Chapter 241: Hope and Trust
There was a long silence that followed after I asked my question, and when she did speak, I expected a long and convoluted story of how she managed to get into the castle and save Tessia and my family.
Instead, she started off by saying something I didn’t expect. “Arthur, I knew of your identity the first time we had met, back when you came to me to get in contact with your parents.”
My eyes widened. “What? How?”
Rinia held up a finger. “These old eyes see much more than you can imagine. However, much like how I had feigned ignorance of your past life and kept it a secret, there are also parts of this story that I can’t quite reveal yet.”
I didn’t respond, letting her continue talking.
“I had known for a while now that an attack would occur at the Castle following the betrayal of Virion’s son.”
“Virion’s… You’re telling me right now that it was Alduin who was responsible for letting the scythe in? That’s not possible, you can’t seriously be saying that he was trying to get his own father killed, right?”
“My knowledge doesn’t extend to his intentions, but yes, he was the one that connected the scythe, as well as the rest of his forces, directly to the castle teleportation gate,” she answered.
My hand came up to my gaping mouth. I couldn’t believe it. Despite any disagreements the two of them had, Alduin had always looked up to Virion. After a moment, I spoke again.
“Was Alduin guaranteed the safety of Merial and Tessia? Was that why he betrayed everyone? But then…” I dropped my voice to a whisper so my sleeping family wouldn’t hear. “Why did they take my mother and sister?”
“That’s what Alduin believed, yes,” she said. “As for your family, it’s easy to surmise that they wanted your mother and sister as hostages.”
Rubbing my temples, I thought about what she said until it clicked. “Wait, you said ‘that’s what Alduin believed.’ What do you mean by that?”
Rinia smiled wearily at me. “We’re venturing into the area where I can’t give you an answer. All I can tell you is that if we want to keep any chance of taking back our country, we have to keep Tessia safe and far away from Agrona and the Alacryans.”
My head whipped toward the elven diviner. “Wait, so we do have a chance at taking back Dicathen?”
She nodded. “It’s slim, but it does exist.”
The two of us fell in silence until I spoke again. “If you knew about the attack on the Castle, did you also know that Buhnd was going to die?”
The fire in front of us popped, spraying a small shower of glowing red ashes at the ground.
“Yes,” she finally said. “But had I tried and diverted the entire attack, there was a much larger chance that Tessia would’ve been captured.”
I opened my mouth to say something, but I couldn’t quite get the right words.
“I know what you’re thinking, but I couldn’t risk the chance of Dicathen losing everything on the slim chance that I could save everyone.”
“But, if you knew everything beforehand, you could’ve made countermeasures. You could’ve told Virion, or told me!” I argued.
“Time doesn’t work that way. Changing things like that alters the course of the future… a future that I wouldn’t be able to see,” she said, her voice barely a whisper.
Gritting my teeth, I dug my fingers into the cement floor to try and calm down. I knew I was being selfish… if it wasn’t for Elder Rinia, Tessia and my family would’ve been in the hands of Agrona by now, but still…
“How were you able to save Tessia and my family though?” I asked.
“I was able to intercept them while they were on their way back to Elenoir,” she said nonchalantly.
I nodded at her answer but my mind spun trying to imagine a scenario where Rinia succeeded in doing this. How did she manage to pry Tessia and my family away from Alduin and Merial? Was it just Alduin and Merial there? Rinia specifically said that while Alduin believed that they were safe, they really weren’t. Most likely, after Alduin, Merial, Tessia and my family stepped through the portal, they would’ve been met with a trap.
Did Elder Rinia know everything that was going to happen? Were her diviner abilities able to influence time that well?
Without any warning, I directed a surge of killing intent over Elder Rinia, and just as I saw her react with an expression of surprise, I ignited Realmheart and immediately used Static Void.
The world around me turned monochrome except for the motes of purple trembling in place. But my eyes weren’t focused on the particles of aether around me; they were focused on Elder Rinia.
