Kaleb Everence rose from bed with the quickness of a sloth. With that knowledge, it was understandable that his father, Noil Everence, was unimpressed with his son’s tardiness on the first day of his apprenticeship, nor was he impressed with his son’s excuse, which when sifted, was just a complaint of the early hour.
“Don’t you get it, son? The entire village will now be comparing you to your sister. Do you think she would have shown up late on her first day of apprenticeship?” his father asked when Kaleb finally made it down to the dining room.
Keleb yawned in response. Noil shook his head and presented Kaleb with an open front door.
“What about breakfast?” Kaleb asked, fearing the answer.
“If you wanted breakfast, you should have been downstairs fifteen minutes ago. We’re leaving.”
“Damn,” Kaleb muttered before following his father. Kaleb found himself quickening his pace to keep up.
After a few minutes of silent walking, Kaleb grew annoyed at the lack of information. He was essentially told nothing except when to wake up, and then was expected to follow his father around closer than his shadow, all without any knowledge of the purpose of this outing.
“Where are we going?” he asked.
Noil looked around before replying. “Save your questions for when people are around. It’ll show them you have initiative. Though, since you’ve already voiced it, we are going to the blacksmith’s shop to speak with Dalus.”
Speaking with Dalus doesn’t seem too difficult. It might turn out to be an easy first day.
“And then we will visit every other shop in this town to take stock of their inventory,” Noil said. His eyes remained focused straight ahead, without even a glance in Kaleb’s direction.
It would not turn out to be an easy day.
The heat of the forges was… unpleasant. In the course of the few steps they took inside, the air went from being warm to inhibiting Kaleb’s ability to breathe, though his father didn’t seem to mind.
“Mister Faltred?” Noil called over the counter.
Dalus popped his head around the far corner. “Mister Faltred? How many times must I tell you to call me Dalus?”
“Of course, Dalus,” Noil responded.
Dalus gave a quick grin before eyeing Kaleb. “You’ve got the apprentice with you today, I see. You learned anything yet?”
“That the Head wakes up early and doesn’t eat breakfast,” Kaleb said.
Dalus gave a chuckle. “Early!? My morning started four hours past. Get a little shirillium bean in him and he’ll perk right up,” Dalus said, turning to face Noil.
Noil gave a tight smile. “How are your inventories. Do you need any supplies ordered?”
Dalus scratched his beard. “… maybe a few more iron ingots.”
Noil nodded. “Very well. We’ll put you down for needing iron,” Noil said as he pushed a notebook into Kaleb’s hands. Keleb sighed and began writing.
Over the next several hours, they visited the Green Fields Inn, Marcus’s Herbs, and Greenhallow’s General Store. Now, they were on their way to the Lush Linen, a local fabric store.
“Remind me again why we order all the supplies for the village shops?”
His father glanced at him. “Because of tradition… and because of power. Controlling the flow of commerce is a powerful leverage should you ever require one.”
Kaleb took note of the words and continued walking. That was probably the most useful thing he’d learned all day.
The Lush Linen was… colorful. Fabric of all different kinds of colors hung in parallel rows that ran the length of the store.
“Misses Hendreson, does Hugit have you working the shop all by your lonesome?” Noil asked the lady behind the counter.
The woman looked up from her sewing before looking back down. “He had a mighty bit too much of the drink last night, looking like a newborn babe trying to feed itself. Always happens after your speeches. Think he takes it as an excuse for a day off. He was throwing up off and on all night, causing a ruckus.”
Noil gave a lighthearted shake of the head. “I apologize on his behalf if it was my speech that drove him too it. I’ll have a talk with him when he’s up and about.”
“No need for that,” Missus Hendreson said. “Wouldn’t stop him from drinking. He’d just start drinking for a different reason. If he’s going to be drunk, I’d prefer the happy drunk to the sad one.”
“Still, I apologize for the inconvenience,” Noil said.
Missus Hendreson shooed the apology away with the wave of her hand. “Will you apologize this much as well when you become Head?”
“I hope not,” Kaleb said with a light chuckle, then notice his father’s disapproving stare. “I mean, of course I will.”
