The sound of the lyre filled the streets, accompanied by drums that resonated with the heartbeats of the people. Across the busy road, yellow dust from the ground rose as many feet stirred it to life.

Amongst those many feet were gold that danced with its owners movements; they created a harmonized jingling. The street was bustling with people dancing.

Jin was one of those people. He was dressed in loose sheer standard to that of what gypsies and belly dancers wore. Even if that were the case, the people around him didn seem to look down on him nor his clothes.

All around him hung colorful banderitas that similarly danced in the wind. The space around him was crowded and full of life as people mixed around and shuffled, never in the same place they once were.

If someone were to ask him what it would feel like at this moment – dancing, lost in the crowd of people – it would probably be colorful. Jin felt himself let go of his surroundings, throwing all of his cares to the wind.

He was high on the musics rhythm, adrenaline making his head clearer in reception to all stimuli, which was ironic since there was nothing to think about at all.

Amidst the many people present on the wide street, their movements were practiced and graceful, like a work of art or a jar of finely aged wine.

High on the musics rhythm, he looked towards his other comrades who were similarly laughing and smiling with the townspeople. Everyone was dancing, consumed by the festive mood that he and his comrades brought.

This is why he and his comrades do this, to spread this exhilarating joy and happiness wherever they go. Young and old people gathered in the wide street that almost resembled a town square – which was originally used as a wide road. All people, from beggars to even some vendors, were pulled in by him and his other friends to join in the musical interplay that they created.

The music continued and the lyre sang its notes. More and more people started to join in the fun. However, in the climax of the festive scene, one of Jins fellow mates shouted an alarm that halted all movements.

”The guards are coming! ”

Just like that, a twang of the lyre and the music stopped. The drums halted almost immediately and everyone was rushing to disperse. Laughing, Jin ran with his fellow gypsy–travelers across the different stalls and vendors, away from the place where they were dancing earlier.

In almost an instant, the guards arrived and caught those who were too slow to run. Other vendors, or perhaps travelers, probably called the royal guards on them on the account of causing a public disturbance. After all, they were making a ruckus on a public road; there were most likely some people dissatisfied with how they couldn pull along their carts and carriages over the heaps of dancing monkeys.

Jin and his other comrades laughed and shouted in mirth as they expertly ran away from the guards. They have been doing this for their whole lives and could now be called professionals in avoiding being caught by those stinky palace watchdogs.

He criss-crossed through stalls and heard some yells coming from angry shop owners. His running was erratic and he couldn help but knock some goods here and there. His heartbeat was ringing through his eardrums and the adrenaline coursed through his entire body. Still, that couldn suppress the smile that rose to his face every time he did this.

He and his friends ran for half an hour before re-grouping in a random inn within the city. The last of them arrived just as Jin and the others were busy drinking and ordering some food to eat. It was almost the hour of dusk when the sun would start to set in the horizon.

”Hey, look who finally decided to show up! ” One of Jins buddies teased the latecomer.

Rheb, a skinny but lean fellow, scratched his head at the entrance. His face showed a faint trace of annoyance. He was slightly shorter than the rest, but his skin was also a bit lighter than the others in return. Leyya, a girl in their group, had the lightest skin tone. Jin followed afterwards.

The boy named Rheb donned a colorful patterned bandana that encircled his head; it framed his blue, spiky hair. His clothes were similar to that of Jins; most of the group wore loose silk and sheer clothes, decorated with some fake and some real gold. Aside from the drummer and the lyrist, you could tell that they were a bunch of wandering gypsy-performers.

Regrouped, Jins entire group consisted of twelve people; one for the lyre, the other for the drums. The other ten were dancers, including him. They usually performed in different towns and cities. Sometimes, they performed on the streets – sometimes, they performed in the manors of the noble and rich. On rare occasions, they even get to perform in royal castles.

It was a profession that offered freedom and adventure.

Exasperated, the spiky blue-haired boy dragged his feet towards where his peers were sitting. ”Tsk tsk, after you guys dispersed one of the guards just had to come and chase after me. Who knew Id be so eye-catching that hed follow me around for such a long time? ”

Ordering a pint, he plopped down on an open seat near the bar together with the others. ”Damn stinky watch dogs. Running around with a full set of armor for that long, are they monsters? ”

One of the other comrades joked around and replied, ”Perhaps a bunch of Cerberus mongrels, thats what they are. ”

Laughter followed after the passing remark, though most of it came from the person who threw the joke.

