Chapter 46 - Enlistment - Messenger
The next morning, Marin and I meet Ruby before heading over to the third level. We head to the mail station area and then find our lockers. I unlock mine. A plastic ID card and two sheets of paper are inside. My ID has my name, rank, and platoon on it. The first piece of paper is signed by General Nero. I read the second one.
You will remain as a Sigma Platoon until obtaining the Lieutenant rank. Be aware that if you are not taking on requests, you may find guard duty or other tasks assigned to you in this locker. You will report to Captain Albius for requests taken.
I frown and grit my teeth while crumpling the piece of paper. I remember the humiliation from yesterday.
“Kai, what’s wrong?” Marin asks as she and Ruby rejoin me.
“We have to report to Captain Albius for the requests we take. He’s in charge of us.”
“We can’t fight ’im, right? We hafta respect ’im and follow his orders.”
I sigh. “Yeah. That’s right, Ruby. There’s also an order from General Nero to meet on the fourth level lobby area at 9 AM. We have a few hours.”
We head to the request center. We put in a request to leave in order to pick up our belongings at the inn. Someone informs us that it has to be signed by someone of Lieutenant rank or higher. It will be in my locker when it is approved.
We go to the cafeteria next. There are around a hundred people here already. We wait at the back of the line, eventually reaching the sign in area. One of the men at the table looks at my ID and then at a sheet of paper with a list of names. He gives me my ID along with a meal ticket. I look down at the ticket and sigh. I can’t buy any extra tickets yet.
Eventually, we get our meal trays and then sit down at a table to eat. The contents of the tray are not much different from last night. I eat it reluctantly.
With our new IDs in hand, we head to the armory on the third level. We wait behind the small line of people. It moves fast.
“Are you one of the new recruits?” the lone man sitting at the table asks. “Need to see your ID.”
“Yeah,” I answer and hand over my ID. He takes it and then writes something on the sheet of paper in front of him.
He gives it back along with a small purple ticket and informs, “Show any artisan on the first two floors with this, and they will take care of you. You cannot go to any on the third floor with this.”
I wait by the entrance to the armory. Marin and Ruby join me shortly afterward. There are multiple rooms with separate craftsmen in each one. The ones on the first floor are occupied by many other soldiers. We head to the second floor and then walk into a more vacant shop.
“Boss, we have customers,” a man in front of us says with his head turned toward the back. A door leading to another room is open.
“They’re probably new recruits. Go take their measurements,” another man says from another room.
“I need Cheryl’s help with this.”
“What’re you…” An older man walks out from the other room. He looks at us for a moment. “Cheryl, you got two work orders coming up.”
“Yes!” a woman says from the other room. She runs over to Marin and Ruby. “Come this way, please. I will take your measurements.”
Marin and Ruby follow her to the other room. The older man paces around me. “Boss, do you want me to take his measurements?”
“Measure his arms and legs,” the older man says. “I’ll take care of his chest piece.”
“You’ll be able to make a new chest piece?” I ask. The other man straightens out one of my arms and extends measuring tape over it. He also wraps it around my arm.
“Yeah, no problem. It’ll be made of Iron, though.”
I knit my eyebrows and frown. “Can’t you just repair this?”
“No can do. New recruits receive a set of Iron armor for free, but that’s it. This armor’s useless now. I’ll take it off your hands,” the older man says. The other man finishes measuring my leg.
If he’s gonna do that, I’m better off going into the city to get it repaired… But I need to save our money because I don’t know how much those magic seminars will cost me… I unsheathe my weapons and ask, “Can you fix these swords? In exchange for my armor.”
“Cobalt swords with Platinum armor? An interesting combination. If I figure from your Light role, Iron armor would be more suited for you. I’ll take care of them for you.” I put my swords back in the sheath, unclip them, and then hand them over. Next, I remove off my armor and then hand it over. The older man sets my armor down on the counter. “Well, your weight will be roughly the same with the arm guards and leg guards equipped. I’ll take that off your hands too.”
