Year 521 A.B. (Two Years Ago)
Knocks on his bedroom door alert Kahnyne who is hanging up his uniform’s blazer.
“One moment please.” he says, making his way to the door. Upon opening the door however, there is no one in sight.
“Surely, I did not miss any poltergeists when scanning the manor.” Kahnyne ponders.
Taking a step forward, he stops after finally noticing Rai who had been standing there silently clutching a book almost half his size to his chest.
“Good evening, Kahnyne.” he says looking up at him with a slight smile.
“Good evening, young master. Isn’t it a bit late...”
Kahnyne glances at his pocket watch “What brings you here at this hour?”
“I finished the book you gave you me, and I wanted to talk to you about it like we usually do, but you were pretty busy today, so I thought I could come now.” Rai utters with eyes shyly darting around the hallway.
Feeling slightly guilty, Kahnyne realizes that means Rai must have been in his room alone and waiting all day.
“I suppose I can’t say no to that, can I?” He says while smiling and taking the book from Rai’s hands. “But…” Kahnyne raises a finger to his lips. “We’ll have to be quiet.”
Clearly beaming, Rai nods his head, and they begin to make their way down the dimmed candle and moonlit hallway.
For a brief moment, the only thing to add ambiance to their trek is the sound of their muffled footsteps on the carpet, echoing throughout the hallway.
“So how was your day, Kahnyne?”
“A bit busy as you observed. After preparing your day’s meals ahead of time, I was tasked with patrolling the manor for any wandering poltergeists.”
“That must have taken forever. What about you Kahnyne? Did you ever get to eat or rest?” Rai asks with his voice taking on a sincere tone.
“Unfortunately not…” Kahnyne pauses to listen for anyone else awake in the manor. “However, I suppose it would be a good idea to stop by the kitchen for something to eat during our book time. Is there anything in particular that you have a taste for?”
Rai thinks for a moment before a light bulb goes off in his head. “A PB & B, please!”
Pleasantly surprised, Kahnyne responds.
“You really did finish the book, I see.”
Soon they arrive at the kitchen which transitions seamlessly from the hallway after a sharp right. It is decorated like much of the rest of the manor, yet much more warm and less superficial.
“You may take a seat for now if you’d like.”
Kahnyne says while making his way to the line of silver-colored appliances and cabinets commercially arranged along the wall.
Rai glances at the long wooden table surrounded by chairs, atop the carpet in the middle of the kitchen. A mirage-like image of himself sitting at the table with two people he can no longer recognize extracts a lonely expression from his face. He decides to stand by Kahnyne’s side. “No thanks, I’d rather watch you if that’s okay.”
“Of course. Let us grab you a chair then.”
Kahnyne pulls a chair from the table and places it in front of Rai who is standing on the tips of his toes in an attempt to make himself taller than the counter.
Rai climbs the chair and rests his arms against its back.
“You’re welcome, young master.”
Kahnyne reaches to open a cabinet, and with his watch in his face, he remembers what time it is, as well as what Rai’s parents would say if they stumbled upon their current situation. “We’re on the opposite end of the manor,” he thinks “But just in case…”
Kahnyne cracks a window, and opens the vent next to the stove’s smoke detector.
“Alright, let’s begin.” He announces, grabbing peanut butter, bread and an assortment of seasonings from the cabinet.
Rai climbs down from the chair and returns with all of the ingredients that he could reach from the refrigerator in his embrace: a small package of ground beef, bacon, and eggs.
“Great job!” Kahnyne places the ingredients on the counter. “That should be all if my memory serves me correctly.”
Kahnyne turns on the stove, and begins to prepare all of the ingredients in separate cast-iron pans. The smell of well-seared beef, bacon, and eggs fill the kitchen air, forming an aroma like that of a hearty brunch as each piece cooks to perfection. Captivated by the thought of what these blends of flavors may produce, they put the sandwiches together without delay, place them in an elegant domed container, and exit the kitchen.
“Let’s go to our usual spot! We’ve never been there at night.”
Rai happily whispers, while unknowingly quickening his pace down the hallway.
Kahnyne looks on, ready to ask for him to slow down, considering the fact that he is carrying the book and container, but yields, as the back he’s watching becomes someone else’s. A mixture of warmth, nostalgia and melancholy overtake him.
Rai stops in front of a large set of wooden doors decorated with glass.
“We’re here, Kahnyne!”
Finally catching up, Kahnyne hands Rai the container of food, and opens the door using a golden key pulled from his pocket.
