone in the guild a fright when we heard about what happened! Are you still in pain? Does your arm still hurt?” Sven blurted out as he examined every inch of his friend's body.
“I’m fine!” Clover replied. Although some parts of his body were a bit sore, it was nothing that bothered him too badly.
“Damn that pretty boy! As soon as I heard what happened, I made sure to reprimand Michael for his idiotic idea!” Sven snarled. “I knew I should have stopped you from going out with them! They are far too young and inexperienced to be entrusted as bodyguards!”
“Haha…” Clover chucked awkwardly as his friend continued to rant.
I should probably mention that it was Zen’s idea in the first place. But I doubt he would care anyway…
“In any case, we should head inside to talk,” Bastille suggested. Heeding his words, the four of them headed into the Guildhall, where they saw the busy lobby full of the various races. Adlan, Azir, Elves, and even the odd Kortanji and Ga’jong filled the room to capacity as the many Seekers were eating, chatting, arriving from missions, or preparing for new ones. The strained waitresses were running back and forth from the guild kitchen, as they tried their best to satiate the hundreds of Seeker’s need for alcohol and food. As Clover looked at the overworked waitresses, a certain dark-skinned girl caught his eye.
“Maya?!” Clover exclaimed. If it was not for his friend’s signature glasses, he would never have noticed her. She was dressed in the signature Guild waitress attire, a dark blue outfit with a skirt that revealed plenty of skin. It was well known that many patrons who were not Seekers would come to the Guild to eat and drink solely to appreciate the sight of the waitresses running around in their evocative dress.
“Clover!” Maya yelled as she dropped what she was doing and ran over to him and put him in a powerful embrace. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” Maya wept as moist tears began to fall onto her cheeks.
“It's okay!” Clover said as forgave his friend while patting her on the back.
Even though I appreciate the apologies...I’m getting a little tired of the tears…
Clover thought to himself as Maya’s hot tears fell rolled onto his face. “I don’t blame you three at all!”
“No! It’s because of us that you almost died!” Maya sobbed as she said this. “We said we would protect you and make sure that you would be safe! But in the end...We couldn’t even keep one simple promise…”
A couple dozen Seekers yelled in disapproval as they glared at Clover.
“How dare you make a beautiful girl cry like that! You scum! You are the worst!”
Their fiery gazes accosted him with malice as they shook their fists at the young boy.
“Shut up! This doesn’t concern any of you!” Clover snarled at the Seekers who were glaring and shouting obscenities at him. Coughing before he spoke, Clover returned his gaze to Maya. “Well, If you three are hell-bent on taking the blame, then I won’t stop you. After all, we’re friends! I have no choice but to forgive you!”
“Clover…” Maya whispered as she saw the cheery half-elf boy innocently grin at her. “Next time we will definitely protect you!” She yelled as she gave Clover an even more powerful embrace that threatened to rupture his lungs.
“No way in hell will I let you three ever take my boy out ever again!” Maria interrupted, her usual cool green eyes became hot pools of lava as she stared at the dark beauty in front of her.
“Haha…” Maya uneasily laughed as she looked at her feet, trying to avoid Maria’s harsh gaze. “Of course not…”
“By the way, Maya…” Clover spoke up as he attempted to change the subject, in order to eliminate the awkward atmosphere. “Where are Zen and Michael? Are they maids too?”
“No, but I certainly do not envy them.” She mumbled as she recalled the day they received their punishments. The three of them were terrified out of their minds. Mostly because they were unsure if their dear friend would live through the night. But also because they were fearing for their own lives as they awaited their punishment from Maria and Bastille.
The Trio would never forget the sight of Maria’s pale white face and reddened eyes as she glared at them, before returning to her room without saying a single word. Bastille had stared at them for a couple of breaths as well, before shaking his head in disappointment and following his wife.
