Chapter 21

The long night I had risen. Sitting in front of me was the blade. My soulless expression told a long story. I attempted to grab it again, but the sudden emotion to reel back overcame me. For hours, it was the same thing.

“I should return…” The hollow sound of my voice was raspy and dry from the constant screaming and vomiting I had endured.

I left the blade on the ground and returned to the house. Mei and Celia stared at me, my pale face cold and lifeless. Celia approached me, but Mei stopped her. Letting me go back to my room without a fuss, I found the sleep restless.

A new morning rose, and Eckhart checked on me after hearing Celia’s concerns. Out of obligation, he said his peace and left me alone.

I spent days in bed, wallowing in my pity and guilt. The throbbing pain was an illness from the very depths of my soul.

After the fourth day of lying in bed, five days since making my promise to Eckhart, I finally found the strength to eat anything, let alone leave the house. It had snowed badly the last few days, so I figured it was time to go again to see if I could do it now. I doubt it.

It took all day, but I returned to the house that night drenched in sweat and pale like before. Tears stained my cheeks, and my lips cracked from the drool and vomit. I had lost some weight from the last six days of not eating much and vomiting. The stress of it all made me skinny and frail.

“Master… Come eat.” Celia pleaded with sincerity.

“I don’t feel like it,” I responded coldly.

I attempted to remove myself from the scene, but I felt the warm touch of Celia grace my arm. I turned to look at her, but she just gently held my head into her chest. Her cold tears were soaked in my already damp hair.

“I don’t know your pain, but at least let me help spare you some of it.” Celia could whisper her words without crying out. Her heartbeat was weak from emotional distress. 

Closing my eyes, I nodded and wrapped my arms around her. My tears stained her clothes as she held me close. Mei watched in respect and left us to ourselves.

After calming down, the dizzying feeling of starvation nearly knocked me over. Celia led me to the table and sat me in the chair with a bowl of nice hot soup. Thanking her quietly, I slowly digested the food and nearly passed out at the table.

Without warning, Ceilia had kneeled beside me and rubbed my head. I blinked and felt a little better because of her company. I didn’t know how she did it, but she made the pain somewhat more bearable. I kept trying not to think about it, but it would continue to haunt me without remorse.

Celia stayed by my side that night and ensured I would finally sleep for a while.

From then on, I began to attempt each day for hours to push myself to grip and use that sword. Day by day, I would grab it, and the shaking in my hands would rattle the blade. Forcing down the stress and vomit reaching my throat, I would hold it with both hands and raise it above my head. However, I could not do anything more after that. But I would feel like I was making some progress on facing my guilt, my anguish. It wouldn’t be easy, and it was always haunting, but I knew I could face it one day.

The problem was that I didn’t have the time anymore; only a few days remained, and I felt like I wasn’t ready to continue and meet the deadline. Even with Celia’s help, encouragement, and support, I still failed myself and everyone else.

“Damn it!” I slammed my fist into the tree, causing a tiny spark to radiate from my fist and breath. The anger rising in my heart, I felt the rush of trying to improve was sickening.

I returned that night more pissed than anything else.

So, the final day to prove Eckhart had arrived, and I knew I had to say goodbye from the moment I opened my eyes.

I didn’t want to give Mei or Celia a chance to stop me from leaving. I have my honor, and I intend to uphold it. Eckhart stood by my door that morning and looked at me, waiting for an answer.

“I’m sorry. I’ve tried everything, but I can’t get over it.” I spoke honestly and firmly.

“I understand. I will escort you if you fully intend to go along with your commitment.”

“Yes. Let me walk around for a bit; I want to stop at least thinking about everything right now.”

“As you wish, my Lord. I will await you here.”

“Thank you, Eckhart.”

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“What I am about to do with you does not need a thanks.”

“That is true. Well, see you soon.”

With those words, I exited the house and strolled into the village one last time. I was giving myself one last moment to take in and appreciate the people here and what they represent. The children play around in the streets, laughing and having fun. With a soft smile, I bypass the shops and arrive at the front of the village. I look up at the Guild Hall and see Julie helping some adventures with jobs and requests before heading deeper into town to do what they need to do.

Julie looks over to me as I enter the premises and watch the various races of men and women conversing with one another, telling stories, and sharing their past hunts and jobs. Deep down, I wanted to have this kind of adventure and excitement with people like this one day; too bad I was born a noble of such a standing and a cursed child at that.

“My Lord, may I help you?” Juile approached me.

“No, thank you, though. Just wanted to see everyone.”

“You’re pretty funny for a small one, Caleb.”

“And you’re hard at work, aren’t you?”

“Well, the Guild Master is still out on a large expedition. She won’t be back for another few months if the winter continues to be harsh.”

“I would have loved to meet her.”

“Caleb?”

“Sorry, just talking to myself.”

“Are you alright? You seemed to be troubled.”

“I’m fine, thank you. Most of these members seem light in clothing, don’t they?”

“Oh, these folks? These are new members. Since it is winter, they aren’t allowed on hunts or jobs above a certain rank. Most of them would be killed if even a band of wolves attacked.”

“Are you joking?”

“I wish I were, but unfortunately, after the Phantom Blades returned from their big quest a few weeks back, the surrounding goblin tribes and nests have been quiet. We believe they were left out of fear for their lives. So, jobs have been scarce, and those available are reserved for our big players. Which are out on jobs at the moment.”

“Are any of them fighters?”

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“These lot? ‘Fraid not. Some have divine protection spells, but the best they can do is clean wounds, not heal. And the ones carrying weapons are using cheap equipment and don’t know how to use them.”

“Isn’t there a training hall for these people to become capable?”

“Costs a lot of money to afford a trainer, which we lack even to employ.”

“I bet Eckhart could…” I whisper.

“Sorry, what was that?”

“Oh, it was nothing, just I think I know-“

“HELP! WE GOT A HORDE OF GOBLINS AT THE GATES!”

The sudden outburst from outside startled us.

“What…!” Juile runs out of the Guild and stares at the gates. I follow her.

“What’s wrong? Won’t the walls stop them?”

“No, that isn’t the problem! We got some people scavenging outside! And with any threat, we can’t open the gates!”

“Are you kidding? Gahh!” I head off in a mad sprint to the gates.

“Wait! Where are you going?”

“To help those people! Go to the house and grab Eckhart! He can deal with them!”

“Caleb! Wait!”

Her voice drowns out in the distance; I race forward to the sounds of screaming and people banging at the gates…

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