Chapter 234: Remembrance
“Seth, report back to General Varay. She’ll be in charge of the battle,” Bairon ordered, gesturing the soldier away.
He turned to me and we locked gazes for a second before he nodded, saying to me, “The rest of us will head straight to the Castle.”
I nodded back and Sylvie transformed back into her dragon form before we immediately took off.
Taking deep breaths, I tried to remain level-headed. Trusting that Elder Hester, Elder Buhnd, and Virion were enough to deal with whoever had intruded.
Those black and red flames billowing in the distance were an ominous sign that it was what I had feared—either a retainer or even a scythe. I steered my mind clear of the ‘what ifs’ by thinking up of a strategy upon entering. I tried not to think about my mom and sister, as well as Tess, who were supposed to be safe there.
‘It’ll be okay,’ Sylvie conveyed to me, but even she couldn’t keep her worry from leaking onto me.
I didn’t respond, and instead, manipulated the wind around us, lessening the air resistance pulling Sylvie back. Whatever I needed to do to get us there even a second faster.
I continued manipulating the wind, cycling mana through my body as well, preparing for battle as soon as possible. Taking a peek back, I could see Bairon and the other mounted soldiers slowly trailing behind, but we didn’t slow down.
Please, everyone, be okay, I prayed, until the Castle was almost upon us.
The barrier protecting the flying fortress from the sky had been destroyed, allowing the raging winds to fan the dark flames.
Sylvie easily blasted a hole in the closed loading dock and we landed inside. Thankfully, the layer of mana I had enveloped myself in kept the harmful smoke from entering my lungs. Still, there was a thick blanket of black all throughout the loading dock.
“Let’s go,” I said to Sylvie, who had turned back to her human form.
Taking no chances, I ignited the dragon will inside me. Under Realmheart, my vision became monochrome, highlighting the ambient mana around me. With my enhanced vision and unparalleled mana acuity, it would be impossible for any enemies to sneak up on us even under the heavy smoke and fierce winds shrieking through the openings of the damaged castle.
We spread out about five yards apart, our teamwork seamless through our bond, as we searched collapsed rooms and dark hallways of the lower floors.
We inched through the fractured floors, sidestepping any debris that had been either dislodged from the walls or fallen from the ceiling.
Crashes echoed from above and even around us while the howling winds filling in the gaps of silence made it almost impossible to find any sign of live battle that we could assist in. The only thing we could do was search the premise carefully, taking it a step at a time.
‘Over here,’ my bond conveyed from an adjacent room.
Inside, I could see Sylvie on the ground, hunched over what seemed to be a person partly buried underneath a mountain of rubble. My chest immediately clenched and a wave of panic rose from my stomach until Sylvie reassured me that it wasn’t anyone we knew.
By the fine garment interwoven through thin layers of chain-mail on the corpse’s body, along with the wand just a few feet away, it was easy to deduce that this unfortunate victim was one of the few guards left here.
I rubbed the bridge of my nose, embarrassed and frustrated at how fragile I was, mentally. After taking a moment to compose myself, I inspected the corpse. Through Realmheart, I was able to tell that the fallen mage had died by fire.
With a flick of a wrist, I blew the rubble away to get a closer look at the corpse.
“What the…” I muttered, lifting his clothes.
‘What is it?’
I continued searching but couldn’t find anything. “There aren’t any burn marks.”
“He died from fire?” she said aloud, surprised.
Hearing another crash in the distance, I got up. “Come on, let’s keep moving.”
The two of us continued down the hall, scouring every room in the lower floors, searching for anyone that might still be alive. All we had found were corpses, all burned to death with no apparent wounds to show for it.
‘I don’t understand. Perhaps it’s a fire that burns from the inside?’ Sylvie suggested.
It doesn’t matter at this point. All we need to know is that our opponent uses a fire that doesn’t actually burn the victims physically, I sent back, lifting a fallen wall in search of anyone that I might know.
With the stairs nearly unusable from the destruction, the two of us climbed the levels of the Castle through the various holes in the ceilings. Even with my Realmheart Physique able to spot nearly anything that normal eyes would miss, we were tense. Every corpse we came across, my chest squeezed in angst until we were able to verify it wasn’t anyone we knew.
After searching for several floors, Sylvie and I came across signs of a large battle. Intricate spears of stone jutted from the floor and walls while earthen golems lay scattered on the ground like petrified knights.
Yeah, I know, I interrupted, signalling for her to keep close.
Because of the mana coalesced into the rock spears and conjured soldiers, it took a while to finally find the source responsible for all of this.
I knelt down in front of the elderly dwarf, trying to find a pulse when he suddenly coughed.
“Elder Buhnd!” I exclaimed. I fashioned the ground beneath him into a chair, sitting him up so he didn’t choke on his own blood.
I turned to my bond. “Sylv!”
“On it.” My bond hunched down, laying her hands on my mentor’s chest. A soft light emitted from her palms, absorbing through the dwarf’s clothes and skin.
After ten painstaking minutes of life aether being transmitted into Elder Buhnd, we finally got another reaction.
“Elder Buhnd—hey, come on, stay with me,” I roused, patting his cheek as the dwarf furrowed his brows.
“Arth…ur?” His eyes opened but shut back after a few seconds.
“Yes! It’s Arthur. What happened? Who did this to you?”
He let out a pained groan. “You gotta… get out of here, kid.”
“Don’t spout heroic crap like that, Buhnd!” I snapped impatiently. “Tell me the situation. I need to know what we’re going up against.”
