“Ten-minute break, young master Finral,” Said the elderly woman with the stern look upon her face. Her gaze was hard, and her words were absolute. “After that we resume your lessons as usual.”
“Yes, ma'am,” Finral hummed in response. He watched the old woman wander out of the room with her chin held in the air. He didn’t know who she was putting that show on for and he didn’t care. His lessons were the worst. They were pointless if you asked him. It wasn’t like he’d ever be as good as Langris, so he really didn’t see the point in trying.
He’d much rather be out exploring the woods that surrounded his family’s estate. He enjoyed spending what little free time he had just being a kid. Finral could always find something interesting in those woods. Whether it be bugs, plants, animals… anything was better than being cooped up inside and reminded of his own shortcomings. His little brother was already the best at everything and they were still both so young. Yeah, yeah, he got it. He heard it on a daily basis.
Finral waited until he couldn’t hear the shuffle of his teacher's shoes anymore then he held up his right hand and activated his grimoire. While he’d only recently gotten it, the magic within felt so natural. Part of him was attuned to it and he knew there was no question that it was meant to be his. The book glowed and hovered ominously before him as he opened a portal. It'd be a quick trip this time. No one would ever know he left.
The thing about spatial magic was that one needed a precise mental image of where they wanted to go in order to get somewhere specific. When he pictured ‘the woods’ it was basically the opposite of that. He knew that he could end up practically anywhere, and not just within the Clover Kingdom. It was a risk he was willing to take. Once he learned the terrain a bit the portals wouldn’t be an issue. For now, he just had to take a chance and see what happened. Anything was better than being cooped up inside all the time.
Finral stepped through the portal and looked around himself. There were trees everywhere as far as the eye could see. He’d managed to make it into some woods, which was exciting. Sure, he was on his own in a strange place, but so what? He could portal back home whenever he wanted. He removed a small sketch pad and pencil from a pouch on his belt then began to write details about what he saw. This could potentially help him return to the same spot– or avoid such if necessary– at another date.
He turned around and took note of the fact that he could just barely see part of his family’s estate through the trees. He hadn’t ended up too far away, then. He jotted that down as well. Finral ventured deeper into the woods and smiled at all of the amazing things he saw. A butterfly flew past him and he watched as it headed up through the branches then out of his line of sight. What freedom such a little thing had.
A bush next to him rustled and as soon as he turned towards it out hopped a brown rabbit. It stopped and wiggled its nose at Finral before it turned and took off running. He couldn’t help but chase after it. Where was it going? What was so urgent? Finral was so curious. He ran until the rabbit turned abruptly and dashed into some thick trees. Finral walked swiftly after it.
The path between the trees was a little bit more perilous so he couldn’t run anymore. That was OK. He could still see the little rabbit hopping along. Twigs snapped beneath his feet as he walked. The rabbit had to know he was hot on its tail. It didn’t pay him any mind. In fact, it seemed so very unthreatened by him that it stopped hopping away then turned to look at him.
Finral blinked at it and watched the way its ears twitched. Maybe he could pet it… if he was careful… He took another step towards the little beastie only to yelp in surprise when the ground beneath his feet gave away. He went into a coughing fit and attempted to swat away all the dirt that had been kicked into the air. Finral held a hand over his mouth and nose while it settled a bit. He looked around himself and realized he’d fallen into a pit of some sort. It probably wasn’t natural.
He heard a little sound and looked up to see the rabbit staring down at him from above. Its nose twitched then it hopped off. Of course he’d been tricked into a trap by a tiny animal. That was just his luck. Finral stood then hissed softly when he felt an ache in his forearm. He looked down at the fresh scratch then rolled his eyes. So much for no one noticing he’d sneaked out. Oh well.
Finral looked around the pit and realized it was way too deep for him to climb out of. That meant he’d have to use his grimoire and head back home. That was a shame. He wanted to explore some more since he’d never been to this part of the woods before. He was about to go ahead and leave when he heard a rustling sound above him. Had that silly rabbit come back to gloat? He looked up and to his surprise instead of a rabbit, there was a boy leaning over the side of the pit and watching him.
The two of them blinked at each other. Finral took note of his bright red hair and deep blue eyes. He hadn’t seen this boy before. Actually, he hadn’t seen many other children besides his brother. It looked like the redhead was a few years older than him, probably a teenager. That was interesting. He turned his head when the silly little rabbit from earlier peeked over the side of the pit and wiggled its ears at him. Finral made a face at it.
“Did Brownie trap you? She’s too smart for her own good.” The red-haired boy snickered.
“Is the rabbit your pet?” Finral asked curiously. Maybe that’s why she wasn’t so concerned about him being close earlier.
The red-haired boy shook his head. “Not really. More like she tolerates me sometimes.”
