ARTHUR LEYWIN’S POV:
The silhouette of an enormous castle shrouded in darkness continued growing larger but whether I was approaching the castle or the castle was moving towards me, I had no idea. As the silhouette grew closer, I was gradually able to make out the details of the castle: the fluttering house flag resting on the top of the highest tower, the splendid fountain carved with intricate features, the high gates with sharp spikes and barbed wire.
Little by little, the shadows covering the castle receded, exposing more of the castle’s exterior. I could see the image of a flaming phoenix on the house flag and crows gathering atop the gate. However, a horrendous feeling began creeping up my back, the closer I drew. I arrived below the towering gates and locked eyes with a particularly grotesque crow. It regarded me for a few seconds but then let out a caw and resumed its feast.
What was it eating?
I couldn’t see from the bottom of the gate, but for some reason, I felt a need to know what the ravens were eating.
This unrelenting urge to find out…
I began climbing up the gate, ignoring the spikes from the barbed wire digging into my hands. The higher I climbed, the more crows gathered atop the gate, joining in on the festivities. At some point, I became shrouded in crow feathers so much that I could only see black. I roared out for them to disappear, but no sound came out. Despite the inaudible shriek, the flock dispersed, revealing what they had been so eagerly consuming.
It was the decapitated heads of Tessia and my family impaled on black spikes. There were chunks of flesh missing from their face. Without their eyelids, their milky eyes seemed to stare distantly as their lip-less mouth hung open.
As I reached for them, to remove them from the spikes their heads were skewered on, all of their gaze suddenly focused on me and they screamed at me, revealing the insects that had burrowed themselves inside of their mouths.
“ALL YOUR FAULT!” The sudden volume of their voices made me lose my grip on the gate and I was sent falling down as their lifeless eyes continued to stare at me.
I bolted up from the stone ground I had been lying on. Cold sweat had already drenched my clothes as I sat there heaving for breath.
It was just a dream…….
I stared down at my hands to find out that they were trembling. As I tried to control my breathing, an unfamiliar voice startled me to my feet.
I whipped my body towards the sound, only to be staring at a darkened figure in the corner of my cell.
As she stepped out towards me, I was able to see who she was.
“Hi, there,” the woman said coaxingly, except her mouth wasn’t moving. Her voice had a soothing timbre that tickled my ear.
It dawned on me that the woman who had just spoken was Alduin’s remaining lance. I had caught a glimpse of her earlier today, except, just like before, she was covered in a cloak that hid her appearance.
What surprised me more was the fact that despite how close she was to me, I wasn’t able to sense her presence at all. It reminded me of when Virion released his second stage of his beast form, except, it seemed as natural as breathing for her.
“Do not talk. I bring you a message from King Eralith,” she whispered from underneath her cloak, leaning close to me as she handed me a piece of paper.
I read through it as soon as the letter was in my hand.
While explanations and apologies for the recent events concerning the disaster at Xyrus Academy are in order, I fear the scale of this incident is much deeper and more sinister than what it appears to be on the surface.
You do not have much time. Come a few hours, the Council will deem you and Cynthia Goodsky as the perpetrators of the act of terrorism that had befallen on Xyrus. Director Goodsky will be sentenced to public execution, but you and your bond will only be imprisoned. I’m sorry I could not help you much in this matter; my voice simply cannot win against the unified front of the dwarves and humans.
What I’m about to tell you next is something that was not meant for my ears. I have yet to find all of the missing pieces, but what I did hear between King Glayder and Dawsid, was that they are planning on delivering you to someone. I do not know who, but it seems to be the only reason why they’re keeping you alive and intact. I have already sent my father, along with a few escorts, to take your family to a hidden location where they’ll be safe from those who wish to do your family harm or use them against you. Think of it as a small compensation for all that you’ve done for Tessia. I hope this, at least, gives you some ease of heart. Even if my lance can free you from your cell, once you step outside, all of the other lances will be notified. My apologies as this is all I can do for you for now. Stay strong and be firm.
As soon as I folded the letter, it crumbled into ashes between my fingers. Looking back up, the female lance named Aya, that I had expected to see, was no longer there, disappearing as quietly as she had appeared.
