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“My son, I’m sure you’ll do great.” Signorus’s voice echoed throughout the chamber, the audience smiling at the small child standing in front of an old man. The old figure carried a beard long and flowing, not a single hair on his head. His smile, on the other hand, carried a sense of friendliness deep within. In this old man’s hands sat an orb the size of a grapefruit, a slight tinge of energy flickering within.

“Mona, it will only tingle a little bit. That’s all.” A woman’s voice continued, harmonious as she comforted the little boy on the chair. She tucked away a small bit of his olive green hair behind his ear, her eyes and smile full of love.

The little kid named Mona looked to his left where this child’s best friend stood.

“Don’t worry Mona.” The other kid said, his voice filled with confidence. “It’s like, like getting pricked by a Torrisberry bush. You won’t regret it!”

The young child named Mona looked into the old man’s eyes, his sight full of worry. I don’t want to do this.

Signorus laughed, holding the hand of his wife. He’s just like me back then. Doesn’t like doing anything new.

“Don’t worry, kiddo. It’s only for a second.” The old man gave an open smile, gesturing the ball towards Mona.

As Mona stretched his left hand out, the crowd watched with admiration. They couldn’t wait to find out how talented the newest Aura manipulator of the Aurum bloodline was.

“I say his skill is as profound as the Magus Madrag!” A middle-aged noble spoke from the side.

“Nonsense! Is his talent not going to be as great as the one who made the Sea of Deifor?” A stout fellow stared at the previous speaker, his gaze steady.

“Surely he will bring honor to the Aurum name, no?” A joyous face repeated in turn, improving the mood of all present.

“Mona, go ahead. One cannot wait for life to go on. One must live it.” Signorus used his large palms to push Mona forward as he gently chided his child. I really hope he is as great as Madrag. I could rub it in at the next reunion!

“Okay, Father. I’ll try.” Mona took light steps towards the old man’s orb, his hand about to touch the small ball as everyone watched with anticipation.

Mona clasped the ball, feeling its smooth surface. The flickering inside of the sphere grew ever more, until the ball radiated with a frenzy.

“He’s amazing!” One of the crowd shouted at the top of his lungs, joy flickering in his eyes. If I can recruit him, I’ll have a monster among monsters!

“Oberfil, move off. I found this gem first!” A thin and pale fellow spoke, anger flickering in his eyes. You have enough talents, this one is mine!

“Settle down, you old farts. I’m sure he’ll come join the Compassion Cove. We can gradually iron out his shyness with tenderness…” A flirtatious woman spoke among the many now standing to have Mona attend their schools. Her words added lines to the foreheads of the two men earlier.

“Mona. Mona. It’s okay, Mona. You can let go of the ball. Mona?” Mrs. Aurum sweetly asked her child to turn his face. She held his face in her hand, before she screamed.

“Signor!” Her voice was filled with fright, her face pale. The crowd stopped their conversations as they looked at the young child, only for their bodies to shudder. Some sprang into action as they ran towards the Aurums, their faces grave.

The old man had thought that Mona was simply enjoying the feeling of the Aura in the ball until he forcibly tried to remove Mona’s hands. Except fear covered his eyes as he found with his strength he could not separate the two.

Signorus looked as his son, his Aura channeled to a maximum. He broke the Aura testing orb, the glass splinters shimmering to the floor. Mona fell afterwards, his body having spasms over and over.

His mother looked horrified at the sight of her son shifting back and forth like an eel. Finally, Mona’s body trembled as a white froth came from his lips, running down his cheek. His eyes were blank, as he no longer responded to his mother’s emotional words.

The old man looked at Signorus, their faces covered with shock. Signorus looked at the old man, anger flickering in his eyes.

“Why did my son, why did he lose consciousness?” Signorus walked towards the old man, his Aura sending waves across the room.

The old man hesitated, as he looked towards the unconscious Mona. The boy’s best friend had tears dripping from his face, the mother sobbing at the side.

“Signorus, I know you understand the Orb of Aura fails for only two reasons. Either the orb is defective, or…” The voice of the old man trailed off. He didn’t dare to finish his sentence.

