Chapter 200: Responsibilities
I knew it was possible to see them when I got here; I even anticipated it to a certain degree. But when I saw my father help my mother out of the carriage, I stopped in my tracks.
For some reason, my feet remained anchored to the ground as I watched more familiar faces appear beside them. Jasmine, Helen, Durden, and Angela, came into view one by one. The whole team still looked the same—only, they were missing Adam.
My parents and the Twin Horns all wore the same exhausted and grim expressions that matched their ragged appearance as they trudged through the gates alongside their carriage.
“Close the gates!” a soldier roared, prompting the towering gates to close behind the last carriage.
More and more uniformed workers started filing toward the carriages. Some unmounted the beasts pulling the carriages and led them away to be fed while others lined up and began passing the boxed supplies in a line to be sorted.
A soldier carrying a notebook began talking to the driver of the carriage that had come in first. Imbuing mana into my ears, it was easy to hear their conversation even amidst the clamor of the people gathered.
“There are two less carriages than what was reported to have left from Blackbend,” the soldier said gruffly.
“We ran into a small team of Alacryan mages near the middle of the route just a mile north of the southern border,” the driver said, taking off his helmet that was covered in dents and scrapes. “Lost two of my carriages to those bastards.”
The guard looked behind the wiry man he had been speaking to, studying the carriages and then let out a sharp breath. “After the carriages are unloaded and your men accounted for, come to the main tent. You’ll need to do a full debrief.”
The driver didn’t wait, already beginning to shed his layers of battered armor, dropping it on the ground, before walking back to his carriage.
The fact that the head of this expedition spoke of being attacked as if it was a common occurrence sent a sharp pain through my chest.
Without another thought, I plowed my way through the crowd, knocking aside men twice my height and weight with ease before stopping just in front of my parents. I was scared for a split second as my eyes locked into theirs. We had reconciled but my relationship with them was no longer as innocent as it once was.
My mother’s mouth opened in surprise, and she looked like she was about to say something, but her weathered melted into face a soft smile.
“Arthur!” my father called out, dropping the sack he had slung over his shoulder.
I smiled back. “Hi, Mom. Hey, Dad.”
My father wrapped his thick arms around me, lifting me off my feet. My mother patiently waited for my father to release his embrace before she pulled me in for a hug.
“It’s good to see you doing well,” she whispered, her face against my chest.
She was covered in a layer of dust from travels and she probably hadn’t had a proper bath in a while but she still gave off a familiar scent that smelled like… home.
The Twin Horns came in next, unable to wait any longer. Durden took off his dirty cloak before giving me a hug. Helen and Angela squeezed me tightly, saying how much I had grown like aunts said to their nieces and nephews every time they visited.
“You got bigger,” Jasmine muttered with a half-smile as she tousled my hair. Seeing as she was shorter than me and she had to go on her toes to reach my head made her actions seem a bit more amusing.
“Are you sure you didn’t just get smaller?” I teased, pulling my old teacher and friend into a hug.
After letting go of Jasmine, my body turned, expecting one more hug; a hug that never came. That’s when it actually hit me. That Adam was really gone. The rude, harsh, and often selfish spear-wielder of the Twin Horns would never shoot me that snide smile of his ever again.
Gritting my teeth, I mustered another smile and we walked together to the nearest inn.
The large decrepit house that had the audacity to put a sign that advertised it was the most popular inn for miles stood just a few blocks away. Because the inn served as a restaurant and bar as well, it was packed with workers and soldiers replenishing themselves and getting away from the biting cold that was getting worse as it got darker.
“I-It’s a l-l-lance in the flesh! Here at my inn! O-Oh my.” The owner of the inn that happened to be working at the front desk with a young girl that obviously looked uncomfortable squirmed like a puppy as he tried to shake my hand, get our forms signed and call a waiter for a table all at the same time.
“I’m just looking for a quiet dinner and a room for my family and friends after,” I said with a smile.
“Of course, General Arthur! Jives, clear the patio seats upstairs! Hurry!” the old man barked out.
“Looks like there are some benefits in knowing you after all,” Helen chimed, nudging me with an elbow.
Durden looked back at the crowd waiting for a seat. “Mmm. We probably would’ve had to wait for a while otherwise.”
