Chapter 35:

Chapter 34. Shadows of the Past

Zero to Hero


The sound echoed through the crisp air, punctuating Tina's frustration. "Why are you always spaced out when I’m talking to you!"

"Tina… Do you know what this place is? This is Yelwraek City, the capital of the most powerful kingdom. The city where the most formidable being, Zishell, resides."

Candace couldn't resist interjecting, her voice laden with unnecessary detail, "The place where he lost his lovers. The place where he was beaten to a pulp and left for dead. The very place that turned him into a hermit for five long years."

"My grandfather said the defeat was brutal. Zishell obliterated him, while his former girlfriends had to plead with that fake king to spare his life," Carla added monotonously, her words falling like stones.

After a month of journeying with the corrupted elf girl, with her devilish horns, strange tail, and glowing red eyes, I still barely knew her.

She was never one to initiate conversation, often preferring silence, punctuated only by sporadic remarks. Every attempt I made to engage her in meaningful dialogue was met with terse replies or stony silence. The only subject she seemed inclined to discuss was the tragic saga of her grandfather and the usurpation of the throne by the king of Yelwraek. She harbored a fervent belief that one day her grandfather would reclaim his rightful place.

But I had little interest in the melodrama of a self-proclaimed king, whenever she began to recount her family's tale, I would quickly redirect the conversation and the girl would fall into silence.

"STOP IGNORING ME!" Tina's shout jolted me back to the present as we drew nearer to the towering walls of the city.

"What… What do you want?" I asked wearily.

"I said we need to enter a tournament here and kick some ass!"

"More like getting your ass kicked," I retorted as the wolf girl leaped from her horse with a flying kick.

"Why are you always so unhinged!" I shouted at the fool who had startled both our horses, setting them into a frenzied panic.

Fortunately, Yami had experienced another substantial growth spurt in the past month and now stood the size of a large horse. Swiftly maneuvering in front of our terrified mounts, my formidable wolf companion skillfully calmed them, granting me control of the tumultuous situation.

"Thanks, Yami. The only one I can depend on in this group of crazies."

"Hey! How am I crazy?"

"Candace… You've tried to sneak into my sleeping bag or my bed at an inn every single night! If you're feeling that horny, find yourself a handsome guy instead of trying to seduce me when I'm not interested."

"Who are you calling horny! You're the odd one for not wanting to have a romance with someone as stunning as me!"

"He probably likes men. None of those I guide to Yelwraek City could go a day without needing me in bed, and this whole month he hasn't asked for it once." Once again, the elf girl randomly chimed in, delivering a completely absurd statement with a deadpan expression.

"Both of you, shut up… After more than five years of abstinence, I've come to the realization that sex is nothing without love," I declared with a blatantly false assertion.

As much as I cherished my past lovers and resolved to maintain self-discipline, the struggle persisted to resist Candace's relentless provocations and Carla's unsettling resemblance to Clare and Cecilla.

"Do we have to go through the guards, or do you have some special underground passageway like in Aenwyn?" I inquired of the horned elf girl, attempting to steer the conversation away as we drew nearer to the city walls.

"Don't be foolish. It's Yelwraek City; naturally, there are no special passageways. There are specific shifts where the guards are under my grandfather's command. Just follow me, and we'll enter without issue. Our clientele have never faced any trouble bringing their slaves into the city without verification checks," the girl replied, oblivious to the moral implications of her words.

"Let's set up camp here. We'll need to wait until nightfall before heading for the checkpoint," Carla declared as our horses halted about thirty minutes from the city walls.

"Elf! How often do they hold tournaments in this city?" Tina demanded, her distance from Carla unchanged despite a month of travel together, largely due to Carla's frosty demeanor.

"I don't know. I never stay long and only participate in tournaments at home when my grandfather commands me."

"My grandfather, my grandfather. Can't you utter a single sentence without mentioning him?" Tina snapped, but the elf girl retreated into silence, ignoring the irate wolf girl, which only served to stoke Tina's frustration.

"Tina... She's not going to engage with you, so stop getting so worked up," Candace interjected, attempting to placate her companion, their bond however having strengthened even more over months of travel.

"Enough chatter. If you're bursting with energy, spar with Yami and help my wolf get stronger," I instructed the girl, preparing to spar with Carla during the downtime.

