The Beginning After The End | Chapter 333 | Attention

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Beginning After The End Manhwa Novel

Chapter 333 - Attention



 Chapter 333 Attention



‘That was pretty badass,’ Regis said approvingly as we stepped outside.


Standing beneath the vibrant blue sky, I took a deep breath of fresh air, and couldn’t help but smile. The High Hall’s gargoyles and iron spikes seemed a lot less imposing now that my trial was over.


From the arched entry, the high justice cleared her throat to get our attention.


Lauden Denoir stepped forward and bowed deeply. “Thank you for your assistance today, High Justice. Highblood Denoir will not—”


“Presume to imagine that my actions were for your blood’s benefit,” the woman cut in with a slight toss of her fiery hair. “This is a place of truth and justice, not some gambling den where low-minded people can seek to cheat their way into a fortune.”


Lauden Denoir’s aristocratic smile faltered for just an instant, but it was plastered firmly across his face again when he took a step back.


“It would be best,” the high justice continued in her sharp, authoritative voice, “that today’s events, and the actions taken against you over the last three weeks, were left in the past, Ascender Grey. The High Hall has a…reputation to consider, after all, and the Sovereigns may become personally involved if the violence were to escalate between you and Blood Granbehl.”


I raised a brow. “You have quite the way of asking for a favor, High Justice.”


Tension crackled in the air as my gaze bore into her ice-blue eyes. I considered all of the laws that the Granbehls had broken that the high justice was asking me to just forgive and forget.


Finally, I let out a breath. “As long as the High Hall—and the Granbehls—stay out of my way, I won’t make an effort to cause trouble.”


The high justice gave me a single, sharp nod. “Then I would recommend you make yourself scarce, for a time at least.”


I held her gaze for a moment longer before turning away, the momentary thrill of the trial’s end stained by the woman’s sharp reminder.


Several small groups of people were still lingering around the edges of the courtyard, but they didn’t dare approach past the oppressive pressure radiating from Taegan and Arian, who were shooting warning glares around the open space.


I heard a few cheers and a couple shouts for my attention, but I ignored them, instead focusing on Lauden Denoir, whose well-practiced courtly smile seemed plastered on his face.


“Thank you for your unexpected assistance,” I said, watching the highblood heir carefully. “Though I admit I’m a little surprised that Highblood Denoir went out of its way to help a lowly, unnamed ascender.”


“For a friend of my dear sister? Honestly, any trouble is worth easing Caera’s mind. She’s been most concerned about you, in fact, but I’m sure she’ll be incredibly relieved to hear of your acquittal.” A genuine smirk slipped through the courtly mask he’d been wearing.


“I have heard Lady Caera muttering Effeminate One’s name under her breath more than once,” Taegan grunted.


“Sticking with that nickname, are we?” I asked, deadpan.


Arian, taking his sharp eyes away from the crowd for just a moment, flashed me a chagrined smile. “My abnormally large and dense companion finds it easier to just call them by their physical characteristics rather than bothering to remember their name.”


Taegan shot the thin swordsman a warning look. “I sense mockery underneath your embellished words, tiny sword.”


“Anyway,” Lauden cut in, that forced smile twitching again, “I’d love to extend an invitation for dinner this evening so you can see Caera. My parents have already returned to our estate in the central dominion, but I trust a man of your obvious talent can find the way? The Highlord and Lady Denoir are eager to meet you, especially after the investment they’ve just made in seeing you released.” His tone became more serious, almost pointed, as he said this. The implication was clear.


Before I could respond, Alaric wrapped an arm around my shoulder and said, “Many thanks to you and your highblood, but I’m afraid my nephew has been through a significant ordeal. He’s been tortured for three weeks straight, after all, and needs some rest. I’m sure Grey here would love to come around some other time, of course. We’ll send a note.”


Before the Denoir heir could refute, my “uncle” was already pulling me away. I glanced back to see Lauden, flanked by Arian and Taegan, with his arms crossed and brows creased into a frown.


I opened my mouth to ask Alaric whether it was wise to dismiss the Denoir heir so suddenly, when a shout interrupted me.


“Ascender Grey, I love you!”


Surprised, I scanned the crowd until I found the source of the voice, who turned out to be a young woman in vibrant orange leather armor.


‘I love you too, you tanned, sculpted goddess,’ Regis hollered, his voice echoing in my head.


My eyes lingered on her, curious, until Alaric thumped me on the arm.