I hand over the ticket and ask, “How long will this take?”
“Should have it done by this time tomorrow.”
I sigh and take my leave, heading back toward my room. I go inside and then lock the door. I practice using Void magic until it’s time to meet General Nero.
I head to the fourth level. Marin and Ruby are already here. A few minutes later, General Nero appears from a nearby corridor. “So you’ve made it, Kai, Marin, and Ruby. It’s good to see that you’ve joined our ranks. I see the potential the three of you carry.”
I force a smile and say, “Yeah…”
“How do you like it here so far?”
I’m not really fond of this place…but I can’t tell him that… I think to myself before speaking up, “It’s not bad, but the food’s lacking.”
General Nero laughs and then answers, “That’s something you get used to. But the food supply has been lower than usual because of the attack.”
“I see… So what’d you need us for?”
“Someone wants to talk to you. Follow me,” he says and then leads us down the hallway.
I ponder for a moment before asking, “Is it true that anyone can learn Enhancement magic?”
“That’s right. Anyone can use it,” he answers immediately.
“But in the Academy, we used a magic item to measure our affinities. I didn’t have any for Enhancement magic. Can I still learn it?”
“It takes some training, but yes. You can learn more about it in a seminar. There might be an Enhancement magic seminar soon, but I don’t know the exact date. Ask around in the request center for more information,” he says and then pushes open the double doors in front. We enter a large room going straight on the red tinted tiles. I widen my eyes. The king is sitting on the throne. No one else is here other than us. General Nero kneels on one leg. “Your Majesty, I have brought them.”
“Good work,” the king says and then looks over to me. “Your name is Kai, correct?”
I quickly kneel down on one leg too and lower my head. “Yes.”
“You may raise your head.” I stand back up and raise my head. “Two days ago, you and your friends told General Nero of some important information regarding Alios. Is everything that was said the pure truth?”
I grit my teeth and look down. Even though I fought against what Ruby said then…it wasn’t wrong.
I reluctantly answer, “Yes.”
“You said the last time you saw Alios was three months ago. Did he change his behavior at all during your 5th year Academy experience under his care?”
I knit my eyebrows. If anything it was that…but…
I open my mouth to speak only to utter a weak sound. I close it while trying to think of something else. The king says, “Speak.”
“Well… Alios had always been harsh on Sitos, but toward the end of the year, he seemed friendly with him.”
“What of Alios? If you know anything else, tell me.”
I contemplate for a while. Nothing comes to mind other than our time with him as probationary Adventurers. I remember something. “I asked Sitos a while ago to see if Alios had any requests for us. He said Alios was busy with minister duties.”
“When was this?”
“I asked him twice. The first time he answered was a week before the attack. The second time…was on the day of the attack.”
The king sighs. “I see. There is nothing more I can do for an old friend.”
“The execution will be in two days. Nothing flashy. A simple hanging will do.”
“Yes, I understand,” General Nero answers.
“For providing crucial information to this case, I will fulfill your wishes to the best of my ability. What is it you want?” the king asks.
“Will you listen to me? Sitos was framed and—“
“Stop this. I have heard this once already. This is about how Sitos regretted his actions, correct?” I only frown at his question. “As much as I would like to believe it, the case was settled with the last piece of information you gave me. I questioned Alios earlier, and it was clear that he was withholding information. Alios did not have any minister duties for the month prior to the attack. The minister meeting was an excuse for helping the masked men with the attack.”
That means either Sitos or Alios lied? I think to myself before uttering, “But—“
“There is no more say in the matter. Ask for something else.”
I clear my mind of that matter for now and then smile.
“Can I be promoted to Captain?” He gives me a look filled with disapproval. “Or Lieutenant...”
“I cannot grant that. The military is under General Nero.”
I didn’t think it would be that easy… I sigh before continuing, “I want to be in the next Enhancement magic seminar.”
