Chapter 232: Tainted Blood
I watched as Merial gently stroked our daughter’s hair, tucking in loose strands behind her ear while she slept soundly. Pale columns of moonlight enveloped the two of them, casting a serene atmosphere inside the quiet room.
How long has it been since we were last together like this? I thought.
Too long to remember. We’d spent the better half of the night talking, like a real family, until Tessia finally fell asleep.
She had grown so big, so beautifully. She was the spitting image of her mother, yet she had my stubbornness. And hearing her talk—hearing her really talk—about how she was doing and what her plans were for the future… it was what I needed.
It reaffirmed my decision.
I made my way towards the door, taking one last look at my two girls. Merial looked up at me, giving me a determined gaze. Her eyes were lined with tears and her flushed cheeks could be seen even in this dimly-lit room. She was gently holding Tessia’s hand as she gave me a nod.
Nodding back with a hardened expression, I stepped outside the room. I’d been in the Castle for several years now, but never before had it felt so large and barren. The sconces lighting up the hallway flickered wildly as I passed, almost like they knew and were rebuking me.
I only made it a few steps before I relented under the pressure weighing down on me. I leaned back against the wall for support as the tension grew in me, spreading through my face and limbs like a wildfire. The wave of panic didn’t stop there—it merely came in erratic pulses, driving me mad as my mind imagined the consequences of what I was about to do.
My breath came in stuttered gasps and my heart hammered so fiercely against my chest that I feared my ribs would crack. The empty corridors tottered and spun with every little movement I made, rendering me to the floor. I buried my face in my knees, clutching at my hair with trembling hands as I thought back to the words spoken to me last night.
It was Arthur’s bond in her human form.
Her demeanor was casual yet refined as she approached me.
“What is it now?” I snarled, taking an involuntary step back. I knew exactly who it was. It was obvious just by the way she carried herself and the expression on her face that it wasn’t actually Arthur’s bond—it was Agrona.
“How very curt of you, King Alduin,” she, or rather, he, replied. “I thought we were closer than that.”
“Close? I did what you asked, but my daughter still almost died out there on the field! If it wasn’t for General Aya—”
“If my soldiers purposely avoided her like some sort of plague, your daughter wouldn’t be merely bruised by her own inadequacy,” he interrupted, expressionless. “She’d be suspicious, and that isn’t something you want.”
I grit my teeth in frustration. “Why are you here? I’ve done what you’ve asked. I smuggled in your men so that they could kill our prisoners.”
“I’ve come for a different matter, King Alduin,” he said. It frustrated me more than anything else how relaxed he was. “Currently, our sides are engaged on the western shore. For you—for your people—that means you’ve abandoned your kingdom.”
The emotional side of me wanted to lash out at him. How dare he come in here and talk as if he had nothing to do with it, but years as a political figure had trained me to keep silent and mask my expression.
“I wanted to hear from you,” he continued without missing a beat. “Where does your loyalty lie?”
“What do you mean? Letting you kill prisoners that have no use is one matter, but if you’re suggesting even the remote possibility that I betray my people—”
“Not ‘betray your people.’ You already did that,” he cut in. “I’m asking if your loyalty lies with all of Dicathen, from the barren deserts of the Darv all the way to the outskirts of Sapin—whose men capture and sell your people as slaves even today, or your kingdom.”
I didn’t answer. And that moment of hesitation was all he needed to know—that I could be wavered.
“I will cease the attacks on all of your elven territory. As long as they do not attack any Alacryans, your people will be guaranteed safety along with you, your wife, and your troubled child.”
Our eyes remained locked as he waited for my answer.
“What do you want?” I finally asked.
“Similar to last time, I need you to grant a few of my men access into the Castle as well as Xyrus City.”
After staring blankly for a moment, I laughed. I laughed at an asura that was capable of potentially wiping away my existence with a flick of his finger.
But Agrona remained calm. He let me laugh and ridicule the very idea until my office was silent.
Suddenly, he snapped his fingers as if he just remembered something. “I forgot you always need that little extra push, King Alduin. How about this, then. Your daughter will die if you don’t. Not only will she die, she’ll also most likely kill quite a few people around her in the process.”
Agrona tapped his sternum. “You know those corrupted beasts that has caused so many problems for you? Well, just like them, your daughter’s core is also poisoned.”
Anger flared up inside and I grabbed Agrona by the collar. “What did you do to her?”
He laughed jarringly in the body of Arthur’s bond. “I didn’t do anything. Ironic as it is, you can blame your daughter’s boyfriend for this.”
It took me a moment to realize what he meant. It was the beast will of the elderwood beast. The S class beast that my daughter had assimilated with.
My hands lost strength and I released Agrona before falling back onto my chair.
“I’d give you a demonstration, but that might put a little hiccup to our little plan. Besides, I think you know by now that I don’t lie.”
I shook my head, trying to force the memories out of my head before continuing forward.
I stopped in front of another room on the same floor. It was the room that was currently occupied by Arthur’s mother and sister. A mixture of emotions rose in me as I stared at the closed door. I felt bad for them, I really did. The whole Leywin family served by helping the Wall against the beast horde. What happened to Arthur’s father was truly unfortunate, and I pushed adamantly for Trodius Flamesworth’s imprisonment for his actions.
