Chapter 2: The Last Metatrin (Part 1)
Translator: Nyoi-Bo Studio Editor: Nyoi-Bo Studio
The northern port of the Sikeqinya Empire: Ceylon City.
A sudden rainstorm was pouring down through the gap of the fort. The sky was darkened as though it had been tinted with dragon’s blood ink. Inside the harbor, the fishing boats cowered as huge waves forcefully struck the dam. With a crashing sound, the waves also created mist over ten meters tall
As the rainwater accumulated and spread rapidly to the slums, the water on the streets deepened. The drainage system, which had not been maintained for at least five years, was inadequate; in an instant, the slums became a vast ocean.
Ceylon City’s Magnolia Bay was no longer how it had been in the past. The withering fishing industry provided limited income, and the lord was powerless, unable to help. To improve the drainage system, they would need a mage well-versed in alchemy, as well as many of his numerous disciples. It would cost thousands of gold coins just for them to prepare the drawing. No mage had appeared in Ceylon City in the last two hundred years, and the municipal services department had nearly become just for show.
Lightning tore across the sky, followed by rolling thunder. As the lightning danced in the sky, it illuminated the stormy city. On the empty streets, a youth about ten years of age was struggling to move forward against the water.
This youth, who was very skinny and weak, had short brown unruly hair. The rain splashed past his eyelashes, causing him to keep his eyes closed. As he breathed out a faint white vapor from his nose, his legs trembled nonstop. He hugged an oil-paper packet tightly; it contained all the food he had begged for that day.
A loud clap of thunder. The youth could no longer hold on and fell to the ground. With his face submerged in the water, he immediately started to choke and cough. He struggled vehemently, desperately wanting to stand up again. However, his thin weak body could no longer withstand it. He turned over and passed out. In his unconscious state, his hands still gripped the oil-paper packet tightly.
The sky finally cleared after two hours of the intense rainstorm. As the flood water slowly receded, pedestrians began to appear on the streets. The unconscious youth was flushed over to some eaves under a roof, his body against the stone.
The door pushed open. A person dressed like a servant saw the unconscious youth, ran up to him, and gave him a forceful kick. He shouted angrily, “Beggar, get lost. Don’t die here!”
His voice was sharp and chilling, closely resembling that of a Tanggulasi Empire palace eunuch who had been castrated. The kick caused the youth to wake up moaning. This was followed by a bout of severe coughing. He felt warm and realized that he had a fever. Subconsciously, his hands were still holding onto the oil-paper packet tightly. He heaved a sigh of relief and turned over before crawling two steps away. Then, he struggled to open his oil-paper packet.
The oil-paper packet contained aged rice that had turned moldy. He had planned to cook it at home before eating it. However, he could not wait any longer, because if he still did not eat anything, he would not have energy to even walk.
The aged grains tasted like sand in his mouth, disintegrating as they were chewed and swallowed into his stomach.
“Unlucky!” The fierce-looking servant saw that the youth really could not get up on his feet and spat at him forcefully before turning around and going through the door.
The youth laid on the ice cold ground and forced himself to wolf down the remaining half portion of raw rice. Then he got back onto his feet unsteadily, and without turning back, walked towards the east of the city. His house was situated at the outskirts of the city. If he did not reach his home before the sky turned dark, a subsequent rainstorm could cause him to freeze to death on the streets.
A plump businessman walked out of the bright red door behind him. He was wearing poor quality silk, and his hair was oiled. He looked like he had been drenched in the rain.
“Wait, isn’t that the kid from the Metatrin clan? What was his name again?” The plump, sharp-eyed businessman looked at the back of the youth as he asked this to the two servants behind him.
“Saleen, Master. His name is Saleen.” The servant gave a toad-like laugh, sounding like a chicken being strangled. The wretched looking trio of master and servants looked at the youth in an unfriendly manner.
“Why is he not dead?”
“Who knows? No idea which jerk was willing to give him food,” the other servant answered angrily.
“Hey, you two, monitor him closely. Should he die, buy the house immediately, lest anyone else takes the opportunity,” the plump businessman instructed. He twisted his heavy body and walked in the other direction.
“Noted, Master,” the servants replied as they carefully followed behind him. The two of them were almost able to hide in the shadow of the plump businessman.
In the chilly night, the youth named Saleen dragged his exhausted body out of Ceylon City. He carried the oil-paper packet, left the main road, and limped back to his ancestral home.
This enormous stone house was the last asset of the Metatrin clan. Saleen pushed the door open and entered the house shakily.
The stone walls, covered with green moss, exuded a wintry feel. All the windows in this two story house had no glass in them, making the lonely stone house seem eerie and desolate.
Saleen gasped for air; he was finally home. He practically crawled up the stairs to his bedroom and lay his head against the bed board. The bed board was like the wall – wet, cold, and stiff.
His clothing, which had been drenched by the rain, had been half-dried by the strong winds on his journey home. It was now stuck to his body. It was Saleen’s one and only piece of clothing. Saleen struggled to push himself up, removed his clothes, and lay on the bed board. The oil-paper packet was placed next to his head. He felt a sharp pain at his waist and turned his head to take a look. It had been badly bruised.
This had been from the kick from that servant. Saleen grit his teeth as he lay down. The pain would disappear if he was asleep.
The moonlight and cold breeze that trickled into the room were hardly poetic. Saleen felt as though his body was burning, and there was a splitting pain in his head. It was possible that he would lose his life if the fever persisted. He struggled to climb out of his bed and pulled out a box from beneath the bed.
The lock on the box had long since been dismantled. The silver lock had been traded for a week’s worth of food. No one had been willing to buy the pest-proof camphor wooden box, and Saleen had every intention of using it to start a fire one day.