The door leads to a large terrace with a clear view of the moon.
The two are awestruck, and thinking the same thing: the transition from the hallway’s dark wood floors to the terrace’s light, marbled stone had always seemed odd and out-of-place to them during the day, but right now the night’s moonlight is dancing on the glasslike marbling of their safe haven like the sun shining on crystal-clear water.
After taking enough time to appreciate their surroundings, they sit on a metal bench adjacent to the terrace’s railing, and place all that they are carrying on top of the table in front of them.
“Alright, let us get on to what we’ve been waiting for, shall we?” Kahnyne says, lifting the container’s lid, and revealing the sandwiches underneath.
With the same eagerness from earlier, Rai grabs one of the sandwiches, then looks to Kahnyne waiting for him to do the same.
Finally, they take their first bites.
“Savory with just the right amount of sweetness, and much better than I could have imagined...”
Kahnyne turns to Rai.
“How is it young mast-”
He pauses, greeted with the sight of Rai’s mouth being so full that he can’t speak; instead, he rapidly nods his head, sending some of the crumbs lining his mouth flying through the air.
A slight chuckle escapes Kahnyne’s mouth.
“No need to ask, I see.” Kahnyne takes his pen to a small notebook stored in his shirt’s breast pocket.
“Ready!” Rai exclaims, with his hands resting on his lap.
“Already? I knew it was a good idea to bring these along,” Kahnyne says, pocketing his notebook and pen. “So, what did you think about the book?”
“It was harder to read than some of the other books you gave me, but I really liked the story, so I couldn’t stop reading it...” Rai glances over at the crumbs of the decimated sandwich “...Plus, I really wanted to try the PB & B.”
Kahnyne chuckles once again.
“I see that! Still, to finish a book of that caliber in record time at your age is Impressive. I’d expect no less from you, young master.”
“Thank you...” Rai looks down at his feet. “It’s probably because of all the other books you’ve given me. Even when I didn’t understand something, you’d explain it to me until I knew it like my own name.”
Kahnyne senses a shift in Rai’s mood made even clearer by his slouching shoulders and swinging legs.
“Is everything alright?” he asks.
“This is fun, Kahnyne. Making sandwiches, eating together, the books we read, talking. It’s all so fun. I just wonder if this is what family should feel like. I read about it in our books, but mother and father…”
The air grows denser by the second, and Kahnyne attempts to console Rai.
“People and, by extension, families are complicated, and everyone’s circumstances are different. However,…” Kahnyne pauses, and thinks to himself. “However what? Why do they treat him like such a stranger? In fact, I haven’t even been informed about how they plan to satisfy their end of our deal.” Kahnyne resumes his answer Rai’s statement.
“... I have many questions myself, young master.”
Seconds of awkward silence pass over the span of what feels like minutes.
“For now, let’s not trouble ourselves with this. As long as I am here, you will not be alone.”
Kahnyne sighs to himself as the only answer that he can think of seems to be enough to satisfy Rai for now.
“Thanks, Kahnyne!” he exclaims as his eyes refill with light.
“Of course! Although we didn’t really talk as much as usual, perhaps we should check in for tonight though. Aside from meal prepping, I have no duties to attend to tomorrow.”
“So we can start reading early?” Rai beams.
“Exactly.” Kahnyne says while giving a thumbs up, a somewhat out of place expression coming from him.
Rai, who was originally fighting back the allure of returning to his room to sleep, immediately rises to his feet with eagerness, haste, and a smile on his face.
Kahnyne packs up their things and rises after him.
Together, the two of them reenter the manor and after a series of twists and turns through its lonely hallways, they arrive at the all too familiar and dreaded sight of the door to Rai’s room.
“Here we are, young master. Do you need anything else before I head back?”
Kahnyne opens the door and turns to look at Rai, expecting to see him staring solemnly at his door as usual, but instead meets his gaze.
“I’m fine! Thanks, Kahnyne! Goodnight.” Rai waves as he enters the room.
Kahnyne closes the door behind him and almost immediately hears a plop on Rai’s bed instead of the usual drag of feet; this brings a smile to Kahnyne’s face as he turns to return to his own quarters.
Not long after returning to his room and preparing for bed, Kahnyne hears more knocking on his door.
“One moment.” Kahnyne rises from bed and opens the door while looking down, only to be met with the sight of suede red slippers instead of Rai looking back up at him.
“Expecting someone else?” the woman says, snapping Kahnyne’s gaze forward revealing Rai’s mother standing there in a crimson red nightgown, her signature color.
