Chapter 151: Morning After
I lifted my makeshift practice sword, a crudely carved piece of wood wrapped in towels for weight. As I counted in my head with each downward swing, a soft voice shook me out of my trance. “Grey. It’s time for breakfast.”
Looking over my shoulder, I spotted Cecilia by the door with a fresh towel folded neatly in her arms. “Oh, thanks!”
As I walked over, Cecilia handed me the towel. “I still have to help get the table set up,” she announced before she briskly walked away.
I watched Cecilia walk back through the dimly lit hallway, remembering the incident almost a year back when I’d almost died trying to save her from the outburst of her ki.
Despite her aloof manner of speech, her attitude toward everyone in the orphanage had definitely improved.
After I wiped myself down, I went back inside as well, making sure to close the mesh screen door for the summer bugs buzzing outside.
“Someone is apparently going through puberty judging by the stink coming from his body,” The figure of Nico’s thin frame approached me from an intersecting hallway.
“Your sweat starts stinking when you go through puberty?” I asked, sniffing my sleeveless shirt.
“Supposedly, according to an article I read on hormones,” he shrugged.
Getting a close whiff of the rancid smell for the first time, I winced. “Cecilia probably smelled this too then.”
“Did she react in any sort of way?”
“No, she just gave me a towel and left,” I said as I wiped my body more with the towel, hoping it’d get more of the stench off of me.
“Her devotion to remaining true to her indifferent character is strong,” Nico nodded.
I chortled. “I don’t think she’s trying to be some character.”
“I beg to differ, my friend. Last week, after I had just finished tampering with the shock glove—working name, by the way—into a pendant she could carry around her neck, she refused!”
Raising a brow, I smirked at my friend. “Oh? You gave Cecilia a necklace?”
“How do you always manage to pick and choose what you want to hear? What are you going to do when you go to a real school?” he sighed. “And besides, I think she likes you more—with her giving you a towel and all.”
“Well I did save her life, you know,” I teased, putting an arm around my thin friend that I’d outgrown these past few months.
“Her knight in sweating armor,” he said, pinching his nose.
It’d become more and more apparent these days that Nico had started to develop feelings for Cecilia, our orphanage’s ice queen. It wasn’t any secret that Cecilia was popular amongst the boys here, but everyone who’d gathered the courage to make a move had been rejected. Nico, with his patent blend of pride and low self-esteem, found other ways to make Cecilia notice him without revealing his interest in her.
Letting out a sigh, I leaned more heavily on my skinny friend, making him struggle to keep us from falling down. “I’m not so sure about going to school anymore.”
“What?” Nico finally managed to free himself of my arm. “Why? You know I only joke about your intelligence.”
“It’s not that,” I chuckled. “It’s expensive and Headmaster Wilbeck already has a hard time sending even a few kids to school.”
“Then what do you plan on doing?” my friend asked, his brows knitted seriously.
“I don’t know yet, but maybe just help out as staff at the orphanage once I’m old enough. These days, I was even thinking about going to an institution to get better at ki. I know that they offer free tuition and stuff if you’re qualified,” I shrugged.
“You’re joking, right?” he fumed, stopping in the middle of the hallway. “I know we owe a lot to Headmaster Wilbeck and I get that you want to repay her but staying here to do that is short-minded; with your talent, you can do so much more once you’ve gotten a proper education!”
“Which brings me to why I was thinking of the institu—”
“That’s not education,” Nico interrupted. “Those institutions are designed to churn out mindless soldiers and find potential candidates for kings. I’ve read some journals about those places—how students there are worked to the point of near-death; how candidates get booted out if they don’t cut it.”
“You sound like Headmaster,” I grumbled as I started walking again.
“Because you don’t have any motivation to do something. Sure, you like training, but you have no goal past it,” he sighed. “School is a place where you can find out what you want to do while learning about this world without restriction or bias like the institution.”
“Well, money is still an issue,” I pointed out. “If we want to go to school, it’d have to be by next year.”