I had to admit that there was a heavy burden that had been lifted from my chest. The safety of my family had been a concern for me the entire time. Due to the information pa.s.sed on from Windsom, the Council’s behaviour since our first meeting made me question the possibility of the Vritra playing a part in all of this. However, now that the Council had decided on the public execution of Director Goodsky, I was almost certain that the Vritra were involved.
I had originally suspected the Wykes house being involved by somehow tilting the odds against my favor for killing Lucas; they were a family of high wealth and influence after all. But the Wykes family has no reason for involving the Director of Xyrus Academy. Even if Goodsky wasn’t from an influential family, her name alone bears weight all over the continent. The Wykes family alone wouldn’t be able to influence the Council enough to make them do something so rash like condemning her to public execution. Even if pushing the blame on Goodsky would ease some of the burden the Council would face from the public, her death wouldn’t be worth it…
Unless there was a third party involved calling the shots, either bribing or forcing the Council.
Letting out another deep breath as I sat down, thoughts of how I had refused to grow attached to anyone in my past life because I didn’t want any weaknesses came to mind. Shaking my head to try and disperse the thoughts, I leaned my back against the cold wall, thinking and coming up with a plan.
“Get up!” a sharp baritone voice snapped.
My eyes fluttered open at the abrupt bellow and clanging of the metal gate.
Rolling to my stomach, I push myself up, stretching the aching bones in my body from sleeping on the hard, stone ground.
I expected to see Olfred since he was the one that had brought me to the cell, but instead, I had the unfortunate pleasure of waking up to Bairon’s happy face; and by happy, I meant a scowl of impatience laced with a hatred for my very existence basically written on his face. I don’t blame him, since I had been the one to kill his younger brother, but I sensed, for some reason, that his death wasn’t the only reason for his blatant animosity.
“The Council is waiting,” Bairon spoke sharply, opening the gate. The lance grabbed my arm roughly and half dragged me out of my cell after binding my arms and attaching the sealing artifact back on my chest.
“Good morning to you as well. I see you’re not much of a morning person,” I chuckled, trying to keep myself from falling as he continued jerking my arm.
The lance said nothing in response, though his cold glare spoke volumes. As we made our way towards the exit, I noticed that the cell Director Goodsky had been held in was open.
We arrived in front of a different room from yesterday; the large double doors that towered high enough to admit giants were closed shut, with m.u.f.fled sounds coming from the other side.
“You don’t know how much I’m looking forward to the trial,” Bairon said, his jaws tensing, while his grip on my arm became even tighter.
“Don’t worry, I’ll be sure to treat your family with the same sentiments you showed mine.” The lance turned to me, his lips curling upwards in a smirk, just enough to reveal his sharp canine.
Had I not received the letter earlier last night, I might’ve actually been worried, but knowing they were safely hidden and that for now the Council needed me alive and intact, his empty threats didn’t mean much.
“Are you honestly trying to pick a fight with a thirteen-year-old?” I shook my head, using my best expression of disappointment.
A sharp tug lifted me from the ground and suddenly, I was face to face with Bairon. “I don’t think you understand what’s about to happen to you right now. You’re going to either end up dead or wishing you had died while your pet is going to become a prized pet for one of the kings. You think this only affects you? I’ll make sure your family and anyone you even remotely cared about faces a miserable death.” he spat out as my legs dangled above the ground.
“Yes yes, the great Lance Bairon is going to take vengeance for his lunatic younger brother, who chose to go to the dark side and kill innocent students, by tormenting the teenager who put him out of his misery and killing his family too. All hail Lance Bairon!” I tried acting surprised, but I suspected my monotonous voice gave it away
I could see his right hand ball up into a fist, but he just clicked his tongue in disgust, tossing me back onto the floor with enough force to send me rolling towards the tall double doors. Dusting myself off as best as I could with my arms tied in front of me, I remained seated, leaning my head back on the doors as I gave Bairon a wink.
Either Bairon didn’t see or he chose to ignore me, but as I was about to say something, I heard faint sounds coming from the other side of the doors. After a.s.similating with Sylvia’s dragon will, my entire body had been strengthened, including my senses and reflexes. It wasn’t to the point where I would be able to last a few minutes against a lance without magic, but my hearing was strong enough to vaguely make out some familiar voices inside the protected room.
