Chapter 148: First Assignment
A cloud of frosty fog formed with each breath as I made my way toward the bustling encampment. The soldiers had set up their tents and lit fires behind a formation of large rocks standing over a couple dozen feet high underneath a cliff by the shore. The soft flickers of fires and trails of smoke stood out from the distance but the towering barricade of boulders served as a natural defense from anyone coming from the waters.
I could make out a few watchmen stationed atop the cliff overarching the camp, barely visible even with augmented vision due to the layer of haze surrounding the entire beach.
Wrapping the woolen cloak tightly around me, I shrouded myself in another layer of mana to keep the sharp winter winds away.
<em>Almost there,</em> I informed Sylvie, who was buried deep within the layers of my clothes.
My bond peeked her head out and almost immediately hid herself inside my cloak after letting out a sour grumble.
For such a mighty being, you’re sure weak to the cold, I teased, continuing the last leg of our trek.
<em>‘You’re not the one that had to fly through that cursed wind. It feels like my wings have holes in them even in this form,’</em> she complained. <em>‘And I’m not weak to the cold; I just hate it.’</em>
I let out a soft chuckle as I picked up my pace. Ever since we declined any sort of truce with Alacrya, Aldir couldn’t risk breaking the asura’s agreement by creating teleportation gates anymore. This meant that I had to rely on Sylvie for long distance transportation anywhere away from the already existing teleportation gates. I only had her transform a mile or so back as to not draw attention.
As per Virion’s request, I was to stay with this division and aid them in the unlikely scenario that Alacryan ships were sent this far down the coast. However, unbeknownst to him, I had added another item to his agenda.
Walking along the bottom of the cliff, I hid my presence. While most mages hid their presence by rescinding their mana, my training in Epheotus taught me that a perfect balance of mana output through my mana channels and mana input through my mana veins would allow me to stay hidden from even the most alert mana beasts while still being able to use mana.
I was able to spot a rather conspicuously large, house-shaped tent near the foot of the cliff where the formation of boulders met. Judging from the fact that the tent was located in the safest area of the large, semi-circular encampment and that it was three times the size of any of the other shoddy tents around, I could only assume it belonged to the captain.
As I arrived near the edge of the camp, I picked up a few broken pieces of wood along the way and naturally walked past the resting soldiers.
No one seemed to mind; with my hood up and an armful of branches and twigs, I probably looked like any other young soldier wishfully hoping to earn a title by contributing in the war.
Some of the seasoned soldiers, polishing their weapons and armor against the dainty firelight, glanced in my direction with little regard while a group of younger soldiers—obviously conjurers of noble descent based on their embellished attire and flashy staffs—jeered and smirked at my plain attire.
<em>‘Those ignorant clowns have no idea who they’re scoffing at,’</em> Sylvie hissed as she peeked at their expressions.<em> ‘They’re better off used as bait.’</em>
<em>Easy</em>, I soothed. You sure learned some colorful insults from Lord Indrath.
As I walked deeper into the encampment, I passed through the cooking station. Large fires blazing inside earthen pits formed through magic were lined neatly with stews bubbled tantalizingly inside pots as large, barrel-chested men cleaved away at chunks of meat.
“Clear the pots for the skewered meat! Benfir and Schren, get ready to start handing out the stew!” A rather small-framed woman with a fierce expression roared out orders with a ladle in hand, held more like a weapon than a tool.
The ladle-wielding woman looked back over her shoulder as I passed by her. She gave me a respectful nod, which caught me by surprise since I had assumed no one would recognize who I was this far out from civilization.
I had almost arrived at the large tent in the farthest corner of the camp when the high-pitched clash of metal on metal drew my attention. Dropping the branches I had in my hands, I peered over the group of soldiers that had formed a circle around the source of the sounds, seeing two augmenters engaged in a friendly bout. The sharp shrieks of their swords drew sparks even with the layer of mana covering their blades while they parried each other’s strikes with obvious deft.
