Chapter 226: Punishable Actions
Rage warred with grief in me for the longest time as I mourned my father’s death.
I cried and I cursed all the while refusing to believe that all of this was real.
As a prodigy, as a mage, as a lance, I just wanted to protect the few people most important to me—to let them be happy and healthy. I abandoned the thought of being a hero to the people of Dicathen. I’ve filled that role before, and I learned that the price of saving those faceless citizens are the people most important to me.
And despite my efforts, I failed to protect them. My hands were stained in the blood of my father—stains that, I feared, would never come off no matter how many other people I saved.
After my tears ran dry and my throat locked up, all that was left inside me was a raw pit of emptiness.
As my father’s corpse was carried off and Durden was guided to the medic tents, I got up and headed inside the Wall.
Applause and cheers erupted as soon as I crossed the fortress gate. Soldiers, smiths, and laborers alike stopped what they were doing. Some bowed, others clapped, but they all looked at me with gazes that made me wince.
I couldn’t take it. Not the people, not the appreciation, not the expressions of relief from having someone to lean on. I couldn’t be here.
Sylvie. Get my sister and take her to the medic tent where my mother is. She’s going to need someone to be there for her, I conveyed while I strode past the cluster of tents that made up the medic ward.
My bond tugged the sleeve of my shirt. “I’ll go get your sister, but Arthur… your mother will need you as much as she needs your sister.”
I don’t bother responding to her aloud like she did for me.
I’m the last person she’d want to see. She no longer sees me as a son and any semblance of affection she might’ve had for me even after I told her the truth… will be gone now that I failed to keep my promise in bringing my fath—Reynolds, back alive.
I brushed her off and made my way towards the main meeting tent.
“General… Arthur,” Trodius wheezed, his body involuntarily shrinking back in his seat.
I took another step toward the senior captain, eliciting panicked responses from the nobles beside him.
“M-My spell! How did you even…” the lanky one stuttered, pointing his wand at me after regaining his consciousness.
The portly man to Trodius’ left was a bit more courageous, despite the acrid stench emanating from his freshly-soiled pants.
“Stay back! You are in the presence of nobility! How dare a dog of the Council intrude on an important meeting,” he threatened.
The small-framed noble sporting a thick mustache still lay sprawled on the ground, unconscious after my initial ‘greeting.’
I remained wordless as I took another step. The lankey one let a squeal in response while the fat one flinched. Only Trodius remained unfazed as I slowly approached.
The sea of rage and grief that churned inside me as I wept for my father had been drained, leaving a hollow void that allowed me to think clearly for the first time in a while.
No longer were the screams of panic and worry in my head clouding my judgment, making me irrational and emotional in the vain hopes of keeping all of my loved ones safe.
Now, there was only silence to my soul—a ghostly lull. The fire of rage and the other cacophony of emotions had been extinguished, leaving only a sharp chill in my blood.
It was comforting, in a sense.
If it had been just ten minutes ago, I would’ve done to Trodius what I had done to Lucas.
Except I realized, in this numb and logical state of mind, that Trodius wasn’t as simple as Lucas. I would gain nothing by killing Trodius and he would be able to take what I dished out with that same constipated expression he always had.
I couldn’t use pain. I knew that now. I couldn’t treat Trodius the same way I could Lucas.
It was when I took another step that Trodius finally spoke. Straightening his posture and clearing his throat, he looked me in the eyes and asked, “to what do I owe the pleasure of a lance gracing me with his presence?”
His scrutinizing gaze and the ever-so-slight sneer that tugged on the edge of his lips told me what I knew. He wasn’t afraid of the pain that I could afflict or even the death that he might face.
With his resourcefulness, he was confident in being able to escape, and he would relish the chance to be ‘the one that withstood the fury of a mad lance.’
“D-Don’t come any closer!” the portly man said as he withdrew his own toy-like wand.
“Settle down,” I said, causing both the conscious nobles in the room to stiffen.
“Even as a general, respect must be shown in the face of noble blood,” Trodius admonished, shaking his head.
Another bait. He was edging me to do something so that he could retaliate.
I walked around the table, leisure shown in my face and steps. Arriving in front of the fat noble, I gestured with a finger. “Move.”
“M-Move?” he echoed, flabbergasted as the wand still trembled in his hands.
Anger must’ve triumphed over his fear, or maybe the cornered mouse finally decided to strike, but it was over before it even began.
The spell that threatened to manifest at the tip of his embroidered wand never came, fizzling away like his pride after wetting his own pants.
Before the portly noble could even react, a current of wind hammered down on top of him, slamming his face down into the puddle of his own piss.
I used his wide girth as a footstool while taking a seat on the meeting table just inches away from Trodius.
The senior captain’s mask of indifference faltered, traces of anger flaring before disappearing just as quickly.
“General Arthur,” he spoke calmly. “The noble beneath your feet is Sir Lionel Beynir of the esteemed Beynir House. You will show him and Sir Kyle—”
I leaned forward, grinding my heels more into the unconscious Sir Lionel Beynir. “You see, Trodius, I care little for people, regardless of wealth, fame, and prestige they have when they fail to meet the minimum threshold as a person.”
Trodius’ eyes narrowed. “Excuse me? I don’t exactly know how much you heard from outside but to blatantly sully a noble will not be tolerated no matter what sort of position you hold in the military.”
“You keep referring to yourself and these fools as nobles but all I see are four weasels trying to capitalize on their own country’s loss and using soldiers as tools to step on and bring yourself higher.” I looked down at the noble beneath my feet to further my point.