“Here, let me get you out of that hole.” The boy disappeared from the edge of the pit.
“You don’t have to, it’s fi–” Finral didn’t have the chance to finish the thought before a rope hit him right in the face. He shook his head and then caught and looked at it.
“Well? Climb out, already,” the other boy called.
Finral hadn’t ever done anything like that before. However, he was well aware that he never would get to try new things if he just stood around like an idiot. There was no time like the present. He studied the rope in his hands and realized there seemed to be knots all along it. He could only assume that was so he had a place to grip. OK he got the gist of it. Now he just had to put it to practical use.
After a handful of failed attempts and way more physical effort than he’d probably exerted in his life, Finral finally managed to climb out of the pit. His legs gave out as soon as he was on solid ground again. He flopped onto his back and took deep breaths. That had been way more strenuous than he could describe. He didn’t even remember he had company until he heard the other boy speak.
“That was embarrassing,” The redhead snickered.
“I’ve never had to do anything like that before,” Finral admitted. He was actually rather proud of his accomplishment.
“It showed.” The red-haired boy snorted. He smiled a crooked smile at him and said, “I’m Zora, by the way. You already met Brownie.”
Finral felt a soft bump against his hand. He turned to see the rabbit from earlier headbutt his palm gently. He couldn’t help but smile as he pat it on the head. No hard feelings, he supposed.
“What’s your name, then?” Zora asked.
“Finral.” He only offered up his first, just as the other boy had. Though he probably would’ve done the same either way.
Zora looked him over then tilted his head and asked, “What happened? Not getting enough attention from your fancy noble parents so you ran away from home in hopes that they’d notice? Then you fell into a ditch like a dummy?”
Finral stiffened at his words. He blinked at the redhead a few times before he finally asked, “What? How’d you know I’m…”
“Your clothes could probably pay for my house and a second one to sit on top of it,” Zora replied.
“Ah.” He wasn’t sure he’d go that far but the point was loud and clear. Whether he intended to or not, he looked like the noble he was. That couldn’t really be helped since he didn’t control what clothes he had. He blinked a few times when Zora offered him his hand and waited.
Finral accepted the help and let himself be pulled to his feet. He grunted softly when his arm ached from the effort. Oh, yeah, he’d forgotten about his little injury. It really wasn’t so bad. He could probably get it all sorted out before any one back home even noticed.
“You’re hurt,” Zora said softly as he looked down at the arm in question.
Finral shrank into himself just a bit. He held his arm against his chest then shook his head and muttered, “No, I’m fine.”
Zora ignored him and said, “Come on, follow me. My dad is the one that dug this hole so he’s the one that’ll patch you up after it injured you. It’s only fair.”
“That’s really not necessary…” Finral didn’t want to be a bother to anyone. He knew he should just go home and take care of it himself.
“Come on, noble-boy. Let us poor old commoners do this one thing for you. It’ll give us a sense of purpose in the world and a tale that we can tell future generations to come.” Zora turned and looked at him over his shoulder.
“You don’t have to say it like that,” Finral muttered as he followed the redhead.
“You need to relax, I’m just messing with ya. Besides, my dad trains really hard every single day. It’s gonna pay off when he becomes the first ever commoner to become a Magic Knight one day, you’ll see. Then we will be on equal grounds with all you jerks.” Zora beamed with pride. He continued to do so as he talked about his father.
Finral couldn’t help but be entranced by his story. He’d never seen someone so proud of, or happy to talk about their family like that. It was really sweet. It made him forget his own problems and completely believe in this man he’d never even met. In fact, listening to the redhead as he followed made him completely forget about his own pain.
They finally arrived at a modest little cottage surrounded by trees and Finral watched as Zora waltzed right inside without a care in the world. He waited at the threshold, unsure if he was allowed to cross without a specific invitation. He didn’t want to be rude. He jumped when he heard Zora yell, “Daaad! You here?”
“Zora, you’re back! Great! Come here and smell this!”
“Absolutely not. There’s no way I’m falling for that again.” Zora quickly refused. Finral could practically hear him shake his head furiously. Not a moment later he spoke again. “Besides, we have a guest.”
“Yeah he’s– huh? One sec!”
Finral jumped when Zora’s head appeared in the doorway. The redhead motioned for him to follow and said, “Come in before he thinks you’re imaginary. I’ll never hear the end of that.”
It was an odd invitation, but he’d take it. When he finally meandered inside Finral was yanked into another room. He didn’t even have time to yelp. He also wasn’t sure anyone had closed that door behind them. Was that safe? Did they always do this kind of thing? Finral’s eyes widened when his gaze fell upon a man with the exact same striking red hair and deep blue eyes as Zora. There was no doubt they were related.
“See!” Zora motioned to the scrapes on Finral’s arm. “Look at what your pitfall did to him. You need to be more careful about where you put those things.”
