The Beginning After The End | Chapter 326 | Backlash

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Beginning After The End Manhwa Novel

Chapter 326 - Backlash



 Chapter 326 Backlash



ELEANOR LEYWIN


I clenched my teeth, trying to stay focused through the throbbing pain that covered every inch of my body, as Commander Virion addressed everyone present. Mom had been pretty stubborn in her efforts to keep me at home in bed, but I couldn’t miss the council meeting. They had been waiting for me to get better so I could tell them what happened after everyone else teleported back to the sanctuary from Elenoir…and why Tessia had never returned.


But now that I was sitting in the City Hall’s main conference room—the same one where Tessia had first brought me to a council meeting—with every important figure in Dicathen staring holes right through me, I kind of wished I had listened to my mom.


I’d already told Virion and Bairon about most of it anyway, but I’d been sort of in and out of consciousness for the last couple days so I didn’t think I’d been very helpful.


“—leanor?”


I suddenly realized how long I had stayed quiet. “Sorry, what?”


Virion cleared his throat. He looked…old. Old and tired. “Would you like to tell the council about your mission in Elenoir?”


I stood slowly, regretted it quickly, and then fell back into my chair. “Um, well, you see, I…uh…”


There was a faint pop from just behind me and a chorus of shouts filled the room. Kathyln, who was sitting right beside me, sucked in a surprised breath. Her brother had his sword half out of its sheath before he realized what was happening.


Lord Bairon was crackling with thunderous energy, but backed down when I turned and rested my hand on the furry creature that had manifested behind me.


“Boo, I said to wait outside. You can’t just poof to me every time I get a little nervous,” I scolded him, but it was half hearted. His presence gave me strength.


He grunted in a way that told me he wasn’t sorry, then laid down in front of the arched doorway.


“Sorry,” I mumbled, glancing at Virion. If the old elf was annoyed, he didn’t show it.


“Not to worry, Ellie. Go on, if you’re ready.”


I took a deep, shuddering breath before words started to spill from me. I explained my part in our plan to free the elven prisoners from the little town of Eidelholm, going over my fight against the retainer’s brother. I told them how I gave my medallion to Albold so that the elves that were left could escape, and how Tessia had finally killed Bilal.


The hardest part was describing Elijah’s arrival, but no one interrupted as I stammered my way through it. Kathyln gave me a shocked look when I got to the part where I pretended to be an Alacryan student-soldier, and even Bairon let out a low whistle, which I thought meant he was impressed.


Finally, I told them how Tessia had reappeared at Elijah’s side, and about the attack, and how I’d tried to save the elven slaves…but…


It was too much, and I let the story end with the explosion that ripped me away from Elenoir, then leaned forward to rest my forehead on the cool table.


Helen Shard walked around the table to set her hand on my shoulder. “No one could have done more, Eleanor. What you accomplished…frankly it’s incredible.”


Kathyln squeezed my hand. The normally composed princess had tears sparkling in the corners of her eyes. Behind her, Curtis was downcast and pale.


“How in the world did you escape?” the old soldier, Madam Astera, asked.


Sitting up straight, I pulled the phoenix wyrm pendant out from underneath my shirt. It was milky white and cracked all the way through, empty of mana. “This.”


I could still clearly imagine how the elven servants had looked at me as I tried and failed to activate Tessia’s medallion and take them all with me. They knew that I couldn’t do it. They knew they were going to die. Then the wall of light washed over me and everything went pink.


For a few seconds, I could see the world being ripped apart around me through the tiled pink shell of energy conjured by the phoenix wyrm pendant. The Alacryans, the elves, the bleachers, the little stage, the mansion…it all vanished in the blink of an eye. And then so did I.


I had woken up screaming, my legs dangling in the little stream that ran through the underground sanctuary. Boo was there, smoke rising from his singed fur, somehow alive. The last thing I heard was his deep roar filling the cavern before I passed out from backlash.