“You’ve gotten better, Cedry,” said the short-haired soldier. While he looked a bit shorter than me, his arms looked almost unnaturally long. He used his slender frame and long, flexible limbs to his advantage by delivering fast, irregular strikes with dual daggers.
“And yet, you’re still a pain to fight against, Jona,” the girl named Cedry replied with a confident smirk as she ducked Jona’s swipe. She was clearly at a disadvantage with her gauntlets against an opponent who excelled in long-ranged strikes, but she wasn’t losing.
As she nimbly ducked, weaved and parried Jona’s dual-wielding assault, something about her held my interest.
It wasn’t until I focused on her ears that I realized why I had felt that way.
<em>She’s a half-elf,</em> I pointed out to Sylvie, who had lost interest in the match and was back inside my cloak.
At my observation, my bond peeked her head back out. ‘Oh! She is. We haven’t come across one besides that ill-tempered Lucas.’
<em>Ill-tempered is putting it lightly,</em> I chuckled, my gaze still on the fight.
<em>‘Shouldn’t we notify the captain of our arrival first?’</em> Sylvie reminded.
<em>You’re right. I got side-tracked,</em> I thought, turning away from the duel.
<em>‘You always do when it comes to these kinds of fights,’</em> she teased.
There’s something about close combat that makes a fight exciting, unlike long-ranged conjuring, I agreed, walking back.
As we reached the large white tent, an armored guard gripping a halberd stopped me. “What business do you have in here?”
“Is this the captain’s tent?” I asked, my hood still covering half my face.
“I said, what business you have in here?” the guard repeated, his gaze unrelenting.
Letting out a deep breath, I held out a medallion.
Upon sight, the guard’s narrow eyes widened in shock. His gaze shifted from the gold medallion back to me with a look of horror at the blunder he had made. “I-I’m so so-sorry, Gen—”
“Shhh,” I mouthed before he could finish speaking. I held up my hand. “I don’t want my visit to cause a stir so let’s just keep this between us.”
“Y-Yes, sir,” he nodded furiously as he opened the flap to the tent.
As I stepped inside the spacious tent, a gust of warmth flooded my body. It felt as if a layer of ice was melting off my face as I removed my cloak. The first thing I couldn’t help but notice was the flare hawk nestled near the entrance.
<em>‘I remember her,’</em> Sylvie chimed in my head as she hopped to the ground.
I turned to the woman sitting behind a small wooden desk, unconcerned of the intrusion.
“Professor Glory,” I greeted with a faint grin as she finally looked up, her face brightening at the sight of her old student. My old Team-Fighting Mechanics professor looked the same as always with her tanned complexion and brunette hair tied tightly behind her head. While she was wearing a light armor even inside the tent, her two giant swords leaned close by against a drawer behind her.
“It’s good to see you, General Leywin,” she smirked, coming around her desk.
“Please, just call me Arthur,” I said helplessly.
“Then I’d prefer if you just called me Vanesy,” she said, spreading out her arms. “After all, I’m not your professor anymore.”
Accepting her hug,I noted that this was my first time hearing Professor Glory’s first name. “Well then. Do you mind giving me a brief report of the situation here, Vanesy?”
Releasing me from her firm grasp, Vanesy acknowledged Sylvie with a polite nod before reaching behind her desk. After a moment of rummaging, she held out a rolled up parchment, but started speaking even before I could open it.
“Right now, it’s just me and my division of roughly three thousand. My division is on the smaller side but we have with us fifty-eight mages, twenty of whom are conjurers while ten are long-range augmenters to make up for the numbers,” she recited.
I nodded in understanding while skimming through the parchment. “There’s supposed to be one other captain along with you, right?”
“Captain Auddyr and his division are making the march up here from Maybur City. I can send out a transmission if you’d like,” my old professor answered.
