The Beginning After the End (Vol. 8.5): Amongst the Fallen
Rock Bottom (Part 2)
Rock Bottom (Part 2)
Dec 16, 2021
The door screeched as I pushed my way into the Underwall. Dalmore looked over from his place behind the bar. He set down the mug he'd been cleaning—he was meticulous about those mugs, cleaning them constantly, over and over again—and pointed back at the door.
"Oh no, not this time. You're done." Dalmore was a stocky man in his middle years. He had clay colored skin, slightly wrinkled, and short, dark hair that was quickly receding away from his forehead. "Sorry to say it, Jasmine, but you've been more trouble than you're worth."
I rolled my eyes and kicked my leg over a wobbly stool right in front of him. A row of freshly cleaned mugs sat on the bar, so I grabbed one and turned it upright, then looked at Dalmore expectantly. His eyebrows rose and his frown deepened simultaneously, but he didn't move to pour me a drink.
"Be reasonable, Dal. If you didn't have me around, who would keep those soldiers from cutting your throat and stealing your beer?"
He scoffed. "You'll be the reason they slit my throat. I was damned happy to have a member of the Twin Horns sticking 'round here to keep an eye on things, but you've cost me three times what you've saved. No, we're done, Jasmine. I want you out. Now."
I met the innkeeper's hard gaze. "Can I at least have something to dull this hangover before I go?"
Ten minutes later, I was climbing up the cliff face next to the wall and regretting it. My foot slipped from a rock, sending a jolt through my body that nearly made me vomit, but I gritted my teeth and got my footing.
Putting one hand over another, and occasionally throwing out a blast of air to correct myself if I lost my balance, I made my slow, nauseating way to the ledge where Arthur and I had sat and talked after he fought with Reynolds.
We'd both wallowed in the muck of the worst of our impulses regarding our families. At least we'd had families back then. It hadn't been long after that conversation when Reynolds died and Arthur placed my own father under arrest.
Angry, unwelcome tears built up in the corners of my eyes, but I bit them back, then hissed in pain and wiped at my lip with the back of my hand. It came away bloody.
I threw my head back to shout out a curse, but all that came out was a shuddering breath.
"If only we'd known how much worse it could get, right Arthur?" The wind grabbed my words and carried them over the Wall and off into the Beast Glades.
Somewhere below me, in the Wall's finest prison cell, my father sat and nursed his wounded pride. I don't think the lisp from his burned tongue bothered him nearly as much as the knowledge that the Flamesworths had been stripped of their station and holdings, even if it didn't mean a thing now.
I'd been to visit him just once, after news of the fall of Etistin and the Council. He hadn't wanted to see me, of course, so I satisfied myself by shooting barbed comments through the barred doors, telling him how Senyir had left the Wall the day after he was arrested, unable to stand the shame, and how suddenly Aunt Hester and I, instead of being outcasts, were the only Flamesworths who hadn't lost everything because of his selfishness.
I hadn't been back since. If the Council hadn't fallen, he probably would have been executed already. As it was, though, the new senior captain, Albanth Kelris, didn't have the stomach to take my father's head himself.
The cold wind conjured goosebumps along my exposed arms and neck, and I pulled my knees to my chest and wrapped my arms around them. There was no Arthur to create a barrier with fire mana, just like there was no Arthur to stand between us and the Alacryan army anymore. I conjured a current of air to swirl invisibly around me to keep my own body heat in.
"Sorry," I said softly, picturing Arthur not as he was when he flew around over our heads, raining deadly magic down on thousands of mana beasts, but rather how he had been when I mentored him, adventuring together in the Beast Glades, a ten-year-old boy who had somehow made me feel like a child.
I couldn't keep myself from wondering what would happen to Dicathen without Arthur. The Alacryans had outplayed us at every turn, defeating our strongest warriors and executing our leaders before most of us even knew we'd lost the war. Without him, what hope was there of retaking our continent?
That was exactly why I'd stayed behind when the others ran off to join in the underground rebellion. Helen, somehow, seemed to find hope that the Alacryans could be thrown from our shores. I shook my head and pulled my knees tighter against my chest. Helen had been like a mother to me, but I just couldn't share her eternal optimism.
Hope had died with Arthur.
With this dour thought fogging my tired mind, I drew a flask from my dimension ring, poured a splash on the ground for Arthur, and took a long, thirsty swig.
The war between Dicathen and Alacrya is over and Arthur Leywin has vanished. In the uncertain aftermath of this decisive loss, a few familiar faces navigate peril both political and moral as they are now forced to make a difficult choice: accept life under Vritra rule or keep fighting despite impossible odds? As Dicathen falls, Mica Earthborn, Lilia Helstea, Emily Watsken, and Jasmine Flamesworth must each answer this question for themselves.
NOTE ABOUT READING ORDER: to get the best reading experience, Amongst the Fallen should be read after volume 8 of The Beginning After the End (make sure you've read up to episode 868).