“Let’s head back, Shion, the day’s almost gone.”
Shion looked up and saw the top of Shishio’s head leaning over the edge of the cliff, his auburn hair hidden beneath the hood, and his face as white as snow around them. Shion had noticed Shishio’s silent footsteps approaching, even before Shishio called for him. He nodded in affirmation then Shishio was gone, just as quick as he came.
Shion looked up at the sky in the west. The color was already a shade of red that reminded him of a ripe cherry. Its warmth and soft light washed over the entire Jotoheim of Halmsay. The sun set behind the curvy hills covered in white, and instantly, he thought: the Rune Masters must be busy right about now.
The sun that Shion sees right now is the work of the Ether, the Rune Master who manages the sky. It’s not the actual sun, but a replica, made of special glass from a distant land. Using the material, it was engineered to be imbued with magic and put on the city’s roof, mimicking the movement of the actual sun. Now that the sun is gone, the Jotoheim’s roof was slowly getting dark, and an artificial night was adorned with dotted stars and a moon.
Now Shion knew that it was time to go since the harvest field only opens during the daytime. Before he went, though, he reached out his hand to pluck the bright purple Malvemsnya flowers from its branch and placed them in a four thumb wide container that was attached to his waist bag and cooled using runes.
After securing the cargo, Shion hung from a tree root out on the cliff, quickly twisted his body and jumped up. His feet landed soundlessly on the edge where Shishio was.
Shishio, who was kneeling on the snowy ground, strung his containers into his backpack. It was full of Kerrys fruit and Rosemanth leaves since he is in charge of collecting them. As Shion walked up to him, his expression clouded as he grumbled in displeasure.
“I caught some people illegally picking Rosemanth leaves by the lake. For a piece of land that charges a high price for legal harvesting, their security is truly pathetic.”
“We can come back tomorrow, Shishio.” Shion said as if the two-hour journey in the barren wastelands wasn’t a big hassle. However, it only fueled Shishio’s anger as he slammed his backpack close.
“And I’m going to miss my Ancient Raicress class because of that, damn it. I know you graduated early, but can you have a little sympathy right?”
The jealousy suppressed for so long now burst out in anger. Shishio is one of Aldrich’s oldest students. He was already a student of Aldrich when one day, his Master brought home a mysterious boy. It was Shion.
At first, Shishio didn’t pay him any mind. He thought, soon enough Shion would stop and leave, like most of Aldrich’s other students. However, Shion grew rapidly and, in a short time, surpassed all of his friends who had studied longer than him, including Shishio.
That fact hurt Shishio’s pride, who had studied and practiced diligently, day and night. Is that what you call a talented person? Shishio never felt that he had talent in any field. Therefore, he tried harder than the others. Seeing someone overcoming all his hard work so easily, Shishio felt the jealousy bubbling inside him.
A beat of silence stretched between them as Shion studied Shishio’s face carefully and the rising tension between them. “I can go back on my own if you can’t,” he offered, trying to find a way forward.
Shishio took a deep breath, trying to calm the anger that suddenly burst within him. He knews it was petty to vent his anger towards Shion like that. Afterall, Shion was someone who focuses on the solution rather than the problem, and because of that, he felt ashamed and slightly guilty. Accordingly, he tried to keep his cool since he was older than shion.
“Gathering Rosemanth leaves is my duty this week, and Master won’t let you do that. You have lessons with him,” Shishio declined the offer and hoisted his backpack to his shoulder.
Unlike him, Shion was referred to as the descendant of the fallen Raicress continent that was once mighty. He had darker skin, and his hair was as white as snow. They were called the warrior race who would excel in anything combat related. Everyone wasn’t surprised when the Master said that he had nothing to teach the fifteen year old Shion, and since then, Shion no longer practiced or studied in the same room as Shishio and the other pupils.
Shion focused more on training and studying under Masters from other cities, since their own Master had nothing more to offer. Shion never brags, and is always humble about it, so it’s hard for Shishio to continue being jealous and insecure about his lack of abilities. He did envy him for a long time, but at the same time, he didn’t.
Maybe because Shishio often spends time with Shion, Shishio more or less understands what Shion is thinking. When he and the other students practiced together, he sometimes found Shion watching them from a distance, with what Shishio thought was his lonely expression.
At that time, he thought Shion’s position was not easy either. With his promising talents, many people place high hopes and expectations on his shoulders. Shishio felt that Shion was the type who would try to fulfill all of that without complaining.
When Shishio looked at Shion, who held his usual calm and compliant demeanor, Shishio’s heart couldn’t bear it. He reached out, brushing away the snow piled on Shion’s snow-white hair. “I’m sorry, okay? It’s my job, so I’ll finish it. Don’t just volunteer yourself like that. Others may take advantage of it. Come on, let’s go back.”
