Claude’s timer counted in negatives.
It was strange, odd, unique, and utterly terrible. No one’s timer had negatives. They did not jump and flash in random intervals, changing and warping at random. Claude’s number were a series of negatives in a place where they should be whole. Moving downwards one hour and changing to counting forward the next.
Always in negatives.
Story of his life, really.
Claude would like to say that he did not care, not anymore.
But he was never good at lying to himself.
Claude remembers being young and naive. Filled with endless enthusiasm about his sixth birthday. Knowing that he would awake the next morning at the crack of dawn and a set of magical numbers would await him. Bright and shiny and telling him exactly when he’ll be able to meet his soulmate’s eyes for the first time.
He didn’t really know what to do after that. The books his mother read to him never went that far. He only knows that when he meets his soulmate the world will turn bright and everything will be right. His soulmate will be beautiful and they’ll smile at each other and then they’ll hold hands and run off into the distance. There will be fireworks and a full moon, maybe a few pegasi or so flying overhead.
And as for what happens after that? Well, it doesn’t matter, it’ll be a happily-ever-after, that Claude was sure of.
At midnight, Claude had woke with negatives on his wrist and a full soul.
Claude cries, then, at the stroke of midnight. Little sobs and cries that were muffled by his blankets. He cried and cried, wishing that this was a dream and that maybe if he cries enough he’ll wake up. That if he cries then some higher being will take mercy and take half of his soul to create him a soulmate. He wouldn’t even care if they were six years younger than him.
He just wants them to exist.
Please, he wishes- pleads, please let me have a soulmate. Please.
Claude, seven hours after turning six, wakes up with negatives on his wrist and a still full soul.
He didn’t cry.
Not even when his mother had broken down and his father looked at him as though he were a beast.
Claude didn’t cry.
Claude knows that his timer is a bad, bad thing. The way his mother had screamed and the way his father had looked had only proven that. It was a tense few hours as Claude sat isolated in his room. Ordered to stay put and not take a step out as his father rushes away, his expression stern and his mother still sobbing.
“Claude, oh, my dear fawn,” she sobbed, one hand rowing over his hair and the other wrapped tightly around his wrist. Trying to cover the numbers, the very bad, very terrible numbers. He leans against her, mind still blank. His other hand coming to hold hers, covering his wrist together. “How could the Goddess be so cruel?”
The blankets were warm and the sun’s light fall through the curtains yet Claude is unable to feel them. He can see the specks of dust in the air, illuminated by the sun. The worn books sitting on his shelves and the other ones strewn about the floor, waiting for six-year-old Claude to pick them up with the same cheer that the him from yesterday did. The smell of breakfast spreading in the air as the servants prepared for a meal that none would attend. It was supposed to be a joyous celebration, joy for their young master and his soulmate.
It is all useless now, Claude thinks. To think that they had put such effort into the decorations.
His mother sobs, her tears landing on his scalp. He slowly slides his hand away from his mother’s grip finding that it had changed.
It is still negative.
What a waste, Claude thinks, distantly. As though he were halfway submerged underwater, despite him unable to swim.
Oh, he thinks. This is what drowning feels like.
His father had rushed into his room, a magical band in his hand as he slides it over Claude’s hand and snuggly over Claude’s wrist.
It covered the numbers. Negatives and all. His mother had stopped crying by then, her hands still gently wrapped over his.
“Don’t worry about a thing, Claude,” she whispers. Her voice so strong despite her desperate cries earlier.
“We will protect you,” his father says seriously. His solemn green eyes burn into Claude’s as his big hand wraps around his wife’s.
They both covered his wrist, together.
“You must never speak of this,” they say and he nods. The band around his wrist feels tight, but Claude thinks that this is better than feeling nothing at all. Maybe one day he’ll be able to think the pressure around his wrist as a sign of his soulmate rather than what it is.
He sees the way his father still frowns and the pressure on his wrist and the mournful expression of his mother. Can already see their sadness and feel their gloom because of him. Because of how Claude has a full soul and a lonely future. They’ll worry and mourn for him.
