Chapter 1
 
“Hey, hurry it up. I’m freezing here,” after a long pause the nagging voice continued, “C’mon! Ugh” his teeth chattered between each word. With the setting sun nearing the horizon, the forest was bathed in a soft orange light. “I swear by the Father, Gaius if you don’t hurry up, I’m going to leave you!” the voice cursed. 

Finally through the thick golden forest Gaius responded, “I’m going to tell mom that you cursed,” a high-pitched voice of a child sounded through the tree trunks seemingly unaffected by the cold. A young child with jet black hair and eyes carrying a basket full of plants and herbs approached the first voice. “Okay you baby, let’s go home.”

“Hey, you’re the weird one okay? It’s normal to be cold in this weather. So, good harvest today?” The first voice asked while looking at his brother’s basket.

“Mmm, just the usual, nothing special. What about you, I don’t see a limp so that must mean you’re getting better,” Gaius chuckled. 

“Ha ha . . . ha, not funny. You think mom is all warm and nice at home, but wait till you condense an Aspect and start your training, you won’t be laughing then,” the first voice muttered solemnly. 

At the mention of condensing an Aspect, Gaius turned a bit somber. Noticing his brother’s mood, the first voice said, “Hey, race you home.” Immediately after, a flash of light erupted from the body of the first voice accelerating him greatly. Gaius saw his younger brother bolt forward in a flash of light and his competitiveness burst forth. While trying to maintain all of the herbs and plants within his basket, Gaius sprinted after his brother. His brother maintained the Aspect of Light throughout his body to enhance his speed, and Gaius felt the aura around his brother like a soft pillow, palpable and almost touchable. The sensation surrounded him like water around a rock, avoiding him completely—never truly touching him, but always around him. Regardless of his brother’s Aspect, Gaius still beat him home.

Gaius waited triumphantly for his younger brother at the porch of their home, with a grin on his face he said, “If it wasn’t for all of that sweat, I would have assumed you were taking it easy on me, wutcha gonna give me this time?”

“Why do you even ask, you always want the same thing,” his brother complained while catching his breath. 

They both entered their home to the smell of roasted meat mixed in with the sweet smell of honeyed bread filled with a thick jam. Gaius heard his younger brother’s groan. 

“We’re home!” they both shouted as they push open the rough bark skin door.

“Go clean up and get your mother, dinner is almost ready,” the boys heard their father’s reply.

The two boys had split up. While his younger brother went to the bathroom to wash up, Gaius entered his father’s workshop to drop off the basket of herbs. Seeing the washbasin at the corner of the room free of clutter, Gaius decided to wash his hands and face there. After freshening up, Gaius and his brother went out back to find their mother. As they reached their backyard they heard a constant rhythmic thwack thwack thwack. The boys found their sweating mother—unfazed by the chill in her usual leather jerkin covering her entire upper body and her upper legs striking the wooden post in front of her.

“Mom, dinner’s ready!” the younger brother called.

“Alright,” their mother replied. She took in a deep breath and finally brought up her shield while lowering her stance. There was an instant flash of light. Gaius could feel an eruption of power, and unlike his brother’s use of the Aspect, his mother’s aura was sharp almost like the edge of a sword. His brother’s display of the Aspect bathed Gaius in a sea of white soft power, but his mother’s was like the power of a hurricane contained within a pinpoint. The two boys had to cover their eyes with their hands as the light seared through their eyelids, but they could still hear the splintering crack of the wooden post shattered into splinters. Letting out a breath of relief, their mother turned around and smiled at her two sons. “Mm, dinner smells great. Go set the table while I wash up.” Their mother walked past them and into the house as she stowed away her gear. Although the two boys had seen their mother train since they were children, they could not stop their jaws from dropping at her might. Another night, another shattered wooden post. 

The two boys offered their parents to eat first as custom dictates before they filled their own plates. “So Gaius, I didn’t take a look at your harvest yet, anything good today?”

“Nada. Just 2 kilograms of Golden Bark and 30 grams of Frost Leaf, the rest is nothing special. Hmm, might be able to harvest another Barbed Eye tomorrow.”

“Oh, another Barbed Eye, you’re quite a lucky one aren’t you. Remember to bring your gloves.”

Gaius nodded.

“What about you Gen? How’d your training go?” Their father asked both his son and his wife. 

“His control over Light is getting better, but is still quite lacking,” their mother responded to the chagrin of Gen. Losing to Gaius in a straight sprint home every time wasn’t enough of a blow to his confidence, now his mother was pointing out his shortcomings. Gaius chimed in, “Sumi and her daughter wanted to know if you could help them tomorrow, dad.”

“Oh right, it’s Kim and Ken’s wedding tomorrow huh? Wow, I remember when they were both knee-high. I’ll visit her first thing tomorrow.” After a bit of silence passed, their father grins widely, “Speaking of Sumi’s daughter, how is Kumi?” 

At the mention of her name, Gen perked up and looked at his brother intently. Gaius, unaware of the small glances shifting around the table, tried to recall his conversation he had with Kumi earlier that day. “Um, I don’t know, she is working with her mom on a new project, but I don’t remember what it is. She was really excited about it though.”

Their mother asked Gen with a smile, “What do you think about Kumi? She’s pretty isn’t she?”

