Chapter 180 – Guilt and Punishment
As soon as Friya was Warped back to her room, Linjos’ expression became worried.
“Well, how do you think that went?” Queen Sylpha asked.
“Not bad, but not good either. I never expected any of them to actually kill one of these sc.u.ms.” Linjos sent a powerful darkness magic impulse into Mage Syalle’s head, giving her a painless death.
After days of torture and interrogation, even she deserved it.
“They all come from a sheltered environment, or in the newest Ernas ladies’ case at least peaceful. I wanted my students to realize that sooner or later they will have to make hard choices, so that when the moment comes, they will be prepared.
Not turn them into cold blooded killers. I predicted them reacting like Lady Quylla or Lady Phloria. The other two went completely overboard.”
“It’s evident you never had children, Linjos.” Queen Sylpha sighed.
“Teenagers are unpredictable, it’s their nature. Take the young Lord Deirus. He clearly didn’t want to do it, but he is so eager to meet the expectations that are placed on him from his father and the Kingdom that he let pride get the best of him.
He even mimicked the Kingdom’s ritual execution method. I will tell Archmage Deirus to cut him some slack or sooner or later the boy will crumble under the pressure.
As for Lady Friya, you have underestimated all she has just gone through. The betrayal of her mother, the death of her family and the ‘adoption’ from the Ernas family.
That girl needs help. All of them do, but she does more than anyone else.”
“I’ll inform the families to provide them all the support they can. And remove the last part of the exam from now on. I’m really sorry your Majesty, I’ve let you and my students down with my incompetence.” Linjos lowered his head in shame.
“Don’t be so hard on yourself, Linjos. You can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs, and something good can come out of mistakes too. Take Lady Phloria, for example.
She has turned out to be one of those rare cases where duty and heart are able to meet halfway. It took a considerable amount of courage to not submit like the young Deirus did or run away like Lady Quylla.
I have great expectations for her, put her in the special list and keep me posted about her progress.”
Linjos bowed deeply, doing as instructed.
“What about Lith?” He asked.
“That part has been a complete success, Linjos. I commend your efforts. Thanks to you, my worst fears have been dispelled. He has shown self control by not slaughtering the prisoners, care by protecting his teammates from their own kindness and wisdom by completely restricting the captured enemies.”
“Doesn’t this mean that he could also have understood what we wanted and acted accordingly? In such case he would be a skilled manipulator capable of hiding in plain sight. Wasn’t that what you feared?”
“Indeed, but whatever the case, we now know that he is capable of controlling his impulses. It’s just that normally he doesn’t seem to care. In the future he may not be the asset we want, but the one we need and that’s the only thing that matters.”
Back in his room, Yurial was still on all fours, puking his guts out. He had tried to control his nerves long enough to reach the toilet, but had failed after just a few steps. The acid taste of bile in his mouth was getting mixed with the salty one from tears and snot that he couldn’t stop from running down his cheeks and nose.
– “Oh gods, I have killed a man.” The thought kept echoing obsessively in his mind.
“Why did I do it? It was just a test, saying no was an option. What’s wrong with me? I’m really such a monster to place a grade above a human’s life?”–
When there was nothing more he could throw up, Yurial curled up on the floor, uncaring of the filth and the stench surrounding him, crying until exhaustion relieved him from his suffering.
Phloria was still having a tough time controlling her nerves. Orion Ernas, her father, could recognise only half her words between all the sobs and tears, but still managed to understand what she had gone through.
“Cry as much as you want, little Flower. You need to get this thing out of yourself or it will eat you alive.”
“Dad you were right. You were so right and I didn’t really understand your words until today.” She said between the hiccups.
“Please, don’t get mad at me. I know I screwed up, but I just couldn’t do it. I’m afraid of what mom will say or how this will affect my career, but I’m more afraid of what would have happened if I had taken that sword.”
“Shush little Flower, now you are just being silly. Mom would never criticise you for something like this. Worst case scenario, she’ll nag at you for wearing pants in front of the Queen again.” Phloria couldn’t help but laugh at the thought.
As ridiculous as it sounded, it was exactly something that her mother would have said, no matter the circ.u.mstances.
“As for Linjos, may the gods forgive him if he dares doing anything after putting a bunch of kids in a warzone, because certainly I will not! I will call him immediately, and if he hasn’t more than proper explanation, I will give him a piece of my mind and my sword!
Or my name is not Orion Ernas anymore!” A worried barking interrupted Orion’s threats.
“Lucky!” Phloria called through the communication amulet, triggering a happy bark in response. All those years ago, she had refused letting go of the puppy, afraid something bad would happen to it.
She had named it “Lucky” and they had become inseparable friends.
“He is happy to see you too.” Orion voice wasn’t very enthusiastic.
The puppy was the new world equivalent of a Tibetan mastiff, 80 kilograms (176 pounds) of love and enthusiasm that gave little to no consideration to staff members or furniture when it was waggling its way towards its master’s voice.
Lucky jumped on Orion, almost knocking him off his chair, trying to lap Phloria’s hologram. Its valiant efforts were foiled by the treacherous magic that made the hologram intangible, but still managed to ruin an hour of Orion’s work by drooling and clawing his paperwork.