The red-haired man put a hand on his chin and hummed to himself. He looked from the scrape to the boys then said, “Really? No one usually wanders around that area which is why I thought it was a safe spot. Ah, well. Come on in and sit down. I’ll get the bandages.”
“Oh, I really don’t want to be any trouble…” Finral mumbled mostly to himself.
“That’s good. Zora there is enough trouble for me,” The man snickered. A cheerful grin spread across his face and he was clearly on the verge of laughing at his own joke.
“Dad…” Zora groaned.
The man held up his hands in surrender then wandered out of the room. “Yeah, yeah, I’m goin’.”
Zora sighed then shook his head. He shut his eyes and muttered, “Sorry about him. I forgot to warn you he’s a bit ridiculous.” He motioned for Finral to take a seat on the couch while they waited.
While the boy said one thing it was obvious to Finral that he truly cared about his father. There was a gleam in his eyes and a little smile upon his face. Not to mention the way he’d praised the man all the way back to the cottage. Finral couldn’t help but be just a bit awestruck. He sat where instructed and offered a knowing smile of his own. Zora raised a curious eyebrow at him.
The red-haired man returned with a hearty laugh. He didn’t confirm or deny that accusation he’d overheard. He sat down across from Finral and got right to work cleaning then wrapping his scrapes. Once that was all said and done he beamed and offered the purple-eyed boy his hand. “Name’s Zara Ideale. Nice to meet you. Sorry about the trap business.”
“Finral.” He shook the offered hand firmly as he’d been taught to do. It was the proper response when greeting another. He blinked a few times then his brow knitted together and he tilted his head. He looked from one redhead to the other as he asked, “Zara and Zora?”
Zara released his hand so he could tousle his son’s hair. He had a cheery grin upon his face as he replied, “It’s cool, isn’t it? Not that this guy would agree.”
Zora swatted at the hand in his hair and exclaimed, “It’s embarrassing is what it is! Like he didn’t even give my name any thought after the doctors handed me over!”
“What can I say? I live in the moment,” Zara snickered.
Finral couldn’t help but laugh. He didn’t mean to, but the relationship between the two of them was so sweet and he thought it was absolutely wonderful. His own father certainly wouldn’t ever joke around so carefreely like this. He chuckled to himself until his eyes watered. He finally regained control over himself and wiped them with the back of his hand then turned to look at Zora. He watched the other boy’s blue eyes widen. Blush darkened Zora’s cheeks and he turned away with a pout.
“I’m so hungry I could eat an entire boar by myself,” Zara declared loudly. He grinned like an absolute madman and asked, “You hungry, Finral?
Finral turned towards him and smiled nervously. He nodded once then muttered, “A little, I suppose.”
“You’re in luck, then!” Zara motioned over his shoulder with his thumb. “The stew I was making is ready now so you should join us for a meal. It’s the least I can do.”
“Um, well, if you’re sure I won’t be a bother…” Finral mumbled softly. He looked over at Zora to find that the other boy wouldn’t look at him. If he’d overstayed his welcome he could just leave. There was plenty of food back home.
Zara slapped his son on the back playfully and declared, “The more the merrier, right Zora!”
Zora glanced at Finral but quickly averted his gaze. He rubbed the back of his neck and nodded as he mumbled, “Yeah.”
Finral smiled from ear to ear. He liked the idea of hanging around for a bit as long as no one disapproved. He followed Zara into the kitchen and laughed at the terrible pun he made about the stew. Honestly, Finral thought the guy was a delight. Every single thing that Zora complained about being embarrassing just tickled him pink. The amused gleam in his eyes and little smile on his face told Finral that Zora was also tickled by his father’s antics. He’d never seen a happier pair than the two of them before.
It was a bit later than Finral probably should’ve stayed away from home by the time he finally realized he had to head back. He thanked both Zara and Zora for their hospitality as he knew was the polite thing to do. Only this time it was heartfelt. He wasn’t just saying it to make his parents or teacher happy. He had a smile on his face as he said goodbye and stepped out of the cottage.
He shut the door behind himself and stepped off the front porch. He’d had a really good day and didn’t want to ruin that by opening a portal in their home. Finral had no idea if that was rude or not. He figured it was better not to risk it. He held up his hand and a portal appeared, swirling and beautiful.
Finral was sure he had a stern talking to waiting for him when he got back home. Somehow that didn’t bother him at all after the fun afternoon he’d had. He turned and looked over his shoulder to see Zora watching him in the window. He smiled from ear to ear and waved at the other boy then turned back around and stepped into the portal.
