3. Where Their Loyalties Lie

Chapter 3

Where Their Loyalties Lie

            Nel was all business when the party arrived at Arias. The first priority was to get Tynave and Farleen to bed so that doctors could look them over and heal them. Along the way, she gave a report to Clair, who had been waiting anxiously by the gates of the city ever since they had left. She didn’t once attempt to reflect on what had happened between her and Albel hours ago, though she had to keep her story straight, lest anyone would find something suspicious.

As far as everyone knew, Nel had passed out with everyone else when they came across the trap. She wasn’t about to insinuate that she had been up the entire time, nor did she want anyone to figure out that she had spent almost four hours in the company of one of Aquaria’s greatest enemies. She was ashamed with herself for what she had done. She let Albel the Wicked seduce her and drag her off for passion while her companions lied there on the ground. What if a monster came by while they slept?

She thanked Apris fervently that everyone was safe and sound when she finally returned.

Deep inside, Nel was wracked with guilt and confusion over her actions, but she held it in as she coolly gave her status report. It was easy for the time being to worry about her subordinates and the fact that Airyglyph had information on their weapon. But she knew that once she had a moment to her thoughts, Albel was going to creep back in and she was going to have to face the consequences of her selfish and weak actions.

She desperately hoped that Clair would be too focused on Tynave and Farleen to notice her. Clair was like both a mother and a sister to her and she had an uncanny ability to sense when something was bothering her. But this time, Nel didn’t think she could tell her about what happened. She didn’t like keeping secrets from her, but for once the Crimson Blade was terrified. She couldn’t bear to have her close friend think she was a traitor because she allowed herself to enjoy the attentions of a Glyphian.

Nel knew that her actions were treason against her country. If anyone knew of her tryst, then she would be branded a whore and a Glyphian loyalist. No one would trust her ever again.

She counted herself lucky when Fayt suddenly insisted that they move on and head back to Aquios. At least she wouldn’t have to make any excuses as to why she wanted to leave quickly. …But the gods were not forgiving to Nel.

“Nel, before you go, may I have a word with you? I understand that the completion of the weapon is urgent so I’ll try not to take long,” Clair requested in a respectful and calm manner. Nel resisted the urge to flinch as she detected that undertone of urgency that was hidden under the demeanor. She knew something was wrong.

At first she didn’t want to say anything and hope that Fayt would continue to rush them along, but she knew better than to run away from Clair when she was on to her. Instead, she sighed and resigned herself to her fate.

She turned to Fayt and Cliff and told them, “I apologize. I will meet you at the gates.”

“It’s okay. We should gather some supplies for the trip back anyway,” Fayt said before he nodded and left the room with Cliff.

Nel closed her eyes for a brief moment before Clair brushed past her and asked her to follow her. Since they were already upstairs, they didn’t have to go far to reach Clair’s chamber. Once the door was closed, the red haired runologist kept silent and tried to hide her emotions, unlike the last time she was here. But her nervousness gave her away and her body unconsciously rubbed at her shoulder where Albel bit her.

“Are you okay? Do you need a healer?” Clair wondered when she noticed the gesture. Nel shook her head and slowly put her hand down.

“No, I’m fine. I’m still a little sore from the impact after the explosion,” she lied, all while hoping Clair wouldn’t pick up on it. She was just as good at detecting lies as the spy was.

“I see…” Clair said slowly before she headed over to her bed and sat down on the edge of it. She made a gesture to Nel to sit down next to her, but she shook her head again and insisted on standing.

The grey haired tactician kept a schooled face as she glanced at the nearest wall. “…So…you saw Albel again.”

It took all of Nel’s willpower not to appear surprised at her statement. For a brief second, she thought Clair outright accused her of sleeping with Albel, but then she realized that wasn’t the case. She knew what had happened the first time Nel encountered the Wicked One and she was worried about how her friend would react upon seeing him again when they faced him in battle.