“No need. Truth be told, I’m not even expecting a ship to veer off this far south,” I admitted, handing Vanesy back the parchment.
“I heard about your big plan set up for those Alacryan bastards up the coast,” she chuckled. “You think it’s going to work?”
“It’ll slow them down, and with any luck, sink a few of their ships.”
“A shame we won’t be there to see it,” she said regretfully. The bright-eyed professor that I had fought with down at Widow’s Crypt then pulled out a leather flask from her drawer, biting off the cork before gulping down what I could only assume was alcohol.
“Care for a swig, General Leywin?” she winked, holding the flask up.
“I’m a minor, you know.”
Vanesy scoffed. “If you’re old enough to go to war, you’re old enough to drink.”
My lips curled up into a smirk as I grabbed her flask and took a gulp. The smoky liquid seared my throat as it made its way into my stomach, warming up my insides.
<em>‘Is it smart to inhibit yourself like this before a battle?’</em> Sylvie asked with a tone of disapproval.
Relax. It’s just one sip, I replied.
Stifling back a cough, I handed the leather bottle back to my former professor. “That’s got quite the kick.”
“Mhmm,” Vanesy agreed. “Although you’re going to need a bit more than that to keep yourself warm out there. Aren’t you freezing in that thin outfit of yours?”
I looked down at my attire. While I wasn’t expecting a battle, I was dressed for one. My inner gray garment was skin-tight, with the sleeve coming up to my wrist. While seemingly thin, it was elastic enough for me to freely move in but also strong enough to withstand sharp edges to a certain degree. The only thing I wore over this was a simple black tunic that draped loosely over my shoulders. The sleeves stopped at the elbows, allowing me unimpeded movement of my arms.
I shook my head. “I’ve grown used to constantly surrounding myself with mana to keep me warm. Honestly, even this cloak is just for appearance’s sake.”
“Why’s that? Commander Virion wanted me to have you speak in front of the soldiers anyway—you know, for motivation.”
“About that,” I grinned. “Let’s hold off on that until Captain Auddyr arrives. I was hoping to have a little fun in the camp.”
“Uh oh,” my former professor groaned. “What are you up to?”
I shook my head disapprovingly. “Now is that any way to speak to your superior?”
“Fine,” she relented. “Just don’t mortally wound my soldiers.”
“What kind of person do you take me for?” I replied innocently, putting my cloak back on as I headed back toward the cloth door.
“Are there any soldiers who’d recognize who I am?” I asked, remembering the head chef bowing to me.
“We’re pretty far out from any sort of mass communication. I recently got a written letter delivered by a carrier with the latest updates but I haven’t announced any of it,” she answered. “Besides, with your shaggy hair and those plain clothes, you’d easily pass as a new recruit picked up from the countryside.”
“There’s an old saying that a wise man appears weak when he is strong and strong when he is weak,” I replied, pointing at the dazzling armor engraved with intricate decorations she had on.
“It’s for protection, not for showing off,” she argued.
“Not when the design on the armor matches your bond’s armor,” I teased, glancing at the silver armor hanging on a stand next to Torch.
“You’ve become a wise-ass since becoming a lance,” she grumbled.
“Oh please, I’ve been a wise-ass long before becoming a lance,” I rebutted.
My former professor chortled as she leaned back against her desk. “‘Appear weak when you’re strong’; I like that.”
“Feel free to steal it,” I said as I headed out of the tent. I couldn’t tell my former professor that this quote was from an ancient general from my previous life, but she didn’t seem to be curious of its origin.
<em>‘What did you want to do?’</em> Sylvie asked curiously as she nestled on top of my head.
<em>Evaluate the competency of the current state of our soldiers, of course.</em>
Sylvie’s sense of doubt flooded my mind as she let out a sigh. <em>‘You mean play-fight with them?’</em>
<em>Just for a little bit.</em>
<em>‘Even as your bond, I sometimes find myself worried that the fate of this continent relies heavily on you.’</em>