Chapter 152: Way of Magic
Both captains behind me remained in a daze as we all stared at the severed arm—hand still clenching the sword—forming a pool of blood beneath it.
“Soldiers on guard! Stand by for battle!” I roared, projecting my voice as loudly and distinctly as possible to get everyone’s attention.
The soldiers present roused out of their daze at my commands. The new recruits scrambled to their belongings as they fumbled putting on their armor. The veteran adventurers and experienced soldiers, already wearing their under-armor garments, deftly buckled on their protective gear as the screams and sharp clangs of metal continued echoing from above the cliff.
Captain Glory and Auddyr were already dressed in light armor and had snapped back to their senses, both a bit embarrassed by their poor response to the situation.
“Captain Auddyr. The armor on this arm isn’t something a passerby would have—it’s military attire. Didn’t you say your division was stationed up on the cliff?” I yelled out as the camp had grown loud from activity.
The once surly-faced captain paled in horror as he studied the armor one more time. Just as he was about to leap up the cliff, I held him down by his metal gorget that protected his shoulders and chest. “Stay here until the division is ready.”
“Unhand me! My soldiers are under attack without their leader!” Captain Auddyr hissed, no trace of his former haughty and composed self.
Tightening my grip, I pulled him close. “Captain. If you go in alone and are killed, your soldiers will be in a worse position than they’re in now.”
I surveyed the encampment as Captain Glory led her division into an organized formation. Most of the soldiers were already prepared and grouped based on their position. Rather than one large group, Vanesy had split her forces up into separate units, each composed of their own ranks of foot soldiers, augmenters, archers, and mages.
Just from a cursory glance, the ones at the very front of each unit were foot soldiers—regular humans and elves with thick armors and large shields since they’d be taking the brunt of an attack. Along the flanks were augmenters responsible for guarding the conjurers and archers as they fired arrows and spells.
The head—the leader of a unit, like Dresh—was positioned just behind the footsoldiers, an ideal spot for giving orders and protecting the conjurers as well.
Vanesy looked at me and signaled that she was ready. Letting go of Captain Auddyr, I motioned for him to join his fellow captain as I moved toward the rear where the smiths and cooks were grouped.
As the division began making their way up the steep slope up the cliff, I couldn’t help but ponder who was attacking. We were near the southern border of Sapin, where the underground kingdom of Darv began. At first, my mind immediately went to a mana beast attack, but the point of injury on the severed arm was too clean of a cut for it to have been claws or fangs. It was possible that they were attacked by some of the nomadic bandits I’d read about that travelled above the ground along the southern parts of Dicathen. It could also be a radical group that was opposed to the war with Alacrya, but there was no way to know for sure.
“Madam Astera, will you be okay here?” I asked as soon as I’d spotted the head chef who was now wearing plated armor.
“No problems here. Captain Glory ordered some of the augmenters to stay behind to guard us, but I’m also here, remember?” She gave me a confident smirk.
“You’re right. I’ll be heading off then.” I was about to turn back toward the cliff when Madam Astera gripped my arm.
“Arthur,” she said, her expression gravely serious. “You can never be too careful.”
I gave her a quick nod as I signaled for Sylvie to come out. “I hope you practice what you preach.”
<em>‘Is it okay for me to transform out in the open so soon?’</em> my bond asked as she hopped out of my cloak.
<em>No need to hold back right now. I need to know what’s going on up there and fast.</em>
Sylvie’s small body began glowing and expanded into the form of a mighty dragon. Her obsidian scales glimmered from the morning sun, putting the sparkling ocean to shame. Her translucent yellow eyes looked down at me with intelligence and an animal-like ferocity. The burly cooks and barrel-chested smiths with arms as thick as my torso gawked in reverence as some toppled over like infants learning to walk.
I leaped to the base of my bond’s neck and grabbed onto a ridged spike. I looked over my shoulder once more only to see the awestruck expression plastered on Madam Astera’s delicate face as Sylvie’s large wings beat down to produce a powerful gale.
Sylvie kicked off the ground and swung her wings once more to lift off. The powerful winds produced underneath startled the marching units led by their heads with Captain Glory and Auddyr in the front, but I was already too far up to make out any of their expressions.
