Chapter 206: Brother’s Consent
The unexpected deaths of Rahdeas and Uto would be enough to cause a mass panic within the echelons of noble families both living in the castle and out in various fortified cities. Having two major figures of the enemy side in the Council’s palms created a certain semblance of power and control to the people of Dicathen.
To prevent chaos, the Council did what countless leaders—regardless of time, race, and world—do when faced with setbacks. They covered it up.
Gentry, Albold, and I all had to be questioned by the Council since we were the ones present at the scene.
Because of the black spikes left skewered on all three corpses almost like a postcard, it was obvious that it couldn’t have been done by any one of us. Still, a majority of my day had been taken up by this. Eventually, Gentry was left to grieve over his assistant that he apparently cared very much for and Albold being relieved of his guard duty so he could be sent back to Elshire Forest to assist as a soldier.
As for me, I was standing in front of Virion in his private office as he sat behind his desk with a grim expression.
“Cynthia Goodsky died this way as well, right?” I confirmed.
Virion nodded, his eyes unfocused.
I continued. “You must be worried about everyone’s safety. Three people have been killed in the most secured location of a flying castle that has existed from ancient times.”
“Do you think I’d allow people to still be here if I was worried about their safety?” Virion retorted. “I’m not in the mood for tests, Arthur. I know you noticed as well. It was the same with Cynthia.”
“It’s good that you realized,” I smiled.
No one had infiltrated the Castle—no matter how much I thought over it, it just wasn’t possible. The layers of defense that one would have to go through in order to reach the insides of this castle, only to kill two prisoners just didn’t add up. If I was sent on a mission to infiltrate this castle, it’d be much simpler to assassinate as much of the Council as I could. It just didn’t add up, which led me to the answer that the attack had to be done from within.
Not within our side, but within Rahdeas and Uto’s bodies. Just like Cynthia, who had a powerful curse embedded inside her, it made sense for Rahdeas and even a retainer to have that as well in case they were caught. From how the black spikes seemed to almost ‘bloom’ out of Rahdeas and Uto’s bodies, I felt that their curse had been activated.
As for the Shester—Gentry’s unfortunate assistant—it seemed, by the random spikes lodged into not just his body but his extremities as well, he had just been caught in the explosion of spikes that shot out from within the two prisoners.
That had to be the case, it doesn’t make any sense otherwise.
Agrona had made it clear that the whole point of this war was to take over this continent with as little casualties as possible so that he could conquer and utilize the resources—living and nonliving—available here to strengthen his power and become a threat large enough to attack Epheotus head on. Dicathen was merely a stepping stone for him so wouldn’t make sense for him to only kill the prisoners if he had the power to send someone inside the castle.
Does that mean what Rahdeas said was something important? It was too much of a coincidence that he died right after telling me that poem. This led me to think whether Rahdeas purposely said in the form of a poem to try to bypass the curse. I remembered Cynthia having a curse where she was restricted to reveal or even think about revealing anything relevant.
Forcing myself out of the neverending speculations in my head, I spoke. “Any plans for what to do next?”
“For now, consolidating the priorities of the councilmembers come first. They were already restless after the attack on the southern borders of the Elshire Forest, but even this…” The old elf let out a breath that seemed to contain a bit of his weathered soul. “To be honest, Arthur, I’m at quite a loss at the moment. This war… the scale is so unlike any war this land has faced, yet—”
“Things have been too quiet,” I finished. “I agree. Even with the death of Uto and Rahdeas, I feel like something big is about to happen. I’m just not sure what.”
The room grew quiet as both of us mulled over our thoughts until Virion let out a cough. “Well, no use worrying right now. There are things that must be done. Arthur. You’re on standby as of now, correct?”
“Yes. General Aya is currently stationed in Elenoir, General Mica is assisting in the investigations of the radical group in Darv, General Varay is helping with fortification of major cities throughout the western coast and General Bairon, I believe, is scouting the northern ranges of the Grand Mountains for any signs of retainers or Scythes since there was that base we had cleared out nearby,” I reported. I had wanted to help out but because the Alacryans have been so quiet despite the seemingly random attack on the outskirts of the Elshire Forest, there was nothing that needed my attention.
“Okay. For now, stay in the Castle and get used to your new core. You’ll be sent out immediately if any of the cities report anything unusual so I need you to be in top condition,” Virion declared.
I turned to leave when Virion’s voice called out from behind. “Oh, and Arthur?”
Looking back at the commander over my shoulder, I responded. “Yes?”
He smiled. “I know you don’t care for this kind of thing, but as a lance, don’t you think you should go around dressed a bit more appropriately?”
Looking down to see the loose shirt and dark trousers I had on, I let out a chuckle. “Perhaps I should.”
Returning to my room, I was greeted by not only Sylvie, but by my sister and her bond as well.
Arriving in front of my room, I could hear faint mutters from a voice that sounded like my sister.
