Chapter 197: Torn
My eyes shot open from a sharp sting on my cheek, only to see a blinding light aimed straight at my face.
Immediately, my heart started to pound as my mind scrambled to make sense of what was going on. I tried to get up, but both my hands and feet were bound to the chair I was sitting on.
“Grey. Can you hear me?” a dark silhouette behind the fluorescent light used in hospitals asked calmly.
“Where am I? Wh-Who are you?” I managed, my throat dry and burning.
“What is the last thing you remember?” a different shadowed figure growled, ignoring my questions. He had a larger frame than the one who had asked the previous question, but I couldn’t make out any other details aside from that.
My head throbbed as I tried to recollect the memories, but eventually I was able to sort them out. “I… I had just won the tournament.”
I was slowly adjusting to the light, able to make out more details of the room I was in and the figure standing in front of me.
“What else?” the man said calmly.
“I accepted an offer to be mentored by a powerful person,” I let out, hoping my ambiguity would go unnoticed.
“What is the name of this powerful woman and what is your relationship with her?” the man asked. The fact that he knew she was a woman made me think he was either testing me, or he already knew the truth.
I pulled at what felt like a thick metal wire tied around my wrists. Seeing as even my strength reinforced with ki did nothing, I answered. “I only know her as Lady Vera, and I just met her.”
“Lies,” the larger man, that I now could make out had long slicked-back hair, hissed. He raised a hand, as if to strike me, but the thinner man stopped him.
“What happened after you won the tournament, Grey?” he then asked, his voice never showing any signs of emotion.
I winced, trying to remember. “I think I headed back to my dorm room, right after.”
Lady Vera had said before we parted that she’d contact me once things settled down, but better to not tell these men more information than they ask for.
I was jolted out of my thoughts when the larger, long-haired grasped my entire neck with a single hand and lifted me—and the chair—off the ground.
“Again, lies!” he said, his face now close enough to mine to make out more details. He had scars all across his face, making his already-intimidating face even more frightening. “It’d be wise to just tell us the organization that sent you to protect the legacy.”
I couldn’t make sense of their accusations but with my throat unable to even gasp for air, I was left gagging in the man’s grasp until his thinner companion smacked away the hand that was choking me.
Anchored down by the chair I had been tied to, I fell helplessly on the ground. I lost consciousness for a split second when my head snapped and hit the cold hard floor.
When I came to, I had been put back upright, face-to-face with the thinner man that somehow scared me more than the large scarred abomination.
He had short cropped hair and eyes that looked more hollow than a dead fish. A single look into his eyes made me doubt that the man even had emotions to hide.
His eyes remained locked on mine for a split second before his lips curved up into a smile that didn’t quite reach his dead eyes.
He turned around and walked away. “Strip him while I get the white phosphorus.”
The larger man sneered as he tore off the old shirt I had worn to bed and the goose-print pajama pants that Headmaster Wilbeck had gotten me as a joke for my birthday.
“I believe you have some information that we need. Fortunately for you, this means that we need you alive for now.” The thinner man came back, wearing gloves. In his hands was a small metal cube. “If you’re truly who we suspect you are, then you might have prepared for this. If by some mistake, we’ve made an error and everything that we considered as evidence was simply coincidence, then…well… you’ll be experiencing something that you’ll never forget.”
“What? What are you talking about?” I said, still bleary from the recent head trauma.
“This will be easy,” the thin man smiled as he dipped a gloved finger into the metal cube. “I won’t even ask you any questions yet.”
He smeared a line of shiny silver paste just below my ribs, and brought out a lighter.
“W-Wait. What are you doing? Please,” I begged, still unable to even process how everything was unfolding.
The man didn’t talk. He just lowered the small flame onto the silver paste. As soon as the fire touched the substance, a pain that I didn’t even know existed erupted.
A scream tore out of my throat as my body convulsed from the searing torment that remained concentrated to where the paste was smeared.
I had gotten burned before, but compared to the sensation eating away at my skin right now, those memories actually felt pleasant.
It seemed like hours as the pain somehow seemed to grow worse. During this time, my screams turned hoarse and the tears that flooded down my face had dried and crusted.
Finally, the pain began to subside, only for the thin man—the demon—to apply another line of the silver paste on a different section of my body.
“P-Please,” I wept. “Don’t do this.”
The man remained silent and lit another hellish fire on my body.
I screamed. My mind screamed.
Every part of my body spasmed and twitched, doing whatever it could to expel this torment but all for naught.
Thoughts questioning whether I was going to die soon turned to thoughts hoping I’d die.
