Early in the morning as the clouds were rising and the sun made its fight shine across the land. The birds were chirping and the creatures of nature minding their own business. However, there were the sounds of voices in unison.
“1… 2… 1… 2… 1… 2…”
A crowd of kids were standing outside in neat rows with spacious distance between the front and back rows. They were swinging their swords with each counting while moving back and forth rhythmically.
At the house of the Chand family, it was the regular morning training. The kids have been doing this training for more than a month. They were trained under the guidance of Ondine, a Water Spirit, and, the son of the Chand family, Lakshman Chand.
They continued in this rhythmical swinging while moving a step forward and retreating a step back. A few minutes later, Ondine’s loud voice could be heard calling them to attention.
“That’s it for today, everyone! Relax!” she said and the kids let out a huge sigh in relief and tiredness. Then she smiled and said “You guys have come far since you started! If you keep it up, you’ll become really strong!”
At her encouraging words, the kids all smiled happily. They moved towards the side of the house were towels and water awaited them.
Ever since the event of getting trapped inside the Monster Dungeon, the training became really intense. Because of this, the kids sweat a lot and the family provided necessities for the kids to dry and refresh themselves.
Ondine just finished washing her face and was drying when she heard a familiar voice from behind say “Hey, Ondine.”
She turned around and said “Ah. Stuart. You’re getting pretty good.”
“Thank you,” Stuart said as he nodded appreciatively at her words. Then his expression became serious as he asked “Hey, what’s up with Lakshman?”
As he said, he pointed at the entrance to the house. There, sitting on the stairs to the entrance to his house, was nothing other than Lakshman. He had his head down with a moody expression on his face.
“Oh…” Ondine said when she turned to see his downcast face.
“What happened? He hasn’t been training lately,” Stuart said in a concerned voice. Then he made an “Ah!” sound with his mouth and said “Could it be… he hasn’t fully recovered from his injuries and stuff from being trapped in the Monster Dungeon?”
Ondine laughed in exasperation and said “Oh, come on! Master has recovered from that incident. Besides, it’s already been more than two weeks since that happened!”
“I know, but… he doesn’t look happy at all,” Stuart said sadly as he watched his friend.
They turned around and looked at Lakshman. While they were watching him, Lakshman was thinking. He was thinking back to the time when they received the letter from Felix. He remembered it clearly like it had happened only yesterday.
“It’s a letter from Felix wanting help with his Trial of Betrayal.”
There was a short pause after Lakshmi, his mother, saying those words. In this pause, Lakshman made a puzzled expression. He turned to look at Ondine as if he wanted an explanation. Instead, he was surprised to see a shocked expression on her face.
Even more puzzled, he turned back to face his mother and uncertainly asked “T-Trial of… what?”
“Trial of Betrayal,” Lakshmi said to her son. Then, sensing he was about to ask, she started explaining.
“It is a trial system that is used to judge a person whether they are guilty or not depending on the evidence and support the suspects and the victims receive. It usually happens if the suspect betrays the victim in any way.”
“I… I don’t quite get it,” he said hesitantly.
Lakshmi sighed and smiled a little before saying “Take for example… your father.”
“Me?” Indra said in surprise, but she injured him and continued speaking.
“Indra was found illicitly having an affair when he is already married.”
“H-Hey!” Indra protested, but she ignored him.
“Because of that, he is betraying me, his wife. That’s when the Trial of Betrayal takes place and we bring in evidence to prove whether he indeed betrayed me or not.”
“Oh! So it’s like a trial where dad will be judged innocent or guilty depending on everything he did,” Lakshman said as he nodded in understanding.
“Yes,” Lakshmi said a nod. Then she smiled and said “You’re so intelligent to pick it up so quickly.”
Lakshman and Lakshmi smiled at each other. Just then, Indra interrupted them in a loud voice.
“Hey! Don’t be so happy!” he said irritably. Then he turned to his wife and asked “Why are you making me the villain in your story? Huh? You got a grudge on me or something?!”
“No, I don’t,” Lakshmi said flatly with a shake of her head and his shoulders slumped slightly.
“T-Then… why?” he asked weakly.
“Well, Lucky didn’t understand my explanation. So I had to give him an example that of a what if scenario. What’s wrong with that?”
“It’s wrong! Everything’s wrong about it! I… I love you! So, I would never ever do those kinds of ridiculous stuff to you!”
There was a short pause in which his words echoed off the walls in the house.
Then Lakshmi sighed and said “We’ll see,” before walking away.
Lakshman tilted his head slightly in exasperation at his father. Then, as she passed him, he caught the expression on his mother’s face. She was smiling happily while blushing red in the cheeks. As she walked away, he blinked after her in surprise.
“Ah…” Indra sighed looking depressed.
“What’s the matter, dad?” Lakshman asked as he turned around to face his father.
“Oh… It’s your mum, Lucky… For some reason, she seems to have taken a dislike to me for some reason…” Indra said heavily.
“It’s because mistress is pregnant, master,” said a voice right behind him.
He jumped in surprise and turned around. Mariana, the house maid, was standing there wearing her usual shrewd expression on her face.
“B-Because she’s… pregnant?” he asked in surprise. Then he said “That can’t be…”
She nodded and said “Women go through a phase change in their pregnancy and this also affects their mentality. Right now mistress is in a condition where she can easily get angry or hurt.”
“Ah… Yeah…” he said nervously.
She then leaned closed to her him asked “Don’t tell me… you’ve already forgotten the times you and mistress have fought before young master was born?”
“Um… well… It was almost like thirteen years ago, so it’s hard to remember,” he said defensively.
