Chapter 163: From Lance To Brother
Leaving Sylvie in my room to rest, I ventured through the brightly-lit halls of the castle. Looking down at my feet as I made careful steps, it was the first time I had noticed the vibrant patterns of the thick carpet in the upper residential halls. It was a funny thing to note; I’d always been in such a rush and always had a goal that I never even looked down to enjoy the subtle pleasantries around me.
It didn’t take long for me to find Ellie. She was sitting by a large window, gazing outside the sea of clouds while idly combing her fingers through her bond’s thick fur. Boo opened an eye, sensing my presence, but went back to his nap after seeing that it was me.
“May I join you?” I asked.
“You don’t need to ask,” she smiled weakly, taking a glance back at me before gazing out at the blue sky once more.
I sat down next to her on the ground, admiring the rolling clouds’ twinkle and shine from the rays of sunlight above. I could see the tip of a mountain in the distance, but besides that, only an endless expanse of white and blue.
“Do you miss them?” Ellie spoke in a soft voice. “Mom and Dad.”
“Not much as I should,” I admitted. “I worry for them—I know they’re safe out there, but so many things have been going on.”
There was a moment of silence as my sister simply continued petting her bond.
“You know, there are a lot of adults and kids that come up to me saying how lucky and fortunate I am to have a brother like you. The ones that aren’t jealous of me are jealous of you—that you’re a lance, that you’re so talented in magic and fighting, and that you have the recognition of all of this continent’s leaders. You know, some even say that you might become one of the next leaders when you get older.” My sister let out a scoff. “But it’s funny. I never told you this, but there was a time when I hated you. I felt like it was because of you that my life was like this now. I blamed you for Mom and Dad feeling like they needed to help out in the war too, and I blamed you for my not being able to have a regular life in school with classrooms and a bunch of friends.”
My sister was looking away from me as she turned her body toward Boo, but I could see the hand petting her bond trembling while her shoulders quivered. “Ellie…”
“But the funny thing is, I don’t blame you anymore. How can I blame you when your life was worse than mine? Most of the memories I have of you were you coming in and out of the house full of injuries, with unbelievable stories of how you faced this monster or that monster. It was really fun and amazing to hear back then—I thought you were so cool and strong—but I feel like I know better now. The things you had to give up to get where you are today…”
My sister hurriedly wiped her eyes with her sleeves and turned back to me with red eyes and a wide, forced grin.
I reached out to her, but she grabbed my hand and shook it before getting up. “Whew! Now that I got that off of my chest, come on! I want to show you something.”
“What is all of this?” I asked as we reached the outdoor terrace of the castle.
My gaze swept through the dozens of wooden planks hanging from various tree branches. While there were arrows protruding out of the planks, more were on the ground and the tree trunks around them.
“What I’ve been working on!” my sister proclaimed proudly as her bond curled up on the ground beside her with an aloof yawn. Ellie was abnormally perky after our conversation by the window as if she was trying to forget about it.
Trying not to dwell too much on my sister’s inconsistent behavior, I watched as she picked up a peculiar-looking short bow propped up against a pillar and a stray arrow with its tip buried into the nearby grass.
Raising the flexible bow so that the nocked arrow was at eye level, she held her still trembling breath and took a moment to aim before letting go of the string.
The thin arrow whistled as it sliced through the air, curving ever-so-slightly around a plank and hitting a different wooden target behind it.
Genuinely impressed, I applauded my sister but she held up a hand and shook her head. “Now, watch this.”
Raising her bow once more, she mumbled a brief chant. The tip of her guiding finger that was holding onto the bow began emitting a soft glow and when my sister slowly pulled the string back, the mana took form into a thin glowing arrow.
I remained silent—half from focus, half from surprise—while Ellie fired the mana arrow at a nearby target plank. The arrow let out a soft hum rather than a sharp whistle as it hastily approached its target, but before it was able to reach the plank, the arrow dissipated.
Letting out a sigh, my sister’s shoulders sank. “I swear I was able to reach the target a couple days ago.”
“That was amazing!” I exclaimed.
“I failed though,” she replied, disappointed.
“You’re barely twelve, Ellie! Most kids your age can barely conjure a ball of mana let alone shoot it out that far away,” I said, my voice still laced with enthusiasm.
My sister was silent for a moment as she absentmindedly stared at her bow.
“Aren’t you glad that your dear brother is impressed after all of that practicing?” a voice chimed from behind.
I looked over my shoulder to see a rather odd duo walking out into the terrace: Emily Watsken and Helen Shard.
“Surprised, General?” Helen smirked, noticing my confusion.
