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Paved With Good Intentions

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Jacob lived a relatively simple life, his father ran a shop, his mother is a seamstress and the two of them manage to do enough that their family was well off. His family was by no means rich but they were comfortable and Jacob was fortunate. He knew this as a fact because he saw how things could be worse and because of this perspective he hardly needed or even wanted more for his life. Why would he when he grew up with such privileges as a proper roof house, plenty of food, warm clothes, an education and love/support of two doting parents?

Other boys his age did not share his views and would often dream of wanting more for their life. There was nothing particularly wrong with that however they tend to gravitate towards the stories of heroes, rogues and adventurers. Again nothing particularly wrong with dreaming but in Wenia where the Order is spreading tales of noble knights and blessed Heroes, of saving innocents and rescuing maidens, of slaying monsters and attaining rank and glory and is always looking to recruit eager young men to their ‘glorious cause’ the dream isn’t so much a dream anymore.

The ‘dream’ or at least the chance to attain it is only several days’ travel. Jacob never truly understood the reasoning behind the want for adventure or the like. Perhaps he lacks the ambition to pursue it, perhaps he’s a coward too afraid to venture out for it, who really knows. The ‘call’ as people came to name it eludes him unlike with others who pack their things and leave town when they become of age. As to what happens to them afterwards well the stories vary but it isn’t lost on him that a majority are never heard from again.

Jacob didn’t see the need himself, he was the outlier, the only boy as far as he knew who did not dream of going on grand adventurers, slaying monsters, saving maidens or having his name recorded in history. Jacob was content with his quiet, mediocre life with his family that he loved and who loved him back.

In spite of everything that was said it wasn’t his lack of ambition that made Jacob an oddity, after all people dream of glory and may have a shot of gaining that glory in Wenia but it wasn’t as if everyone was heading there. People have enough self awareness of their own inadequacy not to make the journey and others were just as content with their lot in life as Jacob.

What set Jacob apart was that he was satisfied with his mediocre life despite having the potential to be much more. It wasn’t a fact that was widely known but Jacob was something of a prodigy among his peers. He himself did not see it as such but he did notice how he differed from his peers. He had a keen eye and a sharp mind that could discern things better. He was also oddly athletic for a mere shopkeeper’s son and could scrap with older boys from a young age. Things naturally came easier to him, whether it be his studies or physical labour.

With a high intelligence and above average physique combined with his earnest personality and great work ethic he stood out amongst the rabble of commoners. If he wanted to he could do almost anything he set his mind to and succeed. He reminded some of the kind of stories they hear from time to time from Kingdoms far away. Of children of great strength and intelligence that would go on to become legendary figures of their homeland. These children of immense talent, these young geniuses are famously referred to as prodigies and to those who know him Jacob was one of these rare individuals.

The fact that neither him nor his parents try to ‘capitalize’ on Jacob’s (obvious to those who know him) talent was unnatural and even a waste to those with strong opinions.

~O~

Jacob wasn't the overly religious sort, a trait he picked up from his parents. Not that they weren’t religious, they pray to the Goddess, keep the tenets of the faith. What they do not however, is over-rely on the Gods and the church for protection and guidance, especially the latter. They were of the opinion that the gods have too much going on to spare ‘small folk’ like them more than a glance. As for the church his parents have had dealings with them the nature of which Jacob did not know, they seem to have a healthy dose of respect (and fear) for the church however it is a general rule that their family does not involve themselves with the religious institution than is necessary.

This meant that their devotion extends only to keeping the tenets of the faith, small prayers at meals and participating in the weekly Sunday service at the church. That last one was somewhat mandatory as it is attended by most of the community as part of a tradition of sorts. Attendance isn’t mandatory however it is generally frowned upon by the community to miss it for anything but the utmost reasons that cannot be helped. Considering that Jacob’s father runs a shop and the entire community is their customer base it would reflect poorly on them (and their sales number) to miss this weekly community event.

