A profound silence enveloped the village of Mikarul that day. The ominous wind, whispering through the narrow deserted paths, made its melancholic whistle, but no soul was present to bear witness to its haunting symphony. All villagers were locked in their homes, trembling in fear as they await for the accursed knock on the door. It was the day of the monthly selection, and one of them had to die.
It had been five months since the beast came to the village.
The villagers attempted to escape at first, some of them were lucky enough to leave before the military appeared, not to rescue them, but to affirm their accursed fate. The beast was deemed too powerful to slay. Thus, the only solution the Empire came up with was to accommodate the beast's desires: to let him reside within the bordering mountains of the village, and provide him with one meal each month.
The meal being one of human flesh.
As the selection lingered, the boy in the Magnus household trembled anxiously.
"Worry not, my son, it will soon be over," his father comforted him.
"If only I had become a Lojius, I would slay the damned beast myself," said the boy in utter frustration.
"I'm afraid not even a hundred of them would be enough, it's an Elder Beast we're talking about."
"Perhaps, but if it was an Arcadian Lojiu—"
"Enough of that Arcadia nonsense!"
The boy lowered his head. It wasn't the first time he had brought up the subject. How could he not? Arcadia, that mysterious academy in which only the mightiest Lojius are forged, had been the centre of attention across the land for as long as anyone can remember. And yet, only little is known about it. However, one certainty prevails: amid the hundreds of aspiring youth who grace its gates every five years, only a meager fraction returns.
The father stood right next to the window, his gaze fixed on the outside, praying that he wouldn't see the heinous view of the imperial knights approaching his door.
Sitted at the distant table, the boy's eyes remained lowered. His mind once again immersed, dwelled on the prospect of becoming a formidable Lojius and saving his village from the merciless beast. He had the affinity for Lojia, he could see the Nymphs floating above for as long as he can remember. Alas, a peasent such as him could never afford the tuition.
Lojia is a power exclusive to just a quarter of the world. It's a formidable force enabling the casting of diverse spells. Lojia affinity is entirely random; those who possess it lack any particular uniqueness. They are simply bestowed with this gift or, as the Lojius term it, cursed by fate.
Identifying Lojia affinity becomes apparent when individuals can perceive the Nymphs – cyan spirits hovering above. These ethereal entities take on a humanoid form with an elongated upper body and extended arms, moving gracefully in space. Nymphs are mainly used in the creation of Nymph stones, essential gems for wielding the power of Lojia.
The moment the boy decided to raise his gaze, he saw an expression that sent shivers down his spine, a look of utter petrification was fixated on his father's face.
The father remained silent.
The boy couldn't shake the thought, the Knights are coming, Why else would his usually composed father appear so visibly terrified?
Suddenly, a violent knock from a distance broke the silence.
The boy stood up, and got to the window in the blink of an eye. What he saw next shook him to the core.
"Father... That's Mika's house."
Mika was his childhood friend, she held a special place in his heart.
The knights were at her doorstep, knocking violently on the door.
Petrified, the boy's breath cut short. Whether the selection demanded Mika or her mother, the boy did not wish any harm to befall that house, it was his favourite place to be. It was in that house that Raisha — Mika's mother — would cut his hair every month, and scold him each time for trying to escape. It was in that very house, that Mika gifted him the large Nymph stone which he wore as a necklace.
Growing restless of knocking, one large knight in dark gray armour delivered a swift kick that sent the door crashing open. Such forceful entrances were not unfamiliar, people rarely opened the door wellingly.
The large knight infiltrated the house, leaving his companion stationed outside. Moments elapsed, and the armoured knight emerged once more with a little girl in his grasp. The child, in futile defiance, wriggled against her capture's hold, but to no avail. Following them, a distraught woman rushed out, her desperate plea echoing in the air, "Wait! Take me in her stead! I beg you, please!"
"Father, We have to do something," the boy uttered, his gaze fixed upon the harrowing scene unfolding before them.
"There is nothing we can do."
With a forceful gesture, the knight threw Mika, the young girl, onto the back of his steed. He then proceeded to bind her hands and feet. Mika persisted in her struggle, tears running down her cheeks, while her mother wept and implored the knights to spare her child.
