Chapter 195: Next Stage
“Oh, Great Vritra,” I muttered under my breath, watching a shield lose his footing, almost getting trampled in the process.
“Shields, keep up those defensive panels! Don’t let any of the beasts stray off,” I barked out before looking down at the mysterious black ore I had been ordered to break once the beasts were all inside the Elshire Forest.
I watched as hundreds of corrupted beasts were herded through the walls of translucent panels casted by teams of shields. It was a peculiar sight as monsters that would normally be nowhere near each other walked sluggishly abreast. hound-sized spiders, large wolves and even serpents with heads on both ends ‘marched’ together, unaware of what was going on. Several unads served to protect each of the shields just in case any of the beasts broke free.
Even unads have their purposes. Better one of them dies than a mage.
I cast my eyes on the ironclad unads wielding ordinary weapons of steel, unable to even strengthen them. Pitiful.
I turned to the sentry assigned to my force, a lanky man with bangs that covered his eyes. “Can you get a read inside the forest?”
He put his palms to the ground before clicking his tongue. “My range is cut to a fourth inside there.”
“Looks like you’ll have to go in with us,” I sighed.
He stepped away from me. “W-What? That’s not what—”
Before he could finish, I grabbed the ‘precious’ sentry by the scruff of his neck. “Look. I don’t care if you sentries think you’re precious because of your perverted voyeuristic magic. You’ll be safe with my personal shield and caster.”
“A-All right, but if anything happens to me…”
The boy’s idle threats were laughable by his trembling.
Merciful Vritra, how can he even see himself as a soldier if he’s scared to go anywhere near a battle.
“You’ll be fine,” I stressed, letting go of his collar. “Now form the mental link with me, and me only. Something tells me you’re not very good at multitasking.”
The sentry nodded, placing two fingers on my temple and concentrating.
‘C-Can you hear me?’ a familiar voice rang directly in my head.
How is it that you stutter even inside your head, I thought.
‘Just so you know, I can only do a one-way line of mental communication so I won’t be able to hear back from you.’
“Okay,” I said aloud, holding back the urge to roll my eyes. Despite his shortcomings, having a sentry is a big bonus in that my shield and caster won’t have to stay as close to me and rely on feedback from the sentry.
Turning my attention back to the task at hand, I watched as teams of mages stood on standby as more and more of the corrupted beasts disappeared into the thick, hazy forest that was home to the elves in Dicathen. As soon as the last of the monsters herded out from the Northern Beast Glades were deep inside the dense array of trees, I held up the black ore.
“Una—nonmages, front line positions with weapons out. Strikers, behind them with your shields and casters nearby. Prepare to charge at a given notice!” I ordered as everyone shuffled into place.
I didn’t know how those corrupted beasts were sedated but the artifacts entrusted to me seemed to work like a charm. As soon as I shattered the ore, releasing the effects of my control, vicious growls, snarls, and roars broke out from within the forest.
Several unads carrying supplies began handing out the vials of rancid liquid for everyone to spray on their clothes. Expensive and temporary, but it was the only way the corrupted beasts would not attack us.
Moments of tense silence ensued as everyone waited for my signal. I flexed my hands, eager to get in some action with my newly unlocked crest. It had yet been even a passing of a season since I had trained my initial mark to form my crest—truly praiseworthy for someone that had just turned eighteen—yet I found myself thirsting for more. Just like my father, I also wanted to be granted the privilege of entering the Obsidian Vault to hopefully acquire an emblem.
I looked forward to returning to Alacrya. I knew my father would survive the trials the Obsidian Vault gave to those that entered and I wanted nothing more than to see what sort of emblem he would come out with.
Perhaps he’ll be blessed with a legendary regalia! If that happens, our House of Vale will soar within all of Vechor, perhaps even within all of Alacyra.
I knew that my father wouldn’t be able to get a regalia. While considered young, he was still only a mid-tier mage after all—the same as me, albeit twice my age. While I respected his strength and talent, he was still a shield. I allowed myself a faint smile that only lasted but a brief second when a loud crash resounded from the distance. With my basic senses enhanced by my crest, I was able to hear faint yells from what could only be by the elves patrolling the area.
Taking a glance behind me to make sure that the signaling artifact was in place to guide us back out of the forest, I readied myself.
