Chapter 179: landship
A bolt of light streaked through the trees, curving ever-so-slightly before reaching its target—a wooden post no larger than my head.<span class=”Apple-converted-space”> </span>A satisfying thud rang as the mana arrow lodged itself in the center of the post, creating a hole through it before dissipating.
“Great shot!” I exclaimed, applauding.
My sister curtsied in response before her lips curved into a satisfied grin. “I know!” she said haughtily.
Stepping down from on top of Boo, her titanic bond who was lying lazily on his belly, Ellie skipped over to Sylvie and me. My sister picked up my bond. “What did you think, Sylvie? Are you impressed?”
“Very impressed,” she answered aloud, her gentle voice laced with fatigue.
“Sylvie’s still recovering, Ellie,” I scolded.
My sister set the white fox back down on the cushion she had been curled up on. “Hehe. Sorry, Sylvie.”
It had been only two days since we got back to the castle. Sylvie gained consciousness just yesterday, but she has been recovering at a remarkable rate. While Virion and the rest of the council gathered the four conjurers that would be stuck with me for the next two months, I spent some time with my sister.
I kept the fact that our parents and the Twin Horns had gotten attacked a secret from Ellie. A part of me knew that she deserved to know, but I also wanted to keep her ignorant until it was no longer possible.
A selfish wish from a selfish brother.
“So are you able to fire that accurately while Boo is actually mobile?” I asked with a snide grin, my gaze turning to the mana beast sleeping flat on his belly.
Ellie sulked at my jab. “Ugh, not yet. Helen made it look so easy when she showed me, but I haven’t been able to land a single decent shot while Boo was moving. It doesn’t help that this klutz runs like he’s purposely trying to throw me off his back.”
The bear-like mana beast let out a grunt of denial from the distance.
“You so do!” my sister quipped back before she bent down to pick up her bow.
My gaze fell to her hand as she reached down for the weapon. Calluses covered her fingers while freshly formed welts filled in the rare places of her hand that wasn’t already hardened from overuse.
“How much time do you spend practicing, El?” I asked.
My sister thought for a second before answering. “I don’t really keep track, but the sun goes down while I train so maybe about six or seven hours?”
My eyes widened. “Every day?”
Ellie simply shrugged. “I guess so.”
“What about studying, or playing with friends?”
“The classes in the castle are only once a week and I can finish the study material they give me in a day,” she answered. Ellie then hesitated before continuing. “As for friends… I’ll have you know that I’m very popular.”
“Really?” I said with a raised brow.
Caving under my unrelenting gaze, she let out a sigh. “Well, it’s not my fault that I have absolutely no interest in the things they talk about. How is it possible for a group of girls to talk nonstop about boys and clothes for hours?”
A chuckle escaped my throat and I could feel my expression soften. “I’m sure there are a few kids your age with interest in magic.”
Realizing that our conversation wasn’t going to end soon, my sister pulled out a chair and sat down. “Well, there were a few but when they awakened, their parents moved out of the castle, or just sent their kids to one of the major cities to have them board a magic school.”
Not all the children would have had the connections my sister had to get taught by a mage in this castle. It was understandable that the parents would want their children to still be taught how to utilize their newly-formed core, even with the potential danger of the war reaching them.
I looked at my sister as she fiddled with the string of her bow before carefully asking, “Did you want to attend a magic academy as well?”
“Of course,” she answered without hesitation, “but I know you, Mom, and Dad would all worry.”
I winced at my sister’s words. She was only twelve, but her words reflected a maturity that I wasn’t quite sure I wanted her to have. Speaking from my own experience, I knew what it was like to grow up too fast. It was yet another selfish wish of mine that my sister remained the cute innocent girl that worried only about what to wear to her friend’s birthday party.
Pushing aside my thoughts, I shot my sister a gentle smile. “I’ll talk to Mom and Dad when I get the chance and ask them about sending you to school.”
Ellie’s eyes widened. “Really?”
“Assuming they give you the okay, I’ll still want to send a guard with you to protect you in case anything happens. I know it might be a bit stifling to have someone with you at all times so I’ll try to find someone you’ll be comfortable with, but—”
My sister barrelled straight into me in a firm embrace. “Thanks, Brother.”
“Don’t get your hopes up too much,” I replied, my voice coming out as a wheeze from how hard she was squeezing me.
“Too late!” she giggled, unlatching her grasp on me before picking up her bow. “I’m going to have to practice harder if I want to beat those snooty nobles.”
I continued my role as an enthusiastic spectator, relishing the clear skies and the sweet scent of morning dew on the grass field. Ellie continued to fire off more mana arrows at faraway targets with uncanny accuracy. It would be a long time before she would get as comfortable with the bow as Helen Shard, but she had her own strength that the leader of the Twin Horns couldn’t hope to replicate.
