Chapter 20 – Claimed (2)

The faces of both Hamelin’s mother and father went as hard as stone. They each looked at the mage with a mixture of horror and disgust, enough to surprise all of the Whitter brothers. Hamelin was surprised as well, since he had not expected to hear about the Inverse so soon, and from such an unlikely source.

He had intended to interrogate the apothecary, next they met, but this might be a better chance to obtain information. Seeing the skills of the supposed Inverse master of poison he had encountered, he was not sure whether to be hopeful or disappointed in the place.

Hopeful, seeing the interesting kinds of poison he had discovered, yet disappointed at the ease of which he had slain such a master.

“What’s the Inverse, Father?” Heston was the first to ask, taking the words right out of Hamelin’s mouth.

“None of your concern, Son,” said lord Whitter, staring daggers at the old mage, “I’m indeed surprised you would be so… indelicate about such a sophisticated issue, mage Correl.”

“My apologies, lord Whitter, but I felt I had to speak. Both for your own sake, but also for Mosel’s.”

“Mosel? What has he got to do with this?” Lord Whitter asked, furrowing his brow and leaning back.

“Please, be patient with me, My Lord, as it will take some time to explain. The greatest danger facing Mosel is that his own power is too great for his body to handle. As such, it may take decades to fully develop his internal structure to such a degree that he may use mana freely. Or, alternatively, he can use a mana crystal to strengthen his pathways immediately.”

The old man spoke gently and coercively, like a snake slithering through grass. Hamelin found himself baring his teeth more and more, wanting to bite the head of that poisonous snake.

“One of the benefits you would receive, in return for an offering to the Inverse, would be exactly such a mana crystal, among other things. I assure you, lord Whitter, offering a child to the inverse is a practice often used among nobles with children to spare.”

“My child,” Hamelin’s mother said, voice quivering with anger, “Is not a spare.”

“My Lady, please excuse my crude words, but what other use—?”

“My lady Sarah is correct, mage Correl. Hamelin is not a spare. I have no intention of offering up anything to the Inverse, regardless of the supposed prize.”

“Please do not be led astray by mundane emotion, My Lord,” the mage said, insisting, “The child will not be any worse off in the Inverse, indeed, he may flourish in that place. Here, he will only ever be a waste, so why waste him?”

The children observed the play between the adults with interest, Heston in particular. He looked from the argument, to Mosel, and finally to Hamelin, baring his teeth. Annoyed, Hamelin could only look down, playing the part of the idiot.

He was both perplexed and deeply in doubt due to this conversation. He was perplexed at how strange this Inverse place was, and how there were apparent gifts provided simply by going there; yet he was also in doubt, seeing his parents defend him like that.

He had known the care of his mother, since she had spent a lot of time with him before growing despondent of late, but his father had been a stoic rock for as long as he had known him. Did they both harbor such protective emotions for him that they would reject such gifts as was promised?

A hand on his shoulder jolted him out of his musings. Beside him, Mosel looked at him with deep blue eyes full of warmth. “Don’t worry, brother, mother and father won’t sell you off like that. I won’t take anything gained that way either.”

“It sounds good though,” Hamelin said, slightly narrowing his eyes. He decided to test his brother, to see if it was truly as he said, “It sounds like it’ll be good for you… that crystal.”

“Maybe,” Mosel said, shrugging, “But then I’ll get one through my own efforts. I’m not selling anyone for it.”

Hamelin looked his brother straight in the eyes and found nothing but truth there. It was a strange sight for someone whose life had been steeped in lies and intrigue.

At the head of the table, the discussion had continued, until his mother finally had had enough. “I won’t hear any more of this. I’m sorry, mage Correl, but I will not hand over my son, for any reason whatsoever. This discussion has tired me; please excuse me.”

With those words, she stood up and walked down the table, until she was by Hamelin. “Hamelin, dear, come with Mother for a bit,” she said and reached out a hand. Hamelin looked down the table, where mage Correl looked at him with narrowed eyes, and his father gave him a firm nod.

Deciding there was no other way, Hamelin took his mother’s hand and let her lead him outside. Once they had passed through the doors to the room, his mother began to walk faster, darting up the stairs at a near-run, with Hamelin hanging behind.

He could not allow her to notice how capable he was of keeping up, and thus let himself get dragged by her. Finally, when they were up in his room, his mother put him on the bed and knelt down in front of him. Tears were flowing down her face, ruining the emphasized, dark lines drawn beneath her eyes.

“You, my dear, are not for sale,” she said, her voice quivering, “And never will be. We’ll find a place for you in this world, I promise you.”

“Alright, Mother,” he said, mechanically, not fully understanding why she was so emotional. It was just a simple suggestion about an exchange of goods. How could a mere suggestion cause her so much distress?

“Good boy,” she said, patting him on the head, “Don’t worry… Don’t worry about a thing…” She kissed his forehead and held him in her arms for a long while. Hamelin wanted to express discomfort at the physical connection, but he could not help himself from feeling… safe.

He resisted the notion as much as he could, but he was ultimately unable to make himself push her away. In the end, he let her hug him until she was satisfied. With a face ruined by tears, his mother smiled down at him, then stood up and said, “Now, it’ll soon be time for bed. Sweet dreams, my dear.”

Like that, she left him. Hamelin still sat on his bed, unable to fathom what had just happened. In the end, he decided to forget it. Since they had refused the old mage, it meant he was not going away anytime soon. With that in mind, he might as well make full use of his time.

As the light of day fell to darkness, Hamelin dressed to kill.