Jacob had the suspicion that he and his parents weren’t the only ones ‘forced’ to participate…just a feeling.

In any case Jacob felt something different about this morning. It wasn’t anything specific because there wasn’t anything really different about the day so far, as early as it is. Still the feeling of something off persisted all throughout the time it took him to get ready to and commute to the local church. He and his parents arrived with the other families arrived at the church for the service to which Jacob ignored the feeling.

For the next three hours Jacob was treated to a lengthy, and dare he say, boring sermon the majority of which he absently tuned out halfway through because of another problem. Throughout the majority of the sermon especially near the end Jacob had the distinct feeling he was being watched. By the end of the service it was all Jacob could do to not be visibly relieved for it to be over, not that he needed to be so cautious, not everyone is good at hiding behind a façade but that would be disrespectful.

Before his family could join the crowd in exiting the church his parents were called by father Stefan, the priest. Following along with him was a woman Jacob had never seen before. She wore the traditional white robes of a priestess covering all but the face. From what he could see of her form however was a young woman with pretty emerald eyes. She smiled at him and it was only his experience with pretty older woman that enabled him not to immediately flush in embarrassment.

He did avert his eyes though and managed to ease himself out of the sphere of conversation since adult talks tended to not need his presence. Instead he busied himself with observing his surroundings noting a peculiar detail about it. For some reason today the church seemed different, brighter, and less dull. At this point the observation was just compounding the fact that things were just different today. It wasn’t something he could ignore anymore which is why when the feeling of being watched tickled the back of his neck his head immediately whirled in the direction of...the new priestess?

No, she wasn’t even paying attention to him but to his parents with whom she and father Stefan were conversing with. His gaze was drawn in her direction but beyond her, to nothing, no not nothing but something. He couldn’t see it but if he squinted just right he could make out-

“Jacob” his mother’s call snapped hi out of his concentration “we are leaving.”

His parents didn’t look happy and father Stefan looked...disappointed. The priestess, well she had a complicated expression on her face, somewhere between curiosity, interest and something else. Jacob could feel her eyes track him as he left out the church at which point the feeling finally abated.

That was a very odd set of circumstances for what is a very weird morning and Jacob hoped it doesn’t continue.

~O~

Thankfully the strangeness of that morning gave way to the humdrum of the afternoon as he did his duties in the shop. Jacob and his father followed a scheduled system when it came to running the shop. Since Jacob was at the age of adulthood (16) he is being groomed by his father for when he will eventually inherit the shop which was a big deal for them since the shop was his father’s life’s work.

His father was once nothing more than another orphaned child living on the streets of Wenia. When he became a young man he was taken as cheap labour by a merchant. From there he used the resources afforded to him including the pity of others to learn how to read and write. More importantly he learned the ways of the merchant and eventually left from under him to start his own business in the town of Everguard with his wife.

Like most things in his life Jacob didn’t mind inheriting the shop. It was a permanent fixture in his life and he felt gratified in taking charge of it in the future. His father built it from scratch through the sweat of his brow and Jacob wanted to take it even further. For now however he was simply the shop hand and among the usual work of cleaning, arranging items and taking stock he would make deliveries as part of a special service.

For an extra fee, customers have the option of ordering their purchase ahead of time to have it delivered to them. The idea actually came from Jacob himself and has proven itself to be a popular service. And since it was his idea Jacob was given the honour of being the one to make the deliveries. He didn’t mind it much even if it was extra work his father rewarded him with extra pocket change, he got to experience a change in scenery get some fresh air from the shop and of course there is the special delivery.

Well he called it a ‘special delivery’ but in truth there wasn’t anything particularly special about the delivery itself. Rather what was special was the person to whom he was making the delivery to. He would be lying if he said that doing this wasn’t highlight of his day. His journey took him just near the border of the town where a large house surrounded by a garden sat atop a grassy hill stood.