Jin chuckled at the sight and slid a pint of ale towards Rheb, who caught it and gulped it in one go. ”Well, look at the bright side—at least you got to work that body of yours. Riding a caravan and some camels for two weeks straight isn doing too well for this body of mine to be honest. ”

Rheb tsked in amusement; ”They got to see my body work, but they saw it for free ” Rhebs amusement turned itself into a smirk, ”least they could do is to pay me for it. ”

A snort escaped from Jins mouth in response to the statement. He rolled his eyes slightly, ”Won the palace guards here be too disappointing if they did that? Alas, what a waste of tax and resources for the kingdom. ”

”Can be any worse off than we are ” Rheb grinned in response, then turned to order another pint of beer.

A traveling performer – also within the category of gypsies – is a profession that indeed brings forth freedom and adventure. However, since traveling performers do not settle down in a specific kingdom or city, they do not have a specific place to call home. To them, the road is their home.

These people, such indecisive souls, where do they pledge their loyalty to? Gaining money from merely performing and even taking some of that money away from the countrys economy only to use it in another kingdom – the job of a traveling performer was infamous.

Jin continued drinking his pint slowly, savoring the bittersweet aftertaste of beer. The earliest memory he had was of him wandering around the streets of Letto in the country of Barbaneros. He had subconsciously accepted that place as his hometown or irthplace by default, though there was no specific evidence of it being so.

He didn remember the names or faces of his parents, nor did he know if he even had relatives. He was basically an orphan, a street rat with a slightly better face than the rest of the others. Then again, it was because of his beauty that he caught the attention of their current leader; the leader that brought him into the group that he was now part of. She said that he was basically a hidden gem waiting to be polished.

True enough, after raising him and taking him into the group, he later on grew up to be one of the most eye-catching ones of them all. He also gained a family, so he was happy.

Aside from the overused cliche of having a rough childhood and being an orphan (to top it off, he didn have any other memories of who he was before he was seven, either) he would say he was pretty content with his life so far. He was happy living a carefree and liberated life.

Soon, food was served and everyone was on their second or third pints. The mood inside the inn was calm save a hint of excitement and mischief here and there. They arrived after a two-week journey from different savannas and deserts, only now do they have the time to relax and drink once again. It was always like this after every long journey.

Most of the group members had broken discussions around the room, though the topic that was mostly discussed was where they planned on doing their next performance. Aside from eating, playing, and sightseeing, the main purpose of the group was to perform for different audiences–regardless of class.

The things they now had to discuss were–where will they be performing, and for who?

”I say we do it in a pub! ” Rheb raised his third pint of beer and stood up in a somewhat laid back manner, laughing as he took a swig of his glass.

”Idiot, ew no. I don want to dance in front of middle aged drunk men ”. Fei, a girl shorter than Rheb, scrunched her nose. Her skin was the color of milk chocolate and her hair was cut into a cute bob.

”Who knows, those drunk men you spoke of may have more money on them ” Jin smirked and then winked playfully at the little girl. The short girls face changed expression from that of discontent to someone who was considering the offer.

Ah, look how money changes the minds of such people.

Fei, the short girl with a bob, shook her head ”Nah, still no. I won do it. ”

”Aww, thats one of the best money-making performances out there. ” Jin lamented.

”You do a solo performance yourself then ” Fei stuck her tongue out towards Jin and made a childish face.

Rheb merely sighed on his seat, ”As long as its not at the town square- I don want to go in any rowdy places for a while ” he felt his legs tingle the moment he remembered this afternoons encounter.

Tsk, what a grown man with a weak heart and an even weaker body, Fei muttered.

”Whatd ya say ya little runt?! Why you- ” And just like that, two children, one big and one small, started to fight and pull at each others hair. Jin pulled the two away from each other before they started to make a mess of the whole place.