Her eyes regarded me in shock as she watched my eyes narrow in realization. She shifted her gaze to look around her before her eyes fell back on me.
“Clever,” she sighed.
“So you can utilize aether,” I muttered, seeing the specks of purple hovering around her, as if protecting her.
“You’re not an asura, I know that for sure,” I started. “Are you… one of the ancient mages?”
Despite the apparent strain that Elder Rinia endured, trying to keep her aether arts active, she let out a chuckle before answering. “No, I can tell you with absolute confidence that I am not an ancient mage.”
“Then who… what are you? Even I can’t control aether without relying on the dragon’s will an asura had given me.”
“While I’m not entirely sure, I believe that my diviner abilities stem partly from aether. As for how I learned, I’m sorry but I can’t tell you that.”
“I don’t think that’s a good enough answer anymore,” I challenged, staring intently at the elf shrouded in so much mystery.
“I can tell you—I can tell you everything. But Tessia and your family might die because of it,” she answered, her face turning more ghastly. “Please, have a little patience and I can assure you that you’ll find out for yourself.”
She wasn’t threatening me with my loved ones—no, she truly believed that her telling me all of this could lead to their deaths. Gnashing my teeth in frustration, I released Static Void, allowing Elder Rinia to release the aether arts she had used to keep her from being frozen in time.
She let out a ragged breath. “Thank you… for believing in me.”
“You saved Tessia and my family,” I said, taking a glance over to where my mother and Ellie were sleeping. “The least I can do is trust you—at least until you give me a reason not to.”
The two of us continued talking, albeit a bit more calmly this time. I asked every question I had. Some she answered, and some she didn’t, but I didn’t press her for details.
What I did find out was that there were teleportation gates here—several, in fact—that could only be utilized with control over aether. That’s how Elder Rinia was able to get here so quickly and without having to physically make a cross-continental journey with Tessia, my mother, and my sister in tow.
“You learned aether arts while I was more or less given the ability to borrow it at times. Tell me, is it something that I can learn as well?” I asked, trying to hold onto the sensation I had when I utilized aether on my own to injure the scythe.
“Yes, and no. Your ability to experience a taste of aether arts through your dragon will, as well as the fact that you can see aether gives you a great advantage. However, my advantage, compared to yours, is much greater. I had even discovered a location to train in aether arts with aether much more abundant than here. But even then… it took me eighty years to learn something you can do with a simple thought,” she explained.
My gaze dropped as I thought about spending eighty years, perhaps more, trying to grasp aether arts. Eighty years was a long time, and while my white core extended my lifetime, I couldn’t hope for the same thing for my mother or my sister. “I see.”
“It’s too early to lose hope. We’ll continue to gather forces slowly, and with you and Lady Sylvie here, we’ll have three people able to access the teleportation—” Elder Rinia stopped abruptly and I knew why. I turned my head back, brows furrowed at the erratic sound of footsteps drawing closer.
My sudden shift in emotions caused Sylvie to stir awake as well.
‘What’s going on?’ she sent, lifting her head off of my lap.
Virion is coming and… something’s wrong, I replied, standing up.
I sent out a pulse of wind mana, trying to sense whether anyone was chasing after Virion, but it was just him. It only took a few seconds for him to appear through the small hallway leading to the room we were in. The old commander was disheveled, tired, and had a look of panic.
“T-Tessia… ran away,” he huffed, catching his breath.
“What?” I blurted. “How did this happen? Where did she go?”
Elder Rinia cursed under her breath and grabbed my arm. “Tessia can’t leave this place, Arthur. There’s something wrong with her core, and if she leaves the protection this place provides, the Alacryans can track her.”
My eyes widened in horror. I turned to Virion. “What direction did she go?”
As soon as Virion lifted his finger, I shot off in that direction while immediately activating Static Void once more.
The color drained from the world as I bolted out the window. Igniting Realmheart to better search for mana fluctuations from Tess, I rushed forth.
