The sun's first rays were just beginning to paint the landscape with warm, golden hues on the fifth day of Iunius. A floral scent wafted in the breeze as the residents of Didyma were slowly rousing from their slumbers. All, except for one certain thirteen year old who had been up well before the sun had even thought to peek over the horizon. His name was Lucius Aelius.
In the southeast corner if the village, there was a spacious villa tucked in by vineyards and groves of olives and figs. It was in this villa where young Lucius could be found working hard on his morning routine. He would start out with stretches to warm his muscles before exercising. Lucius was driven to rise before the sun every day, for he had a goal he was working towards.
"Today's...the...day..." The young teen panted to himself, working through his push ups and crunches, "Today...I...do it..." his mop of wavy brown hair began to get sweaty, "I'll reach...the old man's...level."
The name of his father, Valerius Aelius, was world renown as he had once been the globe's undefeated gladiator at the swords, before he retired to the more peaceful life of the vineyards and groves. Lucius had the hope that one day he could equal his father, or by some miracle, surpass him.
Rays from the sun began to stream through his window, dancing with the shadows as he finished his cardio and began working on his morning yoga routine which his father had taught him from his time in India. He became so absorbed and lost in his poses and thoughts, that he missed the first three calls for breakfast.
It wasn't until the clear, sharp voice of his half-sister cut through his thoughts that he paid attention.
"Breakfast time is now, Lucius," the half-Youkai's lavender, cat-like eyes flashed in irritation at him, causing him to flinch, "Mother has called a few times already. If you do not come now, I will feed your breakfast to Marius."
The younger one flailed at the thought of his food being given to his moody older brother.
"No, no! I'll be right there, save my food!"
She gave him a curt nod before disappearing from the doorway, leaving him to the aroma of eggs, bacon, and toast. His stomach now growled, after it realized it was empty. Lucius hurriedly splashed water on his face from the porcelain basin in his room, before running down to the kitchen. He was nearly drooling with a big smile on his face as he took his seat next to the ever sour Marius, and began scooping food onto his plate.
This show of Lucius' extremely good mood put Marius into an even more cantankerous mood. The older boy gave Lucius a side glare from under his long, black bangs, which seemed to forever cover his dark eyes. "What's there to be so cheerful about this early in the morning?"
Lucius turned to him, giving him a cocky smile with a mouthful of food, "'Cause today's the day I'm gonna best dad at the sword!"
Marius' eyes narrowed as he scoffed, "Yeah, right, like a pipsqueak like you could ever have what it takes."
"I am not such a pipsqueak!" the youngest Aelius huffed, his lack of height was a sore point for him, "And I'll prove that I got what it takes!"
"You just think you're so great, don't you," Marius snarled, "All that special treatment and affection has gone to that fool head of yours. You're not so great, you're just a damn, cocky, spoiled brat!"
"That's enough, Marius," Aiko, their half-sister cut in, her stony tone causing them both to freeze. It wasn't that she didn't understand Marius' feelings; she understood all too well. The extra coddling that both parents were giving to Lucius was not only unfair, but it was also giving the boy a too large dose of pride. Yet, she was also able to see things from their side as well, as she had glimpsed into the possible futures of both boys and the vast contrast between the two; Marius with his darkness, and Lucius with an all too heavy burden to carry.
As she was reflecting, Lucius gave Marius a gloating look before returning to his food. His golden brown eyes wandered over to their father's empty chair. The dishes were already cleared. Figuring that his father was already outside waiting, he began to eat faster, slurping and gulping his breakfast down, bits of it flying.
Marius twitched in great annoyance as some of his younger brother's egg flew and hit him in the face. He angrily slammed his fork and knife down. "What the hell are you, a damn pig?!"
Lucius turned towards the infuriated Marius and made a face, opening his mouth wide enough to show the mashed up food in it.
Just as Marius opened his mouth to snap at him, Aiko stood in aggravation and began clearing her space, her cat eyes flashing angrily at her half-brothers, "Honestly, thanks to the two of you, I never get a moment of peace! Just once, I would like to have a nice, quiet meal!"
The sound of a soft, gentle laughter from over by the sink caused the three siblings to turn. Their mother, Aurelia, was shaking her head as she laughed, her copper colored ringlets quivering and dancing while her emerald eyes seemed to glitter, as she took in the view of her three children. "No matter how old you become, you three still squabble like you did when you were toddlers," she then sighed softly, "Aiko, honey, leave the mothering to me, and Marius, leave Lucius alone, there's nothing wrong with him being happy in the morning, is there?"
