Chapter 104: The Great Eight
“Am I allowed to know all of this?” I questioned, removing a sharp branch out of my hair.
We were currently hiking through a familiar part of Elshire Forest after Windsom had teleported us nearby. It took me only a few moments upon arrival to realize that I had been to this part of the forest before with the Eralith family; we were headed towards Elder Rinia’s hideout.
“You have been given permission to stay in Epheotus so you will figure it out sooner or later. While memorizing the information that I’ve told you isn’t necessary, it is always beneficial for one to know the culture, mannerisms and politics involved when in unfamiliar territory. Especially if you have to interact with the important figures of said place.” Windsom advised, not bothering to turn around as he continued pushing branches and vines out of his way. “But I have a feeling that you already know the importance of that.”
“Of course,” I smirked. “But knowledge without understanding is but a sword stuck in its sheath. Now, you’ve told me the what, Windsom, but you’ve yet to tell me the why.”
“Very true,” he admitted. “Do not worry, we’ll get to that soon enough.”
I went on. “Okay, so there are sev… no, eight races of asuras in Epheotus. Each race consists of multiple clans, but only one clan within their respective race are t.i.tled as one of the High Eight?”
“The Great Eight,” the asura corrected immediately.
“What race was the Vritra Clan?” I tried to imagine multiple times in the past what sort of creature the Vritra Clan might be, with their horns and grey complexion, but nothing came to mind.
“The true form of the Vritra Clan is that of a fearsome serpentine asura called the Basilisk. It will be good for you to take note of the races and clan names of the Great Eight.”
“What became of the Basilisk race after the Vritra Clan and other Basilisk clans’ betrayal? I pressed on, swatting a particularly annoying insect that had probably thought my ear would make a good resting spot.
“Excluding the fact that the Vritra Clan was replaced by a lesser clan as part of the Great Eight, some of the more radical races pushed to annihilate whatever remained of the Basilisk race. Fortunately, the ties between each race reach far back in history; friends of the remaining Basilisk clans stood up for them. In the end, measures as drastic as a genocide were never taken; it would be foolish for a whole race to bear the crimes of a few, after all.”
I couldn’t discern what Windsom was thinking as he told me all of this. The inflection and tone of his voice didn’t match what he was saying, his words sounding almost sardonic.
“I see…” I continued walking, looking at my dirty boots crunching on fallen leaves and broken branches. “How were the Great Eight selected anyway?”
“The clans of the Great Eight have almost never changed. For example, even though the Dragon race has the fewest number of clans, the Indrath Clan, the clan of my master and Lady Sylvia, has been the part of the Great Eight since the beginning of our history. However, even to this day, the strength of the Great Clans are grades above the rest of the others. This is about the closest thing to an answer I can give you.”
We continued to rally back and forth as we made our way towards Elder Rinia’s hidden shelter, Windsom mostly quizzing me on the names I needed to know. I was able to process most of the information fairly quickly, but my sleep-deprived and starved state took a toll on my ability to retain information.
“Anyway, not to sound like a brat, but couldn’t you have brought us any closer? If you teleported us from an airborne castle in the middle of the Beast Glades to Elshire Forest, I’m sure you could’ve teleported us a few miles closer…”
“The home of the Diviner Elf that your family is currently taking refuge in is surrounded by a fairly large barrier that I did not wish to agitate. Teleporting through it might’ve caused a ripple in the barrier, which might give away the location of everyone inside.”
“Ah… my apologies then. I’m a little on edge in my current state,” I responded, scratching my head.
We had just gone through the waterfall that hid the entrance to Elder Rinia’s home when I spoke. “So let me get this straight. Agrona, current head of the Vritra Clan, led his race out of Epheotus to Alacrya, where he had been experimenting on the lesser races, and declared himself Eternal Ruler?”
“A rather tasteless t.i.tle to give to oneself but, in essence, yes,” the asura confirmed.
“Then this treaty that you guys talked about earlier; if the Vritra Clan, along with the other clans of the Basilisk race, are asuras, shouldn’t they be forbidden to directly act in this upcoming war?” I asked, trying to keep track of how many turns we took in this maze of a tunnel.
“Yes, but that was never the problem”—Windsom stopped walking and turned back towards me—“Arthur, didn’t you ever once wonder why the asura races didn’t just kill the Vritra Clan and the clans following them? There are seven other races after all.”
“Of course I have, but didn’t you say something about the consequences that would affect the lesser races that were living in Alacrya?”
“I did, but what I had not informed you of was that the treaty was not our first course of action. After Agrona and his follower’s escape, the Great Clans, excluding the Basilisk race, came together for the first time, regardless of factions, and formed an a.s.sembly of the leaders of each Great Clan. The leaders decided to send a small division with our elite asuras to quickly dispose of Agrona and his followers.” Windsom paused for a moment, and even with his stoic expression, it was obvious that he was deliberating on whether to express what was on his mind.