Missus Hendreson laughed. “So, what can I do for the two of you?”
“We’re just making the rounds, and checking on the supplies,” Noil said.
“That time already?” she asked, surprised. “Afraid I don’t need much. Haven’t been moving as much material as in the past.”
Noil gave a grim nod. “I will—”
“Noil!” a voice said from the door.
Kaleb turned to find Jeremy, one of his father’s hired hands, in the doorway. He was panting.
“A word, please,” Jeremy said between deep breaths.
Noil nodded. “I apologize, Missus Hendreson, but I must make a quick departure.”
Missus Hendreson returned a knowing expression. “There’s always something going on in this village.”
Noil returned a slight smile before turning to Kaleb. He could see concern on his father’s face.
“Carry on to the apothecary. If I haven’t met back up with you by the time you’re finished there, then come find me.”
Kaleb groaned. Not audibly, of course. There were too many people around for that. It didn’t take long for him to reach the apothecary. The town only housed some several hundred people, so the distance to even the furthest building wasn’t considerably far. Upon entering, Kaleb exchanged all the niceties that his father usually did. He found it exhausting.
He was head down in a pile of unorganized materials to see if the apothecary really did need more rags, when a tremor shook the village. Dust and dirt blew its way into the shop causing Kaleb to have a minor coughing fit. His eyes darted about until they found Sitrun, the apothecary. He grabbed her by the arm and guided her out the front door.
Kaleb’s first inclination had been that it was an earthquake, but something about it felt off. He’d been in earthquakes before and this one didn’t have the same noise of grinding earth that was so distinctive in the others.
The cloud of dust began to settle, showing the ghostly outline of something large and rectangular occupying the length of the street. Confused, Kaleb approached. The dust finally thinned to the point that he could see hooded figures leaping off the rectangular object.
People were beginning to gather to investigate the strange scene when one of the hooded figures stepped forward and dropped his hood around his neck, revealing his face. His chin would have been square and chiseled if it weren’t for the deep gash across the side of it.
“You will all be coming with me,” the man said.
A villager stepped forward and it took Kaleb a few moments to recognize it was his father.
“Who are you and what is your business here?” Noil asked.
“Ah. I didn’t even have to request the Head of the village. He came out to greet me himself. You are Noil Everence of Greenhallow, correct? My name is Asokil Tresgarden, a Wielder.”
Noil eye’s narrowed at the mention of the word. “And the answer to my second question? What is your business here?”
Asokil smiled. “We require your assistance.”
“And if assistance isn’t given?”
Asokil laughed. “I didn’t ask for assistance; I required it. You will be coming with us.”
Noil’s face grew hard, and his voice fell to a dangerous, rumbling tone. “Leave this village or we will remove you from it.”
A few cheers and claps accompanied the Head’s threat, but silence returned when Asokil reach down to his belt and removed a small piece of metal shaped like a leaf. It gleamed in the morning light, displaying how very sharp it was. Kaleb couldn’t keep his eyes from it. A knot of fear tied itself in his stomach.
“You know of Wielders, correct? You know what we can do and how easily we can do it,” Asokil said. “Make this easy and surrender your people into our custody.”
Noil narrowed his eyes. “Yes… I know of Wielders, and not just from the stories.”
Asokil laughed. “You hear that? We have a travelled man in our presence.” A few chuckles rose from the other hooded figures.
“I happen to be good acquaintances with Roicus Gutezna,” Noil said—and the laughter died. “Perhaps you all better know him as the Interfector.”
Asokil covered Noil’s mouth with his hand, digging his fingernails into his cheek. “Don’t speak of that title to me.”
Kaleb watched as the cloaked man shoved his father backwards, sending him tumbling to the ground. Gasps of indignation lit the air, and Asokil relished in it.
Jeremy burst through the crowd of bystanders, skidding through the dirt. In the same motion, he unsheathed his sword arcing it upward at the hand that the cloaked man still had extended. Asokil pulled his hand away from danger and delivered a kick to the sliding man’s chest.
