Chapter 41:

Chapter 40. Vows

Zero to Hero

"How are we gonna sneak your dog inside? She's too big for the stupid carriage. Are we leaving her behind too?" The wolf girl's question rang out, met with a scoff from me at the mere suggestion of abandoning Yami.

"Chloe will meet us near the gates and get Yami through. And stop calling Yami a dog... she's a wolf, you canine-centric nitwit," I countered sharply as we settled into the carriage, Yami soaring gracefully above us.

"Is that why you didn't bring Abigail along then? Don't tell me you've got something against dog beastmen," Candace prodded, while Tina bristled at the derogatory term.

"What nonsense! I'm not a bigot like Carla or her ilk. I have nothing against dogs, but look at Tina's reaction to being called a dog beastman. Clearly, she's the one with the superiority complex. Besides, Abigail made her own choice," I explained, exasperation lacing my words.

As we bickered over trivialities, the carriage rattled along the paved roads, coming to a halt just shy of the castle grounds. There, I directed Yami to follow Chloe before we continued towards our destination.

Upon arriving at the sprawling castle grounds, Candace and Tina gawked at the sheer size of the structure. Dominating the landscape, the main castle and its surrounding gardens dwarfed the countless side wings that housed the king's extensive family.

Once inside Chloe's residence, Candace and Tina wasted no time in exploring their new surroundings, leaving Carla and me to wait in the dining room for Chloe's return with Yami.

"I suppose you and Chloe are related, right? She's your aunt or something, even though you're older?" I ventured, attempting to fill the silence.

"My grandfather has over a hundred offspring, and hundreds more grandchildren and perhaps even thousands of great-grandchildren. I’m sure the fake king’s got even more, having a few relatives is hardly noteworthy," Carla replied with her trademark indifference.

"Who are you calling the fake king?" Chloe's voice interrupted from the garden entrance, but Carla remained silent, her usual response to unwanted inquiries. Apart from her family and her grandfather's lackeys, I was one of the few who could coax her into conversation.

Seeking to defuse the tension, I introduced the girls to Chloe, expressing gratitude for her assistance in gaining access to the castle grounds.

"I can see why you're going to such lengths to help her," Chloe remarked, casting a knowing glance at Candace and me, her unspoken implications hanging in the air.

"Whatever insinuations you're entertaining, I'm simply honoring a promise and avoiding disappointment. Besides, I have to visit Darrumburgh to check up on Alice," I replied, a sense of foreboding clouding my thoughts at the mention of Alice's name and what could have happened with her.

"You haven't forgotten about Cecilla, have you?" Chloe interjected, a gentle reminder of the other princess who remained firmly lodged in my memory.

"Nafluica won't be easily accessible given the current circumstances. It may be some time before I can attempt to retrieve Cecilla," I admitted reluctantly, mindful of the formidable obstacles that lay ahead.

"Just so you're aware, Xandrian was one of the blessed ones. In your current state, you'd be no match for him so getting Cecilla back from Nafluica won’t be any easier for you," Chloe informed me, her words casting a shadow over my already uncertain plans.

Learning from Clare that Cecilla had been wedded off to Nafluica, and later discovering that Xandrian was her spouse, hadn't come as a complete surprise. However, the revelation of his blessed status threw a wrench into my carefully laid plans.

"After settling Candace's village and, hopefully, reconciling with Alice, I intend to journey to Kirksawald. There, Tina can speak with her brother Zeev, and I can seek forgiveness from Lovetta. With any luck, I'll convince Osmar to accompany me to Nafluica and retrieve Cecilla," I outlined, acknowledging the daunting challenges that lay ahead.

"That's a lot of 'hopeful' in one statement," Chloe remarked, echoing the uncertainty that loomed over our future endeavors, a sentiment shared by Tina and Candace.

"Well, I'll give it my best shot, but I'm only human. I'll need the assistance of people like you Chloe to navigate the obstacles beyond my capabilities," I conceded, recognizing the importance of relying on allies in my quest.

"Better than wallowing in self-pity as before! We're making progress! Who knows? Maybe you'll realize your potential to become the strongest!" Candace chimed in with unwavering optimism, setting impossible expectations for me.

"He'll grow stronger with training, but he'll never be the strongest," Carla interjected flatly, shutting down Candace's relentless optimism with her characteristic bluntness, much to Candace's frustration.

"Alright, enough fooling around," I interjected, drawing the attention of the girls as I produced the map Carter had provided of the main castle. It was time for one final review to ensure they understood our plan in case of failure.

"Remember, if things go awry, head back to Chloe's place. None of you have any reason to arouse suspicion. I'm the one who might face consequences," I reminded them solemnly as we prepared to depart for the main castle alongside Chloe.

Approaching the imposing structure, I expressed my gratitude to Chloe for her invaluable assistance as she parted ways with us, Yami in tow, tasked with discreetly smuggling my companion inside.

"Good luck, Ken. I hope everything goes smoothly tonight and in the future. Take responsibility for your actions to avoid causing harm," Chloe advised, her words laden with concern as she bid us farewell.

"Don't burden yourself too much, Chloe. You don't want to end up like me," I quipped, feeling a pang of guilt at the weight she carried on her shoulders, far too reminiscent of my own struggles.

"I am a princess of the Yelwraek kingdom, not some hapless hillbilly who buckles under pressure," Chloe retorted before vanishing from view, leaving me to ponder the weight of her responsibilities.

