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216. Interlude - Edithe's Evolution Part 2

The battle was over.

The Valiant Dreamers Company claimed the Millcliff Iron Mines as their own. It was a victory in two parts: the first was the obvious win over the Iron Champions Company— this was a pivotal location, within the southern edge of Nixa, close to where the enemy headquarters was located. It was dangerous, considering they were now deep in enemy territory. And that was not taking in the fact that there was a Primeval Demon rampaging at the northern side of the country. But those factors were irrelevant right now.

The second victory was the victory or morality. With the Millcliff Iron Mines now under the control of the Valiant Dreamers, they finally had a proper reprieve in this war. This was a substantial victory, and the Iron Champions wouldn’t be able to bounce back as quickly as they did before from previous losses. The fact of the matter was that this former Dungeon was an important piece of territory for them.

It produced one of their major sources of income— the natural resources which they’d sell to other companies and to [Traders]. For example, it wasn’t just regular iron ores that came from this Dungeon. The iron ores would be more receptive to enchantments due to being in a mana dense environment, so they’d be easier to create weapons, armor, or even metalwork for building. The discovery and monopoly of the Millcliff Iron Mines was what allowed the Iron Champions Company to begin their rise to prominence, and it was also what gave them their name.

It was a moral victory. The Iron Champions Company would not be pleased about it. And the Valiant Dreamers, on the other hand, were celebrating. It was the first time Edithe had seen a jovial atmosphere amongst her friends.

They were gathered in a hall, drinking, cheering, and relaxing. The red-haired woman strolled through the large room, a drink in her hand, nodding, smiling, greeting her fellow company members as she made her way around.

“Hey Johnson— did you level up from the fight?”

“Three times!”

“That’s amazing! And Jake, you’re Level 40 now! Congratulations for hitting Gold! Melinda, I see you’ve got another scar added to your scar collection. Celine—”

Edithe paused when she saw her friend. Celine, the Platinum Ranked adventurer, was sitting with an arm wrapped around another girl. The other girl was unfamiliar, with blue hair and green eyes. She was a Platinum Ranked— not from the Valiant Dreamers Company. By the crest on her armor, Edithe assumed she was from the Northbury Troops, an allied company to the Valiant Dreamers.

“When did this happen?”

“Oh, uh, meet Nora. Nora, this is Edithe.”

“I’ve heard about her.”

Nora gave Edithe an impish grin, still clinging onto Celine.

“Edithe Dawnrise. You don’t need to tell me about her, Cel. Everyone has heard about her at this point. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you.”

“Likewise.”

Edithe nodded, feeling a bit uncomfortable. It wasn’t a bad feeling, per se, but she wasn’t used to receiving this kind of attention. Sure, as a Gold Rank in a small city, she’d get a few people walking up to her and gushing over hers. However, now, everyone knew about her. Even Platinums. And that was disconcerting.

There was a sort of dissonance in her mind that made a Platinum Rank praising Edithe and looking up to her that made this feeling bear fruit. Edithe genuinely still looked up to Platinum Ranks, because not too long ago, she was only a Gold Rank. To have her role as the one being admired flipped over so quickly to being the one who was admired— it was just jarring.

“So, uh, are the both of you… serious?”

She glanced between Celine and Nora. The other two women exchanged glances. Then Celine shrugged as Nora beamed.

“Not sure, honestly.”

“We are!”

There was a pause. And Edithe instantly knew she had to back away. Both women exchanged a look. Before either of them could speak, Edithe excused herself.

“Well, I wish both of you well, but I’ve got to go now!”

She took off, fleeing from the discord she sowed. A small but disgruntled discussion broke out as Edithe headed down a hallway, leaving the party behind. Finding a quiet balcony, she settled herself against its railings and let out a sigh.

It was night. Her breath was slightly misty under this cool weather, reflecting the light of the moon above. She stared up at the scintillating stars past the cliff face, dazzling and bright, lighting up the night. It was a beautiful sight— one that could very easily turn deadly during a star storm.

But Edithe always found the night sky, dotted with those little specks of light, to be entrancing. As a child, she used to sit on the rooftop— someone else’s rooftop, since she lived in the streets— and watch the stars all night. Her mother wouldn’t even search for her, being busy with her business and all.

The red-haired woman didn’t mind it, then. The more time she had to herself, the happier she was. She didn’t understand friendship or camaraderie. Even when Mother died, and she was taken in by the temple and met William, Edithe never really found anyone she’d call a true friend.

Then she joined the Valiant Dreamers Company. She met her first long-term summon, Hana. She even fell in love for the very first time. It was all thanks to the Valiant Dreamers Company— and to think that the very foundation of everything she believed in was a facade?

It upset her. She had to act. Edithe Dawnrise truly felt betrayed when she found out the truth. Her respect for Baris dissolved. She could excuse Hadrian, since he wasn’t aware until recently either. But Baris, the man she’d looked up to, the man who had shaped all her ideals?

Edithe clenched a fist. And the door creaked.

“What are you doing out here?”

A voice drew her attention back towards the doorway.

“Hadrian?”

Edithe blinked as she turned around. She rubbed her eyes, and Hadrian let out a soft chuckle.

“Don’t look so surprised to see me. I spotted you fleeing from the party. Just wanted to make sure that everything is alright with you.”

He smiled, offering her a glass of wine. The red-haired woman stared at it, biting her lower lip.

“I… I’m fine. I’ve just been… thinking about things.”

“About what we spoke about two months ago, right?”

While she didn’t accept the drink, Hadrian didn’t seem offended, instead walking up next to her and leaning against the railing. Edithe hesitated.