Nel bowed her head some so that her scarf would hide half of her face. “…Yes, we did. I was shocked to see him since that time, but I was more furious when he kicked aside Farleen. I had no qualms in taking my daggers and fighting him to avenge them.”

…And yet not even an hour after that battle, she ended up somehow forgiving him and ran off to share her body with him. Come to think of it, for someone who was defeated, he recovered rather fast. …Surely he didn’t lose on purpose? No, his pain was real. He probably exaggerated it so that he could stop the battle and enact his sinister plan. But did that mean he could’ve defeated all of them if he wanted to? Why would he put on an act and humiliate himself like that? Was he really that desperate to get her alone?

“I would too. But I see that you spared him,” Clair continued, with a slight smile.

“It was Fayt’s idea, but I agreed with it,” she replied, giving credit to the young engineer who called the order. “Since Albel was merciful and let us go the first time we met him, I suppose Fayt decided to do the same unto him when he was unable to fight anymore.”

“A dangerous act considering he could rise again to fight you another day, but I am glad that you did. Personally, I would like to see both sides spared from anymore death in this war,” Clair commented with closed eyes before concern swept across her features. She then opened her eyes and stared directly at Nel “…But, given what he tried to do to you before, I am worried he might have recovered and violated you while you were unconscious. It would’ve been the perfect opportunity for him to do so.”

Suddenly, Nel came to a fork in the road. If Clair was willing to believe that she had been unconscious the entire time, then she could just accuse Albel of taking her without her knowledge or consent if she had to undergo a virginity test. She could be forgiven for the act if it was done against her will… But she couldn’t sully Albel’s name like that. He already had a bad reputation in her country and he didn’t need ‘rapist’ added to it.

“I don’t think he did. He’s not the type of man who would do something like that.”

“How do you know? You were supposed to have been unconscious,” Clair stated, studying Nel with a sharp eye. She knew then that Clair was trying to ensnare her in a trap. She knew there was something about Nel’s story that was a lie and she was going to use all of her mind tricks to get the truth out.

Nel had to be careful and thought through her next response, “…I didn’t have to be conscious to know that he didn’t violate me in my sleep before. He didn’t have to wait for me to wake up when I was his hostage, so he could have taken what he wanted long before.”

“That is true,” she admitted as she glanced away for a brief second, “But that doesn’t mean you’re completely ignorant of what happened. Your hesitation to reply means that you are hiding something from me.”

This time, Nel blanched at her slip up. She was trying so hard to throw off her friend that she forgot the basic indications of a liar. The only reason one would have to hesitate in replying was so they could think on something believable to cover the truth.

At her silence, Clair continued in a stern tone, “You were not unconscious, were you? Albel wasn’t that far away from the accident and something did happen between the two of you. Am I wrong?”

Nel couldn’t stand seeing the look of disappointment in her eyes. That was exactly what she was trying to avoid. She knew she was being backed into a corner and had limited choices left to her. One choice was to continue to deny everything until Clair had no choice but to drop it or… she could just let it out and tell her what she wanted to know.

She just couldn’t lie to Clair anymore. It was wrong and she never was in the habit of doing so before. But before she could confirm her friend’s suspicions, she had to make it clear where she stood. She prayed to Apris that Clair wouldn’t think badly of her or report her to the queen.

Nel’s eyes flashed with pain and fury before tears of frustration finally started to form in the corner of her eyes. “I’m not a traitor to Aquaria!”

Whatever Clair was expecting to come out of Nel’s mouth, that wasn’t it. Her golden brown eyes widened in surprise of the spy’s outburst. “What?”

But Nel couldn’t stop herself. She couldn’t even reflect on the fact that her friend was confused as the words started tumbling out of her mouth.

