Chapter 237: Expired Arrangement
Long after the sun had set and night crept in, bringing a bitter chill along with it, I sat mindlessly by the fire. Above me, the stars that seemed the same in my previous world and this world glimmered like crystal dust across the horizon.
Virion, like a feeble infant, had fallen back asleep after crying. His body was in a severely weakened state and his mana core had been on the cusp of shattering. Bairon still hadn’t woken up, his injuries from the scythe much more severe than I had originally expected.
Hours must’ve passed since I last moved from my seat as my whirling vortex of thoughts digressed into an empty void. After the anger had fizzled out, the plans to save my family and Tess—the plans for revenge and justice—had all faded.
So I sat on the ground, running my fingers idly through the soft dirt beneath me, no idea where to go from here. The Alacryans now had control over the Castle and with it, the controls to the teleportation gates throughout the continent. It didn’t take a genius to guess that they would plan on taking Xyrus City next before slowly wiping away the forces of Dicathen.
With Virion in the state he was in right now, our side didn’t even have a leader. The lances were scattered and it was only a matter of time before they would be picked off one at a time until Dicathen had no hope of ever retaliating.
The crunch of leaves drew my attention behind me. Sylvie had come out from the earthen shelter I had conjured, but one glance was all it took for me to realize that my bond wasn’t who she appeared to be.
“Let’s take a walk, shall we?” she said, and her voice was the same, but the cadence and pitch were all off.
My heart quickened and I found myself trembling with rage but I wordlessly followed. For five minutes we walked, accompanied only by the snapping of twigs and the crush of foliage under our feet. A flurry of emotions passed through me as I stared at the back of the one responsible for all of the deaths and misery our people had to endure.
My mind raced to think of something to say, to think of something to do.
“Whew!” Sylvie breathed, taking a seat on a fallen log. “Controlling this body even for simple things like walking is hard work.”
I stared at the leader of the Vritra Clan and ruler of Alacrya and fell to my knees in front of him.
Agrona furrowed ‘his’ brows, contorting Sylvie’s face into an expression of surprise and frustration before he quickly relaxed.
“My, what an unexpected turn of events,” he said as I lowered my gaze to the ground beneath him. “Has the hero, and once mighty king, admitted defeat?”
“Agrona,” I said through gritted teeth. “You’ve made your point. Please, let Tessia and my family go.”
I dug my fingers into the dirt. “Because… I accept your deal. I’ll remove myself from this war.”
A chortle made me look up, only to see Sylvie cackling while covering her mouth. “You think our deal still stands, Grey? You were the only unpredictable variable that had even the slightest chance in hindering me, but as you said so yourself, I’ve made my point. Even you—with all of your inherent gifts and advantages—only amounted to this much.”
Sylvie’s eyes, laced in displeasure, stared down at me. “The very fact that you haven’t even told your bond that I’m able to possess her body tells me that even from the very beginning, you were always expecting to lose.”
“Then what… what do you want?” I demanded. “Why did you appear in front of me again?”
“Again, asking questions I have no obligation to answer.” Despite his casual words, his expression was knitted in what seemed like worry. “I don’t expect to have the pleasure of meeting like this again, so… goodbye.”
I scrambled to my feet. “W-Wait, what about my—”
And like that, Sylvie slumped back, unconscious.
Screaming in resentment, I slammed a mana-clad fist into the ground, waking the forest and its inhabitants.
“A-Arthur?” Sylvie called, weary and disoriented. “What’s going on?”
I let the mental barrier—that I had grown increasingly better at fortifying—fall, allowing my bond to read my thoughts and memories unabated.
Still, I made it a point to tell her the truth verbally. “Ever since you broke the seal that Sylvia had placed on you, Agrona was able to take over your consciousness for short periods of time.”
I watched as Sylvie’s skin paled and her expression distorted into disgust. Her mouth opened, as if to ask me a question, then closed because she had found the answer in my mind.
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you.”
Sylvie walked up to me, her thoughts and emotions blocked, and slapped me across the cheek. My head whipped to the side at the force strong enough to break a normal person’s neck.
“There. We’re even now,” she muttered before wrapping her arms around my waist and burying her head in my chest.
The tears that hadn’t even fallen while Virion mourned for his family spilled down my cheeks as my body trembled. I gripped my bond back tightly, afraid to lose her as well.
I had not only lost, but I had also begged to my enemy on bent knees. Sylvie knew the anger, guilt, sorrow, and humiliation tearing apart my insides and the very fact that she knew and accepted them was enough for me to move on.
Biting my lip until I could taste a warm metallic bitterness, I cried silently, the crystal dust above us shaky and blurred.
Sylvie and I had eventually returned to our camp later that night. The two of us stayed together outside, guarding the shelter that Bairon and Virion were sleeping in.
At one point, I must’ve fallen asleep because Sylvie sent a sharp mental probe, telling me to wake up. My eyes snapped open and I got up, only to see Virion and Bairon having a heated argument while Sylvie put herself between them.
“We have to go back! Our troops need us, Commander!” Bairon growled, struggling to stay up on his own two feet.
“And do what? It’s too late,” Virion snapped, leaning against the earthen tent for support. His eyes turned towards me, noticing that I was awake. “Good, Arthur, we should get ready to leave.”
“Leave? Where?” I asked, confused.
“Our Commander says that the war is lost,” Bairon retorted. “Most likely, the injury from fighting the scythe had rendered him incapable of leading.”
