Chapter 230: Resounding Horns
Sylvie and I remained entranced by the snowy white field that extended from the shore out into the ocean. It was amazing to see the conjuration of such a vast phenomenon made from one person. Surely, General Varay would be exhausted by now until she could recover her mana, but the job had been well done.
Aside from the aesthetics provided, I was curious as to the sort of strategy Virion and the rest of the Council had to utilize this ice field. I was given minimal information on the specific formations, deployment and maneuvering of troops and the actual line formation that we’d be using to face the approaching Alacryan army.
“Ready to go up, General?” Curtis’s voice rang from behind.
I pried my eyes away, turning to the single set of stairs leading to the floor above. Sylvie was right behind me and despite appearing even younger than my sister in her human form, I could sense the excitement of battle leaking from her.
Climbing up the stairs and entering what I assumed was the strategic hub for the battle here, I was surprised at how… efficient everything was.
‘Efficient’ might not have been the best word, but the activities going on inside the room reminded me of the strategy rooms during my time as Grey back on Earth.
There were rows of desks with people sitting in front of large piles of transmission scrolls instead of computers. They were all faced towards the center of the circular room with a view of General Barion, standing on an elevated podium that was looking over a large earthen table with an uneven surface and a large glass orb perched on top of an intricate artifact. Surrounding this artifact were over twelve mages on standby.
While I was curious about the purpose of the clear orb, it only took me a second to realize that the earthen table, with a dwarven mage hovering his hands over it, was a rough depiction of the soon-to-be battlefield.
General Bairon Wykes, older brother of Lucas Wykes, was currently discussing something about the march before he finally turned to look at me.
His expression was controlled but the slight twitch in his eyebrows told me that he hadn’t exactly forgotten what I had done to his brother. Still, compared to how he acted when we had me for the first time, his impulse control had gotten a lot better.
“General Bairon,” I greeted curtly, walking up to the earthen war table.
“General Leywin,” he replied, not bothering to step down from the podium he was standing on.
I studied the layout of the war table, noticing the small earthen figures that most likely represented the troops.
“I’m assuming this information isn’t real-time, right?” I asked.
“No it isn’t, General Arthur,” the dwarf answered respectfully. “I’m only able to roughly gauge and track the progress from the reports through the transmission scrolls sent in by the captains.”
“And what is this giant orb?” I asked, looking at Bairon this time.
“It’s an artifact that can be better used as a medium for the diviners present,” he answered.
“How are the diviners getting information from the battlefield?”
“Those other mages you see beside the projection artifact are elite deviants capable of scrying by sharing senses with their bonded beasts. The diviners will be able to link the images from the scryers’ minds and project them into the orb for the strategic general of this battle to see,” Bairon replied, his eyes narrowing in suspicion.
“Don’t worry, I came here after declining your position. I’ll be joining the other lances on the battlefield,” I quipped, annoyed by the lance’s attitude.
“At least you had the brain to decline it. Tens of thousands of soldiers’ lives rest on the choices made in this room,” Bairon retorted. “If you can’t even keep your own family alive, how will you keep the soldiers out there from dying needlessly?”
I whipped my head back, rage flairing. “ What did you say?”
Bairon smiled smugly. “You heard me.”
“Both of you, stop,” my bond said, pulling on my sleeve. “And retract your mana.”
Looking around, I could see that the killing intent infused with mana that had leaked out were straining the people present in the room. Calming myself, I shot Bairon a glare and held up a hand. “Give me the debrief papers you got from the Council and we’ll be on our way.”
Bairon reluctantly handed me the folder. In it were dozens of pages highlighting relevant information along with several transmission scrolls.
Not wanting to stay in this room any longer than necessary, I made my way to the exit, stopping just short of the doorway leading to the stairs with Curtis and Sylvie beside me. “And General Bairon? If one of the requirements to have this role was to ‘keep your own family alive’, then I might just argue that you’re in no position to be up on that podium.”
I crossed the high city walls that marked the edge of Etistin perched on Sylvie’s back as I read through the notes outlining the various phases of this battle. The drumming of footsteps resounded below from the soldiers marching through the hills that led down to the Etistin Bay.
To make things even better for those struggling on their march, the gray clouds hung low, and the air was moist. It looked like the battle would be done under the rain.