While it was reasonable for Emily to be in and out of the castle since she was apprenticed under Gideon, seeing her with the leader of the Twin Horns and current head of a large platoon of soldiers made for a head-tilting moment.
However, with the peculiar bow in Ellie’s hand and her sudden adeptness in archery, I could only put two and two together.
“I won’t deny that,” I replied back with a smile.
“You look like you’ve been through a lot.” Emily noticed my injuries.
“Just about as any other soldier out there,” I shrugged.
After Ellie and I greeted the two friends, we talked around the round patio table. We discussed how my sister was struggling in mana manipulation despite awakening at an early age.
“You’re having a hard time?” I asked my sister. “Why didn’t you tell me? I could’ve helped.”
“You’re a general now, and even before then, you were always busy. I didn’t want to bother you with it. Besides, Mom and Dad were helping me before they had to leave.”
My sister tried to sound cheerful, but the faint sullen tone in her voice, along with our conversation earlier, made my chest ache.
“I stopped by one day to check up on her after finishing a dungeon tour and she asked me for help,” Helen chimed in, trying to lift the mood. “I’m not a conjurer so I couldn’t exactly help her, so I asked the artificer, Gideon, to run some tests on her. He pawned off what he called ‘a chore’ to Emily here, and that’s when we found out about her little gift.”
Eleanor let out a shy laugh as she rubbed her head. “I wouldn’t call it a gift.”
“What gift?” I demanded, my curiosity growing.
“I think it’ll be easier for you to just show your impatient brother, Ellie,” Helen chuckled.
“Okay,” she agreed. Raising her hand, she concentrated on the center of her palm when a faint orb of mana manifested. While there were no attributes, the pure orb of mana began slowly changing shape until its once spherical shape turned into a seven-pointed star.
“You see, after I assessed Eleanor,” Emily stressed her participation as she leaned forward, “I realized that she had a real knack for molding mana into detailed shapes. Normally, whether you can make a fire ball into a fire cube doesn’t really matter, but if you’re able to conjure the exact shape of an arrow along with a particular arrowhead, then you can potentially have an infinite arsenal of arrows that enemies won’t be able to predict.”
“Well, coming up with the arrow solution was my idea,” the leader of the Twin Horns added.
“All right, stop bickering,” I cut in.
My sister let out a giggle. “They’ve both been a great help! Helen has been really strict but helpful in teaching me archery and Emily made me this bow as a training tool.”
“That’s me being easy on you,” Helen replied with a smirk. She turned to me. “I’ve been in and out of the castle, so she’s been learning on her own but her growth is actually quite scary. It’s like these gifts run in the Leywin family.”
Clearing her throat to get our attention, the freckled artificer adjusted her glasses, then explained the mechanism for the bow she had customized specifically for my sister. “The bow is still in the testing phase, and it requires a certain amount of finesse but like Helen said, your sister catches on frighteningly fast.”
“I still have a long way to go,” Ellie rebutted.
Looking carefully now, I noticed the callouses and fresh blisters on her fingers and palms—proof of her effort.
“Thank you—both of you—for helping my sister like this.” I turned to my little sister, tousling her hair. “And I’m sorry I haven’t been there for you.”
“Like I said, I don’t blame you. You’re just doing what you have to.” She shrugged. “Besides, Helen told me that Mom and Dad are far away from battles so I’m not too worried about them, but I’m just thankful when you come back in one piece.”
My heart lurched once more in guilt, and I understood why she said she had blamed me for our parents participating in the war. That’s why they left—they didn’t want to just sit safely and wait while praying that they wouldn’t hear news of my death.
“I’m sorry for always worrying you,” I said softly, unable to do anything else but apologize.
Ellie’s gaze laid fixed on the scars around my throat but she said nothing, and in some ways, that pained me even more.
My little sister had indeed grown up much faster than I wanted her to. The childlike innocence and selfishness she once had were gone.
“What are you doing here back in the castle so soon anyway, Helen?” my sister changed the subject.
“Ah, right! The heads and above got called into the castle for a big celebration tonight,” she answered. “The actual reason for the event was supposed to be a secret but it was already leaked—apparently a retainer had been defeated!”
“Really?” Emily’s eyes lit up. “Do you think it was a lance?”
“Nothing’s confirmed, but that’s probably the most likely! All I know is that Commander Virion himself took a small crew to retrieve the body,” Helen answered.
“Things are looking up then!” My sister perked up. “I’m glad.”
Shifting glances from Helen to Emily then to my sister and back, I thought for a second that they were teasing me, but after a few minutes of just listening to them, I realized that they were seriously just gossiping. Do they really not know who killed the retainer?