The asura eventually let out a small sigh and conjured a small barrier around us. “Arthur, what I’m about to disclose to you must stay with you; this information is known only by a few members of the Indrath Clan.”
I nodded, locking eyes with Windsom as I waited for him to continue.
“Everyone in Epheotus believe that Lady Sylvia was somehow captured and held prisoner somewhere, but it was actually Lady Sylvia who voluntarily went with the elite division tasked with killing Agrona Vritra and the clans that followed him.”
“What?” I exclaimed, my voice coming out a lot louder than I had meant it to. “How does that make sense? She went on a mission into enemy territory without knowing what to expect? That mission was basically suicidal. No way your master, Sylvia’s father, would’ve let her go.”
“Of course Lord Indrath didn’t allow her to go,” Windsom growled. “What I’m saying is Lady Sylvia concealed herself and followed after the elite division. By the time they were aware of Lady Sylvia’s presence, it was already too late to back out.”
There was a long pause before either of us spoke again.
“So what ended up happening to the asuras sent by the leaders of Epheotus?”
“What none of the leaders had expected”— Windsom’s face contorted in disgust as his hands formed a fist— “Agrona, that cunning snake, was waiting with an even larger army of Basilisks and lesser races that had the same innate magical abilities as them.”
It took only a moment for me to realize what his words implied. “The Vritra Clan was interbreeding with the lesser races of Alacrya,” I whispered.
The asura only nodded in return, before continuing. “Apparently, Agrona and his followers had been interbreeding for quite some time, seeing that there were well over tens of thousands of the mutts waiting for our battalion.”
“So the band of elite asuras you guys sent were outnumbered…”
“Tremendously outnumbered,” he stressed. “And the element of surprise that we thought our warriors would have had was rendered moot.”
“What befell them in the end?” I murmured, more so wondering myself than expecting an answer.
The asura shook his head in response. “Communication was lost soon after the battle started. While we are certain that their side took a considerable loss in numbers, we can only speculate that the brigade of our elite asuras, the pride of their respective clans and races, were either killed or captured.”
I was silent as thoughts on how Sylvia managed to escape filled my mind.
Windsom’s next words snapped me out of my daze. “Lord Indrath was furious after being told by Agrona himself that his only daughter had been killed in battle. If it had been up to him, my master would surely have waged war, ignoring the consequences. However, the rest of the Great Clans were against it and pushed for a treaty.” Windsom turned around and resumed walking again.
“The treaty was eventually formed between the two sides, forbidding the asuras to act directly because of the collateral damage it would cause if a full-scale war were to occur between the seven asura races of Epheotus and the Vritra Clan’s army of basilisks and lesser, half-breed mutts.” There was an obvious spite in his voice, but his expression had turned back to normal.
As I began thinking again, I realized how much of a disadvantage Dicathen was in. This treaty had been in place since generations ago, and even though it prohibited asuras and the half-breeds from directly partic.i.p.ating in the battles, who knows how many of the so-called ‘lesser races’ of Alacrya had blood of asuras mixed in with theirs.
I wanted to ask why the other asura races didn’t do the same and interbreed with the lesser-races, but if it took centuries for the mad genius Agrona to come up with a way to interbreed an asura with a lesser race, then the other races probably haven’t found a way how. I doubt that, even if they could, most would be against breeding with the lower races because of their own morals and pride.
“Wait. So the ancient six artifacts that you guys gave to the people of Dicathen…”
“Yes. It was our way of giving the people of this continent a sword and a shield. We knew that the powers and knowledge contained within those artifacts would ignite a revolution for your people. We were right, but we only found out through recent events that it hadn’t been nearly enough. It is Lord Indrath and the other Great Clans leaders’ wish that, with our direct intervention, we can equip the mages of this continent with enough strength to defend this continent from Agrona. We fear that if Agrona gets access to the inhabitants of this continent, the Vritra Clan will gain enough fighting power to overthrow Epheotus.”
“And this is where I come in. A stronger chess piece that the Great Clans can utilize to gain the upper hand in the upcoming war,” I sneered, crossing my arms.
“Well, I would think of it more as, us training you to defend your family and homeland,” Windsom countered, his lips curling upward ever-so-slightly.
“Meh, I prefer the mutual benefit over questionable acts of altruism anyhow,” I shrugged.
“I guess you still don’t trust us completely,” Windsom said, studying me with a curious eye before asking, “On a side note, how do you plan on informing your family of our… plans?”
“Don’t worry, Windsom. I thought a lot about how I should break it to my parents while I was in jail,” I winked, walking past the asura and toward the flickering fire-light coming from the end of the tunnel.