Fei and Rheb sat down on their chairs respectively, static and uncontentment burning through their gazes. Jin sat and watched the two with one hand propping his head up. ”Hmm…if not in a pub or at the town square, will we be preparing for nobles this time? It would be private and not a lot of crowds would be seen. ”

Jin smiled and made an O.K. sign with his other hand, rubbing his index finger and thumb together; ”Im pretty sure theyd give us a lot of money, too. ”

Fei and Rheb seemed lost in thought at the suggestion, when suddenly a stunning woman with golden-blonde hair passed by the table. Her hair curled up in waves, and she exuded a mature charm. ”Hahaha, cute, but I don think so. Leyya suggested we do it on the day of the Lotus Festival, and I agreed. ”

”Jeez! Would you please make some noise when you walk? I felt my heart almost stop beating. ” Rheb turned on his seat to face the woman.

The woman chuckled and replied, ”A graceful woman never makes excess noise. ” The woman was Reyna, the leader of the group. She was the one who took Jin out from the streets and into the life that he was currently living in.

Rheb groaned. A festival was bound to draw in crowds–and where there were crowds, there was rowdiness.

Reyna smirked at the trio, ”At least youll be getting your money. Its good too since its an opportunity to boost our reputation. I also have a place in mind on where we will be performing–well be one of the main attractions of the festival. ”

Jin nodded contently. Where there was money, he was satisfied. Fei also didn voice a complaint. The only one who was whining the entire time was Rheb.

The group continued to talk and finish their meals before one by one retiring for the night. Jin got ready before standing up from his seat. ”Im going to head out. Im tired. You guys enjoy the rest of the night by yourselves. ”

Fei whined and struggled in a slightly sluggish manner, ”No—don leave us yet. ” Her words carried a bit of a slur.

Rheb followed up, his words similarly being slurry, ”Yeah thats right, we
e just getting started! ” He then hiccuped.

Jin rolled his eyes and got up. ”You guys should probably go back soon too. ” Without missing a beat, continued, ”Im not going to be the one responsible for carrying you to your room. ”

With that, Jins back suavely sauntered off while hearing opposing garbled words in the background. The moment he entered his own room, he savored soaking in the bathroom tub before heading off to bed.

The room was lit darkly, with multiple decorative candles and candelabras providing as its sole source of illumination. Amidst the dark, the reflective light traced the tips of the golden carvings that snaked across the entire room. Velvet curtains also shone with a particularly soft light, further adding onto the sophistication and luxury of the room.

There was a man that sat on the rooms main chair. He reclined lazily, slouched on the throne, as if without a care. He leaned back on his throne with an arm supporting his head on the armrest. Contrary to his posture and languid demeanor, there was a cold light in his eyes that was masked by the low illumination of his surroundings.

The appearance of the man was quite exquisite. He had dark, golden hair that turned into a dusty brown under the lack of light. The man donned on a robe similar to that of what was seen on Roman emperors back in the day. His robe, however, was disheveled; it exposed a portion of his build, which was quite toned and muscular. Given that the country in which the kingdom was built in was located by the savannahs, the man had a wheat skin tone.

The entire image such a situation produced was completely in line with a fatuous and self-indulgent ruler.

Carsus, the man on the throne, looked like he was absorbedly playing with a grape in between his fingers. The grape was shiny and translucent with a warm luster from a nearby candle. Carsus played with the fruit in between his fingers, rolling it here and examining it there, before squishing it completely. Such grapes in the dry savannas were actually quite rare and expensive.

There was something bothering Carsus lately. It was just a passing thought. Bothered, he turned to his side and called out, ”Ilmond ”.

One of the unmoving shadows from the dark stepped up beside the throne and bowed halfway, ”Yes, sire. ”

Ilmond (eel-mond) was Carsus right-hand man. He was the chancellor that helped him with the kingdom affairs.

”What does affection feel like? ” Carsus low voice muttered, the words almost lost if Ilmond hadn been paying attention.

Ilmond looked at his king with incredulity and doubt. His king didn seem out of it, and his appearance was not in line with those that were captured by the vices of love. In fact, his face showed quite the opposite—cold, uninterested, and unfeeling, just like his usual appearance. Illmond inwardly made a sigh of relief.

