Episode 131 – Past and the Future
“My father accidentally met my mother, who was merely a commoner and a non-mage to boot, and somehow, they fell in love.” Kiel’s face contorted, as if he had swallowed something sour. “Opposites attract and all that nonsense… anyway, my mother got pregnant and miraculously survived giving birth to me.”
It took a while for Kiel to get the vile taste of love off his tongue before continuing. “To keep us safe from all the political problems, insidious plots, and a stigma of being a mistress and a bastard child, my father kept our existence a secret as long as he could.”
“I lived a normal life of a normal child in a normal house in Ashar until it burned down.” Kiel spoke as if he was talking about the weather.
“My mother, whose body had always been frail due to her mana deficiency, didn’t survive the ordeal. With a lack of a mother, and any form of maternal relatives, my father didn’t have anyone else to leave me with and thus my existence was revealed to the Rroda family.” Kiel tried to hide the scowl threatening to emerge.
“It was a matter of time anyway. After all, I have the unique hair and eye color of a Rroda. Thus, although it pained grandfather greatly, he had no choice but to bestow Rroda for my last name.” His scowl turned into a mocking sneer. “Well, it was either that or to make me disappear forever. The thought crossed his mind, I’m sure.”
A frown and a sneer battled for dominance on Kiel’s face. “Father brought me to the Rroda mansion where I was…” Kiel paused, trying to find a good word to describe it with. In the end, he settled for: “… educated.” But judging by the tone of his voice, ‘torture’ might have been a more appropriate word.
The sneer won and practically radiated off Kiel’s voice as he spoke: “To the horror of my grandfather, it turned out I was a non-mage like my mother. It also turned out that I and Rhur get along as well as the fire gets along with water. Thus, at the end, they dumped me at Beyd as soon as I was old enough to take care of myself.”
Kiel’s expression subconsciously returned to a neutral mask, yet not even his reflexive repression of emotion could hide the true feelings from bleeding into his voice as he spat out: “There you have it. Not nearly as interesting as your life story.”
Elaru seemed to have picked up that there was more to the story from the way Kiel got agitated just by remembering it, thus she refrained from asking any questions. She stayed silent in thought for several seconds before speaking up in her melodic, pleasant voice: “Being a bastard child isn’t something you should necessarily be ashamed of. Your parents literally loved you into being. That’s something to be proud of if you ask me. Even if it was out of wedlock.”
Love, huh? Kiel wasn’t quite sure he believed in such a thing. His father was certainly not a loving person. He would be more inclined to believe that the whole affair was his father’s infatuation with something exotic coupled with a good dose of lust.
And even if it truly was love, there was no way to prove it nor would anyone care about it. How can he walk with his head held high knowing that he was an illegitimate child? That his father cheated on his wife with a mistress? Most people would see him as a mistake. Something that shouldn’t have happened. A disgrace.
They would think that the Rroda family was very generous for admitting him into the family and allowing him to take on their family name. That he is indebted to them for raising him and giving him his current social status.
Yet, no one would ever know that he hadn’t had a single day of true happiness since the moment his mother died. Everything after was just a long nightmare with brief moments of sunlight passing through the shroud of darkness.
“I think you are better off than those that were sired out of obligation. An environment without love is bad for children raising. Just look at your brother.” Elaru winked at Kiel.
Feeling her warm aura and seeing her cute mannerisms, Kiel couldn’t help but let out a husky chuckle: “You almost sound like you pity him. There is nothing about him to be pitied. He is the future heir of the Rroda family that has always had everything he ever wanted.”
“I doubt that’s truly the case…” Elaru murmured, her teal eyes staring far into the distance as if she could see Rhur somewhere far away. “These things can be quite difficult to discern from the surface. Perhaps he is even more miserable than you.”
Kiel’s eyebrow twitched in annoyance. Never mind her calling him miserable, he was learning to tolerate her frankness, but… was she actually… defending Rhur? “You are thinking too much. He is quite happy with his life. Very self-satisfied. He believes himself to be standing on top of the world.”
“Yeah, but did you know?” Elaru smiled a smile too sad to be called a such. “The view from the top is very lonely.”
“I can’t believe you are taking his side! I warned you this would happen. People around him always end up getting manipulated into liking him!” A ball of flames lit up inside Kiel’s chest, searing and burning, threating to devour him whole.
Elaru shook her head gently. “I am not taking his side. As a fellow bastard, I’m just pointing out that the meadow isn’t necessarily greener on the other side.”
And, just like that, a tepid stream doused the flames that burned inside his chest, spreading comforting warmth through Kiel’s limbs. He looked at her with unconcealed surprise. “Your parents aren’t married either?”
“They wanted to marry, of course, but… eh… outside interference didn’t let that happen.” Elaru shrugged, oddly nonchalant about it.