In the same moment, Touskin, Noil’s other hired hand, emerged from the crowd behind Asokil, blade raised and already accelerating downward. One of the other hooded figures intercepted it with a blade of their own. The hood shifted with the movement, and Kaleb caught a glimpse of a feminine face. Jolting impacts of steel vibrated the air as the cloaked woman and Touskin traded blows.
Kaleb was both amazed and terrified. He’d never seen a real sword battle, but then again, he’d never seen his father thrown to the ground either. He needed to do something to stop this. He took a step forward, but his father, having regained his feet, was already lumbering his way toward the cloaked man. Kaleb watched him stop a few feet from Asokil.
“He knows you’re here.”
Asokil raised an amused eyebrow. “And how would he know that?”
“Last we parted, he gave me a stack of paper… made from a ligatum tree.”
Asokil’s amused expression turned sour. He grabbed Noil by the collar in a calm rage. “When?”
Noil smiled. “Last night.”
Asokil growled and threw Noil to the ground a second time.
“Asokil, I’m not sure we have the time to—” another hooded figure said, but Asokil hushed him with a raised hand.
“We have plenty of time.” Asokil directed his attention to the several hundred people that crowded around the area. “You will all step forward and enter this metal container. This is your final warning.”
Jeremy, who had crept along the perimeter of the crowd, lunged forward once again. Asokil lunged backward, watching the blade impact the dirt where he’d been standing. Kaleb was alarmed at his speed. It shouldn’t have been possible to move as quick as the hooded man had.
Asokil shook his head. “I tried to warn you.”
He dropped the leaf-shaped piece of metal, but rather than falling to the ground as it should have, it simply hung in equilibrium. The yells and curses of the crowd faded to silence. Even Kaleb’s breath left him. This man had just shown him something only spoken about in hushed uncertain whispers. This man was a Wielder of metal. An actual Wielder. Kaleb wondered how many of the other whispered stories were true. His understand of the world shifted, and a feeling of smallness washed over him. This feeling mixed with a sensation of humility at his recognition of how very little he knew about the world he lived in.
Kaleb’s eyes fixated on the floating piece of metal, mesmerized. He blinked, and it vanished. There was an odd silence in the air; one of a hushed wall keeping back the screams of anxiety. He heard footsteps. Kaleb watched his father take a step back, then another, before falling to the ground, a pool of red blooming on his chest.
Time seemed to stop for Kaleb. He was aware of the surroundings. Aware of Jeremy swinging for hooded man. Aware of how close he was to landing a strike when the leaf-shaped blade took him in the back.
Voices sounded distant. Yells of terror rang hollow in his ears. He couldn’t take his eyes from the swelling spot of red on his father’s chest.
“Quit playing with him,” Asokil said to the woman over his shoulder.
Kaleb heard a laugh, muffled by the shock of his mind. He heard two more impacts of metal on metal, then the soft thud of Touskin’s body
Another figure stepped from the frothing crowd, and Kaleb felt all his senses crash back into him. The figure walking towards Asokil was his mother, and she wore an expression of pure devout anger. After stopping a mere foot from Asokil, she raised her hand and prepared to backhand him. Kaleb pushed his way through the crowd and reached her in just enough time to grab her hand before it could make contact.
Asokil smiled. “You should thank the boy. He just saved your life.” Asokil began pacing back and forth, inspecting the group. His movement sent a hush through the crowd. “You will all be coming with us. This is understood, correct?”
It took Kaleb a few moments to realize everyone was looking at him. Their gazes felt heavy. He gave a slow nod.
“We will cooperate as long as no more of us are harmed,” Kaleb said. His throat felt dry, making it difficult to speak.
“Normally the requests of those beneath me only seem to irritate me, but I’d rather not spend the time killing all of you. We’re already behind schedule. So, yes. If you cooperate and follow my every command, I won’t kill anymore of you.” Asokil put out his hand, and Kaleb cautiously took it. A searing hot pain tugged at the back of his hand as the leaf-shaped blade sliced the air above their clasped hands. Kaleb looked down to find a thin line of red dripping down the back of his hand.
“But remember, I am in charge.”