The crisp morning air whipped across the nape of Vance’s neck as he observed Pip hitching Auron’s stella, to the family’s carriage. Shivering, Vance pulled up the hood of his traveling cloak as he waited idly by for departure. Auron marched briskly past him to assist Pip. Pip was very dexterous and spry like all Hobbs, but his small stature made most tasks involving the stellas quite difficult for him. Vance had to stifle his laughter as he watched Pip get knocked to the ground for the third time that morning as he tried to adjust the straps around the beast’s snout.
“Easssyyy there Mira,” Auron cooed at his mount. “I’ll take it from here Pip. Go inside and see if Lyn needs any help packing the remaining supplies.” Pip nodded. Vance heard him grumbling some choice words directed at Mira as he trudged inside.
Mira was massive, like all stellas. Walking on four legs, the square of her back reached a height that nearly surpassed the average man. Her long, thin tail whipped back and forth excitedly as Auron stroked her smooth dark brown leathery skin. The easiest way to tell stellas apart was the color of the scales that decorated their legs below the knee and the tips of their droopy ears that hung past the base of their snubbed snouts. Vance had always admired Mira’s amber scales, he found them very regal.
Vance was broken out of his observation by a tug on the cuff of his shirt. He looked down to see Violet holding out a small bundle of cloth in her dainty hands.
“I made you a good luck charm.” Violet proclaimed excitedly, she looked on eagerly as Vance unwrapped the present.
“Wow Violet, it’s beautiful. Did you make this all by yourself?” Vance praised. In his hand he held a light purple ribbon, a black crescent moon was stitched into its center.
“Hpmh, of course.” Violet puffed out her chest proudly. “I wanted to do a flower, but Mother wouldn’t let me so I did the moon instead because she said you always stare at it from the study window when she scolds you.”
Vance coughed awkwardly and looked up to see his mother smiling wryly at him from the doorway.
“I see… Well, thank you Violet. I’m sure it will bring me good fortune during the Bloom ceremony.” Vance rubbed the top of her head before tying the ribbon around his right lower calf, just above his boot, before tucking back in his trousers.
Vivian exited the house with Lyn and Pip, and began loading up the carriage with all their supplies for the journey. The carriage was soon ready to go. It appeared Vivian was not taking much with her to school, but Vance guessed that she would be purchasing most of the supplies she needed when they reached the capital.
“Come Vance, it is time for us to depart. I forgot to mention this to you earlier, but Baron Balor and his grandson will be accompanying us on the trip.”
“Will the Baron’s grandson be taking part in the Bloom ceremony as well?” Vance questioned.
“Indeed, now hurry up. We mustn’t keep the Baron waiting,” came Auron’s blunt response.
Before Vance knew it they were passing through the portcullis into Greyhallow. The guards inclined their heads respectfully towards Auron driving the carriage as he rode by. Greyhallow was filled with Greystone houses of varying shapes and sizes. There was nothing uniform about the buildings aside from the material they were composed of. Greystone was the primary export of the area, it is a sturdy material, and does an excellent job insulating heat. Vance could already see many of the townspeople beginning their daily trek to the mine where most of the Seedless men in the town found work. Vance did not have a chance to visit the town often, but he didn’t particularly mind. The mood in the area was often somber, the large Greystone walls and densely packed homes gave the town a militaristic feel and always set Vance on edge. The only place he enjoyed visiting was the large cathedral of the Goddess in the center of town. Its intricate architecture and stained glass windows was a welcome break from the mismatched grey blocks that littered the rest of town.
Exiting through the gates on the opposite end of town, Vance saw the Baron and his retinue awaiting their arrival. The Baron’s carriage was nearly twice the size of theirs and needed two stellas to pull its full weight. Eight armed guards waited orderly on either side. The guards wore full sets of glistening chainmail armor and carried kite shields bearing the Baron’s family crest, a light blue snowflake. Vance conferred with Vivian as Auron greeted Balor.
“Why are there so many guards accompanying us?” Vance asked.
“This time of year is dangerous for travelers. Bandits plague the roads as they know that many people will be migrating towards the capital for the Bloom ceremony.” Vivian’s eyes were wandering elsewhere as she replied to Vance. Vance followed her gaze and saw a young boy that looked around his age standing stiffly next to the Balor, his back was straight as an arrow and his hands were clasped behind his back copying the Baron’s posture. The boy had white hair that fell to his shoulders and the same icy blue eyes as his grandfather.
“Vance come out here and greet the Baron’s grandson,” Auron called out. Vance hopped down from the carriage and scurried quickly to his father’s side.
Bowing slightly before reaching out his hand, Vance greeted the boy. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, my name is Vance Voss. I look forward to participating in the Bloom ceremony with you.”
The boy looked down at Vance’s hand but didn’t make a move to offer his own.
“My name is Bale,” came the boy’s curt reply before he spun around and climbed into the Baron’s carriage.
Balor sighed, “Please excuse his behavior, Bale hasn’t been out much since we lost his father to Mana Beasts.”
Auron shrugged “I’m sure he meant no offence. Regardless, we should depart soon if we want to reach Farehold before nightfall.”
“Aye,” Balor replied, and shortly the group set off.
The trip passed without incident. They camped most nights, occasionally staying in a small village or town that they passed along the way. Vance had no further interactions with Bale. Most of his time was spent pestering Vivian with questions as they went. The guards almost never spoke, and overall, the caravan was very tense.
“Vivian, how many people usually get bestowed seeds during the ceremony?” Vance asked one day, trying to break up the monotony of the voyage.
“If both parents are Seedless the chances are slim to none. However, if one parent has a Seed it’s estimated there is a one in five chance of the child also receiving one, the odds are slightly better than fifty percent if both parents have Seeds,” Victoria concluded. “During my ceremony, tens of thousands of children waited underneath the Branch of the World Tree. I heard just under eight hundred ended up receiving Seeds.”
Vance was shocked. He knew the odds weren’t great, but he had never imagined them to be that low. A one in five chance did not give Vance a lot of hope for his prospects.
"Wait... You said that children with Seedless parent's still have a small chance to receive a Seed. How is that possible? Father told me previously that the type of Seed you can receive is hereditary."
"That is mostly true. The type of Seed someone can receive is actually tied to the bloodline they possess; so while some may become Seedless, their bloodline still possessed the potential to carry Mana which can be passed down to their offspring."
Vivian continued to elaborate on the topic of bloodlines, but Vance tuned her out as memories of the amethyst eyes and disembodied voice resurfaced. '...An heir has finally awoken the bloodline...' Vance shuddered and tried to quickly bury the thought.
On the concluding day of the journey, Vance finally caught a glimpse of the capital as the caravan crested a large hill. He had heard about it many times from Eldrin, but witnessing it for himself was an electrifying experience. An expansive stretch of plains lay before Vance, mountains blotted out the horizon to the north and converged into a massive jagged peak. At the base of the central mountain stood an almost equally large tree which encompassed the entirety of the capital city in its shade. Hundreds of thousands of multicolored lights twinkled merrily in the tree’s branches and the city below.
Vance’s mouth hung open as he looked on at the spectacle. “Is… Is that…” but he couldn’t manage to stammer out the entirety of his question.
“Yes, that is the Branch of the World Tree,” Vivian responded to his mumbling with a rare smile.
“It’s unbelievable!” Vance exclaimed.
“Just wait until you see the ceremony.”
The mood of the group completely changed. Even Bale began to talk excitedly with his grandfather. Vance’s heart began to beat rapidly in his chest as the carriages began their descent onto the plains.