Chapter 145: From The Balcony
“I look ridiculous,” I grumbled, hobbling closer to the mirror to study myself.
The plated armor was gaudy and inefficient in design. My chest and shoulders were protected by a silver pauldron and a gorget that reached up to my chin, allowing for only minimal movement of my neck. Even more restricting, my hip and thighs were guarded by a tasset that prohibited me from raising my legs. The subtle detailings on my gauntlets and greaves matched the ones on my breastplate and a blazing red cape fell down to the back of my knees, covering the large, decorative sword strapped to my lower back.
“You look awe-inspiring, Sir,” the timid handmaid praised as she began tying up my hair.
“Anyone who can fight proficiently while wearing this death trap deserves my respect,” I replied, trying to lift my arms above my shoulders.
‘Well, at least you’ll look impressive to the crowd,’ Sylvie pointed out from my bed, still half-asleep.
‘Zip it! You’re lucky I’m not making you wear any armor,’ I shot back.
‘My scales are my armor.’ Sylvie arched her back, stretching like a cat as she nimbly hopped off the bed.
“There! All done,” the handmaid announced, carefully placing a golden band to secure my hair in place. “This armor is not only majestic, it has many protective runes engraved into it!”
“I understand the armor, but must I have this sword on me as well? I have one, and it’s a pretty nice one too!” I said, taking out Dawn’s Ballad from my dimension ring.
The timid handmaid rubbed her short brown hair as her eyes shifted away uncomfortably. “I-It’s very pretty, Sir, but—”
“It’s too thin! It doesn’t make you look powerful!” the bear-like handmaid cut in, firmly securing my pauldron with her meaty hands. “Perfect. You’re all good to go!”
I gazed down at my teal-bladed sword, forged masterfully by an eccentric asura, and slid it back into its sheath before taking a deep breath and putting it back into my dimension ring.
As I walked stiffly out of the room, Sylvie, still reluctant to talk unless we were completely alone, chirped in my head.‘I bet you’re going to impress the crowd with your new armor!’
‘I’m hoping to stay at the sidelines through this whole speech. I know that Virion wanted all the main players here today to raise morale, but I think the lances are enough for that,’ I thought back as we made our way down the empty hallway.
The residents and most of the workers inside the castle had been escorted through the gate earlier this morning so they could find a seat in the crowd. I didn’t get a chance to see my family today, but they did leave a message with that timid handmaid saying they looked forward to seeing me up on the balcony.
‘I can’t believe Virion decided to have the speech done at Etistin, though. Isn’t that where the Alacryan ships are heading?’ Sylvie voiced, concerned as she nestled on my shoulder.
‘I think it makes sense. It’s a bit of a wild card, but if done right—and I’m sure that’s what Virion is shooting for—the crowd will see our force as much more imposing up close than their ships from afar.’
Even walking down the stairs became a task in this bulky armor, and I became more and more tempted to just jump down the center of the spiral staircase, regardless of who might inconveniently be at the bottom.
The sharp ringing of my metal greaves on the stone pathway toward the teleportation room echoed throughout the narrow corridor, alerting the two guards stationed of my presence. Once I reached the familiar iron doors, both the augmenter and conjurer guard welcomed me with a courteous bow as they began unlocking the imposing entranceway to the circular room.
“Everyone is waiting inside,” the augmenter announced as he slid open the metal door, revealing the central figures of this war.
It was quite a sight as Bairon Wykes, Varay Aurae, and Aya Grephin, the three remaining Lances, stood, clad in decorated white armor just as gaudy as mine.
I noticed that Virion, who was closest to the teleportation gate, had shed his black mourning robe, replacing it was a lavish olive tunic that draped down past his knees over a pair of silken white trousers. The tunic wasn’t without noble adornment; it was lined with aureate trimming that matched the golden sash wrapped around his waist. A bronze circlet lay snugly just above his brows while his hair fell loosely over his shoulders in a curtain of white.
Standing adjacent to the commander, the pinnacle of authority surrounding this war, were his son and father of Tess, Alduin Eralith, and his wife, Merial.
Alduin wore a silver tunic of similar decoration and design to his father’s while Merial wore an elegant silver dress obviously meant to match with her husband.
“Look who finally decided to show up,” Virion said with an approving nod as he gazed at my attire.
“Commander Virion.” I dipped my head respectfully, turning toward Tess’s parents. “King Alduin and Queen Merial. It’s been a while.”
