After the King had been forced to hung up the call to the quarantine zone, many things had yet to happen before that long day came to an end.
Using fatigue as an excuse, Lith was escorted to his new apartments. It was a small one-man tent, around two meters (6.6 feet) high with a diameter of barely 3 meters (10′). It was completely bare, outside for a bed and a nightstand.
It was the smallest accommodation he had ever had; the only redeeming feature was that at least he had some privacy. Unless they shoved in a sleeping bag, there was no way another person could fit.
The first thing he did, was to check his powers. As expected, all kinds of elemental magic besides light and darkness seemed to be jammed for both fake and true magic. But while fake magic simply gave no results, with true magic he could feel an obstruction.
It was like touching an object through plastic wrap, he could still feel the world energy all around him, but was unable to reach it with conventional means.
Lith had no idea how the Small World worked, but was quite confident that in case of need, he still would be able to use magic if he pushed forward strong enough to overcome the invisible barrier.
– “The problem is the degree of awareness the artifact grants to Varegrave. There is a strong possibility that successful true magic, if not even my attempts, could be detected. It’s best to keep it as a last resort.” –
Much to his satisfaction, both spirit magic and fusion magic worked without a hitch. Either the Forgemaster that crafted the Small World was a fake mage, or he had left loopholes on purpose, to not fall victim of his own creation.
Lith sighed, whatever was the answer, it was still a small comfort, compared to the realization he was losing control over his life, becoming a puppet in games he had no interest into.
– “You know, Solus, this may as well be the worst day of my third life. First, I was taken away from the academy, then I almost got killed, and now I have been declared a state secret. All in one day. Just imagine what could happen tomorrow.”
“It’s not like they kidnapped you. They offered you a job and you took it.” Solus didn’t believe her own words, she was just trying to lighten the mood. She knew that as long they lived in any country, there would always be offers that couldn’t be refused.
“After that, things have got unpleasant, but at least you should be rewarded for your services. You may even get a nice home and a noble title.”
“Are you kidding me?” He snorted. “That would be the worst. If I get to choose, I’ll pick money, hands down. A title would mean having underlings, responsibilities, becoming an active part of the system from which I’m trying to escape from day one.
Not to mention being forced to attend social life, marry and take part in politics.” –
He slammed his hand on the nightstand, making is sink a couple of centimetres in the soft ground.
– “Dammit, I never wanted to be a hero, nor to conquer this sh*tty world. My aim has always been to find a fix to my reincarnation problem, and then live a happy and quite life.
Now, instead, I’m on the verge of being recognized by the Crown itself, and if that happen, my family will always be used as a leverage against me. I can already feel the shackles around my body getting tighter and tighter.
But what options do I have? Kill my own family just to not have any more ties? And then what? Live all my life as the monster I would become, alone, spending all my life running and fighting like a mad dog?
What is the point in having all this f*cking power for if I can’t even protect the only four people I do care about?” –
Away from home, away from his friends, Lith had never felt so helpless and alone. Once again, Solus crashed against her condition.
She knew that it was in those rare moments when Lith was showing himself vulnerable, that holding his hand or simply holding him tight would help him get rid of the walls he had built to protect himself.
But she was just a piece of rock with a voice, and there was nothing that mere words could do. Lith had spent his first life going from a hardship to another, with people telling him to stay strong, that all will be well.
Now, as then, he didn’t need consolation. Lith needed someone capable of standing by his side and help him facing the incoming tide. Because of the Small World, she was incapable of changing shape or even using her dimensional pocket.
Solus felt useless, wishing for a second to be just a mindless tool, to not be forced seeing the suffering of those she loved and yet being unable to offer any comfort.
In the Colonel’s tent, Varegrave and Kilian were planning the future ahead of them while drinking Dragon Water, one of the strongest and most expensive liquors available in the Griffon Kingdom, with an alcohol content nearing 50%.
Kilian was listening to several reports from his team, while Varegrave was revising his last will.
“The kid’s story checks out. The scouts have found where Velagros’ last battle should have taken place. There are indeed signs of the use of purple flames. Whoever the attackers were, they weren’t willing to take risks.”
“Any survivors?” Varegrave asked as a formality, without raising his eyes or stopping the quill.
“None. Seriously, I can’t believe you are able to write your testament with such a straight face.”
Varegrave drank his glass in one gulp, before refilling it.
“I’m a soldier, old friend. I know very well I made a mistake allowing personal matters to intrude in my duty, and I’m ready to bear the consequences.”
Varegrave raised his glass in a small toast, before emptying it again.
“That, and five glasses of Water Dragon can turn any mouse into a lion, otherwise I would be already sh*tting my pants.” He admitted.
“Is it that bad?” Kilian was used to spend more time on the field than in the royal palace. He was unaware that the recent events had made the Queen quite unforgiving.
“Very.” Varegrave sighed. “Nowadays a strong mage is worth hundreds of soldiers.
Let’s be honest, our mages do not have the blind loyalty the Blood Desert tribes devote to their mysterious leader, nor we invest so much as the Gorgon Empire in nurturing our talented ones.
We already are on the losing end of the cold war with our neighbours for amassing knowledge and power. If my destiny rested only in the King’s hands, I could hope for a demotion or a very hard but not impossible task to prove my worth.
But, alas, as my first mistake in over twenty years of distinguished career, I had the stupidity to cross the Queen on her own turf, almost killing her new golden goose. Gods, I’d give anything to turn back time and slap my stupid self in the face.”
Varegrave folded his will, putting it into an envelope before passing it to Kilian.
“Please when this story will be over, give it to my wife. Tell Shya it’s all my fault, and not to raise our kids hating the Kingdom.”
Kilian grabbed his hand, refusing to pick the envelope.
“You are an outstanding soldier and friend. I’m sure we’ll find a way to make them realize that executing you is a mistake and get you out of this pinch. As long there’s life, there’s also hope.
And by the way, if you croak, I call dibs on your sword.”