Chapter 233: Treason
“We have our orders here, Lance Arthur,” Varay stated with an icy glare. “We are to continue engaging against the Alacryan troops.”
I gnashed my teeth in frustration. “General Varay, even you’ve noticed by now that the enemies we’re fighting against aren’t the Alacryan’s main force. They’re disorganized, desperate, and a lot of them are even malnourished and downright ill!”
Varay stood firm, masking her emotions. “Are you forgetting that we are soldiers? It’s not up to us to decide what we do with this information. I’ve already sent an update to General Bairon and the Council. We will act according to their orders, but for now we will continue to do as we are told.”
“Then let me and my bond go back to Etistin—no, the Castle. I’ll talk to Commander Virion and come up with a—”
“Wasn’t the whole reason you’re out here because you didn’t want these responsibilities?” the general cut me off. “You wanted to be a soldier because you didn’t want to carry the burden of making decisions.”
My mouth opened, but no sound came out. She was right. I was the one that chose to be here, to fight mindlessly and not have the weight of other people’s lives in my hands.
With my neck tense and jaws clenched, I gave General Varay a stiff bow before turning to walk away.
My thoughts wandered until I found myself back to the isolated area where I had set up camp. There, I spotted Sylvie replenishing her mana. She peeked open an eye, sensing I was near. “How did it go?”
“Nothing’s changed,” I grumbled, sitting down on a large rock next to her. “We’ll continue fighting them.”
“Well, prisoners or not, we still can’t let them advance,” Sylvie said with wave of empathy.
“But this”—I gestured to the thousands upon thousands of soldiers below, resting, and the thousands more out in the field, fighting—“is overkill. We have way more troops than necessary if all we’re up against are a horde of uncoordinated and desperate prisoners.”
“True,” Sylvie agreed. She got up, and stretched her human limbs before shooting me a glance. “So. What are we waiting for, then?”
I raised a brow. “What?”
“Please, Arthur. I could read your thoughts even without our link.” She rolled her eyes. “I know you’ve already decided to leave.”
Again, I found myself with an open mouth but with no words spilling out of them. Shaking my head, I gave my bond a smile and tousled her wheat-colored hair. “Then don’t say I didn’t warn you. We’re technically committing treason by disobeying orders and leaving during a battle.”
Sylvie’s body began glowing until her form shifted into that of a towering black dragon. “Meh. This isn’t the first time we’re committing treason, and it probably won’t be the last.”
“I raised you so well,” I chuckled, hopping onto my bond, my spirits lifted. I had lost a lot, but I still had those I dearly cherished.
We shot up into the sky, clearing the hills that stretched out from the Etistin Bay.
‘Did you want to stop by Etistin City before making our way to the castle?’ Sylvie asked.
There’s no point. Bairon isn’t the type to listen—especially to me—and the Castle severed all links to the other teleportation gates. The only way to get inside is by flying directly there, so we don’t have any time to lose.
I had almost expected General Varay to come after us, but after the first thirty minutes had passed, I knew we were in the clear. In the meantime, I nodded on and off, struggling to stay awake as the peaceful and quiet journey continued.
Scenes of my previous life began resurfacing like a vivid dream. Emotions that I had felt back then surfaced alongside the old memories.
I remembered the feelings of confusion I had towards Lady Vera when I heard her talking about the rigged matches to that man in the uniform. A part of me had been angry at her for not trusting that I’d be able to win the matches by my own strength.
Even as I had continued competing in the matches where my opponents withdrew immediately, I never confronted Lady Vera or asked any questions. Who was I to question my mentor’s decisions? She had practically given me a new life, training me to the extent where not only could I make up for my impaired ki center, I had the opportunity to become king.
While my pride had been hurt that Lady Vera hadn’t trusted in my abilities enough to let me fight squarely, I had accepted the hollow victories until the day of the final rounds. I, along with every other contestant that had won their state’s tournament, had traveled all the way to the capital of our country, Etharia, for the chance to become the next king.
There was no consistent schedule for when the King’s Crown competition would be held, though. It was purely at the discretion of the Council, who would come to a vote when they thought the current king wasn’t performing to their expectations. Some frequent reasons may be when the reigning king lost a Paragon Duel against another country, incurred a debilitating injury, of if he or she was simply getting too old.
Our current king had lost an arm from the last Paragon Duel, which incited the current King’s Crown competition. The victor would gain the opportunity to fight the current king, and if the challenger won, he or she would become the next king. If the king won, he would remain in his position until the winner of the next King’s Crown would challenge him. It was a vicious cycle that the Council would put a king through if they deemed him unfit.
Memories of Lady Vera and the group of trainers and doctors responsible for keeping me in top condition for the duration of this tournament flashed in my mind. I remembered all of us pushing through the crowds of spectators as everyone tried to make their way into the stadium. Once we had arrived at our assigned waiting area, I could feel the difference in atmosphere.
I vividly remembered the palpable tension in our waiting area as some contestants stretched or warmed up while others meditated their ki centers. The lingering pressure in the room had stemmed from the fact that, during the last stage of the King’s Crown, it was legal for contestants to deal lethal blows to their opponents.
