Chapter 39:

Chapter 38. Echoes of Despair

Zero to Hero

"Ken… How did you get into the city? Chloe? Is this why you suddenly asked me to come over?" Clare's voice was filled with confusion and suspicion as she looked at me.

Seeing the confused look on Clare’s face and her reaction after seeing me, I knew right there and then that this reunion won’t be sweet and gentle like the one with Emma.

"Not even a hug? I guess I don’t deserve one after how things ended," I said with a small smile as I entered the room from the open garden.

Giving her sister a disapproving look, Clare grabbed my hand and started walking before I could even greet her mother.

“Why are you here, Ken…” Clare asked after leading me to her bedroom and closing the door so it’s just the two of us.

"The first reason is to apologize to you and Cecilla. The second reason is to get to Sraderham with the teleport circle," I replied, feeling the nostalgia of our intimate time spent inside this very room.

“Apologize for what? My father was the one in the wrong. He backed out on his promise; you did nothing wrong and almost paid with your life… But we can’t change the past… You shouldn’t be here at all. If my father realizes you are here, he won’t spare your life this time.”

Hearing Clare’s concerned tone, my fear slowly faded as I pulled the girl into my arms and embraced her tightly.

“Clare… I was lost after that day. I was broken physically… My mind shattered… I felt like I have lost everything, even my desire to live.” Seeing my lover who witnessed the entire situation, I couldn’t help but break down and tell her how much it broke me that day and how I spent 5 years of my life simply rotting away.


Suddenly, out of nowhere, Clare slapped me with all her strength, startling me out of my pitiful tale.

“Clare?” I questioned, not sure where the slap came from.

“You told me to slap you if I ever felt that you were wrong, remember? I know you felt defeated, wronged, and powerless, but what you did was beyond selfish and absolutely terrible. Did you ever think about the girls?”

As I settled into the opulent sofa in her bedroom, the weight of Clare's disappointment felt heavier than the plush cushions beneath me. I began to recount my encounters with Emma and Rena, detailing how their lives had been dramatically altered over the past 5 years because of my actions. I lamented the missed opportunity to meet Lovetta and the burden of not knowing what had become of others who were once close to me.

“I always knew Emma thinks you are the greatest thing to ever exist in the entire world, but even she should have reacted to your selfishness…”

“I know I was selfish, Clare. I know I prioritized my own concerns over the feelings of others. I understand I can’t change the past, but I'm committed to moving forward the only way I know how—apologizing to those I've wronged and seeking their forgiveness,” I confessed, hoping Clare would recognize the sincerity in my words and grant me a chance at redemption.

“That’s the least you can do now. I can’t imagine how you could leave Alice for over 5 years… For her to have to return to someone else’s blood…”

“Yeah… I’m a real piece of shit, aren’t I?”

“No… You have always been selfish. Going along with your own thoughts, doing what you think is best without considering anyone else.”

Reflecting on my past actions, I couldn't help but acknowledge the countless instances where my selfishness had caused harm.

Looking at the very girl in front of me, I remembered how my stubbornness and refusal to apologize after I had slept with her sister had caused a rift between us that could have been resolved so easily.

“So why are you going to Sraderham? Going to see Rose and then use the teleport circle to go see Alice?” Clare's voice broke the silence as I drifted deep into my thoughts.

I explained to her about my peculiar encounter with Candace and how it spurred my decision to leave the safety of my sanctuary. I recounted our journey, from the unexpected addition of Lovetta’s sister Tina to our encounters with various people and creatures, leading up to our meeting with Carla.

“I didn’t realize one of my father’s brothers was still alive. I knew the battle to inherit the throne was fierce and supposedly that all of my grandfather’s sons except my father were killed. The details were pretty much erased, and none of us ever dared to ask how my father managed to survive and take the throne,” she divulged.

“Well… This Cyran guy is a racist bastard… As much as I hate your father, I don’t think this Cyran would make a better king, so maybe it’s something you should bring up to your father. Anyways, enough about that. Can you forgive me and travel with me to Sraderham and beyond? Having you with me would make everything so much better,” I implored, hoping to rekindle our bond.

Knock knock knock…

“Mom! Grandmother said it’s time for us to go home and go to bed,” a young girl’s voice interrupted from outside the closed door.

“You and grandmother go ahead; mom has more things to discuss with our guest and will be home later,” Clare responded, her gaze fixed on me.

Looking at Clare and recalling Chloe’s words, I realized that Clare wasn’t simply living outside of the castle for a change of scenery.

“Ken… Soon after my father got rid of you, both Cecilla and I were married off. Cecilla was sent to Nafluica over 4 years ago, and I haven’t heard from her since. That was my daughter Callie; she’s almost 3 years old now,” Clare confided softly, leaving me stunned by the revelation.

“That’s fine. You were forced into the marriage, right? Run away with me. We’ll take your daughter with us and leave,” I pleaded, my mind racing, desperate for Clare to return to me.

