Azhure: I got college, work, and plain burnout. I guess finishing this story will take a long time.
“Tell me, Ronald, what would happen if you guys knew what I’m doing?” Joshua asked.
Ronald was a bit startled when Joshua asked him back, putting his foot down. Nevertheless, he gave his answer, “We would cause some changes to your rebellion, for better or worse which would depend on the Guardians and all of our input,” without a shred of doubt. “But what is certain is your rather… direct approach wouldn’t be well received.”
“And that’s exactly why,” Joshua replied, leaning forward. “I don’t want to take the risk of the Court’s interference to jeopardize everything.”
“His argument is valid,” Aqua interjected. “For as long as I became the Fire Guardian, I have seen the Otherworldly Court’s track record of handling things to be rather… inconsistent.” Clicking to herself, she then exclaimed, “oh, who am I kidding? We fail in missions more than tolerable! Even when we do not, it is usually a bittersweet victory that all of us are unsatisfied with.”
Owen could tell; the constant failure to defeat the Green Deity of Geron Yor, the Vengeful Remnants in Kaomagi, the cultists at Qantasia getting the jump on them, the Maneg Beast hunt back in Kaomagi where Alicia got close to dying, and of course, everything that happened in Beohar.
“I will not say I know exactly why this is so, but I do know that this has to do with the fact that we never commit fully to an action,” Aqua declared, putting her hands to her waists. “For one, almost every Court Wizard I have sent off to missions barely brings anything other than their person – rarely do I see them bringing even a Catalyst for a particular assignment. And that is not to mention who the Court Wizard I have to send!”
Owen only needed to look at everyone else to know the Fire Guardian was pretty much taking the opportunity to rant about the Otherworldly Court Guardian experience. Well, she’s not wrong, unless you’re on an operation, you would mostly be assigned to random missions that came out as needed, routine or otherwise.
In a sense, it felt like an adventurer’s guild system where random quests that popped out were given to whoever was available. The analogy made more sense when Court Wizards were compensated by commission for every mission rather than a fixed salary.
“We hold back because of guilty conscience from the First Guardians era because our predecessors before that were no different than the cursed dragons,” Aqua continued her piece. “Well, the more I explain this to recruited Court Wizards, the more I believe how crippling this sentiment is. Not to make light of 1246, but our half-assed commitment is exactly why it happened!”
“That’s… quite a bold statement you made there, Aqua,” Ronald said agape. Even Joshua nodded in agreement on how the greater water spirit could bring up such a sensitive topic among Court Wizards.
“Indeed, and I am supposed to be the conservative one,” she replied sarcastically. “Please, I am the first to try new things among greater spirits – I am the one who started the blessing culture. You could say this is one of the reasons why I supported Joshua’s rebellion.”
“…I feel there is more to that,” Ronald suspected, bending forward to have his head rest on the back of his hands and his elbows resting on the table.
“I am sure you already know it,” Aqua deadpanned, putting her hands down. “But I suppose you children have not,” she then said as she looked at the younger Court Wizards. “It was long before I became the Fire Guardian, long before I first encountered you Court Wizards. I could start from the cursed dragons, but we will be here for a long time.”
“No, you don’t need to go that far,” Ronald shook his head.
“Get to the point, Aqua,” William, her fellow Guardian, grumbled.
“Ehehe…” Rin chuckled quietly.
“Alright. At first, I uphold the rules we imposed on ourselves, watching over my territory impartially with the humans living there, not even with the Fichs empire’s rapid conquest,” the greater water spirit began her story. “Then, I met the first Illyer, a member of the Kirash royal family who volunteered to fight the expanding empire. On a whim, I appeared before him. We talked, and by the end of it, I decided for the first time to set aside my neutrality and gave him my blessing.”
It was mostly the same story Owen had already heard, honestly. The difference here was that it came straight from Aqua, not by second-hand accounts, and hearing it from her person made it seem like a new experience.
“Truthfully, there were no explicit benefits to it. I am still hesitant to cast my impartiality fully aside, so it was a hollow blessing, just saying I bless him,” Aqua confessed. “And yet, everyone allowed their minds to run wild with its non-existent implications; it made the Illyers prominent, made the spirits adore them, and scared the Fichs empire from advancing – it is quite amazing what a single utterance can do. I had to explain myself to the other greater spirits with my decision, but soon enough they started doing it too.”
