Chapter 201: Allocation
The Castle appeared overhead within a sky of solid gray. Rain had yet to form within the thick clouds, but I could feel the moisture on my skin and clothes and the dense water mana around me as I neared the flying structure’s base.
The soldiers on flying mounts guarding the floating fortress gathered around me.
“General Arthur!” they saluted in unison before making a path in the sky leading to the landing dock.
I mustered a terse nod at the squad before landing, taking one last look back in the direction of the Wall as the gates rolled shut.
The workers that were in charge of keeping the dock and all of the artifacts in place to keep it functioning and properly warded in defense stopped what they were doing and immediately scrambled around me in salute.
“Proceed with what you were doing,” I stated, motioning them away. I continued walking, my clothes and hair dripping with water from the clouds until I spotted two familiar girls that appeared close in age. A smile tugged at my lips a the sight of them.
Ellie stood tall with chestnut eyes glowing with confidence. Her ash brown hair that flowed just past her shoulders was a sore reminder of our father, who I had just met and argued fiercely with.
Standing next to my sister was a girl more unique. She looked a bit younger than Ellie, but her glimmering yellow eyes radiated a sense of maturity. A curtain of pale wheat hair draped over her slender figure which was shrouded in a black dress shining like fine obsidian. Matching her attire were two jagged horns that jutted out from the side of her small head. What made her unique wasn’t the fact that she had horns, but the fact that she was actually an asura, a dragon, and—most importantly—my bond.
My sister waved before trotting happily toward me with Sylvie in tow. My bond took hesitant steps, but her movements had become much more fluid in the few days since we’ve been apart.
“Welcome back,” my sister greeted. “Seeing as how your entire body is drenched, let’s just pretend like we hugged.”
“I’m not one for pretending,” I said deviously before pulling my sister into my arms.
“Gah! I just bathed!” she protested, struggling from my grasp.
After soaking my sister to a satisfying degree, I let her go and turned to my bond. I tousled her light hair, which felt almost sharp to the touch. “I see that my fearsome dragon is growing up to be a healthy young girl.”
Despite my light-hearted jokes, Sylvie’s large eyes only narrowed as she regarded me with concern.
We’ll talk about it later, I sent to her, cursing the inconvenience of our telepathic link at times.
My bond let out a sigh and patted my arm. “Welcome back.”
“It’s good to be back,” I said to both of them.
“So how was your mission? I want to hear all about it,” my sister asked, her eyes sparkling with excitement.
As Ellie improved her skills in magic and archery, I could tell she was yearning more and more to be out on the field to prove herself.
“I’ll tell you all about it later,” I promised. “But first, I need to report to the Council.”
After conjuring a simple wave of heat to dry myself off, the three of us left the crowded room that had become uncomfortably silent due to my presence.
As soon as we stepped out, I could almost feel the workers relaxing as they began picking up where they left off.
“I broke into light red stage while you were gone,” my sister declared proudly. “That, and because of my daily training regimen with Boo, probably makes me a pretty competent conjurer for my age. Even Commander Virion complimented me on my skills, saying that I might even be able to skip the mandatory training for the soldiers.”
Every time my sister brought up her enthusiasm in joining the ranks of the army, I felt immediately inclined to intercept her. This time, though, I gave her a friendly smile and nodded—the most supportive response I could give.
Meanwhile, my bond walked silently beside me, her concentration still on the action of walking bipedally. I could feel mana practically bursting out of her small body as she used magic as a crutch until she has full control over her body.
Still, Sylvie’s acclimation to her human form had vastly improved since the last time I had seen her, which was just a few days before. I could tell she was doing her best so that she could join me on missions as soon as possible.
“You know, Princess Kathyln has been really helpful too. She’s been sparring with me and helping me out with some intricacies of mana manipulation,” my sister chattered on, skipping ahead and walking backward to face me as she talked.
“Oh, really? You know I could always help out with teaching magic when I’m free,” I replied. “I was an official professor at Xyrus Academy after all.”
“For like… a semester,” my sister reported with a smirk.
I waved her snide comment away. “A professor is a professor.”
“Thanks for the offer, but I feel like learning from you will just discourage me more,” she chuckled.
“What?” I blurted, surprised. “Why would you be discouraged?”
“I know we’re five years apart, but we still share the same blood,” she answered, turning around, so her back was to me as she walked properly. “Seeing as how you’re already a white core mage on top of being a quadra elemental, I’ll probably just start comparing myself to you every time you teach me magic.”
My sister’s chirpy attitude dampened and I found myself staring at Sylvie in hopes that she had a way to solve the mess that I just created.