“No time to mingle with the groupies,” Alaric said, quickening our pace. “We need to get you somewhere with fewer eyeballs, regardless of how big and blue they might be.”


“Why does it feel like we’re trying to run away?” I asked, keeping a leisurely pace. “Lauden has a terrible poker face, but it wouldn’t have hurt to visit his place and just say thanks—”


Alaric snorted humorlessly and hurried onward. Beside him, Darrin’s head swiveled back and forth, like he expected us to be attacked at any moment.


“If you think a simple ‘thank you’ is all Highblood Denoir is doing this for, you might as well slip a collar around your neck and hand them the leash,” Alaric said, turning onto a wide boulevard I recognized as leading toward the exit to the first level. “Don’t be thick, boy. The only reason those self-absorbed nobles would get involved is because they want to make you their loyal little pup to fetch them accolades and relics from the Relictombs.”


“That’s easy enough to tell,” I retorted back. “But unlike the Granbehls, Caera’s family doesn’t have anything to hold over my head besides me maybe owing them a favor.”


“A favor is often more valuable than a carriage of gold, especially if owed by an individual with as much potential as you,” Darrin replied as his eyes continued to scan our surroundings.


‘Not to cast doubts on your beloved horned paramour, but it is possible that Caera told them just how powerful you are in order to try and convince her family to help,’ Regis added.


It doesn’t matter, I said, as much to myself as Regis. I doubt we’d have any reason to cross paths again.


My companion clicked his tongue. ‘Alas, If only our alcoholic friend here was half as pretty as Caera.’


I turned my attention to Alaric, realizing that, unknowingly, I’ve been relying on the old drunk. Without him, it would have been a lot harder to get back into the Relictombs…but at the same time, he was easy to understand.


Alaric saw me as his meal—or rather, alcohol—ticket, and he wasn’t interested in who I really was or where I came from. I didn’t have to worry about his motivations, and I appreciated that about the man.


It was hard to say the same about Darrin Ordin though. I wondered what Alaric might have told him, and what kind of promises had been made on my behalf for Darrin’s help.


‘Not that he was even that much help…’ Regis groused.


As my thoughts turned back to the trial, one in particular that had been nagging at the back of my mind stood out. “Alaric, why exactly do I have groupies? Who were all those people at the trial?”


Alaric and Darrin exchanged a look. “My idea, actually,” Alaric’s friend said over his shoulder, running a hand through his blond hair. “Though I let Alaric do most of the dirty work.”


We moved to the side of the road to avoid a huge carriage pulled by two blood-red oxen.


Alaric shrugged, but his beard twitched in a way that worried me. “I might have spread some rumors about you. Stirred up some interest, encouraged a few people to come watch your trial.”


“What kind of rumors…?” I asked, watching Alaric from the corner of my eye.


The old man cleared his throat. “Nothing to compromise your shroud of mystery and intrigue.”


I stopped walking suddenly and gave him a pointed look. “Alaric…”


“Just a tale of a young ascender being bullied by a named blood,” he said, scratching at his beard. “If I suggested that the ascender was so handsome and…gifted…that he’d drawn the attention of even a certain highblood lady—”


I resisted the urge to bury my face in my hand. “Please tell me you’re joking.”


‘That certainly explains the ratio of women to men in the crowd,’ Regis teased.


Alaric shrugged and started walking again, weaving through the swelling crowd of people as we neared the exit portal to the first level.


Darrin had watched this exchange with a tight-lipped smile. “That part wasn’t my idea,” he said apologetically before following Alaric.


I stared down sparkling tiles of the street, hoping that these rumors never reached Caera.


Jogged to catch up with the others, I fumbled around for something else to talk about. “So what’s the plan?” I asked finally. “I’ve wasted enough time out here—”


“Let’s get somewhere a little less crowded,” Darrin said, glancing around at the dozens of people passing by in both directions. Most of them weren’t paying attention to us, but a few did double takes when they saw Darrin, and more than a couple pairs of eyes followed me as well.


We bypassed the many inns and ascender bars lining both sides of the wide street as Alaric made a beeline for the portal to the first level. Once the portals were in sight—like two pieces of glass hovering over a pad of colorful mosaic tiles—we joined a queue of ascenders who were leaving the second level.


“Where are we going?” I asked.


“I think it’s best if we leave the Relictombs for the moment,” Darrin answered. “First, we’re going to my estate in the countryside of Sehz-Clar.”