Something’s not adding up, I said to myself, my eyes scouring over the estimated numbers of the Alacryan forces approaching.
‘What’s wrong?’ Sylvie replied, noticing my concern.
It’s just that… if I was the Alacryan general, there is no way I would initiate a full scale battle like this.
I could sense the confusion from my bond, so I elaborated what was on my mind.
From what we’d gathered, Alacrya had been preparing for this war for many years now, from smuggling spies like Headmaster Goodsky to poisoning and corrupting the mana beasts. They’d taken extreme and careful measures by colluding with the secretive dwarves and bridging gaps by installing teleportation gates deep within the dungeons of the Beast Glades.
This all happened under our noses while Dicathen barely knew that another continent even existed!
So to me, it seemed counterintuitive for them to abandon all of the strategic prowess that they’ve demonstrated and face us head on like this.
Based on the numbers, their forces were huge and any of the attacks we’d already tried had been easily blocked by their specialized defensive mages. However, they were still coming by ship—their resources were limited. The journey here must’ve already drained their food and water supply by a considerable amount. If we played a war of attrition, their forces would soon die of thirst or starvation.
Of course, one could argue that Alacrya’s strengths truly shined in large scale battle, since their specialized mages were much more of a well-oiled and cohesive military force compared to our soldiers. But still, we vastly outnumbered them even if it would take time to mobilize all of our forces.
Was I overthinking things? Perhaps the Alacryans just wanted to wrap this up. I knew that Agrona wanted to avoid an unnecessarily high death count on either sides for his goals against the asuras in Epheotus, so maybe he thought that obtaining victory in a formal battle like this would end the war cleanly?
‘Maybe you should’ve taken the strategic general position,’ Sylvie chimed after absorbing all of the thoughts I had practically vomited onto her.
No. Bairon is a dick, but he’s right. I don’t have a stable enough mindset to dictate the lives of the soldiers when I know that each of their deaths would be caused by the decisions I make.
I didn’t want to play chess using the lives of our soldiers as pawns when I already felt responsible for the death of my father.
“Focus, Arthur. We have a war to finish,” I said aloud, slapping my cheeks.
With General Bairon under the helm of leadership, I was now but a soldier assigned a mission. In a way, this was easier. My hands would get bloody instead of my soul.
Fly a bit lower, Sylv, I sent to my bond, closing the folder Bairon had given me.
Sylvie folded her wings and dived down so the endless line of soldiers no longer looked like faceless ants.
With a wave of my arms, I released a blast of fire, intertwining tendrils of lightning and blades of wind in a spectacular show of elements up into the sky.
Catching onto what I was doing, Sylvie raised her head and opened her large jaws to let out a deafening roar.
Hearing the whoops and shouts immediately from the troops below, I couldn’t help but smile.
‘That was a bit childish of us, no?’ my bond asked, chuckling a bit as well.
Not at all. Morale is one of the most overlooked but important aspects of large-scale battles, I replied as the two of us slowly approached the nearing ocean.
We made our way to Etistin Bay.
The first thing we noticed was the temperature. As we got closer to the conjured field of snow and ice, I felt a biting chill permeating through my skin.
Varay was truly on another level compared to the rest of the other lances. While I’d like to confidently say that I could beat Varay in a one-on-one battle, I couldn’t. While I had the advantage of being able to manipulate multiple elements and had Sylvia’s dragon will, they seemed like cheap parlor tricks in the face of the absolute power and control that Varay had.
Even if I managed to beat her, I’d be lucky if I only lost an arm or a leg. But having her as an ally was incredibly reassuring.
The two of us landed just on the threshold where the coastal beaches became ice—an odd sight to see. Here, it wasn’t only the temperature that had changed; the atmosphere from the infantry was tense and dark.
Even with the captains shouting and trying to boost morale, I could almost see the weight of death that they carried on their shoulders. With eyes drawn towards me, I remained impassive, but my stomach churned, seeing the soldiers lined up front. With the weight of their own armor making them slouch forward and their gazes that held no hardness trained soldiers would have, it was easy to tell that many of them were civilians that had been called to arms.
How many of these people staring at me would die, being the first to face the enemy lines? I tried not to dwell on it. I tried to bring back that detached, emotionless state I had relied so heavily on during my life as King Grey.