“I will grant this. Nero, take care of it for me. Allow Kai and his two friends entry into the next available session under no charge.”
“I will see to it.”
“Can I also see and talk to Alios?”
“Very well. You should be satisfied with that. Nero, take them to the prison,” the king says and then walks away. General Nero leads us out. We head to the level below the first one. This level is dimly lit compared to the others. A guard is up ahead standing next to a closed door.
“General!” he says with a salute. “Questioning Castalia again?”
“It won’t be needed anymore. The king has granted these new recruits to talk to Alios,” General Nero informs. “Give them all the time they need. I have other business to attend to.”
“Yes, sir!” the guard exclaims with a salute before opening the door. “Right this way.”
I grimace as a familiar stench creeps out from the dark passage ahead. We follow him. There are small barred confinements on the side with one person in each one. The smell intensifies. It smells worse than the time I ventured into the sewers.
“It smells like shit in here!” Ruby exclaims.
“That’s because it’s shit you’re smelling,” the guard explains. “There aren’t any toilets down here.”
“That’s gross. So they just let it out on the floor?” I ask.
“There’s a hole in each cell. Most of it ramps down to the sewers.”
We make several turns into identical hallways. The smell doesn’t improve. The guard stops and says, “We’re here.”
Alios is sitting against the wall inside the cell like all the other people we passed on the way here. His clothes are ragged and covered in dirt. With his head down, he mutters, “I have nothing left more to say.”
“General Nero said no more questions are necessary, but these three new recruits want to talk to you.”
Alios raises his head and looks at us with an empty expression. “It is you, Kai…
”Yeah,” I say with a smile. The guard makes me feel uneasy. I turn toward him and ask, “Could you give us some privacy?”
“I’m not sure if I should leave you alone here.”
“The king said we could have privacy. Are you against that?”
“No, not at all! I’ll wait by the entrance. Be careful, he’s a criminal. Don’t get tricked by his words,” the guard warns before walking away.
“So you have abandoned your dreams of becoming an Adventurer?” Alios asks. I look down and frown. “Why have you joined the army?”
“To find the ones responsible for the attack,” I answer immediately.
“You found him.”
“What?” I interject.
“Everything was all according to my plan.”
“That’s impossible…” I clench my teeth and fists. “It has to be that masked guy I met during the attack.”
Alios widens his eyes and asks, “You met him?”
“You know him?!” I exclaim. Alios frowns and lowers his head.
“No, you are mistaken. I am the one responsible for everything, not whoever you are referring to.”
“So… You also take responsibility for Sitos…right?”
“Sitos… What has he done now? He is not with you…”
“You haven’t heard from Zarus?”
Alios raises his head. “Do not tell me he is locked up here too?”
“No…but they’ve denounced him as a criminal.”
Alios lunges toward me and grabs the vertical iron bars between us. His face pressing against them. “That is preposterous! That boy has not done anything. Everything was me. Kai, you have to let them know!”
“It doesn’t matter anymore.”
“What are you talking about? It matters to me, to his friends, to—“
“Sitos…is dead.” Alios opens his mouth but doesn’t say anything. He looks at me with widened quivering eyes. He slowly loosens his grip on the bars and lowers his head. I kneel down to his level. “The one responsible for his death is that masked man. You met with him, haven’t you? If you know something…anything, tell me.”
Several seconds later, he raises his head. A few tears escape his eyes. “I…I do not know anything.”
“Are you sure you don’t know anything? If you care about Sitos, then…”
He grits his teeth and tightens his grip on the bars. His knuckles crackle. “I cannot say.”
He can’t say…? No one’s listening other than us and the other prisoners… He doesn’t have anything to lose… Why? I sigh. “I see.”
I stand up. I mutter, “You know… All Sitos wanted was your approval.”
I walk a few steps away with the other two following me. I stop as Alios says, “I do not know what kind of relationship you think we had, but… He did a good job. I am proud of him.”
We continue making our way toward the exit.
