<h3>Chapter 123: Battles In Various Scenarios</h3> <hr />
“Wait, you made this sword?” I echoed with obvious skepticism. Since coming across such a mysterious sword, I had often wondered who this W.K IV was. More than once had I scoured through the library of Xyrus Academy in hopes to find the smith with those initials, only to be met with disappointment and a dizzying amount of royal names.
“Was I speaking a different language?” Wren replied curtly, his eyes still inspecting Dawn’s Ballad.
Ignoring his quip, I changed my approach. “Okay, so assuming that you did forge this sword, what was it doing in Dicathen?”
Until now, I had assumed that my sword was of dwarven origin because of their specialty in this craft. A dark, bulky, bear of a man with a thick beard and bulging arms covered with hair and hands hardened with callouses had always come to mind when imagining the maker of Dawn’s Ballad; the typical stereotype associated with smiths and other metalworkers. Instead, this bony man that looked like he’d get tired holding a pen for too long stated that he had forged this sword.
“Dawn’s Ballad was one of my experimental weapons—more or less a failure. I tossed it away in the Beast Glades of your continent on one of my visits to gather minerals, assuming that no one would be able to even tell it was anything other than a black stick, much less open it. To think that it had somehow ended up in your possession…What are the odds?” The asura actually began to calculate the probability of this before I interrupted him.
“A failure? I’ve never seen a sword of better quality and make in my life. What makes it a failure?” I pressed.
“As much as a compliment your words may be, comparing my weapons—no matter how poor in quality—to the primitive tools used by you lesser races only insults me.” He clicked his tongue. “I had forged this sword as more of a one-size-fits-all weapon. I must’ve been drunk when I thought that was a good idea. This sword just came out to be a sharp tool, nothing more, nothing less.” Wren finally pried his eyes off of the sword and exchanged glances at Windsom. “But this makes things interesting.”
Looking over my shoulder, I could see Windsom’s stoic face break into a smile as he replied, “I thought it might. So what do you think after meeting him? Will you do it?”
“What is going on?” I interrupted, lost. I began to grow afraid that the asura might claim back his weapon or even dispose of it completely for the sake of his pride. There was no doubt that I would never find a sword of this quality despite it being a “failure.”
“Arthur, I brought you here to Wren to accomplish two things. The first one, I had mentioned earlier. While his methods are unconventional, Wren has an usually keen eye in the practical theory of combat. The second reason was in hopes that Wren would produce a sword that is a better fit for your own unique form of combat.”
“Is that true?” I turned to Wren. “You’ll really forge a sword for me?”
“I don’t forge swords, brat. I create them. And I only came to train you because I owed a favor to Lord Indrath. His favor didn’t extend to wasting my time, making a sword for a lesser being.” Wren slid Dawn’s Ballad into its scabbard. “Anyways, I’m going to hold onto this sword for now.”
“For now? So you’ll give it back to me?” I confirmed, still apprehensive.
“Boy, Dawn’s Ballad might be just a sharp tool, but it still chose you. I’m not proud of this particular piece, but I’m not going to take it away from you,” he replied. The asura then stretched his arm in front of him and a sword suddenly emerged from the ground below. Grabbing the sword by its hilt, he tossed it to me. “For now, use this while training. I created it to measure the movements the user produces and the force of the impact it receives.”
“And you can just summon it from the ground at any time?” I asked, holding the seemingly normal shortsword in my hands.
“Out of everything I’ve done so far, you’re surprised by this?” Wren shook his head, motioning his hand at me. “Let me also hold onto the dragon feather.”
“What? Why this too?” I retreated, clasping my hand over my arm to cover the white feather.
“Do you find an innate urge to question everything I do?” the hunched asura snapped.
I reluctantly handed over the white feather over to Wren, scratching the scar I received after being bonded to Sylvie. Without the feather to cover it up, I felt bare, as if my skin had been removed.
Wren tucked the feather into his coat. “Now, I’m aware that you lesser beings need much more sleep than we do, so get some rest.”
“Wait, so we’re spending the night out here in the center of this barren crater?” I asked, looking around.
“Who said anything about we? Windsom and I have matters to attend to. And besides, there’s not always going to be a fluffy bed waiting for you during war, so I’m doing this for you.” The asura had a wicked smirk on his face as Windsom conjured a teleportation gate.
“Try to get some rest, Arthur,” Windsom advised just before stepping into the gate.
As the glowing runes making the teleportation circle faded, it grew eerily quiet. The occasional whistles of wind were the only sounds to be heard as I let out a sigh. Slipping my dusty clothes back on, I conjured up two slabs of earth to form a makeshift tent.
I must’ve knocked out as soon as laid my head against the pile of rocks I had gathered because a violent tremble caused me to smack my head against my stone pillow, jolting me awake in pain. I lowered the stone tent that I had created to be startled by the sight of countless golems encircled around my camp. Each of them wielded a different weapon but they all raised their weapons above their stone heads and swung down in unison.
My body acted on autopilot as I instinctively raised a dome of earth to protect me. With an explosive thud, the dome had crumbled and the debris fell on top of me. I was still dazed by the situation when Wren’s amplified voice resounded from above.
“You will never truly be at rest while you’re in the middle of a war, kid. You need to get used to fighting effectively in a suboptimal state. Now, strip your clothes and resume battle.”
“That damned lunatic,” I cursed. I could still hear the movements of the golems around me, waiting for me to come back up.
Gathering mana around me, I waited for them to draw in as close as possible. Once their footsteps were in range, I released my spell.
Instead of aiming it at them, I released the spell on the ground below me, creating a large cloud of sand and debris to cover me. Some of the closer golems were shoved back by force, giving me enough space to maneuver around as the sand covered their vision of me.
