Whisper crystals, a new form of spy technology that Silver Hawk had been working on for a near decade now, they were the first telepathic instruments in Avalon's history... Or rather instruments that could allow telepathy should the person wearing them allow entry into their minds.
The energy cores within Avalonians didn't just grant them protection against spells and curses but also made their minds fortresses that only the greatest of mind readers could enter.
This crystal would be his only communication route with Arumu Sycamore on what his and Theseus's findings would be about in this place. Chris should have felt honoured to carry this piece of high standard technology hidden within his ear, but it felt heavy, like a lump of steel was tied to it.
The pressure had gotten to Theseus as well, the usually chatty fae was as silent as his teammate Meghanada. The two of them had no idea on how they could properly spy on the Anjin without drawing suspicion.
The whisper was supposed to check the air for residual dark energy and the two of them just had to walk around every nook and cranny of this place. But how to properly do that was lost on him and Theseus.
"This whole thing just got stressful" Theseus finally spoke and Chris welcomed any conversation from what was to come.
"It's part of job of being a knight and having a A rank mission on your hands" he chuckled as he thought of the exhaustion that he had seen on many elder Knight's before.
"True, true. Though i hope that the Imparetor is wrong, i don't want to deal with dark energy" Theseus shuddered as he mentioned dark energy and Chris could tell why.
The war with his mothers dark aspect and the Phantom King was still fresh in the minds of many and the masses of dark monsters were better remembered by all who had unfortunately fought them. House Troezen also had some unfortunate encounters with it in their past, the battle of blackened waters was forever a stain upon them.
"I am sure it's just a tiny spike of the stuff, probably some wizard experiment" Chris felt a cold shiver run down his own spine as he remembered the day the energy had almost cost him his life.
"I hope so too, i still can't believe that this is my first A rank mission" Theseus almost pouted as he kicked a rock.
"Like i said before, they were never going to be easy" Chris stretched a little.
He wondered if he could make some small talk with Theseus. He began to wonder over what he could speak about to him, and then it came to him.
"I heard that your family had just fixed your old castle Athana " this was their old castle that had been damaged during the battle of black waters, since then none of the Troezen family had dared touch the now infamous castle until his grandfather Melonious Troezen.
"Yes, our true strong hold was horribly damaged and this one was cheaper to build unfortunately".
One would wonder why the castle would be difficult to build when there were people who could manipulate the earth itself. But every structure in the realm was made from spells carved into their very being, making them sturdier than normal, and good engineers were not cheap, especially when fixing a ancient castle.
" I take it that you don't like the castle? " he asked him and the fae almost flinched.
"That castle is a shame to us, my ancestors should have torn it down brick after brick in repentance for the fool who built" he mashed his teeth together in anger.
"Perhaps, but that was more than a thousand years ago Theseus. The castle can have a different meaning now, you can give it a different purpose than one of shame" Chris said and rather answer in anger the young fae remained silent as if contemplating his words.
" I think that we should part ways here" Chris said thinking it best to leave Theseus to dwell upon his thoughts.
Theseus almost looked alarmed at the words " Is something wrong your grace? ".
Chris mentally sighed, Theseus was worried that he had done something to make his hero want to leave. And that word, your grace, it was something that belonged to his parents, not him.
" Look Theseus, there is no reason to call me your grace, your highness or any other fancy title. We are equals in rank and comrades in arms".
Rather than taking his words with a simple acknowledgment, Theseus began to bow and sweat in fear as he looked Chris.
"Bu..bu..but my prince it would be disrespectful!" He was now waving his hands around so fast that they became blurs.
"Oh come on Theseus" he drew Theseus into a one armed hug " friends don't make other friends prostate themselves to them".
A deep blue blush drew itself across the young fae's face, he spoke the word" Friends?" as if it was some kind of divine blessing.
"Sure thing buddy" Chris patted him across the back as he let him go.
"Did i do something wrong for you to go?" Theseus asked though more subdued this time.
"It's nothing at all, i just need to go get some of my stuff out of the sick bay. I don't want anything to go missing " he said as he looked at his right finger that lacked his blue crystal ring.
"Oh, of course" Theseus placed his fist over his chest and once more Chris had to stop him from treating him like some kind of god.
