Chapter 224: Carried Back
Sylvie and I left the protection of the Wall and looked out at the battle that had long since reached its climax. Archers and mages, whose ranges weren’t as long as the ones up on the Wall, were positioned on the ground, closer toward the bloodshed.
I looked back once more at the thick metal gates of the Wall closing behind us in both rage and regret.
‘We’ll find out who was responsible for this later,’ my bond comforted, her eyes locking into mine. ‘Right now, it’s our duty to find your family and help as many soldiers as possible.’
Giving her a nod, the two of us walked forward. I tuned out the shouts and cheers of the soldiers around us.
I wasn’t a hero, nor did I wish to be. It was impossible to be everyone’s hero. It’s inevitable that I’d let some people down—hell, I’ve already let a lot of people down.
Not every human, elf, and dwarf were equally important to me, and that’s a fact that I had accepted long ago. I was here to serve my role to help end this war. It wasn’t for world peace or to save mankind—it was to lead a comfortable and happy life with the people I loved and cared for.
Walking through the lines of bowmen and conjurers either firing at the backline of the beast horde or resting and replenishing their mana reserves, I could hear mutters around us. Soldiers nudged their colleagues nearby for their attention as hundreds of gazes turned towards us.
“You should at least acknowledge them,” my bond said, noticing the stares.
“Focus, Sylvie,” I admonished. “Let’s do what we came here to do first. We can worry about troop morale after.”
The dry cracked grounds of the Beast Glades felt like wet tar, gripping and pulling back my feet as I trudged forward with my bond by my side. I couldn’t shake off the unsettling feeling that made my chest tighten. The veil of night and the crowd of beasts and man alike hid the answer to a question that I grew more and more afraid to ask.
Brandishing Dawn’s Ballad, Sylvie and I dove into the thick of the battle underneath the shower of spells and arrows. My bright teal sword became the beacon for our soldiers within eyeshot, giving them hope and the strength needed to unleash one more strike.
Sylvie kept her distance away from my sword range while shooting precise bullets of mana perfectly timed to save an unguarded soldier.
Of course, neither of us were simply wildly attacking. As I sliced apart smaller foes and brought down gargantuan beasts without discrimination, my eyes were always on the lookout for signs of any large-bodied earth conjurer that resembled Durden or brawler with a fire-affinity that looked anything remotely like my father.
While sweeping my eyes throughout the barren glade, I saw the silhouette of a massive worm towering over the rest of the beasts around it with soldiers in its maw. Occasionally, blasts of fire tore out of its tip, eliciting faint screams from the soldiers before more were consumed by the familiar worm-like beast.
Gritting my teeth, I tore my gaze away, trying once again to spot my father and Durden through the dirt, smoke and debris filling the gaps of the chaotic battlefield.
It was then that I caught sight of another group of soldiers trying to bring down a giant monster. This one, however, was a midnight grizzly.
That particular breed of mana beast ranged from B class to AA class—when it wasn’t corrupted—depending on their maturity and the density of their metallic pelt that they obtained from consuming precious ores.
By its twelve-foot height and the glimmering sheen its spiked fur carried, my guess was that this particular midnight grizzly ranged towards the latter. What drew my attention wasn’t the beast itself, though. It was the broad back of a soldier that fought with thick armored gloves taking the brunt of the grizzly’s attack while the others made futile attempts at bringing the corrupted beast down.
Before my eyes could even deduce whether that person was my father or not, my feet were already moving towards that battle.
Within two mana-infused steps, I was already within range to strike down the grizzly, but my focus turned to the brawler.
I clicked my tongue in frustration. The soldier was in a full set of armor, including a helmet that covered his face.
Flashing beside the soldier that was taking a momentary breather while the beast was occupied by the other soldiers, I took off his helmet.
“Hey! What the hell—”
It wasn’t my father. Suppressing the urge to just crush the flimsy helmet in my hands, I shoved it back on the brawler’s head without a word.
“ Move,” I ordered. It wasn’t just directed towards the man I mistook for my father, but at the other soldiers circling and striking at the midnight grizzly as well.
Being mages made them sensitive to mana, and the mana surging out of me immediately put weight to my words—or rather, word.
I knew Dawn’s Ballad wouldn’t be able to cut through a near-S rank mana beast, especially in the condition it was in. Putting away my sword, I took a step toward the giant metallic, six-limbed bear.
That single step carried me just below one of its razor-sharp claws as the beast struck down. Grabbing ahold of one of its claws that were as thick as my forearm, I shifted my weight and imbued mana at the very last minute.
The result: a 6,000-pound beast was tossed in the air and sent slamming into the ground by a mere teen.
The ground shattered from the impact and the beast—as feral as it was—let out a deep wail in pain.
“Holy crap,” a soldier that had been fighting the beast exclaimed. His giant war hammer was dented and its shaft slightly bent from multiple collisions against the midnight grizzly’s armored pelt.
I wanted to end it quickly but the beast recovered faster than I had expected it to. The grizzly rolled back up to its feet and immediately lashed out with its four clawed arms.
‘Arthur, do you need help?’ Sylvie’s voice sounded in my head.
No. Keep looking out for Durden or my dad. This won’t take much longer.
I swayed, sidestepped, and pivoted, cleanly dodging the barrage of claws that created divots in the dirt around me.
Frustrated, the midnight grizzly attempted to hammer down its two top arms. Rather than dodging it, however, I held up a palm.