“…have to help me, okay? Promise?”
Sylvie must’ve told her I was here because my sister stopped talking.
Opening the door, I was greeted by Ellie and my bond, who were sitting on the couch. Boo, who was lying on the ground with his giant head propped up on top of my bed like a pillow, acknowledged my presence with a snort before closing his eyes.
“H-Hi, Brother,” my sister smiled weakly.
Sylvie greeted me with a simple wave of her hand.
That’s not suspicious, I thought.
‘You’re overthinking,’ my bond immediately replied back, making it more suspicious.
“Anyway, what happened for you to be gone for so long?” my sister asked, a bit upset that I hadn’t had the chance to really spend time with her since I came back.
“Just more meetings that I had to attend,” I said vaguely. “Anyway, I’m free now.”
Ellie cocked a brow. “Does that mean you’ll finally spend some time with your precious sister?”
“Yup, if you’re okay with the training ground that is. Sylv and I both have things to test before an actual fight.”
“Of course that’s okay. That’s exactly what I was about to suggest!” my sister exclaimed, grabbing her bow that was propped up against the wall beside her.
After changing into a more ‘socially appropriate’ attire, which was just a high-collared military tunic that covered the red scars on my neck, and a more fitted pair of trousers. Compared to the rest of the lances, I was dressed rather casually but at least I didn’t look like some farmer’s kid.
“Your hair is almost as long as mine. When are you going to cut it?” Ellie asked with distaste as I was tying my back hair.
I shrugged. “When I feel the need to.”
We made our way to the training room that was guarded by pair soldiers arguing over something.
“I’m telling you that it’s not the—General Arthur!” The armored man on the left clicked his heels and saluted while his companion on the right side of the entrance did the same.
“There are currently several mages practicing inside. Would you like us to clear them out?” The guard on the right asked as the two of them opened the entrance.
Because of the sheer power that can be generated from a white core mage, most of the time, the training room was completely emptied and walls were additionally fortified when a lance came in.
“No need. The one training isn’t me,” I informed, walking in after my excited sister. Sylvie and Boo followed along as we stepped into the loose earthen terrain.
The large room was lively with various nobles in well-adorned robes and tunics around my sister’s age or slightly older testing spells while guardians oversaw and gave pointers to their students. The ones training here were all of status with privileges that extended from family members that were of high rankings within the army. Being able to live and train in the Castle meant that they were safe, a luxury that only the top houses and families of captains had.
Seeing the large entrance open, a few turned their heads my way and the private instructors and adults all immediately recognized me. Bowing in respect, they quickly shushed their children when some of the younger ones asked who I was.
A woman that looked a few years older than my mother walked up to me with an amiable smile. “It’s an honor to see a lance like this. If you are here to train, I will take son and his friends elsewhere to learn.”
“It’s okay,” I smiled back. “Just here to stretch a little. Don’t mind us.”
“Hurry up!” Ellie exclaimed, already several yards ahead.
“If you’ll excuse me…” I followed after my sister with Sylvie and Boo in tow.
“Your sister really wants to impress you,” Sylvie said with a smile. “Don’t be too hard on her.”
“Aww, that’s no fun,” I smirked before turning my gaze to my bond. “Get ready to ‘stretch’ as well. I want to see what you can do before we get into an actual battle.”
“Is that okay with all of these people here?” she asked. “We’ll tone it down a bit. If we really wanted to go all out, we’d have to find a large valley somewhere.”
My bond chuckled. “True. Very well, I’m also curious to see how well I’ve adjusted to this new form.”
Making our way to the far end of the training grounds near the pond, I launched a slab of earth at my sister.
“Incom—” I stopped my warning as three arrows of mana lodged itself into the slab.
Ellie turned her head back at me with a smirk. “You’re going to have to do better than that, Brother.”
Sylvie and I exchanged glances.
“Looks like I might not get the chance to be hard on her,” I chuckled.
Time passed quickly in the training grounds despite the fact that all I basically did was create targets for my sister. It gave me the chance to really test the limits of what organic magic I could create with my white core. Freeforming spells into odd and sometimes intricate shapes seemed to fascinate the children that had gathered around us to watch the show.
The noble kids would ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ as I conjured birds made of ice to skirt around in the air while my sister attempted to shoot them down. Some of these spells weren’t very applicable in battle, but like a pro athlete learning to juggle a ball intricately, it helped me metaphorically stretch my abilities and see what I could and couldn’t do in a set amount of time.
I tried raising earthen soldiers like Olfred was able to do, but after raising about three simple humanoid golems, my control over them faltered to the extent that they began mimicking each other’s movements. Memories of my time with Wren popped up. He was able to control his golems to the point that they acted like sentient beings. Even Olfred, while not as precisely as the asura, was able to conjure and control an army of golems, albeit not as precisely as the asura.
A shame one is forbidden to help while the other is… dead. Not that either would have offered to help had they been here. The thought of them left a bad taste in my mouth.