After exchanging their greeting's Chris turned away from his fellow knight and he began to walk through the streets of the city on the mountain. It was easy for him to notice that the people passing by were whispering and pointing at him.
Chris might have been walking before, but now he was sprinting as fast as could through the crowd's. Had he not been careful he would have ran into a old woman with a big warm smile over her face.
"Whoa, sorry ma'am" he said as he stopped himself from running her over.
"Oh aren't you sweet. Say, aren't you that prince fellow" she said as her old eyes inspected him.
" Oh, please take this, its kimiri, fish row" she produced a transparent bag filled with ten whit bread rows with visible cooked fish within it.
Chris respectfully accepted the bag with a bow " Thank you very much".
"Don't mention it, keep doing the good work" she walked away and Chris was left wondering if she a Ashikage or she was referring to his job as a knight.
"Still that's sweet of herrrr....??" The old woman might have been the first, but she was not the last.
For distance stretching as far as a hundred meters were merchants, both young and old, male and female carrying free products from their stands. They wore the bright colours of their houses like advertising lights.
"Oh sweet Deus " he could have fled, but it was rude.
He could see the faces of the merchants bright and hopeful for the older ones as well as blushing and shy from the younger ones. Chris sucked in his breath, put up a smile upon his face and he began walking forward, much to the visible joy of the Anjin merchants.
His walk past them should have taken no more than eight minutes, but having to speak to everyone of them, having to shake their hands, having to receive their clothes, food and other goods made the trip over two hours long.
By the time Chris had escaped the market place both his hands were filled with two large plastic bags that were packed with free gifts from the charitable merchants. A few young girls and some older women had managed to sneak a few kisses to the princes cheeks, leaving red lipstick marks upon them, much to his embarrassment.
"I will never go through the market place again " he thought a bit exhausted as his cheeks and harms felt numb.
His troubles were unfortunately not over as twenty blue shadows materialized around him. The shadow at the center was a knight dressed in sea green armour with an emerald scabbard katana in their hand. The knights armour and weapon had scale and ocean pattern's engraved upon them.
He remembered this knight from his first battle in the tournament, the people around him were the Anjin city guards dressed in the light sea blue colours of a clan not of the green Ashikage he knew.
There was an almost tense air around them as his eyes suspiciously washed over the armed individuals who had formed a circle around him.
He forced another smile on his face though his body was tense and he could feel the cold magic running though his veins, ready for a split second release should times be necessary.
"Do you mind stepping aside my friends" he readied his body to crash through the guardsman on the left who stood between Chris and a alleyway, which would be easier to shake off any pursuer's.
The guardsmen must have sensed the tension in air as well. Their faces became fallen as well as wet with sweat and their shoulders tensed as they tightened the grips around their spears.
The main knight coughed in order to cut through the thick air "My prince, i apologize for if our presence is in a manner that offends you".
The knight and his fellow guardsmen fell upon one knee with their faces looking down " Forgive us for this aggrieves action, your grace ".
" Of course, you can rise" he softened his voice and they all stood back up.
"Thank you for your understanding. I am representing my father Cain Hojo Anjin, head of our house in inviting you to dinner" the knight bowed his head awaiting Chris's answer.
Chris had spent enough time in the capital to recognize a blatant political play when he saw one and so he said "It would be unwise for me to be around a rival house breaking bread".
" I understand such concerns your grace, but the matters we wish to set go far beyond this tournament. But if you do not trust us as Anjin, then bare upon my word as a fellow knight of the iron fortress " the knight removed his helmet and from it long raven locks flowed from the head of the green eyed youth.
He knew that face from the battle with the Dullahan well enough "I know you, the battle with the Dullahan. You are the knight i saved aren't you?".
The knight gracefully smiled before bowing once more with his fist upon his chest in respect " Yes your grace, I am Aeris Antoku Hojo Anjin and it would be a great honor upon me and my house to host you tonight ".
The wheels in Christian Ddraig's mind ran at full power without end, the matter was too delicate for him to act rashly.
He could not refuse the Hojo without coming off as rude fool and gaining an enemy in the fort, but he knew that the Ashikage namely Tomoe would lose their minds. But he had Ursa to smooth any relations with them in case he displeased them, that was not. The case with the Hojo.
