As I was about to exit the antechamber just outside Rosalind’s bedroom, I felt a strong, firm hand clasp my shoulder. I instinctively tensed up, but then forced myself to relax. This was a friendly grip, not a hostile one. Within this residence, I was among allies. I turned to Glint, allowing my eyes to speak my question.
“Advent, where are you going?”
“…To inform that shitface Julio that I’m no longer his plaything. As Rosalind asked me to.”
“You do know that she didn’t mean to do it right now, don’t you?”
“She didn’t specify a timeframe, so I took that to mean that I could use my discretion.”
“And your discretion led to you deciding to do it immediately?”
Glint sighed, exasperated.
“You do realise that the prudent thing to do right now would be to wait as long as possible, right? The moment you let Julio know his plan failed, he’s going to have to make his move. The people you care about might be in danger.”
I blinked, uncomprehending.
“I mean, that might be the case, but you’ll be able to protect Rosalind if that man tries anything, right? Not to mention that weird silver-green-haired version of her. What was that, anyway?”
Glint narrowed his eyes at my question. He looked around, searching for any signs that he had been heard. It seemed that Rosalind’s strange behaviour was a closely guarded secret, unsafe to speak of even in her own halls. Satisfied that I had not been overheard, Glint shook his head.
“Not now. I don’t rightly know, though I have several theories. She herself refuses to speak about it, so leave it at that. Anyway, we’ve gotten sidetracked. I didn’t mean her when I said that you might endanger others.”
“If not her, then who? I’ve got no ties to anyone anymore, not since… oh. That’s what you meant.”
“Precisely. You may not know where they are, but that man does.”
“And if I let him know that I had been set free, he might use my family as a pressure point to keep me in check.”
I ground my teeth. It had been years since I had last seen my family – they were strangers to me. Even so, the thought of them getting injured on my account stung. Perhaps it was a matter of not wishing to lose them again. Somehow, the possibility that Julio might do that had slipped my mind – likely because it had been so long since I had a family, that concern for them no longer came as naturally as it once had.
“But, as you say, I don’t know where they are. There isn’t enough time to properly search for them. And even if I did, what could I do? Make them live in hiding, whiling away the days in some dark, damp safehouse?”
Glint smiled, a brilliant grin filled with equal parts mischief and reassurance.
“You don’t know where they are, but I do.”
I blinked as I tried to make sure I hadn’t misheard him.
“Yep. Well, I’m not exactly sure that it’s them, but I’d be willing to wager on it.”
“How could you possibly know where my family is? Until two hours ago, you didn’t even know I had one!”
“Don’t be silly. Everyone has a family. Even an orphan like myself. You’re right in that I didn’t know they were related to you until just now, but hearing your past, it’s a pretty good fit.”
“I happened to commission a great deal of wooden furniture when we were setting up this city’s Ezov branch. I had to turn away a good number of prospective contractors due to shoddy quality, but one particular carpenter’s work stood out from the rest as being sturdy and reliable, if not very aesthetically impressive. I sat down with him to discuss the commission, but we quickly fell to drinking. He’s been both our exclusive carpenter and my drinking partner ever since. During one particularly harrowing night of drinks, he got drunk enough to share his life story, including his regrets about a daughter, a gifted young girl who had gone to the Magic Academy, a rarity among rarities who managed to gain admission into the school usually reserved for the noble and wealthy. He told me how he never believed in her, and how she was expelled on grounds of cheating, and how he regretted disparaging her learning after he’d learned that his daughter had killed herself. Does that story sound at all familiar to you?”
I was silent. There was no need to answer. Glint, apparently interpreting my silence as acknowledgement, continued.
“Of course, he never told me your name. He was also going by a different name when I met him – he called himself Aaron.”
Probably some machination of Julio’s, to make sure I had no way of searching for my loved ones. Probably a measure he took during the early days of my enthrallment, before he understood the extent of control he had over me.
“Anyway, now that we’ve established that it is in fact possible to find your family, there remains the question of how we’re going to keep them safe. I do have a plan in mind, but for that, I think it would be best to divulge the details when all concerned are present. How long do we have before you absolutely have to report back to Julio?”
“My instructions were to remain with Rosalind until the opportunity to use the ring on her arose, upon which I was to immediately report my success. Alternatively, if I was continuously unable to secure such a situation, I was to report back after a week at the latest.”
