Volume 2 Chapter 32 – Burden

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Lynett


He’s got to be joking.

“You’re a mage…?”

The demi-human boy crossed his arms in front of him and puffed out his chest, displaying a proud grin, completely oblivious to the gloomy atmosphere.

“I am!” He boasted.

“But… You’re a beastman,” Vivian hesitantly pointed out.

“I know,” Jalone blustered, still not reading the mood. “I’m amazing, right?”

It’s not that demi-humans can’t be mages, it’s just very uncommon -and for a good reason. To counterbalance their unmatched physical abilities, their intellect stat is significantly lower than any other race, greatly limiting their magic potential. And while it can be raised, sooner or later it will reach a cap and it won’t be able to be pushed beyond that. It’s a racial restriction. To put it simply, demi-humans just suck at magic.

I cleared my throat.

“Uhm, don’t you think you’ll be better off as a melee fighter?” I suggested as subtly as possible. “Like a warrior, maybe?”

But the boy clearly couldn’t read between the lines.

“I belong to a family of warriors!” He exclaimed. “My siblings, my parents, and every single one of my cousins. They are all great warriors!”

“Then why…”

“But it was my dream to become a mage,” Jalone suddenly added, the hint of nostalgia on his face. “Magic is just so much more fascinating. It comes from nothing and creates miracles.”

Ah, I feel you, boy. This is exactly how I first felt when I arrived in this world.

“Anyone can become a warrior where I come from, but not anyone can be a mage. So I’ll be the first one!”

Seeing the sparkles in his eyes, I couldn’t bring myself to tell him we were actually looking for a melee fighter.

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“My father was completely against it, though,” Jalone continued, lost in his own memories. “He said that we were a bloodline of prideful warriors. That having a mage among us would be extremely shameful. So he disowned me!”

Alright, this story is taking a dark turn. This was definitely not something to laugh at, yet the boy was recounting it with a bright smile.

“But I’ll show him!” Jalone vowed in a triumphant pose. “I’ll go to the tournament, win every single battle and prove him wrong! I’ll show the world that even a beastman can be a great mage!”

I squinted my eyes.

“That’s why you want to participate in the competition?”

As the boy confirmed my assumption with a nod, I let out a long sigh.

That’s a honorable dream, I guess. But who can tell him that we don’t want another mage in the team now? Definitely not Vivian. Her expressions kept changing as Jalone told us about himself. First, she was confused -as we all were. Then, she started pitying the boy. And now, she was looking at him with admiration. I can tell that in her heart, he’s already one of us. She definitely won’t be the one driving him out.

I gave a quick glance at Frost. The remaining bits of his soul were slipping out of his body, his face completely devoid of any emotion.

“I’ll summon something to be our meat shield,” I told him in a low voice. “So it’s fine that way, right?”

Frost didn’t react for a while. When he finally directed his gaze on me, he sighed loudly.

“Whatever…”

◊◊◊◊◊◊

To get to know each other and strengthen our bond, we decided to all eat together. What better icebreaker than a convivial meal? We waited a little more for other potential team members, but no one expected anyone else to come and no one did. By the time we arrived, the refectory was already quite crowded. However, it wasn’t the peak period yet so we still managed to find a table without too much trouble.

As usual, Vivian took big servings. Frost was quite surprised when he saw the amount of food on her plate. It was larger than his, even though she was a girl. But ironically enough, the one who had the most to eat on his plate was the smallest one of us all -Jalone.

“I’m growing,” he simply said when we commented about it.

“By the way, why didn’t you come sooner?” Vivian asked the demi-human boy as she took a bite of her food. “Didn’t you see the flyers?”

That’s very unlikely. I made sure to put them at places where everyone could see them.

“I couldn’t read them,” Jalone responded with his mouth full.

Vivien tilted her head.

“You’re illiterate?”

The young boy nodded.

“Aren’t classes difficult to follow if you can’t read?”

Jalone shrugged.

“I haven’t signed up for most classes so it’s alright,” he explained indifferently. “I don’t plan on becoming a diplomat, I only care about becoming a mage, so I don’t need to know about maths or politics.”

That’s actually a rational choice.

“Then how did you find out about us recruiting?” I queried.

“I just happened to hear it. Some people in my class were talking about a team of outcasts being created for the tournament.”

Vivian almost choked on her food.

“As a demi-human mage, no one accepted me so far, so I thought it just might be my chance,” Jalone continued.

“A team of outcasts?!” I sputtered, offended.

“Yeah,” the boy nonchalantly confirmed, still focused on his meal.

“Thats’s…!”

