Rei blinked his eyes when he saw the courier delivering a small package. It was from the capital of the Giad Empire, St Yedder.
“Marquis Nouzen……from grandfather?”
Rei never met the grandfather, who resided in their homeland even after his parents had abandoned it. It seemed his father would send letters regularly, but the grandfather never once replied, except for that once, a message to celebrate Rei’s birthday, along with a picture book.
Rei was glad to receive a gift, but the picture book was really in bad taste, and he curled his lips in disdain. The young little brother peeking from behind the pillar of the hall approached, looking interested in the item, but seemingly afraid of the messenger (stranger).
“Ahh, you don’t know huh, Shin? Dad’s dad. He erm…lives in a foreign country, he can’t meet us.”
Shin tilted his head in confusion upon hearing that.
He knew what a grandfather was. His childhood friend Rita would drop to play, and that grandfather was a wrinkled old man who had pure white hair, different from Rita’s silver hair. Back at home, he never heard that term before, he thought a grandfather was like a ‘grandmother’ or ‘maid’ at his friend’s place, that some households would have, and some households would not have.
“Do I have one?”
“We do. Mom’s dad died, but dad’s dad is still alive…see,”
The package was directed to Shin, probably to celebrate his birthday. Rei thought it would be better to show it to his father, but he tore the wrapping, and took the content out.
As expected, it was a picture book. It was wrapped with a black silk ribbon―even at this point, Rei was disinterested in it―, a picture book of a headless skeleton knight.
He gave this after all. Rei’s lips curled again.
About ten years ago, he too received the same book. The plot was interesting, thinking back about it, but the protagonist was a headless skeleton knight. It was too scary for his infant soul, and he did not really read it.
Shin himself was a little timid, and it might be too hard on him…
But contrary to his thoughts, Shin’s eyes were sparkling.
“Happy birthday to you, Shin.”
There were two other letters inside, one in the form of a card on top. It was written in simple words for any child to understand.
The other was written to his father. Rei handed the card and the book to Shin; his hand was big enough to hold them in one hand, but Shin’s little hand could not, and the latter basically embraced them.
With sparkling eyes, he scanned the skeleton knight on the cover―Rei looked a little terrified however―his face was a little numb as he asked.
“…………………………You want to read it?”
The Giad Empire had changed its name to the Giad Federation, but the Nouzens remained extremely influential in the government and the military.
Any child of the family of servants starting off would surely be lost within the vast capital residence of the Nouzens. The Marquis Seiei Nouzen was inside a carpeted office the size of a citizen’s apartment. The pure blooded Onyx directed his pitch black, eagle-like eyes at the servant on standby.
A servant to a noble was a shadow-like existence, but it was a different matter when summoned by his master. Marquis Nouzen looked up towards the servant dressed in the old era suit and a monocle that had walked towards his desk.
“I remember you have a grandson who had just turned eighteen.”
“He has been assigned to the cadet academy. However, he has no authority to meet you directly, master.”
“He does sound impressive, but that is not what I want to ask. Yes..it is.”
The old warrior who had once led half of the Empire’s military was stumbling like an inexperienced, indecisive novice of a lieutenant.
“What would a child of that age like to receive for his birthday?”
The old servant smiled.
“It is for Master Shinei, I believe?”
He was referring to the child of Reisha, eldest son of Marquis Nouzen who had abandoned the Empire and left for the neighboring country, the boy who was Marquis Nouzen’s grandson. The war against the “Legion” resulted in them losing contact, and their fates remained unknown for nine years. Two years ago, a certain incident resulted in the grandson being taken under custody upon the battlefield of the Federation.
Ever since he was contacted by the current guardian, the temporary president of the Federation, Marquis Nouzen had requested to meet countless times, but his requests were never fulfilled as Shin himself refused.
“I suppose…a gift for an eighteen year old boy is a little…”
The old servant nodded solemnly.
“A little pocket change will suffice.”
Marquis Nouzen slammed his hands hard onto the heavy ebony desk.
And he suddenly lifted his face, yelling at the servant.