“That it has,” Alduin smiled, rubbing his chin as he regarded me with a scrutinizing eye while Merial responded with a faint nod.
I then turned to Blaine and Priscilla Glayder, the former King and Queen of Sapin.
“King Blaine and Queen Priscilla. It’s been even longer,” I said with a polite smile, bowing as much as my armor would allow me to.
Blaine had aged since the last time I saw him. More streaks of grey lined his mane of fiery maroon hair. Silken black tunic underneath large gunmetal pauldrons that covered his shoulders and collar gave him an intimidating aura. His wife, Priscilla, on the other hand, had chosen to wear a fluttery black dress lined with engravings of silver flowers. Her black hair was tied up, exposing her neck that seemed almost pure white in contrast to her dark attire.
The two kings and queens couldn’t look and feel any more different, but each of them held an air of dignity that could only stun the crowd that was waiting for them.
“You’ve grown,” Merial pointed out, her sharp eyes seeming to look through me rather than at me.
“Growing comes with age,” I replied.
“Of course it does,” Blaine grunted. “And you’ll continue to grow, not just in height but in strength, which is what I need from one of my best soldiers.”
I glanced back at Bairon and Varay, Blaine’s lances, and shook my head. “Regardless of my roots or race, with a war of this scale, I’d like to consider myself a soldier to this continent.”
“It’s finally nice to you meet you, Arthur.” An elderly dwarf that had been standing hunched alongside Virion and the two kings and queens stepped forward, getting between Blaine and me as he extended a hand.
While he only came up to my sternum, he stood ramrod straight with his shoulders squared, making him seem taller than he actually was. He had a scar that ran down the left side of his face, running through his closed left eye all the way down to his jaw. However, the eye that was open exuded a gentle quality, undermining his rugged appearance.
I accepted his large hand, noticing the sandpaper-like texture of his palms. “I apologize for my ignorance, but I don’t think I’ve had the pleasure of meeting you.”
“My name is Rahdeas, and no, you haven’t,” he chuckled. “But I’ve heard quite a bit about you from the letters that Elijah sent back.”
My eyes widened in realization. “Then you must be—”
“Yes. I’m the one that took the child in when he was an infant.” He looked at me with a solemn smile that sent a sharp pain through my chest.
‘That’s Elijah’s guardian?’ Sylvie voiced in my head, surprised.
“I-I’m sorry I couldn’t get there in time to help him,” I said, lowering my gaze as I ignored my bond.
Rahdeas shook his head. “It’s not your fault. That child was always a magnet for trouble.”
Clasping his hand with both hands now, I stared straight into his eyes. “If he’s still alive, I’ll be sure to bring him back to you. I give you my word.”
“Thank you,” he whispered, letting go of my hands that somehow seemed so fragile now.
“Rahdeas is the new delegate for the dwarves. We’ll be going on ahead first,” Virion spoke. “The gatekeeper will receive my transmission and signal you to go through when the time is right.”
As the six of them walked through the gate, the teleportation room became silent. I made a mental note to make sure to spend some more time with Rahdeas. I was curious as to what young Elijah and the man that raised him were like.
Suddenly, I felt a light tap on my shoulder, or rather, I heard a light tap on my shoulder plate. Turning around, I came face to face with the lance named Aya Grephin.
“We’ve seen each other before, but I’ve never given you the pleasure of introducing myself,” she smiled coyly, tucking her wavy black hair behind her ear as she dangled a hand for me to accept. “My name is Aya Grephin.”
There was something off about her voice. An enticing timbre of faint sweetness spoken in a volume where you wanted to lean closer to her to hear what she had to say. From the allure in her voice to way she carried herself that made her seem irresistible. Every motion she made with her hands and fingers made my eyes focus on them, but it didn’t feel natural. I felt the magic in her voice.
“Well then,” I smiled, taking a step back. “It’s a pleasure being formally introduced, Aya Grephin.” I knew she was waiting for a kiss on the back of her hand, but I grabbed her hand and shook it instead.
“I hope we can get along,” she said, her smile unwavering as she snapped her hand back. Watching her turn around and stride back to her original spot, hips swaying, I couldn’t help but grow uneasy.
Apart from her pretentious seductiveness, just by being near her, I knew the remaining elf lance was no joke. I had seen for myself that Varay was stronger than Bairon, but I’d yet to see Aya fight. From what I’d been told, and by her lance code, Phantasm, she was supposedly one of the deadliest of the lances. Being up close to her and having her stare at me, it was easy to see those claims weren’t baseless.