It was just under three weeks before Finral had himself a bit of free time again. He was kept on a pretty tight leash after his last disappearing act. The scolding had only been the beginning and he’d been assigned a guard to keep him in check. He swore the guy was like a shadow. He never even blinked. There wasn’t a single chance for Finral to slip away. It was the worst. The only thing that got him through the terrible time was thinking about what fun he’d had with the Ideales. He often wondered how the pair were doing. He could just imagine the terrible dad-jokes that Zara had come up with and the way that Zora tried not to snicker. Finral bet they were hilarious.
He’d eaten his lunch then asked for permission to go outside and play unattended for once. Finral had done this everyday and it had been a ‘no’ each time. To his surprise his father agreed this time around. It was probably because he was distracted by something amazing Langris had done. Finral didn’t care. He’d gotten the answer he’d hoped for and would make the best of it. He thanked his father then scurried off before the man could change his mind.
As soon as he stepped outside he opened a portal and hopped through. He didn’t want to risk anyone tailing him so walking to his destination was out of the question. He ended up by a familiar pitfall. Evidently they hadn’t bothered to cover it back up. Finral blinked a few times. A couple feet to the left and he would’ve been inside the thing. That would’ve been embarrassing. He kicked a pebble and watched it roll off the edge and into the pit below.
There was a rustle of leaves to his right and he turned towards it. Finral watched a familiar brown rabbit hop out from behind a bush. She stopped and wriggled her nose at him. He smiled and greeted her softly. It was always nice to see a familiar face. He nearly jumped out of his skin when he heard someone speak.
“Didn’t think I’d see you again.”
Finral spun around to see Zora standing behind him with a bunch of logs in his arms. The redhead blinked at him and then gave him a curious once over. Finral immediately shook his hands and squeaked, “Oh! Sorry! If I’m being a bother, I’ll just go…” He turned and raised his arm in preparation to summon another portal. He could spend his free time elsewhere.
“Hold on,” Zora said before he could cast the spell. He waited for Finral to turn back towards him then continued, “I didn’t say anything like that. Sheesh. Do you always automatically assume the worst like that?”
Finral blinked as he mulled that over. Back home it was better to do just that. What this boy referred to as ‘the worst’ was just the norm there. He supposed that he’d never really thought about it before. His family preferred he make himself scarce and so he did. At this point it was second nature to him and he didn’t even stop to think that someone might want him to stick around. He smiled awkwardly and rubbed the back of his neck since he wasn’t sure how to put something like that into words.
“Weirdo,” Zora snorted. He was silent as he watched the other boy until he finally looked at him. When their eyes met he shoved the logs he held at Finral and said, “Since you’re here, you can help.”
Finral squeaked and grabbed as many of the logs as he could. A couple still tumbled out of his grip and he gave Zora an apologetic look. The redhead simply sighed then picked up the extras and motioned for him to follow. They headed back in the direction they’d gone last time. Finral knew it was the way back to the redhead’s house. He didn’t mind going there again, it had been nice last time.
“So you finally managed to sneak away again, huh?” Zora asked loudly. He looked at Finral out of the corner of his eye and added, “There isn’t a search party looking for you is there?”
Finral shook his head. “No, I have permission to be outside today. I decided I'd visit these woods again.”
“I’m surprised my dad didn’t scare you off with how he acted like a complete dork when you visited before,” Zora said then he focused his attention forward again. He continued to lead the way and avoid any traps they’d set.
“I thought he was funny,” Finral admitted as a smile spread across his face.
“You and him both,” Zora muttered. A smile played at the edges of his lips.
Finral was glad to find that Zara welcomed him back to their home with open arms. Literally. The man squeezed him so tightly that he had to tap on his shoulder and remind him he needed air. He was so pleased. Their home was such a warm, loving place full of laughter. After they dropped off the wood, he and Zora were given permission to go out and have a bit of fun. They spent the rest of the day roaming the woods together. From plants to animals and everything else in between, Finral found himself amazed by the extent of the redhead’s knowledge. Even his constant studying hadn’t taught him nearly as much as he learned in the few hours he spent with the other boy. It was amazing.
Perhaps best of all was the fact that Zora was so nice. He was also a lot like his father and rather silly, not that he’d ever admit it. Finral thought it was amazing. He was glad that they became instant friends. Even better was the fact that Zora told him to come back whenever he wanted for a visit. Finral absolutely would.
Any chance he got to escape from home for a bit he’d use to pop over to visit Zora. He loved to listen to the redhead talk proudly about his father’s training. That man worked harder to achieve his goal than anyone Finral had ever met. He always did so with a smile and chipper outlook on life. It was hard not to root for him to get everything he wanted. Finral certainly believed he’d achieve his goals.
Finral spent a lot of time exploring the woods with Zora. Every free chance he got, actually. He would always get extra happy to see the redhead greet him with a smile when he stepped out of a portal. Sometimes he’d bring special snacks or a book from home. Zora was always fascinated by them. Finral even brought Brownie carrots enough times that she let him pet her and would even hop onto his lap if they were sitting. He beamed every time she did that.