Ellie had yet to develop an affinity toward an element, so she was limited to firing pure mana. It was a shame that there wasn’t much I could do to help her develop an affinity since that was mostly dependent on her own insights, but it was exciting seeing her grow and develop.
‘Your thoughts make it seem like you wish to have offspring of your own.’ Sylvie’s voice suddenly intruding my head startled me.
“Offspring?” I said aloud, scaring my sister.
Ellie’s mana arrow arched off-course at the sky, dissipating before it hit the castle barrier. “What?”
“It’s nothing,” I smiled, sneaking a sharp glare at my bond as my sister turned back.
Sylvie shifted in her cushion, looking at me with a shrewd expression of amusement on her vulpine face.
Go back to sleep, I sent, grumbling in my mind.
I continued watching the seemingly repetitive motions of Ellie murmuring, drawing her bow while a translucent arrow formed between her two fingers, steadying her aim, then firing.
She skipped the chanting process for types of arrows she was more versed in, but other times, she needed to describe the kind of arrow she wanted to shape the mana accurately. By the thirtieth time she fired her arrow, I wondered how Boo was able to sleep so easily with Ellie on his back.
“General Arthur?” a voice rang from behind.
My eyes snapped open and I turned around to see an elf holding a clipboard, garbed in a white attire that oddly resembled a lab coat from my former world. What caught my attention was the color of her eyes—or rather, colors. A ring of bright pink surrounded each of her pupils, then shifted into a bright blue on the outer ends of her irises.
Noticing my fixed gaze, she bowed, thinking I was expecting a formal greeting.
The elf stood as if her back was glued to a wooden plank while she then announced, “Artificer Gideon has arrived at the castle and is expecting you.”
“You’re going?” my sister asked, slinging her bow over her shoulder.
“Yup. I have some things to discuss with the old man,” I replied. Turning back as I followed behind the unusual elf, I said to my sister, “I most likely won’t be able to eat dinner with you, so don’t wait up.”
My sister nodded. “Gotcha. Say hi to Emily for me if you get the chance to see her.”
‘I’ll stay here with Eleanor,’ Sylvie said groggily.
Sure. I’ll update you when I get back, Sylv.
I trailed silently beside the elven secretary as she led the way with confident steps.
“Is there a name I can address you by?” I asked.
The elf stopped abruptly, bowing deeply so that her blond hair tied firmly into a ponytail flipped over her head. “Forgive me for not introducing myself. My name is Alanis Emeria and I have been personally assigned by Commander Virion to be your attendant.”
I dipped my head in response to her greeting. “Well, Alanis. It’s nice to meet you, but I’m having a hard time believing that you’re merely an attendant judging by the amount of mana you have concealed.”
The middle-aged elf blinked, her multicolored eyes shining, but otherwise looked unfazed. “As expected of a lance. Allow me to clarify. I have been assigned by Commander Virion to be your attendant while you undergo your training here. It was my wish to meet you as soon as possible.”
I didn’t quite understand what her role entailed as my attendant during training, but before I had the chance to ask, I spotted the familiar frame of Gideon running toward us in a sweaty mess.
“I came as soon as I heard from Commander Virion!” he huffed excitedly, his voice echoing in throughout the narrow halls. “What sort of ingenious idea do you have in that god-sent cranium of yours?”
The old artificer could hardly wait until we made it into one of the empty rooms used for meetings by nobles or military leaders.
“Out with it, boy!” Gideon gushed as soon as Alanis closed the door behind us. “And is it all right for the elf to be hearing this?”
The elven attendant cast a disapproving gaze toward Gideon at his less-than-casual address, but remained mute.
I couldn’t help but smile watching the old artificer fidget in his seat in anticipation. Taking a close look at him, it was hard to imagine that I’d known this old grandpa for more than ten years. The wrinkles between his brows and around his mouth had deepened in that time, no doubt because of how much time he spent frowning or scowling in frustration.
“Everyone’s going to know sooner or later, and she’s apparently my personal attendant starting today so it’s better to have her informed, right?” I asked, turning to Alanis.
“Part of my job will be to lessen other burdens while you focus on training, so yes, it would be helpful for me to stay informed,” she said, her pink-and-blue eyes seeming to change shades.
“More training? What more can you train after being personally taught by gods—asuras, I mean,” he pondered, rubbing his stubbly chin.
“There’s always room for training,” I dismissed. “But getting back on topic, what are the states of the current mines that were used to excavate the fuel source needed for our ships?”
