Chapter 3: Departures
In about an hour's time, Varlek was to leave this city for he had no idea how long. A day? A week? Or perhaps a month? No one knew the answer. What he was prepared for was to discover the motive of the Soulseekers before it became too late.
Varlek raised his head and caught a sight of his favorite, red overcoat hanging inside the cupboard. Smiling, he slipped the garment over his black padded shirt to provide extra comfort. Black leather pauldrons fitted his shoulders. The final touch fell back to adjusting his collar so that it flipped downward.
He was prepared.
With one hand holding Excalibur, Varlek left his room with a slam of his door – a bad habit which he couldn't temper, and would always attract lectures from his wife. This time, however, Resha came to him in good cheer.
"Are you leaving already, my dear?" came her worried voice.
"Yeah, and this time I'm not sure when I'll be bac-"
Varlek managed a painful "mmph" as his wife lunged forward and embraced him. Her hands banded tightly about his waist and she murmured, "You're home for no longer than a week and already you're leaving… again?" Resha paused there, agonized; she wanted to curse the king for the heavy task assigned to her husband, but understood her husband's burden.
"I'm sorry, Resha," said the knight, but his wife wasn't listening.
"Duty, duty, duty. You always said that you owe a duty to the country and the king, but what about your duty to your family? Do you know that we still bear double the responsibility to make up for our son's troubled childhood? He still couldn't get over his language and communication problems until today and he needs your support."
A pang of guilt struck Varlek's stomach. He had nothing else to say other than to apologize to his wife. His knight and family lives were both in jeopardy as he was not able to provide quality time to both. In the past, his work always came before family, and the result was clear – his son was growing distant from him.
By now, Varlek was scratching the back of his head. No solution would come easily, and he had to decide now that which side that he wanted let go.
"Y-You're such an idiot, Varlek Ariston," sobbed his wife. By normal standard, a woman would break into tears at this state of emotion, but Resha didn't. She was strong, and much to her inclination, she only wanted to lay her head down his chest. "But please promise me that you'll be back as soon as possible…"
"I will, I promise. I will," the answer flew out from his lips immediately.
"I love you, my dear," she tip-toed, wrapped him in her warm embrace, and gave him a peck.
"I love you too, darling."
Varlek guided his horse, Metor, alongside himself until they reached the city gate. In the distance, he caught sight of his son, leaning casually against the gray stone wall and waiting for him.
"Good morning," the teenager began.
Varlek waved back with a 'hi', then continued, "It's good to see you here, Glidas."
Thereafter, their mouths remained closed in that unnatural silence, saved for the busy street occupied by busy merchants.
"I'm sorry," Varlek lowered his head in defeat, not daring to catch sight of his son's face.
Glidas frowned; he wasn't really angry. He was just…
"You will be back, won't you?" it was then Glidas decided to jump straight to the final question.
"I will," answered the knight. He gave his son a light pat on the head even though he knew it was something he loathed with passion. "Just make sure that…things are still fine when I return."
"Promise?" Glidas sketched his right fist to the front.
"Promise." Varlek hit his fist back as a pledge towards his son.
"… I have another request," Glidas said as he twirled his fingers around each other. Only after his father nodded, did he stated his request with much enthusiasm. "Can you take me on a ride with Metor?"
"No problem," Varlek promised and hopped on top of his steed. He adjusted himself for a while then sketched his hand out, "Come." Taking his son's hand, he lifted him up effortlessly.
"You ready?" Glidas nodded, securing his hands around his father's waist. "Then let's go," Varlek kicked his horse once and they exploded into a pounding gallop. At first, the Glidas could feel his back swayed under the saddle, but when the best part came, hair was already flying into his eyes.
"Horses lend us the wings we lack," his father said.
Air glided against his face and green hills passed by. Glidas felt as if he was looking through a window. It was like a dream – he was flying. At this particular moment, he felt like he, his father, and the horse were together in a team. Nothing was going to separate them.
Finally, after travelling what felt like a million of miles, they were back to their starting point.
"That was great," said Glidas as he landed on the ground, still feeling a bit lightheaded.
Varlek smiled and stroke his hand past the mane of his horse. "All thanks to Metor for her companionship."
"Thanks," the teenager said, but Varlek placed a hand in front of him.
"Don't be, it's the least that I can do as a father. Anyway," the knight jumped off his horse and got back to the ground. "I've something to tell you." Glidas waited attentively and something in his eyes indicated he was listening. "You hold a great deal of power in light, but you have to learn to control it," said his father, and Glidas nodded without even knowing he did so. "Do not rush things, Glidas. Enchanting your sword with light magic requires patience, and being hasty isn't going to help. Remember, you have to take it on a step-by-step basic."
"But without you by my side, how am I supposed to do that?"
"It's fine," he placed a hand on Glidas' shoulder and continued. "I'll be back real soon, and then I can teach you more about your power. "
"You still have your mother by your side, and I promise I'll return as soon as possible."
