Chapter 217: Decisions Made
Darvus stepped up beside me, his knuckles white from gripping his dual axes for dear life. The smug grin that he always wore was nowhere in sight, replaced by furrowed brows and a tensed jaw. “This doesn’t look good, Tessia.”
I looked over my shoulder to see Stannard and Caria, and the two hundred-odd soldiers that made up my unit along with the ragtag squads of elven soldiers that had been placed under my command. Mixed amongst them were civilian elves garbed only in cloth or a leather apron for protection as well as whatever thin metal they could find and strap on. These were the men that stayed behind to protect their home and their fleeing loved ones.
Every one of them wore grim expressions. The soldiers gripped their weapons while the civilians anxiously clenched their kitchen knives and gardening tools, as the steady drone of marching grew louder and louder.
The once lively elven town just behind us had long since evacuated, but we knew with the many children and elders amongst them, if we fled here—if we couldn’t hold out long enough—they would all die. This wasn’t a matter of protecting an abandoned town in the outskirts; this battle would determine the momentum in the fight for Elenoir.
My heart pounded against my chest and my knees felt weak. No matter how strong my mana core was, no matter how much I had trained, I felt nothing but fear in this moment.
Yet, I couldn’t show it. I wouldn’t.
Because then, the morale of every one of these people behind me, relying on my strength as not just a mage and warrior but as a leader, would collapse.
Holding my feelings in, wearing a mask of confidence and strength—this was my burden.
I conjured the wind to carry my voice as I unsheathed my sword. Projecting a wave of mana, not only to convey power to my subordinates but also to reassure myself, I spoke.
“You all know of the report we received a few hours ago. You all know why we rushed here without rest.”
I turned around to face my allies despite the fear of leaving my back open to the army approaching. “We’re here because of the Alacryan army approaching Elenoir Kingdom. Not everyone here can call this land ‘home,’ but behind us are the children and elderly, fleeing for their lives after being forced to abandon their only home. The enemy marching toward us now will kill them and take over Elenoir, and if they succeed in this, Sapin will be next.”
Murmurs of consensus rang throughout the crowd.
“Our numbers are few but I, for one, am honored to be the first line of defense in keeping that from happening,” I declared, raising my voice just a notch louder. “Lance Aya, along with every able-bodied elf, are marching down here to aid us as we speak, but the question is this…”
I held up my sword. “Will you join me in not just fighting this battle, but protecting the weak and helpless from the Alacryans?”
There was just a breath of silence where I was afraid my pounding heart would be heard by all of the soldiers in front of me until a roar of cheers and battle cries resounded.
At my signal, a line of defense formed around me and the rest of my ranged troops. “Conjurers, archers, ready your weapons!”
The foreboding thrump, thrump, thrump, thrump, of the Alacryan soldiers marching grew louder and louder within the dense veil of the fog and trees between us.
I pointed my sword forward. “Prepare your attacks!”
With my heightened senses and familiarity with the Elshire Forest, I knew rather than saw as the enemy vanguards came in range.
I thrust my weapon, sending out condensed bolts of wind. “Fire!”
An array of colors dotted my line of sight. Arcs of lightning, blades of wind, blasts of fire, and sharp shards of earth flew toward the enemy alongside dozens of arrows.
I held up my sword for everyone to see before signaling another flight of spells and pointed steel. “Fire!”
Another volley of colors rained down on the enemy, still mostly obscured by the forest environment. Shimmers of light shaped like shields and walls deflected or even absorbed our attacks, but that wasn’t the only problem. The thick trees and jutting branches of the Elshire Forest were against us.
“Another flight?” Stannard proposed hopefully, gripping his artifact in preparation for another spell.
“Ranged spells and arrows won’t win this battle.” I turned to Vedict, the one in charge of the front line. “Order the warriors and augmenters to break their line for the rest of us.”
With a nod, the steel-clad elf raised his shield and ran forward, relaying my decree. Gallant soldiers in both leather and metal armor ignited their cores and charged forward into a battle where we stood vastly outnumbered. They vanished from sight into the thick fog, but I could still hear the thunder of their magic-infused charge.
Steeling not only by weapon and body but my will, I looked at Stannard, Darvus, and Caria—my closest friends, and most trusted aides. None of us said a word, but with our time spent in battles, our gazes long since spoke volumes to each other and we all seemed to be saying the same thing. ‘Let’s get out of this alive.’
