Chapter 220: The Weight Of A Choice
Whether it was from the relief that a lance had arrived or because the backlash of overusing my beast will had finally set in, I passed out.
The sun had nearly set, casting a red hue to the thick blanket of fog when I woke up. I found myself on top of a small wyvern with several soldiers stationed around me with weapons drawn, but the battle had already ended.
My body ached and the very act of keeping my eyes open sent sharp waves of pain to my temples. But I couldn’t stop staring at the scene.
The battle had ended; we had won. However, what I was focused on were the injured soldiers in my unit being carried off while the dead were buried on the spot. Bodies that should be taken to their families for a proper ceremony were left in the very spot they were killed.
I scrambled off the winged reptile, alarming the soldiers on guard. They tried to help me back up, thinking I fell, but I waved them away.
Anger rose in the pit of my stomach and had I succumbed to the impulse I might’ve actually begun lashing out at the soldiers burying our fellow allies.
But I stopped myself, taking my frustrations out on the dirt below my hands. Even if it wasn’t proper, I knew there was no choice. There was an army of Alacryans still marching their way to Zestier City, the very heart of my kingdom. There was no time to spare for the dead when every bit of time and effort would be needed in defending against the siege.
One of the guards gently pulled me up to my feet and gestured toward the wyvern. “Head Tessia. Please remain on the mount in case anything happens.”
Even then, what right do I have to get angry? Aren’t I the one to blame for the deaths that happened here? If it wasn’t for my selfishness, how many of those being buried right now would’ve survived?
I knew it wasn’t healthy to fall into this pit of self-blame and ‘what ifs’ but with Vernett’s taunts still echoing in my head, it was hard not to. Regardless, I began climbing back onto the mount when something out of the corner of my eye caught my attention.
Shaking off the guard, I started running.
It can’t be.
I made my way through the medics helping the injured and the emitters making their rounds to the soldiers in more serious conditions. It was hard for me to breathe as my eyes remained glued to the emitter kneeled on the ground and the patient she was helping.
It was Caria, unconscious. I fell to my knees, but before I could get any closer, a hand blocked my path.
I looked up to see a stoney-eyed Darvus staring at me with an expression that I’d never seen before. “She was just barely able to fall asleep with a sedative. Don’t wake her up.”
Stannard was also nearby, disheveled and covered in dirt. After seeing me, though, he looked away.
Neither had any injuries besides a few scratches and scrapes, but the same couldn’t be said for Caria.
I watched, dumbfounded, as the emitter began closing the wound on her left leg… or rather, what was left of it. The man had his hands clasped over the mangled stump, applying pressure, but blood still gushed between his fingers, forming a crimson pool.
I stared, both awestruck and horrified, at the sight of Caria’s wound rapidly healing. The skin around her open wound began closing in together to form a lumpy knot of flesh.
I knew before that emitters couldn’t regenerate new limbs, but seeing the wound close over the bottom of her thigh made it seem irreversible.
That’s when it hit me.
The bright and energetic Caria, whose talent as an augmenter was only outshined by her love for martial arts, would never be able to walk on her own two feet again.
“H-How…” I muttered, my vision blurring from the tears welling up.
“ How? ” I heard Darvus retort. “You leave us to go on your own solo crusade and—”
“Stop, Darvus. People are watching.” Stannard pulled him away and locked eyes with me before dipping his head in a bow. “I apologize for his outburst, Head Tessia.”
The blonde conjurer that was normally shy and kind-hearted, regarded me coldly.
I shook my head. “Stannard…”
My two teammates ignored me, huddling close by Caria and asking the emitter how the wound was healing.
Darvus was right. It was my fault. I had a role that I was supposed to fill, but I chose to go off on my own, thinking that I could help more with my strength.
No. To be honest with myself, I probably thought at one point that being a silver core mage entitled me to greater battles than merely defending a position.
