The Selection

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Chapter 17 - Princess Irene - Chance

“Kai, it’s almost time. We need to start heading to the castle,” Leila cautions as we follow Irene, who is happily skipping in front of us. I sigh.

"Finally…” I say void of enthusiasm. Leila sighs.

“I suppose Irene was the only one enjoying herself…”

I chuckle. Sorry about this, Leila… I’ll pay you back eventually.

“Hey, let’s go to this place next!” Irene exclaims as she faces us while walking backward, pointing toward a nearby structure.

“Time’s up, Irene. We’ve gotta get going to the speech.”

"Ehhh…” she interjects, pouting afterward.

“Haven’t you bought enough? All of this…” I say while gesturing my head toward everything Leila and I are carrying. We have so many bags in each hand that when we move each leg forward, it makes us feel awkward as it collides with something. “Besides, you’ll probably have another chance to go exploring again as long as you live here.”

“Fine…” Irene yields. “Which way do we go?”

Leila guides us toward the direction of the castle. The number of people and rowdiness of the streets increases as we get closer to our destination. It takes around ten minutes to reach the center of the city, where all the districts intersect in the large city square. Despite its size, it’s not enough to fit everyone here. We’re stuck at the edge of the square while Irene’s shopping bags sandwich us in between an already dense crowd. Irene is stuck in front of me. Maybe this isn’t so bad…

I leer at the back of Irene’s head, taking deep whiffs of her scent. Knowing that she probably can’t feel it, I let myself get excited as I play out a fantasy in my head. It ends prematurely, as the screaming around us grows louder. The screaming transforms into chanting at some point. Everyone around me raises their arm in the air in rhythm. “Osmir! Osmir! Osmir!”

A figure comes out of the castle, gradually making his way toward the top of the ramp in the square that leads to the castle. Luckily, since we came from the shopping area, we aren’t as far away to the castle than we could be if we came directly from Bolt’s Inn. Osmir raises his hand in the air. The chanting in the area gradually comes to a halt.

“My fellow citizens, as many of you already know, my name is Osmir. In the last couple of months, many of you have lived in fear. You feared for the day when you could not afford to pay the taxes anymore…or the moment when one of your precious family members is taken right in front of you… Unfortunately for some of you, those fears became reality. The unluckier ones are no longer with us and exist only in our hearts.

“Have you thought about why? Why did this happen? What did I do wrong? Did I deserve this… Did we deserve this?” The people around me tilts their head down. He pauses for a moment before continuing, “Why do you look so grim? As if you have really done something wrong? Raise your heads with your shoulders high!”

Everyone around me raises their head. “Let me tell you this. You did nothing wrong! That is right, absolutely nothing! Never think to yourself, ‘What if I did something different? What if I found a way to pay the taxes and then not have to lose anyone?’ Just forget it all! What happened was an unfortunate chain of events that none of you had control over. Everything was Velyn’s fault! I repeat. None of you have to hold responsibility for anything that has happened!

“Soon after Velyn resorted to violent methods of collecting taxes from villages, I decided that I would not sit by and watch my fellow citizens suffer. I decided to fight back against Velyn and his corrupt underlings. Eventually, I rallied enough people, and we were able to fight head on with him throughout Xantho. We stopped some of the impending raids on villages that were so poor that they could not even eat… but then I thought, how long must this continue? How long must I watch everyone suffer, slowly decaying to nothing? It was then that I decided, I would launch a full frontal assault on Velyn’s headquarters, the castle standing behind me. The rest of this story, many of you already know.

“It was quite disappointing to find that Velyn escaped before we could capture him. It disgusts me that he fled before we even raided the castle while leaving his underlings to die. It disgusts me that he ever served our country as king, but you do not have anything to fear now. Even though he is still alive somewhere; he will never inflict fear upon you again as long as I stand here. He can bring another army, but I will defeat him again!