I reached for the necklace Arthur had given me around my neck. I mustn’t cry.
Kissing the pendant, I tucked it into my cloak, vowing to keep it—and our promise—safe.
Reaching deep into the pit of my stomach, I let out a guttural cry. “ Charge!”
“Captain,” a concerned voice sounded from my side.
Prying my eyes off of the beast horde slowly gaining ground, obscured by the blanket of dust, I looked down at my assistant. “What is it?”
Sinder, the well-toned man, who I had trained and groomed since he was just a kid, pointed down toward my hands.
I now realized that the reinforced railings built to keep soldiers from accidentally falling off the top of the Wall had become bent out of shape.
“Ah.” Readjusting my grip, I twisted it back into its proper form before letting go.
With a gentle smile, my assistant placed an armored hand on my pauldron. “I know it’s in your blood to worry and overthink, but look at the mayhem General Arthur is causing to our enemy.”
We, along with everyone else positioned at the Wall, were watching. With how large the enemy army was, it was almost impossible to keep track of where the young lance was within that sea of mana beasts. But every now and then, we’d notice the small changes occurring within their ranks, like small nuts and bolts becoming undone, causing the larger pieces to become more unstable.
I let out a sharp breath. “I know, Sinder. But it just pains me to be standing here twiddling my thumbs while the lance has been tirelessly fighting for hours.”
“Our time will come. No matter how strong the general is, he is only one man. He will need our support soon,” my assistant reassured. “Now please, Captain, broaden your shoulders and don’t let the soldiers see you faltering.”
“Since when did you become all grown up?” I teased, smacking Sinder’s back and almost throwing him over the edge of the Wall.
The soldiers around us laughed at our little show. Sinder, nearly killed by his own captain, wasn’t as amused but his expression softened after noticing the atmosphere lightening.
I continued making my rounds, walking the length of the Wall to make sure everything was in place for when our battle would begin. It wasn’t a job that a captain should be doing, but seeing my men and encouraging them when need be was something that helped me as well.
These soldiers that I had trained, lectured and sometimes even sparred with, relied on me, and in this moment when we’d be facing an army of beasts much larger in number, they needed my presence.
“Wess! I’m not seeing you shake, am I?” I called out to a middle-aged conjurer gripping his staff. Patting his shoulder, I shot him a smile. “After this fight, let’s have your wife make us one of her mean crumbled pies, okay?”
The conjurer let out a laugh, his body visibly relaxing. “It’s just like you to be thinking of food at a time like this, Captain. Very well, Maryl will be delighted to know that you like her pie that much.”
I gave him a wink before continuing my stroll. It wasn’t much—wave here, a joke there, making a plan for the future—anything to get the soldiers’ heads out of the dark hole caused by the looming battle.
That’s when I saw General Arthur’s little sister… Eleanor was her name, if I wasn’t mistaken. The little girl was hard to notice with the large mana beast beside her. Stella, the soldier that I had assigned to her, was nowhere in sight, replaced by a dark-haired archer with bright eyes. She seemed to be teaching her the basics of firing from higher ground.
“Miss Leywin,” I greeted. “What happened to the soldier I had assigned you?”
The little girl stiffened into a rather clumsy salute. “Ah, yes! Hello, Captain…”
“Albanth.” I smiled before turning to the woman that was teaching her. “And you are?”
The sharp-eyed woman saluted gracefully. “Helen Shard, Captain. My apologies for the confusion. I’m this one’s longtime instructor so I relieved Stella of her duty to watch after her.”
“I see,” I smiled. I was relieved that the general’s younger sister wasn’t the one to shrug off her protector. “In that case, I will leave her in your care.”
“Yes sir!” she said, brimming with confidence.
“Miss Leywin.” I turned to face the approaching beast horde that appeared to be getting even larger than I imagined. “Do you still feel up for helping us out even after seeing that?”
“Yes.” The little girl’s expression hardened as she gripped her intricate bow. “My brother is fighting out there with only Sylvie to help him. The least I can do with all the training I’ve been getting is help him and my parents, who are here as well.”
She couldn’t have been older than twelve or thirteen, yet here she was, with little traces of innocence and youth left. I wanted to ask whether her parents knew she was here and if they would approve, but it wasn’t my place to do so. Giving her and the archer named Helen a salute, I continued my walk until I spotted a messenger running toward me.