I couldn’t tell how many times the demon sauntered back to me with that wretched silver paste of his, but this time he stood still. He didn’t immediately smear my body with the paste again, but rather just locked eyes with me.
I jumped at this chance. If it meant that I would be free of the pain, I would do anything.
“I-I’ll tell you whatever you want. Anything. Everything!’ I pleaded, my voice barely coming out as a whisper.
“That’s better,” he smiled sincerely, somehow making his face even more twisted than before.
“Now, I’m going to paint you a little story and you’re going to help fill in the gaps for me. Any attempts at lying or withholding any truths will unfortunately lead me to put this in places more… sensitive. Am I clear?” The thin demon held up the container of what he called white phosphorus and waved it in front of me.
Without even the necessary saliva to swallow, I simply nodded.
“Your name is Grey, with background checks confirming you to be an orphan under refuge by one of the many institutions of this country. Headmistress Olivia Wilbeck had been taking care of you since infancy and the orphanage was what you considered home. Am I on track so far, Grey?”
I nodded again.
“Bring the boy a glass of water,” the thin man replied, seemingly pleased by my obedience.
The larger companion held a dirty cup against my mouth. The water was stale and musty, as if they’d wrung a wet dog, but it still felt like bliss against my parched mouth and throat.
The bulky man pulled away the cup when I had only finished half, making me crane my neck forward to try and suck as much water before he pulled it completely out of reach.
“Moving on—and this was where I was hoping you’d start filling in the gaps…” he said as if I had a choice. “What military institution trained you to be the legacy’s protector, because there wasn’t anything on official records.”
I furrowed my brows, confused. “I’ve only barely finished my second year at Wittholm Military Academy. I’ve had no previous training before.”
“So you’re telling me that you managed to defeat two professionally trained ki combatants without prior training?” the thin man asked, his voice getting dangerously low.
“I had help from my friends, but yes,” I said, mustering up as much confidence as I could.
“And so you’re telling me Olivia Wilbeck, that calculating shrew, allowed the legacy to simply walk out in public with two children that had no prior training?”
“What is this legacy you keep saying? I’ve never seen that thing in my life!” I pleaded.
The thin man regarded me silently for a moment. “There are just two things I really want to know, Grey. What organization sent you to protect the legacy, and to what extent is the country of Trayden providing assistance to you and the legacy by publicly announcing Lady Vera as your mentor?”
My mind spun for answers. I had no idea what organization he was talking about and what the country of Trayden had anything to do with whatever this legacy was.
Before I could answer, the man let out a sigh. He rubbed the bridge of his nose as he walked toward me. “I really hoped you’d stay true to your word and cooperate. If you hesitate like this, I can only assume you’re trying to make up an answer.”
He dipped his gloved fingers in the cube and smeared a line of the silver paste on the inside of my bare thighs.
“P-Please. I don’t know,” I pleaded once more, fresh tears rolling down my cheeks once more. “I don’t know!”
Hellfire ignited on the soft flesh of my thighs, the heat reaching up to my crotch.
I couldn’t tell if I was screaming after a while. My ears seemed to have tuned out my own yells. I thought the pain was unbearable, but I guess my body didn’t think so. No matter how badly I wanted to lose consciousness, I stayed awake, enduring the full brunt of the controlled flames.
But that wasn’t even the worst part. It was the part where the thin demon would come after a while and pause before wordlessly igniting another part of my body on fire.
Every time he walked toward me, I was both afraid and hopeful. Afraid that he’d induce more pain, and hopeful that this would be the time that he’d finally talk again and relieve me from this hell.
Time seemed so foreign to me. I couldn’t tell whether it was going by fast or slow inside this dark, windowless room. The bright light aimed constantly at my face didn’t allow my eyes to make out details of the room. No distraction to help me ease the pain.
What snapped me out of my stupor was the sound of footsteps approaching me. I readied myself to plead, to beg at the thin man, but I realized a third person had come inside the room.
The large man slumped after taking a quick strike from the third figure.
The thin demon lashed out with a weapon I couldn’t make out but was suddenly sent flying back.
The third figure walked toward me, turning off the light.
The world splotched white until my eyes were able to adjust.
“You’re safe now, kid,” the figure said, kneeling down.
It was Lady Vera.
Gales of wind tore past me as I flew above the clouds. Reaching white core had come with an abundance of perks and manipulating ambient mana effectively enough to take flight was one of them. Had I tried to do something like this while still in silver, I would’ve drained my own core minutes into a journey.
Now, I was filled with the surreal feeling of the mana around me lifting me up into the sky. Still, while the sensation was exhilarating, my head swam with thoughts from last night’s dream.
