Chapter 202: Traitor’s Request
The meeting room had fallen eerily silent as I finished reporting what Agrona had told me—minus a few details. I withheld some information that I felt were unnecessary to say at this point and, to be frank, was uncomfortable with the Council knowing.
Making my conversation with Agrona seem more like a unilateral declaration from the Vritra leader for us to surrender allowed me to tell everyone present in the room about how the asuras had tried using our war to attack the Vritra in Alacrya… and had ultimately failed.
“Damn it!” Virion swore loudly, slamming his hands down at the table. The commander’s usually controlled expression was twisted into a scowl as the tips of his pointed ears were red. “Those conceited sons of… as if it wasn’t bad enough that they used us and this war for their own plans, they didn’t even succeed!”
Virion got up from his seat and began pacing, muttering curses under his breath until he finally looked back at me. “Arthur. What else did Agrona say in his message?”
“Just that Epheotus’ attack on Alacrya failed. Agrona leveraged the failed attempt to further push the Asuras from taking part in this war by cutting off all communication between us and Epheotus,” I answered.
Virion gnashed his teeth but remained silent.
“At least that explains why we haven’t seen more scythes and retainers yet, besides the ones we’ve already gone up against,” Buhnd chimed in. The dwarven elder was the least shaken by my news since he had never actually met the asuras in the first place. “Agrona must’ve kept his powerhouses in Alacrya along with the actual members of his Vritra clan in case something like this happened.”
“That makes sense,” Merial replied, her brows furrowed in thought. “But that leads us to the next question. Are we to expect the rest of Agrona’s scythes and their retainers to come to Dicathen now that the asuras of Epheotus had attacked them and failed?”
The atmosphere in the room grew heavy, as if a weighted blanket fell down all of us.
“I’m sure this battle between Epheotus and Alacrya wasn’t as one-sided as Agrona led Arthur—and all of us—to believe,” Alduin responded.
“That’s right. I’ve experienced Lord Aldir’s power firsthand! No way Alacrya got out of a full-blown assault by the asuras of Epheotus without experiencing some casualties themselves. Hell, their home might be in shambles right now!” Blaine added, speaking as if he was trying to convince himself rather than those in the room.
“That’s all sunshine and peaches, but from my experience, nothing good happens from expecting the best in situations like this,” Buhnd added grimly.
“He’s right,” I agreed. “We should make several contingencies assuming that retainers and scythes are headed this way now.”
“The gates that the Alacryans had laid down in the dungeons of the Beast Glades,” Merial suddenly exclaimed. “What if the retainers and scythes are already here?”
“According to Captain Trodius’ reports, there hasn’t been a teleportation gate sighting within months after the last one was destroyed,” Priscilla answered. “From what I gathered, the constructs were of poor design that failed after a few Alacryan troops made it through and there was even a report where a soldier witnessed only half of an Alacryan mage coming out through the portal before it broke. That mage died within seconds. Right now, the Trailblazer division is mainly wiping out corrupted beasts and their controllers before they’re able to make it up to the surface. ”
“That adds up to what I’ve seen,” I muttered, recalling how even the scythe that had saved me from Uto had arrived via teleportation gates through the Kingdom of Darv before traveling by land through Sapin.
“We’ll just have to hope that’s true,” Virion let out a sigh, still pacing.
“Then are we to expect them to arrive from the western coast by ship?” Blaine asked, his face pale. “If that’s the case, no amount of wall building is going to hold up against an assault from them.”
As the Council continued batting ideas and assumptions at each other, my mind shifted to my previous life during the rare occasions where disputes between countries had actually escalated into wars rather than Paragon Duels. I thought of Lady Vera and her strict teachings of leading wars, despite them being so rare, as we went through endless rounds of strategic board games when a loud clap drew my attention away from my thoughts.
“While we have a lot to think about, I suggest we take time to rest. Some of us have been here for over a day, and it does no good to have sluggish minds,” Virion said in a defeated tone. “We’ll meet back here at sunrise.”
I looked out the window to see that night had fallen and began calculating just how much time I had to finally rest.
Not enough, I thought, walking out of the room behind Buhnd.
The dwarven elder let out a groan as he stretched his back, muttering, “I wonder if it’s not too late to just throw myself out into the field and fight alongside the soldiers.”
Sylvie and I made it back to our room in silence, the few communications done through mental transmission.
After shedding out of everything but my inner shirt and trouser, I sank down into the couch. My vision had been glazed, hardly focusing on anything until the sight of Sylvie changing her clothes caught my eye.
The simple black dress she was wearing swirled around her as if alive. Her sleeves receded while her dress elongated, reaching past her knees until her attire had turned into a nightgown.
“How’d you do that?” I asked sheepishly, more curious than impressed.
“I can mold my scales into clothes in this form,” she said quietly, fashioning the bottom half of her gown into pants to prove her point.
With my interest piqued, I leaned forward in my seat. “What else can you do?”
Sylvie took a seat from the couch across from me. “So far, I’ve been focusing mostly on how to function in this bipedal form. But apart from the lack of stability in walking with two legs, I’ll have to admit that I’ve begun to understand why the asuras choose to stay in this form more than their original.”
“Oh?” I raised a brow. “Do tell.”
“Mana manipulation and even using aether is somewhat easier in this form,” she acknowledged, curling and uncurling her fingers.
“Interesting,” I replied. “Speaking of which, what are your magic capabilities like after the seal was broken?”
“Because the Indrath Clan are aether users, most of my mana manipulation abilities are centered toward strengthening my body,” she answered. “But I am able to dispel a large amount of my mana at once.”
Suddenly, mana began gathering into her open palm, casting a bright light all around the room. The light artifacts hanging from the walls and ceiling flickered and dimmed.
