"I would have called if you hadn't," said father on the other end of the line. "You're going to be an elder brother!"
I had never heard him so enthused about anything. I had a distinct impression that he was smiling widely as he spoke… though, I had a difficult time imagining such a scene. After all, it was father we were talking about.
I felt a bit conflicted when I heard the news. On one hand, I was really excited about having a younger sibling to dote upon and I felt really happy that mother had finally achieved her wish. On the other, I was a bit disconsolate over losing my position as the only child. Now, I'd have to share my parent's love and affection.
"Father, I might have figured out why this happened..."
I went on to explain my theory about mother's bloodline and the series of events that led to the current situation. Though, I had to be careful to skirt around several facets that might have revealed the knowledge Isabella had imparted to me on souls. Father listened carefully, asking pertinent questions along the way. After I was done, there was a pause as he mulled the information over.
"That seems as likely a theory as any," he finally said. "We did guess that the removal of your mother's bloodline might have been the reason for her suddenly regaining her ability to conceive but we couldn't be sure. It seems that we need to contact lieutenant Neera to retrieve that crystal with the sealed bloodline. It's apparently quite dangerous if your speculation is true."
I expressed my agreement. Not only was it dangerous, it was also quite significant to me. I might need it later on.
"Take care, son. Let us know how you're adapting to the Capital and call often." With that, father disconnected the call.
Exiting the communication room, I signed out with the operator and entered the waiting room where Lara and the girls were waiting for me. Noticing their curious looks, I gestured for them to follow me out. There were a few more people who had come to make a call and I didn't want to discuss anything here.
Walking out of the tower, I raised my head and enjoyed the warmth of the wan winter sunshine on my face for a moment before turning to Lara and asking, "Is there somewhere we can speak in private?"
Nodding, she took the lead and began guiding us through the crowded streets.
Travelling in the Wind Sector was an interesting experience. We moved just as far vertically as we did horizontally. From my reading material on the Capital, I knew that private housing wasn't allowed in the Wind Sector. Neither was any sort of industrial construction. It was a purely residential and commercial sector. All the buildings were skyscrapers – apartment complexes, hotels, or malls. Rope bridges connected the buildings, swaying gently in the breeze as we made our way across them.
Apparently, the ground floors and staircases of all the buildings were public property and we weaved our way through a dizzying maze of stairs, bridges and corridors to our destination – a family restaurant with private booths that Lara gave glowing reviews to.
Finally reaching the restaurant, which was located in the middle floors of a skyscraper that housed a mall in its lower floors and an apartment complex in its upper ones, we pushed the door and entered. Chimes tinkled as the door opened, revealing a cosy establishment with wooden flooring and a cheerfully blazing fireplace in one corner. It was quite busy with several customers having their lunch and smartly dressed waiters moving from table to table.
The receptionist was a pretty brunette with short doe-horns sticking out of her temples. Her hair was tied in a neat braid and she was wearing a professional looking uniform in dark green fabric that complemented the browns and ochres of the restaurant. Her expression brightened as she saw Lara.
"Madame! What brings you here today?" she asked. Her eyes turned to us and they widened in understanding. "Oh, you have guests."
Lara favoured her with a smile. "A private booth for five will do. And send a menu over. We'll ring the bell when we want to order."
Nodding, the girl vacated her post and personally escorted us into one of the rooms at the back of the establishment. When she left, shutting the door behind her, all the sounds of the bustling restaurant outside were cut off, leaving us in silence.
"Madame?" asked Phobos, curiously.
Lara chuckled. "I said it was a family restaurant. Never said which family it belonged to." She turned to me. "So, what's the news? Ah… if it's inconvenient, I can leave for a few minutes."
"No. It's nothing that secretive." I couldn't stop the grin that split my lips. "I'm going to have a younger brother or sister soon."
As expected, the girls were really enthused, drowning me in questions. While I answered them, I noticed that Lara had a rather strange expression on her face. "Congratulations," she said with an awkward smile. I had the distinct impression that she felt sorry for me but was congratulating me anyway.
I was confused. What had brought that on?
Ceres, who was sitting beside me, tapped my arm in a pattern we had agreed upon and I created a thread of wind and connected it to her mouth. Her voice rang out in my ear. "To a noble like her, the birth of a younger sibling isn't cause for celebration. It just means more competition and further division of the inheritance."
She paused. "See it from an outsider's perspective. You were the only child of two Tier 5 mages who had been appointed the Duke and Duchess of the emergent vassal Kingdom. You were basically the heir of a family who held the real power in the Kingdom and now, that position has become suspect."
I was suddenly enlightened. In Regiis, even among hereditary nobles, the influence of meritocracy was deep. Unlike in other monarchies where the order of birth determined the heir, in the Empire, the most magically talented child inherited that position.
From an outside perspective, I was a Hominum and the tales of my feats seemed exaggerated and incredible. On the other hand, statistically speaking, the chance of my little brother or sister being a Bestia was overwhelmingly high. As the child of two Tier 5 parents, his or her talent would surely be shocking. My position as the heir to the Dukedom was threatened.
In the eyes of the nobles, my value had dropped. If they were in my place, they wouldn't find the news of mother's pregnancy worthy of celebration. Well, different strokes for different folks, I guess. Although I found their paradigm a bit too materialistic for my tastes, I wouldn't presume to judge. After all, we had been born and brought up in vastly different environments and I had a feeling that our family was an exception rather than the norm. I remembered the rivalry between father and my uncle… between Bruno and me… Maybe not that much of an exception.
I just hoped that my relationship with my sibling would be a better one.
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