The three of them stayed in the empty guildhall that night, contemplating on what they should do. They had even thought about running away, but only for a second, before coming to terms that they would have to accept all responsibility for what had happened. After three days of silence, Maria yelled at them for an hour without stopping before giving them their punishment. The three of them thought that they would be expelled from the Vanden Seekers Guild, but to their good fortune, Maria decided to be lighter on their punishments. Per Maria’s demands, Michael and Zen were forced to work in the warehouse, where they dissected the important alchemical ingredients from the various creatures that Seekers had brought in.
Every night, the two of them would return to their rooms, covered in goo, slime, blood, and a variety of other putrid liquids. After their first day, Maya had attempted to speak to them. But to her dismay she found that their eyes were clouded in a haze as they unresponsively fled to the baths, leaving behind a noxious stench.
Fortunately for Maya, Maria had decided to go easier on her. Perhaps it was because she was a young lady and assumed that working in the warehouse would be too emotionally distressing for her. Either way, she had lucked out and would only have to be a barmaid from dawn to dusk. Although, Maya did feel distressed whenever she had to speak with Morty. The giant dark-skinned man would silently glare at her every time she had to pick up food for a table. Because she had never seen Morty behave this way, she assumed that there was some weird connection between the gentle giant and Clover. And the Trio's actions that put Clover in harm's way caused Morty to feel resentment towards them.
As Maya told their story to Clover, Maria and Bastille said their farewells and left. Before he did though, Bastille told Clover to meet him in the Guild training grounds in thirty minutes. Clover nodded at him in acknowledgment and returned to his conversation. Shortly after, Maya bid her farewell as well, as she still had plenty of work to do.
“Well, we might as well find a seat and catch up before you go meet your father on the training grounds,” Sven suggested, before sauntering his way to a fairly empty table. Clover followed his Elf friend and sat down in front of him.
The two of them chatted for a while. On occasion, they would be interrupted by other Seekers who were aware of what had happened. They would say a few words of kindness before breaking away and returning to their groups. Carla and Kate also had fervently rushed over, examining his body and making sure that he was alright. The two of them were hysterical, and would only be calmed down after Sven bought them some drinks, the alcohol calmed their nerves.
Clover had also seen Morty stare at him from the corner of his eyes. The large black man nodded at him, which Clover took as a sign of his relief before he returned to the kitchen. This went on for a while longer before Clover took a glance at the clock, bidding his farewells and headed to the Guild training grounds.
It has been awhile since I’ve been out here…
Clover thought as he opened the door that leads to the training ground. As Clover walked outside, he noticed the scent of rain in the air as gray clouds blanketed the sky.
Looking around, Clover couldn’t help but be impressed with the sight. The Vanden Seekers Guild was one of the largest in the Centaius continent, and their training grounds reflected that. While most Seekers Guilds had training areas, they were usually around the size of a courtyard, capable of holding a dozen or two Seekers. It would only be enough to practice the basics of combat and practicing their magic.
But the Vanden training grounds was the size of a stadium, capable of holding mass scale mock battles if one wished. The main field of the grounds was covered with a layer of grass and was filled Seekers sparring with one another. Swords, spears, axes, and maces clashed in fiery sparks as they tried to outwit their opponents. Around the green turf was a paved track where Seekers were running along as they trained their endurance and stamina. After all, it was important for a Seeker to be fast and agile. One would never know when they would have to run away from a beast that was far above their skill!
On the side of the track were numerous dummies that Seekers were practicing their archery and magic on. Arrows whistled in the air as they struck at the targets like angry bees. Fire, wind, water, earth, lightning, and ice blew apart the Adlan shaped dummies in a fashion that resembled fireworks
“Clover! Over here!” Bastille shouted as he waved at his son. He had partitioned off an area of the grounds for the sole purpose of teaching his son without any distractions. “Are you ready to start your exciting life as a Seeker, my boy?” Bastille beamed at his son, a twinkle of pride sparkling in his eyes.
“Yeah!” Clover shouted aloud in excitement while pumping his fist into the air.