Aiko's pale cheeks flushed to a light pink as she was admonished, while Marius looked down pensively at his plate. Lucius gave his mother a sweet smile before going back to gobbling down the eggs on his plate.
Marius' brow furrowed as he stood abruptly, grabbing his dishes, and stomping to the sink. He dumped them in and shot his mother a look, "It's never that one's fault, right?" Before she could answer, he turned and stomped outside.
Concerned, Aiko started after him, only to be stopped by her mother's gentle hand, "Let him be, he's frustrated right now. He just needs to go blow off steam with his friends. He'll be back in a day or two with everything forgotten."
The younger woman silently clenched her fist as she walked back to the sink to wash the dishes. It was this favoritism and dis-concern for Marius' feelings that troubled her greatly. Yes, she could sense the terrible, innate darkness inside of him, but shouldn't that mean they needed to be working even harder with him? As much as she wanted to make this point, she knew it would only fall on deaf ears. The half-Youkai frowned as she scrubbed the plates. Marius' destiny wasn't fully written in stone, was it? She muttered to herself in her father's native tongue of Japanese.
Through out this ordeal, Lucius had finished devouring his eggs and bacon and was now chugging down his orange juice. He had become so accustomed to Marius' outbursts, that he was now able to just ignore it all. Instead, he focused on his own morning ambitions.
Once he was finished with his juice, he hurried out the door, leaving his dishes for his mother and Aiko to clear. Showing his father that he had improved was more important than dishes, after all.
As he stepped out the door, young Lucius could feel excitement and a new-found readiness surging through his veins. The bright, morning light caused his eyes to water slightly as he blinked his eyes. He took a deep breath, inhaling the sweet, summer air, while a gentle breeze tousled his chocolate colored locks. A smile spread across his face. Yes, this day would turn out different.
"It's about time you came out to face me," a cheerful voice broke into his thoughts, "I was about to give up on waiting for you."
Lucius looked off to his right and saw his father smiling at him. Valerius Aelius stood tall, hands on his hips. The two resembled each other and although the retired gladiator was now in his late forties, he still had the athletic build from back in the day. His golden eyes danced as he smiled at his youngest son, "I hope Marius' foul mood hasn't ruined your fighting spirit."
"Never!" Lucius grinned, mimicking his father's stance, "Especially since this is the morning in which I defeat you!"
"That's the spirit!" his father roared approvingly, "But first, let's meditate with our swords a while before we begin."
"Do we have to?" Lucius groaned as he was handed his old scabbard. He could tell the stern look that his father would give was on his face. "I know, I know, dad, meditation before brings a balanced mind to the duel."
"And lets your stomach settle after your meal," Valerius muttered mostly to himself.
They sat in a lotus position, facing each other as they meditated, each one focusing on the duel ahead.
For Valerius, the hour flew by, but for eager Lucius, it crawled achingly by. The moment Aurelia stepped outside and rang the bell to bring them out of their concentration, Lucius opened his eyes and leaped to his feet, "Are you ready for me to take your title away, old man?"
"Oh? Is that what's going to happen?" his father chuckled as he rose to his own feet.
"You bet it is!"
"Watch out, Valerius," Aurelia called out to her husband, "He's very serious today!" She pulled out a chair and sat to watch the two bond over a sparring match.
Valerius took his usual offensive stance while Lucius went into a defensive one. They sized each other up for a moment, until Lucius surprised his father by suddenly switching to an offensive stance, then striking out at him. Caught off guard by his son's ambitious, impulsive move, he took a step back while blocking Lucius' sword just in time.
This was the first time that Lucius ever went in for the first strike. Valerius smiled in appreciation of his son's sudden gumption, which only seemed to prick him on to attack more. The elder Aelius blocked and parried Lucius' series of attacks while throwing in a few offensive counter-riposts of his own.
The determination in the eyes of Lucius was clear as his sword clashed with his father's again and again. He could feel the adrenaline rushing through his veins the more their blades crossed. His movements were gaining speed and accuracy in response to his father's movements. The young teen would dodge and parry before adding a few attacking thrusts of his own. His father's chuckles of delight at each strike only added fuel to his fire.
He thought of how his father always seemed to be more amused with him than taking him seriously. He also thought of Marius and his contempt and constant degrading insults towards him. Lucius grit his teeth as these thoughts tormented him, egging him on to prove himself. If he could at least match his father, then they both would have to take him seriously. This single thought drove his attacks to become swifter and stronger.
