The Beginning After the End (Vol. 8.5): Amongst the Fallen
Not a Safe Life (Part 2)
Not a Safe Life (Part 2)
Dec 16, 2021
"You did what, exactly?" Father asked, his eyes wide with surprise.
He leaned forward and rested his face in his hands. I had never thought of him as old, but he seemed to have aged considerably since the war with the Alacryans had started. His dark hair was going gray and receding back from his temples. He'd gained weight, too, so that his usually fashionable suits clung to him too tightly.
"I couldn't just—"
"He attacked you, Lilia!" Father snapped, standing so suddenly his chair toppled over. "And in return you invite him into our home! What were you thinking?"
My heart was racing; I couldn't remember the last time my father had yelled at me.
"We could lose everything, Lilia. Don't you understand?"
"I understand that too many others have lost everything already!" I returned, my own temper flaring. "I'm not a child, Father. I know what you've done to protect me—"
"Not just you, Lilia," he said fiercely. "What about your mother? Or the dozens of men and women who are still able to support themselves because we've stayed in business—who are protected by my agreement with the Alacryans? This could jeopardize everything I've worked for."
"You didn't see him."
Father slammed his hand on his desk, making me jump. "Are you going to save them all, Lilia? Are you going to throw the Alacryans out of Dicathen, return the dead to life, restore everything to the way it used to be? Tell me, did Arthur Leywin give you these amazing powers when he trained you to be a mage? Because, if he did, I'll be happy to see it."
Father was breathing hard, but I returned his angry glare with a look of forced calm. Inside, I was trembling, but I didn't let my surprise and fear into my voice. "No, Father. I'd be happy if I could save just this one."
His mouth opened to respond, then slowly closed again as he regarded me. "My wise, kind daughter…"
He fidgeted around for a moment, righting his chair and adjusted a few items on his desk that had been moved when he hit it. Finally, he sat back down. "I'm sorry, Lilia. One boy is not worth the risk."
"What if it was Arthur?" I snapped, my own frustration boiling over in the face of his calm. "What if it was Ellie? What lengths would you go to if it was the child of your best friend? To what lengths"—my voice rose to a shout—"would Reynolds and Alice have gone if it was me?"
Father leaned back in his chair and rubbed a hand down his face. A light knock on the office door interrupted the tension.
To me, he said, "It's just not the same, Lilia. Alice and Reynolds were family." Father's eyes lost focus as he stared into the middle distance. "Go get some dinner. It's late." Then, louder, he said, "Come in."
Mother eased the office door open and gave me a kindly, worried smile. I squeezed her hand as I walked out of the room, but couldn't meet her eyes.
My feet carried me automatically to the dining room, where cold leftovers were still sitting on the table. I picked at the ham and olives just to give my hands something to do as I thought.
Logically speaking, Father was right. Involving ourselves in any effort to work against the Alacryans, were it discovered, would end with us dead and all our assets given away to some other household. It was a foolish risk to take for someone who had just tried to kill me.
Wasn't this fear exactly what the invaders relied on to keep us in line?
The Alacryans hadn't won Xyrus City by force. In fact, there had been hardly any resistance at all. With most of the Tri-Union's forces concentrated at Etistin, Xyrus City had been caught entirely off guard when Alacryan soldiers began marching out of the teleportation gates and announcing the Council's destruction.
In the face of defeat, most of the citizens of Xyrus had simply laid low, stayed out of the way, and hoped for the best. Once the Alacryans controlled the entire continent, there didn't seem any reason to continue hiding. Father thought the only way to protect ourselves was to operate out in the open.
But I wanted to do something. If I could help just one person…
Standing, I decided to march straight back to my father's office and make my case again, better this time.
I was up the stairs and halfway along the hall before I noticed heavy sobs and whispered conversation coming from the slightly open office door. With my body nearly pressed against the wall, I crept closer until I could just see into the office.
My mother was leaning against the desk and cradling my father's head against her stomach. Her hands feathered through his hair, and she was making gentle shushing noises, like she'd done for me so many times before.
He was sobbing into her shirt, his shoulders shaking.
"Alice and Reynolds were adventurers, dear," my mother said softly. "They weren't meant for a safe life. You don't have to compare yourself to them."
Father tried to speak but couldn't get the words out.
Tears welled up behind my own eyes. I'd seen my father cry before, of course, but this outpouring of emotion seemed so…hopeless.
Feeling suddenly guilty for listening in from the outside, I pushed my way into the office and ran to my parents. Father's shoulders only shook harder when I wrapped my arms around him and Mother. We stayed like that for awhile, exhausting ourselves of tears.
When I felt like I could speak without choking up again, I looked my father in the eyes. "Just living safely isn't enough anymore."
He nodded and wiped his tears away with his sleeve. "I know, Lilia. I know. We'll figure something out, okay? Together."
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).