The first chapter from The Proudhill Line Book One: A New Life, is available to view. (Slight edits may be made between this time and final release).
(1083 After Veil)
The steady sound of the chisel tapping against rock filled the shop. It was the favorite sound of the woman who molded stone like it was clay, creating beautiful works of art. Not the stone though, for it remained solid and blocky and heavy.
But the magic she filled into the etchings and runes she carved into it made it look like a work of art to the young woman, every cut making a new image to behold.
As the bell by the door rang, the muscular blonde woman looked up from her craft, her eyes narrowed in hatred at her newest visitor. The new arrival was rich, if her clothes were anything to go by, purple cloth and frills, with a golden chain attaching her amulet glove to her wrist, and the foci gleamed a bloody red against her pale skin. A small smile was etched onto her face, much like how the blonde etched her work onto stone, and her blue eyes were filled up with a hint of delight, though the worker didn’t know why.
“Hello Aethel,” The woman said as she strode forth, every step like she was gliding across the floor. “I see the new life is treating you well.”
“As well as can be in these trying times, especially after the stunt you pulled.” The worker, Aethel, ground out. “So, what brings you here Repina? My store is almost closed, and you don’t pick me as the type that leaves your dainty mansion to come talk to old friends.” The last words left her mouth with a sneer, a hint of mirth showing in Repina’s eyes, as if her contempt was worthy of laughter.
Then again, when someone was so far lower than the aristocrat’s status, it was almost hilarious how Aethel thought it would even affect her.
“It’s a business proposal mostly. Surely you know about those, though with your mixed heritage, one can never be too sure. You were never exactly a mental giant.” The woman spoke to the blonde like she had nothing to fear, and in truth she didn’t. Aethel’s fall from aristocrat to craftsmen had not been a pleasant one.
“And yet, I had better grades then you in school, and at the very least, I am going to be more than some rich man’s arm candy.” Aethel spoke, her green eyes filled with delight as she saw the miniscule twitch of the woman’s mouth. Just the fact that she got through the woman’s mask of indifference made her heart jump with joy. It had been so long since she had gotten one of the noble.
Repina smirked. “Says the woman who was dumb enough to get pregnant at sixteen.”
Aethel let the insult flow over her, even if it hurt slightly coming from her former friend. Yet, even then she knew that it was useless to let it get to her. Her friendship with the woman had died years ago after her naivety had gotten her banished from her family.
“Whatever you say Repina.” Aethel shrugged, a twitch of the eye revealing the noble’s disappointment that her jab had little effect. “But enough about who’s arm you’ll be on. I’d rather not think of you laying with someone old enough to be your father.”
Ah, the smile lessened slightly. A good thing in Aethel’s eyes.
“Why are you here?”
“Because I’d like to purchase the shop.” Aethel eyes widened in confusion.
“But it’s not for sale.”
“It’s not now, but I’m sure I can come up with a more convenient offer for you.” Her hand descended into one of the pockets of her dress, pulling out a large golden card, her crown card. “I will pay you ten thousand bronze crowns to sell me this store.”
Aethel’s emerald green eyes were filled with confusion. Surely, she thought, there must be some reason for this. No one would pay her ten thousand bronze crowns to move. “I don’t understand. If you wished to taunt me, there are less expensive ways. Hiring a few thugs maybe, a few desperate dregs of society who’d do anything for a quick crown.”
The noblewoman rolled her eyes, as if she expected such a simple reply from an, in her eyes, simple woman. “Your business is competing with mine, hence, if I buy this one, I will have little competition in the eastern part of Smobinsk.”
Aethel couldn’t help but let out a snort. Of course it was greed that motivated the woman. Why would she think it would be anything different? “And if I don’t sell?”
“Then I simply cannot guarantee the safety of you or your child,” Her eyes glanced towards the back of the store, a young boy peeking out from behind the counter. Aethel’s fists clenched as the want to turn the woman’s face to mush with her bare hands nearly overrode her self-control, but she took a few deep breaths.