“No. It can’t be!” Tears fell from Signorus’s eyes, his face seemed to age ten years in but a moment of time. “The Mortal Curse…” He fell to the ground on his hands and knees, the tears forming a puddle beneath. Fate, how cruel can you be…

To the north of Leafwind’s lands stood an area of steppes and highlands. This portion of land lead to the Alberdan Mountains, a chain of mountains that separate the Alberdos Empire and the Madrag Empire to the north of Leafwind. In this bit of land, living is quite taxing on the few farmers around. Very little of the land is fertile, the climate is rather cold, and occasionally monsters from the mountains nearby would come to the steppes, inciting the less courageous to leave.

However, these acres of land were not avoided by adventurers, persons willing to brave the elements for fame and treasures beyond compare. And this area was quite renowned on the continent of Madrag for its treasures. Rumor was that the ancestor who founded the Leafwinder dynasty had encountered great fortune in this highlands during the previous era of war, and with it made the Leafwinder kingdom of today. Such rumors only helped to push travelers, both local and foreign, to try their fates at gaining riches comparable to kings.

Although treasure was plenty, and much of the highlands was already mapped, it was still quite costly to try. After all, the treasures were hidden inside various ruins and dungeons scattered across the area. Also, many of these riches were protected by treacherous traps and mechanisms, claiming many lives. Mist permeated the majority of the land, making visibility a crucial disadvantage to spotting even the most common landmarks in the zone. The few that returned injured, let alone alive and with treasure, were quite few.

Those that did enter the highlands and returned went through Eshwin, a small city supporting several ten thousand residents, and was also a transportation hub for many adventurers. The city offered tours of the region, beasts to ride to and from the ruins, as well as other items. Any successful treasure hunter was invited to celebrate their findings with the rest of the city as an Eshwinian custom. These feasts only served to drive more adventurers into the perilous lands for perhaps a buffet in their honor.

Many a local guild would take notice of the feast, quietly working to get information on the individual. If they were not yet part of a guild, they were invited. Who knew whether that person would have information to more treasures beyond the mist? To this, many guilds worked to secure such information, for the benefits were insane to ignore.

Today, however, was not a normal day in the small city of Eshwin. Adventurers did not go to and from the misty steppes in search of treasure. The city was largely quiet, empty of the masses that usually roamed the streets for wares. The morning, noon, and afternoon went by rather smoothly, with no sound being emitted. Restaurants and shops were closed the whole day, similarly to every other business.

The city lord was not in his office performing his duties either. Rather, he was at his estate for the joyous event of the day. The day his only son, Mona Aurum, was to partake in his rites of adulthood.

The sun was gradually sinking beneath the horizon, basking the manor of Eshwin’s city lord in red and orange hues as the full moon rose from the opposite side. It was built to oversee the entire city of Eshwin, yet also see the rise of the sun and moon from the windows of its main hall. The manor was built from stone and magic, stone as the structural support, and magic as a defensive mechanism. The majority of Leafwind’s practitioners would be hard pressed to infiltrate the manor without tripping sensory magic fields and defensive formations randomly set within and outside the mansion. Especially today, a day where many a noble was to be present, the city lord spared no expense to strengthen defenses.

To its northerly side stood the Botanical Garden, personally created by local skilled Eshwinian gardeners to serve as not only a possible reception area and park, but also as a work of art for visitors to admire. The southerly side consisted of the entrance and a pathway that led from the manor to the major streets of the city.

At this moment, as the last rays of sunlight disappeared, the sound of hooves could be heard, rattling along the cobblestone path. A pair of horses could be seen pulling each carriage towards the manor, a butler holding the reins. Each carriage was elaborately created, and gave off light in the darkness. Like fireflies at night, they came towards the manor at a gentle pace, each a fair distance behind the other. The line of lights was rather long, extended from the horizon.