Nico’s expression softened by my compliance. “Well lucky for you, you happen to have a friend that actually thinks and plans for the future. I’ve almost managed to save enough money with our little ‘missions’ for us to go school—of course, banking on the assumption that I’d get at least a partial scholarship.”
“Wait, weren’t you supposed to give the money to the orphanage?”
“I did,”—Nico put on an innocent expression—“just not all of it.”
Letting out a groan, I shook my head. “I should’ve known.”
“After we get a proper education, we can properly help headmaster and the kids here. I guarantee it’ll be better for the orphanage that way.” My friend patted me on the back. “Come on. Let’s go to the dining area before our food gets cold.”
“Why not save enough money to take Cecilia to school with us as well?” I teased one last time as I followed Nico down the hall.
“Zip it! I’m telling you I have no interest in her!” he retorted, refusing to look me in the eye.
<strong>ARTHUR LEYWIN’S POV:</strong>
I opened my eyes to be greeted by the glow of the morning sun. Even its soft rays, hidden behind a layer of clouds, somehow seemed to bore holes into my retinas. The aching in my skull pulsed rhythmically—a constant reminder of the glasses, if not bottles, of alcohol I had consumed during the remainder of the night.
Squinting, I attempted to get up but immediately retreated back underneath my woolen cloak I’d used as a blanket, letting out a sickly moan through my dry mouth, sticky with thick saliva.
Suddenly my cloak—the only thing protecting me from the outside world—was ripped away from me.
“Morning, General,” Vanesy’s familiar voice chimed from above. The bright timbre of my former professor’s voice was normally easy on the ears, but through the power of alcohol, her voice came off sharp and grating.
“As your superior, I order you to unhand my blanket and let me sleep,” I mumbled impatiently.
“No can do. You were the one that decided to push the meeting off with Captain Auddyr until the morning,” she said, pulling my unwilling body up. “Splash some cold water on your face and meet us at the tent.”
“Here. Read this before you meet with me and Captain Auddyr.” Vanesy handed me a small stack of papers clipped together before leaving.
Grumbling under my breath, I got up, taking in my surroundings for the first time today. I’d somehow managed to get to the top of the cliff overlooking the camp.
‘You didn’t manage to do anything last night,’ Sylvie’s voice sounded in my head like a kick to the brain.
Easy, Sylv. My head is killing me, I complained as I spotted my bond in her dragon form approaching from the forest behind me. What happened, anyway?
“I dragged your drunk corpse of a body up here to let you sleep without making a fool of yourself before even announcing to everyone your position,” she chided in a mellow voice I hadn’t heard in a few days.
“How was the watch last night? Nothing unusual?” I asked, attempting to change the subject.
Glowing brightly before shrinking into a pearly white fox, she hopped on my shoulder. “It was quiet. There was a thick layer of fog throughout the western shore so I couldn’t find any enemy ships. I would’ve gone further but I was afraid that they might find me.”
“You did good,” I said. “Now, where’s a place I can wash my face?”
“There should be washing stations in the encampment but there’s a nearby stream just a little into the forest that I think you’d prefer,” she answered, a wisp of fog forming in front of her snout as she spoke.
“Stream it is.”
The crisp air helped my recovering state but it was the first splash of cold water on my face that really cleared my head. I wished I could wash away the toxins in my brain as well, but I was at least in a fully functional state by the time Sylvie and I arrived in front of the captain’s tent.
Glancing through the information on the papers that Vanesy had given me, I peeked up to see the familiar guard stationed outside of my former professor’s tent. “You. What’s your name?”
“It’s Mable Esterfield, Sir—I mean, General,” he stated as he looked straight in front of him with rigid posture.
“What an unfitting, pretty name,” I commented, patting him on the shoulder as he regarded me with a confused expression.
Making my way into the tent, I was greeted by a gust of warm air from the small furnace beside the desk.