I ignored the teens, some even younger than me, staring at me as I stood beside the large black dragon that towered over them.
Sylvie and my presence did give many of the soldiers hope. I could hear whispers amongst each other of the good news that there were now two lances to fight by their side.
“General Arthur, welcome.” The frigid smooth voice cut through the steam, and the silhouette of an armor-clad woman could be seen with billowing hair just past her shoulders.
“General Varay,” I greeted with a genuine smile. The very presence of this lance seemed to shift the atmosphere. She carried herself lightly and elegantly like a gazelle but her gaze and poise spilled confidence.
She stretched out her hand, making it a point to show our composure and leisure in front of the quadrants of infantry troops. I accepted her gesture and Sylvie, who remained in her draconic form, lowered her head to let Varay gently touch her snout.
We walked together towards the back while the white-haired general explained the basic formations and maneuvering they had planned. Most of it I had already read about but it was another thing seeing the sheer size of the force that would be fighting on our side.
The first line consisted of armed warriors serving as the first point of contact against the enemies. They would charge and do as much damage until given the signal to retreat behind the second line, who were composed of trained soldiers—a mixture of both regular warriors and augmenters.
Finally making up the last of this first ‘wave’ was basically the barrier troops. These were the elite soldiers that were all augmenters, many of whom had elemental affinities.
“There will be a gap of about thirty paces where the conjurers will make up the next line along with another line of barrier troops to fall back on,” Varay explained, gesturing to the armored mages donning staves.
It was when we walked past the line of conjurers that I saw some familiar faces. One of which I wasn’t too fond of.
Captain Auddyr, standing tall behind his troops consisting of elite augmenters. The captain that I had met back near the town of Slore when I was deployed on my first mission was wearing a conspicuously extravagant set of armor. The two of us exchanged glances and the only greeting I was shown as a slight bow before he turned back to his troops.
The second familiar face was Madam Astera, the one and only head cook that I had sparred against in that very same mission. Appropriately, however, she was donned in armor and wore two longswords across her back with ease.
Looking closer at her soldiers, I was able to make out a few of them underneath all of their armor as well. The girl that I remember as Nyphia and the bully of a soldier named Herrick, both of whom tried to best me in a duel but failed.
There was a small sense of pleasure that I got from seeing their awestruck faces when our eyes met. Madam Astera, on the other hand, shot me a grin and mouthed the words, ‘looking good’ at me.
I shot Nyphia and Herrick a playful wink, eliciting a blush from one and a visible shrinking of shoulders from the other, before moving on.
We climbed the stone stairs that followed the steep incline of the terrain just east of Etistin Bay.
This was another strategic advantage that our side held. The ascending elevation gave our archers and conjurers, that were able to cast at longer ranges, a field advantage without having to waste time and resources building platforms for them to shoot from. Walls for defense had been made by earth mages, and many of the archers were stringing their bows.
We reached the top of the hill just in time for me to feel the first raindrop on my cheek. It only took a few seconds before a heavy downpour ensued. Sylvie was about to lift up a wing to shield us from the rain, but I stopped her.
We’re all soldiers here. We’ll all fight under the rain together anyway, I said, my eyes focusing on the field of ice. Rain and fog impeded our vision, and the sound of our soldiers still marching towards the shore could be heard amidst heavy thrumming of rain.
“We will stay behind for the first wave. Scryers will have eyes on the field and General Bairon will relay information on the enemy forces for us soon after,” General Varay said beside me. “There are additional forces that are on their way, some of whom are silver-core mages.”
And so, we waited. I could feel the tension building and more than once I could hear a captain peptalking their troops.
‘The wait is more agonizing than I imagined,’ my bond sent, her bright hazel eyes trying to catch a glimpse of anything within the fog above the icefield.
I nodded, barely restraining myself from flying over and breaking hell by myself. During this time, more and more troops arrived. Some were sent to either side of the bay in order to flank, while others remained back as reserve forces.
It felt like hours had passed, all of us standing in the rain with white knuckles gripping our weapons.
Finally the horn rang.
I could see our men stiffen as the deep brassy note told them the enemies had landed.
The second horn rang, and it was then that tense air dissipated followed by the mana-enforced roar of General Varay.