We were led to a flight of spiraling stairs to a balcony that faced away from the Wall. There was nothing but flat plains out in the distance, but it was still a beautiful view. There was a fire crackling in a metal furnace just beside our table for warmth and already a plate of warm bread and some broth for us to start our meal with.
“How have you been, Arthur?” my mother asked after we settled around the table.
“I’ve been good,” I lied. It wasn’t as simple as that. So many things had happened in the span that we hadn’t seen each other, but looking at my mother and father, I didn’t want to give them anything more to worry about.
My mother aged significantly since the last time we met. Compared to the comfortable life she had in Xyrus, being out in the road with the possible threat of death looming around every corner meant beauty and self-management wasn’t exactly considered a priority.
My father still cropped his hair short, but now also sported a full-on beard now that covered most of his face below his nose. There were dark bags under his eyes, but my father still had a lively expression.
“I can’t even feel your core anymore, Arthur,” my father added. “How strong have you gotten?”
“I hit white core not too long ago,” I smiled.
Helen let out a whistle as Jasmine nodded in approval.
My father gave shot me a smirk. “My boy.”
As the food came and the more we talked, the more comfortable everyone became. My mother began smiling more, even reprimanding my father when he made a crude joke—just like old times.
It turned out that my parents still kept in touch with Ellie. It wasn’t as often as they wanted it to be, but every trip to the wall and back to Blackbend City, they’d go out of their way to send a transmission to the Castle.
“Really?” I replied, taking a bite out of a piece of grilled fish. “Ellie never told me about that.”
“Your sister is in her rebellious stage,” my father sighed, shoving a broth-soaked bread in his mouth.
“She just replies with ‘I’m okay.’ or ‘I’m alive’ most of the time,” my mother added, worry laced in her voice. “She’s okay, right? She’s eating well? She’s making friends?”
I set down my fork. “If you’re so concerned, why don’t you go visit the Castle? I’m sure that’s what Ellie wants.”
“Security into the Castle has tightened recently. Only heads and above have access to the teleportation gates to there, and even they can only go on official business,” Helen explained, wiping her mouth with a cloth.
“I can take you myself. Sylvie’s not with me, but we can go to Blackbend and get the clearance to make the jump to the Castle,” I replied, hopeful.
My parents looked at each other for a moment before looking back at me. My mother spoke in a reassuring tone. “A new mode of transportation is going to be built underground. Once that’s made, we’ll be able to visit you and Ellie much more often.”
“That’s good and all, but I’ve heard reports that the journey here from Blackbend is getting more and more dangerous. Ellie worries about you guys. I worry about you guys!”
My mother nodded. “I know, and I don’t blame you guys if you think of us as bad parents for doing this, but we have our duties here. People, that need our help.”
“It’s not only your burden. There are other soldiers that can take your place.” My voice came out sharper than I had intended.
There was a moment of silence surrounding the table when Angela suddenly sprang up. “Oh dear. Helen, we never took our belongings out of the carriage!”
A look of confusion flashed across the leader’s face before she realized what Angela was doing. “Y-Yeah. Let’s get it before it gets stolen. Come on, guys.”
The two of them dragged Durden and Jasmine away with them. Angela looked back and gave me a meaningful glance before disappearing.
Whether the conjurer wanted to avoid the tension set in this table or just give our family some privacy, I didn’t know.
My mother cut in, her voice serious. “Arthur. Our responsibilities here may not be on the scale of what you do as a lance, but your father and I believe what we’re doing is for the sake of winning this war faster.”
“You’re putting yourselves in danger,” I sighed.
“Everyone is in danger during war. You as well, Arthur,” my mother replied unrelentingly.
My blood boiled and I had to concentrate on restraining my mana. “Yes, but I can handle it.”
My father slapped down his utensils on the table, drawing my gaze. “Do you realize how hypocritical you’re being? So you’re saying it’s fine for you to put yourself in danger, as long as Ellie, Alice and I are locked away someplace safe? Abandoning our responsibilities to our kingdom?”
“I’m fighting this war to protect all of you, but I can’t be next to you guys all the time. What if something were to happen to you or Dad, while I’m on a mission? Even Ellie… she’s been so engrossed in training because she wants to join you guys! What if she dies too, like Adam!”
“Enough, Arthur!” My father snapped. He got up from his seat and stared at me fiercely. “Keeping my family safe is my priority, but I also want my family to live happily. That’s why we’re doing this. Dicathen may not have been your only home, Arthur, but it’s the only home that we know and if it means dying so that Ellie can live with a better future, then so be it.”
