The Beginning After The End - Chapter 316
An ox was bellowing nearby . A distant bird cried angrily, our battle likely having disturbed its peace . My own heart was banging against my ribcage audibly, but I could hear Tessia’s and Curtis’s as well, which felt wrong somehow, almost like an invasion of their privacy .
Underneath these noises, there was something else . A thin, fearful voice whispered a prayer to the Vritra .
I spun, an arrow already on my string, and loosed it just past Curtis’s hip . My arrow thunked into a young Alacryan soldier who had hidden, playing dead, behind one of the cart wheels . He had been preparing a spell aimed at Curtis’s back .
Tessia and Curtis both turned, mana condensing in preparation for their spells, but the soldier was dead .
Curtis turned back to me and ruffled his hair, looking a little embarrassed . “Thanks,” he said quietly .
Tessia met my eye and nodded sharply .
By now, most of the other members of our assault force, those who had survived, were coming out of the trees .
“We’ll be sure to celebrate later,” Tessia said, her voice carrying clearly as she cast a hard gaze at her soldiers . “For now, let’s get these people free!”
Just like that, everyone burst into motion, breaking the locks, releasing the prisoners, and shattering their manacles .
Tessia hesitated before stepping away to oversee her soldiers . “Are you alright?”
“I’m fine,” I said, letting my beast will fade . For a moment, it was like someone had pressed a blanket over my head, but my senses adjusted quickly . “Their attacks never even got close . ”
Tessia smiled her warm smile, saluted me, and said, “Well fought…soldier . ”
I returned the solute awkwardly, and Tessia marched away .
Boo nuzzled me, and I leaned forward and pressed my forehead to his .
“Looks like we’re getting closer, aren’t we, buddy…” I said with a sigh before my gaze wandered past him, to the young Alacryan I’d just killed .
I tried to look away, to distance myself internally like I’d been doing ‘til now .
But I couldn’t . I kept staring at the man, who looked only a few years older than me… Arthur’s age .
It was when his body was getting carried away by our soldiers, though, that I saw them . The blank, lifeless eyes that were still wide open in shock .
I tore my gaze away, stumbling onto the ground in the process . I crawled to the nearest tree I could find and heaved out my last meal as tears blurred my vision .
Boo sat behind me, comforting me and hiding me from everyone else as I sobbed and threw up at the same time .
How did Arthur do this? How did Tessia, Curtis, or anyone do such a gruesome thing like killing? Like murder .
And yet, here I was, after having killed multiple living people, more worried that everyone would see me crying like a child .
A delicate touch on my shoulder made me jump . I spun around, coming face to face with Kathyln, whose cool gaze was uncharacteristically sympathetic .
A loud hiccup interrupted my sobs and I could taste the acidic remains of my throw up . I hurriedly wiped both my eyes and my mouth, while trying unsuccessfully to rearrange my facial features into a less embarrassing expression .
“How do you do it?” I let out another sob . “How is it so easy for all of you to do this?”
“It’s never easy and it should never be easy . ” The once-princess held out her arm for me to take . “As for how I do it, I’m afraid everyone’s answer is different . ”
Kathyln gave me a solemn smile as she looked at me . It was the same kind my brother often had… a complicated smile that I didn’t get until now .
How many enemies had Arthur killed?I wondered . How many allies had he watched die? He always kept going .
Wiping my tears once more, I took Kathyln’s arm, and she led me away toward the rear of the caravan where the prisoners were just starting to be released .
As we passed by the other carts, each one surrounded by a handful of our soldiers helping people out and trying to remove the mana-suppressing shackles, I watched the freed elves . Many threw their arms around each other and their rescuers . Many more cried, letting relieved tears run unabated down their faces . Others gazed about dreamily, as if they’d just woken and were still unsure if what they were seeing was real .
A frightened bellow drew my attention to the helpless looking moon ox still stuck in the ground in front of one of the carts, its legs trapped within the dwarves’ spell . It gazed back at me forlornly .
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We were passing by the third cart in the caravan when a tall, shirtless blond elf with dark bruises discoloring his face fell to his knees as his manacles were released . From nearby, I heard Tessia exclaim, “Feyrith!” and I stopped, forcing Kathyln to release my arm .
She turned to watch with me as Tessia ran to the kneeling elf and leaned down to wrap both her hands around his . Kathyln brushed my shoulder as she rushed past me, crouching down next them, one hand resting gently on Feyrith’s back .
I took a few steps closer, curious who this elf was that he could call both of these princesses his friends .
“Feyrith, what did they do to you?” Tessia asked, her voice strained . Not only was the elf bruised across his entire face and most of his torso, he was dangerously thin; his cheeks were gaunt, his shoulder blades jutted from his back, and his ribs were clearly visible .
He tried to speak, but the effort caused him to cough, which must have been painful because his face twisted into a grimace . I quickly withdrew a drinking canteen from my dimension ring and handed it to him .