“Never again will you endure sleepless nights fearing for the worst! Never again will you suffer and be punished for reasons you were never at fault with! Never again will you lose your loved ones! The storm has passed, and you have waited long enough! Tradition said that only those of the royal bloodline can declare to be king, but I say, why do we have to follow his traditions? Why must we conform to his rules? He, who inflicted suffering upon us. My answer is, to hell with tradition! I declare officially as of this moment, to be the new King of Xantho!”

Screams and cheers explode everywhere around me. I grimace as the roars of the crowd pierce my eardrums. I’m unable to cover them since I’m holding onto Irene’s baggage. The noise dies when Osmir raises his hand again.

“I declare as my first act as the King of Xantho… Taxes are abolished entirely! For the time being, I will use my funds and the money found in the castle to help those living in poverty. I will give everything back to the villages robbed by Velyn! However, this process will take me a day to sort out, so be patient, my fellow citizens. Remember, never regret, and keep your head high while looking forward to this new chapter!” Osmir exclaims and then heads back into the castle. The crowd bursts into intense cheering again. I look at Leila, who is facing me as well. I signal my head and eyes on our next move. She nods her head.

“Irene,” I say, but I can’t even hear my own voice among the noise. I place my mouth next to Irene’s ear and then take a deep breath before exclaiming, ”Irene!"

Despite using the loudest voice I can muster, I barely hear myself and wonder if Irene heard me at all. A moment later, Irene finally turns around. I gesture my head toward a direction. Afterward, I force myself through a path. Some people curse at me as I do, but I ignore them. I head toward one of the streets adjacent to the castle.

About five minutes pass before we can freely walk without bumping into someone. I find an alleyway and head in, resting against the wall. As I rest Irene’s baggage on the ground, I sigh and then sit against the wall. Irene and Leila do the same with the wall in front of me. Expecting a negative response, I ask,

“So…what did you think, Irene?”

Irene frowns and says, “Mm… I don’t think he’s a bad person, but I’m not sure…”

“I see… Well, we’re gonna go meet him in person once the crowd disperses. So you’ll know for sure soon enough,” I mention.

“Okay,” she responds without making a fuss. I cock an eyebrow.

Strange… After how much Osmir bad-mouthed her father… And she came all this way to supposedly help him… I turn my head toward the street. People are coming from the direction of the square. I rest quietly, like Leila with my head down. At some point, I dose off a little and then fall asleep.

“Kai,” Leila says. I open my eyes finding Leila and Irene standing in front of me.

I stand up, grab Irene’s bags, and ask “How long’s it been?”

“About an hour. Let’s go before there’s no light left,” Leila suggests as she walks toward the street. Irene and I follow after her toward the castle. When we reach the city square, we find that it’s practically empty compared to an hour ago. We head up the ramp that leads to the gates of the castle. There are two guards standing by the open gate.

“What do you want at this hour? Didn’t you hear Osmir? He’ll announce tomorrow how he’ll distribute the money,” one of the guards informs.

“Ah, no, we’re not here for that… We’re here on the behalf of General Dae,” I answer, correcting him. The guards exchange a few looks of confusion.

“We have no idea what you’re talking about…”

“We didn’t receive any orders expecting you guys.”

“Can you get Osmir?” I ask. “I think he’s acquainted with Dae.”

“Can’t this wait until tomorrow?”

“Can you just notify him that we’re here? It’s urgent…” I insist. The guards look at each other and then whisper. A few seconds later, one of them runs toward the castle entrance.

“What’s with that getup anyway? Don’t tell me you’re spies for that traitor, Velyn…?”

“If that was actually true, why would we admit that?”

“Hmm. Good point. Well, you guys don’t look that menacing to me anyway, compared to some of the subordinates working for Velyn.”

I cock an eyebrow and then ask, “What do you mean? Weren’t you a subordinate yourself?”

