The family of five led by Viktor made their way into the enormous hallway of the castle, followed by the 13 guards. Standing before the procession were two boys with a similar height and build.
“Father!” the two boys shouted.
“Hey, I have a surprise for the two of you!” Viktor returned their greeting.
Happiness and excitement bloomed as their minds raced with what their surprise present could be.
“Bray. Dante, I’d like you to meet your cousins! Gaius and Gen.” Viktor said, “Gaius. Gen, these are my youngest— the twin, Bray and Dante.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, though we just learned of your existence a few moments ago,” Gaius said politely.
Gen greeted the two boys as well, “hey, if you’re twins why don’t you two look-a-like?”
Gaius nudged his brother for being improper.
Bray and Dante still hadn’t said a word as they were truly surprised.
“What is this?! Relatives? That’s our birthday surprise? Worst present ever!” Dante shouted while Bray was still trying to understand the situation.
SMACK, Viktor hit Dante on the back of the head while glaring at him.
Gaius and Gen chuckled softly for a bit while observing the Dante.
Viktor finally let out a sigh and said, “No these are not your presents. They are your cousins and will be staying with us from now on.”
Hearing his father confirm his guess, Bray let out a sigh of relief, “thank the Mother.” Bray approached Gen and shook his hand while saying, “Sorry for my brother’s lack of manners, he and I are paternal twins not identical.”
“Oh, I see. That’s cool,” Gen answered honestly.
Gaius extended his hand when all of a sudden a bloom of two conflicting auras surged within the palace. Gaius noticed and quickly became alert, drawing his arms into a defensive stance.
The guards noticed this peculiarity and thought that Gaius was going to strike Bray, and Bray thought the same and retreated quickly. Viktor and the old man next to him however turned their heads towards the source of the bursting auras for a moment and they both let out an audible sigh. When they looked back at the party they were surprised to find Gaius in a fighting stance while the bodyguards drew their weapons at him.
“What is the meaning of this?” Viktor bellowed.
When no one spoke to answer him Tulia said, “Gaius sensed a disturbance and was preparing to protect himself.”
“That’s not what I meant, why are my bodyguards drawing their weapons on my nephew!” he roared.
The captain of the guard answered stoically, “the boy suddenly prepared to fight and we thought he was going to strike at the prince.” By this point the guards withdrew their weapons and returned to their original posts, though Gaius was still in a defensive fighting stance.
“You can relax now Gaius, the guards have withdrawn,” Viktor reassured his nephew.
“It were not the guards that alerted me, but the two within the palace,” Gaius answered seriously while still trying to sense the source of the two auras.
“Oh? That’s impressive,” Viktor said and then he turned around and took in a deep breath and shouted, “NYAH! TALI! Get over here now!” the walls of the hallway shook with a reverberating force.
Gaius immediately sensed that the two conflicting auras vanished. Now that their auras were contained within their bodies Gaius could now finely sense their location, and he observed that they were quickly approaching his spot.
Soon two disheveled girls appeared around the corner, they raced each other to their father and when they both noticed that there were guests nearby they slowed their pace to be more appropriate. Nyah and Tali were both sweating through their clothes.
“Apologies, father. We were competing and forgot ourselves,” Nyah said through panted breaths.
“Guess it’s my fault. I said for you all to not to be so formal today, but I didn’t think you’d embarrass me with such behavior,” Viktor sighed.
Tulia let out a light chuckle and reassured her brother, “It is okay. I actually prefer to see this side of you and your family, as they are naturally. This is the perfect reception.” Tulia approached her brother and gave him a firm hug.
“Right, so these are my nieces and nephews, huh? Two handsome boys and two beautiful daughters. You truly are the lucky star, my brother.”
At this point another woman appeared around the corner, “Sorry for my children’s behavior. Tulia! It’s been so long.” This new woman set Gaius on alert but he relaxed when Tulia shouted, “Gem!”
“Duncan! Come over here and give me a hug!” Gem said as she reached out to him too, “It’s been too long. So these are my two nephews, huh? Oh, two handsome boys. Hello there, I’m your aunt Gem,” she said with an extended hand.
Gen was first to clasp and introduce himself, “Gen.”
“Gaius,” he said as he reluctantly shook her hands.
“All right! It’s still pretty early, have any of you eaten yet?” Gem asked with a bright charming smile.
“I’m starving!” Bay and Dante both shouted, which earned both of them a smack on the backside of the head.
Gaius and Gen let out a chuckle at that. Tulia said, “Let’s all catch up over some breakfast.”
“Wonderful!” Gem excitedly shouted.
Everyone sat around the breakfast table.
“Your mother and I were best friends growing up, and she never mentioned me?!” Gem said as breakfast was being served.
Gaius and Gen both shook their heads, “truthfully, she hadn’t told us anything about her childhood,” Gen said, “she only recently told us a few stories about her and uncle. Was it true that you shouted a warning to a pickpocket, Uncle Viktor?” Gen asked with a smile.
“Haha, of course you would tell them that story,” Viktor said, “And yes, I did yell at him to stop but that was because I was confident in my Aspect. A detail I’m sure your mother left out.”
Nyah said, “Father practices the Aspect of Darkness, as do I, and with it we are able to instill fear into our enemies. What Aspect do you two practice?”
Gen and Gaius both looked at each other and Gen spoke up, “I practice the Aspect of Light, like my mother, but my brother doesn’t practice any.”
“Oh, do you not like to practice it?” Tali asked in between bites of food.