“Bad dog! Sit!” Albeit unwillingly, Lucky obeyed the outraged Orion. Usually that voice meant no chicken for dinner. Being fed on scraps was Lucky’s worst nightmare, so it whimpered exposing its huge belly in submission, hoping to avoid the punishment for whatever mistake it had made.
Phloria was laughing her heart out at the scene, her tears turned from pain to joy.
“The only reason I don’t put you on a diet, fata*s, is because you made my little Flower happy. Bad dog! Scram!”
Lucky left the room in a hurry, leaving father and daughter finally alone.
“As soon as you feel better, go to your sisters. I pray to our ancestors they had the good sense you demonstrated by refusing the sword. Sorry to leave you like this, little Flower. They too need a father.”
Phloria went to the bathroom to wash her face before heading out to the girls’ rooms.
Right after walking out of the dungeon, Lith had been transported to the main hall, and from there he went straight for the canteen before going back to his room.
– “Aren’t you going to check on the others?” Solus’ voice sounded worried.
“No, I’m not. Let’s be real, me and Quylla have been spared from the last test, so she is safe. Yurial and Phloria are just two pampered kids, there is no way one of them obeyed.
“The only one that could have played executioner is Friya.” Lith thought. “She is in a situation that reminds me of my own back on Earth. With nothing to lose and too much rage eating her from the inside.”
“The rage part hasn’t changed much.” Solus pointed out.
“But you are right, the others had too much of a quiet life to do something so extreme. My only hope is that during the last month Friya managed to put herself back together. Shouldn’t we check on her? What if something bad happened?”
“Solus, I get you have a big heart, but life is not that easy. If Friya actually killed someone, what could I possibly do or say to make her feel better? If she really is in a dark place, she either needs a hug or a kick in the a*s, but not from me.
Only family or a true friend can do it, while me and Friya barely know each other. We hang out together only because of the academy and Quylla, we are not that close.
“That Linjos is insane, though. Doing such a thing to a bunch of kids. I have never been so happy about Tista never going to an academy. This exam would have crushed her, and I Linjos!”–
Being the youngest, Orion called Quylla first. After consoling her for a bit and promising her to visit again soon, he called Friya.
“What do you want?” From the opening line Orion could already tell that something was terribly wrong. Friya had been part of his household for barely a month, but he had never seen her like that during his brief homecomings.
She had been stressed and often gloomy, but after all she had experienced it was a normal reaction. They had barely spoken before, because he was always short on time and felt she needed her space.
Now, instead, her gaze was cold as ice. There wasn’t a trace of tears on her cheeks, her eyes weren’t red, but that only made things worse.
Orion had led countless troops on many battlefields, so he had no trouble recognizing that expression.
“Oh gods, what have you done?” His voice was outraged, but not with her. All his fury was aimed at Linjos, but Friya had no way to know it.
“What I had to.” She scoffed.
“I made your precious Ernas household proud, doing the Queen’s bidding. Unlike your real daughter, I might say.” Her voice was full of spite and hatred.
“Don’t you dare to talk that way about your sister!” He scolded her.
“Sister? Please! We’ve barely known each other from six months, she knows nothing about me and nor do I about her. We are not sisters! The only reason you adopted me is to spread your f*cking name and get your hands on my lands!” Friya yelled in outrage.
“I’m not your daughter, I’m your tool. And you aren’t my father. My real father died a dog’s death pursuing my dear mommy’s ambitions. She and your wife would be best friends, they are both b*tches.” At the thought of her mother, Friya’s voice went stone cold.
“That does it!” Orion closed the call, and much to Friya’s surprise appeared right in front of her less than a minute later. He had to pull a lot of strings and call in a lot of favours, but for him every second was worth millions.
“Get out of my room.” Friya yelled as soon as she recovered.
Orion suddenly grabbed her by the shoulder, preventing her from running away. Friya saw his hand moving fast, so she closed her eyes and clenched her teeth for the incoming slap.
But the slap never came, Orion was instead hugging her tightly, refusing to let her go no matter how much she struggled, kicked or punched.
“Let me go, you f*cking b*stard!”
“That’s it, little one. Beat me, yell at me, do whatever you want but don’t you dare ignore me.” Friya could feel warm tears running down her shoulder. She was so shocked seeing him cry to be frozen in place.
“I’m so sorry. When I brought you in my home, I promised to treat you like one of my own and yet I have already failed to protect you. I never wanted for you to suffer like this. I don’t care about my name, nor about what the Queen thinks.
You are just a child, for the gods’ sake, how could they do something like this to you?”
In Orion’s hold Friya didn’t feel any anger or violence, only warmth and affection. It was similar to what she had experienced in Lith’s embrace, but hundreds of times stronger.
She clung to him desperately, crying her eyes out. A silent rage started seething inside Orion. He didn’t repress it, but didn’t let it manifest either. It was like a volcano, building up its burning fury.
He held Friya until she passed out from the crying, then he used his own version of the Hush spell so that no noise could disturb her rest.
After shielding her with everything he had, Orion went into Linjos’ office and gave him the beating of a lifetime.