I had planned on directly flying over where Captain Auddyr’s division should be but Sylvie instead soared up into the layer of clouds overhead. ‘Arthur, you should know before we engage in battle that I’m limited on what I can do to help.’
<em>Are you talking about the asura’s treaty where they aren’t allowed to help?</em> I asked, afraid that I would not be able to fight alongside my bond.
<em>‘That is an area of concern that Aldir has warned me about, but it’s not just that. With the awakening process that Grandfather Indrath made me undergo for my aether powers, it’ll still take a while before I’m able to assist you with any magic. Until my powers are fully awakened and under control, I’ll be limited to what I can do physically in this form. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you earlier.’</em>
I stroked the side of my bond’s large neck, berating myself for not taking into account my bond’s condition. I knew her training was cut short by me, but I never realized what a crucial time it had been for her. <em>No, don’t be. At least I know now.</em>
It didn’t take us long to reach where the sounds of battle were coming from but the fact that a severed arm was able to sail down the cliff made me think that there was something else going on. We could hear the sound of an ensuing battle but it wasn’t until we’d flown below the layer of clouds blocking our view that we realized the severity of the situation at hand.
<em>‘This can’t be possible.’</em> Sylvie’s thoughts were laced with disbelief by the sight below, but for someone that’d seen the surprises war brought, I could only see this as a miscalculation—a rather severe one.
Down below, in a field of grass stained red and black with blood and smoke, was what could only be the Alacryan army.
Their force of about five thousand strong were currently engaged with Captain Auddyr’s division. The soldiers were no larger than insects from here but it was easy to distinguish them. Unlike the Dicathen army, the Alacryan soldiers seemed to have a standardized color of deep red emblazoned on their dark gray armor.
Sylvie’s back lurched in preparation to dive down but I stopped her. <em>No. Let’s stay hidden here for now.</em>
<em>‘Stay hidden? Allies are dying down there and you wish to stay hidden?’</em> Anger was evident in her words but I knew she already knew my intentions.
<em>We can’t get involved in every battle. Right now, our priority is knowing what we’re up against.</em> I kept my gaze firmly locked on the scene below, regretting not having any transmission scrolls to communicate with Virion as I gritted my teeth to cope with my idleness.
<em>‘How were they able to make it all the way here without us knowing? They may not have come across a major city yet, but the dwarves should’ve known that an army was marching through their land.’</em>
“Maybe they did know,” I mumbled to myself, taking note of the faint path they’d created during their march.<em> Change of plans. Sylv, can you stay hidden and follow the trail that the Alacryans made on their way here? I’ll help them while blending in as just a regular soldier.</em>
<em>‘What if you get into trouble? I’ll be too far away to help.’</em> I could hear the disapproval in her voice.
<em>Vanesy’s division is going to arrive soon and I have a bad feeling that even though we outnumber them, it’ll be a losing battle for them without me.</em>
<em>‘More the reason for me to stay and help you,’</em> Sylvie argued.
<em>Please. If what I’m suspecting is true, this war might not be so simple as us versus them. You’re the only one here that can make the journey and back fast enough. I’ll stay safe, Sylv.</em>
<em>‘Fine. But the moment I sense that you’re in danger, I’m coming back and taking you away whether you’re conscious or not.’</em> Sylvie let out a grunt.
<em>Thanks</em>. I patted my bond before I let myself fall off her back. The crisp winter air felt like sharp whips lashing at me as I hurtled toward the ground. I intentionally veered away from the battle as to not arouse attention.
Just before landing into a cluster of trees, I enveloped my body in mana, erasing my presence before casting a wind spell. With the abundance of branches and leaves to slow my fall, and the help of magic to soften my landing, I was able to reach the ground without causing too much noise, albeit a little messily.
“The things I do to blend in,” I muttered, picking broken twigs and leaves out of my hair. I remained hidden within in the thick cluster of trees until I heard Vanesy’s division arrive.
