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Jackal Among Snakes - Chapter 615

Published at 11th of June 2024 12:41:20 PM


Chapter 615

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Chapter 615: A Knight to Remedy


 

“Sophia.”

Upon hearing her name called, she blinked open her eyes, expecting to see the familiar and comforting wooden ceiling of the room that Argrave had given her. Instead, there was an endless grayness above that gave no sense of distance. She sat up urgently and looked around. There, she saw the man was not her father, yet resembled him all the same.

Tall. Neat black hair. Dark red eyes. She couldn’t tell what he was wearing because the grayness seemed to billow mist that concealed him. She tried to say something, but found she lacked the energy to speak. Her whole body felt heavy, like she was wrapped in something entirely contrary to her being.

“You always said you wanted a knight to come and save you. To take you away,” he said, his figure shimmering. He spoke as if he was tired—as if being here was a tremendous strain on him. “A knight that could stand up to anything. A knight that never tired. A knight who took you to a place where hardships never came.”

She calmed when she knew this was not a nightmare. Hearing her dream for a knight said now, it felt like a desire of the distant past and a reminder of the death she had caused by giving life to that dream. She already had been taken away—not by a knight, but by a king just like her father who truly deserved the title of ‘Good King.’ The life that she had found was not at all like what she expected, but now… now, that knight didn’t occupy her thoughts. The next day was not dreaded, but merely expected. There was still sadness, but there was also joy. And that, as Elenore had once told her, was just life.

“That knight is coming,” the man said. “He will be born, soon, answering the call of all your wishes. He will do that which I was powerless to. He will protect you from all harm, all danger. He will bring a justice your world lacked.”

Darkness seemed to reach out from the gray, clawing at the man’s body. Sophia had an ominous premonition it didn’t seek him, but her. A haunting roar of primal anger echoed across the place, and Sophia felt chills run up her spine before that force disappeared.

“The gold comes together to form a tree,” he continued, nearly panting as he looked upon her. “And from their wills, the knight shall be born. Your knight. Await him. I will not be long after.”

Then he was gone, leaving no trace of his presence behind. In parting, the man took more than his being. The grayness all around dissipated, as did that malignant presence that he fought against. He took the words he spoke, too, leaving only the feelings they evoked.

Sophia awoke, and saw the familiar and comforting wooden ceiling of the room that Argrave had given her. As she blinked the morning fog from her eyes, she knew that she had a dream. As was often the case with dreams, she thought deeply on it yet could not recall its contents. Still, she felt a strange feeling; apprehension, anticipation, hope, and recognition tied together as a knot that brought pause to her mind. But despite her exploration, the dream did not return to her—only images of a knight, and the surety she had been with someone she once knew.

But… it wasn’t an unpleasant dream, surely?

#####

Four days had passed since Vasquer’s death. Argrave had finally managed to force Elenore into sleeping the night. Not longer after, news of the end of the siege of Kirel Qircassia finally graced their doorstep. The god of land and sky had died as he lived; rather ingloriously, and at the whim and whimsy of a massive coalition. Argrave would have to remember the lesson taught there if he didn’t want to end up sharing the god’s fate.

The great bounty of spirits wasn’t plundered by Rook, this time—instead, they were distributed rather evenly, with a great bulk nonetheless going to Law for his direct and significant contribution. Before, it had merely been widely thought the Blackgard Union was the most powerful force in the world. Now, it was undisputed.

All the same, that foundation of invincibility had cracks. Many were revealed upon Yinther’s return.

“It was just as you said,” the god of curiosity informed Argrave. “The White Planes are not quite as sterile as they once were. Instead, something unclean mars, pushes, and molds it without reservation. Jabs, spikes, and blunt blows are its preferred attacks, but it seems any would suffice.”

“Poetic,” Argrave praised sarcastically. “I was more interested about your read on what it was. Gerechtigkeit, right?”

“No one else would benefit, but I’ve no proof. It felt somehow different from the times I’ve encountered Gerechtigkeit in the past. Regardless, I didn’t care to stand around and wait for the vessel to break.”

“Is that going to happen?” Argrave asked in surprise. “Soon?”

“How in the blazes could I adequately assess that?” Yinther protested with his boyish indignance. “I’m entirely ignorant of its design, much less its capacity to weather attack. Before this, the White Planes were something beyond assault.”

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“If you had to guess,” Argrave encouraged.

“If I had to guess, I’d like to find out what’s compelling me against my will. But I don’t have to guess.” Yinther shook his head. “I will say it took me a while of quiet observation to notice anything amiss. But once others take note of this, or if the situation worsens… it’ll be our word and bond alone keeping the Blackgard Union cohesive. Law, I trust. All the others… deception is Rook’s sphere. He’ll color outside the lines, somewhat, but he’ll still go along with all the others since the White Planes binds him. Without it binding us, it could be a rather quick unravelling.”