… actually pretty accurate. Thanks to Aoban, I’ve been shunned from my peers the second I arrived, and Vivian was not only kicked out from her previous group, she also seems to be quite renowned for being a dead-weight in her class.

I glared at Frost, who was not even trying to hide his laughter.

“I wouldn’t laugh if I were you,” I advised, “that also includes you.”

That’s right. Ever since the Pikachu incident, he is labeled as a bully. No one approaches him, and even his friends abandoned him. Realizing that, Frost choke down his laughter at once.

And now, with a demi-human mage that nobody wants, we definitely are a team of outcasts. This is low-key depressing.

“By the way, do you have a name for the team?” Jalone asked, his eyes beaming with sudden interest.

This boy just can’t read the mood, can he?

“No we don’t,” I responded. At this point, we might as well stay as the Team of outcasts.

“Then let’s choose one!” he suggested.

“Our team isn’t even complete yet,” Frost pointed out, “it’s pointless to name it now.”

“Is that so?” The demi-human boy sighed in disappointment. “Then how about nicknames for everyone?”

I squinted my eyes. He seems really eager about naming things. But it didn’t seem like a bad idea. At least, it would allow the mood to lighten up a bit.

“Just Lyni for me,” I said. “That’s what I’m usually called.”

“No, you’re The Boss!” the boy interjected.

I frowned.

“The Boss? Why am I The Boss?”

“You’re the leader, aren’t you?”

“We don’t have a leader.”

Jalone mouth fell wide open as he looked at me with bewildered eyes.

“You need a leader!” he prompted.

“Do we?” I squinted, unconvinced.

“Yes!”

Staring at the boy who was not going to let it go, I sighed.

“Alright, alright,” I conceded. “We can choose a leader. How about we go with age? The leader should be the oldest, don’t you think?”

“I’m ten!” Jalone enthusiastically exclaimed.

Well, nobody was going to ask you but… Ten? He’s younger than I thought. He’s quite big for his age, he’s as tall as me. Is it because he’s a demi-human?

“I’m fourteen,” I said in my turn as I saw the boy staring at me with insistence.

I glanced at Frost.

“Sixteen,” he casually revealed.

We all directed our eyes to Vivian.

“Ah, I’m seventeen.”

That’s surprising, she’s older than I thought. She closer in age with my brother than with me. Thinking about it, I never really asked her age, right?

“It’s settled then,” I concluded. “Vivian’s the leader.”

“Huh?!” The young girl yelped. “W-Wait, I don’t think I’m fit to be the leader! No matter how you think about it, aren’t you a better choice than me?”

“I don’t really want to be the leader though,” I confessed. “Frost?”

“I pass,” he flatly declined.

“Then what about me?” A little voice spoke up. “I can be the leader!”

We all turned our attention to Jalone, whose eyes were glowing with expectation. Then, we exchanged a silent but meaningful glance.

Ultimately, much to Jalone’s disappointment, we decided to stay without a leader for now. It’s not like it’s urgent anyway. While the boy seemed quite motivated to become our representative, none of us were comfortable with letting a child be our leader.

The rest of the meal went on peacefully. Forgetting about the team and the tournament, we shared stories and anecdotes about classes. Although they didn’t attend the same course as they all had different specialties, the three of them were all in intermediate classes, so they were quite eager to hear about the things we did in advanced classes. But when I told them about the Tuesday exercise, they all blanched in horror. Afterwards, we talked about much more general things. Food, dreams, life in the capital. While Vivian and I were both from Agraal, Frost and Jalone came from different kingdoms, so it was quite interesting to hear about the differences between our nations. Just a simple and casual discussion between teenagers.

School life isn’t so bad after all.

It was now pretty late in the evening and the hall was starting to become overcrowded. As we had long since finished eating, we decided to give up the table and continue our conversation outside. However, on our way out, we were blocked by someone.

Oh for the love of…! Can’t I just spend one peaceful moment in this goddamn refectory? Each time I come here, something always happens!

“What now?” I grumbled.

It was Aoban. Again. Vivian and Frost both stepped away, averting their gaze awkwardly when they noticed him. I can’t blame them, though. Their last meeting with brother didn’t exactly go well.

“What is this?” Aoban asked as he showed me one of my flyers.

“Advertisement,” I coldly responded. “I’m recruiting.”

Brother frowned, clearly not pleased by my answer.

“You’re recruiting people through advertisement? Is this some kind of a joke?”

I knew that whatever I was going to say, brother was not going to like it, so I simply gave him a silent answer.

“Lyni,” he called me out. “Are you serious about participating to the tournament?”

I nodded.

“You’re going to find yourself in real battle situation. You might even get injured. You know that, right?”

I nodded.

