Chapter 32:

Chapter 31. Royal Intrigue

Zero to Hero

As the door swung open, we were met with a throng of servants, each adorned with artifact collars encircling their necks—an unsettling testament to the despicable nature of the mansion's owner and the caliber of attendees at this gathering.

Stepping into the opulent mansion, we found it teeming with even more so called servants, attending to every whim of the guests.

The attendees, resembling the nobility and royalty I had encountered at Dragonspire, exuded an air of importance as they mingled amidst the lavish surroundings. Clad in elaborate suits and elegant dresses, they traversed the halls with a sense of entitlement, their motivations varying from genuine interest to coerced participation.

As the apparent "champion" of the tournament, I felt visibly out of place, reminiscent of my days at Dragonspire, where an orphaned commoner like myself was a perennial outsider in such gatherings.

Masking my discomfort with feigned sociability, I engaged in polite conversation with the snobbish guests, offering strained smiles and forced laughter at their insipid banter and disdainful remarks, many of which were directed at my accompanying companions.

"How much for the redhead of yours? I haven't seen a human like her," a haughty elf in a dazzling suit inquired, eyeing Candace appraisingly as if she were mere merchandise.

"She's not human. She's a fire fairy, and she's not for sale. I'm a collector myself, particularly interested in rare specimens—hence my participation in the tournament and attendance at this event," I replied tersely, hoping to deter further conversation.

Scanning the crowd, her distinctive horns and tail served as a beacon, guiding my gaze to her whereabouts with ease.

"Hey Carla, looking beautiful as ever," I greeted the horned elf girl with a warm smile, finding her stationed alone on the balcony, her demeanor as aloof as ever. Before she could respond, a sharp kick caught me off guard from behind.

"I'll speak with you when my grandfather deems it necessary. For now, leave me be while I attend to my duties," she retorted curtly, her dismissal palpable.

"Don't be a stranger! Just who is your grandfather, anyway? Is he the master of this splendid abode? And why did you allow me to win?" I persisted, attempting to extract some semblance of conversation from the indifferent figure.

"My grandfather mandates that I surrender if anyone manages to endure 30 minutes. Nothing more, nothing less. You are no longer exceptional," she disclosed, offering a rare glimpse into her motivations.

"No longer? So you're aware of my past?" I inquired further.

"Enough to discern your decline. I doubt you're even as formidable as you once were five years ago," she remarked, betraying a flicker of emotion in our exchange.

"Yeah... Life hasn't been kind to me, but I'm gradually accepting it," I replied with a wistful smile, hoping to foster further dialogue.

"I don't know your intentions, but you're out of place here. Leave," she admonished, her words carrying a veiled warning, refusing to divulge more as we retreated to the bustling party, tasked with enduring more unpleasant encounters.

Thankfully, Tina adhered to her promise, maintaining her composure without instigating any incidents, sticking close to her friends without causing disruption.

After what felt like an interminable duration, a servant discreetly broached the subject of a special event held after each tournament party. Given the subtle hints exchanged during our conversation, I was certain this event held the answers we sought.

Following the servant's lead, we were ushered to a magic circle reminiscent of the one Abigail had previously guided us to. With a surge of magic, we were whisked away from the opulent mansion and its extravagant revelry.

Upon our arrival, the anticipated special event unfolded exactly as I had anticipated. We were granted access to the VIP chamber, where exotic races were showcased for sale, attracting the same unsavory characters we had encountered at the party.

Despite the overwhelming sorrow I felt for the captives on display, my primary objective remained clear: identifying the mastermind behind this despicable enterprise.

"Interested in any of the offerings here? Quite a few are from my personal collection," the same elf who had expressed interest in Candace approached me once more, testing my patience with each word.

"Is this the extent of the VIP accommodations? I expected more given the effort it took to secure an invitation. May I speak with someone in authority?" I inquired of the servant, hoping to glean information about the elusive figurehead.

Receiving no useful response from the servant and finding the VIP chamber devoid of relevant information, our collective agitation grew. I was eager to depart, despite our failure to uncover any new leads.

"If you wish to see my grandfather, follow me. However, I advise you to leave the city at this moment," Carla whispered discreetly, materializing beside me once again, her presence both unexpected and unsettling.

"Declining the invitation of an elderly would be impolite, wouldn't it? I shall accept graciously," I replied with a strained smile, noting the girl's stoic demeanor, tinged with an underlying sense of unease.

Trailing behind Carla, I pondered whether I should have heeded her advice and withdrew myself from this precarious situation, in which my involvement was minimal beyond my empathy for Abigail and her kin.

After a brief journey, we arrived at yet another teleportation circle. With Carla leading the way, the magic surged, and we materialized in a chamber befitting royalty.

The expansive chamber boasted a grand ceiling stretching high into multiple stories, adorned with ornate decorations and large windows showcasing breathtaking views. Priceless paintings adorned the walls, complemented by masterful artifacts that bathed the room in a warm, luminous glow. At the far end, an imposing throne commanded attention, occupied by a regal elf exuding dignity and grace.

"I always forget how the wealthy seem to defy age... I envisioned a much older man for a 'grandfather'," I murmured to the girls.

"Silence. Show proper respect if you value your life," Carla warned with stern authority.

"My king, I have brought the man as requested," Carla announced formally, getting on one knee to demonstrate her reverence.

Puzzled by the notion of a "king" within the realm of Yelwraek, where Clare and Cecilla's father, Cyril Yelwraek, reigned as the sole monarch, I began to harbor trepidations about this encounter. Dismissing Carla with a wave, the elf fixed his gaze upon me, leaving me uncertain of how to proceed.

"Ken from the famed Dragonspire. I have long observed you and once believed you might pose a threat to my endeavors to reclaim what is rightfully mine. Funny how fate alters our paths over the years," the elf remarked cryptically.

Uncertain of how to respond or even the identity of this enigmatic figure, I sought guidance from Carla, only to find her pointedly ignoring me, her head bowed respectfully toward the mysterious elf.

"Yes... five years ago, it would have been inconceivable for me to fall to someone not even enrolled in Dragonspire. Yet, I owe you gratitude for sparing me the embarrassment before the crowd," I replied, attempting to engage in conversation and gain more insight.

"Let's dispense with pleasantries. What exactly do you seek? Your intrusion into my affairs is unwelcome. While you may be insignificant now, I cannot ignore your connections with certain heroes, potential obstacles to my plans," the elf stated bluntly, extinguishing any hope of feigned ignorance.

Surveying the room, I realized it wasn't as vacant as I initially perceived. Figures as formidable as Carla materialized seemingly out of thin air, positioned strategically at every possible exit. I understood that any misstep now would result in certain death or enslavement for the three girls, even if I managed to teleport away to safety.

Conceding that concealment was futile, I divulged my experiences over the past five years, assuring the elf of my lack of contact with the heroes and our sole purpose in addressing Abigail's unfortunate situation.

"My informants in Yelwraek informed me of your supposed demise. Your account aligns with what I have heard. So, why not join me? Together, we can exact revenge on Cyril for the injustices you suffered," the elf proposed, his words laced with simmering resentment.

"Forgive my ignorance, but who exactly are you, and what grievances do you hold against the king?" I inquired, sensing the undercurrent of rage beneath the elf’s composed facade.

"I am Cyran Yelwraek, the rightful heir to the throne of Yelwraek. One day soon, I will reclaim the kingdom that rightfully belongs to me," Cyran declared, his words dripping with venom and bitterness. The revelation struck me with sudden clarity, connecting the dots and explaining Carla's uncanny familiarity.