“No. I’ve worked hard to make it this far, and I’m not going to sell my store just because some egomaniac like you can’t handle a little competition.” The noble’s eye twitched as she heard that. For a woman who was by all means a commoner to speak to a noble such as her like that was the height of rudeness, and Aethel knew it.
Which was what made it all the better.
“Huh, and I thought you loved your son more than that.” Repina said before she snapped her fingers. Three large men walked into the store, the Amulet Gloves on their hand glowing with magical power. “Grab the kid.”
“Wha-“ Aethel was knocked back as one of the thugs simply uttered “Vernazad.”. A wave of magical energy left his amulet glove and slammed her into the counter. She gasped as pain lanced through her back, the woman having to take a moment to stand up once again.
Unfortunately, she wasn’t even given that chance.
Repina placed an expensive boot on her chest, the smaller woman looking down at Aethel as if she were nothing but an insect to be crushed. Aethel punched her in the knee, causing the woman to crumple as she let out a cry of pain.
Aethel was ready to fight, managing to stand up and deck one of the men in the jaw, knocking him to the floor as she tried to rescue her child. Unfortunately for her, he had not been as down as she thought, the man grabbing her leg and holding her in place as another one of the thugs punched her in the gut. The breath rushed out of her lungs, and as she bent over, she was decked in the face before being thrown to the ground. She aimed her amulet glove, a beautiful thing of bronze metal and an emerald jewel, to blast the thug across the room, but the sound of her son Craeft crying out caused her to freeze.
It allowed the thug she had knocked down to stand up and hit her on the back of the head, causing her to crumple to the ground. Repina smirked as she walked over towards the fallen women, stepping forward with a slight limp. Aethel looked up at her with eyes full of hatred.
“Ah, that look in your eye. Now you understand your situation fully. You see, I know you’re physically more powerful than me, but I am more powerful than you in other ways. So, here’s how it’s going to go. I’m going to get this store Aethel, one way or another.” She said. Her eight-year-old son struggled in the thug’s grasp, but the man simple tightened his grip on the child’s neck. Craeft tried to use his ice magic on the man, but a fist to his ribs stopped that in its tracks. “Either give me the shop, or I’ll have Nuriyev over here strangle him to death.”
Aethel’s green orbs widened in terror as she saw her son’s struggles start to weaken, his small arms tapping at the man’s hands as his face started to turn blue. “Ok, ok! Just let him go!”
The smirk on Repina’s face was positively vile. “Drop him.” The thug dropped Craeft to the ground, the young boy coughing harshly as he gasped for air. Aethel tried to get up to help him.
A kick from the noblewoman’s boot to her face stopped that.
“Pull out your crown card.” The tall blonde woman desperately dug into her apron, smudged with dirt and bits and pieces of rock stuck on it, as she pulled out her own crown card. Repina yanked it out of her hand, and held her own up to it, a fine gold mist seeping out between the two before they beeped, signaling the end of the transaction. “There, everything is finalized, and now I legally own the store.” She smiled down at the blonde woman, before sending another kick her way, straight into her stomach.
Aethel gasped as she felt the breath leave her lungs. Though she was physically superior to the woman in both height and musculature, a steel toed boot to the ribs still hurt. Repina grinned as she saw her former friend breath in gulps of air, and tossed her crown card down onto the poor woman. “You have a week to get out of MY store. If you don’t, I’ll make sure to kill your child in front of you, before sending you to the afterlife with him.” She spit in the woman’s face. “Have a nice day.”
She left along with her three thugs, slamming the heavy door behind her. Aethel shakily stood up, grasping her ribs as she walked over to her son. He laid on the floor, quietly sniffling. Aethel lifted him up and held him to her chest, the young boy burying his head in her bosom as he cried.