“What if I tell you to forget about it? You’re not going to listen, are you?”

I nodded.

Brother clicked his tongue in exasperation before letting out a sigh of resignation.

“Take Lukas with you,” he then demanded. “I won’t be able to stay with you, but at least Lukas will protect you. He is quite proficient with Light Magic, he’ll be a good healer.”

I squinted my eyes at his unexpected request.

“Erm, no thank you,” I politely declined.

Aoban frowned.

“What? Why?”

Mmh, let me think. First, you’re controlling enough as it is, I don’t want one of your spies in my team. Secondly, Lukas is Uncle Jack’s son. I’d rather not have him involved in this competition. We might find ourselves with a conflict of interest. Thirdly, I haven’t really spoken to him ever since I arrived. We’re not exactly close, so I don’t picture myself asking him to join my team just because you want to. And lastly, did you just say a healer? I think that’s enough reasons for me to decline.

“We don’t need a healer,” I decided to go with the last excuse. “We have enough mages like that, we’re already four.”

“You have four mages?” Brother scowled. “Are you trying to go for a full mage team?”

No, that’s exactly what I’m trying to avoid, thus not accepting Lukas.

“Don’t worry! We’ll be the strongest mage team in the competition!”

Oh boy… I had forgotten about Jalone. As usual, unable to read the mood, the demi-human boy meddled in the conversation, a bright and ignorant smile on the face. At his side, I could see Vivian and Frost silently apologizing with their eyes for not being able to hold him back.

Aoban frowned even further when he saw the unknown boy interjecting.

“Who are you?” he asked.

“My name is Jalone!” the demi-human boy happily introduced himself. “A future archmage!”

Brother inspected the boy with piercing eyes for a few seconds before turning his attention on me.

“That kid is in your team?”

I didn’t answer. I didn’t dare to. I knew what he was thinking and I knew it wasn’t good for me. Jalone was just a child, and a demi-human mage on top on that. Anyone would think that I’m not taking this seriously if I told them I was planning to participate in one of the largest-scale competitions on the continent with him. Brother was no exception. As expected, as he took my silence for a yes, he let out a sarcastic chortle.

“Is this just a game for you?” he growled, his patience reaching its limit. “Is this whole competition a joke to you?”

“It’s not! I’m serious about this!” I tried to convince him.

“Serious?!” brother repeated with an air of offended dignity. “You call this serious? You think you can join with your team of clowns?”

I widened my eyes.

“Clowns?”

“A kid!” Aoban shouted as he designated Jalone with his hand.

“One of the bloody bastards of the Duke!” he moved to Vivian.

“And let me guess, that little thug is also part of your team?” he finished, pointing at Frost.

I couldn’t find anything to retort as brother pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to get rid of the sudden headache assaulting his mind.

“You don’t have a fifth member yet, do you?” he eventually asked with a calmer tone of voice.

“No, we don’t,” I muttered.

Aoban took a deep breath and let it out in a long sigh, relieving his tension. Once he had somehow regained a cool state, he directed his gaze on me.

“Good,” he said before walking away.

Good? I grabbed brother’s arm, a restless feeling growing in my chest.

“What do you mean ‘good’?” I questioned.

“Since you don’t have a fifth member yet, I’ll make sure you never find one,” brother callously declared.

“What?!”

Aoban’s eyes were cold and cruel. He felt so distant.

“I’m not letting you get yourself killed in that tournament,” he scowled. “And since you’re not listening and insist about participating, you’re not giving me a choice. I’ll make sure you’re not eligible to even be selected.”

I glared at him, dumbfounded. He is dead-serious.

“You don’t understand!” I ranted. “I need to participate!”

“Why?!”

Frustration was building up within both of us as he couldn’t understand why I kept insisting about the tournament. It was pointless and dangerous. But it was also necessary.

“For mom,” I reluctantly explained, realizing that I never truly told him. “To protect mom.”

It was the breaking point of his patience. As Aoban didn’t get the full story, he still couldn’t understand my point.

“You? Protect mom?” he sneered. “Do you even know anything about mom?”

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His expression turned into something which I really didn’t like. Disdain, irony, resentment. How am I supposed to interpret this?

“What is that supposed to mean?” I grumbled, my eyes narrowed and set hard.

“It means that mom protects you. I protect you!” brother emphasized. “You, are not protecting anyone!”

At this point, he snarled more than he spoke.

“I could if you give me a chance!”

“How? By participating in some stupid competition?” Aoban snorted with laughter.

“I’m serious!”

“No, you’re not!” He immediately refuted. “You’ve never been serious about anything Lyni, and that’s the problem! You are always so carefree about everything, just like if life itself was a game to you!”