The last bit was new. I don’t think anyone mentioned Aqua’s perspective of things, Owen thought.
“Of course, the Illyers were still people. Soon enough, the next couple of generations became more conceited over the empty blessing and the water spirits noticed it,” Aqua continued. “As such, they began to give them a wide berth, breaking the cycle of arrogance bit by bit. And then came Allister.”
Alicia perked up when she mentioned her grandfather’s name.
“Funny enough, the first Illyer I have met was named Allister too,” Aqua chuckled at the memory. “And the Allister you know is just like his ancestor. Soon enough, the Illyers became what it used to be,” she iterated happily, something the other two water spirits nodded to. “However, that does not erase the sins of their past. The Fichs finally invaded and Allister fended them off at the cost of his father’s life. Then, the next problem came in the form of the current king sitting on the Kirash throne, Van va Kirash,” she said, catching their attention.
“At the time, he was the second prince,” Ronald explained to those who didn’t know. Owen and Alicia had already been bored to death with the story. “Despite not being in line for the throne, his father the previous king favored him over his firstborn, Albert, Alicia’s uncle.”
“Uhn?” Rin noticed something. “So does that mean king Van is also big sis Alicia’s uncle?”
The others looked at the black-haired girl with a growing realization from her remark. Rin could only fluster feeling she had said something she shouldn’t have. In the end, it was best not to think about it.
“…Moving on, this favoritism allowed Van to compete for the throne, not to mention his own cunning,” Ronald continued. “Now, we generally interfere with local politics only if it’s clear it’ll cause people to suffer if we do not or if there is a good reason to. In this case, there was: Van wanted to wage war against the Fichs empire once he’s king.”
“Which surprised me when the previous king fell ill, Allister started a succession war supporting the first prince to deny Van’s ambition,” Aqua interjected wearily. “Unfortunately, Allister was more of a fighter than a politician. Soon, Van managed to gain the upper hand over him.”
“And that’s where we come in,” Ronald then said. “…I think I’m beginning to see the reason for your decision, Aqua.”
“Yes, I had told myself to not aid Allister’s situation, not after having blessed his lineage once. My friends were still very upset when I first broke our neutrality,” Aqua continued with a sigh. “Then, you two came requesting legitimacy to protect the duke at the most convenient time. I told myself that maybe, just maybe I can save the Illyers this was. I just had to accept it.”
“Pretty much,” Joshua nodded. “And we screwed it up,” he bluntly said, surprising the younger Court Wizards.
“Admittedly, yes,” Ronald reluctantly agreed. “For the better part of the year protecting the duke’s party, we have managed to thwart every scheme Van enacted. But in the end, we didn’t anticipate the previous king to recover and collaborate with his son to burn the Illyer mansion. …What’s worse, he and Allister were close friends and he betrayed him just like that.”
Owen spied William sporting a visible scowl on his face hearing the last bit. Ronald seemed to be also aware of it given that he had paused for a moment to look at the Air Guardian before saying that sentence. It was understandable given what he’s been through.
“We managed to rescue most of the duke’s party and first prince, but that’s only a consolation we could salvage,” Ronald continued with a frown. “That said, if that didn’t happen, we wouldn’t have our kids.”
Owen and Alicia could only smile at that.
“I remembered walking through the aftermath of the burning. I was… not in the best state of mind after the family I blessed were all supposedly dead,” Aqua then said with her eyes closed. “Even Neptune and Layla were gone. I thought the fire somehow got you too.”
“Don’t worry, Aqua,” Layla reassured her. “We’re still here.”
“Yeah!” Neptune exclaimed.
“Thank you, you two,” Aqua smiled. “But still, I was quite ready to cast aside our principles and utterly destroy the Kirash family, the other greater spirits’ reactions be damned. It was only because you have shown the Illyers to be safe that I settled with the great sea, Ronald.”
“Quite,” Ronald quipped.