“You’re right. I wasn’t unconscious and Albel seduced me. I tried hard to fight it, but I was too weak and we ended up… Oh Apris…” Nel faltered for a brief moment, not wanting to admit her next words to anyone, including herself. “We had meaningless sex and he left after he got what he wanted. There were no feelings involved and we were just caught up in the heat of passion. I would never consider sacrificing the lives of our countrymen to the likes of him, nor would I ever want to join Airyglyph’s side!”

“Nel!” Clair shouted to get her attention, but the woman was almost to the point of hysterics. She had wanted to reflect Albel’s intentions with her in private until she had time to come to terms with the fact that what they did had no meaning. Albel didn’t love her and she didn’t love him. Now that he got what he wanted, he should leave her alone. …So why did that thought bother her so?

“Nel!” Clair yelled again as she stood up and placed her hands on her shoulders to get her attention. “I know more than anyone that you wouldn’t turn your back on Aquaria! I was merely angry that you were trying to lie to my face.”

The tears started to fall then. Nel wasn’t sure why she was crying. Was it out of relief? Anger? Shame? Loss? She couldn’t pick which one. All she knew was that she was soaking Clair’s shirt with her tears once again, just like that time after her first intimate encounter with Albel Nox. Clair just simply held her and gently patted her back in a motherly manner.

“Oh Nel…” she sighed when her breath stopped hitching. She then pulled her away long enough to look her in the eye. “I think it’s time for you to start considering your feelings for him. What happened between the two of you wasn’t just lust. It could’ve been any man if you wanted just sex.”

“I know…I was just attracted to him.”

“No, it’s more than that. You wouldn’t let someone you were merely interested in pull you away from your injured comrades. There had to be something else, some connection you might not be aware of,” Clair insisted as she tried to figure out the mystery.

As much as Nel wanted to deny it, Clair had a point. It wasn’t like the Crimson Blade to abandon her mission or her friends so there had to be something there that allowed her to follow him. But what? Surely she wasn’t in love with him? No…she could safely say that she wasn’t. She barely knew him outside of battle, her spy work, and those two close encounters she had with him. Of course, she was no expert when it came to romance or love, but she knew that there had to be more than good looks, pleasure, and (as Clair had put it) a mere interest to say that she was in love with someone.

There was something about him or something he said that made her pause. If only she could remember what… But she did distinctly remember that there was a point during their first encounter when she stopped fighting him and practically accepted his attentions. And come to think of it, didn’t it happen again a few hours ago when he seduced her? At the time, she was more focused on the sex and the feeling of satisfaction she got in the aftermath to really remember it.

But before she could really think any deeper about the cause of her behavior, she realized that she was holding her hand over her chest. It was where she had hidden the note he left her. She quickly jerked her hand away from the area before Clair could notice. Maybe the answers were hidden in that note if she read it over again…

“I don’t know if there is a connection or anything, but it doesn’t really matter. He got what he wanted and the next time I’ll see him is on the battlefield,” Nel eventually responded as she started focusing on her mission. She couldn’t forget that she had obtained the copper to finish a weapon that was supposed to defeat Airyglyph’s armies. There was a good chance that Albel would be in the crossfire and he would most likely die from it. It wasn’t the most pleasant thought, but facts were facts. She had to get over him soon enough because she didn’t intend to grieve.

Clair took on a saddened look as she finally backed away. “That is true…but we will still be needed to fight in between firings. If you happen to cross paths with Albel out there, would you be able to strike him down?”

That was a good question. If the events from before had never happened, then she would have no hesitation or regrets in slaying him…provided she was able to. She knew long before that he was a skilled warrior and that a fight between them would be difficult to win. But…

“My duty is to my people. If he should die as a result of me trying to protect them, then so be it,” she resolved, even though a part of her disagreed with that line of thought. She would do anything in her power to protect Aquaria and the queen and no one, not even her…lover, could stop her. She could always pray that they wouldn’t have to cross paths ever again, but she figured it would be unlikely. He lived for the battle and she knew he wouldn’t miss it.