But it is useless, Claude thinks. He had prayed and the Goddess didn’t answer (why? Wasn’t the Goddess supposed to be kind? Wasn’t she invincible?) and their mourning will do nothing but bring more sadness. Instead, Claude lick his lips and began the performance of his life.
He laughs, it comes easily. A child’s laugh. The way five-year-old Claude would laugh and the way six-year-old Claude should laugh.
“I never wanted a soulmate anyways,” Claude jokes, smiling at his father and mother. “What if they want to take all my toys and books?”
His father’s eyes soften and so did his grip and his mother lets out a little giggle. They didn’t know how Claude cried and how he prayed, and they never would. They were all the happier for it, and maybe, just maybe one day he’ll convince them enough that things will be just like before.
This is when Claude learns that lying is easier than telling the truth.
His peers would chatter on about their timer. It was natural for them, like breathing and walking. A mindless comment of how, “in twenty years, I’ll meet my soulmate!”, “Two years, eight months, ten-”, and of course, the ever so popular, “when are you meeting yours?”
It was then that their curious eyes bore into him, more specifically his wrist and the golden band that covers it.
“It’s a secret,” he would say on most days. When his mood was neither foul nor pleasant. The standard answer that would make his classmate sigh and go, “there goes Claude again.”
On pleasant days, where he would wake up with his mind foggy and blank. As he forgets about his timer and his nonexistent soulmate he would say, “hopefully soon.”
They would laugh and titter, saying how they wished him luck. Claude would snap out of this mood just as easily as he fell into it. Waking up the moment he sees a golden band around his wrist and remembers that the gold is there to cover up something unsightly, something bad.
On other days, where his mood turns dark and just as negative as his timer he would say, “sooner than you would meet yours.”
It was petty, seeing how they grew angry at his comment. But it brought him some perverse joy, as though he wanted them to be as miserable as he is- which is not good behavior for a good boy. But Claude didn’t want to be good, he can’t be. If he was then the Goddess would’ve blessed him with a soulmate.
Instead, Claude was cursed with a full soul and no one to find. Claude didn’t think that he was a good person in his life, nor will he be in this life.
It doesn't matter, he thinks. King Dimitri of Faerghus reportedly never had a soulmate either and he was strong and cool and-
And died in the Great War under the Empress' axe.
But King Dimitri was a strong and epic figure and Claude thinks that if King Dimitri could be strong enough to fight a war without a soulmate then Claude could live a whole life without his.
“Hi, please hide me,” a voice, girl probably and young most definitely, whispers.
He looks up from his book coming face to face with a girl who held jewel pink eyes and just as striking hair.
“Sure,” he says as she pauses for a moment, truly shocked before nodding to him and ducking under his table.
A moment passes before a man with the same features and coloring rushes into the library. His hair wild and his eyes spooked as he glances around, as though searching for something- someone.
Ah, so this is what she needed me for.
The man, as though driven by some sort of built-in tracking spell rushes to Claude’s seat immediately.
“Have you seen my sister?” the man asks desperately. Truly on his last fraying nerves.
Claude took great pressure in saying, “nope.”
The man, Pink Guy, panics as he flounders. Pacing around Claude’s seat as he begins to monologue.
“Oh, Hilda, the light of my world, the star on my darkest of nights, the-”
Claude mentally checks himself out at that moment. Wondering who the fuck says stuff like that before minding his own business. Feeling the girl underneath his table punch the legs a few time, probably letting out her embarrassment.
He wouldn’t blame her. Even Claude, shameless preteen extraordinaire, feels somewhat ashamed just from listening to the man’s rambles.
“Stupid Holst,” he hears the girl- Hilda, who else could she be?- whispers from underneath him. Idiotic move as suddenly Pink Guy (Holst, probably) snaps his head towards him (like an owl, Claude thinks, creeeepy.) He marches right over to them and his steps were meaningful and it is obvious that he had- somehow, through some goddamn miracle- heard Hilda.
“Hey, did you hear something?” Holst asks, pink eyes narrowing as though Claude was the one that was keeping him away from his sister.
“Nope,” Claude repeats, shaking his head for emphasis.
“Are you sure?” Holst asks, his pink eyes narrowing even further and Claude resists the urge to roll his eyes.