“Let me guess, your mother’s family didn’t approve of your father?” Kiel figured that since Elaru spent her childhood with her father, it was probably the party with the lower social status.
“Uh… no, that wasn’t quite what happened.” Elaru scratched her head awkwardly.
Kiel motioned for her to continue, his eyebrow raised in interest.
Elaru sighed. “My birth is… a complicated topic I’d rather not discuss.”
Seeing Kiel’s face turning black, she added hastily: “It a very well kept secret that I’m not supposed to share.”
“Surprise, surprise.” Kiel grumbled. “It’s not like I would go around telling people about your matters…”
“You know that some families would rather kill off their bastard children than let them grow up. My situation is like that. If they find out about my existence, that would turn my life even more… uh… life threatening.” Elaru looked truly apologetic about the matter but her eyes were resolute. She wasn’t even considering telling him about it.
Kiel’s eyes narrowed. Only those who had something significant to lose would consider killing off their bastard children. Elaru had once told him that she wasn’t a part of a noble family. However, that didn’t mean that she didn’t have noble blood running through her veins. She could very well be a bastard of a noble family.
That would explain why she was so beautiful, talented and an Aethernea wielder to boot.
“So you do have noble blood running through your veins.”
“Everyone born in the Lands under the Shield has noble blood running through their veins. After all, everyone is a descendant of the 14 noble families that established the Lands under the Shield.” Elaru rolled her eyes at his obvious attempt to wiggle out her confession.
“Yeah, but something tells me that your noble heritage is a bit closer to the present.”
Elaru refused to comment on it.
In an obvious attempt to change the topic, she spoke up: “You forgot to share your aspirations. What will you study in Muni specifically?”
Kiel gave her a knowing look, I-see-what-you-did-there was written all over his face. Elaru turned her head away in an attempt to feign ignorance.
After a moment of silence, Kiel sighed and decided to let the topic go. He should be happy she shared this much with him today. He shouldn’t press for more. After all, the two of them were still not close enough to share important secrets with each other.
The only reason why he mentioned his own life story was because it wasn’t much of a secret. A quick investigation or a D.I. report would tell her as much.
And besides, now that her noble lineage was all but confirmed, there weren’t many possibilities for the origin of her noble blood. After all, excluding Arites, there existed only seven elibu noble families and Elaru had to be related to one of them.
Probably either an Etezza or a Reysic. The girl had stealth abilities that could even put legitimate Etezzas to shame. And considering that her father sounded like a treasure hunter, it was quite likely that he had some relation to the noble family of treasure hunters. They were practically the only family granted special treatment by the Arites in allowing them entry to the forbidden zone.
Noticing that Kiel had gotten lost in thought, Elaru pouted and poked him on the cheek.
Kiel reflexively glared at her and slapped her hand away. His glare melted soon enough when he saw her adorable pout and drooping ears. He shook his head and tried to conceal the upward curl of his lips. Kiel averted his eyes from Elaru towards the clear blue sky.
“When I was little I wanted to be a Purger or a Peacekeeper. As I got older I even had a phase where I wanted to be a Warlock. But… as a non-mage, I could become none of the things.” Kiel paused. Why was he even sharing so much with this little vixen? Would she laugh at him? Every little boy dreamed of being those things. She would definitely point that out.
Or not? He gave her a sneak glance from the corner of his eyes, but her facial expression revealed no ridicule or laughter just interest.
Encouraged by her sudden civility he continued: “I set my sights on Muni, trying my best to learn everything I could, hoping that perhaps I might become good enough to enroll. If I managed to enroll in Muni, even as a non-mage, I could also become someone. There are no better credentials than being a graduate of Muni.”
Kiel sighed exasperatedly. “But as you know, I failed the exam last year…”
He paused to calm down his bitter feelings about the whole matter. After failing, he was quite depressed for a while. Not that he would admit that to anyone.
“Then I figured there still might be a way for me to reach the top. I still might be able to become a high ranked quest seeker.
The world of quest seekers is a place where no one asks for your background or schooling. It’s where you speak and earn credentials with your actions. There are no tests to pass, no people to impress, no one to bar my path because of my lack of mana. There are strict and unchangeable promotion rules and all that is looked at are your quest results.
I might not be able to become a Warlock through this path. But there are often Peacekeeper missions posted in the quest lodge, so I could perhaps become a Peacekeeper in the future. And if I reach the top, the credentials of being a top quest seeker might be enough for me to be accepted into the Purge.”
Kiel’s face turned cold. “But my father and grandfather thought that as a Rroda I should be managing quest seekers, not being one. That would be quite unbefitting of my status. Father intended for my aunt to bring me into the business of managing the quest lodge.”