It was a day like any other. The sun was shining brightly in the clear blue sky, without a single cloud in sight.
Within a small one-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles, the sounds of birds singing could be heard from the outside.
There was a small beige couch in the living room facing the TV. On the left side of the couch was a large window, with potted plants growing on the windowsill. The sun shone through the window into the living room, brightening the entire apartment.
On the right side of the couch was a kitchen countertop with a small stove and some workspace, where a woman was happily humming while chopping up some vegetables.
The woman had long platinum-blonde hair, which cascaded over her shoulders. She was only slightly over 160 cm tall, with a slender build. Upon her beautiful face was a small smile as her piercing ice-blue eyes cast a look over her shoulders, her gaze landing upon a table behind her where a young boy of no more than five was sitting.
The boy had a serious expression on his chubby little face, which combined with his messy golden hair that was pointing in every direction in the air, made him look extremely adorable. His navy-blue eyes were fixated on a plate in front of him.
A deep frown was etched on the boy's face as he gazed upon the most formidable nemesis of his brief life, namely Brussels sprouts.
A resolute expression flashed on the boy's face as he pulled the plate towards himself and turned to look at his mother. Simply judging by the look on his face, he was making the sacrifice of a lifetime.
"Mom, I've decided." he declared in all seriousness, making the woman hide her smile with the back of her hand.
"Oh? What decision did you make, my brave little boy?" asked the woman, while making an equally serious face of her own.
"I shall eat the Brussels sprouts! But!!" the boy declared with a dramatic pause before continuing.
"I demand two scoops of ice cream as dessert instead of one!" he continued.
Making an expression as if she was pondering deeply about the matter, the woman was silent for a while before answering the boy.
"Fine, we have a deal young man." She finally answered before giving the boy a small kiss on his forehead.
This caused the boy to reveal a triumphant smile, which quickly soured as he turned back to look at the Brussels sprouts.
"The sacrifices we make for the things we love..." he muttered under his breath, causing his mother to laugh out loud while shaking her head.
'That little rascal... he is resembling his father more and more with his dramatic speeches.' she thought.
"Now, now, eat your vegetables before your father gets back home with Fluffy. Otherwise, he might not take you with us to see his show." the woman admonished the young boy.
After hearing his mother's warning, the boy's eyes widened, and he started to quickly devour the Brussels sprouts. With the gusto he was eating, no one would have suspected it was his least favorite food.
The young boy was Cassius Hale. He was the only child of Julia and Markus Hale. The Hales were a small family and lived an average life, which they were happy with. Julia was an only child and her parents had passed away before Cassius was born, so he had never met them. Meanwhile, Markus was known as a black sheep in his family and had no contact with them. Cassius only knew his grandmother and uncle were at least alive since he had one evening heard his parents talk about visiting them after Markus's father had passed away. In the end, they never did and only Markus attended the funeral of his father. In addition to the Hale trio, the family did have a dog. His name was Fluffy, and he was a rottweiler.
Markus had named Fluffy. He thought the contrast between the muscular and short-haired, large dog and the name was hilarious. Julia had given him the silent treatment for almost a week after that. She had only consented to the name since the then two-year-old Cassius had loved it.
Julia Hale was a 32 years old stay-at-home mom who used to work as a hairdresser. Shortly after having Cassius, she quit her job altogether.
Markus Hale was 33 years old small-time magician whose career was on the rise. He had recently caught the eye of a small agency and through them, several clubs and bars had booked him to perform, and his popularity had risen in the area.
Markus' family had been vehemently against the idea of him becoming a professional magician, and their relationship had soured ever since. Even after attending his father's funeral, Markus had no more contact with his mother or brother and never mentioned them.
Markus had met Julia in Los Angeles while he was getting a new haircut, a day before his first show in the city. The mischievous and handsome magician had quickly charmed the young woman, and she promised to come and see his show the next day. Five years later, the young couple, now in their late-twenties had tied the knot.
Soon the fumbling for keys could be heard from outside the apartment door, accompanied by a few barks from a dog.
Hearing that, Cassius quickly shoved the two last Brussels sprouts into his mouth. His already chubby cheeks were further inflated by the two balls that threatened to pour out of his tiny mouth.
Holding his hands in front of his mouth to keep anything from spilling out, he chewed slowly.
