My eyes stayed fixed on the iron staircase aged with dents and rust, until the roar of mana beasts below shook me from my daze.
“Looks like some of the more keen mana beasts have sensed the castle. We should hurry if we don’t want any unnecessary trouble,” Olfred voiced out to no one in particular.
Peering down from the sky, we could faintly make out the subtle movements of a few huge mana beasts that were shrouded in the dense cl.u.s.ter of trees.
“Mm,” replied Varay, neither agreeing nor disagreeing but simply accepting his point.
The stone knight, that had me slung over its shoulder, gently lowered me onto the base of the flight of stairs before crumbling into sand and reconstructing itself into a cape as it fastened itself around Olfred’s shoulder.
“We dwarves always carry a bit of dirt with us wherever we go,” Olfred winked at me upon noticing my surprised expression.
The door closed behind us, and while I thought we would be surrounded by darkness, a moss-like substance covering the walls began glowing with a soft, blue light.
Varay dissipated the ice cuffs that shackled my legs together so I could walk on my own and took the lead while Olfred followed closely behind us. We must’ve trudged on for at least an hour up the seemingly endless flight of stairs when I voiced out my frustration.
“Is there no faster way to go up than climbing this absurd amount of stairs?” I sighed. My body might be stronger than most humans even without my mana core due to the a.s.similation process I had gone through, but I was still growing impatient at the wasted time.
“Magic cannot be used at all of the entrances,” Varay answered immediately, a hint of impatience in her already cold voice.
I let out another deep breath and trudged along silently. Stealing a glance at my bond, as expected, Sylvie was sleeping a lot more than usual due to her recent transformation to her draconic form. Windsom had explained to me about the different forms that Asuras could utilize depending on the situation, but I never knew how much of a toll it took on Sylvie to release her draconic form. It couldn’t be helped, however, since Sylvie was basically a newborn in the eyes of deities who could live for what I can only imagine to be thousands of years, if not more.
Lost in my thoughts, I hadn’t realized that Varay had stopped.
“Oof,” I let out a surprised grunt as I b.u.mped into her. The female lance was just a tad taller than me but I was a step below her so my face had only hit her back. However, my arms were cuffed in front of me and they had hit someplace a bit more… intimate.
I hadn’t thought much of it, but to my surprise, Varay reacted in a way I would not have expected. She let out a rather effeminate little squeal as she jumped forward. Whipping around to face me, I could see her face flash in embarra.s.sment and surprise before immediately contorting into a fearsome glare that could drench someone in cold sweat.
Collecting herself, she turned back around and placed her hand at the end of the stairwell before muttering softly, “We are here.”
Gazing behind me, Olfred just gave an amused smirk before shrugging his shoulders and nudging me forward.
A glaring light seeped through the crevice of the wall that had split apart. As my eyes adjusted, I could finally make out what was ahead. A brightly lit corridor with an arched ceiling stretched from where we were, walls covered with mysterious designs carved onto every visible facet and corner. The engraved runes made the corridor seem more like a memorial etched with names of the deceased than a luxurious decoration; each engraving and design seemed to hold a purpose and meaning. There were simple chandeliers hung from the ceiling every few meters apart, but while the hall was brightly lit, The white light gave off a cold, emotionless feel, reminding me of the hospitals back in my old world.
“Now that we’re inside the actual castle itself, it is best not to converse with us or any of the lances,” he whispered with an unusual chill to his voice as we entered through the rather crudely-made door
We walked in silence, with only the echoes of our footsteps filling the hall. On either side were doors that didn’t match the metallic corridor; there were doors of different colors and material, all quite distinct from one another. The corridor didn’t seem to have an end, but luckily, Varay stopped us at a seemingly random door to our left along the way. She knocked on the door without pause until it swung inward, revealing an armored bear of a man.
I took a closer look at him.
“My Lords,” the guard immediately knelt down with his head bowed.
“Rise,” Varay replied cooly. The guard stood back up, but did not make eye contact with either of the two lances. Instead, his gaze was fixed on me as he regarded me both curiously and cautiously.
“Tell the Council of our arrival.” Olfred waved the guard away impatiently. The armored man took another quick bow and disappeared behind a hidden black door that looked to be a part of the wall.