And because of that, I abandoned my teammates. No amount of convincing myself that she could’ve still incurred the injury even if I was there helped alleviate the terrible pressure weighing down on my chest.
“It’s time to go,” a familiar voice said from behind.
I didn’t look back—my eyes remained locked on Caria’s peaceful slumber. How would that change when she woke up. Would she blame me like Darvus and Stannard? Would she hate me?
I wiped my tears with the back of my hand. I had to stay strong. This was just the beginning. The battle to defend the capital of Elenoir would be where I could make up for my mistakes.
The voice snapped me out of my thoughts. Turning around, I saw General Aya clad in light armor with several guards close behind her.
“The rider is ready to depart. You’ll be going back to the Castle immediately, Head Tessia,” the elven lance stated as she turned around.
“The Castle?” I replied. “I don’t understand. The Alacryan army is marching towards Zestier right now. There’s no time to visit—”
General Aya looked back over her shoulder, her sharp gaze cutting off my words. “Perhaps I haven’t made myself clear. You will be withdrawn from battle until further notice.”
I quickly scrambled back up to my feet. “Wait, General! I-I can still fight! Please.”
The lance’s usually inviting and charming demeanor was laced with impatience but she kept her voice polite. “Please be wary of your position as an Eralith. Taking into consideration your current state of mind, I have already told the Council that you are unfit for battle.”
No. No. I needed to fight. I needed to make up for my mistakes. I needed to make it up to Caria and everyone else by doing well in the coming battle.
Aya began to walk away, her dark wavy hair billowing behind her, when I latched onto her arm. “General, I’m one of the few silver-core mages ready to fight. I can’t just hide in the Castle when I know the entire elven kingdom is under—”
“Your job was to remain in formation and hold off for the short period it would take for reinforcements to arrive, yet the death toll of your unit reached over half because of your selfish ambitions.” The lance pried my fingers off and regarded me coldly. “The remainder of your unit that is still fit for battle will join under the rest of my division.”
“It’ll take too long for any more reinforcements to arrive, General! Even General Arthur is occupied with the beast horde attacking—”
“What happens from now on is no longer your concern. You’ve done enough, Princess.”
The lance’s words hit me like a brick of reinforced lead, leaving me frozen as General Aya handed the soldier standing beside the wyvern a scroll. “Take her straight to the castle and get this to Commander Virion.”
Making my way towards the mount as its rider tightened the saddle, I allowed myself one last glance back at Darvus and Stannard.
Neither could look me in the eye. With pleading eyes, I continued to stare, hoping they’d at least meet my gaze. However, up until the very end, neither looked back.
And the agony and hollowness I felt at that moment hurt more than every injury I had ever incurred as a fellow soldier fighting by their side.
It was chaos. Live updates—a majority from Zestier City—were being branded onto the transmission scrolls faster than we could sort and read them. Despite the cost of these communication artifacts, piles of them were littered all over the meeting room as members of the Council continued to read through them.
The dire and hectic situation added oil to the flames of tension that had already built up in the room.
A sudden thud turned everyone’s head towards Alduin, who had thrown a stack of transmission scrolls on the ground. My son grabbed Bairon Glayder, former king of Sapin, by his collar and slammed him against the wall.
“You’re reading the reports from Elenoir as well, right?” he hissed. “Are you happy? Are you happy?! ”
I gestured away the guards that were about to interfere.
For the first time, the proud head of the Glayder family looked… ashamed. “It was impossible to predict something like this could happen.”
“Impossible?” Alduin spat, bringing his face closer to the human’s. “An army of Alacryan mages is currently approaching Zestier, the very heart of Elenoir. Even with the evacuation strategies being implemented, the death tolls are already rising from soldiers trying to stop the city from being sieged and you’re saying it was impossible?”
“I understand your anger but please, this isn’t the time or place to do this,” Merial soothed as she pulled back her husband’s arm.
Jerking his arm free from his wife’s hold, he swung a wild fist that was still clutching onto the transmission scroll sent by General Aya, landing squarely on Bairon’s jaw. “My daughter nearly died because of your greed!”