Trodius’ eyes flared with indignation. “Revoking the plan that you suggested is no sin, General Arthur. The loss of the soldiers are regrettable but for the sake of preserving this fortress, their deaths are not in vain.”
“That would’ve only been true if your goal for keeping the Wall wasn’t to try and build yourself your own little society where you and your minions will have free reign.”
“N-Nonsense! My goal was to create a safe haven where the citizens of Dicathen have a place to sleep without fear. For you to twist my wor—”
I grabbed ahold of Trodius’ tongue and pulled it out of his mouth. “To my understanding, twisting words is what this thing seems to do best.”
A flicker of blue flames danced on the tip of the senior captain’s tongue as I pressed firmly down. Trodius’ eyes widened in pain as he tried to imbue his own fire affinity mana in hopes to shield his body against my flames.
The smell of burning flesh filled the tent as I continued to brand his tongue with my ignited fingers.
Still he held strong, unable to let go of his pride enough to even let out a sound.
I pulled the senior captain close, my fingers still sizzling on top of his burning tongue. I let the malice drip from my voice as I hissed into his ear. “You see, Trodius, one of the soldiers that died out there because of your selfish plans was my father.”
I felt the hiccup drop down in his throat as my fingers continued to sear his tongue.
“So believe me when I say that I’m going to see the actions that you took to get to where we are right now as personal.” I released my grip on his blackened tongue. The tip had become completely burnt off, without even a trace of blood.
Trodius immediately snapped his jaw shut, clamping his hands over his mouth as if he could protect himself from me.
“Don’t think that my relationship with your sister and estranged daughter have anything to do with why I’m keeping you alive,” I muttered, grabbing the fine parchments in front of him as I got up. “Killing you here would be showing mercy. Instead, I’ll let you stew in the consequences of your actions here today by taking what you value most.”
I turned to Albanth, who had been quietly and fearfully observing the situation. “Seeing as you’ve witnessed everything here today, send a message to the Council stating that for betraying his kingdom and perjury towards the Council, he and the rest of the Flamesworth House will be stripped from their titles of nobility.”
“ Gno ! You hab no wight!” Trodius screamed, his voice raw with unrepressed emotion.
“I believe I have every right, and the Council will surely agree once they find out you were planning on lying to them in order to keep soldiers here for yourself,” I replied coldly, waving the papers in my hand.
Trodius scrambled towards me, tripping over his unconscious investor before desperately launching a ball of fire at the papers in my hand.
“Add attempted assault of a representative of the Council,” I said to Albanth, blocking the sphere of flames with a conjured pane of ice.
“Y-You ca’t do dis!” he yelled, rushing to me and clinging to my feet. “The Fwameswoth house—”
“Will be nothing but a commoner’s surname,” I finished. “The precious legacy that you prided yourself in and tried so hard to raise, going as far as abandoning your own daughter, will have been the cause of the Flamesworth family’s downfall.”
I turned my attention back to Albanth. “I believe you have a message to send? Unless you’re still considering Trodius’ proposal?”
“Of c-course not!” Albanth straightened and took the parchments out of my hand. “I’ll get this to the Council along with your message to my fastest and most trustworthy messenger.”
“Also, get Captain Jesmiya and a few of her men in here to round these gentlemen up,” I added, sending the captain off, leaving Trodius and I as the only ones left conscious in the tent.
Behind me, still on the ground, was Trodius. The man who had been the pinnacle of nobility and pride had been reduced to a trembling sack of bones as he glared daggers at me.
“Like I said, killing you here would be a mercy.” I stepped out of the tent, taking one last glance back. “I hope you live a long life where you’re reminded of me every time you utter a mispronounced word from your deformed tongue.”
Sylvie and I stood atop the familiar cliff of the mountain overlooking the Wall. From this high up, the remnants of the battle could barely be seen under the blanket of night and the fortress seemed to be peaceful.
I knew all too well that the Wall was in a flurry of activity; mending the broken, feeding the weak, burying the dead, but I pushed down the emotions that threatened to build back up again.
It was so much easier the way it was right now, the comforting emptiness that numbed my emotions—both good and bad.
“Ellie is with your mother right now. They’re going to cremate him,” my bond said, her voice almost lost amidst the howling winds.
At her words leaked thoughts and emotions I had desperately tried to avoid. I saw my weeping sister and my mother on her knees, bloody fingers clawing at the ground in indignation.
I felt the pain my bond had felt as my mother’s eyes narrowed eyes burned with accusation and resentment. Would she have looked at me like that as well, had I been there? That was the only thing I could ask myself.
“It’s best that I’m not there,” I replied, placing a gentle hand on Sylvie’s head.
Sylvie turned to me, her large yellow eyes wrinkled in concern. “Arthur…”
“I’m fine, really,” I said, but my voice came out deadpan. “It’s better this way.”
My bond’s expression dimmed and just from that I could tell she could feel the emotions from me, or rather, the lack of emotions.
This was what I did in the past as Grey. I knew that suppressing my emotions and locking them away wasn’t healthy but I had no choice.
I had no confidence in being able to handle what I was trying so hard not to feel. I know that doing this was burying a time bomb deep inside me, but I just needed it to last until I finished this war.
Maybe after this war was over, I’d confront all of this and be able to face my mother, but for now I couldn’t bear looking at her or my sister’s face.
‘Do not fall back to your old ways. You know best that the deeper you go into that pit, the harder it will be to climb back out.’ Rinia’s words came to mind and I began to think of the other omens she left me before shaking my head.
Looking at my worried bond, I shielded my thoughts. I didn’t want her to know—I didn’t want anyone to know—that I was beginning to sincerely deliberate Agrona’s deal.
“Let’s go see, Sylv.”