The large house or rather the small mansion was something of an oddity in Everguard. It was built long ago by an aristocratic family who has since moved away but during their absence the mansion was for a time home to vagabonds and hooligans. Now it was home to single person who took it upon themselves to fix the building, clear out the undesirables and restore the area to what it once was back when that aristocratic family still lived there.

If the mansion was strange then the new owner was even more so. Seeing as she was a woman, living alone in a mansion virtually isolated from the rest of the town would have had rumours floating about. The fact that this woman was beautiful and unmarried made the gossips about her flow in town like the mouth of a waterfall.

Jacob didn’t really listen to most rumours concerning this woman and for various reasons. He wasn’t one to pay attention to the gossips of jealous wives, foolish drunkards or lying braggarts in the first place. Also this woman happened to be a long time customer of his father’s shop, three years in fact and going onto four in a few months. She was such an important customer that she was given priority on fresh stock that Jacob was made to deliver, such as he is doing now.

He found her as he always did when he visited, sitting by the tree near her garden simply looking over the town. Their eyes meet and she gave him a divine smile that made his face heat up every time causing him to avert his gaze. Jacob would admit that he has a crush on the older woman, then again it wasn’t nor would it ever be much of a secret considering almost all of the men in Everguard were similarly smitten.

She is considered the greatest beauty in town for a reason.

“Hello Jacob” she greeted as he approached.

He swallowed a bit “good day miss Evelyn.”

The woman before him was a fair skinned beauty with shoulder length feathery brown hair was partially obscured by a bonnet and rustic brown eyes wearing a long grey blouse with an apron. Her clothes were that of any commoner woman and yet the way how she wore them was beyond anything a commoner could pull off. the dress accentuated her curves, the blouse made prominent her rear and down even get him started on her chest and hips.

A woman should not look so alluring wearing commoner clothing.

“You are just in time, I made some lunch recently but it appears I made too much. May this foolish lady offer you a plate?” as she asked the question Evelyn rose from her seat with fluid grace.

Funny, she almost always happens to have enough leftovers to make him a plate whenever he visits.

And his answer is always the same “okay” because one does not reject a pretty lady’s cooking.

Jacob soon found himself seated at a table covered with expensive looking cloth and silverware. This was the other thing that enflamed the rumours surrounding her. Evelyn was wealthy, some would even say she was too wealthy to be living in a small town like Everguard. As one of the few people who have been inside her home Jacob could attest this to be true. It led him to believe that Evelyn is or was at some point a noble.

While Evelyn shared him a plate of her offered meal Jacob, not for the first time, pondered on that. In truth he’d never met a noble before in his life, Everguard wasn’t home to any. Not even the lord in charge of the town spent any time there. Why would he do that when he could just send a representative whilst staying in Wenia which is only a few days travel away? There could be a bunch of answers to that question and as loathe as he was to use them, the gossips provided some shockingly plausible answers to that.

She could be in hiding.

Evelyn could have been banished from her family.

She could be the lover for some lord being kept tucked away in secret.

Jacob didn’t like that last one especially and while those reasons may be plausible he didn’t necessarily think them possible. Evelyn just didn’t strike him as a woman who was keeping secrets of that variety. She may be living alone and isolated but the woman herself was far from being a recluse. On the contrary she kept an active presence in Everguard, it is the reason why she’s so talked about and well liked despite being a ‘mysterious beauty.’

She was also a strange one for while she does keep an active presence in town and participates in celebration she has not once attended a church service. You’d think someone’s refusal to not participate in church activity would make them a pariah however Evelyn is hardly the only person in town not to deal with the church or even pray to the Goddess.

It was a mystery just like his relationship with the woman herself. He couldn’t explain the reason why but Evelyn had taken a shine to him. Explaining the development of their relationship was beyond him, all he knew was that he met her three years ago then through a series of frequent interactions and an invitation into her home for food one day they became close. Jacob would like to think they were at least friends at this point and was hoping that he would be able to advance their relationship into something more.

