“It’s quite refreshing,” Erna murmured, examining the ring with a new sense of interest. She couldn’t deny that it was remarkable, but it was hard to say if it was truly special based on just this alone.
Erna’s eyes narrowed as she looked at the dubious merchant, her suspicion growing with each passing second. She couldn’t help but question the characteristics of the strange mineral he was peddling, hoping for some kind of explanation.
“What are the characteristics of this?” she inquired, her tone laced with skepticism.
The merchant hesitated, scratching his cheek nervously before finally responding.
“Uh, that… I don’t know.”
Erna’s eyes widened in disbelief. “Huh?”
“It’s because it’s a mineral that’s not fully researched yet. We were able to create it, but the results of each experiment are different, so we don’t know exactly what power it has,” the merchant explained, hoping to assuage Erna’s fears.
Erna couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Who in their right mind would come all the way to Hessenguard to sell a mineral that they knew nothing about? She eyed the merchant warily, waiting for his response.
“It’s harmless to the human body! It’s true!” The merchant quickly reached out his hand, trying to offer reassurance.
To Erna’s surprise, he pulled out a document from his pocket, bearing the seal of the Mage Tower. The contents clearly stated that this Ternium mineral was harmless to the human body and allowed for export outside of the Mage Tower.
Erna continued to scrutinize the ring, her chin propped up by her hand in a thoughtful gesture. Her companion, Kalion, noticed her intrigue and spoke up.
“Do you want to buy this?” he asked, curiosity lacing his voice.
Erna hesitated for a moment before responding. “Hmm, I’m a little curious…”
Kalion smiled, urging her on. “Then don’t hesitate.”
He began sifting through the various unattractive rings, trying them on Erna’s finger until he found one that fit perfectly. He also picked out a ring that fit his own finger and presented it to the merchant.
“The initials are E and K,” Kalion stated firmly, making sure that the engraving would be accurate.
The merchant beamed with pleasure, taking out a strange tool from under the counter to start engraving the initials on the rings.
As the merchant worked, Kalion turned to Erna and posed a question. “Why are you buying this?”
Erna paused before responding, “You said you were curious. Plus, if that mineral really was made by the Mage Tower, wouldn’t it be worth finding out since the documents seem authentic?”
Kalion nodded in agreement, satisfied with her response. As the merchant finished his work, he thanked them warmly.
“Thank you for buying it! I hope only good things happen to you!”
Erna and Kalion walked away from the merchant, their hands clasped tightly around the rings they had just purchased. The rings were indeed hideous, but the joy they felt in that moment was all that mattered.
As they walked, they couldn’t help but overhear the snide comments from passersby. “Who in their right mind would pay for those things?” they muttered.
Erna ignored their remarks. The rings weren’t perfect, but it was a reminder of this special moment they had shared together.
The sound of lively music filled the air, beckoning them to the village square. Kalion took Erna’s hand and led her through the crowded streets, pushing through the throngs of people until they finally reached their destination.
The festival was in full swing. In the center of the square, people of all ages and genders were holding hands and dancing joyfully together. The two of them looked at each other, their hearts filled with happiness. They had once watched the festival from afar, feeling isolated and alone, but now they were part of the celebration.
“Erna,” Kalion said, his voice low. “Can I hold your hand?”
Erna felt her face warm up, but she extended her hand nonetheless. Kalion placed the new ring with the initial “K” on her fourth finger, making sure it fit perfectly. It was an awkward sight, with the new ring sitting on top of the old one, but it didn’t matter.
It was now Erna’s turn. She carefully slid the ring with the initial “E” onto Kalion’s finger. They looked at each other and burst out laughing.
“Let’s join in on the festivities,” Kalion said. “Let’s dance!”
Erna nodded, a huge grin on her face. Together, they made their way into the crowd. This was the start of the summer festival in Haldis, and Erna and Kalion were in the midst of it.
* * *
Vanessa sat at her mahogany desk, perusing the letter that had just arrived. The afternoon sun filtered through the window behind her, casting a warm glow on her pensive face. It was then that Orpé chanced upon her, ambling down the hall.
Orpé’s inquisitive eyes fell upon the paper-wrapped bottle that lay on the surface of Vanessa’s desk. “What is that?” she inquired, her curiosity piqued.
Vanessa lifted her gaze from the letter, her attention now drawn to Orpé. “This?” she replied, “It is a gift from Erna and Kalion. They brought it back from their vacation.”
Orpé’s expression turned incredulous. “What? They only gave us candy? Such gift discrimination!”
Vanessa chuckled as she reached for the bottle, unraveling the paper that enveloped it. “You may drink it if you wish,” she said.
Orpé’s face lit up with excitement as she took a step closer to accept the gift. “What is this?” she asked, examining the label on the bottle.
“It’s snake drink,” Vanessa replied, a faint smile tugging at the corner of her lips. “I heard it’s Haldis’ traditional liquor.”
Orpé’s enthusiasm quickly fizzled. “Uh, um. Come to think of it, I don’t think I really like alcohol. Ha ha ha,” she stammered, slowly stepping back.
Vanessa chuckled dryly, watching Orpé retreat with a bittersweet smile. She shook the letter in her hand, silently contemplating its contents.
“By the way, it seems like you’re not aware that Erna and Kalion caused a commotion in Haldis,” said Orpé.
“In Haldis? Why?” asked Vanessa.
“Well, during a festival there, the two of them were dancing joyfully in the middle of the square, passionately kissing each other, and having a good time.”
“Really? Did they openly show their affection?”
“At first, I didn’t know either, but according to the mayor of Haldis, suddenly a beautiful and handsome couple appeared among the dancers, and everyone started looking at them. It turned out that there might have been something unusual with the rings they were wearing. People eventually recognized them as grand dukes, but they tried to ignore it and urged them to keep having fun until the end. Actually, I think Erna and Kalion were having so much fun that they didn’t even notice. Anyway, Mayor Haldis sent me a letter asking if it would be okay to promote the festival next year as one where the grand dukes come to see.”
Vanessa fidgeted with the letter, her fingers tracing the curves of the inked words. Restless, she rose from her seat and ambled over to the window, her eyes taking in the bustling scenery outside. Then, a shout pierced the air, jolting her from her reverie.
Her gaze followed the sound, landing on Erna racing towards a figure in the distance.
Erna’s voice was louder this time, accompanied by a vigorous wave of her hand. Whether people took notice or not, the sound carried far, reaching Kalion’s ears. And every time, no matter who he was with, he would turn around and fix his eyes on Erna, his lips curling into a smile. The ring that they had picked together in Haldis adorned their hands – on Erna’s left hand and Kalion’s right.
As Erna drew closer, she recollected the words Kalion had spoken at the end of the festival.
“Let’s return next year.”
It was a summer that had birthed new beginnings, which the two of them eagerly awaited. And much later, they would discover that the ring they had bought held a mineral that nullified magic. The vendor who had sold it turned out to be the most likely successor for the Mage Tower.