My father stormed off and my mother followed. She looked back at me solemnly but didn’t say anything as I sat alone in silence.
Getting up from my seat, I reached into my robe and pulled out several gold coins. I left the coins on the table and flew off the balcony.
My mind muddled with emotions, I flew up high enough to look down on the Wall and took a seat on the edge of the mountain adjacent to the fortress. I let the sharp winds bite into my skin, enduring the slight pain as punishment for my earlier words.
I did all I can to avoid rethinking of my conversation earlier at the inn. I wanted to shoot down a few corrupted beasts but unfortunately the night was quiet. I started counting the torches along the Wall and the number of archers and mages stationed. I even saw a pair of soldiers behind a wooden pillbox spending their night a bit more ‘passionately’, not expecting anyone to be looking down on the highest floor of the Wall from above.
After I ran out of things to count, I extended my vision as much as I could, trying to sense any mana beasts headed toward the Wall through the thick of night. I didn’t sense any mana beasts, but I did sense someone approaching me from below.
“There… you… are.” a voice sounded from below a few minutes later. A hand shot up into view, grabbing hold of the ledge that I was sitting on.
I pulled Jasmine up by her arm. The adventurer leaned back against the mountain cliff and caught her breath before speaking again. “You should have some respect for… those who can’t fly.”
I knew Jasmine was trying her best to be lighthearted. I smiled. “Sorry about that. How did find me, anyway?”
Jasmine puffed proudly, which sounded more like a wheeze since she was still recuperating. “Don’t underestimate your mentor.”
I managed a chuckle. “I never have.”
The two of us sat in silence for a while, watching as the night got darker.
“How long have you been at the Wall for?” she asked, shivering.
I wrapped us in a layer of fire-imbued mana to keep both of us warm before answering. “Just a few hours before you guys came.”
“Thank you,” she muttered, her gaze distant. “Did you get the chance to meet my father?”
“I walked in on their meeting,” I answered. “Have you?”
Jasmine shook her head. “Not once despite the many trips back and forth here. Looks like we both have family problems now.”
“Seems like it.”
Another moment of silence passed before the adventurer spoke again.
“I won’t pry into what happened at the inn. Just know that your parents do care about you and Ellie. Whenever your father meets anyone new, he always tells them about how his son is a lance.”
“I know that they care,” I sighed.
“Rey… and especially Alice. They both feel a lot of guilt. No matter how much we told them otherwise, the fact that they weren’t there to help us when Adam died made them feel like it was their fault.”
Jasmine continued speaking when I didn’t reply. “You know what happened with your mother before she had you. She was traumatized after what had happened to Lensa, and for a while, she could hardly use her magic for anything more than a scrape or bruise.”
“I know,” I huffed. “Which is why I thought they would stay at the Castle until the war was over, not throw themselves to dangerous lands.”
Jasmine put a hand on my arm. “I’m not sure if this makes sense, but I think what they’re doing now to contribute to this war is as much for themselves as it is for you and Ellie. They’re trying to overcome their past mistakes and fears so that they can become better parents for the both of you.”
“I know I was being selfish too,” I admitted. “But I think all three of us need some time.”
“Just don’t let your relationship with your parents become like me and my family,” she said tersely. “I’m sure there was time when we could’ve reconciled, but I chose to keep running and my father’s pride kept him from reaching out.”
I turned to Jasmine, who was sitting down, hugging her knees. She didn’t look like she had aged a single day since when I had first met her except her eyes, that shone with more deeply with a sense of maturity. “Thanks, Jasmine.”
“You better be. My jaw is sore for speaking so much.”
Despite her complaints, we kept talking. I talked to her about some of my missions and she told me some of hers. Her greatest surprise was when I told her that Sylvie had a human form now, but I wasn’t entirely sure that she really believed me. Either way, we enjoyed each other’s company well through the night up until the sun came peeking back up.
“I should get back now,” Jasmine said, getting up to her feet.
“Do you need a lift down?”
She shook her head. “It’s okay. Going down is the easy part and you look like you need some more time alone.”
“Thank you,” I smiled. “For everything.”
“Of course,” she replied, patting my head.
I watched her hop down the side of the mountain, a gale of wind surrounding her and softening her landings until she was gone.