Gem was observing the conversation with interest, “Gaius, what does your brother mean when he said that you don’t practice an Aspect?”
Gaius remained silent, trying to refrain from divulging his great shame. Then Duncan said flatly, “he cannot condense an Aspect.”
“You’re a cripple?” Dante asked bluntly.
“Dante! That is a very rude thing to say. Apologize,” Viktor said. “And no, Gaius is not a cripple.”
Gaius’s ears and cheeks turned crimson as his father just blurted out his secret to everyone at the table, but when Viktor said that he wasn’t a cripple, Gaius started to remember that his uncle would have answers for him.
Realizing this, Gaius turned to face his uncle and asked him, “Do you know why I cannot condense an Aspect?”
“I do,” Viktor said calmly, “but let’s save that conversation for later, okay? I promise you that I will answer all of your questions.”
Gaius enthusiastically nodded.
“If he cannot condense an Aspect and he’s not a cripple, then what is wrong with him?” Dante continued.
“Nothing for you to worry about,” Viktor cut his son off.
Trying to take his mind off the uncomfortable subject Gaius asked Nyah and Tali, “you said that you two were competing earlier?”
“Oh yes,” Tali answered, “my sister and I were racing to see who can find the boys’ birthday present first. We both lost.”
“Our birthday presents?!” Dante and Bray shouted at the same time. “Can we go look for them too?”
Nyah laughed and said, “how about this. If you can find your present before your birthday then you get to keep them. If you cannot, then they are forfeited. How’s that sound?”
Bray and Dante looked at each other trying to weigh the pros and cons of such an agreement and before they were going to agree Gen said, “Would it be all right if my brother and I helped you two search for them? Seeing as how we didn’t get you anything this will be our gift.”
“Sure, the more help we can get the better,” Bray said.
“Seeing as how you all are done eating, why don’t you go get started on that search now?” Gem said.
“Though, Gaius should stick around for a bit. The rest of you are excused,” Viktor added.
All of the children enthusiastically got up from their chairs to begin their search, including Nyah and Tali.
Once the door shut closed behind the kids Viktor said, “Master Ordos, would you come in please.”
The old man with black-and-white hair with no aura came into the room and at the gesture of Viktor took an empty seat.
“I’m sure your mother and father have an idea as to why you are not able to condense an Aspect, and that is because you’re a Voidwalker. Master Ordos here is also one and he is better equipped to answer all of your questions,” Viktor said.
Gaius felt a thrill of excitement, he was sitting across from someone who is exactly like him. “Voidwalker? My parents said that I was something called an Antimage,” he asked.
“Those born with the affinity to practice the Aspect of the Void are called Voidwalkers, much like how we call fire mages Firewalkers. However, there is a distinct difference between a Voidwalker and an Antimage.”
“What does it mean to be an Antimage?” Gaius asked.
Ordos looked around the room before he looked at his king. Viktor nodded and said, “Everyone here is royalty, as such there shouldn’t be a problem if they know.”
“Do you know your Aspects?” Ordos answered with a question.
“Yes. There are 8 Heavenly Aspects and they come in pairs. Light-Dark; Sun-Moon, Life-Death, and Space-Time. And there are an infinite amount of Earthly Aspects from the Aspect of the Sword to the Aspect of the Word.”
“There are in reality, 9 Heavenly Aspects—the Aspect of the Void. It is one of the kingdom’s best kept secret and only those of royalty are made aware of its existence. The Aspect of the Void is where Antimages derive their power. Unlike the other 8 Heavenly Aspects, the Void does not create. All of the Heavenly Aspects create something, even the Aspect of Death creates the dead.
Everything will return to the Void, and we guide them.
That is our power. “Voidwalker” is the general term we use to describe someone who practices the Aspect of the Void, though to be an Antimage you must be a Voidwalker but that is not all. You must be trained. Much like how any blacksmith is like a Voidwalker, but master weapon smith is like being an Antimage.”
“9 Heavenly Aspects?” Gaius whispered to himself. He briefly looked at his parents to see that they too were digesting this news. “How come my mother said that there are only 8?”
“Your mother left her Alirian name long before she could be told,” Viktor said flatly.
“How many others are there, like me . . . like us?” Gaius asked Ordos.
“That is a state secret, though you will learn it in time.”
“State secret?” Gaius inquired as he remembered the information broker in South Calet that blocked his attempt to inquire further.
“Of course, the Antimages that serve the crown are essential to the survival of the kingdom. I do not believe you fully grasp the potential that you wield,” Ordos said honestly, “let me demonstrate a bit of their power”. After a bit of thought, he got up and instructed the 12 guards to enter the room.
“I’m sure you remember these 12? They are the royal guard that protect the king every second of every day. They are quite literally the best of the best. 6 warriors and 6 mages working in tandem to protect our king.”
Ordos walked to the other side of the room and stood before door and said, “I will demonstrate the three fundamental capabilities of an Antimage, see if you can spot them.”
Viktor nodded as he understood what Ordos was doing, “All right men, form up on me and protect me from Master Ordos as he stretches his legs a bit. If he’s able to land a finger upon my skin, then you all are going to be penalized. Treat this as you would a real threat.”
The 12 of the guardsmen moved in smooth practiced strides as the immediately formed a defensive position around their king. The 6 mages summoned their Aspects, two of the Earth, two of the Metal, Poison, and Water. The warriors unsheathed their weapons and imbued it with their Aspects, three of the Shield, Sword, Spear, and Bow. The sudden dense auras assaulted Gaius’s senses as he watched earnestly.
“A real Antimage,” he thought to himself.