Months went by and the two of them only grew closer. Finral was happy to have someone to call a friend. He was pretty sure Zora was happy to have someone else around to be the butt of his father’s practical jokes once in a while. Finral didn’t mind that at all. They were all in good fun. Plus, all the time he and Zora got to spend together was worth a small price like that.
Little did he know that his constant disappearing from home hadn’t gone unnoticed. It certainly came as a surprise one afternoon when he was minding his own business and admiring some cute little blue flowers that he suddenly heard his brother’s voice.
He was shocked to find he’d been followed. He really didn’t think anyone cared enough to do something like that. Too bad his brother wasn’t there to hang out. That would’ve been nice. He only seemed to want to reinforce all the things he’d said a million times before. It was all Finral could do to stand there and nod as Langris went on about how he was ‘a waste of space’ and their teachers ‘shouldn’t even bother to try teaching someone so dumb’.
Of course Finral didn’t believe those things to be true. He also didn’t want to make his little brother feel bad by calling him wrong. In the end he was too chicken to stand up for himself and just ended up a stuttering mess.
Langris eventually got tired of telling him off and said, “Nothing to say for yourself, as usual, because you know I’m right. You’re a disgrace.” He turned and left without another word.
Finral let out a sigh of relief when he was alone again. While he personally knew that there was more to the guy, his brother’s overpowering aura must’ve been really disturbing for the local wildlife. He felt bad about that when he realized he didn’t even hear any birds chirping around himself. They’d probably been scared off, poor things.
“Why would you let someone talk to you like that?”
Finral jumped at the sound of Zora’s voice. He turned to look at the redhead and saw that he had a terrible look upon his face. It was like he’d just been force-fed lemons. Finral bowed his head and kicked a twig near his foot. This was exactly what he’d hoped wouldn’t ever happen. Oh, well. There was no going back now. Time to come clean. His voice was a shaky whisper as he said, “That was my brother. I’m… well… I guess you’d say I’m my family’s black sheep.”
Zora narrowed his eyes at him and asked, “What do you mean?”
“I can’t do anything right or live up to their standards. I’m nowhere near as amazing as my younger brother and because of that everyone I care about thinks I’m a loser, heh.” Finral hadn’t ever said that out loud before. It hit harder than he thought it would. He felt the sting of tears as they pooled in his eyes. He refused to let them fall right now. That would have to wait until he was back home and alone. He looked positively defeated as he added, “I understand if you don’t want to be friends with me anymore.”
There was silence for a long moment after that. Finral was sure that was proof enough that the redhead figured he was worthless too. It stung, but he couldn’t really blame him. This was bound to happen. It had been a matter of time. He gasped and looked up when he felt a gentle hand on his shoulder.
“The only person I don’t want to be friends with is your awful brother,” Zora assured him. He smiled warmly then flicked Finral’s forehead. “Don’t look so sad. From where I stand, you’re the one worth having around.”
Finral’s eyes widened and his bottom lip quivered. He quickly wiped the corners of his eyes before any tears escaped them without his permission. He blinked a few times to see Zora was still smiling at him. He couldn’t help but smile right back. There was no one else in the whole world like the redhead and Finral was so grateful to have met him. He watched Zora motion for him to follow and then turn around and start prattling on about how he’d chased and almost caught a fox the other day. Finral hurried to catch up so he could hear the entirety of the tale. It sounded like a good one.
It was a brisk afternoon a few weeks later when the two of them were out looking for anything interesting together that something changed. Or perhaps it was better to say something amazing happened. Finral noticed a really cool rock on the ground. He couldn’t wait to show Zora. He bent down to pick it up then paused when a hand landed atop his.
He blinked a few times then looked up to see Zora had also bent down to pick up the same rock. They didn’t move a muscle as they simply waited for the other to react. Neither of them pulled away. Finral couldn’t be sure, but it didn’t seem like either of them was breathing. He continued to watch the redhead as he did something bold. Finral flipped his hand over then threaded their fingers together. His heart threatened to beat right out of his chest when Zora’s gaze fell to their intertwined hands.
To Finral’s surprise, when those blue eyes looked at him again, he could see the smile that was about to spread across his face before it even started. He smiled as well when Zora squeezed his hand then motioned for him to go ahead and take the rock. Finral did so with his free hand then studied it for a moment. It was an oval and just smaller than the palm of his hand. Perfect for keeping in one’s pocket for luck. He was pretty sure he’d heard that was a thing.
The two of them continued to hold hands as they looked for any other potential hidden treasures around them. They found a couple more noteworthy rocks, some pretty cool bugs, and even an abandoned bird’s nest. In Finral’s opinion they all paled in comparison to the rock he’d slipped into his pocket earlier.