“You might be surprised with my initial intent… or you probably already knew, but there was a reason I started the blessing in the first place; to have the closest thing to being named like other spirits – that is why the other greater spirits eventually do it too,” Aqua continued. “And that was almost taken from me because I did not go further beyond entrusting you Court Wizards. Not that I blame you, you still saved them in the end.”
“Rather if I had perhaps done more, things would have turned out differently. After I blessed the first Illyer, I had done nothing more
So, when I approached Joshua who gave me that proposition, I had to see it come to fruition with my hands involved.”
“Aqua…” Alicia said in concern. Being a Court Wizard under her, it was natural for her to be worried about this side of the Fire Guardian she’s revealed.
“I see. Then, Joshua?” Ronald then turned to Owen’s father. Considering that Aqua had taken the flow of the conversation for the last few minutes. “Is this why you did this?”
Joshua was silent for a moment. Looking at Ronald in the eye, he admitted, “As Aqua said, we messed up too many times and I guess I got tired of it… Well, you know it’s not just failing and doing contingency flags, but also the other things we do that take our toll mentally.”
“…Yes, I can see that problem quite well,” Ronald sighed, palming his head.
Looking at the others, Owen could tell they knew that too because he had witnessed the effects firsthand. Alicia had broken down in the last mission and so was Rin in just her first two missions. Owen probably was too if not for his completed drive to find his father, something that cannot be said for Rin, and knowing William he couldn’t care less. But, there was a happy end to it; Alicia found her way to make peace with her status as a Court Wizard while Rin renewed her resolve to keep going forward.
But what of his and Alicia’s fathers?
“And speaking of that, this is also to make up for Emilia…” Joshua then admitted.
“..!” Ronald flinched after Joshua uttered that name. “I see. If there’s anyone who was the most affected between the three of us, it’s her…”
Emilia Willows. Owen heard much about her from Ronald. He should know, she’s the person whose name became his and Alicia’s middle name in her honor. She was one of the first Court Wizards his father mentored alongside Ronald. They went on many adventures together, bringing them very close to each other before her untimely demise. It was her death that influenced his father and Ronald’s decisions with him and Alicia involving the Otherworldly Court. Also, as Owen heard, she was the first person his father loved.
“We were with her through thick and thin and yet we didn’t put much effort to help with her struggles. We failed her. I failed her,” Joshua said. “That’s why this time, I want to make sure what I started goes right. No more setbacks because of a half-assed job that we have to get the last laugh as a consolation, for her and all of our failures. I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself if I don’t.”
“Is that so?” Ronald muttered in understanding.
Owen knew it too. He knew what it’s like to fail in missions one too many times. And he knew what losses resulted in those failures. He could understand why his dad wanted to just be able to do something right for once.
“You do realize you’re still missing in most of your son’s life by staying here, right?” Ronald said bluntly with a frown on his face. “Not to mention it caused your mother to pass away without seeing you one last time.”
“Yeah… I know. I make no excuses,” Joshua sighed in admission. “Believe me that I’ve thought long and hard about this before Aqua came.”
“I’m sure you do, but what ultimately made you commit to this?” Ronald then demanded.
“…Because I know mom would take care of Owen while I’m off being a terrible father,” Joshua admitted. “And I trust that you would too when mom died.”
“Well, of course, I have to take care of Owen after Matilda passed,” Ronald nodded with a sigh.
Owen, can I punch your dad? (William)
Please don’t, he’s my dad. (Owen)
“We have our rules to ensure something like this doesn’t happen,” Ronald stated seriously. “You of all people should know that. That’s how the Rules of Engagement work, to prevent us from ruining our lives over pursuing our duties as Court Wizards and vice versa.”
“I know, I don’t expect to be forgiven for it,” Joshua sighed. “But you also know how hard it is to balance the two contradictory halves of our rules.”
That was true, that was awfully true to Owen. If he and William had monitored the situation in Beohar all the time, they might’ve been able to save Crom and prevent all the tragedies to come. But if they did, they would probably have to skip school frequently which could cause many issues for them among others – Owen could imagine how hard it would be to tell Alicia why he wasn’t showing up to school.