“How can a first heartfelt gift from a grandfather be so devoid of emotions!?”
“Cash should be fine.”
“You’re annoying me!”
Pfft, Marquis Nouzen lashed out at his childhood friend. The latter had a hand on his mouth, those adept taunting skills still as good as ever after half a century!
“But speaking of which, you do not know what Master Shinei likes, do you?”
“Well…you are correct.”
“Even if your grandson stayed in the same residence, he would have spent more time with his classmates than his grandfather. Since you don’t know what he wants, you may give him some pocket change for him to buy whatever he wants. You never saw Master Shinei, never knew what he likes, so you may be overestimating yourself to hazard a guess, pfft.”
“Don’t you say it!”
This time, he was met with a chortle.
As Marquis Nouzen cupped his head, the old servant hid his mischievous chuckle.
“…Master Shinei does not wish to meet you, which shows that he has yet to sort his feelings. You should understand what he is feeling, and celebrate for him first, no? In that case, if all you want is to celebrate his birthday, perhaps you can celebrate that he has survived till this point?”
“――Ahh, and another thing Captain. There was a package delivered to you during your deployment. Please claim it.”
They were at the main headquarters of the Strike Package, Rüstkammer Base. Shin frowned upon hearing the words of the allied sergeant.
They were deployed to the United Kingdom starting in spring, for about two months, and it was early summer as they returned. However, he had no memories of any luggage or requests addressed to him. The 86ers lost their families due to the oppression of the Republic, and there was no one delivering letters or packages to them.
The sergeant pretended not to see Shin’s surprised face as he took something deep within the storage. The Federation’s shopping system was intriguing to the to 86ers who were stuck on the battlefield since they were children. They were dispatched from time to time, but it seemed a few had being shopping during the period. Logically, the storage would contain goods to be claimed, and the sergeant in charge would hope he would take them away.
“Over here…this is the receipt. Please check and sign.”
The allied sergeant held the special pen and the electronic paper onto the package large enough to be held within one hand.
The package was once unsealed by the military, and there was a stamp indicating that it was resealed. The receipt and the tag on the bag contained the sender’s name…
Upon seeing it, Shin blinked.
His grandfather was a great noble of the Empire. Shin had refused the requests to meet till this point, and his grandfather probably understood his intent. However, his grandfather never sent any letters or packages or the like before…
“Supposedly you celebrated your birthday during deployment, Captain. Well, it should be a present. It’s a little late, but happy birthday.”
Perhaps it was so.
Speaking of birthdays, he remembered he made it back in time for Lena’s birthday as he returned to his room, and cut it open with the multi-tool knife.
Till this point,
He did not want to meet his grandfather. Not that he was fine with not meeting, but that he did not want to.
At this point however, he did not feel this way. He still did not want to meet, but not forever.
He had to meet his grandfather, to face his past.
He lost things in the past, and was thoroughly terrified at the thought, even though he wanted to reclaim it back.
There was a box with a brand mark showing itself, and it was wrapped with a black silk ribbon. He did not think it was distasteful in any sense, and for some reason, he felt a little nostalgic, so he opened the box.
“…A photo frame?”
There were a few photos and a book, probably a family-oriented item, like an album. The silver and glass photo slots in the pages were all empty, save for one card containing a familiar skeleton attached on the first page―I am glad to be able to meet you again.
They never met, but for some reason, Shin slowly traced the image that left him a little nostalgic, and the beautiful handwriting that was hard to read.
There were no photos of his parents, his brother, and himself. He no longer remembered any of their faces.
But Marquis Nouzen might have some photos and letters from Shin’s father. Once the photos were found, perhaps the emptiness of the photo frame, along with the memories, could be filled a little.
Come and fill it―come here and meet.
That might be the message.
Fu, Shin chuckled unwittingly.
It felt as though he was nudged in the back by an old man he never met.
“Fill it with what we get in the future, is that it? ―Marquis Nouzen.”
He still could not refer to the man as his grandfather.
But he should hear from the latter the true intent of the photo frame, and the origin of the skeleton picture.
So Shin thought as he placed the empty photo frame on the desk.