The carriage rocked back and forth as we made our way towards Luminia, the capital of Arboreus. The sound of gravel crunching beneath our wheels was the only thing that could be heard inside the carriage, aside from the occasional creaking of the leather seats. As we rode, I stared out the window, my mind elsewhere while a mixture of apprehension and eagerness rose within me such that I couldn’t help but bite my lip. As tradition demanded, I left home on my eighth birthday and made my way to the capital. My older brother, the first son of House Vale, had returned from his journey many years ago. He regaled us with stories of his adventures and hardships. Despite the fire this ignited within me, my chest always tightened when I contemplated the trials I would face. I’d spent most of my formative years being taught the art of political warfare and rubbing elbows with other nobles, but that was never where my true passion lay. It was my brother’s stories of the Guardians that had truly spurred me to leave the world of politics behind and make a name for myself as a warrior in my own right. The prospect of becoming part of the elite military force composed of only the best mages in Arboreus filled me with equal parts fear and exhilaration. I knew it would make my family proud and I believed it to be the right path for me. I was truly naive back then. Earlier that day, on the morning of my eighth birthday, I emerged from my room to find my 5-year-old sister, Elara, waiting for me. She had blue eyes, a common feature among the members of House Vale, though I had crimson red eyes from my mother. Elara’s hair, on the other hand, was unlike anything I had ever seen. It was a beautiful green that seemed to glow in the light. "Happy birthday, big brother!" she exclaimed, thrusting a colorful handmade card into my hands. "I drew you a picture of us riding a dragon together!" Her enthusiasm over such strange dreams made me smile. "Thank you, Elara! That's amazing. But dragons aren't real, you know?" She rolled her eyes at me. "Of course they are, silly. I saw one in my dreams last night. It even gave me a ride from its mountain, across the entire ocean, and back home!" I chuckled and ruffled her hair. "Well, maybe we can go and find your dragon friend together someday." Elara's face lit up. "Yes! And it can become our pet!" Despite Elara’s penchant for saying the silliest things, her presence always seemed to help settle my nerves. I took her hand and steeled myself before Elara and I stepped out of our grand manor to meet my father, Duke Thorin Vale. The estate was expansive, with multiple buildings for various lords, branch families, and house servants. But as the main family, we lived in the largest manor at the center of the domain. It was an imposing structure made of white stone, with hand-crafted stone columns framing the entrance. The regal front doors were made of polished mahogany, with a fitted golden knocker that glinted in the morning light. We made our way towards the white pebble road, and I noticed my father packing our bags onto the horse-drawn carriage that sat near the door. It bore House Vale’s crest, a blue shield with an eagle in the center, symbolizing House Vale’s mastery over the skies and wind magic. "Are you nervous, Kai?" My father asked me he noticed our approach, acknowledging Elara with a slight nod. I turned my gaze to him, taking in his blond hair and piercing blue eyes that commanded the attention of all around him. His large frame and rugged features revealed his years spent in the Guardians, serving alongside a young King Tarian Sylvanmore. He carried himself with a noble yet militaristic demeanor fitting a man of his position. "A little, Father" I replied, trying to keep my voice steady despite the tinge of sadness I felt leaving the place I had called home my entire life. “I’m also quite nervous about the management of the Vale Domain in your absence.” "Oh don’t worry about that, your mother is in charge while we’re gone. She is a very capable woman," he said with a smile. “Caius will also be returning to assist her. Today is your day, son, enjoy it to the fullest." “Father,” I began, hesitant to continue before seeing the soft, comforting smile on my father’s face, “what if I let the family down?” "I know it seems daunting, but you've been preparing for this your whole life," he said, placing a reassuring hand on my shoulder. "Just remember to keep your wits about you, and you'll do just fine. And above all else, you could never let me or your mother down." Before getting into the carriage, I turned to Elara, who had been silent during the exchange with our father. Her large, innocent eyes were filled with tears, and she looked up at me with a mixture of sadness and admiration. "Promise me you'll come back, Kai," she whispered, tightening her grip on my hand. I knelt down to her level and wiped away her tears with my thumb. "Of course I will, Elara. I promise." She smiled through her tears, and I pulled her into a tight embrace. "I'll miss you," I said softly. "I'll miss you more," she replied, her voice muffled against my shoulder. After a few moments, I released her and climbed into the carriage. As we pulled away from the manor, I glanced back at Elara, standing there on the pebble road with tears streaming down her face. It was the first time I had ever left her behind, and the thought of being apart from her for so long made my heart ache. As we rode northward through the Vale Domain, I marveled at the breathtaking landscape that surrounded us. The rolling hills, the towering cedar trees, and the sweet scent of wildflowers were all familiar sights and smells, yet they seemed somehow different, more vivid as if I was seeing them for the first time. My family, House Vale, was one of the six Great Houses. We governed and lived in the Vale Domain. The Vale Domain was a lush land, with rolling hills and towering cedar trees that swayed in the gentle breeze and the scent of blooming wildflowers in the air. The ground was covered in a soft carpet of green, dotted with small, but lively, towns where the residents went about their daily lives. It was a truly breathtaking sight, the fact that my family owned this made it all the more unbelievable. Despite my father’s reassurances, I still felt great pressure to live up to my family’s legacy, and I knew embarking on such a daunting journey to determine my future was my only option. We traveled through this beautiful landscape as we made our way toward the capital, which was in the Sylvanmore Domain. The journey was a long and arduous one, filled with anticipation and excitement for what lay ahead. My father regaled me with stories of past Vale soldiers and adventurers, each one more thrilling than the last. As we delved deeper into the dense forest of the Sylvanmore Domain on our second day of travel, I felt a sense of unease. The trees loomed