“…refusal to answer…”
It seemed like the Council was about done with the sentencing for who I could safely a.s.sume to be Director Goodsky.
“… sentenced to public execution.”
The last statement rang particularly loud from Dawsid’s booming voice.
After a moment of silence, the tall doors I was leaning against suddenly swung inward without a creak, causing me to tip backwards. Looking up from the floor, I spotted the same guard, who had admitted Varay, Olfred and I during the first Council meeting, regarding us without any emotion.
“The Council is ready,” the guard said, shifting his gaze from me to Bairon.
Picking myself up, I was able to lock eyes with the former director of Xyrus Academy as she was escorted back out by two guards.
Her gaze was firm but her jaws were tensed in suppressed anger as she pa.s.sed me by.
Keeping my expression deadpan and unreadable as I trudged towards the Council, I studied each of their faces.
Sitting down on the single chair, wordlessly, I waited for them to start. Bairon appeared behind Blaine Glayder and as the double doors shut with a loud thud, the room was filled with an eerie silence. The Dwarf King was the first to speak, his eyes glued to the stack of papers he had begun shuffling through.
“Boy, let it be known that the Council is merciful. Even though your heinous actions against a fellow schoolmate would normally result in at least the incapacitation of your mana core, we agreed that since your actions were for the sake of the greater good, your sentencing will instead be as followed: Arthur Leywin is to be stripped of his previous t.i.tle as a mage all and the benefits that come with. He is also to be imprisoned until further notice.” Dawsid spoke in a grandiose manner, as if he actually thought of himself as benevolent.
There was a brief silence; I suspected the Dwarf King was waiting for me to shower him with grat.i.tude and other forms of flattery before he spoke again.
“Is there anything you would like to say?” he questioned.
“Just a few questions…Your Majesty. While my first punishment is apparent enough, what do you mean by imprisoned until ‘further notice’?” I tilted my head.
“Upon the next few weeks, we’ll be monitoring how the disaster at Xyrus Academy is faring with the victims and their families. As soon as we see that enough time has pa.s.sed and the memories of your actions have more or less dissipated from the public’s minds, we will release you. Think of it as a sort of provisional detainment instead of imprisonment,” Blaine explained, mustering up a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes.
“I see. Fair enough, I suppose. What of my bond?” I asked. As soon as I was released from my cell this morning by Bairon, I had tried communicating with Sylvie, only to be met by silence.
“The Council is already being kind enough to let you live, yet you ask for more?” Glaundera snapped, banging her thick palm on the raised desk.
“Keeping your bond is another issue, Arthur. Part of the sentencing where you lose your rights as a mage means that you will no longer be able to keep your bond.” Alduin had been the one to tell me this. Had it been anyone else, I would’ve reacted differently, but reading the subtle meanings in his intonations and words, I knew he was only trying to keep me from trouble..
As our eyes stayed locked for a few more seconds, I forced a stiff nod.
“I understand, Your Majesties.”
“Good. Bairon, take him back to his cell but keep him chained up,” Blaine waved us away. I studied the expressions of everyone there one last time. While Blaine’s face was more self-a.s.sured than yesterday’s trial, his wife still looked pale with guilt. The dwarves were both haughtily arrogant, making me more certain that they were the ones most involved with the Vritra while the Alduin and Merial both wore stoic expressions as masks.
I could tell Bairon was furious but he stayed silent throughout the trip back to my cell. I decided it was best not to antagonize him in his current state so I remained mute as well.
I had expected to be taken to the same cell I was in before, but I was instead brought down to a different holding place. With an actual bed and toilet, I would’ve mistaken it for a room if it weren’t for the bars that kept me from escaping.
After tossing me inside with a bit more strength than necessary, the lance left wordlessly. My arms were still chained together in front of me while the artifact stayed embedded into my chest, limiting my abilities.
I couldn’t tell how many hours had pa.s.sed or whether it was night or day since there weren’t any windows, but as I sat there patiently, the sound of soft footsteps approached.
“It seems you were expecting me,” the voice sighed.
My lips curled upwards as I gazed upon a strikingly familiar face.
“About d.a.m.n time, Windsom.”