“I see your training has gone well. You’ve just stepped out of the initiate silver stage and into mid-silver,” Varay, who had been silently studying me, finally spoke.
In contrast to Aya, Varay held herself in a very reserved and dignified manner. I had noticed that she had cut her long, white hair short, just past her neck. Varay’s bangs were pinned to the side, revealing a small scar just above her right brow that anyone could’ve missed if they weren’t looking closely.
Her dark brown eyes were sharp and pointed while her brows seemed to be perpetually furrowed as she continued peering at me.
Sylvie hunched over, baring her small fangs at the lance. ‘It’s okay, Sylv. She’s an ally, remember?’
“I’ve yet a long way to go if I want to get into white stage,” I said to Varay, prying my eyes away from her intense gaze.
“Not as long as you might think,” the white-haired lance responded.
“What does that—”
“Gatekeeper! How much longer are we to wait?” Bairon interrupted as he impatiently tapped his armor-clad foot on the ground.
“G-General Bairon,” the elderly gatekeeper flinched. “Commander Virion has not—Ah! I just received word from him now. Please enter!”
Bairon made his way toward the teleportation gate first, eager to be out of this confining room.
‘Well that was uncomfortable,’ Sylvie thought.
‘Tell me about it.’ I motioned for Aya and Varay to go ahead of me. The curvy elf threw me a wink as she swayed past me while Varay’s expression remained stone as she looked at me and Sylvie.
As I stepped through the teleportation gate, the scene around me blurred. Upon arrival, I couldn’t help but cringe at the sudden difference in noise level. Cheers erupted from below as the castle or structure we were evidently in trembled.
Sylvie and I had arrived in a large rectangular room that led out to the large balcony Virion and the rest of the kings and queens stood, waving down at the crowd. It wasn’t just them—next to their parents were Tess, Curtis, and Kathyln, all waving at the immense crowd that I could see even from back here.
“Please, Generals, get ready to go on Commander Virion’s signal,” a thin handmaid instructed as she fixed Aya’s hair which had gotten blown back by the frigid ocean wind.
“Generals?” I asked to the handmaid, confused.
“Arthur, Lady Sylvie, I see that you both are finally here,” a familiar voice called out from behind.
Looking back over my shoulder, I spotted Aldir seated in front of a tea set, a cup in his hand while his third eye stared at me.
“I see that you’re staying in the shadows,” I greeted the asura as Sylvie dipped her small head in a nod.
“That is my job,” he said, holding up his cup in a solitary toast.
“Well, can you tell me what my job right now is? Because I’m not a lance, which means I’m not a general.”
“Patience. You just have to wait five seconds,” he said, pouring himself another cup from the pot.
The cheers had died down by now as Virion began speaking. “Many of you have traveled far to be here, and that fills me with pride. As you all may have noticed, standing beside me are your leaders, the very people that have protected this continent as well as the ones that will protect this continent in the future.”
Another wave of cheers erupted as Rahdeas, the Glayder family and the Eralith family waved once more.
“However, while these are the heroes you see in the light, there are heroes of the shadows that continuously risk their lives to fight for this continent. I’d like you all to help me welcome the Lances of Dicathen!”
Varay, Aya, and Bairon marched out to the edge of the balcony with their heads held high and shoulders square while Virion and the royal families all turned to greet them.
An even louder ovation exploded as the three lances came into view. The chaotic array of shouts and cheers soon became a collective chant that grew louder and louder.
“LANCE-ES, LANCE-ES, LANCE-ES.”
After minutes of continuous chanting, Virion raised a hand, silencing the hundreds of thousands—if not millions—of humans, elves and dwarves alike.
“Everyone! We are in a time of war,” Virion spoke sternly after a moment of silence. “I know that half of the Lances are absent, and that is not by mistake. Some are in the middle of a mission and were not able to come.”
I exchanged glances with Aldir at Virion’s lie, but I made no remark. I knew what revealing one of the lances had already been killed would do to the crowd.
Virion continued.“The Lances have constantly shed blood and tears to keep Dicathen safe, but it is in these uncertain times that we can no longer just rely on the strong. We must fight together in order to keep our homes safe.
“At the inauguration of the Lances almost four years ago, we made a promise saying the title of a lance would not be predetermined by birth or status, but earned through hard work, talent, and strength. Today is the marking of a new era, and with that new era comes new heroes. One such hero has been discovered and is here with us today. Please, welcome with me, our newest lance: Arthur Leywin!”