Seeing how hard he was breathing, people would think that he had climbed the entire height of the Wall with his bare hands. The messenger dipped his head before speaking to me. “Senior Captain Trodius has called for a meeting and has requested your presence immediately.”
“Got it. Thank you,” I replied before immediately heading to the main tent.
By the time I arrived, Captain Jesmiya was leaving the tent with a rather particularly sour expression. She bumped my shoulder while muttering a string of curses under her breath.
“Captain Jesmiya,” I called out, grabbing the captain’s arm.
The blonde-haired captain whirled around, her free hand already holding her saber before realizing who I was.
“Captain Albanth,” she nearly spat out while sheathing her sword.
Surprised by her venom, I asked her what was going on, only for her to shrug me off with a cold shoulder. “Ask Trodius, ” she hissed before striding away.
I opened the entrance to the tent to see Captain Trodius going through some paperwork in that eerily impeccable posture he always had.
The captain knew I was here but he continued on with his work as if to make a statement. This went on for a few minutes before I couldn’t wait any longer and cleared my throat. “Senior Captain—”
A raised finger cut me off. The man didn’t even look in my direction until he had finally finished whatever it was he was doing, despite the fact that he had sent a messenger for this ‘urgent’ meeting.
Finally, after meticulously filing his papers into three even piles, he looked up and locked eyes with me. “Captain Albanth.”
“Sir!” I saluted, my armor clanging loudly.
“Have your melee troops prepare to march,” he stated. “They will be confronting the beast horde in the terms that we dictate.”
“Excuse me?” I asked, confused. “My apologies, Senior Captain, but it was to my understanding that the melee troops would enter combat only after we’ve lured a majority of the beast horde into the trap we had—”
“Captain Albanth,” the senior captain interrupted again. “Do you know how many resources we’ve expended excavating the underground passages for our trailblazer divisions to safely explore the Beast Glades? I won’t go as far as to weigh the value of lives between the efforts spent on this fortress, but just realize that it doesn’t make sense logistically to detonate the underground routes.”
“But, Sir.” I took a step forward only to be met with a blazing glare from Trodius. Taking a step back, I continued. “With General Arthur’s plan, we’ll be able to immobilize the majority of the beast horde. This will give our melee forces a much better chance to sur—”
“As I have stated before, Captain Albanth , I won’t go as far as to weigh the value of lives…” The senior captain let his sentence trail off, letting me know that was exactly what he was doing.
“Besides, the lance said it himself—it was only a suggestion. I said nothing at the meeting out of respect for his position, but he’s but a boy that’s ignorant of war. It’d be in your best interest to realize that as well.”
Clenching my fists behind my back, I stood silent.
Trodius took the silence as my answer and gave me that fake smile that seemed to work so well with the people who didn’t truly know him. “Good! Then we’ll have your melee troops advance immediately. You and your troops will do whatever it takes to hold your ground until Jesmiya’s forces are ordered to come around the flank to assist you. By then, the archers and conjurers in position will be in range to fire freely at their backline.”
Gritting my teeth in anger, I was barely able to respond with a nod before turning around to leave. Suddenly, Jesmiya’s mood back when we had run into each other seemed too pleasant after hearing this conversation.
“Oh, and Captain Albanth?” the senior captain called out. “I realize that through this, the death toll will be higher, but know that our victory will be that much greater for having kept this vital fortress standing after all of this.”
My gaze shifted from the Wall, barely visible over the dust that hung in the air, back to the sight of the Alacryan army well within the forest.
‘Arthur!’ Sylvie’s voice rang louder.
“I don’t know!” I snapped. “I don’t know what to do, Sylvie.”
My role was to stay here, to help the forces of the Wall defeat this beast horde. Even if all of this was nothing but a diversion, my family and the Twin Horns were still here. What if something happened to any of them after I had left? On the flip side, what if Tess was in danger? With so many elves stationed around Sapin, it would be almost impossible for Elenoir to properly defend against an army of that size.
‘I know it’s a hard decision,’ she responded, her soothing voice calming me just a tad. ‘Rest assured that I will support whatever choice you make.’
The gears in my brain turned tirelessly while I debated. After my emotions had quelled a bit, my logical side stepped in. It reassured me that the traps already set for the beast horde once they got to the Wall would greatly lower the chances of the melee forces getting killed in combat, let alone a skilled augmenter like my father.
Pressed for time as both the beast horde and Alacryan army advanced relentlessly toward their destination, I made my decision.
“Sylvie. We’re going to Elshire Forest.”