Gideon’s eyes lit. “Oh, you mean the combustium mines? There are five major ones still being excavated.”
I raised a brow. “Combustium?”
“I made the name myself,” the artificer grinned. “You told me I would need a mineral with set characteristics capable of fueling the steam engine we designed—I think you called it coal? Anyway, out of the minerals currently known, which aren’t many, only one of them produced the amount of energy needed to power an entire ship efficiently. The characteristics are a bit different from the coal you mentioned so I decided to name it something else. Anyway, this stuff is amazing. Ten pounds of combustium can power an entire ship for about a dozen miles at full speed!”
“That’s great to hear,” I said, cutting Gideon off. Afraid he’d go deeper into a tangent, I went straight to the point. “What I have planned involves using coa—combustium for a different mode of transportation; specifically a ship that’ll be used to travel land.”
I nodded. “Except, I was thinking of calling it a ‘train.’”
“Train?” Gideon echoed incredulously. “From what poor mana beast’s ass did you pull a name like that out from?”
“Do you want the blueprints or not?” I scoffed.
Gideon raised his arms in a placating manner. “Train it is.”
The artificer prepared for the design immediately. He practically dumped out a whole lab from the dimension ring shoved on his thumb.
While Gideon caught on quickly to how the train would work, it still took a few hours explaining the details of how the railways and stops would work. I didn’t realize how much time had passed until my stomach twisted and grumbled in hunger.
“I think I covered everything you need to get started,” I said, scanning over the designs and specifications on the large parchment we had hung on the back wall of the meeting room.
“This is going to change everything,” Gideon muttered, more to himself than to Alanis or me. “The rivers are going to be a pain in the ass if we want to connect Blackbend City to Kalberk or Eksire, but with a few water and earth mages—”
“Let’s focus on the railway from Blackbend to the Wall,” I interrupted. “Of course, creating railways to other major cities will be important, but we need to create a secure route for supplies heading to the Grand Mountains if we want our troops there to survive.”
“Of course, but this…” Gideon paused for a second as his eyes scrutinized over the large map of Dicathen we had rolled out on the table. “We’ll be able to form new major cities with this.”
While I respected Gideon for his boundless vision, it was frustrating having to keep him on track. However, his last statement piqued my curiosity.
“What do you mean by forming new major cities?” I asked, looking over the map.
To my surprise, Alanis, who had been dead silent up until now, spoke. “I think what Artificer Gideon means is that, until now, cities in all three kingdoms were predetermined based on where we found or excavated teleportation gates. If this does come into fruition, then a secure mode of transportation that, while not nearly as fast as the gates, can carry mass supplies and goods on top of people will enable us to build major cities in any location.”
“Couldn’t have said it better myself,” Gideon said approvingly.
Feeling stiff, I stretched my arms and back. “Glad to see my idea changing the course of history.”
“Boy, saying something like that so flippantly to a renowned artificer… I should just hand over my brown robe and take up a new hobby,” Gideon sighed helplessly. “I’ve always had a knack for fishing.”
“You can’t retire just yet,” I smirked, heading over to the door. “You’ll be in charge of pitching this idea to the Council at their next meeting.”
“Me? As much as I love the limelight, why are you giving me credit for this?” Gideon asked.
“It’ll be easier to garner the support of the entire Council if the idea came from a ‘renowned artificer.’ We’ll need their help if you want a team of capable conjurers and some merchants or adventurers familiar with the area to map out the best route from Blackbend to the Wall,” I answered, mentally checking off some of the things we’d need. “Anyway, I’m starving. I’m going to go see what I can scavenge at the food hall.”
“I can have the chef prepare a balanced meal and deliver it to your room,” Alanis suggested.
I waved my hand in dismissal. “It’s okay. No reason to trouble the chef just for a meal.”
“Wait! How soon are you going back out to the field?” Gideon asked.
I looked at him over my shoulder. “I’m staying for a couple of months. I’ll mostly be down in the training space but I’ll stop by to check in on how you’re doing if that’s what you’re asking.”
The old artificer let out a scoff, rolling his eyes. “I’m honored, but that’s not what why I asked. Emily has been working on a few things that need to be tested.”
“You realize you’re asking a general to be your test dummy, don’t you?” I asked with a smirk.
“Relax, O’ Great One. I promise they’ll be helpful to you as well. I looked over them myself and though I don’t want to admit it, if the artifact works, it’ll change the way both conjurers and augmenters train.”
I shifted my gaze to Alanis, who also expressed a degree of curiosity. “Well, you’ll have to convince my training attendant.”
The old artificer let out a gruff laugh as I walked out the doors. I could hear him muttering to himself from behind, “The kid’s come a long way.”