“No, I’m actually one of the new guys. I joined Osmir’s company when they raided the castle two days ago. I’m from Gaizor, one of the villages Osmir defended from Velyn a few weeks ago. I was grateful for what he did for us and aided him during the raid. When I engaged hostiles in the castle, I noticed their skills were rough and unrefined, like those of bandits. Real nasty bunch.”

Footsteps resound rapidly from beyond the gates.

“E-emergency!” the guard from earlier exclaims as he runs toward us. “One of them’s a special guest Osmir has been expecting! Let them through immediately!”

The guard from Gaizor steps aside. “Go ahead.”

I glance briefly at Leila and Irene before continuing forward. I walk forward while looking around, taking note of the outer walls that surround the castle; they are about 20 feet tall. The amount of space available is comparatively larger than the Academy in Drosera. There’s a stable on the right side with at least a dozen carriages idle next to it. I knit my eyebrows. Everything seems to be in good condition, considering this was a war zone two days ago…

“Kai,” Leila says. I look behind me while still walking forward. “In front.”

I face forward again. Osmir is standing by the entrance to the castle. I keep my eyes narrowed on him up to the point we’re only five feet apart. He appears to be a man in his late 20′s. He walks toward me while holding his right hand out. “I’ve been expecting you…”

I smile as I hold out my right hand. I stop smiling and then cock an eyebrow as he walks past me.

“Lady Irene, your father requested your presence. Thank you for coming,” he says as he kneels in front of her while holding her left hand. He gives the top of her hand a quick peck. Irene’s arm twitches as he does, and her face flushes slightly red.

“What? You met with my father?” Irene asks in a surprised tone.

Osmir stands back up and then answers, “Yes, I have… Let us talk more inside. You must be hungry, right? I was just about to eat dinner. You and your escorts can join me, and I will explain everything.”

He begins to walk inside while holding Irene’s hand. Leila and I follow. I narrow my eyes on Osmir and whisper to Leila, “Are you buying this?”

“Not really… We need to strike when a chance arises,” she whispers. There are staircases to my immediate left and right after we enter the castle. Both lead upward and appear to be symmetrical. The path in front splits into three different paths; left, right, and straight. We follow Osmir, who apparently takes the straight path in front of us. My eyes wander around, finding that everything seems to be undamaged and in near perfect condition. Osmir and Irene go into a room on the left side.

“Have you noticed?” I whisper.

“Yeah… There’s a serious lack of personnel present with no signs of battle…” she whispers and then we enter the room Osmir went in. There are several small dining tables with six chairs to a table spaced throughout the middle part of the room. A variety of different foods is available on the large dining table on the left side of the room.

“Help yourself,” Osmir says as he points to the large dining table. Then he points to a nearby table with a plate of food on it and says, “We will talk over there.”

I leave Irene’s luggage in the corner of the room, and Leila does the same. We each get a plate, fill it up with food of our choosing, and then sit down with Osmir. Before I start digging into my meal, I ask, “Isn’t it strange you have all this food prepared, yet not a soul could be seen on our way here?”

Osmir laughs before responding, “I know, right? It seems everyone has retired early for the night! Well, enjoy the meal cooked marvelously by our chef before it goes cold! Let us save formalities for later.”

Just as he suggests, we quietly consume our meal without any exchange of words. I’m slightly saddened by the missing presence of soup, but I’m too hungry to care; having not eaten since the bison soup at Neso. I settle for the slab of mystery meat on my plate. After a few bites, I find out that it’s beef. It’s marbled with fat, and the sauce has a tinge of sweetness to it. It definitely is one of the best meats I’ve had in my entire life. As everyone finishes up their meals, Osmir says, “By the way, I do not believe I heard your names yet.”

“I’m Kai.”

“Leila.”

“Kai and Leila is it… Would you care to explain why you are here instead of Dae?”

“Dae and his group were attacked by bandits, and we happened upon them when it happened. Apparently they were weakened by a monster attack on top of that, so they didn’t have the energy to safely escort Irene back. Well, Dae mentioned a reward if we completed his task in his place,” I say and then smile.