Virion cast a harsh look at the lance before speaking. “The war is lost. With the Castle in their hands, they have access to all the teleportation gates throughout the continent. It’s only a matter of time before they’re able to figure out how to fully control it.”
“So what did you have in mind?” I asked Virion.
Virion’s knees buckled, toppling forward until Sylvie caught him.
“Thank you,” he said to my bond before turning to me. “Camus, Buhnd, Hester, and I, along with a few other trusted friends constructed a shelter to take refuge, just in case disaster fell—although no one would’ve expected an outcome like this.”
The thought of Elder Buhnd sent a sharp pain through my chest but I swallowed it. “Where is it?”
“You can’t be serious,” Bairon interrupted. “You are a lance. We have a duty to uphold for our people. Are we going to abandon them and leave them all to die by the Alacryans?”
“We’re not abandoning anyone!” Virion snarled, his patience wearing thin. “But going back into battle and risking the death of myself and any of you three would leave no hope for the future!”
“The future…” my bond echoed.
“Yes! The future. We need to recoup if we ever want a chance to take back Dicathen,” Virion continued.
Bairon’s shoulder slumped and for the first time, the lance seemed fragile and vulnerable. “So… there’s nothing we can do right now to win this war?”
“Our best chance is for us to stay alive and gather the lances,” Virion replied, looking sincerely pained.
‘What do you think we should do?’ Sylvie asked, knowing that my thoughts were still filled with Tessia and my family.
I let out a sigh before staring at the two of them with a hardened gaze. “Sylvie and I will take the two of you to wherever this secret shelter is but after that we’re going to look for my mom, my sister, and Tess.”
“Arthur… “ There was a tangible distance in Virion’s voice as he said my name, a hollow and almost pained sound.
I shook my head, holding up my hand. On my middle finger was a plain silver ring that Vincent had given me and my mom. “This is an artifact connected with a ring that my mother has. It’s my only hope and I can’t leave her knowing that there’s still a chance she’s alive.”
I had kept it off during the war, but through the connection between the two rings and the fact that she and my sister both had the Phoenix Wyrm pendant, it was possible. And that the ring hadn’t activated because she was still alive… not because she had taken it off.
“I’ll direct Dicathians that I meet back to the shelter during my search, but I need to do this,” I finished.
“I understand,” Virion whispered, closing his eyes.
Quietly, I got to work, destroying the earthen shelter and erasing all signs that we had ever stopped here to rest.
“So… where is this shelter, Commander Virion?” Bairon asked.
Virion used a nearby twig to draw a rough map of Dicathen, indicating our position with a circle. “The refuge that we had found is near the southern coast of the Kingdom of Darv, just along the Grand Mountains—”
“Found?” I cut in. “I thought you said you and the elders had built it.”
“Most of what seemed like a man-made cave already existed. We just built on top of it and hid it more thoroughly,” he added.
“Well, how are we going to traverse the near-thousand miles it’ll take to reach this shelter? We can’t fly; it’s too dangerous,” Bairon noted.
“You’re right. And it’ll be just as risky to try and take a teleportation gate to a city within Darv. Should we wait until nightfall?”
“How about this,” I suggested, drawing a jagged line running through Sapin. “We’re about an hour hike away from the Sehz River that flows all the way down through Darv and into the ocean. We’ll take the river down until nightfall and travel the rest by sky.”
“There are cities built along the Sehz though,” Sylvie countered. “Won’t we be a bit noticeable traveling on the water?”
“Who said anything about on the water?”
“This is… fascinating,” Virion marveled as we watched various aquatic animals and mana beasts pass by from the top of Sylvie’s back. We surged through the water, away from discerning eyes, while I concentrated on the multiple layers of spells I had to continually manage in order to make all of this possible.
I had to create two pockets of air, one over Sylvie’s back to allow Virion, Bairon, and I to breath and stay dry, and another encompassing Sylvie’s large draconic head. While we weren’t submerged deep enough to have to worry too much about the water pressure, it did mean that keeping the air pockets stable was quite a bit harder.
With the aid of water magic to push us faster and a fin made of mana that Sylvie had fashioned at the end of her tail, we were making great distance.
Virion was able to take this new mode of transportation in stride, but the same couldn’t be said for Bairon. The poor lance had latched himself so tightly onto Sylvie’s back that, even through her tough scales, she complained to me about the pain.
“How did you even think of such an idea as traveling underwater?” Virion asked, twisting left and right to see all around him. For a moment I was able to see the old Virion that I had grown up with back when I had first shown up in Elenoir with Tessia.
“Did you forget that I’m pretty smart?” I asked, avoiding his question.
We stayed fairly deep in the water except for the times that we had to replenish our air pockets. After the initial amazement had worn off, the four of us traveled in silence, brooding in our own minds with little desire to converse. Sylvie and I still conversed telepathically but even those conversations dwindled as each of us succumbed to our own thoughts of the bleak future.
The water around us began to darken as the sun fell, indicating to us that we’d be able to resurface soon.
Without taking a break, the four of us launched out of the lake and into the purple and deep blue sky.
Will you be okay flying with them on your back? I asked Sylvie, jumping off of her back. Virion and Bairon were both still barely able to use mana after their fight against the scythe.
‘I’ll manage,’ she replied, beating her powerful wings to accelerate.
I followed alongside them, flying on my own to lessen her burden. I watched as the land below us began turning into the desert as we crossed the border into Darv. I took one last look back, trying not to think about the battles going on and the chaos spreading for our troops as they were left without their commander.