Chapter 199: Return
“Currently, there are five units in this region and another three further east approximately in this vicinity based on their last transmissions,” the captain of the Trailblazer Division reported, pointing to the relative markings with an outstretched finger.
Jesmiya Cruwer—her name given to me via a brief introduction—was the captain of Tessia’s unit. She was a beautiful woman… in a terrifying sort of way. With long blonde hair that draped over her shoulders in waves and a figure that her tight-fitting armor only accentuated, I could only imagine how many men have tried to court her once they worked up the nerves to do so. The captain always had one hand resting on the pommel of her saber, as if always ready to strike, and her surly expression never seemed to soften.
I had imagined that the captain leading its division into the dangerous wilds of the Beast Glades would be tough, but Captain Jesmiya looked as though she could frighten away mana beasts with just a sharp gaze in their direction.
Trodius shifted his gaze from the map to a sheet of paper he was holding. “Captain Jesmiya. The log sheets for clearing the dungeons; how accurate is this timeline?”
The captain of the Trailblazer Division straightened her back before speaking. “Fairly accurate. Even taking into account the number of Alacryan mages surrounding the teleportation gate and how much the corruption process has taken over the dungeon levels, my unit has never taken longer than a week.”
“A week is too long,” the senior captain stated coldly. “The number of corrupted beasts attacking the Wall has yet to decline. Have your units on a strict deadline of four days for each dungeon.”
“But sir!” Captain Jesmiya bolted up from her seat. “Rushing the expeditions to that degree will only cause more casualties. Some of these dungeons have never been cleared before, and extreme caution has to be taken, or an entire unit can get wiped out!”
“That’s an order, Captain Jesimya Cruwer. “The Wall is the last form of defense on the eastern border of Sapin. If a soldier from your unit dies out in the Beast Glades, that soldier’s family isn’t in danger. However, if the number of beasts becomes more than this fort can handle, those monsters and the Alacryan mages controlling them will have free reign on the civilians of the towns nearby.”
Captain Jesimya’s expression as she returned to her seat was even more sour than it had been before. The brawny Captain Albanth, on the other hand, had all of the intensity of a bear cub sitting across uncomfortably from the blonde-haired bundle of seething fire.
Despite his warrior-like build, most of the captain’s division comprised of workers and blacksmiths responsible for maintaining and further constructing the Wall. He himself had been a retired A class adventurer that opened up his own forge in Blackbend City.
With the continued success of the Wall under his direct guidance, Albanth had been recently promoted from his position as a unit head.
However, with a relatively new captain mostly overseeing the development and maintenance of the Wall and with Captain Jesmiya hardly staying in one place since most of her troops are constantly in different parts of the Beast Glades, Trodius Flamesworth had been assigned to this area as the senior captain that both Jesmiya and Albanth directly reported to.
I continued listening silently as the two captains continued their reports to Trodius as the few heads present in the meeting occasionally chimed in to give more detailed accounts when asked.
Trodius looked up from his notes. “And what is the progress on the new routes for our Trailblazer Division?”
“We’ve just finished securing the fourth tunnel. It’s the longest one yet, and the entrance is hidden in a small crevice along a riverbank. A team of earth mages is still reinforcing the tunnel, but it should be accessible to units within the week,” Albanth explained, drawing a line with his fingers that indicated the rough layout of the tunnel.
“Pull back a fourth of the workers and have them work nights instead,” Trodius stated. “ We were forced to flood another route just last week because its location had been compromised by the Alacryans. Securing more underground routes is priority.”
The senior captain then turned back to Captain Jesmiya. “Are there new updates on finding any transportation gates?”
The captain shook her head. “I have only a single unit working on locating it. I’ll need more time.”
“Teleportation gate?” I asked, my interest piqued.
“Yes,” Trodius answered, his red eyes shifting to me. “With the constant attacks on the wall, the best way for our soldiers to access the Beast Glades are through our underground channels. However, with the new mode of transportation that is being built to connect the Wall to Blackbend City—a ‘train’ is what I believe they’re calling it—we would have far better access to the city’s teleportation gate. If we are able to locate and connect that gate to any gates in the Beast Glades, then troops wouldn’t have to waste<span class=”Apple-converted-space”> </span>hours marching through underground tunnels.”
My eyes focused on the map. “How are you certain that there are even teleportation gates in the Beast Glades?”
“We’re not,” he replied matter-of-factly. “Which is why I’ve limited the resources into finding it. Many of the ancient texts we have on the gates point to some being hidden within the Beast Glades but whether it’s true or not remains a mystery.”
The teleportation gates were an interesting subject for me. Along with the floating castle and Xyrus City, the gates were another relic left behind by the mages of the old. It was always fascinating for me to read how these ancient mages used magic to do things that even the strongest mages of the present couldn’t even fathom replicating.
The stone arches engraved with indecipherable runes looked so simple, yet entire cities were built around them and relied on them as modes of transportation. Presently, artificers have only unlocked how to connect teleportation gates to each other and change their destinations. As for actually building on themselves, it was a distant dream.
“What sort of method is the unit using to track down the gates?” I asked. “Assuming that you do not just have them blindly wander around.”
A faint smile cracked open on the lips of Trodius Flamesworth. “I prefer not to waste even the smallest of resources on ventures like that. The gates constantly emit a faint fluctuation of mana particles. Normally, this wouldn’t be detectable to even the best trackers, but these fluctuations occur throughout the whole spectrum of elements.”