However, I couldn’t help but still blame the young lance. All of these years, I had thought that meeting Arthur and being able to have close relations with him through my father and my daughter was a blessing. He was both a genius intellectually and in magical prowess, on a level that couldn’t be measured. On top of that, he had a bond with an asura—an actual deity.
Yet, if it wasn’t for Arthur—if he hadn’t given Tessia that core…
I rubbed my temples, letting out a sigh while continuing forward. There was no point in regretting now.
My steps grew heavier the closer I got to the teleportation room. As if my boots were made of lead, I found myself stopping often. I looked back over my shoulders every few steps, guilt and fear dragging me down.
The usual soldiers that stood guard on either side of the gate were absent as planned. It wasn’t hard to do since the gate was shut off for security purposes soon after the lances in the castle were all sent to Etistin.
Exerting mana throughout my body, I heaved open the thick iron doors. Taking one last look around in case anyone was nearby, I closed the doors behind me.
The circular room appeared a lot larger now that it had been emptied, with the only real feature being a podium that held the control dock and an ancient stone arc riddled with runes that were incomprehensible even to this day.
Without wasting any more time, I stepped onto the podium. My hands trembled as I raised them over the control panel, and for another second, I hesitated. What I did now would change the entire course of this war, but for me, there was no other choice but this.
Shutting my eyes, I pushed down on the panel. Immediately, I felt mana being sucked out of me, but I held firm until the runes began glowing.
A pristine golden hue emanated out of the mysterious carvings before a multi-colored light enveloped the inside of the arc to form the portal. The once quiet room was filled with a deep hum as the ancient relic came to life.
Minutes passed as I stood, waiting for someone to arrive.
“Where is he !” I whispered, running a trembling hand through my hair as I paced back and forth within the room.
I continued cursing under my breath, doing anything to keep myself from thinking. I couldn’t think. If I did, I would only doubt myself even more.
No. I’m doing the right thing. For once, I’m doing what’s in the best interest of my people— my people. Agrona wasn’t wrong; humans had been capturing both elves and dwarves for centuries. I had almost lost my own daughter to them. It didn’t matter if Agrona won the war—it might even be better if he did!
I shook my head. No. No. Agrona was still a demon, I can’t forget that.
But the humans had always had the upper hand. With my father taking the helm of leadership during this war, I thought that would’ve changed, but it hadn’t. In fact, my father was the one who had abandoned Elenoir in favor of the human kingdom.
I would be the one to save it. With my actions now, I would keep my people safe.
Looking down at my hands, I noticed that they were still trembling. Was I just lying to myself? Was I just trying to justify what I was about to do?
It didn’t matter. At the very least, I needed to save Tessia. What kind of father would I be if I couldn’t keep my only daughter safe?
Again, rage bubbled inside as I realized how my emotions have been toyed with by Agrona’s words. He was right; Tessia was that final push I needed.
A deep thrum snapped my attention towards the teleportation gate. They’re here!
Within the multi-colored glow of the gate, a silhouette slowly came into view, focusing until an actual figure stepped through and arrived inside the circular room.
“Are you the elf called Alduin?” the man spook in a deep booming voice as two scarlet eyes peered down at me. Intimidating as they were, his eyes were almost pleasant compared to the two serrated horns casting a menacing shine.
I straightened myself, trying to appear as tall as I could in front of this seven-foot giant that was twice my width at the shoulders. “Yes.”
He held up a glass vial filled with a murky green liquid.
Even without him saying, I knew exactly what it was. I stepped forward and made a grab for it, but stopped short when a smokey black flame erupted from him.
I reeled back in fright before anger set in. “That’s mine! Agrona and I had—”
His hand a blur, I found it closed around my neck. His grip became tighter and tighter, severing my breath as he lifted me off the ground. “ Lord Agrona has shown mercy by lowering himself to communicate with a lesser like you.”
My body fought back instinctively. Mana circled my body and into my hands as I tried to pry open his grip, but I couldn’t focus as my consciousness faded.
Dark spots splashed across my blurring vision when he finally let go. Immediately, my body buckled forward as I heaved what little food I had consumed this morning.
“This Commander Virion of yours does not suspect anything, correct?”
I quickly nodded my head. “I told everyone that I’d be in charge of leading the evacuation of Elenoir.”
“Then bring your blood to this room and exit through this portal,” he stated. “I will have left the vial here by the time you return.”
“What your people call ‘family’,” he said impatiently. “Also, bring Arthur Leywin’s mother and sister along with you.”
I stood up. “What? Why?”
His sharp gaze was all that was needed to drive home his point—that this wasn’t a negotiation.
“Okay,” I breathed, turning to leave. I pushed open the doors slightly, once more before taking a weary glance back at what could only be a retainer or even a scythe.
I had brought a demon into the very home of this continent’s leaders. Prying my eyes away from his looming figure, I stepped out of the teleportation room. “I’m sorry, Father.”