" Of course Aeris Antoku, it would be an honor to be a welcomed guest from your house, please lead the way to your father " he smiled in order to ease them and the guardsmen as well as Antoku smiled.
"Then please come this way your highness" Antoku put his helmet on and the guardsmen formed to lines on Chris's left and right.
They marched through the ranks of many people including some Ashikage who weren't looking at Chris happily like before, but this time they were throwing glares at him that almost made him suspect that they might pelt him with trash.
Each house had a main mansion at the end of each side of the city that was beautifully painted in their main colour and dotted with people who had a bright amount of green in their colour.
"Everyone in your city takes colour coding very seriously" he said as the notion of people behaving like this both from the Ashikage and the Hojo unnerved him.
"This is simply for the tournament, think of it similar to a sports team jersey" Antoku answered him.
The Hojo mansion was a equal to the Ashikage mansion. It was made of a red and blue stone that towered into the air, the walls were decorated with engravings of boats, sea creatures and waves. The gates were made of thick iron that was guarded by a small army of guardsmen.
"You have a beautiful mansion" he had seen greater castles but he could always be impressed by good craftsmanship regardless of its size and grandeur.
"I thank you, your grace. We spent a lot in creating the sea tower" Antoku's voice was filled with pride as he presented the name of his families strong hold.
The guardsmen at the gate all bowed their heads as the massive gates were pushed open by the invisible forces, letting them into an even bigger wonder than the castle itself.
The lands around the castle were littered with large lash green land masses that hovered over a clear body of water filled with large fish. The landmasses were farms, parks and some had houses as well as towers of their own that were dwarfed by the water tower.
What connected the landmasses and the castle were a series of dark red bridges of varying sizes.
"I see why it is called the water tower" he nodded impressed as it looked at it.
"Join us my prince" Antoku said as he led him forward.
Even in the Hojo stronghold Chris found himself as a source of interest by the people. From the towers from the boats that rolled across the lake, eyes fell upon him and enough whispers carried his name that they stopped being whispers.
"The people are excited to see you" Antoku said in hopes of distracting Chris from the fact that he was being looked upon like some kind of circus animal.
"They always are".
The gates that led to the entry of the tower were just as large at their main wall gates. It too was lined with guardsmen who also bowed in respect to him and Antoku.
The gates opened and Antoku led him into a marble maze of pillars, stairs, statues and cravings of humans holding fishing spears. The tower was coloured in a thousand beautiful paints that turned into a work of art.
The inside of the tower was bustling with as much life as the outside and all life seemed to come to a freezing halt as he walked in with Antoku.
" my prince, please allow us to hold on to your parcels for your stay here" Antoku said to him and Chris handed his two plastic bags to the guardsman on his right.
"Do you have a free cloth" he could still feel the lipstick on his cheeks.
Antoku reached into his pocket and pulled out a pure white cloth that he handed it to him. Chris rubbed the cloth along his cheeks very furiously until he was sure that the red marks were gone. He returned the cloth to Antoku with a thanks.
A few rather loud slow claps directed him to one of the great wood doors that was opened and out came a tall man with short black hair and green emerald eyes. His suite was a lovely white colour that made it seem like he was wearing snow itself. Upon his middle fingers on each hand were golden rings with emerald sharks engraved upon them.
"I welcome you my prince" a big smile graced his lips and he white teeth reminded Chris of the ivory that usually graced the dragons graveyard.
"It is a good pleasure to be invited to your glorious home my lord Hojo".
A well rehearsed smile grew upon his smile and he outstretched his right hand to the man who's smile somehow found a way to grow even bigger.
Cain Hojo took his hand into his own right hand and shook it enthusiastically. The man had a firm grip to him, but Christian was a knight, he was more sturdy than most folk.
" I hope that my son conducted himself in a proper fashion?" The mans eyes quickly darted to his son and back to Chris.
Antoku to his credit remained like the guardsmen around him, hard and unflinching. They were all like the statues that the people of fang mountains made to guard their dead.