Caught off guard, Gen stammered for a response while his face was slowly turns red.

Both of their parents laugh as they teased their youngest son, and before Gen stormed off from the dinner table from embarrassment, their mother continued, “Your father and I have been talking to Sumi about a betrothal between you two. What do you think, Gen?”

Before he could utter a word, Gen’s face already had a wide grin. He clarified, “Do you mean that she’s going to be my wife?”

“Well, if Sumi consents, then yes. When the two of you grow up, you’ll be married like Ken and Kim tomorrow,” their mother responded with a smile. 

“Okay!” Gen finally blurted out as he could not contain his excitement. He picked up the honeyed bread and was about to bite into it when he saw his brother’s knowing gaze. Remembering their usual bet, Gen reluctantly gave him the dessert. 

“I think it’s a good match, but that means you have to train hard and master your Aspects, you hear?” their mother sternly said to Gen. 

After a slight nod, their mother continued, “Good. She just had her Awakening this year, so don’t fall behind.”

The dinner table turned quite at the mention of Sumi’s Awakening. The air is a bit uncomfortable as the parents quietly looked at Gaius with sad disappointing eyes. Before the father could change the subject to something more lively, Gaius spoke up, “Mom, dad. Why can’t I condense an Aspect yet? I’m already 10 years old.”

The two let out involuntary sighs, this was the same question they had been asking themselves these past 4 years. Although the two parents did not let their concern appear on their face, they have tested their firstborn son discreetly over the years. During the middle of the night, the parents would sneak into the boy’s room with an elder, doctor, shaman, priest, or expert from some corner of the kingdom to check the boy out, and by all summation he appeared to have Awoken, but he can’t condense an Aspect. It was the most maddening thing. “We had a few doctors look you over, son. But by their observation, you have Awoken already. You probably had your Awakening early in fact, probably when you were really young, which is why you think seeing the auras of others is normal, when it is not.”

“Then why can’t I condense an Aspect? Any Aspect?” Gaius muttered under his breath as he looks down at his plate. 

“During an Awakening son, the person gains a new sense. Like being blinded for the first 6 years of your life and all of a sudden you get to see for the first time. We know you can see the auras of others, but we don’t know why you can see so many different Aspects. Theoretically only Light Mages can see the aura or essence of other Light Mages, but you’re able to see your mom condense her Aspect, yes?”

Gaius slowly nodded.

“Then by all logic, you should be able to condense the Aspect of Light, but we don’t really know why you can’t,” his father continued.

Gaius choked as he held back tears. After calming down a bit, he asks “May I be excused?”

Gen looked at his brother with sadness, while trying to understand how it would feel if he was not able to condense his Aspect.

Gaius fell onto his bed as he buried his face in his pillow, “Ah! Everyone in this world can condense an Aspect, but the Father has cursed me to be the only one who can’t. It’s so unfair.” Tears begun to dampen his pillows. Gaius was the only person out of the several thousand in the village to not be able to condense Aspect.

The next morning after having grabbed some food, Gaius made his way into the Golden Bark Forest, the sadness and disappointment of last night forgotten. After 4 years of struggling to figure out why he cannot condense an Aspect, Gaius has gotten used to the momentary bouts of sadness. As he made his way to the forest, he saw other children around his age helping their parents or other adults around the village. 

There was Lyle, another boy in the village that’s 10 years-old, helping some adults fix the roads. Lyle would listen intently as the adults demonstrated the Aspect of the Earth, smoothening cracks and flattening bumps along the road as they found them. With Lyle’s lack of experience and control over his Aspect, a large crack erupted from the middle of the road. The adults laughed and jested with the boy merrily as they guided him in repairing the road correctly. Even from a distance, Gaius could feel the soft thrumming of the earthen power that emanated from the adults as they guided Lyle’s aura. 

There was Kim, the 16 years-old bride-to-be, helping some of the adults clear away the ceremonial dais with controlled gusts of wind. Many small tornadoes swept through the village, gathering up dust, leaves, vines, twigs, and small debris. With another thought, Kim gathered all of the small tornadoes together and ejected all of the trash to the side of the village. Upon seeing her control her Aspect, Gaius was comforted with the refreshing breeze that pulsed from Kim and the other adults. As Kim gathered the trash to the side of the village, she met Gaius’s gaze and smiled. With a waving motion, she beckoned Gaius over. 

No longer wallowing in self-pity, Gaius complied and marched over to Kim to wish her a happy day. While being mindful and respectful of others was one of Gaius’s habits, he also liked standing around others as they condense their Aspect, it felt good. Some Aspects made him feel warm and safe, and others—like Kim’s, made him feel free and fresh.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw his father with Sumi and Kumi. He made his way over to say hello before he began his morning chore. 

“Morning Gaius!” Sumi and Kumi shouted as they saw him approach.

Turning his head to see his smiling son, “Morning son,” he said.

“What are you guys doing?” Gaius inquired.

“Preparing for the ceremony. Is this your first wedding? Hmm, guess the last one was . . . between Hugh and Dan, and that was more than 10 years ago. Oh boy, you’re in for a treat.” Sumi said. 

As if realizing it for the first time, Gaius’s father also said, “Oh right. It will be the first wedding you’ve been to, how exciting.”