His pale green eyes lingered on me for a moment before he accepted the canteen and took a long drink from it . “Thank you,” he said hoarsely when he handed it back . “You seem… familiar . ”
“This is Eleanor Leywin,” Tessia said softly, still half holding the emaciated elven mage .
Feyrith’s brows crinkled . “As in…”
“As in the sister of Arthur Leywin,” Kathyln confirmed, glancing at me .
Feyrith’s eyes went wide and his tortured expression broke into the ghost of a grin . “Is he here? Arthur?” Feyrith looked around hopefully, as if expecting to see my brother appear through the mist, grinning and rubbing the back of his neck…
“He’s gone,” I said, my voice as cool and emotionless as Kathyln’s .
Feyrith’s momentarily hopeful expression crashed . His eyes closed, his shoulders slumped, his face dipped toward the ground . “I’m sorry,” he said, his lips barely moving, the words no more than a whisper .
The four of us were still, sharing a spontaneous moment of silence for my brother . Above us, the tall trees leaned inward in a bow, as if even they felt sorry for us, while all around our soldiers were freeing the imprisoned elves .
Then Tessia spoke again, and the spell was shattered . “Come on, Feyrith, we need to get you ready to teleport back to the sanctuary . ” The noise rushed back in, and we were returned to the chaotic scene of the elves’ hurried emancipation .
“What?” Feyrith asked, his eyes narrowed in confusion . “No, we have to save the rest!”
“The rest?” Tessia asked, standing up and helping Feyrith get to his feet beside her .
Feyrith tried to take a step and stumbled . He was forced to lean back against the wagon just to stand . “We came from a staging camp to the north . One of the villages—it’s been handed over to some Alacryan noble . ” The battered elf paused, his eyes losing focus, but after a moment he shook his head and continued on . “There are dozens—hundreds—more prisoners there, waiting to be sent to other holds . Our people are being divided up like livestock and gifted to high-ranking Alacryans . ”
When Tessia didn’t immediately respond, Feyrith grabbed her arm, his eyes wild . For a moment he looked half mad . “We have to save them . Once they’re all transferred to the other towns, spread all over Elenoir—”
“It would be impossible to rescue them all…” Tessia finished, the corners of her mouth turned down in a thoughtful frown . “We don’t have the force to storm a fortified location, but…”
“But Commander Virion’s words are weighing on your decision, right?” Kathyln interrupted . “He may have ordered us to save as many elves as possible, but it’s safe to assume he meant within the scope of this mission . ”
“He didn’t . Back then, my gran—Commander Virion had this desperation that I’ve never seen in him before . ” Tessia paused for a moment before she shook her head . “We’ll discuss this with the others before coming to a decision . For now, we should organize the elves that need to get back to the sanctuary . ”
Kathyln nodded at this, but Feyrith looked stricken . Before he could say anything, however, a nearby elf, one of the freed prisoners, stumbled over and threw herself at Tessia’s feet . “Please, Princess Tessia, my family is still being held in Eidelholm . You have to save them!”
The woman’s dirty face looked so pitiful, so horribly forlorn and desperately reverent, that I knew Tessia couldn’t help but say yes . Instead, Tessia leaned down . She met the woman’s eyes with a solemn gaze of her own .
“My duty as a leader is to get everyone we saved today back to safety,” she said sternly before gently pressing her forehead against the woman’s . “But once that has been accomplished, we will carefully consider our next steps, so please help me do my part . ”
The woman’s lower lip trembled as she nodded, and with another encouraging pat from our leader, she went off to join the other elves that had been freed .
Kathyln’s gaze followed after the woman, expressionless, but Feyrith frowned, clearly hoping for a stronger answer .
“You’ll ‘consider’ your next steps? That’s it?” he asked, eyes red with anger . “Do you even care?”
I wanted to step in and say something but Tessia whipped her head with a glare so fierce that I found myself flinching .
“Of course I care, and if I were by myself, I would’ve gone in a heartbeat,” she answered, her tone icy . “But my decision here doesn’t impact just me, so I need to do what I can as a leader . ”
Feyrith opened his mouth as if to refute, but he just turned away .
After letting out a sigh, our leader turned away as well . “Kathyln, can you round up your brother, Albold, Skarn, and Hornfels?”
Kathyln nodded, her shining black hair bouncing . “Of course, Tessia . ” Then she vanished into the bustle of activity all around us .
Tessia and I assisted in organizing the teleportation groups . We had twelve medallions, and each one could teleport around fifty people back to the sanctuary at a time . Apparently Virion and Elder Rinia had been working on increasing the strength of the medallions since Dicathen fell, though he had been vague on the details .
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While the soldiers who would activate the medallions finished their preparations and gave directions to the elves, Kathyln returned with her brother, the two dwarves, and Albold . Tessia pulled us all slightly away from the milling groups, and I noticed Feyrith watching us closely from the nearby crowd .