“Do we know—how big was the explosion?” a trembling voice asked. It was one of the elves we’d rescued, the man who knew Tessia and Kathyln: Feyrith.


Virion and Bairon exchanged a dark look. “As soon as Eleanor returned, General Bairon flew straight to the Beast Glades and up toward Elenoir,” Virion said, nodding to the human Lance.


“Elenoir is gone,” the Lance said gruffly.


“What do you mean ‘gone’? A country can’t just d-disappear!” Feyrith argued.


“Well it has.” The Lance turned a sharp eye to the elf. “Nothing remains between the Beast Glades and the northern coast but a scorched and twisted wasteland.”


Kathyln’s breath shuddered as her hands covered her mouth.


The young elf had gone ghostly pale, but seemed frozen, his mouth half-open, his knuckles white from gripping the edge of the table. An elven woman, whose name I couldn’t remember even though she’d been at the sanctuary since the beginning, began to sob.


Behind me, Helen squeezed my shoulder again in a gesture of support.


“But the asuras—” Curtis started to say, his voice low and full of crackling energy.


“Were and still are our allies,” Virion said firmly. “Despite appearances, we do not believe that the greater part of the destruction was caused by the asuras’ attack, which was only intended to destroy the Alacryans gathered at Eidelholm.”


From the doorway behind me, a soft voice said, “How could you possibly know that?”


Little waves of pain rippled through my entire body as I twisted in my seat to look at the speaker. Albold, the elven guard, was standing framed in the arched entrance on the other side of Boo’s hulking form.


He held himself awkwardly, leaning to his right side. He’d been badly hurt during the fight against the retainer; I was kind of surprised to see him on duty already.


Albold continued, not waiting for an answer to his question. “Ellie saw the asura known as Aldir initiate the attack with her own eyes.”


I couldn’t see Virion’s face, but I could hear the low growl of anger in his voice. “This is a closed council meeting, Albold. Return to your post. We will discuss this later.”


Albold scowled, but turned and marched out of sight.


I reached down to scratch Boo before slowly twisting back around to face the others.


It’s not just Albold. The others aren’t exactly thrilled with Virion’s explanation, either. Curtis Glayder was frowning deeply, his gaze leveled at the table instead of Virion. The elven woman was continuing to cry quietly.


Feyrith stood. His legs were a little shaky, and he had to support himself with a hand on the table. “Commander Virion, if General Bairon is correct, then our homeland…the vast majority of the elven people…” He paused and took a deep breath. “Someone has to answer for this atrocity. We know the Alacryans are our enemy, but what proof do we have that the asuras are still our allies?”


The anger that had suddenly overtaken Virion at Albold’s intrusion went away just as quickly. He waved for Feyrith to sit down. “They have been since the beginning, Feyrith. Do not forget that they saved us from the betrayal of King and Queen Greysunders. They guided the war effort in the early days, before we knew what we were up against. They tried to end the war before it began.”


“That’s a strange way of saying they betrayed us when they attacked the Vritra behind the Council’s back, an act that forced them into an agreement to stop helping us entirely and resulted in Dicathen’s fall,” Curtis said. Although he kept his voice calm, the prince’s cheeks had turned red, and he was staring hard at Virion.


Virion waved Curtis’s argument aside. “An act that, had it succeeded, would have saved Dicathen. Leaders make decisions, Curtis, you know that as well as I, and not all those decisions end the way we hope.”


Madam Astera leaned forward, her fake leg splayed out unnaturally to one side of her chair. “But how did the Alacryans do it, then? If you’re telling me our enemy has the power to wipe out entire countries, then why haven’t they done it before? And what hope do we have in defeating them?”


Virion nodded. “That is a better question. To the first, we don’t yet know, but I think we can guess the reason for not doing it before. After all, they wanted to take over Dicathen, not burn it to the ground.”


“Then what changed?” she shot back.