“Charge!” I roared out cladding my whole body in mana—another perk of my newly acquired crest.
The nonmages charged without any doubt or reluctance while even the mages strode forth with unusual vigor.
Taking just a quick moment to look down, I realized it was probably the soft glow emanating from my body that filled my troops with confidence. Confidence that stemmed from both my strength and mentality. It didn’t matter if the Dicathiens had strange, versatile magic. For me, this was just a mission to succeed in and to receive more achievements—achievements that will further my blood waiting for me back home.
I weaved through the maze of trees, unable to even see my own feet because of the dense fog. However, it was easy to spot the battle between the elves and the corrupted mana beasts we had let loose on their land.
Though outnumbered, the elves were holding their own fairly well against the rabid beasts. Glowing arrows shot with astonishing accuracy fell beast after beast, small or large. Several elven soldiers were even able to control the trees around them to trap and choke several of the larger beasts.
One enemy mage stuck out. An older female with blonde hair that flowed out of her helmet. She had no weapons but from her hands came out deadly blades of wind that were able to splice several beasts at once.
That was my target.
“Seren, focus shields on me and stay at a distance with Mari. Sent—Ashton, stick close to them and relay my position in case I’m in danger,” I ordered, picking up my pace. Polygonal panels of mana hovered around me, ready to defend against any projectiles while a faint hum sounded from behind as Mari began charging her magic.
I channeled mana through my crest, an action that was as natural as breathing by now. Unsheathing my sword, strengthened by a famed instiller, I ignited the weapon with a jagged fire that tore and seared rather than burned.
I circulated more mana through my crest and out to the rest of my body to strengthen my limbs. Power rushed through me as I dashed forward into the thick of the battle like a true striker. My sword buzzed, glowing brightly like a beacon to my troops as I neared the first elf in my path.
The lean elf with short hair and stern brows turned to me, eyes widening. His mouth moved and wind began gathering around his dual daggers but it was too late.
I guess it’s true that mages of Dicathen, while versatile, were slow. How inefficient and primitive.
My sword tore through the daggers that he had crossed together to defend himself with before slashing into his torso. Unexpectedly, I felt my sword go through a layer of mana.
So even weak mages like him were able to clad himself in mana. How odd.
I didn’t waste another breath as I finished off the impaired elf. Taking a quick moment to look around, I saw that many other of my mages had already engaged with the enemy elves. As predicted, the tides were rapidly turning in our favor. The corrupted beasts were deadly in that they didn’t care for their own safety and viciously attacked anything in their way.
As I neared closer to the elf using wind-blade magic, Ashton’s voice rang once more in my head.
‘Her mana readings are a bit different, b-but she should be around the lower end of a mid-tier mage.<span class=”Apple-converted-space”> </span>Your caster is readying her spell to single-target. Proceed with caution, and I’ll let you know when to get out of the way.’
So this is what it’s like to have a sentry—even a half-baked one—accessible. No wonder they’re considered valuable despite not having a single form of offensive or defensive magic.
The flame magic that had been unlocked through my mark after the awakening ceremony allowed my flames to take on a jagged quality that tore away at anything in its path. A rare, upper mid-tier mark. However, after I had mastered this magic to the point that I could evolve it to a crest, I was able to utilize it in a whole new way.
Dropping my speed, I sheathed my sword and circulated more mana through my crest. My body erupted, covering me in an armor of fire while releasing four floating sickles of jagged flames. They orbited around me, ready to strike with a very thought as I concentrated entirely on controlling them.
The female elf clad in armor let loose another blade of wind, killing yet another two beasts before turning her full attention on me.
Unlike the previous elf I had just killed, her mouth didn’t move while she let loose a blade of wind at me.
‘S-Shield prepared to guard the attack. Proceed,’ the sentry informed.
I stepped off, my movement empowered by the flames enveloping my body. The polygonal shields layered in front of me, prepared to take on the wind blade. The first panel broke upon impact and the second one cracked, but withstood the attack before wind dissipated.
Using that opportunity, I was able to get in range to send my sickles out to my opponent.
‘A arrow incoming from left. Duck!’