“Are you doubting me mister?” he asks and his eyes turn misty. Holst seems to falter- aha!- and something like regret appearing on his face. Truly a dedicated older brother, to be so weak to any child that is around his sister’s age.
“No- no, not at all!” Holst says giving Claude a nervous thumps-up. Probably fearing that Claude would cry or something. “I shall be off now then, since my beloved Hilda isn’t here.”
A moment, and then two as both him and the girl underneath his desk waits for the man to leave. Not wanting to test how far-reaching his hearing was.
At least not now.
“Wow, I’ve never seen big bro give up that fast,” the girl, Hilda, says. Something like admiration in her eyes and voice.
“Yeah, well, guys like him are easy,” Claude replies, shrugging as he moves to leave her room to escape.
“My name’s Hilda,” she informs, pretending as though he hadn’t heard a full tirade about her beauty earlier. “We should talk sometime, you know trade life skills and stuff.”
Claude focuses on the girl’s eyes and hair and doesn’t spare a glance towards her wrist as he shakes her hand.
What was there to lose?
Okay, so apparently Hilda wasn’t exactly the most sane of humans. Despite the fact that she claimed that she was a “dainty, beautiful, and fragile and how dare you make me move, Claude-” and her brother would back her up, Claude learns very quickly that they have very skewed ideas of power.
Seriously, seeing Hilda bench press Raphael while Holst was screaming in the background, not at the fact that his sister was literally lifting a giant, but rather because Hilda would rather bench press a stranger (her best friend) over him (her fucking weird as hell brother), taught him that Hilda could crush his head with her bare hands and still claim at her fragility.
“You’re a weird brat,” Holst had told him, once, or twice. Staring down at him as though Hilda and Claude hadn’t doodled all over his face earlier.
“No, your whole family is weird,” Claude had, very reasonably, replied and Holst screamed. Resulting in a deadly tag that involved the entire house of Goneril soon enough. The servants had sided with Claude while the bodyguards had with Holst. So it was somewhat equal, despite Holst’s magic training and long legs.
“Come back here you brat!” Holst screams in the very near distance and Claude panics, because the man looked like a raging demon which was probably an accurate depiction. Claude grabs the old bow and arrows that hung on the wall- probably fake, but maybe functional as a weapon.
He draws the bowstring and letting go, seeing it fly through the air and-
And falls to the ground right in front of him.
“You sure have nerves, you brat! That was the first bow that Hilda used!”
As Holst draws closer, Claude’s brain went into overdrive as he rushes towards Holst in turn.
“Stop or I’m snapping this bow!” Claude yells. Swinging the bow around and Holst pales.
“You- you would dare?”
“Test me you old geezer!”
Holst pauses and Claude immediately sprints, he briefly wondered where he got the strength, dashing across Holst and barricading himself inside Hilda’s dad room, taking out a pen as he began scribbling a few runes on the arrow, hearing the door break little by little as he rushes.
He shrieks as the door finally breaks.
Thank you, he thinks to the fallen door as he dashes towards Holst. Stabbing the arrow into his thigh.
“You- what-” Holst mumbled before falling. Unconscious from the sleep runes that were inscribed on the arrow and Claude thanks his mother and her books.
That was how Claude, single handedly because Hilda was too busy sleeping to actually help, took down the rest of Holst’s allies. Claude had somehow found sleeping potions in the mansion (who needed them? Why were they there? Questions for another time) dipping the arrow tips with a generous amount as he begins his crusade, no longer having to worry about running out of ink.
Holst’s father thought the whole thing was funny despite his whole mansion being smeared with cake and arrows with tips laced with sleeping potion. Claude only laughs.
“You know, I think archery would fit you,” Hilda says, somehow awake, somehow forgetting that he only shot one arrow that ended in failure and the rest were disgraced and used as mini knives instead.
Claude practices and practices, finding joy in just practicing archery. His tutor said that he had talent, and his father was proud that his son was finally focusing on something.
Then the first lesson on infusing his arrows with magic came. Where Claude had focused and when he released something sparked within him and in front of him. A symbol appearing in the air, where his arrow had once been. His tutor had shouted and so had Claude.
A crest. Claude had manifested a crest.