After a few minutes, the guard came back out and fully opened the door for us, allowing us in. “Lance Zero and Lance Balrog have been given permission to meet the Council, along with the prisoner named Arthur Leywin.”
I looked at Olfred, raising a brow. As he walked past me, he muttered, “Bah. Code names,” as if embarra.s.sed.
I couldn’t help but let out a wry smile before trailing behind the two lances. Whatever awaited ahead would most likely determine my future, but all I could think of was what the code names for all the other lances were.
As I pa.s.sed the guard and stepped through the hidden door, I could immediately sense the change in the atmosphere. We were in a large circular room with a high-rise ceiling that seemed to be made entirely of gla.s.s. The room was simply decorated, with only a long, rectangular table at the very back. Six chairs, each seated with one of the members of the Council, were facing the three of us as they looked at me, every one of them with different expressions.
““Your Majesties.”” Olfred and Varay both bowed towards the Council as the former kings and queens rose from their seats. Not knowing what exactly the custom dictated in situations like this, I followed after the two lances and bowed as well.
“Ignorant! Do you think of yourself on the same level as the Lances? You should take a knee at the very least as a sign of respect,” a husky voice boomed. I looked up to see that it was the former dwarf king, Dawsid Greysunders.
He sported a bushy brown beard that spilled from his chin and covered is upper torso. He had a barrel of a chest covered by an endorned leather armor that seemed like it was restraining his muscles rather than protecting them. However, looking at his soft, uncalloused hand twiddling the gold wine flute, I had second thoughts as to whether those muscles were ever put to use, or if they was simply just for show.
I had a hard time controlling my face as it contorted into a look of annoyance, but before I could rebut back, I caught sight of Alduin Eralith, Tessia’s father and the former elf king. He gave me a quick shake of the head, with a worried expression on his face.
Clenching my jaw, I relented. “My apologizes, Your Majesties. I am but a boy from the countryside, uneducated in the ways of proper manners,” I said through gritted teeth, taking a knee.
“Hmph.” He plopped back down on his seat, crossing his arms. Even as he sunk back into his chair, it was impossible to ignore the st.u.r.dy frame that the former dwarf king had. The veins on his arms stretched with every little movement. Paired with a great bristling beard and dark, heavy eyes, Even as a dwarf, he looked much larger than he really was.
“Now, now. I’m sure the journey had been long and everyone’s eager to get started. Varay, uncuff Arthur.” Curtis’ father, Blaine Glayder was the one that had just spoken. The female lance dissipated the frozen cuffs that bound my wrists but let the slumbering Sylvie inside the frozen orb, as I surveyed the rulers of this continent. It had been years since I last saw Blaine and Priscilla Glayder, but besides the few extra wrinkles, little had changed about them. I noticed that the former queen did look a bit fatigued, but her expression did not give that away at all.
It was the first time seeing the former dwarf queen but she was just as I had expected—manly. She had a defined, square jaw with sharp eyes and dark hair pulled straight back into a ponytail. Her broad shoulders strained the fabric of her simple, brown blouse as she stayed seated upright on her chair.
Alduin and Merial Eralith, however, seemed to have aged the most. While it had merely been days since I had last seen them, I wasn’t surprised, since their only daughter had been the center of Draneeve’s act of terrorism.
The two lances that had escorted me here took a few steps back from me as I looked up at the Council.
Alduin Eralith spoke up with in a gentle tone, his expression coming off as almost guilty for bringing me here. “Arthur Leywin. Before we begin, I would like to thank you, not as a leader but as a father for saving my daughter—”
“And need I remind you that we are here as leaders of this d.a.m.ned continent, not fathers?” Dawsid interjected, pounding his fists on the table. “This boy mutilated one of his fellow schoolmates before killing him. Shall I read the description one of the scouts so kindly sent to us?”
Priscilla shook her head, trying to quell the situation.
“Dawsid, I hardly think it’s necessary—”
“Both legs, crushed into mush past the mid-thigh. Left arm, dismember and cauterized past the elbow. Right arm, frozen and crushed. Genitals…” As the former dwarf king continued to read off of the scroll, even he seemed to have a hard time saying what was coming up next. “Genitals, along with the pelvic bone, crushed and—”
“I think that’s enough, Dawsid,” Alduin warned.