“I see. We will discuss your reward later, but first, you need to promise me that you do not divulge any of what I am about to tell you to anyone. It is imperative that this remains secret. Of course, this will be reflected in your compensation too.”

“Yeah, we promise. We’re gonna be leaving Byzia after this anyway.” Osmir closes his eyes and claps his hands on top of the table. He takes a deep breath and then opens his eyes.

“There are a couple of things Irene needs to know. The first one is that I know Velyn is innocent.”

I knit my eyebrows.

“Yeah, of course!” Irene exclaims. “Where is he?”

“He is in hiding with Seirus and Aurora… It is a little complicated so let me explain. It began a month after your father began acting strangely. I knew something was wrong because I knew your father growing up… You see, Seirus and Aurora were my good friends from my academy days…” I exchange looks of confusion with Leila.

“It happened by coincidence, but after some snooping around Velyn found an opportunity to tell me everything. It was then I learned that he was being threatened by Jack, one of the two advisors close to him. Evidently, he had learned about some magical item located in a vault accessible only by members of the royal bloodline last year and had been working a plan ever since. By the time he coerced Velyn into raising taxes six months ago, he had already converted the ranks working under Velyn to his side. Jack held Seirus hostage and threatened to kill him if Velyn did not do as he said. Apparently Velyn was suspicious about Jack even before that and told Seirus to flee, but he did not.

“He did not know what Jack wanted, at first, and he was forced to go alongside the army as they raided villages, as you may have heard people talk about. At some point, Velyn could not prioritize the life of his son over everyone else and refused to do anything more. It was then Jack offered an alternative, which was access to the vault. Velyn refused vehemently, apparently keeping whatever magical item that was in there locked up was more important than the lives of many. Luckily, Jack did not kill either of them knowing that he would have lost his goal for sure.

“Shortly after this was when I met with your father. He told me to find General Dae and to tell him what he told me. Well, the short story is that we worked out a plan and carried it out. It is all an act to not draw suspicion from Jack who thinks we were legitimately just rebelling against the army. We have not apprehended him yet, so we are not revealing Velyn’s innocence just yet in case he tries to target his life again.”

“So…he’s okay, right?” Irene asks with a worried expression on her face.

“Yes.”

“To be honest, Osmir, we’ve been digging around for information about you…” I say and narrow my eyes on him. “And people have been saying that you’ve never been to Byzia until two days ago. What do you say about that?”

I quirk my eyebrows when he laughs. He grabs his hair with his fingers and says, “It is the hair.”

“Huh?”

“I have lived here pretty much my entire life, but I have always had long hair. Part of the plan was to cut my hair short and change my name. My real name is Reid.”

“How’s Irene play in all this? Why’d Velyn want her to come? I recall Dae saying Irene coming would help Velyn in some way…”

He smiles and then says, “Well, that is not exactly true. The truth is that Jack found out about the existence of Irene and Velyn was afraid he would get to her. A month ago, I learned that Jack switched from threatening Velyn to threatening Seirus. Apparently, Aurora, who had fled the city months before, was found by Jack. He used her to get to Seirus, who eventually divulged everything. Any other questions?”

He smiles broadly. A tinge of doubt still lurks at the back of my mind despite everything he said. I verify, “So, Irene will stay here in the castle until things die down with Jack?”

“Yes.”

“Considering everyone has retired early for the night, that battle that was two days ago must’ve been enormous, right?” I ask and then smirk. Reid’s lips drop into a frown, and he doesn’t say anything for several seconds.

“I have been politely answering your questions so far, but why do you need to know any of this?” He asks and knits his eyebrows. “Your job was to escort Irene safely here, and you have done just that. For your information, there were not many of Jack’s foot soldiers stationed here when we attacked, fortunately. Now, instead of this pointless chatter, let us talk about your reward.”

