Chapter 225: Shared Affliction
I should’ve stopped him from coming the moment he reached back out to me. The panic that leaked onto him couldn’t be taken back but I should’ve kept him from seeing it.
The moment I saw Arthur approaching, his eyes begging me to be wrong before his gaze fell onto a sight that no one—man or child—should have to experience, my gut clenched and I felt tears threaten to take over. Seeing the horrified expression of my bond before he let out a breath and began chuckling in wide-eyed denial at what he was seeing, I wanted to disappear.
I wanted to be anywhere but here. I would’ve rather faced another horde of deranged mana beasts by myself than endure the sight of my lifelong bond staring hopelessly at his own father’s bloody corpse.
Arthur staggered forward. He pushed everyone aside and knelt over his father’s unmoving body, and for a moment, it seemed like all was silent.
Beasts and soldiers alike seemed to have sensed the heavy veil that descended onto the entire area, but none could feel my bond’s state of turmoil as much as I could.
It was excruciating… it was unbearable.
I didn’t know my heart could hurt this much. I clutched my chest and sank to the ground, unable to endure the self-destructive state of his emotions.
Tears streamed down my cheeks and blurred my vision. I couldn’t breathe as the torrent of emotions continued to surge out of my bond and into me. Rage that blazed like a forest fire, grief that flooded and drowned everything in its path, a gnawing guilt that trembled the very earth, and regret that destroyed and knocked aside years and years of hard work and development like a hurricane.
I could feel these emotions, that felt like natural disasters wreaking havoc inside my heart, tearing away at Arthur’s very sanity.
Yet, on the surface, Arthur was as silent and still as a statue.
I crawled towards him, gasping for air in between my sobs as my heart wrenched in my chest. It was only then, when I embraced his back—his broad, lonely back—that the thin wall that he had built around himself finally crumbled.
With a guttural, primeval howl that tore through me like shards of glass, my bond broke down in tears.
The very earth seemed to lament for my bond as his sobs and wails filled the air. The ambient mana all around us shook and surged at times to match his anger, while at times undulated rhythmically, sympathizing with his despair as Arthur mourned, clutching his father’s unmoving body.
I continued to cling to my bond’s back as the fiery claws continued to grip and twist my insides. I tried to do more, anything more to help, but I couldn’t. The lump in my throat blocked any words of consolation I could possibly say, so I did what no one else could do; I empathized through the connection I shared with my bond.
This prodigy, that had become a lance, a general, a white core mage, was but a boy that had lost his father right now.
The world continued to move on, even as Arthur and I remained stuck in this time of grieving and loss. The battle that had gone on for two nights had come to an end.
We had won, but not unscathed. The Wall loomed over us as if it were a king, pleased with its own health despite the sacrifices that had been made for it.
It wasn’t Arthur’s anger that made my insides boil like this…it was my own.
Time trickled on until the sun had set. It was only then, that Arthur rose to his feet.
Whether his emotions had been expended or locked away, I didn’t know, but his state of mind mirrored the frozen tomb that he conjured and encased his father’s body in.
Nearby stood Durden, dejected. He had remained silent throughout Arthur’s mourning, never showing any signs of pain or discomfort despite the blood leaking from the bandages hurriedly applied over his face and residual limb.
“Durden. Please take my father’s body to my mother and sister.” My bond’s voice was icy and hollow. He rose to his feet and walked towards the Wall like a reaper of death out on his hunt.
CAPTAIN ALBANTH KELRIS
“Following through with my original plan has led us to victory with minimal losses to the Wall and the underground passages,” Senior Captain Trodius boasted, a rare smile on his usually-stoic face. “Your obedience will not go unnoticed, Captain Albanth, Captain Jesmiya. Well done.”
Jesmiya bowed, receiving the applause of the other unit leaders present in the large meeting tent.
I glanced down at the picture in my hand—worn, ripped, and crinkled around the edges. It was a picture I had found in the chestplate of one of my soldiers before cremating him.
Looking up, I saw the senior captain with his brow raised. Beside him were soldiers and nobles that had invested in the Wall, all sharing the same puzzled expression.
“My apologies,” I respond quickly, shoving the picture in my pocket before inclining my head and silently accepting the commendation with gritted teeth.
Coming here after cremating several dozens of my men, many of whom I had shared drinks, meals, and laughs with, it felt wrong to accept any form of praise.
“While a proper celebration is in order, we are at war and there is much to clean up,” Trodius said. “Continue your good work. I will have someone send a small gift to the fallen soldiers’ immediate families.”
“As expected of the head of the Flamesworth House. Your leadership is impeccable,” a portly man standing to the senior captain’s left beamed. “It was the right decision to invest in this fortress.”
Meanwhile, Jesmiya and I exchanged a quick glance, both of us obviously hung up on Senior Captain Trodius’ use of the phrase, ‘clean up’. Surely he wasn’t referring to cremating and burying our allies as ‘cleaning up’, right?
After the other soldiers had trickled off, Jesmiya and I turned to leave when the senior captain called my name.
“Captain Albanth, I’ll need a moment of your time,” he said, waiting for Jesmiya to leave.
After all but the senior captain and three nobles—based on their gaudy and spotless attire—were left, Trodius gestured toward an empty seat.
After sitting on the foldable wooden chair, one of the nobles raised an embellished metal wand and soundproofed the room using wind magic.
“Captain Albanth. You’re home is in Etistin, correct?” the senior captain asked, crossing his legs.
I nodded. “Yes sir.”
“And that means, with the entire city being fortified, your family has been evacuated,” he continued matter-of-factly.