With a flick of her wrist, Tessia conjured a dome of wind around us to mask our conversation before she spoke .
“Before anything else, I’d like to commend all of you . Our mission was to secure and free the prisoners being transported in this caravan, which we have done,” Tessia declared before her gaze flickered back to where Feyrith stood . “But I’ve recently learned from one of the elves we freed that they were only part of the group held at the nearby village of Eidelholm . ”
Albold, Curtis, and the Earthborn brothers exchanged gazes of surprise before looking back to Tessia for answers .
“Before we left, Commander Virion insisted that we rescue as many of our people as possible, so we wouldn’t be going against orders for doing this…” Tessia looked to Kathyln . “But I also understand the risks of going off script . I have a plan in mind, but I’d like to hear everyone’s opinions . ”
Kathyln spoke up first . “We should regroup back at the sanctuary and come back with proper reinforcements . ”
Curtis shook his head . “By the time we do all of that, the Alacryans will have heard of this attack and be much more guarded . It might not even be possible to come back and rescue the elves at Eidelholm later . ”
“Aye, but a win’s a win,” Skarn insisted . “As Lady Tessia said, we accomplished our mission . We didn’t prepare for a larger assault . Didn’t bring enough dwarves, for one . ”
Albold was nodding . “Not that I don’t want to save my own people, but Skarn is right . It’s a big risk to storm a fortified town, even if our casualties were minimal in this battle . ”
I wanted to weigh in . I wanted to say that we should go to Eidelholm . Tessia was well on her way to breaking through into the white core, Kathyln and Curtis were both in the initial stage of silver core along with the Earthborn brothers, and even Albold, who was still a light yellow core, wouldn’t slow them down .
But the words were caught in my throat . I was the weak link here and I knew it .
Tessia finally spoke, breaking the brief silence amongst our group . “We’ll go to Eidelholm . ”
Curtis and I brightened at the words but our leader held up her hand .
“But…” she continued . “Our main objective is only to scout . What Curtis said was right . By the time we go back, prepare and make our way to Eidelholm, the Alacryans will be ready for us . This is the only open window for us—once there, we can better assess our position without exposing ourselves . ”
After a pause, the rest of the group began nodding in agreement .
“Good . ” Tessia said with a faint smile . “The rest of the soldiers will return with the freed elves, allowing us to move much more quickly without drawing attention while we gather intel . ”
I couldn’t help the sudden sinking sensation I felt in my stomach as I realized Tessia likely wasn’t including me with that group, but I stayed quiet .
The others all agreed and our group separated so the news could be shared with the rest of the soldiers .
I braced myself next to Boo as Tessia turned to me, most likely with the intention of sending me back .
“Ellie . If you’re up for it, I’d like to borrow your and Boo’s keen senses . ”
“I’m not going back . I want to come with—” I furrowed my brows . “Wait, what did you say? I can come with you?”
A smile pulled at the edges of Tessia’s lips as she saw my confusion . “Only if you’re willing . ”
Boo and I shared a determined nod before I turned back to Tessia . “Of course I’m willing!”
With that settled, we both turned our attention to the people who would be teleporting back to the sanctuary .
We were sending the rescued prisoners back in three groups . Those of us who were moving on to Eidelholm kept the other nine medallions in order to take back as many elves as possible .
There were over a dozen mages among the rescued elves, and every one of them, Feyrith included, volunteered to come to Eidelholm, but Tessia refused point blank . None of them were in good enough condition to fight .
Tessia, Curtis, Kathyln, the Earthborns, Albold, and I stood well outside the range of the medallions . Groups of elven prisoners gathered around our remaining soldiers, three of whom had medallions and had been trained to activate them .
Most of the men and women who came with us were returning . Those who didn’t survive the fight had been laid among the roots of the trees so that they could rejoin the land where they had been born .
We watched solemnly as the first group activated their medallion . A translucent purple dome lit up around them, radiating from the flat disk that a tall elf held over her head . The mysterious aetheric energy hummed, a sound I could feel in the little hairs on the back of my neck .
The dome began to fracture into individual beams that fell on each person within like violet spotlights . The soldier holding the medallion spoke a word of command, and all at once, the people standing within those beams dissolved into thin air .
The next group went, taking along the freed moon oxen with them back to the sanctuary . The last group repeated this process, until only the seven of us, and our two mana beast bonds, remained .
A blanket of silence fell down on the hazy, twilight forest . A gentle wind was stirring, and for just a moment the deep blue sky was revealed . The first stars twinkled within it .
The weight of my decision to stay behind lingered, but I didn’t regret it . Out here, I wasn’t just Arthur’s sister . Out here, I was making a difference .
Tessia stepped forward, her darkened-silver hair catching the moon’s reflection . “Let’s move . ”