I had assumed that interrogating the Alacryan was what brought out that unwanted memory, but with how frequently I’ve been having these detailed memories of my former life, I couldn’t help but grow worried and frustrated. Still, I had made a vow when I was born into this world that I wouldn’t live a life like my previous one. And until I could get a better explanation of why these memories were coming back, I decided to just consider them as reminders of my failures.
Besides, it wasn’t like I could see a therapist here.
I mustered a smile at the thought of myself laying on a couch, talking about my problems to a professional with a clipboard, when I looked back at toward Elshire Forest. A tinge of guilt surfaced in my stomach for leaving them so hastily.
Lenna and her soldiers are better off with General Aya staying behind since she can actually navigate within the forest, I reassured myself. After meeting up with the elven lance, we exchanged our findings in-depth. We had decided that I was to report back to the Castle while she remained as support until further orders by the Council.
I didn’t exactly report back to the Castle, but I did send a brief report through a transmission scroll that Lenna had on hand and informed Virion that I was going to make a small detour.
The transmission scroll will give them enough to work off of and the information I learned from the Alacryan will be more useful here, I thought as I stared at the snow-capped peaks of the Grand Mountains jutting out of the clouds.
Even this high up, I could hear the distant echoes of battle raging beneath. Muffled explosions, hums of magic, and the faint cries of various undistinguishable beasts resounded, muddled by the screams and yells of people fighting them.
For some reason, I was nervous. The lances rarely came to the Wall because there has yet to be any sightings of any retainers or scythes. The day-to-day battles that raged on by the wall were mages and soldiers alike facing corrupted beasts that mindlessly tried to charge through and break the line of defense.
I’d read many reports coming from the Wall and even made some changes to their fighting structure. Yet, this would be the first time I’d be there in person. This was where battles were going on almost daily, producing seasoned soldiers out of new recruits that were still wet on the nose—if they survived.
More importantly, this was where Tess and her unit were stationed. They were part of the assault division responsible for infiltrating dungeons and getting rid of corrupted beasts below and wipe out any teleportation gates that the Alacryan have been planting to transport more soldiers.
Reaching the Grand Mountains, I slowly descended through the sea of clouds until I got a full aerial view of the battle ensuing below me. Streams and bolts of magic in various colors rained down from the wall while soldiers below fought of hordes of beasts that had managed to live through the elemental assaults.
Some stronger beasts unleashed magical attacks of their own, but its number and volumes paled compared to the collective efforts of all the mages in the Wall.
I continued my descent toward the Wall, concentrating on the numerous types of beasts on the battlefield that was dyed in shade of red darker than normal blood when I sensed a spell approaching me from behind.
Looking back over my shoulder, I saw the blast of fire as large as my body in diameter shooting toward me.
A tinge of annoyance was all that I managed to muster up before swatting at the spell, dispersing it effortlessly before speeding my descent to the upper levels of the Wall.
Softening my landing with a cushion of wind, I was met with a crowd of soldiers kneeling.
Closest to me was a barrel-chested man clad in full armor that was dented and dirty from obvious exposure in battle. He knelt down a few feet ahead of me, his hand holding down the head of a man that looked to be only a few years older than me.
“General! My sincerest apologies for my subordinate’s grave blunder. As we had not received word that a lance would be blessing us with his presence, he assumed you to be an enemy. I will reprimand and see to his punishment immediately,” the man clad in armor stated. His voice wasn’t loud but carried a presence that told me his battered armor wasn’t the only thing that showed he was a veteran.
I pried my gaze off the man that I assumed was the leader and looked at the boy whose head was forcibly pushed down into a bow. He was trembling while he gripped at his staff with enough strength to whiten his knuckles.
It’s been a while since I’ve been treated like this, I mused, taking a moment to savor the heads bowed in respect and probably fear.
It grew old after a few seconds.
I cleared my throat and walked toward the large man in armor. “No need. I came unannounced and from the Beast Glades so I can see how your subordinate thought I was an enemy.”
I paused, and bent down to match my gaze to the conjurer that had fired the spell at me. “But, next time when you see an unidentified and possible threat, you should immediately notify your superiors so that they can make the judgement. Understood?”
“Un-Understood, General!” He bolted upright into a salute, nearly clipping my chin in the process.
With a grin, I turned back to the armored man.
“Name and position,” I stated, walking past him toward the stairs.
“Captain Albanth Kelris of the Bulwark Division.”<span class=”Apple-converted-space”> </span>He trotted close behind.
“Well then, Captain Albanth Kelris, let’s talk strategy.”