Chapter 063: Cassandra

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"Let her go!"

"Jacob!" Cassandra cried, but her captor showed no signs of obeying.

"I said, let my sister go!" Jacob screamed, with a force that surprised even himself. He pulled his fist back and started running up the stairs towards the pirate, who seemed to have been momentarily stunned, but still had a tight grip on Cassandra.

Ten steps left.

The pirate started coming to.

Nine steps left.

Cassandra had noticed her captor seemed a bit dazed.

Eight steps left.

Noting that the gun was no longer pointed directly at her, Cassandra bit the pirate's arm.

Seven steps left.

"Ow! You little bitch!"

Six steps left.

The pirate threw Cassandra to the ground, kicking her hard and sending her tumbling down the stairs.

Five steps left.

The pirate raised his pistol, firing in the approaching Jacob's direction.

Four steps left.

Jacob shifted to the side, the shot only grazing his shoulder.

He covered the remaining three steps in one leap, smashing his fist into the pirate's face before he had the time to fire another shot. He fell to the ground, and Jacob did not let up for a second. He kept punching, holding the pirate down, unleashing more rage and violence than he ever had before or after in his life. He didn't stop until his knuckles and the pirate's face were covered in blood, and the pirate lay entirely motionless under him.

What followed was two realizations in the span of less than a second.

The first was that the man underneath him was actually dead. However, before he could reflect on the fact that he had killed someone, the second realization struck him with even more force.


He looked down the stairs, seeing Cassandra at the bottom step, only barely moving.

"Cassie! No, no, no, no..."

He rushed down, anything else going on around him completely tuned out. Only one thing, one person, mattered at this point in time, possibly more than she ever had before.

"Cassie!" he exclaimed as he reached her, crouching down to hold her.
"Jac... Jacob... it hurts..." Cassandra said weakly.
"Where does it hurt?"
"Head... neck... please..."
"We need to... need to get help, get you to... to a doctor... in the city..." Jacob realized the futility of what he was saying as soon as he said it. Cassandra was badly hurt, and needed medical assistance... but they were in the middle of a pirate attack in a mansion twenty minutes by wagon away from the city in ideal circumstances.
"Jacob..." Cassandra said, even weaker this time, with tears coming from her eyes. Jacob could feel her collapsing in his arms as his desperation grew.

"Help! Someone! Anyone!"

He knew there was nothing he could do.

Given the situation, there was nothing anyone could do.

"Ja... Jacoohh..." were Cassandra Condorando's last words.


It became known as the worst tragedy of Josang since the end of the armed conflicts.

By the time the Marines arrived to investigate the plundered remains of the Condorando family mansion, there was nobody left alive to find. While the bodies of Martin, Florence, and Cassandra Condorando were found and identified, Jacob Condorando's was not. But as he was not the only person that could not be accounted for, some bodies were unable to be identified, and some were found to have been thrown into the sea, he was presumed dead. A memorial service for the family was held, which one Romas Gashar did not bother attending.

Two months later, two silver goblets engraved with the Condorando family crest were sold to a merchant on an unassuming island several weeks' travel away from Akana. The young blond man who had sold them went to have a hearty dinner at an inn, and after finishing it, he went up to the front desk and put down a rather large wad of bills.

"How long would this get me a room for?"
"Oh? Let's take a look..." The innkeep flipped through the money. "Since it appears you're planning on staying long, then I can give you a discount and make it six weeks for this. Breakfast included."
"Alright, sign me up for that."
"Very good. Name?"
"Oh, I'm Ja... muhsuh... James. My name is James. Condor... Conrad. My name is James Conrad."
"James Conrad," the innkeep replied, writing the name down in a book and grabbing a key from a peg board. "You will be in the Oak room. Up the stairs, first door to your left. New linens will be provided once a week. As you're staying for a longer period, room cleaning and laundry services will be available upon request. Breakfast is served between six and eight. When your stay is up, the room is to be vacated before noon. If you wish to stay longer than you've paid for here, then it would be appreciated if you could inform me at least one day beforehand. I will give you the same rate for an extended stay, if you also pay at least one day in advance."
"Alright, thank you," the man who from now on would be known as James replied. "I'll be sure to let you know if it looks like I'll be staying longer... depends on if I can find work here or not."
"Then I wish you luck in your search."
"Thanks," James said and picked up the key, grabbing his single piece of luggage and going up to his designated room. A single-person room with a bathroom, containing a single bed, a table with two chairs, an armchair, a small counter and a sink, and some basic kitchen supplies provided. While any food-making prospects were limited due to the lack of any kind of stove or oven, at least there was something.

James put his bag on the bed and sat down in the armchair,looking out through the window. He had a pretty nice view. He reflected on the fact that this was the first time since his birthday that he had an actual room to live in, to return to. While it technically wasn't his room, it definitely felt like it for the time being. The journey since that day to get here had perhaps not been the worst of times, but this was the first time he was really able to completely relax.

He thought back to that banquet. The banquet that he didn't even want to have, but was forced to by the status he had been born into. The banquet that was supposed to mark his official entry into noble society, but instead marked the end of the life he had lived for eighteen years. The banquet that not only introduced him to the person he hated the most in the world, but took away the person he cared about the most in the world.

The banquet that he wished to forget, but would remember for the rest of his life.

James remained sitting in the armchair until he fell asleep, his head bubbling with regrets about his life that had passed and conviction about his life that was to come.