The sound of their swords' fury lured Aiko to watch them from a window. Being a half-Youkai, her eyes easily picked up on their motions as though they were moving at a slow speed. She was able to note the changes in her youngest brother's movements. They were now more sturdy and calculated than any time before. His change in skill and approach piqued her interest enough for her to venture outside in order to watch them as she hung the laundry.
Valerius was now feeling a great pride towards his son as his new-found determination and skill became more and more apparent. Lucius was now showing signs of being able to pre-calculate his father's movements and act accordingly. It had been years since Valerius was able to get this much enjoyment out of a spar.
His laughter of joy was lost on Lucius, as he took it to mean that he still wasn't being taken seriously. He concentrated more on steadying his footwork to make more cunning advances and retreats to catch the older man off guard. Lucius was now on a full attack, moving in forcefully.
As Valerius was forced to move back two paces, he called out eagerly, "Yes, son! That's more like it!" There was a feeling of euphoria that he got when having to be forced to defend himself from his son's continual onslaught of attacks.
As the duel continued on, Aurelia clapped and cheered while Aiko stopped putting up the laundry to watch. To the two women, this looked less like a duel, and more like a well choreographed dance of blades.
The father and son sparring match did not last much longer though, as Lucius forced his father back five paces, giving him the momentum to swiftly feint, then disarm the man. At that moment, time almost seemed to freeze, even his mother froze in mid-clap.
After three flaps of a butterfly's wings, the once great gladiator dropped to his knee, arms up in defeat. "Enough," he panted, "You have won the day. Consider this old man defeated."
It was at those words that Lucius' eyes widened in realization. He, the youngest son, the family runt who was constantly mocked for his lack of height, had finally shown them what he was capable of. He had not only matched his father, but defeated him. As the surprise wore off, he dropped his scabbard and raised his hands, crowing loudly, "I did it! It finally happened! I beat you! ME, the family mouse, took down the mighty lion! HA HA!"
His parents laughed as Aiko watched his ridiculous victory dance. She was smiling, though she inwardly dreaded the up-coming shows of arrogance she knew she'd have to endure.
Aurelia stood and moved to her husband, helping him to stand. They looked on at his pompous prancing and chuckled, well pleased with his accomplishment.
It was Valerius who broke their son's supercilious dance with a loud clearing of his throat. To Aiko's relief, Lucius stopped in his tracks to look inquisitively at his parents.
Valerius took a deep breath and spoke, "My son, you have proven to me this morning that you have not only grown stronger physically, but have matured mentally as well. It was not just with strength that you bested me, but with your skill and cunning. To see this in you at such a tender age, you have shown the abilities of a true warrior. Soon, you will far surpass the heights that I knew and shall achieve something far greater, for you are bound to change the world."
Aiko sat, folding her legs under herself and listened intently. Since the age of five, she was able to see and understand that he had a rather large destiny to fulfill. She felt, however, that it was far too early and he was still too young and immature to handle this talk.
All eyes were now on the young teen who slowly digested what his father had said to him. He puffed out his chest a bit more, "I'll do great, just watch me!"
"Of course you will!" Aurelia smiled at him before going into the villa, only to return to her husband's side, holding an object which was wrapped in velvet and tied with a gold cord. She was smiling with joyful tears in her eyes as she held it out to her son. Her husband then untied the cord, letting the soft, violet cloth fall.
To the astonished delight of their son, the concealed object was revealed to be a sheathed scabbard with an ornate handle which was embossed with gold. The sheathe itself bore the Aelius family crest, which was a two headed beast, one was a unicorn head, symbolizing beauty and intelligence, the other a dragon's head to symbolize strength and fierceness.
Valerius drew a long breath, taking time to enjoy the wonder and awe on Lucius' face. He smiled and spoke in an authoritative voice, "My dear son, your mother and I, as well as a few others," he cast a meaningful gaze to Aiko, who looked away, "knew this day would come," he continued, turning his golden eyes back to his son, "when you would surpass me...though none of us could have guessed it would be at this tender age! Yet, here you are, a prodigy and a wonder to behold. We are expecting great things from you indeed, and that is why we are presenting you with this scabbard now, though you may have to grow into it."
Lucius let out a gasp as his father slowly unsheathed the blade, which glinted in the sun. Never before had he seen such a fine work up close. It was obvious that this was a blade that had been imbued with magic, forged of the finest alloy steel and magic spells.