He was all smiles and couldn’t seem to stop blushing by the time he finally had to leave that afternoon. Zora’s cheeks were also a lovely shade of pink. Finral didn’t call him out on it. He simply said his usual goodbye with the promise to return and see him as soon as he could. Zora seemed happy enough about that.
Finral spent the next few days completely lost in thoughts of the redhead. He couldn’t focus on lessons. He’d zone out and stare at his hand, or the red roses in the vases that lined the halls of his home, for undetermined amounts of time. Those flowers reminded him of Zora’s hair. So pretty. When it was time for bed and he knew no one would bother him he’d remove the rock he’d brought home from the drawer of his nightstand.
He rubbed his thumb along it and turned it over in his hand. Such a simple thing made him so happy to look at. It was incredible. A thought occurred to him and he gasped. He bet he could make it even more special. He grabbed a dagger with a jeweled handle from its stand atop the same nightstand. It was either there for decoration or self-defense. He forgot which. Didn’t matter. It had a different purpose now.
The tip of Finral’s tongue stuck out of his mouth as he concentrated and carefully carved ‘Z+F’ into the rock. He smiled warmly at the completed piece. Now it really was the most amazing rock ever to exist. He set the dagger aside and beamed as he ran his thumb along the new letters. He couldn’t believe just how lucky he’d been to meet someone as special as Zora. Finral held the rock to his chest and let out a happy little squeak.
The next time they saw one another Zora casually took Finral’s hand and lead him to some ‘amazing thing’ he wanted to share. Finral didn’t even know where they were going. He didn’t care. He was just so happy to be able to hold Zora’s hand again. He must’ve been smiling like a complete goofball because when Zora turned towards him after he didn’t answer a question he’d asked he stopped walking then cocked an eyebrow at him. Then Zora asked what was so funny. Finral couldn’t even tell him.
After that it became commonplace for the two of them to hold hands when they were on their own. They also tended to sit closer than strictly necessary to one another. They both took comfort in being close to the other. It wasn’t like anyone else ever wandered that part of the woods, either. So there was no one to judge them or tell them they were wrong for doing so. It was their place where the two of them were free to do as they pleased.
A few more months came and went, and the weather cooled off. With that came Zora’s birthday. Finral was thrilled to get the invitation to spend the day with him and his father. He even asked his family’s chef to make him some special cupcakes for the event. He paced just outside of the kitchen as he eagerly awaited them. He didn’t know what kind of gift he could possibly get the redhead. What would show him just how grateful he was that they’d met? Nothing he thought of could express the sentiment. He hoped the sweets would make him happy at least.
The baker noticed his anxious pacing and invited him into the kitchen. Finral got to watch in awe as the kind old man expertly piped three perfect roses made of red icing atop the cupcakes. Then he offered the piping bag to Finral. He’d never done anything like that before and probably wouldn’t be any good at it, knowing him. Still, if it was for his best friend he was willing to try. He let the baker guide him in an attempt to decorate the last three cupcakes.
In the end he had three beautiful, professionally made cupcakes with incredible roses atop them. Then there were three with sad red blobs for decoration. He scrunched his face at the ones he’d tried to decorate. He should probably just bring the three nice ones. The others kind of ruined the mood. The baker insisted that he bring those too since ‘anything baked with love tastes way better than it looks’.
Finral waited for the cupcakes to be boxed up then thanked the baker with a giddy smile. He held onto the box firmly then hurried out of the estate as fast as he could without actually running. Once outside, he opened a portal and practically leaped through. When he stepped out of it and saw Zora and Zara standing outside of their home cheering excitedly, he smiled from ear to ear. Evidently the party had already started.
The sound of someone approaching caught Zora's attention. He turned and then waved Finral over. He was happy as could be as he exclaimed, “You’ll never guess the amazing birthday gift I just got!”
“Oh! Don’t make me wait!” Finral felt just as excited as the two of them looked. Their positive energy was infectious.
Zara put his hands on his hips and puffed out his chest proudly. His smile stretched across his entire face as he declared, “You’re looking at the newest member of the Purple Orcas.”
“Really?!” Finral shrieked and nearly dropped the box he held. He absolutely understood all the excitement now. Heck, he wasn’t sure everyone was excited enough. This was huge news.
Zara cupped his hands over his mouth and yelled, “You heard it here first, world! I, Zara Ideale, am the first ever commoner to become a Magic Knight! I promise I won’t be the last!”
“That’s incredible! Congratulations, mister Zara!” Finral chirped. He’d never met anyone as worthy as this man to become a Magic Knight. He was so happy to witness firsthand that dreams really could come true with a little hard work and determination.
“Please, mister Zara was my father… well, no, I guess it wasn’t but… I've told you to call me plain old Zara anyway!” The man replied as cheerily as ever. No, perhaps he was even more cheery than before. If that was even possible.