"We can't let them take her!"
The boy could not bear to watch his friend be taken to her certain death and, in a heart beat, he surged towards the door.
"Stop!" Cried the father, as he hastily pursued his son.
Blocked by the locked door, the boy persistently rattled the handle to force it open but to no avail.
"Just what do you think you're doing?!" screamed the father, facing his son's back.
"Give me the key, father! I need to go after her."
"And then what?! What will you do in the face of the beast and dozens of imperial knights scattered at each corner?"
The boy went silent for a few seconds, lowered his gaze and then left his head back with wider eyes, as though an illuminating plan had graced his mind.
"Step back, father," uttered the boy, his voice steady, as he removed the Nymph stone from his neck, cradling it in his left hand and closing it into a determined fist. The stone erupted into a radiant cyan glow, casting rays that pierced the spaces between his fingers. Turning toward the door, he raised his right hand with an open palm, aligning it just above his left fist.
The knights outside had already taken off with Mika in their possession, leaving Raisha, the mother, weeping on her knees. Abruptly, the resounding sound of an explosion reached her ears, prompting Raisha to pivot towards the origin of the sound. Next thing she saw was the door of the Magnus household torn to shreds and scattered on the ground.
"Ugh," The father grunted, while laying on the ground beneath his son who got pushed by the force of his own spell.
The boy lifted himself above his fallen father, a sense of dizziness and vertigo consuming him. Unable to move his right hand, he felt compelled to gaze upon the limb, now red and bloodied. Despite the pain's grip, he wasted no time, and immediately took off after Mika.
"Dariu, wait!" Cried his father.
Dariu, the boy, ran in heavy unbalanced steps, his right hand cradled within the left. He passed Raisha, who trailed him with her gaze.
"Dariu, don't go!" She shouted.
Up in the mountains, the two knights arrived at a collosal cave, halting at its entrance. The larger one dismounted and hoisted the bound Mika from the horse.
"Let me go home, I implore you sir," Mika pleaded, her voice trembling and cracked, tears streaming down her cheeks.
With a forceful motion, the knight flung Mika into the shadows of the cavern. She collided with the ground headfirst, succumbing to a blow that rendered her unconscious. Having completed their task, the knights departed without a second glance behind.
On their way back, one smaller knight noticed some drops of blood on the ground that formed a trail leading into a dense grove of trees on the side. He halted his horse, and so did his companion.
"What do we do about this?"
The larger knight observed for some time.
"There is no need to do anything." He said then swiflty departed, followed by his comrade.
An injured Dariu emerged from within the trees, his steps weighed down but determined, as he pressed on, running towards the cave.
"Mikaaaa!!" He shouted, dozens of meters away from the entrance to the cave.
The unconscious girl grunted, then slowly opend her eyes, blood on the side of her face trickling down her head. She then gradually raised her upper body.
Behind her, within the obscurity of the dim cave, a pair of massive red eyes illuminated, each surpassing Mika in size. Sounds of terrifying growl compelled the girl to turn around. She then turned her head once more to Dariu, the look of sheer terror painted on her face.
"Dariu... Help me," she pleaded, moments before massive fangs descended from above, biting into her upper body. A pool of bright red blood splashed, scattering across a large area, reaching even beyond the cave's entrance. The rest of her then got pulled back into the darkness.
Witnessing the horrifying scene, Dariu became immobilized, freezing in place before collapsing onto his knees. His face contorted with disbelief and shock, a cascade of tears broke free.
Shortly after, a pair of arms embraced him from behind. It was his father's, and they both sat there in silence.
That day etched itself into his memory, it's a day he would never forget, one that would shape his destiny for all time.
When Dariu's village faced an Elder Beast's attack, the villagers began offering a monthly human tribute to appease the creature. Grieving the loss of a friend and troubled by the village's plight, Dariu chose to join Arcadia Academy to master Lojia and gain the strength needed to defeat the Beast. Yet, Arcadia is no ordinary school; it's a perilous place where only the strongest survive. Now stuck in a deadly battle of survival in Arcadia, Dariu must conquer its challenges, graduate, and ultimately rescue his village from the clutches of the relentless Elder Beast.