“That's the spirit!” Bastille exclaimed as he shot him a thumbs up. “First, we must go over the basics! After all, a strong and solid foundation is needed in order to become a successful Seeker!” As he said this, Bastille pulled out a scroll from a pocket in his jacket. The thick scroll of paper unwound itself as he held it. The paper slowly unrolled for a few seconds until it reached the ground and rolled itself towards Clover.
“On this scroll, I have written the most optimal training regimen for you. As long as you follow this for the entire year of your punishment then I will have no doubt that you will reach the rank of a low-tier Bronze rank Seeker!” Bastille proudly huffed before continuing. “At your age, I was already at the Bronze rank! But I didn’t have the fortune of having a master to guide and teach me…”
The ranking system used in the Seekers Guild was well known. The rank a Seeker was at dictated their Arcana Capacity, not their actual combat potential or prowess. This made the ranking system fallible, and not a true depiction of one's skill.
“Nevertheless...This strict regimen and diet will only succeed if you put your whole heart into this. Now, I must ask again, Clover. Are you ready for this?” Bastille asked once more, with a steely look in his eye.
“Of course!” Clover asserted.
“Good!” Bastille said before pulling out a metal bracelet from a bag by his feet. “It looks like you will be needing this from now on!” Bastille handed Clover the Devyse that he had received from Don on his birthday from a week ago. “Now then, pull out your spear!”
Clover did as he was told and poured his Arcana into the bracelet, just as his father had told him. The metal construct greedily drank every last drop of his Arcana. Only when it drank its fill did it release his spear, causing a bright white light to fill his hand as a black spear materialized from out of nowhere!
Clover ran his eyes over his weapon. The spear was fairly light at around six-feet long and was made out of a strong and durable wood that was also flexible. The wood itself was either black or at the very least, coated in a black lacquer. The deadly metal tip appeared to be made from a strong steel, although it did look whiter than normal steel. And as if to add a stylish aesthetic, below the spear blade was a long orange ribbon that gracefully swayed in the wind.
Bastille whistled as he grabbed the spear from Clover’s hands and held it. “This takes me back...I used to own a spear just like this…” Bastille continued to stare forlornly at the weapon. Clover noticed his father’s eyes become clouded as he began to recall his past.
Father has never really told me of his past...Whenever I asked him about it he would always say that he had been a Seeker since he was a twenty, and that he was born near Eretrena, the capital of the Domantius Empire…’
Clover thought to himself as he shook his secretive father from his haze. “Dad! Snap out of it!”
“What! Oh...Of course!” Bastille coughed in embarrassment as his son shook him from his daydream. “A-anyways...Don is well-versed in a variety of armaments. It's obvious that he would be able to choose a perfect weapon for you. I probably wouldn’t have done a better job myself!” Bastille complimented the harsh older man. “The wood is made from a branch of an Ebonsteel tree! If I know Don, then he most likely found the oldest one in Bleakbog, and took it down after a fierce battle!”
“Don had to fight it?” Clover wondered out loud.
“Of course! As Ebonsteel trees age, their wood becomes exponentially stronger. Making it the perfect wood for polearms!” Bastille expunged his deep knowledge of the world at Clover, allowing him to absorb it. “When they reach a certain age, Ebonsteel trees become sentient, and are more than capable of protecting themselves from a party of Gold Seekers!”
“Gold rank!” Clover’s eyes widened in surprise. Gold rank was the level that Maya, Zen, and Michael were at! To think that a single tree could take them down without a fight!
Bastille chuckled as he saw his son listen in wonderment. “Clover, you are soon going to realize that the world of a Seeker is several magnitudes grander and stranger than that of a regular persons. Something as simple as a sentient tree is nothing when compared to the truly bizarre creatures and places you will experience.”
“Tell me about them!” Clover exclaimed as he bubbled in excitement. Since he has lived in the Seekers Guild his entire life, Clover has definitely heard and read stories all about the strange encounters that a Seeker would face. But that was only a fraction of what was truly out there!
“And ruin your chance to experience them first-hand? No way!” Bastille laughed. After all, Bastille knew that there was nothing more exhilarating than first encounters within the strange and wonderful world that existed outside the walls of Vanden.