With her mind set, her emotions calmed, and Clair accepting her decisions without judgment, Nel walked over to the door with the intent to leave. But she had one more thing to say to her silver haired friend.

“I’m sorry that I tried to keep this from you. I should’ve known better. …Thank you,” she said gratefully as she glanced back at her. How could she think that Clair would turn against her after so many years of hearing her secrets and her problems? They’ve known each other since they were kids and she …and her father, Adray, were all that Nel had left of her past. She just couldn’t bear the thought of disappointing her and losing her as a friend after she swore that she would control her hormones.

Clair shook her head and tried not to appear grim. “You had every right to be afraid. Had you been anyone else, I would have reported you and have you removed from active duty. But I trust you, Nel, and I know that you will do the right thing. …I just wish that it didn’t have to be this way. After all that you’ve done for this kingdom, you deserve to be happy.”

A bittersweet smile managed to appear on Nel’s face as she raised a hand to the doorknob. Clair was one of the few people who actually cared about her and she wouldn’t trade the friendship she had with her for anything. But…she still worried about her too much.

“Don’t worry about me. Like my father before me, I’m happy as long as I can protect the people of this kingdom.” And with that, she left her longtime friend to meet up with her traveling companions and finish her mission.

*******************

It was bitter cold in the dungeon. They only lit a few fires to keep the prisoners from catching illnesses or frostbite, but it was still cold enough to be a form of torture. The room Albel was in was no less cold or dim. Though he could suspect that the coals burning in the corner of the room would be used for purposes other than warming soon enough.

Albel wasn’t sure who reported back to Airyglyph before he did, but once he arrived in his hometown, he was immediately arrested and chained up in the torture room in the dungeons. His crime? Treason of all things! The very notion was laughable. It was true that the engineers and Zelpher got away with the copper, but he was defeated in battle fair and square… Well not completely fair since it were three above average warriors fighting against one.

Nobody saw what he did to the party after they left him there, nor was anyone aware that he managed to pull his woman back to the refinery for some quality time together. The only reason he was being accused was because he was the only survivor to make it back from the Bequerel Mine. Everyone else, including Vox’s second in command, died by the hands of Nel and the engineers.

In a way, Albel could see a legitimate reason to believe that he was committing treason only if they knew of his personal meeting with the woman he marked and claimed as his wife. But even if they did know, it didn’t mean that he was turning against Airyglyph. It was no one’s business but his own whom he chose to love and the fact that she was the enemy of his kingdom made little difference to him. Sooner or later, the war will end and he knew that he and Nel would both survive. She was too skilled and strong to die at the hands of some pathetic knight.

It was only a question of which side will win. The king’s goal was only to unite the entire continent so the death of Aquarian citizens was not part of the plan. If Vox had any say of the aftermath, then he would probably push for some of the enemy troops to become slaves. That was fine with him if it did happen. Albel would just simply step forward and take possession of Nel before anyone else could try. But if Aquaria won…that would be a different story.

He had no real animosity over the enemy kingdom. The only thing that bothered him was that they knew Airyglyph was starving and their traders and merchants intentionally raised the prices of their goods because the kingdom had no other choice. For a long while, the prices were not a problem until their mines began to run dry. With no valuable trade and the fact that merchants refused to lower their prices, Airyglyph was doomed to survive on what little crops their land could produce and any game they could hunt on the mountains.

As shocking as it was, that was Albel’s reason for fighting. It wasn’t just to prove that he was strong, but to protect the citizens of Airyglyph. Should Aquaria win the war, they would just leave them there to starve and rot. Airyglyph had nothing of value to them and their religion would prohibit them from slavery or mass slaughter of the enemy.

There were ways other than war that would’ve resolved their resource problem, but the die had been cast and there was no point in turning back. Though, he couldn’t exactly complain about the war. He did love a good fight and he could name some Aquarians that made interesting challenges. Also, it was because of the war that he found a kindred spirit in the Crimson Blade that spied on his kingdom. He was certain that he would’ve never had heard of her or met her had the war never happened.

