Sword sliced through the air, ten times, a hundred times. Repetition: practice.
How fair was it that Van got to run and play as he wished, that he was free from the heavy burdens of one day becoming the ruler of Fanelia? He was allowed to be rough, but admonished for his horrible risks. He was allowed to slack off and not study as hard, but he was scolded for his lack of diligence. Praised for what he did correctly, and merely laughed at when he didn’t.
Sharpen weapons, learn how to properly put armor on, how to block fire with a shield, how to swing when the enemy is vulnerable.
Van, on the other hand, jumped off a building to impress his dirty cat girl friend and was rescued by their mother, only to be lectured on the fact he should not show his wings to anyone unless it was absolutely necessary.
Lectures on the other kingdoms, how to appropriately negotiate and form contracts, how to stay in the good graces in the face of other kings and lords. Van attended these lessons, but was never really expected to memorize or remember any of it. No one really ever expected Van to be needed.
He was a spare.
Upon meeting others, from various other kingdoms, from faraway lands: “Here is my son Van, and here is my elder Folken, future king of Fanelia.” The talks would continue, leaving out the younger, always including the elder. Folken would smile, respond accordingly. Van could only sit there and eat in his silence.
Van would watch his brother as he practiced, watch as his sword swung through the air, watched as he mercilessly took on the strongest knights of the kingdom in practice, heard of his triumph in battle. He knew he was not to join, but his brother was strong, yet gentle and kind. If only he wasn’t just insurance.
One day, after years upon years of training came the time. Suit up, say your goodbyes to your family. When he comes back, he will be the king, he will take his rightful place on the throne. Say goodbye to the brother, the spare, he won’t be needed for much any longer but to help fight and keep the glory of Fanelia strong. There are hopes for him, for this young, strong, smart man.
Then, a few days later, the terrible news. Sobbing, weeping, and wailing. For Van, the realization he is no longer just a spare, but a king.
The spare must be as trustworthy as the original, lest the original fail.
Training, no more playing around. Becoming strong is what needs to happen, because Fanelia needs a king. The brother won’t be of much use they say, his youth was wasted, but he presses on. He tries his hardest, and despite all odds, becomes strong and rivals the bravest and strongest of the knights of the land.
So he was polished, brought to the shine his older brother once was. But he was no Folken, he lacked the training and the time. Still, he pressed on, determined to fulfill his duties.
He had no one to turn to but Balgus and Merle, the only people who understood anything he was going through. Merle, so faithful, was hardly away from him, as if she could sense he needed the comfort. Balgus was like a second father, harsh but loving.
Then, like so many years ago, the day came, after so many, but not as many years of training. A quick run through of how to use the armor, even as burned into his brain as it is. A check to make sure the sword is sharp and the armor is on properly, then a send-off. For Van, some deep breaths, and then the hunt begins.
The people of the kingdom are hopeful, but not optimistic. “It’s too bad,” is whispered behind closed doors. Balgus is hopeful, but pessimistic, given what happened years before to Folken. Merle is the only one who believes in him, it seems, and she waits for him, ears and tail drooped as she works, waiting for Lord Van to return.
Somehow, while fighting, a light shines, and Van is no longer in the middle of a raging battle with a dragon, but on the fabled Mystic Moon. As he runs, there is a girl who he hits. He comes to realize she can understand him, while the others cannot. The girl, in her truly odd outfit with the short haircut seems to have some sort of powers, and without her, the spare would have failed too.
Van feels the hot breath of the dragon, the warmth of its insides as he cuts out its heart, watches as it turns to dust. Watches again as the girl who can understand, the girl who saved him, spontaneously returns with him with no explanation, no understanding of what is happening. But as she is from the Mystic Moon
As he returns, triumphant, a new threat lurks in the shadows unbeknownst to the happy, rejoicing people of Fanelia. And somewhere, further away, sits the original, a small smirk creeping onto his face at the thought that the spare could do what he could not.
Folken, Strategos of Zaibach, flexes his false hand, then leans forward slightly, toasting an invisible cup towards the sky. “To my brother, my spare. He has done what I could not. To the near future when we meet again.”
A spare sometimes surpasses the original.