A bit surprised on the inside, Kahnyne replies plainly.
“Not at all, ma’am. I was actually just wanting to speak with you and the sir.”
“I’m glad that we are already on the same page. Come along then,” she motions.
The two of them walk in an eerie silence until they arrive at a door that’s suffocating in its presence. It looks just like Rai’s: wooden and somewhat dungeon-like in its design.
The woman opens the door and motions for Kahnyne to enter. The smell of burning wood fills the air, and the first thing Kahnyne notices other than the decorative connection to this room and Rai’s is Rai’s father waiting for the two of them to enter.
“Good evening, Kahnyne.” he says, nodding his head to greet him.
“Good evening, sir.”
“Time flies, does it not? It’s been two years already...” He says standing up and brushing off his clothes.
“How are you adjusting to life here?”
“Quite well. Every once in a while an unexpected tier 3 or 4 makes an appearance, but it is nothing I have not handled before.”
“I’m surprised you didn’t mention the ‘young master’. You two seem to get along quite well.” the woman mocks, while circling around Kahnyne to stand next to the man.
Something about hearing her mention him in such a fashion makes his heart anxiously skip a beat.
“Of course. However, not mentioning him in my first statement was unintentional,” he fires back somewhat passive-defensively.
“No need to be on-guard, Kahnyne…” The man pauses. “However, it may not be a good idea to get too attached.”
“What do you mean, sir?” Kahnyne’s expression turns into one of alarmed curiosity.
“I am certain that you have been wondering about the specific contents of our deal. It has been two years after all. Well, they are directly tied to the boy.” The man says while leveling his hand to about Rai’s height.
“What are you getting at?” Kahnyne says as his expression sharpens.
“The boy’s violet-colored eyes, the high level of astral activity around the manor, the intense signature coming from him himself…”
The man sits on the arm of the loveseat. “... I think you have an idea as to where this is going. I mean, how couldn’t you?”
“Blessed or cursed as they may be, the boy is one of those children. He is 8 years old now. Once past 8, those children are safe from the threat of self-destruction…” the woman flashes an enigmatic smile at Kahnyne, “Well, usually.”
Kahnyne’s low-hung eyes fly open with a murderous intent as he holds his open palm up in front of him. He wants to tell her that her mockery of him is tolerable, but bringing up his son up in such a manner is a deathwish. To tell her that she’ll regret it… but he shouldn’t. Or is it that he can’t? The fire leaves him as quick as it is ignited.
“Stand down, Kahnyne. We both know that you can’t afford to do that. And, Airis, that comment was a bit much, even from you,” the man says, sounding bothered.
“I was only curious, Sirian. I’ve heard so much about ‘The Scholar’, but he seems so dull now.” Airis says in a tone that shows she is not taking the situation seriously.
“Maybe you would take him more seriously if you had actually seen him at work.”
Airis slightly shrugs her shoulders, causing Sirian to massage his brow in frustration.
“Anyhow, let us continue. Any more distractions and we’ll awake the boy.”
After a deep breath, Kahnyne lowers his hand; the tension in the room is lifted… barely. “At this point we can be fairly sure that he will not self-destruct. Which means that he is finally ready to start walking the path to becoming an exorcist so outstanding that our family can reclaim our place as high nobles. And the first step… is calibrations.” Sirian makes sweeping gesture, suggesting that this is what the room is for.
“Calibrations? That is on the borderline of committing taboo. Besides, putting him through that kind of trauma could affect the weight of his soul so much that you could be getting the opposite of what you want.”
“A fair assessment; however, he will be erasing the worst of criminals, ‘the lost and damned’. Besides...” Sirian points at Kahnyne who feels as if a spear is about to pierce his soul. “That’s part of the reason why we chose you. It would be an understatement to say that you know how to craft an exorcist. I hear that one of your former pupils, an underdog with the capacity of an Altersci, just became one of the youngest division captains in the history of the New World. And like him, you are to make the boy strong, educate him...” Airis raises her hand signaling her rejoining the conversation.
“And as for the weight of his soul: carry on as you have, if you wish, but don’t get too close. He obviously finds solace in you, but we can’t have him getting too soft. The perfect way to start seeing him for what he is would be dropping the honorifics when addressing him.” For this statement she leaves no room for her usual sarcasm.
“So, Kahnyne? You have been silent for a while now. Now that you know the terms of our deal, what will you do?” Sirian says shifting his curious gaze from Airis to Kahnyne.