"I'm relieved she's not interested in you. Having a beautiful princess as a rival would be enough pressure for anyone," Candace remarked, attempting to lighten the mood.

"Only a total dimwit like you would be interested in me right now," I shot back with a grin, prompting Tina to join in with her characteristic banter.

"A colossal dimwit!" Tina chimed in cheerfully, the familiar dynamic between the two girls resuming effortlessly.

As we arrived at the main castle, the grandeur of its double marble doors left the girls in awe. Towering at least fifty feet tall, they stood as an imposing testament to the power within.

While the girls marveled at the entrance, I surveyed the surroundings, ensuring the correct guards were stationed. Moving towards the door, we fell into step behind Carla, adopting the guise of her entourage as we prepared to embark on the next phase of our plan.

Despite Carla's distinctive features—her horn and tail setting her apart from the average elves—the bustling population of Yelwraek City meant such physical anomalies weren't as rare as one might think. With Yelwraek blood coursing through her veins, Carla effortlessly blended in, her noble bearing warding off any suspicion.

Reaching the guards, instead of providing an invitation letter like the normal guests, Carla simply showed the guard a letter from Carter for the appearance of an invitation while the guard pretended to authenticate the letter with his artifact. With a casual wave, we were ushered inside, seamlessly integrating into the throng of guests as we infiltrated the heart of the kingdom.

"Wow, that was a breeze! You made it sound like such a big deal," Tina boasted, her contribution to our success questionable at best.

"Well, if it makes you feel better, only a fool like me—and those foolish enough to follow—would attempt such a stunt," I quipped, scanning the surroundings for any signs of trouble.

Following Carla's lead, we veered off in a different direction, bypassing the crowded ballroom and swiftly navigating the labyrinthine corridors towards our destination—the room housing the teleportation circle.

Suddenly, a familiar figure caught my eye, and I knew I couldn't leave without at least one more conversation.

"You all go ahead, I need to speak to someone. Wait for me in the room, and stay out of trouble! I won't be long," I instructed the girls before darting off.

Dressed in resplendent blue attire and adorned with magnificent jewelry, Clare's radiance outshone even the most opulent of ornaments. It was undeniable—she was the most beautiful woman in the world.

"Clare," I called out, catching her by surprise as she turned to face me.

"Ken! What are you doing here?" she exclaimed, a hint of concern in her voice.

"Clare, please come with me," I implored, gripping her shoulders and meeting her gaze, desperate for a chance to make amends.

"Ken... You need to leave before someone recognizes you," she urged, her eyes darting anxiously around us.

"Let go of my mom!" a small voice interjected angrily, and I felt a sharp kick to my shin.

Glancing down, I realized I had been so focused on Clare that I hadn't even noticed her young daughter standing beside her the entire time.

"Callie, don't be unkind to Ken. He's very important to Mom," Clare chided her daughter gently, casting a reassuring glance in my direction.

Returning my focus to Clare, my gaze fell upon the necklace she wore—a simple, roughly cut sapphire gemstone dangling from a worn string. It was a token I had given her almost a decade ago, a hasty and thoughtless gift exchanged in our youth. Despite its humble appearance, Clare, the most exquisite woman I had ever known, continued to wear it.

"Are you still certain about your decision?" I inquired one last time, my fingers tracing the cold, rough stone and the frayed string barely holding the charm together.

Without uttering a word, I already knew her answer. Zishell's presence loomed as an insurmountable obstacle in our path.

Harnessing the power of my earth element magic, I fashioned a new thin string out of pure platinum—a metal renowned for its durability and forever lasting—to secure the gemstone in place.

"Clare, I don't know what it will entail, how long it will take, or what sacrifices will be required. But one day, I will return and reclaim what is rightfully mine. Please wait for me." I vowed solemnly.

"That's the confident Ken I remember," Clare replied with a bittersweet smile.

Unable to restrain myself, I enveloped her in a tight embrace, cherishing the moment until she gently urged me to depart before arousing suspicion.

Reluctantly releasing her, I offered a reassuring smile to her inquisitive daughter before vanishing from the corridors, making my way to the isolated tower housing the teleportation circle.

Navigating through the castle, I encountered few individuals preoccupied with the festivities, my journey largely uneventful save for the occasional nod of acknowledgment.

"Why the long face? Your eyes are all red!" Tina remarked, her blunt observation only adding to my discomfort.

"Chloe left a while ago. She said she had to attend the ball or face her father's wrath. Did you happen to see Clare?" Candace informed me as I retrieved the artifact provided by Carter.

Sealing the door behind us, I activated the artifact, its magic igniting the dormant teleportation circle etched into the floor. With a surge of power, the circle glowed, its arcane patterns intertwining until the magic was fully unleashed.

As we vanished from the confines of Yelwraek's capital city, leaving behind a trail of unresolved emotions, I vowed to myself that I would return one day, no matter the cost, to reclaim the woman I loved, even if it meant confronting Zishell, the most formidable being in existence.

[author]Hi everyone. My move is finally coming! Going to move half way across the world and try to start a business and see how it works out. Not sure when I will resume posting but I do have 25 more chapters written that just needs to be proofread and edited and I will definitely be writing when I have free time and finish the entire story eventually. Will finally have access to my pc soon so will be able to create some more character artwork and what not. For now, this is probably the last chapter for at least a few months until I am settled. [/author]

Zero to Hero