“What indeed?” Virion said, and I couldn’t help but notice he hadn’t even tried to answer the question.


“We’re talking about the complete destruction of our home!” Feyrith shouted, his wide, furious eyes jumping from Virion to Madam Astera and back. “Nothing you’re saying makes any sense! It’s like you don’t even care—”


Virion’s fist slammed down on the table, making everyone jump. Boo sat up and glared over my shoulder at the commander.


“Do not speak to me as if I’m some bystander, boy. I, too, am an elf! One that has just lost the very country that he grew up in, that he fought two wars for!


“Listen to yourselves!” Virion’s face became wild and desperate as his calm facade cracked. “As if having one asura as an enemy hasn’t proven bad enough, you want to go to war with all of Epheotus? No, if the asuras were truly our enemies, then we have no chance of winning this war.”


Virion’s outburst was met with shocked silence. I wasn’t sure what to say, or even what to think. It sounded more like he was just hoping that the asuras hadn’t destroyed Elenoir than that he had discovered any kind of proof…


But what had happened? I’d seen the asura, towering high above the town and radiating a pressure so strong it paralyzed everyone, fire a blast of mana that ripped Eidelholm apart…but could it really have been strong enough to destroy the entire country?


I shook my head, even though no one was looking at me. I was there, and even I don’t know what happened.


Despite his hard words, when Virion’s gaze traveled around the room, meeting everyone’s eyes in turn, his expression wasn’t hard or angry, just weary. “But we have to lay blame where it is due, not engage in some witch hunt against our allies. It was the Alacryans that attacked us and drove us from our homes. It was the Alacryans that murdered our kings and queens of the Council and put our people in chains. It was the Alacryans that stole our land and burned our forest.


“The asuras are now our only hope to reclaim Dicathen. They took a great risk to attack the Alacryans in Elenoir, an act that would have broken Agrona’s hold on our homeland, but the Vritra knew that. Instead of allowing Elenoir to be retaken, the Vritra destroyed it utterly.”


The rest of the council stared warily at Virion. Albold and Feyrith’s question was still stuck in my head. But how do you know?


As if reading my thoughts, he said, “Elder Rinia came to me with a vision.” Virion’s voice was sharp and resolute, as if those words explained everything. “She told me that the asuras of Epheotus would come to our aid, but that the Vritra Clan were expecting their agreement to be broken, and would turn the attack back on us. She said they would try to make it look like the asuras were our enemies, but they are not.”


Even Bairon seemed surprised to hear this news. Curtis and Kathyln exchanged a glance, while the elves leaned against each other for support.


Madam Astera snorted, her old face wrinkling up into a sneer. “The old soothsayer who claims to have seen all this coming, and yet did nothing to prevent it? How convenient that there is always some vision we only learn about after it’s too late to do anything.”


That’s not fair, I wanted to say. Without the seer, Tessia, my mother, and I would have been captured by the Alacryans a long time ago. But I bit my lip and held back because Madam Astera wasn’t the only one who felt like that.


It was part of the reason why Elder Rinia had chosen to seclude herself so deeply in the caverns. Because when people found out what Elder Rinia had known—and what she could’ve done—they never looked at her the same again.


I thought—hoped—that Virion might get upset with Madam Astera, but he only shook his head and looked even more tired. “It isn’t her fault, Astera, though I know it may be hard to trust her. Rinia has sacrificed much to help us however she can, and it has taken a terrible toll on her.”


I realized with a jolt of guilt that I’d entirely forgotten that aspect of Elder Rinia’s magical abilities; she traded her own lifeforce to see our possible futures. “Is she okay?” I asked, my voice sounding very small.


Virion held my gaze for several seconds before replying. “She is near the end of her power, I’m afraid.”


Madam Astera looked as if she couldn’t have cared less about Elder Rinia’s failing health, but had the good grace not to share whatever she was thinking.