I lunged myself at the nearest golem, raising my testing sword in one fluid swipe. I knew that Wren wanted to mimic the environment of war, so I acted as if the golems were actual humans. I slashed at the golem’s jugular, and as expected, the golem fell on the floor, spewing a red liquid from its wound.
Another golem—this one wielding a large halberd—charged at me from behind. As it lowered its stance to thrust its weapon at me, I pivoted with my sword in position to parry the head of the halberd. However, even with a body strengthened with Sylvia’s will on top of mana, I was thrown off balance at the force of the stab. I spun to alleviate some of the momentum caused by the blow, but I had no time to breath as another golem shoved me with his iron shield.
Annoyed, I lashed out with a punch, my fist clad in lightning. The metal shield crumbled and the golem was shocked to the ground. Just then, the golem wielding the halberd swung his weapon at my head.
However, another golem, one of a different color, blocked my attacker with his shield.
“You’ll have allies in battle, Arthur. As one of the main players in the battle, it’ll be up to you whether you choose to be on the offensive—plowing through the lines of enemies—or staying near your team, keeping them alive.” I saw Wren overhead, floating in the sky as he sat on an earthen throne along with Windsom.
The battle resumed as the pile of golem corpses stacked on top of one another on the battlefield. I imagined the anthropomorphic summons made of stone as humans instead. The scene back in the dungeon, Widow’s Crypt, flashed to mind, leaving me a little nauseous.
As the hours drove on, the mock war that Wren had me endure began taking its toll. I understood more and more why gaining this experience was so crucial.
I had experienced wars only from the backline, strategizing for different scenarios on a macro level. Now, being in the middle of the battlefield, there were so many factors that differed from the usual duels that I had grown accustomed to since my previous life: the corpses and severed limbs that one could trip over, the blood that accumulated on the ground to form puddles that one could slip on. Even with the bright colors indicating the different sides the golems were on, it was easy to accidentally swing at an ally in the heat of a battle, creating a mental toll on reckless attacks that could potentially put allies in harm’s way.
As much as I hated giving credit to the eccentric asura, Wren did well creating an optimal learning environment. I wasn’t sure what sort of magic he had used, but the red liquid that the golems bled were very similar to that of blood. Soon, as the corpses of both enemy golems and ally golems increased and the blood-like liquid dyed the ground, a foul smell exuded the battlefield.
I realized how precious my mana reserves were as the hours of continuous battle dragged on. Even with my mana core at the mid-silver stage and my use of Mana Rotation, I had to know how to conserve my usage of magic. Flashy, long-range spells were better left to the conjurers in the back line as I spent my mana protecting myself and only in cases of emergency.
Throughout the battle, Wren shouted out pointers, advising me to avoid being herded into a corner as I continued to mow down enemy golems. Every now and then, golems that were stronger than usual would pop up, throwing me off guard as they massacred the golems on my side. I didn’t want to admit it, but I was positive that Wren could easily conjure a golem capable of killing me if he wanted to.
The day ended when I was able to take down all of the major golems that Wren had been so kind to distinguish with golden crowns on top of their heads.
“That was brutal,” I sighed, laying flat on the ground. I was in an almost constant state of battle from the moment I was rudely awakened, with no chance to eat, drink, or even pee.
Dinner was spent around a fire after Wren casually removed the golems and fake blood with a swipe of his hand. We began by debriefing the battle; Windsom had yet to return from wherever he and Wren went last night, so it was only Wren that was present to point out the mistakes I had made, from the minor ones to the potentially fatal ones.
“The total number of casualties on your side was 271 golems, while the other side had 512. Not an impressive victory considering the level I had made the golems on the enemy side,” Wren read off from his notes.
“Maybe it’s because they look like stone gorillas that I feel no empathy for them, regardless of whether they’re on my team or not,” I countered, biting into a tofu-like substance that Wren had given me to eat.
“I’ll keep that in mind. Go to sleep now. Tomorrow isn’t going to get any easier,” Wren replied as he jotted down some notes.
I had grown used to Wren’s sharp way of talking, as if even his words were a scarce commodity. Turning away from them, I conjured a makeshift bed of soft sand and hoped that the next time I was awakened wouldn’t be by an army of golems.
My thoughts ran amok during this period of rest. I thought about my role in the previous world. While there were a lot of flaws in the way the world was governed in my past life, I had to admit, things were simpler for me. When the outcome of nearly all problems rested on just one battle, it was black or white. Wars almost never happened unless it was a multi-country dispute. Even then, mass-scaled battles happened in controlled environments to minimize the death counts. This upcoming war wouldn’t have that. There were too many shades of grays to be accounted for.
I speculated on the different scenarios that could potentially happen because of this war. What would the casualties be? And to what extent should the end outweigh these casualties? I pondered. I had no one I cared for back on Earth. However, was I willing to sacrifice my loved ones for the “greater good?” Undoubtedly not.
I didn’t remember falling asleep, but I hardly did these days. To my surprise, I was able to get a good night’s rest. While my arms and legs ached from overuse, there were no golems on sight, leaving me more suspicious than relieved.
Suddenly, a bloodcurdling scream from behind made me whip around. What I saw bewildered me just as much as it filled me with horror.
With two, black horns gleaming menacingly against the morning sun, an asura of the Vritra Clan stood over me. Covered from the neck down in completely black-plated armor, the basilisk in human form opened his lips into a triumphant grin to reveal a row of jagged teeth, and in his grasp was someone I thought I would never see here.
I was barely able to form a word as another gut-wrenching scream was ripped out from the Vritra’s hostage. “T-Tess?”