This is the conversation that he had always dreaded. The one that he knew he would have someday, but chose to push into the ignorant part of his conscious. He fights within himself to come up with another answer, another response.
But as the weight over him becomes more and more crushing, Kahnyne feels his face, body, and soul go numb.
“I have no other choice,” he says with a voice not revealing exactly what he is feeling.
Sirian and Airis glance at each other.
“Hmm. Very well then. Return to your quarters, and bring the boy here in the morning. We start tomorrow.”
“Understood. Goodnight, Sir, Ma’am.”
Kahnyne returns to his room where he sits on the edge of his bed. All of his senses escape him as silent, faceless memories, play back to him like distorted films and fever dreams. A young woman in a white dress holding a bouquet of flowers. A pale, petite hand extended from a hospital bed clutching his with all its might. His arms cradling a baby wrapped in a tear-soaked blanket. A tombstone. A young boy extending a book to him. A crater with nothing in its center but shreds of clothing. A young boy clutching a book to his chest.
Morning arrives, sunlight and grey warmth pierce through Kahnyne’s window. The chirping of birds echo dully in his head as he sits grey and contrasted against the sunlight. He rises from where he was sitting and exits his room.
“Wake up, young master.”
Rai rises out of bed rubbing his eyes. A bit shocked. He usually knocks first.
“Good morning, Kahnyne. Is it breakfast time already?”
“Your mother and father would like to see you.”
The shock instantly jolts Rai awake. His heart races, pounding like it will leave his chest.
“Oh…” his eyes dart around the room.
“Is there time for breakfast first?” he says meekly after a pause.
What feels like an eternity to Rai passes as he walks in silence looking at the side of Kahnyne’s face. Ten paces. Twenty paces. One hundred paces. Rai gains the courage to speak.
“Kahnyne? I’m sorry. Did I do something wrong?”
“No, young master.” Kahnyne says with his eyes fixed forward like a statue.
He knows that he will not have the strength to carry on if he looks at Rai’s sad eyes.
“Strength?” He doesn’t even know if he can call it that.
Moments later they arrive at the door to the training room. Rai looks at its doors wide-eyed before gaining the courage to speak again.
“Hey, Kahnyne? Are we still going to have our book time later?”
Kahnyne reaches for the doorknob.
“Sorry, perhaps some other time.”
Kahnyne bites his lip from the inside of his mouth until the taste of iron fills his mouth.
“We may not for a long time…”
Before Rai can respond, Kahnyne opens the door and ushers him in.
His parents stand in the center of the room next to an altar covered in miscellaneous objects, candles, and chalk, and a summoning circle already drawn.
“Good morning, you two.” Sirian says with a bit more enthusiasm in his voice than usual.
Kahnyne simply bows in response.
Rai is stiff as a board.
“Good morning... Why did you need me today?”
Sirian kneels to Rai’s level.
“To discuss your future…” he says while opening his arms in an inviting gesture. “Now, come, boy.”
Rai glances back at Kahnyne who is still looking at nothing, yet looking at something, and hesitantly walks in front of his father.
“Say, what do you want to be when you grow up; a surgeon? A CEO? An engineer of something groundbreaking?”
Sirian says while resting a hand on Rai’s head.
His touch sends waves of anxiety and uncertainty through his body.
“I don’t know. Maybe…” He responds after once again glancing back at Kahnyne. “A butler?”
Airis, who has been quiet this entire time, howls with laughter. Sirian, removes his hand from Rai’s head and uses it to retrieve a small mirror from his pocket. He aggressively pulls Rai to him, lining them up side by side in the view of the mirror extended from his hand. Rai is forced to look himself in the eyes next to Sirian’s reflections.
“Do you know why all of the medical practitioners who come here look at you the way that they do? With fear and angst? It’s because you are different Rai. With power that could bring this family back to the forefront of our country and continent should you dedicate yourself to it. You feel it.” Sirian proclaims, darkly writing Rai’s fate for him.
Rai looks away from the mirror.
“Why can’t things just be like they were before... we were happy.”
His plea falls on adamant ears.
“You have no idea how ’things’ were before, boy. I am done speaking to you like a child. You are far too smart for that…” Sirian rises to his feet, preparing a blast to activate the summoning circle. “You have power and an obligation to use it. At this very moment, you begin your training to become an exorcist.”
Rai looks on in horror and falls backwards as the flames violently rise in front of him.
“Kahnyne?” He cries, looking behind him in search of comfort in the only one he can think of reaching for…
But all he sees is Kahnyne’s back as he exits the room.