“Damn it!” Glayder cursed, slamming his fists down on the long rectangular table we were currently gathered around. “And you’re absolutely sure about this, Gideon?”
“Like I said, Your Majesty, the part about the ship belonging to the Alacryan Army is merely a speculation on my part. However, I am absolutely sure that the ship we have just come from is not the Dicatheous,” the old inventor answered.
It hadn’t even been an hour since Gideon, Varay and my granddaughter had arrived to the castle. After Varay told us about the information they had found, everyone, including King and Queen Glayder, were summoned. With the arrival of the asura, Lord Aldir, and my son and his wife, who had been in negotiations with the dwarves, the meeting was hastily put into motion..
“What makes you so certain?” Glayder pestered on.
Gideon let out a harsh sigh before continuing. “Because, during the construction of the Dicatheous, I had placed markers throughout the base of the ship—kind of like a signature, if you will.”
“A signature?” my son, Alduin, echoed.
“Well, the Dicatheous was an invention that I took most pride in. I wanted future generations to know of my work,” he confessed, scratching his nose in embarrassment. “At any rate, out of all the exposed frames that I scoured in this ship, none of them had the marking. In fact, entirely different substances were used to construct the frame.”
“Damn it all!” Blaine Glayder swore once more, getting up from his seat.
“Calm yourself, Blaine,” I quipped.
“Calm myself? Did you not just hear Gideon’s words? I’m sorry but I can’t just keep calm after finding out that our enemy is capable of sending tens—no, hundreds of thousands of soldiers and mages across the ocean. It’s bad enough that we’ve been having trouble sniffing out those bastards from inside the dungeons of the Beast Glades, but—”
“Enough,” Lord Aldir asserted, silencing the human king at once. “Varay, what are your thoughts on the matter?”
“While I have no extensive knowledge on the construction of the Dicatheous, I agree with what the artificer thinks. The lack of evidence on the ship alone tells us that whoever was on the ship didn’t want anyone finding out who they were,” the lance affirmed, standing against the wall behind Priscilla Glayder.
“What do you suppose the probability is that this was a trap, or rather, a strategy on their part to get us to think that they have the technology to send ships filled with soldiers to Dicathen?” I voiced aloud to no one in particular.
“Hmm, it’s possible that might be the case.” Gideon was the one to answer as he mulled over the hypothetical scenario.
“That’s right!” Blaine came back to the table, delighted at the fact that the worst-case-scenario might not be the only future of this war. “It makes sense! If the Alacryans made us think that they had the ability to make these ships, then it would force us to split our troops!”
“That might be so, but the location where the ship had washed up makes me uncertain. If the Alacryan’s goal was really to divide our forces, it would make more sense for them to leave it somewhere along the western coast—where they would want us to think they will attack. Also, that cove, where the ship was found, is much too inconspicuous of a place to have them hope that we’ll somehow come across it. With the tide levels changing so frequently and the bedrocks constantly corroding, it’s a miracle that we were able to find the ship in the first place,” my son rebutted.
The meeting hall was quiet for a moment until Lord Aldir spoke up. “Whatever the probability might be, the question is, is it worth the risk? The Alacryan, Cynthia, was under the impression that her people were trying to amass an army over time within the depths of the Beast Glades, but it would be foolish to blindly believe that that was the only move the Vritras had planned. I have known a few from the Vritra Clan; they are intelligent and cunning adversaries. It’s unlike them to act so linear in their strategy.”
“Whatever the case, we have no choice but to prepare ourselves for a two-pronged attack,” I concluded, rubbing my temples. “Alduin, Merial, how are the discussions with the dwarves faring?”
“They’re still skeptical toward the notion of fully cooperating, but they’ve agreed to send some of their shapers to help in the fortification of the walls along the Grand Mountains,” Merial answered as she handed over a pile of papers to me.
“Good,” I nodded. “It’s a start. We’ll need as much help from their mages to reinforce the gaps that the Grand Mountains don’t cover between Sapin and the Beast Glades.
“Merial, allow me and my wife to join you in your next visit to the Kingdom of Darv. With this news, we’ll need help from the dwarves if we’re going to fortify the cities along the western coast in time. Besides, we were closer to the Greysunders than you two. Perhaps the dwarves will be more inclined to cooperate with us there.” Both Blaine and Priscilla looked uneasy as their glances flickered between my son and his wife, and at Lord Aldir, the one who had actually killed the traitorous Dwarven King and Queen.
“That sounds like a good idea. We’ll need the dwarves’ help if we’re going to win this war. I think they’ll be more apt to help us after they find out our enemies have the capability of sending thousands of soldiers across the ocean,” I voiced. “Now, if everyone will excuse me, I’m going to get some rest for the first time in a few days.”
I dipped my head at Lord Aldir and dismissed everyone else with a wave. Walking out of the meeting hall, I let out a deep breath. Despite the two years that Lord Aldir had been here, it was still stifling being near the asura.
He had done much to prepare us for the war, and had been tactical in his approach. He barely showed himself at meetings, often teaching me one-on-one so that I could be the one to head the war. With his insight on both large-scale and small-scale battle tactics, we’ve been doing a good job keeping the fights away from the general public. However, if Gideon’s speculations are true, then it won’t be long until everyone, soldier or not, would be involved one way or another.
“Commander Virion,” a soft voice came from behind.
I turned around to see Varay walking toward me, her expression full of concern.
“Commander, allow me to apologize for allowing Princess Tessia to come along. I know that your exact orders were for me to keep her away from danger but—”
“Varay, it’s fine.” I held up my hand to stop her. “I know how she can be, and to tell you the truth, I’ve been expecting something like this to happen from her. Now, off you go; Little Princess Glayder must be waiting for you.”