But regardless, Airyglyph had to win. Albel swore that he would make sure of it. But first, he had to somehow clear his name and get out of the dungeons. That was going to prove to be a challenge since Vox was determined to prove that he was a traitor. He had even taken upon himself to question him personally without the Inquisitor.

            Crack!

Albel growled as a fresh sting of pain coursed through his body. Vox folded back the whip as he allowed Albel’s newest cut to bleed.

“If you would just admit to your crimes, this will be over,” the duke reminded him with a sinister grin.

“Whip me all you want, maggot. I’m no traitor to Airyglyph!” he sneered back at the arrogant man. Vox did so gladly and reveled at the cries of pain that Albel tried to suppress.

“You allowed the Aquarians to get away with the copper! Now they will finish their weapon and be more of a nuisance. How are we to believe the ‘mighty’ Albel Nox was somehow defeated in battle and survived unless he had some kind of sympathy for the weak Aquarians?” he continued, using backwards logic as an attempt to cloud the truth.

“The engineers from Greeton were with them and they are quite formidable. They killed your worthless men, didn’t they? I did what I could to stop them even though it was your men who had failed. If you ever bothered to train your troops properly, then they might’ve survived and succeeded,” Albel spat out along with some blood. He was almost tempted to ask if Vox wanted him to die trying to stop them, but he already knew the answer to that question.

Still…as much as Albel loathed admitting it, the engineers were rather skilled warriors. He originally hoped that Vox’s men could at least take care of them on their own so he could have Nel all to himself during the battle. He didn’t anticipate that they would easily defeat the lackeys and come after him in a coordinated attack. It was the first time in a long time that someone other than the Aquarian spy managed to hurt him badly.

But he wasn’t completely incapacitated when he fell. Albel’s desire to get his woman alone drove him to swallow some of his pride and accept defeat. He knew the worms were soft hearted enough to give him mercy…but he did vow in the back of his mind to destroy them at a later time for the insults they’ve given him as they passed. He may not be able to defeat them all at once, but he knew he could take them one on one. All he had to do was goad one into a duel and they would soon fall by his blade…

Crack! Crack! Crack!

Vox unleashed another volley of strikes because he didn’t like Albel’s reply. Somewhere deep down, he knew it was the truth. The duke was a formidable warrior like Albel, but he wasn’t exactly the best leader. All he cared about was winning and forcing others to do anything necessary to succeed. He relied too heavily on his air dragons to do all of the work and the men who commanded them were pathetic on ground.

Though one couldn’t exactly say Albel was the best leader either, considering his ‘Wicked’ title came from how he treated his men. But, he did make them go through proper training and his attitude towards them gave motivation for them to work hard, lest they ‘die a horrible death’, as he often threatened. It worked wonders and no one could dispute the fact that it was the Black Brigade that successfully attacked Arias and did heavy casualties to runologists. The Dragon Brigade couldn’t even come close because of the far ranged runological spells. All they could do was chase off the occasional Aquarian spies.

Albel let out several coughs as Vox tried to regain his composure. Personally, the duke thought his troops were more than enough to destroy Aquaria if given the chance, but he also saw value in the Black Brigade. That was why he tried to help Shelby take credit for the Aquarian hostages and for attempting to capture the fugitive engineers. Shelby would’ve been more cooperative as Vox’s ally than the young upstart before him. Unfortunately, he was unable to detain Albel long enough and (as far as he knew) the hostages apparently managed to escape before he could arrive.

“It is obvious that your treachery was the result of the death of my men. Admit to your crimes!” Vox yelled as he struck Albel again.

This time he earned a howl of pain before the young captain gave him a glare worthy of demons. “I’m not a traitor! I’m not the one who made up lies to start a war! I’m not the one who condemned hundreds of brave Glyphian soldiers to die at the hands of Aquarians just because I think I can take anything by force. If anything YOU are a traitor to Airyglyph!”