By this time, Glidas could see the heavy but invisible burden that rested upon on his father's shoulders. As the leader of the Royal Orders. As a responsible and righteous knight. As a father to not only him, but also to everyone from this city. He couldn't share the burden with his father, but what he could do was understand his father's situation.
"I'll be waiting, father," said Glidas, though heavy-hearted. He saw his father winked back at him.
Looking up at the sky, which was already hung proudly above their heads, Varlek knew it was early no more. He bid farewell to his son, mounted on his trusted steed, and rode out the city gate. He would take his leave for now, for his comrades were waiting for him in Coalstrife Forest and he didn't want to keep them waiting. Before he left, he turned back to Glidas one last time. Once I'm done with this final task, I'll resign from the Royal Order to spend more time with you and Resha, Varlek said in his head. That is my promise to you, Glidas.
Faraway, Glidas watched intently until his father could be seen no more. He blinked his eyes once more, and heard a voice screaming.
"Hey Glidas, you're losing your concentration there," yelled Ranoth as he swept his sword at his friend. The blade came down, and Glidas dodged sideways, a second before it connected with his head. His friend shouted at him once more. "That was close, you idiot. What's up with your mind today?!"
Glidas lifted a free hand to tuck a few golden strands of his hair behind his ear, the corner of his lips upturned. He was back in the courtyard of his friend's house. "Nothing. Just wandering how should I defeat you and make you bow before me."
"So smug, but for how long?" Ranoth said as he raised his sword and charged forward. The steady thrum of blades gliding through space assumed a higher pitch, and the rich sound of metal swept over the battlefield like waves in the sea.
Eventually, the battle ended after many clashes of thunderous roars and flashes. Both were exhausted and headed for shelter beneath a tree.
"You're quite good," Glidas said, simple and short.
"You aren't bad either, especially that move where you risked a direct slash."
Glidas laughed from that. "That was to test your reaction, and if you didn't counter with fire pellets, I would've skewered you outright."
"Anyway," Ranoth stood up to his feet. "I'll go to get us some drinks."
"It's okay, plain water will do fine," said Glidas as he watched his disappearing friend. Suddenly, the world became a lot quieter. The blonde-headed teenager pondered: he had no friends except Ranoth, and without him sparring with him, he would have nothing else to work out with his free time. He sighed, leaned his head back and captured a sight of the blue cloudy sky.
"Poor boy," started the voice which surprised Glidas. Quickly, he turned and looked around and couldn't find the owner of the voice. The gentle blowing of wind around him, however, had come into an abrupt stop. "Poor boy," it repeated once more.
"Who are you?" Glidas shot himself up from the ground. "Reveal yourself."
For some reason, this person seemed to heed his words. An old woman, relatively short in her seventies, strolled out from the side and made her first appearance in front of the astounded teenager. How she made it here without his notice, he didn't know.
"Hear me out, boy," she coughed a few times before she continued. "Fate will play a cruel game with you, and you will be given a very, very important role."
Glidas didn't understand any word she said. His hand found the hilt of his sword, readied for defense if this woman did anything abnormal.
"You have a cross marked on your right wrist, don't you?"
Glidas stood there motionless, shocked. No one ever knew about his mark, not even his parents. He hid it from people's sight out of shame, and that was the reason of his devotion towards his gauntlet.
"Shut up!" he shouted and was about to pull his sword out, but a purple ray snaked to his right arm and kept him in strain. Another pulse launched his sword away from his tightened grip.
"You…" barked the teenager, but apparently the woman didn't care at all.
"The time has come for you to serve your purpose," she said as she slipped her sluggish form backward until it met the growing darkness. "Your fate has been predetermined. Accept it, tainted child…" her voice trailed off with a long echo.
"Tch." Seeing that the old woman was no more, Glidas grew concerned as pain began to spring out from his hand. It was like an ant bite's sting at first, but soon it grew worse. It changed into a wave of a hot blaze swimming on his wrist, and to make the matter worse his gauntlet was heating up. Glidas clenched his teeth as he took off the metal quickly, surprised to find the pulsing violet mist was no longer under his wounded scar. The pain faded away, though slowly, his hand now trembling. Like the old woman had mentioned, his scar was cross-shaped and had dried red stains over it – a sign of recent bleeding.
"Damn you old hag. You know nothing about me," he hissed through his lips. "Predetermined fate, what nonse-"
"Hey Glidas, what are you doing over there?" it was Ranoth. He was back already.
"Nothing." His pair of hazel eyes shot down, hands busied to relocate his gauntlet and to wear it back. Once done, he turned back to his friend.
"Here's your plain water," Ranoth said and tossed the container to him.
Glidas caught it, but with a price to pay. Another shock of pain burned his right wrist and stole the smile away from his face. Fear plagued him, and the thought of bad things going to happen occurred in his mind.
"Stupid people. Stupid day," Glidas cursed under his breath and balled his hand into fist.