Home The Beginning After The EndChapter 333

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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 couldnt help but smile. The High Halls 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 bloods 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 Denoirs 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 todays 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 wont 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 trials end stained by the womans sharp reminder.

Several small groups of people were still lingering around the edges of the courtyard, but they didnt 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 Im 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 Caeras mind. Shes been most concerned about you, in fact, but Im sure shell be incredibly relieved to hear of your acquittal. A genuine smirk slipped through the courtly mask hed been wearing.

I have heard Lady Caera muttering Effeminate Ones 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, Id 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 theyve 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 Im afraid my nephew has been through a significant ordeal. Hes been tortured for three weeks straight, after all, and needs some rest. Im sure Grey here would love to come around some other time, of course. Well 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 were trying to run away? I asked, keeping a leisurely pace. Lauden has a terrible poker face, but it wouldnt have hurt to visit his place and just say thanks—

Alaric snorted humorlessly and hurried onward. Beside him, Darrins 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. Dont 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.

Thats easy enough to tell, I retorted back. But unlike the Granbehls, Caeras family doesnt 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 doesnt matter, I said, as much to myself as Regis. I doubt wed 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, Ive 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 wasnt interested in who I really was or where I came from. I didnt 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 Darrins 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, Alarics 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 hed drawn the attention of even a certain highblood lady—

I resisted the urge to bury my face in my hand. Please tell me youre 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 wasnt 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 whats the plan? I asked finally. Ive wasted enough time out here—

Lets get somewhere a little less crowded, Darrin said, glancing around at the dozens of people passing by in both directions. Most of them werent 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 its best if we leave the Relictombs for the moment, Darrin answered. First, were going to my estate in the countryside of Sehz-Clar.

Sehz-Clar? I wondered aloud, trying to remember what Id read. Thats sort of rural for a famous ascender, isnt it?

I like it that way, he said nonchalantly.

I considered the size of Alacrya and where wed 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 theyd 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 arms 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 Id notice? I asked, my gaze piercing through hers as I twisted her wrist. Why are you following me?

Im 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 womans 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 womans 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 Ill 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 isnt 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 Id pulled it from the socket. That didnt stop her from beaming at me victoriously.