“It seems I’ve made my point. Yes, it’s all convenient and everything that this boy happened to save the entire school, but it did not justify the torment he put his schoolmate through. To me, I can only see this as him using this whole fiasco as an excuse to get revenge on someone who he’s clearly had enmity with since the past,” Dawsid said coldly.
“You can’t be saying that this boy’s main motive for delving blindly into such a dangerous scene was just to seek revenge. And even if he did, what of it. You can’t prove to anyone here what Arthur’s motives were. He did what we couldn’t do in times of need and that was potentially save every student inside Xyrus,” Alduin barked back, his face turning more and more red.
“Yes, and that is why I’m not suggesting we kill the boy. We just need to merely cripple him as a mage.” It was the former dwarf queen that spoke this time. The cold indifference in her voice seemed to even make her husband falter for a moment.
“What my wife, Glaudera said, is exactly my thoughts as well. This boy is too dangerous if left alone. Imagine if he and his pet dragon decides to make enemies out of us…”
My ears perked up at the mention of Sylvie.
“My G.o.d, do you hear yourself? You sound like a paranoid criminal. Blaine, Priscilla, what do you have to add to all of this?” Tessia’s mother, asked, shaking her head, disconcerted.
“Merial, my husband and I both agree with you on this, speaking as a parent,” Priscilla said evenly, her distant gaze switching back and forth from Sylvie and I. “But, it is best to consider the Greysunders’ view as well. What they say, they say with the entirety of the continent at stake.”
“So what, we cripple the boy and kill the dragon, all for the off chance that the boy might harbor ill feelings toward us and decide to get revenge?” Alduin nearly yelled as he stood up, facing the other leaders.
“Alduin, know your place! Don’t think you are on the same level as us just because you sit here. May I remind you of your inability to even take care of your own lances?” Dawsid growled menacingly as he pointed accusingly at the former elf king, “This continent is potentially at the brink of war and you were careless enough to lose one of our biggest trump cards!”
“Your Majesties. Was I brought here to simply hear my judgment or am I allowed to—”
“You will not speak until you are instructed to!” Dawsid roared, cutting me off. “I refuse to any claims this boy is trying to make. He could say that the G.o.d of Iron himself spoke to him and ordered him to do all of this but it does not change what he had done and what he will be able to do if left alone. The scouts are still in the middle of gathering accounts from the witnesses.”
“I see no point in me being here if I am not even allowed to speak and give my account on what happened and why it happened the way it did,” I did my best to control the volume and tone of my voice, but I could tell it was coming out a lot sharper than I had wanted it to.
“You’re right! There is no need for this prisoner to be here. Olfred, lock him up in one of the lower cells and keep him there until further orders. Also, lock his pet in a vault.” Glaudera Greysunders responded for her husband, waving her hand toward us.
“Dawsid, Glaudera, the Council is not for you to run and order as you see fit. Aya!” Alduin growled. Behind him, a figure masked in the shadows kneeled, awaiting a command.
“Stand down, elf! Remember that you only have one lance at your disposal.” There was heavy tension as the elf king and dwarf king locked eyes.
Alduin was the one to concede as he reluctantly sat back in his chair. For a brief moment as I was picked up by Olfred’s stone knight, our gazes met. I could see the unrelenting determination in his gaze as he gave me a firm nod. I bit my tongue and chose to stay silent.
It was obvious that the former dwarf king and queen were all for crippling me, while the Glayder’s remained neutral since much is still unknown. I was going to have to rely on Alduin and Merial if Sylvie and I were going to get home unscathed.
As the stone knight carried me through a different door and down a flight of stairs, I tried to talk to Olfred with little results.
Taking a look around, it seemed like your typical castle dungeon where prisoners of war and traitors were held. I was in just one of the many cells, but much of the area was covered by shadows that the light of the few burning torches couldn’t reach.
“This will be your cell, Arthur. Your bond will be placed elsewhere.” The summoned knight carrying me suddenly crumbled into dust upon reaching my dungeon chamber. I landed rather unimpressively on my knees and elbows as Olfred shut the metal cage.
“Ouch, he could’ve warned me,” I muttered aloud, brushing the dust off of my knees.
“That voice. A-Arthur? Arthur Leywin?”
My head bolted up at the sound of the feeble, yet familiar sound.