However, thinking back, I had arrived in the castle several days after the retainer’s body had been retrieved. There were a team of medics waiting for my arrival, but now I doubted whether they had even been told the reason for my injuries.
“Wait, so a celebration is happening tonight?” I asked, veering the conversation back to its original path.
“Yeah, isn’t that why you’re back at the castle too?” Helen replied with a raised brow.
My sister answered in my stead. “My brother had to come back because he got hurt.”
“What? How? Where? Are you okay?” Emily bombarded.
“I was just careless. It’s no big deal.” I was tempted to tell them the truth, especially my sister, but I assumed Virion had a reason for keeping all of this a secret.
“It was a big deal!” My sister pinched my side. “You were out for more than a day and even then, you still have those scars.”
Wincing as she twisted my skin even further, I apologized once more to my sister, assuring her that I wouldn’t make the same ‘mistake’ again. The topic of the conversation changed, but for the rest of our little gathering during the afternoon, Helen regarded me with doubtful eyes.
Coming back into my room, I was greeted by my bond. ‘How was spending time with your sister?’
“Ellie’s all grown up now,” I sighed.
‘You make that sound like a bad thing,’ Sylvie replied.
“Wisdom and maturity stemmed from enduring hard circumstances is a painful thing to see as a big brother. But I was able to at least catch up with her and learn a bit more about what’s happening in her life. Did you know she’s learning archery from Helen? She and Emily even came up with this new practice of combining conjuring with archery for Ellie!”
Sylvie let out tiny puffs of air from her nostril, and it was only after a second that I realized she was laughing. ‘I haven’t seen you this excited in a while.’
“That’s not true,” I rebutted.
‘Oh?’ Sylvie raised her head, looking up at me from the bed. ‘Tell that to your grinning lips.’
“Shush,” I dismissed. Despite my sister’s heavy words, it was enjoyable spending time with her. “How are you feeling?”
‘Sluggish, heavy, sleepy and weak,’ she sent, curling back up into a ball. ‘It’s like being a hatchling all over again.’
“Well, there’s supposedly this big event happening later tonight. Do you feel up for it?” I asked.
‘I’ll pass,’ she replied, her voice becoming listless. ‘Save me some food though.’
Taking a seat on the couch, I let out a chuckle. “I’ll have the maids bring some up.”
‘Make sure it’s meat.’
“Go to sleep.”
With the soft hum of Sylvie making the otherwise cold and silent room a bit homier, I took some time to sort out my thoughts. Reaching into my dimension ring, I pulled out Dawn’s Ballad, placing it gently on the tea table in front of me.
I couldn’t help but let another sigh escape my lips as I looked at the poor state of my weapon. This sword had been by my side for nearly five years. Without the need to polish, sharpen or even clean the blade while being able to withstand just about anything, Dawn’s Ballad was truly a valuable asset.
Studying the sword, I assessed that—even when damaged—it was better than any other sword I’d be likely to come across.
I had no idea if and when the weapon that the quirky asura, Wren, implanted on me would manifest so it’d be reckless to rely on having it during this upcoming battle.
My thoughts then shifted to my recent journey to Darv. I needed to make sure whether or not Rahdeas was the leader of this treason, and if so, what I should do. Even if Eljiah’s foster parent wasn’t in control of the two dwarven lances, according to Alduin and Merial, he still held a large amount of support from the overall dwarven citizens. Along with the fact that the dwarves’ overall dissatisfaction of the Glayder family and humans ran deep, killing him would mean a mass uprising from the dwarves.
I couldn’t tell how much time had passed, but by how dim the room had turned, it wouldn’t be long until the event.
“Arthur? You’re in there, right? I’m coming in!” With a loud bang, the door to my room burst open and a crowd of maids and guards filed in with Virion at the back.
I had no time to prepare, or even react, as the guards pushed aside the furniture inside to make room in the center while a horde of maids began undressing me.
What disturbed me more, though, was how accustomed I was to being thrown into situations like this. Shall I call this the Virion Effect?
Virion stepped up, already elegantly dressed in a black robe with silver trimmings that accentuated his silver hair tied neatly behind him. “Now, you’re probably surprised by—”
“—Nope,” I cut in. “What is it that you’re planning this time, old man?”
A few maids gasped at my crude response, but Virion just waved for them to continue. “I see that barging into your room and abruptly having a team of maids strip you naked doesn’t put you in the most amiable mood. No offense taken. I’ve taken the liberty of arranging this event as a sort of trap—harmless—for our dear Rahdeas, and you, my soon-to-be-grandson, have the lead role.”