"It is time to wake, child," said the Count with the grimness of a dying man. The count really didn't want to speak like this to a mere child but with the way that things were, there was going to be no other option for him. It reminded him of the previous evening when he'd been able to grab the boy for himself. This was a risk, a gamble even and the Count was not usually a gambling man. He wondered what made him want to take a risk on this child.
The Count didn't even truly understand how it had come to this. Here he was, in the middle of the night in his favorite carriage, heading to cash in a favor. Let alone that, he was also forced to mobilize two of his men from their vacations to protect the carriage on his journey east. Still, if it was any consolation, it was almost over now. Or so he hoped. Those two were oddballs who were still chatting about inane things as they cleared the way.
The child was a strange one. It was hard to really say how old he really was as the child was small framed, malnourished and possessed almost feminine elfin features. Despite the softer features and seeming frailty, there was also strength here. The Count felt that the boy seemed more like a strange kind of twisted tree more than anything else. The Sensor had said so as well. The Sensor had tested the elemental affinity of the boy and it was an odd Radiant affinity.
The Radiant shared some common physical and emotional characteristics due to the bleeding of their elements but this child did not even resemble the least common denominator of those. All of those pledged to the Light of the Radiant were bright, passionate and entirely without any inner darkness. They also possessed some of the light as a physical characteristic, either brilliant golden eyes or golden hair of various shades. The boy didn't have anything like that but instead was dark haired and dark eyed. Yet there were those eyes, brighter and darker than any that even he had ever seen.
Yet, the Sensor saw the light in the dark recesses of the boy's soul. The boy had forced it, forced his soul to ignite and burn with the light within. It took willpower, a will that would not break, would not bend and would never falter. It was a will that would never give up even if crushed into the earth but this was no good thing either. Such Radiant ones would never be as strong as those who were naturally attuned to the Radiant.
The Count kept up with the act that boy carried out now. To another person it would seem off in some manner as the middle-aged man in the gold trimmed white suit stared at a boy wearing rags wiping his eyes. There were no words. It was an act because both of them knew that there was no sleep to be had for the boy. Not with the sounds of the screaming coming from outside. The Count sighed, those two were playing with the poor prey again.
"I ask again, little one, do you truly understand the gravity of your choice? Do you?" The Count asked using all of the command in his disposal. Judging from the badges on the white suit that he wore, he was no ordinary Count but rather a well decorated military man. So when he asked with all his regard, it was no joke. Still, the boy did not even tremble a little.
"I understand sir," said the boy who was trying his level best to stare at his own worn leather shoes. Like every other object that he owned now, they were all given to him by her. What he looked like was a beggar but all of the odd mismatching items of clothing were given by her and he could not let her go, not now. He knew that the clothes were old, worn and travel stained but since she made it for him, they were the best uniform for him where he was going to.
"Let me be clear, I am here to hand over the responsibilities of your care as a guardian to the Garden." The Count leveled his gaze at the boy. "You'll not be allowed to leave the Garden unless you each the age of majority, join the Academy or die, whichever of these come first. Are you sure that this is clear?"
"Mhm-hm," the boy absent-mindedly affirmed. He was paying more attention to the sounds from outside the carriage. The sounds seemed to have died out.
"I can…I can foster you and it would not be trouble some in the least. I do not have children of my own and my wife, well, she'd almost given up on a child. So I do not think that you would be a hindrance to my plans in any way." Guilt was in the Count's heart but he knew that if he did not make this offer now, he would be riddled with regret till the day that he passed away.
"The Garden will be home for me," said the boy with a gravitas that was odd and heartbreaking to see in a child. "I thank you for your grace, but I have already been given a path and I cannot stray." The count felt the discordance even now, the adult words from a child's body and his discomfort seemed to have shown on his face as the boy smiled all of a sudden. "I'll still ask you to support me financially for the first few years. I'm not sure if at the end you might think of this investment as a loss." The boy smiled a wan, yet charming smile and the Count decided to rein his odd emotions in.
"Very well, it would be best if you survive this. Get me some achievements, enough to make the court hear your name. That would be repayment for my risk. If you die before that, my bet would fail and this entire endeavor would be my loss. So better not die." The boy only nodded.
The Count knew that their conversation was done and there was still a good hour to go before they reached the end of their destination. What would occur there was still not set in stone. That was why despite the rush he was still dressed in full military honors and carried his favorite cane, the one with the jeweled gryphon head.
"Aetos, Zyste, get to work. Don't skimp on your powers. I have to reach before those two move again." He knocked his cane with the gryphon head twice on the floor of the carriage. Two voices of assent came through the shutters of the carriage. "Boy, open the shutters. It is time you see what true warriors are capable of when the need is great." There was pride in his voice. These were his subordinates. They would never let him down.
The carriage was heading into the desolate lands, where nothing grew and nothing survived the day. That was why they were rushing in the dead of the night. Yet that did not mean that this was a safe place. Monsters, creatures of magic and might crawled out of their deep pits to feed, hunt and live at night. The carriage with its Thousand mile horses and seemingly weak defence was the perfect prey for the monsters.
Yet that was not the case. Not at all. There were three men seated at the front. One was the coachman and the other two were Aetos and Zyste, two of the best of the best hand-picked by the count. The two military men seemed to be more like shadows than men as they wrapped themselves in greats cloaks of black.
"Aetos, the usual?"
Zyste nodded as as they summoned their magic in response to the command from the count. Till now, they'd managed to keep the beasts at bay with well placed arrows and harpoons. They had expected to need to use their mana sometime in this journey but the need of their commander seemed to be dire.
Aetos, the smaller man of the two summoned what could only be the wind. The lackadaisical breeze suddenly whipped itself into hazy streams of air that seemed to be almost visible to the eye. He moved his hands as he whispered incantations lost in the roar of the wind. T. Faint green wings seemed to form on the hooves of the horses as well as the sides of the carriage. Once manifest, the carriage as well as the horses moved much, much faster than any of the monsters here.
"Not bad, my friend but you forgot this. Serve! Crash!" Light spilled out of the sky as branches of lightning struck the flying monsters. Several had already been in a free-dive seeing their prey starting to speed up.
"You're a monster, you know," said Aetos as he sighed and sat back next to the driver. "Tell me, don't you think that he was over the top right now? Why didn't he use a stun spell instead of the Thundercrash spell?"
"Don't bring others into this mess, Aetos, I merely wanted to let the beasts know that we of the House of Gryphon are not prey."
"You simply wanted to show off to the boss right? Didn't you say that the boss's cousin sister was worth giving your left n…"
"Hell no,"stuttered the other man and it was quite clear as to why.
"SHUT THE HELL UP, YOU MORONS!" Roared the Count from within the carriage. Inside the carriage he was red-faced with embarrassment. "ONCE WE GET BACK, WE'RE GOING TO SPAR. SO BETTER SAVE UP ALL OF YOUR ENERGY." This night never seemed to end as he continued to sigh.