“Okay, it’s been about a day since your attempted attack. So we have about five days. Probably three days before Julio has reason to suspect that you’ve been compromised. In other words, any preparations we need to make have to be made in the next three days. Do you agree with my assessment?”
I mentally cross-referenced what I knew of Julio’s thought patterns and concluded that Glint was close.
“No, he’s a paranoid man. I’d say we have two days before he starts to suspect, especially given how efficiently I’ve worked in the past.”
“Alright, two days then. We should barely be able to make it, if we hurry. So let’s go.”
“To meet your family, where else?”
“Wait, now? Like, right now?”
“No better time than the present, right?”
I didn’t have the time to finish my sentence before Glint grabbed my wrist and pulled me along, running out of the palace and into the streets. Too surprised to put up any real resistance, I just allowed my legs to cycle under me, matching his pace. As we ran, Glint waved his hands slightly, and I felt a wave of mana rush over me. Having calmed down and recognised that arguing would get me nowhere, I decided to prioritise the satisfaction of my curiosity.
“What spell was that?”
“Invisibility. It bends the light around us, letting us travel unseen. It’s how I got you from Rosalind’s office to her bedroom. It can’t do anything to mask sound though, so do try to be silent.”
At that moment, it struck me that Glint had carried me to the bedroom. I had initially thought that Rosalind had done it, but then I realised that seeing the Empress carry an unconscious servant to her personal quarters would have raised more than a few questions. In retrospect, it made much more sense that Glint had carried me. I glanced at his slender arms, filled with strength as he pulled me along. I had been carried in those arms. I felt my heart skip a beat, but quickly forced myself to focus. We had a job to do. We entered an unfamiliar part of town, still among the artisans’ quarters, but in a richer part of it. This was the area where artisans who were frequently contracted by the nobility lived. It was a far cry from the squalid, cramped houses I had grown up amongst. I felt a sense of warmth. If this was where my family now lived, then at least they were living in moderate comfort. Then my heart sank as I considered where they had gotten the money – had they been bought out by Julio? Perhaps they knew that I was still alive, and had been paid off to forget about me. It was a heartbreaking thought, but years of watching numerous people betray kith and kin for money had left me cynical – it was a thought I could not help thinking.
I didn’t have time to dwell on this thought – we quickly arrived at the doorstep of one of the nicer-looking houses in the area. Glint knocked on the door, while I stayed behind him, shivering in trepidation. I looked completely different – there was no way they could recognise me, even if I was family. I imagined my father looking at me like a stranger, and the image caused me to tremble, to the tips of my fingers. Before long, a voice resounded from behind the door.
“Who goes there, at this inhuman hour?”
“Oh? It’s rare for you to visit. Lemme just get the lock… there.”
As the door swung open, I finally gave into my fear and quickly wove a spell, diving into Glint’s shadow and hiding there. From within his shadow, I saw Glint’s expression contort into one of bemusement, but he quickly erased it and assumed a genial smile just in time to greet the man at the door.
“What brings you here this late, boy? If you’re here for drinks, I’m afraid it’s going to have to wait for another day, Emma’s feeling a bit under the weather tonight.”
Who was Emma? My mother’s name was Esther, and neither of my sisters were named Emma. Had my mother changed her name as well? Or perhaps one of my brothers had married? Or perhaps Glint was wrong, and these people weren’t my family after all. As numerous possibilities ran through my head, Glint smoothly answered the man’s query.
“No, that’s not my object for tonight. I’m here to introduce you to a friend. Could we come in, Cain?”
A brief silence. Then a response in a low voice.
“…How? How do you know my real name?”
“The friend I mentioned told me. Come on out now, don’t be shy.”
With that, Glint snapped his fingers. Instantly, a flash of light appeared around him, eliminating his shadow – I was forced out of it and into physical form, left standing sheepishly next to him as I looked on the face of my father. My father stared at me for a few seconds, his face betraying a complete lack of recognition. And then,
“…Advent? Could that truly be you?”
His sentence, the fact that he somehow recognised me despite my altered appearance, struck me like a physical blow. Emotion filled me like an undammed stream. I felt a single tear edge out from my eye and roll down my cheek.
“…Hi, dad. I’m home.”