Though I had accepted my limitations and the insignificance of my abilities, I endeavored to divert my thoughts from physical desires during the dull journey. Taking a cue from Carla, I often opted to run rather than ride my horse, focusing on building stamina. Most of my downtime was spent sparring with the elf girl.

Needless to say, with my stamina training and sparring, my skills now surpassed their peak from five years ago. While it was nothing to boast about, at this rate, I was confident I would surpass this brutish elf in under three months.

"Why do you only train with the elf, and I have to babysit your dog?" Tina's complaint echoed loudly as night fell, and Carla announced it was time to make our way to the city gate.

"Stop calling my majestic winged wolf a dog… Besides, if I spar with you, it won't be training since you are too weak," I replied honestly, bracing myself for the usual onslaught of dissent.

Arriving at the gate around 8 p.m., the line was still dauntingly long, with hundreds of vigilant guards ushering people into different lanes for inspection.

Following closely behind the horned elf, we joined the queue like everyone else. When it was finally our turn, we were directed to the appropriate line, where our guards conducted a superficial inspection of our belongings. After wasting a few more minutes, the guards waved us through the towering gates, and I found myself once again in the city that had changed my life.

"So what's the plan from here?" I inquired of the elf girl.

"We will stay at one of my grandfather's mansions tonight and meet with some of his subordinates tomorrow to discuss how we can gain you access to the teleport circle. Once we're outside of Yelwraek, it will be up to you how we proceed," the girl replied, leading the way to her grandfather's opulent residence.

"How long do you think we'll be staying here?"

"Who knows? Maybe a week? A month? It won't be easy gaining access to that teleport circle. You'll have to discuss the details with the experts tomorrow."

As our horses thundered down the well-paved stone streets, my thoughts involuntarily turned to the one thing I dreaded. I began to wonder about the two princesses I had been forced to abandon when the king deemed me unworthy. Were they still here? How would they react if they saw me now? Would they mirror Emma's response or Rena's?

"I remember now! That Clare girl who's supposedly the most beautiful in the world was a regular during the tournaments, wasn't she? I don't recall ever being struck with awe by her," Candace's voice abruptly snapped me back to reality.

"Her beauty must have blinded you," I replied casually, attempting to divert my thoughts.

"We definitely need to stay long enough to enter a tournament. I need to put all this training to work," Tina chimed in, displaying her short memory by seemingly forgetting Carla's near-fatal encounter.

Engaging in banter with Tina and Candace about trivial matters, Carla remained silent as ever. My spirits gradually lifted as we paused for dinner before pressing on for a few more hours, finally reaching the bustling center district of the vast city.

"Just how wealthy is your grandfather? This place is colossal!" Tina exclaimed as we halted before a grand mansion, even more extravagant than the one we had visited in Aenwyn.

"He earns a substantial sum from slave buyers and gamblers during tournaments. But we are still far from amassing enough wealth to muster a proper army to reclaim the kingdom," the girl replied, still clinging to the delusion that her grandfather could overthrow Yelwraek City with Zishell at its helm.

Realizing the futility of arguing with the brainwashed elf, we entered the mansion, where a swarm of "servants" eagerly attended to our every need, only to be rebuked by Candace for attempting to serve me when I decided to bathe.

"Only I can join him in the bath or in bed! All of you better stay away from him!" Candace asserted adamantly.

"Candace, I don't want you or anyone else in the bath or bed with me unless, by some miracle, I get Clare and Cecilla back," I responded wistfully.

After some lighthearted banter, I retreated to the opulent marble bathhouse alone, seeking solace in the steaming hot water, hoping for a smooth journey devoid of further obstacles.

Returning to the living room to spend some time with the girls, we engaged in idle chatter while Carla watched in silence as the servants prepared our rooms. With our accommodations ready, we followed the servants to our respective rooms.

"Goodnight, everyone. Candace, please refrain from sneaking into my room tonight. Yami is tired of dealing with your antics every night," I requested firmly before closing the door to my room, shutting out any potential protests.

Inside the luxurious confines of my room, I lay awake on the plush bed, stroking Yami's fur and reminiscing about my past with the princesses, lamenting their absence and fearing what fate might have befallen them before succumbing to exhaustion.