Chapter 69: An Unfamiliar Burden
My teeth were clenched the whole time as I willed a hole in the earth below us. Carefully placing Alea’s cold body into the center, I slowly covered her body, using her weapon as a makeshift gravestone
I couldn’t even laugh at the sick irony that this dungeon happened to be named the Widow’s Tomb…
Wordlessly, I spent some time burying each of the fallen comrades of Alea. The once beautiful cave layered with a glossy bed of grass and a pond that glittered like shattered glass now looked like a national landmark of the fallen; the crude mounds of dirt and weapons used as grave markers giving this place an eerie atmosphere.
After finishing up the makeshift graves, I dragged my not-so-willing legs back to where I buried Alea. Kneeling, I place my hand on the mound of dirt covering the once famous Lance. She was considered the pinnacle of power here and was no doubt respected and feared by many. However, to me, she was simply a girl, a lonely girl, regretful of the fact that she never had someone to love and someone to love her back.
When I looked at her in her last moments, a sense of dread dawned on me. She was almost exactly the same as me from my past life, except she wouldn’t be reborn into a different world. With my immediate reincarnation after my previous life ended, I didn’t have the chance to even regret how I lived. In Alea’s final breath, she broke down and cried, saying she didn’t want to die like this.
I rub my eyes as tears unknowingly began streaming down my face, indignant in her stead at how her life came to an end.
Sending out another mental transmission to Sylvie, I sigh in defeat when I don’t hear a reply. Slumping back down against the jagged walls Alea and I leaned against; I recall everything the fallen Lance informed me of. From the information she was able to gather, there were a couple of speculations I could make.
One, there were more than just one black horned demon. How many, I’m not sure. My only hope was that there weren’t too many. If one of them can easily kill a Lance or gravely injure a dragon like Sylvia, then I was out of my league.
Two, they were definitely after something. I’m not sure what but my mind keeps wandering back to the egg Sylvie came from that the demon mistook for a gem. If they really were after Sylvie, then avoiding them indefinitely wasn’t going to be possible.
Three, there was going to be a war on Dicathen. This continent will be in danger and we definitely weren’t prepared. When the demon told Alea that there would be a war, though, I felt an underlying tone that the black-horned demons weren’t from this continent. Is the new Continent that we just uncovered filled with these demons? I shuddered at that thought. Hopefully that scenario wouldn’t come true.
However, the more I contemplated, the more certain I became that there probably weren’t that many black-horned demons. If there truly were a race filled with super-powered demons, then they would’ve already annihilated this continent with ease instead of sneaking around different dungeons and infecting the beasts. They were obviously uncertain whether they could take on this whole continent so they’re going about discreetly, at least for now.
What bugged me was when the time would come for them to wage a war. There was no set time and no way to guess. Was waiting the only thing I can do… what we can do?
A sharp pain in my hands made me realize how hard I was clenching my fist, drops of blood running down my forearm.
What I am slowly learning, and what Alea’s death reinforced into me is the realization of how valuable the relationships that I have with my families, with Tess, and with my friends are. What I didn’t have in my past life were loved ones I would give my life for to protect. I have that now, but I don’t have the strength to protect them; not for what was about to come.
For the amount of potential I have, I was getting complacent. That needs to change.
I recall Sylvia’s message for me after she teleported me into Elshire Forest. Her message still rang clearly in my head as if it happened yesterday; her voice echoing that I would hear from her again once my core reaches past the white stage.
That is the most certain method that I currently know of to be able to get some reliable answers on what’s going on. I was still unable to break from the threshold of dark yellow stage though. After yellow is silver, and then white… sigh…I still have a bit to go.
My head perks up and I hear a loud crash soon after from the direction of where I fell from. Picking myself up, I dash towards where Sylvie’s voice came from.
I stop in front of a cloud of dust and call out to Sylvie.
‘I’m here Sylv, are you okay?’
I cover my face with my arms as the cloud of dust is instantly blown away, revealing my precious bond in her full glory.
My heart thumps in excitement and my chest puffs in pride as my dragon clears into view.
Sylvie has become even more fearsome than when I saw her at the Dire Tombs. Her scales aren’t shiny anymore like before; instead, they are now a dignified matte black. The two horns she had have grown even longer, going past her snout and another pair of horns protruded underneath them. If she looked fierce back then, the feeling I got now is more of awe. She appears as majestic as she did deadly. The spikes she had running down her back are no longer there and rather, because of that, she seems more refined. Her gem-like iridescent yellow eyes pierce through me, making me doubt that she was the one who just called me Papa.
‘Papa! You’re okay!’
Distilling all of the bewilderment that kept me from approaching my bond, she, once again, lifts me up from the ground with the force of her lick.
“Haha! You got bigger again, Sylv!” I beam a childish smile. Hugging the snout of my dragon, Sylv lets out a deep purr while she rubs herself against me and just for a moment, I’m able to forget everything I’ve just been through.
Lifting me off the ground with her snout, she places me on her muscular broad back.
‘Hold on Papa! Let’s get out of here.’ With a powerful snap of her wings a raging gust forms underneath us and we’re instantly propelled into the air. For some reason, the sudden force doesn’t affect my body and I’m comfortably riding on the back of my ten-meter long dragon.