Yes he wanted to pursue a relationship (Marriage!) with Evelyn, it was the first thing he ever genuinely wanted in his life. Jacob didn’t want this to be some one-sided crush and a desperate plea for attention. Jacob wanted Evelyn, this he was sure of and unless he was mistaken she might share his feelings. It would have to be some mistake considering the evidence he found to support his theory though. He and Evelyn talk all the time, most times in private, she invites him into her home frequently and shares her delicious home cooked meals with him. Then there are times she would stare at him with a peculiar expression when she thought he wasn’t paying attention.

It could all just be his imagination but those reasons aside Jacob honestly felt a connection to the older woman and he was willing to stake his claim. With all that said, one does not simply pursue a relationship with a beautiful and obviously wealthy woman like Evelyn without...assurances. Jacob has seen how well that worked out for other guys but fortunately he has a plan, one that it involves inheriting his father’s shop and elevating it, making it even more successful. To that end he is already brainstorming ideas and taking initiative.

This was why he came up with the delivery service.

He wasn’t able to follow up that stroke of brilliance yet but it was only a matter of time and that was something he has an abundance of. Jacob was being careful with this as it was to be his self appointed test in fully committing to the pursuit of Evelyn. Not only will it serve as proof that he could provide for a woman of her clearly high standards but it will clear his own doubts and shut up the naysayers of which there will be plenty.

There is always that worry the ‘connection’ he felt was just a figment of his imagination and reality will slap him in the face, after all he was just a 16 year old boy who was barely a man while she was a full grown woman who could literally have any man she wanted. It stung to think about but the fact that they managed to spark a friendship through no particularly striking event or words was proof enough...right?

His thoughts were halted by the heavenly smell of roasted meats and spices hit his nose.

“Here you are, I hope you like it” she spoke putting down a steaming plate of meat pie.

Jacob smiled, this was truly the highlight of his day.

~O~

Did it say something about her that this was the highlight of her day?

Inviting a young boy into her not-humble-abode and entertaining him with good food and conversation?

Oh she was aware of all the rumours surrounding her and could only imagine how those old gossips in town would react to her inviting a boy, only just now on the cusp of manhood into her home after rejecting so, so many offers from others. Not that she cared about the chatter from jealous old women but the same couldn’t be said for the boy’s parents.

‘Ah, but that’s only if they ever find out~’ she thought mischievously, very much enjoying the look of satisfaction on the young man’s face as he enjoyed her meal.

Within a few minutes he was finished, Jacob always had a healthy appetite for aboy his age “thank you for the meal Evelyn, it was delicious...like always” he added in a murmur.  

‘Really now’ the woman couldn’t help but smile at the compliment ‘he is too cute’

Jacob is going to make a lot of women swoon when he gets older. In fact she already knew a few girls who already have their eye on him, not that he even noticed.

“So how was today’s service” she spoke making small talk while she took his plate away to wash.

Evelyn didn’t too enjoy talking about the church however Jacob offered a perspective that isn’t really shared by a majority of the people in everguard.

“It was boring” he groaned.

He didn’t like it.

“Oh, well I’m sorry to hear that.”

No she’s not.

“No you’re not” Jacob echoed.

Looking over her shoulder she could see his deadpan stare and graced him with a side smile and giggle.

“You know you could always just not go” she offered.

“I know that” he tapped the table, a quirk he did whenever he was thinking.

The fact that he was weighing his options on her advice is just one of the reasons why she found Jacob such good company. Still she already knew his answer before he even spoke it.

“But I can’t.”

She already knew, the only reason why she can get away with not attending service was due to her unique circumstances. She was already an outsider, if a well liked one and she genuinely could care less what people thought of her. As far as she’s concerned the only opinion that mattered to her came from the boy sitting in her dining room.

“Hey Evelyn”

“Yes?”

“Does today feel odd to you?”

‘What a peculiar question’

She took a moment to think it over before shaking her head “I cannot say today is any different, why?”