Priscilla Glayder stood off to the side, watching the whole scene with gritted teeth and clenched fists, unable to aid her husband out of guilt. Buhnd sat idly, the usual look of amusement replaced by a grim frown.
Alduin fell to his knees. He slammed his fist into the marble ground until his entire hand was covered in blood. “How many times did I ask for our own troops to be placed back in Elenoir? How many times did I plead because I was afraid this exact scenario would occur!? How are you going to take responsibility if this leads to the entire fall of the elven kingdom!”
Not a sound could be heard aside from the howl of rage and despair that my son let out. His wife gently wrapped her arms around him, comforting my son in a way that I couldn’t.
I had no right. After all, the weight of his words didn’t just fall on the Glayders, but to myself as well. I was the one that had ultimately agreed with Bairon on keeping the elven troops in Sapin. I was the one responsible for what was happening to Elenoir.
I was overconfident with the magical defenses of the Elshire Forest. Just like the Glayders. I was wrong. Such a simple acknowledgment was stuck deep in the back of my throat; I didn’t have the strength to say it aloud.
As the commander, I led the entire military forces of Dicathen. While I didn’t want this position, I had been confident in the decisions I made and the orders I gave. I felt like acknowledging this mistake now would be forever casting doubt in my mind no matter what commands I gave.
I stared at the transmission scroll sent from Etistin.
Now isn’t the time to doubt my decisions.
I quickly flipped the scroll and tucked it into another pile nearby before speaking.
“Enough! Now is not the time to be pointing fingers. Get out and cool off, all of you, ” I stressed.
The members of the Council looked at one another, still emotional but more hesitant. “Councilmember Alduin and Merial, Tessia should be arriving at the Castle soon. Take some time and be there for her.”
Shifting my gaze towards the Glayders, I gave them each a nod. “Take a break, and just know that what happened is no one person’s fault.”
I waited for the guards to escort the members of the Council out. Alduin and Merial were the first ones gone and from the way my son’s sharp eyes flashed with indignation and anger, I knew he blamed me as well. Perhaps the only reason he didn’t voice it was because he knew how much I also cared for Elenoir.
Bairon, before he was taken out of the room, looked back. “I know you swore your oath to be impartial in leading Dicathen in this war, but I won’t blame you if what you decide to do next is for your home kingdom.”
He didn’t wait for me to reply as he walked out with his wife in hand.
It was an answer I had never expected from the former human king, and it made my very decision to escort the Council out of this room seem like I was avoiding the confrontation I would eventually have to face for my choices.
Buhnd was the last to leave; he shot me a look that I couldn’t interpret, but I didn’t have time to ponder. I was now alone.
The room that had been so lively just a few moments ago seemed so unsettling. The messages written in the transmission scrolls seemed to create a cumulative pressure that was almost suffocating.
Letting out a sigh, I retrieved the transmission scroll from Etistin and read it again. The content of this scroll, and the many more soon to come, would stun the rest of the Council as much as it was paralyzing for me right now.
I couldn’t let that happen. At least one of us needed to be in their right mind, which was why I hid it from them—even if it was for just a few hours. I needed that time to decide on how to proceed.
There were now over three hundred ships filled with Alacryan soldiers approaching our western shores and there would undoubtedly be scythes and retainers amongst them. Taking into account the intensity and timing placed into their attacks, I couldn’t help but fear that this war was reaching its turning point.
Fortunately, Bairon and Varay were already close by, but just having those two wouldn’t be enough—Even having all five of our lances might not be enough. Getting Lance Mica to the western coast wouldn’t be too difficult and Arthur should’ve been nearly finished with his role at the Wall.
That only left the elven lance.
Would I withdraw General Aya from Elenoir and deny them reinforcements? Would I essentially abandon Elenoir by taking the lance away or risk allowing another even larger army to step foot on our land?