My eyes widened as the orb of concentrated mana began growing in size. “S-Sylvie? Please don’t destroy this room… or this castle.”
My bond’s stoic face broke into a smile as she looked at me. “Is the mighty lance scared of a little girl now?”
“Your jagged horns kind of negates every ‘girly’ thing about you,” I said uneasily, scooting farther into my seat as the charged sphere of mana began pulsing with power. “But seriously. You still stumble over your own feet, Sylv. Let’s not endanger everyone in this castle.”
The glowing orb slowly faded, dispelling into tiny particles as Sylvie let out a deep breath. “I’m glad that I was able to break the seal since I’ll be of better use out in the field, but there’s a part of me that feels foreign now.”
“Well you are still getting used to your human form,” I comforted.
Sylvie shook her head. “It’s not like that. It’s more… internal, like there’s much more to my abilities than what I thought before.”
“Well. You’ll have a lot of opportunities for self-discovery. You heard in the meeting too; I feel like things are only going to be more hectic from now on.”
“At least we’ll have one another to count on,” she replied with a determined gaze. “After getting better control of this form, I feel that the two of us defeating a scythe isn’t impossible.”
“Isn’t impossible,” I echoed with a laugh. “Not the best of odds, but much better than before.”
“Maybe we’ll have some time to spar before going on a mission,” Sylvie said hopefully. “I’d like to test out the extent of my control over aether in this form.”
“We’re lucky if we can actually have the whole night to sleep without being disturbed,” I mumbled, heading over to my bed.
The two of us continued talking from our beds. Despite my lack of sleep, speaking with my bond had rejuvenated me more than I thought it would. Having Sylvie in human form just made it seem as if I got another younger sister, albeit one with large intimidating horns.
‘Speaking of sister,’ Sylvie chimed in, reading my thoughts. ‘Wasn’t Ellie waiting for us?’
“She’s probably asleep by now,” I mumbled, slurring my words as my drowsiness began taking hold of me.
‘I’m not so sure about that, Arthur. Ellie’s been looking forward to having you back… however briefly that might be.’
“I’ll… try to spend time with her… tomorrow,” I replied, about to fall asleep until a firm knock on my door startled me awake.
“What!” I snapped, my annoyance practically oozing out of my voice.
“I apologize for the disturbance, General Arthur, but I have a message from Commander Virion to meet him in the dungeon,” a deep voice sounded from behind the door.
I shut my eyes, refusing to part ways with the fluffy feather-stuffed pillow molding to the shape of my head. This is just a dream, Arthur. No need to get back up.
With a growl, I rolled out of bed and put on a robe. “Come on, Sylv. Let’s go.”
‘Must I?’ she sent back, not even bothering to speak. ‘I just made myself comfortable, and the guard only asked for you.’
“Traitor,” I grumbled, heading toward the door.
I followed the guard down the dim hallway, going down the flights of stairs until we reached the lower levels of the castle.
“Did Commander Virion tell you any details about why he wanted to see me?” I asked.
“Unfortunately, no. I am just the dungeon guard currently on duty.”
We walked in further silence as we neared the reinforced doors leading down into the dungeon. In front of it were several figures that I recognized as the Council. They were still all in their sleepwear, apparently having been disturbed from their slumber.
The last figure, right in front of the door, was a hulking man a head taller than Blaine and twice as wide. It took me a moment to remember that he was the assistant to the old man that was in charge of interrogating the prisoners.
“Arthur, do you know what this is about?” Virion asked as we approached, his expression just as annoyed as mine was.
I jerked a thumb toward the armored guard. “I came here because this guy told me you called for me.”
“We just arrived as well. What is going on?” Alduin asked worriedly, his eyes bloodshot from exhaustion.
“I called for you all because this man”—Virion turned back to face Gentry’s assistant—“What was your name again?”
“Duve,” the burly man grunted.
“Because Duve said that Gentry finally got one of the prisoners to talk,” Virion finished.
“Who? The retainer?” Priscilla queried, her arms crossed.
“I’m not sure,” Virion replied, shooting another gaze at the burly man.
“And where’s Gentry now?” I asked, looking behind the interrogator’s assistant in case he was hidden behind him. “Shouldn’t we go inside instead of waiting out here?”
“Master Gentry will be here soon,” Duve replied, standing his ground as if guarding the door.
Hardly a minute longer had passed and my patience was growing dangerously thin when the dungeon door slid open and the hooked nose elder trotted out.
“Gentry!” Blaine barked. “What exactly is going on!”
“My apologies to the Council and General Arthur. I was just finishing up the maintenance on the restraining system of the retainer when things suddenly unfolded this way. Still, I didn’t want to take the small chance of my beloved prisoner to break free while we were all down there,” Gentry said, cleaning his wrinkled hands on a cloth.
Virion rubbed his temples. “Please just tell me you were able to get something important out of the prisoners.”
“Unfortunately, no,” the hooked nose elder rasped. “Well, not exactly.”
“Then for what reason did you find the need to pull us down here at this godforsaken hour,” Merial quipped, her eyes narrowed.
Gentry let out an uncomfortable cough before speaking again. “I have yet to break the retainer, but the traitor, Rahdeas—I think that was his name—has finally spoken for the first time.”
“What did he say?” I asked, getting up from my seat. “Did he give you any information?”
“Well, no, not exactly.”
“On with it, talking corpse!” Buhnd snapped, talking for the first time. “Stop talking in riddles and spit it out.”
“Gentry,” Virion said, his voice frighteningly low.
Gentry winced but took a step forward, puffing his chest in confidence. “Thanks to yours truly, the traitor has finally spoken and he has requested to speak”—his crooked finger pointed toward me—“but only to General Arthur.”