Chapter 218: From Leader To Soldier
Digging my feet into the ground as I leaped forward, I used a mana vine to pull myself to the nearest enemy mage. The surprised Alacryan didn’t even have enough time to turn toward me before my swordstaff sunk deep into his waist. The blood rolled right off as I pulled out my weapon, leaving its pale blade spotless.
“Tessia, duck!” the familiar voice of my teammate rang from behind.
I immediately shot back, giving room for Caria to dive down on another Alacryan from the tree she was on.
“Nice!” I shouted back as I released a bolt of wind to knock back an enemy gaining on Stannard.
“Thank you!” he shouted. His artifact had finished charging, unleashing a blast of mana directly at an approaching mob of enemy soldiers.
Darvus came into view, his dual axes creating sparks and trails of fire as he cleaved both flesh and steel to support our small conjurer.
“We can’t let them get past this point!” I reminded them as Caria flew into action as well, her gauntlets enveloped in thick mana.
We can do this, I reassured myself, watching my teammates battle alongside our other unit of mages. Hachi, one of our new recruits, stood out even from this distance as he stood a head taller than everyone else with his flame-clad fists.
Suddenly a bright beam of ice shot down from a tree nearby. Caria managed to dodge it and Hachi was barely able to dive out of the way, but a nearby elf from his team wasn’t as lucky.
Damn it, I cursed, watching as my ally fell.
With a mana-infused leap, I landed on the branch that a long-range mage had been perched on. Before she could even let out a noise, a fatal wound had already been made. The body slumped and fell off the tree.
Letting out a sharp breath, I surveyed the battlefield below, making sure there weren’t any other enemy conjurers in range to hurt my teammates.
Instead, what I saw was chaos. With the foliage blending in with the trees and ground as well as the thick blanket of fog ever present, it was hard to tell exactly how many enemies there were and how many of my allies were left.
A scream pierced through my ears. It came from nearby. Not knowing whether it was friend or foe that made the pained cry, I whirled toward the source.
It was an elf. From the leather apron fashioned clumsily with a metal sheet on the chest—most likely a baking pan—I could tell instantly he was a civilian that had chosen to stay and defend his town.
The elf crumpled lifelessly to the ground while a puddle of blood formed around him. The killer was an Alacryan mage that had a spinning ring of wind surrounding his open hands. He wore a proud sneer while trampling over the elf’s body.
My blood burned with righteous anger at the sight. Landing deftly on the ground, I sprinted toward the enemy, fully intent on removing him from this battle.
“Tessia! Where are you going?!” I heard Darvus’ voice behind me.
“I’ll be right back!” I responded, not bothering to turn back.
My vision narrowed on the enemy mage as I easily cleared the distance between us, but just as I was about to drive my blade into the unsuspecting enemy mage, a golden pane of light flickered between us. The barrier shattered but it gave the mage enough time to scurry out of my path.
“Sneaky little thing,” the enemy mage spat. A chill ran down my spine as I noticed the man’s eyes quickly scanning my body as if the armor and cloth I wore was nonexistent.
He licked his lips while the whirling blades of wind surrounding his hands grew larger. “You’re lucky we’re in a rush, otherwise I would’ve taken my time with you.”
“No,” I replied coldly, honing in my killing intent and the first phase of my beast will into the enemy. “ You’re lucky that I’m in a rush.”
It wasn’t my first time using my beast will, but I had never used it on another person. Regardless, beast or man, the mage knew how outclassed he was.
“Sh-Shield!” he screamed as he dashed toward him, reaching past his guard in the blink of an eye.
Once again, a golden light flickered into existence, but before it could even fully manifest, the sharp tendrils of mana surrounding me had already pierced several holes into the mage’s body.
Without thinking, I looked down, my gaze was drawn toward the dead elf beside me. His empty eyes seemed to be looking back at me, blaming me.
I can do this, I repeated through gritted teeth.
“Tessia! We need you back!” a familiar voice rang nearby. It was Caria, facing against a group of Alacryans. Her expression was grim but she wasn’t losing her ground even against three enemy mages.
“I’ll be right there!” I shouted before augmenting my sight. I peered through the layer of fog to try and find any of the so-called ‘shields’ hiding. With my mobility and senses, I had the best chances of knocking down their defenses.
Just as I spotted a shield conjuring a panel of light around a group of Alacryans, an enemy mage charged at me.
I don’t have time for this! I easily dodged his flame-clad spear and carved a bloody line through his neck when I spotted another ally in need of help.
There was a human soldier backed up against a tree with two enemy mages closing in on her. I knew my main job was to reinforce my teammates to stop the Alacryan troops from advancing but my body moved without thinking.
With a flick of my wrist, roots shot up from below the two Alacryans, anchoring their feet to the ground.
Compressing the air around my swordstaff, I launched a translucent crescent of wind.