Without hesitation, I fell to the ground. That broke my concentration in controlling the flying sickles of flame, but I was able to dodge the mana-clad arrow as it whizzed above me. Just by the sound it made, I knew that relying on the shield was a risk better not taken.
I need to end this fast. I don’t want to waste too much mana on just a single enemy.
The drawback of using the full form of my crest was that it took a lot of mana to keep up. Not to mention that each of the three sickles took up additional mana to maintain; something I need to improve upon if I want to be able to control more sickles.
Pushing off with both my hands and feet, I dashed toward the elf, who was just about to release another blade.
I sent a single sickle down on her gathered hands. Despite the speed of my blitz attack, she was able to dodge my sickle in time to save her hands from getting sliced off. However, that allowed me to bury a flame-clad fist right into her breastplate, shattering it and sending her flying backward and into a tree.
Releasing my flame-clad form to save mana, I drew my blade to end the elf when a terrifying presence gripped at my very soul.
‘S-S-Steffen. G-Get out of there. Now!’
I wanted to. I wanted nothing more than to get of here, but I found myself on my knees, clawing at my chest because I couldn’t breathe.
What in Great Vritra’s name is this suffocating presence?
I tried to crawl away—that was all I could manage. I cared not to save my appearances. If I didn’t get out of here, I knew that I wouldn’t even live to feel shame.
That was when a person landed in front of me.
I looked up to see the boy, his long auburn hair tied messily behind him with striking blue eyes that radiated power. He gazed down at me with an annoyance that wasn’t even directed to me.
I was the son of Karnal Vale, heir to the House of Vale, yet in front of this boy that appeared no older than me, I was nothing.
My body trembled and convulsed as a palpable power radiated from him and weighed down on me.
Just then, however, I heard a slight hum before a beam of pure frost bombarded the boy. I flinched and tried to roll away to not get caught up in the blast.
A fleeting sense of hope allowed me to get back on my legs as I tried to run away, but before I could even get in two steps, a searing pain radiated from my right arm and the ground slid out from under me.
I toppled forward, unable to get up. Looking behind me, I could only see a pool of crimson spreading from where my arm used to be. Desperate, I used my only able arm to try and crawl, somehow unable to get up. My eyes searched for my teammates, only to see Seren, Mari and Ashton fleeing away.
My vision dimmed as I found myself eye-level with the roots sprouting from the ground, my last thoughts being how it wasn’t supposed to end like this.
I surveyed the surroundings. The once lush green forest was splattered with blood and corpses. Even the thick fog did little to cover up the aftermath of the battle.
“Thank you, General Arthur, for your aid,” the female elf that I had barely saved said, her voice hoarse and in pain.
My eyes fell to the elven soldiers that had died trying to protect their home. “I’m sorry I couldn’t come sooner. This could’ve all been avoided had I arrived before the beasts were herded into the forest.”
The elf shook her head. “Please don’t apologize. The outcome of this battle would’ve been very different had you not come at all. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to help and gather my men.”
Keeping her armor on, the elf ran off, checking for any signs of life while more elves arrived to help.
Is this what Agrona meant when he said the war is progressing to the next stage?
This marked the first attack on Elven territory, and even if this particular strike had failed, it had done its job.
Until now, only Sapin had taken the brunt of the attack, which made it easy to allocate resources to a central place, but now that our enemies are striking elsewhere as well, how will the Council choose to handle this?
I’ll have to check up on General Aya to see if she needs help, I thought before looking down at the Alacryan that I had managed to keep alive. I had severed his dominant arm but otherwise kept him able. The healthier he is now the longer he’ll last during the information extraction.
“You. Soldier carrying the weapons,” I called out to a nearby elf who had been assigned to collect his fallen comrades’ belongings.
The young elf looked down at weapons in his arms before realizing that he was the one being called to. “Y-Yes, General Arthur?”
I pointed down to the Alacryan on the ground. “Bring this one to the camp and wrap up his wounds so he doesn’t bleed out.”
There was a look of disdain that passed through the elf’s face, but he quickly hid it and dipped his head in understanding.
“Oh, and make sure he doesn’t kill himself before I interrogate him,” I added as the elf picked the wounded enemy up.
“Yes sir!” he said with renewed vigor, knowing that his enemy will perhaps have a fate worse than death.