She narrowed her eyes and caused him to make a frightened expression. Then she straightened up and nodded as if accepting his reason for being unaware.
“I understand,” she said simply.
Then she bowed to them before following after Lakshmi. However, just before turning the corner into the kitchen, she turned around to face them.
“Please watch your behaviour around mistress, master. You will not be forgiven if mistress is in distress because of you,” she said with a dangerous glint in her glasses.
“I-I understand! I’ll be careful from now on!” Indra said quickly as he straightened up.
After she left, he sighed in relief and walked into the living room to sit down. Lakshman began to follow when he remembered about Ondine. She was still standing, stock still, with the same shocked expression on her face.
“Ondine… Hey, Ondine! Snap out of it!” Lakshman said as he shook her.
“A-Ah…” Ondine said as her senses returned. She shook her head and said “Sorry master… I must’ve gone into shock or something.”
“Yes, you did,” he said and together they walked into the living room.
Once they sat down, Ondine muttered “Trial of Betrayal…”
“What is it?” Indra asked when he looked her.
She looked at him and said “Just thinking about Felix.” Then, in a worried voice, she asked “Isn’t it bad for him?”
“Yes, it is,” he said and he frowned and narrowed his eyes. Then he said “Not only that, but apparently he is subjected to trial because he betrayed the Phoenix Clan or something.”
“What?!” Ondine exclaimed in shock.
“I know… It’s very serious… What to do… what to do…?” he said with a serious expression on his face as he clasped his hands together.
Lakshman was amazed to see such an expression on his father’s face. It was his first time seeing Indra so serious. It was also the beginning of the Indra spending more time outside than with his family.
Ever since then, he has been returning home late each day. Whatever the things he was doing made him late and caused the family members to wonder what he was up to.
Since then, two weeks passed and Indra was having some of his friends came home in the morning. They arrived just when Lakshman, Ondine and the kids were about to begin their training. Everyone in that group was looking tired as they went in.
“I wonder what they were doing…” Lakshman thought.
“Why don’t you go and ask?” said the voice of his Contracted Spirit, Tetra in his mind.
“Yeah… I should. Mum became worried when dad didn’t come home last night.”
With his decision made, he got up and helped Ondine with packing the wooden swords away. After saying farewell to the children, they made their way into the house.
Nearing the living room, they heard the voices of his father and friends talking in serious tones.
“Indra, you’re not serious…?” said the voice of a friend.
“I’ve collected all the information I need about Felix’s visit here. All that’s left is to go is schedule when to depart for the Floria Region,” Indra’s voice said.
“And what good would it do?”
“It’ll come in handy somehow.”
“Indra…! You’re dealing with the Phoenix Clan!”
“I know, but if they’re blaming him on why he came here, I can show them this as proof!”
“And what if they’re blaming him for something else altogether? What’ll you do then?”
“I… I don’t know…”
Then, another friend said “Indra, we helped you get this, but you should stop and think about this.”
“I already did that, but I’ve got no choice. It’s all I can do for him.”
“No, I meant about your family.”
The friend sighed and said “Think about it, idiot! Lakshmi is pregnant and you plan to leave her at this time?”
“T-That’s…” Indra said and hesitated for a moment. Then he said “Ah! Lakshman is here! He’ll do a good job protecting the family.”
There was a pause of silent in which tenseness was a still as the air. Then another friend said “So… You’re abandoning the family to protect your family by letting your son protect the family instead…? Is that right?”
There was a sense of harshness and dislike in the friend’s voice when he spoke to Indra. Lakshman got closer to the wall and took a peek to see what was happening within the room.
All of his father’s friends were glaring at his father. They were clearly unhappy about his decision to go to the rescue of his friend.
Becoming angry, Indra said “I know…! I know, but do you want me to just stand back and let Felix unfairly get judged?! You know he is a heavy faithful member of the Phoenix Clan! He would never betray them!”
“We know, but think about your family first. He won’t be happy to learn that you left your wife to come after him—!”
“Lakshmi will be fine without me for a few months!” Indra said firmly as he cut across his friend.
“I can’t believe you’re saying that!” said a friend.
“How could you dammit!” said another friend.
“Have you forgotten the love for your wife already?! What happened to the oath you took when you two got married?!” a friend said in a serious voice.
“I…” Indra said hesitantly.
“No woman wants to see her husband leave her during a critical time like this! Idiot! Realise it, dammit! Realise it already! Why do you think she was so worried about whenever you came home really tired after a long length of time?!”
“Hah! Can’t you get her worries?! Can’t you understand her at all?!”
Indra could not say anything to the words of his friend. He only remained silent with his head down and looked depressed while his friends continued speaking.
“Even I understood my wife when she didn’t want me to go on long journeys when she got pregnant! Yet, you can’t?! Come on!”
“Indra, you’re not a man if you can’t understand what your woman needs!”
“Yeah! She wants you to be by her side! She doesn’t want you to disappear for several months with no word or reply. The worry she will go through will affect the unborn baby!”
“I don’t know how you’ll feel, but if the unborn baby dies because of me, I will feel so sick I’d want to die!”
There was silent once they finished speaking their mind. Throughout it all, Indra kept silent and listened to them all.
“T-Then… what do you want me to do? How should I get these documents to them?” Indra asked weakly as he looked at them.
Silence. The room remained silent as the answer to his question could not be found. At that moment, Lakshman got an idea and he stepped into the living room.
“M-Master… No!” Ondine said and attempted to pull him back, but he had already stepped in.
At the sound he made, everyone turned around to look at him. The serious expressions on their faces made him feel very nervous that he wanted to run away. However, he plucked up courage and stayed in the room.
Lakshman looked at Indra, took a deep breath and said “I’ll go.”