“No reason”

For the first time Evelyn frowned

The effect was immediate “w-w-well I mean i-it’s not anything to worry about”

She gave him a stern glare and uttered a single word “Jacob”

And that was his resistance crumbling right then “when I was in church today I had this weird feeling that I was being watched.”

“You felt as if you were being watched?”

He nodded “yeah”

In response to his answer the older woman froze, her eyes slowly shifted about and she seemed as if she were listening to something.

The silence was broken by Jacob after a full minute “Evelyn-”

The woman held up a hand with an uncharacteristically serious gaze not pointed at him but compelling him to heed her silent command. Several moments passed with Evelyn in concentration before her stern gaze abruptly gave way to alarm. With wide panicked eyes and a gasp escaping her lips the older woman lunged at Jacob, crossing the threshold within less than a moment to envelope him in a tight embrace.

*BOOM*

Not even a moment later an explosion rocked the room, the walls were thrown outwards Raining rubble on the woman shielding the younger boy. Uncaring of this fact Evelyn fled the area using strength and speed that would no doubt have shocked her unwitting passenger. Once deemed to be in a safer place Evelyn gently laid the boy down, her eyes scanned his body for injuries.

“Jacob” her hand roused him and he met her with a dazed look and apart from superficial injuries he was fine.

Evelyn released a sigh of relief before her gaze turned into one of rictus fury, incidentally startling the boy. Evelyn paid no mind to this as she stood and whirled around to the figure who had just broken through another of her walls.

“WHO DARES!?”

As if in response a bright light blasted through the room encompassing everything. Jacob recoiled covering his eyes from the searing light that was practically as bright as the sun itself. Evelyn also recoiled though it was not due to the brightness, to her shock she found that the light burned. The pain caught her off guard and left her open for something to blast her into the adjacent wall. The woman ended up landing on her hands and knees with a scorch mark on her gut.

“Ugh” Evelyn grunted at the lingering pain however thoughts of her own injuries were lost as the sound of Jacob’s scream reached her ears.

‘No’

“JACOB!” Evelyn screamed out his name.

She got to her feet only to duck as a silver lance nearly took her head off. In response Evelyn telekinetically through the closest furniture at her assailant but the table merely crashed harmlessly against their armoured body. In that same moment a kick to the chest sent Evelyn through a door into her personal bath which was much larger and spacious on the inside than it should be.

Her assailant went after her, busting through the now door-less doorway while swinging their lance. Evelyn scrambled to her feet the floor tile where her legs had been was marred by a clean cut but her enemy wasn’t finished yet. With several graceful twirls of her lance the enemy attempted to cut her. An upward swing was dodged, a sharp thrust was deflected by a red arcane glyph that shattered upon impact of the lance’s blade.

Evelyn fired a crimson bolt of energy to which her assailant ducked with a spin and lashed out her wings knocking Evelyn for a loop briefly. In that time she unleashed several more thrust of her mighty lance for which Evelyn created a red glyph barrier. With every attack the winged warrior gained ground while Evelyn was forced back until

*Crack*

*Crack*

*SHATTER*

The glyph barrier broke under the onslaught forcing Evelyn to catch the blade with her bare hands lest she be skewered. The woman ended up pinned to the far wall by the strength of her adversary whom she could now see as clear as day. Light platinum blonde hair seem to be caught in three layers starting with a high ponytail at the back, two thick shoulder length braids resting on her chest in the middle and equally shoulder length bangs framing her face at the front. Her skin is a flawless tanned and her eyes were the purest blue brown giving her the appearance of an exotic beauty.

Evelyn snarled at the woman, her brown eyes turning yellow as a red energy began to swell around her.

“Valkyrie!”

The woman’s eyes narrowed as golden energy began to build up in counter.

Demon.

*Shine*

Suddenly the blade Evelyn held shone in bright gold that burned.

“Argh!”

In the next instant she was enveloped in golden light before she is blasted through the wall, through the rest of the house into somewhere outside.

~To Be Continued~