“Tred! Vester! Take your units around for a left flank. Dirk! Sasha! To the right!” Vanesy’s voice resounded with a confident precision. “Rest of us, we group with Captain Auddyr’s forces and hit those Alacryan bastards from the front!”
Dashing out, I caught up with Captain Glory. On instinct, Vanesy whirled both of her swords at me before realizing who I was.
“Damn it, Arthur. Don’t scare me like that!” she sighed. “What are you doing here anyways? I saw you and your bond fly out of here.”
“And leave my precious subordinate behind?” I smirked. “No. I sent Sylvie on an equally important side mission.”
“Well, it’s damn reassuring to have you with us, but do you have any idea how an Alacryan force this size was able to get past us?”
I shook my head. “How about we leave a few alive to try and get the answer out of them?”
Vanesy’s lips curved into a wicked smirk as she raised both her longswords. “Sounds like a plan.”
Vanesy’s soldiers roared, men and women alike, as they reached the Alacryan army. I stood behind for a minute, watching as steel cut into flesh. Indistinguishable mutters sounded from the conjurers as they prepared their spells as archers released volleys of arrows from behind the protection of the augmenters and foot soldiers.
But my focus was on the Alacryan soldiers. The uneasy feeling I had since watching them from the sky had only become worse as they began to retaliate.
For some absurd reason, I’d expected our enemies to be something like the Vritras—monsters of evil. However, looking at them, they were no different from our soldiers except adorned in dark gray and red. This fact only dawned on me as I locked gazes with an enemy soldier.
The soldier’s eyes narrowed as he readied to strike. I picked up a bloodstained sword from the ground as he dashed toward me. When I tried to sense what sort of level his core was, I was surprised to be unable to read it. The soldier spread his arms while his fingers curled like claws. Suddenly, without even the influx of mana to warn me, gauntlets of mana in the form of gigantic claws manifested around his hands. He lashed out with his mana claws at a ferocious speed.
I ducked, only to see a row of trees behind me topple at the strength of my opponent’s attack. With the speed of his spell-casting and the power behind it, I could only assume he was at least a yellow core augmenter—maybe even a silver core.
I countered with an upward swing with my augmented sword when a translucent barrier shimmered just below the mage, protecting the area underneath his chest, where I’d been aiming.
<em>What the hell.</em> I whipped my head over my shoulder, sensing that the spell hadn’t come from him. About thirty feet away from me was another soldier, his hands held out and brows knitted in concentration. Realizing that my focus was directed at him, his eyes widened in surprise as he aimed his hands at me.
The translucent panel that had protected my initial opponent moved and enlarged, serving as a wall between me and the conjurer. I’d never seen someone manipulate a barrier to such efficiency so it was obvious who I had to take out first. However, the clawed soldier had already repositioned himself in this time, leaving me no choice but to finish him off.
Dropping the sword I’d found on the ground, I dashed toward my opponent. Just before reaching striking distance, I stomped down my lead foot, conjuring a pillar of earth right in front my opponent’s feet.
This time, whether because the conjurer behind me hadn’t expected the spell or didn’t feel the need to block it, a barrier didn’t form. The augmenter attempted to sidestep, but the pillar still struck his ribs. What shocked me, however, was the sound my spell produced on impact; the sound of bones cracking underneath his now-dented armor. Did this idiot not augment his body?
Gnashing his teeth with a pained expression, the augmenter ignored his obvious injury and dashed toward me with his mana claws. With my fists wrapped in electricity, I met his strike head on, expecting him to counter or use another spell but he didn’t. My lightning clad fist shattered his mana claws and broke his wrist on impact.
I held off on finishing him, my curiosity getting the better of me. He was someone that didn’t pose a real threat to me, but something about how he—how they fought didn’t make any sense. I’d thought the opponent in front of me was an experienced augmenter but his body wasn’t even protected by mana. If it wasn’t for the barrier that guarded his hand at the last minute, his arm would’ve been torn off.
The augmenter soldier was down on one knee, his left arm dangling to his side. A flicker of disbelief and awe was written on his face before the soldier clicked his tongue, turning his gaze toward the barrier-casting soldier. “Oi, Shield!” he barked. “Total body enhancement, now!”