The lance’s face still showed traces of concern and guilt, but with another wave, she lowered her head in a bow and went off in the direction of the training grounds.
Taking a left down the long corridor, I stopped in front of a particular oakwood door. Taking another breath, I held my hand up in a fist and knocked thrice.
“Who is it?” the muffled voice of my granddaughter called out from inside.
I cleared my throat. “It’s your grandfather.”
“I want to be alone,” she replied instantly.
“Come now,” I sighed. “Don’t say that.”
There was only silence at first, but after a few seconds, I heard the faint sounds of approaching footsteps. The reinforced wooden door opened just a crack as my granddaughter’s eyes peeked through from the other side.
“Are you going to scold me for going to the ship with Varay?” she asked, her mouth hidden behind the door.
“No, I’m not.”
The child regarded me silently, her brow raised in suspicion. “Because I was the one that forced her to take me.”
I nodded. “Yes, I figured as much.”
“And I’m not going to apologize for that,” my granddaughter pressed on as she tried to hold her stern gaze.
“I’m sure you won’t.”
“W-Well good.” Her expression faltered as she looked confused.
I took a step back from the door. “Now, will you take a walk with your grandfather?”
I waited for my granddaughter as she closed the door and timidly trailed behind me like a shadow.
“This way.” I gestured with my head. “There’s something I want to show you.”
We walked down the corridor in silence as I hummed a small tune.
“Hey, that’s the lullaby that Father used to sing to me,” my granddaughter exclaimed.
“Well who do you think taught it to him?” I chuckled. “My mother, your great grandmother, used to sing it to me when I couldn’t sleep at night. I sang it to your father whenever he was too scared to go to sleep. But don’t tell him I told you this.”
The child giggled as she nodded. “Where are we going anyways, Grandpa?”
“You’ll see soon enough, Child.” We took another turn and descended a flight of spiral stairs, stopping in front of a set of doors large enough to easily admit giants.
Placing a palm in the center of the door, I released a wave of mana. The locks and mechanisms that kept the room secure clicked in rapid succession as scores of intricate patterns unravelled themselves into place. As the sounds receded, the door slid open to reveal a large earthen field surrounded by mana-enhanced metal. Off to the side was another door that was the same material as the wall around it.
“We’re almost here,” I said, pointing to the door.
“I’ve never been inside here before. What’s this room for?” my granddaughter asked as she looked around.
“This is the place where the lances, guild leaders, and I get trained by Lord Aldir. The asura set it up himself so that it could withstand even the attacks of white-core mages; of course, that is only Lord Aldir is here with us to activate it. But before you go on exploring, there is something you need to see.” I pushed open the door to the room inside the isolated training arena.
The inside of the room had nothing but a few chairs, a drawing board, and an empty screen with a visual recording artifact in front of it.
“Take a seat, Ch—” I stopped myself as I stood next to the artifact. “Take a seat, Tessia.”
My granddaughter planted herself in the chair in front of me, facing the white screen. She looked at me with uncertain eyes and for a second, I just wanted take her back to her room where she’d be safe.
Letting out a deep breath, I turned on the visual recording artifact. A bright light shot out from the front and onto the screen, projecting a moving picture recorded from the battlefield.
“This, Tessia, is what the war is like.” I moved out of the way and let her watch.
It was a particularly brutal battle in the depths of a dungeon where the Alacryan soldiers had been setting camp. There had been hundreds of mages and warriors that had been waiting for further orders. Our men had little idea of what they would be walking into while the Alacryan side had already received warning from their scouts that enemies would soon arrive.
I could see the horror in my granddaughter’s eyes, watching with jaw slack as the massacre went on. Our side had lost over fifty in the first few seconds but even after we had recuperated, the battle was bloody and intense. Fresh corpses lay sprawled all over the ground as mages and warriors alike continued to shoot and at each other. Even without the sound, I could clearly imagine the screams from the injured and dying.
The video ended abruptly as the mage holding the artifact had been killed in that moment. There was a moment of silence as both my granddaughter and I mulled over the images on the screen.
“This was a real life recording from a battle just five days ago. We lost two hundred men and twenty mages in that battle alone out of the four hundred we sent down into that dungeon. I was the one who had given them the order to go down, and it’s on my shoulders that they’re all dead.” I locked eyes with my granddaughter, my gaze cold and unyielding.
“The war has only just begun, but I have already done things—made choices—that I will never forgive myself for. As your grandfather, this is what I want to keep you away from,” I said, pointing to the screen. “It is my selfishness as your grandfather that I want to keep you safe and away from harm, regardless of how much of an asset you may be in battle.”
Tess lowered her gaze. “Grandpa…”
“Tessia. You are, no doubt, a tremendously talented mage and, with the training that you’ve undergone these past two years, would be a force to be reckoned with in the war. But no matter how powerful you are in a war, you are only one person. All it takes is one mistake, one small blunder. That is why I’ve forbidden you to take part in any of the battles… until now.”
“Until now?” My granddaughter looked up. I couldn’t help but just stare at her tiny face. It felt like just a week ago that she was still sitting on my lap, chirping “grandpa” with her hands held high.
“Tessia. Even after seeing just a glimpse of what you will have to endure, do you still want to be a part of the battle?” I asked, walking over to the back of the room.
My granddaughter’s expression hardened as she stood up. “Yes.”
Picking up two dulled training swords from the rack, I tossed one to her. “Then prove your resolve.”