My mana usage was limited while in Static Void because I couldn’t manipulate ambient mana, but seeing as there wasn’t much ambient mana in this underground town anyway, I figured Tessia couldn’t have gotten too far anyway.
With the limits of my spell slowly gripping down on my core, I endured until I eventually found traces of mana that had been used.
I was right. Tess had used magic to forcefully run away from Virion, who was still injured and unable to utilize most of his mana.
Following the trail into a different tunnel than I had come from, I spotted Tess. She was frozen in place, her eyes determined, her hair billowing… and drops of tears suspended in the air behind her.
I rushed past her a few feet to give her time to stop before withdrawing Static Void and Realmheart. The motes of purple and green faded while color rushed back into the world.
Tessia resumed running until she spotted me. After immediately skidding to a stop, she stared at me, eyes and mouth both frozen wide.
“How did you…” she started before she shook her head and her eyes narrowed. “I have to go, Art. I have to save my parents.”
I hadn’t thought about what to say to reason with Tess once I caught up. I didn’t even know what she was going to say, but I sure didn’t expect this. “Tess… your parents betrayed us.”
“Don’t say that—Don’t you dare say that!” she snapped, eyes glaring. “You don’t know anything!”
“What I know is that your parents colluded with Agrona, let in a scythe into the Castle and got almost everyone killed,” I said calmly.
“It’s not that simple,” she argued, hurriedly wiping away a tear. “They had no choice…”
“Tess… your father and mother basically sacrificed Virion—your own grandpa—for the hope that Agrona would leave Elenoir alone. Now please, come back with us. Let’s talk about our next steps and—”
“Stop. I know that you’ve disagreed with my parents while you participated in meetings with the Council, but don’t make them out to be so selfish like that. They had no choice!”
“You keep saying that, Tess, but they had plenty of choices,” I quipped. “They could’ve ignored Agrona’s offer and trusted in Virion to win this war.”
“Then I would be dead, Art!” she screamed. “Is that what you wanted?”
My brows furrowed in confusion. “Dead? Wh-What are you talking about?”
Tess marched forward until she was just inches away from me. “I would be dead. My parents had no choice but to accept the deal with Agrona because of the beast will that you gave me years back. Do you remember?”
My thoughts veered back to the elderwood guardian I had defeated. “No, that’s impossible. You only had problems assimilating with it. Once you managed to control it…”
“The beast will you gave me was from a corrupted beast,” Tessia interrupted, shedding tears. “A beast corrupted by Agrona. With that thing inside me, I was basically a living bomb that Agrona could detonate on a whim.”
My knees buckled and I faltered back, barely managing to keep my balance. “N-No…”
“So don’t you dare say that my parents betrayed all of us,” Tessia seethed. “They did it to save me, and even if everyone here won’t give them a chance, I will.”
‘Art! What happened, are you okay? I’m coming to you now,’ Sylvie transmitted, her worry leaking onto me.
No, it’s okay. Stay there while I try to convince Tess, I replied.
“Tess… I had no idea that this happened because of the beast will I gave you,” I muttered. “If I knew…”
She shook her head. “I know it’s not your fault, but I have to do something, Art.”
“I understand, Tess. But once you step out from this shelter, the Alacryans will be able to trace you. You’ll die.”
Tess gripped my shirt with trembling hands. “They’re my parents, Art. They did everything they could to save me.”
A flurry of emotions stirred inside me as I looked down at Tess: frustration, sadness, fear… and guilt. It was easy to feel responsible for what had happened, especially when I knew that something was wrong with the elderwood guardian. But because of the excitement of reaping the rewards from such a strong monster, rather than being cautious, I fed it to one of the people I cared most about in an attempt to keep her safe.
Mad at myself and the sick irony of it all, I pulled Tess away. “Is there nothing I can do to convince you to stay?”
“I’m sorry.” Tess bit her lip and steeled herself, looking at me with determined eyes.
I let out a sigh. “Then I’m coming with you.”