“M-mom, they hurt me.” He sniffled, clutching his ribs. “And they hurt you a lot. I’m sorry, I tried to freeze him but it just hurt so bad and I couldn’t concentrate-”
“Shhhh, Shhhh,” Aethel said as she hugged her son, “You don’t have to apologize. I should have been the one to protect you in the first place. If I hadn’t been caught off guard…” She trailed off, knowing that she would have stood no chance against the three of them, but Aethel wanted to offer her son some comfort. He shouldn’t have had to go through this, not after she had worked so hard to give him a home and a decent childhood, even if she couldn’t afford much. “But don’t worry. Everything’ll be alright.”
“But mom, they’re going to take our home! We won’t have anywhere to live, and grandpa and grandma don’t like us!” He said, his watery eyes filled with fear. She knew what he was speaking of. Her family had refused to even see the young boy let alone accept him into the Proudhill family, but then again, what had she expected? They had kicked her out of their house and family, so why should she expect them to accept an innocent boy like Craeft?
Heartless mongrels the lot of them, she thought as she grabbed his hand and took him behind the counter. “Look Craeft, I’ll find us a new home. A better one where we don’t have to go through all of this.” She said. It was a little white lie of course. He didn’t need to know that ten thousand bronze crowns would barely allow her to afford a small home.
“R-really?” He asked. “Can I even meet some new friends there?”
“Of course.” She hoped he would. Being the bastard of a woman like her didn’t lend him much status in ascean society, and as such, he had been shunned by the other children. “Now go pack your stuff, we’ll be leaving in a couple hours.”
“Ok mom.” The sheer defeat in his tone broke her heart, but she couldn’t let that get her down, not with their lives on the line.
Aethel sighed as he wandered off, a slightly determined look on his face. He had always wanted to take care of his mother and make sure she was happy. She had to give it to her little man, he did indeed care about her and during the dark times in her life, Craeft had been like a beacon of light, drawing her like a moth to a flame to improve herself and give him the life he deserved.
Something she could grab onto and pull her out of the darkness. She had several close calls, many she wasn’t eager to remember. Nor was she eager to remember the circumstances of his birth.
But he was hers and hers alone, and in the Ascean Empire where nobles ruled, it was like a life raft in a raging ocean.
With Craeft occupied grabbing the little number of things he owned, she got to work. She had no doubt the monster in human skin would make good on her threat, caring little for human lives, and so she had to hurry.
She opened a closet near the back of the store, and pulled out a large brown suitcase. With a click, it opened, and she levitated and shrunk the items that she would be taking with her. Anything of value really. Books, stonework, her runic recipes. Anything that would provide her with the means to make a new life for her and her son, she would gladly take.
Better for it to be in her hands than that woman’s.
After a few minutes, the store was barren. Looking at it now, it was difficult for Aethel to take in. It had taken her years of doing things she wasn’t very proud of, slowly working her way up and educating herself, changing her life for her son and finally owning something that was hers. It was like closing a chapter in her life, and a few tears escaped her eyes.
But, just like before, she would not let this get in the way. She had a son to take care of, and she would ensure that his he would have a far better life than she had.
But first, she’d have to find a new place to live. As beautiful as she found Smobinsk, the bright lights and people, the tall buildings that dominated the city and towered over everyone, it could no longer be called home.
Repina was a cruel noble, and in the Ascean Empire, under the reigning king, Cleosia The Third, she was as far above her as the distance between the heavens and Novmir. It would do her no good to stay where she would be in arm’s reach of the cruel and vindictive woman’s affairs.
The nearby island of Fleabar looked particularly well, the crops just starting to come in and fill the fields with delicious fruits and vegetables. Not to mention, the property prices were far lower. Unfortunately, she would still be under an Ascean noble’s hand, but better a noble that doesn’t know her than one that is actively against her.
She would have to send a call to a Fleabar noble and arrange a meeting to get a new home.
Strong hands lifted the brown suitcase off the ground, while the other held Craeft’s hand. She looked down at him, a small smile on her face as her green eyes met his own emerald orbs. “It looks like it’s just you and me Craeft.” She took one last look around her store before she walked out the door, the bell ringing behind her. “Time to move on in our life