“I can fight, Grandpa!” I yelled, slamming my palms on the table.
“And I’m telling you that you can’t,” he snapped back as his eyes stayed glued to the document he was reading, refusing to meet my gaze.
“Enough, Tessia. Your grandfather is right. The risk of putting you out on the field is much too high and unnecessary right now,” Master Aldir’s commanding voice cut in.
“But, Master! Even you said yourself that I’m much stronger than I was before!” I argued, ignoring my grandfather.
“And that is still not enough.” The one-eyed asura’s tone was matter-of-fact.
I could feel my face burning hot as I did all I could from keeping my tears at bay. Refusing to let them see me cry, I stormed out of the study as Grandpa called out for me.
I marched down the long, narrow hallway lit by widely-spaced torches that flickered brightly against the cobblestone wall. I banked a left near the end of the hallway, reaching two, solid-iron doors guarded on either side by an armored augmenter and a well-dressed conjurer.
“Princess? What brings you here?” the conjurer called out, her voice laced with concern.
“Please open the doors,” I ordered, my eyes focused on the center of the entrance. Despite my sour mood, I couldn’t help but stare in awe at the unique doors that guarded this castle. I remembered that when it was first completed by Professor Gideon, even Master Aldir had been pleased by the craftsmanship.
“I-I’m sorry, we haven’t received any notice from Commander Virion or Lord Aldir that anyone would be leaving,” the armored augmenter muttered as he traded uncertain glances with his companion.
“Open the doors, she’s supposed to run an errand with me,” a familiar voice echoed from behind.
“General Varay!” Both guards saluted in unison before lowering themselves into a respectful bow.
Turning around, I let out a relieved smile at the lance, who had become more like an older sister to me these past two years.
The elegant, yet intimidating lance approached me with a steady and purposeful gait, her tight-fitting navy coat trailing gracefully behind her. Varay’s left hand rested on the pommel of the thin sword strapped to her waist as she nodded at me with her usual aloof expression.
The two guards immediately went to work opening the double doors. The conjurer mumbled a long incantation as the augmenter went to work pulling the various knobs and levers all over the intricate doors.
“Thank you, Varay.” I hugged her arm as we headed inside the room.
Once inside, the iron double doors closed behind us with a loud thud. While the room was heavily secured with a unique mechanism on the door that required a complex pattern of spells and precise movement of locks to open, the area it was guarding wasn’t nearly as noteworthy. The small, rather musty cylinder room was all but empty except for a single teleportation gate and a gateman in charge of controlling the gate’s destination.
The elderly gateman stood up straight at our sight, dropping the book he had been reading to pass the time. “General Varay, Princess Tessia, what can I do for you?”
Varay looked over her shoulder, waiting for me to speak.
“Etistin City, please,” I responded.
“Certainly!” The gateman went to work, mumbling over the ancient runes that allowed such complex magic.
The gate, a stone platform with a complicated sigil that marked the center of it, began glowing different colors before it focused on its directed location.
“All ready. Please take this emblem for identification when you use the gate at Etistin. This will be the only way the gateman over there will let you return to the castle,” the elderly gateman said as he handed the two of us a small metal locket with the three-race insignia on it.
“Surely they’d know who we are, right?” I asked as I tucked the locket in the inner pocket of my fitted robe.
The gateman shook his head. “Security has tightened throughout the continent because outside attacks have become more frequent. Even though Etistin is still quite a distance away from the Beast Glades, Commander Virion has employed stricter measures just in case.”
“I see.” I let out a sigh as I stepped up to the platform where the teleportation gate stood. “Are you sure you want to come with me to babysit me, Varay?”
“I just finished my lessons with Princess Kathlyn so a little break for me is fine,” she answered back curtly, stepping up behind me.
Our surroundings distorted as soon as we stepped into the gate, my vision being filled with a blurry montage of luminescent colors.
We arrived in seconds to the city that was once the humans’ capital in the country of Sapin. I remembered from school that the city was built on the western coast of the continent back then to be out of reach from the dwarven and elven countries as well as to keep as far away from the Beast Glades as possible.
However, almost years ago, after the war was announced, King Glayder basically tore down the city, as well as all the neighboring ones, and had it built back up as armored forts; this was in anticipation of the army of Alacrya most likely coming toward this side.
“Princess Tessia and General Varay!” the two gatemen exclaimed in surprise as they both gave a deep bow.
“We’re not here on official business. Please, relax,” I coaxed, smiling at the guards who all had concerned expressions. We left the secured room where the the gate was placed, stepping out into the busy streets. The both of us hid our faces underneath our woolen hoods to keep from attracting needless attention.
Outside, the streets were filled with a panorama of bustle and noise. Merchants wheeled their carts through the wide street as the vendors and entertainers that had set up small tents and canopies on either side of the large, main road were haggling with the housewives. Ever since Etistin was demolished and rebuilt as a military city, the economy relied on the soldiers and their families that were stationed here. Smiths and other craftsmen travelled here knowing that their work would be in high demand. Merchants soon went out of their way to set up shops here because of the ever-growing population that derived from how many soldiers were stationed.