“Fine…” Clover pouted as he stared at his father before changing topics. “Well, what about the metal blade? It seems whiter than regular steel.”
“Ah, good eye.” Bastille complimented before continuing. “This is Alabaster Steel, which is forged in the Evar kingdom. The half-elves of the Evar kingdom are some of the finest smiths in the world, and this blade is a testament to that. Alabaster Steel derives its white color and strength from the Alus resin that is mixed in during the forging process. Alus resin is found around the edges of the Deadlands."
“What is the orange ribbon for?” Clover curiously asked.
“Tying a ribbon below the spear blade is a tradition for Elite Domantius spearmen. They believe that the bright cloth on the spear will distract opponents, especially monsters, allowing them to strike a deadly blow where they least expect it. Of course, some pundits believe that it does the exact opposite and the bright color allows the attacker to keep their eye on the spear more easily.” Bastille finished.
“Well...I think it looks cool. And Don must’ve tied it there himself, so I may as well keep it on.” Clover declared. The ribbon didn’t seem very special and was made out of simple cloth.
“I don’t see any harm in that.” Bastille started before switching topics. “Well, now that we have your weapon, I will teach you the most basic and important lesson when it comes to fighting in close combat! And that is Arcana Discipline!” Bastille smiled as he saw Clover’s limited reaction. “Well, I’m sure you already know all about Arcana Discipline, so I don’t have to go over it with you…”
“No! I’ve read about it and talked about with other Seekers, but I’m certain that hearing about it from a master like yourself will be much better for my foundation!” Clover stated.
“Right answer!” Bastille approvingly shouted before starting again. “Arcana Discipline is a close combat technique in which one conserves Arcana within themselves until the very moment that they attack! The Arcana that is discharged will cause the attack to amplify, creating a much more powerful strike!” Bastille turned away from Clover and poured Arcana into the bracelet on his arm. Bastille’s bracelet was much gaudier than his, made from gold and decorated with gems. Just as before with Clover’s spear, Bastille’s nine-foot halberd materialized from the bracelet and into his hand.
“Now then, this is an attack without any Arcana,” Bastille said as he thrust out with his weapon, aiming directly at the sky.
Clover’s eyes opened in anticipation, only to close them in disappointment. Besides a few nearby birds that were startled and flew away and some rustling leaves, nothing had happened.
“I did say that was without any Arcana, so don’t act so disappointed…” Bastille mumbled as he looked at his son. “Now this time, let's try with Arcana!”
Clover opened his eyes again as his father gripped his halberd even tighter. As Bastille lifted his halberd and prepared to strike towards the sky, Clover began to feet a strange emptiness around him, as if someone had sucked all the air from his surroundings. But how was that possible if he was still able to breathe? Before Clover could ask his father what was happening, Bastille struck out with his halberd!
The first thing Clover noticed was a complete silence that surrounded him as if he had suddenly become deaf. But after a second, that silence was utterly shattered. The air and ground shook as if a volcano had suddenly erupted beside him! The loud roiling burst of noise was so incredibly powerful that it caused every Seeker on the training grounds to cover their ears! Nearby windows shattered and birds dropped from the sky!
The second thing he noticed, or in this case, felt. Was the heavy pressure that threatened to pulverize him! Clover felt as if someone had tackled him, lifting him off the ground and slamming him into a nearby wall! The blow knocked the wind out of him, and caused his blood to tumble inside him!
As Clover tried to recover his breath that was forcefully evicted from his body, he noticed one last thing. The patch of sky that Bastille had thrust his halberd at was cleanly cut. As if someone had flown up to the sky and cut the gray stratus clouds in half with a knife. Long shafts of light pierced through the clean opening, as the sun peered into the lands below.
“By the way...I'm about fourteen years out of practice. So you can consider that being one of my weaker strikes.” Bastille grinned at his son and gave him a sly wink.
What kind of creature is my dad…
Clover thought as he stared at the monster in front of him.