"Your son conducted himself with great honor in my escort and his duties as a knight. I have seen him in the arena and in the field, he is an exceptional knight with a most bright future" he might have been stroking the mans pride but he wasn't lying in his words.
Cain Hojo appeared very pleased with the praise, he was beaming even. Almost like the praise and the acts attached to it were of his own doing. His son on the other hand was as opposite to his father as summer is to winter. His stony hard face softened, but not in any form of pleasure, but rather a flash of irritation ran across his face.
A chink in the family armor, were father and son not seeing eye to eye on ones future, he wondered. It would make sense, Cain Hojo and his family were primarily Wizards, the art was just as praised and respected as knighthood. And like knighthood, one spent their entire life studying the arcane arts.
"Please come this way, we have prepared a fist worthy of a king" Cain Hojo directed him to the large door that he had come from.
He stopped and turned to his son and spoke " You too Antoku ".
Chris found it odd though he had to say it out loud " Surely his own son is automatically invited to a feast hosting someone he clearly wants to form a connection with? ".
The hall that he was presented to was large and beautiful, with multi coloured glass windows, Hojo family banners hanging off the walls and upon the ground were many ten meters long tables with no more than a hundred men and women sitting upon them.
Every single one of them bowed their heads before him as he walked past them. Each one of them didn't raise their head even after he had moved past them.
They all wore fine silks that were interlocked with precious gems and metals. These people all turned to him with smiles that he had witnessed a thousand times before.
The tables were overlaid with smoked fish, roasted beef, wet fresh fruits, boiled eggs and large metal jags filled with a red liquid that he recognized as wine. These foods littered every table in the thousands, the very air was filled with a mouth watering smell.
" I hope that the meals are up to your enjoyment, your grace ".
" Of course my good sir Hojo. This is a meal worthy of any king" he made his voice boom a little louder and as expected, the people present showed thankful smiles.
Cain Hojo led him to the main table that stood upon an elevated green table upon which the main family clearly stood.
A older woman with long flowing silver hair and sharp eyes. By her side were two young children who he recognized from earlier in the day amongst his horde of little children followers.
Chris was directed to the center chair that was made of pure hard iron, though a soft cushion was present to ease him upon.
"My brothers and sister's, the prince of the realm, Christian Ddraig has come here to grace us with his presence" the man made it sound as if he had not sent an armed group in the hopes of coercing him to come.
A silence followed and all eyes fell upon him, like he was some kind of doe caught in the sights of a pack of hungry wolves. Something in Chris made him wonder why he was afraid of them, this was the politics of the capital again, he just had to speak.
"People of the Hojo family, i am deeply honoured to be welcomed in your midst to feast and drink besides you. Your generosity is a symbol of the finest Avalonians" he had picked up a filled golden cup and raised it into the air as he spoke "Now a toast to friendship!".
He poured the sweet liquid down his mouth in a single gulp, and the rest of the people followed with clapping, cheering and drinking.
" Let us feast!" Cain Hojo roared and they all sat down as a beautiful melodical music that would rival even the greatest musical orchestra.
"You truly went far and beyond sir Hojo, you have my praise" he said after he had takes a bite out of a smoked fish.
"Of course your grace, this is the best that we could afford for you. I present to you my family. My wife Mira and my other two children Gabriel and Rebecca".
" it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance your grace " the lady said and her two children followed in greetings.
"The pleasure is all mine, my lady. Your hospitality is a great virtue" he answered her.
"Ha, it truly is. Our house has always prized itself in our hospitality, it is why we are people of the Anjin clan" the head of the Hojo family plucked a handful of fresh grapes before tossing them in his mouth.
"That sounds like an interesting story, do please regal me on it" once more the warm juice rolled down his throat.
" A simple story, my great ancestor showed great charity to the founder of the Anjin clan hundreds of years. The great founder was lost in a great storm at sea and my ancestors using their power over the waters managed to rescue him and gave him great comfort's. That sparked out centuries long lasting friendship with the clan who adopted us" it may have been a simple story, but Cain Hojo put an importance into every word that went into the telling of this tale.
The meaning of this tale was as clear as freshly fallen snow, a act of friendship to open doors of opportunity. He had to give it to the man, he might have been sly, but he didn't shy away from what he truly desired.