Rather than dwelling on the past, I focused my attention on the task at hand. It felt rude to train Ellie so half-heartedly when I saw how concentrated she was.
Let’s try kicking things up a notch.
With a wave of my arm, I conjured a current of fire that began twisting and shaping itself into a beastly shape. The ground where its ‘legs’ touched sizzled from the heat as I willed my creation to walk toward Ellie.
Boo, who had been watching beside me, tilted his head in curiosity at the flaming beast that mirrored his form.
“Your offense is good, Ellie, but what happens when a spell that you can’t just shoot down with arrows comes at you?” I called out.
Some of the noble kids a few yards away let out gasps as the instructors let out murmurs of praise.
Ellie’s lips just curled up into a confident grin as she drew her bow. A shimmering arrow manifested, glowing white due to its elementless nature. Just before she let go of the string, however, a slight undulation rippled across the shaft of the mana arrow.
The arrow quickly approached my ‘fire Boo’ with a shriek. I had expected Ellie’s spell to simple pierce through harmlessly, but as the point lodged itself into my spell, the entire arrow exploded in a ray of light, dispersing the flaming beast I had conjured.
I blinked. “That was…”
“Impressive? Superb? Jaw-dropping?” my sister finished, her eyes twinkling.
“Not bad. It was not bad,” I said, rolling my eyes.
“Mhmm.” Ellie sniffled, trying to hide her smile.
The day went on with me moving on from conjuring various elemental targets for her, to testing her body’s defenses. Though I hated to admit it, her ability to conjure a protective layer of mana over her body was flawless and fast enough to rival some of the upperclassmen I had seen at Xyrus. Due to her unnaturally intricate control over her mana, she was able to layer mana in specific portions of her body almost instantly and create a fairly durable panel of mana.
I put the scabbard of Dawn’s Ballad that I had been using to spar with Ellie in close range back inside my ring. “Did you learn close quarters combat with your bow from Helen too?”
My sister fell down on the ground, sweating and panting. “Yup… I read a couple books too that helped, although there weren’t that many.”
“Most archers carry around a dagger or even a light sword around for close combat,” I informed. “But since your archery doesn’t depend on you taking out an arrow from your quiver and nocking it on your bow before firing it, learning how to fend off a few attacks in order give yourself some space for a quick shot was the right decision.”
“Your compliments seem… somewhat dull,” my sister said in between breaths.
“Because that wasn’t a compliment. Don’t get ahead of yourself,” I smirked. “We’ve been drilling for only a few hours. Your stamina needs improvement.”
“That’s… not even fair,” Ellie huffed.
“What your brother means to say is that he’s very proud of your growth,” Sylvie comforted with a smile.
“Woah, no verbally expressing my thoughts!” I protested.
“This was rigged from the start, anyway.” Ellie stuck out a tongue. “I mean, how do you even dodge an arrow shot at point blank—repeatedly.”
“A lance has to be able to do at least that much, right?”
My sister narrowed her eyes, discontent by my reply. “You didn’t even break a sweat.”
“You’ll get there with enough training and experience,” I replied.
Ellie shot a glance to Sylvie before looking back at me. “Speaking of getting enough experience, I was wondering if I can maybe… you know…”
I raised a brow. “I know… what?”
“N-Nevermind,” my sister muttered.
“Ellie,” Sylvie chimed in, shaking her head. “Just say it.”
“Does this have anything to do with what you guys were talking about before I got in the room?” I asked.
“I-I want to start helping out in the war!” my sister said, unable to look me in the eyes.
Even though I saw this coming, my heart still sank.
‘Arthur…’ Sylvie sent, feeling my emotions.
“You said it yourself, or rather you thought it yourself, that I was a lot better,” my sister continued when I didn’t answer. “I’m confident that I’m better than a lot of the soldiers that have been assigned to squads and I’m okay with being in the reserves and since I’m an archer, I’d be in the backline anyway so—”
“Ellie,” I interrupted, kneeling down so I was eye-level with my sister.
With a wave of my hand, a barrier of wind surrounded the four of us. I didn’t feel comfortable having others listening to family conversations.
“I’m not saying no, but I’m not sure if I’m allowed to make this decision for you. Mom or Dad aren’t here and to be honest, we haven’t exactly been on the same track these days,” I said.
“You guys still haven’t made up since before you left to go train?” my sister asked, concern laced in her voice.
“I’m young, not dumb,” my sister frowned.
I looked at my bond, who simply gave me an encouraging smile. Letting out a sigh, I gave in. “How about we go on a mission together once? If you do well, I’ll give you my blessing. I can’t speak for Mom or Dad but I won’t hold you back on it.”
“Okay!” Ellie beamed. “You promised.”
‘That was very fair of you,’ my bond approved.
I shot Sylvie a smile before getting back up. “Anyway, since that’s out of the way. Sylvie, it’s your turn.”