Chapter 40:

Chapter 39. Disheartened Preparations

Zero to Hero

"Get up! Time for me to show off in the tournament!" The wolf girl's boisterous wake-up call shattered the tranquility of my slumber, as it did every morning. With a resigned sigh, I peeled myself from the comfort of my bed, steeling myself for the day ahead.

Three weeks had passed since my encounter with Clare. The first week was a haze of self-pity and inertia, broken only by the persistent nudging of Tina and Candace, who refused to let me wallow in misery indefinitely. Slowly but surely, their efforts pulled me back from the brink, coaxing me to re-engage with the world.

During the second week, I made several futile attempts to arrange another meeting with Clare through Chloe, only to be met with polite but firm refusals. It became clear that Clare had no interest in revisiting the past, leaving me to grapple with the reality of our fractured relationship.

Now, three weeks into our stay at Yelwreak, I had begrudgingly accepted that Clare might never be a part of my life again. Though the thought weighed heavily on my heart, I resolved to focus on moving forward, clinging to the hope that time might heal the wounds between us.

Most of my days were spent training with Carla, the enigmatic elf whose quiet demeanor belied a keen intellect and formidable skills. Though she remained somewhat elusive, I found solace in her company, the rhythm of our training sessions providing a sense of stability amidst the chaos of my emotions.

As for Candace and Tina, their unwavering support provided a much-needed anchor in turbulent seas. Though our relationship was strictly platonic, their antics and companionship brought a much-needed lightness to my days, reminding me that joy could still be found in the simplest of moments.

Emerging from the mansion after a hearty breakfast, we made our way to the stadium where Tina had eagerly signed up for yet another tournament. Yami, my faithful winged wolf companion, trotted alongside us, her presence a comforting reminder of the bonds that held us together.

"Why do you get to ride on Yami! Let me on too!" protested the wolf girl, eyeing my companion with envy.

"Find your own ride!" I chuckled, playfully attempting to fend her off as we made our way towards the stadium, excitement bubbling in the air.

With each passing day, my loyal companion, Yami, grew in size, her majestic wingspan rivaling that of a great eagle. She had become a formidable beast, capable of carrying me effortlessly through the skies. Yet, despite her impressive stature, she couldn't quite substitute for our need of horses, especially with our party of four.

Unable to pry the wolf girl off Yami's back without distressing my faithful companion, I resigned myself to sharing the journey on foot with Candace and Carla. As we strolled towards the stadium, the wolf girl relished her newfound vantage point, the wind tousling her fur as she soared ahead.

"Why haven't you entered any tournaments? You could have easily dominated some of those daily bouts, unlike that wolf girl," Candace remarked, curiosity lacing her tone.

"Not my cup of tea. I only joined at my grandfather's behest," Carla replied nonchalantly.

"Do you only kill on his orders as well? You were rather ruthless during the fights except with me when you let me win." I teased, probing for insight into Carla's enigmatic demeanor.

"His directive was clear: fight with all your might at all times. If an opponent lasted thirty minutes, I was to yield, allowing him the opportunity to recruit them. You were fortunate enough to survive," Carla divulged, her words punctuated by a silence that hinted at unspoken truths.

"Really now? I had a feeling you spared me in our sparring sessions because you didn't fancy ending my life," I countered, met with Carla's stoic silence, a testament to her unwillingness to fabricate falsehoods.

Arriving at the colossal stadium, we bid Tina farewell as she ventured backstage to join the other participants. Thanks to my 'infinite money glitch', I had secured a private viewing box away from prying eyes, a precaution to avoid drawing undue attention and risking exposure, keeping true to Clare’s warning.

It was a curious twist of fate that, despite my notoriety just five years prior—my high-profile marriage to two princesses and all—I now roamed the streets of Yelwraek in relative anonymity. According to Tina, my unkempt facial hair lent me the appearance of a grizzled elder, while Candace offered a more cynical explanation, blaming the elves' inherent prejudice for failing to distinguish my appearance from every other human.

Regardless of the reason, I was content to honor my promise to Chloe for staying in the city, steering clear of trouble without needing to alter my daily routine.

As we cheered Tina on in the tournament, Carla's brother, Carter, materialized seemingly out of thin air, bearing news that promised to disrupt the tranquility of our lives once more.

"My man has completed the spell and contained it in an artifact. You simply need to activate it once you are inside the teleport circle and you will be teleported to Sraderham. Have you figured out a way to get inside the main castle yet?" Carter's abrupt appearance in our private viewing box heralded the resurgence of our clandestine plans.

"In two weeks. They're hosting a royal ball to commemorate the union between one of the princes and the daughter of a prominent lord," I divulged to Carter, sketching out the intricate details of our upcoming scheme.

Apparently, this lord hailed from distant lands west of Yelwraek territory, boasting vast wealth and influence. His impending arrival, along with his sizable entourage, promised heightened security within the castle walls. However, it also presented an unprecedented opportunity for Carter's operatives to secure strategic positions among the castle guards. Meanwhile, my party could masquerade as part of the lord's retinue, should our cover be compromised.

"Very well. I'll set my men in motion to secure guard positions at the main castle gate for the event," Carter affirmed before vanishing from our midst, his interest in the tournament fights evidently nonexistent.

Returning my focus to the ongoing matches, the tournament Tina entered was a small one day tournament with only 8 participants and garnered only a small crowd compared to the stadium filled affairs at Aenwyn.

Unlike the lethal spectacles of Aenwyn as well, Yelwraek's matches adhered to stricter regulations similar to the ones we used to host at Dragonspire, with contestants provided protective artifacts and bouts called upon their shattering.

"I can't believe I lost!" the wolf girl bemoaned as she joined us in the viewing box, her second-place finish clearly rankling her pride.

"I'm surprised you made it past the first round," I teased, earning myself a glare from the wolf girl, whose simmering aggression hinted at her less-than-amused response.

With the tournament concluded before midday, families dispersed throughout the arena while enterprising businessmen peddled lessons and activities to eager patrons in the city filled with wealth and prosperity.

"If all goes according to plan, we'll be departing in two weeks. Feel free to sign up for any more tournaments you desire," I informed the wolf girl as we prepared to depart the stadium.

"Finally! I was starting to think we'd be stuck here forever," she exclaimed, her impatience palpable.

Preferring to let her vent her frustrations, I held my tongue, silently acknowledging her role in injecting some much-needed excitement into our otherwise mundane existence. As we approached the registration booth, the wolf girl wasted no time signing up for every available tournament, her enthusiasm undimmed by the prospect of countless battles ahead.

Our days fell into a predictable rhythm: shopping excursions with Candace, acquiring trinkets and baubles destined to be left behind; spectating Tina's relentless procession through tournaments of all sizes; and devoting what remained of my time to honing my skills alongside Carla and Yami, with occasional visits to Yelwraek Academy to check on Chloe. The next fortnight passed in a blur of monotony, until at last, the hour arrived to set our plan into motion.

As we awaited Franklin's arrival to transport us, Candace embarked on a mission of benevolence, gifting the servants with the excesses accumulated over our five-week stay. Though I couldn't help but sympathize with their plight, my own circumstances left me powerless to offer any substantial assistance beyond the simple dignity they deserved.

Expressing our gratitude to the servants for their patience and diligence throughout our residency, we hastily packed the bare necessities upon Franklin's discreet knock at the door. With a collective sense of anticipation tinged with apprehension, we departed for the castle, trusting in the hope that our carefully laid plans would unfold without a hitch.