"Then to friendship" he raised another toast and Cain Hojo followed suite and raised his own cup.
"Your family is a very old Wizard family isn't it?" He could use this opportunity to milk the Hojo out of all the information about the whole clan.
"Why yes we are your grace. In fact we are the second oldest from the Tokugawa, in our ancient founding and our addition to the Anjin clan. We take great value in our proud line" the man's eyes beamed with pride as he spoke and a jovial nature stuck to his voice.
"I hope no hard feelings follow us into the fighting ring then" he brought his cup to his mouth once more as he looked for anything upon the mans face.
Cain Hojo's face strained and his smile became more forced " Of course not your grace. The point of the tournament is to choose the stronger house to lead, i am sure that Antoku will go far and beyond " as Cain spoke his son seemed to shrink smaller and smaller into his seat.
"I look forward to testing my metal against yours Antoku, from our past encounters i have found your skills to rival mine" Chris wasn't lying there.
"I hope the team melee doesn't diminish that view of my son and my family, your grace" the lady said though she sounded somewhat sorrowful.
"Of course not lady Mira, why would i ever think that?"
"Forgive for doubting your integrity my prince, it is just that our house only has trained knights belonging to our family, the other houses have gone to getting better warriors like yourself from outside".
He should have been offended, truly he should have, but something about her words struck a cord within him. From the Ashikage to the Tokugawa, much of their numbers were made of knights who weren't part of their families.
" I had hoped to ignore this, but i can't any longer " he thought as he swallowed down another gulp of wine.
"I hope that you have not suffered any difficulties with settling into the wizard council?" a small favour would be enough to help gain closer ties with the Hojo.
"Fortunately not. My families skills in water automations and many other fields that the council was more than interested in. I see a secure seat in future, is that not right Antoku" a wizard's duty was researching and finding new applicable uses of magic, even after more than a thousand years, new facts about the arcane arts were being discovered.
The young knight had sat down by the end of the left side of the table away from Cain. He had remained as silent as a corpse since he had sat in silence with a apathetic face and mind that belonged in a whole world of his own. Upon the mention of his name, he was drawn out of his stupor as if he had just been awoken from a deep and hooking dream.
"Of course father" his eyes didn't even bother meeting his fathers own.
This didn't pass unnoticed by the other occupants upon the table. The two young children snickered and whispered the word water head, his mother looked tired but sternly at her son and his father shot such a glare that if it was a blade, Antoku would have been split in two.
The tension in the air was palpable as an invisible argument seemed to be going off the two. Chris forced a cough out of his mouth in order for them to move to much more agreeing discussions.
" I see that you are enjoying your current stay in the knights core, how has the life as one of Avalon's swords shield been to you?" As he asked Antoku began to have life and energy grow back into him.
" It is the greatest honour that i have ever been bestowed with, your grace " he smiled in an almost grin wide way.
"It is the core that is honoured to have good knight's join our ranks" Antoku's smile got even brighter.
"I do wish that could scratch the surface of what you have accomplished. I am not lying when i say that you serve as a great inspiration for me and many others" the look in his eyes reminded Chris of Theseus's or many other young knights.
"You didn't tell us that you were a hero mister?" one of the kids asked him.
"I am not that big of a hero" he said with a nervous smile.
"Liar" the young girl stuck her tongue out at him much to the disapproving glares of her parents "This is you!".
Out of her little pockets she pulled a reflective golden card with his image engraved upon it. A cold chill went up his spine as his limbs became numb and he felt his head become light.
" is something wrong your grace, you look displeased? " Cain asked him, noticing the dark look that had painted his face.
"Nothing, its nothing" those were the words he said but his thoughts went something like this " I really need to collect that card ".
Before he could answer a cold chill spread through the hall, candles were blown silent and all their warm meals were rotten and cold. The familiar tingle in his spine reminded him of what it was.
" Dark Energy ?" .
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I am a 21 year old law school student at the National Institute of Public Administration. My dream is to one day publish my story phantom ddriag and hopefully get a show made from it.
I also have a youtube account that hundels web fiction content, here is the link https://m.youtube.com/channel/UCFz-mHywXBJnLF8uyofcLAw/videos