“Interesting,” I accidentally said aloud. I thought back to my time trying to track mana fluctuations in Darv. It was hard, but that was because I had blindly searched for any deviations in the ambient mana through Realmheart. If it’s to find fluctuations of all the elements, then finding it would just be a matter of flying over… all of the Beast Glades.
Nevermind, I thought. A waste of time considering there might not even be any gates.
My thoughts were interrupted by Trodius, who began stacking away his notes. He spent a good few minutes meticulously organizing and perfectly setting his piles of papers before meeting my gaze. “My apologies for having you sit through this meeting.”
The senior captain of the Flamesworth family stood up, motioning for the rest of the people present to leave before I stopped him.
“It’ll be better for them to hear this as well,” I stated, still in my seat.
It didn’t take too long to explain what I learned from interrogating the Alacryan. That, and with the scene from Uto’s memories filling in some of the gaps, I was able to give an in-depth analysis that had even Captain Jesmiya furiously scribbling on a piece of paper.
“Intriguing,” Trodius mused. “General. You say that the Alacryan mages have a very limited, specialized form of magic manipulation, but what is stopping a ‘striker’—for example—from blasting out his mana into a ranged strike?”
“It’s as the senior captain says. I can’t exactly give this information to my troops, only to have them injured or killed because a striker launched a ranged spell or a shield was able to conjure a mana blade,” Jesmiya added.
“I won’t tell you to be entirely confident in this information. Better yet, don’t tell your troops or only inform the heads and have them observe. Our enemies use magic very differently from us, but that doesn’t always mean it’s better. Study and exploit the flaws,” I stated. “The Council will be expecting reports based on the information that I’m giving you now.”
The Council wasn’t actually aware of this information yet, but they will soon, and they’re undoubtedly going to want reports back.
I told the ones present in the meeting the rest of what I knew about the marks, crests, emblems, and regalias.
“More captains will be given this information and be expected to contribute reports on what you find out in the battlefield.” I stood up. “That’ll be all.”
I took my leave, not wanting to stay inside any longer than necessary. Throughout the entire meeting, I paid careful attention to Trodius Flamesworth.
Growing up with his daughter helping my family and me so much, I couldn’t help but resent the Flamesworth family after hearing first hand from Jasmine how she was discarded by her family.
My animosity had narrowed down to only Trodius Flamesworth after getting to know Hester and hearing about the relationship between Jasmine and her father from her, but after meeting the man today, all I felt was a weary callousness.
After my initial surprise in running into the head of the Flamesworth family, I had tried to stir up as much animosity for the man as I could. But I had come here as a lance, not as Jasmine’s friend. He may be a piss poor father, and he may be cold-hearted to a certain degree, but his leadership was solid.
Not long after I had left the tent, my surroundings had become loud and busy. The ground wasn’t paved so a layer of sand and dust constantly dwindled in the air from the myriad of footsteps. Workers, caked in dirt and grime, mingled with merchants and adventurers, some still holding their shovel or pickaxe after being recently relieved from their shift. Tents and carts of various vendors that have traveled a long way shouted out their products while entertainers performed in the intersections on platforms with either an instrument case or an upturned hat in front of them to collect tip.
A drone of chatter between buyers and sellers blended into the clamor that came from the Wall. The whole fort felt almost autonomous; every person here had come for a reason and their steps and actions portrayed that.
More than once was I called over to a stall by a merchant so that they could sell me something.
“Oy! Lad! Your shoes look mighty thin for someone in these parts,” a burly man in a leather apron called out. “Might I interest you in a pair of fine leather boots for your poor feet?”
The man waved his arm at the array of leather footwear displayed in wooden racks. Feigning interest, I leaned forward and touched a few of the boots that looked my size.
“The section you’re looking at all have a layer of compressed wool inside. I swear you’ll feel like you’re walking on a cloud,” he said excitedly.
Curious, I slipped out of my thin turnshoes and edged my feet into a pair of the merchant’s boots.
I hopped a few times before taking them back off. Placing them back on the rack, I gave the merchant a grin. “I’ve walked on a cloud before and this wasn’t quite the same. Nice shoes though.”
It was fun walking through the busy streets of the fortress. Dressed in nothing but a loose robe with minimal decorations and no weapon, most regarded me as a merchant’s son.
Biting into a skewer of charbroiled meat that had the texture of chicken thigh, I stopped by every stall that caught my interest. There were merchants carrying more mundane items like cloth, furs, spices, and alcohol—which was unsurprisingly popular with how many overworked soldiers and workers there were—while some, more interesting, vendors carrying enchanted armors and weapons. A merchant tried very hard to get me to buy an enchanted handle that shot out a blast of fire and smoke from a small nozzle, mainly used for self-defense by weak nobles until I conjured a sphere of fire from my finger close enough to singe is front hair and gave the man a wink.
As the sun began to set, I thought of maybe spending a night at an inn that catered towards the visitors of the Wall when a deep horn sounded from a distance.
Turning my gaze, I saw a large metal gate about twenty feet high where the horn had come from.
I wonder what’s happening? I thought just before another horn blew.
Following behind a group of uniformed workers as they marched toward the gate, I saw it sliding open with a groan.
A crowd had already formed around the gate as carriages pulled by mana beasts began filing in with mages and warriors walking beside them with weapons unsheathed. Their exhaustion was evident in their posture and expression as the workers took over and started slowly taking crates out of the carriages. I stepped forward to get a better look when out of the corner of my eyes I saw my father.