Quite the handful, arent 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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Chapter 162: Intermission Chapter 163: From Lance To Brother Chapter 164: Old Face Chapter 165: Center of Attention Chapter 166: Meaning Chapter 167: The Confidence To... Chapter 168: View From the Sky Chapter 169: A Dwarven Night Chapter 170: Old Roots Chapter 171: Inside The Tavern Chapter 172: Inside The Tavern II Chapter 173: Conducting Business Chapter 174: Mother Earth's Embrace Chapter 175: Appeared Chapter 176: The First Scythe Chapter 177: Greying Glimpse Chapter 178: Strategic Conduct Chapter 179: landship Chapter 180: Alacryan Glimpse Chapter 181: Gadgets and Magic Chapter 182: Elders Assessment Chapter 183: Measuring Magic Chapter 184: Aspect of Unpredictability Chapter 185: Guest Teacher Chapter 186: Beauty in Magic Chapter 187: Offensive Mindset Chapter 188: Dragon Steps Chapter 189: Inside the Vault Chapter 190: Solitary Mindframe Chapter 191: Magical Percentile Chapter 192: Eat, Drink, Be Merry Chapter 193: Broken Seal Chapter 194: Man Behind the Veil Chapter 195: Next Stage Chapter 196: Questioning Chapter 197: Torn Chapter 198: A City Within Chapter 199: Return Chapter 200: Responsibilities Chapter 201: Allocation Chapter 202: Traitor's Request Chapter 203: A Poem Chapter 204: Lost Words Chapter 205: Enemy Territory Chapter 206: Brothers Consent Chapter 207: Coordination Chapter 208: Enemy Territory II Chapter 209: Deployed Chapter 210: Awaiting the Horde Chapter 211: Awaiting the Horde II Chapter 212: A Promise Chapter 213: Enemy Territory III Chapter 214: Welcoming Gift Chapter 215: Two Versus An Army Chapter 216: Battlefield Chapter 217: Decisions Made Chapter 218: From Leader To Soldier Chapter 219: Army Approaching Chapter 220: The Weight Of A Choice Chapter 221: Backtrack Chapter 222: Futures First Step Chapter 223: In Her Element Chapter 224: Carried Back Chapter 225: Shared Affliction Chapter 226: Punishable Actions Chapter 227: Above Limitations Chapter 228: Anchor Chapter 229: Field of White Chapter 230: Resounding Horns Chapter 231: Following Orders Chapter 232: Tainted Blood Chapter 233: Treason Chapter 234: Remembrance Chapter 235: Wavering Pillar Chapter 236: Darkening Grey Chapter 237: Expired Arrangement Chapter 238: Hidden in Sand Chapter 239: Passage Of Time Chapter 240: Reconciliation Chapter 241: Hope and Trust Chapter 242: Two Loves Chapter 243: On the Surface Chapter 244: Day of Rebirth Chapter 245: Walking Catastrophe Chapter 246: Dear Old Friend Chapter 247: Not Alone Chapter 248: His Name Chapter 249: Gone Chapter 250: Hello Darkness Chapter 251: The Next Message Chapter 252: Resolve Chapter 253: A Healthy Appetite Chapter 254: Round Two Chapter 255: Victory Chapter 256: The Core Chapter 257: Forbidden Fruit Chapter 258: Law of the Wild Chapter 259: Mother Lode Chapter 260: Purge Chapter 261: The Bridge Chapter 262: The Platform Chapter 263: Cornered Chapter 264: Branch of Destruction Chapter 265: First Ascent Chapter 266: On Guard Chapter 267: Justification Chapter 268: Trading Knowledge Chapter 269: More Than a Weapon Chapter 270: Descent Chapter 271: Back to the Basics Chapter 272: Your Name Chapter 273: Being of Aether Chapter 274: The Crystal Chapter 275: Maerin Chapter 276: The Town Chief Chapter 277: One Step Forward Chapter 278: The Day of Bestowment Chapter 279: A Social Gathering Chapter 280: The Catch Chapter 281: Once In a Lifetime Chapter 282: Deep Dive Chapter 283: A Mutually Beneficial Partnership Chapter 284: Blending In Chapter 285: Ascension 101 Chapter 286: How to Survive Chapter 287: Familial Ascent Chapter 288: Full Circle Chapter 289: Familiar Faces Chapter 290: The Mirror Room Chapter 292: Missing Pieces Chapter 293: Devils Deal Chapter 294: The Faintest Hope Chapter 295: God Rune Chapter 296: Unmasked Chapter 297: To Kill or Not To Kill Chapter 298: Tracks Chapter 299: Feathers in Snow Chapter 300: The Four Clans Chapter 301: Uncertain Truths Chapter 302: God Step Chapter 303: The Mountain Chapter 304: Shared Memories Chapter 305: Parting Chapter 306: The Wild Things Chapter 307: Out Of Place Chapter 308: Festive Tension Chapter 309: Misdirection Chapter 310: Left Behind Chapter 311: A Quiet Strength Chapter 312: Blood of the Ancients Chapter 313: Bows Blight Chapter 314: Price to Pay Chapter 315: Fighting Back Chapter 316 Chapter 317 Chapter 318 Chapter 319 Chapter 320 Chapter 321 Chapter 322: Echoes of Accusations Chapter 323 Chapter 324 Chapter 325 Painless Chapter 326 Backlash Chapter 327 Enough For Now Chapter 328 Face to Face Chapter 329: A Plea for Help Chapter 330 Chapter 331: The Trial Chapter 332: Broken Chains Chapter 333: Attention