The gravity of both situations wasn’t the same to be sure, but the point still stood: what good was saving another world when your life in your world was ruined in the process? That’s why the Otherworldly Court will never allow a Court Wizard to only focus on one and ditch the other, always trying to balance protecting other worlds and maintaining a normal life.
“Part of the reason why we greater spirits decided to be neutral is that we did not want to end up no better than the cursed dragons. They were able to do what they did because they were in a position of power, a position that we inherited after taking them down,” Aqua interjected with a confession. “That is why I understand where the Otherworldly Court is coming from. But, the more I continue to spin both stories, the more I find them to be constricting.”
“Is that so?” Ronald muttered. “Hm, I suppose we aren’t so different after all.”
“True, and yet I feel I am not at the same time,” Aqua then said. Before others asked, she continued, “Do you know the problems I had from being red because of the Fire Mother Soul? It is not just Ignis teasing me, rumors began to emerge due to named spirits running their mouths. They have not exposed the Court’s existence to the humans, but they have still told them my change in color, out of context.”
“Is that bad, Aqua?” Alicia asked in concern. After knowing Aqua for a while, she would naturally be worried when the Fire Guardian started sharing her grievances about being a Fire Guardian. It’s not like because Aqua’s the Fire Guardian, Alicia was also concerned with Owen when he threw himself into finding his father as a Court Wizard without knowing it and why.
Also, hearing what Aqua said herself, Owen could tell what was wrong before she explained it. Her skin turned red as a result of the Fire Mother Soul merging with her has always been something the greater spirit has laughed off, so no one would think there were serious repercussions of such radical change would occur to her. Well, it appeared that she has been bottling it up all along.
“They thought I turned red as a result of the ‘murder’ of the Illyer family I blessed and the great sea in response to it. Supposedly, I had become the state of anger itself, being displeased with humanity ever since,” Aqua explained with a sigh. “For the record, I did not regret the great sea since what I was originally going to do was much worse. But even still, it is not just the humans, even some of the lower spirits started to be afraid of me that even the slightest of slights would have me come crashing down on them.
“There were benefits to it, I admit. Talisman smuggling and other cross-territory crimes have lessened over the years, but that was because it became clear that greater spirits can retaliate against them harshly. And speaking of the greater spirits, they naturally were not amused with what I have done and it was exacerbated with my recruitment as the Fire Guardian.”
From the sound of it, it’s going to be something many could see from a mile away.
“As you would guess, they think I am increasingly becoming more unhinged the longer I spent my time with you all. Of course, my friends would not say that to my face, but every time we have gathered I can tell they were becoming more concerned,” Aqua continued. “That is why to assure them I am regressing into a cursed dragon in my elderly years I cannot get involved in Joshua’s rebellion as much as I wanted to. Yes, this is still me holding back.”
“Aqua…” Alicia muttered with sympathy.
“As you can see, this has a lot to do with Aqua that it does with me,” Joshua concluded. “And this also has a lot to do with you, Ronald. You and the Illyers still living in our world.”
“Yes, you’re right,” Ronald nodded in agreement. “In fact, my wife and the whole family are in the Court waiting to return to their original world after Master Isaac told them why they can’t after all these years. We just need to settle this first.”
“Really now?” Joshua blinked in disbelief. “Well, that’s-”
CLANK CLANK CLANK
Suddenly, a soldier in light armor barged into the tent interrupting the Court Wizards and spirits. He looked to be out of breath as if he had run a marathon. His alarmed face was also a cause for concern.
“Hey! This is an important part meeting, I ordered you not to interfere!” Joshua shouted angrily as he stood up from his seat in irritation.
“A-Apologies, sir!” The soldier kneeled down with his fist on the ground in fear. “It’s the spirits; they’ve become feral!”
Azhure: I’m going to rewrite Alicia Chapter 13 after this. It’s the last chapter I made in my early years and I looked back at it cringing myself trying to be dark and edgy.
Voice: Hopefully it ain’t gonna take a lo~ong time!
Azhure: So, what do you all think of this sub-chapter? Is it good? Are there any problems with it? Any reviews or feedback is appreciated as long as they’re not plain insults meant to blow off your stress.
Voice: Don’t do that to people! Not even on the internet!
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