“Yes sir. Fortunately, my position and contributions allowed my family to be able to secure a home in a fortified shelter nearby the castle.”
“I see,” Trodius muttered before turning to a lanky bespectacled nobleman to his right.
Receiving a nod from the senior captain, the nobleman spoke as he slid an unbound scroll toward me. “This is information that Senior Captain Trodius Flamesworth received during the beast horde attack.”
I read flawless writing, cold sweat forming and fingers trembling as I mumbled what I read. “Elenoir Kingdom… Alacryan ships approaching from western coast. Three hundred ships…”
“After discussing with the Council, we’ve surmised that this will be the biggest battle. And it’ll take place in the western shores just above Etistin.
“Also, because of the manpower needed to withstand the Alacryan army, the Council has decided on abandoning the elven kingdom. A majority of the elven troops will be transferred to Etistin while citizens will be evacuated before the Alacryans in Elshire fully take over,” Trodius explained without a shred of emotion.
“Th-This…” the parchment slipped out of my fingers that were slick with sweat. “Why am I the only one to be notified of this? We should tell Captain Jesmiya and spread the word. Our remaining troops need to be transferred to the west if we want to stand a chance! General Arthur was right!”
Senior Captain Trodius’ expression turned sharp. “Had my objective been the same as the boy lance, I too would have proceeded with sacrificing the Wall. However, this fortress will soon become an invaluable location.”
I furrowed my brows. “I don’t understand.”
The portly noble from earlier spoke this time, eagerly leaning forward. “As my family always says, war is a big ol’ bag of money waiting to be open—”
“Sir Niles, please refrain from such insensitive talk,” Trodius admonished.
“R-Right. My apologies.” Niles let out a cough. “Anyway, with the war drawing to an end and so much land being either destroyed or taken by the Alacryans, it’s only a matter of time when people will desperately seek a safe haven.”
“What about Xyrus City? It was to my understanding that the flying city is currently the safest location next to the Castle,” I responded.
The petite nobleman sporting a mustache that had stayed quiet the entire time finally spoke, grumbling in annoyance. “That floating rock is a timebomb waiting to explode.”
“Xyrus City is inherently in a safe location, but the city is not built as a fortress. Once access into the flying city is overridden by the Alacryans—which is entirely plausible from the portals you’ve seen in the dungeons of the Beast Glades—the people there will be sitting ducks,” Trodius clarified.
“Which is why it was so important that the Wall and underground routes remained in one piece. These two aspects will serve as the foundation of a great new city,” the portly nobleman chimed in. “That general is smart, but shortsighted. He wants to destroy this magnificent structure which could potentially become the new capital of Dicathen, or better yet, the only safe haven against the Alacryans!”
“I apologize if I come off as rude, but from what you’re saying, it seems like you’re expecting or even desiring for the Alacryans to win this war,” I seethed, barely able to control my anger.
“How dare you! That is a dangerous accusation you’re making, Captain ,” the fat man barked.
Trodius raised an arm, shutting him up. “It’s easy to shine a negative light on this picture, but what we’re merely doing is capitalizing on the inevitable circumstance. I am in no way rooting for those filthy intruders, but it would be foolish to ignore their military might. Even if we do manage to win this war, Dicathen will not come out unscathed. Elenoir has been abandoned, Darv is hiding in its own shell, and attempts to fortify smaller cities in Sapin have been left to the city officials.”
The senior captain let out a sigh before continuing. “What we seek is to build a new safe haven for citizens to come to. There will be a new society reforged by the Flamesworth House and its patrons.”
I shook my head and laughed out of sheer incredulity. Getting up, I opened my mouth, prepared to risk my position so that I could tell him off.
“Think hard before you let loose your tongue,” Trodius warned with a faint smile. “Did you not say that your father, mother, wife and kids are all in Etistin?”
My eyes widened and my mouth snapped shut.
This was wrong. What they were doing was wrong, but my mouth wouldn’t come open.
“Your reputation and presence here among the soldiers and workers here are great. Stay here, work for our cause and I will ensure you that your family will be brought over here immediately. This wall will continue to be fortified and expanded, utilizing the underground routes. Your family will be safe here and your position here will be much higher and meaningful than being a mere captain.”
“I-I don’t…wh-what about the soldiers here? I thought that you had received a letter ordering you to transfer all able soldiers to Etistin?” I managed to say. I clasped my hands behind my back, unable to keep them from shaking.
“The battle against the vicious beast horde was hardfought. We lost many—too many, in fact, to be able to send west…that is what I am planning on sending as a reply,” Trodius answered simply. “I doubt that the Council will come to check with all that’s on their plate.”
My chest tightened and my breathing came out short. “Then y-you purposely sent out these soldiers to their deaths so that you can—”
“The soldiers here fought to defend the Wall, as originally planned,” Trodius interjected. “No need to overthink.”
“You’re right. There’s no need for me to overthink,” an icy voice resounded from behind me.
But it wasn’t his words that made me shrink. It was the presence that spread out from the voice that hung like a thick shroud in the air, forcing me to my knees and sucking the very breath from my lungs.
I tried to turn around, to at least verify the source of what might very well kill me, but I couldn’t move. I was stuck watching the nobleman froth at the mouth, lose consciousness, or both. And I saw an expression on Trodius that I had never seen on him before… an expression of fear.
His attempts at appearing collected failed as sweat rolled down his face and the barrier of fire that he had conjured fizzled away.
In a voice that seemed practically squeezed out of his windpipe, Trodius spoke.