over us, their branches casting long shadows, and the only sounds were the rustling of leaves and the distant chirping of birds. It was as if the forest itself was holding its breath, waiting for something to happen. By this point, we had been traveling for hours through the forest, hoping to make it to our destination before nightfall. The trees were so thick that we could barely see the sky, and the only sounds that filled the air were the rustling of leaves and the occasional chirping of birds. Just as I was starting to feel a sense of relief that we had made it this far, we were suddenly ambushed by a group of bandits. They emerged from the shadows with swords in their hands and rage in their eyes. “Get out of the carriage, hand everything over and no one gets hurt,” the bandit leader yelled, his voice dripping with malice. My father, who had been driving the carriage, didn't flinch. He turned to face the bandits and spoke calmly, "I would rather not, sorry. If you’ll excuse us, we have somewhere to be." The bandits froze for a moment, clearly taken aback by my father’s defiance. They exchanged nervous glances before approaching our carriage with bared teeth. My heart raced as they drew closer, and I felt a sense of powerlessness wash over me. I was no match for these bandits, and I had never felt so helpless before. With no control over magic and average swordsmanship at best, I did nothing but stare as the bandits closed in on us. But my father was quick to act. With a flick of his wrist, he summoned a powerful gust of wind that sent the bandits tumbling backward. He then summoned a whirlwind that surrounded the bandits, disorienting them and making it difficult for them to attack. The bandits, caught off guard by my father's magical prowess, attempted to fight back against his unrelenting assault. However, they were no match for him. Not moving from his spot at the head of the carriage, he effortlessly conjured up more gusts of wind and whirlwinds. As I sat there in silence, my eyes fixated on my father, I was overcome by a sense of admiration and pride. Despite the bandits' attempts to mount a counterattack, my father remained undeterred, unleashing a barrage of magical attacks that left the marauders reeling. The bandits soon realized that they were hopelessly outmatched and began to retreat, their tails between their legs. They knew that they had no chance against a mage and that further resistance would only lead to their deaths. “Are you okay, Kai?” My father asked, sounding concerned. “Yes Father, thank you,” I replied, but before I could even relax my tensed muscles, my focus was drawn toward some nearby trees. A group of dwarves emerged, they all seemed to be quite young, but they were heavily armed and wore stern expressions nonetheless. Why can’t we get a break? I thought, irritation replacing the terror that had built up within me. "What do you think you're doing, human?" the lead dwarf asked threateningly. He wore a suit of gleaming silver armor that was intricately designed, protecting his torso and leaving his arms exposed. His chest was broad and his shoulders were wide, giving him an imposing presence despite his short stature. "This is our land, your magic is not allowed here." It seemed this group of dwarves had taken up residence in the Sylvanmore Domain, claiming this area for themselves. I don’t think that’s very legal, I thought to myself, momentarily distracted from the danger in front of us. My father, still seated, did not back down in the face of the dwarves. "We mean no harm," he said firmly. "We were ambushed by bandits and were simply defending ourselves. Also, are you aware that this is the Sylvanmore Domain? You do not decide what is allowed here." “I will not be lectured about your politics, human.” The lead dwarf scoffed, “Many of our kind may have joined you, but do not think we have all forgotten the past.” Upon hearing these words, the other dwarves reached for their weapons. But before they could do anything, my father summoned another gust of wind, lifting them off their feet and holding them all suspended in the air. "We will be leaving immediately," my father said, his voice calm and steady. "But know this, if you ever threaten me again, the consequences will be severe." With that, my father released the dwarves, and they landed in the dirt. They each grumbled in protest but no longer dared to get in our way. We quickly continued on our journey, leaving the dwarves behind. A few hours later, the capital city of Luminia, often referred to as “The Marble City '' came into view. I instantly knew where it got its name, gleaming white marble walls towered over us like a protective barrier, reflecting the orange light of the setting sun and nearly blinding me. My mouth fell agape, awed by the sheer size of the walls around this city and the long shadows they cast over Luminia. I noticed that some large-scale work was being done on the walls. It seemed that the walls were being fortified further, with large stones being added to the existing structure and new towers being built at regular intervals. The walls seemed impenetrable, a symbol of the strength and security of the city. What could cause this city to need further fortification? I wondered, a sense of curiosity building within me. "We will be staying in a mansion owned by House Vale right here in Luminia," my father interrupted my thoughts as we approached the wall. The main gate to the inside of Luminia was a massive archway carved out of the gleaming white marble walls. Within the archway were two massive white and gold doors, and on either side of the arch, there was a massive column. Each column was intricately carved with scenes from Luminia’s history, such as the day House Sylvanmore took control of Arboreus, and they were both adorned with gold accents that gleamed in the light. As we approached the main gate a human guard stepped forward to intercept us. The sun was still setting, casting a warm orange glow over the city as he stepped up to meet us. "Good day, sir. What is your business here in Luminia?" the guard asked, his hand resting on the hilt of his sword. "I am Duke Thorin Vale, and I am here with my son, Kai, to stay in this city for a while," my father replied. The guard's eyes flicked up to take in the Vale crest emblazoned on our carriage, and recognition dawned on his face. "Of course, Duke Vale. Forgive me for the inconvenience, we are simply taking extra precautions these days," he said, bowing respectfully. My father nodded, understanding the situation. "That's quite alright, I understand the need for extra security. Thank you for your diligence." The guard stepped aside, allowing us to pass through the open gate and into the bustling city. I was filled with a sense of wonder as I took in the sights and sounds of Luminia, the bustling street vendors, and the chatter of the people and adventurers.