I look toward Leila again, and she nods her head. I face forward again before saying, “We’re interested in taking a look at the library located in this castle.”

Reid cocks an eyebrow. “What?”

“The library. I’ve heard the only library in Byzia was in the castle, and we wanna take a look.” I repeat. He closes his eyes briefly and shakes his head.

“Oh. Yes. Right. Follow me,” he says awkwardly while standing up and walking toward the hallway.

What was that about…? We get up as well and follow him. I whisper to Irene, “Irene, what do you think of him now?”

“I think he’s a good person. I’m certain he’s not a bad person.” I frown and keep my eyes on the back of Reid’s head.

So he’s not lying…? We head up the right staircase we passed by earlier. We find ourselves in a spacious open room containing at least 200 books after several more turns.

“Here it is. Now, if you will excuse me, I have another matter to attend to,” he says and then runs out. His footsteps fade out.

“Irene, are you sure you feel comfortable staying here?”

“Yeah, I’ll be fine! Reid is a good person!”

“I see… We’ll have to part ways soon,” I say and frown.

“It’s okay, though; you have Leila!”

“That’s true. But you’ll be alone…”

“I’ll be fine! I’ll become good friends with Reid!”

“Kai, help me look through these books, would you?” Leila asks from across the room.

“Ah, sure,” I reply and then head toward her. I pick up a book from the shelf opposite of where she’s checking. This book, in particular, doesn’t look like it contains the history we’re looking for, but I flip through some of the pages to make sure. I repeat the process for all the books on this shelf and then later move to a new shelf. Over an hour passes by the time I check 70 books. I yawn. “Hey, Leila. How many have you checked so far? Did you find anything?”

“About 100 so far and nothing, but come look at this, quick!” Leila exclaims from across the room. I run over to her. I raise my eyebrows at the large vault inside the wall.

“This must be the vault Reid was talking about.”

“Yeah, but look… How do you open this?” she asks with knitted eyebrows. I look closer on the vault. There are no handles, keyholes, or locks. Nothing. I wander my eyes around the vault, but there is not even a switch. An item of interest is the clear circle in the center of the vault. I peer through it with an eye, finding some kind of crystal inside.

I knit my eyebrows and then ask, “Is that a…Glim?

“That’s what I thought too, initially, but I think it’s different… I already tried passing through my Mana, and nothing happens.”

“Oh, that’s right. Let me try.” I release some of my Mana through the circle, but nothing happens.

Leila sighs and then says, “It was worth a shot.”

I head back to where I was still checking the books when footsteps resound from the hallway, growing louder with each step.

“Excuse me!” Reid exclaims and then pants for air. “You are still here? I am going to have to ask you to leave now.”

“What’s the hurry?” I ask.

“The hurry is I am sleepy, and I cannot just leave you here unattended. On top of that, look. Irene is falling asleep too,” he says as he points to Irene, who barely has her eyes open. “Look, you might not have found what you were looking for so take this.”

He takes out a small pouch from his pocket and then tosses it to me. “It contains 50 gold coins; surely that is enough, right? I will escort you out.”

I look toward Irene, who reciprocates it and then smiles. I walk toward the exit where Irene stands near. “Well, this is it. See ya—well I guess I don’t know when I’ll see you again, so…goodbye, Irene.”

I smile softly.

“I don’t want to say goodbye!” she exclaims. “It’s not like we won’t see each other again. You’ll visit, right?”

She pouts. I laugh before agreeing, “Yeah, you’re right.”

“Stay well, Kai,” she says and then smiles. I smile too before Reid leads us out where the two guards stand.

“Thanks again for escorting Irene…but it would probably be best that you do not visit again until we have subdued Jack… Guards, it is time to close the gates and retire for the night.”

Afterward, the guards close the gate and head toward the castle after Reid. I stare blankly at his back, feeling like something isn’t right. “What’s with that look, Kai? Don’t tell me you’re still having doubts? Irene said it herself, right? That Reid was a good person.”