Utilizing the technique that Elder Camus had shown me, I created a vacuum just above my open palm and received the full extent of the attack. I couldn’t disperse the force of the midnight grizzly’s powerful claws completely. My feet sank into the ground and my whole body shook.
Still, it was plenty enough to throw off the beast’s center of gravity and leave him wide open. In the time it took to take another step, I had tethered the midnight grizzly’s back legs to the ground so it wouldn’t fly and cause casualties on our side, and condensed several layers of swirling wind around my right fist. The torrent in my hand was enough to make the trained soldiers nearby recoil but when my fist landed squarely in the metal beast’s abdomen, the ground shook from the impact.
A shockwave resonated from the blow, sending some of the weaker soldiers and beasts sprawling on the ground, but it was enough to kill the high-ranking beast.
‘Wasn’t that a bit excessive?’ my bond chimed, obviously feeling the impact from where she was.
The grizzly’s coat seemed to have been affected by the Alacryan’s corruption. I wouldn’t have been able to kill it without at least doing that much.
Unable to even spare the time to gather my breath, I continued my search for Durden and my father.
Despite the lack of conjurers in the frontline, it was hard finding my giant friend. Because of how much more useful earth mages were closer they were to the ground, it wasn’t just one or two earthen spells that I spotted in the distance. And knowing Durden and his unruly strength despite being a conjurer, I knew he wasn’t back near the Wall with the other casters and archers.
Damn it, I cursed. My patience grew thinner with each passing second. Every scream and cry for help made me flinch, afraid that the next one might be either Durden or my father.
Sylvie and I continued on separately as we searched for them as well as killed as many beasts as we could. Not once did I find an Alacryan mage amongst the chaos, but that was a good thing. There were no mages to cast shields to protect the beast horde from our conjurers.
In the blink of an eye, the sun had come up, highlighting the turmoil that stretched out as far as the eye could see.
‘What about using Realmheart again to try and find your father like you did with Ellie?’ Sylvie suggested, her voice weary even in my head.
Don’t you think I’ve thought of that? I snapped. Ellie’s magic is unique enough for me to spot with the ambient mana fluctuations. How am I going to differentiate my father amongst the other hundreds or so soldiers that have a fire-affinity?
Letting out a deep breath, I apologized to my bond. The frustration and desperation building up inside me made it hard to tamp down my emotions.
‘It’s okay,’ Sylvie consoled. Her voice was gentle, but I could still feel a tinge of sadness leaking out.
Promising myself to make it up to my ever-faithful bond after this was all over, I continued my search.
Smoke, fire, debris, abandoned weapons, and the corpses of both men and beast decorated the once barren field. As limited as my vision was, I kept my eyes wide and ears open. I knew it was hopeless trying to discern my father amidst the roars of beasts, the cries of soldiers, the hum and crackle of magic and the sharp ringing of metal, but there was little more that I could do.
The number of beasts had dwindled tremendously, but not without loss. Humans, elves, and dwarves alike lay sprawled out on the ground alongside the beasts that they had either killed or were killed by as if highlighting the point that, in death, there were no sides.
Because of the change in my plan, so many soldiers had died. Behind me, unscathed, the Wall stood up high as if mocking us. The ground in front of it was intact despite the explosives we had placed underneath.
My gut told me it was Trodius that had rescinded my plan, since the other two captains were transparent in valuing their troops over the Wall.
It was only the thought of finding my father and Durden—making sure they were okay—-that kept me grounded. I had to remind myself over and over that what I had suggested was only that… a suggestion.
Hours flashed by until the sun was high up in the sky. Soldiers too wounded or too tired to continue fighting were carried off by their comrades as the next batch of soldiers marched forward to replace them.
The beast horde was slowly being pushed back as their numbers dwindled down to the hundreds. It wouldn’t be long now until this major battle would turn out a major victory in the eyes of Dicathen. Still, to the soldiers out here still fighting, each minute that trickled by was another minute that they could easily get killed. To them, this victory would be tarnished by the death of their friends that fought alongside them.
After hours and hours of fighting and searching, my body was moving autonomously. I killed beasts wherever I passed and helped soldiers in distress if they were on my way. I couldn’t save them all, but I couldn’t ignore the ones right in front of me.
It was when I was helping a soldier that had his right leg mauled that I was hit with a wave of panic and worry.
“You! Carry this man back to the Wall,” I said after encasing his bleeding stub in ice.
Sylvie! What happened? I sent, cold sweat dripping down my neck as my bond’s emotions still carried over to me.
I was already heading towards Sylvie’s location. She wasn’t far, less than a mile southwest toward the southern end of the Wall. But why wasn’t she answering?
Despite the scenery blurring past me as I flew, time seemed to slow like a thick viscous fluid. Sounds were muffled and I could hear my heartbeat thumping against my eardrums louder than anything else.
As I got closer and closer though, my vision came in flashes. If felt like I was watching the world through a thick glass jar as I barely made out Sylvie as she held me back in her embrace. I could hear her worried cries but I couldn’t make out the words she was saying.
Her teary eyes as she shook her head and stopped me from going closer registered in my eyes but I couldn’t make out her expression because my focus was on the man dragging his feet towards the team of medics running towards him.
He was missing an arm and half of his face had been burned past the point of recognition, but I still knew it was Durden. And slung over his wide back… was what was left of my father.