“Excuse me, you are Kai, right?” a girl asks from a cell. Her voice is familiar. I turn toward her. She has pale skin and wears a purple dress. Her long black hair is disheveled, and she is covered in dirt. “Are you not Marin too?”
“Kai, let’s go! I wanna leave this nasty place,” Ruby says.
“I knew it! It is you!” the girl exclaims with a smile. “Do you not remember me? We met a few times briefly.”
“Sofiel?” Marin asks.
“Sofiel? What’re you doing in here?” I ask.
Her eyes quiver as she explains, “They are confining me here until my execution.”
“Execution?! What did you do?”
“I did not do anything… I was asleep in Sitos’ room when suddenly loud noises erupted. Army soldiers burst into the room demanding that I come with them. A man with bushy eyebrows told me yesterday I will be executed for colluding with a criminal.”
Bushy eyebrows… General Nero. I look at Sofiel’s face. I don’t think she knows anything about what’s happened or about Sitos. He probably didn’t tell her anything before everything happened.
Ruby tugs on my arm and says, “Hey, let’s leave…”
Marin pulls her away from me. “Ruby, let’s go ahead and leave this place. Kai will catch up to us soon.”
“’Kay!” Ruby exclaims. Marin smiles and waves at me. The two of them go on ahead.
She widens her eyes and asks, “What happened to Sitos? I have not seen him since the night before the attack. I hope he is okay. You must know, Kai. You are the one Sitos trusted the most.”
I gulp. My eyes tear up a little. Don’t look at me with those eyes… Don’t look at me with those eyes filled with hope...that I’ll have to destroy again with words of truth.
I think back to my last encounter with Sitos. Despite what happened, he trusted me the most… He cherished her and loved her. As his friend, I’ll have to bring the news and bring her to safety.
I take a deep breath before saying, “Yeah… You have a right to know… You see, Sitos was manipulated… He was manipulated by a bad person and made him do bad things…”
“No…” Sofiel interjects with shaky eyes. “The criminal they were talking about…was Sitos? What did he do…?”
“He killed someone and took something very precious from me.”
“You are lying… Sitos would never do something like that!”
“It’s the truth. At the same time, I know he wasn’t to blame. I know he was innocent.”
“Yeah…he’s passed away.”
“No way…” Sofiel says with little energy. She leans forward slowly, eventually crashing onto her knees. The last shred of hope disappears from her face. Tears stream out of her eyes. “Mother… Father… Now Sitos… I do not have anything left… There is no reason to live anymore…”
“No, you have to live!” I exclaim. “Sitos would want that too!”
She sniffles. “Ye-yes… You are right. But it is not up to me. They are going to execute me.”
She forces a smile. I clench my fists. I know I can’t stop the execution or exonerate her at this point. “I’ll save you. I’ll find a way to free you out before your execution… I think it’s in two days, so there’s time to work out a plan.”
“Thank you, Kai.”
I bite my lip before muttering, “I haven’t done anything yet…”
I head out. Sofiel sobs resound behind me as I walk farther away. I rejoin with Ruby and Marin, and we return to the Crossroads. It is noisy.
Everyone seems to be running around combat ready; most of them heading toward the exit. Hina’s group dashes past me. I exclaim, “Hina! Where’re you going? What’s going on?”
She stops and turns around. “Didn’t you get the news?”
I cock an eyebrow. She asks, “What platoon are you in?”
“Sigma 4, 5, and 6 needs to provide backup at the Academy immediately,” she says and then runs off.
Did more masked men appear?! I instinctively grab my swords, but they are not there. I widen my eyes. Oh shit… Everything’s at the Armory right now.
“We should get going too,” Marin suggests.
“Right…but what about everyone else?”
“They probably got the news too. We’ll meet them there.”
“Yeah, you’re right. Let’s go!” We head toward the Academy. Along the way, we find large groups of people yelling undecipherable things. Guards push them back. We hurry on to the Academy.