Just walking down the street, you could see the soldiers, whether they were burly augmenters or lean conjurers, marching with weapons in hand. They all wore the same moss-green and silver uniform with the Triunion emblem that had become the official symbol of Dicathen.
“Was there anything specific you wanted to do?” Varay asked as she slowed her pace to match mine.
“Not particularly.” I shook my head. “I just wanted some fresh air and to be away from everyone in the castle.”
“Keep your sword out and ready at all times, Tessia,” Varay said, pointing to my empty waist.
Letting out a sigh, I replied, “I’m here with you, right? And besides, this city is like the farthest point from all of the fighting.”
Etistin was rebuilt to be the very last line of defense against the Alacryan army seeing as its location was farthest away from the battle and in an ideal location with most of its sides facing the ocean.
Our main forces had actually been sent out into the Beast Glades to explore dungeons because that was where the Alacryan forces had been popping out from. From what Grandpa Virion had deduced from their investigations, the unnatural occurrences that had happened over the past ten years, including the death of one of our lances, Alea, were for the purpose of setting up hidden teleportation gates in the depths of the dungeons. It would be hard for them to instantly teleport an army, but with enough time and enough individual teleportation gates, the Alacryan forces could muster up enough soldiers and mages to do considerable damage if they didn’t prepare beforehand.
After this news came to light, Master Aldir and my grandfather had to strategize on the defenses around the Beast Glades.
“In times of war, it’s necessary to always be ready for the worst case,” Varay replied.
I didn’t want to argue any further so I took out my sword from my dimension ring and strapped it to my waist underneath my wool cloak. “Happy?”
She nodded. “Satisfied.”
“So how is Kathlyn and Curtis doing with their training?” I asked quietly, stopping by a stall that had a particularly beautiful set of handcrafted jewelries.
“Bairon tells me Curtis is determined and hardworking, but that their progress is slow. He has definitely made progress but even as a beast tamer, his comprehension of mana is only average at best. Princess Kathlyn, on the other hand, is moving along well in her training. I was told she was always a bit more gifted than everyone else, and from these two years, I understand why,” Varay answered, looking apathetically at the jewels she had no fondness for.
“Well not more than everyone else,” I corrected when a dull ache gripped at my heart.
“You’re right. I forget at times that the boy is your guys’ age. Arthur is an anomaly of a whole different level, no doubt.” Varay nodded at herself. “I can only imagine what level he will be at when he comes back after training with the asuras.”
Even through her expressionless face, it was easy to tell that Varay was a bit envious of Arthur. After all, training with the asuras on a higher level than even Master Aldir was something that someone could only wish for in their dreams.
However, I knew firsthand how harsh the asuras were just from the dozen or so lessons I had received from Aldir over these past two years. Imagining myself under constant supervision by Master Aldir sent shivers down my spine.
As we continued walking down the main road, I admired the imposing outer walls that surrounded the whole city. I could barely see the small figures of guards patrolling on top of the wall from where I was standing. The city had been rebuilt so that the buildings build on the center of the city were the highest. The buildings and homes surrounding it all lowered the farther out someone went so that conjurers and long range augmenters could easily go on top of any of the buildings and have a clear shot at their enemies without fear of obstruction. Of course, this was only if the enemies were able to break in through the thick, mana-enforced walls that surrounded Etistin.
“Do you think the Alacryan army will be able to make it all the way here?” I asked, still staring at the outer walls. “I heard from Grandpa that Director Cynthia said Alacrya is to the west of Dicathen. Doesn’t that mean this place is closest to our enemy?”
“Yes, but she also said that they had no effective way of transporting significant amounts of soldiers across the ocean, which is why they’re going for a more discreet method of coming through teleportation gates that they had set up all over the Beast Glades,” she answered as she veered off to look at some of the weapons on display at a nearby forge.
“I see,” I mumbled. I felt bad for Director Cynthia, who had been confined for these two years. While Master Aldir was able to break enough of the curse that had bound her from releasing any information about her homeland so that she could divulge some intelligence, Director Cynthia still ended up in a comatose state. At the expense of her consciousness, the woman who was once in charge of Xyrus Academy was able to tell us some critical information regarding her homeland. Now, she was simply lying, barely alive, in a room constantly taken care of by a nurse.
Much of the business regarding the war had caused a strain in my relationship with my grandfather. While he had always looked scary, Grandpa had always been the nice, embarrassing man who just wanted what was best for me. After he had taken on the role of commanding the militant forces with Master Aldir, who operated only in the shadows, his personality became darker and more strict.
I hated that it had to happen, but I didn’t blame Grandpa; at least I was able to see him more often than my mom and dad. My parents and Kathlyn’s parents were working the social front, doing everything they could to further strengthen and implement action from the cities. With the King and Queen Greysunders both killed, the dwarves were in rebellion, so our parents were working to, once again, gain their allegiance.
“Watch out!” someone suddenly yelled as he ran headfirst into me.
With my thoughts totally occupied elsewhere, my body ran on instinct as I grabbed his wrist while I pivoted my body. Placing my foot in front of his, the person tripped and I had him pinned down with my sword half-unsheathed, pressed against his throat, when I saw the person’s face.
“Emily?” I sputtered, alarmed.