Argrave scratched at his chin. “I disagree. Everyone will play extremely cautiously when the White Planes falls. They’ll know it’s something serious.”

“That is an argument.” Yinther nodded, then looked around. “It wasn’t a wasted trip, but I wish it was.”

“I wished the same.” He pointed at Yinther. “But between the possibility of a wider mental assault, and the movement of the Gilderwatchers beneath the surface, it’s clear that what I said about Gerechtigkeit having a greater strength than every other cycle before was correct. On that note, we’re forming a research team around psychic magic. Does that draw your interest?”

Yinther looked at Argrave with a familiar glare. It was the expression of someone who’d just learned something they wished they hadn’t, because they knew it meant their time was about to become rather thin.

#####

In the coming days, a loose structure had been established for the research team—now, it merely needed bodies to fill it. More and more raw talent continued to flock to Blackgard, heeding Argrave and Elenore’s calls to arms. In time, enough people had banded together that they could no longer refuse to answer the question of why they had acted in such a drastic manner. Thus, they announced Vasquer’s death… and her funeral, shortly to come. To the people, it was to be an impersonal event—a period of mourning no longer than a day for a symbol of their nation that few had any genuine attachment to. If anything, they would be more concerned with her attacker than her death.

To the royal family, however, this was a matter of great import. She had been a tremendous pillar of support for Orion and Elenore. Argrave had not been as close as either of them—perhaps only because he had Anneliese to rely on for all of his personal problems—but he felt her loss sharply all the same. Her unconditional love was not something that could be easily forgotten. More than a matriarch, she might be considered the real mother that bound the three of them as siblings. It was largely through her that they had an understanding of each other.

Elenore approached Argrave on the day of the funeral very early in the morning. She looked slightly better rested, but not by much.

“I’ll lead us. Everything’s ready for the cremation,” she said without much inflection. “I was thinking we might light the pyre together. After… after it’s all done, she said she always wanted to be a part of this city… so, I believe it would be fitting to scatter the ashes in the mountain.”

Argrave took a deep breath and exhaled. “Yeah. Yeah, that sounds fitting.”

Elenore nodded, looking numb. “Orion wanted to talk to you about something on the way. Over there,” she gestured.

With that, she walked away. Durran joined her, supporting her diligently yet quietly. Argrave hoped he might succeed in cheering her up where he failed. But he turned to someone who was just as badly affected—Orion. He wore a somber face that seemed rather unlike him.

Argrave walked up to him. “How are you?” he asked.

“I carry pain. It’s not unfamiliar to me, but it is at the same time.” Orion focused on him. “Magnus. Induen. Levin. Felipe. All family, who died in the past years. And yet it’s only this one… only this one, Vasquer’s… her… her death… that makes me believe there’s something wrong with the world we inhabit.”

“She left behind only good in this world,” Argrave comforted. “Without her life, the world would’ve been a little darker, a little less joyous.”

Orion nodded, then looked ahead to follow after Elenore as she led on. Argrave walked alongside him.

“I knew her well enough to say she would feel only pride for what she did in her final moments. I have told myself that countless times.” Orion shook his head. “It hardly sates the beasts in my mind. Shame. Powerlessness. Rage. Vengeance. I have been trying to tame them in your service, but they’re crawling back. Heading that pack, the alpha: hate.”

Argrave looked at Orion as they walked. “There’s no one more deserving of hate than Gerechtigkeit. But I don’t want it to push you toward a lesser version of yourself. What you feel could be amplified in your siblings if you act on this without proper thought and wind up injured, even dead.”

“Yes. If I was the man when you first met me in the swamps, I would’ve died long ago acting without proper thought. You have given me a measure of contentment with who I am.” Orion touched Argrave’s shoulder with his hand to emphasize his point. “You bestowed upon me peace, yet I still neglected to prepare for war. By consequence, a brilliant soul vanished.”

Argrave stopped Orion. “Her death isn’t your fault.”

His brother sighed defeatedly, then carried along the trail. “You cannot deny I possessed no way of influencing the outcome I saw. We may play pedantic games of blame, but I stood trembling while a malignant evil wracked Vasquer’s mind. I hate that. I hate myself for that.”

“That’s foolish,” Argrave told him bluntly.

“And I was once the Holy Fool,” Orion answered back. “But… enough of that. You asked how I was, but perhaps I overshared. I came to ask something of you. Something selfish, perhaps ignoble.”

Argrave gave him his full attention. “Ask away,” he prompted.

“I cannot replace what is lost, nor would I ever try. But there exists that which I must ensure continues to shine brilliantly, and there is darkness I would burn away with my meager flame.” Orion put his hand to his chest. “I have given this no small amount of thought, and in the end, come to this conclusion. I would ask you allow me to consume one of the Fruits of Being, that I might become more able.”





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