“Sehz-Clar?” I wondered aloud, trying to remember what I’d read. “That’s sort of rural for a famous ascender, isn’t it?”


“I like it that way,” he said nonchalantly.


I considered the size of Alacrya and where we’d entered the Relictombs from in Aramoor, which was in the eastern dominion of Etril. Would we have to go back through Etril before heading to Sehz-Clar? It was a very long way to go just to have a conversation, considering that we were surrounded by inns where a private room could be rented for a handful of gold.


Glancing back across the second level toward where I thought the massive portal into the deeper zones of the Relictombs was, I noticed a group of men—all dressed in dark leather and chain armor—look away at the same time, like they’d been staring at me only a second before.


I quickly scanned the rest of the line. The woman in the orange armor was standing several people behind us. Our eyes met, and her mouth fell open slightly before she lowered her head, letting her dark hair fall across her face. Besides them, no one else seemed to be paying attention to the three of us.


Questions arose but I kept them to myself, trusting that Alaric had his reasons for getting us away from the Relictombs, and not wanting to make Darrin suspicious by asking the wrong one.


It only took a couple minutes for us to reach the exit portal, where a uniformed clerk waved us through. It was like night and day traveling from the second level to the first. Where the second was bright and airy, the first was dank and heavy with the smell of iron and excrement.


A man dressed in the hide of some mana beast was shouting at one of the portal guards about his pass. The uniformed guard had his arms crossed, and a muscle in his wide jaw was twitching.


Behind him, a dozen ascenders were waiting in line to enter the second level, most of them grumbling about the wait.


I was watching the commotion from the corner of my eye when I noticed the woman in the bright orange armor step through the portal. She scanned the area, and when her eyes found me she made a beeline toward us while withdrawing something from her dimension ring.


With heightened senses and reflexes, the seconds that it took for the tanned woman to catch up to me passed by in a crawl.


Just before she was in arm’s reach, I spun on my heels and caught her by her wrist, crushing the chain bracer into her flesh.


The woman gasped, and whatever she was holding tumbled to the ground.


“Did you not think I’d notice?” I asked, my gaze piercing through hers as I twisted her wrist. “Why are you following me?”


“I’m s-so sorry!” she squealed, her mahogany eyes wide and her face pale. “I just wanted your a-autograph!”


I glanced at the ground where the item she had dropped pressed against my boot: a pyramid-shaped steel box, engraved with chains that wrapped around the edges. As I watched it, the woman’s foot groped forward and tapped the pointed top.


Several things happened at once.


The artifact at my feet unfolded, letting out a glowing golden light.


There was a flash from the woman’s free hand, and a sleek dark dagger appeared in her grasp.


All around the portal platform, the crowd of ascenders that had been either watching us warily or ignoring us in favor of grumbling about the unmoving line drew their weapons and turned as one toward me and my companions. Behind them, three nervous officials vanished through the portal back to the second level.


This whole thing had been a setup—and there was only one group that would go to this kind of trouble.


“Lord Granbehl sends his regards,” the orange-armored ascender snarled, thrusting the blade at my abdomen.


Still holding her by the wrist, I jerked the tanned woman off her feet and threw her at a nearby cluster of armed ascenders. She let out a yelp before crashing into them, but my attention was back on the artifact, which had opened like a flower and was glowing more brightly by the instant.


Lifting one leg, I began to step down toward it, intending to crush it under my heel, but…I froze, unable to move. The golden light emanating from the open pyramid wrapped around me, shining over every inch of me like a second skin. I could just make out the ethereal shape of chains within the light, wrapping around me and my companions.


“Well I’ll be damned, they actually got a force cage.” Even with his voice muffled by the layer of energy the force cage had wrapped around him, Alaric was more amazed than shocked as he tried to wiggle his body. “And a pretty good one at that.”


His words were met by a chorus of chuckles from the many ascenders now eyeing us dangerously.


“Shit,” Darrin swore, sounding like he was speaking with his head under water. “This isn’t good.”


From the corner of my eye, I saw two men struggle to pull the orange-armored woman to her feet. By the way she was holding her arm, I knew I’d pulled it from the socket. That didn’t stop her from beaming at me victoriously.


“Quite the handful, aren’t you?” she said while popping her arm back into place. The woman sauntered closer toward us. “A shame that I have to hand you over to the Granbehls. So many better uses for a pretty face like yours.”


*

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