“Ken, I loved you, still do. You are and will forever be the only man I have ever loved romantically. I despised the man who impregnated me. I hated that I had to bear a child for someone who wasn’t you. But when my daughter was born, my hatred vanished, and I just wanted the best for Callie. If I were alone, I would have packed everything and followed you to the ends of the earth. But with Callie… things are different. If I were to disappear with his daughter, there is nowhere in the world we could run or hide. He would eventually find us, and you would be killed,” Clare confessed, her words heavy with the weight of their implications.

“I will train! Train harder than I ever have before! I will get stronger. Strong enough to protect you and Callie. I won’t ever reach the levels of the heroes, but I can become strong enough to defeat all those corrupted and perhaps even most of the blessed. Please, Clare. Give me a chance. I don’t want to lose you again,” I pleaded with the girl, unable to bear the thought of losing her a second time.

“Could you ever beat Zishell?” Clare asked me simply.

“No… No one could, Clare. But even your father won’t send him after us once we escape with the teleport circle!”

“Ken… Zishell is Callie’s father. Unless you can defeat Zishell, there is nowhere for us to run,” Clare explained calmly.

“Isn’t that bastard your uncle!” I exclaimed, my emotions boiling over and escaping in a torrent of anger.

“Many royals marry within the family to keep the bloodline pure, Ken. I never knew he was interested, but my father was more than happy when he demanded to strengthen the bond with him. I’m glad to see you one final time, Ken… I never thought I would get to see you again after what happened, but we won’t ever get to be together again. Zishell has become almost like a completely different person since receiving his new power. His personality and demeanor have changed, and his power is beyond anything anyone could ever imagine.”

As Clare spoke, her words seemed to swirl around me, leaving me in a state of disbelief and denial.

“Ken, I’m going to head back now. I don’t have much contact with Zishell since Callie’s birth, but I don’t want the servants or his other lovers to get suspicious. You should keep a low profile and leave here as soon as you can,” Clare advised, rising from the sofa and making her way to the door, leaving me dazed and bewildered.

“Wait! Clare!” I called out, rushing after her and grabbing her hand before she could leave.

As I held her hand, I felt it tremble, and I saw tears streaming down her flawless cheeks as I turned her back toward me.

“Clare… This can’t be the end for us. Is there anything we can do?” I pleaded, holding her tightly.

“Ken, I want nothing more than to go back to how things were. Us, as naive kids with simple problems, big dreams, and totally in love with nothing that could stop us. But life doesn't always turn out the way we hope…” Clare's voice trailed off, her words heavy with resignation.

With one final kiss, Clare disappeared from the room, leaving me alone in the darkness, overwhelmed with emotion.

“How long are you going to stay there sobbing? I said I wasn’t going to feel sorry for you…” Chloe's voice snapped me out of my despair, and I forced myself to regain composure.

“Thanks, Chloe, for setting up this meeting. I should get going now,” I managed to say, still reeling from the emotional turmoil.

“My sister is living the best life she can with the circumstances. She hasn’t stopped training or striving for strength despite her limitations. You could learn a thing or two from her,” Chloe remarked, her words echoing in my mind as I prepared to leave.

Giving Chloe a small smile, I thanked her once again before heading back to the mansion, feeling a weight of uncertainty settle upon me.

“You were moping for so long that Franklin’s already back from dropping my sister off. If you ever need anything from me, just head to the academy around 6 pm. Franklin will be outside to pick me up,” Chloe added before I entered the carriage to return to the mansion.

As the carriage carried me home, I thanked Franklin for his assistance and then found myself lying on the grassy lawn outside the mansion, staring up at the stars, lost in thought.

“I knew something was up when Yami wanted to come out so badly. How long have you been out here?” a voice broke the silence.

“Who knows,” I replied, turning to see the fairy girl, her pink eyes glittering in the moonlight, and Yami wagging her tail happily.

“Didn’t you say you loved all your girls equally? I didn’t see this level of depression when we were in your hometown and your queen lover ditched you,” she observed.

Reflecting on the depth of my feelings, I admitted softly, “I guess it takes losing something to realize its true worth to me.”

“Want to spend tonight with me?” Candace asked softly, her offer tempting in my moment of vulnerability.

“If we have sex now, I will just be using you as an escape. Are you alright with that?” I countered, trying to maintain some semblance of integrity.

“Sure! Once you've experienced this perfection, you'll be head over heels for me and forget about anyone else!” Candace replied confidently, eliciting a small smile from me.

“Thanks, Candace. Let’s just get some rest. I have a lot to think through,” I said, declining her offer, feeling a mix of disappointment and gratitude.

Back in the mansion, Carla stood silently in the corner, her presence unnoticed until I spoke to her. Tina was already asleep, and I bid Candace a sincere goodnight before retiring to my room.

Lying in bed with Yami beside me, I couldn’t shake the conversation with Clare from my mind. As the night wore on, I found myself grappling with conflicting emotions, longing for resolution yet haunted by the overwhelming and almighty presence of Zishell.