During the flight back up, my bond and I catch up on everything that happened while we were separated. She doesn’t really understand everything about the demons and the upcoming war but she does get the sense that whatever is about to happen isn’t good.
‘Don’t worry, Papa. Whatever happens, I’ll save you!’ Sylvie’s innocent response leaves me chuckling.
Like a narration of a children’s book, she tells me a bit about what she’s been up to, which is, not surprisingly, fighting beasts and consuming beast cores. I really need to be there with Sylvie the next time she trains; I’m really curious as to what she’s capable of. Sylvie doesn’t really know the distinction between the levels of mana beasts so I’m left pondering over how powerful she really is.
‘Hmph! I’m really strong, Papa!’
“Haha, I know I know.” Patting the hard scales on Sylvie’s neck, we soon arrive at the entrance of the dungeon.
As we land in front of the ruined staircase leading up to the surface, I take a glance back to see the hundreds of minion Snarler corpses. Sylvie transforms back into her fox form and leaps on top of my head, taking a couple of spins before perching comfortably on my hair.
Augmenting mana into my body, I lightly jump from broken stair to broken stair, careful not to collapse the fragile remains of the staircase that was once worn down to an ivory smoothness. A full moon greets us as we reach the surface and expectedly there was no one here. I breathe an outward sigh of relief knowing that everyone else made it back safely to Xyrus.
It’ll be a several hour trek to the nearest teleportation gate so I decide to hurry. I make sure there isn’t anyone hiding by releasing a pulse of wind around me. Taking out the seal from my dimension ring, I carefully inspect it. As I am about to put it on, an image of Alea flashes into my mind. I take out the black fragment of the demon’s horn, the horn of the demon that killed her.
Instead of putting on the seal, I release a deep breath and put the seal back into my dimension ring.
My stomach tightened and my eyes narrowed as a churning sensation stirs inside me. No more hiding. I had bigger things to worry about now. I cannot be bothered with stressing over something like this. This demon horn shard will be my constant reminder for that.
‘What’s that, Papa?’ Sylvie’s head pops up as her paw tries reaching for the black shard.
“It’s my goal, Sylvie,” I grimace as determination swells up in the pit of stomach. Patting my bond’s furry little head, I begin my trip back.
Needless to say, the guard in charge of the teleportation gate looked fairly startled when he saw me. He must’ve received orders to be on the lookout for me because as soon as he verified who I was, he began hurriedly making multiple calls using the artifact he had on hand.
Quickly ushering me through the gate, I arrive back in Xyrus feeling a little queasy as Sylvie slumbered on the crown of my head. There was a driver waiting for me on the other side. Giving me a sympathetic smile he tips his hat before opening the door for me.
My mind wasn’t completely there as I kept thinking of the future. For the first time in both of my lives, I feel a heavy burden weighing down on me. The pressure of keeping my loved ones safe; I’ve never had that while I was a King. The weight of a country I had no affection for in my previous life couldn’t compare to the few lives I will give my everything for in this life.
When I reached the Helstea Manor, I stop in front of the giant double doors. Somehow, I couldn’t bring myself to knock on the doors to my own home. What would my family’s expressions be? It seemed like every time I went out, all I did was worry them.
Taking a seat on the top of the stairs, I just let out a sharp, bitter sigh. Looking up at the night sky, I see the faint colorations that supposedly signaled the coming of festival. The sky turning blue, yellow, red and green indicates when the Aurora Constellate will begin. My eyes focus on a solitary cloud, slow-dancing above me without a care in the world. What an envious position to be in.
Lost in my thoughts, I don’t even hear the door open behind me.
“Hi Dad, I’m back.” I give him a weak smile.
“Why didn’t you come in? We heard from the teleportation gatekeeper that you arrived in Xyrus.” My father takes a seat next to me when I don’t respond.
“Your mother will be fine, Art,” He says warmly, gently patting my back.
“I worried you guys again. It feels like that’s all I’m really good for nowadays,” I chortle, knots churning in my chest as I say this.
I turn my head to my father and see him gazing up at the sky like I was just moments ago.
“She really loves the Aurora Constellate. Your mother may not seem like it, but she’s strong, Arthur, even more so than me. If you think that all you’ve given us are worries, then you’re wrong. Both you and your sister have given your mother and I so much more than we could’ve hoped for.”
“I know that you’re not like the normal children your age; hell I’ve known that since you were born. I don’t know what sort of destiny you’ll be caught up in, but I don’t think it’ll be anything you can’t handle.” The skin around his eyes wrinkles as he gives me a tender smile.
“What I don’t want you to do is feel like you’re being a burden on us. All of this guilt that you’re feeling right now, the weight that you’re probably feeling, I want you to come to us so that we can be there for you. I don’t ever want you to feel like you can’t come home, that you aren’t welcome. As long as you have the use of your two legs, I expect you to come home whenever you can and let us love you. That is our right as your parents. Okay?” My father runs his fingers through his trim, auburn hair in a gesture that reveals how he wasn’t used to saying things like this. And just like that, the weight that I felt accumulating inside slowly disperses.
“Got it Dad.” I manage a more sincere smile this time and he responds with his signature foolish grin.
“Come on, let’s go home. Once inside, a more ferocious beast than anything you’ve ever faced awaits,” My father whispers darkly before the both of us break out into a fit of laughter.