Uh, well, about that…

“You’re so busy playing around you can’t even see what everyone else is doing for you! How much we sacrifice for you!”

I flinched.

“What?”

“Do you think I want to be here, in this stupid school? Do you think mom wants to stay in that goddamn residence, being looked down on, by even some lowly servants? It’s all for you Lyni! For you! And yet, here you are, fooling around, exposing yourself to danger like an idiot!”

His words kept crashing out unchecked, punching into the air, as brother let his heart out.

“I haven’t asked for anything!”

Aoban glared at me, a vein almost popping in his temple and his fists tightly clenched.

“For goodness’ sake Lyni, once, just once, listen to me!” He begged. “You are being such a burden right now…!”

W-What…?

“What did you just say…?” I managed to mumble, my heart unsettled.

“You are a burden, okay?! A real pain in the ass!”

As Aoban trashed out everything he had to say, something broke within me. My heart sank. My face became rigid, expressionless and I stopped listening to him as he kept spitting words after words. Once he had finally finished venting out all his frustration, my vision became blurry. Before I realized, tears started to form in my eyes and I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold them back for long. When brother saw that, all his anger suddenly vanished, just like if it never existed, as his expression collapsed in regret. He had went too far and he knew it. But it was too late. He had said the forbidden word.

In one instant, old memories started to flow back as the same single word kept resonating in my mind. Something, that I buried deep within my heart a long time ago, suddenly arose.

S***.

‘burden…’

Not now, not after all this time.

‘…burden!’

Shut up. I had finally erased that memory from my mind, so why now? Stop remembering, Aileen. Stop. This is all in the past. You are Lynett now.

‘This child is a burden!’

◊◊◊◊◊◊

I hate God.

But when did I start hating him? Why did I start hating him? Was it because of my cancer? No, it was way before that.

My father’s family was catholic. But they weren’t just your average catholic family going to the church every Sunday. No. They were real fanatics. They believed in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and in the Trinity. They believed in the reality of good and evil, and in heaven and hell. They worshiped the Virgin Mary and put the Church teachings above secular ideologies. My mother, on the other hand, was not only an atheist, she was also a divorcee. For my father’s parents, who strongly believed in the indissolubly of marriage, her arrival in the family was not looked upon favorably. Still, despite their objections, my parents still got married.

The first few years of their marriage were pretty decent. My grandparents weren’t the most welcoming parents-in-law, but they were somewhat bearable while my uncles and my aunts were pretty friendly with my mother. As the first born of eight children, my father’s marriage was celebrated quite enthusiastically. However, it all changed when it was discovered that my parents had fertility problems. After a couple of years without birth, the behavior of my father’s family changed drastically. My grandparents jumped on the first occasion to blame my mother for the lack of pregnancy. They blamed her for using birth control pills the first few years of their marriage, they blamed her for her lack of faith. Since a child was a blessing of god, it could only be her own fault if she didn’t get pregnant.

‘You deserve this.’

Of course, this was too much for my parents to bear. My father did not hesitate to put an end to this toxic relationship with his parents as they wouldn’t stop shaming his wife. His siblings weren’t any better. While they stayed supportive on the surface, they were low-key agreeing with my grandparents and would often talk behind my parents back. In the end, my father broke all ties with his family, staying in touch with only one of his sisters.

My birth only made things better for a short time. When it was found out that my mother was pregnant, after almost twenty years without a single call, my father finally reached out his parents. While they had been terrible parents to him, he still wanted to give them a chance with me. But then I got sick, and he soon enough regretted that decision.

I have very few memories of my grandparents, but I do remember one thing.

I remember waking up one night hearing voices arguing. I remember walking down the stairs and stopping in front of the living room. I remember not entering immediately as there was no need for me to. The dispute came right through the walls, as loud as a radio playing music. I could recognize my parents, but I couldn’t recognize the other voices. Their words were very clear, though.

‘You brought this on yourself, this is a punishment from God! That child is a burden!’

Although I couldn’t completely understand back then, I wasn’t stupid. I knew they were talking about me, and I knew it wasn’t in a good way. And when I finally entered the room, I saw them. This is my clearest memory of my grandparents. Them, looking down on me with their eyes full of hatred as my mother took me away.

I did not receive a religious upbringing so I didn’t really know who that God they were talking about was. But at that time, my grandparents were, for me, the very personification of evil. I didn’t know who that God was and I didn’t know if he existed. But if he did, and if he was loved by such people, then he could only be evil.

That’s how before I could even completely grasp the concept of God, I started hating him. And by the time I was old enough to understand that my grandparents were abnormal, my heart was already too tainted with resentment to embrace this God of theirs.