That outburst unleashed a barrage of whip cracks as Vox vented his rage upon him. He continued to strike until he was tired and even then, Albel wouldn’t give up and lie about his so-called ‘crimes’. There was almost no place on his body (other than his face) that didn’t have some kind of red, oozing wound. He stung all over and his blood was seeping into his clothes. But what was most astonishing was that he didn’t pass out.

Instead, he glared back at the duke with the same venom as before. Albel’s voice was hoarse and his breathing was labored as he growled, “You’re pathetic, maggot. You can’t force me to say what you want. I’ve suffered worse pain than this and there is nothing you can do to coerce me!”

Vox let out a shout of rage as he lifted the whip again, but he was cut off when a soldier entered the torture chamber.

“Lord Vox! The King summons you!”

The duke let out a mild growl of annoyance before he reluctantly folded the whip and placed it back where it was stored.

“Very well then. Leave this traitor here and let him rot. Maybe that will teach him for turning against our kingdom.”

“Yes sir,” the soldier replied as he saluted.

Vox didn’t spare a single glance at the chained man as he left the chamber, followed by the soldier. Albel watched him as he left and only closed his eyes to rest once he was well out of sight.

************

Albel wasn’t sure how long he had rested, but he was stirred when he sensed a presence in front of him. His crimson eyes met with the familiar sight of an old man in noble robes. Woltar stood stoically before him as he held a jar of salve in one hand.

“Careful boy, this will sting,” he warned as he gathered up the whitish gel with two battle worn fingers and started smearing it on the open wounds. Albel didn’t hiss or flinch from the pain. The medicine was only a fraction of the sting the whip carried.

“When is my farce of a trial so I can clear my name?” Albel muttered as the old man worked on applying the salve to every cut.

“I am afraid that you will have to wait longer than usual. With you unable to take my side, Vox has managed to convince the King to launch a full scale attack upon our enemies and put an end to the war.”

“What?” Albel hissed in shock as everything suddenly fell into place. He lowered his head so that his hair could obscure his eyes. “I see…so this was just some excuse to get me out of his way.”

In truth, Airyglyph could’ve launched a massive attack the day Vox accused the worshipers of Apris of planning to assassinate the king. But it was because of both Albel and Woltar disagreeing with Vox that made the king hesitate to give the order. The old man and the young captain knew that such an assault would wield more casualties than results, but they could do nothing to stop the lies that flowed from Vox’s mouth. Due to the tension that already existed, the lies pushed the king to the point where war was inevitable.

The king listened to his captains’ advice. He valued Woltar as a wise man who experienced the hardships of the kings before him. He respected Albel because he was the son of the man who supported him and helped him ascend the throne. But Vox was his uncle and because of that shared blood, his words held more power than Albel and Woltar’s individually. So with Albel locked away, Vox easily convinced the king to concede to his plans despite Woltar’s protests.

“Indeed,” Woltar agreed, “Vox knew that you would be able to prove your innocence with a trial and sought to delay it long enough for him to influence the King. We all know that your network of spies has done their fair share of information gathering for our cause. And I know that you have been keeping your sights closely upon Nevelle Zelpher’s daughter. It was because of you that Vox knew the Aquarians needed copper. Clearly you are no traitor.”

Albel hid his growl. He didn’t intend for Vox to know about Nel’s movements, but it was true that he had his own team of spies, just as Woltar did, and they were watching the Aquarians just as closely as the Aquarians were watching them. Vox was the only one who didn’t have spies working for him. He thought they were a waste of time considering that it would be easier to just crush the enemy than to allow them the chance to plan a defense.

“…Now that Aquaria has their weapon. What are the chances of our army winning?” Albel wondered idly. He was seething on the inside that he was going to be denied the chance to fight. How could he personally ensure that Airyglyph won if he had to remain locked up in the dungeon? For all he knew, his men would probably bumble about and lose without him to lead them.