Standing next to my former professor was a man primmed from head to toe in overly-elegant military attire. Next to him, Vanesy looked like a mere foot soldier while, compared to the both of them, I was no more than a peasant boy.
With silvery blond hair slicked back neatly behind his narrow ears, Captain Auddyr stood poised with his back ramrod straight. While he looked to be no older than my father, there were wrinkles lining his face that told me how often he had spent his life scowling. His sharp brows and deep-set eyes seemed to pierce through me with an expression of how he’d look down at a rebellious son.
“Captain, this is General Arthur Leywin. Arth—General Leywin, this is Captain Jarnas Auddyr, Captain of the 2nd Division,” my former professor introduced as Captain Auddyr and I locked gazes.
“It’s nice to meet you, Captain,” I greeted with a smile, raising my arm.
Captain Auddyr returned my gesture and shook my hand. “The pleasure is mine, General,” he said with a grunt, immediately turning to Vanesy after. “Captain Glory. My division has made camp in the nearby woods up the cliffside. It’d be best for both of our divisions to get acquainted before we bring our forces together.”
My former professor shot me an uncomfortable glance before answering her fellow captain. “I agree. We’ll need both divisions to be accustomed to each other as fast as possible. General Leywin, what do you think is the best way to divide our forces in case of an attack?”
I looked back down at the bundle of papers given to me by Vanesy in the morning. It contained the hard numbers of the squads within each unit that the heads had gathered for Captain Auddyr to be a part of his division. I was looking through the numbers of mages and foot soldiers when Captain Auddyr spoke up.
“Integrating our divisions so that all of our foot soldiers are lined up and in position to receive an attack from the coast would be the best,” he declared.
My former professor shook her head. “Captain Auddyr. General Leywin was entrusted to be in charge of overseeing our divisions so it’d be best to—”
“General Leywin is responsible, as a lance, to make sure our divisions are ready in case of an attack, but as a mighty lance, he should be aware that the captains are the most knowledgeable of their own divisions,” Captain Auddyr cut in as I continued reading through the small bundle of papers.
‘I’m getting the urge to slap him with my tail,’ Sylvie grunted, almost making me chuckle.
After finishing the cursory read of Captain Auddyr’s division, I gave the papers back to Vanesy. “It seems like I’m not needed here then. I’ll just go grab a bite to eat.”
“General Leywin!” Vanesy called out from behind.
I looked over my shoulder. “Yes?”
“Isn’t there anything you’d like to add?” she replied, uneasy about how our meeting progressed.
“Well, if you want my two cents, I’d say that allocating a hundred percent of a force into one position is never a wise move,” I shrugged.
Captain Auddyr’s brow twitched as he attempted to mask his contempt. It was obvious that he wasn’t used to being defied, more so by someone younger than him.
“We are the last form of defense on the western shore in case any stray Alacryan ships come from the ocean. Where else would they attack from, General?” he hissed, stressing my title as if it were an insult.
“Captain. I’m trying to be civil here,” I said, turning around. “Like you said, Commander Virion asked me to be here in the unlikely event that the worst case scenario happens here so that’s the perspective I’m coming from.”
I took another step toward him, my nonchalant demeanor dissipating. “However, I suggest you not confuse my indifference toward this matter with some misguided notion that you hold the reigns here. Understand?”
Captain Auddyr involuntarily took a step away from me, sweat lining the sides of his scowling face. “Understood.”
I nodded. “Good. I never intended to play a hands-on role in the decisions you make so I’ll leave it up to the two of you.”
As I turned back around and prepared to leave, however, the howls of distant screams caught my attention. The three of us exchanged glances, all of us confused as to what was going on.
We dashed out of the tent to see all of the soldiers staring up—some still with bowls of food in their hands—toward the cliff where the screams and cries were coming from. Everyone stood still in a daze, trying to figure out what was going on, when an oblong object flew off the edge of the cliff and rolled down, landing in near us.
It was a bloodied sword with a severed arm, clad in armor, still gripping the handle.