As we approached the end of the tunnel, I could see the shadows of a few people surrounding a fire. I couldn’t help but smile at the sight of my large warrior of a father scrubbing dishes near the underground stream as Elder Rinia, my sister and my mother were concentrated on a simmering pot over the fire.
“Something smells delicious! Did you make enough for me?” I yelled out, causing everyone to whip their heads in my direction.
Each of them had a different reaction as they realized who it was that spoke. My father dropped the dented pan he was scrubbing, my mother and sister simultaneously bolted up from the makeshift chair that they were sitting on, while Elder Rinia simply gave me a meaningful smile as she continued peeling the potato in her hand. The only one that I didn’t see was Tessia, but I wasn’t sure if she was even here or not.
In seconds, I was wrapped in the embrace of my family as my mother and father checked my body for any signs of injuries while my sister’s gaze went straight toward the sleeping Sylvie in my arms.
“Is Sylvie okay?” She asked, concern laced in her voice as she held my bond in her arms.
“Your brother just escaped from prison and you don’t even ask if I’m okay?” I croaked, pretending to be hurt.
“Mm… you always seem to come back alive anyway,” she shrugged, focusing her attention back to Sylvie. This caused a snort of laughter from my father as my mother did her best to chastise my sister while trying to hide her smile.
I felt a sharp pang in my chest at my sister’s callous words. Where was the sweet child that stuck to me like glue and shed tears whenever she couldn’t see me? Is she already at the rebellious stage?
It seemed that someone had already informed my family that I would be visiting them soon, and going by expressions, I would bet that it was Elder Rinia.
My parents were interrogating me on the full details of what exactly happened, but stopped dead in their tracks all of a sudden.
The soft footsteps that echoed through the tunnel stopped behind me, and I took no hesitation in introducing the person.
“Everyone, this is the person that helped me through everything while I was imprisoned… and also my prospective master.”
I waited for some sort of reaction, but my parents and sister were still silent, frozen in place as their eyes were still glued to the figure behind me.
“Ahem, tone it down.” I turned behind me to see Windsom look at me in confusion before his eyes widened a bit in understanding.
“My apologies,” he replied, and the air around us changed back to normal. I had gotten used to the pressure the asura normally gave off, but to a normal mage, it would be suffocating.
My mother and sister fell on her knees while my father stumbled, barely keeping himself on his feet.
Elder Rinia, who was a bit farther away, stood up and gave a deep bow toward Windsom. I’m not sure if she knew his ident.i.ty, but she, at least, seemed to understand that the unknown person was not someone ordinary.
“Welcome to my humble abode. Please, make yourself comfortable.” The elderly elf spoke in a well-mannered, respectful tone that I’ve never heard her use before.
Windsom simply nodded in response, filling the tunnel with silence except for the crackling of the fire.
My father was the first to speak. “Firstly, th-thank you for helping my son. I know that he can be a handful.”
The asura actually let out a faint smile at this before speaking. “It seems your child has caused you many worries.”
“And will continue to do so in the future,” my mother finished as my father helped her and my sister back up. “But Arthur, what did you mean by prospective master?”
“Alice, your son just came back from a long journey. There’s plenty of time for this topic after he’s gotten something inside his belly,” Rinia scolded, ushering everyone back around the fire.
Thankful for the chance to finally eat something, I sat down, impatiently blowing on the hot stew to cool it down.
Windsom declined on eating but sat down with us as he idly looked at the fire. Once everyone had finished their meal, my father began informing us what had ensued on their side.
Virion had apparently taken Tessia and Lilia somewhere else to properly mend their injuries. The Helstea family followed him to look after their daughter, which explained why only my family was here. Elder Rinia teased that I would be able to reunite with her in a few days, which caused everyone to crack a smile.
Eventually, everyone had run out of things to chatter about idly, leaving the cave silent once again. I could tell my parents were now expecting my reply to their previous question.
Turning my gaze over to Windsom, he stared back at me, expecting the same thing. Scratching my head in a motion, that I felt had become a habit during awkward circ.u.mstances since coming to this world, I spoke up.
“Elder Rinia. Is it alright for me to speak to my parents in private?”
“Of course,” the diviner gave me a warm smile.
“What about me?” My sister chirped, still cradling my bond in her arms.
“Sorry, Ellie.” I shook my head as I headed inside the tent first.
My parents came in after me, looking a bit confused.
“Isn’t your master going to join in?” my father asked, looking back outside before closing the flap.
“There is something the two of you need to know of first.” The timbre of my voice and expression on my face silenced them from asking any more questions as they sat down in front of me.
“Before we begin, there’s something I’ve thought long and hard about telling you ever since coming to this world.”