Chapter 219: Army Approaching
Compared to the rate of my thoughts and worries speeding by within my mind, the hours in the sky crawled by.
If I wasn’t looking back towards the fading sight of the beast army out of sheer guilt that I was leaving the troops—and my family—at the Wall behind, I was focusing on the bright path of mana that made a road straight to what I suspected was the heart of Elenoir Kingdom.
‘What sort of spell is capable of such a thing?’ my bond asked as we followed along the path shining even through the thick layer of fog above the forest.
I’m not entirely sure but seeing as how the trail sort of zig zags around various points leading up North, I don’t think it’s a single powerful spell but an accumulation of the same spell creating a path.
It was just my speculation—rather, it was my hope. The thought of an enemy mage being able to basically nullify the ambient magic of the forest with a single conjuration scared me.
Snapping myself out of the pessimistic thoughts, I urged Sylvie to fly just a bit faster. It was already worrying enough thinking about something happening to my family or one of the Twin Horns, but thinking of not being able to make it to Tess in time left me trembling in sweat.
After about another hour of scouring above the forest, following the crooked path of mana almost palpable even without Realmheart, I finally spotted signs of a battle in the distance.
Mana fluctuations were apparent even above the thick canopy of trees below us but what worried me was the fact that they were old. This meant that the battle had ended, and it was impossible to tell from this distance which side had won.
Sensing my shift in emotions, Sylvie dived down closer to the forest, fast approaching the location that I had imprinted into my mind and into her as well.
As we approached closer and closer to our destination, however, a figure hovering over the blanket of trees and fog soon caught our attention.
What worried me more than his familiar appearance was the fact that he leaked no mana. Compared to the oppressive tidal wave that was Uto, this man was the eye of a terrible storm—just like his master.
Sylvie stopped about a dozen yards away. This time, it was her fear and anxiousness that was leaking into me.
“Cylrit,” I greeted the Vritra clad in black armor as he stood in the air, his purple cloak billowing behind him.
The retainer dipped his head before responding back with a brusque expression. “Lance.”
Despite my impatience, I exchanged a glance with Sylvie, who had transformed into her human form.
I was at a loss.
My instincts urged me to fight him; he was an enemy. But at the same time, the scythe above him had saved my life and the reason Sylvie and I were able to advance past our respective bottlenecks.
Imbuing mana into my voice, I asked hesitantly, “Are we to fight?”
“I have been instructed to keep you from advancing further,” he replied simply without a single change in his expression.
“And if I were to say that I have to advance?” I pushed, getting ready to release Realmheart once again.
Cylrit’s sharp eyes narrowed, but his voice was still calm as he answered. “It is for your benefit, Lance Leywin. My master wishes for you to be in optimal health before the final battle and partaking in the defense for the elven kingdom will make that difficult.”
“Seris said this was for my benefit?” I blurted.
“My master’s name isn’t something you should speak so casually, human.” Cylrit’s voice didn’t change, but a sharp bloodlust surged from him at the mention of the scythe’s name.
Matching the pressure he emanated, I spoke back, unable to keep the venom out of my voice. “Watch your tone, Cylrit. I chose to exchange words with you out of courtesy for your master. ”
“Courtesy?” the vritra’s expression darkened, changing for the first time. “Master Seris saved your life. I suggest you heed her words and clean up the mess happening in your fortress.”
My eyes remained locked with his. “We’re going to Elenoir.”
“Knowing how to sacrifice is a part of war,” Cylrit said, still trying to persuade me. “Wasting your efforts here won’t help you even if you manage to succeed in defending Elenoir.”
“You don’t think I know that?” I growled, unable to hold back. The wind stilled and the air grew so thick it was almost tangible.
Beside me, I could feel the worry from my bond, but at this moment, I didn’t care. Coming all this way was me already sacrificing the soldiers that would get injured or killed in battle from the beasts that I failed to kill. Who was he to preach about something I’d had to experience for two separate lives.
The vritra’s brows furrowed in frustration. “Go back, lance. If you want a chance of saving Dicathen, you should worry about bigger things.”
I silently approached Cylrit. “Move aside. You’re mistaken if you think you can keep us both here. A lot has changed since our fight against Uto.”
Seris’ retainer clicked his tongue before holding out his arm. A thick black fog swirled around his outstretched hand, manifesting into a pitch black greatsword almost twice the owner’s height. “Very well. If you insist on fighting, allow me to prove you wrong.”
Lanceler Academy, Kalberk City
“Keep your formations!” I barked as I followed closely behind the group of students riding my bond. “Vanguards, keep your shields up! Trust in your mounts to protect your legs. That’s it!”
The twelve students followed the marked path for this particular drill while the archers a few dozen yards away were already in position to fire.
“Release!” I shouted at the archers.
A volley of blunted arrows struck the line of students riding clawed equines owned by Lanceler Academy. As practiced, the students shrugged forward on their mounts, raising their shields and using their left knees to help support them against long-range attacks.
Some of the students were slow in raising their shields while others weren’t able to augment their bodies in time to withstand the volley of projectiles. Those unfortunate students were knocked off the mana beast they were mounted on and tumbled on the dirt trail.
Grawder, my bond, let out a disappointed grunt as he trotted towards the students groaning on the ground.
“Tanner, Gard, Lehr,” I called.
The three students bolted up from the ground and saluted. “Sir!”
Stroking my world lion’s deep red mane, I passed by them. “Each of you owes me twenty sets of shield press without using mana.”
The three new recruits’ faces blanched at my words. Letting out a sigh, we trailed behind the remaining students still riding their mounts.