Seeing her adorable little child, Julia couldn't help but chuckle. The young boy loved magic tricks, and he adored his father and always insisted on seeing his shows. His enthusiasm for magic had gone so far that they had even bought a few kids' magic sets for him that were meant for children twice his age.
What had surprised them, however, was little Cassius' tenacity. They had expected him to grow tired of these sets rather quickly, as most children would. But contradictory to their expectations, he always insisted on practicing daily.
Since he was only a child, he was often clumsy or didn't completely understand how the tricks worked, but through repetition and with guidance from his parents, he slowly learned how to perform them. Now Cassius, just like his father, held magic shows of his own. However, his audience consisted of only two people and a dog.
Soon the door opened, and a man and a dog walked inside. The man was 190 cm tall, with a slim but muscular build, and dark blonde hair.
The moment he stepped inside, his navy-blue eyes were glued to the woman standing beside the kitchen counter. She was only wearing a white tank-top and jean shorts that tightly hugged her figure. The man's eyes seemed to devour every inch of her as he looked at her from head to toe.
Noticing her husband's gaze, Julia simply rolled her eyes and let out a small snort.
The dog Fluffy, however, immediately rushed towards Cassius while wagging his tail.
Cassius giggled as Fluffy poked his thigh with his head while holding a tennis ball in his mouth.
Just as Cassius was about to reach for the ball, his mother's stern voice came behind and said; "Do not throw the ball inside the apartment."
Pouting, Cassius withdrew his hand and turned toward his father with a pleading look.
Seeing his cute son looking at him with pleading puppy eyes and his chubby little cheeks slightly puffed up, Markus was about to say it was fine before he felt a chill go down his spine.
Turning to look at his wife, he noticed her glare. Before he could say or do anything, she simply mouthed to him: Say yes and no sex tonight.
Defeated, Markus cast an apologetic look at Cassius while shaking his head.
Cassius dejectedly hung his head while Fluffy, still clueless about what was going on, happily wagged his tail with the ball in his mouth and eyes filled with expectation.
Looking at the two Hale men that looked like their country had been stolen, Julia couldn't help but roll her eyes again.
Just as Julia was about to open her mouth to say something, a light-blue screen appeared in front of her.
Shocked, she quickly read the three lines of text that appeared on the screen.
[Earth's evolution stage one has finished. Mana has started to surge forth from the planet's core.]
[The Ascendant's System has been unlocked.]
[Welcome to the path of transcendence.]
[To check the user's status, simply say or think "Status".]
Julia could feel some new form of energy flowing through her. She brought up her hand and with a single thought, a small bright blue ball of energy, no larger than a marble, appeared on her palm. At the same time, she could feel a sense of fatigue envelop her, as all the previous energy had left her body.
"What the..." she started to curse out loud before pausing. She noticed that Fluffy was acting strangely.
Fluffy's eyes were flickering with a bright red light. His tail had stopped wagging, and he was now looking at Cassius with his teeth bared. A low growling sound came from his mouth. Slight hesitation could be seen, as Fluffy had crouched down, seemingly ready to pounce but had yet to make any move.
The muscles on Fluffy's hind legs were taut, it was clear that with just a thought, Fluffy could jump upon Cassius.
Simply two seconds had passed after Julia had finished reading the lines on the blue screen and paused mid-sentence.
Suddenly Markus' figure appeared next to Fluffy, and with a kick, Fluffy was sent flying to a wall. Markus quickly scooped up Cassius and ran next to Julia.
The moment the blue screen had appeared, Markus had noticed from the corner of his eye that Fluffy had stiffened unnaturally. Sensing that something was wrong, Markus had slowly made his way towards the living room. Clearly, he had been correct, as Fluffy had shown unforeseen aggression towards Cassius.
Placing Cassius into Julia's arms, Markus turned around and grabbed a kitchen knife.
Noticing that his wife was spacing out, looking right in front of her where Fluffy had been, with unfocused eyes, Markus grabbed her arm and shook her.
Awoken from her stupor, Julia looked at Markus, still in a slight daze. She still hadn't really processed what had happened.
"Take Cass, and hide in the bathroom. Don't come out until I say it's... AARGH!!" Markus started to say, but he was interrupted as a sharp pain coursed through his leg, making him scream out loud. He glanced down and saw Fluffy looking at him with now completely red glowing eyes with his teeth sunk into his leg.
Markus's eyes visibly shook as he noticed the blood flowing down his leg and dripping onto the floor.