“Yeah, but I still feel like something’s off…”

“In any case, our presence is required at the hideout. Let’s hurry,” she suggests as she takes out the map from her backpack. She takes a quick glance before storing it back. I walk alongside Leila, letting her lead the way. She asks, “So? What’s bugging you?”

“Well…a couple of things. First, how did Reid immediately recognize Irene to be Irene? When I think about that, it must mean that he recognized her based on the pink dress. Given how careful he is about his movements, why would he plan for Dae to leave the castle with the pink dress in hand? If the information broker knows…then this Jack person must know too. I’m sure he can put together that he was going for Irene.”

“It must’ve been to bait a move from Jack. Since Reid already knew that Jack knew about Irene, he could bait Jack to make a move and find where he’s hiding. He probably had a plan of some sort.”

“What plan? Irene was taken right under our noses in Neso… Jack was probably the one responsible for that. She would’ve been gone if we didn’t take her back. Also, why does he want Irene to stay in that castle? He even said himself that Velyn, Seirus, and Aurora were in a different hiding spot because returning to the castle was too risky, yet he wants Irene to stay…”

“Well, I’m sure he has his reasons… Maybe he doesn’t want to reveal the hiding spot of Velyn and the others.”

“Or maybe he’s lying about everything!” I exclaim. “Why would Velyn even tell Seirus about Irene?”

Leila sighs and then answers, “I don’t know…maybe to inform him that he has a sister? Kai, we’ve talked about this. You need to let her go. We have more important things to worry about.”

I sigh. “Yeah, you’re right… Sorry.”

I drop all my thoughts on the matter for now. Leila asks, “Was your search also fruitless at the library?”

“Yeah, I found nothing, but there were still some books we didn’t check. You think we would’ve found it there?”

“I don’t think so…”

“What about Elbar? We haven’t checked the library there yet…”

“It probably won’t be there, either. Xantho is the oldest Human country so if it’s not here then…”

I gulp and then say, “Then your suspicion was true…”

“Yeah, the Humans didn’t record ‘The Selection’ event found in the books of other races.”

“But what’s that mean? Maybe they just didn’t bother to write it down…”

“I don’t see why you would exclude it… It was a dramatic event that killed off a large portion of every race. All the other races have some record of their experience with this, but Humans…it must mean that they didn’t experience it.”

“How’s that possible? We must’ve just missed something in those books we didn’t check…”

“That possibility still exists, but you noticed too, right? There is a common thread tying all the books we checked together.”

“Yeah. The farthest events date back is about 1900 years ago, right? Maybe someone just got rid of all the books beyond that so ‘The Selection’ was never mentioned as a result.”

“That’s another possibility… We’re going to need to head back to that castle after all. We don’t have any other leads.”

We continue making our way to the hideout. We take the west exit and go through a forest. A couple of monsters appear as usual that we easily take care of. Following Leila’s directions, we end up in an area between a mountain and a forest.

“It should be somewhere around here…” Leila claims. “If I remember correctly, the entrance should be right here.”

I note nothing suspicious on the wall at the base of the mountain. “Kai, allow me.”

She walks over to where I am and puts her hand on the wall. Only a few seconds pass before she announces, “I found it. It’s over here.”

She walks a few feet over with her hand still on the wall. She stops walking in front the same wall. Suddenly, I feel like something is behind me again. It feels similar to what happened at the underground information broker. I quickly warn, “Wait, someone might be following us…”

“Are you sure?” Leila whispers.

“Yeah, this feeling… There’s no doubt about it,” I say quietly and then gesture my head toward the suspicious tree, but not being obvious about it. “I think whoever it is; he’s on that tree somewhere.”

“Someone from that information broker’s network?”

“I think so. Let’s charge him at the same time so he doesn’t escape. On three, we’ll go.” Leila nods her head. “One…two…three! Haste!"

"Swiftness!"