“...yes.”

There were so many things she had to say right now. She wasn’t sure if she could even meet his gaze, but she had resolved herself. This was something that affected more than just her. With a deep breath, she opened her mouth—

And Hadrian spoke over her.

“It’s really a predicament, isn’t it? I’ve been torn about it myself.”

She blinked.

“You… have?”

“What you said back then— it stuck with me.”

Edithe tried to remember her words when she lashed out at Baris after the reveal. She confronted Hadrian— she told them that they couldn’t just sit idly by and allow it to happen. Hadrian had refused at first, but now her words have brought him back to her.

“The people of the company… they trust me, Edithe. They believe in me. But everything they’re fighting for… it’s all predicated on a lie.”

“It is.”

She didn’t mince words, even as Hadrian sighed.

“Every single day I think about this, it eats me up inside. They believe they’re fighting for the right cause— and they are. But they’ve been misled. I know why Father did what he did, but I don’t agree with it. I… every single one of their deaths… it’s all my fault.

There was a pause. Hadrian downed his glass as Edithe turned to him. She pursed her lips. She wanted to chastise him for what he was saying. It was only all his fault because he allowed it to be his fault. But Edithe was the same wasn’t she?

Closing her eyes, she spoke softly.

“It’s not your fault, Hadrian. What happened— this burden that was placed on your shoulders— it wasn't caused by you.”

He stared into his empty glass, lips thinly pressed together.

“I—”

“But everything that has happened after… since you found out. I’m sorry to say this, Hadrian, but you’re at fault for it. However, I am too. No one is free from blame in this situation. I should’ve acted sooner too, but I was afraid, just as you are.”

Neither of them spoke for a moment. They just stood there, out on the balcony, far from the partying and celebrations. Hadrian was clearly conflicted. He felt immense guilt. Which was why he approached her. And Edithe could empathize with how he felt.

Yet, that didn’t excuse either of their wrongs.

“We can do something about it now. We have to.”

“Baris is my father. I know that what he’s saying is right. It makes sense.”

“But it’s not actually good, is it? It’s not something we can allow to continue. We need to let the company decide, for itself, if they want to bear this responsibility. I mean… having the Sword—”

He looked up at her, placing a finger on his lips. She paused. Right. Rolling her eyes, she continued.

“He is your father. But you’re the leader of the Valiant Dreamers Company. I’ll help you, Hadrian. But we have to do something.”

The blond man was apprehensive. Clearly so. Edithe knew that all his life, he listened to everything Baris told him. He was a bit of a playboy— a flirt who’d mess around with women casually. But he’d never disobey his father.

Edithe placed a hand on his shoulder.

“Hadrian…”

“What can I do then, Edithe?”

“You can speak with Baris, Hadrian. You’re his son. You’re the leader of the company. I know you look up to him, but you have to admit that he’s wrong here. We can’t just let our friends die for reasons they don’t know.”

“And what if he doesn’t listen? If what we say gets out, we’ll be targeted by more than just the Iron Champions Company.”

Edithe nodded.

“I’m aware.”

“That’d only make our situation worse.”

“But it’d give our friends the choice whether they want to fight for this cause, Hadrian. It won’t be a war brought on by lies or deception. If they choose to fight or choose to leave, it’d be their decision. Or are you worried they’ll abandon us?

Hadrian hesitated. His uncertainty was evident.

“I can’t say I’m not. I can understand what you’re saying, but what if it leads to our downfall, Edithe? What if my decision leads to our company being destroyed? We’ll lose everything and everyone.”

“I worry about that too, Hadrian.”

Edithe nodded, but then she shook her head.

“However, we stand to lose everything and everyone too, even as it is now. We can’t let that be an excuse for our inaction. Please, Hadrian.”

He tried looking away, but their gazes met. She held it as he mulled over it for a minute. Finally, he acquiesced.

“I’ll… see what I can do. Father may not listen to me. And if he does not, I’ll still act. I’ll still tell the others in the company. Because that’s what’s right.”

Edithe felt a sense of relief wash over her. She drew away from Hadrian, feeling lighter on her feet.

“Thank you, Hadrian.”

She flashed him a grin.

“And it’s not like we don’t have a special, secret weapon on our side. Imagine if we used it on the battlefield— if someone like you had your hands on it. It’d turn the tide of any battle easily.”

He tapped a finger on his chin.

“Perhaps…”

Then he closed his eyes.

“I’ll consider that, Edithe. I don’t know what it’s capable of, but it truly could make such a massive difference. And seeing its use alone could allay any other enemies.”

He nodded gratefully as he placed a hand on Edithe’s shoulder.

“I should be the one thanking you. You’ve helped me.”

She shifted slightly, and Hadrian started back for the balcony door.

“Well, I’m just helping you do the right thing. That’s all.”

“I know. But still, you have my gratitude.”

Then he paused. He halted right before the closed doorway, a hand on the handle.

“Also—”

Hadrian spun around, scratching the back of his head.

“After this whole company war is over, if you’re interested in grabbing a cup of coffee with me, I know a good place.”

Edithe stared.

“I’m only interested in serious relationships.”

“I’m being serious.”

“...I’ll consider it.”

“Fair.”

With that, he left her alone on the balcony. Edithe was glad he approached her, and that she didn’t have to approach him for this. Perhaps now, she could fight without the guilt of it all bearing down on her. So that she was not distracted, and truly could protect those she cared about.

Hopefully this was a sign of things getting better. Hopefully the company war would end soon.

But for now, she returned to the party, letting herself de-stress and relax, finally clear of conscience.

 

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