Chapter 20

Getting up from my bed was difficult. My hands were shaking continuously, and my mouth was dry. Finding my way out of my room, I went to the base floor of the house, and Mei was up with Celia, tending to the fireplace.

“Master! You should be in bed.” Celia rushes to me and grabs my shoulders. I was pale, and my eyes were void of any life.

“I need some air…” The hallowed voice rumbled through my lips.

“Celia, take him outside and make sure you hold him up,” Mei commands Celia, and she nods.

Celia did her best to lead me outside without causing me much trouble. The cold air allowed my lungs to breathe without pain. Deep breaths in and out. Slowly easing my stress and anxiety, I lean into Celia’s chest. Her arms wrap around my head, and she shakes from the cold. 

“Master, you collapsed earlier today. Are you sure you can be out?” Celia was looking out for me, but I just needed to clear my thoughts in any way possible.

After a few minutes, I was taken back inside the house. Celia quickly sat next to the fire with me and covered me in a large blanket. The shaking in my hands wasn’t due to the cold. 

“Where is Eckhart and Carlo?” My words come out weak and soft.

“Carlo has his living quarters; Eckhart was…distraught about what occurred and said he would join the nightly watch today,” Mei answers.

“I see…”

“Come let us take you to bed-“

“I miss Tia…”

Celia stops for a moment, and a soft smile appears on her lips before she gently kisses my forehead.

“Alright, lover boy, time for rest.” With her demon strength, Celia lifted me without struggle and laid me back in bed. Upon leaving my room, she ensured the window was cracked open just slightly so the cold air could circulate throughout.

Morning soon came after, and I began to wake up feeling slightly better, although a little colder than usual. So, I closed the window and went to take a shower. The running water in the village was as advanced as the manor, believe it or not. After exiting the shower, I got on my clothes and wrapped my cloak over my head.

“My Lord,” Eckhart speaks softly—a stern face looking right at me.

“Commander Eckhart, I apologize for my incident yesterday.”

“I shall be the one to apologize for pushing you too far; I’ll make sure not to force-“

“Eckhart… I am sorry to disappoint you. Even more so as a child of Nix.”

“…” He grunts and lets down the sympathy, and his prejudice shows.

“I know you don’t like me. What I am. And now you must be even more upset about my performance. So, again, I am sorry for my incident.”

“I heard you avoided the sword for a while. I didn’t realize you were terrified. If I had known better, I would have eased it for you, my Lord.”

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“The reason behind it is complicated, so don’t think about it. I don’t know what is next, but when I am ready, I’ll show you what I am made of.”

“My Lord, what do you-“

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“Give me two weeks; if I don’t prove myself to you till then, then I fail myself. I am no longer fit to call myself Aris. Give myself to the Empire…”

“Your father won’t-!”

“What can my father do… Besides, I know that is what you want.”

Eckhart’s eyes widen before he looks down in shame for the thought.

“It’s alright, I know. If I do turn myself to the Empire, they will stop attacking my father and brother. It would save the lives lost in battle. But I still have my honor as the son of Valum Aris, Eckhart. And I vow to prove myself.”

“I am proud to acknowledge your spirit. Very well, if that is what my Lord requests, then so be it.”

“Eckhart.”

“Yes?”

“If I told you to burn down an enemy’s village, no soldiers, just people, would you? Would you follow orders, or would you refuse?”

“If that is asked upon me, I will do anything for House Aris, even if it is for you.” He speaks with conviction and absolute loyalty to House Aris.

“Don’t.”

“I beg your pardon, sir?”

“Just don’t follow that order. There is no honor in loyalty if it disgraces you.” With those words, I walk outside to reflect.

*

Caleb departs and walks alone in the afternoon day. He walks through the village with a soft posture and takes in the scenery. The nightmares and memories still cling to him like scars. The maddening effect they cause keeps his hands from being still.

After spending hours through the town, Caleb returns to the field where he fainted. Carlo wasn’t present, just the lonesome Caleb and the eyes of Mei watching him.

“Mei, can I speak to you.”

“What is it, Master.”

She appears from the shadows, cloaked in all black to blend in. She approaches the ten-year-old boy. 

“Can you leave me to myself for a bit? I don’t think I am in any danger here; I promise to return by tonight.”

“It is my duty to keep my eye on you.”

“I understand, Mei, but this once, can you relieve your duties? If I don’t return past midnight, you have full permission to find me; you can drag me back if you like.”

“If that is your wish.”

“Thank you.”

She steps back into the shade, and the shadows eat her image away before she completely vanishes. Her eyes are no longer present. Leaving Caleb all to himself and allowing him to have the time he wants.

Within the snow lays the training blade he dropped. The vivid images of what happened and what occurred playback in Caleb’s mind. His shaking hands clench tightly together. Until the image of Tia’s smile slowly brings him back to his senses. Gripping the sword, he drags it across the snow until he faces a big tree. 

“Come on… You can do this, Caleb…” He struggles to speak. His eyes dart back and forth as anxiety begins to build even further.

Holding the training sword in his hand, he looks at himself in the reflection, and all he sees is the bloodied face of Sato Haruki, the Headhunter once again. The painful scars once again test his will…

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