It was a very special crest, as it turns out, one of the elite ten. One on his mother’s side. Claude wasn’t supposed to inherit the title, that would’ve gone to his cousin, twenty and strong. With perfect grades, strong magic, but mediocre sword skills. The one whose mother didn’t marry to an almyran.
Crest, having a crest changes everything now, didn’t it. Crest was power and Claude had one that was thought to be extinct.
The heir of Riegan. That was a noble title, one of the noblest.
Claude von Riegan, at age thirteen as his mother bow down to the grand title and his father to her whims. Claude was never to speak of his past name again, it would be dishonoring the old Lord Riegan if he were.
At age thirteen Claude von Riegan was born, with a legendary crest in the place of a soulmate.
“I knew that you would be good with arrows,” Hilda teases. Sixteen and beautiful.
“Where would I be without my beloved Hilda,” he says back, lips quirking. “The light of my days, the stars to my-”
“Okay, you can shut it now,” Hilda grumbles, smashing her hand into his (very weak) lips. Claude winces. “Today is a special day, you know.”
Hilda laughs, there was something anxious within it that was unlike her. “I’m meeting my soulmate in five minutes and twenty-five seconds.”
“What the fuck.”
“I know right, wild.” She laughs again, something manic in her eyes.
“We are about to skydive, Hilda,” he says. She laughs again.
“I know, wild.”
“We are about to skydive in three minutes.”
“Can’t wait to see that your soulmate is a pegasus,” he says, watching as she laughs again- that nervous titter. It seems that the reality finally hit her that maybe she was going to mess up her chances with her soulmate due to her own stupidity.
“What were you thinking?”
“I dunno,” she says, shrugging.
So he shrugs, too, wondering how the fuck this was going to go. Wondering if the Goddess will really take mercy on Hilda and her infinite willingness to test her own fate.
So they both descend, Hilda letting out a shriek and Claude knows that they are approximately one minute away from meeting Hilda’s soulmate.
Thirty seconds passed, Claude didn’t really care about his freefall anymore. Focusing on Hilda instead. Watching as her face crumbles and she tries to activate her cushioning runes.
“Hey Claude, I think my runes aren’t working, do you-” she yells through the air, as Claude watches with perfect view as a pegasus tackles her.
Holy shit, maybe her soulmate is really a pegasus.
“I’m so sorry!” a voice screamed, shrill and definitely human. It was a girl. With blonde hair in a neat braid and padded blue armor, with a training lance in hand. Probably an aspiring falcon knight.
“My hero!” Hilda yells. “My soulmate!”
Hilda had found her soulmate, the lucky girl. The Goddess really did favor her.
Or maybe Claude was the only unlucky one here.
The golden band around his wrists shines in the light and the numbers continue to count in negatives.
Ingrid was beautiful, Ingrid was hard-working, Ingrid was wonderful and possibly the best thing in the world- was what Claude learned a day later. Hilda gushing over her soulmate as they sat together, the three of them.
“You flatter me,” Ingrid says, a flush overtaking her cheeks. Her back was straight and the Galatea’s heirloom hangs around her neck.
Hilda leans into her soulmate, arms squeezing around Ingrid’s as she laughs. “No way, you’re definitely perfect. Though, maybe you need more jewelry and such to truly make you shine.”
Ingrid blushes, taking a sip of her coffee.
“See? So cute,” Hilda gushes, once again. Practically trying to fuse her cheeks into Ingrid’s shoulder. Her cheeks resembled her eyes and Claude had never seen them in that color before.
“With the way you’re talking, I don’t think that anyone can be that great,” Claude says, shrugging.
Hilda laughs again, where she would’ve pinched him days ago for even saying such.
“You’ll understand once you meet your soulmate,” she says.
He heard that one before. Many times. Those were natural words, like the sky was blue and how the summers are hot. You’ll meet your soulmate the you’ll be happy, you’ll meet your soulmate and your soul will be complete. He had heard this before, from distant relatives and acquaintances.
He never thought he would hear it from Hilda.
Claude had a complete soul and no soulmate, this, too, was an undeniable fact. Despite this he smiles.
“I doubt it.”
It was a flaky smile, one too raw and too wide. An amateur's smile.
But Hilda was too besotted with her soulmate to notice.