We immediately charge toward the tree. As soon as I start running, I aim my right palm toward the tree. ”Fire bolt!"

Fire shaped like a fat arrow appears that flies in a straight trajectory toward the top of a branch in the tree. Something sizzling resounds, indicating that my magic hit something, but no movements resound.

What…? They’re not gonna react…? It all becomes clear when we reach the tree. We find a scorched owl standing on top of one of the branches. I stare blankly at the owl while frowning and knitting my eyebrows. I relax my facial expressions when I sense murderous intent from Leila.

“Kai…”

“I’m sorry!” I apologize and bow my head. Leila sighs.

“Forget it… Your senses are probably just hypersensitive right now…”

I giggle, feeling strange how I can mistake an animal for a person twice. “Maybe…”

Afterward, I follow Leila, who reveals the entrance to the hideout with earth magic. She shifts a stone wall the size of a door down to the ground, and I continue to follow her inside. We find a wooden door with a small opening in the middle; the same door used in all Cascabel hideouts.

“Kai and Leila, I presume?” a man asks. A glimpse of his face is shown through the opening.

“Yes. We have proof of Dae’s death,” Leila replies. The man opens the door.

“Cebum’s waitin’ fer ya in the room furthest back.”

We head in and go through the passageway. There is only one path to take, so we don’t get lost. I only notice a couple of people loitering around some of the rooms we pass by. At the end of the last passageway, we find a door. Leila opens it, and then we head inside.

“You’re finally here,” Cebum says and turns around. “Show me the proof.”

Leila takes out the Alrath in her backpack. She opens it and then takes out Dae’s head that is in the same condition as I last remember it. She sets it on the table next to Cebum.

“Excellent work. I have great news for you two… Xedeus told me to let you know that he’ll be coming here tomorrow to personally deliver you your next mission.”

I raise my eyebrows. “Are you serious?”

“Aye… He recognizes the great work you two have been doing and wants to express that in person. He’ll probably be here around 3 PM tomorrow, don’t be late. Until then, you’re dismissed,” Cebum says with a smile. With that, we leave the hideout. Leila covers up the wall before we start to head back to Byzia.

“This has been a ridiculous day…” I comment, smiling broadly afterward.

“Tell me about it… Are we really going to do it?” Leila asks as she turns her head toward me.

“Yeah, we already discussed this… That we would assassinate Xedeus the next chance we get. I didn’t think it would come this soon, but it’s a chance we can’t afford to miss.”

“We’ll need to arrive an hour early to set up the ambush.”

“That’s not a problem. I’ll pick up my armor from the blacksmith in the morning, and we’ll still have some time to make a plan. I suppose we’re headed back to the castle now?” I ask and then sigh.

“I thought you’d be happier about that. You’ll get to see Irene again.”

I laugh lightly and say, “We’re gonna be trespassing… Well, we probably won’t even get caught considering that there’s hardly anyone stationed in the castle, but we can’t let Irene know we’re there.”

She laughs too before replying, “That’s true.”

We eventually make our way back to the castle gates that are now closed. I look around, making sure that no one is watching before releasing my Mana. ”Open!"

The usual portal appears in front of me. I go through it while holding onto Leila’s hand and appear above the closed gates. As Leila lets out a quick burst of air from her feet, I say, ”Close!"

Afterward, we walk towards the entrance. “I just realized how reckless that was… Someone might’ve seen us through one of those windows up there…”

“I wouldn’t worry about it. No one would be expecting us to come in that way, and they should all be asleep, right? Besides, the hallways were completely empty; you’re worrying too much.”

“I guess you’re right. Do you remember how to get to the library? I may have forgotten…”

“Jeez, it’s because you were too worried about Irene. Well, I remember, so just—”

A loud scream resounds from the castle. We immediately look at each other and then sprint toward the entrance. ”Haste!"

"Swiftness!"

I clench my jaws and my fists as I’m running. Irene…!

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