”I believe the question youd want to ask is what is love, sire. ” Ilmond took a quick glance at his king, and seeing him not saying anything else, knowingly continued, ”That question is quite subjective, your highness—though there is one trait of it that remains common amongst the masses; love is highly regarded by them. ”

”Some people say love is like spring; others say its an addictive poison. A person can say that they are loved when they experience loyalty and comfort from the other person. Personally, for me, love means care and respect; that is to say, if I love someone, I will respect and care for them. I will also be expecting the same in return, from my loved ones. ”

”Love can also be divided and categorized into different forms. There exists a love for family members, a love for their friends, love for their country and people, love for their partner… ”

Ilmond pushed up the rim of his spectacles towards his nose bridge. ”In short, there are lots of definitions of love, and this lowly subject won dare to claim that he can cover every single one of them. Therefore, sire, your definition of lo- ”

”Is it necessary? ” Carsus voice interrupted.

-ve is highly dependent upon your experience… Ilmond swallowed back his words.

”Love is highly regarded by the common. ” Confused by his highness words, Ilmond hesitantly repeated what he had said before.

”But is love important? ” Carsus repeated. Why do people like it so much, and why was it highly regarded?

He didn understand. What made people crazy over it if it didn provide you with food, water, shelter or gold? Love doesn really provide you with anything necessary to survive. In fact, his mother died because of it. Being highly poisonous and contagious, yet being similarly highly coveted by many—what makes love so special? He wanted to experience it.

”What is love, and where do I buy it? ”

Ilmond stared speechlessly at this arrogant king. There was a brief silence that ensued.

Then, another shadow from the side of the throne stepped up and stood just within a respectful distance, enough for Carsus to hear the hoarse voice, ”I think I may be able to provide you with what you
e looking for, if your highness is truly curious to what love and affection is. ”

Carsus held a smirk, but his hooded eyes showed a hint of mockery. Head rested on his propped arm, he promptly set his sights at the corner of his eyes–just where the shadow was.

The shadow was a hooded old man. He was hunched and looked quite peculiar with a black robe covering the rest of his body. This was the mysterious merchant Ilmond brought to him earlier.

The old man almost looked like a shadow himself, the outline of his figure looking rather undefined under the dim lights. He took one step closer to the throne and presented a glass bottle in between his index and thumb.

The glass bottle nearly looked like a heart, but the place where the two curves were supposed to be was replaced with a semi-circle. In the bottle glowed a certain pellucid light red. It was beautiful under the candlelight; enticing.

Carsus raised an eyebrow at the offered bottle, ”And what do I do with this? ”

Ilmond stared at the bottle with the same doubts as Carsus.

”Why, you drink it, my sire. ” The old merchant slowly showed a toothy grin, except it was quite the sight mixed with uneven teeth.

Ilmond took it from the mans hands and delivered it to Carsus to better inspect.

”Just drink this and it will soon come to you. ” The hoarse voice lingered in the air.

Carsus held the little bottle and saw the contents slosh around its container. He was silent for a minute, looking thoughtful, before finally directing a gaze at Ilmond.

Ilmond caught Carsus look and understood immediately. He returned the gaze to his king, filled with reluctance and uncertainty, but Carsus was hard headed. Ilmond sighed and silently withdrew, then came back with a small chest the size of both his palms. It was filled with gold.

”You understand that if what you
e saying is a lie, our Phacan kingdom will not let you off. ” Carsus posture remained languid, but his domineering pressure couldn be concealed despite his words uttered nonchalantly.

The merchant smilingly received the chest filled with gold as if he wasn affected by the pressure, ”Of course, your majesty. ”

With a wave of a hand, Carsus dismissed the merchant and all the other people on standby near the throne—only he and Ilmond remained.

Carsus looked at the bottle once again, staring at it contemplatively. His chancellor spoke up, slightly reprimanding, but also with a helpless tone, ”You do know you couldve been scammed right now, your highness? ”

Carsus glanced at Ilmond then back at the glass bottle. ”But you were the one who also brought him in. You don trust him? ”

At that, Ilmond remained silent and scrunched his nose in a complicated expression.

”Plus, my kingdom is still rich. I could afford a couple losses. ”

Ilmonds forehead grew even more lines as he listened to his king being willingly scammed for money. Was this kingdom rich? And whats with the word still being added in the sentence?

No noise was heard from either party afterwards. Carsus continued to stare unmovingly at the bottle, while Ilmond just stood by the kings side with his head down.

In the room, one master and one servant remained. One was expressionless, while the other held an expression that couldn be read.

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