"It is with great pride and even greater love, that your mother and I present you with the blessed, magic scabbard, Animus. As you should be aware, when a blade of magic it formed, it takes on a life and spirit of its own created by the fires of the forge, the blessed metals used, as well as the spells infused within it. Since this sword was made specifically for you, it will serve you for the rest of your life. When you grow in strength and abilities, so too will the strength and abilities of Animus. Upon the day you die, your scabbard will also die and break into places, then will either be burned or buried with you."
With those words, Valerius placed Animus into his son's waiting hands. Lucius studied the blade carefully, holding it out before giving it a few swings. To his delight, it had the perfect weight and balance. "It's the best," he cried out, "It's a piece of art! It's...a bit big for me..."
"Don't worry," Valerius laughed, "You're still growing. It won't be long before you are the right size for each other."
Now, it was Aurelia's turn to step forward, holding a black, velvet jeweler's pouch. "My dear Lucius, whose name means 'light', you are a true joy to us. It has been a treat to me as a Witch, to see you take to and excel in our family's arts. You've kept up nicely with your cousins, though you are only a half-Witch."
With a proud smile, she held the jeweler's pouch out to Lucius. Aiko was paying close attention now to her mother's words and actions.
As their mother opened the pouch, Aiko's lavender eyes began glowing softly in reaction to a powerful magic being released from within. Lucius sheathed his scabbard and held out his right hand, into which Aurelia let an amber amulet on a gold chain fall.
She began speaking softly, "This amulet has been passed down through generations. It has been given to the first born male of each generation, and if no male is born, then to the first female, which is how it came to me," a hint of sadness tinged her voice, "Though you are the second born male of your generation, it's been decided that you are the true, rightful heir. The amount of power you possess and your ability to harness it properly proves this." Aurelia paused, swallowing a pang of guilt as Valerius put a comforting hand on her shoulder. It pained her so much that Marius had been deemed too volatile and dangerously consumed with a darkness to be granted the amulet.
Aurelia shook her head, pushing the unpleasant thoughts away. "As you need them, the amulet's powers will manifest themselves to you. Wear it always, but be warned; although you are more than ready to possess this amulet, do not fall into letting your emotions take over or you will lose control of yourself. Use it only for the good of others, or you will be taken over by your own darkness."
Lucius gulped and nodded, now fully feeling the weight of the amber pendant in his hands. He slipped the chain around his neck. With this new weight he felt, there could be no way he'd forget his mother's warnings. The young teen could fully comprehend the large amount of faith that his parents had in him. He felt a new sort of pressure now, a weighty pressure to uphold his lineage.
Aiko's eyes were on the boy as she weighed the words and deeds of their mother in her mind. Even though by right of birth, the amulet should have gone to Marius, she agreed with this choice. She knew that if in the hands of Marius, the amulet would only bring about a destructive darkness. Even when he was a little child, she could see in him a very dark shadow. At least now, the amulet would be safe in the hands of Lucius, even though he too had the tendency to be impulsive.
She noticed the lost lamb look of concern on her younger half-brother, and sighed. She put on a small smile and walked over, putting an arm around his shoulders, "Well, my young brother, congratulations are in order for receiving your birthrights early. I believe our parents made the right decision on placing their hopes in you."
Her words and action brightened him up. It wasn't often that the normally stoic Aiko would let her guard down to be gentle and caring. This had a humbling effect on him and cheered him at the same time. His cheeks flushed in pleasure, "Thank you, Aiko, it means a lot to me to have it come from you. I'll do my best."
"I am quite certain you will, Lucius." she nodded lightly.
Their mother gave Aiko a warm hug, being thankful for her words. "Thank you, Aiko dear, but now it's time for you to get ready, or you'll miss the mid-morning train, and you know how Miyuki-sensei frowns on tardiness."
"Yes, mother." Aiko responded dutifully.
Every week, on the third day, she was to take the mid-morning steam engine to the city of Ciampino in order to meet with an older Youkai named Miyuki, who was her teacher of Japanese and Youkai traditions, philosophies, and magic. The older woman was kind, yet stern, and being tardy was unacceptable. Aiko hurried to get ready.
"I already have your lunch for the train ready, dear!" Aurelia called after her.
"And I have your books and supplies packed." Valerius chimed in.
After a moment, Aiko emerged, now wearing a kimono and carrying her overnight pack. "Thank you, mother, and thank you, father." She set her packet of books and supplies into her overnight pack before giving both parents a kiss on the cheek. "I shall be back tomorrow evening."
With that, she turned and followed the cobble stone path lined with primroses. She turned back to take one more look. There was a nagging feeling, but she shrugged it off, waved, and continued to the steam buggy which was waiting to take her to the station.