This time, an earthen wall launched up from the ground. My spell left a scar on the stone shield but by the time I could get past their defense, the human girl was already on the ground with a frozen spike jutting out from her chest.
I cursed inward, angry at myself for being too late. Meanwhile, the enemy mages managed to free themselves from my shackles of roots and prepared their next attack—this time, at me.
With a manic cry, the mage dashed toward me, his entire right arm enveloped by a lance made of ice.
It took a little less than a single thought to command the emerald vines of mana to knock aside his feeble attack and puncture a hole through his stomach and chest.
My eyes shifted toward my dead ally that was still leaning against the tree.
I cursed again. I needed to take down all of these mages. The more I brought down, the better chances my allies had. That was my duty.
I kept my mana usage constantly in check as the emerald aura surrounding me shot out more translucent vines that whipped, wrapped, and pierced enemies nearby. My thin blade whistled and sang through the air, drawing arcs of enemy blood wherever it landed.
Constantly reminding myself that each enemy I eliminated was an ally saved, I persevered and continued fighting.
This is the right thing to do.
While the forest was a handicap to many, the endless rows of trees worked to my advantage. Not only did I control the emerald vines of mana constantly protecting me, but every tree around me also beckoned to call.
“Focus the gray-haired girl!” a shout sounded from afar. Seconds later, a condensed beam of fire came into view from the top of a tree.
Rather than dodge it and hope none of my allies would get hit by the blast, I waved my swordstaff and channeled a spell through the mana-amplifying gem on its hilt.
Thick roots from beneath my feet rose from the ground, sacrificing themselves by taking the beam of fire.
Thankfully the fog makes it hard for fires to spread here, I thought as the burned roots withered away.
“Head Tessia!” a desperate cry rang nearby.
I whipped my head back. On the ground just a dozen yards away was Hachi.
The burly man was laying on the ground, his hand desperately reaching out for me just before a stone hammer crushed his head.
His arm dropped to the ground, crimson spreading from where the earthen hammer had dropped.
“No!” I yelled, seething in anger. However, the source of my rage didn’t last much longer as a glowing axe promptly separated the Alacryan’s head from his neck.
Darvus appeared behind the Alacryan’s corpse, his eyes fierce. “Are you out of your mind? Why the hell did you break formation and go off on your own like that?!”
“It’s not like that!” I retorted. “I was saving our troops!”
“Yeah?” he scoffed, “Well because of that, Hachi died. You were supposed to be in position to back him and his team up!”
I shook my head, my face burning from being blamed. “Y-You don’t understand, there were—”
“We all had our positions assigned—that you assigned. Because you ran off, two others are critically injured and their right flank is completely exposed! In what world is that ‘saving our troops?’” he cut me off.
Before I could respond, Darvus dashed off, taking out his anger on the unfortunate enemies nearby.
Snapping out of my daze, I tried going after him when, suddenly, a searing pain spread from my back.
The protective aura from my beast will kept me from toppling over and the damage felt minimal, but it still felt like cold water had been dumped on me.
If the attack had been stronger, I could’ve died.
The promise I made to my teammates, the promise I had made with Arthur, would’ve been broken because I was so caught up in trying to save as many of my troops as I could.
Snap out of it, Tessia! Darvus is right, we need to stay in formation.
I made my way back toward my initial position, exerting more mana into the emerald aura protecting me. I mowed my way through the waves of enemy soldiers wielding weapons of steel and conjured elements that attempted to advance forward to my team.
Turning into a whirlwind of blade and magic, I fought through but we were vastly outnumbered. Even after part of their force had broken off toward Elenoir, the difference in numbers were obvious, but I could only hope that General Aya’s army would take care of them.
Damn it, why am I not getting closer?! I cursed, trying to find Stannard, Caria, and Darvus.
It was impossible to tell how much time had passed since the battle first began, but one thing was painfully clear: I wasn’t fit to be a leader.
It didn’t matter that I was a silver core mage with an S-class beast will. Getting emotional over every ally death I encountered justified that I was incompetent to make rational decisions for the betterment of the whole.
The guilt that I felt manifested itself into a voice in my head, constantly reminding me that I was the one that led every one of my allies here to their death.
I continued making my way toward my initial position, when I finally spotted one of them just a few dozen yards away.
“Stannard!” I yelled, hoping the conjurer could hear me over the chaos.
However, my voice attracted someone else’s attention—a person that looked different from the rest of the enemies around me.
Cutting me off was a brightly armored human riding on a corrupted wolf-like beast.
He looks like someone important, I convinced myself as I watched his long blonde hair billow, unobstructed by any form of protection on his head.
Guards of a different caliber than the rest of the Alacryan soldiers surrounded me, obstructing my path, but as I prepared to confront them, the man spoke.
“Leave the girl to me,” he asserted.