This is only one memory, but this one memory is etched in my mind as clear as if it was yesterday. Because my grandparents had a point. I was a burden. I was no blessing, I was only filling my parents’ life with hardships and anxiety. It was not worth the very few happy moments we shared.

Millions of questions sprouted in my mind when I got reincarnated here, but there is one thing I always told myself. That this time, I wouldn’t be a burden.

Yet, here you are, brother. You, of all people, calling me a burden.

My heart drowning in feelings of betrayal, regret and disappointment, and my mind flooded with painful memories, I was unable to hold back the tears. I could feel them flowing down my face uncontrollably. I had cried before, I was good at faking it. But this was the first time since I got reincarnated that I was genuinely crying.

Family is never perfect, but at least, I thought that Aoban would never hurt me. I thought we could be here for each other. Ever since I got reborn, he has always been my closest friend, so why would he say that? I know it’s not the same. I know. He’s not looking at me the way my grandparents were. His eyes aren’t filled with contempt. Instead, he’s looking at me tenderly, his expression full of concern. I can tell he’s already regretting his words, but I can’t help it. I keep seeing my grandparents’ face overlapping with his and I hate it.

Unable to watch me in this state any longer, Aoban broke eye-contact.

“Go home Lyni,” he muttered, his voice filled with regret. “You don’t belong here.”

His shoulders slumped, brother turned around. He had shattered something and he knew it, but he wasn’t going to apologize.

“W-Wait,” I tried to articulate through my uncontrollable sobbing.

But brother didn’t look back. Instead, he kept walking away.

“Wait…!” I pleaded as my bottom lip kept quivering, more tears threatening to spill.

I was definitely clearer this time, but brother still didn’t stop. He was leaving and I didn’t have the heart to hold him back. My mind and my body were in conflict. I wanted to grab his hand, I wanted to make him stay, but my body just wouldn’t listen.

Is that it?

Is that really all?

Are you just going to leave, Aoban?

‘Hello Lynett! My name is Aoban, I’m your big brother!’

I suddenly remembered my first meeting with Aoban. His smile, his voice… His innocence.

“Hold it right there…”

Memories flooding back into my head, I could finally feel my muscles regaining some strength.

That’s right. I do remember that little boy with messy hair looking down on me with beaming eyes, vowing to protect me. I still remember.

You’re not getting away with it Aoban. You can’t just leave like that. You don’t get to just throw away everything we had until now just like that. But you’re not going to change your mind and you’re not going to apologize, I know that. I know you. You’re more stubborn than a mule. So I’ll make you. I’ll force you to change your mind. I’ll shove it into your head until you understand. Even if it means that I need to confront you. Even if it means that I need to break your spirit… I’m not throwing away our relationship!

Finally regaining full control of myself, I wiped the tears on my face and clenched my fist, my expression hardening.

“HOLD IT RIGHT THERE, AOBAN WHITEHEART!”

My voice resonating in the hall, brother had no choice but to stop. He turned around, looking at me with wild eyes. I had called his full name, so he knew it wasn’t good.

I shot him a glare, my eyes burning with determination. I took a deep breath.

“My name is Lynett Maedis Whiteheart!” I loudly declared.

At that moment, Aoban understood what I had in mind as his face collapsed in one instant. But I didn’t give him the time to stop me.

“Aoban Whiteheart!” I called out. “By the old laws of this school, I hereby challenge you to a duel!”

Brother immediately turned blue in the face.

“Take that back!” He ordered.

“No.”

I had trapped him in a situation where he couldn’t escape. In front of this many witnesses, Aoban won’t be able to refuse. His honor won’t let him do so, even if I am his sister.

I could feel many stares on us. The entire hall fell silent. Not everyone had followed our dispute, but everyone shared the same expression on their face. Vivian and Frost both froze in astonishment. Blood drained from their face, they completely lost their colors as they displayed their best grimace at me. Even Jalone, who so far couldn’t read the mood, was giving me a concerned look.

That’s how serious the situation was.

“Do you even understand what you’re doing right now?” Aoban growled.

“I perfectly am.”

For a while, brother glared right through me. But as he understood I had no intention of backing down, his face slightly softened.

“Fine.”

His expression changed from furious to serious. He straightened his back, facing me.

“My name is Aoban Whiteheart,” he announced sharply.

Realizing where this was going, Vivian quickly regained her senses as she grabbed my clothes, trying to attract my attention. But I ignored her. I knew what she wanted. She wanted me to withdraw, and I had no intention of doing so.

Aoban marked a pause, as we both glared at each other. His eyes hardened.

“I hereby accept your challenge.”


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