They walked down the path through the pine trees. Next to the five-meter-high gate stood a small hut made of pine trunks. It’s shabby and slightly leaning to one side, but it still stood strong against the whirling wind. A skinny old man stepped out from the hut, a Black Pearch cigarette on his lips. His face was gaunt, and his lips curled downwards for as long as Shishio knew him. Because of that, he was known as “The Old Stiff”. Shishio once humored that the day that old man smiles, is the day when all the snow in the whole of Halmsay would melt.
The old man dropped his ass on the chair, then patted the table in front of him impatiently. “Hurry up, kid. It’s already time to close.”
“Sorry,” Shishio stepped forward and placed his container on the scales. The old man weighed the contents with practiced ease, then weighed the other herbs. “Two gold, and one bronze.”
Shishio took out the money and put it on the table. The Old Stiff’s hand snatched the money and put it in the drawer.
“I caught people stealing in the fields. They took the Rosemanth stalk and fled south,” Shishio reported. He still couldn’t let it off so easily.
The Old Stiff took a deep breath of his cigarette, then pinched it between his two fingers. “None of my damn business. My job is just to weigh the stuff and take your money, boy. Come on, hurry.”
Shishio grumbled in annoyance, closed his container, and weighed another container he had. After everything was done, it was Shion’s turn to come forward. He placed his massive container of Malsvemnya leaves on the scales.
The Old Stiff looked at the contents. His eyebrows lifted at the sight of the overwhelming quantity of herbs. His knife-like eyes glanced at Shion, and was silent for a moment before speaking. “For you to be able to gather this much in one day, you’re something else, aren’t you?”
Shishio also looked at the contents of the container. Indeed, even if he started harvesting before sunrise, he wasn’t sure he could fill half of the box. However, since they came in the late afternoon, they only had three hours before this harvesting field closed, making it a great feat on Shion’s part.
“Anyways, the more you take, the more you pay,” The Old Stiff brushed it off. “That’ll be seven gold, four silver, and three bronze.”
After muttering thanks, Shion put money on the table. As he did, The Old Stiff saw the bracelet wrapped around Shion’s hand. The Old Stiff recognized it. Honestly, anyone would’ve. Even though he tried to be indifferent, he was curious about this young man. “Are you Sir Aldrich’s rumored “ace” pupil? No wonder.”
Shishio couldn’t believe The Old Stiff was only asking after they had already become regular in this harvesting field for years. The chance was that he had already noticed it a long time ago. But, he considers it too much of a hassle to ask them about that.
“The Malsvemnya leaves… I see. It’s for your Master,” The Old Stiff snorted. His hand stretched out on the table, taking Shion’s money, but he pushed half of the gold pieces back towards Shion. “I don’t need money from dying people.”
“Master is not dying!” Shishio took a step forward, offended.
“You know he is,” The Old Stiff would usually snap back at the comment, but at this moment, a tinge of sadness was in his voice. The way he spoke was like stating a resigned fact instead of arguing. Knowing this, Shishio swallowed his anger. “I outlived you guys and heard the story long before you were born. He was a great person, I’ll give him that, but not every great person is destined for a great ending.”
Shion didn’t take the money back. He only switched the container of
Malsvemnya leaves with another container he had. “How much is this one?” he asked.
The Old Stiff didn’t answer the question. Instead, he looked over to the dark sky and talked as if he was in a reverie, “So, you guys are going to look for The Glaive too?”
The Old Stiff shook his head. “It is a ridiculous dream. Stop it,” he said. “You know, it’s only a fable that parents tell their kids when they’re tucking them into bed to give them good dreams in this doomed age. I see that some people grow out of it, and some don’t. My advice is don’t be the latter.”
“I bet you didn’t believe them when your parents told you that,” Shishio bit.
“Indeed. I’m an orphan.”
The remark made Shishio cough, but he was too prideful to apologize.
The Old Stiff gazes at the far-off distance. “My son though…” he trailed off. “He was the latter.”
It was kind of shocking news. They never know that The Old Stiff had a son. They never knew that he had a family at all. He never told anyone. For as long as they remember, The Old Stiff was residing in the hut, as if he was born and lived in this place forever.
“He also went looking for The Glaive. And he didn’t come back.” The Old Stiff humph-ed. “An artifact that can create miracles, people who want to save the world, big dreams, all of it has nothing to do with me. I can’t understand it. I just need a job to live until the time I die. But, my son… who taught him to be so foolish? It wasn’t me, for sure.”
“It’s not foolish.”
The Old Stiff turned his head at Shion’s commanding voice.
“If you have a dream, and are brave enough to chase it, it’s not foolish,” Shion stated. He held his unwavering gaze, that burned with a hope that could’ve melted anything. “Your son and my master aren’t fools. They’re brave people, great people. They hope for better things, and they don’t easily give it up. It’s not foolish.”
When they left the harvesting field that day, Shishio looked back to see the Old Stiff, still sitting haunched on his chair, crying his eyes out with visibly shaking shoulders.
TO BE CONTINUED...