Buhnd, tugged on my mantle, pulling me close. “Listen. The Castle, the Council—it’s finished. If you want to do something for Dicathen, you do so by staying alive .”
“Okay, okay. I’ll be careful, but to do that, I need to know what happened. Was it a retainer? A scythe? What sort of magic was used to put you in this state?”
Feeling the strength in Buhnd’s hand loosening, I turned to my bond. “Sylvie, what’s happening? Why isn’t he getting better?”
Sylvie’s arms trembled as beads of sweat dripped down from her face. “I-I don’t know, but I can’t keep this up.”
I took a step back, inspecting the injured dwarf. Like all of the other corpses we had passed, his body was riddled with motes of red. The wisps of purple that had been emitted into his body by Sylvie were currently combating whatever fire spell that was eating away at his life, but the aether wasn’t healing him. No, it was keeping the spell under control, but the fire spell looked like cancer cells, multiplying and spreading fast.
Unable to hold in my frustration, I let out a guttural scream while smashing a stone spike that Buhnd had conjured. Kneeling back down in front of the dying dwarf, I grabbed his hand.
Once Sylvie stopped her healing magic, Buhnd would start dying again, and my bond knew that as well.
Buhnd put his large hand over mine, squeezing it gently. “I-It’s okay.”
Prying open his eyes once more as if it took every ounce of strength to do so, Buhnd turned his gaze to Sylvie. “Little Asura, can you keep this up for just another minute? I think that’ll be enough to tell you what you need to know.”
My bond nodded, her brows furrowed in concentration.
Ignoring the tears rolling down my cheeks, I pressed my forehead against Elder Buhnd’s forehead. “May you be at peace wherever you are.”
In this life and my previous one, the concept of religion had always eluded me. But as more of my loved ones died, whether that be Adam, my father, or Elder Buhnd, I found myself wishing that I was wrong; that there truly was an all-powerful god and an afterlife where everyone I knew would be at peace, waiting for the rest of us. At the very least, I hoped that they would meet a similar fate as me, reincarnated into a different world to live a new life. If that was the case, I hoped that they would be spared the memories of their past life.
“I’m sorry, Arthur,” my bond whispered, putting a hand on my back.
I shook my head. “It’s not your fault.”
After spending a few minutes conjuring an earthen tomb worthy of an individual such as Elder Buhndemog Lonuid, the two of us moved on.
My dwarven mentor had told me what little he knew about the opponent’s power—the opponent being an actual scythe. Apparently, he wielded a smokey black fire that corrupted whatever it came in contact with. It seemed like another deviant like the black metal spikes that Uto was able to conjure or the black poison that the witch was able to use.
Whether a good thing or not, Elder Hester and Kathyln had left for the Wall before the scythe had infiltrated the Castle, but Alduin and Merial Eralith, along with Tessia and my family, were nowhere to be found when all of this had happened.
It was somewhat of a relief that they weren’t here, but another part of me was even more anxious. Questions rose in my head— if they did escape, where did they go? How did they know that they would be attacked? Or was their timely disappearance just a coincidence?
‘I know it’s hard, but you shouldn’t think about all of that right now,’ my bond sent, conveying her worry. ‘Take this one step at a time. We’ll get through this together, Arthur.’
I gave her a terse nod. I didn’t thank her—I didn’t need to. I was grateful that she was with me throughout everything that I had gone through. I couldn’t even imagine where I would be if I didn’t have her, and she knew that.
The idea of someone knowing almost every thought and emotion that crossed my mind would’ve been disconcerting to me if I didn’t realize how grateful for it I was. Maybe it was just because it was Sylvie, and not someone else, but I was thankful for the link that I had with her.
‘Arthur!’ my bond called out.
Yeah, I know. I saw the mana fluctuation in the near distance. Even without Realmheart, it’d be impossible not to sense the powerful auras clashing.
Bairon’s currently engaging with the scythe, I deduced, seeing that the deviant magic was most present in the atmosphere.
‘What should we do?’
I’m going in. Stay behind and cover me with mana shields.
After receiving the ‘okay’ from my bond, I withdrew Dawn’s Ballad from my dimension ring and coalesced mana through my limbs. I could feel the warmth as the runes running down my arms, legs, and back shined a golden hue. Strength filled every fiber of my body as I dug my heel into the floor.
I knew that using Burst Step would strain my body, but with my experience fighting against Agrona’s personal soldiers, I knew that I had to end it fast if I wanted any chance at winning.
‘Okay. Go!’ Sylvie signalled, layering mana around my body.
I willed the mana to flow down my legs, timed to the millisecond to maximize the burst of strength that I’d receive.
The world blurred before me with that single, mana-enhanced step, as my eyes and brain struggled to collect, translate, and sort the influx of images. If it wasn’t for my reflexes heightened through the usage of internal lightning magic, I would be more likely to kill myself by running into a wall than actually hurt my enemy.
Ignoring the searing pain that ate away at my lower body, I dashed forth, honing in on the towering scythe.
It took me all I could to stop myself short.
The jagged tip of my teal sword stood inches away from the scythe’s throat. I could’ve killed him. I was so close, but I couldn’t.
I stared at the scythe, a flurry of emotions emerging as he looked down at me with an amused expression and spoke.
I heard Bairon’s voice scream at me from behind but my ears weren’t able to register what he was saying over the blood pounding in my ears.
I tightened my grip around Dawn’s Ballad, unable to pry my eyes away from the piercing red glare of the scythe standing in front of me.
From the two serrated horns curled underneath his ears, the same bloody cape that mirrored his bright red eyes, it was unmistakable. It was him.
It was the same scythe that had killed Sylvia.