Each word came accompanied by a sharp whip cutting into his skin.
He couldn’t fight back nor escape, wrinkled and pained limbs refusing to move. His body was restrained not by chains but by the ravages of time itself.
Countless pairs of eyes glistened in the dark, watching him like a pack of predators watching its prey. There was nowhere to hide, even if he could move.
“She died so you could live.”
“You’ve squandered the gifts offered.”
“She died for nothing.”
How long had he been forced to hear the same thing?
“She died for nothing.”
The voices overlapped one another, turning louder as they echoed inside his head.
“She died for nothing”
“She died for not—”
Jon's eyes snapped open. He woke up in bed, sweating and lying on his stomach. The bells tolled outside, signaling he had one hour before breakfast started being served.
Body still aching, he sat up. Aeron and Deon were still asleep, only set to wake up in an hour, when the next bells tolled. Nevil, usually the first to wake up after Jon, stirred in bed as he fought against the drowsiness.
Jon stood up and entered the bathroom where he washed the sweat off his body. It had been a long time since the last time he had such a nightmare. The first since Vasilis’ execution, in fact. He could only hope it would be a one-off. The constant training and studying took a toll on him, and sleep was the only time he could rest.
“Didn’t the professor tell you to stay in bed?” Nevil asked as soon as he came out of the bathroom.
“She did, but I’m fine already.” Jon searched inside his wardrobe for his oversized black robes to put on over the traditional beige breeches and white tunic.
“You were flogged,” Nevil insisted.
I know, I was there, Jon held in the snarky remark. Nevil really stood up for him these past days, and the least he could do was be nice. Besides, it would do well to not anger the nobleman in case he ever required assistance again. “I’m well enough to go through the day as usual. Practical Combat might pose a problem, so I’ll just ask Bella to take it easy on me. Thanks for worrying, though.”
Nevil didn’t touch the subject again, either because he agreed or because he didn’t want to argue. That meant there were only two other roommates to convince.
“Why are you so eager to get back to classes anyway?” Aeron asked after waking up, clearly annoyed that he had another day of studying ahead of him.
“I spent a week rotting away under the ground. Now I just want to go back to normalcy.”
“You’re the only person who would look forward to a return to classes.”
“If that’s what makes him happy, then just let him,” Deon said as he buttoned up his tunic. “Besides, he must’ve forgotten all about the class subjects by now. I mean, if he needs to keep scars to remember things, then his memory must have serious problems. Do you want to bet he can’t even remember our names?”
Fuck o— Be nice.
“Now I understand why you’re always studying so much. It’s because you keep forgetting everything.”
“Hilarious,” Jon said dryly. He wished he could just go ahead to the feasting hall and not have to listen to this drivel. After everything that happened, though, it was safer to not stray far from his roommates.
Before Deon could continue his nonsense, a loud knock on the door silenced everyone. A bad feeling took hold of Jon. The last ones to knock on their door were the guards who took him to the whipping post. And, before that, the guards who kicked down the door and arrested him.
His roommates seemed to be of the same mind because they all turned to him.
“It’s probably nothing bad this time,” Jon said, not even believing it himself. He opened the door and found himself face-to-face with an Ashen as tall as he was.
“Jon of Rochdale?” the man asked. He had both arms behind his back, and the plates of armor covered him from head to toes.
“That’s me,” Jon answered.
“I’m here regarding your mishandling of academy property.”
Jon frowned. When had he ever done such a thing?
As if reading his mind, the man put his arm forward and revealed a thick, leather-bound book. Some of the pages were sticking out due to torn-out bindings. Sprinkles of blood permeated the cover, and one of its corners was bent out of shape. In bright blue letters, its title read Meralith’s Catalogue of Alchemic Brews, Potions, and Elixirs.
“This book was found on the stairs outside. You borrowed it from the library last week, is that correct?”
It didn’t take long for Jon to recognize the book. He had been carrying it when Garrel attacked him. “Yes,” he answered, not even trying to come up with a defense. It would serve no purpose anyway. “Am I to be arrested?”
From inside the room, he heard footsteps rushing towards the door as his roommates came to his support.
“Not this time,” the Ashen promptly said. “Giving this was only your first offense of this kind, the headmaster stipulated a month-long ban from borrowing any additional books. Along with that, you’ll also be required to pay ten platinum coins for the damaged item.”
“Ten platinum coins? For a book?” Deon almost yelled the words. “Are the pages made of gold instead of paper?”
“The book was the only copy the library owned, thus the high value.”
A barefaced-lie and Jon knew it. The truly rare works were kept hidden in a restricted section at the library’s basement. He couldn’t even look at those books, much less borrow them.
“If it is so valuable, then how come it could be borrowed?” Aeron echoed Jon’s thoughts.
“A librarian wrongly allowed it to be accessed by the general public. Regardless, it doesn’t change the fact that the academy has been harmed, and it requires compensation. As such, the headmaster ordered that you relinquish the vials of mana potion that you received from the Squire’s Tourney. Failing to do so before the end of the day will be reason for imprisonment. Finally, to pay for the potions already consumed, Professors Cedrik and Willow Breckon have been told to retain the payment from aiding in their research.” The Ashen ended with a quick bow. “Now, with my lords’ excuse, I must take my leave.”
Jon took a deep breath and gently closed the door again. He wanted to slam it close and kick a hole into the wood but was afraid that it might suddenly be worth as much as a castle. His roommates offered words of support, but he couldn’t bring himself to pay attention. “Fucking hell.”