My bond raised a brow at me before walking up to match pace with my sister.
Sylvie patted Ellie on the shoulder. “It’s okay. Your brother’s talent is considered an anomaly even amongst asuras. Don’t compare yourself to a freak like him.”
I scratched my cheek. “Freak is a bit much, isn’t it?”
My sister looked back over her shoulder with a smirk. “No no, I think ‘freak’ describes you perfectly in this regard.”
We reached the meeting room after parting temporarily with my sister. I wanted some time to talk more with my bond—about the changes in her body now that the seal had been broken—but some obligations that had to be fulfilled.
I locked gazes with the two guards standing on either side of the entrance and they, in response, clicked their heels together and saluted at our arrival before letting us in.
Sitting directly in view of the entrance was Virion, who turned eagerly in our direction. His face lit up as he got up from his seat. “Arthur, you’ve finally arrived!”
“Commander,” I greeted, keeping formalities in public. Sylvie opted for a slight dip of her head.
“Sit,” he motioned, looking off to the side with a grin on his weathered face.
I turned to see what he was looking at to see the rest of the Council and one familiar face that I hadn’t expected to see.
Twiddling his beard—looking bored out of his mind—was Buhndemog Lonuid, my former dwarven magic teacher.
“Ho. If it isn’t the young lance,” he greeted monotonically.
“I see the meetings have been taking a toll on you,” I replied with a grin that mirrored Virion’s.
“Never has my ass been so sore since the days I got whipped by my mother as a child,” he groaned, stretching his stout body.
I let out a laugh and turned my attention to the rest of the Council.
“Ki—Councilmen” I greeted with a respectful nod. “Councilwomen.”
“General Arthur,” Priscilla Glayder replied. “You’ve come at a good time.”
“Yes,” Blaine agreed. “We were still going over your report.”
“Arthur!” Alduin Eralith exclaimed, his expression brightened. “Take a seat, you two.”
“Welcome back,” Merial Eralith chimed in with a warm smile, a sense of gratefulness in her voice.
“Thank you,” I replied. I walked passed the former king and queen of Elenoir, taking a seat with Sylvie next to Buhnd.
Virion sat back down and rolled the transmission scroll in front of him. “Seeing as the rest of the lances are out on missions, we’ll proceed with the meeting, but before we say anything, I’d like General Arthur to give a full debrief on what happened at borders of the Elshire forest.
After taking a sip from the glass of water in front of my seat, I explained all that had happened, leaving nothing out from the interrogation of the Alacryan mage. It took the better part of an hour to get the rest of the Council, and my bond, up to date on what had happened.
“It seems we’ve been underestimating the Alacryan mages’ level of abilities,” Virion replied thoughtfully.
“Underestimating?” Blaine furrowed his brows in confusion. “If anything, learning that those Alacryan bastards are so limited and specialized in their magic makes me think we’ve been overestimating them.”
“I’ll have to agree with Councilman Blaine on this one,” Alduin added. “I think this is a clear weakness to their fighting tactics.”
“I don’t think it’s as simple as that,” Buhnd argued, rubbing his beard in thought.
“If we look at it surface level, their specialization can be seen as a weakness,” Virion agreed. “But from what General Arthur found out, their method of awakening and training magic to their people seem a lot more advanced than Dicathen’s own way.”
“How so?” Merial asked curiously.
Buhnd spoke up again, a tinge of excitement on his face. “This is me just speculating at this point, but with the system of marks and crests and what not, the mages of Alacryan seem to be hyper-focused on a spell and its alterations and evolutions. That means, while mages of Dicathen focus on various spells of their attributed element, or elements“—he looked over toward me—“these Alacryan mages spend their lives honing a single spell and building off only that.”
“What Elder Buhnd says adds up to what I’ve seen on the field,” I added. “One of the ‘strikers’ that I had battled against, only used one spell, but from the cast time to the durability and potency of the magic in combat, I had mistaken him as a mage around the level of a yellow core. And the fact that these specialized mages work in small teams that negate their weaknesses, I’d say that only our veteran mages of light-yellow core and higher can actually exploit their ‘limitations’.”
“Duels are one thing; In the forefronts of war, versatile mages aren’t as useful as specialized soldiers that are damn-well good at one thing,” Buhnd concluded grimly.
“Looks like we’ll have to send this information to all the captains as well as the guilds and military academies so they can develop better ways to fight against these ‘specialized mages’,” Blaine grumbled in frustration.
“I stoppedd by the Wall and told the captains there,” I informed.