Finral laughed heartily along with him. He turned towards Zora, who was happier than he’d ever seen him, and just smiled. What a wonderful sight to see. When the other boy looked in his direction Finral offered him the box he held. He smiled shyly and felt blush darken his cheeks as he said, “I know they’re nowhere near as amazing as your other gift but… happy birthday, Zora.”
Both Zora and Zara looked into the box when he opened it. They blinked a few times at the contents. Zara muttered, “These look…”
“Yeah, sorry, I tried to decorate the top ones myself,” Finral admitted with a nervous chuckle. He didn’t look at either of them as he added, “You can just throw those away and eat the ones the baker made. I promise they’re delicious.”
“Absolutely fantastic!” Zara continued his thought from earlier.
“I agree, I think the top row look even tastier than the bottom.” Zora looked up from the cupcakes and continued to smile as he hummed, “Thank you, Finral.”
Finral’s cheeks burned as they darkened even more. He couldn’t believe his first attempt ever at something like this would get such a warm reception. These two really were the most amazing people he’d ever met. He couldn’t be any more grateful for that chance encounter that had brought them together. He blinked away the happy tears in his eyes then suggested they all go inside since they had so much to celebrate. Plus, the cupcakes would go great with some nice milk.
A mere two months later it was time to celebrate Finral’s birthday. Although that was more exhausting than one would believe. He wasn’t even allowed to leave the estate that day. It was a big deal because his family made a grand showing of their eldest son’s birth. It was amazing considering they didn’t care what he did for the other 364 days of the year. As usual, the party felt like it was thrown more for them than him.
Sure, he got thoughtless gifts and empty praise from strangers but that didn’t matter. His parents were the ones in the spotlight. He simply sat in his assigned chair and thanked all the people with forgettable faces for attending the event. It was the same every year. Though it was kind of amazing to think this was nothing compared to the ostentatious events they threw for his brother’s birthday. Finral didn’t care either way. The whole time he wished he could’ve invited the only two people he actually wanted to see that day.
He didn’t manage to go back to that little cabin in the woods until the next afternoon. To his surprise, both Zora and Zara were waiting for him. The pair smiled from ear to ear as they offered him a cake they’d made yesterday. Finral was floored by their generosity. He never expected them to remember or want to celebrate his birthday. After spending the actual date watching his parents getting praised for nothing whatsoever this really hit home. He teared up and bowed his head.
“What are you cryin’ for? Is it cause we didn’t get you a gift? This was the best we could do.” Zora muttered as he rubbed the back of his neck slowly. He looked a bit worried about the response he’d get.
Finral gasped and looked up at him. He grabbed Zora’s shoulders and shrieked, “It’s the best gift I’ve ever gotten!” He honestly couldn’t think of a single thing that had ever come close to this.
“That’s kind of sad… but don’t worry, I’ve got forever to get you something even better. I’ll get you the perfect gift one day.” Zora smirked with his declaration. There was confidence in his voice.
Finral’s eyes widened. He let his hands fall away from the other boy and averted his gaze. He tucked a stray strand of hair behind his left ear then looked back at him with a hopeful gleam in his eyes as he asked, “Do you really think we’ll be friends forever?”
“Of course we will.” Zora nodded.
“Probably even longer than that, knowing you two!” Zara laughed as he pat them both on the back at the same time. He took the cake from Zora, held it up and declared, “Now let’s feast like kings!”
Finral smiled from ear to ear and nodded. Forever, huh? He liked the sound of that. He couldn’t be any happier in this perfect moment.
As it turned out, forever was too tall an order for the friendship in question. They couldn’t possibly have known what darkness was on the horizon at the time. Not that it would’ve cushioned the blow if they did.
Six weeks after his birthday, tragedy struck. During what was supposed to have been a routine visit at the Ideale residence, Finral was given some horrible news. Zara, a man that shined brighter than the sun itself, had been killed while on a mission with his fellow Purple Orcas. He didn’t want to believe it. How could such a cruel fate befall such an amazing person? Was the world really such an awful place?
Finral cried just as much as Zora that day. They held hands as they visited his grave together. They stood before it in silence and whimpered to themselves. They learned the hard way that wishing something wasn’t true with all their being wouldn’t actually change anything. It was a tough lesson on both of them.
Finral noticed that Zora hadn’t smiled or joked around once. Not that he had much reason to right now. It still hurt his heart to see that his best friend lost all the spark and happiness within him that had once been so blinding. Life wasn’t fair at all. He stayed with Zora until after dark. The redhead didn’t even grunt when he said he had to leave for the night. Finral’s heart ached for him.