As each horse came to a stop in front of the manor, the carriage driver would settle the horses, place a staircase, and become the nobility to open the door. Each noble and lady walked out towards the manor, displaying their charm, their elegance, and their status. At the door, two servants welcomed each group of two and three as they walked inside. Mona, however, knew the curtsies and bows were mere formalities among these nobles. He knew the proper etiquette they displayed merely veiled their individual fatality.

Mona Aurum gazed upon this theatrical display as it played out several dozen times over the course of the night. His bedroom faced the pathway outside from the fifth floor of the manor, the perfect vantage point for noticing others without being noticed himself. The life of a minor noble’s son was tiring, to say the least. This play of humanity merely provided him temporary amusement. For they did not come for him, he understood, but rather to avoid disrespecting his father, the city lord of Eshwin.

In Leafwind, city lords were all of the same generation, consisting of the most powerful individuals. And among these talented individuals, Mona’s father stood first in line among them. However, the heavens had played a cruel fate on his bloodline. Mona was born without talent whatsoever in any specific field, with terrible skill in all of them. Mortal was he, and a mockery to all the other Leafwinder nobles he was as well.

This, amazingly, did not affect his father’s views one bit. Instead of mastering a fighting art, Mona was ingrained with a vast sea of knowledge. To further culture his son, Mona’s father had him adhere to strict noble etiquette to further reduce what could be used against him. Last but not least, Mona, through a few strings being pulled by his father, was able to make connections with a few favorable relations with the children of other esteemed nobles. At the very least he would have a support network when he was no longer there.

Mona continued to gaze off into the distance, his visage layered with a calm indifference. Social occasions bore him. The meaningless conversations, the attempts at shaming one another, and whatnot gave Mona little reason to join in the festivities. This one night I will, for Father. He thought to himself, repeating it every other moment.

Outside, the train of carriages had arrived near its end. The final guests had a slightly different disposition, a mix of shame, regret, guilt, and fear. Being unpunctual to Mona’s father meant slanting the family of Aurum, a force more desired to be on ambiguous terms than negative ones. Such a bloodline fought alongside the ancestor of the Leafwinder from generations ago, and occasionally intermarried, a testament to their deep connections.

As the last wagon came to the manor, Mona began to sigh from deep within. Even if this was a noble’s ceremony, Mona had invited what few friends he was able to make among the people to the gathering as well. Clearly, not a single carriage belonged to even a single one of them. They couldn’t make it. His last hope for an enjoyable evening scattered, the gloom hidden on Mona’s face became quite visible.

The moon slowly careened into the center of the night sky. Its dim brightness paled in comparison to the various hanging lamps strewn around the manor. The light hues were forest green and light gold, forest green to represent the kingdom of Leafwind, light gold to represent the Aurum bloodline.

He rose from his chair by the windowsill, clasping the window shut. Replacing the chair back to its proper place, Mona stood in front of the gilded mirror by his bedside. He shook his head. Not only was the ceremony going to be terrible, but he had to wear a gaudy thin dress at that as well. Similar to translucent cellophane, it occasionally squeaked when he moved his joints and walk around the room. Worst of all, it reeked of old age, and had small yet noticeable signs of wear.

“Inferior clothes for an inferior noble,” he muttered, his left hand holding together what was left of the cuff. If the whole piece of clothing could last the whole night it would be a miracle.

Footsteps echoed on through the hallway. Repetitive and light, they slackened in front of Mona’s bedroom door. Someone cleared their throat just outside, and afterwards knocked thrice in a row. “Sir Aurum,” the light voice spoke from outside the door, “the city lord in waiting in the main hall.” Mona turned his gaze towards the voice for but a moment. “I’m coming Claire,” he pronounced, his dislike for the whole affair barely perceptible in his words, “tell Father I am checking the cloak he gave me.”

The servant’s steps echoed along the hallway once more. Mona’s gaze fell back on the mirror, taking in what would be perhaps his last official encounter with fellow nobility. The thought of being to himself brought some color back to his face. He motioned towards the set candle in the room, extinguishing the small flame with his hands. Soon after, he left the room, the sound of his footsteps quickly following behind him. For better or for worse, Mona made his way toward’s the manor’s grand hall.

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