I kept my face impassive as the armor-clad man jumped off his mount and unhurriedly approached me. Even from this distance, I could see that his black armor was a finely crafted suit of both plate and chainmail. Hanging on either side of his waist were two ornate-looking swords embroidered with fine jewels on the hilt.
He unsheathed his swords. “As expected of Tessia Eralith. To barely have any wounds. It’s an honor to meet you like this.”
Keeping my swordstaff pointed at the man, I cautiously stepped forward. “How do you know my name?”
He smiled politely. “You can call me Vernett.”
The translucent green vines thrashed wildly around me as if portraying my anger. I hated when they talked. It made them seem less like savage enemies that we had to kill.
My voice lowered into a threatening growl. “You didn’t answer my question.”
Vernett shrugged as he got into a fighting stance. “Perhaps beating me in combat might make me talk. Afterall, you Dicathians seem to love interrogation.”
That’s how you want to play it.
The hardened soil beneath my feet cracked as I dashed toward the blonde-haired Alacryan, getting in range before he could properly react.
Yet, as the mana tendrils I shot forth approached the man named Vernett, they slowed drastically, coming to a complete stop before even reaching him.
The Alacryan had a smug grin on his face as he used that chance to swing his blade. The attack was fast but after training under so many elites, it was easily dodgeable.
I followed up with my sword this time, only for it to feel as if I was swinging through a thick viscous liquid. By the time my blade reached Vernett’s unprotected neck, the speed had diminished so greatly that it couldn’t even draw blood.
The battle continued, but we were at a stalemate. I was clearly stronger, faster, more adept in combat, but because of his unique variant of defensive water magic, I couldn’t land a solid hit.
It didn’t help that this ‘leader’ constantly moved around the battlefield. He weaved through other skirmishes, never staying in one place long.
“After all your talk, you’re scurrying around like a mouse?” I spat, unable to keep the venom out of my voice.
Vernett let out a laugh. “Why bother butting heads when I’m clearly at a disadvantage.”
I launched a crescent of wind in the feeble hope of getting through his defensive aura, but the man didn’t dodge, rather, he grabbed a nearby soldier—my soldier—and used him as a shield.
The man’s chest spurted blood despite his silver chestplate. His eyes, wide with shock, locked onto me before his head drooped lifelessly.
“Bastard!” I roared, dashing toward him.
The filth of a man threw the body he had used as a shield at me in order to keep his distance.
“What good is your position when you’re nothing but an infant wearing a shiny badge?” he gloated as he sliced off the leg of another one of my soldiers, purposely leaving him alive and in agony.
“Shut up!” Imbuing more mana into my beast will, the emerald vines surged with power, extending up toward the trees and killing two of the long range Alacryan mages.
Using the gap in their offense, I propelled myself toward Vernett.
He dodged the vines I threw at him, his smile never wavering as he used one of his own troops to block another one of my attacks.
Scurrying further away, he shouted, “You should’ve kept the tiara on your head, little princess. Leading with a sword doesn’t suit you.”
“Shut up, shut up, shut up!” I screamed. Succumbing to my rage, I activated the second stage of my beast will.
Suddenly, the world around me turned a hue of green. Sounds of battle became muffled while my body seemed to almost move on its own.
Finally, the blonde Alacryan seemed fazed. Concern showed on his face but it was too late. I reached out and a hand of translucent green held Vernett in a tight grip while the trees around him formed a cage around him.
“Call off your troops,” I growled, my voice coming out distorted.
Vernett coughed out blood from the air getting squeezed out of his lungs. I could feel his ribs cracking through my magic, but a smile blossomed on his face. “Take a look around you. What troops?”
For the first time in what seemed like our entire battle, I pried my eyes off the scumbag in my grip and looked around. The battle had moved forward—no, I had been led back.
Afar, I could see my troops getting bulldozed without me, more and more of their corpses scattered around the forest floor. Perhaps it was due to my beast will’s second stage, but I could clearly see how much the numbers on my side had dwindled… because of me. Because I had prioritized playing to this man’s tunes.
“I’m happy you think so highly of me, but like yourself, I’m merely a distinguished soldier,” he gurgled, blood leaking out from the corners of his mouth. “The difference between us is that I know I’m only pretending to be one.”
As my vision swam from rage and other indescribable emotions, a piercing pain shot through my chest.
I found myself looking up at the forest sky, my body frozen and cold. Vernett’s pained but arrogant expression soon came into my view as he looked down on me.
What had happened? Another enemy mage?
Vernett clicked his tongue in disapproval. “My my, were you so mad at me that you couldn’t even see the mage hiding in the tree straight in your line of sight?”
I closed my eyes, waiting to die, with nobody to blame but myself.
That was when the horn blared from the distance. And when I opened my eyes, Vernett was gone.
Replacing him stood General Aya, looking at me with an expression so cold that I half wished that I had died.