The next day, after a breakfast as hearty as last night's dinner, he headed out to look for work—something that, as a nobleman, he had never been expected to have to do, and as such he had no experience to draw from. This inevitably led to some stumbling into it—his first few attempts simply consisted of walking into an establishment and telling someone he thought looked like they were working there that he was looking for employment. After a few attempts that did not get further than the first question, James found himself at a quarry by the coast. He looked at the rows of workers in tattered clothes and gray helmets, striking large rocks with sledgehammers. Pieces were collected and loaded into hand-pushed carts, then emptied into a barge to be shipped off for... well, James wasn't sure, but at the moment, he didn't care. He walked down into the work area, intercepting a trio of workers on their way to start smashing rocks.

"Um, hello?"
"Who are you, and what are you doing here dressed like that? You're not even wearing a helmet!"
"Uh, I'm looking for work, and I wondered..."
"You'll have to talk to the supervisor. She'll be over by those barracks there, with the yellow vest," the worker replied and pointed at some buildings on the other end of the quarry. James headed over there, finding a muscular woman in the same worker's clothes and a larger sledgehammer by her feet, but also wearing a yellow vest and carrying a clipboard she was writing some numbers on.
"Excuse me..."
"What?" she barked at him.
"Oh, I'm sorry, I-"
"Ye'll have to wait!"
"O-oh, alright," James said and waited while the quarry supervisor kept writing on her clipboard. It took a few minutes until she turned back to James, looking at this well-dressed man who seemed to have wandered into the wrong place.
"Right. What's yer business?"
"Yes, I'm looking for work, and I was told I should ask you."
"Well, I guess I could always use an extra pair o' hands... but ya don’t exactly look like the labourer type, I gotta say. Ya done any of this kind of work before?"
"No... but I'd be glad to learn!"
"Alright, what's yer name?"
"Jac- James. James Conrad."
"Alrighty then," the foreman said and wrote the name down. "Ya need lodging as well?"
"Oh, no, I've got a room already."
"Then, yer pay will be seven hundred beli an hour. Ye'll be starting on cart duty. One fifteen minute break for every four hours worked. Half an hour for lunch. If ya miss five days o' work in a row, yer out, unless ya got a reeeally good reason. Get in and get started."
"Alright, sounds good to me!" James replied and went to get dressed for his new job. His more fancy—but at this point well-worn—clothes replaced by a white tank top and worker's pants, and a helmet almost too large for him. As he came back outside, it would have been hard to guess by looking at him that he once was a nobleman. He found the nearest cart that was in the process of being filled, got some quick instructions from the workers filling it up, and before too long he was pushing it towards the coast.

As he emptied that first cartload into the barge, he felt... good. Better than he had felt in a long time. He felt like he was actually doing something, rather than having stuff done for him.

He smiled as he rolled the cart back towards the quarry, and started filling it up again. The sun was setting as he clocked out, joined some workers for a dinner of pork stew and beer at a cheaper pub, and returned to his room at the inn more exhausted than he had ever been before. This time he at least managed to get his shoes, pants, and shirt off and get into the bed, falling asleep within two minutes.

James's life would continue in the same vein for the next several years. He'd spend some time on one island before moving on to another, taking on various jobs, mostly unskilled manual labour, jobs that his father would have strenuously insisted were 'beneath his station', even if there were jobs available where he could have gotten more use out of his education. While he put no emotional worth on the family silver he had managed to get with him, he wanted to get by by himself. So he'd stick to using the money he earned himself to pay for food and board, and whatever he had left after that he'd spend on books, most of which he'd sell or give away when leaving for another island, as he didn't quite have the means to haul along a big collection of books. A few pieces of silver did get traded away here and there when truly necessary, but often for less than what he could have gotten for them if he just sold them.

And one day, nine years after he had left Akana...

"Finally... she's done!"

James had spent the last year and a half working at a sawmill on the island of Topton. As a perk of this employment, he had access to good quality lumber for a bit of a discount, something that was rather useful as he had decided to start traveling even more on his own terms, with a boat of his own. While he had enough silver left that he could buy himself a small vessel, that was not what he wanted—he was going to build it himself, to make it truly his. And if there was one thing he had truly taken to heart since he started pushing carts in that quarry all those years ago, it was that something achieved through your own effort always felt more satisfying. He had gotten a bit of help with the construction here and there, but largely he had taught himself through reading books on the subject. Slowly but surely, a one-man vessel took shape next to the mill. The sail had been rigged, the cabin was fully furnished, and all the important traveling supplies were acquired. And at last, all the final adjustments had been made, the whole ship had been inspected three times, and she was lying at the edge of the water, waiting to set sail. James was standing in front ot it, and had just been handed his final payment by the mill foreman.

"Thanks for everything, mister Raga," James said and shook the foreman's hand. "I couldn't have done this without you."
"You sure you gotta go? You've been one of the most dilligent workers I've ever had."
"Yeah, sorry, but it's time for me to move on. To become independent."
"Well, then, all I can do is wish you luck. Do you know where you're going?"
"Yes, I've been making some plans, and I'm going to go to Avasine. I've read it's a big city, so it should be a good starting point."
"We do ship quite a bit of lumber there, but I've never been myself. Sounds like a good idea."
"Yeah, I should be making it there in about three days."
"So, did you name her yet? I hear it's bad luck to set out on a ship without a name."
"Oh, I knew what that was going to be before I even nailed the first two boards together..."

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