“It depends on the timing. If we could avoid the first strike, then we could close the distance and destroy those who can wield the weapon. The rest is up to Vox, though I regret to inform you that he has taken command of your brigade and intends to sacrifice them in order to draw fire away from his brigade.”

“WHAT?” Albel yelled in fury, “That miserable maggot!”

Albel didn’t believe in using sneak attacks or sacrifices. He preferred crushing his enemy with his own strength and skill without petty tricks. Sacrificing his men was not only a waste of life, but a way to weaken their own defenses. Should his brigade fall, then all that would be left for defense was Woltar’s Storm Brigade. The Dragon Brigade was clearly too incompetent for any real defense.

Woltar let out a long tired sigh as he closed his eyes. For a brief moment, he seemed even older and more ragged than before. “…If only your father did not relinquish his claim to the throne. Things would be different if he were king-”

“Stop. Don’t bring that up, old man,” Albel growled threateningly. It wasn’t a well-known fact, but the Nox clan had a direct lineage to Airyglyph I, the first king of their country. The proof was in the fact that the heir of the clan had always wielded the Crimson Scourge-the royal treasure Airyglyph I himself once held when he became king. Had Glou Nox not been so humble and sought for the prosperity of Airyglyph, there would have been a chance that he would be alive today and that Albel would’ve been crown prince.

“Yes, you are right. There is no need to reflect on things that cannot be undone. But know this boy: The only reason you are here is because you are the son of the man Vox hates the most,” Woltar warned, staring directly into Albel’s eyes. The Wicked One had nothing to say to that. He knew that fact quite well.

Vox was once the second in command of the Dragon Brigade, under his father. Vox wanted nothing more than to surpass his captain and gain power. The miserable worm even tried to claim the Crimson Scourge for his own when his father died, but the sword found him unworthy. Considering that the sword was known to make those unworthy go mad, it made a little sense. Vox’s actions were that of an insane man with a thirst for power.

Even now, he still hated Albel’s father because he was never really able to surpass him. It wasn’t inconceivable to assume that he was pretending Albel was Glou when he was torturing him. In his mind, it was the only way to hurt the man from beyond the grave.

“It is time for me to prepare for battle. Do you have any requests that I might fulfill for you out on the battlefield?” Woltar offered kindly as he began walking toward the door.

“Zelpher…” he muttered out in a subdued tone. “Try not to kill her. I want her sent to the dungeons and chained over there.”

He gestured to the wall across from him with a single nod from his head. One of the old man’s eyebrows shot up as he tried to figure out the odd request.

“…Do you wish to see her tortured?” he wondered with interest.

“No. I want us to suffer together,” he replied before he bowed his head and closed his eyes.

His answer surprised the aged warrior. Suddenly he was beginning to understand why Albel had been paying close attention to the spy. Albel the Wicked was lonely and he wanted to share his life with someone who would understand him. He didn’t just have affections for the Aquarian, he wanted her to experience everything he did. His request spoke volumes.

Woltar knew then that the boy had a great deal of respect and admiration for the girl, even if his request was a bit selfish. He wanted to condemn her to the same torture he was going through, but at the same time, he wanted to allow her to see his suffering. That was a privilege no one had since his father’s death.

“If I am unable to grant that request, then I will at least give her a swift and painless death,” Woltar promised as he continued his trek to the exit.

“…That’s fine, as long as you give her an honorable warrior’s death.” And with that, Albel went back to sleep.

It pained Woltar to hear how accepting he was over the possibility of the Aquarian’s death. But that was the way of war and the consequence of falling for the enemy. The aged warrior wasn’t much of a religious man, but he said a little prayer in hopes that by some miracle it would be answered. He prayed that Albel could either find happiness again with another, or that Nevelle’s daughter could manage to survive in the coming battle.

To the next chapter

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