“Good. Now let’s discuss plans on how to best spread our forces,” Virion said heavily. “I had originally wanted to discuss with Lord Aldir about this, but seeing as him and the rest of the asuras have ceased contact with us, we’ll need to go forth on our own for now.”
The mention of Aldir and the asuras brought a sharp throb to my chest and I wanted to speak of what Agrona had told me right then and there, but I held my tongue.
This discussion won’t get far if I say it now, I thought.
‘You’ll need to tell everyone eventually,’ Sylvie sent back before she paused. ‘But maybe once the discussion is over.’
True to my expectations, even without dropping the bomb, ‘‘the gods are no longer with us’, the meeting had soon turned into a full-blown debate as the members of the Council argued with one another where to most heavily fortify with soldiers and mages. The main problem was that there was just too much ground to cover.
What Agrona and the Alacryans had done well—as much as I hated to admit—was keeping their goals nearly unreadable. From the battles so far, we knew that that the Alacryans were spending quite a bit of resources into getting through the Wall so that the corrupted beasts would have free reign over the eastern borders of Sapin.
The Alacryans have also been able to utilize some of the tunnels in the kingdom of Darv to transport their forces from the southern coast all the way near the borderline of Darv and Sapin. From what Buhnd had told us, there seemed to be a faction of radical dwarves so discontent with their positions and lives in Dicathen that they actually wanted the Alacryans to take over in order to reap the benefits. Buhnd made it clear that he and his loyalists were taking charge in eradicating this group as soon as possible.
As if it wasn’t enough, there were still Alacryan ships being sighted all along the western shores that forced coastal cities like Telmore, Etistin and Maybur to build defenses on not only the eastern side—in case the Wall doesn’t hold—but their western borders as well.
The Council had reasonably concluded that the brunt of the Alacryan attacks would be devoted to Sapin, but my last two missions proved otherwise. Towns as north as Ashber, which had the fastest access to the Grand Mountains and to Elenoir’s main cities within the Elshire Forest, had Alacryans hidden within them.
We had thought that their goal was to march south and join their allies coming in from the western shores, but with these last attacks directed toward elven territory coming from the Beast Glades, the Alacryan troops up north could actually have been aiming east toward Elenoir.
Alduin and Merial’s main concern was for their kingdom, while Blaine and Priscilla argued against sending troops into Elenoir and spreading even thinner the already lacking forces stationed all around Sapin.
And with Buhnd and much of the dwarven mages focused on their own civil dispute with the radicals trying to aid the Alacryans, the debate was getting nowhere.
Throughout the debate, I could tell Virion was trying to be the diplomat and remain neutral. He was silent throughout the entire meeting that took us well into the night, only weighing in his thoughts on specific scenarios that could happen.
“This is why I wanted to wait until Lord Aldir was here!” Blaine huffed in frustration. “He’ll know that it’s foolish to spread our forces even thinner than it already is.”
“Commander Virion, you mentioned that Elder Camus had gone back to Elenoir after my training with him was over,” I said, ignoring the former king of Sapin.
“Yes,” his latest transmission scroll had him in the northern city of Asyphin.
“Does he know about the attacks that had broken in the south?”
“He was made aware, of course,” he said, understanding where I was going. “Perhaps it’ll be in both his and our best interest if he helps survey the south for any suspicious movement.”
“The Elshire Forest spans hundreds of miles. No matter how powerful Elder Camus is, he’s just one man,” Merial rebutted.
“And General Aya,” Virion added, turning to Blaine and Priscilla. “With your two lances as well as General Mica being mostly in Sapin, It’s acceptable that I keep a lance in Elenoir, right? She can be pulled if absolutely necessary and we still have General Arthur.”
Blaine looked like he was about to say something, but Priscilla intervened. “That’s fine.”
“It’ll have to do as a temporary solution,” Alduin stressed after Virion turned his gaze toward him and his wife. “If attacks escalate toward Elenoir, we’ll need to send troops capable of navigating through the forest back to defend.”
“Don’t sugarcoat it. Just say you’ll take the elves back because defending Elenoir is more important than defending all of Dicathen,” Blaine shot back.
“Enough!” Virion snapped, shooting a deadly glare at both parties. “If that’s all, we’ll end the meeting he—”
“Actually,” I interrupted, gathering the gaze of everyone in the room. “We have one more topic on the agenda that I feel we should address as soon as possible.”
Virion raised a brow while everyone else looked at me with similar curious expressions. “Oh? And what is that?”
I looked at Sylvie one last time and she met my gaze with a resolute expression. Letting out a deep breath, I began, “It’s about the absence of Aldir and the asuras…”