All of the contestants, including myself, had known that they could die today. Lady Vera and the other trainers had done their best to keep me from thinking about that, keeping me focused through various exercises.
I still remembered all of the contestants I had fought against, both young and old, small and large, every fighter at the top of their class. Most importantly to me, none of them had been bribed by Lady Vera to forfeit the match.
I remembered trying to convince myself how great Lady Vera was. I had reasoned that she had purposely cleared the road of obstacles for me not because she didn’t trust in my abilities, but because she wanted me to be at my best for the final rounds.
If only I had known then, what that day would entail. I still thought to this day, what I would’ve done differently if I had gone back to the past on that very day, if I had known the truth about Lady Vera.
‘Arthur!’ Sylvie’s voice pierced through my head, snapping me awake, just moments before she jerked her body to dodge a giant arc of lightning. Another arc of lightning soon shot at us from below, piercing through the clouds.
By this time, both Sylvie and I knew who was responsible for this.
“Bairon!” I roared, amplifying my voice with mana as I jumped off of Sylvie. “What is the meaning of this?”
A figure rose from the layer of clouds below us, along with several soldiers mounted on giant armored birds.
“You disobey direct orders and run away from battle, then ask the meaning of what I’m doing?” Bairon boomed, his voice emanating mana as well. “While my orders remain verbal, I advise you to return to your post, Arthur.”
“Verbal?” It was Sylvie that replied, her husky voice laced with anger in her draconic form. “You fire spells capable of destroying buildings at a lance and an asura ?”
There was a moment of hesitation before Bairon answered. “We are at war, and your human bond has chosen to take orders rather than give them. I’m merely enforcing my duty to my subordinates .”
“Enough!” I snapped. “You’ve received the updates from General Varay as well. The enemy forces that we’re engaged with at the bay are all prisoners of Alacrya. We need to reorganize our troops and scout for the enemy’s main force before—”
“Those decisions are up to me and the Council to make,” Bairon interrupted, drawing in closer with his soldiers surrounding him. “You were the one that forfeited the burden of responsibility.”
I gritted my teeth, frustrated more at myself than at Bairon for all of this. It was true that I was the one to run away. Even now, I would hesitate to take a position of leadership, but I couldn’t just stand by while I watched as we played right into Agrona’s hand.
“Please stand aside. Don’t waste your energy on this and let us go to the Castle. I’ll get Commander Virion’s approval as soon as I arrive if that’s what you want,” I said, calming myself. “Let’s go, Sylv.”
The mounted soldiers fanned out, preparing their spells as Bairon floated, aiming a lightning-clad hand directly at us.
“I assure you that this one won’t miss, General Arthur. This is the last warning to get back to your post.”
“What is with you and your brother always resorting to violence?” I spat out, annoyed.
With a rage-filled roar, Bairon charged, his entire body engulfed in lightning.
Bringing up Lucas might not have been the smartest choice, but it was too obvious that this show of power had less to do with me leaving my post, and more to do with proving he was superior to me.
Cladding myself in mana as well, I utilized the moisture from the clouds below and conjured an arsenal of ice lances.
Sylvie unleashed a beam of pure mana from her maw directly at Bairon while I launched the ice-spears at the mounted soldiers.
The formation broke easily as Bairon’s soldiers swerved to avoid my spell. Bairon himself had to stop to defend against the wide cone of pure energy, giving us the brief window we were looking for.
Sylvie. Let’s go! I sent to my bond. I grabbed ahold of her leg as she flew past me and in a mere second, we flew past Bairon and his soldiers.
Just when I thought we would get away, Bairon launched his cape at us. It was a magic artifact, no doubt, because the cape soon dispersed into a large net composed of metal wires which he was able to control with his lightning.
Human form, now! I ordered.
My bond’s body shrunk to that of a little girl just as the net encompassed us.
Sylvie immediately formed a barrier of mana around us, but that gave the other soldiers enough time to regroup.
It was growing more and more frustrating trying to deal with them without actually hurting them.
‘Are we allowed to hurt them, yet?’ Sylvie asked impatiently while keeping the lightning net from closing in on us.
The mounted soldiers released their spells as well, and their combined power was enough to put cracks in my bond’s mana barrier.
I nodded. Just don’t kill them.
Sylvie responded by conjuring dozens of mana arrows outside of her barrier and launching them at the soldiers while I manipulated the clouds below us.
With a wave an arm, I withdrew Dawn’s Ballad and sliced through the lightning-charged metal net. With Bairon distracted by the mana arrows, his artifact didn’t stand a chance, and the two of us were free.
As Sylvie toyed with the soldiers by launching a never-ending assault of mana arrows at them, I conjured a little present for Bairon himself.
Fashioning a compressed sphere of wind in my hand, I combined it with fire and lightning, creating a swirling blue fireball the size of Sylvie in her dragon form that crackled with trails of electricity.
Bairon retracted his net and was already preparing to defend against my attack when an unusual glitter of light in the distance attracted my attention.
Everyone stopped what they were doing as we stared at the source of the red and black blaze miles away. We looked at one another in search of someone who knew what was going on, until a wave of shock and realization leaked onto me from my bond.
I turned to Sylvie to see her eyes wide in horror. She turned to me and spoke aloud for everyone to hear. “That’s… the Castle.”