In the box was a messy pile of collection slips, most of them being debt-related documents. Saleen fished out a metal badge and stuck it onto his forehead. The coolness seeped through his forehead and he felt as though his headache was waning. Saleen sat on the floor and wept as he looked at the box full of collection slips.
The Metatrin clan had been a noble tribe, and the honorable name had been a sign of fortune in the northern part of the empire. By the time of Saleen’s generation, the Metatrin Clan had been left with nothing. The pile of collection slips had become useless pieces of paper. The debtors who had owed money back then had since passed away, and major shifts of power and wars had caused the gradual decline of the Metatrin family.
If the debtors had still been alive and had repaid him the amounts indicated on the collection slips, Saleen would have been able to buy Ceylon City ten times over.
The badge, which was pressed upon Saleen’s forehead, was a symbol of the Metatrin clan. Saleen had not attempted to sell the palm-sized badge, as like the collection slips, it had been left to him by his father.
Saleen’s parents had both died when he was six years old, leaving him the box and ancestral home. Saleen had not been able to make a living for himself at the tender age of six, and had needed to sell the things in the house in order to feed himself. Scheming businessmen had taken advantage of his situation to make money. What would a six-year-old boy know? Within half a year, Saleen had sold almost everything in the house.
Although Saleen was already twelve years old, he looked more like a ten-year-old since he was malnourished, skinny, and weak.
Saleen had not sold the ancestral home. It was not that he had not wanted to, but property transactions needed to be processed at city hall and could not be falsified. The greedy businessmen who were eyeing his property preferred to wait until Saleen starved to death. Upon his death, the property would not have an owner. Then, they would be able to buy the land for next to nothing.
Saleen’s will to survive was very strong, and he had managed to last to the age of twelve through begging.
Saleen fell onto the bed. The family badge had sent coolness through his body, enough that the pain at his waist had lessened. Saleen fell asleep, not knowing if he would wake up this time.
Bang, bang, bang!
Saleen forced his eyes open and sat up. Sunlight streamed into the house through the window, the dirt on the floor evident.
It was strange to have someone knocking on the door this early in the morning. Saleen’s ancestral home was not near any main roads, and was instead situated at the foot of a mountain across a spot of forest. Ever since he had sold everything in his home, no one had called upon him.
Bang, bang, bang!
The knocking at the door persisted. Saleen jumped out of bed, feeling healthier and much lighter than before. He put the badge back into the box and shoved it under the bed before going downstairs to answer the door.
Having been in a daze the night before, he had forgotten to lock the door. Fear suddenly gripped Saleen. There were beasts in the area and he could have been devoured in his sleep if they had entered.
The door opened with a shriek. Saleen felt the warmth from the sun’s rays as they streamed in. A middle-aged man was standing among the shadows of the trees. He had long black hair, wore a long grey robe, and held a wooden staff in his hand.
This man could not have been more than forty years of age. He had long, straight eyebrows that pointed upwards, and no beard. The hand holding the wooden staff was wearing a huge silver-black ring which was engraved with many complex symbols. Saleen felt a little lost. The man had an odd appearance; could he have been a high priest from the Roman Curia?
His expression was very genial, but he had the air of a nobleman, as if that was simply how he was and it had nothing to do with anyone else.
Life as a beggar had made Saleen more sensitive – he knew the types of people he could approach versus the types he should avoid. But this man who had knocked on his door was different from the people of Ceylon City. He was standing right in front of Saleen, and yet the youth could not feel his presence.
The man smiled and asked Saleen, “Where are the adults of the home?”
This man must have come from a foreign land, because the people of Ceylon City knew of him as a jinx. Saleen’s inner voice quieted down as he rubbed his temples and answered, “There is no one else here. Sir, may I know what is the matter?”
Saleen asked this politely, trying to appear at ease. To keep his life, he knew that he needed to get into the good books of the other party. This had been Saleen’s mantra in his twelve years of life experience.
“Oh.” The man looked at Saleen, baffled. Saleen had dashed down, topless and clad only in his shorts. He had a palm-sized mark on his forehead, left behind by the family badge.
“This house is yours?” the man asked gently.
“Yes.” Saleen looked down at the ground as his brown irises contracted. Could this man have been a bandit?
“The thing is, I would like to buy this house. May I enter for a discussion?”
Buy the house? Saleen tried to reconcile with what he had just heard. He had long since planned to sell the house and then find a job in the city. He would not have minded work processing fish, as long as he could fill his stomach. However, he knew that apprentices were mostly given lodging instead of meals. If he had found work, he would have starved to death by the end of the first month. Saleen turned to his side blankly and said, “Please come in.”
As the man stepped into the stone house, the dust beneath his feet disappeared, not leaving any imprints. There was a soft breeze, and the dampness in the living room instantly disappeared. Saleen’s heart fluttered with excitement, carefully calculating how much to sell the house for as he closed the door.
The man glanced around the house, taking everything in. There was nothing in the house aside from its four walls, and there was nothing to admire. The man looked satisfied. He turned to Saleen and asked, “You mentioned that this house is yours? Do you have the deed?”
“I do.” Saleen nodded his head, but he did not return to the bedroom to retrieve the deed. As he had grown older, he realized that he had previously been cheated by those businessmen, and had learned to become more vigilant.
The man smiled as he reached out his hand to stroke Saleen’s head, saying, “You need not worry. I am a mage and will not cheat you. Tell me, how many gold coins do you intend to sell this house for?”
Gold coins! Saleen’s eyes lit up. He had never seen gold coins, even after he had begun to sell the things in the house. The person who had taken his four-foot oil painting had only left him a silver coin. The gold-plated lampstand, which had been exchanged for two silver coins, was considered a fair transaction. When he was six, the businessman who had moved away the full set of cupboards had left Saleen only two loaves of bread.