The practice ran for another two hours as we reviewed a few more formations. Eventually, the clawed equines had to recoverst, bringing the session to a brief rest.
“All right, walk your mounts to the lake and take an hour break!” I called, hopping off of Grawder.
Beneath the hundred-year-old tree, I leaned my back against Grawder, enjoying the cool breeze in the shade. One of my favorite things about this school was the fact that it was so close to Mirror Lake.
I took out some dried beef and fresh bread from my dimension ring and watched as the students separated into their respective circles of friends. Tanner, Gard, and Lehr squatted by the edge of the lake, raising their steel shields above their heads.
Some of the other students had already finished their light meals and began sparring with the blunted weapons used for training.
“As expected of Lanceler students,” a familiar voice sounded from behind me. “Even as trainees, they can never stay still.”
I looked up, not bothering to standget, and shot the retired knight a smirk. “What does that make me, then?”
“A lazy fool,” he retorted, taking a seat beside me in the grass.
I ripped off a chunk of my bread and passed him the side of the old man’s favorite broth that I had stored in my ring as well. “A student is only as good as his teacher, Instructor Crowe.”
“ Ex- instructor,” he scoffed but accepted the snack with a smile. “And it seems like growing up as royalty only taught you how to talk well.”
The two of us sat silently, enjoying the glittering view of the lake. We’d let out a chuckle or a laugh here and there while watching the students make fools of themselves either while sparring or playing in the water. The few girls present were always flocked by the males students doing whatever they could to try and impress their female counterparts.
“Looking at these youths frolic without a care in the world, it’s hard to imagine that we’re in the middle of a war,” Crowe said softly.
“Definitely,” I agreed. “Hearing the stories coming from the eastern border of Sapin, I’m frustrated in one sense because I’m not there helping out, but I’m also relieved because I don’t think my students are anywhere near ready to face Alacryan soldiers.”
“You know, I remember being pretty discontent when I heard the news of you coming to Lanceler. I remember thinking of you as another spoiled noble that found a position here due to your connections.” My former instructor turned his gaze to me. “I was wrong about you, Curtis. You were hard-working from day one, and you were happy to hear your mistakes because that gave you room to improve.”
Not used to hearing compliments from the strict ex-knight, I felt my cheeks starting to flush. “Well, being an adequate mage and fighter iwas one thing, but I didn’t know anything about teaching.”
“Exactly! So why is it so hard for some of you nobles to admit that you don’t know something, or you’re not good at it? It still baffles me to this day.”
I let out a chuckle. “Think of it as an inferiority complex. Nobles are taught to either have no weakness or, if we haved one, to never show it.”
“That’s one good thing about when you’re in battle. At that moment when you’re one of the countless soldiers in the front line, there is no strategy,” the old knight huffed.
“Is that your excuse for never trying to go into leadership or strategic positions?” I smirked.
“Why you little—” Crowe hooked me with his arm and began grinding his knuckles on my head while Grawder groaned in protest from being woken up.
“Okay, okay! I surrender!”
The two of us continued bickering as we laughed. Despite the rather short time I had come here to teach students, there was an abundance of stories to exchange to one another on a perfect day like this.
After the short hour of break time had passed, the two of us got up.
“Back to the training grounds in full armor within fifteen minutes!” I yelled.
The students stiffened at my voice and scurried back up the hill where we had practice.
“They listen to you well,” Crowe commented, smiling as he saw some of the students that he had once taught greeting him with a hurried bow before running up.
“Their graduations depend on it.” I shrugged before patting the old knight on the back. “Come on, Instructor Crowe, it’s time for spear lessons and you’re still the best. I’m sure they’d love to learn from you.”
“I may be retired, but I’m still expensive.”
“Think of the bread and broth as payment.”
“Why you little…”
Crowe stopped. He raised his head, peering up at a figure in the sky.
“Isn’t that a messenger?” I asked, squinting my eyes to try and see what sort of beast the flying mount was.
The beast, along with its rider, descended, landing on the highest balcony on the metal tower. The tall, pointed structure in the shape of a colossal lance was not only the symbol of our academy but the building where our headmaster resided.
“That’s a blade wing,” Crowe muttered, his tone serious. “There are only a few mages bonded to those beasts. If they were hired as messengers, that means it’s serious.”
I hopped on Grawder and gestured to my former instructor. “Let’s see what it’s about.”
After passing by my confused students and riding through the paved school grounds, we approached the tall lance-shaped tower.
Grawder couldn’t fit in the staircase so we left him with the guards stationed outside before making our way up the tower. Even with mana, the journey up the spiraling stairs was a bit hard on the old knight but we made it fast enough to still hear the mutters of conversation going on on the other side of the headmaster’s door.
After the two of us traded glances, I turned the golden handle and opened the door.
Seated behind his desk was the giant frame of our headmaster slumped forward with his head buried in his hands. Beside him was the messenger, his expression a mixture of fear and angst.
I spoke up. “Headmaster Landon? We saw the messenger and—”
The headmaster raised a hand, not bothering to look up. “Gather your students, Instructor Curtis. Better yet, maybe it’s best you just make your journey to Kalberk now and use their teleportation gate to go back to the Castle.”
“I’m not following, Sir. What’s going on?” I shifted my gaze from the headmaster to the messenger.
“An envoy arrived at Kalberk from Etistin this morning,” the messenger started, his voice trembling. “A watcher flying a few miles off the coast of Etistin spotted roughly three hundred Alacryan ships approaching.”