I picked at the loose end of my nail as I thought back to when I had visited Elder Rinia.


She seemed pretty healthy to me. I didn’t doubt Virion’s words, but, at the same time, I had trouble picturing the elderly elf’s health failing so quickly.


And what was she looking for when she had this vision? When I asked her about our mission, she’d given me a vague warning about the cost being more than Virion wanted to pay. I’d thought that she’d been talking about Tessia…but had she already seen the asuran attack on Elenoir, and meant losing the whole country instead? But if that was the case, why hadn’t she told me more at the time? Did she just see it later?


I hate this visions-of-the-future junk, I thought miserably. It never made any sense.


I decided to go see her again and turned my attention back to the meeting, but the meeting seemed to have ended. Everyone else looked as caught off guard by the sudden dismissal as I felt.


Feyrith was already helping the elf woman out of the room, nervously skirting around Boo, who took up most of the doorway. Virion was having a whispered conversation with Bairon, while Curtis and Kathyln waited for a private word with the Commander.


Helen helped me to my feet and guided me toward the door.


“Thanks,” I said gratefully.


We made our way down the hall and through the heavy leather flap that served as a door. Albold wasn’t at his post when we left, but the other guard, Lenna, gave me a firm nod as we went past.


Boo’s sides scraped against the walls of the hallway behind us, and he had to squash himself through the door. My bond gave me a grumpy, mewling grunt when he finally made it out onto the steps.


“Don’t look at me. I told you to wait outside,” I said, waiting for him to catch up. When he did, I twined my fingers into his dense fur and let him support me as we walked.


“I know you don’t feel this way, Ellie, but…you did good,” Helen said when we caught back up.


“Yeah…” You’re right, I really don’t feel that way…


“One thing I don’t really understand,” Helen said, her tone conversational. “How did Boo escape? Did the pendant Arthur gave you bring you both back?”


I didn’t answer right away. The truth was, everything after Aldir and Windsom showed up in Elenoir was sort of a blur. Boo had been hiding in the forest around Eidelholm, and should have been killed, but…when I came to in the sanctuary, he was right beside me.


“Or have you been keeping these powerful and mysterious abilities a secret from your teacher?” she asked, giving me a look of mock surprise.


I shook my head, allowing a faint smile. “I don’t think it was the phoenix wyrm amulet, and this definitely wasn’t something I was keeping a secret from everyone. To be honest, I’ve never really figured out what kind of mana beast he is, so we’re not sure what his powers are.”


He moaned from behind us. “Yes, we’re talking about you. Ever since we came back, anytime I get…stressed out or a bit scared, he just poofs right next to me. So that must be how he escaped. It draws off my own mana, though, and nearly killed me from the backlash…”


Helen’s eyes widened until her brows rose up out of sight behind the line of her hair. “Either way, I think you’re more like that brother of yours than anyone’s given you credit for.”


Ever since Elenoir, I’d felt like there was this sort of crack that ran all the way through inside me, and it got a little bigger with every nice thing someone said to me. I didn’t feel like Arthur. I wasn’t heroic, or brave, or talented, or powerful…if I was, then I could have done something. I could have rescued Tessia, or saved those elves or…


Could Arthur have stopped them from destroying Elenoir? I wondered.


“Hey, look at me.” Helen took my chin firmly in her hand and tugged my head up so our eyes met. “Don’t blame yourself for everything that went wrong, and don’t refuse to accept where you helped things go right. Your mission—you, Ellie—saved a lot of people.”


“I know,” I said, but the words came out half choked as my throat tightened and my eyes began to overflow with tears. “I just—I…”


Words failed me. Helen’s arms were around me, and I let myself sink into her. Every wracking sob sent a hot bolt of pain through me. Boo’s heavy warmth pressed against my back as he joined in our hug.


“Why don’t I take you to meet some of those people you saved?” Helen said softly. “Remind you what all this was for.”


*

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