A large group of people is shouting outside the Academy’s gates. The majority have closed fists beating rhythmically in the air and chant, “Execute!”
Six guards are lined up in front of the gate. Moria and the three other instructors are behind them. Several from the crowd pelt rocks toward the instructors. Some of the rocks are directed elsewhere in midair while other rocks are blocked by the guards stationed at the front.
There are several familiar faces from the Academy wandering around the large mob. We have to find a way in to find out what is going on here. There is no path for us to join up with the other platoons. We move to the center on the backside of the crowd.
“Can you make a path for us with your Wind magic?” I ask loudly in Ruby’s ear.
“’Kay, got it!” she answers. She puts both palms pointed in front of her.
A man near me shouts, “Bring out Moria!”
“Give ’im the cauldron!”
“Take down the Academy!”
A strong wind soon erupts from the center of the crowd and divides the mob in two. The chanting stops. Half of the people are flung toward the left while the other half toward the right. We cross the opening. The guards remain in position. We cross the opening and then rejoin with Moria. Some of the other reinforcements cross the gap too.
“Moria, what’s going on?” I ask.
“I do not know. This mob suddenly appeared. We have been holed up in here for a while. I sent a messenger for backup an hour ago.”
“We’re here. What can we do to help?”
“They are angry about something… We need to quell it. Were you responsible for that burst of wind?”
“I told Ruby to open a path for us.”
“Hmm… Yes, that may have had an opposite effect.”
The yelling resumes from behind us. I turn around. The mob gathers together forming a big clump again. A man at the front shouts, “Moria showed his true colors! If he were the man he claimed to be, he would have found a peaceful resolution. But he used violence and excessive force, no different than the ones who attacked our city!”
“No, you’re wrong! Moria didn’t do that!” I exclaim.
“He musta taken the easy way out durin’ the attack too! He ran away to protect his own life! He didn’t try ta protect our children at all!”
Moria walks toward the front and grabs someone’s raised arm. He pulls them to the front. Her arm has a small cut. “You are injured. Let me heal you.”
Moria puts a hand over her wound, quickly closing it with his magic. I exclaim, “Moria’s a great, kindhearted teacher! You’re wrong about him!”
“It’s all a part of his ploy to create this scenario to make himself look good!”
“You can’t earn back our trust that easily!”
“My daughter said she was abandoned by the instructors! She was left alone under the Academy for over a day! Now, she’s permanently crippled and scarred for life!”
“He could’ve been the one responsible for your daughter’s condition! A wolf in sheep’s clothing!”
“He couldn’t get enough, so he had to create an excuse to touch more women!”
“I see, that’s why he chose her instead of me! Look, my shoulder cut’s worse than the young lady’s arm injury!”
“I will heal all the injured. Please, come to the front.”
“He’s only saying that now because we caught him. Don’t be fooled!”
“There’s only one way we’ll forgive him and the surviving instructors! Take on the cauldron!”
“Cauldron! Cauldron! Cauldron!” the mob roars repeatedly and pushes forward. The guards and the other reinforcements at the front hold them back.
This is too crazy… They’re not listening at all. I think to myself before asking, “Moria, what’s the cauldron? Could you do it?”
“Taking on the cauldron means that you are boiled slowly starting from the lowest point of the body. It is a death sentence.”
I bite my lip. What can we do…?
A man on horseback is coming this way from the trail to the Academy. The symbol of Drosera is engraved in front of his armor. He throws something into the air. A loud noise resounds that silences the mob.
“Attention! I have brought you an update from the king himself! It has been made official that the one responsible for all of the recent tragedies is no one other than Alios, the head minister! You, the townspeople will have an opportunity to deliver punishment yourselves tomorrow morning! The criminals will be brought out into the Royal District where you will have a chance to inflict pain upon them before the main event! Their sentence has changed from a hanging to a live feeding by wolves!”
I widen my eyes. The unanimous cheers of the mob pierce my ears.