He awoke bright and early the next day. Part of him wished yesterday had been a dream, though he knew it was impossible. Finral planned to spend the whole day with Zora. He knew that the redhead needed someone right now. He’d do whatever he could, even if it was just being there. His plan was thwarted when he was intercepted by his father before he could leave that morning.
Unavoidable lessons. Today of all days. He begged to push them back but the man refused, saying the teacher was only there for a few hours. Finral reluctantly obeyed his father’s wishes and attended the exclusive lesson. Of course he didn’t learn a thing. He couldn’t focus. His mind was elsewhere.
It had already gotten dark by the time he finally stepped out of a portal in front of the familiar cottage. It was so quiet. There was usually the sound of laughter in the air. Now the silence was practically deafening. He knocked on the door and waited. No answer. Finral understood if Zora didn’t want to see anyone. He just wanted to be sure he was OK. He peeked in through one of the windows and couldn’t see the redhead anywhere. Where would he go at this hour?
Oh. Finral hurried over to the nearby graveyard. He was surprised to hear laughter when he was almost there. A pair of men wearing purple robes walked by him and talked among themselves. If they noticed him they didn’t bother to say anything. He didn’t pay them any mind either and continued on his way. It was a few footsteps later that he had a realization. He stopped and turned to look at them over his shoulder.
Were those Purple Orcas? As in other Magic Knights from Zara’s former squad? Were they on the way back from his grave? Why the heck were they laughing? Finral grunted when someone ran right into him. He immediately recognized Zora and saw that he had a steady stream of tears flowing down his face. Finral’s own eyes began to water at the sight. He put a hand on his friend’s shoulder.
“Don’t touch me!” Zora yelled as he slapped the offending hand away.
Finral gasped. “Wh… sorry! I meant to come earlier but–”
“Just shut up already!” Zora cut him off.
“Don’t say my name like that!” Zora balled his hands into fists. He glared daggers at Finral as he exclaimed, “I hate nobles like you! Your kind are the reason my dad is dead! Just get out of here! I never want to see your stupid face again!”
Finral’s heart shattered into a million pieces when he heard those words from his best friend of all people. It wasn’t that he wasn’t used to rejection– far from it, in fact– he’d just figured their bond was special. Evidently not. His bottom lip quivered and he took a step away from the redhead. The hard look in those blue eyes said all he needed to know about just how serious Zora was. His voice was a shaky whisper when he finally managed to speak.
“I thought… you were different… but you’re just like all the rest of them…” Finral burst into tears. He didn’t care if it made him look like a big baby. There was no holding them back right now. He reached into his pocket and removed the rock he’d been carrying around as a good luck charm since he’d carved their initials into it. He tossed it at Zora’s feet then turned and ran off as he cried, “I hate you too!”
He didn’t mean it. He couldn’t even believe he’d said it. He had absolutely no idea what to do with himself so he ran until he collapsed. There was a sharp pain in his knee where he’d scraped it when he fell, and he didn’t care. Finral whimpered softly as he dug his fingers into the earth beneath his palms. He managed to stand then finally opened a portal to his bedroom. Once there he collapsed onto his bed and wept. He cried over the fact that he’d said that. He cried over what cruel things Zora said to him. He cried over the horrible truth that Zara was gone. He continued to cry until he had no more tears and was left with an empty feeling inside.
Years passed and Finral never once went back to those woods. He’d thought about it, sure, but every time he did all he could see was that serious look in Zora’s eyes as he told him he never wanted to see him again. Then of course there was his own reaction. All the regret in the world wouldn’t change what happened. There was nothing left for him there.
Eventually he came to believe he’d imagined that family and the good times they’d shared. Of course it wasn’t true, but that was easier to deal with. That was how he’d convinced himself never to seek out that cottage in the woods again. There wouldn’t be anyone there to greet him if he did.
Over those few years his relationship with his family members deteriorated even further. He didn’t even know such a thing was possible. Maybe it was because he’d seen what kind of potential relationship he’d been cheated out of. He didn’t know. Finral dealt with their constant berating him on a daily basis. It finally became the truth in his mind. He didn’t even question the terrible things they said to him anymore and would even mutter apologies for being such a disappointment.
Which is exactly what he was. No amount of lessons or training would ever change that. He’d missed his chance to ever amount to anything in his family’s eyes. It was a hard truth. In that case, he just decided to embrace it. He fell so far into his role as a failure that he finally gave up trying to be anything else. That lead to his biggest decision of all. He left home, took his mother’s maiden name, and didn’t once look back.
They’d most likely be disappointed in his decision but what else was new? It wasn’t like they could treat him any worse than they already did. Finral wanted to know what it was like to live with the freedom to make all his own decisions for once. He quickly realized that without them breathing down his neck about things that were out of his control, the world was his oyster. He planned to get his flirt on and have all sorts of fun in the process. That much was long overdue. It was time for him to live his best life.